Dark in the Chrysalis
By Alice Morrey Bailey
Synopsis: Edith Ashe, a widow, forty-seven, finds she is falling in love with her employer, Cory Lewis, a business man in his fifties. As companion to his mother, an aged and crippled woman, she has also assumed management of his large, badly decorated house, and has become attached to his daughter, Linnie, a singer, who is home from Boston to be married in June. She and Linnie redecorate the living and dining rooms into beauty, using Edith’s lovely furniture, which has been stored. The activity improves Edith’s health, makes the girl happy, gives the grandmother something to live for, and stimulates Cory, on his return from a trip, to undertake the complete renovation of the old place for the wedding. Cory’s announcement that he is going to marry plunges Edith into disappointment.
Edith lay awake a long time, alternately tormented and tormenting herself with questions and accusations after Linnie’s unexpected outburst at the table. It was no use to tell herself that she was silly and romantic, or to be amazed that she could think of herself and Cory with Marvin gone only two years. The truth of it was she could and did, and it seemed not to have anything to do with her feeling for Marvin, to alter it in any way.
She went over events leading to her present attitude, analyzing how this feeling for Cory came into being. It had been so from the first time she heard his voice, even before she met him, she realized. There was something dynamic and compelling that had drawn and held her, even over the telephone, even when he was away. Except for it she would never have taken this job in the first place, nor stayed once she was here. Why had he sparked her to exert her very best efforts, to increase her capacity? Why had she taken his daughter Linnie to her heart, as if she were her very own?
More than that, she had sensed a reciprocated feeling in him. There were those moments when, as tonight, he had admitted her to his parenthood by so small and intimate a thing as a wink. These things had created that sense of belonging, that feeling of dovetailing in their personalities.
It was no use to conjecture whether Linnie thought her father meant marriage with herself or someone else. Either was humiliating. Of course Linnie must have meant someone else, but deeper than embarrassment was this definite sense of loss.
By morning, however, she had herself well in hand, having gone back to her original motive in doing the thing she had done. It was still good. She had wanted to help Linnie, influenced or not influenced by Cory’s personality. She had helped Linnie, and she still wanted to finish the program she had started. Inadvertently she had helped Mrs. Lewis and even Amanda, nor would she gloss over the fact that she had helped Cory.
Pleased as she was at his approval, she had not launched upon this project as a bid for it. While her motives were not so clear-cut these last two weeks, still she would continue to plan and work for Linnie. At last, she was able to go to breakfast with no shame in her heart before either Linnie or her father.
“Morning, Aunt Edith. What’s on the program for today?”
There was no rancor in the girl’s greeting, no seeming remembrance of last night’s scene at the table. After the first guarded and searching glance there was none in Cory’s.
“We start on you next, my good girl,” Edith said.
“Oh, lovely. I hoped so. I know exactly the wedding dress I want, but I want you and Daddy to see it before I buy it.”
“Where is it, Linnie?” asked Cory.
“At Kauffman’s, just across the street from your office. I hope you can spare a moment to run over, Daddy. They have the bridesmaids’ dresses, too.”
So it was that, though Edith would have preferred to avoid Cory, she met him again in the afternoon. Her black suit, slim and smart, bought with two full weeks of wages, and her new hat, a gorgeous creation in black straw and pasted flowers, and the distinguished English walkers, gave her the dignity she needed to keep even her inflections and gestures at the correct balance of interest and disinterest. Nobody, simply nobody, was ever going to find out how she had felt about Cory, how she still felt.
She ignored alike his quick look of appreciative appraisal when he saw her, the way he gripped her hand when Linnie came out of the fitting room – an angelic vision in white satin and lace – and his guiding hand on her elbow as they left the store. She burned with anger at herself, however, that she continued to experience a sharp awareness at his slightest touch.
Edith bought a new dress for the dinner Friday night, thinking that it would do also for Linnie’s wedding as she might want her to help with the serving, or to list the wedding gifts. The jacket was of metallic cloth in pale pink and silver, with a long, slim skirt of black crepe.
On the night of the dinner, the pink highlighted her skin and the silver borrowed sparkle from the rhinestones of her necklace and ear clips. With her hair done high in a coronet and curls, she felt very festive. A maid came to help Amanda with the serving.
“You understand you are to remain with the guests, to help entertain them,” Cory told her once, rather abruptly. “When Mother is tired and wants to go to bed, Amanda will help her.”
“Yes, Mr. Lewis,” Edith said obediently.
The dinner was a success from any point of view. The food, made from Edith’s favorite recipes, was exactly right, from the chilled fruit cup to the tall, frosty desserts.
Cory, at the head of the table, looked handsome and distinguished, and was an excellent host. Mrs. Lewis was surprisingly aristocratic in her lavender silk, with her white hair and black eyebrows. Her sharp wit was at its best, and brought roars of delighted laughter from the guests. They adored her, and she loved being adored. Her black eyes snapped and her cheeks turned pink with excitement. The small diamonds in her pierced ears glittered and twinkled. Edith could hardly reconcile her with the bitter and lonely old woman of her first acquaintanceship, with the corpse-like look she had on that first afternoon when she had fallen to sleep. Tonight she was like a young girl. Linnie herself could not have been more happy. In fact, Linnie was a little subdued. Of course the guests had pounced on her.
“This isn’t Linnie!” they declared, and added many more such social inanities, and the usual banter about her coming wedding, the old, stale marriage jokes. Linnie smiled and was gracious, her manners letter-perfect, but there was still a look of reserve about her. She was lovely as a Rembrandt painting in a flowered, bouffant taffeta, her fair hair shining, her eyes and lips softly dark on her creamy skin. Cory should be very proud of her, Edith thought. No one ever had a lovelier daughter. Edith felt a thrill of pride herself, but wished the guests could see the girl in all the glory of her personality.
The conversation was not so scintillating and brilliant as Edith had half expected from these professional men and their wives. Instead, it was more homely and was warmly interesting. Edith liked these people – the Goodings, the Farleys, and Bowmans, the Pierces, and the Westings, felt comfortable with them; they were her kind.
They were close friends of Cory’s – friends of long standing, and the dinner had not progressed as far as the club steaks before Edith had singled out the woman Cory was going to marry.
She was handsome and charming and her eyes, flatteringly interested, rarely left Cory’s face. If it seemed she was a little possessive, Edith put it down as justifiable under the circumstances, the fact that she noticed it, to her own pangs of definite jealousy. She was a Mrs. Hartwell – Cory called her Jane – and she had come with the Goodings.
Cory had introduced Edith simply as Mrs. Ashe, not elaborating her position in the home. There was not a raised eyebrow in the group, but Edith could feel questions, tangible in the air. Its tension remained until Edith asked Linnie to sing. She had noticed Cory glancing at his daughter occasionally, a puzzled concern lingering in his eyes, even while he seemed to listen to Jane, to keep the conversation moving along. She guessed that he felt the same as she did – wanting them to see the girl at her best.
“Linnie, you must sing for us,” she told the girl.
“Oh, Aunt Edith, I would rather not,” protested Linnie. All eyes at once turned to Edith. Immediately the question in the atmosphere changed to conjecture, but the guests followed Edith’s lead, pressing Linnie to sing.
“Linnie, do sing for us,” Edith urged, and continued, “The child has a nice voice. She has been in Boston, studying, you know.” She was wickedly delighted, thinking what a surprise was in store for them. Cory caught the little innuendo of her understatement, and winked at her secretly.
“Well,” said Linnie, “if I am going to sing I want to do it now, before I eat another bite. I’ve eaten too much already.”
Accompanying herself, Linnie sang a gay Italian street song, her flute-like voice clear and true on the rapid, intricate notes. The guests applauded her enthusiastically, demanding more, as their food cooled on their plates.
“She must have a recital,” Jane declared, when Linnie would sing no more. “I’ll arrange it.”
“That’s good of you, Jane,” said Cory. “She should have had one, but now there is hardly time.”
“She must have a recital.”
“No, it would be too much for her just now. Besides, she has no accompanist.”
“I can get Emily Dante. She’s almost world-famous, you know.”
“It is out of the question,” stated Cory firmly. “The arrangements, a hall, the advertising –”
“Forget it,” Mr. Bowman spoke up. “I manage the Guild hall. Best acoustics in town, and a cancellation for June tenth. It’s all yours.”
“And what’s my newspaper good for if it won’t advertise her?” chimed in Mr. Pierce.
Edith thought, with consternation, of all there was to do before the wedding. Cory was right. It would overtax the girl, but she stole a look at Linnie. Her face was flushed with excitement and pleasure. Linnie waned that recital.
“But she hasn’t been practicing,” protested Cory, his defense crumbling. He, too, could see the look on Linnie’s face.
“She has practiced every day since she came home,” Edith spoke firmly. “No one in this town ever heard such music as she will give them.”
“All right,” agreed Cory, resigned. “If it can be done right. It shouldn’t be a second-rate affair.”
“It won’t be, Daddy,” Linnie promised.
When they rose from dinner she squeezed Edith affectionately in passing. “Your argument won, Aunt Edith,” she whispered. “I wish it were you Daddy is marrying. You are the prettiest woman here and I love you.”
Linnie’s words were balm to Edith, thinking as she was, what a striking couple Cory and Mrs. Hartwell made. Any hopeful doubts she might have harbored were dispelled when she led the women upstairs to repair any damage the dinner had done to make-up and lipstick.
“Of course, you must be Linnie’s mother’s sister,” Mrs. Gooding told her in an aside, and went on without waiting for her to reply. “We’ve wondered for years why Jane and Cory didn’t marry. They are so right for each other, and Jane could have done so much for Cory, and for Linnie.”
“I’m sure of it,” smiled Edith. “They look very well together.”
“Perhaps they will, now that Linnie is leaving.”
“Perhaps,” agreed Edith, non-committally.
It was preposterous, Edith scolded herself, to mourn the loss of something she had never had. Perhaps her feeling was made up largely of the need for security, which alone was not pretty. Uglier still was the possibility it had been whetted sharper by covetousness. At any rate it must be relentlessly inhibited. She was too adult to let emotion devastate her. She had had a fine, full life with Marvin. Let that be. What matter if the needs of life went on after his going? Her need for companionship could be diverted to something else fine and useful. There was too much to do to waste time in useless moanings. Edith realized suddenly that she was done with self-pity for good and all.
When flowers were delivered to her the following morning, she accepted them in the spirit of their sending.
“Gratitude,” the note from Cory read, “for a wonderful dinner, to a charming and competent hostess and a lovely lady.”
“Thank you very much for the lovely flowers, Mr. Lewis,” Edith said politely at dinner. “Talisman roses are my favorites.”
Gratitude it was, of course, for the opportunity of showing his home, his daughter, and his mother to his friends, for helping him to pay back some social obligations.
After this brief respite, Edith turned back to the problems of Linnie’s wedding with renewed vigor and broader scope, now that she knew a little more of Linnie’s background – and of Cory’s.
With June almost upon them, there were parties for Linnie in swift succession, the house filled with laughing, rushing young people and Cory’s more sedate friends.
“How I wish Paul were here to have all this fun. I knew from my friends, being engaged was a wonderful time in a girl’s life,” confided Linnie. “I never thought it would be like this for me, that anyone cared enough or knew enough to make it this way.”
“Your father loves you very much, Linnie,” Edith reminded her. “He was fairly bursting with pride at dinner the other night.”
“Oh, I know he does, Aunt Edith. But I never would have known except for you. You are the one who pried open the difficult places, opened the way for all these relationships for me, all these happenings. All my friends want to give parties, and are so nice to me. They wouldn’t, without you starting things first, though. Even Daddy’s friends. Mrs. Hartwell is giving me a shower next Tuesday. I think it is very sweet of her, don’t you?”
“Indeed I do,” answered Edith, injecting warmth into her voice to cover the wave of jealousy that shook her. “And she is arranging your recital, too,” she reminded.
“I know, and I so much wanted one. I worked really hard at my music, Aunt Edith, and it seemed so useless not to have even one recital. I was jealous of Mrs. Hartwell, I guess, and I didn’t want Daddy to marry her. She is really nice, and if Daddy wants to marry her, why –”
“How many people are coming to your lawn party?” Edith interrupted, to quickly change the subject, for she was not able to bear it longer.
She should be glad someone else helped out with Linnie’s affairs, she told herself sternly. Goodness knows she was accumulating tiredness, trying to keep up with both the girl and her grandmother, even though they had kept the maid who came to help Amanda with dinner because she was brisk and adept. The announcements and invitations had brought a flood of letters and gifts that Linnie, practicing earnestly for her recital, was unable to cope with.
Edith was weary to the bone each night, never rested enough when it was time to get up, but she wanted it that way. Even so, it was miraculous that she could work so hard when she had considered herself an ill woman three months ago, not much more than able to creep to bed and soak the pillow with tears. Work was good, but once Linnie was married, she told herself, she would leave this house. Now that her self-confidence was restored there would be other jobs as exciting and stimulating as this one.
Perhaps she could find some way to take a course in interior decorating. She might even go to college and finish her qualifications for a Bachelor of Arts degree, interrupted when she married Marvin. Older women than herself appeared capped and gowned at college graduations. With the business of childbearing and child rearing done with, there was no limit to what she might do.
Yes, she would leave this place. She would quell once and for all this middle-aged romanticism. She could never do it here, not with this silly excitement every time the front door opened, or the telephone rang during Cory’s office hours, this acute consciousness of him when he was home.
Not only that, but she feared she would be surprised into a fatal self-betrayal sooner or later, like the night she almost was as she ascended the stairs.
“Edith!” Cory’s voice caught her, coming from below, and she stood transfixed with headiness for a moment, barely able to compose her face to mere politeness before turning to answer him.
“Yes, Mr. Lewis?”
“Yes, Mr. Lewis. No, Mr. Lewis. Thank you, Mr. Lewis,” Cory repeated looking almost angry. “Edith, are you angry at me for some reason?”
“No, Mr. Lewis.”
“I see. Well, good night, Mrs. Ashe,” Cory said, and turned abruptly away. Edith, her bones turned suddenly to water, proceeded to her room, wishing for the old days, when she would have wept into her pillow.