Dark in the Chrysalis
By Alice Morrey Bailey
Synopsis: Edith Ashe, a widow, forty-seven, is jealous of June Hartwell, the woman she thinks her employer, Cory Lewis, is going to marry. She checks her love for Cory, and smothers her jealousy in work, taking care of his mother, an aged crippled woman, for whom she has been hired as companion. She plunges into preparations for the wedding of his daughter, Linnie, in whom she has taken a mother’s interest. Together, they have redecorated the large, unattractive house until it is beautiful throughout. Edith has used her own furniture, previously stored, for the dining room and living room. This beginning stimulates Cory to complete the preparations. Edith plans to leave, once the wedding is over, because she cannot bear the impact of Cory’s personality, and because she is afraid of betraying her feelings. Jane has arranged a concert for Linnie. Paul, her fiance, and his party planned to arrive in time for it, but are delayed.
The ensuing days passed literally on wings of song. Linnie woke them in the morning, her flutelike voice soaring up and down the scales. Emily Dante spent hours with her as she went relentlessly over the difficult passages, over and over again.
The wedding was set for June 12, the recital on the tenth. Paul and his party were scheduled to arrive on the ninth in order to give them a rest, and so that Linnie would not have too much excitement for one day. They were coming by plane, but on the night of the eighth severe storms swept the country. All planes were grounded in some areas, and of course Paul sent a telegram to that effect.
“Will get there as soon as possible,” his message said.
“He never will! He never will!” cried Linnie, and walked the floor with nervousness. Cory eyed her with alarm. Edith had been worried about her for some time. The strain of preparing for her wedding and her recital, both major events in her life, was telling on her. Her appetite had disappeared, she looked pale and thin and all of the fun of her wedding was gone. “And if he doesn’t come, I won’t sing. You can just call them all and tell them that I am not going to sing!”
“Well, darling,” Cory advised her reasonably, “you can’t do that now. All the preparations are made.”
“I can and I will,” said Linnie perversely. Cory looked at Edith and shook his head.
“But, honey,” he said, “all our friends will be disappointed. They have gone to so much trouble for this event – the Bowmans giving the hall, the publicity done so nicely, and Jane has gone to real expense.”
It was the wrong thing.
“Jane! Jane!” said Linnie almost hysterically. “She was the one who thought this up. And I know why – so she could see you and talk to you every day. so she could be there with spangles, and sit beside you and have everyone see her. I won’t sing, so there! If you won’t call her and tell her so, I will.”
She started toward the telephone, and Cory flashed a silent appeal to Edith.
“I’ll call her for you, Linnie,” Edith cut in, reaching the telephone first. “Cory, I think the child is right. I don’t think she should sing. It is just too much for her. Everyone but Linnie has been considered in this thing, and it isn’t fair. I think your own motives are selfish. Besides, you can’t make up a lifetime of neglect in a few short weeks!” she scolded Cory.
She tried to find opportunity to give the bewildered Cory a wink, but Linnie’s eyes were wide upon her.
“Aunt Edith! You know that isn’t true. You told me yourself Daddy loves me. Nobody knows better than you how much he has done for me. Besides, he hasn’t neglected me – not in any of the basic things. He always gave me all the money I needed and saw to it that I had the best teachers. I don’t care what you or Mrs. Fontaine or anybody else thinks, I have the best father in the world. And who says it is too much for me? Of course I shall sing.”
“But Linnie, look at you. You can’t possibly sing in your condition. Tonight of all nights you need rest. You don’t eat, you don’t sleep, and there are circles under your eyes. You are pale and thin. Nobody knows as I do, that you have been working too hard.”
“Oh, Aunt Edith,” said Linnie, starting to cry. Edith put her arms around the girl and led her to the couch. “How can I be so mean?” she said between jerky sobs, “when you and Daddy and Jane are so good to me.”
Edith sat on one side of her and Cory on the other, patting the distraught girl. Once Cory started to speak, but Edith shook her head and he was silent. Finally Linnie raised her head and managed a watery smile.
“I think I had better go to bed now. I’ll be nothing but a rag and a bone tomorrow night and Paul will be ashamed of me. I know he will come.”
“I’ll go up with you,” said Edith. As they started up the stairs Amanda appeared silently with a glass of hot milk.
Edith turned down the covers of Linnie’s bed, got a nightgown, and helped her undress as she sipped the hot milk, then sat on the side of the bed, rubbing the girl’s back until she was relaxed and comfortable.
Cory, waiting anxiously below, let out a breath of relief when Edith came back downstairs.
“Whew!” he said, “good thing you were here. I certainly had things going along in the wrong direction. You know, I don’t think I am a very good psychologist.” He rubbed his chin ruefully.
“Mr. Lewis, I hope you don’t think that I meant –”
Cory laughed heartily. “I could see exactly what you were doing, and it worked. It amazed me how fast you thought. What got into the girl, anyway?”
“Overwork, nothing else. You were right about it being too much for her, but she wanted it so much.”
Cory looked at her earnestly. “Edith,” he said, “I can never tell you how thankful I am for you. Your attitude toward Linnie is so nearly that of the mother she so much needs at this time that it is indistinguishable to me, and even to her, I am sure. A girl would never turn on anyone but her mother as she did on you in defense of me.”
His praise and his tone of voice were heartfelt and sincere, and they wiped away the diffidence that had grown in Edith’s heart these last few uncomfortable days.
Linnie’s outburst seemed to relieve her as well of the tension that she had achieved from overstrain. There was no further word from Paul, and Edith watched Linnie with misgivings, but the girl was calm and relaxed. She slept late and lounged about the house in robe and slippers.
“Emily says I’m not to sing a note today. I’m just going to be lazy. Do I look any better than last night, Aunt Edith?”
“Those movie people would snap you up in a hurry for a part in one of their plays,” Mrs. Lewis piped.
“I hope Paul thinks I am pretty tonight. I know he will be there.”
But Paul didn’t come. The day passed, it came time to get ready for the concert, time to leave the house, time even to begin the concert, and there was still no word. The rest of them pretended calm, but Linnie was calm.
Her first songs were pure and letter-perfect. Edith was astonished at the size of the crowd of well-dressed people that filled the concert hall and glad that the storms had gone with the night. The applause was hearty and sincere.
“The child sings like a bird,” Mrs. Lewis leaned to whisper to Edith. Cory had carried her from the car. Her black eyes were snapping with pride and excitement. She seemed none the worse for being up. She usually went to bed at seven-thirty. Cory, on the other side of her, sat by Jane, and was grave. He bent to whisper something to Jane.
“Cory hopes nothing happens to spoil it for Linnie,” reported Mrs. Lewis, who had overheard. “He says Linnie’s going to be disappointed that her young man didn’t show up.”
After the first group of songs, while Linnie was off stage, there was a little flurry of excitement at the back of the hall, and they were there. Paul, his mother and father, the couple who must be Paul’s sister and her husband, and his best man. They were fine-looking people, with the unmistakable bearing of good breeding. Cory knew them instantly, and hurried back to meet them, to find seats for them.
Some people near the Lewis group, recognizing who they were, yielded their seats to them, and they were seated quietly, with whispered introductions all around.
“And this is Aunt Edith,” said Paul, smiling across at her.
He was a clean-cut young man, with an open, frank face, and quick, interested eyes. Edith liked him immediately and had the comfortable feeling a mother has when her child has chosen well.
Linnie came back to sing her second group of songs. She was well started on her first number when she noticed that Paul was there, and immediately her lovely eyes found him, her singing took on radiance and greater depth. It was amazing. Before Edith’s eyes she turned from the immaturity of girlhood, sweet and young, to a woman of wide capacity and richness.
For the rest of the evening, her music changed the politely hearty applause to a roar, and brought the audience to its feet. When she beckoned Paul to her side and took her final bow in a simple gesture, her hand in his, the crowd went wild and surged about them.
Tears of pride dampened Cory’s eyes.
“You thought it couldn’t be done,” gloated Jane.
“Thank you, Jane,” Cory said sincerely, taking both Mrs. Hartwell’s hands. “You are a very good friend. Thank you very much.”
“Cory, I’m going with you home. I want to get acquainted with Linnie’s relatives-to-be, and I simply have to have a chance to tell her how beautifully she sang. You can run me home a little later, can’t you?”
“I certainly can,” said Cory.
Edith was glad of the excuse to put Mrs. Lewis to bed. That done, she went to bed herself. There was no need and no place for her downstairs among the guests. Mr. Fontaine and Cory were getting on famously. The women had Jane. Linnie would show them to their rooms.
Linnie’s wedding day was a glory of beautiful weather, much to the relief of Edith. The roses made blossomed garlands over the trellises and everything was at its best. The long-awaited day held disappointment for Edith, however – because it turned out that she didn’t get to see the wedding.
They were in the midst of dressing when Mrs. Lewis suddenly turned pale. “I think I’d best get to bed,” she told Edith. Edith, alarmed, helped her there and called Mr. Lewis.
“It’s nothing, nothing at all to cause all this fuss and bother,” said the peppery little old lady when he wanted to call a doctor. “Just you go about your business and let me be. I want to go to that reception tonight and I won’t be fit if I don’t rest. All this nighthawking I’ve been doing!”
She looked better already, and insisted that Edith go along, but of course Edith didn’t.
“I’m so sorry you can’t be there,” said Cory, coming up the stairs. “You should be.”
She might as well have gone, because Mrs. Lewis slept most of the day. It was well into the afternoon when they all came back, for the Fontaines took them all to breakfast at the Calvert Hotel. There was only time for a short rest before getting ready for the reception.
There was that exalted stillness about them that comes from a profound experience.
“I’m not going to miss out on everything,” Mrs. Lewis insisted, when they suggested that she remain in bed for the evening. “I’m perfectly all right.” Indeed, she seemed as usual, so Edith helped her with the lavender silk and her hair.
“They’ll think you are the bride,” vowed Linnie.
She loved being in the receiving line, and soon the house was filled with the pleasant murmur of guests. Linnie’s girl friends swished about in their formal dresses, serving the guests, while Amanda presided over the towering wedding cake. Great mounds of chicken salad, rolls, and freezers of frosted ice, boxes of mints and buttered nuts were stacked ready. Edith had planned to supervise the gifts upstairs, but Linnie would have none of it.
“I want you in the receiving line,” she insisted over Edith’s protestations at not being a relative. “You weren’t at the wedding, and it was like not having my own mother there.”
The words thrilled Edith, the more so since Linnie had always seemed dear enough to be the daughter she had never had. Touched almost to tears by this appreciation, she asked Mrs. Gooding to care for the gifts, while she stood rather self-consciously in the receiving line.
Infinitely the evening dragged by. The seemingly endless line of friends thinned out and finally stopped. The bride and bridegroom cut the cake and danced to the tune of “I Love You truly.” Linnie had it all, up to the point where Paul’s face was smeared with the lipstick of Linnie’s laughing girl friends, and until she herself was ready to drop from fatigue. The photographers wound up their flash cords, and the musicians packed their violins, cellos, and music stands and departed.
“Never say the younger generation can’t take it,” said Cory in an aside to Edith. “That is what she wanted, isn’t it?”
“This is it,” said Edith. “Nor the older generation,” answering his first question. “Look at your mother. Of course she slept all day, and sat throughout the receiving, but she is still excited. How soon do you think we can pack her off to bed?”
“Not until Linnie and her young man leave,” piped the little old lady, who had overheard.
At last the partings were over, Linnie coming back in a rush of love and gratitude to hug Edith and her Grammy, to pour out again her thanks for her wedding festivities, the beauty of the house.
With seas of luggage, Cory took them all to the airport, and Edith put the weary old grandmother to bed. She was trying to get some semblance of order to the gifts when Cory came back.
He steered her to her door at once and told her good night. “I think I’ll hibernate,” he said.
Edith dropped thankfully to bed and to sleep.
She awakened some hours later, however, with a surging sense of alarm. So used was she to hearing the breathing of the little old lady in the next room that its sudden cessation woke her from even so sound a sleep.
The open mouth, the sunken eyes, were not the semblance of death this time. They were death itself, hurtingly vivid in the suddenly switched-on light. Edith stood a moment, horrified.
“Cory! Cory!” she screamed with all her lungs.