Dark in the Chrysalis
By Alice Morrey Bailey
Edith returned to the house alone after the funeral. Cory had stayed at the cemetery to oversee the completion of his mother’s burial. Edith had overheard Mrs. Hartwell invite him to her home for dinner and thought that would be good for him, rather than to come back to this house, so deadly quiet after the great activities of the past three months.
Amanda came out from the kitchen when she heard Edith come in. “Would you like me to fix you something, Mrs. Ashe?” she asked.
“No, thank you, Amanda,” Edith said. She was more than just weary. She was wrung out. She sat at the telephone and called Kit.
“I am ready to come home, Kit,” she told him. “Of course you understand it is only until I find some other work.”
“Now, Mother,” Kit said. “Don’t feel that way. You know you are welcome here as long as you live. I don’t like to think of you off working.”
“We’ll talk about it when I get there. How soon can you come?”
“Whenever you say, Mother. Right away if you like.”
“I’ll be ready in half an hour,” Edith told him.
“You’re not leaving?” said Amanda when she hung up.
“Yes, right away,” Edith replied. “You see, my job is finished. With Mrs. Lewis dead and Linnie gone, there is nothing left for me to do.”
“Why, that’s right,” agreed Amanda wonderingly. “Somehow I just never thought of your leaving. You got so close to them it seemed like you was one of the family. It just seemed like Mr. Lewis might –”
“Might what, Amanda?” Edith couldn’t resist asking.
“Well, I dunno. Might keep you on, I guess. Laws, it’s going to be lonesome and funny with you gone, too.”
“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” Edith agreed absently. She was thinking of herself and the days ahead.
She was ready when Kit drove up. She had been careful to remember everything, in order not to have to return for anything. In a few days, when Cory had time to think, she would telephone him and find out when he would want her to take her furniture. She looked at it now, as she came around the curve in the stair.
The late afternoon sun drifted through the Venetian blinds, slanted on the carpet, etching the graceful bannister with light and casting the lovely shadows of flowers on the walls. Never before, and never again, would she see her beloved furniture in such a setting. Love of this house had grown on her until it was like leaving her own home, but it was more than the furniture that tugged at her now.
These walls were haunted with Linnie’s slender grace, her fluted song and the gallantly eager lift of her head. And Grammy! Almost any minute, now, it seemed, Grammy would come wheeling out of the dining room, her black eyes snapping, her tongue ready with its wit. Such profound things as marriage and death did something to a house.
They had no more profound effect, however, than a house could have on its occupants. Austere and chill and unbeautiful, it could stilt and frustrate the spirit. Made into a home it could be a liberating agent, as this one had been iridescent wings for the hidden beauties of the soul.
It was more than a matter of upholstery, fabric, wood, and the money to buy them. It was a matter of love and pride, of self-respect and artisanship, a satisfying of the hungers, human and divine, that were inherent in every person.
It was a stage and a setting for drama. On this stair Cory’s hand had touched hers; his voice speaking her name, had poised her here, suddenly still. It was best to go now, quickly, leaving this profound thing, which could not even be called her love for Cory, abortive and unfulfilled within these walls.
Beside them Annette’s house was flat and utilitarian, and had less appeal than ever to Edith. Annette hovered over her anxiously at dinner, straining to make her feel at home.
“Why, Mother! How you have changed! I had no idea you were so pretty. I love the way you do your hair, and your new clothes are stunning. I didn’t know you had such marvelous taste.”
Her words should have touched the joy of victory in Edith’s heart, because it was obvious that Annette remembered her own indictment of her mother-in-law only a few months previous. The words that had stung Edith so bitterly then stirred no feeling in her now. She had thought and felt so much since then, had had so much fulfillment that the little scene seemed long ago and far away. It held significance only in the fact that it had catapulted her into one of the richest experiences in her life.
“Eat more of your dinner, Mother,” Kit was saying. “Annie’s fixed your favorite recipes.”
“Thank you, Annette,” smiled Edith. “I’m afraid I am more weary than hungry tonight.”
“And already talking about another job,” Kit exploded. “Well, you can just forget that idea.”
“No, I think not, Kit. I found it quite exciting to earn my own money, to be an individual rather than a parasite. There are some things I must see to – get my furniture back home –”
Annette looked stricken. “That room –” she said. “I’ve fixed it up for –”
“No matter,” said Edith. ‘I can store the furniture down town until I find something to do with it – take an unfurnished apartment, maybe. It all depends upon what I find to do.”
“Mother,” Kit said, “Annette’s fixed the room for a nursery.”
“Kit! Annette!” said Edith, stirred from her lethargy of mind to real elation. “That’s wonderful!”
“I – we hoped that you would be here, well, to see Annette through –”
“Why, of course I will,” said Edith. “That’s what mothers are for.”
“Then you can forget about going to work again. This once was all right – a lark, but no more of it.”
“Nonsense,” said Edith. “I have no intention of sitting down here with you young folks any more. It will be months before Annette needs me, and then only for a few weeks of time.”
She excused herself as soon as possible and went upstairs. A warm bath and to bed, she thought. Sleep would relieve her mind from the terrible apathy that had descended upon it again after the excitement of hearing about Kit’s baby. In spite of her brave words and her resolutions, life stretched bleakly into an uninteresting future, without beauty, without richness, with nothing real ahead, except old age.
The bath did not bring sleep, and Edith lay, refusing to think, wanting not to feel, for either would bring the two things that she just now could not bear – homesickness for Cory’s house, loneliness for Cory.
“Mother,” said Annette, knocking softly.
“Yes?” said Edith.
“Mr. Lewis is on the telephone.”
“Mr. Lewis?” asked Edith, leaping up, excitement exploding within her. Whatever this thing was in her veins it had to be stopped, wiped out, killed. “Probably calling about the furniture, or my last check,” she said. “Tell him I’ve gone to bed – that I’ll call him tomorrow.”
“I did, but he said it was urgent.”
“Oh, all right,” said Edith, getting into robe and slippers. After all it was only nine o’clock.
“I have to see you. Tonight,” Cory said when she answered the telephone.
“If it’s the furniture –”
“It isn’t the furniture,” said Cory. “Or your check. How long will it take you to dress?”
“Not long. fifteen minutes,” said Edith wonderingly.
“I’ll call for you,” said Cory and hung up.
Edith’s fingers shook while she dressed and she was unable to control the slow pounding that began in her heart. Cory was there in ten minutes, conversing with Kit and Annette, his hat in his hand, when she came down.
He looked perfectly normal with the exception of his weariness. He barely glanced at Edith, but got up, opened the door for her as he finished his conversation with Kit, and bade them good night, and followed her out. He put her in the car without a word and went around to the driver’s side.
“Lean back. Relax,” he commanded her, starting the car.
It was good to do just that while Cory drove, letting the little fire of curiosity die down. The breeze that lifted her hair was pleasant.
Cory nosed the car to higher ground above the city until it lay below them like a lap of jewels. Still he drove, entering a nearby canyon, turning and twisting on the road, silhouettes of pines and the steep sides of hills racing past them. Finally he achieved a small plateau, turned off the road, and stopped.
“This is a favorite place of mine,” he said then, and went on talking dispassionately, tracing the canyons and watercourses from their point of vantage.
He just couldn’t bear staying in the house, Edith decided. In all that emptiness. This ride had no significance, no better reason. Of course it was urgent. Losing his mother, much as it might have been expected, by her age, was a cataclysm, one she well knew, but she had thought him adequately taken care of for the evening. What had happened to dinner, and to Mrs. Hartwell?
“Look at the moon,” she said, wondering how many millions of people had made that same observation. “In town the lights outdo it, make it look like a cheap prop, but out here it comes into its own.” It looked close enough to touch and its white light bathed the world. “I hope it shines like that on Linnie and Paul, wherever they are. It’s a real honeymoon.”
“My guess is the Canadian woods. Otherwise, some of my telegrams would have reached them. In a way, I’m glad they didn’t. It will hurt Linnie not to have been here, but on the other hand, she will remember mother like she saw her last – happy and excited, and peppery as they come. Then, too, their honeymoon should not be marred.”
Then that wasn’t what was on Cory’s mind, thought Edith, still casting frantically for clues to tonight’s meeting. If it was that he just wanted to ease his mind and talk of June and the moon and nature, then she would humor him, she decided, but her next words betrayed her, as usual.
“Cory, I know it’s your mother. I am so sorry. I feel that I neglected her to help Linnie. She might still be with you if I hadn’t.”
“Don’t say such a thing! Don’t even think it,” said Cory vehemently. “It was her time to go. Mother was eighty-five, you know.”
“But if only she could have stayed a month more, until Linnie and Paul were back to bear it with you. Having them both leave the same day was too hard for you.”
“No one consults us about those things,” Cory said. “My mother died happy, and she did so because of you. You know yourself that she was bitter, confined to the loneliness of her room, longing for death when you came.
“Look what you did! Gave her an interest in life – got her out of that dark room, let her participate in the preparations for Linnie’s wedding. She loved it, I tell you. She was happy right up to the last minute. She went to sleep happy, and she didn’t wake up. I wouldn’t have it different.”
“Then – what is it – troubling you?” Edith asked, a horrible thought overcoming her. If he asks me to help with his wedding I just –
“It’s you, Edith.”
“Me?” asked Edith ungrammatically, her heart stopping dead still.
“I’ve looked at this thing from every angle, argued myself black in the face, tried to put myself in Linnie’s place. It isn’t that I didn’t love her mother. It all comes out to the same thing. It’s as real as the back of my hand,” Cory said, holding up his hand to look at it in the moonlight. “I love you, Edith. I want to marry you and live with you the rest of my life.”
Edith looked at him and could not speak for the waves of joy that shook her from head to foot.
“Does that surprise you so much, Edith? I told Linnie right in front of you. I meant to speak to you that night, but the girl gave me pause.”
“I thought you were talking about Mrs. Hartwell,” said Edith swiftly.
“So did Linnie. That was why she was displeased. She did not like Jane so very well. She said afterwards she wished I were the one –”
“Oh,” said Cory, light dawning upon him. “I should have known that if I weren’t such a dunderhead. The crowd has been trying to marry us off, Jane and me, for years. I am afraid she contributed a little to the idea herself. I felt like a heel not to. They are such good friends, and I like Jane – she’s a fine woman. I felt a little obligated to – at least not to humiliate her in any way,” he floundered. “I might have even wound up marrying Jane. Oh, I wasn’t committed in any way, and I am a man who likes to do my own choosing, but I told myself a man could do worse, and the crowd wanted it so. And then you came. It was out, from then on. It – that was the reason I wanted you to be the hostess at my dinner party – to sort of let the crowd know.”
“And they mistook me for your sister-in-law,” Edith explained.
“Yes, they did – from Linnie calling me Aunt Edith, you know. Mrs. Gooding let me know that the match between you and Jane was in the offing. I think she wanted me to help promote it.”
“Oh, horrors!” groaned Cory. “So that explains the sudden formality immediately after the dinner.”
“Exactly,” said Edith. “Oh, I couldn’t bear it, Cory. I was jealous through and through, and when Linnie –”
“I know,” said Cory. “I felt that way about her mother, that I would never love again. I searched my nature, and postponed talking to you for that reason as well as because I didn’t want to complicate things for Linnie. It was her show. The obligation of the parent, you know.”
“It was a postponement, though, never a doubt. Not from that first morning when you shook hands with me. An ordinary person, applying for a like situation, would not have done that. I have thought of you since – putting your hand in mine.”
“I must tell you, Cory –”
“What – a past?”
“Yes, indeed – four sons, you know, and four grandchildren.”
“I knew about them. all fine fellows I am sure, all married, though – no real place in their lives for mother. Oh, it is normal enough, and as it should be. I can’t wait to meet all my inheritance. I want to share them with you, Edith, as you have shared my Linnie. I guess a man always wants sons.”
“There’s more,” Edith told him fearfully. “I promised to help Kit’s wife when her baby comes.”
“Not for months.”
“Well, she can come to the house,” Cory said comfortably. “That house needs a birth. We’ve gone through a marriage and a death in it. Those are the roots that sink deep, Edith. But perhaps we’d rather sell it, buy a smaller, more modern one.”
“Oh, no!” said Edith quickly. “That house is home to me and to my furniture.”
“Oh, it is, is it?” Cory asked, with a twinkle of pleased amusement. “And so you were jealous of Jane?”
He reached for her then, his arm strong around her, his palm on her cheek, moving to tilt her face to his.
“I knew it! I knew it!” he whispered. “You fit my arms as neatly as you fit my life, Edith. I have watched your graceful movements, the contour of your lips with a good deal of hunger, my dear.”
“And I,” said Edith.
“Oh, we’re going to be a great pair, we two,” Cory exulted. “With so much we can do together. Now, tomorrow –”
“Yes,” said Edith, feeling the lift of wings, mentally surveying the bright field of her future before her.