From the Relief Society Magazine, 1954 –
The Deeper Melody
By Alice Morrey Bailey
Stephen Thorpe awoke with a start and sat up in bed in his hotel room, feeling that something was wrong at home with his small children, Davey, Ilene, and little Phyllis. It was, he thought, the same kind of intuition that their mother, Ellen, used to have before her death, when one of the children was running a temperature in the night. For a week he had been arguing himself out of such fears, telling himself that the new maid was all right, that they were probably well and happy and trying to reassure himself until his week’s work would be accomplished.
But now, at last, he swung out of bed, shrugged into his robe, for the room was icy, closed the window, and went to the wall telephone. He jiggled the receiver until the sleepy night clerk answered.
“Get me Keystone 3943, Denver,” he instructed, and then paced the floor waiting for the call to go through. Perhaps if it had gone through this afternoon he wouldn’t have this frantic feeling now, but then there had been no answer at his home. He had meant to call earlier in the evening, but the mine officials had kept him talking machinery.
Perhaps Gloria, the young girl he had hired, had them out for a walk just at that time. The weather up in these mountains was so cold, however, that this thought only gave him further misgivings about adequate wraps. The telephone rang.
“There is no answer at all at that number,” the operator said. “Shall I keep trying and ring you again?”
“Try again now,” Steve ordered. “Keep ringing. They are probably asleep and hard to waken.”
“Yes, sir,” the operator replied, and he could once more hear the insistent ringing at his home, for what seemed half an hour. There was still no answer, and panic took hold of him. What could have happened to them? Whom could he call?
No one. He had no close relatives in Denver, and had made no intimate friends in the short time since he moved there to take a position in the home office of the Pikes Peak Mining and Milling Machinery Company.
He remembered Miss Tate, his secretary in the office, but discarded the thought of her immediately. She was already showing too much personal interest in him since his arrival.
“I’m sorry, sir. There is no answer.”
Steve sensed, rather than heard the edge to her voice. “Shall I try later and ring you again?”
“Thank you, no,” Steve replied, hanging up reluctantly.
The urgency to go home was so strong upon him that he began feverishly to dress.
“What am I thinking of?” he asked himself. “I can’t go home yet.” He couldn’t go until after the meeting of the Kettle Creek Mine officials tomorrow at ten. That was the climax to his week of talking, of demonstrating Pikes Peak machinery for their new flotation installations. If he left now the whole deal would probably be off, or the order likely go to a rival concern.
Nevertheless, he stripped his clothes from the hangers in the closet and packed them automatically into his suitcase. Before he closed the lid he hesitated, looking at his watch. Four o’clock in the morning. He could travel down out of these winter mountains, covering the 150 miles in four hours, but by no stretch of the imagination could he get home and back by ten o’clock.
He thought of calling the general manager of the mine and asking to have the meeting postponed, but discarded the idea as bad psychology, especially knowing that the man suffered from insomnia. His conflict between going home or staying on the job seemed to be wrenching him apart. The owner of his firm, J.T. Holden, wouldn’t like being wakened at this heathenish hour, either, but there was no help for it. Steve went to the telephone again, and once more roused the sleepy night clerk.
“Send a man up there?” shouted J.T. when Steve told him. “Steve, you stay there and see this thing through.”
“I can’t. There’s an emergency at home. I have to come to Denver. Send Jim to take my place. It’s in the bag, I tell you. All done but the signing.”
“Maybe. Steve, we’ve been trying to sell to Kettle Creek for ten years. I just know you can swing this. Every man I’ve sent there before has failed – I failed myself.”
“I’m sorry, J.T.,” said Steve miserably. “I know how important it is. I do have to go home, though.”
It was no easy drive from Kettle Creek to Denver, with the steep descent over icy roads; but while Steve drove the hairpin curves, his mind was on his children. All the problems of the past year since Ellen’s death surged through him.’
At first there had been many friendly hands to help a young man in his sudden grief. An embolism had taken her, the doctor had said. One minute Ellen was there, laughing, teasing about going home from the hospital. The next minute she was dead, leaving a baby only five days old, and two other children, Ilene, two, and Davey, three.
Everything had been done to help him – his house cleaned, food left in silent sympathy, and someone on hand to help with the children. That was before he moved to the city. That was what came of living in a small town, of having neighbors and lifelong friends, but that couldn’t go on forever. Steve had always carried his own loads, and he wasn’t stopping now. His mother and sister, Geneve, had wept and called him foolish when he took the job in Denver, and insisted upon taking the children there with him.
Geneve had wanted to rear them, since she had none of her own, but her husband, Felix, didn’t want her to assume that responsibility. His mother had come with him to Denver, leaving his father for Geneve to look after, and she had stayed with him three months, but her health was failing, and Steve had sent her home on the train, assuring her that Inga, the new Swedish housekeeper, was just perfect for the job.
But Inga hadn’t been. She was a good worker, and she could manage the children, but she couldn’t understand them, nor they her. It just hadn’t worked out. Thinking of the succession of housekeepers since, however, Steve longed again for Inga. Things had gone from bad to worse in the ensuing four months, and the worst was Gloria, little, incompetent Gloria, with her evasive eyes and careless ways. She had been with them only two weeks when Steve was sent to Kettle Creek.
Under no circumstances would he have hired her, except that she was all he could get soon enough to train before leaving. Traveling hadn’t been in the bargain when he came to Denver, rather, the move had been made to end traveling so he could be more with the children. But J.T. had taken a fancy to him from the start, and seemed to think he was some sort of miracle selling man. Kettle Creek, unsold on their machinery, was a thorn in J.T.’s side, so Steve had been sent there. Perhaps Mr. Holden wouldn’t think so well of him now, after leaving before this meeting.
At last Denver sprawled before him, in the murky February weather, soggy clouds and dirty snow and shadowed buildings along the highway.
It was a relief to see his own house still standing after the fears of the last night, but those same fears were justified once he was home, for he could hear Phyllis crying as soon as the car stopped in the garage. They were all in the kitchen, Davey, Ilene, and Phyllis, unkempt and hungry. Phyllis was cold, and her eyes were red and swollen. She gave a racking dry cough almost with every breath.
Steve swept her into his arms and went for a blanket, peeling off her wet night clothes as he went. Davey and Ilene trotted after him, squealing their delight at his coming, clinging to his legs.
“Where’s Gloria?” he demanded.
She was there, appearing suddenly in the doorway, her hair tousled from sleep, her eyes puffy, and her mouth still smeared with last night’s lipstick.
“What’s the meaning of this?” he asked, pausing with the baby in his arms.
“I was just getting up,” she began lamely. “I was tired out.”
“And where were you last night when the telephone was ringing?”
“Well, I …” she began, and stopped, measuring his face, trying to read how much he knew.
“Where were you, Gloria?”
“I was out in front, in a car, I guess. My boy friend …”
“At four o’clock in the morning?”
“When do you expect me to go out?” she flared. “I was listening for the kids.”
“How could you hear them if you couldn’t hear the telephone?” Steve wanted to know.
“Mr. Thorpe!” she answered, full of indignation, “you can take care of your own kids. I was just waiting to quit when you got home.”
She flounced to her room to pack, slamming the door, and Steve’s sudden anger was spent. He should not have lashed out at her, but turned his rage on the real culprit – himself. How could he have hired her? But, then, maybe he could have helped her – with patience, and time.
The children had been watching the scene with wide eyes.
“Gloria bad girl,” pronounced Davey.
“Gloria bad gole,” echoed Ilene. “Slap Ilene.”
She slapped her own little face smartly to demonstrate, grinning at Steve. He groaned, caught her in his arms, and kissed her, his pity for the inexperienced Gloria rapidly becoming extinct.
He wrote the girl a check and called to her that he was leaving it on the desk.
“Come on, now. Into the bathroom, all of you. I’m going to dunk you in the tub and then fix you a dandy breakfast.”
Steve put the blanketed Phyllis on a chair, while he scoured the tub. He eyed Phyllis with misgivings. Davey and Ilene shouted and splashed with the fun of bathing, but the baby sat limply gazing at him and whimpering in misery. In his concern for her, he scarcely heard Gloria leave the house.
The only clean clothes he could find were unironed in the returned laundry, but he used them and got Phyllis washed and out of the tub as soon as possible. He put her in the big double bed where he and Davey usually slept and covered her up to the chin. She cried when he left the room to get the others, and when he got back she was standing beside the bed in her nightgown.
“Here, you watch Phyllis. Keep her covered while I get you something to eat,” he said to Davey.
No wonder Gloria had left! A man needed six hands to cope with the little eels, he thought, looking at them fondly. They were beautiful children.
Davey had Ellen’s black hair and dark blue eyes. He had a straight, manly little face and a well-shaped head. Ilene had a round little gamin face, bright blue eyes, and dimples. Both girls were blonde, their cornsilk hair lying in waves like Steve’s own. Phyllis was baby-plump, a pink and gold miracle. They were all babies, for that matter, with the soft, vague motions of babies, the tiny violin voices that sharpened into birdlike shrillness when they were excited. Steve’s heart swelled with his love for them until it felt near to bursting.
There wasn’t much to eat in the house, he found. A half-empty carton of milk was on the floor beside the glass which Davey had been trying to fill when Steve came. He mopped up the milk and found a few slices of bread, some butter, and a can of pears.
While the bread was toasting, Steve cleared the kitchen table by the simple expedient of stacking everything in the sink. It didn’t look as if the dishes had been done for days. He filled the baby’s bottle and divided the rest of the milk evenly, and the pears.
Davey and Ilene ate avidly, stopping only to call “Mo! Mo!” until everything was gone. Phyllis snatched at the milk, but drank it indifferently and pushed away the fruit Steve offered her. She put her little head against his chest, where it felt hot as a tiny stove, and made his heart pound in apprehension.
Perhaps an aspirin would be good for her, he thought, but there weren’t any in the house. The drugstores wouldn’t be open for another half hour, so he took Phyllis back to bed and sat with her until she went to sleep. Maybe she would sleep it off, he thought hopefully.
There were so many things to do it was hard to tell where to begin – groceries to be bought, competent help found, and the house to be cleaned. Just now his difficulties seemed almost insurmountable, with his work to worry about, too. no time to waste thinking about his worries, though, he decided.
The children hung on his knees when eh telephoned, trotted after him as he strode through the house picking up papers and soiled linen, straightening furniture, and tossing trashy magazines, relics of Gloria, into wastebaskets. He remembered how it was when there was a wife and mother in his household. Ellen had been a model housekeeper.
He was still washing dishes when Phyllis awoke, crying and coughing. It was plain to see that sleep had not cured her. Her breathing had become visibly difficult, and her nostrils pinched in with each shallow breath. Her eyes and cheeks were unnaturally bright.
Steve telephoned for a doctor in a panic, and then called his mother long distance, knowing full well that he should have asked her to stay with the children while he was in Kettle Creek. It was his sister, Geneve, who answered the telephone, though, and rushed into conversation before he could tell why he had called.
“Oh, Steve! I’m so glad you called. I knew you’d be worried, but mother came through the operation just fine. The doctor says she’ll be out of the hospital in a week, and we’re taking them home, both her and dad. I’m here now, getting his clothes.”
“Just what happened?” asked Steve in sudden fear.
“I guess my letter was rather incoherent. You know those attacks mother has been having? Well, they were gallstones.”
Steve finished the conversation without adding his own difficulties to theirs, and cradled Phyllis in his arms until the doctor came.
“Your baby has pneumonia,” was the pronouncement. “You will have to have a nurse. I’ll send you a fine one I know. How are you off financially?”
Well, the man came straight to the point! No beating about the bush at a time like this, while Steve’s baby, perhaps, lay dying.
“I have some insurance,” he answered shortly.
Actually his little family kept him pretty poor, in spite of his good salary. The cost of help, of rent, food, and clothes, made a pretty tight race between the bills and payday.
The doctor explained, “I wasn’t worried about myself. I have to look out for the nurse, Miss Crain, since she won’t look out for herself. Where’s the telephone? I’ll call her, and then the drugstore for some medicine. Here are her written orders.”
It seemed only minutes after he had left that the children came running to babble about a car and a pretty lady. Steve watched the nurse getting out of the cab, coming up the walk. She was in uniform, a navy blue cape over her shoulders, her white cap in one hand and a black case in the other.
She walked with a swift grace and proud bearing. Steve looked at her with alarm and dismay. Such a creature as this would never stay in his miserable domain, perhaps wouldn’t know the first thing about taking care of a sick child. Somehow he had expected – and wanted – a middle-aged, motherly woman, perhaps plump, but certainly comfortable and capable.