From the Relief Society Magazine, October 1931 –
By Edythe C. Robbins
“Well, I must be going, or mother will be waiting for me. I promised to go shopping with her.” Arlene Argyle rose, pulled on a close fitting gray hat, fastened a winter suit of the same color, adjusted her fur around her shoulders and commenced drawing on a pair of suede gloves as she sauntered toward the door.
Helen Brown Trent had followed her and opening the door placed a hand in the other woman’s gloved one. “Thanks, Arlene – maybe you’re partly right after all.” She could hardly fight back the tears.
“Helen, dear, forgive me if I’ve hurt you too much – I only raved on that way for what I thought was your own good. I know I’ve no right to judge my married friends this way, being only a sort of old maid myself,” she laughed, it was a wistful sort of laugh – “but even old maids think they can see a few things from the side lines. And – dear girl, it seems to me you have been such a crazy thing. Think it over if you care to, but don’t worry a lot. Call me again if I can help you.”
Helen smiled, “Don’t be surprised if I do call you.”
“Lovely. Helen, this was one of the most delicious luncheons I have ever eaten. Thanks. Goodbye.” She almost ran down the big stone steps to her green roadster.
The woman at the door stood peering through the glass until her friend, car and all, had disappeared from sight. Turning, she entered the long living room and dropped into a chair facing the dying embers of the grate. She felt numb, a trifle ill, and of a sudden, wearily old.
Point by point she turned over in her mind all that her friend had said. There was the case of Ruth Greeley, a former school-mate, who until her recent death, just a few months previous, had been the highly respected wife of Tom Greeley. This same Tom Greeley was president of the company of which her husband was vice-president. That was bringing the thing nearer home. Apparently Tom had already announced his intention of marrying Evelyn Bronx. No doubt Evelyn was all right – Helen had never met her to judge. They said she was fascinating, unusually educated, though not beautiful nor striking. Helen had always thought Ruth and Tom were devoted. Had Ruth failed after all in some of the essentials that she should be forgotten so soon? It was disappointing at best.
There were her own problems, too. No time for them now, however. Bob and the girls would soon be coming from school. She glanced at the little Swiss clock on the mantel. It was five minutes to five. She rose quickly and started for the kitchen. There was dinner to prepare. it was Martha’s afternoon and evening off and the girls seldom came from the University in time to help, so she couldn’t count on them. She hoped at least they would come in time to eat. It had always seemed so jolly to have the whole family together for dinner.
At seven-fifteen that evening C. Howard Trent was seated at the head of his table carving a leg of lamb, assisted at his right by their oldest daughter, the lovely Mariane.
“Like any parsnips tonight, Mother?”
Helen looked up from her end of the table. “No, dear, just a few peas – yes, part of that potato will do.” She would have to eat something.
“Gee, Mom, how do you get that way? No appetite – you ought to get out and train a couple of hours after school.” This from Bob, already five-feet-eleven and only in third year High. “Wish Dad would hurry up with my part of that roast. I’m almost starved.”
Fair-haired Ruth glared across the table in disgust. “Why, Bob, anybody would think you were still in the grades.” Ruth (now a full-fledged University “frosh”) was really quite grown up. “Thought you were learning manners. One of these days you will, don’t worry.” She winked at her Dad.
“Ah, lay off a fellow. I’ll take three of those brown spuds, Mariane, and rush the service!” He fairly grabbed for his plate. “Um, is this food good!”
“Bless his heart,” thought Helen. If things could only taste like that to her again. She wondered what was keeping Howard, Jr. so long?
Just then the front door burst open and in strode a dark, broad-shouldered youth. Tossing his bag on the nearest chair, he made for the dining room. “Well, looks like the whole family’s waiting for me.”
“Sure thing! You better shake a leg if you know what’s good for you, Big Boy.” Bob had just passed his plate for a second helping. “Gee, this food’s good!”
The eldest son gave his Dad a pat on the back, his mother a peck on the cheek and took his place beside Ruth.
“Say, Howd,” she leaned toward him, “got something to tell you tonight.”
“Good girl,” he whispered back. He loved this pretty blond sister of his.
“What kept you so long, tonight, son?” his father asked, a trifle concerned.
“Oh, just a little extra dissecting up in the Lab. The Professor let Greg and me in on something special because we seemed interested. Let me tell you though, a fellow who makes his senior year in Medics, even from a Western U, doesn’t do much loafing.”
“Bad as that?” asked Mariane, as she piled his pate high.
“Oh, by the way, Mother, have you ever happened to meet a Miss Evelyn Bronx?”
Bob glanced up quickly. “Oh, she’s – ”
“Did you know I made peach-cobbler for dessert tonight, Bob?’ Helen asked quickly.
There it was, out for the second time that day: first from Arlene, then Howard. How it hurt! But she must forget now. Must get through dinner. She must think by herself later.
* * *
The clock in the hall struck eleven. Helen Trent peered anxiously into the mirror of her dressing table. The revelation was not flattering. Point by point she judged herself. She was forty-five – she looked fifty-five – or more. On the face, once really lovely, were lines – tired, discouraged lines, careless lines. Her skin – (no wonder the girls had said what they had) – looked sallow and lifeless. The eyes were not bad, they were blue – but there wasn’t much sparkle to them. (Perhaps that was the reason Howard had stopped mentioning them.) Her hair was still brown, but looked as lifeless as she felt. Naturally she always had it shampooed and waved for an occasion, but not regularly as she might have done. (Maybe the hair-dresser had been right in scolding as she had.) Her figure – well, it really was the one thing she might be proud about. At least she’d been active and wise enough to keep that right. There might be something to build on after all.
Passing over all the details it boiled itself down to this: Arlene had been right – as the wife of a man like Howard Trent, she had been a fool. He was already wealthy in a moderate way, vice-president of the same company as Tom Greeley – this same Tom who had so quickly forgotten his Ruth in favor of Evelyn Bronx.
Just because it had been necessary to give up things when they had less and the children were babies, was no excuse for the same thing as time went on and conditions improved. She had felt it much more important to stay at home fussing with the girls’ clothes, cooking the boys’ favorite dishes herself, despite the presence of the ever faithful Martha, than to join them in a course at the University, take a treatment for her hair or her skin, read the latest book or buy a new suit. She had no time to flatter, coax, laugh, or take a trip with that big husband of hers. (He did so like these things, too.) it was all very clear now!
She rose quickly. It was a desperate situation. She must solve it desperately. She knew exactly what to do – even Arlene was not necessary now.
The woman pulled out her only suitcase from the further end of her clothes closet, dusted it and laid it on the bed.
Opening the drawers of her dressing table and chest, she surveyed her possessions. “Not much for a rich man’s wife,” she murmured to herself. “Never mind, there may be better times coming, when I once get started!”
“What was that?” Howard was coming up the stairs, she knew his tread. Quickly the suitcase went under the bed and she closed the drawers just in time to reach the door before he tapped.
“Still up, Mommy? You’d better go to bed. You look about all in.”
He barely touched her lips as he kissed her good night.
“You may be wanting more than this before long,” she thought.
* * *
Helen Trent settled herself against the plush and linen of the Pullman seat – a smile of satisfaction and relief crept over her features.
She thought over the crowded events of her day: breakfast, bidding Howard and the children their casual goodbye, phoning for train schedules, a hurried trip to town. There she had arranged for the necessary money, drawing from the bank account she had laid by for the children’s college and the girls’ trousseaus. Luckily she had access to this, as it had been placed there by her, in her own name. Helen knew it really wasn’t needed for its first purpose. Everything simmered down, the boys and girls too, for that matter would appreciate it more if they had to earn at least part of what they spent. This piece of business had been followed by a little shopping, sending a telegram to her friend, Lulu Bransford at San Diego, and dashing home to find Howard detained in town for lunch. After her meal she had sent Martha to town, hurriedly finished her packing, called a taxi and caught her train.
She couldn’t help chuckling again as she thought of the note left behind and the surprise it would cause.
“Dearest ones,” it had read, “Above all things do not worry. I am well, happy and sane! Am taking a much needed trip, but it’s a secret. Best of luck in your work and play. You will hear from me again.
* * *
Six long, lonesome (perhaps profitable), weeks had passed. to C. Howard Trent, seated at his mahogany desk, they had seemed more like six years. There had been an occasional optimistic card received, but always without a return address and always with a different postmark. Just a few more days of this suspense would drive him to a detective agency for help.
His door opened – an efficient secretary stepped in. “Telegram, Sir.”
* * *
The following afternoon found C. Howard, Sr., Jr., Mariane, Ruth, and even Bob Trent, standing on the platform, tense and breathless, watching for one familiar form to descend from the steps of a newly arrived passenger train. Minutes that seemed hours passed by. Surely the last had alighted. Despair was creeping into five faces – no Mother! Bob and his father had started – and then – what a vision of loveliness! A trim little figure of a woman, exquisitely gowned in soft yet modish browns and creams (even wearing flowers), fresh and smiling started toward them.
Why, it couldn’t be! Yes – it was – Mother! For the space of so many minutes, events in the lives of six people were too poignantly glorious, too beautiful, to seem real.
* * *
That night in their joint room, safe and warm in her husband’s arms, she murmured, “Howard.”
“You remember asking me something about an Evelyn Bronx? I met her while on the Coast, she was selecting some trousseau things. I think she’s lovely.”
“Yes – really? But do you know there is, and always will be, just one lovely woman in all the world for me? Her name happens to be Helen Brown Trent.” He said it slowly and convincing enough, to leave absolutely no room for either doubt or argument.