“No More Parties!”
Wherein a society-scorning husband is read a lesson in the uses of teacup gossip
I TELL you I can’t go!” Walter Vare sat before the mahogany desk in his living room. His right foot tapped in irritation against a desk leg. His lips twitched as he glanced over his left shoulder at the pretty, plump, redhaired woman in the blue dress who was curled up, cat-like, on the chaise longue.
Tall, slim, nervous, he fidgeted among his papers like a race horse held in check.
In a voice sharp with irritability he continued to speak;
“What do you mean by accepting this dinner invitation without even consulting me? Didn’t I tell you that I couldn’t go out this week, that I have the biggest deal on my hands that I’ve ever attempted? Didn’t I tell you that I need every minute— this night of all nights?”
Muriel Vare was as calm as her husband was excited. She meditated while he peppered her ears with his protests. As she shot an occasional glance at him she noted, not for the first time, how the greyness of his once black hair contrasted with the youthfulness of his dark and brilliant eyes. He was burning himself up so fast—and what did it really bring them? lí
Even when they had >been s^ill in New York, where she had so many old friends, she hated seeing him so little while he spent night after night at the offices of ? Wolfe and Benedict. “We'JTsoon be the world’s largest advertising agency,” he had said proudly. As if that would do him any good ! Now, for the past two years, they had been not in New York but in Montreal, where Wolfe and Benedict had sent Walter as manager of their Canadian office. When they came north, she had hoped that the move would bring a less hectic life and that she and Walter would be thrown more together again. But whether he was in New York or Montreal, it was all the same. He carried his environment inside his head; that long, serious, student’s head, the eyes sometimes veiled with dreams of achievement, sometimes, as she saw them now, snapping with fire.
To Muriel, this question of whether or not they would go to the dinner was no'trifle. It was a symbol of the deep-seated conflict between them. She would have been willing enough to make allowances for his irritability —for she knew that he had been frantically overworking —if this had been the first instance of it, or if it were likely to be the last. But in his strained struggle for success he had gradually subordinated the whole of her life, as well as of his own, to his ambition. As a result, she felt that he and she were more and more drifting apart, except on such occasions as the present, when they came together with a clash. She knew well that his highstrung temperament drove him to work with such
intensity that a narrowing of interests seemed essential to him, to prevent a nervous collapse on the very eve of victory.
But the more she studied him, the more she felt that he was harming himself, indeed probably holding himself back from success by the rigidity of his concentration. If only he could broaden his range of interests, could become more human, she believed his success would come with less strain and more speed. But it was one thing to believe this herself, quite another to find a way of convincing him. Meanwhile, she reflected as she listened to his tirade, she must continue to make allowances for his overbearing manner as resulting from his overwrought nerves.
HAVEN’T you any idea,” he was saying, “of what these hours mean to me, to both of us? I’ve been plugging through a whole year, trying to get this account. If we’re appointed the advertising agents of the Ontario and Quebec Chemical Company it’ll bring our Canadian office out of the red. It’ll make it more than self-supporting. What’s more, it may very well prove the entering wedge; may easily make it possible for Wolfe and Benedict to get the ten times larger account of the parent company in the States. A good million a year, gross. And if I help to bring that about you can be sure the head office will feel I’m too good a man to be allowed away from New York. They’d bring
me back to Manhattan at a real salary.....-enough to let
you have that Park Avenue apartment. After all, I’m
doing this for you as much as for myself. And you’d risk the whole thing just because you’re determined to go to this dinner party.” After a pause he muttered to himself: “Pig-headed little cat.” Muriel, who overheard, chuckled.
“Funny animal I must be,” she said, as she snuggled comfortably among the flowered cretonne cushions, then glanced at the narrow platinum-bordered rectangle on her wrist and added decisively: “We have just time
“Time to dress nothing,” he barked, thumping his fist on a desk laden with statistics, charts, maps. “Haven’t I told you I have a heavy night’s work ahead of me revising these plans?”
"But,” she said in protest, “there’ll be people at this dinner whom you really ought to meet. There’ll be Colonel and Mrs. Goodwin--"
“What good will it do me to meet them? He’s not a prospect. He’s a competitor. He’s head of the advertising agency that’s handling this very account I’m after.” "Well, then, there’ll be the Hadleys. You have told me yourself, Walter, that Bob Hadley is the general manager of this O. and Q. Chemical Company that you’re so fussed about.”
“Yes, yes. I know all about that. But if I went to this dinner I’d have a fat chance of doing much talking to Hadley. I suppose I might have to take his wife in to dinner, but a precious lot of good that would do me.”
"You never can tell, Walter. You might learn something, even from a wife. I’m sure you undervalue social contacts.”
“Social contacts be hanged. That’s a woman's point of view. Can’t you get it into your little red head once and for all that I’m a business man and not a social light? Can’t you understand that these days one has to go after business in a businesslike way? When l want to talk to Bob Hadley, I’ll see him in his office at the O. and Q. Chemical Company. Or I’ll take him to the club to lunch, where I can have a real get together with him. Not just a chit-chat with his wife. Besides I’m far too busy—”
“But tonight, dear? I can’t possibly call this off. ’
“You can call it off, and you will, too. If you don’t, I’ll call it off for you.”
“But, Walter, it will seem frightfully rude. And anyhow you can’t have dinner here. I’ve let the maid go out for the evening.”
“Can’t have dinner here? Who said I had to have dinner anywhere? I want to work, not to eat. Crackers and milk will do for me.”
“But, my dear! What about your poor little wife? I was out shopping. I had next to no lunch. I’m absolutely starved.”
“Huh. You're trying to reduce, aren’t you? How about that Hollywood diet you started and then forgot about? Crackers and milk will do for you, too.”
“Walter, you’re a perfect brute this evening.” “Glad I’m a perfect something. Are you going to call off that dinner engagement or shall I have to?” “I certainly won’t.”
Continued on page 73
“No More Parties”
Continued from page 9
“Very well. I will.”
He grabbed the telephone and shot the number into the mouthpiece.
“Walter, you’re behaving like a villain in a movie. Do try to be polite when you tell them—”
As he talked into the telephone, making his apologies to his hostess, his tone mellowed. Muriel could hear him saying suavely: “A telegram from New York
. . . Sudden rush work . . . Extremely urgent . . . We’re both so sorry ... We do hope it won’t inconvenience you ...” At last he hung up the receiver.
“You did that quite neatly, Walter. You seem able to be polite to everyone but your wife.”
“Sorry if I boiled over a bit. But, Muriel, it really is urgent, you know. And please remember—no more parties until I get this account.”
“Very well, dear. But suppose you don’t get it?”
He didn’t answer her. Instead, he thumped into the chair before his writing desk, turned his back to her, and started to study his papers and charts.
“Walter, darling,” she purred, “you didn’t answer my question,”
No reply but a rustling of papers. Muriel studied her husband’s back and then, speaking in the tone of lazy luxury that seemed as characteristic of her speech as of her action, she said:
“I’d really like to know, dear. I seem to remember some of these world-shaking crises in the past. And I’d like to know this time whether, if you don’t get the account—”
From the desk came a sound like static; then:
“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Anyhow, I’m bound to get the account. I know we can work out a better advertising campaign for the O. and Q. Company than any other agency in the country. All I’ve got to do is to show them our record and our plans. Competitive plans, they’ve called for—must be submitted by tomorrow. We’ll win on our plans. They’ll see they can’t afford to do without us. A plain matter of their own profits. That’s what counts in business. Dollars and cents. And nothing else.”
“I should have thought that the human element; friendship—”
“Old stuff, old stuff. Anyhow, I can’t waste any more time in arguing. Bring me some crackers and milk and I’ll get to work.”
AT DINNER, two nights later, Muriel "*• ^ Vare found her husband sunk in one of those deep silences that told of a weighty day at the office. He evidently felt himself too oppressed by the burden of his labors even to talk about them. In that, at least, there was for her some measure of relief. But a woman still in her thirties, conscious of being pretty and charming and naturally of an animated temperament, cannot long keep content to sit silent opposite a graven image of gloom. Besides, Muriel felt that she had something of importance to tell.
“You remember,” she said, “that we would have met the Hadleys if we had gone to that dinner the night before last.” “Good lord, are you going to talk about that dinner again?”
“No, dear, I’m not. But I met Mrs. Hadley and Mrs. Goodwin at a tea this afternoon, and I discovered something interesting. I’m sure you’ll want to hear—”
Muriel stopped. She saw Walter take from his pocket a long envelope. From this he pulled out and unfolded a carbon copy of what looked to her not unaccustomed eye like a tabulation of advertising estimates. On this, pencil in hand, he started to write figures in the margin. He was completely absorbed.
At last Muriel, in irritation interrupted him:
“Walter, I was trying to tell you something important.”
“Please don’t talk to me now,” he snapped. Then a smile lit up his dark eyes as he added, less ungraciously: “I’ve just got an idea about the U. S. campaign for this company.”
“Then you’ve got the Canadian account? Why didn’t you tell me before? Walter, I’m so glad—”
“No. We haven’t got it yet. Just made the presentation yesterday. Won’t get a decision for a fortnight. Please don’t interrupt me.”
“But what I was going to tell you is really important. It shows you that even at a party—”
“Important? About a tea-party?” He growled. “For lord’s sake, can’t you keep quiet for ten minutes?”
For answer, Muriel Vare pushed back her chair and walked defiantly from the room.
■DOR the next fortnight she found Walter L as pleasant to live with as a teething baby. She would have liked to leave town until the period of his “agony” was ended, but, when she made the suggestion, his only answer was:
“Huh. Wait until this is over and maybe we’ll go on a trip together. Perhaps I’ll take a month off and we’ll go to Bermuda.”
Muriel knew how little likelihood there was that he would take that month off If fortune favored him and he got that new account, he would immediately become his old self again—and he could be charming. Nevertheless, even if he won his victory, he wouldn’t go holidaying. She knew him too well for that. “So sorry, dear,” he would say, "but now that we have this new campaign in the office, I’m really far too busy to get away. We’ll take that trip a little later.”
On the other hand, if he lost the battle for the new account—well, she simply didn’t dare to think about that. And whether he won or lost, what was to prevent the two of them from slowly, steadily drifting apart?
Like the wife of a prisoner awaiting the verdict of the jury, Muriel had to find ways of distracting herself while Walter awaited the decision of the Ontario and Quebec Chemical Company. She couldn’t see why he refused to play, now that the actual work on the solicitation had ended. Was he punishing himself from habit? It was, no doubt, because he had no skill in small talk that he disliked meeting strange ladies. His concentration on business had fitted him only for tête à têtes in club or hotel lunch rooms with other serious-minded builders of industry and wreckers of joy. Muriel was not a little pleased to find that during this fortnight he made many excuses for staying downtown to dinner and working late at the office.
Seeing people in the daytime partly made up for the loneliness of the evenings when she faced either a chair which contained no husband or a husband who contained little good-fellowship.
It wasn’t entirely a matter of chance that at these luncheons and teas she saw a good deal of those two tall Canadians, Mrs. Hadley and Mrs. Goodwin. They had indeed called on her some time earlier, and it was of course pure luck that Mrs. Hadley now asked her to a tea. But Muriel Vare had a purpose when she shortly gave a luncheon to which she invited Mrs. Hadley and, almost inevitably, Mrs. Goodwin.
She was determined to prove to Walter that social life could be of value even to him. It was true enough that when she had discovered something which she believed important in his business and had tried to tell him, he had snubbed her
brusquely. But this only increased her determination to find something more important still; something, she knew not what, whose very finding would draw her and Walter again together.
ONE afternoon a fortnight later, Muriel came home late from a bridge party. She was in such high spirits that ">he fairly ran from her car up the steps of the apartment house. Again, she had something to tell Walter. This time, however, she would be more careful in choosing her moment for telling. No use wasting a pearl of good news on a grumpy husband.
When she entered the long, low-ceilinged living room, she found Walter already there, standing with his back to the fire and gazing abstractedly toward his desk. He had such a look on his face that she decided that this, at any rate, was no time to tell him her news.
Walter gave her a perfunctory kiss and word of greeting. Then, without further speech, he crossed over to his desk and slumped his long body into the chair. He took up a magazine and made a pretense of glancing through it, then tossed it into the waste basket, lit a cigarette, let it go out, ground it to bits in the ash tray on his desk.
Meanwhile Muriel dropped off her sealskin coat and tossed her tight little blue toque on to a chair, then sat down quietly on the chaise longue and made herself comfortable.
Presently Walter Vare spoke.
“I can’t understand it,” he said, passing his finger tips across his forehead in utmost weariness.
Muriel said nothing, waited.
“I could have understood it,” he went on, “if they had given the account to some other agency that could contribute new ideas. I’ll have to admit that, although we’re the best in the field, there are others that are good. But what do you think? That O. and Q. crowd made no change at all. After studying all the plans they’d called for—and taken altogether, those plans must have cast them a lot— they left the account just where it was. With old Colonel Goodwin. Why, his agency has been giving them the same thing for twenty years. Not a single new idea. It’s a crime!’’
Muriel surveyed his troubled face with her calm blue eyes as she asked patiently: “Had there ever seemed much real chance of your getting the account?” “Real chance? Yes, I felt sure of it; that is, almost sure. WThy, I had been in touch with the advertising manager for over a year. I had him thoroughly sold on our company. He was so enthusiastic I didn’t see how he could do anything but give us the account. In fact, when he called for these competitive plans, I feli sure he was doing it just to get a good excuse for switching the account from Goodwin to us. And then, this fellow Hadley—”
Muriel’s head turned quickly at the name.
"What’s the matter with Hadley?” she asked. “I thought you and he were such good friends.”
“Oh, I’ve taken him to lunch at the club a couple of times, but I can’t claim intimacy. However, when I called on him some time ago about their account, he seemed as friendly as could be, but he said he wouldn’t think of interfering in the choice made by Larkin, their advertising manager. He would leave the whole business of selecting a new agency absolutely in Larkin’s hands.”
“And didn’t he?”
“He certainly didn’t. He did the queerest thing possible. I can’t imagine his reason. Apparently, he was entirely indifferent to Larkin’s whole idea of competitive plans—until the plans were submitted. Then at the last moment, he told Larkin to bring him the plans. He wanted to study them himself. And then . . Walter Vare burst into fiery
Muriel laughed as she raised plump ! hands in protest.
“Well, after Hadley had studied all those plans—and I’ll bet any one of them would have been an improvement on what his company had been doing—he just said he thought, ‘it would be unwise to change agencies at present.’ That, of course, leaves the account with the ¡ Goodwin Agency. And I’ve heard that they didn’t submit any plans at all. I • can’t understand it!”
He sank back in his chair with a long, t deep breath of weariness. His hands rested limply on the chair-arms. He repeated as if to himself: “I can’t understand Hadley . . .”
Muriel’s face brightened as she listened. Indeed, she seemed to become more animated as her husband became more depressed. Now, sitting up suddenly, she said briskly:
“But, Walter, under the circumstances,
I don’t see anything to be surprised at. Wasn’t it perfectly natural for Hadley—?”
Walter looked up with a glance as heavy as his heart.
“Perfectly natural?” he said. “Are you joking?”
Muriel looked at him with amusement. She could afford to be amused.
“Of course,” she said, “you didn’t know—”
“Didn’t know what?”
“If you had gone to that dinner with me you would have found out.”
“Damn the dinner! What are you trying to be clever about?” He rose and paced the floor nervously.
“I’m not trying to be clever, Walter. You’ve so often told me that mere cleverness doesn’t succeed in business. But I thought it time one of us showed intelligence.”
He stopped his pacing, looked at her suspiciously.
“Have you really anything to tell? Or are you just . . . ?”
Muriel laughed lazily before she answered.
"My dear, you’ve been a kill-joy for two weeks. Can’t I tease you for two minutes? But I really have something to tell. If we had gone to that dinner, you would have learned then what I discovered a couple of days later at tea.”
Walter looked at her with a sceptical half smile.
“And that is—?”
MURIEL smiled provocatively. It was pleasant to prolong his suspense. At last she said:
“You wondered why I thought it natural for Hadley to do what he did. Wasn’t it natural for him to put blood before business? Wasn’t it natural for him to prevent a change of agencies, when the agency already handling the account belonged to his own brother-inlaw?”
“Good lord! Then that explains—” “Yes. Mrs. Goodwin is Bob Hadley’s sister. That makes Colonel Goodwin Bob Hadley’s brother-in-law, doesn’t it? I suppose that’s how the O. andQ. Company first came to use the Goodwin Agency, and I suppose that’s why they’ve stuck to them ever since.”
Walter thumped down again into his chair.
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” “Simply because you wouldn’t let me. I started to tell you the very evening that I learned it. But when I said I had found out something important at a tea—”
He wheeled around in his chair and looked at her with astonishment, then said:
“Well! If only I had let you tell me then !”
“After all, would that have made much difference? Hadn’t all your work been done?”
“You’re right. It would only have let me know sooner.” He added with slow weariness: “A whole year of thinking,
planning, scheming—gone for nothing!”
*T wouldn’t say for nothing, Walter.” replied Muriel, joy in her eyes. “Perhaps another year . . . ?”
Walter frowned and shook his head slightly, as if to refuse the cold comfort of the future. He stared moodily at the floor as he answered:
“How can things be different another year? So long as Goodwin is in the advertising business, Hadley will certainly leave the account with his brotherin-law’s agency.”
“But surely the Colonel won’t be in the advertising business forever?”
“H’mph. He’s only fifty now and he’s lively as one of his own hunters. He may keep on going until he’s eighty.”
“But not necessarily in advertising!” she said, with a ripple of laughter.
“You little red-headed rascal,” he said in a gentler tone than Muriel had heard
for many weeks, “what are you up to now?”
“Well, one afternoon at Mrs. Hadley’s Mrs. Goodwin told me the Colonel’s one ambition is to retire from business and go to England to live. The difficulty is to find anyone who would buy his agency ...”
Walter’s dark eyes glowed. His voice was very soft as he said:
“My dear!” He went on briskly: “Of course, Wolfe and Benedict will buy him out, if only for that O. and Q. account. It may mean a million in the States.”
He paused. He started to speak again, then hesitated and gave her a glance of shy appeal that was all the reward she wanted.
“Don’t you think,” he said, “it would be a good idea if we invited the Goodwins and the Hadleys . . . ?”