Don't Let Her Worry
A tragi-comic tale of a domestic crisis involving a husband who was living a lie and a wife who wouldn't believe it
IT WAS a horrid, hot, muggy morning. Doris Manners kicked off the sheet, then sat up in bed with a jerk. She glared down at the handsome wretch who was her lawfully wedded husband. There he lay, sprawled out in faded pink pyjamas, six feet of him, too weary to move. No wonder he was tired.
; i “What time was it,” she asked lightly, so her voice would ; not betray her suspicious feeling, “when you got home last
Bob groaned and stretched, then opened his eyes. “Around twelve,” he replied.
So it was as bad as that. Bad enough to lie about. Doris had no fight in her. She just sat there and let him lie, and didn’t ask a single one of the burning questions that scorched 4 her lips. She couldn’t.
“Bir—die!” came a shrill cry from the nursery. That was J two-year-old Robin’s baby-talk word for “mother.”
“There, Bir--die,” mimicked Bob with a yawn that was obviously one of relief at the interruption. “Your nestling is calling you.”
Doris swung her feet over the side of the bed and slipped them into shabby mules.
“Please don’t try to be cute,” she said, on the brink of tears. Because her vision was misted, she stumbled over a chair that was one article too many in the crowded room. “How will we ever squeeze another baby into this bungalow?” she wailed.
She didn’t wait for an answer. In another five months, when the stork would have arrived, she and Bob wouldn’t even be living together—the way he was treating her. She stopped long enough in the nursery to drop a box of toys into Robin’s crib, then hurried out to the little blue-andwhite kitchen to put on the coffee. It had been her own idea to take on the housework in order to save for the new baby. Bob had said she was a good sport . . . Oh, well !
Back in the bedroom, she snatched up her brief garments and began putting them on listlessly. Bob’s voice came from the bathroom.
“Tuck into bed again,” he called to her, oh, so cheerfully. "I’ll bring you your coffee.”
When husbands became conspicuously solicitous, Aunt Cornelia had told Doris, you needed tobe on your guard. Aunt Cornelia knew about husbands.
“No, thank you,” answered Doris. “Bed’s no treat on a
morning like this.” Discovering a hopeless run in her stocking, she smothered an exclamation, then: “I wish to heaven I could get out of this town for a week!”
Bob emerged, half-dressed, from the bathroom. His face had a queer, strained look, even after the cold shower that usually pepped him up.
“Why, Glenlake’s not such a bad little town in the summer,” he reminded her. “Lots of space and fresh air; sand pile in the garden for Robin and your Aunt Cornelia’s big grounds whenever you want more room.” He patted her shoulder with an exasperating “There, there!” gesture. “Tell you what,” he said, “I’ll lunch down town, then you can have a nice rest and a happy day with Robin.”
As if, thought Doris, she could have a happy day when the air was so thick with unanswered questions that you scarcely could breathe. She pulled on a sleeveless morning dress, ran a comb through her fair hair, then coiled it in a bun at the back of her neck. It was no use trying to talk. She and Bob simply didn’t click any longer.
AFTER breakfast was over and Bob had left for the ■ day, Doris’s small hands took on an independent existence of their own. They washed the breakfast dishes, tidied the kitchen, made the beds and bathed Robin without any direction at all from her brain. Her thoughts were heavy, lumpish things that bumbled about inside her head like big bees bumping against a windowpane.
When Robin was settled for his morning nap on the back porch, Doris slumped down wearily on the doorstep. The hot muggy air enveloped her face like a suffocating feather bed. If only it would rain like fury and clear up everything !
She thought of Bob—loving, handsome, fun-making Bobas he had been when she first married him; or a month ago, for that matter. Yes, it was just about a month since he had begun to behave queerly. He had been so elaborately casual that first night when he said, “I have to go out for a little while, sweetness.” Why hadn’t she demanded a few details from him then? She had been too proud to demand what wasn’t given to her of his own free will. She was too proud still. But pride never made anybody happy; it only made one lonesome and blue.
She felt that she couldn’t endure things all alone any longer. There was only one person she could call on for help, and that was Aunt Cornelia. Dear Aunt Cornelia!
To Doris, who was little and blonde and clinging, Aunt Cornelia’s vastness, her sturdy bulk of body and brain epitomized dependability. She always could be counted on to make things right. How often had this redoubtable relative rushed through the tiny bungalow like a strong northwest breeze, sweeping out the mistakes of inefficiency ! Her visits left Doris breathless with admiration.
Aunt Cornelia had not married until she was fifty-five, but she knew exactly how young husbands should be managed. She was childless, but she knew all about babies. And she was tireless. She was willing to spend hours of her time and tons of her inexhaustible energy showing her niece how to make a success of married life. Doris was apt to be careless. Light-hearted by nature, she used to imagine that marriage was just a gay journey along a pathway so safe that, with uplifted chin and a song on your lips, you could dance all day to the music of the birds, your eyes on the blue skies above you. But Aunt Cornelia knew there were pitfalls in the path and that you had to watch your feet. Where would Doris have been if she had not had the sure guidance of Aunt Cornelia? But “Where am I anyway?” whispered a small anguished voice in Doris’s heart.
The chug-chug of a four-cylinder motor jerked Doris to her feet and sent her running around to the front of the bungalow. It was Aunt Cornelia on her way home from market. There she was; to the casual passer-by an enormous, large-featured woman in a small coupé, but to Doris an angel in a golden chariot. Aunt Cornelia brought the coupé smartly to the curb, then shut off the engine and stepped out. The car, relieved of its burden, wheezed and settled itself to make the most of its respite.
Aunt Cornelia was her own authority on styles. She wore her white hair in an amazing pompadour, and her black straw hat was perched on the top of it. Her white linen dress was starched within an inch of its life. She bore down on Doris like a great sailboat animated by the wind of destiny.
“Child!” she greeted her loudly. “You’ve been blubbering! Don’t you know men hate tears?”
Doris clutched her aunt’s arm and led her up the pink flagstone walk into the bungalow. Aunt Cornelia sailed into the living room, and as usual chose the smallest chair in sight; a precious antique with frail, spindly legs which buckled under the strain as she sank down on it. Doris cuddled into Bob’s big chair by the window.
“Aunt Cornelia,” she moaned, valiantly fighting the tight feeling in her throat. “Something has happened to Bob.” “Nonsense!” exploded her aunt. “What do you mean? He's alive, isn’t he? He works, doesn’t he? Eats, sleeps?” “That’s it,” interrupted Doris. “He doesn’t sleep. Oh, it’s all too terrible. He stays out nights. And this morning, he—he lied about the time he got home.”
Aunt Cornelia straightened her ramrod back, then leaned forward so abruptly that the little chair squeaked in protest. “What time did he get home?”
“I didn’t wake up,” answered Doris. “But I heard the clock strike twelve and one before I fell asleep. Bob said,” she concluded reluctantly, “that he came in around twelve.” Aunt Cornelia’s broad forehead wrinkled into neat accordion pleats of consternation. She said “Ummm-ummm” so ominously that Doris’s heart contracted with fear.
“My child,” said Aunt Cornelia in a crack-of-doom tone, “you have reached a crisis in your married life and you may 'as well face it squarely,”
TAORIS huddled deeper into the cushioned padding of her chair. She could not, simply could not, face a crisis. If only she hadn’t asked for help! But it was too late now; she had to take it. The angel, it seemed, had turned out to be Gabriel, announcing the end of the world.
“I am very much afraid,” blared her aunt’s trumpet voice, “that your husband has been living a lie.”
The distant roll of thunder that followed sounded to Doris like a faint echo of those dreadful words. She stared at the white-robed figure before her until it took on a weird, fantastic shape. She couldn’t speak.
"I saw Bob last night,” boomed the voice, “when I was driving home from the Local Council of Women bridge. It was exactly eleven o’clock; more than two hours before he got in. He was walking up to the entrance of the apartment house on Maple Avenue. That long, slim, black-haired secretary of his was with him. That’s where she lives— alone !”
"Miss Vivian!” gasped Doris weakly.
Miss Vivian, who had been in Bob’s office for years. Miss Vivian, who was so faithful to Bob and so cool to his wife. Doris had been jealous of the white-faced, red-lipped creature before, but Bob always had scolded or kissed her into being ashamed of her suspicions. It couldn’t be true! But if it were, it explained everything. That strained look on Bob’s face meant he was decent enough to suffer after he had fallen into one of the ever-yawning pitfalls that Aunt Cornelia knew about.
“If you remember,” the voice of doom continued, while the intermittent thunder played a dirgelike accompaniment all too fitting, “I did not approve of your letting Bessie go and doing your own housework in your condition. I even offered to pay the difference. A wife shouldn’t sacrifice herself for her husband. That’s not what a man wants. He wants gaiety and affection.” Aunt Cornelia closed her lips into a firm, unyielding line, then opened them again to ask crisply: “How gay have you been the past few weeks?”
Doris broke into hysterical laughter.
“Gay?” she cried wildly. “I’ve been hot and tired and cross and distracted. No, I haven’t been gay.” She stood up, a little unsteadily. “I guess,” she said, making a heroic effort to control her voice, “you had better go now, so I can think.”
"What you need, dear child,” her aunt reminded her, “is someone to think for you. Now, under the circumstances, you can’t afford to be too independent. You’re obliged to have a father for your children. You’ll have to win your husband back again.”
Doris clenched her small fists. She wished that dear Aunt Cornelia would go away and leave her to cry all alone. Then, at once, she was horrified by the ingratitude of her wish. She knew well enough that she was utterly incapable of solving her own problems.
“Will Bob be home for luncheon?” demanded Aunt Cornelia.
Doris shook her head in dumb misery.
"Well then,” said Aunt Cornelia, arising voluminously from the spindle-legged chair, “first of all, you’re going to nave a rest. I will take Robin along with me. You have a bath and a good sleep. Get rid of those evidences of tears. Then cook an appetizing but simple dinner, and look as pretty as you can when Bob comes in. Then try—I know it won’t be easy—to be gay and affectionate. Try it and cee if he doesn’t stay home tonight,”
Another clap of thunder sent Aunt Cornelia bustling toward the nursery.
“I’ll get Robin’s clothes together,” she called back from the doorway. “Hurry out and bring in the little darling so I can drive him home before the storm breaks.”
THERE didn’t seem anything better for Doris to do, after Aunt Cornelia and Robin had gone, than to follow the programme laid out for her. It was perfectly true that she needed someone to think for her. She turned on the bath. By the time she was in it, the rain had started in earnest. The soothing warmth of her bath and the steady patter of rain on the roof combined to imbue Doris with a quiescent numbness. She had lost her aching desire to cry; she only wanted to sink into a deep and lasting unconsciousness of the world and all its misery. She dried herself mechanically and slipped into pyjamas; then, not caring where the lightning might strike, curled up on her bed and
She woke about three in the afternoon and found the air cleared and the sun shining. She began drearily to dress. The sun helped, but not enough to inspire her to be gay. How could you be gay when your husband had been making love to a horrid, black-haired woman, and then had lied to you !
She stumbled out to the kitchen and began her preparations for dinner. There was cold chicken in the refrigerator, so she decided on a nice puffy soufflé for the main dish. She sighed dismally. Was it really her fault, she wondered, as she cut the chicken into neat little cubes? Had she lost her husband through an excess of devotion? Certainly she hadn’t been amusing, or affectionate either, of late. She had been too tired. Well then, she shouldn’t have undertaken so much. She had overdone it; had really not been a good sport at all, but had acted the martyr and driven Bob to someone else for gaiety and—oh, it couldn’t be true what Aunt Cornelia had said ! If it were, it would be better to be independent and not have a father for her children. And yet Aunt Cornelia was so wise. She had commanded Doris to win back her husband, so win him back she must. But Robin must never know that his father had lived a lie.
At six o’clock the soufflé was a perfect puff of browned deliciousness, but Bob had not come in. By seven the perfect puff was a flat, unappetizing pancake, and there was no man to eat it anyway. At eight o’clock the dinner was hopeless and so was Doris. She had been standing by the window for almost an hour, her body taut, straining to catch the first glimpse of Bob swinging down the street. How could she win him back if she couldn’t even see him?
At a quarter to nine she heard a familiar chug-chug. Maybe Aunt Cornelia had come to tell her that Bob had been killed!
But when Aunt Cornelia sailed in, she only said that Robin had gone to sleep like a lamb. She had come over to view the successful working out of her advice to young wives. When Doris wailed that Bob had failed to arrive and she didn’t know what was keeping him away from her, Aunt Cornelia was frightfully upset because the man’s dinner was spoiled.
“Good grief, child!” she exploded. “Don’t you realize that in this atmosphere that’s already far from homey, to serve a messy meal would simply ...” Words failed
Continued on page 58
Continued from page 18
Without stopping to remove her hat she seized Doris by the hand, and was dragging her down the hall toward the kitchen when the door opened and Bob stood in the door-
In the first rush of her relief that he was alive, Doris started toward him, but she was halted halfway, petrified with alarm by his appearance. His face was dead white, his eyes stared at her without a glimmer of expression, and he was swaying on his feet. It was Aunt Cornelia who caught him just as he would have fallen. She picked him up in her arms and carried him into the bed-
In the face of this fresh disaster, Doris could only lean weakly against the wall. After a moment she managed to propel herself, with lagging steps, to the bedroom door. Bob was 'ying on the bed with his eyes closed, but he was moaning, so Doris knew he wasn’t dead. Aunt Cornelia came
to her and thrust something into her hand.
“Does Bob play poker?” she whispered hoarsely. "I found this in his inside coat pocket.”
It was a big roll of bills held together by an elastic band. Doris never had seen so much money. She stared at it, fascinated. Aunt Cornelia bustled in and out of the bathroom with cold cloths, brandy and smelling salts.
'He’ll be all right,” she said. “It’s just a collapse due o a combination of heat and ¡ too little sleep.” She glanced sharply at Doris. ’I’ll phone for the doctor.”
’Wait !” cried Doris. She returned the roll to her aunt. ’Bob’s not a gambler,” she faltered miserably. “Where do you suppose he got all this money?”
Aunt Cornelia snapped off the elasticband, then briskly ran through the bills.
“Urnm," she muttered thoughtfully.
"Ten thousand dollars ! He must have sold the bungalow.”
Doris had a heavy, horrible feeling, as though her body were an iron weight.
"The bungalow,” she said dully, “is only worth five thousand, and anyway I'd have to sign the papers.”
Aunt Cornelia’s colossal cocksureness was notshaken.
“Well,” she said briskly, “he must have stolen it from the Glenlake Loan Company in order to run off with that precious Miss Vivian of his.” She started for the living room. “I’ll get the doctor here before the police come.”
Police! Suddenly Doris found she could use her arms and legs. She threw one agonized look at her husband lying there so white and helpless, then she dashed into the other room and snatched the telephone receiver out of Aunt Cornelia’s grasp.
“No!” She wasn’t clinging to anybody now; she felt strong enough to move mountains. “The police shan’t have Bob! And that Miss Vivian can’t have him either! I’m going to get him to Toronto and hide him in the General Hospital. I’ll say his name is John Smith, and nobody’ll ever find him.”
Aunt Cornelia was confounded at this turning of the worm, and looked it.
“You can’t run away from trouble,” she ’said uncertainly.
“I’m running just the same,” announced Doris, undaunted. “And I’m not going to get a local doctor, either. I’ll catch the tenthirty train, and by midnight Bob will be safely under the care of the best doctor I can get. I don’t know what Bob has done, but whatever it is, he’s mine!”
“Good for you, child,” Aunt Cornelia commended her with a grim smile. "I didn’t know you had so much spunk. Pack your bags while I drive to the station and get you a state room. And I’ll wire the Toronto hospital to send an ambulance to meet the
BY ONE O’CLOCK the next morning, Bob had been examined by the hospital’s resident physician, who pronounced him suffering from nervous exhaustion and in need of rest. The nurse had made him as comfortable as she could, and had set up a cot for Doris.
Without bothering to undress, Doris flopped down on the cot. The electric bulb under the green shade gave out such a ghostly light that she snapped it off. then lay there listening to the eerie night noises that filled the corridor. Bob seemed to be resting now. At first, when the doctor was examining him, he had moaned and turned his head from side to side. But he would fall into a natural sleep, they had told her, and be himself in the morning.
Could you be yourself, Doris wondered, if you were living a lie? She thought of Miss Vivian. The creature was probably at her best in hot weather. She always looked cool and gay. No man wanted a woman who cried and made a martyr of herself.
Doris woke up when the night nurse came in to take Bob’s temperature. It was nearly eleven o’clock before he opened his eyes. Doris crept to the side of his bed. Yes, he did look like himself.
“Hello,” he said vaguely. “What’s up?” “I brought you here to the hospital in Toronto,” she explained. “You came home sick last night.”
He sat up in bed with a jerk.
“Where are my clothes?” he demanded. He was thinking of the ten thousand dollars. Before Doris could answer, another nurse rustled in with a tray.
“You shouldn't sit up, Mr. Smith,” she said in a voice as stiff as her uniform.
At the sound of the unfamiliar appellation, Bob flung a wild, questioning look at his wife. Doris put her finger on her lip and gesticulated wildly behind the nurse’s back.
"What the—” began Bob as soon as the nurse had gone.
“I—I thought,” stumbled Doris, “that you’d be quieter if I said your name was Smith. I thought maybe you would be
glad if nobody could find you—to bother you, I mean.”
"But I want somebody to find me,” groaned Bob. “Get me my clothes. I’ve got to go back to Glenlake.” His eyes had a feverish light in them. He wasn’t himself, after all. Doris took hold of his arms.
“You can’t go,” she gasped. “I’ll call in every nurse in the ward.”
He kicked off the covers.
“There’s someone I have to see,” he gritted out, then wrenched his arms from her grasp.
“Get my clothes.” he shouted.
His face was ghastly. Doris reached for the signal button, but Bob was too quick for her. He snatched her wrist, and they struggled silently. Doris never had dreamed that she would be fighting her man with bare hands to keep him from another woman. Neither of them heard the door
“Good morning!” sounded a well-known clarion voice.
Bob loosened his hold, and Doris sprang back, panting, from the bed.
“Aunt Cornelia!’’ she gasped.
“I just drove to town,” announced the redoubtable relative, as cheerfully as though life were as easy to guide as a coupé. She paid no attention to her niece. “I’ve been down to the Glenlake Loan Company,” she
Bob thrust the hair away from his eyes with a frantic gesture.
“Have they found out what I did?” he
“They seem to think they have,” Aunt Cornelia assured him. “I discovered that roll of bills in your coat pocket last night, and I was waiting outside your chief’s office when he came down at eight this morning. He escorted me inside and mumbled a lot of nonsense about the Carter account and two hundred thousand dollars—ten thousand cash—then he started cheering about how you had put it over. He called in your Miss Vivian and I thought for a minute the two of them would start kissing me.”
Bob sank back on his pillow and closed his eyes. The strained expression was gone from his face. The tired look was still there, but it was peaceful Aunt Cornelia suddenly remembered her niece.
“It seems, child,” she told her, “that your husband is a hero. He’s been going back nights, wearing himself to a frazzle to save the Glenlake Loan Company from blue ruin. The estimable Miss Vivian has put in some overtime too. Bob often insisted on escorting his secretary to her door”—she coughed significantly—“but he always went back to work far into the night.”
Doris sank down limply on the bed. A hero! How had she dared to doubt him? Robin and the expected baby must never know that their mother had been suspicious of their wonderful father.
Aunt Cornelia had started for the door.
“Your chief will be here after luncheon," she told Bob, who opened his eyes wide. “He's going to give you a trip at the expense of the firm.” She grasped the door knob in a firm, competent hand. ’T’ve some shopping to do, but I’ll be back. I’ll take care of Robin, and finance Doris so she can go with you.”
The door closed behind her. Dear Aunt Cornelia, who always could be counted on to make things right. Doris leaned down and kissed her husband rapturously. Her own Bob! Then she sat up straight and frowned down at the handsome wretch who was her wedded mate.
"Why didn’t you tell me there was trouble at the office?” she scolded.
"I couldn’t," answered Bob. “The doctor told me not to. Why, it looked for a while as though we’d be put on the street. I went to see your doctor one day when I thought you were sick. I told him what a jam I was in, but I said I didn’t want you to kill yourself keeping the bills down. And what do you think he told me? ‘Bob,’ he said, ‘the housework won’t hurt Doris a bit, but, whatever you do, don’t let her worry.’ ’’