FICTION

Inoculation

A story of Youth's disturbing attraction for a man in his "foolish forties" and of a modern wife who found a new answer to that age-old query —" Why?"

ALEC RACKOWE February 1 1942
FICTION

Inoculation

A story of Youth's disturbing attraction for a man in his "foolish forties" and of a modern wife who found a new answer to that age-old query —" Why?"

ALEC RACKOWE February 1 1942

Inoculation

A story of Youth's disturbing attraction for a man in his "foolish forties" and of a modern wife who found a new answer to that age-old query —" Why?"

ALEC RACKOWE

IT WAS simply revolting the way all these scurrying young things made Anne Wayne feel so old.

Tammie by herself had never had that effect, but undergraduates in the mass, hair flying, saddle straps twinkling, made Anne feel that her face was sagging, her shoulders bowing with the years.

She felt better when she got to the white infirmary. The frankly middle-aged doctor, her eyes the only youthful part of her face, said that Tammie was getting along nicely.

“Some of the girls take inoculations harder than others,” she elaborated. “In combination with the usual freshman homesickness it was too much for your laughter.” She smiled. “In a week she’ll h; ve forgotten all about it and wonder why m. earth she howled for her mother. She'll be as like the rest as peas big and small.”

That was when Anne remarked upon the destruction of her ego. “You soon get used to them,” Dr. Marden said drily.

“1 couldn’t.” Anne smiled, her blue eyes bright above her red mouth. “They make me feel like Methuselah’s mother. 1 wish there was an inoculation against age.” “There is.” Dr. Marden returned Anne’s whimsical glance. “Oh it doesn’t come in ampoules. Life administers the toxic bodies. Spiritually or mentally; I’m not sure which. It is going a little far afield for a homeopath. But nonetheless the normal ones receive their dose in some way, have a mild reaction and are the better for it.” She laughed as Anne stared, her brow wrinkling. “When the inoculation is successful the result is what is known as growing old gracefully.” “Ah,” Anne said regretfully, “But one does grow old.”

“Since that’s inevitable it’s not important. It’s how one reacts to the inoculation that counts.”

ANNE thought about all she had to do as kshe sat in the Pullman and sped toward home. Tammie disposed of at school for most of four years. She and John could begin to have some of the fun that had been theirs years ago. He was more successful than he had ever been but that had its drawbacks. She didn’t get around with him as much as she liked and she liked to go places and be seen doing things. She was frank about it. She liked other men’s admiration, even their attentions, but she was in love with her husband. Big, grave, kindly John. His hair was still black and plentiful at forty-five; his waist trim. If she had her choice of the best-looking and most fascinating men she’d still take John. She even felt pride in her sentiments. John had no cause for worry. Her eyes might be alert but her heart was true.

It was barely noon when she went into the dining car. She glanced out of the window at the flying landscape, the shrubbery bright, the trees massed in colorful background. They would go up to the country place this week end. She wouldn’t ask anyone. Just the two of them. The place had been a little hectic, what with her own friends and John’s and the youngsters Tammie knew. It would be nice and quiet. Just right for them to get back into the mood she was beginning to miss.

She ordered her lunch and opened her bag to give her oval face a quick look. The tiredness had gone from her eyes. She was conscious that she was still lovely still desirable. Jet h..ir and fringed Irish blue eyes in a subtly tanned face. The effect of all that youth was wearing off quickly.

She even smiled, inwardly, when the masculine legs and jacket paused at her table and a hand withdrew the opposite chair. That always happened when she travelled alone. It was annoying at times but flattering in general.

She busied herself with her bag. It was only when a voice said, “You’ve got to look up eventually,” that she raised her eyes.

Rayner Smith, lean, greyed, a little too elegant of dress, grinned at her. “Don’t say it,” he told her, his faintly faded eyes surveying her openly. “I’m on my way back from a business trip. But what are you doing? Returning from a rendezvous?”

“I’m a one-man woman,” Anne said. It wasn’t particularly amusing, but she knew from experience that you couldn’t choke Rayner off. He had his brand of humor and the only thing to do was let him run on and get away as quickly as you could. She asked, “Do you see Maude?” in an effort to change the subject. Maude had been his wife during those several years they had been part of the same set.

Rayner grimaced over his tomato juice. “She doesn’t even speak to me. You’d think I’d never known her, much less been married to her. Getting to be a dowdy homebody too.” Raynei Smith set down his glass. “Now you . . .” Hepau. ad.

Anne smiled derisively. “Thanks for the implied insult but John takes all my time.”

“What a man,” Rayner said with an exaggerated shake of his thin templed head. “A more than thriving chemical company, an alluring wife and a young and giddy distraction on the side.”

The filet of sole had been appetizing to look at, but the piece Anne raised to her lips was suddenly tasteless and dry, like a mouthful of crackers. She looked at Rayner, her face still, and his eyes mocked her. “Shouldn’t I have said that? Don’t tell me you don’t know about Kay Towner.”

It was strange how amid all the turmoil that surged within her one thing clicked into place. She had never quite been able to classify Rayner Smith, but she knew now. He was a gossip. A male gossip. Beyond everything else that was his forte. And she had never noticed it; never placed it.

She put down her fork. Her eyes ached again. She knew, in the instinctive way one knows such things, that he was telling the truth. It was too much, too big for her to grasp all at once, but she knew, incredulous, that it was so. John and another woman.

She looked at Rayner Smith, thinking, “Good heavens, no. Not John. You—any other man—yes. But not John.” Yet she knew it was so.

She asked, “Who is Kay Towner?”

Rayner Smith attacked his roast beef with relish. “She’s an artist. Advertising stuff. The stylish sketches illustrating the day’s expensive bargains at the big shops. She’s pretty, decidedly. Very young and entertaining. John likes her. Definitely.”" He was looking at her, narrowly. She was hurt, too much to be able to conceal it. And she didn’t care to make the effort; not for the sake of what Rayner Smith thought.

She was anxious to get away, yet she could not keep the question from her lips, “How long has this been going on, Rayner?”

“Months.” He smiled at her, setting down his knife and fork with an almost feline carefulness. “Now as I was saying, Anne—I’ve always had a weakness for you. I’m living at the Westerley. Why shouldn’t you come out with me and see a few of the new places. I’m sure you have lots of unoccupied nights.”

Anne couldn’t remember what she said but it was something off hand, with reflex lightness. She went back to the Pullman. She opened a magazine but saw nothing. Only John, big and grave. The picture ' didn’t fit. Not John and another woman. Not John in one of those stock situations you read about, heard about—laughed at.

DRIVING home she was glad to be sitting in the safety of the big car with Mason’s broad back before her. He asked after Tammie, and at the house Greta asked too.

Anne went up to her room, sat down in her favorite cream and white chair. She looked at her face in the mirror. Her eyes looked back at her, wide, shocked.

When John called his voice was no different. She told him about Tammie. He said, “That’s fine. I’m glad. Will you excuse me, Anne? I’ll see you at dinner.”

She wondered if he spoke in that same grave, kindly way to Kay Towner. She was consumed with a desire to see the girl. Funny that that should be her first, her most urgent want. Why should the first reaction be a desire to see what the other woman looked like? It could have no bearing on what had happened, on what was to happen.

Almost as senseless as to think that she could read anything in John’s face. Mason went to pick him up and Anne busied herself with the last-minute preparations for dinner. She smiled at herself, choosing the dress she would wear. Blue, because that emphasized her coloring, the rounded lines of her supple body.

She was at the door when he came. He was wearing grey as he usually did. She raised her face for his kiss, closing her eyes. His mouth was warm. She had a desire to throw her arms about him; to ask. It would be the sensible thing. She had always thought that, when hearing of such situations. To bring it out into the light. To turn it over and inspect it. But she knew now why no one ever did. The shrinking, such as you felt when you got to the edge of the water and felt the coldness about your toes.

There was Tammie to talk about. It gave her a chance to look at him with new eyes; to search. She told him of meeting Rayner Smith on the train and John said with interest, “How is he? I haven’t seen him in months.”

She was glad when John went upstairs to his study, saying there were some things he had to do. It was a terrible strain to be with him, wanting to know yet not daring to ask for fear of what his words might be. Afraid that it could be like easing a brick from a towering pile that would come down and crush one. Crush all those years of happiness that had been theirs.

She sat on in the living room. When she heard his voice, faintly, her immediate thought was that

he was calling this Towner girl. She had the telephone to her ear before she realized what she was doing. She heard John talking to Borden, his assistant.

She put down the telephone. She felt unclean, shamed. She would never have believed she could have done such a thing. It was beneath her.

And yet it wasn’t any use. This matter was upon her, poisoning her every moment. She sat thinking, putting this little bit with that. She had to know.

She got the city telephone book from the hall closet, found the name quickly enough. The address and number. And what now? Go and see her? Confront this girl who was stealing John? It was what all the wives she read of in stories did. They went and saw the girl, or sent for her. And the scenario went different ways from then on. All sorts of angles to the old situation. But Anne wasn’t having any of that. She didn’t know enough. You couldn’t talk unless you knew what you were talking about.

Yet she wanted to see Kay Towner.

IT KEPT her awake half the night. She felt worse in the morning. John was already gone. Greta brought up her breakfast. Anne sipped her

coffee. There were so many things to do. Hairdresser, a fitting. But they faded into nothingness against this new thing that had come up.

Greta asked, “We go this week end, Mrs. Wayne?”

Anne looked at her, blankly. Then her white teeth caught at her lip. She said, “Yes, Greta.”

“Guests?”

“Possibly two. I’ll let you know.”

It would answer her first requirement; her most burning desire. She called the Westerley, got Rayner Smith.

“I thought you might like to come up country for the week end,” Anne said.

“And bring Kay Towner with you. That is, if you know her.”

She heard his thin laugh. “Delightful idea. I do know her. Not very well—but well enough to ask her. I’m sure it should appeal to Kay. I’ll call you back.”

He called her before lunch. “She’ll be delighted to come, Anne. I didn’t tell her you’d asked for her. I merely said you’d invited me up and told me to drag a girl. Good staff work, eh?”

She could tell he was thrilled, like any female gossip, to be in on anything that was going to

happen. That he battened on such things. She could barely be cordial as she said, “Come up early Saturday. You know where it is.”

She told John the next morning that she had invited Rayner Smith. He had come home latelong after she was in bed. She had heard the taxi and was glad her light was out. She had never been like that. This thing was making her hateful to herself.

When she told him, John nodded, looking at her across his paper. His grey eyes were tired. “Amusing fellow. Anyone else?”

“He’s bringing some girl he knows. They’ll be up Saturday. We’ll go Friday, as usual. Is that all right?”

The paper hid his face as he turned the page. “I hope so. I’ll be glad to get away.”

Anne was glad of the paper. She felt she couldn’t look at him, any more than he seemed able to look at her. She ached for the week end to come. She didn’t know what she was going to do but she knew that the first thing was for her to see Kay Towner. It couldn’t possibly do any good but it was a place to go on from.

She went up Friday afternoon with Mason and Greta. Man and wife they had been with her and John for fifteen years. They always looked forward to the summer place with as much eagerness as Anne and John. “As we used to,” Anne corrected herself, and began to wonder, inevitably, how and when John had begun to change—when his interest had begun to wander.

It wasn’t a long run. Under two hours. The place nestled green and white amid its small terraces, its gnarled, woodpecker-scarred apple trees. The lake lay like a dark mirror against the green of the sloping lawns and the trees flamed all around. Mason got happily into dungarees, pulled out a pipe from somewhere and started on one of the jobs that he and John always found to do.

Smoke curled from the chimney of the main house. Greta appeared with an armful of linens, going to the playhouse where she and Mason slept. It was all so lovely; so still and beautiful and dear. Anne felt the tears rise to her eyes, a panic at her heart. She had never loved John so much as she did now. But if there was another woman . . . She shook her head, biting at her lip. Tomorrow she would see this Kay Towner—tomorrow she would gain some idea of what she had to do. For some-. thing had to be done. Queer how you could suspect nothing and yet, when you were introduced to the idea, the suspicion, know for a certainty whether it was true or not.

She was with Greta in the kitchen when John came. He called to her and she answered. “Go and change. Dinner in fifteen minutes.”

She had on a tweed skirt and a blue pullover. Her blue-black hair was piled on her small head. She went into the beamed living room, its walls in shiny dark green, and waited for him.

Like Mason he had got into something old. He came out of their bedroom, up the two steps. He didn’t look at her. He said, “Where’s my big briar?

I left it here last time.”

Anne told him where the pipe was. “Don’t smoke now. We’ve got a steak and it’s ready. I’m saving the roast for tomorrow.”

John sighed as he put the dead pipe between his teeth. His eyes met hers. They were troubled, mazed. He said, “Anne . . . ”

Her heart leaped. The pit of her stomach contracted. “Yes, John?”

He didn’t answer for a moment. The flutter died from Anne’s chest. John said, “It’s such perfect weather. There’s lots to be done. I wish you hadn’t asked Smith.”

“I thought he’d be amusing. Perhaps they’ll go early Sunday. We needn’t go back until Monday morning.” But she knew he had been about to say something different. And she knew too, that he didn’t know Kay Towner was coming. He either hadn’t spoken to her, or she hadn’t told him.

THEY always went to bed early, rose early.

There was something about the clear, winey air that made the lids droop at ten. Anne was up at

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Inoculation

Continued from page 9—Starts on page 7

eight but John had long since risen. Greta said, “I gave them breakfast in the kitchen. Standing.” Her broad shoulders rose. ‘‘They are working in the lower meadow. The brook— something.” She said severely, ‘‘You eat your eggs, Mrs. Wayne. What’s wrong with you?” And then, ‘‘The guests for lunch?”

‘T think so,” Anne said.

She was surprised that she felt so calm when she heard the car turn in from the main road. It was a red convertible with the top down. It had a musical horn and Ravner Smith, somewhat clashing in a checked sports jacket, waved as the car turned into the gravelled drive between stone walls.

It was the girl with him that Anne looked at as she stood at the top of

the steps on the first of the terraces. The girl who got from the car and threw one quick glance about before coming toward Anne. Greta appeared to take the bags but Anne was not aware of her.

The girl was lovely. Anne thought, ‘‘She doesn’t need models. All she needs is a mirror.” Tall and rounded. Hazel-eyed, with a wealth of truly blond hair. And young—ever so young. Not more than twenty-two or three.

Rayner Smith jibbered. Kay Towner looked up and her smile was perfect about white even teeth. ‘‘It’s so good of you to have me, Mrs. Wayne. It’s a simply lovely place.”

Not a fool, Anne decided, and there was even a little satisfaction in that. John wouldn’t stand for a

senseless person. She couldn’t grasp any of it yet, but she could understand John liking a girl with a mind. And this one had that, among other things.

She gave Kay Towner the blue room. The one with the silver stars on the paper and the white curtained windows. Later, they talked. Kay Towner talked of plays and books. Rayner Smith smiled conspiratorially past her at Anne.

Anne sat, her hands in her lap. She heard John and Mason come up from the brook. She could not see them; only hear their voices. Rayner Smith sat more erect, expectant. Kay Towner relaxed in her chair, a smile on her lips.

John came up the path to the small terrace. There were wisps of weeds on his trouser legs, burrs. He had the pipe clamped between his teeth. He stopped as he got to the terrace, a little below them. Rayner Smith said, “Well, Wayne. How’s the country gentleman?”

But Anne was aware of John, looking at Kay Towner. His face had gone white. Anne said, “This is my husband. John, Miss Towner.”

Kay Towner said with perfect assurance. “We’ve met in town. I get around so much you know. How are you, Mr. Wayne?”

John didn’t answer. He sat down in one of the all-weather chairs. Rayner Smith said, “Been mucking around in Mother Earth?”

“Some,” John said briefly. He struck a match and lighted his pipe.

Anne waited, her eyes thoughtful. John had been startled, shocked. She stole a quick glance at him through meshed lashes. He looked as if someone had hit him a blow in the stomach.

They had lunch on the flagstoned porch that overlooked the lake. John was more quiet than usual, but Rayner Smith talked so much John’s silence might have passed unnoticed. Kay Towner, distractingly lovely, shifted her body, yearned at the lake.

“The water is cold, ’’Anne warned, but Kay smiled her wide, vivid smile. “I shan’t mind. It’s all right, isn’t it?”

“Perfectly,” Anne said.

The wisp of swim suit was revealing in a different way than Kay’s sports clothes had been. Anne found herself looking at the glowing figure that climbed from the water. Strangely enough she felt no envy, no hatred. Rather she thought, “Will she look as I do, fifteen years from now?” It was a comforting thought. And in some way her concern had gone from Kay, was concentrated wholly on John. Between her and Kay there could be no contest. They were not matched. This was a girl in her twenties; Anne was a woman too close to forty to ignore the milestones.

No, it was John who was the question and the answer; the answer that held everything for her. She could see that now, and her lips trembled as she looked at him, seated at the side of the pool, pipe in mouth. He didn’t say anything until Mason appeared at the foot of the dam and then John excused himself and disappeared.

He didn’t come up until it was quite dark. Anne had already bathed and changed into a white frock that

showed up her dark coloring. She had chosen it deliberately, knowing Kay w7ould have brought something vivid, something only a pure blond could wear. Rayner came down eariy, obviously eager to give and receive, but Anne kept busy going from Greta to the dining room with its candles in etched lamps and Dutch pottery about the wainscoating shelf. By the time she was finished John had come in and Kay Towner come dovn in skilful pink and black, her hair caught back to show her ears.

At last John came out. One look told Anne he had been thinking while he md Mason worked. He was angry. She didn’t quite know at what—but she knew he was angry. The why of it was something she must wait to know.

Kay Towner was vivacious. Talking of advertising and art men, the city’s smart places. Rayner Smith chimed in and Anne helped the talk and watched John when he looked at Kay. But she could tell nothing from his face. Only that he had been deeply stirred; only that there w7as something between them.

WHEN they were having coffee in the living room Rayner Smith said, “Let’s go somewhere. I’ve a desire to do a rumba.”

Anne said easily, “Why don’t you three go? I shan’t mind. I’ve so much to do in the morning.”

Rayner Smith turned to John, but John shook his head and Rayner Smith smiled thinly at Kay. “Would you chance it alone with me?”

Anne met the girl’s wide gaze and smiled. “I’ll get a coat,” Kay said and went up the stairs.

Anne heard John outside, telling Rayner of the curve in the drive. When the sound of the car died aw7ay he did not come in. The still night carried every sound, from the peepers near the lake, the dog a half mile up the road, to the occasional rush of a passing car. She heard John and Mason in the workshop below the garage. She went to the door for a breath of warm, misty night air. At ten she got ready for sleep.

John had not come in when she pulled the covers about her. Greta had turned down his bed, laid out his pyjamas. Anne switched out the light. She felt, strongly, that something was due to happen. She knew John. Something was moiling in him and out of it would come the answer that held for her all the future.

It was eleven by the luminous hands of her table clock when she heard John’s murmur and Mason’s, “Good night, sir.” It was unfair of John to keep Mason up so late. But she knew he wasn’t coming to bed. She knew as she heard him enter the house that he was going to wait for Rayner and Kay Towner.

She lay in the dark, wide-eyed. She could see the little crack of light under the door at the top of the second step. It was past midnight when she heard the car in the distance; heard the scrape of tires as it turned from the main road. Then she heard it crunch on the gravel and the deep pulse of the motor. She heard too the opening of the door as John got up and went out.

They came into the living room.

Their voices were lowered but Anne heard Rayner say, “I’ll get the ice,” and the sound of his footsteps going to the kitchen. She knew there was a malicious grin on his face. That his withdrawal w7as deliberate. She could even believe his stay in the kitchen v7ould be prolonged; his ear at the door.

She couldn’t hear what John and Kay Towner were saying. She heard Kay laugh. She wanted to get from bed and open the door an inch, but she stretched her legs, her heart pounding, and stayed as she was. It wasn’t Kay. Anne didn’t care about Kay. It was John. She couldn’t believe it and yet she knew there was something between them.

Unconsciously their voices had risen, certainly Kay’s. She said, “Why was it? Curiosity. I wanted to see what your wife w7as like.”

Anne did not hear John but Kay’s words w7ere revealing. “Don’t be silly. WThy should I leave her name out? Do you think I’m here just by chance? She wanted to look me over, that’s why.”

Her voice lowered as John said something but it wras clearer and Anne knew Kay had walked about, stopped near the door. “I don’t like this the least bit. I’m not some pretty little nobody to be pushed around. No one treats me like a family secret. You’re terribly attractive, John dear, but your attitude’s dated. I don’t like it and I’m going to bed.”

Anne lay in the silence. She heard Rayner’s voice, his thin laugh and his, “Well, good night then.” His tone held an accent of disappointment, as if he weren’t satisfied with the show. Almost as if he were contemplating asking for his money back.

Anne just couldn’t relax. Even less than before did she know what she was going to do. What there was to be done.

Yet when the door opened and John came down the two steps, stumbling the least bit as he always did in the dark, she knew by some intuition, some telepathy between them, what it w7as she had to do. She sat up and switched on the light.

John closed the door. He took his pipe and set it on his bed table. His face was drawn. Anne said, “It was a dirty trick, dear. Rayner Smith told me about Miss Towner on the train and I wanted to see her. I don’t know why I leaped at this method. I’m sorry. I think she’s lovely.”

John went to the closet to hang his coat. It was almost as if he didn’t hear her. Anne watched him, breathless. John turned. His grey eyes sought hers across the room. “Anne, what’s the matter with me?”

ANNE’S heart leaped. Her breath went in a long, shuddering sigh. She felt suddenly free as from a crushing weight. She felt her face muscles relax. All from the sound of his voice ; the bewilderment of his cry. She didn’t know how or why, but she knew everything was all right—for her at least.

He came toward her and Anne shifted from the centre of the bed to give him room to sit. She could speak without effort and she asked, “John, are you in love with that girl?”

His head jerked; his expression

plainly said, “Don’t ask me questions, Anne. Give me answers.” He said, “In love with Kay?” He shook his head. “I can’t be, Anne. I think I dislike her and yet all the while I’ve known her I’ve been jealous—insanely jealous—like a schoolboy. Anne, what the devil is it? I’ve never been like that, have I? You know, Anne.”

Anne looked at him, her lips parted, the light growing in her blue eyes. John said, “I felt that way the first time I saw her. I couldn’t take my eyes away. I was jealous when anyone else looked at her.” He was staring down at his hands, but he looked up quickly. “Anne, there hasn’t been any thing between us. I—”

“I know,” Anne said. And she did. It was so simple. She wondered why she hadn’t thought of it. John said, “I took her to dinner. Then I began to want to see her more often. I began to be jealous—to wonder who she was with.” He made a gesture of disgust. “Cheap, shoddy stuff. I don’t know what’s got into me. I don’t like it.”

Anne smiled, slowly. John said, “When I saw her here 1 felt sick. I

wanted to pitch her off the place. And yet—”

“And yet there’s no reason to. It isn’t Kay, John.”

She put out her hand and covered his fingers. She said, “How old am I?”

He looked at her blankly and Anne said, “I’m getting very close to forty. And you’re forty-five, my darling. We’re getting on. Women are more consciously aware of the years than men—but no more affected. That’s all that’s wrong with you, John.”

“What?” John asked.

“The years. The advancing years. You've not known it, but you’ve been feeling youth slipping away, John. Perhaps Tammie and her friends this summer, perhaps just yourself. But you saw this lovely young girl and something in you reached jealously out, like a man reaching for support when he is being swept away. It isn’t Kay; it’s what she stands for. Youth and loveliness and every man’s belief that he lets go last of all—that every lovely woman is his for the taking.”

John was silent. Then he said, “Other men grow older. They don’t make a fuss of it.”

“Oh yes they do,” Anne said. “Some more and some less—but all you normal ones do.” She thought of Doctor Marden with the youthful eyes. “The Kay Towners are a sort of inoculation, I guess. The way men ease their fall into the years when the years come too fast.”

John got up. “Well, I don’t like it. It won’t happen again.”

He went into the dressing room, carrying his pyjamas. When he came out he got into his bed. He said, “Good night,” gruffly and turned his back, curling up as he always did. Anne switched out the light. She heard him stir and then she felt his hand seeking hers. She caught it with both her own and bent to kiss it. John drew his hand away again quickly.

Anne smiled in the darkness. He was shamed, angry with himself. She thought, “He’ll be all right, bless him.” And then her eyes widened. He was just as Tammie had been. The inoculation had upset him badly, too. As she slid down into bed Anne thought drowsily, “I only hope it takes. Poor lamb, he’s such an innocent.”