A GOOD WIFE
LYDIA THURLOW’S friends always spoke of her as a good manager. They could have said other things, one, that she was beautiful, as she was, in a way that is a combination of intelligence and poise, but they didn’t; they spoke of her efficiency.
Look at her home—the loveliest home in Guelph, they’d say. Her servants—who, these days, had such well-trained jewels? Her parties—always just right!
Alice, her daughter, was further proof of her talents. Cord, her husband -an executive of the Superior Steel Company and only a little over 40.
“Anything Lydia Thurlow runs is a success!” Madge Cameron said it, the morning after Alice’s wedding. She was a close enough friend of Lydia’s to run in unceremoniously. “It was a simply perfect wedding, Lydia! But, of course, it would be, with you planning it!”
Lydia Thurlow said, “Well, Alice had something to do with it.”
“Oh, something, of course, but all the details . . .” Madge Cameron loved dramatics. She sighed deeply. “And now it’s all over and Alice is gone! Don’t you feel lost, Lydia? I would, if it were my child . . .” “Perhaps I’ve been too busy.”
“You have been—there isn’t a sign of the wedding in the house! Or a sign of Alice here in her own room!” Madge had found Lydia in Alice’s room.
“No, there isn’t,” said Lydia, her eyes going over the desk and bureau and dressing table cleared of
every personal belonging. She had come in, thinking that if she busied herself putting little things of Alice’s away, she would feel less separated from her. And there were no little things about.
“You do have to get everything in order!” laughed Madge, perching herself on the arm of a chair. “Most women . . .”
“Alice did it herself, before the wedding.”
“Well, you brought her up that way! Her Nick will appreciate it! You know, Lydia, during the service it struck me that Nick is a lot like Cord. Oh, Cord’s more mature looking now, but there’s something . . . Yesterday, didn’t you think of yourself and Cord— how many years ago?”
Lydia Thurlow answered evenly, “Twenty-two. And no, Madge, I didn’t think of it.”
“I would have! Every wedding I go to I think of my own. But I’m sentimental like that and I guess you’re not . . . I’ll run along, darling. Don’t come down. I know you’ve a million things to do. I just had to tell you it was a lovely wedding!”
She ran along, but something of her chatter stayed after her, echoing in the room. “Alice is gone . . .” Lydia went out of the room, closed the door behind her.
In her own room she sat down at her big businesslike desk. An appointment book, open to the date, indicated a luncheon engagement in an hour; a little pile of letters lay beside it, waiting for her attention.
She drew them toward her, but only held them in her hands.
“If I could see . . .” Ahead, into Alice’s future.
It was in Nick’s keeping now. And what did she know of Nick Whittely—what he would be 10 years from now, 15, 20 . . .
Twenty-two. “Didn’t you think of yourself and Cord . . .”
And she hadn’t, not once during the service. She couldn’t now, she realized with a little shock. Oh, the date of her marriage, the hour, the dress she had worn, a blue crepe, and a little hat covered with violets—she could recall such details but nothing of what she had felt.
She sat, very still, facing this lack in her of what Madge called sentiment. “I was as much in love with Cord as Alice is with her Nick—as happy as Alice was yesterday.”
She pushed the letters away from her with some impatience. What woman could want more than she had now? Madge, perhaps, treasuring scraps of sentiment as she would so many old valentines.
Her telephone rang.
“Oh, Cord. Yes . . .”
“I’m taking the 2.40 to Toronto. Will you ask
Lydia had been used to planning . . . then she found she had planned love right out of her life
Britton to get my bag ready? I’ll send out for it around noon.”
“I’ll tell Britton.”
“Can’t say just when I’ll get back. Heard from Alice?”
“Too soon, I guess. Oh, say, there’s the Rucker’s dinner Thursday night. I’ll see Boney at lunch and ask him to stop for you. Will you tell Sara I had to go out of town?”
“Yes, I’ll tell her.”
Lydia’s hand stayed on the receiver after she had put it in its cradle. There was no reason for her to be surprised, for Cord often went to Toronto and in just this way—a telephone call, a messenger to get his bag; what held her motionless before the instrument was the sudden realization that the separation did not mean anything—to either of them !
SHE went to her luncheon. It was a meeting of a subcommittee and they were planning a benefit affair. “Let’s hear Airs. Thurlow’s ideas first.” “What do you think of a flower show, Airs. Thurlow?”
Usually Lydia threw herself into this kind of organizing. But today she made suggestions, listened to the suggestions of others, affirmed and disagreed, with only the edge of her thought on it.
From luncheon she went to a chamber music recital given by the Chromatic Club. She enjoyed most the music of strings, but today it did not reach her. She kept thinking, “Nothing that Cord and I do really means anything to either of us, now!” And feeling, as she thought it, the same cold shock she had had at the telephone.
She usually welcomed an evening alone, liking to dim all but one of the lamps in the library and sit down with the pleasant prospect of two or three uninterrupted hours of reading.
Tonight she went into the library, where Britton had the lights just as she liked them, and she chose a book and sat down with it. But she let it stay unopened in her hands.
For every effect there was a cause. She would reason out, dispassionately, fairly, the cause of this indifference that had come into her and Cord’s marriage. She fixed her eyes on the shadowy space of the room, a little frown of concentration narrowing them. .
Was it familiarity? With Cord’s ambitions, his every point of view, his tastes and habits? He knew her in the same way. “But, no, that should make a relationship closer!”
Or that Cord was always so absorbed in his work? But, no, she had encouraged that—it was what she would do, in his place. He had got where he was by it. He had begun as a draftsman and now there was a vice-presidency in the company for him to look to.
“I have helped him!” She said it aloud, as if she sat in a witness box, sworn to truth and nothing but the truth. “I’ve always kept Cord’s interests first!” She had put her talents into bud getting his salary, in the first years, to cover their living expenses and leave something over for modest investments. Later, when there was no need of economy, in making a home that without show of extravagance would reflect his position. Cord had appreciated it. “You’re a wonderful manager, Lyd!”
It wasn’t Alice. Cord, with so much on his mind, had been quite satisfied to leave Alice’s upbringing to her.
The shadows in the room seemed to grow deeper. She opened her book.
ALICE telephoned from New York the next day. “We’re on our way, Mother, in an hour and a half.” They had spent their wedding night at Niagara Falls. Alice’s voice had a special warmth in it, as she spoke of it. “I wrote the rest of my thank-you notes yesterday morning. Nick didn’t want me to, but I simply had to get them off my mind.” Then, “Good-by, Mother.”
“I wrote my notes the next morning,” remembered Lydia. “Cord didn’t want me to—he wanted to go out in a canoe . .
They had gone to Lumina, a little place on the Lake of Bays, Cord had found it on a fishing trip in one of his college vacations. It was an old, low-gabled farmhouse built on a point of land overlooking the lake. Jeremiah and Serena Colby, who owned it, rented out their spare rooms, summers, at $10 a week. They had stayed two weeks.
Her fingers searched in a pigeonhole of the desk and brought out a postal card. Every Christmas for the 22 years since that honeymoon, Jeremiah and Serena had sent a card of some sort. This one was a picture of the walk down through the white birches to the strip of beach. Lydia looked at it a long time, her face expressionless, put it back.
Boney Carruthers came in late in the afternoon. He was Cord’s public relations man and a close friend.
“Heard from Cord?” There was considerable excitement in Boney’s voice.
“Keeping the news to himself, eh? Hasn’t given you any hint of it?” Boney could not quite believe it. “He’s been offered Slater’s place on the Board. Slater’s retiring. Everyone’s known that it was coming for a week, only they had to go through some formalities. Picked Cord over John Wilby—John considered himself next in line. But that’s their business and Cord’s good break.”
“When was the meeting, Boney?” In spite of herself her voice was a little unsteady.
“This morning. Gillson told me over the phone, around noon. 1 thought Cord would have phoned you right away. Probably he’s waiting to tell you.”
“You’ll move to Toronto now. Be in the Court Set!”
Lydia said nothing.
“I told Cord I’d take you to the Rucker’s dinner. But he’ll get back for it, now it’s all settled.”
“He said he wouldn’t,” Lydia said as Boney walked out.
Lydia went to one of the windows, stood there, taut, bracing herself against hurt.
Cord had known for several days this was going to happen and had not told her! “There was Alice’s wedding . . .” But no, that wasn’t any explanation —Cord had not been occupied in the preparations for it. He’d scarcely seemed to realize it was going to happen until the day came.
They would leave Guelph and go to Toronto. Leave this house and find one in Toronto, or nearby -a bigger one, a grander one. It would be her responsibility to organize this new setting, meet new people, be entertained by them, entertain them in turn. “The Court Set,” Boney had called them.
“If 1 refused to do it . . .” Her lips felt queer, saying it.
There was a square of park opposite the house. She watched a child running along one of the paths, not seeing her as the thin little girl she was, all legs and braids, but something free.
CORD did not return the next day.
Lydia went with Boney to the Rucker’s dinner.
“Cord hasn’t phoned yet when he’s coming home?” Boney asked, as they drove to the Rucker’s house.
“Say, Lydia, you don’t think he lives a double life, do you? Has a gal tucked away somewhere?” Boney laughed as he asked it. He was given to such kinds of joking.
Lydia said, “I wish I could think . . .” She stopped. Boney would not understand . . . that jealousy would at least be an alive feeling.
Afterward, in her room, undressing, she thought of it. It would explain so much—the many other times when Cord had prolonged business trips, his preoccupied manner when he was home, which had grown on him of late and which she had attributed to the pressure of his work. But it could be this which Boney had suggested. Other men as steady as Cord had let their affections go to other women.
But building up the possibility, she felt no warming of jealousy, rather a weary relief. It was something in this
fog of knowledge without knowledge on which to put a mental finger.
Her appointment book had reminders for almost every hour of the next day. But though she saw the schedule through for the most of the day her thoughts followed a track far removed from what she was doing. A strange track . . .
She, who saw divorce a compromise with failure, thought of it, “. . . if Cord wants one!”
But it must not be a hasty decision. “If I went away somewhere I might see it more clearly . . .” Go before Cord returned and told her of the vice-presidency, when she would be caught in the responsibilities of making a new way of living.
“They called from Air. Thurlow’s office, Mrs. Thurlow,” said Britton when she reached home. “He won’t be back until Wednesday, next week.”
Cord had gone to her—the other woman—to tell her of the vice-presidency ! The thought was clear and sharp in Lydia Thurlow’s mind as she went up the stairs. That was the truth and there was no longer any need to pretend any other explanation possible.
She stood beside the desk. Everything about it confirmed the order in her very nature and as she stared at the neat pigeonholes she said almost mechanically: “I must plan my life from now on.”
The desk seemed to mock her and her mind went on, not quite so surely: “But not here. I can’t plan here.”
MIS’ THURLOW?” A lad in dungarees came up to her. “Serena said 1 was to take you ’long back to Lumina.”
“Thanks, I expected . . .” But the boy had picked up her bag and was going with it toward an oddly assembled car at the side of the platform.
“Rides easier than it looks to,” he mumbled,after which reassurance he lapsed into almost complete
“A lovely morning, isn’t it?”
“Are there other guests at Lumina?”
Lydia let any further attempt at conversation go. She looked about her, at barren fields mostly, and scrub pines and here and there a squat, unpainted house and its huddling outhouses. It was too like other bleak countrysides she had seen in various travels to associate itself with that morning she had ridden over this road with Cord, and she was relieved. She had come to Lumina to get a clear picture of her and Cord’s marriage and find where the failure in it lay—here, because it had had its beginnings here . . .
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A Good Wife
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They turned, presently, from the highway into a narrower dirt road that wound and climbed through thicker pine and balsam. And after a way they came to the top of a steep rise from which a part of the lake could be seen, incomparably blue, deeply still, between the green wooded banks that cradled it.
Lydia saw it.
"Look, Lyd! I want us to see it at the same moment.” She stiffened in her seat, resisting the memory.
They came to two weathered wooden posts, turned into a lane and stopped.
Serena Colby came out of the kitchen door, wiping her hands on her apron.
“Glad to see you, Mis’ Thurlow. Jeremiah’d o’ met you, except that he’d started for Bolt’s Landing when your telegram came. Only came an hour ago. I saw Martin, here, goin’ to town and told him to meet you. Come along in. Martin, hand down Mis’ Thurlow’s bag.”
Serena had changed little; she was bonier and her hair was snow-white now, but she had the same brisk heartiness. The parlor of the farmhouse into which they went looked just as it had. The plush chairs, and their crocheted tidies, the stove, adorned always in summertime with a vase of artificial flowers, the colored pictures of Queen Alexandra and King Edward side by side over the low wood mantel, the faded Brussels carpet on the floor.
“I was took by surprise,” said Serena. “You’ve never come back, like you said you was going to, that summer.”
"We'll come back once a year, Lydia.”
But they hadn’t. The next summer Alice was on her way and after that they’d gone to the shore on vacations.
If they had come here again . . . “It'll be our pilgrimage, Lydia. To our special Holy Grail!”
She willed it out of her mind. She said to Serena, “I had a baby the next summer.”
“I haven’t readied the east front
bedroom, Mis’ Thurlow, but I’ll get right at it. Unless you’d like some coffee.”
“No, thanks. I ate breakfast on the train. I’ll look around outside.”
She went out onto the narrow porch. Petunias stood in boxes along its edge and the sweetness of their fragrance mingled with the tangy sweetness of the air. She drew a deep breath of it. There had been petunias on the porch 22 years ago.
She went down the steps to the grass, down the path under the birch trees to the beach. The small dock was still there, only a little more dilapidated, the wooden bench where she and Cord used to sit and watch the sun set.
One morning they had come down before sunrise, sat, hands together, and watched the mist over the lake break into prisms of bright flame.
"It puts something into you, doesn't it, Lyd? Maybe because there's something so damn sure about the sun coming up.”
She caught hold of the rough bark of the bench, but it was not to resist the memory. “What did I answer—when Cord said things like that?” Perhaps nothing; she had felt so one with the smallest thought he revealed that she had not needed to answer.
He never said them now. He hadn’t for a long time. For a long time she had not known what he was thinking.
She turned and went back up the path. She had put a half-finished book in her bag; she would get it out and read until she had her mind under discipline.
Serena had taken her bag upstairs. She went up the narrow, steep stairs to the second floor. Serena was dusting one of the front bedrooms; the door of the other stood open. Through it Lydia saw brushes on the bureau, a discarded collar.
“You have other guests?”
Serena, bent over a chair to dust its legs, jerked straight in surprise: “Didn’t you know he was here?”
“Who?” asked Lydia, a little annoyed, though at the same time she recognized an unreasonableness in her
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expecting to have the place to herself. “Why, Mr. Thurlow!”
Now Lydia gasped. Then she said, faintly, as if she had no breath, “I didn’t know!”
“He came yesterday. Said he c’d only stay a day or two. ’Tain’t often he stays longer—just comes and goes like that!”
“You mean . . .” Lydia put out a hand to find some support, and finding none let it fall limply at her side, “. . . he comes here often?”
Serena gave her a curious look, “You don’t know? Since he bought the place, he has. Before then—four years ago it was—he came up that time for a week. Said he wanted to find something here —you know the way he talks. You’re never certain if it’s a joke with him or not. ’Twas a poor season on the Lake and Jeremiah was bothered by his rheumatism, so when Mr. Thurlow said he’d like to buy the place, we sold, willing enough. He put it in writing that we were to go on living here.” Lydia turned to her bag, bent over it. She couldn’t meet Serena’s curious eyes as she asked it. “When he comes—does anyone come with him?”
“No. He’d come alone—walk and paddle ’round the lake by himself, like he’s doing this morning. I saw him go off in the canoe an hour ago. Mis’ Thurlow, you didn’t think . . .”
Lydia lifted her head. “No. I didn’t really think. I’ll go downstairs and read until you’re through in here.”
BUT she did not read; she sat down in one of the wooden rockers but she did not open the book.
Cord had been coming here—Cord had been making the pilgrimage alone.
She saw Cord coming up the path and her heartbeat crowded into her throat, for, for a moment, it was the Cord of 22 years ago. He was whistling, swinging his paddle; he wore an old plaid shirt and dungarees and dirty sneakers.
He saw her. “Lydia!” He stopped, stock-still, at the foot of the steps. Red ran up to his temples. “Where on earth . . .” Then he said, quickly, “Has anything happened?”
“No. I just came . . .” Confusion deepened the color on Lydia’s face. “I didn’t know you were here—I was as surprised, when Serena told me, as you are, to see me!”
“I thought I’d take a day or two off.” He came up the steps. “Get some of the wheels out of my head. We were in one meeting and another pretty
nearly all the while 1 was in Toronto.” He did not look at her as he said it; he went to a corner to dispose of his paddle.
“Of course,” Lydia said, and waited. He would tell her now of the vicepresidency.
But he said, “Most dinnertime, isn’t it? I’m ravenous. That’s what this air does to you.”
Lydia looked down at her wrist. “In a quarter of an hour, if Serena keeps to the old schedule.”
“I’ll wash up.” He had to pass her to get to the door. He stopped beside her, put his arm lightly, a little awkwardly, over her shoulder. “Nice you’ve come, Lydia.” Then he went into the house.
Lydia stood very still. “I must go away . . . I’ll go on the night train.” They sat at their dinner with Serena hovering over them, Cord eating too fast, Lydia scarcely anything.
“Jerry back?” Cord asked of Serena. To Lydia, “Jerry’s fixing the old motor boat, so it’ll run.”
Serena said Jerry wasn’t back.
They went out to the porch again. “Anything you’d like to do, Lydia?” She heard the constraint in his voice. “I’ve a book—I’ll take a nap a little later.”
“Then I’ll help Jerry when he comes.” Cord took out a cigarette, struck a match. He looked down at the flame. “Serena tell you I’d bought this place?” The red came into his face again.
“Thought it’d be nice to have it to come to.”
“It will be.” Lydia picked her book up from a chair.
“If you’re sure you can amuse yourself, Lyd . . .” Cord moved toward the steps.
Lydia dropped her book. In a moment he’d be—gone! “Cord!” She heard a desperate sound in her voice and controlled it. “Let’s go out in the canoe.”
His face betrayed surprise. He glanced doubtfully over the travelling suit she still wore. “Could you swim in that if we were dumped?”
“I’ll change if you’ll wait . . .”
She did not try to analyze the urgency in her heart, and in her fingers, as she changed. Or the queer feeling of something in her breaking.
“Shall we go as far as the island?” asked Cord, as he paddled away from the dock.
The island, a mere upjutting of rock covered with pines, lay half a mile out
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in the bay. There was a cove in the rocks along its shore and a tiny beach. “Yes,” said Lydia.
Cord dipped his paddle into the water, sent the canoe ahead with a clean, deep stroke. “Remember how we used to take food over to the island—stay all day?” He asked it a little hesitantly, as if it were, perhaps, not reasonable to expect she would remember.
“We called it our island . . .” But Lydia said aloud only, “Yes.”
He beached the canoe in the cove, helped her out, but he dropped his hand from her arm as soon as she found firm footing in the sand.
A narrow path led up from the cove to the higher rocks. They climbed it, stood on the eminence. It faced the outer bay, and from it they could see only water, trees and sky.
They stood a little apart and, for a moment, in silence.
Then Lydia said, “Cord!” as she had spoken his name on the porch. “Serena said you came to find something! Did—did you find it?”
He laughed, with some embarrassment. “Serena lets her tongue wag too much!”
“But, Cord, did you?”
He sobered, gave her a curious look. “I guess I must have . . . I’ve come several times since!”
“If you’d brought me with you . . .” But she said it more to herself than to him, and with such utter sadness that Cord moved a step closer to her.
“Why, Lyd, I didn’t think you’d care anything about it!” His tone was puzzled, apologetic. “You always had plans of your own pretty definitely made . .
“Plans of my own . . .” She repeated it sharply. She turned her face away from him.
But he saw her lips trembling. He took one of her hands. “Well, we’re both here now!”
She drew her hand away. “That vice-presidency, Cord . . .”
“Oh, Boney told you, I suppose? He’s as bad as Serena. I’m sorry if you were hurt, Lyd. Reason I didn’t phone you is that I haven’t decided yet to take it!”
In her astonishment she swung
around to him. “Cord, it’s what you’ve been working ahead to for 22 years!” “That’s true. But, Lyd, lately I’ve had a feeling it wasn’t everything, that I was missing something. I came up here to think it out. Somehow, in a place like this you see further. There’s nothing to blind you . . He broke off to add, “Though, of course, you’ve something to say about it.”
She shook her head. “No, Cord.” Her eyes followed the swift, straight flight of a crow until it was a mere speck in the vast blue. She remembered the little girl running in the park. “No, I haven’t!” she repeated. She put her hand back into his; it was trembling and the laugh she attempted broke at its start. “I’m not going to plan ever again, Cord! I’ve just realized that something we had—was gone! It was Alice’s wedding made me, I think. And I was too stupid to see that the fault lay in me! Until you said that, I looked everywhere but in myself. I even tried to think you’d fallen in love with some other woman.”
“Me!” broke in Cord. “Of all the crazy ideas!”
“Wasn’t it?” agreed Lydia. She was silent for a moment. “Cord, if both of us know . . .”
He tightened his hand around hers. “And if we come up here now and then, as we said we would . .
The crow was flying again, alone in the blue dome of sky and mighty in its solitariness. They both watched it now. “What is it anyway, Lyd?”
She knew he was not speaking of the crow. She was close enough to his thoughts again to know. She answered, in the reflective tone he had used, but with a tremor of gladness running through it, “Perhaps it is—being together, like this!”
“Taking time for things like watching that bird!”
“Yes, taking time . . .”
He put his arm around her. “No reason, I suppose, why a vice-president of the Superior Steel Corporation couldn’t take time to stand with his wife and watch a crow whenever he wants to!”
“None,” Lydia answered and drew closer into the circle of his arm.