Bill Todd -- Innovative Morality: A Short Novel of the Thirties
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 Chapter 12

Mrs. Rolfe's Attitude

At tea with Mrs. Rolfe, Mrs. Eliot found herself being congratulated on the friends her daughters had made. In the case of Ruth Engler, Mrs. Eliot replied easily,

"A lovely girl, certainly. And, despite being six feet tall, so ladylike."

As soon as she had spoken, Mrs. Eliot almost choked on her chocolate. She didn't made these gaffes with other people. Only with Mrs. Rolfe. Gertrude was almost six feet and hardly ladylike at all! But, of course, it would only make it worse to try to explain. Anyway, Gertrude, not seeming to mind, replied,

"In some ways, I think Lucy is getting more like Ruth, particularly now that she's a little older."

That was heartening news. Was it sincere? Probably. Gertrude really wasn't complicated enough to be insincere. Mrs. Eliot replied,

"One always wonders what will happen with a woman's friends when she marries. Sometimes they get dropped. But I think Ruth will continue to be a good influence even after Lucy marries."

"Any husband would be happy to find her in his living room conversing with his wife. But things haven't reached that stage, have they?"

"No, I suppose not. Anyway, I'm glad that it's Ruth who's Lucy's friend, and not that Lee Howsam."

"Really? I found her fascinating in a way, but I suppose she is Jewish."

"Yes, her father's very rich and quite without principle. He's the one who owns all those awful cheap stores."

"I've never been in one, but, if the depression keeps dragging on, I may eventually be shopping there."

"Pshaw! It'll never come to that, Gertrude. But, still, one shouldn't underestimate these people. This girl has the charm of being unusual and exotic. Her morals may turn out to be equally unusual and exotic."

Mrs. Rolfe laughed and replied,

"Both our husbands seemed rather taken with her if I'm any judge."

Mrs. Eliot waved her hand dismissively and replied,

"Women are forever throwing themselves at Warren. He's always polite, but nothing more."

After speaking, she wondered if she had made another gaffe, or at least half a gaffe. Women didn't throw themselves at Mr. Rolfe, nor was he always polite. But, really, one could hardly talk with Gertrude at all without implications of that sort. In any case, there was something else that concerned her,

"Did you notice the way Sink followed that girl around and kept looking at her?"

"As a matter of fact, I did notice. But, still, Sink isn't middle-aged yet. One has to expect some of that, doesn't one?"

"I hope he isn't about to make a fool of himself over her. I bet she gave him her telephone number."

"Of course, I know you want Sink for Lucy. This business with Lee might just be a passing fancy."

"If Sink did marry her, that'd put an end to his financial problems. I don't think he'd be too proud to accept money from his father-in-law."

"He probably hasn't thought about that at all. It doesn't seem like him."

"Well Gertrude, there's something else. Right off, I noticed an attraction on Sink's part for this Jewess, so I changed the seating right before dinner to put him well away from her. Then, after dinner, I tried to distract Sink by engaging him in conversation."

"I noticed."

"Yes. Well, we usually get along quite well. We have our little jokes, and, really, I'm not nearly old enough to be his mother. But, this time, I could feel his attention shifting to that woman."

"It seemed to me that she was talking mostly with Mary, which is natural considering that they were room-mates. Maybe it was Mary who was drawing Sink's attention."

"Oh no, they're entirely different sorts of people. But Sink's enough like my husband to be pleasant to almost everyone. It's Lucy who'll be a good match for him."

"You're awfully quick to assume that people are going to marry one another, Eloise. It may well be that Sink doesn't want to marry at all. Lee may not want to. We know almost nothing about her. For that matter, Lucy may not want to."

There were times when Gertrude went completely off the trolley, as when she spoke of the Christian Science religion. Mrs. Eliot recommended to her a chocolate with a sticky filling. It would, most likely, silence her until a suitable subject of conversation could be introduced.

As it happened, Mrs. Rolfe negotiated the chocolate reasonably well. Having done it, she did, indeed, begin a new topic.

"By the way, Eloise, I've been meaning to ask you. A Dr. Woodger approached my husband at the golf club and said that he knows you. I wondered who he is."

"A retired doctor. In fact, one who's treated everyone in our family for many years."

"Mr. Rolfe gave him money for some charitable cause. But I can't make out what for, and whether it's legitimate."

Mrs. Eliot was caught by surprise. But she quickly realized that Dr. Sam would take advantage of someone he perceived to be an innocent. Moreover, Mr. Rolfe wouldn't be organized enough to later explain to his wife the cause that he had supported. She at least attempted to clarify the matter,

"I'm sure that Dr. Woodger is honest. He mostly supports organizations that try to keep America out of any European war that might break out. He's also very much against communists, particularly Jewish ones."

"Well, I certainly don't like communists, but it was rather odd of him to approach Mr. Rolfe in that way."

It was easy to imagine Mr. Rolfe being bullied, or even victimized. His wife didn't like it, and didn't like his being relieved of money, even small amounts. If she were to meet Dr. Woodger, her worst suspicions would be confirmed.

It was the first time in Mrs. Eliot's memory that her friend had shown sympathy for her husband. But, then, Mr. Rolfe was such a nice harmless little man. Almost anyone would want to protect him from a Dr. Sam Woodger. Mrs. Eliot felt sympathy herself and said,

"I see Dr. Woodger occasionally, and I'll speak to him. I think he'll understand that Mr. Rolfe has already contributed, and shouldn't be asked for more."

Mrs. Rolfe seemed relieved at that, and added,

"Now that my husband is at the golf club so much, I hardly know who he meets and what he does. It's hard to keep track of him."

"I don't think you need worry, Gertrude. Dr. Stowe told me that Mr. Rolfe has started playing croquet."

"Really? He hasn't said anything about that."

"There's a group that plays, and I understand that one man was caught cheating. He isn't allowed to play any more, and they may have invited your husband because they knew he wouldn't cheat."

Mrs. Rolfe didn't seem pleased at what amounted to a compliment. Was she worried that her husband might cheat, perhaps inadvertantly? Whatever her doubts, she rallied and said,

"I suppose croquet is energetic. They're always swinging those heavy mallets at wooden balls."

"Yes, indeed. Just last year, Mr. Ralph Conant had a heart attack in the middle of a game."

"Did he recover?"

"No. He died on the way to the hospital."

"How terrible! Was he very old?"

"Only in his sixties, I think. He always seemed rather vigorous to me."

The ladies then finished their coffee in an optomistic mood.

Bill Todd -- Innovative Morality: A Short Novel of the Thirties
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