Bill Todd -- Innovative Morality: A Short Novel of the Thirties
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 Chapter 15

A Promotion

It was another convention for Mary, this time that of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association. It wasn't the regular meeting, which took place soon after Christmas, but a special one convened to celebrate the seventieth birthday of George Santayana. Santayana, formerly a Bostonian, now lived in Europe. He didn't deign to return to America for events of this sort. However, he had some gentlemanly fanatic followers, and nothing could hold them back.

Since a good many members of the association believed Santayana to be not worth celebrating, only some sixty attended. Lee, commenting on the group, said,

"I overheard one of the maids saying to another that these people talk more and screw less than any of the other conventions. Is that because so many of them have brought their wives?"

Mary replied,

"I think that's the way they are anyway. Remember the philosophy professors at Wellesley?"

"Yes, that's probably it. Scollay Square might not be the right place for either the men or the wives."

Instead, Mary took the ladies to see the house in which Santayana had spent much of his youth in Roxbury. The neighborhood had come down a bit to a threadbare respectability. There was really nothing about the house or its surroundings to suggest that the author of Realms of Being had first caught sight of the Realm of Essence, or of any other Realm, as he walked the streets. Indeed, with his head down, crammed with thoughts and perceptions, he had probably run into the occasional telephone pole. The ladies might have expected something more fetching, but they were polite, promising to tell their husbands all about the early environment of the philosopher.

A few of the wives frequented bookstores, but most were as keen on shopping as the other convention wives. When Mary led them back to tea at the Copley, Lee took her aside and said,

"I'm tired of these damned women. How would you like to take over this business?"

Mary was surprised, and even a little shocked, but the idea of greater responsibility in that area, and thus less responsibility for Timmy, was appealing. She accepted on the spot, and Lee introduced her to the hotel people who ran the conventions.

Mary knew, almost from babyhood, how to make a favorable impression on such people. After a half hour's discussion, she was confirmed in her new position.

Mrs. Eliot reacted favorably to the news of Mary's promotion. When she found out that Mary would no longer have any business connection with Lee, she nodded with satisfaction and said,

"I suppose the people who run the Copley Hotel must be rather like ourselves."

Mary knew that her mother wanted to be assured, indirectly, that the Copley wasn't managed by Jews or people too recently descended from the wrong kinds of immigrants. She replied nimbly,

"The lady I'll mostly see reminds me of one of the deans at Wellesley."

Mary wouldn't have accepted the job if this had been strictly true, but peace reigned in the Eliot living room. Even when she added,

"I'm afraid it may take more time, and leave me less time for Timmy",

her mother replied,

"I'm sure we'll manage very nicely, dear."

Just then, Lucy and Ruth came downstairs. After chatting briefly with Mrs. Eliot, Ruth announced,

"We're going out for a Moxie, Mame, won't you come with us?"

It wasn't usual for the girls to invite her along, but Mary, sensing something afoot, went with them.

As they approached the Chinese restaurant, they saw a Rolls-Royce, the only one in town, about to back into a parking space. The owner, Mr. J. Tompkins Jewell, was said to be deeply pompous and rude to people he took to be inferior. Indeed, his attempted membership in the golf club had been black-balled by people themselves not noted for their humility. Mrs. Jewell, now with him, was one of the local laughing-stocks because of her tendency to wear expensive clothing absurdly unsuited to her middle-aged spread and washer-woman face.

Lucy, in one of her happy warrior moods, screeched up to a stop immediately behind the Rolls-Royce, blocking its entry to the parking space. She then blew her horn repeatedly. Mary, squeezed between Lucy and Ruth in the seat, was at first shocked and embarrassed. Then, after a moment, she herself amused. What could really happen?

When Mr. Jewell finally put his head out of the window to protest, Lucy, managing the voice of an old crone, screamed at him,

"Young man, you're breaking the law! You can't stop within fifty feet of a telephone pole."

She then blew a long blast from her horn, one which she had modified to produce an unusually loud and irritating sound. The Rolls-Royce suddenly took off, and Lucy took the parking space. Entering the restarant in the euphoria of victoyy, they settled down with a big communal plate of chow mein and three distinctly un-Chinese Moxies.

After the initial eating and drinking, Ruth laid things out. She began with their new office. Mary laughed when informed that they were spying ever more effectively on Lee. She also laughed when told that one of Lee's visitors was her father. Lucy was not laughing, and, at the mention of her father, her mood, happy after the Rolls-Royce incident, dropped into the basement. Indeed, she seemed upset at Mary's amusement. Mary explained,

"It was pretty obvious at that Sunday dinner that something was going to happen."

Ruth then put in,

"Lu is taking this a lot more to heart than you seem to be, Mame."

"Well, I've made a mess of a big chunk of my life, and I think Dad has the right to do the same. Anyhow, in his case, it may be all right. At least as long as he doesn't get Lee pregnant."

"You know, Mame, she has other visitors. It would be awfully hard to establish anything."

"That's true. Anyhow, I could see that you two were worried about something. Is it just over this?"

"Well there's a bit more. Mimsy is really getting pushy about Lu marrying Sink. But we've had a chance to see how Sink is with a woman. Lu couldn't possibly do the things Lee does."

"No, I can appreciate that. Do you think Mother has any idea of Dad's affair with Lee?"

Lucy then spoke, rather frantically,

"She will soon! Everything comes out in this damned town!"

The others acknowldged this, and Mary said to Lucy,

"That would undermine Mother's whole sense of respectability. She might then forget all about your marrying Sink."

Ruth objected,

"Or care twice as much."

"Yes. There's no telling."

"Anyhow, Mame, I have the feeling that Mimsy has never understood about Lu and myself."

"I'm pretty sure she doesn't. Are you thinking that this can't go on indefinitely?"

"Lu and I think it would be better if she understood us before she gets some other shock."

"Lucy could make it clear to Mother that she's not going to marry Sink, or any other man. I won't object if she uses me as an example of what can happen."

Lucy, a little calmer, replied,

"I don't enjoy these rows I have with Mother. And that would kick off the biggest one ever. She might also forbid Ruthie to come here."

After a moment, Ruth asked Mary,

"Do you think we could get someone else, maybe Mrs. Rolfe, to explain things to Mimsy?"

"Mrs. Rolfe might well enjoy doing that. But I've hardly ever been alone with her. Anyhow, she'd think that I was trying to fix things so that I could marry Sink."

"Well, why not? We all like Sink, and you'd be a good match for him. Everyone would approve. Even Mimsy if she were convinced that Lu can't do it."

"I've never been romantically drawn to Sink, but I do respect and enjoy him. Besides, I'm past romance."

"It would also get you a little separation from your mother."

"Yes. I get along very easily with Sink's father."

It happened sooner than Mary could have imagined, the very next day. Mary was strolling down the street, enjoying the cool morning air, when Mrs. Rolfe, breathing heavily, caught up with her.

"Mary, I've been meaning to speak to you!"

It was a little alarming to have such a big woman so close to her, particularly as she seemed primed to deliver a message. Mary resisted the temptation to say that she, too, had a message, and only smiled. The other said,

"It's about your father!"

"I hope he hasn't had an accident!"

"Oh no, nothing of that sort. It's just that Mr. Rolfe saw him the other day, coming out of the Banks Arms."

This was confusing indeed. Mary knew that Mr. Rolfe visited Lee there, but he surely wouldn't admit that to his wife. Was he trying to tell on her father while claiming innocence for himself? Mary responded as if nothing extraordinary had taken place, adding,

"I think his insurance agent has an office there."

"It's a strictly residential building. No offices."

Mary, wondering if Mrs. Rolfe knew that Lee lived there, replied brightly,

"Then he must have been visiting a friend."

Mrs. Rolfe hesitated, and then burst out,

"A known prostitute lives there!"

"Really? I wonder who that could be."

"Of course, Mr. Rolfe doesn't know who she is. But he has a friend on the police force who told him."

"That's strange. If the police knew who she was, they'd arrest her."

"Oh dear, perhaps I shouldn't have said anything! I just thought that you could get your father to stop before your mother finds out."

"Yes. You know, mother does live in a world of her own to some extent. She also has ideas about Lucy marrying Sink."

"Oh, I know. When I told her that I didn't think either Lucy or Sink would ever marry, she changed the subject very quickly."

"I see. I didn't realize that you'd discussed it."

"We discuss everything, dear."

That made Mary uncomfortable, particularly as she now realized that Mrs. Rolfe must have been her mother's confidante during her, Mary's, failed marriage. However, she now forged ahead, saying,

"Lucy and Ruth visit each other so much that Lucy really doesn't have time for the sort of social life Mother might expect her to have."

Mrs. Rolfe nodded. She wasn't dumb or unworldly. After a moment, she replied,

"If Sink were thought to have a girl friend elsewhere, or perhaps even a fiance, your mother would have to change her view."

"Sink's really a friend, and I doubt that he wants to be cast into the role of a suitor. Anyhow, I dare say that he does have a girl friend somewhere."

"Yes. Come to think of it, I think I have seen him with a pretty woman."

Mary, looking sideways at Mrs. Rolfe, took this to be a useful invention, soon to be communicated to her mother.

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