When two young married women dependent upon the instinctive exercise of their attractions and native wiles upon the make, come into conflict with a competent, cool-eyed young business woman, the result is a story of humor that verges ever so near to tragedy.
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Table of Contents
YOUNG MRS. GREELEY
Copyright © 2021 by Wildside Press LLC.
Introduction copyright © 2021 by Karl Wurf.
Published by Wildside Press LLC.
wildsidepress.com | bcmystery.com
Newton Booth Tarkington (1869–1946) was an American novelist and dramatist best known for his novels The Magnificent Ambersons (1918) and Alice Adams (1921). He is one of only four novelists to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once, along with William Faulkner, John Updike, and Colson Whitehead. In the 1910s and 1920s he was considered America's greatest living author. During the first quarter of the 20th century, Tarkington—along with Meredith Nicholson, George Ade, and James Whitcomb Riley—helped create a Golden Age of literature in Indiana.
Booth Tarkington was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of John S. Tarkington and Elizabeth Booth Tarkington. He was named after his maternal uncle Newton Booth, then the governor of California. He was also related to Chicago Mayor James Hutchinson Woodworth through Woodworth's wife Almyra Booth Woodworth. He attended Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, and completed his secondary education at Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding school on the East Coast. He went to Purdue University for two years, where he was a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity and the university's Morley Eating Club. He later made substantial donations to Purdue for building an all-men's residence hall, which the university named Tarkington Hall in his honor. While Tarkington never earned a college degree, he was accorded many awards recognizing and honoring his skills and accomplishments as an author. Purdue awarded him an honorary doctorate.
In addition to his writing career, Booth Tarkington had an interest in politics. He served one term in the Indiana House of Representatives. Although he set many of his stories in the Midwest, he eventually moved to Kennebunkport, Maine, where he continued his work even as he suffered from a loss of vision.
He died on May 19, 1946.
THE Warwicke Armes was almost exactly like the other apartment houses that stood in a row at the suburban end of the new Lincoln Boulevard. All of them were great flat-faced cubes rigidly honeycombed into cells; the cells were all of about the same size, all subdivided in the same manner, all decorated (if the leasing agents’ enticement was true authority) in the same “Olde Englysshe Style”; and they were all called by the same name, “kitchenette apartments”. We need find no very startling evidence for telepathy, then, in the fact that at one time or another almost every woman living in the Warwicke Armes and its kindred cubes likened those buildings to a row of beehives, and, pleased with herself for the simile, wondered if her husband’s intellect could ever be lifted to the true appreciation of a poetic mind. Mrs. Henry Hedge, of number 42 on the fourth floor of the Warwicke Armes, gave her husband many opportunities to display this kind of appreciation, although he was nearing forty and, after twelve years of marriage, she had really given up his intellect.
“It came to me in the night again,” she said, one summer morning at breakfast. “It comes to me again and again, Henry.”
Her tone was wistful and a little melancholy; so was her expression; but Mr. Hedge, a thin, patient looking man always somewhat preoccupied with his own thoughts, made only a mechanically courteous sound of interest.
“Thasso?” he murmured, and with care placed a fresh slice of bread in the electric toaster upon the white painted metal table at which they sat. “Thasso, Aurelia?”
“I woke up thinking it,” she said dreamily. “It was about half way between midnight and dawn, I judged, and you were snoring of course; but it was the idea that woke me up, not the noise you were making. I lay there in the dark, going over it and over it, Henry, and if I hadn’t been afraid of disturbing you I’d have got up and written it down.”
“Thasso?” her husband murmured again; and she too easily perceived that she failed to win his attention. Naturally he heard what she said and upon challenge he could have repeated it, as she knew by experience; but he was not really listening to her; he was thinking of something else. Moreover, this absent manner of his had long since become habitual with him whenever she talked; but she was never reconciled to it.
She sighed heavily, and her voice became plaintive. “I wonder what it would seem like to live with a man who entered into some companionship of thought with me; I do wonder what just one day of that would seem like!”
Her husband’s mild glance, still preoccupied, rose momentarily from his toast to her face. “You mean you were thinking some more about beehives, Aurelia?”
“In the night,” she said. “It comes over me oftenest then. I wake up and lie there thinking and thinking about it while you go on snoring and not caring whether I’m alive or dead. I get the feeling like I’m trapped by life—trapped in a row of beehives!”
“ ’S too bad,” he said, speaking into his coffee cup. Then, as he lowered it from his lips, he added, “Bees wouldn’t trap anybody though, Aurelia.”
“You’ll never understand,” she informed him. “You never have understood and you never will. It’s so strange! I’m living my life out in a cell in a row of beehives and when I wake up and think of it like I did last night it seems to me I’ll just go crazy!”
“It does?” he said, not alarmed. “What’s wrong?”
“Beehives!” She sighed more profoundly and shook her head. “All these flats just exactly like this one—all of ’em with exactly the same maroon in the furniture and rugs, the same beds that fold up behind false doors, the same hardwood floors, the same kind of linoleum in the kitchenette, the same records for the phonograph, the same programs every night on the radio—”
“Whoa up!” Mr. Hedge interrupted, showing suddenly a little interest. “They don’t have to get the same program if they’re willing to take a little pains. I got W P Y tuned out last night with no trouble at all, and after that I got seven stations in different parts of the country, some of ’em hundreds of miles away. I got W A P and Z O R and—”
“Oh, dear!” his wife sighed. “You just don’t know!”
“I just don’t know what?”
“You don’t know what I’m talking about, Henry. You never do, for that matter and I don’t know why I still go on expecting that some day you will.” Mrs. Hedge’s melancholy increased, she uttered a sigh louder than those preceding it, and returned to poesy. “Just poor driven bees in hives, that’s all we are!”
“ ‘Driven’? I don’t see how we’re ‘driven’ exactly, Aurelia.”
“Don’t you?” Mrs. Hedge shook her small brunette head in an expressive way she had. “I wish I could ever find time to write down my thoughts, or else could find somebody to write them down for me as I have them. If some good writer could just take down my thoughts and put them into a book I believe it would make a fortune.”
“You mean your thoughts about beehives, Aurelia?” her husband inquired; but his tone was respectful and he had no satiric intention.
“Yes; but that’s only a little. I have thoughts I don’t believe anyone else ever had since the world began.”
“What like?” he asked politely but somewhat mechanically, for she had often said this to him.
Aurelia shook her head again. “You wouldn’t understand, Henry. You don’t even understand about the beehives. You don’t understand how shut in and bound down by life I feel when that thought comes over me. I’m just one driven bee in this terrible row of giant beehives.”
Henry had an impulse to question the word “driven” again; he was vaguely conscious that it disturbed her metaphor; but he was wiser in not pressing the point, and said nothing.
“Just driven bees,” Aurelia repeated sadly. “Bees, bees, bees, bees!”
She meant the commonly known honey bees, immemorial models of communal industry; and thus her metaphor failed upon another point of accuracy. She should have had in mind the Mason Bee; for to that more selfish insect the resemblance of dwellers in the Warwicke Armes was clear. The Mason Bee lives in a community but not for it; she repels intrusion upon her own cell but shows no distress when that of her neighbor is raided or even destroyed; she does not love her neighbor; she stores no honey for the general treasure; and all her sweetness is spent upon herself.
Aurelia Hedge and the other ladies of the Warwicke Armes were unacquainted with the entomological studies of M. Fabre or they might have come upon his passage concerning the Mason Bee and improve the shining hour by meditation upon their greater likeness to that individualist than to the more generous Little Busy Bee they had in mind. The further conversation of Mrs. Hedge, this morning at breakfast, proved how little of her honey was for the inhabitants of the other cells about her.
“Of course they’re all talking about it,” she said abruptly, after a pause.
“About bees?” her husband asked, a little surprised.
“No. Don’t be such a dumb-bell! About our getting left on the dump heap like this.”
“Dump heap?” He looked up a little testily. “I don’t think much of that way of putting it, Aurelia. I’m making just as good a living for you as I ever did, I guess! We’re no worse off than we were before, are we? Just because Bill Greeley gets a rise I don’t see that we have to look at ourselves as being on the dump heap.”
“No, I certainly don’t,” he returned stoutly. “Bill Greeley’s made the best record in the business that ever went on the N.K.U. books; he’s actually a commercial genius, and the Big Boss knows darn well that the best thing the N.K.U. can do is to put Bill way up. Bill’s made good in every rise he’s had and, what is more, everybody in the whole N.K.U. likes him and pretty soon they’ll all realize that he’s entitled to this big lift to the top. Bill Greeley gets along with every man that’s under him; he never puts on any airs with anybody, yet he knows how to make things hum! That’s another reason the Big Boss has lifted him again and—”
Mrs. Hedge took the word from his mouth. “And passed him over your head!”
“Well, what of it? I haven’t lost anything and Bill deserves it. I’m not demoted just because he’s promoted, am I?”
“Aren’t you?” she asked bitterly. “He’s left you behind in the race, hasn’t he? You got him his job with the N.K.U. and at first you had him under you. He passed you long ago; but from now on you and everybody else take his orders, don’t you? He’s got that to crow over, hasn’t he?”
“Oh, look here!” Henry said; and he had become irritated. “Bill Greeley isn’t crowing over anybody.”
“Well, his wife is. Stella’s crowing, isn’t she?”
“I didn’t see a sign of it when we talked to them last night—not in either of ’em. Naturally they’re glad about it and she’s proud of the showing Bill’s made and delighted that the Big Boss appreciates his worth. Who wouldn’t feel that way? I did myself. They’re nice people and they’re our best friends and I’m mighty glad to see them getting on in the world.”
“At our expense?”
The irritation of Mr. Hedge was increased by this question. “Listen!” he said sharply. “It isn’t at our expense or anybody else’s expense. We’re doing just as well as we ever did. My salary isn’t lowered by Bill Greeley’s getting lifted. You act to me like you just couldn’t stand seeing friends of ours grow more prosperous than we are. Honestly, it seems to me like you’re simply jealous, Aurelia.”
She looked at him for a moment with the air of one too proud to make any defense against so low an accusation; then she rose and began to remove the breakfast dishes to the kitchenette. Her husband watched her gloomily; but, after a little while, went to a closet for his hat and prepared to depart for his place of business. At the door he paused.
“Honestly,” he said, “that’s how the way you act looks to me, Aurelia.”
She made no reply other than that conveyed by a proud, hurt glance; then she turned her back to him, busying herself with the dishes. Upon this, Mr. Hedge sighed, opened his mouth to speak again, thought better of it and went forth. She turned sharply to the closed door.
“That’s a nice idea to have of your wife!” she whispered fiercely.
But in truth Mr. Hedge’s idea of his wife’s emotion was not so far afield. To be surpassed by a protégé and to bear with grace such a surpassing, no small generosity of soul is needed; Aurelia Hedge was not gifted with that amount of generosity, and Stella Greeley had been her protégé. When the Greeleys, a younger couple and newly wedded, had come up from a small-town, they had been in straits for a time until Henry Hedge, a distant cousin of the frightened bride, Stella, persuaded the National Kitchen Utensils factory manager to give young Greeley a trial in an unimportant position at a more unimportant salary. Aurelia had taken Stella under her wing and had kept her there during the years of the young husband’s steady rise. The reversal of that position appeared unendurable; but it had to be faced, for now Greeley had been appointed factory manager and Henry Hedge was still an assistant in the “distribution department,” the same position he had occupied when he brought his young friend into the business.
Aurelia was melancholy as she washed the dishes in the kitchenette sink. When the Hedges, followed obediently by the Greeleys, had moved into the new apartment house she had been a well satisfied young woman. She had regarded the Warwicke Armes as a “step up” in fashion and in luxury and in brightness of living. Moreover, this ascent had been accompanied by another: she had persuaded Henry to sell their hardy but cheap little automobile and to replace it with a “used sedan” of a more important appearance. In such a vehicle a lady living at the Warwicke Armes could be imagined as driving forth to tea at even the ponderous stone house of the Big Boss, Mr. Milton Cooper. Aurelia had daydreams, picturing herself in action among the important commercial personages who to her view moved upon the highest summit of the city’s social range. Her indulgent fantasy reached its topmost pleasure when she imagined herself returned from one of Mrs. Milton Cooper’s intimate dinners and sweeping into the Greeleys’ beehive cell to tell Stella all about it.
The fantasy was benevolent toward the protégé. “When the gentlemen had gone into the marble smoking room for their coffee, I took Laura Cooper to one side and had a private talk with her.” Aurelia daydreamed on, continuing the imaginary narrative to her friend. “I told her a lot of nice things about you and Bill. ‘Look here, Laura,’ I said. ‘The Greeleys are regular people; they’re really our own kind. They’ve never seen the inside of your house. Look here, Laura,’ I told her, ‘Stella Greeley is just about the nicest little woman in the whole N.K.U. outfit and she wouldn’t be any more liable to commit a social error in this house than you or I would ourselves. I absolutely know she’d be awf’ly congenial and I’m going to bring her here to afternoon tea to-morrow—just us three so you can get real acquainted with her—and then you’re going to ask her to the very next one of these intimate small dinners you give. I absolutely insist upon it, Laura!’ That’s what I told her, Stella, and of course when I put it that way she was perfectly sweet about it and said if I liked you she knew she’d like you, too.”
Pleasing fancies of this kind were no longer possible for Aurelia; it was much more probable that the wife of the new factory manager of the N.K.U. would some day address Mrs. Cooper as “Laura” than that Mrs. Henry Hedge ever would; and Aurelia’s melancholy, this morning in her beehive cell, was not sweetened by that realization. Her little friend Stella was gay in the cell directly under foot; through the floor of Aurelia’s kitchenette there came faintly the sound of jazz pulsated by radio. Stella was probably dancing in and out of her own kitchenette just below.
“Upstart!” Aurelia murmured. Then she sighed heavily as she thought of her husband and wondered how it had ever come about that she was married to a dull and plodding drudge.
AURELIA was unfortunate within herself. At thirty-four, a fresh colored small brunette, she had still a piquant prettiness of face; she was graceful and shapely, and she was mistress of the little personal art of dressing herself to display her shapeliness becomingly. She could drive an automobile; she danced well and cooked capably out of cans. She had not read a book of any kind for several years; newspapers bored her, except for their “Sunday supplements”; she sometimes bought a fashion magazine or one of the specialized periodicals concerned with motion pictures; but there her reading ended. A month before her wedding, when she was eighteen, she had graduated from the High School of the little town where she and Henry lived until they moved to the city; but Aurelia could not have passed any of the first-year examinations in that High School now. She had no interest at all in anything that affects general mankind unless she clearly saw how it affected herself: her mind was like a little sand pile under a sieve; whatever was of any weight or size was rejected by the sieve and only the tiniest and most inconsequent particles came through. In the “supplements” she eagerly read the names of ladies who had subscribed for boxes at charity concerts, women probably never to be of her acquaintance; but for Aurelia columns concerned with war in China might as well have been printed in Chinese. So might political columns, scientific columns, musical columns, literary columns and columns devoted to history or discovery; Aurelia’s eye glazed itself at sight of them and passed to “Beauty Hints.” She spent several hours of every week at a “Beauty-Shoppe” where her dark hair was curled, her face kneaded, oiled and pinked, and every fingernail made into a rosy little mirror. She liked to see the tiny bright glistenings of her nails when she gestured, and was often preoccupied with them rather than with her cards when she played bridge. She took a lesson in bridge once a week but fatigued her mind with no other studies.
Sometimes she said she wished she could “find the time for French or music or something”; and she frequently complained that she was “rushed to death.” Henry always lunched at the N.K.U. restaurant; they dined three times a week at the cafeteria of the Warwicke Armes, and, on the evenings when they had dinner in their apartment, not much more than an hour was needed for the preparation of the meal, eating it and washing the dishes.
Henry used the trolley cars to go to the factory and return, leaving the sedan at the Warwicke Armes garage for Aurelia. Almost every morning she drove down town, left the car in a hired parking space, and walked to a department store, taking note of her reflection in all the plate glass show windows on the way. In the store, she might spend an hour pricing things and perhaps matching a shred of silk, buying a pair of stockings or a small vial of perfume or a box of scented powder. Then she would hurry to keep an engagement to lunch indigestibly with Stella Greeley at a confectioner’s.
“My dear!” Aurelia would exclaim. “I’m half dead with shopping!” Then, if it didn’t happen to be one of the days for hair dressing, manicuring and facial beautifying, they would go to the movies and stay until after five; and in the evening they would often persuade their husbands to take them to a movie theatre where there was dancing for the patrons.
Stella Greeley, four years younger, and following her leader’s example—as she usually did in everything—formed the habit of saying, “I do wish I could find time to take French or music or something!”
STELLA’S radio was still loudly jazzing, that morning, when Aurelia came into the Greeleys’ apartment; but Stella was no longer dancing in and out of the kitchenette, as her friend had correctly pictured her. Instead she sat at a dressing table, combing and brushing her short and wavy bright fair hair. The pale blue blouse and straw colored skirt she intended to wear lay upon a chair near by; and the fact that she wore no wrapper, in this interval of dressing, but sat before her mirror almost unclad, produced an effect somewhat irritating upon her friend.
Aurelia had long ago realized that this younger woman was beautiful “in a big blonde way”—thus Aurelia qualified the beauty and she frequently added another qualification by thinking of Mrs. Greeley as a “beautiful dumb-bell.” The dumb-bell was not so dumb, however, as to be unaware of the beauty; indeed Stella was often provokingly fatuous about it, and this was not the first time Aurelia had found her enjoying a mirror’s ample revelations of loveliness.
“Caught her at it again!” was the visitor’s thought—not quite a fair one, since Stella had voluntarily stretched forth an arm to the door, close beside the dressing table as soon as she recognized the voice asking admittance. But her very willingness to be “caught,” so to speak, was productive of additional irritation in Mrs. Hedge; it seemed to imply that Stella’s satisfaction with the mirror was visibly so warranted that it would be shared by a female friend. The female friend in question gave no outward sign that it wasn’t.
“Stella Greeley!” she exclaimed. “You certainly are the most gorgeous looking thing in this town! If I had just about a tenth of your looks I know where I’d be!” She crossed the room, snapped off the radio, and seated herself upon the maroon colored sofa. “I wouldn’t be living in any kitchenette apartment I tell you!”
“Wouldn’t you?” Mrs. Greeley said, cheerfully interested. “Bill and I were talking that over last night after you and Henry’d left. Bill asked me if I’d like something bigger, or maybe a house out on the Boulevard, because he feels that now we can afford to spend prob’ly about three times as much as we ever have before; but I said, ‘No. Let’s not decide anything like that in a hurry. Let’s take our time,’ I told him. ‘We’re comfortable enough the way it is and the Warwicke Armes is still good enough for us until we get our bearings and see what we really want to do.’ Don’t you think that’s the sensible way to look at it, Aurelia?”
What Aurelia thought of that way of looking at it she was not so tactless as to say; for “Upstart!” was again the word in her mind. Already the Warwicke Armes was not good enough for the new factory manager and his wife, it seemed. A slight flush appeared upon Aurelia’s forehead, though the lady before the mirror did not observe this token, nor, for that matter, would she have been able to interpret its meaning. Stella was of an amiable, credulous and simple turn of mind; she was usually cheerful, and now she was radiantly happy in the glow of her husband’s success. Regarding Aurelia not only as her guide and counselor but as her dearest and most intimate friend, she had no perception that even from such a source some grudging and jealousy might be only natural under the circumstances.
“Don’t you think that’s the way to look at it, Aurelia,” she repeated.
“Well—” Aurelia said, and paused. “Of course in your new position you’ve got to consider yourself, Stella, and be careful not to take any false steps. Naturally things are liable to be pretty different between you and Bill from now on, you know, Stella.”
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