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Authors: John O’Hara

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BOOK: Ten North Frederick
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“No, you haven't. You've been so smugly complacent about me that you were never even curious.”

“I don't call it smugly complacent. I call it trusting you. You're right if that's what you mean. I have trusted you, and do.”

“It would be unthinkable that I might sleep with another man.”

“Why, yes, I guess it would. Yes, I'd say that.”

“Why?”

“Why? Because you're not that sort of person. Because our marriage has been a happy one.”

“What sort of person am I? How long is it since you gave any thought to me as a person. Not as your wife, but as a person.”

“The sort of person you are? Well, I think the answer to that is in how long we've been married, with never the slightest suspicion on your part or certainly on mine.”

“Don't be so gracious. I'm suspicious of you right this very minute, but the reason you haven't been suspicious of me is that I happen not to be pretty or flashy or cheap. But you've had good reason to know that I'm not a cold woman, and wouldn't it take some of the wind out of your sails to hear that someone else knows that?”

“Are you trying to tell me that you're having an affair with another man?”

“What if I were?”

“Are you? Or have you?”

“Yes, damn you, I have.”

Joe lit a cigarette before asking another question. “Since we've been married, of course?”

“Yes.”

“Recently?”

“I don't think I'll answer that.”

“Just as of course you won't tell me who the man was.”

“Of course I won't.”

“But you'll let me guess.”

“You'll try to guess, I suppose for the rest of your life, but I'll never tell you.”

“Is it someone I know?”

She hesitated. “I've decided I'll answer that just to infuriate you. Yes, it's someone you know.”

“Well, you don't like Arthur, so it wasn't Arthur. And he'd be the only one that would infuriate me.”

“No, I don't think so. If you ever knew, you'd be infuriated.”

“A friend of mine rules out Harry Jackson.”

“Oh, it wasn't a servant,” said Edith.

“I didn't think so. You're too much of a snob for that. Well, I suppose I'll spend the rest of my life studying how you and Henry Laubach look at each other, and the rest of our men friends.”

“If you'd studied me a little more carefully it might not have happened.”

“I wonder if you'll answer this question. Have you discontinued it?”

“I think I've indicated that I have.”

“Well, have you?”

“It is not going on now.”

“Well, will you answer this? Would you resume it?”

“I've thought of it,” said Edith.

“Your best opportunity, of course, was after I broke my leg. Was there just one man, or have there been others?”

“One.”

“Yes, a woman can probably get away with one, but when two people have been married as long as we have, they know each other too well for the woman to be promiscuous. And men gossip. They brag about their conquests, which is not only ungentlemanly, but I've always thought unsound.”

“Women know that.”

“And that's what keeps so many of you from being promiscuous?”

“No more questions. Let me ask a few. Did you spend the night with Alec?”

“No.”

“But you didn't stay at the Yale Club.”

“Edith, you've been so astute, suppose you arrive at your own answer to that one.” He picked up the telephone and asked for Long Distance, and then gave the BUtterfield
8
number of Ann's and Kate's apartment.

“Why are you calling Ann?” said Edith. “You're surely not going to tell
her
.”

Joe smiled at her. “Keep ringing,” he told the operator.

“You might as well hang up,” said Edith, suddenly, triumphantly. “Ann's in Bermuda.”

“So she is,” said Joe, and hung up.

“Why should you tell Ann? I know why. You wanted to make her feel better about her elopement. You wanted to make her feel superior.”

“No, I didn't, Edith,” said Joe. He stood up. “You're going to hate me because you told me, but I'd like to tell you something. There'll be no reprisals. Whether we like it or not, we're both getting old, and I'm going to bed. Good night, Edith.”

PART TWO

The biographer has certain rights and duties and among them is the right, which is also a duty, to say that at such-and-such a point the biographee's life left one phase and entered another. It is not the same as saying that a change occurred overnight, for there are few occurrences—if there are any—that bring about radical and quick change in the lives of human beings. Change is almost always fluid; rapidly fluid, or slowly fluid; but even major events in a human life do not make the overnight personality changes that they are too often said to make. Marriage, parenthood, the successful culmination of an enterprise, a severe punishment, a dreadful accident resulting in blindness, a frightening escape from danger, an exhilarating emotional experience, the unexpected report of a five-inch gun, a sudden view of something loathsome, the realization of a great major chord, an abrupt alteration in a human relationship—they all take time, to be absorbed by the soul, no matter how infinitesimally brief a time they took in occurring or in being experienced. Only death itself causes that overnight change, but then of course there is no morning.

If it is foolish to say a man's life is over while there is life in him that will respond to new life (whether the new life is in the form of a drug out of the live earth, or new love exchanged)—it is just as foolish to deny that in a man's life a time comes when he does not respond, because he is unwilling, or unable. It is that time, that point, which now has been reached in the chronicle of Joe Chapin. And what does the biographer gain by saying more than that Joe Chapin went on living for those extra years? When Joe Chapin had begun to cease to feel—unable and unwilling to respond to new life—the story became not Joe Chapin's but the stories of other people, and with Joe's part in the stories one of diminishing importance. Their stories, to be sure, are just as important as Joe's story, but they are other stories, not Joe's, and this is his
.

Well, then, what was Joe's life during the final, unresponding years
?

It was night after night of the warming companionship of Arthur McHenry in the den at
10
North Frederick Street. From there Joe watched the Anschluss and the carryings-on in Washington and never told the story of Kate Drummond. The new highway was by-passing Gibbsville, and the two friends could not decide whether it meant that Gibbsville was becoming important, or passé. A large bakery was going up on South Frederick Street, and Joe's opposition to the change in zoning ordinances was disregarded. A Gibbsville High School boy became runner-up in the national junior singles championship, and neither Joe nor Arthur knew the boy's parents. A man at the Lantenengo Country Club told Joe that a fellow named Chapin, who never played golf, underwrote the expenditures of the greens committee (which was not completely true). The young Pennsylvania Law Review fellow was doing splendidly at McHenry & Chapin. The new slag roof on
10
North Frederick had cost Joe not quite one-third as much as the entire dwelling had cost his grandfather. Arthur was sure he had seen the last of the Chapin Pierce-Arrows—without tires, the windshield smashed, the top crumpled—just sitting in a ravine near Collieryville. Harry Jackson had an operation for hernia, successful. Billy English had a prostatectomy. Joby Chapin had informed his family and friends that he preferred to be called Joe or Chape
.

The two friends hardly ever discussed professional matters at
10
North Frederick. In the office they called each other by their first names, but each referred to the other as Mr. Chapin, Mr. McHenry, and the relationship was conducted on such politely businesslike terms that the long silences and the informality of
10
North Frederick could not have been suspected by acquaintances who had not witnessed them. The Chapins and the McHenrys did not go out much any more. There were the Second Thursdays and some smaller and some larger dinner parties, and the two annual Assemblies; but they stayed away from the regular dances at the country club and the Gibbsville Club, and they would appear at cocktail parties only when the parties were in honor of a friend or a friend's guest or had something to do with a coming wedding
.

The meetings in the den at
10
North Frederick were a fixed custom, without ever quite losing spontaneity. Each night before leaving his house Arthur would say to Rose: “Going over to see Joe,” just as he had said it to her sister and predecessor Mildred. And Joe would say to Edith: “I think Arthur's going to drop in this evening.” There were just enough breaks in the strings of meetings to keep them irregular. There were no meetings on Friday or Saturday or Sunday evenings, although Arthur sometimes dropped in on Sunday afternoons
.

As the years went by, and beginning rather soon after Joe's hotel luncheon with Kate Drummond, the silences often were longer, and whiskey became more a part of the meetings. The bottle of Scotch, the glasses, the ice, the water carafe, the soda for Arthur would be placed on a large silver tray on an old mahogany taboret, the last act before Mary retired for the evening. Arthur continued to drink Scotch and soda, but Joe, after the last lunch with Kate, stopped putting ice in his drinks and the proportion of water to whiskey became closer to even. The quiet drinking never increased to the point where Arthur, saying good night, could have called his friend drunk, but he could not help noticing that every night there was a fresh, new bottle, and without asking, Arthur had no way of knowing how long Joe would sit in the den, smoking a pipe, humming old songs, sipping watered whiskey and reviewing his life
.

The habit of politeness, the early discipline in good behavior, were upon him, and Joe made Edith the beneficiary of the boyhood training and the mature execution. He had no cross words with her, no recriminations, no proud confessions. He gave her no cause for disturbance other than his more orderly repetition of her own father's devotion to whiskey. At midnight, at one-thirty, at two, he would come to their room and undress by the light of a heavily frosted small bulb, hanging up his suit, putting the trees in his shoes, disposing of the linen, and quietly lowering himself into his bed. “Good night, Joe,” she would say
.

“Good night, Edith,” he would say
.

They would exchange their good nights as though taking pains not to disturb anyone in the sleeping house, as if to let a baby lie in his slumber. Then soon Joe's long inspiration and expiration would begin, and then the snoring, and then the talking, and she would listen for a telling word or name, but the only sensible sentence she ever heard was, “We know what the waiter thinks
.”

As a younger man Joe had always used Harry Jackson as a social chauffeur as distinguished from a chauffeur who drove him in his professional rounds. Joe always walked to and from the office of McHenry & Chapin, and the distances between offices and banks in the business district were too short to require a car. Following the leg fracture, during the first months back in the office, Joe had used Harry on trips to the courthouse, the hill being too steep for a man with a bad leg. It was, indeed, too steep for many lawyers with cardiac and vascular imperfections, and the incidence of damage worsened by the courthouse hill was high but virtually unrecognized. When the leg got better, Joe restored Harry to his previous household status, but Arthur had taken over as much of the courthouse work as he could, and Joe was in effect the downtown, or office, partner
.

He thus became an even more familiar figure on Main Street, and to be seen so often helped to create the illusion that he was as active as ever. Gibbsville consequently was not immediately aware that Joe was slowing down. He was cutting out more and more of his community-charitable endeavors, but the reduction was easily attributable to his cessation of all but nominal political activity. His quick two Martini cocktails before lunch at the Gibbsville Club were so quick that they often were not noticed at all, and his way of drinking them was as neat as the small-figured neckties he always wore, his well-boned English shoes, his narrow-sleeved double-breasted suits. He would stand at the bar and he would not touch his glass until he was ready to drink, then he would take one sip, consuming half the cocktail, another sip for the other half. He would nod to the barman, and another two-sip cocktail would be on its way. Then he would go to his reserved table or to the common table and eat his lunch. There was no standing with glass in hand, no glass at the table. Sometimes, but not every day, and in the beginning never on two successive days, he would go to the club before going home for dinner; on the non-club days he would drop in at the John Gibb Hotel bar. His afternoon visits to the club and the hotel bars were moved up from six o'clock to five-thirty and to five, the changes in schedule taking place over a period of three years. The extension of the hours was followed by an understanding with both barmen that the Martinis were to be served as doubles, without being so ordered. In about five years Joe was having two double Martinis before lunch and four double Martinis before going home to dinner, and a single Martini with Edith before going in to dinner
.

The changes were not lost on Arthur, but he withheld comment. For Uncle Arthur knew something that Joe Chapin did not tell him. And he had known it almost from the beginning of its existence: he knew of Joe's hopeless love for Kate Drummond
.

Arthur's meeting with Ann took place at her request in New York, when three or four months had passed from the time of the last meeting of Kate Drummond and Joe Chapin. The meeting took place because Ann had a conversation with Kate
.

“Where did you ever get this ruby? Isn't it something new
?”

“An unknown admirer,” said Kate.

“Well, unknown maybe, but rich. Boy!” said Ann. “Someone you met in California, no doubt.”

“No doubt,” said Kate.

“The way you say it, there is some doubt,” said Ann. “You know, Kate, I have to admit that when you suddenly upped and took off for Santa Barbara, I though it was because you were unhappy in New York. But I guess this shows you weren't, whether you got the ruby from California, or here.”

“I never wear the ruby.”

“Or at least I've never seen it before.”

“It's something to look at and touch. If I wear it, I'll be asked questions.”

“Believe me, if I owned it, I'd wear it and to hell with the questions.”

“Well, then I might as well tell you, I've left it to you. In my will. I'd give it to you, but I can't while the person's still alive.”

Ann thought a moment. “That's a strange statement. It sounds as though you expected him to die.”

“I don't, but I wouldn't ever want him to know I gave you the ring. If he saw it on . . .”

“Somebody that's likely to see it on me? I don't know anybody that I see that's likely to give you a ruby, do I? It is somebody older. Who do I know older?”

“Don't guess any more, Ann. It's no good. But I've left it to you, so consider it mine only temporarily. And change the subject.”

A few days later Ann said to Kate: “Kate, did my father give you the ruby?”

Kate nodded her head.

“I thought so. I'm glad.”

“How did you guess?”

“Well, it wasn't too clever of me. I knew you were protecting somebody, somebody older, somebody fairly well-to-do, somebody that sees me. And I always knew that night you went out together, when I couldn't go . . . Kate, did you have an affair with my father?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I love him too. But it's over?”

“It's been over. It never really was. It was one night and that was all.”

“How sweet you were. My father at last! Oh, rubies aren't good enough for you, Kate. To have someone lovely and young and beautiful. You don't know, Kate. You don't know. And you fell in love with him?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, he'd take off the armor with you. He wears armor.” Ann smiled. “Where did he hang it? In this apartment, I hope.”

Kate nodded.

“I'd love to be able to talk to him, but that's impossible.”

“Yes, everything's impossible.”

“I can see how that would be. You've made up your minds? Yes, of course you have. It couldn't be any other way with my poor, dear stuffed-shirt father.”

“A stuffed shirt didn't give me the ruby.”

“No, you're damn right. I'll always look at you differently now, Kate. I hope it doesn't make you self-conscious, because I'm full of admiration. And I'm obligated to you. A lot of things I want to ask you, but—”

“Don't,” said Kate.

“I won't,” said Ann.

She called Arthur McHenry. They met at a restaurant and she said: “Uncle Arthur, what do you consider the holiest thing you know?”

“The holiest thing I know? Give me a moment.”

“In other words, what would you swear on that would make it the most solemn promise you ever made?”

“Ann, if I gave my word to you.”

“Good enough, as long as you appreciate the seriousness of it.” She then told him about her father and Kate Drummond. “He'll never tell you, I know that,” she said.

“He tells me a lot, and he's had a lot of chances to tell me that, but he hasn't. But it explains some things.”

“What things? Is he in trouble?”

“It's a kind of trouble you or I can't do anything about. You might call it stopping the clock. It can't be done.”

BOOK: Ten North Frederick
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