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Authors: John O’Hara

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BOOK: Ten North Frederick
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“Yes, and he not only wants to stop it. He wants to turn it back,” said Ann. “Well, another secret of the Chapin family for you. God knows you have a full share of them.”

A year later, in an elaborately chatty letter to her father, Ann wrote:

And my nice Kate Drummond has announced her engagement to a man from Santa Barbara, California, whom I have yet to meet but she has asked me to be her matron of honor and I have accepted with alacrity. Wedding in Buffalo, Oct.
th. Stuart also to be an usher. Kate's fiancé was also '
Princeton although they were not close friends, but since Stuart is a Buffalo native and Jack Rupert, Kate's fiancé, is having most of his ushers from the east, it is a logical choice.

Arthur would often—in the beginning—try to present Joe with an opportunity to talk about Kate Drummond. Soon, though, he realized that Joe would not speak of Kate, short of the direct questions that Arthur could not ask. Arthur began to realize too, that it would be futile to try to separate his friend from the bottle. Nor was he sure that a separation was desirable. The pious attitude would have been to talk to Joe, reason with him, preach to him. But Arthur's piety was his own kind of piety. His friend was now in his late fifties, he had spent his life in a manner that did harm to the fewest possible people, and—according to Arthur's view—life had not given much to Joe Chapin. Even if he could have summoned the impertinence to ask Joe to stop drinking, Arthur believed he ought to have something to offer Joe as a substitute. Joe had his booze; what was there to offer to take its place? There was, Arthur concluded, nothing. So far, in the late Nineteen Thirties, the early Nineteen Forties, Joe had not made a fool of himself, and whatever he might be doing to his heart and liver, so far there had been no cause for alarm. No dramatic collapse, no signs that could not be merely the signs of getting to be close to sixty. By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, Joe Chapin had become known as a steady drinker, but not a drunk. He continued as a senior partner in McHenry & Chapin, offered no resistance when another Law Review young man was taken on, yielded gracefully to Arthur's considerate maneuvers that relieved him of the firm's important work. Arthur saw to it that Joe took longer vacations; the entire summer, two months in the winter, a week or two in the spring, a week or so in the fall. If anyone had pointed out to Arthur that he was protecting Joe, he would have denied it, but that was not to say that Arthur did not believe his best friend had an incurable disease called weariness. If a friend has an incurable disease, you do what you can to make his last years comfortable, and Arthur did what he could: he respected his friend's reticence, he allowed his friend to administer alcohol, precisely as though Joe secretly had diabetes and gave himself insulin.

At fifty-nine a man's indignation at an insult to his country's honor is likely to be controlled by the knowledge that there is nothing much he can do about it. It soon became apparent also that Joe's protest was not going to be carried to the front by his son, who was drafted and released because of the inner-ear trouble which no one had known about. Ann's husband, Stuart Musgrove, accompanied his Ivy League friends to Quonset and Naval Aviation in the Pacific, and Ann spent much more time at
North Frederick, which gave Joe Chapin pleasure, but not all pleasure, for it was inevitable that Ann should begin to confide again in her father, and she confessed that if it had not been for the war she would now have been divorced from Musgrove. She could bring herself to say no more—even to Joe—than that she and Musgrove were incompatible, that incompatibility had led him to other women and her to other men.

“Well, after the war you can try again,” said Joe.

“Not with Stuart,” said Ann.

“Oh, as bad as that?”

“Well, maybe I'll try. Yes, I'll try. But maybe he won't want to. I keep hoping he'll get a girl somewhere and want to marry her.” And so it was, and Musgrove did ask Ann to get a divorce, and she got it. But he did not marry another girl. Instead he begged Ann to try again with him, and she did, on his leave. She left him in the middle of the night in a Washington hotel, and waited in the Union Station for the first of the trains that would take her back to
North Frederick Street.

That was in

“What really was the trouble, Ann?” said Joe. “I have a considerable knowledge of such things, and you can tell me.”

“No, I couldn't tell you. It's a sexual matter and nothing will change it.”

“I see,” said Joe. “Well, at least you didn't marry him again, and we have you home, the old place. You know it's approaching its hundredth anniversary, this dear old shack. Gloomy old barn, but I love it. Don't you?”

“Yes, I guess so. I always seem to come back to it,” said Ann.

“Don't worry, you'll have a place of your own. You'll meet somebody that you can love, then you can bring your grandchildren here.”

“You mean your grandchildren.”

“Of course I mean my grandchildren. Your children, my grandchildren. But you might bring your grandchildren here too. If Joby, or Joe, as he wants to be called, if he gets married and lives here, although I can't say I expect to live to see the day when that happens. Joe is going to want to live in some God damn foreign country and shake the dust of Gibbsville from his heels, if I know Joe.”

“Most likely,” said Ann.

“I'll live out my life here, and then your mother will, but after she's gone I'll bet you and Joby sell the place. Well, why shouldn't you? It's too expensive to run, and people aren't coming along to take the place of the Marians and Harrys. Still, I'm glad you had a Marian and a Harry. You'll be able to tell your grandchildren what it was like to have servants, decent, capable, self-respecting people. I understand there's a new kind of servant called a baby-sitter. Fifty cents an hour, use of the radio, eat everything they can out of the icebox, rationed or not. Young man at the office, inclined to think of us as candidates for the guillotine. But I happened to hear him complaining about these baby-sitters, how they steal his cigarettes and go home with half a pound of his butter, besides getting paid fifty, seventy-five cents an hour. But he didn't see any inconsistency, looking down his nose at us for having servants, at the same time complaining about the quality of the servant he has to have. I wanted to say to him, ‘Frank, you've got the kind of servant you deserve. Just ask Marian and Harry to work for you, for any amount of money.' They'd laugh him to scorn, because Harry's more of a gentleman than Frank is, in every way except that Frank is a member of the bar, and Harry is a butler, if that difference means anything any more. Which I doubt. I guess the truth of the matter is that people like us treated servants better than we did our own children. But Frank wouldn't know that.” He smiled, and she returned his smile. “After you're sixty you're expected to say these things, but I never had any difficulty saying them when I was fifty. Or thirty. I haven't changed my mind much since I was thirty.”

“Why should you, if you were right then?”

“If I was right,” said Joe. “Some things don't change, but all people do. And that isn't as inconsistent as it sounds. I haven't changed my mind much since I was thirty. By my mind, when I speak of my mind, I mean the things I believed in then. I still believe in them. But of course I've changed, you need only to look at me. You've changed. We all do. There was a nice girl that used to be a friend of yours, Kate Drummond.”

“Well now, she hasn't changed.”

“How do you mean she hasn't changed? I'd like to hear about that.”

“She looks the same as when we had our apartment, just the same.”

“Beautiful, smart, lovely,” said Joe. “Yes?”

“And still in love with the same man.”

“Her husband,” said Joe.

“No, Kate was in love with someone else, and still is, whoever it is. But she's happy with her husband. I suppose that's inconsistent, too.”

“Well, of course life is full of inconsistencies, Ann. I'd like to think that your friend Kate can be happy and still continue to love the other man. Very fond of Kate. Never got to know her very well, but she was quite a remarkable girl.”

“I just love her,” said Ann.

“Yes, you were great friends. Well, you must be tired.”

“And you want to read. All right, you dear man, my lovely father.” She kissed him and hurried out of the room, hurrying—although she could not know it—from their last good talk together.

Between Joe and Edith there came into being a relationship that never quite reached hostility, but with each day onward from her angry admission the relationship moved away from love. The practice of love had gone out of their life together; they continued to live in the same house, eat their meals together, expose themselves to the intimacies of living together; and Edith could count on Joe to pay the bills, to be the husband “for show.” Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Benjamin Chapin took pleasure in this, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Benjamin Chapin regretted that, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Benjamin Chapin requested this, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Benjamin Chapin were among those 
. . . There was nothing, certainly, in the public prints or in the public view that could be inferred to be proof or hint of a change in their relationship. They were getting older, like a lot of people their age, and unlike a good many people their age, they behaved toward each other with the same precise politeness that they had observed all their lives.

Edith's angry admission had, of course, been provoked by the sudden first suspicion that she no longer owned Joe, a doubt that never had given her the slightest reason for being in all the years of their marriage. The admission, she first feared, was a tactical error, but almost immediately she corrected herself: it had not been an error; it had been a lucky accident, for simultaneously, in the same scene, she and Joe had overtly put an end to pretense and deception. It was not one partner to the marriage who had done the disrupting thing; it was both. “I charge you—and I have done the same.” There was no lingering doubt between them; no miserable humility on the part of the guilty one; no waiting for a reprisal; no miserable humility on the part of the offended one; no waiting for the opportunity to strike back. Realizing all this, Edith at first referred to the situation, in her mind, as a clean break. But when she had time for more reflection she saw that it was not a clean break at all, but something in its way better. It was a new relationship, brand-new, with a man she had lived with most of her life and whom she had secretly, secretly despised. She had despised him because he, the catch of the town, had taken in marriage her, the plainjane, the notquite. In her mind she had condemned him because for so many years he had come back to her body, and hers alone, for the satisfaction and renewal of his passions. She remained convinced that until the affair of the woman he was protecting, he had known only one woman, and that herself. And she had other reasons for her secret scorn of him; he was too polite, too considerate, too easily defeated, and not very lucky or very unfortunate. But then she had found him out and had boasted of her own infidelity, and as the relationship was undergoing one sort of change for the worse, it was also undergoing another sort of change for the better. She saw him as someone who had more to him than he had ever revealed. She could not like him in the new relationship, but she accorded him a sort of retroactive respect, and some of it carried over into the new relationship.

It was thus not difficult to maintain outward appearances of felicity, even though she found a new reason for the old contempt. She was, inevitably, the first and for a long time the only person to notice Joe's drinking. The matter of quantity became apparent on their household liquor bills, then on the chits Joe signed at the Gibbsville Club. She looked for, and always found, the progressive signs that indicated the effect on his body. “The Mister is off his feed,” Marian would say. “I try to give him all his favorites.” And Edith would lie Joe out of it by pretending to believe he was eating bigger lunches at the club. She herself cleaned up after his first hemorrhage and vomiting, and she obeyed him when, in reply to her soft suggestion, he forbade her to call Billy English, but Billy English went to her.

“Edith, Joe is drinking too much,” said Billy English. “We'd better do something about it.”

“I wish you'd talk to him—or have you?” said Edith.

“No, I haven't, and I consider myself remiss, the way I found
out. I, his friend, I didn't notice it. Do you know who noticed it?”

“Is it noticeable?”

“It is to an eye doctor. He went to Ferguson to see about new glasses, and Ferguson wouldn't give him new glasses. He told Joe straight from the shoulder, he told him it was liquor that made him think he needed glasses. Central retinal degeneration. Trouble seeing things straight on, and I should have noticed, because a couple of people have commented to me, asked me if Joe was worried about something or working too hard. He looked right through them. Edith, I want you tell him to come in and see me at my office.”

“I'd like to, but how can I do that?”

“I don't know how. You're his wife. Have you taken a good look at your husband lately? I mean that seriously.”

“What a question!”

“All right, answer some of these questions: has he had to have his pants let out lately?”

BOOK: Ten North Frederick
13.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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