Mary Minds Her Business Part 36

CHAPTER XXIX

As time went on, it became increasingly clear to Mary that Wally wasn't happy--that the "one great thing in life" for him was turning out badly.

Never had a Jason sailed forth with greater determination to find the Golden Fleece of Happiness, but with every pa.s.sing week he seemed to be further than ever from the winning of his prize.

Mary turned it over in her mind for a long time before she found a clue to the answer.

"I believe it's because Helen has nothing useful to occupy her mind," she thought one day; and more quickly than words can describe the fancy, she seemed to see the wives at each end of the social scale--each group engaged from morning till night on a never-ending round of unproductive activities, walkers of treadmills, drudges of want and wealth.

"They are in just the same fix--the very rich and the very poor,"

she thought, "grinding away all day and getting nowhere--never satisfied--never happy--because way down in their hearts they know they're not doing anything useful--not doing anything that counts--"

Her mind returned to Helen's case.

"I'm sure that's it," she nodded. "Helen hasn't found happiness, so she goes out looking for it, and never thinks of trying the only thing that would help her. Yes, and I believe that's why so many rich people have divorces. When you come to think of it, you hardly ever heard of divorces during the war--because for the first time in their lives a lot of people were doing something useful--"

Hesitating then she asked herself if she ought not to speak to Helen.

"I didn't get any thanks the last time I tried it," she ruefully remarked. "But perhaps if I used an awful lot of tact--"

She had her chance that afternoon when Helen dropped in at the office on her way back from the city.

"Shopping--all day--tired to death," she said, sinking into the chair by the side of the desk. "How are you getting on?"

Mary felt like replying, "Very well, thank you.... But how are you getting on, Helen?.... you and Wally?"

Somehow, though, it sounded dreadful, even to hint that everything wasn't as it should be between Wally and his wife.

"Besides," thought Mary, "she'd only say, 'Oh, all right,' and yawn and change the subject--and what could I do then?" She answered herself, "Nothing," and thoughtfully added, "It will take a lot of tact."

Indeed there are some topics which require so much tact in their presentation that the article becomes lost in its wrappings, and its presence isn't even suspected by the recipient.

"How's Wally?" asked Mary.

"Oh, he's all right."

"When I saw him the other day, I thought he was looking a bit under."

"Oh, I don't know--"

As Mary had guessed, Helen patted her hand over her mouth to hide a yawn.

"How's Aunt Patty and Aunt Cordelia?" she asked.

Mary sighed to herself.

"What can I do?" she thought. "If I say, 'Helen, you know you're not happy. Folks never are unless they are doing something useful,' she would only think I was trying to preach to her. But if I don't say anything--and things go wrong--"

One of the accountants entered--the elder one--with a sheaf of papers in his hand. On seeing the visitor, he drew back.

"Don't let me interrupt you," whispered Helen to Mary. "I'll run in and see Burdon for a few minutes--"

Absent-mindedly Mary began to look at the papers which the accountant placed before her--her thoughts elsewhere--but gradually her interest centred upon the matter in hand.

"What?" she exclaimed. "A shortage as big as that last year? Never!"

The accountant looked at her with the same quizzical air as an astronomer might a.s.sume in looking at a child who had just said, "What? The sun ninety million miles away from the earth? Never!"

"Either that," he said, "or a good many bearings were made in the factory last year--and lost in the river--"

"Oh, there's some mistake," said Mary earnestly. "Perhaps the factory didn't make as many bearings as you think."

Again he gave her his astronomical smile, as though she were saying now, "Perhaps the moon isn't as round as you think it is; it doesn't always look round to me."

"I thought it best to show you this, confidentially," he said, gathering the papers together, "because we have lately become conscious of a feeling of opposition--in trying to trace the source of this discrepancy.

It seems to us," he suggested, speaking always in his impersonal manner, "that this is a point which needs clearing up--for the benefit of every one concerned."

"Yes," said Mary after a pause "Of course you must do that. It isn't right to raise suspicions and then not clear them up.... Besides," she added, "I know that you'll find it's just a mistake somewhere--"

After he had gone, Helen looked in, Burdon standing behind her, holding his cane horizontally, one hand near the handle, the other near the ferrule. In the half gloom of the hall he looked more dashing--more reckless--than Mary had ever visioned him. His cane might have been a sword ... his hat three-cornered with a sable feather in it....

"I just looked in to say good-bye," said Helen. "I'm going to take Burdon home."

"I need somebody to mind me," said Burdon, flashing Mary one of his violent smiles; and turning to go he said to Helen over his shoulder, "Come, child. We're late."

"He calls her 'child'..." thought Mary.

That night Wally was a visitor at the house on the hill--and when Mary saw how subdued he was--how chastened he looked--her heart went out to him.

"It seems so good to be here, calling again like this," he said. "Does it remind you of old times, the same as it does me?"

But Mary wouldn't follow him there. As they talked it occurred to her more than once that while Wally appeared to be listening to her, his thoughts were elsewhere--his ears attuned for other sounds.

"What are you listening for!" she asked him once.

He answered her with a puzzle.

"For the Lorelei's song," he said, and going to the piano he sang it, his clear, plaintive tenor still retaining its power to make her nose smart and the dumb chills to run up and down her back. She was sitting near the piano and when he was through, he turned around on the bench.

"Have you ever been the least bit sorry," he asked, "that you turned me down--for a business career?"

"I didn't turn you down," she said. "We couldn't agree on certain things: that's all."

"On what, for instance?"

"That love is the one great thing in life, for instance. You always said it was--especially to a girl. And I always said there were other things in a woman's life, too--that love shouldn't monopolize her any more than it does a man."

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