1947-11-05, English, Article, Journal or magazine article edition: SHORT STORY by ESME STRATHDEE Men Ate Such Fools ... SHORT STORY (5 November 1947)

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SHORT STORY by ESME STRATHDEE Men Ate Such Fools ... SHORT STORY (5 November 1947)
 
Bookmark: https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/257720017
Physical Description
  • 2037 words
  • article
  • photo
  • illustration
  • Journals
  • Magazines
Published
  • xna, The Bulletin Newspaper, 1947-11-05
Language
  • English

Edition details

Title
  • SHORT STORY by ESME STRATHDEE Men Ate Such Fools ... SHORT STORY (5 November 1947)
Appears In
  • The Australian woman's mirror., v.23, no.50, 1947-11-05
Published
  • xna, The Bulletin Newspaper, 1947-11-05
Physical Description
  • 2037 words
  • article
  • photo
  • illustration
  • Journals
  • Magazines
Part Of
  • The Australian woman's mirror.
  • Vol. 23 No.50 (5 November 1947)
Subjects
Summary
  • SHORT STORY by ESME STRATHDEE Men Ate Such Fools HEN Vanity Stronger entered W 6 a room, any room, conversant nt tions broke off and heads i turned in her direction. Her entrance produced exactly that effect, even in the crowded, bustling ling atmosphere of Rigletti’s night club. This country has produced few such brilliant playwrights as Vanity Stronger. She seemed, as always, completely unaware of the ripple of interest she had created. Rigletti letti himself escorted her to a select table, and as if by chance the blue velvet alcove curtains dropped forward a few inches, providing her with a measure of privacy. The harmonica players drifted off the floor. Lights sprang up in the imitation skating circle, weaving a fantastic pattern of wraith-like color. The orchestra dropped into a muted, throbbing expectancy in every hushed note. Vanity Stronger stubbed out her cigarette ette and glanced towards the door, to sigh faintly as if relieved when she saw the boyish figure hesitate there and then come straight towards her. “You, sweetheart,” he said, dropping into the vacant chair. His hand covered hers. “I knew you’d make it.” She smiled at him, thinking how terribly like his father he was getting. “You’re looking tops, Mother.” His eager blue eyes examined her critically, from her exquisitely dressed grey hair to her quiet hands. “Black looks wonderful on you.” “Thank you, Steve. , He was restless, glancing anxiously over his shoulder and round the room. “Looks pretty foetid, doesn’t it? But actually you’d be surprised to know the people who come here. There’s nothing really wrong with the place.” She smiled at his floundering efforts to justify Lena’s work, but her smile was understanding and indulgent.. She knew him too well to disipr ipr close the torment of her f mind. She had come here because he asked her. She would meet Lena Le Schelle for the same reason. But she would not yet give up the dream that had been with her for so long. “This is her number, Mother.” Stephen half turned in his chair so that his enthralled face was towards the stage-floor door. The plaintive whine of the orchestra died to a whisper, faded away. Lena seemed to float from the door, a small, compact body in white silk edged with fur. She drifted like a snow flake, one foot in its roller skate secure on the smooth boards, the other tucked beneath her. So she stayed until the small rink was reached; then her body seemed to electrify and she { was skating, the muscles bunching in her sturdy legs, her cap of blonde hair spray- |L ing out from her square, strong shoulders. « Vanity wrenched her gaze ji»|| from that flying figure with an effort and glanced at her son. He was leaning forward, lips parted, eyes dewy and wide, his whole attention concentrated trated on the skating i girl. I Fear clutched at I Vanity’s heart. There I was adoration and | reverence in that look. So had he looked in church, and later when he had decided to become a doctor. _ The music changed into ihe Skaters Waltz, and Lena was drifting ing from the floor just as she had come in, gliding, and seeming to float on ai “Wait, Mother,” said Stephen urgently, and thrust his way through the applauding ing crowds. , , , . . , When he returned the girl, changed into an ultra-modern gown, was at his side Her eyes, defensive and wide, searched Vanity’s face and clouded. “Sit down, my dear. Stephen has been telling me about you.” Vanity hoped it was the right way to welcome a prospective tive daughter-in-law to the family fold. The girl sat down, murmuring a conventional reply. She was very young, the bizarre cut of her gown somehow accentuatmg her youth. She seemed childishly at a loss for words and twisted the handle of her gold bag nervously. Her fingernails nails were crimson, but with a sensation of shock Vanity realised that the knuckles of the girl’s fingers were enlarged and distorted. Only hard work, and that at very tender years, had caused that. The interview was blessedly short. Lena had promised to visit her for the-week-end, and Steve was looking fatuously pleased with himself. Well, could he be blamed? The girl was beautiful in a cheap, gaudy fashion. She was talented and clever. Vanity discussed the matter next day with Celia as they worked together in the spacious, orderly study that was typical of Vanity’s character. It was hard to know what lay behind Celia’s finelychisselled, chisselled, self-possessed face. “Stephen’s the romantic type who’d fall heavily if he fell at all,” she commented, gathering pencils and pads together with an air of preoccupation. “Celia,” Vanity Stronger very much a successful authoress this morning in immaculate slacks and silk blouse, tapped her pen consideringly against a thumbnail “I think you know what I had hoped for Stephen, dont you?^ “I guessed. He’s a fine man of course Lena seemed to float from the door. Stephen’s enthralled face was towards the stage Illustrated by CLIVE GUTHRIE. ... SHORT STORY her candid gaze met Vanity’s-^—“but I love my work. To me you’re rather more interesting than Stephen is, and my work here is far more absorbing than keeping house could ever be.” Vanity laughed ruefully. “You’re not much help, my dear. Don’t 3'ou realise you’re the answer to a mother’s prayer for her son’s welfare?” “Well, it rests with Stephen, Mrs. Stronger. If he asks me I’ll say yes probably because he’s such a lovable son. But I rather hope he doesn’t. Now we’ll get on with chapter forty-one, I think.” Vanity could have wished for a more passionate response from her secretary and friend, but, knowing Celia, she had to be content with that much. The rest depende r ’ on herself. She chose her guests with care. Stephen’s paternal grandmother of course; Celia’s father, who was an M.P. and a reliability for dinner-time conversation; and her publisher, who was courtly and saintly-enough-looking to disconcert any hard-boiled young vaudeville star. They were assembled on the roofed patio, with its cream walls and screens of antigonon, the lacy foliage and delicate rose-pink blooms lending color and charm to the scene, when Stephen brought Lena in. “Dear boy”—Vanity rose with outstretched stretched hands—“we didn’t hear your car arrive. Lena, too.” Somebody had told the girl what to wear. The well-cut brown linen was a triumph. Stephen leaned forward and whispered that Lena wished to be known by her own name : Darke. “Of course.” Vanity drew her into her circle of friends. None of these people would recognise the skating star, whose make-up was too heavy, whose eyes kept returning appealingly to the reassuring face of Stephen. That mouth, Vanity thought despairingly, introducing the girl to Celia and the others. A dramatic gash might be all right in a night club, but it was definitely not the thing for a summery afternoon. The week-end progressed as Vanity had planned. Riding, at which Celia excelled, was introduced; musical evenings, when her lovely voice was heard to advantage; literary discussions, in which even Vanity’s knowledge of books and writers was outshone shone by Celia’s. Perhaps Lena Darke, too, had other talents besides the one by which she earned her living, but if so nobody knew about them. Vanity set the pace, with the whole show staged around a coolly detached, impersonal Celia, who quietly refused to improve her shining hour. Vanity could have shaken her. In the end it was old-lady Stronger who precipitated the climax. She was notoriously ously tactless, and when Vanity saw Lena walking with her in the garden she allowed herself a grim smile. The old lady was scarcely the company to choose if one was in search of tranquillity. Vanity, however, was not prepared for the devastated look on Lena’s face when she met her in the hall an hour later. The girl brushed past as if she had not seen, her face white, her eyes brilliant with something more than withheld tears. There was tragedy in that young distorted torted face. Mother’s joffended her, Vanity thought, without sympathy. Well, it’s to be hoped Stephen sees her in that rage. It might disillusion him. In her heart was bitter, unhappy triumph. For Stephen’s suffering was her own. When afternoon-tea was served Lena did not show up and Vanity went reluctantly to her room in search of her. The door was unlocked. She entered the deserted room and looked round, her intuition scenting the stamp of a strong personality. The bed was neatly made. Under it lay the dust-cover of a book: Perfect English: How to Use It. Vanity stood for a moment with the cover in her hand. An empty jar on the dressing table was labelled “Hand Care. Would You Have Beautiful Hands?” Vanity thought of those enlarged knuckles and hard palms with a twinge of—what? Compassion? A photograph in a silver frame. A woman standing before a farmhouse, with two goats in the background chewing at a creeper. A woman in middle age, with a sweet, lined face, her white apron covering a cotton frock, her grey hair uncovered. Vanity stood staring at it too for a long time. From this barren, God-forsaken farm to the star turn at Rigletti’s. That journey had taken grit, courage and loyalty. Instilled in a childish heart by this woman, who still walked with her daughter in spirit. Vanity jerked the drawers open. Empty. A few bottles, a nail file, two silverfish. A letter, lying caught in a crack of the timber. She picked the letter up and was unashamed. She was meeting for the first time the real Lena. Stephen’s handwriting writing : “Dearest Girl, Your fears are all wrong. I love you. Mother will love you too. She likes courage above all things, and you have so much, my sweet. I shall never love another woman. In you is my beginning, and my ending, and my reason for existence”... Vanity folded it up. Queer how blurred her eyes were getting. She really did need spectacles. She had never admitted to tears in a life containing a full measure of suffering. “Mother will love you too.” She had failed Stephen. He had loved the real Lena, and he had trusted his mother to discern the genuine gold behind the glittering spangles of her career. There was a piece of blue notepaper pinned to the counterpane. Vanity had not seen it before. It read: “Thank you for everything. Say goodbye bye to Stephen for me.—L.D.” Rounded, immature handwriting. She was only a child really. Vamity was not aware that she was running downstairs and out into the sprinkling rain. The car roared under her hands. Out on to the wet and shining road. Trees flashing past, heavy with their burden den of water. There at last, ahead of her, a trudging, bedraggled figure carrying a heavy suitcase. The big car pulled up beside the wet and weary figure. Lena seemed to hesitate and then stopped, glancing hopefully round for a proffered ride. When she saw Vanity her face paled. A sweet, lovable face, washed clean of its concealing make-up. “You were running away.” Vanity felt bound to lead with an accusation because she was feeling so terribly guilty herself. Lena regarded her unwaveringly. (Continued on page 30.) Art in dress-posing. Dinner dress by Maurice Rentner (New York ) in Beaudrape drape silk by Julius N. Werk. “No. I was leaving Stephen to do what he wants. Mrs. Stronger said he was marrying Celia in the New Year.” “Rubbish. Mother just hopes he will. So did I. But it’s not a bit of use. It’s you he’ll marry. He loves you.” Vanity swallowed, then determinedly continued; “And I’m sure we all will when we know you a little better.” “Stephen”—— “He doesn’t even know you ran away from us. He’s still searching for you at home. There’s really no need for him ever to know. It shall be our secret, yours and mine. Alen are such fools really. Even Stephie.” Her smile for Lena this time was as one woman to another; as women smile when they share love for the same man. [The End.]
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