Back | Next


Mr. Jeffers turned around. "Hello, Mrs. Jonas," he said. "You're looking so beautiful tonight, I wouldn't mind buying you a drink."

"Thank you," said the brass-blonde, peering into the back of the room. "Isn't Alvin here yet? Then you can. There's absolutely nothing I need more than a drink. A Presidente, please."

She placed one foot on the rail. "Now, now, Mrs. Jonas," said the bartender. "The most beautiful woman in the place you may be, and a Presidente you may have, but you know the rule of Gavagan's. This is a respectable place, and we have tables for ladies."

"Oh, all right," said the brass-blonde. "Come on over and join me, Paul. I feel depressed and need company."

"What's the difficulty?" asked Jeffers, pulling out a chair for her. "The last dregs of a hangover or complications in your love life?"

"Not in mine, but some friends of mine. Do you know the Stewarts? Andy used to come in here a lot. He's that advertising man with Cracker jack and Whiffenpoof or something like that; I can never keep track of those names; and they change them every week, anyway."

Jeffers frowned. "I know him, yes. He's the big, solid chap who looks like a movie star. But I don't think I ever met his wife. What's happened to them?"

"They're getting a divorce," said Mrs. Jonas. "At least Betty-Jo is, and I don't see what else she can do, because he's just walked out on her and is living with a lady wrestler. It's a shame, too, because she was so devoted to him; and Mrs.—the woman who wrote me about it—says she still is and wants him back. But I don't understand it, because he was perfectly crazy about her, too, and would hardly let her out of his sight before he went out there to take over the Chicago office of the agency. I wonder what could have happened. But I guess we never do understand what makes people fall in love with each other, or out of it either. Nobody knew what Andy Stewart saw in Betty-Jo in the first place. She dressed like something that came out of a rag bag; and she can't cook; and though she's quite nice, she's one of the most uninteresting people I ever met. They were married awfully quickly. That's probably why you didn't get to know her."

"If I had, I'd probably have thought she was wonderful, too," said Jeffers philosophically, sipping his beer. "With a low-cut dress and a couple of hours in a beauty parlor, any woman can make herself look like the Queen of Sheba these days."

"It helps," admitted Mrs. Jonas, patting her hairdo complacently. "In preparation for my date with Alvin tonight, I went to a new place, and I must say I think they did a good job on me. Not that it matters to you, but it was Mme. Lavoisin's, over on Arcade Street."

With a tinkling crash, a glass shattered on the floor behind them. Jeffers and Mrs. Jonas looked around to see a smallish girl in a grey dress, with hair pulled straight back from her forehead, just standing up as Mr. Cohan hurried to mop up the debris of a spilled drink.

"I'm dreadfully sorry," said the girl. "But I couldn't help overhearing what you said. About Mme. Lavoisin's. And you mustn't, you really mustn't, go there again. That is, if you're planning on a date with a man. Believe me."

"I really don't see why not," said Mrs. Jonas, with a touch of hauteur.

"Because that's what happened to Betty-Jo Stewart. I knew her, too." The girl laid a hand, which glittered with a diamond-studded wedding ring, on Mrs. Jonas' arm. "And I'm afraid it's going to happen to me."

"If you'll explain," said Mrs. Jonas.

"Yes," said Jeffers. "Won't you sit down and have a drink with us?"

"Can I have another Presidente?" said Mrs. Jonas. "If Alvin gets here late, he deserves to find me fried."

The grey girl drew her coat around her shoulders and sat down. "All right," she said. "A Whiskey Sour."

All right [she continued], I'll tell you. But you must promise never to breathe a word of it to a living soul. Both of you. Because that would be just as bad for me, if people found out and talked about it.

I'm Eloise Grady. I used to know Betty-Jo Stewart well, even before she was married. I even went to college with her, and it was just as you said. She's sweet and easy to get along with, but not very bright, and when looks were being passed around, someone forgot to tell her about it. In fact, the reason I got to know her so well was that we were the two plainest girls in the sorority house and never had any dates. No, [she addressed Jeffers] you needn't tell me how beautiful I really am. I know exactly where I stand. And why.

After we graduated, we both came here, but I didn't see so much of Betty-Jo for a while, and I couldn't have been more surprised when I got an invitation to her wedding. I thought she must have picked up some old widower, who really wanted a nurse to take care of his children. But when I saw the wedding itself I found I could be more surprised than at getting the announcement. It was held at the home of his parents. Everything was dripping with money, and frightfully social. But the big surprise was Andy Stewart himself. He was about the last person in the world you'd expect to fall for an ugly duckling like Betty-Jo. And she hadn't changed into any swan, either. But he used to follow her around with his eyes, as though she were the most beautiful object on earth.

After they were married, she began inviting me to the house quite a bit, for dinner parties, or just to have a cocktail with her. I thought at first she wanted to do a little refined gloating over the catch she had made, but it wasn't that at all. She just wanted to talk, and she often seemed nervous in a way I couldn't understand. There wasn't any reason for it, either. Andy was as devoted to her as ever and gave her everything she wanted.

["Didn't woman's intuition help you out any?" asked Jeffers.]

Not at the time, and just for that crack, you can buy me another Whiskey Sour [said Eloise Grady]. The only time they even had anything approaching a disagreement was during that first winter of their marriage, when he wanted to take her to Florida for a couple of weeks and she wanted to stay home. She won, of course. It seemed to make her more nervous than usual. She had me over for cocktails the next day and made me talk to her for a long time. All about being a business girl. You see, I'd just about made up my mind to live alone and like it then. All the dates I got were from men off the bottom of the deck. But Betty-Jo wouldn't tell me what was bothering her.

And she just stayed home. Andy wanted to go to the ski carnival at Lake Placid, and she let him go alone, finally. And the next summer, when he wanted to take a house at Southport for a couple of months, weekending himself, she wouldn't do that either. It got to be a standing joke about her being such a town mouse. There just wasn't anything else until the October party.

I call it the October party, because it was important to me. It was at it I met Walter—my husband, Walter Grady. Do you believe in love at first sight, Mrs.—did you tell me your name? —Mrs. Jonas? I never did, but the first time I met Walter I knew he was the man I wanted to marry. I also knew I didn't have a chance. He came with that Reinschloss girl, the blonde. Did you ever meet her? She won a beauty contest later and went to Hollywood as "The Society Star." And it was obvious that she wanted him, too.

I may have hinted something about it that night—I don't know. But anyway it couldn't have been more than a day or two later, when I was having lunch with Betty-Jo, that I really let myself go on the subject. We had a couple of cocktails before lunch and a brandy afterward, and I suppose it broke both of us down a little. I know I did tell her I'd given up on live alone and like it. If I could have Walter I wouldn't care for another thing in the world. And it's true—it's true. I still feel that way. Only—

[Eloise Grady drank and looked at the other two.]

I remember her looking at me hard and then saying very quietly, as though she hadn't had anything to drink at all: "Do you really want him enough to go through what I have?"

"What do you mean?" I asked her.

"Oh—missing out on trips, and—a lot of things."

I still didn't quite understand, but I was too wrought up to be curious. I just said: "Yes, I want him that much."

"All right," she said, "the Barnards are giving a dinner party next week, and I know Walter's coming. I'll get them to ask you. But before you go, be sure to go to Mme. Lavoisin's in the afternoon and have a beauty treatment. Tell her I sent you, and it's a date with a man."

I felt let down. You know, as though I'd been expecting to take a tremendous dive, and it turned out to be only a step down to the water. But I did it. I accepted the invitation when it came, and I went to Mme. Lavoisin's. I can't say I was impressed by the place when I went in.

"What was the matter with it?" asked Mrs. Jonas. "It looked all right to me."

"Didn't you get the impression that the place was somewhat shabby? When you look directly at anything, it's clean enough and nice enough, but you always feel that there's something just at the edge of what you're looking at that isn't quite right."

"Well, sort of, when I first went in," admitted Mrs. Jonas. "And I didn't like that receptionist."

"The one with the big black cat sitting on the chair beside her?" said Eloise Grady. She turned to Jeffers. "She's nicely dressed and everything, but she has buck teeth."

"Yes," said Mrs. Jonas, "and the two end ones, right here, kind of pointed. You'd think that a girl working in a beauty parlor like that would get her teeth fixed up. I want another Presidente."

Eloise Grady gave a little sigh.

Well, I don't have to tell you [she went on]. Or about Mme. Lavoisin herself. She has very black hair and looks as though she were about thirty when you first see her, and then you make up your mind that she's really much older, only just well turned out. The receptionist said she only took people by previous appointment, but I said I wanted a treatment that afternoon, and it was urgent, and Betty-Jo Stewart sent me.

She came out herself. "Is it a question of— meeting a man?" she asked.

I thought that was queer, but I said yes, and she took me into one of the booths herself. There wasn't anything extraordinary about the treatment, except that right in the middle of it a pin in her dress scratched me on the arm, so it bled a little.

["Why, that's what happened to me, too!" said Mrs. Jonas. "Only I went there by appointment."]

Yes, I know [said Eloise Grady]. That's why I said—oh, well, after she finished with my hair, she said: "I think you will find that satisfactory. If the treatment gives the results you hope for and I expect, you had better come back. You will need more treatments."

I will say it gave me results even beyond what I could have hoped. I was a little late at the Barnards. Walter was already there with the Reinschloss girl, and they were talking together over cocktails. He turned around casually to say hello. Then I heard him give a sort of little gasp and do a quick double-take on me, I went on with the introductions, and a couple of minutes later, he dropped whatever he was doing and came and sat by me. It was wonderful. It was like—magic. He hardly looked at anyone else or talked to anyone else all evening long. The Reinschloss girl was furious. Walter called up the next morning and wanted to take me to the ice carnival.

Naturally, I went to Mme. Lavoisin's before going with him. She was very discreet and didn't ask any questions when I said I had another date with the same man. Just gave me a treatment like before, and when she got through, said: "My special customers usually come back." I did keep coming back, too, every time I had a date with Walter, which got to be more and more frequently. About six weeks later, he asked me to marry him.

I told Mme. Lavoisin about it and that I wouldn't be in for a while, because Walter wanted to spend our honeymoon on a six weeks' cruise around the Caribbean. At the same time I said I was sure that her beauty treatments were responsible for everything and thanked her and gave her a rather large tip. Instead of being pleased, she looked worried. "My treatment will last for three weeks, perhaps," she said. "But after that—" and I couldn't get anything more out of her. But then I began to worry, I couldn't tell about what. I understood how Betty-Jo felt, and why she had talked to me so much. But I couldn't tell anybody about it, because there wasn't anything to tell, really. But I did persuade Walter to make it only a two-week honeymoon.

After we got back, I kept telling myself that this was absurd, that nothing could make that much difference. So one time, I didn't go to Mme. Lavoisin's for quite three weeks. Toward the end of it Walter kept asking me if I were ill, and then he'd start looking at me in the strangest way. Till I went back. When I was in the chair, Mme. Lavoisin didn't say anything but: "You mustn't neglect your looks like that, my dear. Men always like to have their wives look as nice as they did before they were married." So I kept going back.

The next thing was Betty-Jo's birthday party. It was a big party. After dinner, over the coffee, Andy got up and made a little speech. He said he'd been saving this as a surprise, but this was a farewell party as well as a birthday party. The agency had placed him in charge of the Chicago office. But before he went out to take over, they had given him four months' leave. And he'd shared his wife with all of us for so long that he was going to have her all to himself for a while. So he had arranged for them to spend the time in a cabin in Tahiti.

He laid the tickets beside Betty-Jo's plate. Everyone applauded, but she looked so white we all thought she was going to faint. I was the only one at the table who understood why. And I'm one of the few people who understands what's happened to them now. And I'm worried myself, because Walter is talking about taking a trip to Europe. You see?

The bus boy came over to the table. "It's Professor Thott on the phone," he said. "He says he's awful sorry he's late, but there was a meeting of the trustees at the college, and he'll be right over, and do you want to talk to him?"

"No," said Mrs. Jonas. "Not now. Tell him I'm very sorry, too, but I wasn't feeling well and decided to go home this evening. I'll see him later."

She got up. "Thank you," she said to Eloise Grady, and went out.

Back | Next