An American Tragedy Chapter 41

The fifth of June arriving, the Finchleys departed as Sondra had indicated, but not without a most urgent request from her that he be prepared to come to the Cranstons’ either the second or third week-end following—she to advise him definitely later—a departure which so affected Clyde that he could scarcely think what to do with himself in her absence, depressed as he was by the tangle which Roberta’s condition presented. And exactly at this time also, Roberta’s fears and demands had become so urgent that it was really no longer possible for him to assure her that if she would but wait a little while longer, he would be prepared to act in her behalf. Plead as he might, her case, as she saw it, was at last critical and no longer to be trifled with in any way. Her figure, as she insisted (although this was largely imaginative on her part), had altered to such an extent that it would not be possible for her longer to conceal it, and all those who worked with her at the factory were soon bound to know. She could no longer work or sleep with any comfort—she must not stay here any more. She was having preliminary pains—purely imaginary ones in her case. He must marry her now, as he had indicated he would, and leave with her at once—for some place—any place, really—near or far—so long as she was extricated from this present terrible danger. And she would agree, as she now all but pleaded, to let him go his way again as soon as their child was born—truly—and would not ask any more of him ever—ever. But now, this very week—not later than the fifteenth at the latest—he must arrange to see her through with this as he had promised.

But this meant that he would be leaving with her before ever he should have visited Sondra at Twelfth Lake at all, and without ever seeing her any more really. And, besides, as he so well knew, he had not saved the sum necessary to make possible the new venture on which she was insisting. In vain it was that Roberta now explained that she had saved over a hundred, and they could make use of that once they were married or to help in connection with whatever expenses might be incurred in getting to wherever he should decide they were going. All that he would see or feel was that this meant the loss of everything to him, and that he would have to go away with her to some relatively near-by place and get work at anything he could, in order to support her as best he might. But the misery of such a change! The loss of all his splendid dreams. And yet, racking his brains, he could think of nothing better than that she should quit and go home for the time being, since as he now argued, and most shrewdly, as he thought, he needed a few more weeks to prepare for the change which was upon them both. For, in spite of all his efforts, as he now falsely asserted, he had not been able to save as much as he had hoped. He needed at least three or four more weeks in which to complete the sum, which he had been looking upon as advisable in the face of this meditated change. Was not she herself guessing, as he knew, that it could not be less than a hundred and fifty or two hundred dollars—quite large sums in her eyes—whereas, above his current salary, Clyde had no more than forty dollars and was dreaming of using that and whatever else he might secure in the interim to meet such expenses as might be incurred in the anticipated visit to Twelfth Lake.

But to further support his evasive suggestion that she now return to her home for a short period, he added that she would want to fix herself up a little, wouldn’t she? She couldn’t go away on a trip like this, which involved marriage and a change of social contacts in every way, without some improvements in her wardrobe. Why not take her hundred dollars or a part of it anyhow and use it for that? So desperate was his state that he even suggested that. And Roberta, who, in the face of her own uncertainty up to this time as to what was to become of her had not ventured to prepare or purchase anything relating either to a trousseau or layette, now began to think that whatever the ulterior purpose of his suggestion, which like all the others was connected with delay, it might not be unwise even now if she did take a fortnight or three weeks, and with the assistance of an inexpensive and yet tolerable dressmaker, who had aided her sister at times, make at least one or two suitable dresses—a flowered gray taffeta afternoon dress, such as she had once seen in a movie, in which, should Clyde keep his word, she could be married. To match this pleasing little costume, she planned to add a chic little gray silk hat—pokeshaped, with pink or scarlet cherries nestled up under the brim, together with a neat little blue serge traveling suit, which, with brown shoes and a brown hat, would make her as smart as any bride. The fact that such preparations as these meant additional delay and expense, or that Clyde might not marry her after all, or that this proposed marriage from the point of view of both was the tarnished and discolored thing that it was, was still not sufficient to take from the thought of marriage as an event, or sacrament even, that proper color and romance with which it was invested in her eyes and from which, even under such an unsatisfactory set of circumstances as these, it could not be divorced. And, strangely enough, in spite of all the troubled and strained relations that had developed between them, she still saw Clyde in much the same light in which she had seen him at first. He was a Griffiths, a youth of genuine social, if not financial distinction, one whom all the girls in her position, as well as many of those far above her, would be delighted to be connected with in this way—that is, via marriage. He might be objecting to marrying her, but he was a person of consequence, just the same. And one with whom, if he would but trouble to care for her a little, she could be perfectly happy. And at any rate, once he had loved her. And it was said of men—some men, anyway (so she had heard her mother and others say) that once a child was presented to them, it made a great difference in their attitude toward the mother, sometimes. They came to like the mother, too. Anyhow for a little while—a very little while—if what she had agreed to were strictly observed, she would have him with her to assist her through this great crisis—to give his name to her child—to aid her until she could once more establish herself in some way.

For the time being, therefore, and with no more plan than this, although with great misgivings and nervous qualms, since, as she could see, Clyde was decidedly indifferent, she rested on this. And it was in this mood that five days later, and after Roberta had written to her parents that she was coming home for two weeks at least, to get a dress or two made and to rest a little, because she was not feeling very well, that Clyde saw her off for her home in Biltz, riding with her as far as Fonda. But in so far as he was concerned, and since he had really no definite or workable idea, it seemed important to him that only silence, silence was the great and all essential thing now, so that, even under the impending edge of the knife of disaster, he might be able to think more, and more, and more, without being compelled to do anything, and without momentarily being tortured by the thought that Roberta, in some nervous or moody or frantic state, would say or do something which, assuming that he should hit upon some helpful thought or plan in connection with Sondra, would prevent him from executing it.

And about the same time, Sondra was writing him gay notes from Twelfth Lake as to what he might expect upon his arrival a little later. Blue water—white sails—tennis—golf—horseback riding—driving. She had it all arranged with Bertine, as she said. And kisses—kisses—kisses!