Ten North Frederick

( 2 )


The National Book Award–winning novel by the writer whom Fran Lebowitz called “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald”

Joe Chapin led a storybook life. A successful small-town lawyer with a beautiful wife, two over-achieving children, and aspirations to be president, he seemed to have it all. But as his daughter looks back on his life, a different man emerges: one in conflict with his ambitious and shrewish wife, terrified that the misdeeds of his children will dash his political dreams, ...

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Ten North Frederick

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The National Book Award–winning novel by the writer whom Fran Lebowitz called “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald”

Joe Chapin led a storybook life. A successful small-town lawyer with a beautiful wife, two over-achieving children, and aspirations to be president, he seemed to have it all. But as his daughter looks back on his life, a different man emerges: one in conflict with his ambitious and shrewish wife, terrified that the misdeeds of his children will dash his political dreams, and in love with a model half his age. With black wit and penetrating insight, Ten North Frederick stands with Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, Evan S. Connell’s Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge, the stories of John Cheever, and Mad Men as a brilliant portrait of the personal and political hypocrisy of mid-century America.

Winner of the 1956 National Book Award

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
“If ever an author was ripe for a critical rebranding, it’s John O’Hara. . . . And Ten North Frederick in particular seems deserving of a fresh readership. . . . In the wake of the 2008 crash and the social volatility it engendered . . . the great American fairytale of class mobility is poised to become, once again, the next frontier in American literature. In that respect, as in many others, John O’Hara, whose work and whose persona could not appear more old-fashioned on their surfaces, turns out to have been miles ahead of us.” —Jonathan Dee, from the Introduction

“I have several friends who have been urging me to read John O’Hara for years. . . . This is the first John O’Hara novel I have read, and I can’t wait to read more. . . . Ten North Frederick is, without a doubt, a brilliant book. . . . You can’t put it down. . . . As I write this, I have just finished reading all 77 of the National Book Award fiction winners. Now I’m going to read more John O’Hara.”Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation

“O’Hara remains one of America’s greatest social novelists of the twentieth century . . . He captured one of the most far-reaching social transformations in American history. . . . To read [his Pennsylvania] novels is to enter an entire world. They work on the reader with an unspectacular but cumulative power.” —The Atlantic

“[O’Hara] was as acute a social observer as Fitzgerald, as spare a stylist as Hemingway, and in his creation of Gibbsville, in western Pennsylvania, he invented a kind of small-bore variation on Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.” —Los AngelesTimes
“Politics, sex and social intercourse—the finest, most discerning and compassionate novel he has written—one of the most distinguished works of modern fiction.” —The New York Post

“An author I love is John O’Hara. . . . I think he’s been forgotten by time, but for dialogue lovers, he’s a goldmine of inspiration.” —Douglas Coupland, Shelf Awareness

“O’Hara occupies a unique position in our contemporary literature. . . . He is the only American writer to whom America presents itself as a social scene in the way it once presented itself to Henry James, or France to Proust.” Lionel Trilling,The New York Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143107101
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/24/2014
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 207,566
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

John O’Hara (1905–1970) was one of the most prominent American writers of the twentieth century. Championed by Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Dorothy Parker, he wrote seventeen novels, including Appointment in Samarra, his first, BUtterfield 8, which was made into a film starring Elizabeth Taylor, and Ten North Frederick, which won the National Book Award, and he had more stories published in the New Yorker than anyone in the history of the magazine. Born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, he lived for many years in New York and in Princeton, New Jersey, where he died.

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Read an Excerpt


Self-invention—its opportunities and its perils—is the classic theme of American literature, but the subversive genius of John O’Hara’s Ten North Frederick is that the figure at its center, the late Joseph B. Chapin of Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, hardly had to lift a finger to become who he was. One might say of Joe Chapin what was most famously said of the first President Bush: that he was born on third base and thought he’d hit a triple. Doted on by his mother, sent to all the right schools, inducted into his father’s law firm, and mostly incurious about the wider world, Chapin manages to become the most prominent citizen of Gibbsville despite being, in the eulogistic words of one local, “a man who never did much.” While far from a bad guy—he’s a reliable friend, an unusually good father to his nettlesome children, and a loyal husband to a woman who offers little warmth in return—he remains genially oblivious to his own lack of substance; indeed, over time he allows others’ esteem of his social position to lure him into thinking of himself as someone with a capacity for greatness. That O’Hara can maintain readers’ sympathy for such a figure—that Joe’s ambition, even at its most absurd and self-deceptive, comes off as more of a tragic flaw than a moral failing—is a tribute not only to this always controversial writer’s technical prowess, but also to the essential humanity for which he traditionally has received too little credit.

Class was always O’Hara’s theme, especially in the novels. Against the grain of fundamental myths about American democracy, he chronicled the existence of an American social elite: the near impossibility of gaining entry to that world if you weren’t born into it, and the difficulties of escaping it if you were. No detail was too arcane for him, and the sheer aggregation of detail reinforced his contention that, even in the New World, patrimony determines character a lot more than one might suppose. It is a broad, somewhat abstract subject about which it would be easy for a lesser author to come off as too dry or too obviously judgmental; what gives O’Hara’s work such a wonderful volatility and emotional engagement is that he was able to write critically about the iron hierarchy of class without ever quite disbelieving in it himself. He was, in his well-documented personal life, painfully attuned to all the signifiers of what we might these days call the 1 Percent: It killed him, for instance, not to be able to say he’d attended Yale, even after his literary output had brought him more fame and fortune than any of his hypothetical Yale classmates could have claimed. It strengthens the work, somehow, that we aren’t always able to distinguish confidently between O’Hara’s own superficiality and his diagnosis of ours.

Thus he was able to write about Joseph Chapin in a way that was clear-eyed but never wearyingly ironic. Realizing the dream of his creator, Joe goes off to Yale, and is even tapped for a secret society. Heeding his father’s advice, after law school he returns to Gibbsville rather than risk being treated like a rube in a bigger city like New York or Philadelphia. He marries a local girl from a good family, proposing to her in a fit of emotion after she almost dies from appendicitis. He merges the family law firm (again, on his father’s advice) with the firm his childhood friend Arthur McHenry inherited from his father. (Arthur—more complicated and iconoclastic than his friend and partner, and with a life more touched by misfortune—is one of the few characters in this densely populated book whom O’Hara seems genuinely to admire.) Success follows upon success, without a great deal of effort on Joe’s part. Even when his daughter, Ann, provokes a potential social scandal by falling in love with a traveling musician, Joe takes care of it primarily by asking someone more practical than himself to take care of it. And when, as a forty-something dauphin of a town he has almost never left, he reveals to his intimates that the secret ambition of his autumnal years—despite his never having held, or even run for, elective office of any kind—is to become president of the United States, it seems less a function of ego run amok than one might think. It’s not that Joe feels he should be president; it’s more a case of why shouldn’t he be? Each of the blessings that make up his exceptionally comfortable life has come to him not because he seized it but because the circumstances of his birth, together with his failure to question or controvert any of the duties that were expected of him, have entitled him to it. Having never encountered, in the first two-thirds of his life, any upper limit to that entitlement, why should he assume the limit exists at all?

Ironically, Joe’s very lack of substance is what gives some credence, at first, to his viability as a politician. “A good old name,” says the local political fixer Mike Slattery in enumerating Chapin’s virtues:

[P]lenty of money that wasn’t stolen, at least stolen outright, and a handsome fellow with a good education. Married. Two young children. Protestant, but not an A.P.A. [American Protective Association, a virulently anti-Catholic organization of the day]. No scandals anywhere in the family. . . . I told him the party needs young men like him, and if ever I spoke a true word in the form of flattery, that was it.

From the start, the hale and ruthless Slattery sees Joe’s limitations in a way of which Joe himself is incapable. Yet somehow there’s never anything incredible or pathological about Joe’s self-esteem—because it’s the setting itself, much more than the interior dictates of character, that has distorted his psychological mirror. Gibbsville—too big to be a town, too small to be much of a city—is made almost overwhelmingly concrete by O’Hara, not just in this book, it should be noted, but also throughout his oeuvre. Late in the novel the reader is treated to a cameo appearance by Julian English, the intemperate son of the Chapins’ kindly old family doctor; he shows up just long enough to cause a minor scene, one with an undertone of heartbreak for those who have read O’Hara’s first novel, Appointment in Samarra, in which Julian’s fate is played out.

Gibbsville was O’Hara’s Yoknapatawpha, and he knew it with intimidating depth. No aspect of it, no ritual or visual correlative to its network of social relations, escapes his confident attention, from the measurements of the Chapins’ front door to the differences in adults’ greetings of others’ children based on the prominence of those children’s families. At times Ten North Frederick has an almost rambling quality, a tendency to indulge its own extraordinary scope that in another novel might seem gratuitous but here paradoxically reassures us of the author’s total control of his material. At any time he can relocate his narrative point of view anywhere within it. Several of Ten North Frederick’s best scenes have only the slimmest connection to the story at hand: the long postfuneral conversation between school superintendent Carl Johnson and his wife, for example, which if nothing else demonstrates that there is such a thing as a happy marriage in Gibbsville.

But to talk too much about the unparalleled level of detail in O’Hara’s work actually gives him too little credit as a literary artist. Some novelists—Woolf, or Joyce, or O’Hara’s strange bedfellow in class-consciousness John Dos Passos—assert their intention to experiment with form and style so immediately that the dramatic content of their work must operate in that intention’s shadow; but the books I’ve always liked best are the stealthy ones, the ones whose smooth style and comfortably realistic surface conceal the radical nature of their approach to form. Ten North Frederick’s construction is sneakily bizarre, all the more so because O’Hara’s ease and pace keep you from noticing for quite a while that anything odd is going on. The novel opens with what seems like a conventional, biopic-style flash-forward scene on the afternoon of Joseph Chapin’s funeral—a simple framing device, to all appearances, which will soon give way to the expected long flashback—but then that scene extends on and on, for days, and its shifts in point of view mushroom. We check in on everyone, from the Chapins’ adult children to the family servants to Joe’s pallbearers (lower-class tradesmen, interestingly, who are paid for their services) to the governor of Pennsylvania. It’s like watching a juggler: He starts with three balls, and you think, “Well, that seems like something I could figure out how to do myself,” but by the time he gets up to eight or ten, you’ve dropped your cynicism and let wonder take over. And as that present-tense opening scene approaches the hundred-page mark, you also begin to wonder, just in dramatic terms, what the stopping point is. Perhaps the frame we thought was there, isn’t? Maybe the novel will simply continue to march forward in time and poor dead Joe will never live within it at all? Only then—after a series of petty phone calls between prominent Gibbsvillians arguing over credit for an initiative to put up some unspecified sort of bust or plaque in Joe’s honor—does the last line of what turns out to have been O’Hara’s massive prologue land like a punch: “Joseph B. Chapin was finally dead. They had started fighting over him.”

• • •

In the fifteen years between this novel’s publication and his death in 1970, O’Hara arguably wrote too much too quickly, and he was infamous for his unwillingness to revise his work, even at the behest of his editors at the New Yorker, where he published more short stories than any other writer in the magazine’s history. But the real reason he didn’t, and doesn’t, get sufficient credit for his formal and technical excellence (as opposed to his knack for story) is that—like Hemingway or Raymond Carver or other authors associated with stylistic restraint—he made his own work look deceptively simple, and the main reason readers experience O’Hara that way has to do with his heavy reliance on dialogue. To some, writing dialogue just doesn’t seem enough like Writing—maybe because of its necessary double fidelity: It’s not just the author’s voice we’re hearing in dialogue, but also that of the character. In fact, the author’s voice is often a kind of junior partner in that relationship; if a line of dialogue doesn’t sound organically enough like the character him- or herself speaking, that’s rightly counted as a failure.

It’s true that late in his career O’Hara’s short fiction became almost purely dialogue—screenplay-like, really—which wasn’t the best use of his gifts. It could seem perfunctory, if not lazy. But in Ten North Frederick O’Hara is at the height of his command of this undervalued technique. His more Jamesian mode is certainly on full display as well, as in this excerpt from Joe’s wife’s reminiscence of their courtship:

His manners were exquisite even in a day when good manners were the rule. But she became convinced of his unsureness of himself when she had her instinctive realization of his virginity. With that knowledge she encouraged him to talk to her and to reveal himself without quite exposing himself. On matters pertaining to the law and honor and religion they were on safe ground; in her company he became an authority on everything they discussed, and above all they were not there to argue.

The finest distinctions of interiority were not foreign or intimidating to O’Hara. Yet whenever his characters are speaking, their dialogue is the only writing on the page. There are no stage directions, no pauses for thought or description, barely any speech tags. To be honest, this is something that in my own career as a writing teacher I have many times warned students to stop doing. But somehow O’Hara pulls it off. Look, for instance, at the scene wherein Lloyd Williams seduces Ruth Jenkins while a passenger in her car:

“Ruth, you told me some secrets.”

“Yes. I don’t know if that was such a good idea.”

“Yes it was. I’m great at keeping secrets.”

“Well, just so you keep those.”

“Something inside you allowed you to tell me them. Is that right?”

“I guess so.”

“You know so. I want to ask you something.”

“Is it personal?”

“Yes, personal and secret.”

There is a lot more of interest going on in that moment, surely, than speech. Yet O’Hara, even though he plainly could, offers us none of it. Why?

For an answer we might look at a rough contemporary of O’Hara’s whose work in most respects could not be more unlike his: William Gaddis, author ofThe Recognitions, JR, and one or two other long, nearly impenetrable classics of modernism, a writer famously nicknamed, in a 2002 New Yorker essay by Jonathan Franzen, “Mr. Difficult.” Gaddis’s novels consist almost entirely of dialogue, nearly always without speech tags or even quotation marks. Unlike O’Hara, Gaddis needs to be read slowly and carefully just to be understood at all. He was asked by his Paris Review interviewer why he would make this demanding choice—why he would throw the entire burden on his characters’ speech rather than just, you know, tell the story: “To make the characters create themselves,” he answered, “which is true of movies or the stage, and essentially of life itself. . . . Authorial absence so that the characters create the situation.”

And O’Hara is a master at that technique, in all its unexpectedly various modes. He creates and deepens the character of “Paul Donaldson from Scranton,” for instance, by rendering without comment the contrast between that seemingly harmless provincial nebbish’s speech in a public setting and in a private one. O’Hara’s dialogue comes in such great slabs that he is unafraid to create minor-key emotional effects by letting his characters misspeak or babble: There’s something mysteriously moving, for instance, about Joe’s father, poststroke, in the midst of the last conversation he will ever have with his son, spilling a bit of his drink on the carpet and saying, “Waste not, want not. I don’t know why I said that. It doesn’t apply. But as I was saying . . .” And he brutally reframes our perspective on his own main character simply by recording a conversation between Mike Slattery and his wife in which Joe’s fate becomes intertwined with their household business of the day:

“He was upset, I could tell over the phone. Nothing he said, just his manner. What have we got for dinner?”

“Roast lamb,” said Peg. “With mint sauce.”

Mike nodded. “I wish you were friends with Edith.”

“Well, I’m not, so you can rule out that consideration. . . . [Michelle] and Howard are thinking of getting a Plymouth.”

“It’s a good little car, a Plymouth. . . . What worries me is if they give [Joe] the works too soon.”

The knee-jerk critical mistake is to consider realism the only benchmark for dialogue in fiction—to evaluate it only in terms of sound, in other words, rather than in terms of the jobs it is made to do. O’Hara’s predilection for leaning on it so heavily, in scenes that might very easily have found room for other modes of narration as well, was a matter not of creative impatience but of rising to a kind of self-imposed technical challenge. Not to mention that interiority per se was never O’Hara’s subject. In a setting where social interactions are a much stronger determinant in characters’ lives than psychology, every word ramifies, even the careless ones. In the formulation of the great midcentury Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen—another contemporary whose art at first glance seems about as far from O’Hara’s as it is possible to be—“Dialogue is what the characters do to each other.”

• • •

If ever an author was ripe for a critical rebranding, it’s John O’Hara, who—despite his blockbuster-level popularity in his own time—fretted obsessively about his literary reputation. He was by no one’s account a pleasant guy. (My personal favorite O’Hara anecdote involves his losing a bar fight to two midgets after snarling at one of them, “What the fuck are you staring at?”) But the annals of literature are full of awful human beings; what sets O’Hara apart is his almost childlike inability to conceal his need for the world’s esteem. He campaigned for the Nobel Prize. He campaigned for an honorary degree from Yale. One can visit his grave in Princeton and read the shameless epitaph he himself wrote: “Better than anyone else, he told the truth about his time. He was a professional. He wrote honestly and well.” Better than anyone else!

He didn’t feel anything nearly every artist since time immemorial hasn’t felt at one time or another; the difference is that he was incapable of hiding it. At the height of his fame he wrote a series of weekly newspaper columns in which he mostly complained about how little respect he got. He was probably a chore to be around in life, but in death he is a kind of mascot, an unrestrained id for writers everywhere, the guy who made himself hideously unpopular by saying the unsayable: I’m a genius, and you all suck for not appreciating me. For those who complain about the current, timidly polite state of American letters, in which no one has a bad word to say about anyone else and every writer wants to be a model literary citizen, O’Hara is an avatar of incorrectness of every sort. In the 1980s, when I worked at the Paris Review, founding editor George Plimpton was still entertaining the young staff with the story of how he used to phone O’Hara once a year or so to beg him to consent to be interviewed for the magazine’s canonical Writers at Work series. O’Hara, breathing heavily, would let George beg for a while and then simply hang up the phone. This went on for more than fifteen years. The reason for his refusal? Hemingway had been asked first.

But just because he’s so needy doesn’t mean he can’t mount a decent case. And Ten North Frederick, which in 1956 earned O’Hara the National Book Award, seems particularly deserving of a fresh readership; for, as pitilessly accurate as it is in freezing the details of a bygone era in American history, there are some unexpected echoes in it too, some concordances, that to a contemporary eye and ear might seem discomfitingly fresh. It is not quite true, for instance, that Joe Chapin stands for nothing; his desire to be president is spurred on by the outright hatred he feels for the current POTUS (“the Harvard snob,” Joe calls him), whose radical policies, in the wake of a recent financial crisis, are threatening to undermine American values and drag the country into full-fledged socialism:

“Every day I pick up the paper and it’s getting so that if there isn’t some new socialistic scheme, I’m surprised. Arthur thinks the N.I.R.A. [National Industrial Recovery Act] may be unconstitutional. . . . I don’t know whether it’s unconstitutional or not. I haven’t examined it that carefully, but I’m damned sure it’s dictatorial. . . . It’s something I feel inside me, a matter of conscience. . . . Anything I can do to shorten his stay in the White House or to make it unpleasant, I’m duty bound to do.”

Sound familiar? Joe Chapin is a classic American conservative, roused to fury by any suggestion that the system rigged to institutionalize his own power is anything other than divinely inspired. If Gibbsville between the wars had had a Fox News Channel, he would have ended every workday by pouring himself a scotch and turning it on.

In the wake of the 2008 crash and the social volatility it engendered—weak but still symbolic left-wing unrest on one side, the radical right-wing campaign to dismantle the state on the other—the great American fairy tale of class mobility is poised to become, once again, the next frontier in American literature. In that respect, as in many others, John O’Hara, whose work and whose persona could not appear more old-fashioned on their surfaces, turns out to have been miles ahead of us.



This, of course, is a work of fiction, but I also have taken liberties with those facts that sometimes help to give truth to fiction. To name one: the office of lieutenant governor was created by the 1873 Constitution, so it would have been impossible for Joe Chapin’s grandfather to have been lieutenant governor at the time I state. There are one or two other deliberate errors of that kind, but I hope they will be pardoned by the alert attorneys who are sure to spot them. If this were straight history, and not fiction, I would not ask to be pardoned.

J. O’H.
Pacific Palisades, California
August 1955


Edith Chapin was alone in her sewing room on the third floor of the house at Number 10 in Frederick Street. The room was warm, the day was cold and unbrightened by the sun. The shutters in the bay-window were closed, but the slats in the shutters were open, and Edith Chapin could, when it pleased her, go to the bay-window and look down on her yard and the two-story garage that had been a stable, and above and beyond the gilded figure of a trotting horse on the weather vane she could see roof upon roof upon third story upon third story of the houses on the rising hill. She would know the names of nearly all of the people who lived in them, she knew the names of the owners. She had spent her lifetime in the town, and it was easy to know who everyone was and where everyone lived. It was especially easy for Edith because she had always had a reputation for shyness, and it was not expected of her to make a fuss over people. She could notice them and study them, if it pleased her, without any further social effort on her part than simple politeness called for. It had always been that way.

At a gentle knock on her sewing-room door—two knocks, not an unnecessary third—Edith Chapin cleared her throat and said, gently, “Who is it?” Her enunciation was slow and precise.

“It’s me, ma’am. Mary.”

“Come in,” said Edith Chapin.

Mary was an Irishwoman from Glasgow with a clear skin and brown eyes full of self-respect behind her tortoise-shell spectacles. Her bust was abundant and her waist not thick.

“What is it, Mary?”

“It’s Mr. Hooker, the newspaper editor, wants to see you, ma’am.”

“To see me? Is he here?”

“Yes, ma’am. I put him in the sitting room.”

“Alone, or is Mrs. Hooker with him?”

“Nobody with him, just himself,” said Mary.

“Are there a lot of other people down there?”

“There’s quite a crush, ma’am, sitting and talking. There isn’t chairs for all.”

“I know. Did anyone offer Mr. Hooker a chair?” said Edith Chapin.

“Not by the time I left. I come right up. Maybe somebody did offer him one since.”

“Mm-hmm.” Edith Chapin nodded. “This is what I’d like you to do, Mary.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Go downstairs, and if Mr. Hooker isn’t sitting with someone, if he’s just standing with the others, you go up to him and ask him if you can speak to him for a moment. Then when you get him out in the hall, tell him I’ll see him. But if he’s sitting down with some people—You see, I don’t want to make an exception for anybody. I haven’t seen anybody, as you know. But I think I ought to see Mr. Hooker. Such a good friend of Mr. Chapin’s.”

“A great admirer of Mr. Chapin’s. Great. The article yesterday, it made you realize if you didn’t already.”

“Yes, that’s why I would like to make an exception in his case.”

“Will I bring you a cup of tea, ma’am?”

“No, no thanks. I don’t want him to stay that long. Remember now, if he’s sitting down with the others, don’t single him out. But if he’s standing, it’ll look as though he had an appointment with me.”

“I understand perfectly, ma’am,” said Mary.

“You can bring me a cup of tea after he’s gone. I’d like a cup of tea and two soft-boiled eggs. Some toast and some of that grape jelly, if there’s any left.”

“There’s a whole new jar I opened.”

“Oh, then there was some more. I was sure we had some left. Where did you find it?”

“It was in with the currant, on that shelf. It didn’t have the label on it.”

“Oh, that’s where it was. And some cigarettes when you bring the tea. It might be a good idea if you put the cigarettes under a napkin. Some of the older ladies . . .”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Mary, and left.

Edith Chapin composed herself in the ladderback rocking chair, and was so arranged a few minutes later when Mary’s knock came again. She knocked twice, and waited, then knocked twice again.

“Yes?” Edith Chapin called out.

“It’s me, ma’am, with Mr. Hooker,” said Mary.

“Come in, please,” said Edith Chapin.

Mary swung the door open, making way for the man. “Mr. Hooker, ma’am.”

“Good morning, Robert,” said Edith Chapin.

“Good morning, Edith.”

Mary closed the door behind her.

Robert Hooker went to Edith Chapin and took her extended hand in his two. “Edith, I call myself a dealer in words, but today I have none to offer.”

“Today, but not yesterday.”

“Oh, you saw my editorial?”

“If I hadn’t seen it on my own—you have no idea how many people called up about it. Joe would have been—well, pleased is hardly the word. I consider it one of the finest pieces of writing I’ve ever read, and not only because it was about Joe.”

“It was from the heart, Edith.”

“Oh, yes. Yes,” said Edith Chapin.

“The Bar Association is having it reprinted, I thought you’d like to know. Henry Laubach called up this morning and ordered a thousand cards, about the size of a postcard, with my small tribute to Joe printed on them. I feel signally honored, but it’s a pretty empty honor, when I think of—well, I wish the occasion hadn’t arose. Arisen.”

“Joe was very fond of you, Robert.”

“Well, I always hoped so. We didn’t see nearly enough of each other. In this crazy old newspaper business, I work in my shirt-sleeves, you know. Joe, the soul of dignity. Not what they call a stuffed shirt, by any means. But as I said in my editorial, the very presence of Joseph B. Chapin in a courtroom provided the room with the dignity one associates with the court of law, but so often lacking in these days of spectacular circus tactics.”

“Joe would have liked that, every word of it. The dignity of the law was precious to him,” said Edith Chapin.

“How are you, Edith? That’s a foolish question, of course. What must be going on inside, but I don’t think there’s a man or woman in town that expected you to behave any differently than you are. It’s a rare sight to see such courage in these days.”

“Courage?” said Edith Chapin. “I have no courage, Robert. I am so used to living the kind of life I’ve led that now, at a time like this, it’s one advantage of having a naturally retiring disposition. I’ve always lived for my husband and my family, nothing else. No outside interests, no hobbies, really. So that now, if I were to make some display of how I am feeling, it wouldn’t be at all typical of me, would it?”

“No, it wouldn’t.”

“Even my friendships, they had to come through my husband. If they were friends of his, they could be friends of mine, but I was thinking this very morning how few women friends I have. Oh, I like women, I have nice relationships with the members of my sex. I suppose I’m as womanly a woman as the word could mean. But when you have reached my age—and you know how old I am, Robert. But as I was saying, if you’ve lived in a town all your life, except for boarding school, you would think I might have formed some close friendships with women of my age and so on. But the truth is, so many men came to this house, clients and friends and associates and men in the political world, that I neglected my contacts with my women friends. Do you know that outside the family, I haven’t received a single woman acquaintance in the past three days?”

“A great symbol of your devotion to your husband, Edith.”

“Well, I hope it will be taken for that, and not as an indication that I don’t like the members of my own sex, and don’t interest myself in their problems, because I do. When things settle down here I’m going to have to find something to do with my time. I have no idea what sort of thing I’ll do, but I imagine anything I do will involve working with other women, and I don’t want to start with any more handicaps than I have already.”

“You have no handicap in whatever you do,” said Hooker. “Whatever you decide to do.”

“Oh, that’s nice of you, but you forget my—shyness,” said Edith Chapin. “Whenever I had to go to any public function with Joe, oh, it was sheer torture. I was always afraid. Not afraid I’d do the wrong thing, or say the wrong thing. I think one’s natural instincts or upbringing carry one through. But my—reserve—that’s what I was afraid might be misunderstood. Has it been, Robert?”

“Not one bit. Not one bit. I know the people of this town. I know what they think. I know how they feel. It’s my business to know. And I can reassure you on that point. Your what you call shyness and reserve, that’s one of the things that has endeared you to them.”

“Joe was so good with people. He could mix with them and be friendly, to the exact degree that he wanted to be. He really could handle people, couldn’t he?”

“One of his greatest gifts.”

“It was hard for him, too, you know,” said Edith Chapin.

“It was, Edith?”

“Yes. Joe was not naturally gregarious. When we were first married, I think it was before you moved here, Joe confined himself to the people he grew up with. Two or three friends that we saw a great deal of, and as a matter of fact, Joe actually used to seem to prefer the company of older men. Judge Larkin. Old Mr. English, Doctor English’s father, that is. And they seemed to enjoy his company, too. It was a great change when he decided to enter public life. He had to force himself to be patient and tolerant of other people. But I remember his saying to me later on, how he’d been missing a lot of fun out of life by not getting about more in his young manhood.”

“I never knew that, Edith. I never knew that. I would have said that Joe Chapin was one of the greatest mixers I ever saw.”

“And he was, but he had to learn it. It wasn’t the natural thing for him to do, the way it is with some men. He practically made a study of it. But of course Joe had one thing I never have had. Confidence. Complete confidence in himself.”

“The aristocrat, in the better sense,” said Hooker.

“Well, of course he didn’t like that word, but I’m inclined to agree with you.”

“You have it too, Edith.”

“Oh, no. Not a bit.”

“I think so. I think you have. You may be shy, but I’ve watched you, I’ve studied you. You may not be the outgoing type, the extrovert, but people know that underneath that shyness is a woman of great courage and principle. Look at you now. If they could see you now they’d know they were right. It’s a great honor for me, you letting me have these few moments to pay my respects.”

“I wonder why I let myself prattle on this way. I’ve talked with you more than any other person. In fact, I haven’t really talked to anyone else at all.”

“It’s a great honor for me. I suppose we newspaper men, we’re told so many things in confidence, there must be something about us that makes people trust us.”

Edith Chapin hesitated. “It must be more than that, too,” she said. “Thank you for coming to see me. It was very kind of you. And later, when things—settle down—I’m going to ask you for some advice.”

“I am at your service.”

“And remember me to Kitty.”

“She wanted to come with me, but I was sure there’d be too many people. By the way, I had a very pleasant visit with Joe Junior downstairs. Amazing, how much like his father.”

“Yes, at least in appearance. They’re really quite different.”

“That’s what I meant. This is a grand old house, isn’t it?”

“Full of memories, happy ones and sad ones.”

“The way a house should be,” said Hooker.

“Frederick Street isn’t fashionable any more, but it’s much more convenient than Lantenengo Street. We’ve always had the noise and the smoke from the trains, and some of the neighbors on William Street leave a lot to be desired, but we’re used to it.”

“A speaking tube. I guess there aren’t many houses left with a speaking tube.”

“Oh, it has all those things. I suppose you noticed the dumbwaiter. And on the second floor, the busybody.”

“I had a story about busybodies last year. I sent one of my reporters out and he counted I think eighty-seven left in the whole town.”

“When I was a girl I don’t suppose there were eighty-seven houses that didn’t have one,” said Edith Chapin. She smiled her sad smile and Robert Hooker went to her and shook her hand in both of his.

“You are very brave, Edith Chapin.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“And call me for anything, anything at all.”

“Thank you again, Robert,” she said.

He braced his shoulders like the National Guard lieutenant he once had been, and marched out of the sewing room. She waited until she heard his step on the second-floor landing, then went to the speaking tube and blew the whistle.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Mary.

“I’m ready, Mary,” said Edith Chapin.

• • •

The will of Joseph B. Chapin contained no surprises. It was an orderly document, meant to be read in public. Certain sums were to be paid to servants and charities, and those sums were specified in dollars, but the bulk of the estate was in stocks, bonds, and mortgages, identified by name or location.

The sum of $100,000 was to be paid to the son, Joseph Benjamin Chapin Junior, and a like sum to the daughter, Ann Chapin. The remainder was to be used to create a trust fund for the widow, Edith Chapin. Upon her death the fund was to be divided equally between the son and the daughter. Personal items such as cuff links, cigarette cases, pearl studs, watches, watch chains were to be the property of the widow, but it was suggested that they might be distributed among friends: Chapin’s law partner, his physician, the steward of the Gibbsville Club and the first, as yet unborn, grandson.

Edith Chapin, as she always had been, was a woman in comfortable circumstances. Now, in fact, in 1945, she was in more than comfortable circumstances. She was rich. But it would not be known that she was rich. The details of her wealth were known to only a few persons, who were not likely to discuss those details with others not privileged to have the information. The directors of her bank would know, her husband’s law partner would know, the county Register of Wills would know. But there was no gossip value in the size of Joe Chapin’s estate or the terms of his will. He had left more money than anyone had expected him to leave, but not so much more that the amount was sensational. If he had died poor, or enormously wealthy, the public, the public curiosity would have had to be satisfied. He had not died poor, and only a little richer (and that was to be expected of a man like Joe Chapin); consequently there would be no dislocation of the Chapin family status, and the status had always been described as in comfortable circumstances. There was a butcher on the West Side of town who had less money than Edith Chapin, who lived on the East Side of town. The butcher had a Cadillac, and so had Edith Chapin, but the butcher’s was newer. The butcher’s son was studying for the priesthood and was no great drain on his father’s income; but Joe Chapin Junior was not studying for the priesthood, and he would be no great drain on his mother’s income. The 18th Street butcher was said to be getting rich; the Frederick Street widow was said to be in comfortable circumstances.

The butcher was not in attendance at the funeral of Joseph Benjamin Chapin, which took place in Trinity Church. The butcher and Joe Chapin never had spoken a word to each other in all their lives, and yet the butcher would have been surprised to discover how much Joe Chapin knew about him. A clever man who is a lawyer and bank director, and whose family have lived in a town through three generations, acquires and usually retains a great deal of information on his fellow citizens. And it was too bad, in some ways, that the butcher and the lawyer had not been friends, or at least closer acquaintances. There was only a small difference in their ages, an inconsiderable difference; and the two men had several matters in common. Each man had a son and a daughter, disappointing children. Both men had remote wives. from whom they never had been separated. And now, with most of life gone in the one case and all of it gone in the other, it was too late for either man to realize his great ambition. The butcher had wanted to be heavyweight prize-fight champion of the world. Joe Chapin had always wanted to be President of the United States, and thought he ought to be.

One man among the imposing company of honorary pallbearers in Trinity Church knew how deep and serious Joe Chapin’s ambition had been. One man knew, and another suspected. The man who knew was Arthur McHenry, Joe’s law partner. The man who suspected was Mike Slattery, state senator and chairman of the Republican county committee. Arthur McHenry always thought Joe Chapin would have made a good President, and Mike Slattery hardly thought of it at all. Arthur McHenry knew more of the thoughts and deeds of Joseph Benjamin Chapin than any other man had known, and through all phases of Joe Chapin’s life; his boyhood, his young manhood, his middle and declining years. He knew how much Joe Chapin depended upon him, and he knew that Joe Chapin believed he depended on no one. Joe Chapin never required a pledge of secrecy before revealing a matter to Arthur McHenry. And there were few matters he did not reveal. Indeed, it was not so much that he revealed a secret as bestowed it. In the reporting of an intimate detail, the pledge of secrecy was taken for granted, as Arthur McHenry himself was taken for granted. From another man the details that Joe Chapin felt free to discuss with Arthur McHenry would have been distasteful, but there was a kind of arrogant and trusting innocence in Joe Chapin’s revelations to Arthur McHenry, and Arthur McHenry respected the innocence. Somewhere along the way he realized that Joe Chapin’s dependence on him gave him strength. Seemingly his status was secondary to Joe’s; Joe was a handsomer man, possessed of immediately effective charm in the clubhouse or the courtroom, and it had been more or less that way since kindergarten. But Arthur McHenry knew that the charm was less effective when he was not around. Whenever he returned from a trip of long duration Arthur McHenry could see that Joe Chapin’s frown had become set; a few days later, with their hours of confidings and revelations, the frown would begin to disappear. “We’ve missed you, Arthur,” Joe would say—and never understand that he was uttering more than a politeness. With realization Arthur McHenry became more comfortable in the relationship. It was quite enough for him to have the consciousness of his indispensability to the only man he loved.

The man who might have done more than he did to expedite Joe Chapin’s ambition was not a fellow to waste love on anyone who would not return it. Mike Slattery was easy to define; too easy. He was Irish, second generation, and he had the pleasant, unlined face of a well-fed, successful parish priest. He had the look of a man who spent a great deal of time with the barber, the manicurist, and the bootblack. He had small, hairless hands, and small feet that in another time and land would have been expert in step-dancing. He was exquisitely tailored, always in dark blue, and always wore a black knitted necktie with a pearl stickpin. His Irishness was a secret weapon. He was frankly and proudly Irish, but the Irishness was actually a means of allowing the non-Irish to succumb to self-deception. He could tell a funny story, and he had a quick wit, and no one would ever have mistaken him for anything but what he was, racially. He was good company, not to be ignored. But where the non-Irish made their mistake was in assuming that that was all he was; a jovial man from the Emerald Isle. He didn’t fool the Irish; they saw through him while yielding a sort of loyalty to his accomplishments. But the non-Irish had to learn through associations and battles that he was a realistic, crafty, treacherous politician. He was contemptuous of the common Irish, and they sensed it, but he was the man to go to for favors, which whenever possible he granted, and with the favors and their pride in his prestige he kept them in line. As soon as he suspected that Joe Chapin was beginning to act like a man who wanted to be President he decided that Chapin was not presidential timber, and from that moment on Joe Chapin never had a chance. And Mike Slattery liked Joe Chapin. Joe Chapin was a gentleman, generally predictable in his actions and reactions and thus not likely to be troublesome. Also, he had a boyishness about him that was attractive to Mike Slattery, the father of four girls and one of them a nun. Much of what he did for Joe Chapin he did because he used him as a son, without being responsible as Joe’s father. And some of what he did for Joe Chapin he did because he admired Edith Chapin. “If I’d been a Protestant I’d have married Edith Chapin,” he once said, leaving no room for doubt that Edith would have accepted him.

Funerals were a part of Mike Slattery’s life, and they might have been as much so even if he had not become a politician. This one was going well, predictably well. He looked over to the pew in which Edith Chapin, heavily veiled, sat impassive with her son and daughter and her own brother. At a Protestant funeral someone might faint, or have a heart attack, but there never was as much weeping, quiet or otherwise, as at a Catholic funeral. Mike Slattery did not weep at funerals or anywhere else; he had not wept twice in his entire manhood. This one time he had wept was on the day that Margaret, his daughter, had come to him and told him quietly that her mind was made up; she had a true vocation and was joining the Sacred Heart nuns. And it was not sadness that had made him weep that day; it was for fatherly joy, that this plain girl had found a life for herself in which she would be happy. And there was pride, too. The Sacred Heart were an aristocratic order, and if a daughter of his was going to be a nun, it was nice to be able to think of her with the daughters of the best Catholic families. If Edith Chapin had been a nun, she would have been a Sacred Heart nun. The presence of her son and daughter beside her in the pew detracted not at all from Mike Slattery’s fancy of Edith Chapin as a nun, and the veil she wore gave a realistic touch to the fancy. In his life as a politician he had had to hear and make use of many intimate facts about many people, including what he called their bed life. He had used the secret homosexuality of one political opponent to advantage; he had told an associate to get out of politics long before the nymphomania of the man’s wife became common knowledge. No one had any information that could be used against Mike Slattery, but there were no peculiarities, perversions, excesses or denials that were unheard of by Mike Slattery—and nothing shocked him. But he never had been able to imagine Edith Chapin without her clothes on, nor Edith and Joe Chapin in the positions of bed life. He could not picture Edith Chapin getting out of her tub, drying herself. She was always to him a rather tall woman who was always fully dressed, who had a bosom without nipples. But along the way he had learned a thing or two about Joe Chapin, and what he had learned contradicted the notion that Edith Chapin was no more than a head on a virginal torso. Mike Slattery’s repeated inability to illustrate in his mind the thought of Edith Chapin with her legs spread, ready to receive her husband (or any other man), was, he had sense enough to know, a part of her attraction for him. And she attracted him; always had.

Not so Ann, her daughter, a young woman who had been loosely called beautiful when people would enumerate the beauties among the girls of the Gibbsville upper crust. No one ever had called Edith Chapin beautiful, but in Mike Slattery’s estimation she came closer to beauty than Ann did. His standards were his own and never stated, but Mike Slattery never had been known to call beautiful a woman who had any connection with sin. Ann Chapin Musgrove had been more or less vaguely connected with sin as far back as Miss Holton’s School. The four Slattery girls had gone to Miss Holton’s and the stories the girls brought home from Miss Holton’s had sometimes given Mike Slattery useful leads for subsequently useful information. Ann Chapin’s smoking was not extremely useful, but it had prepared Mike Slattery for the later news that Ann Chapin and one of the Stokes girls had gone for a ride down country in a butcher’s delivery truck. The girls had left the school after the eleven o’clock geometry class, wearing their school uniforms. As part of the adventure the truck had had to get stuck in the spring mud, “miles” from the main highway. It was seven o’clock in the evening before the girls got home. At eleven o’clock in the evening Mike Slattery had persuaded Joe Chapin not to have the boy fired. “Get him fired and you’ll never hear the end of it,” said Mike. “You handle the people at Miss Holton’s. I’ll take care of the boy.” There was no traceable connection between the frolic with the Chapin and Stokes girls and the boy’s departure. The boy left town and, as Mike said to his own wife, never knew what hit him.

Nineteen years ago, that was.

Not so long, at that.

Still, pretty long, when you consider that Edith Chapin was only forty when it happened. A woman forty is only a year out of her thirties, and Mike Slattery had three daughters in their thirties and he considered them young girls.

For no more than a second or two he was tempted to turn around and see if he could find his wife’s face in the congregation. He quickly conquered the temptation; it would not look well, and besides he knew she would be somewhere in the church. Peg Slattery didn’t have to be told twice which funerals to go to and which not. Her attendance at a funeral was to some extent a measure of the importance of the deceased or the survivors. She attended all politicians’ funerals, regardless of party; practically all lawyers’ funerals; all clergymen’s funerals, and nearly all funerals for doctors, bankers, merchants, officers of fraternal orders and veterans’ organizations; and popular freaks, such as old athletes, crippled newsdealers, Chinese laundrymen, canal-boat captains, aged Negro waiters, retired railroad conductors and enginemen, and children of unusually large families (ten or more). Joe Chapin came under several classifications and was in addition a personal friend, although Peg Slattery never had been inside his house. At the funeral Peg Slattery and her daughter Monica sat where they could be seen. With long practice she had mastered the impersonal bow for funerals and other state occasions: if someone looked at her, met her eye, she would nod, and if the person chose to take it as a bow, a bow it was. If the person was not someone to be bowed to, she would quickly turn away, and the person could think, because she had turned away, that no bow had been intended. In any case it was an unsmiling bow, or nod, or mere inclination of the head, quite suitable for use at funerals and other solemn occasions. The bow, or nod, was a part of her awareness of her position as the wife of Mike Slattery, a man to whom powerful people came for favors, who was powerful enough himself to grant the favors—and who discussed everything with her. No bridge was built over an obscure creek, no boy got an appointment to Annapolis, no reassessment of valuable property was put through without a discussion between Mike Slattery and Peg. It had taken some men thirty years to realize that fact, during which time they had antagonized Peg Slattery by ignoring her. She wanted no attention from the men, but she badly wanted their wives not to forget for one minute that she was the most powerful human influence upon one of the most powerful men in the Commonwealth. Edith Chapin had not forgotten; she had never known.

Peg Slattery did not know the name of the man who was conducting the funeral service. She had read it in the paper that morning, and the previous afternoon. Whoever he was, he pronounced his words like F.D.R., in whose single person were contained most of the features that Peg Slattery hated. The man in the cassock, surplice and stole did not resemble F.D.R., but because he enunciated as he did, he became a temporary symbolic representative of Mr. Roosevelt. She hated Roosevelt because he was a more successful politician than Mike Slattery; because he was a Protestant, an aristocrat, a charm-boy, a socialist, a liar, a warmonger, a double-crosser, and the husband of Eleanor Roosevelt. One of Peg Slattery’s few witty remarks of record was her widely quoted comment that the only thing she liked about the Roosevelts was that they were Democrats, and she hated Democrats. She had no pride of authorship, but the remark itself made her hate the Roosevelts a little more when, a year or so later, she heard it repeated and attributed to some Republican committeewoman from New York. New York was where this man was from, who was quoting the Bible and sounding like an actor. A classmate of Joe Chapin’s at Yale.

“The minister was a classmate of Joe Chapin’s. At Yale.” Peg Slattery whispered the information to Monica Slattery McNaughton. Peg had selected her second daughter to accompany her to the funeral because Monica was almost the same age as Ann Chapin Musgrove. Monica liked Ann well enough, but she had gone with her mother because she knew there would be almost an hour between the end of the service and lunch, and her mother might get generous and buy her a hat. The ceremonies preceding burial of the dead sometimes had that effect on her mother, Monica well knew, and Monica herself regarded a free hat as an earned fee for spending an hour in a strange church with a lot of people who did not interest her. She knew most of them, but they did not interest her. Like her sisters, Monica had been brought up to conduct herself at all times with courtesy to all comers, and politeness was drummed into the Slattery girls until it became practically instinctive. Their white gloves were maintained in spotless condition, their white teeth were under constant supervision and the parishioners of SS. Peter & Paul’s would have backed the Slattery girls against any family from Trinity Church, for politeness, neatness, and all-around presentability.

Monica could execute the Peg Slattery nod, in slightly different form. When Monica and the other Slattery daughters did the Peg Slattery nod they added a gentle smile, a continuation, in maturity, of the smiles they had been commanded to give throughout childhood. Because of the added smile, the Slattery girls’ nod differed from their mother’s. Monica, Marie, Michelle—each was pretty in her own way, and a pretty girl’s smile, even when given through an error of recognition, is welcome the world over. Even another woman has trouble resisting a pretty girl’s smile when it has asked nothing in return. People who really knew better, who had had experience of life, had been known to remark that the Slattery girls made you feel that your troubles would soon be over. Others, slightly less cynical, had said that it was easy to see that the Slattery girls had never known a moment’s unhappiness. Then there were others who, until Margaret took the veil, declared that the four Slattery girls were the best vote-getters Mike Slattery had. It was a not quite accurate judgment, since Mike Slattery did not get votes in the sense of persuading voters. The individual voter as such was not a concern of Mike’s; he seldom made speeches, and he had abandoned door-to-door nonsense after his second term as assemblyman. He delivered a county, not a voter; the voter was the responsibility of the captain or the ward leader. But it would be accurate to declare that the four Slattery sisters had not cost him any votes.

Monica finished her inspection of the women’s hats; women were not likely to wear anything interesting to a funeral anyway. The clergyman talked on, pronouncing his words in the same manner as some of her old schoolmates at Manhattanville; the New York ones. It was not a Boston accent, but it was not Brooklyn either. It was just the way certain of the New York girls spoke. Some of their brothers went to Fordham and some went to Yale, and they had the same accent. Just like this clergyman.

And now he had stopped talking and the professional pallbearers were sneaking up the side aisles. Johnny Loftus, the taxi driver; Matt McGowan, who was some kind of a railroad policeman; George Longmiller, who had some job at the courthouse; Frank McNaughton, a distant cousin of Monica’s husband James and a helper for the Railway Express; Jack Duff, who ran a candy store on the East Side; and Ed Cresswell, a salesman in one of the men’s clothing stores. She had never noticed before that Johnny Loftus and Frank McNaughton were almost exactly the same height. She had always thought of Frank as taller than Johnny. There was six dollars apiece in it for the pallbearers, she happened to know, and could not remember how she happened to know. Probably Jim had told her. Yes, Jim had told her. They had to be strong and sober, clean-looking, about the same size, and have jobs that they could get away from for a few hours on funeral days. It seemed strange to see Matt McGowan in a Protestant church; he usually took up the collection at the seven o’clock Mass in SS. Peter & Paul’s, and seeing him here was like being in Paris, France, and seeing someone from home. She wondered—but of course Monsignor Creedon approved. Johnny was a Catholic, Matt was a Catholic, Frank was a Catholic, and Jack Duff was a Catholic. They wouldn’t have taken work of this kind without Monsignor Creedon’s approval.

Now the honorary pallbearers were coming out of their pews. Her father. Mr. McHenry. Henry Laubach. A very tall man from out of town that she had never seen before. Mr. Hooker, the newspaper editor. Mr. Jenkins from the bank. The Governor. J. Frank Kirkpatrick, the lawyer from Philadelphia. An admiral. Dr. English. Whitney Hofman. The Mayor. Judge Williams. Mr. Johnson, the new Superintendent of Schools. A man with two canes who was new to her. Paul Donaldson, from Scranton. Sixteen altogether.

“Sixteen honorary pallbearers,” said her mother.

“I noticed that,” said Monica.

“The out-of-town people went to Yale with Joe Chapin,” said Peg Slattery.

“I never even knew he went to Yale,” said Monica. “You could fill a book with what I didn’t know about him.”


“Nothing,” said Monica.

The church was slowly emptying and Monica and her mother moved into the crowded aisle.

“Very beautiful service, Mrs. Slattery, didn’t you think?” The speaker was Theodore Pflug, assistant cashier of the bank, stopping to hold up the departing worshippers and make way for Peg Slattery and Monica.

“Thank you. Very beautiful. Very beautiful indeed,” said Peg Slattery.

“You notice the man with the two canes? That was David L. Harrison, a partner in J. P. Morgan and Company,” said Pflug.

“Yes, I know,” said Peg Slattery. “He went to Yale with Mr. Chapin.”

“Good morning, Mrs. McNaughton.”

“Good morning, Mr. Pflug.”

“Can I give you ladies a lift or do you have your car?”

“Very kind of you, I’m sure, but we have some shopping to do,” said Peg Slattery.

“Yes, I guess I’ll go back to the bank. We’re closed in honor of Mr. Chapin, but I imagine I can find one or two things to do. One or two, putting it mildly.”

“Well, nice to have seen you,” said Peg Slattery.

“A pleasure, I’m sure. Good-bye, Mrs. Slattery, Mrs. McNaughton. Good day.”

“Good-bye,” said Monica.

She paused with her mother at the foot of the stone steps. “You got that, didn’t you?” said Peg.


“I’m supposed to tell Dad Ted Pflug didn’t take the day off, even though he was entitled to it. All right, I’ll tell him. Now what do you want to do? Shall we go take a look at some hats? I’ll treat you to a hat if it isn’t too expensive.”

“How high can I go?”

“Thirty-five. I’m feeling flush.”

“If I like one for twenty-five can I have the difference?” said Monica.

“All right, and I can see where this is going to cost me a hundred and five. I can’t buy for the one without buying for the others, is my motto.”

“Oh, I thought this was a special for me,” said Monica.

“No, I couldn’t do that, but I’ll take you to lunch at the hotel. Dad and the others are having lunch at Edith Chapin’s. I was invited but I got out of it. Me sit around and watch Edith queening it over the Governor and the others? It’s a wonder she didn’t ride in the Governor’s car.”

“I think I’ll call Ann up tomorrow.”

“Don’t you do it. Stay out of it.”

“Stay out of what?” said Monica.

“Well, not exactly stay out of it,” said Peg Slattery. “But don’t start getting mixed up with those people. You never see Ann any more, and when you used to I always knew nothing would ever come of it. Joe’s dead now and we don’t have to pretend we’re friends of the Chapin family, because we’re not.”

“All right,” said Monica. “I wish I’d worn my tan. I want to get a hat to go with it and this dress is so completely different.”

“You can always exchange it. We buy enough hats from Sadie, I never had any trouble exchanging one. Just as long as you don’t wear it to a party, or publicly, then she doesn’t mind.”

“I could buy two fifteen-dollar hats.”

“You wouldn’t wear anything she has for fifteen. Buy a twenty-five now and exchange it later, is my advice,” said Peg Slattery.

“I’d almost rather have a pair of shoes.”

“No, you buy your own shoes. Let Jim pay for your shoes. They’re a necessity. Hats are a luxury.”

“All right,” said Monica.

The day had turned cold and clear after the previous day’s threat of snow and there was in the near-noonday traffic, augmented by the big black cars of the funeral and the politicians and the important, a festive air. The shiny limousines and the many strange chauffeurs and the low-number license plates and the stars and flags of the military motors were enough to make a man have some respect for Joe Chapin. The town was accustomed to big funerals; they were no novelty. But these big cars carried big men, who had made an effort to attend Joe Chapin’s funeral. Big, busy men from all over the state and Washington and New York were in Gibbsville because Joe Chapin had passed on. You could not get a room at the hotel; there was a private car in the Reading Railway shed; members of the Gibbsville Club and the Lantenengo Country Club had been asked not to use the club restaurants at lunch that day, in order to accommodate the many visiting notables. The scene outside Trinity Church, upon conclusion of the ceremonies, was described in a special fifteen-minute program broadcast over the local station WGIB by Ted Wallace. Ted was a comparative newcomer to town, an expert in finding a connection between a popular song title and Kaufman’s Kredit Jewelry, and with an unquestioned flair for making a high school basketball game seem exciting. He was assisted in identifying the celebrities by his good friend Al Jellinek, of the Standard, who had a list of the prominent. But Al was unable to keep his good friend Ted from identifying the deceased as Joseph B. Chaplin. The WGIB switchboard received eighty-four telephone calls, topping the previous Wallace record of fifty-five calls on the occasion of his crediting Frank Sinatra with a Vic Damone disk. It was the only time Ted had been placed in charge of a WGIB Special Events Program; indeed, it was the first time WGIB had broadcast a Special Events Program under that name. Ted was somewhat comforted by the fact that the station also received sixteen letters complaining against putting on a funeral instead of the customary Luncheon Siesta.

After a fairly serious tie-up lasting twenty minutes, traffic thinned down to noonday normal. The horns of protest during the twenty-minute jam were not able to drown out the tolling bells of Trinity. Those noble bells had been tolling while those motorcars were still buried in the Mesabi Range, and they would continue to toll long after the last of those cars was junk. But the battle of the decibels made Gibbsville, at least for part of an hour, sound like a city. And Joe Chapin, the cause of it all, was made to seem like an extremely important man.

His wife, the new widow Edith Stokes Chapin, likewise was made to feel an extremely important woman. All that day and into the night, until her retirement shortly after ten o’clock, she was the beneficiary of the small kindnesses that the big people know how to give. The graceful stepping aside as she took her place at the grave, the little glances in her direction by the clergy, the firm restraint of any emotional display at the inevitable mentions of Death in the burial service.

A civilian airplane, a blue Aeronca, was doing 8’s around pylons during the burial service, and the gentlemen pallbearers to a man tried to stare the craft out of the air, but not one of them was heard to murmur displeasure at the ignorance of the pilot. The noisy little engine introduced a sporty sound to the unsporty occasion and the pallbearer who was an admiral frowned over at his two-striper aide, who nodded in comprehension. The aide knew that there was nothing that could be done about it, and the aide understood perfectly that the admiral felt he had to make some token sign of disapproval as senior officer present. Actually any action in the direction of the Aeronca and its pilot might not have been desirable, since the airplane held the attention, almost throughout the ceremony, of Joe Chapin Junior. There was nothing on Joe Chapin Junior’s face to indicate displeasure or disapproval of the blue aircraft. He stood beside his heavily veiled mother, close to her in body, but his cold blue eyes followed the plane’s exercises with a calm curiosity, and the set of his mouth told nothing. Joe Chapin Junior was alive and present, but it would have been easy for anyone else present to imagine that Joe Junior was only standing alone on a hillside, on a clear, cold spring day. And yet a stranger would have known that Joe Junior very much belonged at graveside. His attire, of course, proclaimed the mourner: his black knitted necktie in a starched collar; his black topcoat, blue serge suit, black shoes and black homburg were all of superior workmanship and material and did not show professional wear. No article of his attire had been bought for the occasion; all came from a complete wardrobe, items to be worn on other, dissimilar occasions but available for occasions like this one. Then there was the point of resemblance between the principal figure at the ceremony, the widow, her daughter, and her son: the Stokes mouth. The lips themselves were prominent, but not thick. The illusion of thickness was caused by the stretching of the lips, through the years, over the large front teeth. It was a remarkable resemblance, especially in the day of the orthodontist. The mouth and the now unseen teeth behind it were the same for the woman born in 1886 and the young man born in 1915. The mother’s mouth was so unpretty as to be described as masculine, but with the mother present the young man’s mouth seemed voluptuously feminine. The mouth was the sole point of resemblance, but it was so prominent as to be unmistakable and immediately apparent. The son had a thin nose and eyes buried deep and a large forehead, not bulging, but a continuing part of the face rather than a beginning part of the head. He was half a head taller than his mother, but his bones apparently were no larger than hers, which made him, for a man, slender to the degree of slightness.

The daughter looked more like the mother. If it had been possible to re-create a younger and prettier version of the mother, and place her at graveside, she would have been the daughter. The daughter’s looks were a refinement of the mother’s, a refinement and a softening, so that the mouth, in the daughter, became inviting, the eyes were lively, the teeth were for whitening the smile. The daughter was smaller than the mother and, beside her, dainty. It was a commonplace comment in Gibbsville: “How can Ann look so much like her mother and still be pretty?” Ann was remarkable, too, for something else: she was the only person at the funeral who was weeping.

There was a ton and more flowers and wire and foil at the graveside. Beside it stood two workmen, leaning on spades—gravediggers. They kept their caps on during the service and stared like innocently rude children at the members of the funeral party. To show any respect was not expected of them, and they showed none. Their only connection with the funeral party was their recognition of Mike Slattery and they nodded to him but they were not offended when he did not return their nod. They had not even done the work of digging the Chapin grave; they were only waiting for the removal of the floral tributes so that they could begin digging to prepare another grave in another plot. To that extent the Chapin funeral was in their way, holding them up, but gravediggers are well paid and there were a lot of grand people to stare at. In a little while the grand people would be going away and they could start work, spading out the correct number of cubic feet of earth to make a hole for the person who would be laid away the next day. Their stony, weather-beaten faces gave back in dignity the same austerity that they saw in the faces of the Chapin mourners.

Soon it was over. The immediate family got in their aging Cadillac while the others of the funeral party stood by, then the honorary pallbearers and the few others who had been invited back to the house followed in their own and assigned limousines. The ceremony at the grave took less in time than Peg Slattery’s luncheon treat to her daughter. The honorary pallbearers in their limousines began looking at their watches and studying slips of paper on which their efficient secretaries had written train times. All of the out-of-town men had things to do later in the day, and at distant places. The sad duty to Joe Chapin had been performed; a bourbon, a spot of lunch, a few words with Edith and they would be gone, in many cases never again to see Gibbsville. Time was important to all of these important men, and most of them had learned the lesson that if you kept busy you lived; lived, at least, until you were caught dead. Not one of them liked what had brought him to Gibbsville, and not one of them wanted to stay and be further reminded of what had brought him. A drink of whiskey, a slice of rare roast beef, the clasp of Edith’s hand and a kiss to her wrinkling cheek, and they could hurry back into the live worlds they lived in. There was nothing here for the admiral, whose postwar civilian services had been arranged for. The Governor was not running for re-election. Editor Hooker, the only man who knew the exact degree of importance of each pallbearer, was in such a state of glorious confusion that he gave up and relaxed. David L. Harrison, suspicious of any man he had not known for thirty years, hung on to Arthur McHenry, whom he had known for thirty years, and no valuable new contact was made by any two men as a consequence of their service to the memory of Joe Chapin. The very tall man who had gone to Yale with Joe Chapin had a private fortune much greater than David L. Harrison’s, and any time he wanted to see David L. Harrison he could drop in at The Links, their common club. Henry Laubach transacted a good deal of business with J. Frank Kirkpatrick, but the two men did not like each other. The new Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Johnson, had boned up in his Who’s Who for his information (and they were all in it, except Whitney Hofman and Mr. Jenkins from the bank), but he never became quite certain which was David L. Harrison and which was J. Frank Kirkpatrick. Mr. Jenkins from the bank had eyes only for David L. Harrison, but David L. Harrison made certain that Mr. Jenkins would not come up to him at any future bankers’ convention. He did it by calling Mr. Jenkins “Doctor,” a title and an occupation he was well aware did not fit Mr. Jenkins. Huddled together by the protection of the police, the sixteen men appeared to the public to be a close group, but they were not. Indeed, they did not all know the same Joe Chapin.

Of the sixteen pallbearers only one, Arthur McHenry, had known all of the Joe Chapins, and after him Mike Slattery knew more Joe Chapins than the rest. The Yale Joe Chapin was a friend of David L. Harrison and of the tall man, whose name was Alec Weeks. The legal Joe Chapin was a friend of Kirkpatrick’s and Judge Williams’s. The political Joe Chapin was a friend of Mike Slattery’s and the Governor’s and the Mayor’s. The Old Gibbsville Joe Chapin was a friend of Dr. English’s and Whit Hofman’s and Henry Laubach’s. Editor Hooker, the admiral, Banker Jenkins, Superintendent Johnson—they were not so much friends of Joe Chapin’s as fellow members of committees. Paul Donaldson from Scranton, who was always referred to as Paul Donaldson from or of Scranton, was the kind of man of consequence who was admitted to the circle of men of consequence that has representatives in most of the states of the Union and several provinces of Canada. He was a rich, rich man who looked right and talked right. He was the only citizen of Scranton who was known to many rich and powerful men; all they knew about Scranton was that Paul Donaldson lived there. In the list of directors of his New York bank his name was down as Paul Donaldson, Scranton, Pa., instead of Paul Donaldson, attorney-at-law, or the name of his firm. He was a member of the bar, but only incidentally a member of the bar; he was president of Paul Donaldson & Company, and he was Paul Donaldson & Company. In one respect he was the most important pallbearer, in that his absence from the pallbearers’ roster would have been, to the knowing, a most conspicuous one. His handshake with Dave Harrison was perfunctory; after all, he had seen Harrison less than a week ago in New York, saw him all the time, and what’s more, he was not a Morgan man. He was personally acquainted with Arthur McHenry, Mike Slattery, Alec Weeks, the Governor, Dr. English, Whit Hofman, and Dave Harrison. Arthur McHenry was a Pennsylvania gentleman, and they all had known Joe Chapin and each other at Yale. Dr. English and Whit Hofman and Henry Laubach were Gibbsville gentlemen, the kind of men Paul Donaldson of Scranton would know in any city in the country. Joe Chapin had been a Yale friend and he was a Gibbsville gentleman, and those were the reasons for Paul Donaldson of Scranton’s being at Joe’s funeral. When he had said, a few days earlier, “I have to go to Joe Chapin’s funeral,” he was speaking a simple truth. As Paul Donaldson of Scranton he had to go to the funerals of men like Joe Chapin of Gibbsville. There were no new Joe Chapins coming up, and nobody knew that better than Paul Donaldson from Scranton. He had no use for first-generation money or first-generation millionaires. He had no use for artists, authors, advertising men, Texans, musicians, or Jews. “Had no use” was his own expression; actually he used or dealt with all of them. But when he had got his use out of them, he dismissed them from his life. He would not have them in his house, he would not go totheir funerals, not even jubilantly.

In the limousine on the way to Frederick Street he sat beside Mike Slattery. “They gave Joe a nice turnout,” said Paul Donaldson of Scranton.

“Very,” said Mike Slattery. “He’d have appreciated your coming.”

“Oh, balls,” said Donaldson. “Tell me about the son. I hear he’s no damn good.”

“That’s about the size of it, I guess,” said Mike.

“What about him, Whit? You know him, of course,” said Donaldson.

“Oh, sure,” said Whit Hofman. “I haven’t seen him much since he was a kid, but we all get a lot of funny reports on him.”

“What kind of reports?” said Donaldson. “Is he a Commie? One of those?”

“No, at least I haven’t heard that. Have you, Mike?”

“No, although he may well be,” said Mike.

“What else then?” said Donaldson.

“Well, I heard he was kicked out of your alma mater for being a fairy,” said Whit Hofman.

“I can tell you that’s not true,” said Donaldson. “If we started kicking them out for being fairies . . . God, when I was there I don’t think there were a half a dozen known ones in the whole university, but now I understand the place is full of them. But it’s not only Yale. Every place. Harvard always had them. Princeton, full of them. Where did you go, Whit? You went to Williams.”

“Right. Never any fairies at Williams. We used to send them all to the Big Three.”

“You may think you’re kidding, but you’re not. My boy went to New Haven for two years and he was glad to get out and go in the Navy. He hated it, and I can’t say I blamed him. You go to Yale nowadays and if your father wasn’t a jailbird or an immigrant, you go around feeling you owe somebody an apology. I guess it isn’t quite as bad as that, but things are going in that direction. Mike, where did you go?”

“Villanova to college and Penn to law school.”

“Well, I guess Villanova’s all right, but Penn, I hear that stinks too. But getting back to young Joby Chapin. You think he’s a fairy, eh? I knew Joe was disappointed in him, but I didn’t know that was the reason.”

“That was one of the stories when he left Yale,” said Hofman.

“Well, wasn’t there somebody from Gibbsville there at the time? This was always a pretty good Yale town,” said Donaldson.

“There must have been,” said Hofman. “Who? Can you remember, Mike?”

“I was just trying to think,” said Mike. “Young Ogden. Wasn’t he at Yale about then?”

“Oh, no. Later,” said Hofman.

“How did young Chapin stay out of the Army? He looks healthy enough,” said Donaldson.

“He was in the Army for a while, wasn’t he, Mike?”

“I can tell you about that,” said Slattery. “He got a medical discharge for something to do with the inner ear, and then he got in that O.S.S. outfit. That was one of my contracts. They made him an instructor in code work at one of their secret camps.”

“Overseas?” said Donaldson.

“Virginia somewhere,” said Slattery. “I think that’s where he is now, or at least he’s still with the cloak-and-dagger boys to the best of my knowledge.”

“What about Ann? Where was her husband? She’s married to some fellow named Mugridge,” said Donaldson.

“Musgrove,” said Hofman. “Divorced. She’s been living at home—how long would you say, Mike?”

“The best part of a year. Close to it,” said Slattery. “I understand she’s back and forth between here and Philly, but mostly at home.”

“She have any children? No children, if I’m not mistaken, unless she had one lately,” said Donaldson.

“No children,” said Hofman.

“And she was married once before, wasn’t she?” said Donaldson.

“To an Italian fellow that played in an orchestra. We had that annulled. Not many people know about that,” said Slattery.

“Oh, the hell they don’t, Mike,” said Hofman.

“They may know about it, but they’d have one hell of a time proving it on any record,” said Slattery.

“You fixed that, did you, Mike?” said Donaldson.

“I was instrumental, put it that way,” said Slattery.

“Good old Mike. Instrumental,” said Donaldson.

“We politicians have our uses,” said Slattery.

“If they were all like you we wouldn’t have anything to worry about,” said Donaldson.

“Thank you, sir,” said Slattery.

“I mean it. I often wish to God Almighty that we had you in Washington.”

“What could I do in Washington that I can’t do right here in Gibbsville? As long as I pay my phone bill.”

“Well—yes. Whit, why don’t you run for office?”

“Whit’s very active behind the scenes,” said Slattery.

“I see. Beg your pardon,” said Donaldson. “Just so a good man like Whit isn’t going to waste.”

“He’s not going to waste, you have my assurance,” said Slattery. “He does more for our crowd than a lot of fellows that get more credit.”

“Glad to hear it,” said Donaldson. “Now, one more question. What about Edith? Is she going to be all right?”

“Financially, you mean? Financially, in the neighborhood of a million and a quarter,” said Slattery.

“Besides financially. Her disposition, temperament,” said Donaldson.

“Sound as a dollar,” said Slattery.

“Not this God damn Chinese dollar, I hope,” said Donaldson.

“No, not the Chinese dollar,” said Slattery.

“Is she going to take this hard, Joe’s death?” said Donaldson.

“You never know what goes on in a woman’s mind, but Edith—well, you know her as well as I do,” said Slattery.

“Yes, and I think she’ll be all right,” said Donaldson. “I was just wondering whether you had any particular information, any signs of anything.”

“Edith wouldn’t let on to me,” said Slattery.

“Possibly, but you’re one of the sharpest observers I ever knew,” said Donaldson.

“Not sharp enough to penetrate that mask,” said Slattery, “when it’s the same face day in day out, year in year out. Ask Whit. He’s her cousin.”

“I’m her cousin, but I was Joe’s cousin, too. Joe’s mother was my aunt, my father’s sister. I could never figure Joe out. I guess I’m not awfully good at that sort of thing. If I couldn’t figure Joe out, I’d have one hell of a time with Edith. They’re just my cousins, and I always more or less took them for granted.”

“Now that’s interesting,” said Donaldson. “Your saying you couldn’t figure Joe out. Why not? What was difficult about that?”

“One of the smartest things he ever said,” said Slattery. “Who did know Chapin? Arthur McHenry knew him better than anyone else. Then I think I did. But I’ll tell you this much, Paul. We knew exactly what Joe wanted us to know. And believe me, that wasn’t much. You were a friend of his, sure. But did you know him? Do you think you knew him well? You didn’t. I admit I didn’t. I don’t think Arthur did. And as to Edith—I wonder.”

“Are you hinting that Joe had a secret life?” said Donaldson.

“No, but I am hinting that he could have had a secret life without any of us knowing about it.”

“Oh,” said Donaldson.

“Joe was like a young fellow that never grew up. In many respects that was what he was. But if you let it end there, you wouldn’t have the full picture of the man. I can’t believe that what I was allowed to see of Joe was all there was. If that was all there was, he was a dull man, perhaps a stupid man. But then that would make me a stupid man for taking so much interest in him, and while I may be a lot of things, I’ll never admit that I’m stupid.”

“Nobody could ever call you stupid,” said Donaldson.

“Correction, Paul. They have called me stupid, but they usually found out different. I’ve been wrong, but not stupid. So, now we have these two people, friends of ours. The one is a woman, painfully shy and retiring, and we all right away credit her with a lot more gray matter than she ever admitted. Then the other, the man, he isn’t shy or retiring. Enters politics. Gets around and meets people, so we never bother to wonder, maybe there’s more to this man than we see. I’ve always thought there was a great deal more. In fact, Joe was a much more interesting study than Edith. We think, we conceded that the woman had more because she showed practically nothing. We don’t bother to think the same thing about the man. Why? Because we think we’ve seen it all. I say we missed the boat on Joe Chapin, and I was one that missed it by a mile. Maybe I was stupid. Maybe I was.”

“Mike, it sounds to me as though you were thinking a lot of these things for the first time,” said Donaldson.

“Paul, you are absolutely right,” said Slattery.

“Well, here we are,” said Whit Hofman.

“I want to add one thing,” said Slattery.

“What’s that?” said Donaldson.

“I may have been stupid about Joe, and he’s dead. But I won’t be stupid about Edith.”

Donaldson was using the hand loop to pull himself out of his seat. He paused. “You sound as though you might have plans for Edith?”

“It’s too early to say,” said Slattery. “Or is it?”

“Keep in touch with me, Mike. I’ll be interested to see what develops.” He patted Slattery’s knee. “You know, you’re the most stimulating Irishman I know.”

“If I am, why limit it to Irishmen? We’re a very stimulating race of people. So much so that the rest of you can only take us in small doses. Or so it would appear.”

“You’re an arrogant old son of a bitch, too,” said Donaldson.

“Now that’s more like it. There we meet on equal terms.”

“You see why I love this fellow?” said Donaldson to Hofman.

“I sure do,” said Hofman.

“Let’s save the rest of the compliments for the deceased,” said Slattery. “With my swelled head and your big bottom we’re having a hard time getting out of this chariot.”

They descended from the limousine and the chauffeur addressed Mike Slattery. “About what time will I be back for you, sir?”

“An hour and a half,” said Slattery. “No, I’ll tell you, Ed. Be back at four. That’ll be soon enough.”

“Yes, sir,” said Ed.

“I hope you notice I’m using my own car, Paul,” said Slattery. “The Commonwealth doesn’t pay for this ride.”

“Senator, your concern for the economy touches me,” said Donaldson. “Whit, you know this house. If I don’t empty my bladder this minute I’m going to have a childish accident.”

“Then let’s head for the garage. There’s a can back there,” said Hofman. “Mike?”

“Everything under control. See you inside,” said Mike Slattery. One of Mike Slattery’s gifts was that he knew when to leave, and he knew that Paul Donaldson had had a pleasant time with him. The moment to separate had come and he was glad that Donaldson had supplied the excuse.

• • •

The Chapin house was the only one on Frederick Street that had a stoop of three chaste brownstone steps. The other houses of equal age and proportion had marble stoops, originally chaste but soiled by time and traffic. The front door was a massive fixture, four inches in thickness, with a brass plate the size of a playing card, in which had been cut the name Benjamin Chapin. The patina from years of polish and rubbing left the name barely distinguishable. The plate was screwed into the door at a point sixty-eight inches from the bottom, or eyes’ height as measured to the full height of Benjamin Chapin. Beneath the name plate, exactly halfway from top to bottom of the door, was a letter-slot of brass bearing the word Letters. (It had not been used in many years, a fact known to the regular letter carriers, but confusing to the occasional extra carrier, who did not know that the slot was permanently closed to keep out draught and dust.) Above the door was a fan light into which was etched the number 10. The outer side of the light had not been washed—“hopeless,” was Edith’s word for the task of keeping it clean—but the inside was comparatively free of dust. The doorknob and the bell-button assembly were of figured bronze, the latter a later copy of the design for the knob, made by hand at the time of the substitution of the electric bell for the bronze pull. The knob of the bronze pull still served as a paperweight in Joe Chapin’s study, mounted on mahogany in which had been picked out the date of the installation of electricity in the Chapin house.

The entrance was in the center of the street floor. On each side of the entrance, on the western elevation, was a pair of windows, plate glass, separate but twins. The window sills were high enough above the street level to make it impossible for the nosy to peer in, and in any event there usually was nothing to see but furniture, since the rooms were seldom used in the daytime and the shades lowered, the curtains drawn, every night.

It was now possible to see human beings moving about in those rooms; the shades were raised, the curtains tied up. The crape of mourning had been removed from the front door and a curious passerby might have imagined that he was having a glimpse of a reception—which, in a manner of speaking, was the case. The front door was slightly ajar, intentionally, so that the invited would enter without ringing the bell, and the vestibule door was fully open and held open by a carpet-covered brick. There was a quite level tone of conversational exchange, animated enough by the animation and relief of the living who have just been burying the dead, but still suitably subdued for the occasion and by the fact that the company did not include enough of the very young to make a substantial difference. This was an older crowd, recessing now from a duty that was more frequently repeated every year. Joe Chapin, not the oldest of this group, was gone and most of the men and women present had good reason to expect that he or she would be the next, and soon. A month? Too soon. Ten years? Too much to expect. Five years? Three years? It got closer when you thought about it, and the best thing now was not to think about it. One knew, or could guess, the principal complaint or weakness of one’s friends and contemporaries. This man, one knew, had a sixteen-inch-long scar on his belly. That woman was under the x-ray three times a week. That man would never smoke another cigar; that woman was never more than an hour away from her next whiskey. You bought a suit of clothes, knowing it would outlast you. You kept clean wherever soap and water could reach. You controlled the growth of hair on your face and head. You had the small grime removed from the settings of your diamonds and the lenses changed in your spectacles. You remembered everything you had ever known about your acquaintances, but sometimes you put a true sin or a true scandal in your record of the wrong person. Friends were beginning to bore you as much as enemies, and the one quickly became the other over nothing more important than a near-sighted revoke at bridge. But a gathering of this kind briefly took on a party atmosphere because there were so many like you present. No matter how truly you believed that you wanted to be alone, a gathering of this kind did stay off loneliness.

The front room at the right as you entered the Chapin house was the dining room, connected through a swinging door with the butler’s pantry and the kitchen. Off the hall, on that side of the house, was also a lavatory, and in the hall was the front stairway. The front room at the left of the hall was the sitting room and beyond it a room that Edith Chapin called the library or den but that before her marriage had been called the back sitting room (and which was so indicated on the signal box in the pantry, with the letters BSR). As the invited entered the house they were greeted by Mary the maid. “Gentlemen will put their hat and coats upstairs and to the right. Ladies upstairs and to the left.” It was a chant. The invited did as instructed, delaying upstairs for the bathrooms to be unoccupied and their turns to come. Otto, the steward, and two waiters from the Gibbsville Club took care of the drink needs expeditiously, asking the preferences of some, knowing from experience the tastes of others. For all to see, in the dining room on the large table—all extra leaves in place—was food, kept hot over alcohol burners, and on the sideboard a club coffee urn and china. The drink ingredients were not in evidence; they were in the kitchen. The largest call, as Otto had anticipated, was for bourbon-on-the-rocks, with the ladies who drank favoring slightly the dry martini. The admiral asked for, and got, brandy and ginger ale; Alec Weeks required Scotch and Saratoga vichy, without ice, and it was supplied. Otherwise the company taste was simple and predictable, as the excellent Otto was sure it would be.

The early arrivals accepted their drinks and sat down to rest, staying out of the dining room to make polite, irrelevant conversation, and greeting each other (whom they had last seen less than thirty minutes ago at the graveside) with a reunion heartiness, nicely modulated. No one wanted to be the first to attack the food; consequently, when the greater number were arrived, there was a sudden crowding of the dining room and some well-behaved confusion. The gentlemen soon gave up their attempts to serve the ladies first, and the ladies then forthrightly helped themselves and were fed first anyway. Some few more than sixty persons had been invited back to the house, and provision had been made for eighty. At the high point of the luncheon seventy-one men and women were served, including those who asked only for a plate of saltines and a glass of milk. Twenty or more of the company took pills before eating; a smaller number took pills after eating. It was not a group (nor was it an occasion) for sitting on the floor, a condition that resulted in half the men remaining on their feet. Cigars were not passed, but they came out before most of the ladies and gentlemen had finished their food. The time elapsed between the serving of the very first morsel and the last was under an hour; dessert, apple pie or ice cream or both, was generally declined, and a remarkable number of persons went without coffee because it was not Sanka, a detail that had been overlooked by the embarrassed Otto and the unaware Edith.

The widow’s representatives among the invited callers were her son Joby and her brother, Carter Stokes Junior, who was four years younger than she and therefore closer in age to most of the company. Carter Stokes was a not unpleasant little man, a bachelor who lived at the Y.M.C.A. because it was cheap and respectable and offered the facilities of the swimming pool, the cafeteria, the barber shop, the New York and Philadelphia newspapers, and all of the standard American and English magazines. He was a member of the Gibbsville Club (an annual Christmas present from Edith) but he seldom went near it for club life. The drinking and gambling at the Gibbsville Club were, he declared, too rich for his blood. At the “Y” he enjoyed the status of a full-fledged but democratic member of Gibbsville society, who preferred the company of a good bunch of fellows like the ones that lived at the “Y.” He made $7,500 a year as assistant cashier at the bank, which enabled him to buy his clothes at Jacob Reed’s in Philadelphia and maintain a Plymouth automobile and give one small party a year at the Gibbsville Club to repay hostesses for the free dinners he earned as extra man. It was generally agreed among his friends of both strata that he was not a homosexual, although no proof could be offered by those who brought up the question or those who defended against the suspicion. Men liked old Carter, who was called old before he was out of his forties, and hostesses found him useful at quarter-a-corner and twentieth-of-a-cent bridge parties, on which a large part of Gibbsville social life was based. As an alumnus of Haverford College he qualified as an educated man; in his case the college education figured in his past and his present in much the same way as the straightening of his teeth; in youth the teeth had been straightened, the education provided, and for the rest of his life he was a college man and straight-toothed.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 29, 2014

    It's a read-again-er

    This is an excellent story. I was disappointed in the ending. It dulled the excellence only a bit. It felt it was unbelievable, and it was not in character for Joe Chapin, unless you figure he was losing his wits - a real possibility.

    This was a story more about the people who surrounded Joe. His wife, his children, his domestic help, his partner, his doctor, his club friends, and others. There are many characters built up here, all with excellence.

    There's sex, money, power, duplicity. You name it. A superb portrayal of all the angles in human relations.

    There are some takeaways here, and the story is very entertaining. It's a read-againer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2006

    Like a Mystery

    When I picked up this title I wondered why this work was out of print and it only became obvious in the last few pages why. This book is a brilliant indictment of pretention and presumption. Anyone thinking of climbing the social ladder should read this other answer to Dreiser's riddle on an American Tragedy.

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