"It’s time to get ready, John. The party begins at eight.”
The voice, casual and pleasant, nevertheless contained a quality of assertiveness that defied any argument; and Mr. Warren, who had learned from unvaried experience that remonstrance gained him nothing, heaved a deep sigh, put aside his newspaper, and started toward his room.
While dressing he pondered over this and many like occasions in the not far-distant past, thought of them with a growing sense of injury, but with a sort of hopelessness. It wasn’t right, he reflected. Alice was the woman of his heart and all that, but she should show him a little consideration. When a woman selects her husband’s clothes, puts him on a diet, makes him do setting-up exercises and – worst of all – drags him out three or four nights a week to bridge parties and what not, then life’s golden promise becomes slightly tarnished and the husband is liable to start thinking, “What’s the use?” This was Mr. Warren’s dilemma.
His disconsolate musings were rudely interrupted by a somewhat impatient voice on the landing:
“John, will you never be ready?”
“Coming, my dear,” answered Mr. Warren dutifully, as he gathered up his hat and gloves and started down the hallway.
The party was no exception to the usual run of bridge parties. Mr. Warren, with a fat Mrs. Smith as partner, played miserably and suffered indescribably, while Mrs. Warren played brilliantly and enjoyably.
The next day Mr. Warren made the mistake of confiding his troubles to old Welks at the office. For Welks, who was something of a wit, treacherously told the rest of the force, and thereafter Mr. Warren was the inspiration and the target for much crude humor. He was invited to numerous stag dinners and poker parties, but always refused, to the great satisfaction and merriment of his fellows.
Although meek and disheartened at first, as the days passed and the torment increased Mr. Warren became dangerously wrathful and determined. He was a fool, he decided, and had no backbone, but that was no reason for remaining so. He’d show them all something.
The first hint Mrs. Warren received that all was not well was when, one evening, her husband rebelled flatly at the prospect of bridge.
He’d had a hard day at the office, he said, and he’d “be damned” if he was going to a stupid bridge party and listen to a lot of insipid “blah” that night. This, for Mr. Warren, was a very strong speech. It was manfully uttered, however, and Mrs. Warren, finding him obdurate, had given up and gone to her room, an injured and unappreciated woman.
Mr. Warren was thrilled. He had had no idea that it would be so easy. And now, with the confidence born of conquest, he planned the subjugation of the office force.
The next day when Charley, one of the salesmen, approached him with an invitation to a poker party at Ed’s, Mr. Warren answered without hesitation, “Why yes. Thanks. I’ll be glad to come.”
Charley, taken by surprise, gaped dumbly, as did the others who had been eagerly anticipating Mr. Warren’s excuse. But they were game, and decided to give “old Warren” the time of his life.
About five-thirty that evening, Mr. Warren called his house. Might as well hear it now, he thought. He was greatly relieved, however, when the maid answered and informed him that Mrs. Warren was out. Without waiting for details he hung up, and dismissed the matter from his mind.
Charley took him to dinner, where he ate rich foods and pastry hungrily. His spirits were rising, and by the time they reached Ed’s he was happier than he had been in months.
Ed’s gin was excellent and Mr. Warren, to the surprise of them all, drank thirstily. And, his tongue loosened, he displayed a pleasing stock of stories. But it was at poker that the real surprise came. He played like a professional, while the others watched, dumbfounded and wondering. What manner of man was this, now the life of the party, who, only this afternoon, had been the object of their poorly concealed derision? These men, who had invited him here only for the sport of hearing him refuse, were eating their own joke, and liking it. “Old Warren” became “Johnny,” and Mr. Warren felt the satisfaction of achievement.
The severest test of his determination, however, came several hours later when he stood on the steps of his own porch. Until then he had forgotten completely his status in the House of Warren and the probable cost of his evening’s enjoyment.
But now, as he stood outside the door, a craven fear filled his heart. A light still burned in the living room. Even now she was waiting for him, waiting to destroy all the happiness of the evening with the darts of her anger and accusations. His knees shook and his jaw sagged, but he resolutely opened the door and entered.
Footsteps greeted him in the hall, but hope swelled in his breast as he recognized the figure. It was not Mrs. Warren, but the maid who was coming to meet him.
She was greatly agitated. Mrs. Warren, she said, had left in the car about four that afternoon and had not yet returned.
Mr. Warren was relieved, yet anxious.
“I told her not to take the car,” he said. “The brakes were loose.”
He was about to continue in a voluble harangue when the outside door opened and Mrs. Warren staggered in. She was disheveled, dirty, her hair straggled, her gown torn, and her shoes covered with dust. No longer haughty and commanding, she was a hesitating, penitent creature whose appealing, tear-stained eyes begged forgiveness and sympathy.
Mr. Warren took in the situation and realized that he was master.
Facing the maid he flashed her a warning look and said quietly, “You may go, Marie.”
The maid went.
Mr. Warren lighted a cigar and smiled behind a cloud of smoke. Then, turning to his wife, he regarded her silently.
“Well?” he finally demanded sternly.
“I went out for a drive this afternoon and took Mrs. Philips along,” she began nervously.
“I told you not to take the car until the brakes were fixed,” he cut in brutally.
“I know you did. It’s my fault and I’m sorry, but you don’t need to be so mean about it.” Sobs shook her frame.
Mr. Warren wavered, but, as he thought of his future, hardened again.
“Well, go on! I’m waiting,” he said breathlessly.
“Well, we drove out in the country and we were going pretty fast –”
“I believe I said something about speeding, too,” he interrupted.
“Oh, have a heart! I didn’t wreck the old car on purpose, and I didn’t walk fourteen miles back to town either because I wanted to. I’ve had a terrible time and you don’t care a bit.” She burst into tears again.
“Come, come! Let’s hear the rest of it,” said Mr. Warren more gently, and she continued:
“Well, a fellow in a big car crashed into us and then went on without even stopping to pick us up. The car was smashed and Mrs. Philips fainted and my dress was ruined. I was frightened nearly to death. And then we had to walk all the way back to town. I’m sorry about the car, John. Honestly, I’ll do anything you say, but don’t look at me like that. I can’t stand it.”
She was near hysterics, and Mr. Warren, who had had his revenge, said gently, “Go to your room, Alice, we’ll talk it over in the morning.”
She went, submissive and sorrowful. And Mr. Warren, well pleased with his day’s work, arose, threw back his shoulders, and smiled. Life was good again.
Mrs. Warren had not yet arisen when her husband went to work the next morning. But that evening when he returned whistling happily, she met him at the door.
She smiled and said sweetly, “I hope you’re not angry any more.”
He answered with an air of grudging forgiveness, “I guess not, but I hope this will be a lesson.”
“John, what do you think? I talked to Mrs. Philips today and Charley’s wife had been over to see her. Did you have a nice time last night, John?”
Mr. Warren started, then groaned.
His wife went on: “And, John dear, Mrs. Philips wants us to play bridge tonight. I told her we’d come.”
“All right,” said Mr. Warren hopelessly, and went upstairs to shave.
Lyman Ross, The Freshman Scrapbook, May 1926