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The mysterious Mr. Westmore, Book 1, Chapter 2 tells us, came up through the world from Helen's hometown and had known her parents, which is why he'd taken an interest in the Galbraiths while they were in New York. While they hadn't built their distaste for Westmore on a “rightful foundation”, Helen still felt he couldn't be entirely trusted. But when the cards aren't breaking your way, what the hell are ya gonna do?

Thinking of these things, walking firmly and rapidly, all eagerness to reach the land of [her] desires, she presented a very charming picture of grace and beauty, the finest type of dignified young womanhood, yet as unwilling to surrender absolutely to an adverse fate as were the meadows across which she passed reluctant to acknowledge the sovereignty of winter. A close observer would have noted a rare degree of silent passion written upon the face of this young woman, indicating vast emotional powers as yet uncontrolled. These emotional powers had indeed never been fully comprehended by anyone, not even by Galbraith who so loved her. People who were struck by Helen's tall, slender presence and beautiful face were nearly always misled by the quiet dignity of her manner as to the vital forces of her nature. [...] (pp. 81-2, my questionable attempt at reading around the "thumbprint" in brackets)

Yes, yes, and on and on and on...but ho, here's a familiar face (to her, anyway) at the station! It's Andrew Tompson, one of Alex's New York art buddies, who's not only impertinent but doesn't have the decency to put an H in his last name. Because of this punk, I had to keep correcting my notes.

“You are in for an afternoon in the city, I suppose?”

“Yes,” she replied, “and a disagreeable afternoon, too, I fear; it is all business—a thing I have no great talent for, it seems.”

“One cannot expect to possess all the virtues,” remarked Tompson insinuatingly, looking closely into her face, which to him was quite the most beautiful face in all the world.

“Well, no, not exactly,” said Helen, assuming an air of lofty contempt, being always disdainful of such remarks when they came from Andrew Thompson.

“A woman, however,” she continued, “is rightfully supposed to have an average amount of common-sense to be used for all the practical needs of life; and often I feel that I fall short of even this demand, especially when an emergency arises.”

“You are certainly not exceptional in that respect,” said Tompson. “It seems equally true of all people, except of the abnormally wise, that they never do the right thing at the right time, or say the proper word in the proper place—just as our best witticisms occur to us when we have no audience.” (pp. 33-4)

Fearing that she gave too much away, she quickly changed the conversation to a neutral subject and just as quickly boarded the New York train. Andrew knew that Helen only put up with him because he was tight with her husband, but this new brush-off got stuck in his craw just as readily as the first time. “Somehow, he reflected, must he find a way to make her regard him more favorably.” And I'm sure soon must we find out if on that unspoken threat he goodly makes. Because really, what's a Lifetime Movie without at least one clueless/malevolent dude trying to make a woman “come around”?

Anyway, off to New York to meet Mr. Westmore. Occupation: capitalist. Since our author insists on parceling out the reveals of his nature, let's just go ahead and lump the important parts into one badly-pruned infodump.

His influence in Wall Street was suppose to be great. It was there, years ago, that his own fortune had been made, and unable to separate entirely his present habits from those of the past, he was ever and anon returning to the field of his former glory, if for no other reason than the gratification of personal pride in measuring himself against the younger men who figured there conspicuously at the time. [...]

But Westmore had other ambitions than those of the speculator. He wished to be recognized as a power in business enterprises of a strictly legitimate and respectable nature; to this end he used his accumulated fortune lavishly. The result had been even more satisfactory than he had anticipated. TO those behind the scenes he was known to be the ruling spirit of at least three banking houses of fine standing, besides owning the controlling interest in an important and influential newspaper. [...]

Any knowledge he had acquired of literature was more the result of travel and the reading induced by it, than of a native taste for books. He was not a man who could enjoy a book or a picture for the purely mental and spiritual pleasure to be got out of that book or picture. He learned things and acquired habits and tastes, because to know these thing, to possess these habits and tastes gave him a certain distinction among the men with whom his fine business capacities had placed him. Above all Mr. Westmore loved power; he liked to feel that men—and women too for that matter—were under his control, marching, as it were, to his orders. He was wont to be very indulgent towards people until he had them within his grasp, but once having closed his hand firmly upon them, his hold was not likely to relax, and he showed himself to be the most uncompromising and exacting of masters. It was this quality that had given him his position in the financial world. All interests committed to his care were protected by him without concessions to anyone; the embarrassments of others he never allowed to affect his own actions in the slightest degree; and any colleague who seemed likely to drag him down was immediately got rid of with all hope of his return summarily dispelled. (pp.35, 36, 39-40)

Before we move on:

  • I really enjoyed the author's insinuation that the stock market isn't a “strictly legitimate business”
  • If we added “Rosie O'Donnell is a pig” to that litany, could this guy look even more like an antique Donald Trump? Or alternately, we could slide in some “media bias” snark and make him into a 19th century Rupert Murdoch. Which analogy is more fitting? I'm sure we'll find out as we move along. Kind of sad he's not batshit crazy instead, or else we could throw in a Jim Cramer comparison, too...

Helen (“truly a virgin heart”...yes, let's just slop that stuff on with a trowel, why don't we) didn't have an inkling of any of this as she was ushered into Westmore's inner sanctum, just a vague uneasiness. Although he doesn't even look at up from his desk as they begin their conversation, Helen picks up an “unpleasantly suggestive tone” in his conversation (Trump!), and only when she calls him on it does he finally fix his gaze on her, being a man who isn't used to being questioned (um...Murdoch? I'm just going by what I read in the gossip rags...).

He had a nervous habit when irritated or perplexed of running his left forefinger beneath his heavy black mustache and of passing it back and forth there rapidly. He did this now vehemently for a few moments; then letting his hand fall upon his desk, his irritation passing away, he said:[...]

Time out. Passing his finger under his big black mustache...that sounds fairly close to a mustache twirl. Are we really going there? I know we're whipping up some melodrama here, but come on! If he ties her to the railroad tracks (Murdoch!), I'm going back to bed (damn straight, Trump!). But I digress...

“I really do not understand you. There is nothing you women seem to value so much as personal beauty, and yet when a man makes the merest reference to it, by way of compliment, you assume an air of offended dignity. It is incomprehensible—but then--” he added, a conciliatory and amused smile coming back to his face-- “but then the whole woman question, I acknowledge, is entirely beyond my powers of solution.”

Helen, having every reason for not wishing to provoke a quarrel with Mr. Westmore, was glad to avail herself of the more pleasant turn their conversation was taking.

“The very best women, you know, are contradictory, though it may not always be safe to say so,” said Helen. She was thoroughly mistress of herself now, and sitting down she went on talking.

“No doubt it is very fortunate for my sex that women are a law unto themselves; otherwise, I fear, many of their actions could never be explained.”

“You think the old excuse, it is merely a woman's way, the best excuse still, despite the wonderful claims of the new woman?” asked Mr. Westmore quizzically, surveying Helen with a smile.

O'REILLY! Cut her mike! Have a loofah! Whoops, I forgot my choices were Trump or Murdoch. Moving on...

“The new woman, I observe, is very willing to fall back upon the old standards, when it comes to a matter of feeling,” replied Helen.

“But you—Mrs. Galbraith—have I not heard you say something about the advancement of women?” asked Mr. Westmore, still quizzical and amused.

“Possibly you have,” she answered. “In theory, I believe that I have a right to all the privileges allotted to men—but then, in fact, you know--” Helen paused, and looking directely at mr. Westmore, smiled heartily, notwithstanding her personal objections to him, for the absurdity of the situation struck her—that they two should be seriously discussing the woman question! “Well, in fact,” she continued, “I find that I am but a woman after all, emotional, nervous at times, and dependent—no doubt very like my dear old grandmothers, without their simple goodness,” she quickly added..

“And you think you are a fair sample of women as a class?” asked Mr. Westmore.

“Yes, I am sure of it,” she replied; “women the world over are much the same by nature and up to the present time I do not believe that we have been seriously affected as a sex by evolution. In a few thousand years or more, provided we are very strict with ourselves, we may eliminate some of our weaknesses. Until then----”

“Until then,” interrupted Mr. Westmore, “you will remain, I trust, just as you are, the most delightful part of God's creation.” (pp. 41-3)

I doubt this lengthy exchange contributes to the overall story (except to prove that when Helen opens her mouth, more than wind and noise comes out ), but you'll have to admit that's a hell of a conversation to have in the middle of a job interview. And since we're all about reading the subtext today, how about that parting shot? Is Westmore saying that once women “evolve”, they'll stop being “delightful”, bwess their widdl' puddin' heads? Maybe he'll have moved on to dogs by that time...or give sheep the vote, as Robin Williams puts it.

Having gotten this piece of business out of the way, it goes to figure that when a 60-year-old man with a “plain, bad-mannered wife and unpolished children” is confronted with an attractive twentysomething, even a married one, his mind is going to drift to bad ideas: “Had the distribution of blessings in this life been left to him, he felt sure that he would have asked nothing better than that she should have been bestowed upon him.” We haven't heard the last of this line of talk, I'm sure.

Anyway, it's time to get down to business. Helen unspools her whole sad story and her conviction that writing--any kind of writing...she'll even do the Jumble clues, dammit!--is the only thing she can do to keep home and hearth together, and as long as she can remain with her Alex during the day, she's willing to do it. Westmore is so moved by her plight that “at that moment he had no desire to master and control the pure-hearted, sweet woman who sat in sorrow before him.” Unfortunately, like gas, that type of moment in him usually passes. But for the time being, it moved him to spring to his feet and grasp her hand, speaking to her in tones of what for him expressed tender sympathy. She doesn't care much for that, either; she just wants some work, not a Dr. Phil moment.

“I will take this to our editor and see what he thinks. But--” he laid down the manuscript and stood looking directly at Helen-- “no mater what his opinion may be, something shall be done. You can depend on that, Mrs. Galbraith.”

“I thank you.” She spoke simply, rising in her most dignified manner, preparing to go. She moved towards him, extending her hand.

“I am going down with you,” he said, buttoning his coat, and crossing the room to get his hat. After his kindness she had no right to refuse him this, yet she wished that he would let her go alone.

[...]The room was in almost total darkness; Mr. Westmore and Helen stood side by side before the door, ready to go down together. Suddenly Helen felt a hand grasp her own. For a moment her fingers seemed crushed and bruised beneath the convulsive hold that had been laid upon them. With the free hand she seized the knob of the door and opened it, and rushed into a vestibule which formed the entrance to Mr. Westmore's private room. He followed her; then passing in front of her, said simply: “This way, please,” and she, rendered powerless by her indignation, unable to protest in any way, followed him without a word. In a moment or two they stood together in the open street, but even then they did not speak. Helen hastened into the first surface car that passed. Even to the platform of the car he was by her side, assisting her to enter. When she had stumbled over an old woman's basket, and fallen into the nearest vacant seat, she turned to see what had become of him, but he had disappeared and the car was speeding on its way.

“Why had he spoiled it all?” As she asked herself this question she felt that there was not scorn enough in the world to express her thoughts of him, yes, and of herself. (pp. 46-8)

And if we already have a guy who just wants his best friend's wife to "come around", why not an overprivileged interloper who wants to bend a sweet young thing to his will? (Trump!) Or am I reading too much into the overabundant, on-the-nose warning flags bluntly planted on every other page? (Murdoch!) If I'm wrong it won't be the first time (Murdoch!), but at the moment I'm certain the prevailing circumstances will vindicate me. (Trump! And very rarely Murdoch! And I'm done with this game...)

Next: Meanwhile, back at the homestead...


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