WARNING - this story may contain adult content including coarse language and/or sexual content which may be offensive to some
a short story by Mark Kolke
June 13, 2011
this is part two of a two part story - to link to part one, BABCOCK’S BIG TRIP, click here
Mary said, ”Robert, life is like a perfect breakfast – you know what I mean; a perfectly poached egg, some fruit, strips of bacon, newspaper read, coffee black, a bit of chat but not much; and sunshine, so the whole day feels like Sunday morning.”
This was the week. Sam Robinson was coming to visit.By the time next Sunday morning arrives, he will be gone. Mary’s angst of thirty-two years will be purged.
Mary was outwardly thrilled, but inwardly torn with the secrets she had been harbouring all these years. It was time to tell Robert. He deserved to know. There was so much he deserved to know.
Robinson’s newest command, the Empress of Canada, was in dry-dock for refurbishing so he had some time off. His trip to New York, where he was heading for the wedding of his daughter Sarah, allowed him time for a side-trip to Boston to meet with some old shipping friends, some old Royal Navy colleagues and, most of all, to see his old friends Robert and Mary Babcock for the first time in thirty-two years.
His arrival was anticipated – and his friends would be thrilled to see him, but so many things had changed. Others, however, would never change.One would think, after all these years together Babcock would be more courageous in dealing with his wife, but in his mind he was still in so many ways the smitten young man finding himself ever in awe of her brains, beauty, style and charm.
They had so many memories – young romance, raising their son Barrett. They’d named him for Robert’s father.
The trial. Books, business, moving. Losing Barrett at Vimy Ridge, April 10, 1917. He was scarcely 17.Behind them now, their grieving over, but they will never be the same.
And now, a reunion long overdue, would re-stir all those memories.
Robinson had an unblemished, except for Hong Kong, long career at sea.He had raised a fine daughter – no small feat after losing his wife Maureen to the Spanish influenza epidemic in 1919.
The roaring twenties were here - in Boston, as everywhere in America. Excesses of Wall Street and the fashion scene inspired by Coco Chanel’s flapper trends made life for Robert and Mary Babcock, so pleasant being just gentle folk.While Robert enjoyed much success in his writing, both journalistically using skills he honed during the war as a not so young correspondent, it was easy to be a gentleman novelist when kept in the style of upper class Bostonians because his charming beautiful wife enjoys such a spectacular inheritance.Gentle folk, indeed.
Newspapers were fresh with headlines of wild success and predictions of doom on a daily basis, but many were unafraid the road ahead would have potholes.Things had been too good – except for prohibition – for so long now, and the great war was fading from memory.The stock markets were all the rage, everyone buying and selling on information no better or reliable than hot tips from shoe-shine boys.
It had been a long time since Babcock and Robinson had commiserated.Their friendship that began aboard the Empress of Japan in 1897; shocked by the murder, the trial and a friendship that became somewhat strange as opposed to estranged.
Time and distance do not help, though speedier mail service counter-balances. The great news of Robinson’s noble heroics in 1923 when his Empress of Australia was anchored in Yokohama when the Great Kanto Earthquake struck.Babcock had written to his old friend Sam more actively after that.His old friend continued in the service of others with great humility and valour.
One would think, after nearly twelve years of good citizenship and supporting worthy Boston causes that Mary’s money as well as her pedigree would have earned her the respect of those who know these things, but apparently that wasn’t enough.
Robert often wondered if her pursuit of causes was as deeply felt as she represented – or if it was simply a necessity for her, in her desire to fit in here, to be accepted in Boston society or just another in a series of failed coping mechanisms to deal with Barrett’s death.
Of course her pedigree wasn’t the problem. Being from a west coast Canadian forestry dynasty was not the issue; legacy of one morning of drama on a ship in Hong Kong harbour followed her all these years just as surely as if she had been tarred and feathered by it. In fact, a good tarring and feathering would have been much easier to recover from.
Her exoneration by the courts - notwithstanding time, distance and facts setting her far apart from it was no match for insinuation by gossip and a crime-thriller novel or two.
Sadly, as it turns out, one of those novels was at Babcock’s own hand as he had re-written Failures Of An Angry Man to incorporate the drama aboard ship that day Mary lost her ring, her liberty and her privacy forever.Still, it was a best seller for him – his first of many books that did well commercially.The scandal just never went away, which prompted their move from Vancouver to Boston in 1917.Introduction to Boston society by her sister Beth helped Mary a great deal.Beth married her college sweetheart who went on to be Chief of Staff at Massachusetts GeneralHospital and Adjunct Professor at HarvardMedicalSchool.Mary, then, used Beth’s husband Dr. Michael O’Connor as an intro to Boston society.She also, on arriving in Boston, made herself known as Mary Bloedel Babcock.It was no insult to Robert. He realized his book, though successful for him, hurt his wife deeply at the time of its publishing.It occurred to neither him or his publisher that the very public trial in Hong Kong which was so thoroughly hashed about for years in the Vancouver press would have no impact with name and plot twist changes in the book.Perhaps if it hadn’t been a best seller for Babcock the results would have been different.
Amazing, he’s always wondered – despite all that, she fell in love with him and married him.There were days – not so much the last few years – where he wondered whether she really felt more strongly about him over other suitors, or if it was more rooted in simplicity – proximity, and as reward for the man who stood by her during her most difficult time, working for acquittal, on trial charged with murder.
Despite those idle misgivings, Robert Babcock loved his wife Mary more than anything else in his life. While the fire of their youth had waned some, theirs was a marriage of social graces and extended passion – for each other, a passion for hockey and a passion for books.They had snow on the roof but still plenty of fire in the kitchen, and Robert had developed a passion for hockey after being introduced to it in Vancouver when the Millionaires, later the Maroons, became PacificCoast champions. Though they played for the Stanley Cup six times – the only time they won was that first time in 1915. They’ve not come close since.
As for the love of books, they were not a matched set of bookends at all – but came at the world of books from different perspectives altogether.
He wrote them.
She banned them.
Actually, she didn’t ban them, but the group she joined on Beth’s urging did.It was ironic, Babcock thought – he the writer, plodding away, a novel a year – his expression of creativity that never brought him greatness or substantial literary accolade, while his darling wife sat on the board of the New England Watch and Ward Society, which had as their claim to fame being the widely known moniker ‘banned in Boston’.
If it was an obscene book, a book rumored to be obscene, or gambling in any form, they were against it.
Mary sat on the sofa, opposite his leather chair, working on her notes for an introduction speech she was to give Friday night at the New England Watch and Ward Society.She was introducing a guest speaker supporting the group’s efforts to ban Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point and Voltaire’s Candide from the Boston Public Library as obscene, and to thereby intimidate any book distributor from selling copies of those books in the state.
Robert looked on, rolled his eyes at the ridiculous notion of banning great writers like Voltaire and Huxley, smiled – but he wanted to move her wish that he attend with her completely off her agenda.
“Mary, you know I would love to hear your speech. I’ve hardly ever missed one – but it’s the Stanley Cup final.And Robinson will be here.I’d like to take him to the games. You don’t mind do you – two old friends who pined for you so long ago?You must concede that he does bring back memories of when you were first smitten by both of us at the same time?, Robert offered as he was working his way out of the conversation.
“Dear, dear Babcock – your middle-aged memory is fading – it was both of you who were smitten with me!”, Mary chortle back.
“Said the Bishop to the actress . . . ”, Robert shot back with a big grin.
Mary’s jaw dropped . . . “What did you say? What did you mean Robert?”
“I was just poking a little fun dear, it’s from a book I just finished.Leslie Charteris wrote a novel ‘Meet The Tiger’ where the roguish lead character SimonTemplar, otherwise known as The Saint, quips with those words when he’s poking a little fun. It has become quite the popular phrase in Europe – as has the reverse, ‘said the actress to the Bishop’.”
Smiling as she remembered – just then – their first meeting on board ship bound for Hong Kong so many years ago.She smiled and went back to her notes, shifting her weight on the couch making squeaky sounds on the leather with each movement.“Alright then, you are right. It is only fitting hospitality to take Sam to the games.How many nights will it be?”
“It’s a best of three series dear; so the games will be Thursday, Friday and, if necessary, Saturday,” Robert countered – “how about this, whichever night follows the end of the series, why don’t we take old-pal Robinson out for a splendid New England dinner?”
He was intent on attending the hockey game.Robinson was going to be in town.How long had it been?Babcock wondered aloud, “Let’s see, I was 37 and he was 27 when we met – that was in 1897, so now it is 1929, I’m 69 so Robinson is 59.My goodness, time flies does it not?”, he mouthed, to no one in particular at all.
Odd, it seemed, Babcock thought, he would be meeting his old pal, face to face again after all these years of sporadic correspondence without Mary at his side.No matter, they would all have dinner on Saturday or Sunday, depending how the series went.
Babcock strode across the lobby of the Lenox Hotel that Thursday afternoon, March 28, 1929 – with no idea what surprises would unfold before week’s end.
Robinson rose from his chair, steady and straight in his military fashion – looking slightly awkward in civilian clothes, a suit and overcoat and a very trendy bowler hat, instead of his customary Captain’s garb and stretched out his steady hand to grab Babcock’s ready grip. They pumped and then gave each other a bear-hug of duration reserved for long lost brothers. And they were, of sorts.
They had a speedy meal in the hotel dining room and then took a cab to the BostonGarden to watch the game. It was a chilly overcast spring day, with the wind coming off the water just steadily enough, and cold enough, to make eyes water.
They hardly noticed the hockey. Before they knew it, two nights, two games – the Boston Garden fans erupted in triumph after watching their Bruins shellac the New York Rangers two straight times to capture the Stanley Cup. Thanks to brawling young EddieShore, the cup would rest in Boston a while.
That was very satisfying for Babcock, or maybe it was winning a small-bet with Robinson.Sure, they’d watched the play, but the visiting was virtually non-stop.But most of all, for both of them, the series sweep set the stage for dinner on Saturday with Mary – no doubt a long overdue reunion.
Mary was thrilled they could all have dinner together.She had a plan. Rather than going out on a chilly evening to a noisy restaurant, she persuaded Robert that the best way to have a relaxing dinner and enjoy Robinson’s company was to have it at home. She made arrangements with Mrs. Reid their housekeeper and Mrs. Murphy the cook to work on Saturday in exchange for two days off the following week if they would prepare a feast for their honoured guest, the heroic and famous Captain Robinson.
Robinson arrived on time at six. Hugs and hand-shakes ensued.
Dinner was at six-thirty.The ladies of the kitchen distinguished themselves with a meal that would impress any ship’s Captain; the dinner began with a bouillabaisse soup, sourdough buns, a prime-rib roast with vegetables and freshly baked apple pie for dessert.
They retired to the den for coffee and an after dinner drink.
The visiting, catching-up, on old stories was filling the house with laughter they had not known in all these years – and cheeks were red from laughing so hard.
Mary interrupted in a solid tone, “Gentlemen, I need your attention please.I have some things to say, to you both, which I’ve been holding to myself for far too long.”
Robert Babcock and Samuel Robinson were silenced – as no one else could silence them, and stone silent with surprise.
Robert broke the silence, “What is it dear?What are you talking about?”
Robinson, as stiffly as his shirt collar, added, “My word, what is it that is troubling you? Surely we’ve little to gain by re-hashing the events of thirty-two years ago, do we?”
“Sam, you know there are things that Robert deserves to know – things I’ve never told him, things you’ve never shared with him.The time for the telling was a long time ago.I am not going to let any further time pass before this is, once and for all, out in the open,” Mary rolled it out, just as she had rehearsed it so many times for this day.
She went on, “And Robert, I am so sorry for holding things back from you. You were entitled to know so much more than you ever did, but I was immature then – and made poor choices.”
For more than an hour, she held them both intensely focused, hanging, on her every word.
She explained that she had misled Robert when they first met. Sure, she’d been ‘not married’ alright, but the ring she wore was a ring of engagement.She had been engaged to Robinson.That night, the night of the shooting she had met with Robinson in her stateroom after dinner.They quarreled.
“Robert, it was obvious to Sam that you were smitten with me – and I was falling for you, and he couldn’t handle that.He wanted his ring back, to break off the engagement and to discontinue our relationship.I refused to make such a hasty decision.Sam would not relent. He took my arm, held me down and wrenched the ring from my finger.I was very angry with him, I was furious.I was young, foolish and very angry.I wrote you a note – put it under your door, and waited for you at midnight. But you didn’t come. As we learned during those weeks of the trial, as you stood by me while Sam was off at sea, that you would have come – I know you would have come if you’d only found the note.”
Mary, sobbing softly, “When you didn’t come to the main deck at midnight, I didn’t know what to do.I walked. I walked and walked all night, around the deck. I stared out to sea looking for answers. How could I possibly explain, to either of you - I was pregnant with Sam’s child.”
Robinson sat, like granite, and Robert could clearly see – Sam had no knowledge she had been pregnant.He looked ashen. Beyond shock.
Robert handled it better; it seemed to him like a story line in some thriller he might read, or write. He too was gripped intensely my Mary’s revelations.
“By morning, I was exhausted. I went back to the stateroom.Just as I arrived to find that hideous thief bludgeoning Mrs. Jamieson to death, Sam came in. He had come to talk with me – he wanted to give the ring back, he wanted to fight for me – to win me back from you Robert, but what unfolded prevented all that,” Mary explained.“Robert, it was so horrible. I am sure the only reason I am here, that I am alive, was because Sam wrestled with that man – wrestled his gun away from him and shot him in the struggle.”
“Robert, I’m so sorry,” Robinson, broke his silence; “We were in shock – in panic mode really. Mary thought – and she was right, that if I was identified as the shooter, that I would go on trial, that I would lose my position on the ship – possibly lose my entire career.”
Mary broke in, “Robert, darling, you must know we were not thinking clearly – but clearly enough to know that defending myself for an accidental shooting of a murdering thief I was wrestling to get a gun away from would be far more plausible for the authorities than if Sam was to be arrested and tried for the shooting.”
“I’m utterly gobsmacked,” Robert blurted – “both of you, for all these years kept this from me! I’m not sure if I should be outraged at your deception or humiliated by it – or both.”
“I’m so sorry Robert, I’ve been so wrong all these years but had no way to tell you, no way to summon the courage to tell you, until now,” Mary went on . . .but I am afraid there is more to tell you.“That spring, before the ship sailed, Sam and I spent a few days in a little hideaway on QuadraIsland.That is when he gave me that ring, that is when he proposed to me and that is when I got pregnant.”
Robert, plot writer, husband – feeling betrayed, but mostly confused,“But Mary, I don’t understand.If you were pregnant when we met, what happened to the baby. You were arrested and held until after the trial. What happened?”
“Robert, do you remember, during the trial – when I was sick for a couple of days and kept in the jail’s infirmary?That is when I had a miscarriage. I lost the baby.”
Sam rose to his feet, said not a word and made his way to the wardrobe by the front door to collect his coat.
Mary reached over to touch Robert’s hand as she got up. As she started to stride after Sam, she felt Robert’s hand grab her arm, to hold her back – as he guided her back into her seat.Robert looked down at his wife’s left hand – at the mangled ring finger joint he’d touched so many times.
Robert went after Sam - catching up to him as he was stepping out the door into the chilly night air, “Sam, please, don’t go just yet.”
“Robert, too much time has passed.I am so sorry I never told you about my knowing Mary. At that time – oh, that was such a long time ago – we were both concerned about keeping our relationship to ourselves until we were ready to tell Mary’s family.Then, that horrible event, Mrs. Jamieson’s murder and shooting that burglar.I was so ashamed that Mary took the responsibility for what I did that morning.”
“Sam, we fell for the same woman. A long time ago, all three of us made choices and some errors in judgment. Our lives are the product of thirty-two years of friendship. Please, come back inside. Can’t we talk this out?”
Sam extended his hand.
Robert took it.
They pumped twice. The handshake was over almost as quickly as it began.
Sam walked away, as Mary stood in the window, tears streaming.