(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A successful New York investor named Waythorn and his twice-divorced bride, Alice, cut short their honeymoon because her twelve-year-old daughter, Lily, has fallen ill with typhoid. Awaiting them at home is a letter from the lawyer of Alice’s first husband, Haskett, requesting that his weekly visitation rights be continued at the Waythorn household because Lily cannot be moved. Waythorn reluctantly agrees but, not wishing an embarrassing scene, leaves early the following day for work. While on a crowded train, he runs into Alice’s second husband, the well-connected but boorish Gus Varick, who asks for his help with an important business transaction. Waythorn’s partner Sellers has been handling it but is currently ill with the gout. Despite the awkwardness of the situation, Waythorn agrees. A few hours later, at lunch, he spots Varick at a nearby table, pouring cognac into his coffee cup. Eschewing direct contact, Waythorn wonders whether Varick ever was put in embarrassing situations with Haskett while married to Alice.

That evening, Waythorn inquires about Haskett’s visit. Alice replies that the nurse showed him in, implying, to Waythorn’s relief, that she had no direct contact with him. After dinner, Alice pours liqueur into his coffee cup, just as Varick had done at lunch. When Waythorn exclaims that he does not take brandy, she blushes.

Ten days later, with Sellers still ill, Waythorn confers with Varick, who is pleasant and even...

(The entire section is 535 words.)