if she was busy, if she frivolled, and arrived at a mental summary of
her circumstances. The circumstances were as old and ordinary as the
story, but her pretty face and wavy hair, her childish form and dainty
clothes, made him wish for a moment that she could have kept out of
He could not say to her: "Well, if you feel very tired and faint in
the mornings, breakfast in bed; if you feel walking too much for you
at the moment, use your car; tempt your appetite; nourish yourself
well. And later, when the spring comes, we must tell your husband to
give you some nice week-ends at the sea." But, taking her hand and
patting it kindly, he substituted this: "Well, Mrs. Kerr, I'm glad to
hear that you've plenty to occupy yourself; it's a great thing to keep
busy, specially at these times. As a matter of fact, there's no finer
exercise than a little normal housework. And you must walk, too; that
walk to market in the mornings is just splendid. As for your appetite,
you must try not to get faddy; it's a woman's duty to keep up her
strength, you know. I congratulate you most heartily on the good news
I have just been able to give you."
"Thank you," said Marie, frightened but exultant, "and may I - what is
"Five shillings, please," he replied, after a slight pause.
Then Marie was out again in the waiting-room with Julia, to whom she
nodded mysteriously, and whose hand she squeezed. The doctor escorted
both girls to the door, and looked after them for a moment; but it was
an ordinary story, and the world must go round.
Julia and Marie walked all the way home, talking of what was going to
happen next September.
They sat for a long while on the hearthrug in the dining-room when
they reached home, talking about next September; and when at last
Julia left, Marie still sat there hoping and planning, thinking of
this perfect flat with a baby in it, and longing for Osborn's return
to share the unparalleled news.
She had seen little, intimately, of babies; in the streets and parks
she met them, and said: "What sweets! What precious things!" And she
had thought more than once how beautiful it would be to own one,
sitting in its well-built perambulator with the clean white lacy
covers and cushions, and the starched nurse primly wheeling it.
There would be knitting to do, too; endless shawls, swallowing up
pounds of the best white wool; and fleecy boots and caps and vests.
When the next housekeeping allowance was paid, some of it should be
stealthily diverted to this delicious end.
The clock struck eleven; for some while now Marie had ceased to notice
how musical was its sound, as compared with other people's clocks, but
to-night she noticed it anew. It was like little silver bells pealing;
there ought to be birth-bells as well as wedding-bells.
Osborn was late, but Marie waited up for him, untired. She mended the
fire, for he might come in cold, and they were not going to bed yet.
No! They must sit and discuss next September. How would Osborn receive
the news? What did men really think about these things? It was
impossible they could feel the full measure of women's gladness, but
in part, surely, they shared it?
At twelve Osborn came in, fresh and pink from the cold outside, with a
hilarious eye, and a flavour of good whisky on his breath. He was in
great spirits and could have ragged a judge. But as he took off coat
and muffler in the hall, displaying himself in dinner clothes, there
came creeping out to him from the dining-room, softly as a mouse, but
with eyes bright as all the moon and stars, his wife. She had about
her an air of lovely mystery, about which Osborn was still too jolly
to concern himself. But she looked so beautiful that he caught her to
him, and kissed her many times.
"You ripping little kid!" he said fondly, "have you waited up for me?
Or have you only just got in?"
"I waited up for you, dear."
"Is there a fire?" asked Osborn.
"A good one."
They went into the dining-room and sat down, Osborn in his chair, she
on the hearthrug beside him, and she let him tell his story first, so
that afterwards all his attention should be rapt on hers. He said
gaily: "I've had a ripping evening. Desmond was in his very best form,
and he'd got two more fellows there, and we were a jolly lot, I assure
you, my kid. By Jove! don't I wish I belonged to that club! I've half
a mind to get Desmond to put me up. He would, like a shot. We had an
awf'ly decent dinner; they give you _some_ dinner at that club.
We drank toasts; you'd like to hear about that, wouldn't you? That old
one, you know: 'Our sweethearts and wives; and may they never meet!'"
"I've had a nice evening, too," said Marie, leaning against the
"That's good," said Osborn. "Miss Winter came and you had dinner here,
I suppose. What did you see?"
"We didn't go to the theatre."
"Not go!" said Osborn, "how was that? You weren't seedy again, were
"Rather," Marie murmured, "so Julia took me to a doctor instead."
"My dear!" Osborn cried.
"Osborn," said Marie, looking up at him, "we - we're going to have a
"The deuce we are!" Osborn exclaimed abruptly, and he sat back and
looked down at her sparkling face incredulously.
"You're glad?" she asked.
Osborn pulled himself sharply together. He said to Rokeby afterwards:
"I believe it's the biggest shock of a chap's life. Awful good news
and all that, of course." But now he was concerned only with Marie,
that pretty frail thing so joyously taking upon her shoulders what
seemed to him so vague and dreadful a burden, and for the moment he
was aghast for her.
"Are you?" he stammered.
"I think it's lovely," she murmured.
"Then I'm glad," said Osborn; "if you're glad, I am, you dear, sweet,
best girl. But tell me all the doctor said, angel, and just what we're
to do and everything."
"We don't do anything till next September."
"Is it to be next September?"
"Yes," said Marie, trembling a little.
Osborn had to tell Desmond Rokeby; he simply couldn't help it. They
met at a quick lunch counter, an unusual meeting, for Rokeby lunched
almost invariably at his club. As Osborn ate his sandwiches and drank
his ale he was looking sideways at Rokeby all the time, and feeling,
somehow, how futile he was, how worthless bachelors were to the world;
and presently, when the space around them had cleared, and the
white-capped server had moved away, he almost whispered:
"I say, Desmond, there's great news at my place."
Rokeby looked into Osborn's eager face.
"I wonder," said he, "if I could give a guess."
"I know you couldn't, old chap," said Osborn; "the surprise simply
bowled _me_ over."
Rokeby had already guessed right, but he had the tact and kindness not
to say so; he had known men's pleasure in the telling before.
"Are you going to tell me?" he asked.
"Am I _not_, old man?" said Osborn, looking at the colour of his
ale with a kind of smiling remoteness. "Well ... this is it ... how
does one put it?... Well, here it is. Next September there'll be
three people instead of two at No. 30 Welham Mansions."
"By Jove!" said Rokeby. "You must be awf'ly pleased!"
"Simply off my head! So's Marie."
He did not bank his two pounds that week, but kept them in his pocket.
They need not spend both, but one Marie must have. And when he went
home that afternoon, having asked permission to leave early, for a
family purpose, and when he put the usual 30s. into his wife's hand,
"You're coming out shopping, Mrs. Kerr. You're coming out to buy yards
and yards of whatever it is. And why mayn't we do a little dinner as
well? You're to be kept cheerful."
She had been feeling pathetic all day, and she was full of pleasure at
this. She hugged Osborn and lavished on him all her peculiar pet
endearments, and ran to change into her best suit and furs. They went
out together, very happy, and town lay spread before them, as if for
their delight. It was scarcely yet full dusk, the sky was like opals
and the streets were just becoming grey, the lamps starring them. The
cold was crisp, and women in short skirts, trim boots, and big furs
stepped briskly, their faces rosy. Osborn had his hand under the arm
of a woman as trimly shod, as nicely-furred as any they met, and, as
well, as being proud and thrilled with his new significance, he was
proud of her. He liked men to glance away from the girls they escorted
at Marie's face; and he liked to think: "Yes, you admire her, don't
you? That little girl you're with - you're taking her out and spending
your money on her and making an ass of yourself, and she don't care
tuppence for you. But this beautiful woman I'm taking out is my wife,
and she loves me."
Osborn was led, dazzled, into labyrinthine shops; he stood with Marie
before long counters, while she inspected fine fabrics and, drawing
off her glove, felt them critically with her fine hand. He watched her
eagerly and devotedly, as if he read the concentration of her
thoughts, and he imagined the thoughts to be these:
"Is this soft enough for him? Is this delicate enough for my baby's
body? Nothing harsh shall touch my darling; he must have the best, and
the best is not good enough for him. We will buy the most beautiful
things in the world for my son."
And she ordered the lengths in a voice which cooed; she bought lawn
and flannel, and great skeins of wool, and lace fit for fairies; and
she sought, as if trying to remember the persecution of the purse, for
bargains in blue ribbon, but by that time Osborn was too exalted to
permit bargaining. He, too, was saying within himself:
"Shan't my boy have the best? When he's little and weak shan't I win
it for him? And when he's grown and strong, won't he win it for
himself, by Jove!"
He bought the blue ribbon.
They had spent one of the two pounds, and there seemed very little for
it, of those fine things fit for a baby; but Marie stopped short after
the spending of that sum. "It's enough to begin on," she urged; "when
I've finished with that I'll get more." And she whispered, when the
attendant's back was turned: "I shall squeeze it out of the thirty
shillings all right, Osborn. I shall put by every week."
"Then," Osborn replied in the same _sotto voce_, "if you won't
spend more for your baby, you darling, you'll be taken out to dinner,
because I love you so; and you're to have a good time and be happy.
I'm to keep you cheerful."
They chose one of the smallest West End restaurants, where they spent
what Marie called a dream of an evening. Her languors evaporated in
that subtle air, her eyes brightened, her cheeks glowed; she could
face right into the teeth of the coming storm, and do no more than
laugh at it. How good it was to be alive, and how alive she was! She
had two lives. She was that most vital of all creatures, the expectant
mother. She felt vaguely as if God had granted to her a great and new
The next morning the sensation of power had vanished. She was only a
tired and nervous girl with a nasty feeling of nausea on her tongue.
Once more Osborn brought her tea, and she sipped it leaning back on
her pillow; as she stretched out an arm for it she caught sight of her
face in the glass and sank back again. It was so tired and fretted,
and the freshness of her skin seemed lost. How she wished she need not
get up! She dreaded the day with its small and insistent exactions.
She was conscious of a fierce irritation with petty things.
Osborn could hardly eat breakfast himself when he saw how sick and
sorry she was; he watched her efforts to eat a piece of dry toast and
tried to comfort.
"When I saw the doctor," he said, "he told me this feeling of yours
would only last two or three months."
"'Only'!" said Marie despairingly, "'only'!" She recalled Julia to him
faintly, when she exclaimed: "I wonder how you men would like to feel
sick and faint and ragged-out for 'only' three months!"
He hung his head.
"Well, we can't help it," he pleaded, half guiltily.
"I know," she whispered, with a sob in her throat, "but don't say
Osborn left home somewhat earlier than usual that morning. That sort
of half-guilty feeling made him glad to go. It wasn't his fault, was
it, that Nature had matters thus arranged? He agreed with his wife
that it was bad management, but he couldn't help it. He was glad that,
as he left, she asked him to do something for her; glad that he was
able to do it.
When he had gone, Marie did a very wise thing, though he would have
thought it a foolish one. She lay down and cried. She cried till she
could cry no longer. She lay there some while after her tears had
ceased, as if their fount had dried, and she adapted her outlook, as
well as she was able, to these unforeseen, surprising and dismaying
She was the victim of the pretty and glossy storybook, the sentimental
play, and of a light education. None of these things had prepared her
for the realities she was undergoing; the story-book ended glossily
with the marriage and happy expectations of a wonder-struck young
couple. In book and play the heavenly child simply happened; no one
felt miserably sick, ferociously irritable, or despairingly weary
because of its coming. There had been no part of her education which
had warned her of natural contingencies. She now saw that for her
blessing she must pay, and pay heavily maybe, with her body.
She argued with herself a little fractiously on the escape of men.
They had children without suffering; marriage without tears. Was it
fair? Oh, was it in any sense equal or fair?
* * * * *
The little clock struck 6.30. Osborn was due, and dinner not yet
preparing. Marie ran to the kitchen. "Goodness!" she said to herself,
"it's endless! Life's nothing but getting meals. Is eating worth
while?" She hurried around the flat till she was tired again, but
hasten as she might, Osborn arrived before the cooking was done.
She was changing her gown when he appeared at the door of their room;
she had not yet lowered the standard she had set for the ever-dainty
wife prepared to charm her lord.
"Hallo, kiddie!" said Osborn, his voice rather tired. "I'm awf'ly
hungry. Had a quick lunch. Is dinner ready?"
"No, it isn't," she replied sharply; "and what's more, it won't be for
"Well, you might hurry it."
"I've been hurrying; I'm sick of hurrying, and sick of getting meals."
The door slammed. She swung round with raised eyebrows, hands up to
her hair, which she was dressing.
Osborn was gone. She heard him entering the bathroom noisily.
"Temper," she said aloud. "Temper!"
There was a big blank wall, ugly, insurmountable, cutting right across
the garden of married life.
Marie awoke Osborn very early on a September morning; she leaned upon
her elbow, gazing over to his bed, with terror in her eyes.
"Osborn," she gasped, "fetch the doctor! Telephone the nurse! The
time's come, and I'm so frightened. You won't leave me long? I can't
be left. Come back quickly and help me, Osborn.... I daren't stay
As Osborn ran, roughly dressed, and sick with fear, down the road to
the doctor's house, the irritations, the trials and domestic troubles
of the past half-year were swept away by comparison with this that
loomed infinitely greater. It had seemed to him, though he had borne
it more or less silently, very pitiable that a man, the breadwinner,
should ever come home weary of evenings to find his dinner not ready;
it had seemed to him sometimes, well as he had concealed the feeling
for the most part, almost intolerably irksome to bear the strain of
the fads and fancies, the nerves and frets of a delicate,
child-bearing woman; he had wondered more than once if jolly cynics
like Rokeby weren't right after all; the numerous small inroads upon
his pocket had been unexpected, pin-pricking sort of shocks. But all
this now receded; the hour was upon them, upon him, and the woman he
loved; what did a spoiled dinner matter? What did a fretful quarrel
matter, if only she won through? He begged the doctor's immediate
presence as a man begging life; but he himself hurried ahead, back to
Marie. When with trembling lips and trembling hands he had kissed and
caressed her, he lighted the fires in the flat, in the dining-room,
her bedroom, the bathroom geyser and the kitchen stove; he didn't know
what else to do, and he had vague ideas about plenty of hot water for
some purpose unknown. He brought Marie tea and she would not let him
leave her again; she clung to him as to a saviour, but he felt so
The doctor arrived before the nurse; the nurse while he was still
there. "It won't happen yet," he told them. "You must be a brave girl;
nurse'll tell you what to do; and I'll look in again at mid-day."
"You'll stay, doctor?" she cried.
"You won't leave her, doctor," stammered Osborn aghast.
"You'll be all right," said the doctor to Marie; "you've got nurse and
I'll be here again long before you want me." Outside in the corridor
he faced Osborn's protests.
"My dear fellow, I can't stay. It wouldn't do any good if I could.
Remember she isn't the only woman in the world to go through it."
"She's the only woman in the world to me!" cried Osborn in a burst of
The doctor advised Osborn to eat breakfast before he left him, and
when he had gone the two terrified young people hung upon the wisdom
of the nurse.
Before the doctor came again Osborn was shut out of the chamber of
anguish, but the flat was small and from the farthest corner of it he
heard Marie's moans and cries and prayers.
He stood with his hands over his ears, praying, too, praying that soon
it would be over, that she might not cease to love him. "How can she
ever love me again?" he thought over and over.
It seemed to him a dreadful death for love to die.
* * * * *
As September dusk was falling, after a silence like fate through the
flat, Osborn heard his child's cry. Half an hour after that the doctor
came out of the birth-place. He walked through the open sitting-room
door to the spot where Osborn stood as if transfixed and saw how the
young man had suffered; but he had seen scores of such young men
suffer similarly before. He glanced around the room and saw the dead
fire in the grate. He himself looked weary.
"Buck up!" he said, with a hand on Osborn's shoulder. "You've a jolly
little boy. You look bad! What have you been doing all this time?"
"Listening," Osborn gasped.
"And you've not done any good at it, have you?" the doctor said,
shaking his head. "You might as well have cleared off, you know, on to
the Heath - saved yourself a bit. However - Yes, I quite understand how
you felt. You'd better have something - a cup of tea, a whisky and
"She?" Osborn uttered.
"She's doing all right; I shall look in again to-night."
"She - she had a - a rough time?"
"Yes," said the doctor, "girls of her type do. We've progressed too
far, you know, much too far, for women. She's suffered very much. I'm
"Can I see her?"
"You may go in now and stay till Nurse sends you away."
While the doctor let himself out quietly, Osborn tiptoed down the
corridor between the cream walls whose creaminess mattered so little,
and the black-and-white pictures that had lost their values. He tapped
with icy finger-tips upon Marie's door and the nurse let him in.
He looked beyond her to the bed where Marie lay, such a slim little
outline under the covers, such a little, little girl to suffer
tremendously. Her eyes were open, dark and huge and horrified; over
her tousled fair hair they had drawn one of the pink tulle caps, now
come, indeed, into their own.
"There she is," said the nurse cheerfully. "We've made her look very
smart, you see, and she's feeling very well. We shall get on
splendidly now, and the baby's bonnie."
But she could fool neither of these young people; they were too
modern, too analytic, too disobedient. When the horror-struck eyes of
Marie and Osborn met they knew the immensity of what had occurred. No
cheerful professional belittlement could avail. Osborn knelt down by
"Leave her to me a bit, Nurse," he said in a strangled voice. "I'll be
"For a few minutes, then," the nurse replied, and she left them.
Osborn put his face down and cried tears that he could not stop. He
longed to feel Marie's hand, forgiving him, on his head, but she had
no comfort for him. She lay so still, without sound or sign, that
soon, checking his grief with an effort nearly too big for him, he
looked up and saw that she was crying, too. She was too weak to cry
passionately, but her weeping was very bitter. This frightened him, so
that he sprang up on tiptoes and called the nurse back. He kept his
own shamed, wretched face in shadow.
The nurse sent him away and Marie had not spoken one word.
He crept into the kitchen and made tea, found cold food and ate a
scratch sort of meal; he had eaten nothing since early morning, and
then not much.
He had received a great big shock.
He did not know that women suffered so. He had sometimes read how
after the birth of a baby, the husband went in and found his wife,
pale perhaps, tired perhaps, but radiant, joyful, triumphant. He had
not known that anguished mothers wept such bitter tears. Nothing was
as he had been led to believe.
Could she ever get well?
The nurse came in quickly and softly, and saw the haggard man sitting
at a deal table, eating his scraps. She viewed the situation wisely.
"You'll have to get the porter's wife in to look after you a bit," she
said. "You can't go on like that. And _my_ hands will be full."
"Nurse," said Osborn, "was she very bad? Is that the - the worst?"
"There are worse cases," replied the nurse briskly, "but she has
suffered a great deal. What did you expect? She's a delicate, slim
girl, and we're not savages now, more's the pity. The first baby is
always the hardest, too."
"The first is the last here," said Osborn savagely.
The nurse smiled wisely. "Oh," she said placidly, "no doubt you'll be
sending for me again in a couple of years, or less."
"What do you think I'm made of?" Osborn cried.
"The same as most men," said the nurse. "But will you tell me where to
find the patent groats, for I've come to make gruel and I haven't time
"I'm afraid we never keep any groats or things," he exclaimed. "I'm
sure we don't."
The nurse answered confidently: "Mrs. Kerr is sure to have bought
Search in the larder revealed the groats, and the nurse began the
cooking over the gas-stove. While she made the gruel, Osborn thought
of Marie awaiting her trial, preparing for it ... buying groats.
He wished he had known what he knew now, so that he could have helped
her more, have thought of the groats for her.
"Nurse," he asked, "do you think she can ever get quite well?"
"Of course she will. Rest and good food will be all she wants."
"Nurse, can I go and say good night to her?"
"Don't make her cry again, Mr. Kerr, and you may come in at eight."
As she went out with the cup of steaming food, she looked back to ask:
"Did you see the baby?"
"Don't mention the damned baby!" said Osborn with deep anger.
"The baby can't help it," answered the nurse, going out.
Osborn sat there thinking. No! The baby couldn't help it. That was
very true. Losing his hostility to this fragment of life, he began to
feel a faint curiosity. What was it like?
At eight o'clock he would look at the baby.
The nurse looked out of the bedroom door just before eight and
signalled to him. This time she did not leave them alone, though she
busied herself at the other side of the room, with her back to them,
because she knew how shy these young things were. And this time Marie
looked at Osborn with the ghost of a smile, barely more than a tremor
of the lips. He bent down.
She whispered into his ear: "I don't - think - I could ever - go - through
it - again."
"Never again, my sweetheart," he whispered back.
She made a motion with her lips; he kissed them gently. "Good night,"
he murmured, "sleep well, poor little angel."
"She'll sleep," said the nurse unexpectedly, from near the fire. She
was tending the baby now, and Osborn looked across at it in the
subdued light. What a little mottled pink thing! What creases! What
insignificance to have brought about all this!
"Look at your bonnie baby, Mr. Kerr," said the nurse, holding the mite