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- This Freedom - 40/61 -
this case. I saw, the minute they briefed me, that one tiny flaw, his neglect to take up that option--you remember, I told you--right down at the bottom of the whole tangle, and I went plumb down for it and hung on to it and fought it up like, like a diver coming up from fathoms down."
She had a quickness of imagery. It constantly delighted him. "Yes, that's good," she declared. "Up like a diver, Harry. Not with goggles and a helmet and all that, but shot up like a flash, all shining and glistening and triumphant with the jewel aloft. What a shout there'd be! Dear Harry! You're splendid!"
He smiled most lovingly. "As a matter of fact, I feel I ought to make a mess of it. It'll be the first big case since we've been together that, while it's been on, we haven't had talks about. You couldn't, of course, with this so near to you. It would be significant, and proper, if I drowned in it."
She shook her head. "Absurd! Why, the thing I'm most glad about, Harry, is that all this"--she indicated with a gesture her pose, her dress, her condition--"that all this hasn't in the least upset your work. It might have. It hasn't--and when it happens, it won't, will it?"
Harry said, "I'm rather ashamed to say it hasn't, in the least. I've thought of you, often, but I've simply put the thought away. And when it happens, I shall think of you--terribly--going through it; and of the small thing--But we shall be in the crisis of the case and I shall have to forget you. I'll have to, Rosalie, as I have had to. The work must go on."
She agreed emphatically. "Of course it must." She then said, "Whereas mine--"
He did not attend her. The "inward" look was deep upon his face. There was the suggestion of a grimmish smile about his mouth. One could have guessed that he was rehearsing, with satisfaction, his enormous application while the work was going on.
She gave a sound of laughter, and that aroused him. "What's the joke?"
"Why, just how this does rather illuminate the point--"
"Your work and mine--a man's and a woman's."
"Yes, tell me, dear."
"Why, Harry, I do think of it sometimes. We've planned it and arranged it and settled it so nicely, these years, and you see the big thing in marriage comes along and shatters it to bits. Your work goes on precisely as if nothing at all were happening; mine has to stand by."
"Ah, but this," Harry said, and in his turn indicated her condition. "This--this is different. We agreed, before Huggo, that if we had children it need make no difference to you, to your work, in a way. And it hasn't, and needn't now--when it's over. But this time, this period, why, that's bound to interfere."
"But it doesn't interfere with you. It shows the difference."
"Oh, it shows the difference," he assented.
His tone was conspicuously careless, conceding the difference but attaching to it no importance at all; and with it he rose--she had instantly the impression of him as it were brushing the difference like a crumb from his lap--and announced, "I'm going to my study now for a couple of hours before dinner. I must. Our solicitor's coming in." He bent over her and kissed her lovingly. "You understand, I know."
And he went.
Yes, it showed the difference! And was not seen by him! Yes, injurious. Yes, could conceive a grudge....
There was a mirage in her face. Her face, that had been boy's and mutinous these weeks, was Mary's and was lovely in maternal love when it was turned towards the scrap that on a morning lay against her breast; her thoughts, that had been stubborn, hard, resentful while her days approached, welled in remorse, compassion, yearning, joy, when they were past and this was come. She'd grudged him, this littlest one! Grudged his right, put her own right against it, this tiny, helpless one! When, added to these thoughts, Huggo and Doda, those lovely darlings, were permitted to see him, asleep beside her, he was so wee, so almost nothing against their sturdy limbs, and had come so unwanted--yes, unwanted, this cherishable one of all!--that she knew instantly what name he must be given. Her Benjamin!
Lying much alone in the succeeding days, contrite, adoring; with frequent happy tears (she was left weak): with tender, thank-God, charged with meaning tears, she found a vindication of her self-reproach that immensely bound her up, forgave her, gave her comfort. She could give up her work! She could leave all and be with her darlings! Of course she could! At any time! She had grudged the right to come of this defenceless scrap. She had set against his right her own right. Ah, dangerous! A long road lay that way! In conflict of his coming, with her own rights she had been much engaged. Here, on the sheet beside her, and in the nursery, overhead, were other rights. Well, when they claimed.... Of course she could! She had not thought enough about these things....
There is to be said for her that she thought not very widely nor very deeply upon them now. Her resolution that she could, when it was necessary, give up her work, scattered them. It came to her as comes to a man, beset by poverty, scheming by this way and by that to abate it, news of a legacy. He ceases, in his relief, his present schemes; he has "no need to worry now." Or came to her as comes a sail to one shipwrecked and adrift, painfully calculating out his final dregs of food and water. He ceases, at that emblem, his desperate plans to stretch his days. He's all right now.
It was like that with Rosalie.
While only she had realised her resentment of this baby's claims, and only now her contrite yielding to them; before she had conjectured deeply on all the problem thus revealed; there came to her, like way of escape to one imprisoned, like instantaneous lifting of a fog to one therein occluded, the thought, "I can give up the work."
Of course she could! At any moment; by a word; by the mere formulation of the step within her mind, she could abandon her career. Not now. It was not necessary now. But if or when--she used that phrase, in set terms propounding her resolution to herself--if or when the call of her children, of her home, came and was paramount, she could give up everything and respond to it. Oh, happy! Oh, glad discharge of her remorse! When the children wanted her she could just--come back. Field and Company, her career, her successes--what of them? She had done well in her career, she still would do well. Let the claim of home and children once come into the scale against the claim of those ambitions and--she would just come back!
"Come back"? Who was it had said something about that, something about "come back" for a woman, making the expression thus dimly familiar in her mind? Who? Laetitia? No, Laetitia was always associated with another phrase: striking because in terms identical with accusation previously delivered against her. Well she remembered it! On the day following Harry's visit to the house to take his deserts from poor Aunt Belle and Uncle Pyke, she also had gone there, following his high idea of what was right. She had been refused admittance. There had come for her as the last voice out of that house a quivering letter from Aunt Belle, seeming to quiver in the hand with the passionate upbraiding that had indited it, and a forlorn sentence from Laetitia. "I have done everything for you, everything, everything, and this is how you have rewarded me," had pulsed the pages of Aunt Belle; Laetitia only had written:
"Oh, Rosalie! You could have had any one you liked to love you, but you took my Harry and I shall never, never have another."
Miss Salmon's cry again! Twice identically accused. Once grotesquely accused; once, on the surface, rightly accused. Both times aware how poignant and pathetic was the cry; not moved the first time, not moved the second. Recurring to her now, she knew again how broken-hearted sad it was, and knew again it ought to move, but did not. Well, not strange now. She was a long way out of those too soft compassions. No, not Laetitia had made "come back" familiar to her. The phrase, as she seemed to recollect its context, was too profoundly practical for the Laetitia sort; and that was why, of course, it moved her nothing. She had learnt, jostling off corners in the market place, what formerly she had only conjectured,--that there was in life no room for sentiment, it clogged; it hampered; it brought sticky unreality into that which was sharply real. "Come back?" No, not Laetitia. Who? Keggo? Yes, it was Keggo; and immediately with the name's recovery was recovered the phrase's context. This very matter! "Rosalie, a woman can't--come back."
Absurd! But, yes, how she remembered it now! "Very dangerous being a woman," Keggo had said. "Men go into dangers but they come out of them and go home to tea. That's what it is with men, Rosalie. They can always get out. They can always come back. They never belong to a thing, heart and soul, body and mind. Rosalie, women do. That's why it is so very, very dangerous being a woman. Women can't come back. They take to a thing, anything, and go deep enough, and they're its; they never, never will get away from it; they never, never will be able to come back out of it. Rosalie, I tell you this, when a woman gives herself, forgets moderation and gives herself to anything, she is its captive for ever. She may think she can come back but she can't come back. For a woman there is no comeback. They don't issue return tickets to women. For women there is only departure; there is no return."
Poor Keggo had of course founded her theory upon her own bitter plight. How she had given her case away when she had said, "Look at me!" It applied to her, of course, or to any woman--or man for that matter--who drank or drugged. It applied not in the least to such a case as this of her own. Keggo had tried to apply it. She had said, "You have a theory of life. You are bent upon a career in life. Suppose you ever wanted to come back?"
She had laughed and declared she never would want to come back. Well, look how absurd all poor Keggo's idea was now being proved!
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