― 51 ―

The Bond.

INTO the deserted waiting-room, where the evening shadows were deepening, a woman came with a slow, uneven footstep. She was the last patient but one, and even as she crossed the threshold she heard the door of the doctor's consulting-room close behind the final case for the day, and knew that already she had faded out of the busy man's mind.

She was only one of many, and her case was not even an individual one. Daily such conditions as hers came under the doctor's notice, and he forgot her before she had passed out into the hall.

Her fine grey eyes were dazed; her beautiful mouth, made to curve so graciously, drooped with the flabby movement by which great misery alters the firmest, sweetest lips.

In that little room down the passage a hard blow had fallen on her, and she sank trembling into a chair and held her hands to her eyes. Dream buds, so tenderly, so carefully loved and nurtured, had been shrivelled to death in a bitter wind. Fair-winged hopes were dashed to the ground, their wings broken, and all flying stopped for ever.

She had been told that she never could be a mother.

And at home—that fair home of hers—was the husband, who often had dreamed away to her longingly of the little bright-faced child with shining hair, and eyes of the purest blue, who was to walk beside him some day, and whisper to him tender child-things with her hand in his.

“It must be a little girl.” How often he had said it!

“A little girl, because she will be like you.”

And they even talked about her name—this little being whose

  ― 52 ―
coming had never been heralded. The mother called her Star-Baby; the father, little Annie, for that was the mother's name, and there could be none better.

And had there been anyone to listen, he would have thought their child was already with them, a real, living little one. Their lips were always lingering round its name.… “I must bring the little one something in my pocket to-night.” … “We must never let little Annie pull the cat's whiskers, as these children are doing.” … “I should like to buy baby a doll's perambulator, like that little girl's.”

And sometimes the mother would go on tiptoe to the bedside, and bend down and whisper, “She is fast asleep.” And the father, not to be outdone in this fond, foolish, primeval tenderness, would say, “I think I hear her calling ‘Daddy!’ ”—and he would come back presently and say, “The little girl was frightened of the dark.”

Father! Mother! Never, never could it be!

Her heart sickened at the thought of her husband. To her a grief, a sadness that would shadow all her life. To him it would be an anguish that would turn all his future into Dead-Sea fruit.

He was a man born to be a father. Every child loved him and came slowly, hesitatingly as children will, but always surely, to his side. He had the indescribable art of making conversation with children. He talked to them as if they were as old as he, and that is what wins the little hearts.

They had been married now two years, and for one the world had held no one but themselves—he for her only, she for God in him. It was in the second year she learned of his longing for a little life he would love to join to theirs.

Then all the latent motherhood in her sprang to flame, and burnt with a bright, ever-deepening glow that sent a warmth over heart and brain, and changed the whole aspect of life. Self began to dwindle, dwindle The rush of love flowed over everything that had life—her plants and flowers, and birds and dogs;—the mystery of their birth awoke strange thrills in her heart, and their helplessness brought the wonderful bud of maternity into fuller, lovelier

  ― 53 ―
bloom. Out of love sprang love, and all the waifs and strays of the world were touched with this tide of mother tenderness. She could hardly believe it was she, herself, who felt so. She had never known that she would care for children. Every woman loves to hold a baby and kiss the helpless hands and feet, and that had been all the extent of her love for children until then.

And now it was all over.

“I saw a tiny thing to-day, just like little Annie,” he was saying.

They were sitting alone on their verandah that looked over a rose-garden towards the sea. Dusk was falling, and here and there the light of a coasting steamer gleamed far out on the Pacific.

“Did you, dear?” she forced herself to answer. A week, and she had not told him. A subtle change had come over the brightness of her face; in the depths of her eyes lurked weariness.

“Her father was a working man.”

“You were glad of that; you were able to give her one of your endless pennies.”

“You're a witch. I own I never see these little things without wanting to give them something, and she was so tiny, and had just her fair curls.”

For they had often looked, in dreams, on the face of their little one; they knew every line and curve, every light and shade of the little features.

He came and flung himself at her side, and leaned his head against her knee. He reached up for her hand, and brought it to rest on his head.

“Big Annie,” he whispered.

“Yes,” she whispered back to him, and tried to keep the pain out of her voice.

“Do you know what I was thinking? … I love you—truest, dearest woman—I love you.… You seem to me to be more and more beautiful every day.… But sometimes, girl, sometimes we are a little lonely.… We are not enough for each other. I look

  ― 54 ―
forward and see a time when we might—might care for each other a little less, and then a little less. … But the time will never come. … That is why I want the little one so much. Did I hurt you?”

“A little. … You might tire of me—might love me less.”

“Never, never. It is impossible. But it must be born in me to love a child, and I am stunted until then. Then I shall love you doubly, trebly, a thousand times more dearly.”

“But, they say,” she murmured—and this was the poor little one straw she had been clinging to so desperately the whole week past—“they say that a childless man and woman love each other more dearly than those who are fathers and mothers. Their love retains its early freshness—is a truer comradeship. They are all in all to each other, for there is no one to divide their hearts with.”

“That may be true of some, not of us—not of you, not of me. She will be the great, enduring, eternal bond, the only bond that can never weaken.”

Like a child himself, he whispered against her knee that he longed so for the little arms to be round his neck, for the little cheek to be against his; that he yearned to carry her about from room to room in his arms, to buy her dollies, and little baby toys. …

She thought her heart would break.

To the old pain, the week-old pain, that seemed to have begun whole centuries before, there was now a new one added. He could contemplate the time when he might tire of her.

Next, the pain would come when he had tired of her.

“Tired of her” was an ugly phrase. It was not quite what he meant. She knew he was hers in some stronger bond than charm or beauty.

But the atmosphere of his love would soon be too still and silent for him; the beauty of it would jar when the longing for the little arm was strong on him. Then he would look at her critically,

  ― 55 ―
coldly, and wonder why her presence there no longer filled the rooms with radiance and a sense of rest.

Day by day she lost her brightness, her quick capacity for laughter and warm responsiveness. Thought grew leaden with turning round and round in the one small place. There were cruel moments when her secret bit her like the Spartan's fox, but she smiled and forced herself to play her part—the part that some day must inevitably be disclosed as hollow.

She forced herself to wander with him through all his tender imaginings; she made herself respond to every scheme for the little one's happiness.

“When she is old enough we will take her to Italy, to Paris. How old ought she to be?”

“We will take her when she is eight.”

Life altered again. A new revolution, and she saw that for herself she could bow to this blow, and some day even kiss the hand that dealt it. Her eyes had been opened, and selfishness, which is blindness, never could return. The mother-love that had been given to her so lavishly need never be wasted while the world stretched out around her, hungering everywhere for love.

But her husband had gathered the little one in his arms so often that he almost believed she was there, blue-eyed and sunny-haired, with a mouth like a clover for sweetness. To know that such a child was never to be born to them would be more bitter than to have Death take her from his arms.

Down she went to the brink of the grave, playing the part gaily, tenderly all the while. Wondering with him how soon the good God would let them know of little Annie's coming, whispering to his whisper that the cling of the little arms was the sweetest thing in all the world.

And only on the grave's brink, with Death staring like a hungry wolf into her face, and her heart too torn and wounded almost to resist, she told him.

“There never can be any little Annie.”

  ― 56 ―

And she told him she had known it many months. Told him that the knowledge, and the thought of the chasm that was to divide their lives, had been slowly killing her. Everything she laid bare to him,—all her pitiful little mockeries, her tender, sad deceits.

Then she was ready to turn away and die. But the hungry wolf had seen the agony in the man's face, and fled, knowing its time was not yet.

There, at her side, was the child for whom her mother-love might flow, this broken-hearted man, her husband.