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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 1
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Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 1 Post by :sidekick Category :Long Stories Author :Upton Sinclair Date :May 2012 Read :1119

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Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 1


For three months after this I had nothing but letters from Sylvia. She proved to be an excellent letter-writer, full of verve and colour. I would not say that she poured out her soul to me, but she gave me glimpses of her states of mind, and the progress of her domestic drama.

First, she described the place to which she had come; a ravishing spot, where any woman ought to be happy. It was a little island, fringed with a border of cocoanut-palms, which rustled and whispered day and night in the breeze. It was covered with tropical foliage, and there was a long, rambling bungalow, with screened "galleries," and a beach of hard white sand in front. The water was blue, dazzling with sunshine, and dotted with distant green islands; all of it, air, water, and islands, were warm. "I don't realize till I get here," she said, "I am never really happy in the North. I wrap myself against the assaults of a cruel enemy. But here I am at home; I cast off my furs, I stretch out my arms, I bloom. I believe I shall quite cease to think for a while--I shall forget all storms and troubles, and bask on the sand like a lizard.

"And the water! Mary, you cannot imagine such water; why should it be blue on top, and green when you look down into it? I have a little skiff of my own in which I drift, and I have been happy for hours, studying the bottom; you see every colour of the rainbow, and all as clear as in an aquarium. I have been fishing, too, and have caught a tarpon. That is supposed to be a great adventure, and it really is quite thrilling to feel the monstrous creature struggling with you--though, of course, my arms soon gave out, and I had to turn him over to my husband. This is one of the famous fishing-grounds of the world, and I am glad of that, because it will keep the men happy while I enjoy the sunshine.

"I have discovered a fascinating diversion," she wrote, in a second letter. "I make them take me in the launch to one of the loneliest of the keys; they go off to fish, and I have the whole day to myself, and am as happy as a child on a picnic! I roam the beach, I take off my shoes and stockings--there are no newspaper reporters snapping pictures. I dare not go far in, for there are huge black creatures with dangerous stinging tails; they rush away in a cloud of sand when I approach, but the thought of stepping upon one by accident is terrifying. However, I let the little wavelets wash round my toes, and I try to grab little fish, and I pick up lovely shells; and then I go on, and I see a huge turtle waddling to the water, and I dash up, and would stop him if I dared, and then I find his eggs--such an adventure!

"I am the prey of strange appetites and cravings. I have a delicious luncheon with me, but suddenly the one thing in the world I want to eat is turtle-eggs. I have no matches with me, and I do not know how to build a fire like the Indians, so I have to hide the eggs back in the sand until to-morrow. I hope the turtle does not move them--and that I have not lost my craving in the meantime!

"Then I go exploring inland. These islands were once the haunts of pirates, so I may imagine all sorts of romantic things. What I find are lemon-trees. I do not know if they are wild, or if the key was once cultivated; the lemons are huge in size, and nearly all skin, but the flavour is delicious. Turtle-eggs with wild lemon-juice! And then I go on and come to a mangrove-swamp--dark and forbidding, a grisly place; you imagine the trees are in torment, with limbs and roots tangled like writhing serpents. I tiptoe in a little way, and then get frightened, and run back to the beach.

"I see on the sand a mysterious little yellow creature, running like the wind; I make a dash, and get between him and his hole; and so he stands, crouching on guard, staring at me, and I at him. He is some sort of crab, but he stands on two legs like a caricature of a man; he has two big weapons upraised for battle, and staring black eyes stuck out on long tubes. He is an uncanny thing to look at; but then suddenly the idea comes, How do I seem to him? I realize that he is alive; a tiny mite of hunger for life, of fear and resolution. I think, How lonely he must be! And I want to tell him that I love him, and would not hurt him for the world; but I have no way to make him understand me, and all I can do is to go away and leave him. I go, thinking what a strange place the world is, with so many living things, each shut away apart by himself, unable to understand the others or make the others understand him. This is what is called philosophy, is it not? Tell me some books where these things are explained....

"I am reading all you sent me. When I grew tired of exploring the key, I lay down in the shade of a palm-tree, and read--guess what? 'Number Five John Street'! So all this loveliness vanished, and I was back in the world's nightmare. An extraordinary book! I decided that it would be good for my husband, so I read him a few paragraphs; but I found that it only irritated him. He wants me to rest, he says--he can't see why I've come away to the Florida Keys to read about the slums of London.

"My hope of gradually influencing his mind has led to a rather appalling discovery--that he has the same intention as regards me! He too has brought a selection of books, and reads to me a few pages every day, and explains what they mean. He calls _this resting! I am no match for him, of course--I never realized more keenly the worthlessness of my education. But I see in a general way where his arguments tend--that life is something that has grown, and is not in the power of men to change; but even if he could convince me of this, I should not find it a source of joy. I have a feeling always that if you were here, you would know something to answer.

"The truth is that I am so pained by the conflict between us that I cannot argue at all. I find myself wondering what our marriage would have been like if we had discovered that we had the same ideas and interests. There are days and nights at a time when I tell myself that I ought to believe what my husband believes, that I ought never have allowed myself to think of anything else. But that really won't do as a life-programme; I tried it years ago with my dear mother and father. Did I ever tell you that my mother is firmly convinced in her heart that I am to suffer eternally in a real hell of fire because I do not believe certain things about the Bible? She still has visions of it--though not so bad since she turned me over to a husband!

"Now it is my husband who is worried about my ideas. He is reading a book by Burke, a well-known old writer. The book deals with English history, which I don't know much about, but I see that it resents modern changes, and the whole spirit of change. And Mary, why can't I feel that way? I really ought to love those old and stately things, I ought to be reverent to the past; I was brought up that way. Sometimes I tremble when I realize how very flippant and cynical I am. I seem to see the wrong side of everything, so that I couldn't believe in it if I wanted to!"

2. Her letters were full of the wonders of Nature about her. There was a snow-white egret who made his home upon her island; she watched his fishing operations, and meant to find his nest, so as to watch his young. The men made a trip into the Everglades, and brought back wonder-tales of flocks of flamingoes making scarlet clouds in the sky, huge colonies of birds' nests crowded like a city. They had brought home a young one, which screamed all day to be stuffed with fish.

A cousin of Sylvia's, Harley Chilton, had come to visit her. He had taken van Tuiver on hunting-trips during the latter's courtship days, and now was a good fishing-companion. He was not allowed to discover the state of affairs between Sylvia and her husband, but he saw his cousin reading serious books, and his contribution to the problem was to tell her that she would get wrinkles in her face, and that even her feet would grow big, like those of the ladies in New England.

Also, there was the young physician who kept watch over Sylvia's health; a dapper little man with pink and white complexion, and a brown moustache from which he could not keep his fingers. He had a bungalow to himself, but sometimes he went along on the launch-trips, and Sylvia thought she observed wrinkles of amusement round his eyes whenever she differed from her husband on the subject of Burke. She suspected this young man of not telling all his ideas to his multi-millionaire patients, and she was entertained by the prospect of probing him.

Then came Mrs. Varina Tuis; who since the tragic cutting of her own domestic knot, had given her life to the service of the happier members of the Castleman line. She was now to be companion and counsellor to Sylvia; and on the very day of her arrival she discovered the chasm that was yawning in her niece's life.

"It's wonderful," wrote Sylvia, "the intuition of the Castleman women. We were in the launch, passing one of the viaducts of the new railroad, and Aunt Varina exclaimed, 'What a wonderful piece of work!' 'Yes,' put in my husband, 'but don't let Sylvia hear you say it.' 'Why not?' she asked; and he replied, 'She'll tell you how many hours a day the poor Dagoes have to work.' That was all; but I saw Aunt Varina give a quick glance at me, and I saw that she was not fooled by my efforts to make conversation. It was rather horrid of Douglas, for he knows that I love these old people, and do not want them to know about my trouble. But it is characteristic of him--when he is annoyed he seldom tries to spare others.

"As soon as we were alone, Aunt Varina began, 'Sylvia, my dear, what does it mean? What have you done to worry your husband?'

"You would be entertained if I could remember the conversation. I tried to dodge the trouble by answering off-hand, 'Douglas had eaten too many turtle-eggs for luncheon '--this being a man-like thing, that any dear old lady would understand. But she was too shrewd. I had to explain to her that I was learning to think, and this sent her into a perfect panic.

"'You actually mean, my child, that you are thinking about subjects to which your husband objects, and you refuse to stop when he asks you to? Surely you must know that he has some good reason for objecting.'

"'I suppose so,' I said, 'but he has not made that reason clear to me; and certainly I have a right--'

"She would not hear any more than that. 'Right, Sylvia? Right? Are you claiming the right to drive your husband from you?'

"'But surely I can't regulate all my thinking by the fear of driving my husband from me!'

"'Sylvia, you take my breath away. Where did you get such ideas?'

"'But answer me, Aunt Varina--can I?'

"'What thinking is as important to a woman as thinking how to please a good, kind husband? What would become of her family if she no longer tried to do this?'

"So you see, we opened up a large subject. I know you consider me a backward person, and you may be interested to learn that there are some to whom I seem a terrifying rebel. Picture poor Aunt Varina, her old face full of concern, repeating over and over, 'My child, my child, I hope I have come in time! Don't scorn the advice of a woman who has paid bitterly for her mistakes. You have a good husband, a man who loves you devotedly; you are one of the most fortunate of women--now do not throw your happiness away!'

"'Aunt Varina,' I said (I forget if I ever told you that her husband gambled and drank, and finally committed suicide) 'Aunt Varina, do you really believe that every man is so anxious to get away from his wife that it must take her whole stock of energy, her skill in diplomacy, to keep him?'

"'Sylvia,' she answered, "you put things so strangely, you use such horribly crude language, I don't know how to talk to you!' (That must be your fault, Mary. I never heard such a charge before.) 'I can only tell you this--that the wife who permits herself to think about other things than her duty to her husband and her children is taking a frightful risk. She is playing with fire, Sylvia--she will realize too late what it means to set aside the wisdom of her sex, the experience of other women for ages and ages!'

"So there you are, Mary! I am studying another unwritten book, the Maxims of Aunt Varina!

"She has found the remedy for my troubles, the cure for my disease of thought--I am to sew! I tell her that I have more clothes than I can wear in a dozen seasons, and she answers, in an awesome voice, 'There is the little stranger!' When I point out that the little stranger will be expected to have a 'layette' costing many thousands of dollars, she replies, 'They will surely permit him to wear some of the things his mother's hands have made.' So, behold me, seated on the gallery, learning fancy stitches--and with Kautsky on the Social Revolution hidden away in the bottom of my sewing-bag!"

3. The weeks passed. The legislature at Albany adjourned, without regard to our wishes; and so, like the patient spider whose web is destroyed, we set to work upon a new one. So much money must be raised, so many articles must be written, so many speeches delivered, so many people seized upon and harried and wrought to a state of mind where they were dangerous to the future career of legislators. Such is the process of social reform under the private property régime; a process which the pure and simple reformers imagine we shall tolerate for ever--God save us!

Sylvia asked me for the news, and I told it to her--how we had failed, and what we had to do next. So pretty soon there came by registered mail a little box, in which I found a diamond ring. "I cannot ask him for money just now," she explained, "but here is something that has been mine from girlhood. It cost about four hundred dollars--this for your guidance in selling it. Not a day passes that I do not see many times that much wasted; so take it for the cause." Queen Isabella and her jewels!

In this letter she told me of a talk she had had with her husband on the "woman-problem." She had thought at first that it was going to prove a helpful talk--he had been in a fairer mood than she was usually able to induce. "He evaded some of my questions," she explained, "but I don't think it was deliberate; it is simply the evasive attitude of mind which the whole world takes. He says he does not think that women are inferior to men, only that they are different; the mistake is for them to try to become _like men. It is the old proposition of 'charm,' you see. I put that to him, and he admitted that he did like to be 'charmed.'

"I said, 'You wouldn't, if you knew as much about the process as I do.'

"'Why not?' he asked.

"'Because, it's not an honest process. It's not a straight way for one sex to deal with the other.'

"He asked what I meant by that; but then, remembering the cautions of my great-aunt, I laughed. 'If you are going to compel me to use the process, you can hardly expect me to tell you the secret of it.'

"'Then there's no use trying to talk,' he said.

"'Ah, but there is!' I exclaimed. 'You admit that I have 'charm'--dozens of other men admitted it. And so it ought to count for something if I declare that I know it's not an honest thing--that it depends upon trickery, and appeals to the worst qualities in a man. For instance, his vanity. "Flatter him," Lady Dee used to say. "He'll swallow it." And he will--I never knew a man to refuse a compliment in my life. His love of domination. "If you want anything, make him think that _he wants it!" His egotism. She had a bitter saying--I can hear the very tones of her voice: "When in doubt, talk about HIM." That is what is called "charm"!'

"'I don't seem to feel it,' he said.

"' No, because now you are behind the scenes. But when you were in front, you felt it, you can't deny. And you would feel it again, any time I chose to use it. But I want to know if there is not some honest way a woman can interest a man. The question really comes to this--Can a man love a woman for what she really is?'

"'I should say,' he said, 'that it depends upon the woman.'

"I admitted this was a plausible answer. 'But you loved me, when I made myself a mystery to you. But now that I am honest with you, you have made it clear that you don't like it, that you won't have it. And that is the problem that women have to face. It is a fact that the women of our family have always ruled the men; but they've done it by indirection--nobody ever thought seriously of "women's rights" in Castleman County. But you see, women _have rights; and somehow or other they will fool the men, or else the men must give up the idea that they are the superior sex, and have the right, or the ability, to rule women.'

"Then I saw how little he had followed me. 'There has to be a head to the family,' he said.

"I answered, 'There have been cases in history of a king and queen ruling together, and getting along very well. Why not the same thing in a family?'

"'That's all right, so far as the things of the family are concerned. But such affairs as business and politics are in the sphere of men; and women cannot meddle in them without losing their best qualities as women.'

"And so there we were. I won't repeat his arguments, for doubtless you have read enough anti-suffrage literature. The thing I noticed was that if I was very tactful and patient, I could apparently carry him along with me; but when the matter came up again, I would discover that he was back where he had been before. A woman must accept the guidance of a man; she must take the man's word for the things that he understands. 'But suppose the man is _wrong?_' I said; and there we stopped--there we shall stop always, I begin to fear. I agree with him that woman should obey man--so long as man is right!"

4. Her letters did not all deal with this problem. In spite of the sewing, she found time to read a number of books, and we argued about these. Then, too, she had been probing her young doctor, and had made interesting discoveries about him. For one thing, he was full of awe and admiration for her; and her awakening mind found material for speculation in this.

"Here is this young man; he thinks he is a scientist, he rather prides himself upon being cold-blooded; yet a cunning woman could twist him round her finger. He had an unhappy love-affair when he was young, so he confided to me; and now, in his need and loneliness, a beautiful woman is transformed into something supernatural in his imagination--she is like a shimmering soap-bubble, that he blows with his own breath. I know that I could never get him to see the real truth about me; I might tell him that I have let myself be tied up in a golden net--but he would only marvel at my spirituality. Oh, the women I have seen trading upon the credulity of men! And when I think how I did this myself! If men were wise, they would give us the vote, and a share in the world's work--anything that would bring us out into the light of day, and break the spell of mystery that hangs round us!

"By the way," she wrote in another letter, "there will be trouble if you come down here. I was telling Dr. Perrin about you, and your ideas about fasting, and mental healing, and the rest of your fads. He got very much excited. It seems that he takes his diploma seriously, and he's not willing to be taught by amateur experiments. He wanted me to take some pills, and I refused, and I think now he blames you for it. He has found a bond of sympathy with my husband, who proves his respect for authority by taking whatever he is told to take. Dr. Perrin got his medical training here in the South, and I imagine he's ten or twenty years behind the rest of the medical world. Douglas picked him out because he'd met him socially. It makes no difference to me--because I don't mean to have any doctoring done to me!"

Then, on top of these things, would come a cry from her soul. "Mary, what will you do if some day you get a letter from me confessing that I am not happy? I dare not say a word to my own people. I am supposed to be at the apex of human triumph, and I have to play that role to keep from hurting them. I know that if my dear old father got an inkling of the truth, it would kill him. My one real solid consolation is that I have helped him, that I have lifted a money-burden from his life; I have done that, I tell myself, over and over; but then I wonder, have I done anything but put the reckoning off? I have given all his other children a new excuse for extravagance, an impulse towards worldliness which they did not need.

"There is my sister Celeste, for example. I don't think I have told you about her. She made her _début last fall, and was coming up to New York to stay with me this winter. She had it all arranged in her mind to make a rich marriage; I was to give her the _entrée_--and now I have been selfish, and thought of my own desires, and gone away. Can I say to her, Be warned by me, I have made a great match, and it has not brought me happiness? She would not understand, she would say I was foolish. She would say, 'If I had your luck, _I would be happy.' And the worst of it is, it would be true.

"You see the position I am in with the rest of the children. I cannot say, 'You are spending too much of papa's money, it is wrong for you to sign cheques and trust to his carelessness.' I have had my share of the money, I have lined my own nest. All I can do is to buy dresses and hats for Celeste; and know that she will use these to fill her girl-friends with envy, and make scores of other families live beyond their means."

5. Sylvia's pregnancy was moving to its appointed end. She wrote me beautifully about it, much more frankly and simply than she could have brought herself to talk. She recalled to me my own raptures, and also, my own heartbreak. "Mary! Mary! I felt the child to-day! Such a sensation, I could not have credited it if anyone had told me. I almost fainted. There is something in me that wants to turn back, that is afraid to go on with such experiences. I do not wish to be seized in spite of myself, and made to feel things beyond my control. I wander off down the beach, and hide myself, and cry and cry. I think I could almost pray again."

And then again, "I am in ecstasy, because I am to bear a child, a child of my own! Oh, wonderful, wonderful! But suddenly my ecstasy is shot through with terror, because the father of this child is a man I do not love. There is no use trying to deceive myself--nor you! I must have one human soul with whom I can talk about it as it really is. I do not love him, I never did love him, I never shall love him!

"Oh, how could they have all been so mistaken? Here is Aunt Varina--one of those who helped to persuade me into this marriage. She told me that love would come; it seemed to be her idea--my mother had it too--that you had only to submit yourself to a man, to follow and obey him, and love would take possession of your heart. I tried credulously, and it did not happen as they promised. And now, I am to bear him a child; and that will bind us together for ever!

"Oh, the despair of it--I do not love the father of my child! I say, The child will be partly his, perhaps more his than mine. It will be like him--it will have this quality and that, the very qualities, perhaps, that are a source of distress to me in the father. So I shall have these things before me day and night, all the rest of my life; I shall have to see them growing and hardening; it will be a perpetual crucifixion of my mother-love. I seek to comfort myself by saying, The child can be trained differently, so that he will not have these qualities. But then I think, No, you cannot train him as you wish. Your husband will have rights to the child, rights superior to your own. Then I foresee the most dreadful strife between us.

"A shrewd girl-friend once told me that I ought to be better or worse; I ought not to see people's faults as I do, or else I ought to love people less. And I can see that I ought to have been too good to make this marriage, or else not too good to make the best of it. I know that I might be happy as Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver, if I could think of the worldly advantages, and the fact that my child will inherit them. But instead, I see them as a trap, in which not only ourselves but the child is caught, and from which I cannot save us. Oh, what a mistake a woman makes when she marries a man with the idea that she is going to change him! He will not change, he will not have the need of change suggested to him. He wants _peace in his home--which means that he wants to be what he is.

"Sometimes I can study the situation quite coolly, and as if it didn't concern me at all. He has required me to subject my mind to his. But he will not be content with a general capitulation; he must have a surrender from each individual soldier, from every rebel hidden in the hills. He tracks them out (my poor, straggling, feeble ideas) and either they take the oath of allegiance, or they are buried where they lie. The process is like the spoiling of a child, I find; the more you give him, the more he wants. And if any little thing is refused, then you see him set out upon a regular campaign to break you down and get it."

A month or more later she wrote: "Poor Douglas is getting restless. He has caught every kind of fish there is to catch, and hunted every kind of animal and bird, in and out of season. Harley has gone home, and so have our other guests; it would be embarrassing to me to have company now. So Douglas has no one but the doctor and myself and my poor aunt. He has spoken several times of our going away; but I do not want to go, and I think I ought to consider my own health at this critical time. It is hot here, but I simply thrive in it--I never felt in better health. So I asked him to go up to New York, or visit somewhere for a while, and let me stay here until my baby is born. Does that seem so very unreasonable? It does not to me, but poor Aunt Varina is in agony about it--I am letting my husband drift away from me!

"I speculate about my lot as a woman; I see the bitterness and the sorrow of my sex through the ages. I have become physically misshapen, so that I am no longer attractive to him. I am no longer active and free, I can no longer go about with him; on the contrary, I am a burden, and he is a man who never tolerated a burden before. What this means is that I have lost the magic hold of sex.

"As a woman it was my business to exert all my energies to maintain it. And I know how I could restore it now; there is young Dr. Perrin! _He does not find me a burden, _he would tolerate any deficiencies! And I can see my husband on the alert in an instant, if I become too much absorbed in discussing your health-theories with my handsome young guardian!

"This is one of the recognized methods of keeping your husband; I learned from Lady Dee all there is to know about it. But I would find the method impossible now, even if my happiness were dependent upon retaining my husband's love. I should think of the rights of my friend, the little doctor. That is one point to note for the 'new' woman, is it not? You may mention it in your next suffrage-speech!

"There are other methods, of course. I have a mind, and I might turn its powers to entertaining him, instead of trying to solve the problems of the universe. But to do this, I should have to believe that it was the one thing in the world for me to do; and I have permitted a doubt of that to gain entrance to my brain! My poor aunt's exhortations inspire me to efforts to regain the faith of my mothers, but I simply cannot--I cannot! She sits by me with the terror of all the women of all the ages in her eyes. I am losing a man!

"I don't know if you have ever set out to hold a man--deliberately, I mean. Probably you haven't. That bitter maxim of Lady Dee's is the literal truth of it--'When in doubt, talk about HIM!' If you will tactfully and shrewdly keep a man talking about himself, his tastes, his ideas, his work and the importance of it, there is never the least possibility of your boring him. You must not just tamely agree with him, of course; if you hint a difference now and then, and make him convince you, he will find that stimulating; or if you can manage not to be quite convinced, but sweetly open to conviction, he will surely call again. 'Keep him busy every minute,' Lady Dee used to say. 'Run away with him now and then--like a spirited horse!' And she would add, 'But don't let him drop the reins!'

"You can have no idea how many women there are in the world deliberately playing such parts. Some of them admit it; others just do the thing that is easiest, and would die of horror if they were told what it is. It is the whole of the life of a successful society woman, young or old. Pleasing a man! Waiting upon his moods, piquing him, flattering him, feeding his vanity--'charming' him! That is what Aunt Varina wants me to do now; if I am not too crude in my description of the process, she has no hesitation in admitting the truth. It is what she tried to do, it is what almost every woman has done who has held a family together and made a home. I was reading _Jane Eyre the other day. _There is your woman's ideal of an imperious and impetuous lover! Listen to him, when his mood is on him!--

"I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night; and that is why I sent for you; the fire and the chandelier were not sufficient company for me; nor would Pilot have been, for none of these can talk. To-night I am resolved to be at ease; to dismiss what importunes, and recall what pleases. It would please me now to draw you out--to learn more of you--therefore speak!"

6. It was now May, and Sylvia's time was little more than a month off. She had been urging me to come and visit her, but I had refused, knowing that my presence must necessarily be disturbing to both her husband and her aunt. But now she wrote that her husband was going back to New York. "He was staying out of a sense of duty to me," she said. "But his discontent was so apparent that I had to point out to him that he was doing harm to me as well as to himself.

"I doubt if you will want to come here now. The last of the winter visitors have left. It is really hot, so hot that you cannot get cool by going into the water. Yet I am revelling in it; I wear almost nothing, and that white; and even the suspicious Dr. Perrin cannot but admit that I am thriving; his references to pills are purely formal.

"Lately I have not permitted myself to think much about the situation between my husband and myself. I cannot blame him, and I cannot blame myself, and I am trying to keep my peace of mind till my baby is born. I have found myself following half-instinctively the procedure you told me about; I talk to my own subconscious mind, and to the baby--I command them to be well. I whisper to them things that are not so very far from praying; but I don't think my poor dear mamma would recognize it in its new scientific dress!

"But sometimes I can't help thinking of the child and its future, and then all of a sudden my heart is ready to break with pity for the child's father! I have the consciousness that I do not love him, and that he has always known it--and that makes me remorseful. But I told him the truth before we married--he promised to be patient with me till I had learned to love him! Now I want to burst into tears and cry aloud, 'Oh, why did you do it? Why did I let myself be persuaded into this marriage?'

"I tried to have a talk with him last night, after he had decided to go away. I was full of pity, and a desire to help. I said I wanted him to know that no matter how much we might disagree about some things, I meant to learn to live happily with him. We must find some sort of compromise, for the sake of the child, if not for ourselves; we must not let the child suffer. He answered coldly that there would be no need for the child to suffer, the child would have the best the world could afford. I suggested that there might arise some question as to just what the best was; but to that he said nothing. He went on to rebuke my discontent; had he not given me everything a woman could want? he asked. He was too polite to mention money; but he said that I had leisure and entire freedom from care. I was persisting in assuming cares, while he was doing all in his power to prevent it.

"And that was as far as we got. I gave up the discussion, for we should only have gone the old round over again.

"Douglas has taken up a saying that my cousin brought with him: 'What you don't know won't hurt you!' I think that before he left, Harley had begun to suspect that all was not well between my husband and myself, and he felt it necessary to give me a little friendly counsel. He was tactful, and politely vague, but I understood him--my worldly-wise young cousin. I think that saying of his sums up the philosophy that he would teach to all women--'What you don't know won't hurt you!'"

7. A week or so later Sylvia wrote me that her husband was in New York. And I waited another week, for good measure, and then one morning dropped in for a call upon Claire Lepage.

Why did I do it? you ask. I had no definite purpose--only a general opposition to the philosophy of Cousin Harley.

I was ushered into Claire's boudoir, which was still littered with last evening's apparel. She sat in a dressing-gown with resplendent red roses on it, and brushed the hair out of her eyes, and apologized for not being ready for callers.

"I've just had a talking to from Larry," she explained.

"Larry?" said I, inquiringly; for Claire had always informed me elaborately that van Tuiver had been her one departure from propriety, and always would be.

Apparently she had now reached a stage in her career where pretences were too much trouble. "I've come to the conclusion that I don't know how to manage men," she said. "I never can get along with one for any time."

I remarked that I had had the same experience; though of course I had only tried it once. "Tell me," I said, "who's Larry?"

"There's his picture." She reached into a drawer of her dresser.

I saw a handsome blonde gentleman, who looked old enough to know better. "He doesn't seem especially forbidding," I said.

"That's just the trouble--you can never tell about men!"

I noted a date on the picture. "He seems to be an old friend. You never told me about him."

"He doesn't like being told about. He has a troublesome wife."

I winced inwardly, but all I said was, "I see."

"He's a stock-broker; and he got 'squeezed,' so he says, and it's made him cross--and careful with his money, too. That's trying, in a stock-broker, you must admit." She laughed. "And still he's just as particular--wants to have his own way in everything, wants to say whom I shall know and where I shall go. I said, 'I have all the inconveniences of matrimony, and none of the advantages.'"

I made some remark upon the subject of the emancipation of woman; and Claire, who was now leaning back in her chair, combing out her long black tresses, smiled at me out of half-closed eyelids. "Guess whom he's objecting to!" she said. And when I pronounced it impossible, she looked portentous. "There are bigger fish in the sea than Larry Edgewater!"

"And you've hooked one?" I asked, innocently.

"Well, I don't mean to give up all my friends."

I went on casually to talk about my plans for the summer; and a few minutes later, after a lull--"By the way," remarked Claire, "Douglas van Tuiver is in town."

"How do you know?"

"I've seen him."

"Indeed! Where?"

"I got Jack Taylor to invite me again. You see, when Douglas fell in love with his peerless southern beauty, Jack predicted he'd get over it even more quickly. Now he's interested in proving he was right."

I waited a moment, and then asked, carelessly, "Is he having any success?"

"I said, 'Douglas, why don't you come to see me?' He was in a playful mood. 'What do you want? A new automobile?' I answered, 'I haven't any automobile, new or old, and you know it. What I want is you. I always loved you--surely I proved that to you.' 'What you proved to me was that you were a sort of wild-cat. I'm afraid of you. And anyway, I'm tired of women. I'll never trust another one.'"

"About the same conclusion as you've come to regarding men," I remarked.

"'Douglas,' I said, 'come and see me, and we'll talk over old times. You may trust me, I swear I'll not tell a living soul.' 'You've been consoling yourself with someone else,' he said. But I knew he was only guessing. He was seeking for something that would worry me, and he said, 'You're drinking too much. People that drink can't be trusted.' 'You know,' I replied, 'I didn't drink too much when I was with you. I'm not drinking as much as you are, right now.' He answered, 'I've been off on a desert island for God knows how many months, and I'm celebrating my escape.' 'Well,' I answered, 'let me help celebrate!'"

"What did he say to that?"

Claire resumed the combing of her silken hair, and smiled a slow smile at me. "'You may trust me, Douglas,' I said. 'I swear I'll not tell a living soul!'"

"Of course," I remarked, appreciatively, "that means he said he'd come!"

"_I haven't told you!" was the reply.

8. I knew that I had only to wait for Claire to tell me the rest of the story. But her mind went off on another tack. "Sylvia's going to have a baby," she remarked, suddenly.

"That ought to please her husband," I said.

"You can see him beginning to swell with paternal pride!--so Jack said. He sent for a bottle of some famous kind of champagne that he has, to celebrate the new 'millionaire baby.' (They used to call Douglas that, once upon a time.) Before they got through, they had made it triplets. Jack says Douglas is the one man in New York who can afford them."

"Your friend Jack seems to be what they call a wag," I commented.

"It isn't everybody that Douglas will let carry on with him like that. He takes himself seriously, as a rule. And he expects to take the new baby seriously."

"It generally binds a man tighter to his wife, don't you think?"

I watched her closely, and saw her smile at my naiveté. "No," she said, "I don't. It leaves them restless. It's a bore all round."

I did not dispute her authority; she ought to know her husbands, I thought.

She was facing the mirror, putting up her hair; and in the midst of the operation she laughed. "All that evening, while we were having a jolly time at Jack Taylor's, Larry was here waiting."

"Then no wonder you had a row!" I said.

"He hadn't told me he was coming. And was I to sit here all night alone? It's always the same--I never knew a man who really in his heart was willing for you to have any friends, or any sort of good time without him."

"Perhaps," I replied, "he's afraid you mightn't be true to him." I meant this for a jest, of the sort that Claire and her friends would appreciate. Little did I foresee where it was to lead us!

I remember how once on the farm my husband had a lot of dynamite, blasting out stumps; and my emotions when I discovered the children innocently playing with a stick of it. Something like these children I seem now to myself, looking back on this visit to Claire, and our talk.

"You know," she observed, without smiling, "Larry's got a bee in his hat. I've seen men who were jealous, and kept watch over women, but never one that was obsessed like him."

"What's it about?"

"He's been reading a book about diseases, and he tells me tales about what may happen to me, and what may happen to him. When you've listened a while, you can see microbes crawling all over the walls of the room."

"Well----" I began.

"I was sick of his lecturing, so I said, 'Larry, you'll have to do like me--have everything there is, and get over it, and then you won't need to worry.'"

I sat still, staring at her; I think I must have stopped breathing. At the end of an eternity, I said, "You've not really had any of these diseases, Claire?"

"Who hasn't?" she countered.

Again there was a pause. "You know," I observed, "some of them are dangerous----"

"Oh, of course," she answered, lightly. "There's one that makes your nose fall in and your hair fall out--but you haven't seen anything like that happening to me!"

"But there's another," I hinted--"one that's much more common." And when she did not take the hint, I continued, "Also it's more serious than people generally realize."

She shrugged her shoulders. "What of it? Men bring you these things, and it's part of the game. So what's the use of bothering?"

9. There was a long silence; I had to have time to decide what course to take. There was so much that I wanted to get from her, and so much that I wanted to hide from her!

"I don't want to bore you, Claire," I began, finally, "but really this is a matter of importance to you. You see, I've been reading up on the subject as well as Larry. The doctors have been making new discoveries. They used to think this was just a local infection, like a cold, but now they find it's a blood disease, and has the gravest consequences. For one thing, it causes most of the surgical operations that have to be performed on women."

"Maybe so," she said, still indifferent. "I've had two operations. But it's ancient history now."

"You mayn't have reached the end yet," I persisted. "People suppose they are cured of gonorrhea, when really it's only suppressed, and is liable to break out again at any time."

"Yes, I knew. That's some of the information Larry had been making love to me with."

"It may get into the joints and cause rheumatism; it may cause neuralgia; it's been known to affect the heart. Also it causes two-thirds of all the blindness in infants----"

And suddenly Claire laughed. "That's Sylvia Castleman's lookout it seems to me!"

"Oh! OH!" I whispered, losing my self-control.

"What's the matter?" she asked, and I noticed that her voice had become sharp.

"Do you really mean what you've just implied?"

"That Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver may have to pay something for what she has done to me? Well, what of it?" And suddenly Claire flew into a passion, as she always did when our talk came to her rival. "Why shouldn't she take chances the same as the rest of us? Why should I have it and she get off?"

I fought for my composure. After a pause, I said: "It's not a thing we want anybody to have, Claire. We don't want anybody to take such a chance. The girl ought to have been told."

"Told? Do you imagine she would have given up her great catch?"

"She might have, how can you be sure? Anyhow, she should have had the chance."

There was a long silence. I was so shaken that it was hard for me to find words. "As a matter of fact," said Claire, grimly, "I thought of warning her myself. There'd have been some excitement at least! You remember--when they came out of church. You helped to stop me! "

"It would have been too late then," I heard myself saying.

"Well," she exclaimed, with fresh excitement, "it's Miss Sylvia's turn now! We'll see if she's such a grand lady that she can't get my diseases!"

I could no longer contain myself. "Claire," I cried, "you are talking like a devil!"

She picked up a powder-puff, and began to use it diligently. "I know," she said--and I saw her burning eyes in the glass--"you can't fool me. You've tried to be kind, but you despise me in your heart. You think I'm as bad as any woman of the street. Very well then, I speak for my class, and I tell you, this is where we prove our humanity. They throw us out, but you see we get back in!"

"My dear woman," I said, "you don't understand. You'd not feel as you do, If you knew that the person to pay the penalty might be an innocent little child."

"_Their child! Yes, it's too bad if there has to be anything the matter with the little prince! But I might as well tell you the truth--I've had that in mind all along. I didn't know just what would happen, or how--I don't believe anybody does, the doctors who pretend to are just faking you. But I knew Douglas was rotten, and maybe his children would be rotten, and they'd all of them suffer. That was one of the things that kept me from interfering and smashing him up."

I was speechless now, and Claire, watching me, laughed. "You look as if you'd had no idea of it. Don't you know that I told you at the time?"

"You told me at the time!"

"I suppose, you didn't understand. I'm apt to talk French when I'm excited. We have a saying: 'The wedding present which the mistress leaves in the basket of the bride.' That was pretty near telling, wasn't it?"

"Yes," I said, in a low voice.

And the other, after watching me for a moment more, went on: "You think I'm revengeful, don't you? Well, I used to reproach myself with this, and I tried to fight it down; but the time comes when you want people to pay for what they take from you. Let me tell you something that I never told to anyone, that I never expected to tell. You see me drinking and going to the devil; you hear me talking the care-free talk of my world, but in the beginning I was really in love with Douglas van Tuiver, and I wanted his child. I wanted it so that it was an ache to me. And yet, what chance did I have? I'd have been the joke of his set for ever if I'd breathed it; I'd have been laughed out of the town. I even tried at one time to trap him--to get his child in spite of him, but I found that the surgeons had cut me up, and I could never have a child. So I have to make the best of it--I have to agree with my friends that it's a good thing, it saves me trouble! But _she comes along, and she has what I wanted, and all the world thinks it wonderful and sublime. She's a beautiful young mother! What's she ever done in her life that she has everything, and I go without? You may spend your time shedding tears over her and what may happen to her but for my part, I say this--let her take her chances! Let her take her chances with the other women in the world--the women she's too good and too pure to know anything about!"

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Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 2 Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 2

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BOOK II. SYLVIA AS MOTHER - PART II10. I came out of Claire's house, sick with horror. Not since the time when I had read my poor nephew's letter had I been so shaken. Why had I not thought long ago of questioning Claire about these matters. How could I have left Sylvia all this time exposed to peril? The greatest danger was to her child at the time of birth. I figured up, according to the last letter I had received; there was about ten days yet, and so I felt some relief. I thought first of sending a telegram,

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BOOK I. SYLVIA AS WIFE - PART III23. Our intimacy progressed, and the time came when Sylvia told me about her marriage. She had accepted Douglas van Tuiver because she had lost Frank Shirley, and her heart was broken. She could never imagine herself loving any other man; and not knowing exactly what marriage meant, it had been easier for her to think of her family, and to follow their guidance. They had told her that love would come; Douglas had implored her to give him a chance to teach her to love him. She had considered what she could do