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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 2
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Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 2 Post by :Bizrus Category :Long Stories Author :Upton Sinclair Date :May 2012 Read :3321

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


10. 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, but reflected that it would be difficult, not merely to tell her what to do in a telegram, but to explain to her afterwards why I had chosen this extraordinary method. I recollected that in her last letter she had mentioned the name of the surgeon who was coming from New York to attend her during her confinement. Obviously the thing for me to do was to see this surgeon.

"Well, madame?" he said, when I was seated in his inner office.

He was a tall, elderly man, immaculately groomed, and formal and precise in his manner. "Dr. Overton," I began, "my friend, Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver writes me that you are going to Florida shortly."

"That is correct," he said.

"I have come to see you about a delicate matter. I presume I need hardly say that I am relying upon the seal of professional secrecy."

I saw his gaze become suddenly fixed. "Certainly, madame," he said.

"I am taking this course because Mrs. van Tuiver is a very dear friend of mine, and I am concerned about her welfare. It has recently come to my knowledge that she has become exposed to infection by a venereal disease."

He would hardly have started more if I had struck him. "HEY?" he cried, forgetting his manners.

"It would not help you any," I said, "if I were to go into details about this unfortunate matter. Suffice it to say that my information is positive and precise--that it could hardly be more so."

There was a long silence. He sat with eyes rivetted upon me. "What is this disease?" he demanded, at last.

I named it, and then again there was a pause. "How long has this--this possibility of infection existed?"

"Ever since her marriage, nearly eighteen months ago."

That told him a good part of the story. I felt his look boring me through. Was I a mad woman? Or some new kind of blackmailer? Or, was I, possibly, a Claire? I was grateful for my forty-cent bonnet and my forty-seven years.

"Naturally," he said at length, "this information startles me."

"When you have thought it over," I responded, "you will realise that no possible motive could bring me here but concern for the welfare of my friend."

He took a few moments to consider. "That may be true, madame, but let me add that when you say you KNOW this----"

He stopped. "I MEAN that I know it," I said, and stopped in turn.

"Has Mrs. van Tuiver herself any idea of this situation?"

"None whatever. On the contrary, she was assured before her marriage that no such possibility existed."

Again I felt him looking through me, but I left him to make what he could of my information. "Doctor," I continued, "I presume there is no need to point out to a man in your position the seriousness of this matter, both to the mother and to the child."

"Certainly there is not."

"I assume that you are familiar with the precautions that have to be taken with regard to the eyes of the child?"

"Certainly, madame." This with just a touch of HAUTEUR, and then, suddenly: "Are you by any chance a nurse?"

"No," I replied, "but many years ago I was forced by tragedy in my own family to realise the seriousness of the venereal peril. So when I learned this fact about my friend, my first thought was that you should be informed of it. I trust that you will appreciate my position."

"Certainly, madame, certainly," he made haste to say. "You are quite right, and you may rest assured that everything will be done that our best knowledge directs. I only regret that the information did not come to me sooner."

"It only came to me about an hour ago," I said, as I rose to leave. "The blame, therefore, must rest upon another person."

I needed to say no more. He bowed me politely out, and I walked down the street, and realised that I was restless and wretched. I wandered at random for a while. trying to think what else I could do, for my own peace of mind, if not for Sylvia's welfare. I found myself inventing one worry after another. Dr. Overton had not said just when he was going, and suppose she were to need someone at once? Or suppose something were to happen to him--if he were to be killed upon the long train-journey? I was like a mother who has had a terrible dream about her child--she must rush and fling her arms about the child. I realised that I wanted to see Sylvia!

She had begged me to come; and I was worn out and had been urged by the office to take a rest. Suddenly I bolted into a store, and telephoned the railroad station about trains to Southern Florida. I hailed a taxi-cab, rode to my home post-haste, and flung a few of my belongings into a bag and the waiting cab sped with me to the ferry. In little more than two hours after Claire had told me the dreadful tidings, I was speeding on my way to Sylvia.

11. From a train-window I had once beheld a cross-section of America from West to East; now I beheld another from North to South. In the afternoon were the farms and country-homes of New Jersey; and then in the morning endless wastes of wilderness, and straggling fields of young corn and tobacco; turpentine forests, with half-stripped negroes working, and a procession of "depots," with lanky men chewing tobacco, and negroes basking in the blazing sun. Then another night, and there was the pageant of Florida: palmettos, and other trees of which one had seen pictures in the geography books; stretches of vine-tangled swamps, where one looked for alligators; orange-groves in blossom, and gardens full of flowers beyond imagining. Every hour, of course, it got hotter; I was not, like Sylvia, used to it, and whenever the train stopped I sat by the open window, mopping the perspiration from my face.

We were due at Miami in the afternoon; but there was a freight-train off the track ahead of us, and so for three hours I sat chafing with impatience, worrying the conductor with futile questions. I had to make connections at Miami with a train which ran to the last point on the mainland, where the construction-work over the keys was going forward. And if I missed that last train, I would have to wait in Miami till morning. I had better wait there, anyhow, the conductor argued; but I insisted that my friends, to whom I had telegraphed two days before, would meet me with a launch and take me to their place that night.

We got in half an hour late for the other train; but this was the South, I discovered, and they had waited for us. I shifted my bag and myself across the platform, and we moved on. But then another problem arose; we were running into a storm. It came with great suddenness; one minute all was still, with a golden sunset, and the next it was so dark that I could barely see the palm-trees, bent over, swaying madly--like people with arms stretched out, crying in distress. I could hear the roaring of the wind above that of the train, and I asked the conductor in consternation if this could be a hurricane. It was not the season for hurricanes, he replied; but it was "some storm, all right," and I would not find any boat to take me to the keys until it was over.

It was absurd of me to be nervous, I kept telling myself; but there was something in me that cried out to be there, to be there! I got out of the train, facing what I refrain from calling a hurricane out of deference to local authority. It was all I could do to keep from being blown across the station-platform, and I was drenched with the spray and bewildered by the roaring of the waves that beat against the pier beyond. Inside the station, I questioned the agent. The launch of the van Tuivers had not been in that day; if it had been on the way, it must have sought shelter somewhere. My telegram to Mrs. van Tuiver had been received two days before, and delivered by a boatman whom they employed for that purpose. Presumably, therefore, I would be met. I asked how long this gale was apt to last; the answer was from one to three days.

Then I asked about shelter for the night. This was a "jumping-off" place, said the agent, with barracks and shanties for a construction-gang; there were saloons, and what was called a hotel, but it wouldn't do for a lady. I pleaded that I was not fastidious--being anxious to nullify the effect which the name van Tuiver had produced. But the agent would have it that the place was unfit for even a Western farmer's wife; and as I was not anxious to take the chance of being blown overboard in the darkness, I spent the night on one of the benches in the station. I lay, listening to the incredible clamour of wind and waves, feeling the building quiver, and wondering if each gust might not blow it away.

I was out at dawn, the force of the wind having abated somewhat by that time. I saw before me a waste of angry foam-strewn water, with no sign of any craft upon it. Late in the morning came the big steamer which ran to Key West, in connection with the railroad; it made a difficult landing, and I interviewed the captain, with the idea of bribing him to take me to my destination. But he had his schedule, which neither storms nor the name of van Tuiver could alter. Besides, he pointed out, he could not land me at their place, as his vessel drew too much water to get anywhere near; and if he landed me elsewhere, I should be no better off, "If your friends are expecting you, they'll come here," he said, "and their launch can travel when nothing else can."

To pass the time I went to inspect the viaduct of the railway-to-be. The first stretch was completed, a long series of concrete arches, running out, apparently, into the open sea. It was one of the engineering wonders of the world, but I fear I did not appreciate it. Towards mid-afternoon I made out a speck of a boat over the water, and my friend, the station-agent, remarked, "There's your launch."

I expressed my amazement that they should have ventured out in such weather. I had had in mind the kind of tiny open craft that one hears making day and night hideous at summer-resorts; but when the "Merman" drew near, I realized afresh what it was to be the guest of a multi-millionaire. She was about fifty feet long, a vision of polished brass and shining, new-varnished cedar. She rammed her shoulder into the waves and flung them contemptuously to one side; her cabin was tight, dry as the saloon of a liner.

Three men emerged on deck to assist in the difficult process of making a landing. One of them sprang to the dock, and confronting me, inquired if I was Mrs. Abbott. He explained that they had set out to meet me the previous afternoon, but had had to take refuge behind one of the keys.

"How is Mrs. van Tuiver?" I asked, quickly.

"She is well."

"I don't suppose--the baby----" I hinted.

"No, ma'am, not yet," said the man; and after that I felt interested in what he had to say about the storm and its effects. We could return at once, it seemed, if I did not mind being pitched about.

"How long does it take?" I asked.

"Three hours, in weather like this. It's about fifty miles."

"But then it will be dark," I objected.

"That won't matter, ma'am--we have plenty of light of our own. We shan't have trouble, unless the wind rises, and there's a chain of keys all the way, where we can get shelter if it does. The worst you have to fear is spending a night on board."

I reflected that I could not well be more uncomfortable than I had been the previous night, so I voted for a start. There was mail and some supplies to be put on board; then I made a spring for the deck, as it surged up towards me on a rising wave, and in a moment more the cabin-door had shut behind me, and I was safe and snug, in the midst of leather and mahogany and electric-lighted magnificence. Through the heavy double windows I saw the dock swing round behind us, and saw the torrents of green spray sweep over us and past. I grasped at the seat to keep myself from being thrown forward, and then grasped behind, to keep from going in that direction. I had a series of sensations as of an elevator stopping suddenly--and then I draw the curtains of the "Merman's" cabin, and invite the reader to pass by. This is Sylvia's story, and not mine, and it is of no interest what happened to me during that trip. I will only remind the reader that I had lived my life in the far West, and there were some things I could not have foreseen.

12. "We are there, ma'am," I heard one of the boatmen say, and I realised vaguely that the pitching had ceased. He helped me to sit up, and I saw the search-light of the craft sweeping the shore of an island. "It passes off 'most as quick as it comes, ma'am," added my supporter, and for this I murmured feeble thanks.

We came to a little bay, where the power was shut off, and we glided towards the shore. There was a boat-house, a sort of miniature dry-dock, with a gate which closed behind us. I had visions of Sylvia waiting to meet me, but apparently our arrival had not been noted, and for this I was grateful. There were seats in the boat-house, and I sank into one, and asked the man to wait a few minutes while I recovered myself. When I got up and went to the house, what I found made me quickly forget that I had such a thing as a body.

There was a bright moon, I remember, and I could see the long, low bungalow, with windows gleaming through the palm-trees. A woman's figure emerged from the house and came down the white shell-path to meet me. My heart leaped. My beloved!

But then I saw it was the English maid, whom I had come to know in New York; I saw, too, that her face was alight with excitement. "Oh, my lady!" she cried. "The baby's come!"

It was like a blow in the face. "_What?_" I gasped.

"Came early this morning. A girl."

"But--I thought it wasn't till next week!"

"I know, but it's here. In that terrible storm, when we thought the house was going to be washed away! Oh, my lady, it's the loveliest baby!"

I had presence of mind enough to try to hide my dismay. The semi-darkness was a fortunate thing for me. "How is the mother?" I asked.

"Splendid. She's asleep now."

"And the child?"

"Oh! Such a dear you never saw!"

"And it's all right?"

"It's just the living image of its mother! You shall see!"

We moved towards the house, slowly, while I got my thoughts together. "Dr. Perrin is here?" I asked.

"Yes. He's gone to his place to sleep."

"And the nurse?"

"She's with the child. Come this way."

We went softly up the steps of the veranda. All the rooms opened upon it, and we entered one of them, and by the dim-shaded light I saw a white-clad woman bending over a crib. "Miss Lyman, this is Mrs. Abbott," said the maid.

The nurse straightened up. "Oh! so you got here! And just at the right time!"

"God grant it may be so!" I thought to myself. "So this is the child!" I said, and bent over the crib. The nurse turned up the light for me.

It is the form in which the miracle of life becomes most apparent to us, and dull indeed must be he who can encounter it without being stirred to the depths. To see, not merely new life come into the world, but life which has been made by ourselves, or by those we love--life that is a mirror and copy of something dear to us! To see this tiny mite of warm and living flesh, and to see that it was Sylvia! To trace each beloved lineament, so much alike, and yet so different--half a portrait and half a caricature, half sublime and half ludicrous! The comical little imitation of her nose, with each dear little curve, with even a remainder of the tiny groove underneath the tip, and the tiny corresponding dimple underneath the chin! The soft silken fuzz which was some day to be Sylvia's golden glory! The delicate, sensitive lips, which were some day to quiver with feeling! I gazed at them and saw them moving, I saw the breast moving--and a wave of emotion swept over me, and the tears half-blinded me as I knelt.

But I could not forget the reason for my coming. It meant little that the child was alive and seemingly well; I was not dealing with a disease which, like syphilis, starves and deforms in the very womb. The little one was asleep, but I moved the light so as to examine its eyelids. Then I turned to the nurse and asked: "Miss Lyman, doesn't it seem to you the eyelids are a trifle inflamed?"

"Why, I hadn't noticed it," she answered.

"Were the eyes washed?" I inquired.

"I washed the baby, of course--"

"I mean the eyes especially. The doctor didn't drop anything into them?"

"I don't think he considered it necessary."

"It's an important precaution," I replied; "there are always possibilities of infection."

"Possibly," said the other. "But you know, we did not expect this. Dr. Overton was to be here in three or four days."

"Dr. Perrin is asleep?" I asked.

"Yes. He was up all last night."

"I think I will have to ask you to waken him," I said.

"Is it as serious as that?" she inquired, anxiously, having sensed some of the emotion I was trying to conceal.

"It might be very serious," I said. "I really ought to have a talk with the doctor."

13. The nurse went out, and I drew up a chair and sat by the crib, watching the infant go back to sleep. I was glad to be alone, to have a chance to get myself together. But suddenly I heard a rustle of skirts in the doorway behind me, and turned and saw a white-clad figure; an elderly gentlewoman, slender and fragile, grey-haired and rather pale, wearing a soft dressing-gown. Aunt Varina!

I rose. "This must be Mrs. Abbott," she said. Oh, these soft, caressing Southern voices, that cling to each syllable as a lover to a hand at parting.

She was a very prim and stately little lady, and I think she did not intend to shake hands; but I felt pretty certain that under her coating of formality, she was eager for a chance to rhapsodize. "Oh, what a lovely child!" I cried; and instantly she melted.

"You have seen our babe!" she exclaimed; and I could not help smiling. A few months ago, "the little stranger," and now "our babe"!

She bent over the cradle, with her dear old sentimental, romantic soul in her eyes. For a minute or two she quite forgot me; then, looking up, she murmured, "It is as wonderful to me as if it were my own!"

"All of us who love Sylvia feel that," I responded.

She rose, and suddenly remembering hospitality, asked me as to my present needs. Then she said, "I must go and see to sending some telegrams."

"Telegrams?" I inquired.

"Yes. Think what this news will mean to dear Douglas! And to Major Castleman!"

"You haven't informed them?"

"We couldn't send any smaller boat on account of the storm. We must telegraph Dr. Overton also, you understand."

"To tell him not to come?" I ventured. "But don't you think, Mrs. Tuis, that he may wish to come anyhow?"

"Why should he wish that?"

"I'm not sure, but--I think he might." How I longed for a little of Sylvia's skill in social lying! "Every newly-born infant ought to be examined by a specialist, you know; there may be a particular _régime, a diet for the mother--one cannot say."

"Dr. Perrin didn't consider it necessary."

"I am going to have a talk with Dr. Perrin at once," I said.

I saw a troubled look in her eyes. "You don't mean you think there's anything the matter?"

"No--no," I lied. "But I'm sure you ought to wait before you have the launch go. Please do."

"If you insist," she said. I read bewilderment in her manner, and just a touch of resentment. Was it not presumptuous of me, a stranger, and one--well, possibly not altogether a lady? She groped for words; and the ones that came were: "Dear Douglas must not be kept waiting."

I was too polite to offer the suggestion that "dear Douglas" might be finding ways to amuse himself. The next moment I heard steps approaching on the veranda, and turned to meet the nurse with the doctor.

14. "How do you do, Mrs. Abbott?" said Dr. Perrin. He was in his dressing-gown, and had a newly-awakened look. I started to apologize, but he replied, "It's pleasant to see a new face in our solitude. Two new faces!"

That was behaving well, I thought, for a man who had been routed out of sleep. I tried to meet his mood. "Dr. Perrin, Mrs. van Tuiver tells me that you object to amateur physicians. But perhaps you won't mind regarding me as a midwife. I have three children of my own, and I've had to help bring others into the world."

"All right," he smiled. "We'll consider you qualified. What is the matter?"

"I wanted to ask you about the child's eyes. It is a wise precaution to drop some nitrate of silver into them, to provide against possible infection."

I waited for my answer. "There have been no signs of any sort of infection in this case," he said, at last.

"Perhaps not. But it is not necessary to wait, in such a matter. You have not taken the precaution?"

"No, madam."

"You have some of the drug, of course?"

Again there was a pause. "No, madam, I fear that I have not."

I winced, involuntarily. I could not hide my distress. "Dr. Perrin," I exclaimed, "you came to attend a confinement case, and you omitted to provide something so essential!"

There was nothing left of the little man's affability now. "In the first place," he said, "I must remind you that I did not come to attend a confinement case. I came to look after Mrs. van Tuiver's condition up _to the time of confinement."

"But you knew there would always be the possibility of an accident!"

"Yes, to be sure."

"And you didn't have any nitrate of silver!"

"Madam," he said, stiffly, "there is no use for this drug except in one contingency."

"I know," I cried, "but it is an important precaution. It is the practice to use it in all maternity hospitals."

"Madam, I have visited hospitals, and I think I know something of what the practice is."

So there we were, at a deadlock. There was silence for a space.

"Would you mind sending for the drug?" I asked, at last.

"I presume," he said, with _hauteur, "it will do no harm to have it on hand."

I was aware of an elderly lady watching us, with consternation written upon every sentimental feature. "Dr. Perrin," I said, "if Mrs. Tuis will pardon me, I think I ought to speak with you alone." The nurse hastily withdrew; and I saw the elderly lady draw herself up with terrible dignity--and then suddenly quail, and turn and follow the nurse.

I told the little man what I knew. After he had had time to get over his consternation, he said that fortunately there did not seem to be any sign of trouble.

"There does seem so to me," I replied. "It may be only my imagination, but I think the eyelids are inflamed."

I held the baby for him, while he made an examination. He admitted that there seemed to be ground for uneasiness. His professional dignity was now gone, and he was only too glad to be human.

"Dr. Perrin," I said, "there is only one thing we can do--to get some nitrate of silver at the earliest possible moment. Fortunately, the launch is here."

"I will have it start at once," he said. "It will have to go to Key West."

"And how long will that take?"

"It depends upon the sea. In good weather it takes us eight hours to go and return." I could not repress a shudder. The child might be blind in eight hours!

But there was no time to be wasted in foreboding. "About Dr. Overton," I said. "Don't you think he had better come?" But I ventured to add the hint that Mr. van Tuiver would hardly wish expense to be considered in such an emergency; and in the end, I persuaded the doctor not merely to telegraph for the great surgeon, but to ask a hospital in Atlanta to send the nearest eye-specialist by the first train.

We called back Mrs. Tuis, and I apologized abjectly for my presumption, and Dr. Perrin announced that he thought he ought to see Dr. Overton, and another doctor as well. I saw fear leap into Aunt Varina's eyes. "Oh, what is it?" she cried. "What is the matter with our babe?"

I helped the doctor to answer polite nothings to all her questions. "Oh, the poor, dear lady!" I thought to myself. The poor, dear lady! What a tearing away of veils and sentimental bandages was written in her book of fate for that night!

15. I find myself lingering over these preliminaries, dreading the plunge into the rest of my story. We spent our time hovering over the child's crib, and in two or three hours the little eyelids had become so inflamed that there could no longer be any doubt what was happening. We applied alternate hot and cold cloths; we washed the eyes in a solution of boric acid, and later, in our desperation, with bluestone. But we were dealing with the virulent gonococcus, and we neither expected nor obtained much result from these measures. In a couple of hours more the eyes were beginning to exude pus, and the poor infant was wailing in torment.

"Oh, what can it be? Tell me what is the matter?" cried Mrs. Tuis. She sought to catch the child in her arms, and when I quickly prevented her, she turned upon me in anger. "What do you mean?"

"The child must be quiet," I said.

"But I wish to comfort it!" And when I still insisted, she burst out wildly: "What _right have you?"

"Mrs. Tuis," I said, gently, "it is possible the infant may have a very serious infection. If so, you would be apt to catch it."

She answered with a hysterical cry: "My precious innocent! Do you think that I would be afraid of anything it could have?"

"You may not be afraid, but we are. We should have to take care of you, and one case is more than enough."

Suddenly she clutched me by the arm. "Tell me what this awful thing is! I demand to know!"

"Mrs. Tuis," said the doctor, interfering, "we are not yet sure what the trouble is, we only wish to take precautions. It is really imperative that you should not handle this child or even go near it. There is nothing you can possibly do."

She was willing to take orders from him; he spoke the same dialect as herself, and with the same quaint stateliness. A charming little Southern gentleman--I could realise how Douglas van Tuiver had "picked him out for his social qualities." In the old-fashioned Southern medical college where he had got his training, I suppose they had taught him the old-fashioned idea of gonorrhea. Now he was acquiring our extravagant modern notions in the grim school of experience!

It was necessary to put the nurse on her guard as to the risks we were running. We should have had concave glasses to protect our eyes, and we spent part of our time washing our hands in bichloride solution.

"Mrs. Abbott, what is it?" whispered the woman.

"It has a long name," I replied--"_opthalmia neonatorum._"

"And what has caused it?"

"The original cause," I responded, "is a man." I was not sure if that was according to the ethics of the situation, but the words came.

Before long the infected eye-sockets were two red and yellow masses of inflammation, and the infant was screaming like one of the damned. We had to bind up its eyes; I was tempted to ask the doctor to give it an opiate for fear lest it should scream itself into convulsions. Then as poor Mrs. Tuis was pacing the floor, wringing her hands and sobbing hysterically, Dr. Perrin took me to one side and said: "I think she will have to be told."

The poor, poor lady!

"She might as well understand now as later," he continued. "She will have to help keep the situation from the mother."

"Yes," I said, faintly; and then, "Who shall tell her?"

"I think," suggested the doctor, "she might prefer to be told by a woman."

So I shut my lips together and took the distracted lady gently by the arm and led her to the door. We stole like two criminals down the veranda, and along the path to the beach, and near the boathouse we stopped, and I began.

"Mrs. Tuis, you may remember a circumstance which your niece mentioned to me--that just before her marriage she urged you to have certain inquiries made as to Mr. van Tuiver's health, his fitness for marriage?"

Never shall I forget her face at that moment. "Sylvia told you that!"

"The inquiries were made," I went on, "but not carefully enough, it seems. Now you behold the consequence of this negligence."

I saw her blank stare. I added: "The one to pay for it is the child."

"You--you mean--" she stammered, her voice hardly a whisper. "Oh--it is impossible!" Then, with a flare of indignation: "Do you realise what you are implying--that Mr. van Tuiver--"

"There is no question of implying," I said, quietly. "It is the facts we have to face now, and you will have to help us to face them."

She cowered and swayed before me, hiding her face in her hands. I heard her sobbing and murmuring incoherent cries to her god. I took the poor lady's hand, and bore with her as long as I could, until, being at the end of my patience with prudery and purity and chivalry, and all the rest of the highfalutin romanticism of the South, I said: "Mrs Tuis, it is necessary that you should get yourself together. You have a serious duty before you--that you owe both to Sylvia and her child."

"What is it?" she whispered. The word "duty" had motive power for her.

"At all hazards, Sylvia must be kept in ignorance of the calamity for the present. If she were to learn of it it would quite possibly throw her into a fever, and cost her life or the child's. You must not make any sound that she can hear, and you must not go near her until you have completely mastered your emotions."

"Very well," she murmured. She was really a brave little body, but I, not knowing her, and thinking only of the peril, was cruel in hammering things into her consciousness. Finally, I left her, seated upon the steps of the deserted boat-house, rocking back and forth and sobbing softly to herself--one of the most pitiful figures it has ever been my fortune to encounter in my pilgrimage through a world of sentimentality and incompetence.

16. I went back to the house, and because we feared the sounds of the infant's crying might carry, we hung blankets before the doors and windows of the room, and sat in the hot enclosure, shuddering, silent, grey with fear. After an hour or two, Mrs. Tuis rejoined us, stealing in and seating herself at one side of the room, staring from one to another of us with wide eyes of fright.

By the time the first signs of dawn appeared, the infant had cried itself into a state of exhaustion. The faint light that got into the room revealed the three of us, listening to the pitiful whimpering. I was faint with weakness, but I had to make an effort and face the worst ordeal of all. There came a tapping at the door--the maid, to say that Sylvia was awake and had heard of my arrival and wished to see me. I might have put off our meeting for a while, on the plea of exhaustion, but I preferred to have it over with, and braced myself and went slowly to her room.

In the doorway I paused for an instant to gaze at her. She was exquisite, lying there with the flush of sleep still upon her, and the ecstasy of her great achievement in her face. I fled to her, and we caught each other in our arms. "Oh, Mary, Mary! I'm so glad you've come!" And then: "Oh, Mary, isn't it the loveliest baby!"

"Perfectly glorious!" I exclaimed.

"Oh, I'm so happy--so happy as I never dreamed! I've no words to tell you about it."

"You don't need any words--I've been through it," I said.

"Oh, but she's so _beautiful! Tell me, honestly, isn't that really so?"

"My dear," I said, "she is like you."

"Mary," she went on, half whispering, "I think it solves all my problems--all that I wrote you about. I don't believe I shall ever be unhappy again. I can't believe that such a thing has really happened--that I've been given such a treasure. And she's my own! I can watch her little body grow and help to make it strong and beautiful! I can help mould her little mind--see it opening up, one chamber of wonder after another! I can teach her all the things I have had to grope so to get!"

"Yes," I said, trying to speak with conviction. I added, hastily: "I'm glad you don't find motherhood disappointing."

"Oh, it's a miracle!" she exclaimed. "A woman who could be dissatisfied with anything afterwards would be an ingrate!" She paused, then added: "Mary, now she's here in flesh, I feel she'll be a bond between Douglas and me. He must see her rights, her claim upon life, as he couldn't see mine."

I assented gravely. So that was the thing she was thinking most about--a bond between her husband and herself! A moment later the nurse appeared in the doorway, and Sylvia set up a cry: "My baby! Where's my baby? I want to see my baby!"

"Sylvia, dear," I said, "there's something about the baby that has to be explained."

Instantly she was alert. "What is the matter?"

I laughed. "Nothing, dear, that amounts to anything. But the little one's eyes are inflamed--that is to say, the lids. It's something that happens to newly-born infants."

"Well, then?" she said.

"Nothing, only the doctor's had to put some salve on them, and they don't look very pretty."

"I don't mind that, if it's all right."

"But we've had to put a bandage over them, and it looks forbidding. Also the child is apt to cry."

"I must see her at once!" she exclaimed.

"Just now she's asleep, so don't make us disturb her."

"But how long will this last?"

"Not very long. Meantime you must be sensible and not mind. It's something I made the doctor do, and you mustn't blame me, or I'll be sorry I came to you."

"You dear thing," she said, and put her hand in mine. And then, suddenly: "Why did you take it into your head to come, all of a sudden?"

"Don't ask me," I smiled. "I have no excuse. I just got homesick and had to see you."

"It's perfectly wonderful that you should be here now," she declared. "But you look badly. Are you tired?"

"Yes, dear," I said. (Such a difficult person to deceive!) "To tell the truth, I'm pretty nearly done up. You see, I was caught in the storm, and I was desperately sea-sick."

"Why, you poor dear! Why didn't you go to sleep?"

"I didn't want to sleep. I was too much excited by everything. I came to see one Sylvia and I found two!"

"Isn't it absurd," she cried, "how she looks like me? Oh, I want to see her again. How long will it be before I can have her?"

"My dear," I said, "you mustn't worry--"

"Oh, don't mind me, I'm just playing. I'm so happy, I want to squeeze her in my arms all the time. Just think, Mary, they won't let me nurse her, yet--a whole day now! Can that be right?"

"Nature will take care of that," I said.

"Yes, but how can you be sure what Nature means? Maybe it's what the child is crying about, and it's the crying that makes its eyes red."

I felt a sudden spasm grip my heart. "No, dear, no," I said, hastily. "You must let Dr. Perrin attend to these things, for I've just had to interfere with his arrangements, and he'll be getting cross pretty soon."

"Oh," she cried with laughter in her eyes, "you've had a scene with him? I knew you would! He's so quaint and old-fashioned!"

"Yes," I said, "and he talks exactly like your aunt."

"Oh! You've met her too! I'm missing all the fun!"

I had a sudden inspiration--one that I was proud of. "My dear girl," I said, "maybe _you call it fun!" And I looked really agitated.

"Why, what's the matter?" she cried.

"What could you expect?" I asked. "I fear, my dear Sylvia, I've shocked your aunt beyond all hope."

"What have you done?"

"I've talked about things I'd no business to--I've bossed the learned doctor--and I'm sure Aunt Varina has guessed I'm not a lady."

"Oh, tell me about it!" cried Sylvia, full of delight.

But I could not keep up the game any longer. "Not now, dear," I said. "It's a long story, and I really am exhausted. I must go and get some rest."

I rose, and she caught my hand, whispering: "I shall be happy, Mary! I shall be really happy now!" And then I turned and fled, and when I was out of sight of the doorway, I literally ran. At the other end of the veranda I sank down upon the steps, and wept softly to myself.

17. The launch arrived, bringing the nitrate of silver. A solution was dropped into the baby's eyes, and then we could do nothing but wait. I might have lain down and really tried to rest; but the maid came again, with the announcement that Sylvia was asking for her aunt. Excuses would have tended to excite her suspicions; so poor Mrs. Tuis had to take her turn at facing the ordeal, and I had to drill and coach her for it. I had a vision of the poor lady going in to her niece, and suddenly collapsing. Then there would begin a cross-examination, and Sylvia would worm out the truth, and we might have a case of puerperal fever on our hands.

This I explained afresh to Mrs. Tuis, having taken her into her own room and closed the door for that purpose. She clutched me with her shaking hands and whispered, "Oh, Mrs. Abbott, you will _never let Sylvia find out what caused this trouble?"

I drew on my reserve supply of patience, and answered, "What I shall let her find out in the end, I don't know. We shall be guided by circumstances, and this is no time to discuss the matter. The point is now to make sure that you can go in and stay with her, and not let her get an idea there's anything wrong."

"Oh, but you know how Sylvia reads people!" she cried, in sudden dismay.

"I've fixed it for you," I said. "I've provided something you can be agitated about."

"What is that?"

"It's _me._" Then, seeing her look of bewilderment, "You must tell her that I've affronted you, Mrs. Tuis; I've outraged your sense of propriety. You're indignant with me and you don't see how you can remain in the house with me--"

"Why, Mrs. Abbott!" she exclaimed, in horror.

"You know it's truth to some extent," I said.

The good lady drew herself up. "Mrs. Abbott, don't tell me that I have been so rude--"

"Dear Mrs. Tuis," I laughed, "don't stop to apologize just now. You have not been lacking in courtesy, but I know how I must seem to you. I am a Socialist. I have a raw, Western accent, and my hands are big--I've lived on a farm all my life, and done my own work, and even plowed sometimes. I have no idea of the charms and graces of life that are everything to you. What is more than that, I am forward, and thrust my opinions upon other people--"

She simply could not hear me. She was a-tremble with a new excitement. Worse even than _opthalmia neonatorum was plain speaking to a guest! "Mrs. Abbott, you humiliate me!"

Then I spoke harshly, seeing that I would actually have to shock her. "I assure you, Mrs. Tuis, that if you don't feel that way about me, it's simply because you don't know the truth. It is not possible that you would consider me a proper person to visit Sylvia. I don't believe in your religion; I don't believe in anything that you would call religion, and I argue about it at the least provocation. I deliver violent harangues on street-corners, and have been arrested during a strike. I believe in woman's suffrage, I even argue in approval of window-smashing. I believe that women ought to earn their own living, and be independent and free from any man's control. I am a divorced woman--I left my husband because I wasn't happy with him, what's more, I believe that any woman has a right to do the same--I'm liable to teach such ideas to Sylvia, and to urge her to follow them."

The poor lady's eyes were wide and large. "So you see," I exclaimed, "you really couldn't approve of me! Tell her all this; she knows it already, but she will be horrified, because I have let you and the doctor find it out!"

Whereupon Mrs. Tuis started to ascend the pedestal of her dignity. "Mrs. Abbott, this may be your idea of a jest----"

"Now come," I cried, "let me help you fix your hair, and put on just a wee bit of powder--not enough to be noticed, you understand----"

I took her to the wash-stand, and poured out some cold water for her, and saw her bathe her eyes and face, and dry them, and braid her thin grey hair. While with a powder puff I was trying deftly to conceal the ravages of the night's crying, the dear lady turned to me, and whispered in a trembling voice, "Mrs. Abbott, you really don't mean that dreadful thing you said just now?"

"Which dreadful thing, Mrs. Tuis?"

"That you would tell Sylvia it could possibly be right for her to leave her husband?"

18. In the course of the day we received word that Dr. Gibson, the specialist for whom we had telegraphed, was on his way. The boat which brought his message took back a letter from Dr. Perrin to Douglas van Tuiver, acquainting him with the calamity which had befallen. We had talked it over and agreed that there was nothing to be gained by telegraphing the information. We did not wish any hint of the child's illness to leak into the newspapers.

I did not envy the great man the hour when he read that letter; although I knew that the doctor had not failed to assure him that the victim of his misdeeds should be kept in ignorance. Already the little man had begun to drop hints to me on this subject. Unfortunate accidents happened, which were not always to be blamed upon the husband, nor was it a thing to contemplate lightly, the breaking up of a family. I gave a non-committal answer, and changed the subject by asking the doctor not to mention my presence in the household. If by any chance van Tuiver were to carry his sorrows to Claire, I did not want my name brought up.

We managed to prevent Sylvia's seeing the child that day and night, and the next morning came the specialist. He held out no hope of saving any remnant of the sight, but the child might be so fortunate as to escape disfigurement--it did not appear that the eyeballs were destroyed, as happens generally in these cases. This bit of consolation I still have: that little Elaine, who sits by me as I write, has left in her pupils a faint trace of the soft red-brown--just enough to remind us of what we have lost, and keep fresh in our minds the memory of these sorrows. If I wish to see what her eyes might have been, I look above my head to the portrait of Sylvia's noble ancestress, a copy made by a "tramp artist" in Castleman County, and left with me by Sylvia.

There was the question of the care of the mother--the efforts to stay the ravages of the germ in the tissues broken and weakened by the strain of child-birth. We had to invent excuses for the presence of the new doctor--and yet others for the presence of Dr. Overton, who came a day later. And then the problem of the nourishing of the child. It would be a calamity to have to put it upon the bottle, but on the other hand, there were many precautions necessary to keep the infection from spreading.

I remember vividly the first time that the infant was fed: all of us gathered round, with matter-of-course professional air, as if these elaborate hygienic ceremonies were the universal custom when newly-born infants first taste their mothers' milk. Standing in the background, I saw Sylvia start with dismay, as she noted how pale and thin the poor little one had become. It was hunger that caused the whimpering, so the nurse declared, busying herself in the meantime to keep the tiny hands from the mother's face. The latter sank back and closed her eyes--nothing, it seemed, could prevail over the ecstasy of that first marvellous sensation, but afterwards she asked that I might stay with her, and as soon as the others were gone, she unmasked the batteries of her suspicion upon me. "Mary! What in the world has happened to my baby?"

So began a new stage in the campaign of lying. "It's nothing, nothing. Just some infection. It happens frequently."

"But what is the cause of it?"

"We can't tell. It may be a dozen things. There are so many possible sources of infection about a birth. It's not a very sanitary thing, you know."

"Mary! Look me in the face!"

"Yes, dear?"

"You're not deceiving me?"

"How do you mean?"

"I mean--it's not really something serious? All these doctors--this mystery--this vagueness!"

"It was your husband, my dear Sylvia, who sent the doctors--it was his stupid man's way of being attentive." (This at Aunt Varina's suggestion--the very subtle lady!).

"Mary, I'm worried. My baby looks so badly, and I feel something is wrong."

"My dear Sylvia," I chided, "if you worry about it you will simply be harming the child. Your milk may go wrong."

"Oh, that's just it! That's why you would not tell me the truth!"

We persuade ourselves that there are certain circumstances under which lying is necessary, but always when we come to the lies we find them an insult to the soul. Each day I perceived that I was getting in deeper--and each day I watched Aunt Varina and the doctor busied to push me deeper yet.

There had come a telegram from Douglas van Tuiver to Dr. Perrin, revealing the matter which stood first in that gentleman's mind. "I expect no failure in your supply of the necessary tact." By this vagueness we perceived that he too was trusting no secrets to telegraph operators. Yet for us it was explicit and illuminative. It recalled the tone of quiet authority I had noted in his dealings with his chauffeur, and it sent me off by myself for a while to shake my fist at all husbands.

19. Mrs. Tuis, of course, had no need of any warning from the head of the house. The voice of her ancestors guided her in all such emergencies. The dear lady had got to know me quite well, at the more or less continuous dramatic rehearsals we conducted; and now and then her trembling hands would seek to fasten me in the chains of decency. "Mrs. Abbott, think what a scandal there would be if Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver were to break with her husband!"

"Yes, my dear Mrs. Tuis-but on the other hand, think what might happen if she were kept in ignorance in this matter. She might bear another child."

I got a new realization of the chasms that lay between us. "Who are we," she whispered, "to interfere in these sacred matters? It is of souls, Mrs. Abbot, and not bodies, that the Kingdom of Heaven is made."

I took a minute or so to get my breath, and then I said, "What generally happens in these cases is that God afflicts the woman with permanent barrenness."

The old lady bowed her head, and I saw the tears falling into her lap. "My poor Sylvia!" she moaned, only half aloud.

There was a silence; I too almost wept. And finally, Aunt Varina looked up at me, her faded eyes full of pleading. "It is hard for me to understand such ideas as yours. You must tell me-can you really believe that it would help Sylvia to know this-this dreadful secret?"

"It would help her in many ways," I said. "She will be more careful of her health-she will follow the doctor's orders---"

How quickly came the reply! "I will stay with her, and see that she does that! I will be with her day and night."

"But are you going to keep the secret from those who attend her? Her maid--the child's nurses--everyone who might by any chance use the same towel, or a wash-basin, or a drinking-glass?"

"Surely you exaggerate the danger! If that were true, more people would meet with these accidents!"

"The doctors," I said, "estimate that about ten per cent. of cases of this disease are innocently acquired."

"Oh, these modern doctors!" she cried. "I never heard of such ideas!"

I could not help smiling. "My dear Mrs. Tuis, what do you imagine you know about the prevalence of gonorrhea? Consider just one fact--that I heard a college professor state publicly that in his opinion eighty-five per cent. of the men students at his university were infected with some venereal disease. And that is the pick of our young manhood--the sons of our aristocracy!"

"Oh, that can't be!" she exclaimed. "People would know of it!

"Who are 'people'? The boys in your family know of it--if you could get them to tell you. My two sons studied at a State university, and they would bring me home what they heard--the gossip, the slang, the horrible obscenity. Fourteen fellows in one dormitory using the same bathroom--and on the wall you saw a row of fourteen syringes! And they told that on themselves, it was the joke of the campus. They call the disease a 'dose'; and a man's not supposed to be worthy the respect of his fellows until he's had his 'dose'--the sensible thing is to get several, till he can't get any more. They think it's 'no worse than a bad cold'; that's the idea they get from the 'clap-doctors,' and the women of the street who educate our sons in sex matters."

"Oh, spare me, spare me!" cried Mrs. Tuis. "I beg you not to force these horrible details upon me!"

"That is what is going on among our boys," I said. "The Castleman boys, the Chilton boys! It's going on in every fraternity house, every 'prep school' dormitory in America. And the parents refuse to know, just as you do!"

"But what could I possibly do, Mrs. Abbott?"

"I don't know, Mrs. Tuis. What _I am going to do is to teach the young girls."

She whispered, aghast, "You would rob the young girls of their innocence. Why, with their souls full of these ideas their faces would soon be as hard--oh, you horrify me!"

"My daughter's face is not hard," I said. "And I taught her. Stop and think, Mrs. Tuis--ten thousand blind children every year! A hundred thousand women under the surgeon's knife! Millions of women going to pieces with slowly creeping diseases of which they never hear the names! I say, let us cry this from the housetops, until every woman knows--and until every man knows that she knows, and that unless he can prove that he is clean he will lose her! That is the remedy, Mrs. Tuis!"

Poor dear lady! I got up and went away, leaving her there, with clenched hands and trembling lips. I suppose I seemed to her like the mad women who were just then rising up to horrify the respectability of England--a phenomenon of Nature too portentous to be comprehended, or even to be contemplated, by a gentlewoman of the South!

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Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 3 Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 3

Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 3
BOOK II. SYLVIA AS MOTHER - PART III20. There came in due course a couple of letters from Douglas van Tuiver. The one to Aunt Varina, which was shown to me, was vague and cautious--as if the writer were uncertain how much this worthy lady knew. He merely mentioned that Sylvia was to be spared every particle of "painful knowledge." He would wait in great anxiety, but he would not come, because any change in his plans might set her to questioning. The letter to Dr. Perrin was not shown to me; but I judged that it must have contained more

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

Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 1
BOOK II. SYLVIA AS MOTHER - PART IFor 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 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.