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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWatersprings - Chapter 29. The Child
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Watersprings - Chapter 29. The Child Post by :lordg Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :1591

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Watersprings - Chapter 29. The Child

CHAPTER XXIX. THE CHILD

The day on which Howard learned that Maud would bear him a child was a day of very strangely mixed emotions. He saw how the hope dawned on the spirit of Maud like the rising of a star, and he could rejoice in that with whole-hearted joy, in the mere sharing of a beautiful secret; but it was strange to him to see how to Maud it seemed like the realisation and fulfilling of all desire, the entering into a kingdom; it was not only the satisfaction of all the deepest vital processes, but something glorious, unthinkable, the crowning of destiny, the summit of life. There was no reasoning about it; it was the purest and finest instinct. But with Howard it was not thus. He could not look beyond Maud; and it seemed to him like the dawning of a new influence, a new fealty, which would almost come in between him and his wife, a division of her affections. She seemed to him, in the few tremulous words they spoke, to have her eyes fixed on something beyond him; it was not so much a gift that she was bringing him as a claim of further devotion. He realised with a shock of surprise that in the books he had read, in the imagined crises of life, the thought of the child, the heir, the offshoot, was supposed to come as the crown of father's and mother's hopes alike, and that it was not so with him. Was he jealous of the new claim? It was something like that. He found himself resolving and determining that no hint of this should ever escape him; he even felt deeply ashamed that such a thought should even have crossed his mind. He ought rather to rejoice wholly and completely in Maud's happiness; but he desired her alone, and so passionately that he could not bear to have any part of the current of her soul diverted from him. As he looked forward through the years, it was Maud and himself, in scene after scene; other relations, other influences, other surroundings might fade and decay--but children, however beautiful and delightful, making the house glad with life and laughter, he was not sure that he wanted them. Yet he had always thought that he possessed a strong paternal instinct, an interest in young life, in opening problems. Had that all, he wondered, been a mere interest, a thing to exercise his energy and amiability upon, and had his enjoyment of it all depended upon his real detachment, upon the fact that his responsibility was only a temporary one? It was all very bewildering to him. Moreover, his quiet and fertile imagination flashed suddenly through pictures of what his beloved Maud might have to endure, such a frail child as she was--illness, wretchedness, suffering. Would he be equal to all that? Could he play the role of tranquil patience, of comforting sympathy? He determined not to anticipate that, but it blew like a cold wind on his spirit; he could not bear that the sunshine of life should be clouded.

He had a talk with his aunt on the subject; she had divined, in some marvellous way, the fact that the news had disturbed him; and she said, "Of course, dear Howard, I quite understand that this is not the same thing to you as it is to Maud and me. It is one of the things which divide, and must always divide, men from women. But there is something beyond what you see: I know that it must seem to you as if something almost disconcerting had passed over life--as if such a hope must absorb the heart of a mother; but there is a thing you cannot know, and that is the infinite dearness in which this involves you. You would think perhaps that it could not be increased in Maud's case, but it is increased a hundredfold--it is a splendour, a worship, as of divine creative power. Don't be afraid! Don't look forward! You will see day by day that this has brought Maud's love for you to a point of which you could hardly dream. Words can't touch these things: you must just believe me that it is so. You will think that a childless wife like myself cannot know this. There is a strange joy even in childlessness, but it is the joy that comes from the sharing of a sorrow; but the joy which comes from sharing a joy is higher yet."

"Yes," said Howard, "I know it, and I believe it. I will tell you very frankly that you have looked into my very heart; but you have not seen quite into the depths: I see my own weakness and selfishness clearly. With every part of my mind and reason I see the wonder and strength of this; and I shall feel it presently. What has shocked me is just my lack of the truer instinct; but then," he added, smiling, "that's just the shadow of comfort and ease and the intellectual life: one goes so far on one's way without stumbling across these big emotions; and when one does actually meet them, one is frightened at their size and strength. You must advise and help me. You know, I am sure, that my love for Maud is the strongest, largest, purest thing, beyond all comparison and belief, that has ever happened to me. I am never for a single instant unaware of it. I sometimes think there is nothing else left of me; and then this happens, and I see that I have not gone deep enough yet."

"Yes," said Mrs. Graves, smiling, "life is like the sea, I think. When one is a child, it is just a great plain of waters, with little ships sailing on it: it is pleasant to play by, with breaking waves to wade in, and little treasures thrown up on its rim; then, as one knows more, one realises that it is another world, full of its own urgent life, quite regardless of man, and over which man has no power, except by a little trickery in places. Man is just a tiresome, far-off incident, his ships like little moving shadows, his nets and lines like small fretful devices. But the old wise monsters of the depths live their own lives; never seen perhaps, or even suspected, by men. That's all very silly and fanciful, of course! But old and invalided as I am, I seem to be diving deeper and deeper into life, and finding it full of surprises and mysteries and utterly unexpected things."

"Well," said Howard, "I am still a child on the shore, picking up shells, fishing in the shallows. But I have learned something of late, and it is wonderful beyond thought--so wonderful that I feel sometimes as if I was dreaming, and should wake up to find myself in some other century!"

It did indeed soon dawn upon Howard that there was a change in Maud, that their relations had somehow altered and deepened. The little barrier of age, for one thing, which he had sometimes felt, seemed obliterated. There had been in Howard's mind a sense that he had known a number of hard facts and ugly features about life, had been aware of mean, combative, fierce, cruel elements which were hidden from Maud. Now this all seemed to be purged away; if these things were there, they were not worth knowing, except to be disregarded. They were base material knowledge which one must not even recognise; they were not real forces at all, only ugly, stubborn obstacles, through which life must pass, like water flowing among rocks; they were not life, only the channel of life, through which one passed to something more free and generous. He began to perceive that such things mattered nothing at all to Maud; that her life would have been just as fine in quality if she had lived in the smallest cottage among the most sordid cares. He saw that she possessed the wisdom which he had missed, because she lived in and for emotion and affection, and that all material things existed only to enshrine and subserve emotion.

Their life seemed to take on a new colour and intensity. They talked less; up till now it had been a perpetual delight to Howard to elicit Maud's thoughts and fancies about a thousand things, about books, people, ideas. Her prejudices, ignorances, enthusiasms half charmed, half amused him. But now they could sit or walk silent together in an even more tranquil happiness; nearness was enough, and thought seemed to pass between them without need of speech. Howard began to resume his work; it was enough that Maud should sit by, reading, working, writing. A glance would pass between them and suffice.

One day Howard laid down his pen, and looking up, having finished a chapter, saw that Maud's eyes were fixed upon him with an anxious intentness. She was sitting in a low chair near the fire, and an open book lay disregarded on her knee. He went across to her and sat down on a low chair beside her, taking her hand in his.

"What is it, dear child?" he said. "Am I very selfish and stupid to sit here without a word like this?"

Maud put her lips to his hand, and laughed a contented laugh. "Oh no, no," she said; "I like to see you hard at work--there seems no need to say anything--it's just you and me!"

"Well," said Howard, "you must just tell me what you were thinking--you had travelled a long way beyond that."

"Not out of your reach," said Maud; "I was just thinking how different men and women were, and how I liked you to be different. I was remembering how awfully mysterious you were at first--so full to the brim of strange things which I could not fathom. I always seemed to be dislodging something I had never thought of. I used to wonder how you could find time, in the middle of it all, to care about me: you were always giving me something. But now it has all grown so much simpler and more wonderful too. It's like what you said about Cambridge long ago, the dark secret doorways, the hidden gardens; I see now that all those ideas and thoughts are only things you are carrying with you, like luggage. They are not part of you at all. Don't you know how, when one is quite a child, a person's house seems to be all a mysterious part of himself? One thinks he has chosen and arranged it all, knows where everything is and what it means--everything seems to be a sort of deliberate expression of his tastes and ideas--and, then one gets older, and finds out that people don't know what is in their houses at all--there are rooms into which they never go; and then one finds that they don't even see the things in their own rooms, have forgotten how they came there, wouldn't know if they were taken away. My, I used to feel as if the scents and smells of houses were all arranged and chosen by their owners. It's like that with you; all the things you know and remember, the words you speak, are not YOU at all; I see and feel you now apart from all that."

"I am afraid I have lost what novelists call my glamour," said Howard. "You have found me out, the poor, shivering, timid thing that sits like a wizard in the middle of his properties, only hoping that the stuffed crocodile and the skeleton will frighten his visitors."

Maud laughed. "Well, I am not frightened any more," she said. "I doubt if you could frighten me if you tried. I wonder how I should feel if I saw you angry or chilly. Are you ever angry, I wonder?"

"I think some of my pupils would say that I could be very disagreeable," said Howard. "I don't think that I was ever very fierce, but I have realised that I was on occasions very unpleasant."

"Well, I'll wait and see," said Maud; "but what I was going to say was that you seem to me different--hardly the person I married. I used to wonder a little at first how I had had the impudence . . . and then I used to think that perhaps some day you would wake up, and find you had come to the bottom of the well, but you never seemed disappointed."

"Disappointed!" said Howard; "what terrible rubbish! Why Maud, don't you KNOW what you have done for me? You have put the whole thing straight. It's just that. I was full of vanities and thoughts and bits of knowledge, and I really think I thought them important--they ARE important too, like food and drink--one must have them--at least men must--but they don't matter; at least it doesn't matter what they are. Men have always to be making and doing things--business, money, positions, duties; but the point is to know that they are unimportant, and yet to go on doing them as if they mattered--one must do that--seriously and not solemnly; but you have somehow put all that in the right place; and I know now what matters and what does not. There, do you call that nothing?"

"Perhaps we have found it out together," said Maud; "the only difference is that you have the courage to tell me that you were wrong, while I have never even dared to tell you what a hollow sham I am, and what a mean and peevish child I was before you came on the scene."

"Well, we won't look into your dark past," said Howard. "I am quite content with what they call the net result!" and then they sate together in silence, and had no further need of words.

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