Revelation comes to a recently married woman who preferred her old job to home-making
INTO GERDA'S dishevelled household had come Constance McAdoo. Companion-Help. Refined. Fond of children. As family . "It will be a bore having her at meals," Robert said. But it had not been a bore. Constance was so completely unobtrusive; merely a presence, a perfect presence, like an angel hovering. And after two months the perfection endured.
But the coming of Constance had not put an end to Robert’s complaints. His grievance festered away, erupting at the most difficult moments.
“But I won’t, I won’t give in to him,” Cerda decided on that hot August morning. “1 won’t give up my job. This is my design for living and I have a right to it.”
Her sure, beautifully manicured fingers gathered up trifles from her dressing tablelipstick, vanity case, keys, clean handkerchief, gloves of immaculate whiteness . . . Certainly Constance knew how to wash gloves. So few people did. And while Cerda did this, dropping each article into the new blue suede handbag, she was aware of her face, expertly made up, and her blue-tailored linen suit; and she found time in her multiple appraising to adjust her hat an attractive fraction of an inch.
But she was tired. Finding that out, irritated her. It didn’t do to look too long in the mirror. A quick glance gave one a delightful surprise; a vivid vision, a magazinecover face caught at the perfect angle, the bloom of scarlet lips, and darkly shadowed eyes and all the rest of it; color-
ful. But a long kxik discovered something about the chin, and fine lines . . . She turned away from the mirror, frowning, to see Robert coming out of the bathroom; and the sight of Robert, though it was a pleasant sight—Robert in his birthday dressing gown, shaved and his hair wetly and temporarily brushed into repression—did not move the frown from her brow. Because Robert was having one of his tempers.
“The complete business woman,” he said nastily. “So early in the morning, too.”
BUT HER leaving for the office half an hour earlier than usual was not the real trouble. It was this matter of their holidays. They had arranged to go away together to a lost and lovely spot by the sea, and at the last moment Cerda had had her holiday postponed. A rush of work, and Mr. Oliver flatteringly if awkwardly requesting her presence.
Perhaps because she was as disappointed as Robert, perhaps because she was tired, Cerda was willing to fight. Robert appeared to her then as a sizable enemy, not six feet of good-looking small boy fresh from the bath in his birthday dressing gown, being solemn and choosy about ties, as he appeared to her most mornings. Quite ready to fight Cerda was, and Robert’s whistling did nothing to prevent her. It was an irritating whistle,
“Does it jar you so much to see me fully dressed in the mornings?” she said frigidly. “Would it make you happier
if I slopped about in slippers with the baby under one arm and a frying pan in the other?”
“There you go—exaggerating, like all women.”
Cerda was abruptly furious. “I wish to heaven you’d think of me as an individual and give up this ‘all women’ business. I wish you’d let your brain function and give up this concrete conception of woman!”
Robert was a little surprised at the attack, but he met it.
“Perhaps it’s as well for you it is concrete. But have it your own way. You exaggerate, then. But, at that, the view of you with the baby and the frying pan might be a nice view, for a change.”
“Are you trying to tell me the baby’s neglected? Or that you don’t get enough to eat?” Cerda could afford to be disdainful.
“No. Thanks to Constance, I suppose he isn’t. And I do. But—”
“Well, what are you bringing up the subject for?” Cerda snapped. “You know you agreed that a woman trained for the house like Constance is better in it, and a woman trained for an office like I am is better in an office. And why you should choose this morning—”
“I don’t know that I agreed. I don’t know that I had any say in the matter.”
“Well, I’m certainly not going to waste time on this sort of argument,” Cerda said coldly, “just because you’ve got some sudden bee in your bonnet. We’ve got along very well so far. I’m doing the work I like, and you and baby are looked after perfectly and you know it. Do you think I’ll want an umbrella? Will it rain?” “I hope it does,” said Robert sullenly. Gerda relented and looked at him helplessly. “It’s the holiday, isn’t it? Well, I feel as bad about it as you do.” But a further overture was needed. She went to him and lifted her face. “Kiss me,” she said.
But the kiss didn’t do much for either of them. Gerda flew down the stairs, thinking this sort of talk was cropping up far too often lately; and Robert in the bedroom, bereft of her fresh, scented presence, kicked the empty suitcases which had been brought down optimistically from the box-room during the week-end. “I’ll be darned,” Robert thought, “if I’ll go to that one-eyed hole alone for three weeks—or three minutes. I’ll stay home.”
BUT THE prospect was bitter. Now that he was deprived of it, the planned holiday was filled with magical possibilities. He desired it, needed it. The past month of summer had been a terrific strain. Through the endless sweltering days he had forced his jaded nerves and tired body to meet those days’ demands, and the holiday had been the green, beckoning oasis in his desert— the smell of the sea, the yellow curve of the sands as they swept under rocky cliffs; and Gerda, lovely, leisured, sweetly loafing beside him.
Robert swore, and went down to breakfast to find Gerda still at table, eating more peacefully than one might have expected.
The clock. Constance explained, was twenty minutes fast, and she had allowed them to set their watches by it. She. thought it was a good idea: otherwise Mrs. Fairlie never gave herself time for breakfast. going off extra early like this.
Constance, serene and quiet, competent with the coffee service : serenity in her wide brow, on her ageless face: quiet in her strong hands which moved palely and surely and smoothed out the wrinkles of existence, and gave Robert fragrant coffee and devilled kidneys bedded in pink rolls of bacon.
“Rather special,” Constance said with her smile. “Because you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy them.”
At that, Gerda’s look said all she was thinkingquite plainly, and though Robert’s eyes were on his plate he knew exactly how Gerda looked and what she meant to say. Perhaps his mumble was an apology, perhaps it was a profanity. But Gerda, as she paused in the doorway for a last goodby, decided it should definitely be an apology. A charming breakfast table in a charming room; devilled kidneys and doubtless his favorite lunch; his oldest and favorite sports coat brought back to life by some miracle by Constance. Just as well she had not given it to that man who came to the door selling bootlaces.
If ever a man should be satisfied with his home life . . . His golf clubs in the hall looked most dashingly aglitter. Constance must have cleaned them.
Gerda passed from the blue and white hallway into the flowering blaze of the garden, detoured across the dosely-mo\vn lawn and found the baby in his play-pen, nicely settled with the correct amount of dappled sunshine. The baby was banging two tins together with energy, concentration and delight, and he asked nothing more of life at that moment than to be allowed to go on banging. Certainly he regarded Gerda’s loving sweep, her smother of kisses as outrage, and he resisted the assault with every muscle.
“Love me, darling?” crooned Gerda, shaken by that ecstasy which his softness and sweetness evoked.
The baby hit her in the eye and achieved sudden victory. Then, gathering his tins, he retreated crabwise to a comer and sat there, waiting for .this inexplicable and unwelcome minute to pass.
GERDA WAS rather hurt. “Mummy loves you best in the world,”-she said, but the baby was unmoved. He continued to regard his mother enigmatically, and
Gerda in some unhappiness tried to establish herself. In a corner lay the hygienic rabbit which she had brought home a few' days before.
“Nice rabbit,” she said, and gently, but firmly, she took the tins away from the small fingers. They were battered, unlovely, quite common tins, and by no possible means could they inculcate anything at all in the child mind. Constance was perfect, of course, Gerda reflected, but she had never had a child of her own and that did make a difference. Toys were so important. The rabbit was a
good, lifelike one. It w'as not pink or pale blue. It was rabbit colored. It had some educational value. By its aid Robin would undoubtedly know a real rabbit when he saw one.
“Nice rabbit,” Gerda said pleadingly. “Brer Rabbit.” Her baby loathed the hygienic rabbit. It was soundless, stupid; it had. he considered, no justification whatever for existence. But he w'as too polite to betray any of this. He put forth a small hand in vain request for the tins, then, dismissing the matter, he tried to stand on his head. This he found was rather good, and with that instant and incredible concentration of babyhood he escaped from the rabbit, from Gerda, from the world.
Gerda went on her wray, depressed by the encounter. She wondered if the baby had a cold nature. Robert’s grandmother had had a cold nature. Doubtless these things were hereditary. It would be awful or perhaps just as well. Family ties should not be too binding. It was so easy for a boy to get a mother fixation. Probably it was far better for Robin to be cold and self-sufficient.
But she felt rather bleak despite this psychological cheer, and some of the bleakness showed in her face, because Mr. Oliver, a man without tact, said:
“You look tired. Is your married-woman-in-business theory going to collapse under strain?”
Gerda smiled brightly, efficiently at the pleasantry.
“As a matter of fact I’ve far less to do at home now than before I married. I don’t even wash my own gloves.” “The treasure still a treasure?”
“She is. I’ll give myself some credit for knowing how to choose a housekeeper.”
“Good girl. Well, let’s get this Antwerp stuff done.”
It w'as nearly two o’clock when the Antwerp papers were finished; and a glass of milk and a sandwich w'as scant preparation, Gerda thought, for an afternoon on the Copenhagen mess. She saw symptoms, too, in Mr. Oliver. An uncertain man. No longer in the mood for pleasantries. She wriggled her cramped fingers.
“I’d like ten minutes.” she said, and Mr. Oliver growled. Well, let him, she thought bitterly as she wandered to the elevator. She wondered if she really liked Mr. Oliver. But of course she did. He was kind, really. Presents at Christmas and flippancies about her home life. And he w'as quite willing to have her back after all those months away having the baby. Of course he might not have been so willing if she had not arrived at the crucial minute w'hen the Carruthers girl had fallen ill. The Carruthers girl had not come back. She w'as still looking for work, someone had said the other day . . . When you looked at the thing coldly, these men only did things to suit themselves. Well, that was business: an employer didn’t take you for better or worse, in sickness or health, to have and to hold, like a husband.
SHE SMILED herself out of her sentimentality in the elevator and went into the washroom. There she found Miss Marmont bathing her face in cold water, and between dips she was saying things to young Pink Martin; things rooted deep in bitterness and fears, and flow'ered in this day’s heat and the worry of a lost important letter. Pink, who was nineteen, blue-eyed and blonde as one could desire, had not learned to be bitter, nor had she found the world a frightening place, certainly not the business world. A happy-hunting ground, the business world, Pink thought; and when Gerda came in she retired gratefully from the task of trying to feel sorry for old Marmont to the infinitely more pleasant one of rouging her pretty, pouting mouth. “And why you stand it, heaven only knows,” Miss Marmont said, her slightly wild eyes emerging from the dowmward sweep of the towel to fix themselves on Gerda. “You’ve got a husband and a baby and you go on w'ith this!”
There was no reason why one should humor old Marmont. She was best left alone when she had these periodical revolts. But for some reason Gerda protested violently.
“I go on with this because I prefer it. Because I’d go mad with the deadly dull monotony of housework—day after day cleaning the same saucepans and getting eternal meals.”
“And you don’t think this is monotonous? You wait until you’ve had twenty years of taking down. ‘With reference to yours of the 29th uít.’ You must be mad! A chance to live easily for the rest of your life Don’t delude yourself. This is no easier or no less monotonous.” She grew incoherent and pulled down her sad, thin hair, screwing it up again with vicious jabs of the pins.
“And you’re your own mistress. You can call your soul your own and go into the park in the afternoon— and—and take your time over your cup of tea. If I had the chance of that, you wouldn’t find me handing it to some other woman as you have.”
Pink Martin had finished rouging her lips. She turned her wide blue gaze on Gerda and said :
“Have you seen the new man? He’s terribly thrilling Just like Gary Cooper.”
Gerda disregarded that. Old Marmont was pathetic but rather a nuisance, trying to make everyone share her discontent. Gerda had a sudden vision of Constance, cool, under trees with Robin bumping about, and tea in the white, chintz-hung room which had so many flowers on the wide window ledge. A “refined” housekeeper, Constance was. Just one of the family, though she managed, in her perfect way, not to obtrude. Still . . .
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Continued from page 25
For some reason Gerda suddenly disliked the vision of Constance and Robin in the park; and, even more, she disliked the vision of Constance and Robert having tea . . . Just how old was Constance? Might be any age. And quite plain. Not Robert’s type. Robert liked them slim and dark and vital; doing things with him. Like that Fay person who had tried to make trouble. No man could be trusted, really. Of course that affair with Fay was amusing now when one knew everything. But even Robert could be fooled by flattery.
“He is tall and thin, awfully tall,” Pink persisted, and Gerda regarded her with distaste. It was difficult to believe that she herself had ever been like Pink.
CERTAINLY the office was not what it had been. Now the staff seemed to consist: of man-hunting morons like Pink, or weary souls like old Marmont.
But of course the work was interesting. Well, sometimes it was interesting . . . Supposing she were to try for a job in a solicitor’s office or something? Human problems. Five years rather took the thrill out of machine parts.
Slowly she descended to Mr. Oliver. At half-past five he said that, if she could stand the strain of working every night until about ten o’clock, she could start her holiday the following week.
“Starting tonight?” She could have strangled Mr. Oliver with her tired, cramped fingers.
“Well, of course.”
She telephoned Robert, nerving herself to the scene which must be enacted across fifteen miles of wires.
But there was no scene. A darned shame, Robert said it was. But he was quite goodhumored. He had been sun-bathing all afternoon. He was red as a lobster, he said. He wriggled his shoulders for her, and told her he certainly could feel it when he did that . . . He talked at some length about his sunburn and was rather hurt when Gerda said that it was all very interesting but would probably be still there when she got home.
She worked too hard during the hours which followed to remember to be sorry for having snapped at Robert, and when she returned to the quiet house she was suffering from an obscure sense of grievance. Robert knew the train she was catching. Of course there was no reason for him to meet her—but some men simply wouldn’t stand the thought of their wives walking home alone at night like this. Not Robert, though. He could stand it all right. He would have met that train, all the trains for hours, once. But not now. She could work all day and bring herself home in the dark—to a house in which everyone had gone to bed. It certainly wouldn’t have killed him to wait up for her.
He mumbled sleepily when she went into their bedroom, he turned over hunching the bedclothes selfishly about himself, he muttered “darling—sunburn” and he tell asleep again. And he continued to sleep, while she lay, her brain, alert from overfatigue, spewing bitter remarks which found no voice because they found no ears in the darkness.
So this was Robert. Ready in the morning to revolutionize her entire life, take away her job and chain her in a kitchen, because he happened at that moment to want someone to play with. But by nightfall, content with his day and his sunburn, he could sleep like a log. would have slept until morning, never knowing whether she
had been killed in a train accident or stayed out all night. And should one make any concessions to creatures like these? Mr. Oliver was as bad, grüdging her ten minutes to wash her hands. But at least she could give Mr. Oliver notice.
Sleep came down, hazing her thoughts. Mr. Oliver with Robert’s broad and sunburned shoulders, went dancing through the dark to buy a ticket for Copenhagen . .
TN THE MORNING Robert complained again, but cheerfully this time.
“It’s rough on a man to find he’s married a season-ticket slave. I saw more of you before I married you. I’ve just begun to realize it.”
“Perhaps it’s just as well. People can see too much of one another.”
“Is that meant to be unkind?”
“Take it how you like.” Gerda had had to drag herself from bed. She hated the whole world.
“You’re doing too much. It makes you bad-tempered. I wish you’d give up this job. It’s not as if the money you make amounts to anything; it only pays for Constance to do your job here and the extra clothes you need going to town every day, and you’re wearing yourself to a frazzle.”
Gerda said many tilings, all of them highly unpleasant, and in this mood descended to breakfast. This morning Constance, behind the coffee pot, did not come as a beneficent caress. Something in that bland and pleasantly smiling countenance irritated Gerda; something in the slow, precise and effective gestures. Nothing to frazzle Constance’s nerves. Hers was an easy job when you considered; with Martha, in the kitchen, doing all the real work. She was good, of course, but only for wages. You wouldn’t catch Constance wearing herself to a frazzle. She stuck for her hours off.
“I’ll see that Mr. Fairlie has everything he wants.” Constance had a quiet, gentle voice. Her voice matched her person. For an instant Gerda felt as if she were dropping on to a feather bed; as if her tired body and tired brain were dropping.
“Well, don’t fuss about him,” she said ungraciously. “He hates to feel people are putting themselves out for him.”
In Constance’s slow smile there was some quality which reduced Gerda, made her feel'very young and awkward.
“You can be sure I wouldn’t let him feci that, Mrs. Fairlie. He knows I like doing things for him—-for you both.”
Apparently she did like it. Mr. Oliver cut the evening work short and Gerda was home by ten, home to a magazine picture of the perfect interior—Robert lolling against cushions with his pipe, and Constance, her fair smooth hair aureoled by the standing lamp, playing the piano, playing softly and very well on the piano which had been a wedding present from Robert’s rich aunt; an unhappily chosen present since Robert could not play at all and Gerda’s musical talent was negligible.
CONSTANCE was perfect, of course.
The right words, the right few minutes of her presence and the discreet withdrawal to reappear with coffee and sandwiches and solicitude for Mrs. Fairlie.
“That woman is full of unsuspected talents,” Robert said when they were alone in their room. “She’s got a mind, too. She can talk when you draw her out.”
“Well, as long as she doesn’t get on your nerves.”
“Good lord, no! She wouldn’t get on anyone’s nerves. Besides, I like her. And she’s a grateful sort of person. She seems glad to be with us. She’s had a rotten Ufe. It’s a darned shame that a woman like that has to batter around the world without a soul.”
He viewed his sunburned shoulders with interest. “Turning brown, isn’t it? Constance got me some stuff from the chemist.”
“Nice of her. The human touch which gilds efficiency.”
Robert glanced at her queerly. “Like your dosing out his indigestion tablets to old Oliver at stated hours. Do you see the point I’m making?” he added.
Gerda flung the extra blanket over the bed-rail. It was a hot night. The morrow born of it would be hot. A red sky. What was going wrong between them? They had been going wrong for a long while, but just lately, since Constance had come, they had been quarrelling all the time.
“Are you making a point?” she said, but had not meant to say that.
“In my feeble way. Jobs for women. But you turned down the one I offered.”
Suddenly there was thunder in the air. Darkness in a distant sky filled with mutterings. Was there danger in all this somewhere? Wasn’t loving him enough?
If she didn’t take all, would he stop giving anything? Where did independence lie exactly?
“Darling,” she said suddenly, brokenly. She was quite pale. She was curled on the bed, her bare legs and bare arms pinkly pale as the silk slip she wore. Too tired and too hurt to go further with this business of undressing. Eier dark eyes besought him, and he came to her quickly, his hands pressing hard into her delicate shoulders.
“Kiss me quickly,” he said. “All sorts of unbearable things seem to be happening lately. My dear ...”
BUT IT was not the business of loving which had to be settled. Lying awake, long after Robert slept beside her, Gerda knew that their problems were still there, obscured but not resolved by the night and their loving.
The following evening Robert contributed further information.
“She was engaged and the fellow was killed in the war. She was only a kid. It’s ruined her life.”
“It’s to be hoped we have another war as an alibi for the next generation of old maids.” Suddenly Gerda was sick of Constance. But she regretted having said that. With the sheet drawn up to her chin, she watched Robert moving about, whistling. An expressive whistle. He put his shoes outside the door, then remarked with detachment:
“You used not to be hard and cynical. I don’t' know that I care much for the
Gerda sat up in bed and thumped her pillow. “Well, really,” she began, lier eyes flashing. But there was a gentle, discreet knock at the door.
“Yes?” Gerda called sharply, then in an ungracious undertone: “See what she
wants, will you?”
Constance’s gentle voice was audible enough through the crack in the door. “Some hot milk for Mrs. Fairlie. She looked so worn. I thought this might help her to sleep well.”
There was no need for Robert to be so profuse in his thanks. And as he came marching across the room with the small tray, the look on his face was intolerable.
"Well, what am I supposed to do?” Gerda said snappily. “Burst into repentant sobs? I hate hot milk anyway.”
“Don’t you think you are being rather childish,” Robert said coldly. “I wasagainst this arrangement; and when we were enduring every sort of discomfort with those various females, you spent your time defending them and telling me not to be unreasonable. Now when we have someone entirely satisfactory, you take an unreasonable dislike to her. If you want to know what I think of Constance—”
“I don’t particularly. Do you mind if we have the light out? I have to be up early.” It was an unreasonable dislike. She told herself that vigorously whenever she had a spare minute during the day. Constance was the dream, the treasure, someone who would be everything in Cerda’s home which she would have been herself had she not been compelled to be out of it. Well—compelled—yes, compelled in a world where efficiency was demanded. But Constance wasso penetrating. Like an atmosphere. She got into corners. Even at the bedroom door with her hot milk. Of course it was very kind of her . . .
GERDA returned that night with a sense of relief and freedom which she had not felt for a long time. It was Constance’s night off. And from somewhere she found the resolution to defy Mr. Oliver. She got home at eight o’clock. She ran up the flower-bordered path. She called joyously to Robert as she shut the front door. Dinner alone with Robert. Not a very good dinner perhaps, since Martha would have cooked it. But just Robert and herself. She would not look tired, she felt bright and happy and she would dress . . . She called again.
But her high voice was answered by a wail from the nursery, and on the wail came Martha, red-faced and harassed, to harangue her from the head of the stairs.
“Now you’ve woke him up again. An’ I’ve been there hours. The master’s out an’ won’t be in till late, he said. 1 never cooked no dinner with him cry in’-—will you listen? Sickenin’ for something, if you ask me ...”
“Martha!” Gerda, white-faced, flew up the stairs. Angrily she turned on Martha. “You always say the worst things. You like being dramatic. There was nothing wrong with him this morning.”
She caught the child against her breast, whereupon his wail deepened to a definite roar. Her anxious eyes besought Martha.
“You won’t do no good,” said Martha scathingly. “You know you never can pacify him, him not being used to you. An’ he’s got so I can’t do a thing with him neither. Along of her!” “Martha ...”
“His teeth,” said Martha. “Put him down. I’ll rock him. It’s a shame, that’s what it is. Creepin’ into other people’s houses and stealin’ babies. Before she come I could do anything with ’im. An’ now—look at that, will you . . . Precious lamb, it’s Martha got you. There, there; won’t let me go near ’im. Snoopin’ and grabbin’ ’im from me. Thinks she owns everything. Pokin’ and orderin’. Standin’ there tellin’ me what Mr. Fairlie likes and what he don’t like, an’ she wants new cushion covers—seems like a cold. Snufflin’ a bit. ’Go’s she, wantin’ new cushion covers? An’ ’ow dared I take Mr. Fairlie’s old sweater ’ome. Well, if you want to know, I sez—there; ’e’s off.”
As she sat eating the cold remains from luncheon which stuck in her throat, Gerda grew increasingly miserable. At intervals Martha came into the dining room.
“An’ if you want to know something,” she said on one of these visits, “I hear things. I heard her say. ‘Some women are temperamentally unfitted for marriage.’ Meanin’ you. I heard her at it. ’An ’e’s so soft, like all men, ’e doesn’t realize till ’e goes and chews it over by himself. Creatures! I’ve met’em before . . .”
“Aren’t you forgetting yourself, Martha?”
“No,” said Martha.
“Well I don’t want to hear any of your stupid tales. And if you’ll take away these things, you can finish and go home.”
“An’ what about baby?”
“I can look after baby.”
NEITHER of them believed that. And as she strove with the crying baby in the lonely house, Gerda repented her generosity. At eleven o’clock Constance and Robert came in together. Gerda met them in the hall and she ignored Constance’s apologetic laugh and her gentle, “Wasn’t it fortunate Mr. Fairlie met me? Just at that lonely part near the common. I’m stupidly afraid of this walk. I—”
“I don’t think baby’s well,” Gerda said abruptly. “He’s been crying all the time.” With murmurs, Constance hurried past
her, and Gerda, turning to follow, was stopped by Robert.
“What’s the use of you dodging about in your dressing gown like that? Let Constance see to him. You know you can’t do anything with him.”
“He’s not well,” Gerda repeated forlornly.
“Good lord—just because you can’t stop him crying? I’m not well myself, if it comes to that. I’ve a splitting head— McPherson’s wireless going all evening. I’ve a cold, I think. Could I have some hot toddy and lemon, or something?”
“I’ll get it for you.” Gerda hurried to the kitchen, her ears straining, her breast easing as the sound of wailing from the nursery gradually died down. But she could not find the lemons. She came into the hall, ghost-like in her long dressing gown.
“Have you got it?” Robert asked querulously.
“I can’t find the lemons. I’m just going up to ask Constance—”
“Never mind; never mind! Constance will get it when she comes down. Go off to bed. You look a wreck.”
Of course it was stupid to feel as hurt as all that. Gerda tried to argue the pain out of her heart. Robert was out of sorts. He didn’t mean anything. But as she stood, first on one foot and then on the other in the dim nursery, and watched Constance bending over the cot, she felt her breast constricted with hate and hurt.
“Do go off to bed, Mrs. Fairlie,” Constance whispered. “You’ll tire yourself out. I can get plenty of rest during the day. I don’t mind staying with him. After all, this is my job.” She caught the crying child in her arms, and Gerda, as she saw the small dark head drop against Constance’s neck, made a mutinous movement. But after all it was the sensible thing to go back to bed.
“Do you think he will be all right?” she said to Robert.
Robert was looking for aspirin. “Of course he will,” he said crossly. “Good lord; Constance goes out for a fewI * * * * * 7 hours and
the house falls to bits!” “Well, you needn’t lose your temper! And what was the idea of meeting her train? You’ve become very
chivalrous all of a sudden.” “Oh, stop, will you? I told you I had a headache. You know I pass the station on my way from McPherson’s. 'And not all women are so independent that they resent
ordinary courtesies from a man.” Of course he had a headache. A cold possibly. And he always had a high temperature with the least thing. It was in the family. Gerda tried to excuse him, but did not succeed until the next morning, when she found that he was quite ill indeed. Influenza, she discovered, when she telephoned from town during the day. Both had it, the baby as well; a rather vicious influenza which was raging in the neighborhood. But she was not to worry, Constance said. Martha was staying all day. The doctor had suggested a nurse, but she had told him it was unnecessary. Mr. Fairlie hated strangers so, and Robin, of course, would be hopeless with anyone but her. Gerda should have been grateful. She should have been worried, she should have entertained any emotion except the one she did, which was violent unreasonable rage. So Robert hated strangers. And what
was Constance? To hear her “Well, you’ve earned your holiday,” Mr. Oliver said. Gerda agreed with him. But there would not be any holiday. She had her family ill, she told him. He was sorry to hear
that. Did she like nursing? Possibly, if she tried it, she would like it very much indeed. There were a number of things she was beginning to think she might like quite as well as hearing Mr. Oliver say “Yours of the 25th
to hand . . ” BUT LIKING, she was to find, was not necessarily the mother of ability. After three days Constance said, very gently, very tactfully, that it if Mrs. Fairlie got right away for a \ change. She badly needed it; there was no j point in her staying in the house.
“It would give me all my time for the invalids. And as it is, I feel I’m neglecting you.”
Gerda looked at her for some time. Then she said :
“Please don’t feel you have to bother about me. I’m quite a good guest really. 1 can entertain myself.”
Driven by some obscure impulse, she drifted to the lounge room and began to i practise a Chopin prelude which she had played very badly very many years ago. And her eyes were wet as her fingers fumbled. This wandering into rooms to say. “Do you feel better?” being in everyone’s way, useless to herself and everyone around her, was beginning to get on her nerves. “And I would like it,” she thought bitterly. “There is nothing in the world I would like better than to have Robin stop being unhappy and go to sleep in my arms because it was me who was holding : him—and have Robert say ‘That’s line now. The pain’s gone.’ ”
Robert sent down to say would she mind not making that noise; it was earsplitting.
Gerda went for a long walk and she thought a great deal, and the result of the walk was evident one week later. Robert was out in the garden, Robert considerably thinner and his sunburn turned to blotchy grey. It was morning and the sun was high in a blue sky, and to Robert, across the springing grass, came Gerda carrying a small tray which she put on the grass.
Robert was content and amiable, and he was busy being sunburned again, tie was somewhat drowsy and he listened for a time to Gerda’s voice without hearing what she had to say. But at last he sat up and took notice.
“You mean she’s gone?”
“Yes.” Gerda opened her mouth, then shut it again, then said bravely:
“Of course she was making mischief between us. But I—it wasn’t that. I was jealous of her. Downright, miserably, meanly jealous—no, let me finish. When we had all those other unsuccessful housekeepers I was only too thankful to get out of the house. With their muddle and their general unloveliness, I preferred the office. But now I’ve seen what it can be. Constance made a perfect job of it. And—well, that’s the job I want. I’m going to learn. I loathe Constance. Don’t ask me for what reason. I’ve hated her for weeks. There’s no reason. I’ve a naturally ignoble disposition. And suddenly I found I’d rather die than let her. or any woman we didn’t have to sack after a week, have the job of 1 making you and Robin happy. You see . . . ”