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his continued crying had undoubtedly been the cause. Why was it that the whole thing seemed to her like the behavior of a hysterical woman? She must not let herself think such thoughts. She must guard herself against any possibility of being unjust to Gilbert's child. The shadow that she now fearfully glimpsed upon their clear horizon must not come nearer, wax larger.
She approached the bedside, poultice in hand. Arthur moved to push it away with feeble protest. "It won't hurt, dear; it will make you well," Gilbert explained with anxious tenderness.
"Papa! Papa!" Arthur attempted to indicate his wishes, but words and gesture were broken into by the dread wheezing cough.
bidden could enter the mind. She moved softly toward the door. Gilbert glanced up. "Where are you going?"
"To telephone the doctor." "He seems easier now. Perhaps it is n't necessary."
"Best to be on the safe side."
He heard her light step going down the stairs and later the half-audible sound of her voice at the telephone. He drew a long sigh of relief and thankfulness. What a comfort to have a woman like that in one's home! How devoted she had been to his child!
THE Saturday following Arthur's attack of croup they had planned a sail to an
Gilbert whitened. "We must have the island some distance up the Sound. It doctor. He can hardly breathe.”
"Meantime he must have this on." Mildred spoke quietly.
Gilbert's worried gaze went to the shapeless steaming mass in his wife's hand. "Dear little chap! he wants me to do everything for him. Perhaps -" But Mildred took the helm with the firmness of woman exercising her natural function. "I think I can do it better. We can't consider his preferences just now."
"Of course not." Gilbert held the writhing, coughing child while Mildred deftly placed the poultice.
The operation over, she stood at the foot of the bed apart from them, watching them. To Gilbert his son's wilfulness had been only the natural pettishness of a sick child; but Mildred knew. Suddenly the thing pierced her like a red-hot iron and left her shivering.
Had the cloud sent out a lightning flash, illuminating the darkest recesses of her soul? No, no, it was not that, not a wish, she assured herself passionately, an irresponsible thing from without, not born of her own feeling. It was the last thing she would have happen. A glance at her husband's face calmed her with the consciousness of her right feeling. She wished only for Gilbert's happiness. She would be incapable of wishing anything that could hurt him ever so little, least of all such a terrible thing as that loss would be to him. It was dreadful that such visions could come to one, that such a thought un
was the half-yearly celebration of their wedding, and they had promised themselves an entire Saturday and Sunday together, free from social obligations.
The day was perfect, and they made enthusiastic plans at breakfast, a meal at which Arthur was not present. Mildred had often reflected with satisfaction that it would be at least two years before Gilbert would expect to have the child with them for luncheon and breakfast, while the time for including him in the evening meal was agreeably remote.
On the veranda, however, they were immediately joined by Arthur. Although he did not know of the intended excursion, his intuition, curiously quick in such matters, divined the situation from the first allusion.
"Papa, take me," he pleaded.
Gilbert glanced at Mildred, then back at the child, whose face had grown intense. "Why, I don't know, old man-do you want to go so much?”
He received no clue from Mildred's face, and was obliged to ask, "How about it, dear?"
She turned an instant. Yet civilized, disciplined as she was, he divined a reservation in her face. After all, Arthur was not her child, he reflected. "You would rather not, perhaps?" his tone was still that of question.
"Just as you feel about it." Her voice was even; only a corner of her face was visible.
Prompted by an anxious pull at his
hand, Gilbert looked down again into the child's eager eyes. "It would be awfully jolly, the three of us, if you see it that way." She noted the wistfulness in his tone, but her answer came an instant late. "Of course I want anything that will add to your pleasure."
Gilbert's face fell. "You would rather not have him," he said.
She gripped her courage in both hands. She was aware of Arthur's large, cold eyes, hostile, apprehensive, but she smiled. "On the contrary, I should rather have him." He wanted to be convinced, - dear old Gilbert!-she saw that. She added emphasis, gave commands theatrically gay, to hurry the preparations, and so with a buoyancy not altogether artificial bore down his perfunctory objections.
But, alas! after all, the day was not a success! Arthur, making insistent, restless demands upon their attention, was not happy. Gilbert was worried with an imperfect sense of some lack of harmony. Arthur was afraid of the water, and cried when a big wave slapped the boat; to crown all, he was seasick, and in time even Mildred's courageous efforts to create the illusion of a joyous holiday were useless.
The little party walked in a subdued mood from the boat-landing to the waiting motor; Gilbert, at Arthur's request, carried the child, whose tear-wet lashes went to the father's heart.
"I am afraid it has spoiled your day," Gilbert said slowly. In planning it, he had called it "our day," Mildred recalled; then she was ashamed of her trivial introspectiveness.
"No, indeed," she assured him quickly. "And it would have spoiled yours if we had left him." The last words slipped The last words slipped out unintentionally.
Gilbert glanced at her, and in his turn made denial.
pleasure is not at the expense of yours," he concluded gently, yet gravely.
Mildred was essentially tactful, yet at that moment her effort to preserve impersonal ground and avoid the wounding did not prove healing. "It is only too bad that Arthur is afraid of the water, so that he did n't enjoy it."
Gilbert had been a champion in athletics in his college days, and his face fell. "The child has been too much with women," he said. "He must play more with boys."
She forbore to remind him that Arthur did not like to play with boys, but preferred little girls, over whom he domineered exultingly. "He will grow up soon enough." It was not like Mildred to resort to formula. Fortunately at that moment they reached the motor. They made the swift journey home in a silence not unusual after an exhausting day's work in the pursuit of pleasure. Mildred was struggling against the conviction that what Arthur needed was an old-fashioned spanking, a thought that had occurred to her before. She glanced from time to time at Gilbert, aware of his preoccupation. Catching her eye once, he smiled. She had known that he was not unjust enough to misunderstand, but that he should understand was more than she could expect.
Before dinner he joined her on the veranda. She had put on his favorite pale violet muslin, but he did not comment upon the fact. She knew that he had just come from his bedtime talk with Arthur; but he did not arrive as usual with some amused, loving anecdote of the child. Instead, he remarked in an oppressed tone that he must "get at" certain long-delayed papers after dinner. Mildred's heart sank, but she smiled, commiserating him. "Poor old Gilbert! What a horrid way to spend your evening!" There must not be any sense of constraint between them about Arthur. She put the question at once, striving to exclude from her tone any suggestion of the perfunctory:
"Did Arthur seem tired after his day?" "No, indeed, but-" He turned something less than his profile toward her "it was a mistake to take him.”
That statement, although punctiliously denied on her part, marked, she felt, the end of Gilbert's unconsciousness. So long as realization lay with her alone, their har
mony was not threatened. Now it lay naked, admitted, between them, the discordant, irreconcilable element.
So it had come at last, the edge of the shadow had touched her.
THE shadow did not deepen, neither did it advance, but it remained definitely threatening upon the outskirts of their consciousness. They had in effect accepted a ground upon which they could not meet. In Arthur's presence they were self-conscious. In referring to the boy, Gilbert's manner became tinged with an unintentional formality. His small requests concerning the child's welfare were invariably accompanied by such phrases as, "If you will be so kind," "If it is not too much trouble." And Mildred, after her first hurried protestations denying the implication of effort, accepted the significant formula, replying in kind. There were moments when it seemed to have made no difference in their relation, yet, she felt, there was a difference.
It was a week or ten days after the sail, when the courteous formality had become a habit, that Gilbert's sister sailed for Europe. They had planned to go into town to see her off. Eva was one of those who highly value such attentions. She not only successfully maintained a large correspondence, but kept a record of friends' birthdays, which she celebrated by the writing of congratulatory letters. Christmas and Easter she recognized by carefully selected cards of remembrance. Steamer letters were, therefore, a rigorous part of her social system. Such being the case, the necessity to commemorate her departure was obvious. Accordingly they had all planned to be present. At the last minute, however, it happened that Gilbert was unable to get away; so the party was composed of Mildred and Arthur, accompanied, at his own request, by his nurse. Arthur behaved himself beautifully upon the ship, and received much adulation from admiring ladies. It was in the confusion of leaving the boat that Mildred got separated from the nurse and the child, and when she found herself upon the pier among the laughing and weeping crowd she could not find them. She was not worried, for the nurse, in spite of the fact that she was
wax in Arthur's hands, was a competent girl in routine attendance. It was as the boat seemed about to depart, and the sailors were standing in attitudes by the gangplank, that Mildred, scanning the crowd, discovered the nurse. The girl hurried toward her alone!
"Why, where is Arthur!" both exclaimed simultaneously, with the same reply, "I thought he was with you."
"He must be on the boat still!" Mildred exclaimed. "We must go back at once." She started forward as she spoke, the frightened girl following her. She had not lost a minute, yet the thought had shot through her with a fierce sensation of joy. It was scarcely framed in words—just a vision of the bliss of life for a time without Arthur! If he were on the boat, and should be carried to the other side of the ocean with his Aunt Eva! It was unthinkable; Gilbert would be horribly worried. It could not happen, anyway; the child would be sent back in the pilot-boat. She stood a second motionless. A few days, weeks, alone with Gilbert, free from that small, 'pale interfering presence! There was a sound in her ears. Her blood seemed to beat audibly in her veins. She was roused by an uncouth sound at her side.
"He has been kidnapped," the Irish girl said, and burst into noisy tears. "Sure, the Black Hand has him! I seen two Eyetalians lookin' after him on the pier. We'll never see him again.”
"Nonsense!" Mildred retorted sharply. "He could n't have been stolen from your side in broad daylight." She was walking swiftly through the crowd. “He's on the boat still. We shall find him.”
Mildred had reached the gang-plank by this time; but it was not even necessary for her to explain herself to the haughty official who stood guarding the way; a little boy with dark curls was even then being led weeping down the narrow incline by a pleasant, reassuring steward.
That was all there was to the incident. The tears of nurse and child were soon dried, and the trio returned unharmed to Tilbury; but the day's experience had consequences.
THE Flemings' place, which had been a farm in the days before that part of the country became suburban, had a pond at
Drawn by Howard Chandler Christy. Half-tone plate engraved by C. W. Chadwick
"ONE DAY MILDRED SAT WATCHING ARTHUR AS HE PLAYED INTENTLY WITH A TRAIN OF CARS" (SEE PAGE 422)
the back, which had been made by the damming-up of a little brook. Over this dam in the middle the water flowed in a swift stream, forming a strong current as it reached the edge. Although constituting no danger for the adult navigator, it was unsafe for one not expert with oars. Arthur of course was forbidden to go upon the water at all, although it was his habit to play upon the banks. This seemed to be entirely safe, since his nurse was always with him. Mildred often reflected that although most boys of Arthur's age were scornful of a nurse, he was as dependent upon Carrie as a baby, and he was naturally a careful child, who seemed instinctively to keep out of dangerous situations.
The afternoon after his Aunt Eva's departure, however, it happened that it was Carrie's afternoon out, and Mildred was left in charge of Arthur. He chose to play by the pond, and she sat under a tree close by to read, with, nevertheless, a conscientious eye upon him. A heavy, flatbottomed scow lay by the little wharf beside a canoe with which she occasionally amused herself and a light rowboat. Arthur, working hard at his play, after the manner of children, had taken one of the loose seats from the boat, and planting it against the scow in imitation of a gangplank, was playing steamer. It made Mildred a little nervous and she called out to him:
defiance of childhood, "You can't get me; you can't get me." In that moment, looking into Arthur's face, Mildred felt that she hated him.
Suddenly she became aware that his motion had loosened the boat, which had evidently not been moored securely, and, to her horror, she saw it floating out into the stream. It must not get into the current. Once there, it might be drawn over the falls; besides, Arthur might capsize the boat before that. Already he was frightened. After a moment of standing immovably staring at the water, he burst into tears, for, unlike most children, he seemed to receive quickly the sense of danger. In a flash Mildred took in the situation: the canoe paddle and the oars were in the stable; the canoe was useless for rescuing purposes; the rowboat was tied by some amateur hand into a hard knot. There was only one way-to swim. She cast an agonized glance about. There was no one in sight. There was not a minute to lose; already the scow approached the current. She was a fair, though not an expert, swimmer. She pulled off her shoes and waded in. The current had seized the boat now; it began to draw it. She hesitated an infinitesimal instant. The terrified child might easily tax her beyond her resources, making rescue impossible. There was the chance of losing all,-Gilbert, life, happiness. Then horror roused her. Arthur, stamping in his terror, screamed piercingly and rushed to the edge of the boat; he was over in the water, he sank from sight! Aware of no process between that catastrophe and her own action, Mildred swam toward him with all her strength. She reached him as he rose the second time, caught him by his long hair, contrived to get her hand under his chin despite his blind, terrified efforts to fight against her, his vise-like clutch of her arm. In a moment he became heavier. It was hard for her to swim with one arm and support his weight with the other, but the distance was not great. She seemed to become an embodied will. Somehow she reached shallow water, touched botArthur did not move. Then Mildred tem, lifted Arthur, now limp, in her arms, reached out her band to take him forcibly, and walked the rest of the distance. He Her action was without anger, but it was was not unconscious, for she felt the inthe action of superior force, and it in stinctive clasp et his arms around her neck. creased the child's wilfulness... He dodged. She put him down, detaching his arms away from her hand, calling out a familiar with difficulty. She had an indistinct
"I should rather you did not play that game, dear." Arthur acted as if he had not heard. She rose and went down to the edge of the pond. "I am afraid you will fall into the water. Then you would get all cold, and you would n`t like that." “Yes, I would," was Arthur's reply, and he kept on walking to and fro upon his improvised gang-plank. Then she spoke more decisively: "I want you to come on the shore right away, Arthur, Your father would n't like you to do that."
Again Arthur acted as if he had not heard.
"Arthur, come here at once."