The mists that had gathered round Rickie seemed to be breaking. He had found light neither in work for which he was unfitted nor in a woman who had ceased to respect him, and whom he was ceasing to love. Though he called himself fickle and took all the blame of their marriage on his own shoulders, there remained in Agnes certain terrible faults of heart and head, and no self-reproach would diminish them. The glamour of wedlock had faded; indeed, he saw now that it had faded even before wedlock, and that during the final months he had shut his eyes and pretended it was still there. But now the mists were breaking.
That November the supreme event approached. He saw it with Nature's eyes. It dawned on him, as on Ansell, that personal love and marriage only cover one side of the shield, and that on the other is graven the epic of birth. In the midst of lessons he would grow dreamy, as one who spies a new symbol for the universe, a fresh circle within the square. Within the square shall be a circle, within the circle another square, until the visual eye is baffled. Here is meaning of a kind. His mother had forgotten herself in him. He would forget himself in his son.
He was at his duties when the news arrived--taking preparation. Boys are marvellous creatures. Perhaps they will sink below the brutes; perhaps they will attain to a woman's tenderness. Though they despised Rickie, and had suffered under Agnes's meanness, their one thought this term was to be gentle and to give no trouble.
His face grew ashen. He followed Herbert into the passage, closing the door of the preparation room behind him. "Oh, is she safe?" he whispered.
"Yes, yes," said Herbert; but there sounded in his answer a sombre hostile note.
"Girl--a girl, dear Rickie; a little daughter. She--she is in many ways a healthy child. She will live--oh yes." A flash of horror passed over his face. He hurried into the preparation room, lifted the lid of his desk, glanced mechanically at the boys, and came out again.
Mrs. Lewin appeared through the door that led into their own part of the house.
"Both going on well!" she cried; but her voice also was grave, exasperated.
"What is it?" he gasped. "It's something you daren't tell me."
"Only this--stuttered Herbert. "You mustn't mind when you see-- she's lame."
Mrs. Lewin disappeared. "Lame! but not as lame as I am?"
"Oh, my dear boy, worse. Don't--oh, be a man in this. Come away from the preparation room. Remember she'll live--in many ways healthy--only just this one defect."
The horror of that week never passed away from him. To the end of his life he remembered the excuses--the consolations that the child would live; suffered very little, if at all; would walk with crutches; would certainly live. God was more merciful. A window was opened too wide on a draughty day--after a short, painless illness his daughter died. But the lesson he had learnt so glibly at Cambridge should be heeded now; no child should ever be born to him again.
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