She had charged him with a message to me.
“Tell her,” she had said, “I shall never forget what she did for me in the autumn, and whiles and whiles I’m thanking God for her.”
That cut me to the quick, but I was nearly torn to pieces by what came next.
“Christian Ann told me to say too that Sunny Lodge is longing for you. ‘She’s a great lady now,’ said she, ’but maybe great ladies have their troubles same as ourselves, poor things, and if she ever wants to rest her sweet head in a poor woman’s bed, Mary O’Neill’s little room is always waiting for her.’”
“God bless her!” I said—it was all I could say—and then, to my great relief, he talked on other subjects.
The one thing I was afraid of was that he might speak of Martin. Heaven alone, which looks into the deep places of a woman’s heart in her hour of sorest trial, knows why I was in such dread that he might do so, but sure I am that if he had mentioned Martin at that moment I should have screamed.
When he rose to go he repeated his warnings.
“You’ll remember what I said about being bright and cheerful?”
“And keeping happy and agreeable faces about you?”
Hardly had he left the room when Alma came sweeping into it, full of I her warmest and insincerest congratulations.
“There!” she cried, with all the bitter honey of her tongue. “Wasn’t I right in sending for the doctor? Such news, too! Oh, happy, happy you! But I must not keep you now, dearest. You’ll be just crazy to write to your husband and tell him all about it.”
Alma’s mother was the next to visit me. The comfortable old soul, redolent of perfume and glittering with diamonds, began by congratulating herself on her perspicacity.
“I knew it,” she said. “When I saw as how you were so and so, I said to Alma as I was sure you were that way. ‘Impossible,’ said Alma, but it’s us married women to know, isn’t it?”
After that, and some homely counsel out of her own experience—to take my breakfast in bed in future, avoiding tea, &c.,—she told me how fortunate I was to have Alma in the house at such a moment.
“The doctor says you’re to be kept bright and cheerful, and she’s such a happy heart, is Alma. So crazy about you too! You wouldn’t believe it, but she’s actually talking of staying with you until the December sailing, at all events.”
The prospect of having Alma two months longer, to probe my secret soul as with a red-hot iron, seemed enough to destroy me, but my martyrdom had only begun.
Next day, Aunt Bridget came, and the bright glitter of the usually cold grey eyes behind her gold-rimmed spectacles told me at a glance that her visit was not an unselfish one.
“There now,” she said, “you’ve got to thank me for this. Didn’t I give you good advice when I told you to be a little blind? It’s the only way with husbands. When Conrad came home with the news I said, ’Betsy, I must get away to the poor girl straight.’ To be sure I had enough on my hands already, but I couldn’t leave you to strangers, could I?”