Many times during the day I had heard Mrs. Oliver trying to comfort me with various forms of sloppy sentiment. Children were a great trial, they were allus makin’ and keepin’ people pore, and it was sometimes better for the dears themselves to be in their ’eavenly Father’s boosim.
I hardly listened. It was the same as if somebody were talking to me in my sleep. But towards nightfall my deaf ear caught something about myself—that “it” (I knew what that meant) might be better for me, also, for then I should be free of encumbrances and could marry again.
“Of course you could—you so young and good-lookin’. Only the other day the person at number five could tell me as you were the prettiest woman as comes up the Row, and the Vicar’s wife couldn’t hold a candle to you. ‘Fine feathers makes fine birds,’ says she: ’Give your young lady a nice frock and a bit o’ colour in her checks, and there ain’t many as could best her in the West End neither.’”
As the woman talked dark thoughts took possession of me. I began to think of Angela. I tried not to, but I could not help it.
And then came the moment of my fiercest trial. With a sense of Death hanging over my child I told myself that the only way to drive it off was to make some great sacrifice.
Hitherto I had thought of everything I possessed as belonging to baby, but now I felt that I myself belonged to her. I had brought her into the world, and it was my duty to see that she did not suffer.
All this time the inherited instinct of my religion was fighting hard with me, and I was saying many Hail Marys to prevent myself from doing what I meant to do.
“Hail, Mary, full of grace: the Lord is with thee . . .”
I felt as if I were losing my reason. But it was of no use struggling against the awful impulse of self-sacrifice (for such I thought it) which had taken hold of my mind, and at last it conquered me.
“I must get money,” I thought. “Unless I get money my child will die. I—must—get—money.”
Towards seven o’clock I got up, gave baby to Mrs. Oliver, put on my coat and fixed with nervous fingers my hat and hatpins.
“Where are you going to, pore thing?” asked Mrs. Oliver.
“I am going out. I’ll be back in the morning,” I answered.
And then, after kneeling and kissing my baby again—my sweet child, my Isabel—I tore the street door open, and pulled it noisily behind me.
ONE HUNDRED AND FOURTH CHAPTER
On reaching the front street, I may have taken the penny tram, for though I had a sense of growing blind and deaf I have vague memories of lights flashing past me and of the clanging of electric cars.
At Bow Church I must have got out (probably to save a further fare) because I recollect walking along the Bow Road between the lights in the shops and the coarse flares from the stalls on the edge of the pavement, where women with baskets on their arms were doing their Saturday night’s shopping.