She said nothing of Mr. Silk’s treachery; nothing of her ostracism. This indeed, during the later months, she recognised for the blessing it was.
Towards the end she felt a strange longing to have her mother near, close at hand, for her lying-in. The poor silly soul could not travel alone. . . . Ruth considered this and hit on the happy inspiration of inviting Mrs. Strongtharm to bring her. Tatty was useless, and among the few women who had been kind Mrs. Strongtharm had been the kindest.
Ruth sat down and penned a letter; and Mrs. Strongtharm, unable to write, responded valiantly. She arrived in a cart, with Mrs. Josselin at her side; and straightway alighting and neglecting Mrs. Josselin, sailed into a seventh heaven of womanly fuss. She examined the baby-clothes critically.
“Made with your own pretty hands—and with all this mort o’ servants tumblin’ over one another to help ye. But ’tis nat’ral. . . . It came to nothing with me, but I know. And expectin’ a boy o’ course. . . . La! ye blushin’ one, don’t I know the way of it!”
When Ruth’s travail came on her the three were gathered by candle-light in Sir Oliver’s dressing-room. Beyond the door, attended by her maid and a man-midwife, Ruth shut her teeth upon her throes. So the prologue opens.
Mrs. Josselin sits in an armchair, regarding the pattern of the carpet with a silly air of self-importance; Mrs. Strongtharm in a chair opposite. By the window Miss Quiney, pulling at her knuckles, stares out through the dark panes. A clock strikes.
Miss Quiney (with a nervous start). Four o’clock . . . nine hours. . . .
Mrs. Strongtharm. More. The pains took her soon after six. . . . When her bell rang I looked at the clock. I remember.
Miss Quiney. My poor Ruth.
Mrs. Strongtharm. Eh? The first, o’ course. . . . But a long labour’s often the best.
Miss Quiney. There has not been a sound for hours.
Mrs. Strongtharm. She’s brave. They say, too, that a man-child, if he’s a real strong one, will wait for daybreak; but that’s old women’s notions, I shouldn’t wonder.
Miss Quiney. A man-child? You think it will be?
Mrs. Strongtharm. (She exchanges a glance with Mrs. Josselin, who has looked up suddenly and nods.) Certain.
Mrs. Josselin. Certain, certain! I wonder, now, what they’ll call him! After Sir Oliver, perhaps. Her own father’s name was Michael. In my own family—that’s the Pocock’s—the men were mostly Williams and Georges. Called after the Kings of England.
Mrs. Strongtharm (yawns). Oliver Cromwell was as good as any king, and better. Leastways my mar says so. For my part, I don’t bother my head wi’ these old matters.
Miss Quiney (tentatively). Do you know, I was half hoping it would be a girl, just like my darling. (To herself) God forgive me, when I think—