Mrs. Strongtharm (interrupting the thought). She won’t be hoping for a girl. You don’t understand these things, beggin’ your pardon, ma’am.
Miss Quiney (meekly). No.
Mrs. Josselin. You don’t neither of you understand. How should you?
Mrs. Strongtharm (stung). I understand as well as a fool, I should hope! (She turns to Miss Quiney.) ’Twas a nat’ral wish in ye, ma’am, that such a piece o’ loveliness should bear just such another. But wait a while; they’re young and there’s time. . . . My lady wants a boy first, like every true woman that loves her lord. There’s pride an’ wonder in it. All her life belike she’s felt herself weak an’ shivered to think of battles, and now, lo an’ behold, she’s the very gates o’ strength with an army marchin’ forth to conquer the world. Ha’n’t ye never caught your breath an’ felt the tears swellin’ when ye saw a regiment swing up the street?
Miss Quiney. Ah! . . . Is it like that?
Mrs. Strongtharm. It’s like all that, an’ more. . . . An’ though I’ve wet my pillow afore now with envy of it, I thank the Lord for givin’ a barren woman the knowledge.
Mrs. Josselin (with a silly laugh). What wonderful patterns they make in the carpets nowadays! Look at this one, now—runnin’ in and out so that the eye can’t hardly follow it; and all for my lord’s dressing-room! Cost a hundred pound, I shouldn’t wonder.
Mrs. Strongtharm. T’cht!
Mrs. Josselin. He must be amazing fond of her. Fancy, my Ruth! . . . It’s a pity he’s not home, to take the child.
Mrs. Strongtharm. Men at these times are best out o’ the way.
Mrs. Josselin. When my first was born, Michael—that’s my husband—stayed home from sea o’ purpose to take it. My first was a girl. No, not Ruth; Ruth was born after my man died, and I had her christened Ruth because some one told me it stood for “sorrow.” I had three before Ruth—a girl an’ two boys, an’ buried them all.
Miss Quiney (listening). Hush!
Mrs. Josselin (not hearing, immersed in her own mental flow). If you call a child by a sorrowful name it’s apt to ward off the ill-luck. Look at Ruth now—christened in sorrow an’ married, after all, to the richest in the land!
Miss Quiney (in desperation). Oh, hush! hush!
A low moan comes from the next room. The women sit silent, their faces white in the dawn that now comes stealing in at the window, conquering the candle-light by little and little.
Mrs. Strongtharm. I thought I heard a child’s cry. . . . They cry at once.
Miss Quiney. Ah? I fancied it, too—a feeble one.
Mrs. Strongtharm (rising after a long pause). Something is wrong. . . .