“I don’t see why you can’t do that as things are now. She’ll let you practise bathing them and things like that, and certainly no one would object to your wheeling them out in the pram. But the nurse-maid would be on hand in case ...”
“I’m to take it on then,” said Rose, and her voice had a new ring in it—the ring of scornful anger—“I’m to take it on as a sort of polite sentimental amusement. I’m not to do any real work for them that depends on me to get done. I’m not to be able to feel that, even in a bottle-washing sort of way, I’m doing an indispensable service for them. They’re not to need me for anything, the poor little mites! They’re to be something for me to have a sort of emotional splurge with, just as”—she laughed raggedly—“just as some of the wives you’re so fond of talking about, are to their husbands.”
He stared at her in perfectly honest bewilderment. He’d never seen her like this before.
“You’re talking rather wild I think, Rose,” he said very quietly.
“I’m talking what I’ve learned from you,” she said, but she did get her voice in control again. “You’ve taught me the difference between real work, and the painless imitation of it that a lot of us women spend our lives on—between doing something because it’s got to be done and is up to you, and—finding something to do to spend the time.
“Oh, Rodney, please try to forget that I’m your wife and that you’re in love with me. Can’t you just say: `Here’s A, or B, or X, a perfectly healthy woman, twenty-two years old, and a little real work would be good for her’?”
She won, with much pleading, a sort of troubled half-assent from him. The matter might be borne in mind. It could be taken up again with Mrs. Ruston.
But Mrs. Ruston was adamant. Under no conceivable circumstances could she consent to regard her employer’s wife as a substitute for her own hired assistant. There were other nurses though, to be got. Somewhere one could be found, no doubt, who’d take a broader view.
Given a fair field, Rose might have won a victory here. But, as Portia had said once, the pattern was cut differently. There was a sudden alarm one night, when her little namesake was found strangling with the croup. There were seven terrifying hours—almost unendurable hours, while the young life swung and balanced over the ultimate abyss. The heroine of those hours was Mrs. Ruston. It was her watchfulness that had been accessible to the first alarm—her instant doing of the one right thing that stemmed the first onrush. That the child lived was clearly creditable to her.
Rose made another effort even after that, though she knew she was beaten in advance. She waited until the storm had subsided, until the old calm routine was reestablished. Then, once more, she asked for her chance.
But Rodney exploded before she got the words fairly out of her mouth.
“No,” he shouted, “I won’t consider it! She’s saved that baby’s life. Another woman might have, but it’s more likely not. You’ll have to find some way of satisfying your whims that won’t jeopardize those babies’ lives. After that night—good God, Rose, have you forgotten that night?—I’m going to play it safe.”