“A girl child, Hugh!” she jeered violently. “A girl—when you prayed for a boy!”
Hugh stared stupidly at the babe in his arms.
“Ay, a girl!” taunted Catherine, her voice cracking with rising hysteria. “A girl! . . . For eight generations the first-born has been a son. And the ninth is a girl! The daughter of a foreign dancing-woman! . . . God has indeed taken your punishment into His own Hands!”
THE WIDENING GULF
The birth of a daughter came upon Hugh in the light of an almost overwhelming shock. He was quite silent when, in response to Catherine’s imperative gesture, he surrendered the child into her arms once more. As she took it from him he noticed that those thin, angular arms of hers seemed to close round the little swaddled body in an almost jealously possessive clasp. But there was none of the tender possessiveness of love about it. In some oddly repugnant way it reminded him of the motion of a bird of prey at last gripping triumphantly in its talons a victim that has hitherto eluded pursuit.
He turned back dully to his contemplation of the wintry garden, nor, in his absorption, did he hear the whimpering cry—almost of protest—that issued from the lips of his first-born as Catherine bore the child away.
For a space it seemed as though his mind were a blank, every thought and feeling wiped out of it by the stupendous, nullifying fact that his wife had given birth to a daughter. Then, with a rush as torturing as the return of blood to benumbed limbs, emotions crowded in upon him.
Catherine’s incessant denunciations of his “sin” in marrying Diane Wielitzska—poured upon him without stint throughout this first year of his marriage—seemed to din in his ears anew. Such phrases as “selling your soul,” “putting a woman of that type in our sainted mother’s place,” “mingling the blood of a foreign dancing-woman with our own,” jangled against each other in his mind.
Had he really been guilty of a sin against his conscience—satisfied his desires irrespective of all sense of duty?
He began to think he had, and to wonder in a disturbed fashion if God thought so too. What was it Catherine had said? "God has indeed taken your punishment into His own Hands."
Hugh was only too well aware of the facts which gave the speech its trenchant significance. He himself had inherited owing to the death of an elder brother in early childhood. But there was no younger brother to step into his own shoes, and failing an heir in the direct line of succession the title and entailed estate would of necessity go to Rupert Vallincourt, a cousin—a gay and debonair young rake of much charm of manner and equal absence of virtue. From both Catherine’s and Hugh’s point of view he was the last man in the world fitted to become the head of the family. Hence the eagerness with which they had anticipated the arrival of a son and heir.