And now, prompted by Catherine’s bitter taunt, the birth of a daughter as his first-born—the first happening of the kind for eight successive generations—appeared to Hugh in the light of a direct manifestation of God’s intention that no son born of Diane Wielitzska should be dowered with such influence as the heir to the Vallincourts must necessarily wield.
Better, even, that the title and estates should go to Rupert! Bad as his reputation might be, good blood ran in his veins on either side—an inherited tradition of right-doing which was bound to assert itself in succeeding generations. Whereas in the offspring of Diane heaven alone knew what hidden inherited tendencies towards evil might lie fallow, to develop later and work incalculable mischief in the world.
Hugh felt crushed by the unexpected blow which had befallen him. Since his marriage, he had opposed a forced indifference to his sister’s irreconcilable attitude, finding compensation in the glowing moments of his passion for Diane. Nevertheless—since living in an atmosphere of disapproval tends to fray the strongest nerves—his temper had worn a little fine beneath the strain; and with Diane’s faults and failings thrust continually on his notice he had unconsciously grown more critical of her.
And now, all at once, it seemed as though scales had been torn from his eyes. He saw his marriage for the first time from the same standpoint as Catherine saw it, and in the unlooked-for birth of a daughter he thought he recognised the Hand of God, sternly uprooting his most cherished hopes and minimising, as much as possible, the inevitable evil consequences of his weakness in marrying Diane.
He was conscious of a rising feeling of resentment against his wife. Words from an old Book flashed into his mind: "The woman tempted me."
With the immediate instinct of a weak nature—the very narrowness and rigidity of his views was a manifestation of weakness, had he but realised it—he was already looking for someone with whom to share the blame for his lapse from the Vallincourt standard of conduct, and in that handful of wayward charm, red lips, and soft, beguiling eyes which was Diane he found what he sought.
Again the room door opened. This time, instead of putting a longed-for end to a blank period of suspense, the little quiet clicking of the latch cut almost aggressively across the conflict of Hugh’s thoughts. He turned round irritably.
“What is it?” he demanded.
A uniformed nurse was standing in the doorway. At the sound of his curtly-spoken question she glanced at him with a certain contemplative curiosity in her eyes. They might have held surprise as well as curiosity had she not lately stood beside that huge, canopied bed upstairs, listening pitifully to a woman’s secret fears and longings, unveiled in the delirium of pain.
“I know you sometimes wish you hadn’t married me. . . . I’m not good enough. And Catherine hates me. Yes, she does, she does! And she’ll make you hate me too! But you won’t hate me when my baby comes, will you, Hugh? You want a little son . . . a little son . . .”