“I know you do, my dear,” laughed Deb, a little queerly, and she returned the baby in order to hunt for her handkerchief. “And if you must know the truth, so do I. It’s tantalising to see you with more than your share, while I have none—and never shall have, worse luck! Well”—blowing her nose cheerfully—“it’s no use crying over spilt milk, is it? And I tipped the can over myself, so I can’t complain. How’s Peter?”
Rose told her how Peter was—“so dear, so good”—and then had so much to say about the children, one by one, through all the eleven of them, that it was quite in a hurry at last that Deb disclosed her secret. And Rose not only sustained no shock—which would have been bad for her— but could see nothing in the marriage worth fussing about, except the fact that it came too late for a family. Such a sordidly domestic person was she! She mourned and condoled over this spilt milk—so sure that poor Deb was but hungrily lapping up drops with the dust of the floor—that Deb grew almost angry. She took back her own words, and said she was glad there were no children to come between her and her husband, who needed only each other. She implied that this union had a higher significance than could be grasped by a mere suckler of fools (nice fools, no doubt) and chronicler of small beer (however good the brew). She believed it, too. Love—great, solemn, immortal Love, passionate and suffering—was a thing unknown to comfortable, commonplace Rose, as doubtless to Peter also. They were dear, good people, and fortunate in their ignorance and in what it spared them; but it was annoying when ignorance assumed superior knowledge, and wanted to teach its grandmother to suck eggs. Was it come to this— that marriage and a family were synonymous terms? No, indeed, nor ever would, while intelligent men and women walked the earth. Deb reserved the more sacred confidences for Mary’s ear. Mary had loved—strangely indeed, but tragically, with pain and loss, the dignified concomitants of the divine state. Mary would understand.
Mary’s house was a chill and meagre contrast to that of Rose, but there was nothing cold in Mary’s welcome. To Deb’s ‘Darling! darling!’ and smothering embrace of furs, the slim woman responded with a grip and pressure that represented all her strength. Deb, although not the eldest, was the mother of the family, as well as the second mother of Bob.
“Where is he?” were Mary’s first words—and Deb smiled inwardly to see her as absurd in her mother’s vanity and preoccupation as Rose herself. But this was a case of a widow’s only son, and the visitor was thankful for such a beginning to the interview. “Where is he?” cried the anxious voice. “He was to have met you. And he never fails—this is not like him—”
“Oh,” Deb struck in easily, “he was there all right, looking after his old aunt like a good boy. He wanted to bring me, but I told him he could be more useful looking after Rosalie and my things. I thought we’d rather be by ourselves, Molly—poor old girl! You know I never heard a word until he told me just now. Your letter did not reach me.”