“When they don’t give themselves airs,” said Aaron,
“Yes, indeed. Which they do half the time. Sacred children, and sacred motherhood, I’m absolutely fed stiff by it. That’s why I’m thankful I have no children. Tanny can’t come it over me there.”
“It’s a fact. When a woman’s got her children, by God, she’s a bitch in the manger. You can starve while she sits on the hay. It’s useful to keep her pups warm.”
“Why, you know,” Aaron turned excitedly in the bed, “they look on a man as if he was nothing but an instrument to get and rear children. If you have anything to do with a woman, she thinks it’s because you want to get children by her. And I’m damned if it is. I want my own pleasure, or nothing: and children be damned.”
“Ah, women—THEY must be loved, at any price!” said Lilly. “And if you just don’t want to love them—and tell them so—what a crime.”
“A crime!” said Aaron. “They make a criminal of you. Them and their children be cursed. Is my life given me for nothing but to get children, and work to bring them up? See them all in hell first. They’d better die while they’re children, if childhood’s all that important.”
“I quite agree,” said Lilly. “If childhood is more important than manhood, then why live to be a man at all? Why not remain an infant?”
“Be damned and blasted to women and all their importances,” cried Aaron. “They want to get you under, and children is their chief weapon.”
“Men have got to stand up to the fact that manhood is more than childhood—and then force women to admit it,” said Lilly. “But the rotten whiners, they’re all grovelling before a baby’s napkin and a woman’s petticoat.”
“It’s a fact,” said Aaron. But he glanced at Lilly oddly, as if suspiciously. And Lilly caught the look. But he continued:
“And if they think you try to stand on your legs and walk with the feet of manhood, why, there isn’t a blooming father and lover among them but will do his best to get you down and suffocate you—either with a baby’s napkin or a woman’s petticoat.”
Lilly’s lips were curling; he was dark and bitter.
“Ay, it is like that,” said Aaron, rather subduedly.
“The man’s spirit has gone out of the world. Men can’t move an inch unless they can grovel humbly at the end of the journey.”
“No,” said Aaron, watching with keen, half-amused eyes.
“That’s why marriage wants readjusting—or extending—to get men on to their own legs once more, and to give them the adventure again. But men won’t stick together and fight for it. Because once a woman has climbed up with her children, she’ll find plenty of grovellers ready to support her and suffocate any defiant spirit. And women will sacrifice eleven men, fathers, husbands, brothers and lovers, for one baby—or for her own female self-conceit—”