The Complete Book of Sisters

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He had said plainly to Mary in one poignant moment not long before the birth of their third child , "If you're worrying about me and Gwenda, you needn't.

She was never anything to me. He said to himself, and Mary said that he had got over it. But he hadn't got over it. He might say to himself and Mary, "She was never anything to me"; he might put her and the thought of her away from him, but she had left her mark on him. He hadn't put her away. She was there, in his heavy eyes and in the irritable gestures of his hands, in his nerves and in his wounded memory.

She had knitted herself into his secret being. Mary was unaware of the cause of his malady. If it had been suggested to her that he had got into this state because of Gwenda she would have dismissed the idea with contempt. She didn't worry about Rowcliffe's state. On the contrary, Rowcliffe's state was a consolation and a satisfaction to her for all that she had endured through Gwenda.

She would have thought you mad if you had told her so, for she was sorry for Steven and tender to him when he was nervous or depressed. But to Mary her sorrow and her tenderness were a voluptuous joy. She even encouraged Rowcliffe in his state. She liked to make it out worse than it really was, so that he might be more dependent on her.

And she had found that it could be induced in him by suggestion. She had more pleasure, because she had more confidence, in this lethargic, middle-aged Rowcliffe than in Rowcliffe young and energetic. His youth had attracted him to Gwenda and his energy had driven him out of doors. And Mary had set herself, secretly, insidiously, to destroy them.

It had taken her seven years. For the first five years it had been hard work for Mary. It had meant, for her body, an ignominious waiting and watching for the moment when its appeal would be irresistible, for her soul a complete subservience to her husband's moods, and for her mind perpetual attention to his comfort, a thousand cares that had seemed to go unnoticed.

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But in the sixth year they had begun to tell. Once Rowcliffe had made up his mind that Gwenda couldn't be anything to him he had let go and through sheer exhaustion had fallen more and more into his wife's hands, and for the last two years her labor had been easy and its end sure. She had him, bound to her bed and to her fireside.

He said and thought that he was happy. He meant that he was extremely comfortable. It wasn't very bad, but he was worried. He was worried about himself. From time to time his old self rose against this new self that was the slave of comfort. It made desperate efforts to shake off the strangling lethargy. When he went about saying that he was getting rusty, that he ought never to have left Leeds, and that it would do him all the good in the world to go back there, he was saying what he knew to be the truth.

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The life he was leading was playing the devil with his nerves and brain. His brain had nothing to do. Hard work might not be the cure for every kind of nervous trouble, but it was the one cure for the kind that he had got. He ought to have gone away seven years ago. It was Gwenda's fault that he hadn't gone. He felt a dull anger against her as against a woman who had wrecked his chance.

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He had a chance of going now if he cared to take it. He had had a letter that morning from Dr.

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Harker asking if he had meant what he had said a year ago, and if he'd care to exchange his Rathdale practice for his old practice in Leeds. Harker's wife was threatened with lung trouble, and they would have to live in the country somewhere, and Harker himself wouldn't be sorry for the exchange. His present practice was worth twice what it had been ten years ago and it was growing. There were all sorts of interesting things to be done in Leeds by a man of Rowcliffe's keenness and energy.

It was Harker's letter that was bothering him. He said so. For one instant Mary looked impatient. Rowcliffe sighed. My dear, if it were a big London practice I shouldn't say no. That might be worth while. But whatever should we have in Leeds? You might think of the children. I think of nothing else but the children--and you. If you wouldn't like it there's an end of it.

You really are not strong enough for it. He changed the subject. Not quite so young. I thought she was looking rather ill. They went together to the night nursery where the three children lay in their cots, the little red-haired girls awake and restless, and the dark-haired baby in his first sleep.

They bent over them together. Mary's lips touched the red hair and the dark where Steven's lips had been. They spent the evening sitting by the fire in Rowcliffe's study. The doctor dozed.

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Mary, silent over her sewing, was the perfect image of tranquillity. From time to time she looked at her husband and smiled as his chin dropped to his breast and recovered itself with a start. At the stroke of ten she murmured, "Steven, are you ready for bed? As they passed into the square hall he paused and looked round him before putting out the lights.

I think we shall do very comfortably here for the next seven years.

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He had given him seven years. LXIV The next day it was a Friday , when Mary came home to tea after a round of ineffectual calling she was told that Miss Gwenda was in the drawing-room. Mary inquired whether the doctor was in. Rowcliffe was in but he was engaged in the surgery.