“What is the purest love on earth?
A maiden’s love for summer mirth?
A lover’s worship of his idol
When bells ring out his happy bridal?
A patriot’s when on foreign strand
He suffers for his native land?
A poet’s or musician’s love
For thoughts inspired from above?
Ah, no, the love most undefiled
Is that the mother gives the child.”
Lady Errington was as usual in the nursery, sitting in a low chair
near the window, watching “Sammy” playing on the floor. “Sammy,”
otherwise Henry Gerald Guy Errington, was now a year old, and looked
what he was, a remarkably fine child, of which any mother might be
proud. “Proud,” however, is too weak a word to use in connection with
Alizon’s love for her child, seeing that this small scrap of humanity
rolling about at her feet was worshipped by her with an affection
absolutely idolatrous. All her ideas, her thoughts, her affections,
were bound up in Sammy, and had it been a question of death for mother
or child, there is no doubt that Alizon would have cheerfully yielded
up her own life to save that of her baby.
Nor was Sammy undeserving of worship, for he was really a beautiful
boy, with the frank expression of his father’s handsome face, and a
healthy, sturdy little frame, which seemed to defy disease. During his
twelve months of existence he had been very healthy, and even in the
delicate matter of cutting his teeth had been more successful than the
generality of infants. With his rosy little face, his big, blue eyes
and soft yellow curls of hair, he looked as an obsequious nurse
expressed it, “a perfect picter.” That worthy lady, Mrs. Tasker by
name, and fat, plethoric and red-faced by nature, was at the end of
the nursery attending to some articles of the young gentleman’s
toilet, and Alizon had her child all to herself, for which privilege
she was profoundly grateful, as Mrs. Tasker was a terrible autocrat.
A wonderful change had come over her since she had become a mother,
for the statue had become a woman, the iceberg had melted, and in all
her life she never looked so womanly as she did at this moment. Her
face, flushed a delicate rose-colour, was sparkling with animation,
her lips were parted in a merry laugh, and her eyes, soft and tender,
absolutely seemed to devour the child as she bent forward to play with
Sammy was sitting like an infant Marius among the ruins of a Carthage
of toys, for around him on all sides lay the evidences of his
destructive capabilities. A woolly quadruped, something between a dog
and a cow, dignified with the name of “Ba-lamb,” lay on its back,
piteously extending one mangled leg, the other three having been
bitten off, and an indecent india-rubber doll, with no clothes and a
squeak, was being dragged about by a string. There were several other
things, such as a drum (broken), a toy soldier (head missing), a
wooden Noah (paint sucked off), and last, but not least, a hunting
crop of his father’s, which was Sammy’s special delight, because it
wasn’t supposed to be proper for him to have it.
Sammy at present was hammering “Eliza” (the doll aforesaid) with the
whip, when suddenly discovering that one shoe had come off in his
exertions, he rendered things equal by pulling off the other shoe, and
then chuckled with delight at his success.
“Naughty Sammy,” reproved his mother, bending down to pick up the
shoes. “Mustn’t do that–ah, bad child!”
The bad child, attracted by the fact that both shoes were out of his
reach, made a snatch at them, with the result that he over-balanced
himself, and came down heavily on his head. He was undecided whether
to howl or not, when his mother settled the question by picking him up
with a cry of pity, whereat, knowing the right thing to do, he howled
“Mother’s own precious! mother’s own darling!” lamented Alizon,
rocking him to and fro on her breast; upon which Sammy, finding the
rocking pleasant, roared louder than ever, whereupon Mrs. Tasker
hurried forward to give her opinion.
“Why, whatever’s the matter, my lady?” she asked anxiously. “He hasn’t
swallowed anything has he?”
This was Mrs. Tasker’s constant nightmare, for Sammy had an
ostrich-like capacity for swallowing anything that came handy, and
disposed of all sorts of things in this manner, to the great detriment
of his stomach.
“He’s hurt his head, Nurse,” explained Lady Errington, anxiously,
while Sammy, satisfied at being the centre of attraction, stopped
roaring. “His poor head. He fell over on the floor.”
“He’s allay’s doin’ that,” said Nurse in despair. “I nivir did see
sich a topply child. Feathers is lead to his upsettings.”
The comparison was not a particularly happy one, but it served Mrs.
Tasker, who thereupon wanted to take Sammy from his mother, a
proceeding to which Lady Errington strongly objected.
“No, don’t Nurse please! let me hold him a little time! See he’s quite
And indeed, Sammy was now behaving like an angel, for being attracted
by a small gold brooch his mother wore, he was standing up on his
sturdy legs, plucking at it with chubby fingers, and gurgling to
himself in a most satisfied manner.
“I nivir did see such a dear child,” remarked Mrs. Tasker admiringly.
“‘Is ‘owls is hoff as soon as on. Why the last as I nussed, my lady,
were that givin’ to hollerin’ as you might ‘ave thought I’d put ‘im to
bed with a pin-cushing. But as for Master Sammy, well—-” and casting
up her little eyes to the ceiling, Mrs. Tasker expressed in pantomime,
with a pair of dumpy red hands, that words failed her.
“He’s an angel! an angel!” murmured Alizon fondly, covering the rosy
little face with kisses. “Oh, nurse, isn’t he perfect?”
Nurse expressed her firm conviction that there never was nor never
would be such a perfectly angelic child, and then the two women
indulged in a lavish display of grovelling affection, with many
inarticulated words, tender fondlings and indistinct kisses, all of
which Sammy accepted with the greatest calmness as his just due.
At this moment a servant entered the nursery to inform Lady Errington
that Sir Guy and Mr. Eustace Gartney were waiting for her in the Dutch
room, at which Alizon was in despair, for it was now the time when
Sammy took his airing, and therefore one of the most interesting
events of the day. However, much as she disliked leaving the child,
she could hardly refuse to see Eustace without appearing pointedly
rude, so sent the servant away with the information that she would be
“I won’t be longer than I can help, Nurse,” she said dolefully,
delivering Sammy into the extended arms of Mrs. Tasker. “Be sure you
take the greatest care in dressing him.”
“Well, my lady,” said Mrs. Tasker, with scathing irony, “I ‘opes as
I’ve dressed a child afore.”
“Yes! Yes! of course,” replied Lady Errington hastily, for she had a
wholesome fear of the autocrat’s temper, “but you know how anxious I
am! and his bottle, Nurse! take care it’s warm, and Nurse! please
don’t go out until I send up a message.”
“Will it be long?” demanded Mrs. Tasker determinedly, “because there
ain’t much sun, and this blessed child must git as much as he can. It
makes ‘im grow.”
“No! only a few minutes,” said Alizon quickly. “You see, Nurse, I’ll
want to show him to Mr. Gartney. Take the greatest care–the very
greatest care–goodbye, mother’s angel–kiss mother, dearest.”
Sammy opened his button of a mouth and bestowed a damp caress on his
mother, which was his idea of kissing, and then Lady Errington,
yielding to stern necessity, withdrew slowly, with her eyes fixed on
the child to the last, and even when she closed the nursery door, she
strained her ears to hear him crowing.
Both gentlemen were waiting in the Dutch room, which received its name
from the fact that it looked out on to the prim garden, with the rows
of box-wood, the beds of gaudy tulips and the fantastically clipped
yew trees. Guy was in a much more cheerful mood than usual, as he
thought that the panacea prescribed by Eustace would make an end of
all his troubles, and Gartney himself experienced a wonderful feeling
of exhilaration at the near prospect of seeing his visionary lady of
Como once more.
The soft sweep of a robe, the turning of the handle of the door, and
in another moment she stood before him, a fair, gracious woman, who
advanced slowly with outstretched hand and a kindly smile.
“How do you do, Mr. Gartney, after all this time?” she said sweetly,
clasping his extended hand. “I thought we were never going to see you
Was this the pale, cold Undine he had last seen at Como, more ethereal
than the visioned spirits of romance? Was this the perfect, bloodless
statue of whom Guy complained? This lovely breathing woman, aflush
with all the tender grace of motherhood, with delicately pink cheeks,
eyes brilliant with animation, and a voice rich and mellow as the
sound of a silver bell. Yes! his prophecy had come true; the haunting,
hungry look had departed from her eyes, for in the full satisfaction
of the strong maternal instinct the thin, unsubstantial ghost of
maidenhood had disappeared; and in this beautiful woman, aglow with
exuberant vitality, he recognized the reality of the visionary
creation of his dreaming brain.
“Did you think I was lost in Arabian solitudes?” he said, recovering
from his momentary fit of abstraction. “I’m afraid I’m not the sort of
man to be lost. I always come back again, like a modern Prodigal Son.”
Alizon laughed when he spoke thus, but months afterwards she
recollected those careless words. At present, however, she sat down
near him, and began to talk, while Guy, who had uttered no word since
she entered the room, stood silently at the window, staring out at the
quaint Dutch garden.
“Now I suppose you are going to stay at home, and tell your tales from
your own chimney corner?” said Lady Errington, clasping her hands
loosely on her knees.
Eustace shook his head.
“I thought so the other day, but now–I’m going on an exploring
expedition up the Nile.”
“You must have the blood of the Wandering Jew in your veins.”
“Or Cain!–he was rather fond of travelling, wasn’t he?”
“Don’t be profane, Mr. Gartney,” said Alizon, trying to look serious.
“But really you ought to settle down and marry.”
“Yes, shouldn’t he?” observed Guy caustically, turning round. “Go in
for the delights of the family circle.”
“That all depends whether he would appreciate them or not,” replied
Lady Errington coldly, flashing an indignant look at her husband, upon
which Eustace to avoid unpleasantness made a hasty observation.
“By the way, talking of the family circle, I have to congratulate you,
Lady Errington, on the birth of a son.”
Alizon’s eyes, which had hardened while looking at Guy, grew wondrous
soft and tender.
“Yes!–he is the dearest child in the world–everyone loves him except
“What nonsense Alizon!” said Guy, hastily turning towards his wife.
“I’m very fond of him indeed, but one gets tired of babies.”
“I daresay, but not of their own children,” answered Lady Errington
indignantly. “You must see him, Mr. Gartney, and I’m sure you’ll say
you never saw such a lovely child.”
She arose from her seat and left the room quickly, while Eustace
looked reproachfully at Guy.
“You shouldn’t talk like that,” he said quietly, “I don’t wonder you
find things disagreeable if you sneer at the child.”
“I don’t sneer at the child,” retorted Guy sullenly, “but I’m tired of
hearing nothing but baby chatter all day long.”
“Perhaps, if you were as attentive to the baby as your wife, it would
“Nonsense! I can’t be on my knees before a cradle all day, and besides
Alizon won’t let me come near it. One would think I was going to
murder the child the way she looks at me when I lay a finger on it.”
“Mr. Gartney,” said Lady Errington’s voice at the door. “Come upstairs
with me to the nursery.”
“Can’t I come to Paradise also?” observed Guy wistfully as his cousin
was leaving the room.
“Certainly, come if you care to,” replied Alizon coldly.
“No, thank you,” replied Errington abruptly, his brow growing black
with rage at the coldness of the invitation.
“I’ll stay here till you return.”
Lady Errington went upstairs slowly with Eustace, with a look of anger
on her face.
“You see,” she said bitterly, pausing at the nursery door, “he does
not care a bit about his child.”
“Oh, I think he does,” answered Eustace discreetly, “but he thought
you did not want him to come.”
“I am always glad for him to come,” remarked Alizon coldly, “but when
he does he only makes disagreeable remarks about the boy, so his
visits are never very pleasant.”
Things were decidedly wrong between this young couple, and they so
thoroughly misunderstood one another that Eustace was at a loss how to
set them right. He was saved the trouble of further thought, however,
by Lady Errington opening the door and preceding him into the nursery.
“There he is, Mr. Gartney,” said the young mother, “look at my
“My precious,” in all the glory of white hat, white cape and woolly
gloves and shoes, was seated in his perambulator ready to go out for
his airing, and Mrs. Tasker, with the under-nurse, were both attached
to the wheels of his chariot. At the sight of Gartney’s bronzed face,
he set up a howl, and was only pacified by being taken out of his
carriage into the protecting arms of his mother.
“The complete Madonna now,” thought Eustace, as he looked at the
flushed face of the young mother bending over the rosy one of the
“Did he cry then! sweetest! What do you think of him, Mr. Gartney?”
“There can be but one opinion,” replied that gentleman solemnly, “he’s
a very beautiful child, and you may well be proud of him, Lady
“Did you ever see a finer child?” demanded Alizon, insatiable for
“No, never,” answered Eustace, which was true enough, as he hated
babies and never looked at them unless forced to. “Hi, baby, chuck!
“Goo! goo! goo!” gurgled Master Errington, and stretched out his
chubby arms to Gartney, intimating thereby a desire to improve his
acquaintance with that gentleman.
“Oh, he’s quite taken to you,” said Lady Errington gaily. “Just feel
what a weight he is.”
So Eustace was forced to take the child in his arms, and looked as
awkward as a man usually does when burdened with a baby. Ultimately
Sammy was returned to his mother’s arms, and she took him down the
stairs, while the footman and Mrs. Tasker between them carried down
the light wickerwork perambulator.
“Wheel him up and down the terrace for a time, Nurse,” said Alizon,
when the child was once more replaced in his little carriage. “I’ll be
They were standing at the door, and Lady Errington waited there until
Mrs. Tasker vanished with the baby round the corner on to the wide
terrace, when she turned to Eustace with a sigh.
“Does that mean that you are anxious to get to the baby?” asked
Eustace, raising his eyebrows, as they walked back to the Dutch room.
“Oh no, really,” replied Lady Errington, with polite mendacity, “do
you think I am never happy away from Sammy?”
“Are you?” he asked, eyeing her keenly.
Alizon flushed a bright crimson, laughed in an uneasy manner and
“What a shame to push me into a corner!” she said at length, raising
her clear eyes to his face. “No!–I am never happy away from my child.
I am so afraid of any accident happening! Dear me, what has become of
They had entered the Dutch room by this time and found it empty, but
on the table afternoon tea was laid out, so Alizon sat down to pour
out Eustace a cup. Gartney looked at her furtively as she did this,
and thought he had never seen her look so charming.
“Lucky Guy,” he said at length, taking the cup she handed to him.
“Because of Sammy?” she asked, looking at him with a bright smile.
“No! because of you!” replied Eustace boldly, whereat she shook her
blonde head gaily, though her lips wore a somewhat scornful look.
“I’m afraid Guy doesn’t think so!”
Eustace judged this a good opening from which to lead up to his
attempt at reconciliation, so spoke out at once.
“Lady Errington, don’t you think you are rather hard upon Guy?”
She turned her face towards him sharply.
“Why do you ask that?” she demanded coldly.
“I am afraid it is a liberty,” answered Eustace slowly, “but you see I
am Guy’s cousin, so the near relationship must excuse my apparent
rudeness. But the fact is you don’t seem perfectly happy.”
“I am happy, perfectly happy I have everything in the world I
desire–health, wealth and my darling child.”
“I see you don’t count your husband among your blessings,” said
“Oh, yes! I’m very fond of Guy. He is the father of my child!”
“Is that the only reason you are fond of him?”
“Really, Mr. Gartney, I do not see by what right you speak like this
to me,” she said with great hauteur.
“I beg your pardon,” said Eustace, with cold politeness. “I was wrong
to do so.”
Lady Errington began to twist her marriage ring round and round, as if
she wanted to pull it off, and a frown passed across her mobile face.
Eustace, versed in the ways of her sex, knew that those signs
betokened further remarks on her part, so he wisely said nothing, but
waited for the outburst, which came exactly as he expected.
“I am very fond of Guy,” she asserted defiantly. “I would not have
married him if I had not been fond of him. What makes you think I’m
not? I suppose Aunt Jelly has been saying something?”
“My dear Lady Errington,” responded Gartney replacing, his cup on the
table, “I had no right to speak as I did. I beg your pardon.”
“Please answer my question, Mr. Gartney,” she said angrily, a red spot
of colour burning on either cheek. “Has Aunt Jelly been saying
Gartney was not the man to remain in any difficulty where a lie could
help him out of it, so he replied to her question with the greatest
“Aunt Jelly has been saying nothing. The only reason that makes me
speak is that you seem to me to be fonder of the baby than of your own
The murder was out, and he was prepared for a storm, but it did not
come, as Alizon had quite as much self-control as himself.
“Well, and what is wrong in that?” she said coldly. “I do love my
child more than my husband, any mother would.”
“Isn’t that rather hard on the husband?”
“No! I do not see it! Of course, I love Guy very much–much more than
he loves his child,” she finished with a burst of passion.
“I think Guy is very fond of the child,” said Eustace quietly.
“He is not,” she replied angrily, rising to her feet; “he grudges
every hour I spend with the boy. He would have me neglect the child
in order to be always with him. But there, what is the use of
talking?–neither you nor Guy can understand the feelings of a
This remark closed the discussion so far as Eustace was concerned, for
he deemed it useless to argue with a woman who was so blind to
everything except her maternal feelings, so he hastened to turn the
“You are right there, Lady Errington,” he said good-humouredly, “I am
a bachelor, so know absolutely nothing about these things. But Guy
looks a little knocked up, so I want to take him to town with me.”
“Oh, certainly,” replied Alizon indifferently. “A run up to town will
do him good. I want Guy to enjoy himself in every way. But now, Mr.
Gartney, excuse me for a time, as I must go and see how the baby is
getting on. Will you stay to dinner?”
“No, thank you,” said Eustace, rising and holding out his hand. “I
have some letters to write this evening, but I will come over
to-morrow and see you before I go back to town.”
“That’s right,” answered Lady Errington, smiling as she pressed his
hand. “Goodbye at present. Come to-morrow, and I will show you the
She went to the door, when it suddenly opened, and Guy entered.
“Oh, here you are, Guy,” she said sweetly, as he stood holding the
door open for her to pass through, “I was just going to send for you.
Mr. Gartney is going away.”
“And where are you going?” asked Guy, with a half-smile on his stern
“Can you ask?” she said archly. “To the baby, of course.” And with a
laugh she vanished through the doorway, while Guy, with a scowl,
pushed the door roughly to, and strode across the room to Eustace.
“Well?” he demanded curtly.
“Well,” answered Eustace coolly, “I did what I could–but of course,
my dear fellow, it’s a very delicate matter, and really I had no right
to interfere in any way.”
“What did she say?” demanded Guy roughly, turning as white as a sheet.
“She said you had better go to Town with me,” answered Gartney
Guy burst out with a harsh laugh, and turned towards the window with a
gesture of despair.
“Good God! and I’m breaking my heart for that statue.”