Chapter I: Stephen
Stephen Norman of Normanstand had remained a bachelor until close on
middle age, when the fact took hold of him that there was no
immediate heir to his great estate. Whereupon, with his wonted
decision, he set about looking for a wife.
He had been a close friend of his next neighbour, Squire Rowly, ever
since their college days. They had, of course, been often in each
other's houses, and Rowly's young sister--almost a generation younger
than himself, and the sole fruit of his father's second marriage--had
been like a little sister to him too. She had, in the twenty years
which had elapsed, grown to be a sweet and beautiful young woman. In
all the past years, with the constant opportunity which friendship
gave of close companionship, the feeling never altered. Squire
Norman would have been surprised had he been asked to describe
Margaret Rowly and found himself compelled to present the picture of
a woman, not a child.
Now, however, when his thoughts went womanward and wifeward, he awoke
to the fact that Margaret came within the category of those he
sought. His usual decision ran its course. Semi-brotherly feeling
gave place to a stronger and perhaps more selfish feeling. Before he
even knew it, he was head over ears in love with his pretty
Norman was a fine man, stalwart and handsome; his forty years sat so
lightly on him that his age never seemed to come into question in a
woman's mind. Margaret had always liked him and trusted him; he was
the big brother who had no duty in the way of scolding to do. His
presence had always been a gladness; and the sex of the girl, first
unconsciously then consciously, answered to the man's overtures, and
her consent was soon obtained.
When in the fulness of time it was known that an heir was expected,
Squire Norman took for granted that the child would be a boy, and
held the idea so tenaciously that his wife, who loved him deeply,
gave up warning and remonstrance after she had once tried to caution
him against too fond a hope. She saw how bitterly he would be
disappointed in case it should prove to be a girl. He was, however,
so fixed on the point that she determined to say no more. After all,
it might be a boy; the chances were equal. The Squire would not
listen to any one else at all; so as the time went on his idea was
more firmly fixed than ever. His arrangements were made on the base
that he would have a son. The name was of course decided. Stephen
had been the name of all the Squires of Normanstand for ages--as far
back as the records went; and Stephen the new heir of course would
Like all middle-aged men with young wives he was supremely anxious as
the time drew near. In his anxiety for his wife his belief in the
son became passive rather than active. Indeed, the idea of a son was
so deeply fixed in his mind that it was not disturbed even by his
anxiety for the young wife he idolised.
When instead of a son a daughter was born, the Doctor and the nurse,
who knew his views on the subject, held back from the mother for a
little the knowledge of the sex. Dame Norman was so weak that the
Doctor feared lest anxiety as to how her husband would bear the
disappointment, might militate against her. Therefore the Doctor
sought the Squire in his study, and went resolutely at his task.
'Well, Squire, I congratulate you on the birth of your child!'
Norman was of course struck with the use of the word 'child'; but the
cause of his anxiety was manifested by his first question:
'How is she, Doctor? Is she safe?' The child was after all of
secondary importance! The Doctor breathed more freely; the question
had lightened his task. There was, therefore, more assurance in his
voice as he answered:
'She is safely through the worst of her trouble, but I am greatly
anxious yet. She is very weak. I fear anything that might upset
The Squire's voice came quick and strong:
'There must be no upset! And now tell me about my son?' He spoke
the last word half with pride, half bashfully.
'Your son is a daughter!' There was silence for so long that the
Doctor began to be anxious. Squire Norman sat quite still; his right
hand resting on the writing-table before him became clenched so hard
that the knuckles looked white and the veins red. After a long slow
breath he spoke:
'She, my daughter, is well?' The Doctor answered with cheerful
'Splendid!--I never saw a finer child in my life. She will be a
comfort and an honour to you!' The Squire spoke again:
'What does her mother think? I suppose she's very proud of her?'
'She does not know yet that it is a girl. I thought it better not to
let her know till I had told you.'
'Because--because--Norman, old friend, you know why! Because you had
set your heart on a son; and I know how it would grieve that sweet
young wife and mother to feel your disappointment. I want your lips
to be the first to tell her; so that on may assure her of your
happiness in that a daughter has been born to you.'
The Squire put out his great hand and laid it on the other's
shoulder. There was almost a break in his voice as he said:
'Thank you, my old friend, my true friend, for your thought. When
may I see her?'
'By right, not yet. But, as knowing your views, she may fret herself
till she knows, I think you had better come at once.'
All Norman's love and strength combined for his task. As he leant
over and kissed his young wife there was real fervour in his voice as
'Where is my dear daughter that you may place her in my arms?' For
an instant there came a chill to the mother's heart that her hopes
had been so far disappointed; but then came the reaction of her joy
that her husband, her baby's father, was pleased. There was a
heavenly dawn of red on her pale face as she drew her husband's head
down and kissed him.
'Oh, my dear,' she said, 'I am so happy that you are pleased!' The
nurse took the mother's hand gently and held it to the baby as she
laid it in the father's arms.
He held the mother's hand as he kissed the baby's brow.
The Doctor touched him gently on the arm and beckoned him away. He
went with careful footsteps, looking behind as he went.
After dinner he talked with the Doctor on various matters; but
presently he asked:
'I suppose, Doctor, it is no sort of rule that the first child
regulates the sex of a family?'
'No, of course not. Otherwise how should we see boys and girls mixed
in one family, as is nearly always the case. But, my friend,' he
went on, 'you must not build hopes so far away. I have to tell you
that your wife is far from strong. Even now she is not so well as I
could wish, and there yet may be change.' The Squire leaped
impetuously to his feet as he spoke quickly:
'Then why are we waiting here? Can nothing be done? Let us have the
best help, the best advice in the world.' The Doctor raised his
'Nothing can be done as yet. I have only fear.'
'Then let us be ready in case your fears should be justified! Who
are the best men in London to help in such a case?' The Doctor
mentioned two names; and within a few minutes a mounted messenger was
galloping to Norcester, the nearest telegraph centre. The messenger
was to arrange for a special train if necessary. Shortly afterwards
the Doctor went again to see his patient. After a long absence he
came back, pale and agitated. Norman felt his heart sink when he saw
him; a groan broke from him as the Doctor spoke:
'She is much worse! I am in great fear that she may pass away before
the morning!' The Squire's strong voice was clouded, with a hoarse
veil as he asked:
'May I see her?'
'Not yet; at present she is sleeping. She may wake strengthened; in
which case you may see her. But if not--'
'If not?'--the voice was not like his own.
'Then I shall send for you at once!' The Doctor returned to his
vigil. The Squire, left alone, sank on his knees, his face in his
hands; his great shoulders shook with the intensity of his grief.
An hour or more passed before he heard hurried steps. He sprang to
'You had better come now.'
'Is she better?'
'Alas! no. I fear her minutes are numbered. School yourself, my
dear old friend! God will help you in this bitter hour. All you can
do now is to make her last moments happy.'
'I know! I know!' he answered in a voice so calm that his companion
When they came into the room Margaret was dozing. When her eyes
opened and she found her husband beside her bed there spread over her
face a glad look; which, alas! soon changed to one of pain. She
motioned to him to bend down. He knelt and put his head beside her
on the pillow; his arms went tenderly round her as though by his iron
devotion and strength he would shield her from all harm. Her voice
came very low and in broken gasps; she was summoning all her strength
that she might speak:
'My dear, dear husband, I am so sad at leaving you! You have made me
so happy, and I love you so! Forgive me, dear, for the pain I know
you will suffer when I am gone! And oh, Stephen, I know you will
cherish our little one--yours and mine--when I am gone. She will
have no mother; you will have to be father and mother too.'
'I will hold her in my very heart's core, my darling, as I hold you!'
He could hardly speak from emotion. She went on:
'And oh, my dear, you will not grieve that she is not a son to carry
on your name?' And then a sudden light came into her eyes; and there
was exultation in her weak voice as she said:
'She is to be our only one; let her be indeed our son! Call her the
name we both love!' For answer he rose and laid his hand very, very
tenderly on the babe as he said:
'This dear one, my sweet wife, who will carry your soul in her
breast, will be my son; the only son I shall ever have. All my life
long I shall, please Almighty God, so love her--our little Stephen--
as you and I love each other!'
She laid her hand on his so that it touched at once her husband and
her child. Then she raised the other weak arm, and placed it round
his neck, and their lips met. Her soul went out in this last kiss.