“Anne,” said Charles, “I wish you could persuade Mary not to be always fancying herself ill.”
Anne, who really thought Charles bore very patiently with his wife, disliked anything resembling interference, or being placed in the midst of disputes. Yet she felt decided sympathy for her brother-in-law, and so she resolved to try.
A gentle word about her health, brought Mary to a fine state of agitation and tirade, giving her a loose for the most elaborate recitation of complaints her sister had heard yet.
“I assure you, my health is very much worse than any body gives me credit for,” she cried. “You who are unmarried can have no conception – no idea. Indeed, I do not know if it is fit for me to discuss such things with a single woman.”
Anne assured her that there was no unfitness involved. “After all, it is not as if I were a very young girl, Mary, and I am your sister. I think you may tell me any thing you like.”
“Well! I will tell you this much, then,” Mary paused impressively. “That all the miseries I feel, emanate from the same place.”
“And where is that?” asked Anne, not without apprehension.
Mary sat up from the sofa in her urgency. “From my womb!”
Anne took this calmly. “I daresay that such symptoms are often the case with young married women. Has the doctor been consulted?”
“Certainly, I had Dr. Black for both confinements, you recall. And with little Walter – well, to be sure he was not little, he was a baby of near nine pounds, and I assure you I felt ripped apart from limb to limb. You cannot possibly imagine how I suffered, and still do suffer.”
“That is very sad to hear,” said Anne, “but Walter is now two years old. Surely there has been some – healing?”
Mary shook her head vigorously. “Not a bit of it. Such tears, such miseries, such spasms, as I endured, may never be recovered from, not in a lifetime. You have never endured the unspeakable agony of childbirth, when you lie expecting to die at every instant!”
“But you have two fine, healthy little boys, and you have always gone on well afterwards.”
“Yes, but at what cost! Why, between us, I would have you know, every month I virtually exsanguinate.”
“Why, Mary,” Anne replied mildly, “you know, such courses are what all women must experience; it is women’s lot.”
“How can you talk of women’s lot? Whatever other women may endure, I am sure that my courses are worse than any one’s!”
“I am very sorry to hear that, Mary.”
“We have to pay the laundry-maid double wages, and I never hear the end of it from Charles. He has no sympathy or comprehension of what we women have to go through.”
Anne did not feel that she was making much headway. “I am sure he does feel sympathy,” she assured her sister earnestly.
“He has a fine way of showing it then. Do you know, Anne, I should not even be speaking of this, but I have started another. It is all Charles’ fault. Deny that, if you can. But oh,” she wrung her hands, “there is no use talking to you. You are not a married woman, and cannot put yourself in my place.”
Anne considered a moment. It was certainly not her place, and would hardly even be decent, for her to recommend a regime of separate bedrooms to her sister and brother-in-law; advice she felt would be useless at best, and never be adhered to in any event. “That is joyful news,” she offered, trying for cheerfulness. “Perhaps it will be a daughter, this time.”
“Joyful! When my two little boys are so over active and infinitely too much for me as it is! Why, little Charles jumped right upon my stomach the other day. He did! And all the while Walter was screaming like a catamount in my ear. I have not recovered yet. My stomach feels all in a roil, my back is stabbing so I can hardly stand, and my headach is the worst that was ever seen.”
Mary paused impressively, sure she had made her effect.
“I will tell you what,” said Anne thoughtfully. “You may have been too young to remember, but you know I was fourteen when we lost our dear mother, and I do remember some things. She was often poorly, you know.”
“I don’t really remember,” said Mary in a less hysterical, more sober tone. “I know she was in bed, just as I ought to be this minute, and then she was gone, out like a wink, as I know will surely happen to me. Most likely with this childbirth, if not a great deal sooner.”
Anne tactfully ignored this. “What I think may help,” she suggested, “is something our mother took. A special tea, made of herbs. I helped her to make it, and believe I can give you some, if you will let me try.”
Mary made an ungracious noise, but Anne took this as encouragement, and a short time in the pantry produced a bouquet of soothing herbs that she steeped in a pot, and brought to Mary. Anne poured the tea, and sat by her sofa sharing the harmless but sweet smelling brew.
“I think I do remember our mother having this,” Mary said after a little while. “The odour brings her back to me.”
Anne put her hand on Mary’s. “And to me, too,” she said softly, and they sat quietly for a little while, in sisterly silence, enjoying their tea, and lost in thought
The result was that Mary was soon better; and the vagaries of her early expectations settled down and even improved under the double influence of her sister Anne’s kind concern and her efficacious tea-brewing. Soon she was able to sit, and then stand, and then at last begin to take an interest in the outer world.
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