The sodden stretches of the months of pregnancy
Had had but one green orchid;
That was their sole pauseful
And suspended moment of beauty.
He had brought it home to her at dawn
On the day before Christmas,
And he was a little drunken as he dropped it on her bed.
But it was a green orchid,
And pleased she took it unquestioningly.
He had bought it with many more
Hours and hours earlier for the girl,
Who was then amusing him.
In some way it had got into his pocket--
Or, perhaps, it was his buttonhole.
He had noticed it as he entered the abode of maternity,
And with his quick sense of values
He offered it in a tenderness.
He would have sent her orchids every day,
But he had no money to spare. He must live.
He was spending the nine months with her--
He had promised to do that--to take care of her
Until their child was born--
Then she would go away with the child.
She was grateful, and, in a way, content.
He had taken an apartment for her far from Broadway,
And sooner or later every night he came home to her.
In the morning she took him his breakfast first,
Then gave him a cigarette, and made his telephone calls--
There was always one, at least,
To arrange for a luncheon or a tea hour,
For, continuously, he was deeply in love.
He told her all his secrets,
And by the eighth month she had come in her daily talks
To call three women by their first names.
He had loved each one,
And he still, it appeared, loved the third.
She had lent him all her money,
And he was paying it back during the nine months--
He made her an allowance each week,
And he felt very proud
That he gave her so much of his scant income.
Every fourth week or so he would be held up
On the way home and robbed,
But she got the three weeks' money,
So she was too wise to question or to remember.
Soon there were the doctor and the nurse,
And the last waiting week had arrived.
He was hard to seize then, for he had so many engagements.
There was a hint of a new and lovelier girl.
But she wrote him notes and left them on his bed,
And went about her plans in silence.
She made a cheque out to him for all the money
She had saved and put in the bank,
For she expected to die with her babe,
And she wanted him to take the money and bury her
And the child in the absurd graveyard in the mountains,
Where her adorable drunken father lay.
It was having had such a father
That let her understand him.
She put the cheque
In the bottom of her trunk,
In which were all her theatrical costumes,
And with the cheque she put the biography
She had thought out.
The biography was for the doctor
And his report to the authorities.
She was his sister and she was married--
Her husband was in the West and was detained
From coming to her by imperative business.
Thus she smoothed out to niceness
The troublesome details of the function of birth.
In the last night, with the birth pains
Gripping her, she came to his bedroom,
For he had come home earlier, and her nurse
Was asleep after a tiring day.
She told him of the cheque and her heart's wishes.
He listened tolerantly, and wondered why
It was so fascinating to watch a woman in labour.
She was silent in her agony,
And he rather liked her for that.
Then he fell to speculating on the cheque,
And he asked himself whether there was
Any likelihood that she would die.
It seemed a shame, but it would be
A solution of the problem.
She really wasn't equipped to go on alone
With the handicap of a baby,
And he would give her the serene burial she longed for.
There was four hundred dollars, he learned,
But he would spend every sou of it
For her funeral and the child's.
One could give a flashing party for four hundred dollars,
But that was outside the question--
He was merely the steward of her estate.
Next day he had to leave early--
The delivery, he was told, was still some hours off,
But he would keep in touch by telephone,
And he must hear "Manon";
It had all been arranged for.
It was difficult to telephone,
Yet he did after nightfall--during dinner--
And he turned a trifle pale when he learned
That she had, in truth, died--and the babe with her.
In fact, he felt a bit sick.
There was much to attend to;
He ought to get the cheque at once,
And make plans for the burial.
He sent for a newspaper to look up an undertaker,
And it chanced that the only advertisement he could find
Was of one who promised adequate disposal
Of the dead for seventy-five dollars.
He could not help it--it was thrust at him;
And the child would only be a trifle more--
At the most one hundred dollars for both,
And then there would be three hundred dollars left unneeded.
It was sentimental to think about the dead--
What did it matter where one was buried or how?
And he could get the cheque cashed tonight,
And this was the night!
With three hundred dollars he could give a party
That would be memorable,
And he had not done much thus far for her.
She was of a loveliness,
And he was sure he would cease to wander when he got her.
Death had simplified everything--
It was no use being morose.
He could afford a taxi now
To get uptown quickly for the cheque.
But he would telephone the undertaker first,
Then a half dozen people for guests,
And, last of all, her who had come at the fitting hour
To make his heart glad and at rest.
It was all swiftly done,
And the whir of the motor was grateful music.
He had done cruelly by himself to deny his soul
For all these months the napory of Rector's
And the gold service and the glass.
He loved beauty so!
He remembered it was absinthe
That had made this dear, new woman
Kind to him that first night, so in memory
He ordered absinthe for himself,
While she and his guests drank Pommery.
He knew he had behaved admirably through the long nine months--
He felt it would give a touch of sterling honesty
To his character, a stupid, basic honesty
He had always so needed.
And he let himself sink away from all the immediate past
That had been so incongruous and impossible.
One way or other the undertaker
Would do all that was necessary--
He needn't even visit the apartment again.
And somehow he knew she would invite him
To go home with her
When they got rid of their guests.
He ordered another absinthe!