Read CHAPTER XVI of The Gentle Art of Cooking Wives , free online book, by Elizabeth Strong Worthington, on ReadCentral.com.

Time has run on. It is just three years from the morning Steve came home. He was quite ill for awhile after that, and from his feverish talk Nannie learned several things. In his convalescence they became acquainted, and Steve felt that his wife’s handy, pretty nursing was the sweetest experience he had ever known.

Shortly after he was on his feet again Nannie returned from Constance’s, whither she had run of an errand one morning, with a great distress working on her face.

She entered the study, where Steve sat at his desk writing, and tried to speak, but words failed her, and she sobbed instead.

Steve went to her quickly, and his gentle face and manner were eloquent with concern and sympathy.

“Why, my dear, what has happened?”

“It’s the little baby! She’s been so ill all night! She can’t live!”

“Oh, my dear! Oh, that is too sad!” and Steve’s face flushed and quivered.

“You must come right back with me, Steve; they are in such grief.”

They went in without pausing to ring and tiptoed their way to Constance’s room. The house was very still.

In response to their soft tap Randolph opened the door. When he saw Steve he broke into a great sob and laid his head on the shoulder of the dear friend of olden days.

“Oh, is she gone?” cried Nannie, entering the room.

Constance nodded and turned away, but Nannie burst into uncontrollable grief as she saw the little white-faced figure lying in the crib.

“I never want a child!” cried Nannie passionately. “If God can be so cruel as to take her, I never want one!”

It was Constance who was forced to comfort.

“Don’t say that, dear,” she urged gently. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t keep her, but I know that God is good. And we’d rather have her this way than never to have held our own little baby

But here she broke down and wept convulsively over the tiny crib.

And Steve and Nannie wept as they went homeward together hand in hand.

There is another baby there now a jolly, roystering little fellow, just one year old to-day, on his mother’s birthday, and a very precious little man he is; but the dear little girl who just alighted in their arms long enough to lay hold upon their heartstrings and then flew away with the other angels is not forgotten.

Randolph stepped over to Steve’s desk this morning to ask if he and Nannie would be sure to come in the evening to celebrate the double birthday.

“If it’s at all clear we will, old man, and gladly,” said Steve, “but it looks to me as if a big storm were brewing.”

“Well, I hope you can come. We think a deal of these anniversaries. Each one of ’em marks off a happy year, I tell you, old man.”

“No doubt,” said Steve gently.

“And the years have been successful, too,” continued Randolph. “On the whole to speak between friends I’ve managed pretty well, I think.”

“Pretty well with one,” said Steve, and there was a slight gleam in his eye as he recalled Randolph’s bachelor boast that he could manage forty women. “Now for the thirty-nine.”

“Steve,” said Randolph, “you’re a good fellow, but you’ll have to let up on that forty. I had sense enough, after all, to marry only one of them, and occasionally I have my doubts looks a little as if even that one managed me. Just you drop the thirty-nine. You’re using the poker too freely.”

And then they fell to talking about how warm it was on this same day three years ago.

Steve was right, for that afternoon it began to snow and it forgot to stop. He had hard work to get home and still harder to get out and attend to the little stock. The chickens, he found, had had the sense to go to roost before time; both Brownie and the cat were safe indoor; they could look out for themselves, but the gentle, fawn-like Jersey (quite a different animal from the wild-eyed beast of three years agone) had expectations, and she must needs receive especial care.

After Steve had fed her and seen that she was comfortable for the night, he made his way into the house with a feeling that only a very happy man can understand.

Nannie was busy upstairs and called to him not to come up, as she had a surprise in store. He was to stir the fire and set her chair, which she would fill directly, and Steve had done all this and now was walking about the room, which was bright and pretty in the firelight, handling the books and magazines, trying a chord or two on the piano, and looking occasionally from the windows out into the night.

That was wild enough, what with wind, and ice, and snow. Every now and then the little house shuddered in the blast, which was shrieking in the chimneys. The window glass was bearded with snow, which melted here and there and ran for a little space; then, lest one should fancy the weather were shedding repentant tears, it stiffened into ice straightway. Down at the foot of the bluff the lake was booming; there was something to make the blood run cold about its mighty passion. One thought of the boats at its mercy that night and whispered, God help them!

There, in the center of it all, ’neath the trees that were clashing arms with one another in the storm, stood the snug little home, with the study, over whose pictured walls the cheery, flickering light played at glow and shadow. And there, close to the merry blaze, poker in hand, sat Steve, as happy, as well content a man as you’d find, though you looked far and wide. Brownie occupied the other chair, and it appeared that he had much to say. Nannie was singing singing to the baby upstairs and Steve and Brownie hearkened to the pretty notes.

“You hear that, sir?” asked Brownie, with his head slightly tilted and cocked on one side.

Steve poked assent at the fire.

“You didn’t think much of her at one time, did you?”

Steve was gravely shocked and promptly poked remonstrance into the glowing coals.

“Well, you were rather discouraged about her you know that,” persisted Brownie.

Steve looked ashamed, but he was honest enough to nod slightly.

“And now you see there isn’t a less wearisome, a nicer, brighter

Here Steve interrupted by stabbing the fire’s front in a manner betokening the heartiest concurrence.

Just at this point the subject of these thrusts entered the room.

“No, you don’t, Steve no, sir. You shan’t even have a squint till I get to the fire.”

And carefully covering Miss Baby from view, Nannie sidled along to her chair.

“Now! Ask daddy what he thinks of Miss Loveland!” she exclaimed, dropping all disguises suddenly and holding the pretty little creature up in the firelight.

“Oh, Nannie! short clothes!” said Steve with an admiring gasp.

“Yes,” said Nannie. “Look at the darling little shoes! See her kick them! Oh, she’s so glad to be rid of those long dresses.”

Steve’s poker was greatly agitated.

“Nannie,” he said, in his quiet way, “I hardly think I can wait much longer.”

“Then you shall have her. Now! Here she goes, daddy!” and Nannie tossed the baby, all laughter and dimples, into the delighted father’s arms.

True to her sex, she proceeded to grasp all he had the poker. Steve held on for safety, but Miss Baby wielded it, and straightway the fire sent forth a shower of sparks that went frolicking up the chimney in pure glee.

“Steve,” said Nannie, pointing to them, “look! See how prone to sin you are.”

But Steve had no time for his dérélictions; he was busy studying the wonderful baby.

“Nannie,” he said, “this marks an epoch; and it’s Constance’s birthday.”

“It’s your birthday, too, you dear old stupid!” laughed Nannie.

“Why, so it is. I never realized before that we were twins.”

“He never realizes anything about himself, does he, baby?”

The baby gave a great assenting dab at the fire, necessitating a prompt examination of all her gear to see if she had caught anywhere.

“He’s always thinking of other people and forgetting himself, isn’t he, baby?”

Another dab still bigger and another overlooking.

“Oh, my dear!” stammered Steve.

“Just you hush,” said Nannie imperiously. “And he’s too foolish and forgetful of himself to dream that there’s a birthday dinner almost ready in the dining-room and some be-au-ti-ful things under somebody’s plate.”

Here Steve was helplessly and hopelessly embarrassed, but Nannie snatched the baby and went on:

“And he’s a regular stupid old know-nothing, isn’t he, baby?”

And she made the baby give the poker such a thrust of sympathy that it stuck fast in the fire.

“Whew!” she exclaimed, jerking it out. “How hot that fire is! I’m fairly cooked!”

There was a peculiar expression on Steve’s face, and all at once Nannie remembered a newspaper clipping that had dropped from one of his note-books that day when she cleared his desk. A sudden thought struck her and caused her to pause with the poker in mid air.

“Have you been cooking me, sir?” she asked in awful tones, taking her seat as a judge might take his bench.

Steve’s color started and a strange smile dawned upon his face. His very looks convicted him.

Now it was Nannie who was flushing, and so prettily, pursing up her bewitching mouth in the old way.

“Am I done?” she asked presently in a lower tone.

“To a turn!” he replied.

“Then I think I’ll get off the spit, by your leave, sir,” she said with saucy bravado.

And she arose to move back from the fire.

“Steve!” she cried, “you are devouring me!”