John Baxter came into the room where his wife sat reading, stretched himself on the couch and reached out his hand for the book she had closed hastily and laid in her lap.
"Mooning over a book, as usual," he said. "My mother never read a book through in her life and she did more work in a week than any of you modern women do in a year – and raised a family of twelve. What is it now, 'The Rhubarb of Omar Khayat?' "
She was holding the book tightly with both hands. "Don't take it," she pleaded, "please, John."
He only laughed and drew it away from her.
"'The Woman Who Dares.' Humph! where'd you get it?"
"Cousin Min sent it to me."
"Humph! I suppose that old maid wants to put some of her new woman notions in your head. What's this?"
He picked up a letter; that had fallen from the book.
"O don't! Please give it to me. Please, John."
He only laughed again and drew the letter from the envelope.
"Humph!" he commented, as he finished reading it. "So you ought to dare to call your soul pour own–and your body too? So you ought to take a firm stand for absolute liberty? If not for your own sake, then for the sake of your children! Humph! Minerva Mason is a bigger fool than I took her for, and that's saying a great deal."
He threw the letter on her lap and opened the book.
"Just to please you, Juliet," he sneered, "I'll read about this woman who dares."
Juliet rose, with a bright pink spot in each cheek, and left the room.
"Going on a strike," he chuckled. "Little Juliet going on a strike. We'll see." He read for a while, then threw the book on the floor. It was a novel dealing with the inharmony that so often exists between husband and wife, and teaching as a solution of the problem the recognition by the husband of the wife's right to the ownership and control of her own body.
"Absolute rot," John Baxter snarled. If Juliet–
He sat up on the edge of the couch and turned the matter over in his mind for a while, then, rising and kicking the book into one corner of the room, he went out on the veranda where Juliet sat, Madonna-like, in her cool, white gown, clasping the baby to her breast and gazing with rapt eyes at the sunset sky. He sat down near her.
"That man was a fool," he began.
Juliet looked at him a quick gleam of hope in her eyes.
"Do you mean–"
"I am speaking of the hero of that book–or, perhaps I should say, the husband of the heroine. He was a fool to take her back after she deserted him–for no cause whatever."
"She did not desert him," Juliet said, "she simply demanded her rights. He deliberately drove her away because she would not be a slave."
"Well, all I have to say is that if I had been her husband she would have stayed away."
"There might be worse things than staying away." Juliet shut her lips hard together and opened them determinedly. Her husband saw that she was about to deliver her ultimatum.
"I saw Callahan down town today," he interposed hastily. "You remember him, don't you? His wife got a divorce last year. I found out today that he is paying her alimony. He's a fool to do it. I almost told him so."
Juliet turned from the sunset glory to the man at her side.
"But he would have to support the children," she cried, with a sharp little note of entreaty in her voice. She remembered suddenly a remark that one of her friends had made when she was first engaged to John. (How long-ago it seemed.) The older woman had hinted to her vaguely of the woes of wives.
"But I wouldn't endure that," she had said, with girlish spirit, "I'd kick over the traces."
And the older woman answered gravely, "You may have something clinging to your skirts that will keep you submissive."
She had not been frightened then. She had felt so sure that her idol was unmixed with clay. But now–
"He surely wouldn't want the children to suffer," she said. "Doesn't the law–"
"In this case," John Baxter chuckled, "she couldn't have taken a cent. He had just sold his partnership in the firm of Callahan & Colfax and he had no other property. Didn't you know that a man can turn his property into money and keep it against all comers?"
He rose to his feet and repeated the question, looking down at her with malicious eyes.
"Didn't you know it, Juliet? And there are other ways he could have slipped out of it–lots of 'em."
"No," answered helpless Juliet, looking up at the huge creature towering so triumphantly above her and her child. "No, I did not know." He looked down at her critically, noticing the droop in her slender shoulders, the lines in her tense, tragic face.
'"D-n it!" he said irritably, "what makes you age so fast? Minerva Mason looks younger than you and she's ten years older if she's a day. When I married you you were pretty as a picture and didn't look more than sixteen."