Published in Messalina of the Suburbs, pp269-288. Online version at Internet Archive https://archive.org/details/messalinaofsubur00delauoft. Also available in an ebook collecting many of EMD’s works from Delphi Classics (https://www.delphiclassics.com/shop/e-m-delafield/)
Date of publication
Hutchinson & Co
Mrs Lloyd-Evans, Mrs Ballantyne and Mrs Akers, the local Welfare Committee, are meeting, with Miss Miller the secretary present. It is winter 1917 and the scene is a cold and dreary committee room. Prosperous-looking Mrs Ballantyne arrives; the meeting has been called by Mrs Lloyd-Evans, but neither she nor Miss Miller know what it is about. The other two women arrive, shake hands with Mrs Ballantyne and nod at Miss Miller. Miss Ballantyne complains about their accommodation, and the members agree that what people need is more work; to talk of unemployment is Bolshevism and strike leaders should be sent to Russia to experience it first-hand. Mrs Ballantyne has not brought her daughter, feeling that the subject under discussion should be kept from an unmarried woman; the ladies agree that a young girl ought to be treated as something sacred. After some prevarication, Mrs Lloyd-Evans confirms that a girl is known to be pregnant. Miss Miller covers her face briefly with her hands. The ladies discuss the case with animated enjoyment, and then realise they should send Miss Miller out. She objects, but they insist. The girl in question, Fanny Smith, is fifteen, and claims not to have known she was pregnant, but is now six months along. Her mother has moved down from London, and the ladies try to work out whether conception occurred there or in their locality. Fanny, her mother and grandmother won't say who the father is, and her family would prefer to keep her at home. The Welfare Committee thinks she should be sent away to have the baby which would then be sent to an orphanage. Mrs Akers suggests telling them that the police will have to be called if Fanny does not agree to go, suggesting that her mother will have no knowledge of the law. Mrs Lloyd-Evans doubts that Fanny was seduced, and suggests she is promiscuous, even though her grandmother suggested that she might have been assaulted. The Committee agrees to write to a mother-and-baby home that evening. Mrs Ballantyne congratulates herself on having kept her daughter completely ignorant of sex. Mrs Lloyd-Evans opens the door and finds Miss Miller has been listening at it. Miss Miller comes in, angrily locks the door behind her and compels them to listen to her. She throws the door key out of the window. In a long speech, she criticises them for their gloating enjoyment of Fanny's circumstances, for their gossip and their hypocrisy. Finally she says that she is also pregnant and jumps out of the window.