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Chapter 27 THE REASCENT

  • Whilst the rain pelted, and it did so until afternoon, Rhoda sat in her littl_arlour, no whit less miserable than Barfoot imagined. She could not be sur_hether Everard had gone to London; at the last moment reflection or emotio_ight have detained him. Early in the morning she had sent to post a lette_or Miss Barfoot, written last night—a letter which made no revelation of he_eelings, but merely expressed a cold curiosity to hear anything that migh_ecome known as to the course of Mr. Widdowson's domestic troubles. 'You ma_till write to this address; if I leave, letters shall be forwarded.'
  • When the sky cleared she went out. In the evening she again rambled about th_hore. Evidently Barfoot had gone; if still here, he would have watched an_oined her.
  • Her solitude now grew insufferable, yet she could not decide whither to betak_erself. The temptation to return to London was very strong, but prid_revailed against it. Everard might perhaps go to see his cousin, and relat_ll that had happened at Seascale, justifying himself as he had here done.
  • Whether Miss Barfoot became aware of the story or not, Rhoda could no_econcile it with her self-respect to curtail the stipulated three weeks o_oliday. Rather she would strain her nerves to the last point of endurance—an_f she were not suffering, then never did woman suffer.
  • Another cheerless day helped her to make up her mind. She cared nothing no_or lake and mountain; human companionship was her supreme need. By th_arliest train next day she started, not for London, but for her brother'_ome in Somerset, and there she remained until it was time to return to work.
  • Miss Barfoot wrote twice in the interval, saying that she had heard nothin_ore of Monica. Of Everard she made no mention.
  • Rhoda got back again to Chelsea on the appointed Saturday afternoon. Mis_arfoot knew when she would arrive, but was not at home to meet her, and di_ot return till a couple of hours had passed. They met at length as if nothin_emarkable had occurred during the three weeks. Mary, if she felt an_olicitude, effectually concealed it; Rhoda talked as if very glad to be a_ome again, explaining her desertion of the lake country by the bad weathe_hat prevailed there. It was not till after dinner that the inevitable subjec_ame up between them.
  • 'Have you seen Everard since you went away?' Miss Barfoot began by asking.
  • So he had not been here to tell his story and plead his cause—or it seeme_ot.
  • 'Yes, I saw him at Seascale,' Rhoda replied, without sign of emotion.
  • 'Before or after that news came?'
  • 'Both before and after. I showed him your letter, and all he had to say wa_hat he knew nothing of the affair.'
  • 'That's all he has to say to me. I haven't seen him. A letter I sent to hi_ddress was answered, after a week, from a place I never heard of—Arromanches, in Normandy. The shortest and rudest letter I ever had from him. Practicall_e told me to mind my own business. And there things stand.'
  • Rhoda smiled a little, conscious of the extreme curiosity her friend must b_eeling, and determined not to gratify it. For by this time, though her sunke_heeks were hard to reconcile with the enjoyment of a summer holiday, she ha_atured a resolve to betray nothing of what she had gone through. Her state o_ind resembled that of the ascetic who has arrived at a morbid delight i_elf-torture. She regarded the world with an intense bitterness, and persuade_erself not only that the thought of Everard Barfoot was hateful to her soul, but that sexual love had become, and would ever be, to her an impure idea, _ice of blood.
  • 'I suppose,' she said carelessly, 'Mr. Widdowson will try to divorce hi_ife.'
  • 'I am in dread of that. But they may have made it up.'
  • 'Of course you have no doubt of her guilt?'
  • Mary tried to understand the hard, austere face, with its touch of cynicism.
  • Conjecture as to its meaning was not difficult, but, in the utter absence o_nformation, certainty there could be none. Under any circumstances, it was t_e expected that Rhoda would think and speak of Mrs. Widdowson no les_everely than of the errant Bella Royston.
  • 'I have  _some_  doubt,' was Miss Barfoot's answer. 'But I should be glad o_ome one else's favourable opinion to help my charity.'
  • 'Miss Madden hasn't been here, you see. She certainly would have come if sh_ad felt convinced that her sister was wronged.'
  • 'Unless a day or two saw the end of the trouble—when naturally none of the_ould say any more about it.'
  • This was the possibility which occupied Rhoda's reflections as long as she la_wake that night.
  • Her feelings on entering the familiar bedroom were very strange. Even befor_tarting for her holiday she had bidden it good-bye, and at Seascale, tha_ight following upon the "perfect day," she had thought of it as a part of he_ast life, a place abandoned for ever, already infinitely remote. Her firs_ensation when she looked upon the white bed was one of disgust; she though_t would be impossible to use this room henceforth, and that she must ask Mis_arfoot to let her change to another. Tonight she did not restore any of th_rnaments which were lying packed up. The scent of the room revived so man_ours of conflict, of hope, that it caused her a sick faintness. In frenzy o_etestation she cursed the man who had so disturbed and sullied the swift, pure stream of her life.
  • Arromanches, in Normandy—? On Sunday she sought the name on a map, but it wa_ot marked, being doubtless too insignificant. Improbable that he had gone t_uch a place alone; he was enjoying himself with friends, careless what becam_f her. Having allowed all this time to go by he would never seek her again.
  • He found that her will was the equal of his own, and, as he could not rul_er, she was numbered among the women who had afforded him interestin_xperiences, to be thought of seriously no more.
  • During the next week she threw herself with energy upon her work, stifling th_epugnance with which at first it affected her, and seeming at length t_ecover the old enthusiasm. This was the only way of salvation. Idleness an_bsence of purpose would soon degrade her in a sense she had never dreamt of.
  • She made a plan of daily occupation, which by leaving not a vacant moment fro_arly morning to late at night, should give her the sleep of utter weariness.
  • New studies were begun in the hour or two before breakfast. She eve_estricted her diet, and ate only just enough to support life, rejecting win_nd everything that was most agreeable to her palate.
  • She desired to speak privately with Mildred Vesper, and opportunity might hav_een made, but, as part of her scheme of self-subdual, this conversation wa_ostponed until the second week. It took place one evening when work was over.
  • 'I have been wanting to ask you,' Rhoda began, 'whether you have any news o_rs. Widdowson.'
  • 'I wrote to her not long ago, and she answered from a new address. She sai_he had left her husband and would never go back to him.'
  • Rhoda nodded gravely.
  • 'Then what I had heard was true. You haven't seen her?'
  • 'She asked me not to come. She is living with her sister.'
  • 'Did she give you any reason for the separation from her husband?'
  • 'None,' answered Mildred. 'But she said it was no secret; that every one knew.
  • That's why I haven't spoken to you about it—as I should have done otherwis_fter our last conversation.'
  • 'The fact is no secret,' said Rhoda coldly. 'But why will she offer n_xplanation?'
  • Mildred shook her head, signifying inability to make any satisfactory reply, and there the dialogue ended; for Rhoda could not proceed in it withou_ppearing to encourage scandal. The hope of eliciting some suggestiv_nformation had failed; but whether Mildred had really disclosed all she kne_eemed doubtful.
  • At the end of the week Miss Barfoot left home for her own holiday; she wa_oing to Scotland, and would be away for nearly the whole of September. A_his time of the year the work in Great Portland Street was very light; no_uch employment offered for the typewriters, and the pupils numbered onl_bout half a dozen. Nevertheless, it pleased Rhoda to have the establishmen_nder her sole direction; she desired authority, and by magnifying th_mportance of that which now fell into her hands, she endeavoured to sustai_erself under the secret misery which, for all her efforts, weighed no les_pon her as time went on. It was a dreary make-believe. On the first night o_olitude at Chelsea she shed bitter tears; and not only wept, but agonized i_ute frenzy, the passions of her flesh torturing her until she thought o_eath as a refuge. Now she whispered the name of her lover with every word an_hrase of endearment that her heart could suggest; the next moment she curse_im with the fury of deadliest hatred. In the half-delirium of sleeplessness, she revolved wild, impossible schemes for revenging herself, or, as the moo_hanged, all but resolved to sacrifice everything to her love, to accus_erself of ignoble jealousy and entreat forgiveness. Of many woeful night_his was the worst she had yet suffered.
  • It recalled to her with much vividness a memory of girlhood, or indeed o_hildhood. She thought of that figure in the dim past, that rugged, harsh- featured man, who had given her the first suggestion of independence; thric_er own age, yet the inspirer of such tumultuous emotion in her ignoran_eart; her friend at Clevedon—Mr. Smithson. A question from Mary Barfoot ha_aused her to glance back at him across the years, but only for an instant, and with self-mockery. What she now endured was the ripe intensity of a wo_hat fell upon her, at fifteen, when Mr. Smithson passed from her sight an_way for ever. Childish folly! but the misery of it, the tossing at night, th_lank outlook! How contemptible to revive such sensations, with matur_ntellect, after so long and stern a discipline!
  • Dreading the Sunday, so terrible in its depressing effect upon the lonely an_nhappy, she breakfasted as soon as possible, and left home—simply to walk, t_xert herself physically, that fatigue and sleep might follow. There was _ull sky, but no immediate fear of rain; the weather brightened a littl_owards noon. Careless of the direction, she walked on and on until the las_addening church bell had ceased its clangour; she was far out in the wester_uburbs, and weariness began to check her quick pace. Then she turned back.
  • Without intending it, she passed by Mrs. Cosgrove's house, or rather woul_ave passed, when she saw Mrs. Cosgrove at the dining-room window making sign_o her. In a moment the door opened and she went in. She was glad of thi_ccident, for the social lady might have something to tell about Mrs.
  • Widdowson, who often visited her.
  • 'In mercy, come and talk to me!' exclaimed Mrs. Cosgrove. 'I am quite alone, and feel as if I could hang myself. Are you obliged to go anywhere?'
  • 'No. I was having a walk.'
  • 'A walk? What astonishing energy! It never occurs to me to take a walk i_ondon. I came from the country last night and expected to find my siste_ere, but she won't arrive till Tuesday. I have been standing at the windo_or an hour, getting crazy with  _ennui_.'
  • They went to the drawing-room. It was not long before Mrs. Cosgrove made a_llusion which enabled Rhoda to speak of Mrs. Widdowson. For a month or mor_rs. Cosgrove had seen and heard nothing of her; she had been out of town al_he time. Rhoda hesitated, but could not keep silence on the subject that ha_ecome a morbid preoccupation of her mind. She told as much as sh_new—excepting the suspicion against Everard Barfoot.
  • 'It doesn't in the least surprise me,' said the listener, with interest. '_aw they wouldn't be able to live together very well. Without children th_hing was impossible. Of course she has told you all about it?'
  • 'I haven't seen her since it happened.'
  • 'Do you know, I always have a distinct feeling of pleasure when I hear o_arried people parting. How horrible that would seem to some of our goo_riends! But it isn't a malicious pleasure; there's nothing personal in it. A_ have told you before, I think, I led a very contented life with my husband.
  • But marriage in general is  _such_  a humbug—you forgive the word.'
  • 'Of course it is,' assented Rhoda, laughing with forced gaiety.
  • 'I am glad of anything that seems to threaten it as an institution—in it_resent form. A scandalous divorce case is a delight to me—anything that make_t evident how much misery would be spared if we could civilize ourselves i_his respect. There are women whose conduct I think personally detestable, an_hom yet I can't help thanking for their assault upon social laws. We shal_ave to go through a stage of anarchy, you know, before reconstruction begins.
  • Yes, in that sense I am an anarchist. Seriously, I believe if a few men an_omen in prominent position would contract marriage of the free kind, withou_riest or lawyer, open and defiantly, they would do more benefit to their kin_han in any other possible way. I don't declare this opinion to every one, bu_nly because I am a coward. Whatever one believes with heart and soul on_ught to make known.'
  • Rhoda wore a look of anxious reflection.
  • 'It needs a great deal of courage,' she said. 'To take that step, I mean.'
  • 'Of course. We need martyrs. And yet I doubt whether the martyrdom would b_ery long, or very trying, to intellectual people. A woman of brains wh_oldly acted upon her conviction would have no lack of congenial society. Th_est people are getting more liberal than they care to confess to each other.
  • Wait until some one puts the matter to the test and you will see.'
  • Rhoda became so busy with her tumultuous thoughts that she spoke only a wor_ow and then, allowing Mrs. Cosgrove to talk at large on this engrossin_heme.
  • 'Where is Mrs. Widdowson living?' the revolutionist at length inquired.
  • 'I don't know. But I can get you her address.'
  • 'Pray do. I shall go and see her. We are quite friendly enough for me to do s_ithout impertinence.'
  • Having lunched with her acquaintance, Rhoda went in the afternoon to Mildre_esper's lodgings. Miss Vesper was at home, reading, in her usual placid mood.
  • She gave Rhoda the address that was on Mrs. Widdowson's last brief note, an_hat evening Rhoda sent it to Mrs. Cosgrove by letter.
  • In two days she received a reply. Mrs. Cosgrove had called upon Mrs. Widdowso_t her lodgings at Clapham. 'She is ill, wretched, and unwilling to talk. _ould only stay about a quarter of an hour, and to ask questions wa_mpossible. She mentioned your name, and appeared very anxious to hear abou_ou; but when I asked whether she would like you to call she grew timid all a_nce, and said she hoped you wouldn't unless you really desired to see her.
  • Poor thing! Of course I don't know what it all means, but I came away wit_aledictions on marriage in my heart—one is always safe in indulging tha_eeling.'
  • A week or so after this there arrived for Miss Barfoot a letter from Everard.
  • The postmark was Ostend.
  • Never before had Rhoda been tempted to commit a break of confidence such as i_ny one else she would have scorned beyond measure. She had heard, of course, of people secretly opening letters with the help of steam; whether it could b_one with absolute security from detection she did not feel sure, but he_houghts dwelt on the subject for several hours. It was terrible to hold thi_etter of Everard's writing, and yet be obliged to send it away withou_nowledge of the contents, which perhaps gravely concerned her. She could no_sk Miss Barfoot to let her know what Everard had written. The informatio_ight perhaps be voluntarily granted; but perhaps not.
  • To steam the back of the envelope—would it not leave marks, a rumpling o_iscoloration? Even to be suspected of such dishonour would be more bitter t_er than death. Could she even think of it? How she was degraded by thi_ateful passion, which wrought in her like a disease!
  • With two others which that day had arrived she put the letter into a larg_nvelope, and so dispatched it. But no satisfaction rewarded her; her hear_aged against the world, against every law of life.
  • When, in a few days, a letter came to her from Miss Barfoot, she tore it Open, and there—yes, there was Everard's handwriting. Mary had sent th_ommunication for her to read.
  • > 'DEAR COUSIN MARY,—After all I was rather too grumpy In my last note to you.
  • But my patience had been desperately tried. I have gone through a good deal; now at last I am recovering sanity, and can admit that you had no choice bu_o ask those questions. I know and care nothing about Mrs. Widdowson. By he_ccentric behaviour she either did me a great injury or a great service, I'_ot quite sure which, but I incline to the latter view. Here is _onundrum—not very difficult to solve, I dare say.
  • >
  • > 'Do you know anything about Arromanches? A very quiet little spot on th_ormandy coast. You get to it by an hour's coach from Bayeux. Not infested b_nglish. I went there on an invitation from the Brissendens; who discovere_he place last year. Excellent people these. I like them better the more _now of them. A great deal of quiet liberality—even extreme liberality—in th_wo girls. They would suit you, I am sure. Well instructed. Agnes, th_ounger, reads half a dozen languages, and shames me by her knowledge of al_orts of things. And yet delightfully feminine.
  • >
  • > 'As they were going to Ostend I thought I might as well follow them, and w_ontinue to see each other pretty frequently.
  • >
  • > 'By-the-bye, I shall have to find new quarters if I come back to London. Th_ngineer, back from Italy after a longer absence than he anticipated, want_is flat, and of course must have it. But then I may not come back at all, except to gather my traps. I shall not call on you, unless I have heard tha_ou don't doubt the assurance I have now twice given.—Your profligat_elative, > > E. B.'
  • 'I think,' wrote Mary, 'that we may safely believe him. Such a lie would b_oo bad; he is incapable of it. Remember, I have never charged him wit_alsehood. I shall write and tell him that I accept his word. Has it, or ha_t not, occurred to you to see Mrs. Widdowson herself? Or, if there ar_nsuperable objections, why not see Miss Madden? We talk to each other in _ort of cypher, dear Rhoda. Well, I desire nothing but your good, as I thin_ou know, and you must decide for yourself where that good lies.'
  • Everard's letter put Rhoda beside herself with wrath. In writing it he knew i_ould come into her hands; he hoped to sting her with jealousy. So Mrs.
  • Widdowson had done him a service. He was free to devote himself to Agne_rissenden, with her six languages, her extreme liberality, her feminin_harm.
  • If she could not crush out her love for this man she would poison herself—a_he had so often decided she would do if ever some hopeless malady, such a_ancer, took hold upon her—
  • And be content to feed his vanity? To give him the lifelong reflection that, for love of him, a woman excelled by few in qualities of brain and heart ha_ied like a rat?
  • She walked about the rooms, here and there, upstairs and downstairs, in _ever of unrest. After all, was he not behaving in the very way she ought t_esire? Was he not helping her to hate him? He struck at her with unmanl_lows, thinking, no doubt, to quell her pride, and bring her to him i_rostrate humility. Never! Even if it were proved in the clearest way that sh_ught to have believed him she would make no submission. If he loved her h_ust woo once more.
  • But the suggestion in Mary's letter was not fruitless. When she had though_ver it for a day or two she wrote to Virginia Madden, asking her as a favou_o come to Queen's Road on Saturday afternoon. Virginia quickly replied with _romise to call, and punctually kept the engagement. Though she was muc_etter dressed than in the days previous to Monica's marriage, she had los_omething for which costume could not compensate: her face had no longer tha_nmistakable refinement which had been wont to make her attire a secondar_onsideration. A disagreeable redness tinged her eyelids and the lower part o_er nose; her mouth was growing coarse and lax, the under-lip hanging _ittle; she smiled with a shrinking, apologetic shyness only seen in peopl_ho have done something to be ashamed of—smiled even when she was endeavourin_o look sorrowful; and her glance was furtive. She sat down on the edge of _hair, like an anxious applicant for work or charity, and a moistness of th_yes, which obliged her to use her handkerchief frequently, strengthened thi_esemblance.
  • Rhoda could not play at smooth phrases with this poor, dispirited woman, whos_hange during the last few years, and especially during the last twelv_onths, had often occupied her thoughts in a very unpleasant way. She cam_lmost at once to the subject of their interview.
  • 'Why have you not been to see me before this?'
  • 'I—really couldn't. The circumstances—everything is so very painful. Yo_now—of course you know what has happened?'
  • 'Of course I do.'
  • 'How,' asked Virginia timidly, 'did the news first of all reach you?'
  • 'Mr. Widdowson came here and told Miss Barfoot everything.'
  • 'He came? We didn't know that. Then you have heard the accusation he makes?'
  • 'Everything.'
  • 'It is quite unfounded, I do assure you. Monica is not guilty. The poor chil_as done nothing—it was an indiscretion—nothing more than indiscretion—'
  • 'I am very anxious to believe it. Can you give me certainty? Can you explai_onica's behaviour—not only on that one occasion, but the deceit she practise_t other times? Her husband told Miss Barfoot that she had frequently told hi_ntruths—such as saying that she called here when she certainly did not.'
  • 'I can't explain that,' lamented Virginia. 'Monica won't tell me why sh_oncealed her movements.'
  • 'Then how can you ask me to believe your assurance that she isn't guilty?'
  • The sternness of this question caused Virginia to redden and become utterl_isconcerted. She dropped her handkerchief, fumbled for it, breathed hard.
  • 'Oh, Miss Nunn! How can you think Monica—? You know her better; I'm sure yo_o!'
  • 'Any human being may commit a crime,' said the other impatiently, exasperate_y what seemed to be merely new evidence against Barfoot. 'Who knows any on_ell enough to say that a charge  _must_  be unfounded?'
  • Miss Madden began to sob.
  • 'I'm afraid that is true. But my sister—my dear sister—'
  • 'I didn't want to distress you. Do command yourself, and let us talk about i_almly.'
  • 'Yes—I will—I shall be so glad to talk about it with you. Oh, if I coul_ersuade her to return to her husband! He is willing to receive her. I mee_im very often on Clapham Common, and—We are living at his expense. Whe_onica had been with me in my old lodgings for about a week he took these ne_ooms for us, and Monica consented to remove. But she won't hear of going bac_o live with him. He has offered to let us have the house to ourselves, bu_t's no use. He writes to her, but she won't reply. Do you know that he ha_aken a house at Clevedon—a beautiful house? They were to go to it in a wee_r two, and Alice and I would have gone to share it with them—then thi_readful thing happened. And Mr. Widdowson doesn't even insist on her tellin_im what she keeps secret. He is willing to take her back under an_ircumstances. And she is so ill—'
  • Virginia broke off, as if there were something more that she did not ventur_o impart. Her cheeks coloured, and she looked distressfully about the room.
  • 'Seriously ill, do you mean?' inquired Rhoda, with difficulty softening he_oice.
  • 'She gets up each day, but I'm often afraid that—She has had fainting fits—'
  • Rhoda gazed at the speaker with pitiless scrutiny.
  • 'What can have caused this? Is it the result of her being falsely accused?'
  • 'Partly that. But—'
  • Suddenly Virginia rose, stepped to Rhoda's side, and whispered a word or two.
  • Rhoda turned pale; her eyes glared fiercely.
  • 'And  _still_  you believe her innocent?'
  • 'She has sworn to me that she is innocent. She says that she has a proof of i_hich I shall see some day—and her husband also. A presentiment has fixe_tself in her mind that she can't live, and before the end she will tel_verything.'
  • 'Her husband knows of this, of course—of what you have told me?'
  • 'No. She has forbidden me to say anything—and how could I, Miss Nunn? She ha_ade me promise solemnly that he shall not be told. I haven't even told Alice.
  • But she will know very soon. At the end of September she leaves her place, an_ill come to London to be with us—for a time at all events. We do so hope tha_e shall succeed in persuading Monica to go to the house at Clevedon. Mr.
  • Widdowson is keeping it, and will move the furniture from Herne Hill at an_oment. Couldn't you help us, dear Miss Nunn? Monica would listen to you; I a_ure she would.'
  • 'I'm afraid I can be of no use,' Rhoda answered coldly.
  • 'She has been hoping to see you.'
  • 'She has said so?'
  • 'Not in so many words—but I am sure she wishes to see you. She has asked abou_ou several times, and when your note came she was very pleased. It would be _reat kindness to us—'
  • 'Does she declare that she will never return to her husband?'
  • 'Yes—I am sorry to say she does. But the poor child believes that she has onl_ short time to live. Nothing will shake her presentiment. "I shall die, an_ive no more trouble"—that's what she always says to me. And a conviction o_hat kind is so likely to fulfil itself. She never leaves the house, and o_ourse that is very wrong; she ought to go out every day. She won't see _edical man.'
  • 'Has Mr. Widdowson given her any cause for disliking him?' Rhoda inquired.
  • 'He was dreadfully violent when he discovered—I'm afraid it was natural—h_hought the worst of her, and he has always been so devoted to Monica. Sh_ays he seemed on the point of killing her. He is a man of very severe nature, I have always thought. He never could bear that Monica should go anywher_lone. They were very, very unhappy, I'm afraid—so ill-matched in almost ever_espect. Still, under the circumstances—surely she ought to return to him?'
  • 'I can't say. I don't know.'
  • Rhoda's voice signified a conflict of feeling. Had she been disinterested he_pinion would not have wavered for a moment; she would have declared that th_ife's inclination must be the only law in such a case. As it was, she coul_nly regard Monica with profound mistrust and repugnance. The story o_ecisive evidence kept back seemed to her only a weak woman's falsehood—_iction due to shame and despair. Undoubtedly it would give some vague relie_o her mind if Monica were persuaded to go to Clevedon, but she could no_ring herself to think of visiting the suffering woman. Whatever the end migh_e, she would have not part in bringing it about. Her dignity, her pride, should remain unsullied by such hateful contact.
  • 'I mustn't stay longer,' said Virginia, rising after a painful silence. 'I a_lways afraid to be away from her even for an hour; the fear of dreadfu_hings that might happen haunts me day and night. How glad I shall be whe_lice comes!'
  • Rhoda had no words of sympathy. Her commiseration for Virginia was only suc_s she might have felt for any stranger involved in sordid troubles; all th_ld friendliness had vanished. Nor would she have been greatly shocked o_stonished had she followed Miss Madden on the way to the railway station an_een her, after a glance up and down the street, turn quickly into a public- house, and come forth again holding her handkerchief to her lips. A feeble, purposeless, hopeless woman; type of a whole class; living only t_eteriorate—
  • Will! Purpose! Was  _she_  not in danger of forgetting these watchwords, whic_ad guided her life out of youth into maturity? That poor creature'_nhappiness was doubtless in great measure due to the conviction that i_issing love and marriage she had missed everything. So thought the averag_oman, and in her darkest hours she too had fallen among those poor of spirit, the flesh prevailing. But the soul in her had not finally succumbed. Passio_ad a new significance; her conception of life was larger, more liberal; sh_ade no vows to crush the natural instincts. But her conscience, her sincerit_hould not suffer. Wherever destiny might lead, she would still be the sam_roud and independent woman, responsible only to herself, fulfilling th_obler laws of her existence.
  • A day or two after this she had guests to dine with her—Mildred Vesper an_inifred Haven. Among the girls whom she had helped to educate, these tw_eemed by far the most self-reliant, the most courageous and hopeful. In mino_etails of character they differed widely, and intellectually Miss Haven wa_ar in advance. Rhoda had a strong desire to observe them as they talked abou_he most various subjects; she knew them well, but hoped to find in them som_ew suggestion of womanly force which would be of help to her in her ow_truggle for redemption.
  • It was seldom that either of them ailed anything. Mildred still showed trace_f her country breeding; she was the more robust, walked with a heavier step, had less polish of manner. Under strain of any kind Winifred's health woul_ooner give way, but her natural vivacity promised long resistance t_ppressing influences. Mildred had worked harder, and amid privations of whic_he other girl knew nothing. She would never distinguish herself, but it wa_ifficult indeed to imagine her repining so long as she had her strength an_er congenial friends. Twenty years hence, in all probability, she would kee_he same clear, steady eye, the same honest smile, and the same dry humour i_er talk. Winifred was more likely to traverse a latitude of storm. For on_hing, her social position brought her in the way of men who might fall i_ove with her, whereas Mildred lived absolutely apart from the male world; doubtless, too, her passions were stronger. She loved literature, spent a_uch time as possible in study, and had set her mind upon helping to establis_hat ideal woman's paper of which there was often talk at Miss Barfoot's.
  • In this company Rhoda felt her old ambitions regaining their power over her.
  • To these girls she was an exemplar; it made her smile to think how little the_ould dream of what she had experienced during the last few weeks; if ever _oment of discontent assailed them, they must naturally think of her, of th_rave, encouraging words she had so often spoken. For a moment she ha_eserted them, abandoning a course which her reason steadily approved for on_hat was beset with perils of indignity. It would shame her if they knew th_hole truth—and yet she wished it were possible for them to learn that she ha_een passionately wooed. A contemptible impulse of vanity; away with it!
  • There was a chance, it seemed to her, that during Miss Barfoot's absenc_verard might come to the house. Mary had written to him; he would know tha_he was away. What better opportunity, if he had not dismissed her memory fro_is thoughts?
  • Every evening she made herself ready to receive a possible visitor. She too_hought for her appearance. But the weeks passed by, Miss Barfoot returned, and Everard had given no sign.
  • She would set a date, a limit. If before Christmas he neither came nor wrot_ll was at an end; after that she would not see him, whatever his plea. An_aving persuaded herself that this decision was irrevocable, she thought it a_ell to gratify Miss Barfoot's curiosity, for by now she felt able to relat_hat had happened in Cumberland with a certain satisfaction—the feeling sh_ad foreseen when, in the beginning of her acquaintance with Everard, i_lattered her to observe his growing interest. Her narrative, to which Mar_istened with downcast eyes, presented the outlines of the story veraciously; she told of Everard's wish to dispense with the legal bond, of her ow_ndecision, and of the issue.
  • 'When your letter came, could I very well have acted otherwise than I did? I_as not a flat refusal to believe him; all I asked was that things should b_leared up before our marriage. For his own sake he ought to have willingl_greed to that. He preferred to take my request as an insult. His unreasonabl_nger made me angry too. And now I don't think we shall ever meet again unles_s mere acquaintances.'
  • 'I think,' commented the listener, 'that he behaved with extraordinar_mpudence.'
  • 'In the first proposal? But I myself attach no importance to the marriag_eremony.'
  • 'Then why did you insist upon it?' asked Mary, with a smile that might hav_ecome sarcastic but that her eye met Rhoda's.
  • 'Would you have received us?'
  • 'In the one case as readily as in the other.'
  • Rhoda was silent and darkly thoughtful.
  • 'Perhaps I never felt entire confidence in him.'
  • Mary smiled and sighed.