The Odd Women, by George Gissing

Chapter 4

Monica’s Majority

In the drapery establishment where Monica Madden worked and lived it was not (as is sometimes the case) positively forbidden to the resident employees to remain at home on Sunday; but they were strongly recommended to make the utmost possible use of that weekly vacation. Herein, no doubt, appeared a laudable regard for their health. Young people, especially young women, who are laboriously engaged in a shop for thirteen hours and a half every weekday, and on Saturday for an average of sixteen, may be supposed to need a Sabbath of open air. Messrs. Scotcher and Co. acted like conscientious men in driving them forth immediately after breakfast, and enjoining upon them not to return until bedtime. By way of well-meaning constraint, it was directed that only the very scantiest meals (plain bread and cheese, in fact) should be supplied to those who did not take advantage of the holiday.

Messrs. Scotcher and Co. were large-minded men. Not only did they insist that the Sunday ought to be used for bodily recreation, but they had no objection whatever to their young friends taking a stroll after closing-time each evening. Nay, so generous and confiding were they, that to each young person they allowed a latchkey. The air of Walworth Road is pure and invigorating about midnight; why should the reposeful ramble be hurried by consideration for weary domestics?

Monica always felt too tired to walk after ten o’clock; moreover, the usual conversation in the dormitory which she shared with five other young women was so little to her taste that she wished to be asleep when the talkers came up to bed. But on Sunday she gladly followed the counsel of her employers. If the weather were bad, the little room at Lavender Hill offered her a retreat; when the sun shone, she liked to spend a part of the day in free wandering about London, which even yet had not quite disillusioned her.

And today it shone brightly. This was her birthday, the completion of her one-and-twentieth year. Alice and Virginia of course expected her early in the morning, and of course they were all to dine together — at the table measuring three feet by one and a half; but the afternoon and evening she must have to herself The afternoon, because a few hours of her sister’s talk invariably depressed her; and the evening, because she had an appointment to keep. As she left the big ugly ‘establishment’ her heart beat cheerfully, and a smile fluttered about her lips. She did not feel very well, but that was a matter of course; the ride in an omnibus would perhaps make her head clearer.

Monica’s face was of a recognized type of prettiness; a pure oval; from the smooth forehead to the dimpled little chin all its lines were soft and graceful. Her lack of colour, by heightening the effect of black eyebrows and darkly lustrous eyes, gave her at present a more spiritual cast than her character justified; but a thoughtful firmness was native to her lips, and no possibility of smirk or simper lurked in the attractive features. The slim figure was well fitted in a costume of pale blue, cheap but becoming; a modest little hat rested on her black hair; her gloves and her sunshade completed the dainty picture.

An omnibus would be met in Kennington Park Road. On her way thither, in a quiet cross-street, she was overtaken by a young man who had left the house of business a moment after her, and had followed at a short distance timidly. A young man of unhealthy countenance, with a red pimple on the side of his nose, but not otherwise ill-looking. He was clad with propriety — stove-pipe hat, diagonal frockcoat, grey trousers, and he walked with a springy gait.

‘Miss Madden —’

He had ventured, with perturbation in his face, to overtake, Monica. She stopped.

‘What is it, Mr. Bullivant?’

Her tone was far from encouraging, but the young man smiled upon her with timorous tenderness.

‘What a beautiful morning! Are you going far?’

He had the Cockney accent, but not in an offensive degree; his manners were not flagrantly of the shop.

‘Yes; some distance.’ Monica walked slowly on.

‘Will you allow me to walk a little way with you?’ he pleaded, bending towards her.

‘I shall take the omnibus at the end of this street.’

They went forward together. Monica no longer smiled, but neither did she look angry. Her expression was one of trouble.

‘Where shall you spend the day, Mr. Bullivant?’ she asked at length, with an effort to seem unconcerned.

‘I really don’t know.’

‘I should think it would be very nice up the river.’ And she added diffidently, ‘Miss Eade is going to Richmond.’

‘Is she?’ he replied vaguely.

‘At least she wished to go — if she could find a companion.’

‘I hope she will enjoy herself,’ said Mr. Bullivant, with careful civility.

‘But of course she won’t enjoy it very much if she has to go alone. As you have no particular engagement, Mr. Bullivant, wouldn’t it be kind to —?’

The suggestion was incomplete, but intelligible.

‘I couldn’t ask Miss Eade to let me accompany her,’ said the young man gravely.

‘Oh, I think you could. She would like it.’

Monica looked rather frightened at her boldness, and quickly added  —

‘Now I must say good-bye. There comes the bus.’

Bullivant turned desperately in that direction. He saw there was as yet no inside passenger.

‘Do allow me to go a short way with you?’ burst from his lips. ‘I positively don’t know how I shall spend the morning.’

Monica had signalled to the driver, and was hurrying forward. Bullivant followed, reckless of consequences. In a minute both were seated within.

‘You will forgive me?’ pleaded the young fellow, remarking a look of serious irritation on his companion’s face. ‘I must be with you a few minutes longer.’

‘I think when I have begged you not to —’

‘I know how bad my behaviour must seem. But, Miss Madden, may I not be on terms of friendship with you?’

‘Of course you may — but you are not content with that.’

‘Yes — indeed — I will be content —’

‘It’s foolish to say so. Haven’t you broken the understanding three or four times?’

The bus stopped for a passenger, a man, who mounted to the top.

‘I am so sorry,’ murmured Bullivant, as the starting horses jolted them together. ‘I try not to worry you. Think of my position. You have told me that there is no one else who — whose rights I ought to respect. Feeling as I do, it isn’t in human nature to give up hope!’

‘Then will you let me ask you a rude question?’

‘Ask me any question, Miss Madden.’

‘How would it be possible for you to support a wife?’

She flushed and smiled. Bullivant, dreadfully discomposed, did not move his eyes from her.

‘It wouldn’t be possible for some time,’ he answered in a thick voice. ‘I have nothing but my wretched salary. But every one hopes.’

‘What reasonable hope have you?’ Monica urged, forcing herself to be cruel, because it seemed the only way of putting an end to this situation.

‘Oh, there are so many opportunities in our business. I could point to half a dozen successful men who were at the counter a few years ago. I may become a walker, and get at least three pounds a week. If I were lucky enough to be taken on as a buyer, I might make — why, some make many hundreds a year — many hundreds.’

‘And you would ask me to wait on and on for one of these wonderful chances?’

‘If I could move your feelings, Miss Madden,’ he began, with a certain dolorous dignity; but there his voice broke. He saw too plainly that the girl had neither faith in him nor liking for him.

‘Mr. Bullivant, I think you ought to wait until you really have prospects. If you were encouraged by some person, it would be a different thing. And indeed you haven’t to look far. But where there has never been the slightest encouragement, you are really wrong to act in this way. A long engagement, where everything remains doubtful for years, is so wretched that — oh, if I were a man, I would never try to persuade a girl into that! I think it wrong and cruel.’

The stroke was effectual. Bullivant averted his face, naturally woebegone, and sat for some minutes without speaking. The bus again drew up; four or five people were about to ascend.

‘I will say good-morning, Miss Madden,’ he whispered hurriedly.

She gave her hand, glanced at him with embarrassment, and so let him depart.

Ten minutes restored the mood in which she had set out. Once more she smiled to herself. Indeed, her head was better for the fresh air and the movement. If only the sisters would allow her to get away soon after dinner!

It was Virginia who opened the door to her, and embraced and kissed her with wonted fondness.

‘You are nice and early! Poor Alice has been in bed since the day before yesterday; a dreadful cold and one of her very worst headaches. But I think she is a little better this morning.’

Alice — a sad spectacle — was propped up on pillows.

‘Don’t kiss me, darling,’ she said, in a voice barely audible. ‘You mustn’t risk getting a sore throat. How well you look!’

‘I’m afraid she doesn’t look well,’ corrected Virginia; ‘but perhaps she has a little more colour than of late. Monica, dear, as Alice can hardly’ use her voice, I will speak for both of us, and wish you many, many happy returns of the day. And we ask you to accept this little book from us. It may be a comfort to you from time to time.’

‘You are good, kind dears!’ replied Monica, kissing the one on the lips and the other on her thinly-tressed head. ‘It’s no use saying you oughtn’t to have spent money on me; you will always do it. What a nice “Christian Year”! I’ll do my best to read some of it now and then.’

With a half-guilty air, Virginia then brought from some corner of the room a very small but delicate currant cake. Monica must eat a mouthful of this; she always had such a wretched breakfast, and the journey from Walworth Road was enough to give an appetite.

‘But you are ruining yourselves, foolish people!’

The others exchanged a look, and smiled with such a strange air that Monica could not but notice it.

‘I know!’ she cried. ‘There’s good news. You have found something, and better than usual Virgie.’

‘Perhaps so. Who knows? Eat your slice of cake like a good child, and then I shall have something to tell you.’

Obviously the two were excited. Virginia moved about with the recovered step of girlhood, held herself upright, and could not steady her hands.

‘You would never guess whom I have seen,’ she began, when Monica was quite ready to listen. ‘We had a letter the other morning which did puzzle us so — I mean the writing before we opened it. And it was from — Miss Nunn!’

This name did not greatly stir Monica.

‘You had quite lost sight of her, hadn’t you?’ she remarked.

‘Quite. I didn’t suppose we should ever hear of her again. But nothing more fortunate could have happened. My dear, she is wonderful!’

At considerable length Virginia detailed all she had learnt of Miss Nunn’s career, and described her present position.

‘She will be the most valuable friend to us. Oh, her strength, her resolution! The way in which she discovers the right thing to do! You are to call upon her as soon as possible. This very after noon you had better go. She will relieve you from all your troubles darling. Her friend, Miss Barfoot, will teach you typewriting, and put you in the way of earning an easy and pleasant livelihood. She will, indeed!’

‘But how long does it take?’ asked the astonished girl.

‘Oh, quite a short time, I should think. We didn’t speak of details; they were postponed. You will hear everything yourself. And she suggested all sorts of ways,’ pursued Virginia, with quite unintentional exaggeration, ‘in which we could make better use of our invested money. She is full of practical expedients. The most wonderful person! She is quite like a man in energy and resources. I never imagined that one of our sex could resolve and plan and act as she does!’

Monica inquired anxiously what the projects for improving their income might be.

‘Nothing is decided yet,’ was the reply, given with a confident smile. ‘Let us first of all put you in comfort and security; that is the immediate need.’

The listener was interested, but did not show any eagerness for the change proposed. Presently she stood at the window and lost herself in thought. Alice gave signs of an inclination to doze; she had had a sleepless night, in spite of soporifics. Though no sun entered the room, it was very hot, and the presence of a third person made the air oppressive.

‘Don’t you think we might go out for half an hour?’ Monica whispered, when Virginia had pointed to the invalid’s closed eves. ‘I’m sure it’s very unhealthy for us all to be in this little place.’

I don’t like to leave her,’ the other whispered back. ‘But I certainly think it would be better for you to have fresh air. Wouldn’t you like to go to church, dear? The bells haven’t stopped yet.’

The elder sisters were not quite regular in their church-going. When weather or lassitude kept them at home on Sunday morning they read the service aloud. Monica found the duty of listening rather grievous. During the months that she was alone in London she had fallen into neglect of public worship; not from any conscious emancipation, but because her companions at the house of business never dreamt of entering a church, and their example by degrees affected her with carelessness. At present she was glad of the pretext for escaping until dinner-time.

She went forth with the intention of deceiving her sisters, of walking to Clapham Common, and on her return inventing some sermon at a church the others never visited. But before she had gone many yards conscience overcame her. Was she not getting to be a very lax-minded girl? And it was shameful to impose upon the two after their loving-kindness to her. As usual, her little prayer-book was in her pocket. She walked quickly to the familiar church, and reached it just as the doors were being closed.

Of all the congregation she probably was the one who went through the service most mechanically. Not a word reached her understanding. Sitting, standing, or on her knees, she wore the same preoccupied look, with ever and again a slight smile or a movement of the lips, as if she were recalling some conversation of special interest.

Last Sunday she had had an adventure, the first of any real moment that had befallen her in London. She had arranged to go with Miss Eade on a steamboat up the river. They were to meet at the Battersea Park landing-stage at half-past two. But Miss Eade did not keep her appointment, and Monica, unwilling to lose the trip, started alone.

She disembarked at Richmond and strayed about for an hour or two, then had a cup of tea and a bun. As it was still far too early to return, she went down to the riverside and seated herself on one of the benches. Many boats were going by, a majority of them containing only two persons — a young man who pulled, and a girl who held the strings of the tiller. Some of these couples Monica disregarded; but occasionally there passed a skiff from which she could not take her eyes. To lie back like that on the cushions and converse with a companion who had nothing of the shop about him!

It seemed hard that she must be alone. Poor Mr. Bullivant would gladly have taken her on the river; but Mr. Bullivant  —

She thought of her sisters. Their loneliness was for life, poor things. Already they were old; and they would grow older, sadder, perpetually struggling to supplement that dividend from the precious capital — and merely that they might keep alive. Oh! — her heart ached at the misery of such a prospect. How much better if the poor girls had never been born.

Her own future was more hopeful than theirs had ever been. She knew herself good-looking. Men had followed her in the street and tried to make her acquaintance. Some of the girls with whom she lived regarded her enviously, spitefully. But had she really the least chance of marrying a man whom she could respect — not to say love?

One-and-twenty a week hence. At Weston she had kept tolerable health, but certainly her constitution was not strong, and the slavery of Walworth Road threatened her with premature decay. Her sisters counselled wisely. Coming to London was a mistake. She would have had better chances at Weston, notwithstanding the extreme discretion with which she was obliged to conduct herself.

While she mused thus, a profound discouragement settling on her sweet face, some one took a seat by her — on the same bench, that is to say. Glancing aside, she saw that it was an oldish man, with grizzled whiskers and rather a stern visage. Monica sighed.

Was it possible that he had heard her? He looked this way, and with curiosity. Ashamed of herself, she kept her eyes averted for a long time. Presently, following the movement of a boat, her face turned unconsciously towards the silent companion; again he was looking at her, and he spoke. The gravity of his appearance and manner, the good-natured commonplace that fell from his lips, could not alarm her; a dialogue began, and went on for about half an hour.

How old might he be? After all, he was probably not fifty — perchance not much more than forty. His utterance fell short of perfect refinement, but seemed that of an educated man. And certainly his clothes were such as a gentleman wears. He had thin, hairy hands, unmarked by any effect of labour; the nails could not have been better cared for. Was it a bad sign that he carried neither gloves nor walking-stick?

His talk aimed at nothing but sober friendliness; it was perfectly inoffensive — indeed, respectful. Now and then — not too often — he fixed his eyes upon her for an instant. After the introductory phrases, he mentioned that he had had a long drive, alone; his horse was baiting in preparation for the journey back to London. He often took such drives in the summer, though generally on a weekday; the magnificent sky had tempted him out this morning. He lived at Herne Hill.

At length he ventured a question. Monica affected no reluctance to tell him that she was in a house of business, that she had relatives in London, that only by chance she found herself alone today.

‘I should be sorry if I never saw you again.’

These words he uttered with embarrassment, his eyes on the ground. Monica could only keep silence. Half an hour ago she would not have thought it possible for any remark of this man’s seriously to occupy her mind, yet now she waited for the next sentence in discomposure which was quite free from resentment.

‘We meet in this casual way, and talk, and then say good-bye. Why mayn’t I tell you that you interest me very much, and that I am afraid to trust only to chance for another meeting? If you were a man’— he smiled —‘I should give you my card, and ask you to my house. The card I may at all events offer.’

Whilst speaking, he drew out a little case, and laid a visiting-card on the bench within Monica’s reach. Murmuring her ‘thank you,’ she took the bit of pasteboard, but did not look at it.

‘You are on my side of the river,’ he continued, still with scrupulous modesty of tone. ‘May I not hope to see you some day, when you are walking? All days and times are the same to me; but I am afraid it is only on Sunday that you are at leisure?’

‘Yes, only on a Sunday.’

It took a long time, and many circumlocutions, but in the end an appointment was made. Monica would see her acquaintance next Sunday evening on the river front of Battersea Park; if it rained, then the Sunday after. She was ashamed and confused. Other girls were constantly doing this kind of thing — other girls in business; but it seemed to put her on the level of a servant. And why had she consented? The man could never be anything to her; he was too old, too hard-featured, too grave. Well, on that very account there would be no harm in meeting him. In truth, she had not felt the courage to refuse; in a manner he had overawed her.

And perhaps she would not keep the engagement. Nothing compelled her. She had not told him her name, nor the house where she was employed. There was a week to think it over.

All days and times were the same to him — he said. And he drove about the country for his pleasure. A man of means. His name, according to the card, was Edmund Widdowson.

He was upright in his walk, and strongly built. She noticed this as he moved away from her. Fearful lest he should turn round, her eyes glanced at his figure from moment to moment. But he did not once look back.


‘And now to God the Father.’ The bustle throughout the church wakened her from reverie so complete that she knew not a syllable of the sermon. After all she must deceive her sisters by inventing a text, and perhaps a comment.

By an arrangement with Mrs. Conisbee, dinner was down in the parlour today. A luxurious meal, moreover; for in her excitement Virginia had resolved to make a feast of Monica’s birthday. There was a tiny piece of salmon, a dainty cutlet, and a cold blackcurrant tart. Virginia, at home a constant vegetarian, took no share of the fish and meat — which was only enough for one person. Alice, alone upstairs, made a dinner of gruel.

Monica was to be at Queen’s Road, Chelsea, by three o’clock. The sisters hoped she would return to Lavender Hill with her news, but that was left uncertain — by Monica herself purposely. As an amusement, she had decided to keep her promise to Mr. Edmund Widdowson. She was curious to see him again, and receive a new impression of his personality. If he behaved as inoffensively as at Richmond, acquaintance with him might be continued for the variety it brought into her life. If anything unpleasant happened, she had only to walk away. The slight, very slight, tremor of anticipation was reasonably to be prized by a shop-girl at Messrs. Scotcher’s.

Drawing near to Queen’s Road — the wrapped-up Keble in her hand — she began to wonder whether Miss Nunn would have any serious proposal to offer. Virginia’s report and ecstatic forecasts were, she knew, not completely trustworthy; though more than ten years her sister’s junior, Monica saw the world with eyes much less disposed to magnify and colour ordinary facts.

Miss Barfoot was still from home. Rhoda Nunn received the visitor in a pleasant, old-fashioned drawing-room, where there was nothing costly, nothing luxurious; yet to Monica it appeared richly furnished. A sense of strangeness amid such surroundings had more to do with her constrained silence for the first few minutes than the difficulty with which she recognized in this lady before her the Miss Nunn whom she had known years ago.

‘I should never have known you,’ said Rhoda, equally surprised. ‘For one thing, you look like a fever patient just recovering. What can be expected? Your sister gave me a shocking account of how you live.’

‘The work is very hard.’

‘Preposterous. Why do you stay at such a place, Monica?’

‘I am getting experience.’

‘To be used in the next world?’

They laughed.

‘Miss Madden is better today, I hope?’

‘Alice? Not much, I’m sorry to say.’

‘Will you tell me something more about the “experience” you are getting? For instance, what time is given you for meals?’

Rhoda Nunn was not the person to manufacture light gossip when a matter of the gravest interest waited for discussion. With a face that expressed thoughtful sympathy, she encouraged the girl to speak and confide in her.

‘There’s twenty minutes for each meal,’ Monica explained; ‘but at dinner and tea one is very likely to be called into the shop before finishing. If you are long away you find the table cleared.’

‘Charming arrangement! No sitting down behind the counter, I suppose?’

‘Oh, of course not. We stiffer a great deal from that. Some of us get diseases. A girl has just gone to the hospital with varicose veins, and two or three others have the same thing in a less troublesome form. Sometimes, on Saturday night, I lose all feeling in my feet; I have to stamp on the floor to be sure it’s still under me.’

‘Ah, that Saturday night!’

‘Yes, it’s bad enough now; but at Christmas! There was a week or more of Saturday night — going on to one o’clock in the morning. A girl by me was twice carried out fainting, one night after another. They gave her brandy, and she came back again.’

‘They compelled her to?’

‘Well, no, it was her own wish. Her “book of takings” wasn’t very good, poor thing, and if it didn’t come up to a certain figure at the end of the week she would lose her place. She lost it after all. They told her she was too weak. After Christmas she was lucky enough to get a place as a lady’s-maid at twenty-five pounds a year — at Scotcher’s she had fifteen. But we heard that she burst a blood-vessel, and now she’s in the hospital at Brompton.’

‘Delightful story! Haven’t you an early-closing day?’

‘They had before I went there; but only for about three months. Then the agreement broke down.’

‘Like the assistants. A pity the establishment doesn’t follow suit.’

‘But you wouldn’t say so, Miss Nunn, if you knew how terribly hard it is for many girls to find a place, even now.’

‘I know it perfectly well. And I wish it were harder. I wish girls fell down and died of hunger in the streets, instead of creeping to their garrets and the hospitals. I should like to see their dead bodies collected together in some open place for the crowd to stare at.’

Monica gazed at her with wide eyes.

‘You mean, I suppose, that people would try to reform things.’

‘Who knows? Perhaps they might only congratulate each other that a few of the superfluous females had been struck off. Do they give you any summer holiday?’

‘A week, with salary continued.’

‘Really? With salary continued? That takes one’s breath away. — Are many of the girls ladies?’

‘None, at Scotcher’s. They nearly all come from the country. Several are daughters of small farmers and those are dreadfully ignorant. One of them asked me the other day in what country Africa was.’

‘You don’t find them very pleasant company?’

‘One or two are nice quiet girls.’

Rhoda drew a deep sigh, and moved with impatience.

‘Well, don’t you think you’ve had about enough of it — experience and all?’

‘I might go into a country business: it would be easier.’

‘But you don’t care for the thought?’

‘I wish now they had brought me up to something different. Alice and Virginia were afraid of having me trained for a school; you remember that one of our sisters who went through it died of overwork. And I’m not clever, Miss Nunn. I never did much at school.’

Rhoda regarded her, smiling gently.

‘You have no inclination to study now?’

‘I’m afraid not,’ replied the other, looking away. ‘Certainly I should like to be better educated, but I don’t think I could study seriously, to earn my living by it. The time for that has gone by.’

‘Perhaps so. But there are things you might manage. No doubt your sister told you how I get my living. There’s a good deal of employment for women who learn to use a typewriter. Did you ever have piano lessons?’

‘No.’

‘No more did I, and I was sorry for it when I went to typewriting. The fingers have to be light and supple and quick. Come with me, and I’ll show you one of the machines.’

They went to a room downstairs — a bare little room by the library. Here were two Remingtons, and Rhoda patiently explained their use.

‘One must practise until one can do fifty words a minute at least. I know one or two people who have reached almost twice that speed. It takes a good six months’ work to learn for any profitable use. Miss Barfoot takes pupils.’

Monica, at first very attentive, was growing absent. Her eyes wandered about the room. The other observed her closely, and, it seemed, doubtfully.

‘Do you feel any impulse to try for it?’

‘I should have to live for six months without earning anything.’

‘That is by no means impossible for you, I think?’

‘Not really impossible,’ Monica replied with hesitation.

Something like dissatisfaction passed over Miss Nunn’s face, though she did not allow Monica to see it. Her lips moved in a way that perhaps signified disdain for such timidity. Tolerance was not one of the virtues expressed in her physiognomy.

‘Let us go back to the drawing-room and have some tea.’

Monica could not become quite at ease. This energetic woman had little attraction for her. She saw the characteristics which made Virginia enthusiastic, but feared rather than admired them. To put herself in Miss Nunn’s hands might possibly result in a worse form of bondage than she suffered at the shop; she would never be able to please such a person, and failure, she imagined, would result in more or less contemptuous dismissal.

Then of a sudden, as it she had divined these thoughts, Rhoda assumed an air of gaiety of frank kindness.

‘So it is your birthday? I no longer keep count of mine, and couldn’t tell you without a calculation what I am exactly. It doesn’t matter, you see. Thirty-one or fifty-one is much the same for a woman who has made up her mind to live alone and work steadily for a definite object. But you are still a young girl, Monica. My best wishes!’

Monica emboldened herself to ask what the object was for which her friend worked.

‘How shall I put it?’ replied the other, smiling. ‘To make women hard-hearted.’

‘Hard-hearted? I think I understand.’

‘Do you?’

‘You mean that you like to see them live unmarried.’

Rhoda laughed merrily.

‘You say that almost with resentment.’

‘No — indeed — I didn’t intend it.’

Monica reddened a little.

‘Nothing more natural if you have done. At your age, I should have resented it.’

‘But —’ the girl hesitated —‘don’t you approve of any one marrying?’

‘Oh, I’m not so severe! But do you know that there are half a million more women than men in this happy country of ours?’

‘Half a million!’

Her naive alarm again excited Rhoda to laughter.

‘Something like that, they say. So many odd women — no making a pair with them. The pessimists call them useless, lost, futile lives. I, naturally — being one of them myself — take another view. I look upon them as a great reserve. When one woman vanishes in matrimony, the reserve offers a substitute for the world’s work. True, they are not all trained yet — far from it. I want to help in that — to train the reserve.’

‘But married woman are not idle,’ protested Monica earnestly.

‘Not all of them. Some cook and rock cradles.’

Again Miss Nunn’s mood changed. She laughed the subject away, and abruptly began to talk of old days down in Somerset, of rambles about Cheddar Cliffs, or at Glastonbury, or on the Quantocks. Monica, however, could not listen, and with difficulty commanded her face to a pleasant smile.

‘Will you come and see Miss Barfoot?’ Rhoda asked, when it had become clear to her that the girl would gladly get away. ‘I am only her subordinate, but I know she will wish to be of all the use to you she can.’

Monica expressed her thanks, and promised to act as soon as possible on any invitation that was sent her. She took leave just as the servant announced another caller.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 22:20