She wrote to Janet when she was in the mood—delicious scraps of letters, broad-margined, fantastic, each, so far as charm went, a little literary gem disguised in wilfulness, in a picture, in a diamond-cut cynicism that shone sharper and clearer for the “dainty affectation of its setting.” When she was not in the mood she did not write at all. With an instinctive recognition of the demands of any relation such as she felt her friendship with Janet Cardiff to be, she simply refrained, from imposing upon her anything that savored of dullness or commonplaceness. So that sometimes she wrote three or four times in a week and sometimes not at all for a fortnight, sometimes covered pages and sometimes sent three lines and a row of asterisks. There was a fancifulness in the hour as well, that usually made itself felt all through the letter—it was rainy twilight in her garret, or a gray wideness was creeping up behind St Paul’s, which meant that it was morning. To what she herself was actually doing, or to any material fact about her, they made the very slightest reference. Janet, in Scotland, perceived half of this, and felt aggrieved on the score of the other half. She wished, more often than she said she did, that Elfrida were a little more human, that she had a more appreciative understanding of the warm value of common every-day matters between people who were interested in one another. The subtle imprisoned soul in Elfrida’s letters always spoke to hers, but Janet never received so artistic a missive of three lines that she did not wish it were longer, and she had no fund of confidence to draw on to meet her friend’s incomprehensible spaces of silence. To cover her real soreness she scolded, chaffed brusquely, affected lofty sarcasms.
“Twelve days ago,” she wrote, “you mentioned casually that you were threatened with pneumonia; your communication of to-day you devote to proving that Hector Malot is a carpenter. I agree with you with reservations, but the sequence worries me. In the meantime have you had the pneumonia?”
Her own letters were long and gossiping, full of the scent of the heather and the eccentricities of Donald Macleod; and she wrote them, regularly twice a week, using rainy afternoons for the purpose and every inch of the paper at her disposal. Elfrida put a very few of them into the wooden box, just as she would have embalmed, if she could, a very few of the half-hours they had spent together.