“Great God!” she exclaimed.
And she realized how inadequate that was.
For three weeks Janet stayed with her, sleeping with her, arms tight-locked about her yielding body as they had often slept together in the days at Kew. With her own hands, she fed her; in the warmth of her big, generous heart, she nursed her back to life, as you revive some little bird, starved and cold, in the heat of your two hands.
During the first fortnight, she asked no questions. What had happened was obvious. She learnt from the people on the second floor in the office of the railway company that Traill had left his rooms; but under what circumstances and why, she made no inquiries. Brought face to face with the exigencies in the lives of others, there is a fund of common sense to be found in the character of the revolutionary woman. That Janet Hallard was an artist, now with a studio of sorts of her own, says nothing for her temperament and less for her art. She had no conception of the higher life, and to her mind the inner mysticism was a jumble of confused nonsense—the blind leading the blind, for whom the ultimate ditch was a bastard theosophy. As a matter of fact, Janet had no mean ideas of design; but they were vigorous and, for her living, she had to struggle against the overwhelming sentimentalism of the nouveau art.
In dealing with Sally then, a subject needing tact, common sense and an unyielding strength of purpose, she was more than eminently fitted to save her from the edge of the precipice towards which she had found her so blindly stumbling. It was just such a moment as when one sees one’s dearest friend walking blindly to the verge of an abyss and knows that too sudden a cry, too swift a movement to save them, may plunge their reckless body for ever into eternity. In this moment, Janet kept her wits. With infinite care, with infinite tenderness, never weakening to the importunate demands that were made of her, giving up her work, giving up every other interest that she had, she slowly drew Sally back into the steady current of existence; saw day by day the life come tardily again into the bloodless cheeks, and watched the smearing shadows beneath the hollow eyes as they disappeared.
Then, at the end of a fortnight, she learnt in quavering sentences from Sally’s lips, trembling as they told it, the story of her desertion.
“You shouldn’t have followed him, Sally,” she whispered gently at its conclusion.
“I know I shouldn’t—I know I shouldn’t. And so I know of course he isn’t to blame. It’s that woman—his sister. I always knew she hated me—knew it! She used to look at me like you look at soiled things in a shop! She pointed me out to him in the theatre. I can guess the things she said. She brought the other—the other one to see him. Oh, wasn’t it cunning of her? Mustn’t she be a brute! Think what she’s done to me! Look how wretched she’s made my life! And she’s got every single thing she can want. Oh, I don’t wonder that people have their doubts about this marvellous mercy of God! I don’t see any mercy in what’s happened to me. I never saw any mercy in what happened to father; and yet he only did what he ought to have done.”