Virginia was making efforts to rise.
‘What are you talking about?’ she exclaimed in a thick voice, and with a countenance which was changing from dazed astonishment to anger. ’It’s only when I feel faint. Do you suppose I drink? Where’s Alice? Wasn’t Alice here?’
‘O Virgie! What does it mean? How could you?’
‘Go to bed at once, Virginia,’ said Monica. ’We’re ashamed of you. Go back into my room Alice, and I’ll get her to bed.’
Ultimately this was done. With no slight trouble, Monica persuaded her sister to undress, and got her into a recumbent position, Virginia all the time protesting that she had perfect command of her faculties, that she needed no help whatever, and was utterly at a loss to comprehend the insults directed against her.
‘Lie quiet and go to sleep,’ was Monica’s last word, uttered contemptuously.
She extinguished the lamp and returned to her own room, where Alice was still weeping. The unexpected arrival had already been explained to Monica. Sudden necessity for housing a visitor had led to the proposition that Miss Madden, for her last night, should occupy a servant’s bedroom. Glad to get away, Alice chose the alternative of leaving the house at once. It had been arranged that she should share Virginia’s room, but to-night this did not seem advisable.
‘To-morrow,’ said Monica, ’we must talk to her very seriously. I believe she has been drinking like that night after night. It explains the look she always has the first thing in the morning. Could you have imagined anything so disgraceful?’
But Alice had softened towards the erring woman.
’You must remember what her life has been, dear. I’m afraid loneliness is very often a cause—’
’She needn’t have been lonely. She refused to come and live at Herne Hill, and now of course I understand why. Mrs. Conisbee must have known about it, and it was her duty to tell me. Mr. Widdowson had found out somehow, I feel sure.’
She explained the reason of this belief.
‘You know what it all points to,’ said Miss Madden, drying her sallow, pimpled cheeks. ’You must do as your husband wishes, dearest. We must go to Clevedon. There the poor girl will be out of temptation.’
‘You and Virgie may go.’
‘You too, Monica. My dear sister, it is your duty.’
‘Don’t use that word to me!’ exclaimed the other angrily. ’It is not my duty. It can be no woman’s duty to live with a man she hates-or even to make a pretence of living with him.’
’You mustn’t begin this to-night, Alice. I have been ill all day, and now my head is aching terribly. Go downstairs and eat the supper they have laid for you.’
‘I couldn’t touch a morsel,’ sobbed Miss Madden. ’Oh, everything is too dreadful! Life is too hard!’
Monica had returned to bed, and lay there with her face half hidden against the pillow.