Her sisters had not the sympathetic intelligence necessary for aiding her; Virginia was weaker than she herself, and Alice dealt only in sorrowful commonplaces, profitable perhaps to her own heart, but powerless over the trouble of another’s. Among the few people she had called her friends there was one strong woman—strong of brain, and capable, it might be, of speaking the words that go from soul to soul; this woman she had deeply offended, yet owing to mere mischance. Whether or no Rhoda Nunn had lent ear to Barfoot’s wooing she must be gravely offended; she had given proof of it in the interview reported by Virginia. The scandal spread abroad by Widdowson might even have been fatal to a happiness of which she had dreamt. To Rhoda Nunn some form of reparation was owing. And might not an avowal of the whole truth elicit from her counsel of gratitude—some solace, some guidance?
Amid the tremors of night Monica felt able to take this step, for the mere chance of comfort that it offered. But when day came the resolution had vanished; shame and pride again compelled her to silence.
And this morning she had new troubles to think about. Virginia was keeping her room; would admit no one; answered every whisper of appeal with brief, vague words that signified anything or nothing. The others breakfasted in gloom that harmonized only too well with the heavy, dripping sky visible from their windows. Only at midday did Alice succeed in obtaining speech with her remorseful sister. They were closeted together for more than an hour, and the elder woman came forth at last with red, tear-swollen eyes.
‘We must leave her alone today,’ she said to Monica. ’She won’t take any meal. Oh, the wretched state she is in! If only I could have known of this before!’
‘Has it been going on for very long?’
’It began soon after she went to live at Mrs. Conisbee’s. She has told me all about it—poor girl, poor thing! Whether she can ever break herself of it, who knows? She says that she will take the pledge of total abstinence, and I encouraged her to do so; it may be some use, don’t you think?’
‘Perhaps—I don’t know—’
’But I have no faith in her reforming unless she goes away from London. She thinks herself that only a new life in a new place will give her the strength. My dear, at Mrs. Conisbee’s she starved herself to have money to buy spirits; she went without any food but dry bread day after day.’
‘Of course that made it worse. She must have craved for support.’
’Of course. And your husband knows about it. He came once when she was in that state—when you were away—’
Monica nodded sullenly, her eyes averted.
’Her life has been so dreadfully unhealthy. She seems to have become weak-minded. All her old interests have gone; she reads nothing but novels, day after day.’
‘I have noticed that.’
’How can we help her, Monica? Won’t you make a sacrifice for the poor girl’s sake? Cannot I persuade you, dear? Your position has a bad influence on her; I can see it has. She worries so about you, and then tries to forget the trouble—you know how.’