’Well, I am two-and-thirty—and I don’t call myself old. When you have reached my age I prophesy you will smile at your despair of ten years ago. At your age one talks so readily of “wrecked life” and “hopeless future,” and all that kind of thing. My dear girl, you may live to be one of the most contented and most useful women in England. Your life isn’t wrecked at all—nonsense! You have gone through a storm, that’s true; but more likely than not you will be all the better for it. Don’t talk or think about sins; simply make up your mind that you won’t be beaten by trials and hardships. There cannot—can there?—be the least doubt as to how you ought to live through these next coming months. Your duty is perfectly clear. Strengthen yourself in body and mind. You have a mind, which is more than can be said of a great many women. Think bravely and nobly of yourself! Say to yourself: This and that it is in me to do, and I will do it!’
Monica bent suddenly forward and took one of her friend’s hands, and clung to it.
’I knew you could say something that would help me. You have a way of speaking. But it isn’t only now. I shall be so far away, and so lonely, all through the dark winter. Will you write to me?’
‘Gladly. And tell you all we are doing.’
Rhoda’s voice sank for a moment; her eyes wandered; but she recovered the air of confidence.
’We seemed to have lost you; but before long you will be one of us again. I mean, you will be one of the women who are fighting in woman’s cause. You will prove by your life that we can be responsible human beings—trustworthy, conscious of purpose.’
’Tell me—do you think it right for me to live with my husband when I can’t even regard him as a friend?’
’In that I dare not counsel you. If you can think of him as a friend, in time to come, surely it will be better. But here you must guide yourself. You seem to have made a very sensible arrangement, and before long you will see many things more clearly. Try to recover health—health; that is what you need. Drink in the air of the Severn Sea; it will be a cordial to you after this stifling London. Next summer I shall—I hope I shall be at Cheddar, and then I shall come over to Clevedon—and we shall laugh and talk as if we had never known a care.’
‘Ah, it that time were come! But you have done me good. I shall try—’
‘I mustn’t forget,’ said Rhoda, without looking at her, ’that I owe you thanks. You have done what you felt was right in spite of all it cost you; and you have very greatly relieved my mind. Of course it is all a secret between us. If I make it understood that a doubt is no longer troubling me I shall never say how it was removed.’
‘How I wish I had come before.’
’For your own sake, if I have really helped you, I wish you had. But as for anything else—it is much better as it is.’