’Impossible to trust her in any detail of life. The pity is that her degradation can’t be used as an object lesson for our other girls.’
’There again we differ. You are quite mistaken in your ideas of how the mind is influenced. The misery of Bella Royston would not in the least affect any other girl’s way of thinking about the destiny of her sex. We must avoid exaggeration. If our friends get to think of us as fanatics, all our usefulness is over. The ideal we set up must be human. Do you think now that we know one single girl who in her heart believes it is better never to love and never to marry?’
‘Perhaps not,’ admitted Rhoda, more cheerful now that she had gained her point. ’But we know several who will not dream of marrying unless reason urges them as strongly as inclination.’
Miss Barfoot laughed.
’Pray, who ever distinguished in such a case between reason and inclination?’
‘You are most unusually sceptical to-day,’ said Rhoda, with an impatient laugh.
’No, my dear. We happen to be going to the root of things, that’s all. Perhaps it’s as well to do so now and then. Oh, I admire you immensely, Rhoda. You are the ideal adversary of those care-nothing and believe-nothing women who keep the world back. But don’t prepare for yourself a woeful disillusion.’
‘Take the case of Winifred Haven,’ urged Miss Nunn. ’She is a good-looking and charming girl, and some one or other will want to marry her some day, no doubt.’
’Forgive my interrupting you. There is great doubt. She has no money but what she can earn, and such girls, unless they are exceptionally beautiful, are very likely indeed to remain unsought.’
’Granted. But let us suppose she has an offer. Should you fear for her prudence?’
‘Winifred has much good sense,’ admitted the other. ’I think she is in as little danger as any girl we know. But it wouldn’t startle me if she made the most lamentable mistake. Certainly I don’t fear it. The girls of our class are not like the uneducated, who, for one reason or another, will marry almost any man rather than remain single. They have at all events personal delicacy. But what I insist upon is, that Winifred would rather marry than not. And we must carefully bear that fact in mind. A strained ideal is as bad, practically, as no ideal at all. Only the most exceptional girl will believe it her duty to remain single as an example and support to what we call the odd women; yet that is the most human way of urging what you desire. By taking up the proud position that a woman must be altogether independent of sexual things, you damage your cause. Let us be glad if we put a few of them in the way of living single with no more discontent than an unmarried man experiences.’