AT NATURE’S BIDDING
The sick girl whom Miss Barfoot had been to see was Monica Madden.
With strange suddenness, after several weeks of steady application to her work, in a cheerful spirit which at times rose to gaiety, Monica became dull, remiss, unhappy; then violent headaches attacked her, and one morning she declared herself unable to rise. Mildred Vesper went to Great Portland Street at the usual hour, and informed Miss Barfoot of her companion’s illness. A doctor was summoned; to him it seemed probable that the girl was suffering from consequences of overstrain at her old employment; there was nervous collapse, hysteria, general disorder of the system. Had the patient any mental disquietude? Was trouble of any kind (the doctor smiled) weighing upon her? Miss Barfoot, unable to answer these questions, held private colloquy with Mildred; but the latter, though she pondered a good deal with corrugated brows, could furnish no information.
In a day or two Monica was removed to her sister’s lodgings at Lavender Hill. Mrs. Conisbee managed to put a room at her disposal, and Virginia tended her. Thither Miss Barfoot went on the evening when Everard found her away; she and Virginia, talking together after being with the invalid for a quarter of an hour, agreed that there was considerable improvement, but felt a like uneasiness regarding Monica’s state of mind.
‘Do you think,’ asked the visitor, ’that she regrets the step I persuaded her to take?’
’Oh, I can’t think that! She has been so delighted with her progress each time I have seen her. No, I feel sure it’s only the results of what she suffered at Walworth Road. In a very short time we shall have her at work again, and brighter than ever.’
Miss Barfoot was not convinced. After Everard’s departure that evening she talked of the matter with Rhoda.
‘I’m afraid,’ said Miss Nunn, ’that Monica is rather a silly girl. She doesn’t know her own mind. If this kind of thing is repeated, we had better send her back to the country.’
‘To shop work again?’
‘It might be better.’
‘Oh, I don’t like the thought of that.’
Rhoda had one of her fits of wrathful eloquence.
’Now could one have a better instance than this Madden family of the crime that middle-class parents commit when they allow their girls to go without rational training? Of course I know that Monica was only a little child when they were left orphans; but her sisters had already grown up into uselessness, and their example has been harmful to her all along. Her guardians dealt with her absurdly; they made her half a lady and half a shop-girl. I don’t think she’ll ever be good for much. And the elder ones will go on just keeping themselves alive; you can see that. They’ll never start the school that there’s so much talk of. That poor, helpless, foolish Virginia, alone there in her miserable lodging! How can we hope that any one will take her as a companion? And yet they are capitalists; eight hundred pounds between them. Think what capable women might do with eight hundred pounds.’