As I have said, she is a historical type of the woman who loses her physical purity, yet who retains a sense of honor and of honesty which nothing can take from her. There are not many such examples, and therefore this one is worth remembering.
Of anecdotes concerning her there are many, but not often has their real import been detected. If she could twine her arms about the monarch’s neck and transport him in a delirium of passion, this was only part of what she did. She tried to keep him right and true and worthy of his rank; and after he had ceased to care much for her as a lover he remembered that she had been faithful in many other things.
Then there came the death-bed scene, when Charles, in his inimitable manner, apologized to those about him because he was so long in dying. A far sincerer sentence was that which came from his heart, as he cried out, in the very pangs of death:
“Do not let poor Nelly starve!”
It is an old saying that to every womanly woman self-sacrifice is almost a necessity of her nature. To make herself of small account as compared with the one she loves; to give freely of herself, even though she may receive nothing in return; to suffer, and yet to feel an inner poignant joy in all this suffering—here is a most wonderful trait of womanhood. Perhaps it is akin to the maternal instinct; for to the mother, after she has felt the throb of a new life within her, there is no sacrifice so great and no anguish so keen that she will not welcome it as the outward sign and evidence of her illimitable love.
In most women this spirit of self-sacrifice is checked and kept within ordinary bounds by the circumstances of their lives. In many small things they do yield and they do suffer; yet it is not in yielding and in suffering that they find their deepest joy.
There are some, however, who seem to have been born with an abnormal capacity for enduring hardship and mental anguish; so that by a sort of contradiction they find their happiness in sorrow. Such women are endowed with a remarkable degree of sensibility. They feel intensely. In moments of grief and disappointment, and even of despair, there steals over them a sort of melancholy pleasure. It is as if they loved dim lights and mournful music and scenes full of sad suggestion.
If everything goes well with them, they are unwilling to believe that such good fortune will last. If anything goes wrong with them, they are sure that this is only the beginning of something even worse. The music of their lives is written in a minor key.
Now, for such women as these, the world at large has very little charity. It speaks slightingly of them as “agonizers.” It believes that they are “fond of making scenes.” It regards as an affectation something that is really instinctive and inevitable. Unless such women are beautiful and young and charming they are treated badly; and this is often true in spite of all their natural attractiveness, for they seem to court ill usage as if they were saying frankly: