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- The Odd Women - 30/90 -


'But, Monica--you mustn't mind my speaking plainly--I don't think you love him.'

'Yes, I love him well enough to feel that I am doing right in marrying him.' She sat down by the table, and propped her head on her hand. 'He loves me; I can't doubt that. If you could read his letters, you would see how strong his feeling is.'

She shook with the cold induced by excitement; her voice was at moments all but choked.

'But, putting love aside,' went on the other, very gravely, 'what do you really know of Mr. Widdowson? Nothing whatever but what he has told you himself. Of course you will let your friends make inquiries for you?'

'Yes. I shall tell my sisters, and no doubt they will go to Miss Nunn at once. I don't want to do anything rash. But it will be all right--I mean, he has told me the truth about everything. You would be sure of that if you knew him.'

Mildred, with hands before her on the table, made the tips of her fingers meet. Her lips were drawn in; her eyes seemed looking for something minute on the cloth.

'You know,' she said at length, 'I suspected what was going on. I couldn't help.'

'Of course you couldn't.'

'Naturally I thought it was some one whose acquaintance you had made at the shop.'

'How _could_ I think of marrying any one of that kind?'

'I should have been grieved.'

'You may believe me, Milly; Mr. Widdowson is a man you will respect and like as soon as you know him. He couldn't have behaved to me with more delicacy. Not a word from him, spoken or written, has ever pained me--except that he tells me he suffers so dreadfully, and of course I can't hear that without pain.'

'To respect, and even to like, a man, isn't at all the same as loving him.'

'I said _you_ would respect and like him,' exclaimed Monica, with humorous impatience. 'I don't want _you_ to love him.'

Mildred laughed, with constraint.

'I never loved any one yet, dear, and it's very unlikely I ever shall. But I think I know the signs of the feeling.'

Monica came behind her, and leaned upon her shoulder.

'He loves me so much that he has made me think I _must_ marry him. And I am glad of it. I'm not like you, Milly; I can't be contented with this life. Miss Barfoot and Miss Nunn are very sensible and good people, and I admire them very much, but I _can't_ go their way. It seems to me that it would be dreadful, dreadful, to live one's life alone. Don't turn round and snap at me; I want to tell you the truth whilst you can't see me. Whenever I think of Alice and Virginia, I am frightened; I had rather, oh, far rather, kill myself than live such a life at their age. You can't imagine how miserable they are, really. And I have the same nature as theirs, you know. Compared with you and Miss Haven I'm very weak and childish.'

After drumming on the table for a moment, with wrinkled brows, Mildred made grave response.

'You must let _me_ tell the truth as well. I think you're going to marry with altogether wrong ideas. I think you'll do an injustice to Mr. Widdowson. You will marry him for a comfortable home--that's what it amounts to. And you'll repent it bitterly some day--you'll repent.'

Monica raised herself and stood apart.

'For one thing,' pursued Mildred, with nervous earnestness, 'he's too old. Your habits and his won't suit.'

'He has assured me that I shall live exactly the kind of life I please. And that will be what _he_ pleases. I feel his kindness to me very much, and I shall do my utmost to repay him.'

'That's a very nice spirit; but I believe married life is no easy thing even when the people are well matched. I have heard the most dreadful stories of quarrelling and all sorts of unhappiness between people I thought safe from any such dangers. You _may_ be fortunate; I only say that the chances are very much against it, marrying from such motives as you confess.'

Monica drew herself up.

'I haven't confessed any motive to be ashamed of, Milly.'

'You say you have decided to marry now because you are afraid of never having another chance'

'No; that's turning it very unkindly. I only said that _after_ I had told you that I did love him. And I do love him. He has made me love him.'

'Then I have no right to say any more. I can only wish you happiness.'

Mildred heaved a sigh, and pretended to give her attention to Maunder.

After waiting irresolutely for some minutes, Monica looked for notepaper, and took it, together with her inkstand, into the bedroom. She was absent half an hour. On her return there was a stamped letter in her hand.

'It is going, Milly.'

'Very well, dear. I have nothing more to say.'

'You give me up for lost. We shall see.'

It was spoken light-heartedly. Again she left the room, put on her out-of-door things, and went to post the letter. By this time she began to feel the results of exertion and excitement; headache and tremulous failing of her strength obliged her to go to bed almost as soon as she returned. Mildred waited upon her with undiminished kindness.

'It's all right,' Monica murmured, as her head sank on the pillow. 'I feel so relieved and so glad--so happy--now I have done it.'

'Good-night, dear,' replied the other, with a kiss, and went back to her semblance of reading.

Two days later Monica called unexpectedly at Mrs. Conisbee's. Being told by that worthy woman that Miss Madden was at home, she ran upstairs and tapped at the door. Virginia's voice inquired hurriedly who was there, and on Monica's announcing herself there followed a startled exclamation.

'Just a minute, my love! Only a minute.'

When the door opened Monica was surprised by a disorder in her sister's appearance. Virginia had flushed cheeks, curiously vague eyes, and hair ruffled as if she had just risen from a nap. She began to talk in a hurried, disconnected way, trying to explain that she had not been quite well, and was not yet properly dressed.

'What a strange smell!' Monica exclaimed, looking about the room. 'It's like brandy.'

'You notice it? I have--I was obliged to get--to ask Mrs. Conisbee for--I don't want to alarm you, dear, but I felt rather faint. Indeed, I thought I should have a fainting fit. I was obliged to call Mrs. Conisbee--But don't think anything about it. It's all over. The weather is very trying--'

She laughed nervously and began to pat Monica's hand. The girl was not quite satisfied, and pressed many questions, but in the end she accepted Virginia's assurances that nothing serious had happened. Then her own business occupied her; she sat down, and said with a smile,--

'I have brought you astonishing news. If you didn't faint before you'll be very likely to do so now.'

Her sister exhibited fresh agitation, and begged not to be kept in suspense.

'My nerves are in a shocking state to-day. It _must_ be the weather. What _can_ you have to tell me, Monica?'

'I think I shan't need to go on with typewriting.'

'Why? What are you going to do, child?' the other asked sharply.

'Virgie--I am going to be married.'

The shock was a severe one. Virginia's hands fell, her eyes started, her mouth opened; she became the colour of clay, even her lips losing for the moment all their colour.

'Married?' she at length gasped. 'Who--who is it?'

'Some one you have never heard of. His name is Mr. Edmund Widdowson. He is very well off, and has a house at Herne Hill.'

'A private gentleman?'

'Yes. He used to be in business, but is retired. Now, I am not going to tell you much more about him until you have made his acquaintance. Don't ask a lot of questions. You are to come with me this afternoon to his house. He lives alone, but a relative of his, his sister-in-law, is going to be with him to meet us.'

'Oh, but it's so sudden! I can't go to pay a call like that at a moment's notice. Impossible, darling! What _does_ it all mean? You are going to be married, Monica? I can't understand it. I can't realize it. Who is this gentleman? How long--'


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