III.1. Mrs. Milroy
Two days after Midwinter's departure from Thorpe Ambrose, Mrs. Milroy, having
completed her morning toilet, and having dismissed her nurse, rang the bell again
five minutes afterward, and on the woman's re-appearance asked impatiently if
the post had come in.
"Post?" echoed the nurse. "Haven't you got your watch? Don't you know that it's a
good half-hour too soon to ask for your letters?" She spoke with the confident
insolence of a servant long accustomed to presume on her mistress's weakness
and her mistress's necessities. Mrs. Milroy, on her side, appeared to be well used
to her nurses manner; she gave her orders composedly, without noticing it.
"When the postman does come," she said, "see him yourself. I am expecting a
letter which I ought to have had two days since. I don't understand it. I'm
beginning to suspect the servants."
The nurse smiled contemptuously. "Whom will you suspect next?" she asked.
"There! don't put yourself out. I'll answer the gate-bell this morning; and we'll see
if I can't bring you a letter when the postman comes." Saying those words, with
the tone and manner of a woman who is quieting a fractious child, the nurse,
without waiting to be dismissed, left the room.
Mrs. Milroy turned slowly and wearily on her bed, when she was left by herself
again, and let the light from the window fall on her face. It was the face of a
woman who had once been handsome, and who was still, so far as years went, in
the prime of her life. Long-continued suffering of body and long-continued
irritation of mind had worn her away--in the roughly expressive popular phrase--
to skin and bone. The utter wreck of her beauty was made a wreck horrible to
behold, by her desperate efforts to conceal the sight of it from her own eyes, from
the eyes of her husband and her child, from the eyes even of the doctor who
attended her, and whose business it was to penetrate to the truth. Her head, from
which the greater part of the hair had fallen off; would have been less shocking to
see than the hideously youthful wig by which she tried to hide the loss. No
deterioration of her complexion, no wrinkling of her skin, could have been so
dreadful to look at as the rouge that lay thick on her cheeks, and the white enamel
plastered on her forehead. The delicate lace, and the bright trimming on her
dressing-gown, the ribbons in her cap, and the rings on her bony fingers, all
intended to draw the eye away from the change that had passed over her, directed
the eye to it, on the contrary; emphasized it; made it by sheer force of contrast
more hopeless and more horrible than it really was. An illustrated book of the
fashions, in which women were represented exhibiting their finery by means of
the free use of their limbs, lay on the bed, from which she had not moved for
years without being lifted by her nurse. A hand-glass was placed with the book so