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that she could reach it easily. She took up the glass after her attendant had left the
room, and looked at her face with an unblushing interest and attention which she
would have been ashamed of herself at the age of eighteen.
"Older and older, and thinner and thinner!" she said. "The major will soon be a
free man; but I'll have that red-haired hussy out of the house first!"
She dropped the looking-glass on the counterpane, and clinched the hand that held
it. Her eyes suddenly riveted themselves on a little crayon portrait of her husband
hanging on the opposite wall; they looked at the likeness with the hard and cruel
brightness of the eyes of a bird of prey. "Red is your taste in your old age is it?"
she said to the portrait. "Red hair, and a scrofulous complexion, and a padded
figure, a ballet-girl's walk, and a pickpocket's light fingers. Miss Gwilt! Miss,
with those eyes, and that walk!" She turned her head suddenly on the pillow, and
burst into a harsh, jeering laugh. "Miss!" she repeated over and over again, with
the venomously pointed emphasis of the most merciless of all human forms of
contempt--the contempt of one woman for another.
The age we live in is an age which finds no human creature inexcusable. Is there
an excuse for Mrs. Milroy? Let the story of her life answer the question.
She had married the major at an unusually early age; and, in marrying him, had
taken a man for her husband who was old enough to be her father--a man who, at
that time, had the reputation, and not unjustly, of having made the freest use of his
social gifts and his advantages of personal appearance in the society of women.
Indifferently educated, and below her husband in station, she had begun by
accepting his addresses under the influence of her own flattered vanity, and had
ended by feeling the fascination which Major Milroy had exercised over women
infinitely her mental superiors in his earlier life. He had been touched, on his side,
by her devotion, and had felt, in his turn, the attraction of her beauty, her
freshness, and her youth. Up to the time when their little daughter and only child
had reached the age of eight years, their married life had been an unusually happy
one. At that period the double misfortune fell on the household, of the failure of
the wife's health, and the almost total loss of the husband's fortune; and from that
moment the domestic happiness of the married pair was virtually at an end.
Having reached the age when men in general are readier, under the pressure of
calamity, to resign themselves than to resist, the major had secured the little relics
of his property, had retired into the country, and had patiently taken refuge in his
mechanical pursuits. A woman nearer to him in age, or a woman with a better
training and more patience of disposition than his wife possessed, would have
understood the major's conduct, and have found consolation in the major's
submission. Mrs. Milroy found consolation in nothing. Neither nature nor training
helped her to meet resignedly the cruel calamity which had struck at her in the
bloom of womanhood and the prime of beauty. The curse of incurable sickness
blighted her at once and for life.
Suffering can, and does, develop the latent evil that there is in humanity, as well
as the latent good. The good that was in Mrs. Milroy's nature shrank up, under
that subtly deteriorating influence in which the evil grew and flourished. Month
by month, as she became the weaker woman physically, she became the worse
woman morally. All that was mean, cruel, and false in her expanded in steady