The Odd Women

By George Gissing ; Patricia Ingham | Go to book overview

3 AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN

VIRGINIA's reply to Miss Nunn's letter brought another note next morning--Saturday. It was to request a call from the sisters that same afternoon.

Alice, unfortunately, would not be able to leave home. Her disorder had become a feverish cold, caught, doubtless, between open window and door whilst the bedroom was being aired for breakfast. She lay in bed, and her sister administered remedies of the chemist's advising.

But she insisted on Virginia's leaving her in the afternoon. Miss Nunn might have something of importance to tell or to suggest. Mrs Conisbee, sympathetic in her crude way, would see that the invalid wanted for nothing.

So, after a dinner of mashed potatoes and milk* ('The Irish peasantry live almost entirely on that,' croaked Alice, 'and they are physically a fine race'), the younger sister started on her walk to Chelsea. Her destination was a plain, low, roomy old house in Queen's Road, over against the Hospital Gardens. On asking for Miss Nunn, she was led to a back room on the ground floor, and there waited for a few moments. Several large book-cases, a wellequipped writing-table, and kindred objects, indicated that the occupant of the house was studious; the numerous bunches of cut flowers, which agreeably scented the air, seemed to prove the student a woman.

Miss Nunn entered. Younger only by a year or two than Virginia, she was yet far from presenting any sorrowful image of a person on the way to old-maidenhood. She had a clear, though pale skin, a vigorous frame, a brisk movement--all the signs of fairly good health. Whether or not she could be called a comely woman, might have furnished matter for male discussion; the prevailing voice of her own sex would have denied her charm of feature. At first view the countenance seemed masculine, its expression somewhat aggressive,--eyes shrewdly observant and lips consciously impregnable. But the connoisseur delayed his verdict. It was a face that invited, that compelled, study. Self-confidence, intellectual keenness, a bright humour, frank courage, were traits legible enough; and when

-25-

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