The Odd Women

By George Gissing ; Patricia Ingham | Go to book overview

18 A REINFORCEMENT

THROUGHOUT January, Barfoot was endeavouring to persuade his brother Tom to leave London, where the invalid's health perceptibly grew worse. Doctors were urgent to the same end, but ineffectually; for Mrs Thomas, though she professed to be amazed at her husband's folly in remaining where he could not hope for recovery, herself refused to accompany him any whither. This pair had no children. The lady always spoke of herself as a sad sufferer from mysterious infirmities, and had, in fact, a tendency to hysteria, which confused itself inextricably with the results of evil nurture and the impulses of a disposition originally base; nevertheless she made a figure in a certain sphere of vulgar wealth, and even gave opportunity to scandalous tongues. Her husband, whatever his secret thought, would hear nothing against her; his temper, like Everard's, was marked with stubbornness, and after a good deal of wrangling he forbade his brother to address him again on the subject of their disagreement.

' Tom is dying,' wrote Everard, early in February, to his cousin in Queen's Road. 'Dr Swain assures me that, unless he be removed, he cannot last more than a month or two. This morning I saw the woman,'--it was thus he always referred to his sister-in-law,--'and talked to her in what was probably the plainest language she ever had the privilege of hearing. It was a tremendous scene, brought to a close only by her flinging herself on the sofa with shrieks which terrified the whole household. My idea is that we must carry the poor fellow away by force. His infatuation makes me rage and curse, but I am bent on trying to save his life. Will you come and give your help?'

A week later, they succeeded in carrying the invalid back to Torquay. Mrs Barfoot had abandoned him to his doctors, nurses, and angry relatives; she declared herself driven out of the house, and went to live at a fashionable hotel. Everard remained in Devon for more than a month, devoting himself with affection, which the trial of his temper seemed only to increase, to his brother's welfare. Thomas improved a little; once more there was hope. Then, on a sudden frantic impulse, after writing fifty letters which elicited no

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