IN consequence of letters exchanged during the week, next Sunday brought the three Miss Maddens to Queen's Road, to lunch with Miss Barfoot. Alice had recovered from her cold, but was still ailing, and took rather a gloomy view of the situation she had lately reviewed with such courage. Virginia maintained her enthusiastic faith in Miss Nunn, and was prepared to reverence Miss Barfoot with hardly less fervour. Both of them found it difficult to understand their young sister, who, in her letters, had betrayed distaste for the change of career proposed to her. They were received with the utmost kindness, and all greatly enjoyed their afternoon, for not even Monica's prejudice against a house, which in her own mind she had stigmatized as 'an old maid factory,'* could resist the charm of the hostess.
Though Miss Barfoot had something less than a woman's average stature, the note of her presence was personal dignity. She was handsome, and her carriage occasionally betrayed a consciousness of the fact. According to circumstances, she bore herself as the lady of aristocratic tastes, as a genial woman of the world, or as the fervid prophetess of female emancipation, and each character was supported with a spontaneity, a good-natured confidence, which inspired liking and respect. A brilliant complexion and eyes that sparkled with habitual cheerfulness gave her the benefit of doubt when her age was in question; her style of dress, gracefully ornate, would have led a stranger to presume her a wedded lady of some distinction. Yet Mary Barfoot had known many troubles, poverty among them. Her experiences and struggles bore a close resemblance to those which Rhoda Nunn had gone through, and the time of trial had lasted longer. Mental and moral stamina would have assured her against such evils of celibacy as appeared in the elder Maddens, but it was to a change of worldly fortune that she owed this revival of youthful spirit and energy in middle life.
'You and I must be friends,' she said to Monica, holding the girl's soft little hand. 'We are both black but comely.'*
The compliment to herself seemed the most natural thing in the world. Monica blushed with pleasure, and could not help laughing.