The following is an excerpt from One Poor Scruple by Josephine Ward, the newest novel republished under our Catholic Women Writers series. Josephine Mary Hope-Scott Ward (1864-1932) spent her life in close companionship with the most active minds working in the late 19th century to restore to the Catholic Church in England the intellectual, sacramental and theological integrity it had once enjoyed before three hundred years of persecution. She wrote numerous novels, theological pamphlets, and articles for the Dublin Review and The Spectator.
It was not long after six o’clock on a winter’s evening, and the lady of the house was resting in a low, deep arm-chair, holding in her hand an unopened volume of French memoirs. In the silence of the room a small clock ticked audibly; the noises from the street came, muﬄed and monotonous, through closed shutters and heavy curtains. Still it was possible to distinguish certain familiar sounds, the splash of a hansom, the heavy rumble of an omnibus, and at short intervals the smooth roll of carriage-wheels; while occasionally a newsboy’s cry rose with sharp distinctness for a moment and died away as he passed on to busier thoroughfares.
The lady of this house did not love the country in winter. She was fond of London, even of the sounds in the streets. They kept oﬀ the feeling of solitude which made the country so dreary in January and February. She was fond of her house, and of the drawing-room she was sitting in. It was long, low and narrow, rather too full of furniture and pretty things;—a heterogeneous collection which pointed to much travelling, suﬃcient money and some originality.
Yet, at ﬁrst sight there was nothing original or artistic or markedly individual in the very correctly dressed woman in the arm-chair. Mrs. Hurstmonceaux was no longer young, no longer handsome,—if indeed she had ever been so,—no longer capable of being very natural or impulsive or thoughtless. She had not sunk into reverie in her solitude, and she was not unconscious of the ringing of the door bell, soon followed by the appearance of the footman and the announcement of “Ms. George Riversdale.”
“Madge! How delightful!”
There was a gentle earnestness in the manner of the hostess. An inaudible greeting from the visitor followed; and then she ﬂung her tiny person into the arm-chair which Mrs. Hurstmonceaux had just quitted.
“I am dead tired, Laura,” she spoke with a quick uneven intonation; “I have had an odious afternoon.”
“And so you have come here to be rested. How charming! That is treating a friend as a friend should be treated. But what have you been doing?”
“Going into mourning,—only half-mourning; but I had to get the things tried on today,” said the little lady, closing her eyes.
“But for whom?” Laura threw into her manner a touch of prospective sympathy.
“My husband,” said Madge, opening her eyes and sitting up abruptly.
“Your husband! But, my dear Madge!”
“Yes, I know, of course I went out of mourning long ago; and you have seen me in all the colours of the rainbow since; and a year and a bit was long enough, considering—” She paused and Laura echoed “considering,” with the added emphasis of her impressive low tones.
“Considering,” said Madge, taking up her word as though her friend had had no right to appropriate it, “that I had not seen him for two years before that. All the same, just two years after his death I have been getting some exquisite half-mourning—fawns and violets are much better understood now than they used to be.”
“And if you choose them,” murmured the listener, “of course—”
“Clothes are my only talent, so you need not be jealous,” Madge went on. “But it isn’t every day that one ﬁnds people relapsing into mourning without fresh cause. I wonder you don’t want to know the reason why.”
“But I do,” said Laura in a tone of delicate reserve.
“It is only because I am going to stay with his people, and I haven’t the moral courage to go like this,” and she looked down at her geranium cloth skirt and smiled.
A change almost too subtle to be described passed over her companion’s face. It was only a slight contraction of delicate lines about the long narrow eyes, denoting an increase of interest and alertness at this announcement. She was sitting on a low chair, nearer to the ﬁre than her visitor. She now turned towards her, as if expecting to hear more. But Madge was not inclined to say anything. She moved restlessly as Laura waited, ﬁrst trying one arm of the chair and then the other to lean upon.
“You are really going to Skipton-le-Grange?” Laura asked at length.
“Yes, isn’t it a bore? But I can’t get out of it this time.”
“Can’t you?” Laura spoke thoughtfully, and turned her gaze to the ﬁre. “Just now when all your friends are coming up and—”
Madge interrupted her quickly.
“I must go to Skipton; there are business things, money matters. I must see George’s father—then it doesn’t quite do to seem to have broken with them. They are letting the house in Portman Square to pay George’s debts. I don’t believe it is at all necessary, but that’s not my aﬀair. Any how the F—s are thinking of taking it, only the furniture is so old-fashioned. Lady F—told me there was nothing you could lie down upon. Imagine poor Lady F—sitting bolt upright for months like my mother-in-law. I told Lord F— I would see what could be done about the furniture. It would seem odd to them and to lots of people if they found out that I never see the Riversdales.”