On returning from the police-station, haggard and faint with excitement, but supported by the anticipation of fresh attacks upon her husband, Ada immediately learnt what had happened. For the first moment she could hardly believe it. She rushed upstairs, and saw that the child was really gone; then a blind frenzy took hold upon her. Alarming and inexplicable sounds drew her sisters from below; they found her, armed with something heavy, smashing every breakable object in her bed-room — mirrors, toilet-ware, pictures, chimney-piece ornaments.

"She's gone mad !" shrieked Fanny. "She'll kill us!"

"That beast shall pay for it!" yelled Ada, with a frantic blow at the dressing-table.

Wanton destruction of property revolted all Beatrice's instincts. Courageous enough, she sprang upon the wild animal, and flung her down.

Now indeed the last trace of veneer was gone, the last rag of pseudo-civilisation was rent off these young women; in physical conflict, vilifying each other like the female spawn of Whitechapel, they revealed themselves as born — raw material which the mill of education is supposed to convert into middle-class ladyhood. As a result of being held still by superior strength Ada fell into convulsions, foamed at the mouth, her eyes starting from their sockets; then she lay as one dead.

"You've killed her," cried the terrified Fanny.

"No fear. Give me some water to pitch over her."

With a full jug from another bedroom, she drenched the prostrate figure. When Ads came round she was powerless; even her rancorous lips could utter only a sound of moaning. The sisters stripped her stark naked on the floor, made a show of drying her with towels, and tumbled her into bed.

More Gissing

Last modified 26 November 2004