The Nether World
Through the day and through the evening Clara Hewett had her place behind Mrs. Tubbs's bar. For daylight wear, the dress which had formerly been her best was deemed sufficient; it was simple, but not badly made, and became her figure. Her evening attire was provided by Mrs. Tubbs, who recouped herself by withholding the promised wages for a certain number of weeks. When Clara had surveyed this garment in the bar mirror, she turned away contemptuously; the material was cheap, the mode vulgar. It must be borne with for the present, like other indignities which she found to be in. separable from her position. As soon as her employer's claim was satisfied, and the weekly five shillings began to be paid, Clara remembered the promise she had volunteered to her father. But John was once more at work; for the present there really seemed no need to give him any of her money, and she herself, on the other hand, lacked so many things. This dress plainly would not be suitable for the better kind of engagement she had in view; it behoved her first of all to have one made in accordance with her own taste. A mantle, too, a silk umbrella, gloves ---- It would be unjust to herself to share her scanty earnings with those at home.
Yes; but you must try to understand this girl of the people, with her unfortunate endowment of brains and defect of tenderness. That smile of hers, which touched and fascinated and made thoughtful, had of course a significance discoverable by study of her life and character. It was no mere affectation; she was not conscious, in smiling, of the expression upon her face. Moreover, there was justice in the sense of wrong discernible upon her features when the very self looked forth from them. All through his life John Hewett had suffered from the same impulse of revolt; less sensitively constructed than his daughter, uncalculating, inarticulate, he fumed and fretted away his energies in a conflict with forces ludicrously personified. In the matter of his second marriage he was seen at his best, generously defiant of social cruelties; but self-knowledge was denied him, and circumstances condemned his life to futility. Clara inherited his temperament; transferred to her more complex nature, it gained in subtlety and in power of self-direction, but lost in its nobler elements. Her mother was a capable and ambitious woman, one in whom active characteristics were more prominent than the emotional. With such parents, every probability told against her patient acceptance of a lot which allowed her faculties no scope. And the circumstances of her childhood were such as added a peculiar bitterness to the trials waiting upon her maturity.
Clara, you remember, had reached her eleventh year when her father's brother died and left the legacy of which came so little profit. That was in 1878. State education had recently made a show of establishing itself, and in the Hewetts' world much argument was going on with reference to the new Board schools, and their advantages or disadvantages when compared with those in which working-folk's children had hitherto been taught. Clara went to a Church school, and the expense was greater than the new system rendered necessary. Her father's principles naturally favoured education on an independent basis, but a prejudice then (and still) common among workpeople of decent habits made him hesitate about sending his girl to sit side by side with the children of the street; and he was confirmed by Clara's own view of the matter. She spoke with much contempt of Board schools, and gave it to be understood that her religious convictions would not suffer her to be taught by those who made light of orthodoxy This attitude was intelligible enough in a child of sharp wit and abundant self-esteem. Notwithstanding her father's indifferentism, little Clara perceived that a regard for religion gave her a certain distinction at home, and elsewhere placed her apart from 'common girls.' She was subject also to special influences: on the one hand, from her favourite teacher, Miss Harrop; on the other, from a school-friend, Grace Rudd.
Miss Harrop was a good, warm-hearted woman of about thirty, one of those unhappy persons who are made for domestic life, but condemned by fate to school-celibacy. Lonely and impulsive, she drew to herself the most interesting girl in her classes, and, with complete indiscretion, made a familiar, a pet, a prodigy of one whose especial need was discipline. By her confidences and her flatteries she set Clara aflame with spiritual pride. Ceaselessly she excited her to ambition, remarked on her gifts, made dazzling forecast of her future. Clara was to be a teacher first of all, but only that she might be introduced to the notice of people who would aid her to better things. And the child came to regard this as the course inevitably before her. Had she not already received school-prizes, among them a much-gilded little volume 'for religious knowledge'? Did she not win universal applause when she recited a piece of verse on prize-day -- Miss Harrop (disastrous kindness!) even saying that the delivery reminded her of Mrs. ----, the celebrated actress!
Grace Rudd was busy in the same fatal work. Four years older than Clara, weakly pretty, sentimental, conceited, she had a fancy for patronising the clever child, to the end that she might receive homage in return. Poor Grace! She left school, spent a year or two at home with parents as foolish as herself, and -- disappeared. Prior to that, Miss Harrop had also passed out of Clara's ken, driven by restlessness to try another school, away from London.
These losses appeared to affect Clara unfavourably. She began to neglect her books, to be insubordinate, to exhibit arrogance, which brought down upon her plenty of wholesome reproof. Her father was not without a share in the responsibility for it all. Entering upon his four hundred pounds, one of the first things John did was to hire a piano, that his child might be taught to play. Pity that Sidney Kirkwood could not then cry with effective emphasis, 'We are the working classes! we are the lower orders!' It was exactly what Hewett would not bring himself to understand. What! His Clara must be robbed of chances just because her birth was not that of a young lady? Nay, by all the unintelligible Powers, she should enjoy every help that he could possibly afford her. Bless her bright face and her clever tongue! Yes, it was now a settled thing that she should be trained for a schoolteacher. An atmosphere of refinement must be made for her; she must be better dressed, more delicately fed.
The bitter injustice of it! In the outcome you are already instructed. Long before Clara was anything like ready to enter upon a teacher's career, her father's ill-luck once more darkened over the home. Clara had made no progress since Miss Harrop's day. The authorities directing her school might have come forward with aid of some kind, had it appeared to them that the girl would repay such trouble; but they had their forebodings about her. Whenever she chose, she could learn in five minutes what another girl could scarcely commit to memory in twenty; but it was obviously for the sake of display. The teachers disliked her; among the pupils she had no friends. So at length there came the farewell to school and the beginning of practical life, which took the shape of learning to stamp crests and addresses on note-paper. There was hope that before long Clara might earn thirteen shillings a week.
The bitter injustice of it! Clara was seventeen now, and understood the folly of which she had been guilty a few years ago, but at the same time she felt in her inmost heart the tyranny of a world which takes revenge for errors that are inevitable, which misleads a helpless child and then condemns it for being found astray. She could judge herself, yes, better than Sidney Kirkwood could judge her. She knew her defects, knew her vices, and a feud with fate caused her to accept them defiantly. Many a time had she sobbed out to herself, 'I wish I could neither read nor write! I wish I had never been told that there is anything better than to work with one's hands and earn daily bread!' But she could not renounce the claims that Nature had planted in her, that her guardians had fostered. The better she understood how difficult was every way of advancement, the more fiercely resolute was she to conquer satisfactions which seemed beyond the sphere of her destiny.
Of late she had thought much of her childish successes in reciting poetry. It was not often that she visited a theatre (her father had always refused to let her go with any one save himself or Sidney), but on the rare occasions when her wish was gratified, she had watched each actress with devouring interest, with burning envy, and had said to herself, 'Couldn't I soon learn to do as well as that? Can't I see where it might be made more lifelike? Why should it be impossible for me to go on the stage?' In passing a shop-window where photographs were exposed, she looked for those of actresses, and gazed at them with terrible intensity. 'I am as good-looking as she is. Why shouldn't my portrait be seen some day in the windows?' And then her heart throbbed, smitten with passionate desire. As she walked on there was a turbid gloom about her, and in her ears the echoing of a dread temptation. Of all this she spoke to nobody.
For she had no friends. A couple of years ago something like an intimacy had sprung up between her and Bessie Jones (since married and become Bessie Byass), seemingly on the principle of contrast in association. Bessie, like most London workgirls, was fond of the theatre, and her talk helped to nourish the ambition which was secretly developing in Clara. But the two could not long harmonise. Bessie, just after her marriage, ventured to speak with friendly reproof of Clara's behaviour to Sidney Kirkwood. Clara was not disposed to admit freedoms of that kind; she half gave it to be understood that, though others might be easily satisfied, she had views of her own on such subjects. Thereafter Mrs. Byass grew decidedly cool. The other girls with whom Clara had formal intercourse showed no desire to win her confidence; they were kept aloof by her reticent civility.
As for Sidney himself, it was not without reason that he had seen encouragement in the girl's first reply to his advances. At sixteen, Clara found it agreeable to have her good graces sought by the one man in whom she recognised superiority of mind and purpose. Of all the unbetrothed girls she knew not one but would have felt flattered had Kirkwood thus distinguished her. Nothing common adhered to his demeanour, to his character; he had the look of one who will hold his own in life; his word had the ring of truth. Of his generosity she had innumerable proofs, and it contrasted nobly with the selfishness of young men as she knew them; she appreciated it all the more because her own frequent desire to be unselfish was so fruitless. Of awakening tenderness towards him she knew nothing, but she gave him smiles and words which might mean little or much, just for the pleasure of completing a conquest. Nor did she, in truth, then regard it as impossible that, sooner or later, she might become his wife. If she must marry a workman, assuredly it should be Sidney. He thought so highly of her, he understood things in her to which the ordinary artisan would have been dead; he had little delicacies of homage which gave her keen pleasure. And yet -- well, time enough!
Time went very quickly, and changed both herself and Sidney in ways she could not foresee. It was true, all he said to her in anger that night by the prison wall -- true and deserved every word of it. Even in acknowledging that, she hardened herself against him implacably. Since he chose to take this tone with her, to throw aside all his graceful blindness to her faults, he had only himself to blame if she considered everything at an end between them. She tried to believe herself glad this had happened; it relieved her from an embarrassment, and made her absolutely free to pursue the ambitions which now gave her no rest. For all that, she could not dismiss Sidney from her mind; indeed, throughout the week that followed their parting, she thought of him more persistently than for many months. That he would before long seek pardon for his rudeness she felt certain, she felt also that such submission would gratify her in a high degree. But the weeks were passing and no letter came; in vain she glanced from the window of the bar at the faces which moved by. Even on Sunday, when she went home for an hour or two, she neither saw nor heard of Kirkwood. She could not bring herself to ask a question.
Under any circumstances Clara would ill have borne a suspense that irritated her pride, and at present she lived amid conditions so repugnant, that her nerves were ceaselessly strung almost beyond endurance. Before entering upon this engagement she had formed but an imperfect notion of what would be demanded of her. To begin with, Mrs. Tubbs belonged to the order of women who are by nature slave-drivers; though it was her interest to secure Clara for a permanency, she began by exacting from the girl as much labour as could possibly be included in their agreement. The hours were insufferably long; by nine o'clock each evening Clara was so outworn that with difficulty she remained standing, yet not until midnight was she released. The unchanging odours of the place sickened her, made her head ache, and robbed her of all appetite. Many of the duties were menial, and to perform them fevered her with indignation. Then the mere waiting upon such men as formed the majority of the customers, vulgarly familiar, when not insolent, in their speech to her, was hateful beyond anything she had conceived. Had there been no one to face but her father, she would have returned home and resumed her old occupation at the end of the first fortnight, so extreme was her suffering in mind and body; but rather than give Sidney Kirkwood such a triumph, she would work on, and breathe no word of what she underwent. Even in her anger against him, the knowledge of his forgiving disposition, of the sincerity of his love, was an unavowed support. She knew he could not utterly desert her; when some day he sought a reconciliation, the renewal of conflict between his pride and her own would, she felt, supply her with new courage.
Early one Saturday afternoon she was standing by the windows, partly from heavy idleness of thought, partly on the chance that Kirkwood might go by, when a young, well-dressed man, who happened to be passing at a slow walk, turned his head and looked at her. He went on, but in a few moments Clara, who had moved back into the shop, saw him enter and come forwards. He took a seat at the counter and ordered a luncheon. Clara waited upon him with her customary cold reserve, and he made no remark until she returned him change out of the coin he offered.
Then he said with an apologetic smile:
'We are old acquaintances, Miss Hewett, but I'm afraid you've forgotten me.'
Clara regarded him in astonishment. His age seemed to be something short of thirty; he had a long, grave, intelligent face, smiled enigmatically, spoke in a rather slow voice. His silk hat, sober necktie drawn through a gold ring, and dark morning-coat, made it probable that he was 'in the City.'
'We used to know each other very well about five years ago,' he pursued, pocketing his change carelessly. 'Don't you remember a Mr. Scawthorne, who used to be a lodger with some friends of yours called Rudd?'
On the instant memory revived in Clara. In her schooldays she often spent a Sunday afternoon with Grace Rudd, and this Mr. Scawthorne was generally at the tea-table. Mr. and Mrs. Rudd made much of him, said that he held a most important post in a lawyer's office, doubtless had private designs concerning him and their daughter. Thus aided, she even recognised his features.
'And you knew me again after all this time?'
'Yours isn't an easy face to forget,' replied Mr. Scawthorne, with the subdued polite smile which naturally accompanied his tone of unemotional intimacy. 'To tell you the whole truth, however, I happened to hear news of you a few days ago. I met Grace Rudd; she told me you were here. Some old friend had told her'
Grace's name awoke keen interest in Clara. She was startled to hear it, and did not venture to make the inquiry her mind at once suggested. Mr. Scawthorne observed her for an instant, then proceeded to satisfy her curiosity. Grace Rudd was on the stage; she had been acting in provincial theatres under the name of Miss Danvers, and was now waiting for a promised engagement at a minor London theatre.
'Do you often go to the theatre ?' he added carelessly. 'I have a great many acquaintances connected with the stage in one way or another. If you would like, I should be very glad to send you tickets now and then. I always have more given me than I can well use.'
Clara thanked him rather coldly, and said that she was very seldom free in the evening. Thereupon Mr. Scawthorne again smiled, raised his hat, and departed.
Possibly he had some consciousness of the effect of his words, but it needed a subtler insight, a finer imagination than his, to interpret the pale, beautiful, harassed face which studiously avoided looking towards him as he paused before stepping out on to the pavement. The rest of the evening, the hours of night that followed, passed for Clara in bet tumult of heart and brain. The news of Grace Rudd had flashed upon her as revelation of a clear possibility where hitherto she had seen only mocking phantoms of futile desire. Grace was an actress; no matter by what course, to this she had attained. This man, Scawthorne, spoke of the theatrical life as one to whom all its details were familiar; acquaintance with him of a sudden bridged over the chasm which had seemed impassable. Would he come again to see her? Had her involuntary reserve put an end to any interest he might have felt in her? Of him personally she thought not at all; she could not have recalled his features; he was a mere abstraction, the representative of a wild hope which his conversation had inspired.
From that day the character of her suffering was altered; it became less womanly, it defied weakness and grew to a fever of fierce, unscrupulous rebellion. Whenever she thought of Sidney Kirkwood, the injury he was inflicting upon her pride rankled into bitter resentment, unsoftened by the despairing thought of self-subdual which had at times visited her sick weariness. She bore her degradations with the sullen indifference of one who is supported by the hope of a future revenge. The disease inherent in her being, that deadly outcome of social tyranny which perverts the generous elements of youth into mere seeds of destruction, developed day by day, blighting her heart, corrupting her moral sense, even setting marks of evil upon the beauty of her countenance. A passionate desire of self-assertion familiarised her with projects, with ideas, which formerly she had glanced at only to dismiss as ignoble. In proportion as her bodily health failed, the worst possibilities of her character came into prominence. Like a creature that is beset by unrelenting forces, she summoned and surveyed all the craft faculties lurking in the dark places of her nature; theoretic y she had now accepted every debasing compact by which a woman can spite herself on the world's injustice. Self-assertion; to be no longer an unregarded atom in the mass of those who are born only to labour for others; to find play for the strength and the passion which, by no choice of her own, distinguished her from the tame slave. Sometimes in the silence of night she suffered from a dreadful need of crying aloud, of uttering her anguish in a scream like that of insanity. She stifled it only by crushing her face into the pillow until the hysterical fit had passed, and she lay like one dead.
A fortnight after his first visit Mr. Scawthorne again presented himself, polite, smiling, perhaps rather more familiar. He stayed talking for nearly an hour, chiefly of the theatre. Casually he mentioned that Grace Rudd had got her engagement -- only a little part in a farce. Suppose Clara came to see her play some evening? Might he take her? He could at any time have places in the dress-circle.
Clara accepted the invitation. She did so without consulting Mrs. Tubbs, and when it became necessary to ask for the evening's freedom, difficulties were made. 'Very well,' said Clara, in a tone she had never yet used to her employer, 'then I shall leave you.' She spoke without a moment's reflection; something independent of her will seemed to direct her in speech and act. Mrs. Tubbs yielded.
Clara had not yet been able to obtain the dress she wished for. Her savings, however, were sufficient for the purchase of a few accessories, which made her, she considered, not unpresentable. Scawthorne was to have a cab waiting for her at a little distance from the luncheon-bar. It was now June, and at the hour of their meeting still broad daylight, but Clara cared nothing for the chance that acquaintances might see her; nay, she had a reckless desire that Sidney Kirkwood might pass just at this moment. She noticed no one whom she knew, however; but just as the cab was turning into Pentonville Road, Scawthorne drew her attention to a person on the pavement.
'You see that old fellow,' he said. 'Would you believe that he is very wealthy?'
Clara had just time to perceive an old man with white hair, dressed as a mechanic.
'But I know him,' she replied. 'His name's Snowdon.'
'So it is. How do you come to know him?' Scawthorne inquired with interest.
'Better not say anything about it,' remarked her companion. 'He's an eccentric chap. I happen to know his affairs in the way of business. I oughtn't to have told secrets, but I can trust you.'
A gentle emphasis on the last word, and a smile of more than usual intimacy. But his manner was, and remained through the evening, respectful almost to exaggeration. Clara seemed scarcely conscious of his presence, save in the act of listening to what he said. She never met his look, never smiled. From entering the theatre to leaving it, she had a high flush on her face. Impossible to recognise her friend in the actress whom Scawthorne indicated; features and voice were wholly strange to her. In the intervals, Scawthorne spoke of the difficulties that beset an actress's career at its beginning.
'I suppose you never thought of trying it?' he asked. 'Yet I fancy you might do well, if only you could have a few months' training, just to start you. Of course it all depends on knowing how to go about it. A little money would be necessary -- not much.'
Clara made no reply. On the way home she was mute. Scawthorne took leave of her in Upper Street, and promised to look in again before long. . . .
Under the heat of these summer days, in the reeking atmosphere of the bar, Clara panted fever-stricken. The weeks went on; what strength supported her from the Monday morning to the Saturday midnight she could not tell. Acting and refraining, speaking and holding silence, these things were no longer the consequences of her own volition. She wished to break free from her slavery, but had not the force to do so; something held her voice as often as she was about to tell Mrs. Tubbs that this week would be the last. Her body wasted so that all the garments she wore were loose upon her. The only mental process of which she was capable was reviewing the misery of days just past and anticipating that of the days to come. Her only feelings were infinite self-pity and a dull smouldering hatred of all others in the world. A doctor would have bidden her take to bed, as one in danger of grave illness. She bore through it without change in her habits, and in time the strange lethargy passed.
Scawthorne came to the bar frequently. He remarked often on her look of suffering, and urged a holiday. At length, near the end of July, he invited her to go up the river with him on the coming Bank-holiday. Clara consented, though aware that her presence would be more than ever necessary at the bar on the day of much drinking. Later in the evening she addressed her demand to Mrs. Tubbs. It was refused.
Without a word of anger, Clara went upstairs, prepared herself for walking, and set forth among the by-ways of Islington. In half an hour she had found a cheap bedroom, for which she paid a week's rent in advance. She purchased a few articles of food and carried them to her lodging, then lay down in the darkness.
During these summer months Sidney Kirkwood's visits to the house in Clerkenwell Close were comparatively rare. It was not his own wish to relax in any degree the close friendship so long subsisting between the Hewetts and himself, but from the day of Clara's engagement with Mrs. Tubbs John Hewett began to alter in his treatment of him. At first there was nothing more than found its natural explanation in regret of what had happened, a tendency to muteness, to troubled brooding; but before long John made it unmistakable that the young man's presence was irksome to him. If, on coming home, he found Sidney with Mrs. Hewett and the children, a cold nod was the only greeting he offered; then followed signs of ill-humour, such as Sidney could not in the end fail to interpret as unfavourable to himself. He never heard Clara's name on her father's lips, and himself never uttered it when John was in hearing.
'She told him what passed between us that night,' Sidney argued inwardly. But it was not so. Hewett had merely abandoned himself to an unreasonable resentment. Notwithstanding his concessions, he blamed Sidney for the girl's leaving home, and, as his mood grew more irritable, the more hopeless it seemed that Clara would return, he nursed the suspicion of treacherous behaviour on Sidney's part. He would not take into account any such thing as pride which could forbid the young man to urge a rejected suit. Sidney had grown tired of Clara, that was the truth, and gladly caught at any means of excusing himself. He had made new friends. Mrs. Peckover reported that he was a constant visitor at the old man Snowdon's lodgings; she expressed her belief that Snowdon had come back from Australia with a little store of money, and if Kirkwood had knowledge of that, would it not explain his interest in Jane Snowdon?
'For shame to listen to such things!' cried Mrs. Hewett angrily, when her husband once repeated the landlady's words, 'I'd be ashamed of myself, John! If you don't know him no better than that, you ought to by this time.'
And John did, in fact, take to himself no little shame, but his unsatisfied affection turned all the old feelings to bitterness. In spite of himself, he blundered along the path of perversity. Sidney, too, had his promptings of obstinate humour. When he distinctly recognised Hewett's feeling it galled him; he was being treated with gross injustice, and temper suggested reprisals which could answer no purpose but to torment him with self-condemnation. However, he must needs consult his own dignity; he could not keep defending himself against ignoble charges. For the present, there was no choice but to accept John's hints, and hold apart as much as was possible without absolute breach of friendly relations. Nor could he bring himself to approach Clara. It was often in his mind to write to her; had he obeyed the voice of his desire he would have penned such letters as only the self-abasement of a passionate lover can dictate. But herein, too, the strain of sternness that marked his character made its influence felt. He said to himself that the only hope of Clara's respecting him lay in his preservation of the attitude he had adopted, and as the months went on he found a bitter satisfaction in adhering so firmly to his purpose. The self-flattery with which no man can dispense whispered assurance that Clara only thought the more of him the longer he held aloof. When the end of July came, he definitely prescribed to his patience a trial of yet one more month. Then he would write Clara a long letter, telling her what it had cost him to keep silence, and declaring the constancy he devoted to her.
This resolve he registered whilst at work one morning. The triumphant sunshine, refusing to be excluded even from London workshops, gleamed upon his tools and on the scraps of jewellery before him; he looked up to the blue sky, and thought with heavy heart of many a lane in Surrey and in Essex where he might be wandering but for this ceaseless necessity of earning the week's wage. A fly buzzed loudly against the grimy window, and by one of those associations which time and change cannot affect, he mused himself back into boyhood. The glimpse before him of St. John's Arch aided the revival of old impressions; his hand ceased from its mechanical activity, and he was absorbed in a waking dream, when a voice called to him and said that he was wanted. He went down to the entrance, and there found Mrs. Hewett. Her coming at all was enough to signal some disaster, and the trouble on her face caused Sidney to regard her with silent interrogation.
'I couldn't help comin' to you,' she began, gazing at him fixedly. 'I know you can't do anything, but I had to speak to somebody, an' I know nobody better than you. It's about Clara.'
'What about her?'
'She's left Mrs. Tubbs. They had words about Bank-holiday last night, an' Clara went off at once. Mrs. Tubbs thought she'd come 'ome, but this mornin' her box was sent for, an' it was to be took to a house in Islington. An' then Mrs. Tubbs came an' told me. An' there's worse than that, Sidney. She's been goin' about to the theatre an' such places with a man as she got to know at the bar, an' Mrs. Tubbs says she believes it's him has tempted her away.'
She spoke the last sentences in a low voice, painfully watching their effect.
'And why hasn't Mrs. Tubbs spoken about this before?' Sidney asked, also in a subdued voice, but without other show of agitation.
'That's just what, I said to her myself. The girl was in her charge, an' it was her duty to let us know if things went wrong. But how am I to tell her father? I dursn't do it, Sidney; for my life, I dursn't! I'd go an' see her where she's lodging -- see, I've got the address wrote down here -- but I should do more harm than good; she'd never pay any heed to me at the best of times, an' it isn't likely she would now.'
'Look here if she's made no attempt to hide away, you may be quite sure there's no truth in what Mrs. Tubbs says. They've quarrelled, and of course the woman makes Clara as black as she can. Tell her father everything as soon as he comes home; you've no choice.'
Mrs. Hewett averted her face in profound dejection. Sidney learnt at length what her desire had been in coming to him; she hoped he would see Clara and persuade her to return home.
'I dursn't tell her' father,' she kept repeating. 'But perhaps it isn't true what Mrs. Tubbs says. Do go an' speak to her before it's too late. Say we won't ask her to come 'ome, if only she'll let us know what she's goin' to do.'
In the end he promised to perform this service, and to communicate the result that evening. It was Saturday; at half-past one he left the workroom, hastened home to prepare himself for the visit, and, without thinking of dinner, set out to find the address Mrs. Hewett had given him. His steps were directed to a dull street on the north of Pentonville Road; the house at which he mad e inquiry was occupied by a drum-manufacturer. Miss Hewett, he learnt, was not at home; she had gone forth two hours ago, and nothing was known of her movements. Sidney turned away and began to walk up and down the shadowed side of the street; there was no breath of air stirring, and from the open windows radiated stuffy odours. A quarter of an hour sufficed to exasperate him with anxiety and physical malaise. He suffered from his inability to do anything at once, from conflict with himself as to whether or not it behoved him to speak with John Hewett; of Clara he thought with anger rather than fear, for her behaviour seemed to prove that nothing had happened save the inevitable breach with Mrs. Tubbs. Just as he had said to himself that it was no use waiting about all the afternoon, he saw Clara approaching. At sight of him she manifested neither surprise nor annoyance, but came forward with eyes carelessly averted. Not having seen her for so long, Sidney was startled by the change in her features; her cheeks had sunk, her eyes were unnaturally dark, there was something worse than the familiar self-will about her lips.
'I've been waiting to see you,' he said. 'Will you walk along here for a minute or two?'
'What do you want to say? I'm tired.'
'Mrs. Tubbs has told your mother what has happened, and she came to me. Your father doesn't know yet.'
'It's nothing to me whether he knows or not. I've left the place, that's all, and I'm going to live here till I've got another.'
'Why not go home?'
'Because I don't choose to. I don't see that it concerns you, Mr. Kirkwood.'
Their eyes met, and Sidney felt how little fitted he was to reason with the girl, even would she consent to hear him. His mood was the wrong one; the torrid sunshine seemed to kindle an evil fire in him, and with difficulty he kept back words of angry unreason; he even -- strangest of inconsistencies -- experienced a kind of brutal pleasure in her obvious misery. Already she was reaping the fruit of obstinate folly. Clara read what his eyes expressed; she trembled with responsive hostility.
'No, it doesn't concern me,' Sidney replied, half turning away. 'But it's perhaps as well you should know that Mrs. Tubbs is doing her best to take away your good name. However little we are to each other, it's my duty to tell you that, and put you on your guard. I hope your father mayn't hear these stories before you have spoken to him yourself.'
Clara listened with a contemptuous smile.
'What has she been saying?'
'I shan't repeat it.'
As he gazed at her, the haggardness of her countenance smote like a sword-edge through all the black humours about his heart, piercing the very core of love and pity. He spoke in a voice of passionate appeal.
'Clara, come home before it is too late! Come with me -- now -- come at once? Thank heaven you have got out of that place! Come home, and stay there quietly till we can find you something better.'
'I'll die rather than go home!' was her answer, flung at him as if in hatred. 'Tell my father that, and tell him anything else you like. I want no one to take any thought for me; and I wouldn't do as you wish, not to save my soul!'
How often, in passing along the streets, one catches a few phrases of discord such as this! The poor can seldom command privacy; their scenes alike of tenderness and of anger must for the most part be enacted on the peopled ways. It is one of their misfortunes, one of the many necessities which blunt feeling, which balk reconciliation, which enhance the risks of dialogue at best semi-articulate.
Clara, having uttered the rancour which had so long poisoned her mind, straightway crossed the street and entered the house where she was lodging. She had just returned from making several applications for employment -- futile, as so many were likely to be, if she persevered in her search for a better place than the last. The wages due to her for the present week she had of course sacrificed; her purchases of clothing -- essential and superfluous -- had left only a small sum out of her earnings. Food, fortunately, would cost her little; the difficulty, indeed, was to eat anything at all.
She was exhausted after her long walk, and the scene with Sidney had made her tremulous. In thrusting open the windows, as soon as she entered, she broke a pane which was already cracked; the glass cut into her palm, and blood streamed forth. For a moment she watched the red drops falling to the floor, then began to sob miserably, almost as a child might have done. The exertion necessary for binding the wound seemed beyond her strength; sobbing and moaning, she stood in the same attitude until the blood began to congeal. The tears, too, she let dry unneeded upon her eyelashes and her cheeks; the mist with which for a time they obscured her vision was nothing amid that cloud of misery which blackened about her spirit as she brooded. The access of self-pity was followed, as always, by a persistent sense of intolerable wrong, and that again by a fierce desire to plunge herself into ruin, as though by such act she could satiate her instincts of defiance. It is a phase of exasperated egotism common enough in original natures frustrated by circumstance -- never so pronounced as in those who suffer from the social disease. Such mood perverts everything to cause of bitterness. The very force of sincerity, which Clara could not but recognise in Kirkwood's appeal, inflamed the resentment she nourished against him; she felt that to yield would be salvation and happiness, yet yield she might not, and upon him she visited the anger due to the evil impulses in her own heart. He spoke of her father, and in so doing struck the only nerve in her which conveyed an emotion of tenderness; instantly the feeling begot self-reproach, and of self-reproach was born as quickly the harsh self-justification with which her pride ever answered blame. She had made her father's life even more unhappy than it need have been, and to be reminded of that only drove her more resolutely upon the recklessness which would complete her ingratitude.
The afternoon wore away, the evening, a great part of the night. She ate a few mouthfuls of bread, but could not exert herself to make tea. It would be necessary to light a fire, and already the air of the room was stifling.
After a night of sleeplessness, she could only lie on her bed through the Sunday morning, wretched in a sense of abandonment. And then began to assail her that last and subtlest of temptations, the thought that already she had taken an irrevocable step, that an endeavour to return would only be trouble spent in vain, that the easy course was, in truth, the only one now open to her. Mrs. Tubbs was busy circulating calumnies; that they were nothing more than calumnies could never be proved; all who heard them would readily enough believe. Why should she struggle uselessly to justify herself in the eyes of people predisposed to condemn her? Fate was busy in all that had happened during the last two days. Why had she quitted her situation at a moment's notice? Why on this occasion rather than fifty times previously? It was not her own doing; something impelled her, and the same force -- call it chance or destiny -- would direct the issue once more. All she could foresee was the keeping of her appointment with Scawthorne to-morrow morning; what use to try and look further, when assuredly a succession of circumstances impossible to calculate would in the end constrain her ? The best would be if she could sleep out the interval.
At mid-day she rose, ate and drank mechanically, then contemplated the hours that must somehow be killed. There was sunlight in the sky, but to what purpose should she go out? She went to the window, and surveyed the portion of street that was visible. On the opposite pavement, at a little distance, a man was standing; it was Sidney Kirkwood. The sight of him roused her from apathy; her blood tingled, rushed into her cheeks and throbbed at her temples. So, for all she had said, he was daring to act the spy! He suspected her; he was lurking to surprise visitors, to watch her outgoing and coming in. Very well; at least he had provided her with occupation.
Five minutes later she saw that he had gone away. Thereupon -- having in the meantime clad herself -- she left the house and walked at a quick step towards a region Of North London with which she had no acquaintance. In an hour's time she had found another lodging, which she took by the day only. Then back again to Islington. She told her landlady that a sudden necessity compelled her to leave; she would have a cab and remove her box at once. There was the hazard that Sidney might return just as she was leaving; she braved it, and in another ten minutes was out of reach. .
Let his be the blame. She had warned him, and he chose to disregard her wish. Now she had cut the last bond that fretted her, and the hours rushed on like a storm-wind driving her whither they would.
Her mind was relieved from the stress of conflict; despair had given place to something that made her laugh at all the old scruples. So far from dreading the judgments that would follow her disappearance, she felt a pride in evil repute. Let them talk of her! If she dared everything, it would be well understood that she had not done so without a prospect worthy of herself. If she broke away from the obligations of a life that could never be other than poor and commonplace, those who knew her would estimate the compensation she had found. Sidney Kirkwood was aware of her ambitions; for his own sake he had hoped to keep her on the low level to which she was born; now let him recognise his folly! Some day she would present herself before him: -- 'Very sorry that I could not oblige you, my dear sir, but you see that my lot was to be rather different from that you kindly planned for me.' Let them gossip and envy!
It was a strange night that followed. Between one and two o'clock the heavens began to be overflashed with summer lightning; there was no thunder, no rain. The blue gleams kept illuminating the room for more than an hour. Clara could not lie in bed. The activity of her brain became all but delirium; along her nerves, through all the courses of her blood, seemed to run fires which excited her with an indescribable mingling of delight and torment. She walked to and fro, often speaking aloud, throwing up her arms. She leaned from the open window and let the lightning play freely upon her face: she fancied it had the effect of restoring her wasted health. Whatever the cause, she felt stronger and more free from pain than for many months.
At dawn she slept. The striking of a church-clock woke her at nine, giving her just time to dress with care and set forth to keep her appointment.
On ordinary Sundays the Byasses breakfasted at ten o'clock; this morning the meal was ready at eight, and Bessie's boisterous spirits declared the exception to be of joyous significance. Finding that Samuel's repeated promises to rise were the merest evasion, she rushed into the room where he lay fly-fretted, dragged the pillows from under his tousled head, and so belaboured him in schoolboy fashion that he had no choice but to leap towards his garments. In five minutes he roared down the kitchen-stairs for shaving-water, and in five minutes more was seated in his shirt-sleeves, consuming fried bacon with prodigious appetite. Bessie had the twofold occupation of waiting upon him and finishing the toilet of the baby; she talked incessantly and laughed with an echoing shrillness which would have given a headache for the rest of the day to any one of average nervous sensibility.
They were going to visit Samuel's parents, who lived at Greenwich. Bessie had not yet enjoyed an opportunity of exhibiting her first-born to the worthy couple; she had, however, written many and long letters on the engrossing subject, and was just a little fluttered with natural anxiety lest the infant's appearance or demeanour should disappoint the expectations she had excited. Samuel found his delight in foretelling the direst calamities.
'Don't say I didn't advise you to draw it mild,' he remarked whilst breakfasting, when Bessie had for the tenth time obliged him to look round and give his opinion on points of costume. 'Remember it was only last week you told them that the imp had never cried since the day of his birth, and I'll bet you three half-crowns to a bad halfpenny he roars all through to. night.'
'Hold your tongue, Sam, or I'll throw something at you!'
Samuel had just appeased his morning hunger, and was declaring that the day promised to be the hottest of the year, such a day as would bring out every vice inherent in babies, when a very light tap at the door caused Bessie to abandon her intention of pulling his ears.
'That's Jane,' she said. 'Come in!'
The Jane who presented herself was so strangely unlike her namesake who lay ill at Mrs. Peckover's four months ago, that one who had not seen her in the interval would with difficulty have recognised her. To begin with, she had grown a little; only a little, but enough to give her the appearance of her full thirteen years. Then her hair no longer straggled in neglect, but was brushed very smoothly back from her forehead, and behind was plaited in a coil of perfect neatness; one could see now that it was soft, fine, mouse-coloured hair, such as would tempt the fingers to the lightest caress. No longer were her limbs huddled over with a few shapeless rags; she wore a full-length dress of quiet grey, which suited well with her hair and the pale tones of her complexion. As for her face -- oh yes, it was still the good, simple, unremarkable countenance, with the delicate arched eyebrows, with the diffident lips, with the cheeks of exquisite smoothness, but so sadly thin. Here too, however, a noteworthy change was beginning to declare itself. You were no longer distressed by the shrinking fear which used to be her constant expression; her eyes no longer reminded you of a poor animal that has been beaten from every place where it sought rest and no longer expects anything but a kick and a curse. Timid they were, drooping after each brief glance, the eyes of one who has suffered and cannot but often brood over wretched memories, who does not venture to look far forward lest some danger may loom inevitable -- meet them for an instant, however, and you saw that lustre was reviving in their still depths, that a woman's soul had begun to manifest itself under the shadow of those gently falling lids. A kind word, and with what purity of silent gratitude the grey pupils responded! A merry word, and mark if the light does not glisten on them, if the diffident lips do not form a smile which you would not have more decided lest something of its sweetness should be sacrificed.
'Now come and tell me what you think about baby,' cried Bessie. 'Will he do? Don't pay any attention to my husband; he's a vulgar man!'
Jane stepped forward.
'I'm sure he looks very nice, Mrs. Byass.'
'Of course he does, bless him! Sam, get your coat on, and brush your hat, and let Miss Snowdon teach you how to behave yourself. Well, we're going to leave the house in your care, Jane. We shall be back some time to-morrow night, but goodness knows when. Don't you sit up for us.'
'You know where to wire to if there's a fire breaks out in the back kitchen,' observed Samuel facetiously. 'If you hear footsteps in the passage at half-past two to-morrow morning don't trouble to come down; wait till daylight to see whether they've carried off the dresser.'
Bessie screamed with laughter.
'What a fool you are, Sam! If you don't mind, you'll be making Jane laugh. You're sure you'll be home before dark to-morrow, Jane?'
'Oh, quite sure. Mr. Kirkwood says there's a train gets to Liverpool Street about seven, and grandfather thought that would suit us.'
'You'll be here before eight then. Do see that your fire's out before you leave. And you'll be sure to pull the door to? And see that the area-gate's fastened.'
'Can't you find a few more orders?' observed Samuel.
'Hold your tongue! Jane doesn't mind; do you, Jane? Now, Sam, are you ready? Bless the man, if he hasn't got a great piece of bread sticking in his whiskers! How did it get there? Off you go!'
Jane followed them, and stood at the front door for a moment, watching them as they departed.
Then she went upstairs. On the first floor the doors of the two rooms stood open, and the rooms were bare. The lodgers who had occupied this part of the house had recently left; a card was again hanging in the window of Bessie's parlour. Jane passed up the succeeding flight and entered the chamber which looked out upon Hanover Street. The truckle-bed on which her grandfather slept had been arranged for the day some two hours ago; Snowdon rose at six, and everything was orderly in the room when Jane came to prepare breakfast an hour later. At present the old man was sitting by the open window, smoking a pipe. He spoke a few words with reference to the Byasses, then seemed to resume a train of thought, and for a long time there was unbroken silence. Jane seated herself at a table, on which were a few books and writing materials. She began to copy something, using the pen with difficulty, and taking extreme pains. Occasionally her eyes wandered, and once they rested upon her grandfather's face for several minutes. But for the cry of a milkman or a paper-boy in the street, no sound broke the quietness of the summer morning. The blessed sunshine, so rarely shed from a London sky -- sunshine, the source of all solace to mind and body -- reigned gloriously in heaven and on earth.
When more than an hour had passed, Snowdon came and sat down beside the girl. Without speaking she showed him what she had written. He nodded approvingly.
'Shall I say it to you, grandfather?'
Jane collected her thoughts, then began to repeat the parable of the Samaritan. From the first words it was evident that she frequently thus delivered passages committed to memory; evident, too, that instruction and a natural good sense guarded her against the gabbling method of recitation. When she had finished Snowdon spoke with her for awhile on the subject of the story. In all he said there was the earnestness of deep personal feeling. His theme was the virtue of Compassion; he appeared to rate it above all other forms of moral goodness, to regard it as the saving principle of human life.
'If only we had pity on one another, all the worst things we suffer from in this world would be at an end. It's because men's hearts are hard that life is so full of misery. If we could only learn to be kind and gentle and forgiving -- never mind anything else. We act as if we were all each other's enemies; we can't be merciful, because we expect no mercy; we struggle to get as much as we can for ourselves and care nothing for others. Think about it; never let it go out of your mind. Perhaps some day it'll help you in your own life.'
Then there was silence again. Snowdon went back to his scat by the window and relit his pipe; to muse in the sunshine seemed sufficient occupation for him. Jane opened another book and read to herself.
In the afternoon they went out together. The old man had grown more talkative. He passed cheerfully from subject to subject, now telling a story of his experiences abroad, now reviving recollections of London as he had known it sixty years ago. Jane listened with quiet interest. She did not say much herself, and when she did speak it was with a noticeable effort to overcome her habit of diffidence. She was happy, but her nature had yet to develop itself under these strangely novel conditions.
A little before sunset there came a knocking at the house-door. Jane went down to open, and found that the visitor was Sidney Kirkwood. The joyful look with which she recognised him changed almost in the same moment; his face wore an expression that alarmed her; it was stern, hard-set in trouble, and his smile could not disguise the truth. Without speaking, he walked upstairs and entered Snowdon's room. To Sidney there was always something peculiarly impressive in the first view of this quiet chamber; simple as were its appointments, it produced a sense of remoteness from the common conditions of life. Invariably he subdued his voice when conversing here. A few flowers such as can be bought in the street generally diffused a slight scent through the air, making another peculiarity which had its effect on Sidney's imagination. When Jane moved about, it was with a soundless step; if she placed a chair or arranged things on the table, it was as if with careful avoidance of the least noise. When his thoughts turned hitherwards, Sidney always pictured the old man sitting in his familiar mood of reverie, and Jane, in like silence, bending over a book at the table. Peace, the thing most difficult to find in the world that Sidney knew, had here made itself a dwelling.
He shook hands with Snowdon and seated himself. A few friendly words were spoken, and the old man referred to an excursion they had agreed to make together on the morrow, the general holiday.
'I'm very sorry,' replied Kirkwood, 'but it'll be impossible for me to go.'
Jane was standing near him; her countenance fell, expressing uttermost disappointment.
'Something has happened,' pursued Sidney, 'that won't let me go away, even for a few hours. I don't mean to say that it would really prevent me, but I should be so uneasy in my mind all the time that I couldn't enjoy myself, and I should only spoil your pleasure. Of course you'll go just the same?'
Snowdon reassured him on this point. Jane had just been about to lay supper; she continued her task, and Sidney made a show of sharing the meal. Soon after, as if conscious that Sidney would speak with more freedom of his trouble but for her presence, Jane bade them good-night and went to her own room. There ensued a break in the conversation; then Kirkwood said, with the abruptness of one who is broaching a difficult subject:
'I should like to tell you what it is that's going wrong with me. I don't think anyone's advice would be the least good, but it's a miserable affair, and I shall feel better for speaking about it.'
Snowdon regarded him with eyes of calm sympathy. There is a look of helpful attention peculiar to the faces of some who have known much suffering; in this instance, the grave force of character which at all times made the countenance impressive heightened the effect of its gentleness. In external matters, the two men knew little more of each other now than after their first meeting, but the spiritual alliance between them had strengthened with every conversation. Each understood the other's outlook upon problems of life, which are not commonly discussed in the top rooms of lodging-houses; they felt and thought differently at times, but in essentials they were at one, and it was the first time that either had found such fruitful companionship.
'Did you hear anything from the Peckovers of Clara Hewett?' Sidney began by asking.
'Not from them. Jane has often spoken of her.'
Sidney again hesitated, then, from a fragmentary beginning, passed into a detailed account of his relations with Clara. The girl herself, had she overheard him, could not have found fault with the way in which the story was narrated. lie represented his love as from the first without response which could give him serious hope; her faults he dealt with not as characteristics to be condemned, but as evidences of suffering, the outcome of cruel conditions. Her engagement at the luncheon-bar he spoke of as a detestable slavery, which had wasted her health and driven her in the end to an act of desperation. What now could be done to aid her? John Hewett was still in ignorance of the step she had taken, and Sidney described himself as distracted by conflict between what he felt to be his duty, and fear of what might happen if he invoked Hewett's authority. At intervals through the day he had been going backwards and forwards in the street where Clara had her lodging. He did not think she would seek to escape from her friends altogether, but her character and circumstances made it perilous for her to live thus alone.
'What does she really wish for?' inquired Snowdon, when there had been a short silence.
'She doesn't know, poor girl! Everything in the life she has been living is hateful to her -- everything since she left school. She can't rest in the position to which she was born; she aims at an impossible change of circumstances. It comes from her father; she can't help rebelling against what seem to her unjust restraints. But what's to come of it? She may perhaps get a place in a large restaurant -- and what does that mean?'
He broke off, but in a moment resumed even more passionately:
'What a vile, cursed world this is, where you may see men and women perish before your eyes, and no more chance of saving them than if they were going down in mid-ocean! She's only a child -- only just seventeen -- and already she's gone through a lifetime of miseries. And I, like a fool, I've often been angry with her; I was angry yesterday. How can she help her nature? How can we any of us help what we're driven to in a world like this? Clara isn't made to be one of those who slave to keep themselves alive. Just a chance of birth! Suppose she'd been the daughter of a rich man; then everything we now call a fault in her would either have been of no account or actually a virtue. Just because we haven't money we may go to perdition, and comfortable people tell us we've only ourselves to blame. Put them in our place!'
Snowdon's face had gone through various changes as Sidney flung out his vehement words. When he spoke, it was in a tone of some severity.
'Has she no natural affection for her father? Does she care nothing for what trouble she brings him?'
Sidney did not reply at once; as he was about to speak, Snowdon bent forward suddenly and touched his arm.
'Let me see her. Let me send Jane to her to-morrow morning, and ask her to come here. I might -- I can't say -- but I might do some good.'
To this Sidney gave willing assent, but without sanguine expectation. In further talk it was agreed between them that, if this step had no result, John Hewett ought to be immediately informed of the state of things.
This was at ten o'clock on Sunday evening. So do we play our tragi-comedies in the eye of fate.
The mention of Jane led to a brief conversation regarding her before Sidney took his leave. Since her recovery she had been going regularly to school, to make up for the time of which she had been defrauded by Mrs. Peckover. Her grand. father's proposal was, that she should continue thus for another six months, after which, he said, it would be time for her to learn a business. Mrs. Byass had suggested the choice of artificial-flower making, to which she herself had been brought up; possibly that would do as well as anything else.
'I suppose so,' was Sidney's reluctant acquiescence. 'Or as ill as anything else, would be a better way to put it.'
Snowdon regarded him with unusual fixedness, and seemed on the point of making some significant remark; but immediately his face expressed change of purpose, and he said, without emphasis:
'Jane must be able to earn her own living.'
Sidney, before going home, walked round to the street in which he had already lingered several times to-day, and where yesterday he had spoken with Clara. The windows of the house he gazed at were dark.
So at length came Monday, the first Monday in August, a day gravely set apart for the repose and recreation of multitudes who neither know how to rest nor how to refresh themselves with pastime. To-day will the slaves of industrialism don the pileus. It is high summertide. With joy does the awaking publican look forth upon the blue-misty heavens, and address his adorations to the Sun-god, inspirer of thirst. Throw wide the doors of the temple of Alcohol! Behold, we come in our thousands, jingling the coins that shall purchase us this one day of tragical mirth. Before us is the dark and dreary autumn; it is a far cry to the foggy joys of Christmas. Io Saturnalia!
For certain friends of ours this morning brought an event of importance. At a church in Clerkenwell were joined together in holy matrimony Robert Hewett and Penelope (otherwise Pennyloaf) Candy, the former aged nineteen, the latter less than that by nearly three years. John Hewett would have nothing to do with an alliance so disreputable; Mrs. Hewett had in vain besought her stepson not to marry so unworthily. Even as a young man of good birth has been known to enjoy a subtle self-flattery in the thought that he graciously bestows his name upon a maiden who, to all intents and purposes, may be said never to have been born at all, so did Bob Hewett feel when he put a ring upon the scrubby finger of Pennyloaf. Proudly conscious was Bob that he a 'married beneath him' -- conscious also that Clem Peckover was gnawing her lips in rage.
Mrs. Candy was still sober at the hour of the ceremony. Her husband, not a bad fellow in his way, had long since returned to her, and as yet had not done more than threaten a repetition of his assault. Both were present at church. A week ago Bob had established himself in a room in Shooter's Gardens, henceforth to be shared with him by his bride. Probably he might have discovered a more inviting abode for the early days of married life, but Bob had something of the artist's temperament and could not trouble about practical details; for the present this room would do as well as another. It was cheap, and he had need of all the money he could save from everyday expenses. Pennyloaf would go en with her shirt-making, of course, and all they wanted was a roof over their heads at night.
And in truth he was fond of Pennyloaf. The poor little slave worshipped him so sincerely; she repaid his affectionate words with such fervent gratitude; and there was no denying that she had rather a pretty face, which had attracted him from the first. But above all, this preference accorded to so humble a rival had set Clem Peckover beside herself. It was all very well for Clem to make pretence of having transferred her affections to Jack Bartley. Why, Suke Jollop (ostensibly Clem's bosom friend, but treacherous at times because she had herself given an eye to Jack) -- Suke Jollop reported that Clem would have killed Pennyloaf had she dared. Pennyloaf had been going about in fear for her life since that attack upon her in Myddelton Passage. 'I dursn't marry you, Bob! I dursn't!' she kept saying, when the proposal was first made. But Bob laughed with contemptuous defiance. He carried his point, and now he was going to spend his wedding-day at the Crystal Palace -- choosing that resort because he knew Clem would be there, and Jack Bartley, and Suke Jollop, and many another acquaintance, before whom he was resolved to make display of magnanimity.
Pennyloaf shone in most unwonted apparel. Everything was new except her boots -- it had been decided that these only needed soleing. Her broad-brimmed hat of yellow straw was graced with the reddest feather purchasable in the City Road; she had a dolman of most fashionable cut, blue, lustrous; blue likewise was her dress, hung about with bows and streamers. And the gleaming ring on the scrubby small finger! On that hand most assuredly Pennyloaf would wear no glove. How proud she was of her ring! How she turned it round and round when nobody was looking! Gold, Penny. loaf, real gold! The pawnbroker would lend her seven-and-sixpence on it, any time.
At Holborn Viaduct there was a perpetual rush of people for the trains to the 'Paliss.' As soon as a train was full, off it went, and another long string of empty carriages drew up in its place. No distinction between 'classes' to-day; get in where you like, where you can. Positively, Pennyloaf found herself seated in a first-class carriage; she would have been awe-struck, but that Bob flung himself back on the cushions with such an easy air, and nodded laughingly at her. Among their companions was a youth with a concertina; as soon as the train moved he burst into melody. It was the natural invitation to song, and all joined in the latest ditties learnt at the music-hall. Away they sped, over the roofs of South London, about them the universal glare of sunlight, the carriage dense with tobacco-smoke. Ho for the bottle of muddy ale, passed round in genial fellowship from mouth to mouth! Pennyloaf would not drink of it; she had a dread of all such bottles. In her heart she rejoiced that Bob knew no craving for strong liquor. Towards the end of the journey the young man with the concertina passed round his hat.
Clem Peckover had come by the same train; she was one of a large party which had followed close behind Bob and Pennyloaf to the railway station. Now they followed along the long corridors into the 'Paliss,' with many a loud expression of mockery, with hee-hawing laughter, with coarse jokes. Depend upon it, Clem was gorgeously arrayed; amid her satellites she swept on 'like a stately ship of Tarsus, bound for the isles of Javan or Gadire;' her face was aflame, her eyes flashed in enjoyment of the uproar. Jack Bartley wore a high hat -- Bob never had owned one in his life -- and about his neck was a tie of crimson; yellow was his waistcoat, even such a waistcoat as you may see in Pall Mall, and his walking-stick had a nigger's head for handle. He was the oracle of the maidens around him; every moment the appeal was to 'Jeck! Jeck!' Suke Jollop, who would in reality have preferred to accompany Bob and his allies, whispered it about that Jack had two-pound-ten in his pocket, and was going to spend every penny of it before he left the 'Paliss' -- yes, 'every bloomin' penny!'
Thus early in the day, the grounds were of course preferred to the interior of the glass house. Bob and Pennyloaf bent their steps to the fair. Here already was gathered much goodly company; above their heads hung a thick white wavering cloud of dust. Swing-boats and merry-go-rounds are from of old the chief features of these rural festivities; they soared and dipped and circled to the joyous music of organs which played the same tune automatically for any number of hours, whilst raucous voices invited all and sundry to take their turn. Should this delight pall, behold on every hand such sports as are dearest to the Briton, those which call for strength of sinew and exactitude of aim. The philosophic mind would have noted with interest how ingeniously these games were made to appeal to the patriotism of the throng. Did you choose to 'shy' sticks in the contest for cocoa-nuts, behold your object was a wooden model of the treacherous Afghan or the base African. If you took up the mallet to smite upon a spring and make proof of how far you could send a ball flying upwards, your blow descended upon the head of some other recent foeman. Try your fist at the indicator of muscularity, and with zeal you smote full in the stomach of a guy made to represent a Russian. If you essayed the pop-gun, the mark set you was on the flank of a wooden donkey, so contrived that it would kick when hit in the true spot. What a joy to observe the tendency of all these diversions! How characteristic of a high-spirited people that nowhere could be found any amusement appealing to the mere mind, or calculated to effeminate by encouraging a love of beauty.
Bob had a sovereign to get rid of. He shied for cocoa-nuts, he swung in the boat with Pennyloaf, he rode with her on the whirligigs. When they were choked, and whitened from head to foot, with dust, it was natural to seek the nearest refreshment-booth. Bob had some half-dozen male and female acquaintances clustered about him by now; of course. he must celebrate the occasion by entertaining all of them. Consumed with thirst, he began to drink without counting the glasses. Pennyloaf plucked at his elbow, but Bob was beginning to feel that he must display spirit. Because he was married, that was no reason for his relinquishing the claims to leadership in gallantry which had always been recognised. Hollo! Here was Suke Jollop! She had just quarrelled with Clem, and had been searching for the hostile camp. 'Have a drink, Suke!' cried Bob, when he heard her acrimonious charges against Clem and Jack. A pretty girl, Suke, and with a hat which made itself proudly manifest a quarter of a mile away. Drink! of course she would drink; that thirsty she could almost drop! Bob enjoyed this secession from the enemy. He knew Suke's old fondness for him, and began to play upon it. Elated with beer and vanity, he no longer paid the least attention to Pennyloaf's remonstrances; nay, he at length bade her 'hold her bloomin' row!' Pennyloaf had a tear in her eye; she looked fiercely at Miss Jollop.
The day wore on. For utter weariness Pennyloaf was constrained to beg that they might go into the 'Paliss' and find a shadowed seat. Her tone revived tenderness in Bob; again he became gracious, devoted; he promised that not another glass of beer should pass his lips, and Sake Jollop, with all her like, might go to perdition. But heavens! how sweltering it was under this glass canopy How the dust rose from the trampled boards! Come, let's have tea. The programme says there'll be a military band playing presently, and we shall return refreshed to hear it.
So they made their way to the 'Shilling Tea-room.' Having paid at the entrance, they were admitted to feed freely on all that lay before them. With difficulty could a seat be found in the huge room; the uproar of voices was deafening. On the tables lay bread, butter, cake in hunches, tea-pots, milk-jugs, sugar-basins -- all things to whomso could secure them in the conflict. Along the gangways coursed perspiring waiters, heaping up giant structures of used plates and cups, distributing clean utensils, and miraculously sharp in securing the gratuity expected from each guest as he rose satiate. Muscular men in aprons wheeled hither the supplies of steaming fluid in immense cans on heavy trucks. Here practical joking found the most graceful of opportunities, whether it were the deft direction of a piece of cake at the nose of a person sitting opposite, or the emptying of a saucer down your neighbour's back, or the ingenious jogging of an arm which was in the act of raising a full tea-cup. Now and then an ill-conditioned fellow, whose beer disagreed with him, would resent some piece of elegant trifling, and the waiters would find it needful to request gentlemen not to fight until they had left the room. These cases, however, were exceptional. On the whole there reigned a spirit of imbecile joviality. Shrieks of female laughter testified to the success of the entertainment.
As Bob and his companion quitted this sphere of delight, ill-luck brought it to pass that Mr. Jack Bartley and his train were on the point of entering. Jack uttered a phrase of stinging sarcasm with reference to Pennyloaf's red feather; whereupon Bob smote him exactly between the eyes. Yells arose; there was a scuffle, a rush, a tumult. The two were separated before further harm came of the little misunderstanding, but Jack went to the tea-tables vowing vengeance.
Poor Pennyloaf shed tears as Bob led her to the place where the band had begun playing. Only her husband's anger prevented her from yielding to utter misery. But now they had come to the centre of the building, and by dint of much struggle in the crowd they obtained a standing whence they could see the vast amphitheatre, filled with thousands of faces. Here at length was quietness, intermission of folly and brutality. Bob became another man as he stood and listened. He looked with kindness into Pennyloaf's pale, weary face, and his arm stole about her waist to support her. Ha! Pennyloaf was happy! The last trace of tears vanished. She too was sensible of the influences of music; her heart throbbed as she let herself lean against her husband.
Well, as every one must needs have his panacea for the ills of society, let me inform you of mine. To humanise the multitude two things are necessary -- two things of the simplest kind conceivable. In the first place, you must effect an entire change of economic conditions: a preliminary step of which every tyro will recognise the easiness; then you must bring to bear on the new order of things the constant influence of music. Does not the prescription recommend itself? It is jesting in earnest. For, work as you will, there is no chance of a new and better world until the old be utterly destroyed. Destroy, sweep away, prepare the ground; then shall music the holy, music the civiliser, breathe over the renewed earth, and with Orphean magic raise in perfected beauty the towers of the City of Man.
Hours yet before the fireworks begin. Never mind; here by good luck we find seats where we can watch the throng passing and repassing. It is a great review of the People. On the whole how respectable they are, how sober, how deadly dull! See how worn-out the poor girls are becoming, how they gape, what listless eyes most of them have! The stoop in the shoulders so universal among them merely means over-toil in the workroom. Not one in a thousand shows the elements of taste in dress; vulgarity and worse glares in all but every costume. Observe the middle-aged women; it would be small surprise that their good looks had vanished, but whence comes it they are animal, repulsive, absolutely vicious in ugliness? Mark the men in their turn: four in every six have visages so deformed by ill-health that they excite disgust; their hair is cut down to within half an inch of the scalp; their legs are twisted out of shape by evil conditions of life from birth upwards. Whenever a youth and a girl come along arm-in-arm, how flagrantly shows the man's coarseness! They are pretty, so many of these girls, delicate of feature, graceful did but their slavery allow them natural development; and the heart sinks as one sees them side by side with the men who are to be their husbands.
One of the livelier groups is surging hitherwards; here we have frolic, here we have humour. The young man who leads them has been going about all day with the lining of his hat turned down over his forehead; for the thousandth time those girls are screaming with laughter at the sight of him. Ha, ha! He has slipped and fallen upon the floor, and makes an obstruction; his companions treat him like a horse that is 'down' in the street. 'Look out for his 'eels!' cries one; and another, 'Sit on his 'ed!' If this doesn't come to an end we shall die of laughter. Lot one of the funniest of the party is wearing a gigantic cardboard nose and flame-coloured whiskers. There, the stumbler is on his feet again. ''Ere he comes up smilin'!' cries his friend of the cardboard nose, and we shake our diaphragms with mirth. One of the party is an unusually tall man. 'When are you comin' down to have a look at us?' cries a pert lass as she skips by him.
A great review of the People. Since man came into being did the world ever exhibit a sadder spectacle?
Evening advances; the great ugly building will presently be lighted with innumerable lamps. Away to the west yonder the heavens are afire with sunset, but at that we do not care to look; never in our lives did we regard it. We know not what is meant by beauty or grandeur. Here under the glass roof stand white forms of undraped men and women -- casts of antique statues -- but we care as little for the glory of art as for that of nature; we have a vague feeling that, for some reason or other, antiquity excuses the indecent, but further than that we do not get.
As the dusk descends there is a general setting of the throng towards the open air; all the pathways swarm with groups which have a tendency to disintegrate into couples; universal is the protecting arm. Relief from the sweltering atmosphere of the hours of sunshine causes a revival of hilarity; those who have hitherto only bemused themselves with liquor now pass into the stage of jovial recklessness, and others, determined to prolong a flagging merriment, begin to depend upon their companions for guidance. On the terraces dancing has commenced; the players of violins, concertinas, and penny-whistles do a brisk trade among the groups eager for a rough-and-tumble valse; so do the pickpockets. Vigorous and varied is the jollity that occupies the external galleries, filling now in expectation of the fireworks; indescribable the mingled tumult that roars heavenwards. Girls linked by the half-dozen arm-in-arm leap along with shrieks like grotesque mænads; a rougher horseplay finds favour among the youths, occasionally leading to fisticuffs. Thick voices bellow in fragmentary chorus; from every side comes the yell, the eat-call, the ear-rending whistle; and as the bass, the never-ceasing accompaniment, sounds myriad-footed tramp, tramp along the wooden flooring. A fight, a scene of bestial drunkenness, a tender whispering between two lovers, proceed concurrently in a space of five square yards. -- Above them glimmers the dawn of starlight.
For perhaps the first time in his life Bob Hewett has drunk more than he can well carry. To Pennyloaf's remonstrances he answers more and more impatiently: 'Why does she talk like a bloomin' fool? -- one doesn't get married every day.' He is on the look-out for Jack Bartley now; only let him meet Jack, and it shall be seen who is the better man. Pennyloaf rejoices that the hostile party are nowhere discoverable. She is persuaded to join in a dance, though every moment it seems to her that she must sink to the ground in uttermost exhaustion. Naturally she does not dance with sufficient liveliness to please Bob; he seizes another girl, a stranger, and whirls round the six-foot circle with a laugh of triumph. Pennyloaf's misery is relieved by the beginning of the fireworks. Up shoot the rockets, and all the reeking multitude utters a huge 'Oh' of idiot admiration.
Now at length must we think of tearing ourselves away from these delights. Already the more prudent people are hurrying to the railway, knowing by dire experience what it means to linger until the last cargoes. Pennyloaf has hard work to get her husband as far as the station; Bob is not quite steady upon his feet, and the hustling of the crowd perpetually excites him to bellicose challenges. They reach the platform somehow; they stand wedged amid a throng which roars persistently as a substitute for the activity of limb Row become impossible. A train is drawing up slowly; the danger is lest people in the front row should be pushed over the edge of the platform, but porters exert themselves with success. A rush, a tumble, curses, blows, laughter, screams of pain -- and we are in a carriage. Pennyloaf has to be dragged up from under the seat, and all her indignation cannot free her from the jovial embrace of a man who insists that there is plenty of room on his knee. Off we go! It is a long third-class coach, and already five or six musical instruments have struck up. We smoke and sing at the same time; we quarrel and make love -- the latter in somewhat primitive fashion; we roll about with the rolling of the train; we nod into hoggish sleep.
The platform at Holborn Viaduct; and there, to Pennyloaf's terror, it is seen that Clem Peckover and her satellites have come by the same train. She does her best to get Bob quickly away, but Clem keeps close in their neighbourhood. Just as they issue from the station Pennyloaf feels herself bespattered from head to foot with some kind of fluid; turning, she is aware that all her enemies have squirts in their hands, and are preparing for a second discharge of filthy water. Anguish for the ruin of her dress overcomes all other fear; she calls upon Bob to defend her.
But an immediate conflict was not Jack Bartley's intention. He and those with him made off at a run, Bob pursuing as closely as his unsteadiness would permit. In this way they all traversed the short distance to Clerkenwell Green, either party echoing the other's objurgations along the thinly-peopled streets. At length arrived the suitable moment. Near St. James's Church Jack Bartley made a stand, and defied his enemy to come on. Bob responded with furious eagerness; amid a press of delighted spectators, swelled by people just turned out of the public-houses, the two lads fought like wild animals. Nor were they the only combatants. Exasperated by the certainty that her hat and dolman were ruined, Pennyloaf flew with erected nails at Clem Peckover. It was just what the latter desired. In an instant she had rent half Pennyloaf's garments off her back, and was tearing her face till the blood streamed. Inconsolable was the grief of the crowd when a couple of stalwart policemen came hustling forward, thrusting to left and right, irresistibly clearing the corner. There was no question of making arrests; it was the night of Bank-holiday, and the capacity of police-cells is limited. Enough that the fight perforce came to an end. Amid frenzied blasphemy Bob and Jack went their several ways; so did Clem and Pennyloaf.
Poor Pennyloaf! Arrived at Shooter's Gardens, and having groped her way blindly up to the black hole which was her wedding-chamber, she just managed to light a candle, then sank down upon the bare floor and wept. You could not have recognised her; her pretty face was all blood and dirt. She held in her hand the fragment of a hat, and her dolman had disappeared. Her husband was not in much better plight; his waistcoat and shirt were rent open, his coat was filth-smeared, and it seemed likely that he had lost the sight of one eye. Sitting there in drunken lassitude, he breathed nothing but threats of future vengeance.
An hour later noises of a familiar kind sounded beneath the window. A woman's voice was raised in the fury of mad drunkenness, and a man answered her with threats and blows.
'That's mother,' sobbed Pennyloaf. 'I knew she wouldn't get over to-day. She never did get over a Bank-holiday.'
Mrs. Candy had taken the pledge when her husband consented to return and live with her. Unfortunately she did not at the same time transfer herself to a country where there are no beer-shops and no Bank-holidays. Short of such decisive change, what hope for her?
Bob was already asleep, breathing stertorously. As for Pennyloaf, she was so overwearied that hours passed before oblivion fell upon her aching eyelids. She was thinking all the time that on the morrow it would be necessary to pawn her wedding-ring.
Knowing the likelihood that Clara Hewett would go from home for Bank-holiday, Sidney made it his request before he left Hanover Street on Sunday night that Jane might be despatched on her errand at an early hour next morning. At eight o'clock, accordingly, Snowdon went forth with his granddaughter, and, having discovered the street to which Sidney had directed him, he waited at a distance whilst Jane went to make her inquiries. In a few minutes the girl rejoined him.
'Miss Hewett has gone away,' she reported.
'To spend the day, do you mean?' was Snowdon's troubled question.
'No, she has left the house. She went yesterday, in the afternoon. It was very sudden, the landlady says, and she doesn't know where she's gone to.'
Jane had no understanding of what her information implied; seeing that it was received as grave news, she stood regarding her grandfather anxiously. Though Clara had passed out of her world since those first days of illness, Jane held her in a memory which knew no motive of retention so strong as gratitude. The thought of harm or sorrow coming upon her protector had a twofold painfulness. Instantly she divined that Clara was in some way the cause of Sidney Kirkwood's inability to go into the country to-day. For a long time the two had been closely linked in her reflections; Mrs. Peckover and Clem used constantly to exchange remarks which made this inevitable. But. not until now had Jane really felt the significance of the bond. Of a sudden she had a throbbing at her heart, and a confusion of mind which would not allow her to pursue the direct train of thought naturally provoked by the visit she had just paid. A turbid flood of ideas, of vague surmises, of apprehensions, of forecasts, swept across her consciousness. The blood forsook her cheeks. But that the old man began to move away, she could have remained thus for many minutes, struggling with that new, half-under. stood thing which was taking possession of her life.
The disappointment of the day. was no longer simple, and such as a child experiences. Nor ever from this hour onwards would Jane regard things as she had been wont to do, with the simple feelings of childhood.
Snowdon walked on in silence until the street they had visited was far behind them. Jane was accustomed to his long fits of musing, but now she with difficulty refrained from questioning him. He said at length:
'Jane, I'm afraid we shall have to give up our day in the country.'
She assented readily, gladly; all the joy had gone out of the proposed excursion, and she wished Dow to be by herself in quietness.
'I think I'll let you go home alone,' Snowdon continued. 'I want to see Mr. Kirkwood, and I dare say I shall find him in, if I walk on at once.'
They went in different directions, and Snowdon made what speed he could to Tysoe Street. Sidney had already been out, walking restlessly and aimlessly for two or three hours. The news he now heard was the half-incredible fulfilment of a dread that had been torturing him through the night. No calamity is so difficult to realise when it befalls as one which has haunted us in imagination.
'That means nothing!' he exclaimed, as if resentfully. 'She was dissatisfied with the lodging, that's all. Perhaps she's already got a place. I dare say there's a note from her at home this morning.'
'Shall you go and see if there is?' asked Snowdon, allowing, as usual, a moment's silence to intervene.
Sidney hesitated, avoiding the other's look.
'I shall go to that house first of all, I think. Of course I shall hear no more than they told Jane; but ----'
He took a deep breath.
'Yes, go there,' said Snowdon; 'but afterwards go to the Hewetts'. If she hasn't written to them, or let them have news of any kind, her father oughtn't to be kept in ignorance for another hour.'
'He ought to have been told before this,' replied Sidney ill a thick under-voice. 'He ought to have been told on Saturday. And the blame'll be mine.'
It is an experience familiar to impulsive and self-confident men that a moment's crisis may render scarcely intelligible a mode of thought or course of action which till then one had deemed perfectly rational. Sidney, hopeless in spite of the pretences he made, stood aghast at the responsibility he had taken upon himself. It was so obvious to him now that he ought to have communicated to John Hewett without loss of time the news which Mrs. Hewett brought on Saturday morning. But could he be sure that John was still in ignorance of Clara's movements? Was it not all but certain that Mrs. Hewett must have broken the news before this? If not, there lay before him a terrible duty.
The two went forth together, and another visit was paid to the lodging-house. After that Sidney called upon Mrs. Tubbs, and made a simple inquiry for Clara, with the anticipated result.
'You won't find her in this part of London, it's my belief,' said the woman significantly. 'She's left the lodgings as she took -- so much I know. Never meant to stay there, not she! You're a friend of her father's, mister?'
Sidney could not trust himself to make a reply. lie rejoined Snowdon at a little distance, and expressed his intention of going at once to Clerkenwell Close.
'Let me see you again to-day,' said the old man sadly.
Sidney promised, and they took leave of each other. It was now nearing ten o'clock. In the Close an organ was giving delight to a great crowd of children, some of them wearing holiday garb, but most clad in the native rags which served them for all seasons and all days. The volume of clanging melody fell with torture upon Kirkwood's ear, and when he saw that the instrument was immediately before Mrs. Peckover's house, he stood aside in gloomy impatience, waiting till it should move away. This happened in a few minutes. The house door being open, he walked straight upstairs.
On the landing he confronted Mrs. Hewett; she started on seeing him, and whispered a question. The exchange of a few words apprised Sidney that Hewett did not even know of Clara's having quitted Mrs. Tubbs'.
'Then I must tell him everything,' he said. To put the task upon the poor woman would have been simple cowardice. Merely in hearing his news she was blanched with dread. She could only point to the door of the front room -- the only one rented by the family since Jane Snowdon's occupation of the other had taught them to be as economical in this respect as their neighbours were.
Sidney knocked and entered. Two months had passed since his latest visit, and he observed that in the meantime everything had become more squalid. The floor, the window, the furniture, were not kept so clean as formerly -- inevitable result of the overcrowding of a room; the air was bad, the children looked untidy. The large bed had not been set in order since last night; in it lay the baby, crying as always, ailing as it had done from the day of its birth. John Hewett was engaged in mending one of the chairs, of which the legs had become loose. He looked with surprise at the visitor, and at once averted his face sullenly.
'Mr. Hewett,' Kirkwood began, without form of greeting, 'on Saturday morning I heard something that I believe I ought to have let you know at once. I felt, though, that it was hardly my business; and somehow we haven't been quite so open with each other just lately as we used to be.'
His voice sank. Hewett had risen from his crouching attitude, and was looking him full in the face with eyes which grew momentarily darker and more hostile.
'Well? Why are you stopping? What have you got to say?'
The words came from a dry throat; the effort to pronounce them clearly made the last all but violent.
'On Friday night,' Sidney resumed, his own utterance uncertain, 'Clara left her place. She took a room not far from Upper Street, and I saw her, spoke to her. She'd quarrelled with Mrs. Tubbs. I urged her to come home, but she wouldn't listen to me. This morning I've been to try and see her again, but they tell me she went away yesterday afternoon. I can't find where she's living now.'
Hewett took a step forward. His face was so distorted, so fierce, that Sidney involuntarily raised an arm, as if to defend himself.
'An' it's you as comes tellin' me this!' John exclaimed, a note of anguish blending with his fury. 'You have the face to stand there an' speak like that to me, when you know it's all your own doing! Who was the cause as the girl went away from 'ome? Who was it, I say? Haven't been as friendly as we used to be, haven't we? An' why? Haven't I seen it plainer an' plainer what you was thinkin' when you told me to let her have her own way? I spoke the truth then -- 'cause I felt it; an' I was fool enough, for all that, to try an' believe I was in the wrong. Now you come an' stand before me -- why, I couldn't a' thought there was a man had so little shame in him!'
Mrs. Hewett entered the room; the loud angry voice had reached her ears, and in spite of. terror she came to interpose between the two men.
'Do you know what he's come to tell me?' cried her husband. 'Oh, you do! He's been tryin' to talk you over, has he? You just answer to me, an' tell the truth. Who was it persuaded me to let Clara go from 'ome? Who was it come here an' talked an' talked till he got his way? He knew what 'ud be the end of it -- he knew, I tell you, -- an' it's just what he wanted. Hasn't he been drawin' away from us ever since the girl left? I saw it all that night when he came here persuadin' me, an' I told it him plain. He wanted to 'a done with her, and to a' done with us. Am I speakin' the truth or not?'
'Why should he think that way, John?' pleaded the woman faintly. 'You know very well as Clara 'ud never listen to him. What need had he to do such things?'
'Oh yes, I'm wrong! Of course I'm wrong! You always did go against me when there was anything to do with Clara. She'd never listen to him? No, of course she wouldn't, an' he couldn't rest until he saw her come to harm. What do you care either? She's no child of yours. But I tell you I'd see you an' all your children beg an' die in the streets rather than a hair of my own girl's head should be touched!'
Indulgence of his passion was making a madman of him. Never till now had he uttered an unfeeling word to his wife, but the look with which lie accompanied this brutal speech was one of fiery hatred.
'Don't turn on her!' cried Sidney, with bitterness. 'Say what you like to me, and believe the worst you can of me; I shouldn't have come here if I hadn't been ready to bear everything. It's no good speaking reason to you now, but maybe you'll understand some day.'
'Who know's as she's come to harm?' urged Mrs. Hewett. 'Nobody can say it of her for certain, yet.'
'I'd have told him that, if he'd only listened to me and given me credit for honesty,' said Kirkwood. 'It is as likely as not she's gone away just because I angered her on Saturday. Perhaps she said to herself she'd have done with me once for all. It would be just her way.'
'Speak another word against my girl,' Hewett shouted, misinterpreting the last phrase, 'an' I'll do more than say what I think of you -- old man though they call me! Take yourself out of this room; it was the worst day of my life that ever you came into it. Never let me an' you come across each other again. I hate the sight of you, an' I hate the sound of your voice!'
The animal in Sidney Kirkwood made it a terrible minute for him as he turned away in silence before this savage injustice. The veins upon his forehead were swollen; his clenched teeth gave an appearance of ferocity to his spirited features. With head bent, and shoulders quivering as if in supreme muscular exertion, he left the room without another word.
In a few minutes Hewett also quitted the house. He went to the luncheon-bar in Upper Street, and heard for the first time Mrs. Tubbs's rancorous surmises. He went to Clara's recent lodgings; a girl of ten was the only person in the house, and she could say nothing more than that Miss Hewett no longer lived there. Till midway in the afternoon John walked about the streets of Islington, Highbury, Hoxton, Clerkenwell, impelled by the unreasoning hope that he might see Clara, but also because he could not rest in any place. He was half-conscious now of the madness of his behaviour to Kirkwood, but this only confirmed him in hostility to the young man; the thought of losing Clara was anguish intolerable, yet with it mingled a bitter resentment of the girl's cruelty to him. And all these sources of misery swelled the current of rebellious feeling which had so often threatened to sweep his life into wreckage. He was Clara's father, and the same impulse of furious revolt which had driven the girl to recklessness now inflamed him with the rage of despair.
On a Bank-holiday only a few insignificant shops remain open even in the poor districts of London; sweets you can purchase, and tobacco, but not much else that is sold across an ordinary counter. The more noticeable becomes the brisk trade of public-houses. At the gin-shop centres the life of each street; here is a wide door and a noisy welcome, the more attractive by contrast with the stretch of closed shutters on either hand. At such a door, midway in the sultry afternoon, John Hewett paused. To look at his stooping shoulders, his uncertain swaying this way and that, his flushed, perspiring face, you might have taken him for one who had already been drinking. No; it was only a struggle between his despairing wretchedness and a lifelong habit of mind. Not difficult to foresee which would prevail; the public-house always has its doors open in expectation of such instances. With a gesture which made him yet more like a drunken man he turned from the pavement and entered. . . .
About nine o'clock in the evening, just when Mrs. Hewett had put the unwilling children to bed, and had given her baby a sleeping-dose -- it had cried incessantly for eighteen hours, -- the door of the room was pushed open. Her husband came in. She stood looking at him -- unable to credit the evidence of her eyes.
She laid her hand upon him and stared into his face. The man shook her off, without speaking, and moved staggeringly forward. Then he turned round, waved his arm, and shouted:
'Let her go to the devil She cares nothing for her father.'
He threw himself upon the bed, and soon sank into drunken sleep.
The bells of St. James's, Clerkenwell, ring melodies in intervals of the pealing for service-time. One morning of spring their music, like the rain that fell intermittently, was flung westwards by the boisterous wind, away over Clerkenwell Close, until the notes failed one by one, or were clashed out of existence by the clamour of a less civilised steeple. Had the wind been under mortal control it would doubtless have blown thus violently and in this quarter in order that the inhabitants of the House of Detention might derive no solace from the melody. Yet I know not; just now the bells were playing 'There is a happy land, far, far away,' and that hymn makes too great a demand upon the imagination to soothe amid instant miseries.
In Mrs. Peckover's kitchen the music was audible in bursts. Clem and her mother, however, it neither summoned to prepare for church, nor lulled into a mood of restful reverie. The two were sitting very close together before the fire, and holding intimate converse; their voices kept a low murmur, as ii; though the door was shut, they felt it necessary to use every precaution against being overheard. Three years have come and gone since we saw these persons. On the elder time has made little impression; but Clem has developed noticeably. The girl is now in the very prime of her ferocious beauty. She has grown taller and somewhat stouter; her shoulders spread like those of a caryatid; the arm with which she props her head is as strong as a carter's and magnificently moulded. The head itself looks immense with its pile of glossy hair. Reddened by the rays of the fire, her features had a splendid savagery which seemed strangely at discord with the paltry surroundings amid which she sat; her eyes just now were gleaming with a crafty and cruel speculation which would have become those of a barbarian in ambush. I wonder how it came about that her strain, after passing through the basest conditions of modern life, had thus reverted to a type of ancestral exuberance.
'If only he doesn't hear about the old man or the girl from somebody!' said Mrs. Peckover. 'I've been afraid of it ever since he come into the 'ouse. There's so many people might tell him. You'll have to come round him sharp, Clem.'
The mother was dressed as her kind are wont to be on Sunday morning -- that is to say, not dressed at all, but hung about with coarse garments, her hair in unbeautiful disarray. Clem, on the other hand, seemed to have devoted much attention to her morning toilet; she wore a dark dress trimmed with velveteen, and a metal ornament of primitive taste gleamed amid her hair.
'There ain't no mistake?' she asked, after a pause. 'You're jolly sure of that?'
'Mistake? What a blessed fool you must be! Didn't they advertise in the papers for him? Didn't the lawyers themselves say as it was something to his advantage? Don't you say yourself as Jane says her grandfather's often spoke about him and wished he could find him? How can it be a mistake? If it was only Bill's letter we had to go on, you might talk; but -- there, don't be a ijiot!'
'If it turned out as he hadn't nothing,' remarked Clem resolutely, 'I'd leave him, if I was married fifty times.'
Her mother uttered a contemptuous sound. At the same time she moved her head as if listening; some one was, in fact, descending the stairs.
'Here he comes,' she whispered. 'Get the eggs ready, an' I'll make the corffee.'
A tap at the door, then entered a tallish man of perhaps forty, though he might be a year or two younger. His face was clean-shaven, harsh-featured, unwholesome of complexion; its chief peculiarity was the protuberance of the bone in front of each temple, which gave him a curiously animal aspect. His lower lip hung and jutted forward; when he smiled, as now in advancing to the fire, it slightly overlapped the one above. His hair was very sparse; he looked, indeed, like one who has received the tonsure. The movement of his limbs betokened excessive indolence; he dragged his feet rather than walked. His attire was equally suggestive; not only had it fallen into the last degree of shabbiness (having originally been such as is worn by a man above the mechanic ranks), but it was patched with dirt of many kinds, and held together by a most inadequate supply of buttons. At present he wore no collar, and his waistcoat, half-open, exposed a red shirt.
'Why, you're all a-blowin' and a-growin' this morning, Peckover,' was his first observation, as he dropped heavily into a wooden arm-chair. 'I shall begin to think that colour of yours ain't natural. Dare you let me rub it with a handkerchief?'
'Course I dare,' replied Clem, tossing her head. 'Don't be so forward, Mr. Snowdon.'
'Forward? Not I. I'm behind time if anything. I hope I haven't kept you from church.'
He chuckled at his double joke. Mother and daughter laughed appreciatively.
'Will you take your eggs boiled or fried?' inquired Mrs. Peckover.
'Going to give me eggs, are you? Well, I've no objection, I assure you. And I think I'll have them fried, Mrs. Peckover. But, I say, you mustn't be running up too big a bill. The Lord only knows when I shall get anything to do, and it ain't very likely to be a thousand a year when it does come.'
'Oh, that's all right,' replied the landlady, as if sordid calculation were a thing impossible to her. 'I can't say as you behaved quite straightforward years ago, Mr. Snowdon, but I ain't one to make a row about bygones, an' as you say you'll put it all straight as soon as you can, well, I won't refuse to trust you once more.'
Mr. Snowdon lay back in the chair, his hands in his waistcoat pockets, his legs outstretched upon the fender. He was smiling placidly, now at the preparing breakfast, now at Clem. The latter he plainly regarded with much admiration, and cared not to conceal it. When, in a few minutes, it was announced to him that the meal was ready, he dragged his chair up to the table and reseated himself with a sigh of satisfaction. A dish of excellent ham, and eggs as nearly fresh as can be obtained in Clerkenwell, invited him with appetising odour; a large cup of what is known to the generality of English people as coffee steamed at his right hand; slices of new bread lay ready cut upon a plate; a slab of the most expensive substitute for butter caught his eye with yellow promise; vinegar and mustard appealed to the refinements of his taste.
'I've got a couple more eggs, if you'd like them doin',' said Mrs. Peckover, when she had watched the beginning of his attack upon the viands.
'I think I shall manage pretty well with this supply,' returned Mr. Snowdon.
As he ate he kept silence, partly because it was his habit, partly in consequence of the activity of his mind. He was, in fact, musing upon a question which be found it very difficult to answer in any satisfactory way. 'What's the meaning of all this?' he asked himself, and not for the first time. 'What makes them treat me in this fashion? A week ago I came here to look up Mrs. Peckover, just because I'd run down to my last penny, and I didn't know where to find a night's lodging. I'd got an idea, too, that I should like to find out what had become of my child, whom I left here nine or ten years ago; possibly she was still alive, and might welcome the duty of supporting her parent. The chance was, to be sure, that the girl had long since been in her grave, and that Mrs. Peckover no longer lived in the old quarters; if I discovered the woman, on the other hand, she was not very likely to give me an affectionate reception, seeing that I found it inconvenient to keep sending her money for Jane's keep in the old days. The queer thing is, that everything turned out exactly the opposite of what I had expected. Mrs. Peckover had rather a sour face at first, but after a little talk she began to seem quite glad to see me. She put me into a room, undertook to board me for a while -- till I find work, and I wonder when that'll be? -- and blest if this strapping daughter of hers doesn't seem to have fallen in love with me from the first go off! As for my girl, I'm told she was carried off by her grandfather, my old dad, three years ago, and where they went nobody knows. Very puzzling all this. How on earth came it that Mrs. Peckover kept the child so long, and didn't send her to the workhouse? If I'm to believe her, she took a motherly kindness for the poor brat. But that won't exactly go down with J. J. Snowdon; he's seen a bit too much in his knocking about the world, Still, what if I'm making a mistake about the old woman? There are some people do things of that sort; upon my soul, I've known people be kind even to me, without a chance of being paid back! You may think you know a man or a woman, and then all at once they'll go and do something you'd have taken your davy couldn't possibly happen. I'd have sworn she was nothing but a skinflint and a lying old witch. And so she maybe; the chances are there's some game going on that I can't see through. Make inquiries? Why, so I have done, as far as I know how. I've only been able to hit on one person who knows anything about the matter, and he tells me it's true enough the girl was taken away about three years ago, but he's no idea where she went to. Surely the old man must be dead b now, though he was tough. Well, the fact of the matter is, I've got a good berth, and I'm a precious sight too lazy to go on the private detective job. Here's this girl Clem, the finest bit of flesh I've seen for a long time; I've more than half a mind to see if she won't be fool enough to marry me. I'm not a bad-looking fellow, that's the truth, and she may have taken a real liking to me. Seems to me that I should have come in for a Comfortable thing in my old age; if I haven't a daughter to provide for my needs, at all events I shall have a wife who can be persuaded into doing so. When the old woman gets out of the way I must have a little quiet talk with Clem.'
The opportunity he desired was not long in offering itself. Having made an excellent breakfast, he dragged his chair up to the fender again, and reached a pipe from the mantel-piece, where he had left it last night. Tobacco he carried loose in his waistcoat pocket; it came forth in the form of yellowish dust, intermingled with all sorts of alien scraps. When be had lit his pipe, he poised the chair on its hind-legs, clasped his hands over his bald crown, and continued his musing with an air of amiable calm. Smoke curled up from the corner of his loose lips, and occasionally, removing his pipe for an instant, he spat skilfully between the bars of the grate. Assured of his comfort, Mrs. Peckover said she must go and look after certain domestic duties. Her daughter had begun to clean some vegetables that would be cooked for dinner.
'How old may you be, Clem?' Mr. Snowdon inquired genially, when they had been alone together for a few minutes.
'What's that to you? Guess.'
'Why, let me see; you was not much more than a baby when I went away. You'll be eighteen or nineteen, I suppose.'
'Yes, I'm nineteen -- last sixth of February. Pity you come too late to give me a birthday present, ain't it?'
'Ah! And who'd have thought you'd have grown up such a beauty! I say, Clem, how many of the young chaps about here have been wanting to marry you, eh?'
'A dozen or two, I dessay,' Clem replied, shrugging her shoulders scornfully.
Mr. Snowdon laughed, and then spat into the fire.
'Tell me about some o' them, will you? Who is it you're keeping company with now?'
'Who, indeed? Why, there isn't one I'd look at! Several of 'em's took to drinking 'cause I won't have nothing to do with 'em.'
This excited Mr. Snowdon's mirth in a high degree; he rolled on his chair, and almost pitched backwards.
'I suppose you give one or other a bit of encouragement now and then, just to make a fool of him, eh?'
'Course I do. There was Bob Hewett; he used to lodge here, but that was after your time. I kep' him off an' on till he couldn't bear it no longer; then he went an' married a common slut of a thing, just because he thought it 'ud make me mad. Ha, ha! I believe he'd give her poison an' risk it any day, if only I promised to marry him afterwards. Then there was a feller called Jeck Bartley. I set him an' Bob fightin' one Bank-holiday -- you should a' seen 'em go at it! Jack went an' got married a year ago to a girl called Suke Jollop; her mother forced him. How I did laugh! Last Christmas Day they smashed up their 'ome an' threw the bits out into the street. Jack got one of his eyes knocked out -- I thought I should a' died o' laughin' when I saw him next mornin'.'
The hearer became uproarious in merriment.
'Tell you what it is, Clem,' he cried, 'you're something like a girl! Darn me if I don't like you! I say, I wonder what my daughter's grown up? Like her mother, I suppose. You an' she was sort of sisters, wasn't you?'
He observed her closely. Clem laughed and shrugged her shoulders.
'Queer sort o' sisters. She was a bit too quiet-like for me. There never was no fun in her.'
'Aye, like her mother. And where did you say she went to with the old man?'
'Where she went to?' repeated Clem, regarding him steadily with her big eyes, 'I never said nothing about it, 'cause I didn't know.'
'Well, I shan't cry about her, and I don't suppose she misses me much, wherever she is. All the same, Clem, I'm a domesticated sort of man; you can see that, can't you? I shouldn't wonder if I marry again one of these first days. Just tell me where to find a girl of the right sort. I dare say you know heaps.'
'Dessay I do. What sort do you want?'
'Oh, a littlish girl -- yellow hair, you know -- one of them that look as if they didn't weigh half-a-stone.'
'I'll throw this parsnip at you, Mr. Snowdon!'
'What's up now. You don't Call yourself littlish, do you?'
Clem snapped the small end off the vegetable she was paring, and aimed it at his head. He ducked just in time. Then there was an outburst of laughter from both.
'Say, Clem, you haven't got a glass of beer in the house?'
'You'll have to wait till openin' time,' replied the girl sourly, going away to the far end of the room.
'Have I offended you, Clem?'
'Offended, indeed As if I cared what you say!'
'Do you care what I think?'
'That means you do. Say, Clem, just come here; I've something to tell you.'
'You're a nuisance. Let me get on with my work, can't you?'
'No, I can't. You just come here. You'd better not give me the trouble of fetching you!'
The girl obeyed him. Her cheeks were very hot, and the danger-signal was flashing in her eyes. Ten minutes later she went upstairs, and had a vivacious dialogue of whispers with Mrs. Peckover.
Among the by-ways of Clerkenwell you might, with some difficulty, have discovered an establishment known in its neighbourhood as 'Whitehead's.' It was an artificial-flower factory, and the rooms of which it consisted were only to be reached by traversing a timber-yard, and then mounting a wooden staircase outside a saw-mill. Here at busy seasons worked some threescore women and girls, who, owing to the nature of their occupation, were spoken of by the jocose youth of the locality as 'Whitehead's pastepots.'
Naturally they varied much in age and aspect. There was the child who had newly left school, and was now invited to consider the question of how to keep herself alive; there was the woman of uncertain age, who had spent long years of long days in the atmosphere of workrooms, and showed the result in her parchmenty cheek and lack-lustre eye; and between these extremes came all the various types of the London crafts-girl: she who is young enough to hope that disappointments may yet be made up for by the future; she who is already tasting such scanty good as life had in store for her; she who has outlived her illusions and no longer cares to look beyond the close of the week. If regularly engaged as time-workers, they made themselves easy in the prospect of wages that allowed them to sleep under a roof and eat at certain intervals of the day; if employed on piece-work they might at any moment find themselves wageless, but this, being a familiar state of things, did not trouble them. With few exceptions, they were clad neatly; on the whole, they plied their task in wonderful contentment. The general tone of conversation among them was not high; moralists unfamiliar with the ways of the nether world would probably have applied a term other than negative to the laughing discussions which now and then enlivened this or that group; but it was very seldom indeed that a child newly arriving heard anything with which she was not already perfectly familiar.
One afternoon at the end of May there penetrated into the largest of the workrooms that rarest of visitants, a stray sunbeam. Only if the sun happened to shine at given moments could any of its light fall directly into the room I speak of; this afternoon, however, all circumstances were favourable, and behold the floor chequered with uncertain gleam. The workers were arranged in groups of three, called 'parties,' consisting of a learner, an improver, and a hand. All sat with sleeves pushed up to their elbows, and had a habit of rocking to and fro as they plied their mechanical industry. Owing to the movement of a cloud, the sunlight spread gradually towards one of these groups; it touched the skirt, the arms, the head of one of the girls, who, as if gladdened by the kindly warmth, looked round and smiled. A smile you would have been pleased to observe -- unconscious, gently thoughtful, rich in possibilities of happiness. She was quite a young girl, certainly not seventeen, and wore a smooth grey dress, with a white linen collar; her brown hair was closely plaited, her head well-shaped, the bend of her neck very graceful. From her bare arms it could be seen that she was anything but robustly made, yet her general appearance was not one of ill-health, and she held herself, even thus late in the day, far more uprightly than most of her companions. Had you watched her for a while, you would have noticed that her eyes occasionally strayed beyond the work-table, and, perhaps unconsciously, fixed themselves for some moments on one or other of the girls near her; when she remembered herself and looked down again upon her task, there rose to her face a smile of the subtlest meaning, the outcome of busy reflection.
By her side was a little girl just beginning to learn the work, whose employment it was to paper wires and make 'centres.' This toil always results in blistered fingers, and frequent was the child's appeal to her neighbour for sympathy.
'It'll be easier soon,' said the latter, on one of these occasions, bending her head to speak in a low voice. 'You should have seen what blisters I had when I began.'
'It's all very well to say that. I can't do no more, so there Oh, when'll it be five o'clock?'
'It's a quarter to. Try and go on, Annie.'
Five o'clock did come at length, and with it twenty minutes' rest for tea. The rule at Whitehead's was, that you could either bring your own tea, sugar, and eatables, or purchase them here from a forewoman; most of the workers chose to provide themselves. It was customary for each 'party' to club together, emptying their several contributions of tea out of little twists of newspaper into one teapot. Wholesome bustle and confusion succeeded to the former silence. One of the learners, whose turn it was to run on errands, was overwhelmed with commissions to a chandler's shop close by; a wry-faced, stupid little girl she was, and they called her, because of her slowness, the 'funeral horse.' She had strange habits, which made laughter for those who knew of them; for instance, it was her custom in the dinner-hour to go apart and eat her poor scraps on a doorstep close by a cook-shop; she confided to a companion that the odour of baked joints seemed to give her food a relish. From her present errand she returned with a strange variety of dainties -- for it was early in the week, and the girls still had. coppers in their pockets; for two or three she had purchased a farthing's-worth of jam, which she carried in paper. A bite of this and a taste of that rewarded her for her trouble.
The quiet-mannered girl whom we were observing took her cup of tea from the pot in which she had a share, and from her bag produced some folded pieces of bread and butter. She had begun her meal, when there came and sat down by her a young woman of very different appearance -- our friend, Miss Peckover. They were old acquaintances; but when we first saw them together it would have been difficult to imagine that they would ever sit and converse as at present, apparently in all friendliness. Strange to say, it was Clem who, during the past three years, had been the active one in seeking to obliterate disagreeable memories. The younger girl had never repelled her, but was long in overcoming the dread excited by Clem's proximity. Even now she never looked straight into Miss Peckover's face, as she did when speaking with others; there was reserve in her manner, reserve unmistakable, though clothed with her pleasant smile and amiable voice.
'I've got something to tell you, Jane,' Clem began, in a tone inaudible to those who were sitting near. 'Something as'll surprise you.'
'What is it, I wonder?'
'You must swear you won't tell nobody.'
Jane nodded. Then the other brought her head a little nearer, and whispered:
'I'm goin' to be married!'
'Are you really?'
'In a week. Who do you think it is? Somebody as you know of, but if you guessed till next Christmas you'd never come right.'
Nor had Clem any intention of revealing the name, but she laughed consumedly, as if her reticence covered the most amusing situation conceivable.
'It'll be the biggest surprise you ever had in your life. You've swore you won't speak about it. I don't think I shall come to work after this week -- but you'll have to come an' see us. You'll promise to, won't you?'
Still convulsed with mirth, Clem went off to another part of the room. From Jane's countenance the look of amusement which she had perforce summoned soon passed; it was succeeded by a shadow almost of pain, and not till she had been at work again for nearly an hour was the former placidity restored to her.
When final release came, Jane was among the first to hasten down the wooden staircase and get clear of the timber yard. By the direct way, it took her twenty minutes to walk from Whitehead's to her home in Hanover Street, but this evening she had an object in turning aside. The visit she wished to pay took her into a disagreeable quarter, a street of squalid houses, swarming with yet more squalid children. On all the doorsteps Bat little girls, themselves only just out of infancy, nursing or neglecting bald, red-eyed, doughy-limbed abortions in every stage of babyhood, hapless spawn of diseased humanity, born to embitter and brutalise yet further the lot of those who unwillingly gave them life. With wide, pitiful eyes Jane looked at each group she passed. Three years ago she would have seen nothing but the ordinary and the inevitable in such spectacles, but since then her moral and intellectual being had grown on rare nourishment; there was indignation as well as heartache in the feeling with which she had learnt to regard the world of her familiarity. To enter the house at which she paused it was necessary to squeeze through a conglomerate of dirty little bodies. At the head of the first flight of stairs she came upon a girl sitting in a weary attitude on the top step and beating the wood listlessly with the last remnant of a hearth-brush; on her lap was one more specimen of the infinitely-multiplied baby, and a child of two years sprawled behind her on the landing.
'Waiting for him to come home, Pennyloaf?' said Jane.
'Oh, is that you, Miss Snowdon!' exclaimed the other, returning to consciousness and manifesting some shame at being discovered in this position. Hastily she drew together the front of her dress, which for the baby's sake had been wide open, and rose to her feet. Pennyloaf was not a bit more womanly in figure than on the day of her marriage; her voice was still an immature treble; the same rueful irresponsibility marked her features; but all her poor prettiness was wasted under the disfigurement of pains and cares, Incongruously enough, she wore a gown of bright-patterned calico, and about her neck had a collar of pretentious lace; her hair was dressed as if for a holiday, and a daub recently made on her cheeks by the baby's fingers lent emphasis to the fact that she had but a little while ago washed herself with much care.
'I can't stop,' said Jane, 'but I thought I'd just look in and speak a word. How have you been getting on?'
'Oh, do come in for just a minute!' pleaded Pennyloaf, moving backwards to an open door, whither Jane followed. They entered a room -- much like other rooms that we have looked into from time to time. Following the nomadic custom of their kind, Bob Hewett and his wife had lived in six or seven different lodgings since their honeymoon in Shooter's Gardens. Mrs. Candy first of all made a change necessary, as might have been anticipated, and the restlessness of domestic ill-being subsequently drove them from place to place. 'Come in 'ere, Johnny,' she Called to the child lying on the landing. 'What's the good o' washin' you, I'd like to know? Just see, Miss Snowdon, he's made his face all white with the milk as the boy spilt on the stairs! Take this brush an' play with it, do! I can't keep 'em clean, Miss Snowdon, so it's no use talkin'.'
'Are you going somewhere to-night?' Jane inquired, with a glance at the strange costume.
Pennyloaf looked up and down in a shamefaced way.
'I only did it just because I thought he might like to see me. He promised me faithful as he'd come 'ome to-night, and I thought -- it's only somethink as got into my 'ed to-day, Miss Snowdon.'
'But hasn't he been coming home since I saw you last?'
'He did just once, an' then it was all the old ways again. I did what you told me; I did, as sure as I'm a-standin' 'ere! I made the room so clean you wouldn't have believed; I scrubbed the floor an' the table, an' I washed the winders -- you can see they ain't dirty yet. An' he'd never a' paid a bit o' notice if I hadn't told him, He was jolly enough for one night, just like he can be when he likes. But I knew as it wouldn't last, an' the next night he was off with a lot o' fellers an' girls, same as ever. I didn't make no row when he came 'ome; I wish I may die if I said a word to set his back up! An' I've gone on just the same all the week; we haven't had not the least bit of a row; so you see I kep' my promise. But it's no good; he won't come 'ome; he's always got fellers an' girls to go round with. He took his hoath as he'd come back to-night, an' then it come into my 'ed as I'd put my best things on, just to -- you know what I mean, Miss Snowdon. But he won't come before twelve o'clock; I know he won't. An' I get that low sittin' 'ere, you can't think I can't go nowhere, because o' the children. If it wasn't for them I could go to work again, an' I'd be that glad; I feel as if my 'ed would drop off sometimes! I ham so glad you just come in!'
Jane had tried so many forms of encouragement, of consolation, on previous occasions that she knew not how to repeat herself. She was ashamed to speak words which sounded so hollow and profitless. This silence was only too significant to Pennyloaf, and in a moment she exclaimed with querulous energy:
'I know what'll be the bend of it! I'll go an' do like mother does -- I will! I will! I'll put my ring away, an' I'll go an' sit all night in the public-'ouse! It's what all the others does, an' I'll do the same. I often feel I'm a fool to go on like this. I don't know what I live for, P'r'aps he'll be sorry when I get run in like mother.'
'Don't talk like that, Pennyloaf!' cried Jane, stamping her foot, (It was odd how completely difference of character had reversed their natural relations to each other; Pennyloaf was the child, Jane the mature woman.) 'You know better, and you've no right to give way to such thoughts. I was going to say I'd come and be with you all Saturday afternoon, but I don't know whether I shall now. And I'd been thinking you might like to come and see me on Sunday, but I can't have people that go to the public-house, so we won't say anything more about it. I shall have to be off; good-bye!'
She stepped to the door.
Jane turned, and after an instant of mock severity, broke into a laugh which seemed to fill the wretched den with sunlight. Words, too, she found; words of soothing influence such as leap from the heart to the tongue in spite of the heavy thoughts that try to check them. Pennyloaf was learning to depend upon these words for strength in her desolation. They did not excite her to much hopefulness, but there was a sustaining power in their sweet sincerity which made all the difference between despair tending to evil and the sigh of renewed effort. 'I don't care,' Pennyloaf had got into the habit of thinking, after her friend's departure, 'I won't give up as long as she looks in now and then.'
Out from the swarm of babies Jane hurried homewards. She had a reason for wishing to be back in good time to-night; it was Wednesday, and on Wednesday evening there was wont to come a visitor, who sat for a couple of hours in her grandfather's room and talked, talked -- the most interesting talk Jane had ever heard or could imagine. A latch-key admitted her; she ran up to the second floor. A voice from the front-room caught her ear; certainly not his voice -- it was too early -- but that of some unusual visitor. She was on the point of entering her own chamber, when the other door opened, and somebody exclaimed, 'Ah, here she is!'
The speaker was an old gentleman, dressed in black, bald, with small and rather rugged features; his voice was pleasant. A gold chain and a bunch of seals shone against his waistcoat, also a pair of eye-glasses. A professional man, obviously. Jane remembered that she had seen him once before, about a year ago, when he had talked with her for a few minutes, very kindly.
'Will you come in here, Jane?' her grandfather's voice called to her.
Snowdon had changed much. Old age was heavy upon his shoulders, and had even produced a slight tremulousness in his hands; his voice told the same story of enfeeblement. Even more noticeable was the ageing of his countenance. Something more, however, than the progress of time seemed to be here at work. He looked strangely careworn; his forehead was set in lines of anxiety; his mouth expressed a nervousness of which formerly there had been no trace. One would have said that some harassing preoccupation must have seized his mind. His eyes were no longer merely sad and absent, but restless with fatiguing thought. As Jane entered the room he fixed his gaze upon her -- a gaze that appeared to reveal worrying apprehension.
'You remember Mr. Percival, Jane,' he said.
The old gentleman thus presented held out his hand with something of fatherly geniality.
'Miss Snowdon, I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you again before long, but just now I am carrying off your grandfather for a couple of hours, and indeed we mustn't linger that number of minutes. You look well, I think?'
He stood and examined her intently, then cried:
'Come, my dear sir, come! we shall be late.'
Snowdon was already prepared for walking. He spoke a few words to Jane, then followed Mr. Percival downstairs.
Flurried by the encounter, Jane stood looking about her. Then came a rush of disappointment as she reflected that the visitor of Wednesday evenings would call in vain. Hearing that her grandfather was absent, doubtless he would take his leave at once. Or, would he ----
In a minute or two she ran downstairs to exchange a word with Mrs. Byass. On entering the kitchen she was surprised to see Bessie sitting idly by the fire. At this hour it was usual for Mr. Byass to have returned, and there was generally an uproar of laughing talk. This evening, dead silence, and a noticeable something in the air which told of trouble. The baby -- of course a new baby -- lay in a bassinette near its mother, seemingly asleep; the other child was sitting in a high chair by the table, clattering 'bricks.'
Bessie did not even look round.
'Is Mr. Byass late?' inquired Jane, in an apprehensive voice.
'He's somewhere in the house, I believe,' was the answer, in monotone.
'Oh dear!' Jane recognised a situation which had already come under her notice once or twice during the last six months She drew near, and asked in a low voice:
'What's happened, Mrs. Byass?'
'He's a beast! If he doesn't mind I shall go and leave him. I mean it!'
Bessie was in a genuine fit of sullenness. One of her hands was clenched below her chin; her pretty lips were not pretty at all; her brow was rumpled. Jane began to seek for the cause of dissension, to put affectionate questions, to use her voice soothingly.
'He's a beast!' was Bessie's reiterated observation; but by degrees she added phrases more explanatory. 'How can I help it if he cuts himself when he's shaving? -- Serve him right! -- What for? Why, for saying that babies was nothing but a nuisance, and that my baby was the ugliest and noisiest ever born!'
'Did she cry in the night?' inquired Jane, with sympathy.
'Of course she did! Hasn't she a right to?'
'And then Mr. Byass cut himself with his razor?'
'Yes. And he said it was because he was woke so often, and it made him nervous, and his hand shook. And then I told him he'd better cut himself on the other side, and it wouldn't matter. And then he complained because he had to wait for breakfast. And he said there'd been no comfort in the house since we'd had children. And I cared nothing about him, he said, and only about the baby and Ernest. And he went on like a beast, as he is! I hate him!'
'Oh no, not a bit of it!' said Jane, seeing the opportunity for a transition to jest.
'I do! And you may go upstairs and tell him so.'
'All right; I will.'
Jane ran upstairs and knocked at the door of the parlour. A gruff voice bade her enter, but the room was nearly in darkness.
'Will you have a light, Mr. Byass?'
'No -- thank you.'
'Mr. Byass, Mrs. Byass says I'm to say she hates you.'
'All right. Tell her I've known it a long time. She needn't trouble about me; I'm going out to enjoy myself.'
Jane ran back to the kitchen.
'Mr. Byass says he's known it a long time,' she reported, with much gravity. 'And he's going out to enjoy himself.'
Bessie remained mute.
'What message shall I take back, Mrs. Byass?'
'Tell him if he dares to leave the house, I'll go to mother's the first thing to-morrow, and let them know how he's treating me.'
'Tell her,' was Mr. Byass's reply, 'that I don't see what it matters to her whether I'm at home or away. And tell her she's a cruel wife to me.'
Something like the sound of a snivel came out of the darkness as he concluded. Jane, in reporting his speech, added that she thought he was shedding tears. Thereupon Bessie gave a sob, quite in earnest.
'So am I,' she said chokingly. 'Go and tell him, Jane.'
'Mr. Byass, Mrs. Byass is crying,' whispered Jane at the parlour-door. 'Don't you think you'd better, go downstairs?'
Hearing a movement, she ran to be out of the way. Samuel left the dark room, and with slow step descended to the kitchen. Then Jane knew that it was all right, and tripped up to her room humming a song of contentment.
Had she, then, wholly outgrown the bitter experiences of her childhood? Had the cruelty which tortured her during the years when the soul is being fashioned left upon her no brand of slavish vice, nor the baseness of those early associations affected her with any irremovable taint? As far as human observation could probe her, Jane Snowdon had no spot of uncleanness in her being; she had been rescued while it was yet time, and the subsequent period of fostering had enabled features of her character, which no one could have discerned in the helpless child, to expand with singular richness. Two effects of the time of her bondage were, however, clearly to be distinguished. Though nature had endowed her with a good intelligence, she could only with extreme labour acquire that elementary book-knowledge which vulgar children get easily enough; it seemed as if the bodily overstrain at a critical period of life had affected her memory, and her power of mental application generally. In spite of ceaseless endeavour, she could not yet spell words of the least difficulty; she could not do the easiest sums with accuracy; geographical names were her despair. The second point in which she had suffered harm was of more serious nature. She was subject to fits of hysteria, preceded and followed by the most painful collapse of that buoyant courage which was her supreme charm and the source of her influence. Without warning, an inexplicable terror would fall upon her; like the weakest child, she craved protection from a dread inspired solely by her imagination, and solace for an anguish of wretchedness to which she could give no form in words. Happily this illness afflicted her only at long intervals, and her steadily improving health gave warrant for hoping that in time it would altogether pass away.
Whenever an opportunity had offered for struggling successfully with some form of evil -- were it poor Pennyloaf's dangerous despair, or the very human difficulties between Bessie and her husband -- Jane lived at her highest reach of spiritual joy. For all that there was a disappointment on her mind, she felt this joy to-night, and went about her pursuits in happy self-absorption. So it befell that she did not hear a knock at the house-door. Mrs. Byass answered it, and not knowing that Mr. Snowdon was from home, bade his usual visitor go upstairs. The visitor did so, and announced his presence at the door of the room.
'Oh, Mr. Kirkwood,' said Jane, 'I'm so sorry, but grandfather had to go out with a gentleman.'
And she waited, looking at him, a gentle warmth on her face.
'Will it be late before he comes back?' asked Sidney, his smile of greeting shadowed with disappointment.
'Not later than half-past ten, he said.'
Sidney turned his face to the stairs. The homeward prospect was dreary after that glimpse of the familiar mom through the doorway. The breach of habit discomposed him, and something more positive strengthened his reluctance to be gone. It was not his custom to hang in hesitancy and court chance by indirectness of speech; recognising and admitting his motives, he said simply:
'I should like to stay a little, if you will let me -- if I shan't be in your way?'
'Oh no! Please come in. I'm only sewing.'
There were two round-backed wooden chairs in the room; one stood on each side of the fireplace, and between them, beside the table, Jane always had her place on a small chair of the ordinary comfortless kind. She seated herself as usual, and Sidney took his familiar position, with the vacant chair opposite. Snowdon and he were accustomed to smoke their pipes whilst conversing, but this evening Sidney dispensed with tobacco.
It was very quiet here. On the floor below dwelt at present two sisters who kept themselves alive (it is quite inaccurate to use any other phrase in such instances) by doing all manner of skilful needlework; they were middle-aged women, gentle-natured, and so thoroughly subdued to the hopelessness of their lot that scarcely ever could even their footfall be heard as they went up and down stairs; their voices were always sunk to a soft murmur. Just now no infant wailing came from the Byasses' regions. Kirkwood enjoyed a sense of restfulness, intenser, perhaps, for the momentary disappointment he had encountered. He had no desire to talk; enough for a few minutes to sit and watch Jane's hand as it moved backwards and forwards with the needle.
'I went to see Pennyloaf as I came back from work,' Jane said at length, just looking up.
'Did you? Do things seem to be any better?'
'Not much, I'm afraid. Mr. Kirkwood, don't you think you might do something? If you tried again with her husband?'
'The fact is,' replied Sidney, 'I'm so afraid of doing more harm than good.'
'You think ---- But then perhaps that's just what I'm doing?'
Jane let her hand fall on the sewing and regarded him anxiously.
'No, no! I'm quite sure you can't do harm. Pennyloaf can get nothing but good from having you as a friend. She likes you; she misses you when you happen not to have seen her for a few days. I'm sorry to say it's quite a different thing with Bob and me. We're friendly enough -- as friendly as ever -- but I haven't a scrap of influence with him like you have with his wife. It was all very well to get hold of him once, and try to make him understand, in a half-joking way, that he wasn't behaving as well as he might. He didn't take it amiss -- just that once. But you can't think how difficult it is for one man to begin preaching to another. The natural thought is: Mind your own business. If I was the parson of the parish ----'
He paused, and in the same instant their eyes met. The suggestion was irresistible; Jane began to laugh merrily.
What sweet laughter it was? How unlike the shrill discord whereby the ordinary workgirl expresses her foolish mirth! For years Sidney Kirkwood had been unused to utter any sound of merriment; even his smiling was done sadly. But of late he had grown conscious of the element of joy m Jane's character, had accustomed himself to look for its manifestations -- to observe the brightening of her eyes which foretold a smile, the moving of her lips which suggested inward laughter -- and he knew that herein, as in many another matter, a profound sympathy was transforming him. Sorrow such as he had suffered will leave its mark upon the countenance long after time has done its kindly healing, and in Sidney's case there was more than the mere personal affliction tending to confirm his life in sadness. With the ripening of his intellect, he saw only more and more reason to condemn and execrate those social disorders of which his own wretched experience was but an illustration. From the first, his friendship with Snowdon had exercised upon him a subduing influence; the old man was stern enough in his criticism of society, but he did not belong to the same school as John Hewett, and the sober authority of his character made appeal to much in Sidney that had found no satisfaction amid the uproar of Clerkenwell Green. For all that, Kirkwood could not become other than himself; his vehemence was moderated, but he never affected to be at one with Snowdon in that grave enthusiasm of far-off hope which at times made the old man's speech that of an exhorting prophet. Their natural parts were reversed; the young eyes declared that they could see nothing but an horizon of blackest cloud, whilst those enfeebled by years bore ceaseless witness to the raying forth of dawn.
And so it was with a sensation of surprise that Sidney first became aware of light-heartedness in the young girl who was a silent hearer of so many lugubrious discussions. Ridiculous as it may sound -- as Sidney felt it to be -- he almost resented this evidence of happiness; to him, only just recovering from a shock which would leave its mark upon his life to the end, his youth wronged by bitter necessities, forced into brooding over problems of ill when nature would have bidden him enjoy, it seemed for the moment a sign of shallowness that Jane could look and speak cheerfully. This extreme of morbid feeling proved its own cure; even in reflecting upon it, Sidney was constrained to laugh contemptuously at himself. And therewith opened for him a new world of thought. He began to study the girl. Of course he had already occupied himself much with the peculiarities of her position, but of Jane herself he knew very little; she was still, in his imagination, the fearful and miserable child over whose shoulders he had thrown his coat one bitter night; his impulse towards her was one of compassion merely, justified now by what he heard of her mental slowness, her bodily sufferings. It would take very long to analyse the process whereby this mode of feeling was changed, until it became the sense of ever-deepening sympathy which so possessed him this evening. Little by little Jane's happiness justified itself to him, and in so doing began subtly to modify his own temper. With wonder he recognised that the poor little serf of former days had been meant by nature for one of the most joyous among children. What must that heart have suffered, so scorned and trampled upon! But now that the days of misery were over, behold nature having its way after all. If the thousands are never rescued from oppression, if they perish abortive in their wretchedness, is that a reason for refusing to rejoice with the one whom fate has blest? Sidney knew too much of Jane by this time to judge her shallow-hearted. This instinct of gladness had a very different significance from the animal vitality which prompted the constant laughter of Bessie Byass; it was but one manifestation of a moral force which made itself nobly felt in many another way. In himself Sidney was experiencing its pure effects, and it was owing to his conviction of Jane's power for good that he had made her acquainted with Bob Hewett's wife. Snowdon warmly approved of this; the suggestion led him to speak expressly of Jane, a thing he very seldom did, and to utter a strong wish that she should begin to concern herself with the sorrows she might in some measure relieve.
Sidney joined in the laughter he had excited by picturing himself the parson of the parish. But the topic under discussion was a serious one, and Jane speedily recovered her gravity.
'Yes, I see how hard it is,' she said. 'But it's a cruel thing for him to neglect poor Pennyloaf as he does. She never gave him any cause.'
'Not knowingly, I quite believe,' replied Kirkwood. 'But what a miserable home it is!'
'Yes.' Jane shook her head. 'She doesn't seem to know how to keep things in order. She doesn't seem even to understand me when I try to show her how it might be different.'
'There's the root of the trouble, Jane. What chance had Pennyloaf of ever learning how to keep a decent home, and bring up her children properly? How was she brought up? The wonder is that there's so much downright good in her; I feel the same wonder about people every day. Suppose Pennyloaf behaved as badly as her mother does, who on earth would have the right to blame her? But we can't expect miracles; so long as she lives decently, it's the most that can be looked for. And there you are; that isn't enough to keep a fellow like Bob Hewett in order. I doubt whether any wife would manage it, but as for poor Pennyloaf ----'
'I shall speak to him myself,' said Jane quietly.
'Do! There's much more hope in that than in anything I could say. Bob isn't a bad fellow; the worst thing I know of him is his conceit. He's good-looking, and he's clever in all sorts of ways, and unfortunately he can't think of anything but his own merits. Of course he'd no business to marry at all whilst he was nothing but a boy.'
Jane plied her needle, musing.
'Do you know whether he ever goes to see his father?' Sidney inquired presently.
'No, I don't,' Jane answered, looking at him, but immediately dropping her eyes.
'If he doesn't I should think worse of him. Nobody ever had a kinder father, and there's many a reason why he should be careful to pay the debt he owes.'
Jane waited a moment, then again raised her eyes to him. It seemed as though she would ask a question, and Sidney's grave attentiveness indicated a surmise of what she was about to say. But her thought remained unuttered, and there was a prolongation of silence.
Of course they were both thinking of Clara. That name had never been spoken by either of them in the other's presence, but as often as conversation turned upon the Hewetts, it was impossible for them not to supplement their spoken words by a silent colloquy of which Clara was the subject. From her grandfather Jane knew that, to this day, nothing had been heard of Hewett's daughter; what people said at the time of the girl's disappearance she had learned fully enough from Clem Peckover, who even yet found it pleasant to revive the scandal, and by contemptuous comments revenge herself for Clara's haughty usage in old days. Time had not impaired Jane's vivid recollection of that Bank-holiday morning when she herself was the first to make it known that Clara had gone away. Many a time since then she had visited the street whither Snowdon led her -- had turned aside from her wonted paths in the thought that it was not impossible she might meet Clara, though whether with more hope or fear of such a meeting she could not have said. When two years had gone by, her grandfather one day led the talk to that subject; he was then beginning to change in certain respects the tone he had hitherto used with her, and to address her as one who had outgrown childhood. He explained to her how it came about that Sidney could no longer be even on terms of acquaintance with John Hewett. The conversation originated in Jane's bringing the news that Hewett and his family had at length left Mrs. Peckover's house. For two years things had gone miserably with them, their only piece of good fortune being the death of the youngest child. John was confirmed in a habit of drinking. Not that he had become a brutal sot; sometimes for as much as a month he would keep sober, and even when he gave way to temptation he never behaved with violence to his wife and children. Still, the character of his life had once more suffered a degradation, and he possessed no friends who could be of the least use to him. Snowdon, for some reason of his own, maintained a slight intercourse with the Peckovers, and through them he endeavoured to establish an intimacy with Hewett; but the project utterly failed. Probably on Kirkwood's account, John met the old man's advances with something more than coldness. Sternly he had forbidden his wife and the little ones to exchange a word of any kind with Sidney, or with any friend of his. He appeared to nourish incessantly the bitter resentment to which he gave expression when Sidney and he last met.
There was no topic on which Sidney was more desirous of speaking with Jane than this which now occupied both their minds. How far she understood Clara's story, and his part in it, he had no knowledge; for between Snowdon and himself there had long been absolute silence on that matter. It was not improbable that Jane had been instructed in the truth; he hoped she had not been left to gather what she could from Clem Peckover's gossip. Yet the difficulty with which be found himself beset, now that an obvious opportunity offered for frank speech, was so great that, after a few struggles, he fell back on the reflection with which he was wont to soothe himself: Jane was still so young, and the progress of time, by confirming her knowledge of him, would make it all the simpler to explain the miserable past. Had he, in fact, any right to relate this story, to seek her sympathy in that direct way? It was one aspect of a very grave question which occupied more and more of Sidney's thought.
With an effort, he turned the dialogue into quite a new direction, and Jane, though a little absent for some minutes, seemed at length to forget the abruptness of the change. Sidney had of late been resuming his old interest in pencil. work; two or three of his drawings hung on these walls, and he spoke of making new sketches when he next went into the country. Years ago, one of his favourite excursions -- of the longer ones which he now and then allowed himself -- was to Danbury Hill, some five miles to the east of Chelmsford, one of the few pieces of rising ground in Essex, famous for its view over Maldon and the estuary of the Blackwater. Thither Snowdon and Jane accompanied him during the last summer but one, and the former found so much pleasure in the place that he took lodgings with certain old friends of Sidney's, and gave his granddaughter a week of healthful holiday. In the summer that followed, the lodgings were again taken for a week, and this year the same expedition was in view. Sidney had as good as promised that he would join his friends for the whole time of their absence, and now he talked with Jane of memories and anticipations. Neither was sensible how the quarters and the half-hours went by in such chatting. Sidney abandoned himself to the enjoyment of peace such as he had never known save m this room, to a delicious restfulness such as was always inspired in him by the girl's gentle voice, by her laughter, by her occasional quiet movements. The same influence was affecting his whole life. To Jane he owed the gradual transition from tumultuous politics and social bitterness to the mood which could find pleasure as of old in nature and art. This was his truer self, emancipated from the distorting effect of the evil amid which he perforce lived. He was recovering somewhat of his spontaneous boyhood; at the same time, reaching after a new ideal of existence which only ripened manhood could appreciate.
Snowdon returned at eleven; it alarmed Sidney to find how late he had allowed himself to remain, and he began shaping apologies. But the old man had nothing but the familiar smile and friendly words.
'Haven't you given Mr. Kirkwood any supper?' he asked of Jane, looking at the table.
'I really forgot all about it, grandfather,' was the laughing reply.
Then Snowdon laughed, and Sidney joined in the merriment; but he would not be persuaded to stay longer.
When Miss Peckover suggested to her affianced that their wedding might as well take place at the registry-office, seeing that there would then be no need to go to expense in the article of costume, Mr. Snowdon readily assented; at the same time it gave him new matter for speculation. Clem was not exactly the kind of girl to relinquish without good reason that public ceremony which is the dearest of all possible ceremonies to women least capable of reverencing its significance. Every day made it more obvious that the Peckovers desired to keep this marriage a secret until it was accomplished. In one way only could Joseph James account for the mystery running through the whole affair; it must be that Miss Peckover had indiscretions to conceal, certain points in her history with which she feared lest her bridegroom should be made acquainted by envious neighbours. The thought had no effect upon Mr. Snowdon save to excite his mirth; his attitude with regard to such possibilities was that of a philosopher. The views with which he was entering upon this alliance were so beautifully simple that he really did not find it worth while to puzzle further as soon as the plausible solution of his difficulties had presented itself. Should he hereafter discover that something unforeseen perturbed the smooth flow of life to which he looked forward, nothing could be easier than his remedy; the world is wide, and a cosmopolitan does not attach undue importance to a marriage contracted in one of its somewhat numerous parishes. In any case he would have found the temporary harbour of refuge which stress of weather had made necessary. He surrendered himself to the pleasant tickling of his vanity which was an immediate result of the adventure. For, whatever Clem might be hiding, it seemed to him beyond doubt that she was genuinely attracted by his personal qualities. Her demonstrations were not extravagant, but in one noteworthy respect she seemed to give evidence of a sensibility so little in keeping with her general character that it was only to be explained as the result of a strong passion. In conversing with him she at times displayed a singular timidity, a nervousness, a self-subdual surprisingly unlike anything that could be expected from her. It was true that at other moments her lover caught a gleam in her eyes, a movement of her lips, expressive of anything rather than diffidence, and tending to confirm his view of her as a cunning as well as fierce animal, but the look and tone of subjugation came often enough to make their impression predominant. One would have said that she suffered from jealous fears which for some reason she did not venture to utter. Now and then he surprised her gazing at him as if in troubled apprehension, the effect of which upon Mr. Snowdon was perhaps more flattering than any other look.
'What's up, Clem?' he inquired, on one of these occasions. 'Are you wondering whether I shall cut and leave you when we've had time to get tired of each other?'
Her face was transformed; she looked at him for an instant with fierce suspicion, then laughed disagreeably.
'We'll see about that,' was her answer, with a movement of the head and shoulders strongly reminding one of a lithe beast about to spring.
The necessary delay passed without accident. As the morning of the marriage approached there was, however, a perceptible increase of nervous restlessness in Clem. She had given up her work at Whitehead's, and contrived to keep her future husband within sight nearly all day long. Joseph James found nothing particularly irksome in this, for beer and tobacco were supplied him ad libitum, and a succession of appetising meals made the underground kitchen a place of the pleasantest associations. A loan from Mrs. Peckover had enabled him to renew his wardrobe. When the last night arrived, Clem and her mother sat conversing to a late hour, their voices again cautiously subdued. A point had been for some days at issue between them, and decision was now imperative.
'It's you as started the job,' Clem observed with emphasis, 'an' it's you as'll have to finish it.'
'And who gets most out of it, I'd like to know?' replied her mother. 'Don't be such a fool! Can't you see as it'll come easier from you? A nice thing for his mother-in-law to tell him! If you don't like to do it the first day, then leave it to the second, or third. But if you take my advice, you'll get it over the next morning.'
'You'll have to do it yourself,' Clem repeated stubbornly, propping her chin upon her fists.
'Well, I never thought as you was such a frightened babby! Frightened of a feller like him! I'd be ashamed o' myself!'
'Who's frightened? Hold your row!'
'Why, you are; what else?'
'I ain't! You'd better not make me mad, or I'll tell him before, just to spite you.'
'Spite me, you cat! What difference 'll it make to me? I'll tell you what: I've a jolly good mind to tell him myself beforehand, and then we'll see who's spited.'
In the end Clem yielded, shrugging her shoulders defiantly.
'I'll have a kitchen-knife near by when I tell him,' she remarked with decision. 'If he lays a hand on me I'll cut his face open, an' chance it!'
Mrs. Peckover smiled with tender motherly deprecation of such extreme measures. But Clem repeated her threat, and there was something in her eyes which guaranteed the possibility of its fulfilment.
No personal acquaintance of either the Peckover or the Snowdon family happened to glance over the list of names which hung in the registrar's office during these weeks. The only interested person who had foreknowledge of Clem's wedding was Jane Snowdon, and Jane, though often puzzled in thinking of the matter, kept her promise to speak of it to no one. It was imprudence in Clem to have run this risk, but the joke was so rich that she could not deny herself its enjoyment; she knew, moreover, that Jane was one of those imbecile persons who scruple about breaking a pledge. On the eve of her wedding-day she met Jane as the latter came from Whitehead's, and requested her to call in the Close next Sunday morning at twelve o'clock.
'I want you to see my 'usband,' she said, grinning. 'I'm sure you'll like him.'
Jane promised to come. On the next day, Saturday, Clem entered the registry-office in a plain dress, and after a few simple formalities came forth as Mrs. Snowdon; her usual high colour was a trifle diminished, and she kept glancing at her husband from under nervously knitted brows. Still the great event was unknown to the inhabitants of the Close. There was no feasting, and no wedding-journey; for the present Mr. and Mrs. Snowdon would take possession of two rooms on the first floor.
Twenty-four hours later, when the bells of St. James's were ringing their melodies before service, Clem requested her husband's attention to something of importance she had to tell him.
Mr. Snowdon had just finished breakfast and was on the point of lighting his pipe; with the match burning down to his fingers, he turned and regarded the speaker shrewdly. Clem's face put it beyond question that at last she was about to make a statement definitely bearing on the history of the past month. At this moment she was almost pale, and her eyes avoided his. She stood close to the table, and her right hand rested near the bread-knife; her left held a piece of paper.
'What is it?' asked Joseph James mildly. 'Go ahead, Clem.'
'You ain't bad-tempered, are you? You said you wasn't.'
'Not I! Best-tempered feller you could have come across. Look at me smiling.'
His grin was in a measure reassuring, but he had caught sight of the piece of paper in her hand, and eyed it steadily.
'You know you played mother a trick a long time ago,' Clem pursued, 'when you went off an' left that child on her 'ands.'
'Hollo! What about that?'
'Well, it wouldn't be nothing but fair if someone was to go and play tricks with you -- just to pay you off in a friendly sort o' way -- see?'
Mr. Snowdon still smiled, but dubiously.
'Out with it!' he muttered. 'I'd have bet a trifle there was some game on. You're welcome, old girl. Out with it!'
'Did you know as I'd got a brother in 'Stralia -- him as you used to know when you lived here before?'
'You said you didn't know where he was.'
'No more we do -- not just now. But he wrote mother a letter about this time last year, an' there's something in it as I'd like you to see. You'd better read for yourself.'
Her husband laid down his pipe on the mantel-piece and began to cast his eye over the letter, which was much defaced by frequent foldings, and in any case would have been difficult to decipher, so vilely was it scrawled. But Mr. Snowdon's interest was strongly excited, and in a few moments he had made out the following communication:
'I don't begin with no deering, because it's a plaid out thing, and because I'm riting to too people at onse, both mother and Clem, and it's so long since I've had a pen in my hand I've harf forgot how to use it. If you think I'm making my pile, you think rong, so you've got no need to ask me when I'm going to send money home, like you did in the last letter. I jest keep myself and that's about all, because things ain't what they used to be in this busted up country. And that remminds me what it was as I ment to tell you when I cold get a bit of time to rite. Not so long ago, I met a chap as used to work for somebody called Snowdon, and from what I can make out it was Snowdon's brother at home, him as we use to ere so much about. He'd made his pile, this Snowdon, you bet, and Ned Williams says he died worth no end of thousands. Not so long before he died, his old farther from England came out to live with him; then Snowdon and a son as he had both got drownded going over a river at night. And Ned says as all the money went to the old bloak and to a brother in England, and that's what he herd when he was paid off. The o]d farther made traks very soon, and they sed he'd gone back to England. So it seams to me as you ouht to find Snowdon and make him pay up what he ose you. And I don't know as I've anything more to tell you both, ecsep I'm working at a place as I don't know how to spell, and it woldn't be no good if I did, because there's no saying were I shall be before you could rite back. So good luck to you both, from yours truly, W. P.'
In reading, Joseph James scratched his bald head thoughtfully. Before he had reached the end there were signs of emotion in his projecting lower lip. At length he regarded Clem, no longer smiling, but without any of the wrath she had anticipated.
'Ha, ha! This was your game, was it? Well, I don't object, old girl -- so long as you tell me a bit more about it. Now there's no need for any more lies, perhaps you'll mention where the old fellow is.'
'He's livin' not so far away, an' Jane with him.'
Put somewhat at her ease, Clem drew her hand from the neighbourhood of the bread-knife, and detailed all she knew with regard to old Mr. Snowdon and his affairs. Her mother had from the first suspected that he possessed money, seeing that he paid, with very little demur, the sum she demanded for Jane's board and lodging. True, he went to live in poor lodgings, but that was doubtless a personal eccentricity. An important piece of evidence subsequently forthcoming was the fact that in sundry newspapers there appeared advertisements addressed to Joseph James Snowdon, requesting him to communicate with Messrs. Percival & Peel of Furnival's Inn, whereupon Mrs. Peckover made inquiries of the legal firm in question (by means of an anonymous letter), and received a simple assurance that Mr. Snowdon was being sought for his own advantage.
'You're cool hands, you and your mother,' observed Joseph James, with a certain involuntary admiration. 'This was not quite three years ago, you say; just when I was in America. Ha -- hum! What I can't make out is, how the devil that brother of mine came to leave anything to me. We never did anything but curse each other from the time we were children to when we parted for good. And so the old man went out to Australia, did he? That's a rum affair, too; Mike and he could never get on together. Well, I suppose there's no mistake about it. I shouldn't much mind if there was, just to see the face you'd pull, young woman. On the whole, perhaps it's as well for you that I am fairly good-tempered -- eh?'
Clem stood apart, smiling dubiously, now and then eyeing him askance. His last words once more put her on her guard; she moved towards the table again.
'Give me the address,' said her husband. 'I'll go and have a talk with my relations. What sort of a girl's Janey grown up -- eh?'
'If you'll wait a bit, you can see for yourself. She's goin' to call here at twelve.'
'Oh, she is? I suppose you've arranged a pleasant little surprise for her? Well, I must say you're a cool band, Clem. I shouldn't wonder if she's been in the house several times since I've been here?'
'No, she hasn't. It wouldn't have been safe, you see.'
'Give me the corkscrew, and I'll open this bottle of whisky. It takes it out of a fellow, this kind of thing. Here's to you, Mrs. Clem! Have a drink? All right; go downstairs and show your mother you're alive still; and let me know when Jane comes. I want to think a bit.'
When he had sat for a quarter of an hour in solitary reflection the door opened, and Clem led into the room a young girl, whose face expressed timid curiosity. Joseph James stood up, joined his hands under his coat-tail, and examined the stranger.
'Do you know who it is?' asked Clem of her companion.
'Your husband -- but I don't know his name.'
'You ought to, it seems to me,' said Clem, giggling. 'Look at him.'
Jane tried to regard the man for a moment. Her cheeks flushed with confusion. Again she looked at him, and the colour rapidly faded. In her eyes was a strange light of painfully struggling recollection. She turned to Clem, and read her countenance with distress.
'Well, I'm quite sure I should never have known you, Janey,' said Snowdon, advancing. 'Don't you remember your father?'
Yes; as soon as consciousness could reconcile what seemed impossibilities Jane had remembered him. She was not seven years old when he forsook her, and a life of anything but orderly progress had told upon his features. Nevertheless Jane recognised the face she had never had cause to love, recognised yet more certainly the voice which carried her back to childhood. But what did it all mean? The shock was making her heart throb as it was wont to do before her fits of illness. She looked about her with dazed eyes.
'Sit down, sit down,' said her father, not without a note of genuine feeling. 'It's been a bit too much for you -- like something else was for me just now. Put some water in that glass, Clem; a drop of this will do her good.'
The smell of what was offered her proved sufficient to restore Jane; she shook her head and put the glass away. After an uncomfortable silence, during which Joseph dragged his feet about the floor, Clem remarked:
'He wants you to take him home to see your grandfather, Jane. There's been reasons why he couldn't go before. Hadn't you better go at once, Jo?'
Jane rose and waited whilst her father assumed his hat and drew on a new pair of gloves. She could not look at either husband or wife. Presently she found herself in the street, walking without consciousness of things in the homeward direction.
'You've grown up a very nice, modest girl, Jane,' was her father's first observation. 'I can see your grandfather has taken good care of you.'
He tried to speak as if the situation were perfectly simple. Jane could find no reply.
'I thought it was better,' he continued, in the same matter-of-fact voice, 'not to see either of you till this marriage of mine was over. I've had a great deal of trouble in life -- I'll tell you all about it some day, my dear -- and I wanted just to settle myself before -- I dare say you'll understand what I mean. I suppose your grandfather has often spoken to you about me?'
'Not very often, father,' was the murmured answer.
'Well, well; things'll soon be set right. I feel quite proud of you, Janey; I do, indeed. And I suppose you just keep house for him, eh?'
'I go to work as well.'
'What? You go to work? How's that, I wonder?'
'Didn't Miss Peckover tell you?'
Joseph laughed. The girl could not grasp all these astonishing facts at once, and the presence of her father made her forget who Miss Peckover had become.
'You mean my wife, Janey! No, no; she didn't tell me you went to work; -- an accident. But I'm delighted you and Clem are such good friends. Kind-hearted girl, isn't she?'
Jane whispered an assent.
'No doubt your grandfather often tells you about Australia, and your uncle that died there?'
'No, he never speaks of Australia. And I never heard of my uncle.'
'Indeed? Ha -- hum!'
Joseph continued his examination all the way to Hanover Street, often expressing surprise, but never varying from the tone of affection and geniality. When they reached the door of the house he said:
'Just let me go into the room by myself. I think it'll be better. He's alone, isn't he?'
'Yes. I'll come up and show you the door.'
She did so, then turned aside into her own room, where she sat motionless for a long time.
Michael Snowdon -- to distinguish the old man by name from the son who thus unexpectedly returned to him -- professed no formal religion. He attended no Sunday service, nor had ever shown a wish that Jane should do so. We have seen that he used the Bible as a source of moral instruction; Jane and he still read passages together on a Sunday morning, but only such were chosen as had a purely human significance, and the comments to which they gave occasion never had any but a human bearing. Doubtless Jane reflected on these things; it was her grandfather's purpose to lead her to such reflection, without himself dogmatising on questions which from his own point of view were unimportant. That Jane should possess the religious spirit was a desire he never lost sight of; the single purpose of his life was involved therein; but formalism was against the bent of his nature. Born and bred amid the indifference of. the London working classes, he was one of the very numerous thinking men who have never needed to cast aside a faith of childhood; from the dawn of rationality, they simply stand apart from all religious dogmas, unable to understand the desire of such helps to conduct, untouched by spiritual trouble -- as that phrase is commonly interpreted. And it seemed that Jane closely resembled him in this matter. Sensitive to every prompting of humanity, instinct with moral earnestness, she betrayed no slightest tendency to the religion of church, chapel, or street-corner. A promenade of the Salvation Army half-puzzled, half-amused her; she spoke of it altogether without intolerance, as did her grandfather, but never dreamt that it was a phenomenon which could gravely concern her. Prayers she had never said; enough that her last thought before sleeping was one of kindness to those beings amid whom she lived her life, that on awaking her mind turned most naturally to projects of duty and helpfulness.
Excepting the Bible, Snowdon seldom made use of books either for inquiry or amusement. Very imperfectly educated in his youth, he had never found leisure for enriching his mind in the ordinary way until it was too late; as an old man he had so much occupation in his thoughts that the printed page made little appeal to him. Till quite recently he had been in the habit of walking for several hours daily, always choosing poor districts; now that his bodily powers were sensibly failing him, he passed more and more of his time in profound brooding, so forgetful of external things that Jane, on her return from work, had more than once been troubled by noticing that he had taken no midday meal. It was in unconsciousness such as this that he sat when his son Joseph, receiving no reply to his knock, opened the door and entered; but that his eyes were open, the posture of his body and the forward drooping of his head would have made it appear that he slept. Joseph stepped towards him, and at length the old man looked up. He gazed at his visitor first unintelligently, then with wonder and growing emotion.
'Jo? -- Jo, at last? You were in my mind only a few minutes ago, but I saw you as a boy.'
He rose from the chair and held out both his hands, trembling more than they were wont to do.
'I almost wonder you knew me,' said Joseph. 'It's seventeen years since we saw each other. It was all Jane could do to remember me.'
'Jane? Where have you seen her? At the house in the Close?'
'Yes. It was me she went to see, but she didn't know it. I've just been married to Miss Peckover. Sit down again, father, and let's talk over things quietly.'
'Married to Miss Peckover?' repeated the old man, as if making an effort to understand the words. 'Then why didn't you come here before?'
Joseph gave the explanation which he had already devised for the benefit of his daughter. His manner of speaking was meant to be very respectful, but it suggested that he looked upon the hearer as suffering from feebleness of mind, as well as of body. He supplemented his sentences with gestures and smiles, glancing about the room meantime with looks of much curiosity.
'So you've been living here a long time, father? It was uncommonly good of you to take care of my girl. I dare say you've got so used to having her by you, you wouldn't care for her to go away now?'
'Do you wish to take Jane away?' Michael inquired gravely.
'No, no; not I! Why, it's nothing but her duty to keep you company and be what use she can. She's happy enough, that I can see. Well, well; I've gone through a good deal since the old days, father, and I'm not what you used to know me. I'm gladder than I can say to find you so easy in your old age. Neither Mike nor me did our duty by you, that's only too sure. I wish I could have the time back again; but what's the good of that? Can you tell me anything about Mike?'
'Yes. He died in Australia, about four years ago.'
'Did he now? Well, I've been in America, but I never got so far as Australia. So Mike's dead, is he? I hope he had better luck than me.'
The old man did not cease from examining his son's countenance.
'What is your position, at present?' he asked, after a pause. 'You don't look unprosperous.'
'Nothing to boast of, father. I've gone through all kinds of trades. In the States I both made and lost money. I invented a new method of nickel-plating, but it did me no good, and then I gave up that line altogether. Since I've been back in England -- two years about -- I've mostly gone in for canvassing, advertising agencies, and that kind of thing. I make an honest living, and that's about all. But I shouldn't wonder if things go a bit better now; I feel as if I was settled at last. What with having a home of my own, and you and Janey near at hand ---- You won't mind if I come and see you both now and then?'
'I shall hope to see you often,' replied the other, still keeping his grave face and tone. 'It's been my strong desire that we might come together again, and I've done the best I could to find you. But, as you said, we've been parted for a very long time, and it isn't in a day that we can come to understand each other. These seventeen years have made an old man of me, Jo; I think and speak and act slowly: -- better for us all if I had learned to do so long ago! Your coming was unexpected; I shall need a little time to get used to the change it makes.'
'To be sure; that's true enough. Plenty of time to talk over things. As far as I'm concerned, father, the less said about bygones the better; it's the future that I care about now. I want to put things right between us -- as they ought to be between father and son. You understand me, I hope?'
Michael nodded, keeping his eyes upon the ground. Again there was a silence, then Joseph said that if Jane would come in and speak a few words -- so as to make things home-like -- it would be time for him to take his leave for the present. At her grandfather's summons Jane entered the room. She was still oppressed by the strangeness of her position, and with difficulty took part in the colloquy. Joseph, still touching the note of humility in his talk, eyed his relatives alternately, and exhibited reluctance to quit them.
When he returned to the Close, it was with a face expressing dissatisfaction. Clem's eager inquiries he met at first with an ill-tempered phrase or two, which informed her of nothing; but when dinner was over he allowed himself to be drawn into a confidential talk, in which Mrs. Peckover took part. The old man, he remarked, was devilish close; it looked as if 'some game was on.' Mrs. Peckover ridiculed this remark; of course there was a game on; she spoke of Sidney Kirkwood, the influence he had obtained over Snowdon, the designs he was obviously pursuing. If Joseph thought he would recover his rights, at this time of day, save by direct measures, it only proved how needful it was for him to be instructed by shrewd people. The old man was a hard nut to crack; why he lived in Hanover Street, and sent Jane to work, when it was certain that he had wealth at command, Mrs. Peckover could not pretend to explain, but in all probability he found a pleasure in accumulating money, and was abetted therein by Sidney Kirkwood. Clem could bear witness that Jane always seemed to have secrets to hide; nevertheless a good deal of information had been extracted from the girl during the last year or so, and it all went to confirm the views which Mrs. Peckover now put forth. After long discussion, it was resolved that Joseph should call upon the lawyers whose names had appeared in the advertisement addressed to himself. If he was met with any shuffling, or if they merely referred him to his father, the next step would be plain enough.
Clem began to exhibit sullenness; her words were few, and it was fortunate for Joseph that he could oppose a philosophical indifference to the trouble with which his honeymoon was threatened. As early as possible on Monday morning he ascended the stairs of a building in Furnival's Inn and discovered the office Of Messrs. Percival and Feel. He was hesitating whether to knock or simply turn the handle, when a man came up to the same door, with the quick step of one at home in the place.
'Business with us?' inquired the newcomer, as Joseph drew back.
They looked at each other. He who had spoken was comparatively a young man, dressed with much propriety, gravely polite in manner.
'Ha! How do you do?' exclaimed Snowdon, with embarrassment, and in an undertone. 'I wasn't expecting ----'
The recognition was mutual, and whilst Joseph, though disconcerted, expressed his feelings in a familiar smile, the other cast a quick glance of uneasiness towards the stairs, his mouth compressed, his eyebrows twitching a little.
'Business with Mr. Percival?' he inquired confidentially, but without Joseph's familiar accentuation.
'Yes. That is ---- Is he here?'
'Won't be for another hour. Anything I could see about for you?'
Joseph moved in uncertainty, debating with himself. Their eyes met again.
'Well, we might have a word or two about it,' he said. 'Better meet somewhere else, perhaps?'
'Could you be at the top of Chancery Lane at six o'clock?'
With a look of mutual understanding, they parted. Joseph went home, and explained that, to his surprise, he had found an old acquaintance at the lawyer's office, a man named Scawthorne, whom lie was going to see in private before having an interview with the lawyer himself. At six o'clock the appointed meeting took place, and from Chancery Lane the pair walked to a quiet house of refreshment in the vicinity of Lincoln's Inn Fields. On the way they exchanged a few insignificant remarks, having reference to a former intimacy and a period during which they had not come across each other. Established in a semi-private room, with a modest stimulant to aid conversation, they became more at ease; Mr. Scawthorne allowed himself a discreet smile, and Joseph, fingering his glass, broached the matter at issue with a cautious question.
'Do you know anything of a man called Snowdon?'
'Joseph James Snowdon -- a friend of mine. Your people advertised for him about three years ago. Perhaps you haven't been at the office as long as that?'
'Oh yes. I remember the name. What about him?'
'Your people wanted to find him -- something to his advantage. Do you happen to know whether it's any use his coming forward now?'
Mr. Scawthorne was not distinguished by directness of gaze. He had handsome features, and a not unpleasant cast of countenance, but something, possibly the habit of professional prudence, made his regard coldly, fitfully, absently observant. It was markedly so as he turned his face towards Joseph whilst the latter was speaking. After a moment's silence he remarked, without emphasis:
'A relative of yours, you said?'
'No, I said a friend -- intimate friend. Polkenhorne knows him too.'
'Does he? I haven't seen Polkenhorne for a long time.'
'You don't care to talk about the business? Perhaps you'd better introduce me to Mr. Percival.'
'By the name of Camden?'
'Hang it! I may as well tell you at once. Snowdon is my own name.'
'Indeed? And how am I to be sure of that?'
'Come and see me where I'm living, in Clerkenwell Close, and then make inquiries of my father, in Hanover Street, Islington. There's no reason now for keeping up the old name -- a little affair -- all put right. But the fact is, I'd as soon find out what this business is with your office without my father knowing. I have reasons; shouldn't mind talking them over with you, if you can give me the information I want.'
'I can do that,' replied Scawthorne with a smile. 'If you are J. J. Snowdon, you are requested to communicate with Michael Snowdon -- that's all.'
'Oh! but I have communicated with him, and he's nothing particular to say to me, as far as I can see.'
Scawthorne sipped at his glass, gave a stroke to each side of his moustache, and seemed to reflect.
'You were coming to ask Mr. Percival privately for information?'
'That's just it. Of course if you can't give me any, I must see him to-morrow.'
'He won't tell you anything more than I have.'
'And you don't know anything more?'
'I didn't say that, my dear fellow. Suppose you begin by telling me a little more about yourself?'
It was a matter of time, but at length the dialogue took another character. The glasses of stimulant were renewed, and as Joseph grew expansive Scawthorne laid aside something of his professional reserve, without, however, losing the discretion which led him to subdue his voice and express himself in uncompromising phrases. Their sitting lasted about an hour, and before taking leave of each other they arranged for a meeting at a different place in the course of a few days.
Joseph walked homewards with deliberation, in absent mood, his countenance alternating strangely between a look of mischievous jocoseness and irritable concern; occasionally he muttered to himself. Just before reaching the Close he turned into a public-house; when he came forth the malicious smile was on his face, and he walked with the air of a man who bas business of moment before him. He admitted himself to the house.
'That you, Jo?' cried Clem's voice from upstairs.
'Me, sure enough,' was the reply, with a chuckle. 'Come up sharp, then.'
Humming a tune, Joseph ascended to the sitting-room on the first floor, and threw himself on a seat. His wife stood just in front of him, her sturdy arms a-kimbo; her look was fiercely expectant, answering in some degree to the smile with which he looked here and there.
'Well, can't you speak?'
'No hurry, Mrs. Clem; no hurry, my dear. It's all right. The old man's rolling in money.'
'And what about your share?'
Joseph laughed obstreperously, his wife's brow lowering the while.
'Just tell me, can't you?' she cried.
'Of course I will. The best joke you ever heard. You had yours yesterday, Mrs. Clem; my turn comes to-day. My share is -- just nothing at all. Not a penny! Not a cent! Swallow that, old girl, and tell me how it tastes.'
'You're a liar!' shouted the other, her face flushing scarlet, her eyes aflame with rage.
'Never told a lie in my life,' replied her husband, still laughing noisily. But for that last glass of cordial on the way home he could scarcely have enjoyed so thoroughly the dramatic flavour of the situation. Joseph was neither a bully nor a man of courage; the joke with which he was delighting himself was certainly a rich one, but it had its element of danger, and only by abandoning himself to riotous mirth could he overcome the nervousness with which Clem's fury threatened to affect him. She, coming forward in the attitude of an enraged fishwife, for a few moments made the room ring with foul abuse, that vituperative vernacular of the nether world, which has never yet been exhibited by typography, and presumably never will be.
'Go it, Clem!' cried her husband, pushing his chair a little back. 'Go it, my angel! When you've eased your mind a little, I'll explain how it happens.'
She became silent, glaring at him with murderous eyes. But just at that moment Mrs. Peckover put her head in at the door, inquiring 'What's up?'
'Come in, if you want to know,' cried her daughter. 'See what you've let me in for! Didn't I tell you as it might be all a mistake? Oh yes, you may look!'
Mrs. Peckover was startled; her small, cunning eyes went rapidly from Clem to Joseph, and she fixed the latter with a gaze of angry suspicion.
'Got a bit of news for you, mother,' resumed Joseph, nodding. 'You and Clem were precious artful, weren't you now? It's my turn now. Thought I'd got money -- ha, ha!'
'And so you have,' replied Mrs. Peckover. 'We know all about it, so you needn't try your little game.'
'Know all about it, do you? Well, see here. My brother Mike died out in Australia, and his son died at the same time -- they was drowned. Mike left no will, and his wife was dead before him. What's the law, eh? Pity you didn't make sure of that. Why, all his money went to the old man, every cent of it. I've no claim on a penny. That's the law, my pretty dears!'
'He's a ---- liar!' roared Clem, who at the best of times would have brought small understanding to a legal question. 'What did my brother say in his letter?'
'He was told wrong, that's all, or else he got the idea out of his own head.'
'Then why did they advertise for you?' inquired Mrs. Peckover, keeping perfect command of her temper.
'The old man thought he'd like to find his son again, that's all. Ha, ha! Why can't you take it good-humoured, Clem? You had your joke yesterday, and you can't say I cut up rough about it. I'm a good-natured fellow, I am. There's many a man would have broke every bone in your body, my angel, you just remember that!'
It rather seemed as if the merry proceeding would in this case be reversed; Joseph had risen, and was prepared to defend himself from an onslaught. But Mrs. Peckover came between the newly-wedded pair, and by degrees induced Clem to take a calmer view of the situation, or at all events to postpone her vengeance. It was absurd, she argued, to act as if the matter were hopeless. Michael Snowdon would certainly leave Joseph money in his will, if only the right steps were taken to secure his favour. Instead of quarrelling, they must put their heads together and scheme. She had her ideas; let them listen to her.
'Clem, you go and get a pot of old six for supper, and don't be such a ---- fool,' was her final remark.
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