One Monday afternoon at the end of October -- three months had gone by since the trial -- Waymark carried his rents to St. John Street Road as usual.
"I'm going to Tottenham," said Mr. Woodstock. "You may as well come with me."
"By the by, I finished my novel the other day," Waymark said, as they drove northward.
"That's right. No doubt you're on your way to glory, as the hymn says."
Abraham was in good spirits. One would have said that he had grown younger of late. That heaviness and tendency to absent brooding which not long ago seemed to indicate the tightening grip of age, was disappearing; he was once more active and loud and full of his old interests.
"How's Casti?" Mr. Woodstock went on to ask.
"A good deal better, I think, but shaky. Of course things will be as bad as ever when his wife comes out of the hospital."
"Pity she can't come out heels first," muttered Abraham.
Waymark found that the purpose of their journey was to inspect a large vacant house, with a good garden and some fine trees about it. The old man wished for his opinion, and, by degrees, let it be known that he thought of buying the property.
"I suppose you think me an old fool to want a house like this at my time of life, eh?"
There was a twinkle in his eye, and a moment after he fairly burst into a laugh of pleasure. Waymark asked no questions, and received no more information; but a thought rose in his mind which occupied him for the rest of the day.
In the evening Julian came. He looked like one who had recovered from a long illness, very pale and thin, and his voice had tremblings and uncertainties of key. In fact, a feverish disorder had been upon him for some weeks, never severe enough to prevent his getting about, but weakening him to a serious degree. It would doubtless have developed into some more pronounced illness, but for the period of comparative rest and quietness which had begun shortly after the miseries of the trial. Harriet's ailments had all at once taken such a decided turn for the worse -- her fits becoming incessant, and other disorders traceable to the same source suddenly taking hold upon her -- that Julian had obtained her admission to the hospital, where she still remained. He went to see her in the ward two or three times a week, though he dreaded the necessity. From little incidents which occurred at such times, he was convinced that all her fellow-patients, as well as the "sister" and nurses of the wards, had been prejudiced against him by her reports and accusations. To meet their looks occasioned him the most acute suffering. Sometimes he sat by the bedside for half an hour without speaking, then rose and hastened away to hide himself and be alone with his misery.
He was earnest and eager to-night in his praise of Waymark's book, which he had just read in manuscript.
"It is horrible," he exclaimed; "often hideous and revolting to me; but I feel its absolute truth. Such a book will do more good than half a dozen religious societies."
"If only people can be got to read it. Yet I care nothing for that aspect of the thing. Is it artistically strong? Is it good as a picture? There was a time when I might have written in this way with a declared social object. That is all gone by. I have no longer a spark of social enthusiasm. Art is all I now care for, and as art I wish my work to be judged."
"One would have thought," said Julian, "that increased knowledge of these fearful things would have had just the opposite effect."
"Yes," exclaimed the other, with the smile which always prefaced some piece of self-dissection, "and so it would in the case of a man born to be a radical. I often amuse myself with taking to pieces my former self. I was not a conscious hypocrite in those days of violent radicalism, working-man's-club lecturing, and the like; the fault was that I understood myself as yet so imperfectly. That zeal on behalf of the suffering masses was nothing more nor less than disguised zeal on behalf of my own starved passions. I was poor and desperate, life had no pleasures, the future seemed hopeless, yet I was overflowing with vehement desires, every nerve in me was a hunger which cried to be appeased. I identified myself with the poor and ignorant; I did not make their cause my own, but my own cause theirs. I raved for freedom because I was myself in the bondage of unsatisfiable longing."
"Well," he went on, after regarding his listener with still the same smile, "I have come out of all that, in proportion as my artistic self-consciousness has developed. For one thing, I am not so miserable as I was then, personally; then again, I have found my vocation. You know pretty well the phases I have passed through. Upon ranting radicalism followed a period of philosophical study. My philosophy, I have come to see, was worth nothing; what philosophy is worth anything? It had its use for myself, however; it made me by degrees self-conscious, and brought me to see that in art alone I could find full satisfaction."
"Yet," urged Julian, "the old direction still shows itself in your choice of subjects. Granting that this is pure art, it is a kind of art only possible to an age in which the social question is predominant."
"True, very likely. Every strong individuality is more or less the expression of its age. This direction may be imposed upon me; for all that, I understand why I pursue it."
After reflecting, Julian spoke in another tone. "Imagine yourself in my position. Could you appreciate the artistic effect of your own circumstances?"
"Probably not. And it is because I recognise that, that I grow more and more careful to hold aloof from situations that would threaten my peace of mind. My artistic egotism bids fair to ally itself with vulgar selfishness. That tendency I must resist. For the artist ought to be able to make material of his own sufferings, even while the suffering is at its height. To what other end does he suffer? In very deed, he is the only man whose misery finds justification in apparent result."
"I am not an artist," sighed Julian.
"On the contrary, I firmly believe that you are. And it makes me angry to see the impulse dying in you."
"What am I to do?" Julian cried, almost with a voice of anguish. "I am so helpless, so hopelessly fettered! Release is impossible. No words could express the desperate struggles I go through when I recognise how my life is being wasted and my powers, whatever they may be, numbed and crushed. Something I might do, if I were free; I feel that! But there is no hope of freedom. I shall fall into darker and darker depths of weakness and ruin, always conscious of what I am losing. What will be the end?"
"What the end will be, under the present circumstances, is only too clear to me. But it might easily be averted?"
"How? Give me some practical advice, Waymark! Let us talk of the matter freely. Tell me what you would do!"
Waymark thought for a moment.
"Does there seem any chance of her health being permanently improved ?" he asked.
"I can't say. She says she is better. It's no use my asking the doctors; they despise me, and would not think of treating me with any consideration."
"Why don't you do this?" began Waymark, after another pause. "Use all means to find some convalescent home where she can be received when she leaves the hospital. Then, if her fits and the rest of it still continue, find some permanent place for her. You can afford it. Never mind if it reduces you for a time to a garret and a crust."
"She would refuse to go to such places," said Julian despondently.
"Then refuse to take her back! Sell your furniture; take one room for yourself; and tell her she must live where she likes on a sufficient allowance from you."
"I dare not. It is impossible. She would never leave me in peace."
"You will have to do this ultimately, if you are to continue to live. Of that there is no doubt. So why not now?"
"I must think; it is impossible to make up my mind to such a thing at once. I know you advise what is best; I have thought of it myself. But I shall never have the courage! I am so miserably weak. If only I could get my health back! Good God, how I suffer!"
Waymark did his best to familiarise Julian with the thought, and to foster in him something of resoluteness, but he had small hope of succeeding. The poor fellow was so incapable of anything which at all resembled selfishness, and so dreaded the results of any such severity on his part as that proposed. There were moments when indignation almost nerved him to independence, but there returned so soon the souse of pity, and, oftener still, the thought of that promise made to Harriet's father, long ago, in the dark little parlour which smelt of drugs. The poor chemist, whose own life was full of misery, had been everything to him; but for Mr. Smales, he might now have been an ignorant, coarse-handed working man, if not worse. Was Harriet past all rescue?Was there not even yet a chance of saving her from herself and those hateful friends of hers?
This was the natural reaction after listening to Waymark's remorseless counsel. Going home, Julian fought once more the battle with himself, till the usual troubled sleep severed his thoughts into fragments of horrible dreams. The next day he felt differently; Waymark's advice seemed more practical. In the afternoon he should have visited Harriet in the ward, but an insuperable repulsion kept him away, and for the first time. It was a bleak, cheerless day; the air was cold with the breath of the nearing winter; At night he found it impossible to sit in his own room, and dreaded to talk with any one. His thoughts were fixed upon one place; a great longing drew him forth, into the darkness and the rain of the streets, onwards in a fixed direction. It brought him to Westminster, and to the gate of Tothill Fields Prison. The fetters upon the great doors were hideous in the light of the lamps above them; the mean houses around the gaol seemed to be rotting in its accursed shadow. A deadly stillness possessed the air; there was blight in the dropping of the rain.
He leaned against the great, gloomy wall, and thought of Ida. At this hour she was most likely asleep, unless sorrow kept her waking. What unimagined horrors did she suffer day after day in that accursed prison-house? How did she bear her torments? Was she well or ill? What brutality might she not be subjected to? He pictured her face wasted with secret tears, those eyes which were the light of his soul fixed on the walls of the cell, hour after hour, in changeless despair, the fire of passionate resentment feeding at her life's core.
The night became calmer. The rained ceased, and a sudden gleam made him look up, to behold the moon breaking her way through billows of darkness.
The Enderbys were at Brighton during the autumn. Mr. Enderby only remained with them two or three days at a time, business requiring his frequent presence in town. Maud would have been glad to spend her holidays at some far quieter place, but her mother enjoyed Brighton, and threw herself into its amusements of the place with spirits which seemed to grow younger. They occupied handsome rooms, and altogether lived in a more expensive way than when at home.
Maud was glad to see her mother happy, but could not be at ease herself in this kind of life. It was soon arranged that she should live in her own way, withholding from the social riot which she dreaded, and seeking rest in out-of-the-way parts of the shore, where more of nature was to be found and less of fashion. Maud feared lest her mother should feel this as an unkind desertion, but Mrs. Enderby was far from any such trouble; it relieved her from the occasional disadvantage of having by her side a grown-up daughter, whose beauty so strongly contrasted with her own. So Maud spent her days very frequently in exploring the Downs, or in seeking out retired nooks beneath the cliffs, where there was no sound in her ears but that of the waves. She would sit for hours with no companion save her thoughts, which were unconsciously led from phase to phase by the moving lights and shadows upon the sea, and the soft beauty of unstable clouds.
Even before leaving London, she had begun to experience a frequent sadness of mood, tending at times to weariness and depression, which foreshadowed new changes in her inner life. The fresh delight in nature and art had worn off in some degree; she read less, and her thoughts took the habit of musing upon the people and circumstances about her, also upon the secrets of the years to come. She grew more conscious of the mystery in her own earlier life, and in the conditions which now surrounded her. A sense which at times besets all imaginative minds came upon her now and then with painful force; a fantastic unreality would suddenly possess all she saw and heard; it seemed as if she had been of a sudden transported out of the old existence into this new and unrealised position; if any person spoke to her, it was difficult to feel that she was really addressed and must reply; was it not all a mere vision she was beholding, out of which she would presently awake! Such moments were followed by dark melancholy. This life she was leading could not last, but would pass away in some fearful shock of soul. Once she half believed herself endowed with the curse of a hideous second-sight. Sitting with her father and mother, silence all at once fell upon the room, and everything was transfigured in a ghostly light. Distinctly she saw her mother throw her head back and raise to her throat what seemed to be a sharp, glistening piece of steel; then came a cry, and all was darkened before her eyes in a rush of crimson mist. The cry she had herself uttered, much to her parents' alarm; what her mother held was in reality only a paper-knife, with which she had been tapping her lips in thought. A slight attack of illness followed on this disturbance, and it was some days before she recovered from the shock; she kept to herself, however, the horrible picture which her imagination had conjured up.
She began to pay more frequent visits to her aunt Theresa, whom at first she had seen very seldom. There was not the old confidence between them. Maud shrank from any direct reference to the change in herself, and Miss Bygrave spoke no word which could suggest a comparison between past and present. Maud tried once more to draw near to the pale, austere woman, whose life ever remained the same. She was not repelled, but neither did any movement respond to her yearning. She always came away with a sad heart.
One evening in the week she looked forward to with eagerness; it was that on which Waymark was generally expected. In Waymark's presence she could forget those dark spirits that hovered about her; she could forget herself, and be at rest in the contemplation of strength and confidence. There was a ring in his voice which inspired faith; whatever might be his own doubts and difficulties -- and his face testified to his knowledge of both -- it was so certain that he had power to overcome them. This characteristic grew stronger in him to her observation; he was a far other man now than when she first knew him; the darkness had passed from his eyes, which seemed always to look straight forward, and with perception of an end he was nearing. Why could she not make opportunities of speaking freely with him, alone with him? They were less near to each other, it seemed, after a year of constant meeting, than in the times when, personally all but strangers, they had corresponded so frankly and unconventionally. Of course he came to the house for her sake; it could not but be so; yet at times he seemed to pay so little attention to her. Her mother often monopolised him through a whole evening, and not apparently to his annoyance. And all the time he had in his heart the message for which she longed; support and comfort were waiting for her there, she felt sure, could he but speak unrestrainedly. In herself was no salvation; but he had already overcome, and why could she not ask him for the secret of his confidence? Often, as the evening drew to an end, and he was preparing to leave, an impatience scarcely to be repressed took hold upon her; her face grew hot, her hands trembled, she would have followed him from the room and begged for one word to herself had it been possible. And when he was gone, there came the weakest moments her life had yet known; a childish petulance, a tearful fretting, an irritable misery of which she was ashamed. She went to her room to suffer in silence, and often to read through that packet of his letters, till the night was far spent.
It had cost her much to leave London. She feared lest, during her absence, something should occur to break off the wonted course of things, and that Waymark might not resume his visits on their return. After the feverish interval of those first weeks, she tried sometimes to distract her thoughts by reading, and got from a library a book which Waymark had recommended to her at their last meeting -- Rossetti's poems. These gave her much help in restoring her mind to quietness. Their perfect beauty entranced her, and the rapturous purity of ideal passion, the mystic delicacies of emotion, which made every verse gleam like a star, held her for the time high above that gloomy cloudland of her being, rife with weird shapes and muffled voices. That Beauty is solace of life, and Love the end of being, -- this faith she would cling to in spite of all; she grasped it with the desperate force of one who dreaded lest it should fade and fail from her. Beauty alone would not suffice; too often it was perceived as a mere mask, veiling horrors; but in the passion and the worship of love was surely a never-failing fountain of growth and power; this the draught that would leave no bitter aftertaste, its enjoyment the final and all-sufficient answer to the riddle of life. Rossetti put into utterance for her so much that she had not dared to entrust even to the voice of thought. Her spirit and flesh became one and indivisible; the old antagonism seemed at an end for ever.
Such dreamings as these naturally heightened Maud's dislike for the kind of life her mother led, and she longed unspeakably for the time of her return to London. They had been at Brighton already nearly a month, when a new circumstance was added to her discomfort. As she walked with her mother one day, they met their acquaintance, Mr. Budge. This gentleman dined with them that evening at Mrs. Enderby's invitation, and persuaded the latter to join a party he had made up for an excursion on the following day. Maud excused herself. She did not like Mr. Budge, and his demeanour during the evening only strengthened her prejudice. He was unduly excited and fervent, and allowed himself a certain freedom in his conversation with Mrs. Enderby which Maud resented strongly.
When they were once more in London, Maud did not win back the former quiet of mind. Waymark came again as usual, but if anything the distance between him and herself seemed more hopeless. He appeared preoccupied; his talk, when he spoke with her, was of a more general kind than formerly; she was conscious that her presence did not affect him as it had done. She sank again into despondency; books were insipid, and society irritated her. She began the habit of taking long walks, an aimless wandering about the streets and parks within her reach. One evening, wending wearily homewards, she was attracted by the lights in a church in Marylebone Road, and, partly for a few minutes' rest, partly out of a sudden attraction to a religious service, she entered. It was the church of Our Lady of the Rosary. She had not noticed that it was a Roman Catholic place of worship, but the discovery gave her an unexpected pleasure. She was soothed and filled with a sense of repose. Sinking into the attitude of prayer, she let her thoughts carry her whither they would; they showed her nothing but images of beauty and peace. It was with reluctance that she arose and went back into the dark street, where the world met her with a chill blast, sleet-laden.
Our Lady of the Rosary received her frequently after this. But there were days when the thought of repose was far from her. At one such time, on an evening in November, a sudden desire possessed her mind; she would go out into the streets of the town and see something of that life which she knew only in imagination, the traffic of highway and byway after dark, the masque of pleasure and misery of sin of which a young girl can know nothing, save from hints here and there in her reading, or from the occasional whispers and head-shakings of society's gossip. Her freedom was complete; her absence, if noticed, would entail no questions; her mother doubtless would conclude that she was at her aunt Theresa's. So she clad herself in walking attire of a kind not likely to attract observation, and set forth. The tumult which had been in her blood all day received fresh impulse from the excitement of the adventure. She had veiled her face, but the veil hindered her observation, and she threw it back. First into Edgware Road, then down Oxford Street. Her thoughts pointed to an eastern district, though she feared the distance would be too great; she had frequently talked with Waymark of his work in Litany Lane and Elm Court, and a great curiosity possessed her to see these places. She entered an omnibus, and so reached the remote neighbourhood. Here, by inquiry of likely people, she found her way to Litany Lane, and would have penetrated its darkness, but was arrested by a sudden event characteristic of the locality.
Forth from the alley, just before her, rushed a woman of hideous aspect, pursued by another, younger, but, if possible, yet more foul, who shrieked curses and threats. In the way of the fugitive was a costermonger's stall; unable to check herself, the woman rushed against this, overturning it, and herself falling among the ruin. The one in pursuit, with a yell of triumph, sprang upon her prostrate enemy, and attacked her with fearful violence, leaping on her body, dashing her head against the pavement, seemingly bent on murder. In a moment there was a thick crowd rushing round, amid which Maud was crushed and swayed without possibility of disengaging herself. The screams of the one woman, and the terrific objurgations of the other, echoed through the street. From the words of those about her, Maud understood that the two women were mother and daughter, and that it was no rare occurrence for the younger woman to fall just short of killing her parent. But only for a moment or two could Maud understand anything; horror and physical oppression overcame her senses. Her fainting caused a diversion in the crowd, and she was dragged without much delay to the nearest doorstep.
She was not long unconscious, and presently so far recovered as to know that she was being helped to enter a cab. The cab began to drive off. Then she saw that some one was sitting opposite her. "Who is it?" she asked, trying to command herself, and to see clearly by the light of the street lamps. At the sound of the voice which answered, she started, and, looking again, at length recognised Waymark.
"Do you feel better?" he asked. "Are you able to go on homewards?"
"Quite able," she answered, leaning back again, and speaking with strange calmness.
"What on earth is the meaning of this?" was Waymark's next inquiry. "How came you here at this time?"
"Curiosity brought me," Maud answered, with the same unnatural composure.
"Had you been there long?"
"No; I had asked my way to Litany Lane, and all at once found myself in the crowd."
"Thank goodness I happened to be by! I had just been looking up a defaulting tenant. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw you lying in that doorway. Why didn't you ask me to come with you, and show you these places?"
"It would have been better," she said, with her eyes closed. Waymark leaned back. Conversation was difficult in the noise of the vehicle, and for a long time neither spoke.
"I told the man to drive to Edgware Road," Waymark said then. "Shall he go on to the house?"
"No; I had rather walk the last part."
They talked brokenly of the Lane and its inhabitants. When at length Maud alighted Waymark offered his arm, and she just laid her hand upon it.
"I have seen dreadful things to-night," she said, in a voice that still trembled; "seen and heard things that will haunt me."
"You give too much weight to the impressions of the moment. That world is farther removed from yours than the farthest star; you must forget this glimpse of it."
"Oh, I fear you do not know me; I do not know myself."
He made no reply, and, on their coming near to the house, Maud paused.
"Mother's sending you a note this evening," she said, as she held out her hand, "to ask you to come on Thursday instead of to-morrow. She will be from home to-morrow night"
"Shall you also be from home?"
"Then may I not come and see you? -- Not if it would be troublesome."
"It would not, at all."
"It is good of you. I will come."
Waymark made his way to Paddington at the usual time on the following evening, and found Maud alone. There was agitation in her manner as she welcomed him, and she resumed her seat as if the attitude of rest was needful to her. In reply to his inquiries about her health, she assured him she was well, and that she felt no painful results from the previous evening. Waymark also showed an unusual embarrassment. He stood for some moments by the table, turning over the leaves of a book.
"I didn't know you had Rossetti," he said, without looking up. "You never mentioned him."
"I seem to have had no opportunity."
"No. I too have many things that I have wanted to speak to you about, but opportunity was wanting. I have sometimes been on the point of asking you to let me write to you again."
He glanced inquiringly at her. Her eyes fell, and she tried to speak, but failed. Waymark went to a seat at a little distance from her.
"You do not look as well as when I met you in the summer," he said. "I have feared you might be studying too hard. I hope you threw away your books whilst you were at the sea-side."
"I did, but it was because I found little pleasure in them. It was not rest that took the place of reading."
"Are your difficulties of a kind you could speak of to me?" he asked, with some hesitation.
She kept her eyes lowered, and her fingers writhed nervously on the arm of the chair.
"My only fear would be lest you should think my troubles unreal. Indeed it is so hard to make them appear anything more than morbid fancies. They are traceable, no doubt, to my earliest years. To explain them fully, I should have to tell you circumstances of my life which could have little interest for you."
"Tell me -- do," Waymark replied earnestly.
"Will you let me?" she said, with a timid pleasure in her voice. "I believe you could understand me. I have a feeling that you must have experienced something of these troubles yourself, and have overcome them. Perhaps you could help me to understand myself."
"If I thought I could, it would give me great happiness."
She was silent a little, then, with diffidence which lessened as she went on, she related the history, as far as she knew it, of her childhood, and described the growth of her mind up to the time when she had left home to begin life as a governess. It was all very simply, but very vividly, told; that natural command of impressive language which had so struck Waymark in her letters displayed itself as soon as she had gained confidence. Glimpses of her experience Waymark had already had, but now for the first time he understood the full significance of her early years. Whilst she spoke, he did not move his eyes from her face. He was putting himself in her position, and imagining himself to be telling his own story in the same way. His relation, he knew, would have been a piece of more or less clever acting, howsoever true; he would have been considering, all the time, the effect of what he said, and, indeed, could not, on this account, have allowed himself to be quite truthful. How far was this the case with Maud Enderby? Could he have surprised the faintest touch of insincerity in look or accent, it would have made a world's difference in his position towards her. His instinct was unfailing in the detection of the note of affected feeling; so much the stronger the impression produced upon him by a soul unveiling itself in the naïveté of genuine emotion. That all was sincere he could have no doubt. Gradually he lost his critical attitude, and at moments surprised himself under the influence of a sympathetic instinct. Then he would lose consciousness of her words for an interval, during which he pondered her face, and was wrought upon by its strange beauty. The pure and touching spirituality of Maud's countenance had never been so present to him as now; she was pale with very earnestness, her eyes seemed larger than their wont, there was more than womanly sweetness in the voice which so unconsciously modulated itself to the perfect expression of all she uttered. Towards the end, he could but yield himself completely to the spell, and, when she ceased, he, like Adam at the end of the angel's speech, did not at once perceive that her voice was silent.
"It was long," she said, after telling the outward circumstances of her life with her aunt, "before I came to understand how differently I had been brought up from other children. Partly I began to see it at the school where we first met; but it only grew quite clear to me when I shared in the home life of my pupils in the country. I found I had an entirely different view of the world from what was usual. That which was my evil, I discovered to be often others' good; and my good, their abhorrence. My aunt's system was held to be utterly unchristian. Little things which I sometimes said, in perfect innocence, excited grave disapproval. All this frightened me, and made me even more reserved than I should have been naturally.
"In my letters to you I began to venture for the first time to speak of things which were making my life restless. I did little more than hint my opinions; I wonder, in looking back, that I had the courage to do even that. But I already knew that your mind was broader and richer than mine, and I suppose I caught with a certain desperation at the chance of being understood. It was the first opportunity I had ever had of discussing intellectual things. With my aunt I had never ventured to discuss anything; I reverenced her too much for that; she spoke, and I received all she said. I thought that from you I should obtain confirmation where I needed it, but your influence was of the opposite kind. Your letters so abounded with suggestion that was quite new to me, referred so familiarly to beliefs and interests of which I was quite ignorant, showed such a boldness in judging all things, that I drifted further and further from certainty. The result of it all was that I fell ill.
"You see now what it is that has burdened me from the day when I first began to ask myself about my beliefs. I was taught to believe that the world was sin, and that the soul only freed itself from sin in proportion as it learned to live apart from and independently of the world. Everything was dark because of sin; only in the still, secret places of the soul was the light of purity and salvation.
"I thought I had passed out of this. When I returned to London, and began this new life, the burden seemed all at once lifted from me. I could look here and there with freedom; the sky was bright above me; human existence was cheerful and noble and justified in itself. I began to learn a thousand things. Above all, my mind fixed on Art; in that I thought I had found a support that would never fail me.
"Oh, why could it not last? The clouds began to darken over me again. I heard voices once which I had hoped were for ever silenced. That sense of sin and horror came upon me last night in the streets. I suffered dreadfully."
She was silent, and, meeting Waymark's eyes so fixed on her own, became conscious of the eagerness and fervour with which she had spoken.
"Have you any experience of such things?" she asked nervously. "Did you ever suffer in the same way?"
"It is all very strange," he said, without answering her question. "This overpowering consciousness of sin is an anachronism in our time. But, from the way in which you express yourself, I should have thought you had been studying Schopenhauer. I suppose you know nothing of him?"
"Some of your phrases were precisely his. Your doctrine is simply Pessimism, with an element of dogmatic faith added. With Schopenhauer, the will to live is the root of sin; mortify this, deny the first instincts of your being, and you approach righteousness. Buddhism has the same system. And, in deducing all this from the plain teachings of Christianity, I am disposed to think you are right and consistent. Christianity is pessimism, so far as this world is concerned; we see that in such things as the thanksgiving for a' person's death in the burial service, and the prayer that the end of the world may soon come."
He paused, and thought for a moment.
"But all this," he resumed, rising from his seat, and going to stand with one arm upon the mantelpiece, "is of course, with me, mere matter of speculation. There are two allegories, which define Pessimism and Optimism. First that of Adam and Christ. Adam falls through eating of the tree of knowledge; in other words, sin only comes with self-consciousness, sin is the conscious enjoyment of life. And, according to this creed, it can only be overcome by abnegation, by the denial of the will to live. Accordingly, Christ enters the world, and, representing Humanity, as Adam had done, saves the world by denial, of Himself, even to death. The other allegory is that of Prometheus. He also represents mankind, and his stealing of the fire means man's acquirement of a conscious soul, whereby he makes himself capable of sin. The gods put him in bondage and torment, representing the subjection to the flesh. But Prometheus is saved in a different way from Adam; not by renunciation, but by the prowess of Hercules, that is to say, the triumphant aspiration of Humanity. Man triumphs by asserting his right to do so. Self-consciousness he claims as a good thing, and embraces the world as his birthright. Here, you see, there is no room for the crushing sense of sin. Sin, if anything, is weakness. Let us rejoice in our strength, whilst we have it. The end of course will come, but it is a wise man's part not to heed the inevitable. Let us live whilst it is called to-day; we shall go to sleep with all the better conscience for having used the hours of daylight."
Maud listened with head bent.
"My own temperament," Waymark went on, "is, I suppose, exceptional, at all events among men who have an inner life. I never knew what goes by the name of religious feeling; impulses of devotion, in the common sense of the phrase, have always been strange to me. I have known fear at the prospect of death; religious consolation, never. Sin, above all, has been a word without significance to me. As a boy, it was so; it is so still, now that I am self-conscious. I have never been a deep student of philosophy, but the doctrine of philosophical necessity, the idea of Fate, is with me an instinct. I know that I could not have acted otherwise than I did in any juncture of my life; I know that the future is beyond my control. I shall do this, and avoid that, simply owing to a preponderance of motives, which I can gauge, but not control. Certain things I hate and shrink from; but I try to avoid, even in thought, such words as vice and crime; the murderer could not help himself, and the saint has no merit in his sanctity. Does all this seem horrible to you?"
Maud raised her eyes, and looked steadily at him, but did not speak. It was the gaze of one who tries humbly to understand, and longs to sympathise. But there was a shadow of something like fear upon her face.
Waymark spoke with more earnestness.
"You will not think me incapable of what we call noble thought and feeling? I have in me the elements of an enthusiast; they might have led me to strange developments, but for that cold, critical spirit which makes me so intensely self-conscious. This restless scepticism has often been to me a torment in something the same way as that burden of which you speak. Often, often, I would so gladly surrender myself to my instincts of passion and delight. I may change; I may perhaps some day attain rest in an absolute ideal. If I do, it will be through the help of one who shall become to me that ideal personified, who shall embody all the purer elements of my nature, and speak to me as with the voice of my own soul."
She hung upon his words, and an involuntary sigh, born of the intensity of the moment, trembled on her lips.
"I have spoken to you," he said, after what seemed a long silence, "with a sincerity which was the due return for your own. I could have shown myself in a more pleasing light. You see how little able I am to help you; the centre-thought of your being is wholly strange to me. And for all that -- may I speak my thought? -- we are nearer to each other than before."
"Yes, nearer," she repeated, under her breath.
"You think that? You feel that? I have not repelled you?"
"You have not"
"And if I stood before you, now, as you know me -- egotistic, sceptical, calm -- and told you that you are the only being in whom I have ever felt complete confidence, whose word and thought I felt to be one; that you exercise more power over me than any other ever did or shall; that life in your companionship might gain the unity I long for; that in your presence I feel myself face to face with a higher and nobler nature than my own, one capable of sustaining me in effort and leading me to great results" ----
He became silent, for her face had turned deadly pale. But this passed, and in her eyes, as they met his, trouble grew to a calm joy. Without speaking, she held her hand to him.
"You are not afraid," Waymark said, "to link your fate with mine? My life is made up of uncertainties. I have no position; it may be a long time before I can see even the promise of success in my work. I have chosen that work, however, and by it I stand or fall. Have you sufficient faith in me to wait with confidence?"
"I have absolute faith in you. I ask no greater happiness than to have a share in your aims. It will give me the strength I need, and make my life full of hope."
It had come then, and just as he had foreseen it would. It was no result of deliberate decision, he had given up the effort to discover his true path, knowing sufficiently that neither reason nor true preponderance of inclination was likely to turn the balance. The gathering emotion of the hour had united with opportunity to decide his future. The decision was a relief; as he walked homewards, he was lighthearted.
On the way, he thought over everything once more, reviewing former doubts from his present position. On the whole, he felt that fate had worked for his happiness.
And yet there was discontent. He had never known, felt that perhaps he might never know, that sustained energy of imaginative and sensual longing which ideal passion demands. The respectable make-believe which takes the form of domestic sentiment, that everyday love, which, become the servant of habit, suffices to cement the ordinary household, is not the state in which such men as Waymark seek or find repose; the very possibility of falling into it unawares is a dread to them. If he could but feel at all times as he had felt at moments in Maud's presence. It might be that the growth of intimacy, of mutual knowledge, would make his love for her a more real motive in his life. He would endeavour that it should be so. Yet there remained that fatal conviction of the unreality of every self-persuasion save in relation to the influences of the moment. To love was easy, inevitable; to concentrate love finally on one object might well prove, in his case, an impossibility. Clear enough to him already was the likelihood of a strong revulsion of feeling when Ida once more came back, and the old life -- if it could be -- was resumed. Compassion would speak so loudly for her; her face, pale and illuminated with sorrow, would throw a stronger spell than ever upon his senses. Well, there was no help. Whatever would be, would be. It availed nothing to foresee and scheme and resolve.
And, in the same hour, Maud was upon her knees, in the silence of her own chamber, shedding tears which were at once both sweet and bitter, in her heart a tumult of emotion, joy and thanksgiving at strife with those dark powers which shadowed her existence. She had do doubts of the completeness and persistency of her love. But was not this love a sin, and its very strength the testimony of her soul's loss?
Waymark had written to Ida just after her imprisonment began, a few words of such comfort as he could send. No answer came; perhaps the prison rules prevented it. When the term was drawing to a close, he wrote again, to let her know that he would meet her on the morning of her release.
It would be on a Tuesday morning. As the time drew near, Waymark did his best to think of the matter quietly. The girl had no one else to help her; it would have been brutality to withdraw and leave her to her fate, merely because he just a little feared the effect upon himself of such a meeting. And the feeling on her side? Well, that he could not pretend to be ignorant of, and, in spite of everything, there was still the same half-acknowledged pleasure in the thought. He tried to persuade himself that he should have the moral courage to let her as soon as possible understand his new position; he also tried to believe that this would not involve any serious shock to Ida. For all that, he knew only too well that man is "ein erbärmlicher Schuft," and there was always the possibility that he might say nothing of what had happened, and let things take their course.
On the Monday he was already looking forward to the meeting with restlessness. Could he have foreseen that anything would occur to prevent his keeping his promise, it would have caused him extreme anxiety. But such a possibility never entered his thoughts, and, shortly before mid-day, he went down to collect his rents as usual.
The effect of a hard winter was seen in the decrease of the collector's weekly receipts. The misery of cold and starvation was growing familiar to Waymark's eyes, and scarcely excited the same feelings as formerly; yet there were some cases in which he had not the heart to press for the payment of rent, and his representations to Mr. Woodstock on behalf of the poor creatures were more frequently successful than in former times. Still, in the absence of then but eviction, and Waymark more than once knew what ideal philanthropy, there was nothing for it every now and it was to be cursed to his face by suffering wretches whom despair made incapable of discrimination. "Where are we to go?" was the oft-repeated question, and the only reply was a shrug of the shoulders; impossible to express oneself otherwise. They clung desperately to habitations so vile that brutes would have forsaken them for cleaner and warmer retreats in archway and by roadside. One family of seven, a man and wife (both ill) with five children, could not be got out, even when a man had been sent by Mr. Woodstock to remove the window-frames and take the door away, furniture having already been seized; only by force at length were they thrown into the street, to find their way to perdition as best they might. Waymark did not relish all this; it cost him a dark hour now and then. But it was rich material; every item was stored up for future use.
Among others, the man named Slimy just managed to hold his footing. Times were hard with Slimy, that was clear; still, he somehow contrived to keep no more than a fortnight behind with his rent. Waymark was studying this creature, and found in him the strangest matter for observation; in Slimy there were depths beyond Caliban, and, at the same time, curious points of contact with average humanity, unexpectedly occurring. He was not ungrateful for the collector's frequent forbearance, and, when able to speak coherently, tried at times to show this. Waymark had got into the habit of sitting with him in his room for a little time, whenever he found him at home. Of late, Slimy had seemed not quite in his usual health; this exhibited itself much as it would in some repulsive animal, which suffers in captivity, and tries to find a remote corner when pains come on. At times Waymark experienced a certain fear in the man's presence; if ever he met the dull glare of that one bleared blood-shot eye, a chill ran through him for a moment, and he drew back a little. Personal uncleanliness made Slimy's proximity at all times unpleasant; and occasionally his gaunt, grimed face grew to an expression suggestive of disagreeable possibilities.
On the present day, Waymark was told by a woman who lived on the ground-floor that Slimy had gone out, but had left word with her, in case the collector called, that he should be back in less than half-an-hour. Doubtless this meant that the rent was not forthcoming. The people who lived on the first floor were out as usual, but had left their rent. Of the two rooms at the top, one was just now vacant. Waymark went on to the two or three houses that remained. On turning back, he met Slimy at the door; the man nodded in his wonted way, grinning like a grisly phantom, and beckoned Waymark to follow him upstairs. The woman below had closed her door again, and in all probability no one observed the two entering together.
Waymark sat down amid the collection of nondescript articles which always filled the room, and waited for the tenant to produce his rent. Slimy seemed to have other things in mind. After closing the door, he too had taken a seat, upon a heap of filthy sacking, and was running his fingers through the shock of black hair which made his beard. Waymark examined him. There was no sign of intoxication, but something was evidently working in the man's mind, and his breath came quickly, with a kind of asthmatic pant, from between his thin lips, still parted in the uncanny grin.
"Mr. Waymark," he began at length.
"I ain't got no rent."
"That's bad. You're two weeks behind, you know."
The single eye fixed itself on Waymark's face in a way which made the latter feel uncomfortable.
"I ain't a-gem' to pay you no more rent, nor yet no one else, maybe."
"'Cos I ain't, and 'cos I'm tired o' payin' rent."
"I'm afraid you'll find it difficult to get on without, though," said Waymark, trying to get into the jocular tone he sometimes adopted with Slimy, but scarcely succeeding.
There was clearly something wrong. Waymark rose to his feet. Slimy rose also, and at the same time took up a heavy piece of wood, looking like a piece of a cart-shaft, which had lain on the floor beside him. His exclamation elicited no answer, and he spoke again, hoarsely as always, but with a calmness which contrasted strangely with the words he uttered.
"Do you believe in the devil and hell?"
"Why?" returned Waymark, trying hard to command himself, and to face down the man as a wild beast has been known to be out-gazed.
"'Cos, by the devil himself, as 'll have me before many weeks is over, and by the fires of hell, as 'll burn me, if you stir a step, or speak a word above your breath, I'll bring you down just like they do the bullocks. Y' understand!"
Waymark saw that the threat was no idle one. He could scarcely have spoken, had he wished. Slimy grinned at the effect he had produced, and continued in the same matter-of-fact way.
"It takes you back a bit, don't it! Never mind; you'll get over it. I don't mean you no 'arm, Mr. Waymark, but I'll have to put you to a little ill-convenience, that's all. See now; here's a bit o' stout rope. With this 'ere, I'm a-goin' jist to tie you up, 'and an' foot, you see. As I said before, if you give me any trouble, well, I'll 'ave to knock the senses out o' you fust, that's all."
Vain to think of grappling with the man, whose strength Waymark knew to be extraordinary. For a moment, the shock of alarm had deprived him of thought and power of movement; but this passed, and he was able to consider his position. He looked keenly into Slimy's face. Had the man gone mad! His manner was scarcely consistent with that supposition. As the alternative before him was of such a kind, Waymark could but choose the lesser evil. He allowed Slimy to remove from his shoulders the satchel which contained the sums of money he had just collected. It was quietly put aside.
"Now," said Slimy, with the same deliberation, "I have to arst you just to lay down on the floor, just 'ere, see. It's better to lay down quiet than to be knocked down, you see."
Waymark mentally agreed that it was. His behaviour might seem cowardly, but -- to say nothing of the loathsomeness of a wrestle with Slimy -- he knew very well that any struggle, or a shout for help, would mean his death. He hesitated, felt ashamed, but looked at Slimy's red eye, and lay down. In taking the position indicated, he noticed that three very large iron hooks had been driven firmly into the floor, in a triangular shape. Just beside the lower one of these his feet had to rest; his head lay between the other two. Slimy now proceeded to bind his captive's feet together with strong cord, and then attach them firmly to the hook; then bidding him sit up for a moment, he made his hands fast behind his back; lastly, Waymark being again recumbent, a rope was passed once round his neck, and each end of it firmly fastened to one of the remaining hooks. This was not a pleasant moment, but, the operation completed, Waymark found that, though he could not move his head an inch, there was no danger of strangulation as long as he remained quiet. In short, he was bound as effectually as a man could be, yet without much pain. The only question was, how long he would have to remain thus.
Slimy examined his work, and nodded with satisfaction. Then he took up the satchel again, opened it, and for a few moments kept diving his long black fingers into the coins, whilst his face was transformed to an expression of grim joy. Presently, having satisfied himself with the feel of the money, he transferred it all to a pocket inside his ragged coat.
"Now, Mr. Waymark," he recommenced, seating himself on the chair Waymark had previously occupied, "I ain't quite done with ill-conveniencin' you. I'm sorry to say I'll 'ave jist to put a bit of a gag on, to prevent you from 'ollerin' out too soon; but before I do that, I've jist got a word or two to say. Let's spend our last time together in a friendly way."
In spite of his alarm, Waymark observed with astonishment the change which had come over the man's mode of speech. In all their previous intercourse, Slimy had shown himself barely articulate; for the most part it was difficult to collect meaning from his grunts and snarls. His voice was still dreadfully husky, and indeed seemed unused to the task of uttering so many words, but for all that he spoke without hesitation, and with a reserve of force which made his utterances all the more impressive. Having bespoken his hearer's attention in this deliberate way, he became silent, and for a while sat brooding, his fingers still busy among the coins in his pocket.
"I don't rightly know how old I may be," he began at length, "but it's most like about fifty; we'll say fifty. For fifty years I've lived in this world, and in all that time I can't remember not one single 'appy day, not one. I never knowed neither father nor mother; I never knowed not a soul as belonged to me. Friends I 'ave had; four of 'em; and their names was Brandy, Whisky, Rum, an' Gin. But they've cost me a good deal, an' somehow they ain't quite what they used to be. They used to make me merry for a while, now and then; but they've taken now to burnin' up my inside, an' filling my 'ead with devils; an' I'm gettin' afeard of 'em, an' they'll 'ave to see me through to the end.
"Fifty year," he resumed, after another interval of brooding, "an' not one 'appy day. I was a-thinkin' of it over to myself, and, says I, 'What's the reason on it?' The reason is, 'cos I ain't never 'ad money. Money means 'appiness, an' them as never 'as money, 'll never be 'appy, live as long as they may. Well, I went on a-sayin' to myself, 'Ain't I to 'ave not one 'appy day in all my life?' An' it come to me all at once, with a flash like, that money was to be 'ad for the trouble o' takin' it -- money an' 'appiness."
The bleared eye rolled with a sort of self-congratulation, and the coins jingled more loudly.
"A pound ain't no use; nor yet two pound; nor yet five pound. An' five pound's what I never 'ad in fifty year. There's a good deal more than five pound 'ere now, Mr. Waymark; I've reckoned it up in my 'cad. What d' you think I'm a-goin' for to do with it?"
He asked this question after a pause, with his head bent forward, his countenance screwed into the most hideous expression of cunning and gratified desire.
"I'm a-goin'," he said, with the emphasis of a hoarse whisper, "I a-goin' to drink myself dead! That's what I'm a-goin' to do, Mr. Waymark. My four friends ain't what they used for to be, an' 'cos I ain't got enough of 'em. It's unsatisfaction, that's what it is, as brings the burnin' i' th' inside, an' the devils in the 'cad. Now I've got money, an' for wunst in my life I'll be satisfied an' 'appy. And then I'll go where there's real burnin', an' real devils -- an' let 'em make the most o' Slimy!"
Waymark felt his blood chill with horror. For years after, the face of Slimy, as it thus glared at him, haunted him in dreamful nights. Dante saw nothing more fearful in any circle of hell.
"Well, I've said my say," Slimy remarked, rising from his seat. "An' now, I'm sorry I'll 'ave to ill-convenience you, Mr. Waymark. You've behaved better to me than most has, and I wouldn't pay you in ill-convenience, if I could help it. But I must have time enough to get off clear. I'll 'ave jist to keep you from 'ollerin' -- this way, see -- but I won't hurt you; the nose is good enough for breathin'. I'll see as some one comes to let you out before to-morrow mornin'. An' now I'll say good-bye, Mr. Waymark. You won't see Slimy in this world again, an' if I only knowed 'ow to say a prayer, why, I'd pray as you mightn't never see him in the next."
With one more look, a look at once of wild anticipation and friendly regret, Slimy disappeared.
The relief consequent upon the certainty that no worse could happen had brought Waymark into a state of mind in which he could regard his position with equanimity. The loss of the money seemed now to be the most serious result of the affair. Slimy had promised that release should come before the morning, and would doubtless keep his word Waymark had a certain confidence in this, which a less interested person would perhaps have deemed scarcely warrantable. In the meantime, the discomfort was not extreme to lie gagged and bound on a garret-floor for some few hours was, after all, a situation which a philosopher might patiently endure, and to an artist it might well be suggestive of hints. Breathing, to be sure, was not easy, but became more so by degrees.
But with the complete recollection of his faculties came back the thought of what was involved in the question of release before the following day. Early in the morning he had to be at the door of Tothill Fields' Prison. How if his release were delayed, through Slimy's neglect or that of the agent he might employ? As the first hour passed slowly by, this became the chief anxiety in Waymark's mind. It made him forgetful of the aching in his arms, caused by the bind ing together of his hands behind him, and left no room for anticipation of the other sufferings which would result from his being left thus for an indefinite period. What would Ida do, if she came out and found no one to meet her?
His absence would make no one anxious, at all events not till more than a day had gone by. Hitherto he had always taken his rents at once to Mr. Woodstock's office, but the old gentleman was not likely to be disturbed by his non appearance; it would be accounted for in some simple way, and his coming expected on the following morning. Then it was as good as certain that no one would come to Slimy's room. And, by the by, had not there been a sound of the turning of a key when Slimy took his departure? He could not be quite sure of this; just then he had noticed all things so imperfectly. Was it impossible to free a limb, or to ungag his mouth? He tried to turn his head, but it was clear that throttling would be the only result of any such effort; and the bonds on hands and feet were immoveable. No escape, save by Slimy's aid.
He determined not to face the possibility of Slimy's failing in his word; otherwise, anxiety would make him desperate. He recognised now, for the first time fully, how much it meant to him, that meeting with Ida. The shock he had experienced on hearing her sentence and beholding her face as she left the court had not, apparently, produced lasting results; his weakness surprised him when he looked back upon it. In a day or two he had come to regard the event as finally severing him from Ida, and a certain calm ensuing hereupon led to the phase which ultimately brought him to Maud once more. But Waymark's introspection was at fault; he understood himself less in proportion as he felt that the ground was growing firmer under his feet. Even when he wrote the letter to the prison, promising to meet Ida, he had acted as if out of mere humanity. It needed a chance such as the present to open his eyes. That she should quit the prison, and, not finding him, wander away in blank misery and hopelessness, most likely embittered by the thought that he had carelessly neglected to meet her, and so driven to despair -- such a possibility was intolerable. The fear of it began to goad him in flesh and spirit. With a sudden violent stringing of all his sinews, he wrenched at the bonds, but only with the effect of exhausting himself and making the walls and ceiling reel before his eyes. The attempt to utter cries resulted in nothing but muffled moaning. Then, mastering himself once more, he resolved to be patient. Slimy would not fail him.
He tried not to think of Ida in any way, but this was beyond his power. Again and again she came before his mind. When he endeavoured to supplant her by the image of Maud Enderby, the latter's face only irritated him. Till now, it had been just the reverse; the thought of Maud had always brought quietness; Ida he had recognised as the disturbing element of his life, and had learned to associate her with his least noble instincts. Thinking of this now, he began to marvel how it could have been so. Was it true that Maud was his good angel, that in her he had found his ideal? He had forced himself to believe this, now that he was in honour bound to her; yet she had never made his pulse quicken, as it had often done when he had approached Ida. True, that warmth of feeling had come to represent merely a temptation to him; but was not that the consequence of his own ambiguous attitude? Suppose he had not known Maud Enderby, how would he then have regarded Ida, and his relations to her? Were these in very deed founded on nothing but selfish feeling? Then he reviewed all his acquaintanceship with her from the first, and every detail of the story grew to a new aspect.
Thinking of Ida, he found himself wondering how it was that Mr. Woodstock appeared to take so much interest in her fate. Several times during the past six months the old man had referred to her, generally inquiring whether Waymark had written to or heard from her. And, only two days ago, he had shown that he remembered the exact date of her release, in asking whether Waymark meant to do anything. Waymark replying that he intended to meet her, and give her what assistance he could, the old gentleman had signified his strong approval, and had even gone on to mention a house in the neighbourhood of the office, where Ida could be lodged at first. A room had accordingly been secured beforehand, and it was arranged that Waymark should take her directly thither on the Tuesday morning. In reviewing all this, Waymark found it more significant than he had imagined. Why, he wondered, had Mr. Woodstock grown so philanthrophic all at once? Why had he been so particular in making sure that Waymark would meet the girl? Indeed, from the very beginning of this affair, he had behaved with regard to it in a manner quite unlike himself. Waymark had leisure now to ponder these things, but could only conjecture explanations.
The hours went by; a church clock kept him aware of their progress. The aching in his arms became severe; he suffered from cold. The floor was swept by a draught which seemed strong and keen as a blast of east wind; it made his eyes smart, and he kept them closed, with some slight hope that this might also have the effect of inducing sleep. Sleep, however, held far aloof from him. When he had wearied his brain with other thoughts, his attention began to turn to sounds in the court below. There, just as it grew dusk, some children were playing, and he tried to get amusement from their games. One of them was this. A little girl would say to the rest: -- "I sent my daughter to the oil-shop, and the first thing she saw was C;" and the task was to guess for what article this initial stood. "Carrots!" cried one, but was laughed to scorn. "Candles!" cried another, and triumphed. Then there were games which consisted in the saying of strange incantations. The children would go round and round, as was evident from the sound of their feet, chanting the while: -- "Sally, Sally Wallflower, Sprinkle in a pan; Rise, Sally Wallflower, And choose your young man. Choose for the fairest one, Choose for the best, Choose for the rarest one, That you love best!" Upon this followed words and movements only half understood; then at length broke out a sort of hymeneal chorus: -- "Here stands a young couple, Just married and settled: Their father and mother they must obey. They love one another like sister and brother. So pray, young couple, come kiss together!" Lastly, laughter and screams and confusion. This went on till it was quite dark.
Pitch dark in Slimy's room; only the faintest reflection on a portion of the ceiling of lamplight from without. Waymark's sufferings became extreme. The rope about his neck seemed to work itself tighter; there were moments when he had to struggle for the scant breath which the gag allowed him. He feared lest he should become insensible, and so perhaps be suffocated. His arms were entirely numbed; he could not feel that he was lying on them. Surely Slimy's emissary would come before midnight.
"One, two, three, four ---- twelve!" How was it that e had lost all count of the hours since eight o'clock? Whether that had been sleep or insensibility, Waymark could not decide. Intensity of cold must have brought back consciousness; his whole body seemed to be frozen; his eyes ached insufferably. Continuous thought had somehow become an impossibility; he knew that Ida was constantly in his mind, and her image clear at times in the dark before him, but he could not think about her as he wished and tried to do. Who was it that seemed to come between her and him? -- some one he knew, yet could not identify. Then the hours sounded uncertainly; some he appeared to have missed. There, at length, was seven. Why, this was morning; and Slimy had promised that he should be set free before this. What was it that tortured his struggling brain so? A thought he strove in vain for a time to grasp. The meaning flashed upon him. By a great effort he regained complete consciousness; mind alone seemed to be left to him, his body was dead. Was he, then, really to be prevented from keeping his promise to Ida? All the suffering of his previous life amassed was nothing to what Waymark endured during the successive quarters of this hour. His brain burned: his eyes had no power to gather the growing daylight. That one name was his single perception; the sound of it, uttered incessantly in thought, alone seemed to keep him conscious. He could feel something slightly warm on his cheeks, but did not know that it was the streaming of tears from his darkened eyes. Then he lost consciousness once more.
The clock struck eight.
Mr. Woodstock was not so indifferent with regard to Waymark's failure to bring the rents as the young man supposed. Under ordinary circumstances he probably would have waited without any anxiety till the following day; already on a previous occasion Waymark had collected on Tuesday instead of Monday, though not without notice of his intention to do so. But Mr. Woodstock had quite special reasons for wishing to see his agent before the following morning; he desired to assure himself once more that Waymark would not fail to be at the prison punctually. When the afternoon passed without the usual visit, he grew uneasy; he was incapable of attending to matters of business, and walked up and down his office with impatient step. Such a mood was extraordinary in Mr. Woodstock; he had often waxed restive in this or that business difficulty; was, indeed, anything but remarkable for equanimity under trial; but his state of mind was quite different at present, and exhibited itself in entirely different ways. He neither swore nor looked black; his was the anxiety of a man who has some grave interest at stake wherein the better part of his nature is concerned.
At five o'clock he took a cab, and went off to Waymark's lodgings in Chelsea. Here he learned that Waymark had left home at the usual time, and had not yet returned. Just as he was speaking with the landlady at the door, another gentleman came up on the same errand. Mr. Woodstock remembered Julian Casti, and held out his hand to him. Casti looked ill; his handsome features had wasted, and his fair complexion was turned to a dull, unhealthy, yellowish hue. It was a comparatively warm day for the season, but his thin frame was closely muffled up, and still he seemed to be shrinking under the air.
"Have you any idea where he can be?" Mr. Woodstock asked, as they turned away together.
"None whatever. I must see him to-night, though, if possible."
"Ha! And I too."
As he spoke Mr. Woodstock looked at the other keenly, and something seemed to suggest itself to him.
"I'm going to see if he's been for the rents as usual. Would you care to come with me?"
Julian looked surprised, but assented. They got into the cab together, and alighted at the end of Litany Lane, having scarcely spoken on the way. Inquiries here showed that the collector had gone his rounds, and departed, it was said, in the ordinary way.
"Have you an hour to spare, Mr. Casti?" asked the old gentleman, turning suddenly after a moment's reflection.
"Then I wish you'd just come on with me to St. John's Street Road. It's possible you may have it in your power to do me a great service, if Waymark doesn't turn up. And yet, ten to one, I shall find him waiting for me. Never mind, come along if you can spare the time; you'll find him the sooner."
Mr. Woodstock tried to pooh-pooh his own uneasiness; yet, totally improbable as it seemed that Waymark should disappear at such a juncture, the impatience of the afternoon had worked him into a most unwonted fit of nervousness. Doubts and suspicions which would ordinarily never have occurred to him filled his mind. He was again quite silent till his office was reached.
Waymark had not been. They walked upstairs together, and Mr. Woodstock asked his companion to be seated. He himself stood, and began to poke the fire.
"Do you live in Chelsea still?" he suddenly asked.
"I have left word at Waymark's lodgings that he is to come straight here whenever he returns. If he's not here by midnight, should I find you up if I called -- say at half-past twelve or so?"
"I would in any case wait up for you, with pleasure?"
"Really," said Mr. Woodstock, who could behave with much courtesy when he chose, "I must apologise for taking such liberties. Our acquaintance is so slight. And yet I believe you would willingly serve me in the matter in hand. Perhaps you guess what it is. Never mind; I could speak of that when I came to you, if I have to come."
Julian's pale cheek had flushed with a sudden warmth. He looked at the other, and faced steadily the gaze that met his own.
"I am absolutely at your disposal," he said, in a voice which he tried to make firm, though with small success.
"I am obliged to you. And now you will come and have something to eat with me; it is my usual time."
Julian declined, however, and almost immediately took his leave. He walked all the way to Chelsea, regarding nothing that he passed. When he found himself in his lodgings he put a match to the ready-laid fire, and presently made himself some tea. Then he sat idly through the evening, for the most part staring into the glowing coals, occasionally taking up a book for a few minutes, and throwing it aside again with a sigh of weariness. As it got late he shivered so with cold, in spite of the fire, that he had to sit in his overcoat. When it was past midnight he began to pace the room, making impatient gestures, and often resting his head upon his hands as if it ached. It must have been about a quarter to one when there was the sound of a vehicle pulling up in the street below, followed by a knock at the door. Julian went down himself, and admitted Mr. Woodstock.
"What can it mean?" he asked anxiously, when they had walked up to the room together. "What has become of him?"
"Don't know. I stopped at his place on the way here."
"Don't you fear some mischance? With all that money ----"
"Pooh! It's some absurd freak of his, I'll warrant. He doesn't care how much anxiety he gives other people."
Mr. Woodstock was excited and angry.
"But he will certainly go -- go there in the morning, wherever he is," said Julian.
"I'm not so sure of that. I believe it's on that very account that he's keeping out of the way!"
He smote his fist on the palm of the other hand with the emphasis of conviction. Julian looked at him with an expression of wonder. There was a short silence, and then Mr. Woodstock began to speak more calmly. The conversation lasted only about a quarter of an hour. Mr. Woodstock then returned to his cab, which had waited, and Julian bade him good night at the door.
At six o'clock Julian arose. It was still quite dark when he left the house, and the air was piercing. But he did not mind the weather this morning. His step had a vigour very different from the trailing weariness of the night before, and he looked straight before him as he walked. There was a heat on his forehead which the raw breath of the morning could not allay. Before he had gone half a mile, he flung open his overcoat, as if it oppressed him. It was in the direction of Westminster that he walked. Out of Victoria Street he took the same turn as on one miserable night, one which he had taken on many a night since then. But he was far too early at the prison gate. He strayed about the little streets of the neighbourhood, his eyes gazing absently in this or that direction, his hot breath steaming up in the grey light. When it was drawing near the time, he made some inquiries from a policeman whom he passed. Then he went to the spot whither he was directed, and watched. Two or three people, of poor appearance, were also standing about, waiting. Julian kept apart from them. First, a miserable old woman, huddling herself in a dirty shawl; looking on all sides with a greedy eye; hastening off no one knew whither. Then two young girls, laughing aloud at their recovered liberty; they repaired at once to the nearest public-house. Then a figure of quite different appearance, coming quickly forward, hesitating, gazing around; a beautiful face, calm with too great self-control, sad, pale. Towards her Julian advanced.
"Mr. Waymark was unavoidably prevented from coming," he said quickly. "But he has taken rooms for you. You will let me go with you, and show you the house?"
"Thank you," was Ida's only reply.
They walked together into the main street, and Julian stopped the first empty cab that passed. As he sat opposite to her, his eyes, in spite of himself, kept straying to her face. Gazing at her, Casti's eyes grew dim. He forced himself not to look at her again till the cab stopped.
"They are prepared for you here," he said, as they stood on the pavement. "Just give your name. And -- you will not go away? You will wait till some one calls?"
" No; but your word," Julian urged anxiously. "Promise me."
She went up to the door and knocked. Julian walked quickly away. At the end of the street Mr. Woodstock was waiting.
"What's the matter?" he asked, examining the young man anxiously.
"Nothing -- nothing!"
"Does she seem well?"
"I think so; yes," Casti replied, in a stifled voice. Then he asked hurriedly, "Where can Waymark be? What does it all mean?"
Mr. Woodstock shook his head, looking annoyed.
"I am convinced," Julian said, "that something is wrong. Surely it's time to make inquiries."
"Yes, yes; I will do so. But you look downright ill. Do you feel able to get home? If I'd thought it would upset you like this ----"
Mr. Woodstock was puzzled, and kept scrutinising the other's face.
"I shall go home and have a little rest," Julian said. "I didn't get much sleep last night, that's all. But I must hear about Waymark."
"You shall. I'll warrant he turns up in the course of the day. Don't be anxious: I'll get to work as soon as possible to find him; but, depend upon it, the fellow's all right."
They shook hands, and Julian took his way homewards. Mr. Woodstock went to the house which Ida had just entered. He knocked lightly, and a woman opened to him and led him into a sitting-room on the ground-floor.
"I'll just have a cup of coffee, Mrs. Sims," he said. "Does she seem to care for her breakfast?"
"I'm afraid not, sir; she looks tired out, and poorly like."
"Yes, yes; the long journey and her troubles. Make her as comfortable as you can. I'll make myself at home with the paper here for an hour or so. Just see if she cares to lie down for a little; If so I won't disturb her."
Abraham did not devote much attention to the news. He sat before the fire, a cup of coffee within reach on the mantel piece, his legs fully stretched out before him, his favourite attitude when thinking. In spite of his fresh complexion and active limbs, you would have seen, had you watched him in his present mood, that Mr. Woodstock was beginning to age. Outwardly he was well-preserved -- few men of his years anything like so well. But let the inner man become visible during a fit of brooding, and his features made evident the progress of years. His present phase of countenance was a recent development; the relaxed lines brought to light a human kindliness not easily discoverable in the set expression of wide-awake hours. At present there was even tenderness in his eyes, and something of sad recollection. His strong mouth twitched a little at times, and his brows contracted, as if in self-reproach. When he returned to himself, it was with a sigh. He sat for about an hour; then the woman presented herself again, and told him that Miss Starr had been persuaded to lie down. It seemed likely she might sleep.
"Very well," said Mr. Woodstock, rising. "I'll go to the office. Send some one round when she's stirring, will you?"
Ida, to get rid of her troublesome though well-meaning attendant, had promised to lie down, but she had no need of sleep. Alone, she still kept her chair by the fire, sitting like one worn out with fatigue, her hands upon her lap, her head drooping, her eyes fixed on vacancy. She was trying to think, but thoughts refused to come consecutively, and a dull annoyance at this inability to reason upon her position fretted her consciousness. Not with impunity can the human mind surrender itself for half a year to unvaried brooding upon one vast misery; the neglected faculties revenge themselves by rusting, and will not respond when at length summoned. For months Ida's thoughts had gone round and round about one centre of anguish, like a wailing bird circling over a ravaged nest. The image of her mental state had been presented by an outward experience with which she became familiar. Waking long before daylight, she would lie with her eyes directed to the little barred window, and watch till there came the first glimmer of dawn. Even so was it her sole relief in the deep night of her misery to look forward for that narrow gleam of hope -- her ultimate release. As the day approached, she made it the business of her thoughts to construct a picture of the events it would bring. Even before hearing from Waymark, she had been sure that he would meet her; Waymark and freedom grew identical images; to be free meant to see him awaiting her and to put herself absolutely in his hands. Now that everything had turned out differently from what she had grown to anticipate with certainty, she found herself powerless to face the unexpected. Why had Waymark failed her? -- she could do no more than repeat the question a thousand times, till the faculty of self-communing forsook her. It was as though the sun should fail one morning to rise upon the world, and men should stand hopeless of day for ever.
She wondered vaguely whither she had been brought. At one moment she seemed to have been waiting an eternity in this unknown room, Julian's face and voice unspeakably remote; then again she would look round and wonder that she no longer saw the hare walls and barred window of her cell, the present seeming only a dream. All the processes of her mind were slow, sinewless. She tried to hope for something, to expect that something would happen, but could not summon the energy. Resentment, revolt, bitterness of spirit, of these things she knew just as little. They had been strong enough within her at first, but how long ago that seemed! She had no thought of time in the present; to sit waiting for an hour meant as little as to wait five minutes; such was the habit that had become impressed upon her by interminable days and nights. When at length she heard a knock at the door it filled her with fear; she started to her feet and looked with unintelligent eyes at the woman who again presented herself.
"Do you feel better, 'm?" the landlady asked. "Have you rested yourself?"
"Yes, thank you."
The woman went away; then came another knock, and Mr. Woodstock entered the room. He closed the door behind him, and drew near. She had again started up, and did not move her eyes from his face.
"Have you any recollection of me?" Abraham asked, much embarrassed in her presence, his voice failing to be as gentle as he wished through his difficulty in commanding it.
Ida had recognised him at once. He had undergone no change since that day when she saw him last in Milton Street, and at this moment it was much easier for her to concentrate her thoughts upon bygone things than to realise the present.
"You are Abraham Woodstock," she said very coldly, the resentment associated with the thought of him being yet stronger than the dead habit which had but now oppressed her.
"Yes, I am. And I am a friend of Osmond Waymark. I should like to talk a little with you, if you'll let me."
The old man found it so hard to give expression to the feelings that possessed him. Ida concluded at once that he came with some hostile purpose, and the name of Waymark was an incentive to her numbed faculties.
"How can you be a friend of Osmond Waymark?" she asked, with cold suspicion.
"Didn't he ever mention my name to you?"
Waymark had in truth always kept silence with Ida about his occupations, though he had spoken so freely of them to Maud. He could not easily have explained to himself why he had made this difference, though it had a significance. Mr. Woodstock was almost at a loss how to proceed. He coughed, and moved his foot uneasily.
"I have known him all his life, for all that," he said. "And it was through him I found you."
"It'll seem very strange, what I have to tell you. -- You were a little girl when I saw you last, and you refused to come with me. Had you any idea why I asked you?"
"I hadn't then."
"But you have thought of it since?"
Ida looked at him sternly, and turned her eyes away again. The belief that he was her father had always increased the resentment with which she recalled his face.
"I am your grandfather," Abraham said gravely. "Your mother was my daughter."
A change came over her countenance; she gazed at him with wonder.
"Who did you think I was?" he asked.
She hesitated for a moment, then, instead of replying, said:
"You behaved cruelly to my poor mother."
"I won't deny it," the old man returned, mastering his voice with difficulty. "I ought to have been more patient with her. But she refused to obey me, and I can't help my nature. I repented it when it was too late."
Ida could not know what it cost him to utter these abrupt sentences. He seemed harsh, even in confining his harshness. She was as far from him as ever.
"I can't do anything for her," Mr. Woodstock continued, trying to look her in the face. "But you are her child, and I want to do now what I ought to have done long ago. I've come here to ask you if you'll live in my house, and be like a child of my own."
"I don't feel to you as a child ought," Ida said, her voice changing to sadness. "You've left it too late."
"No, it isn't too late!" exclaimed the other, with emotion he could not control. "You mustn't think of yourself, but of me. You have all your life before you, but I'm drawing near to the end of mine. There's no one in the world belonging to me but you. I have a right to ----"
"No right! no right!" Ida interrupted him almost passionately.
"Then you have a duty," said Abraham, with lowered voice. My mind isn't at ease, and it's in your power to help me. Don't imitate me, and put off doing good till it is too late. I don't ask you to feel kindly to me; all I want is that you'll let me take you to my home and do all I can for you, both now and after I'm gone."
There was pathos in the speech, and Ida felt it.
"Do you know where I came from this morning ?" she asked, when both had been silent for some moments.
"I know all about it. I was at the trial, and I did my best for you then."
"Do you believe that I robbed that woman?" Ida asked, leaning forward with eager eyes and quickened breath.
"Believe it! Not I! No one believes it who knows anything about her. Waymark said he wouldn't have believed it if all the courts in England found you guilty."
"He said that?" she exclaimed. Then, as if suddenly becoming clearer about her position: "Where is Mr. Waymark? Why didn't he meet me as he promised?"
Abraham hesitated, but speedily made up his mind that it would be best to speak the truth.
"I know as little as you do. He ought to have come to me yesterday, but he didn't, and I can't discover him. I got Mr. Casti to meet you instead."
The keenest trouble manifested itself on Ida's countenance. She asked questions in rapid succession, and thus elicited an explanation of all the circumstances hitherto unknown to her.
"Have you been through the houses?" she inquired, all her native energy restored by apprehension. "Haven't you thought that he may have been robbed and ----"
She stopped, overcome by sudden weakness, and sank into the chair.
"Come, come, it isn't so bad as all that," said the old man, observing her closely. "He may turn up at any moment; all sorts of unexpected things may have happened. But I'll go again to his lodgings, and if I can't hear anything there, I'll set the police to work. Will you promise me to wait here quietly?"
"No, that I can't do. I want to move about; I must do something. Let me go with you to look for him."
"No, no; that'll never do, Ida."
The power of speaking tenderly seemed to have been given to him all at once; this and his calling her "Ida," struck so upon the girl's agitated feelings that she began to sob.
"Let me, let me go with you! I will forget everything -- I will be your child -- I will try to love you." ----
She was as weak as water, and would have sunk to the ground if Abraham had not given her his support just in time. He could not find words to soothe her, but passed his hand very tenderly over her head.
"We are losing time!" she exclaimed, forcing herself into an appearance of calmness. "Come at once."
In Beaufort Street they only learnt that Waymark had not yet been home. Thence they drove to the east, and stopped at a police-station, where Abraham saw the inspector. The latter suggested that Mr. Woodstock should go through all the houses which Waymark would have visited; if that search proved fruitless, the police would pursue the matter. Ida insisted on being allowed to accompanying him when the cab stopped at the end of Litany Lane. She gazed about her like one who had been suddenly set down in a new country; this squalor and vileness, so familiar to her of old, affected her strangely under the present conditions. The faces of people at whom she looked remained fresh in her memory for years after; the long confinement and the excitement which now possessed her resulted in preternatural acuteness of observation. Abraham spoke first with several people whom he had already questioned about Waymark, but they had heard nothing since.
"Are you strong enough for this?" he asked Ida. "Hadn't you better go back to the cab and wait for me!"
"Don't ask me to do that!" she entreated earnestly. "I must be active. I have strength now for anything."
Just as she spoke, Mr. Woodstock became aware of a disturbance of some kind in a duty little tobacconist's shop close at hand. There was a small crowd at the door, and the sound of wrangling voices came from within. Such an occurrence was too ordinary to suggest any special significance, but Abraham would not pass without making some inquiry. Begging Ida to stand where he left her, he pushed his way into the shop and listened to what was going on. A lad, well known in these parts as "Lushy Dick," was, it appeared, charging the tobacconist with cheating him; he alleged that he had deposited half a sovereign on the counter in payment for a cigar, and the shopman had given him change as if for sixpence, maintaining stoutly that sixpence had been the coin given him, and no half-sovereign at all. When Mr. Woodstock entered, the quarrel had reached a high pitch.
"Arf a quid!" the tobacconist was exclaiming contemptuously. "I'd like to know where such as you's likely to git arf a quid from."
Lushy Dick, stung to recklessness by a succession of such remarks, broke out in vehement self-justification.
"Would yer like to know, y' old ----! Then yer shall, ---- soon! I'm ---- if I don't tell jist the ---- truth, an' take the ---- consequences. It was Slimy as give it me, an' if yer want to know where Slimy got it, yer 'll 'ave to ---- well find out, 'cos I don't know myself."
"And how came Slimy to give you half a sovereign?" Mr. Woodstock at once interposed, speaking with authority.
"Is that you, Mr. Woodstock?" exclaimed the boy, turning round suddenly at the sound of the voice. "Now, look 'ere, I'm a-goin' to make a ---- clean breast of it. This 'ere ---- bloke's been a ringin' the changes on me; I'll show him up, an' ---- well chance it. Slimy give me a quid afore he took his ---- hook."
The lad had clearly been drinking, but had not yet reached the incoherent stage. He spoke in great excitement, repeating constantly his determination to be revenged upon the tobacconist at all costs. It was with difficulty that Mr. Woodstock kept him to the point.
"Why Slimy give it me? Well, I'll jist tell yer, Mr. Woodstock. It was to do a job for him, which I never done it after all. Slimy told me as 'ow I was to go to your orffice at ten o'clock last night, 'an tell you from him as he'd no more 'casion for his room, so he'd sent yer the key, an' yer'd better come as soon as possible an' see as he'd left everything square behind him, an' 'cos he was afraid he'd locked in a friend o' yourn by mistake an' in his hurry."
"And why the devil didn't you come?" exclaimed Abraham, looking at him in angry surprise.
"'Cos why, Mr. Woodstock? Well, I'll tell yer just the bloomin' truth, an' charnce it. I loss the key out o' my pocket, through 'avin' a ---- hole in it, so I thought as 'ow I'd best just say nothink about neither Slimy nor his room, an' there y'ave it!"
Abraham was out of the shop again on the instant.
"I've found him," he said to Ida. "A house round there in the court."
She walked quickly by his side, a cluster of people following them. Fortunately, a policeman was just coming from the opposite end of Litany Lane, and Mr. Woodstock secured his services to keep the mob from entering the house where Slimy had lived. As soon as they got inside, the old man begged Ida to remain in a room on the ground floor whilst he went upstairs, and this she consented to do. Reaching the garret, he tried the handle of the door, without effect. Knocking and calling produced no response, and within all was perfectly quiet. Hesitating no longer, he drew back as far as the wall would allow him, and ran with his foot against the door. The rotten woodwork cracked, and a second onset forced the lock away. In the middle of the floor Waymark lay, just as Slimy had left him nearly twenty-four hours ago. Abraham scarcely ventured to draw near; there was no motion in the fettered body, and he dreaded to look closely at the face. Before he could overcome this momentary fear, there was a quick step behind him, and, with a smothered cry, Ida had rushed into the room. She was on her knees beside Waymark, her face close down to his.
"He is alive!" she cried. "His eyes have opened. A knife! Cut these cords!"
That was soon accomplished, but Waymark lay motionless; he showed that he understood what was going on, but he was quite blind, his voice had all but gone, and a dead man could as soon have risen. Ida still knelt by him, chafing one of his hands; when he tried to speak, she gently raised his head and let it rest upon her lap. In a few minutes Abraham had procured a glass of spirits, and, after drinking this, Waymark was able to make himself understood.
"Who is touching me?" he asked in a hoarse whisper. "It is all dark. Whose hand is this?"
"It's Ida," Abraham said, when she herself remained silent. "She and I have had a rare hunt for you."
He endeavoured to raise himself, but in vain. All he could do was to press her hand to his heart. In the meantime the policeman had come up, and with his help Waymark was carried downstairs, out into the court, and thence to the end of Litany Lane, where the cab still waited.
Four days after this the following paragraph appeared in the morning papers: --
"The man wanted on a charge of robbery with violence in the East End, and who appears to be known only by the nickname of Slimy, was yesterday afternoon discovered by the police in a cellar in Limehouse. He seems to have been in hiding there since the perpetration of the crime, only going out from time to time to purchase liquor at public-houses in the neighbourhood. Information given by the landlord of one of these houses led to his arrest. He was found lying on the stone floor, with empty bottles about him, also a quantity of gold and silver coins, which appeared to have rolled out of his pocket. He was carried to the police-station in an insensible state, but on being taken to the cell, came to himself, and exhibited symptoms of delirium tremens. Two officers remained with him, but the assistance of a third shortly became necessary, owing to the violence of his struggles. Towards midnight his fury lessened, and. after a very brief interval of unconsciousness, the wretched creature expired."
Mr. Woodstock's house at Tottenham was a cheerful abode when the months of early summer came round, and there was thick leafage within the shelter of the old brick wall which shut it off from the road.
For the first time in his life he understood the attractions of domesticity. During the early months of the year, slippers and the fireside after dinner; now that the sunset-time was growing warm and fragrant, a musing saunter about the garden walks; these were the things to which his imagination grew fond of turning. Nor to these only; blended with such visions of bodily comfort, perchance lending to them their chief attraction, was the light of a young face, grave always, often sad, speaking with its beautiful eyes to those simpler and tenderer instincts of his nature which had hitherto slept. In the presence of Ida (who was now known, by his wish, as Miss Woodstock) Abraham's hard voice found for itself a more modest and musical key.
He began -- novel sensation -- to look upon himself as a respectable old gentleman; the grey patches on his head were grateful to him from that point of view. If only he had been able to gather round his granddaughter and himself a circle of equally respectable friends and acquaintances, he would have enjoyed complete satisfaction. Two or three at most there were, whom he could venture to bring over with him from the old life to the new. For Ida he could as yet provide no companionship at all.
But Ida did not feel the want. Since the day of her coming to the new house her life had been very full; so much was passing within, that she desired to escape, rather than discover, new distractions in the world around her. For the week or so during which Waymark had lain ill, her courage had triumphed over the sufferings to which she was herself a prey; the beginning of his recovery brought about a reaction in her state, and for some days she fell into a depressed feebleness almost as extreme as on the first morning of her freedom. It distressed her to be spoken to, and her own lips were all but mute. Mr. Woodstock sometimes sat by her whilst she slept, or seemed to be sleeping; when she stirred and showed consciousness of his presence, he left her, so great was his fear of annoying her, and thus losing the ground he had gained. Once, when he was rising to quit the room, Ida held out her hand as if to stay him. She was lying on a sofa, and had enjoyed a very quiet sleep.
"Grandfather," she murmured, turning to face him. It was the first time she had addressed him thus, and the old man's eyes brightened at the sound.
"Are you better for the sleep, Ida?" he asked, taking the hand she had extended.
"Much; much better. How the sun shines!"
"Yes, it's a fine day. Don't you think you could go out a little?"
"I think I should like to, but I can't walk very far, I'm afraid."
"You needn't walk at all, my dear. Your carriage shall be here whenever you like to order it."
The exclamation was like a child's pleased wonder. She coloured a little, and seemed ashamed.
"How is Mr. Waymark?" was her next question.
"Nothing much amiss now, I think. His eyes are painful, he says, and he mustn't leave the room yet, but it won't last much longer. Shall we go together and see him?"
She hesitated, but decided to wait till he could come down.
"But you'll go out, Ida, if I order the carriage?"
"Thank you, I should like to."
That first drive had been to Ida a joy unspeakable. To-day for the first time she was able to sweep her mind clear of the dread shadow of brooding, and give herself up to simple enjoyment of the hour.
Abraham went and told Waymark of all this as soon as they got back. In the exuberance of his spirits he was half angry with the invalid for being gloomy. Waymark had by this time shaken off all effects of his disagreeable adventure, with the exception of a weakness of the eyes; but convalescence did not work upon him as in Ida's case. He was morose, often apparently sunk in hopeless wretchedness. When Abraham spoke to him of Ida, he could scarcely be got to reply. Above all, he showed an extreme impatience to recover his health and go back to the ordinary life.
"I shall be able to go for the rents next Monday," he said to Mr. Woodstock one day.
"I should have thought you'd had enough of that. I've found another man for the job."
"Then what on earth am I to do?" Waymark exclaimed impatiently. "How am I to get my living if you take that work away from me?"
"Never mind; we'll find something," Abraham returned. "Why are you in such a hurry to get away, I should like to know?"
"Simply because I can't always live here, and I hate uncertainty."
There was something in the young man's behaviour which puzzled Mr. Woodstock; but the key to the puzzle was very shortly given him. On the evening of the same day he presented himself once more in Waymark's room. The latter could not see him, but the first sound of his voice was a warning of trouble.
"Do you feel able to talk?" Abraham asked, rather gruffly.
"Because I want to ask you a few questions. I've just had a call from that friend of yours, Mr. Enderby, and something came out in talk that I wasn't exactly prepared for."
Waymark rose from his chair.
"Why didn't you tell me," pursued Mr. Woodstock, "that you were engaged to his daughter?"
"I scarcely thought it necessary."
"Not when I told you who Ida was?"
This disclosure had been made whilst Waymark was still confined to his bed; partly because Abraham had a difficulty in keeping the matter to himself; partly because be thought it might help the other through his illness. Waymark had said very little at the time, and there had been no conversation on the matter between them since.
"I don't see that it made any difference," Waymark replied gloomily.
The old man was silent. He had been, it seemed, under a complete delusion, and could not immediately make up his mind whether he had indeed ground of complaint against Waymark.
"Why did Mr. Enderby call?" the latter inquired.
"Very naturally, it seems to me, to know what had become of you. He didn't see the report in the paper, and went searching for you."
"Does Ida know of this?" he asked, after a pause, during which Waymark had remained standing with his arms crossed on the back of the chair.
"I have never told her. Why should I have done? Perhaps now you will believe what I insisted upon before the trial, that there had been nothing whatever ----"
He spoke irritably, and was interrupted by the other with yet more irritation.
"Never mention that again to me as long as you live, Waymark If you do, we shall quarrel, understand!"
"I have no more pleasure in referring to it than you have," said Waymark, more calmly; "but I must justify myself when you attack me."
"How long has this been going on?" asked the other, after a silence.
"Some three months -- perhaps more."
"Well, I think it would have been better if you'd been straightforward about it, that's all. I don't know that I've anything more to say. We know what we're about, and there's an end of it."
So saying, the old man went out of the room. There was a difference in him henceforth, something which Ida noticed, though she could not explain it. On the following day he spoke with her on a matter she was surprised to hear him mention, her education. He had been thinking, he said, that she ought to learn to play the piano, and be taught foreign languages. Wouldn't she like him to find some lady who could live in the house and teach her all these things? Ida's thoughts at once ran to the conclusion that this had been suggested by Waymark, and, when she found that her grandfather really wished it, gave a ready assent. A week or two later the suitable person had been discovered -- a lady of some thirty years of age, by name Miss Hurst. She was agreeable and refined, endowed. moreover, with the tact which was desirable in one undertaking an office such as this. Ida found her companionship pleasant, and Mr. Woodstock con gratulated himself on having taken the right step.
At the same time that the governess came to the house, Waymark left it. He returned to his old lodgings, and, with an independence which was partly his own impulse, partly the natural result of the slight coolness towards him which had shown itself in Mr. Woodstock, set to work to find a means of earning his living. This he was fortunate enough to discover without any great delay; he obtained a place as assistant in a circulating library. The payment was small, but be still had his evenings free.
Ida did not conceal her disappointment when Abraham conveyed this news to her; she had been hoping for better things. Her intercourse with Waymark between his recovery and his leaving the house had been difficult, full of evident constraint on both sides. It was the desire of both not to meet alone, and in Mr. Woodstock's presence they talked of indifferent things, with an artificiality which it was difficult to support, yet impossible to abandon. They shunned each other's eyes. Waymark was even less at his ease than Ida, knowing that Mr. Woodstock observed him closely at all times. With her grandfather Ida tried to speak freely of their friend, but she too was troubled by the consciousness that the old man did not seem as friendly to Waymark as formerly.
"This will of course only be for a time?" she said, when told of Waymark's new employment.
"I don't know," Abraham replied indifferently. "I should think it will suit him as well as anything else."
"But he is clever; he writes books. Don't you think he will make himself known some day?"
"That kind of thing isn't much to be depended on, it seems to me. It's a doubtful business to look forward to for a living."
Ida kept silence on the subject after that. She did not seem to brood any longer over sad thoughts, yet it was seldom she behaved or spoke light-heartedly; her face often indicated an absent mind, but it was the calm musing of one whose thoughts look to the future and strengthen themselves with hope. Times there were when she drew away into solitude, and these were the intervals of doubt and self-questioning. With her grandfather she was reconciled; she had become convinced of his kindness to her, and the far-off past was now seldom in her mind. The trouble originated in the deepest workings of her nature. When she found herself comparing her position now with that of former days, it excited in her a restive mood to think that chance alone had thus raised her out of misery, that the conscious strength and purity of her soul would never have availed to help her to the things which were now within her grasp. The old sense of the world's injustice excited anger and revolt in her heart. Chance, chance alone befriended her, and the reflection injured her pride. What of those numberless struggling creatures to whom such happy fortune could never come, who, be their aspirations and capabilities what they might, must struggle vainly, agonise, and in the end despair? She had been lifted out of hell, not risen therefrom by her own strength. Sometimes it half seemed to her that it would have been the nobler lot to remain as she was, to share the misery of that dread realm of darkness with those poor disinherited ones, to cherish that spirit of noble rebellion, the consciousness of which had been as a pure fire on the altar of her being. What was to be her future? Would she insensibly forget her past self, let her strength subside in refinement -- it might be, even lose the passion which had made her what she was?
But hope predominated. Forget! Could she ever forget those faces in the slums on the day when she bade farewell to poverty and all its attendant wretchedness? Litany Lane and Elm Court were names which already symbolised a purpose. If ever she still looked at her grandfather with a remnant of distrust, it was because she thought of him as drawing money from such a source, enjoying his life of ease in disregard of the responsibilities laid upon him. The day would come when she could find courage to speak to him. She waited and prepared herself.
Prepared herself, for that, and for so much else. Waymark's behaviour would have cost her the bitterest misery, had she not been able to explain it to her own satisfaction. There could be but one reason why he held aloof from her, and that an all-sufficient one. In her new position, it was impossible for him to be more than just friendly to her. If that had been his attitude in the old days, how could his self-respect allow him to show the slightest change? In his anxiety not to do so, he had even fallen short of the former kindness. No forgiveness was needed, when she felt that she understood him so well. But all the more did it behove her to make herself worthy of him in all things. She had still so much to learn; she was so far his inferior in culture and understanding. Her studies with Miss Hurst were fruitful. Nor were her domestic duties forgotten. Mr. Woodstock had supplied her with a good housekeeper, to help her inexperience, but Ida took an adequate burden on her own shoulders. This again was a new and keen joy.
Waymark dined with them one Sunday in June, and, in the course of the evening, went with Abraham to the smoking-room for some private conversation.
"Do you remember," he began, "once offering to buy those shares of mine?"
"Yes, I do," replied Mr. Woodstock, narrowing his eyes.
"Does the offer still hold good?"
"Yes, yes; if you're anxious to realise."
"I am. I want money -- for two purposes."
"What are they?" Abraham asked bluntly.
"One is a private matter, which I don't think I need speak of; but the other I can explain. I have found a courageous publisher who has offered to bring my book out if I take a certain risk. This I have made up my mind to do. I want to get the thing out, if only for the sake of hearing Mrs. Grundy lift up her voice; and if it can't be otherwise, I must publish at my own expense."
"Will it repay you?" Mr. Woodstock asked.
"Ultimately, I have no doubt; but I don't care so much about that."
"H'm. I should think that's the chief matter to be considered. And you won't tell me what the other speculation is?"
"I'm going to lend a friend some money, but I don't wish to go into detail."
The old man looked at him shrewdly.
"Very well," he said presently. "I'll let you have the cash. Could you manage to look in at the office to-morrow at mid-day?"
This was arranged, and Waymark rose, but Mr. Woodstock motioned to him to resume his seat.
"As we're talking," he began, "I may as well have over something that's on my mind. Why haven't you told Ida yet about that engagement of yours?"
"Haven't you done so?" Waymark asked, in surprise.
"Did you think I had?"
"Why, yes, I did."
"I've done nothing of the kind," Abraham returned, pretending to be surprised at the supposition, though he knew it was a perfectly natural one.
Waymark was silent.
"Don't you think," the other pursued, "it's about time something was said to her?"
"I can't see that it matters, and ----"
"But I can see. As long as that isn't known you're here, to speak plainly, on false pretences."
"Then I won't come here at all!"
"Very good," exclaimed the old man irritably, "so long as you explain to her first."
Waymark turned away, and stood gazing gloomily at the floor. Abraham regarded him, and a change came over his hard face.
"Now, look here," he said, "there's something in all this I can't make out. Is this engagement a serious one?"
"Serious?" returned the other, with a look of misery. "How can it be otherwise?"
"Very well; in that case you're bound to let Ida know about it, and at once. Damn it all, don't you know your own mind?"
Waymark collected himself, and spoke gravely.
"I, of course, understand why you press so for this explanation. You take it for granted that Ida regards me as something more than a friend. If so, my manner since she has been here must have clearly shown her that, on my side, I have not the least thought of offering more than friendship. You yourself will grant so much, I believe. For all that, I don't deny that our relations have always been unusual; and it would cost me very much to tell her of my engagement. I ask you to relieve me of the painful task, on the understanding that I never come here again. I can't make you understand my position. You say my behaviour has not been straightforward. In the ordinary sense of the word it has not; -- there let it rest. Tell Ida what you will of me, and let me disappear from her world."
"The plain English of all which," cried Abraham angrily, "is, that, as far as you are concerned, you would be quite willing to let the girl live on false hopes, just to have the pleasure of her society as long as you care for it"
"Not so, not so at all! I value Ida's friendship as I value that of no other woman, and I am persuaded that, if I were free with her, I could reconcile her entirely to our connection remaining one of friendship, and nothing more."
Waymark, in his desperate straits, all but persuaded himself that he told the truth. Mr. Woodstock gazed at him in doubt. He would give him to the end of July to make up his mind; by that time Waymark must either present himself as a free man, or allow Ida to be informed of his position. In the meanwhile he must come to Tottenham not oftener than once a week. To this Waymark agreed, glad of any respite.
He returned to his lodgings in a state of nervous misery. Fortunately, he was not left to his thoughts; in a few minutes a knock at his door announced a visitor in the person of Mr. O'Gree. The Irishman exhibited his wonted liveliness, and at once began to relate an incident to the disadvantage of his archenemy.
"Faith," he cried, "I'd have given a trifle if ye could have heard the conversation between Tootle and me, just after breakfast yesterday. The boys were filing out of the room, when, 'Mr. O'Gree!' cries Pendy. -- 'Sir!' I reply. -- 'The boys were called late this morning, I hear.' -- 'No such thing, sir,' I assure 'um. 'Half-past six to the minute, by my watch.' -- 'Oh, your watch, Mr. O'Gree,' cries the old reprobate. 'I fear your watch doesn't keep very good time.' -- 'Sure, you're in the right, sir,' said I;' it's been losing a little of late; so only last night I stopped it at half-past six, to make sure it would show me the right calling-time this morning.' And, when I'd said that, I just nod my head, as much as to say, 'There's one for ye, me boy!' and walk off as jaunty as a Limerick bantam."
Then, after a burst of merriment, O'Gree suddenly fixed his face in a very grave expression.
"I'm resolved, Waymark, I'm resolved!" he exclaimed. "At midsummer I break my chains, and stand erect in the dignity of a free man. I've said it often, but now I mean it. Sally urges me to do ut, and Sally never utters a worrud that isn't pure wisdom."
"Well, I think she's right. I myself should prefer a scavenger's existence, on the whole. But have you thought any further of the other scheme?"
"The commercial undertaking? We were talking it over the other night. Sally says: Borrow the money and risk ut. And I think she's in the right. If you enter the world of commerce, you must be prepared for speculation. We looked over the advertisements in a newspaper, just to get an idea, and we calculated the concern could be set afloat for seventy-five pounds. Out of that we could pay a quarter's rent, and stock the shop. Sally's been behind the counter a good bit of late, and she's getting an insight into that kind of thing. Wonderful girl, Sally! Put her in Downing Street for a week, and she'd be competent to supplant the Premier!"
'You have decided for a chandler's?"
"Yes; we neither of us know much about tobacco, and tobacco perhaps isn't quits the thing for a man of education. But to be a chandler is something worthy of any man's ambition. You supply at once the solids and the luxuries of life; you range from boiled ham and pickles to mixed biscuits and preserves. You are the focus of a whole street. The father comes to you for his mid-day bread and cheese, the mother for her half-ounce of tea, the child for its farthing's-worth of sweets. For years I've been leading a useless life; once let me get into my shop, and I become a column of the social system. Faith, it's as good as done!"
"From whom shall you borrow the cash?"
"Sally's going to think about that point. I suppose we shall go to a loan office, and make some kind of arrangement. I'm rather vague on these things, but Sally will find it out."
"I understand," said Waymark, checking his amusement, that you are perfectly serious in this plan?"
"As serious as I was in the moment of my birth! There's no other chance."
"Very well, then, suppose I offer to lend you the money."
"No less a person."
And he went on to explain how it was that he was able to make the offer, adding that any sum up to a hundred pounds was at his friend's disposal.
"Ye mean it, Waymark!" cried O'Gree, leaping round the room in ecstasy. "Bedad, you are a man and a brother, and no mistake! Ye're the first that ever offered to lend me a penny; ye're the first that ever had faith in me! You shall come with me to see Sally on Saturday, and tell her this yourself, and I shouldn't be surprised if she gives you a kiss!"
O'Gree exhausted himself in capering and vociferation, then sat down and began to exercise his luxuriant imagination in picturing unheard-of prosperity.
"We'll take a shop in a new neighbourhood, where we shall have the monopoly. The people 'll get to know Sally; she'll be like a magnet behind the counter. I shall go to the wholesale houses, and impress them with a sense of my financial stability; I flatter myself I shall look the prosperous shopkeeper, eh? Who knows what we may come to? Why, in a few years we may transfer our business to Oxford Street or Piccadilly, and call ourselves Italian warehousemen; and bedad, we'll turn out in the end another Crosse and Blackwell, see if we don't!"
At the utmost limit of the time allowed him by the rules of The Academy, the future man of business took his leave, in spirits extravagant even for him.
"Faith," he exclaimed, when he was already at the door, "who d'ye think I saw last Sunday? As I was free in the afternoon, I took a walk, and, coming back, I went into a little coffee-shop for a cup of tea. A man in an apron came up to serve me, and, by me soul, if it wasn't poor old Egger! I've heard not a word of him since he left last Christmas. He was ashamed of himself, poor devil; but I did my best to make him easy. After all, he's better off than in the scholastic line."
Waymark laughed at this incident, and stood watching Q'Gree's progress down the street for a minute or two. Then he went to his room again, and sitting down with a sigh, fell into deep brooding.
Maud Enderby's life at home became ever more solitary. Such daily intercourse as had been established between her mother and herself grew less and less fruitful of real intimacy, till at length it was felt by both to be mere form. Maud strove against this, but there was no corresponding effort on the other side; Mrs. Enderby showed no dislike for her daughter, yet unmistakably shunned her. If she chanced to enter the sitting-room whilst Maud was there, she would, if possible, retreat unobserved; or else she would feign to have come in quest of something, and at once go away with it. Maud could not fail to observe this, and its recurrence struck a chill to her heart. She had not the courage to speak to her mother; a deadweight of trouble, a restless spirit of apprehension, made her life one of passive endurance; she feared to have the unnatural conditions of their home openly recognised. Very often her thoughts turned to the time when she had found refuge from herself in the daily occupation of teaching, and, had she dared, she would gladly have gone away once more as a governess. But she could not bring herself to propose such a step. To do so would necessitate explanations, and that was what she dreaded most of all. Whole days, with the exception of meal-times, she spent in her own room, and there no one ever disturbed her. Sometimes she read, but most often sat in prolonged brooding, heedless of the hours.
Her father was now constantly away from home. He told her that he travelled on business. It scarcely seemed to be a relief to him to rest awhile in his chair; indeed, Paul had grown incapable of resting. Time was deepening the lines of anxiety on his sallow face. His mind seemed for ever racked with painful calculation. Mrs. Enderby, too, spent much time away from the house, and Maud knew nothing of her engagements. One thing, however, Maud could not help noticing, and that was that her mother was clearly very extravagant in her mode of living. New and costly dresses were constantly being purchased, as well as articles of luxury for the house. Mrs. Enderby had of late provided herself with a femme de chambre, a young woman who arrayed herself with magnificence in her mistresses castoff dresses, and whose appearance and demeanour had something the reverse of domestic. Maud almost feared her. Then there was a hired brougham constantly in use. Whenever Mrs. Enderby spent an evening at home, company was sure to be entertained; noisy and showy people filled the drawing-room, and remained till late hours. Maud did not even see their faces, but the voices of one or two men and women became only too familiar to her; even in the retirement of her room she could not avoid hearing these voices, and they made her shudder. Especially she was conscious of Mr. Rudge's presence; she knew his very step on the stairs, and waited in feverish apprehension for the first notes of an accompaniment on the piano, which warned her that he was going to sing. He had a good voice, and it was often in request. Sometimes the inexplicable dread of his singing was more than she could bear; she would hurry on her walking-attire, and, stealing like a shadow down the stairs, would seek refuge in pacing about the streets of the neighbourhood, heedless of weather or the hour.
Mrs. Enderby never came down to breakfast. One morning, when Paul happened to be at home, he and Maud had finished that meal in silence, and Maud was rising to leave the room, when her father checked her. He leaned over the table towards her, and spoke in an anxious undertone.
"Have you noticed anything a little -- a little strange in your mother lately, Maud? Anything in her way of speaking, I mean -- her general manner?"
The girl met his look, and shook her head. The approach to such a conversation affected her as with a shock; she could not speak.
"She has very bad nights, you know," Paul went on, still in a tone just above a whisper, "and of late she has been taking chloral. It's against my wish, but the relief makes it an irresistible temptation. I fear -- I am afraid it is having some deleterious effect upon her; she seemed to be a little -- just a little delirious in the night, I thought."
There was something horrible in his voice and face as he uttered these words; he shuddered slightly, and his tongue seemed to labour for utterance, as though he dreaded the sound of his own speech.
Maud sat unmoving and silent.
"I thought, also," Paul went on, "that she appeared a little strange last evening, when the people were here. -- You weren't in the drawing-room?"
Maud shook her head again.
"Do you -- do you think," he asked, "she is having too much excitement? I know she needs a life of constant variety; it is essential to her. I'm sure you understand that, Maud? You -- you don't misjudge her?"
"No, no; it is necessary to her," said the girl mechanically.
"But," her father pursued, with still lower voice, "there is always the danger lest she should over-exert herself. Last night I -- I thought I noticed -- but it was scarcely worth speaking of; I am so easily alarmed, you know."
Maud tried to say something, but in vain.
"You -- you won't desert her -- quite -- Maud?" said her father in a tone of pleading. "I am obliged to be so muck away -- God knows I can't help it. And then I -- I wonder whether you have noticed? I seem to have little influence with her."
He stopped, but the next moment forced himself to utter what was in his mind.
"Can't you help me a little more, Maud? Couldn't you induce her to live a little more -- more restfully at times?"
She rose, pushing the chair back behind her.
"Father, I can't!" she cried; then burst into a passion of tears.
"God help us!" her father breathed, rising and looking at her in blank misery. But in a moment she had recovered herself. They faced each other for an instant, but neither ventured to speak again, and Maud turned and left him.
Waymark came as usual, but now he seldom saw Mrs. Enderby. Maud received him alone. There was little that was lover-like in these hours spent together. They kissed each other at meeting and parting, but, with this exception, the manner of both was very slightly different from what it had been before their engagement. They sat apart, and talked of art, literature, religion, seldom of each other. It had come to this by degrees; at first there had been more warmth, but passion never. Waymark's self-consciousness often weighed upon his tongue, and made his conversation but a string of commonplaces; Maud was often silent for long intervals. Their eyes never met in a steady gaze.
Waymark often asked himself whether Maud's was a passionless nature, or whether it was possible that her reserve had the same origin as his own. The latter he felt to be unlikely; sometimes there was a pressure of her hands as their lips just touched, the indication, he believed, of feeling held in restraint for uncertain reasons. She welcomed him, too, with a look which he in vain endeavoured to respond to -- a look of sudden relief from weariness, of gentle illumination; it smote him like a reproach. When the summer had set in, he was glad to change the still room for the open air; they walked frequently about Regent's Park, and lingered till after sunset.
One evening, when it was dull and threatened rain, they returned to the house sooner than usual. Waymark would have taken his leave at the door, as he ordinarily did, but Maud begged him to enter, if only for a few minutes. It was not quite nine o'clock, and Mrs. Enderby was from home.
He seated himself, but Maud remained standing irresolutely. Waymark glanced at her from under his eyebrows. He did not find it easy to speak; they had both been silent since they left the park, with the exception of the few words exchanged at the door.
"Will you let me sit here?" Maud asked suddenly, pushing a footstool near to his chair, and kneeling upon it.
He smiled and nodded.
"When will they begin the printing?" she asked, referring to his book, which was now in the hands of the publisher who had undertaken it.
"Not for some months. It can't come out till the winter season."
"If it should succeed, it will make a great difference in your position, won't it?"
"It might," he replied, looking away.
She sat with her eyes fixed on the ground. She wished to continue, but something stayed her.
"I don't much count upon it," Waymark said, when he could no longer endure the silence. "We mustn't base any hopes on that."
He rose; the need of changing his attitude seemed imperative.
"Must you go?" Maud asked, looking up at him with eyes which spoke all that her voice failed to utter.
He moved his head affirmatively, and held out his hand to raise her. She obeyed his summons, and stood up before him; her eyes had fixed themselves upon his; he could not avoid their strange gaze.
"Good-bye," he said.
Her free hand rose to his shoulder, upon which it scarcely rested. He could not escape her eyes, though to meet them tortured him. Her lips were moving, but he could distinguish no syllable; they moved again, and he could just gather the sense of her whisper.
"Do you love me?"
An immense pity thrilled through him. He put his arm about her, held her closely, and pressed his lips against her cheek. She reddened, and hid her face against him. Waymark touched her hair caressingly, then freed his other hand, and went from the room.
Maud sat in thought till a loud ring at the door-bell made her start and flee upstairs. The room in which she and Waymark sat when they were by themselves was in no danger of invasion, but she feared the possibility of meeting her mother to-night. Her father was away from home, as usual, but the days of his return were always uncertain, and Mrs. Enderby might perchance open the door of the little sitting-room just to see whether he was there, as it was here he ordinarily employed himself when in the house. From her bedroom Maud could hear several people ascend the stairs. It was ten o'clock, but an influx of visitors at such an hour was nothing remarkable. She could hear her mother's laugh, and then the voice of a man, a voice she knew but too well -- that of Mr. Budge.
Her nerves were excited. The night was close, and there were mutterings of thunder at times; the cloud whence they came seemed to her to spread its doleful blackness over this one roof. An impulse seized her; she took paper and sat down at her desk to write. It was a letter to Waymark, a letter such as she had never addressed to him, and which, even in writing it, she was conscious she could not send. Her hand trembled as she filled the pages with burning words. She panted for more than he had given her; this calm, half-brotherly love of his was just now like a single drop of water to one dying of thirst; she cried to him for a deeper draught of the joy of life. The words came to her without need of thought; tears fell hot from her eyes and blotted what she wrote.
The tears brought her relief; she was able to throw her writing aside, and by degrees to resume that dull, vacant mood of habitual suffering which at all events could be endured. From this, too, there was at times a retreat possible with the help of a book. She had no mind to sleep, and on looking round, she remembered that the book she had been reading in the early part of the day was downstairs. It was after midnight, and she seemed to have a recollection of hearing the visitors leave the house a little while ago; it would be safe to venture as far as the sitting-room below.
She began to descend the stairs quietly. There was still a light in the hall, but the quietness of the house reassured her. On turning an angle of the stairs, however, she saw that the door of the drawing-room was open, and that just within stood two figures -- her mother and Mr. Rudge. They seemed to be whispering together, and in the same moment their lips met. Then the man came out and went downstairs. Mrs. Enderby turned back into the drawing-room.
Maud stood fixed to the spot. Darkness had closed in around her, and she clung to the banisters to save herself from the gulf which seemed to yawn before her feet. The ringing of a bell, the drawing-room bell summoning Mrs. Enderby's maid, brought her back to consciousness, and with trembling limbs she regained her room. It was as though some ghastly vision of the night had shaken her soul. The habit of her mind overwhelmed her with the conviction that she knew at last the meaning of that mystery of horror which had of late been strengthening its hold upon her imagination. The black cloud which lowered above the house had indeed its significance; the voices which wailed to her of sin and woe were the true expression of things amid which she had been moving unconsciously. That instinct which made her shrink from her mother's presence was not without its justification; the dark powers which circled her existence had not vainly forced their influence upon her. Her first impulse was to flee from the house; the air breathed pestilence and death, death of the soul. Looking about her in the anguish of conflicting thoughts, her eyes fell upon the pages she had written. These now came before her as a proof of contagion which had seized upon her own nature; she tore the letter hastily into fragments, and, striking fire with a match, consumed them in the grate. As she watched the sparks go out, there came a rustling of dresses past her door. She flung herself upon her knees and sought refuge in wild, wordless prayer.
A fortnight after this Maud went late in the evening to the room where she knew her father was sitting alone. Paul Enderby looked up from his papers in surprise; it was some time since Maud had sought private conversation with him. As he met her pale, resolute face, he knew that she had a serious purpose in thus visiting him, and his look changed to one of nervous anticipation.
"Do I disturb you, father?" Maud asked. "Could you spare me a few minutes?"
Paul nodded, and she took a seat near him.
"Father, I am going to leave home, going to be a governess again."
He drew a sigh of relief; he had expected something worse than this. Yet the relief was only for a moment, and then he looked at her with eyes which made her soul fail for very compassion.
"You will desert me, Maud?" he asked, trying to convey in his look that which he could not utter in words.
"Father, I can be of no help, and I feel that I must not remain here."
"Have you found a place?"
"This afternoon I engaged myself to go to Paris with a French family. They have been in England some time, and want to take back an English governess for their children."
Paul was silent.
"I leave the day after to-morrow," she added; at first she had feared to say how soon she was to go.
"You are right," her father said, shifting some papers about with a tremulous hand. "You are right to leave us. You at least will be safe."
"Safe?" she asked, under her breath.
He looked at her in the same despairing way, but said nothing.
"Father," she began, her lips quivering in the intensity of her inward struggle, "can you not go away from here? Can you not take mother away?"
They gazed at each other, each trying to divine what it was that made the other so pale. Did her father know? -- Maud asked herself. Did Maud know something more than he himself? -- was the doubt in Paul's mind. But they were thinking of different things.
"I can't, I can't!" the wretched man exclaimed, spreading out his arms on the desk. "Perhaps in a few months -- but I doubt. I can do nothing now; I am helpless; I am not my own master. 0 God, if I could but go and leave it all behind me!"
Maud could only guess at the meaning of this. He had already hinted to her of business troubles which were crushing him. But this was a matter of no moment in her sight. There was something more terrible, and she could not force her tongue to speak of it.
"You fear for her?" Paul went on. "You have noticed her strangeness?" He lowered his voice. "What can I do, Maud?"
"You are so much away," she said hurriedly, laying her hand on his arm. "Her visitors -- she has so many temptations ----"
"Father, help her against herself!"
"My help is vain. There is a curse on her life, and on mine. I can only stand by and wait for the worst."
She could not speak. It was her duty, clearly her imperative duty, yet she durst not fulfil it. She had come down from her room with the fixed purpose, attained after nights of sleepless struggle, of telling him what she had seen. She found herself alone again, the task unfulfilled. And she knew that she could not face him again.
Waymark received with astonishment Maud's letter from Paris. He had seen her only two days before, and their conversation had been of the ordinary kind; Maud had given him no hint of her purpose, not even when he spoke to her of the coming holiday season, and the necessity of her having a change. She confessed she was not well. Sometimes, when they had both sat for some minutes in silence, she would raise her eyes and meet his gaze steadily, seeming to search for something. Waymark could not face this look; it drove him to break the suspense by any kind of remark on an indifferent subject. He remembered now that she had gazed at him in that way persistently on the last evening that they were together. When he was saying good-bye, and as he bent to kiss her, she held him back for a moment, and seemed to wish to say something. Doubtless she had been on the point of telling him that she was going away; but she let him leave in silence.
It was not a long letter that she wrote; she merely said that change had become indispensable to body and soul, and that it had seemed best to make it suddenly.
"I hope," she wrote in conclusion, "that you will see my father as often as you can; he is very much in need of friendly company, and I should like you to be able to send me news of him. Do not fear for me; I feel already better. I am always with you in spirit, and in the spirit I love you; God help me to keep my love pure!"
Waymark put away the letter carelessly; the first sensation of surprise over, he did not even care to speculate on the reasons which had led Maud to leave home. It was but seldom now that his thoughts busied themselves with Maud; the unreal importance which she had for a time assumed in his life was only a recollection; her very face was ghostlike in his mind's eye, dim, always vanishing. If the news of her departure from England moved him at all, it was with a slight sense of satisfaction; it would be so much easier to write letters to her than to speak face to face. Yet, in the days that followed, the ghostlike countenance hovered more persistently before him than was its wont; there was a far-off pleading in its look, and sometimes that shadow of reproach which our uneasy conscience will cast upon the faces of those we have wronged. This passed, however, and another image, one which had ever grown in clearness and persistency of presentment in proportion as Maud's faded away, glided before him in the hours of summer sunlight, and shone forth with the beauty of a rising star against the clouded heaven of his dreams.
Waymark's mood was bitter, but, in spite of himself, it was no longer cynical. He could not indulge himself in that pessimistic scepticism which had aided him in bearing his poverty, and the restless craving of sense and spirit which had accompanied it. His enthusiasm for art was falling away; as a faith it had failed him in his hour of need. In its stead another faith had come to him, a faith which he felt to be all-powerful, and the sole stay of a man's life amid the shifting shadows of intellectual creeds. And it had been revealed too late. Led by perverse motives, now no longer intelligible, he had reached a goal of mere frustration; between him and the true end of his being there was a great gulf fixed.
To Ida, in the meanwhile, these weeks of early summer were bringing health of body and cheerfulness of mind. She spent very much of her time in the open air. Whenever it was possible she and Miss Hurst took their books out into the garden, and let the shadows of the rose-bushes mark the hours for them. Ida's natural vigour throve on the strength-giving properties of sun and breeze the last traces of unwholesome pallor passed from her face, and exercise sent her home flushed like the dawn.
One afternoon she went to sit with her grandfather on a bench beneath an apple-tree. The old man had his pipe and a newspaper. Ida was quiet, and glancing at her presently, Abraham found her eyes fixed upon him.
"Grandfather," she said, in her gentlest voice, "will you let me give a garden-party some day next week?"
"A party?" Mr. Woodstock raised his brows in astonishment. "Who are you going to invite?"
"You'll think it a strange notion. -- I wonder whether I can make it seem as delightful to you as it does to me. Suppose we went to those houses of yours, and got together as many poor little girls as we could, and brought them all here to spend an afternoon in the garden. Think what an unheard-of thing it would be to them! And then we would give them some tea, and take them back again before dark."
The proposal filled Mr. Woodstock with dismay, and the habitual hardness of his face suggested a displeasure he did not in reality feel.
"As you say, it's a strange notion," he remarked, smiling very slightly. "I don't know why you shouldn't have your own way, Ida, but -- it'll cost you a good deal of trouble, you know."
"You are mistaking me, grandfather. You think this a curious whim I have got into my head, and your kindness would tempt you to let me do a silly thing just for the sake of having my way. It is no foolish fancy. It's not for my sake, but for the children's."
Her eyes were aglow with earnestness, and her voice trembled.
"Do you think they'd care for it?" asked her grandfather, impressed by something in her which he had never seen before.
"Care for it! -- Imagine a poor little thing that has been born in a wretched, poverty-stricken, disorderly home, a home that is no home, and growing up with no knowledge of anything but those four hateful walls and the street outside. No toys, no treats, no change of air; playing in the gutter, never seeing a beautiful thing, never hearing of the pleasures which rich people's children would pine and die without And a child for all that."
Mr. Woodstock cleared his throat and smoothed the newspaper upon his knee.
"How will you get them here, Ida?"
"Oh, leave that to me! Let us choose a day; wouldn't Saturday be best! I will go there myself, and pick out the children, and get their mothers to promise to have them ready. Then I'll arrange to have one of those carts you see at Sunday-school treats. Why, the ride here, that alone! And you'll let me have tea for them, -- just bread and butter and a bun, -- it will cost not half as much as my new dress this week, not half as much ----"
"Come, come, I can't stand this!" growled out Abraham, getting up from the seat. "I'd give them the garden, for good and all, rather than see you like that. Say Saturday, if it's fine; if not, Monday, or when you like."
On the following morning the details were arranged, and the next day Ida went to Litany Lane. She preferred to go alone, and on this errand Mr. Woodstock would have found a difficulty in accompanying her. Ida knew exactly the nature of the task she had taken in hand, and found it easier than it would have been to the ordinary young lady. She jotted down the names of some twenty little girls, selecting such as were between the ages of eight and twelve, and obtained promises that all should be ready at a fixed hour next Saturday. She met with doubts and objections and difficulties enough, but only failed in one or two instances. Then followed fresh talks with her grandfather, and all the details were arranged.
There was rain on the Thursday and Friday, but when Ida drew up her blind at six o'clock on Saturday morning, the sky gave promise of good things. She was walking in the garden long before breakfast-time, and gladdened to rapture as she watched the sun gain power, till it streamed gloriously athwart cloudless blue. By one o'clock she was at the end of Litany Lane, where the cart with long seats was already waiting; its arrival had become known to the little ones, and very few needed summoning. Of course there were disappointments now and again. In spite of mothers' promises, half the children had their usual dirty faces, and showed no sign of any preparation. Five or six of them had nothing to put on their heads; two had bare feet. It was too late to see to these things now; as they were, the children clambered, or were lifted, on to the cart, and Ida took her seat among them. Then a crack of the driver's whip, and amid the shouts of envious brothers and sisters, and before the wondering stare of the rest of the population, off they drove away.
"Who'd like an apple?" Ida asked, as soon as they were well clear of the narrow streets. There was a general scream of delight, and from a hamper by her side she brought out apples and distributed them. Only for a minute or two had there been anything like shyness in Ida's presence; she knew how to talk and behave to these poor little waifs. Her eyes filled with tears as she listened to their chatter among themselves, and recognised so many a fragment of her own past life. One child, who sat close by her, had been spending the morning in washing vegetables for the Saturday-night market. Did not that call to mind something? -- so far off; so far, yet nearer to her than many things which had intervened. How they all laughed, as the big, black houses gave way to brighter streets, and these again began to open upon glimpses of field or garden! Not one of them had the slightest conception of whither they were being taken, or what was to happen to them at length. But they had confidence in "the lady." She was a sorceress in their eyes; what limit could there be to her powers? Something good and joyous awaited them; that was all they knew or cared; leagues of happiness, stretching away to the remote limits of the day's glory; a present rapture beyond knowledge, and a memory for ever.
Mr. Woodstock stood within the gate of the garden, his hands in his pockets, and as the vehicle came in sight he drew just a little back.
They streamed along the carriage-drive, and in a minute or two were all clustered upon the lawn behind the house. What was expected of them? Had an angel taken them by he hand and led them straight from Litany Lane through the portals of paradise, they could not have been more awed and bewildered. Trees and rose-bushes, turf and beds of flowers, seats in the shade, skipping-ropes thrown about on the open -- and there, hark, a hand-organ, a better one than ever they danced to on the pavement, striking up to make them merry. That was the happiest thought! It was something not too unfamiliar; the one joyful thing of which they had experience meeting them here to smooth over the first introduction to a new world. Ida knew it well, the effect of that organ; had it not lightened her heart many and many a time in the by-gone darkness? Two of the girls had caught each other by the waist at the first sounds. Might they? Would "the lady" like it?
Miss Hurst had come out as soon as the music began, and Ida ran to talk with her. There was whispering between them, and pointing to one and another of the children, and then the governess, with a pleased face, disappeared again. She was away some time, but on her return two of the children were called into the house. Bare-footed they went in, but came forth again with shoes and stockings on, hardly able to comprehend what had happened to them. Then were summoned those who had nothing on their heads, and to each of these a straw hat was given, a less wonderful possession than the shoes and stockings, but a source of gladness and pride.
In the meantime, however, marvels had accumulated on the lawn. Whilst yet the organ was playing, there appeared two men, one of them carrying a big drum, the other hidden under a Punch and Judy show. Of a sudden there sounded a shrill note, high above the organ, a fluting from the bottom to the top of the gamut, the immemorial summons to children, the overture to the primitive drama. It was drowned in a scream of welcome, which, in its turn, was outdone by thunderous peals upon the drum.
Mr. Woodstock said little during the whole afternoon. Perhaps he thought the more.
Tables had been fixed in one part of the garden, and as the drama of Punch drew to an end, its interest found a serious rival in the spectacle of piled plates of cake. But there was to intervene nearly half-an-hour before the tea-urns were ready to make an appearance. The skipping-ropes came into requisition outside, but in the house was proceeding simultaneously a rather more serious pastime, which fell to Ida's share to carry out. Choosing the little girl whose face was the dirtiest and hair the untidiest of any she could see, she led her gently away to a place where a good bowl of warm water and plenty of soap were at hand, and, with the air of bestowing the greatest kindness of all, fell to work to such purpose that in a few minutes the child went back to the garden a resplendent being, positively clean and kempt for the first time in her life.
"I know you'll feel uncomfortable for a little, dear," Ida said, dismissing the astonished maiden with a kiss, "but the strangeness will wear off; and you'll see how much nicer it is."
One after another, all were dealt with in this way, presently with a good-natured servant-girl's assistance, as time pressed. The result was that a transformed company sat down to tea. The feeling wore off, as Ida said, but at first cleanliness meant positive discomfort, taking the form of loss of identity and difficulty of mutual recognition. They looked at their hands, and were amazed at the whiteness that had come upon them; they kept feeling their faces and their ordered hair. But the appetite of one and all was improved by the process.
"How I wish Mr. Waymark was here!" Ida said to her grandfather, as they stood together, watching the feast. "He would enjoy it. We must give him a full account to-morrow, mustn't we?"
"I forgot," replied the other. "I had a note from him this morning, saying he thought he shouldn't be able to come."
The first shadow of disappointment which this day had brought fell upon the girl's countenance. She made no reply, and presently went to help one or the youngest children, who had spilt her tea and was in evident distress.
After tea the organ struck up again, and again there was dancing on the lawn. Then a gathering of flowers by Ida and Miss Hurst, and one given to each of the children, with injunctions to put it in water on reaching home, and keep it as long as possible in memory of the day. Already the sun was westering, and Litany Lane must be reached before dusk.
"Poor children!" Ida sighed to herself. "If they had but homes to go to!" And added, in her thought, "We shall see, we shall see!"
Every bit as joyous as the ride out was the return to town. With foresight, Ida made the two youngest sit on each side of her; soon the little heads were drooping in her lap, subdued by the very weariness of bliss. Miss Hurst had offered to accompany Ida, that she might not have to come back alone, but Ida wanted her friends all to herself, and was rewarded by the familiarity with which they gossipped to her all the way.
"Hands up, all those who haven't enjoyed themselves!" she exclaimed, just as they were entering the noisy streets.
There was a moment's doubt, then a burst of merry laughter.
"Hands up, all those who would like to come again!"
All held up both arms -- except the two children who were asleep.
"Well, you've all been good, and I'm very pleased with you, and you shall come again!"
It was the culmination of the day's delight. For the first time in their lives the children of Litany Lane and Elm Court had something to look forward to.
Ida clung to the possibility of Waymark's paying his usual visit on the Sunday, but she was disappointed. This absence had no reason beyond Waymark's choice. It was the last Sunday but one of the month; a week more, and he must keep his word with Mr. Woodstock. The evil day had been put off, and to what purpose? There had been some scarcely confessed hope. Maud's sudden departure from England, and her strange letter, might perhaps mean a change in her which would bring about his freedom; he himself might possibly be driven by his wretchedness to the point of writing to her in a way which would hasten her decision, if indeed she were doubting.
All was over between Ida and himself, so why undergo the torment of still seeing her. In sending his note to Mr. Woodstock, he was on the point of surrendering the week that remained, and begging that Ida might be told at once, but his hand refused to write the words. Through the week that ensued he had no moment's rest. At night he went to places of amusement, to seek distraction; he wished and dreaded the coming of the Sunday. How would Ida receive the revelation? Should he write to her and try to make her understand him? Yet in that he could scarcely succeed, and failure would bring upon him her contempt. The only safety lay in never seeing or communicating with her again.
Even on Saturday night he had not made up his mind how to act. He went to the theatre, but left before the play was half over, and walked slowly homewards. As he drew near to his lodgings, some one hastened towards him with both hands held out. It was Maud Enderby.
"Oh, I have waited so long! I wanted to see you to-night." She was exhausted with fatigue and distress, and still held his hands, as if needing their support. To Waymark, in his then state of mind, she came like an apparition. He could only look at her in astonishment.
"Last night," she said, "I had a telegram from father. He told me to come back at once; he had had to leave, and mother was alone. I was to call for a letter at a place in the city. I was in time to catch the night boat, and when I got his letter it told me dreadful things. Something has happened which compelled him to leave England at once. He could do nothing, make no arrangements. Mother, he said, had a little money; we must sell everything and manage to live somewhere for a little; he would try to send us what he could. Then I went home. There was a police-officer in the house, and mother had gone away, I can't tell where. Father has done something, and ---- Oh, what shall I do? You can help me, can't you?"
Waymark, whom this news overwhelmed with blank despair, could at first say nothing; but the very greatness of the blow gradually produced in him the strength to bear it. He saw that fate had taken the future out of his hands; there was no longer even the appearance of choice. To Maud he must now devote himself, aiding her with all his strength in the present and through the days to come.
"Shall I go back home with you?" he asked, pressing her hands to comfort her, and speaking with the calmness of one who had made up his mind.
"Yes; perhaps mother will have returned. But what shall we do? What will happen to father? Do you know anything of all this?"
"Nothing whatever. Walk with me to the top of the street, and we will take a cab."
She hung upon his arm, trembling violently; and during the drive to Paddington, she lay back with her eyes closed, holding Waymark's hands in her own, which burned with fever. On alighting, they found that Mrs. Enderby had indeed returned; the servant told them so, and at the same time whispered something to Maud. They went up into the drawing-room, and there found Mrs. Enderby lying upon the couch. She could not understand when she was spoken to, but nodded her head and looked at them with large, woebegone, wandering eyes. Every effort to rouse her was vain.
It was a dreadful night.
The early dawn was in the sky when Waymark reached Beaufort Street. With no thought of sleep, he sat down at once and wrote to Mr. Woodstock, relating what had happened. "So, you see," he concluded, "with the end of July has come the decision of my fate, as we agreed it should. If I had seen you to-morrow, as I proposed, I know not what folly I might have been guilty of. Tell Ida everything at once; I shall never see her again. But do you, if you can, he my friend still. I need your help in this horrible situation. Meet me -- will you? -- at the office to-morrow night, say at eight o'clock."
This letter would reach Tottenham on Monday morning. Waymark went to the office at the hour he had mentioned, and waited till ten o'clock. But Mr. Woodstock had not been in St. John Street Road that day, and the waiting was in vain.
The garden-party had not been without its effect upon Mr. Woodstock. On the following day, when he was sitting again with Ida in the garden, he recurred to the conversation of a week ago, and seemed desirous of leading the girl to speak freely on the subjects which had such power to stir her. Ida had been waiting for this; she rejoiced at the promise it held out, and unburdened her heart. Would he not do yet more for the poor people in his houses I could not their homes in some way be made more fit for human beings? With careful observation of his mood, she led him on to entertain thoughts he had never dreamt of, and before they parted she had all but obtained a promise that he would go over the whole of his property and really see what could be done. Ida's influence over him had by this time become very great; the old man was ready to do much for the sake of pleasing her.
On the following Tuesday he went down into Litany Lane in company with a builder, and proceeded to investigate each of the houses. In many instances the repairs, to be of any use, would have to be considerable; there would be a difficulty in executing them whilst the tenants remained in possession. One possibility occurred to him in the course of examination, and he determined to make use of it; he would create room by getting rid of the worst tenants, all those, in fact, whose presence was pollution to the neighbourhood, and whom it was hopeless to think of reforming. In this way he would be able to shift about the remaining lodgers without too great a loss to himself, and avoid the necessity of turning helpless people into the street.
Mr. Woodstock had considerably more knowledge of the state of his property, and of the tenants inhabiting it, than is usual with landlords of his kind; for all that, the present examination brought to light not a few things which were startling even to him. Since Waymark had ceased to act as his collector, the office had been filled by an agent of the ordinary kind, and Mr. Woodstock had, till just now, taken less interest in the property than formerly. Things had got worse on the whole. Whereas Waymark had here and there been successful in suppressing the grosser forms of uncleanliness by threats of expulsion, and at times by the actual enforcement of his threat, no such supervision had of late been exercised. There were very few houses in which the air was at all tolerable; in many instances the vilest odours hung about the open door-ways. To pass out of Elm Court into the wider streets around was like a change to the freshness of woods and fields. And the sources of this miasma were only too obvious.
The larger houses which made up Litany Lane had underground cellars; in the court there were fortunately no such retreats. On entering one of these former houses, the two were aware of an especially offensive odour rising from below the stairs. Pursuing, however, their plan of beginning at the garrets, they went up together. In the room at the top they came upon a miserable spectacle. On something which, for want of another name, was probably called a bed, there lay a woman either already dead or in a state of coma, and on the floor sat two very young children, amusing themselves with a dead kitten, their only toy. Mr. Woodstock bent over the woman and examined her. He found that she was breathing, though in a slow and scarcely perceptible way; her eyes were open, but expressed no consciousness. The slightly-parted lips were almost black, and here and there on her face there seemed to be a kind of rash. Mr. Woodstock's companion, after taking one glance, drew hastily back.
"Looks like small-pox," he said, in an alarmed voice. "I wouldn't stand so near, sir, if I was you."
"Isn't there any one to look to her?" said Abraham. Then turning to one of the children, "Where's your father?" he asked.
"Dono," was the little fellow's indifferent reply.
"Are you alone?"
They went down to the floor below, and there found a woman standing at her door.
"What's the matter with her up there?" asked Mr. Woodstock.
"She's very bad, sir. Her Susan's gone to get a order for the parish doctor, I b'lieve. I was just a-goin' to look after the children when you came up. I've only just come 'ome myself, you see."
"What's that horrible stench down below?"
"I didn't notice nothink, sir," said the woman, looking over the banisters as if the odour might be seen.
"Any one living in the kitchen?"
"There was some one, I b'lieve, sir, but I don't exac'ly know if they's there yet."
Presently they reached the region below. In absolute darkness they descended steps which were covered with a sort of slime, and then, by striking a light, found themselves in front of a closed door. Opening this, they entered a vile hole where it could scarcely be said to be daylight, so thickly was the little window patched with filth. Groping about in the stifling atmosphere, they discovered in one corner a mass of indescribable matter, from which arose, seemingly, the worst of the effluvia.
"What is it?" asked Mr. Woodstock, holding a lighted match.
"Rotten fish, it seems to me," said the other, holding his nose.
Abraham turned away; then, as if his eye had suddenly caught something, strode to another corner. There lay the body of a dead child, all but naked, upon a piece of sacking.
"We'd better get out of this, sir," said the builder. "We shall be poisoned. Wonder they haven't the plague here."
"Seems to me they have," returned Mr. Woodstock.
They went out into the street, and hailed the first policeman in sight. Then, giving up his investigations for that morning, Mr. Woodstock repaired to the police-station, and after a good deal of trouble, succeeded in getting the attendance of a medical man, with the result that the woman they had seen up in the garret was found to be in truth dying of small-pox. If the contagion spread, as probably it had by this time begun to, there would be a pleasant state of things in Litany Lane.
In the evening, before going home, Abraham had a bath. He was not a nervous man, but the possibilities of the risk he had run were not agreeable to contemplate. Two or three days went by without any alarming symptoms, but as he learnt that another case of small-pox had declared itself in the Lane, he postponed his personal activity there for the present, and remained a good deal at home. On the Sunday morning -- when Waymark's letter had already been posted -- he awoke with a headache, continued from the night before. It grew worse during the day, and he went to bed early with a dull pain across the forehead, which prevented him from sleeping. On the following morning the headache still remained; he felt a disinclination to rise, and now, for the first time, began to be troubled with vague fears, which blended themselves with his various pre-occupations in a confusing way. The letter which arrived from Waymark was taken up to him. It caused him extreme irritation, which was followed by uneasy dozing, the pain across his forehead growing worse the while. A doctor was summoned.
The same day Ida and Miss Hurst left the house, to occupy lodgings hard by; it was done at Mr. Woodstock's peremptory bidding. Ida at once wrote to Waymark, begging him to come; he arrived early next morning, and learnt the state of things.
"The doctor tells me," said Ida, "there is a case in Litany Lane. It is very cruel. Grandfather went to make arrangements for having the houses repaired."
"There I recognise your hand," Waymark observed, as she made a pause.
"Why have you so deserted us?" Ida asked. "Why do we see you so seldom?"
"It is so late every evening before I leave the library, and I am busy with all sorts of things."
They had little to say to each other, Waymark promised to communicate at once with a friend of Mr. Woodstock's, a man of business, and to come again as soon as possible, to give any help he could. Whether Ida had been told of his position remained uncertain.
For Ida they were sad, long days. Troubles which she had previously managed to keep in the background now again beset her. She had attached herself to her grandfather; gratitude for all that he was doing at her wish strengthened her affection, and she awaited each new day with fear. Waymark seemed colder to her in these days than he had ever been formerly. The occasion ought, she felt, to have brought them nearer together; but on his side there appeared to be no such feeling. The time hung very heavily on her hands. She tried to go on with her studies, but it was a mere pretence.
Soon, she learnt that there was no hope; the sick man had sunk into a state of unconsciousness from which he would probably not awake. She haunted the neighbourhood of the house, or, in her lodging, sat like one who waits, and the waiting was for she knew not what. There was once more to be a great change in her life, but of what kind she could not foresee. She wished her suffering had been more acute; her only relative was dying, yet no tear would come to her eyes; it was heartless, and to weep would have brought relief to her. She could only sit and wait.
When Waymark came, on the evening of the next day, he heard that all was over. Ida saw him, but only for a few minutes. In going away, he paused by the gates of the silent house.
"The slums have avenged themselves," he said to himself sadly, "though late."
On a Sunday afternoon in October, when Abraham Woodstock had lain in his grave for three months, Waymark met Julian Casti by appointment in Sloane Square, and they set forth together on a journey to Peckham. They were going thither by invitation, and, to judge from the laughter which accompanied their talk, their visit was likely to afford them entertainment. The merriment on Julian's side was not very natural; he looked indeed too ill to enjoy mirth of any kind. As they stood in the Square, waiting for an omnibus, he kept glancing uneasily about him, especially in the direction whence they had come. It had the appearance of a habit, but before they had stood much more than a minute, he started and exclaimed in a low voice to his companion --
"I told you so. She is just behind there. She has come round by the back streets, just to see if I'd told her the truth."
Waymark glanced back and shrugged his shoulders.
"Pooh! Never mind," he said. "You're used to it."
"Used to it! Yes," Julian returned, his face flushing suddenly a deep red, the effect of extraordinary excitement; "and it is driving me mad."
Then, after a fit of coughing --
"She found my poem last night, and burnt it."
"Yes; simply because she could not understand it. She said she thought it was waste paper, but I saw, I saw."
The 'bus they waited for came up, and they went on their way. On reaching the neighbourhood of Peckham, they struck off through a complex of small new streets, apparently familiar to Waymark, and came at length to a little shop, also very new, the windows of which displayed a fresh-looking assortment of miscellaneous goods. There was half a large cheese, marked by the incisions of the tasting-knife; a boiled ham, garlanded; a cone of brawn; a truncated pyramid of spiced beef, released from its American tin; also German sausage and other dainties of the kind. Then there were canisters of tea and coffee, tins of mustard, a basket of eggs, some onions, boxes of baking-powder and of blacking; all arranged so as to make an impression on the passers-by; everything clean and bright. Above the window stood in imposing gilt letters the name of the proprietor: O'Gree.
They entered. The shop was very small and did not contain much stock. The new shelves showed a row of biscuit-tins, but little else, and from the ceiling hung balls of string. On the counter lay an inviting round of boiled beef. Odours of provisions and of fresh paint were strong in the air. Every thing gleamed from resent scrubbing and polishing; the floor only emphasised its purity by a little track where a child's shoes had brought in mud from the street; doubtless it had been washed over since the Sunday morning's custom had subsided. Wherever the walls would have confessed their bareness the enterprising tradesman had hung gorgeous advertising cards. At the sound of the visitors' footsteps, the door leading out of the shop into the parlour behind opened briskly, a head having previously appeared over the red curtain, and Mr. O'Gree, in the glory of Sunday attire, rushed forward with eager hands. His welcome was obstreperous.
"Waymark, you're a brick! Mr. Casti, I'm rejoiced to receive you in my establishment! You're neither a minute too soon nor a minute too late. Mrs. O'Gree only this moment called out from the kitchen that the kettle was boiling and the crumpets at the point of perfection! I knew your punctuality of old, Waymark. Mr. Casti, how does it strike you? Roaring trade, Waymark! Done two shillings and threepence three farthings this Sunday morning. Look here, me boy, -- ho, ho!"
He drew out the till behind the counter, and jingled his hand in coppers. Then he rushed about in the wildest fervour from object to object, opening tins which he had forgotten were empty, making passes at the beef and the ham with a formidable carving-knife, demonstrating the use of a sugar-chopper and a coffee-grinder, and, lastly, calling attention with infinite glee to a bad halfpenny which he had detected on the previous afternoon, and had forthwith nailed down to the counter, in terrorem. Then he lifted with much solemnity a hinged portion of the counter, and requested his visitors to pass into the back-parlour. Here there was the same perfect cleanliness, though the furniture was scant and very simple. The round table was laid for tea, with a spotless cloth, plates of a very demonstrative pattern, and knives and forks which seemed only just to have left the ironmonger's shop.
"We pass, you observe, Mr. Casti," cried the ex-teacher, "from the region of commerce to that of domestic intimacy. Here Mrs. O'Gree reigns supreme, as indeed she does in the other department, as far as presiding genius goes. She's in all places at once, like a birrud! Mr. Casti," in a whisper, "I shall have the pleasure of introducing you to one of the most remarkable women it was ever your lot to meet; a phenomenon of ----"
The inner door opened, and the lady herself interrupted these eulogies. Sally was charming. Her trim little body attired in the trimmest of homely dresses, her sharp little face shining and just a little red with excitement, her quick movements, her laughing eyes, her restless hands graced with the new wedding-ring -- all made up a picture of which her husband might well be proud. He stood and gazed at her in frank admiration; only when she sprang forward to shake hands with Waymark did he recover himself sufficiently to go through the ceremony of introducing Julian. It was done with all stateliness.
"An improvement this on the masters' room, eh, Waymark?" cried Mr. O'Gree. Then, suddenly interrupting him self, "And that reminds me! We've got a lodger."
"And who d'ye think? Who d'ye think? You wouldn't guess if you went on till Christmas. Ho, ho, ho! I'm hanged if I tell you. Wait and see!"
"Shall I call him down?" asked Sally, who in the meantime had brought in the tea-pot, and the crumpets, and a dish of slices from the round of beef on the counter, and boiled eggs, and sundry other dainties.
O'Gree, unable to speak for mirth, nodded his head, and presently Sally returned, followed by -- Mr. Egger. Waymark scarcely recognised his old friend, so much had the latter changed: instead of the old woe-begone look, Egger's face wore a joyous smile, and his outer man was so vastly improved that he had evidently fallen on a more lucrative profession. Waymark remembered O'Gree's chance meeting with the Swiss, but had heard nothing of him since; nor indeed had O'Gree till a day or two ago.
"How do things go?" Waymark inquired heartily. "Found a better school?"
"No, no, my friend," returned Egger, in his very bad English. "At the school I made my possible; I did till I could no more. I have made like Mr. O'Gree; it is to say, quite a change in my life. I am waiter at a restaurant. And see me; am I not the better quite? No fear!" This cockneyism came in with comical effect. "I have enough to eat and to drink, and money in my pocket. The school may go to ----"
O'Gree coughed violently to cover the last word, and looked reproachfully at his old colleague. Poor Egger, who had been carried away by his joyous fervour, was abashed, and glanced timidly at Sally, who replied by giving him half a dozen thick rounds of German sausage. On his requesting mustard, she fetched some from the shop and mixed it, but, in doing so, had the misfortune to pour too much water.
"There!" she exclaimed; "I've doubted the miller's eye."
O'Gree laughed when he saw Waymark looking for an explanation.
"That's a piece of Weymouth," he remarked. "Mrs. O'Gree comes from the south-west of England," he added, leaning towards Casti. "She's constantly teaching me new and interesting things. Now, if I was to spill the salt here ----"
He put his Ii and on the salt-cellar, as if to do so, but Sally rapped his knuckles with a fork.
"None of your nonsense, sir! Give Mr. Casti some more meat, instead."
It was a merry party. The noise of talk grew so loud that it was only the keenness of habitual attention on Sally's part which enabled her to observe that a customer was knocking on the counter. She darted out, but returned with a disappointed look on her face.
"Pickles?" asked her husband, frowning.
"Now, look here, Waymark," cried O'Gree, rising in indignation from his seat. "Look here, Mr. Casti. The one drop of bitterness in our cup is -- pickles; the one thing that threatens to poison our happiness is -- pickles. We're always being asked for pickles; just as if the people knew about it, and came on purpose!"
"Knew About what?" asked Waymark, in astonishment.
"Why, that we mayn't sell 'em! A few doors off there's a scoundrel of a grocer. Now, his landlord's the same as ours, and when we took this shop there was one condition attached. Because the grocer sells pickles, and makes a good thing of them, we had to undertake that, in that branch of commerce, we wouldn't compete with him. Pickles are forbidden."
Waymark burst into a most unsympathetic roar of laughter, but with O'Gree the grievance was evidently a serious one, and it was some few moments before he recovered his equanimity. Indeed it was not quite restored till the entrance of another customer, who purchased two ounces of butter. When, in the dead silence which ensued, Sally was heard weighing out the order, O'Gree's face beamed; and when there followed the chink of coins in the till, he brought his fist down with a triumphant crash upon the table.
When tea was over, O'Gree managed to get Waymark apart from the rest, and showed him a small photograph of Sally which had recently been taken.
"Sally's great ambition," he whispered, "is to be taken cabinet-size, and in a snow-storm. You've seen the kind of thing in the shop-windows? We'll manage that before long, but this will do for the present. You don't see a face like that every day; eh, Waymark?"
Sally, her housewifery duly accomplished in the invisible regions, came back and sat by the fireside. She had exchanged her work-a-day costume for one rather more ornate. Noticeable was a delicate gold chain which hung about her neck, and Waymark smiled when he presently saw her take out her watch and seem to compare its time with that of the clock on the mantelpiece. It was a wedding present from Ida.
Sally caught the smile, and almost immediately came over to a seat by Waymark; and, whilst the others were engaged in loud talk, spoke with him privately.
"Have you seen her lately?" she asked.
"Not for some weeks," the other replied, shaking his head.
"Well, it's the queerest thing I ever knew, s'nough! But, there," she added, with an arch glance, "some men are that stupid ----"
Waymark laughed slightly, and again shook his head.
"All a mistake," he said.
"Yes, that's just what it is, you may depend upon it. I more'n half believe you're telling fibs."
Tumblers of whisky were soon smoking on the table, and all except Casti laughed and talked to their heart's content. Casti was no kill-joy; he smiled at all that went on, now and then putting in a friendly word; but the vitality of the others was lacking in him, and the weight which crushed him night and day could not so easily be thrown aside. O'Gree was abundant in reminiscences of academic days, and it would not have been easy to resist altogether the comical vigour of his stories, all without one touch of real bitterness or malice.
"Bedad," he cried, "I sent old Pendy a business prospectus, with my compliments written on the bottom of it. I thought he might perhaps be disposed to give me a contract for victualling the Academy. I wish he had, for the boys' sake."
Then, to bring back completely the old times, Mr. Egger was prevailed upon to sing one of his Volkslieder, that which had been Waymark's especial favourite, and which he had sung -- on an occasion memorable to Sally and her husband -- in the little dining-room at Richmond.
"Die Schwalb'n flieg'n fort, doch sie zieh'n wieder her;
Waymark was silent for a little after that
When it was nearly eleven o'clock, Casti looked once or twice meaningly at Waymark, and the friends at length rose to take their leave, in spite of much protest. O'Gree accompanied them as far as the spot where they would meet the omnibus, then, with assurances that to-night had been but the beginning of glorious times, sent them on their way. Julian was silent during the journey home; he looked very wearied. For lack of a timely conveyance the last mile or so had to be walked. Julian's cough had been bad during the evening, and now the cold night-air seemed to give him much trouble. Presently, just as they turned a corner, a severe blast of wind met them full in the face. Julian began coughing violently, and all at once became so weak that he had to lean against a palisading. Waymark, looking closer in alarm, saw that the handkerchief which the poor fellow was holding to his mouth was covered with blood.
"We must have a cab," he exclaimed. "It is impossible for you to walk in this state."
Julian resisted, with assurances that the worst was over for the time. If Waymark would give the support of his arm, he would get on quite well. There was no overcoming his resolution to proceed.
"There's no misunderstanding this, old fellow," he said, with a laugh, when they had walked a few paces.
Waymark made no reply.
"You'll laugh at me," Julian went on, "but isn't there a certain resemblance between my case and that of Keats? He too was a drug-pounder; he liked it as little as I do; and he died young of consumption. I suppose a dying man may speak the truth about himself. I too might have been a poet, if life had dealt more kindly with me. I think you would have liked the thing I was writing; I'd finished some three hundred lines; but now you'll never see it. Well, I don't know that it matters."
Waymark tried to speak in a tone of hopefulness, but it was hard to give his words the semblance of sincerity.
"Do you remember," Casti continued, "when all my talk used to be about Rome, and how I planned to see it one day -- see it again. I should say? Strange to think that I really was born in Rome. I used to call myself a Roman, you know, and grow hot with pride when I thought of it. Those were dreams. Oh, I was to do wonderful things! Poetry was to make me rich, and then I would go and live in Italy, and fill my lungs with the breath of the Forum, and write my great Epic. How good that we can't foresee our lives!"
"I wish to heaven," Waymark exclaimed, when they were parting, "that you would be a man and shake this monstrous yoke from off your neck! It is that that is killing you. Give yourself a chance. Defy everything and make yourself free."
Julian shook his head sadly.
"Too late! I haven't the courage. My mind weakens with my body."
He went to his lodgings, and, as he anticipated, found that Harriet had not yet come home. She was almost always out very late, and he had learnt too well what t expect on her return. In spite of her illness, of which she made the most when it suited her purpose, she was able t wander about at all hours with the acquaintances her husband did not even know by name, and Julian had no longer the strength even to implore her to have pity on him. He absence racked him with nervous fears; her presence tortured him to agony. Weakness in him had reached a criminal degree. Once or twice he had all but made up his mind to flee secretly, and only let her know his determination when he had gone; but his poverty interposed such obstacles that he ended by accepting them as excuses for his hesitation. The mere thought of fulfilling the duty which he owed to himself, of speaking out with manly firmness, and telling her that here at length all ended between them -- that was a terror to his soul. So he stayed on and allowed her to kill him by slow torment. He was at least carrying out to the letter the promise he had made to her father, and this thought supplied him with a flattering unction which, such was his disposition, at times even brought him a moment's solace.
There was no fire in the room; he sank upon a chair and waited. Every sound in the street below sent the blood back upon his heart. At length there came the fumbling of a latch-key -- he could hear it plainly -- and then the heavy foot ascending the stairs. Her glazed eyes and red cheeks told the familiar tale. She sat down opposite him and was silent for a minute, half dozing; then she seemed suddenly to become conscious of his presence, and the words began to flow from her tongue, every one cutting him to the quick, poisoning his soul with their venom of jealousy and vulgar spite. Contention was the breath of her nostrils; the prime impulse of her heart was suspicion. Little by little she came round to the wonted topic. Had he been to see his friend the thief? Was she in prison again yet? Whom had she been stealing from of late? Oh, she was innocence itself, of course; too good for this evil-speaking world.
Tonight he could not bear it. He rose from his chair like a drunken man, and staggered to the door. She sprang after him, but he was just in time to escape her grasp and spring down the stairs; then, out into the night. Once before, not quite a month ago, be had been driven thus in terror from the sound of her voice, and had slept at a coffeehouse. Now, as soon as he had got out of the street and saw that he was not being pursued, he discovered that he had given away his last copper for the omnibus fare. No matter; the air was pleasant upon his throbbing temples. It was too late to think of knocking at the house where Waymark lodged. Nothing remained but to walk about the streets all night, resting on a stone when he became too weary to go further, sheltering a little here or there when the wind cut him too keenly. Rather this, oh, a thousand times rather, than the hell behind him.
In the early days of October, Waymark's book appeared. It excited no special attention. Here and there a reviewer was found who ventured to hint that there was powerful writing in this new novel, but no one dared to heartily recommend it to public attention. By some it was classed with the "unsavoury productions of the so-called naturalist school;" others passed it by with a few lines of unfavourable comment. Clearly it was destined to bring the author neither fame nor fortune.
Waymark was surprised at his own indifference. Having given a copy to Casti, and one to Maud, he thought very little more of the production. It had ceased to interest him; he felt that if he were to write again it would be in a very different way and of different people. Even when he prided himself most upon his self-knowledge he had been most ignorant of the direction in which his character was developing. Unconsciously, he had struggled to the extremity of weariness, and now he cared only to let things take their course, standing aside from every shadow of new onset. Above all, he kept away as much as possible from the house at Tottenham, where Ida was still living. To go there meant only a renewal of torment. This was in fact the commonplace period of his life. He had no energy above that of the ordinary young man who is making his living in a commonplace way, and his higher faculties lay dormant.
In one respect, and that, after all, perhaps the most important, his position would soon be changed. Mr. Woodstock's will, when affairs were settled, would make him richer by one thousand pounds; be might, if he chose, presently give up his employment, and either trust to literature, or look out for something less precarious. A year ago, this state of things would have filed him with exultation. As it was, he only saw in it an accident compelling him to a certain fateful duty. There was now no reason why his marriage should be long delayed. For Maud's sake the step was clearly desirable. At present she and her mother were living with Miss Bygrave in the weird old house. Of Paul there had come no tidings. Their home was of course broken up, and they had no income of their own to depend upon. Maud herself, though of course aware of Waymark's prospects, seemed to shrink from speaking of the future. She grew more and more uncertain as to her real thoughts and desires.
And what of Ida? It was hard for her to realise her position; for a time she was conscious only of an overwhelming sense of loneliness. The interval of life with her grandfather was dreamlike as she looked back upon it; yet harder to grasp was the situation in which she now found herself, surrounded by luxuries which had come to her as if from the clouds, her own mistress, free to form wishes merely for the sake of satisfying them. She cared little to realise the minor possibilities of wealth. The great purpose, the noble end to which her active life had shaped itself, was sternly present before her; she would not shirk its demands. But there was lacking the inspiration of joy. Could she harden herself to every personal desire, and forget, in devotion to others, the sickness of one great hope deferred? Did her ideal require this of her?
Would he come, now that she was free to give herself where she would, now that she was so alone? The distance between them had increased ever since the beginning of her new life. She knew well the sort of pride he was capable of; but was there not something else, something she dreaded to observe too closely, in the manner of his speech? Did he think so meanly of her as to deem such precautions necessary against her misconstruction? Nay, could he have guarded himself in that way if he really loved her? Would it not have been to degrade her too much in his own eyes?
He loved her once. Had she in any way grown less noble in his eyes, by those very things which she regarded as help and strengthening? Did he perchance think she had too readily accepted ease when it was offered her, sacrificing the independence which he most regarded? If so, all the more would he shrink from losing for her his own independence.
She imagined herself wedded to him; at liberty to stand before him and confess all the thoughts which now consumed her in the silence of vain longing. "Why did I break free from the fetters of a shameful life? Because I loved, and loved you. What gave me the strength to pass from idle luxury, poisoning the energies of the soul, to that life of lonely toil and misery? My love, and my love for you. I kept apart from you then; I would not even let you know what I was enduring; only because you had spoken a hasty, thoughtless word to me, which showed me with terrible distinctness the meaning of all I had escaped, and filled me with a determination to prove to myself that I had not lost all my better nature, that there was still enough of purity in my being to save me finally. What was it that afflicted me with agony beyond all words when I was made the victim of a cruel and base accusation? Not the fear of its consequences; only the dread lest you should believe me guilty, and no longer deem me worthy of a thought. It is no arrogance to say that I am become a pure woman; not my own merits, but love of you has made me so. I love you as a woman loves only once; if you asked me to give up my life to prove it, I am capable of doing no less a thing than that. Flesh and spirit I lay before you -- all yours; do you still think the offering unworthy?"
And yet she knew that she could never thus speak to him; her humility was too great. At moments she might feel this glow of conscious virtue, but for the most part the weight of all the past was so heavy upon her.
Fortunately, her time did not long remain unoccupied. As her grandfather's heiress she found herself owner of the East-end property, and, as soon as it was assured that she would incur no danger, she went over the houses in the company of the builder whom Abraham had chosen to carry out his proposed restorations. The improvements were proceeded with at once, greatly to the astonishment of the tenants, to whom such changes inevitably suggested increase of rent. These fears Ida did her best to dispel. Dressed in the simplest possible way, and with that kind, quiet manner which was natural to her, she went about from room to room, and did her best to become intimately acquainted with the woman-kind of the Lane and the Court. It was not an easy end to compass. She was received at first with extreme suspicion; her appearance aroused that distrust which with the uneducated attaches to everything novel. In many instances she found it difficult to get it believed' that she was really the "landlord." But when this idea had been gradually mastered, and when, moreover, it was discovered that she brought no tracts, spoke not at all of religious matters, was not impertinently curious, and showed indeed that she knew a good deal of what she talked about, something like respect for her began to spring up here and there, and she was spoken of as "the right sort."
Ida was excellently fitted for the work she had undertaken. She knew so well, from her own early experience, the nature of the people with whom she was brought in contact, and had that instinctive sympathy with their lives without which it is so vain to attempt practical social reform. She started with no theory, and as yet had no very definite end in view; it simply appeared to her that, as owner of these slums, honesty and regard for her own credit required that she should make them decent human habitations, and give what other help she could to people obviously so much in need of it. The best was that she understood how and when such help could be afforded. To native practicality and prudence she added a keen recollection of the wants and difficulties she had struggled through in childhood; there was no danger of her being foolishly lavish in charity, when she could foresee with sympathy all the evil results which would ensue. Her only temptation to imprudence was when, as so often happened, she saw some little girl in a position which reminded her strongly of her own dark days; all such she would have liked to take home with her and somehow provide for, saving them from the wretched alternatives which were all that life had to offer them. So, little by little, she was brought to think in a broader way of problems puzzling enough to wiser heads than hers. Social miseries, which she had previously regarded as mere matters of fact, having never enjoyed the opportunities of comparison which alone can present them in any other light, began to move her to indignation. Often it was with a keen sense of shame that she took the weekly rent, a sum scraped together Heaven knew how, representing so much deduction from the food of the family. She knew that it would be impossible to remit the rent altogether, but at all events there was the power of reducing it, and this she did in many cases.
The children she came to regard as her peculiar care. Her strong common sense taught her that it was with these that most could be done. The parents could not be reformed; at best they might be kept from that darkest depth of poverty which corrupts soul and body alike. But might not the girls be somehow put into the way of earning a decent livelihood? Ida knew so well the effect upon them of the occupations to which they mostly turned, occupations degrading to womanhood, blighting every hope. Even to give them the means of remaining at home would not greatly help them; there they still breathed a vile atmosphere. To remove them altogether was the only efficient way, and how could that be done?
The months of late summer and autumn saw several more garden-parties. These, Ida knew, were very useful, but more enduring things must be devised. Miss Hurst was the only person with whom she could consult, and that lady's notions were not very practical. If only she could have spoken freely with Waymark; but that she could no longer on any subject, least of all on this. As winter set in, he had almost forsaken her. He showed no interest in her life, beyond asking occasionally what she was reading, and taking the opportunity to talk of books. Throughout November she neither saw him nor heard from him. Then one evening he came.
She was alone when the servant announced him; with her sat her old companion, Grim. As Waymark entered, she looked at him with friendly smile, and said quietly --
"I thought you would never come again"
"I have not kept away through thoughtlessness," he replied. "Believe that; it is the truth. And to-night I have only come to say good-bye. I am going to leave London."
You used to say nothing would induce you to leave London, and that you couldn't live anywhere else."
"Yes; that was one of my old fancies. I am going right away into the country, at all events for a year or two. I suppose I shall write novels."
He moved uneasily under her gaze, and affected a cheerfulness which could not deceive her.
"Has your book been a success?" Ida asked.
"No; it fell dead."
"Why didn't you give me a copy?"
"I thought too little of it. It's poor stuff. Better you shouldn't read it"
"But I have read it."
"Got it from the library, did you?"
"No; I bought it."
"What a pity to waste so much money!"
"Why do you speak like that? You know how anything of yours would interest me."
"Oh yes, in a certain way, of course."
"For its own sake, too. I can't criticise, but I know it held me as nothing else ever did. It was horrible in many parts, but I was the better for reading it."
He could not help showing pleasure, and grew more natural. Ida had purposely refrained from speaking of the book when she read it, more than a month ago, always hoping that he would be the first to say something about it. But the news he had brought her to-night put an end to reticence on her side. She must speak out her heart, cost her what it might.
"Who should read it, if not I?" she said, as he remained silent. "Who can possibly understand it half so well as I do?"
"Yes," he remarked, with wilful misunderstanding, "you have seen the places and the people. And I hear you are going on with the work your grandfather began?"
"I am trying to do something. If you had been able to give me a little time now and then, I should have asked you to advise and help me. It is hard to work there single-handed."
"You are too good for that; I should have liked to think of you as far apart from those vile scenes."
"Too good for it?" Her voice trembled. "How can any one be too good to help the miserable? If you had said that I was not worthy of such a privilege -- Can you, knowing me as no one else does or ever will, think that I could live here in peace, whilst those poor creatures stint and starve themselves every week to provide me with comforts? Do I seem to you such a woman?"
He only smiled, his lips tortured to hold their peace.
"I had hoped you understood me better than that. Is that why you have left me to myself? Do you doubt my sincerity? Why do you speak so cruelly, saying I am too good, when your real thoughts must be so different? You mean that I am incapable of really doing anything; you have no faith in me. I seem to you too weak to pursue any high end. You would not even speak to me of your book, because you felt I should not appreciate it. And yet you do know me ----"
"Yes; I know you well," Waymark said.
Ida looked steadily at him. "If you are speaking to me for the last time, won't you be sincere, and tell me of my faults? Do you think I could not bear it? You can say nothing to me -- nothing from your heart -- that I won't accept in all humility. Are we no longer even friends?"
"You mistake me altogether."
"And you are still my friend?" she uttered warmly. "But why do you think me unfit for good work?"
"I had no such thought. You know how my ideals oppose each other. I spoke on the impulse of the moment; I often find it so hard to reconcile myself to anything in life that is not, still and calm and beautiful. I am just now bent on forgetting all the things about which you are so earnest."
"Earnest? Yes. But I cannot give my whole self to the work. I am so lonely."
"You will not be so for long," he answered with more cheerfulness. "You have every opportunity of making for yourself a good social position. You will soon have friends, if only you seek them. Your goodness will make you respected. Indeed I wonder at your remaining so isolated. It need not be; I am sure it need not. Your wealth -- I have no thought of speaking cynically -- your wealth must ----"
"My wealth! What is it to me? What do I care for all the friends it might bring? They are nothing to me in my misery. But you . . . I would give all I possess for one kind word from you."
Flushing over forehead and cheeks, she compelled herself to meet his look. It was her wealth that stood between her and him. Her position was not like that of other women. Conventionalities were meaningless, set against a life.
"I have tried hard to make myself ever so little worthy of you," she murmured, when her voice would again obey her will. "Am I still -- still too far beneath you?"
He stood like one detected in a crime, and stammered the words.
"Ida, I am not free."
He had risen. Ida sprang up, and moved towards him.
"This was your secret? Tell me, then. Look -- I am strong! Tell me about it. I might have thought of this. I thought only of myself. I might have known there was good reason for the distance you put between us. Forgive me -- oh, forgive the pain I have caused you!
"You asking for forgiveness? How you must despise me."
"Why should I despise you? You have never said a word to me that any friend, any near friend, might not have said, never since I myself, in my folly, forbade you to. You were not bound to tell me ----"
"I had told your grandfather," Waymark said in a broken voice. "In a letter I wrote the very day he was taken ill, I begged him to let you know that I had bound myself."
As he spoke he knew that he was excusing himself with a truth which implied a falsehood, and before it was too late his soul revolted against the unworthiness.
"But it was my own fault that it was left so long. I would not let him tell you when he wished to; I put off the day as long as I could."
"Since you first knew me?" she asked, in a low voice.
"No! Since you came to live here. I was free before."
It was the part of his confession which cost him most to utter, and the hearing of it chilled Ida's heart. Whilst she had been living through her bitterest shame and misery, he had given his love to another woman, forgetful of her. For the first time, weakness overcame her.
"I thought you loved me," she sobbed, bowing her head.
"I did -- and I do. I can't understand myself, and it would be worse than vain to try to show you how it came about. I have brought a curse upon my life, and worse than my own despair is your misery."
"Is she a good woman you are going to marry?" Ida asked simply and kindly.
"Only less noble than yourself."
"And she loves you -- no, she cannot love as I do -- but she loves you worthily and with all her soul?"
"Worthily and with all her soul -- the greater my despair."
"Then I dare not think of her one unkind thought. We must remember her, and be strong for her sake. You will leave London and forget me soon, -- yes, yes, you will try to forget me. You owe it to her; it is your duty."
"Duty!" he broke out passionately. "What have I to do with duty? Was it not my duty to be true to you? Was it not my duty to confess my hateful weakness, when I had taken the fatal step? Duty has no meaning for me. I have set it aside at every turn. Even now there would be no obligation on me to keep my word, but that I am too great a coward to revoke it."
She stood near to him.
"Dear, -- I will call you so, it is for the last time, -- you think these things in the worst moment of our suffering; afterwards you will thank me for having been strong enough, or cold enough, to be your conscience. There is such a thing as duty; it speaks in your heart and in mine, and tells us that we must part."
"You speak so lightly of parting. If you felt all that I ----"
"My love is no shadow less than yours," she said, with earnestness which was well nigh severity. "I have never wavered from you since I knew you first"
"I meant no reproach, but it will perhaps help you to think of that. You did love her, if it was only for a day, and that love will return."
She moved from him, and he too rose.
"You shame me," he said, under his breath. "I am not worthy to touch your hand."
"Yes," she returned, smiling amid her tears, "very worthy of all the love I have given you, and of the love with which she will make you happy. I shall suffer, but the thought of your happiness will help me to bear up and try to live a life you would not call ignoble. You will do great things, and I shall hear of them, and be glad. Yes; I know that is before you. You are one of those who cannot rest till they have won a high place. I, too, have my work, and ----"
Her voice failed.
"Shall we never see each other again, Ida?"
"Perhaps. In a few years we might meet, and be friends. But I dare not think of that now."
They clasped hands, for one dread moment resisted the lure of eyes and lips, and so parted.
December was half through, and it was the eve of Maud Enderby's marriage-day. Everything was ready for the morrow. Waymark had been away in the South, and the house to which he would take his wife now awaited their coming.
It was a foggy night. Maud had been for an hour to Our Lady of the Rosary, and found it difficult to make her way back. The street lamps were mere luminous blurs upon the clinging darkness, and the suspension of the wonted traffic made the air strangely still. It was cold, that kind of cold which wraps the limbs like a cloth soaked in icy water. When she knocked at the door of her aunt's house, and it was opened to her, wreaths of mist swept in and hung about the lighted hall. It seemed colder within than without. Footsteps echoed here in the old way, and voices lost themselves in a muffled resonance along the bare white walls. The house was more tomb-like than ever on such a night as thin To Maud's eyes the intruding fog shaped itself into ghostly visages, which looked upon her with weird and woeful compassion. She shuddered, and hastened upstairs to her mother's room.
After her husband's disappearance, Mrs. Enderby had passed her days in a morbid apathy, contrasting strangely with the restless excitement which had so long possessed her. But a change came over her from the day when she was told of Maud's approaching marriage. It was her delight to have Maud sit by her bed, or her couch, and talk over the details of the wedding and the new life that would follow upon it. Her interest in Waymark, which had fallen off during the past half-year, all at once revived; she conversed with him as she had been used to do when she first made his acquaintance, and the publication of his book afforded her endless matter for gossip. She began to speak of herself as an old woman, and of spending her last years happily in the country. To all appearances she had dismissed from her mind the calamity which had befallen her; her husband might have been long dead for any thought she seemed to give him. She was wholly taken up with childish joy in trivial matters. The dress in which Maud should be married gave her thoughts constant occupation, and she fretted at any opposition to her ideas. Still, like a child, she allowed herself to be brought round to others' views, and was ultimately led to consent that the costume should be a very simple one, merely a new dress, in fact, which Maud would be able to wear subsequently with little change. Even thus, every detail of it was as important to her as if it had been the most elaborate piece of bridal attire. In talking with Maud, too, she had lost that kind of awe which had formerly restrained her; it was as though she had been an affectionate mother ever since her daughter's birth. She called her by pet names, often caressed her, and wished for loving words and acts in return. Of Miss Bygrave's presence in the house she appeared scarcely conscious, never referring to her, and suffering a vague trouble if her sister entered the room where she was, which Theresa did very seldom.
The new dress had come home finished this evening whilst Maud was away. On the latter's return, her mother insisted on seeing her at once in it, and Maud obeyed. A strange bride, rather as one who was about to wed herself to Heaven beneath the veil, than preparing to be led to the altar.
Having resumed her ordinary dregs, Maud went downstairs to the parlour where her aunt was sitting. Miss Bygrave laid down a book as she entered.
"We shall not see each other after tonight," Theresa said, breaking the stillness with her grave but not unkind voice. "Is there anything more you would like to say to me, Maud?"
"Only that I shall always think of you, and grieve that we are parted."
"You are going into the world," said the other sadly, "my thoughts cannot follow you there. But your purer spirit will often be with me."
"And your spirit with me. If I had been permitted to share your life, that would have been my greatest joy. I am consciously choosing what my soul would set aside. For a time I thought I had reconciled myself to the world; I found delight in it, and came to look on the promptings of the spirit as morbid fancies. That has passed. I know the highest, but between me and it there is a gulf which it may be I shall never pass."
"It is only to few," said Theresa, looking at Maud with her smile of assured peace, "that it is given to persevere and attain."
As they sat once more in silence, there suddenly came a light knock at the house-door. At this moment Maud's thoughts had wandered back to a Christmas of her childhood, when she had sat just as to-night with her aunt, and had for the first time listened to those teachings which had moulded her life. The intervening years were swept away, and she was once more the thoughtful, wondering child, conscious of the great difference between herself and her companions; in spite of herself learning to regard the world in which they moved as something in which she had no part. Of those school companions a few came back to her mind, and, before all, the poor girl named Ida Starr, whom she had loved and admired. What had become of Ida, after she had been sent away from Miss Rutherford's school? She remembered that last meeting with her in the street, on the evening of Christmas Day, and could see her face.
The house door was opened, and Maud heard a voice outside which held her to the spot where she stood. Then Theresa re-entered the room, and after her came Paul Enderby.
He seemed to be wearing a disguise; at all events his clothing was that of a working man, poor and worn, and his face was changed by the growth of a beard. He shivered with cold, and, as Miss Bygrave closed the door behind him, stood with eyes sunk to the ground, in an attitude of misery and shame. Maud, recovering quickly from the shock his entrance had caused her, approached him and took his hand.
"Father," she said gently. Her voice overcame him; he burst into tears and stood hiding his face with the rough cap he held. Maud turned to her aunt, who remained at a little distance, unmoving, her eyes cast down. Before any other word was said, the door opened quickly, and Mrs. Enderby ran in with a smothered cry. Throwing her arms about her husband, she clung to him in a passion of grief and tenderness. In a moment she had been changed from the listless, childish woman of the last few months to a creature instinct with violent emotion. Her mingled excess of joy and anguish could not have displayed itself more vehemently had she been sorrowing night and day for her husband's loss. Maud was terrified at the scene, and shrunk to Theresa's side. Without heeding either, the distracted woman led Paul from the room, and upstairs to her own chamber. Drawing him to a chair, she fell on her knees beside him and wept agonisingly.
"You will stay with me now?" she cried, when her voice could form words. "You won't leave me again, Paul? We will hide you here. -- No, no; I am for getting. You will go away with us, away from London to a safe place. Maud is going to be married to-morrow, and we will live with her in her new home. You have suffered dreadfully; you look so changed, so ill. You shall rest, and I will nurse you. Oh, I will be a good wife to you, Paul. Speak to me, do speak to me: speak kindly, dear! How long is it since I lost you?"
"I daren't stay, Emily," he replied, in a hoarse and broken voice. "I should be discovered. I must get away from England, that is my only chance. I have scarcely left the house where I was hiding all this time. It wouldn't have been safe to try and escape, even if I had had any money. I have hungered for days, and I am weaker than a child."
He sobbed again in the extremity of his wretchedness.
"It was all for my sake!" she cried, clinging around his neck. "I am your curse. I have brought you to ruin a second time. I am a bad, wretched woman; if you drove me from you with blows it would be less than I deserve! You can never forgive me; but let me be your slave, let me suffer something dreadful for your sake! Why did I ever recover from my madness, only to bring that upon you!"
He could speak little, but leaned back, holding her to him with one arm.
"No, it is not your fault, Emily," he said. "Only my own weakness and folly. Your love repays me for all I have undergone; that was all I ever wanted."
When she had exhausted herself in passionate consolation, she left him for a few moments to get him food, and he ate of it like a famished man.
"If I can only get money enough to leave the country, I am saved," he said. "If I stay here, I shall be found, and they will imprison me for years. I had rather kill myself!
"Mr. Waymark will give us the money," was the reply, "and we will go away together."
"That would betray me; it would be folly to face such a risk. If I can escape, then you shall come to me."
"Oh, you will leave me!" she cried. "I shall lose you, as I did before, but this time for ever! You don't love me, Paul! And how can I expect you should? But let me go as your servant. Let me dress like a man, and follow you. Who will notice then?"
He shook his head.
"I love you, Emily, and shall love you as long as I breathe. To hear you speak to me like this has almost the power to make me happy. If I had known it, I shouldn't have stayed so long away from you; I hadn't the courage to come, and I thought the sight of me would only be misery to you. I have lived a terrible life, among the poorest people, getting my bread as they did; oftener starving. Not one of my acquaintances was to be trusted. I have not seen one face I knew since I first heard of my danger and escaped. But I had rather live on like that than fall into the hands of the police; I should never know freedom again. The thought maddens me with fear."
"You are safe here, love, quite safe!" she urged soothingly. Who could know that you are here? Who could know that Maud and I were living here?"
There was a tap at the door. Mrs. Enderby started to it, turned the key, and then asked who was there.
"Emily," said Miss Bygrave's voice, "let me come in -- or let Paul come out here and speak to me."
There was something unusual in the speaker's tone; it was quick and nervous. Paul himself went to the door, and, putting his wife's hand aside, opened it.
"What is it?" he asked.
She beckoned him to leave the room, then whispered:
"Some one I don't know is at the front door. I opened it with the chain on, and a man said he must see Mr. Enderby."
"Can't I go out by the back?" Paul asked, all but voiceless with terror. "I daren't hide in the rooms; they will search them all. How did they know that I was here? 0 God, I am lost!"
They could hear the knocking below repeated. Paul hurried down the stairs, followed by his wife, whom Theresa in vain tried to hold back He knew the way to the door which led into the garden, and opening this, sprang into the darkness. Scarcely had he taken a step, when strong arms seized him.
"Hold on!" said a voice. "You must come back with me into the house."
At the same moment there was a shriek close at hand, and, as they turned to the open door, Paul and his captor saw Emily prostrate on the threshold, and Miss Bygrave stooping over her.
"Better open the front door, ma'am," said the police officer, "and ask my friend there to come through. We've got all we want."
This was done, and when Emily had been carried into the house, Paul was led thither also by his captor. As they stood in the hall, the second officer drew from his pocket a warrant, and read it out with official gravity.
"You'll go quietly with us, I suppose?" he then said.
Paul nodded, and all three departed by the front door.
It was midnight and before Mrs. Enderby showed any signs of returning consciousness. Miss Bygrave and Maud sat by her bed together, and at length one of them noticed that she had opened her eyes and was looking about her, though without moving her head.
"Mother," Maud asked, bending over her, "are you better? Do you know me?"
Emily nodded. There was no touch of natural colour in her face, and its muscles seemed paralysed. And she lay thus for hours, conscious apparently, but paying no attention to those in the room. Early in the morning a medical man was summoned, but his assistance made no change. The fog was still heavy, and only towards noon was it possible to dispense with lamp-light; then there gleamed for an hour or two a weird mockery of day, and again it was nightfall. With the darkness came rain.
Waymark had come to the house about ten o'clock. But this was to be no wedding-day. Maud begged him through her aunt not to see her, and he returned as he came. Miss Bygrave had told him all that had happened.
Mrs. Enderby seemed to sleep for some hours, but just after nightfall the previous condition returned; she lay with her eyes open, and just nodded when spoken to. From eight o'clock to midnight Maud tried to rest in her own room, but sleep was far from her, and when she returned to the sick-chamber to relieve her aunt, she was almost as worn and ghastly in countenance as the one they tended. She took her place by the fire, and sat listening to the sad rain, which fell heavily upon the soaked garden-ground below. It had a lulling effect. Weariness overcame her, and before she could suspect the inclination, she had fallen asleep.
Suddenly she was awake again, wide awake, it seemed to her, without any interval of half-consciousness, and staring horror-struck at the scene before her. The shaded lamp stood on the chest of drawers at one side of the room, and by its light she saw her mother in front of the looking-glass, her raised hand holding something that glistened. She could not move a limb; her tongue was powerless to utter a sound. There was a wild laugh, a quick motion of the raised hand -- then it seemed to Maud as if the room were filled with a crimson light, followed by the eternal darkness.
A fortnight later Miss Bygrave was sitting in the early morning by the bed where Maud lay ill. For some days it had been feared that the girl's reason would fail, and though this worst possibility seemed at length averted, her condition was still full of danger. She had recognised her aunt the preceding evening, but a relapse had followed. Now she unexpectedly turned to the watcher, and spoke feebly, but with perfect self-control.
"Aunt, is madness hereditary?"
Miss Bygrave, who had thought her asleep, bent over her and tried to turn her mind to other thoughts. But the sick girl would speak only of this subject.
"I am quite myself," she said, "and I feel better. Yes, I remember reading somewhere that it was hereditary."
She was quiet for a little.
"Aunt," she then said, "I shall never be married. It would be wrong to him. I am afraid of myself."
She did not recur to the subject till she had risen, two or three weeks after, and was strong enough to move about the room. Waymark had called every day during her illness. As soon as he heard that she was up, he desired to see her, but Maud begged him, through her aunt, to wait yet a day or two. In the night which followed she wrote to him, and the letter was this:
"If I had seen you when you called yesterday, I should have had to face a task beyond my strength. Yet it would be wrong to keep from you any longer what I have to say. I must write it, and hope your knowledge of me will help you to understand what I can only imperfectly express.
"I ask you to let me break my promise to you. I have not ceased to love you; to me you are still all that is best and dearest in the world. You would have made my life very happy. But happiness is now what I dare not wish for. I am too weak to make that use of it which, I do not doubt, is permitted us; it would enslave my soul. With a nature such as mine, there is only one path of safety: I must renounce all. You know me to be no hypocrite, and to you, in this moment, I need not fear to speak my whole thought, The sacrifice has cost me much To break my faith to you, and to put aside for ever all the world's joys -- the strength for this has only come after hours of bitterest striving. Try to be glad that I have won; it is all behind me, and I stand upon the threshold of peace.
"You know how from a child I have suffered. What to others was pure and lawful joy became to me a temptation. But God was not unjust; if He so framed me, He gave me at the same time the power to understand and to choose. All those warnings which I have, in my blindness, spoken of so lightly to you, I now recall with humbler and truer mind. If the shadow of sin darkened my path, it was that I might look well to my steps, and, alas, I have failed so, have gone so grievously astray! God, in His righteous anger, has terribly visited me. The most fearful form of death has risen before me; I have been cast into abysses of horror, and only saved from frenzy by the mercy which brought all this upon me for my good. A few months ago I had also a warning. I did not disregard it, but I could not overcome the love which bound me to you. But for that love, how much easier it would have been to me to overcome the world and myself.
"You will forgive me, for you will understand me. Do not write in reply; spare me, I entreat you, a renewal of that dark hour I have passed through. With my aunt I am going to leave London. We shall remain together, and she will strengthen me in the new life. May God bless you here and hereafter.
After an interval of a day Waymark wrote as follows to Miss Bygrave: --
"Doubtless you know that Maud has written desiring me to release her. I cannot but remember that she is scarcely yet recovered from a severe illness, and her letter must not be final. She entreats me not to write to her or see her. Accordingly I address myself to you, and beg that you will not allow Maud to take any irrevocable step till she is perfectly well, and has had time to reflect. I shall still deem her promise to me binding. If after the lapse of six months from now she still desires to be released, I must know it, either from herself or from you. Write to me at the old address."
Waymark and Casti spent their Christmas Eve together. They spoke freely of each other's affairs, saving that there was no mention of Ida. Waymark had of course said nothing of that parting between Ida and himself. Of the hope which supported him he could not speak to his friend.
A month had told upon Julian as months do when the end draws so near. In spite of his suffering he still discharged his duties at the hospital, but it was plain that he would not be able to do so much longer. And what would happen then?
"Casti," Waymark exclaimed suddenly, when a hint of this thought had brought both of them to a pause, "come away with me."
Julian looked up in bewilderment.
"Anywhere. To some place where the sun shines."
"What an impossible idea! How am I to get my living? And how is she to live?"
"Look here," Waymark said, smiling, "my will is a little stronger than yours, and in the present case I mean to exercise it. I have said, and there's an end of it. You say she'll be away from home to-morrow. Good. We go together, pack up your books and things in half an hour or so, bring them here, -- and then off! Sic volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas!"
And it was done, though not till Waymark had overcome the other's opposition by the most determined effort. Julian understood perfectly well the full significance of the scheme, for all Waymark's kind endeavour to put a hopeful and commonplace aspect on his proposal. He resisted as long as his strength would allow, then put himself in his friend's hands.
It was some time before Julian could set his mind at rest with regard to the desertion of his wife. Though no one capable of judging the situation could have cast upon him a shadow of blame, the first experience of peace mingled itself in his mind with self-reproach. Waymark showed him how utterly baseless any such feeling was. Harriet had proved herself unworthy of a moment's consideration, and it was certain that, as long as she received her weekly remittance -- paid through an agent in London, -- she would trouble herself very little about the rest; or, at all events, any feeling that might possess her would be wholly undeserving of respect. Gradually Julian accustomed himself to this thought.
They were in the Isle of Wight; comfortably housed, with the sea before their eyes, and the boon of sunshine which Casti had so longed for.
Waymark gave himself wholly to the invalid. He had no impulse to resume literary work; anything was welcome which enabled him to fill up the day and reach the morrow. Whilst Julian lay on the couch, which was drawn up to the fireside, Waymark read aloud anything that could lead them to forget themselves. At other times, Julian either read to himself or wrote verse, which, however, he did not show to his friend. Before springtime came he found it difficult even to maintain a sitting attitude for long. His cough still racked him terribly. Waymark often lay awake in the night, listening to that fearful sound in the next room. At such times he tried to fancy himself in the dying man's position, and then the sweat of horror came upon his brow. Deeply he sympathised with the misery he could do so little to allay. Yet he was doing what he might to make the end a quiet one, and the consciousness of this brought him many a calm moment.
However it might be in those fearful vigils, Julian's days did not seem unhappy. He was resigning himself to the inevitable, in the strength of that quiet which sometimes ensues upon despair. Now and then he could even be, to all appearances, light-hearted.
With the early May he had a revival of inspiration. Strangely losing sight of his desperate condition, he spoke once more of beginning the great poem planned long ago. It was living within his mind and heart, he said. Waymark listened to him whilst he unfolded book after book of glorious vision; listened, and wondered.
There was a splendid sunset one evening at this time, and the two watched it together from the room in which they always sat. Seas of molten gold, strands and promontories of jasper and amethyst, illimitable mountain-ranges, cities of unimagined splendour, all were there in that extent of evening sky. They watched it till the vision wasted before the breath of night.
"What shall I read?" Waymark asked, when the lamp was lit.
"Read that passage in the Georgics which glorifies Italy," Julian replied. "It will suit my mood to-night."
Waymark took down his Virgil.
Julian's eyes glistened as the melody rolled on, and when it ceased, both were quiet for a time.
"Waymark," Julian said presently, a gentle tremor in his voice, "why do we never speak of her?"
"Can we speak of her?" Waymark returned, knowing well who was meant.
"A short time ago I could not; now I feel the need. It will give me no pain, but great happiness.',
"That is all gone by," he continued, with a solemn smile. "To me she is no longer anything but a remembrance, an ideal I once knew. The noblest and sweetest woman I have known, or shall know, on earth."
They talked of her with subdued voices, reverently and tenderly. Waymark described what he knew or divined of the life she was now leading, her beneficent activity, her perfect adaptation to the new place she filled.
"In a little while," Julian said, when they had fallen into thought again, "you will have your second letter. And then?"
There was no answer. Julian waited a moment, then rose and, clasping his friend's hand, bade him good night.
Waymark awoke once or twice before morning, but there was no coughing in the next room. He felt glad, and wondered whether there was indeed any improvement in the invalid's health. But at the usual breakfast-time Julian did not appear. Waymark knocked at his door, with no result. He turned the handle and entered.
On this same day, Ida was visiting her houses. Litany lane and Elm Court now wore a changed appearance. At present it was possible to breathe even in the inmost recesses of the Court. There the fronts of the houses were fresh white-washed; in the Lane they were new-painted. Even the pavement and the road-way exhibited an improvement. If you penetrated into garrets and cellars you no longer found squalor and dilapidation; poverty in plenty, but at all events an attempt at cleanliness everywhere, as far, that is to say, as a landlord's care could ensure it. The stair-cases had ceased to be rotten pit-falls; the ceilings showed traces of recent care; the walls no longer dripped with moisture or were foul with patches of filth. Not much change, it is true, in the appearance of the inhabitants; yet close inquiry would have elicited comforting assurances of progressing reform, results of a supervision which was never offensive, never thoughtlessly exaggerated. Especially in the condition of the children improvement was discernible. Lodgers in the Lane and the Court had come to understand that not even punctual payment of weekly rent was sufficient to guarantee them stability of tenure. Under this singular lady-landlord something more than that was expected and required, and, whilst those who were capable of adjusting themselves to the new régime found, on the whole, that things went vastly better with them, such as could by no means overcome their love of filth, moral and material, troubled themselves little when the notice to quit came, together with a little sum of ready money to cover the expenses of removal.
Among those whom Ida called upon this afternoon was an old woman who, in addition to her own voluminous troubles, was always in a position to give a compte-rendu of the general distress of the neighbourhood. People had discovered that her eloquence could be profitably made use of in their own service, and not infrequently, when speaking with Ida, she was in reality holding a brief from this or that neighbour, marked, not indeed in guineas, but in "twos" of strong beverage, obtainable at her favourite house of call. To-day she held such a brief, and was more than usually urgent in the representation of a deserving case.
"Oh, Miss Woodstock, mem, there's a poor young 'oman a-lyin' at the Clock 'Ouse, as it really makes one's 'art bleed to tell of her! For all she's so young, she's a widder, an' pr'aps it's as well she should be, seein' how shockin' her 'usband treated her afore he was took where no doubt he's bein' done as he did by. It's fair cruel, Miss Woodstock, mem, to see her sufferin's. She has fits, an' falls down everywheres; it's a mercy as she 'asn't been run over in the public street long ago. They're hepiplectic fits, I'm told, an' laws o' me! the way she foams at the mouth! No doubt as they was brought on by her 'usband's etrocious treatment. I understand as he was a man as called hisself a gentleman. He was allus that jealous of the pore innocent thing, mem -- castin' in her teeth things as I couldn't bring myself not even to 'int at in your presence, Miss Woodstock, mem. Many's the time he's beat her black an' blue, when she jist went out to get a bit o' somethink for his tea at night, 'cos he would 'ave it she'd been a-doin' what she 'adn't ought ----"
"Where is she?" Ida asked, thinking she had now gathered enough of the features of the case.
"I said at the Clock 'Ouse, mem. Mrs. Sprowl's took her in' mem, and is be'avin' to her like a mother. She knew her, did Mrs. Sprowl, in the pore thing's 'appy days, before ever she married. But of course it ain't likely as Mrs. Sprowl can keep her as long as her pore life lasts; not to speak of the expense; its a terrible responsibility, owin' to the hepiplectic ailment, mem, as of course you understand."
"Can't she get into any hospital!"
"She only just came out, mem, not two weeks ago. They couldn't do no more for the pore creature, and so she had to go. An' she 'asn't not a friend in the world, 'ceptin' Mrs. Sprowl, as is no less than a mother to her."
"Do you know her name?"
"Mrs. Casty, mem. It's a Irish name, I b'lieve, an' I can't say as I'm partial to the Irish, but ----"
"Very well," Ida broke in hastily. "I'll see if I can do anything."
Paying no attention to the blessings showered upon her by the counsel in this case, blessings to which she was accustomed, and of which she well understood the value, Ida went out into the Lane, and walked away quickly. She did not pause at the Clock House, but walked as far as a quiet street some little distance off, and then paced the pavement for a while, in thought. Who this "Mrs. Casty" was she could have little doubt. The calumnies against her husband were just such as Harriet Casti would be likely to circulate.
For a moment it had seemed possible to go to the public-house and make personal inquiries, but reflection showed her that this would be a needless imprudence, even had she been able to overcome herself sufficiently for such an interview. She went home instead, and at once despatched Miss Hurst to the Clock House to discover whether it was indeed Harriet Casti who lay there, and, if so, what her real condition was. That lady returned with evidence establishing the sick woman's identity. Harriet, she reported, was indeed m a sad state, clearly incapable of supporting herself by any kind of work. Her husband -- Miss Hurst was told -- had deserted her, leaving her entirely without means, and now, but for Mrs. Sprowl's charity, she would have been in the workhouse. This story sounded very strangely to Ida. It might mean that Julian was dead. She wrote a few lines to Waymark, at the old address, and had a speedy reply. Yes, Julian Casti was dead, but the grave had not yet closed over him. Harriet had been in receipt of money, and need have wanted for nothing; but now she must expect no more.
The result of it all was that, in the course of a week, Harriet was informed by Miss Hurst that a place was open to her in a hospital near London, where she could remain as long as her ailments rendered it necessary; the expense would be provided for by a lady who had been told of the case, and wished to give what aid she could. The offer was rejected, and with insult. When next she visited Litany Lane, Ida learnt that "pore Mrs. Casty," after a quarrel with her friend Mrs. Sprowl, had fallen downstairs in a fit and broken her neck.
Waymark lived on in the Isle of Wight, until a day when there came to him a letter from Miss Bygrave. It told him that Maud's resolve was immutable, and added that aunt and niece, having become members of "the true Church," were about to join a sisterhood in a midland town, where their lives would be devoted to work of charity.
Not many days after this, Ida, in London, received a letter, addressed in a hand she knew well. There was a flush on her face as she began to read; but presently came the pallor of a sudden joy almost too great to be borne. The letter was a long one, containing the story of several years of the writer's life, related with unflinching sincerity, bad and good impartially set down, and all leading up to words which danced in golden sunlight before her tear-dimmed eyes.
For an hour she sat alone, scarce moving. Yet it seemed to her that only a few minutes were allowed to pass before she took her pen and wrote.
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