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The Unclassed (Chapter31)

2006-08-22 22:50

  Chapter XXXI. New Prospects

  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.”

  “My carriage?”

  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.

  “Yes. Why?”

  “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 studi

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