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The Unclassed (Chapter22)

2006-08-22 22:45

  Chapter XXII. Under-Currents

  “Well, how do you like her?” Julian asked, when their visitors had left them.

  “Oh, I dare say she's all right,” was the reply. “She's got a good deal to say for herself.”

  Julian turned away, and walked about the room.

  “What does she work at?” said Harriet, after glancing at him furtively once or twice.

  “I have no idea.”

  “It's my belief she doesn't work at all.”

  “Why should Waymark have said so, then?” asked Julian, standing still and looking at her. He spoke very quietly, but his face betrayed some annoyance.

  Harriet merely laughed, her most ill-natured and maliciously suggestive laugh, and rose from her seat. Julian came up and faced her.

  “Harriet,” he said, with perfect gentleness, though his lips trembled, “why do you always prefer to think the worst of people? I always look for the good rather than the evil in people I meet.”

  “We're different in a good many things, you see,” said Harriet, with a sneer. Her countenance had darkened. Julian had learnt the significance of her looks and tones only too well. Under the circumstances it would have been better to keep silence, but something compelled him to speak.

  “I am sure of this,” he said. “If you will only meet her in her own spirit, you will find her a valuable friend——just such a friend as you need. But of course if you begin with all manner of prejudices and suspicions, it will be very hard for her to make you believe in her sincerity. Certainly her kindness, her sympathy, her whole manner, was perfect to-night.”

  “You seemed to notice her a good deal.”

  “Naturally I did, being so anxious that you should find a friend and companion.”

  “And who is she, I should like to know?” said Harriet, with perfection of subdued acrimony. “How can I tell that she's a proper person to be a friend to me? I know what her mother was, at all events.”

  “Her mother? What do you know of her mother?”

  Julian had never known the whole story of that scar on his wife's forehead.

  “Never mind,” said Harriet, nodding significantly.

  “I have no idea what you mean,” Julian returned. “At all events I can trust Waymark, and I know very well he would not have brought her here, if she hadn't been a proper person for you to know. But come,” he added quickly, making an effort to dismiss the disagreeable tone between them, “there's surely no need for us to talk like this, Harriet. I am sure you will like her, when you know her better. Promise me that you will try, dear. You are so lonely, and it would rejoice me so to feel that you had a friend to help you and to be a comfort to you. At all events you will judge her on her own merits, won't you, and put aside all kind of prejudice?”

  “I haven't said I shouldn't; but I suppose I must get to know her first?”

  Ominous as such a commencement would have been under any other circumstances, Julian was so prepared for more decided hostility, that he was even hopeful. When he met Waymark next, the change in his manner was obvious; he was almost cheerful once more. And the improvement held its ground as the next two or three weeks went by. Ida came to Beaufort Street often, and Julian was able to use the freedom he thus obtained to spend more time in Waymark's society. The latter noticed the change in him with surprise.

  “Things go well still?” he would ask, when Julian came in of an evening.

  “Very well indeed. Harriet hasn't been out one night this week.”

  “And you think it will last?”

  “I have good hope.”

  They did not speak much of Ida, however. It was only when three weeks had gone by that Julian asked one night, with some hesitation in putting the question, whether Waymark saw her often.

  “Pretty often,” was the reply. “I am her tutor, in a sort of way. We read together, and that kind of thing.”

  “At her lodgings?”

  “Yes. Does it seem a queer arrangement?”

  “She seems very intelligent,” said Julian, letting the question pass by, and speaking with some constraint. “Isn't it a pity that she can't find some employment better suited to her?”

  “I don't see what is open. Could you suggest anything?”

  Julian was silent.

  “In any case, it won't last very long, I suppose?” he said, looking up with a smile which was rather a trembling of the lip.

  “Why?”

  They gazed at each other for a moment.

  “No,” said Waymark, shaking his head and smiling. “It isn't as you think. It is perfectly understood between us that we are to be agreeable company to each other, and absolutely nothing beyond that. I have no motive for leading you astray in the matter. However things were, I would tell you frankly.”

  There was another silence.

  “Do you think there is anything like confidence between your wife and her?” Waymark asked.

  “That I hardly know. When I am present, of course they only talk about ordinary women's interests, household affairs, and so on.”

  “Then you have no means of——well, of knowing whether she has spoken about me to your wife in any particular way?”

  “Nothing of the kind has ever been hinted to me”

  “Waymark,” Julian continued, after a pause, “you are a strange fellow.”

  “In what respect.”

  “Do you mean to tell me honestly that——that you——”

  “Well?——you mean to say, that I am not in love with the girl?”

  “No, I wasn't going to say that,” said Julian, with his usual bashfulness, heightened in this case by some feeling which made him pale. “I meant, do you really believe that she has no kind of regard for you beyond mere friendship?”

  “Why? Have you formed any conclusions of your own on the point?”

  “How could I help doing so?”

  “And you look on me,” said Waymark, after thinking for a moment, “as an insensible dog, with a treasure thrown at his feet which he is quite incapable of appreciating or making use of?”

  “No. I only feel that your position must be a very difficult one. But perhaps you had rather not speak of these things?”

  “On the contrary. You are perfectly right, and the position is as difficult as it well could be.”

  “You had made your choice, I suppose, before you knew Ida at all?”

  “So far from that, I haven't even made it yet. I am not at all sure that my chance of ever marrying Maud Enderby is not so utterly remote, that t ought to put aside all thought of it. In that case——”

  “But this is a strange state of mind,” said Julian, with a forced laugh. “Is it possible to balance feelings in this way?”

  “You, in my position, would have no doubt?”

  “I don't know Miss Enderby,” said Julian, reddening.

  Waymark walked up and down the room, with his hands behind his back, his brows bent. He had never told his friend anything of Ida's earlier history; but now he felt half-tempted to let him know everything. To do so, might possibly give him that additional motive to a clear and speedy decision in the difficulties which grew ever more pressing. Yet was it just to Ida to speak of these things even to one who would certainly not repeat a word? Once or twice he all but began, yet in the end a variety of motives kept him silent.

  “Well,” he exclaimed shortly, “we'll talk about this another time. Perhaps I shall have more to tell you. Don't be gloomy. Look, here I am just upon the end of my novel. If all goes smoothly I shall finish it in a fortnight, and then I will read it to you.”

  “I hope you may have better luck with it than I had,” said Julian.

  “Oh, your time is yet to come. And it's very likely I shall be no better off. There are things in the book which will scarcely recommend it to the British parent. But it shall be published, if it is at my own expense. If it comes to the worst, I shall sell my mining shares to Woodstock.”

  “

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