On ordinary Sundays the Byasses breakfasted at ten o'clock; this morning th_eal was ready at eight, and Bessie's boisterous spirits declared th_xception to be of joyous significance. Finding that Samuel's repeate_romises to rise were the merest evasion, she rushed into the room where h_ay fly-fretted, dragged the pillows from under his tousled head, and s_elaboured him in schoolboy fashion that he had no choice but to leap toward_is garments. In five minutes he roared down the kitchen-stairs for shaving- water, and in five minutes more was seated in his shirt-sleeves, consumin_ried bacon with prodigious appetite. Bessie had the twofold occupation o_aiting upon him and finishing the toilet of the baby; she talked incessantl_nd laughed with an echoing shrillness which would have given a headache fo_he rest of the day to any one of average nervous sensibility.
They were going to visit Samuel's parents, who lived at Greenwich. Bessie ha_ot yet enjoyed an opportunity of exhibiting her first-born to the worth_ouple; she had, however, written many and long letters on the engrossin_ubject, and was just a little fluttered with natural anxiety lest th_nfant's appearance or demeanour should disappoint the expectations she ha_xcited. Samuel found his delight in foretelling the direst calamities.
'Don't say I didn't advise you to draw it mild,' he remarked whils_reakfasting, when Bessie had for the tenth time obliged him to look round an_ive his opinion on points of costume. 'Remember it was only last week yo_old them that the imp had never cried since the day of his birth, and I'l_et you three half-crowns to a bad halfpenny he roars all through to-night.'
'Hold your tongue, Sam, or I'll throw something at you!'
Samuel had just appeased his morning hunger, and was declaring that the da_romised to be the hottest of the year, such a day as would bring out ever_ice inherent in babies, when a very light tap at the door caused Bessie t_bandon her intention of pulling his ears.
'That's Jane,' she said. 'Come in!'
The Jane who presented herself was so strangely unlike her namesake who la_ll at Mrs. Peckover's four months ago, that one who had not seen her in th_nterval would with difficulty have recognised her. To begin with, she ha_rown a little; only a little, but enough to give her the appearance of he_ull thirteen years. Then her hair no longer straggled in neglect, but wa_rushed very smoothly back from her forehead, and behind was plaited in a coi_f perfect neatness; one could see now that it was soft, fine, mouse-coloure_air, such as would tempt the fingers to the lightest caress. No longer wer_er limbs huddled over with a few shapeless rags; she wore a full-length dres_f quiet grey, which suited well with her hair and the pale tones of he_omplexion. As for her face—oh yes, it was still the good, simple, unremarkable countenance, with the delicate arched eyebrows, with th_iffident lips, with the cheeks of exquisite smoothness, but so sadly thin.
Here too, however, a noteworthy change was beginning to declare itself. Yo_ere no longer distressed by the shrinking fear which used to be her constan_xpression; her eyes no longer reminded you of a poor animal that has bee_eaten from every place where it sought rest and no longer expects anythin_ut a kick and a curse. Timid they were, drooping after each brief glance, th_yes of one who has suffered and cannot but often brood over wretche_emories, who does not venture to look far forward lest some danger may loo_nevitable—meet them for an instant, however, and you saw that lustre wa_eviving in their still depths, that a woman's soul had begun to manifes_tself under the shadow of those gently falling lids. A kind word, and wit_hat purity of silent gratitude the grey pupils responded! A merry word, an_ark if the light does not glisten on them, if the diffident lips do not for_ smile which you would not have more decided lest something of its sweetnes_hould be sacrificed.
'Now come and tell me what you think about baby,' cried Bessie. 'Will he do?
Don't pay any attention to my husband; he's a vulgar man!'
Jane stepped forward.
'I'm sure he looks very nice, Mrs. Byass.'
'Of course he does, bless him! Sam, get your coat on, and brush your hat, an_et Miss Snowdon teach you how to behave yourself. Well, we're going to leav_he house in your care, Jane. We shall be back _some time_ to-morrow night, but goodness knows when. Don't you sit up for us.'
'You know where to wire to if there's a fire breaks out in the back kitchen,'
observed Samuel facetiously. 'If you hear footsteps in the passage at half- past two to-morrow morning don't trouble to come down; wait till daylight t_ee whether they've carried off the dresser.'
Bessie screamed with laughter.
'What a fool you are, Sam! If you don't mind, you'll be making Jane laugh.
You're sure you'll be home before dark to-morrow, Jane?'
'Oh, quite sure. Mr. Kirkwood says there's a train gets to Liverpool Stree_bout seven, and grandfather thought that would suit us.'
'You'll be here before eight then. Do see that your fire's out before yo_eave. And you'll be sure to pull the door to? And see that the area-gate'_astened.'
'Can't you find a few more orders?' observed Samuel.
'Hold your tongue! Jane doesn't mind; do you, Jane? Now, Sam, are you ready?
Bless the man, if he hasn't got a great piece of bread sticking in hi_hiskers! How _did_ it get there? Off you go!'
Jane followed them, and stood at the front door for a moment, watching them a_hey departed.
Then she went upstairs. On the first floor the doors of the two rooms stoo_pen, and the rooms were bare. The lodgers who had occupied this part of th_ouse had recently left; a card was again hanging in the window of Bessie'_arlour. Jane passed up the succeeding flight and entered the chamber whic_ooked out upon Hanover Street. The truckle-bed on which her grandfather slep_ad been arranged for the day some two hours ago; Snowdon rose at six, an_verything was orderly in the room when Jane came to prepare breakfast an hou_ater. At present the old man was sitting by the open window, smoking a pipe.
He spoke a few words with reference to the Byasses, then seemed to resume _rain of thought, and for a long time there was unbroken silence. Jane seate_erself at a table, on which were a few books and writing materials. She bega_o copy something, using the pen with difficulty, and taking extreme pains.
Occasionally her eyes wandered, and once they rested upon her grandfather'_ace for several minutes. But for the cry of a milkman or a paper-boy in th_treet, no sound broke the quietness of the summer morning. The blesse_unshine, so rarely shed from a London sky—sunshine, the source of all solac_o mind and body—reigned gloriously in heaven and on earth.
When more than an hour had passed, Snowdon came and sat down beside the girl.
Without speaking she showed him what she had written. He nodded approvingly.
'Shall I say it to you, grandfather?'
Jane collected her thoughts, then began to repeat the parable of th_amaritan. From the first words it was evident that she frequently thu_elivered passages committed to memory; evident, too, that instruction and _atural good sense guarded her against the gabbling method of recitation. Whe_he had finished Snowdon spoke with her for awhile on the subject of th_tory. In all he said there was the earnestness of deep personal feeling. Hi_heme was the virtue of Compassion; he appeared to rate it above all othe_orms of moral goodness, to regard it as the saving principle of human life.
'If only we had pity on one another, all the worst things we suffer from i_his world would be at an end. It's because men's hearts are hard that life i_o full of misery. If we could only learn to be kind and gentle an_orgiving—never mind anything else. We act as if we were all each other'_nemies; we can't be merciful, because we expect no mercy; we struggle to ge_s much as we can for ourselves and care nothing for others. Think about it; never let it go out of your mind. Perhaps some day it'll help you in your ow_ife.'
Then there was silence again. Snowdon went back to his seat by the window an_elit his pipe; to muse in the sunshine seemed sufficient occupation for him.
Jane opened another book and read to herself.
In the afternoon they went out together. The old man had grown more talkative.
He passed cheerfully from subject to subject, now telling a story of hi_xperiences abroad, now reviving recollections of London as he had known i_ixty years ago. Jane listened with quiet interest. She did not say muc_erself, and when she did speak it was with a noticeable effort to overcom_er habit of diffidence. She was happy, but her nature had yet to develo_tself under these strangely novel conditions.
A little before sunset there came a knocking at the house-door. Jane went dow_o open, and found that the visitor was Sidney Kirkwood. The joyful look wit_hich she recognised him changed almost in the same moment; his face wore a_xpression that alarmed her; it was stern, hard-set in trouble, and his smil_ould not disguise the truth. Without speaking, he walked upstairs and entere_nowdon's room. To Sidney there was always something peculiarly impressive i_he first view of this quiet chamber; simple as were its appointments, i_roduced a sense of remoteness from the common conditions of life. Invariabl_e subdued his voice when conversing here. A few flowers such as can be bough_n the street generally diffused a slight scent through the air, makin_nother peculiarity which had its effect on Sidney's imagination. When Jan_oved about, it was with a soundless step; if she placed a chair or arrange_hings on the table, it was as if with careful avoidance of the least noise.
When his thoughts turned hitherwards, Sidney always pictured the old ma_itting in his familiar mood of reverie, and Jane, in like silence, bendin_ver a book at the table. Peace, the thing most difficult to find in the worl_hat Sidney knew, had here made itself a dwelling.
He shook hands with Snowdon and seated himself. A few friendly words wer_poken, and the old man referred to an excursion they had agreed to mak_ogether on the morrow, the general holiday.
'I'm very sorry,' replied Kirkwood, 'but it'll be impossible for me to go.'
Jane was standing near him; her countenance fell, expressing uttermos_isappointment.
'Something has happened,' pursued Sidney, 'that won't let me go away, even fo_ few hours. I don't mean to say that it would really prevent me, but I shoul_e so uneasy in my mind all the time that I couldn't enjoy myself, and _hould only spoil your pleasure. Of course you'll go just the same?'
Snowdon reassured him on this point. Jane had just been about to lay supper; she continued her task, and Sidney made a show of sharing the meal. Soo_fter, as if conscious that Sidney would speak with more freedom of hi_rouble but for her presence, Jane bade them good-night and went to her ow_oom. There ensued a break in the conversation; then Kirkwood said, with th_bruptness of one who is broaching a difficult subject:
'I should like to tell you what it is that's going wrong with me. I don'_hink anyone's advice would be the least good, but it's a miserable affair, and I shall feel better for speaking about it.'
Snowdon regarded him with eyes of calm sympathy. There is a look of helpfu_ttention peculiar to the faces of some who have known much suffering; in thi_nstance, the grave force of character which at all times made the countenanc_mpressive heightened the effect of its gentleness. In external matters, th_wo men knew little more of each other now than after their first meeting, bu_he spiritual alliance between them had strengthened with every conversation.
Each understood the other's outlook upon problems of life, which are no_ommonly discussed in the top rooms of lodging-houses; they felt and though_ifferently at times, but in essentials they were at one, and it was the firs_ime that either had found such fruitful companionship.
'Did you hear anything from the Peckovers of Clara Hewett?' Sidney began b_sking.
'Not from them. Jane has often spoken of her.'
Sidney again hesitated, then, from a fragmentary beginning, passed into _etailed account of his relations with Clara. The girl herself, had sh_verheard him, could not have found fault with the way in which the story wa_arrated. He represented his love as from the first without response whic_ould give him serious hope; her faults he dealt with not as characteristic_o be condemned, but as evidences of suffering, the outcome of crue_onditions. Her engagement at the luncheon-bar he spoke of as a detestabl_lavery, which had wasted her health and driven her in the end to an act o_esperation. What now could be done to aid her? John Hewett was still i_gnorance of the step she had taken, and Sidney described himself a_istracted by conflict between what he felt to be his duty, and fear of wha_ight happen if he invoked Hewett's authority. At intervals through the day h_ad been going backwards and forwards in the street where Clara had he_odging. He did not think she would seek to escape from her friend_ltogether, but her character and circumstances made it perilous for her t_ive thus alone.
'What does she really wish for?' inquired Snowdon, when there had been a shor_ilence.
'She doesn't know, poor girl! Everything in the life she has been living i_ateful to her—everything since she left school. She can't rest in th_osition to which she was born; she aims at an impossible change o_ircumstances. It comes from her father; she can't help rebelling against wha_eem to her unjust restraints. But what's to come of it? She may perhaps get _lace in a large restaurant—and what does that mean?'
He broke off, but in a moment resumed even more passionately:
'What a vile, cursed world this is, where you may see men and women peris_efore your eyes, and no more chance of saving them than if they were goin_own in mid-ocean! She's only a child—only just seventeen—and already she'_one through a lifetime of miseries. And I, like a fool, I've often been angr_ith her; I was angry yesterday. How can she help her nature? How can we an_f us help what we're driven to in a world like this? Clara isn't made to b_ne of those who slave to keep themselves alive. Just a chance of birth!
Suppose she'd been the daughter of a rich man; then everything we now call _ault in her would either have been of no account or actually a virtue. Jus_ecause we haven't money we may go to perdition, and comfortable people tel_s we've only ourselves to blame. Put _them_ in our place!'
Snowdon's face had gone through various changes as Sidney flung out hi_ehement words. When he spoke, it was in a tone of some severity.
'Has she no natural affection for her father? Does she care nothing for wha_rouble she brings him?'
Sidney did not reply at once; as he was about to speak, Snowdon bent forwar_uddenly and touched his arm.
'Let me see her. Let me send Jane to her to-morrow morning, and ask her t_ome here. I might—I can't say—but I might do some good.'
To this Sidney gave willing assent, but without sanguine expectation. I_urther talk it was agreed between them that, if this step had no result, Joh_ewett ought to be immediately informed of the state of things.
This was at ten o'clock on Sunday evening. So do we play our tragi-comedies i_he eye of fate.
The mention of Jane led to a brief conversation regarding her before Sidne_ook his leave. Since her recovery she had been going regularly to school, t_ake up for the time of which she had been defrauded by Mrs. Peckover. He_rand-father's proposal was, that she should continue thus for another si_onths, after which, he said, it would be time for her to learn a business.
Mrs. Byass had suggested the choice of artificial-flower making, to which sh_erself had been brought up; possibly that would do as well as anything else.
'I suppose so,' was Sidney's reluctant acquiescence. 'Or as ill as anythin_lse, would be a better way to put it.'
Snowdon regarded him with unusual fixedness, and seemed on the point of makin_ome significant remark; but immediately his face expressed change of purpose, and he said, without emphasis:
'Jane must be able to earn her own living.'
Sidney, before going home, walked round to the street in which he had alread_ingered several times to-day, and where yesterday he had spoken with Clara.