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Chapter 11 A DISAPPOINTMENT

  • 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?'
  • 'Yes.'
  • 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.
  • The windows of the house he gazed at were dark.