Thyrza by George Gissing
Chapter XXXIV. A Loan on Security
Yet again it was summer-time, the second summer since the parting between Lydia and her sister, all but the end of the second twelvemonth since the day when Thyrza had heard something that was not meant for her ears. In Walnut Tree Walk the evening was clear and warm. A man was going along the street selling flowers in pots; his donkey-cart was covered with leaf and bloom, and with a geranium under each arm, he trudged onwards, bellowing. Children were playing at five-stones on the pavement you heard an organ away in Kennington Road.
Lydia was having tea and trimming a bonnet at the same time; the bonnet belonged to Mrs. Poole, and the work on it was for friendship's sake. Only on that understanding had Lydia consented to do it. Mrs. Poole had frequently wished to give her an odd job at needlework for which she herself either had not time or lacked the skill, and to pay for it as she would have had to pay any one else. For some reason, Lydia declined to do anything for her on those conditions; she would help as a friend, but not otherwise.
She was hurrying, for she wanted to take the bonnet to Paradise Street by eight o'clock, and it was now half-past seven. Her face had the air of thoughtful contentment which best became it. Her window was open, and, as in the old days, there were flower-pots on the sill. Her eye now and then rested for a moment on the little patches of colour; she did not think of the flowers, but they helped pleasantly to tone her mind. Even so will a strain of music sometimes pass through the memory, unmarked by us, yet completing the happiness of some peaceful hour.
She drank her last drop of tea, and; almost simultaneously, put her last touch to the bonnet. Then she prepared herself for going out, hummed a tune whilst she carefully packed the piece of head-gear in its bandbox, and went on her way.
When Mrs. Poole answered her knock at the house-door, Lydia said:
'I hope you'll like it. I shall see you on Sunday, and you'll tell me then.'
'But where are you going? Why won't you come in?'
'Oh, I have to buy something.'
'Come in for a minute, then.'
'No, thank you; not to-night.'
'Do as I tell you!' said the other, with good-natured persistence. 'I believe you're ashamed of your work, and that's why you're running away. Come in at once.'
Lydia yielded, though seemingly with reluctance. They went down into the kitchen, where the two young Pooles were at an uproarious game.
'Now there's been just about enough of that!' exclaimed their mother, raising her voice to be heard. 'Miss Trent 'll think we have a bear-garden down here. You must play quietly, or off you go to bed --I mean it!'
The bonnet was taken forth and examined, with many ejaculations of delight from its owner. The only article of attire upon which Mrs. Poole ever spent a thought was her bonnet, a noteworthy instance of the inconsequence of human nature, seeing that it was the rarest thing for her to leave the house, save when she ran out at night to make purchases, and then she always donned an object of straw, whose utility was its only merit. Though as happy a woman as you could have found in Lambeth, she seldom had a moment of leisure from getting-up to bedtime. Her kind are very numerous. Such women pass through a whole summer without an hour of rest in the sunshine, and often through a married lifetime without going beyond the circle of neighbouring streets.
But the bonnet delighted her. She tried it on, and, having placed a looking-glass on the table, went through the wonderful feat in which women are so skilled, that of seeing the back of her head. Then, having constrained Lydia to sit down, she pursued multifarious occupations, talking the while.
'I hope you don't notice any bad smells in the house,' she said; 'there's Luke at his usual work, upstairs. What pleasure he can find in that is more than I can understand. I know he's ruined my table with his chemicals. There's Jacky with him, too. If I was Mr. Bunce I should be afraid to have the boy taught such things. He'll set the house on fire some day, will Master Jack, and burn himself and his little sister to death.'
'But you see,' said Lydia, 'Mr. Ackroyd does keep to it. You didn't think he'd persevere more than a week or two, and now it must be a good three months.'
'Well, yes, it does look as if it was going to be different from the other things,' Mrs. Poole admitted, with a grudging laugh. 'Well, he always had a liking for reading books of that kind. Let's hope he knows his own mind at last. But then he can't never do anything in moderation, can't Luke. He's got an idea into his head that he's going to invent a new kind of candle--if you ever heard such a thing! 'Well,' says I to him, last night, when he come talking to me about it, 'it's what I call a come-down. Here a while ago you wasn't content with nothing but setting the world upside down; now you'll be satisfied if you can invent a new candle, and make money out of it. Well,' I says, 'I'd be above candles, Luke!' My! you should have seen how angry he got! Who said he wanted to make money? Who'd ever heard him mentioning money, he'd like to know? If people had low minds, that wasn't his fault! And then he went off grumbling to himself.'
'But,' ventured Lydia, with diffidence, 'I don't see there's any harm even if he did think of making money--do you, Mrs. Poole?'
'Not I, child! I only talked so just to tease him. I do so like to tease Luke; he puts on such airs. Let him make money of course, if he can; all the better for him. I'd a deal rather have him doing this than spending all his nights at that club in Westminster Bridge Road, talking nonsense, and worse. Why, he's ever so much better to live with now than he used to be. He really does talk sensible sometimes, and he isn't such a great baby about--about some things.'
Mrs. Poole smiled and held her tongue.
'And what's the last news from your sister?' was her next question.
'Oh, I had a letter yesterday,' Lydia replied, her face lighting up. 'It was all about the concert next Wednesday.'
'Well, well! She must be full of it, mustn't she, now? It must be a trying thing, to sing for the first time.'
'But it isn't so bad as if she had to sing alone, you know.'
'No, to be sure; but it must be bad enough even in a choir. Shan't you see her before the night?'
'No. And I shan't be able to speak to her on Wednesday, either. But the next day we shall have all the evening together. She sent me my ticket. Look, I've brought it to show you.'
It was a ticket for a concert in one of the suburbs of London. Lydia kept it in an envelope, and handled it with care. Mrs. Poole, before taking it, wiped her hands on her apron, and then held the card between the tips of her thumb and middle finger.
'Will her name be on the programme?' she asked.
'No. They're called Mr. Redfern's choir, that's all.'
'Well, I'm sure it's very nice, and something to be proud of. And she still keeps her health?'
'She says she is very well indeed.'
'Mrs. Poole,' added Lydia, lowering her voice, 'you haven't said anything about it?'
'No, no, my dear; not I.'
'It's better not, I think. Of course it doesn't really matter, but still----'
'Bless you, I understand very well, Lydia. There's no occasion to talk about such things at all. I suppose Mary Bower knows?'
'Oh yes, I told Mary.'
'Wouldn't she have liked to go with you?'
'Yes, I'm sure she would. But I think I'd rather be alone. There'll be another concert before long, I dare say, and then she shall go. It's just this first time, you know.'
It was a cosy kitchen, and Lydia, once seated here, seemed to forget about the shopping of which she had spoken. Mrs. Poole's stream of talk was intimate and soothing; plenty of good sense, no scandal, and no lack of blitheness. But at length it was declared to be the children's bed time, and Lydia made this the signal for rising to take her leave.
'Now do sit still!' urged Mrs. Poole. 'You're such a restless body. I've got lots of things I want to talk about yet, if only I could think of them.'
'I really must go,' Lydia pleaded.
'No, you mustn't now, I shan't be a minute getting these children off to bed, and then we'll have just five minutes' comfortable talk. Just sew me a new tape into that apron, there's a good girl. You know where the cotton is--on the dresser up there.'
Lydia took up the task cheerfully, and by when it was completed the youngsters were stripped and night-gowned, and ready to say their reluctant good-night. Their mother carried them upstairs, one on her back and one in her arms--good strong mother.
And the chat was renewed, till the next event of the evening, supper, had to be prepared for. Lydia seemed to have given up the struggle; she consented to stay for the meal without much pressing. When the table was laid Mrs. Poole went upstairs to her brother's bedroom. On opening the door she was met with a very strong odour of chemical experimentalising. Despite the warmth of the season, there was a fire, with two or three singular pots boiling upon it. A table was covered with jars and phials, and test-tubes and retorts. Here Ackroyd was bending to explain something to a sharp-eyed little lad, Jacky Bunce. Luke had allowed his beard to grow of late, and it improved his appearance; he looked more self-reliant than formerly. He was in his shirt-sleeves.
'Now, Jacky,' began Mrs. Poole, 'what'll your father say to you staying out till these hours? He'll think you're blowed up. Why, it's half-past nine.'
'All right, Jane,' said Ackroyd. 'Jack and I have had a deal of talk about the compounds of hydrogen.'
'And if I was his mother, him and I would have a deal of talk about waistcoats,' rejoined Mrs. Poole, shrewdly.
'I declare, Luke, you ought to tie an apron over him, if he's going to make that mess of himself.'
'It's an old waistcoat, Mrs. Poole,' protested Jack. 'I keep it on purpose.'
'Oh, you do! Well, mind it don't go through to your shirt, that's all. Now run away home, Jacky, there's a good boy.'
'He shan't be five minutes more,' interposed Luke. 'I'm coming down myself in five minutes.'
'Well, supper's waiting. And here's Miss Trent here, too. Not that that'll make you come any quicker; perhaps I'd better not have mentioned it.'
Jane pressed her lips together after speaking, and withdrew.
'Don't you like Miss Trent, Mr. Ackroyd?' Jack inquired, when they were left alone. He was, as I have said, a sharp-eyed boy, and Luke could have given wonderful reports of his keenness of brain. It is often thus. The father has faculties which never ripen in himself, and which, as likely as not, cause him a life's struggle and unrest; they come to maturity and efficiency in the son. What more pathetic, rightly considered, than the story of those fathers whose lives are but a preparation for the richer lives of their sons? Poor Bunce, fighting with his ignorance and his passions, unable to overcome either, obstinate in holding on to a half-truth, catching momentary glimpses of a far-away ideal--what did it all mean, but that his boy should stand where he had been thrown, should see light where his eyes had striven vainly against the fog! Perhaps there is compensation to the parent if he live to see the lad conquering; but what of those who fall into silence when all is still uncertain, when they recognise in their offspring an hereditary weakness and danger as often as a rare gleam of new promise? One would bow reverently and sadly by the graves of such men.
It was a happy thought of Ackroyd's to give the boy lessons in chemistry. To teach is often the surest way of learning. In explaining simple things, Luke often enough discovered for the first time his own ignorance. In very fact, the greater part of the past two years had been spent by him in making discoveries of that nature --long before he thought of new combinations of oleaginous matter. By degrees he had come to suspect that, as regarded the employment of his leisure hours, he was very decidedly on the wrong track. Curiously, for Ackroyd as well as for Bunce, there had arisen a measure of evil from Walter Egremont's aspiring work. Luke, though not to such a violent degree as Bunce, was led to offer opposition to everything savouring of idealism--that is to say, of idealism as Egremont had presented it. He had heard but one of Walter's lectures, yet that was enough to realise for him the kind of thing which henceforth he disliked and distrusted. Egremont, it seemed to him, had sought to make working men priggish and effeminate, whereas what they wanted was back-bone and consciousness of the bard facts of life. Ackroyd had never cared much for literature proper; his intellectual progress was henceforth to be in the direction of hostility to literature. When his various love difficulties ceased to absorb all his attention, he went back to his scientific books, and found that his appetite for such studies was keener than ever. At length he converted his bedroom into a laboratory, resolved to pursue certain investigations seriously. When his heart--or diaphragm, or whatever else it may be--left him at peace, his brain could work to sufficient purpose. And of late he had worked most vigorously. He ceased to trouble himself about politics, and religion, and social matters. His views thereon, he declared, had undergone no change whatever, but he had no time to talk at present.
But a question of Jack's waited for an answer.
'That's only my sister's fun,' Luke replied, with a smile. 'There's no reason why I shouldn't like her.'
'I think she don't look bad,' Jack remarked, as if allowing himself to stray from chemistry to a matter of trivial interest. He added: 'But she don't come up to Miss Nancarrow. I like her; she's the right kind of girl, don't you think so?'
'I say, Mr. Ackroyd, why don't you never come now and call for her, like you used to?'
'Used to? When?'
'Why, you know well enough. Not long ago,'
'Oh, years ago!'
'No, not more than a year ago.'
'Yes, Jack; a year and a half.'
'Well it didn't seem so long. I say, why don't you? I've only just thought of it.'
'There's no need to call. I see her sometimes, and that's enough for friends, isn't it?'
'I believe you was going to marry Miss Nancarrow, wasn't you?'
'Hollo! Who told you such a thing as that?'
'Nobody. I thought of it myself. It looks like it, when I think. I'm older now, you see, than I was then; I see more into things.'
Ackroyd laughed heartily.
'It seems you do.'
'Well but, tell me, Mr. Ackroyd.'
'No, I shan't. When you get a bit older still, you'll know that men have no business to talk about such things. Understand that, Jack. Never get into the way of talking about things that aren't your business; there's been a deal of harm done by that.'
Luke was silent. The boy continued:
'You're sure you are friends with Miss Nancarrow?'
'Of course I am, capital friends. Why, we were both of us on the Greenwich boat last Sunday, and we laughed and talked no end of time.'
But Luke was ready to leave the room. He appointed another evening when Jack should come, and the lad scampered off.
Leaving Ackroyd to go down and have supper with his sister and Lydia, and with Mr. Poole, who had just come home from a late job, let us go after Jack into Newport Street. As he reached the house, his father was just coming out.
'You're too late,' said the latter, with a shake of the head. 'Tell Mr. Ackroyd you must be back by nine. What about your lessons, eh?'
'Lessons!' exclaimed Jack, scornfully. 'Do them in half a crack before breakfast. Why, there's nothing but a bit of jography, and some kings, and three proportion sums, and a page of----'
'All right. Go to bed quietly. Nelly's asleep long ago. I shall be back in half an hour.'
Jack went very softly upstairs. In the one room which was still the entire home of his father and himself and his little sister, he found a lamp burning low. The child was in her small cot, sleeping peacefully. Jack began to unbutton his acid-stained waistcoat, having seized a piece of bread and butter that lay waiting for him, when his thoughts intervened to suspend the operation of undressing. He left the room again, and looked at the door on the opposite side of the landing. He saw a light beneath it. He advanced and rapped softly.
'Who's that?' was asked from within.
'You ain't in bed yet, Miss Nancarrow, are you?' Jack asked, with the frankness of expression which became his age.
The door opened, and Totty appeared, able to receive visitors still with perfect propriety.
'What is it, Jacky?'
The lad was munching his bread and butter.
'You haven't got a spoonful of that jam left, have you, Miss Nancarrow?' he asked, with a mixture of confidence and shamefacedness.
'I dare say I have. But this is a nice time to come asking for jam. Isn't your father in?'
'Gone out. Says he'll be half an hour. Plenty of time, Miss Nancarrow.
'Come in then.'
Totty closed the door, and produced from her cupboard--a receptacle regarded with profound interest both by Nelly and the maturer Jack--a pot of black currant preserve. She spread some with a liberal hand on the lad's bread, then watched him as he ate, her enjoyment equalling his own. The bread finished, she offered a spoonful of jam pure and simple; it was swallowed with gusto.
'I say, Miss Nancarrow,' remarked Jack, 'I don't half-like going to a new house. I can't see what father wants to move for; we're well enough off here.'
'Why don't you want to go?'
'Well, there's a good many things. I shouldn't mind so much, you know, if you was coming as well.'
Again she laughed.
'That's as much as to say, Jack, you'll be sorry when there's no jam. It isn't me, not it!'
'Don't be so sure. I shall come and see you often enough, and not for jam, either. You're always jolly with me. And I don't see why you can't come as well. Father 'ud like you to.'
Totty regarded him with a smile for an instant, then asked, carelessly:
'How do you know that? As if it made any difference to your father!'
'But he's said he wished you was coming. He said so day before yesterday.'
'Nonsense! Now get off to bed. He'll be back, and we shall both get scolded.'
Jack drew to the door, but Totty recalled him.
'What an idea, for your father to say he wished I was coming! Tell me how he said it.'
'Why, it was about Nelly. We was talking and saying Nelly 'ud miss you. And father said, half to himself like, 'Nelly wouldn't be sorry if Miss Nancarrow 'ud come and be with her always, and I dare say somebody else wouldn't be sorry, either.''
'Why, you silly boy, he meant you, of course.'
'Oh no, he didn't. Think I can't tell what he meant!'
'Run off to bed! I think I hear your father coming in.'
Jack made a rush, and in one minute and a half was under the bed-clothes.
The removal which Bunce was about to effect signified an improvement of circumstances. It was time for his luck to turn. Year after year he had found himself still at grip with poverty. The shadow of his evil domestic experiences lengthened as he drew further away, and it seemed as if he would never get beyond it. To a man of any native delicacy, the memory of bondage to a hateful woman clings like a long disease which impoverishes the blood; there is only one way of eradicating it, and that is with the aid of a strong, wholesome, new emotion. And at length Bunce began to feel that the past was really past; one sign of it was the better fortune which enabled him to earn more money. One of his children was dead, but the other two were growing in health of mind and body, and he could clothe them better, could look forward to their future, at last, without that sinking of the heart which at times had made him pause by night on one of the river bridges and long for a moment's madness that he might plunge and have done with everything. Few men had come out of darkness into the light of a sober working day with less help than he had had. It was his nature to keep silence on his difficulties. He did not much care to hold continuous friendship with any man, for, like all who have the habit of talking to themselves, he was conscious that his companionship lacked attraction. Moreover--a thing which superficial observers do not realise--like all who are most genuinely at odds with the world, the first head of his quarrel was with himself. He was only too well aware of his own defects and errors. He felt himself to be unamiable, often gross of understanding, always ready to fall into a blunder which other men would avoid. He had stood in his own way as often as he had been balked by others, perhaps oftener.
Now he was going to risk a step forward, was going to leave his single room lodging and take two rooms in a brighter street some distance away. They would be vacant for him a fortnight hence, and he had money enough to buy furniture. Yet he did not look forward to the change as cheerfully as might have been expected.
For one reason, and for one only, the old abode was preferable to him; it was a reason of such weight that it cost him no little exertion of common sense to put it aside. At the same time, it had to be put aside, and most resolutely, for, whenever it occupied his mind, he soon found himself uttering contemptuous remarks upon his own thick-headed folly. He would sometimes blurt out such words as 'fool--idiot--blockhead,' as he walked along the street, astonishing passers-by who could not be supposed to know that the speaker was applying these epithets to himself.
On Sunday evening, a day or two after the conversation just reported between Jack and Totty, Bunce took his children to Battersea Park. When there, he did not walk about among the people, but sought a retired piece of lawn and sat down to enjoy a pipe. Nelly had brought a doll with her, and found delectable occupation in explaining to it all the various objects which might reasonably excite its curiosity in such a place. Jack talked with his father of chemistry, of his school teachers, of what he would be when he was a man. Their conversation was interrupted by Nelly's exclaiming:
'See, there's Miss Nancarrow!'
Totty was coming over the grass at a little distance, between two companions, girls dressed with an emphasis of Sunday elegance which made her look rather brown and plain by contrast. Totty never cared to spend much on clothes, a singular feature of her character. When the three were passing at a distance of twenty yards, Nelly cried out with shrill voice:
'Hush, child!' said her father, more annoyed than seemed necessary. 'Don't scream at people in that way.'
Nelly was abashed, but her cry had caught Totty's ear. The latter nodded, laughed, and went on with her friends.
'I say, father,' Jack began, 'do you know what I think?'
'Why, I think if you asked Miss Nancarrow to come and take a room in the new house, she would.'
'Why on earth should I ask her to do such a thing?' inquired Bunce, laying down his pipe on the grass; it had gone out since Totty's passing. He looked at his son with bent brows, and rather fiercely.
'Well, I know I'd like her to, and so would Nelly. I can get on with Miss Nancarrow, 'cause she's got so much sense. I don't think much of other women.'
Bunce grubbed up roots of grass with his hard, blunt fingers. Then he took up his pipe again and turned the stem about between his teeth. And the while he cast glances at Jack, side glances, half savage.
'What makes you think she'd come?' he inquired at length, with a blundering attempt at indifference of tone.
'I talked to her about it the other night.'
'Oh, you did, did you? And what business had you to talk about such things, I'd like to know?'
'I don't see no harm. I told her we'd all be glad if she'd come.'
'What the confusion! And who told you to say any such thing?'
Jack was amazed at the outburst of wrath he had provoked.
'Well, father,' he muttered, 'I've heard you say yourself that you'd be glad if she was coming.'
'Then I'll thank you not to repeat what I say. Leave Miss Nancarrow alone. If I find you've talked to her in that way again, you and me 'll quarrel, Jack.'
The boy fell into a fit of sulks, and drew to a little distance, where he lay fiat, beating the earth vigorously with a stick.
Then it strangely happened that someone came round the bushes, in the shadow of which the three were reposing, and that it was no other than Miss Nancarrow, this time unaccompanied. Bunce did not notice her till she stood before him, then he jumped to his feet.
'Don't disturb yourself, Mr. Bunce,' said Totty, with her usual self-command. 'I'm only going to have a talk with Nelly, that's all.'
She sat down on the grass by the little one, and began a grave dialogue on the subject of certain ailments from which the doll had recently recovered.
It had been nursed through measles--Nelly having had them not long ago--and its face still showed signs of the disease.
Jack was not disposed to talk. His discretion had been impugned, and at Jack's age one feels anything of that kind shrewdly. Letting his eyes wander about the portion of park that lay before them, he saw at a little distance the nucleus of a religious meeting. At any other time he would have scorned to pay attention to such a phenomenon; at present he was glad of any opportunity of asserting his independence. He knew his father ridiculed prayer-meetings, consequently he rose and began to walk in the direction of the group of people.
'Where are you going, Jack?' cried Bunce.
'Only for a walk. I'll come back.'
His father acquiesced. Totty suspended her talk and gazed after him for a moment. Then she turned to Bunce.
'So you've found rooms, Mr. Bunce?' she said, with a piece of sorrel between her lips.
'Yes, I've got two that'll suit us, I think.'
He mentioned where they were, and made a few remarks about them.
'If there's anything I can do to help you,' said Totty, looking at Jack's distant figure, 'you'll tell me, I know. There might be some sewing. I've got plenty of time. Window blinds, and those things.'
'Well, I've made arrangements about all that with the landlady,' Bunce replied, in some embarrassment. 'I thank you very much, Miss Nancarrow, all the same.'
'That's too bad of you. You knew very well I'd have been glad to help. Tell your father he's very soon forgetting his old friends, Nelly.'
She drew the child to her as she spoke, and kissed her cheek.
'You know very well I shan't do that, Miss Nancarrow,' said Bunce, glancing at her. 'Whoever else, I'm not likely to forget you.'
'I'm not so sure of that. Are you, Nelly?'
He said nothing. Totty let her eyes catch a glimpse of his face. He was looking down, and again grubbing up grass.
'I shall be very sorry if you don't come and see the children sometimes,' he mumbled. 'Or at all events, I hope they can come and see you.'
'Shall you still work at the same shop?' Totty asked, paying no attention to the last remark.
'Yes, for a bit at all events.'
'Why don't you start a shop of your own, Mr. Bunce?' she next inquired, as if a happy idea had struck her.
'I shouldn't mind doing that,' he answered, with a hard laugh. 'But shops can't be had for the wishing.'
'You don't need a big one. Now like that shop in Duke Street, you know. What's the rent of a place like that?'
'I'm sure I don't know. I suppose it goes with the house.'
'Then what's the rent of the house likely to be? You could let all you didn't want, you know, and that 'ud almost pay the rent, I should think.'
He laughed again.
'What's the good of talking about it? Why there's a little locksmith's and ironmonger's shop to let in that street just off the far end of Lambeth Walk. They're selling off now; I'm going to buy a few things to-morrow. But what's the good of thinking about it?'
'I don't know. What's the rent?'
'Not more than forty pounds, house and all, I dare say. A mate of mine was talking about it. He said he wished he'd a couple of hundred pounds to take it and start. The man's dead, and his wife wanted to sell the business, but she can't get an offer.'
The meeting which Jack was attending had began to sing a hymn. The voices, harmonised by distance, sounded pleasantly.
'I like that hymn-tune, Mr. Bunce,' said Totty, 'don't you?'
'I don't think much about hymns, Miss Nancarrow.'
'Well, you might say you like it.'
'I do, to tell the truth--so long as I can't hear the words.'
'I don't care nothing about the words, either. So we agree about something, at all events.'
'I don't think we've differed about many things, have we?'
She looked at him frankly. and smiled. Then she said:
'Oh, you used to be a bit afraid of me, I know. Shall I tell you what it was made us real friends? It was when you burnt your hand, and I did it up for you.'
Bunce now returned her look, and his swarthy cheeks reddened. His eyes fell again.
'You behaved very kindly,' he said in a half-ashamed way. 'I don't forget, and I'm not likely ever to. And I shan't forget all you've done for the children, either. I don't think there's any one living I've more to thank for than you.'
'Well, it's true.'
'But look here, Mr. Bunce. About that shop. Suppose you had two hundred and fifty pounds; could you make a start, do you think?'
'I rather suppose I could. And where's two hundred and fifty pound to come from, Miss Nancarrow?'
'I'll lend it you if you like.'
He gazed at her with so strange a face that Totty broke into hearty laughter. Bunce joined, appreciating the joke.
'I mean it, Mr. Bunce. I've got two hundred and fifty pounds--at all events I can have, whenever I like.'
He gazed again, wondering at her tone.
'Now I see you don't believe me, so I shall have to explain.'
She told him the story of her legacy, only forbearing to speak of the condition attached to it.
'Will you let me lend it you, Mr. Bunce?'
'No, I'm sure I shan't, Miss Nancarrow. You'll have plenty of use for that yourself.'
'Look here, Nelly!' The child was listening to this remarkable dialogue, and trying to understand. 'Tell your father he's to do just what I want. If he doesn't, I'll never speak again neither to you nor Jacky. Now, I mean it.'
'Please father,' said Nelly, 'do what Miss Nancarrow wants.'
Bunce kept his face half averted. He was at a dire pass.
'Well, Mr. Bunce?'
'That's all nonsense!' he exclaimed. 'How can I tell that I should ever be able to pay you back?'
'So you won't?'
'Of course I can't. It's just like you to offer, but of course I can't.'
'Very well, I can't help it.' She lowered her voice. 'I forgot to tell you that I can't get the money till I'm married. It doesn't matter, I've offered it.'
Bunce stared at her.
'Good-bye, Nelly,' Totty went on. 'I can't be friends with you after this. Your father's told me to go about my business.'
'No, he hasn't,' protested the child, dolorously. 'You haven't, have you, father?'
'Yes, he has. It doesn't matter, I'm off.'
She jumped up. Bunce sprang to his feet at the same time, and caught her up in a moment. She turned, looked at him reddened, laughed.
'Why did you say anything about that money?' he began, able to speak without restraint at length. 'If I hadn't known about that!'
'I don't see what the money's got to do with it.'
'I do. Look, I should have felt like making a fool of myself--a man of my age and with two children--but I do believe when I'd got into those new rooms I couldn't have helped some day asking you if --well, I can't say it. I'm ashamed of myself, that's the truth.'
'And what does that matter, Mr. Bunce, so long as I'm not ashamed of you?'
'When you might do so well? A man like me--and the children?'
'How you talk! Don't you think I'm fond of the children?'
'Come and sit down again and talk a bit.'
'No. Will you have the money, Mr. Bunce, or won't you?'
'I'd very much rather have you without it, Totty, and that's the honest truth.'
'Yes, but you can't, you see. Now, you'll have a rare tale to tell of me some day, when you're tired of me, And it's all come of your changing your lodgings.'
'No, you don't know. Come and sit down, and I'll tell you.'
Totty went back, and fondled Nelly against her side, and explained why the threatened change of abode had made her act with such independence--characteristic to the end.