The Unclassed by George Gissing
Chapter XVI. Example Without Precept
Waymark was grateful for the help Mr. Woodstock had given him. Indeed, the two soon began to get on very well together. In a great measure, of course, this was due to the change in Waymark's philosophy; whereas his early idealism had been revolted by what he then deemed Mr. Woodstock's crass materialism and vulgarity, the tolerance which had come with widened experience now made him regard these characteristics with far less certainty of condemnation. He was often merely amused at what had formerly enraged and disgusted him. At the same time, there were changes in Abraham himself, no doubt--at all events in his manner to the young man. He, on his side, was also far more tolerant than in the days when he had growled at Osmond for a conceited young puppy.
One Sunday morning in early July, Waymark was sitting alone in his room, when he noticed that a cab stopped before the house. A minute after, there was a knock at his door, an d, to his great surprise, Mr. Woodstock entered, bearing a huge volume in his arms. Abraham deposited it on a chair, wiped his forehead, and looked round the room.
"You smoke poor tobacco," was his first remark, as he sniffed the air.
"Good tobacco happens to be expensive," was the reply. "Will you sit down?"
"Yes, I will." The chair creaked under him. "And so here you hang out, eh? Only one room?"
"As you see."
"Devilish unhealthy, I should think."
The grunt meant nothing in particular. Waymark was eyeing the mighty volume on the chair, and had recognised it Some fortnight previously, he had come upon Abraham, in the latter's study, turning over a collection of Hogarth's plates, and greatly amusing himself with the realism which so distinctly appealed to his taste in art. The book had been pledged in the shop, and by lapse of time was become Abraham's property. It was the first time that Waymark had had an opportunity of examining Hogarth; the pictures harmonised with his mood; they gave him a fresh impulse in the direction his literary projects were taking. He spent a couple of hours in turning the leaves, and Mr. Woodstock had observed his enjoyment. What meant the arrival of the volume here in Beaufort Street?
Abraham lit a cigar, still looking about the room.
"You live alone?" he asked, in a matter-of-fact way.
"Ha! Didn't know but you might have found it lonely; I used to, at your age."
Then, after a short silence--
"By-the-by, it's your birthday."
"How do you know?"
"Well, I shouldn't have done, but for an old letter I turned up by chance the other day. How old are you?"
"H'm. I am sixty-nine. You'll be a wiser man when you get to my age. --Well, if you can find room anywhere for that book there, perhaps you'd like to keep it!"
Waymark looked up in astonishment.
"A birthday present!" he exclaimed. "It's ten years since I had one. Upon my word, I don't well know how to thank you!"
"Do you know what the thing was published at?" asked Abraham in an off-hand way.
"I don't care about the value. It's the kindness. You couldn't have given me anything, either, that would have delighted me so much."
"All right; keep it, and there's an end of the matter. And what do you do with yourself all day, eh? I didn't think it very likely I should find you in."
"I'm writing a novel."
"H'm. Shall you get anything for it?"
"Can't say. I hope so."
"Look here. Why don't you go in for politics?"
"Neither know nor care anything about them."
"Would you like to go into Parliament?"
"Wouldn't go if every borough in England called upon me to-morrow?"
"Plainly, I think myself too good for such occupation. If you once succeed in getting outside the world, you have little desire to go back and join in its most foolish pranks."
"That's all damned nonsense! How can any one be too good to be in Parliament? The better men you have there, the better the country will be governed, won't it?"
"Certainly. But the best man, in this case, is the man who sees the shortest distance before his nose. If you think the world worth all the trouble it takes to govern it, go in for politics neck and crop, by all means, and the world will no doubt thank you in its own way."
Abraham looked puzzled, and half disposed to be angry.
"Then you think novel-writing better than governing the country?" he asked.
"On its own merits, vastly so."
"And suppose there was no government What about your novels then?"
"I'd make a magnificent one out of the spectacle of chaos."
"But you know very well you're talking bosh," exclaimed Abraham, somewhat discomfited. "There must be government, and there must be order, say what you like. Its nature that the strong should rule over the weak, and show them what's for their own good. What else are we here for? if you're going to be a parson, well and good; then cry down the world as much as you please, and think only about heaven and hell. But as far as I can make out, there's government there too. The devil rebelled and was kicked out. Serve him right If he wasn't strong enough to hold his own, he'd ought to have kept quiet."
"You're a Conservative, of course," said Waymark, smiling. "You believe only in keeping the balance. You don't are about reform."
"Don't be so sure of that Let me have the chance and he power, and I'd reform hard enough, many a thing."
"Well, one might begin on a small scale. Suppose one took in hand Litany Lane and Elm Court? Suppose we exert our right as the stronger, and, to begin with, do a little whitewashing? Then sundry stairs and ceilings might be looked to. No doubt there'd be resistance, but on the whole it would be for the people's own good. A little fresh draining mightn't be amiss, or--"
"What the devil's all this to do with politics?" cried Abraham, whose face had grown dark.
"I should imagine, a good deal," returned Waymark, knocking out his pipe. "If you're for government, yen mustn't be above considering details."
"And so you think you have a hit at me, eh? Nothing of the kind. These are affairs of private contract, and no concern of government at all. In private contract a man has only a right to what he's strong enough to exact If a tenant tells me my houses ain't fit to live in, I tell him to go where he'll be better off' and I don't hinder him; I know well enough in a day or two there'll come somebody else. Ten to one he can't go, and he don't. Then why should I be at unnecessary expense in making the places better? As Boon as I can get no tenants I'll do so; not till then."
"You don't believe in works of mere humanity?"
"What the devil's humanity got to do with business?" cried Abraham.
"True," was Waymark's rejoinder.
"See, we won't talk of these kind of things," said Mr. Woodstock. "That's just what we always used to quarrel about, and I'm getting too old for quarrelling. Got any engagement this afternoon?"
"I thought of looking in to see a friend here in the street"
"Male or female?"
"Both; man and wife."
"Oh, then you have got some friends? So had I when I was your age. They go somehow when you get old. Your father was the last of them, I think. But you're not much like him, except a little in face. True, he was a Radical, but you,--well, I don't know what you are. If you'd been a son of mine, I'd have had you ill Parliament by now, somehow or other."
"I think you never had a son?" said Way mark, observing the note of melancholy which every now and then came up in the old man's talk.
"But you had some children, I think?"
"Yes, yes,--they're dead."
He had walked to the window, and suddenly turned round with a kind of impatience.
"Never mind the friend to-day; come and have some dinner with me. I seem to want a bit of company."
This was the first invitation of the kind Waymark had received. He accepted it, and they went out together.
"It's a pleasant part this," Mr. Woodstock said, as they walked by the river. "One might build himself a decent house somewhere about here, eh?"
"Do you think of doing so?"
"I think of doing so! What's the good of a house, and nobody to live in it?"
Waymark studied these various traits of the old man's humour, and constantly felt more of kindness towards him.
On the following day, just as he had collected his rents, and was on his way out of Litany Lane, Waymark was surprised at coming face to face with Mrs. Casti; yet more surprised when he perceived that she had come out from a public-house. She looked embarrassed, and for a moment seemed about to pass without recognising him; but he had raised his hat, and she could not but move her head in reply. She so obviously wished to avoid speaking, that he walked quickly on in another direction. He wondered what he could be doing in such a place as this. It could hardly be that she had acquaintances or connections here. Julian had not given him any particulars of Harriet's former life, and his friend's marriage was still a great puzzle to him. He knew well that the girl had no liking for himself; it was not improbable that this casual meeting would make their intercourse yet more strained. He thought for a moment of questioning Julian, but decided that the matter was no business of his.
It was so rare for him to meet an acquaintance in the streets, that a second chance of the same kind, only a few minutes later, surprised him greatly. This time the meeting as a pleasant one; somebody ran across to him from over the way, and he saw that it was Sally Fisher. She looked pleased. The girl had preserved a good deal of her sea-side complexion through the year and a half of town life, and, when happy, glowed all over her cheeks with the healthiest hue. She held out her hand in the usual frank, impulsive way.
"Oh, I thought it was you! You won't see I no more at the old place."
"No? How's that?"
"I'm leavin' un to-morrow. I've got a place in a shop, just by here, --a chandler's shop, and I'm going to live in."
"Indeed? Well, I'm glad to hear it. I dare say you'll be better off."
"Oh, I say,--you know your friend?"
"What about him?" asked the other, smiling as he looked into the girl's pretty face.
"Well," said Sally, "I don't mind you telling un where I live now, --if you like.--Look, there's the address on that paper; you can take it."
"Oh, I see. In point of fact, you wish me to tell him?"
"Oh, I don't care. I dessay he don't want to know anything about I. But you can if you like."
"I will be sure to, and no doubt he will be delighted. He's been growing thin since I told him you declined to renew his acquaintance."
"Oh, don't talk! And now I must be off. Good-bye. I dessay I shall see you sometimes?"
"Without doubt. We'll have another Sunday at Richmond soon. Good-bye."
It was about four in the afternoon when Sally reached home, and she ran up at once to Ida's room, and burst in, crying out, "I've got it! I've got it!" with much dancing about and joyous singing. Ida rose with a faint smile of welcome. She had been sitting at the window, reading a book lent her by Waymark.
"They said they liked my appearance," Sally went on, "and 'ud give me a try. I go in to-morrow. It won't be a over easy place, neither. I've to do all the cleaning in the house, and there's a baby to look after when I'm not in the shop."
"And what will they give you?"
"Ten shillings a month for the first half-year; then a rise."
"And you're satisfied?"
"Oh, it'll do till something better turns up. Oh, I say, I met your friend just after I'd come away."
"Did you?" said Ida quietly.
"Yes; and I told him he could tell his friend where I was, if he liked."
"The Irishman, you know," explained Sally, moving about the room. "I told you he'd been asking after me."
Ida seemed all at once to awake from a dream. She uttered a long "Ah!" under her breath, and for a moment looked at the girl like one who is struck with an unexpected explanation. Then she turned away to the window, and again gazed up at the blue sky, standing so for nearly a minute.
"Are you engaged to-night?" Sally asked presently.
"No; will you sit with me?"
"You're not feeling very well to-day, are you?"
"I think not," replied Ida, passing her hand over her forehead. "I've been thinking of going out of London for a few days, perhaps to the seaside."
"Go to Weymouth!" cried Sally, delighted at the thought. "Go and see my people, and tell un how I'm getting on. They'll make you hide with un all the time you're there, s'nough. It isn't a big house, but it's comfortable, and see if our mother wouldn't look after you! It's three weeks since I wrote; if I don't mind there'll be our father up here looking after I. Now, do go!"
"No, it's too far. Besides, if I go, I shall want to be quite alone."
On the following evening Waymark was expected. At his last visit he had noticed that Ida was not in her usual spirits. To-night he saw that something was clearly wrong, and when Ida spoke of going to the seaside, he strongly. urged her to do so.
"Where should you go to?" he asked.
"I think to Hastings. I went there once, when I was a child, with my mother--I believe I told you. I had rather go there than anywhere else."
"I feel the need of a change myself," he said, a moment after, and without looking at her. "Suppose I were to go to Hastings, too--at the same time that you're there--would you dislike it?"
She merely shook her head, almost indifferently. She did not care to talk much to-night, and frequently nodded instead of replying with words.
"But--you would rather I didn't?" he urged.
"No, indeed," still in the same indifferent way. "I should have company, if I found it dull."
"Then let us go down by the same train--will you, Ida?"
As far as she remembered, it was the first time that he had ever addressed her thus by her name. She looked up and smiled slightly.
"If you like," was her answer.