The Unclassed by George Gissing
Chapter XVII. The Missing Years
"Why shouldn't life be always like this?" said Waymark, lying on the upper beach and throwing pebbles into the breakers, which each moment drew a little further hack and needed a little extra exertion of the arm to reach them. There was small disturbance by people passing, here some two miles up the shore eastward from Hastings. A large shawl spread between two walking-sticks stuck upright gave, at this afternoon hour, all the shade needful for two persons lying side by side, and, even in the blaze of unclouded summer, there were pleasant airs flitting about the edge of the laughing sea. "Why shouldn't life be always like this? It might be--sunshine or fireside--if men were wise. Leisure is the one thing that all desire, but they strive for it so blindly that they frustrate one another's hope. And so at length they have come to lose the end in the means; are mad enough to set the means before them as in itself an end."
"We must work to forget our troubles," said his companion simply.
"Why, yes, and those very troubles are the fit reward of our folly. We have not been content to live in the simple happiness of our senses. We must be learned and wise, forsooth. We were not content to enjoy the beauty of the greater and the lesser light. We must understand whence they come and whither they go--after that, what they are made of and how much they weigh. We thought for such a long time that our toil would end in something; that we might become as gods, knowing good and evil. Now we are at the end of our tether, we see clearly enough that it has all been worse than vain; how good if we could unlearn it all, scatter the building of phantasmal knowledge in which we dwell so uncomfortably! It is too late. The gods never take back their gifts; we wearied them with our prayers into granting us this one, and now they sit in the clouds and mock us."
Ida looked, and kept silent; perhaps scarcely understood.
"People kill themselves in despair," Waymark went on, "that is, when they have drunk to the very dregs the cup of life's bitterness. If they were wise, they would die at that moment--if it ever comes-- when joy seems supreme and stable. Life can give nothing further, and it has no more hellish misery than disillusion following upon delight."
"Did you ever seriously think of killing yourself?" Ida asked, gazing at him closely.
"Yes. I have reached at times the point when I would not have moved a muscle to escape death, and from that it is not far to suicide. But my joy had never come, and it is hard to go away without that one draught.--And you!"
"I went so far once as to buy poison. But neither had I tasted any happiness, and I could not help hoping."
"And you still wait--still hope?"
Ida made no direct answer. She gazed far off at the indistinguishable border-land of sea and sky, and when she spoke it was in a softened tone.
"When I was here last, I was seven years old. Now I am not quite nineteen. How long I have lived since then--how long! Yet my life didnot really begin till I was about eleven. Till then I was a happy child, understanding nothing. Between then and now, if I have discovered little good either in myself or in others, I have learned by heart everything that is bad in the world. Nothing in meanness or vileness or wretchedness is a secret to me. Compare me with other girls of nineteen--perhaps still at school. What sort of a companion should I be for one of those, I wonder! What strange thoughts I should have, if ever I talked with such a girl; how old I should feel myself beside her!"
"Your knowledge is better in my eyes than their ignorance. My ideal woman is the one who, knowing every darkest secret of life, keeps yet a pure mind--as you do, Ida."
She was silent so long that Waymark spoke again.
"Your mother died when you were eleven!"
"Yes, and that was when my life began. My mother was very poor, but she managed to send me to a pretty good school. But for that, my life would have been very different; I should not have understood myself as well as I always have done. Poor mother,--good, good mother! Oh, if I could but have her now, and thank her for all her love, and give her but one year of quiet happiness. To think that I can see her as if she were standing before me, and yet that she is gone, is nowhere, never to be brought back to me if I break my heart with longing!"
Tears stood in her eyes. They meant more than she could ever say to another, however close and dear to her. The secret of her mother's life lay in the grave and in her own mind; the one would render it up as soon as the other. For never would Ida tell in words of that moment when there had come to her maturing intelligence clear insight into her mother's history, when the fables of childhood had no longer availed to blind her, and every recalled circumstance pointed but to one miserable truth.
"She's happier than we are," Waymark said solemnly. "Think how long she has been resting."
Ida became silent, and presently spoke with a firmer voice.
"They took her to a hospital in her last illness, and she died there. I don't know where her grave is."
"And what became of you? Had you friends to go to?"
"No one; I was quite alone.--We had been living in lodgings. The landlady told me that of course I couldn't stay on there; she couldn't afford to keep me; I must go and find a home somewhere. Try and think what that meant to me. I was so young and ignorant that such an idea as that I might one day have to earn my own living had never entered my mind. I was fed and clothed like every one else,-- a good deal better, indeed, than some of the children at school,-- and I didn't know why it shouldn't always be so. Besides, I was a vain child; I thought myself clever; I had even begun to look at myself in the glass and think I was handsome. It seemed quite natural that every one should be kind and indulgent to me. I shall never forget the feeling I had when the landlady spoke to me in that hard, sharp way. My whole idea of the world was overset all at once; I seemed to be in a miserable dream. I sat in my mother's bedroom hour after hour, and, every step I heard on the stairs, I thought it must be my mother coming back home to me;--it was impossible to believe that I was left alone, and could look to no one for help and comfort."
"Next morning the landlady came up to me again, and said, if I liked, she could tell me of a way of earning my living. It was by going as a servant to an eating-house in a street close by, where they wanted some one to wash up dishes and do different kinds of work not too hard for a child like me. I could only do as I was advised; I went at once, and was engaged. They took off the dress I was wearing, which was far too good for me then, and gave me a dirty, ragged one; then I was set to work at once to clean some knives. Nothing was said about wages or anything of that kind; only I understood that I should live in the house, and have all given me that I needed. Of course I was very awkward. I tried my very hardest to do everything that was set me, but only got scolding for my pains; and it soon came to boxes on the ear, and even kicks. The place was kept by a man and wife; they had a daughter older than I, and they treated her just like a hired servant. I used to sleep with the girl in a wretched kitchen underground, and the poor thing kept me awake every night with crying and complaining of her hard life. It was no harder than mine, and I can't think she felt it more; but I had even then a kind of stubborn pride which kept me from showing what I suffered. I couldn't have borne to let them see what a terrible change it was for me, all this drudgery and unkindness; I felt it would have been like taking them into my confidence, opening my heart to them, and I despised them too much for that. I even tried to talk in a rough rude way, as if I had never been used to anything better--"
"That was fine, that was heroic!" broke in Waymark admiringly.
"I only know it was miserable enough. And things got worse instead of better. The master was a coarse drunken brute, and he and his wife used to quarrel fearfully. I have seen them throw knives at each other, and do worse things than that, too. The woman seemed somehow to have a spite against me from the first, and the way her husband behaved to me made her hate me still more. Child as I was, he did and said things which made her jealous. Often when she had gone out of an evening, I had to defend myself against him, and call the daughter to protect me. And so it went on, till, what with fear of him, and fear of her, and misery and weariness, I resolved to go away, become of me what might. One night, instead of undressing for bed as usual, I told Jane--that was the daughter--that I couldn't bear it any longer, and was going away, as soon as I thought the house was quiet. She looked at me in astonishment, and asked me if I had anywhere to go to. Will you believe that I said yes, I had? I suppose I spoke in a way which didn't encourage her to ask questions; she only lay down on the bed and cried as usual. "Jane," I said, in a little, "if I were you, I'd run away as well." "I will," she cried out, starting up, "I will this very night! We'll go out together." It was my turn to ask her if she had anywhere to go to. She said she knew a girl who lived in a good home at Tottenham, and who'd do something for her, she thought. At any rate she'd rather go to the workhouse than stay where she was. So, about one o'clock, we both crept out by a back way, and ran into Edgware Road. There we said good-bye, and she went one way, and I another.
"All that night I walked about, for fear of being noticed loitering by a policeman. When it was morning, I had come round to Hyde Park, and, though it was terribly cold--just in March--I went to sleep on a seat. I woke about ten o'clock, and walked off into the town, seeking a poor part, where I thought it more likely I might find something to do. Of course I asked first of all at eating-houses, but no one wanted me. It was nearly dark, and I hadn't tasted anything. Then I begged of one or two people--I forgot everything but my hunger--and they gave me a few coppers. I bought some bread, and still wandered about. There are some streets into which I can never bear to go now; the thought of walking about them eight years ago is too terrible to me. Well, I walked till midnight, and then could stand up no longer. I found myself in a dirty little street where the house doors stood open all night; I went into one, and walked up as far as the first landing, and there fell down in a corner and slept all night."
"Poor child!" said Waymark, looking into her face, which had become very animated as the details of the story succeeded each other in her mind.
"I must have looked a terrible little savage on that next morning," Ida went on, smiling sadly. "Oh, how hungry I was! I was awoke by a woman who came out of one of the rooms, and I asked her if she'd give me something to eat. She said she would, if I'd light her fire for her, and clean up the grate. I did this, gladly enough. Then she pretended I had done it badly, and gave me one miserable little dry crust, and told me to be off. Well, that day I found another woman who said she'd give me one meal and twopence a day for helping her to chop wood and wash vegetables; she had a son who was a costermonger, and the stuff he sold had to be cleaned each day. I took the work gladly. She never asked me where I spent the night; the truth was I chose a different house each night, where I found the door open, and went up and slept on the stairs. I often found several people doing the same thing, and no one disturbed us.
"I lived so for a fortnight, then I was lucky enough to get into another eating-house. I lived there nearly two months, and had to leave for the very same reason as at the first place. I only half understood the meaning of what I had to resist, but my resistance led to other unbearable cruelties, and again I ran away. I went about eight o'clock in the evening. The thought of going back to my old sleeping places on the stairs was horrible. Besides, for some days a strange idea had been in my head. I had not forgotten my friend Jane, and I wondered whether, if I went to Tottenham, it would be possible to find her. Perhaps she might be well off there, and could help me. I had made inquiries about the way to Tottenham, and the distance, and when I left the eating-house I had made up my mind to walk straight there. I started from Hoxton, and went on and on, till I had left the big streets behind. I kept asking my way, but often went long distances in the wrong direction. I knew that Tottenham was quite in the country, and my idea was to find a sleeping-place in some field, then to begin my search on the next day. It was summer, but still I began to feel cold, and this drew me away out of my straight road to a fire which I saw burning a little way off. I thought it would be nice to sit down by it and rest. I found that the road was being mended, and by the fire lay a watchman in a big tub. Just as I came up he was eating his supper. He was a great, rough man, but I looked in his face and thought it seemed good, so I asked him if he'd let me rest a little. Of course he was surprised at seeing me there, for it must have been midnight, and when he asked me about myself I told him the truth, because he spoke in a kind way. Then he stopped eating and gave me what was left; it was a bit of fat bacon and some cold potatoes; but how good it was, and how good he was! To this moment I can see that man's face. He got out of his tub and made me take his place, and he wrapped me up in something he had there. Then he sat by the fire, and kept looking at me, I thought, in a sad sort of way; and he said, over and over again, 'Ay, it's bad to be born a little girl; it's bad to be born a little girl; pity you wasn't a boy.' Oh, how well I can hear his voice this moment! And as he kept saying this, I went off to sleep."
She stopped, and played with the pebbles.
"And in the morning?" asked Waymark.
"Well, when I woke up, it was light, and there were a lot of other men about, beginning their work on the road. I crept out of the tub, and when they saw me, they laughed in a kind sort of way, and gave me some breakfast. I supose I thanked them, I hope I did; the watchman was gone, but no doubt he had told the others my story, for they showed me the way to Tottenham, and wished me luck."
"And you found your friend Jane!"
"No, no; how was it likely I should? I wandered about till I could stand no longer, and then I went up to the door of a house which stood in a garden, and begged for something to eat. The servant who opened was sending me away, when her mistress heard, and came to the door. She stood looking at me for some time, and then told me to come in. I went into the kitchen, and she asked me all about myself. I told her the truth; I was too miserable now to do anything else. Well, the result was--she kept me there."
"Indeed, for good. In that very house I lived for six years. Oh; she was the queerest and kindest little body! At first I helped her servant in the kitchen,--she lived quite by herself, with one servant,--but little by little she made me a sort of lady's maid, and I did no more rough work. You wouldn't believe the ridiculous fancies of that dear old woman! She thought herself a great beauty, and often told me so very plainly, and she used to talk to me about her chances of being married to this and the other person in the neighbourhood. And the result of all this was that she had to spend I don't know how long every day in dressing herself, and then looking at herself in the glass. And I had to learn how to do her hair, and put paint and powder on her face, and all sorts of wonderful things. She was as good to me as she could be, and I never wanted for anything. And so six years passed, and one morning she was found dead in her bed.
"Well, that was the end of the happiest time of my life. In a day or two some relatives came to look after things, and I had to go. They were kind to me, however; they gave me money, and told me I might refer to them if I needed to. I came to London, and took a room, and wondered what I should do.
"I advertised, and answered advertisements, but nothing came. My money was going, and I should soon be as badly off as ever. I began to do what I had always thought of as the very last thing, look for needlework, either for home or in a workroom. I don't know how it is that I have always hated sewing. For one thing, I really can't sew. I was never taught as a child, and few girls are as clumsy with a needle as I am. I've always looked upon a work-girl's life as the most horrible drudgery; I'd far rather scrub floors. I suppose I've a rebellious disposition, and just because sewing is looked upon as a woman's natural slavery, I rebelled against it.
"By this time I was actually starving. I had one day to tell my landlady I couldn't pay my rent. She was a very decent woman, and she talked to me in a kind way. What was better, she gave me help. She had a sister who kept a laundry, and she thought I might perhaps get something to do there; at all events she would go and see. The result was I got work. I was in the laundry nearly six months, and became quite clever in getting up linen. Now this was a kind of work I liked. You can't think what a pleasure it was to me to see shirts and collars turning out so spotless and sweet--"
"Oh, but you don't understand. I do so like cleanliness! I have a sort of feeling when I'm washing anything, that I'm really doing good in the world, and the dazzling white of linen after I'd ironed it seemed to thank me for my work."
"Yes, yes, I understand well enough," said Waymark earnestly.
"For all that I couldn't stay. I was restless. I had a foolish notion that I should like to be with a better kind of people again --I mean people in a higher position. I still kept answering advertisements for a lady's maid's place, and at last I got what I wanted. Oh yes, I got it."
She broke off' laughing bitterly, and remained silent. Waymark would not urge her to continue. For a minute it seemed as if she would tell no more; she looked at her watch, and half arose.
"Oh, I may as well tell you all, now I've begun," she said, falling back again in a careless way. "You know what the end's going to be; never mind, at all events I'll try and make you understand how it came.
"The family I got into was a lady and her two grown-up daughters, and a son of about five-and-twenty. They lived in a small house at Shepherd's Bush. My wages were very small, and I soon found out that they were a kind of people who keep up a great deal of show on very little means. Of course I had to be let into all the secrets of their miserable shifts for dressing well on next to nothing at all, and they expected me--mother and daughters--to do the most wonderful and impossible things. I had to turn old rags into smart new costumes, to trim worn-out hats into all manner of gaudy shapes, even to patch up boots in a way you couldn't imagine. And they used to send me with money to buy things they were ashamed to go and buy themselves; then, if I hadn't laid out their few pence with marvellous result, they all but accused me of having used some of the money for myself. I had fortunately learnt a great deal with the old lady in Tottenham, or I couldn't have satisfied them for a day. I'm sure I did what few people could have done, and for all that they treated me from almost the first very badly. I had to be housemaid as well as lady's maid; the slavery left me every night worn out with exhaustion. And I hadn't even enough to eat. As time went on, they treated me worse and worse. They spoke to me often in a way that made my heart boil, as if they were so many queens, and I was some poor mean wretch who was honoured by being allowed to toil for them. Then they quarrelled among themselves unceasingly, and of course I had to bear all the bad temper. I never saw people hate one another like those three did; the sisters even scratched each other's faces in their fits of jealousy, and sometimes they both stormed at their mother till she went into hysterics, just because she couldn't give them more money. The only one in the house who ever spoke decently to me was the son--Alfred Bolter, his name was. I suppose I felt grateful to him. Once or twice, when he met me on the stairs, he kissed me. I was too miserable even to resent it.
"I went about, day after day, in a dazed state, trying to make up my mind to leave the people, but I couldn't. I don't know how it was, I had never felt so afraid of being thrown out into the world again. I suppose it was bodily weakness, want of proper food, and overwork. I began to feel that the whole world was wronging me. Was there never to be anything for me but slaving? Was I never to have any enjoyment of life, like other people? I felt a need of pleasure, I didn't care how or what. I was always in a fever; everything was exaggerated to me. What was going to be my future?--I kept asking myself. Was it only to be hard work, miserably paid, till I died? And I should die at last without having known what it was to enjoy my life. When I was allowed to go out--it was very seldom--I walked aimlessly about the streets, watching all the girls I passed, and fancying they all looked so happy, all enjoying their life so. I was growing thin and pale. I coughed, and began to think I was consumptive. A little more of it and I believe I should have become so really.
"It came to an end, suddenly and unexpectedly. All three, mother and daughters, had been worrying me through a whole morning, and at last one of them called me a downright fool, and said I wasn't worth the bread I ate. I turned on them. I can't remember a word I said, but speak I did, and in a way that astonished them; they shrank back from me, looking pale and frightened. I felt in that moment that I was a thousand times their superior; I believe I told them so. Then I rushed up to my room, packed my box, and went out into the street.
"I had just turned a corner, when some one came up to me, and it was Mr. Bolter. He had followed me from the house. He laughed, said I had done quite right, and asked me if I had any money. I shook my head. He walked on by me, and talked. The end was, that he found me rooms, and provided for me.
"I had not the least affection for him, but he had pleasant, gentlemanly ways, and it scarcely even occurred to me to refuse his offers. I was reckless; what happened to me mattered little, as long as I had not to face hard work. I needed rest. For one in my position there was, I saw well enough, only one way of getting it. I took that way."
Ida had told this in a straightforward, unhesitating manner, not meeting her companion's gaze, yet not turning away. One would have said that judgments upon her story were indifferent to her; she simply related past events. In a moment, she resumed.
"Do you remember, on the night when you first met me, a man following us in the street?"
"He was a friend of Alfred Bolter's, and sometimes we met him when we went to the theatre, and such places. That is the only person I ever hated from the first sight,--hated and dreaded in a way I could not possibly explain."
"But why do you mention him?" asked Waymark. "What is his name?"
"His name is Edwards," returned Ida, pronouncing it as if the sound excited loathing in her. "I had been living in this way for nearly half-a-year, when one day this man called and came up to my sitting-room. He said he had an appointment with Mr. Bolter, who would come presently. I sat scarcely speaking, but he talked on. Presently, Mr. Bolter came. He seemed surprised to find the other man with me, and almost at once turned round and went out again. Edwards followed him, saying to me that he wondered what it all meant. The meaning was made clear to me a few hours after. There came a short note from Mr. Bolter, saying that he had suspected that something was wrong, and that under the circumstances he could of course only say good-bye.
I can't say that I was sorry; I can't say that I was glad. I despised him for his meanness, not even troubling myself to try and make sure of what had happened. The same night Edwards came to see me again, made excuses, blamed his friend, shuffled here and there, and gave me clearly to understand what he wanted. I scarcely spoke, only told him to go away, and that he need never speak to me anywhere or at any time; it would be useless. Well, I changed my lodgings for those I now have, and simply began the life I now-- the life I have been leading. Work was more impossible for me than ever, and I had to feed and clothe myself."
"How long ago was that?" asked Waymark, without looking up.
Ida rose from the beach. The tide had gone down some distance; there were stretches of smooth sand, already dry in the sunshine.
"Let us walk back on the sands," she said, pointing.
"You are going home?"
"Yes, I want to rest a little. I will meet you again about eight o'clock, if you like."
Waymark accompanied her as far as the door, then strolled on to his own lodgings, which were near at hand. It was only the second day that they had been in Hastings, yet it seemed to him as if he had been walking about on the seashore with Ida for weeks. For all that, he felt that he was not as near to her now as he had been on certain evenings in London, when his arrival was to her a manifest pleasure, and their talk unflagging from hour to hour. She did not show the spirit of holiday, seemed weary from time to time, was too often preoccupied and indisposed to talk. True, she had at length fulfilled her promise of telling him the whole of her story, but even this increase of confidence Waymark's uneasy mind strangely converted into fresh source of discomfort to himself. She had made this revelation--he half believed--on purpose to keep up the distance between them, to warn him how slight occasion had led her from what is called the path of virtue, that he might not delude himself into exaggerated estimates of her character. Such a thought could of course only be due to the fact that Ida's story had indeed produced something of this impression upon her hearer. Waymark had often busied himself with inventing all manner of excuses for her, had exerted his imagination to the utmost to hit upon some most irresistible climax of dolorous circumstances to account for her downfall. He had yet to realise that circumstances are as relative in their importance as everything else in this world, and that ofttimes the greatest tragedies revolve on apparently the most insignificant outward events--personality being all.
He spent the hours of her absence in moving from place to place, fretting in mind. At one moment, he half determined to bring things to some issue, by disregarding all considerations and urging his love upon her. Yet this he felt he could not do. Surely--he asked himself angrily he was not still so much in the thraldom of conventionality as to be affected by his fresh reminder of her position and antecedents? Perhaps not quite so much prejudice as experience which disturbed him. He was well acquainted with the characteristics of girls of this class; he knew how all but impossible it is for them to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And there was one thing particularly in Ida's story that he found hard to credit; was it indeed likely that she had not felt more than she would confess for this man whose mistress she became so easily? If she had not, if what she said were true, was not this something like a proof of her lack of that refined sentiment which is, the capacity for love, in its real sense? Torturing doubts and reasonings of this kind once set going in a brain already confused with passion, there is no limit to the range of speculation opened; Waymark found himself--in spite of everything--entertaining all his old scepticism. In any case, had he the slightest ground for the hope that she might ever feel to him as warmly as he did to her? He could not recall one instance of Ida's having betrayed a trace of fondness in her intercourse with him. The mere fact of their intercourse he altogether lost sight of. Whereas an outsider would, under the circumstances, have been justified in laying the utmost stress on this, Waymark had grown to accept it as a matter of course, and only occupied himself with Ida's absolute self-control, her perfect calmness in all situations, the ease with which she met his glance, the looseness of her hand in his, the indifference with which she heard him when he had spoken of his loneliness and frequent misery. Where was the key of her character? She did not care for admiration; it was quite certain that she was not leading him about just to gratify her own vanity. Was it not purely an intellectual matter? She was a girl of superior intellect, and, having found in him some one with whom she could satisfy her desire for rational converse, did she not on this account keep up their relations? For the rest--well, she liked ease and luxury; above all, ease. Of that she would certainly make no sacrifice. How well he could imagine the half-annoyed, half-contemptuous smile which would rise to her beautiful face, if he were so foolish as to become sentimental with her! That, he felt, would be a look not easy to bear. Humiliation he dreaded.
When eight o'clock came, he was leaning over the end of the pier, at the appointed spot, still busy in thought. There came a touch on his arm.
"Well, are you thinking how you can make a book out of my story?"
The touch, the voice, the smile,--how all his sophistry was swept away in a rush of tenderness and delight!
"I must wait for the end of it," he returned, holding out his hand, which she did not take.
"The end?--Oh, you must invent one. Ends in real life are so commonplace and uninteresting."
"Commonplace or not," said Waymark, with some lack of firmness in his voice, "the end of your story should not be an unhappy one, if I had the disposing of it. And I might have--but for one thing."
"What's that?" she asked, with sudden interest.
"My miserable poverty. If I only had money--money"--
"Money!" she exclaimed, turning away almost angrily. Then she added, with the coldness which she did not often use, but which, when she did, chilled and checked him--"I don't understand you."
He pointed with a bitter smile down to the sands.
"Look at that gold of the sunset in the pools the tide has left. It is the most glorious colour in nature, but it makes me miserable by reminding me of the metal it takes its name from."
She looked at him with eyes which had in them a strange wonder, sad at first, then full of scorn, of indignation. And then she laughed, drawing herself away from him. The laugh irritated him. He experienced a terrible revulsion of feeling, from the warmth and passion which had possessed him, to that humiliation, which he could not bear.
And just now a number of people came and took their stands close by, in a gossiping group. Ida had half turned away, and was looking at the golden pools. He tried to say something, but his tongue was dry, and the word would not come. Presently, she faced him again, and said, in very much her ordinary tone--
"I was going to tell you that I have just had news from London, which makes it necessary for me to go back to-morrow. I shall have to take an early train."
"This is because I have offended you," Waymark said, moving nearer to her. "You had no thought of going before that."
"I am not surprised that you refuse to believe me," returned Ida, smiling very faintly. "Still, it is the truth. And now I must go in again;--I am very tired."
"No," he exclaimed as she moved away, "you must not go in till-- till you have forgotten me. At least come away to a quiet place, where I can speak freely to you; these people--"
"To-morrow morning," she said, waving her hand wearily. "I can't talk now--and indeed there is no need to speak of this at all. I have forgotten it."
"No, you have not; how could you?--And you will not go to-morrow; you shall not."
"Yes, I must," she returned firmly.
"Then I shall go with you."
"As you like. I shall leave by the express at five minutes past nine."
"Then I shall be at the station. But at least I may walk home with you?"
"No, please. If you wish me to think you are sincere,--if you wish us still to be friends--stay till I have left the pier.--Good night."
He muttered a return, and stood watching her as she walked quietly away.
When it was nearly midnight, Ida lay on her bed, dressed, as she had lain since her return home. For more than an hour she had cried and sobbed in blank misery, cried as never since the bitter days long ago, just after her mother's death. Then, the fit over, something like a reaction of calm followed, and as she lay perfectly still in the darkness, her regular breathing would have led one to believe her asleep. But she was only thinking, and in deed very far from sleep The long day in the open air had so affected her eyes that, as she looked up at the ceiling, it seemed to her to be a blue space, with light clouds constantly flitting across it. Presently this impression became painful, and a growing restlessness made her rise. The heat of the room was stifling, for just above was the roof, upon which all day the sun had poured its rays. She threw open the window, and drank in the air. The night was magnificent, flooded with warm moonlight, and fragrant with sea breathings. Ida felt an irresistible desire to leave the house and go down to the shore, which she could not see from her window; the tide, she remembered, would just now be full, and to walk by it in the solitude of midnight would bring her that peace and strength of soul she so much needed. She put on her hat and cloak, and went downstairs. The front door was only latched, and, as she had her key, no doubt she would be able to let herself in at any hour.
The streets were all but deserted, and, when she came to the beach, no soul was anywhere visible. She walked towards the place where she had spent the afternoon with Waymark, then onwards still further to the east, till there was but a narrow space between the water and the cliffs. Breakers there were none, not more ripple at the clear tide-edge than on the border of a little lake. So intense was the silence that every now and then could be distinctly heard a call on one of the fishing-boats lying some distance from shore. The town was no longer in sight.
It was close even here; what little breeze there was brushed the face like the warm wing of a passing bird. Ida dipped her hands in the water and sprinkled it upon her forehead. Then she took off her boots and stockings, and walked with her feet in the ripples. A moment after she stopped, and looked all around, as if hesitating at some thought, and wishing to see that her solitude was secure. Just then the sound of a clock came very faintly across the still air, striking the hour of one. She stepped from the water a few paces, and began hastily to put off her clothing; in a moment her feet were again in the ripples, and she was walking out from the beach, till her gleaming body was hidden. Then she bathed, breasting the full flow with delight, making the sundered and broken water flash myriad reflections of the moon and stars.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Waymark was at the station next morning half an hour before train-time. He waited for Ida's arrival before taking his ticket. She did not come. He walked about in feverish impatience, plaguing himself with all manner of doubt and apprehension. The train came into the station, and yet she had not arrived. It started, and no sign of her.
He waited yet five minutes, then walked hastily into the town, and to Ida's lodgings. Miss Starr, he was told, had left very early that morning; if he was Mr. Waymark, there was a note to be delivered to him.
"I thought it better that I should go to London by an earlier train, for we should not have been quite at our ease with each other. I beg you will not think my leaving you is due to anything but necessity--indeed it is not. I shall not be living at the old place, but any letter you send there I shall get. I cannot promise to reply at once, but hope you will let me do so when I feel able to.
Waymark took the next train to town.