The Unclassed by George Gissing
Chapter XXIV. Justice
Waymark received from the police a confirmation of all that Julian had said, and returned home. Julian still lay on the couch, calmer, but like one in despair. He begged Waymark to let him remain where he was through the night, declaring that in any case sleep was impossible for him, and that perhaps he might try to pass the hours in reading. They talked together for a time; then Waymark lay down on the bed and shortly slept.
He was to be at the police court in the morning. Julian would go to the hospital as usual.
"Shall you call at home on your way?" Waymark asked him.
"But what do you mean to do?"
"I must think during the day. I shall come to-night, and you will tell me what has happened."
So they parted, and Waymark somehow or other whiled away the time till it was the hour for going to the court. He found it difficult to realise the situation; so startling and brought about so suddenly. Julian had been the first to put into words the suspicion of them both, that it was all a deliberate plot of Harriet's; but he had not been able to speak of his own position freely enough to let Waymark understand the train of circumstances which could lead Harriet to such resoluteness of infamy. Waymark doubted. But for the unfortunate fact of Ida's secret necessities, he could perhaps scarcely have entertained the thought of her guilt. What was the explanation of her being without employment? Why had she hesitated to tell him, as soon as she lost her work? Was there not some mystery at the bottom of this, arguing a lack of complete frankness on Ida's part from the first?
The actual pain caused by Ida's danger was, strange to say, a far less important item in his state of mind than the interest which the situation inspired. Through the night he had thought more of Julian than of Ida. What he had for some time suspected had now found confirmation; Julian was in love with Ida, in love for the first time, and under circumstances which, as Julian himself had said, might well suffice to change his whole nature. Waymark had never beheld such terrible suffering as that depicted on his friend's face during those hours of talk in the night. Something of jealousy had been aroused in him by the spectacle; not jealousy of the ordinary gross kind, but rather a sense of humiliation in the thought that he himself had never experienced, was perhaps incapable of, such passion as racked Julian in every nerve. This was the passion which Ida was worthy of inspiring, and Waymark contrasted it with his own feelings on the previous day, and now since the calamity had fallen. He had to confess that there was even an element of relief in the sensations the event had caused in him. He had been saved from himself; a position of affairs which had become intolerable was got rid of without his own exertion. Whatever might now happen, the old state of things would never be restored. There was relief and pleasure in the thought of such a change, were it only for the sake of the opening up of new vistas of observation and experience. Such thoughts as these indicated very strongly the course which Waymark's development was taking, and he profited by them to obtain a clearer understanding of himself.
The proceedings in the court that morning were brief. Waymark, from his seat on the public benches, saw Ida brought forward, and heard her remanded for a week. She did not see him; seemed, indeed, to see nothing. The aspect of her standing there in the dock, her head bowed under intolerable shame, made a tumult within him. Blind anger and scorn against all who surrounded her were his first emotions; there was something of martyrdom in her position; she, essentially so good and noble, to be dragged here before these narrow-natured slaves of an ignoble social order, in all probability to be condemned to miserable torment by men who had no shadow of understanding of her character and her circumstances.
Waymark was able, whilst in court, to make up his mind as to how he should act. When he left he took his way northwards, having in view St. John Street Road, and Mr. Woodstock's house.
When he had waited about half an hour, the old man appeared. He gave his hand in silence. Something seemed to be preoccupying him; he went to his chair in a mechanical way.
"I have come on rather serious business," Waymark began. "I want to ask your advice in a very disagreeable matter--a criminal case, in fact."
Abraham did not at once pay attention, but the last words presently had their effect, and he looked up with some surprise.
"What have you been up to?" he asked, with rather a grim smile, leaning back and thrusting his hands in his pockets in the usual way.
"It only concerns myself indirectly. It's all about a girl, who is charged with a theft she is perhaps quite innocent of. If so, she is being made the victim of a conspiracy, or something of the kind. She was remanded to-day at Westminster for a week."
"A girl, eh? And what's your interest in the business?"
"Well, if you don't mind I shall have to go a little into detail. You are at liberty?"
"She is a friend of mine. No, I mean what I say; there is absolutely nothing else between us, and never has been. I should like to know whether you are satisfied to believe that; much depends on it."
"Age and appearance?"
"About twenty--not quite so much--and strikingly handsome."
"H'm. Position in life?"
"A year ago was on the streets, to put it plainly; since then has been getting her living at laundry-work."
Mr. Woodstock had been gazing at the toes of his boots, still the same smile on his face. When he heard the name he ceased to smile, but did not move at all. Nor did he look up as he asked the next question.
"Is that her real name?"
"I believe so."
The old man drew up his feet, threw one leg over the other, and began to tap upon his knee with the fingers of one hand. He was silent for a minute at least.
"What do you know about her?" he then inquired, looking steadily at Waymark, with a gravity which surprised the latter. "I mean, of her earlier life. Do you know who she is at all?"
"She has told me her whole story--a rather uncommon one, full of good situations."
"What do you mean?"
The words were uttered with such harsh impatience that Waymark started.
"What annoys you?" he asked, with surprise.
"Tell me something of the story," said the other, regaining his composure, and apparently wishing to affect indifference. "I have a twinge of that damned rheumatism every now and then, and it makes me rather crusty. Do you think her story is to be depended upon?"
"Yes, I believe it is."
And Waymark linked briefly the chief points of Ida's history, as he knew it, the old man continually interrupting him with questions.
"Now go on," said Abraham, when he had heard all that Waymark knew, "and explain the scrape she's got into."
Waymark did so.
"And you mean to tell me," Abraham said, before the story was quite finished, "that there's been nothing more between you than that?"
"I don't believe you."
It was said angrily, and with a blow of the clenched fist on the table. The old man could no longer conceal the emotion that possessed him. Waymark looked at him in astonishment, unable to comprehend his behaviour.
"Well if you don't believe me, of course I can offer no proof; and I know well enough that every presumption is against me. Still, I tell you the plain fact; and what reason have I for hiding the truth? If I had been living with the girl, I should have said so, as an extra reason for asking your help in the matter."
"What help can I give?" asked Woodstock, again cooling down, though his eyes had in them a most unwonted light. He spoke as if simply asking for information.
"I thought you might suggest something as to modes of defence, and the like. The expenses I would somehow or other meet myself. It appears that she will plead not guilty."
"And what's your belief?"
"I can't make up my mind."
"In that case, it seems to me, you ought to give her the benefit of the doubt; especially as you seem to have made up your mind pretty clearly about this Mrs. What's-her-name."
Waymark was silent, looking at Mr. Woodstock, and reflecting.
"What are your intentions with regard to the girl?" Abraham asked, with a change in his voice, the usual friendliness coming back. He looked at the young man in a curious way; one would almost have said, with apprehensive expectation.
"I have no intentions."
"You would have had, but for this affair?"
"No; you are mistaken. I know the position is difficult to realise."
"Have you intentions, then, in any other quarter?"
"Well, perhaps yes."
"I've never heard anything of this."
"I could scarcely talk of a matter so uncertain."
There was silence. A sort of agitation came upon the old man ever and again, in talking. He now grew absorbed in thought, and remained thus for several minutes, Waymark looking at him the while. When at length Abraham raised his eyes, and they met Waymark's, he turned them away at once, and rose from the chair.
"I'll look into the business," he said, taking out a bunch of keys, and putting one into the lock of a drawer in his desk. "Yes, I'll go and make inquiries." He half pulled out the drawer and rustled among some papers.
"Look here," he said, on the point of taking something out; but, even in speaking, he altered his mind. "No; it don't matter. I'll go and make inquiries. You can go now, if you like;--I mean to say, I suppose you've told me all that's necessary.--Yes, you'd better go, and look in again tomorrow morning."
Waymark went straight to Fulham. Reaching the block of tenements which had been Ida's home, he sought out the porter. When the door opened at his knock, the first face that greeted him was that of Grim, who had pushed between the man's legs and was peering up, as if in search of some familiar aspect.
From the porter he learned that the police had made that afternoon an inspection of Ida's rooms, though with what result was not known. The couple had clearly formed their own opinion as to Waymark's interest in the accused girl, but took the position in a very matter-of-fact way, and were eager to hear more than they succeeded in getting out of the police.
"My main object in coming," Waymark explained, "was to look after her cat. I see you have been good enough to anticipate me."
"The poor thing takes on sadly," said the woman. "Of course I shouldn't have known nothing if the hofficers hadn't come, and it 'ud just have starved to death. It seems to know you, sir?"
"Yes, yes, I dare say. Do you think you could make it convenient to keep the cat for the present, if I paid you for its food?"
"Well, I don't see why not, sir; we ain't got none of our own."
"And you would promise me to be kind to it? I don't mind the expense; keep it well, and let me know what you spend. And of course I should consider your trouble."
So that matter was satisfactorily arranged, and Waymark went home.
Julian spent his day at the hospital as usual, finding relief in fixing his attention upon outward things. It was only when he left his work in the evening that he became aware how exhausted he was in mind and body. And the dread which he had hitherto kept off came back upon him, the dread of seeing his wife's face and hearing her voice. When he parted with Waymark in the morning, he had thought that he would be able to come to some resolution during the day as to his behaviour with regard to her. But no such decision had been formed, and his overtaxed mind could do no more than dwell with dull persistency on a long prospect of wretchedness. Fear and hatred moved him in turns, and the fear was as much of himself as of the object of his hate.
As he approached the door, a man came out whom he did not know, but whose business he suspected. He had little doubt that it was a police officer in plain clothes. He had to stand a moment and rest, before he could use his latchkey to admit himself. When he entered the sitting-room, he found the table spread as usual. Harriet was sitting with sewing upon her lap. She did not look at him.
He sat down, and closed his eyes. There seemed to be a ringing of great bells about him, overpowering every other sound; all his muscles had become relaxed and powerless; he half forgot where and under what circumstances he was, in a kind of deadly drowsiness. Presently this passed, and he grew aware that Harriet was preparing tea. When it was ready, he went to the table, and drank two or three cups, for he was parched with thirst. He could not look at Harriet, but he understood the mood she was in, and knew she would not be the first to speak. He rose, walked about for a few minutes, then stood still before her.
"What proof have you to offer," he said, speaking in a slow but indistinct tone, "that she is guilty of this, and that it isn't a plot you have laid against her?"
"You can believe what you like," she replied sullenly. "Of course I know you'll do your worst against me."
"I wish you to answer my question. If I choose to suspect that you yourself put this brooch in her pocket--and if other people choose to suspect the same, knowing your enmity against her, what proof can you give that she is guilty?"
"It isn't the first thing she's stolen."
"What proof have you that she took those other things?"
"Quite enough, I think. At all events, they've found a pawn-ticket for the spoon at her lodgings, among a whole lot of other tickets for things she can't have come by honestly."
Julian became silent, and, as Harriet looked up at him with eyes full of triumphant spite, he turned pale. He could have crushed the hateful face beneath his feet.
"You're a good husband, you are," Harriet went on, with a sudden change to anger; "taking part against your own wife, and trying to make her out all that's bad. But I think you've had things your own way long enough. You thought I was a fool, did you, and couldn't see what was going on? You and your Ida Starr, indeed! Oh, she would be such a good friend to me, wouldn't she? She would do me so much good; you thought so highly of her; she was just the very girl to be my companion; how lucky we found her! I'm much obliged to you, but I think I might have better friends than thieves and street-walkers."
"What do you mean?" asked Julian, starting at the last word, and turning a ghastly countenance on her.
"I mean what I say. As if you didn't know, indeed!"
"Explain what you mean," Julian repeated, almost with violence. "Who has said anything of that kind against her?"
"Who has? Why I can bring half a dozen people who knew her when she was on the streets, before Waymark kept her. And you knew it, well enough--no fear!"
"It's a lie, a cursed lie! No one can say a word against her purity. Only a foul mind could imagine such things."
"Purity! Oh yes, she's very pure--you know that, don't you? No doubt you'll be a witness, and give evidence for her, and against me;--let everybody know how perfect she is, and what a beast and a liar I am! You and your Ida Starr!"
Julian rushed out of the room.
Waymark could not but observe peculiarities in Mr. Woodstock's behaviour during the conversation about Ida. At first it had occurred to him--knowing a good deal of Abraham's mode of life--that there must be some disagreeable secret at the bottom, and for a moment the ever-recurring distrust of Ida rose again. But he had soon observed that the listener was especially interested in the girl's earliest years, and this pointed to possibilities of a different kind. What was it that was being taken from the drawer to show him, when the old man suddenly altered his mind? Mr. Woodstock had perhaps known Ida's parents. Waymark waited with some curiosity for the interview on the morrow.
Accordingly, he was surprised when, on presenting himself, Mr. Woodstock did not at first appear to remember what he had called about.
"Oh, ay, the girl!" Abraham exclaimed, on being reminded. "What did you say her name was? Ida something--"
Waymark was puzzled and suspicious, and showed both feelings in his looks, but Mr. Woodstock preserved a stolid indifference which it was very difficult to believe feigned.
"I've been busy," said the latter. "Never mind; there's time. She was remanded for a week, you said? I'll go and see Helter about her. May as well come along with me, and put the case in 'artistic' form."
It was a word frequently on Waymark's lips, and he recognised the unwonted touch of satire with a smile, but was yet more puzzled. They set out together to the office of the solicitor who did Abraham's legal business, and held with him a long colloquy. Waymark stated all he knew or could surmise with perfect frankness. He had heard from Julian the night before of the discovery which it was said the police had made at Ida's lodgings, and this had strengthened his fear that Harriet's accusation was genuine.
"How did this girl lose her place at the laundry?" asked Mr. Helter.
Waymark could not say; for all he knew it was through her own fault.
"And that's all you can tell us, Waymark?" observed Mr. Woodstock, who had listened with a show of indifference. "Well, I have no more time at present. Look the thing up, Helter."
On reaching home, Waymark wrote a few lines to Ida, merely to say that Grim was provided for, and assure her that she was not forgotten. In a day or two he received a reply. The official envelope almost startled him at first. Inside was written this:
"You have been kind. I thank you for everything. Try to think kindly of me, whatever happens; I shall be conscious of it, and it will give me strength. I. S."
The week went by, and Ida again appeared in court. Mr. Woodstock went with Waymark, out of curiosity, he said. The statement of the case against the prisoner sounded very grave. What Harriet had said about the discovery of the pawn-ticket for her silver spoon was true. Ida's face was calm, but paler yet and thinner. When she caught sight of Harriet Casti, she turned her eyes away quickly, and with a look of trouble. She desired to ask no question, simply gave her low and distinct "Not guilty." She was committed for trial.
Waymark watched Mr. Woodstock, who was examining Ida all the time; he felt sure that he heard something like a catching of the breath when the girl's face first became visible.
"And what's your opinion?" asked Waymark.
"I couldn't see the girl very well," said the old man coldly.
"She hasn't quite a fortnight to wait."
"You're sure Helter will do all that can he done?"
Mr. Woodstock nodded his head, and walked off by himself.
Julian Casti was ill. With difficulty he had dragged himself to the court, and his sufferings as he sat there were horribly evident on his white face. Waymark met him just as Mr. Woodstock walked off; and the two went home together by omnibus, not speaking on the way.
"She will be convicted," was Julian's first utterance, when he had sat for a few minutes in Waymark's room, whilst Waymark himself paced up and down. The latter turned, and saw that tears were. on his friends hollow cheeks.
"Did you sleep better last night?" he asked.
"Good God, no! I never closed my eyes. That's the third night without rest. Waymark, get me an opiate of some kind, or I shall kill myself; and let me sleep here."
"What will your wife say?"
"What do I care what she says!" cried Julian, with sudden excitement, his muscles quivering, and his cheeks flaming all at once. "Don't use that word 'wife,' it is profanation; I can't bear it! If I see her to-night, I can't answer for what I may do. Curse her to all eternity!"
He sank beck in exhaustion.
"Julian," said Waymark, using his friend's first name by exception, "if this goes on, you will be ill. What the deuce shall we do then?"
"No, I shall not be ill. It will be all right if I can get sleep."
He was silent for a little, then spoke, with his eyes on the ground.
"Waymark, is this true they say about her--about the former time?"
"Yes; it is true."
Waymark in turn was silent.
"I suppose," he continued presently, "I owe you an apology."
"None. It was right of you to act as you did."
He was going to say something else, but checked himself. Waymark noticed this, watched his face for a moment, and spoke with some earnestness.
"But it was in that only I misled you. Do you believe me when I repeat that she and I were never anything but friends!"
Julian looked up with a gleam of gratitude in his eyes.
"Yes, I believe you!"
"And be sure of this," Waymark went on, "whether or not this accusation is true, it does not in the least affect the nobility of her character. You and I are sufficiently honest, in the true sense of the word, to understand this."
Waymark only saw Mr. Woodstock once or twice in the next fortnight, and very slight mention was made between them of the coming trial. He himself was not to be involved in the case in any way; as a witness on Ida's side he could do no good, and probably would prejudice her yet more in the eyes of the jury. It troubled him a little to find with what complete calmness he could await the result; often he said to himself that he must be sadly lacking in human sympathy. Julian Casti, on the other hand, had passed into a state of miserable deadness; Waymark in vain tried to excite hope in him. He came to his friend's every evening, and sat there for hours in dark reverie.
"What will become of her!" Julian asked once. "In either case-- what will become of her!"
"Woodstock shall help us in that," Waymark replied. "She must get a place of some kind."
"How dreadfully she is suffering, and how dark life will be before her!"
And so the day of the trial came. The pawnbroker's evidence was damaging. The silver spoon had been pledged, he asserted, at the same time with another article for which Ida possessed the duplicate. The inscriptions on the duplicates supported him in this, and he professed to have not the least doubt as to the prisoner's identity. Pressed in cross-examination, he certainly threw some suspicion on the trustworthiness of his assertions. "You positively swear that these two articles were pledged by the prisoner, and at the same time!" asked the cross-examiner. "Well," was the impatient reply, "there's the same date and name, and both in my writing." But even thus much of doubt he speedily retracted, and his evidence could not be practically undermined.
Harriet's examination was long and searching, but she bore it without the slightest damage to her credit. Plain, straightforward, and stubborn were all her replies and assertions; she did not contradict herself once. Waymark marvelled at her appearance and manner. The venom of malice had acted upon her as a tonic, strengthening her intellect, and bracing her nerves. Once she looked directly into Ida's face and smiled.
Mrs. Sprowl had been summoned, and appeared in all the magnificence of accumulated rings, bracelets, necklaces, and watch-chains. Helter hoped to make good use of her.
"Did you on a certain occasion go to the person in whose employ the prisoner was, and, by means of certain representations with regard to the prisoner's antecedents, become the cause of her dismissal?"
"I did. I told all I knew about her, and I consider I'd a right to do so."
Mrs. Sprowl was not to be robbed of her self-assurance by any array of judicial dignity.
"What led you to do this?"
"A good enough one, I think. She'd been imposed on Mr. Casti and his wife as a respectable character, and she was causing trouble between them. She had to be got rid of somehow, and this was one step to it."
"Was Mrs. Casti aware of your intention to take this step?"
"No, she wasn't."
"But you told her when you had done it?"
"Yes, I did."
The frankness of all this had its effect, of course. The case was attracting much interest in court, and the public seats were quite full. Mrs. Sprowl looked round in evident enjoyment of her position. There was a slight pause, and then the examination continued.
"Of what nature was the trouble you speak of, caused by the prisoner between this lady and her husband?"
"Mr. Casti began to pay a good deal too much attention to her."
There was a sound of whispers and a murmuring.
"Did Mrs. Casti impart to you her suspicions of the prisoner as soon as she missed the first of these articles alleged to be stolen?"
"Yes, she did."
"And did you give any advice as to how she should proceed?"
"I told her to be on the look-out."
"No doubt you laid stress on the advantage, from a domestic point of view, of securing this prisoner's detection?"
"Certainly I did, and I hoped and prayed as she might caught!"
Mrs. Sprowl was very shortly allowed to retire. For the defence there was but one witness, and that was the laundress who had employed Ida. Personal fault with Ida she had one at all to find; the sole cause of her dismissal was the information given by Mrs. Sprowl. Perhaps she had acted hastily and unkindly, but she had young girls working in the laundry, and it behoved her to be careful of them.
Julian's part in the trial had been limited to an examination as to his knowledge of Ida's alleged thefts. He declared that he knew nothing save from his wife's statements to him. He had observed nothing in the least suspicious.
A verdict was returned of "Guilty."
Had the prisoner anything to say? Nothing whatever. There was a pause, a longer pause than seemed necessary. Then, without remark, she was sentenced to be imprisoned for six months with hard labour.
Waymark had been drawn to the court in spite of himself. Strangely quiet hitherto, a fear fell upon him the night be fore the trial. From an early hour in the morning he walked about the streets, circling ever nearer to the hateful place. All at once he found himself facing Mr. Woodstock. The old man's face was darkly anxious, and he could not change its expression quickly enough.
"Are you going in?" he said sharply.
"Then I shall not," said Waymark. "I'll go to your place, and wait there."
But when Abraham, whose eyes had not moved from the prisoner throughout the proceedings, rose at length to leave, a step or two brought him to a man who was leaning against the wall, powerless from conflicting excitement, and deadly pale. It was Waymark. Mr. Woodstock took him by the arm and led him out.
"Why couldn't you keep away?" the old man exclaimed hoarsely, and with more of age in his voice than any one had ever yet heard in it.
Waymark shook himself free, and laughed as one laughs under torment.