The Unclassed by George Gissing
Chapter XXXI. New Prospects
Mr. Woodstock's house at Tottenham was a cheerful abode when the months of early summer came round, and there was thick leafage within the shelter of the old brick wall which shut it off from the road.
For the first time in his life he understood the attractions of domesticity. During the early months of the year, slippers and the fireside after dinner; now that the sunset-time was growing warm and fragrant, a musing saunter about the garden walks; these were the things to which his imagination grew fond of turning. Nor to these only; blended with such visions of bodily comfort, perchance lending to them their chief attraction, was the light of a young face, grave always, often sad, speaking with its beautiful eyes to those simpler and tenderer instincts of his nature which had hitherto slept. In the presence of Ida (who was now known, by his wish, as Miss Woodstock) Abraham's hard voice found for itself a more modest and musical key.
He began--novel sensation--to look upon himself as a respectable old gentleman; the grey patches on his head were grateful to him from that point of view. If only he had been able to gather round his granddaughter and himself a circle of equally respectable friends and acquaintances, he would have enjoyed complete satisfaction. Two or three at most there were, whom he could venture to bring over with him from the old life to the new. For Ida he could as yet provide no companionship at all.
But Ida did not feel the want. Since the day of her coming to the new house her life had been very full; so much was passing within, that she desired to escape, rather than discover, new distractions in the world around her. For the week or so during which Waymark had lain ill, her courage had triumphed over the sufferings to which she was herself a prey; the beginning of his recovery brought about a reaction in her state, and for some days she fell into a depressed feebleness almost as extreme as on the first morning of her freedom. It distressed her to be spoken to, and her own lips were all but mute. Mr. Woodstock sometimes sat by her whilst she slept, or seemed to be sleeping; when she stirred and showed consciousness of his presence, he left her, so great was his fear of annoying her, and thus losing the ground he had gained. Once, when he was rising to quit the room, Ida held out her hand as if to stay him. She was lying on a sofa, and had enjoyed a very quiet sleep.
"Grandfather," she murmured, turning to face him. It was the first time she had addressed him thus, and the old man's eyes brightened at the sound.
"Are you better for the sleep, Ida?" he asked, taking the hand she had extended.
"Much; much better. How the sun shines!"
"Yes, it's a fine day. Don't you think you could go out a little?"
"I think I should like to, but I can't walk very far, I'm afraid."
"You needn't walk at all, my dear. Your carriage shall be here whenever you like to order it."
The exclamation was like a child's pleased wonder. She coloured a little, and seemed ashamed.
"How is Mr. Waymark?" was her next question.
"Nothing much amiss now, I think. His eyes are painful, he says, and he mustn't leave the room yet, but it won't last much longer. Shall we go together and see him?"
She hesitated, but decided to wait till he could come down.
"But you'll go out, Ida, if I order the carriage?"
"Thank you, I should like to."
That first drive had been to Ida a joy unspeakable. To-day for the first time she was able to sweep her mind clear of the dread shadow of brooding, and give herself up to simple enjoyment of the hour.
Abraham went and told Waymark of all this as soon as they got back. In the exuberance of his spirits he was half angry with the invalid for being gloomy. Waymark had by this time shaken off all effects of his disagreeable adventure, with the exception of a weakness of the eyes; but convalescence did not work upon him as in Ida's case. He was morose, often apparently sunk in hopeless wretchedness. When Abraham spoke to him of Ida, he could scarcely be got to reply. Above all, he showed an extreme impatience to recover his health and go back to the ordinary life.
"I shall be able to go for the rents next Monday," he said to Mr. Woodstock one day.
"I should have thought you'd had enough of that. I've found another man for the job."
"Then what on earth am I to do?" Waymark exclaimed impatiently. "How am I to get my living if you take that work away from me?"
"Never mind; we'll find something," Abraham returned. "Why are you in such a hurry to get away, I should like to know?"
"Simply because I can't always live here, and I hate uncertainty."
There was something in the young man's behaviour which puzzled Mr. Woodstock; but the key to the puzzle was very shortly given him. On the evening of the same day he presented himself once more in Waymark's room. The latter could not see him, but the first sound of his voice was a warning of trouble.
"Do you feel able to talk?" Abraham asked, rather gruffly.
"Because I want to ask you a few questions. I've just had a call from that friend of yours, Mr. Enderby, and something came out in talk that I wasn't exactly prepared for."
Waymark rose from his chair.
"Why didn't you tell me," pursued Mr. Woodstock, "that you were engaged to his daughter?"
"I scarcely thought it necessary."
"Not when I told you who Ida was?"
This disclosure had been made whilst Waymark was still confined to his bed; partly because Abraham had a difficulty in keeping the matter to himself; partly because be thought it might help the other through his illness. Waymark had said very little at the time, and there had been no conversation on the matter between them since.
"I don't see that it made any difference," Waymark replied gloomily.
The old man was silent. He had been, it seemed, under a complete delusion, and could not immediately make up his mind whether he had indeed ground of complaint against Waymark.
"Why did Mr. Enderby call?" the latter inquired.
"Very naturally, it seems to me, to know what had become of you. He didn't see the report in the paper, and went searching for you."
"Does Ida know of this?" he asked, after a pause, during which Waymark had remained standing with his arms crossed on the back of the chair.
"I have never told her. Why should I have done? Perhaps now you will believe what I insisted upon before the trial, that there had been nothing whatever--"
He spoke irritably, and was interrupted by the other with yet more irritation.
"Never mention that again to me as long as you live, Waymark If you do, we shall quarrel, understand!"
"I have no more pleasure in referring to it than you have," said Waymark, more calmly; "but I must justify myself when you attack me."
"How long has this been going on?" asked the other, after a silence.
"Some three months--perhaps more."
"Well, I think it would have been better if you'd been straightforward about it, that's all. I don't know that I've anything more to say. We know what we're about, and there's an end of it."
So saying, the old man went out of the room. There was a difference in him henceforth, something which Ida noticed, though she could not explain it. On the following day he spoke with her on a matter she was surprised to hear him mention, her education. He had been thinking, he said, that she ought to learn to play the piano, and be taught foreign languages. Wouldn't she like him to find some lady who could live in the house and teach her all these things? Ida's thoughts at once ran to the conclusion that this had been suggested by Waymark, and, when she found that her grandfather really wished it, gave a ready assent. A week or two later the suitable person had been discovered--a lady of some thirty years of age, by name Miss Hurst. She was agreeable and refined, endowed. moreover, with the tact which was desirable in one undertaking an office such as this. Ida found her companionship pleasant, and Mr. Woodstock con gratulated himself on having taken the right step.
At the same time that the governess came to the house, Waymark left it. He returned to his old lodgings, and, with an independence which was partly his own impulse, partly the natural result of the slight coolness towards him which had shown itself in Mr. Woodstock, set to work to find a means of earning his living. This he was fortunate enough to discover without any great delay; he obtained a place as assistant in a circulating library. The payment was small, but be still had his evenings free.
Ida did not conceal her disappointment when Abraham conveyed this news to her; she had been hoping for better things. Her intercourse with Waymark between his recovery and his leaving the house had been difficult, full of evident constraint on both sides. It was the desire of both not to meet alone, and in Mr. Woodstock's presence they talked of indifferent things, with an artificiality which it was difficult to support, yet impossible to abandon. They shunned each other's eyes. Waymark was even less at his ease than Ida, knowing that Mr. Woodstock observed him closely at all times. With her grandfather Ida tried to speak freely of their friend, but she too was troubled by the consciousness that the old man did not seem as friendly to Waymark as formerly.
"This will of course only be for a time?" she said, when told of Waymark's new employment.
"I don't know," Abraham replied indifferently. "I should think it will suit him as well as anything else."
"But he is clever; he writes books. Don't you think he will make himself known some day?"
"That kind of thing isn't much to be depended on, it seems to me. It's a doubtful business to look forward to for a living."
Ida kept silence on the subject after that. She did not seem to brood any longer over sad thoughts, yet it was seldom she behaved or spoke light-heartedly; her face often indicated an absent mind, but it was the calm musing of one whose thoughts look to the future and strengthen themselves with hope. Times there were when she drew away into solitude, and these were the intervals of doubt and self-questioning. With her grandfather she was reconciled; she had become convinced of his kindness to her, and the far-off past was now seldom in her mind. The trouble originated in the deepest workings of her nature. When she found herself comparing her position now with that of former days, it excited in her a restive mood to think that chance alone had thus raised her out of misery, that the conscious strength and purity of her soul would never have availed to help her to the things which were now within her grasp. The old sense of the world's injustice excited anger and revolt in her heart. Chance, chance alone befriended her, and the reflection injured her pride. What of those numberless struggling creatures to whom such happy fortune could never come, who, be their aspirations and capabilities what they might, must struggle vainly, agonise, and in the end despair? She had been lifted out of hell, not risen therefrom by her own strength. Sometimes it half seemed to her that it would have been the nobler lot to remain as she was, to share the misery of that dread realm of darkness with those poor disinherited ones, to cherish that spirit of noble rebellion, the consciousness of which had been as a pure fire on the altar of her being. What was to be her future? Would she insensibly forget her past self, let her strength subside in refinement--it might be, even lose the passion which had made her what she was?
But hope predominated. Forget! Could she ever forget those faces in the slums on the day when she bade farewell to poverty and all its attendant wretchedness? Litany Lane and Elm Court were names which already symbolised a purpose. If ever she still looked at her grandfather with a remnant of distrust, it was because she thought of him as drawing money from such a source, enjoying his life of ease in disregard of the responsibilities laid upon him. The day would come when she could find courage to speak to him. She waited and prepared herself.
Prepared herself, for that, and for so much else. Waymark's behaviour would have cost her the bitterest misery, had she not been able to explain it to her own satisfaction. There could be but one reason why he held aloof from her, and that an all-sufficient one. In her new position, it was impossible for him to be more than just friendly to her. If that had been his attitude in the old days, how could his self-respect allow him to show the slightest change? In his anxiety not to do so, he had even fallen short of the former kindness. No forgiveness was needed, when she felt that she understood him so well. But all the more did it behove her to make herself worthy of him in all things. She had still so much to learn; she was so far his inferior in culture and understanding. Her studies with Miss Hurst were fruitful. Nor were her domestic duties forgotten. Mr. Woodstock had supplied her with a good housekeeper, to help her inexperience, but Ida took an adequate burden on her own shoulders. This again was a new and keen joy.
Waymark dined with them one Sunday in June, and, in the course of the evening, went with Abraham to the smoking-room for some private conversation.
"Do you remember," he began, "once offering to buy those shares of mine?"
"Yes, I do," replied Mr. Woodstock, narrowing his eyes.
"Does the offer still hold good?"
"Yes, yes; if you're anxious to realise."
"I am. I want money--for two purposes."
"What are they?" Abraham asked bluntly.
"One is a private matter, which I don't think I need speak of; but the other I can explain. I have found a courageous publisher who has offered to bring my book out if I take a certain risk. This I have made up my mind to do. I want to get the thing out, if only for the sake of hearing Mrs. Grundy lift up her voice; and if it can't be otherwise, I must publish at my own expense."
"Will it repay you?" Mr. Woodstock asked.
"Ultimately, I have no doubt; but I don't care so much about that."
"H'm. I should think that's the chief matter to be considered. And you won't tell me what the other speculation is?"
"I'm going to lend a friend some money, but I don't wish to go into detail."
The old man looked at him shrewdly.
"Very well," he said presently. "I'll let you have the cash. Could you manage to look in at the office to-morrow at mid-day?"
This was arranged, and Waymark rose, but Mr. Woodstock motioned to him to resume his seat.
"As we're talking," he began, "I may as well have over something that's on my mind. Why haven't you told Ida yet about that engagement of yours?"
"Haven't you done so?" Waymark asked, in surprise.
"Did you think I had?"
"Why, yes, I did."
"I've done nothing of the kind," Abraham returned, pretending to be surprised at the supposition, though he knew it was a perfectly natural one.
Waymark was silent.
"Don't you think," the other pursued, "it's about time something was said to her?"
"I can't see that it matters, and--"
"But I can see. As long as that isn't known you're here, to speak plainly, on false pretences."
"Then I won't come here at all!"
"Very good," exclaimed the old man irritably, "so long as you explain to her first."
Waymark turned away, and stood gazing gloomily at the floor. Abraham regarded him, and a change came over his hard face.
"Now, look here," he said, "there's something in all this I can't make out. Is this engagement a serious one?"
"Serious?" returned the other, with a look of misery. "How can it be otherwise?"
"Very well; in that case you're bound to let Ida know about it, and at once. Damn it all, don't you know your own mind?"
Waymark collected himself, and spoke gravely.
"I, of course, understand why you press so for this explanation. You take it for granted that Ida regards me as something more than a friend. If so, my manner since she has been here must have clearly shown her that, on my side, I have not the least thought of offering more than friendship. You yourself will grant so much, I believe. For all that, I don't deny that our relations have always been unusual; and it would cost me very much to tell her of my engagement. I ask you to relieve me of the painful task, on the understanding that I never come here again. I can't make you understand my position. You say my behaviour has not been straightforward. In the ordinary sense of the word it has not;-- there let it rest. Tell Ida what you will of me, and let me disappear from her world."
"The plain English of all which," cried Abraham angrily, "is, that, as far as you are concerned, you would be quite willing to let the girl live on false hopes, just to have the pleasure of her society as long as you care for it"
"Not so, not so at all! I value Ida's friendship as I value that of no other woman, and I am persuaded that, if I were free with her, I could reconcile her entirely to our connection remaining one of friendship, and nothing more."
Waymark, in his desperate straits, all but persuaded himself that he told the truth. Mr. Woodstock gazed at him in doubt. He would give him to the end of July to make up his mind; by that time Waymark must either present himself as a free man, or allow Ida to be informed of his position. In the meanwhile he must come to Tottenham not oftener than once a week. To this Waymark agreed, glad of any respite.
He returned to his lodgings in a state of nervous misery. Fortunately, he was not left to his thoughts; in a few minutes a knock at his door announced a visitor in the person of Mr. O'Gree. The Irishman exhibited his wonted liveliness, and at once began to relate an incident to the disadvantage of his archenemy.
"Faith," he cried, "I'd have given a trifle if ye could have heard the conversation between Tootle and me, just after breakfast yesterday. The boys were filing out of the room, when, 'Mr. O'Gree!' cries Pendy.--'Sir!' I reply.--'The boys were called late this morning, I hear.'--'No such thing, sir,' I assure 'um. 'Half-past six to the minute, by my watch.'--'Oh, your watch, Mr. O'Gree,' cries the old reprobate. 'I fear your watch doesn't keep very good time.'--'Sure, you're in the right, sir,' said I;' it's been losing a little of late; so only last night I stopped it at half-past six, to make sure it would show me the right calling-time this morning.' And, when I'd said that, I just nod my head, as much as to say, 'There's one for ye, me boy!' and walk off as jaunty as a Limerick bantam."
Then, after a burst of merriment, O'Gree suddenly fixed his face in a very grave expression.
"I'm resolved, Waymark, I'm resolved!" he exclaimed. "At midsummer I break my chains, and stand erect in the dignity of a free man. I've said it often, but now I mean it. Sally urges me to do ut, and Sally never utters a worrud that isn't pure wisdom."
"Well, I think she's right. I myself should prefer a scavenger's existence, on the whole. But have you thought any further of the other scheme?"
"The commercial undertaking? We were talking it over the other night. Sally says: Borrow the money and risk ut. And I think she's in the right. If you enter the world of commerce, you must be prepared for speculation. We looked over the advertisements in a newspaper, just to get an idea, and we calculated the concern could be set afloat for seventy-five pounds. Out of that we could pay a quarter's rent, and stock the shop. Sally's been behind the counter a good bit of late, and she's getting an insight into that kind of thing. Wonderful girl, Sally! Put her in Downing Street for a week, and she'd be competent to supplant the Premier!"
'You have decided for a chandler's?"
"Yes; we neither of us know much about tobacco, and tobacco perhaps isn't quits the thing for a man of education. But to be a chandler is something worthy of any man's ambition. You supply at once the solids and the luxuries of life; you range from boiled ham and pickles to mixed biscuits and preserves. You are the focus of a whole street. The father comes to you for his mid-day bread and cheese, the mother for her half-ounce of tea, the child for its farthing's-worth of sweets. For years I've been leading a useless life; once let me get into my shop, and I become a column of the social system. Faith, it's as good as done!"
"From whom shall you borrow the cash?"
"Sally's going to think about that point. I suppose we shall go to a loan office, and make some kind of arrangement. I'm rather vague on these things, but Sally will find it out."
"I understand," said Waymark, checking his amusement, that you are perfectly serious in this plan?"
"As serious as I was in the moment of my birth! There's no other chance."
"Very well, then, suppose I offer to lend you the money."
"No less a person."
And he went on to explain how it was that he was able to make the offer, adding that any sum up to a hundred pounds was at his friend's disposal.
"Ye mean it, Waymark!" cried O'Gree, leaping round the room in ecstasy. "Bedad, you are a man and a brother, and no mistake! Ye're the first that ever offered to lend me a penny; ye're the first that ever had faith in me! You shall come with me to see Sally on Saturday, and tell her this yourself, and I shouldn't be surprised if she gives you a kiss!"
O'Gree exhausted himself in capering and vociferation, then sat down and began to exercise his luxuriant imagination in picturing unheard-of prosperity.
"We'll take a shop in a new neighbourhood, where we shall have the monopoly. The people 'll get to know Sally; she'll be like a magnet behind the counter. I shall go to the wholesale houses, and impress them with a sense of my financial stability; I flatter myself I shall look the prosperous shopkeeper, eh? Who knows what we may come to? Why, in a few years we may transfer our business to Oxford Street or Piccadilly, and call ourselves Italian warehousemen; and bedad, we'll turn out in the end another Crosse and Blackwell, see if we don't!"
At the utmost limit of the time allowed him by the rules of The Academy, the future man of business took his leave, in spirits extravagant even for him.
"Faith," he exclaimed, when he was already at the door, "who d'ye think I saw last Sunday? As I was free in the afternoon, I took a walk, and, coming back, I went into a little coffee-shop for a cup of tea. A man in an apron came up to serve me, and, by me soul, if it wasn't poor old Egger! I've heard not a word of him since he left last Christmas. He was ashamed of himself, poor devil; but I did my best to make him easy. After all, he's better off than in the scholastic line."
Waymark laughed at this incident, and stood watching Q'Gree's progress down the street for a minute or two. Then he went to his room again, and sitting down with a sigh, fell into deep brooding.