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- The Nether World - 60/92 -
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Snowdon were now established in rooms in Burton Crescent, which is not far from King's Cross. Joseph had urged that Clerkenwell Close was scarcely a suitable quarter for a man of his standing, and, though with difficulty, he had achieved thus much deliverance. Of Clem he could not get rid--just yet; but it was something to escape Mrs. Peckover's superintendence. Clem herself favoured the removal, naturally for private reasons. Thus far working in alliance with her shrewd mother, she was now forming independent projects. Mrs. Peckover's zeal was assuredly not disinterested, and why, Clem mused with herself, should the fruits of strategy be shared? Her husband's father could not, she saw every reason to believe, be much longer for this world. How his property was to be divided she had no means of discovering; Joseph professed to have no accurate information, but as a matter of course he was deceiving her. Should he inherit a considerable sum, it was more than probable he would think of again quitting his native land-- and without encumbrances. That movement must somehow be guarded against; how, it was difficult as yet to determine. In the next place, Jane was sure to take a large share of the fortune. To that Clem strongly objected, both on abstract grounds and because she regarded Jane with a savage hatred--a hatred which had its roots in the time of Jane's childhood, and which had grown in proportion as the girl reaped happiness from life. The necessity of cloaking this sentiment had not, you may be sure, tended to mitigate it. Joseph said that there was no longer any fear of a speedy marriage between Jane and Kirkwood, but that such a marriage would come off some day,--if not prevented--Clem held to be a matter of certainty. Sidney Kirkwood was a wide-awake young man; of course he had his satisfactory reasons for delay. Now Clem's hatred of Sidney was, from of old, only less than that wherewith she regarded Jane. To frustrate the hopes of that couple would be a gratification worth a good deal of risk.
She heard nothing of what had befallen Clara Hewett until the latter's return home, and then not from her husband. Joseph and Scawthorne, foiled by that event in an ingenious scheme which you have doubtless understood (they little knowing how easily the severance between Jane and Kirkwood might be effected), agreed that it was well to get Clara restored to her father's household--for, though it seemed unlikely, it was not impossible that she might in one way or another aid their schemes--and on that account the anonymous letter was despatched which informed John Hewett of his daughter's position. Between John and Snowdon, now that they stood in the relations of master and servant, there was naturally no longer familiar intercourse, and, in begging leave of absence for his journey northwards, Hewett only said that a near relative had met with a bad accident. But it would be easy, Joseph decided, to win the man's confidence again, and thus be apprised of all that went on. With Clem he kept silence on the subject; not improbably she would learn sooner or later what had happened, and indeed, as things now stood, it did not matter much; but on principle he excluded her as much as possible from his confidence. He knew she hated him, and he was not backward in returning the sentiment, though constantly affecting a cheerful friendliness in his manner to her; after all, their union was but temporary. In Hanover Street he was also silent regarding the Hewetts, for there his role was that of a good, simple-minded fellow, incapable of intrigue, living for the domestic affections. If Kirkwood chose to speak to Michael or Jane of the matter, well, one way or another, that would advance things a stage, and there was nothing for it but to watch the progress.
Alone all through the day, and very often in the evening Clem was not at all disposed to occupy herself in domestic activity. The lodgings were taken furnished, and a bondmaid of the house did such work as was indispensable. Dirt and disorder were matters of indifference to the pair, who represented therein the large class occupying cheap London lodgings; an impure atmosphere, surroundings more or less squalid, constant bickering with the landlady, coarse usage of the servant--these things Clem understood as necessaries of independent life, and it would have cost her much discomfort had she been required to live in a more civilised manner. Her ambitions were essentially gross. In the way of social advancement she appreciated nothing but an increased power of spending money, and consequently of asserting herself over others. She had no desire whatever to enter a higher class than that in which she was born; to be of importance in her familiar circle was the most she aimed at. In visiting the theatre, she did not so much care to occupy a superior place--indeed, such a position made her ill at ease--as to astonish her neighbours in the pit by a lavish style of costume, by loud remarks implying a free command of cash, by purchase between the acts of something expensive to eat or drink. Needless to say that she never read anything but police news; in the fiction of her world she found no charm, so sluggishly unimaginative was her nature. Till of late she had either abandoned herself all day long to a brutal indolence, eating rather too much, and finding quite sufficient occupation for her slow brain in the thought of how pleasant it was not to be obliged to work, and occasionally in reviewing the chances that she might eventually have plenty of money and no Joseph Snowdon as a restraint upon her; or else, her physical robustness demanding exercise, she walked considerable distances about the localities she knew, calling now and then upon an acquaintance.
Till of late; but a change had come upon her life. It was now seldom that she kept the house all day; when within doors she was restless, quarrelsome. Joseph became aware with surprise that she no longer tried to conceal her enmity against him; on a slight provocation she broke into a fierceness which reminded him of the day when he undeceived her as to his position, and her look at such times was murderous. It might come, he imagined, of her being released from the prudent control of her mother. However, again a few weeks and things were somewhat improved; she eyed him like a wild beast, but was less frequent in her outbreaks. Here, too, it might be that Mrs. Peckover's influence was at work, for Clara spent at least four evenings of the seven away from home, and always said she had been at the Close. As indifferent as it was possible to be, Joseph made no attempt to restrain her independence; indeed he was glad to have her out of his way.
We must follow her on one of these evenings ostensibly passed at Mrs. Peckover's--no, not follow, but discover her at nine o'clock.
In Old Street, not far from Shoreditch Station, was a shabby little place of refreshment, kept by an Italian; pastry and sweet-stuff filled the window; at the back of the shop, through a doorway on each side of which was looped a pink curtain, a room, furnished with three marble-topped tables, invited those who wished to eat and drink more at ease than was possible before the counter. Except on Sunday evening this room was very little used, and there, on the occasion of which I speak, Clem was sitting with Bob Hewett. They had been having supper together--French pastry and a cup of cocoa.
She leaned forward on her elbows, and said imperatively, 'Tell Pennyloaf to make it up with her again.'
'Because I want to know what goes on in Hanover Street. You was a fool to send her away, and you'd ought to have told me about it before now. If they was such friends, I suppose the girl told her lots o' things. But I expect they see each other just the same. You don't suppose she does all _you_ tell her?'
'I'll bet you what you like she does!' cried Bob.
Clem glared at him.
'Oh, you an' your Pennyloaf! Likely she tells you the truth. You're so fond of each other, ain't you! Tells you everything, does she?--and the way you treat her!'
'Who's always at me to make me treat her worse still?' Bob retorted half angrily, half in expostulation.
'Well, and so I am, 'cause I hate the name of her! I'd like to hear as you starve her and her brats half to death. How much money did you give her last week? Now you just tell me the truth. How much was it?'
'How can I remember? Three or four bob, I s'pose.'
'Three or four bob!' she repeated, snarling. 'Give her one, and make her live all the week on it. Wear her down! Make her pawn all she has, and go cold!'
Her cheeks were on fire; her eyes started in the fury of jealousy; she set her teeth together.
'I'd better do for her altogether,' said Bob, with an evil grin.
Clam looked at him, without speaking; kept her gaze on him; then she said in a thick voice:
'There's many a true word said in joke.'
Bob moved uncomfortably. There was a brief silence, then the other, putting her face nearer his:
'Not just yet. I want to use her to get all I can about that girl and her old beast of a grandfather. Mind you do as I tell you. Pennyloaf's to have her back again, and she's to make her talk, and you're to get all you can from Pennyloaf--understand?'
There came noises from the shop. Three work-girls had just entered and were buying cakes, which they began to eat at the counter. They were loud in gossip and laughter, and their voices rang like brass against brass. Clem amused herself in listening to them for a few minutes; then she became absent, moving a finger round and round on her plate. A disagreeable flush still lingered under her eyes.
'Have you told her about Clara?'
'Who? Pennyloaf, of course.'
'No, I haven't. Why should I?'
'Oh, you're such a affectionate couple! See, you're only to give her two shillin's next week. Let her go hungry this nice weather.'
'She won't do that if Jane Snowdon comes back, so there you're out of it!'
Clem bit her lip.
'What's the odds? Make it up with a hit in the mouth now and then.'
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