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- The Unclassed - 24/74 -
steel chain, fastened with string. On seeing the two approach, she sprang up, and disappeared with a bound into the house.
"That's the most infernal little devil in all London, I do believe," said Mr. Woodstock, as they began to ascend the stairs. "Her mother owes two weeks, and if she don't pay something to-day, I'll have her out. She'll be shamming illness, you'll see. The child ran up to prepare her."
The room in question was at the top of the house. It proved to be quite bare of furniture. On a bundle of straw in one corner was lying a woman, to all appearances _in extremis_. She lay looking up to the ceiling, her face distorted into the most ghastly anguish, her lips foaming; her whole frame shivered incessantly.
"Ha, I thought so," exclaimed Abraham as he entered. "Are you going to pay anything this week?"
The woman seemed to be unconscious.
"Have you got the rent?" asked Mr. Woodstock, turning to the child, who had crouched down in another corner.
"No, we ain't," was the reply, with a terribly fierce glare from eyes which rather seemed to have looked on ninety years than nine.
"Then out you go! Come, you, get up now; d' you hear? Very well; come along, Waymark; you take hold of that foot, and I'll take this. Now, drag her out on to the landing."
They dragged her about half-way to the door, when suddenly Waymark felt the foot he had hold of withdrawn from his grasp, and at once the woman sprang upright. Then she fell on him, tooth and nail, screaming like some evil beast. Had not Abraham forthwith come to the rescue, he would have been seriously torn about the face, but just in time the woman's arms were seized in a giant grip, and she was flung bodily out of the room, falling with a crash upon the landing. Then from her and the child arose a most terrific uproar of commination; both together yelled such foulness and blasphemy as can only be conceived by those who have made a special study of this vocabulary, and the vituperation of the child was, if anything, richer in quality than the mother's. The former, moreover, did not confine herself to words, but all at once sent her clenched fist through every pain of glass in the window, heedless of the fearful cuts she inflicted upon herself, and uttering a wild yell of triumph at each fracture. Mr. Woodstock was too late to save his property, but he caught up the creature like a doll, and flung her out also on to the landing, then coolly locked the door behind him, put the key in his pocket, and, letting Waymark pass on first, descended the stairs. The yelling and screeching behind them continued as long as they were in the Court, but it drew no attention from the neighbours, who were far too accustomed to this kind of thing to heed it.
In the last house they had to enter they came upon a man asleep on a bare bedstead. It was difficult to wake him. When at length he was aroused, he glared at them for a moment with one blood-shot eye (the other was sightless), looking much like a wild beast which doubts whether to spring or to shrink back.
"Rent, Slimy," said Mr. Woodstock with more of good humour than usual.
The man pointed to the mantelpiece, where the pieces of money were found to be lying. Waymark looked round the room. Besides the bedstead, a table was the only article of furniture, and on it stood a dirty jug and a glass. Lying about was a strange collection of miscellaneous articles, heaps of rags and dirty paper, bottles, boots, bones. There were one or two chairs in process of being new-caned; there was a wooden frame for holding glass, such as is carried about by itinerant glaziers, and, finally, there was a knife-grinding instrument, adapted for wheeling about the streets. The walls were all scribbled over with obscene words and drawings. On the inside of the door had been fitted two enormous bolts, one above and one below.
"How's trade, Slimy?" inquired Mr. Woodstock.
"Which trade, Mr. Woodstock?" asked the man in return, in a very husky voice.
"Oh, trade in general."
"There never was sich times since old Scratch died," replied Slimy, shaking his head. "No chance for a honest man."
"Then you're in luck. This is the new collector, d'you see."
"I've been a-looking at him," said Slimy, whose one eye, for all that, had seemed busy all the time in quite a different direction. "I seen him somewheres, but I can't just make out where."
"Not many people you haven't seen, I think," said Abraham, nodding, as he went out of the room. Waymark followed, and was glad to get into the open streets again.
Julian Casti was successful in his application for the post of dispenser at the All Saints' Hospital, and shortly after Easter he left the shop in Oxford Street, taking lodgings in Beaufort Street, Chelsea. His first evening there was spent in Waymark's company, and there was much talk of the progress his writing would make, now that his hours of liberty were so considerably extended. For the first time in his life he was enjoying the sense of independence. Waymark talked of moving from Walcot Square, in order to be nearer to his friend. He, too, was possessed of more freedom than had been the case for a long time, and his head was full of various fancies. They would encourage each other in their work, afford by mutual appreciation that stimulus which is so essential to the young artist.
But in this world, though man may propose, it is woman who disposes. And at this moment, Julian's future was being disposed of in a manner he could not well have foreseen.
Harriet Smales had heard with unconcealed pleasure of his leaving the shop and taking lodgings of his own. She had been anxious to come and see the rooms, and, though the following Sunday was appointed for her visit, she could not wait so long, but, to her cousin's surprise, presented herself at the house one evening, and was announced by the landlady, who looked suspicious. Julian, with some nervousness, hastened to explain that the visitor was a relative, which did not in the least alter his landlady's preconceived ideas. Harriet sat down and looked about her with a sigh of satisfaction. If she could but have such a home! Girls had no chance of getting on as men did. If only her father could have lived, things would have been different. Now she was thrown on the world, and had to depend upon her own hard work. Then she gave way to an hysterical sob, and Julian--who felt sure that the landlady was listening at the door--could only beg her nervously not to be so down-hearted.
"Whatever success I have," he said to her, "you will share it."
"If I thought so!" she sighed, looking down at the floor, and moving the point of her umbrella up and down. Harriet had saturated her mind with the fiction of penny weeklies, and owed to this training all manner of awkward affectations which she took to be the most becoming manifestations of a susceptible heart. At times she would express herself in phrases of the most absurdly high-flown kind, and lately she had got into the habit of heaving profound sighs between her sentences. Julian was not blind to the meaning of all this. His active employments during the past week had kept his thoughts from brooding on the matter, and he had all but dismissed the trouble it had given him. But this visit, and Harriet's demeanour throughout it, revived all his anxieties. He came back from accompanying his cousin part of her way home in a very uneasy frame of mind. What could he do to disabuse the poor girl of the unhappy hopes she entertained? The thought of giving pain to any most humble creature was itself a pain unendurable to Julian. His was one of those natures to which self-sacrifice is infinitely easier than the idea of sacrificing another to his own desires or even necessities, a vice of weakness often more deeply and widely destructive than the vices of strength.
The visit having been paid, it was arranged that on the following Sunday Julian should meet his cousin at the end of Gray's Inn Road as usual. On that day the weather was fine, but Harriet came out in no mood for a walk. She had been ailing for a day or two, she said, and felt incapable of exertion; Mrs. Ogle was away from home for the day, too, and it would be better they should spend the afternoon together in the house. Julian of course assented, as always, and they established themselves in the parlour behind the shop. In the course of talk, the girl made mention of an engraving Julian had given her a week or two before, and said that she had had it framed and hung it in her bed-room.
"Do come up and look at it," she exclaimed; "there's no one in the house. I want to ask you if you can find a better place for it. It doesn't show so well where it is."
Julian hesitated for a moment, but she was already leading the way, and he could not refuse to follow. They went up to the top of the house, and entered a little chamber which might have been more tidy, but was decently furnished. The bed was made in a slovenly way, the mantelpiece was dusty, and the pictures on the walls hung askew. Harriet closed the door behind them, and proceeded to point out the new picture, and discuss the various positions which had occurred to her. Julian would have decided the question as speedily as possible, and once or twice moved to return downstairs, but each time the girl found something new to detain him. Opening a drawer, she took out several paltry little ornaments, which she wished him to admire, and, in showing them, stood very close by his side. All at once the door of the room was pushed open, and a woman ran in. On seeing the stranger present, she darted back with an exclamation of surprise.
"Oh, Miss Smales, I didn't know as you wasn't alone! I heard you moving about, and come just to arst you to lend me--but never mind, I'm so sorry; why didn't you lock the door?"
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