When Ida went upstairs for the wash, the need for which Miss Isabel had so kindly informed her of, she found that her room was clean and fairly comfortable, though its appearance seemed strange after the huge and old-fashioned one at the Hall. The furniture was cheap and unsubstantial, the towels were small and thin; in place of pictures, aggressively illuminated texts scarred the walls like freshly made wounds, and the place had a bare, homeless look which made Ida shudder.
The dining-room, when she went down to it, did not impress her any more favourably; for here, too, the furniture was new and shiny with a sticky kind of shininess, as if the treacly varnish had not yet dried; there was not a comfortable chair in the room; the pictures were the most gruesome ones of Dore’s, and there was a text over the mantel-piece as aggressive and as hideous in colouring as those in her room. A lukewarm leg of mutton, very underdone, was on the table, the cloth of which was by no means clean; the dishes, which contained quite cold vegetables, were cracked and did not match; the bread was of the commonest kind, that which is called “household;” the knives were badly cleaned, and the plate was worn off the forks and spoons. It was considered inelegant to have gas in the dining-room, therefore a cheap paraffin-lamp was in the centre of the table, and was more liberal of scent than light. The curtains to the window were of that annoying red which shrieks down any other colour near it; they made Ida’s tired eyes ache.
While she was trying to eat the slice of gory mutton, Mrs. Heron and Isabel watched her, as if she were some aboriginal from a wild and distant country, and they shot glances at each other, uneasy, half-jealous, half-envious glances, as they noted the beauty of the face, and the grace of the figure in its black dress, which, plain as it was, seemed to make theirs still more dowdy and vulgar. In the midst of this lugubrious account of the annoyances and worries of the journey, Mr. Heron broke off to ask:
“Where is Joseph? He is late to-night.”
“He is kept at the office,” replied his mother. “Poor boy! I hope he is not working too hard; he has been kept nearly every night this week.”
Isabel smiled at Ida, for what reason Ida could not guess; and while she was wondering, there came a knock at the outer door, and presently Joseph entered.
He was an unprepossessing young man with small eyes and thick lips, over which it would have been wise of him to wear a big moustache; but it was the fashion in the city to be clean-shaven, and Mr. Joseph considered himself the pink of fashion. His clothes fitted him too tightly, he wore cheap neckties, and ready-made boots, of course, of patent leather. His dark hair was plastered on the low, retreating forehead; his face was flushed instead of being, as one would expect, pale from overwork.