When her father had led her away, Stafford sank into a chair and hid his face in his hands. He was no longer free, the shackles were upon him. And he was practically penniless. What should he do?
He got his pipe and felt in his pocket for his matches. As he did so he came upon Mr. “Henery” Joffler’s envelope. He looked at it vacantly for a moment or two; then he laughed, a laugh that was not altogether one of derision or amusement.
Ida had found her life at Laburnum Villa hard enough in all conscience before the night of the concert, but it became still harder after Mr. Joseph’s condescending avowal of love to her and her inevitably scornful refusal. She avoided him as much as possible, but she was forced to meet him at the family breakfast, a meal of a cold and dismal character, generally partaken of by the amiable family in a morose and gloomy silence or to an accompaniment of irritable and nagging personal criticism. Mr. Heron, who suffered from indigestion, was always at his worst at breakfast time; Mrs. Heron invariably appeared meaner and more lachrymose; Isabel more irritable and dissatisfied; and Joseph, whose bloodshot eyes and swollen lips testified to the arduous character of his “late work at the office,” went through the pretence of a meal with a sullen doggedness which evinced itself by something like a snarl if any one addressed him.
Hitherto he had, of course, been particularly, not to say unpleasantly, civil to Ida, but after his repulse his manner became marked by a covert insolence which was intended to remind her of her dependent position, and the fact that her most direct means of escape from it was by accepting him as her lover. This manner of his, offensive as it was intended to be, Ida could have borne with more or less equanimity; for to her, alas! Joseph Heron seemed of very little more account then one of the tradesmen’s boys she saw occasionally coming up to the house; but after treating her to it for a day or two in the hope of breaking her spirit, as he would have expressed it, his manner changed to one of insinuating familiarity. He addressed her in a low voice, almost a whisper, so that his sister and mother could not hear, and he smiled and nodded at her in a would-be mysterious manner, as if they were sharing some secret.
Though Ida did not know it, it was meant to rouse Mrs. Heron’s suspicions; and it succeeded admirably. Her thin, narrow face would flush angrily and she would look across at Isabel significantly, and Isabel would snigger and toss her head, as if she quite understood.