“I’ve been sitting in the dark to make a certain party think I was out,” he said, slowly. “She keeps making a excuse about Teddy to come over and see me. Last night ’e talked about making a ’ole in the water to celebrate ’Melia Kybird’s wedding, and she came over and sat in that chair and cried as if ’er ’art would break. After she’d gone Teddy comes over, fierce as a eagle, and wants to know wot I’ve been saying to ’is mother to make ’er cry. Between the two of ’em I ’ave a nice life of it.”
“He is still faithful to Miss Kybird, then?” said Hardy, with a sudden sense of relief.
“Faithful?” said Mr. Wilks. “Faithful ain’t no word for it. He’s a sticker, that’s wot ’e is, and it’s my misfortune that ’is mother takes after ’im. I ’ave to go out afore breakfast and stay out till late at night, and even then like as not she catches me on the doorstep.”
“Well, perhaps she will make a hole in the water,” suggested Hardy.
Mr. Wilks smiled, but almost instantly became grave again. “She’s not that sort,” he said, bitterly, and went into the kitchen to draw some beer.
He drank his in a manner which betokened that the occupation afforded him no enjoyment, and, full of his own troubles, was in no mood to discuss anything else. He gave a short biography of Mrs. Silk which would have furnished abundant material for half-a-dozen libel actions, and alluding to the demise of the late Mr. Silk, spoke of it as though it were the supreme act of artfulness in a somewhat adventurous career.
Hardy walked home with a mind more at ease than it had been at any time since his overtures to Mr. Swann. The only scruple that had troubled him was now removed, and in place of it he felt that he was acting the part of a guardian angel to Mr. Edward Silk.
Mr. Nathan Smith, usually one of the most matter-of-fact men in the world, came out of Mr. Swann’s house in a semi-dazed condition, and for some time after the front door had closed behind him stood gaping on the narrow pavement.
He looked up and down the quiet little street and shook his head sadly. It was a street of staid and substantial old houses; houses which had mellowed and blackened with age, but whose quaint windows and chance-opened doors afforded glimpses of comfort attesting to the prosperity of those within. In the usual way Mr. Nathan Smith was of too philosophical a temperament to experience the pangs of envy, but to-day these things affected him, and he experienced a strange feeling of discontent with his lot in life.
“Some people ’ave all the luck,” he muttered, and walked slowly down the road.
[Illustration: “’Some people ‘ave all the luck,’ he muttered.”]
He continued his reflections as he walked through the somewhat squalid streets of his own quarter. The afternoon was wet and the houses looked dingier than usual; dirty, inconvenient little places most of them, with a few cheap gimcracks making a brave show as near the window as possible. Mr. Smith observed them with newly opened eyes, and, for perhaps the first time in his life, thought of the draw-backs and struggles of the poor.