Silence followed, and in the midst of it Kirkwood pushed his chair impatiently.
‘Bess,’ cried Samuel, with an affected jocoseness, ’you’re called upon to apologise. Don’t make a fool of yourself again.’
‘I don’t see why he need be so snappish with me,’ replied his wife. ‘I beg his pardon, if he wants me.’
But Sidney was laughing now, though not in a very natural way. He put an end to the incident, and led off into talk of quite a different kind. When supper-time was at hand he declared that it was impossible for him to stay. The hour had been anything but a lively one, and when he was gone his friends discussed at length this novel display of ill-humour on Sidney’s part.
He went home muttering to himself, and passed as bad a night as he had ever known. Two days later his removal to new lodgings was effected; notwithstanding his desire to get into a cleaner region, he had taken a room at the top of a house in Red Lion Street, in the densest part of Clerkenwell, where his neighbours under the same roof were craftsmen, carrying on their business at home.
‘It’ll do well enough just for a time,’ he said to himself. ’Who can say when I shall be really settled again, or whether I ever shall?’
Midway in an attempt to put his things in order, to nail his pictures on the walls and ring forth his books again, he was seized with such utter discouragement that he let a volume drop from his hand and threw himself into a seat. A moan escaped his lips—’That cursed money!’
Ever since the disclosure made to him by Michael Snowdon at Danbury he had been sensible of a grave uneasiness respecting his relations with Jane. At the moment he might imagine himself to share the old man’s enthusiasm, or dream, or craze—whichever name were the most appropriate—but not an hour had passed before he began to lament that such a romance as this should envelop the life which had so linked itself with his own. Immediately there arose in him a struggle between the idealist tendency, of which he had his share, and stubborn everyday sense, supported by his knowledge of the world and of his own being—a struggle to continue for months, thwarting the natural current of his life, racking his intellect, embittering his heart’s truest emotions. Conscious of mystery in Snowdon’s affairs, he had never dreamed of such a solution as this; the probability was—so he had thought—that Michael received an annuity under the will of his son who died in Australia. No word of the old man’s had ever hinted at wealth in his possession; the complaints he frequently made of the ill use to which wealthy people put their means seemed to imply a regret that he, with his purer purposes, had no power of doing anything. There was no explaining the manner of Jane’s bringing-up if it were not necessary that she should be able to support herself; the idea on which Michael acted was not such as would suggest itself, even to Sidney’s mind. Deliberately to withhold education from a girl who was to inherit any property worth speaking of would be acting with such boldness of originality that Sidney could not seriously have attributed it to his friend. In fact, he did not know Michael until the revelation was made; the depths of the man’s character escaped him.