’She goes to work, I believe; but I haven’t heard much about her since a good time. Sidney Kirkwood’s a friend of her grandfather. He often goes there, I believe.’
‘What is she like?’ Clara asked, after a pause. ’She used to be such a weak, ailing thing, I never thought she’d grow up. What’s she like to look at?’
’I can’t tell you, my dear. I don’t know as ever I see her since those times.’
Again a silence.
‘Then it’s Mr. Kirkwood that has told you what you know of her?’
’Why, no. It was chiefly Mrs. Peckover told me. She did say, Clara—but then I can’t tell whether it’s true or not—she did say something about Sidney and her.’
He spoke with difficulty, feeling constrained to make the disclosure, but anxious as to its result. Clara made no movement, seemed to have heard with indifference.
’It’s maybe partly ‘cause of that,’ added John, in a low voice, ‘that he doesn’t like to come here.’
‘Yes; I understand.’
They spoke no more on the subject.
WOMAN AND ACTRESS
In a tenement on the same staircase, two floors below, lived a family with whom John Hewett was on friendly terms. Necessity calling these people out of London for a few days, they had left with John the key of their front door; a letter of some moment might arrive in their absence, and John undertook to re-post it to them. The key was hung on a nail in Clara’s room.
’I’ll just go down and see if the postman’s left anything at Holland’s this morning,’ said Amy Hewett, coming in between breakfast and the time of starting for school.
She reached up to the key, but Clara, who sat by the fire with a cup of tea on her lap, the only breakfast she ever took, surprised her by saying, ’You needn’t trouble, Amy. I shall be going out soon, and I’ll look in as I pass.’
The girl was disappointed, for she liked this private incursion into the abode of other people, but the expression of a purpose by her sister was so unusual that, after a moment’s hesitating, she said, ‘Very well,’ and left the room again.
When silence informed Clara that the children were gone, Mrs. Eagles being the only person besides herself who remained in the tenement, she put on her hat, drew down the veil which was always attached to it, and with the key in her hand descended to the Hollands’ rooms. Had a letter been delivered that morning, it would have been—in default of box—just inside the door; there was none, but Clara seemed to have another purpose in view. She closed the door and walked forward into the nearest room; the blind was down, but the dusk thus produced was familiar to her in consequence of her own habit, and, her veil thrown back, she examined the chamber thoughtfully. It was a sitting-room, ugly, orderly; the air felt damp, and even in semi-darkness she was conscious of the layers of London dust which had softly deposited themselves since the family went away forty-eight hours ago. A fire was laid ready for lighting, and the smell of moist soot spread from the grate. Having stood on one spot for nearly ten minutes, Clara made a quick movement and withdrew; she latched the front door with as little noise as possible, ran upstairs and shut herself again in her own room.