‘I suppose you never thought of trying it?’ he asked. ’Yet I fancy you might do well, if only you could have a few months’ training, just to start you. Of course it all depends on knowing how to go about it. A little money would be necessary—not much.’
Clara made no reply. On the way home she was mute. Scawthorne took leave of her in Upper Street, and promised to look in again before long. . . .
Under the heat of these summer days, in the reeking atmosphere of the bar, Clara panted fever-stricken. The weeks went on; what strength supported her from the Monday morning to the Saturday midnight she could not tell. Acting and refraining, speaking and holding silence, these things were no longer the consequences of her own volition. She wished to break free from her slavery, but had not the force to do so; something held her voice as often as she was about to tell Mrs. Tubbs that this week would be the last. Her body wasted so that all the garments she wore were loose upon her. The only mental process of which she was capable was reviewing the misery of days just past and anticipating that of the days to come. Her only feelings were infinite self-pity and a dull smouldering hatred of all others in the world. A doctor would have bidden her take to bed, as one in danger of grave illness. She bore through it without change in her habits, and in time the strange lethargy passed.
Scawthorne came to the bar frequently. He remarked often on her look of suffering, and urged a holiday. At length, near the end of July, he invited her to go up the river with him on the coming Bank-holiday. Clara consented, though aware that her presence would be more than ever necessary at the bar on the day of much drinking. Later in the evening she addressed her demand to Mrs. Tubbs. It was refused.
Without a word of anger, Clara went upstairs, prepared herself for walking, and set forth among the by-ways of Islington. In half an hour she had found a cheap bedroom, for which she paid a week’s rent in advance. She purchased a few articles of food and carried them to her lodging, then lay down in the darkness.
THE LAST COMBAT
During these summer months Sidney Kirkwood’s visits to the house in Clerkenwell Close were comparatively rare. It was not his own wish to relax in any degree the close friendship so long subsisting between the Hewetts and himself, but from the day of Clara’s engagement with Mrs. Tubbs John Hewett began to alter in his treatment of him. At first there was nothing more than found its natural explanation in regret of what had happened, a tendency to muteness, to troubled brooding; but before long John made it unmistakable that the young man’s presence was irksome to him. If, on coming home, he found Sidney with Mrs. Hewett and the children, a cold nod was the only greeting he offered; then followed signs of ill-humour, such as Sidney could not in the end fail to interpret as unfavourable to himself. He never heard Clara’s name on her father’s lips, and himself never uttered it when John was in hearing.