Ida stooped and took him up in her arms.
“And who’s this?” she asked, talking to him as one talks to a child, whilst she pressed his warm black cheek against her own. “Does Grim remember who this is? We still keep together,” she added, looking at Waymark. “All day long, whilst I’m away, he keeps house; I’m often afraid he suffers dreadfully from loneliness, but, you see, I’m obliged to lock him in. And he knows exactly the time when I come home. I always find him sitting on that chair by the door, waiting, waiting, oh so patiently! And I often bring him back something nice, don’t I, Grimmy? You should see how delighted he is as soon as I enter the door.”
Ida was changed, and in many ways. She seemed to have grown younger; in her voice and manner there was a girlishness which was quite new to Waymark. Her motions were lighter and nimbler; there was no longer that slow grace of step and carriage which had expressed absolute leisure, and with it had gone, perhaps, something of dignity, which used to sit so well upon her. She laughed from time to time in a free, careless way; formerly she seldom did more than smile. In the old days, there was nothing about her suggestive of what are called the domestic virtues; now she seemed perfectly at home amid these simple surroundings, and, almost as soon as her visitor had sat down, she busied herself in laying the table in a quick, ready way, which came of the habit of waiting upon herself.
“You’ll have a cup of tea with me?” she said, looking at Waymark with the curiosity which seemed to show that she also found something changed in him. “I only get home about eight o’clock, and this is the quietest and pleasantest meal in the day for me.”
“What do you do all day, then?” Waymark asked, softening the bluntness of his question with a smile.
She stepped near to him, and held out her hands for him to look at; then, as he met her eyes again, laughed merrily.
“Do you guess?” she asked.
“I believe I can. You have gone back to the laundry again?”
“And how long is it since you did so?”
“How long is it since we last saw each other?”
“Did you begin at once when you returned to London?”
Waymark kept silence, whilst Ida poured out a cup of tea for him, and then took her seat at the table.
“Don’t you think I’m comfortable here?” Ida said. “It’s like having a house of my own. I see nothing of the other people in the building, and feel independent.”
“Did you buy the furniture yourself?”
“Yes; just the things I couldn’t do without. I pay only three-and-sixpence a week, and so long as I can earn that, I’m sure at all events of a home, where I can be happy or miserable, as I please.”
Waymark wondered. There was no mistaking the genuineness of her tone. What, then, had been the reason for this astonishing change, a change extending, it would seem, almost to temperament? What intermediate phases had led up to this result? He wished to ask her for an explanation, but to do so would be to refer to the condition she had left, and that he did not wish to do. All would no doubt explain itself as they talked; in the meantime she told him how her days were ordered, and the details of her life.