It was not his intention really to go at once. Irritation had made it impossible for him to speak longer with the child; he would walk the length of the street and return to give her one more chance. Distracted in purpose as he had never been in his life before, he reached Marylebone Road; rain was just beginning to fall, and he had no umbrella with him. He stood and looked back. Ida once out of his sight, that impatient tenderness which her face inspired failed before the recollection of her stubbornness. She had matched her will with his, as bad an omen as well could be. What was the child to him, or he to her? He did not feel capable of trying to make her like him; what good in renewing the old conflicts and upsetting the position of freedom he had attained? Doubtless she inherited a fatal disposition. In his mind lurked the foreknowledge that he might come to be fond of this little outcast, but Woodstock was incapable as yet of understanding that love must and will be its own reward. The rain fell heavier, and at this moment an omnibus came up. He hailed it, saying to himself that he would think the matter over and come back on the morrow. The first part of his purpose he fulfilled; but to Milton Street he never returned.
As soon as he had left the house, Mrs. Ledward bounced into the room where Ida stood.
“You little idjot!” she exclaimed. “What do you mean by refusing a offer like that!—Why, the gentleman’s your own father.”
“My father!” repeated Ida, in scornful astonishment. “My father died when I was a baby. Mother’s told me so often.”
“If you believe all your mother told you,—Well, well, you have been a little wooden-head. What made you behave like that to him?— Where does he live, eh?”
“I don’t know.”
“You do know. Why, I heard him say you’d been to see him. And what are you going to do, I’d like to know? You dont expect me to keep you, I s’pose. Tell me at once where the gentleman lives, and let me take you there. The idea of your turning against your own father!”
“He’s not my father!” cried Ida passionately. “My father is dead; and now mother’s dead, and I’m alone.” She turned and went from the room, weeping bitterly.
In a morning newspaper of March 187—, that is to chapter, appeared a singular advertisement.
“Wanted, human companionship. A young man of four-and-twenty wishes to find a congenial associate of about his own age. He is a student of ancient and modern literatures, a free-thinker in religion, a lover of art in all its forms, a hater of conventionalism. Would like to correspond in the first instance. Address O. W., City News Rooms, W.C.”
An advertisement which, naturally, might mean much or little, might be the outcome of an idle whim, or the despairing cry of a hungry heart. It could not be expected to elicit many replies; and brought indeed but one.