Harriet Smales had left home in a bad temper that Sunday afternoon, and when she came back to tea, after her walk with Julian, her state of mind did not appear to have undergone any improvement. She took her place at the tea-table in silence. She and Mrs. Ogle were alone this evening; the latter’s husband—he was a journeyman printer, and left entirely in his wife’s hands the management of the shop in Gray’s Inn Road—happened to be away. Mrs. Ogle was a decent, cheerful woman, of motherly appearance. She made one or two attempts to engage Harriet in conversation, but, failing, subsided into silence, only looking askance at the girl from time to time. When she had finished her tea and bread-and-butter, Harriet coughed, and, without facing her companion, spoke in rather a cold way.
“I may be late back to-night, Mrs. Ogle. You won’t lock the door?”
“I sha’n’t go to bed till eleven myself,” was the reply.
“But it may be after twelve when I get back.”
“Where are you going to, Harriet?”
“If you must know always, Mrs. Ogle, I’m going to see my friend in Westminster.”
“Well, it ain’t no business of mine, my girl,” returned the woman, not unkindly, “but I think it’s only right I should have some idea where you spend your nights. As long as you live in my house, I’m responsible for you, in a way.”
“I don’t want any one to be responsible for me, Mrs. Ogle.”
“Maybe not, my girl. But young people ain’t always the best judges of what’s good for them, and what isn’t. I don’t think your cousin ’ud approve of your being out so late. I shall sit up for you, and you mustn’t be after twelve.”
It was said very decidedly. Harriet made no reply, but speedily dressed and went out. She took an omnibus eastward, and sought a neighbourhood which most decently dressed people would have been chary of entering after nightfall, or indeed at any other time, unless compelled to do so. The girl found the object of her walk in a dirty little public-house at the corner of two foul and narrow by-ways. She entered by a private door, and passed into a parlour, which was behind the bar.
A woman was sitting in the room, beguiling her leisure with a Sunday paper. She was dressed with vulgar showiness, and made a lavish display of jewellery, more or less valuable. Eight years ago she was a servant in Mr. Smales’s house, and her name was Sarah. She had married in the meanwhile, and become Mrs. Sprowl.
She welcomed her visitor with a friendly nod, but did not rise.
“I thought it likely you’d look in, as you missed larst week. How’s things goin’ in your part o’ the world?”
“Very badly,” returned Harriet, throwing off her hat and cloak, and going to warm her hands and feet at the fire. “It won’t last much longer, that’s the truth of it.”
“Eh well, it’s all in a life; we all has our little trials an’ troubles, as the sayin’ is.”