Ida made no direct answer. She gazed far off at the indistinguishable border-land of sea and sky, and when she spoke it was in a softened tone.
“When I was here last, I was seven years old. Now I am not quite nineteen. How long I have lived since then—how long! Yet my life didnot really begin till I was about eleven. Till then I was a happy child, understanding nothing. Between then and now, if I have discovered little good either in myself or in others, I have learned by heart everything that is bad in the world. Nothing in meanness or vileness or wretchedness is a secret to me. Compare me with other girls of nineteen—perhaps still at school. What sort of a companion should I be for one of those, I wonder! What strange thoughts I should have, if ever I talked with such a girl; how old I should feel myself beside her!”
“Your knowledge is better in my eyes than their ignorance. My ideal woman is the one who, knowing every darkest secret of life, keeps yet a pure mind—as you do, Ida.”
She was silent so long that Waymark spoke again.
“Your mother died when you were eleven!”
“Yes, and that was when my life began. My mother was very poor, but she managed to send me to a pretty good school. But for that, my life would have been very different; I should not have understood myself as well as I always have done. Poor mother,—good, good mother! Oh, if I could but have her now, and thank her for all her love, and give her but one year of quiet happiness. To think that I can see her as if she were standing before me, and yet that she is gone, is nowhere, never to be brought back to me if I break my heart with longing!”
Tears stood in her eyes. They meant more than she could ever say to another, however close and dear to her. The secret of her mother’s life lay in the grave and in her own mind; the one would render it up as soon as the other. For never would Ida tell in words of that moment when there had come to her maturing intelligence clear insight into her mother’s history, when the fables of childhood had no longer availed to blind her, and every recalled circumstance pointed but to one miserable truth.
“She’s happier than we are,” Waymark said solemnly. “Think how long she has been resting.”
Ida became silent, and presently spoke with a firmer voice.
“They took her to a hospital in her last illness, and she died there. I don’t know where her grave is.”
“And what became of you? Had you friends to go to?”
“No one; I was quite alone.—We had been living in lodgings. The landlady told me that of course I couldn’t stay on there; she couldn’t afford to keep me; I must go and find a home somewhere. Try and think what that meant to me. I was so young and ignorant that such an idea as that I might one day have to earn my own living had never entered my mind. I was fed and clothed like every one else,— a good deal