As a rule, it was not an easy matter to turn Richard Ferrier from any
purpose of his, and when his purpose was that of visiting Miss Stanley
and at the same time of putting a stop to any chance of a _tête-à-tête_
between his divinity and his brother, no ordinary red herring would
have drawn him off the track.
As he walked through the streets with Roland all his thoughts were with
the girl he was going to see–all his longing was to hasten as much as
might be the moment of their meeting. In his mind just then she was the
only woman in the world; and yet it was a woman’s face in the crowd
that made him start so suddenly–a woman’s figure that he turned to
follow with so immediate a decision as to give his brother no time to
notice his going until he had gone.
The street was one of those long, straight, melancholy streets, the
deadly monotony and general seediness of which no amount of traffic
can relieve–which bear the same relation to Regent Street and Oxford
Street as the seamy side of a stage court suit does to the glitter
and gaudiness that charm the pit, and stir the æsthetic emotions of
the gallery. There are always plenty of people moving about in these
streets whom one never sees anywhere else–and you may pass up and
down them a dozen times a day without meeting anyone whose dress does
not bear tokens, more or less pronounced, of a hand-to-hand struggle
with hard-upness. It is a peculiarity of this struggle that in it
those who struggle hardest appear to get least, or at any rate those
who get least have to struggle hardest. This Society recognises with
unconscious candour–and when it sees a man or woman shabbily dressed
and with dirty hands, it at once decides that he or she must belong to
the ‘working’ classes; thus naïvely accepting the fact that those whose
work produces the wealth are not usually those who secure it.
The face which had attracted Dick’s notice was as careworn as any other
in that crowd–the figure as shabbily clad as the majority. But the
young man turned and followed with an interest independent of fair
features or becoming raiment–an interest which had its rise in a
determination to solve a problem, or at any rate to silence a doubt.
Yet it was a young woman he was following–more than that, a pretty
young women; and the very evident fact that this handsome, well-dressed
young man was openly following this shabby girl with a parcel inspired
some of the loafers whom they passed to the utterance of comments, the
simple directness of which would perhaps not have pleased the young man
had he heard them. He heard nothing. He was too intent on keeping her
in sight. Presently she passed into a quieter street, and Dick at once
ranged alongside of her, and, raising his hat said, ‘Why, Alice, have
you forgotten old friends already?’
The girl turned a very white face towards him.
‘Oh, Mr Richard! I never thought I should see you again, of all people.’
‘Why, everybody is sure to meet everyone else sooner or later. How far
are you going? Let me carry your parcel.’
‘Oh, no, it’s not heavy,’ she said; but she let him take the
brown-paper burden all the same.
‘Not heavy!’ he returned. ‘It’s too heavy for you.’
‘I’m used to it,’ she answered, with a little sigh.
‘So much the worse. I’m awfully glad I’ve met you, my dear girl. Why
did you leave us like that? What have you been doing with yourself?’
‘Oh, Mr Richard, what does it matter now? And don’t stand there holding
that parcel, but say good-bye, and let me go home.’
‘And where is home?’
‘Not a long way off.’
‘Well, I’ll walk with you. Come along.’
They walked side by side silently for some yards. Then he said,–
‘Alice, I want you to tell me truly how it was you left home.’
A burning blush swept over her face, from forehead to throat, and that
was the only answer she gave him.
‘Come, tell me,’ he persisted.
‘Can’t you guess?’ she asked in a low voice, looking straight before
‘Perhaps I can.’
‘Perhaps? Of course you can. Why do girls ever leave good homes, and
come to such a home as mine is now?’
‘Then he has left you?’
‘No,’ she said, hurriedly; ‘no, no, I’ve left him. But I can’t talk
about it to you.’
‘Why not to me, if you can to anyone?’ he asked.
‘Because–because– Don’t ask me anything else;’ and she burst into
‘There, there,’ he said, ‘don’t cry, for heaven’s sake. I didn’t mean
to worry you; but you will tell me all about it by-and-by, won’t you?
What are you doing now?’
‘What sort of work? Come, don’t cry, Alice. I hate to think I have been
adding to your distress.’
She dried her eyes obediently, and answered:
‘I do tailoring work. It seems to be the only thing I’m good for.’
‘That’s paid very badly, isn’t it?’ he asked, some vague reminiscences
of “Alton Locke” prompting the question.

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‘Oh, I manage to get along pretty well,’ she replied, with an effort
at a smile, which was more pathetic in Dick’s eyes than her tears
had been. He thought gloomily of the time, not so very long ago
either, when her face had been the brightest as well as the fairest
in Thornsett village, and his heart was sore with indignant protest
against him who had so changed her face, her life, her surroundings. He
looked at her tired thin face, still so pretty, in spite of the grief
that had aged and the want that had pinched it, and found it hard to
believe that this was indeed the Alice with whom he had raced through
the pastures at Firth Vale–the Alice who had taken the place in his
boyish heart of a very dear little sister. Ah, if she had only been his
sister really, then their friendship would not have grown less and less
during his school and college days, and his protection would have saved
her, perhaps, from this. These foster-relationships are uncomfortable
things. They inflict the sufferings of a real blood tie, and give none
of the rights which might mitigate or avert such suffering.
‘How’s mother and father?’ she said, breaking in among his sad thoughts.
‘They were well when I saw them, but I’ve not seen them lately. We’ve
been in great trouble.’
‘Yes. I saw in the papers. I was so sorry.’
‘Then you read the papers?’
‘I always try to see a weekly paper,’ she said a little confusedly.
‘Then you don’t know how they are at home?’
‘I only know they’re grieving after you still.’
‘They know I’m not dead. I let them know that, and I should think
that’s all they care to know.’
‘You know better than that. My dear child, why not go home to them? I
believe the misery you have cost them–forgive me for saying it–will
shorten their lives unless you do go back.’
‘Go back? No! I’ve sowed and I must reap. I must go through with it. I
live just down here. Good-night.’
It did not look a very inviting residence–a narrow street, leading
into a court which was too dark and too distant to be seen into from
the corner where she had stopped.
‘I sha’n’t say good-night till you say when I shall see you again.’
‘What’s the use? It only makes me more miserable to see you, though I
can’t help being glad I have seen you this once.’
‘But I must try to do something for you. I think I’ve some sort of
right to help you, Alice.’
‘But I’ve no right to be helped by you. Besides, I really don’t need
help. I have all I want. I’d much better not see you again.’
‘Well, _I_ mean to see _you_ again, anyway. I shall be in London for
some time. When shall I see you?’
‘Not at all.’
‘Nonsense!’ he said, authoritatively. ‘You must promise to write, at
any rate, or I shall come down here and wait from eight to eleven every
evening till I see you.’
‘Very well. I’ll write, then. Good-bye!’
‘But how can you write? You don’t know my address. Here’s my card;’
and he scribbled the address in pencil. ‘It’s a promise, Alice. You’ll
write and you’ll see me again?’
‘Yes, yes; good-bye;’ and she turned to leave him.
‘Why, you’re forgetting your parcel.’
‘So I am. Thank you!’ As she took it from him, he said suddenly,
watching her keenly the while,–
‘Roland is in town now. Shall I bring him to see you?’
‘No, no; for God’s sake, don’t tell _him_ you’ve seen me!’
And she left him so quickly as to give no time for another word. As
she sped down the street a loitering policeman turned to look sharply
at her, and two tidy-looking women who were standing at the opposite
corner exchanged significant glances.
‘I never thought she was one of that sort!’ said one.
‘Ah!’ said the other, ‘bad times drives some that way as ‘ud keep
straight enough with fair-paid work.’