Chapter 13 | Janet is Haunted | The Bag of Diamonds

A fortnight passed, and Mark was able to join his sister at her lodging, from which she was out all day.

It was very hard work, that lesson-giving at different houses, but little Janet trudged on from place to place, rarely ever travelling by omnibus unless absolutely obliged, so that she might economise and make her earnings help out her income of twenty-one pounds per annum.

Rather a small sum in London, but it was safe. Seven hundred pounds’ worth of stock in the Three per Cents., and bringing in ten pounds ten shillings every half-year.

One evening, as she was returning on foot, walking very rapidly, so as to get back as soon as possible to Mark, her heart sank, and she felt faint in spirit as she thought of her future and its prospects. To go on teach, teach, teach, and try to make stupid girls achieve something approaching skill in handling their brushes, so that parents might be satisfied. For, poor girl, she found what most teachers do, that when a child does not progress, it is always the instructor’s fault, not that of the disciple.

“I shall be better when I’ve had some tea,” she said to herself, as the tears gathered in her eyes. “Why do I murmur so? Rich never complains, and her troubles are as great as mine. I ought to be glad and rejoice that poor Mark has come back safely, and—there he is again.”

Janet’s little heart beat wildly with fear as a tall muffled-up figure appeared from a doorway in the sombre-looking square into which she had turned from the street where she gave lessons three afternoons a week, and followed her at a short distance behind. For two months past, evening after evening, that figure had been there, making her heart palpitate as she thought of what a weak, helpless little creature she was, and how unprotected in this busy world.

It was hard work to keep steadily on without looking round, without starting off at a run. Her breast seemed filled with that wild scream which she longed to utter, but dared not, telling herself that to seem afraid or to notice the figure was to invite assault.

“Oh, if Mark would only get well,” she thought, “or if Rich could come and meet me!”

Then she called herself a coward, and stepped daintily on along the muddy street, wondering whether it would be possible to go by some other way, and so avoid this shadow which dogged her steps.

There was one way to get over it—to mention if to Rich, and ask her to bid Hendon wait for her and see her home. But that, she said, she would sooner die than do; so she had tried four different ways of reaching home, and always with the figure following her to the door of the house where she lodged, and where Mark sat waiting for her to come.

It was always the same: the muffled-up figure followed her closely, and kept on the same side of the way till he reached her door, when it crossed over, and waited till she went in, breathless and trembling.

Over and over again the little frightened girl tried to devise some plan, but all in vain; till this night of the foggy winter she was crossing the street, rejoicing that he was so near home, when there was a shout, a horse’s hot breath was upon her cheek, and she was sent staggering sideways, and would have fallen had not the muffled-up figure been at hand, caught her in his arms, and borne her to the pavement, while the cab disappeared in the yellow mist.

“My own darling! Are you hurt?” he cried passionately.

“Hendon! You!” she panted.

“Yes, I,” he said. “You are hurt!”

“No, no,” she cried; “only frightened. The horse struck my shoulder. But—but was it you who followed every night all the way home?”

“Yes,” he said, coldly now, “you knew it was.”

“I did not,” she retorted angrily; and then in half hysterical terms, “how dare you go on frightening me night after night like this? It has been horrible. You have made me ill.”

“Made you ill?” he said. “How could I let you go about all alone these dark evenings? I was forbidden to talk to you as I wished, but there was no reason why I should not watch over you. How’s Mark?”

“Getting better,” said Janet, drawing a breath of relief at her companion’s sudden change in the conversation; for she felt that had he continued in that same sad reproachful strain she must have hung upon his arm, and sobbed and thanked him for his chivalrous conduct. There was something, too, so sweet in the feeling that he must love her very dearly in spite of all the rebuffs he had received; and somehow as they walked on, a gleam of sunny yellow came through the misty greys and dingy drabs with which from her mental colour-box she had been tingeing her future life. There was even a dash of ultramarine, too—a brighter blue than her eyes—and her heart began to beat quite another tune.

“May I come and walk home with you every night?” said Hendon at last, as, after repeated assurances that she was not hurt, they stopped at last at the street door.

“No,” she said decidedly; and her little lips were tightly compressed, so that they should not give vent to a sob.

“How cruel you are, Janet!”

“For trying to do what is right,” she said firmly. “What would your sister say if, after all that has passed, I were to be so weak?”

“May I follow you at a distance, as I have done all this time?” he pleaded.

“No. You have only frightened me almost to death,” she replied. “Will you come up and see poor Mark?”

“Not to-night,” he said bitterly; “I couldn’t bear it now. Janet, if I go to the bad, it won’t be all my fault. I know I’m a weak fellow, but with something to act as ballast, I should be all right. What have I done that you should be so cold?”

For answer, Janet held out her hand.

“Good-night, Mr Chartley,” she said quietly; but he did not take the hand, only turned away, walking rapidly along the street, while, fighting hard to keep from bursting into a violent fit of sobbing, Janet hurried up to her room, to find her brother looking haggard and wild as he slowly paced the floor.