Page:Court Royal.djvu/111

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She had spoken to Mr. Cheek with force and freedom on the distinction between the lots of rich and poor. She had spoken more strongly than she felt. Her ideas formulated on her tongue as she spoke. She had no sympathy with the poor; they were the proper prey of a usurer. That they brought wretchedness on themselves by their own recklessness, improvidence, and idleness, she knew very well. She took advantage of their necessities without compunction. But she felt keenly her own condition and her powerlessness to escape from it. The enigmas of life, that lie unperceived in savagedom, rise into prominence with civilisation, and as culture advances become more perplexing and insoluble.

Joanna sat up under the counter. Lazarus was asleep. She could hear his snoring. He was a noisy sleeper, and though his door was shut and locked, his nasal trumpetings were audible in the shop, and annoyed the girl. On the counter above her was a tin case containing a ball of twine; the end of the twine hung down over the edge, and as she tossed on her sack touched and tickled her face. She laid hold of the end of string and threw it up, but it fell back on her face. Then she began to pull at it, and unwind the ball, and rewind on her fingers. The ball seemed interminable. She was engaged on it half an hour, running the twine out and rolling it again. She did it for a distraction, and as she did it the thought came on her that it was thus with her life; she was drawing out yard after yard of existence, all alike, with a knot here and there, all much the same, and then, suddenly—there was an end. It mattered nothing when the end came, the entire string was so utterly uninteresting.

As sleep would not come to her, she shook off the rug and crawled from her bed. The night was cold, and she was partially undressed. Therefore she drew on the military greatcoat. Thus attired, in her stocking soles, she stole out of the shop to the stairs. She had a favourite retreat on the roof, where she could be quiet and think. There she had a few pots of flowers and a little stool. Perhaps the night air would bring drowsiness to her lids. A problem was perplexing her restless mind; she could not sleep with that unsolved. The problem was this: Why were artisans and domestic servants dissatisfied, and why were shopkeepers content with their lot? All were workers alike. Lazarus worked harder than most day labourers; the man at the ham and pork shop worked like a slave, so did the greengrocer, so did the paperhanger next door but one.