HotFreeBooks.com
Clayhanger
by Arnold Bennett
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Yes, sir."

"By the way," Edwin added, "I suppose you haven't got a map of Brighton?"

"Certainly, sir," said the porter, and with a rebirth of passion began to search among the pile of time-tables and other documents on a table behind him.

Edwin wished he had not asked for the map. He had not meant to ask for it. The words had said themselves. He gazed unseeing at the map for a few instants.

"What particular street did you want, sir?" the porter murmured.

In deciding how to answer, it seemed to Edwin that he was deciding the hazard of his life.

"Preston Street."

"Oh! Preston Street!" the porter repeated in a relieved tone, as if assuring Edwin that there was nothing very esoteric about Preston Street. "It's just beyond the Metropole. You know Regency Square. Well, it's the next street after that. There's a club at the corner."

In the afternoon, then, Edwin must have walked across the end of Preston Street twice. This thought made him tremble as at the perception of a danger past but unperceived at the moment.

The porter gave his whole soul to the putting of Edwin's overcoat on Edwin's back; he offered the hat with an obeisance, and having ushered Edwin into the night so that the illustrious guest might view the storm, he turned with a sudden new mysterious supply of zeal to other guests who were now emerging from the dining-room.

————————————————————————————————————

SIX.

The hotel fronted north on an old sheltered square where no storm raged, but simultaneously with Edwin's first glimpse of the sea the wind struck him a tremendous blow, and continued to strike. He had the peculiar grim joy of the Midlander and Northerner in defying an element. All the lamps of the promenade were insecurely flickering. Grouped opposite a small jetty was a crowd of sightseers. The dim extremity of the jetty was wreathed in spray, and the waves ran along its side, making curved lines on the masonry like curved lines of a rope shaken from one end. The wet floor of the jetty shone like a mirror. Edwin approached the crowd, and, peeping over black shoulders, could see down into the hollow of the corner between the jetty and the sea-wall, where boys on the steps dared the spent waves, amid jeering laughter. The crowd had the air of being a family intimately united. Farther on was another similar crowd, near an irregular high fountain of spray that glittered in the dark. On the beach below, at vague distances were curious rows of apparently tiny people silhouetted like the edge of a black saw against an excessive whiteness. This whiteness was the sheet of foam that the sea made. It stretched everywhere, until the eye lost it seawards. Edwin descended to the beach, adding another tooth to the saw. The tide ran up absolutely white in wide chords of a circle, and then, to the raw noise of disturbed shingle, the chord vanished; and in a moment was re-created. This play went on endlessly, hypnotising the spectators who, beaten by the wind and deafened by sound, stared and stared, safe, at the mysterious and menacing world of spray and foam and darkness. Before, was the open malignant sea. Close behind, on their eminence, the hotels rose in vast cubes of yellow light, moveless, secure, strangely confident that nothing sinister could happen to them.

Edwin was aware of emotion. The feel of his overcoat-collar upturned against the chin was friendly to him amid that onset of the pathos of the human world. He climbed back to the promenade. Always at the bottom of his mind, the foundation of all the shifting structures in his mind, was the consciousness of his exact geographical relation to Preston Street. He walked westwards along the promenade. "Why am I doing this?" he asked himself again and again. "Why don't I go home? I must be mad to be doing this." Still his legs carried him on, past lamp-post after lamp-post of the wind-driven promenade, now almost deserted. And presently the high lighted windows of the grandest hotels were to be seen, cut like square holes in the sky; and then the pier, which had flung a string of lanterns over the waves into the storm; and opposite the pier a dark empty space and a rectangle of gas-lamps: Regency Square. He crossed over, and passed up the Square, and out of it by a tiny side street, at hazard, and lo! he was in Preston Street. He went hot and cold.

————————————————————————————————————

SEVEN.

Well, and what then? Preston Street was dark and lonely. The wind charged furiously through it, panting towards the downs. He was in Preston Street, but what could he do? She was behind the black walls of one of those houses. But what then? Could he knock at the door in the night and say: "I've come. I don't know why?"

He said: "I shall walk up and down this street once, and then I shall go back to the hotel. That's the only thing to do. I've gone off my head, that's what's the matter with me! I ought to have written to her. Why in the name of God didn't I begin by writing to her? ... Of course I might write to her from the hotel ... send the letter by messenger, to-night ... or early to-morrow. Yes, that's what I'll do."

He set himself to make the perambulation of the street. Many of the numbers were painted on the fanlights over the doors and showed plain against illumination. Suddenly he saw the large figures '59.' He was profoundly stirred. He had said that the matter with him was that he had gone off his head; but now, staring at that number on the opposite side of the street, he really did not know what was the matter with him. He might have been dying. The front of the house was dark save for the fanlight He crossed over and peered down into the area and at the black door. A brass plate: "Cannon's Boarding-House," he could read. He perspired. It seemed to him that he could see her within the house, mysteriously moving at her feminine tasks. Or did she lie in bed? He had come from Bursley to London, from London to Brighton, and now he had found her portal; it existed. The adventure seemed incredible in its result. Enough for the present! He could stand no more. He walked away, meaning not to return.

When he returned, five minutes later, the fanlight was dark. Had she, in the meantime, come into the hall of the house and extinguished the gas? Strange, that all lights should be out in a boarding establishment before ten o'clock! He stood hesitant quite near the house, holding himself against the wind. Then the door opened a little, as it were stealthily, and a hand and arm crept out and with a cloth polished the face of the brass plate. He thought, in his excited fancy, that it was her hand and arm. Within, he seemed to distinguish a dim figure. He did not move; could not. The door opened wider, and the figure stood revealed, a woman's. Surely it was she! She gazed at him suspiciously, duster in hand.

"What are you standing there for?" she questioned inimically. "We've had enough of loiterers in this street. Please go away."

She took him for a knave expectant of some chance to maraud. She was not fearful, however. It was she. It was her voice.



VOLUME FOUR, CHAPTER FOUR.

IN PRESTON STREET.

He said, "I happened to be in Brighton, so I thought I'd just call, and—I thought I'd just call."

She stared at him, frowning, in the dim diffused light of the street.

"I've been seeing your little boy," he said. "I thought perhaps as I was here you'd like to know how he was getting on."

"Why," she exclaimed, with seeming bitterness, "you've grown a beard!"

"Yes," he admitted foolishly, apologetically.

"We can't stand here in this wind," she said, angry with the wind, which was indeed blowing her hair about, and her skirts and her duster.

She did not in words invite him to enter, but she held the door more widely open and drew back for him to pass. He went in. She closed the door with a bang and rattle of large old-fashioned latches, locks, and chains, and the storm was excluded. They were in the dark of the hall. "Wait till I put my hand on the matches," she said. Then she struck a match, which revealed a common oil-lamp, with a reservoir of yellow glass and a paper shade. She raised the chimney and lit the lamp, and regulated the wick.

Edwin kept silence. The terrible constraint which had half paralysed him when Janet first mentioned Hilda, seized him again. He stood near the woman who without a word of explanation or regret had jilted, outraged, and ruined him ten years before; this was their first meeting after their kisses in his father's shop. And yet she was not on her knees, nor in tears, nor stammering an appeal for forgiveness. It was rather he who was apologetic, who sought excuses. He felt somehow like a criminal, or at least like one who commits an enormous indiscretion.

The harsh curves of her hair were the same. Her thick eyebrows were the same. Her blazing glance was the same. Her intensely clear intonation was the same. But she was a profoundly changed woman. Even in his extreme perturbation he could be sure of that. As, bending under the lamp-shade to arrange the wick, she exposed her features to the bright light, Edwin saw a face marred by anxiety and grief and time, the face of a mature woman, with no lingering pretension to girlishness. She was thirty-four, and she looked older than Maggie, and much older than Janet. She was embittered. Her black dress was shabby and untidy, her finger-nails irregular, discoloured, and damaged. The aspect of her pained Edwin acutely. It seemed to him a poignant shame that time and sorrow and misfortune could not pass over a young girl's face and leave no mark. When he recalled what she had been, comparing the woman with the delicious wistful freshness of the girl that lived unaltered in his memory, he was obliged to clear his throat. The contrast was too pathetic to be dwelt on. Only with the woman before him did he fully appreciate the exquisite innocent simplicity of the girl. In the day of his passion Hilda had not seemed to him very young, very simple, very wistful. On the contrary she had seemed to have much of the knowledge and the temper of a woman.

Having at length subjugated the wick, she straightened her back, with a gesture that he knew, and for one instant she was a girl again.

————————————————————————————————————

TWO.

"Will you come this way?" she said coldly, holding the lamp in front of her, and opening a door.

At the same moment another door opened at the far end of the hall; there was a heavy footstep; a great hand and arm showed, and then Edwin had a glimpse of a man's head and shoulders emerging from an oblong flickering firelight.

Hilda paused. "All right," she called to the man, who at once disappeared, shutting the door and leaving darkness where he had been. The large shadows cast by Hilda's lamp now had the gaunt hall to themselves again.

"Don't be alarmed," she laughed harshly. "It's only the broker's man."

Edwin was tongue-tied. If Hilda were joking, what answer could be made to such a pleasantry in such a situation? And if she were speaking the truth, if the bailiffs really were in possession...! His life seemed to him once again astoundingly romantic. He had loved this woman, conquered her. And now she was a mere acquaintance, and he was following her stiffly into the recesses of a strange and sinister abode peopled by mysterious men. Was this a Brighton boarding-house? It resembled nothing reputable in his experience. All was incomprehensible.

The room into which she led him was evidently the dining-room. Not spacious, perhaps not quite so large as his own dining-room, it was nearly filled by one long bare table. Eight or ten monotonous chairs were ranged round the grey walls. In the embrasure of the window was a wicker stand with a withered plant on its summit, and at the other end of the room a walnut sideboard in the most horrible taste. The mantelpiece was draped with dark knotted and rosetted cloth; within the fender stood a small paper screen. The walls were hung with ancient and with fairly modern engravings, some big, others little, some coloured, others in black-and-white, but all distressing in their fatuous ugliness. The ceiling seemed black. The whole room fulfilled pretty accurately the scornful scrupulous housewife's notion of a lodging-house interior. It was suspect. And in Edwin there was a good deal of the housewife. He was appalled. Obviously the house was small—he had known that from the outside—and the entire enterprise insignificant. This establishment was not in the King's Road, nor on the Marine Parade, nor at Hove; no doubt hundreds of such little places existed precariously in a vast town like Brighton. Widows, of course, were often in straits. And Janet had told him... Nevertheless he was appalled, and completely at a loss to reconcile Hilda with her environment. And then—"the broker's man!"

At her bidding he sat down, in his overcoat, with his hat insecure on his knee, and observed, under the lamp, the dust on the surface of the long table. Hilda seated herself opposite, so that the lamp was between them, hiding him from her by its circle of light. He wondered what Maggie would have thought, and what Clara would have said, could they have seen him in that obscurity.

————————————————————————————————————

THREE.

"So you've seen my boy?" she began, with no softening of tone.

"Yes, Janet Orgreave brought him in one morning—the other day. He didn't seem to me to be so ill as all that."

"Ill!" she exclaimed. "He certainly wasn't ill when he left here. But he had been. And the doctor said that this air didn't suit him—it never had suited him. It doesn't suit some folks, you know—people can say what they like."

"Anyhow, he's a lively piece—no mistake about that!"

"When he's well, he's very well," said George's mother. "But he's up and down in a minute. And on the whole he's been on the poorly side."

He noticed that, though there was no relapse from the correctness of her accent, she was using just such phrases as she might have used had she never quitted her native Turnhill. He looked round the lamp at her furtively, and seemed to see in her shadowed face a particular local quality of sincerity and downrightness that appealed strongly to his admiration. (Yet ten years earlier he had considered her markedly foreign to the Five Towns.) That this quality should have survived in her was a proof to him that she was a woman unique. Unique she had been, and unique she still remained. He did not know that he had long ago lost for ever the power of seeing her with a normal vision. He imagined in his simplicity, which disguised itself as chill critical impartiality, that he was adding her up with clear-sighted shrewdness... And then she was a mother! That meant a mysterious, a mystic perfecting! For him, it was as if among all women she alone had been a mother—so special was his view of the influence of motherhood upon her. He drew together all the beauty of an experience almost universal, transcendentalised it, and centred it on one being. And he was disturbed, baffled, agitated by the effect of the secret workings of his own unsuspected emotion. He was made sad, and sadder. He wanted to right wrongs, to efface from hearts the memory of grief, to create bliss; and he knew that this could never be done. He now saw Hilda exclusively as a victim, whose misfortunes were innumerable. Imagine this creature, with her passion for Victor Hugo, obliged by circumstances to polish a brass door-plate surreptitiously at night! Imagine her solitary in the awful house—with the broker's man! Imagine her forced to separate herself from her child! Imagine the succession of disasters that had soured her and transformed seriousness into harshness and acridity! ... And within that envelope, what a soul must be burning!

"And when he begins to grow—he's scarcely begun to grow yet," Hilda continued about her offspring, "then he will reed all his strength!"

"Yes, he will," Edwin concurred heartily.

He wanted to ask her, "Why did you call him Edwin for his second name? Was it his father's name, or your father's, or did you insist on it yourself, because?" But he could not ask. He could ask nothing. He could not even ask why she had jilted him without a word. He knew naught, and evidently she was determined to give no information. She might at any rate have explained how she had come to meet Janet, and under what circumstances Janet had taken possession of the child. All was a mystery. Her face, when he avoided the lamp, shone in the midst of a huge dark cloud of impenetrable mystery. She was too proud to reveal anything whatever. The grand pride in her forbade her even to excuse her conduct to himself. A terrific woman!

————————————————————————————————————

FOUR.

Silence fell. His constraint was excruciating. She too was nervous, tapping the table and creaking her chair. He could not speak.

"Shall you be going back to Bursley soon?" she demanded. In her voice was desperation.

"Oh yes!" he said, thankfully eager to follow up any subject. "On Monday, I expect."

"I wonder if you'd mind giving Janet a little parcel from me—some things of George's? I meant to send it by post, but if you—"

"Of course! With pleasure!" He seemed to implore her.

"It's quite small," she said, rising and going to the sideboard, on which lay a little brown-paper parcel.

His eye followed her. She picked up the parcel, glanced at it, and offered it to him.

"I'll take it across on Monday night," he said fervently.

"Thanks."

She remained standing; he got up.

"No message or anything?" he suggested.

"Oh!" she said coldly, "I write, you know."

"Well—" He made the gesture of departing. There was no alternative.

"We're having very rough weather, aren't we?" she said, with careless conventionality, as she took the lamp.

In the hall, when she held out her hand, he wanted tremendously to squeeze it, to give her through his hand the message of sympathy which his tongue, intimidated by her manner, dared not give. But his hand also refused to obey him. The clasp was strictly ceremonious. As she was drawing the heavy latch of the door he forced himself to say, "I'm in Brighton sometimes, off and on. Now I know where you are, I must look you up."

She made no answer. She merely said good night as he passed out into the street and the wind. The door banged.

————————————————————————————————————

FIVE.

Edwin took a long breath. He had seen her! Yes, but the interview had been worse than his worst expectations. He had surpassed himself in futility, in fatuous lack of enterprise. He had behaved liked a schoolboy. Now, as he plunged up the street with the wind, he could devise easily a dozen ways of animating and guiding and controlling the interview so that, even if sad, its sadness might have been agreeable. The interview had been hell, ineffable torture, a perfect crime of clumsiness. It had resulted in nothing. (Except, of course, that he had seen her—that fact was indisputable.) He blamed himself. He cursed himself with really extraordinary savageness.

"Why did I go near her?" he demanded. "Why couldn't I keep away? I've simply made myself look a blasted fool! Creeping and crawling round her! ... After all, she did throw me over! And now she asks me to take a parcel to her confounded kid! The whole thing's ridiculous! And what's going to happen to her in that hole? I don't suppose she's got the least notion of looking after herself. Impossible—the whole thing! If anybody had told me that I should—that she'd—" Half of which talk was simple bluster. The parcel was bobbing on its loop against his side.

When he reached the top of the street he discovered that he had been going up it instead of down it. "What am I thinking of?" he grumbled impatiently. However, he would not turn back. He adventured forward, climbing into latitudes whose geography was strange to him, and scarcely seeing a single fellow-wanderer beneath the gas-lamps. Presently, after a steep hill, he came to a churchyard, and then he redescended, and at last tumbled into a street alive with people who had emerged from a theatre, laughing, lighting cigarettes, linking arms. Their existence seemed shallow, purposeless, infantile, compared to his. He felt himself superior to them. What did they know about life? He would not change with any of them.

Recognising the label on an omnibus, he followed its direction, and arrived almost immediately in the vast square which contained his hotel, and which was illuminated by the brilliant facades of several hotels. The doors of the Royal Sussex were locked, because eleven o'clock had struck. He could not account for the period of nearly three hours which had passed since he left the hotel. The zealous porter, observing his shadow through the bars, had sprung to unfasten the door before he could ring.

————————————————————————————————————

SIX.

Within the hotel reigned gaiety, wine, and the dance. Small tables had been placed in the hall, and at these sat bald-headed men, smoking cigars and sharing champagne with ladies of every age. A white carpet had been laid in the large smoking-room, and through the curtained archway that separated it from the hall, Edwin could see couples revolving in obedience to the music of a piano and a violin. One of the Royal Sussex's Saturday Cinderellas was in progress. The self-satisfied gestures of men inspecting their cigars or lifting glasses, of simpering women glancing or the sly at their jewels, and of youths pulling straight their white waistcoats as they strolled about with the air of Don Juans, invigorated his contempt for the average existence. The tinkle of the music appeared exquisitely tedious in its superficiality. He could rot remain in the hall because of the incorrectness of his attire, and the staircase was blocked, to a timid man, by elegant couples apparently engaged in the act of flirtation. He turned, through a group of attendant waiters, into the passage leading to the small smoking-room which adjoined the discreetly situated bar. This smoking-room, like a club, warm and bright, was empty, but in passing he had caught sight of two mutually affectionate dandies drinking at the splendid mahogany of the bar. He lit a cigarette. Seated in the smoking-room he could hear their conversation; he was forced to hear it.

"I'm really a very quiet man, old chap, very quiet," said one, with a wavering drawl, "but when they get at me— I was at the Club at one o'clock. I wasn't drunk, but I had a top on."

"You were just gay and cheerful," the other flatteringly and soothingly suggested, in an exactly similar wavering drawl.

"Yes. I felt as if I wanted to go out somewhere and have another drink. So I went to Willis's Rooms. I was in evening-dress. You know you have to get a domino for those things. Then, of course, you're a mark at once. I also got a nose. A girl snatched it off me. I told her what I thought of her, and I got another nose. Then five fellows tried to snatch my domino off me. Then I did get angry. I landed out with my right at the nearest chap—right on his heart. Not his face. His heart. I lowered him. He asked me afterwards, 'Was that your right?' 'Yes,' I said, 'and my left's worse!' I couldn't use my left because they were holding it. You see? You see?"

"Yes," said the other impatiently, and suddenly cantankerous. "I see that all right! Damned awful rot those Willis's Rooms affairs are getting, if you ask me!"

"Asses!" Edwin exploded within himself. "Idiots!" He could not tolerate their crassness. He had a hot prejudice against them because they were not as near the core of life as he was himself. It appeared to him that most people died without having lived. Willis's Rooms! Girls! Nose! Heart! ... Asses!

He surged again out of the small room, desolating the bar with one scornful glance as he went by. He braved the staircase, leaving those scenes of drivelling festivity. In his bedroom, with the wind crashing against the window, he regarded meditatively the parcel. After all, if she had meant to have nothing to do with him, she would not have charged him with the parcel. The parcel was a solid fact. The more he thought about it, the more significant a fact it seemed to him. His ears sang with the vibrating intensity of his secret existence, but from the wild confusion of his heart he could disentangle no constant idea.



VOLUME FOUR, CHAPTER FIVE.

THE BULLY.

The next morning he was up early, preternaturally awake. When he descended the waiters were waiting for him, and the zealous porter stood ready to offer him a Sunday paper, just as though in the night they had refreshed themselves magically, without going to bed. No sign nor relic of the Cinderella remained. He breakfasted in an absent mind, and then went idly into the lounge, a room with one immense circular window, giving on the Square. Rain was falling heavily. Already from the porter, and in the very mien of the waiters, he had learnt that the Brighton Sunday was ruined. He left the window. On a round table in the middle of the room were ranged, with religious regularity, all the most esoteric examples of periodical literature in our language, from "The Iron-Trades Review" to "The Animals' Guardian." With one careless movement he destroyed the balanced perfection of a labour into which some menial had put his soul, and then dropped into a gigantic easy-chair near the fire, whose thin flames were just rising through the interstices of great black lumps of coal.

The housekeeper, stiff with embroidered silk, swam majestically into the lounge, bowed with a certain frigid and deferential surprise to the early guest, and proceeded to an inquiry into dust. In a moment she called, sharp and low—

"Arthur!"

And a page ran eagerly in, to whom, in the difficult corners of upholstery and of sculptured wood, she pointed out his sins of omission, lashing him with a restrained voice that Edwin could scarcely hear. Passing her hand carelessly along the beading of a door panel and then examining her fingers, she departed. The page fetched a duster.

"I see why this hotel has such a name," said Edwin to himself. And suddenly the image of Hilda in that dark and frowzy tenement in Preston Street, on that wet Sunday morning, filled his heart with a revolt capricious and violent. He sprang to his feet, unreflecting, wilful, and strode into the hall.

"Can I have a cab?" he asked the porter.

"Certainly, sir," said the porter, as if saying, "You ask me too little. Why will you not ask for a white elephant so that I may prove my devotion?" And within five seconds the screech of a whistle sped through the air to the cab-stand at the corner.

————————————————————————————————————

TWO.

"Why am I doing this?" he once more asked himself, when he heard the bell ring, in answer to his pull, within the house in Preston Street. The desire for a tranquil life had always been one of his strongest instincts, and of late years the instinct had been satisfied, and so strengthened. Now he seemed to be obstinately searching for tumult; and he did not know why. He trembled at the sound of movement behind the door. "In a moment," he thought, "I shall be right in the thick of it!"

As he was expecting, she opened the door herself; but only a little, with the gesture habitual to women who live alone in apprehension, and she kept her hand on the latch.

"Good morning," he said curtly. "Can I speak to you?"

His eye could not blaze like hers, but all his self-respect depended on his valour now, and with desperation he affronted her. She opened the door wider, and he stepped in, and at once began to wipe his boots on the mat with nervous particularity.

"Frightful morning!" he grinned.

"Yes," she said. "Is that your cab outside?"

He admitted that it was.

"Perhaps if we go upstairs," she suggested.

Thanking her, he followed her upwards into the gloom at the head of the narrow stairs, and then along a narrow passage. The house appeared quite as unfavourably by day as by night. It was shabby. All its tints had merged by use and by time into one tint, nondescript and unpleasant, in which yellow prospered. The drawing-room was larger than the dining-room by the poor width of the hall. It was a heaped, confused mass of chairs, sofas, small tables, draperies, embroideries, and valueless knick-knacks. There was no peace in it for the eye, neither on the walls nor on the floor. The gaze was driven from one ugliness to another without rest.

The fireplace was draped; the door was draped; the back of the piano was draped; and none of the dark suspicious stuffs showed a clear pattern. The faded chairs were hidden by faded antimacassars; the little futile tables concealed their rickets under vague needlework, on which were displayed in straw or tinsel frames pale portraits of dowdy people who had stood like sheep before fifteenth-rate photographers. The mantelpiece and the top of the piano were thickly strewn with fragments of coloured earthenware. At the windows hung heavy dark curtains from great rings that gleamed gilt near the ceiling; and lest the light which they admitted should be too powerful it was further screened by greyish white curtains within them. The carpet was covered in most places by small rugs or bits of other carpets, and in the deep shadows beneath sofas and chairs and behind the piano it seemed to slip altogether out of existence into black nothingness. The room lacked ventilation, but had the appearance of having been recently dusted.

————————————————————————————————————

THREE.

Hilda closed the draped door with a mysterious, bitter, cynical smile.

"Sit down," she said coldly.

"Last night," Edwin began, without sitting down, "when you mentioned the broker's man, were you joking, or did you mean it?"

She was taken aback.

"Did I say 'broker's man'?"

"Well," said Edwin, "you've not forgotten, I suppose."

She sat down, with some precision of pose, on the principal sofa.

"Yes," she said at length. "As you're so curious. The landlords are in possession."

"The bailiffs still here?"

"Yes."

"But what are you going to do?"

"I'm expecting them to take the furniture away to-morrow, or Tuesday at the latest," she replied.

"And then what?"

"I don't know."

"But haven't you got any money?"

She took a purse from her pocket, and opened it with a show of impartial curiosity. "Two-and-seven," she said.

"Any servant in the house?"

"What do you think?" she replied. "Didn't you see me cleaning the door-plate last night? I do like that to look nice at any rate!"

"I don't see much use in that looking nice, when you've got the bailiffs in, and no servant and no money," Edwin said roughly, and added, still more roughly: "What should you do if anyone came inquiring for rooms?" He tried to guess her real mood, but her features would betray nothing.

"I was expecting three old ladies—sisters—next week," she said. "I'd been hoping I could hold out till they came. They're horrid women, though they don't know it; but they've stayed a couple of months in this house every winter for I don't know how many years, and they're firmly convinced it's the best house in Brighton. They're quite enough to keep it going by themselves when they're here. But I shall have to write and tell them not to come this time."

"Yes," said Edwin. "But I keep asking you—what then?"

"And I keep saying I don't know."

"You must have some plans?"

"I haven't." She put her lips together, and dimpled her chin, and again cynically smiled. At any rate she had not resented his inquisition.

"I suppose you know you're behaving like a perfect fool?" he suggested angrily. She did not wince.

"And what if I am? What's that got to do with you?" she asked, as if pleasantly puzzled.

"You'll starve. You can't live for ever on two-and-seven."

"Well?"

"And the boy? Is he going to starve?"

"Oh," said Hilda, "Janet will look after him till something turns up. The fact is, that's one reason why I allowed her to take him."

"'Something turns up,' 'something turns up!'" Edwin repeated deliberately, letting himself go. "You make me absolutely sick! It's absolutely incredible how some people will let things slide! What in the name of God Almighty do you think will turn up?"

"I don't know," she said, with a certain weakness, still trying to be placidly bitter, and not now succeeding.

"Where is the bailiff-johnny?"

"He's in the kitchen with one of his friends, drinking."

Edwin with bravado flopped his hat down forcefully on a table, pushed a chair aside, and strode towards the door.

"Where are you going?" she asked in alarm, standing up.

"Where do you suppose I'm going? I'm going to find out from that chap how much will settle it. If you can't show any common sense for yourself, other folks must show some for you—that's all. The brokers in the house! I never heard of such work!"

And indeed, to a respected and successful tradesman, the entrance of the bailiffs into a house did really seem to be the very depth of disaster and shame for the people of that house. Edwin could not remember that he had ever before seen a bailiff. To him a bailiff was like a bug— something heard of, something known to exist, but something not likely to enter the field of vision of an honest and circumspect man.

He would deal with the bailiff. He would have a short way with the bailiff. Secure in the confidence of his bankers, he was ready to bully the innocent bailiff. He would not reflect, would not pause. He had heated himself. His steam was up, and he would not let the pressure be weakened by argumentative hesitations. His emotion was not disagreeable.

When he was in the passage he heard the sound of a sob. Prudently, he had not banged the door after him. He stopped, and listened. Was it a sob? Then he heard another sob. He went back to the drawing-room.

————————————————————————————————————

FOUR.

Yes! She stood in the middle of the room weeping. Save Clara, and possibly once or twice Maggie, he had never seen a woman cry—that is, in circumstances of intimacy; he had seen women crying in the street, and the spectacle usually pained him. On occasion he had very nearly made Maggie cry, and had felt exceedingly uncomfortable. But now, as he looked at the wet eyes and the shaken bosom of Hilda Cannon, he was aware of acute joy. Exquisite moment! Damn her! He could have taken her and beaten her in his sudden passion—a passion not of revenge, not of punishment! He could have made her scream with the pain that his love would inflict.

She tried to speak, and failed, in a storm of sobs. He had left the door open. Half blind with tears she dashed to the door and shut it, and then turned and fronted him, with her hands hovering near her face.

"I can't let you do it!" she murmured imploringly, plaintively, and yet with that still obstinate bitterness in her broken voice.

"Then who is to do it?" he demanded, less bitterly than she had spoken, nevertheless not softly. "Who is to keep you if I don't? Have you got any other friends who'll stand by you?"

"I've got the Orgreaves," she answered.

"And do you think it would be better for the Orgreaves to keep you, or for me?" As she made no response, he continued: "Anybody else besides the Orgreaves?"

"No," she muttered sulkily. "I'm not the sort of woman that makes a lot of friends. I expect people don't like me, as a rule."

"You're the sort of woman that behaves like a blooming infant!" he said. "Supposing I don't help you? What then, I keep asking you? How shall you get money? You can only borrow it—and there's nobody but Janet, and she'd have to ask her father for it. Of course, if you'd sooner borrow from Osmond Orgreave than from me—"

"I don't want to borrow from any one," she protested.

"Then you want to starve! And you want your boy to starve—or else to live on charity! Why don't you look facts in the face? You'll have to look them in the face sooner or later, and the sooner the better. You think you're doing a fine thing by sitting tight and bearing it, and saying nothing, and keeping it all a secret, until you get pitched into the street! Let me tell you you aren't."

————————————————————————————————————

FIVE.

She dropped into a chair by the piano, and rested her elbows on the curved lid of the piano.

"You're frightfully cruel!" she sobbed, hiding her face.

He fidgeted away to the larger of the two windows, which was bayed, so that the room could boast a view of the sea. On the floor he noticed an open book, pages downwards. He picked it up. It was the poems of Crashaw, an author he had never read but had always been intending to read. Outside, the driver of his cab was bunching up his head and shoulders together under a large umbrella, upon which the rain spattered. The flanks of the resigned horse glistened with rain.

"You needn't talk about cruelty!" he remarked, staring hard at the signboard of an optician opposite. He could hear the faint clanging of church bells.

After a pause she said, as if apologetically—

"Keeping a boarding-house isn't my line. But what could I do? My sister-in-law had it, and I was with her. And when she died... Besides, I dare say I can keep a boarding-house as well as plenty of other people. But—well, it's no use going into that!"

Edwin abruptly sat down near her.

"Come, now," he said less harshly, more persuasively. "How much do you owe?"

"Oh!" she cried, pouting, and shifting her feet. "It's out of the question! They've distrained for seventy-five pounds."

"I don't care if they've distrained for seven hundred and seventy-five pounds!" She seemed just like a girl to him again now, in spite of her face and her figure. "If that was cleared off, you could carry on, couldn't you? This is just the season. Could you get a servant in, in time for these three sisters?"

"I could get a charwoman, anyhow," she said unwillingly.

"Well, do you owe anything else?"

"There'll be the expenses."

"Of the distraint?"

"Yes."

"That's nothing. I shall lend you a hundred pounds. It just happens that I've got fifty pounds on me in notes. That and a cheque'll settle the bailiff person, and the rest of the hundred I'll send you by post. It'll be a bit of working capital."

She rose and threaded between chairs and tables to the sofa, several feet from Edwin. With a vanquished and weary sigh, she threw herself on to the sofa.

"I never knew there was anybody like you in the world," she breathed, flicking away some fluff from her breast. She seemed to be regarding him, not as a benefactor, but as a natural curiosity.

————————————————————————————————————

SIX.

He looked at her like a conqueror. He had taught her a thing or two. He had been a man. He was proud of himself. He was proud of all sorts of details in his conduct. The fifty pounds in notes, for example, was not an accident. Since the death of his father, he had formed the habit of never leaving his base of supplies without a provision far in excess of what he was likely to need. He was extravagant in nothing, but the humiliations of his penurious youth and early manhood had implanted in him a morbid fear of being short of money. He had fantastically surmised circumstances in which he might need a considerable sum at Brighton. And lo! the sequel had transformed his morbidity into prudence.

"This time yesterday," he reflected, in his triumph, "I hadn't even seen her, and didn't know where she was. Last night I was a fool. Half an hour ago she herself hadn't a notion that I was going to get the upper hand of her... Why, it isn't two days yet since I left home! ... And look where I am now!"

With pity and with joy he watched her slowly wiping her eyes. Thirty-four, perhaps; yet a child—compared to him! But if she did not give a natural ingenuous smile of relief, it was because she could not. If she acted foolishly it was because of her tremendous haughtiness. However, he had lowered that. He had shown her her master. He felt that she had been profoundly wronged by destiny, and that gentleness must be lavished upon her.

In a casual tone he began to talk about the most rapid means of getting rid of the bailiff. He could not tolerate the incubus of the bailiff a moment longer than was absolutely unavoidable. At intervals a misgiving shot like a thin flying needle through the solid satisfaction of his sensations: "She is a strange and an incalculable woman—why am I doing this?" Shot, and was gone, almost before perceived!



VOLUME FOUR, CHAPTER SIX.

THE RENDEZVOUS.

In the afternoon the weather cleared somewhat. Edwin, vaguely blissful, but with nothing to occupy him save reflection, sat in the lounge drinking tea at a Moorish table. An old Jew, who was likewise drinking tea at a Moorish table, had engaged him in conversation and was relating the history of a burglary in which he had lost from his flat in Bolton Street, Piccadilly, nineteen gold cigarette-cases and thirty-seven jewelled scarf-pins, tokens of esteem and regard offered to him by friends and colleagues at various crises of his life. The lounge was crowded, but not with tea-drinkers. Despite the horrid dismalness of the morning, hope had sent down from London trains full of people whose determination was to live and to see life in a grandiose manner. And all about the lounge of the Royal Sussex were groups of elegant youngish men and flaxen, uneasily stylish women, inviting the assistance of flattered waiters to decide what liqueurs they should have next. Edwin was humanly trying to publish in nonchalant gestures the scorn which he really felt for these nincompoops, but whose free expression was hindered by a layer of envy.

The hall-porter appeared, and his eye ranged like a condor's over the field until it discovered Edwin, whom he approached with a mien of joy and handed to him a letter.

Edwin took the letter with an air of custom, as if he was anxious to convince the company that his stay at the Royal Sussex was frequently punctuated by the arrival of special missives.

"Who brought this?" he asked.

"An oldish man, sir," said the porter, and bowed and departed.

The handwriting was hers. Probably the broker's man had offered to bring the letter. In the short colloquy with him in the morning, Edwin had liked the slatternly, coarse fellow. The bailiff could not, unauthorised, accept cheques, but his tone in suggesting an immediate visit to his employers had shown that he had bowels, that he sympathised with the difficulties of careless tenants in a harsh world of landlords. It was Hilda who, furnished with notes and cheque, had gone, in Edwin's cab, to placate the higher powers. She had preferred to go herself, and to go alone. Edwin had not insisted. He had so mastered her that he could afford to yield to her in trifles.

————————————————————————————————————

TWO.

The letter said exactly this: "Everything is all right and settled. I had no trouble at all. But I should like to speak to you this afternoon. Will you meet me on the West Pier at six?—H.C." No form of greeting! No thanks! The bare words necessary to convey a wish! On leaving her in the morning no arrangement had been made for a further interview. She had said nothing, and he had been too proud to ask—the terrible pride of the benefactor! It was only by chance that it had even occurred to him to say: "By the way, I am staying at the Royal Sussex." She had shown no curiosity whatever about him, his doings, his movements. She had not put to him a single question. He had intended to call at Preston Street on the Monday morning. And now a letter from her! Her handwriting had scarcely changed. He was to meet her on the pier. At her own request he now had a rendezvous with her on the pier! Why not at her house? Perhaps she was afraid of his power over her in the house. (Curious, how she, and she almost alone, roused the masculine force in him!) Perhaps she wanted to thank him in surroundings which would compel both of them to be calm. That would be like her! Essentially modest, restrained! And did she not know how to be meek, she who was so headstrong and independent!

He looked at the clock. The hour was not yet five. Nevertheless he felt obliged to go out, to bestir himself. On the misty, crowded, darkening promenade he abandoned himself afresh to indulgence in the souvenance of the great critical scene of the morning. Yes, he had done marvels; and fate was astoundingly kind to him also. But there was one aspect of the affair that intrigued and puzzled him, and weakened his self-satisfaction. She had been defeated, yet he was baffled by her. She was a mystery within folds of mysteries. He was no nearer—he secretly felt—to the essential Her than he had been before the short struggle and his spectacular triumph. He wanted to reconstruct in his fancy all her emotional existence; he wanted to get at her,—to possess her intimate mind,—and lo! he could not even recall the expressions of her face from minute to minute during the battle. She hid herself from him. She eluded him... Strange creature! The polishing of the door-plate in the night! That volume of Crashaw—on the floor! Her cold, almost daemonic smile! Her sobs! Her sudden retreats! What was at the back of it all? He remembered her divine gesture over the fond Shushions. He remembered the ecstatic quality of her surrender in the shop. He remembered her first love-letter: "Every bit of me is absolutely yours." And yet the ground seemed to be unsure beneath his feet, and he wondered whether he had ever in reality known her, ever grasped firmly the secret of her personality, even for an instant.

He said to himself that he would be seeing her face to face in an hour, and that then he would, by the ardour of his gaze, get behind those enigmatic features to the arcana they concealed.

————————————————————————————————————

THREE.

Before six o'clock it was quite dark. He thought it a strange notion, to fix a rendezvous at such an hour, on a day in autumn, in the open air. But perhaps she was very busy, doing servant's work in the preparation of her house for visitors. When he reached the pier gates at five minutes to six, they were closed, and the obscure vista of the pier as deserted as some northern pier in mid-winter. Naturally it was closed! There was a notice prominently displayed that the pier would close that evening at dusk. What did she mean? The truth was, he decided, that she lived in the clouds, ordering her existence by means of sudden and capricious decisions in which facts were neglected,—and herein probably lay the explanation of her misfortunes. He was very philosophical: rather amused than disturbed, because her house was scarcely a stone's-throw away: she could not escape him.

He glanced up and down the lighted promenade, and across the broad muddy road towards the opening of Preston Street. The crowds had disappeared; only scattered groups and couples, and now and then a solitary, passed quickly in the gloom. The hotels were brilliant, and carriages with their flitting lamps were continually stopping in front of them; but the blackness of the shop-fronts produced the sensation of melancholy proper to the day even in Brighton, and the renewed sound of church bells intensified this arid melancholy.

Suddenly he saw her, coming not across the road from Preston Street, but from the direction of Hove. He saw her before she saw him. Under the multiplicity of lamps her face was white and clear. He had a chance to read in it. But he could read nothing in it save her sadness, save that she had suffered. She seemed querulous, preoccupied, worried, and afflicted. She had the look of one who is never free from apprehension. Yet for him that look of hers had a quality unique, a quality that he had never found in another, but which he was completely unable to define. He wanted acutely to explain to himself what it was, and he could not.

"You are frightfully cruel," she had said. And he admitted that he had been. Yes, he had bullied her, her who, he was convinced, had always been the victim. In spite of her vigorous individuality she was destined to be a victim. He was sure that she had never deserved anything but sympathy and respect and affection. He was sure that she was the very incarnation of honesty—possibly she was too honest for the actual world. Did not the Orgreaves worship her? And could he himself have been deceived in his estimate of her character?

She recognised him only when she was close upon him. A faint, transient, wistful smile lightened her brooding face, pale and stern.

————————————————————————————————————

FOUR.

"Oh! There you are!" she exclaimed, in her clear voice. "Did I say six, or five, in my note?"

"Six."

"I was afraid I had done, when I came here at five and didn't find you. I'm so sorry."

"No!" he said. "I think I ought to be sorry. It's you who've had the waiting to do. The pier's closed now."

"It was just closing at five," she answered. "I ought to have known. But I didn't. The fact is, I scarcely ever go out. I remembered once seeing the pier open at night, and I thought it was always open." She shrugged her shoulders as if stopping a shiver.

"I hope you haven't caught cold," he said. "Suppose we walk along a bit."

They walked westwards in silence. He felt as though he were by the side of a stranger, so far was he from having pierced the secret of that face.

As they approached one of the new glazed shelters, she said—

"Can't we sit down a moment. I—I can't talk standing up. I must sit down."

They sat down, in an enclosed seat designed to hold four. And Edwin could feel the wind on his calves, which stretched beyond the screened side of the structure. Odd people passed dimly to and fro in front of them, glanced at them with nonchalant curiosity, and glanced away. On the previous evening he had observed couples in those shelters, and had wondered what could be the circumstances or the preferences which led them to accept such a situation. Certainly he could not have dreamed that within twenty-four hours he would be sitting in one of them with her, by her appointment, at her request. He thrilled with excitement— with delicious anxieties.

"Janet told you I was a widow," Hilda began, gazing at the ferule of her umbrella, which gleamed on the ground.

"Yes." Again she was surprising him.

"Well, we arranged she should tell every one that. But I think you ought to know that I'm not."

"No?" he murmured weakly. And in one small unimportant region of his mind he reflected with astonishment upon the hesitating but convincing air with which Janet had lied to him. Janet!

"After what you've done"—she paused, and went on with unblurred clearness—"after what you've insisted on doing, I don't want there to be any misunderstanding. I'm not a widow. My husband's in prison. He'll be in prison for another six or seven years. That's all I wanted to tell you."

"I'm very sorry," he breathed. "I'd no idea you'd had this trouble." What could he say? What could anybody have said?

"I ought to have told you at once," she said. "I ought to have told you last night." Another pause. "Then perhaps you wouldn't have come again this morning."

"Yes, I should!" he asserted eagerly. "If you're in a hole, you're in a hole. What difference could it possibly make whether you were a widow or not?"

"Oh!" she said. "The wife of a convict... you know!" He felt that she was evading the point.

She went on: "It's a good thing my three old ladies don't know, anyhow...! I'd no chance to tell you this morning. You were too much for me."

"I don't care whose wife you are!" he muttered, as though to himself, as though resenting something said by some one who had gone away and left him. "If you're in a hole, you're in a hole."

She turned and looked at him. His eyes fell before hers.

"Well," she said. "I've told you. I must go. I haven't a moment. Good night." She held out her hand. "You don't want me to thank you a lot, do you?"

"That I don't!" he exclaimed.

"Good night."

"But—"

"I really must go."

He rose and gave his hand. The next instant she was gone.

There was a deafening roar in his head. It was the complete destruction by earthquake of a city of dreams. A calamity which left nothing—even to be desired! A tremendous silence reigned after the event.

————————————————————————————————————

FIVE.

On the following evening, when from the windows of the London-to-Manchester express he saw in the gloom the high-leaping flames of the blast-furnaces that seem to guard eternally the southern frontier of the Five Towns, he felt that he had returned into daily reality out of an impossible world. Waiting for the loop-line train in the familiar tedium of Knype platform, staring at the bookstall, every item on which he knew by heart and despised, surrounded once more by local physiognomies, gestures, and accent, he thought to himself: "This is my lot. And if I get messing about, it only shows what a damned fool I am!" He called himself a damned fool because Hilda had proved to have a husband; because of that he condemned the whole expedition to Brighton as a piece of idiocy. His dejection was profound and bitter. At first, after Hilda had quitted him on the Sunday night, he had tried to be cheerful, had persuaded himself indeed that he was cheerful; but gradually his spirit had sunk, beaten and miserable. He had not called at Preston Street again. Pride forbade, and the terror of being misunderstood.

And when he sat at his own table, in his own dining-room, and watched the calm incurious Maggie dispensing to him his elaborate tea-supper with slightly more fuss and more devotion than usual, his thoughts, had they been somewhat less vague, might have been summed up thus: "The right sort of women don't get landed as the wives of convicts. Can you imagine such a thing happening to Maggie, for instance? Or Janet?" (And yet Janet was in the secret! This disturbed the flow of his reflections.) Hilda was too mysterious. Now she had half disclosed yet another mystery. But what? "Why was her husband a convict? Under what circumstances? For what crime? Where? Since when?" He knew the answer to none of these questions. More deeply than ever was that woman embedded in enigmas.

"What's this parcel on the sideboard?" Maggie inquired.

"Oh! I want you to send it in to Janet. It's from her particular friend, Mrs Cannon—something for the kid, I believe. I ran across her in Brighton, and she asked me if I'd bring the parcel along."

The innocence of his manner was perfectly acted. He wondered that he could do it so well. But really there was no danger. Nobody in Bursley, or in the world, had the least suspicion of his past relations with Hilda. The only conceivable danger would have been in hiding the fact that he had met her in Brighton.

"Of course," said Maggie, mildly interested. "I was forgetting she lived at Brighton. Well?" and she put a few casual questions, to which Edwin casually replied.

"You look tired," she said later.

He astonished her by admitting that he was. According to all precedent her statement ought to have drawn forth a quick contradiction.

The sad image of Hilda would not be dismissed. He had to carry it about with him everywhere, and it was heavy enough to fatigue a stronger than Edwin Clayhanger. The pathos of her situation overwhelmed him, argue as he might about the immunity of 'the right sort of women' from a certain sort of disaster. On the Tuesday he sent her a post-office order for twenty pounds. It rather more than made up the agreed sum of a hundred pounds. She returned it, saying she did not need it. "Little fool!" he said. He was not surprised. He was, however, very much surprised, a few weeks later, to receive from Hilda her own cheque for eighty pounds odd! More mystery! An absolutely incredible woman! Whence had she obtained that eighty pounds? Needless to say, she offered no explanation. He abandoned all conjecture. But he could not abandon the image. And first Auntie Hamps said, and then Clara, and then even Maggie admitted, that Edwin was sticking too close to business and needed a change, needed rousing. Auntie Hamps urged openly that a wife ought to be found for him. But in a few days the great talkers of the family, Auntie Hamps and Clara, had grown accustomed to Edwin's state, and some new topic supervened.



VOLUME FOUR, CHAPTER SEVEN.

THE WALL.

One morning—towards the end of November—Edwin, attended by Maggie, was rearranging books in the drawing-room after breakfast, when there came a startling loud tap at the large central pane of the window. Both of them jumped.

"Who's throwing?" Edwin exclaimed.

"I expect it's that boy," said Maggie, almost angrily.

"Not Georgie?"

"Yes. I wish you'd go and stop him. You've no idea what a tiresome little thing he is. And so rough too!"

This attitude of Maggie towards the mysterious nephew was a surprise for Edwin. She had never grumbled about him before. In fact they had seen little of him. For a fortnight he had not been abroad, and the rumour ran that he was unwell, that he was 'not so strong as he ought to be.' And now Maggie suddenly charged him with a whole series of misdoings! But it was Maggie's way to keep unpleasant things from Edwin for a time, in order to save her important brother from being worried, and then in a moment of tension to fling them full in his face, like a wet clout.

"What's he been up to?" Edwin inquired for details.

"Oh! I don't know," answered Maggie vaguely. At the same instant came another startling blow on the window. "There!" Maggie cried, in triumph, as if saying: "That's what he's been up to!" After all, the windows were Maggie's own windows.

Edwin left on the sofa a whole pile of books that he was sorting, and went out into the garden. On the top of the wall separating him from the Orgreaves a row of damaged earthenware objects—jugs and jars chiefly—at once caught his eye. He witnessed the smashing of one of them, and then he ran to the wall, and taking a spring, rested on it with his arms, his toes pushed into crevices. Young George, with hand outstretched to throw, in the garden of the Orgreaves, seemed rather diverted by this apparition.

"Hello!" said Edwin. "What are you up to?"

"I'm practising breaking crocks," said the child. That he had acquired the local word gave Edwin pleasure.

"Yes, but do you know you're practising breaking my windows too? When you aim too high you simply can't miss one of my windows."

George's face was troubled, as he examined the facts, which had hitherto escaped his attention, that there was a whole world of consequences on the other side of the wall, and that a missile which did not prove its existence against either the wall or a crock had not necessarily ceased to exist. Edwin watched the face with a new joy, as though looking at some wonder of nature under a microscope. It seemed to him that he now saw vividly why children were interesting.

"I can't see any windows from here," said George, in defence.

"If you climb up here you'll see them all right."

"Yes, but I can't climb up. I've tried to, a lot of times. Even when I stood on my toes on this stump I could only just reach to put the crocks on the top."

"What did you want to get on the wall for?"

"I wanted to see that swing of yours."

"Well," said Edwin, laughing, "if you could remember the swing why couldn't you remember the windows?"

George shook his head at Edwin's stupidity, and looked at the ground. "A swing isn't windows," he said. Then he glanced up with a diffident smile: "I've often been wanting to come and see you."

Edwin was tremendously flattered. If he had made a conquest, the child by this frank admission had made a greater.

"Then why didn't you come?"

"I couldn't, by myself. Besides, my back hasn't been well. Did they tell you?"

George was so naturally serious that Edwin decided to be serious too.

"I did hear something about it," he replied, with the grave confidential tone that he would have used to a man of his own age. This treatment was evidently appreciated by George, and always afterwards Edwin conversed with him as with an equal, forbearing from facetiousness.

Damp though it was, Edwin twisted himself round and sat on the wall next to the crocks, and bent over the boy beneath, who gazed with upturned face.

"Why didn't you ask Auntie Janet to bring you?"

"I don't generally ask for things that I really want," said the boy, with a peculiar glance.

"I see," said Edwin, with an air of comprehension. He did not, however, comprehend. He only felt that the boy was wonderful. Imagine the boy saying that! He bent lower. "Come on up," he said. "I'll give you a hand. Stick your feet into that nick there."

————————————————————————————————————

TWO.

In an instant George was standing on the wall, light as fluff. Edwin held him by the legs, and his hand was on Edwin's cap. The feel of the boy was delightful; he was so lithe and so yielding, and yet firm; and his glance was so trustful and admiring. "Rough!" thought Edwin, remembering Maggie's adjective. "He isn't a bit rough! Unruly? Well, I dare say he can be unruly if he cares to be. It all depends how you handle him." Thus Edwin reflected in the pride of conquest, holding close to the boy, and savouring intimately his charm. Even the boy's slightness attracted him. Difficult to believe that he was nine years old! His body was indeed backward. So too, it appeared, was his education. And yet was there not the wisdom of centuries in, "I don't generally ask for things that I really want?"

Suddenly the boy wriggled, and gave a sound of joy that was almost a yell. "Look!" he cried.

The covered top of the steam-car could just be seen gliding along above the high wall that separated Edwin's garden from the street.

"Yes," Edwin agreed. "Funny, isn't it?" But he considered that such glee at such a trifle was really more characteristic of six or seven than of nine years. George's face was transformed by ecstasy.

"It's when things move like that—horizontal!" George explained, pronouncing the word carefully.

Edwin felt that there was no end to the surpassing strangeness of this boy. One moment he was aged six, and the next he was talking about horizontality.

"Why? What do you mean?"

"I don't know!" George sighed. "But somehow—" Then, with fresh vivacity: "I tell you—when Auntie Janet comes to wake me up in the morning the cat comes in too, with its tail up in the air—you know!" Edwin nodded. "Well, when I'm lying in bed I can't see the cat, but I can see the top of its tail sailing along the edge of the bed. But if I sit up I can see all the cat, and that spoils it, so I don't sit up at first."

The child was eager for Edwin to understand his pleasure in horizontal motion that had no apparent cause, like the tip of a cat's tail on the horizon of a bed, or the roof of a tram-car on the horizon of the wall. And Edwin was eager to understand, and almost persuaded himself that he did understand; but he could not be sure. A marvellous child— disconcerting! He had a feeling of inferiority to the child, because the child had seen beauty where he had not dreamed of seeing it.

"Want a swing," he suggested, "before I have to go off to business?"

————————————————————————————————————

THREE.

When it occurred to him that he had had as much violent physical exercise as was good for his years, and that he had left his books in disarray, and that his business demanded him, Edwin apologetically announced that he must depart, and the child admitted that Aunt Janet was probably waiting to give him his lessons.

"Are you going back the way you came? You'd better. It's always best," said Edwin.

"Is it?"

"Yes."

He lifted and pushed the writhing form on to the wall, dislodging a jar, which crashed dully on the ground.

"Auntie Janet told me I could have them to do what I liked with. So I break them," said George, "when they don't break themselves!"

"I bet she never told you to put them on this wall," said Edwin.

"No, she didn't. But it was the best place for aiming. And she told me it didn't matter how many crocks I broke, because they make crocks here. Do they, really?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because there's clay here," said Edwin glibly.

"Where?"

"Oh! Round about."

"White, like that?" exclaimed George eagerly, handling a teapot without a spout. He looked at Edwin: "Will you take me to see it? I should like to see white ground."

"Well," said Edwin, more cautiously, "the clay they get about here isn't exactly white."

"Then do they make it white?"

"As a matter of fact the white clay comes from a long way off—Cornwall, for instance."

"Then why do they make the things here?" George persisted; with the annoying obstinacy of his years. He had turned the teapot upside down. "This was made here. It's got 'Bursley' on it. Auntie Janet showed me."

Edwin was caught. He saw himself punished for that intellectual sloth which leads adults to fob children off with any kind of a slipshod, dishonestly simplified explanation of phenomena whose adequate explanation presents difficulty. He remembered how nearly twenty years earlier he had puzzled over the same question and for a long time had not found the answer.

"I'll tell you how it is," he said, determined to be conscientious. "It's like this—" He had to pause. Queer, how hard it was to state the thing coherently! "It's like this. In the old days they used to make crocks anyhow, very rough, out of any old clay. And crocks were first made here because the people found common yellow clay, and the coal to burn it with, lying close together in the ground. You see how handy it was for them."

"Then the old crocks were yellow?"

"More or less. Then people got more particular, you see, and when white clay was found somewhere else they had it brought here, because everybody was used to making crocks here, and they had all the works and the tools they wanted, and the coal too. Very important, the coal! Much easier to bring the clay to the people and the works, than cart off all the people—and their families, don't forget—and so on, to the clay, and build fresh works into the bargain... That's why. Now are you sure you see?"

George ignored the question. "I suppose they used up all the yellow clay there was here, long ago?"

"Not much!" said Edwin. "And they never will! You don't know what a sagger is, I reckon?"

"What is a sagger?"

"Well, I can't stop to tell you all that now. But I will some time. They make saggers out of the yellow clay."

"Will you show me the yellow clay?"

"Yes, and some saggers too."

"When?"

"I don't know. As soon as I can."

"Will you to-morrow?"

To-morrow happened to be Thursday. It was not Edwin's free afternoon, but it was an afternoon to which a sort of licence attached. He yielded to the ruthless egotism of the child.

"All right!" he said.

"You won't forget?"

"You can rely on me. Ask your auntie if you may go, and if she says you may, be ready for me to pull you up over the wall here, about three o'clock."

"Auntie will have to let me go," said George, in a savage tone, as Edwin helped him to slip down into the garden of the Orgreaves. Edwin went off to business with a singular consciousness of virtue, and with pride in his successful manner of taming wayward children, and with a very strong new interest in the immediate future.



VOLUME FOUR, CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE FRIENDSHIP.

The next afternoon George's invincible energy took both himself and the great bearded man, Edwin, to a certain spot on the hollow confines of the town towards Turnhill, where there were several pits of marl and clay. They stared in silence at a vast ochre's-coloured glistening cavity in the ground, on the high edges of which grew tufts of grass amid shards and broken bottles. In the bottom of the pit were laid planks, and along the planks men with pieces of string tied tight round their legs beneath the knees drew large barrows full or empty, sometimes insecurely over pools of yellow water into which the plank sagged under their weight, and sometimes over little hillocks and through little defiles formed in the basin of the mine. They seemed to have no aim. The whole cavity had a sticky look which at first amused George, but on the whole he was not interested, and Edwin gathered that the clay-pit in some mysterious way fell short of expectations. A mineral line of railway which, near by, ambled at random like a pioneer over rough country, was much more successful than the pit in winning his approval.

"Can we go and see the saggers now?" he suggested.

Edwin might have taken him to the manufactory in which Albert Benbow was a partner, but he preferred not to display to the father of Clara's offspring his avuncular patronage of George Cannon, and he chose the works of a customer down at Shawport for whom he was printing a somewhat ambitious catalogue. He would call at the works and talk about the catalogue, and then incidentally mention that his young friend desired to see saggers.

"I suppose God put that clay there so that people could practise on it first, before they tried the white clay," George observed, as the pair descended Oldcastle Street.

Decidedly he had moments of talking like an infant, like a baby of three. Edwin recalled that Hilda used to torture herself about questions of belief when she was not three but twenty-three. The scene in the garden porch seemed to have happened after all not very long ago. Yet a new generation, unconceived on that exciting and unforgettable night, had since been born and had passed through infancy and was now trotting and arguing and dogmatising by his side. It was strange, but it was certainly a fact, that George regarded him as a being immeasurably old. He still felt a boy.

How ought he to talk to the child concerning God? He was about to make a conventional response, when he stopped himself. "Confound it! Why should I?" he thought.

"If I were you I shouldn't worry about God," he said, aloud, in a casual and perhaps slightly ironic tone.

"Oh, I don't!" George answered positively. "But now and then He comes into your head, doesn't He? I was only just thinking." The boy ceased, being attracted by the marvellous spectacle of a man perilously balanced on a crate-float driving a long-tailed pony full tilt down the steep slope of Oldcastle Street: it was equal to a circus.

————————————————————————————————————

TWO.

The visit to the works was a particularly brilliant success. By good fortune an oven was just being 'drawn,' and the child had sight of the finest, the most barbaric picture that the manufacture of earthenware, from end to end picturesque, offers to the imaginative observer. Within the dark and sinister bowels of the kiln, illuminated by pale rays that came down through the upper orifice from the smoke-soiled sky, half-naked figures moved like ghosts, strenuous and damned, among the saggers of ware. At rapid intervals they emerged, their hairy torsos glistening with sweat, carrying the fired ware, which was still too hot for any but inured fingers to touch: an endless procession of plates and saucers and cups and mugs and jugs and basins, thousands and thousands! George stared in an enchanted silence of awe. And presently one of the Hercules's picked him up, and held him for a moment within the portal of the torrid kiln, and he gazed at the high curved walls, like the walls of a gigantic tomb, and at the yellow saggers that held the ware. Now he knew what a sagger was.

"I'm glad you took me," he said afterwards, clearly impressed by the authority of Edwin, who could stroll out and see such terrific goings-on whenever he chose. During all the walk home he did not speak.

On the Saturday, nominally in charge of his Auntie Janet, he called upon his chum with some water-colour drawings that he had done; they showed naked devils carrying cups and plates amid bright salmon-tinted flames: designs horrible, and horribly crude, interesting only because a child had done them. But somehow Edwin was obscurely impressed by them, and also he was touched by the coincidence that George painted in water-colours, and he, too, had once painted in water-colours. He was moreover expected to judge the drawings as an expert. On Monday he brought up the most complicated box of water-colours that his shop contained, and presented it to George, who, astounded, dazed, bore it away to his bedroom without a single word. Their friendship was sealed and published; it became a fact recognised by the two families.

THREE.

About a week later, after a visit of a couple of days to Manchester, Edwin went out into the garden as usual when breakfast was finished, and discovered George standing on the wall. The boy had learned how to climb the wall from his own side of it without help.

"I say!" George cried, in a loud, rough, angry voice, as soon as he saw Edwin at the garden door. "I've got to go off in a minute, you know."

"Go off? Where?"

"Home. Didn't they tell you in your house? Auntie Janet and I came to your house yesterday, after I'd waited on the wall for you I don't know how long, and you never came. We came to tell you, but you weren't in. So we asked Miss Clayhanger to tell you. Didn't Miss Clayhanger tell you?"

"No," said Edwin. "She must have forgot." It occurred to him that even the simple and placid Maggie had her personal prejudices, and that one of them might be against this child. For some reason she did not like the child. She positively could not have forgotten the child's visit with Janet. She had merely not troubled to tell him: a touch of that malice which, though it be as rare as radium, nevertheless exists even in the most benignant natures. Edwin and George exchanged a silent, puzzled glance.

"Well, that's a nice thing!" said the boy. It was.

"When are you going home?"

"I'm going now! Mr Orgreave has to go to London to-day, and mamma wrote to Auntie Janet yesterday to say that I must go with him, if he'd let me, and she would meet me at London. She wants me back. So Auntie Janet is taking me to Knype to meet Mr Orgreave there—he's gone to his office first. And the gardener has taken my luggage in the barrow up to Bleakridge Station. Auntie's putting her hat on. Can't you see I've got my other clothes on?"

"Yes," said Edwin, "I noticed that."

"And my other hat?"

"Yes."

"I've promised auntie I'll come and put my overcoat on as soon as she calls me. I say—you wouldn't believe how jammed my trunk is with that paint box and everything! Auntie Janet had to sit on it like anything! I say—shall you be coming to Brighton soon?"

Edwin shook his head.

"I never go to Brighton."

"But when I asked you once if you'd been, you said you had."

"So I have, but that was an accident."

"Was it long since?"

"Well," said Edwin, "you ought to know. It was when I brought that parcel for you."

"Oh! Of course!"

Edwin was saying to himself: "She's sent for him on purpose. She's heard that we're great friends, and she's sent for him! She means to stop it! That's what it is!" He had no rational basis for this assumption. It was instinctive. And yet why should she desire to interfere with the course of the friendship? How could it react unpleasantly on her? There obviously did not exist between mother and son one of those passionate attachments which misfortune and sorrow sometimes engender. She had been able to let him go. And as for George, he seldom mentioned his mother. He seldom mentioned anybody who was not actually present, or necessary to the fulfilment of the idea that happened to be reigning in his heart. He lived a life of absorption, hypnotised by the idea of the moment. These ideas succeeded each other like a dynasty of kings, like a series of dynasties, marked by frequent dynastic quarrels, by depositions and sudden deaths; but George's loyalty was the same to all of them; it was absolute.

"Well, anyhow," said he, "I shall come back here. Mother will have to let me."

And he jumped down from the wall into Edwin's garden, carelessly, his hands in his pockets, with a familiar ease of gesture that implied practice. He had in fact often done it before. But just this time— perhaps he was troubled by the unaccustomed clothes—having lighted on his feet, he failed to maintain his balance and staggered back against the wall.

"Now, clumsy!" Edwin commented.

The boy turned pale, and bit his lip, and then Edwin could see the tears in his eyes. One of his peculiarities was that he had no shame whatever about crying. He could not, or he would not, suffer stoically. Now he put his hands to his back, and writhed.

"Hurt yourself?" Edwin asked.

George nodded. He was very white, and startled. At first he could not command himself sufficiently to be able to articulate. Then he spluttered, "My back!" He subsided gradually into a sitting posture.

Edwin ran to him, and picked him up. But he screamed until he was set down. At the open drawing-room window, Maggie was arranging curtains. Edwin reluctantly left George for an instant and hurried to the window, "I say, Maggie, bring a chair or something out, will you? This dashed kid's fallen and hurt himself."

"I'm not surprised," said Maggie calmly. "What surprises me is that you should ever have given him permission to scramble over the wall and trample all about the flower-beds the way he does!"

However, she moved at once to obey.

He returned to George. Then Janet's voice was heard from the other garden, calling him: "George! Georgie! Nearly time to go!"

Edwin put his head over the wall.

"He's fallen and hurt his back," he answered to Janet, without any prelude.

"His back!" she repeated in a frightened tone.

Everybody was afraid of that mysterious back. And George himself was most afraid of it.

"I'll get over the wall," said Janet.

Edwin quitted the wall. Maggie was coming out of the house with a large cane easy-chair and a large cushion. But George was now standing up, though still crying. His beautiful best sailor hat lay on the winter ground.

"Now," said Maggie to him, "you mustn't be a baby!"

He glared at her resentfully. She would have dropped down dead on the spot if his wet and angry glance could have killed her. She was a powerful woman. She seized him carefully and set him in the chair, and supported the famous spine with the cushion.

"I don't think he's much hurt," she decided. "He couldn't make that noise if he was, and see how his colour's coming back!"

In another case Edwin would have agreed with her, for the tendency of both was to minimise an ill and to exaggerate the philosophical attitude in the first moments of any occurrence that looked serious. But now he honestly thought that her judgement was being influenced by her prejudice, and he felt savage against her. The worst was that it was all his fault. Maggie was odiously right. He ought never to have encouraged the child to be acrobatic on the wall. It was he who had even put the idea of the wall as a means of access into the child's head.

"Does it hurt?" he inquired, bending down, his hands on his knees.

"Yes," said George, ceasing to cry.

"Much?" asked Maggie, dusting the sailor hat and sticking it on his head.

"No, not much," George unwillingly admitted. Maggie could not at any rate say that he did not speak the truth.

Janet, having obtained steps, stood on the wall in her elaborate street-array.

"Who's going to help me down?" she demanded anxiously. She was not so young and sprightly as once she had been. Edwin obeyed the call.

Then the three of them stood round the victim's chair, and the victim, like a god, permitted himself to be contemplated. And Janet had to hear Edwin's account of the accident, and also Maggie's account of it, as seen from the window.

"I don't know what to do!" said Janet.

"It is annoying, isn't it?" said Maggie. "And just as you were going to the station too!"

"I—I think I'm all right," George announced.

Janet passed a hand down his back, as though expecting to be able to judge the condition of his spine through the thickness of all his clothes.

"Are you?" she questioned doubtfully.

"It's nothing," said Maggie, with firmness.

"He'd be all right in the train," said Janet. "It's the walking to the station that I'm afraid of... You never know."

"I can carry him," said Edwin quickly.

"Of course you can't!" Maggie contradicted. "And even if you could you'd jog him far worse than if he walked himself."

"There's no time to get a cab, now," said Janet, looking at her watch. "If we aren't at Knype, father will wonder what on earth's happened, and I don't know what his mother would say!"

"Where's that old pram?" Edwin demanded suddenly of Maggie.

"What? Clara's? It's in the outhouse."

"I can run him up to the station in two jiffs in that."

"Oh yes! Do!" said George. "You must. And then lift me into the carriage!"

The notion was accepted.

"I hope it's the best thing to do," said Janet, apprehensive and doubtful, as she hurried off to the other house in order to get the boy's overcoat and meet Edwin and the perambulator at the gates.

"I'm certain it is," said Maggie calmly. "There's nothing really the matter with that child."

"Well, it's very good of Edwin, I'm sure," said Janet.

Edwin had already rushed for the perambulator, an ancient vehicle which was sometimes used in the garden for infant Benbows.

In a few moments Trafalgar Road had the spectacle of the bearded and eminent master-printer, Edwin Clayhanger, steaming up its muddy pavement behind a perambulator with a grown boy therein. And dozens of persons who had not till then distinguished the boy from other boys, inquired about his identity, and gossip was aroused. Maggie was displeased.

In obedience to the command Edwin lifted George into the train; and the feel of his little slippery body, and the feel of Edwin's mighty arms, seemed to make them more intimate than ever. Except for dirty tear-marks on his cheeks, George's appearance was absolutely normal.

Edwin expected to receive a letter from him, but none came, and this negligence wounded Edwin.



VOLUME FOUR, CHAPTER NINE.

THE ARRIVALS.

On a Saturday in the early days of the following year, 1892, Edwin by special request had gone in to take afternoon tea with the Orgreaves. Osmond Orgreave was just convalescent after an attack of influenza, and in the opinion of Janet wanted cheering up. The task of enlivening him had been laid upon Edwin. The guest, and Janet and her father and mother sat together in a group round the fire in the drawing-room.

The drawing-room alone had grown younger with years. Money had been spent on it rather freely. During the previous decade Osmond's family, scattering, had become very much less costly to him, but his habits of industry had not changed, nor his faculty for collecting money. Hence the needs of the drawing-room, which had been pressing for quite twenty years, had at last been satisfied; indeed Osmond was saving, through mere lack of that energetic interest in things which is necessary to spending. Possibly even the drawing-room would have remained untouched—both Janet and her elder sister Marian sentimentally preferred it as it was—had not Mrs Orgreave been 'positively ashamed' of it when her married children, including Marian, came to see her. They were all married now, except Janet and Charlie and Johnnie; and Alicia at any rate had a finer drawing-room than her mother. So far as the parents were concerned Charlie might as well have been married, for he had acquired a partnership in a practice at Ealing and seldom visited home. Johnnie, too, might as well have been married. Since Jimmie's wedding he had used the house strictly as a hotel, for sleeping and eating, and not always for sleeping. He could not be retained at home. His interests were mysterious, and lay outside it. Janet alone was faithful to the changed drawing-room, with its new carpets and wall-papers and upholstery.

"I've got more grandchildren than children now," said Mrs Orgreave to Edwin, "and I never thought to have!"

"Have you really?" Edwin responded. "Let me see—"

"I've got nine."

"Ten, mother," Janet corrected. "She's forgetting her own grandchildren now!"

"Bless me!" exclaimed Mrs Orgreave, taking off her eyeglasses and wiping them, "I'd missed Tom's youngest."

"You'd better not tell Emily that," said Janet. (Emily was the mother of Tom's children.) "Here, give me those eyeglasses, dear. You'll never get them right with a linen handkerchief. Where's your bit of chamois?"

Mrs Orgreave absently and in somewhat stiff silence handed over the pince-nez! She was now quite an old woman, small, shapeless, and delightfully easy-going, whose sense of humour had not developed with age. She could never see a joke which turned upon her relations with her grandchildren, and in fact the jocular members of the family had almost ceased to employ this subject of humour. She was undoubtedly rather foolish about her grandchildren—'fond,' as they say down there. The parents of the grandchildren did not object to this foolishness— that is, they only pretended to object. The task of preventing a pardonable weakness from degenerating into a tedious and mischievous mania fell solely upon Janet. Janet was ready to admit that the health of the grandchildren was a matter which could fairly be left to their fathers and mothers, and she stood passive when Mrs Orgreave's grandmotherly indulgences seemed inimical to their health; but Mrs Orgreave was apt to endanger her own health in her devotion to the profession of grandmother—for example by sitting up to unchristian hours with a needle. Then there would be a struggle of wills, in which of course Mrs Orgreave, being the weaker, was defeated; though her belief survived that she and she alone, by watchfulness, advice, sagacity, and energy, kept her children's children out of the grave. On all other questions the harmony between Janet and her mother was complete, and Mrs Orgreave undoubtedly considered that no mother had ever had a daughter who combined so many virtues and charms.

————————————————————————————————————

TWO.

Mr Orgreave, forgetful of the company, was deciphering the "British Medical Journal" in the twilight of the afternoon. His doctor had lent him this esoteric periodical because there was an article therein on influenza, and Mr Orgreave was very much interested in influenza.

"You remember the influenza of '89, Edwin?" he asked suddenly, looking over the top of the paper.

"Do I?" said Edwin. "Yes, I fancy I do remember a sort of epidemic."

"I should think so indeed!" Janet murmured.

"Well," continued Mr Orgreave, "I'm like you. I thought it was an epidemic. But it seems it wasn't. It was a pandemic. What's a pandemic, now?"

"Give it up," said Edwin.

"You might just look in the dictionary—Ogilvie there," and while Edwin ferreted in the bookcase, Mr Orgreave proceeded, reading: "'The pandemic of 1889 has been followed by epidemics, and by endemic prevalence in some areas!' So you see how many demics there are! I suppose they'd call it an epidemic we've got in the town now."

His voice had changed on the last sentence. He had meant to be a little facetious about the Greek words; but it was the slowly prepared and rather exasperating facetiousness of an ageing man, and he had dropped it listlessly, as though he himself had perceived this. Influenza had weakened and depressed him; he looked worn, and even outworn. But not influenza alone was responsible for his appearance. The incredible had happened: Osmond Orgreave was getting older. His bald head was not the worst sign of his declension, nor the thickened veins in his hands, nor the deliberation of his gestures, nor even the unsprightliness of his wit. The worst sign was that he was losing his terrific zest in life; his palate for the intense savour of it was dulled. In this last attack of influenza he had not fought against the onset of the disease. He had been wise; he had obeyed his doctor, and laid down his arms at once; and he showed no imprudent anxiety to resume them. Yes, a changed Osmond! He was still one of the most industrious professional men in Bursley; but he worked from habit, not from passion.

When Edwin had found 'pandemic' in Ogilvie, Mr Orgreave wanted to see the dictionary for himself, and then he wanted the Greek dictionary, which could not be discovered, and then he began to quote further from the "British Medical Journal."

"'It may be said that there are three well-marked types of the disease, attacking respectively the respiratory, the digestive, and the nervous system.' Well, I should say I'd had 'em all three. 'As a rule the attack—'"

Thus he went on. Janet made a moue at Edwin, who returned the signal. These youngsters were united in good-natured forbearing condescension towards Mr Orgreave. The excellent old fellow was prone to be tedious; they would accept his tediousness, but they would not disguise from each other their perception of it.

"I hear the Vicar of Saint Peter's is very ill indeed," said Mrs Orgreave, blandly interrupting her husband.

"What? Heve? With influenza?"

"Yes. I wouldn't tell you before because I thought it might pull you down again."

Mr Orgreave, in silence, stared at the immense fire.

"What about this tea, Janet?" he demanded.

Janet rang the bell.

"Oh! I'd have done that!" said Edwin, as soon as she had done it.

————————————————————————————————————

THREE.

While Janet was pouring out the tea, Edwin restored Ogilvie to his place in the bookcase, feeling that he had had enough of Ogilvie.

"Not so many books here now as there used to be!" he said, vacuously amiable, as he shut the glass door which had once protected the treasures of Tom Orgreave.

For a man who had been specially summoned to the task of cheering up, it was not a felicitous remark. In the first place it recalled the days when the house, which was now a hushed retreat where settled and precise habits sheltered themselves from a changing world, had been an arena for the jolly, exciting combats of outspread individualities. And in the second place it recalled a slight difficulty between Tom and his father. Osmond Orgreave was a most reasonable father, but no father is perfect in reasonableness, and Osmond had quite inexcusably resented that Tom on his marriage should take away all Tom's precious books. Osmond's attitude had been that Tom might in decency have left, at any rate, some of the books. It was not that Osmond had a taste for book-collecting: it was merely that he did not care to see his house depleted and bookcases empty. But Tom had shown no compassion. He had removed not merely every scrap of a book belonging to himself, but also two bookcases which he happened to have paid for. The weight of public opinion was decidedly against Mr Orgreave, who had to yield and affect pleasantness. Nevertheless books had become a topic which was avoided between father and son.

"Ah!" muttered Mr Orgreave, satirical, in response to Edwin's clumsiness.

"Suppose we have another gas lighted," Janet suggested. The servant had already lighted several burners and drawn the blinds and curtains.

Edwin comprehended that he had been a blundering fool, and that Janet's object was to create a diversion. He lit the extra burner above her head. She sat there rather straight and rather prim between her parents, sticking to them, smoothing creases for them, bearing their weight, living for them. She was the kindliest, the most dignified, the most capable creature; but she was now an old maid. You saw it even in the way she poured tea and dropped pieces of sugar into the cups. Her youth was gone; her complexion was nearly gone. And though in one aspect she seemed indispensable, in another the chief characteristic of her existence seemed to be a tragic futility. Whenever she came seriously into Edwin's thoughts she saddened him. Useless for him to attempt to be gay and frivolous in that house!

————————————————————————————————————

FOUR.

With the inevitable passionate egotism of his humanity he almost at once withdrew his aroused pity from her to himself. Look at himself! Was he not also to be sympathised with? What was the object or the use of his being alive? He worked, saved, improved his mind, voted right, practised philosophy, and was generally benevolent; but to what end? Was not his existence miserable and his career a respectable fiasco? He too had lost zest. He had diligently studied both Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus; he was enthusiastic, to others, about the merit of these two expert daily philosophers; but what had they done for him? Assuredly they had not enabled him to keep the one treasure of this world-zest. The year was scarcely a week old, and he was still young enough to have begun the year with resolutions and fresh hopes and aspirations, but already the New Year sensation had left him, and the year might have been dying in his heart.

And yet what could he have done that he had not done? With what could he reproach himself? Ought he to have continued to run after a married woman? Ought he to have set himself titanically against the conventions amid which he lived, and devoted himself either to secret intrigue or to the outraging of the susceptibilities which environed him? There was only one answer. He could not have acted otherwise than he had acted. His was not the temperament of a rebel, nor was he the slave of his desires. He could sympathise with rebels and with slaves, but he could not join them; he regarded himself as spiritually their superior.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse