"What art up to?"
The tone was benignant. Edwin had not been ordered abruptly off to bed, with a reprimand for late hours and silly proceedings generally. He sought the reason in vain. One reason was that Darius Clayhanger had made a grand bargain at Manchester in the purchase of a second-hand printing machine.
"I'm copying this," he replied slowly, and then all the details tumbled rashly out of his mouth, one after the other. "Oh, father! I found this book in the shop, packed away on a top shelf, and I want to borrow it. I only want to borrow it. And I've bought this paint-box, out of auntie's half-sovereign. I paid Miss Ingamells the full price... I thought I'd have a go at some of these architecture things."
Darius glared at the copy.
"It's only just started, you know."
"Them prize books—have ye done all that?"
"And put all the prices down, as I told ye?"
Then a pause. Edwin's heart was beating hard.
"I want to do some of these architecture things," he repeated. No remark from his father. Then he said, fastening his gaze intensely on the table: "You know, father, what I should really like to be—I should like to be an architect."
It was out. He had said it.
"Should ye?" said his father, who attached no importance of any kind to this avowal of a preference. "Well, what you want is a bit o' business training for a start, I'm thinking."
"Oh, of course!" Edwin concurred, with pathetic eagerness, and added a piece of information for his father: "I'm only sixteen, aren't I?"
"Sixteen ought to ha' been in bed this two hours and more. Off with ye!"
Edwin retired in an extraordinary state of relief and happiness.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER TWELVE.
Rather more than a week later, Edwin had so far entered into the life of his father's business that he could fully share the excitement caused by an impending solemnity in the printing office. He was somewhat pleased with himself, and especially with his seriousness. The memory of school was slipping away from him in the most extraordinary manner. His only school-friend, Charlie Orgreave, had departed, with all the multitudinous Orgreaves, for a month in Wales. He might have written to the Sunday; the Sunday might have written to him: but the idea of writing did not occur to either of them; they were both still sufficiently childlike to accept with fatalism all the consequences of parental caprice. Orgreave senior had taken his family to Wales; the boys were thus separated, and there was an end of it. Edwin regretted this, because Orgreave senior happened to be a very successful architect, and hence there were possibilities of getting into an architectural atmosphere. He had never been inside the home of the Sunday, nor the Sunday in his—a schoolboy friendship can flourish in perfect independence of home—but he nervously hoped that on the return of the Orgreave regiment from Wales, something favourable to his ambitions—he knew not what—would come to pass. In the meantime he was conscientiously doing his best to acquire a business training, as his father had suggested. He gave himself with an enthusiasm almost religious to the study of business methods. All the force of his resolve to perfect himself went for the moment into this immediate enterprise, and he was sorry that business methods were not more complex, mysterious, and original than they seemed to be: he was also sorry that his father did not show a greater interest in his industry and progress.
He no longer wanted to 'play' now. He despised play. His unique wish was to work. It struck him as curious and delightful that he really enjoyed work. Work had indeed become play. He could not do enough work to satisfy his appetite. And after the work of the day, scorning all silly notions about exercise and relaxation, he would spend the evening in his beautiful new attic, copying designs, which he would sometimes rise early to finish. He thought he had conquered the gross body, and that it was of no account. Even the desolating failures which his copies invariably proved did not much discourage him; besides, one of them had impressed both Maggie and Clara. He copied with laborious ardour undiminished. And further, he masterfully appropriated Maggie's ticket for the Free Library, pending the preliminaries to the possession of a ticket of his own, to procure a volume on architecture. From timidity, from a singular false shame, he kept this volume in the attic, like a crime; nobody knew what the volume was. Evidence of a strange trait in his character; a trait perhaps not defensible! He argued with himself that having told his father plainly that he wanted to be an architect, he need do nothing else aggressive for the present. He had agreed to the suggestion about business training, and he must be loyal to his agreement. He pointed out to himself how right his father was. At sixteen one could scarcely begin to be an architect; it was too soon; and a good business training would not be out of place in any career or profession.
He was so wrapped up in his days and his nights that he forgot to inquire why earthenware was made in just the Five Towns. He had grown too serious for trifles—and all in about a week! True, he was feeling the temporary excitement of the printing office, which was perhaps expressed boyishly by the printing staff; but he reckoned that his share of it was quite adult, frowningly superior, and in a strictly business sense justifiable and even proper.
Darius Clayhanger's printing office was a fine example of the policy of makeshift which governed and still governs the commercial activity of the Five Towns. It consisted of the first floor of a nondescript building which stood at the bottom of the irregularly shaped yard behind the house and shop, and which formed the southern boundary of the Clayhanger premises. The antique building had once been part of an old-fashioned pot-works, but that must have been in the eighteenth century. Kilns and chimneys of all ages, sizes, and tints rose behind it to prove that this part of the town was one of the old manufacturing quarters. The ground-floor of the building, entirely inaccessible from Clayhanger's yard, had a separate entrance of its own in an alley that branched off from Woodisun Bank, ran parallel to Wedgwood Street, and stopped abruptly at the back gate of a saddler's workshop. In the narrow entry you were like a creeping animal amid the undergrowth of a forest of chimneys, ovens, and high blank walls. This ground-floor had been a stable for many years; it was now, however, a baker's storeroom. Once there had been an interior staircase leading from the ground-floor to the first-floor, but it had been suppressed in order to save floor space, and an exterior staircase constructed with its foot in Clayhanger's yard. To meet the requirement of the staircase, one of the first-floor windows had been transformed into a door. Further, as the staircase came against one of the ground-floor windows, and as Clayhanger's predecessor had objected to those alien windows overlooking his yard, and as numerous windows were anyhow unnecessary to a stable, all the ground-floor windows had been closed up with oddments of brick and tile, giving to the wall a very variegated and chequered appearance. Thus the ground-floor and the first-floor were absolutely divorced, the former having its entrance and light from the public alley, the latter from the private yard.
The first-floor had been a printing office for over seventy years. All the machinery in it had had to be manoeuvred up the rickety stairs, or put through one of the windows on either side of the window that had been turned into a door. When Darius Clayhanger, in his audacity, decided to print by steam, many people imagined that he would at last be compelled to rent the ground-floor or to take other premises. But no! The elasticity of the makeshift policy was not yet fully stretched. Darius, in consultation with a jobbing builder, came happily to the conclusion that he could 'manage,' that he could 'make things do,' by adding to the top of his stairs a little landing for an engine-shed. This was done, and the engine and boiler perched in the air; the shaft of the engine went through the wall; the chimney-pipe of the boiler ran up straight to the level of the roof-ridge, and was stayed with pieces of wire. A new chimney had also been pierced in the middle of the roof, for the uses of a heating stove. The original chimneys had been allowed to fall into decay. Finally, a new large skylight added interest to the roof. In a general way, the building resembled a suit of clothes that had been worn, during four of the seven ages of man, by an untidy husband with a tidy and economical wife, and then given by the wife to a poor relation of a somewhat different figure to finish. All that could be said of it was that it survived and served.
But these considerations occurred to nobody.
Edwin, quite unaware that he was an instrument in the hands of his Auntie Clara's Providence, left the shop without due excuse and passed down the long blue-paved yard towards the printing office. He imagined that he was being drawn thither simply by his own curiosity—a curiosity, however, which he considered to be justifiable, and even laudable. The yard showed signs that the unusual had lately been happening there. Its brick pavement, in the narrow branch of it that led to the double gates in Woodisun Bank (those gates which said to the casual visitor, 'No Admittance except on Business'), was muddy, littered, and damaged, as though a Juggernaut had passed that way. Ladders reclined against the walls. Moreover, one of the windows of the office had been taken out of its frame, leaving naught but an oblong aperture. Through this aperture Edwin could see the busy, eager forms of his father, Big James, and Chawner. Through this aperture had been lifted, in parts and by the employment of every possible combination of lever and pulley, the printing machine which Darius Clayhanger had so successfully purchased in Manchester on the day of the free-and-easy at the Dragon.
At the top of the flight of steps two apprentices, one nearly 'out of his time,' were ministering to the engine, which that morning did not happen to be running. The engine, giving glory to the entire establishment by virtue of the imposing word 'steam', was a crotchety and capricious thing, constant only in its tendency to break down. No more reliance could be placed on it than on a pampered donkey. Sometimes it would run, and sometimes it would not run, but nobody could safely prophesy its moods. Of the several machines it drove but one, the grand cylinder, the last triumph of the ingenuity of man, and even that had to be started by hand before the engine would consent to work it. The staff hated the engine, except during those rare hours when one of its willing moods coincided with a pressure of business. Then, when the steam was sputtering and the smoke smoking and the piston throbbing, and the leathern belt travelling round and round and the complete building a-tremble and a-clatter, and an attendant with clean hands was feeding the sheets at one end of the machine and another attendant with clean hands taking them off at the other, all at the rate of twenty copies per sixty seconds—then the staff loved the engine and meditated upon the wonders of their modern civilisation. The engine had been known to do its five thousand in an afternoon, and its horse-power was only one.
Edwin could not keep out of the printing office. He went inconspicuously and, as it were, by accident up the stone steps, and disappeared into the interior. When you entered the office you were first of all impressed by the multiplicity of odours competing for your attention, the chief among them being those of ink, oil, and paraffin. Despite the fact that the door was open and one window gone, the smell and heat in the office on that warm morning were notable. Old sheets of the "Manchester Examiner" had been pinned over the skylight to keep out the sun, but, as these were torn and rent, the sun was not kept out. Nobody, however, seemed to suffer inconvenience. After the odours, the remarkable feature of the place was the quantity of machinery on its uneven floor. Timid employes had occasionally suggested to Darius that the floor might yield one day and add themselves and all the machinery to the baker's stores below; but Darius knew that floors never did yield.
In the middle of the floor was a huge and heavy heating stove, whose pipe ran straight upwards to the visible roof. The mighty cylinder machine stood to the left hand. Behind was a small rough-and-ready binding department with a guillotine cutting machine, a cardboard-cutting machine, and a perforating machine, trifles by the side of the cylinder, but still each of them formidable masses of metal heavy enough to crush a horse; the cutting machines might have served to illustrate the French Revolution, and the perforating machine the Holy Inquisition.
Then there was what was called in the office the 'old machine,' a relic of Clayhanger's predecessor, and at least eighty years old. It was one of those machines whose worn physiognomies, full of character, show at once that they have a history. In construction it carried solidity to an absurd degree. Its pillars were like the piles of a pier. Once, in a historic rat-catching, a rat had got up one of them, and a piece of smouldering brown paper had done what a terrier could not do. The machine at one period of its career had been enlarged, and the neat seaming of the metal was an ecstasy to the eye of a good workman. Long ago, it was known, this machine had printed a Reform newspaper at Stockport. Now, after thus participating in the violent politics of an age heroic and unhappy, it had been put to printing small posters of auctions and tea-meetings. Its movement was double: first that of a handle to bring the bed under the platen, and second, a lever pulled over to make contact between the type and the paper. It still worked perfectly. It was so solid, and it had been so honestly made, that it could never get out of order nor wear away. And, indeed, the conscientiousness and skill of artificers in the eighteenth century are still, through that resistless machine, producing their effect in the twentieth. But it needed a strong hand to bestir its smooth plum-coloured limbs of metal, and a speed of a hundred an hour meant gentle perspiration. The machine was loved like an animal.
Near this honourable and lumbering survival stood pertly an Empire treadle-machine for printing envelopes and similar trifles. It was new, and full of natty little devices. It worked with the lightness of something unsubstantial. A child could actuate it, and it would print delicately a thousand envelopes an hour. This machine, with the latest purchase, which was away at the other end of the room near the large double-pointed case-rack, completed the tale of machines. That case-rack alone held fifty different founts of type, and there were other caseracks. The lead-rack was nearly as large, and beneath the lead-rack was a rack containing all those "furnitures" which help to hold a forme of type together without betraying themselves to the reader of the printed sheet. And under the furniture rack was the 'random,' full of galleys. Then there was a table with a top of solid stone, upon which the formes were bolted up. And there was the ink-slab, another solidity, upon which the ink-rollers were inked. Rollers of various weightiness lay about, and large heavy cans, and many bottles, and metal galleys, and nameless fragments of metal. Everything contributed to the impression of immense ponderosity exceeding the imagination. The fancy of being pinned down by even the lightest of these constructions was excruciating. You moved about in narrow alleys among upstanding, unyielding metallic enormities, and you felt fragile and perilously soft.
The only unintimidating phenomena in the crowded place were the lye-brushes, the dusty job-files that hung from the great transverse beams, and the proof-sheets that were scattered about. These printed things showed to what extent Darius Clayhanger's establishment was a channel through which the life of the town had somehow to pass. Auctions, meetings, concerts, sermons, improving lectures, miscellaneous entertainments, programmes, catalogues, deaths, births, marriages, specifications, municipal notices, summonses, demands, receipts, subscription-lists, accounts, rate-forms, lists of voters, jury-lists, inaugurations, closures, bill-heads, handbills, addresses, visiting-cards, society rules, bargain-sales, lost and found notices: traces of all these matters, and more, were to be found in that office; it was impregnated with the human interest; it was dusty with the human interest; its hot smell seemed to you to come off life itself, if the real sentiment and love of life were sufficiently in you. A grand, stuffy, living, seething place, with all its metallic immobility!
Edwin sidled towards the centre of interest, the new machine, which, however, was not a new machine. Darius Clayhanger did not buy more new things than he could help. His delight was to 'pick up' articles that were supposed to be 'as good as new'; occasionally he would even assert that an object bought second-hand was 'better than new,' because it had been 'broken in,' as if it were a horse. Nevertheless, the latest machine was, for a printing machine, nearly new: its age was four years only. It was a Demy Columbian Press, similar in conception and movement to the historic 'old machine' that had been through the Reform agitation; but how much lighter, how much handier, how much more ingenious and precise in the detail of its working! A beautiful edifice, as it stood there, gazed on admiringly by the expert eyes of Darius, in his shirt-sleeves, Big James, in his royally flowing apron, and Chawner, the journeyman compositor, who, with the two apprentices outside, completed the staff! Aided by no mechanic more skilled than a day-labourer, those men had got the machine piecemeal into the office, and had duly erected it. At that day a foreman had to be equal to anything.
The machine appeared so majestic there, so solid and immovable, that it might ever have existed where it then was. Who could credit that, less than a fortnight earlier, it had stood equally majestic, solid, and immovable in Manchester? There remained nothing to show how the miracle had been accomplished, except a bandage of ropes round the lower pillars and some pulley-tackle hanging from one of the transverse beams exactly overhead. The situation of the machine in the workshop had been fixed partly by that beam above and partly by the run of the beams that supported the floor. The stout roof-beam enabled the artificers to handle the great masses by means of the tackle; and as for the floor-beams, Darius had so far listened to warnings as to take them into account.
"Take another impress, James," said Darius. And when he saw Edwin, instead of asking the youth what he was wasting his time there for, he good-humouredly added: "Just watch this, my lad." Darius was pleased with himself, his men, and his acquisition. He was in one of his moods when he could charm; he was jolly, and he held up his chin. Two days before, so interested had he been in the Demy Columbian, he had actually gone through a bilious attack while scarcely noticing it! And now the whole complex operation had been brought to a triumphant conclusion.
Big James inserted the sheet of paper, with gentle and fine movements. The journeyman turned the handle, and the bed of the machine slid horizontally forward in frictionless, stately silence. And then Big James seized the lever with his hairy arm bared to the elbow, and pulled it over. The delicate process was done with minute and level exactitude; adjusted to the thirty-second of an inch, the great masses of metal had brought the paper and the type together and separated them again. In another moment Big James drew out the sheet, and the three men inspected it, each leaning over it. A perfect impression!
"Well," said Darius, glowing, "we've had a bit o' luck in getting that up! Never had less trouble! Shows we can do better without those Foundry chaps than with 'em! James, ye can have a quart brought in, if ye'n a mind, but I won't have them apprentices drinking! No, I won't! Mrs Nixon'll give 'em some nettle-beer if they fancy it."
He was benignant. The inauguration of a new machine deserved solemn recognition, especially on a hot day. It was an event.
"An infant in arms could turn this here," murmured the journeyman, toying with the handle that moved the bed. It was an exaggeration, but an excusable, poetical exaggeration.
Big James wiped his wrists on his apron.
Then there was a queer sound of cracking somewhere, vague, faint, and yet formidable. Darius was standing between the machines and the dismantled window, his back to the latter. Big James and the journeyman rushed instinctively from the centre of the floor towards him. In a second the journeyman was on the window sill.
"What art doing?" Darius demanded roughly; but there was no sincerity in his voice.
"Th' floor!" the journeyman excitedly exclaimed.
Big James stood close to the wall.
"And what about th' floor?" Darius challenged him obstinately.
"One o' them beams is a-going," stammered the journeyman.
"Rubbish!" shouted Darius. But simultaneously he motioned to Edwin to move from the middle of the room, and Edwin obeyed. All four listened, with nerves stretched to the tightest. Darius was biting his lower lip with his upper teeth. His humour had swiftly changed to the savage. Every warning that had been uttered for years past concerning that floor was remembered with startling distinctness. Every impatient reassurance offered by Darius for years past suddenly seemed fatuous and perverse. How could any man in his senses expect the old floor to withstand such a terrific strain as that to which Darius had at last dared to subject it? The floor ought by rights to have given way years ago! His men ought to have declined to obey instructions that were obviously insane. These and similar thoughts visited the minds of Big James and the journeyman.
As for Edwin, his excitement was, on balance, pleasurable. In truth, he could not kill in his mind the hope that the floor would yield. The greatness of the resulting catastrophe fascinated him. He knew that he should be disappointed if the catastrophe did not occur. That it would mean ruinous damage to the extent of hundreds of pounds, and enormous worry, did not influence him. His reason did not influence him, nor his personal danger. He saw a large hook in the wall to which he could cling when the exquisite crash came, and pictured a welter of broken machinery and timber ten feet below him, and the immense pother that the affair would create in the town.
Darius would not loose his belief in his floor. He hugged it in mute fury. He would not climb on to the window sill, nor tell Big James to do so, nor even Edwin. On the subject of the floor he was religious; he was above the appeal of the intelligence. He had always held passionately that the floor was immovable, and he always would. He had finally convinced himself of its omnipotent strength by the long process of assertion and reassertion. When a voice within him murmured that his belief in the floor had no scientific basis, he strangled the voice. So he remained, motionless, between the window and the machine.
No sound! No slightest sound! No tremor of the machine! But Darius's breathing could be heard after a moment.
He guffawed sneeringly.
"And what next?" he defiantly asked, scowling. "What's amiss wi' ye all?" He put his hands in his pockets. "Dun ye mean to tell me as—"
The younger apprentice entered from the engine-shed.
"Get back there!" rolled and thundered the voice of Big James. It was the first word he had spoken, and he did not speak it in frantic, hysteric command, but with a terrible and convincing mildness. The phrase fell on the apprentice like a sandbag, and he vanished.
Darius said nothing. There was another cracking sound, louder, and unmistakably beneath the bed of the machine. And at the same instant a flake of grimy plaster detached itself from the opposite wall and dropped into pale dust on the floor. And still Darius religiously did not move, and Big James would not move. They might have been under a spell. The journeyman jumped down incautiously into the yard.
And then Edwin, hardly knowing what he did, and certainly not knowing why he did it, walked quickly out on to the floor, seized the huge hook attached to the lower pulley of the tackle that hung from the roof-beam, pulled up the slack of the rope-bandage on the hind part of the machine, and stuck the hook into it, then walked quickly back. The hauling-rope of the tackle had been carried to the iron ring of a trap-door in the corner near Big James; this trap-door, once the outlet of the interior staircase from the ground floor, had been nailed down many years previously. Big James dropped to his knees and tightened and knotted the rope. Another and much louder noise of cracking followed, the floor visibly yielded, and the hindpart of the machine visibly sank about a quarter of an inch. But no more. The tackle held. The strain was distributed between the beam above and the beam below, and equilibrium established.
"Out! Lad! Out!" cried Darius feebly, in the wreck, not of his workshop, but of his religion. And Edwin fled down the steps, pushing the mystified apprentices before him, and followed by the men. In the yard the journeyman, entirely self-centred, was hopping about on one leg and cursing.
Darius, Big James, and Edwin stared in the morning sunshine at the aperture of the window and listened.
"Nay!" said Big James, after an eternity. "He's saved it! He's saved th' old shop! But by gum—by gum—"
Darius turned to Edwin, and tried to say something; and then Edwin saw his father's face working into monstrous angular shapes, and saw the tears spurt out of his eyes, and was clutched convulsively in his father's shirt-sleeved arms. He was very proud, very pleased, but he did not like this embrace; it made him feel ashamed. He thought how Clara would have sniggered about it and caricatured it afterwards, had she witnessed it. And although he had incontestably done something which was very wonderful and very heroic, and which proved in him the most extraordinary presence of mind, he could not honestly glorify himself in his own heart, because it appeared to him that he had acted exactly like an automaton. He blankly marvelled, and thought the situation agreeably thrilling, if somewhat awkward. His father let him go. Then all Edwin's feelings gave place to an immense stupefaction at his father's truly remarkable behaviour. What! His father emotional! He had to begin to revise again his settled views.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER THIRTEEN.
ONE RESULT OF COURAGE.
By the next morning a certain tranquillity was restored.
It was only in this relative calm that the Clayhanger family and its dependants began to realise the intensity of the experience through which they had passed, and, in particular, the strain of waiting for events after the printing office had been abandoned by its denizens, The rumour of what had happened, and of what might have happened, had spread about the premises in an instant, and in another instant all the women had collected in the yard; even Miss Ingamells had betrayed the sacred charge of the shop. Ten people were in the yard, staring at the window aperture on the first-floor and listening for ruin. Some time had elapsed before Darius would allow anybody even to mount the steps. Then the baker, the tenant of the ground-floor, had had to be fetched. A pleasant, bland man, he had consented in advance to every suggestion; he had practically made Darius a present of the ground-floor, if Darius possessed the courage to go into it, or to send others into it, The seat of deliberation had then been transferred to the alley behind. And the jobbing builder and carpenters had been fetched, and there was a palaver of tremendous length and solemnity. For hours nothing definite seemed to happen; no one ate or drank, and the current of life at the corner of Trafalgar Road and Wedgwood Street ceased to flow. Boys and men who had heard of the affair, and who had the divine gift of curiosity, gazed in rapture at the 'No Admittance' notice on the ramshackle double gates in Woodisun Bank, It seemed that they might never be rewarded, but their great faith was justified when a hand-cart, bearing several beams three yards long, halted at the gates and was, after a pause, laboriously pushed past them and round the corner into the alley and up the alley. The alley had been crammed to witness the taking of the beams into the baker's storeroom. If the floor above had decided to yield, the noble, negligent carpenters would have been crushed beneath tons of machinery. At length a forest of pillars stood planted on the ground-floor amid the baker's lumber; every beam was duly supported, and the experts pronounced that calamity was now inconceivable. Lastly, the tackle on the Demy Columbian had been loosed, and the machine, slightly askew, permitted gently to sink to full rest on the floor: and the result justified the experts.
By this time people had started to eat, but informally, as it were apologetically—Passover meals. Evening was at hand. The Clayhangers, later, had met at table. A strange repast! A strange father! The children had difficulty in speaking naturally. And then Mrs Hamps had come, ebulliently thanking God, and conveying the fact that the town was thrilled and standing utterly amazed in admiration before her heroical nephew. And yet she had said ardently that she was in no way amazed at her nephew's coolness; she would have been surprised if he had shown himself even one degree less cool. From a long study of his character she had foreknown infallibly that in such a crisis as had supervened he would behave precisely as he had behaved. This attitude of Auntie Hamps, however, though it reduced the miraculous to the ordinary-expected, did not diminish Clara's ingenuous awe of Edwin. From a mocker, the child had been temporarily transformed into an unwilling hero-worshipper. Mrs Hamps having departed, all the family, including Darius, had retired earlier than usual.
And now, on meeting his father and Big James and Miss Ingamells in the queer peace of the morning, in the relaxation after tension, and in the complete realisation of the occurrence, Edwin perceived from the demeanour of all that, by an instinctive action extending over perhaps five seconds of time, he had procured for himself a wondrous and apparently permanent respect. Miss Ingamells, when he went vaguely into the freshly watered shop before breakfast, greeted him in a new tone, and with startling deference asked him what he thought she had better do in regard to the addressing of a certain parcel. Edwin considered this odd; he considered it illogical; and one consequence of Miss Ingamells's quite sincere attitude was that he despised Miss Ingamells for a moral weakling. He knew that he himself was a moral weakling, but he was sure that he could never bend, never crouch, to such a posture as Miss Ingamells's; that she was obviously sincere only increased his secret scorn.
But his father resembled Miss Ingamells. Edwin had not dreamt that mankind, and especially his father, was characterised by such simplicity. And yet, on reflection, had he not always found in his father a peculiar ingenuousness, which he could not but look down upon? His father, whom he met crossing the yard, spoke to him almost as he might have spoken to a junior partner. It was more than odd; it was against nature, as Edwin had conceived nature.
He was so superior and lofty, yet without intending it, that he made no attempt to put himself in his father's place. He, in the exciting moments between the first cracking sound and the second, had had a vision of wrecked machinery and timber in an abyss at his feet. His father had had a vision far more realistic and terrifying. His father had seen the whole course of his printing business brought to a standstill, and all his savings dragged out of him to pay for reconstruction and for new machinery. His father had seen loss of life which might be accounted to his negligence. His father had seen, with that pessimism which may overtake anybody in a crisis, the ruin of a career, the final frustration of his lifelong daring and obstinacy, and the end of everything. And then he had seen his son suddenly walk forth and save the frightful situation. He had always looked down upon that son as helpless, coddled, incapable of initiative or of boldness. He believed himself to be a highly remarkable man, and existence had taught him that remarkable men seldom or never have remarkable sons. Again and again had he noted the tendency of remarkable men to beget gaping and idle fools. Nevertheless, he had intensely desired to be able to be proud of his son. He had intensely desired to be able, when acquaintances should be sincerely enthusiastic about the merits of his son, to pretend, insincerely and with pride only half concealed, that his son was quite an ordinary youth.
Now his desire had been fulfilled; it had been more than fulfilled. The town would chatter about Edwin's presence of mind for a week. Edwin's act would become historic; it already was historic. And not only was the act in itself wonderful and admirable and epoch-making; but it proved that Edwin, despite his blondness, his finickingness, his hesitations, had grit. That was the point: the lad had grit; there was material in the lad of which much could be made. Add to this, the father's mere instinctive gratitude—a gratitude of such unguessed depth that it had prevented him even from being ashamed of having publicly and impulsively embraced his son on the previous morning.
Edwin, in his unconscious egoism, ignored all that.
"I've just seen Barlow," said Darius confidentially to Edwin. Barlow was the baker. "He's been here afore his rounds. He's willing to sublet me his storeroom—so that'll be all right! Eh?"
"Yes," said Edwin, seeing that his approval was being sought for.
"We must fix that machine plumb again."
"I suppose the floor's as firm as rocks now?" Edwin suggested.
"Eh! Bless ye! Yes!" said his father, with a trace of kindly impatience.
The policy of makeshift was to continue. The floor having been stayed with oak, the easiest thing and the least immediately expensive thing was to leave matters as they were. When the baker's stores were cleared from his warehouse, Darius could use the spaces between the pillars for lumber of his own; and he could either knock an entrance-way through the wall in the yard, or he could open the nailed-down trap door and patch the ancient stairway within; or he could do nothing—it would only mean walking out into Woodisun Bank and up the alley each time he wanted access to his lumber!
And yet, after the second cracking sound on the previous day, he had been ready to vow to rent an entirely new and common-sense printing office somewhere else—if only he should be saved from disaster that once! But he had not quite vowed. And, in any case, a vow to oneself is not a vow to the Virgin. He had escaped from a danger, and the recurrence of the particular danger was impossible. Why then commit follies of prudence, when the existing arrangement of things 'would do'?
That afternoon Darius Clayhanger, with his most mysterious air of business, told Edwin to follow him into the shop. Several hours of miscellaneous consultative pottering had passed between Darius and his compositors round and about the new printing machine, which was once more plumb and ready for action. For considerably over a week Edwin had been on his father's general staff without any definite task or occupation having been assigned to him. His father had been too excitedly preoccupied with the arrival and erection of the machine to bestow due thought upon the activities proper to Edwin in the complex dailiness of the business. Now he meant at any rate to begin to put the boy into a suitable niche. The boy had deserved at least that.
At the desk he opened before him the daily and weekly newspaper-book, and explained its system.
"Let's take the 'British Mechanic,'" he said.
And he turned to the page where the title 'British Mechanic' was written in red ink. Underneath that title were written the names and addresses of fifteen subscribers to the paper. To the right of the names were thirteen columns, representing a quarter of the year. With his customary laboriousness, Darius described the entire process of distribution. The parcel of papers arrived and was counted, and the name of a subscriber scribbled in an abbreviated form on each copy. Some copies had to be delivered by the errand boy; these were handed to the errand boy, and a tick made against each subscriber in the column for the week: other copies were called for by the subscriber, and as each of these was taken away, similarly a tick had to be made against the name of its subscriber. Some copies were paid for in cash in the shop, some were paid in cash to the office boy, some were paid for monthly, some were paid for quarterly, and some, as Darius said grimly, were never paid for at all. No matter what the method of paying, when a copy was paid for, or thirteen copies were paid for, a crossing tick had to be made in the book for each copy. Thus, for a single quarter of "British Mechanic" nearly two hundred ticks and nearly two hundred crossing ticks had to be made in the book, if the work was properly done. However, it was never properly done—Miss Ingamells being short of leisure and the errand boy utterly unreliable—and Darius wanted it properly done. The total gross profit on a quarter of "British Mechanics" was less than five shillings, and no customers were more exigent and cantankerous than those who bought one pennyworth of goods per week, and had them delivered free, and received three months' credit. Still, that could not be helped. A printer and stationer was compelled by usage to supply papers; and besides, paper subscribers served a purpose as a nucleus of general business.
As with the "British Mechanics," so with seventeen other weeklies. The daily papers were fewer, but the accountancy they caused was even more elaborate. For monthly magazines there was a separate book with a separate system; here the sums involved were vaster, ranging as high as half a crown.
Darius led Edwin with patient minuteness through the whole labyrinth.
"Now," he said, "you're going to have sole charge of all this."
And he said it benevolently, in the conviction that he was awarding a deserved recompense, with the mien of one who was giving dominion to a faithful steward over ten cities.
"Just look into it carefully yerself, lad," he said at last, and left Edwin with a mixed parcel of journals upon which to practise.
Before Edwin's eyes flickered hundreds of names, thousands of figures, and tens of thousands of ticks. His heart protested; it protested with loathing. The prospect stretching far in front of him made him feel sick. But something weak and good-natured in him forced him to smile, and to simulate a subdued ecstasy at receiving this overwhelming proof of his father's confidence in him. As for Darius, Darius was delighted with himself and with his son, and he felt that he was behaving as a benignant father should. Edwin had proved his grit, proved that he had that uncommunicable quality, 'character,' and had well deserved encouragement.
The next morning, in the printing office, Edwin came upon Big James giving a lesson in composing to the younger apprentice, who in theory had 'learned his cases.' Big James held the composing stick in his great left hand, like a match-box, and with his great right thumb and index picked letter after letter from the case, very slowly in order to display the movement, and dropped them into the stick. In his mild, resonant tones he explained that each letter must be picked up unfalteringly in a particular way, so that it would drop face upward into the stick without any intermediate manipulation. And he explained also that the left hand must be held so that the right hand would have to travel to and fro as little as possible. He was revealing the basic mysteries of his craft, and was happy, making the while the broad series of stock pleasantries which have probably been current in composing rooms since printing was invented. Then he was silent, working more and more quickly, till his right hand could scarcely be followed in its twinklings, and the face of the apprentice duly spread in marvel, When the line was finished he drew out the rule, clapped it down on the top of the last row of letters, and gave the composing stick to the apprentice to essay.
The apprentice began to compose with his feet, his shoulders, his mouth, his eyebrows—with all his body except his hands, which nevertheless travelled spaciously far and wide.
"It's not in seven year, nor in seventy, as you'll learn, young son of a gun!" said Big James.
And, having unsettled the youth to his foundations with a bland thwack across the head, he resumed the composing stick and began again the exposition of the unique smooth movement which is the root of rapid type-setting.
"Here!" said Big James, when the apprentice had behaved worse than ever. "Us'll ask Mr Edwin to have a go. Us'll see what he'll do."
And Edwin, sheepish, had to comply. He was in pride bound to surpass the apprentice, and did so.
"There!" said Big James. "What did I tell ye?" He seemed to imply a prophecy that, because Edwin had saved the printing office from destruction two days previously, he would necessarily prove to be a born compositor.
The apprentice deferentially sniggered, and Edwin smiled modestly and awkwardly and departed without having accomplished what he had come to do.
By his own act of cool, nonchalant, unconsidered courage in a crisis, he had, it seemed, definitely proved himself to possess a special aptitude in all branches of the business of printer and stationer. Everybody assumed it. Everybody was pleased. Everybody saw that Providence had been kind to Darius and to his son. The fathers of the town, and the mothers, who liked Edwin's complexion and fair hair, told each other that not every parent was so fortunate as Mr Clayhanger, and what a blessing it was that the old breed was not after all dying out in those newfangled days. Edwin could not escape from the universal assumption. He felt it round him as a net which somehow he had to cut.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER FOURTEEN.
One morning Edwin was busy in the shop with his own private minion, the paper boy, who went in awe of him. But this was not the same Edwin, though people who could only judge by features, and by the length of trousers and sleeves on legs and arms, might have thought that it was the same Edwin enlarged and corrected. Half a year had passed. The month was February, cold. Mr Enoch Peake had not merely married Mrs Louisa Loggerheads, but had died of an apoplexy, leaving behind him Cocknage Gardens, a widow, and his name painted in large letters over the word 'Loggerheads' on the lintel of the Dragon. The steam-printer had done the funeral cards, and had gone to the burial of his hopes of business in that quarter. Many funeral cards had come out of the same printing office during the winter, including that of Mr Udall, the great marble-player. It seemed uncanny to Edwin that a marble-player whom he had actually seen playing marbles should do anything so solemn as expire. However, Edwin had perfectly lost all interest in marbles; only once in six months had he thought of them, and that once through a funeral card. Also he was growing used to funeral cards. He would enter an order for funeral cards as nonchalantly as an order for butterscotch labels. But it was not deaths and the spectacle of life as seen from the shop that had made another Edwin of him.
What had changed him was the slow daily influence of a large number of trifling habitual duties none of which fully strained his faculties, and the monotony of them, and the constant watchful conventionality of his deportment with customers. He was still a youth, very youthful, but you had to keep an eye open for his youthfulness if you wished to find it beneath the little man that he had been transformed into. He now took his watch out of his pocket with an absent gesture and look exactly like his father's; and his tones would be a reflection of those of the last important full-sized man with whom he had happened to have been in contact. And though he had not developed into a dandy (finance forbidding), he kept his hair unnaturally straight, and amiably grumbled to Maggie about his collars every fortnight or so. Yes, another Edwin! Yet it must not be assumed that he was growing in discontent, either chronic or acute. On the contrary, the malady of discontent troubled him less and less.
To the paper boy he was a real man. The paper boy accepted him with unreserved fatalism, as Edwin accepted his father. Thus the boy stood passive while Edwin brought business to a standstill by privately perusing the "Manchester Examiner." It was Saturday morning, the morning on which the "Examiner" published its renowned Literary Supplement. All the children read eagerly the Literary Supplement; but Edwin, in virtue of his office, got it first. On the first and second pages was the serial story, by George MacDonald, W. Clark Russell, or Mrs Lynn Linton; then followed readable extracts from new books, and on the fourth page were selected jokes from "Punch." Edwin somehow always began with the jokes, and in so doing was rather ashamed of his levity. He would skim the jokes, glance at the titles of the new books, and look at the dialogue parts of the serial, while business and the boy waited. There was no hurry then, even though the year had reached 1873 and people were saying that they would soon be at the middle of the seventies; even though the Licensing Act had come into force and publicans were predicting the end of the world. Morning papers were not delivered till ten, eleven, or twelve o'clock in Bursley, and on Saturdays, owing to Edwin's laudable interest in the best periodical literature, they were apt to be delivered later than usual.
On this particular morning Edwin was disturbed in his studies by a greater than the paper boy, a greater even than his father. Mr Osmond Orgreave came stamping his cold feet into the shop, the floor of which was still a little damp from the watering that preceded its sweeping. Mr Orgreave, though as far as Edwin knew he had never been in the shop before, went straight to the coke-stove, bent his knees, and began to warm his hands. In this position he opened an interview with Edwin, who dropped the Literary Supplement. Miss Ingamells was momentarily absent.
Edwin did not say where his father was, because he had received general instructions never to 'volunteer information' on that point.
"Where is he?"
"He's out, sir."
"Oh! Well! Has he left any instructions about those specifications for the Shawport Board School?"
"No, sir. I'm afraid he hasn't. But I can ask in the printing office."
Mr Orgreave approached the counter, smiling. His face was angular, rather stout, and harsh, with a grey moustache and a short grey beard, and yet his demeanour and his voice had a jocular, youthful quality. And this was not the only contradiction about him. His clothes were extremely elegant and nice in detail—the whiteness of his linen would have struck the most casual observer—but he seemed to be perfectly oblivious of his clothes, indeed, to show carelessness concerning them. His finger-nails were marvellously tended. But he scribbled in pencil on his cuff, and apparently was not offended by a grey mark on his hand due to touching the top of the stove. The idea in Edwin's head was that Mr Orgreave must put on a new suit of clothes once a week, and new linen every day, and take a bath about once an hour. The man had no ceremoniousness. Thus, though he had never previously spoken to Edwin, he made no preliminary pretence of not being sure who Edwin was; he chatted with him as though they were old friends and had parted only the day before; he also chatted with him as though they were equals in age, eminence, and wealth. A strange man!
"Now look here!" he said, as the conversation proceeded, "those specifications are at the Sytch Chapel. If you could come along with me now—I mean now—I could give them to you and point out one or two things to you, and perhaps Big James could make a start on them this morning. You see it's urgent."
So he was familiar with Big James.
"Certainly," said Edwin, excited.
And when he had curtly told the paper boy to do portions of the newspaper job which he had always held the paper boy was absolutely incapable of doing, he sent the boy to find Miss Ingamells, informed her where he was going, and followed Mr Orgreave out of the shop.
"Of course you know Charlie's at school in France," said Mr Orgreave, as they passed along Wedgwood Street in the direction of Saint Luke's Square. He was really very companionable.
"Er—yes!" Edwin replied, nervously explosive, and buttoning up his tight overcoat with an important business air.
"At least it isn't a school—it's a university. Besancon, you know. They take university students much younger there. Oh! He has a rare time—a rare time. Never writes to you, I suppose?"
"No." Edwin gave a short laugh.
Mr Orgreave laughed aloud. "And he wouldn't to us either, if his mother didn't make a fuss about it. But when he does write, we gather there's no place like Besancon."
"It must be splendid," Edwin said thoughtfully.
"You and he were great chums, weren't you? I know we used to hear about you every day. His mother used to say that we had Clayhanger with every meal." Mr Orgreave again laughed heartily.
Edwin blushed. He was quite startled, and immensely flattered. What on earth could the Sunday have found to tell them every day about him? He, Edwin Clayhanger, a subject of conversation in the household of the Orgreaves, that mysterious household which he had never entered but which he had always pictured to himself as being so finely superior! Less than a year ago Charlie Orgreave had been 'the Sunday,' had been 'old Perish-in-the-attempt,' and now he was a student in Besancon University, unapproachable, extraordinarily romantic; and he, Edwin, remained in his father's shop! He had been aware that Charlie had gone to Besancon University, but he had not realised it effectively till this moment. The realisation blew discontent into a flame, which fed on the further perception that evidently the Orgreave family were a gay, jolly crowd of cronies together, not in the least like parents and children; their home life must be something fundamentally different from his.
When they had crossed the windy space of Saint Luke's Square and reached the top of the Sytch Bank, Mr Orgreave stopped an instant in front of the Sytch Pottery, and pointed to a large window at the south end that was in process of being boarded up.
"At last!" he murmured with disgust. Then he said: "That's the most beautiful window in Bursley, and perhaps in the Five Towns; and you see what's happening to it."
Edwin had never heard the word 'beautiful' uttered in quite that tone, except by women, such as Auntie Hamps, about a baby or a valentine or a sermon. But Mr Orgreave was not a woman; he was a man of the world, he was almost the man of the world; and the subject of his adjective was a window!
"Why are they boarding it up, Mr Orgreave?" Edwin asked.
"Oh! Ancient lights! Ancient lights!"
Edwin began to snigger. He thought for an instant that Mr Orgreave was being jocular over his head, for he could only connect the phrase 'ancient lights' with the meaner organs of a dead animal, exposed, for example, in tripe shops. However, he saw his ineptitude almost simultaneously with the commission of it, and smothered the snigger in becoming gravity. It was clear that he had something to learn in the phraseology employed by architects.
"I should think," said Mr Orgreave, "I should think they've been at law about that window for thirty years, if not more. Well, it's over now, seemingly." He gazed at the disappearing window. "What a shame!"
"It is," said Edwin politely.
Mr Orgreave crossed the road and then stood still to gaze at the facade of the Sytch Pottery. It was a long two-storey building, purest Georgian, of red brick with very elaborate stone facings which contrasted admirably with the austere simplicity of the walls. The porch was lofty, with a majestic flight of steps narrowing to the doors. The ironwork of the basement railings was unusually rich and impressive.
"Ever seen another pot-works like that?" demanded Mr Orgreave, enthusiastically musing.
"No," said Edwin. Now that the question was put to him, he never had seen another pot-works like that.
"There are one or two pretty fine works in the Five Towns," said Mr Orgreave. "But there's nothing elsewhere to touch this. I nearly always stop and look at it if I'm passing. Just look at the pointing! The pointing alone—"
Edwin had to readjust his ideas. It had never occurred to him to search for anything fine in Bursley. The fact was, he had never opened his eyes at Bursley. Dozens of times he must have passed the Sytch Pottery, and yet not noticed, not suspected, that it differed from any other pot-works: he who dreamed of being an architect!
"You don't think much of it?" said Mr Orgreave, moving on. "People don't."
"Oh yes! I do!" Edwin protested, and with such an air of eager sincerity that Mr Orgreave turned to glance at him. And in truth he did think that the Sytch Pottery was beautiful. He never would have thought so but for the accident of the walk with Mr Orgreave; he might have spent his whole life in the town, and never troubled himself a moment about the Sytch Pottery. Nevertheless he now, by an act of sheer faith, suddenly, miraculously and genuinely regarded it as an exquisitely beautiful edifice, on a plane with the edifices of the capitals of Europe, and as a feast for discerning eyes. "I like architecture very much," he added. And this too was said with such feverish conviction that Mr Orgreave was quite moved.
"I must show you my new Sytch Chapel," said Mr Orgreave gaily.
"Oh! I should like you to show it me," said Edwin.
But he was exceedingly perturbed by misgivings. Here was he wanting to be an architect, and he had never observed the Sytch Pottery! Surely that was an absolute proof that he had no vocation for architecture! And yet now he did most passionately admire the Sytch Pottery. And he was proud to be sharing the admiration of the fine, joyous, superior, luxurious, companionable man, Mr Orgreave.
They went down the Sytch Bank to the new chapel of which Mr Orgreave, though a churchman, was the architect, in that vague quarter of the world between Bursley and Turnhill. The roof was not on; the scaffolding was extraordinarily interesting and confusing; they bent their heads to pass under low portals; Edwin had the delicious smell of new mortar; they stumbled through sand, mud, cinders and little pools; they climbed a ladder and stepped over a large block of dressed stone, and Mr Orgreave said—
"This is the gallery we're in, here. You see the scheme of the place now... That hole—only a flue. Now you see what that arch carries— they didn't like it in the plans because they thought it might be mistaken for a church—"
Edwin was receptive.
"Of course it's a very small affair, but it'll cost less per sitting than any other chapel in your circuit, and I fancy it'll look less like a box of bricks." Mr Orgreave subtly smiled, and Edwin tried to equal his subtlety. "I must show you the elevation some other time—a bit later. What I've been after in it, is to keep it in character with the street... Hi! Dan, there!" Now, Mr Orgreave was calling across the hollow of the chapel to a fat man in corduroys. "Have you remembered about those blue bricks?"
Perhaps the most captivating phenomenon of all was a little lean-to shed with a real door evidently taken from somewhere else, and a little stove, and a table and a chair. Here Mr Orgreave had a confabulation with the corduroyed man, who was the builder, and they pored over immense sheets of coloured plans that lay on the table, and Mr Orgreave made marks and even sketches on the plans, and the fat man objected to his instructions, and Mr Orgreave insisted, "Yes, yes!" And it seemed to Edwin as though the building of the chapel stood still while Mr Orgreave cogitated and explained; it seemed to Edwin that he was in the creating-chamber. The atmosphere of the shed was inexpressibly romantic to him. After the fat man had gone Mr Orgreave took a clothes-brush off a plank that had been roughly nailed on two brackets to the wall, and brushed Edwin's clothes, and Edwin brushed Mr Orgreave, and then Mr Orgreave, having run his hand through the brush, lightly brushed his hair with it. All this was part of Edwin's joy.
"Yes," he said, "I think the idea of that arch is splendid."
"You do?" said Mr Orgreave quite simply and ingenuously pleased and interested. "You see—with the lie of the ground as it is—"
That was another point that Edwin ought to have thought of by himself— the lie of the ground—but he had not thought of it. Mr Orgreave went on talking. In the shop he had conveyed the idea that he was tremendously pressed for time; now he had apparently forgotten time.
"I'm afraid I shall have to be off," said Edwin timidly. And he made a preliminary movement as if to depart.
"And what about those specifications, young man?" asked Mr Orgreave, drily twinkling. He unlocked a drawer in the rickety table. Edwin had forgotten the specifications as successfully as Mr Orgreave had forgotten time. Throughout the remainder of the day he smelt imaginary mortar.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER FIFTEEN.
The next day being the day of rest, Mrs Nixon arose from her nook at 5:30 a.m. and woke Edwin. She did this from good-nature, and because she could refuse him nothing, and not under any sort of compulsion. Edwin got up at the first call, though he was in no way remarkable for his triumphs over the pillow. Twenty-five minutes later he was crossing Trafalgar Road and entering the school-yard of the Wesleyan Chapel. And from various quarters of the town, other young men, of ages varying from sixteen to fifty, were converging upon the same point. Black night still reigned above the lamplights that flickered in the wind which precedes the dawn, and the mud was frozen. Not merely had these young men to be afoot and abroad, but they had to be ceremoniously dressed. They could not issue forth in flannels and sweater, with a towel round the neck, as for a morning plunge in the river. The day was Sunday, though Sunday had not dawned, and the plunge was into the river of intellectual life. Moreover, they were bound by conscience to be prompt. To have arrived late, even five minutes late, would have spoilt the whole effect. It had to be six o'clock or nothing.
The Young Men's Debating Society was a newly formed branch of the multifarous activity of the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. It met on Sunday because Sunday was the only day that would suit everybody; and at six in the morning for two reasons. The obvious reason was that at any other hour its meetings would clash either with other activities or with the solemnity of Sabbath meals. This obvious reason could not have stood by itself; it was secretly supported by the recondite reason that the preposterous hour of 6 a.m. appealed powerfully to something youthful, perverse, silly, fanatical, and fine in the youths. They discovered the ascetic's joy in robbing themselves of sleep and in catching chills, and in disturbing households and chapel-keepers. They thought it was a great thing to be discussing intellectual topics at an hour when a town that ignorantly scorned intellectuality was snoring in all its heavy brutishness. And it was a great thing. They considered themselves the salt of the earth, or of that part of the earth. And I have an idea that they were.
Edwin had joined this Society partly because he did not possess the art of refusing, partly because the notion of it appealed spectacularly to the martyr in him, and partly because it gave him an excuse for ceasing to attend the afternoon Sunday school, which he loathed. Without such an excuse he could never have told his father that he meant to give up Sunday school. He could never have dared to do so. His father had what Edwin deemed to be a superstitious and hypocritical regard for the Sunday school. Darius never went near the Sunday school, and assuredly in business and in home life he did not practise the precepts inculcated at the Sunday school, and yet he always spoke of the Sunday school with what was to Edwin a ridiculous reverence. Another of those problems in his father's character which Edwin gave up in disgust!
The Society met in a small classroom. The secretary, arch ascetic, arrived at 5:45 and lit the fire which the chapel-keeper (a man with no enthusiasm whatever for flagellation, the hairshirt, or intellectuality) had laid but would not get up to light. The chairman of the Society, a little Welshman named Llewelyn Roberts, aged fifty, but a youth because a bachelor, sat on a chair at one side of the incipient fire, and some dozen members sat round the room on forms. A single gas jet flamed from the ceiling. Everybody wore his overcoat, and within the collars of overcoats could be seen glimpses of rich neckties; the hats, some glossy, dotted the hat-rack which ran along two walls. A hymn was sung, and then all knelt, some spreading handkerchiefs on the dusty floor to protect fine trousers, and the chairman invoked the blessing of God on their discussions. The proper mental and emotional atmosphere was now established. The secretary read the minutes of the last meeting, while the chairman surreptitiously poked the fire with a piece of wood from the lower works of a chair, and then the chairman, as he signed the minutes with a pen dipped in an excise ink-bottle that stood on the narrow mantelpiece, said in his dry voice—
"I call upon our young friend, Mr Edwin Clayhanger, to open the debate, 'Is Bishop Colenso, considered as a Biblical commentator, a force for good?'"
"I'm a damned fool!" said Edwin to himself savagely, as he stood on his feet. But to look at his wistful and nervously smiling face, no one would have guessed that he was thus blasphemously swearing in the privacy of his own brain.
He had been entrapped into the situation in which he found himself. It was not until after he had joined the Society that he had learnt of a rule which made it compulsory for every member to speak at every meeting attended, and for every member to open a debate at least once in a year. And this was not all; the use of notes while the orator was 'up' was absolutely forbidden. A drastic Society! It had commended itself to elders by claiming to be a nursery for ready speakers.
Edwin had chosen the subject of Bishop Colenso—the ultimate wording of the resolution was not his—because he had been reading about the intellectually adventurous Bishop in the "Manchester Examiner." And, although eleven years had passed since the publication of the first part of "The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined," the Colenso question was only just filtering down to the thinking classes of the Five Towns; it was an actuality in the Five Towns, if in abeyance in London. Even Hugh Miller's "The Old Red Sandstone, or New Walks in an Old Field," then over thirty years old, was still being looked upon as dangerously original in the Five Towns in 1873. However, the effect of its disturbing geological evidence that the earth could scarcely have been begun and finished in a little under a week, was happily nullified by the suicide of its author; that pistol-shot had been a striking proof of the literal inspiration of the Bible.
Bishop Colenso had, in Edwin, an ingenuous admirer. Edwin stammeringly and hesitatingly gave a preliminary sketch of his life; how he had been censured by Convocation and deposed from his See by his Metropolitan; how the Privy Council had decided that the deposition was null and void; how the ecclesiastical authorities had then circumvented the Privy Council by refusing to pay his salary to the Bishop (which Edwin considered mean); how the Bishop had circumvented the ecclesiastical authorities by appealing to the Master of the Rolls, who ordered the ecclesiastical authorities to pay him his arrears of income with interest thereon, unless they were ready to bring him to trial for heresy; how the said authorities would not bring him to trial for heresy (which Edwin considered to be miserable cowardice on their part); how the Bishop had then been publicly excommunicated, without authority; and how his friends, among whom were some very respectable and powerful people, had made him a present of over three thousand pounds. After this graphic historical survey, Edwin proceeded to the Pentateuchal puzzles, and, without pronouncing an opinion thereon, argued that any commentator who was both learned and sincere must be a force for good, as the Bible had nothing to fear from honest inquiry, etcetera, etcetera. Five-sixths of his speech was coloured by phrases and modes of thought which he had picked up in the Wesleyan community, and the other sixth belonged to himself. The speech was moderately bad, but not inferior to many other speeches. It was received in absolute silence. This rather surprised Edwin, because the tone in which the leading members of the Society usually spoke to him indicated that (for reasons which he knew not) they regarded him as a very superior intellect indeed; and Edwin was not entirely ashamed of the quality of his speech; in fact, he had feared worse from himself, especially as, since his walk with Mr Orgreave, he had been quite unable to concentrate his thoughts on Bishop Colenso at all, and had been exceedingly unhappy and apprehensive concerning an affair that bore no kind of relation to the Pentateuch.
The chairman began to speak at once. His function was to call upon the speakers in the order arranged, and to sum up before putting the resolution to the vote. But now he produced surprisingly a speech of his own. He reminded the meeting that in 1860 Bishop Colenso had memorialised the Archbishop of Canterbury against compelling natives who had already more than one wife to renounce polygamy as a condition to baptism in the Christian religion; he stated that, though there were young men present who were almost infants in arms at that period, he for his part could well remember all the episode, and in particular Bishop Colenso's amazing allegation that he could find no disapproval of polygamy either in the Bible or in the writings of the Ancient Church. He also pointed out that in 1861 Bishop Colenso had argued against the doctrine of Eternal Punishment. He warned the meeting to beware of youthful indiscretions. Every one there assembled of course meant well, and believed what it was a duty to believe, but at the same time...
"I shall write father a letter!" said Edwin to himself. The idea came to him in a flash like a divine succour; and it seemed to solve all his difficulties—difficulties unconnected with the subject of debate.
The chairman went on crossing t's and dotting i's. And soon even Edwin perceived that the chairman was diplomatically and tactfully, yet very firmly, bent upon saving the meeting from any possibility of scandalising itself and the Wesleyan community. Bishop Colenso must not be approved beneath those roofs. Evidently Edwin had been more persuasive than he dreamt of; and daring beyond precedent. He had meant to carry his resolution if he could, whereas, it appeared, he ought to have meant to be defeated, in the true interests of revealed religion. The chairman kept referring to his young friend the proposer's brilliant brains, and to the grave danger that lurked in brilliant brains, and the inability of brilliant brains to atone for lack of experience. The meeting had its cue. Young man after young man arose to snub Bishop Colenso, to hope charitably that Bishop Colenso was sincere, and to insist that no Bishop Colenso should lead him to the awful abyss of polygamy, and that no Bishop Colenso should deprive him of that unique incentive to righteousness—the doctrine of an everlasting burning hell. Moses was put on his legs again as a serious historian, and the subject of the resolution utterly lost to view. The Chairman then remarked that his impartial role forbade him to support either side, and the voting showed fourteen against one. They all sang the Doxology, and the Chairman pronounced a benediction. The fourteen forgave the one, as one who knew not what he did; but their demeanour rather too patently showed that they were forgiving under difficulty; and that it would be as well that this kind of youthful temerariousness was not practised too often. Edwin, in the language of the district, was 'sneaped.' Wondering what on earth he after all had said to raise such an alarm, he nevertheless did not feel resentful, only very depressed—about the debate and about other things. He knew in his heart that for him attendance at the meetings of the Young Men's Debating Society was ridiculous.
He allowed all the rest to precede him from the room. When he was alone he smiled sheepishly, and also disdainfully; he knew that the chasm between himself and the others was a real chasm, and not a figment of his childish diffidence, as he had sometimes suspected it to be. Then he turned the gas out. A beautiful faint silver surged through the window. While the debate was in progress, the sun had been going about its business of the dawn, unperceived.
"I shall write a letter!" he kept saying to himself. "He'll never let me explain myself properly if I start talking. I shall write a letter. I can write a very good letter, and he'll be bound to take notice of it. He'll never be able to get over my letter."
In the school-yard daylight reigned. The debaters had already disappeared. Trafalgar Road and Duck Bank were empty and silent under rosy clouds. Instead of going straight home Edwin went past the Town Hall and through the Market Place to the Sytch Pottery. Astounding that he had never noticed for himself how beautiful the building was! It was a simply lovely building!
"Yes," he said, "I shall write him a letter, and this very day, too! May I be hung, drawn, and quartered if he doesn't have to read my letter to-morrow morning!"
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER SIXTEEN.
Then there was roast goose for dinner, and Clara amused herself by making silly facetious faces, furtively, dangerously, under her father's very eyes. The children feared goose for their father, whose digestion was usually unequal to this particular bird. Like many fathers of families in the Five Towns, he had the habit of going forth on Saturday mornings to the butcher's or the poulterer's and buying Sunday's dinner. He was a fairly good judge of a joint, but Maggie considered herself to be his superior in this respect. However, Darius was not prepared to learn from Maggie, and his purchases had to be accepted without criticism. At a given meal Darius would never admit that anything chosen and bought by him was not perfect; but a week afterwards, if the fact was so, he would of his own accord recall imperfections in that which he had asserted to be perfect; and he would do this without any shame, without any apparent sense of inconsistency or weakness. Edwin noticed a similar trait in other grown-up persons, and it astonished him. It astonished him especially in his father, who, despite the faults and vulgarities which his fastidious son could find in him, always impressed Edwin as a strong man, a man with the heroic quality of not caring too much what other people thought.
When Edwin saw his father take a second plateful of goose, with the deadly stuffing thereof—Darius simply could not resist it, like most dyspeptics he was somewhat greedy—he foresaw an indisposed and perilous father for the morrow. Which prevision was supported by Clara's pantomimic antics, and even by Maggie's grave and restrained sigh. Still, he had sworn to write and send the letter, and he should do so. A career, a lifetime, was not to be at the mercy of a bilious attack, surely! Such a notion offended logic and proportion, and he scorned it away.
The meal proceeded in silence. Darius, as in duty bound, mentioned the sermon, but neither Clara nor Edwin would have anything to do with the sermon, and Maggie had not been to chapel. Clara and Edwin felt themselves free of piety till six o'clock at least, and they doggedly would not respond. And Darius from prudence did not insist, for he had arrived at chapel unthinkably late—during the second chant—and Clara was capable of audacious remarks upon occasions. The silence grew stolid.
And Edwin wondered what the dinner-table of the Orgreaves was like. And he could smell fresh mortar. And he dreamed of a romantic life—he knew not what kind of life, but something different fundamentally from his own. He suddenly understood, understood with sympathy, the impulse which had made boys run away to sea. He could feel the open sea; he could feel the breath of freedom on his cheek.
He said to himself—
"Why shouldn't I break this ghastly silence by telling father out loud here that he mustn't forget what I told him that night in the attic? I'm going to be an architect. I'm not going to be any blooming printer. I'm going to be an architect. Why haven't I mentioned it before? Why haven't I talked about it all the time? Because I am an ass! Because there is no word for what I am! Damn it! I suppose I'm the person to choose what I'm going to be! I suppose it's my business more than his. Besides, he can't possibly refuse me. If I say flatly that I won't be a printer—he's done. This idea of writing a letter is just like me! Coward! Coward! What's my tongue for? Can't I talk? Isn't he bound to listen? All I have to do is to open my mouth. He's sitting there. I'm sitting here. He can't eat me. I'm in my rights. Now suppose I start on it as soon as Mrs Nixon has brought the pudding and pie in?"
And he waited anxiously to see whether he indeed would be able to make a start after the departure of Mrs Nixon.
Hopeless! He could not bring himself to do it. It was strange! It was disgusting! ... No, he would be compelled to write the letter. Besides, the letter would be more effective. His father could not interrupt a letter by some loud illogical remark. Thus he salved his self-conceit. He also sought relief in reflecting savagely upon the speeches that had been made against him in the debate. He went through them all in his mind. There was the slimy idiot from Baines's (it was in such terms that his thoughts ran) who gloried in never having read a word of Colenso, and called the assembled company to witness that nothing should ever induce him to read such a godless author, going about in the mask of a so-called Bishop. But had any of them read Colenso, except possibly Llewellyn Roberts, who in his Welsh way would pretend ignorance and then come out with a quotation and refer you to the exact page? Edwin himself had read very little of Colenso—and that little only because a customer had ordered the second part of the "Pentateuch" and he had stolen it for a night. Colenso was not in the Free Library... What a world! What a debate! Still, he could not help dwelling with pleasure on Mr Roberts's insistence on the brilliant quality of his brains. Astute as Mr Roberts was, the man was clearly in awe of Edwin's brains! Why? To be honest, Edwin had never been deeply struck by his own brain power. And yet there must be something in it!
"Of course," he reflected sardonically, "father doesn't show the faintest interest in the debate. Yet he knew all about it, and that I had to open it." But he was glad that his father showed no interest in the debate. Clara had mentioned it in the presence of Maggie, with her usual ironic intent, and Edwin had quickly shut her up.
In the afternoon, the sitting-room being made uninhabitable by his father's goose-ridden dozes, he went out for a walk; the weather was cold and fine. When he returned his father also had gone out; the two girls were lolling in the sitting-room. An immense fire, built up by Darius, was just ripe for the beginning of decay, and the room very warm. Clara was at the window, Maggie in Darius's chair reading a novel of Charlotte M Yonge's. On the table, open, was a bound volume of "The Family Treasury of Sunday Reading," in which Clara had been perusing "The Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family" with feverish interest. Edwin had laughed at her ingenuous absorption in the adventures of the Schonberg-Cotta family, but the fact was that he had found them rather interesting, in spite of himself, while pretending the contrary. There was an atmosphere of high obstinate effort and heroical foreign-ness about the story which stimulated something secret in him that seldom responded to the provocation of a book; more easily would this secret something respond to a calm evening or a distant prospect, or the silence of early morning when by chance he looked out of his window.
The volume of "The Family Treasury," though five years old, was a recent acquisition. It had come into the house through the total disappearance of a customer who had left the loose numbers to be bound in 1869. Edwin dropped sideways on to a chair at the table, spread out his feet to the right, pitched his left elbow a long distance to the left, and, his head resting on his left hand, turned over the pages with his right hand idly. His eye caught titles such as: "The Door was Shut," "My Mother's Voice," "The Heather Mother," "The Only Treasure," "Religion and Business," "Hope to the End," "The Child of our Sunday School," "Satan's Devices," and "Studies of Christian Life and Character, Hannah More." Then he saw an article about some architecture in Rome, and he read: "In the Sistine picture there is the struggle of a great mind to reduce within the possibilities of art a subject that transcends it. That mind would have shown itself to be greater, truer, at least, in its judgement of the capabilities of art, and more reverent to have let it alone." The seriousness of the whole magazine intimidated him into accepting this pronouncement for a moment, though his brief studies in various encyclopaedias had led him to believe that the Sistine Chapel (shown in an illustration in Cazenove) was high beyond any human criticism. His elbow slid on the surface of the table, and in recovering himself he sent "The Family Treasury" on the floor, wrong side up, with a great noise. Maggie did not move. Clara turned and protested sharply against this sacrilege, and Edwin, out of mere caprice, informed her that her precious magazine was the most stinking silly 'pi' [pious] thing that ever was. With haughty and shocked gestures she gathered up the volume and took it out of the room.
"I say, Mag," Edwin muttered, still leaning his head on his hand, and staring blankly at the wall.
The fire dropped a little in the grate.
"What is it?" asked Maggie, without stirring or looking up.
"Has father said anything to you about me wanting to be an architect?" He spoke with an affectation of dreaminess.
"About you wanting to be an architect?" repeated Maggie in surprise.
"Yes," said Edwin. He knew perfectly well that his father would never have spoken to Maggie on such a subject. But he wanted to open a conversation.
"No fear!" said Maggie. And added in her kindest, most encouraging, elder-sisterly tone: "Why?"
"Oh!" He hesitated, drawling, and then he told her a great deal of what was in his mind. And she carefully put the wool-marker in her book and shut it, and listened to him. And the fire dropped and dropped, comfortably. She did not understand him; obviously she thought his desire to be an architect exceedingly odd; but she sympathised. Her attitude was soothing and fortifying. After all (he reflected) Maggie's all right—there's some sense in Maggie. He could 'get on' with Maggie. For a few moments he was happy and hopeful.
"I thought I'd write him a letter," he said. "You know how he is to talk to."
There was a pause.
"What d'ye think?" he questioned.
"I should," said Maggie.
"Then I shall!" he exclaimed. "How d'ye think he'll take it?"
"Well," said Maggie, "I don't see how he can do aught but take it all right... Depends how you put it, of course."
"Oh, you leave that to me!" said Edwin, with eager confidence. "I shall put it all right. You trust me for that!"
Clara danced into the room, flowing over with infantile joy. She had been listening to part of the conversation behind the door.
"So he wants to be an architect! Arch-i-tect! Arch-i-tect!" She half-sang the word in a frenzy of ridicule. She really did dance, and waved her arms. Her eyes glittered, as if in rapture. These singular manifestations of her temperament were caused solely by the strangeness of the idea of Edwin wanting to be an architect. The strange sight of him with his hair cut short or in a new neck-tie affected her in a similar manner.