"Clara, go and put your pinafore on this instant!" said Maggie. "You know you oughtn't to leave it off."
"You needn't be so hoity-toity, miss," Clara retorted. But she moved to obey. When she reached the door she turned again and gleefully taunted Edwin. "And it's all because he went for a walk yesterday with Mr Orgreave! I know! I know! You needn't think I didn't see you, because I did! Arch-i-tect! Arch-i-tect!"
She vanished, on all her springs, spitefully graceful.
"You might almost think that infernal kid was right bang off her head," Edwin muttered crossly. (Still, it was extraordinary how that infernal kid hit on the truth.)
Maggie began to mend the fire.
"Oh, well!" murmured Maggie, conveying to Edwin that no importance must be attached to the chit's chittishness.
He went up to the next flight of stairs to his attic. Dust on the table of his work-attic! Shameful dust! He had not used that attic since Christmas, on the miserable plea that winter was cold and there was no fireplace! He blamed himself for his effeminacy. Where had flown his seriousness, his elaborate plans, his high purposes? A touch of winter had frightened them away. Yes, he blamed himself mercilessly. True it was—as that infernal kid had chanted—a casual half-hour with Mr Orgreave was alone responsible for his awakening—at any rate, for his awakening at this particular moment. Still, he was awake—that was the great fact. He was tremendously awake. He had not been asleep; he had only been half-asleep. His intention of becoming an architect had never left him. But, through weakness before his father, through a cowardly desire to avoid disturbance and postpone a crisis, he had let the weeks slide by. Now he was in a groove, in a canyon. He had to get out, and the sooner the better.
A piece of paper, soiled, was pinned on his drawing-board; one or two sketches lay about. He turned the drawing-board over, so that he might use it for a desk on which to write the letter. But he had no habit of writing letters. In the attic was to be found neither ink, pen, paper, nor envelope. He remembered a broken quire of sermon paper in his bedroom; he had used a few sheets of it for notes on Bishop Colenso. These notes had been written in the privacy and warmth of bed, in pencil. But the letter must be done in ink; the letter was too important for pencil; assuredly his father would take exception to pencil. He descended to his sister's room and borrowed Maggie's ink and a pen, and took an envelope, tripping like a thief. Then he sat down to the composition of the letter; but he was obliged to stop almost immediately in order to light the lamp.
This is what he wrote:
"Dear Father,—I dare say you will think it queer me writing you a letter like this, but it is the best thing I can do, and I hope you will excuse me. I dare say you will remember I told you that night when you came home late from Manchester here in the attic that I wanted to be an architect. You replied that what I wanted was business experience. If you say that I have not had enough business experience yet, I agree to that, but I want it to be understood that later on, when it is the proper time, I am to be an architect. You know I am very fond of architecture, and I feel that I must be an architect. I feel I shall not be happy in the printing business because I want to be an architect. I am now nearly seventeen. Perhaps it is too soon yet for me to be apprenticed to an architect, and so I can go on learning business habits. But I just want it to be understood. I am quite sure you wish me to be happy in life, and I shan't be happy if I am always regretting that I have not gone in for being an architect. I know I shall like architecture.—Your affectionate son, Edwin Clayhanger."
Then, as an afterthought, he put the date and his address at the top. He meditated a postscript asking for a reply, but decided that this was unnecessary. As he was addressing the envelope Mrs Nixon called out to him from below to come to tea. He was surprised to find that he had spent over an hour on the letter. He shivered and sneezed.
During tea he felt himself absurdly self-conscious, but nobody seemed to notice his condition. The whole family went to chapel. The letter lay in his pocket, and he might easily have slipped away to the post-office with it, but he had had no opportunity to possess himself of a stamp. There was no need to send the letter through the post. He might get up early and put it among the morning's letters. He had decided, however, that it must arrive formally by the postman, and he would not alter his decision. Hence, after chapel, he took a match, and, creeping into the shop, procured a crimson stamp from his father's desk. Then he went forth, by the back way, alone into the streets. The adventure was not so hazardous as it seemed and as it felt. Darius was incurious by nature, though he had brief fevers of curiosity. Thus the life of the children was a demoralising mixture of rigid discipline and freedom. They were permitted nothing, but, as the years passed, they might take nearly anything. There was small chance of Darius discovering his son's excursion.
In crossing the road from chapel Edwin had opined to his father that the frost was breaking. He was now sure of it. The mud, no longer brittle, yielded to pressure, and there was a trace of dampness in the interstices of the pavement bricks. A thin raw mist was visible in huge spheres round the street lamps. The sky was dark. The few people whom he encountered seemed to be out upon mysterious errands, seemed to emerge strangely from one gloom and strangely to vanish into another. In the blind, black facades of the streets the public-houses blazed invitingly with gas; they alone were alive in the weekly death of the town; and they gleamed everywhere, at every corner; the town appeared to consist chiefly of public-houses. He dropped the letter into the box in the market-place; he heard it fall. His heart beat. The deed was now irrevocable. He wondered what Monday held for him. The quiescent melancholy of the town invaded his spirit, and mingled with his own remorseful sorrow for the unstrenuous past, and his apprehensive solicitude about the future. It was not unpleasant, this brooding sadness, half-despondency and half-hope. A man and a woman, arm-in-arm, went by him as he stood unconscious of his conspicuousness under the gas-lamp that lit the post-office. They laughed the smothered laugh of intimacy to see a tall boy standing alone there, with no overcoat, gazing at naught. Edwin turned to go home. It occurred to him that nearly all the people he met were couples, arm-in-arm. And he suddenly thought of Florence, the clog-dancer. He had scarcely thought of her for months. The complexity of the interests of life, and the interweaving of its moods, fatigued his mind into an agreeably grave vacuity.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.
END OF A STRUGGLE.
It was not one of his official bilious attacks that Darius had on the following day; he only yielded himself up in the complete grand manner when nature absolutely compelled. The goose had not formally beaten him, but neither had he formally beaten the goose. The battle was drawn, and this meant that Darius had a slight headache, a feeling of heavy disgust with the entire polity of the universe, and a disinclination for food. The first and third symptoms he hid as far as possible, from pride: at breakfast he toyed with bacon, from pride, hating bacon. The children knew from his eyes and his guilty gestures that he was not well, but they dared not refer to his condition; they were bound to pretend that the health of their father flourished in the highest perfection. And they were glad that things were no worse.
On the other hand Edwin had a sneezing cold which he could not conceal, and Darius inimically inquired what foolishness he had committed to have brought this on himself. Edwin replied that he knew of no cause for it. A deliberate lie! He knew that he had contracted a chill while writing a letter to his father in an unwarmed attic, and had intensified the chill by going forth to post the letter without his overcoat in a raw evening mist. Obviously, however, he could not have stated the truth. He was uncomfortable at the breakfast-table, but, after the first few moments, less so than during the disturbed night he had feared to be. His father had neither eaten him, nor jumped down his throat, nor performed any of those unpleasant miraculous feats which fathers usually do perform when infuriated by filial foolishness. The letter therefore had not been utterly disastrous; sometimes a letter would ruin a breakfast, for Mr Clayhanger, with no consideration for the success of meals, always opened his post before bite or sup. He had had the letter, and still he was ready to talk to his son in the ordinary grim tone of a goose-morrow. Which was to the good. Edwin was now convinced that he had done well to write the letter.
But as the day passed, Edwin began to ask himself: "Has he had the letter?" There was no sign of the letter in his father's demeanour, which, while not such as to make it credible that he ever had moods of positive gay roguishness, was almost tolerable, considering his headache and his nausea. Letters occasionally were lost in the post, or delayed. Edwin thought it would be just his usual bad luck if that particular letter, that letter of all letters, should be lost. And the strange thing is that he could not prevent himself from hoping that it indeed was lost. He would prefer it to be lost rather than delayed. He felt that if the postman brought it by the afternoon delivery while he and his father were in the shop together, he should drop down dead. The day continued to pass, and did pass. And the shop was closed. "He'll speak to me after supper," said Edwin. But Darius did not speak to him after supper. Darius put on his hat and overcoat and went out, saying no word except to advise the children to be getting to bed, all of them.
As soon as he was gone Edwin took a candle and returned to the shop. He was convinced now that the letter had not been delivered, but he wished to make conviction sure. He opened the desk. His letter was nearly the first document he saw. It looked affrighting, awful. He dared not read it, to see whether its wording was fortunate or unfortunate. He departed, mystified. Upstairs in his bedroom he had a new copy of an English translation of Victor Hugo's "Notre Dame," which had been ordered by Lawyer Lawton, but would not be called for till the following week, because Lawyer Lawton only called once a fortnight. He had meant to read that book, with due precautions, in bed. But he could not fix attention on it. Impossible for him to follow a single paragraph. He extinguished the candle. Then he heard his father come home. He thought that he scarcely slept all night.
The next morning, Tuesday, the girls, between whom and their whispering friend Miss Ingamells something feminine was evidently afoot, left the breakfast-table sooner than usual, not without stifled giggles: upon occasion Maggie would surprisingly meet Clara and Miss Ingamells on their own plane; since Sunday afternoon she had shown no further interest in Edwin's important crisis; she seemed, so far as he could judge, to have fallen back into her customary state of busy apathy.
The man and the young man were alone together. Darius, in his satisfaction at having been delivered so easily from the goose, had taken an extra slice of bacon. Edwin's cold was now fully developed; and Maggie had told him to feed it.
"I suppose you got that letter I wrote you, father, about me going in for architecture," said Edwin. Then he blew his nose to hide his confusion. He was rather startled to hear himself saying those bold words. He thought that he was quite calm and in control of his impulses; but it was not so; his nerves were stretched to the utmost.
Darius said nothing. But Edwin could see his face darkening, and his lower lip heavily falling. He glowered, though not at Edwin. With eyes fixed on the window he glowered into vacancy. The pride went out of Edwin's heart.
"So ye'd leave the printing?" muttered Darius, when he had finished masticating. He spoke in a menacing voice thick with ferocious emotion.
"Well—" said Edwin, quaking.
He thought he had never seen his father so ominously intimidating. He was terrorised as he looked at that ugly and dark countenance. He could not say any more. His voice left him. Thus his fear was physical as well as moral. He reflected: "Well, I expected a row, but I didn't expect it would be as bad as this!" And once more he was completely puzzled and baffled by the enigma of his father.
He did not hold the key, and even had he held it he was too young, too inexperienced, to have used it. As with gathering passion the eyes of Darius assaulted the window-pane, Darius had a painful intense vision of that miracle, his own career. Edwin's grand misfortune was that he was blind to the miracle. Edwin had never seen the little boy in the Bastille. But Darius saw him always, the infant who had begun life at a rope's-end. Every hour of Darius's present existence was really an astounding marvel to Darius. He could not read the newspaper without thinking how wonderful it was that he should be able to read the newspaper. And it was wonderful! It was wonderful that he had three different suits of clothes, none of them with a single hole. It was wonderful that he had three children, all with complete outfits of good clothes. It was wonderful that he never had to think twice about buying coal, and that he could have more food than he needed. It was wonderful that he was not living in a two-roomed cottage. He never came into his house by the side entrance without feeling proud that the door gave on to a preliminary passage and not direct into a living-room; he would never lose the idea that a lobby, however narrow, was the great distinguishing mark of wealth. It was wonderful that he had a piano, and that his girls could play it and could sing. It was wonderful that he had paid twenty-eight shillings a term for his son's schooling, in addition to book-money. Twenty-eight shillings a term! And once a penny a week was considered enough, and twopence generous! Through sheer splendid wilful pride he had kept his son at school till the lad was sixteen, going on seventeen! Seventeen, not seven! He had had the sort of pride in his son that a man may have in an idle, elegant, and absurdly expensive woman. It even tickled him to hear his son called 'Master Edwin,' and then 'Mister Edwin'; just as the fine ceremonious manners of his sister-in-law Mrs Hamps tickled him. His marriage! With all its inevitable disillusions it had been wonderful, incredible. He looked back on it as a miracle. For he had married far above him, and had proved equal to the enormously difficult situation. Never had he made a fool of himself. He often took keen pleasure in speculating upon the demeanour of his father, his mother, his little sister, could they have seen him in his purple and in his grandeur. They were all dead. And those days were fading, fading, gone, with their unutterable, intolerable shame and sadness, intolerable even in memory. And his wife dead too! All that remained was Mr Shushions.
And then his business? Darius's pride in the achievement of his business was simply indescribable. If he had not built up that particular connexion he had built up another one whose sale had enabled him to buy it. And he was waxing yearly. His supremacy as a printer could not be challenged in Bursley. Steam! A double-windowed shop! A foreman to whom alone he paid thirty shillings a week! Four other employees! (Not to mention a domestic servant.) ... How had he done it? He did not know. Certainly he did not credit himself with brilliant faculties. He knew he was not brilliant; he knew that once or twice he had had luck. But he had the greatest confidence in his rough-hewing common sense. The large curves of his career were correctly drawn. His common sense, his slow shrewdness, had been richly justified by events. They had been pitted against foes—and look now at the little boy from the Bastille!
To Darius there was no business quite like his own. He admitted that there were businesses much bigger, but they lacked the miraculous quality that his own had. They were not sacred. His was, genuinely. Once, in his triumphant and vain early manhood he had had a fancy for bulldogs; he had bred bulldogs; and one day he had sacrificed even that great delight at the call of his business; and now no one could guess that he knew the difference between a setter and a mastiff!
It was this sacred business (perpetually adored at the secret altar in Darius's heart), this miraculous business, and not another, that Edwin wanted to abandon, with scarcely a word; just casually!
True, Edwin had told him one night that he would like to be an architect. But Darius had attached no importance to the boyish remark. Darius had never even dreamed that Edwin would not go into the business. It would not have occurred to him to conceive such a possibility. And the boy had shown great aptitude. The boy had saved the printing office from disaster. And Darius had proved his satisfaction therein, not by words certainly, but beyond mistaking in his general demeanour towards Edwin. And after all that, a letter—mind you, a letter!—proposing with the most damnable insolent audacity that he should be an architect, because he would not be 'happy' in the printing business! ... An architect! Why an architect, specially? What in the name of God was there to attract in bricks and mortar? He thought the boy had gone off his head for a space. He could not think of any other explanation. He had not allowed the letter to upset him. By his armour of thick callousness, he had protected the tender places in his soul from being wounded. He had not decided how to phrase his answer to Edwin. He had not even decided whether he would say anything at all, whether it would not be more dignified and impressive to make no remark whatever to Edwin, to let him slowly perceive, by silence, what a lamentable error he had committed.
And here was the boy lightly, cheekily, talking at breakfast about 'going in for architecture'! The armour of callousness was pierced. Darius felt the full force of the letter; and as he suffered, so he became terrible and tyrannic in his suffering. He meant to save his business, to put his business before anything. And he would have his own way. He would impose his will. And he would have treated argument as a final insult. All the heavy, obstinate, relentless force of his individuality was now channelled in one tremendous instinct.
"Well, what?" he growled savagely, as Edwin halted.
In spite of his advanced age Edwin began to cry. Yes, the tears came out of his eyes.
"And now you begin blubbing!" said his father.
"You say naught for six months—and then you start writing letters!" said his father.
"And what's made ye settle on architecting, I'd like to be knowing?" Darius went on.
Edwin was not able to answer this question. He had never put it to himself. Assuredly he could not, at the pistol's point, explain why he wanted to be an architect. He did not know. He announced this truth ingenuously—
"I don't know—I—"
"I sh'd think not!" said his father. "D'ye think architecting'll be any better than this?" 'This' meant printing.
"I don't know—"
"Ye don't know! Ye don't know!" Darius repeated testily. His testiness was only like foam on the great wave of his resentment.
"Mr Orgreave—" Edwin began. It was unfortunate, because Darius had had a difficulty with Mr Orgreave, who was notoriously somewhat exacting in the matter of prices.
"Don't talk to me about Mester Orgreave!" Darius almost shouted.
Edwin didn't. He said to himself: "I am lost."
"What's this business o' mine for, if it isna' for you?" asked his father. "Architecting! There's neither sense nor reason in it! Neither sense nor reason!"
He rose and walked out. Edwin was now sobbing. In a moment his father returned, and stood in the doorway.
"Ye've been doing well, I'll say that, and I've shown it! I was beginning to have hopes of ye!" It was a great deal to say.
"Perhaps if I hadn't stopped his damned old machine from going through the floor, he'd have let me off!" Edwin muttered bitterly. "I've been too good, that's what's the matter with me!"
He saw how fantastic was the whole structure of his hopes. He wondered that he had ever conceived it even wildly possible that his father would consent to architecture as a career! To ask it was to ask absurdly too much of fate. He demolished, with a violent and resentful impulse, the structure of his hopes; stamped on it angrily. He was beaten. What could he do? He could do nothing against his father. He could no more change his father than the course of a river. He was beaten. He saw his case in its true light.
Mrs Nixon entered to clear the table. He turned away to hide his face, and strode passionately off. Two hours elapsed before he appeared in the shop. Nobody asked for him, but Mrs Nixon knew he was in the attic. At noon, Maggie, with a peculiar look, told him that Auntie Hamps had called and that he was to go and have dinner with her at one o'clock, and that his father consented. Obviously, Maggie knew the facts of the day. He was perturbed at the prospect of the visit. But he was glad; he thought he could not have lived through a dinner at the same table as Clara. He guessed that his auntie had been made aware of the situation and wished to talk to him.
"Your father came to see me in such a state last night!" said Auntie Hamps, after she had dealt with his frightful cold.
Edwin was astonished by the news. Then after all his father had been afraid! ... After all perhaps he had yielded too soon! If he had held out... If he had not been a baby! ... But it was too late. The incident was now closed.
Mrs Hamps was kind, but unusually firm in her tone; which reached a sort of benevolent severity.
"Your father had such high hopes of you. Has—I should say. He couldn't imagine what on earth possessed you to write such a letter. And I'm sure I can't. I hope you're sorry. If you'd seen your father last night you would be, I'm sure."
"But look here, auntie," Edwin defended himself, sneezing and wiping his nose; and he spoke of his desire. Surely he was entitled to ask, to suggest! A son could not be expected to be exactly like his father. And so on.
No! no! She brushed all that aside. She scarcely listened to it.
"But think of the business! And just think of your father's feelings!"
Edwin spoke no more. He saw that she was absolutely incapable of putting herself in his place. He could not have explained her attitude by saying that she had the vast unconscious cruelty which always goes with a perfect lack of imagination; but this was the explanation. He left her, saddened by the obvious conclusion that his auntie, whom he had always supported against his sisters, was part author of his undoing. She had undoubtedly much strengthened his father against him. He had a gleam of suspicion that his sisters had been right, and he wrong, about Mrs Hamps. Wonderful, the cruel ruthless insight of girls—into some things!
Not till Saturday did the atmosphere of the Clayhanger household resume the normal. But earlier than that Edwin had already lost his resentment. It disappeared with his cold. He could not continue to bear ill-will. He accepted his destiny of immense disappointment. He shouldered it. You may call him weak or you may call him strong. Maggie said nothing to him of the great affair. What could she have said? And the affair was so great that even Clara did not dare to exercise upon it her peculiar faculties of ridicule. It abashed her by its magnitude.
On Saturday Darius said to his son, good-humouredly—
"Canst be trusted to pay wages?"
At one o'clock he went across the yard to the printing office with a little bag of money. The younger apprentice was near the door scrubbing type with potash to cleanse it. The backs of his hands were horribly raw and bleeding with chaps, due to the frequent necessity of washing them in order to serve the machines, and the impossibility of drying them properly. Still, winter was ending now, and he only worked eleven hours a day, in an airy room, instead of nineteen hours in a cellar, like the little boy from the Bastille. He was a fortunate youth. The journeyman stood idle; as often, on Saturdays, the length of the journeyman's apron had been reduced by deliberate tearing during the week from three feet to about a foot—so imperious and sudden was the need for rags in the processes of printing. Big James was folding up his apron. They all saw that Edwin had the bag, and their faces relaxed.
"You're as good as the master now, Mr Edwin," said Big James with ceremonious politeness and a fine gesture, when Edwin had finished paying.
"Am I?" he rejoined simply.
Everybody knew of the great affair. Big James's words were his gentle intimation to Edwin that every one knew the great affair was now settled.
That night, for the first time, Edwin could read "Notre Dame" with understanding and pleasure. He plunged with soft joy into the river of the gigantic and formidable narrative. He reflected that after all the sources of happiness were not exhausted.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER ONE.
BOOK TWO—HIS LOVE.
We now approach the more picturesque part of Edwin's career. Seven years passed. Towards the end of April 1880, on a Saturday morning, Janet Orgreave, second daughter of Osmond Orgreave, the architect, entered the Clayhanger shop.
All night an April shower lasting ten hours had beaten with persistent impetuosity against the window-panes of Bursley, and hence half the town had slept ill. But at breakfast-time the clouds had been mysteriously drawn away, the winds had expired, and those drenched streets began to dry under the caressing peace of bright soft sunshine; the sky was pale blue of a delicacy unknown to the intemperate climes of the south. Janet Orgreave, entering the Clayhanger shop, brought into it with her the new morning weather. She also brought into it Edwin's fate, or part of it, but not precisely in the sense commonly understood when the word 'fate' is mentioned between a young man and a young woman.
A youth stood at the left-hand or 'fancy' counter, very nervous. Miss Ingamells (that was) was married and the mother of three children, and had probably forgotten the difference between 'demy' and 'post' octavos; and this youth had taken her place and the place of two unsatisfactory maids in black who had succeeded her. None but males were now employed in the Clayhanger business, and everybody breathed more freely; round, sound oaths were heard where never oaths had been heard before. The young man's name was Stifford, and he was addressed as 'Stiff.' He was a proof of the indiscretion of prophesying about human nature. He had been the paper boy, the minion of Edwin, and universally regarded as unreliable and almost worthless. But at sixteen a change had come over him; he parted his hair in the middle instead of at the side, arrived in the morning at 7:59 instead of at 8:05, and seemed to see the earnestness of life. Every one was glad and relieved, but every one took the change as a matter of course; the attitude of every one to the youth was: "Well, it's not too soon!" No one saw a romantic miracle.
"I suppose you haven't got 'The Light of Asia' in stock?" began Janet Orgreave, after she had greeted the youth kindly.
"I'm afraid we haven't, miss," said Stifford. This was an understatement. He knew beyond fear that "The Light of Asia" was not in stock.
"Oh!" murmured Janet.
"I think you said 'The Light of Asia'?"
"Yes. 'The Light of Asia,' by Edwin Arnold." Janet had a persuasive humane smile.
Stifford was anxious to have the air of obliging this smile, and he turned round to examine a shelf of prize books behind him, well aware that "The Light of Asia" was not among them. He knew "The Light of Asia," and was proud of his knowledge; that is to say, he knew by visible and tactual evidence that such a book existed, for it had been ordered and supplied as a Christmas present four months previously, soon after its dazzling apparition in the world.
"Yes, by Edwin Arnold—Edwin Arnold," he muttered learnedly, running his finger along gilded backs.
"It's being talked about a great deal," said Janet as if to encourage him.
"Yes, it is... No, I'm very sorry, we haven't it in stock." Stifford faced her again, and leaned his hands wide apart on the counter.
"I should like you to order it for me," said Janet Orgreave in a low voice.
She asked this exactly as though she were asking a personal favour from Stifford the private individual. Such was Janet's way. She could not help it. People often said that her desire to please, and her methods of pleasing, were unconscious. These people were wrong. She was perfectly conscious and even deliberate in her actions. She liked to please. She could please easily and she could please keenly. Therefore she strove always to please. Sometimes, when she looked in the mirror, and saw that charming, good-natured face with its rich vermilion lips eager to part in a nice, warm, sympathetic smile, she could accuse herself of being too fond of the art of pleasing. For she was a conscientious girl, and her age being twenty-five her soul was at its prime, full, bursting with beautiful impulses towards perfection. Yes, she would accuse herself of being too happy, too content, and would wonder whether she ought not to seek heaven by some austerity of scowling. Janet had everything: a kind disposition, some brains, some beauty, considerable elegance and luxury for her station, fine shoulders at a ball, universal love and esteem.
Stifford, as he gazed diffidently at this fashionable, superior, and yet exquisitely beseeching woman on the other side of the counter, was in a very unpleasant quandary. She had by her magic transformed him into a private individual, and he acutely wanted to earn that smile which she was giving him. But he could not. He was under the obligation to say 'No' to her innocent and delightful request; and yet could he say 'No'? Could he bring himself to desolate her by a refusal? (She had produced in him the illusion that a refusal would indeed desolate her, though she would of course bear it with sweet fortitude.) Business was a barbaric thing at times.
"The fact is, miss," he said at length, in his best manner, "Mr Clayhanger has decided to give up the new book business. I'm very sorry."
Had it been another than Janet he would have assuredly said with pride: "We have decided—"
"Really!" said Janet. "I see!"
Then Stifford directed his eyes upon a square glazed structure of ebonised wood that had been insinuated and inserted into the opposite corner of the shop, behind the ledger-window. And Janet's eyes followed his.
"I don't know if—" he hesitated.
"Is Mr Clayhanger in?" she demanded, as if wishful to help him in the formulation of his idea, and she added: "Or Mr Edwin?" Deliciously persuasive!
The wooden structure was a lair. It had been constructed to hold Darius Clayhanger; but in practice it generally held Edwin, as his father's schemes for the enlargement of the business carried him abroad more and more. It was a device of Edwin's for privacy; Edwin had planned it and seen the plan executed. The theory was that a person concealed in the structure (called 'the office') was not technically in the shop and must not be disturbed by anyone in the shop. Only persons of authority— Darius and Edwin—had the privilege of the office, and since its occupant could hear every whisper in the shop, it was always for the occupant to decide when events demanded that he should emerge.
On Janet's entrance, Edwin was writing in the daybook: "April 11th. Turnhill Oddfellows. 400 Contrib. Cards—" He stopped writing. He held himself still like a startled mouse. With satisfaction he observed that the door of the fortress was closed. By putting his nose near the crystal wall he could see, through the minute transparent portions of the patterned glass, without being seen. He watched Janet's graceful gestures, and examined with pleasure the beauties of her half-season toilet; he discerned the modishness of her umbrella handle. His sensations were agreeable and yet disagreeable, for he wished both to remain where he was and to go forth and engage her in brilliant small talk. He had no small talk, except that of the salesman and the tradesman; his tongue knew not freedom; but his fancy dreamed of light, intellectual conversations with fine girls. These dreams of fancy had of late become almost habitual, for the sole reason that he had raised his hat several times to Janet, and once had shaken hands with her and said, "How d'you do, Miss Orgreave?" in response to her "How d'you do, Mr Clayhanger?" Osmond Orgreave, in whom had originated their encounter, had cut across the duologue at that point and spoilt it. But Edwin's fancy had continued it, when he was alone late at night, in a very diverting and witty manner. And now, he had her at his disposal; he had only to emerge, and Stiff would deferentially recede, and he could chat with her at ease, starting comfortably from "The Light of Asia." And yet he dared not; his faint heart told him in loud beats that he could only chat cleverly with a fine girl when absolutely alone in his room, in the dark.
Still, he surveyed her; he added her up; he pronounced, with a touch of conventional male patronage (caught possibly from the Liberal Club), that Janet was indubitably a nice girl and a fine girl. He would not admit that he was afraid of her, and that despite all theoretical argufying, he deemed her above him in rank.
And if he had known the full truth, he might have regretted that he had not caused the lair to be furnished with a trap-door by means of which the timid could sink into the earth.
The truth was that Janet had called purposely to inspect Edwin at leisure. "The Light of Asia" was a mere poetical pretext. "The Light of Asia" might as easily have been ordered at Hanbridge, where her father and brothers ordered all their books—in fact, more easily. Janet, with all her niceness, with all the reality of her immense good-nature, loved as well as anybody a bit of chicane where a man was concerned. Janet's eyes could twinkle as mischievously as her quiet mother's. Mr Orgreave having in the last eight months been in professional relations with Darius and Edwin, the Orgreave household had begun discussing Edwin again. Mr Orgreave spoke of him favourably. Mrs Orgreave said that he looked the right sort of youth, but that he had a peculiar manner. Janet said that she should not be surprised if there was something in him. Janet said also that his sister Clara was an impossible piece of goods, and that his sister Maggie was born an old maid. One of her brothers then said that that was just what was the matter with Edwin too! Mr Orgreave protested that he wasn't so sure of that, and that occasionally Edwin would say things that were really rather good. This stimulated Mrs Orgreave's curiosity, and she suggested that her husband should invite the young man to their house. Whereupon Mr Orgreave pessimistically admitted that he did not think Edwin could be enticed. And Janet, piqued, said, "If that's all, I'll have him here in a week." They were an adventurous family, always ready for anything, always on the look-out for new sources of pleasure, full of zest in life. They liked novelties, and hospitality was their chief hobby. They made fun of nearly every body, but it was not mean fun.
Such, and not "The Light of Asia," was the cause of Janet's visit.
Be it said to Edwin's shame that she would have got no further with the family plot that morning, had it not been for the chivalry of Stifford. Having allowed his eyes to rest on the lair, Stifford allowed his memory to forget the rule of the shop, and left the counter for the door of the lair, determined that Miss Orgreave should see the genuineness of his anxiety to do his utmost for so sympathetic a woman. Edwin, perceiving the intention from his lair, had to choose whether he would go out or be fetched out. Of course he preferred to go out. But he would never have gone out on his own initiative; he would have hesitated until Janet had departed, and he would then have called himself a fool. He regretted, and I too regret, that he was like that; but like that he was.
He emerged with nervous abruptness.
"Oh, how d'you do, Miss Orgreave?" he said; "I thought it was your voice." After this he gave a little laugh, which meant nothing, certainly not amusement; it was merely a gawky habit that he had unconsciously adopted. Then he took his handkerchief out of his pocket and put it back again. Stifford fell back and had to pretend that nothing interested him less than the interview which he had precipitated.
"How d'you do, Mr Clayhanger?" said Janet.
They shook hands. Edwin wrung Janet's hand; another gawky habit.
"I was just going to order a book," said Janet.
"Oh yes! 'The Light of Asia,'" said Edwin.
"Have you read it?" Janet asked.
"Yes—that is, a lot of it."
"Have you?" exclaimed Janet. She was impressed, because really the perusal of verse was not customary in the town. And her delightful features showed generously the full extent to which she was impressed: an honest, ungrudging appreciation of Edwin's studiousness. She said to herself: "Oh! I must certainly get him to the house." And Edwin said to himself, "No mistake, there's something very genuine about this girl."
Edwin said aloud quickly, from an exaggerated apprehensiveness lest she should be rating him too high—
"It was quite an accident that I saw it. I never read that sort of thing—not as a rule." He laughed again.
"Is it worth buying?" Now she appealed to him as an authority. She could not help doing so, and in doing so she was quite honest, for her good-nature had momentarily persuaded her that he was an authority.
"I—I don't know," Edwin answered, moving his neck as though his collar was not comfortable; but it was comfortable, being at least a size too large. "It depends, you know. If you read a lot of poetry, it's worth buying. But if you don't, it isn't. It's not Tennyson, you know. See what I mean?"
"Yes, quite!" said Janet, smiling with continued and growing appreciation. The reply struck her as very sagacious. She suddenly saw in a new light her father's hints that there was something in this young man not visible to everybody. She had a tremendous respect for her father's opinion, and now she reproached herself in that she had not attached due importance to what he had said about Edwin. "How right father always is!" she thought. Her attitude of respect for Edwin was now more securely based upon impartial intelligence than before; it owed less to her weakness for seeing the best in people. As for Edwin, he was saying to himself: "I wish to the devil I could talk to her without spluttering! Why can't I be natural? Why can't I be glib? Some chaps could." And Edwin could be, with some chaps.
They were standing close together in the shop, Janet and Edwin, near the cabinet of artists' materials. Janet, after her manner at once frank and reassuring, examined Edwin; she had come on purpose to examine him. She had never been able to decide whether or not he was good-looking, and she could not decide now. But she liked the appeal in his eyes. She did not say to herself that there was an appeal in his eyes; she said that there was 'something in his eyes.' Also he was moderately tall and he was slim. She said to herself that he must be very well shaped. Beginning at the bottom, his boots were clumsy, his trousers were baggy and even shiny, and they had transverse creases, not to be seen in the trousers of her own menkind; his waistcoat showed plainly the forms of every article in the pockets thereof—watch, penknife, pencil, etcetera, it was obvious that he never emptied his pockets at night; his collar was bluish-white instead of white, and its size was monstrous; his jacket had 'worked up' at the back of his neck, completely hiding his collar there; the side-pockets of his jacket were weighted and bulged with mysterious goods; his fair hair was rough but not curly; he had a moustache so trifling that one could not be sure whether it was a moustache or whether he had been too busy to think of shaving. Janet received all these facts into her brain, and then carelessly let them all slip out again, in her preoccupation with his eyes. She said they were sad eyes. The mouth, too, was somewhat sad (she thought), but there was a drawing down of the corners of it that seemed to make gentle fun of its sadness. Janet, perhaps out of her good-nature, liked his restless, awkward movements and the gesture of his hands, of which the articulations were too prominent, and the finger-nails too short.
"Tom reads rather a lot of poetry," said Janet. "That's my eldest brother."
"That might justify you," said Edwin doubtfully.
They both laughed. And as with Janet, so with Edwin, when he laughed, all the kindest and honestest part of him seemed to rise into his face.
"But if you don't supply new books any more?"
"Oh!" Edwin stuttered, blushing slightly. "That's nothing. I shall be very pleased to get it for you specially, Miss Orgreave. It's father that decided—only last month—that the new book business was more trouble than it's worth. It was—in a way; but I'm sorry, myself, we've given it up, poor as it was. Of course there are no book-buyers in this town, especially now old Lawton's dead. But still, what with one thing or another, there was generally some book on order, and I used to see them. Of course there's no money in it. But still... Father says that people buy less books than they used to—but he's wrong there." Edwin spoke with calm certainty. "I've shown him he's wrong by our order-book, but he wouldn't see it." Edwin smiled, with a general mild indulgence for fathers.
"Well," said Janet, "I'll ask Tom first."
"No trouble whatever to us to order it for you, I assure you. I can get it down by return of post."
"It's very good of you," said Janet, genuinely persuading herself for the moment that Edwin was quite exceeding the usual bounds of complaisance.
She moved to depart.
"Father told me to tell you if I saw you that the glazing will be all finished this morning," said she.
"Up yonder?" Edwin jerked his head to indicate the south.
And Janet delicately confirmed his assumption with a slight declension of her waving hat.
"Oh! Good!" Edwin murmured.
Janet held out her hand, to be wrung again, and assured him of her gratitude for his offer of taking trouble about the book; and he assured her that it would not be trouble but pleasure. He accompanied her to the doorway.
"I think I must come up and have a look at that glazing this afternoon," he said, as she stood on the pavement.
She nodded, smiling benevolence and appreciation, and departed round the corner in the soft sunshine.
Edwin put on a stern, casual expression for the benefit of Stifford, as who should say: "What a trial these frivolous girls are to a man immersed in affairs!" But Stifford was not deceived. Safe within his lair, Edwin was conscious of quite a disturbing glow. He smiled to himself—a little self-consciously, though alone. Then he scribbled down in pencil "Light of Asia. Miss J. Orgreave."
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER TWO.
FATHER AND SON AFTER SEVEN YEARS.
Darius came heavily, and breathing heavily, into the little office.
"Now as all this racketing's over," he said crossly—he meant by 'racketing' the general election which had just put the Liberal party into power—"I'll thank ye to see as all that red and blue ink is cleaned off the rollers and slabs, and the types cleaned too. I've told 'em ten times if I've told 'em once, but as far as I can make out, they've done naught to it yet."
Edwin grunted without looking up.
His father was now a fattish man, and he had aged quite as much as Edwin. Some of his scanty hair was white; the rest was grey. White hair sprouted about his ears; gold gleamed in his mouth; and a pair of spectacles hung insecurely balanced half-way down his nose; his waistcoat seemed to be stretched tightly over a perfectly smooth hemisphere. He had an air of somewhat gross and prosperous untidiness. Except for the teeth, his bodily frame appeared to have fallen into disrepair, as though he had ceased to be interested in it, as though he had been using it for a long time as a mere makeshift lodging. And this impression was more marked at table; he ate exactly as if throwing food to a wild animal concealed somewhere within the hemisphere, an animal which was never seen, but which rumbled threateningly from time to time in its dark dungeon.
Of all this, Edwin had definitely noticed nothing save that his father was 'getting stouter.' To Edwin, Darius was exactly the same father, and for Darius, Edwin was still aged sixteen. They both of them went on living on the assumption that the world had stood still in those seven years between 1873 and 1880. If they had been asked what had happened during those seven years, they would have answered: "Oh, nothing particular!"
But the world had been whizzing ceaselessly from one miracle into another. Board schools had been opened in Bursley, wondrous affairs, with ventilation; indeed ventilation had been discovered. A Jew had been made Master of the Rolls: a spectacle at which England shivered, and then, perceiving no sign of disaster, shrugged its shoulders. Irish members had taught the House of Commons how to talk for twenty-four hours without a pause. The wages of the agricultural labourer had sprung into the air and leaped over the twelve shilling bar into regions of opulence. Moody and Sankey had found and conquered England for Christ. Landseer and Livingstone had died, and the provinces could not decide whether "Dignity and Impudence" or the penetration of Africa was the more interesting feat. Herbert Spencer had published his "Study of Sociology"; Matthew Arnold his "Literature and Dogma"; and Frederic Farrar his Life of his Lord; but here the provinces had no difficulty in deciding, for they had only heard of the last. Every effort had been made to explain by persuasion and by force to the working man that trade unions were inimical to his true welfare, and none had succeeded, so stupid was he. The British Army had been employed to put reason into the noddle of a town called Northampton which was furious because an atheist had not been elected to Parliament. Pullman cars, "The Pirates of Penzance," Henry Irving's "Hamlet," spelling-bees, and Captain Webb's channel swim had all proved that there were novelties under the sun. Bishops, archbishops, and dissenting ministers had met at Lambeth to inspect the progress of irreligious thought, with intent to arrest it. Princes and dukes had conspired to inaugurate the most singular scheme that ever was, the Kyrle Society,—for bringing beauty home to the people by means of decorative art, gardening, and music. The Bulgarian Atrocities had served to give new life to all penny gaffs and blood-tubs. The "Eurydice" and the "Princess Alice" had foundered in order to demonstrate the uncertainty of existence and the courage of the island-race. The "Nineteenth Century" had been started, a little late in the day, and the "Referee." Ireland had all but died of hunger, but had happily been saved to enjoy the benefits of Coercion. The Young Men's Christian Association had been born again in the splendour of Exeter Hall. Bursley itself had entered on a new career as a chartered borough, with Mayor, alderman, and councillors, all in chains of silver. And among the latest miracles were Northampton's success in sending the atheist to Parliament, the infidelity of the Tay Bridge three days after Christmas, the catastrophe of Majuba Hill, and the discovery that soldiers objected to being flogged into insensibility for a peccadillo.
But, in spite of numerous attempts, nobody had contrived to make England see that her very existence would not be threatened if museums were opened on Sunday, or that Nonconformists might be buried according to their own rites without endangering the constitution.
Darius was possibly a little uneasy in his mind about the world. Possibly there had just now begun to form in his mind the conviction, in which most men die, that all was not quite well with the world, and that in particular his native country had contracted a fatal malady since he was a boy.
He was a printer, and yet the General Election had not put sunshine in his heart. And this was strange, for a general election is the brief millennium of printers, especially of steam-printers who for dispatch can beat all rivals. During a general election the question put by a customer to a printer is not, "How much will it be?" but "How soon can I have it?" There was no time for haggling about price; and indeed to haggle about price would have been unworthy, seeing that every customer (ordinary business being at a standstill), was engaged in the salvation of England. Darius was a Liberal, but a quiet one, and he was patronised by both political parties—blue and red. As a fact, neither party could have done without him. His printing office had clattered and thundered early and late, and more than once had joined the end of one day's work to the beginning of another; and more than once had Big James with his men and his boy (a regiment increased since 1873), stood like plotters muttering in the yard at five minutes to twelve on Sunday evening, waiting for midnight to sound, and Big James had unlocked the door of the office on the new-born Monday, and work had instantly commenced to continue till Monday was nearly dead of old age.
Once only had work been interrupted, and that was on a day when, a lot of 'blue jobs' being about, a squad of red fire-eaters had come up the back alley with intent to answer arguments by thwackings and wreckings; but the obstinacy of an oak door had fatigued them. The staff had enjoyed that episode. Every member of it was well paid for overtime. Darius could afford to pay conscientiously. In the printing trade, prices were steadier then than they are now. But already the discovery of competition was following upon the discovery of ventilation. Perhaps Darius sniffed it from a distance, and was disturbed thereby.
For though he was a Liberal in addition to being a printer, and he had voted Liberal, and his party had won, yet the General Election had not put sunshine in his heart. No! The tendencies of England worried him. When he read in a paper about the heretical tendencies of Robertson Smith's Biblical articles in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," he said to himself that they were of a piece with the rest, and that such things were to be expected in those modern days, and that matters must have come to a pretty pass when even the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" was infected. (Still, he had sold a copy of the new edition.) He was exceedingly bitter against Ireland; and also, in secret, behind Big James's back, against trade unions. When Edwin came home one night and announced that he had joined the Bursley Liberal Club, Darius lost his temper. Yet he was a member of the club himself. He gave no reason for his fury, except that it was foolish for a tradesman to mix himself up with politics. Edwin, however, had developed a sudden interest in politics, and had made certain promises of clerical aid, which promises he kept, saying nothing more to his father. Darius's hero was Sir Robert Peel, simply because Sir Robert Peel had done away with the Corn Laws. Darius had known England before and after the repeal of the Corn Laws, and the difference between the two Englands was so strikingly dramatic to him that he desired no further change. He had only one date—1846. His cup had been filled then. Never would he forget the scenes of anguishing joy that occurred at midnight of the day before the new Act became operative. From that moment he had finished with progress... If Edwin could only have seen those memories, shining in layers deep in his father's heart, and hidden now by all sorts of Pliocene deposits, he would have understood his father better. But Edwin did not see into his father's heart at all, nor even into his head. When he looked at his father he saw nothing but an ugly, stertorous old man (old, that is, to Edwin), with a peculiar and incalculable way of regarding things and a temper of growing capriciousness.
Darius was breathing and fidgeting all over him as he sat bent at the desk. His presence overwhelmed every other physical phenomenon.
"What's this?" asked Darius, picking up the bit of paper on which Edwin had written the memorandum about "The Light of Asia."
Edwin explained, self-consciously, lamely.
When the barometer of Darius's temper was falling rapidly, there was a sign: a small spot midway on the bridge of his nose turned ivory-white. Edwin glanced upwards now to see if the sign was there, and it was. He flushed slightly and resumed his work.
Then Darius began.
"What did I tell ye?" he shouted. "What in the name of God's the use o' me telling ye things? Have I told ye not to take any more orders for books, or haven't I? Haven't I said over and over again that I want this shop to be known for wholesale?" He raved.
Stifford could hear. Any person who might chance to come into the shop would hear. But Darius cared neither for his own dignity nor for that of his son. He was in a passion. The real truth was that this celibate man, who never took alcohol, enjoyed losing his temper; it was his one outlet; he gave himself up almost luxuriously to a passion; he looked forward to it as some men look forward to brandy. And Edwin had never stopped him by some drastic step. At first, years before, Edwin had said to himself, trembling with resentment in his bedroom, "The next time, the very next time, he humiliates me like that in front of other people, I'll walk out of his damned house and shop, and I swear I won't come back until he's apologised. I'll bring him to his senses. He can't do without me. Once for all I'll stop it. What! He forces me into his business, and then insults me!"
But Edwin had never done it. Always, it was 'the very next time'! Edwin was not capable of doing it. His father had a sort of moral brute-force, against which he could not stand firm. He soon recognised this, with his intellectual candour. Then he had tried to argue with Darius, to 'make him see'! Worse than futile! Argument simply put Darius beside himself. So that in the end Edwin employed silence and secret scorn, as a weapon and as a defence. And somehow without a word he conveyed to Stifford and to Big James precisely what his attitude in these crises was, so that he retained their respect and avoided their pity. The outbursts still wounded him, but he was wonderfully inured.
As he sat writing under the onslaught, he said to himself, "By God! If ever I get the chance, I'll pay you out for this some day!" And he meant it. A peep into his mind, then, would have startled Janet Orgreave, Mrs Nixon, and other persons who had a cult for the wistfulness of his appealing eyes.
He steadily maintained silence, and the conflagration burnt itself out.
"Are you going to look after the printing shop, or aren't you?" Darius growled at length.
Edwin rose and went. As he passed through the shop, Stifford, who had in him the raw material of fine manners, glanced down, but not too ostentatiously, at a drawer under the counter.
The printing office was more crowded than ever with men and matter. Some of the composing was now done on the ground-floor. The whole organism functioned, but under such difficulties as could not be allowed to continue, even by Darius Clayhanger. Darius had finally recognised that.
"Oh!" said Edwin, in a tone of confidential intimacy to Big James, "I see they're getting on with the cleaning! Good. Father's beginning to get impatient, you know. It's the bigger cases that had better be done first."
"Right it is, Mr Edwin!" said Big James. The giant was unchanged. No sign of grey in his hair; and his cheek was smooth, apparently his philosophy put him beyond the touch of time.
"I say, Mr Edwin," he inquired in his majestic voice. "When are we going to rearrange all this?" He gazed around.
Edwin laughed. "Soon," he said.
"Won't be too soon," said Big James.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER THREE.
THE NEW HOUSE.
A house stood on a hill. And that hill was Bleakridge, the summit of the little billow of land between Bursley and Hanbridge. Trafalgar Road passed over the crest of the billow. Bleakridge was certainly not more than a hundred feet higher than Bursley; yet people were now talking a lot about the advantages of living 'up' at Bleakridge, 'above' the smoke, and 'out' of the town, though it was not more than five minutes from the Duck Bank. To hear them talking, one might have fancied that Bleakridge was away in the mountains somewhere. The new steam-cars would pull you up there in three minutes or so, every quarter of an hour. It was really the new steam-cars that were to be the making of Bleakridge as a residential suburb. It had also been predicted that even Hanbridge men would come to live at Bleakridge now. Land was changing owners at Bleakridge, and rising in price. Complete streets of lobbied cottages grew at angles from the main road with the rapidity of that plant which pushes out strangling branches more quickly than a man can run. And these lobbied cottages were at once occupied. Cottage-property in the centre of the town depreciated.
The land fronting the main road was destined not for cottages, but for residences, semi-detached or detached. Osmond Orgreave had a good deal of this land under his control. He did not own it, he hawked it. Like all provincial, and most London, architects, he was a land-broker in addition to being an architect. Before obtaining a commission to build a house, he frequently had to create the commission himself by selling a convenient plot, and then persuading the purchaser that if he wished to retain the respect of the community he must put on the plot a house worthy of the plot. The Orgreave family all had expensive tastes, and it was Osmond Orgreave's task to find most of the money needed for the satisfaction of those tastes. He always did find it, because the necessity was upon him, but he did not always find it easily. Janet would say sometimes, "We mustn't be so hard on father this month; really, lately we've never seen him with his cheque-book out of his hand." Undoubtedly the clothes on Janet's back were partly responsible for the celerity with which building land at Bleakridge was 'developed,' just after the installation of steam-cars in Trafalgar Road.
Mr Orgreave sold a corner plot to Darius. He had had his eye on Darius for a long time before he actually shot him down; but difficulties connected with the paring of estimates for printing had somewhat estranged them. Orgreave had had to smooth out these difficulties, offer to provide a portion of the purchase money on mortgage from another client, produce a plan for a new house that surpassed all records of cheapness, produce a plan for the transforming of Darius's present residence into business premises, talk poetically about the future of printing in the Five Towns, and lastly, demonstrate by digits that Darius would actually save money by becoming a property-owner—he had had to do all this, and more, before Darius would buy.
The two were regular cronies for about a couple of months—that is to say, between the payment of the preliminary deposit and the signing of the contract for building the house. But, the contract signed, their relations were once more troubled. Orgreave had nothing to fear, then, and besides, he was using his diplomacy elsewhere. The house went up to an accompaniment of scenes in which only the proprietor was irate. Osmond Orgreave could not be ruffled; he could not be deprived of his air of having done a favour to Darius Clayhanger; his social and moral superiority, his real aloofness, remained absolutely unimpaired. The clear image of him as a fine gentleman was never dulled nor distorted even in the mind of Darius. Nevertheless Darius 'hated the sight' of the house ere the house was roofed in. But this did not diminish his pride in the house. He wished he had never 'set eyes on' Osmond Orgreave. Yes! But the little boy from the Bastille was immensely content at the consequences of having set eyes on Osmond Orgreave. The little boy from the Bastille was achieving the supreme peak of greatness—he was about to live away from business. Soon he would be 'going down to business' of a morning. Soon he would be receiving two separate demand-notes for rates. Soon he would be on a plane with the vainest earthenware manufacturer of them all. Ages ago he had got as far as a house with a lobby to it. Now, it would be a matter of two establishments. Beneath all his discontents, moodiness, temper, and biliousness, lay this profound satisfaction of the little boy from the Bastille.
Moreover, in any case, he would have been obliged to do something heroic, if only to find the room more and more imperiously demanded by his printing business.
On the Saturday afternoon of Janet Orgreave's visit to the shop, Edwin went up to Bleakridge to inspect the house, and in particular the coloured 'lights' in the upper squares of the drawing-room and dining-room windows. He had a key to the unpainted front door, and having climbed over various obstacles and ascended an inclined bending plank, he entered and stood in the square hall of the deserted, damp, and inchoate structure.
The house was his father's only in name. In emotional fact it was Edwin's house, because he alone was capable of possessing it by enjoying it. To Darius, to Bursley in general, it was just a nice house, of red brick with terra-cotta facings and red tiles, in the second-Victorian Style, the style that had broken away from Georgian austerity and first-Victorian stucco and smugness, and wandered off vaguely into nothing in particular. To the plebeian in Darius it was of course grandiose, and vast; to Edwin also, in a less degree. But to Edwin it was not a house, it was a work of art, it was an epic poem, it was an emanation of the soul. He did not realise this. He did not realise how the house had informed his daily existence. All that he knew about himself in relation to the house was that he could not keep away from it. He went and had a look at it, nearly every morning before breakfast, when the workmen were fresh and lyrical.
When the news came down to the younger generation that Darius had bought land and meant to build on the land, Edwin had been profoundly moved between apprehension and hope; his condition had been one of simple but intense expectant excitement. He wondered what his own status would be in the great enterprise of house-building. All depended on Mr Orgreave. Would Mr Orgreave, of whom he had seen scarcely anything in seven years, remember that he was intelligently interested in architecture? Or would Mr Orgreave walk right over him and talk exclusively to his father? He had feared, he had had a suspicion, that Mr Orgreave was an inconstant man.
Mr Orgreave had remembered in the handsomest way. When the plans were being discussed, Mr Orgreave with one word, a tone, a glance, had raised Edwin to the consultative level of his father. He had let Darius see that Edwin was in his opinion worthy to take part in discussions, and quite privately he had let Edwin see that Darius must not be treated too seriously. Darius, who really had no interest in ten thousand exquisitely absorbing details, had sometimes even said, with impatience, "Oh! Settle it how you like, with Edwin."
Edwin's own suggestions never seemed very brilliant, and Mr Orgreave was always able to prove to him that they were inadvisable; but they were never silly, like most of his father's. And he acquired leading ideas that transformed his whole attitude towards architecture. For example, he had always looked on a house as a front-wall diversified by doors and windows, with rooms behind it. But when Mr Orgreave produced his first notions for the new house Edwin was surprised to find that he had not even sketched the front. He had said, "We shall be able to see what the elevation looks like when we've decided the plan a bit." And Edwin saw in a flash that the front of a house was merely the expression of the inside of it, merely a result, almost accidental. And he was astounded and disgusted that he, with his professed love of architecture and his intermittent study of it, had not perceived this obvious truth for himself. He never again looked at a house in the old irrational way.
Then, when examining the preliminary sketch-plan, he had put his finger on a square space and asked what room that was. "That isn't a room; that's the hall," said Mr Orgreave. "But it's square!" Edwin exclaimed. He thought that in houses (houses to be lived in) the hall or lobby must necessarily be long and narrow. Now suddenly he saw no reason why a hall should not be square. Mr Orgreave had made no further remark about halls at the time, but another day, without any preface, he re-opened the subject to Edwin, in a tone good-naturedly informing, and when he had done Edwin could see that the shape of the hall depended on the shape of the house, and that halls had only been crushed and pulled into something long and narrow because the disposition of houses absolutely demanded this ugly negation of the very idea of a hall. Again, he had to begin to think afresh, to see afresh. He conceived a real admiration for Osmond Orgreave; not more for his original and yet common-sense manner of regarding things, than for his aristocratic deportment, his equality to every situation, and his extraordinary skill in keeping his dignity and his distance during encounters with Darius. (At the same time, when Darius would grumble savagely that Osmond Orgreave 'was too clever by half,' Edwin could not deny that.) Edwin's sisters got a good deal of Mr Orgreave, through Edwin; he could never keep Mr Orgreave very long to himself. He gave away a great deal of Mr Orgreave's wisdom without mentioning the origin of the gift. Thus occasionally Clara would say cuttingly, "I know where you've picked that up. You've picked that up from Mr Orgreave." The young man Benbow to whom the infant Clara had been so queerly engaged, also received from Edwin considerable quantities of Mr Orgreave. But the fellow was only a decent, dull, pushing, successful ass, and quite unable to assimilate Mr Orgreave; Edwin could never comprehend how Clara, so extremely difficult to please, so carping and captious, could mate herself to a fellow like Benbow. She had done so, however; they were recently married. Edwin was glad that that was over; for it had disturbed him in his attentions to the house.
When the house began to 'go up,' Edwin lived in an ecstasy of contemplation. I say with deliberateness an 'ecstasy.' He had seen houses go up before; he knew that houses were constructed brick by brick, beam by beam, lath by lath, tile by tile; he knew that they did not build themselves. And yet, in the vagueness of his mind, he had never imaginatively realised that a house was made with hands, and hands that could err. With its exact perpendiculars and horizontals, its geometric regularities, and its Chinese preciseness of fitting, a house had always seemed to him—again in the vagueness of his mind—as something superhuman. The commonest cornice, the most ordinary pillar of a staircase-balustrade—could that have been accomplished in its awful perfection of line and contour by a human being? How easy to believe that it was 'not made with hands'!
But now he saw. He had to see. He saw a hole in the ground, with water at the bottom, and the next moment that hole was a cellar; not an amateur cellar, a hole that would do at a pinch for a cellar, but a professional cellar. He appreciated the brains necessary to put a brick on another brick, with just the right quantity of mortar in between. He thought the house would never get itself done—one brick at a time—and each brick cost a farthing—slow, careful; yes, and even finicking. But soon the bricklayers had to stand on plank-platforms in order to reach the raw top of the wall that was ever rising above them. The measurements, the rulings, the plumbings, the checkings! He was humbled and he was enlightened. He understood that a miracle is only the result of miraculous patience, miraculous nicety, miraculous honesty, miraculous perseverance. He understood that there was no golden and magic secret of building. It was just putting one brick on another and against another—but to a hair's breadth. It was just like anything else. For instance, printing! He saw even printing in a new light.
And when the first beams were bridged across two walls...
The funny thing was that the men's fingers were thicky and clumsy. Never could such fingers pick up a pin! And still they would manoeuvre a hundredweight of timber to a pin's point.
He stood at the drawing-room bay-window (of which each large pane had been marked with the mystic sign of a white circle by triumphant glaziers), and looked across the enclosed fragment of clayey field that ultimately would be the garden. The house was at the corner of Trafalgar Road and a side-street that had lobbied cottages down its slope. The garden was oblong, with its length parallel to Trafalgar Road, and separated from the pavement only by a high wall. The upper end of the garden was blocked by the first of three new houses which Osmond Orgreave was building in a terrace. These houses had their main fronts on the street; they were quite as commodious as the Clayhangers', but much inferior in garden-space; their bits of flower-plots lay behind them. And away behind their flower-plots, with double entrance-gates in another side street, stretched the grounds of Osmond Orgreave, his house in the sheltered middle thereof. He had got, cheaply, one of the older residential properties of the district, Georgian, of a recognisable style, relic of the days when manufacturers formed a class entirely apart from their operatives; even as far back as 1880 any operative might with luck become an employer. The south-east corner of the Clayhanger garden touched the north-west corner of the domains of Orgreave; for a few feet the two gardens were actually contiguous, with naught but an old untidy thorn hedge between them; this hedge was to be replaced by a wall that would match the topmost of the lobbied cottages which bounded the view of the Clayhangers to the east.
From the bay-window Edwin could see over the hedge, and also through it, on to the croquet lawn of the Orgreaves. Croquet was then in its first avatar; nothing was more dashing than croquet. With rag-balls and home-made mallets the Clayhanger children had imitated croquet in their yard in the seventies. The Orgreaves played real croquet; one of them had shone in a tournament at Buxton. Edwin noticed a figure on the gravel between the lawn and the hedge. He knew it to be Janet, by the crimson frock. But he had no notion that Janet had stationed herself in that quarter with intent to waylay him. He could not have credited her with such a purpose. Nor could his modesty have believed that he was important enough to employ the talent of the Orgreaves for agreeable chicane. The fact was that Janet had been espying him for a quarter of an hour. When at length she waved her hand to him, it did not occur to him to suppose that she was waving her hand to him; he merely wondered what peculiar thing she was doing. Then he blushed as she waved again, and he knew first from the blood in his face that Janet was making a signal, and that it was to himself that the signal was directed: his body had told his mind; this was very odd.
Of course he was obliged to go out; and he went, muttering to himself.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER FOUR.
THE TWO GARDENS.
In the full beauty of the afternoon they stood together, only the scraggy hedge between them, he on grass-tufted clay, and she on orderly gravel.
"Well," said Janet, earnestly looking at him, "how do you like the effect of that window, now it's done?"
"Very nice!" he laughed nervously. "Very nice indeed!"
"Father said it was," she remarked. "I do hope Mr Clayhanger will like it too!" And her voice really was charged with sympathetic hope. It was as if she would be saddened and cast down if Darius did not approve the window. It was as if she fervently wished that Darius should not be disappointed with the window. The unskilled spectator might have assumed that anxiety for the success of the window would endanger her sleep at nights. She was perfectly sincere. Her power of emotional sympathy was all-embracing and inexhaustible. If she heard that an acquaintance of one of her acquaintances had lost a relative or broken a limb, she would express genuine deep concern, with a tremor of her honest and kindly voice. And if she heard the next moment that an acquaintance of one of her acquaintances had come into five thousand pounds or affianced himself to a sister-spirit, her eyes would sparkle with heartfelt joy and her hands clasp each other in sheer delight.
"Oh!" said Edwin, touched. "It'll be all right for the dad. No fear!"
"I haven't seen it yet," she proceeded. "In fact I haven't been in your house for such a long time. But I do think it's going to be very nice. All father's houses are so nice, aren't they?"
"Yes," said Edwin, with that sideways shake of the head that in the vocabulary of his gesture signified, not dissent, but emphatic assent. "You ought to come and have a look at it." He could not say less.
"Do you think I could scramble through here?" she indicated the sparse hedge.
"I know what I'll do. I'll get the steps." She walked off sedately, and came back with a small pair of steps, which she opened out on the narrow flower-bed under the hedge. Then she picked up her skirt and delicately ascended the rocking ladder till her feet were on a level with the top of the hedge. She smiled charmingly, savouring the harmless escapade, and gazing at Edwin. She put out her free hand, Edwin took it, and she jumped. The steps fell backwards, but she was safe.
"What a good thing mother didn't see me!" she laughed. Her grave, sympathetic, almost handsome face was now alive everywhere with a sort of challenging merriment. She was only pretending that it was a good thing her mother had not seen her: a delicious make-believe. Why, she was as motherly as her mother! In an instant her feet were choosing their way and carrying her with grace and stateliness across the mire of the unformed garden. She was the woman of the world, and Edwin the raw boy. The harmony and dignity of her movements charmed and intimidated Edwin. Compare her to Maggie... That she was hatless added piquancy.
They went into the echoing bare house, crunching gravel and dry clay on the dirty, new floors. They were alone together in the house. And all the time Edwin was thinking: "I've never been through anything like this before. Never been through anything like this!" And he recalled for a second the figure of Florence Simcox, the clog-dancer.
And below these images and reflections in his mind was the thought: "I haven't known what life is! I've been asleep. This is life!"
The upper squares of the drawing-room window were filled with small leaded diamond-shaped panes of many colours. It was the latest fashion in domestic glazing. The effect was at once rich and gorgeous. She liked it.
"It will be beautiful on this side in the late afternoon," she murmured. "What a nice room!"
Their eyes met, and she transmitted to him her joy in his joy at the admirableness of the house.
He nodded. "By Jove!" he thought. "She's a splendid girl. There can't be many girls knocking about as fine as she is!"
"And when the garden's full of flowers!" she breathed in rapture. She was thinking, "Strange, nice boy! He's so romantic. All he wants is bringing out."
They wandered to and fro. They went upstairs. They saw the bathroom. They stood on the landing, and the unseen spaces of the house were busy with their echoes. They then entered the room that was to be Edwin's.
"Mine!" he said self-consciously.
"And I see you're having shelves fixed on both sides of the mantelpiece! You're very fond of books, aren't you?" she appealed to him.
"Yes," he said judicially.
"Aren't they wonderful things?" Her glowing eyes seemed to be expressing gratitude to Shakespeare and all his successors in the dynasty of literature.
"That shelving is between your father and me," said Edwin. "The dad doesn't know. It'll go in with the house-fittings. I don't expect the dad will ever notice it."
"Really!" She laughed, eager to join the innocent conspiracy. "Father invented an excellent dodge for shelving in the hall at our house," she added. "I'm sure he'd like you to come and see it. The dear thing's most absurdly proud of it."
"I should like to," Edwin answered diffidently.
"Would you come in some evening and see us? Mother would be delighted. We all should."
"Very kind of you." In his diffidence he was now standing on one leg.
"Could you come to-night? ... Or to-morrow night?"
"I'm afraid I couldn't come to-night, or to-morrow night," he answered with firmness. A statement entirely untrue! He had no engagement; he never did have an engagement. But he was frightened, and his spirit sprang away from the idea, like a fawn at a sudden noise in the brake, and stood still.
He did not suspect that the unconscious gruffness of his tone had repulsed her. She blamed herself for a too brusque advance.
"Well, I hope some other time," she said, mild and benignant.
"Thanks! I'd like to," he replied more boldly, reassured now that he had heard again the same noise but indefinitely farther off.
She departed, but by the front door, and hatless and dignified up Trafalgar Road in the delicate sunshine to the next turning. She was less vivacious.
He hoped he had not offended her, because he wanted very much—not to go in cold blood to the famed mansion of the Orgreaves—but by some magic to find himself within it one night, at his ease, sharing in brilliant conversation. "Oh no!" he said to himself. "She's not offended. A fine girl like that isn't offended for nothing at all!" He had been invited to visit the Orgreaves! He wondered what his father would say, or think. The unexpressed basic idea of the Clayhangers was that the Clayhangers were as good as other folks, be they who they might. Still, the Orgreaves were the Orgreaves... In sheer absence of mind he remounted the muddy stairs.
He regarded the shabbiness of his clothes; he had been preoccupied by their defects for about a quarter of an hour; now he examined them in detail, and said to himself disgusted, that really it was ridiculous for a man about to occupy a house like that to be wearing garments like those. Could he call on the Orgreaves in garments like those? His Sunday suit was not, he felt, in fact much better. It was newer, less tumbled, but scarcely better. His suits did not cost enough. Finance was at the root of the crying scandal of his career as a dandy. The financial question must be reopened and settled anew. He should attack his father. His father was extremely dependent on him now, and must be brought to see reason. (His father who had never seen reason!) But the attack must not be made with the weapon of clothes, for on that subject Darius was utterly unapproachable. Whenever Darius found himself in a conversation about clothes, he gave forth the antique and well-tried witticism that as for him he didn't mind what he wore, because if he was at home everybody knew him and it didn't matter, and if he was away from home nobody knew him and it didn't matter. And he always repeated the saying with gusto, as if it was brand-new and none could possibly have heard it before.
No, Edwin decided that he would have to found his attack on the principle of abstract justice; he would never be able to persuade his father that he lacked any detail truly needful to his happiness. To go into details would be to invite defeat.
Of course it would be a bad season in which to raise the financial question. His father would talk savagely in reply about the enormous expenses of house-building, house-furnishing, and removing,—and architects' and lawyers' fees; he would be sure to mention the rapacity of architects and lawyers. Nevertheless Edwin felt that at just this season, and no other, must the attack be offered.
Because the inauguration of the new house was to be for Edwin, in a very deep and spiritual sense, the beginning of the new life! He had settled that. The new house inspired him. It was not paradise. But it was a temple.
You of the younger generation cannot understand that—without imagination. I say that the hot-water system of the new house, simple and primitive as it was, affected and inspired Edwin like a poem. There was a cistern-room, actually a room devoted to nothing but cisterns, and the main cistern was so big that the builders had had to install it before the roof was put on, for it would never have gone through a door. This cistern, by means of a ball-tap, filled itself from the main nearly as quickly as it was emptied. Out of it grew pipes, creeping in secret downwards between inner walls of the house, penetrating everywhere. One went down to a boiler behind the kitchen-range and filled it, and as the fire that was roasting the joint heated the boiler, the water mounted again magically to the cistern-room and filled another cistern, spherical and sealed, and thence descended, on a third journeying, to the bath and to the lavatory basin in the bathroom. All this was marvellous to Edwin; it was romantic. What! A room solely for baths! And a huge painted zinc bath! Edwin had never seen such a thing. And a vast porcelain basin, with tiles all round it, in which you could splash! An endless supply of water on the first floor!
At the shop-house, every drop of water on the first floor had to be carried upstairs in jugs and buckets; and every drop of it had to be carried down again. No hot water could be obtained until it had been boiled in a vessel on the fire. Hot water had the value of champagne. To take a warm hip-bath was an immense enterprise of heating, fetching, decanting, and general derangement of the entire house; and at best the bath was not hot; it always lost its virtue on the stairs and landing. And to splash—one of the most voluptuous pleasures in life—was forbidden by the code. Mrs Nixon would actually weep at a splashing. Splashing was immoral. It was as wicked as amorous dalliance in a monastery. In the shop-house godliness was child's play compared to cleanliness.
And the shop-house was so dark! Edwin had never noticed how dark it was until the new house approached completion. The new house was radiant with light. It had always, for Edwin, the somewhat blinding brilliance which filled the sitting-room of the shop-house only when Duck Bank happened to be covered with fresh snow. And there was a dining-room, solely for eating, and a drawing-room. Both these names seemed 'grand' to Edwin, who had never sat in any but a sitting-room. Edwin had never dined; he had merely had dinner. And, having dined, to walk ceremoniously into another room! (Odd! After all, his father was a man of tremendous initiative.) Would he and Maggie be able to do the thing naturally? Then there was the square hall—positively a room! That alone impelled him to a new life. When he thought of it all, the reception-rooms, the scientific kitchen, the vast scullery, the four large bedrooms, the bathroom, the three attics, the cistern-room murmurous with water, and the water tirelessly, inexhaustibly coursing up and down behind walls—he thrilled to fine impulses.