He took courage. He braced himself. The seriousness which he had felt on the day of leaving school revisited him. He looked back across the seven years of his life in the world, and condemned them unsparingly. He blamed no one but Edwin. He had forgiven his father for having thwarted his supreme ambition; long ago he had forgiven his father; though, curiously, he had never quite forgiven Mrs Hamps for her share in the catastrophe. He honestly thought he had recovered from the catastrophe undisfigured, even unmarked. He knew not that he would never be the same man again, and that his lightest gesture and his lightest glance were touched with the wistfulness of resignation. He had frankly accepted the fate of a printer. And in business he was convinced, despite his father's capricious complaints, that he had acquitted himself well. In all the details of the business he considered himself superior to his father. And Big James would invariably act on his secret instructions given afterwards to counteract some misguided hasty order of the old man's.
It was the emptiness of the record of his private life that he condemned. What had he done for himself? Nothing large! Nothing heroic and imposing! He had meant to pursue certain definite courses of study, to become the possessor of certain definite groups of books, to continue his drawing and painting, to practise this, that and the other, to map out all his spare time, to make rules and to keep them,—all to the great end of self-perfecting. He had said: "What does it matter whether I am an architect or a printer, so long as I improve myself to the best of my powers?" He hated young men who talked about improving themselves. He spurned the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Society (which had succeeded the Debating Society—defunct through over-indulgence in early rising). Nevertheless in his heart he was far more enamoured of the idea of improvement than the worst prig of them all. He could never for long escape from the dominance of the idea. He might violently push it away, arguing that it could lead to nothing and was futile and tedious; back it would come! It had always worried him.
And yet he had accomplished nothing. His systems of reading never worked for more than a month at a time. And for several months at a time he simply squandered his spare hours, the hours that were his very own, in a sort of coma of crass stupidity, in which he seemed to be thinking of nothing whatever. He had not made any friends whom he could esteem. He had not won any sort of notice. He was remarkable for nothing. He was not happy. He was not content. He had the consciousness of being a spendthrift of time and of years... A fair quantity of miscellaneous reading—that was all he had done. He was not a student. He knew nothing about anything. He had stood still.
Thus he upbraided himself. And against this futility was his courage now braced by the inspiration of the new house, and tightened to a smarting tension by the brief interview with Janet Orgreave. He was going to do several feats at once: tackle his father, develop into a right expert on some subject, pursue his painting, and—for the moment this had the chief importance—'come out of his shell.' He meant to be social, to impress himself on others, to move about, to form connections, to be Edwin Clayhanger, an individuality in the town,—to live. Why had he refused Janet's invitation? Mere silliness. The old self nauseated the new. But the next instant he sought excuses for the old self... Wait a bit! There was time yet.
He was happy in the stress of one immense and complex resolve.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER FIVE.
He heard voices below. And his soul seemed to shrink back, as if into the recesses of the shell from which it had been peeping. His soul was tremendous, in solitude; but even the rumour of society intimidated it. His father and another were walking about the ground floor; the rough voice of his father echoed upwards in all its crudity. He listened for the other voice; it was his Auntie Clara's. Darius too had taken his Saturday afternoon for a leisurely visit to the house, and somehow he must have encountered Mrs Hamps, and brought her with him to view.
Without giving himself time to dissipate his courage in reflection, he walked to the landing, and called down the stairs, "Hello, Auntie!"
Why should his tone have been self-conscious, forced? He was engaged in no crime. He had told his father where he was going, and his father had not contradicted his remark that even if both of them happened to be out together, the shop would take no harm under the sole care of Stifford for an hour in the quiet of Saturday afternoon.
Mrs Hamps replied, in her coaxing, sweet manner.
"What did ye leave th' front door open for?" his father demanded curtly, and every room in the house heard the question.
"Was it open?" he said lamely.
"Was it open! All Trafalgar Road could have walked in and made themselves at home."
Edwin stood leaning with his arms on the rail of the landing. Presently the visitors appeared at the foot of the stairs, and Darius climbed carefully, having first shaken the balustrade to make sure that it was genuine, stout, and well-founded. Mrs Hamps followed, the fripperies of her elegant bonnet trembling, and her black gown rustling. Edwin smiled at her, and she returned his smile with usurious interest. There was now a mist of grey in her fine hair.
"Oh, Edwin!" she began, breathing relief on the top stair. "What a beautiful house! Beautiful! Quite perfect! The latest of everything! Do you know what I've been thinking while your dear father has been showing me all this. So that's the bathroom! Bless us! Hot! Cold! Waste! That cupboard under the lavatory is very handy, but what a snare for a careless servant! Maggie will have to look at it every day, or it'll be used for anything and everything. You tell her what her auntie says... I was thinking—if but your mother could have seen it all!"
Father and son said nothing. Auntie Hamps sighed. She was the only person who ever referred to the late Mrs Clayhanger.
The procession moved on from room to room, Darius fingering and grunting, Mrs Hamps discovering in each detail the fine flower of utter perfection, and Edwin strolling loosely in the wake of her curls, her mantle, and her abundant black petticoats. He could detect the odour of her kid gloves; it was a peculiar odour that never escaped him, and it reminded him inevitably of his mother's funeral.
He was glad that they had not arrived during the visit of Janet Orgreave.
In due course Edwin's bedroom was reached, and here Auntie Clara's ecstasy was redoubled.
"I'm sure you're very grateful to your father, aren't you, Edwin?" she majestically assumed, when she had admired passionately the window, the door, the pattern of the hearth-tiles, and the spaciousness.
Edwin could not speak. Inquiries of this nature from Mrs Hamps paralysed the tongues of the children. They left nothing to be said. A sheepish grin, preceded by an inward mute curse, was all that Edwin could accomplish. How in heaven's name could the woman talk in that strain? His attitude towards his auntie was assuredly hardening with years.
"What's all this?" questioned his father suddenly, pointing to upright boards that had been fastened to the walls on either side of the mantelpiece, to a height of about three feet.
Then Edwin perceived the clumsiness of his tactics in remaining upstairs. He ought to have gone downstairs to meet his father and auntie, and left them to go up alone. His father was in an inquisitive mood.
"It's for shelves," he said.
"For my books. It's Mr Orgreave's idea. He says it'll cost less."
"Cost less! Mr Orgreave's got too many ideas—that's what's the matter with him. He'll idea me into the bankruptcy court if he keeps on."
Edwin would have liked to protest against the savagery of the tone, to inquire firmly why, since shelves were necessary for books and he had books, there need be such a display of ill-temper about a few feet of deal plank. The words were ready, the sentences framed in his mind. But he was silent. The door was locked on these words, but it was not Edwin who had turned the key; it was some force within him, over which he had no control.
"Now, now, father!" intervened Mrs Hamps. "You know you've said over and over again how glad you are he's so fond of books, and never goes out. There isn't a better boy in Bursley. That I will say, and to his face." She smiled like an angel at both of them.
"You say! You say!" Darius remarked curtly, trying to control himself. A few years ago he would never have used such violent demeanour in her presence.
"And how much easier these shelves will be to keep clean than a bookcase! No polishing. Just a rub, and a wipe with a damp cloth now and then. And no dirt underneath. They will do away with four corners, anyhow. That's what I think of—eh, poor Maggie! Keeping all this clean. There'll be work for two women night and day, early and late, and even then—But it's a great blessing to have water on every floor, that it is! And people aren't so particular nowadays as they used to be, I fancy. I fancy that more and more." Mrs Hamps sighed, cheerfully bearing up.
Without a pause she stepped quickly across to Edwin. He wondered what she was at. She merely straightened down the collar of his coat, which, unknown to him, had treacherously allowed itself to remain turned up behind. It had probably been thus misbehaving itself since before dinner, when he had washed.
"Now, I do like my nephew to be tidy," said Mrs Hamps affectionately. "I'm very jealous for my nephew." She caressed the shoulders of the coat, and Edwin had to stand still and submit. "Let me see, it's your birthday next month, isn't it?"
"Well, I know he hasn't got a lot of money. And I know his father hasn't any money to spare just now—what with all these expenses—the house—"
"Ye may well say it, sister!" Darius growled.
"I saw you the day before yesterday. My nephew didn't see me, but his auntie saw him. Oh, never mind where. And I said to myself; 'I should like my only nephew to have a suit a little better than that when he goes up and down on his father's business. What a change it would be if his old auntie gave him a new suit for a birthday present this year!'"
She spoke in a lower voice. "You come and see me tomorrow, and I shall have a little piece of paper in an envelope waiting for you. And you must choose something really good. You've got excellent taste, we all know that. And this will be a new start for you. A new year, and a new start, and we shall see how neat and spruce you'll keep yourself in future, eh?"
It was insufferable. But it was fine. Who could deny that Auntie Clara was not an extraordinary, an original, and a generous woman? What a masterly reproof to both father and son! Perhaps not delicately administered. Yet Auntie Clara had lavished all the delicacy of her nature on the administering!
To Edwin, it seemed like an act of God in his favour. It seemed to set a divine seal on his resolutions. It was the most astonishing and apposite piece of luck that had ever happened to him. When he had lamely thanked the benefactor, he slipped away as soon as he could. Already he could feel the crinkling of the five-pound note in his hand. Five pounds! He had never had a suit that cost more than fifty shillings. He slipped away. A great resolve was upon him. Shillitoe closed at four o'clock on Saturday afternoons. There was just time. He hurried down Trafalgar Road in a dream. And when he had climbed Duck Bank he turned to the left, and without stopping he burst into Shillitoe's. Not from eagerness to enter Shillitoe's, but because if he had hesitated he might never have entered at all: he might have slunk away to the old undistinguished tailor in Saint Luke's Square. Shillitoe was the stylish tailor. Shillitoe made no display of goods, scorning such paltry devices. Shillitoe had wire blinds across the lower part of his window, and on the blinds, in gold, "Gentlemen's tailor and outfitter. Breeches-maker." Above the blind could be seen a few green cardboard boxes. Shillitoe made breeches for men who hunted. Shillitoe's lowest price for a suit was notoriously four guineas. Shillitoe's was the resort of the fashionable youth of the town and district. It was a terrific adventure for Edwin to enter Shillitoe's. His nervousness was painful. He seemed to have a vague idea that Shillitoe might sneer at him. However, he went in. The shop was empty. He closed the door, as he might have closed the door of a dentist's. He said to himself; "Well, I'm here!" He wondered what his father would say on hearing that he had been to Shillitoe's. And what would Clara have said, had she been at home? Then Shillitoe in person came forward from the cutting-out room and Shillitoe's tone and demeanour reassured him.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER SIX.
JANET LOSES HER BET.
Accident—that is to say, a chance somewhat more fortuitous than the common hazards which we group together and call existence—pushed Edwin into the next stage of his career. As, on one afternoon in late June, he was turning the corner of Trafalgar Road to enter the shop, he surprisingly encountered Charlie Orgreave, whom he had not seen for several years. And when he saw this figure, at once fashionably and carelessly dressed, his first thought was one of deep satisfaction that he was wearing his new Shillitoe suit of clothes. He had scarcely worn the suit at all, but that afternoon his father had sent him over to Hanbridge about a large order from Bostocks, the recently established drapers there whose extravagant advertising had shocked and pained the commerce of the Five Towns. Darius had told him to 'titivate himself,' a most startling injunction from Darius, and thus the new costly suit had been, as it were, officially blessed and henceforth could not be condemned.
"How do, Teddy?" Charlie greeted him. "I've just been in to see you at your shop."
"Hello! The Sunday!" he said quietly. And he kept thinking, as his eyes noted details of Charlie's raiment, "It's a bit of luck I've got these clothes on." And he was in fact rather sorry that Charlie probably paid no real attention to clothes. The new suit had caused Edwin to look at everybody's clothes, had caused him to walk differently, and to put his shoulders back, and to change the style of his collars; had made a different man of Edwin.
"Come in, will you?" Edwin suggested.
They went into the shop together. Stifford smiled at them both, as if to felicitate them on the chance which had brought them together.
"Come in here," said Edwin, indicating the small office.
"The lion's den, eh?" observed the Sunday.
He, as much as Edwin, was a little tongue-tied and nervous.
"Sit down, will you?" said Edwin, shutting the door. "No, take the arm-chair. I'll absquatulate on the desk. I'd no idea you were down. When did you come?"
"Last night, last train. Just a freak, you know."
They were within a foot of each other in the ebonised cubicle. Edwin's legs were swinging a few inches away from the arm-chair. His hat was at the back of his head, and Charlie's hat was at the back of Charlie's head. This was their sole point of resemblance. As Edwin surreptitiously examined the youth who had once been his intimate friend, he experienced the half-sneering awe of the provincial for the provincial who has become a Londoner. Charlie was changed; even his accent was changed. He and Edwin belonged to utterly different worlds now. They seldom saw the same scenes or thought the same things. But of course they were obliged by loyalty to the past to pretend that nothing was changed.
"You've not altered much," said Edwin.
And indeed, when Charlie smiled, he was almost precisely the old Sunday, despite his metropolitan mannerisms. And there was nothing whatever in his figure or deportment to show that he had lived for several years in France and could chatter in a language whose verbs had four conjugations. After all, he was less formidable than Edwin might have anticipated.
"You have, anyhow," said Charlie.
Edwin grinned self-consciously.
"I suppose you've got this place practically in your own hands now," said Charlie. "I wish I was on my own, I can tell you that."
An instinctive gesture from Edwin made Charlie lower his voice in the middle of a sentence. The cubicle had the appearance, but not the reality, of being private.
"Don't you make any mistake," Edwin murmured. He, who depended on his aunt's generosity for clothes, the practical ruler of the place! Still he was glad that Charlie supposed that he ruled, even though the supposition might be mere small-talk. "You're in that hospital, aren't you?"
"Bart's, is it? Yes, I remember. I expect you aren't thinking of settling down here?"
Charlie was about to reply in accents of disdain: "Not me!" But his natural politeness stayed his tongue. "I hardly think so," he said. "Too much competition here. So there is everywhere, for the matter of that." The disillusions of the young doctor were already upon Charlie. And yet people may be found who will assert that in those days there was no competition, that competition has been invented during the past ten years.
"You needn't worry about competition," said Edwin.
"Why not, man! Nothing could ever stop you from getting patients—with that smile! You'll simply walk straight into anything you want."
"You think so?" Charlie affected an ironic incredulity, but he was pleased. He had met the same theory in London.
"Well, you didn't suppose degrees and things had anything to do with it, did you?" said Edwin, smiling a little superiorly. He felt, with pleasure, that he was still older than the Sunday; and it pleased him also to be able thus to utilise ideas which he had formed from observation but which by diffidence and lack of opportunity he had never expressed. "All a patient wants is to be smiled at in the right way," he continued, growing bolder. "Just look at 'em!"
"Look at who?"
"The doctors here." He dropped his voice further. "Do you know why the dad's gone to Heve?"
"Gone to Heve, has he? Left old Who-is-it?"
"Yes. I don't say Heve isn't clever, but it's his look that does the trick for him."
"You seem to go about noticing things. Any charge?"
Edwin blushed and laughed. Their nervousness was dissipated. Each was reassured of the old basis of 'decency' in the other.
"Look here," said Charlie. "I can't stop now."
"Hold on a bit."
"I only called to tell you that you've simply got to come up to-night."
"Come up where?"
"To our place. You've simply got to."
The secret fact was that Edwin had once more been under discussion in the house of the Orgreaves. And Osmond Orgreave had lent Janet a shilling so that she might bet Charlie a shilling that he would not succeed in bringing Edwin to the house. The understanding was that if Janet won, her father was to take sixpence of the gain. Janet herself had failed to lure Edwin into the house. He was so easy to approach and so difficult to catch. Janet was slightly piqued.
As for Edwin, he was postponing the execution of all his good resolutions until he should be installed in the new house. He could not achieve highly difficult tasks under conditions of expectancy and derangement. The whole Clayhanger premises were in a suppressed state of being packed up. In a week the removal would occur. Until the removal was over and the new order was established Edwin felt that he could still conscientiously allow his timidity to govern him, and so he had remained in his shell. The sole herald of the new order was the new suit.
"Oh! I can't come—not to-night."
"We're so busy."
"Bosh to that!"
"Some other night."
"No. I'm going back to-morrow. Must. Now look here, old man, come on. I shall be very disappointed if you don't."
Edwin wondered why he could not accept and be done with it, instead of persisting in a sequence of insincere and even lying hesitations. But he could not.
"That's all right," said Charlie, as if clinching the affair. Then he lowered his voice to a scarce audible confidential whisper. "Fine girl staying up there just now!" His eyes sparkled.
"Oh! At your place?" Edwin adopted the same cautious tone. Stifford, outside, strained his ears—in vain. The magic word 'girl' had in an instant thrown the shop into agitation. The shop was no longer provincial; it became a part of the universal.
"Yes. Haven't you seen her about?"
"No. Who is she?"
"Oh! Friend of Janet's. Hilda Lessways, her name is. I don't know much of her myself."
"Bit of all right, is she?" Edwin tried in a whisper to be a man of vast experience and settled views. He tried to whisper as though he whispered about women every day of his life. He thought that these Londoners were terrific on the subject of women, and he did his best to reach their level. He succeeded so well that Charlie, who, as a man, knew more of London than of the provinces, thought that after all London was nothing in comparison to the seeming-quiet provinces. Charlie leaned back in his chair, drew down the corners of his mouth, nodded his head knowingly, and then quite spoiled the desired effect of doggishness by his delightfully candid smile. Neither of them had the least intention of disrespect towards the fine girl who was on their lips.
Edwin said to himself: "Is it possible that he has come down specially to see this Hilda?" He thought enviously of Charlie as a free bird of the air.
"What's she like?" Edwin inquired.
"You come up and see," Charlie retorted.
"Not to-night," said the fawn, in spite of Edwin.
"You come to-night, or I perish in the attempt," said Charlie, in his natural voice. This phrase from their school-days made them both laugh again. They were now apparently as intimate as ever they had been.
"All right," said Edwin. "I'll come."
"Come for a sort of supper at eight."
"Oh!" Edwin drew back. "Supper? I didn't—Suppose I come after supper for a bit?"
"Suppose you don't!" Charlie snorted, sticking his chin out. "I'm off now. Must."
They stood a moment together at the door of the shop, in the declining warmth of the summer afternoon, mutually satisfied.
The Sunday elegantly departed. Edwin had given his word, and he felt as he might have felt had surgeons just tied him to the operating-table. Nevertheless he was not ill-pleased with his own demeanour in front of Charlie. And he liked Charlie as much as ever. He should rely on Charlie as a support during this adventure into the worldly regions peopled by fine girls. He pictured this Hilda as being more romantic and strange than Janet Orgreave; he pictured her as mysteriously superior. And he was afraid of his own image of her.
At tea in the dismantled sitting-room, though he was going out to supper, he ate quite as much tea as usual, from sheer poltroonery. He said as casually as he could—
"By the way, Charlie Orgreave called this afternoon."
"Did he?" said Maggie.
"He's off back to London to-morrow. He would have me slip up there to-night to see him."
"And shall you?"
"I think so," said Edwin, with an appearance of indecision. "I may as well."
It was the first time that there had ever been question of him visiting a private house, except his aunt's, at night. To him the moment marked an epoch, the inception of freedom; but the phlegmatic Maggie showed no sign of excitement—("Clara would have gone into a fit!" he reflected)— and his father only asked a casual question about Charlie.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER SEVEN.
LANE END HOUSE.
Here was another of those impressive square halls, on the other side of the suddenly opened door of Lane End House. But Edwin was now getting accustomed to square halls. Nevertheless he quaked as he stood on the threshold. An absurd young man! He wondered whether he would ever experience the sensation of feeling authentically grown-up. Behind him in the summer twilight lay the large oval lawn, and the gates which once had doubtless marked the end of Manor Lane—now Oak Street. And actually he had an impulse to rush back upon his steps, and bring on himself eternal shame. The servant, however, primly held him with her eyes alone, and he submitted to her sway.
"Mr Charles in?" he inquired glumly, affecting nonchalance.
The servant bowed her head with a certain condescending deference, as who should say: "Do not let us pretend that they are not expecting you."
A door to the right opened. Janet was revealed, and, behind her, Charlie. Both were laughing. There was a sound of a piano. As soon as Charlie caught sight of Edwin he exclaimed to Janet—
"Where's my bob?"
"Charlie!" she protested, checking her laughter.
"Why! What have I said?" Charlie inquired, with mock innocence, perceiving that he had been indiscreet, and trying to remedy his rash mistake. "Surely I can say 'bob'!"
Edwin understood nothing of this brief passage. Janet, ignoring Charlie and dismissing the servant with an imperceptible sign, advanced to the visitor. She was dressed in white, and Edwin considered her to be extraordinarily graceful, dignified, sweet, and welcoming. There was a peculiar charm in the way in which her skirts half-reluctantly followed her along the carpet, causing beautiful curves of drapery from the waist. And her smile was so warm and so sincere! For the moment she really felt that Edwin's presence in the house satisfied the keenest of her desires, and of course her face generously expressed what she felt.
"Well, Miss Orgreave," Edwin grinned. "Here I am, you see!"
"And we're delighted," said Janet simply, taking his hand. She might have amiably teased him about the protracted difficulties of getting him. She might have hinted an agreeable petulance against the fact that the brother had succeeded where the sister had failed. Her sisterly manner to Charlie a little earlier had perhaps shown flashes of such thoughts in her mind. But no. In the presence of Edwin, Janet's extreme good-nature forgot everything save that he was there, a stranger to be received and cherished.
"Here! Give us that tile," said Charlie.
"Beautiful evening," Edwin observed.
"Oh! Isn't it!" breathed Janet, in ecstasy, and gazed from the front door into the western sky. "We were out on the lawn, but mother said it was damp. It wasn't," she laughed. "But if you think it's damp, it is damp, isn't it? Will you come and see mother? Charlie, you can leave the front door open."
Edwin said to himself that she had all the attractiveness of a girl and of a woman. She preceded him towards the door to the right. Charlie hovered behind, on springs. Edwin, nervously pulling out his handkerchief and putting it back, had a confused vision of the hall full of little pictures, plates, stools, rugs, and old sword-sheaths. There seemed to him to be far more knick-knacks in that hall than in the whole of his father's house; Mr Orgreave's ingeniously contrived bookshelves were simply overlaid and smothered in knick-knacks. Janet pushed at the door, and the sound of the piano suddenly increased in volume.
There was no cessation of the music as the three entered. As it were beneath the music, Mrs Orgreave, a stout and faded calm lady, greeted him kindly: "Mr Edwin!" She was shorter than Janet, but Edwin could see Janet in her movements and in her full lips. "Well, Edwin!" said Osmond Orgreave with lazy and distinguished good-nature, shaking hands. Jimmie and Johnnie, now aged nineteen and eighteen respectively, were in the room; Johnnie was reading; their blushing awkwardness in salutation and comic efforts to be curtly benevolent in the manner of clubmen somewhat eased the tension in Edwin. They addressed him as 'Clayhanger.' The eldest and the youngest child of the family sat at the piano in the act of performing a duet. Tom, pale, slight, near-sighted and wearing spectacles, had reached the age of thirty-two, and was junior partner in a firm of solicitors at Hanbridge; Bursley seldom saw him. Alicia had the delightful gawkiness of twelve years. One only of the seven children was missing. Marian, aged thirty, and married in London, with two little babies; Marian was adored by all her brothers and sisters, and most by Janet, who, during visits of the married sister, fell back with worshipping joy into her original situation of second daughter.
Edwin, Charles, and Janet sat down on a sofa. It was not until after a moment that Edwin noticed an ugly young woman who sat behind the players and turned over the pages of music for them. "Surely that can't be his wonderful Hilda!" Edwin thought. In the excitement of arrival he had forgotten the advertised Hilda. Was that she? The girl could be no other. Edwin made the reflection that all men make: "Well, it's astonishing what other fellows like!" And, having put down Charlie several points in his esteem, he forgot Hilda.
Evidently loud and sustained conversation was not expected nor desired while the music lasted. And Edwin was glad of this. It enabled him to get his breath and his bearings in what was to him really a tremendous ordeal. And in fact he was much more agitated than even he imagined. The room itself abashed him.
Everybody, including Mr Orgreave, had said that the Clayhanger drawing-room with its bay-window was a fine apartment. But the Orgreave drawing-room had a bay-window and another large window; it was twice as big as the Clayhangers' and of an interesting irregular shape. Although there were in it two unoccupied expanses of carpet, it nevertheless contained what seemed to Edwin immense quantities of furniture of all sorts. Easy-chairs were common, and everywhere. Several bookcases rose to the low ceiling; dozens and dozens of pictures hid the walls; each corner had its little society of objects; cushions and candlesticks abounded; the piano was a grand, and Edwin was astounded to see another piano, a small upright, in the farther distance; there were even two fireplaces, with two mirrors, two clocks, two sets of ornaments, and two embroidered screens. The general effect was of extraordinary lavish profusion—of wilful, splendid, careless extravagance.
Yet the arm of the sofa on which Edwin leaned was threadbare in two different places. The room was faded and worn, like its mistress. Like its mistress it seemed to exhale a silent and calm authority, based on historic tradition.
And the room was historic; it had been the theatre of history. For twenty-five years—ever since Tom was seven—it had witnessed the adventurous domestic career of the Orgreaves, so quiet superficially, so exciting in reality. It was the drawing-room of a man who had consistently used immense powers of industry for the satisfaction of his prodigal instincts; it was the drawing-room of a woman whose placidity no danger could disturb, and who cared for nothing if only her husband was amused. Spend and gain! And, for a change, gain and spend! That was the method. Work till sheer exhaustion beat you. Plan, scheme, devise! Satisfy your curiosity and your other instincts! Experiment! Accept risks! Buy first, order first, pledge yourself first; and then split your head in order to pay and to redeem! When chance aids you to accumulate, let the pile grow, out of mere perversity, and then scatter it royally! Play heartily! Play with the same intentness as you work! Live to the uttermost instant and to the last flicker of energy! Such was the spirit of Osmond Orgreave, and the spirit which reigned in the house generally, if not in every room of the house.
For each child had its room—except Jimmie and Johnnie, who shared one. And each room was the fortress of an egoism, the theatre of a separate drama, mysterious, and sacred from the others. Jimmie could not remember having been in Janet's room—it was forbidden by Alicia, who was jealous of her sole right of entree—and nobody would have dreamed of violating the chamber of Jimmie and Johnnie to discover the origin of peculiar noises that puzzled the household at seven o'clock in the morning. As for Tom's castle—it was a legend to the younger children; it was supposed to be wondrous.
All the children had always cost money, and a great deal of money, until Marian had left the family in deep gloom for her absence, and Tom, with a final wrench of a vast sum from the willing but wincing father, had settled into a remunerative profession. Tom was now keeping himself and repaying the weakened parent. The rest cost more and more every year as their minds and bodies budded and flowered. It was endless, it was staggering, it would not bear thinking about. The long and varied chronicle of it was somehow written on the drawing-room as well as on the faces of the father and mother—on the drawing-room which had the same dignified, childlike, indefatigable, invincible, jolly expression as its owners. Threadbare in places? And why not? The very identical Turkey carpet at which Edwin gazed in his self-consciousness—on that carpet Janet the queenly and mature had sprawled as an infant while her mother, a fresh previous Janet of less than thirty, had cooed and said incomprehensible foolishness to her. Tom was patriarchal because he had vague memories of an earlier drawing-room, misted in far antiquity. Threadbare? By heaven, its mere survival was magnificent! I say that it was a miraculous drawing-room. Its chairs were humanised. Its little cottage piano that nobody ever opened now unless Tom had gone mad on something for two pianos, because it was so impossibly tinny—the cottage piano could humanly recall the touch of a perfect baby when Marian the wife sat down to it. Marian was one of your silly sentimental nice things; on account of its associations, she really preferred the cottage piano to the grand. The two carpets were both resigned, grim old humanities, used to dirty heels, and not caring, or pretending not to care. What did the curtains know of history? Naught. They were always new; they could not last. But even the newest curtains would at once submit to the influence of the room, and take on something of its physiognomy, and help to express its comfortableness. You could not hang a week in front of one of those windows without being subtly informed by the tradition of adventurous happiness that presided over the room. It was that: a drawing-room in which a man and a woman, and boys and girls, had been on the whole happy, if often apprehensive.
The music began to engage Edwin's attention. It was music of a kind quite novel to him. Most of it had no meaning for him, but at intervals some fragment detached itself from the mass, and stood out beautiful. It was as if he were gazing at a stage in gloom, but lighted momentarily by fleeting rays that revealed a lovely detail and were bafflingly cut off. Occasionally he thought he noticed a recurrence of the same fragment. Murmurs came from behind the piano. He looked cautiously. Alicia was making faces of alarm and annoyance. She whispered: "Oh dear! ... It's no use! ... We're all wrong, I'm sure!" Tom kept his eyes on the page in front of him, doggedly playing. Then Edwin was conscious of dissonances. And then the music stopped.
"Now, Alicia," her father protested mildly, "you mustn't be nervous."
"Nervous!" exclaimed Alicia. "Tom's just as nervous as I am! So he needn't talk." She was as red as a cock's crest.
Tom was not talking. He pointed several times violently to a place on Alicia's half of the open book—she was playing the bass part. "There! There!" The music recommenced.
"She's always nervous like that," Janet whispered kindly, "when any one's here. But she doesn't like to be told."
"She plays splendidly," Edwin responded. "Do you play?"
Janet shook her head.
"Yes, she does," Charlie whispered.
"Keep on, darling. You're at the end now." Edwin heard a low, stern voice. That must be the voice of Hilda. A second later, he looked across, and surprised her glance, which was intensely fixed on himself. She dropped her eyes quickly; he also.
Then he felt by the nature of the chords that the piece was closing. The music ceased. Mr Orgreave clapped his hands. "Bravo! Bravo!"
"Why," cried Charlie to the performers, "you weren't within ten bars of each other!" And Edwin wondered how Charlie could tell that. As for him, he did not know enough of music to be able to turn over the pages for others. He felt himself to be an ignoramus among a company of brilliant experts.
"Well," said Mr Orgreave, "I suppose we may talk a bit now. It's more than our place is worth to breathe aloud while these Rubinsteins are doing Beethoven!" He looked at Edwin, who grinned.
"Oh! My word!" smiled Mrs Orgreave, supporting her hand.
"Beethoven, is it?" Edwin muttered. He was acquainted only with the name, and had never heard it pronounced as Mr Orgreave pronounced it.
"One symphony a night!" Mr Orgreave said, with irony. "And we're only at the second, it seems. Seven more to come; What do you think of that, Edwin?"
"Let's have the 'Lost Chord,' Janet," Mr Orgreave suggested.
There was a protesting chorus of "Oh, dad!"
"Very well! Very well!" the father murmured, acting humility. "I'm snubbed!"
Tom had now strolled across the room, smiling to himself, and looking at the carpet, in an effort to behave as one who had done nothing in particular.
"How d'ye do, Clayhanger?" He greeted Edwin, and grasped his hand in a feverish clutch. "You must excuse us. We aren't used to audiences. That's the worst of being rotten amateurs."
Edwin rose. "Oh!" he deprecated. He had never spoken to Tom Orgreave before, but Tom seemed ready to treat him at once as an established acquaintance.
Then Alicia had to come forward and shake hands. She could not get a word out.
"Now, baby!" Charlie teased her.
She tossed her mane, and found refuge by her mother's side. Mrs Orgreave caressed the mane into order.
"This is Miss Lessways. Hilda—Mr Edwin Clayhanger." Janet drew the dark girl towards her as the latter hovered uncertainly in the middle of the room, her face forced into the look of elaborate negligence conventionally assumed by every self-respecting person who waits to be introduced. She took Edwin's hand limply, and failed to meet his glance. Her features did not soften. Edwin was confirmed in the impression of her obdurate ugliness. He just noticed her olive skin and black eyes and hair. She was absolutely different in type from any of the Clayhangers. The next instant she and Charlie were talking together.
Edwin felt the surprised relief of one who has plunged into the sea and discovers himself fairly buoyant on the threatening waves.
"Janet," asked Mrs Orgreave, "will supper be ready?"
In the obscurer corners of the room grey shadows gathered furtively, waiting their time.
"Seen my latest, Charlie?" asked Tom, in his thin voice.
"No, what is it?" Charlie replied. The younger brother was flattered by this proof of esteem from the elder, but he did his best by casualness of tone to prevent the fact from transpiring.
All the youths were now standing in a group in the middle of the drawing-room. Their faces showed pale and more distinct than their bodies in the darkening twilight. Mrs Orgreave, her husband, and the girls had gone into the dining-room.
Tom Orgreave, with the gestures of a precisian, drew a bunch of keys from his pocket, and unlocked a rosewood bookcase that stood between the two windows. Jimmie winked to Johnnie, and included Edwin in the fellowship of the wink, which meant that Tom was more comic than Tom thought, with his locked bookcases and his simple vanities of a collector. Tom collected books. As Edwin gazed at the bookcase he perceived that it was filled mainly with rich bindings. And suddenly all his own book-buying seemed to him petty and pitiful. He saw books in a new aspect. He had need of no instruction, of no explanation. The amorous care with which Tom drew a volume from the bookcase was enough in itself to enlighten Edwin completely. He saw that a book might be more than reading matter, might be a bibelot, a curious jewel, to satisfy the lust of the eye and of the hand. He instantly condemned his own few books as being naught; he was ashamed of them. Each book in that bookcase was a separate treasure.
"See this, my boy?" said Tom, handing to Charlie a calf-bound volume, with a crest on the sides. "Six volumes. Picked them up at Stafford— Assizes, you know. It's the Wilbraham crest. I never knew they'd been selling their library."
Charlie accepted the book with respect. Its edges were gilt, and the paper thin and soft. Edwin looked over his shoulder, and saw the title-page of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris," in French. The volume had a most romantic, foreign, even exotic air. Edwin desired it fervently, or something that might rank equal with it.
"How much did they stick you for this lot?" asked Charlie.
Tom held up one finger.
"Quid?" Charlie wanted to be sure. Tom nodded.
"Cheap as dirt, of course!" said Tom. "Binding's worth more than that. Look at the other volumes. Look at them!"
"Pity it's only a second edition," said Charlie.
"Well, damn it, man! One can't have everything."
Charlie passed the volume to Edwin, who fingered it with the strangest delight. Was it possible that this exquisitely delicate and uncustomary treasure, which seemed to exhale all the charm of France and the savour of her history, had been found at Stafford? He had been to Stafford himself. He had read "Notre-Dame" himself, but in English, out of a common book like any common book—not out of a bibelot.
"You've read it, of course, Clayhanger?" Tom said.
"Oh!" Edwin answered humbly. "Only in a translation." Yet there was a certain falseness in his humility, for he was proud of having read the work. What sort of a duffer would he have appeared had he been obliged to reply 'No'?
"You ought to read French in French," said Tom, kindly authoritative.
"Can't," said Edwin.
"Bosh!" Charlie cried. "You were always spiffing in French. You could simply knock spots off me."
"And do you read French in French, the Sunday?" Edwin asked.
"Well," said Charlie, "I must say it was Thomas put me up to it. You simply begin to read, that's all. What you don't understand, you miss. But you soon understand. You can always look at a dictionary if you feel like it. I usually don't."
"I'm sure you could read French easily in a month," said Tom. "They always gave a good grounding at Oldcastle. There's simply nothing in it."
"Really!" Edwin murmured, relinquishing the book. "I must have a shot, I never thought of it." And he never thought of reading French for pleasure. He had construed Xavier de Maistre's "Voyage autour de ma Chambre" for marks, assuredly not for pleasure. "Are there any books in this style to be got on that bookstall in Hanbridge Market?" he inquired of Tom.
"Sometimes," said Tom, wiping his spectacles. "Oh yes!"
It was astounding to Edwin how blind he had been to the romance of existence in the Five Towns.
"It's all very well," observed Charlie reflectively, fingering one or two of the other volumes—"it's all very well, and Victor Hugo is Victor Hugo; but you can say what you like—there's a lot of this that'll bear skipping, your worships."
"Not a line!" said a passionate, vibrating voice.
The voice so startled and thrilled Edwin that he almost jumped, as he looked round. To Edwin it was dramatic; it was even dangerous and threatening. He had never heard a quiet voice so charged with intense emotion. Hilda Lessways had come back to the room, and she stood near the door, her face gleaming in the dusk. She stood like an Amazonian defender of the aged poet. Edwin asked himself, "Can any one be so excited as that about a book?" The eyes, lips, and nostrils were a revelation to him. He could feel his heart beating. But the girl strongly repelled him. Nobody else appeared to be conscious that anything singular had occurred. Jimmie and Johnnie sidled out of the room.
"Oh! Indeed!" Charlie directed his candid and yet faintly ironic smile upon Hilda Lessways. "Don't you think that some of it's dullish, Teddy?"
Edwin blushed. "Well, ye-es," he answered, honestly judicial.
"Mrs Orgreave wants to know when you're coming to supper," said Hilda, and left.
Tom was relocking the bookcase.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER EIGHT.
THE FAMILY SUPPER.
"Now father, let's have a bottle of wine, eh?" Charlie vociferously suggested.
Mr Orgreave hesitated: "You'd better ask your mother."
"Really, Charlie—" Mrs Orgreave began.
"Oh yes!" Charlie cut her short. "Right you are, Martha!"
The servant, who had stood waiting for a definite command during this brief conflict of wills, glanced interrogatively at Mrs Orgreave and, perceiving no clear prohibition in her face, departed with a smile to get the wine. She was a servant of sound prestige, and had the inexpressible privilege of smiling on duty. In her time she had fought lively battles of repartee with all the children from Charlie downwards. Janet humoured Martha, and Martha humoured Mrs Orgreave.
The whole family (save absent Marian) was now gathered in the dining-room, another apartment on whose physiognomy were written in cipher the annals of the vivacious tribe. Here the curtains were drawn, and all the interest of the room centred on the large white gleaming table, about which the members stood or sat under the downward radiance of a chandelier. Beyond the circle illuminated by the shaded chandelier could be discerned dim forms of furniture and of pictures, with a glint of high light here and there burning on the corner of some gold frame. Mr and Mrs Orgreave sat at either end of the table. Alicia stood by her father, with one arm half round his neck. Tom sat near his mother. Janet and Hilda sat together, flanked by Jimmie and Johnnie, who stood, having pushed chairs away. Charlie and Edwin stood opposite. The table seemed to Edwin to be heaped with food: cold and yet rich remains of bird and beast; a large fruit pie, opened; another intact; some puddings; cheese; sandwiches; raw fruit; at Janet's elbow were cups and saucers and a pot of coffee; a large glass jug of lemonade shone near by; plates, glasses, and cutlery were strewn about irregularly. The effect upon Edwin was one of immense and careless prodigality; it intoxicated him; it made him feel that a grand profuseness was the finest thing in life. In his own home the supper consisted of cheese, bread, and water, save on Sundays, when cold sausages were generally added, to make a feast. But the idea of the price of living as the Orgreaves lived seriously startled the prudence in him. Imagine that expense always persisting, day after day, night after night! There were certainly at least four in the family who bought clothes at Shillitoe's, and everybody looked elaborately costly, except Hilda Lessways, who did not flatter the eye. But equally, they all seemed quite unconscious of their costliness.
"Now, Charlie darling, you must look after Mr Edwin," said Mrs Orgreave.
"She never calls us darling," said Johnnie, affecting disgust.
"She will, as soon as you've left home," said Janet, ironically soothing.
"I do, I often do!" Mrs Orgreave asserted. "Much oftener than you deserve."
"Sit down, Teddy," Charlie enjoined.
"Oh! I'm all right, thanks," said Edwin.
"Sit down!" Charlie insisted, using force.
"Do you talk to your poor patients in that tone?" Alicia inquired, from the shelter of her father.
"Here I come down specially to see them," Charlie mused aloud, as he twisted the corkscrew into the cork of the bottle, unceremoniously handed to him by Martha, "and not only they don't offer to pay my fares, but they grudge me a drop of claret! Plupp!" He grimaced as the cork came out. "And my last night, too! Hilda, this is better than coffee, as Saint Paul remarked on a famous occasion. Pass your glass."
"Charlie!" his mother protested. "I'll thank you to leave Saint Paul out."
"Charlie! Your mother will be boxing your ears if you don't mind," his father warned him.
"I'll not have it!" said his mother, shaking her head in a fashion that she imagined to be harsh and forbidding.
Towards the close of the meal, Mr Orgreave said—
"Well, Edwin, what does your father say about Bradlaugh?"
"He doesn't say much," Edwin replied.
"Let me see, does he call himself a Liberal?"
"He calls himself a Liberal," said Edwin, shifting on his chair. "Yes, he calls himself a Liberal. But I'm afraid he's a regular old Tory."
Edwin blushed, laughing, as half the family gave way to more or less violent mirth.
"Father's a regular old Tory too," Charlie grinned.
"Oh! I'm sorry," said Edwin.
"Yes, father's a regular old Tory," agreed Mr Orgreave. "Don't apologise! Don't apologise! I'm used to these attacks. I've been nearly kicked out of my own house once. But some one has to keep the flag flying."
It was plain that Mr Orgreave enjoyed the unloosing of the hurricane which he had brought about. Mrs Orgreave used to say that he employed that particular tone from a naughty love of mischief. In a moment all the boys were upon him, except Jimmie, who, out of sheer intellectual snobbery, as the rest averred, supported his father. Atheistical Bradlaugh had been exciting the British public to disputation for a long time, and the Bradlaugh question happened then to be acute. In that very week the Northampton member had been committed to custody for outraging Parliament, and released. And it was known that Gladstone meant immediately to bring in a resolution for permitting members to affirm, instead of taking oath by appealing to a God. Than this complication of theology and politics nothing could have been better devised to impassion an electorate which had but two genuine interests— theology and politics. The rumour of the feverish affair had spread to the most isolated communities. People talked theology, and people talked politics, who had till then only felt silently on these subjects. In loquacious families Bradlaugh caused dissension and division, more real perhaps than apparent, for not all Bradlaugh's supporters had the courage to avow themselves such. It was not easy, at any rate it was not easy in the Five Towns, for a timid man in reply to the question, "Are you in favour of a professed Freethinker sitting in the House of Commons?" to reply, "Yes, I am." There was something shameless in that word 'professed.' If the Freethinker had been ashamed of his freethinking, if he had sought to conceal it in phrases,—the implication was that the case might not have been so bad. This was what astonished Edwin: the candour with which Bradlaugh's position was upheld in the dining-room of the Orgreaves. It was as if he were witnessing deeds of wilful perilous daring.
But the conversation was not confined to Bradlaugh, for Bradlaugh was not a perfect test for separating Liberals and Tories. Nobody in the room, for example, was quite convinced that Mr Orgreave was anti-Bradlaugh. To satisfy their instincts for father-baiting, the boys had to include other topics, such as Ireland and the proposal for Home Rule. As for Mr Orgreave, he could and did always infuriate them by refusing to answer seriously. The fact was that this was his device for maintaining his prestige among the turbulent mob. Dignified and brilliantly clever as Osmond Orgreave had the reputation of being in the town, he was somehow outshone in cleverness at home, and he never put the bar of his dignity between himself and his children. Thus he could only keep the upper hand by allowing hints to escape from him of the secret amusement roused in him by the comicality of the spectacle of his filial enemies. He had one great phrase, which he would drawl out at them with the accents of a man who is trying politely to hide his contempt: "You'll learn better as you get older."
Edwin, who said little, thought the relationship between father and sons utterly delightful. He had not conceived that parents and children ever were or could be on such terms.
"Now what do you say, Edwin?" Mr Orgreave asked. "Are you a—Charlie, pass me that bottle."
Charlie was helping himself to another glass of wine. The father, the two elder sons, and Edwin alone had drunk of the wine. Edwin had never tasted wine in his life, and the effect of half a glass on him was very agreeable and strange.
"Oh, dad! I just want a—" Charlie objected, holding the bottle in the air above his glass.
"Charlie," said his mother, "do you hear your father?"
"Pass me that bottle," Mr Orgreave repeated.
Charlie obeyed, proclaiming himself a martyr. Mr Orgreave filled his own glass, emptying the bottle, and began to sip.
"This will do me more good than you, young man," he said. Then turning again to Edwin: "Are you a Bradlaugh man?"
And Edwin, uplifted, said: "All I say is—you can't help what you believe. You can't make yourself believe anything. And I don't see why you should, either. There's no virtue in believing."
"Hooray," cried the sedate Tom.
"No virtue in believing! Eh, Mr Edwin! Mr Edwin!"
This sad expostulation came from Mrs Orgreave.
"Don't you see what I mean?" he persisted vivaciously, reddening. But he could not express himself further.
"Hooray!" repeated Tom.
Mrs Orgreave shook her head, with grieved good-nature.
"You mustn't take mother too seriously," said Janet, smiling. "She only puts on that expression to keep worse things from being said. She's only pretending to be upset. Nothing could upset her, really. She's past being upset—she's been through so much—haven't you, you poor dear?"
In looking at Janet, Edwin caught the eyes of Hilda blazing on him fixedly. Her head seemed to tremble, and he glanced away. She had added nothing to the discussion. And indeed Janet herself had taken no part in the politics, content merely to advise the combatants upon their demeanour.
"So you're against me too, Edwin!" Mr Orgreave sighed with mock melancholy. "Well, this is no place for me." He rose, lifted Alicia and put her into his arm-chair, and then went towards the door.
"You aren't going to work, are you, Osmond?" his wife asked, turning her head.
"I am," said he.
He disappeared amid a wailing chorus of "Oh, dad!"
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER NINE.
IN THE PORCH.
When the front door of the Orgreaves interposed itself that night between Edwin and a little group of gas-lit faces, he turned away towards the warm gloom of the garden in a state of happy excitement. He had left fairly early, despite protests, because he wished to give his father no excuse for a spectacular display of wrath; Edwin's desire for a tranquil existence was growing steadily. But now that he was in the open air, he did not want to go home. He wanted to be in full possession of himself, at leisure and in freedom, and to examine the treasure of his sensations. "It's been rather quiet," the Orgreaves had said. "We generally have people dropping in." Quiet! It was the least quiet evening he had ever spent.
He was intoxicated; not with wine, though he had drunk wine. A group of well-intentioned philanthropists, organised into a powerful society for combating the fearful evils of alcoholism, had seized Edwin at the age of twelve and made him bind himself with solemn childish signature and ceremonies never to taste alcohol save by doctor's orders. He thought of this pledge in the garden of the Orgreaves. "Damned rot!" he murmured, and dismissed the pledge from his mind as utterly unimportant, if not indeed fatuous. No remorse! The whole philosophy of asceticism inspired him, at that moment, with impatient scorn. It was the hope of pleasure that intoxicated him, the vision which he had had of the possibilities of being really interested in life. He saw new avenues toward joy, and the sight thereof made him tingle, less with the desire to be immediately at them than with the present ecstasy of contemplating them. He was conscious of actual physical tremors and agreeable smartings in his head; electric disturbances. But he did not reason; he felt. He was passive, not active. He would not even, just then, attempt to make new plans. He was in a beatitude, his mouth unaware that it was smiling.
Behind him was the lighted house; in front the gloom of the lawn ending in shrubberies and gates, with a street-lamp beyond. And there was silence, save for the vast furnace-breathings, coming over undulating miles, which the people of the Five Towns, hearing them always, never hear. A great deal of diffused light filtered through the cloudy sky. The warm wandering airs were humid on the cheek. He must return home. He could not stand dreaming all the night in the garden of the Orgreaves. To his right uprose the great rectangular mass of his father's new house, entirely free of scaffolding, having all the aspect of a house inhabited. It looked enormous. He was proud of it. In such an abode, and so close to the Orgreaves, what could he not do?
Why go to gaze on it again? There was no common sense in doing so. And yet he felt: "I must have another glance at it before I go home." From his attitude towards it, he might have been the creator of that house. That house was like one of his more successful drawings. When he had done a drawing that he esteemed, he was always looking at it. He would look at it before running down to breakfast; and after breakfast, instead of going straight to the shop, he would rush upstairs to have still another look at it. The act of inspection gave him pleasure. So with the house. Strange, superficially; but the simple explanation was that for some things he had the eyes of love... Yes, in his dancing and happy brain the impulse to revisit the house was not to be conquered.
The few battered yards of hedge between his father's land and that of Mr Orgreave seemed more passable in the night. He crunched along the gravel, stepped carefully with noiseless foot on the flower-bed, and then pushed himself right through the frail bushes, forgetting the respect due to his suit. The beginning of summer had dried the sticky clay of the new garden; paths had already been traced on it, and trenches cut for the draining of the lawn that was to be. Edwin in the night saw the new garden finished, mellow, blooming with such blossoms as were sold in Saint Luke's Market; he had scarcely ever seen flowers growing in the mass. He saw himself reclining in the garden with a rare and beautiful book in his hand, while the sound of Beethoven's music came to him through the open window of the drawing-room. In so far as he saw Maggie at all, he saw her somehow mysteriously elegant and vivacious He did not see his father. His fancy had little relation to reality. But this did not mar his pleasure... Then he saw himself talking over the hedge, wittily, to amiable and witty persons in the garden of the Orgreaves.
He had not his key to the new house, but he knew a way of getting into it through the cellar. No reason in doing so; nevertheless he must get into it, must localise his dream in it! He crouched down under the blank east wall, and, feet foremost, disappeared slowly, as though the house were swallowing him. He stood on the stillage of the cellar, and struck a match. Immense and weird, the cellar; and the doorless doorway, leading to the cellar steps, seemed to lead to affrighting matters. He was in the earth, in it, with the smells of damp mortar and of bricks and of the earth itself about him, and above him rose the house, a room over him, and a room over that and another over that, and then the chimney-cowl up in the sky. He jumped from the stillage, and went quickly to the doorway and saw the cellar steps. His heart was beating. He trembled, he was afraid, exquisitely afraid, acutely conscious of himself amid the fundamental mysteries of the universe. He reached the top of the steps as the match expired. After a moment he could distinguish the forms of things in the hall, even the main features of the pattern of the tiles. The small panes in the glazed front door, whose varied tints repeated those of the drawing-room window in daytime, now showed a uniform dull grey, lifeless. The cellar was formidable below, and the stairs curved upwards into the formidable. But he climbed them. The house seemed full of inexplicable noises. When he stopped to listen he could hear scores of different infinitesimal sounds. His spine thrilled, as if a hand delicate and terrible had run down it in a caress. All the unknown of the night and of the universe was pressing upon him, but it was he alone who had created the night and the universe. He reached his room, the room in which he meant to inaugurate the new life and the endeavour towards perfection. Already, after his manner, he had precisely settled where the bed was to be, and where the table, and all the other objects of his world. There he would sit and read rare and beautiful books in the original French! And there he would sit to draw! And to the right of the hearth over bookshelves would be such and such a picture, and to the left of the hearth over bookshelves such and such another picture... Only, now, he could not dream in the room as he had meant to dream; because beyond the open door was the empty landing and the well of the stairs and all the terror of the house. The terror came and mingled with the delicious sensations that had seized him in the solitude of the garden of the Orgreaves. No! Never had he been so intensely alive as then!
He went cautiously to the window and looked forth. Instantly the terror of the house was annihilated. It fell away, was gone. He was not alone in his fancy-created universe. The reassuring illusion of reality came back like a clap of thunder. He could see a girl insinuating herself through the gap in the hedge which he had made ten minutes earlier.
"What the deuce is she after?" he muttered. He wondered whether, if she happened to glance upwards, she would be able to see him. He stood away a little from the window, but as in the safer position he could no longer distinguish her he came again close to the glass. After all, there could be no risk of her seeing him. And if she did see him,—the fright would be hers, not his.
Having passed through the hedge, she stopped, bent down, leaning backward and to one side, and lifted the hem of her skirt to examine it; possibly it was torn; then she dropped it. By that black, tight skirt and by something in her walk he knew she was Hilda; he could not decipher her features. She moved towards the new house, very slowly, as if she had emerged for an aimless nocturnal stroll. Strange and disquieting creature! He peered as far as he could leftwards, to see the west wall of Lane End House. In a window of the upper floor a light burned. The family had doubtless gone to bed, or were going... And she had wandered forth solitary and was trespassing in his garden. "Cheek!" If ever he got an opportunity he should mysteriously tease her on the subject of illegal night excursions! Yes, he should be very witty and ironic. "Nothing but cheek!" He was confirmed in his hostility to her. She had no charm, and yet the entire Orgreave family was apparently infatuated about her. Her interruption on behalf of Victor Hugo seemed to be savage. Girls ought not to use that ruthless tone. And her eyes were hard, even cruel. She was less feminine than masculine. Her hair was not like a girl's hair.
She still came on, until the projecting roof of the bay-window beneath him hid her from sight. He would have opened his window and leaned out to glimpse her, could he have done so without noise. Where was she? In the garden porch? She did not reappear. She might be capable of getting into the house! She might even then actually be getting into the house! She was queer, incalculable. Supposing that she was in the habit of surreptitiously visiting the house, and had found a key to fit one of the doors, or supposing that she could push up a window,—she would doubtless mount the stairs and trap him! Absurd, these speculations; as absurd as a nightmare! But they influenced his conduct. He felt himself forced to provide against the wildest hazards. Abruptly he departed from the bedroom and descended the stairs, stamping, clumping, with all possible noise; in addition he whistled. This was to warn her to fly. He stopped in the hall until she had had time to fly, and then he lit a match as a signal which surely no carelessness could miss. He could have gone direct by the front door into the street, so leaving her to her odd self; but, instead, he drew back the slip-catch of the garden door and opened it, self-consciously humming a tune.
She was within the porch. She turned deliberately to look at him. He could feel his heart-beats. His cheeks burned, and yet he was chilled.
"Who's there?" he asked. But he did not succeed to his own satisfaction in acting alarmed surprise.
"Me!" said Hilda, challengingly, rudely.
"Oh!" he murmured, at a loss. "Did you want me? Did any one want me?"
"Yes," she said. "I just wanted to ask you something," she paused. He could not see her scowling, but it seemed to him that she must be. He remembered that she had rather thick eyebrows, and that when she brought them nearer together by a frown, they made almost one continuous line, the effect of which was not attractive.
"Did you know I was in here?"
"Yes. That's my bedroom window over there—I've left the gas up—and I saw you get through the hedge. So I came down. They'd all gone off to bed except Tom, and I told him I was just going a walk in the garden for a bit. They never worry me, you know. They let me alone. I knew you'd got into the house, by the light."
"But I only struck a match a second ago," he protested.
"Excuse me," she said coldly; "I saw a light quite five minutes ago."
"Oh yes!" he apologised. "I remember. When I came up the cellar steps."
"I dare say you think it's very queer of me," she continued.
"Not at all," he said quickly.
"Yes you do," she bitterly insisted. "But I want to know. Did you mean it when you said—you know, at supper—that there's no virtue in believing?"
"Did I say there was no virtue in believing?" he stammeringly demanded.
"Of course you did!" she remonstrated. "Do you mean to say you can say a thing like that and then forget about it? If it's true, it's one of the most wonderful things that were ever said. And that's why I wanted to know if you meant it or whether you were only saying it because it sounded clever. That's what they're always doing in that house, you know, being clever!" Her tone was invariably harsh.
"Yes," he said simply, "I meant it. Why?"
"You did?" Her voice seemed to search for insincerity. "Well, thank you. That's all. It may mean a new life to me. I'm always trying to believe; always! Aren't you?"
"I don't know," he mumbled. "How do you mean?"
"Well—you know!" she said, as if impatiently smashing his pretence of not understanding her. "But perhaps you do believe?"
He thought he detected scorn for a facile believer. "No," he said, "I don't."
"And it doesn't worry you? Honestly? Don't be clever! I hate that!"
"No," he said.
"Don't you ever think about it?"
"No. Not often."
"Has he told you?" ("So she talks to the Sunday too!" he reflected.)
"Yes; but of course I quite see why it doesn't worry you—if you honestly think there's no virtue in believing."
"Well," said Edwin. "Is there?" The more he looked at it through her eyes, the more wonderful profundities he discovered in that remark of his, which at the time of uttering it had appeared to him a simple platitude. It went exceedingly deep in many directions.
"I hope you are right," she replied. Her voice shook.
There was silence. To ease the strain of his self-consciousness Edwin stepped down from the stone floor of the porch to the garden. He felt rain. And he noticed that the sky was very much darker.
"By Jove!" he said. "It's beginning to rain, I do believe."
"I thought it would," she answered.
A squall of wind suddenly surged rustling through the high trees in the garden of the Orgreaves, and the next instant threw a handful of wild raindrops on his cheek.
"You'd better stand against the other wall," he suggested. "You'll catch it there, if it keeps on."
She obeyed. He returned to the porch, but remained in the exposed portion of it.
"Better come here," she said, indicating somehow her side.
"Oh! I'm all right."
"You needn't be afraid of me," she snapped.
He grinned awkwardly, but said nothing, for he could not express his secret resentment. He considered the girl to be of exceedingly unpleasant manners.
"Would you mind telling me the time?" she asked.
He took out his watch, but peer as he might, he could not discern the position of the hands.
"Half a second," he said, and struck a match. The match was blown out before he could look at the dial, but by its momentary flash he saw Hilda, pressed against the wall. Her lips were tight, her eyes blazing, her hands clenched. She frowned; she was pale, and especially pale by contrast with the black of her plain austere dress.
"If you'll come into the house," he said, "I can get a light there." The door was ajar.
"No thanks," she declined. "It doesn't really matter what time it is, does it? Good night!"
He divined that she was offering her hand. He clasped it blindly in the dark. He could not refuse to shake hands. Her hand gave his a feverish and lingering squeeze, which was like a contradicting message in the dark night; as though she were sending through her hand a secret denial of her spoken accents and her frown. He forgot to answer her 'good night.' A trap rattled furiously up the road. (Yes; only six yards off, on the other side of the boundary wall, was the public road! And he standing hidden there in the porch with this girl whom he had seen for the first time that evening!) It was the mail-cart, rushing to Knype.
She did not move. She had said 'good night' and shaken hands; and yet she remained. They stood speechless.
Then without warning, after perhaps a minute that seemed like ten minutes, she walked away, slowly, into the rain. And as she did so, Edwin could just see her straightening her spine and throwing back her shoulders with a proud gesture.
"I say, Miss Lessways!" he called in a low voice. But he had no notion of what he wanted to say. Only her departure had unlocked his throat.
She made no sign. Again he grinned awkwardly, a little ashamed of her and a little ashamed of himself, because neither had behaved as woman or man of the world.
After a short interval he followed in her steps as far as the gap in the hedge, which he did not find easily. There was no sign of her. The gas burned serenely in her bedroom, and the window was open. Then he saw the window close up a little, and an arm in front of the drawn blind. The rain had apparently ceased.
"Well, that's an eye-opener, that is!" he murmured, and thereby expressed the situation. "Of all the damned impudence!" He somewhat overstated his feelings, because he was posing a little to himself: an accident that sooner or later happens to every man! "And she'll go back and make out to Master Tom that she's just had a stroll in the garden! Garden, indeed! And yet they're all so fearfully stuck on her."
He nodded his head several times reflectively, as if saying, "Well, well! What next?" And he murmured aloud: "So that's how they carry on, is it!" He meant, of course, women... He was very genuinely astounded.
But the chief of all his acute sensations in that moment was pride: sheer pride. He thought, what ninety-nine men out of a hundred would have thought in such circumstances: "She's taken a fancy to me!" Useless to call him a conceited coxcomb, from disgust that he did not conform to a sentimentally idealistic standard! He thought: "She's taken a fancy to me!" And he was not a conceited coxcomb. He exulted in the thought. Nothing had ever before so startled and uplifted him. It constituted the supreme experience of his career as a human being. The delightful and stimulating experience of his evening in the house of the Orgreaves sank into unimportance by the side of it. The new avenues towards joy which had been revealed to him appeared now to be quite unexciting paths; he took them for granted. And he forgot the high and serious mood of complex emotion in which he had entered the new house. Music and the exotic flavours of a foreign language seemed a little thing, in comparison with the feverish hand-clasp of the girl whom he so peculiarly disliked. The lifeless hand which he had taken in the drawing-room of the Orgreaves could not be the same hand as that which had closed intimately on his under the porch. She must have two right hands!
And, even more base than his coxcombry, he despised her because it was he, Edwin, to whom she had taken a fancy. He had not sufficient self-confidence to justify her fancy in his own eyes. His argument actually was that no girl worth having could have taken a fancy to him at sight. Thus he condemned her for her faith in him. As for his historic remark about belief,—well, there might or might not be something in that; perhaps there was something in it. One instant he admired it, and the next he judged it glib and superficial. Moreover, he had conceivably absorbed it from a book. But even if it were an original epigrammatic pearl—was that an adequate reason for her following him to an empty house at dead of night? Of course, an overwhelming passion might justify such behaviour! He could recall cases in literature... Yes, he had got so far as to envisage the possibility of overwhelming passion... Then all these speculations disconcertingly vanished, and Hilda presented herself to his mind as a girl intensely religious, who would shrink from no unconventionality in the pursuit of truth. He did not much care for this theory of Hilda, nor did it convince him.
"Imagine marrying a girl like that!" he said to himself disdainfully. And he made a catalogue of her defects of person and of character. She was severe, satiric, merciless. "And I suppose—if I were to put my finger up!" Thus ran on his despicable ideas. "Janet Orgreave, now!" Janet had every quality that he could desire, that he could even think of. Janet was balm.
"You needn't be afraid," that unpleasant girl had said. And he had only been able to grin in reply!
Still, pride! Intense masculine pride!
There was one thing he had liked about her: that straightening of the spine and setting back of the shoulders as she left him. She had in her some tinge of the heroic.
He quitted the garden, and as soon as he was in the street he remembered that he had not pulled-to the garden door of the house. "Dash the confounded thing!" he exploded, returning. But he was not really annoyed. He would not have been really annoyed even if he had had to return from half-way down Trafalgar Road. Everything was a trifle save that a girl had run after him under such romantic circumstances. The circumstances were not strictly romantic, but they so seemed to him.
Going home, he did not meet a soul; only in the middle distance of one of the lower side streets he espied a policeman. Trafalgar Road was a solitude of bright and forlorn gas lamps and dark, excluding facades.
Suddenly he came to the corner of Wedgwood Street. He had started from Bleakridge; he had arrived at home: the interval between these two events was a perfect blank, save for the policeman. He could not recall having walked all the way down the road. And as he put the key into the door he was not in the least disturbed by the thought that his father might not have gone to bed. He went upstairs with a certain swaggering clatter, as who should say to all sleepers and bullies: "You be damned! I don't care for any of you! Something's happened to me."
And he mused: "If anybody had told me this afternoon that before midnight I should—"
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER TEN.
It was immediately after this that the "Centenary"—mispronounced in every manner conceivable—began to obsess the town. Superior and aloof persons, like the Orgreaves, had for weeks heard a good deal of vague talk about the Centenary from people whom intellectually they despised, and had condescended to the Centenary as an amiable and excusable affair which lacked interest for them. They were wrong. Edwin had gone further, and had sniffed at the Centenary, to everybody except his father. And Edwin was especially wrong. On the antepenultimate day of June he first uneasily suspected that he had committed a fault of appraisement. That was when his father brusquely announced that by request of the Mayor all places of business in the town would be closed in honour of the Centenary. It was the Centenary of the establishment of Sunday schools.
Edwin hated Sunday schools. Nay, he venomously resented them, though they had long ceased to incommode him. They were connected in his memory with atrocious tedium, pietistic insincerity, and humiliating contacts. At the bottom of his mind he still regarded them as a malicious device of parents for wilfully harassing and persecuting inoffensive, helpless children. And he had a particular grudge against them because he alone of his father's offspring had been chosen for the nauseating infliction. Why should his sisters have been spared and he doomed? He became really impatient when Sunday schools were under discussion, and from mere irrational annoyance he would not admit that Sunday schools had any good qualities whatever. He knew nothing of their history, and wished to know nothing.
Nevertheless, when the day of the Centenary dawned—and dawned in splendour—he was compelled, even within himself, to treat Sunday schools with more consideration. And, in fact, for two or three days previously the gathering force of public opinion had been changing his attitude from stern hatred to a sort of half-hearted derision. Now, the derision was mysteriously transformed into an inimical respect. By what? By he knew not what. By something without a name in the air which the mind breathes. He felt it at six o'clock, ere he arose. Lying in bed he felt it. The day was to be a festival. The shop would not open, nor the printing office. The work of preparing for the removal would be suspended. The way of daily life would be quite changed. He was free—that was, nearly free. He said to himself that of course his excited father would expect him to witness the celebrations and to wear his best clothes, and that was a bore. But therein he was not quite honest. For he secretly wanted to witness the celebrations and to wear his best clothes. His curiosity was hungry. He admitted, what many had been asserting for weeks, that the Centenary was going to be a big thing; and his social instinct wished him to share in the pride of it.
"It's a grand day!" exclaimed his father, cheerful and all glossy as he looked out upon Duck Square before breakfast, "It'll be rare and hot!" And it was a grand day; one of the dazzling spectacular blue-and-gold days of early summer. And Maggie was in finery. And Edwin too! Useless for him to pretend that a big thing was not afoot—and his father in a white waistcoat! Breakfast was positively talkative, though the conversation was naught but a repeating and repeating of what the arrangements were, and of what everybody had decided to do. The three lingered over breakfast, because there was no reason to hurry. And then even Maggie left the sitting-room without a care, for though Clara was coming for dinner Mrs Nixon could be trusted. Mrs Nixon, if she had time, would snatch half an hour in the afternoon to see what remained to be seen of the show. Families must eat. And if Mrs Nixon was stopped by duty from assisting at this Centenary, she must hope to be more at liberty for the next.
At nine o'clock, in a most delicious mood of idleness, Edwin strolled into the shop. His father had taken down one shutter from the doorway, and slanted it carelessly against another on the pavement. A blind man or a drunkard might have stumbled against it and knocked it over. The letters had been hastily opened. Edwin could see them lying in disorder on the desk in the little office. The dust-sheets thought the day was Sunday. He stood in the narrow aperture and looked forth. Duck Square was a shimmer of sunshine. The Dragon and the Duck and the other public-house at the top corner seemed as usual, stolidly confident in the thirst of populations. But the Borough Dining Rooms, next door but one to the corner of Duck Square and Wedgwood Street, were not as usual. The cart of Doy, the butcher, had halted laden in front of the Borough Dining Rooms, and the anxious proprietor, attended by his two little daughters (aproned and sleeved for hard work in imitation of their stout, perspiring mother), was accepting unusual joints from it. Ticklish weather for meat—you could see that from the man's gestures. Even on ordinary days those low-ceiled dining-rooms, stretching far back from the street in a complicated vista of interiors, were apt to be crowded; for the quality of the eightpenny dinner could be relied upon. Edwin imagined what a stifling, deafening inferno of culinary odours and clatter they would be at one o'clock, at two o'clock.
Three hokey-pokey ice-cream hand-carts, one after another, turned the corner of Trafalgar Road and passed in front of him along Wedgwood Street. Three! The men pushing them, one an Italian, seemed to wear nothing but shirt and trousers, with a straw hat above and vague slippers below. The steam-car lumbered up out of the valley of the road and climbed Duck Bank, throwing its enormous shadow to the left. It was half full of bright frocks and suits. An irregular current of finery was setting in to the gates of the Wesleyan School yard at the top of the Bank. And ceremoniously bedecked individuals of all ages hurried in this direction and in that, some with white handkerchiefs over flowered hats, a few beneath parasols. All the town's store of Sunday clothes was in use. The humblest was crudely gay. Pawnbrokers had full tills and empty shops, for twenty-four hours.
Then a procession appeared, out of Moorthorne Road, from behind the Wesleyan Chapel-keeper's house. And as it appeared it burst into music. First a purple banner, upheld on crimson poles with gilded lance-points; then a brass band in full note; and then children, children, children—little, middling, and big. As the procession curved down into Trafalgar Road, it grew in stature, until, towards the end of it, the children were as tall as the adults who walked fussily as hens, proudly as peacocks, on its flank. And last came a railway lorry on which dozens of tiny infants had been penned; and the horses of the lorry were ribboned and their manes and tails tightly plaited; on that grand day they could not be allowed to protect themselves against flies; they were sacrificial animals.
A power not himself drew Edwin to the edge of the pavement. He could read on the immense banner: "Moorthorne Saint John's Sunday School." These, then, were church folk. And indeed the next moment he descried a curate among the peacocks. The procession made another curve into Wedgwood Street, on its way to the supreme rendezvous in Saint Luke's Square. The band blared; the crimson cheeks of the trumpeters sucked in and out; the drum-men leaned backwards to balance his burden, and banged. Every soul of the variegated company, big and little, was in a perspiration. The staggering bearers of the purple banner, who held the great poles in leathern sockets slung from the shoulders, and their acolytes before and behind who kept the banner upright by straining at crimson halyards, sweated most of all. Every foot was grey with dust, and the dark trousers of boys and men showed dust. The steamy whiff of humanity struck Edwin's nostrils. Up hill and down dale the procession had already walked over two miles. Yet it was alert, joyous, and expectant: a chattering procession. From the lorry rose a continuous faint shriek of infantile voices. Edwin was saddened as by pathos. I believe that as he gazed at the procession waggling away along Wedgwood Street he saw Sunday schools in a new light.
And that was the opening of the day. There were to be dozens of such processions. Some would start only in the town itself; but others were coming from the villages like Red Cow, five sultry miles off.
A young woman under a sunshade came slowly along Wedgwood Street. She was wearing a certain discreet amount of finery, but her clothes did not fit well, and a thin mantle was arranged so as to lessen as much as possible the obviousness of the fact that she was about to become a mother. The expression of her face was discontented and captious. Edwin did not see her until she was close upon him, and then he immediately became self-conscious and awkward.
"Hello, Clara!" he greeted her, with his instinctive warm, transient smile, holding out his hand sheepishly. It was a most extraordinary and amazing thing that he could never regard the ceremony of shaking hands with a relative as other than an affectation of punctilio. Happily he was not wearing his hat; had it been on his head he would never have taken it off, and yet would have cursed himself for not doing so.
"We are grand!" exclaimed Clara, limply taking his hand and dropping it as an article of no interest. In her voice there was still some echo of former sprightliness. The old Clara in her had not till that moment beheld the smart and novel curves of Edwin's Shillitoe suit, and the satiric cry came unbidden from her heart.
Edwin gave an uneasy laugh, which was merely the outlet for his disgust. Not that he was specially disgusted with Clara, for indeed marriage had assuaged a little the tediousness of some of her mannerisms, even if it had taken away from her charm. He was disgusted more comprehensively by the tradition, universal in his class and in most classes, according to which relatives could not be formally polite to one another. He obeyed the tradition as slavishly as anyone, but often said to himself that he would violate the sacred rule if only he could count on a suitable response; he knew that he could not count on a suitable response; and he had no mind to be in the excruciating position of one who, having started "God save the Queen" at a meeting, finds himself alone in the song. Why could not he and Clara behave together as, for instance, he and Janet Orgreave would behave together, with dignity, with worldliness, with mutual deference? But no! It was impossible, and would ever be so. They had been too brutally intimate, and the result was irremediable.