"She's got no room to talk about personal appearance, anyway!" he thought sardonically.
There was another extraordinary and amazing thing. He was ashamed of her condition! He could not help the feeling. In vain he said to himself that her condition was natural and proper. In vain he remembered the remark of the sage that a young woman in her condition was the most beautiful sight in the world. He was ashamed of it. And he did not think it beautiful; he thought it ugly. It worried him. What,—his sister? Other men's sisters, yes; but his! He forgot that he himself had been born. He could scarcely bear to look at Clara. Her face was thin, and changed in colour; her eyes were unnaturally lustrous and large, bold and fatigued; she looked ill, really ill; and she was incredibly unornamental. And this was she whom he could remember as a graceful child! And it was all perfectly correct and even laudable! So much so that young Clara undoubtedly looked down, now, as from a superior height, upon both himself and Maggie!
"Where's father?" she asked. "Just shut my sunshade."
"Oh! Somewhere about. I expect he'll be along in a minute. Albert coming?" He followed her into the shop.
"Albert!" she protested, shocked. "Albert can't possibly come till one o'clock. Didn't you know he's one of the principal stewards in Saint Luke's Square? He says we aren't to wait dinner for him if he isn't prompt."
"Oh!" Edwin replied, and put the sunshade on the counter.
Clara sat down heavily on a chair, and began to fan herself with a handkerchief. In spite of the heat of exercise her face was of a pallid yellow.
"I suppose you're going to stay here all morning?" Edwin inquired.
"Well," said Clara, "you don't see me walking up and down the streets all morning, do you? Albert said I was to be sure and go upstairs at once and not move. He said there'd be plenty to see for a long time yet from the sitting-room window, and then afterwards I could lie down."
Albert said! Albert said! Clara's intonation of this frequent phrase always jarred on Edwin. It implied that Albert was the supreme fount of wisdom and authority in Bursley. Whereas to Edwin, Albert was in fact a mere tedious, self-important manufacturer in a small way, with whom he had no ideas in common. "A decent fellow at bottom," the fastidious Edwin was bound to admit to himself by reason of slight glimpses which he had had of Albert's uncouth good-nature; but pietistic, overbearing, and without humour.
"Where's Maggie?" Clara demanded.
"I think she's putting her things on," said Edwin.
"But didn't she understand I was coming early?" Clara's voice was querulous, and she frowned.
"I don't know," said Edwin.
He felt that if they remained together for hours, he and Clara would never rise above this plane of conversation—personal, factual, perfectly devoid of wide interest. They would never reach an exchange of general ideas; they never had done. He did not think that Clara had any general ideas.
"I hear you're getting frightfully thick with the Orgreaves," Clara observed, with a malicious accent and smile, as if to imply that he was getting frightfully above himself, and—simultaneously—that the Orgreaves were after all no better than other people.
"Who told you that?" He walked towards the doorway uneasily. The worst was that he could not successfully pretend that these sisterly attacks were lost on him.
"Never mind who told me," said Clara.
Her voice took on a sudden charming roguish quality, and he could hear again the girl of fourteen. His heart at once softened to her. The impartial and unmoved spectator that sat somewhere in Edwin, as in everybody who possesses artistic sensibility, watching his secret life as from a conning tower, thought how strange this was. He stared out into the street. And then a face appeared at the aperture left by the removed shutter. It was Janet Orgreave's, and it hesitated. Edwin gave a nervous start.
Janet was all in white again, and her sunshade was white, with regular circular holes in it to let through spots of sunlight which flecked her face. Edwin had not recovered from the blow of her apparition just at that moment, when he saw Hilda Lessways beyond her. Hilda was slate-coloured, and had a black sunshade. His heart began to thump; it might have been a dramatic and dangerous crisis that had suddenly come about. And to Edwin the situation did in fact present itself as critical: his sister behind, and these two so different girls in front. Yet there was nothing critical in it whatsoever. He shook hands as in a dream, wondering what he should do, trying to summon out of himself the man of the world.
"Do come in," he urged them, hoping they would refuse.
"Oh no. We mustn't come in," said Janet, smiling gratefully. Hilda did not smile; she had not even smiled in shaking hands; and she had shaken hands without conviction.
Edwin heard a hurried step in the shop, and then the voice of Maggie, maternal and protective, in a low exclamation of surprise: "You, dear!" And then the sound of a smacking kiss, and Clara's voice, thin, weak, and confiding: "Yes, I've come." "Come upstairs, do!" said Maggie imploringly. "Come and be comfortable." Then steps, ceasing to be heard as the sisters left the shop at the back. The solicitude of Maggie for Clara during the last few months had seemed wonderful to Edwin, as also Clara's occasional childlike acceptance of it.
"But you must come in!" he said more boldly to the visitors, asking himself whether either Janet on Hilda had caught sight of his sisters in the gloom of the shop.
They entered, Hilda stiffly. Each with the same gesture closed her parasol before passing through the slit between the shutters into the deep shade. But whereas Janet smiled with pleasant anticipation as though she was going into heaven, Hilda wrinkled her forehead when her parasol would not subside at the first touch.
Janet talked of the Centenary; said they had decided only that morning to come down into the town and see whatever was to be seen; said with an angelic air of apologising to the Centenary that up at Lane End House they had certainly been under-estimating its importance and its interest as a spectacle; said that it was most astonishing to see all the shops closed. And Edwin interjected vague replies, pulling the chair out of the little ebonised cubicle so that they could both sit down. And Hilda remained silent. And Edwin's thoughts were diving darkly beneath Janet's chatter as in a deep sea beneath light waves. He heard and answered Janet with a minor part of his being that functioned automatically.
"She's a caution!" reflected the main Edwin, obsessed in secret by Hilda Lessways. Who could have guessed, by looking at her, that only three evenings before she had followed him in the night to question him, to squeeze his hand, and to be rude to him? Did Janet know? Did anyone? No! He felt sure that he and she had the knowledge of that interview to themselves. She sat down glum, almost glowering. She was no more worldly than Maggie and Clara were worldly. Than they, she had no more skill to be sociable. And in appearance she was scarcely more stylish. But she was not as they, and it was useless vindictively to disparage her by pretending that she was. She could be passionate concerning Victor Hugo. She was capable of disturbing herself about the abstract question of belief. He had not heard her utter a single word in the way of common girlish conversation.
The doubt again entered his mind whether indeed her visit to the porch of the new house had been due to a genuine interest in abstract questions and not to a fancy for himself. "Yes," he reflected, "that must have been it."
In two days his pride in the affair had lost its first acuteness, though it had continued to brighten every moment of his life, and though he had not ceased to regret that he had no intimate friend to whom he could recount it in solemn and delicious intimacy. Now, philosophically, he stamped on his pride as on a fire. And he affected to be relieved at the decision that the girl had been moved by naught but a sort of fanaticism. But he was not relieved by the decision. The decision itself was not genuine. He still clung to the notion that she had followed him for himself. He preferred that she should have taken a fancy to him, even though he discovered no charm in her, no beauty, no solace, nothing but matter for repulsion. He wanted her to think of him, in spite of his distaste for her; to think of him hopelessly. "You are an ass!" murmured the impartial watcher in the conning tower. And he was. But he did not care. It was agreeable thus to be an ass... His pride flared up again, and instead of stamping he blew on it.
"By Jove!" he thought, eyeing her slyly, "I'll make you show your hand— you see if I don't! You think you can play with me, but you can't!" He was as violent against her as if she had done him an injury instead of having squeezed his hand in the dark. Was it not injurious to have snapped at him, when he refused her invitation to stand by her against the wall in the porch, "You needn't be afraid"? Janet would never have said such a thing. If only she resembled Janet! ...
During all this private soliloquising, Edwin's mien of mild nervousness never hardened to betray his ferocity, and he said nothing that might not have been said by an innocuous idiot.
The paper boy, arrayed richly, slipped apologetically into the shop. He had certain packets to take out for delivery, and he was late. Edwin nodded to him distantly. The conversation languished.
Then the head of Mr Orgreave appeared in the aperture. The architect seemed amused. Edwin could not understand how he had ever stood in awe of Mr Orgreave, who, with all his distinction and expensiveness, was the most companionable person in the world.
"Oh! Father!" cried Janet. "What a deceitful thing you are! Do you know, Mr Edwin, he pooh-poohed us coming down: he said he was far too busy for such childish things as Centenaries! And look at him!"
Mr Orgreave, whose suit, hat, and necktie were a harmony of elegant greys, smiled with paternal ease, and swung his cane. "Come along now! Don't let's miss anything. Come along. Now, Edwin, you're coming, aren't you?"
"Did you ever see such a child?" murmured Janet, adoring him.
Edwin turned to the paper boy. "Just find my father before you go," he commanded. "Tell him I've gone, and ask him if you are to put the shutter up." The paper boy respectfully promised obedience. And Edwin was glad that the forbidding Hilda was there to witness his authority.
Janet went out first. Hilda hesitated; and Edwin, having taken his hat from its hook in the cubicle, stood attending her at the aperture. He was sorry that he could not run upstairs for a walking-stick. At last she seemed to decide to leave, yet left with apparent reluctance. Edwin followed, giving a final glance at the boy, who was tying a parcel hurriedly. Mr Orgreave and his daughter were ten yards off, arm-in-arm. Edwin fell into step with Hilda Lessways. Janet looked round, and smiled and beckoned. "I wonder," said Edwin to himself, "what the devil's going to happen now? I'll take my oath she stayed behind on purpose! Well—" This swaggering audacity was within. Without, even a skilled observer could have seen nothing but a faint, sheepish smile. And his heart was thumping again.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER ELEVEN.
THE BOTTOM OF THE SQUARE.
Another procession—that of the Old Church Sunday school—came up, with standards floating and drums beating, out of the steepness of Woodisun Bank, and turned into Wedgwood Street, which thenceforward was loosely thronged by procession and sightseers. The importance of the festival was now quite manifest, for at the end of the street could be seen Saint Luke's Square, massed with human beings in movement. Osmond Orgreave and his daughter were lost to view in the brave crowd; but after a little, Edwin distinctly saw Janet's sunshade leave Wedgwood Street at the corner of the Wedgwood Institution and bob slowly into the Cock Yard, which was a narrow thoroughfare leading to the market-place and the Town Hall, and so to the top of Saint Luke's Square. He said nothing, and kept straight on along Wedgwood Street past the Covered Market.
"I hope you didn't catch cold in the rain the other night," he remarked—grimly, as he thought.
"I should have thought it would have been you who were more likely to catch cold," Hilda replied, in her curt manner. She looked in front of her. The words seem to him to carry a double meaning. Suddenly she moved her head, glanced full at him for an instant, and glanced behind her. "Where are they?" she inquired.
"The others? Aren't they in front? They must be some where about."
Unless she also had marked their deviation into the Cock Yard, why had she glanced behind her in asking where they were? She knew as well as he that they had started in front. He could only deduce that she had been as willing as himself to lose Mr Orgreave and Janet. Just then an acquaintance raised his hat to Edwin in acknowledgement of the lady's presence, and he responded with pride. Whatever his private attitude to Hilda, he was undeniably proud to be seen in the streets with a disdainful, aloof girl unknown to the town. It was an experience entirely new to him, and it flattered him. He desired to look long at her face, to examine her expression, to make up his mind about her; but he could not, because they were walking side by side. The sole manifestation of her that he could judge was her voice. It was a remarkable voice, rather deep, with a sort of chiselled intonation. The cadences of it fell on the ear softly and yet ruthlessly, and when she had finished speaking you became aware of silence, as after a solemn utterance of destiny. What she happened to have been saying seemed to be immaterial to the effect, which was physical, vibratory.
At the border of Saint Luke's Square, junction of eight streets, true centre of the town's traffic, and the sole rectangular open space enclosed completely by shops, they found a line of constables which yielded only to processions and to the bearers of special rosettes. 'The Square,' as it was called by those who inhabited it, had been chosen for the historic scene of the day because of its pre-eminent claim and suitability; the least of its advantages—its slope, from the top of which it could be easily dominated by a speaker on a platform— would alone have secured for it the honours of the Centenary.
As the police cordon closed on the procession from the Old Church, definitely dividing the spectators from the spectacle, it grew clear that the spectators were in the main a shabby lot; persons without any social standing: unkempt idlers, good-for-nothings, wastrels, clay-whitened pot-girls who had to work even on that day, and who had run out for a few moments in their flannel aprons to stare, and a few score ragamuffins, whose parents were too poor or too careless to make them superficially presentable enough to figure in a procession. Nearly the whole respectability of the town was either fussily marshalling processions or gazing down at them in comfort from the multitudinous open windows of the Square. The 'leads' over the projecting windows of Baines's, the chief draper's, were crowded with members of the ruling caste.
And even within the Square, it could be seen, between the towering backs of constables, that the spectacle itself was chiefly made up of indigence bedecked. The thousands of perspiring children, penned like sheep, and driven to and fro like sheep by anxious and officious rosettes, nearly all had the air of poverty decently putting the best face on itself; they were nearly all, beneath their vague sense of importance, wistful with the resigned fatalism of the young and of the governed. They knew not precisely why they were there; but merely that they had been commanded to be there, and that they were hot and thirsty, and that for weeks they had been learning hymns by heart for this occasion, and that the occasion was glorious. Many of the rosettes themselves had a poor, driven look. None of these bought suits at Shillitoe's, nor millinery at Baines's. None of them gave orders for printing, nor had preferences in the form of ledgers, nor held views on Victor Hugo, nor drank wine, nor yearned for perfection in the art of social intercourse. To Edwin, who was just beginning to touch the planes of worldliness and of dilettantism in art, to Edwin, with the mysterious and haughty creature at his elbow, they seemed to have no more in common with himself and her than animals had. And he wondered by virtue of what decree he, in the Shillitoe suit, and the grand house waiting for him up at Bleakridge, had been lifted up to splendid ease above the squalid and pitiful human welter.
Such musings were scarcely more than subconscious in him. He stood now a few inches behind Hilda, and, above these thoughts, and beneath the stir and strident glitter and noise of the crawling ant-heap, his mind was intensely occupied with Hilda's ear and her nostril. He could watch her now at leisure, for the changeful interest of the scene made conversation unnecessary and even inept. What a lobe! What a nostril! Every curve of her features seemed to express a fine arrogant acrimony and harsh truculence. At any rate she was not half alive; she was alive in every particle of herself. She gave off antipathies as a liquid gives off vapour. Moods passed across her intent face like a wind over a field. Apparently she was so rapt as to be unaware that her sunshade was not screening her. Sadness prevailed among her moods.
The mild Edwin said secretly:
"By Jove! If I had you to myself, my lady, I'd soon teach you a thing or two!" He was quite sincere, too.
His glance, roving, discovered Mrs Hamps above him, ten feet over his head, at the corner of the Baines balcony. He flushed, for he perceived that she must have been waiting to catch him. She was at her most stately and most radiant, wonderful in lavender, and she poured out on him the full opulence of a proud recognition.
Everybody should be made aware that Mrs Hamps was greeting her adored nephew, who was with a lady friend of the Orgreaves.
She leaned slightly from her cane chair.
"Isn't it a beautiful sight?" she cried. Her voice sounded thin and weak against the complex din of the Square.
He nodded, smiling.
"Oh! I think it's a beautiful sight!" she cried once more, ecstatic. People turned to see whom she was addressing.
But though he nodded again he did not think it was a beautiful sight. He thought it was a disconcerting sight, a sight vexatious and troublesome. And he was in no way tranquillised by the reflection that every town in England had the same sight to show at that hour.
And moreover, anticipating their next interview, he could, in fancy, plainly hear his Aunt Clara saying, with hopeless, longing benignancy: "Oh, Edwin, how I do wish I could have seen you in the Square, bearing your part!"
Hilda seemed to be oblivious of Mrs Hamps's ejaculations, but immediately afterwards she straightened her back, with a gesture that Edwin knew, and staring into his eyes said, as it were resentfully—
"Well, they evidently aren't here!"
And looked with scorn among the sightseers. It was clear that the crowd contained nobody of the rank and stamp of the Orgreaves.
"They may have gone up the Cock Yard—if you know where that is," said Edwin.
"Well, don't you think we'd better find them somehow?"
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER TWELVE.
THE TOP OF THE SQUARE.
In making the detour through the Cock Yard to reach Saint Luke's Square again at the top of it, the only members of the Orgreave clan whom they encountered were Jimmie and Johnnie, who, on hearing of the disappearance of their father and Janet, merely pointed out that their father and Janet were notoriously always getting themselves lost, owing to gross carelessness about whatever they happened to be doing. The youths then departed, saying that the Bursley show was nothing, and that they were going to Hanbridge; they conveyed the idea that Hanbridge was the only place in the world for self-respecting men of fashion. But before leaving they informed Edwin that a fellow at the corner of the Square was letting out rather useful barrels on lease. This fellow proved to be an odd-jobman who had been discharged from the Duke of Wellington Vaults in the market-place for consistently intemperate language, but whose tongue was such that he had persuaded the landlord on this occasion to let him borrow a dozen stout empty barrels, and the police to let him dispose them on the pavement. Every barrel was occupied, and, perceiving this, Edwin at once became bold with the barrel-man. He did not comfortably fancy himself perched prominent on a barrel with Hilda Lessways by his side, but he could enjoy talking about it, and he wished to show Hilda that he could be as dashing as those young sparks, Jimmie and Johnnie.
"Now, mester!" shouted the barrel-man thickly, in response to Edwin's airy remark, "these 'ere two chaps'll shunt off for th' price of a quart!" He indicated a couple of barrel-tenants of his own tribe, who instantly jumped down, touching their soiled caps. They were part of the barrel-man's machinery for increasing profits. Edwin could not withdraw. His very cowardice forced him to be audacious. By the time he had satisfied the clawing greed of three dirty hands, the two barrels had cost him a shilling. Hilda's only observation was, as Edwin helped her to the plateau of the barrel: "I do wish they wouldn't spit on their money." All barrels being now let to bona fide tenants and paid for, the three men sidled hastily away in order to drink luck to Sunday schools in the Duke of Wellington's Entire. And Edwin, mounting the barrel next to Hilda's, was thinking: "I've been done over that job. I ought to have got them for sixpence." He saw how expensive it was, going about with delicately nurtured women. Never would he have offered a barrel to Maggie, and even had he done so Maggie would assuredly have said that she could make shift well enough without one.
"It's simply perfect for seeing," exclaimed Hilda, as he achieved her altitude. Her tone was almost cordial. He felt surprisingly at ease.
The whole Square was now suddenly revealed as a swarming mass of heads, out of which rose banners and pennons that were cruder in tint even than the frocks and hats of the little girls and the dresses and bonnets of their teachers; the men, too, by their neckties, scarves, and rosettes, added colour to colour. All the windows were chromatic with the hues of bright costumes, and from many windows and from every roof that had a flagstaff flags waved heavily against the gorgeous sky. At the bottom of the Square the lorries with infants had been arranged, and each looked like a bank of variegated flowers. The principal bands—that is to say, all the bands that could be trusted—were collected round the red baize platform at the top of the Square, and the vast sun-reflecting euphoniums, trumpets, and comets made a glittering circle about the officials and ministers and their wives and women. All denominations, for one day only, fraternised effusively together on that platform; for princes of the royal house, and the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Mayor of London had urged that it should be so. The Primitive Methodists' parson discovered himself next but one to Father Milton, who on any other day would have been a Popish priest, and whose wooden substitute for a wife was the queen on a chessboard. And on all these the sun blazed torridly.
And almost in the middle of the Square an immense purple banner bellied in the dusty breeze, saying in large gold letters, "The Blood of the Lamb," together with the name of some Sunday school, which Edwin from his barrel could not decipher.
Then a hoary white-tied notability on the platform raised his might arm very high, and a bugle called, and a voice that had filled fields in exciting times of religious revival floated in thunder across the enclosed Square, easily dominating it—
"Let us sing."
And the conductor of the eager massed bands set them free with a gesture, and after they had played a stave, a small stentorian choir at the back of the platform broke forth, and in a moment the entire multitude, at first raggedly, but soon in good unison, was singing—
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood, From Thy riven side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure: Cleanse from guilt and make me pure.
The volume of sound was overwhelming. Its crashing force was enough to sweep people from barrels. Edwin could feel moisture in his eyes, and he dared not look at Hilda. "Why the deuce do I want to cry?" he asked himself angrily, and was ashamed. And at the beginning of the second verse, when the glittering instruments blared forth anew, and the innumerable voices, high and loud, infantile and aged, flooded swiftly over their brassy notes, subduing them, the effect on Edwin was the same again: a tightening of the throat, and a squeezing down of the eyelids. Why was it? Through a mist he read the words "The Blood of the Lamb," and he could picture the riven trunk of a man dying, and a torrent of blood flowing therefrom, and people like his Auntie Clara and his brother-in-law Albert plunging ecstatically into the liquid in order to be white. The picture came again in the third verse,—the red fountains and the frantic bathers.
Then the notability raised his arm once more, and took off his hat, and all the males on the platform took off their hats, and presently every boy and man in the Square had uncovered his head to the strong sunshine; and at last Edwin had to do the same, and only the policemen, by virtue of their high office, could dare to affront the majesty of God. And the reverberating voice cried—
"Oh, most merciful Lord! Have pity upon us. We are brands plucked from the burning." And continued for several minutes to descant upon the theme of everlasting torture by incandescence and thirst. Nominally addressing a deity, but in fact preaching to his audience, he announced that, even for the veriest infant on a lorry, there was no escape from the eternal fires save by complete immersion in the blood. And he was so convinced and convincing that an imaginative nose could have detected the odour of burnt flesh. And all the while the great purple banner waved insistently: "The Blood of the Lamb."
When the prayer was finished for the benefit of the little ones, another old and favourite hymn had to be sung. (None but the classical lyrics of British Christianity had found a place in the programme of the great day.) Guided by the orchestra, the youth of Bursley and the maturity thereof chanted with gusto—
There is a fountain filled with blood Drawn from Emmanuel's veins; And sinners, plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains. ... Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood—
Edwin, like everybody, knew every line of the poem. With the purple banner waving there a bloody motto, he foresaw each sanguinary detail of the verse ere it came to him from the shrill childish throats. And a phrase from another hymn jumped from somewhere in his mind just as William Cowper's ended and a speech commenced. The phrase was 'India's coral strand.' In thinking upon it he forgot to listen to the speech. He saw the flags, banners, and pennons floating in the sunshine and in the heavy breeze; he felt the reverberation of the tropic sun on his head; he saw the crowded humanity of the Square attired in its crude, primary colours; he saw the great brass serpentine instruments gleaming; he saw the red dais; he saw, bursting with infancy, the immense cams to which were attached the fantastically plaited horses; he saw the venerable zealots on the dais raving lest after all the institutions whose centenary they had met to honour should not save these children from hopeless and excruciating torture for ever and ever; he saw those majestic purple folds in the centre embroidered with the legend of the blood of the mystic Paschal Lamb; he saw the meek, stupid, and superstitious faces, all turned one way, all for the moment under the empire of one horrible idea, all convinced that the consequences of sins could be prevented by an act of belief, all gloating over inexhaustible tides of blood. And it seemed to him that he was not in England any longer. It seemed to him that in the dim cellars under the shambles behind the Town Hall, where he had once been, there dwelt, squatting, a strange and savage god who would blast all those who did not enter his presence dripping with gore, be they child or grandfather. It seemed to him that the drums were tom-toms, and Baines's a bazaar. He could fit every detail of the scene to harmonise with a vision of India's coral strand.
There was no mist before his eyes now. His sight was so clear that he could distinguish his father at a window of the Bank, at the other top corner of the Square. Part of his mind was so idle that he could wonder how his father had contrived to get there, and whether Maggie was staying at home with Clara. But the visualisation of India's coral strand in Saint Luke's Square persisted. A phrase in the speech loosed some catch in him and he turned suddenly to Hilda, and in an intimate half-whisper murmured—
"What?" she harshly questioned. But he knew that she understood.
"Well," he said audaciously, "look at it! It only wants the Ganges at the bottom of the Square!"
No one heard save she. But she put her hand on his arm protestingly. "Even if we don't believe," said she—not harshly, but imploringly, "we needn't make fun."
"We don't believe!" And that new tone of entreaty! She had comprehended without explanation. She was a weird woman. Was there another creature, male or female, to whom he would have dared to say what he had said to her? He had chosen to say it to her because he despised her, because he wished to trample on her feelings. She roused the brute in him, and perhaps no one was more astonished than himself to witness the brute stirring. Imagine saying to the gentle and sensitive Janet: "It only wants the Ganges at the bottom of the Square—" He could not.
They stood silent, gazing and listening. And the sun went higher in the sky and blazed down more cruelly. And then the speech ended, and the speaker wiped his head with an enormous handkerchief. And the multitude, led by the brazen instruments, which in a moment it overpowered, was singing to a solemn air—
When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of Glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.
Hilda shook her head.
"What's the matter?" he asked, leaning towards her from his barrel.
"That's the most splendid religious verse ever written!" she said passionately. "You can say what you like. It's worth while believing anything, if you can sing words like that and mean them!"
She had an air of restrained fury.
But fancy exciting herself over a hymn!
"Yes, it is fine, that is!" he agreed.
"Do you know who wrote it?" she demanded menacingly.
"I'm afraid I don't remember," he said. The hymn was one of his earliest recollections, but it had never occurred to him to be curious as to its authorship.
Her lips sneered. "Dr Watts, of course!" she snapped.
He could hear her, beneath the tremendous chanting from the Square, repeating the words to herself with her precise and impressive articulation.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER THIRTEEN.
THE OLDEST SUNDAY-SCHOOL TEACHER.
From the elevation of his barrel Edwin could survey, in the lordly and negligent manner of people on a height, all the detail of his immediate surroundings. Presently, in common with Hilda and the other aristocrats of barrels, he became aware of the increased vivacity of a scene which was passing at a little distance, near a hokey-pokey barrow. The chief actors in the affair appeared to be a young policeman, the owner of the hokey-pokey barrow, and an old man. It speedily grew into one of those episodes which, occurring on the outskirts of some episode immensely greater, draw too much attention to themselves and thereby outrage the sense of proportion residing in most plain men, and especially in most policemen.
"Give him a ha'porth o' hokey," said a derisive voice. "He hasn't got a tooth in his head, but it wants no chewing, hokey does na'." There was a general guffaw from the little rabble about the barrow.
"Aye! Give us some o' that!" said the piping, silly voice of the old man. "But I mun' get to that there platform, I'm telling ye. I'm telling all of ye." He made a senile plunge against the body of the policeman, as against a moveless barricade, and then his hat was awry and it fell off, and somebody lifted it into the air with a neat kick so that it dropped on the barrow. All laughed. The old man laughed.
"Now, old sodger," said the hot policeman curtly. "None o' this! None o' this! I advise ye civilly to be quiet; that's what I advise ye. You can't go on th' platform without a ticket."
"Nay!" piped the old man. "Don't I tell ye I lost it down th' Sytch!"
"And where's yer rosette?"
"Never had any rosette," the old man replied. "I'm th' oldest Sunday-schoo' teacher i' th' Five Towns. Aye! Fifty years and more since I was Super at Turnhill Primitive Sunday schoo', and all Turnhill knows on it. And I've got to get on that there platform. I'm th' oldest Sunday schoo' teacher i' th' Five Towns. And I was Super—"
Two ribald youngsters intoned 'Super, Super,' and another person unceremoniously jammed the felt hat on the old man's head.
"It's nowt to me if ye was forty Supers," said the policeman, with menacing disdain. "I've got my orders, and I'm not here to be knocked about. Where did ye have yer last drink?"
"No wine, no beer, nor spirituous liquors have I tasted for sixty-one years come Martinmas," whimpered the old man. And he gave another lurch against the policeman. "My name's Shushions!" And he repeated in a frantic treble, "My name's Shushions!"
"Go and bury thysen, owd gaffer!" a Herculean young collier advised him.
"Why," murmured Hilda, with a sharp frown, "that must be poor old Mr Shushions from Turnhill, and they're guying him! You must stop it. Something must be done at once."
She jumped down feverishly, and Edwin had to do likewise. He wondered how he should conduct himself so as to emerge creditably from the situation. He felt himself, and had always felt himself, to be the last man in the world capable of figuring with authority in a public altercation. He loathed public altercations. The name of Shushions meant nothing to him; he had forgotten it, if indeed he had ever wittingly heard it. And he did not at first recognise the old man. Descended from the barrel, he was merely an item in the loose-packed crowd. As, in the wake of Hilda, he pushed with false eagerness between stubborn shoulders, he heard the bands striking up again.
Approaching, he saw that the old man was very old. And then memory stirred. He began to surmise that he had met the wizened face before, that he knew something about it. And the face brought up a picture of the shop door and of his father standing beside it, a long time ago. He recalled his last day at school. Yes, of course! This was the old man named Shushions, some sort of an acquaintance of his father's. This was the old man who had wept a surprising tear at sight of him, Edwin. The incident was so far off that it might have been recorded in history books. He had never seen Mr Shushions since. And the old man was changed, nearly out of recognition. The old man had lived too long; he had survived his dignity; he was now nothing but a bundle of capricious and obstinate instincts set in motion by ancient souvenirs remembered at hazard. The front of his face seemed to have given way in general collapse. The lips were in a hollow; the cheeks were concave; the eyes had receded; and there were pits in the forehead. The pale silvery straggling hairs might have been counted. The wrinkled skin was of a curious brown yellow, and the veins, instead of being blue, were outlined in Indian red. The impression given was that the flesh would be unpleasant and uncanny to the touch. The body was bent, and the neck eternally cricked backward in the effort of the eyes to look up. Moreover the old man was in a state of neglect. His beard alone proved that. His clothes were dirty and had the air of concealing dirt. And he was dressed with striking oddness. He wore boots that were not a pair. His collar was only fastened by one button, behind; the ends oscillated like wings; he had forgotten to fasten them in front; he had forgotten to put on a necktie; he had forgotten the use of buttons on all his garments. He had grown down into a child again, but Providence had not provided him with a nurse.
Worse than these merely material phenomena was the mumbling toothless gibber of his shrill protesting; the glassy look of idiocy from his fatigued eyes; and the inane smile and impotent frown that alternated on his features. He was a horrible and offensive old man. He was Time's obscene victim. Edwin was revolted by the spectacle of the younger men baiting him. He was astonished that they were so short-sighted as not to be able to see the image of themselves in the old man, so imprudent as not to think of their own future, so utterly brutalised. He wanted, by the simple force of desire, to seclude and shelter the old man, to protect the old man not only from the insults of stupid and crass bullies, but from the old man himself, from his own fatuous senility. He wanted to restore to him, by a benevolent system of pretences, the dignity and the self-respect which he had innocently lost, and so to keep him decent to the eye, if not to the ear, until death came to repair its omission. And it was for his own sake, for the sake of his own image, as much as for the sake of the old man, that he wanted to do this.
All that flashed through his mind and heart in a second.
"I know this old gentleman, at least I know him by sight," Hilda was saying to the policeman. "He's very well known in Turnhill as an old Sunday school teacher, and I'm sure he ought to be on that platform."
Before her eye, and her precise and haughty voice, which had no trace of the local accent, the young policeman was secretly abashed, and the louts fell back sheepishly.
"Yes, he's a friend of my father's,—Mr Clayhanger, printer," said Edwin, behind her.
The old man stood blinking in the glare.
The policeman, ignoring Hilda, glanced at Edwin, and touched his cap.
"His friends hadn't ought to let him out like this, sir. Just look at him." He sneered, and added: "I'm on point duty. If you ask me, I should say his friends ought to take him home." He said this with a peculiar mysterious emphasis, and looked furtively at the louts for moral support in sarcasm. They encouraged him with grins.
"He must be got on to the platform, somehow," said Hilda, and glanced at Edwin as if counting absolutely on Edwin. "That's what he's come for. I'm sure it means everything to him."
"Aye!" the old man droned. "I was Super when we had to teach 'em their alphabet and give 'em a crust to start with. Many's the man walking about in these towns i' purple and fine raiment as I taught his letters to, and his spellings, aye, and his multiplication table,—in them days!"
"That's all very well, miss," said the policeman, "but who's going to get him to the platform? He'll be dropping in a sunstroke afore ye can say knife."
"Can't we?" She gazed at Edwin appealingly.
"Tak' him into a pub!" growled the collier, audacious.
At the same moment two rosettes bustled up authoritatively. One of them was the burly Albert Benbow. For the first time Edwin was conscious of genuine pleasure at the sight of his brother-in-law. Albert was a born rosette.
"What's all this? What's this? What is it?" he asked sharply. "Hello! What? Mr Shushions!" He bent down and looked close at the old man. "Where you been, old gentleman?" He spoke loud in his ear. "Everybody's been asking for you. Service is well-nigh over, but ye must come up."
The old man did not appear to grasp the significance of Albert's patronage. Albert turned to Edwin and winked, not only for Edwin's benefit but for that of the policeman, who smiled in a manner that infuriated Edwin.
"Queer old stick!" Albert murmured. "No doing anything with him. He's quarrelled with everybody at Turnhill. That's why he wanted to come to us. And of course we weren't going to refuse the oldest Sunday school teacher in th' Five Towns. He's a catch... Come along, old gentleman!"
Mr Shushions did not stir.
"Now, Mr Shushions," Hilda persuaded him in a voice exquisitely mild, and with a lovely gesture she bent over him. "Let these gentlemen take you up to the platform. That's what you've come for, you know."
The transformation in her amazed Edwin, who could see the tears in her eyes. The tableau of the little, silly old man looking up, and Hilda looking down at him, with her lips parted in a heavenly invitation, and one gloved hand caressing his greenish-black shoulder and the other mechanically holding the parasol aloft,—this tableau was imprinted for ever on Edwin's mind. It was a vision blended in an instant and in an instant dissolved, but for Edwin it remained one of the epochal things of his experience.
Hilda gave Edwin her parasol and quickly fastened Mr Shushions's collar, and the old man consented to be led off between the two rosettes. The bands were playing the Austrian hymn.
"Like to come up with your young lady friend?" Albert whispered to Edwin importantly as he went.
"Oh no, thanks." Edwin hurriedly smiled.
"Now, old gentleman," he could hear Albert adjuring Mr Shushions, and he could see him broadly winking to the other rosettes and embracing the yielding crowd in his wink.
Thus was the doddering old fool who had given his youth to Sunday schools when Sunday schools were not patronised by princes, archbishops, and lord mayors, when Sunday schools were the scorn of the intelligent, and had sometimes to be held in public-houses for lack of better accommodation,—thus was he taken off for a show and a museum curiosity by indulgent and shallow Samaritans who had not even the wit to guess that he had sown what they were reaping. And Darius Clayhanger stood oblivious at a high window of the sacred Bank. And Edwin, who, all unconscious, owed the very fact of his existence to the doting imbecile, regarded him chiefly as a figure in a tableau, as the chance instrument of a woman's beautiful revelation. Mr Shushions's sole crime against society was that he had forgotten to die.
Hilda Lessways would not return to the barrels. She was taciturn, and the only remark which she made bore upon the advisability of discovering Janet and Mr Orgreave. They threaded themselves out of the moving crowd and away from the hokey-pokey stall and the barrels into the tranquillity of the market-place, where the shadow of the gold angel at the top of the Town Hall spire was a mere squat shapeless stain on the irregular paving-stones. The sound of the Festival came diminished from the Square.
"You're very fond of poetry, aren't you?" Edwin asked her, thinking, among many other things, of her observation upon the verse of Isaac Watts.
"Of course," she replied disagreeably. "I can't imagine anybody wanting to read anything else." She seemed to be ashamed of her kindness to Mr Shushions, and to wish to efface any impression of amiability that she might have made on Edwin. But she could not have done so.
"Well," he said to himself, "there's no getting over it. You're the biggest caution I've ever come across!" His condition was one of various agitation.
Then, just as they were passing the upper end of the Cock Yard, which was an archway, Mr Orgreave and Janet appeared in the archway.
"We've been looking for you everywhere."
"And so have we."
"What have you been doing?"
"What have you been doing?"
Father and daughter were gay. They had not seen much, but they were gay. Hilda Lessways and Edwin were not gay, and Hilda would characteristically make no effort to seem that which she was not. Edwin, therefore, was driven by his own diffidence into a nervous light loquacity. He began the tale of Mr Shushions, and Hilda punctuated it with stabs of phrases.
Mr Orgreave laughed. Janet listened with eager sympathy.
"Poor old thing! What a shame!" said Janet.
But to Edwin, with the vision of Hilda's mercifulness in his mind, even the sympathy of Janet for Mr Shushions had a quality of uncomprehending, facile condescension which slightly jarred on him.
The steam-car loitered into view, discharged two passengers, and began to manoeuvre for the return journey.
"Oh! Do let's go home by car, father!" cried Janet. "It's too hot for anything!"
Edwin took leave of them at the car steps. Janet was the smiling incarnation of loving-kindness. Hilda shook hands grudgingly. Through the windows of the car he saw her sternly staring at the advertisements of the interior. He went down the Cock Yard into Wedgwood Street, whence he could hear the bands again and see the pennons. He thought, "This is a funny way of spending a morning!" and wondered what he should do with himself till dinner-time. It was not yet a quarter past twelve. Still, the hours had passed with extraordinary speed. He stood aimless at the corner of the pavement, and people who, having had their fill of the sun and the spectacle in the Square, were strolling slowly away, saw a fair young man, in a stylish suit, evidently belonging to the aloof classes, gazing at nothing whatever, with his hands elegantly in his pockets.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER FOURTEEN.
Things sometimes fall out in a surprising way, and the removal of the Clayhanger household from the corner of Duck Square to the heights of Bleakridge was diversified by a circumstance which Edwin, the person whom alone it concerned, had not in the least anticipated.
It was the Monday morning after the Centenary. Foster's largest furniture-van, painted all over with fine pictures of the van itself travelling by road, rail, and sea, stood loaded in front of the shop. One van had already departed, and this second one, in its crammed interior, on its crowded roof, on a swinging platform beneath its floor, and on a posterior ledge supported by rusty chains, contained all that was left of the furniture and domestic goods which Darius Clayhanger had collected in half a century of ownership. The moral effect of Foster's activity was always salutary, in that Foster would prove to any man how small a space the acquisitions of a lifetime could be made to occupy when the object was not to display but to pack them. Foster could put all your pride on to four wheels, and Foster's driver would crack a whip and be off with the lot of it as though it were no more than a load of coal.
The pavement and the road were littered with straw, and the straw straggled into the shop, and heaped itself at the open side door. One large brass saucepan lay lorn near the doorstep, a proof that Foster was human. For everything except that saucepan a place had been found. That saucepan had witnessed sundry ineffectual efforts to lodge it, and had also suffered frequent forgetfulness. A tin candlestick had taken refuge within it, and was trusting for safety to the might of the obstinate vessel. In the sequel, the candlestick was pitched by Edwin on to the roof of the van, and Darius Clayhanger, coming fussily out of the shop, threw a question at Edwin and then picked up the saucepan and went off to Bleakridge with it, thus making sure that it would not be forgotten, and demonstrating to the town that he, Darius, was at last 'flitting' into his grand new house. Even weighted by the saucepan, in which Mrs Nixon had boiled hundredweights of jam, he still managed to keep his arms slanted outwards and motionless, retaining his appearance of a rigid body that swam smoothly along on mechanical legs. Darius, though putting control upon himself, was in a state of high complex emotion, partly due to apprehensiveness about the violent changing of the habits of a quarter of a century, and partly due to nervous pride.
Maggie and Mrs Nixon had gone to the new house half an hour earlier, to devise encampments therein for the night; for the Clayhangers would definitely sleep no more at the corner of Duck Square; the rooms in which they had eaten and slept and lain awake, and learnt what life and what death was, were to be transformed into workshops and stores for an increasing business. The premises were not abandoned empty. The shop had to function as usual on that formidable day, and the printing had to proceed. This had complicated the affair of the removal; but it had helped everybody to pretend, in an adult and sedate manner, that nothing in the least unusual was afoot.
Edwin loitered on the pavement, with his brain all tingling, and excitedly incapable of any consecutive thought whatever. It was his duty to wait. Two of Foster's men were across in the vaults of the Dragon; the rest were at Bleakridge with the first and smaller van. Only one of Foster's horses was in the dropped double-shafts, and even he had his nose towards the van, and in a nosebag; two others were to come down soon from Bleakridge to assist.
A tall, thin, grey-bearded man crossed Trafalgar Road from Aboukir Street. He was very tall and very thin, and the peculiarity of his walk was that the knees were never quite straightened, so that his height was really greater even than it seemed. His dark suit and his boots and hat were extraordinarily neat. You could be sure at once that he was a person of immutable habits. He stopped when, out of the corner of his eye, whose gaze was always precisely parallel to the direction of his feet, he glimpsed Edwin. Deflecting his course, he went close to Edwin, and, addressing the vacant air immediately over Edwin's pate, he said in a mysterious, confidential whisper—"when are you coming in for that money?"
He spoke as though he was anxious to avoid, by a perfect air of nonchalance, arousing the suspicions of some concealed emissary of the Russian secret police.
Edwin started. "Oh!" he exclaimed. "Is it ready?"
"Are you going to your office now?"
Edwin hesitated. "It won't take a minute, I suppose. I'll slip along in two jiffs. I'll be there almost as soon as you are."
"Bring a receipt stamp," said the man, and resumed his way.
He was the secretary of the Bursley and Turnhill Permanent 50 pounds Benefit Building Society, one of the most solid institutions of the district. And he had been its secretary for decades. No stories of the defalcation of other secretaries of societies, no rumours as to the perils of the system of the more famous Starr-Bowkett Building Societies, ever bred a doubt in Bursley or Turnhill of the eternal soundness of the Bursley and Turnhill Permanent 50 pounds Benefit Building Society. You could acquire a share in it by an entrance fee of one shilling, and then you paid eighteen-pence per week for ten years, making something less than 40 pounds, and then, after an inactive period of three months, the Society gave you 50 pounds, and you began therewith to build a house, if you wanted a house, and, if you were prudent, you instantly took out another share. You could have as many shares as you chose. Though the Society was chiefly nourished by respectable artisans with stiff chins, nobody in the district would have considered membership to be beneath him. The Society was an admirable device for strengthening an impulse towards thrift, because, once you had put yourself into its machinery, it would stand no nonsense. Prosperous tradesmen would push their children into it, and even themselves. This was what had happened to Edwin in the dark past, before he had left school. Edwin had regarded the trick with indifference at first, because, except the opening half crown, his father had paid the subscriptions for him until he left school and became a wage-earner. Thereafter he had regarded it as simple parental madness.
His whole life seemed to be nothing but a vista of Friday evenings on which he went to the Society's office, between seven and nine, to 'pay the Club.' The social origin of any family in Bursley might have been decided by the detail whether it referred to the Society as the 'Building Society' or as 'the Club.' Artisans called it the Club, because it did resemble an old-fashioned benefit club. Edwin had invariably heard it called 'Club' at home, and he called it 'Club,' and he did not know why.
On ten thousand Friday evenings, as it seemed to him, he had gone into the gas-lit office with the wire-blinds, in the Cock Yard. And the procedure never varied. Behind a large table sat two gentlemen, the secretary and a subordinate, who was, however, older than the secretary. They had enormous ledgers in front of them, and at the lower corners of the immense pages was a transverse crease, like a mountain range on the left and like a valley on the right, caused by secretarial thumbs in turning over. On the table were also large metal inkstands and wooden money-coffers. The two officials both wore spectacles, and they both looked above their spectacles when they talked to members across the table. They spoke in low tones; they smiled with the most scrupulous politeness; they never wasted words. They counted money with prim and efficient gestures, ringing gold with the mien of judges inaccessible to human emotions. They wrote in the ledgers, and on the membership-cards, in a hand astoundingly regular and discreetly flourished; the pages of the ledgers had the mystic charm of ancient manuscripts, and the finality of decrees of fate. Apparently the scribes never made mistakes, but sometimes they would whisper in colloquy, and one, without leaning his body, would run a finger across the ledger of the other; their fingers knew intimately the geography of the ledgers, and moved as though they could have found a desired name, date, or number, in the dark. The whole ceremony was impressive. It really did impress Edwin, as he would wait his turn among the three or four proud and respectable members that the going and coming seemed always to leave in the room. The modest blue-yellow gas, the vast table and ledgers, and the two sober heads behind; the polite murmurings, the rustle of leaves, the chink of money, the smooth sound of elegant pens: all this made something not merely impressive, but beautiful; something that had a true if narrow dignity; something that ministered to an ideal if a low one.
But Edwin had regarded the operation as a complete loss of the money whose payment it involved. Ten years! It was an eternity! And even then his father would have some preposterous suggestion for rendering useless the unimaginable fifty pounds! Meanwhile the weekly deduction of eighteenpence from his miserable income was an exasperating strain. And then one night the secretary had told him that he was entering on his last month. If he had possessed any genuine interest in money, he would have known for himself; but he did not. And then the payments had ceased. He had said nothing to his father.
And now the share had matured, and there was the unimaginable sum waiting for him! He got his hat and a stamp, and hurried to the Cock Yard. The secretary, in his private room now, gave him five notes as though the notes had been naught but tissue paper, and he accepted them in the same inhuman manner. The secretary asked him if he meant to take out another share, and from sheer moral cowardice he said that he did mean to do so; and he did so, on the spot. And in less than ten minutes he was back at the shop. Nothing had happened there. The other horses had not come down from Bleakridge, and the men had not come out of the Dragon. But he had fifty pounds in his pocket, and it was lawfully his. A quarter of an hour earlier he positively could not have conceived the miracle.
Two days later, on the Wednesday evening, Edwin was in his new bedroom, overlooking his father's garden, with a glimpse of the garden of Lane End House. His chamber, for him, was palatial, and it was at once the symbol and the scene of his new life. A stranger entering would have beheld a fair-sized room, a narrow bed, two chairs, an old-fashioned table, a new wardrobe, an old dressing-table, a curious carpet and hearthrug, low bookshelves on either side of the fireplace, and a few prints and drawings, not all of them framed, on the distempered walls. A stranger might have said in its praise that it was light and airy. But a stranger could not have had the divine vision that Edwin had. Edwin looked at it and saw clearly, and with the surest conviction, that it was wonderful. He stood on the hearthrug, with his back to the hearth, bending his body concavely and then convexly with the idle easy sinuousness of youth, and he saw that it was wonderful. As an organic whole it was wonderful. Its defects were qualities. For instance, it had no convenience for washing; but with a bathroom a few yards off, who would encumber his study (it was a study) with washing apparatus? He had actually presented his old ramshackle washstand to the attic which was to be occupied by Mrs Nixon's niece, a girl engaged to aid her aunt in the terrible work of keeping clean a vast mansion.
And the bedroom could show one or two details that in a bedroom were luxurious. Chief of these were the carpet, the hearthrug, and the table. Edwin owed them to a marvellous piece of good fortune. He had feared, and even Maggie had feared, that their father would impair the practical value and the charm of the new house by parsimony in the matter of furniture. The furniture in the domestic portion of the old dwelling was quite inadequate for the new one, and scarcely fit for it either. Happily Darius had heard of a houseful of furniture for sale at Oldcastle by private treaty, and in a wild, adventurous hour he had purchased it, exceedingly cheap. Edwin had been amazed at his luck (he accepted the windfall as his own private luck) when he first saw the bought furniture in the new house, before the removal. Out of it he had selected the table, the carpet, and the rug for his bedroom, and none had demurred. He noticed that his father listened to him, in affairs of the new house, as to an individuality whose views demanded some trifle of respect. Beyond question his father was proving himself to possess a mind equal to the grand situation. What with the second servant and the furniture, Edwin felt that he would not have to blush for the house, no matter who might enter it to spy it out. As for his own room, he would not object to the Sunday seeing it. Indeed he would rather like the Sunday to see it, on his next visit. Already it was in nearly complete order, for he had shown a singular, callous disregard for the progress of the rest of the house: against which surprising display of selfishness both Maggie and Mrs Nixon had glumly protested. The truth was that he was entirely obsessed by his room; it had disabled his conscience.
When he had oscillated on his heels and toes for a few moments with his gaze on the table, he faced about, and stared in a sort of vacant beatitude at the bookshelves to the left hand; those to the right hand were as yet empty. Twilight was deepening.
He heard his father's heavy and clumsy footstep on the landing. The old man seemed to wander uncertainly a little, and then he pushed open Edwin's door with a brusque movement and entered the room. The two exchanged a look. They seldom addressed each other, save for an immediate practical purpose, and they did not address each other now. But Darius ejaculated "Um!" as he glanced around. They had no intimacy. Darius never showed any interest in his son as an independent human being with a developing personality, though he might have felt such an interest; and Edwin was never conscious of a desire to share any of his ideas or ideals with his father, whom he was content to accept as a creature of inscrutable motives. Now, he resented his father's incursion. He considered his room as his castle, whereof his rightful exclusive dominion ran as far as the door-mat; and to placate his pride Darius should have indicated by some gesture or word that he admitted being a visitor on sufferance. It was nothing to Edwin that Darius owned the room and nearly everything in it. He was generally nervous in his father's presence, and his submissiveness only hid a spiritual independence that was not less fierce for being restrained. He thought Darius a gross fleshly organism, as he indeed was, and he privately objected to many paternal mannerisms, of eating, drinking, breathing, eructation, speech, deportment, and garb. Further, he had noted, and felt, the increasing moroseness of his father's demeanour. He could remember a period when Darius had moods of grim gaiety, displaying rough humour; these moods had long ceased to occur.
"So this is how ye've fixed yerself up!" Darius observed.
"Yes," Edwin smiled, not moving from the hearthrug, and not ceasing to oscillate on heels and toes.
"Well, I'll say this. Ye've got a goodish notion of looking after yerself. When ye can spare a few minutes to do a bit downstairs—" This sentence was sarcastic and required no finishing.
"I was just coming," said Edwin. And to himself, "What on earth does he want here, making his noises?"
With youthful lack of imagination and of sympathy, he quite failed to perceive the patent fact that his father had been drawn into the room by the very same instinct which had caused Edwin to stand on the hearthrug in an idle bliss of contemplation. It did not cross his mind that his father too was during those days going through wondrous mental experiences, that his father too had begun a new life, that his father too was intensely proud of the house and found pleasure in merely looking at it, and looking at it again, and at every corner of it.
A glint of gold attracted the eye of Darius to the second shelf of the left-hand bookcase, and he went towards it with the arrogance of an autocrat whose authority recognises no limit. Fourteen fine calf-backed volumes stood on that shelf in a row; twelve of them were uniform, the other two odd. These books were taller and more distinguished than any of their neighbours. Their sole possible rivals were half a dozen garishly bound Middle School prizes, machine-tooled, and to be mistaken for treasures only at a distance of several yards.
Edwin trembled, and loathed himself for trembling. He walked to the window.
"What be these?" Darius inquired.
"Oh! Some books I've been picking up."
That same morning Edwin had been to the Saint Luke's Covered Market to buy some apples for Maggie, who had not yet perfected the organisation necessary to a house-mistress who does not live within half a minute of a large central source of supplies. And, to his astonishment, he had observed that one of the interior shops was occupied by a second-hand bookseller with an address at Hanbridge. He had never noticed the shop before, or, if he had noticed it, he had despised it. But the chat with Tom Orgreave had awakened in him the alertness of a hunter. The shop was not formally open—Wednesday's market being only half a market. The shopkeeper, however, was busy within. Edwin loitered. Behind the piles of negligible sermons, pietisms, keepsakes, schoolbooks, and 'Aristotles' (tied up in red twine, these last), he could descry, in the farther gloom, actual folios and quartos. It was like seeing the gleam of nuggets on the familiar slopes of Mow Cop, which is the Five Towns' mountain. The proprietor, an extraordinarily grimy man, invited him to examine. He could not refuse. He found Byron's "Childe Harold" in one volume and "Don Juan" in another, both royal octavo editions, slightly stained, but bound in full calf. He bought them. He knew that to keep his resolutions he must read a lot of poetry. Then he saw Voltaire's prose tales in four volumes, in French,—an enchanting Didot edition, with ink as black as Hades and paper as white as snow; also bound in full calf. He bought them. And then the proprietor showed him, in eight similar volumes, Voltaire's "Dictionnaire Philosophique." He did not want it; but it matched the tales and it was impressive to the eye. And so he bought the other eight volumes. The total cost was seventeen shillings. He was intoxicated and he was frightened. What a nucleus for a collection of real books, of treasures! Those volumes would do no shame even to Tom Orgreave's bookcase. And they had been lying in the Covered Market, of all places in the universe... Blind! How blind he had been to the possibilities of existence! Laden with a bag of apples in one hand and a heavy parcel of books in the other, he had had to go up to dinner in the car. It was no matter; he possessed riches. The car stopped specially for him at the portals of the new house. He had introduced the books into the new house surreptitiously, because he was in fear, despite his acute joy. He had pushed the parcel under the bed. After tea, he had passed half an hour in gazing at the volumes, as at precious contraband. Then he had ranged them on the shelf, and had gazed at them for perhaps another quarter of an hour. And now his father, with the infallible nose of fathers for that which is no concern of theirs, had lighted upon them and was peering into them, and fingering them with his careless, brutal hands,—hands that could not differentiate between a ready reckoner and a treasure. As the light failed, he brought one of them and then another to the window.
"Um!" he muttered. "Voltaire!"
And: "How much did they ask ye for these?"
"Fifteen shillings," said Edwin, in a low voice.
"Here! Take it!" said his father, relinquishing a volume to him. He spoke in a queer, hard voice; and instantly left the room. Edwin followed him shortly, and assisted Maggie to hang pictures in that wilderness, the drawing-room. Supper was eaten in silence; and Maggie looked askance from her father to her brother, both of whom had a strained demeanour.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER FIFTEEN.
The cold bath, the early excursion into the oblong of meadow that was beginning to be a garden, the brisk stimulating walk down Trafalgar Road to business,—all these novel experiences, which for a year Edwin had been anticipating with joyous eagerness as bliss final and sure, had lost their savour on the following morning. He had been ingenuous enough to believe that he would be happy in the new house—that the new house somehow meant the rebirth of himself and his family. Strange delusion! The bath-splashings and the other things gave him no pleasure, because he was saying to himself all the time, "There's going to be a row this morning. There's going to be a regular shindy this morning!" Yet he was accustomed to his father's scenes... Not a word at breakfast, for which indeed Darius was very late. But a thick cloud over the breakfast-table! Maggie showed that she felt the cloud. So did even Mrs Nixon. The niece alone, unskilled in the science of meteorology, did not notice it, and was pertly bright. Edwin departed before his father, hurrying. He knew that his father, starting from the luxurious books, would ask him brutally what he meant by daring to draw out his share from the Club without mentioning the affair, and particularly without confiding to his safe custody the whole sum withdrawn. He knew that his father would persist in regarding the fifty pounds as sacred, as the ark of the covenant, and on the basis of the alleged outrage would build one of those cold furies that seemed to give him so perverse a delight. On the other hand, despite his father's peculiar intonation of the names of Edwin's authors—Voltaire and Byron—he did not fear to be upbraided for possessing himself of loose and poisonous literature. It was a point to his father's credit that he never attempted any kind of censorship. Edwin never knew whether this attitude was the result of indifference or due to a grim sporting instinct.
There was no sign of trouble in the shop until noon. Darius was very busy superintending the transformation of the former living-rooms upstairs into supplementary workshops, and also the jobbing builder was at work according to the plans of Osmond Orgreave. But at five minutes past twelve—just before Stifford went out to his dinner—Darius entered the ebonised cubicle, and said curtly to Edwin, who was writing there—
"Show me your book."
This demand surprised Edwin. 'His' book was the shop-sales book. He was responsible for it, and for the petty cash-book, and for the shop till. His father's private cash-book was utterly unknown to him, and he had no trustworthy idea of the financial totality of the business; but the management of the shop till gave him the air of being in his father's confidence accustomed him to the discipline of anxiety, and also somewhat flattered him.
He produced the book. The last complete page had not been added up.
"Add this," said his father.
Darius himself added up the few lines on the incomplete page.
"Stiff;" he shouted, "bring me the sales-slip."
The amounts of sales conducted by Stifford himself were written on a slip of paper from which Edwin transferred the items at frequent intervals to the book.
"Go to yer dinner," said Darius to Stifford, when he appeared at the door of the cubicle with the slip.
"It's not quite time yet, sir."
"Go to yer dinner, I tell ye."
Stifford had three-quarters of an hour for his dinner.
Darius combined the slip with the book and made a total.
"Petty cash," he muttered shortly.
Edwin produced the petty cash-book, a volume of very trifling importance.
"Now bring me the till."
Edwin went out of the cubicle and brought the till, which was a large and battered japanned cash-box with a lid in two independent parts, from its well-concealed drawer behind the fancy-counter. Darius counted the coins in it and made calculations on blotting-paper, breathing stertorously all the time.
"What on earth are you trying to get at?" Edwin asked, with innocent familiarity. He thought that the Club-share crisis had been postponed by one of his father's swift strange caprices.
Darius turned on him glaring: "I'm trying to get at where ye got the brass from to buy them there books as I saw last night. Where did ye get it from? There's nowt wrong here, unless ye're a mighty lot cleverer than I take ye for. Where did ye get it from? Ye don't mean to tell me as ye saved it up!"
Edwin had had some shocks in his life. This was the greatest. He could feel his cheeks and his hands growing dully hot, and his eyes smarting; and he was suddenly animated by an almost murderous hatred and an inexpressible disgust for his father, who in the grossness of his perceptions and his notions had imagined his son to be a thief. "Loathsome beast!" he thought savagely.
"I'm waiting," said his father.
"I've drawn my Club money," said Edwin.
For an instant the old man was at a loss; then he understood. He had entirely forgotten the maturing of the Club share, and assuredly he had not dreamed that Edwin would accept and secrete so vast a sum as fifty pounds without uttering a word. Darius had made a mistake, and a bad one; but in those days fathers were never wrong; above all they never apologised. In Edwin's wicked act of concealment Darius could choose new and effective ground, and he did so.
"And what dost mean by doing that and saying nowt? Sneaking—"
"What do you mean by calling me a thief?" Edwin and Darius were equally startled by this speech. Edwin knew not what had come over him, and Darius, never having been addressed in such a dangerous tone by his son, was at a loss.
"I never called ye a thief."
"Yes, you did! Yes, you did!" Edwin nearly shouted now. "You starve me for money, until I haven't got sixpence to bless myself with. You couldn't get a man to do what I do for twice what you pay me. And then you call me a thief. And then you jump down my throat because I spend a bit of money of my own." He snorted. He knew that he was quite mad, but there was a strange drunken pleasure in this madness.
"Hold yer tongue, lad!" said Darius, as stiffly as he could. But Darius, having been unprepared, was intimidated. Darius vaguely comprehended that a new and disturbing factor had come into his life. "Make a less row!" he went on more strongly. "D'ye want all th' street to hear ye?"
"I won't make a less row. You make as much noise as you want, and I'll make as much noise as I want!" Edwin cried louder and louder. And then in bitter scorn, "Thief, indeed!"
"I never called ye a—"
"Let me come out!" Edwin shouted. They were very close together. Darius saw that his son's face was all drawn. Edwin snatched his hat off its hook, pushed violently past his father and, sticking his hands deep in his pockets, strode into the street.
In four minutes he was hammering on the front door of the new house. Maggie opened, in alarm. Edwin did not see how alarmed she was by his appearance.
"Father thinks I've been stealing his damned money!" Edwin snapped, in a breaking voice. The statement was not quite accurate, but it suited his boiling anger to put it in the present tense instead of in the past. He hesitated an instant in the hall, throwing a look behind at Maggie, who stood entranced with her hand on the latch of the open door. Then he bounded upstairs, and shut himself in his room with a tremendous bang that shook the house. He wanted to cry, but he would not.
Nobody disturbed him till about two o'clock, when Maggie knocked at the door, and opened it, without entering.
"Edwin, I've kept your dinner hot."
"No, thanks." He was standing with his legs wide apart on the hearth rug.
"Father's had his dinner and gone."
She closed the door again.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER SIXTEEN.
"I say, Edwin," Maggie called through the door.
"Well, come in, come in," he replied gruffly. And as he spoke he sped from the window, where he was drumming on the pane, to the hearthrug, so that he should have the air of not having moved since Maggie's previous visit. He knew not why he made this manoeuvre, unless it was that he thought vaguely that Maggie's impression of the seriousness of the crisis might thereby be intensified.
She stood in the doorway, evidently placatory and sympathetic, and behind her stood Mrs Nixon, in a condition of great mental turmoil.
"I think you'd better come and have your tea," said Maggie firmly, and yet gently. She was soft and stout, and incapable of asserting herself with dignity; but she was his elder, and there were moments when an unusual, scarce-perceptible quality in her voice would demand from him a particular attention.
He shook his head, and looked sternly at his watch, in the manner of one who could be adamant. He was astonished to see that the hour was a quarter past six.
"Where is he?" he asked.
"Father? He's had his tea and gone back to the shop. Come along."
"I must wash myself first," said Edwin gloomily. He did not wish to yield, but he was undeniably very hungry indeed.
Mrs Nixon could not leave him alone at tea, worrying him with offers of specialities to tempt him. He wondered who had told the old thing about the affair. Then he reflected that she had probably heard his outburst when he entered the house. Possibly the pert, nice niece also had heard it. Maggie remained sewing at the bow-window of the dining-room while he ate a plenteous tea.
"Father said I could tell you that you could pay yourself an extra half-crown a week wages from next Saturday," said Maggie suddenly, when she saw he had finished. It was always Edwin who paid wages in the Clayhanger establishment.
He was extremely startled by this news, with all that it implied of surrender and of pacific intentions. But he endeavoured to hide what he felt, and only snorted.
"He's been talking, then? What did he say?"
"Oh! Not much! He told me I could tell you if I liked."
"It would have looked better of him, if he'd told me himself," said Edwin, determined to be ruthless. Maggie offered no response.
After about a quarter of an hour he went into the garden, and kicked stones in front of him. He could not classify his thoughts. He considered himself to be perfectly tranquillised now, but he was mistaken. As he idled in the beautiful August twilight near the garden-front of the house, catching faintly the conversation of Mrs Nixon and her niece as it floated through the open window of the kitchen, round the corner, together with quiet soothing sounds of washing-up, he heard a sudden noise in the garden-porch, and turned swiftly. His father stood there. Both of them were off guard. Their eyes met.
"Had your tea?" Darius asked, in an unnatural tone.
"Yes," said Edwin.
Darius, having saved his face, hurried into the house, and Edwin moved down the garden, with heart sensibly beating. The encounter renewed his agitation.
And at the corner of the garden, over the hedge, which had been repaired, Janet entrapped him. She seemed to have sprung out of the ground. He could not avoid greeting her, and in order to do so he had to dominate himself by force. She was in white. She appeared always to wear white on fine summer days. Her smile was exquisitely benignant.
"So you're installed?" she began.
They talked of the removal, she asking questions and commenting, and he giving brief replies.
"I'm all alone to-night," she said, in a pause, "except for Alicia. Father and mother and the boys are gone to a fete at Longshaw."
"And Miss Lessways?" he inquired self-consciously.
"Oh! She's gone," said Janet. "She's gone back to London. Went yesterday."
"Rather sudden, isn't it?"
"Well, she had to go."
"Does she live in London?" Edwin asked, with an air of indifference.
"She does just now."
"I only ask because I thought from something she said she came from Turnhill way."
"Her people do," said Janet. "Yes, you may say she's a Turnhill girl."
"She seems very fond of poetry," said Edwin.
"You've noticed it!" Janet's face illuminated the dark. "You should hear her recite!"
"Recites, does she?"
"You'd have heard her that night you were here. But when she knew you were coming, she made us all promise not to ask her."
"Really!" said Edwin. "But why? She didn't know me. She'd never seen me."
"Oh! She might have just seen you in the street. In fact I believe she had. But that wasn't the reason," Janet laughed. "It was just that you were a stranger. She's very sensitive, you know."
"Ye-es," he admitted.
He took leave of Janet, somehow, and went for a walk up to Toft End, where the wind blows. His thoughts were more complex than ever in the darkness. So she had made them all promise not to ask her to recite while he was at the Orgreaves'! She had seen him, previous to that, in the street, and had obviously discussed him with Janet... And then, at nearly midnight, she had followed him to the new house! And on the day of the Centenary she had manoeuvred to let Janet and Mr Orgreave go in front... He did not like her. She was too changeable, too dark, and too light... But it was exciting. It was flattering. He saw again and again her gesture as she bent to Mr Shushions; and the straightening of her spine as she left the garden-porch on the night of his visit to the Orgreaves... Yet he did not like her. Her sudden departure, however, was a disappointment; it was certainly too abrupt... Probably very characteristic of her... Strange day! He had been suspected of theft. He had stood up to his father. He had remained away from the shop. And his father's only retort was to give him a rise of half a crown a week!
"The old man must have had a bit of a shock!" he said to himself, grimly vain. "I lay I don't hear another word about that fifty pounds."
Yes, amid his profound resentment, there was some ingenuous vanity at the turn which things had taken. And he was particularly content about the rise of half a crown a week, because that relieved him from the most difficult of all the resolutions the carrying out of which was to mark the beginning of the new life. It settled the financial question, for the present at any rate. It was not enough, but it was a great deal— from his father. He was ashamed that he could not keep his righteous resentment pure from this gross satisfaction at an increase of income. The fineness of his nature was thereby hurt. But the gross satisfaction would well up in his mind.
And in the night, with the breeze on his cheek, and the lamps of the Five Towns curving out below him, he was not unhappy, despite what he had suffered and was still suffering. He had a tingling consciousness of being unusually alive.
Later, in his bedroom, shut in, and safe and independent, with the new blind drawn, and the gas fizzing in its opaline globe, he tried to read "Don Juan." He could not. He was incapable of fixity of mind. He could not follow the sense of a single stanza. Images of his father and of Hilda Lessways mingled with reveries of the insult he had received and the triumph he had won, and all the confused wonder of the day and evening engaged his thoughts. He dwelt lovingly on the supreme disappointment of his career. He fancied what he would have been doing, and where he would have been then, if his appalling father had not made it impossible for him to be an architect. He pitied himself. But he saw the material of happiness ahead, in the faithful execution of his resolves for self-perfecting. And Hilda had flattered him. Hilda had given him a new conception of himself... A tiny idea arose in his brain that there was perhaps some slight excuse for his father's suspicion of him. After all, he had been secretive. He trampled on that idea, and it arose again.
He slept very heavily, and woke with a headache. A week elapsed before his agitation entirely disappeared, and hence before he could realise how extreme that agitation had been. He was ashamed of having so madly and wildly abandoned himself to passion.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.
CHALLENGE AND RESPONSE.
Time passed, like a ship across a distant horizon, which moves but which does not seem to move. One Monday evening Edwin said that he was going round to Lane End House. He had been saying so for weeks, and hesitating. He thoroughly enjoyed going to Lane End House; there was no reason why he should not go frequently and regularly, and there were several reasons why he should. Yet his visitings were capricious because his nature was irresolute. That night he went, sticking a hat carelessly on his head, and his hands deep into his pockets. Down the slope of Trafalgar Road, in the biting November mist, between the two rows of gas-lamps that flickered feebly into the pale gloom, came a long straggling band of men who also, to compensate for the absence of overcoats, stuck hands deep into pockets, and strode quickly. With reluctance they divided for the passage of the steam-car, and closed growling together again on its rear. The potters were on strike, and a Bursley contingent was returning in embittered silence from a mass meeting at Hanbridge. When the sound of the steam-car subsided, as the car dipped over the hill-top on its descent towards Hanbridge, nothing could be heard but the tramp-tramp of the procession on the road.
Edwin hurried down the side street, and in a moment rang at the front door of the Orgreaves'. He nodded familiarly to the servant who opened, stepped on to the mat, and began contorting his legs in order to wipe the edge of his boot-soles.
"Quite a stranger, sir!" said Martha, bridling, and respectfully aware of her attractiveness for this friend of the house.
"Yes," he laughed. "Anybody in?"
"Well, sir, I'm afraid Miss Janet and Miss Alicia are out."
"And Mr Tom?"
"Mr Tom's out, sir. He pretty nearly always is now, sir." The fact was that Tom was engaged to be married, and the servant indicated, by a scarcely perceptible motion of the chin, that fiances were and ever would be all the same. "And Mr John and Mr James are out too, sir." They also were usually out. They were both assisting their father in business, and sought relief from his gigantic conception of a day's work by evening diversions at Hanbridge. These two former noisy Liberals had joined the Hanbridge Conservative Club because it was a club, and had a billiard-table that could only be equalled at the Five Towns Hotel at Knype.
"And Mr Orgreave?"
"He's working upstairs, sir. Mrs Orgreave's got her asthma, and so he's working upstairs."
"Well, tell them I've called." Edwin turned to depart.
"I'm sure Mr Orgreave would like to know you're here, sir," said the maid firmly. "If you'll just step into the breakfast-room." That maid did as she chose with visitors for whom she had a fancy.
She conducted him to the so-called breakfast-room and shut the door on him. It was a small chamber behind the drawing-room, and shabbier than the drawing-room. In earlier days the children had used it for their lessons and hobbies. And now it was used as a sitting-room when mere cosiness was demanded by a decimated family. Edwin stooped down and mended the fire. Then he went to the wall and examined a framed water-colour of the old Sytch Pottery, which was signed with his initials. He had done it, aided by a photograph, and by Johnnie Orgreave in details of perspective, and by dint of preprandial frequentings of the Sytch, as a gift for Mrs Orgreave. It always seemed to him to be rather good.
Then he bent to examine bookshelves. Like the hall, the drawing-room, and the dining-room, this apartment too was plenteously full of everything, and littered over with the apparatus of various personalities. Only from habit did Edwin glance at the books. He knew their backs by heart. And books in quantity no longer intimidated him. Despite his grave defects as a keeper of resolves, despite his paltry trick of picking up a newspaper or periodical and reading it all through, out of sheer vacillation and mental sloth, before starting serious perusals, despite the human disinclination which he had to bracing himself, and keeping up the tension, in a manner necessary for the reading of long and difficult works, and despite sundry ignominious backslidings into original sluggishness—still he had accomplished certain literary adventures. He could not enjoy "Don Juan." Expecting from it a voluptuous and daring grandeur, he had found in it nothing whatever that even roughly fitted into his idea of what poetry was. But he had had a passion for "Childe Harold," many stanzas of which thrilled him again and again, bringing back to his mind what Hilda Lessways had said about poetry. And further, he had a passion for Voltaire. In Voltaire, also, he had been deceived, as in Byron. He had expected something violent, arid, closely argumentative; and he found gaiety, grace, and really the funniest jokes. He could read "Candide" almost without a dictionary, and he had intense pride in doing so, and for some time afterwards "Candide" and "La Princesse de Babylone," and a few similar witty trifles, were the greatest stories in the world for him. Only a faint reserve in Tom Orgreave's responsive enthusiasm made him cautiously reflect.
He could never be intimate with Tom, because Tom somehow never came out from behind his spectacles. But he had learnt much from him, and in especial a familiarity with the less difficult of Bach's preludes and fugues, which Tom loved to play. Edwin knew not even the notes of music, and he was not sure that Bach gave him pleasure. Bach affected him strangely. He would ask for Bach out of a continually renewed curiosity, so that he could examine once more and yet again the sensations which the music produced; and the habit grew. As regards the fugues, there could be no doubt that, the fugue begun, a desire was thereby set up in him for the resolution of the confusing problem created in the first few bars, and that he waited, with a pleasant and yet a trying anxiety, for the indications of that resolution, and that the final reassuring and utterly tranquillising chords gave him deep joy. When he innocently said that he was 'glad when the end came of a fugue,' all the Orgreaves laughed heartily, but after laughing, Tom said that he knew what Edwin meant and quite agreed.
It was while he was glancing along the untidy and crowded shelves with sophisticated eye that the door brusquely opened. He looked up mildly, expecting a face familiar, and saw one that startled him, and heard a voice that aroused disconcerting vibrations in himself. It was Hilda Lessways. She had in her hand a copy of the "Signal." Over fifteen months had gone since their last meeting, but not since he had last thought of her. Her features seemed strange. His memory of them had not been reliable, He had formed an image of her in his mind, and had often looked at it, and he now saw that it did not correspond with the reality. The souvenir of their brief intimacy swept back upon him, Incredible that she should be there, in front of him; and yet there she was! More than once, after reflecting on her, he had laughed, and said lightly to himself: "Well, the chances are I shall never see her again! Funny girl!" But the recollection of her gesture with Mr Shushions prevented him from dismissing her out of his head with quite that lightness...
"I'm ordered to tell you that Mr Orgreave will be down in a few minutes," she said.
"Hello!" he exclaimed. "I'd no idea you were in Bursley!"
"Came to-day!" she replied.
"How odd," he thought, "that I should call like this on the very day she comes!" But he pushed away that instinctive thought with the rational thought that such a coincidence could not be regarded as in any way significant.
They shook hands in the middle of the room, and she pressed his hand, while looking downwards with a smile. And his mind was suddenly filled with the idea that during all those months she had been existing somewhere, under the eye of some one, intimate with some one, and constantly conducting herself with a familiar freedom that doubtless she would not use to him. And so she was invested, for him, with mysteriousness. His interest in her was renewed in a moment, and in a form much more acute than its first form. Moreover, she presented herself to his judgement in a different aspect. He could scarcely comprehend how he had ever deemed her habitual expression to be forbidding. In fact, he could persuade himself now that she was beautiful, and even nobly beautiful. From one extreme he flew to the other. She sat down on an old sofa; he remained standing. And in the midst of a little conversation about Mrs Orgreave's indisposition, and the absence of the members of the family (she said she had refused an invitation to go with Janet and Alicia to Hillport), she broke the thread, and remarked—