Edwin nodded to him and approached the fire, rubbing his hands.
"What's this as I hear?" Darius began, with melancholy softness.
"About Albert wanting to borrow a thousand pounds?" Darius gazed at him over his spectacles.
"Albert wanting to borrow a thousand pounds!" Edwin repeated, astounded.
"Aye! Have they said naught to you?"
"No," said Edwin. "What is it?"
"Clara and your aunt have both been at me since tea. Some tale as Albert can amalgamate into partnership with Hope and Carters if he can put down a thousand. Then Albert's said naught to ye?"
"No, he hasn't!" Edwin exclaimed, emphasising each word with a peculiar fierceness. It was as if he had said, "I should like to catch him saying anything to me about it!"
He was extremely indignant. It seemed to him monstrous that those two women should thus try to snatch an advantage from his father's weakness, pitifully mean and base. He could not understand how people could bring themselves to do such things, nor how, having done them, they could ever look their fellows in the face again. Had they no shame? They would not let a day pass; but they must settle on the old man instantly, like flies on a carcass! He could imagine the plottings, the hushed chatterings; the acting-for-the-best demeanour of that cursed woman Auntie Hamps (yes, he now cursed her), and the candid greed of his sister.
"You wouldn't do it, would ye?" Darius asked, in a tone that expected a negative answer; but also with a rather plaintive appeal, as though he were depending on Edwin for moral support against the formidable forces of attack.
"I should not," said Edwin stoutly, touched by the strange wistful note and by the glance. "Unless of course you really want to."
He did not care in the least whether the money would or would not be really useful and reasonably safe. He did not care whose enmity he was risking. His sense of fair play was outraged, and he would salve it at any cost. He knew that had his father not been struck down and defenceless, these despicable people would never have dared to demand money from him. That was the only point that mattered.
The relief of Darius at Edwin's attitude in the affair was painful. Hoping for sympathy from Edwin, he yet had feared in him another enemy. Now he was reassured, and he could hide his feelings no better than a child.
"Seemingly they can't wait till my will's opened!" he murmured, with a scarcely successful affectation of grimness.
"Made a will, have you?" Edwin remarked, with an elaborate casualness to imply that he had never till then given a thought to his father's will, but that, having thought of the question, he was perhaps a very little surprised that his father had indeed made a will.
Darius nodded, quite benevolently. He seemed to have forgotten his deep grievance against Edwin in the matter of cheque-signing.
"Duncalf's got it," he murmured after a moment. Duncalf was the town clerk and a solicitor.
So the will was made! And he had submissively signed away all control over all monetary transactions. What more could he do, except expire with the minimum of fuss? Truly Darius, in the local phrase, was now 'laid aside'! And of all the symptoms of his decay the most striking and the most tragic, to Edwin, was that he showed no curiosity whatever about business. Not one single word of inquiry had he uttered.
"You'll want shaving," said Edwin, in a friendly way.
Darius passed a hand over his face. He had ceased years ago to shave himself, and had a subscription at Dick Jones's in Aboukir Street, close by the shop.
"Shall I send the barber up, or shall you let it grow?"
"What do you think?"
"Oh!" Edwin drawled, characteristically hesitating. Then he remembered that he was the responsible head of the family of Clayhanger. "I think you might let it grow," he decided.
And when he had issued the verdict, it seemed to him like a sentence of sequestration and death on his father... 'Let it grow! What does it matter?' Such was the innuendo.
"You used to grow a full beard once, didn't you?" he asked.
"Yes," said Darius.
That made the situation less cruel.
VOLUME THREE, CHAPTER EIGHT.
A CHANGE OF MIND.
One evening, a year later, in earliest summer of 1887, Edwin and Mr Osmond Orgreave were walking home together from Hanbridge. When they reached the corner of the street leading to Lane End House, Osmond Orgreave said, stopping—
"Now you'll come with us?" And he looked Edwin hard in the eyes, and there was a most flattering appeal in his voice. It was some time since their eyes had met frankly, for Edwin had recently been having experience of Mr Orgreave's methods in financial controversy, and it had not been agreeable.
After an instant Edwin said heartily—
"Yes, I think I'll come. Of course I should like to. But I'll let you know."
"I shall tell my wife you're coming."
Mr Orgreave waved a hand, and passed with a certain decorative gaiety down the street. His hair was now silvern, but it still curled in the old places, and his gestures had apparently not aged at all.
Mr and Mrs Orgreave were going to London for the Jubilee celebrations. So far as their family was concerned, they were going alone, because Osmond had insisted humorously that he wanted a rest from his children. But he had urgently invited Edwin to accompany them. At first Edwin had instinctively replied that it was impossible. He could not leave home. He had never been to London; a journey to London presented itself to him as an immense enterprise, almost as a piece of culpable self-indulgence. And then, under the stimulus of Osmond's energetic and adventurous temperament, he had said to himself, "Why not? Why shouldn't I?"
The arguments favoured his going. It was absurd and scandalous that he had never been to London: he ought for his self-respect to depart thither at once. The legend of the Jubilee, spectacular, processional, historic, touched his imagination. Whenever he thought of it, his fancy saw pennons and corselets and chargers winding through stupendous streets, and, somewhere in the midst, the majesty of England in the frail body of a little old lady, who had had many children and one supreme misfortune. Moreover, he could incidentally see Charlie. Moreover, he had been suffering from a series of his customary colds, and from overwork, and Heve had told him that he 'would do with a change.' Moreover, he had a project for buying paper in London: he had received, from London, overtures which seemed promising. He had never been able to buy paper quite as cheaply as Darius had bought paper, for the mere reason that he could not haggle over sixteenths of a penny with efficient ruthlessness; he simply could not do it, being somehow ashamed to do it. In Manchester, where Darius had bought paper for thirty years, they were imperceptibly too brutal for Edwin in the harsh realities of a bargain; they had no sense of shame. He thought that in letters from London he detected a softer spirit.
And above all he desired, by accepting Mr Orgreave's invitation, to show to the architect that the differences between them were really expunged from his mind. Among many confusions in his father's flourishing but disorderly affairs, Edwin had been startled to find the Orgreave transactions. There were accounts and contra-accounts, and quantities of strangely contradictory documents. Never had a real settlement occurred between Darius and Osmond. And Osmond did not seem to want one. Edwin, however, with his old-maid's passion for putting and keeping everything in its place, insisted on one. Mr Orgreave had to meet him on his strongest point, his love of order. The process of settlement had been painful to Edwin; it had seriously marred some of his illusions. Nearly the last of the entanglements in his father's business, the Orgreave matter was straightened and closed now; and the projected escapade to London would bury it deep, might even restore agreeable illusions. And Edwin was incapable of nursing malice.
The best argument of all was that he had a right to go to London. He had earned London, by honest and severe work, and by bearing firmly the huge weight of his responsibility. So far he had offered himself no reward whatever, not even an increase of salary, not even a week of freedom or the satisfaction of a single caprice.
"I shall go, and charge it to the business," he said to himself. He became excited about going.
As he approached his house, he saw the elder Heve, vicar of Saint Peter's, coming away from it, a natty clerical figure in a straw hat of peculiar shape. Recently this man had called once or twice; not professionally, for Darius was neither a churchman nor a parishioner, but as a brother of Dr Heve's, as a friendly human being, and Darius had been flattered. The Vicar would talk about Jesus with quiet half-humorous enthusiasm. For him at any rate Christianity was grand fun. He seemed never to be solemn over his religion, like the Wesleyans. He never, with a shamed, defiant air, said, "I am not ashamed of Christ," like the Wesleyans. He might have known Christ slightly at Cambridge. But his relations with Christ did not make him conceited, nor condescending. And if he was concerned about the welfare of people who knew not Christ, he hid his concern in the politest manner. Edwin, after being momentarily impressed by him, was now convinced of his perfect mediocrity; the Vicar's views on literature had damned him eternally in the esteem of Edwin, who was still naive enough to be unable to comprehend how a man who had been to Cambridge could speak enthusiastically of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Moreover, Edwin despised him for his obvious pride in being a bachelor. The Vicar would not say that a priest should be celibate, but he would, with delicacy, imply as much. Then also, for Edwin's taste, the parson was somewhat too childishly interested in the culture of cellar-mushrooms, which was his hobby. He would recount the tedious details of all his experiments to Darius, who, flattered by these attentions from the Established Church, took immense delight in the Vicar and in the sample mushrooms offered to him from time to time.
Maggie stood in the porch, which commanded the descent into Bursley; she was watching the Vicar as he receded. When Edwin appeared at the gate, she gave a little jump, and he fancied that she also blushed.
"Look here!" he exclaimed to himself, in a flash of suspicion. "Surely she's not thinking of the Vicar! Surely Maggie isn't after all!" He did not conceive it possible that the Vicar, who had been to Cambridge and had notions about celibacy, was thinking of Maggie. "Women are queer," he said to himself. (For him, this generalisation from facts was quite original.) Fancy her staring after the Vicar! She must have been doing it quite unconsciously! He had supposed that her attitude towards the Vicar was precisely his own. He took it for granted that the Vicar's attitude was the same to both of them, based on a polite and kindly but firm recognition that there could be no genuine sympathy between him and them.
"The Vicar's just been," said Maggie.
"Has he? ... Cheered the old man up at all?"
"Not much." Maggie shook her head gloomily.
Edwin's conscience seemed to be getting ready to hint that he ought not to go to London.
"I say, Mag," he said quietly, as he inserted his stick in the umbrella-stand. She stopped on her way upstairs, and then approached him.
"Mr Orgreave wants me to go to London with him and Mrs Orgreave." He explained the whole project to her.
She said at once, eagerly and benevolently—
"Of course you ought to go. It'll do you all the good in the world. I shall be all right here. Clara and Albert will come for Jubilee Day, anyhow. But haven't you driven it late? ... The day after to-morrow, isn't it? Mr Heve was only saying just now that the hotels were all crammed."
"Well, you know what Orgreave is! I expect he'll look after all that."
"You go!" Maggie enjoined him.
"Won't upset him?" Edwin nodded vaguely to wherever Darius might be.
"Can't be helped if it does," she replied calmly.
"Well then, I'm dashed if I don't go! What about my collars?"
Those three—Darius, Maggie, and Edwin—sat down to tea in silence. The window was open, and the weather very warm and gay. During the previous twelve months they had sat down to hundreds of such meals. Save for a few brief periods of cheerfulness, Darius had steadily grown more taciturn, heavy and melancholy. In the winter he had of course abandoned his attempts to divert himself by gardening—attempts at the best half-hearted and feeble—and he had not resumed them in the spring. Less than half a year previously he had often walked across the fields to Hillport and back, or up the gradual slopes to the height of Toft End—he never went townwards, had not once visited the Conservative Club. But now he could not even be persuaded to leave the garden. An old wicker arm-chair had been placed at the end of the garden, and he would set out for that arm-chair as upon a journey, and, having reached it, would sink into it with a huge sigh, and repose before bracing himself to the effort of return.
And now it seemed marvellous that he had ever had the legs to get to Hillport and to Toft End. He existed in a stupor of dull reflection, from pride pretending to read and not reading, or pretending to listen and not listening, and occasionally making a remark which was inapposite but which had to be humoured. And as the weeks passed his children's manner of humouring him became increasingly perfunctory, and their movements in putting right the negligence of his attire increasingly brusque. Vainly they tried to remember in time that he was a victim and not a criminal; they would remember after the careless remark and after the curt gesture, when it was too late. His malady obsessed them: it was in the air of the house, omnipresent; it weighed upon them, corroding the nerve and exasperating the spirit. Now and then, when Darius had vented a burst of irrational anger, they would say to each other with casual bitterness that really he was too annoying. Once, when his demeanour towards the new servant had strongly suggested that he thought her name was Bathsheba, Mrs Nixon herself had 'flown out' at him, and there had been a scene which the doctor had soothed by discreet professional explanations. Maggie's difficulty was that he was always there, always on the spot. To be free of him she must leave the house; and Maggie was not fond of leaving the house.
Edwin meant to inform him briefly of his intention to go to London, but such was the power of habit that he hesitated; he could not bring himself to announce directly this audacious and unprecedented act of freedom, though he knew that his father was as helpless as a child in his hands. Instead, he began to talk about the renewal of the lease of the premises in Duck Square, as to which it would be necessary to give notice to the landlord at the end of the month.
"I've been thinking I'll have it made out in my own name," he said. "It'll save you signing, and so on." This in itself was a proposal sufficiently startling, and he would not have been surprised at a violent instinctive protest from Darius; but Darius seemed not to heed.
Then both Edwin and Maggie noticed that he was trying to hold a sausage firm on his plate with his knife, and to cut it with his fork.
"No, no, father!" said Maggie gently. "Not like that!"
He looked up, puzzled, and then bent himself again to the plate. The whole of his faculties seemed to be absorbed in a great effort to resolve the complicated problem of the plate, the sausage, the knife and the fork.
"You've got your knife in the wrong hand," said Edwin impatiently, as to a wilful child.
Darius stared at the knife and at the fork, and he then sighed, and his sigh meant, "This business is beyond me!" Then he endeavoured to substitute the knife for the fork, but he could not.
"See," said Edwin, leaning over. "Like this!" He took the knife, but Darius would not loose it. "No, leave go!" he ordered. "Leave go! How can I show you if you don't leave go?"
Darius dropped both knife and fork with a clatter. Edwin put the knife into his right hand, and the fork into his left; but in a moment they were wrong again. At first Edwin could not believe that his father was not indulging deliberately in naughtiness.
"Shall I cut it up for you, father?" Maggie asked, in a mild, persuasive tone.
Darius pushed the plate towards her.
When she had cut up the sausage, she said—
"There you are! I'll keep the knife. Then you can't get mixed up."
And Darius ate the sausage with the fork alone. His intelligence had failed to master the original problem presented to it. He ate steadily for a few moments, and then the tears began to roll down his cheek, and he ate no more.
This incident, so simple, so unexpected, and so dramatic, caused the most acute distress. And its effect was disconcerting in the highest degree. It reminded everybody that what Darius suffered from was softening of the brain. For long he had been a prisoner in the house and garden. For long he had been almost mute. And now, just after a visit which usually acted upon him as a tonic, he had begun to lose the skill to feed himself. Little by little he was demonstrating, by his slow declension from it, the wonder of the standard of efficiency maintained by the normal human being.
Edwin and Maggie avoided one another, even in their glances. Each affected the philosophical, seeking to diminish the significance of the episode. But neither succeeded. Of the two years allotted to Darius, one had gone. What would the second be?
In his bedroom, after tea, Edwin fought against the gloomy influence, but uselessly. The inherent and appalling sadness of existence enveloped and chilled him. He gazed at the rows of his books. He had done no regular reading of late. Why read? He gazed at the screen in front of his bed, covered with neat memoranda. How futile! Why go to London? He would only have to come back from London! And then he said resistingly, "I will go to London." But as he said it aloud, he knew well that he would not go. His conscience would not allow him to depart. He could not leave Maggie alone with his father. He yielded to his conscience unkindly, reluctantly, with no warm gust of unselfishness; he yielded because he could not outrage his abstract sense of justice.
From the window he perceived Maggie and Janet Orgreave talking together over the low separating wall. And he remembered a word of Janet's to the effect that she and Maggie were becoming quite friendly and that Maggie was splendid. Suddenly he went downstairs into the garden. They were talking in attitudes of intimacy; and both were grave and mature, and both had a little cleft under the chin. Their pale frocks harmonised in the evening light. As he approached, Maggie burst into a girlish laugh. "Not really?" she murmured, with the vivacity of a young girl. He knew not what they were discussing, nor did he care. What interested him, what startled him, was the youthful gesture and tone of Maggie. It pleased and touched him to discover another Maggie in the Maggie of the household. Those two women had put on for a moment the charming, chattering silliness of schoolgirls. He joined them. On the lawn of the Orgreaves, Alicia was battling fiercely at tennis with an elegant young man whose name he did not know. Croquet was deposed; tennis reigned.
Even Alicia's occasional shrill cry had a mournful quality in the languishing beauty of the evening.
"I wish you'd tell your father I shan't be able to go tomorrow," Edwin said to Janet.
"But he's told all of us you are going!" Janet exclaimed.
"Shan't you go?" Maggie questioned, low.
"No," he murmured. Glancing at Janet, he added, "It won't do for me to go."
"What a pity!" Janet breathed.
Maggie did not say, "Oh! But you ought to! There's no reason whatever why you shouldn't!" By her silence she contradicted the philosophic nonchalance of her demeanour during the latter part of the meal.
VOLUME THREE, CHAPTER NINE.
Edwin walked idly down Trafalgar Road in the hot morning sunshine of Jubilee Day. He had left his father tearfully sentimentalising about the Queen. 'She's a good 'un!' Then a sob. 'Never was one like her!' Another sob. 'No, and never will be again!' Then a gush of tears on the newspaper, which the old man laboriously scanned for details of the official programme in London. He had not for months read the newspaper with such a determined effort to understand; indeed, since the beginning of his illness, no subject, except mushroom-culture, had interested him so much as the Jubilee. Each time he looked at the sky from his shady seat in the garden he had thanked God that it was a fine day, as he might have thanked Him for deliverance from a grave personal disaster.
Except for a few poor flags, there was no sign of gaiety in Trafalgar Road. The street, the town, and the hearts of those who remained in it, were wrapped in that desolating sadness which envelops the provinces when a supreme spectacular national rejoicing is centralised in London. All those who possessed the freedom, the energy, and the money had gone to London to witness a sight that, as every one said to every one, would be unique, and would remain unique for ever—and yet perhaps less to witness it than to be able to recount to their grandchildren that they had witnessed it. Many more were visiting nearer holiday resorts for a day or two days. Those who remained, the poor, the spiritless, the afflicted, and the captive, felt with mournful keenness the shame of their utter provinciality, envying the crowds in London with a bitter envy, and picturing London as the paradise of fashion and splendour.
It was from sheer aimless disgust that Edwin went down Trafalgar Road; he might as easily have gone up. Having arrived in the town, a wilderness of shut shops, he gazed a moment at his own, and then entered it by the side door. He had naught else to do. Had he chosen he could have spent the whole day in reading, or he might have taken again to his long-neglected water-colours. But it was not in him to put himself to the trouble of seeking contentment. He preferred to wallow in utter desolation, thinking of all the unpleasant things that had ever happened to him, and occasionally conjecturing what he would have been doing at a given moment had he accompanied the jolly, the distinguished, and the enterprising Osmond Orgreave to London.
He passed into the shop, sufficiently illuminated by the white rays that struck through the diamond holes in the shutters. The morning's letters—a sparse company—lay forlorn on the floor. He picked them up and pitched them down in the cubicle. Then he went into the cubicle, and with the negligent gesture of long habit unlocked a part of the desk, the part which had once been his father's privacy, and of which he had demanded the key more than a year ago. It was all now under his absolute dominion. He could do exactly as he pleased with a commercial apparatus that brought in some eight hundred pounds a year net. He was the unquestioned regent, and yet he told himself that he was no happier than when a slave.
He drew forth his books of account, and began to piece figures together on backs of envelopes, using a shorthand of accounts such as a principal will use when he is impatient and not particular to a few pounds. A little wasp of curiosity was teasing Edwin, and to quicken it a comparison was necessary between the result of the first six months of that year and the first six months of the previous year. True, June had not quite expired, but most of the quarterly accounts were ready, and he could form a trustworthy estimate. Was he, with his scorn of his father, his brains, his orderliness, doing better or worse than his father in the business? At the election of 1886, there had been considerably fewer orders than was customary at elections; he had done nothing whatever for the Tories, but that was a point that affected neither period of six months. Sundry customers had assuredly been lost; on the other hand, Stifford's travelling had seemed to be very satisfactory. Nor could it be argued that money had been dropped on the new-book business, because he had not yet inaugurated the new-book business, preferring to wait; he was afraid that his father might after all astoundingly walk in one day, and see new books on the counter, and rage. He had stopped the supplying of newspapers, and would deign to nothing lower than a sixpenny magazine; but the profit on newspapers was negligible.
The totals ought surely to compare in a manner favourable to himself, for he had been extremely and unremittingly conscientious. Nevertheless he was afraid. He was afraid because he knew, vaguely and still deeply, that he could neither buy nor sell as well as his father. It was not a question of brains; it was a question of individuality. A sense of honour, of fairness, a temperamental generosity, a hatred of meanness, often prevented him from pushing a bargain to the limit. He could not bring himself to haggle desperately. And even when price was not the main difficulty, he could not talk to a customer, or to a person whose customer he was, with the same rough, gruff, cajoling, bullying skill as his father. He could not, by taking thought, do what his father had done naturally, by the mere blind exercise of instinct. His father, with all his clumsiness, and his unscientific methods, had a certain quality, unseizable, Unanalysable, and Edwin had not that quality.
He caught himself, in the rapid calculating, giving himself the benefit of every doubt; somehow he could not help it, childish as it was. And even so, he could see, or he could feel, that the comparison was not going to be favourable to the regent. It grew plainer that the volume of business had barely been maintained, and it was glaringly evident that the expenses, especially wages, had sensibly increased. He abandoned the figures not quite finished, partly from weary disgust, and partly because Big James most astonishingly walked into the shop, from the back. He was really quite glad to encounter Big James, a fellow-creature.
"Seeing the door open, sir," said Big James cheerfully, through the narrow doorway of the cubicle, "I stepped in to see as it was no one unlawful."
"Did I leave the side door open?" Edwin murmured. It was surprising even to himself, how forgetful he was at times, he with his mania for orderliness!
Big James was in his best clothes, and seemed, with his indestructible blandness, to be perfectly happy.
"I was just strolling up to have a look at the ox," he added.
"Oh!" said Edwin. "Are they cooking it?"
"They should be, sir. But my fear is it may turn, in this weather."
"I'll come out with you," said Edwin, enlivened.
He locked the desk, and hurriedly straightened a few things, and then they went out together, by Wedgwood Street and the Cock Yard up to the market-place. No breeze moved, and the heat was tremendous. And there at the foot of the Town Hall tower, and in its scanty shadow, a dead ox, slung by its legs from an iron construction, was frizzling over a great primitive fire. The vast flanks of the animal, all rich yellows and browns, streamed with grease, some of which fell noisily on the almost invisible flames, while the rest was ingeniously caught in a system of runnels. The spectacle was obscene, nauseating to the eye, the nose, and the ear, and it powerfully recalled to Edwin the legends of the Spanish Inquisition. He speculated whether he would ever be able to touch beef again. Above the tortured and insulted corpse the air quivered in large waves. Mr Doy, the leading butcher of Bursley, and now chief executioner, regarded with anxiety the operation which had been entrusted to him, and occasionally gave instructions to a myrmidon. Round about stood a few privileged persons, whom pride helped to bear the double heat; and farther off on the pavements, a thin scattered crowd. The sublime spectacle of an ox roasted whole had not sufficed to keep the townsmen in the town. Even the sages who had conceived and commanded this peculiar solemnity for celebrating the Jubilee of a Queen and Empress had not stayed in the borough to see it enacted, though some of them were to return in time to watch the devouring of the animal by the aged poor at a ceremonial feast in the evening.
"It's a grand sight!" said Big James, with simple enthusiasm. "A grand sight! Real old English! And I wish her well!" He meant the Queen and Empress. Then suddenly, in a different tone, sniffing the air, "I doubt it's turned! I'll step across and ask Mr Doy."
He stepped across, and came back with the news that the greater portion of the ox, despite every precaution, had in fact very annoyingly 'turned,' and that the remainder of the carcass was in serious danger.
"What'll the old people say?" he demanded sadly. "But it's a grand sight, turned or not!"
Edwin stared and stared, in a sort of sinister fascination. He thought that he might stare for ever. At length, after ages of ennui, he loosed himself from the spell with an effort and glanced at Big James.
"And what are you going to do with yourself to-day, James?"
Big James smiled. "I'm going to take my walks abroad, sir. It's seldom as I get about in the town nowadays."
"Well, I must be off!"
"I'd like you to give my respects to the old gentleman, sir."
Edwin nodded and departed, very slowly and idly, towards Trafalgar Road and Bleakridge. He pulled his straw hat over his forehead to avoid the sun, and then he pushed it backwards to his neck to avoid the sun. The odour of the shrivelling ox remained with him; it was in his nostrils for several days. His heart grew blacker with intense gloom; and the contentment of Big James at the prospect of just strolling about the damnable dead town for the rest of the day surpassed his comprehension. He abandoned himself to misery voluptuously. The afternoon and evening stretched before him, an arid and appalling Sahara. The Benbows, and their babes, and Auntie Hamps were coming for dinner and tea, to cheer up grandfather. He pictured the repasts with savage gloating detestation—burnt ox, and more burnt ox, and the false odious brightness of a family determined to be mutually helpful and inspiring. Since his refusal to abet the project of a loan to Albert, Clara had been secretly hostile under her superficial sisterliness, and Auntie Hamps had often assured him, in a manner extraordinarily exasperating, that she was convinced he had acted conscientiously for the best. Strange thought, that after eight hours of these people and of his father, he would be still alive!
VOLUME THREE, CHAPTER TEN.
MRS. HAMPS AS A YOUNG MAN.
On the Saturday afternoon of the week following the Jubilee, Edwin and Mrs Hamps were sunning themselves in the garden, when Janet's face and shoulders appeared suddenly at the other side of the wall. At the sight of Mrs Hamps she seemed startled and intimidated, and she bowed somewhat more ceremoniously than usual.
Then Mrs Hamps returned the bow with superb extravagance, like an Oriental monarch who is determined to outvie magnificently the gifts of another. Mrs Hamps became conscious of the whole of her body and of every article of her summer apparel, and nothing of it all was allowed to escape from contributing to the completeness of the bow. She bridled. She tossed proudly as it were against the bit. And the rich ruins of her handsomeness adopted new and softer lines in the overpowering sickly blandishment of a smile. Thus she always greeted any merely formal acquaintance whom she considered to be above herself in status—provided, of course, that the acquaintance had done nothing to offend her.
"Good afternoon, Miss Orgreave!"
Reluctantly she permitted her features to relax from the full effort of the smile; but they might not abandon it entirely.
"I thought Maggie was there," said Janet.
"She was, a minute ago," Edwin answered. "She's just gone in to father. She'll be out directly. Do you want her?"
"I only wanted to tell her something," said Janet, and then paused.
She was obviously very excited. She had the little quick movements of a girl. In her cream-tinted frock she looked like a mere girl. And she was beautiful in her maturity; a challenge to the world of males. As she stood there, rising from behind the wall, flushed, quivering, abandoned to an emotion and yet unconsciously dignified by that peculiar stateliness that never left her—as she stood there it seemed as if she really was offering a challenge.
"I'll fetch Mag, if you like," said Edwin.
"Well," said Janet, lifting her chin proudly, "it isn't a secret. Alicia's engaged." And pride was in every detail of her bearing.
"Well, I never!" Edwin exclaimed.
Mrs Hamps's features resumed the full smile.
"Can you imagine it? I can't! It seems only last week that she left school!"
And indeed it seemed only last week that Alicia was nothing but legs, gawkiness, blushes, and screwed-up shoulders. And now she was a destined bride. She had caught and enchanted a youth by her mysterious attractiveness. She had been caught and enchanted by the mysterious attractiveness of the male. She had known the dreadful anxiety that precedes the triumph, and the ecstasy of surrender. She had kissed as Janet had never kissed, and gazed as Janet had never gazed. She knew infinitely more than Janet. She had always been a child to Janet, but now Janet was the child. No wonder that Janet was excited.
"Might one ask who is the fortunate young gentleman?" Mrs Hamps dulcetly inquired.
"It's Harry Hesketh, from Oldcastle... You've met him here," she added, glancing at Edwin.
Mrs Hamps nodded, satisfied, and the approving nod indicated that she was aware of all the excellences of the Hesketh family.
"The tennis man!" Edwin murmured.
"Yes, of course! You aren't surprised, are you?"
The fact was that Edwin had not given a thought to the possible relations between Alicia and any particular young man. But Janet's thrilled air so patently assumed his interest that he felt obliged to make a certain pretence.
"I'm not what you'd call staggered," he said roguishly. "I'm keeping my nerve." And he gave her an intimate smile.
"Father-in-law and son-in-law have just been talking it over," said Janet archly, "in the breakfast-room! Alicia thoughtfully went out for a walk. I'm dying for her to come back." Janet laughed from simple joyous expectation. "When Harry came out of the breakfast-room he just put his arms round me and kissed me. Yes! That was how I was told about it. He's a dear! Don't you think so? I mean really! I felt I must come and tell some one."
Edwin had never seen her so moved. Her emotion was touching, it was beautiful. She need not have said that she had come because she must. The fact was in her rapt eyes. She was under a spell.
"Well, I must go!" she said, with a curious brusqueness. Perhaps she had a dim perception that she was behaving in a manner unusual with her. "You'll tell your sister."
Her departing bow to Mrs Hamps had the formality of courts, and was equalled by Mrs Hamps's bow. Just as Mrs Hamps, having re-created her elaborate smile, was allowing it finally to expire, she had to bring it into existence once more, and very suddenly, for Janet returned to the wall.
"You won't forget tennis after tea," said Janet shortly.
Edwin said that he should not.
"Well, well!" Mrs Hamps commented, and sat down in the wicker-chair of Darius.
"I wonder she doesn't get married herself," said Edwin idly, having nothing in particular to remark.
"You're a nice one to say such a thing!" Mrs Hamps exclaimed.
"Well, you really are!" She raised the structure of her bonnet and curls, and shook it slowly at him. And her gaze had an extraordinary quality of fleshly naughtiness that half pleased and half annoyed him.
"Why?" he repeated.
"Well," she said again, "you aren't a ninny, and you aren't a simpleton. At least I hope not. You must know as well as anybody the name of the young gentleman that she's waiting for."
In spite of himself, Edwin blushed: he blushed more and more. Then he scowled.
"What nonsense!" he muttered viciously. He was entirely sincere. The notion that Janet was waiting for him had never once crossed his mind. It seemed to him fantastic, one of those silly ideas that a woman such as Auntie Hamps would be likely to have, or more accurately would be likely to pretend to have. Still, it did just happen that on this occasion his auntie's expression was more convincing than usual. She seemed more human than usual, to have abandoned, at any rate partially, the baffling garment of effusive insincerity in which she hid her soul. The Eve in her seemed to show herself, and, looking forth from her eyes, to admit that the youthful dalliance of the sexes was alone interesting in this life of strict piety. The revelation was uncanny.
"You needn't talk like that," she retorted calmly, "unless you want to go down in my good opinion. You don't mean to tell me honestly that you don't know what's been the talk of the town for years and years!"
"It's ridiculous," said Edwin. "Why—what do you know of her—you don't know the Orgreaves at all!"
"I know that, anyway," said Auntie Hamps.
"Oh! Stuff!" He grew impatient.
And yet, in his extreme astonishment, he was flattered and delighted.
"Of course," said Auntie Hamps, "you're so difficult to talk to—"
"Difficult to talk to!—Me?"
"Otherwise your auntie might have given you a hint long ago. I believe you are a simpleton after all! I cannot understand what's come over the young men in these days. Letting a girl like that wait and wait!" She implied, with a faint scornful smile, that if she were a young man she would be capable of playing the devil with the maidenhood of the town. Edwin was rather hurt. And though he felt that he ought not to be ashamed, yet he was ashamed. He divined that she was asking him how he had the face to stand there before her, at his age, with his youth unspilled. After all, she was an astounding woman. He remained silent.
"Why—look how splendid it would be!" she murmured. "The very thing! Everybody would be delighted!"
He still remained silent.
"But you can't keep on philandering for ever!" she said sharply. "She'll never see thirty again! ... Why does she ask you to go and play at tennis? Can you tell me that? ... perhaps I'm saying too much, but this I will say—"
Darius and Maggie appeared at the garden door. Maggie offered her hand to aid her father, but he repulsed it. Calmly she left him, and came up the garden, out of the deep shadow into the sunshine. She had learnt the news of the engagement, and had fully expressed her feelings about it before Darius arrived at his destination and Mrs Hamps vacated the wicker-chair.
"I'll get some chairs," said Edwin gruffly. He could look nobody in the eyes. As he turned away he heard Mrs Hamps say—
"Great news, father! Alicia Orgreave is engaged!"
The old man made no reply. His mere physical present deprived the betrothal of all its charm. The news fell utterly flat and lay unregarded and insignificant.
Edwin did not get the chairs. He sent the servant out with them.
VOLUME THREE, CHAPTER ELEVEN.
Janet called out—"Play—no, I think perhaps you'll do better if you stand a little farther back. Now—play!"
She brought down her lifted right arm, and smacked the ball into the net.
"Double fault!" she cried, lamenting, when she had done this twice. "Oh dear! Now you go over to the other side of the court."
Edwin would not have kept the rendezvous could he have found an excuse satisfactory to himself for staying away. He was a beginner at tennis, and a very awkward one, having little aptitude for games, and being now inelastic in the muscles. He possessed no flannels, though for weeks he had been meaning to get at least a pair of white pants. He was wearing Jimmie Orgreave's india-rubber pumps, which admirably fitted him. Moreover, he was aware that he looked better in his jacket than in his shirt-sleeves. But these reasons against the rendezvous were naught. The only genuine reason was that he had felt timid about meeting Janet. Could he meet her without revealing by his mere guilty glance that his aunt had half convinced him that he had only to ask nicely in order to receive? Could he meet her without giving her the impression that he was a conceited ass? He had met her. She was waiting for him in the garden, and by dint of starting the conversation in loud tones from a distance, and fumbling a few moments with the tennis balls before approaching her, he had come through the encounter without too much foolishness.
And now he was glad that he had not been so silly as to stay away. She was alone; Mrs Orgreave was lying down, and all the others were out. Alicia and her Harry were off together somewhere. She was alone in the garden, and she was beautiful, and the shaded garden was beautiful, and the fading afternoon. The soft short grass was delicate to his feet, and round the oval of the lawn were glimpses of flowers, and behind her clear-tinted frock was the yellow house laced over with green. A column of thick smoke rose from a manufactory close behind the house, but the trees mitigated it. He played perfunctorily, uninterested in the game, dreaming.
She was a wondrous girl! She was the perfect girl! Nobody had ever been able to find any fault with her. He liked her exceedingly. Had it been necessary, he would have sacrificed his just interests in the altercation with her father in order to avoid a coolness in which she might have been involved. She was immensely distinguished and superior. And she was over thirty and had never been engaged, despite the number and variety of her acquaintances, despite her challenging readiness to flirt, and her occasional coquetries. Ten years ago he had almost regarded her as a madonna on a throne, so high did she seem to be above him. His ideas had changed, but there could be no doubt that in an alliance between an Orgreave and a Clayhanger, it would be the Clayhanger who stood to gain the greater advantage. There she was! If she was not waiting for him, she was waiting—for some one! Why not for him as well as for another?
He said to himself—
"Why shouldn't I be happy? That other thing is all over!"
It was, in fact, years since the name of Hilda had ever been mentioned between them. Why should he not be happy? There was nothing to prevent her from being happy. His father's illness could not endure for ever. One day soon he would be free in theory as well as in practice. With no tie and no duty (Maggie was negligible) he would have both money and position. What might his life not be with a woman like Janet, brilliant, beautiful, elegant, and faithful? He pictured that life, and even the vision of it dazzled him. Janet his! Janet always there, presiding over a home which was his home, wearing hats that he had paid for, appealing constantly to his judgement, and meaning him when she said, 'My husband.' He saw her in the close and tender intimacy of marriage, acquiescent, exquisite, yielding, calmly accustomed to him, modest, but with a different modesty! It was a vision surpassing visions. And there she was on the other side of the net!
With her he could be his finest self. He would not have to hide his finest self from ridicule, as often now, among his own family.
She was a fine woman! He watched the free movement of her waist, and the curvings and flyings of her short tennis skirt. And there was something strangely feminine about the neck of her blouse, now that he examined it.
"Your game!" she cried. "That's four double faults I've served. I can't play! I really don't think I can. There's something the matter with me! Or else it's the net that's too high. Those boys will keep screwing it up!"
She had a pouting, capricious air, and it delighted him. Never had he seen her so enchantingly girlish as, by a curious hazard, he saw her now. Why should he not he happy? Why should he not wake up out of his nightmare and begin to live? In a momentary flash he seemed to see his past in a true perspective, as it really was, as some well-balanced person not himself would have seen it. Mere morbidity to say, as he had been saying privately for years, that marriage was not for him! Marriage emphatically was for him, if only because he had fine ideals of it. Most people who married were too stupid to get the value of their adventure. Celibacy was grotesque, cowardly, and pitiful—no matter how intellectual the celibate—and it was no use pretending the contrary.
A masculine gesture, an advance, a bracing of the male in him ... probably nothing else was needed.
"Well," he said boldly, "if you don't want to play, let's sit down and rest." And then he gave a nervous little laugh.
They sat down on the bench that was shaded by the old elderberry tree. Visually, the situation had all the characteristics of an idyllic courtship.
"I suppose it's Alicia's engagement," she said, smiling reflectively, "that's put me off my game. They do upset you, those things do, and you don't know why... It isn't as if Alicia was the first—I mean of us girls. There was Marian; but then, of course, that was so long ago, and I was only a chit."
"Yes," he murmured vaguely; and though she seemed to be waiting for him to say more, he merely repeated, "Yes."
Such was his sole contribution to this topic, so suitable to the situation, so promising, so easy of treatment. They were so friendly that he was under no social obligation to talk for the sake of talking.
That was it: they were too friendly. She sat within a foot of him, reclining against the sloping back of the bench, and idly dangling one white-shod foot; her long hands lay on her knees. She was there in all her perfection. But by some sinister magic, as she had approached him and their paths had met at the bench, his vision had faded. Now, she was no longer a woman and he a man. Now, the curvings of her drapery from the elegant waistband were no longer a provocation. She was immediately beneath his eye, and he recognised her again for what she was—Janet! Precisely Janet—no less and no more! But her beauty, her charm, her faculty for affection—surely... No! His instinct was deaf to all 'buts.' His instinct did not argue; it cooled. Fancy had created a vision in an instant out of an idea, and in an instant the vision had died. He remembered Hilda with painful intensity. He remembered the feel of her frock under his hand in the cubicle, and the odour of her flesh that was like fruit. His cursed constancy! ... Could he not get Hilda out of his bones? Did she sleep in his bones like a malady that awakes whenever it is disrespectfully treated?
He grew melancholy. Accustomed to savour the sadness of existence, he soon accepted the new mood without resentment.
He resigned himself to the destruction of his dream. He was like a captive whose cell has been opened in mistake, and who is too gentle to rave when he sees it shut again. Only in secret he poured an indifferent, careless scorn upon Auntie Hamps.
They played a whole interminable set, and then Edwin went home, possibly marvelling at the variety of experience that a single hour may contain.
VOLUME THREE, CHAPTER TWELVE.
Edwin re-entered his home with a feeling of dismayed resignation. There was then no escape, and never could be any escape, from the existence to which he was accustomed; even after his father's death, his existence would still be essentially the same—incomplete and sterile. He accepted the destiny, but he was daunted by it.
He quietly shut the front door, which had been ajar, and as he did so he heard voices in the drawing-room.
"I tell ye I'm going to grow mushrooms," Darius was saying. "Can't I grow mushrooms in my own cellar?" Then a snort.
"I don't think it'll be a good thing," was Maggie's calm reply.
"Ye've said that afore. Why won't it be a good thing? And what's it got to do with you?" The voice of Darius, ordinarily weak and languid, was rising and becoming strong.
"Well, you'd be falling up and down the cellar steps. You know how dark they are. Supposing you hurt yourself?"
"Ye'd only be too glad if I killed mysen!" said Darius, with a touch of his ancient grimness.
There was a pause.
"And it seems they want a lot of attention, mushrooms do," Maggie went on with unperturbed placidity. "You'd never be able to do it."
"Jane could help me," said Darius, in the tone of one who is rather pleased with an ingenious suggestion.
"Oh no, she couldn't!" Maggie exclaimed, with a peculiar humorous dryness which she employed only on the rarest occasions. Jane was the desired Bathsheba.
"And I say she could!" the old man shouted with surprising vigour. "Her does nothing! What does Mrs Nixon do? What do you do? Three great strapping women in the house and doing nought! I say she shall!" The voice dropped and snarled. "Who's master here? Is it me, or is it the cat? D'ye think as I can't turn ye all out of it neck and crop, if I've a mind? You and Edwin, and the lot of ye! And to-night too! Give me some money now, and quicker than that! I've got nought but sovereigns and notes. I'll go down and get the spawn myself—ay! and order the earth too! I'll make it my business to show my childer—But I mun have some change for my car fares." He breathed heavily.
"I'm sure Edwin won't like it," Maggie murmured.
"Edwin! Hast told Edwin?" Darius also murmured, but it was a murmur of rage.
"No, I haven't. Edwin's got quite enough on his hands as it is, without any other worries."
There was the noise of a sudden movement, and of a chair falling.
"Bugger you all!" Darius burst out with a fury whose restraint showed that he had unsuspected reserves of strength. And then he began to swear. Edwin, like many timid men, often used forbidden words with much ferocity in private. Once he had had a long philosophic argument with Tom Orgreave on the subject of profanity. They had discussed all aspects of it, from its religious origin to its psychological results, and Edwin's theory had been that it was only improper by a purely superstitious convention, and that no man of sense could possibly be offended, in himself, by the mere sound of words that had been deprived of meaning. He might be offended on behalf of an unreasoning fellow-listener, such as a woman, but not personally. Edwin now discovered that his theory did not hold. He was offended. He was almost horrified. He had never in his life till that moment heard Darius swear. He heard him now. He considered himself to be a fairly first-class authority on swearing; he thought that he was familiar with all the sacred words and with all the combinations of them. He was mistaken. His father's profanity was a brilliant and appalling revelation. It comprised words which were strange to him, and strange perversions that renewed the vigour of decrepit words. For Edwin, it was a whole series of fresh formulae, brutal and shameless beyond his experience, full of images and similes of the most startling candour, and drawing its inspiration always from the sickening bases of life. Darius had remembered with ease the vocabulary to which he was hourly accustomed when he began life as a man of seven. For more than fifty years he had carried within himself these vestiges of a barbarism which his children had never even conceived, and now he threw them out in all their crudity at his daughter. And when she did not blench, he began to accuse her as men were used to accuse their daughters in the bright days of the Sailor King. He invented enormities which she had committed, and there would have been no obscene infamy of which Maggie was not guilty, if Edwin—more by instinct than by volition—had not pushed open the door and entered the drawing-room.
He was angry, and the sight of the flushed meekness of his sister, as she leaned quietly with her back against an easy-chair, made him angrier.
"Enough of this!" he said gruffly and peremptorily.
Darius, with scarcely a break, continued.
"I say enough of this!" Edwin cried, with increased harshness.
The old man paused, half intimidated. With his pimpled face and glaring eyes, his gleaming gold teeth, his frowziness of a difficult invalid, his grimaces and gestures which were the result of a lifetime devoted to gain, he made a loathsome object. Edwin hated him, and there was a bitter contempt in his hatred.
"I'm going to have that spawn, and I'm going to have some change! Give me some money!" Darius positively hissed.
Edwin grew nearly capable of homicide. All the wrongs that he had suffered leaped up and yelled.
"You'll have no money!" he said, with brutal roughness. "And you'll grow no mushrooms! And let that be understood once for all! You've got to behave in this house."
Darius flickered up.
"Do you hear?" Edwin stamped on the conflagration.
It was extinguished. Darius, cowed, slowly and clumsily directed himself towards the door. Once Edwin had looked forward to a moment when he might have his father at his mercy, when he might revenge himself for the insults and the bullying that had been his. Once he had clenched his fist and his teeth, and had said, "When you're old, and I've got you, and you can't help yourself!" That moment had come, and it had even enabled and forced him to refuse money to his father—refuse money to his father! As he looked at the poor figure fumbling towards the door, he knew the humiliating paltriness of revenge. As his anger fell, his shame grew.
Maggie lifted her eyebrows when Darius banged the door.
"He can't help it," she said.
"Of course he can't help it," said Edwin, defending himself, less to Maggie than to himself. "But there must be a limit. He's got to be kept in order, you know, even if he is an invalid." His heart was perceptibly beating.
"Yes, of course."
"And evidently there's only one way of doing it. How long's he been on this mushroom tack?"
"Oh, not long."
"Well, you ought to have told me," said Edwin, with the air of a master of the house who is displeased. Maggie accepted the reproof.
"He'd break his neck in the cellar before he knew where he was," Edwin resumed.
"Yes, he would," said Maggie, and left the room.
Upon her placid features there was not the slightest trace of the onslaught of profanity. The faint flush had paled away.
The next morning, Sunday, Edwin came downstairs late, to the sound of singing. In his soft carpet-slippers he stopped at the foot of the stairs and tapped the weather-glass, after the manner of his father; and listened. It was a duet for female voices that was being sung, composed by Balfe to the words of the good Longfellow's "Excelsior." A pretty thing, charming in its thin sentimentality; one of the few pieces that Darius in former days really understood and liked. Maggie and Clara had not sung it for years. For years they had not sung it at all.
Edwin went to the doorway of the drawing-room and stood there. Clara, in Sunday bonnet, was seated at the ancient piano; it had always been she who had played the accompaniments. Maggie, nursing one of the babies, sat on another chair, and leaned towards the page in order to make out the words. She had half-forgotten the words, and Clara was no longer at ease in the piano part, and their voices were shaky and unruly, and the piano itself was exceedingly bad. A very indifferent performance of indifferent music! And yet it touched Edwin. He could not deny that by its beauty and by the sentiment of old times it touched him. He moved a little forward in the doorway. Clara glanced at him, and winked. Now he could see his father. Darius was standing at some distance behind his daughters and his grandchild, and staring at them. And the tears rained down from his red eyes, and then his emotion overcame him and he blubbered, just as the duet finished.
"Now, father," Clara protested cheerfully, "this won't do. You know you asked for it. Give me the infant, Maggie."
Edwin walked away.
VOLUME THREE, CHAPTER THIRTEEN.
THE JOURNEY UPSTAIRS.
Late on another Saturday afternoon in the following March, when Darius had been ill nearly two years, he and Edwin and Albert were sitting round the remains of high tea together in the dining-room. Clara had not been able to accompany her husband on what was now the customary Saturday visit, owing to the illness of her fourth child. Mrs Hamps was fighting chronic rheumatism at home. And Maggie had left the table to cosset Mrs Nixon, who of late received more help than she gave.
Darius sat in dull silence. The younger men were talking about the Bursley Society for the Prosecution of Felons, of which Albert had just been made a member. Whatever it might have been in the past, the Society for the Prosecution of Felons was now a dining-club and little else. Its annual dinner, admitted to be the chief oratorical event of the year, was regarded as strictly exclusive, because no member, except the president, had the right to bring a guest to it. Only 'Felons,' as they humorously named themselves, and the reporters of the "Signal," might listen to the eloquence of Felons. Albert Benbow, who for years had been hearing about the brilliant funniness of the American Consul at these dinners, was so flattered by his Felonry that he would have been ready to put the letters S P F after his name.
"Oh, you'll have to join!" said he to Edwin, kindly urgent, like a man who, recently married, goes about telling all bachelors that they positively must marry at once. "You ought to get it fixed up before the next feed."
Edwin shook his head. Though he, too, dreamed of the Felons' Dinner as a repast really worth eating, though he wanted to be a Felon, and considered that he ought to be a Felon, and wondered why he was not already a Felon, he repeatedly assured Albert that Felonry was not for him.
"You're a Felon, aren't you, dad?" Albert shouted at Darius.
"Oh yes, father's a Felon," said Edwin. "Has been ever since I can remember."
"Did ye ever speak there?" asked Albert, with an air of good-humoured condescension.
Darius's elbow slipped violently off the tablecloth, and a knife fell to the floor and a plate after it. Darius went pale.
"All right! All right! Don't be alarmed, dad!" Albert reassured him, picking up the things. "I was asking ye, did ye ever speak there—make a speech?"
"Yes," said Darius heavily.
"Did you now!" Albert murmured, staring at Darius. And it was exactly as if he had said, "Well, it's extraordinary that a foolish physical and mental wreck such as you are now, should ever have had wit and courage enough to rise and address the glorious Felons!"
Darius glanced up at the gas, with a gesture that was among Edwin's earliest recollections, and then he fixed his eyes dully on the fire, with head bent and muscles lax.
"Have a cigarette—that'll cheer ye up," said Albert.
Darius made a negative sign.
"He's very tired, seemingly," Albert remarked to Edwin, as if Darius had not been present.
"Yes," Edwin muttered, examining his father. Darius appeared ten years older than his age. His thin hair was white, though the straggling beard that had been allowed to grow was only grey. His face was sunken and pale, but even more striking was the extreme pallor of the hands with their long clean fingernails, those hands that had been red and rough, tools of all work. His clothes hung somewhat loosely on him, and a shawl round his shoulders was awry. The comatose melancholy in his eyes was acutely painful to see—so much so that Edwin could not bear to look long at them. "Father," Edwin asked him suddenly, "wouldn't you like to go to bed?"
And to his surprise Darius said, "Yes."
"Well, come on then."
Darius did not move.
"Come on," Edwin urged. "I'm sure you're overtired, and you'll be better in bed."
He took his father by the arm, but there was no responsive movement. Often Edwin noticed this capricious, obstinate attitude; his father would express a wish to do a certain thing, and then would make no effort to do it. "Come!" said Edwin more firmly, pulling at the lifeless arm. Albert sprang up, and said that he would assist. One on either side, they got Darius to his feet, and slowly walked him out of the room. He was very exasperating. His weight and his inertia were terrible. The spectacle suggested that either Darius was pretending to be a carcass, or Edwin and Albert were pretending that a carcass was alive. On the stairs there was not room for the three abreast. One had to push, another to pull: Darius seemed wilfully to fall backwards if pressure were released. Edwin restrained his exasperation; but though he said nothing, his sharp half-vicious pull on that arm seemed to say, "Confound you! Come up—will you!" The last two steps of the stair had a peculiar effect on Darius. He appeared to shy at them, and then finally to jib. It was no longer a reasonable creature that they were getting upstairs, but an incalculable and mysterious beast. They lifted him on to the landing, and he stood on the landing as if in his sleep. Both Edwin and Albert were breathless. This was the man who since the beginning of his illness had often walked to Hillport and back! It was incredible that he had ever walked to Hillport and back. He passed more easily along the landing. And then he was in his bedroom.
"Father going to bed?" Maggie called out from below.
"Yes," said Albert. "We've just been getting him upstairs."
"Oh! That's right," Maggie said cheerfully. "I thought he was looking very tired to-night."
"He gave us a doing," said the breathless Albert in a low voice at the door of the bedroom, smiling, and glancing at his cigarette to see if it was still alight.
"He does it on purpose, you know," Edwin whispered casually. "I'll just get him to bed, and then I'll be down."
Albert went, with a 'good night' to Darius that received no answer.
In the bedroom, Darius had sunk on to the cushioned ottoman. Edwin shut the door.
"Now then!" said Edwin encouragingly, yet commandingly. "I can tell you one thing—you aren't losing weight." He had recovered from his annoyance, but he was not disposed to submit to any trifling. For many months now he had helped Darius to dress, when he came up from the shop for breakfast, and to undress in the evening. It was not that his father lacked the strength, but he would somehow lose himself in the maze of his garments, and apparently he could never remember the proper order of doffing or donning them. Sometimes he would ask, "Am I dressing or undressing?" And he would be capable of so involving himself in a shirt, if Edwin were not there to direct, that much patience was needed for his extrication. His misapprehensions and mistakes frequently reached the grotesque. As habit threw them more and more intimately together, the trusting dependence of Darius on Edwin increased. At morning and evening the expression of that intensely mournful visage seemed to be saying as its gaze met Edwin's, "Here is the one clear-sighted, powerful being who can guide me through this complex and frightful problem of my clothes." A suit, for Darius, had become as intricate as a quadratic equation. And, in Edwin, compassion and irritation fought an interminable guerilla. Now one obtained the advantage, now the other. His nerves demanded relief from the friction, but he could offer them no holiday, not one single day's holiday. Twice every day he had to manoeuvre and persuade that ponderous, irrational body in his father's bedroom. Maggie helped the body to feed itself at table. But Maggie apparently had no nerves.
"I shall never go down them stairs again," said Darius, as if in fatigued disgust, on the ottoman.
"Oh, nonsense!" Edwin exclaimed.
Darius shook his head solemnly, and looked at vacancy.
"Well, we'll talk about that to-morrow," said Edwin, and with the skill of regular practice drew out the ends of the bow of his father's necktie. He had gradually evolved a complete code of rules covering the entire process of the toilette, and he insisted on their observance. Every article had its order in the ceremony and its place in the room. Never had the room been so tidy, nor the rites so expeditious, as in the final months of Darius's malady.
The cumbrous body lay in bed. The bed was in an architecturally contrived recess, sheltered from both the large window and the door. Over its head was the gas-bracket and the bell-knob. At one side was a night-table, and at the other a chair. In front of the night-table were Darius's slippers. On the chair were certain clothes. From a hook near the night-table, and almost over the slippers, hung his dressing-gown. Seen from the bed, the dressing-table, at the window, appeared to be a long way off, and the wardrobe was a long way off in another direction. The gas was turned low. It threw a pale illumination on the bed, and gleamed on a curve of mahogany here and there in the distances.
Edwin looked at his father, to be sure that all was in order, that nothing had been forgotten. The body seemed monstrous and shapeless beneath the thickly piled clothes; and from the edge of the eider-down, making a valley in the pillow, the bearded face projected, in a manner grotesque and ridiculous. A clock struck seven in another part of the house.
"What time's that?" Darius murmured.
"Seven," said Edwin, standing close to him.
Darius raised himself slowly and clumsily on one elbow.
"Here! But look here!" Edwin protested. "I've just fixed you up—"
The old man ignored him, and one of those unnaturally white hands stretched forth to the night-table, which was on the side of the bed opposite to Edwin. Darius's gold watch and chain lay on the night-table.
"I've wound it up! I've wound it up!" said Edwin, a little crossly. "What are you worrying at?"
But Darius, silent, continued to manoeuvre his flannelled arm so as to possess the watch. At length he seized the chain, and, shifting his weight to the other elbow, held out the watch and chain to Edwin, with a most piteous expression. Edwin could see in the twilight that his father was ready to weep.
"I want ye—" the old man began, and then burst into violent sobs; and the watch dangled dangerously.
"Come now!" Edwin tried to soothe him, forcing himself to be kindly. "What is it? I tell you I've wound it up all right. And it's correct time to a tick." He consulted his own silver watch.
With a tremendous effort, Darius mastered his sobs, and began once more, "I want ye—"
He tried several times, but his emotion overcame him each time before he could force the message out. It was always too quick for him. Silent, he could control it, but he could not simultaneously control it and speak.
"Never mind," said Edwin. "We'll see about that tomorrow." And he wondered what bizarre project affecting the watch had entered his father's mind. Perhaps he wanted it set a quarter of an hour fast.
Darius dropped the watch on the eider-down, and sighed in despair, and fell back on the pillow and shut his eyes. Edwin restored the watch to the night-table.
Later, he crept into the dim room. Darius was snoring under the twilight of the gas. Like an unhappy child, he had found refuge in sleep from the enormous, infantile problems of his existence. And it was so pathetic, so distressing, that Edwin, as he gazed at that beard and those gold teeth, could have sobbed too.
VOLUME THREE, CHAPTER FOURTEEN.
When Edwin the next morning, rather earlier than usual on Sundays, came forth from his bedroom to go into the bathroom, he was startled by a voice from his father's bedroom calling him. It was Maggie's. She had heard him open his door, and she joined him on the landing.
"I was waiting for you to be getting up," she said in a quiet tone. "I don't think father's so well, and I was wondering whether I hadn't better send Jane down for the doctor. It's not certain he'll call to-day if he isn't specially fetched."
"Why?" said Edwin. "What's up?"
"Oh, nothing," Maggie answered. "Nothing particular, but you didn't hear him ringing in the night?"
"Ringing? No! What time?"
"About one o'clock. Jane heard the bell, and she woke me. So I got up to him. He said he couldn't do with being alone."
"What did you do?"
"I made him something hot and stayed with him."
"What? All night?"
"Yes," said Maggie.
"But why didn't you call me?"
"What was the good?"
"You ought to have called me," he said with curt displeasure, not really against Maggie, but against himself for having heard naught of all these happenings. Maggie had no appearance of having passed the night by her father's bedside.
"Oh," she said lightly, "I dozed a bit now and then. And as soon as the girl was up I got her to come and sit with him while I spruced myself."
"I'll have a look at him," said Edwin, in another tone.
"Yes, I wish you would." Now, as often, he was struck by Maggie's singular deference to him, her submission to his judgement. In the past her attitude had been different; she had exercised the moral rights of an elder sister; but latterly she had mysteriously transformed herself into a younger sister.
He went towards his father, drawing his dressing-gown more closely round him. The chamber had an aspect of freshness and tidiness that made it almost gay—until he looked at the object in the smoothed and rectified bed. He nodded to his father, who merely gazed at him. There was no definite, definable change in the old man's face, but his bearing, even as he lay, was appreciably more melancholy and impotent. The mere sight of a man so broken and so sad was humiliating to the humanity which Edwin shared with him.
"Well, father," he nodded familiarly. "Don't feel like getting up, eh?" And, remembering that he was the head of the house, the source of authority and of strength, he tried to be cheerful, casual, and invigorating, and was disgusted by the futile inefficiency of the attempt. He had not, like Auntie Hamps, devoted a lifetime to the study of the trick.
Darius feebly moved his hopeless head to signify a negative.
And Edwin thought, with a lancinating pain, of what the old man had mumbled on the previous evening: "I shall never go down them stairs again." Perhaps the old man never would go down those stairs again! He had paid no serious attention to the remark at the moment, but now it presented itself to him as a solemn and prophetic utterance, of such as are remembered with awe for years and continue to jut up clear in the mind when all minor souvenirs of the time have crumbled away. And he would have given much of his pride to be able to go back and help the old man upstairs once more, and do it with a more loving patience.
"I've sent Jane," said Maggie, returning to the bedroom. "You'd better go and finish dressing."
On coming out of the bathroom he discovered Albert on the landing, waiting.
"The missis would have me come up and see how he was," said Albert. "So I've run in between school and chapel. When I told her what a doing he gave us, getting him upstairs, she was quite in a way, and she would have me come up. The kid's better." He was exceedingly and quite genuinely fraternal, not having his wife's faculty for nourishing a feud.
The spectacular developments were rapid. In the afternoon Auntie Hamps, Clara, Maggie, and Edwin were grouped around the bed of Darius. A fire burned in the grate; flowers were on the dressing-table. An extra table had been placed at the foot of the bed. The room was a sick-room.
Dr Heve had called, and had said that the patient's desire not to be left alone was a symptom of gravity. He suggested a nurse, and when Maggie, startled, said that perhaps they could manage without a nurse, he inquired how. And as he talked he seemed to be more persuaded that a nurse was necessary, if only for night duty, and in the end he went himself to the new Telephone Exchange and ordered a nurse from the Pirehill Infirmary Nursing Home. And the dramatic thing was that within two hours and a half the nurse had arrived. And in ten minutes after that it had been arranged that she should have Maggie's bedroom and that she should take night duty, and in order that she might be fresh for the night she had gone straight off to bed.
Then Clara had arrived, in spite of the illness of her baby, and Auntie Hamps had forced herself up Trafalgar Road, in spite of her rheumatism. And a lengthy confabulation between the women had occurred in the dining-room, not about the invalid, but about what 'she' had said, and about the etiquette of treating 'her,' and about what 'she' looked like and shaped like; 'her' and 'she' being the professional nurse. With a professional nurse in it, each woman sincerely felt that the house was no longer itself, that it had become the house of the enemy.
Darius lay supine before them, physically and spiritually abased, accepting, like a victim who is too weak even to be ashamed, the cooings and strokings and prayers and optimistic mendacities of Auntie Hamps, and the tearful tendernesses of Clara.
"I've made my will," he whimpered.
"Yes, yes," said Auntie Hamps. "Of course you have!"
"Did I tell you I'd made my will?" he feebly insisted.
"Yes, father," said Clara. "Don't worry about your will."
"I've left th' business to Edwin, and all th' rest's divided between you two wenches." He was weeping gently.
"Don't worry about that, father," Clara repeated. "Why are you thinking so much about your will?" She tried to speak in a tone that was easy and matter-of-fact. But she could not. This was the first authentic information that any of them had had as to the dispositions of the will, and it was exciting.
Then Darius began to try to sit up, and there were protests against such an act. Though he sat up to take his food, the tone of these apprehensive remonstrances implied that to sit up at any other time was to endanger his life. Darius, however, with a weak scowl, continued to lift himself, whereupon Maggie aided him, and Auntie Hamps like lightning put a shawl round his shoulders. He sighed, and stretched out his hand to the night-table for his gold watch and chain, which he dangled towards Edwin.
"I want ye—" He stopped, controlling the muscles of his face.
"He wants you to wind it up," said Clara, struck by her own insight.
"No, he doesn't," said Edwin. "He knows it's wound up."
"I want ye—" Darius recommenced. But he was defeated again by his insidious foe. He wept loudly and without restraint for a few moments, and then suddenly ceased, and endeavoured to speak, and wept anew, agitating the watch in the direction of Edwin.
"Take it, Edwin," said Mrs Hamps. "Perhaps he wants it put away," she added, as Edwin obeyed.
Darius shook his head furiously. "I want him—" Sobs choked him.
"I know what he wants," said Auntie Hamps. "He wants to give dear Edwin the watch, because Edwin's been so kind to him, helping him to dress every day, and looking after him just like a professional nurse—don't you, dear?"
Edwin secretly cursed her in the most horrible fashion. But she was right.
"Ye-hes," Darius confirmed her, on a sob.
"He wants to show his gratitude," said Auntie Hamps.
"Ye-hes," Darius repeated, and wiped his eyes.
Edwin stood foolishly holding the watch with its massive Albert chain. He was very genuinely astonished, and he was profoundly moved. His father's emotion concerning him must have been gathering force for months and months, increasing a little and a little every day in those daily, intimate contacts, until at length gratitude had become, as it were, a spirit that possessed him, a monstrous demon whose wild eagerness to escape defeated itself. And Edwin had never guessed, for Darius had mastered the spirit till the moment when the spirit mastered him. It was out now, and Darius, delivered, breathed more freely. Edwin was proud, but his humiliation was greater than his pride. He suffered humiliation for his father. He would have preferred that Darius should never have felt gratitude, or, at any rate, that he should never have shown it. He would have preferred that Darius should have accepted his help nonchalantly, grimly, thanklessly, as a right. And if through disease, the old man could not cease to be a tyrant with dignity, could not become human without this appalling ceremonial abasement—better that he should have exercised harshness and oppression to the very end! There was probably no phenomenon of human nature that offended Edwin's instincts more than an open conversion.
Maggie turned nervously away and busied herself with the grate.
"You must put it on," said Auntie Hamps sweetly. "Mustn't he, father?"
The outrage was complete. Edwin removed his own watch and dropped it into the pocket of his trousers, substituting for it the gold one.
"There, father!" exclaimed Auntie Hamps proudly, surveying the curve of the Albert on her nephew's waistcoat.
"Ay!" Darius murmured, and sank back on the pillow with a sigh of relief.
"Thanks, father," Edwin muttered, reddening. "But there was no occasion."
"Now you see what it is to be a good son!" Auntie Hamps observed.
Darius murmured indistinctly.
"What is it?" she asked, bending down.
"I must have his," said Darius. "I must have a watch here."
"He wants your old one in exchange," Clara explained eagerly.
Edwin smiled, discovering a certain alleviation in this shrewd demand of his father's, and he drew out the silver Geneva.
Shortly afterwards the nurse surprised them all by coming into the room. She carried a writing-case. Edwin introduced her to Auntie Hamps and Clara. Clara blushed and became mute. Auntie Hamps adopted a tone of excessive deference, of which the refrain was "Nurse will know best." Nurse seemed disinclined to be professional. Explaining that as she was not able to sleep she thought she might as well get up, she took a seat near the fire and addressed herself to Maggie. She was a tall and radiant woman of about thirty. Her aristocratic southern accent proved that she did not belong to the Five Towns, and to Maggie, in excuse for certain questions as to the district, she said that she had only been at Pirehill a few weeks. Her demeanour was extraordinarily cheerful. Auntie Hamps remarked aside to Clara what a good thing it was that Nurse was so cheerful; but in reality she considered such cheerfulness exaggerated in a sick-room, and not quite nice. The nurse asked about the posts, and said she had a letter to write and would write it there if she could have pen and ink. Auntie Hamps, telling her eagerly about the posts, thought that these professional nurses certainly did make themselves at home in a house. The nurse's accent intimidated all of them.
"Well, nurse, I suppose we mustn't tire our patient," said Auntie Hamps at last, after Edwin had brought ink and paper.
Edwin, conscious of the glory of a gold watch and chain, and conscious also of freedom from future personal service on his father, preceded Auntie Hamps and Clara to the landing, and Nurse herself sped them from the room, in her quality of mistress of the room. And when she and Maggie and Darius were alone together she went to the bedside and spoke softly to her patient. She was so neat and bright and white and striped, and so perfect in every detail, that she might have been a model taken straight from a shop-window. Her figure illuminated the dusk. An incredible luxury for the little boy from the Bastille! But she was one of the many wonderful things he had earned.
VOLUME THREE, CHAPTER FIFTEEN.
It was with a conscience uneasy that Edwin shut the front door one night a month later, and issued out into Trafalgar Road. Since the arrival of Nurse Shaw, Darius had not risen from his bed, and the household had come to accept him as bed-ridden and the nurse as a permanency. The sick-room was the centre of the house, and Maggie and Edwin and the servants lived, as it were, in a camp round about it, their days uncomfortably passing in suspense, in expectation of developments which tarried. "How is he this morning?" "Much the same." "How is he this evening?" "Much the same." These phrases had grown familiar and tedious. But for three days Darius had been noticeably worse, and the demeanour of Nurse Shaw had altered, and she had taken less sleep and less exercise. Osmond Orgreave had even called in person to inquire after the invalid, doubtless moved by Janet to accomplish this formality, for he could not have been without news. Janet was constantly in the house, helping Maggie; and Alicia also sometimes. Since her engagement, Alicia had been striving to prove that she appreciated the gravity of existence.
Still, despite the change in the patient's condition, everybody had insisted that Edwin should go to the annual dinner of the Society for the Prosecution of Felons, to which he had been duly elected with flattering dispatch. Why should he not go? Why should he not enjoy himself? What could he do if he stayed at home? Would not the change be good for him? At most the absence would be for a few hours, and if he could absent himself during ten hours for business, surely for healthful distraction he might absent himself during five hours! Maggie grew elder-sisterly at the last moment of decision, and told him he must go, and that if he didn't she should be angry. When he asked her 'What about her health? What about her needing a change?' she said curtly that that had nothing to do with it.
He went. The persuaders were helped by his own desire. And in spite of his conscience, when he was fairly in the street he drew a sigh of relief, and deliberately turned his heart towards gaiety. It seemed inexpressibly pathetic that his father was lying behind those just-lighted blinds above, and would never again breathe the open air, never again glide along those pavements with his arms fixed and slightly outwards. But Edwin was determined to listen to reason and not to be morbid.
The streets were lively with the red and the blue colours of politics. The Liberal member for the Parliamentary borough of Hanbridge, which included Bursley, had died very suddenly, and the seat was being disputed by the previously defeated Conservative candidate and a new Labour candidate officially adopted by the Liberal party. The Tories had sworn not to be beaten again in the defence of the integrity of the Empire. And though they had the difficult and delicate task of persuading a large industrial constituency that an industrial representative would not further industrial interests, and that they alone were actuated by unselfish love for the people, yet they had made enormous progress in a very brief period, and publicans were jubilant and bars sloppy.
The aspect of the affair that did not quite please the Society for the Prosecution of Felons was that the polling had been fixed for the day after its annual dinner instead of the day before. Powerful efforts had been made 'in the proper quarter' to get the date conveniently arranged, but without success; after all, the seat of authority was Hanbridge and not Bursley. Hanbridge, sadly failing to appreciate the importance of Bursley's Felonry, had suggested that the feast might be moved a couple of days. The Felonry refused. If its dinner clashed with the supreme night of the campaign, so much the worse for the campaign! Moreover, the excitement of the campaign would at any rate give zest to the dinner.
Ere he reached Duck Bank, the vivacity of the town, loosed after the day's labour to an evening's orgy of oratory and horseplay and beer, had communicated itself to Edwin. He was most distinctly aware of pleasure in the sight of the Tory candidate driving past, at a pace to overtake steam-cars, in a coach-and-four, with amateur postilions and an orchestra of horns. The spectacle, and the speed of it, somehow thrilled him, and for an instant made him want to vote Tory. A procession of illuminated carts, bearing white potters apparently engaged in the handicraft which the Labour candidate had practised in humbler days, also pleased him, but pleased him less. As he passed up Duck Bank the Labour candidate himself was raising loud enthusiastic cheers from a railway lorry in Duck Square, and Edwin's spirits went even higher, and he elbowed through the laughing, joking throng with fraternal good-humour, feeling that an election was in itself a grand thing, apart from its result, and apart from the profit which it brought to steam-printers.
In the porch of the Town Hall, a man turned from an eagerly-smiling group of hungry Felons and, straightening his face, asked with quiet concern, "How's your father?" Edwin shook his head. "Pretty bad," he answered. "Is he?" murmured the other sadly. And Edwin suddenly saw his father again behind the blind, irrevocably prone.
But by the time the speeches were in progress he was uplifted high once more into the joy of life. He had been welcomed by acquaintances and by strangers with a deferential warmth that positively startled him. He realised, as never before, that the town esteemed him as a successful man. His place was not many removes from the chair. Osmond Orgreave was on his right, and Albert Benbow on his left. He had introduced an impressed Albert to his friend Mr Orgreave, recently made a Justice of the Peace.
And down the long littered tables stretched the authority and the wealth of the town-aldermen, councillors, members of the school board, guardians of the poor, magistrates, solid tradesmen, and solid manufacturers, together with higher officials of the borough and some members of the learned professions. Here was the oligarchy which, behind the appearances of democratic government, effectively managed, directed, and controlled the town. Here was the handful of people who settled between them whether rates should go up or down, and to whom it did not seriously matter whether rates went up or down, provided that the interests of the common people were not too sharply set in antagonism to their own interests. Here were the privileged, who did what they liked on the condition of not offending each other. Here the populace was honestly and cynically and openly regarded as a restless child, to be humoured and to be flattered, but also to be ruled firmly, to be kept in its place, to be ignored when advisable, and to be made to pay.
For the feast, the court-room had been transformed into a banqueting hall, and the magistrates' bench, where habitual criminals were created and families ruined and order maintained, was hidden in flowers. Osmond Orgreave was dryly facetious about that bench. He exchanged comments with other magistrates, and they all agreed, with the same dry facetiousness, that most of the law was futile and some of it mischievous; and they all said, 'But what can you do?' and by their tone indicated that you could do nothing. According to Osmond Orgreave's wit, the only real use of a magistrate was to sign the necessary papers for persons who had lost pawn-tickets. It appeared that such persons in distress came to Mr Orgreave every day for the august signature. "I had an old woman come to me this morning at my office," he said. "I asked her how it was they were always losing their pawn-tickets. I told her I never lost mine." Osmond Orgreave was encircled with laughter. Edwin laughed heartily. It was a good joke. And even mediocre jokes would convulse the room.
Jos Curtenty, the renowned card, a jolly old gentleman of sixty, was in the chair, and therefore jollity was assured in advance. Rising to inaugurate the oratorical section of the night, he took an enormous red flower from a bouquet behind him, and sticking it with a studiously absent air in his button-hole, said blandly, "Gentlemen, no politics, please!" The uproarious effect was one of his very best. He knew his audience. He could have taught Edwin a thing or two. For Edwin in his simplicity was astonished to find the audience almost all of one colour, frankly and joyously and optimistically Tory. There were not ten Liberals in the place, and there was not one who was vocal. The cream of the town, of its brains, its success, its respectability, was assembled together, and the Liberal party was practically unrepresented. It seemed as if there was no Liberal party. It seemed impossible that a Labour candidate could achieve anything but complete disaster at the polls. It seemed incredible that in the past a Liberal candidate had ever been returned. Edwin began, even in the privacy of his own heart, to be apologetic for his Liberalism. All these excellent fellows could not be wrong. The moral force of numbers intimidated him. He suspected that there was, after all, more to be said for Conservatism than he had hitherto allowed himself to suppose.
And the Felons were so good-humoured and kindly and so free-handed, and, with it all, so boyish! They burst into praise of one another on the slenderest excuse. They ordered more champagne as carelessly as though champagne were ginger-beer (Edwin was glad that by an excess of precaution he had brought two pounds in his pocket—the scale of expenditure was staggering); and they nonchalantly smoked cigars that would have made Edwin sick. They knew all about cigars and about drinks, and they implied by their demeanour, though they never said, that a first-class drink and a first-class smoke were the 'good things' of life, the ultimate rewards; the references to women were sly... Edwin was like a demure cat among a company of splendid curly dogs.
The toasts, every one of them, called forth enthusiasm. Even in the early part of the evening much good-nature had bubbled out when, at intervals, a slim young bachelor of fifty, armed with a violent mallet, had rapped authoritatively on the table and cried: "Mr President wishes to take wine with Mr Vice," "Mr President wishes to take wine with the bachelors on the right," "Mr President wishes to take wine with the married Felons on the left," and so on till every sort and condition and geographical situation had been thus distinguished. But the toasts proper aroused displays of the most affectionate loving-kindness. Each reference to a Felon was greeted with warm cheers, and each reference touched the superlative of laudation. Every stroke of humour was noisily approved, and every exhibition of tender feeling effusively endorsed. And all the estates of the realm, and all the institutions of the realm and of the town, and all the services of war and peace, and all the official castes were handsomely and unreservedly praised, and their health and prosperity pledged with enthusiastic fervour. The organism of the Empire was pronounced to be essentially perfect. Nobody of importance, from the Queen's Majesty to the 'ministers of the Established Church and other denominations,' was omitted from the certificate of supreme excellence and efficiency. And even when an alderman, proposing the toast of the 'town and trade of Bursley,' mentioned certain disturbing symptoms in the demeanour of the lower classes, he immediately added his earnest conviction that the 'heart of the country beat true,' and was comforted with grave applause.
Towards the end of the toast-list one of the humorous vocal quartets which were designed to relieve the seriousness of the programme, was interrupted by the formidable sound of the governed proletariat beyond the walls of the Town Hall. And Edwin's memory, making him feel very old, leapt suddenly back into another generation of male glee-singers that did not disport humorously and that would not have permitted themselves to be interrupted by the shouting of populations; and he recalled 'Loud Ocean's Roar,' and the figure of Florence Simcox flitted in front of him. The proletariat was cheering somebody. The cheers died down. And in another moment the Conservative candidate burst into the room, and was followed by two of his friends (the latter in evening-dress), whom he presented to the President. The ceremonious costume impressed the President himself, for at this period of ancient history Felons dined in frock-coats or cutaways; it proved that the wearers were so accustomed to wearing evening-dress of a night that they put it on by sheer habit and inadvertence even for electioneering. The candidate only desired to shake hands with a few supporters and to assure the President that nothing but hard necessity had kept him away from the dinner. Amid inspiriting bravos and hurrahs he fled, followed by his friends, and it became known that one of these was a baronet.