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Title: These Twain
Author: Arnold Bennett, - To be updated
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Cover]



                              THESE TWAIN


                                   BY

                             ARNOLD BENNETT

            AUTHOR OF "THE OLD WIVES’ TALE," "THE OLD ADAM,"
                  "CLAYHANGER," "HILDA LESSWAYS," ETC.



                                NEW YORK
                        GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY



                            Copyright, 1915,
                           BY ARNOLD BENNETT



                                CONTENTS


                                 BOOK I

                         THE WOMAN IN THE HOUSE

CHAPTER

      I. THE HOUSE
     II. HILDA ON THE STAIRS
    III. ATTACK AND REPULSE
     IV. THE WORD
      V. TERTIUS INGPEN
     VI. HUSBAND AND WIFE
    VII. THE TRUCE
   VIII. THE FAMILY AT HOME
     IX. THE WEEK-END
      X. THE ORGREAVE CALAMITY


                                BOOK II

                                THE PAST

     XI. LITHOGRAPHY
    XII. DARTMOOR
   XIII. THE DEPARTURE
    XIV. TAVY MANSION
     XV. THE PRISON
    XVI. THE GHOST


                                BOOK III

                              EQUILIBRIUM

   XVII. GEORGE’S EYES
  XVIII. AUNTIE HAMPS SENTENCED
    XIX. DEATH AND BURIAL
     XX. THE DISCOVERY



                                 BOOK I

                         THE WOMAN IN THE HOUSE



                              THESE TWAIN



                               CHAPTER I

                               THE HOUSE


                                   I


In the year 1892 Bleakridge, residential suburb of Bursley, was still
most plainly divided into old and new,--that is to say, into the dull
red or dull yellow with stone facings, and the bright red with terra
cotta gimcrackery.  Like incompatible liquids congealed in a pot, the
two components had run into each other and mingled, but never mixed.

Paramount among the old was the house of the Member of Parliament, near
the top of the important mound that separates Hanbridge from Bursley.
The aged and widowed Member used the house little, but he kept it up,
and sometimes came into it with an unexpectedness that extremely
flattered the suburb.  Thus you might be reading in the morning paper
that the Member had given a lunch in London on the previous day to
Cabinet Ministers and ladies as splendid as the Countess of Chell,
and--glancing out of the window--you might see the Member himself
walking down Trafalgar Road, sad, fragile, sedately alert, with his
hands behind him, or waving a gracious hand to an acquaintance.
Whereupon you would announce, not apathetically: "Member’s gone down to
MacIlvaine’s!" (’MacIlvaine’s being the works in which the Member had an
interest) and there would perhaps be a rush to the window.  Those were
the last great days of Bleakridge.

After the Member’s house ranked such historic residences as those of
Osmond Orgreave, the architect, (which had the largest, greenest garden
and the best smoke-defying trees in Bleakridge), and Fearns, the
Hanbridge lawyer; together with Manor "Cottage" (so-called, though a
spacious house), where lived the mechanical genius who had
revolutionised the pottery industry and strangely enough made a fortune
thereby, and the dark abode of the High Church parson.

Next in importance came the three terraces,--Manor Terrace, Abbey
Terrace, and the Sneyd Terrace--each consisting of three or four houses,
and all on the west side of Trafalgar Road, with long back-gardens and a
distant prospect of Hillport therefrom over the Manor fields.  The
Terraces, considered as architecture, were unbeautiful, old-fashioned,
inconvenient,--perhaps paltry, as may be judged from the fact that rents
ran as low as £25 a year; but they had been wondrous in their day, the
pride of builders and owners and the marvel of a barbaric populace.
They too had histories, which many people knew.  Age had softened them
and sanctioned their dignity.  A gate might creak, but the harsh curves
of its ironwork had been mollified by time.  Moreover the property was
always maintained in excellent repair by its landlords, and residents
cared passionately for the appearance of the windows and the
front-steps.  The plenary respectability of the residents could not be
impugned.  They were as good as the best.  For address, they would not
give the number of the house in Trafalgar Road, but the name of its
Terrace.  Just as much as the occupiers of detached houses, they had
sorted themselves out from the horde.  Conservative or Liberal, they
were anti-democratic, ever murmuring to themselves as they descended the
front-steps in the morning and mounted them in the evening: "Most folks
are nobodies, but I am somebody."  And this was true.

The still smaller old houses in between the Terraces, and even the old
cottages in the side streets (which all ran to the east) had a similar
distinction of caste, aloofness, and tradition.  The least of them was
scornful of the crowd, and deeply conscious of itself as a separate
individuality.  When the tenant-owner of a cottage in Manor Street added
a bay-window to his front-room the event seemed enormous in Manor
Street, and affected even Trafalgar Road, as a notorious clean-shaven
figure in the streets may disconcert a whole quarter by growing a beard.
The congeries of cottage yards between Manor Street and Higginbotham
Street, as visible from certain high back-bedrooms in Trafalgar Road,--a
crowded higgledy-piggledy of plum-coloured walls and chimneys,
blue-brick pavements, and slate roofs--well illustrated the grand
Victorian epoch of the Building Society, when eighteenpence was added
weekly to eighteenpence, and land haggled over by the foot, and every
brick counted, in the grim, long effort to break away from the mass.

The traditionalism of Bleakridge protected even Roman Catholicism in
that district of Nonconformity, where there were at least three
Methodist chapels to every church and where the adjective "popish" was
commonly used in preference to "papal."  The little "Catholic Chapel"
and the priest’s house with its cross-keys at the top of the mound were
as respected as any other buildings, because Roman Catholicism had
always been endemic there, since the age when the entire let belonged to
Cistercian monks in white robes.  A feebly endemic Catholicism and a
complete exemption from tithes were all that remained of the Cistercian
occupation.  The exemption was highly esteemed by the possessing class.

Alderman Sutton, towards the end of the seventies, first pitted the new
against the old in Bleakridge.  The lifelong secretary of a first-class
Building Society, he was responsible for a terrace of three commodious
modern residences exactly opposite the house of the Member.  The Member
and Osmond Orgreave might modernise their antique houses as much as they
liked,--they could never match the modernity of the Alderman’s Terrace,
to which, by the way, he declined to give a name.  He was capable of
covering his drawing-room walls with papers at three-and-six a roll, and
yet he capriciously preferred numbers to a name!  These houses cost
twelve hundred pounds each (a lot of money in the happy far-off days
when good bricks were only £1 a thousand, or a farthing apiece), and
imposed themselves at once upon the respect and admiration of
Bleakridge.  A year or two later the Clayhanger house went up at the
corner of Trafalgar Road and Hulton Street, and easily outvied the
Sutton houses. Geographically at the centre of the residential suburb,
it represented the new movement in Bleakridge at its apogee, and indeed
was never beaten by later ambitious attempts.

Such fine erections, though nearly every detail of them challenged
tradition, could not disturb Bleakridge’s belief in the stability of
society.  But simultaneously whole streets of cheap small houses (in
reality, pretentious cottages) rose round about.  Hulton Street was all
new and cheap.  Oak Street offered a row of pink cottages to Osmond
Orgreave’s garden gates, and there were three other similar new streets
between Oak Street and the Catholic Chapel.  Jerry-building was
practised in Trafalgar Road itself, on a large plot in full view of the
Catholic Chapel, where a speculative builder, too hurried to use a
measure, "stepped out" the foundations of fifteen cottages with his own
bandy legs, and when the corner of a freshly-constructed cottage fell
into the street remarked that accidents would happen and had the bricks
replaced. But not every cottage was jerry-built.  Many, perhaps most,
were of fairly honest workmanship.  All were modern, and relatively
spacious, and much superior in plan to the old.  All had bay-windows.
And yet all their bay-windows together could not produce an effect equal
to one bay-window in ancient Manor Street, because they had omitted to
be individual.  Not one showy dwelling was unlike another, nor desired
to be unlike another.

The garish new streets were tenanted by magic.  On Tuesday the
paperhangers might be whistling in those drawing-rooms (called parlours
in Manor Street),--on Wednesday bay-windows were curtained and chimneys
smoking.  And just as the cottages lacked individuality, so the tenants
were nobodies.  At any rate no traditional person in Bleakridge knew who
they were, nor where they came from, except that they came mysteriously
up out of the town.  (Not that there had been any shocking increase in
the birthrate down there!)  And no traditional person seemed to care.
The strange inroad and portent ought to have puzzled and possibly to
have intimidated traditional Bleakridge: but it did not.  Bleakridge
merely observed that "a lot of building was going on," and left the
phenomenon at that.  At first it was interested and flattered; then
somewhat resentful and regretful.  And even Edwin Clayhanger, though he
counted himself among the enlightened and the truly democratic, felt
hurt when quite nice houses, copying some features of his own on a small
scale, and let to such people as insurance agents, began to fill up the
remaining empty spaces of Trafalgar Road.  He could not help thinking
that the prestige of Bleakridge was being impaired.



                                   II


Edwin Clayhanger, though very young in marriage, considered that he was
getting on in years as a householder.  His age was thirty-six.  He had
been married only a few months, under peculiar circumstances which
rendered him self-conscious, and on an evening of August 1892, as he
stood in the hall of his house awaiting the commencement of a postponed
and unusual At Home, he felt absurdly nervous.  But the nervousness was
not painful; because he himself could laugh at it.  He might be timid,
he might be a little gawky, he might often have the curious sensation of
not being really adult but only a boy after all,--the great impressive
facts would always emerge that he was the respected head of a well-known
family, that he was successful, that he had both ideas and money, and
that his position as one of the two chief master-printers of the
district would not be challenged.  He knew that he could afford to be
nervous.  And further, since he was house-proud, he had merely to glance
round his house in order to be reassured and puffed up.

Loitering near the foot of the stairs, discreetly stylish in an almost
new blue serge suit and a quite new black satin tie, with the light of
the gas on one side of his face, and the twilight through the glazed
front-door mitigating the shadow on the other, Edwin mused pleasingly
upon the whole organism of his home.  Externally, the woodwork and
metalwork of the house had just been repainted, and the brickwork
pointed.  He took pleasure in the thought of the long even lines of
fresh mortar, and of the new sage-tinted spoutings and pipings, every
foot of which he knew by heart and where every tube began and where it
ended and what its purpose was.  The nice fitting of a perpendicular
spout into a horizontal one, and the curve of the joint from the eave to
the wall of the house, and the elaborate staples that firmly held the
spout to the wall, and the final curve of the spout that brought its
orifice accurately over a spotless grid in the ground,--the perfection
of all these ridiculous details, each beneath the notice of a truly
celestial mind, would put the householder Edwin into a sort of
contemplative ecstasy.  Perhaps he was comical.  But such inner
experiences were part of his great interest in life, part of his large
general passion.

Within the hall he regarded with equal interest and pride the
photogravure of Bellini’s "Agony in the Garden," from the National
Gallery, and the radiator which he had just had installed.  The radiator
was only a half-measure, but it was his precious toy, his pet lamb, his
mistress; and the theory of it was that by warming the hall and the well
of the staircase it softly influenced the whole house and abolished
draughts.  He had exaggerated the chilliness of the late August night so
that he might put the radiator into action.  About the small furnace in
the cellar that heated it he was both crotchetty and extravagant.  The
costly efficiency of the radiator somewhat atoned in his mind for the
imperfections of the hot water apparatus, depending on the kitchen
boiler.  Even in 1892 this middle-class pioneer and sensualist was
dreaming of an ideal house in which inexhaustible water was always
positively steaming, so that if a succession of persons should
capriciously desire hot baths in the cold middle of the night, their
collective fancy might be satisfied.

Bellini’s picture was the symbol of an artistic revolution in Edwin.  He
had read somewhere that it was "perhaps the greatest picture in the
world."  A critic’s exhortation to "observe the loving realistic passion
shown in the foreshortening of the figure of the sleeping apostle" had
remained in his mind; and, thrilled, he would point out this feature of
the picture alike to the comprehending and the uncomprehending. The
hanging-up of the Bellini, in its strange frame of stained unpolished
oak, had been an epochal event, closing one era and inaugurating
another.  And yet, before the event, he had not even noticed the picture
on a visit to the National Gallery!  A hint, a phrase murmured in the
right tone in a periodical, a glimpse of an illustration,--and the
mighty magic seed was sown.  In a few months all Victorian phenomena had
been put upon their trial, and most of them condemned.  And condemned
without even the forms of justice!  Half a word (in the right tone)
might ruin any of them.  Thus was Sir Frederick Leighton, P.R.A.,
himself overthrown.  One day his "Bath of Psyche" reigned in Edwin’s
bedroom, and the next it had gone, and none knew why.  But certain aged
Victorians, such as Edwin’s Auntie Hamps, took the disappearance of the
licentious engraving as a sign that the beloved queer Edwin was at last
coming to his senses--as, of course, they knew he ultimately would. He
did not and could not explain.  More and more he was growing to look
upon his house as an island, cut off by a difference of manners from the
varnished barbarism of multitudinous new cottages, and by an immensely
more profound difference of thought from both the cottages and the
larger houses.  It seemed astounding to Edwin that modes of thought so
violently separative as his and theirs could exist so close together and
under such appearances of similarity.  Not even all the younger members
of the Orgreave family, who counted as his nearest friends, were
esteemed by Edwin to be meet for his complete candour.

The unique island was scarcely a dozen years old, but historical
occurrences had aged it for Edwin.  He had opened the doors of all three
reception-rooms, partly to extend the benign sway of the radiator, and
partly so that he might judge the total effect of the illuminated
chambers and improve that effect if possible.  And each room bore the
mysterious imprints of past emotion.

In the drawing-room, with its new orange-coloured gas-globes that gilded
everything beneath them, Edwin’s father used to sit on Sunday evenings,
alone. And one Sunday evening, when Edwin, entering, had first mentioned
to his father a woman’s name, his father had most terribly humiliated
him.  But now it seemed as if some other youth, and not Edwin, had been
humiliated, so completely was the wound healed....  And he could
remember leaning in the doorway of the drawing-room one Sunday morning,
and his sister Clara was seated at the piano, and his sister Maggie,
nursing a baby of Clara’s, by her side, and they were singing Balfe’s
duet "Excelsior," and his father stood behind them, crying, crying
steadily, until at length the bitter old man lost control of himself and
sobbed aloud under the emotional stress of the women’s voices, and Clara
cheerfully upbraided him for foolishness; and Edwin had walked suddenly
away.  This memory was somehow far more poignant than the memory of his
humiliation....  And in the drawing-room too he had finally betrothed
himself to Hilda.  That by comparison was only yesterday; yet it was
historical and distant.  He was wearing his dressing-gown, being
convalescent from influenza; he could distinctly recall the feel of his
dressing-gown; and Hilda came in--over her face was a veil....

The dining-room, whose large glistening table was now covered with the
most varied and modern "refreshments" for the At Home, had witnessed no
event specially dramatic, but it had witnessed hundreds of monotonous
tragic meals at which the progress of his father’s mental malady and the
approach of his death could be measured by the old man’s increasing
disability to distinguish between his knife and his fork; it had seen
Darius Clayhanger fed like a baby.  And it had never been the same
dining-room since.  Edwin might transform it, re-paper it, re-furnish
it,--the mysterious imprint remained....

And then there was the little "breakfast-room," inserted into the plan
of the house between the hall and the kitchen.  Nothing had happened
there, because the life of the household had never adjusted itself to
the new, borrowed convention of the "breakfast-room."  Nothing? But the
most sensational thing had happened there!  When with an exquisite
passing timidity she took possession of Edwin’s house as his wife, Hilda
had had a sudden gust of audacity in the breakfast-room. A mature woman
(with a boy aged ten to prove it), she had effervesced into the naïve
gestures of a young girl who has inherited a boudoir.  "This shall be my
very own room, and I shall arrange it just how I like, without asking
you about _anything_.  And it will be my very own."  She had not offered
an idea; she had announced a decision.  Edwin had had other notions for
the room, but he perceived that he must bury them in eternal silence,
and yield eagerly to this caprice. Thus to acquiesce had given him deep
and strange joy. He was startled, perhaps, to discover that he had
brought into his house--not a woman, but a tripartite creature--woman,
child, and sibyl.  Neither Maggie nor Clara, nor Janet Orgreave, nor
even Hilda before she became his wife, had ever aroused in him the least
suspicion that a woman might be a tripartite creature. He was married,
certainly--nobody could be more legally and respectably married than was
he--but the mere marriage seemed naught in comparison with the enormous
fact that he had got this unexampled creature in his house and was
living with her, she at his mercy, and he at hers.  Enchanting escapade!
Solemn doom! ... By the way, she had yet done nothing with the
breakfast-room.  Yes, she had stolen a "cabinet" gold frame from the
shop, and put his photograph into it, and stuck his picture on the
mantelpiece; but that was all.  She would not permit him to worry her
about her secret designs for the breakfast-room.  The breakfast-room was
her affair.  Indeed the whole house was her affair.  It was no longer
his house, in which he could issue orders without considering another
individuality--orders that would infallibly be executed, either
cheerfully or glumly, by the plump spinster, Maggie. He had to mind his
p’s and q’s; he had to be wary, everywhere.  The creature did not simply
live in the house; she pervaded it.  As soon as he opened the front-door
he felt her.



                                  III


She was now upstairs in their joint bedroom, dressing for the At Home.
All day he had feared she might be late, and as he looked at the
hall-clock he saw that the risk was getting acute.

Before the domestic rearrangements preceding the marriage had been fully
discussed, he had assumed, and Maggie and Clara had assumed, and Auntie
Hamps had absolutely assumed, that the husband and wife would occupy the
long empty bedroom of old Darius, because it was two-foot-six broader
than Edwin’s, and because it was the "principal" bedroom. But Hilda had
said No to him privately.  Whereupon, being himself almost morbidly
unsentimental, he had judiciously hinted that to object to a room
because an old man had died in it under distressing circumstances was to
be morbidly sentimental and unworthy of her.  Whereupon she had
mysteriously smiled, and called him sweet bad names, and kissed him, and
hung on his neck.  _She_ sentimental!  Could not the great stupid see
without being told that what influenced her was not an aversion for his
father’s bedroom, but a predilection for Edwin’s.  She desired that they
should inhabit his room.  She wanted to sleep in his room; and to wake
up in it, and to feel that she was immersing herself in his past....
(Ah!  The exciting flattery, like an aphrodisiac!)  And she would not
allow him to uproot the fixed bookcases on either side of the hearth.
She said that for her they were part of the room itself.  Useless to
argue that they occupied space required for extra furniture!  She would
manage!  She did manage.  He found that the acme of convenience for a
husband had not been achieved, but convenience was naught in the rapture
of the escapade.  He had "needed shaking up," as they say down there,
and he was shaken up.

Nevertheless, though undoubtedly shaken up, he had the male wit to
perceive that the bedroom episode had been a peculiar triumph for
himself.  Her attitude in it, imperious superficially, was in truth an
impassioned and outright surrender to him.  And further, she had at once
become a frankly admiring partisan of his theory of bedrooms.  The need
for a comfortable solitude earlier in life had led Edwin to make his
bedroom habitable by means of a gas-stove, an easy chair, and minor
amenities.  When teased by hardy compatriots about his sybaritism Edwin
was apt sometimes to flush and be "nettled," and he would make offensive
un-English comments upon the average bedroom of the average English
household, which was so barbaric that during eight months of the year
you could not maintain your temperature in it unless you were either in
bed or running about the room, and that even in Summer you could not sit
down therein at ease because there was nothing easy to sit on, nor a
table to sit at nor even a book to read.  He would caustically ask to be
informed why the supposedly practical and comfort-loving English were
content with an Alpine hut for a bedroom.  And in this way he would go
on.  He was rather pleased with the phrase "Alpine hut."  One day he had
overheard Hilda replying to an acquaintance upstairs: "People may say
what they like, but Edwin and I don’t care to sleep in an Alpine hut."
She had caught it!  She was his disciple in that matter!  And how she
had appreciated his easy-chair!  As for calm deliberation in dressing
and undressing, she could astonishingly and even disconcertingly surpass
him in the quality.  But it is to be noted that she would not permit her
son to have a gas-stove in his bedroom.  Nor would she let him occupy
the disdained principal bedroom, her argument being that that room was
too large for a little boy.  Maggie Clayhanger’s old bedroom was given
to George, and the principal bedroom remained empty.



                               CHAPTER II

                          HILDA ON THE STAIRS


                                   I


Ada descended the stairs, young, slim, very neat. Ada was one of Hilda’s
two new servants.  Before taking charge of the house Hilda had ordained
the operation called "a clean sweep," and Edwin had approved. The elder
of Maggie’s two servants had been a good one, but Hilda had shown no
interest in the catalogue of her excellences.  She wanted fresh
servants. Maggie, like Edwin, approved, but only as a general principle.
In the particular case she had hinted that her prospective sister-in-law
was perhaps unwise to let slip a tested servant.  Hilda wanted not
merely fresh servants, but young servants agreeable to behold.  "I will
not have a lot of middle-aged scowling women about my house," Hilda had
said.  Maggie was reserved, but her glance was meant to remind Hilda
that in those end-of-the-century days mistresses had to be content with
what they could get.  Young and comely servants were all very well--if
you could drop on them, but supposing you couldn’t?  The fact was that
Maggie could not understand Hilda’s insistence on youth and comeliness
in a servant, and she foresaw trouble for Hilda. Hilda, however,
obtained her desire.  She was outspoken with her servants.  If Edwin
after his manner implied that she was dangerously ignoring the
touchiness of the modern servant, she would say indifferently: "It’s
always open to them to go if they don’t like it."  They did not go.  It
is notorious that foolhardy mistresses are often very lucky.

As soon as Ada caught sight of her master in the hall she became
self-conscious; all the joints of her body seemed to be hung on very
resilient springs, and,--reddening slightly,--she lowered her gaze and
looked at her tripping toes.  Edwin seldom spoke to her more than once a
day, and not always that.  He had one day visited the large attic into
which, with her colleague, she disappeared late at night and from which
she emerged early in the morning, and he had seen two small tin trunks
and some clothes behind the door, and an alarm-clock and a portrait of a
fireman on the mantelpiece.  (The fireman, he seemed to recollect, was
her brother.)  But she was a stranger in his house, and he had no
sustained curiosity about her.  The days were gone when he used to be
the intimate of servants--of Mrs. Nixon, for example, sole prop of the
Clayhanger family for many years, and an entirely human being to Edwin.
Mrs. Nixon had never been either young, slim, or neat.  She was dead.
The last servant whom he could be said to have known was a pert niece of
Mrs. Nixon’s--now somebody’s prolific wife and much changed.  And he was
now somebody’s husband, and bearded, and perhaps occasionally pompous,
and much changed in other ways.  So that enigmatic Adas bridled at sight
of him and became intensely aware of themselves.  Still, this Ada in her
smartness was a pretty sight for his eyes as like an aspen she trembled
down the stairs, though the coarseness of her big red hands, and the
vulgarity of her accent were a surprising contrast to her waist and her
fine carriage.

He knew she had been hooking her mistress’s dress, and that therefore
the hooking must be finished.  He liked to think of Hilda being attired
thus in the bedroom by a natty deferential wench.  The process gave to
Hilda a luxurious, even an oriental quality, which charmed him.  He
liked the suddenly impressive tone in which the haughty Hilda would say
to Ada, "Your master," as if mentioning a sultan.  He was more and more
anxious lest Hilda should be late, and he wanted to ask Ada: "Is Mrs.
Clayhanger coming down?"

But he discreetly forbore.  He might have run up to the bedroom and
burst in on the toilette--Hilda would have welcomed him.  But he
preferred to remain with his anxiety where he was, and meditate upon
Hilda bedecking herself up there in the bedroom--to please him; to
please not the guests, but him.

Ada disappeared down the narrow passage leading to the kitchen, and a
moment later he heard a crude giggle, almost a scream, and some echo of
the rough tones in which the servants spoke to each other when they were
alone in the kitchen.  There were in fact two Adas; one was as timid as
a fawn with a voice like a delicate invalid’s; the other a loud-mouthed
hoity-toity girl such as rushed out of potbanks in flannel apron at one
o’clock.  The Clayhanger servants were satisfactory, more than
satisfactory, the subject of favourable comment for their neatness among
the mistresses of other servants.  He liked them to be about; their
presence and their official demeanour flattered him; they perfected the
complex superiority of his house,--that island.  But when he overheard
them alone together, or when he set himself to imagine what their soul’s
life was, he was more than ever amazed at the unnoticed profound
differences between modes of thought that in apparently the most natural
manner could exist so close together without producing a cataclysm.
Auntie Hamps’s theory was that they were all--he, she, the
servants--equal in the sight of God!



                                   II


Hilda’s son, George Edwin, sidled surprisingly into the hall.  He was
wearing a sailor suit, very new, and he had probably been invisible
somewhere against the blue curtains of the drawing-room window--an
example of nature’s protective mimicry.  George was rather small for his
ten years.  Dark, like his mother, he had her eyes and her thick
eyebrows that almost met in the middle, and her pale skin.  As for his
mind, he seemed to be sometimes alarmingly precocious and sometimes a
case of arrested development.  In this and many other respects he
greatly resembled other boys. The son of a bigamist can have no name,
unless it be his mother’s maiden name, but George knew nothing of that.
He had borne his father’s name, and when at the exciting and puzzling
period of his mother’s marriage he had learnt that his surname would in
future be Clayhanger he had a little resented the affront to his egoism.
Edwin’s explanation, however, that the change was for the convenience of
people in general had caused him to shrug his shoulders in concession
and to murmur casually: "Oh, well then--!"  He seemed to be assenting
with loftiness: "If it’s any particular use to the whole world, I don’t
really mind."

"I say, uncle," he began.

Edwin had chosen this form of address.  "Stepfather" was preposterous,
and "father" somehow offended him; so he constituted himself an uncle.

"Hello, kid!" said he.  "Can you find room to keep anything else in your
pockets besides your hands?"

George snatched his hands out of his pockets.  Then he smiled
confidently up.  These two were friends. Edwin was as proud as the boy
of the friendship, and perhaps more flattered.  At first he had not
cared for George, being repelled by George’s loud, positive tones, his
brusque and often violent gestures, and his intense absorption in
himself.  But gradually he had been won by the boy’s boyishness, his
smile, his little, soft body, his unspoken invocations, his resentment
of injustice (except when strict justice appeared to clash with his own
interests), his absolute impotence against adult decrees, his touching
fatalism, his recondite personal distinction that flashed and was gone,
and his occasional cleverness and wit.  He admitted that George charmed
him.  But he well knew that he also charmed George. He had a way of
treating George as an equal that few children (save possibly Clara’s)
could have resisted. True, he would quiz the child, but he did not
forbid the child to quiz.  The mother was profoundly relieved and
rejoiced by this friendship.  She luxuriated in it.  Edwin might well
have been inimical to the child; he might through the child have shown a
jealousy of the child’s father.  But, somewhat to the astonishment of
even Edwin himself, he never saw the father in the child, nor thought of
the father, nor resented the parenthood that was not his.  For him the
child was an individual. And in spite of his stern determination not to
fall into the delusions of conceited parents, he could not help thinking
that George was a remarkable child.

"Have you seen my horse?" asked George.

"Have I seen your horse? ... Oh! ... I’ve seen that you’ve left it lying
about on the hall-table."

"I put it there so that you’d see it," George persuasively excused
himself for the untidiness.

"Well, let’s inspect it," Edwin forgave him, and picked up from the
table a piece of cartridge-paper on which was a drawing of a great
cart-horse with shaggy feet.  It was a vivacious sketch.

"You’re improving," said Edwin, judicially, but in fact much impressed.
Surely few boys of ten could draw as well as that!  The design was
strangely more mature than certain quite infantile watercolours that
Edwin had seen scarcely a year earlier.

"It’s rather good, isn’t it?" George suggested, lifting up his head so
that he could just see over the edge of the paper which Edwin held at
the level of his watch-chain.

"I’ve met worse.  Where did you see this particular animal?"

"I saw him down near the Brewery this morning. But when I’m doing a
horse, I see him on the paper before I begin to draw, and I just draw
round him."

Edwin thought:

"This kid is no ordinary kid."

He said:

"Well, we’ll pin it up here.  We’ll have a Royal Academy and hear what
the public has to say."  He took a pin from under his waistcoat.

"That’s not level," said George.

And when Edwin had readjusted the pin, George persisted boldly:

"That’s not level either."

"It’s as level as it’s going to be.  I expect you’ve been drawing horses
instead of practising your piano."

He looked down at the mysterious little boy, who lived always so much
nearer to the earth’s surface than himself.

George nodded simply, and then scratched his head.

"I suppose if I don’t practise while I’m young I shall regret it in
after life, shan’t I?"

"Who told you that?"

"It’s what Auntie Hamps said to me, I think... I say, uncle."

"What’s up?"

"Is Mr. John coming to-night?"

"I suppose so.  Why?"

"Oh, nothing....  I say, uncle."

"That’s twice you’ve said it."

The boy smiled.

"You know that piece in the Bible about if two of you shall agree on
earth--?"

"What of it?" Edwin asked rather curtly, anticipating difficulties.

"I don’t think two _boys_ would be enough, would they?  Two grown-ups
might.  But I’m not so sure about two boys.  You see in the very next
verse it says two _or three_, gathered together."

"Three might be more effective.  It’s always as well to be on the safe
side."

"Could you pray for anything?  A penknife, for instance?"

"Why not?"

"But could you?"  George was a little impatient.

"Better ask your mother," said Edwin, who was becoming self-conscious
under the strain.

George exploded coarsely:

"Poh!  It’s no good asking mother."

Said Edwin:

"The great thing in these affairs is to know what you want, and to
_want_ it.  Concentrate as hard as you can, a long time in advance.  No
use half wanting!"

"Well, there’s one thing that’s poz [positive].  I couldn’t begin to
concentrate to-night."

"Why not?"

"Who could?" George protested.  "We’re all so nervous to-night, aren’t
we, with this At Home business.  And I know I never could concentrate in
my best clothes."

For Edwin the boy with his shocking candour had suddenly precipitated
out of the atmosphere, as it were, the collective nervousness of the
household, made it into a phenomenon visible, tangible, oppressive.  And
the household was no longer a collection of units, but an entity.  A
bell rang faintly in the kitchen, and the sound abraded his nerves.  The
first guests were on the threshold, and Hilda was late.  He looked at
the clock.  Yes, she was late.  The hour named in the invitations was
already past.  All day he had feared lest she should be late, and she
was late.  He looked at the glass of the front-door; but night had come,
and it was opaque.  Ada tripped into view and ran upstairs.

"Don’t you hear the front-door?" he stopped her flight.

"It was missis’s bell, sir."

"Ah!"  Respite!

Ada disappeared.

Then another ring!  And no parlour-maid to answer the bell!  Naturally!
Naturally Hilda, forgetting something at the last moment, had taken the
parlour-maid away precisely when the girl was needed!  Oh! He had
foreseen it!  He could hear shuffling outside and could even distinguish
forms through the glass--many forms.  All the people converging from
various streets upon the waiting nervousness of the household seemed to
have arrived at once.

George moved impulsively towards the front-door.

"Where are you going?" Edwin asked roughly. "Come here.  It’s not your
place to open the door. Come with me in the drawing-room."

It was no affair of Edwin’s, thought Edwin crossly and uncompromisingly,
if guests were kept waiting at the front-door.  It was Hilda’s affair;
she was the mistress of the house, and the blame was hers.

At high speed Ada swept with streamers down the stairs, like a squirrel
down the branch of a tree.  And then came Hilda.



                                  III


She stood at the turn of the stairs, waiting while the front-door was
opened.  He and George could see her over and through the banisters.
And at sight of her triumphant and happy air, all Edwin’s annoyance
melted.  He did not desire that it should melt, but it melted.  She was
late.  He could not rely on her not to be late.  In summoning the
parlourmaid to her bedroom when the parlourmaid ought to have been on
duty downstairs she had acted indefensibly and without thought.  No
harm, as it happened, was done. Sheer chance often thus saved her, but
logically her double fault was not thereby mitigated.  He felt that if
he forgave her, if he dismissed the charge and wiped the slate, he was
being false to the great male principles of logic and justice.  The
godlike judge in him resented the miscarriage of justice.  Nevertheless
justice miscarried.  And the weak husband said like a woman: "What does
it matter?"  Such was her shameful power over him, of which the
unscrupulous creature was quite aware.

As he looked at her he asked himself: "Is she magnificent?  Or is she
just ordinary and am I deluded? Does she seem her age?  Is she a mature
woman getting past the prime, or has she miraculously kept herself a
young girl for me?"

In years she was thirty-five.  She had large bones, and her robust body,
neither plump nor slim, showed the firm, assured carriage of its age.
It said: "I have stood before the world, and I cannot be intimidated."
Still, marriage had rejuvenated her.  She was marvellously young at
times, and experience would drop from her and leave the girl that he had
first known and kissed ten years earlier; but a less harsh, less
uncompromising girl.  At their first acquaintance she had repelled him
with her truculent seriousness.  Nowadays she would laugh for no
apparent reason, and even pirouette.  Her complexion was good; he could
nearly persuade himself that that olive skin had not suffered in a
decade of distress and disasters.

Previous to her marriage she had shown little interest in dress.  But
now she would spasmodically worry about her clothes, and she would make
Edwin worry.  He had to decide, though he had no qualifications as an
arbiter.  She would scowl at a dressmaker as if to say: "For God’s sake
do realise that upon you is laid the sacred responsibility of helping me
to please my husband!"  To-night she was wearing a striped blue dress,
imperceptibly décolletée, with the leg-of-mutton sleeves of the period.
The colours, two shades of blue, did not suit her.  But she imagined
that they suited her, and so did he; and the frock was elaborate, was
the result of terrific labour and produced a rich effect, meet for a
hostess of position.

The mere fact that this woman with no talent for coquetry should after
years of narrow insufficiency scowl at dressmakers and pout at senseless
refractory silks in the yearning for elegance was utterly delicious to
Edwin.  Her presence there on the landing of the stairs was in the
nature of a miracle.  He had wanted her, and he had got her.  In the end
he had got her, and nothing had been able to stop him--not even the
obstacle of her tragic adventure with a rascal and a bigamist.  The
strong magic of his passion had forced destiny to render her up to him
mysteriously intact, after all.  The impossible had occurred, and
society had accepted it, beaten.  There she was, dramatically, with her
thick eyebrows, and the fine wide nostrils and the delicate lobe of the
ear, and that mouth that would startlingly fasten on him and kiss the
life out of him.

"There is dear Hilda!" said someone at the door amid the arriving group.

None but Auntie Hamps would have said ’dear’ Hilda.  Maggie, Clara, and
even Janet Orgreave never used sentimental adjectives on occasions of
ceremony.

And in her clear, precise, dominating voice Hilda with gay ease greeted
the company from above:

"Good evening, all!"

"What the deuce was I so upset about just now?" thought Edwin, in
sudden, instinctive, exulting felicity: "Everything is absolutely all
right."



                              CHAPTER III

                           ATTACK AND REPULSE


                                   I


The entering guests were Edwin’s younger sister Clara with her husband
Albert Benbow, his elder sister Maggie, Auntie Hamps, and Mr. Peartree.
They had arrived together, and rather unfashionably soon after the hour
named in the invitation, because the Benbows had called at Auntie
Hamps’s on the way up, and the Benbows were always early, both in
arriving and in departing, "on account of the children."  They called
themselves "early birds."  Whenever they were out of the nest in the
evening they called themselves early birds.  They used the comparison
hundreds, thousands, of times, and never tired of it; indeed each time
they were convinced that they had invented it freshly for the occasion.

Said Auntie Hamps, magnificent in jetty black, handsome, and above all
imposing:

"I knew you would be delighted to meet Mr. Peartree again, Edwin.  He is
staying the night at my house--I can be so much more hospitable now
Maggie is with me--and I insisted he should come up with us.  But it
needed no insisting."

The old erect lady looked from Mr. Peartree with pride towards her
nephew.

Mr. Peartree was a medium-sized man of fifty, with greying sandy hair.
Twenty years before, he had been second minister in the Bursley Circuit
of the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion.  He was now Superintendent Minister
in a Cheshire circuit.  The unchangeable canons of Wesleyanism permit
its ministers to marry, and celibacy is even discouraged, for the reason
that wives and daughters are expected to toil in the cause, and their
labour costs the circuit not a halfpenny.  But the canons forbid
ministers to take root and found a home.  Eleven times in thirty years
Mr. Peartree had been forced to migrate to a strange circuit and to
adapt his much-travelled furniture and family to a house which he had
not chosen, and which his wife generally did not like.  During part of
the period he had secretly resented the autocracy of Superintendent
Ministers, and during the remainder he had learnt that Superintendent
Ministers are not absolute autocrats.

He was neither overworked nor underpaid.  He belonged to the small
tradesman class, and, keeping a shop in St. Luke’s Square, he might well
have worked harder for less money than he now earned.  His vocation,
however, in addition to its desolating nomadic quality, had other grave
drawbacks.  It gave him contact with a vast number of human beings, but
the abnormal proportion among them of visionaries, bigots, hypocrites,
and petty office-seekers falsified his general estimate of humanity.
Again, the canons rigorously forbade him to think freely for himself on
the subjects which in theory most interested him; with the result that
he had remained extremely ignorant through the very fear of knowledge,
that he was a warm enemy of freedom, and that he habitually carried
intellectual dishonesty to the verge of cynicism.  Thirdly, he was
obliged always to be diplomatic (except of course with his family), and
nature had not meant him for the diplomatic career.  He was so sick of
being all things to all men that he even dreamed diplomatic dreams as a
galley-slave will dream of the oar; and so little gifted for the rôle
that he wore insignificant tight turned-down collars, never having
perceived the immense moral advantage conferred on the diplomatist by a
high, loose, wide-rolling collar.  Also he was sick of captivity, and
this in no wise lessened his objection to freedom.  He had lost all
youthful enthusiasm, and was in fact equally bored with earth and with
heaven.

Nevertheless, he had authority and security.  He was accustomed to the
public gaze and to the forms of deference.  He knew that he was as
secure as a judge,--and far more secure than a cabinet-minister.
Nothing but the inconceivable collapse of a powerful and wealthy sect
could affect his position or his livelihood to the very end of life.
Hence, beneath his weariness and his professional attitudinarianism
there was a hint of the devil-may-care that had its piquancy.  He could
foresee with indifference even the distant but approaching day when he
would have to rise in the pulpit and assert that the literal inspiration
of the Scriptures was not and never had been an essential article of
Wesleyan faith.

Edwin blenched at the apparition of Mr. Peartree. That even Auntie Hamps
should dare uninvited to bring a Wesleyan Minister to the party was
startling; but that the minister should be Mr. Peartree staggered him.
For twenty years and more Edwin had secretly, and sometimes in public,
borne a tremendous grudge against Mr. Peartree.  He had execrated,
anathematised, and utterly excommunicated Mr. Peartree, and had extended
the fearful curse to his family, all his ancestors, and all his
descendants.  When Mr. Peartree was young and fervent in the service of
heaven he had had the monstrous idea of instituting a Saturday Afternoon
Bible Class for schoolboys.  Abetted by parents weak-minded and cruel,
he had caught and horribly tortured some score of miserable victims, of
whom Edwin was one.  The bitter memory of those weekly half-holidays
thieved from him and made desolate by a sanctimonious crank had never
softened, nor had Edwin ever forgiven Mr. Peartree.

It was at the sessions of the Bible Class that Edwin, while silently
perfecting himself in the art of profanity and blasphemy, had in secret
fury envenomed his instinctive mild objection to the dogma, the ritual,
and the spirit of conventional Christianity, especially as exemplified
in Wesleyan Methodism.  He had left Mr. Peartree’s Bible Class a
convinced anti-religionist, a hater and despiser of all that the
Wesleyan Chapel and Mr. Peartree stood for.  He deliberately was not
impartial, and he took a horrid pleasure in being unfair.  He knew well
that Methodism had produced many fine characters, and played a part in
the moral development of the race; but he would not listen to his own
knowledge.  Nothing could extenuate, for him, the noxiousness of
Methodism.  On the other hand he was full of glee if he could add
anything to the indictment against it and Christianity.  Huxley’s
controversial victories over Gladstone were then occurring in the
monthly press, and he acclaimed them with enormous gusto.  When he first
read that the Virgin Birth was a feature of sundry creeds more ancient
than Christianity, his private satisfaction was intense and lasted
acutely for days.  When he heard that Methodism had difficulty in
maintaining its supply of adequately equipped ministers, he rejoiced
with virulence.  His hostility was the more significant in that it was
concealed--embedded like a foreign substance in the rather suave
gentleness of his nature.  At intervals--increasingly frequent, it is
true--he would carry it into the chapel itself; for through mingled
cowardice and sharp prudence, he had not formally left the Connexion.
To compensate himself for such bowings-down he would now and then
assert, judicially to a reliable male friend, or with ferocious contempt
to a scandalised defenceless sister, that, despite all parsons, religion
was not a necessity of the human soul, and that he personally had never
felt the need of it and never would.  In which assertion he was
profoundly sincere.

And yet throughout he had always thought of himself as a rebel against
authority; and--such is the mysterious intimidating prestige of the
past--he was outwardly an apologetic rebel.  Neither his intellectual
pride nor his cold sustained resentment, nor his axiomatic conviction of
the crude and total falseness of Christian theology, nor all three
together, had ever sufficed to rid him of the self-excusing air.  When
Auntie Hamps spoke with careful reverence of "the Super" (short for
"superintendent minister"), the word had never in thirty years quite
failed to inspire in him some of the awe with which he had heard it as
an infant.  Just as a policeman was not an employee but a _policeman_,
so a minister was not a person of the trading-class who happened to have
been through a certain educational establishment, subscribed to certain
beliefs, submitted to certain ceremonies and adopted a certain
costume,--but a _minister_, a being inexplicably endowed with
authority,--in fact a sort of arch-policeman. And thus, while detesting
and despising him, Edwin had never thought of Abel Peartree as merely a
man.

Now, in the gas-lit bustle of the hall, after an interval of about
twenty years, he beheld again his enemy, his bugbear, his loathed
oppressor, the living symbol of all that his soul condemned.

Said Mrs. Hamps:

"I reminded Mr. Peartree that you used to attend his Bible-class, Edwin.
Do you remember?  I hope you do."

"Oh, yes!" said Edwin, with a slight nervous laugh, blushing.  His eye
caught Clara’s, but there was no sign whatever of the old malicious grin
on her maternal face.  Nor did Maggie’s show a tremor.  And, of course,
the majestic duplicity of Auntie Hamps did not quiver under the strain.
So that the Rev. Mr. Peartree, protesting honestly that he should have
recognised his old pupil Mr. Clayhanger anywhere, never suspected the
terrific drama of the moment.

And the next moment there was no drama.... Teacher and pupil shook
hands.  The recognition was mutual.  To Edwin, Mr. Peartree, save for
the greying of his hair, had not changed.  His voice, his form, his
gestures, were absolutely the same.  Only, instead of being Mr.
Peartree, he was a man like another man--a commonplace, hard-featured,
weary man; a spare little man, with a greenish-black coat and
bluish-white low collar; a perfunctory, listless man with an unpleasant
voice; a man with the social code of the Benbows and Auntie Hamps; a man
the lines of whose face disclosed a narrow and self-satisfied ignorance;
a man whose destiny had forbidden him ever to be natural; the usual
snobbish man, who had heard of the importance and the success and the
wealth of Edwin Clayhanger and who kowtowed thereto and was naïvely
impressed thereby, and proud that Edwin Clayhanger had once been his
pupil; and withal an average decent fellow.

Edwin rather liked the casual look in Mr. Peartree’s eyes that said: "My
being here is part of my job. I’m indifferent.  I do what I have to do,
and I really don’t care.  I have paid tens of thousands of calls and I
shall pay tens of thousands more.  If I am bored I am paid to be bored,
and I repeat I really don’t care."  This was the human side of Mr.
Peartree showing itself. It endeared him to Edwin.

"Not a bad sort of cuss, after all!" thought Edwin.

All the carefully tended rage and animosity of twenty years evaporated
out of his heart and was gone.  He did not forgive Mr. Peartree, because
there was no Mr. Peartree--there was only this man.  And there was no
Wesleyan chapel either, but only an ugly forlorn three-quarters-empty
building at the top of Duck Bank. And Edwin was no longer an apologetic
rebel, nor even any kind of a rebel.  It occurred to nobody, not even to
the mighty Edwin, that in those few seconds the history of dogmatic
religion had passed definitely out of one stage into another.

Abel Peartree nonchalantly, and with a practised aplomb which was not
disturbed even by the vision of George’s heroic stallion, said the
proper things to Edwin and Hilda; and it became known, somehow, that the
parson was re-visiting Bursley in order to deliver his well-known
lecture entitled "The Mantle and Mission of Elijah,"--the sole lecture
of his repertoire, but it had served to raise him ever so slightly out
of the ruck of ’Supers.’  Hilda patronised him.  Against the rich
background of her home, she assumed the pose of the grand lady.  Abel
Peartree seemed to like the pose, and grew momentarily vivacious in
knightly response. "And why not?" said Edwin to himself, justifying his
wife after being a little critical of her curtness.

Then, when the conversation fell, Auntie Hamps discreetly suggested that
she and the girls should "go upstairs."  The negligent Hilda had
inexcusably forgotten in her nervous excitement that on these occasions
arriving ladies should be at once escorted to the specially-titivated
best bedroom, there to lay their things on the best counterpane.  She
perhaps ought to have atoned for her negligence by herself leading
Auntie Hamps to the bedroom.  But instead she deputed Ada.  "And why
not?" said Edwin to himself again.  As the ladies mounted Mr. Peartree
laughed genuinely at one of Albert Benbow’s characteristic pleasantries,
which always engloomed Edwin.  "Kindred spirits, those two!" thought the
superior sardonic Edwin, and privately raised his eyebrows to his wife,
who answered the signal.



                                   II


Somewhat later, various other guests having come and distributed
themselves over the reception-rooms, the chandeliers glinted down their
rays upon light summer frocks and some jewellery and coats of black and
dark grey and blue; and the best counterpanes in the best bedroom were
completely hidden by mantles and cloaks, and the hatstand in the hall
heavily clustered with hats and caps.  The reception was in being, and
the interior full of animation.  Edwin, watchful and hospitably anxious,
wandered out of the drawing-room into the hall.  The door of the
breakfast-room was ajar, and he could hear Clara’s voice behind it.  He
knew that the Benbows and Maggie and Auntie Hamps were all in the
breakfast-room, and he blamed chiefly Clara for this provincial
clannishness, which was so characteristic of her.  Surely Auntie Hamps
at any rate ought to have realised that the duty of members of the
family was to spread themselves among the other guests!

He listened.

"No," Clara was saying, "we don’t know what’s happened to him since he
came out of prison.  He got two years."  She was speaking in what Edwin
called her ’scandal’ tones, low, clipped, intimate, eager, blissful.

And then Albert Benbow’s voice:

"He’s had the good sense not to bother us."

Edwin, while resenting the conversation, and the Benbows’ use of "we"
and "us" in a matter which did not concern them, was grimly comforted by
the thought of their ignorance of a detail which would have interested
them passionately.  None but Hilda and himself knew that the bigamist
was at that moment in prison again for another and a later offence.
Everything had been told but that.

"Of course," said Clara, "they needn’t have said anything about the
bigamy at all, and nobody outside the family need have known that poor
Hilda was not just an ordinary widow.  But we all thought--"

"I don’t know so much about that, Clary," Albert Benbow interrupted his
wife; "you mustn’t forget his real wife came to Turnhill to make
enquiries.  That started a hare."

"Well, you know what I mean," said Clara vaguely.

Mr. Peartree’s voice came in:

"But surely the case was in the papers?"

"I expect it was in the Sussex papers," Albert replied.  "You see, they
went through the ceremony of marriage at Lewes.  But it never got into
the local rag, because he got married in his real name--Cannon wasn’t
his real name; and he’d no address in the Five Towns, then.  He was just
a boarding-house keeper at Brighton.  It was a miracle it didn’t get
into the _Signal_, if you ask me; but it didn’t.  I happen to know"--his
voice grew important--"that the _Signal_ people have an arrangement with
the Press Association for a full report of all matrimonial cases that
’ud be likely to interest the district. However, the Press Association
weren’t quite on the spot that time.  And it’s not surprising they
weren’t, either."

Clara resumed:

"No.  It never came out.  Still, as I say, we all thought it best not to
conceal anything.  Albert strongly advised Edwin not to attempt any such
thing."  ("What awful rot!" thought Edwin.)  "So we just mentioned it
quietly like to a few friends.  After all, poor Hilda was perfectly
innocent.  Of course she felt her position keenly when she came to live
here after the wedding."  ("Did she indeed!" thought Edwin.)  "Edwin
would have the wedding in London.  We did so feel for her."  ("Did you
indeed!" thought Edwin.)  "She wouldn’t have an At Home.  I knew it was
a mistake not to.  We all knew.  But no, _she would not_. Folks began to
talk.  They thought it strange she didn’t have an At Home like other
folks.  Many young married women have two At Homes nowadays.  So in the
end she was persuaded.  She fixed it for August because she thought so
many people would be away at the seaside.  But they aren’t--at least not
so many as you’d think.  Albert says it’s owing to the General Election
upset.  And she wouldn’t have it in the afternoon like other folks.
Mrs. Edwin isn’t like other folks, and you can’t alter her."

"What’s the matter with the evening for an At Home, anyhow?" asked
Benbow the breezy and consciously broad-minded.

"Oh, of course, _I_ quite agree.  I like it.  But folks are so funny."

After a momentary pause, Mr. Peartree said uncertainly:

"And there’s a little boy?"

Said Clara:

"Yes, the one you’ve seen."

Said Auntie Hamps:

"Poor little thing!  I do feel so sorry for him--when he grows up--"

"You needn’t, Auntie," said Maggie curtly, expressing her attitude to
George in that mild curtness.

"Of course," said Clara quickly.  "We never let it make any difference.
In fact our Bert and he are rather friends, aren’t they, Albert?"

At this moment George himself opened the door of the dining-room,
letting out a faint buzz of talk and clink of vessels.  His mouth was
not empty.

Precipitately Edwin plunged into the breakfast-room.

"Hello!  You people!" he murmured.  "Well, Mr. Peartree."

There they were--all of them, including the parson--grouped together,
lusciously bathing in the fluid of scandal.

Clara turned, and without the least constraint said sweetly:

"Oh, Edwin!  There you are!  I was just telling Mr. Peartree about you
and Hilda, you know.  We thought it would be better."

"You see," said Auntie Hamps impressively, "Mr. Peartree will be about
the town to-morrow, and a word from him--"

Mr. Peartree tried unsuccessfully to look as if he was nobody in
particular.

"That’s all right," said Edwin.  "Perhaps the door might as well be
shut."  He thought, as many a man has thought: "My relations take the
cake!"

Clara occupied the only easy chair in the room. Mrs. Hamps and the
parson were seated.  Maggie stood.  Albert Benbow, ever uxorious, was
perched sideways on the arm of his wife’s chair.  Clara, centre of the
conclave and of all conclaves in which she took part, was the mother of
five children,--and nearing thirty-five years of age.  Maternity had
ruined her once slim figure, but neither she nor Albert seemed to mind
that,--they seemed rather to be proud of her unshapeliness. Her face was
unspoiled.  She was pretty and had a marvellously fair complexion.  In
her face Edwin could still always plainly see the pert, charming,
malicious girl of fourteen who loathed Auntie Hamps and was rude to her
behind her back.  But Clara and Auntie Hamps were fast friends nowadays.
Clara’s brood had united them.  They thought alike on all topics.  Clara
had accepted Auntie Hamps’s code practically entire; but on the other
hand she had dominated Auntie Hamps.  The respect which Auntie Hamps
showed for Clara and for Edwin, and in a slightly less degree for
Maggie, was a strange phenomenon in the old age of that grandiose and
vivacious pillar of Wesleyanism and the conventions.

Edwin did not like Clara; he objected to her domesticity, her
motherliness, her luxuriant fruitfulness, the intonations of her voice,
her intense self-satisfaction and her remarkable duplicity; and perhaps
more than anything to her smug provinciality.  He did not positively
dislike his brother-in-law, but he objected to him for his uxoriousness,
his cheerful assurance of Clara’s perfection, his contented and
conceited ignorance of all intellectual matters, his incorrigible
vulgarity of a small manufacturer who displays everywhere the stigmata
of petty commerce, and his ingenuous love of office.  As for Maggie, the
plump spinster of forty, Edwin respected her when he thought of her, but
reproached her for social gawkiness and taciturnity.  As for Auntie
Hamps, he could not respect, but he was forced to admire, her gorgeous
and sustained hypocrisy, in which no flaw had ever been found, and which
victimised even herself; he was always invigorated by her ageless energy
and the sight of her handsome, erect, valiant figure.

Edwin’s absence had stopped the natural free course of conversation.
But there were at least three people in the room whom nothing could
abash: Mrs. Hamps, Clara, and Mr. Peartree.

Mr. Peartree, sitting up with his hands on his baggy knees, said:

"Everything seems to have turned out very well in the end, Mr.
Clayhanger--very well, indeed."  His features showed less of the tedium
of life.

"Eh, yes!  Eh, yes!" breathed Auntie Hamps in ecstasy.

Edwin, diffident and ill-pleased, was about to suggest that the family
might advantageously separate, when George came after him into the room.

"Oh!" cried George.

"Well, little jockey!" Clara began instantly to him with an exaggerated
sweetness that Edwin thought must nauseate the child, "would you like
Bert to come up and play with you one of these afternoons?"

George stared at her, and slowly flushed.

"Yes," said George.  "Only--"

"Only what?"

"Supposing I was doing something else when he came?"

Without waiting for possible developments George turned to leave the
room again.

"You’re a caution, you are!" said Albert Benbow; and to the adults:
"Hates to be disturbed, I suppose."

"That’s it," said Edwin responsively, as brother-in-law to
brother-in-law.  But he felt that he, with a few months’ experience of
another’s child, appreciated the exquisite strange sensibility of
children infinitely better than Albert were he fifty times a father.

"What is a caution, Uncle Albert?" asked George, peeping back from the
door.

Auntie Hamps good-humouredly warned the child of the danger of being
impertinent to his elders:

"George!  George!"

"A caution is a caution to snakes," said Albert. "Shoo!"  Making a noise
like a rocket, he feinted to pursue the boy with violence.

Mr. Peartree laughed rather loudly, and rather like a human being, at
the word "snakes."  Albert Benbow’s flashes of humour, indeed, seemed to
surprise him, if only for an instant, out of his attitudinarianism.

Clara smiled, flattered by the power of her husband to reveal the
humanity of the parson.

"Albert’s so good with children," she said.  "He always knows
exactly..."  She stopped, leaving what he knew exactly to the listeners’
imagination.

Uncle Albert and George could be heard scuffling in the hall.

Auntie Hamps rose with a gentle sigh, saying:

"I suppose we ought to join the others."

Her social sense, which was pretty well developed, had at last
prevailed.

The sisters Maggie and Clara, one in light and the other in dark green,
walked out of the room. Maggie’s face had already stiffened into mute
constraint, and Clara’s into self-importance, at the prospect of meeting
the general company.



                                  III


Auntie Hamps held back, and Edwin at once perceived from the
conspiratorial glance in her splendid eyes that in suggesting a move she
had intended to deceive her fellow-conspirator in life, Clara.  But
Auntie Hamps could not live without chicane.  And she was happiest when
she had superimposed chicane upon chicane in complex folds.

She put a ringed hand softly but arrestingly upon Edwin’s arm, and
pushed the door to.  Alone with her and the parson, Edwin felt himself
to be at bay, and he drew back before an unknown menace.

"Edwin, dear," said she, "Mr. Peartree has something to suggest to you.
I was going to say ’a favour to ask,’ but I won’t put it like that.  I’m
sure my nephew will look upon it as a privilege.  You know how much Mr.
Peartree has at heart the District Additional Chapels Fund--"

Edwin did not know how much; but he had heard of the Macclesfield
District Additional Chapels Fund, Bursley being one of the circuits in
the Macclesfield District.  Wesleyanism finding itself confronted with
lessening congregations and with a shortage of ministers, the
Macclesfield District had determined to prove that Wesleyanism was
nevertheless spiritually vigorous by the odd method of building more
chapels.  Mr. Peartree, inventor of Saturday afternoon Bible-Classes for
schoolboys, was one of the originators of the bricky scheme, and in fact
his lecture upon the "Mantle and Mission of Elijah" was to be in aid of
it.  The next instant Mr. Peartree had invited Edwin to act as District
Treasurer of the Fund, the previous treasurer having died.

More chicane!  The parson’s visit, then, was not a mere friendly call,
inspired by the moment.  It was part of a scheme.  It had been planned
against him. Did they (he seemed to be asking himself) think him so
ingenuous, so simple, as not to see through their dodge?  If not, then
why the preliminary pretences? He did not really ask himself these
questions, for the reason that he knew the answers to them.  When a
piece of chicane had succeeded Auntie Hamps forgot it, and expected
others to forget it,--or at any rate she dared, by her magnificent
front, anybody on earth to remind her of it.  She was quite indifferent
whether Edwin saw through her dodge or not.

"You’re so good at business," said she.

Ah!  She would insist on the business side of the matter, affecting to
ignore the immense moral significance which would be attached to Edwin’s
acceptance of the office!  Were he to yield, the triumph for Methodism
would ring through the town.  He read all her thoughts.  Nothing could
break down her magnificent front.  She had cornered him by a device; she
had him at bay; and she counted on his weak good-nature, on his
easy-going cowardice, for a victory.

Mr. Peartree talked.  Mr. Peartree expressed his certitude that Edwin
was "with them at heart," and his absolute reliance upon Edwin’s sense
of the responsibilities of a man in his, Edwin’s, position.  Auntie
Hamps recalled with fervour Edwin’s early activities in Methodism--the
Young Men’s Debating Society, for example, which met at six o’clock on
frosty winter mornings for the proving of the faith by dialectics.

And Edwin faltered in his speech.

"You ought to get Albert," he feebly suggested.

"Oh, no!" said Auntie.  "Albert is grand in his own line.  But for this,
_we want a man like you_."

It was a master-stroke.  Edwin had the illusion of trembling, and yet he
knew that he did not tremble, even inwardly.  He seemed to see the
forces of evolution and the forces of reaction ranged against each other
in a supreme crisis.  He seemed to see the alternative of two futures
for himself--and in one he would be a humiliated and bored slave, and in
the other a fine, reckless ensign of freedom.  He seemed to be doubtful
of his own courage.  But at the bottom of his soul he was not doubtful.
He remembered all the frightful and degrading ennui which when he was
young he had suffered as a martyr to Wesleyanism and dogma, all the
sinister deceptions which he had had to practise and which had been
practised upon him.  He remembered his almost life-long intense hatred
of Mr. Peartree.  And he might have clenched his hands bitterly and said
with homicidal animosity: "_Now_ I will pay you out!  And I will tell
you the truth!  And I will wither you up and incinerate you, and be
revenged for everything in one single sentence!"  But he felt no
bitterness, and his animosity was dead. At the bottom of his soul there
was nothing but a bland indifference that did not even scorn.

"No," he said quietly.  "I shan’t be your treasurer. You must ask
somebody else."

A vast satisfaction filled him.  The refusal was so easy, the opposing
forces so negligible.

Auntie Hamps and Mr. Peartree knew nothing of the peculiar phenomena
induced in Edwin’s mind by the first sight of the legendary Abel
Peartree after twenty years.  But Auntie Hamps, though puzzled for an
explanation, comprehended that she was decisively beaten.  The blow was
hard.  Nevertheless she did not wince.  The superb pretence must be kept
up, and she kept it up.  She smiled and, tossing her curls, checked
Edwin with cheerful, indomitable rapidity.

"Now, now!  Don’t decide at once.  Think it over very carefully, and we
shall ask you again.  Mr. Peartree will write to you.  I feel sure..."

Appearances were preserved.

The colloquy was interrupted by Hilda, who came in excited, gay, with
sparkling eyes, humming an air.  She had protested vehemently against an
At Home.  She had said again and again that the idea of an At Home was
abhorrent to her, and that she hated all such wholesale formal
hospitalities and could not bear "people."  And yet now she was
enchanted with her situation as hostess--delighted with herself and her
rich dress, almost ecstatically aware of her own attractiveness and
domination.  The sight of her gave pleasure and communicated zest.
Mature, she was yet only beginning life.  And as she glanced with secret
condescension at the listless Mr. Peartree she seemed to say: "What is
all this talk of heaven and hell?  I am in love with life and the
senses, and everything is lawful to me, and I am above you."  And even
Auntie Hamps, though one of the most self-sufficient creatures that ever
lived, envied in her glorious decay the young maturity of sensuous
Hilda.

"Well," said Hilda.  "What’s going on _here_? They’re all gone mad about
missing words in the drawing-room."

She smiled splendidly at Edwin, whose pride in her thrilled him.  Her
superiority to other women was patent.  She made other women seem
negative.  In fact, she was a tingling woman before she was anything
else--that was it!  He compared her with Clara, who was now nothing but
a mother, and to Maggie, who had never been anything at all.

Mr. Peartree made the mistake of telling her the subject of the
conversation.  She did not wait to hear what Edwin’s answer had been.

She said curtly, and with finality:

"Oh, no!  I won’t have it."

Edwin did not quite like this.  The matter concerned him alone, and he
was an absolutely free agent. She ought to have phrased her objection
differently. For example, she might have said: "I hope he has refused."

Still, his annoyance was infinitesimal.

"The poor boy works quite hard enough as it is," she added, with
delicious caressing intonation of the first words.

He liked that.  But she was confusing the issue. She always would
confuse the issue.  It was not because the office would involve extra
work for him that he had declined the invitation, as she well knew.

Of course Auntie Hamps said in a flash:

"If it means overwork for him I shouldn’t dream--"  She was putting the
safety of appearances beyond doubt.

"By the way, Auntie," Hilda continued.  "What’s the trouble about the
pew down at chapel?  Both Clara and Maggie have mentioned it."

"Trouble, my dear?" exclaimed Auntie Hamps, justifiably shocked that
Hilda should employ such a word in the presence of Mr. Peartree.  But
Hilda was apt to be headlong.

To the pew originally taken by Edwin’s father, and since his death
standing in Edwin’s name, Clara had brought her husband; and although it
was a long pew, the fruits of the marriage had gradually filled it, so
that if Edwin chanced to go to chapel there was not too much room for
him in the pew, which presented the appearance of a second-class railway
carriage crowded with season-ticket holders.  Albert Benbow had
suggested that Edwin should yield up the pew to the Benbows, and take a
smaller pew for himself and Hilda and George.  But the women had
expressed fear lest Edwin "might not like" this break in a historic
tradition, and Albert Benbow had been forbidden to put forward the
suggestion until the diplomatic sex had examined the ground.

"We shall be only too pleased for Albert to take over the pew," said
Hilda.

"But have you chosen another pew?" Mrs. Hamps looked at Edwin.

"Oh, no!" said Hilda lightly.

"But--"

"Now, Auntie," the tingling woman warned Auntie Hamps as one powerful
individuality may warn another, "don’t worry about us.  You know we’re
not great chapel-goers."

She spoke the astounding words gaily, but firmly. She could be firm, and
even harsh, in her triumphant happiness.  Edwin knew that she detested
Auntie Hamps.  Auntie Hamps no doubt also knew it.  In their mutual
smilings, so affable, so hearty, so appreciative, apparently so
impulsive, the hostility between them gleamed mysteriously like
lightning in sunlight.

"Mrs. Edwin’s family were Church of England," said Auntie Hamps, in the
direction of Mr. Peartree.

"Nor great church-goers, either," Hilda finished cheerfully.

No woman had ever made such outrageous remarks in the Five Towns before.
A quarter of a century ago a man might have said as much, without
suffering in esteem--might indeed have earned a certain intellectual
prestige by the declaration; but it was otherwise with a woman.  Both
Mrs. Hamps and the minister thought that Hilda was not going the right
way to live down her dubious past.  Even Edwin in his pride was
flurried. Great matters, however, had been accomplished.  Not only had
the attack of Auntie Hamps and Mr. Peartree been defeated, but the
defence had become an onslaught. Not only was he not the treasurer of
the District Additional Chapels Fund, but he had practically ceased to
be a member of the congregation.  He was free with a freedom which he
had never had the audacity to hope for.  It was incredible!  Yet there
it was!  A word said, bravely, in a particular tone,--and a new epoch
was begun.  The pity was that he had not done it all himself.  Hilda’s
courage had surpassed his own. Women were astounding.  They were
disconcerting too.  His manly independence was ever so little wounded by
Hilda’s boldness in initiative on their joint behalf.

"Do come and take something, Auntie," said Hilda, with the most winning,
the most loving inflection.

Auntie Hamps passed out.

Hilda turned back into the room: "Do go with Auntie, Mr. Peartree.  I
must just--"  She affected to search for something on the mantelpiece.

Mr. Peartree passed out.  He was unmoved.  He did not care in his heart.
And as Edwin caught his indifferent eye, with that "it’s-all-one-to-me"
glint in it, his soul warmed again slightly to Mr. Peartree.  And
further, Mr. Peartree’s aloof unworldliness, his personal practical
unconcern with money, feasting, ambition, and all the grosser forms of
self-satisfaction, made Edwin feel somewhat a sensual average man and
accordingly humiliated him.

As soon as, almost before, Mr. Peartree was beyond the door, Hilda
leaped at Edwin, and kissed him violently.  The door was not closed.  He
could hear the varied hum of the party.

"I had to kiss you while it’s all going on," she whispered.  Ardent
vitality shimmered in her eyes.



                               CHAPTER IV

                                THE WORD


                                   I


Ada was just crossing the hall to the drawing-room, a telegram on a
salver in her red hand.

"Here you are, Ada," said Edwin, stopping her, with a gesture towards
the telegram.

"It’s for Mr. Tom Swetnam, sir."

Edwin and Hilda followed the starched and fussy girl into the
drawing-room, in which were about a dozen people, including Fearns, the
lawyer, and his wife, the recently married Stephen and Vera Cheswardine,
several Swetnams, and Janet Orgreave, who sat at the closed piano,
smiling vaguely.

Tom Swetnam, standing up, took the telegram.

"I never knew they delivered telegrams at this time o’ night," said
Fearns sharply, looking at his watch. He was wont to keep a careful eye
on the organisation of railways, ships, posts, and other contrivances
for the shifting of matter from one spot to another.  An exacting critic
of detail, he was proud of them in the mass, and called them
civilisation.

"They don’t," said Tom Swetnam naughtily, glad to plague a man older
than himself, and the father of a family.  Tom was a mere son, but he
had travelled, and was, indeed, just returned from an excursion through
Scandinavia.  "Observe there’s no deception. The envelope’s been opened.
Moreover, it’s addressed to Ben Clewlow, not to me.  Ben’s sent it up.
I asked him to.  Now, we’ll see."

Having displayed the envelope like a conjurer, he drew forth the
telegram, and prepared to read it aloud. One half of the company was
puzzled; the other half showed an instructed excitement.  Tom read the
message:

"’Twenty-seven pounds ten nine.  Philosophers tell us that there is
nothing new under the sun.  Nevertheless it may well be doubted whether
the discovery of gold at Barmouth, together with two earthquake shocks
following each other in quick succession in the same district, does not
constitute, in the history of the gallant little Principality, a double
event of unique--’"  He stopped.

Vera Cheswardine, pretty, fluffy, elegant, cried out with all the
impulsiveness of her nature:

"Novelty!"

"Whatever is it all about?" mildly asked Mrs. Fearns, a quiet and
dignified, youngish woman whom motherhood had made somewhat
absent-minded when she was away from her children.

"Missing-word competition," Fearns explained to her with curt, genial
superiority.  He laughed outright.  "You do go it, some of you chaps,"
he said. "Why, that telegram cost over a couple of bob, I bet!"

"Well, you see," said Tom Swetnam, "three of us share it.  We get it
thirty-six hours before the paper’s out--fellow in London--and there’s
so much more time to read the dictionary.  No use half doing a thing!
Twenty-seven pounds odd!  Not a bad share this week, eh?"

"Won anything?"

"Rather.  We had the wire about the winning word this morning.  We’d
sent it in four times.  That makes about £110, doesn’t it?  Between
three of us.  We sent in nearly two hundred postal orders.  Which leaves
£100 clear.  Thirty-three quid apiece, net."

He tried to speak calmly and nonchalantly, but his excitement was
extreme.  The two younger Swetnams regarded him with awe.  Everybody was
deeply impressed by the prodigious figures, and in many hearts envy,
covetousness, and the wild desire for a large, free life of luxury were
aroused.

"Seems to me you’ve reduced this game to a science," said Edwin.

"Well, we have," Tom Swetnam admitted.  "We send in every possible
word."

"It’s a mere thousand per cent profit per week," murmured Fearns.  "At
the rate of fifty thousand per cent per annum."

Albert Benbow, entering, caught the last phrase, which very properly
whetted his curiosity as a man of business.  Clara followed him closely.
On nearly all ceremonial occasions these two had an instinctive need of
each other’s presence and support; and if Albert did not run after
Clara, Clara ran after Albert.



                                   II


Then came the proof of the genius, the cynicism and the insight of the
leviathan newspaper-proprietor who had invented the dodge of inviting
his readers to risk a shilling and also to buy a coupon for the
privilege of supplying a missing word, upon the understanding that the
shillings of those who supplied the wrong word should be taken for ever
away from them and given to those who supplied the right word.  The
entire company in the Clayhanger drawing-room was absorbed in the
tremendous missing-word topic, and listened to Swetnam as to a new
prophet bearing the secret of eternal felicity.  The rumour of Swetnam’s
triumph drew people out of the delectable dining-room to listen to his
remarks; and among these was Auntie Hamps. So it was in a thousand, in
ten thousand, in hundreds of thousands of homes of all kinds throughout
the kingdom.  The leviathan journalist’s readers (though as a rule they
read nothing in his paper save the truncated paragraph and the rules of
the competition) had grown to be equivalent to the whole British public.
And he not only held them but he had overshadowed all other interests in
their minds.  Upon honeymoons people thought of the missing-word amid
caresses, and it is a fact that people had died with the missing word on
their lips.  Sane adults of both sexes read the dictionary through from
end to end every week with an astounding conscientiousness.  The
leviathan newspaper-proprietor could not buy enough paper, nor hire
sufficient presses, to meet the national demands.  And no wonder, seeing
that any small news-agent in a side street was liable at any moment to
receive an order from an impassioned student of periodical literature
for more copies of one issue of the journal than the whole town had been
used to buy before the marvellous invention of the missing-word.  The
post office was incommoded; even the Postmaster General was incommoded,
and only by heroical efforts and miraculous feats of resourcefulness did
he save himself from the ignominy of running out of shilling postal
orders.  Post office girls sold shilling postal orders with a sarcastic
smile, with acerbity, with reluctance,--it was naught to them that the
revenue was benefited and the pressure on taxpayers eased.  Employers
throughout the islands suffered vast losses owing to the fact that for
months their offices and factories were inhabited not by clerks and
other employees, but by wage-paid monomaniacs who did naught but read
dictionaries and cut out and fill up coupons.  And over all the land
there hung the dark incredible menace of an unjust prosecution under the
Gambling Laws, urged by interfering busybodies who would not let a
nation alone.

"And how much did you make last week, Mr. Swetnam?" judicially asked
Albert Benbow, who was rather pleased and flattered, as an active
Wesleyan, to rub shoulders with frank men of the world like Tom.  As an
active Wesleyan he had hitherto utterly refused to listen to the
missing-word; but now it seemed to be acquiring respectability enough
for his ears.

Swetnam replied with a casual air:

"We didn’t make much last week.  We won something, of course.  We win
every week; that’s a mathematical certainty--but sometimes the expenses
mount up a bit higher than the receipts.  It depends on the word.  If
it’s an ordinary word that everybody chooses, naturally the share is a
small one because there are so many winners."  He gave no more exact
details.

Clara breathed a disillusioned "Oh!" implying that she had known there
must be some flaw in the scheme--and her husband had at once put his
finger on it.

But her husband, with incipient enthusiasm for the word, said: "Well, it
stands to reason they must take one week with another, and average it
out."

"Now, Albert!  Now, Albert!" Edwin warned him. "No gambling."

Albert replied with some warmth: "I don’t see that there’s any gambling
in it.  Appears to me that it’s chiefly skill and thoroughness that does
the trick."

"Gambling!" murmured Tom Swetnam shortly.  "Of course it’s not
gambling."

"No!"

"Well," said Vera Cheswardine, "I say ’novelty.’ ’A double event of
unique novelty.’  That’s it."

"I shouldn’t go nap on ’novelty,’ if I were you," said Tom Swetnam, the
expert.

Tom read the thing again.

"Novelty," Vera repeated.  "I know it’s novelty. I’m always right,
aren’t I, Stephen?" She looked round.  "Ask Stephen."

"You were right last week but one, my child," said Stephen.

"And did you make anything?" Clara demanded eagerly.

"Only fifteen shillings," said Vera discontentedly. "But if Stephen had
listened to me we should have made lots."

Albert Benbow’s interest in the word was strengthened.

Fearns, leaning carefully back in his chair, asked with fine
indifference: "By the way, what is this week’s word, Tom?  I haven’t
your secret sources of information. I have to wait for the paper."

"’Unaccountably,’" said Tom.  "Had you anything on it?"

"No," Fearns admitted.  "I’ve caught a cold this week, it seems."

Albert Benbow stared at him.  Here was another competitor--and as acute
a man of business as you would find in the Five Towns!

"Me, too!" said Edwin, smiling like a culprit.

Hilda sprang up gleefully, and pointed at him a finger of delicious
censure.

"Oh!  You wicked sinner!  You never told me you’d gone in!  You
deceitful old thing!"

"Well, it was a man at the shop who would have me try," Edwin boyishly
excused himself.



                                  III


Hilda’s vivacity enchanted Edwin.  The charm of her reproof was simply
exquisite in its good-nature and in the elegance of its gesture.  The
lingering taste of the feverish kiss she had given him a few minutes
earlier bemused him and he flushed.  To conceal his inconvenient
happiness in the thought of his wife he turned to open the new enlarged
window that gave on the garden.  (He had done away with the old
garden-entrance of the house, and thrown the side corridor into the
drawing-room.)  Then he moved towards Janet Orgreave, who was still
seated at the closed piano.

"Your father isn’t coming, I suppose?" he asked her.

The angelic spinster, stylishly dressed in white, and wearing as usual
her kind heart on her sleeve, smiled with soft benignity, and shook her
head.

"He told me to tell you he was too old.  He is, you know."

"And how’s your mother?"

"Oh, pretty well, considering....  I really ought not to leave them."

"Oh, yes!" Edwin protested.  The momentary vision of Mr. and Mrs.
Orgreave in the large house close by, now practically deserted by all
their children except Janet, saddened him.

Then a loud voice dominated the general conversation behind him:

"I say, this is a bit stiff.  I did think I should be free of it here.
But no!  Same old missing-word everywhere!  What is it this week,
Swetnam?"

It was Johnnie Orgreave, appreciably younger than his sister, but a
full-grown man of the world, and somewhat dandiacal.  After shaking
hands with Hilda he came straight to Edwin.

"Awfully sorry I’m so late, old chap.  How do, Jan?"

"Of course you are," Edwin quizzed him like an uncle.

"Where’s Ingpen?"

"Not come."

"Not come!  He said he should be here at eight. Just like him!" said
Johnnie.  "I expect he’s had a puncture."

"I’ve been looking out for him every minute," Edwin muttered.

In the middle of the room Albert Benbow, stocky and vulgar, but feeling
himself more and more a man of the world among men and women of the
world, was proclaiming, not without excitement:

"Well, I agree with Mrs. Cheswardine.  ’Novelty’ ’s much more likely
than ’interest.’  ’Interest’ ’s the wrong kind of word altogether.  It
doesn’t agree with the beginning of the paragraph."

"That’s right, Mr. Benbow," Vera encouraged him with flirtatious
dimples.  "You put your money on me, even if my own husband won’t."
Albert as a dowdy dissenter was quite out of her expensive sphere, but
to Vera any man was a man.

"Now, Albert," Clara warned him, "if you win anything, you must give it
to me for the new perambulator."

("Dash that girl’s infernal domesticity!" thought Edwin savagely.)

"Who says I’m going in for it, missis?" Albert challenged.

"I only say _if_ you do, dear," Clara said smoothly.

"Then I _will_!" Albert announced the great decision. "Just for the fun
of the thing, I will.  Thank ye, Mrs. Cheswardine."

He glanced at Mrs. Cheswardine as a knight at his unattainable mistress.
Indeed the decision had in it something of the chivalrous; the attention
of slim provocative Vera, costliest and most fashionably dressed woman
in Bursley, had stirred his fancy to wander far beyond its usual limits.

"Albert!  Well, I never!" exclaimed Mrs. Hamps.

"You don’t mind, do you Auntie?" said Albert jovially, standing over
her.

"Not if it’s not gambling," said Mrs. Hamps stoutly. "And I hope it
isn’t.  And it would be very nice for Clara, I’m sure, if you won."

"Hurrah for Mrs. Hamps!" Johnnie Orgreave almost yelled.

At the same moment, Janet Orgreave, swinging round on the music-stool,
lifted the lid of the piano, and, still with her soft, angelic smile,
played loudly and dashingly the barbaric, Bacchic, orgiastic melody
which had just recently inflamed England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and
the Five Towns--the air which was unlike anything ever heard before by
British ears, and which meant nothing whatever that could be avowed, the
air which heralded social revolutions and inaugurated a new epoch.  And
as the ringed fingers of the quiet, fading spinster struck out the
shocking melody, Vera Cheswardine and one or two others who had been to
London and there seen the great legendary figure, Lottie Collins, hummed
more or less brazenly the syllables heavy with mysterious significance:

    "_Tarara-boom-deay!_
    _Tarara-boom-deay!_
    _Tarara-boom-deay!_
    _Tarara-boom-deay!_"


Upon this entered Mr. Peartree, like a figure of retribution, and
silence fell.

"I’m afraid..." he began.  "Mr. Benbow."

They spoke together.

A scared servant-girl had come up from the Benbow home with the
affrighting news that Bert Benbow, who had gone to bed with the other
children as usual, was not in his bed and could not be discovered in the
house. Mr. Peartree, being in the hall, had chosen himself to bear the
grievous tidings to the drawing-room.  In an instant Albert and Clara
were parents again.  Both had an idea that the unprecedented,
incomprehensible calamity was a heavenly dispensation to punish them for
having trifled with the missing-word.  Their sudden seriousness was
terrific.  They departed immediately, without ceremony of any sort.
Mrs. Hamps said that she really ought to go too, and Maggie said that as
Auntie Hamps was going she also would go.  The parson said that he had
already stayed longer than he ought, in view of another engagement, and
he followed. Edwin and Hilda dutifully saw them off and were as serious
as the circumstances demanded.  But those who remained in the
drawing-room sniggered, and when Hilda rejoined them she laughed.  The
house felt lighter.  Edwin, remaining longest at the door, saw a
bicyclist on one of the still quaint pneumatic-tyred "safety" bicycles,
coming along behind a "King of the Road" lamp.  The rider dismounted at
the corner.

"That you, Mr. Ingpen?"

Said a blithe voice:

"How d’ye do, host?  When you’ve known me a bit longer you’ll learn that
I always manage to arrive just when other people are leaving."



                               CHAPTER V

                             TERTIUS INGPEN


                                   I


Tertius Ingpen was the new District Factory Inspector, a man of about
thirty-five, neither fair nor dark, neither tall nor short.  He was a
native of the district, having been born somewhere in the aristocratic
regions between Knype and the lordly village of Sneyd, but what first
struck the local observer in him was that his speech had none of the
local accent.  In the pursuit of his vocation he had lived in other
places than the Five Towns.  For example, in London, where he had become
acquainted with Edwin’s friend, Charlie Orgreave, the doctor.  When
Ingpen received a goodish appointment amid the industrial horrors of his
birth, Charlie Orgreave recommended him to Edwin, and Edwin and Ingpen
had met once, under arrangement made by Johnnie Orgreave.  It was
Johnnie who had impulsively suggested in Ingpen’s presence that Ingpen
should be invited to the At Home.  Edwin, rather intimidated by Ingpen’s
other-worldliness, had said: "You’ll run up against a mixed lot."  But
Ingpen, though sternly critical of local phenomena, seemed to be ready
to meet social adventures in a broad and even eager spirit of curiosity
concerning mankind.  He was not uncomely, and he possessed a short silky
beard of which secretly he was not less proud than of his striking name.
He wore a neat blue suit, with the trousers fastened tightly round the
ankles for bicycle-riding, and thick kid gloves.  He took off one glove
to shake hands, and then, having leisurely removed the other, and
talking all the time, he bent down with care and loosed his trousers and
shook them into shape.

"Now what about this jigger?" he asked, while still bending.  "I don’t
care to leave it anywhere.  It’s a good jigger."

As it leaned on one pedal against the kerb of Hulton Street, the
strange-looking jigger appeared to be at any rate a very dirty jigger.
Fastened under the saddle were a roll of paper and a mackintosh.

"There are one or two ordinaries knocking about the place," said Edwin,
"but we haven’t got a proper bicycle-house.  I’ll find a place for it
somewhere in the garden."  He lifted the front wheel.

"Don’t trouble, please.  I’ll take it," said Ingpen, and before picking
up the machine blew out the lamp, whose extinction left a great darkness
down the slope of Hulton Street.

"You’ve got a very nice place here.  Too central for me, of course!"
Ingpen began, after they had insinuated the bicycle through narrow paths
to the back of the house.

Edwin was leading him along the side of the lawn furthest away from
Trafalgar Road.  Certainly the property had the air of being a very nice
place.  The garden with its screen of high rustling trees seemed
spacious and mysterious in the gloom, and the lighted windows of the
house produced an effect of much richness--especially the half-open
window of the drawing-room.  Fearns and Cheswardine were standing in
front of it chatting (doubtless of affairs) with that important adult
air which Edwin himself could never successfully imitate.  Behind them
were bright women, and the brilliant chandelier.  The piano faintly
sounded.  Edwin was proud of his very nice place. "How strange!" he
thought.  "This is all mine!  These are my guests!  And my wife is
mine!"

"Well, you see," he answered Ingpen’s criticism with false humility.
"I’ve no choice.  I’ve got to be central."

Ingpen answered pleasantly.

"I take your word for it; but I don’t see."

The bicycle was carefully bestowed by its groping owner in a small
rustic arbour which, situated almost under the wall that divided the
Clayhanger property from the first cottage in Hulton Street, was hidden
from the house by a clump of bushes.

In the dark privacy of this shelter Tertius Ingpen said in a reflective
tone:

"I understand that you haven’t been married long, and that this is a
sort of function to inform the world officially that you’re no longer
what you were?"

"It’s something like that?" Edwin admitted with a laugh.

He liked the quiet intimacy of Ingpen’s voice, whose delicate
inflections indicated highly cultivated sensibilities.  And he thought:
"I believe I shall be friends with this chap."  And was glad, and faith
in Ingpen was planted in his heart.

"Well," Ingpen continued, "I wish you happiness. It may seem a strange
thing to say to a man in your position, but my opinion is that the
proper place for women is--behind the veil.  Only my personal opinion,
of course!  But I’m entitled to hold it, and therefore to express it."
Whatever his matter, his manner was faultless.

"Yes?" Edwin murmured awkwardly.  What on earth did Ingpen expect by way
of reply to such a proposition?  Surely Ingpen should have known that he
was putting his host in a disagreeable difficulty.  His new-born faith
in Ingpen felt the harsh wind of experience and shivered.  Nevertheless,
there was a part of Edwin that responded to Ingpen’s attitude.  "Behind
the veil."  Yes, something could be said for the proposition.

They left the arbour in silence.  They had not gone more than a few
steps when a boy’s shrill voice made itself heard over the wall of the
cottage yard.

"Oh Lord, thou ’ast said ’If two on ye sh’ll agray on earth as touching
onything that they sh’ll ask it sh’ll be done for them of my Father
which is in ’eaven. For where two or three are gathered together i’ my
name theer am I in th’ midst of ’em.  Oh Lord, George Edwin Clay’anger
wants a two-bladed penknife.  We all three on us want ye to send George
Edwin Clay’anger a two-bladed penknife."

The words fell with impressive effect on the men in the garden.

"What the--" Edwin exclaimed.

"Hsh!" Ingpen stopped him in an excited whisper. "Don’t disturb them for
anything in the world!"

Silence followed.

Edwin crept away like a scout towards a swing which he had arranged for
his friend George before he became the husband of George’s mother.  He
climbed into it and over the wall could just see three boys’ heads in
the yard illuminated by a lamp in the back-window of the cottage.
Tertius Ingpen joined him, but immediately climbed higher on to the
horizontal beam of the swing.

"Who are they?" Ingpen asked, restraining his joy in the adventure.

"The one on the right’s my stepson.  The other big one is my sister
Clara’s child, Bert.  I expect the little one’s old Clowes’, the
gravedigger’s kid.  They say he’s a regular little parson--probably to
make up for his parents.  I expect they’re out somewhere having a
jollification."

"Well," Ingpen breathed.  "I wouldn’t have missed this for a good deal."
He gave a deep, almost soundless giggle.

Edwin was startled--as much as anything by the extraordinary
deceitfulness of George.  Who could possibly have guessed from the boy’s
demeanour when his Aunt Clara mentioned Bert to him, that he had made an
outrageous rendezvous with Bert that very night? Certainly he had
blushed, but then he often blushed.  Of course, the Benbows would assert
that George had seduced the guileless Bert.  Fancy them hunting the town
for Bert at that instant!  As regards Peter Clowes, George, though not
positively forbidden to do so, had been warned against associating with
him--chiefly because of the bad influence which Peter’s accent would
have on George’s accent.  His mother had said that she could not
understand how George could wish to be friendly with a rough little boy
like Peter.  Edwin, however, inexperienced as he was, had already
comprehended that children, like Eastern women, have no natural class
bias; and he could not persuade himself to be the first to inculcate
into George ideas which could only be called snobbish.  He was a
democrat. Nevertheless he did not like George to play with Peter Clowes.

The small Peter, with uplifted face and clasped hands, repeated
urgently, passionately:

"O God!  We all three on us want ye to send George Edwin Clay’anger a
two-bladed penknife.  Now lads, kneel, and all three on us together!"

He stood between the taller and better-dressed boys unashamed, fervent,
a born religionist.  He was not even praying for himself.  He was
praying out of his profound impersonal interest in the efficacy of
prayer.

The three boys, kneeling, and so disappearing from sight behind the
wall, repeated together:

"O God!  Please send George Edwin Clayhanger a two-bladed penknife."

Then George and Bert stood up again, shuffling about.  Peter Clowes did
not reappear.

"I can’t help it," whispered Ingpen in a strange, moved voice, "I’ve got
to be God.  Here goes!  And it’s practically new, too!"

Edwin in the darkness could see him feeling in his waistcoat pocket, and
then raise his arm, and, taking careful aim, throw in the direction of
the dimly lighted yard.

"Oh!" came the cry of George, in sudden pain.

The descending penknife had hit him in the face.

There was a scramble on the pavement of the yard, and some muttered
talk.  The group went to the back window where the lamp was and examined
the heavenly penknife.  They were more frightened than delighted by the
miracle.  The unseen watchers in the swing were also rather frightened,
as though they had interfered irremediably in a solemn and delicate
crisis beyond their competence.  In a curious way they were ashamed.

"Yes, and what about me?" said the voice of fat Bert Benbow, sulkily.
"This is all very well.  But what about me?  Ye tried without me and ye
couldn’t do anything.  Now I’ve come and ye’ve done it.  What am I going
to get?  Ye’ve got to give me something instead of a half-share in that
penknife, George."

George said:

"Let’s pray for something for you now.  What d’you want?"

"I want a bicycle.  Ye know what I want."

"Oh, no, you don’t, Bert Benbow!" said George. "You’ve got to want
something safer than a bike. Suppose it comes tumbling down like the
penknife did! We shall be dam well killed."

Tertius Ingpen could not suppress a snorting giggle.

"I want a bike," Bert insisted.  "And I don’t want nothin’ else."

The two bigger boys moved vaguely away from the window, and the little
religionist followed them in silence, ready to supplicate for whatever
they should decide.

"All right," George agreed.  "We’ll pray for a bicycle.  But we’d better
all stand as close as we can to the wall, under the spouting, in case."

The ceremonial was recommenced.

"No," Ingpen murmured.  "I’m not being God this time.  It won’t run to
it."

Footsteps were heard on the lawn behind the swing. Ingpen slid down and
Edwin jumped down.  Johnnie Orgreave was approaching.

"Hsh!" Ingpen warned him.

"What are you chaps--"

"Hsh!"  Ingpen was more imperative.

All three men walked away out of earshot of the yard, towards the window
of the drawing-room--Johnnie Orgreave mystified, the other two smiling
but with spirits disturbed.  Johnnie heard the story in brief; it was
told to him in confidence, as Tertius Ingpen held firmly that
eavesdroppers, if they had any honour left, should at least hold their
tongues.



                                   II


When Tertius Ingpen was introduced to Hilda in the drawing-room, the
three men having entered by the French window, Edwin was startled and
relieved by the deportment of the orientalist who thought that the
proper place for women was behind the veil.  In his simplicity he had
assumed that the orientalist would indicate his attitude by a dignified
reserve.  Not at all! As soon as Ingpen reached Hilda’s hospitable gaze
his whole bearing altered.  He bowed, with a deferential bending that to
an untravelled native must have seemed exaggerated; his face was
transformed by a sweet smile; his voice became the voice of a courtier;
he shook hands with chivalrous solicitude for the fragile hand shaken.
Hilda was pleased by him, perceiving that this man was more experienced
in the world than any of the other worldly guests.  She liked that.
Ingpen’s new symptoms were modified after a few moments, but when he was
presented to Mrs. Fearns he reproduced them in their original intensity,
and again when he was introduced to Vera Cheswardine.

"Been out without your cap?" Hilda questioned Edwin, lifting her
eyebrows.  She said it in order to say something, for the entry of this
ceremonious personage, who held all the advantages of the native and of
the stranger, had a little overpowered the company.

"Only just to see after Mr. Ingpen’s machine.  Give me your cap, Mr.
Ingpen.  I’ll hang it up."

When he returned to the drawing-room from the hatstand Ingpen was
talking with Janet Orgreave, whom he already knew.

"Have you seen George, Edwin?" Hilda called across the drawing-room.

"Hasn’t he gone to bed?"

"That’s what I want to know.  I haven’t seen him lately."

Everyone, except Johnnie Orgreave and a Swetnam or so, was preoccupied
by the thought of children, by the thought of this incalculable and
disturbing race that with different standards and ideals lived so
mysteriously in and among their adult selves.  Nothing was said about
the strange disappearance of Bert Benbow, but each woman had it in mind,
and coupled it with Hilda’s sudden apprehension concerning George, and
imagined weird connections between the one and the other, and felt
forebodings about children nearer to her own heart.  Children dominated
the assemblage and, made restless, the assemblage collectively felt that
the moment for separation approached.  The At Home was practically over.

Hilda rang the bell, and as she did so Johnnie Orgreave winked
dangerously at Edwin, who with sternness responded.  He wondered why he
should thus deceive his wife, with whom he was so deliciously intimate.
He thought also that women were capricious in their anxieties, and yet
now and then their moods--once more by the favour of hazard--displayed a
marvellous appositeness.  Hilda had no reason whatever for worrying more
about George on this night than on any other night.  Nevertheless this
night happened to be the night on which anxiety would be justified.

"Ada," said Hilda to the entering servant.  "Have you seen Master
George?"

"No’m," Ada replied, almost defiantly.

"When did you see him last?"

"I don’t remember, m’m."

"Is he in bed?"

"I don’t know, m’m."

"Just go and see, will you?"

"Yes’m."

The company waited with gentle, concealed excitement for the returning
Ada, who announced:

"His bedroom door’s locked, m’m."

"He will lock it sometimes, although I’ve positively forbidden him to.
But what are you to do?" said Hilda, smilingly to the other mothers.

"Take the key away, obviously," Tertius Ingpen answered the question,
turning quickly and interrupting his chat with Janet Orgreave.

"That ought not to be necessary," said Fearns, as an expert father.

Ada departed, thankful to be finished with the ordeal of
cross-examination in a full drawing-room.

"Don’t you know anything about him?" Hilda addressed Johnnie Orgreave
suddenly.

"Me?  About your precious?  No.  Why should I know?"

"Because you’re getting such friends, you two."

"Oh!  Are we?" Johnnie said carelessly.  Nevertheless he was flattered
by a certain nascent admiration on the part of George, which was then
beginning to be noticeable.

A quarter of an hour later, when several guests had gone, Hilda murmured
to Edwin:

"I’m not easy about that boy.  I’ll just run upstairs."

"I shouldn’t," said Edwin.

But she did.  And the distant sound of knocking, and "George, George,"
could be heard even down in the hall.

"I can’t wake him," said Hilda, back in the drawing-room.

"What do you want to wake him for, foolish girl?" Edwin demanded.

She enjoyed being called "foolish girl," but she was not to be
tranquillised.

"Do you think he is in bed?" she questioned, before the whole remaining
company, and the dread suspicion was out!

After more journeys upstairs, and more bangings, and essays with keys,
and even attempts at lock-picking, Hilda announced that George’s room
must be besieged from its window.  A ladder was found, and interested
visitors went into the back-entry, by the kitchen, to see it reared and
hear the result.  Edwin thought that the cook in the kitchen looked as
guilty as he himself felt, though she more than once asseverated her
belief that Master George was safely in bed.  The ladder was too short.
Edwin mounted it, and tried to prise himself on to the window-sill, but
could not.

"Here, let me try!" said Ingpen, joyous.

Ingpen easily succeeded.  He glanced through the open window into
George’s bedroom, and then looked down at the upturned faces, and Ada’s
apron, whitely visible in the gloom.

"He’s here all right."

"Oh, good!" said Hilda.  "Is he asleep?"

"Yes."

"He deserves to be wakened," she laughed.

"You see what a foolish girl you’ve been," said Edwin affectionately.

"Never mind!" she retorted.  "_You_ couldn’t get on the window.  And you
were just as upset as anybody. Do you think I don’t know?  Thank you,
Mr. Ingpen."

"Is he really there?" Edwin whispered to Ingpen as soon as he could.

"Yes.  And asleep, too!"

"I wonder how the deuce he slipped in.  I’ll bet anything those servants
have been telling a lot of lies for him.  He pulls their hair down and
simply does what he likes with them."

Edwin was now greatly reassured, but he could not quite recover from the
glimpse he had had of George’s capacity for leading a double life.
Sardonically he speculated whether the heavenly penknife would be
brought to his notice by its owner, and if so by what ingenious method.



                                  III


The final sensation was caused by the arrival, in a nearly empty
drawing-room, of plump Maggie, nervous, constrained, and somewhat
breathless.

"Bert has turned up," she said.  "Clara thought I’d better come along
and tell you.  She felt sure you’d like to know."

"Well, that’s all right then," Hilda replied perfunctorily, indicating
that Clara’s conceited assumption of a universal interest in her dull
children was ridiculous.

Edwin asked:

"Did the kid say where he’d been?"

"Been running about the streets.  They don’t know what’s come over
him--because, you see, he’d actually gone to bed once.  Albert is quite
puzzled; but he says he’ll have it out of him before he’s done."

"When he does get it out of him," thought Edwin again, "there will be a
family row and George will be indicted as the corrupter of innocence."

Maggie would not stay a single moment.  Hilda attentively accompanied
her to the hall.  The former and the present mistress of the house
kissed with the conventional signs of affection.  But the fact that one
had succeeded the other seemed to divide them.  Hilda was always lying
in wait for criticism from Maggie, ready to resent it; Maggie divined
this and said never a word.  The silence piqued Hilda as much as
outspoken criticism would have annoyed her.  She could not bear it.

"How do you like my new stair-carpet?" she demanded defiantly.

"Very nice!  Very nice, I’m sure!" Maggie replied without conviction.
And added, just as she stepped outside the front-door, "You’ve made a
lot of changes."  This was the mild, good-natured girl’s sole thrust,
and it was as effective as she could have wished.

Everybody had gone except the two Orgreaves and Tertius Ingpen.

"I don’t know about you, Johnnie, but I must go," said Janet Orgreave
when Hilda came back.

"Hold on, Jan!" Johnnie protested.  "You’re forgetting those duets you
are to try with Ingpen."

"Really?"

"Duets!" cried Hilda, instantly uplifted and enthusiastic.  "Oh, do
let’s have some music!"

Ingpen by arrangement with the Orgreaves had brought some pianoforte
duets.  They were tied to his bicycle.  He was known as an amateur of
music. Edwin, bidding Ingpen not to move, ran out into the garden to get
the music from the bicycle.  Johnnie ran after him through the French
window.

"I say!" Johnnie called in a low voice.

"What’s up?" Edwin stopped for him.

"I’ve a piece of news for you.  About that land you’ve set your heart
on, down at Shawport! ... It can be bought cheap--at least the old man
says it’s cheap--whatever his opinion may be worth.  I was telling him
about your scheme for having a new printing works altogether.
Astonishing how keen he is! If I’d had a plan of the land, I believe
he’d have sat down and made sketches at once."

Johnnie (with his brother Jimmie) was in partnership with old Orgreave
as an architect.

"’Set my heart on?’" Edwin mumbled, intimidated as usual by a nearer
view of an enterprise which he had himself conceived and which had
enchanted him from afar.  "’Set my heart on?’"

"Well, had you, or hadn’t you?"

"I suppose I had," Edwin admitted.  "Look here, I’ll drop in and see you
to-morrow morning."

"Right!"

Together they detached the music from the bicycle, and, as Edwin
unrolled it and rolled it the other side out to flatten it, they
returned silently through the dark wind-stirred garden into the
drawing-room.

There were now the two Orgreaves, Tertius Ingpen, and Hilda and Edwin in
the drawing-room.

"We will now begin the evening," said Ingpen, as he glanced at the
music.

All five were conscious of the pleasant feeling of freedom, intimacy,
and mutual comprehension which animates a small company that by
self-selection has survived out of a larger one.  The lateness of the
hour aided their zest.  Even the more staid among them perceived as by a
revelation that it did not in fact matter, once in a way, if they were
tired and inefficient on the morrow, and that too much regularity of
habit was bad for the soul.  Edwin had brought in a tray from the
dining-room, and rearranged the chairs according to Hilda’s caprice, and
was providing cushions to raise the bodies of the duet-players to the
proper height. Janet began to excuse herself, asserting that if there
was one member of her family who could not play duets, she was that
member, that she had never seen this Dvorak music before, and that if
they had got her brother Tom, or her elder sister Marion, or even
Alicia,--etc., etc.

"We are quite accustomed to these formal preliminaries from
duet-players, Miss Orgreave," said Ingpen.  "I never do them
myself,--not because I can play well, but because I am hardened.  Now
shall we start?  Will you take the treble or the bass?"

Janet answered with eager modesty that she would take the bass.

"It’s all one to me," said Ingpen, putting on spectacles; "I play either
equally badly.  You’ll soon regret leaving the most important part to
me. However...!  Clayhanger, will you turn over?"

"Er--yes," said Edwin boldly.  "But you’d better give me the tip."

He knew a little about printed music, from his experiences as a boy when
his sisters used to sing two-part songs.  That is to say, he had a vague
idea "where a player was" on a page.  But the enterprise of turning over
Dvorak’s "Legends" seemed to him critically adventurous.  Dvorak was
nothing but a name to him; beyond the correct English method of
pronouncing that name, he had no knowledge whatever of the subject in
hand.

Then the performance of the "Legends" began. Despite halts, hesitations,
occasional loud insistent chanting of the time, explanations between the
players, many wrong notes by Ingpen, and a few wrong notes by Janet, and
one or two enormous misapprehensions by Edwin, the performance was a
success, in that it put a spell on its public, and permitted the loose
and tender genius of Dvorak to dominate the room.

"Play that again, will you?" said Hilda, in a low dramatic voice, at the
third "Legend."

"We will," Ingpen answered.  "And we’ll play it better."

Edwin had the exquisite sensation of partially comprehending music whose
total beauty was beyond the limitations of his power to enjoy--power,
nevertheless, which seemed to grow each moment.  Passages entirely
intelligible and lovely would break at intervals through the veils of
general sound and ravish him.  All his attention was intensely
concentrated on the page. He could hear Ingpen breathing hard.  Out of
the corner of his eye he was aware of Johnnie Orgreave on the sofa
making signs to Hilda about drinks, and pouring out something for her,
and something for himself, without the faintest noise.  And he was aware
of Ada coming to the open door and being waved away to bed by her
mistress.

"Well," he said, when the last "Legend" was played. "That’s a bit of the
right sort--no mistake."  He was obliged to be banal and colloquial.

Hilda said nothing at all.  Johnnie, who had waited for the end in order
to strike a match, showed by two words that he was an expert listener to
duets.  Tertius Ingpen was very excited and pleased.  "More tricky than
difficult, isn’t it--to read?" he said privately to his
fellow-performer, who concurred.  Janet also was excited in her fashion.
But even amid the general excitement Ingpen had to be judicious.

"Delightful stuff, of course," he said, pulling his beard.  "But he’s
not a great composer you know, all the same."

"He’ll do to be going on with," Johnnie murmured.

"Oh, yes!  Delightful!  Delightful!" Ingpen repeated warmly, removing
his spectacles.  "What a pity we can’t have musical evenings regularly!"

"But we can!" said Hilda positively.  "Let’s have them here.  Every
week!"

"A great scheme!" Edwin agreed with enthusiasm, admiring his wife’s
initiative.  He had been a little afraid that the episode of George had
upset her for the night, but he now saw that she had perfectly recovered
from it.

"Oh!" Ingpen paused.  "I doubt if I could come every week.  I could come
once a fortnight."

"Well, once a fortnight then!" said Hilda.

"I suppose Sunday wouldn’t suit you?"

Edwin challenged him almost fiercely:

"Why won’t it suit us?  It will suit us first-class."

Ingpen merely said, with quiet delicacy:

"So much the better....  We might go all through the Mozart fiddle
sonatas."

"And who’s your violinist?" asked Johnnie.

"I am, if you don’t mind."  Ingpen smiled.  "If your sister will take
the piano part."

Hilda exclaimed admiringly:

"Do you play the violin, too, Mr. Ingpen?"

"I scrape it.  Also the tenor.  But my real instrument is the clarinet."
He laughed.  "It seems odd," he went on with genuine scientific
unegotistic interest in himself.  "But d’you know I thoroughly enjoy
playing the clarinet in a bad orchestra whenever I get the chance.  When
I happen to have a free evening I often wish I could drop in at a
theatre and play rotten music in the band.  It’s better than nothing.
Some of us are born mad."

"But Mr. Ingpen," said Janet Orgreave anxiously, after this speech had
been appreciated.  "I have never played those Mozart sonatas."

"I am glad to hear it," he replied with admirable tranquillity.
"Neither have I.  I’ve often meant to. It’ll be quite a sporting event.
But of course we can have a rehearsal if you like."

The project of the musical evenings was discussed and discussed until
Janet, having vanished silently upstairs, reappeared with her hat and
cloak on.

"I can go alone if you aren’t ready, Johnnie," said she.

Johnnie yawned.

"No.  I’m coming."

"I also must go--I suppose," said Ingpen.

They all went into the hall.  Through the open door of the dining-room,
where one gas-jet burned, could be seen the rich remains of what had
been "light refreshments" in the most generous interpretation of the
term.

Ingpen stopped to regard the spectacle, fingering his beard.

"I was just wondering," he remarked, with that strange eternal curiosity
about himself, "whether I’d had enough to eat.  I’ve got to ride home."

"Well, what have you had?" Johnnie quizzed him.

"I haven’t had anything," said Ingpen, "except drink."

Hilda cried.

"Oh!  You poor sufferer!  I am ashamed!"  And led him familiarly to the
table.



                                   IV


Edwin was kept at the front-door some time by Johnnie Orgreave, who
resumed as he was departing the subject of the proposed new works, and
maintained it at such length that Janet, tired of waiting on the
pavement, said that she would walk on.  When he returned to the
dining-room, Ingpen and Hilda were sitting side by side at the littered
table, and the first words that Edwin heard were from Ingpen:

"It cost me a penknife.  But it was dirt cheap at the price.  You can’t
expect to be the Almighty for much less than a penknife."  Seeing Edwin,
he added with a nonchalant smile: "I’ve told Mrs. Clayhanger all about
the answer to prayer.  I thought she ought to know."

Edwin laughed awkwardly, saying to himself:

"Ingpen, my boy, you ought to have thought of my position first.  You’ve
been putting your finger into a rather delicate piece of mechanism.
Supposing she cuts up rough with me afterwards for hiding it from her
all this time! ... I’m living with her.  You aren’t."

"Of course," Ingpen added.  "I’ve sworn the lady to secrecy."

Hilda said:

"I knew all the time there was something wrong."

And Edwin thought:

"No, you didn’t.  And if he hadn’t happened to tell you about the thing,
you’d have been convinced that you’d been alarming yourself for
nothing."

But he only said, not certain of Hilda’s humour, and anxious to placate
her:

"There’s no doubt George ought to be punished."

"Nothing of the kind!  Nothing of the kind!" Ingpen vivaciously
protested.  "Why, bless my soul!  The kids were engaged in a religious
work.  They were busy with someone far more important than any parents."
And after a pause, reflectively: "Curious thing, the mentality of a
child!  I doubt if we understand anything about it."

Hilda smiled, but said naught.

"May I enquire what there is in that bottle?" Ingpen asked.

"Benedictine."

"Have some, Mr. Ingpen."

"I will if you will, Mrs. Clayhanger."

Edwin raised his eyebrows at his wife.

"You needn’t look at me!" said Hilda.  "I’m going to have some."

Ingpen smacked his lips over the liqueur.

"It’s a very bad thing late at night, of course.  But I believe in
giving your stomach something to think about.  I never allow my
digestive apparatus to boss me."

"Quite right, Mr. Ingpen."

They touched glasses, without a word, almost instinctively.

"Well," thought Edwin, "for a chap who thinks women ought to be behind
the veil...!"

"Be a man, Clayhanger, and have some."

Edwin shook his head.

With a scarcely perceptible movement of her glass, Hilda greeted her
husband, peeping out at him as it were for a fraction of a second in a
glint of affection. He was quite happy.  They were all seated close
together, Edwin opposite the other two at the large table. The single
gas-jet, by the very inadequacy with which it lighted the scene of
disorder, produced an effect of informal homeliness and fellowship that
warmed the heart.  Each of the three realised with pleasure that a new
and promising friendship was in the making.  They talked at length about
the Musical Evenings, and Edwin said that he should buy some music, and
Hilda asked him to obtain a history of music that Ingpen described with
some enthusiasm, and the date of the first evening was settled,--Sunday
week.  And after uncounted minutes Ingpen remarked that he presumed he
had better go.

"I have to cycle home," he announced once more.

"To-night?" Hilda exclaimed.

"No.  This morning."

"All the way to Axe?"

"Oh, no!  I’m three miles this side of Axe.  It’s only six and a half
miles."

"But all those hills!"

"Pooh!  Excellent for the muscles of the calf."

"Do you live alone, Mr. Ingpen?"

"I have a sort of housekeeper."

"In a cottage?"

"In a cottage."

"But what do you _do_--all alone?"

"I cultivate myself."

And Hilda, in a changed tone, said:

"How wise you are!"

"Rather inconvenient, being out there, isn’t it?" Edwin suggested.

"It may be inconvenient sometimes for my job.  But I can’t help that.  I
give the State what I consider fair value for the money it pays me, and
not a grain more. I’ve got myself to think about.  There are some things
I won’t do, and one of them is to live all the time in a vile hole like
the Five Towns.  I won’t do it.  I’d sooner be a blooming peasant on the
land."

As he was a native he had the right to criticise the district without
protest from other natives.

"You’re quite right as to the vile hole," said Hilda with conviction.

"I don’t know----" Edwin muttered.  "I think old Bosley isn’t so bad."

"Yes.  But you’re an old stick-in-the-mud, dearest," said Hilda.  "Mr.
Ingpen has lived away from the district, and so have I.  You haven’t.
You’re no judge. We know, don’t we, Mr. Ingpen?"

When, Ingpen having at last accumulated sufficient resolution to move
and get his cap, they went through the drawing-room to the garden, they
found that rain was falling.

"Never mind!" said Ingpen, lifting his head sardonically in a mute
indictment of the heavens.  "I have my mack."

Edwin searched out the bicycle and brought it to the window, and Hilda
stuck a hat on his head. Leisurely Ingpen clipped his trousers at the
ankle, and unstrapped a mackintosh cape from the machine, and folded the
strap.  Leisurely he put on the cape, and gazed at the impenetrable
heavens again.

"I can make you up a bed, Mr. Ingpen."

"No, thanks.  Oh, no, thanks!  The fact is, I rather like rain."

Leisurely he took a box of fusees from his pocket, and lighted his lamp,
examining it as though it contained some hidden and perilous defect.
Then he pressed the tyres.

"The back tyre’ll do with a little more air," he said thoughtfully.  "I
don’t know if my pump will work."

It did work, but slowly.  After which, gloves had to be assumed.

"I suppose I can get out this way.  Oh!  My music!  Never mind, I’ll
leave it."

Then with a sudden access of ceremoniousness he bade adieu to Hilda; no
detail of punctilio was omitted from the formality.

"Good-bye.  Many thanks."

"Good-bye.  Thank _you_!"

Edwin preceded the bicyclist and the bicycle round the side of the house
to the front-gate at the corner of Hulton Street and Trafalgar Road.

In the solemn and chill nocturnal solitude of rain-swept Hulton Street,
Ingpen straddled the bicycle, with his left foot on one raised pedal and
the other on the pavement; and then held out a gloved hand to Edwin.

"Good-bye, old chap.  See you soon."

Much good-will and appreciation and hope was implicit in that rather
casual handshake.

He sheered off strongly down the dark slope of Hulton Street in the
rain, using his ankles with skill in the pedal-stroke.  The man’s calves
seemed to be enormously developed.  The cape ballooned out behind his
swiftness, and in a moment he had swerved round the flickering mournful
gas-lamp at the bottom of the mean new street and was gone.



                               CHAPTER VI

                            HUSBAND AND WIFE


                                   I


"I’m upstairs," Hilda called in a powerful whisper from the head of the
stairs as soon as Edwin had closed and bolted the front-door.

He responded humorously.  He felt very happy, lusty, and wideawake.  The
evening had had its contretemps, its varying curve of success, but as a
whole it was a triumph.  And, above all, it was over,--a thing that had
had to be accomplished and that had been accomplished, with dignity and
effectiveness.  He walked in ease from room to lighted empty room, and
the splendid waste of gas pleased him, arousing something royal that is
at the bottom of generous natures. In the breakfast-room especially the
gas had been flaring to no purpose for hours.  "_Her_ room, her very own
room!"  He wondered indulgently when, if ever, she would really make it
her own room by impressing her individuality upon it.  He knew she was
always meaning to do something drastic to the room, but so far she had
got no further than his portrait.  Child! Infant!  Wayward girl! ...
Still the fact of the portrait on the mantelpiece touched him.

He dwelt tenderly on the invisible image of the woman upstairs.  It was
marvellous how she was not the Hilda he had married.  The new Hilda had
so overlaid and hidden the old, that he had positively to make an effort
to recall what the old one was, with her sternness and her anxious air
of responsibility.  But at the same time she was the old Hilda too.  He
desired to be splendidly generous, to environ her with all luxuries, to
lift her clear above other women; he desired the means to be senselessly
extravagant for her.  To clasp on her arm a bracelet whose cost would
keep a workingman’s family for three years would have delighted him.
And though he was interested in social schemes, and had a social
conscience, he would sooner have bought that bracelet, and so purchased
the momentary thrill of putting it on her capricious arm, than have
helped to ameliorate the lot of thousands of victimised human beings.
He had Hilda in his bones and he knew it, and he knew that it was a
grand and a painful thing.

Nevertheless he was not without a considerable self-satisfaction, for he
had done very well by Hilda.  He had found her at the mercy of the
world, and now she was safe and sheltered and beloved, and made mistress
of a house and home that would stand comparison with most houses and
homes.  He was proud of his house; he always watched over it; he was
always improving it; and he would improve it more and more; and it
should never be quite finished.

The disorder in it, now, irked him.  He walked to and fro, and restored
every piece of furniture to its proper place, heaped the contents of the
ash-trays into one large ash-tray, covered some of the food, and locked
up the alcohol.  He did this leisurely, while thinking of the woman
upstairs, and while eating two chocolates,--not more, because he had
notions about his stomach.  Then he shut and bolted the drawing-room
window, and opened the door leading to the cellar steps and sniffed, so
as to be quite certain that the radiator furnace was not setting the
house on fire. And then he extinguished the lights, and the hall-light
last of all, and his sole illumination was the gas on the first-floor
landing inviting him upstairs.

Standing on the dark stairs, on his way to bed, eager and yet reluctant
to mount, he realised the entity of the house.  He thought of the
astounding and mysterious George, and of those uncomprehended beings,
Ada and the cook in their attic, sleeping by the side of the portrait of
a fireman in uniform.  He felt sure that one or both of them had been
privy to George’s unlawful adventures, and he heartily liked them for
shielding the boy.  And he thought of his wife, moving about in the
bedroom upon which she _had_ impressed her individuality.  He went
upstairs....  Yes, he should proceed with the enterprise of the new
works.  He had the courage for it now.  He was rich, according to
Bursley ideas,--he would be far richer....  He gave a faint laugh at the
memory of George’s objection to Bert’s choice of a bicycle as a gift
from heaven.



                                   II


Hilda was brushing her hair.  The bedroom seemed to be full of her and
the disorder of her multitudinous things.  Whenever he asked why a
particular item of her goods was in a particular spot--the spot
appearing to him to have been bizarrely chosen--she always proved to her
own satisfaction, by a quite improvised argument, that that particular
spot was the sole possible spot for that particular item.  The bedroom
was no longer theirs--it was hers.  He picnicked in it. He didn’t mind.
In fact he rather liked the picnic.  It pleased him to exercise his
talent for order and organisation, so as to maintain his own comfort in
the small spaces which she left to him.  To-night the room was in a
divine confusion.  He accepted it with pleasure.  The beds had not been
turned down, because it was improper to turn them down when they were to
be used for the deposit of strangers’ finery. On Edwin’s bed now lay the
dress which Hilda had taken off.  It was a most agreeable object on the
bed, and seemed even richer and more complex there than on Hilda.  He
removed it carefully to a chair.  An antique diaphanous shawl remained,
which was unfamiliar to him.

"What’s this shawl?" he asked.  "I’ve never seen this shawl before.
What is it?"

Hilda was busy, her bent head buried in hair.

"Oh, Edwin, what an old fusser you are!" she mumbled. "What shawl?"

He held it up.

"Someone must have left it."

He proceeded with the turning down of his bed.  Then he sat on a chair
to regard Hilda.

When she had done her hair she padded across the room and examined the
shawl.

"What a precious thing!" she exclaimed.  "It’s Mrs. Fearns’s.  She must
have taken it off to put her jacket on, and then forgotten it.  But I’d
no idea how good it was.  It’s genuine old.  I wonder how it would suit
me?"

She put it round her shoulders, and then stood smiling, posing, bold,
provocative, for his verdict.  The whiteness of her deshabille showed
through the delicate pattern and tints of the shawl, with a strange
effect. For him she was more than a woman; she was the incarnation of a
sex.  It was marvellous how all she did, all her ideas and her gestures,
were so intensely feminine, so sure to perturb or enchant him.
Nervously he began to wind his watch.  He wanted to spring up and kiss
her because she was herself.  But he could not. So he said:

"Come here, chit.  Let me look at that shawl."

She obeyed.  She knelt acquiescent.  He put his watch back into his
pocket, and fingered the shawl.

Then she said:

"I suppose one’ll be allowed to grumble at Georgie for locking his
bedroom door."  And she said it with a touch of mockery in her clear,
precise voice, as though twitting him, and Ingpen too, about their
absurd theoretical sense of honour towards children.  And there was a
touch of fine bitterness in her voice also,--a reminiscence of the old
Hilda.  Incalculable creature! Who could have guessed that she would
make such a remark at such a moment?  In his mind he dashed George to
pieces.  But as a wise male he ignored all her implications and answered
casually, mildly, with an affirmative.

She went on:

"What were you talking such a long time to Johnnie Orgreave about?"

"Talking a long time to Johnnie Orgreave?  Oh! D’you mean at the
front-door?  Why, it wasn’t half a minute!  He happened to mention a
piece of land down at Shawport that I had a sort of a notion of buying."

"Buying?  What for?"  Her tone hardened.

"Well, supposing I had to build a new works?"

"You never told me anything about it."

"I’ve only just begun to think of it myself.  You see, if I’m to go in
for lithography as it ought to be gone in for, I can’t possibly stay at
the shop.  I must have more room, and a lot more.  And it would be
cheaper to build than to rent."

She stood up.

"Why go in more for lithography?"

"You can’t stand still in business.  Must either go forward or go back."

"It seems to me it’s very risky.  I wondered what you were hiding from
me."

"My dear girl, I was not hiding anything from you," he protested.

"Whose land is it?"

"It belongs to Tobias Hall’s estate."

"Yes, and I’ve no doubt the Halls would be very glad to get rid of it.
Who told you about it?"

"Johnnie."

"Of course it would be a fine thing for him too."

"But I’d asked him if he knew of any land going cheap."

She shrugged her shoulders, and shrugged away the disinterestedness of
all Orgreaves.

"Anyone could get the better of you," she said.

He resented this estimate of himself as a good-natured simpleton.  He
assuredly did not want to quarrel, but he was obliged to say:

"Oh!  Could they?"

An acerbity scarcely intentional somehow entered into his tone.  As soon
as he heard it he recognised the tone as the forerunner of altercations.

"Of course!" she insisted, superiorly, and then went on: "We’re all
right as we are.  We spend too much money, but I daresay we’re all
right.  If you go in for a lot of new things you may lose all we’ve got,
and then where shall we be?"

In his heart he said to her:

"What’s it got to do with you?  You manage your home, and I’ll manage my
business!  You know nothing at all about business.  You’re the very
antithesis of business.  Whatever business you’ve ever had to do with
you’ve ruined.  You’ve no right to judge and no grounds for judgment.
It’s odious of you to asperse any of the Orgreaves.  They were always
your best friends.  I should never have met you if it hadn’t been for
them.  And where would you be now without me? Trying to run some
wretched boarding-house and probably starving.  Why do you assume that
I’m a d----d fool?  You always do.  Let me tell you that I’m one of the
most common-sense men in this town, and everybody knows it except you.
Anyhow I was clever enough to get _you_ out of a mess....  You knew I
was hiding something from you, did you?  I wish you wouldn’t talk such
infernal rot.  And moreover I won’t have you interfering in my business.
Other wives don’t, and you shan’t.  So let that be clearly understood."
In his heart he was very ill-used and very savage.

But he only said:

"Well, we shall see."

She retorted:

"Naturally if you’ve made up your mind, there’s no more to be said."

He broke out viciously:

"I’ve not made up my mind.  Don’t I tell you I’ve only just begun to
think about it?"

He was angry.  And now that he actually was angry, he took an almost
sensual pleasure in being angry.  He had been angry before, though on a
smaller scale, with less provocation, and he had sworn that he would
never be angry again.  But now that he was angry again, he gloomily and
fiercely revelled in it.

Hilda silently folded up the shawl, and, putting it into a drawer of the
wardrobe, shut the drawer with an irritatingly gentle click....  Click!
He could have killed her for that click....  She seized a dressing-gown.

"I must just go and look at George," she murmured, with cool, clear
calmness,--the virtuous, anxious mother; not a trace of coquetry
anywhere in her.

"What bosh!" he thought.  "She knows perfectly well George’s door is
bolted."

Marriage was a startling affair.  Who could have foretold this finish to
the evening?  Nothing had occurred ... nothing ... and yet everything.
His plans were all awry.  He could see naught but trouble.

She was away some time.  When she returned, he was in bed, with his face
averted.  He heard her moving about.

"Will she, or won’t she, come and kiss me?" he thought.

She came and kissed him, but it was a meaningless kiss.

"Good-night," she said, aloofly.

"’Night."

She slept.  But he could not sleep.  He kept thinking the same thought:
"She’s no right whatever.... I must say I never bargained for this...."
etc.



                              CHAPTER VII

                               THE TRUCE


                                   I


Nearly a week passed.  Hilda, in the leisure of a woman of fashion after
dinner, was at the piano in the drawing-room.  She had not urgent
stockings to mend, nor jam to make, nor careless wenches to overlook,
nor food to buy, nor accounts to keep, nor a new dress to scheme out of
an old one, nor to perform her duty to her neighbour.  She had nothing
to do.  Like Edwin, she could not play the piano, but she had picked up
a note here and a note there in the course of her life, and with much
labour and many slow hesitations she could puzzle out a chord or a
melody from the printed page.  She was now exasperatingly spelling with
her finger a fragment of melody from one of Dvorak’s "Legends,"--a
fragment that had inhabited her mind since she first heard it, and that
seemed to gather up and state all the sweet heart-breaking intolerable
melancholy implicit in the romantic existence of that city on the map,
Prague.  On the previous day she had been a quarter of an hour
identifying the unforgetable, indismissible fragment amid the multitude
of notes.  Now she had recognisably pieced its phrases together, and as
her stiff finger stumbled through it, her ears heard it, once more; and
she could not repeat it often enough. What she heard was not what she
was playing but something finer,--her souvenir of what Tertius Ingpen
had played; and something finer than that, something finer than the
greatest artist could possibly play--magic!

It was in the nature of a miracle to her that she had been able to
reproduce the souvenir in physical sound. She was proud of herself as a
miracle-worker, and somewhat surprised.  And at the same time she was
abject because she "could not play the piano."  She thought that she
would be ready to sacrifice many happinesses in order to be able to play
as well as even George played, that she would exchange all her own gifts
multiplied by a hundred in order to be able to play as Janet Orgreave
played, and that to be a world-renowned pianist dominating immense
audiences in European capitals must mean the summit of rapture and
glory.  (She had never listened to a world-renowned pianist.)
Meanwhile, without the ennui and slavery of practice, she was enchanting
herself; and she savoured her idleness, and thought of her young pretty
servants at work, and her boy loose and at large, and her husband
keeping her, and of the intensity of beautiful sorrow palpitating behind
the mediæval façades of Prague. Had Ingpen overheard her, he might have
demanded: "Who is making that infernal noise on the piano?"

Edwin came into the room, holding a thick green book.  He ought long ago
to have been back at the works (or "shop," as it was still called,
because it had once been principally a shop), keeping her.

"Hello!" she murmured, without glancing away from the piano.  "I thought
you were gone."

They had not quarrelled; but they had not made peace; and the open
question of lithography and the new works still separated them.
Sometimes they had approached each other, pretending amiably or even
affectionately that there was no open question.  But the reality of the
question could not be destroyed by any pretence of ignoring it.

While gazing at the piano, Hilda could also see Edwin.  She thought she
knew him, but she was always making discoveries in this branch of
knowledge.  Now and then she was so bewildered by discoveries that she
came to wonder why she had married him, and why people do marry--really!
The fact was that she had married him for the look in his eyes.  It was
a sad look, and beyond that it could not be described.  Also, a little,
she had married him for his bright untidy hair, and for that short
oblique shake of the head which with him meant a greeting or an
affirmative.  She had not married him for his sentiments nor for his
goodness of heart.  Some points in him she did not like.  He had a
tendency to colds, and she hated him whenever he had a cold.  She often
detested his terrible tidiness, though it was a convenient failing.
More and more she herself wilfully enjoyed being untidy, as her mother
had been untidy....  And to think that her mother’s untidiness used to
annoy her!  On the other hand she found pleasure in humouring Edwin’s
crotchettiness in regard to the details of a meal.  She did not like his
way of walking, which was ungainly, nor his way of standing, which was
infirm.  She preferred him to be seated.  She could not but regret his
irresolution, and his love of ease.  However, the look in his eyes was
paramount, because she was in love with him.  She knew that he was more
deeply and helplessly in love with her than she with him, but even she
was perhaps tightlier bound than in her pride she thought.

Her love had the maladies of a woman’s love when it is great; these may
possibly be also the maladies of a man’s love.  It could be bitter.
Certainly it could never rest from criticism, spoken or unspoken.  In
the presence of others she would criticise him to herself, if not aloud,
nearly all the time; the ordeal was continuous.  When she got him alone
she would often endow him at a stroke with perfection, and her
tenderness would pour over him.  She trusted him profoundly; and yet she
had constant misgivings, which weakened or temporarily destroyed her
confidence.  She would treat a statement from him with almost hostile
caution, and accept blindly the very same statement from a stranger!
Her habit was to assume that in any encounter between him and a stranger
he would be worsted.  She was afraid for him.  She felt that she could
protect him better than he could protect himself,--against any danger
whatever.  This instinct to protect him was also the instinct of
self-protection; for peril to him meant peril to her.  And she had had
enough of peril.  After years of disastrous peril she was safe and
George was safe.  And if she was passionately in love with Edwin, she
was also passionately in love with safety.  She had breathed a long sigh
of relief, and from a desperate self-defender had become a woman.  She
lay back, as it were, luxuriously on a lounge, after exhausting and
horrible exertions; she had scarcely ceased to pant.  At the least sign
of recurring danger all her nerves were on the _qui vive_.  Hence her
inimical attitude towards the project of the new works and the extension
of lithography in Bursley.  The simpleton (a moment earlier the perfect
man) might ruin himself--and her!  In her view he was the last person to
undertake such an enterprise.

Since her marriage, Clara, Maggie, and Auntie Hamps had been engaged in
the pleasant endless task of telling her all about everything that
related to the family, and she had been permitted to understand that
Edwin, though utterly admirable, was not of a creative disposition, and
that he had done nothing but conserve what his father had left.  Without
his father Edwin "would have been in a very different position."  She
believed this.  Every day, indeed, Edwin, by the texture of his hourly
life, proved the truth of it....  All the persons standing to make a
profit out of the new project would get the better of his fine ingenuous
temperament--naturally!  She knew the world.  Did Edwin suppose that she
did not know what the world was? ... And then the interminable worry of
the new enterprise--misgivings, uncertainties, extra work, secret
preoccupations!  What room for love, what hope of tranquillity in all
that?  He might argue----  But she did not want to argue; she would not
argue.  She was dead against the entire project.  He had not said to her
that it was no affair of hers, but she knew that such was his thought,
and she resented the attitude. No affair of hers?  When it threatened
her felicity? No!  She would not have it.  She was happy and secure. And
while lying luxuriously back in her lounge she would maintain all the
defences of her happiness and her security.



                                   II


Holding the green book in front of her, Edwin said quietly:

"Read this!"

"Which?"

He pointed with his finger.

She read:


"_I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and
self-contained._

_I stand and look at them long and long._

_They do not sweat and whine about their condition._

_They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins._

_They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God._

_Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning
things._

_Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of
years ago._

_Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth._"


Edwin had lately been exciting himself, not for the first time, over
Walt Whitman.

"Fine, isn’t it?" he said, sure that she would share his thrill.

"Magnificent!" she agreed with quiet enthusiasm. "I must read more of
that."  She gazed over the top of the book through the open
blue-curtained window into the garden.

He withdrew the book and closed it.

"You haven’t got that tune exactly right, you know," he said, jerking
his head in the direction of the music.

"Oh!"  She was startled.  What did he know about it?  He could not play
the piano.

"Where are you?" he asked.  "Show me.  Where’s the confounded place on
the piano?  Well!  At the end you play it like this."  He imitated her.
"Whereas it ought to be like this."  He played the last four notes
differently.

"So it ought!"  She murmured with submission, after having frowned.

"That bit of a tune’s been running in my head, too," he said.

The strange beauty of Whitman and the strange beauty of Dvorak seemed to
unite, and both Edwin and Hilda were uplifted, not merely by these
mingled beauties, but by their realisation of the wondrous fact that
they both took intense pleasure in the same varied forms of beauty.
Happiness rose about them like a sweet smell in the spaces of the
comfortable impeccable drawing-room.  And for a moment they leaned
towards each other in bliss--across the open question.... Was it still
open? ... Ah!  Edwin might be ingenuous, a simpleton, but Hilda admitted
the astounding, mystifying adroitness of his demeanour.  Had he
abandoned the lithographic project, or was he privately nursing it?  In
his friendliness towards herself was there a reserve, or was there not?
She knew ... she did not know ... she knew....  Yes, there was a
reserve, but it was so infinitesimal that she could not define
it,--could not decide whether it was due to obstinacy of purpose, or
merely to a sense of injury, whether it was resentful or condescending.
Exciting times!  And she perceived that her new life was gradually
getting fuller of such excitements.

"Well," said he.  "It’s nearly three.  Quarter-day’s coming along.  I’d
better be off down and earn a bit towards Maggie’s rent."

Before the June quarter-day, he had been jocular in the same way about
Maggie’s rent.  In the division of old Darius Clayhanger’s estate Maggie
had taken over the Clayhanger house, and Edwin paid rent to her
therefor.

"I wish you wouldn’t talk like that," said Hilda, pouting amiably.

"Why not?"

"Well, I wish you wouldn’t."

"Anyhow, the rent has to be paid, I suppose."

"And I wish it hadn’t.  I wish we didn’t live in Maggie’s house."

"Why?"

"I don’t like the idea of it."

"You’re sentimental."

"You can call it what you like.  I don’t like the idea of us living in
Maggie’s house.  I never feel as if I was at home.  No, I don’t feel as
if I was at home."

"What a kid you are!"

"You won’t change me," she persisted stoutly.

He knew that she was not sympathetic towards the good Maggie.  And he
knew the reasons for her attitude, though they had never been mentioned.
One was mere vague jealousy of Maggie as her predecessor in the house.
The other was that Maggie was always very tepid towards George.  George
had annoyed her on his visits previous to his mother’s marriage, and
moreover Maggie had dimly resented Edwin’s interest in the son of a
mysterious woman.  If she had encountered George after the proclamation
of Edwin’s engagement she would have accepted the child with her
customary cheerful blandness.  But she had encountered him too soon, and
her puzzled gaze had said to George: "Why is my brother so taken up with
you?  There must be an explanation, and your strange mother is the
explanation."  Edwin did not deny Maggie’s attitude to George, but he
defended Maggie as a human being. Though dull, "she was absolutely the
right sort," and the very slave of duty and loyalty.  He would have
liked to make Hilda see all Maggie’s excellences.

"Do you know what I’ve been thinking?" Hilda went on.  "Suppose you were
to buy the house from Maggie?  Then it would be ours."

He answered with a smile:

"What price ’the mania for owning things’? ... Would you like me to?"
There was promise in his roguish voice.

"Oh!  I should.  I’ve often thought of it," she said eagerly.  And at
the same time all her gestures and glances seemed to be saying: "Humour
me!  I appeal to you as a girl pouting and capricious.  But humour me.
You know it gives you pleasure to humour me. You know you like me not to
be too reasonable.  We both know it.  I want you to do this."

It was not the fact that she had often thought of the plan.  But in her
eagerness she imagined it to be the fact.  She had never seriously
thought of the plan until that moment, and it appeared doubly favourable
to her now, because the execution of it, by absorbing capital, ought to
divert Edwin from his lithographic project, and perhaps render the
lithographic project impossible for years.

She added, aloud:

"Then you wouldn’t have any rent to pay."

"How true!" said Edwin, rallying her.  "But it would stand me in a loss,
because I should have to pay too much for the place."

"Why?" she cried, in arms.  "Why should Maggie ask too much just because
you want it?  And think of all the money you’ve spent on it!"

"The money spent on it only increases its value to Maggie.  You don’t
seem to understand landlordism, my child.  But that’s not the point at
all.  Maggie won’t ask any price.  Only I couldn’t decently pay her less
than the value she took the house over at when we divided up.  To wit,
£1,800.  It ain’t worth that.  I only pay £60 rent."

"If she took it over at too high a value that’s her look-out," said the
harsh and unjust Hilda.

"Not at all.  She was a fool.  Albert and Clara persuaded her.  It was a
jolly good thing for them.  I couldn’t very well interfere."

"It seems a great shame you should have to pay for what Albert and Clara
did."

"I needn’t unless I want to.  Only, if I buy the house, £1,800 will have
to be the price."

"Well," said Hilda.  "I wish you’d buy it."

"Would she feel more at home if he did?" he seductively chaffed her.

"Yes, she would."  Hilda straightened her shoulders, and smiled with
bravado.

"And suppose Mag won’t sell?"

"Will you allow me to mention it to her?"  Hilda’s submissive tone
implied that Edwin was a tyrant who ruled with a nod.

"I don’t mind," he said negligently.

"Well, one of these days I just will."

Edwin departed, leaving the book behind.  Hilda was flushed.  She
thought: "It is marvellous.  I can do what I like with him.  When I use
a particular tone, and look at him in a particular way, I can do what I
like with him."

She was ecstatically conscious of an incomprehensible power.  What a
rôle, that of the capricious, pouting queen, reclining luxuriously on
her lounge, and subduing a tyrant to a slave!  It surpassed that of the
world-renowned pianist!...



                                  III


But soon she became more serious.  She had a delicious glow of
seriousness.  She overflowed with gratitude to Edwin.  His good-nature
was exquisite.  He was not perfect.  She could see all his faults just
as plainly as when she was angry with him.  But he was perfect in
lovableness.  She adored every aspect of him, every manifestation of his
character.  She felt her responsibility to him and to George.  It was
hers to bring grace into their lives.  Without her, how miserable, how
uncared for, those two would be!  They would be like lost children.
Nobody could do for them what she did.  Money could not buy what she
gave naturally, and mere invention could not devise it.  She looked up
to Edwin, but at the same time she was mysteriously above both him and
George.  She had a strange soft wisdom for them.  It was agreeable, and
it was proper, and it was even prudent, to be capricious on occasion and
to win by pouting and wiles and seductions; but beneath all that lay the
tremendous sternness of the wife’s duty, everlasting and intricate, a
heavy obligation that demanded all her noblest powers for its
fulfilment.  She rose heroically to the thought of duty, conceiving it
as she had never conceived it before.  She desired intensely to be the
most wonderful wife in the whole history of marriage.  And she believed
strongly in her capabilities.

She went upstairs to put on another and a finer dress; for since the
disastrous sequel to the At Home she had somewhat wearied in the pursuit
of elegance. She had thought: "What is the use of me putting myself to
such a lot of trouble for a husband who is insensible enough to risk my
welfare unnecessarily?"  She was now ashamed of this backsliding.  Ada
was in the bedroom finicking with something on the dressing-table. Ada
sprang to help as soon as she knew that her mistress had to go out.  And
she openly admired the new afternoon dress and seemed as pleased as
though she was to wear it herself.  And Ada buttoned her boots and found
her gloves and her parasol, and remembered her purse and her bag and her
handkerchief.

"I don’t quite know what time I shall be back, Ada."

"No’m," said Ada eagerly, as though saying: "Of course you don’t, m’m.
You have many engagements. But no matter when you come back we shall be
delighted to see you because the house is nothing without you."

"Of course I shall be back for tea."

"Oh, yes’m!" Ada agreed, as though saying: "Need you tell me that, m’m?
I know you would never leave the master to have his tea alone."

Hilda walked regally down the stairs and glanced round about her at the
house, which belonged to Maggie and which Edwin had practically promised
to buy. Yes, it was a fine house, a truly splendid abode.  And it seemed
all the finer because it was Maggie’s.  Hilda had this regrettable human
trait of overvaluing what was not hers and depreciating what was.  It
accounted in part, possibly, for her often very critical attitude
towards Edwin.  She passed out of the front-door in triumph, her head
full of wise schemes and plots.  But even then she was not sure whether
she had destroyed--or could ever destroy, by no matter what arts!--the
huge dangerous lithographic project.

As soon as she was gone, Ada ran yelling to the kitchen:

"Hooray!  She’s safe."

And both servants burst like infants into the garden, to disport
themselves upon the swing.



                              CHAPTER VIII

                           THE FAMILY AT HOME


                                   I


When Hilda knocked at the door of Auntie Hamps’s house, in King Street,
a marvellously dirty and untidy servant answered the summons, and a
smell of greengage jam in the making surged out through the doorway into
the street.  The servant wore an apron of rough sacking.

"Is Miss Clayhanger in?" coldly asked Hilda, offended by the sight and
the smell.

The servant looked suspicious and mysterious.

"No, mum.  Her’s gone out."

"Mrs. Hamps, then?"

"Missis is up yon," said the servant, jerking her tousled head back
towards the stairs.

"Will you tell her I’m here?"

The servant left the visitor on the doorstep, and with an elephantine
movement of the knees ran upstairs.

Hilda walked into the passage towards the kitchen. On the kitchen fire
was the brilliant copper pan sacred to "preserving."  Rows of
earthenware and glass jars stood irregularly on the table.

"Her’ll be down," said the brusque servant, returning, and glared
open-mouthed.

"Shall I wait in the sitting-room?"

The house, about seventy years old, was respectably situated in the
better part of King Street, at the bottom of the slope near St. Luke’s
Church.  It had once been occupied by a dentist of a certain grandeur,
and possessed a garden, of which, however, Auntie Hamps had made a
wilderness.  The old lady was magnificent, but her magnificence was
limited to herself.  She could be sublimely generous, gorgeously
hospitable, but only upon special occasions.  Her teas, at which a fresh
and costly pineapple and wonderful confectionery and pickled salmon and
silver plate never lacked, were renowned, but the general level of her
existence was very mean.  Her servants, of whom she had many, though
never more than one at a time, were not only obliged to be Wesleyan
Methodists and to attend the Sunday night service, and in the week to go
to class-meeting for the purpose of confessing sins and proving the
power of Christ,--they were obliged also to eat dripping instead of
butter.  The mistress sometimes ate dripping, if butter ran short or
went up in price.  She considered herself a tremendous housewife.  She
was a martyr to her housewifely ideals.  Her private career was chiefly
an endless struggle to keep the house clean--to get forward with the
work.  The house was always going to be clean and never was, despite
eternal soap, furniture-polish, scrubbing, rubbing.  Auntie Hamps never
changed her frowsy house-dress for rich visiting attire without the sad
thought that she was "leaving something undone."  The servant never went
to bed without hearing the discontented phrase: "Well, we must do it
to-morrow."  Spring-cleaning in that house lasted for six weeks.  On
days of hospitality the effort to get the servant "dressed" for tea-time
was simply desperate, and not always successful.

Auntie Hamps had no sense of comfort and no sense of beauty.  She was
incapable of leaning back in a chair, and she regarded linoleum as one
of the most satisfactory inventions of the modern age.  She "saved" her
carpets by means of patches of linoleum, often stringy at the edges, and
in some rooms there was more linoleum than anything else.  In the way of
renewals she bought nothing but linoleum,--unless some chapel bazaar
forced her to purchase a satin cushion or a hand-painted grate-screen.
All her furniture was old, decrepit and ugly; it belonged to the worst
Victorian period, when every trace of the eighteenth century had
disappeared.  The abode was always oppressive.  It was oppressive even
amid hospitality, for then the mere profusion on the tables accused the
rest of the interior, creating a feeling of discomfort; and moreover
Mrs. Hamps could not be hospitable naturally.  She could be nothing and
do nothing naturally.  She could no more take off her hypocrisy than she
could take off her skin.  Her hospitality was altogether too ruthless.
And to satisfy that ruthlessness, the guests had always to eat too much.
She was so determined to demonstrate her hospitality to herself, that
she would never leave a guest alone until he had reached the bursting
point.

Hilda sat grimly in the threadbare sitting-room amid morocco-bound
photograph albums, oleographs, and beady knickknacks, and sniffed the
strong odour of jam; and in the violence of her revolt against that
wide-spread messy idolatrous eternal domesticity of which Auntie Hamps
was a classic example, she protested that she would sooner buy the worst
jam than make the best, and that she would never look under a table for
dust, and that naught should induce her to do any housework after
midday, and that she would abolish spring-cleaning utterly.

The vast mediocre respectability of the district weighed on her heart.
She had been a mistress-drudge in Brighton during a long portion of her
adult life; she knew the very depths of domesticity; but at Brighton the
eye could find large, rich, luxurious, and sometimes beautiful things
for its distraction; and there was the sea.  In the Five Towns there was
nothing. You might walk from one end of the Five Towns to the other, and
not see one object that gave a thrill--unless it was a pair of lovers.
And when you went inside the houses you were no better off,--you were
even worse off, because you came at once into contact with an ignoble
race of slatternly imprisoned serfs driven by narrow-minded women who
themselves were serfs with the mentality of serfs and the prodigious
conceit of virtue....  Talk to Auntie Hamps at home of lawn-tennis or a
musical evening, and she would set you down as flighty, and shift the
conversation on to soaps or chapels.  And there were hundreds of houses
in the Five Towns into which no ideas save the ideas of Auntie Hamps had
ever penetrated, and tens and hundreds of thousands of such houses all
over the industrial districts of Staffordshire, Cheshire, Lancashire,
and Yorkshire,--houses where to keep bits of wood clean and to fulfil
the ceremonies of pietism, and to help the poor to help themselves, was
the highest good, the sole good.  Hilda in her mind saw every house, and
shuddered.  She turned for relief to the thought of her own house, and
in a constructive spirit of rebellion she shaped instantaneously a
conscious policy for it....  Yes, she took oath that her house should at
any rate be intelligent and agreeable before it was clean.  She pictured
Auntie Hamps gazing at a layer of dust in the Clayhanger hall, and heard
herself saying: "Oh, yes, Auntie, it’s dust right enough. I keep it
there on purpose, to remind me of something I want to remember."  She
looked round Auntie Hamps’s sitting-room and revelled grimly in the
monstrous catalogue of its mean ugliness.

And then Auntie Hamps came in, splendidly and yet soberly attired in
black to face the world, with her upright, vigorous figure, her
sparkling eye, and her admirable complexion; self-content, smiling
hospitably; quite unconscious that she was dead, and that her era was
dead, and that Hilda was not guiltless of the murder.

"This is nice of you, Hilda.  It’s quite an honour."  And then, archly:
"I’m making jam."

"So I see," said Hilda, meaning that so she smelt. "I just looked in on
the chance of seeing Maggie."

"Maggie went out about half-an-hour ago."

Auntie Hamps’s expression had grown mysterious. Hilda thought: "What’s
she hiding from me?"

"Oh, well, it doesn’t matter," said she.  "You’re going out too,
Auntie."

"I do wish I’d known you were coming, dear.  Will you stay and have a
cup of tea?"

"No, no!  I won’t keep you."

"But it will be a _pleasure_, dear," Auntie Hamps protested warmly.

"No, no!  Thanks!  I’ll just walk along with you a little of the way.
Which direction are you going?"

Auntie Hamps hesitated, she was in a dilemma.

"What _is_ she hiding from me?" thought Hilda.

"The truth is," said Auntie Hamps, "I’m just popping over to Clara’s."

"Well, I’ll go with you, Auntie."

"Oh, do!" exclaimed Mrs. Hamps almost passionately. "Do!  I’m sure Clara
will be delighted!"  She added in a casual tone: "Maggie’s there."

Thought Hilda:

"She evidently doesn’t want me to go."

After Mrs. Hamps had peered into the grand copper pan and most
particularly instructed the servant, they set off.

"I shan’t be easy in my mind until I get back," said Auntie Hamps.
"Unless you look after them all the time they always forget to stir it."



                                   II


When they turned in at the gate of the Benbows’ house the front-door was
already open, and Clara, holding Rupert--her youngest--by the hand,
stood smiling to receive them.  Obviously they had been descried up the
street from one of the bow-windows.  This small fact, strengthening in
Hilda’s mind the gradually-formed notion that the Benbows were always
lying in wait and that their existence was a vast machination for
getting the better of other people, enlivened her prejudice against her
sister-in-law.  Moreover Clara was in one of her best dresses, and her
glance had a peculiar self-conscious expression, partly guilty and
partly cunning.  Nevertheless, the fair fragility of Clara’s face, with
its wonderful skin, and her manner, at once girlish and maternal, of
holding fast the child’s hand, reacted considerably against Hilda’s
prejudice.

Rupert was freshly all in white, stitched and embroidered with millions
of plain and fancy stitches; he had had time neither to tear nor to
stain; only on his bib there was a spot of jam.  His obese right arm was
stretched straight upwards to attain the immense height of the hand of
the protective giantess his mother, and this reaching threw the whole
balance of his little body over towards the left, and gave him a comical
and wistful appearance.  He was a pretty and yet sturdy child, with a
look indicating a nice disposition, and he had recently been acquiring
the marvellous gift of speech....  Astounding how the infantile brain
added word to word and phrase to phrase, and (as though there were not
enough) actually invented delicious words and graphic droll phrases!
Nobody could be surprised that he became at once the centre of
greetings.  His grand-aunt snatched him up, and without the slightest
repugnance he allowed the ancient woman to bury her nose in his face and
neck.

And then Hilda embraced him with not less pleasure, for the contact of
his delicate flesh, and his flushed timid smile, were exquisite.  She
wished for a moment that George was only two and a half again, and that
she could bathe him, and wipe him, and nurse him close.  Clara’s pride,
though the visitors almost forgot to shake hands with her, was ecstatic.
At length Rupert was safely on the step once more.  He had made no
remark whatever.  Shyness prevented him from showing off his new
marvellous gift, but his mother, gazing at him, said that in ordinary
life he never stopped chattering.

"Come this way, will you?" said Clara effusively, and yet
conspiratorially, pointing to the drawing-room, which was to the left of
the front-door.  From the dining-room, which was to the right of the
front-door, issued confused sounds.  "Albert’s here.  I’m so glad you’ve
come," she added to Hilda.

Auntie Hamps murmured warningly into Hilda’s ear:

"It’s Bert’s birthday party."

A fortnight earlier Hilda had heard rumours of Bert’s approaching
birthday--his twelfth, and therefore a high solemnity--but she had very
wrongly forgotten about it.  "I’m so glad you’ve come," Clara repeated
in the drawing-room.  "I was afraid you might be hurt.  I thought I’d
just bring you in here first and explain it all to you."

"Oh!  Bless me!" exclaimed Auntie Hamps,--interrupting, as she glanced
round the drawing-room.  "We are grand!  Well I never!  We are grand!"

"Do you like it?" said Clara, blushing.

Auntie Hamps in reply told one of the major lies of her career.  She
said with rapture that she did like the new drawing-room suite.  This
suite was a proof, disagreeable to Auntie Hamps, that the world would
never stand still.  It quite ignored all the old Victorian ideals of
furniture; and in ignoring the past, it also ignored the future.
Victorian furniture had always sought after immortality; in Bursley
there were thousands of Victorian chairs and tables that defied time and
that nothing but an axe or a conflagration could destroy.  But this new
suite thought not of the morrow; it did not even pretend to think of the
morrow.  Nobody believed that it would last, and the owners of it simply
forbore to reflect upon what it would be after a few years of family
use.  They contemplated with joy its first state of dainty freshness,
and were content therein.  Whereas the old Victorians lived in the
future (in so far as they truly lived at all), the neo-Victorians lived
careless in the present.

The suite was of apparent rosewood, with salmon-tinted upholstery ending
in pleats and bows.  But white also entered considerably into the
scheme, for enamel paint had just reached Bursley and was destined to
become the rage.  Among the items of the suite was a three-legged
milking-stool in deal covered with white enamel paint heightened by
salmon-tinted bows of imitation silk.  Society had recently been
thunderstruck by the originality of putting a milking-stool in a
drawing-room; its quaintness appealed with tremendous force to nearly
all hearts; nearly every house-mistress on seeing a milking-stool in a
friend’s drawing-room, decided that she must have a milking-stool in her
drawing-room, and took measures to get one. Clara was among the earlier
possessors, the pioneers. Ten years--five years--before, Clara had
appropriated the word "æsthetic" as a term of sneering abuse, with but a
vague idea of its meaning; and now--such is the miraculous effect of
time--she was caught up in the movement as it had ultimately spread to
the Five Towns, a willing convert and captive, and nothing could exceed
her scorn for that which once she had admired to the exclusion of all
else.  Into that mid-Victorian respectable house, situate in a rather
old-fashioned street leading from Shawport Lane to the Canal, and whose
boast (even when inhabited by non-conformists) was that it overlooked
the Rectory garden, the new ideals of brightness, freshness,
eccentricity, brittleness and impermanency had entered, and Auntie Hamps
herself was intimidated by them.

Hilda gave polite but perfunctory praise.  Left alone, she might not
have been averse from the new ideals in their more expensive forms, but
the influence of Edwin had taught her to despise them.  Edwin’s tastes
in furniture, imbibed from the Orgreaves, neglected the modern, and went
even further back than earliest Victorian.  Much of the ugliness bought
by his father remained in the Clayhanger house, but all Edwin’s own
purchases were either antique, or, if new, careful imitations of the
pre-Victorian.  Had England been peopled by Edwins, all original artists
in furniture might have died of hunger.  Yet he encouraged original
literature.  What, however, put Hilda against Clara’s drawing-room
suite, was not its style, nor its enamel, nor its frills, nor the
obviously inferior quality of its varnish, but the mere fact that it had
been exposed for sale in Nixon’s shop-window in Duck Bank, with the
price marked.  Hilda did not like this.  Now Edwin might see an old
weather-glass in some frowsy second-hand shop at Hanbridge or Turnhill,
and from indecision might leave it in the second-hand shop for months,
and then buy it and hang it up at home,--and instantly it was somehow
transformed into another weather-glass, a superior and personal
weather-glass. But Clara’s suite was not--for Hilda--thus transformed.
Indeed, as she sat there in Clara’s drawing-room, she had the illusion
of sitting in Nixon’s shop.

Further, Nixon had now got in his window another suite precisely like
Clara’s.  It was astonishing to Hilda that Clara was not ashamed of the
publicity and the wholesale reproduction of her suite.  But she was not.
On the contrary she seemed to draw a mysterious satisfaction from the
very fact that suites precisely similar to hers were to be found or
would soon be found in unnumbered other drawing-rooms.  Nor did she mind
that the price was notorious.  And in the matter of the price the phrase
"hire-purchase" flitted about in Hilda’s brain.  She felt sure that
Albert Benbow had not paid cash to Nixon.  She regarded the
hire-purchase system as unrespectable, if not immoral, and this opinion
was one of the very few she shared with Auntie Hamps.  Both ladies in
their hearts, and in the security of their financial positions, blamed
the Benbows for imprudence.  Nobody, not even his wife, knew just how
Albert "stood," but many took leave to guess--and guessed unfavourably.

"Do sit down," said Clara, too urgently.  She was so preoccupied that
Hilda’s indifference to her new furniture did not affect her.

They all sat down, primly, in the pretty primness of the drawing-room,
and Rupert leaned as if tired against his mother’s fine skirt.

Hilda, expectant, glanced vaguely about her.  Auntie Hamps did the same.
On the central table lay a dictionary of the English language, open and
leaves downwards; and near it a piece of paper containing a long list of
missing words in pencil.  Auntie Hamps, as soon as her gaze fell on
these objects, looked quickly away, as though she had by accident met
the obscene. Clara caught the movement, flushed somewhat, and recovered
herself.

"I’m so glad you’ve come," she repeated yet again to Hilda, with a
sickly-sweet smile.  "I did so want to explain to you how it was we
didn’t ask George--I was afraid you might be vexed."

"What an idea!" Hilda murmured as naturally as she could, her nostrils
twitching uneasily in the atmosphere of small feuds and
misunderstandings which Clara breathed with such pleasure.  She laughed,
to reassure Clara, and also in enjoyment of the thought that for days
Clara had pictured her as wondering sensitively why no invitation to the
party had come for George, while in fact the party had never crossed her
mind.  She regretted that she had no gift for Bert, but decided to give
him half-a-crown for his savings-bank account, of which she had heard a
lot.

"To tell ye the truth," said Clara, launching herself, "we’ve had a lot
of trouble with Bert.  Albert’s been quite put about.  It was only the
day before yesterday Albert got out of him the truth about the night of
your At Home, Hilda, when he ran away after he’d gone to bed.  Albert
said to him: ’I shan’t whip you, and I shan’t put you on bread and
water.  Only if you don’t tell me what you were doing that night
there’ll be no birthday and no birthday party--that’s all.’  So at last
Bert gave in.  And d’you know what he was doing?  Holding a
prayer-meeting with your George and that boy of Clowes’s next door to
your house down Hulton Street.  Did you know?"

Hilda shook her head bravely.  Officially she did not know.

"Did you ever hear of such a thing?" exclaimed Auntie Hamps.

"Yes," proceeded Clara, taking breath for a new start.  "And Bert’s
story is that they prayed for a penknife for your George, and it came.
And then they prayed for a bicycle for our Bert, but the bicycle didn’t
come, and then Bert and George had a fearful quarrel, and George gave
him the penknife--made him have it--and then said he’d never speak to
him any more as long as he lived.  At first Albert was inclined to
thrash Bert for telling lies and being irreverent, but in the end he
came to the conclusion that at any rate Bert was telling what he thought
to be the truth....  And that Clowes boy is so _little_! ... Bert wanted
his birthday party of course, but he begged and prayed us not to ask
George.  So in the end we decided we’d better not, and we let him have
his own way.  That’s all there is to it....  So George has said
nothing?"

"Not a word," replied Hilda.

"And the Clowes boy is so _little_!" said Clara again. She went suddenly
to the mantelpiece and picked up a penknife and offered it to Hilda.

"Here’s the penknife.  Of course Albert took it off him."

"Why?" said Hilda ingenuously.

But Clara detected satire and repelled it with a glance.

"It’s not Edwin’s penknife, I suppose?" she queried, in a severe tone.

"No, it isn’t.  I’ve never seen it before.  Why?"

"We were only thinking Edwin might have overheard the boys and thrown a
knife over the wall.  It would be just like Edwin, that would."

"Oh, no!"  The deceitful Hilda blew away such a possibility.

"I’m quite sure he didn’t," said she, and added mischievously as she
held out the penknife: "I thought all you folks believed in the efficacy
of prayer."

These simple words were never forgiven by Clara.

The next moment, having restored the magic penknife to the mantelpiece,
and gathered up her infant, she was leading the way to the dining-room.

"Come along, Rupy, my darling," said she.

"’Rupy!’" Hilda privately imitated her, deriding the absurdity of the
diminutive.

"If you ask me," said Auntie Hamps, determined to save the honour of the
family, "it’s that little Clowes monkey that is responsible.  I’ve been
thinking it over since you told me about it last night, Clara, and I
feel almost sure it must have been that little Clowes monkey."

She was magnificent.  She was no longer a house-keeper worried about the
processes of jam-making, but a grandiose figure out in the world, a
figure symbolic, upon whom had devolved the duty of keeping up
appearances on behalf of all mankind.



                                  III


The dining-room had not yet begun to move with the times.  It was rather
a shabby apartment, accustomed to daily ill-treatment, and its contents
dated from different periods, the most ancient object of all stretching
backwards in family history to the epoch of Albert’s great-grandfather.
This was an oak arm-chair, occupied usually by Albert, but on the
present occasion by his son and heir, Bert.  Bert, spectacled, was at
the head of the table; and at the foot was his auntie Maggie in front of
a tea-tray.  Down the sides of the table were his sisters, thin Clara,
fat Amy, and little Lucy--the first nearly as old as Bert--and his
father; two crumb-strewn plates showed that the mother and Rupert had
left the meal to greet the visitors.  And there were two other empty
places.  In a tiny vase in front of Amy was a solitary flower.  The room
was nearly full; it had an odour of cake, tea, and children.

"Well, here we are," said Clara, entering with the guests and Rupert,
very cheerfully.  "Getting on all right?"  (She gave Albert a glance
which said: "I have explained everything, but Hilda is a very peculiar
creature.")

"A1," Albert answered.  "Hello, all you aunties!"

"Albert left the works early on purpose," Clara explained her husband’s
presence.

He was a happy man.  In early adolescence he had taken to Sunday Schools
as some youths take to vice. He loved to exert authority over children,
and experience had taught him all the principal dodges.  Under the forms
of benevolent autocracy, he could exercise a ruthless discipline upon
youngsters.  He was not at all ashamed at being left in charge of a
tableful of children while his wife went forth to conduct diplomatic
interviews.  At the same time he had his pride. Thus he would express no
surprise, nor even pleasure, at the presence of Hilda, his theory being
that it ought to be taken as a matter of course.  Indeed he was
preoccupied by the management of the meal, and he did not conceal the
fact.  He shook hands with the ladies in a perfunctory style, which
seemed to say: "Now the supreme matter is this birthday repast.  I am
running it, and I am running it very well.  Slip inobtrusively into your
places in the machine, and let me continue my work of direction."

Nevertheless, he saw to it that all the children rose politely and
saluted according to approved precedents. His eye was upon them.  He
attached importance to every little act in any series of little acts.
If he cut the cake, he had the air of announcing to the world: "This is
a beautiful cake.  I have carefully estimated the merits of this cake,
and mother has carefully estimated them; we have in fact all come to a
definite and favourable conclusion about this cake,--namely that it is a
beautiful cake.  I will now cut it.  The operation of cutting it is a
major operation.  Watch me cut it, and then watch me distribute it.
Wisdom and justice shall preside over the distribution."  Even if he
only passed the salt, he passed it as though he were passing extreme
unction.

Auntie Hamps with apparent delight adapted herself to his humour.  She
said she would "squeeze in" anywhere, and was soon engaged in finding
perfection in everything that appertained to the Benbow family. Hilda,
not being quite so intimate with the household, was installed with more
ceremony.  She could not keep out of her eye the idea that it was droll
to see a stoutish, somewhat clay-dusted man neglecting his business in
order to take charge of a birthday-party of small children; and Albert,
observing this, could not keep out of his eye the rebutting assertion
that it was not in the least droll, but entirely proper and laudable.

The first mention of birthday presents came from Auntie Hamps, who
remarked with enthusiasm that Bert looked a regular little man in his
beautiful new spectacles.  Bert, glowering, gloomy and yet proud, and
above all self-conscious, grew even more self-conscious at this
statement.  Spectacles had been ordained for him by the oculist, and his
parents had had the hardihood to offer him his first pair for a birthday
present.  They had so insisted on the beauty and originality of the
scheme that Bert himself had almost come to believe that to get a pair
of spectacles for a birthday present was a great thing in a boy’s life.
He was now wearing the spectacles for the first time.  On the whole,
gloom outbalanced pride in his demeanour, and Bert’s mysterious soul,
which had flabbergasted his father for about a week, peeped out sidelong
occasionally through those spectacles in bitter criticism of the
institution of parents.  He ate industriously.  Soon Auntie Hamps,
leaning over, rapped half-a-sovereign down on his sticky plate.
Everybody pretended to be overwhelmed, though nobody entitled to
prophesy had expected less.  Almost simultaneously with the ring of the
gold on the plate, Clara said:

"Now what do you say?"

But Albert was judiciously benevolent:

"Leave him alone, mother--he’ll say it all right."

"I’m sure he will," his mother agreed.

And Bert said it, blushing, and fingering the coin nervously.  And
Auntie Hamps sat like an antique goddess, bland, superb, morally
immense.  And even her dirty and broken finger-nails detracted naught
from her grandiosity.  She might feed servants on dripping, but when the
proper moment came she could fling half-sovereigns about with anybody.

And then, opening her purse, Hilda added five shillings to the
half-sovereign, amid admiring exclamations sincere and insincere.
Beside Auntie Hamps’s gold the two half-crowns cut a poor figure, and
therefore Hilda, almost without discontinuing the gesture of largesse,
said:

"That is from Uncle Edwin.  And this," putting a florin and three
shillings more to the treasure, "is from Auntie Hilda."

Somehow she was talking as the others talked, and she disliked herself
for yielding to the spirit of the Benbow home, but she could not help
it; the pervading spirit conquered everybody.  She felt self-conscious;
and Bert’s self-consciousness was still further increased as the
exclamations grew in power and sincerity. Though he experienced the
mournful pride of rich possessions, he knew well that the money would be
of no real value.  His presents, all useful (save a bouquet of flowers
from Rupert), were all useless to him.  Thus the prim young Clara had
been parentally guided to give him a comb.  If all the combs in the
world had been suddenly annihilated Bert would not have cared,--would
indeed have rejoiced.  And as to the spectacles, he would have preferred
the prospect of total blindness in middle age to the compulsion of
wearing them. Who can wonder that his father had not fathomed the mind
of the strange creature?

Albert gazed rapt at the beautiful sight of the plate. It reminded him
pleasantly of a collection-plate at the Sunday School Anniversary
sermons.  In a moment the conversation ran upon savings-bank accounts.
Each child had a savings-bank account, and their riches were astounding.
Rupert had an account and was getting interest at the rate of two and a
half per cent on six pounds ten shillings.  The thriftiness of the elder
children had reached amounts which might be mentioned with satisfaction
even to the luxurious wife of the richest member of the family.  Young
Clara was the wealthiest of the band.  "I’ve got the most, haven’t I,
fardy?" she said with complacency.  "I’ve got more than Bert, haven’t
I?"  Nobody seemed to know how it was that she had surpassed Bert, who
had had more birthdays and more Christmases.  The inferiority of the
eldest could not be attributed to dissipation or improvidence, for none
of the children was allowed to spend a cent.  The savings-bank devoured
all, and never rendered back.  However, Bert was now creeping up, and
his mother exhorted him to do his best in future.  She then took the
money from the plate, and promised Bert for the morrow the treat of
accompanying her to the Post Office in order to bury it.

A bell rang within the house, and at once young Clara exclaimed:

"Oh!  There’s Flossie!  Oh, my word, she is late, isn’t she, fardy?
What a good thing we didn’t wait tea for her! ... Move up, miss."  This
to Lucy.

"People who are late must take the consequences, especially little
girls," said Albert in reply.

And presently Flossie entered, tripping, shrugging up her shoulders and
throwing back her mane, and wonderfully innocent.

"This is Flossie, who is always late," Albert introduced her to Hilda.

"Am I really?" said Flossie, in a very low, soft voice, with a bright
and apparently frightened smile.

Dark Flossie was of Amy’s age and supposed to be Amy’s particular
friend.  She was the daughter of young Clara’s music mistress.  The
little girl’s prestige in the Benbow house was due to two causes.  First
she was graceful and rather stylish in movement--qualities which none of
the Benbow children had, though young Clara was pretty enough; and
second her mother had rather more pupils than she could comfortably
handle, and indeed sometimes refused a pupil.

Flossie with her physical elegance was like a foreigner among the
Benbows.  She had a precocious demeanour.  She shook hands and embraced
like a woman, and she gave her birthday gift to Bert as if she were
distributing a prize.  It was a lead-pencil, with a patent sharpener.
Bert would have preferred a bicycle, but the patent sharpener made an
oasis in his day.  His father pointed out to him that as the pencil was
already sharpened he could not at present use the sharpener.  Amy
thereupon furtively passed him the stump of a pencil to operate upon,
and then his mother told him that he had better postpone his first
sharpening until he got into the garden, where bits of wood would not be
untidy.  Flossie carefully settled her very short white skirts on a
chair, smiling all the time, and enquired about two brothers whom she
had been told were to be among the guests.  Albert informed her with
solemnity that these two brothers were both down with measles, and that
Auntie Hamps and Auntie Hilda had come to make up for their absence.

"Poor things!" murmured Flossie sympathetically.

Hilda laughed, and Flossie screwing up her eyes and shrugging up her
shoulders laughed too, as if saying: "You and I alone understand me."

"What a pretty flower!" Flossie exclaimed, in her low soft voice,
indicating the flower in the vase in front of Amy.

"There’s half a crumb left," said Albert, passing the cake-plate to
Flossie carefully.  "We thought we’d better keep it for you, though we
don’t reckon to keep anything for little girls that come late."

"Amy," whispered her mother, leaning towards the fat girl.  "Wouldn’t it
be nice of you to give your flower to Flossie?"  Amy started.

"I don’t want to," she whispered back, flushing.

The flower was a gift to Amy from Bert, out of the birthday bunch
presented to him by Rupert. Mysterious relations existed between Bert
and the benignant, acquiescent Amy.

"Oh!  Amy!" her mother protested, still whispering, but shocked.

Tears came into Amy’s eyes.  These tears Amy at length wiped away, and,
straightening her face, offered the flower with stiff outstretched arm
to her friend Flossie.  And Flossie smilingly accepted it.

"It _is_ kind of you, you darling!" said Flossie, and stuck the flower
in an interstice of her embroidered pinafore.

Amy, gravely lacking in self-control, began to whimper again.

"That’s my good little girl!" muttered Clara to her, exhibiting pride in
her daughter’s victory over self, and rubbed the child’s eyes with her
handkerchief.  The parents were continually thus "bringing up" their
children.  Hilda pressed her lips together.

Immediately afterwards it was noticed that Flossie was no longer eating.

"I’ve had quite enough, thank you," said she in answer to
expostulations.

"No jam, even?  And you’ve not finished your tea!"

"I’ve had quite enough, thank you," said she, and folded up her napkin.

"Please, father, can we go and play in the garden now?" Bert asked.

Albert looked at his wife.

"Yes, I think they might," said Clara.  "Go and play nicely."  They all
rose.

"Now quietly, qui-etly!" Albert warned them.

And they went from the room quietly, each in his own fashion,--Flossie
like a modest tsarina, young Clara full of virtue and holding Rupert by
the hand, Amy lumpily, tiny Lucy as one who had too soon been robbed of
the privilege of being the youngest, and Bert in the rear like a
criminal who is observed in a suspicious act.  And Albert blew out wind,
as if getting rid of a great weight.



                                   IV


"Finished your greengage, auntie?" asked Clara, after the pause which
ensued while the adults were accustoming themselves to the absence of
the children.

And it was Maggie who answered, rather eagerly:

"No, she hasn’t.  She’s left it to the tender mercies of that Maria.
She wouldn’t let me stay, and she wouldn’t stay herself."

These were almost the first words, save murmurings as to cups of tea,
quantities of sugar and of milk, etc., that the taciturn Maggie had
uttered since Hilda’s arrival.  She was not sulky, she had merely been
devoting herself and allowing herself to be exploited, in the vacuous
manner customary to her,--and listening receptively--or perhaps not even
receptively--offering no remark.  Save that the smooth-working mechanism
of the repast would have creaked and stopped at her departure, she might
have slipped from the room unnoticed as a cat.  But now she spoke as one
capable of enthusiasm and resentment on behalf of an ideal. To her it
was scandalous that greengage jam should be jeopardised for the sake of
social pleasures, and suddenly it became evident she and her auntie had
had a difference on the matter.

Mrs. Hamps said stoutly and defiantly, with grandeur:

"Well, I wasn’t going to have my eldest grand-nephew’s twelfth birthday
party interfered with for any jam."

"Hear, hear!" said Hilda, liking the terrific woman for an instant.

But mild Maggie was inflexible.

Clara, knowing that in Maggie very slight symptoms had enormous
significance, at once changed the subject.  Albert went to the back
window, whence by twisting his neck he could descry a corner of the
garden.

Said Clara, smiling:

"I hear you’re going to have some _musical evenings_, Hilda ... on
Sunday nights."

Malice and ridicule were in Clara’s tone.  On the phrase "musical
evenings" she put a strange disdainful emphasis, as though a musical
evening denoted something not only unrighteous but snobbish,
new-fangled, and absurd.  Yet envy also was in her tone.

Hilda was startled.

"Ah!  Who told you that?"

"Never mind!  I heard," said Clara darkly.

Hilda wondered where the Benbows, from whom seemingly naught could be
concealed, had in fact got this tit-bit of news.  By tacit consent she
and Edwin had as yet said nothing to anybody except the Orgreaves, who
alone, with Tertius Ingpen and one or two more intimates, were invited,
or were to be invited, to the first evening.  Relations between the
Orgreaves and the Benbows scarcely existed.

"We’re having a little music on Sunday night," said Hilda, as it were
apologetically, and scorning herself for being apologetic.  Why should
she be apologetic to these base creatures?  But she couldn’t help it;
the public opinion of the room was too much for her.  She even added:
"We’re hoping that old Mrs. Orgreave will come.  It will be the first
time she’s been out in the evening for ever so long."  The name of Mrs.
Orgreave was calculated by Hilda to overawe them and stop their mouths.

No name, however, could overawe Mrs. Hamps.  She smiled kindly, and with
respect for the caprices of others; she spoke in a tone exceptionally
polite,--but what she said was: "I’m sorry ... I’m sorry."

The deliverance was final.  Auntie Hamps was almost as deeply moved
about the approaching desecration of the Sabbath as Maggie had been
about the casual treatment of jam.  In earlier years she would have said
a great deal more--just as in earlier years she would have punctuated
Bert’s birthday mouthfuls with descants upon the excellence of his
parents and moral exhortations to himself; but Auntie Hamps was growing
older, and quieter, and "I’m sorry ... I’m sorry" meant much from her.

Hilda became sad, disgusted, indignant, moody.  The breach which
separated her and Edwin from the rest of the family was enormous, as
might be seen in the mere fact that they had never for a moment
contemplated asking anybody in the family to the musical evening, nor
had the family ever dreamed of an invitation.  It was astonishing that
Edwin should be so different from the others.  But after all, was he?
She could see in him sometimes bits of Maggie, of Clara, and even of the
Unspeakable.  She was conscious of her grievances against Edwin.  Among
these was that he never, or scarcely ever, praised her.  At moments,
when she had tried hard, she felt a great need of praise.  But Edwin
would watch her critically, with the damnable grim detachment of the
Five Towns towards a stranger or a returned exile.

As she sat in the stuffy dining-room of the Benbows, surrounded by
hostilities and incomprehensions, she had a sensation of unreality, or
at any rate of a vast mistake.  Why was she there?  Was she not tied by
intimate experience to a man at that very instant in prison?  (She had a
fearful vision of him in prison,--she, sitting there in the midst of
Maggie, Clara, and Auntie Hamps!)  Was she not the mother of an
illegitimate boy?  Victimised or not, innocent or not, she, a guest at
Bert’s intensely legitimate birthday fête, was the mother of an
illegitimate boy.  Incredible!  She ought never to have married into the
Clayhangers, never to have come back to this cackling provincial
district.  All these people were inimical towards her,--because she
represented the luxury and riches and worldly splendour of the family,
and because her illegitimate boy had tempted the heir of the Benbows to
blasphemous wickedness, and because she herself had tempted a weak Edwin
to abandon chapel and to desecrate the Sabbath, and again because she,
without a penny of her own, had stepped in and now represented the
luxury and riches and worldly splendour of the family.  And all the
family’s grievances against Edwin were also grievances against her.
Once, long ago, when he was yet a bachelor, and had no hope of Hilda,
Edwin had prevented his father, in dotage, from lending a thousand
pounds to Albert upon no security. The interference was unpardonable,
and Hilda would not be pardoned for it.

Such was marriage into a family.  Such was family life....  Yes, she
felt unreal there, and also unsafe. She had prevaricated about George
and the penknife; and she had allowed Clara to remain under the
impression that her visit to the house was a birthday visit. Auntie
Hamps and destiny, between them, would lay bare all this lying.  The
antipathy against her would increase.  But let it increase never so
much, it still would not equal Hilda’s against the family, as she
thrilled to it then.  Their narrow ignorance, their narrow self-conceit,
their detestation of beauty, their pietism, their bigotry--revolted her.
In what century had they been living all those years?  Was this married
life?  Had Albert and Clara ever felt a moment of mutual passion?  They
were nothing but parents, eternally preoccupied with "oughts" and "ought
nots" and forbiddances and horrid reluctant permissions.  They did not
know what joy was, and they did not want anybody else to know what joy
was.  Even on the outskirts of such a family, a musical evening on a
Sunday night appeared a forlorn enterprise.  And all the families in all
the streets were the same.  Hilda was hard enough on George sometimes,
but in that moment she would have preferred George to be a thoroughly
bad rude boy and to go to the devil, and herself to be a woman abandoned
to every licence, rather than that he and she should resemble Clara and
her offspring.  All her wrath centred upon Clara as the very symbol of
what she loathed.

"Hello!" cried the watchful Albert from the window. "What’s happening, I
wonder?"

In a moment Rupert ran into the room, and without a word scrambled on
his mother’s lap, absolutely confident in her goodness and power.

"What’s amiss, tuppenny?" asked his father.

"Tired," answered Rupert, with a faint, endearing smile.

He laid himself close against his mother’s breast, and drew up his
knees, and Clara held his body in her arms, and whispered to him.

"Amy ’udn’t play with me," he murmured.

"Wouldn’t she?  Naughty Amy!"

"Mammy tired too," he glanced upwards at his mother’s eyes in sympathy.

And immediately he was asleep.  Clara kissed him, bending her head down
and with difficulty reaching his cheek with her lips.

Auntie Hamps enquired fondly:

"What does he mean--’mother tired too’?"

"Well," said Clara, "the fact is some of ’em were so excited they
stopped my afternoon sleep this afternoon.  I always do have my nap, you
know,"--she looked at Hilda.  "In here!  When this door’s closed they
know mother mustn’t be disturbed.  Only this afternoon Lucy or Amy--I
don’t know which, and I didn’t enquire too closely--forgot....  He’s
remembered it, the little Turk."

"Is he asleep?" Hilda demanded in a low voice.

"Fast.  He’s been like that lately.  He’ll play a bit, and then he’ll
stop, and say he’s tired, and sometimes cry, and he’ll come to me and be
asleep in two jiffs. I think he’s been a bit run down.  He said he had
toothache yesterday.  It was nothing but a little cold; they’ve all had
colds; but I wrapped his face up to please him.  He looked so sweet in
his bandage, I assure you I didn’t want to take it off again.  No, I
didn’t....  I wonder why Amy wouldn’t play with him?  She’s such a
splendid playmate--when she likes. Full of imagination!  Simply full of
it!"

Albert had approached from the window.

With an air of important conviction, he said to Hilda:

"Yes, Amy’s imagination is really remarkable."  As no one responded to
this statement, he drummed on the table to ease the silence, and then
suddenly added: "Well, I suppose I must be getting on with my dictionary
reading!  I’m only at S; and there’s bound to be a lot of words under
U--beginning with _un_, you know.  I saw at once there would be."  He
spoke rather defiantly, as though challenging public opinion to condemn
his new dubious activity.

"Oh!" said Clara.  "Albert’s quite taken up with missing words
nowadays."

But instead of conning his dictionary, Albert returned to the window,
drawn by his inexhaustible paternal curiosity, and he even opened the
window and leaned out, so that he might more effectively watch the
garden.  And with the fresh air there entered the high, gay, inspiriting
voices of the children.

Clara smiled down at the boy sleeping in her lap. She was happy.  The
child was happy.  His flushed face, with its expression of loving
innocence, was exquisitely touching.  Clara’s face was full of proud
tenderness. Everybody gazed at the picture with secret and profound
pleasure.  Hilda wished once more that George was only two and a half
years old again.  George’s infancy, and her early motherhood, had been
very different from all this.  She had never been able to shut a
dining-room door, or any other door, as a sign that she must not be
disturbed.  And certainly George had never sympathetically remarked that
she was tired.... She was envious....  And yet a minute ago she had been
execrating the family life of the Benbows. The complexity of the tissue
of existence was puzzling.



                                   V


When Albert brought his head once more into the room he suddenly
discovered the stuffiness of the atmosphere, and with the large, free
gestures of a mountaineer and a sanitarian threw open both windows as
wide as possible.  The bleak wind from the moorlands surged in,
fluttering curtains, and lowering the temperature at a run.

"Won’t Rupert catch cold?" Hilda suggested, chilled.

"He’s got to be hardened, Rupert has!" Albert replied easily.  "Fresh
air!  Nothing like it!  Does ’em good to feel it!"

Hilda thought:

"Pity you didn’t think so a bit earlier!"

Her countenance was too expressive.  Albert divined some ironic thought
in her brain, and turned on her with a sort of parrying jeer:

"And how’s the great man getting along?"

In this phrase, which both he and Clara employed with increasing
frequency, Albert let out not only his jealousy of, but his respect for,
the head of the family. Hilda did not like it, but it flattered her on
Edwin’s behalf, and she never showed her resentment of the attitude
which prompted it.

"Edwin?  Oh, he’s all right.  He’s working."  She put a slight emphasis
on the last pronoun, in order revengefully to contrast Edwin’s industry
with Albert’s presence during business hours at a children’s birthday
party.  "He said to me as he went out that he must go and earn something
towards Maggie’s rent."  She laughed softly.

Clara smiled cautiously; Maggie smiled and blushed a little; Albert did
not commit himself; only Auntie Hamps laughed without reserve.

"Edwin will have his joke," said she.

Although Hilda had audaciously gone forth that afternoon with the
express intention of opening negotiations, on her own initiative, with
Maggie for the purchase of the house, she had certainly not meant to
discuss the matter in the presence of the entire family.  But she was
seized by one of her characteristic impulses, and she gave herself up to
it with the usual mixture of glee and apprehension. She said:

"I suppose you wouldn’t care to sell us the house, would you, Maggie?"

Everybody became alert, and as it grew apparent that the company was
assisting at the actual birth of a family episode or incident, a
peculiar feeling of eager pleasure spread through the room, and the
appetite for history-making leapt up.

"Indeed I should!" Maggie answered, with a deepening flush, and all were
astonished at her decisiveness, and at the warmth of her tone.  "I never
wanted the house.  Only it was arranged that I should have it, so of
course I took it."  The long-silent victim was speaking.  Money was
useless to her, for she was incapable of turning it into happiness; but
she had her views on finance and property, nevertheless; and though in
all such matters she did as she was told, submissively accepting the
decisions of brother or brother-in-law as decrees of fate, yet she was
quite aware of the victimhood.  The assemblage was surprised and even a
little intimidated by her mild outburst.

"But you’ve got a very good tenant, Maggie," said Auntie Hamps
enthusiastically.

"She’s got a very good tenant, admitted!" Albert said judicially and
almost sternly.  "But she’d never have any difficulty in finding a very
good tenant for that house.  That’s not the point.  The point is that
the investment really isn’t remunerative.  Maggie could do much better
for herself than that.  Very much better.  Why, if she went the right
way about it she could get ten per cent on her money!  I know of
things....  And I bet she doesn’t get three and a half per cent clear
from the house.  Not three and a half."  He glanced reproachfully at
Hilda.

"Do you mean the rent’s too low?" Hilda questioned boldly.

He hesitated, losing courage.

"I don’t say it’s too low.  But Maggie perhaps took the house over at
too big a figure."

Maggie looked up at her brother-in-law.

"And whose fault was that?" she asked sharply. The general surprise was
intensified.  No one could understand Maggie.  No one had the wit to
perceive that she had been truly annoyed by Auntie Hamps’s negligence in
regard to jam, and was momentarily capable of bitterness.  "Whose fault
was that?" she repeated.  "You and Clara and Edwin settled it between
you.  You yourself said over and over again it was a fair figure."

"I thought so at the time!  I thought so at the time!" said Albert
quickly.  "We all acted for the best."

"I’m sure you did," murmured Auntie Hamps.

"I should think so, indeed!" murmured Clara, seeking to disguise her
constraint by attentions to the sleeping Rupert.

"Is Edwin thinking of buying, then?" Albert asked Hilda in a quiet,
studiously careless voice.

"We’ve discussed it," responded Hilda.

"Because if he is, he ought to take it over at the price Mag took it at.
She oughtn’t to lose on it. That’s only fair."

"I’m sure Edwin would never do anything unfair," said Auntie Hamps.

Hilda made no reply.  She had already heard the argument from Edwin, and
Albert now seemed to her more tedious and unprincipled than usual.  Her
reason admitted the force of the argument as regards Maggie, but
instinct opposed it.

Nevertheless she was conscious of sudden sympathy for Maggie, and of a
weakening of her prejudice against her.

"Hadn’t we better be going, Auntie?" Maggie curtly and reproachfully
suggested.  "You know quite well that jam stands a good chance of being
ruined."

"I suppose we had," Auntie Hamps concurred with a sigh, and rose.

"I shall be able to carry out my plan," thought Hilda, full of wisdom
and triumph.  And she saw Edwin, owner of the house, with his wild
lithographic project scotched.  And the realisation of her own sagacity
thus exercised on behalf of those she loved, made her glad.

At the same moment, just as Albert was recommencing his flow, the door
opened and Edwin entered.  He had glimpsed the children in the garden
and had come into the house by the back way.  There were cries of
stupefaction and bliss.  Both Albert and Clara were unmistakably
startled and flattered.  Indeed, several seconds elapsed before Albert
could assume the proper grim, casual air.  Auntie Hamps rejoiced and sat
down again.  Maggie disclosed no feeling, and she would not sit down
again.  Hilda had a serious qualm.  She was obliged to persuade herself
that in opening the negotiations for the house she had not committed an
enormity.  She felt less sagacious and less dominant.  Who could have
dreamt that Edwin would pop in just then? It was notorious, it was even
a subject of complaint, that he never popped in.  In reply to enquiries
he stammered in his customary hesitating way that he happened to be in
the neighbourhood on business and that it had occurred to him, etc.,
etc.  In short, there he was.

"Aren’t you coming, Auntie?" Maggie demanded.

"Let me have a look at Edwin, child," said Auntie Hamps, somewhat
nettled.  "How set you are!"

"Then I shall go alone," said Maggie.

"Yes.  But what about this house business?"  Albert tried to stop her.

He could not stop her.  Finance, houses, rents, were not real to her.
She owned but did not possess such things.  But the endangered jam was
real to her.  She did not own it, but she possessed it.  She departed.

"What’s amiss with her to-day?" murmured Mrs. Hamps. "I must go too, or
I shall be catching it; my word I shall!"

"What house business?" Edwin asked.

"Well," said Albert.  "I like that!  Aren’t you trying to buy her house
from her?  We’ve just been talking it over."

Edwin glanced swiftly at Hilda, and Hilda knew from the peculiar
constrained, almost shamefaced, expression on his features, that he was
extremely annoyed.  He gave a little nervous laugh.

"Oh!  Have ye?" he muttered.



                                   VI


Although Edwin discussed the purchase of the house quite calmly with
Albert, and appeared to regard it as an affair practically settled,
Hilda could perceive from a single gesture of his in the lobby as they
were leaving, that his resentment against herself had not been
diminished by the smooth course of talking.  Nevertheless she was
considerably startled by his outburst in the street.

"It’s a pity Maggie went off like that," she said quietly.  "You might
have fixed everything up immediately."

Then it was that he turned on her, glowering angrily.

"Why on earth did you go talking about it, without telling me first?" he
demanded, furious.

"But it was understood, dear----"  She smiled, affecting not to perceive
his temper, and thereby aggravating it.

He almost shouted:

"Nothing of the kind!  Nothing of the kind!"

"Maggie was there.  I just happened to mention it."  Hilda was still
quite placid.

"You went down on purpose to tell her, so you needn’t deny it.  Do you
take me for a fool?"

Her placidity was undiminished.

"Of course I don’t take you for a fool, dear.  I assure you I hadn’t the
slightest idea you’d be annoyed."

"Yes, you had.  I could see it on your face when I came in.  Don’t try
to stuff me up.  You go blundering into a thing, without the least
notion--without the least notion!  I’ve told you before, and I tell you
again--I won’t have you interfering in my business affairs.  You know
nothing of business.  You’ll make my life impossible.  All you women are
the same.  You will poke your noses in.  There’ll have to be a clear
understanding between you and me on one or two points, before we go much
further."

"But you told me I could mention it to her."

"No, I didn’t."

"You did, Edwin.  Do be just."

"I didn’t say you could go and plunge right into it at once.  These
things have to be thought out.  Houses aren’t bought like that.  A house
isn’t a pound of tea, and it isn’t a hat."

"I’m very sorry."

"No, you aren’t.  And you know jolly well you aren’t.  Your scheme was
simply to tie my hands."

She knew the truth of this, and her smile became queer.  Nevertheless
the amiable calm which she maintained astonished even herself.  She was
not happy, but certainly she was not unhappy.  She had got, or she was
going to get, what she wanted; and here was the only fact important to
her; the means by which she had got it, or was going to get it, were
negligible now.  It cost her very little to be magnanimous.  She
wondered at Edwin.  Was this furious brute the timid, worshipping boy
who had so marvellously kissed her a dozen years earlier--before she had
fallen into the hands of a scoundrel?  Were these scenes what the
exquisite romance of marriage had come to? ... Well, and if it was so,
what then?  If she was not happy she was elated, and she was
philosophic, and she had the terrific sense of realities of some of her
sex.  She was out of the Benbow house; she breathed free, she had
triumphed, and she had her man to herself.  He might be a brute--the
Five Towns (she had noticed as a returned exile) were full of brutes
whose passions surged and boiled beneath the phlegmatic surface--but he
existed, and their love existed.  And a peep into the depth of the
cauldron was exciting....  The injustice or the justice of his behaviour
did not make a live question.

Moreover, she did not in truth seriously regard him as a brute.  She
regarded him as an unreasonable creature, something like a baby, to be
humoured in the inessentials of a matter of which the essentials were
now definitely in her favour.  His taunt that she went blundering into a
thing, and that she knew naught of business, amused her.  She knew her
own business, and knew it profoundly.  The actual situation was a proof
of that.  As for abstract principles of business, the conventions and
etiquette of it--her lips condescendingly curled.  After all, what had
she done to merit this fury?  Nothing!  Nothing!  What could it matter
whether the negotiations were begun instantly or in a week’s or a
month’s time?  (Edwin would have dilly-dallied probably for three
months, or six).  She had merely said a few harmless words, offered a
suggestion.  And now he desired to tear her limb from limb and eat her
alive.  It was comical!  Impossible for her to be angry, in her triumph!
It was too comical!  She had married an astounding personage.... But she
had married him.  He was hers.  She exulted in the possession of him.
His absurd peculiarities did not lower him in her esteem.  She had a
perfect appreciation of his points, including his general wisdom.  But
she was convinced that she had a special and different and superior kind
of wisdom.

"And a nice thing you’ve let Maggie in for!" Edwin broke out afresh
after a spell of silent walking.

"Let Maggie in for?" she exclaimed lightly.

"Albert ought never to have known anything of it until it was all
settled.  He will be yarning away to her about how he can use her money
for her, and what he gets hold of she’ll never see again,--you may bet
your boots on that.  If you’d left it to me I could have fixed things up
for her in advance.  But no!  In you must go!  Up to the neck!  And ruin
everything!"

"Oh!" she said reassuringly.  "You’ll be able to look after Maggie all
right."

He sniffed, and settled down into embittered disgust, quickening
somewhat his speed up the slope of Acre Lane.

"Please don’t walk so fast, Edwin," she breathed, just like a nice
little girl.  "I can’t keep up with you."

In spite of his enormous anger he could not refuse such a request.  She
was getting the better of him again.  He knew it; he could see through
the devices. With an irritated swing of his body he slowed down to suit
her.

She had a glimpse of his set, gloomy, savage, ruthless face, the lower
lip bulging out.  Really it was grotesque!  Were they grown up, he and
she?  She smiled almost self-consciously, fearing that passers-by might
notice his preposterous condition.  All the way up Acre Lane and across
by St. Luke’s Churchyard into Trafalgar Road they walked thus side by
side in silence. By strange good luck they did not meet a single
acquaintance, and as Edwin had a latchkey, no servant had to come and
open the door and behold them.

Edwin, throwing his hat on the stand, ran immediately upstairs.  Hilda
passed idly into the drawing-room. She was glad to be in her own
drawing-room again.  It was a distinguished apartment, after Clara’s.
There lay the Dvorak music on the piano.... The atmosphere seemed full
of ozone.  She rang for Ada and spoke to her with charming friendliness
about Master George.  Master George had returned from an informal
cricket match in the Manor Fields, and was in the garden.  Yes, Ada had
seen to his school-clothes.  Everything was in order for the new term
shortly to commence.  But Master George had received a blow from the
cricket-ball on his shin, which was black and blue....  Had Ada done
anything to the shin?  No, Master George would not let her touch it, but
she had been allowed to see it....  Very well, Ada....  There was
something beatific about the state of being mistress of a house.
Without the mistress, the house would simply crumble to pieces.

Hilda went upstairs; she was apprehensive, but her apprehensiveness was
agreeable to her....  No, Edwin was not in the bedroom....  She could
hear him in the bathroom.  She tried the door.  It was bolted. He always
bolted it.

"Edwin!"

"What is it?"

He opened the door.  He was in his shirt sleeves and had just finished
with the towel.  She entered, and shut the door and bolted it.  And then
she began to kiss him.  She kissed him time after time, on his cheek so
damp and fresh.

"Poor dear!" she murmured.

She knew that he could not altogether resist those repeated kisses.
They were more effective than the best arguments or the most graceful
articulate surrenders.  Thus she completed her triumph.  But whether the
virtue of the kisses lay in their sensuousness or in their sentiment,
neither he nor she knew. And she did not care....  She did not kiss him
with abandonment.  There was a reserve in her kisses, and in her smile.
Indeed she went on kissing him rather sternly.  Her glance, when their
eyes were very close together, was curious.  It seemed to imply: "We are
in love.  And we love.  I am yours.  You are mine. Life is very fine
after all.  I am a happy woman.  But still--_each is for himself in this
world_, and that’s the bedrock of marriage as of all other
institutions."  Her sense of realities again!  And she went on kissing,
irresistibly.

"Kiss me."

And he had to kiss her.

Whereupon she softened to him, and abandoned herself to the emanations
of his charm, and her lips became almost liquid as she kissed him again;
nevertheless there was still a slight reserve in her kisses.

At tea she chattered like a magpie, as the saying is. Between her and
George there seemed to be a secret instinctive understanding that Edwin
had to be humoured, enlivened, drawn into talk,--for although he had
kissed her, his mood was yet by no means restored to the normal.  He
would have liked to remain, majestic, within the tent of his soul.  But
they were too clever for him.  Then, to achieve his discomfiture,
entered Johnnie Orgreave, with a suggestion that they should all
four--Edwin, Hilda, Janet, and himself--go to the theatre at Hanbridge
that night.  Hilda accepted the idea instantly.  Since her marriage, her
appetite for pleasure had developed enormously.  At moments she was
positively greedy for pleasure.  She was incapable of being bored at the
theatre, she would sooner be in the theatre of a night than out of it.

"Oh!  Do let’s go!" she cried.

Edwin did not want to go, but he had to concur.  He did not want to be
pleasant to Johnnie Orgreave or to anybody, but he had to be pleasant.

"Be on the first car that goes up after seven fifteen," said Johnnie as
he was departing.

Edwin grunted.

"You understand, Teddy?  The first car that goes up after seven
fifteen."

"All right!  All right!"

Blithely Hilda went to beautify herself.  And when she had beautified
herself and made herself into a queen of whom the haughtiest
master-printer might be proud, she despatched Ada for Master George.
And Master George had to come to her bedroom.

"Let me look at that leg," she said.  "Sit down."

Devious creature!  During tea she had not even divulged that she had
heard of the damaged shin. Master George was taken by surprise.  He sat
down.  She knelt, and herself unloosed the stocking and exposed the
little calf.  The place was black and blue, but it had a healthy look.

"It’s nothing," she said.

And then, all in her splendid finery, she kissed the dirty discoloured
shin.  Strange!  He was only two years old and just learning to talk.

"Now then, missis!  Here’s the tram!" Edwin yelled out loudly, roughly,
from below.  He would have given a sovereign to see her miss the car,
but his inconvenient sense of justice forced him to warn her.

"Coming!  Coming!"

She kissed Master George on the mouth eagerly, and George seemed,
unusually, to return the eagerness.  She ran down the darkening stairs,
ecstatic.

In the dusky road, Edwin curtly signalled to the vast ascending
steam-car, and it stopped.  Those were in the old days, when people did
what they liked with the cars, stopping them here and stopping them
there according to their fancy.  The era of electricity and fixed
stopping-places, and soulless, conscienceless control from London had
not set in.  Edwin and Hilda mounted.  Two hundred yards further on the
steam-tram was once more arrested, and Johnnie and Janet joined them.
Hilda was in the highest spirits.  The great affair of the afternoon had
not been a quarrel, but an animating experience which, though dangerous,
intensified her self-confidence and her zest.



                               CHAPTER IX

                              THE WEEK-END


                                   I


The events of the portentous week-end which included the musical evening
began early on the Saturday, and the first one was a chance word uttered
by George.

Breakfast was nearly over in the Clayhanger dining-room.  Hilda sat
opposite to Edwin, and George between them.  They had all eaten with
appetite, and the disillusion which usually accompanies the satisfaction
of desire was upon them.  They had looked forward to breakfast, scenting
with zest its pleasing odours, and breakfast was over, save perhaps for
a final unnecessary piece of toast or half a cup of chilled coffee.

Hilda did not want to move, because she did not care for the Saturday
morning task of shopping and re-victualling and being bland with
fellow-shoppers in the emporiums.  The house-doors were too frequently
open on Saturday mornings, and errand-boys thereat, and a wind blowing
through the house, and it was the morning for specially cleaning the
hall--detestable and damp operation--and servants seemed loose on
Saturday morning, and dinner was apt to be late.  But Hilda knew she
would have to move.  To postpone was only to aggravate.  Destiny grasped
her firm.  George was not keen about moving, because he had no plan of
campaign; the desolating prospect of resuming school on Monday had
withered his energy; he was in a mood to be either a martyr or a
villain.  Edwin was lazily sardonic, partly because the leisure of
breakfast was at an end, partly because he hated the wage-paying
slackness of Saturday morning at the shop, and partly because his
relations with Hilda had remained indefinite and disquieting, despite a
thousand mutual urbanities and thoughtful refinements, and even some
caresses.  A sense of aimlessness dejected him; and in the central caves
of his brain the question was mysteriously stirring: What is the use of
all these things,--success, dignity, importance, luxury, love,
sensuality, order, moral superiority?  He foresaw thirty years of
breakfasts, with plenty of the finest home-cured bacon and fresh eggs,
but no romance.

Before his marriage he used to read the paper honestly and rudely at
breakfast.  That is to say, he would prop it up squarely in front of
him, hiding his sister Maggie, and anyhow ignoring her; and Maggie had
to "like it or lump it"; she probably lumped it.  But upon marriage he
had become a chevalier; he had nobly decided that it was not correct to
put a newspaper between yourself and a woman who had denied you nothing.
Nevertheless, his appetite for newspapers being almost equal to his
appetite for bacon, he would still take nips at the newspaper during
breakfast, hold it in one hand, glance at it, drop it, pick it up, talk
amiably while glancing at it, drop it, pick it up again. So long as the
newspaper was held aside and did not touch the table, so long as he did
not read more than ten lines at a time, he considered that punctilio was
satisfied, and that he was not in fact reading the newspaper at all.
But towards the end of breakfast, when the last food was disappearing,
and he had lapped the cream off the news, he would hold the newspaper in
both hands--and brazenly and conscientiously read.  His chief interest,
just then, was political.  Like most members of his party, he was
endeavouring to decipher the party programme and not succeeding, and he
feared for his party and was a little ashamed for it.  Grave events had
occurred.  The substructure of the state was rocking.  A newly elected
supporter of the Government, unaware that he was being admitted to the
best club in London, had gone to the House of Commons in a tweed cap and
preceded by a brass-band.  Serious pillars of society knew that the time
had come to invest their savings abroad.  Edwin, with many another
ardent liberal, was seeking to persuade himself that everything was all
right after all.  The domestic atmosphere--Hilda’s baffling face, the
emptied table, the shadow of business, repletion, early symptoms of
indigestion, the sound of a slop-pail in the hall--did not aid him to
optimism.  In brief the morning was a fair specimen of a kind of morning
that seemed likely to be for him an average morning.

"Can’t I leave the table, mother?" asked George discontentedly.

Hilda nodded.

George gave a coarse sound of glee.

"George! ... That’s so unlike you!" his mother frowned.

Instead of going directly towards the door, he must needs pass right
round the table, behind the chair of his occupied uncle.  As he did so,
he scanned the newspaper and read out loudly in passing for the benefit
of the room:

"’Local Divorce Case.  Etches v. Etches.  Painful details.’"

The words meant nothing to George.  They had happened to catch his eye.
He read them as he might have read an extract from the books of Euclid,
and noisily and ostentatiously departed, not without a further protest
from Hilda.

And Edwin and Hilda, left alone together, were self-conscious.

"Lively kid!" murmured Edwin self-consciously.

And Hilda, self-consciously:

"You never told me that case was on."

"I didn’t know till I saw it here."

"What’s the result?"

"Not finished....  Here you are, if you want to read it."

He handed the sheet across the table.  Despite his serious interest in
politics he had read the report before anything else.  Etches v. Etches,
indeed, surpassed Gladstonian politics as an aid to the dubious
prosperity of the very young morning newspaper, which represented the
latest and most original attempt to challenge the journalistic monopoly
of the afternoon _Staffordshire Signal_.  It lived scarcely longer than
the divorce case, for the proprietors, though Non-conformists and
therefore astute, had failed to foresee that the Five Towns public would
not wait for racing results until the next morning.

"Thanks," Hilda amiably and negligently murmured.

Edwin hummed.

Useless for Hilda to take that casual tone!  Useless for Edwin to hum!
The unconcealable thought in both their minds was--and each could divine
the other’s thought and almost hear its vibration:

"We might end in the divorce court, too."

Hence their self-consciousness.

The thought was absurd, irrational, indefensible, shocking, it had no
father and no mother, it sprang out of naught; but it existed, and it
had force enough to make them uncomfortable.

The Etches couple, belonging to the great, numerous, wealthy, and
respectable family of Etches, had been married barely a year.

Edwin rose and glanced at his well-tended fingernails. The pleasant
animation of his skin caused by the bath was still perceptible.  He
could feel it in his back, and it helped his conviction of virtue.  He
chose a cigarette out of his silver case,--a good cigarette, a good
case--and lit it, and waved the match into extinction, and puffed out
much smoke, and regarded the correctness of the crease in his trousers
(the vertical trouser-crease having recently been introduced into the
district and insisted on by that tailor and artist and seeker after
perfection, Shillitoe), and walked firmly to the door.  But the
self-consciousness remained.

Just as he reached the door, his wife, gazing at the newspaper, stopped
him:

"Edwin."

"What’s up?"

He did not move from the door, and she did not look up from the
newspaper.

"Seen your friend Big James this morning?"

Edwin usually went down to business before breakfast, so that his
conscience might be free for a leisurely meal at nine o’clock.  Big
James was the oldest employee in the business.  Originally he had been
foreman compositor, and was still technically so described, but in fact
he was general manager and Edwin’s majestic vicegerent in all the
printing-shops.  "Ask Big James," was the watchword of the whole
organism.

"No," said Edwin.  "Why?"

"Oh, nothing!  It doesn’t matter."

Edwin had made certain resolutions about his temper, but it seemed to
him that such a reply justified annoyance, and he therefore permitted
himself to be annoyed, failing to see that serenity is a positive virtue
only when there is justification for annoyance. The nincompoop had not
even begun to perceive that what is called "right-living" means the
acceptance of injustice and the excusing of the inexcusable.

"Now then," he said, brusquely.  "Out with it."  But there was still a
trace of rough tolerance in his voice.

"No.  It’s all right.  I was wrong to mention it."

Her admission of sin did not in the least placate him.

He advanced towards the table.

"You haven’t mentioned it," he said stiffly.

Their eyes met, as Hilda’s quitted the newspaper. He could not read
hers.  She seemed very calm.  He thought as he looked at her: "How
strange it is that I should be living with this woman!  What is she to
me?  What do I know of her?"

She said with tranquillity:

"If you do see Big James you might tell him not to trouble himself about
that programme."

"Programme?  What programme?" he asked, startled.

"Oh!  Edwin!" She gave a little laugh.  "The musical evening programme,
of course.  Aren’t we having a musical evening to-morrow night?"

More justification for annoyance!  Why should she confuse the situation
by pretending that he had forgotten the musical evening?  The pretence
was idiotic, deceiving no one.  The musical evening was constantly being
mentioned.

Reports of assiduous practising had reached them; and on the previous
night they had had quite a subdued altercation over a proposal of
Hilda’s for altering the furniture in the drawing-room.

"This is the first I’ve heard of any programme," said Edwin.  "Do you
mean a printed programme?"

Of course she could mean nothing else.  He was absolutely staggered at
the idea that she had been down to his works, without a word to him, and
given orders to Big James, or even talked to Big James, about a
programme.  She had no remorse.  She had no sense of danger.  Had she
the slightest conception of what business was?  Imagine Maggie
attempting such a thing! It was simply not conceivable.  A wife going to
her husband’s works, and behind his back giving orders----!  It was as
though a natural law had suspended its force.

"Why, Edwin," she said in extremely clear, somewhat surprised, and
gently benevolent accents.  "What ever’s the matter with you?  There
_is_ a programme of music, I suppose?"  (There she was, ridiculously
changing the meaning of the word programme!  What infantile tactics!)
"It occurred to me all of a sudden yesterday afternoon how nice it would
be to have it printed on gilt-edged cards, so I ran down to the shop,
but you weren’t there.  So I saw Big James."

"You never said anything to me about it last night. Nor this morning."

"Didn’t I? ... Well, I forgot."

Grotesque creature!

"Well, what did Big James say?"

"Oh!  Don’t ask me.  But if he treats all your customers as he treated
me ... However, it doesn’t matter now.  I shall write the programme out
myself."

"What did he say?"

"It wasn’t what he said....  But he’s very rude, you know.  Other people
think so too."

"What other people?"

"Oh!  Never mind who!  Of course, _I_ know how to take it.  And I know
you believe in him blindly.  But his airs are preposterous.  And he’s a
dirty old man. And I say, Edwin, seeing how very particular you are
about things at home, you really ought to see that the front shop is
kept cleaner.  It’s no affair of mine, and I never interfere,--but
really...!"

Not a phrase of this speech but what was highly and deliberately
provocative.  Assuredly no other person had ever said that Big James was
rude.  (But _had_ someone else said so, after all?  Suppose, challenged,
she gave a name!)  Big James’s airs were not preposterous; he was merely
old and dignified.  His apron and hands were dirty, naturally....  And
then the implication that Big James was a fraud, and that he, Edwin, was
simpleton enough to be victimised by the fraud, while the great
all-seeing Hilda exposed it at a single glance!  And the implication
that he, Edwin, was fussy at home, and negligent at the shop!  And the
astounding assertion that she never interfered!

He smothered up all his feelings, with difficulty, as a sailor smothers
up a lowered sail in a high wind, and merely demanded, for the third
time:

"What did Big James say?"

"I was given to understand," said Hilda roguishly, "that it was quite,
quite, quite impossible.  But his majesty would see! ... Well, he
needn’t ’see.’  I see how wrong I was to suggest it at all."

Edwin moved away in silence.

"Are you going, Edwin?" she asked innocently.

"Yes," glumly.

"You haven’t kissed me."

She did not put him to the shame of returning to her.  No, she jumped up
blithely, radiant.  Her make-believe that nothing had happened was
maddening.  She kissed him lovingly, with a smile, more than once.  He
did not kiss; he was kissed.  Nevertheless somehow the kissing modified
his mental position and he felt better after it.

"Don’t work yourself up, darling," she counselled him, with kindness and
concern, as he went out of the room.  "You know how sensitive you are."
It was a calculated insult, but an insult which had to be ignored. To
notice it would have been a grave tactical error.



                                   II


When he reached the shop, he sat down at his old desk in the
black-stained cubicle, and spied forth and around for the alleged dust
which he would tolerate in business but would not tolerate at home.  It
was there. He could see places that had obviously not been touched for
weeks, withdrawn places where the undisturbed mounds of stock and litter
had the eternal character of Roman remains or vestiges of creation.  The
senior errand-boy was in the shop, snuffling over a blue-paper parcel.

"Boy," said Edwin.  "What time do you come here in the morning?"

"’A’ past seven, sir."

"Well, on Monday morning you’ll be here at seven and you’ll move
everything--there and there and there--and sweep and dust properly.
This shop’s like a pigstye.  I believe you never dust anything but the
counters."

He was mild but firm.  He knew himself for a just man; yet the fact that
he was robbing this boy of half-an-hour’s sleep and probably the boy’s
mother also, and upsetting the ancient order of the boy’s household, did
not trouble him, did not even occur to him.  For him the boy had no
mother and no household, but was a patent self-causing boy that came
miraculously into existence on the shop doorstep every morning and
achieved annihilation thereon every night.

The boy was a fatalist, but his fatalism had limits, because he well
knew that the demand for errand-boys was greater than the supply.
Though the limits of his fatalism had not yet been reached, he was
scarcely pleased.

"If I come at seven who’ll gi’ me th’ kays, sir?" he demanded rather
surlily, wiping his nose on his sleeve.

"I’ll see that you have the keys," said Edwin, with divine assurance,
though he had not thought of the difficulty of the keys.

The boy left the shop, his body thrown out of the perpendicular by the
weight of the blue-paper parcel.

"You ought to keep an eye on this place," said Edwin quietly to the
young man who combined the function of clerk with that of salesman to
the rare retail customers.  "I can’t see to everything.  Here, check
these wages for me."  He indicated small piles of money.

"Yes, sir," said the clerk with self-respect, but admitting the justice
of the animadversion.

Edwin seldom had difficulty with his employees. Serious friction was
unknown in the establishment.

He went out by the back-entrance, thinking:

"It’s no affair whatever of hers.  Moreover the shop’s as clean as shops
are, and a damned sight cleaner than most.  A shop isn’t a
drawing-room....  And now there’s the infernal programme."

He would have liked to bury and forget the matter of the programme.  But
he could not.  His conscience, or her fussiness, would force him to
examine into it. There was no doubt that Big James was getting an old
man, with peculiar pompous mannerisms and a disposition towards
impossibilism.  Big James ought to have remembered, in speaking to
Hilda, that he was speaking to the wife of his employer.  That Hilda
should give an order, or even make a request, direct was perhaps
unusual, but--dash it!--you knew what women were, and if that old josser
of a bachelor, Big James, didn’t know what women were, so much the worse
for him.  He should just give Big James a hint.  He could not have Big
James making mischief between himself and Hilda.

But the coward would not go straight to Big James. He went first up to
what had come to be called "the litho room," partly in order to postpone
Big James, but partly also because he had quite an affectionate proud
interest in the litho room.  In Edwin’s childhood this room, now
stripped and soiled into a workshop, had been the drawing-room of the
Clayhanger family; and it still showed the defect which it had always
shown; the window was too small and too near the corner of the room.  No
transformation could render it satisfactory save a change in the window.
Old Darius Clayhanger had vaguely talked of altering the window.  Edwin
had thought seriously of it.  But nothing had been done.  Edwin was
continuing the very policy of his father which had so roused his disdain
when he was young: the policy of "making things do."  Instead of
entering upon lithography in a manner bold, logical, and decisive, he
had nervously and half-heartedly slithered into it.  Thus at the back of
the yard was a second-hand "Newsom" machine in quarters too small for
it, and the apparatus for the preliminary polishing of the stones; while
up here in the ex-drawing-room were grotesquely mingled the final
polishing process and the artistic department.

The artist who drew the designs on the stone was a German, with short
fair hair and moustache, a thick neck and a changeless expression.
Edwin had surprisingly found him in Hanbridge.  He was very skilled in
judging the amount of "work" necessary on the stone to produce a desired
result on the paper, and very laborious.  Without him the nascent
lithographic trade could not have prospered.  His wages were extremely
moderate, but they were what he had asked, and in exchange for them he
gave his existence.  Edwin liked to watch him drawing, slavishly,
meticulously, endlessly.  He was absolutely without imagination,
artistic feeling, charm, urbanity, or elasticity of any sort,--a miracle
of sheer gruff positiveness.  He lived somewhere in Hanbridge, and had
once been seen by Edwin on a Sunday afternoon, wheeling a perambulator
and smiling at a young enceinte woman who held his free arm.  An
astounding sight, which forced Edwin to adjust his estimates!  He grimly
called himself an Englishman, and was legally entitled to do so.  On
this morning he was drawing a ewer and basin, for the illustrated
catalogue of an earthenware manufacturer.

"Not a very good light to-day," murmured Edwin.

"Eh?"

"Not a very good light."

"No," said Karl sourly and indifferently, bent over the stone, and
breathing with calm regularity.  "My eyesight is being de-stroit."

Behind, a young man in a smock was industriously polishing a stone.

Edwin beheld with pleasure.  It was a joy to think that here was the
sole lithography in Bursley, and that his own enterprise had started it.
Nevertheless he was ashamed too,--ashamed of his hesitations, his
half-measures, his timidity, and of Karl’s impaired eyesight.  There was
no reason why he should not build a proper works, and every reason why
he should; the operation would be remunerative; it would set an example;
it would increase his prestige.  He grew resolute.  On the day of the
party at the Benbows’ he had been and carefully inspected the plot of
land at Shawport, and yesterday he had made a very low offer for it.  If
the offer was refused, he would raise it.  He swore to himself he would
have his works.

Then Big James came into the litho room.

"I was seeking ye, sir," said Big James majestically, with a mysterious
expression.

Edwin tried to look at him anew, as it were with Hilda’s eyes.
Certainly his bigness amounted now to an enormity, for proportionately
his girth more than matched his excessive height.  His apron descended
from the semicircle of his paunch like a vast grey wall. The apron was
dirty, this being Saturday, but it was at any rate intact; in old days
Big James and others at critical moments of machining used to tear
strips off their aprons for machine-rags....  Yes, he was conceivably a
grotesque figure, with his spectacles, which did not suit him, his heavy
breathing, his mannerisms, and his grandiose air of Atlas supporting the
moral world.  A woman might be excused for seeing the comic side of him.
But surely he was honest and loyal.  Surely he was not the adder that
Hilda with an intonation had suggested!

"I’m coming," said Edwin, rather curtly.

He felt just in the humour for putting Big James "straight."  Still his
reply had not been too curt, for to his staff he was the opposite of a
bully; he always scorned to take a facile advantage of his power, often
tried even to conceal his power in the fiction that the employee was one
man and himself merely another.  He would be far more devastating to his
wife and his sister than to any employee.  But at intervals a bad or
careless workman had to meet the blaze of his eye and accept the lash of
his speech.

"It’s about that little job for the mistress, sir," said Big James in a
soft voice, when they were out on the landing.

Edwin gave a start.  The ageing man’s tones were so eager, so anxiously
loyal!  His emphasis on the word ’mistress’ conveyed so clearly that the
mistress was a high and glorious personage to serve whom was an honour
and a fearful honour!  The ageing man had almost whispered, like a boy,
glancing with jealous distrust at the shut door of the room that
contained the German.

"Oh!" muttered Edwin, taken aback.

"I set it up myself," said Big James, and holding his head very high
looked down at Edwin under his spectacles.

"Why!" said Edwin cautiously.  "I thought you’d given Mrs. Clayhanger
the idea it couldn’t be done in time."

"Bless ye, sir!  Not if I know it!  I intimated to her the situation in
which we were placed, with urgent jobs on hand, as in duty bound, sir,
she being the mistress.  Ye know how slow I am to give a promise, sir.
But not to do it--such was not my intention.  And as I have said
already, sir, I’ve set it up myself, and here’s a rough pull."

He produced a piece of paper.

Edwin’s ancient affection for Big James grew indignant.  The old fellow
was the very mirror of loyalty. He might be somewhat grotesque and
mannered upon occasion, but he was the soul of the Clayhanger business.
He had taught Edwin most of what he knew about both typesetting and
machining.  It seemed not long since that he used to call Edwin "young
sir," a to enter into tacit leagues with him against the dangerous
obstinacies of his decaying father.  Big James had genuinely admired
Darius Clayhanger.  Assuredly he admired Darius’s son not less.  His
fidelity to the dynasty was touching; it was wistful.  The order from
the mistress had tremendously excited and flattered him in his secret
heart....  And yet Hilda must call him names, must insinuate against his
superb integrity, must grossly misrepresent his attitude to herself.
Whatever in his pompous old way he might have said, she could not
possibly have mistaken his anxiety to please her.  No, she had given a
false account of their interview,--and Edwin had believed it!  Edwin now
swerved violently back to his own original view. He firmly believed Big
James against his wife.  He reflected: "How simple I was to swallow all
Hilda said without confirmation!  I might have known!"  And that he
should think such a thought shocked him tremendously.

The programme was not satisfactorily set up.  Apart from several
mistakes in the spelling of proper names, the thing with its fancy
types, curious centring, and superabundance of full-stops, resembled
more the libretto of a Primitive Methodist Tea-meeting than a programme
of classical music offered to refined dilettanti on a Sunday night.
Though Edwin had endeavoured to modernise Big James, he had failed.  It
was perhaps well that he had failed.  For the majority of customers
preferred Big James’s taste in printing to Edwin’s.  He corrected the
misspellings and removed a few full-stops, and then said:

"It’s all right.  But I doubt if Mrs. Clayhanger’ll care for all these
fancy founts," implying that it was a pity, of course, that Big James’s
fancy founts would not be appreciated at their true value, but women
were women.  "I should almost be inclined to set it all again in
old-face.  I’m sure she’d prefer it.  Do you mind?"

"With the greatest of pleasure, sir," Big James heartily concurred,
looking at his watch.  "But I must be lively."

He conveyed his immense bulk neatly and importantly down the narrow
stairs.



                                  III


Edwin sat in his cubicle again, his affection for Big James very active.
How simple and agreeable it was to be a man among men only!  The
printing-business was an organism fifty times as large as the home, and
it worked fifty times more smoothly.  No misunderstandings, no secrecies
(at any rate among the chief persons concerned), and a general
recognition of the principles of justice!  Even the errand-boy had
understood. And the shop-clerk by his tone had admitted that he too was
worthy of blame.  The blame was not overdone, and common-sense had
closed the episode in a moment.  And see with what splendid good-will
Big James, despite the intense conservatism of old age, had accepted the
wholesale condemnation of his idea of a programme!  The relations of men
were truly wonderful, when you come to think about it.  And to be at
business was a relief and even a pleasure.  Edwin could not remember
having ever before regarded the business as a source of pleasure.  A
youth, he had gone into it greatly against his will, and by tradition he
had supposed himself still to hate it.

Why had Hilda misled him as to Big James?  For she had misled him.  Yes,
she had misled him.  What was her motive?  What did she think she could
gain by it?  He was still profoundly disturbed by this deception.
"Why!" he thought, "I can’t trust her!  I shall have to be on my guard!
I’ve been in the habit of opening my mouth and swallowing practically
everything she says!"  His sense of justice very sharply resented her
perfidy to Big James.  His heart warmed to the defence of the excellent
old man.  What had she got against Big James?  Since the day when the
enormous man had first shown her over the printing shops, before their
original betrothal, a decade and more ago, he had never treated her with
anything but an elaborate and sincere respect.  Was she jealous of him,
because of his, Edwin’s, expressed confidence in and ancient regard for
him, and because Edwin and he had always been good companions?  Or had
she merely taken a dislike to him,--a physical dislike?  Edwin had
noticed that some women had a malicious detestation for some old men,
especially when the old men had any touch of the grotesque or the
pompous....  Well, he should defend Big James against her.  She should
keep her hands off Big James.  His sense of justice was so powerful in
that moment that if he had had to choose between his wife and Big James
he would have chosen Big James.

He came out of the cubicle into the shop, and arranged his countenance
so that the clerk should suppose him to be thinking in tremendous
concentration upon some complex problem of the business.  And
simultaneously Hilda passed up Duck Bank on the way to market.  She
passed so close to the shop that she seemed to brush it like a
delicious, exciting, and exasperating menace.  If she turned her head
she could scarcely fail to see Edwin near the door of the shop. But she
did not turn her head.  She glided up the slope steadily and implacably.
And even in the distance of the street her individuality showed itself
mysterious and strong.  He could never decide whether she was beautiful
or not; he felt that she was impressive, and not to be scorned or
ignored.  Perhaps she was not beautiful.  Certainly she was not young.
She had not the insipidity of the young girl unfulfilled.  Nor did she
inspire melancholy like the woman just beyond her prime.  The one was
going to be; the other had been. Hilda was.  And she had lived.  There
was in her none of the detestable ignorance and innocence that, for
Edwin, spoilt the majority of women.  She knew.  She was an equal, and a
dangerous equal.  Simultaneously he felt that he could crush and kill
the little thing, and that he must beware of the powerful, unscrupulous,
inscrutable individuality....  And she receded still higher up Duck Bank
and then turned round the corner to the Market Place and vanished.  And
there was a void.

She would return.  As she had receded gradually, so she would gradually
approach the shop again with her delicious, exciting, exasperating
menace.  And he had a scheme for running out to her and with candour
inviting her in and explaining to her in just the right tone of
good-will that loyalty to herself simply hummed and buzzed in the shop
and the printing-works, and that Big James worshipped her, and that
though she was perfect in sagacity she had really been mistaken about
Big James.  And he had a vision of her smiling kindly and frankly upon
Big James, and Big James twisting upon his own axis in joyous pride.
Nothing but good-will and candour was required to produce this bliss.

But he knew that he would never run out to her and invite her to enter.
The enterprise was perilous to the point of being foolhardy.  With a
tone, with a hesitation, with an undecipherable pout, she might, she
would, render it absurd....  And then, his pride! ... At that moment
young Alec Batchgrew, perhaps then the town’s chief mooncalf, came down
Duck Bank in dazzling breeches on a superb grey horse.  And Edwin went
abruptly back to work lest the noodle should rein in at the shop door
and talk to him.



                                   IV


When he returned home, a few minutes before the official hour of one
o’clock, he heard women’s voices and laughter in the drawing-room.  And
as he stood in the hall, fingering the thin little parcel of six
programmes which he had brought with him, the laughter overcame the
voices and then expended itself in shrieks of quite uncontrolled mirth.
The drawing-room door was half open.  He stepped quietly to it.

The weather, after being thunderous, had cleared, and the part of the
drawing-room near the open window was shot with rays of sunshine.

Janet Orgreave, all dressed in white, lay back in an easy chair; she was
laughing and wiping the tears from her eyes.  At the piano sat very
upright a seemingly rather pert young woman, not laughing, but smiling,
with arch sparkling eyes fixed on the others; this was Daisy Marrion, a
cousin of Mrs. Tom Orgreave, and the next to the last unmarried daughter
of a large family up at Hillport.  Standing by the piano was a young
timid girl of about sixteen, whom Edwin, who had not seen her before,
guessed to be Janet’s niece, Elaine, eldest daughter of Janet’s elder
sister in London; Elaine’s approaching visit had been announced. These
other two, like Janet, were in white.  Lastly there was Hilda, in grey,
with a black hat, laughing like a child.  "They are all children," he
thought as, unnoticed, he watched them in their bright fragile frocks
and hats, and in their excessive gaiety, and in the strange abandon of
their gestures.  "They are a foreign race encamped among us men.  Fancy
women of nearly forty giggling with these girls as Janet and Hilda are
giggling!"  He felt much pleasure in the sight.  It could not have
happened in poor old Maggie’s reign.  It was delicious.  It was one of
the rewards of existence, for the grace of these creatures was
surpassing.  But at the same time it was hysterical and infantile.  He
thought: "I’ve been taking women too seriously."  And his heart
lightened somewhat.

Elaine saw him first.  A flush flowed from her cheeks to her neck.  Her
body stiffened.  She became intensely self-conscious.  She could not
speak, but she leaned forward and gazed with a passion of apprehension
at Janet, as if murmuring: "Look!  The enemy!  Take care!"  The
imploring silent movement was delightful in its gawky ingenuousness.

"Do tell us some more, Daisy," Hilda implored weakly.

"There is no more," said Daisy, and then started: "Oh, Mr. Clayhanger!
How long have you been there?"

He entered the room, yielding himself, proud, masculine, acutely aware
of his sudden effect on these girls. For even Hilda was naught but a
girl at the moment; and Janet was really a girl, though the presence of
that shy niece, just awaking to her own body and to the world, made
Janet seem old in spite of her slimness and of that smoothness of skin
that was due to a tranquil, kind temperament.  The shy niece was
enchantingly constrained upon being introduced to Edwin, whom she was
enjoined to call uncle.  Only yesterday she must have been a child.  Her
marvellously clear complexion could not have been imitated by any aunt
or elder sister.

"And now perhaps you’ll tell me what it’s all about," said Edwin.

Hilda replied:

"Janet’s called about tennis.  It seems they’re sick of the new Hillport
Club.  I knew they would be.  And so next year Janet’s having a private
club on her lawn----"

"Bad as it is," said Janet.

"Where the entire conversation won’t be remarks by girls about other
girls’ frocks and remarks by men about the rotten inferiority of other
men."

"This is all very sound," said Edwin, rather struck by Hilda’s
epigrammatic quality.  "But what I ask is--what were you laughing at?"

"Oh, nothing!" said Daisy Marrion.

"Very well then," said Edwin, going to the door and shutting it.
"Nobody leaves this room till I know.... Now, niece Elaine!"

Elaine went crimson and squirmed on her only recently hidden legs, but
she did not speak.

"Tell him, Daisy," said Janet.

Daisy sat still straighter.

"It was only about Alec Batchgrew, Mr. Clayhanger; I suppose you know
him."

Alec was the youngest scion of the great and detested plutocratic family
of Batchgrew,--enormously important in his nineteen years.

"Yes, I know him," said Edwin.  "I saw him on his new grey horse this
morning."

"His ’orse," Janet corrected.  They all began to laugh again loudly.

"He’s taken a terrific fancy to Maud, my kiddie sister," said Daisy.
"She’s sixteen.  Yesterday afternoon at the tennis club he said to Maud:
’Look ’ere. I shall ride through the town to-morrow morning on my ’orse,
while you’re all marketing.  I shan’t take any notice of any of the
other girls, but if you bow to me I’ll take my ’at off to you.’"  She
imitated the Batchgrew intonation.

"That’s a good tale," said Edwin calmly.  "What a cuckoo!  He ought to
be put in a museum."

Daisy, made rather nervous by the success of her tale, bent over the
piano, and skimmed pianissimo and rapidly through the "Clytie" waltz.
Elaine moved her shoulders to the rhythm.

Janet said they must go.

"Here!  Hold on a bit!" said Edwin, through the light film of music, and
undoing the little parcel he handed one specimen of the programme to
Hilda and another to Janet, simultaneously.

"Oh, so my ideas are listened to, sometimes!" murmured Hilda, who was,
however, pleased.

A malicious and unjust remark, he thought.  But the next instant Hilda
said in a quite friendly natural tone:

"Janet’s going to bring Elaine.  And she says Tom says she is to tell
you that he’s coming whether he’s wanted or not.  Daisy won’t come."

"Why?" asked Edwin, but quite perfunctorily; he knew that the Marrions
were not interested in interesting music, and his design had been to
limit the audience to enthusiasts.

"Church," answered Daisy succinctly.

"Come after church."

She shook her head.

"And how’s the practising?" Edwin enquired from Janet.

"Pretty fair," said she.  "But not so good as this programme.  What
swells we are, my word!"

"Hilda’s idea," said Edwin generously.  "Your mother coming?"

"Oh, yes, I think so."

As the visitors were leaving, Hilda stopped Janet.

"Don’t you think it’ll be better if we have the piano put over there,
and all the chairs together round here, Janet?"

"It might be," said Janet uncertainly.

Hilda turned sharply to Edwin:

"There!  What did I tell you?"

"Well," he protested good-humouredly, "what on earth do you expect her
to say, when you ask her like that?  Anyhow I may announce definitely
that I’m not going to have the piano moved.  We’ll try things as they
are, for a start, and then see.  Why, if you put all the chairs together
over there, the place’ll look like a blooming boarding-house."

The comparison was a failure in tact, which he at once recognised but
could not retrieve.  Hilda faintly reddened, and the memory of her
struggles as manageress of a boarding-house was harshly revived in her.

"Some day I shall try the piano over there," she said, low.

And Edwin concurred, amiably:

"All right.  Some day we’ll try it together, just to see what it is
like."

The girls, the younger ones still giggling, slipped elegantly out of the
house, one after another.

Dinner passed without incident.



                                   V


The next day, Sunday, Edwin had a headache; and it was a bilious
headache.  Hence he insisted to himself and to everyone that it was not
a bilious headache, but just one of those plain headaches which
sometimes visit the righteous without cause or excuse; for he would
never accept the theory that he had inherited his father’s digestive
weakness.  A liability to colds he would admit, but not on any account a
feeble stomach.  Hence, further, he was obliged to pretend to eat as
usual. George was rather gnat-like that morning, and Hilda was in a
susceptible condition, doubtless due to nervousness occasioned by the
novel responsibilities of the musical evening--and a Sabbath musical
evening at that! After the one o’clock dinner, Edwin lay down on the
sofa in the dining-room and read and slept; and when he woke up he felt
better, and was sincerely almost persuaded that his headache had not
been and was not a bilious headache.  He said to himself that a short
walk might disperse the headache entirely.  He made one or two trifling
adjustments in the disposition of the drawing-room furniture--his own
disposition of it, and immensely and indubitably superior to that so
pertinaciously advocated by Hilda--and then he went out. Neither Hilda
nor George was visible.  Possibly during his rest they had gone for a
walk; they had fits of intimacy.

He walked in the faint September sunshine down Trafalgar Road into the
town.  Except for a few girls in dowdy finery and a few heavy youths
with their black or dark-blue trousers turned up round the ankles far
enough to show the white cotton lining, the street was empty.  The
devout at that hour were either dozing at home or engaged in Sunday
school work; thousands of children were concentrated in the hot Sunday
schools.  As he passed the Bethesda Chapel and School he heard the
voices of children addressing the Lord of the Universe in laudatory and
intercessory song.  Near the Bethesda chapel, by the Duke of Cambridge
Vaults, two men stood waiting, their faces firm in the sure knowledge
that within three hours the public-houses would again be open.  Thick
smoke rose from the chimneys of several manufactories and thin smoke
from the chimneys of many others.  The scheme of a Sunday musical
evening in that land presented itself to Edwin as something rash,
fantastic, and hopeless,--and yet solacing.  Were it known it could
excite only hostility, horror, contempt, or an intense bovine
indifference; chiefly the last....  Breathe the name of Chopin in that
land!...

As he climbed Duck Bank he fumbled in his pocket for his private key of
the shop, which he had brought with him; for, not the desire for fresh
air, but an acute curiosity as to the answer to his letter to the
solicitor to the Hall trustees making an offer for the land at Shawport,
had sent him out of the house.  Would the offer be accepted or declined,
or would a somewhat higher sum be suggested?  The reply would have been
put into the post on Saturday, and was doubtless then lying in the
letter-box within the shop.  The whole future seemed to be lying
unopened in that letter-box.

He penetrated into his own shop like a thief, for it was not meet for an
important tradesman to be seen dallying with business of a Sunday
afternoon.  As he went into the shutter-darkened interior he thought of
Hilda, whom many years earlier he had kissed in that very same
shutter-darkened interior one Thursday afternoon.  Life appeared
incredible to him, and in his wife he could see almost no trace of the
girl he had kissed there in the obscure shop.  There was a fair quantity
of letters in the box.  The first one he opened was from a solicitor;
not the solicitor to the Hall trustees, but Tom Orgreave, who announced
to Edwin Clayhanger, Esquire, dear sir, that his clients, the Palace
Porcelain Company of Longshaw, felt compelled to call their creditors
together.  The Palace Porcelain Company, who had believed in the
efficacy of printed advertising matter and expensive catalogues, owed
Edwin a hundred and eighty pounds.  It was a blow, and the more so in
that it was unexpected.  "Did I come messing down here on a Sunday
afternoon to receive this sort of news?" he bitterly asked.  A moment
earlier he had not doubted the solvency of the Palace Porcelain Company;
but now he felt that the Company wouldn’t pay two shillings in the
pound,--perhaps not even that, as there were debenture-holders.  The
next letter was an acceptance of his offer for the Shawport land.  The
die was cast, then.  The new works would have to be created; lithography
would increase; in the vast new enterprise he would be hampered by the
purchase of Maggie’s house; he had just made a bad debt; and he would
have Hilda’s capricious opposition to deal with.  He quitted the shop
abruptly, locked the door, and went back home, his mind very active but
undirected.



                                   VI


Something unfamiliar in the aspect of the breakfast-room as glimpsed
through the open door from the hall, drew him within.  Hilda had at last
begun to make it into "her" room.  She had brought an old writing-desk
from upstairs and put it between the fireplace and the window.  Edwin
thought: "Doesn’t she even know the light ought to fall over the left
shoulder, not over the right?"  Letter paper and envelopes and even
stamps were visible; and a miscellaneous mass of letters and bills had
been pushed into the space between the flat of the desk and the small
drawers about it. There was also an easy-chair, with a freshly-covered
cushion on it; a new hearthrug that Edwin neither recognised nor
approved of; several framed prints, and other oddments.  His own
portrait still dominated the mantelpiece, but it was now flanked by two
brass candle-sticks.  He thought: "If she’d ask me, I could have
arranged it for her much better than that."  Nevertheless the idea of
her being absolute monarch of the little room, and expressing her
individuality in it and by it, both pleased and touched him.  Nor did he
at all resent the fact that she had executed her plan in secret.  She
must have been anxious to get the room finished for the musical evening.

Thence he passed into the drawing-room,--and was thunderstruck.  The
arrangement of the furniture was utterly changed, and the resemblance to
a boarding-house parlour after all achieved.  The piano had crossed the
room; the chairs were massed together in the most ridiculous way; the
sofa was so placed as to be almost useless.  His anger was furious but
cold.  The woman had considerable taste in certain directions, but she
simply did not understand the art of fixing up a room.  Whereas he did.
Each room in the house (save her poor little amateurish breakfast-room
or "boudoir") had been arranged by himself, even to small details,--and
well arranged.  Everyone admitted that he had a talent for interiors.
The house was complete before she ever saw it, and he had been
responsible for it.  He was not the ordinary inexperienced ignorant
husband who "leaves all that sort of thing to the missis."  Interiors
mattered to him; they influenced his daily happiness.  The woman had
clearly failed to appreciate the sacredness of the _status quo_.  He
appreciated it himself, and never altered anything without consulting
her and definitely announcing his intention to alter.  She probably
didn’t care a fig for the _status quo_.  Her conduct was inexcusable.
It was an attack on vital principles.  It was an outrage.  Doubtless, in
her scorn for the _status quo_, she imagined that he would accept the
_fait accompli_.  She was mistaken. With astounding energy he set to
work to restore the _status quo ante_.  The vigour with which he dragged
and pushed an innocent elephantine piano was marvellous.  In less than
five minutes not a trace remained of the _fait accompli_.  He thought:
"This is a queer start for a musical evening!"  But he was triumphant,
resolute, and remorseless.  He would show her a thing or two.  In
particular he would show that fair play had to be practised in his
house.  Then, perceiving that his hands were dirty, and one finger
bleeding, he went majestically, if somewhat breathless, upstairs to the
bathroom, and washed with care.  In the glass he saw that, despite his
exertions, he was pale.  At length he descended, wondering where she
was, where she had hidden herself, who had helped her to move the
furniture, and what exactly the upshot would be.  There could be no
doubt that he was in a state of high emotion, in which unflinching
obstinacy was shot through with qualms about disaster.

He revisited the drawing-room to survey his labours. She was there.
Whence she had sprung, he knew not.  But she was there.  He caught sight
of her standing by the window before entering the room.

When he got into the room he saw that her emotional excitement far
surpassed his own.  Her lips and her hands were twitching; her nostrils
dilated and contracted; tears were in her eyes.

"Edwin," she exclaimed very passionately, in a thick voice, quite unlike
her usual clear tones, as she surveyed the furniture, "this is really
too much!"

Evidently she thought of nothing but her resentment.  No consideration
other than her outraged dignity would have affected her demeanour.  If a
whole regiment of their friends had been watching at the door, her
demeanour would not have altered.  The bedrock of her nature had been
reached.

"It’s war, this is!" thought Edwin.

He was afraid; he was even intimidated by her anger; but he did not lose
his courage.  The determination to fight for himself, and to see the
thing through no matter what happened, was not a bit weakened.  An
inwardly feverish but outwardly calm vindictive desperation possessed
him.  He and she would soon know who was the stronger.

At the same time he said to himself:

"I was hasty.  I ought not to have acted in such a hurry.  Before doing
anything I ought to have told her quietly that I intended to have the
last word as regards furniture in this house.  I was within my rights in
acting at once, but it wasn’t very clever of me, clumsy fool!"

Aloud he said, with a kind of self-conscious snigger:

"What’s too much?"

Hilda went on:

"You simply make me look a fool in my own house, before my own son and
the servants."

"You’ve brought it on yourself," said he fiercely. "If you will do these
idiotic things you must take the consequences.  I told you I didn’t want
the furniture moved, and immediately my back’s turned you go and move
it.  I won’t have it, and so I tell you straight."

"You’re a brute," she continued, not heeding him, obsessed by her own
wound.  "You’re a brute!"  She said it with terrifying conviction.
"Everybody knows it.  Didn’t Maggie warn me?  You’re a brute and a
bully.  And you do all you can to shame me in my own house.  Who’d think
I was supposed to be the mistress here?  Even in front of my friends you
insult me."

"Don’t act like a baby.  How do I insult you?"

"Talking about boarding-houses.  Do you think Janet and all of them
didn’t notice it?"

"Well," he said.  "Let this be a lesson to you."

She hid her face in her hands and sobbed, moving towards the door.

He thought:

"She’s beaten.  She knows she’s got to take it."

Then he said:

"Do _I_ go altering furniture without consulting you? Do _I_ do things
behind your back?  Never!"

"That’s no reason why you should try to make me look a fool in my own
house.  I told Ada how I wanted the furniture, and George and I helped
her.  And then a moment afterwards you give them contrary orders. What
will they think of me?  Naturally they’ll think I’m not your wife, but
your slave.  You’re a brute."  Her voice rose.

"I didn’t give any orders.  I haven’t seen the damned servants and I
haven’t seen George."

She looked up suddenly:

"Then who moved the furniture?"

"I did."

"Who helped you?"

"Nobody helped me."

"But I was here only a minute or two since."

"Well, do you suppose it takes me half a day to move a few sticks of
furniture?"

She was impressed by his strength and his swiftness, and apparently
silenced; she had thought that the servants had been brought into the
affair.

"You ought to know perfectly well," he proceeded, "I should never dream
of insulting you before the servants.  Nobody’s more careful of your
dignity than I am.  I should like to see anybody do anything against
your dignity while I’m here."

She was still sobbing.

"I think you ought to apologise to me," she blubbered. "Yes, I really
do."

"Why should I apologise to you?  You moved the furniture against my
wish.  I moved it against yours. That’s all.  You began.  I didn’t
begin.  You want everything your own way.  Well, you won’t have it."

She blubbered once more:

"You ought to apologise to me."

And then she wept hysterically.

He meditated sourly, harshly.  He had conquered. The furniture was as he
wished, and it would remain so.  The enemy was in tears, shamed,
humiliated.  He had a desire to restore her dignity, partly because she
was his wife and partly because he hated to see any human being beaten.
Moreover, at the bottom of his heart he had a tremendous regard for
appearances, and he felt fears for the musical evening.  He could not
contemplate the possibility of visitors perceiving that the host and
hostess had violently quarrelled.  He would have sacrificed almost
anything to the social proprieties.  And he knew that Hilda would not
think of them, or at any rate would not think of them effectively.  He
did not mind apologising to her, if an apology would give her
satisfaction.  He was her superior in moral force, and naught else
mattered.

"I don’t think I ought to apologise," he said, with a slight laugh.
"But if you think so I don’t mind apologising.  I apologise.  There!"
He dropped into an easy-chair.

To him it was as if he had said:

"You see what a magnanimous chap I am."

She tried to conceal her feelings, but she was pleased, flattered,
astonished.  Her self-respect returned to her rapidly.

"Thank you," she murmured, and added: "It was the least you could do."

At her last words he thought:

"Women are incapable of being magnanimous."

She moved towards the door.

"Hilda," he said.

She stopped.

"Come here," he commanded with gentle bluffness.

She wavered towards him.

"Come here, I tell you," he said again.

He drew her down to him, all fluttering and sobbing and wet, and kissed
her, kissed her several times; and then, sitting on his knees, she
kissed him.  But, though she mysteriously signified forgiveness, she
could not smile; she was still far too agitated and out of control to be
able to smile.

The scene was over.  The proprieties of the musical evening were saved.
Her broken body and soul huddled against him were agreeably wistful to
his triumphant manliness.

But he had had a terrible fright.  And even now there was a certain mere
bravado in his attitude.  In his heart he was thinking:

"By Jove!  Has it come to this?"

The responsibilities of the future seemed too complicated, wearisome and
overwhelming.  The earthly career of a bachelor seemed almost heavenly
in its wondrous freedom....  Etches v. Etches....  The unexampled
creature, so recently the source of ineffable romance, still sat on his
knees, weighing them down. Suddenly he noticed that his head ached very
badly--worse than it had ached all day.



                                  VII


The Sunday musical evening, beyond its artistic thrills and emotional
quality, proved to be exciting as a social manifestation.  Those present
at it felt as must feel Russian conspirators in a back room of some big
grey house of a Petrograd suburb when the secret printing-press begins
to function before their eyes.  This concert of profane harmonies,
deliberately planned and pouring out through open windows to affront the
ears of returners from church and chapel, was considered by its
organisers as a remarkable event; and rightly so.  The Clayhanger house
might have been a fortress, with the blood-red standard of art and
freedom floating from a pole lashed to its chimney.  Of course everybody
pretended to everybody else that the musical evening was a quite
ordinary phenomenon.

It was a success, and a flashing success, yet not unqualified.  The
performers--Tertius Ingpen on the piano, on the fiddle, and on the
clarinet, Janet Orgreave on the piano, and very timidly in a little song
by Grieg, Tom Orgreave on the piano and his contralto wife in two famous
and affecting songs by Schumann and also on the piano, and Edwin sick
but obstinate as turner-over of pages--all did most creditably.  The
music was given with ardent sympathy, and in none of it did any marked
pause occur which had not been contemplated by the composer himself.
But abstentions had thinned the women among the audience.  Elaine Hill
did not come, and, far more important, Mrs. Orgreave did not come.  Her
husband, old Osmond Orgreave, had not been expected, as of late (owing
to the swift onset of renal disease, hitherto treated by him with some
contempt) he had declined absolutely to go out at night; but Edwin had
counted on Mrs. Orgreave.  She simply sent word that she did not care to
leave her husband, and that Elaine was keeping her company.
Disappointment, keen but brief, resulted.  Edwin’s severe sick headache
was also a drawback.  It did, however, lessen the bad social effect of
an altercation between him and Hilda, in which Edwin’s part was
attributed to his indisposition.  This altercation arose out of an
irresponsible suggestion from somebody that something else should be
played instead of something else.  Now, for Edwin, a programme was a
programme,--sacred, to be executed regardless of every extrinsic
consideration.  And seeing that the programme was printed...!  Edwin
negatived the suggestion instantly, and the most weighty opinion in the
room agreed with him, but Hilda must needs fly out: "Why not change it?
I’m sure it will be better," etc.  Whereas she could be sure of nothing
of the sort, and was incompetent to offer an opinion. And she
unreasonably and unnecessarily insisted, despite Tertius Ingpen, and the
change was made.  It was astounding to Edwin that, after the shattering
scene of the afternoon, she should be so foolhardy, so careless, so
obstinate.  But she was.  He kept his resentment neatly in a little
drawer in his mind, and glanced at it now and then.  And he thought of
Tertius Ingpen’s terrible remark about women at Ingpen’s first visit.
He said to himself: "There’s a lot in it, no doubt about that."

At the close of the last item, two of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances for
pianoforte duet (played with truly electrifying _brio_ by little
wizening Tom Orgreave and his wife), both Tertius Ingpen and Tom fussed
consciously about the piano, triumphant, not knowing quite what to do
next, and each looking rather like a man who has told a good story, and
in the midst of the applause tries to make out by an affectation of
casualness that the story is nothing at all.

"Of course," said Tom Orgreave carelessly, and glancing at the ground as
he usually did when speaking, "Fine as those dances are on the piano, I
should prefer to hear them with the fiddle."

"Why?" demanded Ingpen challengingly.

"Because they were written for the fiddle," said Tom Orgreave with
finality.

"Written for the fiddle?  Not a bit of it!"

With superiority outwardly unruffled, Tom said:

"Pardon me.  Brahms wrote them for Joachim.  I’ve heard him play them."

"So have I," said Tertius Ingpen, lightly but scornfully.  "But they
were written originally for pianoforte duet, as you played them
to-night.  Brahms arranged them afterwards for Joachim."

Tom Orgreave shook under the blow, for in musical knowledge his
supremacy had never been challenged in Bleakridge.

"Surely----!" he began weakly.

"My dear fellow, it is so," said Ingpen impatiently.

"Look it up," said Edwin, with false animation, for his head was
thudding.  "George, fetch the encyclopædia B--and J too."

Delighted, George ran off.  He had been examining Johnnie Orgreave’s
watch, and it was to Johnnie he delivered the encyclopædia, amid mock
protests from his uncle Edwin.  More than one person had remarked the
growing alliance between Johnnie and young George.

But the encyclopædia gave no light.

Then the eldest Swetnam (who had come by invitation at the last moment)
said:

"I’m sure Ingpen is right."

He was not sure, but from the demeanour of the two men he could guess,
and he thought he might as well share the glory of Ingpen’s triumph.

The next instant Tertius Ingpen was sketching out future musical
evenings at which quartets and quintets should be performed.  He knew
men in the orchestra at the Theatre Royal, Hanbridge; he knew
girl-violinists who could be drilled, and he was quite certain that he
could get a ’cello.  From this he went on to part-songs, and in answer
to scepticism about local gift for music, he said that during his visits
of inspection to factories he had heard spontaneous part-singing "that
would knock spots off the Savoy chorus."  Indeed, since his return to
it, Ingpen had developed some appreciation of certain aspects of his
native district. He said that the kindly commonsense with which as an
inspector he was received on pot-banks, surpassed anything in the whole
country.

"Talking of pot-banks, you’ll get a letter from me about the Palace
Porcelain Company," Tom Orgreave lifting his eyebrows muttered to Edwin
with a strange gloomy constraint.

"I’ve had it," said Edwin.  "You’ve got some nice clients, I must say."

In a moment, though Tom said not a word more, the Palace Porcelain
Company was on the carpet, to Edwin’s disgust.  He hated to talk about a
misfortune. But others beside himself were interested in the Palace
Porcelain Company, and the news of its failure had boomed mysteriously
through the Sabbath air of the district.

Hilda and Janet were whispering together.  And Edwin, gazing at them,
saw in them the giggling tennis-playing children of the previous
day,--specimens of a foreign race encamped among the men.

Suddenly Hilda turned her head towards the men, and said:

"Of course _Edwin’s_ been let in!"

It was a reference to the Palace Porcelain Company. How ungracious!  How
unnecessary!  How unjust! And somehow Edwin had been fearing it.  And
that was really why he had not liked the turn of the conversation,--he
had been afraid of one of her darts!

Useless for Tom Swetnam to say that a number of business men quite as
keen as Edwin had been "let in"! From her disdainful silence it appeared
that Hilda’s conviction of the unusual simplicity of her husband was
impregnable.

"I hear you’ve got that Shawport land," said Johnnie Orgreave.

The mystic influences of music seemed to have been overpowered.

"Who told ye?" asked Edwin in a low voice, once more frightened of
Hilda.

"Young Toby Hall.  Met him at the Conservative Club last night."

But Hilda had heard.

"What land is that?" she demanded curtly.

"’What land is that?’" Johnnie mimicked her.  "It’s the land for the new
works, missis."

Hilda threw her shoulders back, glaring at Edwin with a sort of outraged
fury.  Happily most of the people present were talking among themselves.

"You never told me," she muttered.

He said:

"I only knew this afternoon."

Her anger was unmistakable.  She was no longer a fluttering feminine
wreck on his manly knee.

"Well, good-bye," said Janet Orgreave startlingly to him.  "Sorry I have
to go so soon."

"You aren’t going!" Edwin protested with unnatural loudness.  "What
about the victuals?  I shan’t touch ’em myself.  But they must be
consumed.  Here!  You and I’ll lead the way."

Half playfully he seized her arm.  She glanced at Hilda uncertainly.

"Edwin," said Hilda very curtly and severely, "don’t be so clumsy.
Janet has to go at once.  Mr. Orgreave is very ill--very ill indeed.
She only came to oblige us."  Then she passionately kissed Janet.

It was like a thunderclap in the room.  Johnnie and Tom confirmed the
news.  Of the rest only Tom’s wife and Hilda knew.  Janet had told Hilda
before the music began.  Osmond Orgreave had been taken ill between five
and six in the afternoon.  Dr. Stirling had gone in at once, and
pronounced the attack serious. Everything possible was done; even a
nurse was obtained instantly, from the Clowes Hospital by the station.
From reasons of sentiment, if from no other, Janet would have stayed at
home and foregone the musical evening.  But those Orgreaves at home had
put their heads together and decided that Janet should still go, because
without her the entire musical evening would crumble to naught.  Here
was the true reason of the absence of Mrs. Orgreave and Elaine--both
unnecessary to the musical evening.  The boys had come, and Tom’s wife
had come, because, even considered only as an audience, the Orgreave
contingent was almost essential to the musical evening.  And so Janet,
her father’s especial favourite and standby, had come, and she had
played, and not a word whispered except to Hilda.  It was wondrous.  It
was impressive.  All the Orgreaves departed, and the remnant of guests
meditated in proud, gratified silence upon the singular fortitude and
heroic commonsense that distinguished their part of the world.  The
musical evening was dramatically over, the refreshments being almost
wasted.



                                  VIII


Hilda was climbing on to the wooden-seated chair in the hall to put out
the light there when she heard a noise behind the closed door of the
kitchen, which she had thought to be empty.  She went to the door and
pushed it violently open.  Not only was the gas flaring away in an
unauthorised manner, not only were both servants (theoretically in bed)
still up, capless and apronless and looking most curious in unrelieved
black, but the adventurous and wicked George was surreptitiously with
them, flattering them with his aristocratic companionship, and eating
blanc-mange out of a cut-glass dish with a tablespoon.  Twice George had
been sent to bed.  Once the servants had been told to go to bed.  The
worst of carnivals is that the dregs of the population, such as George,
will take advantage of them to rise to the surface and, conscienceless
and mischievous, set at defiance the conventions by which society
protects itself.

She merely glanced at George; the menace of her eyes was alarming.  His
lower lip fell; he put down the dish and spoon, and slunk timorously
past her on his way upstairs.

Then she said to the servants:

"You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, encouraging him!  Go to bed at
once."  And as they began nervously to handle the things on the table,
she added, more imperiously: "At once!  Don’t keep me waiting. I’ll see
to all this."

And they followed George meekly.

She gazed in disgust at the general litter of broken refreshments,
symbolising the traditional inefficiency of servants, and extinguished
the gas.

The three criminals were somewhat the victims of her secret resentment
against Edwin, who, a mere martyrised perambulating stomach, had
retired.  Edwin had defeated her in the afternoon; and all the evening,
in the disposition of the furniture, the evidence of his victory had
confronted her.  By prompt and brutal action, uncharacteristic of him
and therefore mean, he had defeated her.  True he had embraced and
comforted her tears, but it was the kiss of a conqueror. And then, on
the top of that, he had proved his commercial incompetence by making a
large bad debt, and his commercial rashness by definitely adopting a
scheme of whose extreme danger she was convinced.  One part of her mind
intellectually knew that he had not wilfully synchronised these events
in order to wound her, but another part of her mind felt deeply that he
had. She had been staggered by the revelation that he was definitely
committed to the project of lithography and the new works.  Not one word
about the matter had he said to her since their altercation on the night
of the reception; and she had imagined that, with his usual indecision,
he was allowing it to slide.  She scarcely recognised her Edwin.  Now
she accused him of a malicious obstinacy, not understanding that he was
involved in the great machine of circumstance and perhaps almost as much
surprised as herself at the movement of events.  At any rate she was
being beaten once more, and her spirit rebelled.  Through all the
misfortunes previous to her marriage that spirit, if occasionally cowed,
had never been broken.  She had sat grim and fierce against even
bum-bailiffs in her time. Yes, her spirit rebelled, and the fact that
others had known about the Shawport land before she knew made her still
more mutinous against destiny.  She looked round dazed at the situation.
What?  The mild Edwin defying and crushing her?  It was scarcely
conceivable.  The tension of her nerves from this cause only was
extreme.  Add to it the strain of the musical evening, intensified by
the calamity at the Orgreaves’!

A bell rang in the kitchen, and all the ganglions of her spinal column
answered it.  Had Edwin rung?  No. It was the front-door.

"Pardon me," said Tertius Ingpen, when she opened.  "But all my friends
soon learn how difficult it is to get rid of me."

"Come in," she said, liking his tone, which flattered her by assuming
her sense of humour.

"As I’m sleeping at the office to-night, I thought I might as well take
one or two of my musical instruments after all.  So I came back."

"You’ve been round?" she asked, meaning round to the Orgreaves’.

"Yes."

"What is it, really?"

"Well, it appears to be pericarditis supervening on renal disease.  He
lost consciousness, you know."

"Yes, I know.  But what is pericarditis?"

"Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium."

"And what’s the pericardium?"

They both smiled faintly.

"The pericardium is the membrane that encloses the heart.  I don’t mind
telling you that I’ve only just acquired this encyclopædic knowledge
from Stirling,--he was there."

"And is it supposed to be very dangerous?"

"I don’t know.  Doctors never want to tell you anything except what you
can find out for yourself."

After a little hesitating pause they went into the drawing-room, where
the lights were still burning, and the full disorder of the musical
evening persisted, including the cigarette-ash on the carpet.  Tertius
Ingpen picked up his clarinet case, took out the instrument, examined
the mouthpiece lovingly, and with tenderness laid it back.

"Do sit down a moment," said Hilda, sitting limply down.  "It’s
stifling, isn’t it?"

"Let me open the window," he suggested politely.

As he returned from the window, he said, pulling his short beard:

"It was wonderful how those Orgreaves went through the musical evening,
wasn’t it?  Makes you proud of being English....  I suppose Janet’s a
great friend of yours?"

His enthusiasm touched her, and her pride in Janet quickened to it.  She
gave a deliberate, satisfied nod in reply to his question.  She was glad
to be alone with him in the silence of the house.

"Ed gone to bed?" he questioned, after another little pause.

Already he was calling her husband Ed, and with an affectionate
intonation!

She nodded again.

"He stuck it out jolly well," said Ingpen, still standing.

"He brings these attacks on himself," said Hilda, with the calm
sententiousness of a good digestion discussing a bad one.  She was
becoming pleased with herself--with her expensive dress, her position,
her philosophy, and her power to hold the full attention of this man.

Ingpen replied, looking steadily at her:

"We bring everything on ourselves."

Then he smiled, as a comrade to another.

She shifted her pose.  A desire to discuss Edwin with this man grew in
her, for she needed sympathy intensely.

"What do you think of this new scheme of his?" she demanded somewhat
self-consciously.

"The new works?  Seems all right.  But I don’t know much about it."

"Well, I’m not so sure."  And she exposed her theory of the entire
satisfactoriness of their present situation, of the needlessness of
fresh risks, and of Edwin’s unsuitability for enterprise.  "Of course
he’s splendid," she said.  "But he’ll never push.  I can look at him
quite impartially--I mean in all those things."

Ingpen murmured as it were dreamily:

"Have you had much experience of business yourself?"

"It depends what you call business.  I suppose you know I used to keep a
boarding-house."  She was a little defiant.

"No, I didn’t know.  I may have heard vaguely. Did you make it pay?"

"It did pay in the end."

"But not at first? ... Any disasters?"

She could not decide whether she ought to rebuff the cross-examiner or
not.  His manner was so objective, so disinterested, so innocent, so
disarming, that in the end she smiled uncertainly, raising her thick
eyebrows.

"Oh yes," she said bravely.

"And who came to the rescue?" Ingpen proceeded.

"Edwin did."

"I see," said Ingpen, still dreamily.

"I believe you knew all about it," she remarked, having flushed.

"Pardon me!  Almost nothing."

"Of course you take Edwin’s side."

"Are we talking man to man?" he asked suddenly, in a new tone.

"Most decidedly!"  She rose to the challenge.

"Then I’ll tell you my leading theory," he said in a soft, polite voice.
"The proper place for women is the harem."

"Mr. Ingpen!"

"No, no!" he soothed her, but firmly.  "We’re talking man to man.  I can
whisper sweet nothings to you, if you prefer it, but I thought we were
trying to be honest.  I hold a belief.  I state it.  I may be wrong, but
I hold that belief.  You can persecute me for my belief if you like.
That’s your affair.  But surely you aren’t afraid of an idea!  If you
don’t like the mere word, let’s call it zenana.  Call it the
drawing-room and kitchen."

"So we’re to be kept to our sphere!"

"Now don’t be resentful.  Naturally you’re to be kept to your own
sphere.  If Edwin began dancing around in the kitchen, you’d soon begin
to talk about _his_ sphere.  You can’t have the advantages of married
life for nothing--neither you nor he.  But some of you women nowadays
seem to expect them gratis.  Let me tell you, everything has to be paid
for on this particular planet.  I’m a bachelor.  I’ve often thought
about marrying, of course.  I might get married some day.  You never
know your luck.  If I do----"

"You’ll keep your wife in the harem, no doubt!  And she’ll have to
accept without daring to say a word all the risks you choose to take."

"There you are again!" he said.  "This notion that marriage ought to be
the end of risks for a woman is astonishingly rife, I find.  Very
curious!  Very curious!"  He seemed to address the wall.  "Why, it’s the
beginning of them.  Doesn’t the husband take risks?"

"He chooses his own.  He doesn’t have business risks thrust upon him by
his wife."

"Doesn’t he?  What about the risk of finding himself tied for life to an
inefficient housekeeper?  That’s a bit of a business risk, isn’t it?
I’ve known more than one man let in for it."

"And you’ve felt so sorry for him!"

"No, not specially.  You must run risks.  When you’ve finished running
risks you’re dead and you ought to be buried.  If I was a wife I should
enjoy running a risk with my husband.  I swear I shouldn’t want to shut
myself up in a glass case with him out of all the draughts!  Why, what
are we all alive for?"

The idea of the fineness of running risks struck her as original.  It
challenged her courage, and she began to meditate.

"Yes," she murmured.  "So you sleep at the office sometimes?"

"A certain elasticity in one’s domestic arrangements."  He waved a hand,
seeming to pooh-pooh himself lightly.  Then, quickly changing his mood,
he bent and said good-night, but not quite with the saccharine
artificiality of his first visit--rather with honest, friendly
sincerity, in which were mingled both thanks and appreciation.  Hilda
jumped up responsively. And, the clarinet-case under his left arm, and
the fiddle-case in his left hand, leaving the right arm free, Ingpen
departed.

She did not immediately go to bed.  Now that Ingpen was gone she
perceived that though she had really said little in opposition to
Edwin’s scheme, he had at once assumed that she was a strong opponent of
it. Hence she must have shown her feelings far too openly at the first
mention of the affair before anybody had left.  This annoyed her.  Also
the immense injustice of nearly all Ingpen’s argument grew upon her
moment by moment.  She was conscious of a grudge against him, even while
greatly liking him.  But she swore that she would never show the grudge,
and that he should never suspect it.  To the end she would play a man’s
part in the man-to-man discussion.  Moreover her anger against Edwin had
not decreased.  Nevertheless, a sort of zest, perhaps an angry joy,
filled her with novel and intoxicating sensations.  Let the scheme of
the new works go forward!  Let it fail!  Let it ruin them! She would
stand in the breach.  She would show the whole world that no ordeal
could lower her head.  She had had enough of being the odalisque and the
queen, reclining on the soft couch of security.  Her nostrils scented
life on the wind....  Then she heard a door close upstairs, and began at
last rapidly, as it were cruelly, to put out the lights.



                                   IX


The incubus and humiliations of a first-class bilious attack are not
eternal.  Edwin had not retired very long before the malignant phase of
the terrible malady passed inevitably, by phenomena according with all
clinical experience, into the next phase.  And the patient, who from
being chiefly a stomach, had now become chiefly a throbbing head, lay on
his pillow exhausted but once more capable of objective thought. His
resentment against his wife on account of her gratuitous disbelief in
his business faculty, and on account of her interference in a matter
that did not concern her, flickered up into new flame.  He was
absolutely innocent.  She was absolutely guilty; no excuse existed or
could be invented for her rude and wounding attitude.  He esteemed
Tertius Ingpen, bachelor, the most fortunate of men....  Women--unjust,
dishonourable, unintelligent, unscrupulous, giggling, pleasure-loving!
Their appetite for pleasure was infantile and tigerish.  He had noticed
it growing in Hilda. Previous to marriage he had regarded Hilda as
combining the best feminine with the best masculine qualities.  In many
ways she had exhibited the comforting straightforward characteristics of
the male.  But since marriage her mental resemblance to a man had
diminished daily, and now she was the most feminine woman he had ever
met, in the unsatisfactory sense of the word.  Women ... Still, the
behaviour of Janet and Hilda during the musical evening had been rather
heroic.  Impossible to dismiss them as being exclusively of the giggling
race!  They had decided to play a part, and they had played it with
impressive fortitude....  And the house of the Orgreaves--was it about
to fall?  He divined that it was about to fall. No death had so far
occurred in the family, which had seemed to be immune through decades
and forever. He wondered what would have happened to the house of
Orgreave in six months’ time....  Then he went back into the dark
origins of his bilious attack.... And then he was at inexcusable Hilda
again.

At length he heard her on the landing.

She entered the bedroom, and quickly he shut his eyes.  He felt
unpleasantly through his eyelids that she had turned up the gas.  Then
she was close to him, sat down on the edge of the bed.  She asked him a
question, calmly, as to occurrences since his retirement.  He nodded an
affirmative.

"Your forehead’s all broken out," she said, moving away.

In a few moments he was aware of the delicious, soothing, heavenly
application to his forehead of a handkerchief drenched in eau de cologne
and water. The compress descended upon his forehead with the infinite
gentleness of an endearment and the sudden solace of a reprieve.  He
made faint, inarticulate noises.

The light was extinguished for his ease.

He murmured weakly:

"Are you undressed already?"

"No," she said quietly.  "I can undress all right in the dark."

He opened his eyes, and could dimly see her moving darkly about,
brushing her hair, casting garments. Then she came towards him, a vague
whiteness against the gloom, and, bending, felt for his face, and kissed
him.  She kissed him with superb and passionate violence; she drew his
life out of him, and poured in her own.  The tremendous kiss seemed to
prove that there is no difference between love and hate.  It contained
everything--surrender, defiance, anger and tenderness.

Neither of them spoke.  The kiss dominated and assuaged him.  Its
illogicalness overthrew him.  He could never have kissed like that under
such circumstances. It was a high and bold gesture.  It expressed and
transmitted confidence.  She had explained nothing, justified nothing,
made no charge, asked no forgiveness. She had just confronted him with
one unarguable fact.  And it was the only fact that mattered. His
pessimism about marriage lifted.  If his spirit was splendidly romantic
enough to match hers, marriage remained a feasible state.  And he threw
away logic and the past, and in a magic vision saw that success in
marriage was an affair of goodwill and the right tone.  With the whole
force of his heart he determined to succeed in marriage.  And in the
mighty resolve marriage presented itself to him as really rather easy
after all.



                               CHAPTER X

                         THE ORGREAVE CALAMITY


                                   I


On the following Saturday afternoon--that is, six days later--Edwin had
unusually been down to the shop after dinner, and he returned home about
four o’clock.  Ada, hearing his entrance, came into the hall and said:

"Please, sir, missis is over at Miss Orgreave’s and will ye please go
over?"

"Where’s Master George?"

"In missis’s own room, sir."

"All right."

The "mistress’s own room" was the new nomenclature adopted by the
kitchen, doubtless under suggestion, for the breakfast-room or boudoir.
Edwin opened the door and glanced in.  George, apparently sketching, sat
at his mother’s desk, with the light falling over his right shoulder.

He looked up quickly in self-excuse:

"Mother said I could!  Mother said I could!"

For the theory of the special sanctity of the boudoir had mysteriously
established itself in the house during the previous eight or ten days.
George was well aware that even Edwin was not entitled to go in and out
as he chose.

"Keep calm, sonny," said Edwin, teasing him.

With permissible and discreet curiosity he glanced from afar at the
desk, its upper drawers and its pigeon-holes.  Obviously it was very
untidy.  Its untidiness gave him sardonic pleasure, because Hilda was
ever implying, or even stating, that she was a very tidy woman.  He
remembered that many years ago Janet had mentioned orderliness as a
trait of the wonderful girl, Hilda Lessways.  But he did not personally
consider that she was tidy; assuredly she by no means reached his
standard of tidiness, which standard indeed she now and then dismissed
as old-maidish. Also, he was sardonically amused by the air of
importance and busyness which she put on when using the desk and the
room; her household accounts, beheld at a distance, were his wicked joy.
He saw a bluish envelope lying untidily on the floor between the desk
and the fireplace, and he picked it up.  It had been addressed to "Mrs.
George Cannon, 59 Preston Street, Brighton," and readdressed in a
woman’s hand to "Mrs. Clayhanger, Trafalgar Road, Bursley."  Whether the
handwriting of the original address was masculine or feminine he could
not decide. The envelope had probably contained only a bill or a
circular.  Nevertheless he felt at once inimically inquisitive towards
the envelope.  Without quite knowing it he was jealous of all Hilda’s
past life up to her marriage with him.  After a moment, reflecting that
she had made no mention of a letter, he dropped the envelope
superciliously, and it floated to the ground.

"I’m going to Lane End House," he said.

"Can I come?"

"No."



                                   II


The same overhanging spirit of a great event which had somehow justified
him in being curt to the boy, rendered him self-conscious and furtive as
he stood in the porch of the Orgreaves, waiting for the door to open.
Along the drive that curved round the oval lawn under the high trees
were wheel-marks still surviving from the previous day.  The house also
survived; the curtains in all the windows, and the plants or the pieces
of furniture between the curtains, were exactly as usual.  Yet the solid
building and its contents had the air of an illusion.

A servant appeared.

"Good afternoon, Selina."

He had probably never before called her by name, but to-day his
self-consciousness impelled him to do uncustomary things.

"Good afternoon, sir," said Selina, whose changeless attire ignored even
the greatest events.  And it was as if she had said:

"Ah, sir!  To what have we come!"

She too was self-conscious and furtive.

Aloud she said:

"Miss Orgreave and Mrs. Clayhanger are upstairs, sir.  I’ll tell Miss
Orgreave."

Coughing nervously, he went into the drawing-room, the large obscure
room, crowded with old furniture and expensive new furniture, with
books, knickknacks, embroidery, and human history, in which he had first
set eyes on Hilda.  It was precisely the same as it had been a few days
earlier; absolutely nothing had been changed, and yet now it had the
archæological and forlorn aspect of a museum.

He dreaded the appearance of Janet and Hilda. What could he say to
Janet, or she to him?  But he was a little comforted by the fact that
Hilda had left a message for him to join them.

On the previous Tuesday Osmond Orgreave had died, and within twenty-four
hours Mrs. Orgreave was dead also.  On the Friday they were buried
together.  To-day the blinds were up again; the funereal horses with
their artificially curved necks had already dragged other corpses to the
cemetery; the town existed as usual; and the family of Orgreave was
scattered once more.  Marian, the eldest daughter, had not been able to
come at all, because her husband was seriously ill.  Alicia Hesketh, the
youngest daughter, far away in her large house in Devonshire, had not
been able to come at all, because she was hourly expecting her third
child; nor would Harry, her husband, leave her.  Charlie, the doctor at
Ealing, had only been able to run down for the funeral, because, his
partner having broken his leg, the whole work of the practice was on his
shoulders.  And to-day Tom, the solicitor, was in his office exploring
the financial side of his father’s affairs; Johnnie was in the office of
Orgreave and Sons, busy with the professional side of his father’s
affairs; Jimmie, who had made a sinister marriage, was nobody knew
precisely where; Tom’s wife had done what she could and gone home;
Jimmie’s wife had never appeared; Elaine, Marian’s child, was shopping
at Hanbridge for Janet; and Janet remained among her souvenirs.  An
epoch was finished, and the episode that concluded it, in its strange
features and its swiftness, resembled a vast hallucination.

Certain funerals will obsess a whole town.  And the funeral of Mr. and
Mrs. Osmond Orgreave might have been expected to do so.  Not only had
their deaths been almost simultaneous, but they had been preceded by
superficially similar symptoms, though the husband had died of
pericarditis following renal disease, and the wife of hyperæmia of the
lungs following increasingly frequent attacks of bronchial catarrh.  The
phenomena had been impressive, and rumour had heightened them.  Also
Osmond Orgreave for half a century had been an important and celebrated
figure in the town; architecturally a large portion of the new parts of
it were his creation.  Yet the funeral had not been one of the town’s
great feverish funerals.  True, the children would have opposed anything
spectacular; but had municipal opinion decided against the children,
they would have been compelled to yield.  Again and again prominent men
in the town had as it were bought their funeral processions in advance
by the yard--processions in which their families, willing or not, were
reduced to the rôle of stewards.

Tom and Janet, however, had ordained that nobody whatever beyond the
family should be invited to the funeral, and there had been no sincere
protest from outside.

The fact was that Osmond Orgreave had never related himself to the
crowd.  He was not a Freemason; he had never been President of the
Society for the Prosecution of Felons; he had never held municipal
office; he had never pursued any object but the good of his family.  He
was a particularist.  His charm was kept chiefly for his own home.  And
beneath the cordiality of his more general connections, there had always
been a subtle reservation--on both sides.  He was admired for his
cleverness and his distinction, liked where he chose to be liked, but
never loved save by his own kin.  Further, he had a name for being
"pretty sharp" in business.  Clients had had prolonged difficulties with
him--Edwin himself among them.  The town had made up its mind about
Osmond Orgreave, and the verdict, as with most popular verdicts, was
roughly just so far as it went, but unjust in its narrowness.  The
laudatory three-quarters of a column in the _Signal_ and the briefer
effusive notice in the new half-penny morning paper, both reflected, for
those with perceptions delicate enough to understand, the popular
verdict.  And though Edwin hated long funerals and the hysteria of a
public woe, he had nevertheless a sense of disappointment in the
circumstances of the final disappearance of Osmond Orgreave.

The two women entered the room, silently.  Hilda looked fierce and
protective.  Janet Orgreave, pale and in black, seemed very thin.  She
did not speak. She gave a little nod of greeting.

Edwin, scarcely controlling his voice and his eyes, murmured:

"Good afternoon."

They would not shake hands; the effort would have broken them.  All
remained standing, uncertainly. Edwin saw before him two girls aged by
the accumulation of experience.  Janet, though apparently healthy, with
her smooth fair skin, was like an old woman in the shell of a young one.
Her eyes were dulled, her glance plaintive, her carriage slack.  The
conscious wish to please had left her, together with her main excuse for
being alive.  She was over thirty-seven, and more and more during the
last ten years she had lived for her parents.  She alone among all the
children had remained absolutely faithful to them. To them, and to
nobody else, she had been essential--a fountain of vigour and brightness
and kindliness from which they drew.  To see her in the familiar and
historic room which she had humanised and illuminated with her very
spirit, was heartrending.  In a day she had become unnecessary, and
shrunk to the unneeded, undesired virgin which in truth she was.  She
knew it.  Everybody knew it.  All the waves of passionate sympathy which
Hilda and Edwin in their different ways ardently directed towards her
broke in vain upon that fact.

Edwin thought:

"And only the other day she was keen on tennis!"

"Edwin," said Hilda.  "Don’t you think she ought to come across to our
place for a bit?  I’m sure it would be better for her not to sleep
here."

"Most decidedly," Edwin answered, only too glad to agree heartily with
his wife.

"But Johnnie?" Janet objected.

"Pooh!  Surely he can stay at Tom’s."

"And Elaine?"

"She can come with you.  Heaps of room for two."

"I couldn’t leave the servants all alone.  I really couldn’t.  They
wouldn’t like it," Janet persisted. "Moreover, I’ve got to give them
notice."

Edwin had to make the motion of swallowing.

"Well," said Hilda obstinately.  "Come along now--for the evening,
anyhow.  We shall be by ourselves."

"Yes, you must," said Edwin, curtly.

"I--I don’t like walking down the street," Janet faltered, blushing.

"You needn’t.  You can get over the wall," said Edwin.

"Of course you can," Hilda concurred.  "Just as you are now.  I’ll tell
Selina."

She left the room with decision, and the next instant returned with a
telegram in her hand.

"Open it, please.  I can’t," said Janet.

Hilda read:

"Mother and boy both doing splendidly.  Harry."

Janet dropped onto a chair and burst into tears.

"I’m so glad.  I’m so glad," she spluttered.  "I can’t help it."

Then she jumped up, wiped her eyes, and smiled.

For a few yards the Clayhanger and the Orgreave properties were
contiguous, and separated by a fairly new wall, which, after much
procrastination on the part of owners, had at last replaced an
unsatisfactory thorn-hedge.  While Selina put a chair in position for
the ladies to stand on as a preliminary to climbing the wall, Edwin
suddenly remembered that in the days of the untidy thorn-hedge Janet had
climbed a pair of steps in order to surmount the hedge and visit his
garden.  He saw her balanced on the steps, and smiling and then jumping,
like a child.  Now, he preceded her and Hilda on to the wall, and they
climbed carefully, and when they were all up Selina handed him the chair
and he dropped it on his own side of the wall so that they might descend
more easily.

"Be careful, Edwin.  Be careful," cried Hilda, neither pleasantly nor
unpleasantly.

And as he tried to read her mood in her voice, the mysterious and
changeful ever-flowing undercurrent of their joint life bore rushingly
away his sense of Janet’s tragedy; and he knew that no events exterior
to his marriage could ever overcome for long that constant secret
preoccupation of his concerning Hilda’s mood.



                                  III


When they came into the house, Ada met them with zest and calamity in
her whispering voice:

"Please ’m, Mr. and Mrs. Benbow are here.  They’re in the drawing-room.
They said they’d wait a bit to see if you came back."

Ada had foreseen that, whatever their superficially indifferent
demeanour as members of the powerful ruling caste, her master and
mistress would be struck all of a heap by this piece of news.  And they
were. For the Benbows did not pay chance calls; in the arrangement of
their lives every act was neatly planned and foreordained.  Therefore
this call was formal, and behind it was an intention.

"_I_ can’t see them.  I can’t possibly, dear," Janet murmured, as it
were intimidated.  "I’ll run back home."

Hilda replied with benevolent firmness:

"No you won’t.  Come upstairs with me till they’re gone.  Edwin, you go
and see what they’re after."

Janet faltered and obeyed, and the two women crept swiftly upstairs.
They might have been executing a strategic retirement from a bad smell.
The instinctive movement, and the manner, were a judgment on the ideals
of the Benbows so terrible and final that even the Benbows, could they
have seen it, must have winced and doubted for a moment their own moral
perfection.  It came to this, that the stricken fled from their
presence.

"’What they’re after’!" Edwin muttered to himself, half resenting the
phrase; because Clara was his sister; and though she bored and
exasperated him, he could not class her with exactly similar boring and
exasperating women.

And, throwing down his cap, he went with false casual welcoming into the
drawing-room.

Young Bert Benbow, prodigiously solemn and uncomfortable in his birthday
spectacles, was with his father and mother.  Immense satisfaction,
tempered by a slight nervousness, gleamed in the eyes of the parents.
And the demeanour of all three showed instantly that the occasion was
ceremonious.  Albert and Clara could not have been more pleased and
uplifted had the occasion been a mourning visit of commiseration or even
a funeral.

The washed and brushed schoolboy, preoccupied, did not take his share in
the greetings with sufficient spontaneity and promptitude.

Clara said, gently shocked:

"Bert, what do you say to your uncle?"

"Good afternoon, uncle."

"I should think so indeed!"

Clara of course sprang at once to the luscious first topic, as to a
fruit:

"How is poor Janet bearing up?"

Edwin was very characteristically of the Five Towns in this,--he hated
to admit, in the crisis itself, that anything unusual was happening or
had just happened. Thus he replied negligently:

"Oh!  All right!"

As though his opinion was that Janet had nothing to bear up against.

"I hear it was a _very_ quiet funeral," said Clara, suggesting somehow
that there must be something sinister behind the quietness of the
funeral.

"Yes," said Edwin.

"Didn’t they ask _you_?"

"No."

"Well--my word!"

There was a silence, save for faint humming from Albert.  And then, just
as Clara was mentioning her name, in rushed Hilda.

"What’s the matter?" the impulsive Hilda demanded bluntly.

This gambit did not please Edwin, whose instinct was always to pretend
that nothing was the matter. He would have maintained as long as anybody
that the call was a chance call.

After a few vague exchanges, Clara coughed and said:

"It’s really about your George and our Bert.... Haven’t you heard? ...
Hasn’t George said anything?"

"No....  What?"

Clara looked at her husband expectantly, and Albert took the grand male
rôle.

"I gather they had a fight yesterday at school," said he.

The two boys went to the same school, the new-fangled Higher Grade
School at Hanbridge, which had dealt such a blow at the ancient
educational foundations at Oldcastle.  That their Bert should attend the
same school as George was secretly a matter of pride to the Benbows.

"Oh," said Edwin.  "We’ve seen no gaping wounds, have we, Hilda?"

Albert’s face did not relax.

"You’ve only got to look at Bert’s chin," said Clara.

Bert shuffled under the world’s sudden gaze. Undeniably there was a
small discoloured lump on his chin.

"I’ve had it out with Bert," Albert continued severely.  "I don’t know
who was in the wrong--it was about that penknife business, you know--but
I’m quite sure that Bert was not in the right.  And as he’s the older
we’ve decided that he must ask George’s forgiveness."

"Yes," eagerly added Clara, tired of listening. "Albert says we can’t
have quarrels going on like this in the family--they haven’t spoken
friendly to each other since that night we were here--and it’s the manly
thing for Bert to ask George’s forgiveness, and then they can shake
hands."

"That’s what I say."  Albert massively corroborated her.

Edwin thought:

"I suppose these people imagine they’re doing something rather fine."

Whatever they imagined they were doing, they had made both Edwin and
Hilda sheepish.  Either of them would have sacrificed a vast fortune and
the lives of thousands of Sunday school officers in order to find a
dignified way of ridiculing and crushing the expedition of Albert and
Clara; but they could think of naught that was effective.

Hilda asked, somewhat curtly, but lamely:

"Where is George?"

"He was in your boudoir a two-three minutes ago, drawing," said Edwin.

Clara’s neck was elongated at the sound of the word "boudoir."

"Boudoir?" said she.  And Edwin could in fancy hear her going down
Trafalgar Road and giggling at every house-door: "Did ye know Mrs.
Clayhanger has a boudoir?  That’s the latest."  Still he had employed
the word with intention, out of deliberate bravado.

"Breakfast-room," he added, explanatory.

"I should suggest," said Albert, "that Bert goes to him in the
breakfast-room.  They’ll settle it much better by themselves."  He was
very pleased by this last phrase, which proved him a man of the world
after all.

"So long as they don’t smash too much furniture while they’re about it,"
murmured Edwin.

"Now, Bert, my boy," said Albert, in the tone of a father who is also a
brother.

And, as Hilda was inactive, Bert stalked forth upon his mission of
manliness, smiling awkwardly and blushing. He closed the door after him,
and not one of the adults dared to rise and open it.

"Had any luck with missing words lately?" Albert asked, in a detached
airy manner, showing that the Bert-George affair was a trifle to him, to
be dismissed from the mind at will.

"No," said Edwin.  "I’ve been off missing words lately."

"Of course you have," Clara agreed with gravity. "All this must have
been very trying to you all.... Albert’s done very well of course."

"I was on ’politeness,’ my boy," said Albert.

"Didn’t you know?" Clara expressed surprise.

"’Politeness’?"

"Sixty-four pounds nineteen shillings per share," said Albert
tremendously.

Edwin appreciatively whistled.

"Had the money?"

"No.  Cheques go out on Monday, I believe.  Of course," he added, "I go
in for it scientifically.  I leave no chances, I don’t.  I’m making a
capital outlay of over five pounds ten on next week’s competition, and I
may tell you I shall get it back again, _with_ interest."

At the same moment, Bert re-entered the room.

"He’s not there," said Bert.  "His drawing’s there, but he isn’t."

This news was adverse to the cause of manly peace.

"Are you sure?" asked Clara, implying that Bert might not have made a
thorough search for George in the boudoir.

Hilda sat grim and silent.

"He may be upstairs," said the weakly amiable Edwin.

Hilda rang the bell with cold anger.

"Is Master George in the house?" she harshly questioned Ada.

"No’m.  He went out a bit since."

The fact was that George, on hearing from the faithful Ada of the
arrival of the Benbows, had retired through the kitchen and through the
back-door, into the mountainous country towards Bleakridge
railway-station, where kite-flying was practised on immense
cinder-heaps.

"Ah!  Well," said Albert, undefeated, to Edwin. "You might tell him
Bert’s been up specially to apologise to him.  Oh!  And here’s that
penknife!"  He looked now at Hilda, and, producing Tertius Ingpen’s
knife, he put it with a flourish on the mantelpiece.  "I prefer it to be
on your mantelpiece than on ours," he added, smiling rather grandiosely.
His manner as a whole, though compound, indicated with some clearness
that while he adhered to his belief in the efficacy of prayer, he could
not allow his son to accept from George earthly penknives alleged to
have descended from heaven.  It was a triumphant hour for Albert Benbow,
as he stood there dominating the drawing-room. He perceived that, in
addition to silencing and sneaping the elder and richer branch of the
family, he was cutting a majestic figure in the eyes of his own son.

In an awful interval, Clara said with a sweet bright smile:

"By the way, Albert, don’t forget about what Maggie asked you to ask."

"Oh, yes!  By the way," said Albert, "Maggie wants to know how soon you
can complete the purchase of this house of yours."

Edwin moved uneasily.

"I don’t know," he mumbled.

"Can you stump up in a month?  Say the end of October anyway, at
latest."  Albert persisted, and grew caustic.  "You’ve only got to sell
a few of your famous securities."

"Certainly.  Before the end of October," Hilda replied, with impulsive
and fierce assurance.

Edwin was amazed by this interference on her part. Was she incapable of
learning from experience?  Let him employ the right tone with absolutely
perfect skill, marriage would still be impossible if she meant to carry
on in this way!  What did she know about the difficulties of completing
the purchase?  What right had she to put in a word apparently so
decisive?  Such behaviour was unheard of.  She must be mad. Nevertheless
he did not yield to anger.  He merely said feebly and querulously:

"That’s all very well!  That’s all very well!  But I’m not quite so sure
as all that.  Will she let some of it be on mortgage?"

"No, she won’t," said Albert.

"Why not?"

"Because I’ve got a new security for the whole amount myself."

"Oh!"

Edwin glanced at his wife and his resentful eyes said: "There you are!
All through your infernal hurry and cheek Maggie’s going to lose
eighteen hundred pounds in a rotten investment.  I told you Albert would
get hold of that money if he heard of it. And just look!"

At this point Albert, who knew fairly well how to draw an advantage from
his brother-in-law’s characteristic weaknesses, perceived suddenly the
value of an immediate departure.  And amid loud enquiries of all sorts
from Clara, and magnificent generalities from Albert, and gloomy, stiff
salutations from uncomfortable Bert, the visit closed.

But destiny lay in wait at the corner of the street for Albert Benbow’s
pride.  Precisely as the Benbows were issuing from the portico, the
front-door being already closed upon them, the second Swetnam son came
swinging down Trafalgar Road.  He stopped, raising his hat.

"Hallo, Mr. Benbow," he said.  "You’ve heard the news, I suppose?"

"What about?"

"Missing word competitions."

It is a fact that Albert paled.

"What?"

"Injunction in the High Court this morning.  All the money’s impounded,
pending a hearing as to whether the competitions are illegal or not.  At
the very least half of it will go in costs.  It’s all over with missing
words."

"Who told you?"

"I’ve had a wire to stop me from sending in for next week’s."

Albert Benbow gave an oath.  His wife ought surely to have been
horrorstruck by the word; but she did not blench.  Flushing and scowling
she said:

"What a shame!  We’ve sent ours in."

The faithful creature had for days past at odd moments been assisting
her husband in the dictionary and as a clerk....  And lo! at last,
confirmation of those absurd but persistent rumours to the effect that
certain busybodies meant if they could to stop missing word competitions
on the ground that they were simply a crude appeal to the famous
"gambling instincts" of mankind and especially of Englishmen!

Albert had rebutted the charge with virtuous warmth, insisting on the
skill involved in word-choosing, and insisting also on the historical
freedom of the institutions of his country.  He maintained that it was
inconceivable that any English court of justice should ever interfere
with a pastime so innocent and so tonic for the tired brain.  And though
he had had secret fears, and had been disturbed and even hurt by the
comments of a religious paper to which he subscribed, he would not waver
from his courageous and sensible English attitude.  Now the fearful blow
had fallen, and Albert knew in his heart that it was heaven’s punishment
for him.  He turned to shut the gate after him, and noticed Bert.  It
appeared to him that in hearing the paternal oath, Bert had been guilty
of a crime, or at least an indiscretion, and he at once began to make
Bert suffer.

Meanwhile Swetnam had gone on, to spread the tale which was to bring
indignation and affliction into tens of thousands of respectable homes.



                                   IV


Janet came softly and timidly into the drawing-room.

"They are gone?" she questioned.  "I thought I heard the front-door."

"Yes, thank goodness!" Hilda exclaimed candidly, disdaining the
convention (which Edwin still had in respect) that a weakness in family
ties should never be referred to, beyond the confines of the family,
save in urbane terms of dignity and regret excusing so far as possible
the sinner.  But in this instance the immense ineptitude of the Benbows
had so affected Edwin that, while objecting to his wife’s outbreak, he
could not help giving a guffaw which supported it. And all the time he
kept thinking to himself:

"Imagine that d----d pietistic rascal dragging the miserable shrimp up
here to apologise to George!"

He was ashamed, not merely of his relatives, but somehow of all
humanity.  He could scarcely look even a chair in the face.  The Benbows
had left behind them desolation, and this desolation affected
everything, and could be tasted on the tongue.  Janet of course
instantly noticed it, and felt that she ought not to witness the shaming
of her friends.  Moreover, her existence now was chiefly an apology for
itself.

She said:

"I really think I ought to go back and see about a meal for Johnnie in
case he turns up."

"Nonsense!" said Hilda, sharply.  "With three servants in the house, I
suppose Johnnie won’t starve! Now just sit down.  Sit _down_!"  Her tone
softened. "My dear, you’re worse than a child....  Tell Edwin."  She put
a cushion behind Janet in the easy chair.  And the gesture made Janet’s
eyes humid once more.

Edwin had the exciting, disquieting, vitalising sensation of being shut
up in an atmosphere of women. Not two women, but two thousand, seemed to
hem him in with their incalculable impulses, standards, inspirations.

"Janet wants to consult you," Hilda added; and even Hilda appeared to
regard him as a strong saviour.

He thought:

"After all, then, I’m not the born idiot she’d like to make out.  Now
we’re getting at her real opinion of me!"

"It’s only about father’s estate," said Janet.

"Why?  Hasn’t he made a will?"

"Oh yes!  He made a will over thirty years ago. He left everything to
mother and made her sole executor or whatever you call it.  Just like
him, wasn’t it? ... D’you know that he and mother never had a quarrel,
nor anything near a quarrel?"

"Well," Edwin, nodding appreciatively, answered with an informed
masculine air.  "The law provides for all that.  Tom will know.  Did
your mother make a will?"

"No.  Dear thing!  She would never have dreamt of it."

"Then letters of administration will have to be taken out," said Edwin.

Janet began afresh:

"Father was talking of making a new will two or three months ago.  He
mentioned it to Tom.  He said he should like you to be one of the
executors.  He said he would sooner have you for an executor than
anybody."

An intense satisfaction permeated Edwin, that he should have been
desired as an executor by such an important man as Osmond Orgreave.  He
felt as though he were receiving compensation for uncounted detractions.

"Really?" said he.  "I expect Tom will take out letters of
administration, or Tom and Johnnie together; they’ll make better
executors than I should."

"It doesn’t seem to make much difference who looks after it and who
doesn’t," Hilda sharply interrupted. "When there’s nothing to look
after."

"Nothing to look after?" Edwin repeated.

"Nothing to look after!" said Hilda in a firm and clear tone.
"According to what Janet says."

"But surely there must be something!"

Janet answered mildly:

"I’m afraid there isn’t much."

It was Hilda who told the tale.  The freehold of Lane End House belonged
to the estate, but there were first and second mortgages on it, and had
been for years.  Debts had always beleaguered the Orgreave family.  A
year ago money had apparently been fairly plentiful, but a great deal
had been spent on re-furnishing.  Jimmie had had money, in connection
with his sinister marriage; Charlie had had money in connection with his
practice, and Tom had enticed Mr. Orgreave into the Palace Porcelain
Company. Mr. Orgreave had given a guarantee to the Bank for an
overdraft, in exchange for debentures and shares in that company.  The
debentures were worthless, and therefore the shares also, and the bank
had already given notice under the guarantee.  There was an insurance
policy--one poor little insurance policy for a thousand pounds--whose
capital well invested might produce an income of twelve or fifteen
shillings a week; but even that policy was lodged as security for an
overdraft on one of Osmond’s several private banking accounts.  There
were many debts, small to middling.  The value of the Orgreave
architectural connection was excessively dubious--so much of it had
depended upon Osmond Orgreave himself.  The estate might prove barely
solvent; on the other hand it might prove insolvent; so Johnnie, who had
had it from Tom, had told Janet that day, and Janet had told Hilda.

"Your father was let in for the Palace Porcelain Company?" Edwin
breathed, with incredulous emphasis on the initial p’s.  "What on earth
was Tom thinking of?"

"That’s what Johnnie wants to know," said Janet. "Johnnie was very
angry.  They’ve had some words about it."

Except for the matter of the Palace Porcelain Company, Edwin was not
surprised at the revelations, though he tried to be.  The more closely
he examined his attitude for years past to the Orgreave household
structure, the more clearly he had to admit that a suspicion of secret
financial rottenness had never long been absent from his mind--not even
at the period of renewed profuseness, a year or two ago, when
furniture-dealers, painters, and paperhangers had been enriched.  His
resentment against the deceased charming Osmond and also against the
affectionate and blandly confident mother, was keen and cold.  They had
existed, morally, on Janet for many years; monopolised her, absorbed
her, aged her, worn her out, done everything but finish her,--and they
had made no provision for her survival.  In addition to being useless,
she was defenceless, helpless, penniless, and old; and she shivered now
that the warmth of her parents’ affection was withdrawn by death.

"You see," said Janet.  "Father was so transparently honest and
generous."

Edwin said nothing to this sincere outburst.

"Have you got any money at all, Janet?" asked Hilda.

"There’s a little household money, and by a miracle I’ve never spent the
ten-pound note poor dad gave me on my last birthday."

"Well," said Edwin, sardonically imaging that ten-pound note as a sole
defence for Janet against the world.  "Of course Johnnie will have to
allow you something out of the business--for one thing."

"I’m sure he will, if he can," Janet agreed.  "But he says it’s going to
be rather tight.  He wants us to clear out of the house at once."

"Take my advice and don’t do it," said Edwin. "Until the house is let or
sold it may as well be occupied by you as stand empty--better in fact,
because you’ll look after it."

"_That’s_ right enough, anyway," said Hilda, as if to imply that by a
marvellous exception a man had for once in a while said something
sensible.

"You needn’t use all the house," Edwin proceeded. "You won’t want all
the servants."

"I wish you’d say a word to Johnnie," breathed Janet.

"I’ll say a word to Johnnie, all right," Edwin answered loudly.  "But it
seems to me it’s Tom that wants talking to.  I can’t imagine what he was
doing to let your father in for that Palace Porcelain business.  It
beats me."

Janet quietly protested:

"I feel sure he thought it was all right."

"Oh, of course!" said Hilda, bitterly.  "Of course! They always do think
it’s all right.  And here’s my husband just going into one of those big
dangerous affairs, and _he_ thinks it’s all right, and nothing I can say
will stop him from going into it.  And he’ll keep on thinking it’s all
right until it’s all wrong and we’re ruined, and perhaps me left a widow
with George."  Her lowered eyes blazed at the carpet.

Janet, troubled, glanced from one to the other, and then, with all the
tremendous unconscious persuasive force of her victimhood and her
mourning, murmured gently to Edwin:

"Oh!  Don’t run any risks!  Don’t run any risks!"

Edwin was staggered by the swift turn of the conversation.  Two thousand
women hemmed him in more closely than ever.  He could do nothing against
them except exercise an obstinacy which might be esteemed as merely
brutal.  They were not accessible to argument--Hilda especially.
Argument would be received as an outrage.  It would be impossible to
convince Hilda that she had taken a mean and disgraceful advantage of
him, and that he had every right to resent her behaviour.  She was
righteousness and injuredness personified.  She partook, in that moment,
of the victimhood of Janet.  And she baffled him.

He bit his lower lip.

"All that’s not the business before the meeting," he said as lightly as
he could.  "D’you think if I stepped down now I should catch Johnnie at
the office?"

And all the time, while his heart hardened against Hilda, he kept
thinking:

"Suppose I _did_ come to smash!"

Janet had put a fear in his mind, Janet who in her wistfulness and her
desolating ruin seemed to be like only a little pile of dust--all that
remained of the magnificent social structure of a united and numerous
Orgreave family.



                                   V


Edwin met Tertius Ingpen in the centre of the town outside the offices
of Orgreave and Sons, amid the commotion caused by the return of
uplifted spectators from a football match in which the team curiously
known to the sporting world as "Bursley Moorthorne" had scored a broken
leg and two goals to nil.

"Hello!" Ingpen greeted him.  "I was thinking of looking in at your
place to-night."

"Do!" said Edwin.  "Come up with me now."

"Can’t! ... Why do these ghastly louts try to walk over you as if they
didn’t see you?"  Then in another tone, very quietly, and nodding in the
direction of the Orgreave offices: "Been in there? ... What a week, eh!
... How are things?"

"Bad," Edwin answered.  "In a word, bad!"

Ingpen lifted his eyebrows.

They turned away out of the crowd, up towards the tranquillity of the
Turnhill Road.  They were manifestly glad to see each other.  Edwin had
had a satisfactory interview with Johnnie Orgreave,--satisfactory in the
sense that Johnnie had admitted the wisdom of all that Edwin said and
promised to act on it.

"I’ve just been talking to young Johnnie for his own good," said Edwin.

And in a moment, with eagerness, with that strange deep satisfaction
felt by the carrier of disastrous tidings, he told Ingpen all that he
knew of the plight of Janet Orgreave.

"If you ask me," said he, "I think it’s infamous."

"Infamous," Ingpen repeated the word savagely. "There’s no word for it.
What’ll she do?"

"Well, I suppose she’ll have to live with Johnnie."

"And where will Mrs. Chris come in, then?" Ingpen asked in a murmur.

"Mrs. Chris Hamson?" exclaimed Edwin startled. "Oh!  Is that affair
still on the carpet? ... Cheerful outlook!"

Ingpen pulled his beard.

"Anyhow," said he, "Johnnie’s the most reliable of the crew.  Charlie’s
the most agreeable, but Johnnie’s the most reliable.  I wouldn’t like to
count much on Tom, and as for Jimmie, well of course----!"

"I always look on Johnnie as a kid.  Can’t help it."

"There’s no law against that, so long as you don’t go and blub it out to
Mrs. Chris," Ingpen laughed.

"I don’t know her."

"You ought to know her.  She’s an education, my boy."

"I’ve been having a fair amount of education lately," said Edwin.  "Only
this afternoon I was practically told that I ought to give up the idea
of my new works because it has risks and the Palace Porcelain Co. was
risky and Janet hasn’t a cent.  See the point?"

He was obliged to talk about the affair, because it was heavily on his
mind.  A week earlier he had persuaded himself that the success of a
marriage depended chiefly on the tone employed to each other by the
contracting parties.  But in the disturbing scene of the afternoon, his
tone had come near perfection, and yet marriage presented itself as even
more stupendously difficult than ever.  Ingpen’s answering words salved
and strengthened him.  The sensation of being comprehended was
delicious.  Intimacy progressed.

"I say," said Edwin, as they parted.  "You’d better not know anything
about all this when you come to-night."

"Right you are, my boy."

Their friendship seemed once more to be suddenly and surprisingly
intensified.

When Edwin returned, Janet had vanished again. Like an animal which
fears the hunt and whose shyness nothing can cure, she had fled to cover
at the first chance.  According to Hilda she had run home because it had
occurred to her that she must go through her mother’s wardrobe and chest
of drawers without a moment’s delay.

Edwin’s account to his wife of the interview with Johnnie Orgreave was
given on a note justifiably triumphant.  In brief he had "talked sense"
to Johnnie, and Johnnie had been convicted and convinced.  Hilda
listened with respectful propriety.  Edwin said nothing as to his
encounter with Tertius Ingpen, partly from prudence and partly from
timidity.  When Ingpen arrived at the house, much earlier than he might
have been expected to arrive, Edwin was upstairs, and on descending he
found his wife and his friend chatting in low and intimate voices close
together in the drawing-room.  The gas had been lighted.

"Here’s Mr. Ingpen," said Hilda, announcing a surprise.

"How do, Ingpen?"

"How do, Ed?"

Ingpen did not rise.  Nor did they shake hands, but in the Five Towns
friends who have reached a certain degree of intimacy proudly omit the
ceremony of handshaking when they meet.  It was therefore impossible for
Hilda to divine that Edwin and Tertius had previously met that day, and
apparently Ingpen had not divulged the fact.  Edwin felt like a plotter.

The conversation of course never went far away from the subject of the
Orgreaves--and Janet in particular.  Ingpen’s indignation at the
negligence which had left Janet in the lurch was more than warm enough
to satisfy Hilda, whose grievance against the wicked carelessness of
heads of families in general seemed to be approaching expression again.
At length she said:

"It’s enough to make every woman think seriously of where she’d be--if
anything happened."

Ingpen smiled teasingly.

"Now you’re getting personal."

"And what if I am?  With my headstrong husband going in for all sorts of
schemes!"  Hilda’s voice was extraordinarily clear and defiant.

Edwin nervously rose.

"I’ll just get some cigarettes," he mumbled.

Hilda and Ingpen scarcely gave him any attention. Already they were
exciting themselves.  Although he knew that the supply of cigarettes was
in the dining-room, he toured half the house before going there; and
then lit the gas and with strange deliberation drew the blinds; next he
rang the bell for matches, and, having obtained them, lit a cigarette.

When he re-entered the drawing-room, Ingpen was saying with terrific
conviction:

"You’re quite wrong, as I’ve told you before.  It’s your instinct that’s
wrong, not your head.  Women will do anything to satisfy their
instincts, simply anything.  They’ll ruin your life in order to satisfy
their instincts.  Yes, even when they know jolly well their instincts
are wrong!"

Edwin thought:

"Well, if these two mean to have a row, it’s no affair of mine."

But Hilda, seemingly overfaced, used a very moderate tone to retort:

"You’re very outspoken."

Tertius Ingpen answered firmly:

"I’m only saying aloud what every man thinks.... Mind--every man."

"And how comes it that _you_ know so much about women?"

"I’ll tell you sometime," said Ingpen, shortly, and then smiled again.

Edwin, advancing, murmured:

"Here.  Have a cigarette."

A few moments later Ingpen was sketching out a Beethoven symphony
unaided on the piano, and holding his head back to keep the
cigarette-smoke out of his eyes.



                                   VI


When the hour struck for which Hilda had promised a sandwich supper
Edwin and Tertius Ingpen were alone in the drawing-room, and Ingpen was
again at the piano, apparently absorbed in harmonic inventions of his
own.  No further word had been said upon the subject of the discussion
between Ingpen and Hilda.  On the whole, despite the reserve of Hilda’s
demeanour, Edwin considered that marriage at the moment was fairly
successful, and the stream of existence running in his favour.  At five
minutes after the hour, restless, he got up and said:

"I’d better be seeing what’s happened to that supper."

Ingpen nodded, as in a dream.

Edwin glanced into the dining-room, where the complete supper was
waiting in illuminated silence and solitude.  Then he went to the
boudoir.  There, the two candlesticks from the mantelpiece had been put
side by side on the desk, and the candles lit the figures of Hilda and
her son.  Hilda, kneeling, held a stamped and addressed letter in her
hand, the boy was bent over the desk at his drawing, which his mother
regarded.  Edwin in his heart affectionately derided them for employing
candles when the gas would have been so much more effective; he thought
that the use of candles was "just like" one of Hilda’s unforeseeable
caprices.  But in spite of his secret derision he was strangely affected
by the group as revealed by the wavering candle-flames in the general
darkness of the room.  He seldom saw Hilda and George together; neither
of them was very expansive; and certainly he had never seen Hilda
kneeling by her son’s side since a night at the Orgreaves’ before her
marriage, when George lay in bed unconscious and his spirit hesitated
between earth and heaven.  He knew that Hilda’s love for George had in
it something of the savage, but, lacking demonstrations of it, he had
been apt to forget its importance in the phenomena of their united
existence.  Kneeling by her son, Hilda had the look of a girl, and the
ingenuousness of her posture touched Edwin.  The idea shot through his
brain like a star, that life was a marvellous thing.

As the door had been ajar, they scarcely heard him come in.  George
turned first.

And then Ada was standing at the door.

"Yes’m?"

"Oh!  Ada!  Just run across with this letter to the pillar, will you?"

"Yes’m."

"You’ve missed the post, you know," said Edwin.

Hilda got up slowly.

"It doesn’t matter.  Only I want it to be in the post."

As she gave the letter to Ada he speculated idly as to the address of
the letter, and why she wanted it to be in the post.  Anyhow, it was
characteristic of her to want the thing to be in the post.  She would
delay writing a letter for days, and then, having written it, be "on
pins" until it was safely taken out of the house; and even when the
messenger returned she would ask: "Did you put that letter in the post?"

Ada had gone.

"What’s he drawing, this kid?" asked Edwin, genially.

Nobody answered.  Standing between his wife and the boy he looked at the
paper.  The first thing he noticed was some lettering, achieved in an
imitation of architect’s lettering: "_Plan for proposed new
printing-works to be erected by Edwin Clayhanger, Esq., upon land at
Shawport.  George Edwin Clayhanger, architect._"  And on other parts of
the paper, "Ground-floor plan" and "Elevation."  The plan at a distance
resembled the work of a real architect.  Only when closely examined did
it reveal itself as a piece of boyish mimicry.  The elevation was not
finished.... It was upon this that, with intervals caused by the
necessity of escaping from bores, George had been labouring all day.
And here was exposed the secret and the result of his chumminess with
Johnnie Orgreave. Yet the boy had never said a word to Edwin in
explanation of that chumminess; nor had Johnnie himself.

"He’s been telling me he’s going to be an architect," said Hilda.

"Is this plan a copy of Johnnie’s, or is it his own scheme?" asked
Edwin.

"Oh, his own!" Hilda answered, with a rapidity and an earnestness which
disclosed all her concealed pride in the boy.

Edwin was thrilled.  He pored over the plan, making remarks and putting
queries, in a dull matter-of-fact tone; but he was so thrilled that he
scarcely knew what he was saying or understood the replies to his
questions.  It seemed to him wondrous, miraculous, overwhelming, that
his own disappointed ambition to be an architect should have re-flowered
in his wife’s child who was not his child.  He was reconciled to being a
printer, and indeed rather liked being a printer, but now all his career
presented itself to him as a martyrisation.  And he passionately swore
that such a martyrisation should not happen to George. George’s ambition
should be nourished and forwarded as no boyish ambition had ever been
nourished and forwarded before.  For a moment he had a genuine
conviction that George must be a genius.

Hilda, behind the back of proud, silent George, pulled Edwin’s face to
hers and kissed it.  And as she kissed she gazed at Edwin and her eyes
seemed to be saying: "Have your works; I have yielded. Perhaps it is
George’s plan that has made me yield, but anyhow I am strong enough to
yield.  And my strength remains."

And Edwin thought: "This woman is unique.  What other woman could have
done that in just that way?"  And in their embrace, intensifying and
complicating its significance, were mingled the sensations of their
passion, his triumph, her surrender, the mysterious boy’s promise, and
their grief for Janet’s tragedy.

"Old Ingpen’s waiting for his supper, you know," said Edwin tenderly.
"George, you must show that to Mr. Ingpen."



                                BOOK II

                                THE PAST



                               CHAPTER XI

                              LITHOGRAPHY


                                   I


Edwin, sitting behind a glazed door with the word "Private" elaborately
patterned on the glass, heard through the open window of his own office
the voices of the Benbow children and their mother in the street
outside.

"Oh, Mother!  What a big sign!"

"Yes.  Isn’t Uncle Edwin a proud man to have such a big sign?"

"Hsh!"

"It wasn’t up yesterday."

"L, i, t, h, o,----"

"My word, Rupy!  You are getting on!"

"They’re such large letters, aren’t they, mother? ... ’Lithographic’ ...
’Lithographic printing. Edwin Clayhanger’."

"Hsh! ... Bert, how often do you want me to tell you about your
shoe-lace?"

"I wonder if George has come."

"Mother, can’t _I_ ring the bell?"

All the children were there, with their screeching voices.  Edwin
wondered that Rupert should have been brought.  Where was the sense of
showing a three-year-old infant like Rupert over a printing-works? But
Clara was always like that.  The difficulty of leaving little Rupert
alone at home did not present itself to the august uncle.

Edwin rose, locked a safe that was let into the wall of the room, and
dropped the key into his pocket.  The fact of the safe being let into
the wall gave him as much simple pleasure as any detail of the new
works; it was an idea of Johnnie Orgreave’s.  He put a grey hat
carelessly at the back of his head, and, hands in pockets, walked into
the next and larger room, which was the clerks’ office.

Both these rooms had walls distempered in a green tint, and were fitted
and desked in pitchpine.  Their newness was stark, and yet in the
clerks’ office the irrational habituating processes of time were already
at work.  On the painted iron mantelpiece lay a dusty white tile,
brought as a sample long before the room was finished, and now without
the slightest excuse for survival.  Nevertheless the perfunctory cleaner
lifted the tile on most mornings, dusted underneath it, and replaced it;
and Edwin and his staff saw it scores of times daily and never
challenged it, and gradually it was acquiring a prescriptive right to
exist just where it did.  And the day was distant when some
inconvenient, reforming person would exclaim:

"What’s this old tile doing here?"

What Edwin did notice was that the walls and desks showed marks and even
wounds; it seemed to him somehow wrong that the brand new could not
remain forever brand new.  He thought he would give a mild reproof or
warning to the elder clerk, (once the shop-clerk in the ancient
establishment at the corner of Duck Bank and Wedgwood Street) and then
he thought: "What’s the use?" and only murmured:

"I’m not going off the works."

And he passed out, with his still somewhat gawky gait, to the small
entrance-hall of the works.  On the outer face of the door, which he
closed, was painted the word "Office."  He had meant to have the words
"Counting-House" painted on that door, because they were romantic and
fine-sounding; but when the moment came to give the order he had quaked
before such romance; he was afraid as usual of being sentimental and of
"showing off," and with assumed satire had publicly said: "Some chaps
would stick ’Counting-house’ as large as life all across the door."  He
now regretted his poltroonery.  And he regretted sundry other failures
in courage connected with the scheme of the works.  The works existed,
but it looked rather like other new buildings, and not very much like
the edifice he had dreamed.  It ought to have been grander, more
complete, more dashingly expensive, more of an exemplar to the slattern
district.  He had been (he felt) unduly influenced by the local spirit
for half-measures.  And his life seemed to be a life of half-measures, a
continual falling-short.  Once he used to read studiously on Tuesday,
Thursday and Saturday evenings.  He seldom read now, and never with
regularity.  Scarcely a year ago he had formed a beautiful vague project
of being "musical."  At Hilda’s instigation he had bought a book of
musical criticism by Hubert Parry, and Hilda had swallowed it in three
days, but he had begun it and not finished it.  And the musical
evenings, after feeble efforts to invigorate them, had fainted and then
died on the miserable excuse that circumstances were not entirely
favourable to them.  And his marriage, so marvellous in its romance
during the first days...!

Then either his commonsense or his self-respect curtly silenced these
weak depreciations.  He had wanted the woman and he had won her,--he had
taken her.  There she was, living in his house, bearing his name,
spending his money!  The world could not get over that fact, and the
carper in Edwin’s secret soul could not get over it either.  He had said
that he would have a new works, and, with all its faults and little
cowardices, there the new works was!  And moreover it had just been
assessed for municipal rates at a monstrous figure.  He had bought his
house (and mortgaged it); he had been stoical to bad debts; he had sold
securities--at rather less than they cost him; he had braved his
redoubtable wife; and he had got his works!  His will, and naught else,
was the magic wand that had conjured it into existence.

The black and gold sign that surmounted its blue roofs could be seen
from the top of Acre Lane and half way along Shawport Lane, proclaiming
the progress of lithography and steam-printing, and the name of Edwin
Clayhanger.  Let the borough put that in its pipe and smoke it!  He was
well aware that the borough felt pride in his works.  And he had orders
more than sufficient to keep the enterprise handsomely going.  Even in
the Five Towns initiative seemed to receive its reward.

Life might be as profoundly unsatisfactory as you pleased, but there was
zest in it.

The bell had rung.  He opened the main door, and there stood Clara and
her brood.  And Edwin was the magnificent, wonderful uncle.  The
children entered, with maternal precautions and recommendations. Every
child was clean and spruce: Bert clumsy, Clara minxlike, Amy heavy and
benignant, Lucy the pretty little thing, and Rupert simply
adorable--each representing a separate and considerable effort of
watchful care.  The mother came last, worn, still pretty, with a slight
dragging movement of the limbs. In her glittering keen eyes were both
envy and naïve admiration of her brother.  "What a life!" thought Edwin,
meaning what a narrow, stuffy, struggling, conventional, unlovely
existence was the Benbows’!  He and they lived in different worlds of
intelligence. Nevertheless he savoured the surpassing charm of Rupert,
the goodness of Amy, the floral elegance of Lucy, and he could
appreciate the unending labours of that mother of theirs, malicious
though she was.  He was bluff and jolly with all of them.  The new works
being fairly close to the Benbow home, the family had often come _en
masse_ to witness its gradual mounting, regarding the excursions as a
sort of picnic.  And now that the imposing place was inaugurated and the
signs up, Uncle Edwin had been asked to show them over it in a grand
formal visit, and he had amiably consented.

"Has George come, Uncle Edwin?" asked Bert.

George had not come.  A reconciliation had occurred between the cousins
(though by no means at the time nor in the manner desired by Albert);
they were indeed understood by the Benbows to be on the most touching
terms of intimacy, which was very satisfactory to the righteousness of
Albert and Clara; and George was to have been of the afternoon party;
but he had not arrived.  Edwin, knowing the unknowableness of George,
suspected trouble.

"Machines!  Machines!" piped tiny white-frocked Rupert, to whom wondrous
tales had been told.

"You’ll see machines all right," said Edwin promisingly.  It was not his
intention to proceed straight to the machine-room.  He would never have
admitted it, but his deliberate intention was to display the works
dramatically, with the machine-room as a culmination.  The truth was,
the man was full of secret tricks, contradicting avuncular superior
indifference. He was a mere boy--he was almost a school-girl.

He led them through a longish passage, and up steps and down
steps--steps which were not yet hollowed, but which would be
hollowed--into the stone-polishing shop, which was romantically obscure,
with a specially dark corner where a little contraption was revolving
all by itself in the process of smoothing a stone.  Young Clara stared
at the two workmen, while the rest stared at the contraption, and Edwin,
feeling ridiculously like a lecturer, mumbled words of exposition.  And
then next, after climbing some steps, they were in a lofty apartment
with a glass roof, sunshine-drenched and tropical.  Here lived two more
men, including Karl the German, bent in perspiration over desks, and
laboriously drawing.  Round about were coloured designs, and stones
covered with pencilling, and boards, and all sorts of sheets of paper
and cardboard.

"Ooh!" murmured Bert, much impressed by the meticulous cross-hatching of
Karl’s pencil on a stone.

And Edwin said:

"This is the drawing-office."

"Oh yes!" murmured Clara vaguely.  "It’s very warm, isn’t it?"

None of them except Bert was interested.  They gazed about dully,
uncomprehendingly, absolutely incurious.

"Machines!" Rupert urged again.

"Come on, then," said Edwin going out with assumed briskness and gaiety.

At the door stood Tertius Ingpen, preoccupied and alert, with all the
mien of a factory inspector in full activity.

"Don’t mind me," said Ingpen, "I can look after myself.  In fact I
prefer to."

At the sight of an important stranger speaking familiarly to Uncle
Edwin, all the children save Rupert grew stiff, dismal and apprehensive,
and Clara looked about as though she had suddenly discovered very
interesting phenomena in the corners of the workshop.

"My sister, Mrs. Benbow--Mr. Ingpen.  Mr. Ingpen is Her Majesty’s
Inspector of Factories, so we must mind what we’re about," said Edwin.

Clara gave a bright, quick smile as she limply shook hands.  The
sinister enchantment which precedes social introduction was broken.  And
Clara, overcome by the extraordinary chivalry and deference of Ingpen’s
customary greeting to women, decided that he was a particularly polite
man; but she reserved her general judgment on him, having several times
heard Albert inveigh against the autocratic unreasonableness of this
very inspector, who, according to Albert, forgot that even an employer
had to live, and that that which handicapped the employer could not
possibly help the workman--"in the long run."

"Machines!" Rupert insisted.

They all laughed; the other children laughed suddenly and imitatively,
and an instant later than the elders; and Tertius Ingpen, as he grasped
the full purport of the remark, laughed more than anyone. He turned
sideways and bent slightly in order to give vent to his laughter, which,
at first noiseless and imprisoned, gradually grew loud in freedom.  When
he had recovered, he said thoughtfully, stroking his soft beard:

"Now it would be very interesting to know exactly what that child
understands by ’machines’--what his mental picture of them is.  Very
interesting!  Has he ever seen any?"

"No," said Clara.

"Ah!  That makes it all the more interesting," Ingpen added roguishly:
"I suppose you think you do know, Mrs. Benbow?"

Clara smiled the self-protective, non-committal smile of one who is not
certain of having seen the point.

"It’s very hot in here, Edwin," she said, glancing at the door.  The
family filed out, shepherded by Edwin.

"I’ll be back in a sec," said he to Clara, on the stairs, and returned
to the drawing-office.

Ingpen was in apparently close conversation with Karl.

"Yes," murmured Ingpen, thoughtfully tapping his teeth.  "The whole
process is practically a contest between grease and water on the stone."

"Yes," said Karl gruffly, but with respect.

And Edwin could almost see the tentacles of Ingpen’s mind feeling and
tightening round a new subject of knowledge, and greedily possessing it.
What a contrast to the vacuous indifference of Clara, who was so
narrowed by specialisation that she could never apply her brain to
anything except the welfare and the aggrandizement of her family!  He
dwelt sardonically upon the terrible results of family life on the
individual, and dreamed of splendid freedoms.

"Mr. Clayhanger," said Ingpen, in his official manner, turning.

The two withdrew to the door.  Invisible, at the foot of the stairs,
could be heard the family, existing.

"Haven’t seen much of lithography, eh?" said Edwin, in a voice
discreetly restrained.

Ingpen, ignoring the question, murmured:

"I say, you know this place is much too hot."

"Well," said Edwin.  "What do you expect in August?"

"But what’s the object of all that glass roof?"

"I wanted to give ’em plenty of light.  At the old shop they hadn’t
enough, and Karl, the Teuton there, was always grumbling."

"Why didn’t you have some ventilation in the roof?"

"We did think of it.  But Johnnie Orgreave said if we did we should
never be able to keep it watertight."

"It certainly isn’t right as it is," said Ingpen.  "And our experience
is that these skylighted rooms that are too hot in summer are too cold
in winter.  How should you like to have your private office in here?"

"Oh!" protested Edwin.  "It isn’t so bad as all that."

Ingpen said quietly:

"I should suggest you think it over--I mean the ventilation."

"But you don’t mean to say that this shop here doesn’t comply with your
confounded rules?"

Ingpen answered:

"That may or may not be.  But we’re entitled to make recommendations in
any case, and I should like you to think this over, if you don’t mind.
I haven’t any thermometer with me, but I lay it’s ninety degrees here,
if not more."  In Ingpen’s urbane, reasonable tone there was just a hint
of the potential might of the whole organised kingdom.

"All serene," said Edwin, rather ashamed of the temperature after all,
and loyally responsive to Ingpen’s evident sense of duty, which somehow
surprised him; he had not chanced, before, to meet Ingpen at work;
earthenware manufactories were inspected once a quarter, but other
factories only once a year.  The thought of the ameliorating influence
that Ingpen must obviously be exerting all day and every day somewhat
clashed with and overset his bitter scepticism concerning the real value
of departmental administrative government,--a scepticism based less upon
experience than upon the persuasive tirades of democratic apostles.

They walked slowly towards the stairs, and Ingpen scribbled in a
notebook.

"You seem to take your job seriously," said Edwin, teasing.

"While I’m at it.  Did you imagine that I’d dropped into a sinecure?
Considering that I have to keep an eye on three hundred and fifty
potbanks, over a thousand other factories, and over two thousand
workshops of sorts, my boy...!  _And_ you should see some of ’em.  _And_
you should listen to the excuses."

"No wonder," thought Edwin, "he hasn’t told me what a fine and large
factory mine is! ... Still, he might have said something, all the same.
Perhaps he will."

When, after visiting the composing-room, and glancing from afar at the
engine-house, the sight-seeing party reached the machine-room, Rupert
was so affected by the tremendous din and the confusing whir of huge
machinery in motion that he began to cry, and, seizing his mother’s
hand, pressed himself hard against her skirt.  The realisation of his
ambition had overwhelmed him.  Amy protectingly took Lucy’s hand. Bert
and Clara succeeded in being very casual.

In the great lofty room there were five large or fairly large machines,
and a number of small ones.  The latter had chiefly to do with envelope
and bill-head printing and with bookbinding, and only two of them were
in use.  Of the large machines, three were functioning--the cylinder
printing-machine which had been the pride of Edwin’s father, the
historic "old machine," also his father’s, which had been so called ever
since Edwin could remember and which was ageless, and Edwin’s latest and
most expensive purchase, the "Smithers" litho-printer.  It was on the
guarded flank of the Smithers, close to the roller-racks, that Edwin
halted his convoy.  The rest of the immense shop with its complex masses
of metal revolving, sliding, or paralysed, its shabby figures of men,
boys, and girls shifting mysteriously about, its smell of iron, grease,
and humanity, and its fearful racket, was a mere background for the
Smithers in its moving might.

The Smithers rose high above the spectators, and at one end of it,
higher even than the top parts of the machine, was perched a dirty,
frowsy, pretty girl. With a sweeping gesture of her bare arms this girl
took a wide sheet of blank paper from a pile of sheets, and lodged it on
the receiving rack, whereupon it was whirled off, caught into the
clutches of the machine, turned, reversed, hidden away from sight among
revolving rollers red and black, and finally thrust out at the other end
of the machine, where it was picked up by a dirty, frowsy girl, not
pretty, smaller and younger than the high-perched creature, indeed
scarcely bigger than Amy.  And now on the sheet was printed four times
in red the words "Knype Mineral Water Mnfg. Co.  Best and cheapest.
Trademark."  Clara screeched a question about the trademark, which was
so far invisible.  Edwin made a sign to the lower dirty, frowsy girl,
who respectfully but with extreme rapidity handed him a sheet as it came
off the machine, and he shouted through the roar in explanation that the
trademark, a soda-water syphon in blue, would be printed on the same
sheet later from another stone, and the sheets cut into fours, each
quarter making a complete poster.  "I thought it must be like that,"
replied Clara superiorly.  From childhood she had been well accustomed
to printing processes, and it was not her intention to be perplexed by
"this lithography."  Edwin made a gesture to hand back the sheet to the
machine-girl, but the machine would not pause to allow her to take it.
She was the slave of the machine; so long as it functioned, every second
of her existence was monopolised, and no variation of conduct
permissible.  The same law applied to the older girl up near the
ceiling.  He put the sheet in its place himself, and noticed that to do
so required appreciable care and application of the manipulative
faculty.

These girls, and the other girls at their greasy task in the great
shaking interior which he had created, vaguely worried him.  Exactly
similar girls were employed in thousands on the pot-banks, and had once
been employed also at the pit-heads and even in the pits; but until
lately he had not employed girls, nor had his father ever employed
girls; and these girls so close to him, so dependent on him, so
submissive, so subjugated, so soiled, so vulgar, whose wages would
scarcely have kept his wife in boots and gloves, gave rise to strange
and disturbing sensations in his heart--not merely in regard to
themselves, but in regard to the whole of the workpeople.  A question
obscure and lancinating struck upwards through his industrial triumph
and through his importance in the world, a question scarcely articulate,
but which seemed to form itself into the words: Is it right?

"Is what right?" his father would have snapped at him.  "Is what right?"
would have respectfully demanded Big James, who had now sidled
grandiosely to the Smithers, and was fussing among the rollers in the
rack.  Neither of them would have been capable of comprehending his
trouble.  To his father an employee was an employee, to be hired as
cheaply as possible, and to be exploited as completely as possible. And
the attitude of Big James towards the underlings was precisely that of
his deceased master.  They would not be unduly harsh, they would often
be benevolent, but the existence of any problem, and especially any
fundamental problem, beyond the direct inter-relation of wages and work
could not conceivably have occurred to them.  After about three quarters
of a century of taboo trade-unions had now for a dozen years ceased to
be regarded as associations of anarchistic criminals.  Big James was
cautiously in favor of trade-unions, and old Darius Clayhanger in late
life had not been a quite uncompromising opponent of them.  As for
Edwin, he had always in secret sympathised with them, and the
trade-unionists whom he employed had no grievance against him.  Yet this
unanswerable, persistent question would pierce the complacency of
Edwin’s prosperity.  It seemed to operate in a sort of fourth dimension;
few even amongst trade-unionists themselves would have reacted to it.
But Edwin lived with it more and more.  He was indeed getting used to
it.  Though he could not answer it, he could parry it, thanks to
scientific ideas obtained from Darwin and Spencer, by the reflection
that both he and his serfs, whatever their sex, were the almost blind
agencies of a vast process of evolution.  And this he did, exulting with
pride sometimes in the sheer adventure of the affair, and sharing his
thoughts with none....  Strange that once, and not so many years ago
either, he had been tempted to sell the business and live inert and
ignobly secure on the interest of invested moneys!  But even to-day he
felt sudden fears of responsibility; they came and went.

The visitors, having wandered to and fro, staring, trailed out of the
machine-room, led by Edwin.  A wide door swung behind them, and they
were in the abrupt, startling peace of another corridor.  Clara wiped
Rupert’s eyes, and he smiled, like a blossom after a storm.  The mother
and the uncle exchanged awkward glances.  They had nothing whatever to
say to each other.  Edwin could seldom think of anything that he really
wanted to say to Clara.  The children were very hot and weary of
wonders.

"Well," said Clara, "I suppose we’d better be moving on now."  She had
somewhat the air of a draught-animal about to resume the immense labour
of dragging a train.  "It’s very queer about George.  He was to have
come with us for tea."

"Oh!  Was he?"

"Of course he was," Clara replied sharply.  "It was most distinctly
arranged."

At this moment Tertius Ingpen and Hilda appeared together at the other
end of the corridor.  Hilda’s unsmiling face seemed enigmatic.  Ingpen
was talking with vivacity.

Edwin thought apprehensively:

"What’s up now?  What’s she doing here, and not George?"

And when the sisters-in-law, so strangely contrasting, shook hands, he
thought:

"Is it possible that Albert looks on his wife as something
unpredictable?  Do those two also have moods, and altercations and
antagonisms?  Are they always preoccupied about what they are thinking
of each other?  No!  It’s impossible.  Their life must be simply
fiendishly monotonous."  And Clara’s inferiority before the erect,
flashing individuality of Hilda appeared to him despicable.  Hilda bent
and kissed Rupert, Lucy, Amy and young Clara, as it were with passion.
She was marvellous as she bent over Rupert.  She scarcely looked at
Edwin.  Ingpen stood aside.

"I’m very sorry," said Hilda perfunctorily.  "I had to send George on an
errand to Hanbridge at the last moment."

Nothing more!  No genuine sign of regret!  Edwin blamed her severely.
"Send George on an errand to Hanbridge!"  That was Hilda all over!  Why
the devil should she go out of her way to make unpleasantness with
Clara?  She knew quite well what kind of a woman Clara was, and that the
whole of Clara’s existence was made up of domestic trifles, each of
which was enormous for her.

"Will he be down to tea?" asked Clara.

"I doubt it."

"Well ... another day, then."

Clara, gathering her offspring, took leave at a door in the corridor
which gave on to the yard.  Mindful to the last of Mr. Ingpen’s presence
(which Hilda apparently now ignored), she smiled sweetly as she went.
But behind the smile, Edwin with regret, and Hilda with satisfaction,
could perceive her everlasting grudge against their superior splendour.
Even had they sunk to indigence Clara could never have forgiven Edwin
for having towards the end of their father’s life prevented Albert from
wheedling a thousand pounds out of old Darius, nor Hilda for her
occasional pricking, unanswerable sarcasms....  Still, Rupert,
descending two titanic steps into the yard, clung to his mother as to an
angel.

"And _what_ errand to Hanbridge?" Edwin asked himself mistrustfully.



                                   II


Scarcely a minute later, when Edwin, with Hilda and Ingpen, was back at
the door of the machine-room, the office boy could be seen voyaging
between roaring machines across the room towards his employer.  The
office boy made a sign of appeal, and Edwin answered with a curt sign
that the office boy was to wait.

"What’s that ye say?" Edwin yelled in Ingpen’s ear.

Ingpen laughed, and made a trumpet with his hands:

"I was only wondering what your weekly running expenses are."

Even Ingpen was surprised and impressed by the scene, and Edwin was
pleased now, after the flatness of Clara’s inspection, that he had
specially arranged for two of the machines to be running which strictly
need not have been running that afternoon.  He had planned a spectacular
effect, and it had found a good public.

"Ah!"  He hesitated, in reply to Ingpen.  Then he saw Hilda’s face, and
his face showed confusion and he smiled awkwardly.

Hilda had caught Ingpen’s question.  She said nothing.  Her expressive,
sarcastic, unappeasable features seemed to say: "Running expenses!
Don’t mention them.  Can’t you see they must be enormous? How can he
possibly make this place pay?  It’s a gigantic folly--and what will be
the end of it?"

After all, her secret attitude towards the new enterprise was unchanged.
Arguments, facts, figures, persuasions, brutalities had been equally and
totally ineffective.  And Edwin thought:

"She is the bitterest enemy I have."

Said Ingpen:

"I like that girl up there on the top of that machine. And doesn’t she
just know where she is!  What a movement of the arms, eh?"

Edwin nodded, appreciative, and then beckoned to the office boy.

"What is it?"

"Please, Sir, Mrs. ’Amps in the office to see you."

"All right," he bawled, casually.  But in reality he was taken aback.
"It’s Auntie Hamps now!" he said to the other two.  "We shall soon have
all Bursley here this afternoon."

Hilda raised her eyebrows.

"D’you know ’Auntie Hamps’?" she grimly asked Ingpen.  Her voice, though
she scarcely raised it, was plainer than the men’s when they shouted.
As Ingpen shook his head, she added: "You ought to."

Edwin did not altogether care for this public ridicule of a member of
the family.  Auntie Hamps, though possibly a monster, had her qualities.
Hilda, assuming the lead, beckoned with a lift of the head.  And Edwin
did not care for that either, on his works. Ingpen followed Hilda as
though to a menagerie.

Auntie Hamps, in her black attire, which by virtue of its changeless
style amounted to a historic uniform, was magnificent in the private
office.  The three found her standing in wait, tingling with vitality
and importance and eagerness.  She watched carefully that Edwin shut the
door, and kept her eye not only on the door but also on the open window.
She received the presentation of Mr. Tertius Ingpen with grandeur and
with high cordiality, and she could appreciate even better than Clara
the polished fealty of his greeting.

"Sit down, Auntie."

"No, I won’t sit down.  I thought Clara was here. I told her I might
come if I could spare a moment. I must say, Edwin"--she looked around
the small office, and seemed to be looking round the whole works in a
superb glance--"you make me proud of you.  You make me proud to be your
Auntie."

"Well," said Edwin, "you can be proud sitting down."

She smiled.  "No, I won’t sit down.  I only just popped in to catch
Clara.  I was going to tea with her and the chicks."  Then she lowered
her voice: "I suppose you’ve heard about Mr. John Orgreave?"  Her tone
proved, however, that she supposed nothing of the kind.

"No.  What about Johnnie?"

"He’s run away with Mrs. Chris Hamson."

Her triumph was complete.  It was perhaps one of her last triumphs, but
it counted among the greatest of her career as a watchdog of society.

The thing was a major event, and the report was convincing.  Useless to
protest "Never!"  "Surely not!"  "It can’t be true!"  It carried truth
on its face. Useless to demand sternly: "Who told you?"  The news had
reached Auntie Hamps through a curious channel--the stationmaster at
Latchett.  Heaven alone could say how Auntie Hamps came to have
relations with the stationmaster at Latchett.  But you might be sure
that, if an elopement was to take place from Latchett station, Auntie
Hamps would by an instinctive prescience have had relations with the
station-master for twenty years previously.  Latchett was the next
station, without the least importance, to Shawport on the line to Crewe.
Johnnie Orgreave had got into the train at Shawport, and Mrs. Chris had
joined it at Latchett, her house being near by.  Once on the vast
platforms of Crewe, the guilty couple would be safe from curiosity, lost
in England, like needles in a haystack.

The Orgreave-Hamson flirtation had been afoot for over two years, but
had only been seriously talked about for less than a year.  Mrs. Chris
did not "move" much in town circles.  She was older than Johnnie, but
she was one of your blonde, slim, unfruitful women, who under the shade
of a suitable hat-brim are ageless. Mr. Chris was a heavy man, "glumpy"
as they say down there, a moneymaker in pots, and great on the colonial
markets.  He made journeys to America and to Australia.  His Australian
journey occupied usually about four months.  He was now on his way back
from Sydney, and nearly home.  Mrs. Chris had not long since inherited a
moderate fortune.  It must have been the fortune, rendering them
independent, that had decided the tragic immoralists to abandon all for
love. The time of the abandonment was fixed for them by circumstance,
for it had to occur before the husband’s return.

Imagine the Orgreave business left in the hands of an incompetent
irresponsible like Jimmie Orgreave! And then, what of that martyr,
Janet?  Janet and Johnnie had been keeping house together--a tiny house.
And Janet had had to "have an operation."  Women, talking together, said
exactly what the operation was, but the knowledge was not common.  The
phrase "have an operation" was enough in its dread.  As a fact the
operation, for calculus, was not very serious; it had perfectly
succeeded, and Janet, whom Hilda had tenderly visited, was to emerge
from the nursing home at Knype Vale within three days.  Could not
Johnnie and his Mrs. Chris have waited until she was re-established? No,
for the husband was unpreventibly approaching, and romantic love must
not be baulked. Nothing could or should withstand romantic love. Janet
had not even been duly warned; Hilda had seen her that very morning, and
assuredly she knew nothing then.  Perhaps Johnnie would write to her
softly from some gay seaside resort where he and his leman were hiding
their strong passion.  The episode was shocking; it was ruinous.  The
pair could never return.  Even Johnnie alone would never dare to return.

"He was a friend of yours, was he not?" asked Auntie Hamps in bland
sorrow of Tertius Ingpen.

He was a friend, and a close friend, of all three of them.  And not only
had he outraged their feelings--he had shamed them, irretrievably
lowered their prestige. They could not look Auntie Hamps in the face.
But Auntie Hamps could look them in the face.  And her glance, charged
with grief and with satisfaction, said: "How are the mighty fallen, with
their jaunty parade of irreligion, and their musical evenings on
Sundays, with the windows open while folks are coming home from chapel!"
And there could be no retort.

"Another good man ruined by women!" observed Tertius Ingpen, with a
sigh, stroking his beard.

Hilda sprang up; and all her passionate sympathy for Janet, and her
disappointment and disgust with Johnnie, the victim of desire, and her
dissatisfaction with her husband and her hatred of Auntie Hamps, blazed
forth and devastated the unwise Ingpen as she scathingly replied:

"Mr. Ingpen, that is a caddish thing to say!"

She despised convention; she was frankly and atrociously rude; and she
did not care.  Edwin blushed. Tertius Ingpen blushed.

"I’m sorry," said Ingpen, keeping his temper.  "I think I ought to have
left a little earlier.  Good-bye, Ed.  Mrs. Hamps--"  He bowed with
extreme urbanity to the ladies, and departed.

Shortly afterwards Auntie Hamps also departed, saying that she must not
be late for tea at dear Clara’s.  She was secretly panting to disclose
the whole situation to dear Clara.  What a scene had Clara missed by
leaving the works too soon!



                              CHAPTER XII

                                DARTMOOR


                                   I


"What was that telegram you had this afternoon, Hilda?"

The question was on Edwin’s tongue as he walked up Acre Lane from the
works by his wife’s side.  But it did not achieve utterance.  A year had
passed since he last walked up Acre Lane with Hilda; and now of course
he recalled the anger of that previous promenade.  In the interval he
had acquired to some extent the habit of containing his curiosity and
his criticism. In the interval he had triumphed, but Hilda also had
consolidated her position, so that despite the increase of his prestige
she was still his equal; she seemed to take strength from him in order
to maintain the struggle against him.

During the final half-hour at the works the great, the enormous problem
in his mind had been--not whether such and such a plan of action for
Janet’s welfare in a very grave crisis would be advisable, but whether
he should demand an explanation from Hilda of certain disquieting
phenomena in her boudoir.  In the excitement of his indecision Janet’s
tragic case scarcely affected his sensibility.  For about twelve months
Hilda had, he knew, been intermittently carrying on a correspondence as
to which she had said no word to him; she did not precisely conceal it,
but she failed to display it.  Lately, so far as his observation went,
it had ceased.  And then to-day he had caught sight of an orange
telegraph-envelope in her wastepaper basket.  Alone in the boudoir, and
glancing back cautiously and guiltily at the door, he had picked up the
little ball of paper and smoothed it out, and read the words: "Mrs.
Edwin Clayhanger."  In those days the wives of even prominent business
men did not customarily receive such a rain of telegrams that the
delivery of a telegram would pass unmentioned and be forgotten.  On the
contrary, the delivery of a telegram was an event in a woman’s life.
The telegram which he had detected might have been innocently
negligible, in forty different ways.  It might, for example, have been
from Janet, or about a rehearsal of the Choral Society, or from a
tradesman at Oldcastle, or about rooms at the seaside.  But supposing
that it was not innocently negligible?  Supposing that she was keeping a
secret? ... What secret?  What conceivable secret?  He could conceive no
secret.  Yes, he could conceive a secret.  He had conceived and did
conceive a secret, and his private thoughts elaborated it.... He had
said to himself at the works: "I may ask her as we go home.  I shall
see."  But, out in the street, with the disturbing sense of her
existence over his shoulder, he knew that he should not ask her. Partly
timidity and partly pride kept him from asking. He knew that, as a wise
husband, he ought to ask. He knew that commonsense was not her strongest
quality, and that by diffidence he might be inviting unguessed future
trouble; but he would not ask.  In the great, passionate war of marriage
they would draw thus apart, defensive and watchful, rushing together at
intervals either to fight or to kiss.  The heat of their kisses had not
cooled; but to him at any rate the kisses often seemed intensely
illogical; for, though he regarded himself as an improving expert in the
science of life, he had not yet begun to perceive that those kisses were
the only true logic of their joint career.

He was conscious of grievances against her as they walked up Acre Lane,
but instead of being angrily resentful, he was content judicially to
register the grievances as further corroboration of his estimate of her
character.  They were walking up Acre Lane solely because Hilda was
Hilda.  A year ago they had walked up Acre Lane in order that Edwin
might call at the shop.  But Acre Lane was by no means on the shortest
way from Shawport to Bleakridge. Hilda, however, on emerging from the
works, full of trouble concerning Janet, had suddenly had the beautiful
idea of buying some fish for tea.  In earlier days he would have said:
"How accidental you are!  What would have happened to our tea if you
hadn’t been down here, or if you hadn’t by chance thought of fish?"  He
would have tried to show her that her activities were not based in the
principles of reason, and that even the composition of meals ought not
to depend upon the hazard of an impulse.  Now, wiser, he said not a
word.  He resigned himself in silence to an extra three-quarters of a
mile of walking.  In such matters, where her deep instinctiveness came
into play, she had established over him a definite ascendancy.

Then another grievance was that she had sent George to Hanbridge,
knowing that George, according to a solemn family engagement, ought to
have been at the works.  She was conscienceless.  A third grievance,
naturally, was her behaviour to Ingpen.  And a fourth came back again to
George.  Why had she sent George to Hanbridge at all?  Was it not to
despatch a telegram which she was afraid to submit to the
inquisitiveness of the Post Office at Bursley?  A daring supposition,
but plausible; and if correct, of what duplicity was she not guilty!
The mad, shameful episode of Johnnie Orgreave, the awful dilemma of
Janet--colossal affairs though they were--interested him less and less
as he grew more and more preoccupied with his relations to Hilda.  And
he thought, not caring:

"Something terrific will occur between us, one of these days."

And then his bravado would turn to panic.



                                   II


They passed along Wedgwood Street, and Hilda preceded him into the chief
poulterer-and-fishmonger’s. Here was another slight grievance of
Edwin’s; for the chief poulterer-and-fishmonger’s happened now to be the
Clayhanger shop at the corner of Wedgwood Street and Duck Bank.
Positively there had been competitors for the old location!  Why should
Hilda go there and drag him there?  Could she not comprehend that he had
a certain fine delicacy about entering? ... The place where the former
sign had been was plainly visible on the brickwork above the shop-front.
Rabbits, fowl, and a few brace of grouse hung in the right-hand window,
from which most of the glass had been removed; and in the left, upon
newly-embedded slabs of Sicilian marble, lay amid ice the curved forms
of many fish, and behind them was the fat white-sleeved figure of the
chief poulterer-and-fishmonger’s wife with her great, wet hands.  He was
sad.  He seriously thought yet again: "Things are not what they were in
this town, somehow."  For this place had once been a printer’s; and he
had a conviction that printing was an aristocrat among trades.  Indeed,
could printing and fishmongering be compared?

The saleswoman greeted them with deference, calling Edwin "sir," and yet
with a certain complacent familiarity, as an occupant to ex-occupants.
Edwin casually gave the short shake of the head which in the district
may signify "Good-day," and turned, humming, to look at the hanging
game.  It seemed to him that he could only keep his dignity as a man of
the world by looking at the grouse with a connoisseur’s eye.  Why didn’t
Hilda buy grouse?  The shop was a poor little interior.  It smelt ill.
He wondered what the upper rooms were like, and what had happened to the
decrepit building at the end of the yard.  The saleswoman slapped the
fish about on the marble, and running water could be heard.

"Edwin," said Hilda, with enchanting sweetness and simplicity, "would
you like hake or turbot, dear?"

Impossible to divine from her voice that the ruin of their two favourite
Orgreaves was complete, that she was conducting a secret correspondence,
and that she had knowingly and deliberately offended her husband!

Both women waited, moveless, for the decision, as for an august decree.

When the transaction was finished, the saleswoman handed over the parcel
into Hilda’s gloved hands; it was a rough-and-ready parcel, not at all
like the neat stiff paper-bag of the modern age.

"Very hot, isn’t it, ma’am?" said the saleswoman.

And Hilda, utterly distinguished in gesture and tone, replied with calm,
impartial urbanity:

"Very.  Good afternoon."

"I’d better take that thing," said Edwin outside, in spite of himself.

She gave up the parcel to him.

"Tell cook to fry it," said Hilda.  "She always fries better than she
boils."

He repeated:

"’Tell cook to fry it.’  What’s up now?"  His tone challenged.

"I must go over and see Janet at once.  I shall take the next car."

He lifted the end of his nose in disgust.  There was no end to the
girl’s caprices.

"Why at once?" the superior male demanded.  Disdain and resentment were
in his voice.  Hundreds of times, when alone, he had decided that he
would never use that voice--first, because it was unworthy of a
philosopher, second, because it never achieved any good result, and
third, because it often did harm.  Yet he would use it.  The voice had
an existence and a volition of its own within his being; he marvelled
that the essential mechanism of life should be so clumsy and
inefficient.  He heard the voice come out, and yet was not displeased,
was indeed rather pleasantly excited. A new grievance had been created
for him; he might have ignored it, just as he might ignore a solitary
cigarette lying in his cigarette case.  Both cigarettes and grievances
were bad for him.  But he could not ignore them.  The last cigarette in
the case magnetised him.  Useless to argue with himself that he had
already smoked more than enough,--the cigarette had to emerge from the
case and be burnt; and the grievance too was irresistible.  In an
instant he had it between his teeth and was darkly enjoying it.  Of
course Hilda’s passionate pity for Janet was a fine thing.  Granted!
But therein was no reason why she should let it run away with her.  The
worst of these capricious, impulsive creatures was that they could never
do anything fine without an enormous fuss and upset.  What possible
difference would it make whether Hilda went to break the news of
disaster to Janet at once or in an hour’s time?  The mere desire to
protect and assuage could not properly furnish an excuse for
unnecessarily dislocating a household and depriving oneself of food.  On
the contrary, it was wiser and more truly kind to take one’s meals
regularly in a crisis.  But Hilda would never appreciate that profound
truth--never, never!

Moreover, it was certain that Johnnie had written to Janet.

"I feel I must go at once," said Hilda.

He spoke with more marked scorn:

"And what about your tea?"

"Oh, it doesn’t matter about my tea."

"Of course it matters about your tea.  If you have your tea quietly,
you’ll find the end of the world won’t have come, and you can go and see
Janet just the same, and the whole house won’t have been turned upside
down."

She put her lips together and smiled mysteriously, saying nothing.  The
racket of the Hanbridge and Knype steam-car could be heard behind them.
She did not turn her head.  The car overtook them, and then stopped a
few yards in front.  But she did not hail the conductor.  The car went
onwards.

He had won.  His argument had been so convincing that she could not help
being convinced.  It was too powerful for even her obstinacy, which as a
rule successfully defied any argument whatever.

Did he smile and forgive?  Did he extend to her the blessing of his
benevolence?  No.  He could not have brought himself to such a point.
After all, she had done nothing to earn approval; she had simply
refrained from foolishness.  She had had to be reminded of
considerations which ought ever to have been present in her brain.
Doubtless she thought that he was hard, that he was incapable of her
divine pity for Janet.  But that was only because she could not imagine
a combination of emotional generosity and calm commonsense; and she
never would be able to imagine it.  Hence she would always be unjust to
him.

When they arrived home, she was still smiling mysteriously to herself.
She did not take her hat off--sign of disturbance!  He moved with
careful tranquillity through the ritual that preceded tea.  He could
feel her in the house, ordering it, softening it, civilising it.  He
could smell the fish.  He could detect the subservience of Ada to her
mistress’s serious mood. He went into the dining-room.  Ada followed him
with a tray of hot things.  Hilda followed Ada.  Then George entered,
cleaner than ordinary.  Edwin savoured deeply the functioning of his
home.  And his wife had yielded.  Her instinct had compelled her not to
neglect him; his sagacity had mastered her.  In her heart she must
admire his sagacity, whatever she said or looked, and her unreasoning
passion for him was still the paramount force in her vitality.

"Now, are you two all right?" said Hilda, when she had poured out the
tea, and Edwin was carving the fish.

Edwin glanced up.

"I don’t want any tea," she said.  "I couldn’t touch it."

She bent and kissed George, took her gloves from the sideboard, and left
the house, the mysterious smile still on her face.



                                  III


Edwin controlled his vexation at this dramatic move. It was only slight,
and he had to play the serene omniscient to George.  Further, the
attractive food helped to make him bland.

"Didn’t you know your mother had to go out?" said Edwin, with astounding
guile.

"Yes, she told me upstairs," George murmured, "while she was washing me.
She said she had to go and see Auntie Janet again."

The reply was a blow to Edwin.  She had said nothing to him, but she had
told the boy.  Still, his complacency was not overset.  Boy and
stepfather began to talk, with the mingled freedom and constraint
practised by males accustomed to the presence of a woman, when the woman
is absent.  Each was aware of the stress of a novel, mysterious, and
grave situation. Each also thought of the woman, and each knew that the
other was thinking of the woman.  Each, over a serious apprehension,
seemed to be lightly saying: "It’s rather fun to be without her for a
bit.  But we must be able to rely on her return."  Nothing stood between
them and domestic discomfort.  Possible stupidity in the kitchen had no
check.  As regards the mere household machine, they had a ridiculous and
amusing sense of distant danger.

Edwin had to get up in order to pour out more tea. He reckoned that he
could both make tea and pour it out with more exactitude than his wife,
who often forgot to put the milk in first.  But he could not pour it out
with the same grace.  His brain, not his heart, poured the tea out.  He
left the tray in disorder.  The symmetry of the table was soon wrecked.

"Glad you’re going back to school, I suppose?" said Edwin satirically.

George nodded.  He was drinking, and he glanced at Edwin over the rim of
the cup.  He had grown much in twelve months, and was more than twelve
months older.  Edwin was puzzled by the almost sudden developments of
his intelligence.  Sometimes the boy was just like a young man; his
voice had become a little uncertain.  He still showed the greatest
contempt for his fingernails, but he had truly discovered the
toothbrush, and was preaching it at school among a population that
scoffed yet was impressed.

"Yes, I’m glad," he answered.

"Oh!  You’re glad, are you?"

"Well, I’m glad in a way.  A boy does have to go to school, doesn’t he,
uncle?  And the sooner it’s over the better.  I tell you what I should
like--I should like to go to school night and day and have no holidays
till it was all done.  I sh’d think you could save at least three years
with that."

"A bit hard on the masters, wouldn’t it be?"

"I never thought of that.  Of course it would never be over for them.  I
expect they’d gradually die."

"Then you don’t like school?"

George shook his head.

"Did you like school, uncle?"

Edwin shook his head.  They both laughed.

"Uncle, can I leave school when I’m sixteen?"

"I’ve told you once."

"Yes, I know.  But did you mean it?  People change so."

"I told you you could leave school when you’re sixteen if you pass the
London Matric."

"But what good’s the London Matric to an architect? Mr. Orgreave says it
isn’t any good, anyway."

"When did he tell you that?"

"Yesterday."

"But not so long since you were all for being a stock-breeder!"

"Ah!  I was only pretending to myself!" George smiled.

"Well, fetch me my cigarettes off the mantelpiece in the drawing-room."

The boy ran off, eager to serve, and Edwin’s glance followed him with
affection.  George’s desire to be an architect had consistently
strengthened, save during a brief period when the Show of the North
Staffordshire Agricultural Society, held with much splendour at
Hanbridge, had put another idea into his noddle--an idea that fed itself
richly on glorious bulls and other prize cattle for about a week, and
then expired.  Indeed, already it had been in a kind of way arranged
that the youth should ultimately be articled to Johnnie Orgreave.  Among
many consequences of Johnnie’s defiance to society would probably be the
quashing of that arrangement.  And there was Johnnie, on the eve of his
elopement, chatting to George about the futility of the London
Matriculation! Edwin wondered how George would gradually learn what had
happened to his friend and inspirer, John Orgreave.

He arrived with the cigarettes, and offered them, and lit the match, and
offered that.

"And what have you been doing with yourself all afternoon?" Edwin
enquired, between puffs of smoke.

"Oh, nothing much!"

"I thought you were coming to the works and then going down to Auntie
Clara’s for tea."

"So I was.  But mother sent me to Hanbridge."

"Oh," murmured Edwin casually.  "So your mother packed you off to
Hanbridge, did she?"

"I had to go to the Post Office," George continued. "I think it was a
telegram, but it was in an envelope, and some money."

"_In_deed!" said Edwin, with a very indifferent air.

He was, however, so affected that he jumped up abruptly from the table,
and went into the darkening, chill garden, ignoring George.  George,
accustomed to these sudden accessions of interest and these sudden
forgettings, went unperturbed his ways.

About half past eight Hilda returned.  Edwin was closing the curtains in
the drawing-room.  The gas had been lighted.

"Johnnie has evidently written to Alicia," she burst out somewhat
breathless.  "Because Alicia’s telegraphed to Janet that she must
positively go straight down there and stay with them when she leaves the
Home."

"What, on Dartmoor?" Edwin muttered, in a strange voice.  The very word
"Dartmoor" made him shake.

"It isn’t actually on the moor," said Hilda.  "And so I shall take her
down myself.  I’ve told her all about things.  She wasn’t a bit
surprised.  They’re a strange lot."

She tried to speak quite naturally, but he knew that she was not
succeeding.  Their eyes would not meet. Edwin thought:

"How far away we are from this morning!"  Hazard and fate, like
converging armies, seemed to be closing upon him.



                              CHAPTER XIII

                             THE DEPARTURE


                                   I


It was a wet morning.  Hilda, already in full street attire, save for
her gloves, and with a half empty cup of tea by her side, sat at the
desk in the boudoir. She unlocked the large central drawer immediately
below the flap of the desk, with a peculiar, quick, ruthless gesture,
which gesture produced a very short snappy click that summed up all the
tension spreading from Hilda’s mind throughout the house and even into
the town.  It had been decided that in order to call for Janet at the
Nursing Home and catch the Crewe train at Knype for the Bristol and
Southwest of England connexion, Hilda must leave the house at five
minutes to nine.

This great fact was paramount in the minds of various people besides
Hilda.  Ada upstairs stood bent and flushed over a huge portmanteau into
which she was putting the last things, while George hindered her by
simultaneously tying to the leather handle a wet label finely directed
by himself in architectural characters.  The cook in the kitchen was
preparing the master’s nine o’clock breakfast with new solicitudes
caused by a serious sense of responsibility; for Hilda, having informed
her in moving tones that the master’s welfare in the mistress’s absence
would depend finally on herself, had solemnly entrusted that welfare to
her--had almost passed it to her from hand to hand, with precautions,
like a jewel in a casket.  Ada, it may be said, had immediately felt the
weight of the cook’s increased importance.  Edwin and the clerks at the
works knew that Edwin had to be home for breakfast at a quarter to nine
instead of nine, and that he must not be late, as Mrs. Clayhanger had a
train to catch, and accordingly the morning’s routine of the office was
modified.  And, finally, a short old man in a rainy stable-yard in Acre
Parade, between Acre Lane and Oldcastle Street, struggling to force a
collar over the head of a cab-horse that towered above his own head, was
already blasphemously excited by those pessimistic apprehensions about
the flight of time which forty years of train-catching had never
sufficed to allay in him.  As for Janet, she alone in her weakness and
her submissiveness was calm; the nurse and Hilda understood one another,
and she was "leaving it all" to them.

Hilda opened the drawer, half lifting the flap of the desk to disclose
its contents.  It was full of odd papers, letters, bills,
blotting-paper, door-knobs, finger-plates, envelopes, and a small book
or two.  A prejudiced observer, such as Edwin, might have said that the
drawer was extremely untidy.  But to Hilda, who had herself put in each
item separately, and each for a separate reason, the drawer was not
untidy, for her intelligence knew the plan of it, and every item as it
caught her eye suggested a justifying reason, and a good one.
Nevertheless, she formed an intention to "tidy out" the drawer (the only
drawer in the desk with a safe lock), upon her return home.  She felt at
the back of the drawer, drew forth the drawer a little further, and felt
again, vainly.  A doubt of her own essential orderliness crossed her
mind.  "Surely I can’t have put those letters anywhere else?  Surely
I’ve not mislaid them?"  Then she closed the flap of the desk, and
pulled the drawer right out, letting it rest on her knees.  Yes, the
packet was there, hidden, and so was another packet of letters--in the
handwriting of Edwin.  She was reassured.  She knew she was tidy, had
always been tidy.  And Edwin’s innuendos to the contrary were
inexcusable.  Jerking the drawer irregularly back by force into its
place, she locked it, reopened the desk, laid the packet on the
writing-pad, and took a telegram from her purse to add to the letters in
the packet.

The letters were all in the same loose, sloping hand, and on the same
tinted notepaper.  The signature was plain on one of them, "Charlotte M.
Cannon," and then after it, in brackets "(Canonges),"--the latter being
the real name of George Cannon’s French father, and George Cannon’s only
legal name. The topmost letter began: "Dear Madam, I think it is my duty
to inform you that my husband still declares his innocence of the crime
for which he is now in prison.  He requests that you shall be informed
of this.  I ought perhaps to tell you that, since the change in my
religious convictions, my feelings--"  The first page ended there.
Hilda turned the letters over, preoccupied, gazing at them and
deciphering chance phrases here and there.  The first letter was dated
about a year earlier; it constituted the beginning of the resuscitation
of just that part of her life which she had thought to be definitely
interred in memory.

Hilda had only once--and on a legal occasion--met Mrs. Canonges (as with
strict correctness she called herself in brackets)--a surprisingly old
lady, with quite white hair, and she had thought: "What a shame for that
erotic old woman to have bought and married a man so much younger than
herself!  No wonder he ran away from her!"  She had been positively
shocked by the spectacle of the well-dressed, well-behaved,
quiet-voiced, prim, decrepit creature with her aristocratic voice.  And
her knowledge of the possibilities of human nature was thenceforth
enlarged.  And when George Cannon (known to the law only as Canonges)
had received two years’ hard labour for going through a ceremony of
marriage with herself, she had esteemed, despite all her resentment
against him, that his chief sin lay in his real first marriage, not in
his false second one, and that for that sin the old woman was the more
deserving of punishment.  And when the old woman had with strange
naïvete written to say that she had become a convert to Roman
Catholicism and that her marriage and her imprisoned bigamous husband
were henceforth to her sacred, Hilda had reflected sardonically: "Of
course it is always that sort of woman that turns to religion, when
she’s too old for anything else!"  And when the news came that her
deceiver had got ten years’ penal servitude (and might have got penal
servitude for life) for uttering a forged Bank-of-England note, Hilda
had reflected in the same strain: "Of course, a man who would behave as
George behaved to me would be just the man to go about forging bank
notes!  I am not in the least astonished.  What an inconceivable
simpleton I was!"

A very long time had elapsed before the letter arrived bearing the
rumour of Cannon’s innocence.  It had not immediately produced much
effect on her mind.  She had said not a word to Edwin.  The idea of
reviving the shames of that early episode in conversation with Edwin was
extremely repugnant to her. She would not do it.  She had not the right
to do it. All her proud independence forbade her to do it.  The episode
did not concern Edwin.  The effect on her of the rumour came gradually.
It was increased when Mrs. Cannon wrote of evidence, a petition to the
Home Secretary, and employing a lawyer.  Mrs. Cannon’s attitude seemed
to say to Hilda: "You and I have shared this man, we alone in all the
world."  Mrs. Cannon seemed to imagine that Hilda would be interested.
She was right.  Hilda was interested.  Her implacability relented.  Her
vindictiveness forgave. She pondered with almost intolerable compassion
upon the vision of George Cannon suffering unjustly month after long
month interminably the horrors of a convict’s existence.  She read with
morbidity reports of Assizes, and picked up from papers and books and
from Mrs. Cannon pieces of information about prisons. When he was
transferred to Parkhurst in the Isle of Wight on account of ill-health,
she was glad, because she knew that Parkhurst was less awful than
Portland, and when from Parkhurst he was sent to Dartmoor she tried to
hope that the bracing air would do him good.  She no longer thought of
him as a criminal at all, but simply as one victim of his passion for
herself; she, Hilda, had been the other victim.  She raged in secret
against the British Judicature, its delays, its stoniness, its
stupidity.  And when the principal witness in support of Cannon’s
petition died, she raged against fate.  The movement for Cannon’s
release slackened for months.  Of late it had been resumed, and with
hopefulness.  One of Cannon’s companions had emerged from confinement
(due to an unconnected crime), and was ready to swear affidavits.
Lastly, Mrs. Cannon had written stating that she was almost beggared,
and suggesting that Hilda should lend her ten pounds towards the
expenses of the affair. Hilda had not ten pounds.  That very day Hilda,
seeing Janet in the Nursing Home, had demanded: "I say Jan, I suppose
you haven’t got ten pounds you can let me have for about a day or so?"
And had laughed self-consciously.  Janet, flushing with eager pleasure,
had replied: "Of course!  I’ve still got that ten-pound note the poor
old dad gave me.  I’ve always kept it in case the worst should happen."
Janet was far too affectionate to display curiosity.  Hilda had posted
the bank-note late at night.  The next day had come a telegram from Mrs.
Cannon: "Telegraph if you are sending money."  Not for a great deal
would Hilda have despatched through the hands of the old postmaster at
Bursley--who had once been postmaster at Turnhill and known her
parents--a telegram such as hers addressed to anybody named "Cannon."
The fear of chatter and scandal was irrational, but it was a very
genuine fear.  She had sent her faithful George with the telegram to
Hanbridge--it was just as easy.

Hilda now, after hesitation, put the packet of letters in her handbag,
to take with her.  It was a precaution of secrecy which she admitted to
be unnecessary, for she was quite certain that Edwin never looked into
her drawers; much less would he try to open a locked drawer; his
incurious confidence in her was in some respects almost touching.
Certainly nobody else would invade the drawer.  Still, she hid the
letters in her handbag.  Then, in her fashion, she scribbled a
bold-charactered note to Mrs. Cannon, giving a temporary address, and
this also she put in the handbag.

Her attitude to Mrs. Cannon, like her attitude to the bigamist, had
slowly changed, and she thought of the old woman now with respect and
sympathetic sorrow. Mrs. Cannon, before she knew that Hilda was married
to Edwin, had addressed her first letter to Hilda, "Mrs. Cannon," when
she would have been justified in addressing it, "Miss Lessways."  In the
days of her boarding-house it had been impossible, owing to business
reasons, for Hilda to drop the name to which she was not entitled and to
revert to her own.  The authentic Mrs. Cannon, despite the violence of
her grievances, had respected Hilda’s difficulty; the act showed kindly
forbearance and it had aroused Hilda’s imaginative gratitude.  Further,
Mrs. Cannon’s pertinacity in the liberation proceedings, and her calm,
logical acceptance of all the frightful consequences of being the legal
wife of a convict, had little by little impressed Hilda, who had said to
herself: "There is something in this old woman."  And Hilda nowadays
never thought of her as an old woman who had been perverse and shameless
in desire, but as a victim of passion like George Cannon.  She said to
herself: "This old woman still loves George Cannon; her love was the
secret of her rancour against him, and it is also the secret of her
compassion."  These constant reflections, by their magnanimity, and
their insistence upon the tremendous reality of love, did something to
ennoble the clandestine and demoralising life of the soul which for a
year Hilda had hidden from her husband and from everybody.



                                   II


It still wanted twenty minutes to nine o’clock.  She was too soon.  The
night before, Edwin had abraded her sore nerves by warning her not to be
late--in a tone that implied habitual lateness on her part.  Hilda was
convinced that she was an exact woman.  She might be late--a little
late--six times together, but as there was a sound explanation of and
excuse for each shortcoming, her essential exactitude remained always
unimpaired in her own mind.  But Edwin would not see this.  He told her
now and then that she belonged to that large class of people who have
the illusion that a clock stands still at the last moment while last
things are being done.  She resented the observation, as she resented
many of Edwin’s assumptions concerning her.  Edwin seemed to forget that
she had been one of the first women-stenographers in England, that she
had been a journalist-secretary and accustomed to correct the
negligences of men of business, and finally that she had been in
business by herself for a number of years.  Edwin would sweep all that
away, and treat her like one of your mere brainless butterflies.  At any
rate, on the present occasion she was not late.  And she took pride,
instead of shame, in her exaggerated earliness.  She had the air of
having performed a remarkable feat.

She left the boudoir to go upstairs and superintend Ada, though she had
told the impressed Ada that she should put full trust in her, and should
not superintend her.  However, as she opened the door she heard the
sounds of Ada and George directing each other in the joint enterprise of
bringing a very large and unwieldy portmanteau out of the bedroom.  The
hour for superintendence was therefore past.  Hilda went into the
drawing-room, idly, nervously, to wait till the portmanteau should have
reached the hall.  The French window was ajar, and a wet wind entered
from the garden.  The garden was full of rain.  Two workmen were in it,
employed by the new inhabitants of the home of the Orgreaves.  Those
upstarts had decided that certain branches of the famous Orgreave elms
were dangerous and must be cut, and the workmen, shirt sleeved in the
rain, were staying one of the elms with a rope made fast to the swing in
the Clayhanger garden.  Hilda was unreasonably but sincerely
antipathetic to her new neighbours.  The white-ended stumps of great
elm-branches made her feel sick. Useless to insist to her on the
notorious treachery of elms!  She had an affection for those elms, and,
to her, amputation was an outrage.  The upstarts had committed other
sacrilege upon the house and grounds, not heeding that the abode had
been rendered holy by the sacraments of fate.  Hilda stared and stared
at the rain.  And the prospect of the long, jolting, acutely depressing
drive through the mud and the rain to Knype Vale, and of the
interminable train journey with a tragic convalescent, braced her.

"Mother!"

George stood behind her.

"Well, have you got the luggage down?"  She frowned, but George knew her
nervous frown and could rightly interpret it.

He nodded.

"Ought I to put ’Dartmoor’ on the luggage-label?"

She gave a negative sign.

Why should he ask such a question?  She had never breathed the name of
Dartmoor.  Why should he mention it?  Edwin also had mentioned Dartmoor.
"What, on Dartmoor?" Edwin had said.  Did Edwin suspect her
correspondence?  No.  Had he suspected he would have spoken.  She knew
him.  And even if Edwin had suspected, George could not conceivably have
had suspicions, of any sort....  There he stood, the son of a convict,
with no name of his own.  He existed--because she and the convict had
been unable to keep apart; his ignorance of the past was appalling to
think of, the dangers incident to it dreadful; his easy confidence
before the world affected her almost intolerably.  She felt that she
could never atone to him for having borne him.

A faint noise at the front-door reached the drawing-room.

"Here’s Nunks," exclaimed George, and ran off eagerly.

This was his new name for his stepfather.

Hilda returned quickly to the boudoir.  As she disappeared therein, she
heard George descanting to Edwin on the beauties of his luggage-label,
and Edwin rubbing his feet on the mat and removing his mackintosh.

She came back to the door of the boudoir.

"Edwin."

"Hello!"

"One moment."

He came into the boudoir, wiping the rain off his face.

"Shut the door, will you?"

Her earnest, self-conscious tone stirred into activity the dormant
secret antagonisms that seemed ever to lie between them.  She saw them
animating his eyes, stiffening his pose.

Pointing to the cup and saucer on the desk, Edwin said, critically:

"That all you’ve had?"

"Can you let me have ten pounds?" she asked bluntly, ignoring his
implication that in the matter of nourishment she had not behaved
sensibly.

"Ten pounds?  More?"  He was on the defensive, as it were crouching
warily behind a screen of his suspicions.

She nodded, awkwardly.  She wanted to be graceful, persuasive,
enveloping, but she could not.  It was to repay Janet that she had need
of the money.  She ought to have obtained it before, but she had
postponed the demand, and she had been wrong.  Janet would not require
the money, she would have no immediate use for it, but Hilda could not
bear to be in debt to her; to leave the sum outstanding would seem so
strange, so sinister, so equivocal; it would mar all their intercourse.

"But look here, child," said Edwin, protesting, "I’ve given you about
forty times as much as you can possibly want already."

He had never squarely refused any demand of hers for money; he had
almost always acceded instantly and without enquiry to her demands.
Obviously he felt sympathy with the woman who by eternal custom is
forced to ask, and had a horror of behaving as the majority of husbands
notoriously behaved in such circumstances; obviously he was anxious not
to avail himself of the husband’s overwhelming economic advantage.
Nevertheless the fact that he earned and she didn’t was ever
mysteriously present in his relatively admirable attitude.  And
sometimes--perhaps not without grounds, she admitted--he would hesitate
before a request, and in him a hesitation was as humiliating as a
refusal would have been from another man. And Hilda resented, not so
much his attitude, as the whole social convention upon which it was
unassailably based.  He earned--she knew.  She would not deny that he
was the unique source and that without him there would be naught.  But
still she did not think that she ought to have to ask.  On the other
hand she had no alternative plan to offer.  Her criticism of the
convention was destructive, not constructive.  And all Edwin’s careful
regard for a woman’s susceptibilities seemed only to intensify her
deep-hidden revolt. It was a mere chance that he was thus chivalrous.
And whether he was chivalrous or not, she was in his power; and she
chafed.

"I should be glad if you could let me have it," she said, grimly.

The appeal, besides being unpersuasive in manner, was too general; it
did not particularize.  There was no frankness between them.  She saw
his suspicions multiplying.  What did he suspect?  What could he
suspect? ... Ah!  And why was she herself so timorous, so strangely
excited, about going even to the edge of Dartmoor?  And why did she feel
guilty, why was her glance so constrained?

"Well, I can’t," he answered.  "Not now; but if anything unexpected
turns up, I can send you a cheque."

She was beaten.

The cab stopped at the front-door, well in advance of time.

"It’s for Janet," she muttered to him, desperately.

Edwin’s face changed.

"Why in thunder didn’t you say so to start with?" he exclaimed.  "I’ll
see what I can do.  Of course I’ve got a fiver in my pocket-book."

There were a number of men in the town who made a point of always having
a reserve five-pound note and a telegraph-form upon their persons.  It
was the dandyism of well-off prudence.

He sprang out of the room.  The door swung to behind him.

In a very few moments he returned.

"Here you are!" he said, taking the note from his pocket-book and adding
it to a collection of gold and silver.

Hilda was looking out of the window at the tail of the cab.  She did not
move.

"I don’t want it, thanks," she replied coldly.  And she thought: "What a
fool I am!"

"Oh!" he murmured, with constraint.

"You’d do it for her!" said Hilda, chill and clear, "But you wouldn’t do
it for me."  And she thought: "Why do I say such a thing?"

He slapped all the money crossly down on the desk and left the room.
She could hear him instructing Ada and the cabman in the manipulation of
the great portmanteau.

"Now, mother!" cried George.

She gazed at the money, and, picking it up, shovelled it into her purse.
It was irresistible.

In the hall she kissed George, and nodded with a plaintive smile at Ada.
Edwin was in the porch.  He held back; she held back.  She knew from his
face that he would not offer to kiss her.  The strange power that had
compelled her to alienate him refused to allow her to relent.  She
passed down the steps out into the rain.  They nodded, the theory for
George and Ada being that they had made their farewells in the boudoir.
But George and Ada none the less had their notions.  It appeared to
Hilda that instead of going for a holiday with her closest friend, she
was going to some recondite disaster that involved the end of marriage.
And the fact that she and Edwin had not kissed outweighed all other
facts in the universe.  Yet what was a kiss?  Until the cab laboriously
started she hoped for a miracle.  It did not happen.  If only on the
previous night she had not absolutely insisted that nobody from the
house should accompany her to Knype! ... The porch slipped from her
vision.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                              TAVY MANSION


                                   I


Hilda and Harry Hesketh stood together in the soft warm Devonshire
sunshine bending above the foot-high wire-netting that separated the
small ornamental pond from the lawn.  By their side was a St. Bernard
dog with his great baptising tongue hanging out. Two swans, glittering
in the strong light, swam slowly to and fro; one had a black claw tucked
up on his back among downy white feathers; the other hissed at the dog,
who in his vast and shaggy good-nature simply could not understand this
malevolence on the part of a fellow-creature.  Round about the elegant
haughtiness of the swans clustered a number of iridescent Muscovy ducks,
and a few white Aylesburys with gamboge beaks that intermittently
quacked, all restless and expectant of blessings to fall over the
wire-netting that eternally separated them from the heavenly
hunting-ground of the lawn.  Across the pond, looking into a moored
dinghy, an enormous drake with a vermilion top-knot reposed on the
balustrade of the landing-steps.  The water reflected everything in a
rippled medley--blue sky, rounded woolly clouds, birds, shrubs, flowers,
grasses, and browny-olive depths of the plantation beyond the pond,
where tiny children in white were tumbling and shrieking with a nurse in
white.

Harry was extraordinarily hospitable, kind, and agreeable to his guest.
Scarcely thirty, tall and slim, he carried himself with distinction.
His flannels were spotless; his white shirt was spotless; his tennis
shoes were spotless; but his blazer, cap and necktie (which all had the
same multicoloured pattern of stripes) were shabby, soiled, and without
shape; nevertheless their dilapidation seemed only to adorn his
dandyism, for they possessed a mysterious sacred quality.  He had a
beautiful moustache, nice eyes, hands excitingly dark with hair, and no
affectations whatever. Although he had inherited Tavy Mansion and a
fortune from an aunt who had left Oldcastle and the smoke to marry a
Devonshire landowner, he was boyish, modest, and ingenuous.  Nobody
could have guessed from his manner that he had children, nurses,
servants, gardeners, grooms, horses, carriages, a rent-roll, and a safe
margin at every year’s end.  He spoke of the Five Towns with a mild
affection.  Hilda thought, looking at him: "He has everything, simply
everything! And yet he’s quite unspoilt!"  In spite of the fact that in
previous years he had seen Hilda only a few times--and that quite
casually at the Orgreaves’--he had assumed and established intimacy at
the very moment of meeting her and Janet at Tavistock station the night
before, and their friendship might now have been twenty years old
instead of twenty hours.  Very obviously he belonged to a class superior
to Hilda’s, but he was apparently quite unconscious of what was still
the most deeply-rooted and influential institution of English life.  His
confiding confidential tone flattered her.

"How do you think Alicia’s looking?" he asked.

"Magnificent," said Hilda, throwing a last piece of bread into the
water.

"So do I," said he.  "But she’s ruined for tennis, you know.  This baby
business is spiffing, only it puts you right off your game.  As a rule
she manages to be hors de combat bang in the middle of the season. She
has been able to play a bit this year, but she’s not keen--that’s what’s
up with her ladyship--she’s not keen now."

"Well," said Hilda.  "Even you can’t have everything."

"Why ’even’ me?" He laughed.

She merely gazed at him with a mysterious smile. She perceived that he
was admiring her--probably for her enigmatic quality, so different from
Alicia’s--and she felt a pleasing self-content.

"Edwin do much tennis nowadays?"

"Edwin?"  She repeated the name in astonishment, as though it were the
name of somebody who could not possibly be connected with tennis.  "Not
he!  He’s not touched a racket all this season.  He’s quite otherwise
employed."

"I hear he’s a fearful pot in the Five Towns, anyway," said Harry
seriously.  "Making money hand over fist."

Hilda raised her eyebrows and shook her head deprecatingly.  But the
marked respectfulness of Harry’s reference to Edwin was agreeable.  She
thought: "I do believe I’m becoming a snob!"

"It’s hard work making money, even in our small way, in Bursley," she
said--and seemed to indicate the expensive spaciousness of the gardens.

"I should like to see old Edwin again."

"I never knew you were friends."

"Well, I used to see him pretty often at Lane End House, after Alicia
and I were engaged.  In fact once he jolly nearly beat me in a set."

"Edwin did?" she exclaimed.

"The same....  He had a way of saying things that a feller somehow
thought about afterwards."

"Oh!  So you noticed that!"

"Does he still?"

"I--I don’t know.  But he used to."

"You ought to have brought him.  In fact I quite thought he was coming.
Anyhow, I told Alicia to invite him, too, as soon as we knew you were
bringing old Jan down."

"She did mention it, Alicia did.  But, oh!  He wouldn’t hear of it.
Works!  Works!  No holiday all summer."

"I’ll tell you a scheme," said Harry roguishly.  "Refuse to rejoin the
domestic hearth until he comes and fetches you."

She gave a little laugh.  "Oh, he won’t come to fetch me."

"Well," said Harry shortly and decisively, "we shall see what can be
done.  I may tell you we’re rather great at getting people down here....
I wonder where those girls are?"  He turned round and Hilda turned
round.

The red Georgian house with its windows in octagonal panes, its large
pediment hiding the centre of the roof, and its white paint, showed
brilliantly across the hoop-studded green, between some cypresses and an
ilex; on either side were smooth walls of green--trimmed shrubs forming
long alleys whose floors were also green; and here and there a round or
oval flowerbed, and, at the edges of the garden, curved borders of
flowers.  Everything was still, save the ship-like birds on the pond,
the distant children in the plantation, and the slow-moving, small
clouds overhead.  The sun’s warmth was like an endearment.

Janet and Alicia, their arms round each other’s shoulders, sauntered
into view from behind the cypresses.  On the more sheltered lawn nearest
the house they were engaged in a quiet but tremendous palaver; nobody
but themselves knew what they were talking about; it might have been the
affair of Johnnie and Mrs. Chris Hamson, as to which not a word had been
publicly said at Tavy Mansion since Janet and Hilda’s arrival.  Janet
still wore black, and now she carried a red sunshade belonging to
Alicia.  Alicia was in white, not very clean white, and rather tousled.
She was only twenty-five.  She had grown big and jolly and downright
(even to a certain shamelessness) and careless of herself.  Her body had
the curves, and her face the emaciation, of the young mother.  She used
abrupt, gawky, kind-hearted gestures.  Her rough affectionateness
embraced not merely her children, but all young living things, and many
old.  For her children she had a passion.  And she would say openly, as
it were, defiantly, that she meant to be the mother of more
children--lots more.

"Hey, lass!" cried out Harry, using the broad Staffordshire accent for
the amusement of Hilda.

The sisters stopped and untwined their arms.

"Hey, lad!" Alicia loudly responded.  But instead of looking at her
husband she was looking through him at the babies in the plantation
behind the pond.

Janet smiled, in her everlasting resignation.  Hilda, smiling at her in
return from the distance, recalled the tone in which Harry had said ’old
Jan’--a tone at once affectionate and half-contemptuous.  She was old
Jan, now; destined to be a burden upon somebody and of very little use
to anybody; no longer necessary. If she disappeared, life would
immediately close over her, and not a relative, not a friend, would be
inconvenienced.  Some among them would remark: "Perhaps it’s for the
best."  And Janet knew it.  In the years immediately preceding the death
of Mr. and Mrs. Orgreave, she had hardened a little from her earlier
soft, benevolent self--hardened to everybody save her father and mother,
whom she protected--and now she was utterly tender again, and her gentle
acquiescences seemed to say: "I am defenceless, and to-morrow I shall be
old."

"I’m going to telegraph to Edwin Clayhanger to come down for the
week-end," shouted Harry.

And Alicia shouted in reply:

"Oh!  Spiffing!"

Hilda said nervously:

"You aren’t, really?"

She had no intention of agreeing to the pleasant project.  A breach
definitely existed between Edwin and herself, and the idea of either
maintaining it or ending it on foreign ground was inconceivable.  Such
things could only be done at home.  She had telegraphed a safe arrival,
but she had not yet written to him nor decided in what tone she should
write.

Two gardeners, one pushing a wheeled water-can, appeared from an alley
and began silently and assiduously to water a shaded flower-bed.  Alicia
and Harry continued to shout enthusiastically to each other in a manner
sufficiently disturbing, but the gardeners gave no sign that anybody
except themselves lived in the garden.  Alicia, followed by Janet, was
slowly advancing towards the croquet lawn, when a parlourmaid tripping
from the house overtook her, and with modest deference murmured
something to the bawling, jolly mistress.  Alicia, still followed by
Janet, turned and went into the house, while the parlourmaid with bent
head waited discreetly to bring up the rear.

A sudden and terrific envy possessed Hilda as she contrasted the
circumstances of these people with her own.  These people lived in
lovely and cleanly surroundings without a care beyond the apprehension
of nursery ailments.  They had joyous and kindly dispositions.  They
were well-bred, and they were attended by servants who, professionally,
were even better bred than themselves, and who were rendered happy by
smooth words and good pay.  They lived at peace with everyone.  Full of
health, they ate well and slept well.  They suffered no strain.  They
had absolutely no problems, and they did not seek problems.  Nor had
they any duties, save agreeable ones to each other. Their world was
ideal.  If you had asked them how their world could be improved for
them, they would not have found an easy reply.  They could only have
demanded less taxes and more fine days....  Whereas Hilda and hers were
forced to live among a brutal populace, amid the most horrible
surroundings of smoke, dirt, and squalor.  In Devonshire the Five Towns
was unthinkable; the whiteness of the window-curtains at Tavy Mansion
almost broke the heart of the housewife in Hilda.  And compare--not
Hilda’s handkerchief-garden, but even the old garden of the Orgreaves,
with this elysium, where nothing offended the eye and the soot nowhere
lay on the trees, blackening the shiny leaves and stunting the branches.
And compare the too mean planning and space-saving of the house in
Trafalgar Road with the lavish generosity of space inside Tavy
Mansion!...

Edwin in the Bursley sense was a successful man, and had consequence in
the town, but the most that he had accomplished or could accomplish
would not amount to the beginning of appreciable success according to
higher standards.  Nobody in Bursley really knew the meaning of the word
success.  And even such local success as Edwin had had--at what peril
and with what worry was it won!  These Heskeths were safe forever.  Ah!
She envied them, and she intensely depreciated everything that was hers.
She stood in the Tavy Mansion garden--it seemed to her--like an
impostor.  Her husband was merely struggling upwards.  And moreover she
had quarrelled with him, darkly and obscurely; and who could guess what
would be the end of marriage?  Harry and Alicia never quarrelled; they
might have tiffs--nothing worse than that; they had no grounds for
quarrelling....  And supposing Harry and Alicia guessed the link
connecting her with Dartmoor prison! ... No, it could not be supposed.
Her envy melted into secret deep dejection amid the beautiful and
prosperous scene.

"Evidently some one’s called," said Harry, of his wife’s disappearance.
"I hope she’s nice."

"Who?"

"Whoever’s called.  Shall we knock the balls about a bit?"

They began a mild game of croquet.  But after a few minutes Hilda burst
out sharply:

"You aren’t playing your best, Mr. Hesketh.  I wish you would."

He was startled by her eyes and her tone.

"Honest Injun!  I am," he fibbed in answer.  "But I’ll try to do better.
You must remember croquet isn’t my game.  Alicia floors me at it five
times out of six."

Then the parlourmaid and another maid came out to lay tea on two tables
under the ilex.

"Bowley," said Harry over his shoulder.  "Bring me a telegraph-form next
time you come out, will you?"

"Yes, sir," said the parlourmaid.

Hilda protested:

"No, Mr. Hesketh!  Really!  I assure you--"

The telegraph-form came with the tea.  Harry knocked a ball against a
coloured stick, and both he and Hilda sat down with relief.

"Who’s called, Bowley?"

"Mrs. Rotherwas, sir."

Harry counted the cups.

"Isn’t she staying for tea?"

"No, sir.  I think not, sir."

Hilda, humming, rose and walked about.  At the same moment Alicia,
Janet, and a tall young woman in black and yellow emerged from the
house.  Hilda moved behind a tree.  She could hear good-byes.  The group
vanished round the side of the house, and then came the sound of hoofs
and of wheels crunching. An instant later Alicia arrived at the ilex,
bounding and jolly; Janet moved more sedately.  The St. Bernard, who had
been reposing near the pond, now smelt the tea and hot cakes and joined
the party.  The wagging of his powerful tail knocked over a
wicker-chair, and Alicia gave a squeal.  Then Alicia, putting her hands
to her mouth, shouted across the lawn and the pond:

"Nursey!  Nursey!  Take them in!"

And a faint reply came.

"What was the Rotherwas dame after?" asked Harry, sharpening a pencil,
when Alicia had ascertained the desires of her guests as to milk and
sugar.

"She was after you, of course," said Alicia. "Tennis party on Monday.
She wants you to balance young Truscott.  I just told her so.  We shall
all go. You’ll go, Hilda.  She’ll be delighted.  I should have brought
her along only she was in such a hurry."

Hilda enquired:

"Who is Mrs. Rotherwas?"

"Her husband’s a big coal-owner at Cardiff.  But she’s a niece or
something of the governor of Dartmoor prison, and she’s apparently
helping to keep house for dear uncle just now.  They’ll take us over the
prison before tennis.  It’s awfully interesting. Harry and I have been
once."

"Oh!" murmured Hilda, staggered.

"Now about this ’ere woire," said Harry.  "What price this?"  He handed
over the message which he had just composed.  It was rather long, and on
the form was left space for only two more words.

Hilda could not decipher it.  She saw the characters with her eyes, but
she was incapable of interpreting them.  All the time she thought:

"I shall go to that prison.  I can’t help it.  I shan’t be able to keep
from going.  I shall go to that prison. I must go.  Who could have
imagined this?  I am bound to go, and I shall go."

But instead of objecting totally to the despatch of the telegram, she
said in a strange voice:

"It’s very nice of you."

"You fill up the rest of the form," said Harry, offering the pencil.

"What must I put?"

"Well, you’d better put ’Countersigned, Hilda.’  That’ll fix it."

"Will you write it?" she muttered.

He wrote the words.

"Let poor mummy see!" Alicia complained, seizing the telegraph-form.

Harry called out:

"Leeks!"

A shirt-sleeved gardener half hidden by foliage across the garden looked
up sharply, saw Harry’s beckoning finger, and approached running.

"Have that sent off for me, will you?  Tell Jos to take it," said Harry,
and gave Leeks the form and a florin.

"Why, Hilda, you aren’t eating anything!" protested Alicia.

"I only want tea," said Hilda casually, wondering whether they had
noticed anything wrong in her face.



                                   II


Edwin, looking curiously out of the carriage-window as the train from
Plymouth entered Tavistock station early on the Monday, was surprised to
perceive Harry Hesketh on the platform.  While, in the heavenly air of
the September morning, the train was curving through Bickleigh Vale and
the Valley of the Plym and through the steeper valley of the Meavy up
towards the first fastnesses of the Moor, he had felt his body to be
almost miraculously well and his soul almost triumphant.  But when he
saw Harry--the remembered figure, but a little stouter and coarser--he
saw a being easily more triumphant than himself.

Harry had great reason for triumph, for he had proved himself to possess
a genius for deductive psychological reasoning and for prophecy.  Edwin
had been characteristically vague about the visit.  First he had
telegraphed that he could not come, business preventing.  Then he had
telegraphed that he would come, but only on Sunday, and he had given no
particulars of trains.  They had all assured one another that this was
just like Edwin.  "The man’s mad!" said Harry with genial benevolence,
and had set himself to one of his favourite studies--Bradshaw.  He
always handled Bradshaw like a master, accomplishing feats of
interpretation that amazed his wife.  He had announced, after careful
connotations, that Edwin was perhaps after all not such a chump, but
that he was in fact a chump, in that, having chosen the Bristol-Plymouth
route, he had erred about the Sunday night train from Plymouth to
Tavistock.  How did he know that Edwin would choose the Bristol-Plymouth
route?  Well, his knowledge was derived from divination, based upon vast
experience of human nature. Edwin would "get stuck" at Plymouth.  He
would sleep at Plymouth--staying at the Royal (he hoped)--and would come
on by the 8.1 a.m. on Monday, arriving at 8.59 a.m., where he would be
met by Harry in the dog-cart drawn by Joan.  The telegraph was of course
closed after 10 a.m. on Sunday, but if it had been open and he had been
receiving hourly despatches about Edwin’s tortuous progress through
England, Harry could not have been more sure of his position.  And on
the Monday Harry had risen up in the very apogee of health, and had
driven Joan to the station.  "Mark my words!" he had said.  "I shall
bring him back with me for breakfast."  He had offered to take Hilda to
the station to witness his triumph; but Hilda had not accepted.

And there Edwin was!  Everything had happened according to Harry’s
prediction, except that, from an unfortunate modesty, Edwin had gone to
the wrong hotel at Plymouth.

They shook hands in a glow of mutual pleasure.

"How on earth did you know?" Edwin began.

The careful-casual answer rounded off Harry’s triumph.  And Edwin
thought: "Why, he’s just like a grown-up boy!"  But he was
distinguished; his club-necktie in all its decay was still impressive;
and his expansive sincere goodwill was utterly delightful. Also the
station, neat, clean, solid--the negation of all gimcrackery--had an
aspect of goodwill to man; its advertisements did not flare; and it
seemed to be the expression of a sound and self-respecting race. The
silvern middle-aged guard greeted Harry with deferential heartiness and
saluted Edwin with even more warmth than he had used at Plymouth.  On
the Sunday Edwin had noticed that in the western country guards were not
guards (as in other parts of England), but rather the cordial hosts of
their trains.  As soon as the doors had banged in a fusillade and the
engine whistled, a young porter came and, having exchanged civilities
with Harry, picked up Edwin’s bag.  This porter’s face and demeanour
showed perfect content.  His slight yet eager smile and his quick
movements seemed to be saying: "It is natural and proper that I should
salute you and carry your bag while you walk free.  You are gentlemen by
divine right, and by the same right I am a railway porter and happy."
To watch the man at his job gave positive pleasure, and it was
extraordinarily reassuring--reassuring about everything. Outside the
station, the groom stood at Joan’s head, and a wonderful fox-terrier sat
alert under the dog-cart.  Instantly the dog sprang out and began to
superintend the preparations for departure, rushing to and fro and
insisting all the time that delay would be monstrous, if not fatal.  The
dog’s excellence as a specimen of breeding was so superlative as to
accuse its breeder and owner of a lack of perspective in life.  It was
as if the entire resources of civilization had been employed towards the
perfecting of the points of that dog.

"Balanced the cart, I suppose, Jos?" asked Harry, kindly.

"Yes, sir," was all that Jos articulated, but his bright face said:
"Sir, your assumption that I have already balanced the cart for three
and a bag is benevolent and justified.  You trust me.  I trust you, sir.
All is well."

The bag was stowed and the porter got threepence and was so happy in his
situation that apparently he could not bring himself to leave the scene.
Harry climbed up on the right, Edwin on the left.  The dog gave one
short bark and flew madly forward.  Jos loosed Joan’s head, and at the
same moment Harry gave a click, and the machine started.  It did not
wait for young Jos.  Jos caught the back step as the machine swung by,
and levered himself dangerously to the groom’s place.  And when he had
done it he grinned, announcing to beholders that his mission in life was
to do just that, and that it was a grand life and he a lucky and
enviable fellow.

Harry drove across the Tavy, and through the small grey and brown town,
so picturesque, so clean, so solid, so respectable, so content in its
historicity.  A policeman saluted amiably and firmly, as if saying: "I
am protecting all this,--what a treasure!"  Then they passed the Town
Hall.

"Town Hall," said Harry.

"Oh!"

"The Dook’s," said Harry.

He put on a certain facetiousness, but there nevertheless escaped from
him the conviction that the ownership of a town hall by a Duke was a
wondrous rare phenomenon and fine, showing the strength of grand English
institutions and traditions, and meet for honest English pride.  (And
you could say what you liked about progress!)  And Edwin had just the
same feeling.  In another minute they were out of the town. The
countryside, though bleak, with its spare hedges and granite walls, was
exquisitely beautiful in the morning light; and it was tidy, tended,
mature; it was as though it had nothing to learn from the future.
Beyond rose the slopes of the moor, tonic and grim.  An impression of
health, moral and physical, everywhere disengaged itself.  The wayfarer,
sturdy and benign, invigorated by his mere greeting.  The trot of the
horse on the smooth winding road, the bounding of the dog, the
resilience of the cart-springs, the sharp tang of the air on the cheek,
all helped to perfect Edwin’s sense of pleasure in being alive.  He
could not deny that he had stood in need of a change. He had been
worrying, perhaps through overwork. Overwork was a mistake.  He now saw
that there was no reason why he should not be happy always, even with
Hilda.  He had received a short but nice and almost apologetic letter
from Hilda.  As for his apprehensions, what on earth did it matter about
Dartmoor being so near?  Nothing!  This district was marvellously
reassuring.  He thought: "There simply is no social question down here!"

"Had your breakfast?" asked Harry.

"Yes, thanks."

"Well, you just haven’t, then!" said Harry.  "We shall be in the nick of
time for it."

"When do you have breakfast?"

"Nine thirty."

"Bit late, isn’t it?"

"Oh no!  It suits us....  I say!"  Harry stared straight between the
horse’s ears.

"What?"

Harry murmured:

"No more news about Johnnie, I suppose?"

(Edwin glanced half round at the groom behind. Harry with a gesture
indicated that the groom was negligible.)

"Not that I’ve heard.  Bit stiff, isn’t it?" Edwin answered.

"Bit stiff?  I should rather say it was.  Especially after Jimmie’s
performance.  Rather hard lines on Alicia, don’t you think?"

"On all of ’em," said Edwin, not seeing why Johnnie’s escapade should
press more on Alicia than, for example, on Janet.

"Yes, of course," Harry agreed, evidently seeing and accepting the
point.  "The less said the better!"

"I’m with you," said Edwin.

Harry resumed his jolly tone:

"Well, you’d better peck a bit.  We’ve planned a hard day for you."

"Oh!"

"Yes.  Early lunch, and then we’re going to drive over to Princetown.
Tennis with the Governor of the prison.  He’ll show us all over the
prison.  It’s worth seeing."

Impulsively Edwin exclaimed:

"All of you?  Is Hilda going?"

"Certainly.  Why not?"  He raised the whip and pointed: "Behold our
noble towers."

Edwin, feeling really sick, thought:

"Hilda’s mad.  She’s quite mad.....  Morbid isn’t the word!"

He was confounded.



                                  III


At Tavy Mansion Edwin and Harry were told by a maid that Mrs. Hesketh
and Miss Orgreave were in the nursery and would be down in a moment, but
that Mrs. Clayhanger had a headache and was remaining in bed for
breakfast.  The master of the house himself took Edwin to the door of
his wife’s bedroom. Edwin’s spirits had risen in an instant, as he
perceived the cleverness of Hilda’s headache.  There could be no doubt
that women were clever, though perhaps unscrupulously and crudely
clever, in a way beyond the skill of men.  By the simple device of
suffering from a headache Hilda had avoided the ordeal of meeting a
somewhat estranged husband in public; she was also preparing an excuse
for not going to Princetown and the prison.  Certainly it was better, in
the Dartmoor affair, to escape at the last moment than to have declined
the project from the start.

As he opened the bedroom-door, apprehensions and bright hope were
mingled in him.  He had a weighty grievance against Hilda, whose
behaviour at parting had been, he considered, inexcusable; but the warm
tone of her curt private telegram to him and of her almost equally curt
letter, re-stating her passionate love, was really equivalent to an
apology, which he accepted with eagerness.  Moreover he had done a lot
in coming to Devonshire, and for this great act he lauded himself and he
expected some gratitude.  Nevertheless, despite the pacificism of his
feelings, he could not smile when entering the room.  No, he could not!

Hilda was lying in the middle of a very wide bed, and her dark hair was
spread abroad upon the pillow. On the pedestal was a tea-tray.  Squatted
comfortably at Hilda’s side, with her left arm as a support, was a baby
about a year old, dressed for the day. This was Cecil, born the day
after his grandparents’ funeral.  Cecil, with mouth open and
outstretched pink hands, of which the fingers were spread like the rays
of half a starfish, from wide eyes gazed at Edwin with a peculiar
expression of bland irony.  Hilda smiled lovingly; she smiled without
reserve.  And as soon as she smiled, Edwin could smile, and his heart
was suddenly quite light.

Hilda thought:

"That wistful look in his eyes has never changed, and it never will.
Imagine him travelling on Sunday, when the silly old thing might just as
well have come on Saturday, if he’d had anybody to decide him!  He’s
been travelling for twenty-four hours or more, and now he’s here!  What
a shame for me to have dragged him down here in spite of himself!  But
he would do it for me!  He has done it....  I had to have him, for this
afternoon! ... After all he must be very good at business.  Everyone
respects him, even here. We may end by being really rich.  Have I ever
really appreciated him? ... And now of course he’s going to be annoyed
again.  Poor boy!"

"Hello!  Who’s this?" cried Edwin.

"This is Cecil.  His mummy’s left him, here with his Auntie Hilda," said
Hilda.

"Another clever dodge of hers!" thought Edwin. He liked the baby being
there.

He approached the bed, and, staring nervously about, saw that his bag
had already mysteriously reached the bedroom.

"Well, my poor boy!  What a journey!" Hilda murmured compassionately.
She could not help showing that she was his mother in wisdom and sense.

"Oh no!" he amiably dismissed this view.

He was standing over her by the bedside.  She looked straight up at him
timid and expectant.  He bent and kissed her.  Under his kiss she
shifted slightly in the bed, and her arms clung round his neck, and by
her arms she lifted herself a little towards him.

She shut her eyes.  She would not loose him.  She seemed again to be
drawing the life out of him.  At last she let him go, and gave a great
sigh.  All the past which did not agree with that kiss and that sigh of
content was annihilated, and an immense reassurance filled Edwin’s mind.

"So you’ve got a headache?"

She gave a succession of little nods, smiling happily.

"I’m so glad you’ve come, dearest," she said, after a pause.  She was
just like a young girl, like a child, in her relieved satisfaction.
"What about George?"

"Well, as it was left to me to decide, I thought I’d better ask Maggie
to come and stay in the house. Much better than packing him off to
Auntie Hamps’s."

"And she came?"

"Oh yes!" said Edwin, indifferently, as if to say: "Of course she came."

"Then you did get my letter in time?"

"I shouldn’t have got it in time if I’d left Saturday morning as you
wanted.  Oh!  And here’s a letter for _you_."

He pulled a letter from his pocket.  The envelope was of the peculiar
tinted paper with which he had already been familiarised.  Hilda became
self-conscious as she took the letter and opened it.  Edwin too was
self-conscious.  To lighten the situation, he put his little finger in
the baby’s mouth.  Cecil much appreciated this form of humour, and as
soon as the finger was withdrawn from his toothless gums, he made a
bubbling whirring noise, and waved his arms to indicate that the game
must continue.  Hilda, frowning, read the letter.  Edwin sat down,
ledging himself cautiously on the brink of the bed, and leaned back a
little so as to be able to get at the baby and tickle it among its
frills.  From the distance, beyond walls, he could hear the powerful
happy cries of older babies, beings fully aware of themselves, who knew
their own sentiments and could express them.  And he glanced round the
long low room with its two small open windows showing sunlit yellow
cornfields and high trees, and its monumental furniture, and the
disorder of Hilda’s clothes and implements humanising it and
individualising it and making it her abode, her lair.  And he glanced
prudently at Hilda over the letter-paper.  She had no headache; it was
obvious that she had no headache.  Yet in the most innocent touching way
she had nodded an affirmative to his question about the headache.  He
could not possibly have said to her: "Look here, you know you haven’t
got a headache."  She would not have tolerated the truth.  The truth
would have made her transform herself instantly into a martyr, and him
into a brute.  She would have stuck to it, even if the seat of eternal
judgment had suddenly been installed at the brassy foot of the bed, that
she had a headache.

It was with this mentality (he reflected, assuming that his own
mentality never loved anything as well as truth) that he had to live
till one of them expired. He reminded himself wisely that the woman’s
code is different from the man’s.  But the honesty of his intelligence
rejected such an explanation, such an excuse. It was not that the woman
had a different code,--she had no code except the code of the utter
opportunist. To live with her was like living with a marvellous wild
animal, full of grace, of cunning, of magnificent passionate gestures,
of terrific affection, and of cruelty. She was at once indispensable and
intolerable.  He felt that to match her he had need of all his force,
all his prescience, all his duplicity.  The mystery that had lain
between him and Hilda for a year was in the letter within two feet of
his nose.  He could watch her as she read, study her face; he knew that
he was the wiser of the two; she was at a disadvantage; as regards the
letter, she was fighting on ground chosen by him; and yet he could not
in the least foresee the next ten minutes,--whether she would advance,
retreat, feint, or surrender.

"Did you bring your dress-clothes?" she murmured, while she was reading.
She had instructed him in her letter on this point.

"Of course," he said, manfully, striving to imply the immense untruth
that he never stirred from home without his dress-clothes.

She continued to read, frowning, and drawing her heavy eyebrows still
closer together.  Then she said:

"Here!"

And passed him the letter.  He could see now that she was becoming
excited.

The letter was from the legitimate Mrs. George Cannon, and it said that,
though nothing official was announced or even breathed, her solicitor
had gathered from a permanent and important underling of the Home Office
that George Cannon’s innocence was supposed to be established, and that
the Queen’s pardon would, at some time or other, be issued.  It was an
affecting letter.  Edwin, totally ignorant of all that had preceded it,
did not immediately understand its significance.  At first he did not
even grasp what it was about.  When he did begin to comprehend he had
the sensation of being deprived momentarily of his bearings.  He had
expected everything but this.  That is to say, he had absolutely not
known what to expect.  The shock was severe.

"_What_ is it?  _What_ is it?" he questioned, as if impatient.

Hilda replied:

"It’s about George Cannon.  It seems he was quite innocent in that
bank-note affair.  It’s his wife who’s been writing to me about it.  I
don’t know why she should.  But she did, and of course I had to reply."

"You never said anything to me about it."

"I didn’t want to worry you, dearest.  I knew you’d quite enough on your
mind with the works.  Besides, I’d no right to worry you with a thing
like _that_. But of course I can show you all her letters,--I’ve kept
them."

Unanswerable!  Unanswerable!  Insincere, concocted, but unanswerable!
The implications in her spoken defence were of the simplest and deepest
ingenuity, and withal they hurt him.  For example, the implication that
the strain of the new works was breaking him!  As if he could not
support it, and had not supported it, easily!  As if the new works meant
that he could not fulfil all his duties as a helpmeet! And then the
devilishly adroit plea that her concealment was morally necessary since
he ought not to be troubled with any result of her pre-conjugal life!
And finally the implication that he would be jealous of the
correspondence and might exact the production of it! ... He now
callously ignored Cecil’s signals for attention....  He knew that he
would receive no further enlightenment as to the long secrecy of the
past twelve months.  His fears and apprehensions and infelicity were to
be dismissed with those few words. They would never be paid for,
redeemed, atoned.  The grand scenic explanation and submission which was
his right would never come.  Sentimentally, he was cheated, and had no
redress.  And, as a climax, he had to assume, to pretend, that justice
still prevailed on earth.

"Isn’t it awful!" Hilda muttered.  "Him in prison all this time!"

He saw that her eyes were wet, and her emotion increasing.

He nodded in sympathy.

He thought:

"She’ll want some handling,--I can see that!"

He too, as well as she, imaginatively comprehended the dreadful tragedy
of George Cannon’s false imprisonment.  He had heart enough to be very
glad that the innocent man (innocent at any rate of that one thing) was
to be released.  But at the same time he could not stifle a base
foreboding and regret. Looking at his wife, he feared the moment when
George Cannon, with all the enormous prestige of a victim in a woman’s
eyes, should be at large.  Yes, the lover in him would have preferred
George Cannon to be incarcerated forever.  Had he not heard, had he not
read, had he not seen on the stage, that a woman never forgets the first
man?  Nonsense, all that!  Invented theatrical psychology!  And yet--if
it was true! ... Look at her eyes!

"I suppose he _is_ innocent?" he said gruffly, for he mistrusted, or
affected to mistrust, the doings of these two women together,--Cannon’s
wife and Cannon’s victim.  Might they not somehow have been hoodwinked?
He knew nothing, no useful detail, naught that was convincing--and he
never would know!  Was it not astounding that the bigamist should have
both these women on his side, either working for him, or weeping over
his woes?

"He must be innocent," Hilda answered, thoughtfully, in a breaking
voice.

"Where is he now,--up yon?"

He indicated the unvisited heights of Dartmoor.

"I believe so."

"I thought they always shifted ’em back to London before they released
’em."

"I expect they will do.  They may have moved him already."

His mood grew soft, indulgent.  He conceded that her emotion was
natural.  She had been bound up with the man.  Cannon’s admitted guilt
on the one count, together with all that she had suffered through it,
only intensified the poignancy of his innocence on the other count.
Contrary to the general assumption, you must be sorrier for an
unfortunate rascal than for an unfortunate good man.  He could feel all
that. He, Edwin, was to be pitied; but nobody save himself would
perceive that he was to be pitied.  His rôle would be difficult, but all
his pride and self-reliance commanded him to play it well, using every
resource of his masculine skill, and so prove that he was that which he
believed himself to be.  The future would be all right, because he would
be equal to the emergency.  Why should it not be all right?  His heart
in kindliness and tenderness drew nearer to Hilda’s, and he saw, or
fancied he saw, that all their guerilla had been leading up to this, had
perhaps been caused by this, and would be nobly ended by it.

Just then a mysterious noise penetrated the room, growing and growing
until it became a huge deafening din, and slowly died away.

"I expect that’s breakfast," said Edwin in a casual tone.

The organism of the English household was functioning.  Even in the
withdrawn calm of the bedroom they could feel it irresistibly
functioning.  The gong had a physical effect on Cecil; all his
disappointment and his sense of being neglected were gathered up in his
throat and exploded in a yell.  Hilda took him in her right arm and
soothed him and called him silly names.

Edwin rose from the bed, and as he did so, Hilda retained him with her
left hand, and pulled him very gently towards her, inviting a kiss.  He
kissed her. She held to him.  He could see at a distance of two inches
all the dark swimming colour of her wet eyes half veiled by the long
lashes.  And he could feel the soft limbs of the snuffling baby
somewhere close to his head.

"You’d better stick where you are," he advised her in a casual tone.

Hilda thought:

"Now the time’s come.  He’ll be furious.  But I can’t help it."

She said:

"Oh no.  I shall be quite all right soon.  I’m going to get up in about
half an hour."

"But then how shall you get out of going to Princetown?"

"Oh!  Edwin!  I must go.  I told them I should go."

He was astounded.  There was no end to her incalculability,--no end!
His resentment was violent. He stood right away from her.

"’Told them you should go’!" he exclaimed.  "What in the name of heaven
does that matter?  Are you absolutely mad?"

She stiffened.  Her features hardened.  In the midst of her terrible
relief as to the fate of George Cannon and of her equal terrible
excitement under the enigmatic and irresistible mesmerism of Dartmoor
prison, she was desperate, and resentment against Edwin kindled deep
within her.  She felt the brute in him. She felt that he would never
really understand.  She felt all her weakness and all his strength, but
she was determined.  At bottom she knew well that her weakness was the
stronger.

"I must go!" she repeated.

"It’s nothing but morbidness!" he said savagely. "Morbidness! ... Well,
I shan’t have it.  I shan’t let you go.  And that’s flat."

She kept silent.  Frightfully disturbed, cursing women, forgetting
utterly in a moment his sublime resolves, Edwin descended to breakfast
in the large, strange house.  Existence was monstrous.

And before the middle of the morning Hilda came into the garden where
everyone else was idling.  And Alicia and Janet fondly kissed her.  She
said her headache had vanished.

"Sure you feel equal to going this afternoon, dearest?" asked Janet.

"Oh yes!" Hilda replied lightly.  "It will do me good."

Edwin was helpless.  He thought, recalling with vexation his last firm
forbidding words to Hilda in the bedroom:

"Nobody _could_ be equal to this emergency."



                               CHAPTER XV

                               THE PRISON


                                   I


Harry had two stout and fast cobs in a light wagonette.  He drove
himself, and Hilda sat by his side. The driver’s boast was that he
should accomplish the ten miles, with a rise of a thousand feet, in an
hour and a quarter.  A hired carriage would have spent two hours over
the journey.

It was when they had cleared the town, and were on the long straight
rise across the moor towards Longford, that the horses began to prove
the faith that was in them, eager, magnanimous, conceiving grandly the
splendour of their task in life, and irrepressibly performing it with
glory.  The stones on the loose-surfaced road flew from under the
striding of their hoofs into the soft, dark ling on either hand.
Harry’s whip hovered in affection over their twin backs, never touching
them, and Harry smiled mysteriously to himself. He did not wish to talk.
Nor did Hilda.  The movement braced and intoxicated her, and rendered
thought impossible.  She brimmed with emotion, like a vase with some
liquid unanalysable and perilous.  She was not happy, she was not
unhappy; the sensation of her vitality and of the kindred vitality of
the earth and the air was overwhelming.  She would have prolonged the
journey indefinitely, and yet she intensely desired the goal, whatever
terrors it might hold for her.  At intervals she pulled up the
embroidered and monogrammed apron that slipped slowly down over her
skirt and over Harry’s tennis-flannels, disclosing two rackets in a
press that lay between them.  Perhaps Harry was thinking of certain
strokes at tennis.

"Longford!" ejaculated Harry, turning his head slightly towards the body
of the vehicle, as they rattled by a hamlet.

Soon afterwards the road mounted steeply,--five hundred feet in little
more than a mile, and the horses walked, but they walked in haste,
fiercely, clawing at the road with their forefeet and thrusting it
behind them.  And some of the large tors emerged clearly into view--Cox
Tor, the Staple Tors, and Great Mis lifting its granite above them and
beyond.

They were now in the midst of the moor, trotting fast again.  Behind and
before them, and on either side, there was nothing but moor and sky.
The sky, a vast hemisphere of cloud and blue and sunshine, with a
complex and ever elusive geography of its own, discovered all the tints
of heath and granite.  It was one of those days when every tint was
divided into ten thousand shades, and each is richer and more softly
beautiful than the others.  On the shoulder of Great Mis rain fell,
while little Vixen Tor glittered with mica points in the sun.  Nothing
could be seen over the whole moor save here and there a long-tailed
pony, or a tiny cottage set apart in solitude.  And the yellowish road
stretched forward, wavily, narrowing, disappeared for a space,
reappeared still narrower, disappeared once more, reappeared like a thin
meandering line, and was lost on the final verge.  It was an endless
road.  Impossible that the perseverance of horses should cover it yard
by yard!  But the horses strained onward, seeing naught but the macadam
under their noses.  Harry checked them at a descent.

"Walkham River!" he announced.

They crossed a pebbly stream by a granite bridge.

"Hut-circles!" said Harry laconically.

They were climbing again.

Edwin, in the body of the wagonette with Janet and Alicia, looked for
hut-circles and saw none; but he did not care.  He was content with the
knowledge that prehistoric hut-circles were somewhere there.  He had
never seen wild England before, and its primeval sanity awoke in him the
primeval man.  The healthiness and simplicity and grandiose beauty of it
created the sublime illusion that civilisation was worthy to be
abandoned.  The Five Towns seemed intolerable by their dirt and
ugliness, and by the tedious intricacy of their existence.
Lithography,--you had but to think of the word to perceive the
paltriness of the thing! Riches, properties, proprieties, all the
safeties,--futile! He could have lived alone with Hilda on the moor,
begetting children by her, watching with satisfaction the growing curves
of her fecundity--his work, and seeing her with her brood, all their
faces beaten by wind and rain and browned with sun.  He had a
tremendous, a painful longing for such a life.  His imagination played
round the idea of it with voluptuous and pure pleasure, and he wondered
that he had never thought of it before.  He felt that he had never
before peered into the depths of existence.  And though he knew that the
dream of such an arcadian career was absurd, yet he seemed to guess that
beneath the tiresome surfaces of life in the Five Towns the essence of
it might be mystically lived.  And he thought that Hilda would be
capable of sharing it with him,--nay, he knew she would!

His mood became gravely elated, even optimistic. He saw that he had
worried himself about nothing.  If she wanted to visit the prison, let
her visit it!  Why not?  At any rate he should not visit it.  He had an
aversion for morbidity almost as strong as his aversion for
sentimentality.  But her morbidity could do no harm.  She could not
possibly meet George Cannon.  The chances were utterly against such an
encounter.  Her morbidity would cure itself.  He pitied her, cherished
her, and in thought enveloped her fondly with his sympathetic and
protective wisdom.

"North Hessary," said Harry, pointing with his whip to a jutting tor on
the right hand.  "We go round by the foot of it.  There in a jiff!"

Soon afterwards they swerved away from the main road, obeying a signpost
marked "Princetown."

"Glorious, isn’t it?" murmured Janet, after a long silence which had
succeeded the light chatter of herself and Alicia about children,
servants, tennis, laundries.

He nodded, with a lively responsive smile, and glanced at Hilda’s
mysterious back.  Only once during the journey had she looked round.
Alicia with her coarse kind voice and laugh began to rally him, saying
he had dozed.

A town, more granite than the moor itself, gradually revealed its roofs
in the heart of the moor.  The horses, indefatigable, quickened their
speed.  Villas, a school, a chapel, a heavy church-tower followed in
succession; there were pavements; a brake full of excursionists had
halted in front of a hotel; holiday-makers--simple folk who disliked to
live in flocks--wandered in ecstatic idleness.  Concealed within the
warmth of the mountain air, there pricked a certain sharpness. All
about, beyond the little town, the tors raised their shaggy flanks
surmounted by colossal masses of stone that recalled the youth of the
planet.  The feel of the world was stimulating like a tremendous tonic.
Then the wagonette passed a thick grove of trees, hiding a house, and in
a moment, like magic, appeared a huge gated archway of brick and stone,
and over it the incised words:


                           PARCERE SUBJECTIS


"Stop!  Stop!  Harry," cried Alicia shrilly. "What are you doing?
You’ll have to go to the house first."

"Shall I?" said Harry.  "All right.  Two thirty-five, be it noted."

The vehicle came to a standstill, and instantly clouds of vapour rose
from the horses.

"Virgil!" thought Edwin, gazing at the archway, which filled him with
sudden horror, like an obscenity misplaced.



                                   II


Less than ten minutes later, he and Hilda and Alicia, together with
three strange men, stood under the archway.  Events had followed one
another quickly, to Edwin’s undoing.  When the wagonette drew up in the
grounds of the Governor’s house, Harry Hesketh had politely indicated
that for his horses he preferred the stables of a certain inn down the
road to any stables that hospitality might offer; and he had driven off,
Mrs. Rotherwas urging him to return without any delay so that tennis
might begin.  The Governor had been called from home, and in his absence
a high official of the prison was deputed to show the visitors through
the establishment.  This official was the first of the three strange
men; the other two were visitors.  Janet had said that she would not go
over the prison, because she meant to play tennis and wished not to tire
herself.  Alicia said kindly that she at any rate would go with
Hilda,--though she had seen it all before, it was interesting enough to
see again.

Edwin had thereupon said that he should remain with Janet.  But
immediately Mrs. Rotherwas, whose reception of him had been full of the
most friendly charm, had shown surprise, if not pain.  What,--come to
Princetown without inspecting the wonderful prison, when the chance was
there?  Inconceivable!  Edwin might in his blunt Five Towns way have
withstood Mrs. Rotherwas, but he could not withstand Hilda, who,
frowning, seemed almost ready to risk a public altercation in order to
secure his attendance.  He had to yield.  To make a scene, even a very
little one, in the garden full of light dresses and polite suave voices
would have been monstrous.  He thought of all that he had ever heard of
the subjection of men to women. He thought of Johnnie and of Mrs. Chris
Hamson, who was known for her steely caprices.  And he thought also of
Jimmie and of the undesirable Mrs. Jimmie, who, it was said, had
threatened to love Jimmie no more unless he took her once a week without
fail to the theatre, whatever the piece, and played cards with her and
two of her friends on all the other nights of the week.  He thought of
men as a sex conquered by the unscrupulous and the implacable, and in
this mood, superimposed on his mood of disgust at the mere sight of the
archway, he followed the high official and his train.  Mrs. Rotherwas’s
last words were that they were not to be long.  But the official said
privately to the group that they must at any rate approach the precincts
of the prison with all ceremony, and he led them proudly, with an air of
ownership, round to the main entrance where the wagonette had first
stopped.

A turnkey on the other side of the immense gates, using a theatrical
gesture, jangled a great bouquet of keys; the portal opened, increasing
the pride of the official, and the next moment they were interned in the
outer courtyard.  The moor and all that it meant lay unattainably beyond
that portal.  As the group slowly crossed the enclosed space, with the
grim façades of yellow-brown buildings on each side and vistas of
further gates and buildings in front, the official and the two male
visitors began to talk together over the heads of Alicia and Hilda.  The
women held close to each other, and the official kept upon them a
chivalrous eye; the two visitors were friends; Edwin was left out of the
social scheme, and lagged somewhat behind, like one who is not wanted
but who cannot be abandoned.  He walked self-conscious, miserable,
resentful, and darkly angry.  In one instant the three men had estimated
him, decided that he was not of their clan nor of any related clan, and
ignored him.  Whereas the official and the two male visitors, who had
never met before, grew more and more friendly each minute.  One said
that he did not know So-and-So of the Scots Greys, but he knew his
cousin Trevor of the Hussars, who had in fact married a niece of his
own.  And then another question about somebody else was asked, and
immediately they were engaged in following clues, as explorers will
follow the intricate mouths of a great delta and so unite in the main
stream.  They were happy.

Edwin did not seriously mind that; but what he did mind was their
accent--in those days termed throughout the Midlands "lah-di-dah" (an
onomatopoeic description), which, falsifying every vowel sound in the
language, and several consonants, magically created around them an aura
of utter superiority to the rest of the world.  He quite unreasonably
hated them, and he also envied them, because this accent was their
native tongue, and because their clothes were not cut like his, and
because they were entirely at their ease. Useless for the official to
throw him an urbane word now and then; neither his hate nor his
constraint would consent to be alleviated; the urbane words grew less
frequent.  Also Edwin despised them because they were seemingly
insensible to the tremendous horror of the jail set there like an
outrage in the midst of primitive and sane Dartmoor.  "Yes," their
attitude said. "This is a prison, one of the institutions necessary to
the well being of society, like a workhouse or an opera house,--an
interesting sight!"

A second pair of iron gates were opened with the same elaborate
theatricality as the first, and while the operation was being done the
official, invigorated by the fawning of turnkeys, conversed with Alicia,
who during her short married life had acquired some shallow acquaintance
with the clans, and he even drew a reluctant phrase from Hilda.  Then,
after another open space, came a third pair of iron gates, final and
terrific, and at length the party was under cover, and even the sky of
the moor was lost.  Edwin, bored, disgusted, shamed, and stricken,
yielded himself proudly and submissively to the horror of the
experience.



                                  III


Hilda had only one thought--would she catch sight of the innocent
prisoner?  The party was now deeply engaged in a system of corridors and
stairways.  The official had said that as the tour of inspection was to
be short he would display to them chiefly the modern part of the prison.
So far not a prisoner had been seen, and scarcely a warder.  The two
male visitors were scientifically interested in the question of escapes.
Did prisoners ever escape?

"Never!" said the official, with satisfaction.

"Impossible, I suppose.  Even when they’re working out on the moor?
Warders are pretty good shots, eh?"

"Practically impossible," said the official.  "But there is one way."
He looked up the stairway on whose landing they stood, and down the
stairway, and cautiously lowered his voice.  "Of course what I tell you
is confidential.  If one of our Dartmoor fogs came on suddenly, and kind
friends outside had hidden a stock of clothes and food in an arranged
spot, then theoretically--I say, theoretically--a man might get away.
But nobody ever has done."

"I suppose you still have the silent system?"

The official nodded.

"Absolutely?"

"Absolutely."

"How awful it must be!" said Alicia, with a nervous laugh.

The official shrugged his shoulders, and the other two males murmured
reassuring axioms about discipline.

They emerged from the stairway into a colossal and resounding iron hall.
Round the emptiness of this interior ran galleries of perforated iron
protected from the abyss by iron balustrades.  The group stood on the
second of the galleries from the stony floor, and there were two
galleries above them.  Far away, opposite, a glint of sunshine had
feloniously slipped in, transpiercing the gloom, and it lighted a series
of doors.  There was a row of these doors along every gallery.  Each had
a peep-hole, a key-hole and a number.  The longer Hilda regarded, the
more nightmarishly numerous seemed the doors.  The place was like a huge
rabbit-hutch designed for the claustration of countless rabbits.  Across
the whole width and length of the hall, and at the level of the lowest
gallery, was stretched a great net.

"To provide against suicides?" suggested one of the men.

"Yes," said the official.

"A good idea."

When the reverberation of the words had ceased, a little silence ensued.
The ear listened vainly for the slightest sound.  In the silence the
implacability of granite walls and iron reticulations reigned over the
accursed vision, stultifying the soul.

"Are these cells occupied?" asked Alicia timidly.

"Not yet, Mrs. Hesketh.  It’s too soon.  A few are."

Hilda thought:

"He may be here,--behind one of those doors."  Her heart was liquid with
compassion and revolt.  "No," she assured herself.  "They must have
taken him away already.  It’s impossible he should be here.  He’s
innocent."

"Perhaps you would like to see one of the cells?" the official
suggested.

A warder appeared, and, with the inescapable jangle of keys, opened a
door.  The party entered the cell, ladies first, then the official and
his new acquaintances; then Edwin, trailing.  The cell was long and
narrow, fairly lofty, bluish-white colour, very dimly lighted by a tiny
grimed window high up in a wall of extreme thickness. The bed lay next
the long wall; except the bed, a stool, a shelf, and some utensils,
there was nothing to furnish the horrible nakedness of the cell.  One of
the visitors picked up an old book from the shelf.  It was a Greek
Testament.  The party seemed astonished at this evidence of culture
among prisoners, of the height from which a criminal may have fallen.

The official smiled.

"They often ask for such things on purpose," said he.  "They think it’s
effective.  They’re very naïve, you know, at bottom."

"This very cell may be his cell," thought Hilda. "He may have been here
all these months, years, knowing he was innocent.  He may have thought
about me in this cell."  She glanced cautiously at Edwin, but Edwin
would not catch her eye.

They left.  On the way to the workshops, they had a glimpse of the old
parts of the prison, used during the Napoleonic wars, incredibly dark,
frowsy, like catacombs.

"We don’t use this part--unless we’re very full up," said the official,
and he contrasted it with the bright, spacious, healthy excellences of
the hall which they had just quitted, to prove that civilisation never
stood still.

And then suddenly, at the end of a passage, a door opened and they were
in the tailors’ shop, a large irregular apartment full of a strong
stench and of squatted and grotesque human beings.  The human beings,
for the most part, were clothed in a peculiar brown stuff, covered with
broad arrows.  The dress consisted of a short jacket, baggy
knickerbockers, black stockings, and coloured shoes.  Their hair was cut
so short that they had the appearance of being bald, and their great
ears protruded at a startling angle from the sides of those smooth
heads.  They were of every age, yet they all looked alike, ridiculous,
pantomimic, appalling. Some gazed with indifference at the visitors;
others seemed oblivious of the entry.  They all stitched on their
haunches, in the stench, under the surveillance of eight armed warders
in blue.

"How many?" asked the official mechanically.

"Forty-nine, sir," said a warder.

And Hilda searched their loathsome and vapid faces for the face of
George Cannon.  He was not there. She trembled,--whether with relief or
with disappointment she knew not.  She was agonised, but in her torture
she exulted that she had come.

No comment had been made in the workshop, the official having hinted
that silence was usual on such occasions.  But in a kind of
antechamber--one of those amorphous spaces, serving no purpose and
resembling nothing, which are sometimes to be found between definable
rooms and corridors in a vast building imperfectly planned--the party
halted in the midst of a discussion as to discipline.  The male
visitors, except Edwin, showed marked intelligence and detachment; they
seemed to understand immediately how it was that forty-nine ruffians
could be trusted to squat on their thighs and stitch industriously and
use scissors and other weapons for hours without being chained to the
ground; they certainly knew something of the handling of men.  The
official, triumphant, stated that every prisoner had the right of
personal appeal to the Governor every day.

"They come with their stories of grievances," said he, tolerant and
derisive.

"Which often aren’t true?"

"Which are never true," said the official quietly. "Never!  They are
always lies--always! ... Shows the material we have to deal with!"  He
gave a short laugh.

"Really!" said one of the men, rather pleased and excited by this report
of universal lying.

"I suppose," Edwin blurted out, "you can tell for certain when they
aren’t speaking the truth?"

Everybody looked at him surprised, as though the dumb had spoken.  The
official’s glance showed some suspicion of sarcasm and a tendency to
resent it.

"We can," he answered shortly, commanding his features to a faint smile.
"And now I wonder what Mrs. Rotherwas will be saying if I don’t restore
you to her."  It was agreed that regard must be had for Mrs. Rotherwas’s
hospitable arrangements, though the prison was really very interesting
and would repay study.

They entered a wide corridor--one of two that met at right-angles in the
amorphous space--leading in the direction of the chief entrance.  From
the end of this corridor a file of convicts was approaching in charge of
two warders with guns.  The official offered no remark, but held on.
Hilda, falling back near to Edwin in the procession, was divided between
a dreadful fear and a hope equally dreadful.  Except in the tailors’
shop, these were the only prisoners they had seen, and they appeared out
of place in the half-freedom of the corridor; for nobody could conceive
a prisoner save in a cell or shop, and these were moving in a public
corridor, unshackled.

Then she distinguished George Cannon among them. He was the third from
the last.  She knew him by his nose and the shape of his chin, and by
his walk, though there was little left of his proud walk in the
desolating, hopeless prison-shuffle which was the gait of all six
convicts.  His hair was iron-grey.  All these details she could see and
be sure of in the distance of the dim corridor.  She no longer had a
stomach; it had gone, and yet she felt a horrible nausea.

She cried out to herself:

"Why did I come?  Why did I come?  I am always doing these mad things.
Edwin was right.  Why do I not listen to him?"

The party of visitors led by the high official, and the file of convicts
in charge of armed warders, were gradually approaching one another in
the wide corridor. It seemed to Hilda that a fearful collision was
imminent, and that something ought to be done.  But nobody among the
visitors did anything or seemed to be disturbed.  Only they had all
fallen silent; and in the echoing corridor could be heard the firm steps
of the male visitors accompanying the delicate tripping of the women,
and the military tramp of the warders with the confused shuffling of the
convicts.

"Has he recognised me?" thought Hilda, wildly.

She hoped that he had and that he had not.  She recalled with the most
poignant sorrow the few days of their union, their hours of intimacy,
his kisses, her secret realisation of her power over him, and of his
passion.  She wanted to scream:

"That man there is as innocent as any of you, and soon the whole world
will know it!  He never committed any crime except that of loving me too
much. He could not do without me, and so I was his ruin.  It is horrible
that he should be here in this hell.  He must be set free at once.  The
Home Secretary knows he is innocent, but they are so slow.  How can
anyone bear that he should stop here one instant longer?"

But she made no sound.  The tremendous force of an ancient and organised
society kept her lips closed and her feet in a line with the others.
She thought in despair:

"We are getting nearer, and I cannot meet him.  I shall drop."  She
glanced at Edwin, as if for help, but Edwin was looking straight ahead.

Then a warder, stopping, ejaculated with the harsh brevity of a
drill-serjeant:

"Halt!"

The file halted.

"Right turn!"

The six captives turned, with their faces close against the wall of the
corridor, obedient, humiliated, spiritless, limp, stooping.  Their backs
presented the most ridiculous aspect; all the calculated grotesquerie of
the surpassingly ugly prison uniform was accentuated as they stood thus,
a row of living scarecrows, who knew that they had not the right even to
look upon free men.  Every one of them except George Cannon had large
protuberant ears that completed the monstrosity of their appearance.

The official gave his new acquaintances a satisfied glance, as if
saying:

"That is the rule by which we manage these chance encounters."

The visitors went by in silence, instinctively edging away from the
captives.  And as she passed, Hilda lurched very heavily against Edwin,
and recovered herself.  Edwin seized her arm near the shoulder, and saw
that she was pale.  The others were in front.

Behind them they could hear the warder:

"Left turn!  March!"

And the shuffling and the tramping recommenced.



                                   IV


In the garden of the Governor’s house tennis had already begun when the
official brought back his convoy.  Young Truscott and Mrs. Rotherwas
were pitted against Harry Hesketh and a girl of eighteen who possessed a
good wrist but could not keep her head. Harry was watching over his
partner, quietly advising her upon the ruses of the enemy, taking the
more difficult strokes for her, and generally imparting to her the
quality which she lacked.  Harry was fully engaged; the whole of his
brain and body was at strain; he let nothing go by; he missed no chance,
and within the laws of the game he hesitated at no stratagem. And he was
beating young Truscott and Mrs. Rotherwas, while an increasing and
polite audience looked on. To the entering party, the withdrawn scene,
lit by sunshine, appeared as perfect as a stage-show, with its trees,
lawn, flowers, toilettes, the flying balls, the grace of the players,
and the grey solidity of the governor’s house in the background.

Alicia ran gawkily to Janet, who had got a box of chocolates from
somewhere, and one of the men followed her, laughing.  Hilda sat apart;
she was less pale.  Edwin remained cautiously near her.  He had not left
her side since she lurched against him in the corridor.  He knew; he had
divined that that which he most feared had come to pass,--the supreme
punishment of Hilda’s morbidity.  He had not definitely recognised
George Cannon, for he was not acquainted with him, and in the past had
only once or twice by chance caught sight of him in the streets of
Bursley or Turnhill.  But he had seen among the six captives one who
might be he, and who certainly had something of the Five Towns look.
Hilda’s lurch told him that by vindictiveness of fate George Cannon was
close to them.

He had ignored his own emotion.  The sudden transient weight of Hilda’s
body had had a strange moral effect upon him.  "This," he thought, "is
the burden I have to bear.  This, and not lithography, nor riches, is my
chief concern.  She depends on me.  I am all she has to stand by."  The
burden with its immense and complex responsibilities was sweet to his
inmost being; and it braced him and destroyed his resentment against her
morbidity.  His pity was pure.  He felt that he must live more
nobly--yes, more heroically--than he had been living; that all irritable
pettiness must drop away from him, and that his existence in her regard
must have simplicity and grandeur.  The sensation of her actual weight
stayed with him.  He had not spoken to her; he dared not; he had
scarcely met her eyes; but he was ready for any emergency. Every now and
then, in the garden, Hilda glanced over her shoulder at the house, as
though her gaze could pierce the house and see the sinister prison
beyond.

The set ended, to Harry Hesketh’s satisfaction; and, another set being
arranged, he and Mrs. Rotherwas, athletic in a short skirt and simple
blouse, came walking, rather flushed and breathless, round the garden
with one or two others, including Harry’s late partner.  The
conversation turned upon the great South Wales colliery strike against a
proposed reduction of wages.  Mrs. Rotherwas’ husband was a colliery
proprietor near Monmouth, and she had just received a letter from him.
Everyone sympathised with her and her husband, and nobody could
comprehend the wrongheadedness of the miners, except upon the
supposition that they had been led away by mischievous demagogues.  As
the group approached, the timid young girl, having regained her nerve,
was exclaiming with honest indignation: "The leaders ought to be shot,
and the men who won’t go down the pits ought to be forced to go down and
made to work."  And she picked at fluff on her yellow frock.  Edwin
feared an uprising from Hilda, but naught happened.  Mrs. Rotherwas
spoke about tea, though it was rather early, and they all, Hilda as
well, wandered to a large yew tree under which was a table; through the
pendant branches of the tree the tennis could be watched as through a
screen.

The prison clock tolled the hour over the roofs of the house, and Mrs.
Rotherwas gave the definite signal for refreshments.

"You’re exhausted," she said teasingly to Harry.

"You’ll see," said Harry.

"No," Mrs. Rotherwas delightfully relented.  "You’re a dear, and I love
to watch you play.  I’m sure you could give Mr. Truscott half fifteen."

"Think so?" said Harry, pleased, and very conscious that he was living
fully.

"You see what it is to have an object in life, Hesketh," Edwin remarked
suddenly.

Harry glanced at him doubtfully, and yet with a certain ingenuous
admiration.  At the same time a white ball rolled near the tree.  He
ducked under the trailing branches, returned the ball, and moved slowly
towards the court.

"Alicia tells me you’re very old friends of theirs," said Mrs.
Rotherwas, agreeably, to Hilda.

Hilda smiled quietly.

"Yes, we are, both of us."

Who could have guessed, now, that her condition was not absolutely
normal?

"Charming people, aren’t they, the Heskeths?" said Mrs. Rotherwas.
"Perfectly charming.  They’re an ideal couple.  And I do like their
house, it’s so deliciously quaint, isn’t it, Mary?"

"Lovely," agreed the young girl.

It was an ideal world, full of ideal beings.

Soon after tea the irresistible magnetism of Alicia’s babies drew Alicia
off the moor, and with her the champion player, Janet, Hilda and Edwin.
Mrs. Rotherwas let them go with regret, adorably expressed. Harry would
have liked to stay, but on the other hand he was delightfully ready to
yield to Alicia.



                                   V


On arriving at Tavy Mansion Hilda announced that she should lie down.
She told Edwin, in an exhausted but friendly voice, that she needed only
rest, and he comprehended, rightly, that he was to leave her.  Not a
word was said between them as to the events within the prison.  He left
her, and spent the time before dinner with Harry Hesketh, who had the
idea of occupying their leisure with a short game of bowls, for which it
was necessary to remove the croquet hoops.

Hilda undressed and got into bed.  Soon afterwards both Alicia, with an
infant, and Janet came to see her. Had Janet been alone, Hilda might
conceivably in her weakness have surrendered the secret to her in
exchange for that soft and persuasive sympathy of which Janet was the
mistress, but the presence of Alicia made a confidence impossible, and
Hilda was glad.  She plausibly fibbed to both sisters, and immediately
afterwards the household knew that Hilda would not appear at dinner.
There was not the slightest alarm or apprehension, for the affair
explained itself in the simplest way,--Hilda had had a headache in the
morning, and had been wrong to go out; she was now merely paying for the
indiscretion.  She would be quite recovered the next day.  Alicia
whispered a word to her husband, who, besides, was not apt easily to get
nervous about anything except his form at games. Edwin also, with his
Five Towns habit of mind, soberly belittled the indisposition.  The
household remained natural and gay.  When Edwin went upstairs to prepare
for dinner, moving very quietly, his wife had her face towards the wall
and away from the light. He came round the bed to look at her.

"I’m all right," she murmured.

"Want nothing at all?" he asked, with nervous gruffness.

She shook her head.

Very impatiently she awaited his departure, exasperated more than she
had ever been by his precise deliberation over certain details of his
toilet.  As soon as he was gone she began to cry; but the tears came so
gently from her eyes that the weeping was as passive, as independent of
volition, as the escape of blood from a wound.

She had a grievance against Edwin.  At the crisis in the prison she had
blamed herself for not submitting to his guidance, but now she had
reacted against all such accusations, and her grievance amounted to just
an indictment of his commonsense, his quietude, his talent for keeping
out of harm’s way, his lack of violent impulses, his formidable
respectability.  She was a rebel; he was not.  He would never do
anything wrong, or even perilous.  Never, never would he find himself in
need of a friend’s help.  He would always direct his course so that
society would protect him. He was a firm part of the structure of
society; he was the enemy of impulses.  When he foresaw a danger, the
danger was always realised: she had noticed that, and she resented it.
He was infinitely above the George Cannons of the world.  He would be
incapable of bigamy, incapable of being caught in circumstances which
could bring upon him suspicion of any crime whatever.  Yet for her the
George Cannons had a quality which he lacked, which he could never
possess, and which would have impossibly perfected him--a quality
heroic, foolish, martyr-like!  She was almost ready to decide that his
complete social security was due to cowardice and resulted in
self-righteousness! ... Could he really feel pity as she felt it, for
the despised and rejected, and a hatred of injustice equal to hers?

These two emotions were burning her up.  Again and again, ceaselessly,
her mind ran round the circle of George Cannon’s torture and the
callousness of society.  He had sinned, and she had loathed him; but
both his sin and her loathing were the fruit of passion. He had been a
proud man, and she had shared his pride; now he was broken, unutterably
humiliated, and she partook of his humiliation.  The grotesque and
beaten animal in the corridor was all that society had left of him who
had once inspired her to acts of devotion, who could make her blush, and
to satisfy whom she would recklessly spend herself.  The situation was
intolerable, and yet it had to be borne.  But surely it must be ended!
Surely at the latest on the morrow the prisoner must be released, and
soothed and reinstated! ... Pardoned?  No!  A pardon was an insult,
worse than an insult.  She would not listen to the word.  Society might
use it for its own purposes; but she would never use it.  Pardon a man
after deliberately and fiendishly achieving his ruin?  She could have
laughed.

Exhaustion followed, tempering emotion and reducing it to a profound
despairing melancholy that was stirred at intervals by frantic revolt.
The light failed. The windows became vague silver squares.  Outside
fowls clucked, a horse’s hoof clattered on stones; servants spoke to
each other in their rough, good-natured voices.  The peace of the world
had its effect on her, unwilling though she was.  Then there was a faint
tap at the door.  She made no reply, and shut her eyes.  The door gently
opened, and someone tripped delicately in.  She heard movements at the
washstand.... One of the maids.  A match was struck.  The blinds were
stealthily lowered, the curtains drawn; garments were gathered together,
and at last the door closed again.

She opened her eyes.  The room was very dimly illuminated.  A
night-light, under a glass hemisphere of pale rose, stood on the
dressing-table.  By magic, order had been restored; a glinting copper
ewer of hot water stood in the whiteness of the basin with a towel over
it; the blue blinds, revealed by the narrowness of the red curtains,
stirred in the depths of the windows; each detail of the chamber was
gradually disclosed, and the chamber was steeped in the first
tranquillity of the night.  Not a sound could be heard. Through the
depths of her bitterness, there rose slowly the sensation of the beauty
of existence even in its sadness....

A long time afterwards it occurred to her in the obscurity that the bed
was tumbled.  She must have turned over and over.  The bed must be
arranged before Edwin came.  He had to share it.  After all, he had
committed no fault; he was entirely innocent. She and fate between them
had inflicted these difficulties and these solicitudes upon him.  He had
said little or nothing, but he was sympathetic.  When she had stumbled
against him she had felt his upholding masculine strength.  He was
dependable, and would be dependable to the last.  The bed must be
creaseless when he came; this was the least she could do.  She arose.
Very faintly she could descry her image in the mirror of the great
wardrobe--a dishevelled image.  Forgetting the bed, she bathed her face,
and, unusually, took care to leave the washstand as tidy as the maid had
left it.  Then, having arranged her hair, she set about the bed.  It was
not easy for one person unaided to make a wide bed.  Before she had
finished she heard footsteps outside the door.  She stood still.  Then
she heard Edwin’s voice:

"Don’t trouble, thanks.  I’ll take it in myself."

He entered, carrying a tray, and shut the door, and instantly she busied
herself once more with the bed.

"My poor girl," he said with quiet kindliness, "what are you doing?"

"I’m just putting the bed to rights," she answered, and almost with a
single movement she slid back into the bed.  "What have you got there?"

"I thought I’d ask for some tea for you," he said. "Nearly the whole
blessed household wanted to come and see you, but I wouldn’t have it."

She could not say: "It’s very nice of you."  But she said, simply to
please him: "I should like some tea."

He put the tray on the dressing-table; then lit three candles, two on
the dressing-table and one on the night-table, and brought the tray to
the night-table.

He himself poured out the tea, and offered the cup. She raised herself
on an elbow.

"Did you recognise him?" she muttered suddenly, after she had blown on
the tea to cool it.

Under ordinary conditions Edwin would have replied to such an unprepared
question with another, petulant and impatient: "Recognise who?"
pretending that he did not understand the allusion.  But now he made no
pretences.

"Not quite," he said.  "But I knew at once.  I could see which of them
it must be."

The subject at last opened between them, Hilda felt an extraordinary
solace and relief.  He stood by the bedside, in black, with a great
breastplate of white, his hair rough, his hands in his pockets.  She
thought he had a fine face; she thought of him as, at such a time, her
superior; she wanted powerfully to adopt his attitude, to believe in
everything he said.  They were talking together in safety, quietly,
gravely, amicably, withdrawn and safe in the strange house--he
benevolent and assuaging and comprehending, she desiring the balm which
he could give.  It seemed to her that they had never talked to each
other in such tones.

"Isn’t it awful--awful?" she exclaimed.

"It is," said Edwin, and added carefully, tenderly: "I suppose he _is_
innocent."

She might have flown at him: "That’s just like you--to assume he isn’t!"
But she replied:

"I’m quite sure of it.  I say--I want you to read all the letters I’ve
had from Mrs. Cannon.  I’ve got them here.  They’re in my bag there.
Read them now. Of course I always meant to show them to you."

"All right," he agreed, drew a chair to the dressing-table where the bag
was, found the letters, and read them.  She waited, as he read one
letter, put it down, read another, laid it precisely upon the first one,
with his terrible exactitude and orderliness, and so on through the
whole packet.

"Yes," said he at the end, "I should say he’s innocent this time, right
enough."

"But something ought to be done!" she cried.  "Don’t you think something
ought to be done, Edwin?"

"Something has been done.  Something is being done."

"But something else!"

He got up and walked about the room.

"There’s only one thing to be done," he said.

He came towards her, and stood over her again, and the candle on the
night-table lighted his chin and the space between his eyelashes and his
eyebrows.  He timidly touched her hair, caressing it.  They were
absolutely at their ease together in the intimacy of the bedroom.  In
her brief relations with George Cannon there had not been time to
establish anything like such intimacy.  With George Cannon she had
always had the tremors of the fawn.

"What is it?"

"Wait.  That’s all.  It’s not the slightest use trying to hurry these
public departments.  You can’t do it. You only get annoyed for nothing
at all.  You can take that from me, my child."

He spoke with such delicate persuasiveness, such an evident desire to be
helpful, that Hilda was convinced and grew resigned.  It did not occur
to her that he had made a tremendous resolve which had raised him above
the Edwin she knew.  She thought she had hitherto misjudged and
underrated him.

"I wanted to explain to you about that ten pounds," she said.

"That’s all right--that’s all right," said he hastily.

"But I _must_ tell you.  You saw Mrs. Cannon’s letter asking me for
money.  Well, I borrowed the ten pounds from Janet.  So of course I had
to pay it back, hadn’t I?"

"How is Janet?" he asked in a new, lighter tone.

"She seems to be going on splendidly, don’t you think so?"

"Well then, we’ll go home to-morrow."

"Shall we?"

She lifted her arms and he bent.  She was crying. In a moment she was
sobbing.  She gave him violent kisses amid her sobs, and held him close
to her until the fit passed.  Then she said, in her voice reduced to
that of a child:

"What time’s the train?"



                              CHAPTER XVI

                               THE GHOST


                                   I


It was six-thirty.  The autumn dusk had already begun to fade; and in
the damp air, cold, grimy, and vaporous, men with scarves round their
necks and girls with shawls over their heads, or hatted and even gloved,
were going home from work past the petty shops where sweets, tobacco,
fried fish, chitterlings, groceries, and novelettes were sold among
enamelled advertisements of magic soaps.  In the feeble and patchy
illumination of the footpaths, which left the middle of the streets and
the upper air all obscure, the chilled, preoccupied people passed each
other rapidly like phantoms, emerging out of one mystery and
disappearing into another. Everywhere, behind the fanlights and shaded
windows of cottages, domesticity was preparing the warm relaxations of
the night.  Amid the streets of little buildings the lithographic
establishment, with a yellow oblong here and there illuminated in its
dark façades, stood up high, larger than reality, more important and
tyrannic, one of the barracks, one of the prisons, one of the
money-works where a single man or a small group of men by brains and
vigour and rigour exploited the populace.

Edwin, sitting late in his private office behind those façades, was not
unaware of the sensation of being an exploiter.  By his side on the
large flat desk lay a copy of the afternoon’s _Signal_ containing an
account of the breaking up by police of an open-air meeting of confessed
anarchists on the previous day at Manchester.  Manchester was, and is
still, physically and morally, very close to the Five Towns, which
respect it more than they respect London.  An anarchist meeting at
Manchester was indeed an uncomfortable portent for the Five Towns.
Enormous strikes, like civil wars at stalemate, characterised the autumn
as they had characterised the spring, affecting directly or indirectly
every industry, and weakening the prestige of government, conventions,
wealth, and success. Edwin was successful.  It was because he was
successful that he was staying late and that a clerk in the outer office
was staying late and that windows were illuminated here and there in the
façades.  Holding in his hand the wage-book, he glanced down the long
column of names and amounts.  Some names conveyed nothing to him; but
most of them raised definite images in his mind--of big men, roughs,
decent clerks with wristbands, undersized pale machinists, intensely
respectable skilled artisans and daughtsmen, thin ragged lads, greasy,
slatternly, pale girls, and one or two fat women,--all dirty, and
working with indifference in dirt.  Most of them kowtowed to him; some
did not; some scowled askance.  But they were all dependent on him.  Not
one of them but would be prodigiously alarmed and inconvenienced--to say
nothing of going hungry--if it he did not pay wages the next morning.
The fact was he could distribute ruin with a gesture and nobody could
bring him to book....

Something wrong!  Under the influence of strikes and anarchist meetings
he felt with foreboding and even with a little personal alarm that
something was wrong. Those greasy, slatternly girls, for instance, with
their coarse charm and their sexuality,--they were underpaid.  They
received as much as other girls, on pot-banks, perhaps more, but they
were underpaid.  What chance had they?  He was getting richer every day,
and safer (except for the vague menace); yet he could not appreciably
improve their lot, partly for business reasons, partly because any
attempt to do so would bring the community about his ears and he would
be labelled as a doctrinaire and a fool, and partly because his own
commonsense was against such a move. Not those girls, not his works, not
this industry and that, was wrong.  All was wrong.  And it was
impossible to imagine any future period when all would not be wrong.
Perfection was a desolating thought. Nevertheless the struggle towards
it was instinctive and had to go on.  The danger was (in Edwin’s eyes)
of letting that particular struggle monopolise one’s energy.  Well, he
would not let it.  He did a little here and a little there, and he voted
democratically and in his heart was most destructively sarcastic about
toryism; and for the rest he relished the adventure of existence, and
took the best he conscientiously could, and thought pretty well of
himself as a lover of his fellowmen.  If he was born to be a master, he
would be one, and not spend his days in trying to overthrow mastery.  He
was tired that evening, he had a slight headache, he certainly had
worries; but he was not unhappy on the throbbing, tossing steamer of
humanity.  Nobody could seem less adventurous than he seemed, with his
timidities and his love of moderation, comfort, regularity and security.
Yet his nostrils would sniff to the supreme and all-embracing adventure.

He heard Hilda’s clear voice in the outer office: "Mr. Clayhanger in
there?" and the clerk’s somewhat nervously agitated reply, repeating
several times in eager affirmative.  And he himself, the master, though
still all alone in the sanctum, at once pretended to be very busy.

Her presence would thus often produce an excitation in the organism of
the business.  She was so foreign to it, so unsoiled by it, so aloof
from it, so much more gracious, civilised, enigmatic than anything that
the business could show!  And, fundamentally, she was the cause of the
business; it was all for her; it existed with its dirt, noise, crudity,
strain, and eternal effort so that she might exist in her elegance, her
disturbing femininity, her restricted and deep affections, her
irrational capriciousness, and her strange, brusque commonsense.  The
clerks and some of the women felt this; Big James certainly felt it; and
Edwin felt it, and denied it to himself, more than anybody.  There was
no economic justice in the arrangement. She would come in veiled, her
face mysterious behind the veil, and after a few minutes she would
delicately lift her gloved fingers to the veil, and raise it, and her
dark, pale, vivacious face would be disclosed.  "Here I am!"  And the
balance was even, her debt paid!  That was how it was.

In the month that had passed since the visit to Dartmoor, Edwin, despite
his resolve to live heroically and philosophically, had sometimes been
forced into the secret attitude: "This woman will kill me, but without
her I shouldn’t be interested enough to live."  He was sometimes morally
above her to the point of priggishness, and sometimes incredibly below
her; but for the most part living in a different dimension.  She had
heard nothing further from Mrs. Cannon; she knew nothing of the
bigamist’s fate, though more than once she had written for news.  Her
moods were unpredictable and disconcerting, and as her moods constituted
the chief object of Edwin’s study the effect on him was not
tranquillising.  At the start he had risen to the difficulty of the
situation; but he could not permanently remain at that height, and the
situation had apparently become stationary.  His exasperations, both
concealed and open, were not merely unworthy of a philosopher, they were
unworthy of a common man. "Why be annoyed?" he would say to himself.
But he was annoyed.  "The tone--the right tone!" he would remind
himself.  Surely he could remember to command his voice to the right
tone?  But no!  He could not.  He could infallibly remember to wind up
his watch, but he could not remember that.  Moreover, he felt, as he had
felt before, on occasions, that no amount of right tone would keep their
relations smooth, for the reason that principles were opposed.  Could
she not see? ... Well, she could not.  There she was, entire,
unalterable--impossible to chip inconvenient pieces off her--you must
take her or leave her; and she could not see, or she would not--which in
practice was the same thing.

And yet some of the most exquisite moments of their union had occurred
during that feverish and unquiet month--moments of absolute surrender
and devotion on her part, of protective love on his; and also long
moments of peace.  With the early commencement of autumn, all the family
had resumed the pursuit of letters with a certain ardour.  A startling
feminist writer, and the writer whose parentage and whose very name lay
in the Five Towns, who had re-created the East and whose vogue was a
passion among the lettered--both these had published books whose success
was extreme and genuine.  And in the curtained gas-lit drawing-room of a
night Hilda would sit rejoicing over the triumphant satire of the
woman-novelist, and Edwin and George would lounge in impossible
postures, each mesmerised by a story of the Anglo-Indian; and between
chapters Edwin might rouse himself from the enchantment sufficiently to
reflect: "How indescribably agreeable these evenings are!"  And ten to
one he would say aloud, with false severity: "George! Bed!"  And George,
a fine judge of genuineness in severity, would murmur carelessly: "All
right!  I’m going!"  And not go.

And now Edwin in the office thought:

"She’s come to fetch me away."

He was gratified.  But he must not seem to be gratified.  The sanctity
of business from invasion had to be upheld.  He frowned, feigning more
diligently than ever to be occupied.  She came in, with that air at once
apologetic and defiant that wives have in affronting the sacred
fastness.  Nobody could have guessed that she had ever been a business
woman, arriving regularly at just such an office every morning,
shorthand-writing, twisting a copying-press, filing, making
appointments.  Nobody could have guessed that she had ever been in
business for herself, and had known how sixpence was added to sixpence
and a week’s profit lost in an hour.  All such knowledge had apparently
dropped from her like an excrescence, had vanished like a temporary
disfigurement, and she looked upon commerce with the uncomprehending,
careless, and yet impressed eyes of a young girl.

"Hello, missis!" he exclaimed casually.

Then George came in.  Since the visit to Dartmoor Hilda had much
increased her intimacy with George, spending a lot of time with him,
walking with him, and exploring in a sisterly and reassuring manner his
most private life.  George liked it, but it occasionally irked him and
he would give a hint to Edwin that mother needed to be handled at times.

"You needn’t come in here, George," said Hilda.

"Well, can I go into the engine-house?" George suggested.  Edwin had
always expected that he would prefer the machine-room.  But the
engine-house was his haunt, probably because it was dirty, fiery, and
stuffy.

"No, you can’t," said Edwin.  "Pratt’s gone by this, and it’s shut up."

"No, it isn’t.  Pratt’s there."

"All right."

"Shut the door, dear," said Hilda.

"Hooray!"  George ran off and banged the glass door.

Hilda, glancing by habit at the unsightly details of the deteriorating
room, walked round the desk. With apprehension Edwin saw resolve and
perturbation in her face.  He was about to say: "Look here, infant, I’m
supposed to be busy."  But he refrained.

Holding out a letter which she nervously snatched from her bag, Hilda
said:

"I’ve just had this--by the afternoon post.  Read it."

He recognised at once the sloping handwriting; but the paper was
different; it was a mere torn half-sheet of very cheap notepaper.  He
read: "Dear Mrs. Clayhanger.  Just a line to say that my husband is at
last discharged.  It has been weary waiting. We are together, and I am
looking after him.  With renewed thanks for your sympathy and help.
Believe me, Sincerely yours, Charlotte M. Cannon."  The signature was
scarcely legible.  There was no address, no date.

Edwin’s first flitting despicable masculine thought was: "She doesn’t
say anything about that ten pounds!"  It fled.  He was happy in an
intense relief that affected all his being.  He said to himself: "Now
that’s over, we can begin again."

"Well," he murmured.  "That’s all right.  Didn’t I always tell you it
would take some time? ... That’s all right."

He gazed at the paper, waving it in his hand as he held it by one
corner.  He perceived that it was the letter of a jealous woman, who had
got what she wanted and meant to hold it, and entirely to herself; and
his mood became somewhat sardonic.

"Very curt, isn’t it?" said Hilda strangely.  "And after all this time,
too!"

He looked up at her, turning his head sideways to catch her eyes.

"That letter," he said in a voice as strange as Hilda’s, "that letter is
exactly what it ought to be. It could not possibly have been better
turned.... You don’t want to keep it, I suppose, do you?"

"No," she muttered.

He tore it into very small pieces, and dropped them into the
waste-paper-basket beneath the desk.

"And burn all the others," he said, in a low tone.

"Edwin," after a pause.

"Yes?"

"Don’t you think George ought to know?  Don’t you think one of us ought
to tell him,--either you or me?  You might tell him?"

"Tell him what?" Edwin demanded sharply, pushing back his chair.

"Well, everything!"

He glowered.  He could feel himself glowering.  He could feel the
justifiable anger animating him.

"Certainly not!" he enunciated resentfully, masterfully, overpoweringly.
"Certainly not!"

"But supposing he hears from outsiders?"

"You needn’t begin supposing."

"But he’s bound to have to know sometime."

"Possibly.  But he isn’t going to know now, any road!  Not with my
consent.  The thing’s absolute madness."

Hilda almost whispered:

"Very well, dear.  If you think so."

"I do think so."

He suddenly felt very sorry for her.  He was ready to excuse her
astounding morbidity as a consequence of extreme spiritual tribulation.
He added with brusque good-nature:

"And so will you, in the morning, my child."

"Shall you be long?"

"No.  I told you I should be late.  If you’ll run off, my chuck, I’ll
undertake to be after you in half an hour."

"Is your headache better?"

"No.  On the other hand, it isn’t worse."

He gazed fiercely at the wages-book.

She bent down.

"Kiss me," she murmured tearfully.

As he kissed her, and as she pressed against him, he absorbed and
understood all the emotions through which she had passed and was
passing, and from him to her was transmitted an unimaginable tenderness
that shamed and atoned for the inclemency of his refusals.  He was very
happy.  He knew that he would not do another stroke of work that night,
but still he must pretend to do some.  Playfully, without rising, he
drew down her veil, smacked her gently on the back, and indicated the
door.

"I have to call at Clara’s about that wool for Maggie," she said, with
courage.  His fingering of her veil had given her extreme pleasure.

"I’ll bring the kid up," he said.

"Will you?"

She departed, leaving the door unlatched.



                                   II


A draught from the outer door swung wide-open the unlatched door of
Edwin’s room.

"What are doors for?" he muttered, pleasantly impatient; then he called
aloud:

"Simpson.  Shut the outer door--and this one, too."

There was no answer.  He arose and went to the outer office.  Hilda had
passed through it like an arrow.  Simpson was not there.  But a man
stood leaning against the mantelpiece; he held at full spread a copy of
the _Signal_, which concealed all the upper part of him except his
fingers and the crown of his head.  Though the gas had been lighted in
the middle of the room, it must have been impossible for him to read by
it, since it shone through the paper.  He lowered the newspaper with a
rustle and looked at Edwin. He was a big, well-dressed man, wearing a
dark grey suit, a blue Melton overcoat, and a quite new glossy
"boiler-end" felt hat.  He had a straight, prominent nose, and dark,
restless eyes, set back; his short hair was getting grey, but not his
short black moustache.

"Were you waiting to see me?" Edwin said, in a defensive, half-hostile
tone.  The man might be a belated commercial traveller of a big
house--some of those fellows considered themselves above all laws; on
the other hand he might be a new; customer in a hurry.

"Yes," was the reply, in a deep, full and yet uncertain voice.  "The
clerk said you couldn’t be disturbed, and asked me to wait.  Then he
went out."

"What can I do for you?  It’s really after hours, but some of us are
working a bit late."

The man glanced at the outer door, which Edwin was shutting, and then at
the inner door, which exposed Edwin’s room.

"I’m George Cannon," he said, advancing a step, as it were defiantly.

For an instant Edwin was frightened by the sudden melodrama of the
situation.  Then he thought:

"I am up against this man.  This is a crisis."

And he became almost agreeably aware of his own being.  The man stood
close to him, under the gas, with all the enigmatic quality of another
being.  He could perceive now--at any rate he could believe--that it was
George Cannon.  Forgetful of what the man had suffered, Edwin felt for
him nothing but the instinctive inimical distrust of the individual who
has never got at loggerheads with society for the individual who once
and for always has.  To this feeling was added a powerful resentment of
the man’s act in coming--especially unannounced--to just _him_, the
husband of the woman he had dishonoured.  It was a monstrous act--and
doubtless an act characteristic of the man.  It was what might have been
expected. The man might have been innocent of a particular crime, might
have been falsely imprisoned; but what had he originally been doing,
with what rascals had he been consorting, that he should be even
suspected of crime?  George Cannon’s astonishing presence, so suddenly
after his release, at the works of Edwin Clayhanger, was unforgiveable.
Edwin felt an impulse to say savagely:

"Look here.  You clear out.  You understand English, don’t you?  Hook
it."

But he had not the brutality to say it.  Moreover, the clerk returned,
carrying, full to the brim, the tin water-receptacle used for wetting
the damping-brush of the copying-press.

"Will you come in, please?" said Edwin curtly. "Simpson, I’m engaged."

The two men went into the inner room.

"Sit down," said Edwin grimly.

George Cannon, with a firm gesture, planted his hat on the flat desk
between them.  He looked round behind him at the shut glazed door.

"You needn’t be afraid," said Edwin.  "Nobody can hear--unless you
shout."

He gazed curiously but somewhat surreptitiously at George Cannon, trying
to decide whether it was possible to see in him a released convict.  He
decided that it was not possible.  George Cannon had a shifty, but not a
beaten, look; many men had a shifty look.  His hair was somewhat short,
but so was the hair of many men, if not of most.  He was apparently in
fair health; assuredly his constitution had not been ruined.  And if his
large, coarse features were worn, marked with tiny black spots, and
seamed and generally ravaged, they were not more ravaged than the
features of numerous citizens of Bursley aged about fifty who saved
money, earned honours, and incurred the envy of presumably intelligent
persons.  And as he realised all this, Edwin’s retrospective painful
alarm as to what might have happened if Hilda had noticed George Cannon
in the outer office lessened until he could dismiss it entirely.  By
chance she had ignored Cannon, perhaps scarcely seeing him in her
preoccupied passage, perhaps taking him vaguely for a customer; but
supposing she _had_ recognised him, what then?  There would have been an
awkward scene--nothing more. Awkward scenes do not kill; their effect is
transient. Hilda would have had to behave, and would have behaved, with
severe commonsense.  He, Edwin himself, would have handled the affair.
A demeanour matter-of-fact and impassible was what was needed.  After
all, a man recently out of prison was not a wild beast, nor yet a freak.
Hundreds of men were coming out of prisons every day....  He should know
how to deal with this man--not pharisaically, not cruelly, not unkindly,
but still with a clear indication to the man of his reprehensible
indiscretion in being where he then was.

"Did she recognise me--down there--Dartmoor?" asked George Cannon,
without any preparing of the ground, in a deep, trembling voice; and as
he spoke a flush spread slowly over his dark features.

"Er--yes!" answered Edwin, and his voice also trembled.

"I wasn’t sure," said George Cannon.  "We were halted before I could
see.  And I daren’t look round--I should ha’ been punished.  I’ve been
punished before now for looking up at the sky at exercise."  He spoke
more quickly and then brought himself up with a snort. "However, I’ve
not come all the way here to talk prison, so you needn’t be afraid.  I’m
not one of your reformers."

In his weak but ungoverned nervous excitement, from which a faint trace
of hysteria was not absent, he now seemed rather more like an
ex-convict, despite his good clothes.  He had become, to Edwin’s
superior self-control, suddenly wistful.  And at the same time, the
strange opening question, and its accent, had stirred Edwin, and he saw
with remorse how much finer had been Hilda’s morbid and violent pity
than his own harsh commonsense and anxiety to avoid emotion.  The man in
good clothes moved him more than the convict had moved him.  He seemed
to have received vision, and he saw not merely the unbearable pathos of
George Cannon, but the high and heavenly charitableness of Hilda, which
he had constantly douched, and his own common earthliness.  He was
exceedingly humbled. And he also thought, sadly: "This chap’s still
attached to her.  Poor devil!"

"What have you come for?" he enquired.

George Cannon cleared his throat.  Edwin waited, in fear, for the
avowal.  He could make nothing out of the visitor’s face; its expression
was anxious and drew sympathy, but there was something in it which
chilled the sympathy it invoked and which seemed to say: "I shall look
after myself."  It yielded naught. You could be sorry for the heart
within, and yet could neither like nor esteem it.  "Punished for looking
up at the sky." ... Glimpses of prison life presented themselves to
Edwin’s imagination.  He saw George Cannon again halted and turning like
a serf to the wall of the corridor.  And this man opposite to him, close
to him in the familiar room, was the same man as the serf!  Was he the
same man? ... Inscrutable, the enigma of that existence whose breathing
was faintly audible across the desk.

"You know all about it--about my affair, of course?"

"Well," said Edwin.  "I expect you know how much I know."

"I’m an honest man--you know that.  I needn’t begin by explaining that
to you."

Edwin nerved himself:

"You weren’t honest towards Hilda, if it comes to that."

He used his wife’s Christian name, to this man with whom he had never
before spoken, naturally, inevitably. He would not say "my wife."  To
have said "my wife" would somehow have brought some muddiness upon that
wife, and by contact upon her husband.

"When I say ’honest’ I mean--you know what I mean. About Hilda--I don’t
defend that.  Only I couldn’t help myself....  I daresay I should do it
again."  Edwin could feel his eyes smarting and he blinked, and yet he
was angry with the man, who went on: "It’s no use talking about that.
That’s over.  And I couldn’t help it.  I had to do it.  She’s come out
of it all right.  She’s not harmed, and I thank God for it!  If there’d
been a child living ... well, it would ha’ been different."

Edwin started.  This man didn’t know he was a father--and his son was
within a few yards of him--might come running in at any moment!  (No!
Young George would not come in.  Nothing but positive orders would get
the boy out of the engine-house so long as the engine-man remained
there.)  Was it possible that Hilda had concealed the existence of her
child, or had announced the child’s death?  If so, she had never done a
wiser thing, and such sagacity struck him as heroic.  But if Mrs. Cannon
knew as to the child, then it was Mrs. Cannon who, with equal prudence
and for a different end, had concealed its existence from George Cannon
or lied to him as to its death.  Certainly the man was sincere.  As he
said "Thank God!" his full voice had vibrated like the voice of an
ardent religionist at a prayer-meeting.

George Cannon began again:

"All I mean is I’m an honest man.  I’ve been damnably treated.  Not that
I want to go into that.  No! I’m a fatalist.  That’s over.  That’s done
with.  I’m not whining.  All I’m insisting on is that I’m not a thief,
and I’m not a forger, and I’ve nothing to hide. Perhaps I brought my
difficulties about that bank-note business on myself.  But when you’ve
once been in prison, you don’t choose your friends--you can’t. Perhaps I
might have ended by being a thief or a forger, only on this occasion it
just happens that I’ve had a good six years for being innocent.  I never
did anything wrong, or even silly, except let myself get too fond of
somebody.  That might happen to anyone. It did happen to me.  But
there’s nothing else.  You understand?  I never--"

"Yes, yes, certainly!" said Edwin, stopping him as he was about to
repeat all the argument afresh.  It was a convincing argument.

"No one’s got the right to look down on me, I mean," George Cannon
insisted, bringing his face forward over the desk.  "On the contrary
this country owes me an apology.  However, I don’t want to go into that.
That’s done with.  Spilt milk’s spilt.  I know what the world is."

"I agree.  I agree!" said Edwin.

He did.  The honesty of his intelligence admitted almost too eagerly and
completely the force of the pleading.

"Well," said George Cannon, "to cut it short, I want help.  And I’ve
come to you for it."

"Me!" Edwin feebly exclaimed.

"You, Mr. Clayhanger!  I’ve come straight here from London.  I haven’t a
friend in the whole world, not one.  It’s not everybody can say that.
There was a fellow named Dayson at Turnhill--used to work for me--he’d
have done something if he could.  But he was too big a fool to be able
to; and besides, he’s gone, no address.  I wrote to him."

"Oh, that chap!" murmured Edwin, trying to find relief in even a
momentary turn of the conversation. "I know who you mean.
Shorthand-writer.  He died in the Isle of Man on his holiday two years
ago.  It was in the papers."

"_That’s_ his address, is it?  Good old Dead Letter Office!  Well, he is
crossed off the list, then; no mistake!" Cannon snarled bitterly.  "I’m
aware you’re not a friend of mine.  I’ve no claim on you.  You don’t
know me; but you know about me.  When I saw you in Dartmoor I guessed
who you were, and I said to myself you looked the sort of man who might
help another man....  Why did you come into the prison?  Why did you
bring her there?  You must have known I was there."  He spoke with a
sudden change to reproachfulness.

"I didn’t bring her there."  Edwin blushed.  "It was----  However, we
needn’t go into that, if you don’t mind."

"Was she upset?"

"Of course."

Cannon sighed.

"What do you want me to do?" asked Edwin gloomily. In secret he was
rather pleased that George Cannon should have deemed him of the sort
likely to help. Was it the flattery of a mendicant?  No, he did not
think it was.  He believed implicitly everything the man was saying.

"Money!" said Cannon sharply.  "Money!  You won’t feel it, but it will
save me.  After all, Mr. Clayhanger, there’s a bond between us, if it
comes to that. There’s a bond between us.  And you’ve had all the luck
of it."

Again Edwin blushed.

"But surely your wife--" he stammered.  "Surely Mrs. Cannon isn’t
without funds.  Of course I know she was temporarily rather short a
while back, but surely--"

"How do you know she was short?" Cannon grimly interrupted.

"My wife sent her ten pounds--I fancy it was ten pounds--towards
expenses, you know."

Cannon ejaculated, half to himself, savagely:

"Never told me!"

He remained silent.

"But I’ve always understood she’s a woman of property," Edwin finished.

Cannon put both elbows on the desk, leaned further forward, and opened
his mouth several seconds before speaking.

"Mr. Clayhanger, I’ve left my wife--as you call her.  If I’d stayed with
her I should have killed her. I’ve run off.  Yes, I know all she’s done
for me.  I know without her I might have been in prison to-day and for a
couple o’ years to come.  But I’d sooner be in prison or in hell or
anywhere you like than with Mrs. Cannon.  She’s an old woman.  She
always was an old woman.  She was nearly forty when she hooked me, and I
was twenty-two.  And I’m young yet.  I’m not middle-aged yet.  She’s got
a clear conscience, Mrs. Cannon has.  She always does her duty.  She’d
let me walk over her, she’d never complain, if only she could keep me.
She’d just play and smile.  Oh yes, she’d turn the other cheek--and keep
on turning it. But she isn’t going to have me.  And for all she’s done
I’m not grateful.  Hag.  That’s what she is!"  He spoke loudly,
excitedly, under considerable emotion.

"Hsh!" Edwin, alarmed, endeavoured gently to soothe him.

"All right!  All right!" Cannon proceeded in a lower but still
impassioned voice.  "But look here! You’re a man.  You know what’s what.
You’ll understand what I mean.  Believe me when I say that I wouldn’t
live with that woman for eternal salvation. I couldn’t.  I couldn’t do
it.  I’ve taken some of her money, only a little, and run off..."  He
paused, and went on with conscious persuasiveness now: "I’ve just got
here.  I had to ask your whereabouts.  I might have been recognised in
the streets, but I haven’t been.  I didn’t expect to find you here at
this time. I might have had to sleep in the town to-night.  I wouldn’t
have come to your private house.  Now I’ve seen you I shall get along to
Crewe to-night.  I shall be safer there.  And it’s on the way to
Liverpool and America.  I want to go to America.  With a bit o’ capital
I shall be all right in America.  It’s my one chance; but it’s a good
one.  But I must have some capital.  No use landing in New York with
empty pockets."

Said Edwin, still shying at the main issues:

"I was under the impression you had been to America once."

"Yes, that’s why I know.  I hadn’t any money. And what’s more," he added
with peculiar emphasis, "I was brought back."

Edwin thought:

"I shall yield to this man."

At that instant he saw the shadow of Hilda’s head and shoulders on the
glass of the door.

"Excuse me a second," he murmured, bounded with astonishing velocity out
of the room, and pulled the door to after him with a bang.



                                  III


Hilda, having observed the strange, excited gesture, paused a moment, in
an equally strange tranquillity, before speaking.  Edwin fronted her at
the very door. Then she said, clearly and deliberately, through her
veil:

"Auntie Hamps has had an attack--heart.  The doctor says she can’t
possibly live through the night. It was at Clara’s."

This was the first of Mrs. Hamps’s fatal heart-attacks.

"Ah!" breathed Edwin, with apparently a purely artistic interest in the
affair.  "So that’s it, is it? Then she’s at Clara’s."

"Yes."

"What doctor?"

"I forget his name.  Lives in Acre Lane.  They sent for the nearest.
She can’t get her breath--has to fight for it.  She jumped out of bed,
struggling to breathe."

"Have you seen her?"

"Yes.  They made me."

"Albert there?"

"Oh, yes."

"Well, I suppose I’d better go round.  You go back.  I’ll follow you."

He was conscious of not the slightest feeling of sorrow at the imminent
death of Auntie Hamps.  Even the image of the old lady fighting to fetch
her breath scarcely moved him, though the deathbed of his father had
been harrowing enough.  He and Hilda had the same thought: "At last
something has happened to Auntie Hamps!"  And it gave zest.

"I must speak to you," said Hilda, low, and moved towards the inner
door.

The clerk Simpson was behind them at his ink-stained desk, stamping
letters, and politely pretending to be deaf.

"No," Edwin stopped her.  "There’s someone in there.  We can’t talk
there."

"A customer?"

"Yes ... I say, Simpson.  Have you done those letters?"

"Yes, sir," answered Simpson, smiling.  He had been recommended as a
"very superior" youth, and had not disappointed, despite a
constitutional nervousness.

"Take them to the pillar, and call at Mr. Benbow’s and tell them that
I’ll be round in about a quarter of an hour.  I don’t know as you need
come back. Hurry up."

"Yes, sir."

Edwin and Hilda watched Simpson go.

"Whatever’s the matter?" Hilda demanded in a low, harsh voice, as soon
as the outer door had clicked. It was as if something sinister in her
had been suddenly released.

"Matter?  Nothing.  Why?"

"You look so queer."

"Well--you come along with these shocks."  He gave a short, awkward
laugh.  He felt and looked guilty, and he knew that he looked guilty.

"You looked queer when you came out."

"You’ve upset yourself, my child, that’s all."  He now realised the high
degree of excitement which he himself, without previously being aware of
it, had reached.

"Edwin, who is it in there?"

"Don’t I tell you--it’s a customer."

He could see her nostrils twitching through, the veil.

"It’s George Cannon in there!" she exclaimed.

He laughed again.  "What makes you feel that?" he asked, feeling all the
while the complete absurdity of such fencing.

"When I ran out I noticed somebody.  He was reading a newspaper and I
couldn’t see him.  But he just moved it a bit, and I seemed to catch
sight of the top of his head.  And when I got into the street I said to
myself, ’It looked like George Cannon,’ and then I said, ’Of course it
couldn’t be.’  And then with this business about Auntie Hamps the idea
went right out of my head."

"Well, it is, if you want to know."

Her mysterious body and face seemed to radiate a disastrous emotion that
filled the whole office.

"Did you know he was coming?"

"I did not.  Hadn’t the least notion!"  The sensation of criminality
began to leave Edwin.  As Hilda seemed to move and waver, he added:

"Now you aren’t going to see him!"

And his voice menacingly challenged her, and defied her to stir a step.
The most important thing in the world, then, was that Hilda should not
see George Cannon.  He would stop her by force.  He would let himself
get angry and brutal.  He would show her that he was the stronger.  He
had quite abandoned his earlier attitude of unsentimental callousness
which argued that after all it wouldn’t ultimately matter whether they
encountered each other or not.  Far from that, he was, so it appeared to
him, standing between them, desperate and determined, and acting
instinctively and conventionally.  Their separate pasts, each full of
grief and tragedy, converged terribly upon him in an effort to meet in
just that moment, and he was ferociously resisting.

"What does he want?"

"He wants me to help him to go to America."

"_You!_

"He says he hasn’t a friend."

"But what about his wife?"

"That’s just what I said....  He’s left her.  Says he can’t live with
her."

There was a silence, in which the tension appreciably lessened.

"Can’t live with her!  Well, I’m not surprised.  But I do think it’s
strange, him coming to you."

"So do I," said Edwin drily, taking the upper hand; for the change in
Hilda’s tone--her almost childlike satisfaction in the news that Cannon
would not live with his wife--seemed to endow him with superiority.
"But there’s a lot of strange things in this world.  Now listen here.
I’m not going to keep him waiting; I can’t."

He then spoke very gravely, authoritatively and ominously: "Find George
and take him home at once."

Hilda, impressed, gave a frown.

"I think it’s very wrong that you should be asked to help him."  Her
voice’ shook and nearly broke. "Shall you help him, Edwin?"

"I shall get him out of this town at once, and out of the country.  Do
as I say.  As things are he doesn’t know there is any George, and it’s
just as well he shouldn’t.  But if he stays anywhere about, he’s bound
to know."

All Hilda’s demeanour admitted that George Cannon had never been allowed
to know that he had a son; and the simple candour of the admission
frightened Edwin by its very simplicity.

"Now!  Off you go!  George is in the engine-house."

Hilda moved reluctantly towards the outer-door, like a reproved and
rebellious schoolgirl.  Suddenly she burst into tears, sprang at Edwin,
and, putting her arms round his neck, kissed him through the veil.

"Nobody but you would have helped him--in your place!" she murmured
passionately, half admiring, half protesting.  And with a backward look
as she hurried off, her face stern and yet soft seemed to appeal: "Help
him."

Edwin was at once deeply happy and impregnated with a sense of the
frightful sadness that lurks in the hollows of the world.  He stood
alone with the flaring gas, overcome.



                                   IV


He went back to the private room, self-conscious and rather tongue-tied,
with a clear feeling of relief that Hilda was disposed of, removed from
the equation--and not unsuccessfully.  After the woman, to deal with the
man, in the plain language of men, seemed simple and easy.  He was
astounded, equally, by the grudging tardiness of Mrs. Cannon’s
information to Hilda as to the release, and by the baffling, inflexible
detraction of Hilda’s words: "Well, I’m not surprised."  And the
flitting image of Auntie Hamps fighting for life still left him
untouched.  He looked at George Cannon, and George Cannon, with his
unreliable eyes, looked at him.  He almost expected Cannon to say: "Was
that Hilda you were talking to out there?"  But Cannon seemed to have no
suspicion that, in either the inner or the outer room, he had been so
close to her.  No doubt, when he was waiting by the mantel-piece in the
outer room, he had lifted the paper as soon as he heard the door
unlatched, expressly in order to screen himself from observation.
Probably he had not even guessed that the passer was a woman.  Had
Simpson been there, the polite young man would doubtless have said:
"Good night, Mrs. Clayhanger," but Simpson had happened not to be there.

"Are you going to help me?" asked George Cannon, after a moment, and his
heavy voice was so beseeching, so humble, so surprisingly sycophantic,
so fearful, that Edwin could scarcely bear to hear it.  He hated to hear
that one man could be so slavishly dependent on another.  Indeed, he
much preferred Cannon’s defiant, half-bullying tone.

"Yes," said he.  "I shall do what I can.  What do you want?"

"A hundred pounds," said George Cannon, and, as he named the sum, his
glance was hard and steady.

Edwin was startled.  But immediately he began to readjust his ideas,
persuading himself that after all the man could not prudently have asked
for less.

"I can’t give it you all now."

Cannon’s face lighted up in relief and joy.  His black eyes sparkled
feverishly with the impatience of an almost hopeless desire about to be
satisfied. Although he did not move, his self-control had for the moment
gone completely, and the secrets of his soul were exposed.

"Can you send it me--in notes?  I can give you an address in Liverpool."
His voice could hardly utter the words.

"Wait a second," said Edwin.

He went to the safe let into the wall, of which he was still so naïvely
proud, and unlocked it with the owner’s gesture.  The perfect fitting of
the bright key, the ease with which it turned, the silent, heavy swing
of the massive door on its hinges--these things gave him physical as
well as moral pleasure.  He savoured the security of his position and
his ability to rescue people from destruction.  From the cavern of the
safe he took out a bag of gold, part of the money required for wages on
the morrow,--he would have to send to the Bank again in the morning.  He
knew that the bag contained exactly twenty pounds in half-sovereigns,
but he shed the lovely twinkling coins on the desk and counted them.

"Here," he said.  "Here’s twenty pounds.  Take the bag, too--it’ll be
handier," and he put the money into the bag.  Then a foolish, grand idea
struck him.  "Write down the address on this envelope, will you, and
I’ll send you a hundred to-morrow.  You can rely on it."

"Eighty, you mean," muttered George Cannon.

"No," said Edwin, with affected nonchalance, blushing, "a hundred.  The
twenty will get you over and you’ll have a hundred clear when you arrive
on the other side."

"Ye’re very kind," said Cannon weakly.  "I--"

"Here.  Here’s the envelope.  Here’s a bit of pencil."  Edwin stopped
him hastily.  His fear of being thanked made him harsh.

While Cannon was nervously writing the address, he noticed that the
man’s clumsy fingers were those of a day-labourer.

"You’ll get it all back.  You’ll see," said Cannon, as he stood up to
leave, holding his glossy felt hat in his left hand.

"Don’t worry about that.  I don’t want it.  You owe me nothing."

"You’ll have every penny back, and before long, too."

Edwin smiled, deprecating the idea.

"Well, good luck!" he said.  "You’ll get to Crewe all right.  There’s a
train at Shawport at eight seven."

They shook hands, and quitted the inner office.  As he traversed the
outer office on his way forth, in front of Edwin, Cannon turned his
head, as if to say something, but, confused, he said nothing and went
on, and at once he disappeared into the darkness outside.  And Edwin was
left with a memory of his dubious eyes, hard rather than confident,
profoundly relieved rather than profoundly grateful.

"By Jove!" Edwin murmured by himself.  "Who’d have thought it? ... They
say those chaps always turn up again like bad pennies, but I bet he
won’t."  Simultaneously he reflected upon the case of Mrs. Cannon,
deserted; but it did not excite his pity.  He fastened the safe,
extinguished the lights, shut the office, and prepared his mind for the
visit to Auntie Hamps.



                                   V


Hilda and her son were in the dining-room, in which the table, set for a
special meal--half-tea, half-supper--made a glittering oblong of white.
On the table, among blue-and-white plates, and knives and forks, lay
some of George’s shabby school-books.  In most branches of knowledge
George privately knew that he could instruct his parents--especially his
mother. Nevertheless that beloved outgrown creature was still
occasionally useful at home-lessons, as for instance in "poetry."
George, disdainful, had to learn some verses each week, and now his
mother held a book entitled "The Poetry Reciter," while George mumbled
with imperfect verbal accuracy the apparently immortal lines:

    Abou Ben Adhem, may his tribe increase,
    Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace.


His mother, however, scarcely regarded the book. She knew the poem by
heart, and had indeed recited it to George, who, though he was much
impressed by her fire, could not by any means have been persuaded to
imitate the freedom of her delivery.  His elocution to-night was
unusually bad, for the reason that he had been pleasurably excited by
the immense news of Auntie Hamps’s illness.  Not that he had any grudge
against Auntie Hamps!  His pleasure would have been as keen in the grave
illness of any other important family connection, save his mother and
Edwin.  Such notable events gave a sensational interest to domestic life
which domestic life as a rule lacked.

Then, through the half-open door of the dining-room came the sound of
Edwin’s latch-key in the front-door.

"There’s uncle!" exclaimed George, and jumped up.

Hilda stopped him.

"Put your books together," said she.  "You know uncle likes to go up to
the bathroom before he does anything!"

It was a fact that the precisian hated even to be greeted, on his return
home in the evening, until he came downstairs from the bathroom.

Hilda herself collected the books and put them on the sideboard.

"Shall I tell Ada?" George suggested, champing the bit.

"No.  Ada knows."

With deliberation Hilda tended the fire.  Her mind was in a state of
emotional flux.  Memories and comparisons mournfully and yet agreeably
animated it. She thought of the days when she used to recite amid
enthusiasm in the old drawing-room of the Orgreaves; and of the days
when she was a wanderer, had no home, no support, little security; and
of the brief, uncertain days with George Cannon; and of the eternal days
when her only assurance was the assurance of disaster.  She glanced at
George, and saw in him reminders of his tragic secret father now hidden
away, forced into the background, like something obscene. Nearly every
development of the present out of the past seemed to her, now, to be
tragic.  Johnnie Orgreave had of course not come back from his idyll
with the ripping Mrs. Chris Hamson; their seclusion was not positively
known; but the whole district knew that the husband had begun
proceedings and that the Orgreave business was being damaged by the
incompetence of Jimmie Orgreave, whose deplorable wife had a few days
earlier been seen notoriously drunk in the dress-circle of the Hanbridge
Theatre Royal.  Janet was still at Tavy Mansion because there was no
place for her in the Five Towns.  Janet had written to Hilda, sadly, and
the letter breathed her sense of her own futility and superfluousness in
the social scheme. In one curt phrase, that very afternoon, the taciturn
Maggie, who very seldom complained, had disclosed something of what it
was to live day and night with Auntie Hamps.  Even Clara, the
self-sufficient, protected by an almost impermeable armour of conceit,
showed signs of the anxiety due to obscure chronic disease and a husband
who financially never knew where he was.  Finally, the last glories of
Auntie Hamps were sinking to ashes.  Only Hilda herself was, from nearly
every point of view, in a satisfactory and promising situation.  She
possessed love, health, money, stability.  When danger threatened, a
quiet and unfailingly sagacious husband was there to meet and destroy
it.  Surely nothing whatever worth mentioning, save the fact that she
was distantly approaching forty, troubled the existence of Hilda now;
and her age certainly did not trouble her.

Ada entered with the hot dishes, and went out.

At length Hilda heard the bathroom door.  She left the dining-room,
shutting the door on George, who could take a hint very
well--considering his years. Edwin, brushed and spruce, was coming
downstairs, rubbing his clean hands with physical satisfaction. He
nodded amiably, but without smiling.

"Has he gone?" said Hilda, in a low voice.

Edwin nodded.  He was at the foot of the stairs.

She did not offer to kiss him, having a notion that he would prefer not
to be kissed just then.

"How much did you give him?"  She knew he would not care for the
question, but she could not help putting it.

He smiled, and touched her shoulder.  She liked him to touch her
shoulder.

"That’s all right," he said, with a faint condescension. "Don’t you
worry about that."

She did not press the point.  He could be free enough with
information--except when it was demanded.  Some time later he would
begin of his own accord to talk.

"How was Auntie Hamps?"

"Well, if anything, she’s a bit easier.  I don’t mind betting she gets
over it."

They went into the dining-room almost side by side, and she enquired
again about his headache.

The meal was tranquil.  After a few moments Edwin opened the subject of
Auntie Hamps’s illness with some sardonic remarks upon the demeanour of
Albert Benbow.

"Is Auntie dying?" asked George with gusto.

Edwin replied:

"What are those schoolbooks doing there on the sideboard?  I thought it
was clearly understood that you were to do your lessons in your mother’s
boudoir."

He spoke without annoyance, but coldly.  He was aware that neither Hilda
nor her son could comprehend that to a bookman schoolbooks were not
books, but merely an eyesore.  He did not blame them for their
incapacity, but he considered that an arrangement was an arrangement.

"Mother put them there," said the base George.

"Well, you can take them away," said Edwin firmly. "Run along now."

George rose from his place between Hilda and Edwin, and from his
luscious plate, and removed the books.  Hilda watched him meekly go.
His father, too, had gone.  Edwin was in the right; his position could
not be assailed.  He had not been unpleasant, but he had spoken as one
sublimely confident that his order would not be challenged.  Within her
heart Hilda rebelled.  If Edwin had been responsible for some act
contrary to one of her decrees, she would never in his presence have
used the tone that he used to enforce obedience.  She would have laughed
or she would have frowned, but she would never have been the polite
autocrat.  Nor would he have expected her to play the rôle; he would
probably have resented it.

Why?  Were they not equals?  No, they were not equals.  The fundamental
unuttered assumption upon which the household life rested was that they
were not equals.  She might cross him, she might momentarily defy him,
she might torture him, she might drive him to fury, and still be safe
from any effective reprisals, because his love for her made her
necessary to his being; but in spite of all that his will remained the
seat of government, and she and George were only the Opposition.  In the
end, she had to incline.  She was the complement of his existence, but
he was not the complement of hers.  She was just a parasite, though an
essential parasite.  Why? ... The reason, she judged, was economic, and
solely economic.  She rebelled.  Was she not as individual, as original,
as he? Had she not a powerful mind of her own, experience of her own,
ideals of her own?  Was she not of a nature profoundly and exceptionally
independent?...

Her lot was unalterable.  She had of course, not the slightest desire to
leave him; she was devoted to him; what irked her was that, even had she
had the desire, she could not have fulfilled it, for she was too old
now, and too enamoured of comfort and security, to risk such an
enterprise.  She was a captive, and she recalled with a gentle pang,
less than regret, the days when she was unhappy and free as a man, when
she could say, "I will go to London," "I will leave London," "I am
deceived and ruined, but I am my own mistress."

These thoughts in the idyllic tranquillity of the meal, mingled, below
her smiling preoccupations of an honoured house-mistress, with the
thoughts of her love for her husband and son and of their excellences,
of the masculine love which enveloped and shielded her, of her security,
of the tragedy of the bribed and dismissed victim and villain, George
Cannon, of the sorrows of some of her friends, and of the dead.  In her
heart was the unquiet whispering: "I submit, and yet I shall never
submit."



                                BOOK III

                              EQUILIBRIUM



                              CHAPTER XVII

                             GEORGE’S EYES


                                   I


Hilda sat alone in the boudoir, before the fire.  She had just come out
of the kitchen, and she was wearing the white uniform of the kitchen,
unsuited for a boudoir; but she wore it with piquancy.  The November
afternoon had passed into dusk, and through the window, over the roofs
of Hulton Street, stars could be seen in a darkening clear sky.  After a
very sharp fall and rise of the barometer, accounting for heavy
rainstorms, the first frosts were announced, and winter was on the
doorstep.  The hardy inhabitants of the Five Towns, Hilda among them,
were bracing themselves to the discipline of winter, with its mud,
increased smuts, sleet, and damp, piercing chills; and they were taking
pleasure in the tonic prospect of discomfort.  The visitation had
threatened ever since September.  Now it had positively come.  Let it
come! Build up the fire, stamp the feet, and defy it!  Hilda was
exhilarated, having been reawakened to the zest and the romance of life,
not merely by the onset of winter, but by dramatic events in the
kitchen.

A little over three years had elapsed since the closing of the episode
of George Cannon, and for two of those years Hilda had had peace in the
kitchen.  She had been the firm mistress who knows what she wants, and,
knowing also how to handle the peculiar inmates of the kitchen, gets it;
she had been the mistress who "won’t put up with" all sorts of things,
including middle-age and ugliness in servants, and whom heaven has
spoilt by too much favour.  Then the cook, with the ingratitude of a
cherished domestic, had fallen in love and carried her passion into a
cottage miles away at Longshaw.  And from that moment Hilda had ceased
to be the mistress who by firmness commands fate; she had become as
other mistresses.  In a year she had had five cooks, giving varying
degrees of intense dissatisfaction.  She had even dismissed the slim and
constant Ada once, but, yielding to an outburst of penitent affection,
had withdrawn the notice.  The last cook, far removed from youthfulness
or prettiness, had left suddenly that day, after insolence, after the
discovery of secret beer and other vileness in the attic-bedroom, after
a scene in which Hilda had absolutely silenced her, reducing ribaldry to
sobs.  Cook and trunk expelled, Hilda had gone about the house like a
fumigation, and into the kitchen like the embodiment of calm and gay
efficiency.  She would do the cooking herself.  She would show the
kitchen that she was dependent upon nobody.  She had quickened the speed
of Ada, accused her "tartly," but not without dry good-humour, of a
disloyal secretiveness, and counselled her to mind what she was about if
she wanted to get on in the world.

Edwin knew nothing, for all had happened since his departure to the
works after midday dinner.  He would be back in due course, and George
would be back, and Tertius Ingpen (long ago reconciled) was coming for
the evening.  She would show them all three what a meal was, and
incidentally Ada would learn what a meal was.  There was nothing like
demonstrating to servants that you could beat them easily at their own
game.

She had just lived through her thirty-ninth birthday. "Forty!" she had
murmured to herself with a shiver of apprehension, meaning that the next
would be the fortieth.  It was an unpleasant experience.  She had told
Edwin not to mention her birthday abroad. Clumsy George had enquired:
"Mother, how old are you?"  To which she had replied, "Lay-ours for
meddlers!" a familiar phrase whose origin none of them understood, but
George knew that it signified, "Mind your own business."  No!  She had
not been happy on that birthday.  She had gazed into the glass and
decided that she looked old, that she did not look old, that she looked
old, endlessly alternating.  She was not stout, but her body was solid,
too solid; it had no litheness, none whatever; it was absolutely set;
the cleft under the chin was quite undeniable, and the olive complexion
subtly ravaged.  Still, not a hair of her dark head had changed colour.
It was perhaps her soul that was greying.  Her married life was fairly
calm.  It had grown monotonous in ease and tranquillity.  The sharp,
respectful admiration for her husband roused in her by his handling of
the Cannon episode, had gradually been dulled.  She had nothing against
him.  Yet she had everything against him, because apart from his grave
abiding love for her he possessed an object and interest in life, and
because she was a mere complement and he was not.  She had asked herself
the most dreadful of questions: "Why have I lived?  Why do I go on
living?" and had answered: "Because of _them_," meaning Edwin and her
son.  But it was not enough for her, who had once been violently
enterprising, pugnacious, endangered, and independent.  For after she
had watched over them she had energy to spare, and such energy was not
being employed and could not be employed. Reading--a diversion!  Fancy
work--a detestable device for killing time and energy!  Social
duties--ditto! Charity--hateful!  She had slowly descended into marriage
as into a lotus valley.  And more than half her life was gone.  She
could never detect that any other married woman in the town felt as she
felt.  She could never explain herself to Edwin, and indeed had not
tried to explain herself.

Now the affair of the alcoholic cook, aided by winter’s first fillip,
stimulated and brightened her.  And while thinking with a glance at the
clock of the precise moment when she must return to the kitchen and put
a dish down to the fire, she also thought, rather hopefully and then
quite hopefully, about the future of her marriage.  Her brain seemed to
straighten and correct itself, like the brain of one who, waking up in
the morning, slowly perceives that the middle-of-the-night
apprehensiveness about eventualities was all awry in its pessimism.  She
saw that everything could and must be improved, that the new life must
begin. Edwin needed to be inspired; she must inspire him. He slouched
more and more in his walk; he was more and more absorbed in his
business, quieter in the evenings, more impatient in the mornings.
Moreover, the household machine had been getting slack.  A general tonic
was required; she would administer it--and to herself also.  They should
all feel the invigorating ozone that very night.  She would organise
social distractions; on behalf of the home she would reclaim from the
works those odd hours and half-hours of Edwin’s which it had
imperceptibly filched.  She would have some new clothes, and she would
send Edwin to the tailor’s.  She would make him buy a dog-cart and a
horse.  Oh!  She could do it.  She had the mastery of him in many things
when she chose to be aroused.  In a word, she would "branch out."

She was not sure that she would not prosecute a campaign for putting
Edwin on the Town Council, where he certainly ought to be.  It was his
duty to take a share in public matters, and ultimately to dominate the
town. Suggestions had already been made by wirepullers, and
unreflectively repulsed by the too casual Edwin.  She saw him mayor, and
herself mayoress.  Once, the prospect of any such formal honour, with
all that it entailed of ceremoniousness and insincere civilities, would
have annoyed if not frightened her.  But now she thought, proudly and
timidly and desirously, that she would make as good a mayoress as most
mayoresses, and that she could set one or two of them an example in tact
and dignity.  Why not?  Of late neither mayors nor mayoresses in the
Five Towns had been what they used to be.  The grand tradition was
apparently in abeyance, the people who ought to carry it on seeming
somehow to despise it.  She could remember mayors, especially Chief
Bailiffs at Turnhill, who imposed themselves upon the imagination of the
town.  But nowadays the name of a mayor was never a household word. She
had even heard Ingpen ask Edwin: "See, who is the new mayor?" and Edwin
start his halting answer: "Let me see--"

And she had still another and perhaps greater ambition--to possess a
country house.  In her fancy her country house was very like Alicia
Hesketh’s house, Tavy Mansion, which she had never ceased to envy.  She
felt that in a new home, spacious, with space around it, she could
really commence the new life.  She saw the place perfectly appointed and
functioning perfectly--no bother about smuts on white curtains; no
half-trained servants; none of the base, confined, promiscuity of filthy
Trafalgar Road; and the Benbows and Auntie Hamps at least eight or ten
miles off!  She saw herself driving Edwin to the station in the morning,
or perhaps right into Bursley if she wanted to shop....  No, she would
of course shop at Oldcastle....  She would leave old Darius Clayhanger’s
miracle-house without one regret.  And in the new life she would be
always active, busy, dignified, elegant, influential, and kind.  And to
Edwin she would be absolutely indispensable.

In these imaginings their solid but tarnished love glittered and gleamed
again.  She saw naught but the charming side of Edwin and the romantic
side of their union.  She was persuaded that there really was nobody
like Edwin, and that no marriage had ever had quite the mysterious,
secretly exciting quality of hers. She yearned for him to come home at
once, to appear magically in the dusk of the doorway.  The mood was
marvellous.



                                   II


The door opened.

"Can I speak to you, m’m?"

It was the voice of Ada, somewhat perturbed.  She advanced a little and
stood darkly in front of the open doorway.

"What is it, Ada?" Hilda asked curtly, without turning to look at her.

"It’s--" Ada began and stopped.

Hilda glanced round quickly, recognising now in the voice a peculiar
note with which experience had familiarised her.  It was a note between
pertness and the beginning of a sob, and it always indicated that Ada
was feeling more acutely than usual the vast injustice of the worldly
scheme.  It might develop into tears; on the other hand it might develop
into mere insolence. Hilda discerned that Ada was wearing neither cap
nor apron.  She thought: "If this stupid girl wants trouble, she has
come to me at exactly and precisely the right moment to get it.  I’m not
in the humour, after all I’ve gone through to-day, to stand any nonsense
either from her or from anybody else."

"What is it, Ada?" she repeated, with restraint, and yet warningly.
"And where’s your apron and your cap?"

"In the kitchen, m’m."

"Well, go and put them on, and then come and say what you have to say,"
said Hilda, thinking: "I don’t give any importance to her cap and apron,
but she does."

"I was thinking I’d better give ye notice, m’m," said Ada, and she said
it pertly, ignoring the command.

The two women were alone together in the house. Each felt it; each felt
the large dark emptiness of the house behind them, and the solid front
and back doors cutting them off from succour; each had to depend
entirely upon herself.

Hilda asked quietly:

"What’s the matter now?"

She knew that Ada’s grievance would prove to be silly.  The girl had
practically no commonsense.  Not one servant girl in a hundred had any
appreciable commonsense.  And when girls happened to be "upset"--as they
were all liable to be, and as Ada by the violent departure of the cook
no doubt was--even such minute traces of gumption as they possessed were
apt to disappear.

"There’s no pleasing you, m’m!" said Ada.  "The way you talked to me in
the kitchen, saying I was always a-hiding things from ye.  I’ve felt it
very much!"

She threw her head back, and the gesture signified: "I’m younger than
you, and young men are always running after me.  And I can get a new
situation any time.  And I’ve not gone back into my kitchen to put my
cap and apron on."

"Ada," said Hilda.  "Shall I tell you what’s wrong with you?  You’re a
little fool.  You know you’re talking rightdown nonsense.  You know that
as well as I do.  And you know you’ll never get a better place than you
have here.  But you’ve taken an idea into your head--and there you are!
Now do be sensible. You say you think you’d better give notice.  Think
it over before you do anything ridiculous.  Sleep on it.  We’ll see how
you feel in the morning."

"I think I’d better give notice, m’m, especially seeing I’m a fool, and
silly," Ada persisted.

Hilda sighed.  Her voice hardened slightly:

"So you’d leave me without a maid just at Christmas! And that’s all the
thanks I get for all I’ve done for you."

"Well, m’m.  We’ve had such a queer lot of girls here lately, haven’t
we?"  The pertness was intensified.  "I don’t hardly care to stay.  I
feel we sh’d both be better for a change like."

It was perhaps Ada’s subtly insolent use of the word "we" and "both"
that definitely brought about a new phase of the interview.  Hilda
suddenly lost all desire for an amicable examination of the crisis.

"Very well, Ada," she said, shortly.  "But remember I shan’t take you
back again, whatever happens."

Ada moved away, and then returned.

"Could I leave at once, m’m, same as cook?"

Hilda was astonished and outraged, despite all her experience and its
resulting secret sardonic cynicism in regard to servants.  The girl was
ready to walk out instantly.

"And may I enquire where you’d go to?" asked Hilda with a sneer.  "At
this time of night you couldn’t possibly get home to your parents."

"Oh!" answered Ada brightly.  "I could go to me cousin’s up at Toft End.
And her could send down a lad with a barrow for me box."

The plot, then, had been thought out.  "Her cousin’s!" thought Hilda,
and seemed to be putting her finger on the cause of Ada’s disloyalty.
"Her cousin’s!"  It was a light in a dark mystery.  "Her cousin’s!"

"I suppose you know you’re forfeiting the wages due to you the day after
to-morrow?"

"I shall ask me cousin about that, m’m," said Ada, as it were
menacingly.

"I should!" Hilda sarcastically agreed.  "I certainly should."  And she
thought with bitter resignation: "She’ll have to leave anyhow after
this.  She may as well leave on the spot."

"There’s those as’ll see as I have me rights," said Ada pugnaciously,
with another toss of the head.

Hilda had a mind to retort in anger; but she controlled herself.
Already that afternoon she had imperilled her dignity in the altercation
with the cook. The cook, however, had not Ada’s ready tongue, and, while
the mistress had come off best against the cook, she might through
impulsiveness find herself worsted by Ada’s more youthful impudence,
were it once unloosed.

"That will do, then, Ada," she said.  "You can go and pack your box
first thing."

In less than three quarters of an hour Ada was gone, and her corded
trunk lay just within the scullery door, waiting the arrival of the
cousin’s barrow. She had bumped it down the stairs herself.

All solitary in the house, which had somehow been transformed into a
strange and unusual house, Hilda wept.  She had only parted with an
unfaithful and ungrateful servant, but she wept.  She dashed into the
kitchen and began to do Ada’s work, still weeping, and she was savage
against her own tears; yet they continued softly to fall, misting her
vision of fire and utensils and earthenware vessels.  Ada had left
everything in a moment; she had left the kettle on the fire, and the
grease in the square tin in which the dinner-joint had been cooked, and
the ashes in the fender, and tea-leaves in the kitchen teapot and a cup
and saucer unwashed.  She had cared naught for the inconvenience she was
causing; had shewn not the slightest consideration; had walked off
without a pang, smilingly hoity-toity.  And all servants were like that.
Such conduct might be due as much to want of imagination, to a simple
inability to picture to themselves the consequences of certain acts, as
to stark ingratitude; but the consequences remained the same; and Hilda
held fiercely to the theory of stark ingratitude.

She had made Ada; she had created her.  When Hilda engaged her, Ada was
little more than an "oat-cake girl,"--that is to say, one of those girls
who earn a few pence by delivering oat-cakes fresh from the stove at a
halfpenny each before breakfast at the houses of gormandising superior
artisans and the middle-classes. True, she had been in one situation
prior to Hilda’s, but it was a situation where she learnt nothing and
could have learnt nothing.  Nevertheless, she was very quick to learn,
and in a month Hilda had done wonders with her.  She had taught her not
only her duties, but how to respect herself, to make the best of
herself, and favourably to impress others. She had enormously increased
Ada’s value in the universe.  And she had taught her some worldly
wisdom, and permitted and even encouraged certain coquetries, and in the
bed-room during dressings and undressings had occasionally treated her
as a soubrette if not as a confidante; had listened to her at length,
and had gone so far as to ask her views on this matter or that--the
supreme honour for a menial.  Also she had very conscientiously nursed
her in sickness.  She had really liked Ada, and had developed a
sentimental weakness for her.  She had taken pleasure in her prettiness,
in her natural grace, and in her crude youth.  She enjoyed seeing Ada
arrange a bedroom, or answer the door, or serve a meal.  And Ada’s
stupidity--that half-cunning stupidity of her class, which immovably
underlay her superficial aptitudes--had not sufficed to spoil her
affection for the girl.  She had been indulgent to Ada’s stupidity; she
had occasionally in some soft moods hoped that it was curable.  And she
had argued in moments of discouragement that at any rate stupidity could
be faithful.  In her heart she had counted Ada as a friend, as a true
standby in the more or less tragic emergencies of the household.  And
now Ada had deserted her.  Stupidity had proved to be neither faithful
nor grateful.  Why had Ada been so silly and so base?  Impossible to
say!  A nothing! A whim!  Nerves!  Fatuity!  The whole affair was
horribly absurd.  These creatures were incalculable. Of course Hilda
would have been wiser not to upbraid her so soon after the scene with
the cook, and to have spoken more smoothly to the chit in the boudoir.
Hilda admitted that.  But what then?  Was that an excuse for the chit’s
turpitude?  There must be a limit to the mistress’s humouring.  And
probably after all the chit had meant to go....  If she had not meant to
go she would not have entered the boudoir apronless and capless.  Some
rankling word, some ridiculous sympathy with the cook, some wild dream
of a Christmas holiday--who could tell what might have influenced her?
Hilda gave it up--and returned to it a thousand times.  One truth
emerged--and it was the great truth of housemistresses--namely, that it
never, never, never pays to be too kind to servants. "Servants do not
understand kindness."  You think they do; they themselves think they do;
but they don’t,--they don’t and they don’t.  Hilda went back into the
immensity of her desolating experience as an employer of female domestic
servants of all kinds, but chiefly bad--for the landlady of a small
boarding house must take what servants she can get--and she raged at the
persistence of the proof that kindness never paid. What did pay was
severity and inhuman strictness, and the maintenance of an impassable
gulf between employer and employed.  Not again would she make the
mistake which she had made a hundred times.  She hardened herself to the
consistency of a slave-driver. And all the time it was the woman in her,
not the mistress, that the hasty thoughtless Ada had wounded. To the
woman the kitchen was not the same place without Ada--Ada on whom she
had utterly relied in the dilemma caused by the departure of the cook.
As with angrily wet eyes she went about her new work in the kitchen, she
could almost see the graceful ghost of Ada tripping to and fro therein.

And all that the world, and the husband, would know or understand was
that a cook had been turned out for drunkenness, and that a quite sober
parlour-maid had most preposterously walked after her.  Hilda was aware
that in Edwin she had a severe, though a taciturn, critic of her
activities as employer of servants.  She had no hope whatever of his
sympathy, and so she closed all her gates against him.  She waited for
him as for an adversary, and all the lustre faded from her conception of
their love.



                                  III


When Edwin approached his home that frosty evening, he was disturbed to
perceive that there was no light from the hall-gas shining through the
panes of the front-door, though some light showed at the dining-room
window, the blinds of which had not been drawn.  "What next?" he thought
crossly.  He was tired, and the keenness of the weather, instead of
bracing him, merely made him petulant.  He was astonished that several
women in a house could all forget such an important act as the lighting
of the hall-gas at nightfall.  Never before had the hall-gas been
forgotten, and the negligence appeared to Edwin as absolutely monstrous.
The effect of it on the street, the effect on a possible caller, was bad
enough (Edwin, while pretending to scorn social opinion, was really very
deferential towards it), but what was worse was the revelation of the
feminine mentality.

In opening the door with his latchkey he was purposely noisy, partly in
order to give expression to his justified annoyance, and partly to warn
all peccant women that the male had arrived, threatening.

As his feet fumbled into the interior gloom and he banged the door, he
quite expected a rush of at least one apologetic woman with a box of
matches.  But nobody came.  Nevertheless he could hear sharp movements
through the half-open door of the kitchen. Assuredly women had the
irresponsibility of infants.  He glanced for an instant into the
dining-room; the white cloth was laid, but the table was actually not
set. With unusual righteous care he wiped the half-congealed mud off his
boots on the mat; then removed his hat and his overcoat, took a large
new piece of indiarubher from his pocket and put it on the hall-table,
felt the radiator (which despite all his injunctions and recommendations
was almost cold); and lastly he lighted the gas himself.  This final act
was contrary to his own rule, for he had often told Hilda that half her
trouble with servants arose through her impatiently doing herself things
which they had omitted, instead of ringing the bell and seeing the
things done. But he was not infrequently inconsistent, both in deed and
in thought.  For another example, he would say superiorly that a woman
could never manage women, ignoring that he the all-wise had never been
able to manage Hilda.

He turned to go upstairs.  At the same moment somebody emerged obscurely
from the kitchen.  It was Hilda, in a white apron.

"Oh!  I’m glad you’ve lighted it," said she curtly, without the least
symptom of apology, but rather affrontingly.

He continued his way.

"Have you seen anything of George?" she asked, and her tone stopped him.

Yet she well knew that he hated to be stopped of an evening on his way
to the bathroom.  It could not be sufficiently emphasized that to accost
him before he had descended from the bathroom was to transgress one of
the most solemn rules of his daily life.

"Of course I haven’t seen George," he answered. "How should I have seen
George?"

"Because he’s not back from school yet, and I can’t help wondering----"

She was worrying about George as usual.

He grunted and passed on.

"There’s no light on the landing, either," he said, over the banisters.
"I wish you’d see to those servants of yours."

"As it happens there aren’t any servants."

Her tone, getting more peculiar with each phrase, stopped him again.

"Aren’t any servants?  What d’you mean?"

"Well, I found the attic full of beer bottles, so I sent her off on the
spot."

"Sent who off?"

"Eliza."

"And where’s Ada?"

"She’s gone too," said Hilda defiantly, and as though rebutting an
accusation before it could be made.

"Why?"

"She seemed to want to.  And she was very impertinent over it."

He snorted and shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, it’s your affair," he muttered, too scornful to ask details.

"It is," said she, significantly laconic.

In the bathroom, vexed and gloomy as he brushed his nails and splashed
in the wash basin, he mused savagely over the servant problem.  The
servant problem had been growing acute.  He had predicted several times
that a crisis would arrive; a crisis had arrived; he was always right;
his rightness was positively uncanny.  He had liked Ada; he had not
disliked the cook.  He knew that Hilda was to blame.  How should she not
be to blame,--losing her entire staff in one afternoon?  It was not
merely that she lacked the gift of authoritative control,--it was also
that she had no feeling for democratic justice as between one human
being and another.  And yet among his earliest recollections of her was
her passionate sympathy with men on strike as against their employers.
Totally misleading manifestations!  For her a servant was nothing but a
"servant."  She was convinced that all her servants were pampered and
spoilt; and as for Edwin’s treatment of his workpeople she considered it
to be ridiculously, criminally soft.  If she had implied once she had
implied a hundred times that the whole lot of them laughed at him behind
his back for a sentimental simpleton.  Occasionally Edwin was quite
outraged by her callousness.  The topic of the eight-hours day, of the
ten-hours day, and even of the twelve-hours day (the last for
tramwaymen) had been lately exciting the district.  And Edwin was
distressed that in his own house a sixteen-hour day for labour was in
vogue and that the employer perceived no shame in it.  He did not
clearly see how the shame was to be abolished, but he thought that it
ought to be admitted.  It was not admitted.  From six in the morning
until ten at night these mysterious light-headed young women were the
slaves of a bell.  They had no surcease except one long weekday evening
each week and a short Sunday evening each fortnight.  At one period
Hilda had had a fad for getting them out of bed at half-past five, to
cure them of laziness.  He remembered one cook whose family lived at the
village of Brindley Edge, five miles off.  This cook on her weekday
evening would walk to Brindley Edge, spend three quarters of an hour in
her home, and walk back to Bursley, reaching Trafalgar Road just in time
to get to bed.  Hilda saw nothing very odd in that.  She said the girl
could always please herself about going to Brindley Edge.

Edwin’s democratic sense was gradually growing in force; it disturbed
more and more the peace of his inmost mind.  He seldom displayed his
sympathies (save to Tertius Ingpen who, though a Tory, was in some ways
astoundingly open to ideas, which seemed to interest him as a pretty
equation would interest him), but they pursued their secret activity in
his being, annoying him at his lithographic works, and still more in his
home.  He would suppress them, and grin, and repeat his ancient
consoling truth that what was, was. The relief, however, was not
permanent.

In that year the discovery of Rontgen Rays, the practical invention of
the incandescent gas-mantle, the abolition of the man with the red flag
in front of self-propelled vehicles, and the fact that Consols stood at
113, had combined to produce in innumerable hearts the illusion that
civilisation was advancing at a great rate.  But Edwin in his soul
scarcely thought so.  He was worrying not only about Liberal principles,
but about the world; in his youth he had never worried about the world.
And of his own personal success he would ask and ask: Is it right?  He
said to himself in the bathroom: "There’s a million domestic servants in
this blessed country, and not one of them works less than a hundred
hours a week, and nobody cares.  I don’t think I really care myself.
But there it is all the same!"  And he was darkly resentful against
Hilda on account of the entire phenomenon.... He foresaw, too, a period
of upset and discomfort in his house.  Would there, indeed, ever be any
real tranquillity in his house, with that strange, primeval cave-woman
in charge of it?

As he descended the stairs, Hilda came out of the dining-room with an
empty tray.

She said:

"I wish you’d go out and look for George."

Imagine it--going out into the Five Towns to look for one boy!

"Oh!  He’ll be all right.  I suppose you haven’t forgotten Ingpen’s
coming to-night."

"Of course I haven’t.  But I want you to go out and look for George."

He knew what was in her mind,--namely an absurd vision of George and his
new bicycle crushed under a tramcar somewhere between Bleakridge and
Hanbridge.  In that year everybody with any pretension to youthfulness
and modernity rode a bicycle.  Both Edwin and Hilda rode
occasionally--such was the power of fashion.  Maternal apprehensions had
not sufficed to keep George from having a bicycle, nor from riding on it
unprotected up and down the greasy slopes of Trafalgar Road to and from
school.  Edwin himself had bought the bicycle, pooh-poohing danger, and
asserting that anyhow normal risks must always be accepted with an even
mind.

He was about to declare that he would certainly not do anything so silly
as to go out and look for George,--and then all of a sudden he had the
queer sensation of being alone with Hilda in the house made strange and
romantic by a domestic calamity.  He gazed at Hilda with her apron, and
the calamity had made her strange and romantic also.  He was vexed,
annoyed, despondent, gloomy, fearful of the immediate future; he had
immense grievances; he hated Hilda, he loathed giving way to her.  He
thought: "What is it binds me to this incomprehensible woman?  I will
not be bound!"  But he felt that he would be compelled (not by her but
by something in himself) to commit the folly of going out to look for
George.  And he felt that though his existence was an exasperating
adventure, still it was an adventure.

"Oh!  Damn!" he exploded, and reached for a cap.

And then George came into the hall through the kitchen.  The boy often
preferred to enter by the back, the stalking Indian way.



                                   IV


George wore spectacles.  He had grown considerably. He was now between
fourteen and fifteen years of age, and he had begun to look his age.
His mental outlook and conversation were on the whole in advance of his
age.  Even when he was younger he had frequently an adult manner of wise
talking, but it had appeared unreal, naïve,--it was amusing rather than
convincing.  Now he imposed himself even on his family as a genuine
adolescent, though the idiom he employed was often schoolboyish and his
gestures were immaturely rough.  The fact was he was not the same boy.
Everybody noticed it.  His old charm and delicacy seemed to have gone,
and his voice was going.  He had become harsh, defiant, somewhat brutal,
and egotistic if not conceited.  He held a very low opinion of all his
school-fellows, and did not conceal it.  Yet he was not very high in his
form (the lower fifth); his reports were mediocre; and he cut no figure
in the playfield.  In the home he was charged with idleness,
selfishness, and irresolution.  It was pointed out to him that he was
not making the best of his gifts, and that if he only chose to make the
best of them he might easily, etc., etc.  Apparently he did not care a
bit.  He had marked facility on the piano, but he had insisted on giving
up his piano lessons and would not open the piano for a fortnight at a
time.  He still maintained his intention of being an architect, but he
had ceased to show any interest in architecture.  He would, however,
still paint in water-colours; and he read a lot, but gluttonously,
without taste.  Edwin and Hilda, and especially Hilda, did not hide
their discontent.  Hilda had outbursts against him.  In regard to Hilda
he was disobedient. Edwin always spoke quietly to him, and was seldom
seriously disobeyed.  When disobeyed Edwin would show a taciturn
resentment against the boy, who would sulk and then melt.

"Oh!  He’ll grow out of it," Edwin would say to Hilda, yet Edwin, like
Hilda, thought that the boy was deliberately naughty, and they held
themselves towards him as grieved persons of superior righteousness
towards a person of inferior righteousness.  Not even Edwin reflected
that profound molecular changes might be proceeding in George’s brain,
for which changes he was in no way responsible.  Nevertheless, despite
the blighting disappointment of George’s evolution, the home was by no
means deeply engloomed. No!  George had an appealing smile, a mere gawky
boyishness, a peculiar way of existing, that somehow made joy in the
home.  Also he was a centre of intense and continual interest, and of
this he was very well aware.

In passing through the kitchen George had of course been struck by the
astounding absence of the cook; he had noticed further a fancy apron and
a cap lying on the window sill therein.  And when he came into the hall,
the strange aspect of his mother (in a servant’s apron) and his uncle
proved to him that something marvellously unusual, exciting, and
uplifting was afoot.  He was pleased, agog, and he had the additional
satisfaction that great events would conveniently divert attention from
his lateness.  Still he must be discreet, for the adults were evidently
at loggerheads, and therefore touchy.  He slipped between Edwin and
Hilda with a fairly good imitation of innocent casualness, as if saying:
"Whatever has occurred, I am guiltless, and going on just as usual."

"Ooh!  Bags I!" he exclaimed loudly, at the hall-table, and seized the
indiarubber, which Edwin had promised him.  His school vocabulary
comprised an extraordinary number of words ending in _gs_.  He would
never, for example, say "first," but "foggs"; and never "second," but
"seggs."  That very morning, for example, meeting Hilda on the mat at
the foot of the stairs, he had shocked her by saying: "You go up foggs,
mother, and I’ll go seggs."

"George!" Hilda severely protested.  Her anxiety concerning him was now
turned into resentment. "Have you had an accident?"

"An accident?" said George, as though at a loss. Yet he knew perfectly
that his mother was referring to the bicycle.

Edwin said curtly:

"Now, don’t play the fool.  Have you fallen off your bike?  Look at your
overcoat.  Don’t leave that satchel there, and hang your coat up
properly."

The overcoat was in a grievous state.  A few days earlier it had been
new.  Besides money, it had cost an enormous amount of deliberation and
discussion, like everything else connected with George.  Against his
will, Edwin himself had been compelled to conduct George to Shillitoe’s,
the tailor’s, and superintend a third trying-on, for further
alterations, after the overcoat was supposed to be finished.  And lo,
now it had no quality left but warmth!  Efforts in regard to George were
always thus out of proportion to the trifling results obtained.  At
George’s age Edwin doubtless had an overcoat, but he positively could
not remember having one, and he was quite sure that no schoolboy
overcoat of his had ever preoccupied a whole household for two minutes,
to say nothing of a week.

George’s face expressed a sense of injury, and his face hardened.

"Mother made me take my overcoat.  You know I can’t cycle in my
overcoat.  I’ve not been on my bicycle all day.  Also my lamp’s broken,"
he said, with gloomy defiance.

His curiosity about wondrous events in the house was quenched.

And Edwin felt angry with Hilda for having quite unjustifiably assumed
that George had gone to school on his bicycle.  Ought she not to have
had the ordinary gumption to assure herself, before worrying, that the
lad’s bicycle was not in the shed?  Incredible thoughtlessness!  All
these alarms for nothing!

"Then why are you so late?" Hilda demanded, diverting to George her
indignation at Edwin’s unuttered but yet conveyed criticism of herself.

"Kept in."

"All this time?" Hilda questioned, suspiciously.

George sullenly nodded.

"What for?"

"Latin."

"Homework?  Again?" ejaculated Edwin.  "Why hadn’t you done it
properly?"

"I had a headache last night.  And I’ve got one to-day."

"Another of your Latin headaches!" said Edwin sarcastically.  There was
nothing, except possibly cod liver oil, that George detested more than
Edwin’s serious sarcasm.

The elders glanced at one another and glanced away.  Both had the same
fear--the dreadful fear that George might be developing the worse
characteristics of his father.  Both had vividly in mind the fact that
this boy was the son of George Cannon.  They never mentioned to each
other either the fear or the fact; they dared not.  But each knew the
thoughts of the other.  The boy was undoubtedly crafty; he could conceal
subtle designs under a simple exterior; he was also undoubtedly
secretive.  The recent changes in his disposition had put Edwin and
Hilda on their guard, and every time young George displayed cunning, or
economised the truth, or lied, the fear visited them. "I hope he’ll turn
out all right!" Hilda had said once. Edwin had nearly replied: "What are
you worrying about?  The sons of honest men are often rascals. Why on
earth shouldn’t the son of a rascal be an honest man?"  But he had only
said, with good-humoured impatience: "Of course he’ll turn out all
right!"  Not that he himself was convinced.

Edwin now attacked the boy gloomily:

"You didn’t seem to have much of a headache when you came in just now."

It was true.

But George suddenly burst into tears.  His headaches were absolutely
genuine.  The emptiness of the kitchen and the general queer look of
things in the house had, however, by their promise of adventurous
happenings, caused him to forget his headache altogether, and the
discovery of the new indiarubber had been like a tonic to a
convalescent.  The menacing attitude of the elders had now brought about
a relapse. The headache established itself as his chief physical
sensation.  His chief moral sensation was that of a terrible grievance.
He did not often cry; he had not indeed cried for about a year.  But
to-night there was something nervous in the very air, and the sob took
him unawares.  The first sob having prostrated all resistance, others
followed victoriously, and there was no stopping them.  He did not quite
know why he should have been more liable to cry on this particular
occasion than on certain others, and he was rather ashamed; on the other
hand it was with an almost malicious satisfaction that he perceived the
troubling effect of his tears on the elders.  They were obviously in a
quandary.  Serve them right!

"It’s my eyes," he blubbered.  "I told you these specs would never suit
me.  But you wouldn’t believe me, and the headmaster won’t believe me."

The discovery that George’s eyesight was defective, about two months
earlier, had led to a desperate but of course hopeless struggle on his
part against the wearing of spectacles.  It was curious that in the
struggle he had never even mentioned his strongest objection to
spectacles,--namely, the fact that Bert Benbow wore spectacles.

"Why didn’t you tell us?" Edwin demanded.

Between sobs George replied with overwhelming disillusioned disgust:

"What’s the good of telling you anything?  You only think I’m codding."

And he passed upstairs, apparently the broken victim of fate and
parents, but in reality triumphant. His triumph was such that neither
Edwin nor Hilda dared even to protest against the use of such an
inexcusable word as ’codding.’

Hilda went into the kitchen, and Edwin rather aimlessly followed her.
He felt incompetent.  He could do nothing except carry trays, and he had
no desire to carry trays.  Neither spoke.  Hilda was bending over the
fire, then she arranged the grid in front of the fire to hold a tin, and
she greased the tin.  He thought she looked very wistful, for all the
somewhat bitter sturdiness of her demeanour.  Tertius Ingpen was due for
the evening; she had no servants--through her own fault; and now a new
phase had arrived in the unending responsibility for George’s welfare.
He knew that she was blaming him on account of George. He knew that she
believed in the sincerity of George’s outburst; he believed in it
himself.  The spectacles were wrong; the headache was genuine.  And he,
Edwin, was guilty of the spectacles because he had forced Hilda, by his
calm bantering commonsense, to consult a small local optician of good
reputation.

Hilda had wanted to go to Birmingham or Manchester; but Edwin said that
such an idea was absurd.  The best local optician was good enough for
the great majority of the inhabitants of the Five Towns and would be
good enough for George.  Why not indeed?  Why the craze for specialists?
There could be nothing uniquely wrong with the boy’s eyes,--it was a
temporary weakness.  And so on and so on, in accordance with Edwin’s
instinct for denying the existence of a crisis.  And the local optician,
consulted, had borne him out.  The local optician said that every year
he dealt with dozens of cases similar to George’s.  And now both the
local optician and Edwin were overthrown by a boy’s sobbing tears.

Suddenly Hilda turned round upon her husband.

"I shall take George to London to-morrow about his eyes," she said, with
immense purpose and sincerity, in a kind of fierce challenge.

This was her amends to George for having often disbelieved him, and for
having suspected him of taking after his father.  She made her amends
passionately, and with all the force of her temperament.  In her eyes
George was now a martyr.

"To London?" exclaimed Edwin weakly.

"Yes.  It’s no use half doing these things.  I shall ask Charlie
Orgreave to recommend me a first-class oculist."

Edwin dared say nothing.  Either Manchester or Birmingham would have
been just as good as London, perhaps better.  Moreover, she had not even
consulted him.  She had decided by a violent impulse and announced her
decision.  This was not right; she would have protested against a
similar act by Edwin.  But he could not argue with her.  She was far
beyond argument.

"I wouldn’t have that boy’s eyesight played with for anything!" she said
fiercely.

"Well, of course you wouldn’t!  Who would?" Edwin thought, but he did
not say it.

"Go and see what he’s doing," she said.

Edwin slouched off.  He was no longer the master of the house.  He was
only an economic factor and general tool in the house.  And as he
wandered like a culprit up the stairs of the mysteriously transformed
dwelling he thought again: "What is it that binds me to her?"  But he
was abashed and in spite of himself impressed by the intensity of
Hilda’s formidable emotion.  Nevertheless as he began vaguely to
perceive all that was involved in her threat to go to London on the
morrow, he stiffened, and said to himself: "We shall see about that.  We
shall just see about that!"



                                   V


They were at the meal.  Hilda had covered George’s portion of fish with
a plate and put it before the fire to keep warm.  She was just returning
to the table. Tertius Ingpen, who sat with his back to the fire, looked
at her over his shoulder with an admiring smile and said:

"Well, I’ve had some good meals in this house, but this is certainly the
best bit of fish I ever tasted.  So that the catastrophe in the kitchen
leaves me unmoved."

Hilda, with face suddenly transformed by a responsive smile, insinuated
herself between the table and her arm-chair, drew forward the chair by
its arms, and sat down.  Her keen pleasure in the compliment was
obvious.  Edwin noted that the meal was really very well served, the
table brighter than usual, the toast crisper, and the fish--a fine piece
of hake white as snow within its browned exterior--merely perfect. There
was no doubt that Hilda could be extremely efficient when she desired;
Edwin’s criticism was that she was too often negligent, and that in her
moods of conscientiousness she gave herself too urgently and completely,
producing an unnecessary disturbance in the atmosphere of the home.
Nevertheless Edwin too felt pleasure in the compliment to Hilda; and he
calmly enjoyed the spectacle of his wife and his friend side by side on
such mutually appreciative terms.  The intimacy of the illuminated table
in the midst of the darker room, the warmth and crackling of the fire,
the grave solidity of the furniture, the springiness of the thick
carpet, and the delicate odours of the repast,--all these things
satisfied in him something that was profound.  And the two mature,
vivacious, intelligent faces under the shaded gas excited his loyal
affection.

"That’s right," Hilda murmured, in her clear enunciation.  "I do like
praise!"

"Now then, you callous brute," said Ingpen to Edwin.  "What do you say?"

And Hilda cried with swift, complaining sincerity:

"Oh!  Edwin never praises me!"

Her sincerity convinced by its very artlessness.  The complaint had come
unsought from her heart.  And it was so spontaneous and forcible that
Tertius Ingpen, as a tactful guest, saw the advisability of easing the
situation by laughter.

"Yes, I do!" Edwin protested, and though he was shocked, he laughed, in
obedience to Ingpen’s cue.  It was true; he did praise her; but not
frequently, and almost always in order to flatter her rather than to
express his own emotion.  Edwin did not care for praising people; he
would enthusiastically praise a book, but not a human being.  His way
was to take efficiency for granted.  "Not so bad," was a superlative of
laudation with him.  He was now shocked as much by the girl’s outrageous
candour as by the indisputable revelation that she went hungry for
praise.  Even to a close friend such as Ingpen, surely a wife had not
the right to be quite so desperately sincere.  Edwin considered that in
the presence of a third person husband and wife should always at any
cost maintain the convention of perfect conjugal amenity.  He knew
couples who achieved the feat,--Albert and Clara, for example.  But
Hilda, he surmised, had other ideas, if indeed she had ever consciously
reflected upon this branch of social demeanour.  Certainly she seemed at
moments to lose all regard for appearances.

Moreover, she was polluting by acerbity the pure friendliness of the
atmosphere, and endangering cheer.

"He’s too wrapped up in the works to think about praising his wife,"
Hilda continued, still in the disconcerting vein of sincerity, but with
less violence and a more philosophical air.  The fact was that, although
she had not regained the zest of the mood so rudely dissipated by the
scene with Ada, she was kept cheerful by the mere successful exercise of
her own energy in proving to these two men that servants were not in the
least essential to the continuance of plenary comfort in her house; and
she somewhat condescended towards Edwin.

"By the way, Teddie," said Ingpen, pulling lightly at his short beard,
"I heard a rumour that you were going to stand for the Town Council in
the South ward.  Why didn’t you?"

Edwin looked a little confused.

"Who told you that tale?"

"It was about."

"It never came from me," said Edwin.

Hilda broke in eagerly:

"He was invited to stand.  But he wouldn’t.  I thought he ought to.  I
begged him to.  But no, he wouldn’t.  And did you know he refused a
J.P.ship too?"

"Oh!" mumbled Edwin.  "That sort o’ thing’s not my line."

"Oh, isn’t it!" Ingpen exclaimed.  "Then whose line is it?"

"Look at all the rotters in the Council!" said Edwin.

"All the more reason why you should be on it!"

"Well, I’ve got no time," Edwin finished gloomily and uneasily.

Ingpen paused, tapping his teeth with his finger, before proceeding, in
a judicial, thoughtful manner which in recent years he had been
developing:

"I’ll tell you what’s the matter with you, old man. You don’t know it,
but you’re in a groove.  You go about like a shuttle from the house to
the works and the works to the house.  And you never think beyond the
works and the house."

"Oh, don’t I?"

Ingpen went placidly on:

"No, you don’t.  You’ve become a good specimen of the genus
’domesticated business man.’  You’ve forgotten what life is.  You fancy
you’re at full stretch all the time, but you’re in a coma.  I suppose
you’ll never see forty again--and have you ever been outside this
island?  You went to Llandudno this year because you went last year.
And you’ll go next year because you went this year.  If you happen now
and then to worry about the failure of your confounded Liberal Party you
think you’re a blooming broad-minded publicist.  Where are your musical
evenings?  When I asked you to go with me to a concert at Manchester
last week but one, you thought I’d gone dotty, simply because it meant
your leaving the works early and not getting to bed until the
unheard-of-time of one thirty a.m."

"I was never told anything about any concert," Hilda interjected
sharply.

"Go on!  Go on!" said Edwin raising his eyebrows.

"I will," said Ingpen with tranquillity, as though discussing
impartially and impersonally the conduct of some individual at the
Antipodes.  "Where am I? Well, you’re always buying books, and I believe
you reckon yourself a bit of a reader.  What d’you get out of them?  I
daresay you’ve got decided views on the transcendent question whether
Emily Brontë was a greater writer than Charlotte.  That’s about what
you’ve got.  Why, dash it, you haven’t a vice left.  A vice would
interfere with your lovely litho.  There’s only one thing that would
upset you more than a machinery breakdown at the works----"

"And what’s that?"

"What’s that?  If one of the hinges of your garden-gate came off, or you
lost your latchkey!  Why, just look how you’ve evidently been struck all
of a heap by this servant affair!  I expect it occurred to you your
breakfast might be five minutes late in the morning."

"Stuff!" said Edwin, amiably.  He regarded Ingpen’s observations as
fantastically unjust and beside the mark.  But his sense of fairness and
his admiration of the man’s intellectual honesty would not allow him to
resent them.  Ingpen would discuss and dissect either his friends or
himself with equal detachment; the detachment was complete.  And his
assumption that his friends fully shared his own dispassionate, curious
interest in arriving at the truth appealed very strongly to Edwin’s
loyalty.  That Ingpen was liable to preach and even to hector was a
drawback which he silently accepted.

"Struck all of a heap indeed!" muttered Edwin.

"Wasn’t he, Hilda?"

"I should just say he was!  And I know he thinks it’s all my fault,"
said Hilda.

Tertius Ingpen glanced at her an instant, and gave a short half-cynical
laugh, which scarcely concealed his mild scorn of her feminine confusion
of the argument.

"It’s the usual thing!" said Ingpen, with scorn still more marked.  At
this stage of a dissertation he was inclined to be less a human being
than the trumpet of a sacred message.  "It’s the usual thing!  I never
knew a happy marriage yet that didn’t end in the same way."  Then,
perceiving that he was growing too earnest, and that his emphasis on the
phrase ’happy marriage’ had possibly been too sarcastic, he sniggered.

"I really don’t see what marriage has to do with it," said Hilda,
frowning.

"No, of course you don’t," Ingpen agreed.

"If you’d said business----" she added.

"Now we’ve had the diagnosis," Edwin sardonically remarked, looking at
his plate, "what’s the prescription?"  He was reflecting: "’Happy
marriage,’ does he call it! ... Why on earth does she say I think it’s
all her fault?  I’ve not breathed a word."

"Well," replied Ingpen.  "You live much too close to your infernal
works.  Why don’t you get away, right away, and live out in the country
like a sensible man, instead of sticking in this filthy hole--among all
these new cottages? ... Barbarian hordes...."

"Oh!  Hurrah!" cried Hilda.  "At last I’ve got somebody who takes my
side."

"Of course you say it’s impossible.  You naturally would----" Ingpen
resumed.

He was interrupted by the entrance of George.  Soon after Tertius
Ingpen’s arrival, George had been despatched to summon urgently Mrs.
Tams, the charwoman who had already more than once helped to fill a
hiatus between two cooks.  George showed now no trace of his late
martyrdom, nor of a headache.  To conquer George in these latter days
you had to demand of him a service.  It was Edwin who had first
discovered the intensity of the boy’s desire to take a useful share in
any adult operation whatever.  He came in red-cheeked, red-handed,
rough, defiant, shy, proud, and making a low intermittent "Oo-oo" noise
with protruding lips to indicate the sharpness of the frost outside.  As
he had already greeted Ingpen he was able to go without ceremony
straight to his chair.

Confidentially, in the silence, Hilda raised her eyebrows to him
interrogatively.  In reply he gave one short nod.  Thus in two scarcely
perceptible gestures the assurance was asked for and given that the
mission had been successful and that Mrs. Tams would be coming up at
once.  George loved these private and laconic signallings, which
produced in him the illusion that he was getting nearer to the enigma of
life.

As he persisted in the "Oo-oo" manifestation, Hilda amicably murmured:

"Hsh-hsh!"

George pressed his lips swiftly and hermetically together, and raised
his eyebrows in protest against his own indecorum.  He glanced at his
empty place; whereupon Hilda glanced informingly in the direction of the
fire, and George, skilled in the interpretation of minute signs, skirted
stealthily round the table behind his mother’s chair, and snatched his
loaded plate from the hearth.

Nobody said a word.  The sudden stoppage of the conversation had indeed
caused a slight awkwardness among the elders.  George, for his part, was
quite convinced that they had been discussing his eyesight.

"Furnace all right again, sonny?" asked Edwin, quietly, when the boy had
sat down.  Hilda was replenishing Ingpen’s plate.

"Blop!" muttered George, springing up aghast.  This meant that he had
forgotten the furnace in the cellar, source of heat to the radiator in
the hall.  By a recent arrangement he received sixpence a week for
stoking the furnace.

"Never mind!  It’ll do afterwards," said Edwin.

But George, masticating fish, shook his head.  He must be stern with
himself, possibly to atone for his tears.  And he went off instantly to
the cellar.

"Bit chill," observed Edwin to him as he left the room.  "A bit chilly"
was what he meant; but George delighted to chip the end off a word, and
when Edwin chose to adopt the same practice, the boy took it as a
masonic sign of profound understanding between them.

George nodded and vanished.  And both Edwin and Hilda dwelt in secret
upon his boyish charm, and affectionate satisfaction mingled with and
softened their apprehensions and their brooding responsibility and
remorse.  They thought: "He is simply exquisite," and in their hearts
apologised to him.

Tertius Ingpen asked suddenly:

"What’s happened to the young man’s spectacles?"

"They don’t suit him," said Hilda eagerly.  "They don’t suit him at all.
They give him headaches. Edwin would have me take him to the local man,
what’s-his-name at Hanbridge.  I was afraid it would be risky, but Edwin
would have it.  I’m going to take him to London to-morrow.  He’s been
having headaches for some time and never said a word.  I only found it
out by accident."

"Surely," Ingpen smiled, "it’s contrary to George’s usual practice to
hide his troubles like that, isn’t it?"

"Oh!" said Hilda.  "He’s rather secretive, you know."

"I’ve never noticed," said Ingpen, "that he was more secretive than most
of us are about a grievance."

Edwin, secretly agitated, said in a curious light tone:

"If you ask me, he kept it quiet just to pay us out."

"Pay you out?  What for?"

"For making him wear spectacles at all.  These kids want a deuce of a
lot of understanding; but that’s my contribution.  He simply said to
himself: ’Well, if they think they’re going to cure my eyesight for me
with their beastly specs they just aren’t, and I won’t tell ’em!’"

"Edwin!" Hilda protested warmly.  "I wonder you can talk like that!"

Tertius Ingpen went off into one of his peculiar long fits of laughter;
and Edwin quizzically smiled, feeling as if he was repaying Hilda for
her unnecessary insistence upon the fact that he was responsible for the
choosing of an optician.  Hilda, suspecting that the two men saw
something droll which was hidden from her, blushed and then laughed in
turn, somewhat self-consciously.

"Don’t _you_ think it’s best to go to London, about an affair like
eyesight?" she asked Ingpen pointedly.

"The chief thing in these cases," said Ingpen solemnly, "is to satisfy
the maternal instinct.  Yes, I should certainly go to London.  If Teddie
disagrees, I’m against him.  Who are you going to?"

"You are horrid!" Hilda exclaimed, and added with positiveness: "I shall
ask Charlie Orgreave first.  He’ll tell me the best man."

"You seem to have a great belief in Charlie," said Ingpen.

"I have," said Hilda, who had seen Charlie at George’s bedside when
nobody knew whether George would live or die.

And while they were talking about Charlie and about Janet, who was now
living with her brother at Ealing, the sounds of George stoking the
furnace below came dully up through the floor-boards.

"If you and George are going away," asked Ingpen, "what’ll happen to his
worship--with not a servant in the house?"

This important point had been occupying Edwin’s mind ever since Hilda
had first announced her intention to go to London.  But he had not
mentioned it to her, nor she to him, their relations being rather
delicate.  It had, for him, only an academic interest, since he had
determined that she should not go to London on the morrow.  Nevertheless
he awaited anxiously the reply.

Hilda answered with composure:

"I’m hoping he’ll come with us."

He had been prepared for anything but this.  The proposition was
monstrously impossible.  Could a man leave his works at a moment’s
notice?  The notion was utterly absurd.

"That’s quite out of the question," he said at once. He was absolutely
sincere.  The effect of Ingpen’s discourse was, however, such as to
upset the assured dignity of his pronouncement; for the decision was
simply an illustration of Ingpen’s theory concerning him. He blushed.

"Why is it out of the question?" demanded Hilda, inimically gazing at
him.

She had lost her lenient attitude towards him of the afternoon.
Nevertheless, reflecting upon Tertius Ingpen’s indictment of the usual
happy marriage, she had been planning the expedition to London as a
revival of romance in their lives.  She saw it as a marvellous
rejuvenating experience.  When she thought of all that she had suffered,
and all that Edwin had suffered, in order that they might come together,
she was quite desolated by the prosaic flatness of the ultimate result.
Was it to attain their present stolid existence that they had endured
affliction for a decade?  She wanted passionately to break the
mysterious bands that held them both back from ecstasy and romance.  And
he would not help her.  He would not enter into her desire.  She had
known that he would refuse.  He refused everything--he was so set in his
own way.  Resentment radiated from her.

"I can’t," said Edwin.  "What d’you want to go to-morrow for?  What does
a day or two matter?"

Then she loosed her tongue.  Why to-morrow? Because you couldn’t trifle
with a child’s eyesight. Already the thing had been dragging on for
goodness knew how long.  Every day might be of importance. And why not
to-morrow?  They could shut the house up, and go off together and stay
at Charlie’s.  Hadn’t Janet asked them many a time?  Maggie would look
out for new servants.  And Mrs. Tams would clean the house.  It was
really the best way out of the servant question too, besides being the
best for George.

"And there’s another thing," she went on without a pause, speaking
rapidly and clearly.  "Your eyes want seeing to as well.  Do you think I
don’t know?" she sneered.

"Mine!" he exclaimed.  "My eyes are as right as rain."  It was not true.
His eyes had been troubling him.

"Then why have you had a double candle-bracket fixed at your bed-head,
when a single one’s been enough for you all these years?" she demanded.

"I just thought of it, that’s all," said Edwin glumly, and with no
attempt to be diplomatic.  "Anyhow I can’t go to London to-morrow.  And
when I want an oculist," he finished with grimness, "Hanbridge’ll be
good enough for me, I’m thinking."

Strange, she had never before said a word to him about his eyes!

"Then what shall you do while I’m away?" she asked implacably.

But if she was implacable, he also could be implacable. If she insisted
on leaving him in the lurch,--well, she should leave him in the lurch!
Tertius Ingpen was witness of a plain breach between them.  It was
unfortunate; it was wholly Hilda’s fault; but he had to face the fact.

"I don’t know," he replied curtly.

The next moment George returned.

"Hasn’t Mrs. Tams been quick, mother?" said George.  "She’s come."



                                   VI


In the drawing-room, after the meal, Edwin could hear through the half
open door the sounds of conversation between Hilda and Mrs. Tams, with
an occasional word from George, who was going to help Mrs. Tams to "put
the things away" after she had washed and wiped.  The voice of Mrs. Tams
was very gentle and comforting.  Edwin’s indignant pity went out to her.
Why should Mrs. Tams thus cheerfully bear the misfortunes of others?
Why should she at a moment’s notice leave a cottageful of young children
and a husband liable at any time to get drunk and maim either them or
her, in order to meet a crisis caused by Hilda’s impulsiveness and lack
of tact?  The answer, as in so many cases, was of course economic.  Mrs.
Tams could not afford not to be at Mrs. Clayhanger’s instant call; also
she was born the victim of her own altruism; her soul was soft like her
plump cushionlike body, and she lived as naturally in injustice as a
fish in water. But could anything excuse those who took advantage of
such an economic system and such a devoted nature? Edwin’s conscience
uneasily stirred; he could have blushed.  However, he was helpless; and
he was basely glad that he was helpless, that it was no affair of his
after all, and that Mrs. Tams had thus to work out her destiny to his
own benefit.  He saw in her a seraph for the next world, and yet in this
world he contentedly felt himself her superior.  And her voice,
soothing, acquiescent, expressive of the spirit which gathers in
extraneous woes as the mediæval saint drew to his breast the swords of
the executioners, continued to murmur in the hall.

Edwin thought:

"I alone in this house feel the real significance of Mrs. Tams.  I’m
sure she doesn’t feel it herself."

But these reflections were only the vague unimportant background to the
great matter in his mind,--the difficulty with Hilda.  When he had
entered the house, questions of gaslight and blinds were enormous to
him.  The immense general question of servants had diminished them to a
trifle.  Then the question of George’s headache and eyesight had taken
precedence. And now the relations of husband and wife were mightily
paramount over everything else.  Tertius Ingpen, having as usual opened
the piano, was idly diverting himself with strange chords, while
cigarette smoke rose into his eyes, making him blink.  Like Edwin,
Ingpen was a little self-conscious after the open trouble in the
dining-room.  It would have been absurd to pretend that trouble did not
exist; on the other hand the trouble was not of the kind that could be
referred to, by even a very intimate friend.  The acknowledgment of it
had to be mute.  But in addition to being self-conscious, Ingpen was
also triumphant.  There was a peculiar sardonic and somewhat disdainful
look on his face as he mused over the chords, trying to keep the
cigarette smoke out of his eyes.  His oblique glance seemed to be saying
to Edwin: "What have I always told you about women?  Well, you’ve
married and you must take the consequences.  Your wife’s no worse than
other wives.  Here am I, free!  And wouldn’t you like to be in my place,
my boy! ... How wise I have been!"

Edwin resented these unspoken observations.  The contrast between
Ingpen’s specious support and flattery of Hilda when she was present,
and his sardonic glance when she was absent, was altogether too marked.
Himself in revolt against the institution of marriage, Edwin could not
bear that Ingpen should attack it. Edwin had, so far as concerned the
outside world, taken the institution of marriage under his protection.
Moreover Ingpen’s glance was a criticism of Hilda such as no husband
ought to permit.  And it was also a criticism of the husband--that slave
and dupe! ... Yet, at bottom what Edwin resented was Ingpen’s
contemptuous pity for the slave and the dupe.

"Why London--and why to-morrow?" said Edwin, cheerfully, with a superior
philosophical air, as though impartially studying an argumentative
position, as though he could regard the temporary vagaries of an
otherwise fine sensible woman with bland detachment. He said it because
he was obliged to say something, in order to prove that he was neither a
slave nor a dupe.

"Ask me another," replied Ingpen curtly, continuing to produce chords.

"Well, we shall see," said Edwin mysteriously, firmly, and loftily;
meaning that, if his opinion were invited, his opinion would be that
Hilda would not go away to-morrow and that whenever she went she would
not go to London.

He had decided to have a grand altercation with his wife that night,
when Ingpen and Mrs. Tams had departed and George was asleep and they
had the house to themselves.  He knew his ground and he could force a
decisive battle.  He felt no doubt as to the result. The news of his
triumph should reach Ingpen.

Ingpen was apparently about to take up the conversation when George came
clumsily and noisily into the drawing-room.  All his charm seemed to
have left him.

"I thought you were going to help," said Edwin.

"So I am," George challenged him; and, lacking the courage to stop at
that point, added: "But they aren’t ready yet."

"Let’s try those Haydn bits, George," Ingpen suggested.

"Oh no!" said George curtly.

Ingpen and the boy had begun to play easy fragments of duets together.

Edwin said with sternness:

"Sit down to that piano and do as Mr. Ingpen asks you."

George flushed and looked foolish and sat down; and Ingpen quizzed him.
All three knew well that Edwin’s fierceness was only one among sundry
consequences of the mood of the housemistress.  The slow movement and
the scherzo from the symphony were played.  And while the music went on,
Edwin heard distantly the opening and shutting of the front-door and an
arrival in the hall, and then chattering.  Maggie had called.  "What’s
she after?" thought Edwin.

"Hoo!  There’s Auntie Maggie!" George exclaimed, as soon as the scherzo
was finished, and ran off.

"That boy is really musical," said Ingpen with conviction.

"Yes, I suppose he is," Edwin agreed casually, as though deprecating a
talent which however was undeniable.  "But you’d never guess he’s got a
bad headache, would you?"

It was a strange kind of social evening, and Hilda--it seemed to the
august Edwin--had a strange notion of the duties of hostess.  Surely, if
Mrs. Tams was in the kitchen, Hilda ought to be in the drawing-room with
their guest!  Surely Maggie ought to have been brought into the
drawing-room,--she was not a school girl, she was a woman of over forty,
and yet she had quite inexcusably kept her ancient awkwardness and
timidities.  He could hear chatterings from the dining-room, scurryings
through the hall, and chatterings from the kitchen; then a smash of
crockery, a slight scream, and girlish gigglings.  They were all the
same, all the women he knew, except perhaps Clara,--they had hours when
they seemed to forget that they were adult and that their skirts were
long.  And how was it that Hilda and Maggie were suddenly so intimate,
they whose discreet mutual jealousy was an undeniable phenomenon of the
family life?  With all his majesty he was simpleton enough never to have
understood that two women who eternally suspect each other may yet
dissolve upon occasion into the most touching playful tenderness.  The
whole ground-floor was full of the rumour of an apparent alliance
between Hilda and Maggie.  And as he listened Edwin glanced sternly at
the columns of the evening _Signal_, while Tertius Ingpen, absorbed,
worked his way bravely through a sonata of Beethoven.

Then George reappeared.

"Mother’s going to take me to London to-morrow about my eyes," said
George to Ingpen, stopping the sonata by his mere sense of the terrific
importance of such tidings.  And he proceeded to describe the projected
doings in London, the visit to Charlie and Janet Orgreave, and possibly
to the Egyptian Hall.

Edwin did not move.  He kept an admirable and complete calm under the
blow.  Hilda was decided, then, to defy him.  In telling the boy, who
during the meal had been permitted to learn nothing, she had burnt her
boats; she had even burnt Edwin’s boats also: which seemed to be
contrary to the rules laid down by society for conjugal warfare,--but
women never could fight according to rules!  The difficulties and
dangers of the great pitched battle which Edwin had planned for the
close of the evening were swiftly multiplied.  He had misgivings.

The chattering, giggling girls entered the drawing-room.  But as Maggie
came through the doorway her face stiffened; her eyes took on a glaze;
and when Ingpen bent over her hand in all the false ardour of his
excessive conventional chivalry, the spinster’s terrible
constraint--scourge of all her social existence--gripped her like a
disease.  She could scarcely speak.

"Hello, Mag," Edwin greeted her.

Impossible to divine in this plump, dowdy, fading, dumb creature the
participator in all those chatterings and gigglings of a few moments
earlier!  Nevertheless Edwin, who knew her profoundly, could see beneath
the glaze of those eyes the commonsense soul of the sagacious woman
protesting against Ingpen’s affected manners and deciding that she did
not care for Ingpen at all.

"Auntie Hamps is being naughty again," said Hilda bluntly.

Ingpen, and then Edwin, sniggered.

"_I_ can’t do anything with her, Edwin," said Maggie, speaking quickly
and eagerly, as she and Hilda sat down.  "She’s bound to let herself in
for another attack if she doesn’t take care of herself.  And she won’t
take care of herself.  She won’t listen to the doctor or anybody else.
She’s always on her feet, and she’s got sewing-meetings on the brain
just now.  I’ve got her to bed early to-night--she’s frightfully
shaky--and I thought I’d come up and tell you.  You’re the only one that
can do anything with her at all, and you really must come and see her
to-morrow on your way to the works."

Maggie spoke as though she had been urging Edwin for months to take the
urgent matter in hand and was now arrived at desperation.

"All right!  All right!" said he, with amiable impatience; it was the
first he had heard of the matter. "I’ll drop in.  But I’ve got no
influence over her," he added, with sincerity.

"Oh yes, you have!" said Maggie, mildly now.  "I’m very sorry to hear
about George’s eyes.  Seeing it’s absolutely necessary for Hilda to take
him to London to-morrow, and you’ve got no servants at all, can’t you
come and sleep at Auntie’s for a night or two?  You’ve no idea what a
relief it would be to me."

In an instant Edwin saw that he was beaten, that Hilda and Maggie, in
the intervals of their giggling, had combined to overthrow him.  The
tone in which Maggie uttered the words ’George’s eyes,’ ’absolutely
necessary’ and ’such a relief’ precluded argument. His wife would have
her capricious unnecessary way, and he would be turned out of his own
house.

"I think you might, dear," said Hilda, with the angelic persuasiveness
of a loving and submissive wife. Nobody could have guessed from that
marvellous tone that she had been determined to defeat him and was then,
so to speak, standing over his prostrate form.

Maggie, having said what was necessary to be said, fell back into the
constraint from which no efforts of her companions could extricate her.
Such was the effect upon her of the presence of Tertius Ingpen, a
stranger.  Presently Ingpen was scanning time-tables for Hilda, and
George was finding notepaper for her, and Maggie was running up and down
stairs for her. She was off to London.  "In that woman’s head," thought
Edwin, as, observing his wife, he tried in vain to penetrate the secrets
behind her demeanour, "there’s only room for one idea at a time."



                                  VII


Edwin sat alone in the drawing-room, at the end of an evening which he
declined to call an evening at all.  His eyes regarded a book on his
knee, but he was not reading it.  His mind was engaged upon the enigma
of his existence.  He had entered his house without the least
apprehension, and brusquely, in a few hours, everything seemed to be
changed for him.  Impulse had conquered commonsense; his ejectment was a
settled thing; and he was condemned to the hated abode of Auntie Hamps.
Events seemed enormous; they desolated him; his mouth was full of ashes.
The responsibilities connected with George were increasing; his wife,
incalculable and unforeseeable, was getting out of hand; and the menace
of a future removal to another home in the country was raised again.

He looked about the room; and he imagined all the house, every object in
which was familiar and beloved, and he simply could not bear to think of
the disintegration of these interiors by furniture-removers, and of the
endless rasping business of creating a new home in partnership with a
woman whose ideas about furnishing were as unsound as they were
capricious.  He utterly dismissed the fanciful scheme, as he dismissed
the urgings towards public activity.  He deeply resented all these
headstrong intentions to disturb him in his tranquillity.  They were
indefensible, and he would not have them.  He would die in sullen
obstinacy rather than yield.  Impulse might conquer commonsense, but not
beyond a certain degree.  He would never yield.

Ingpen had departed, to sleep in a room in the same building as his
office at Hanbridge.  He knew that Ingpen had no comprehension of
domestic comfort and a well-disposed day.  Nevertheless he envied the
man his celestial freedom.  If he, Edwin, were free, what an ideal life
he could make for himself, a life presided over by commonsense,
regularity, and order!  He was not free; he would never be free; and
what had he obtained in exchange for freedom? ... Ingpen’s immense
criticism smote him.  He had a wife and her child; servants--at
intervals; a fine works and many workpeople; a house, with books; money,
security.  The organised machinery of his existence was tremendous; and
it was all due to him, made by him in his own interests and to satisfy
his own desires.  Without him the entire structure would crumble in a
week; without him it would have no excuse.  And what was the result? Was
he ever, in any ideal sense, happy: that is, free from foreboding, from
friction, from responsibility, and withal lightly joyous?  Was any
quarter of an hour of his day absolutely what he would have wished? He
ranged over his day, and concluded that the best part of it was the very
last....  He got into bed, the candles in the sconce were lit, the gas
diminished to a blue speck, and most of the room in darkness; he lay
down on his left side, took the marker from the volume in his hand, and
began to read; the house was silent and enclosed; the rumbling
tramcar--to whose sound he had been accustomed from infancy--did not a
bit disturb him; it was in another world; over the edge of his book he
could see the form of his wife, fast asleep in the other bed, her
plaited hair trailing over the pillow; the feel of the sheets to his
limbs was exquisite; he read, the book was good; the chill of winter
just pleasantly affected the hand that held the book; nothing annoyed;
nothing jarred; sleep approached....  That fifteen minutes, that twenty
or thirty minutes, was all that he could show as the result of the
tremendous organised machinery of his existence--his house, his works,
his workpeople, his servants, his wife with her child....

Hilda came with quick determination into the drawing-room.  They had not
spoken to each other alone since the decision and his defeat.  He was
aware of his heart beating resentfully.

"I’m going to bed now, dear," she said in an ordinary tone.  "I’ve got a
frightful headache, and I must sleep.  Be sure and wake me up at seven
in the morning, will you?  I shall have such lots to do."

He thought:

"Has she a frightful headache?"

She bent down and kissed him several times, very fervently; her lips
lingered on his.  And all the time she frowned ever so little; and it
was as if she was conveying to him: "But--each for himself in marriage,
after all."

In spite of himself, he felt just a little relieved; and he could not
understand why.  He watched her as she left the room.  How had it come
about that the still finally mysterious creature was living in his
house, imposing her individuality upon him, spoiling his existence?  He
considered that it was all disconcertingly strange.

He rose, lit a cigarette, and opened the window; and the frosty air,
entering, braced him and summoned his self-reliance.  The night was
wondrous.  And when he had shut the window and turned again within, the
room, beautiful, withdrawn, peaceful, was wondrous too.  He reflected
that soon he would be in bed, calmly reading, with his wife unconscious
as an infant in the other bed. And then his grievance against Hilda
slowly surged up and he began for the first time to realise how vast it
was.

"Confound that woman!" he muttered, meaning Auntie Hamps.



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                         AUNTIE HAMPS SENTENCED


                                   I


On the next evening it was Maggie who opened Mrs. Hamps’s front-door for
Edwin.  There was no light in the lobby, but a faint gleam coming
through the open door of the sitting-room disclosed the silhouette of
Maggie’s broad figure.

"I thought you’d call in this morning," said Maggie discontentedly.  "I
asked you to.  I’ve been expecting you all day."

"Didn’t you get my message?"

"No.  What message?"

"D’you mean to say a lad hasn’t been here with my portmanteau?" demanded
Edwin, alarmed and ready to be annoyed.

"Yes.  A lad’s been with your portmanteau.  But he gave no message."

"D--n him.  I told him to tell you I couldn’t possibly get here before
night."

"Well, he didn’t!" said Maggie stoutly, throwing back the blame upon
Edwin and his hirelings.  "I particularly wanted you to come early.  I
told Auntie you’d be coming."

"How’s she getting on?" Edwin asked with laconic gruffness, dismissing
Maggie’s grievance without an apology.  He might have to stand nonsense
from Hilda; but he would not stand it from Maggie, of whose notorious
mildness he at once began to take advantage, as in the old days of their
housekeeping together.  Moreover, his entrance into this abode was a
favour, exhibiting the condescension of the only human being who could
exercise influence upon Auntie Hamps.

"She’s worse," said Maggie, briefly and significantly.

"In bed?" said Edwin, less casually, marking her tone.

Maggie nodded.

"Had the doctor?"

"I should think so indeed!"

"Hm!  Why don’t you have a light in this lobby?" he enquired suddenly,
on a drily humorous note, as he groped to suspend his overcoat upon an
unstable hatstand.  It seemed to be a very cold lobby, after his own
radiator-heated half.

"She never will have a light here, unless she’s doing the grand for
someone.  Are you going to wash ye?"

"No.  I cleaned up at the works."  A presentiment of the damp chilliness
of the Hamps bedroom had suggested this precaution.

Maggie preceded him into the sitting-room, where a hexagonal
occasional-table was laid for tea.

"Hello!  Do you eat here?  What’s the matter with the dining-room?"

"The chimney always smokes when the wind’s in the south-west."

"Well, why doesn’t she have a cowl put on it?"

"You’d better ask her....  Also she likes to save a fire.  She can’t
bear to have two fires going as well as the kitchen-range.  I’ll bring
tea in.  It’s all ready."

Maggie went away.

Edwin looked round the shabby Victorian room.  A length of featureless
linoleum led from the door to the table.  This carpet-protecting
linoleum exasperated him.  It expressed the very spirit of his aunt’s
house. He glanced at the pictures, the texts, the beady and the woolly
embroideries, the harsh chairs, and the magnificent morocco exteriors of
the photograph-albums in which Auntie Hamps kept the shiny portraits of
all her relatives, from grand-nieces back to the third and fourth
generation of ancestors.  And a feeling of desolation came over him.  He
thought: "How many days shall I have to spend in this deadly hole?"  It
was extremely seldom that he visited King Street, and when he did come
the house was brightened to receive him. He had almost forgotten what
the house really was. And, suddenly thrown back into it at its most
lugubrious and ignoble, after years of the amenities of Trafalgar Road,
he was somehow surprised that that sort of thing had continued to exist,
and he resented that it should have dared to continue to exist.  He had
a notion that, since he had left it behind, it ought to have perished.

He cautiously lifted the table and carried it to the hearthrug.  Then he
sat down in the easy-chair, whose special property, as he remembered,
was slowly and inevitably to slide the sitter forward to the hard edge
of the seat; and he put his feet inside the fender. In the grate a small
fire burned between two fire-bricks.  He sneezed.  Maggie came in with a
tray.

"Are you cold?" she asked, seeing the new situation of the table.

"Am I cold!" Edwin repeated.

"Well," said Maggie, "I always think your rooms are so hot."

Edwin seized the small serviceable tongs which saved the wear of the
large tongs matching the poker and the shovel, and he dragged both
firebricks out of the grate.

"No coal here, I suppose!" he exclaimed gloomily, opening the black
japanned coal-scuttle.  "Oh!  Corn in Egypt!"  The scuttle was full of
coal.  He threw on to the fire several profuse shovelfuls of best
household nuts which had cost sixteen shillings a ton even in that
district of cheap coal.

"Well," Maggie murmured, aghast.  "It’s a good thing it’s you.  If it
had been anybody else--"

"What on earth does she do with her money?" he muttered.

Shrugging her shoulders, Maggie went out again with an empty tray.

"No servant, either?" Edwin asked, when she returned.

"She’s sitting with Auntie."

"Must I go up before I have my tea?"

"No.  She won’t have heard you come."

There was a grilled mutton-chop and a boiled egg on the crowded small
table, with tea, bread-and-butter, two rounds of dry bread, some cakes,
and jam.

"Which are you having--egg or chop?" Edwin demanded as Maggie sat down.

"Oh!  They’re both for you."

"And what about you?"

"I only have bread-and-butter as a rule."

Edwin grunted, and started to eat.

"What’s supposed to be the matter with her?" he enquired.

"It seems it’s congestion of the lung, and thickened arteries.  It
wouldn’t matter so much about the lung being congested, in itself, only
it’s the strain on her heart."

"I see."

"Been in bed all day, I suppose."

"No, she would get up.  But she had to go back to bed at once.  She had
a collapse."

"Hm!"

He could not think of anything else to say.

"Haven’t got to-night’s _Signal_, have you?"

"Oh no!" said Maggie, astonished at such a strange demand.  "Hilda get
off all right?"

"Yes, they went by the nine train."

"She told me that she should, if she could manage it.  I expect Mrs.
Tams was up there early."

Edwin nodded, recalling with bitterness certain moments of the early
morning.  And then silence ensued. The brother and sister could not keep
the conversation alive.  Edwin thought: "We know each other intimately,
and we respect each other, and yet we cannot even conduct a meal
together without awkwardness and constraint.  Has civilisation down here
got no further than that?"  He felt sorry for Maggie, and also kindly
disdainful of her.  He glanced at her furtively and tried to see in her
the girl of the far past.  She had grown immensely older than himself.
She was now at home in the dreadful Hamps environment.  True, she had an
income, but had she any pleasures?  It was impossible to divine what her
pleasures might be, what she thought about when she lay in bed, to what
hours she looked forward.  First his father, then himself, and lastly
Auntie Hamps had subjugated her.  And of the three Auntie Hamps had most
ruthlessly succeeded, and in the shortest time.  And yet--Edwin
felt--even Auntie Hamps had not quite succeeded, and the original
individual still survived in Maggie and was silently critical of all the
phenomena which surrounded her and to which she had apparently
submitted.  Realising this, Edwin ceased to be kindly disdainful.

Towards the end of the meal a heavy foot was heard on the stairs.

"Minnie!" Maggie called.

After shuffling and hesitation the sitting-room door was pushed ever so
little open.

"Yes, miss," said someone feebly.

"Why have you left Mrs. Hamps?  Do you need anything?"

"Missis made me go, miss," came the reply, very loosely articulated.

"Come in and take your bread," said Maggie, and aside to Edwin:
"Auntie’s at it again!"

After another hesitation the door opened wide, and Minnie became
visible.  She was rather a big girl, quite young, fat, too fair,
undecided, obviously always between two minds.  Her large apron,
badly-fitting over the blue frock, was of a dubious yellow colour.  She
wore spectacles.  Behind her spectacles she seemed to be blinking in
confusion at all the subtle complexities of existence.  She advanced
irregularly to the table with a sort of nervous desperation, as if
saying: "I have to go through this ordeal."  Edwin could not judge
whether she was about to smile or about to weep.

"Here’s your bread," said Maggie, indicating the two rounds of dry
bread.  "I’ve left the dripping on the kitchen table for you."

Edwin, revolted, perceived of course in a flash what the life of Minnie
was under the regime of Auntie Hamps.

"Thank ye, miss."

He noticed that the veiled voice was that of a rather deaf person.

Blushing, Minnie took the bread, and moved away. Just as she reached the
door, she gave a great sob, followed by a number of little ones; and the
bread fell on to the carpet.  She left it there, and vanished, still
violently sobbing.

Edwin, spellbound, stopped masticating.  A momentary sensation almost of
horror seized him.  Maggie turned pale, and he was glad that she turned
pale.  If she had shown by no sign that such happenings were unusual, he
would have been afraid of the very house itself, of its mere sinister
walls which seemed to shelter sick tyrants, miserable victims, and
enchanted captives; he would have begun to wonder whether he himself was
safe in it.

"What next?" muttered Maggie, intimidated but plucky, rising and
following Minnie.  "Just go up to Auntie, will you?" she called to Edwin
over her shoulder. "She oughtn’t really to be left alone for a minute."



                                   II


Edwin pushed open the door and crept with precautions into the bedroom.
Mrs. Hamps was dozing.  In the half-light of the lowered gas he looked
at her and was alarmed, shocked, for it was at once apparent that she
must be very ill.  She lay reclining against several crumpled and
crushed pillows, with her head on one side and her veined hands limp on
the eiderdown, between the heavy brown side-curtains that hung from the
carved mahogany tester.  The posture seemed to be that of an exhausted
animal, surprised by the unconsciousness of final fatigue, shameless in
the intense need of repose.  Auntie Hamps had ceased to be a Wesleyan, a
pillar of society, a champion of the conventions, and a keeper-up of
appearances; she was just an utterly wearied and beaten creature,
breathing noisily through wide-open mouth.  Edwin could not remember
ever having seen her when she was not to some extent arrayed for the
world’s gaze; he had not seen her at the crisis of any of her recent
attacks.  He knew that more than once she had recovered when good judges
had pronounced recovery impossible; but he was quite sure, now, that she
would never rise from that bed.  He had the sudden dreadful thought:
"She is done for, sentenced, cut off from the rest of us. This is the
end for her.  She won’t be able to pretend any more.  All her efforts
have come to this."  The thought affected him like a blow.  And two
somewhat contradictory ideas sprang from it: first, the entire absurdity
of her career as revealed by its close, and secondly, the tragic dignity
with which its close was endowing her.

At once contemptible and august, she was diminished, even in size.  Her
scanty grey hair was tousled. Her pink flannel night-dress with its
long, loose sleeves was grotesque; the multitude of her patched outer
wrappings, from which peeped her head on its withered neck, and
safety-pins, and the orifice of a hot-water bag, were equally grotesque.
None of the bed-linen was clean, or of good quality.  The eiderdown was
old, and the needle-points of its small white feathers were piercing it.
The table at the bed-head had a strange collection of poor, odd
crockery.  The whole room, with its distempered walls of an
uncomfortable green colour, in spite of several respectable pieces of
mahogany furniture, seemed to be the secret retreat of a graceless and
mean indigence.  And above all it was damply cold; the window stood a
little open, and only the tiniest fire burnt in the inefficient grate.

For decades Auntie Hamps, with her erect figure and handsome face, her
black silks, jet ornaments, and sealskins, her small regular
subscriptions and her spasmodic splendours of golden generosity, her
heroic relentless hypocrisies and her absolute self-reliance and
independence, had exhibited a glorious front to the world.  With her,
person and individuality were almost everything, and the environment she
had made for herself almost nothing.  The ground-floor of her house was
presentable, especially when titivated for occasional hospitalities, but
not more than presentable.  The upper floor was never shown.  In
particular, Auntie Hamps was not one of those women who invite other
women to their bedrooms.  Her bedroom was guarded like a fastness.  In
it, unbeheld, lived the other Auntie Hamps, complementary to the grand
and massive Mrs. Hamps known to mankind.  And now the fastness was
exposed, defenceless, and its squalid avaricious secrets discovered; and
she was too broken to protest.  There was something unbearably pitiful
in that.  Her pose was pitiful and her face was pitiful.  Those features
were still far from ugly; the contours of the flushed cheeks, the chin,
and the convex eyelids were astonishingly soft, and recalled the young
girl of about half a century earlier.  She was both old and young in her
troubled unconsciousness.  The reflection was inevitable: "She was a
young girl--and now she is sentenced."  Edwin felt himself desolated by
a terrible gloom which questioned the justification of all life.  The
cold of the room made him shiver.  After gazing for a long time at the
sufferer, he tiptoed to the fire.  On the painted iron mantelpiece were
a basalt clock and three photographs; a recent photograph of smirking
Clara surrounded by her brood; a faded photograph of Maggie as a young
girl, intolerably dowdy; and an equally faded photograph of himself as a
young man of twenty,--he remembered the suit and the necktie in which he
had been photographed.  The simplicity, the ingenuousness, of his own
boyish face moved him deeply and at the same time disgusted him.  "Was I
like that?" he thought, astounded, and he felt intensely sorry for the
raw youth.  Above the clock was suspended by a ribbon a new green card,
lettered in silver with some verses entitled "Lean Hard."  This card, he
knew, had superseded a booklet of similar tenor that used to lie on the
dressing-table when he was an infant. The verses began:

    _Child of My love, "Lean hard",_
    _And let Me feel the pressure of thy care._


And they ended:

    _Thou lovest Me.  I knew it.  Doubt not then,_
    _But loving Me, LEAN HARD._


All his life he had laughed at the notion of his Auntie leaning hard
upon anything whatever.  Yet she had lived continually with these verses
ever since the year of their first publication; she had never tired of
their message.  And now Edwin was touched. He seemed to see some
sincerity, some beauty, in them. He had a vision of their author,
unknown to literature, but honoured in a hundred thousand respectable
homes. He thought: "Did Auntie only pretend to believe in them?  Or did
she think she did believe in them?  Or did she really believe in them?"
The last seemed a possibility.  Supposing she did really believe in
them? ... Yes, he was touched.  He was ready to admit that spirituality
was denied to none.  He seemed to come into contact with the universal
immanent spirituality.

Then he stooped to put some bits of coal silently on the fire.

"Who’s that putting coal on the fire?" said a faint but sharply
protesting voice from the bed.

The weakness of the voice gave Edwin a fresh shock. The voice seemed to
be drawing on the very last reserves of its owner’s vitality.  Owing to
the height of the foot of the bed, Auntie Hamps could not see anything
at the fireplace lower than the mantelpiece.  As she withdrew from earth
she employed her fading faculties to expostulate against a waste of coal
and to identify the unseen criminal.

"I am," said Edwin cheerfully.  "It was nearly out."

He stood up, smiling slightly, and faced her.

Auntie Hamps, lifting her head and frowning in surprise, gazed at him
for a few moments, as if trying to decide who he was.  Then she said, in
the same enfeebled tone as before:

"Eh, Edwin!  I never heard you come in.  This is an honour!"  And her
head dropped back.

"I’m sleeping here," said Edwin, with determined cheerfulness.  "Did ye
know?"

She reflected, and answered deliberately, using her volition to
articulate every syllable:

"Yes.  Ye’re having Maggie’s room."

"Oh no, Auntie!"

"Yes, you are.  I’ve told her."  The faint voice became harshly
obstinate.  "Turn the gas up a bit, Edwin, so that I can see you.  Well,
this is an honour. Did Maggie give ye a proper tea?"

"Oh yes, thanks.  Splendid."

He raised the gas.  Auntie Hamps blinked.

"You want something to shade this gas," said Edwin. "I’ll fix ye
something."

The gas-bracket was a little to the right of the fireplace, over the
dressing-table, and nearly opposite the bed.  Auntie Hamps nodded.
Having glanced about, Edwin put a bonnet-box on the dressing-table and
on that, upright and open, the Hamps family Bible from the ottoman.  The
infirm creation was just lofty enough to come between the light and the
old woman’s eyes.

"That’ll be better," said he.  "You’re not at all well, I hear, Auntie."
He endeavoured to be tactful.

She slowly shook her head as it lay on the pillow.

"This is one of my bad days....  But I shall pick up....  Then has Hilda
taken George to London?"

Edwin nodded.

"Eh, I do hope and pray it’ll be all right.  I’ve had such good eyesight
myself, I’m all the more afraid for others.  What a blessing it’s been
to me! ... Eh, what a good mother dear Hilda is!"  She added after a
pause: "I daresay there never was such a mother as Hilda, unless it’s
Clara."

"Has Clara been in to-day?" Edwin demanded, to change the subject of
conversation.

"No, she hasn’t.  But she will, as soon as she has a moment.  She’ll be
popping in.  They’re such a tie on her, those children are--and how she
looks after them! ... Edwin!"  She called him, as though he were
receding.

"Yes?"

The frail voice continued, articulating with great carefulness, and
achieving each sentence as though it were a miracle, as indeed it was:

"I think no one ever had such nephews and nieces as I have.  I’ve never
had children of my own--that was not to be!--but I must say the Lord has
made it up to me in my nephews and nieces.  You and Hilda ... and Clara
and Albert ... and the little chicks!"  Tears stood in her eyes.

"You’re forgetting Maggie," said Edwin, lightly.

"Yes," Auntie Hamps agreed, but in a quite different tone, reluctant and
critical.  "I’m sure Maggie does her best.  Oh!  I’m sure she does ...
Edwin!"  Again she called him.

He approached the tumbled bed, and even sat on the edge of it, his hands
in his pockets.  Auntie Hamps, though breathing now more rapidly and
with more difficulty, seemed to have revitalised herself at some
mysterious source of energy.  She was still preoccupied by the mental
concentration and the effort of volition required for the smallest
physical acts incident to her continued existence; but she had
accumulated power for the furtherance of greater ends.

"D’ye want anything?" Edwin suggested, indicating the contents of the
night-table.

She moved her head to signify a negative.  Her pink-clad arms did not
stir.  And her whole being seemed to be suspended while she prepared for
an exertion.

"I’m so relieved you’ve come," she said at length, slowly and painfully.
"You can’t think what a relief it is to me.  I’ve really no one but
you....  It’s about that girl."

"What girl?"

"Minnie."

"The servant?"

Mrs. Hamps inclined her head, and fetched breath through the wide-open
mouth.  "I’ve only just found it out.  She’s in trouble.  Oh!  She
admitted it to me a bit ago.  I sent her downstairs.  I wouldn’t have
her in my bedroom a minute longer.  She’s in trouble. I felt sure she
was....  She was at class-meeting last Wednesday.  And only yesterday I
paid her her wages.  Only yesterday!  Here she lives on the fat of the
land, and what does she do for it?  I assure you I have to see to
everything myself.  I’m always after her....  In a month she won’t be
fit to be seen ... Edwin, I’ve never been so ashamed....  That I should
have to tell such a thing to my own nephew!"  She ceased, exhausted.

Edwin was somewhat amused.  He could not help feeling amused at such an
accident happening in the house of Mrs. Hamps.

"Who’s the man?" he asked.

"Yes, and that’s another thing!" answered Mrs. Hamps solemnly, in her
extreme weakness.  "It’s the barman at the Vaults, of all people.  She
wouldn’t admit it, but I know."

"What are you going to do?"

"She must leave my house at once."

"Where does she live--I mean her people?"

"She has no parents."  Auntie Hamps reflected for a few moments.  "She
has an aunt at Axe."

"Well, she can’t get to Axe to-night," said Edwin positively.  "Does
Maggie know about it?"

"Maggie!" exclaimed Mrs. Hamps scornfully. "Maggie never notices
_anything_."  She added in a graver tone: "And there’s no reason why
Maggie should know.  It’s not the sort of thing that Maggie ought to
know about.  You can speak to the girl herself.  It will come much
better from you.  I shall simply tell Maggie I’ve decided the girl must
go."

"She can’t go to-night," Edwin repeated, humouringly, but firmly.

Auntie Hamps proved the sincerity of her regard for him by yielding.

"Well," she murmured, "to-morrow morning, then. She can turn out the
sitting-room, and clean the silver in the black box, and then she can
go--before dinner. I don’t see why I should give her her dinner.  Nor
her extra day’s wages either."

"And what shall you do for a servant?  Get a charwoman?"

"Charwoman?  No!  Maggie will manage."  And then with a sudden flare of
relished violence: "I always knew that girl was a mopsy slut.  And
what’s more, if you ask me, she brought him into the house--and after
eleven o’clock at night too!"

"All right!" Edwin muttered, to soothe the patient.

And Mrs. Hamps sadly smiled.

"It’s such a relief to me," she breathed.  "You don’t know what a relief
to me it is to put it in your hands."

Her eyelids dropped.  She said no more.  Having looked back for an
instant in a supreme effort on behalf of the conventions upon which
society was established, Auntie Hamps turned again exhausted towards the
lifting veil of the unknown.  And Edwin began to realise the
significance of the scene that was ended.



                                  III


"I say," Edwin began, when he had silently closed the door of the
sitting-room.  "Here’s a lark, if you like!"  And he gave a short laugh.
It was under such language and such demeanour that he concealed his real
emotion, which was partly solemn, partly pleasurable, and wholly
buoyant.

Maggie looked up gloomily.  With a bit of pencil held very close to the
point in her heavy fingers, she was totting up the figures of household
accounts in a penny red-covered cash-book.

Edwin went on:

"It seems the girl yon"--he indicated the kitchen with a jerk of the
head--"’s been and got herself into a mess."

Maggie leaned her chin on her hand.

"Has she been talking to you about it?"  With a similar jerk of the head
Maggie indicated Mrs. Hamps’s bedroom.

"Yes."

"I suppose she’s only just found it out?"

"Who?  Auntie?  Yes.  Did you know about it?"

"Did I know about it?" Maggie repeated with mild disdainful impatience.
"Of course I knew about it. I’ve known for weeks.  But I wasn’t going to
tell _her_."  She finished bitterly.

Edwin regarded his sister with new respect and not without astonishment.
Never before in their lives had they discussed any inconvenient sexual
phenomenon. Save for vague and very careful occasional reference to
Clara’s motherhood, Maggie had never given any evidence to her brother
that she was acquainted with what are called in Anglo-Saxon countries
"the facts of life," and he had somehow thought of her as not having
emerged, at the age of forty-four or so, from the naïve ignorance of the
young girl.  Now her perfectly phlegmatic attitude in front of the
Minnie episode seemed to betoken a familiarity that approached cynicism.
And she was not at all tongue-tied; she was at her ease.  She had become
a woman of the world. Edwin liked her; he liked her manner and her tone.
His interest in the episode even increased.

"She was for turning her out to-night," said he. "I stopped that."

"I should think so indeed!"

"I’ve got her as far as to-morrow morning."

"The girl won’t go to-morrow morning either!" said Maggie.  "At least,
if she goes, I go."  She spoke with tranquillity, adding: "But we
needn’t bother about that.  Auntie’ll be past worrying about Minnie
to-morrow morning....  I’d better go up to her.  She can’t possibly be
left alone."

Maggie shut the account-book, and rose.

"I only came down for a sec to tell you.  She was dozing," said Edwin
apologetically.  "She’s awfully ill.  I’d no idea."

"Yes, she’s ill right enough."

"Who’ll sit up with her?"

"I shall."

"Did you sit up with her last night?"

"No--only part of the night."

"We ought to get a nurse."

"Well, we can’t get one to-night."

"And what about Clara?  Can’t she take a turn? Surely in a case like
this she can chuck her eternal kids for a bit."

"I expect she could.  But she doesn’t know."

"Haven’t you sent round?"  7He expressed surprise.

"I couldn’t," said Maggie with undisturbed equanimity.  "Who could I
send?  I couldn’t spare Minnie. The thing didn’t seem at all serious
until this morning. Since then I’ve had my hands full."

"Yes, I can see you have," Edwin agreed appreciatively.

"It was lucky the doctor called on his own.  He does sometimes, you
know, since she began to have her attacks."

"Well, I’ll go round to Clara’s myself," said Edwin.

"I shouldn’t," said Maggie.  "At least not to-night."

"Why not?"  He might have put the question angrily, overbearingly; but
Maggie was so friendly, suave, confidential, persuasive, and so sure of
herself, that with pleasure he copied her accents.  He enjoyed thus
talking to her intimately in the ugly dark house, with the life-bearing
foolish Minnie on the one hand, and the dying old woman on the other.
He thought: "There’s something splendid about Mag.  In fact I always
knew there was."  And he forgot her terrible social shortcomings, her
utter lack of the feminine seductiveness that for him ought to be in
every woman, and her invincible stolidity.  Her sturdy and yet scarcely
articulate championship of Minnie delighted him and quickened his pulse.

"I’d sooner not have her here to-night," said Maggie. "You knew they’d
had a tremendous rumpus, didn’t you?"

"Who?  Auntie and Clara?"

"Yes."

"I didn’t.  What about?  When?  Nobody ever said anything to me."

"Oh, it must have been two or three months ago. Auntie said something
about Albert not paying me my interest on my money he’s got.  And then
Clara flared up, and the fat was in the fire."

"D’you mean to say he’s not paying you your interest?  Why didn’t you
tell me?"

"Oh!  It doesn’t matter.  I didn’t want to bother you."

"Well, you ought to have bothered me," said Edwin, with a trace of
benevolent severity.  He was astounded, and somewhat hurt, that this
great family event should have been successfully concealed from him.  He
felt furious against Albert and Clara, and at the same time proud that
his prognostication about the investment with Albert had proved correct.

"Did Hilda know?"

"Oh yes.  Hilda knew."

"Well, I’m dashed!"  The exclamation showed naïvete.  His impression of
the chicanery of women was deepened, so that it actually disquieted him.
"But I suppose," he went on, "I suppose this row isn’t going to stop
Clara from coming here, seeing the state Auntie’s in?"

"No, certainly not.  Clara would come like a shot if she knew, and
Albert as well.  She’s a good nurse--in some ways."

"Well, if they aren’t told, and anything happens to Auntie in the night,
there’ll be a fine to-do afterwards,--don’t forget that."

"Nothing’ll happen to Auntie in the night," said Maggie, with tranquil
reassurance.  "And I don’t think I could stand ’em to-night."

The hint of her nervous susceptibility, beneath that stolid exterior,
appealed to him.

Maggie, since closing the account-book, had moved foot by foot anxiously
towards the door, and had only been kept in the room by the imperative
urgency of the conversation.  She now had her hand on the door.

"I say!"  He held her yet another moment.  "What’s this about me taking
your room?  I don’t want to turn you out of your room."

"That’s all right," she said, with a kind smile.  "It’s easiest, really.
Moreover, I daresay there won’t be such a lot of sleeping....  I must go
up at once.  She can’t possibly be left alone."

Maggie opened the door and she had scarcely stepped forth when Minnie
from the kitchen rushed into the lobby and dropped, intentionally or
unintentionally, on her knees before her.  Edwin, unobserved by Minnie,
witnessed the scene through the doorway. Minnie, agitated almost to the
point of hysteria, was crying violently and as she breathed her
shoulders lifted and fell, and the sound of her sobbing rose
periodically to a shriek and sank to a groan.  She knelt with her body
and thighs upright and her head erect, making no attempt to stem the
tears or to hide her face. In her extreme desolation she was perhaps as
unconscious of herself as she had ever been.  Her cap was awry on her
head, and her hair disarranged; the blinking spectacles made her
ridiculous; only the blue print uniform, and the sinister yellowish
apron drawn down tight under her knees, gave a certain respectable
regularity to her extraordinary and grotesque appearance.

To Edwin she seemed excessively young and yet far too large and too
developed for her age.  The girl was obviously a fool.  Edwin could
perceive in her no charm whatever, except that of her innocence; and it
was not easy to imagine that any man, even the barman at the Vaults,
could have mistaken her, even momentarily, for the ideal.  And then some
glance of her spectacled eyes, or some gesture of the great red hand,
showed him his own blindness and mysteriously made him realise the
immensity of the illusion and the disillusion through which she had
passed in her foolish and incontinent simplicity.  What had happened to
her was miraculous, exquisite, and terrible.  He felt the magic of her
illusion and the terror of her disillusion.  Already in her girlishness
and her stupidity she had lived through supreme hours.  "Compared to
her," he thought, "I don’t know what life is.  No man does."  And he not
only suffered for her sorrow, he gave her a sacred quality. It seemed to
him that heaven itself ought to endow her with beauty, grace, and
wisdom, so that she might meet with triumphant dignity the ordeals that
awaited her; and that mankind should supplement the work of heaven by
clothing her richly and housing her in secluded splendour, and offering
her the service which only victims merit.  Surely her caprices ought to
be indulged and honoured! ... Edwin was indignant; indignation
positively burnt his body.  She was helpless and defenceless and she had
been exploited by Auntie Hamps.  And after having been exploited she had
been driven out by ukase on week-night to class-meeting and on Sunday
night to chapel, to find Christ, with the result that she had found the
barman at the Vaults.  The consequences were inevitable.  She was
definitely ruined, unless the child should bereave her by dying; and
even then she might still be ruined. And what about the child, if the
child lived?  And although Edwin had never seen the silly girl before,
he said to himself, while noticing that a crumb or two of the bread
dropped by her still remained on the floor: "I’ll see that girl through
whatever it costs!"  He was not indignant against Auntie Hamps.  How
could he be indignant against an expiring old creature already desperate
in the final dilemma.  He felt nearly as sorry for Auntie Hamps as for
Minnie.  He was indignant against destiny, of which Auntie Hamps was
only the miserable, unimaginative instrument.

"I’d better go to-night, miss.  Let me go to-night!" cried Minnie.  And
she cried so loudly that Edwin was afraid Auntie Hamps might hear and
might make an apparition at the head of the stairs and curse Minnie with
fearful Biblical names.  And the old woman in the curtained bed upstairs
was almost as present to him as the girl kneeling before his eyes on the
linoleum of the lobby.

"Minnie!  Minnie!  Don’t be foolish!" said Maggie, standing over her and
soothing her, not with her hands but with her voice.

Maggie had shown no perturbation or even surprise at Minnie’s behaviour.
She stood looking down at her benevolent, deprecating, and calm.  And by
contrast with Minnie she seemed to be quite middle-aged.  Her tone was
exactly right.  It reminded Edwin of the tone which she would use to
himself when, she was sixteen and the housekeeper, and he was twelve.
Maggie had long since lost authority over him; she had lost everything;
she would die without having lived; she had never begun to live--(No,
perhaps once she had just begun to live!)--Minnie had prime knowledge
far exceeding hers.  And yet she had power over Minnie and could
exercise it with skill.

Minnie, hesitating, sobbed more slowly, and then ceased to sob.

"Go back into the kitchen and have something to eat, and then you can go
to bed.  You’ll feel differently in the morning," said Maggie with the
same gentle blandness.

And Minnie, as though fascinated, rose from her knees.

Edwin, surmising what had passed between the two in the kitchen while he
was in the bedroom, was aware of a fresh, intense admiration for Maggie.
She might be dowdy, narrow, dull, obstinate, virgin,--but she was
superb.  She had terrific reserves.  He was proud of her.  The tone
merely of her voice as she spoke to the girl seemed to prove the
greatness of her deeply-hidden soul.

Suddenly Minnie caught sight of Edwin through the doorway, flushed red,
had the air of slavishly apologising to the unapproachable male for
having disturbed him by her insect-woes, and vanished.  Maggie hurried
upstairs to the departing.  Edwin was alone with the chill draught from
the lobby into the room, and with the wonder of life.



                                   IV


In the middle of the night Edwin kept watch over Auntie Hamps, who was
asleep.  He sat in a rocking-chair, with his back to the window and the
right side of his face to the glow of the fire.  The fire was as
effective as the size and form of the grate would allow; it burnt richly
red; but its influence did not seem to extend beyond a radius of four
feet outwards from its centre.  The terrible damp chill of the Five
Towns winter hung in the bedroom like an invisible miasma. He could feel
the cold from the window, which was nevertheless shut, through the shawl
with which he had closed the interstices of the back of the chair, and,
though he had another thick shawl over his knees, the whole of his left
side felt the creeping attack of the insidious miasma.  A thermometer
which he had found and which lay on the night-table five yards from the
fire registered only fifty-two degrees.  His expelled breath showed in
the air.  It was as if he were fighting with all resources against
frigidity, and barely holding his own.

In the half-light of the gas, still screened from the bed by the
bonnet-box and the Bible, he glanced round amid the dark meadows at the
mean and sinister ugliness of the historic chamber, the secret nest and
withdrawing place of Auntie Hamps; and the real asceticism of her life
and of the life of all her generation almost smote him.  Half a century
earlier such a room had represented comfort; in some details, as for
instance in its bed, it represented luxury; and in half a century Auntie
Hamps had learnt nothing from the material progress of civilisation but
the use of the hot-water bag; her vanished and forgotten parents would
have looked askance at the enervating luxuriousness of her hot-water
bag--unknown even to the crude wistful boy Edwin on the mantelpiece.
And Auntie Hamps herself was wont as it were to atone for it by using
the still tepid water therefrom for her morning toilet instead of having
truly hot water brought up from the kitchen. Edwin thought: "Are we
happier for these changes brought about by the mysterious force of
evolution?"  And answered very emphatically: "Yes, we are."  He would
not for anything have gone back to the austerities of his boyhood.

He rocked gently to and fro in the chair, excited by events and by the
novel situation, and he was not dissatisfied with himself.  Indeed he
was aware of a certain calm complacency, for his commonsense had
triumphed over Maggie’s devoted silly womanishness. Maggie was for
sitting up through the night; she was anxious to wear herself out for no
reason whatever; but he had sent her to bed until three o’clock,
promising to call her if she should be needed.  The exhausted girl was
full of sagacity save on that one point of martyrdom to the
fullest--apparently with her a point of honour.  For the sake of the
sensation of having martyrised herself utterly she was ready to imperil
her fitness for the morrow.  She secretly thought it was unfair to call
upon him, a man, to share her fatigues. He regarded himself as her
superior in wisdom, and he was relieved that anyone so wise and balanced
as Edwin Clayhanger had taken supreme charge of the household organism.

Restless, he got up from the chair and looked at the bed.  He had heard
no unusual sound therefrom, but to excuse his restlessness he had said:
"Suppose some change had occurred and I didn’t notice it!"  No change
had occurred.  Auntie Hamps lay like a mite, like a baby forlorn, senile
and defenceless, amid the heaped pillows and coverings of the bed.
Within the deep gloom of the canopy and the over-arching curtains only
her small, soft face was alive; even her hair was hidden in the
indentation made by the weight of her head in the pillows.  She was
unconscious, either in sleep or otherwise,--he could not tell how. And
in her unconsciousness the losing but obstinate fight against the power
which was dragging her over the edge of eternity still went on.  It
showed in the apprehensive character of her breathing, which made a
little momentary periodic cloud above her face, and in the uneasy
muscular movements of the lips and jaws, and in the vague noises in her
throat.  A tremendous pity for her re-entered his heart, almost breaking
it, because she was so beaten, and so fallen from the gorgeousness of
her splendour.  Even Minnie could have imposed her will upon Auntie
Hamps now; each hour she weakened.

He had no more resentment against her on account of Minnie, no
accusation to formulate.  He was merely grieved, with a compassionate
grief, that Auntie Hamps had learnt so little while living so long.  He
knew that she was cruel only because she was incapable of imagining what
it was to be Minnie.  He understood.  She worshipped God under the form
of respectability, but she did worship God.  Like all religious votaries
she placed religion above morality; hence her chicane, her inveterate
deceit and self-deceit.  It was with a religious aim that she had
concealed from him the estrangement between herself and Clara.  The
unity of the family was one of her major canons (as indeed it was one of
Edwin’s).  She had a passion for her nephew and nieces.  It was a grand
passion.  Her pride in them must have been as terrific as her longing
that they and all theirs should conform to the sole ideal that she
comprehended.  Undeniably there was something magnificent in her
religion--her unscrupulousness in the practice of it, and the mighty
consistency of her career.  She had lived.  He ceased to pity her, for
she towered above pity.  She was dying, but only for an instant.  He
would smile at his aunt’s primeval notions of a future life, yet he had
to admit that his own notions, though far less precise, could not be
appreciably less crude.  He and she were anyhow at one in the profound
and staggering conviction of immortality.  Enlightened by that
conviction, he was able to reduce the physical and mental tragedy of the
death-bed to its right proportions as a transiency between the heroic
past and the inconceivable future. And in the stillness of the room and
the stillness of the house, perfumed by the abnegation of Maggie and the
desolate woe of the ruined Minnie whom the Clayhangers would save, and
in the outer stillness of the little street with the Norman church-tower
sticking up out of history at the bottom of its slope, Edwin felt
uplifted and serene.

He returned to the rocking-chair.

"She’s asleep now in some room I’ve never seen!" he reflected.

He was suddenly thinking of his wife.  During the previous night, lying
sleepless close to her while she slept soundly, he had reflected long
and with increasing pessimism.  The solace of Hilda’s kiss had proved
fleeting.  She had not realised--he himself was then only realising
little by little--the enormity of the thing she had done.  What she had
deliberately and obstinately done was to turn him out of his house.  No
injury that she might have chosen could have touched him more closely,
more painfully,--for his house to him was sacred.  Her blundering with
the servants might be condoned, but what excuse was it possible to find
for this precipitate flight to London involving the summary ejectment
from the home of him who had created the home and for and by whom the
home chiefly existed?  True the astounding feat of wrong-headedness had
been aided by the mere chance of Maggie’s calling (capricious women were
always thus lucky!),--Maggie’s suggestion and request had given some
afterglow of reason to the mad project.  But the justification was still
far from sufficient.  And the odious idea haunted him that, even if
Maggie had not called with her tale, Hilda would have persisted in her
scheme all the same.  Yes, she was capable of that!  The argument that
George’s eyes (of whose condition she had learnt by mere hazard) could
not wait until domestic affairs were arranged, was too grotesque to
deserve an answer.

Lying thus close to his wife in the dark, he had perceived that the
conflict between his individuality and hers could never cease.  No
diplomatic devices of manner could put an end to it.  And he had seen
also that as they both grew older and developed more fully, the conflict
was becoming more serious.  He assumed that he had faults, but he was
solemnly convinced that the faults of Hilda were tremendous, essential,
and ineradicable.  She had a faculty for acting contrary to justice and
contrary to sense which was simply monstrous.  And it had always been
so.  Her whole life had been made up of impulsiveness and contumacy in
that impulsiveness.  Witness the incredible scenes of the strange
Dartmoor episode--all due to her stubborn irrationality!  The
perspective of his marriage was plain to him in the night,--and it ended
in a rupture.  He had been resolutely blind to Hilda’s peculiarities,
dismissing incident after incident as an isolated misfortune.  But he
could be blind no more.  His marriage was all of a piece, and he must
and would recognise the fact....  The sequel would be a scandal! ...
Well, let it be a scandal!  As the minutes and hours passed in grim
meditation, the more attractive grew the lost freedom of the bachelor
and the more ready he felt to face any ordeal that lay between him and
it....  And just as it was occurring to him that his proper course was
to have fought a terrific open decisive battle with her in front of both
Maggie and Ingpen he had fallen asleep.

Upon awaking, barely in time to arouse Hilda, he knew that the mood of
the night had not melted away as such moods are apt to melt when the
window begins to show a square of silver-grey.  The mood was even
intensified.  Hilda had divined nothing.  She never did divine the
tortures which she inflicted in his heart.  She did not possess the
gumption to divine.  Her demeanour had been amazing.  She averred that
she had not slept at all.  Instead of cajoling, she bullied.  Instead of
tacitly admitting that she was infamously wronging him, she had assumed
a grievance of her own--without stating it.  Once she had said
discontentedly about some trifle: "You might _at any rate_----" as
though the victim should caress the executioner.  She had kissed him at
departure, but not as usual effusively, and he had suffered the kiss in
enmity; and after an unimaginable general upset and confusion, in which
George had shown himself strangely querulous, she had driven off with
her son,--unconscious, stupidly unaware, that she was leaving a disaster
behind her.  And last of all Edwin, solitary, had been forced to perform
the final symbolic act, that of locking him out of his own sacred home!
The affair had transcended belief.

All day at the works his bitterness and melancholy had been terrible,
and the works had been shaken with apprehension, for no angry menaces
are more disconcerting than those of a man habitually mild.  Before
evening he had decided to write to his wife from Auntie Hamps’s,--a
letter cold, unanswerable, crushing, that would confront her unescapably
with the alternatives of complete submission or complete separation.
The phrases of the letter came into his mind....  He would see who was
master....  He had been full of the letter when he entered Auntie
Hamps’s lobby.  But the strange tone in which Maggie had answered his
questions about the sick woman had thrust the letter and the crisis
right to the back of his mind, where they had uneasily remained
throughout the evening. And now in the rocking-chair he was reflecting:

"She’s asleep in some room I’ve never seen!"

He smiled, such a smile, candid, generous, and affectionate, as was
Hilda’s joy, such a smile as Hilda dwelt on in memory when she was
alone.  The mood of resentment passed away, vanished like a nightmare at
dawn, and like one of his liverish headaches dispersed suddenly after
the evening meal.  He saw everything differently.  He saw that he had
been entirely wrong in his estimate of the situation, and of Hilda.
Hilda was a mother.  She had the protective passion of maternity. She
was carried away by her passions; but her passions were noble,
marvellous, unique.  He himself could never--he thought, humbled--attain
to her emotional heights.  He was incapable of feeling about anything or
anybody as she felt about George.  The revelation concerning George’s
eyesight had shocked her, overwhelmed her with remorse, driven every
other idea out of her head.  She must atone to George instantly;
instantly she must take measures--the most drastic and certain--to
secure him from the threatened danger. She could not count the cost till
afterwards.  She was not a woman in such moments,--she was an instinct,
a desire, a ruthless purpose.  And as she felt towards George, so she
must feel, in other circumstances, towards himself.  Her kisses proved
it, and her soothing hand when he was unwell.  Mrs. Hamps had said: "Eh,
dear!  What a good mother dear Hilda is!"  A sentimental outcry!  But
there was profound truth in it, truth which the old woman had seen
better than he had seen it.  "I daresay there never was such a
mother--unless it’s Clara!"  Hyperbole!  And yet he himself now began to
think that there never could have been such a mother as Hilda.  Clara
too in her way was wonderful....  Smile as you might, these mothers were
tremendous.  The mysterious sheen of their narrow and deep lives dazzled
him.  For the first time, perhaps, he bowed his head to Clara.

But Hilda was far beyond Clara.  She was not only a mother but a lover.
Would he cut himself off from her loving?  Why?  For what?  To live
alone in the arid and futile freedom of a Tertius Ingpen? Such a notion
was fatuous.  Where lay the difficulty between himself and Hilda?  There
was no difficulty. How had she harmed him?  She had not harmed him.
Everything was all right.  He had only to understand. He understood.  As
for her impulsiveness, her wrongheadedness, her bizarre
ratiocination,--he knew how to accept them, for was he not a
philosopher? They were indeed part of the incomparable romance of
existence with these prodigious and tantalising creatures.  He admitted
that Hilda in some aspects transcended him, but in others he was
comfortably confident of his own steady, conquering superiority.  He
thought of her with the most exquisite devotion.  He pictured the secret
tenderness of their reunion amid the conventional gloom of Auntie
Hamps’s death-bed.... He was confident of his ability to manage Hilda,
at any rate in the big things,--for example the disputed points of his
entry into public activity and their removal from Trafalgar Road into
the country.  The sturdiness of the male inspired him.  At the same time
the thought of the dark mood from which he had emerged obscurely
perturbed him, like a fearful danger passed; and he argued to himself
with satisfaction, and yet not quite with conviction, that he had
yielded to Maggie, and not to Hilda, in the affair of the journey to
London, and that therefore his masculine marital dignity was intact.

And then he started at a strange sound below, which somehow recalled him
to the nervous tension of the house.  It was a knocking at the
front-door.  His heart thumped at the formidable muffled noise in the
middle of the night.  He jumped up, and glanced at the bed. Auntie Hamps
was not wakened.  He went downstairs where the gas which he had lighted
was keeping watch.



                              CHAPTER XIX

                            DEATH AND BURIAL


                                   I


Albert Benbow was at the front-door.  Edwin curbed the expression of his
astonishment.

"Hello, Albert!"

"Oh!  You aren’t gone to bed?"

"Not likely.  Come in.  What’s up?"

Albert, with the habit of one instructed never to tread actually on a
doorstep lest it should be newly whitened, stepped straight on to the
inner mat.  He seemed excited, and Edwin feared that he had just learnt
of Auntie Hamps’s illness and had come in the middle of the night
ostensibly to make enquiries, but really to make a grievance of the fact
that the Benbows had been "kept in ignorance."  He could already hear
Albert demanding: "Why have you kept us in ignorance?" It was quite a
Benbow phrase.

Edwin shut the door and shut out the dark and windy glimpse of the outer
world which had emphasised for a moment the tense seclusion of the
house.

"You’ve heard of course about the accident to Ingpen?" said Albert.  His
hands were deep in his overcoat pockets; the collar of the thin, rather
shabby overcoat was turned up; an old cap adhered to the back of his
head.  While talking he slowly lifted his feet one after the other, as
though desiring to get warmth by stamping but afraid to stamp in the
night.

"No, I haven’t," said Edwin, with false calmness. "What accident?"

The perspective of events seemed to change; Auntie Hamps’s illness to
recede, and a definite and familiar apprehension to be supplanted by a
fear more formidable because it was a fear of the unknown.

"It was all in the late special _Signal_!" Benbow protested, as if his
pride had been affronted.

"Well, I haven’t seen the _Signal_.  What is it?"  And Edwin thought:
"Is somebody else dying too?"

"Fly-wheel broke.  Ingpen was inspecting the slip-house next to the
engine-house.  Part of the fly-wheel came through and knocked a loose
nut off the blunger right into his groin."

"Whose works?"

Albert answered in a light tone:

"Mine."

"And how’s he going on?"

"Well, he’s had an operation and Sterling’s got the nut out.  Of course
they didn’t know what it was till they got it out.  And now Ingpen wants
to see you at once.  That’s why I’ve come."

"Where is he?"

"At the hospital."

"Pirehill?"

"No.  The Clowes--Moorthorne Road, you know."

"Is he going on all right?"

"He’s very weak.  He can scarcely whisper.  But he wants you.  I’ve been
up there all the time, practically."

Edwin seized his overcoat from the rack.

"I had a rare job finding ye," Benbow went on.  "I’d no idea you weren’t
all at home.  I wakened most of Hulton Street over it.  It was Smiths
next door came out at last and told me missis and George had gone to
London and you were over here."

"I wonder who told them!" Edwin mumbled as Albert helped him with the
overcoat.  "I must tell Maggie.  We’ve got some illness here, you know."

"Oh?"

"Yes.  Auntie.  Very sudden.  Seemed to get worse to-night.  Fact is I
was sitting up while Maggie has a bit of sleep.  She was going to send
round for Clara in the morning.  I’ll just run up to Mag."

Having thus by judicious misrepresentation deprived the Benbows of a
grievance, Edwin moved towards the stairs.  Maggie, dressed, already
stood at the top of them, alert, anxious, adequate.

"Albert, is that you?"

After a few seconds of quick murmured explanation, Edwin and Albert
departed, and as they went Maggie, in a voice doubly harassed but
cheerful and oily called out after them how glad she would be, and what
a help it would be, if Clara could come round early in the morning.

The small Clowes Hospital was high up in the town opposite the Park,
near the station and the railway-cutting and not far from the Moorthorne
ridge. Behind its bushes, through which the wet night-wind swished and
rustled, it looked still very new and red in the fitful moonlight.  And
indeed it was scarcely older than the Park and swimming-baths close by,
and Bursley had not yet lost its naïve pride in the possession of a
hospital of its own.  Not much earlier in the decade this town of
thirty-five thousand inhabitants had had to send all its "cases" five
miles in cabs to Pirehill Infirmary.  Albert Benbow, with the
satisfaction of a habitué, led Edwin round through an aisle of bushes to
the side-entrance for out-patients.  He pushed open a dark door, walked
into a gaslit vestibule, and with the assured gestures of a proprietor
invited Edwin to follow.  A fat woman who looked like a char-woman made
tidy sat in a windsor-chair in the vestibule, close to a radiator.  She
signed to Albert as an old acquaintance to go forward, and Albert nodded
in the manner of one conspirator to another.  What struck Edwin was that
this middle-aged woman showed no sign of being in the midst of the
unusual.  She was utterly casual and matter-of-fact.  And Edwin had the
sensation of moving in a strange nocturnal world--a world which had
always co-existed with his own, but of which he had been till then most
curiously ignorant. His passage through the town listening absently to
Albert’s descriptions of the structural damage to Ingpen and to the
works, and Albert’s defence against unbrought accusations, had shown him
that the silent streets lived long after midnight in many a lighted
window here and there and in the movements of mysterious but not furtive
frequenters.  And he seemed to have been impinging upon half-veiled
enigmas of misfortune or of love.  At the other end of the thread of
adventure was his aunt’s harsh bedroom with Maggie stolidly watching the
last ebb of senile vitality, and at this end was the hospital, full of
novel and disturbing vibrations and Tertius Ingpen waiting to impose
upon him some charge or secret.

At the top of the naked stairs which came after a dark corridor was a
long naked resounding passage lighted by a tiny jet at either end.  A
cough from behind a half-open door came echoing out and filled the night
and the passage.  And then at another door appeared a tall, thin, fair
nurse in blue and white, with thin lips and a slight smile hard and
disdainful.

"Here’s Mr. Clayhanger, nurse!" muttered Albert Benbow, taking off his
cap, with a grimace at once sycophantic and grandiose.

Edwin imagined that he knew by sight everybody in the town above a
certain social level, but he had no memory of the face of the nurse.

"How is he?" he asked awkwardly, fingering his hat.

The girl merely raised her eyebrows.

"You mustn’t stay," said she, in a mincing but rather loud voice that
matched her lips.

"Oh no, I won’t!"

"I suppose _I’d_ better stop outside!" said Benbow.

Edwin followed the nurse into a darkened room, of which the chief
article of furniture appeared to be a screen.  Behind the screen was a
bed, and on the bed in the deep obscurity lay a form under creaseless
bedclothes.  Edwin first recognised Ingpen’s beard, then his visage very
pale and solemn, and without the customary spectacles.  Of the whole
body only the eyes moved.  As Edwin approached the bed he cast across
Ingpen a shadow from the distant gas.

"Well, old chap!" he began with constraint.  "This is a nice state of
affairs!  How are you getting on?"

Ingpen’s enquiring apprehensive dumb glance silenced the clumsy
greeting.  It was just as if he had rebuked: "This is no time for How
d’ye do’s."  When he had apparently made sure that Edwin was Edwin,
Ingpen turned his eyes to the nurse.

"Water," he whispered.

The nurse shook her head.

"Net yet," she replied, with tepid indifference.

Ingpen’s eyes remained on her a moment and then went back to Edwin.

"Ed," he whispered, and gazed once more at the nurse, who, looking away
from the bed, did not move.

Edwin bent over the bed.

"Ed," Ingpen demanded, speaking very deliberately. "Go to my office.  In
the top drawer of the desk in the bedroom there’s some photos and
letters.... Burn them....  Before morning....  Understand?"

Edwin was profoundly stirred.  In his emotion was pride at Ingpen’s
trust, astonishment at the sudden, utterly unexpected revelation, and
the thrill of romance.

He thought:

"The man is dying!"

And the tragic sensation of the vigil of the nocturnal world almost
overcame him.

"Yes," he said.  "Anything else?"

"No."

"What about keys?"

Ingpen gave him another long glance.

"Trousers."

"Where are his clothes?" Edwin asked the nurse, whose lips were ironic.

"Oh!  They’ll tell you downstairs.  You’d better go now."

As he went from the room he could feel Ingpen’s glance following him.
He raged inwardly against the callousness of the nurse.  It seemed
monstrous that he should abandon Ingpen for the rest of the night,
defenceless, to the cold tyranny of the nurse, whose power over the
sufferer was as absolute as that of an eastern monarch, who had never
heard of public opinion, over the meanest slave.  He could not bear to
picture to himself Ingpen and the nurse alone together.

"Isn’t he allowed to drink?" he could not help murmuring, at the door.

"Yes.  At intervals."

He wanted to chastise the nurse.  He imagined an endless succession of
sufferers under her appalling, inimical nonchalance.  Who had allowed
her to be a nurse?  Had she become a nurse in order to take some needed
revenge against mankind?  And then he thought of Hilda’s passionate,
succouring tenderness when he himself was unwell,--he had not been
really ill for years.  What was happening to Ingpen could never happen
to him, because Hilda stood everlastingly between him and such a horror.
He considered that a bachelor was the most pathetic creature on the
earth. He was drenched in the fearful, wistful sadness of all life....
The sleeping town; Auntie Hamps on the edge of eternity; Minnie
trembling at the menaces of her own body; Hilda lying in some room that
he had never seen; and Ingpen...!

"Soon over!" observed Albert Benbow in the corridor.

Edwin could have winced at the words.

"How do you think he is?" asked Albert.

"Don’t know!" Edwin replied.  "Look here, I’ve got to get hold of his
clothes--downstairs."

"Oh!  That’s it, is it?  Pocket-book!  Keys!  Eh?"



                                   II


Edwin had once been in Tertius Ingpen’s office at the bottom of Crown
Square, Hanbridge, but never in the bedroom which Ingpen rented on the
top floor of the same building.  It had been for seventy or eighty years
a building of four squat storeys; but a new landlord, seeing the
architectural development of the town as a local metropolis and
determined to join in it at a minimum of expense, had knocked the two
lower storeys into one, fronted them with fawn-coloured terra cotta, and
produced a lofty shop whose rent exceeded the previous rent of the
entire house.

The landlord knew that passers-by would not look higher up the façade
than the ground-floor, and that therefore any magnificence above that
level was merely wasted.  The shop was in the occupation of a tea-dealer
who gave away beautiful objects such as vases and useful objects such as
tea-trays, to all purchasers. Ingpen’s office, and a solicitor’s office,
were on the first floor, formerly the second; the third floor was the
headquarters of the Hanbridge and District Ethical Society; the top
floor was temporarily unlet, save for Ingpen’s room.  Nobody except
Ingpen slept in the building, and he very irregularly.

The latchkey for the sidedoor was easy to choose in the glittering light
of the latest triple-jetted and reflectored gaslamps which the
corporation, to match the glories of the new town-hall, had placed in
Crown Square.  The lock, strange to say, worked easily.  Edwin entered
somewhat furtively, and as it were guiltily, though in Crown Square and
the streets and the other squares visible therefrom, not a soul could be
seen.  The illuminated clock of the Old Town Hall at the top of the
square showed twenty-five minutes to four.  Immediately within the door
began a new, very long and rather mean staircase, with which Edwin was
acquainted.  He closed the door, shutting out the light and the town,
and struck a match in the empty building.  He had walked into Hanbridge
from Bursley, and as soon as he began to climb the stairs he was aware
of great fatigue, both physical and mental. The calamity to Ingpen had
almost driven Auntie Hamps out of his mind; it had not, however, driven
Minnie out of his mind.  He was gloomy and indignant on behalf of both
Ingpen and Minnie.  They were both victims.  Minnie was undoubtedly a
fool, and he was about to learn, perhaps, to what extent Ingpen had been
a fool.

Each footstep sounded loud on the boards of deserted house.  Having used
several matches and arrived at the final staircase, Edwin wondered how
he was to distinguish Ingpen’s room there from the others without trying
keys in all of them till he got to the right one.  But on the top
landing he had no difficulty, for Ingpen’s card was fastened with a
drawing-pin on to the first door he saw.  A match burnt his fingers and
expired just as he was shaking out a likely key from Ingpen’s bunch.
And then, in the black darkness, he perceived a line of light under the
door in front of which he stood.  He forgot his fatigue in an instant.
His heart leaped.  A burglar?  Or had Ingpen left the gas burning?
Ingpen could not have left the gas burning since, according to Albert
Benbow, he had been in Bursley all afternoon.  With precautions, and
feeling very desperate and yet also craven, he lit a fresh match and
managed quietly to open the door, which was not locked.

As soon as he beheld the illuminated interior of the room, all his skin
crept and flushed as though he had taken a powerful stimulant.  A girl
reclined asleep in a small basket lounge-chair by the gas-fire.  He
could not see her face, which was turned towards the wall and away from
the gas-jet that hung from the ceiling over an old desk; but she seemed
slim and graceful, and there was something in the abandonment of
unconsciousness that made her marvellously alluring. Her hat and gloves
had been thrown on the desk, and a cloak lay on a chair.  These coloured
and intimate objects--extensions of the veritable personality of the
girl--had the effect of delightfully completing the furniture of a room
which was in fact rather bare.  A narrow bed in the far corner,
disguised under a green rug as a sofa; a green square of carpet, showing
the unpolished boards at the sides; the desk, and three chairs; a
primitive hanging wardrobe in another corner, hidden by a bulging linen
curtain; a portmanteau; a few unframed prints on the walls; an
alarm-clock on the mantelpiece,--there was nothing else in the chamber
where Ingpen slept when it was too late, or he was too slack, to go to
his proper home.  But nothing else was needed.  The scene was perfect;
the girl rendered it so.  And immense envy of, and admiration for,
Ingpen surged through Edwin, who saw here the realisation of a dream
that was to marriage what poetry is to prose.  Ingpen might rail against
women and against marriage in a manner exaggerated and indefensible; but
he had at any rate known how to arrange his life and how to keep his own
counsel.  He had all the careless masculine freedom of his
condition,--and in the background this exquisite phenomenon!  The girl,
her trustfulness, her abandonment, her secrecy, that white ear peeping
out of her hair,--were his!  It was staggering that such romance could
exist in the Five Towns, of all places--for Edwin had the vague notion,
common to all natives, that his own particular district fell short of
full human nature in certain characteristics. For example, he could
credit a human nature dying for love in Manchester, but never in the
Five Towns.  Even the occasional divorces that gave piquancy to life in
the Five Towns seemed to lack the mysterious glamour of all other
divorces.

He thought:

"Was it because he was expecting her that he sent me?  Perhaps the desk
was only a blind--and he couldn’t tell me any more.  Anyhow I shall have
to break it to her."

He felt exceedingly awkward and unequal to the situation so startling in
its novelty.  Yet he did not wish himself away.

As timidly, hat in hand, he went forward into the room, the girl stirred
and woke up, to the creaking of the chair.

"Oh!  Tert!" she murmured between sleeping and waking.

Edwin did not like her voice.  It reminded him of the voice of the nurse
whom he had just left.

The girl, looking round, perceived that it was not Tertius Ingpen who
had come in.  She gave a short, faint scream, then gathered herself
together and with a single movement stood up, perfectly collected and on
the defensive.

"It’s all right!  It’s all right!" said Edwin.  "Mr. Ingpen gave me his
keys and asked me to come over and get some papers he wants....  I hope
I didn’t frighten you.  I’d no idea----"

She was old!  She was old!  That is to say, she was not the girl he had
seen asleep.  Before his marriage he would have put her age at
thirty-two, but now he knew enough to be sure that she must be more than
that.  She was not graceful in movement.  The expression of her pale
face was not agreeable.  Her gestures were not distinguished.  And she
could not act her part in the idyll.  Moreover her frock was shabby and
untidy.  But chiefly she was old.  Had she been young, Edwin would have
excused all the rest. Romance was not entirely destroyed, but very
little remained.

He thought, disdainfully, and as if resenting a deception:

"Is this the best he can do?"

And the Five Towns sank back to its ancient humble place in his esteem.

The woman said with a silly nervous giggle:

"I called to see Mr. Ingpen.  He wasn’t expecting me.  And I suppose
while I was waiting I must have dropped off to sleep."

It might have been true, but to Edwin it was inexpressibly inane.

She seized her hat and then her cloak.

"I’m sorry to say Mr. Ingpen’s had an accident," said Edwin.

She stopped, both hands above her head fingering her hat.

"An accident?  Nothing serious?"

"Oh no!  I don’t think so," he lied.  "A machinery accident.  They had
to take him to the Clowes Hospital at Bursley.  I’ve just come from
there."

She asked one or two more questions, all the time hurrying her
preparations to leave.  But Edwin judged with disgust that she was not
deeply interested in the accident.  True, he had minimised it, but she
ought not to have allowed him to minimise it.  She ought to have
obstinately believed that it was very grave.

"I do hope he’ll soon be all right," she said, snatching at her gloves
and going to the door.  "Good night!"  She gave another silly giggle,
preposterous in a woman of her age.  Then she stopped.  "I think you’re
gentleman enough not to say anything about me being here," she said,
rather nastily.  "It was quite an accident.  I could easily explain it,
but you know what people are!"

What a phrase--"I think you’re gentleman enough!"

He blushed and offered the required assurance.

"Can I let you out?" he started forward.

"No, thanks!"

"But you can’t open the door."

"Yes I can."

"The stairs are all dark."

"Please don’t trouble yourself," she said drily, in the tone of a woman
who sees offence in the courtesy of a male travelling companion on the
railway.

He heard her steps _diminuendo_ down the stairs.

Closing the door, he went to the window, and drew aside the blind.
Perhaps she would pass up the Square. But she did not pass up the Square
which was peopled by nothing but meek gaslamps under the empire of the
glowing clock in the pediment of the Old Town Hall. Where had she gone?
Where did she come from?  Her accent had no noticeable peculiarity.  Was
she married, or single, or a widow?  Perhaps there was hidden in her
some strange and seductive quality which he had missed....  He saw the
slim girl again reclining in the basket-chair....  After all, she was a
woman, and she had been in Ingpen’s room, waiting for him!

Later, seated in front of the open drawer in the old desk, gathering
together letters and photographs--photographs of her in adroitly managed
poses, taken at Oldham; letters in a woman’s hand--he was penetrated to
the marrow by the disastrous and yet beautiful infelicity of things.
The mere sight of the letters (of which he forebore to decipher a single
word, even a signature) nearly made him cry; the photographs were tragic
with the intolerable evanescence of life.  By the will of Tertius Ingpen
helpless on the bed in the hospital, these documents of a passion or of
a fancy were to be burnt.  Why?  Was it true that Ingpen was dying?
Better to keep them.  No, they must be burnt.  He rose, and, with
difficulty, burnt them by instalments in a shovel over the tiny fender
that enclosed the gas-stove,--the room was soon half full of smoke....
Why had he deceived the woman as to the seriousness of Ingpen’s
accident?  To simplify and mitigate the interview, to save himself
trouble; that was all!  Well, she would learn soon enough!

His eye caught a print on the wall above the bed,--a classic example of
the sentimentality of Marcus Stone: departing cavalier, drooping maiden,
terraced garden.  It was a dreadful indictment of the Tertius Ingpen who
talked so well, with such intellectual aplomb, with such detachment and
exceptional cynicism. It was like a ray exposing some secret sinister
corner in the man’s soul.  He had hung up that print because it gave him
pleasure!  Poor chap!  But Edwin loved him.  He decided that he would
call again at the hospital before returning to Auntie Hamps’s.
Impossible that the man was dying!  If the doctor or the matron had
thought he was in danger they would have summoned his relatives.  He
might be dying.  He might be dead.  He must have immediately feared
death, or he would not have imposed upon Edwin such an errand.... What
simple, touching, admirable trust in a friend’s loyalty the man had
displayed!

Edwin put out the gas-stove, which exploded, lit a match, gave a great
yawn, put out the gas, and began the enterprise of leaving the house.



                                  III


"Look here!  I must have some tea, _now_!" said Edwin curtly and yet
appealingly to Maggie, who opened the door for him at Auntie Hamps’s.

It was nearly eight o’clock.  He had been to the hospital again, and,
having reported in three words to Ingpen, whose condition was unchanged,
had remained there some time.  But he had said nothing to Ingpen about
the woman.  At six o’clock the matron had come into the room, and the
nurse thenceforward until seven o’clock, when she went off duty, was a
changed girl. Edwin slightly knew the matron, who was sympathetic but
strangely pessimistic--considering her healthy, full figure.

"The water’s boiling," answered Maggie, in a comforting tone, and
disappeared instantly into the kitchen.

Edwin thought:

"There are some things that girl understands!"

She had shown no curiosity, no desire to impart news, because she had
immediately comprehended that Edwin was, or imagined himself to be, at
the end of his endurance.  Maggie, with simple and surpassing wisdom had
just said to herself: "He’s been out all night, and he’s not used to
it."  For a moment he felt that Maggie was wiser, and more intimately
close to him, than anybody else in the world.

"In the dining-room," she called out from the kitchen.

And in the small dining-room there was a fire!  It was like a living,
welcoming creature.  The cloth was laid, the gas was lighted.  On the
table was beautiful fresh bread and butter.  A word, a tone, a glance of
his on the previous evening had been enough to bring back the
dining-room into use!  Happily the wind suited the chimney.  He had
scarcely sat down in front of the fire when Maggie entered with the
teapot.  And at the sight of the teapot Edwin felt that he was saved.
Before the tea was out of the teapot it had already magically alleviated
the desperate sensations of physical fatigue and moral weariness which
had almost overcome him on the way from the hospital in the chill and
muddy dawn.

"What will you have to eat?" said Maggie.

"Nothing.  I couldn’t eat to save my life."

"Perhaps you’ll have a bit of bread-and-butter later," said Maggie
blandly.

He shook his head.

"How is she?"

"Worse," said Maggie.  "But she’s slept."

"Who’s up with her now?  Minnie?"

"No.  Clara."

"Oh!  She’s come?"

"She came at seven."

Edwin was drinking the divine tea.  After a few gulps he told Maggie
briefly about Tertius Ingpen, saying that he had had to go "on business"
for Ingpen to Hanbridge.

"Are you all right for the present?" she asked after a few moments.

He nodded.  He was eating bread-and-butter.

"You had any sleep at all?" he mumbled, munching.

"Oh yes!  A little," she answered cheerfully, leaving the room.

He poured out more tea, and then sat down in the sole easy-chair for a
minute’s reflection before going upstairs and thence to the works.

Not until he woke up did he realise that there had been any danger of
his going to sleep.  The earthenware clock on the mantelpiece (a
birthday gift from Clara and Albert) showed five minutes past eleven.
Putting no reliance on the cheap, horrible clock, he looked at his
watch, which had stopped for lack of winding up.  The fire was very low.
His chief thought was: "It can’t possibly be eleven o’clock, because I
haven’t been down to the works, and I haven’t sent word I’m not coming
either!"  He got up hurriedly and had reached the door when a sound of a
voice on the stairs held him still like an enchantment.  It seemed to be
the voice, eloquent, and indeed somewhat Church-of-England, of the Rev.
Christian Flowerdew, the new superintendent of the Bursley Wesleyan
Methodist Circuit.  The voice said: "I do hope so!" and then offered a
resounding remark about the weather being the kind of weather that, bad
as it was, people must expect in view of the time of year.  Maggie’s
voice concurred.

As soon as the front-door closed, Edwin peeped cautiously out of the
dining-room.

"Who was that?" he murmured.

"Mr. Flowerdew.  She wanted him.  Albert sent for him early this
morning."

Maggie came into the room and shut the door.

"I’ve been to sleep," said Edwin.

"Yes, I know.  I wasn’t going to have you disturbed. They’re all here."

"Who are all here?"

"Clara and the children.  Auntie asked to see all of them.  They waited
in the drawing-room for Mr. Flowerdew to go.  Bert didn’t go to school
this morning, in case--because it was so far off.  Clara fetched the
others out of school, except Rupy of course--he doesn’t go--"

"Good heavens!  I never came across such a morbid lot in my life.  I
believe they like it."

Clara could be heard marshalling the brood up the stairs.

"You’d better go up," said Maggie persuasively.

"I’d better go to the works--I’m no use here.  What time is it?"

"After eleven.  I think you’d better go up."

"Does she ask for me?"

"Oh yes.  All the time sometimes.  But she forgets for a bit."

"Well, anyhow I must wash myself and change my collar."

"All right.  Wash yourself, then."

"How is she now?"

"She isn’t taking anything."

When Edwin nervously pushed open the bedroom door, the room seemed to be
crowded.  Over the heads of clustering children towered Clara and
Albert.  As soon as the watchful Albert caught sight of Edwin, he made a
conspiratorial sign and hurried to the door, driving Edwin out again.

"Didn’t know you were here," Edwin muttered.

"I say," Albert whispered.  "Has she made a will?"

"I don’t know."

The bedroom door half opened, and Clara in her shabby morning dress
glidingly joined them.

"He doesn’t know," said Albert to Clara.

Clara’s pretty face scowled a little as she asked sharply and
resentfully:

"Then who does know?"

"I should ha’ thought _you’d_ know," said Edwin.

"Me!  I like that!  She hasn’t spoken to me for months, has she, Albert?
And she was always frightfully close about all these things."

"About what things?"

"Well, you know."

It was a fact.  Auntie Hamps had never discussed her own finance, or her
testamentary dispositions, with anybody.  And nobody had ever dared to
mention such subjects to her.

"Don’t you think you’d better ask her?" said Clara. "Albert thinks you
ought."

"No, I don’t," said Edwin, with curt disdain.

"Well, then I shall," Albert decided.

"So long as you don’t do it while I’m there!" Edwin said menacingly.
"If you want to ask people about their wills you ought to ask them
before they’re actually dying.  Can’t you see you can’t worry her about
her will now?"

He was intensely disgusted.  He thought of Mrs. Hamps’s bed, and of
Tertius Ingpen’s bed, and of the woman at dead of night in Ingpen’s
room, and of Minnie’s case; and the base insensibility of Albert and
Clara made him feel sick.  He wondered whether any occasion would ever
have solemnity enough for them to make them behave with some
distinction, some grandeur.  For himself, if he could have secured a
fortune by breathing one business word to Auntie Hamps just then, he
would have let the fortune go.

"There’s nothing more to be said," Clara murmured.

In the glance of both Clara and Albert Edwin saw hatred and envy.  Clara
especially had never forgiven him for preventing their father from
pouring money into that sieve, her husband, nor for Hilda’s wounding
tongue, nor for his worldly success.  And they both suspected that
either Maggie or Auntie Hamps had told him of Albert’s default in the
payment of interest, and so fear was added to their hatred and envy.

They all entered the bedroom, the children having been left alone only a
few seconds.  Rupert, wearing a new blue overcoat with gilt buttons, had
partially scrambled on to the bed; the pale veiled hands of Auntie Hamps
could be seen round his right hand; Rupert had grown enormous, and had
already utterly forgotten the time when he was two years old.  The
others, equally altered, stood two on either side of the bed,--Bert and
young Clara to the right, and Amy and Lucy to the left.  Lucy was crying
and Amy was benignantly wiping her eyes.  Bert, a great lump of a boy,
was to leave school at Christmas, but he was still ranked with the other
children as a child.  Young Clara sharply and Bert heavily turned round
to witness the entrance of their elders.

"Oh!  Here’s Uncle Edwin!"

"Edwin!"

"Yes, Auntie!"

The moral values of the room were instantly changed by the tone in which
Auntie Hamps had murmured "Edwin."  All the Benbows knew, and Edwin
himself knew, that a personage of supreme importance in Auntie Hamps’s
eyes had come into the scene.  The Benbows became secondary, and even
Auntie Hamps’s grasp of Rupert’s hand loosened, and, having already
kissed her, the child slipped off the bed.  Edwin approached, and over
the heads of the children, and between the great darkening curtains, he
could at last see the face of the dying woman like a senile doll’s face
amid the confusion of wrappings and bedclothes.  The deep-set eyes
seemed to burn beneath the white forehead and sparse grey hair; the
cheeks, still rounded, were highly flushed over a very small part of
their surface; the mouth, always open, was drawn in, and the chin, still
rounded like the cheeks, protruded.  The manner of Auntie Hamps’s noisy
breathing, like the puzzled gaze of her eyes, indicated apprehension of
the profoundest, acutest sort.

"Eh!" said she, in a somewhat falsetto voice, jerky and excessively
feeble.  "I thought--I’d--lost you."  Her hand was groping about.

"No, no," said Edwin, leaning over between young Clara and Rupert.

"She’s feeling for your hand, Edwin," said Clara.

He quickly took her hot, brittle fingers; they seemed to cling to his
for essential support.

"Have you--been to the works?" Auntie Hamps asked the question as though
the answer to it would end all trouble.

"No," he said.  "Not yet."

"Eh!  That’s right!  That’s right!" she murmured, apparently much
impressed by a new proof of Edwin’s wisdom.

"I’ve had a sleep."

"What?"

"I’ve been having a sleep," he repeated more loudly.

"Eh!  That’s right!  That’s right....  I’m so glad--the children have
been to see me....  Amy--did you kiss me?"  Auntie Hamps looked at Amy
hard, as if for the first time.

"Yes, Auntie."

And then Amy began to cry.

"Better take them away," Edwin suggested aside to Albert.  "It’s as much
as she can stand.  The parson’s only just gone, you know."

Albert, obedient, gave the word of command, and the room was full of
movement.

"Eh, children--children!" Auntie Hamps appealed.

Everybody stood stockstill, gazing attendant.

"Eh, children, bless you all for coming.  If you grow up--as good as
your mother--it’s all I ask--all I ask....  Your mother and I--have
never had a cross word--have we, mother?"

"No, auntie," said Clara, with a sweet, touching smile that accentuated
the fragile charm of her face.

"Never--since mother was--as tiny as you are."

Auntie Hamps looked up at the ceiling during a few strained breaths, and
then smiled for an instant at the departing children, who filed out of
the room.  Rupert loitered behind, gazing at his mother.  The mere
contrast between the infant so healthy and the dying old woman was
pathetic to Edwin.  Clara, with an exquisite reassuring gesture and
smile picked up the stout Rupert and kissed him and carried him to the
door, while Auntie Hamps looked at mother and son, ecstatic.

"Edwin!"

"Yes, Auntie?"

They were alone now.  She had not loosed his hand. Her voice was very
faint, and he bent over her still lower in the alcove of the curtains,
which seemed to stretch very high above them.

"Have you heard from Hilda?"

"Not yet.  By the second post, perhaps."

"It’s about George’s eyes--isn’t it?"

"Yes."

"She’s done quite right--quite right.  It’s just--like Hilda.  I do
hope--and pray--the boy’s eyesight--is safe."

"Oh yes!" said Edwin.  "Safe enough."

"You really think so?"  She had the air of hanging on his words.

He nodded.

"What a blessing!"  She sighed deeply with relief.

Edwin thought:

"I believe her relations must have been her passion."  And he was
impressed by the intensity of that passion.

"Edwin!"

"Yes, Auntie."

"Has--that girl--gone yet?"

"Who?" he questioned, and added more softly: "Minnie d’you mean?"  His
own voice sounded too powerful, too healthy and dominating, in
comparison with her failing murmurs.

Auntie Hamps nodded.  "Yes--Minnie."

"Not yet."

"She’s going?"

"Yes."

"Because I can’t trust--Maggie--to see to it."

"I’ll see to it."

"Has she done--the silvers--d’you know?"

"She’s doing them," answered Edwin, who thought it would be best to
carry out the deception with artistic completeness.

"She needn’t have her dinner before she goes."

"No?"

"No."  Auntie Hamps’s face and tone hardened. "Why should she?"

"All right."

"And if she asks--for her wages--tell her--I say there’s nothing
due--under the circumstances."

"All right, Auntie," Edwin agreed, desperate.

Maggie, followed by Clara, softly entered the room. Auntie Hamps glanced
at them with a certain cautious suspicion, as though one or other of
them was capable of thwarting her in the matter of Minnie. Then her eyes
closed, and Edwin was aware of a slackening of her hold on his hand.
The doctor, who called half an hour later, said that she might never
speak again, and she never did.  Her last conscious moments were moments
of satisfaction.

Edwin slowly released his hand.

"Where’s Albert?" he asked Clara, merely for the sake of saying
something.

"He’s taking the children home, and then he’s going to the works.  He
ought to have gone long ago.  There’s a dreadful upset there."

"I suppose there is," said Edwin, who had forgotten that the fly-wheel
accident must have almost brought Albert’s manufactory to a standstill.
And he wondered whether it was the family instinct, or anxiety about
Auntie Hamps’s will, that had caused Albert to absent himself from
business on such a critical morning.

"I ought to go too," he muttered, as a full picture of a lithographic
establishment masterless swept into his mind.

"Have you telegraphed to Hilda?" Clara demanded.

"No."

"Haven’t you!"

"What’s the use?"

"Well, I should have thought you would."

"Oh, no!" he said, falsely mild.  "I shall write."  He was immensely
glad that Hilda was not present in the house to complicate still further
the human equation.

Maggie was silently examining the face obscured in the gloom of the
curtains.

Instead of remaining late that night at the works, Edwin came back to
the house before six o’clock.  He had had word that the condition of
Tertius Ingpen was still unchanged.  Clara had gone home to see to her
children’s evening meal.  Maggie sat alone in the darkened bedroom,
where Auntie Hamps, her features a mere pale blur between the
over-arching curtains, still withheld the secret of her soul’s reality
from the world.  Even in the final unconsciousness there was something
grandiose which lingered from her crowning magnificent deceptions and
obstinate effort to safeguard the structure of society.  The sublime
obstinacy of the woman had transformed hypocrisy into a virtue, and not
the imminence of the infinite unknown had sufficed to make her apostate
to the steadfast principles of her mortal career.

"What about to-night?" Edwin asked.

"Oh!  Clara and I will manage."

There was a tap at the door.  Edwin opened it. Minnie, abashed but
already taking courage, stood there blinking with a letter in her hand.
"Ah!" he breathed. Hilda’s scrawling calligraphy was on the envelope.

The letter read: "Darling boy.  George has influenza, Charlie says.
Temp. 102 anyway.  So of course he can’t go out to-morrow.  I knew this
morning there was something wrong with him.  Janet and Charlie send
their love.  Your ever loving wife, Hilda."

He was exceedingly uplifted and happy and exhausted.  Hilda’s
handwriting moved him.  The whole missive was like a personal emanation
from her.  It lived with her vitality.  It fought for the mastery of the
household interior against the mysterious, far-reaching spell of the
dying woman.  "Your loving wife."  Never before, during their marriage,
had she written a phrase so comforting and exciting.  He thought: "My
faith in her is never worthy of her."  And his faith leaped up and
became worthy of her.

"George has got influenza," he said indifferently.

"George!  But influenza’s very serious for him, isn’t it?" Maggie showed
alarm.

"Why should it be?"

"Considering he nearly died of it at Orgreaves’!"

"Oh!  _Then_! ... He’ll be all right."

But Maggie had put fear into Edwin,--a superstitious fear.  Influenza
indeed might be serious for George.  Suppose he died of it.  People did
die of influenza.  Auntie Hamps--Tertius Ingpen--and now George! ... All
these anxieties mingling with his joy in the thought of Hilda!  And all
the brooding rooms of the house waiting in light or in darkness for a
decisive event!

"I must go and lie down," he said.  He could contain no more sensations.

"Do," said Maggie.



                                   IV


At two o’clock in the afternoon of Auntie Hamps’s funeral, a procession
consisting of the following people moved out of the small, stuffy
dining-room of her house across the lobby into the drawing-room:--the
Rev. Christian Flowerdew, the Rev. Guy Cliffe (second minister), the
aged Reverend Josiah Higginbotham (supernumerary minister), the chapel
and the circuit stewards, the doctor, Edwin, Maggie, Clara, Bert and
young Clara (being respectively the eldest nephew and the eldest niece
of the deceased), and finally Albert Benbow; Albert came last because he
had constituted himself the marshal of the ceremonies.  In the
drawing-room the coffin with its hideous brass plate and handles lay
upon two chairs, and was covered with white wreaths.  At the head of the
coffin was placed a small table with a white cloth; on the cloth a large
inlaid box (in which Auntie Hamps had kept odd photographs), and on the
box a black book.  The drawn blinds created a beautiful soft silvery
gloom which solemnised everything and made even the clumsy carving on
the coffin seem like the finest antique work.  The three ministers
ranged themselves round the small table; the others stood in an
irregular horseshoe about the coffin, nervous, constrained, and in dread
of catching each other’s glances.  Mr. Higginbotham, by virtue of his
age, began to read the service, and Auntie Hamps became "she," "her,"
and "our sister,"--nameless. In the dining-room she had been the paragon
of all excellences,--in the drawing-room, packed securely and neatly in
the coffin, she was a sinner snatched from the consequences of sin by a
miracle of divine sacrifice.

The interment thus commenced was the result of a compromise between two
schools of funebrial manners sharply divergent.  Edwin, immediately
after the demise, had become aware of influences far stronger than those
which had shaped the already half-forgotten interment of old Darius
Clayhanger into a form repugnant to him.  Both Albert and Clara, but
especially Albert, had assumed an elaborate funeral, with a choral
service at the Wesleyan chapel, numerous guests, a superb procession,
and a substantial and costly meal in the drawing-room to conclude.
Edwin had at once and somewhat domineeringly decided: no guests whatever
outside the family, no service at the chapel, every rite reduced to its
simplest.  When asked why, he had no logical answer.  He soon saw that
it would be impossible not to invite a minister and the doctor.  He
yielded, intimidated by the sacredness of custom.  Then not only the
Wesleyan chapel but its Sunday School sent dignified emissaries, who so
little expected a No to their honorific suggestions that the No was
unuttered and unutterable.  Certain other invitations were agreed upon.
The Sunday School announced that it would "walk," and it prepared to
"walk."

All the emissaries spoke of Auntie Hamps as a saint; they all averred
with restrained passion that her death was an absolutely irreparable
loss to the circuit; and their apparent conviction was such that Edwin’s
whole estimate of Auntie Hamps and of mankind was momentarily shaken.
Was it conceivable that none of these respectable people had arrived at
the truth concerning Auntie Hamps?  Had she deceived them all?  Or were
they simply rewarding her in memory for her ceaseless efforts on behalf
of the safety of society?

Edwin stood like a rock against a service in the Wesleyan Chapel.  Clara
cunningly pointed out to him that the Wesleyan Chapel would be heated
for the occasion, whereas the chapel at the cemetery, where scores of
persons had caught their deaths in the few years of its existence, was
never heated.  His reply showed genius.  He would have the service at
the house itself.  The decision of the chief mourner might be regretted,
and was regretted, but none could impugn its correctitude, nor its
social distinction; some said approvingly that it was ’just like’ Edwin.
Thenceforward the arrangements went more smoothly, the only serious
difficulty being about the route to the cemetery.  Edwin was met by a
saying that "the last journey must be the longest," which meant that the
cortège must go up St. Luke’s Square and along the Market Place past the
Town Hall and the Shambles, encountering the largest number of
sightseers, instead of taking the nearest way along Wedgwood Street.
Edwin chose Wedgwood Street.

In the discussions, Maggie was neutral, thus losing part of the very
little prestige which she possessed. Clara and Albert considered Edwin
to be excessively high-handed.  But they were remarkably moderate in
criticism, for the reason that no will had been found. Maggie and Clara
had searched the most secret places of the house for a will, in vain.
All that they had found was a brass and copper paper-knife wrapped in
tissue-paper and labelled "For Edwin, with Auntie’s love," and a set of
tortoise-shell combs equally wrapped in tissue-paper and labelled "For
Maggie, with Auntie’s love."  Naught for Clara!  Naught for the chicks.

Albert (who did all the running about) had been to see Mr. Julian
Pidduck, the Wesleyan solicitor, who had a pew at the back of the chapel
and was famous for invariably arriving at morning service half an hour
late.  Mr. Pidduck knew of no will.  Albert had also been to the
Bank--that is to say, the Bank, at the top of St. Luke’s Square, whose
former manager had been a buttress of Wesleyanism.  The new manager
(after nearly eight years he was still called the "new" manager, because
the previous manager, old Lovatt, had been in control for nearly thirty
years), Mr. Breeze, was ill upstairs on the residential floor with one
of his periodic attacks of boils; the cashier, however, had told Albert
that certain securities, but no testament, were deposited at the Bank;
he had offered to produce the securities, but only to Edwin, as the
nearest relative.  Albert had then secretly looked up the pages entitled
"Intestates’ Estates" in Whitaker’s Almanac and had discovered that
whereas Auntie Hamps being intestate, her personal property would be
divided equally between Edwin, Maggie, and Clara, her real property
would go entirely to Edwin. (Edwin also had secretly looked up the same
pages.)  This gross injustice nearly turned Albert from a Tory into a
Land Laws reformer.  It accounted for the comparative submissiveness of
Clara and Albert before Edwin’s arrogance as the arbiter of funerals.
They hoped that, if he was humoured, he might forego his rights.  They
could not credit, and Edwin maliciously did not tell them, that no
matter what they did he was incapable of insisting on such rights.

While the ministers succeeded each other in the conduct of the service,
each after his different manner, Edwin scrutinised the coffin, and the
wreaths, and the cards inscribed with mournful ecstatic affection that
nestled amid the flowers, and the faces of the audience, and his thought
was: "This will soon be over now!"  Beneath his gloomy and wearied
expression he was unhappy, but rather hopeful and buoyant, looking
forward to approaching felicity.  His reflections upon the career of
Auntie Hamps were kind, and utterly uncritical; he wondered what her
spirit was doing in that moment; the mystery ennobled his mind.  Yet he
wondered also whether the ministers believed all they were saying, why
the superintendent minister read so well and prayed with such a lack of
distinction, how much the wreaths cost, whether the Sunday School
deputation had silently arrived in the street, and why men in overcoats
and hatless looked so grotesque in a room, and why when men and women
were assembled on a formal occasion the women always clung together.

Probing his left-hand pocket, he felt a letter.  He had received it that
morning from Hilda.  George was progressing very well, and Charlie
Orgreave had actually brought the oculist with his apparatus to see him
at Charlie’s house.  Charlie would always do impossibilities for Hilda.
It was Charlie who had once saved George’s life--so Hilda was convinced.
The oculist had said that George’s vision was normal, and that he must
not wear glasses, but that on account of a slight weakness he ought to
wear a shade at night in rooms which were lighted from the top. In a few
days Hilda and George would return.  Edwin anticipated their arrival
with an impatience almost gleeful, so anxious was he to begin the new
life with Hilda.  Her letters had steadily excited him.  He pictured the
intimacies of their reunion.  He saw her ideally.  His mind rose to the
finest manifestations of her individuality, and the inconveniences of
that individuality grew negligible.  Withal, he was relieved that
George’s illness had kept her out of Bursley during the illness, death,
and burial of Auntie Hamps.  Had she been there, he would have had three
persons to manage instead of two, and he could not have asserted himself
with the same freedom.

And then there was a sound of sobbing outside the door.  Minnie, sharing
humbly but obstinately in the service according to her station, had
broken down in irrational grief at the funeral of the woman whose dying
words amounted to an order for her execution. Edwin, though touched,
could have smiled; and he felt abashed before the lofty and
incomprehensible marvels of human nature.  Several outraged bent heads
twisted round in the direction of the door, but the minister intrepidly
continued with the final prayer. Maggie slipped out, the door closed,
and the sound of sobbing receded.

After the benediction Albert resumed full activity, while the remainder
of the company stared and cleared their throats without exchanging a
word.  The news that the hearse and coaches had not arrived helped them
to talk a little.  The fault was not that of the undertaker, but
Edwin’s.  The service had finished too soon, because in response to Mr.
Flowerdew’s official question: "How much time do you give me?" he had
replied: "Oh!  A quarter of an hour," whereas Albert the organiser had
calculated upon half an hour.  The representatives of the Sunday School
were already lined up on the pavement and on the opposite pavement and
in the roadway were knots of ragged, callously inquisitive spectators.
The vehicles could at length be described on the brow of Church Street.
They descended the slope in haste.  The four mutes nipped down with
agility from the hammer cloths, hung their greasy top-hats on the
ornamental spikes of the hearse, and sneaked grimly into the house.  In
a second the flowers were shifted from the coffin, and with startling
accomplished swiftness the coffin was darted out of the room without its
fraudulent brass handles even being touched, and down the steps into the
hearse, and the flowers replaced.  The one hitch was due to Edwin
attempting to get into the first coach instead of waiting for the last
one.  Albert, putting on his new black gloves, checked him.  The
ministers and the doctor had to go first, the chapel officials next, and
the chief mourners--Edwin, Albert, and Bert--had the third coach.  The
women stayed behind at the door, frowning at the murmurous crowd of
shabby idlers.  Albert gave a supreme glance at the vehicles and the
walkers, made a signal, and joined Edwin and Bert in the last coach,
buttoning his left hand glove.  Edwin would only hold his gloves in his
hand. The cortège moved.  Rain was threatening, and the street was
muddy.

At the cemetery it was raining, and the walkers made a string of
glistening umbrellas; only the paid mutes had no umbrellas.  Near the
gates, under an umbrella, stood a man with a protruding chin and a wiry
grey moustache.  He came straight to Edwin and shook hands.  It was Mr.
Breeze, the Bank manager. His neck, enveloped in a white muffler, showed
a large excrescence behind, and he kept his head very carefully in one
position.

He said, in his defiant voice:

"I only had the news this morning, and I felt that I should pay the last
tribute of respect to the deceased.  I had known her in business and
privately for many years."

His greeting of Albert was extremely reserved, and Albert showed him a
meek face.  Albert’s overdraft impaired the cordiality of their
relations.

"Sorry to hear you’ve got your old complaint!" said Edwin, astounded at
this act of presence by the terrible bank-manager.

Vehicles, by some municipal caprice, were forbidden to enter the
cemetery.  And in the rain, between the stone-perpetuated great names of
the town’s history--the Boultons, the Lawtons, the Blackshaws, the
Beardmores, the Dunns, the Longsons, the Hulmes, the Suttons, the
Greenes, the Gardiners, the Calverts, the Dawsons, the Brindleys, the
Baineses, and the Woods--the long procession preceded by Auntie Hamps
tramped for a third of a mile along the asphalted path winding past the
chapel to the graveside.  And all the way Mr. Breeze, between Edwin and
Albert, with Bert a yard to the rear, talked about boils, and Edwin said
"Yes" and "No," and Albert said nothing. And at the graveside the three
ministers removed their flat round hats and put on skull-caps while
skilfully holding their umbrellas aloft.

And while Mr. Flowerdew was reading from a little book in the midst of
the large encircling bare-headed crowd with umbrellas, and the
gravedigger with absolute precision accompanied his words with three
castings of earth into the hollow of the grave, Edwin scanned an
adjoining tombstone, which marked the family vault of Isaac Plant, a
renowned citizen.  He read, chased in gilt letters on the Aberdeen
granite, the following lines:

"Sacred to the memory of Adelaide Susan, wife of Isaac Plant, died 27th
June, 1886, aged 47 years. And of Mary, wife of Isaac Plant, died 11th
December, 1890, aged 33 years.  And of Effie Harriet, wife of Isaac
Plant, died 9th December, 1893, aged 27 years.  _The Flower Fadeth_.
And of Isaac Plant, died 9th February, 1894, aged 79 years.  _I know
that my Redeemer Liveth_."  And the passionate career of the aged and
always respectable rip seemed to Edwin to have been a wondrous thing.
The love of life was in Isaac Plant.  He had risen above death again and
again.  After having detested him, Edwin now liked him on the tombstone.

And even in that hilly and bleak burial ground, with melancholy
sepulchral parties and white wind-blown surplices dotted about the
sodden slopes, and the stiff antipathetic multitude around the pit which
held Auntie Hamps, and the terrible seared, harsh, grey-and-brown
industrial landscape of the great smoking amphitheatre below, Edwin felt
happy in the sensation of being alive and of having to contend with
circumstance.  He was inspired by the legend of Isaac Plant and of
Auntie Hamps, who in very different ways had intensely lived.  And he
thought in the same mood of Tertius Ingpen, who was now understood to be
past hope.  If he died,--well, he also had intensely lived!  And he
thought too of Hilda, whose terrific vitality of emotion had caused him
such hours of apprehension and exasperation.  He exulted in all those
hours.  It seemed almost a pity that, by reason of his new-found
understanding of Hilda, such hours would not recur.  His heart flew
impatiently forward into the future, to take up existence with her
again.

When the ministers pocketed their skull-caps and resumed their hats,
everybody except Edwin appeared to feel relief in turning away from the
grave.  Faces brightened; footsteps were more alert.  In the
drawing-room Edwin had thought: "It will soon be over," and every face
near him was saying, "It is over"; but now that it was over Edwin had a
pang of depression at the eagerness with which all the mourners
abandoned Auntie Hamps to her strange and desolate grave amid the
sinister population of corpses.

He lingered, glancing about.  Mr. Breeze also lingered, and then in his
downright manner squarely approached Edwin.

"I’ll walk down with ye to the gates," said he.

"Yes," said Edwin.

Mr. Breeze moved his head round with care.  Their umbrellas touched.  In
front of them the broken units of a procession tramped in disorder,
chatting.

"I’ve got that will for you," said Mr. Breeze in a confidential tone.

"What will?"

"Mrs. Hamps’s."

"But your cashier said there was no will at your place!"

"My cashier doesn’t know everything," remarked Mr. Breeze.  And in his
voice was the satisfied grimness of a true native of the district, and a
Longshaw man. "Mrs. Hamps deposited her will with me as much as a friend
as anything else.  The fact is I had it in my private safe.  I should
have called with it this morning, but I knew that you’d be busy, and
what’s more I can’t go paying calls of a morning.  Here it is."

Mr. Breeze drew an endorsed foolscap envelope from the breast pocket of
his overcoat, and handed it to Edwin.

"Thanks," said Edwin very curtly.  He could be as native as any native.
But beneath the careful imperturbability of his demeanour he was not
unagitated.

"I’ve got a receipt for you to sign," said Mr. Breeze. "It’s slipped
into the envelope.  Here’s an ink-pencil."

Edwin comprehended that he must stand still in the rain and sign a
receipt for the will as best he could under an umbrella.  He complied.
Mr. Breeze said no more.

"Good-bye, Mr. Breeze," said Edwin at the gates.

"Good-day to you, Mr. Clayhanger."

The coaches trotted down the first part of the hill into Bursley but as
soon as the road became a street, with observant houses on either side,
the pace was reduced to a proper solemnity.  Edwin was amused and even
uplifted by the thought of the will in his pocket; his own curiosity
concerning it diverted him; he anticipated complications with a light
heart.  To Albert he said nothing on the subject, which somehow he could
not bring himself to force bluntly into the conversation.  Albert talked
about his misfortunes at the works, including the last straw of the
engine accident; and all the time he was vaguely indicating reasons--the
presence of Bert in the carriage necessitated reticence--for his default
in the interest-paying to Maggie.  At intervals he gave out that he was
expecting much from Bert, who at the New Year was to leave school for
the works--and Bert taciturn behind his spectacles had to seem loyal,
earnest, and promising.

As they approached the Clowes Hospital Edwin saw a nurse in a bonnet,
white bow, and fluent blue robe emerging from the shrubbery and putting
up an umbrella.  She looked delightful,--at once modest and piquant,
until he saw that she was the night-nurse; and even then she still
looked delightful.  He thought: "I’d no idea she could look like that!"
and began to admit to himself that perhaps in his encounters with her in
the obscurity of the night he had not envisaged the whole of her
personality.  Involuntarily he leaned forward.  Her eyes were
scintillant and active, and they caught his.  He saluted; she bowed,
with a most inviting, challenging and human smile.

"There’s Nurse Faulkner!" he exclaimed to Albert. "I must just ask her
how Ingpen is.  I haven’t heard to-day."  He made as if to lean out of
the window.

"But you can’t stop the procession!" Albert protested in horror, unable
to conceive such an enormity.

"I’ll just slip out!" said Edwin, guiltily.

He spoke to the coachman and the coach halted.

In an instant he was on the pavement.

"Drive on," he instructed the coachman, and to the outraged Albert:
"I’ll walk down."

Nurse Faulkner, apparently flattered by the proof of her attractiveness,
stopped and smiled upon the visitor.  She had a letter in one hand.

"Good afternoon, nurse."

"Good morning, Mr. Clayhanger.  I’m just going out for my morning walk
before breakfast," said she.

She had dimples.  These dimples quite ignored Edwin’s mourning and the
fact that he had quitted a funeral in order to speak to her.

"How is Mr. Ingpen to-day?" Edwin asked.  He could read on the envelope
in her hand the words "The Rev."

She grew serious, and said in a low, cheerful tone: "I think he’s going
on pretty well."

Edwin was startled.

"D’you mean he’s getting better?"

"Slowly.  He’s taking food more easily.  He was undoubtedly better this
morning.  I haven’t seen him since, of course."

"But the matron seemed to think----"  He stopped, for the dimples began
to reappear.

"Matron always fears the worst, you know," said Nurse Faulkner, not
without irony.

"Does she?"

The matron had never held out hope to Edwin; and he had unquestioningly
accepted her opinion.  It had not occurred to him that the matron of a
hospital could be led astray by her instinctive unconscious appetite for
gloom and disaster.

The nurse nodded.

"Then you think he’ll pull through?"

"I’m pretty sure he will.  But of course I’ve not seen the doctor--I
mean since the first night."

"I’m awfully glad."

"His brother came over from Darlington to see him yesterday evening, you
know."

"Yes.  I just missed him."

The nurse gave a little bow as she moved up the road.

"Just going to the pillar-box," she explained. "Dreadful weather we’re
having!"

He left her, feeling that he had made a new acquaintance.

"She’s in love with a parson, I bet," he said to himself.  And he had to
admit that she had charm--when off duty.

The news about Ingpen filled him with bright joy. Everything was going
well.  Hilda would soon be home; George’s eyes were not seriously wrong;
the awful funeral was over; and his friend was out of
danger--marvellously restored to him.  Then he thought of the will.  He
glanced about to see whether anybody of importance was observing him.
There was nobody. The coaches were a hundred yards in front.  He drew
out the envelope containing the will, managed to extract the will from
the envelope, and opened the document,--not very easily because he was
holding his umbrella.

A small printed slip fluttered to the muddy pavement. He picked it up;
it was a printed form of attestation clause, seemingly cut from
Whitaker’s Almanac:--"Signed by the testator (or testatrix as the case
may be) in the presence of us, both present at the same time," etc.

"She’s got that right, anyhow," he murmured.

Then, walking along, he read the will of Auntie Hamps.  It was quickly
spotted with raindrops.

At the house the blinds were drawn up, and the women sedately cheerful.
Maggie was actually teasing Bert about his new hat, and young Clara,
active among the preparations for tea for six, was intensely and
seriously proud at being included in the ceremonial party of adults.
She did not suspect that the adults themselves had a novel sensation of
being genuinely adult, and that the last representative of the older
generation was gone, and that this common sensation drew them together
rather wistfully.

"Oh!  By the way, there’s a telegram for you," said Maggie, as Minnie
left the dining-room after serving the last trayful of hot dishes and
pots.

Edwin took the telegram.  It was from Hilda, to say that she and George
would return on the morrow.

"But what about the house being cleaned, and what about servants?" cried
Edwin, affecting, in order to conceal his pleasure, an annoyance which
he did not in the least feel.

"Oh!  Mrs. Tams has been looking after the house--I shall go round and
see her after tea.  I’ve got one servant for Hilda."

"You never told me anything about it," said Edwin, who was struck, by no
means for the first time, by the concealment which all the women
practised.

"Didn’t I?" Maggie innocently murmured.  "And then Minnie can go and
help if necessary until you’re all settled again.  Hadn’t we better have
the gas lighted before we begin?"

And in the warm cosiness of the small, ugly, dining-room shortly to be
profaned by auctioneers and furniture-removers, amid the odours of tea
and hot tea-cakes, and surrounded by the family faces intimate, beloved,
and disdained, Edwin had an exciting vision of the new life with Hilda,
and the vision was shot through with sharp flitting thoughts of the once
gorgeous Auntie Hamps forlorn in the cemetery and already passing into
oblivion.

After tea, immediately the children had been sent home, he said,
self-consciously to Albert:

"I’ve got something for you."

And offered the will.  Maggie and Clara were upstairs.

"What is it?"

"It’s Auntie’s will.  Breeze had it.  He gave it to me in the cemetery.
It seems he only knew this morning Auntie was dead.  I think that was
why he came up."

"Well, I’m----!" Albert muttered.

His hand trembled as he opened the paper.

Auntie Hamps had made Edwin sole executor, and had left all her property
in trust for Clara’s children. Evidently she had reasoned that Edwin and
Maggie had all they needed, and that the children of such a father as
Albert could only be effectually helped in one way, which way she had
chosen.  The will was seven years old, and the astounding thing was that
she had drawn it herself, having probably copied some of the wording
from some source unknown.  It was a wise if a rather ruthless will; and
its provisions, like the manner of making it, were absolutely
characteristic of the testatrix.  Too mean to employ a lawyer, she had
yet had a magnificent gesture of generosity towards that Benbow brood
which she adored in her grandiose way.  And further she had been clever
enough not to invalidate the will by some negligent informality.  It was
as tight as if Julian Pidduck himself had drawn it.

And she had managed to put Albert in a position highly exasperating.
For he was both very pleased and very vexed.  In slighting him, she had
aggrandized his children.

"What of it?" he asked nervously.

"It’s all right so far as I’m concerned," said Edwin, with a short
laugh.  And he was sincere, for he had no desire whatever to take a
share of his aunt’s modest wealth.  He shrank from the trusteeship, but
he knew that he could not avoid it, and he was getting accustomed to
power and dominion.  Albert would have to knuckle down to him, and Clara
too.

Maggie and Clara came back together into the room, noticeably sisterly.
They perceived at once from the men’s faces that they were in the
presence of a historic event.

"I say, Clary," Albert began; his voice quavered.



                               CHAPTER XX

                             THE DISCOVERY


                                   I


Hilda showed her smiling, flattering face at the door of Edwin’s private
office at a few minutes to one on Saturday morning, and she said:

"I had to go to the dressmaker’s after my shopping, so I thought I might
as well call for you."  She added with deference: "But I can wait if
you’re busy."

True that the question of mourning had taken her to the dressmaker’s,
and that the dressmaker lived in Shawport Lane, not four minutes from
the works; but such accidents had nothing to do with her call, which,
being part of a scheme of Hilda’s, would have occurred in any case.

"I’m ready," said Edwin, pleased by the vision of his wife in the
stylish wide-sleeved black jacket and black hat which she had bought in
London.  "What have you got in that parcel?"

"It’s your new office-coat," Hilda replied, depositing on the desk the
parcel which had been partly concealed behind her muff.  "I’ve mended
the sleeves."

"Aha!" Edwin lightly murmured.  "Let’s have a look at it."

His benevolent attitude towards the new office-coat surprised and
charmed her.  Before her journey to London with George he would have
jealously resented any interfering hand among his apparel, but since her
return he had been exquisitely amenable.  She thought, proud of herself:

"It’s really quite easy to manage him.  I never used to go quite the
right way about it."

Her new system, which was one of the results of contact with London and
which had been inaugurated a week earlier on the platform of Knype
station when she stepped down from the London train, consisted chiefly
in smiles, voice-control, and other devices to make Edwin believe in any
discussion that she fully appreciated his point of view.  Often (she was
startled to find) this simulation had the unexpected result of causing
her actually to appreciate his point of view. Which was very curious.

London indeed had had its effect on Hilda.  She had seen the Five Towns
from a distance, and as something definitely provincial.  Having lived
for years at Brighton, which is almost a suburb of London, and also for
a short time in London itself, she could not think of herself as a
provincial, in the full sense in which Edwin, for example, was a
provincial.  She had gone to London with her son, not like a staring and
intimidated provincial, but with the confidence of an initiate returning
to the scene of initiation.  And once she was there, all her old
condescensions towards the dirty and primitive ingenuous Five Towns had
very quickly revived.  She discovered Charlie Orgreave, the fairly
successful doctor in Ealing (a suburb rich in doctors), to be the
perfect Londoner, and Janet, no longer useless and forlorn, scarcely
less so.  These two, indeed, had the air of having at length reached
their proper home after being born in exile.  The same was true of
Johnnie Orgreave, now safely through the matrimonial court and married
to his blonde Adela (formerly the ripping Mrs. Chris Hamson), whose
money had bought him a junior partnership in an important architectural
firm in Russell Square.  Johnnie and Adela had come over from Bedford
Park to Ealing to see Hilda, and Hilda had dined with them at Bedford
Park at a table illuminated by crimson-shaded night-lights,--a repast
utterly different in its appointments and atmosphere from anything
conceivable in Trafalgar Road.  The current Five Towns notion of Johnnie
and his wife as two morally ruined creatures hiding for the rest of
their lives in shame from an outraged public opinion, seemed merely
comic in Ealing and Bedford Park.  These people referred to the Five
Towns with negligent affection, but with disdain, as to a community
that, with all its good qualities, had not yet emerged from barbarism.
They assumed that their attitude was also Hilda’s, and Hilda, after a
moment’s secret resentment, had indeed made their attitude her own.
When she mentioned that she hoped soon to move Edwin into a country
house, they applauded and implied that no other course was possible.
Withal, their respect, to say nothing of their regard, for Edwin, the
astute and successful man of business, was obvious and genuine.  The two
brothers Orgreave, amid their possibly superficial splendours of
professional men, hinted envy of the stability of Edwin’s trade
position.  And both Janet and Adela, shopping with Hilda, showed her, by
those inflections and eyebrow-liftings of which women possess the
secret, that the wife of a solid and generous husband had quite as much
economic importance in London as in the Five Towns.

Thus when Hilda got into the train at Euston, she had in her head a plan
of campaign compared to which the schemes entertained by her on the
afternoon of the disastrous servants episode seemed amateurish and
incomplete.  And also she was like a returning adventurer, carrying back
to his savage land the sacred torch of civilisation.  She had perceived,
as never before, the superior value of the suave and refined social
methods of the metropolitan middle-classes, compared with the manners of
the Five Towns, and it seemed to her, in her new enthusiasm for the art
of life, that if she had ever had a difficulty with Edwin, her own
clumsiness was to blame.  She saw Edwin as an instrument to be played
upon, and herself as a virtuoso.  In such an attitude was necessarily a
condescension.  Yet this condescension somehow did not in the least
affect the tenderness and the fever of her longing for Edwin.  Her
excitement grew as the train passed across the dusky December plain
towards him. She thought of the honesty of his handshake and of his
wistful glance.  She knew that he was better than any of the people she
had left,--either more capable, or more reliable, or more charitable, or
all three.  She knew that most of the people she had left were at heart
snobs.  "Am I getting a snob?" she asked herself.  She had asked herself
the question before.  "I don’t care if it is snobbishness.  I want
certain things, and I will have them, and they can call it what they
like."  Like the majority of women, she was incapable of being
frightened by the names of her desires.  She might be snobbish in one
part of her, but in another she had the fiercest scorn for all that
Ealing stood for.  And in Edwin she admired nothing more than the fact
that success had not modified his politics, which were as downright as
they had ever been; she could not honestly say the same for herself; and
assuredly the Orgreaves could not say the same for themselves.  In
politics, Edwin was an inspiration to her.

And when the train entered the fiery zone of industry, and slackened
speed amid the squalid twilit streets, and stopped at Knype station in
front of a crowd of local lowering faces and mackintoshed and gaitered
forms, and the damp chill of the Five Towns came in through the opened
door of the compartment, her heart fell, and she regretted the elegance
of Ealing.  But simultaneously her heart was beating with ecstatic
expectation.  She saw Edwin’s face.  It was a local face.  He wore
mourning.  He saw her; his eye lighted; his wistful smile appeared.
"Yes," she thought, "he is the same as my image of him.  He is better
than any of them.  I am safe.  What a shame to have left him all alone!
He was quite right--there was no need for it.  But I am so impulsive. He
must have suffered terribly with those Benbows, and shut out of his own
house too." ... His hand thrilled her.  In the terrible sincerity and
outpouring of her kiss she sought to compensate him for all wrongs past
and future.  Her joy in being near him again made her tingle.  His
matter-of-fact calmness pleased her. She thought: "I know him, with his
matter-of-fact calmness!"  "Hello, kid," Edwin addressed George with
man-to-man negligence.  "Been looking after your mother?" George
answered like a Londoner.  She had them side by side.  It was the fact
that George had looked after her.  London had matured him; he had picked
up a little Ealing.  He was past Edwin’s shoulder.  Indeed he was
surprisingly near to being a man.  She had both of them.  On the
platform they surrounded her with their masculine protection. George’s
secret deep respect for Edwin was not hidden from her.

And yet, all the time, in her joy, reliance, love, admiration, eating
him with her eyes, she was condescending to Edwin,--because she had
plans for his good. She knew better than he did what would be for his
good.  And he was a provincial and didn’t suspect it. "My poor boy!" she
had said gleefully in the cab, pulling suddenly at a loose button of the
old grey coat which he wore surreptitiously under his new black
overcoat.  "My poor boy, what a state you are in!" implying in her tone
of affectionate raillery that without her he was a lost man.  Through
this loose button, she was his mother, his good angel, his saviour. The
trifle had led to a general visitation of his wardrobe, conducted by her
with metropolitan skill in humouring his susceptibilities.

Edwin now tried on the new office-coat with the self-consciousness that
none but an odious dandy can avoid on such occasions.

"It seems warmer than it used to be," he said, pleased to have her
beholding him and interesting herself in him, especially in his office.
Her presence there, unless it happened to arouse his jealousy for his
business independence, always pleasurably excited him.  Her muff on the
desk had the air of being the muff of a woman who was amorously
interested in him, but his relations with whom were not regularised by
the law or the church.

"Yes," said she.  "I’ve put some wash-leather inside the lining at the
back."

"Why?"

"Well, didn’t you say you felt the cold from the window, and it’s bad
for your liver?"

Her glance said:

"Am I not a clever woman?"

And his replied:

"You are."

"That’s the end of that, I hope, darling," she remarked, picking up the
old office-coat and dropping it with charming affected disgust into the
waste-paper basket.

He shouted for the clerk, who entered with some letters for signature.
Under the eyes of his wife Edwin signed them with the demeanour of a
secretary of state signing the destiny of provinces, while the clerk
respectfully waited.

"I’ve asked Maggie to come up for the week-end," said Hilda carelessly,
when they were alone together, and Edwin was straightening the desk
preparatory to departure.

Since her return she had become far more friendly with Maggie than ever
before,--not because Maggie had revealed any new charm, but because she
saw in Maggie a victim of injustice.  Nothing during the week had more
severely tested Hilda’s new methods of intercourse with Edwin than the
disclosure of the provisions of Auntie Hamps’s will, which she had at
once and definitely set down as monstrous.  She simply could not
comprehend Edwin’s calm acceptance of them, and a month earlier she
would have been bitter about it.  It was not (she was convinced) that
she coveted money, but that she hated unfairness.  Why should the
Benbows have all Auntie Hamps’s possessions, and Edwin and Maggie, who
had done a thousand times more for her than the Benbows, nothing?
Hilda’s conversation implied that the Benbows ought to be ashamed of
themselves, and when Edwin pointed out that their good luck was not
their fault, only a miracle of self-control had enabled her to say
nicely: "That’s quite true," instead of sneering: "That’s you all over,
Edwin!"  When she learnt that Edwin would receive not a penny for his
labours as executor and trustee for the Benbow children, she was
speechless.  Perceiving that he did not care for her to discourse upon
what she considered to be the wrong done to him, she discoursed upon the
wrong done to Maggie--Maggie who was already being deprived by the
wicked Albert of interest due to her.  And Edwin had to agree with her
about Maggie’s case.  It appeared that Maggie also agreed with her about
Maggie’s case. As for the Benbows, Hilda had not deigned to say one word
to them on the matter.  A look, a tone, a silence, had sufficed to
express the whole of Hilda’s mind to those Benbows.

"Oh!" said Edwin.  "So Maggie’s coming for the week-end, is she?  Well,
that’s not a bad scheme."  He knew that Maggie had been very helpful
about servants, and that, the second servant having not yet arrived, she
would certainly do much more work in the house than she "made."  He
pictured her and Hilda becoming still more intimate as they turned
sheets and blankets and shook pillows on opposite sides of beds, and he
was glad.

"Yes," said Hilda.  "I’ve called there this morning."

"And what’s she doing with Minnie?"

"We’ve settled all that," said Hilda proudly. Edwin had told her in
detail the whole story of Minnie, and she had behaved exactly as he had
anticipated. Her championship of Minnie had been as passionate as her
ruthless verdict upon Minnie’s dead mistress. "The girl’s aunt was there
when I called.  We’ve settled she is to go to Stone, and Maggie and I
shall do something for her, and when it’s all over I may take her on as
housemaid.  Maggie says she probably wouldn’t make a bad housemaid.
Anyhow it’s all arranged for the present."

"Then Maggie’ll be without a servant?"

"No, she won’t.  We shall manage that.  Besides, I suppose Maggie won’t
stay on in that house all by herself for ever! ... It’s just the right
size, I see."

"Just!" said Edwin.

He was spreading over his desk a dust-sheet with a red scolloped edging
which Hilda had presented to him three days earlier.

She gazed at him with composed and justifiable self-satisfaction, as if
saying: "Leave absolutely to me everything in my department, and see how
smooth your life will be!"

He would never praise her, and she had a very healthy appetite for
praise, which appetite always went hungry.  But now, instead of
resenting his niggardly reserve, she said to herself: "Poor boy!  He
can’t bring himself to pay compliments; that’s it.  But his eyes are
full of delicious compliments."  She was happy, even if apprehensive for
the immediate future. There she was, established and respected in his
office, which was his church and the successful rival of her boudoir.
Her plans were progressing.

She approached the real business of her call:

"I was thinking we might have gone over to see Ingpen this afternoon."

"Well, let’s."

Ingpen, convalescent, had insisted, two days earlier, on being removed
to his own house, near the village of Stockbrook, a few miles south of
Axe.  The departure was a surprising example of the mere power of
volition on the part of a patient.  The routine of hospital life had
exasperated the recovering soul of this priest of freedom to such a
point that doctor, matron, and friends had had to yield to a mere
instinct.

"There’s no decent train to go, and none at all to come back until
nearly nine o’clock.  And we can’t cycle in this weather--at least I
can’t, especially in the dark."

"Well, what about Sunday?"

"The Sunday trains are worse."

"What a ghastly line!" said Edwin.  "And they have the cheek to pay five
per cent!  I remember Ingpen telling me there was one fairish train into
Knype in the morning, and one out in the afternoon.  And there wouldn’t
be that if the Locomotive Superintendent didn’t happen to live at Axe."

"It’s a pity you haven’t got a dog-cart, isn’t it?" said Hilda, lightly
smiling.  "Because then we could use the works horse now and then, and
it wouldn’t really cost anything extra, would it?"

Her heart was beating perceptibly.

Edwin shook his head, agreeably, but with firmness.

"Can’t mix up two different things like that!" he said.

She knew it.  She was aware of the whole theory of horse-owning among
the upper trading-class in the Five Towns.  A butcher might use his cob
for pleasure on Sundays--he never used it for pleasure on any other
day--but traders on a higher plane than butchers drew between the works
and the house a line which a works horse was not permitted to cross.
One or two, perhaps,--but not the most solid--would put a carter into a
livery overcoat and a shabby top-hat and describe him as a coachman
while on rare afternoons he drove a landau or a victoria picked up cheap
at Axe or Market Drayton.  But the majority had no pretensions to the
owning of private carriages. The community was not in fact a carriage
community. Even the Orgreaves had never dreamed of a carriage. Old
Darius Clayhanger would have been staggered into profanity by the
suggestion of such a thing.  Indeed, until some time after old
Clayhanger’s death the printing business had been content to deliver all
its orders in a boy-pushed handcart.  Only when Edwin discovered that,
for instance, two thousand catalogues on faced clay paper could not be
respectably delivered in a handcart, had he steeled himself to the
prodigious move of setting up a stable.  He had found an entirely
trustworthy ostler-carter with the comfortable name of Unchpin, and, an
animal and a tradesman’s covered cart having been bought, he had left
the affair to Unchpin.  Naturally he had never essayed to drive the
tradesman’s cart.  And Edwin Clayhanger could not be seen on the
insecure box of a tradesman’s cart. He had learnt nothing about horses
except that a horse should be watered before, and not after, being fed,
that shoeing cost a shilling a week and fodder a shilling a day, and
that a horse driven over a hundred and fifty miles a week was likely to
get "a bit over" at the knees.  At home the horse and cart had always
been regarded as being just as exclusively a works item as the
printing-machines or the steam-engine.

"I suppose," said Hilda carefully, "you’ve got all the work one horse
can do?"

"And more."

"Well, then, why don’t you buy another one?"  She tried to speak
carelessly, without genuine interest.

"Yes, no doubt!" Edwin answered drily.  "And build fresh stables, too."

"Haven’t you got room for two?"

"Come along and look, and then perhaps you’ll be satisfied."

Buzzers, syrens, and whistles began to sound in the neighbourhood.  It
was one o’clock.

"Shall I? ... Your overcoat collar’s turned up behind.  Let me do it."

She straightened the collar.

They went out, through the clerk’s office.  Edwin gave a sideways nod to
Simpson.  In the passage some girls and a few men were already hurrying
forth.  None of them took notice of Edwin and Hilda.  They all plunged
for the street as though the works had been on fire.

"They are in a hurry, my word!" Hilda murmured, with irony.

"And why shouldn’t they be?" the employer protested almost angrily.

In the small yard stood the horseless cart, with "Edwin Clayhanger,
Lithographer and Steam Printer, Bursley," on both its sides.  The stable
and cart-shed were in one penthouse, and to get to the stable it was
necessary to pass through the cart-shed.  Unchpin, a fat man of forty
with a face marked by black seams, was bending over a chaff-cutter in
the cart-shed.  He ignored the intruders.  The stable consisted of one
large loose-box, in which a grey animal was restlessly moving.

"You see!" Edwin muttered curtly.

"Oh!  What a beautiful horse!  I’ve never seen him before."

"Her," Edwin corrected.

"Is it a mare?"

"So they say!"

"I never knew you’d got a fresh one."

"I haven’t--yet.  I’ve taken this one for a fortnight’s trial, from
Chawner....  How’s she doing, Unchpin?" he called to the cart-shed.

Unchpin looked round and stared.

"Bit light," he growled and turned back to the chaff-cutter, which he
seemed to be repairing.

"I thought so," said Edwin.

"But her’s a good ’un," he added.

"But where’s the old horse?" asked Hilda.

"With God," Edwin replied.  "Dropped down dead last week."

"What of?"

Edwin shook his head.

"It’s a privilege of horses to do that sort of thing," he said.
"They’re always doing it."

"You never told me."

"Well, you weren’t here, for one thing."

The mare inquisitively but cautiously put her muzzle over the door of
the box.  Hilda stroked her.  The animal’s mysterious eyes, her
beautiful coat, her broad back, her general bigness relatively to Hilda,
the sound of her feet among the litter on the paving stones, the smell
of the stable,--these things enchanted Hilda.

"I should adore horses!" she breathed, half to herself, ecstatically;
and wondered whether she would ever be able to work her will on Edwin in
the matter of a dog-cart.  She pictured herself driving the grey mare,
who had learnt to love her, in a flashing dog-cart, Edwin by her side on
the front-seat.  Her mind went back enviously to Tavy Mansion and
Dartmoor. But she felt that Edwin had not enough elasticity to
comprehend the rapture of her dream.  She foresaw nearly endless trouble
and altercation and chicane before she could achieve her end.  She was
ready to despair, but she remembered her resolutions and took heart.

"I say, Unchpin," said Edwin.  "I suppose this box couldn’t be made into
two stalls?"

Unchpin on his gaitered legs clumped towards the stable, and gazed
gloomily into the box.  When he had gazed for some time, he touched his
cap to Hilda.

"It could," he announced.

"Could you get a trap into the shed as well as the cart?"

"Ay!  If ye dropped th’ shafts o’ th’ trap under th’ cart.  What of it,
mester?"

"Nothing.  Only missis is going to have this mare."

After a pause, Unchpin muttered:

"Missis, eh!"

Hilda had moved a little away into the yard.  Edwin approached her,
flushing slightly, and with a self-consciousness which he tried to
dissipate with one wink. Hilda’s face was set hard.

"I must just go back to the office," she said, in a queer voice.

She walked quickly, Edwin following.  Simpson beheld their return with
gentle surprise.  In the private office Hilda shut the door.  She then
ran to the puzzled Edwin, and kissed him with the most startling
vehemence, clasping her arms--in one hand she still held the muff--round
his neck.  She loved him for being exactly as he was.  She preferred his
strange, uncouth method of granting a request, of yielding, of
flattering her caprice, to any politer, more conventional methods of the
metropolis.  She thought that no other man could be as deeply romantic
as Edwin.  She despised herself for ever having been misled by the
surface of him.  And even the surface of him she saw now as it were,
through the prism of passionate affection, to be edged with the blending
colours of the rainbow.  And when they came again out of the office,
after the sacred rite, and Edwin, as uplifted as she, glanced back
nevertheless at the sheeted desk and the safe and the other objects in
the room with the half-mechanical habitual solicitude of a man from whom
the weight of responsibility is never lifted, she felt saddened because
she could not enter utterly into his impenetrable soul, and live through
all his emotions, and comprehend like a creator the always baffling
wistfulness of his eyes.  This sadness was joy; it was the aura of her
tremendous satisfaction in his individuality and in her triumph and in
the thought: "I alone stand between him and desolation."



                                   II


"Wo!" exclaimed Hilda broadly, bringing the mare and the vehicle to a
standstill in front of the "Live and Let Live" inn in the main street of
the village of Stockbrook, which lay about a mile and a half off the
high road from the Five Towns to Axe.  And immediately the mare stopped
she was enveloped in her own vapour.

"Ha!" exclaimed Edwin, with faint benevolent irony. "And no bones
broken!"

A man came out from the stable-yard.

The village of Stockbrook gave the illusion that hundreds of English
villages were giving that Christmas morning,--the illusion that its name
was Arcadia, that finality had been reached, and that the forces of
civilisation could go no further.  More suave than a Dutch village,
incomparably neater and cleaner and more delicately finished than a
French village, it presented, in the still, complacent atmosphere of
long tradition, a picturesque medley of tiny architectures nearly every
aspect of which was beautiful.  And if seven people of different ages
and sexes lived in a two-roomed cottage under a thatched roof hollowed
by the weight of years, without drains and without water, and also
without freedom, the beholder was yet bound to conclude that by some
mysterious virtue their existence must be gracious, happy, and in fact
ideal--especially on Christmas Day, though Christmas Day was also
Quarter Day--and that they would not on any account have it altered in
the slightest degree.  Who could believe that fathers of families drank
away their children’s bread in the quaint tap-room of that creeper-clad
hostel--a public-house fit to produce ecstasy in the heart of every
American traveller--"The Live and Let Live"?  Who could have believed
that the Wesleyan Methodists already singing a Christmas hymn inside the
dwarf Georgian conventicle, and their fellow-Christians straggling under
the lych into the church-yard, scorned one another with an immortal
detestation, each claiming a monopoly in knowledge of the unknowable?
But after all the illusion of Arcadia was not entirely an illusion.  In
this calm, rime-decked, Christmas-imbued village, with its motionless
trees enchanted beneath a vast grey impenetrable cloud, a sort of
relative finality had indeed been reached,--the end of an epoch that was
awaiting dissolution.

Edwin had not easily agreed to the project of shutting up house for the
day and eating the Christmas dinner with Tertius Ingpen.  Although
customarily regarding the ritual of Christmas, with its family visits,
its exchange of presents, its feverish kitchen activity, its somewhat
insincere gaiety, its hours of boredom, and its stomachic regrets, as an
ordeal rather than a delight, he nevertheless abandoned it with
reluctance and a sense of being disloyal to something sacred. But the
situation of Ingpen, Hilda’s strong desire and her teasing promise of a
surprise, and the still continuing dearth of servants had been good
arguments to persuade him.

And though he had left Trafalgar Road moody and captious, thinking all
the time of the deserted and cold home, he had arrived in Stockbrook
tingling and happy, and proud of Hilda,--proud of her verve, her
persistency, and her success.  She had carried him very far on the wave
of her new enthusiasm for horse-traction. She had beguiled him into
immediately spending mighty sums on a dog-cart, new harness, rugs, a
driving-apron, and a fancy whip.  She had exhausted Unchpin, upset the
routine of the lithographic business, and gravely overworked the mare,
in her determination to learn to drive.  She had had the equipage out at
night for her lessons.  On the other hand she had not in the least
troubled herself about the purchase of a second horse for mercantile
purposes, and a second horse had not yet been bought.

When she had announced that she would herself drive her husband and son
over to Stockbrook, Edwin had absolutely negatived the idea; but Unchpin
had been on her side; she had done the double journey with Unchpin, who
judged her capable and the mare (eight years old) quite reliable, and
who moreover wanted Christmas as much as possible to himself.  And Hilda
had triumphed.  Walking the mare uphill--and also downhill--she had
achieved Stockbrook in safety; and the conquering air with which she
drew up at the "Live and Let Live" was delicious.  The chit’s happiness
and pride radiated out from her.  It seemed to Edwin that by the mere
strength of violition she had actually created the dog-cart and its
appointments, and the mare too!  And he thought that he himself had not
lived in vain if he could procure her such sensations as her glowing
face then displayed. Her occasionally overbearing tenacity, and the
little jars which good resolutions several weeks old had naturally not
been powerful enough to prevent, were forgotten and forgiven.  He would
have given all his savings to please her caprice, and been glad.  A
horse and trap, or even a pair of horses and a landau, were a trifling
price to pay for her girlish joy and for his own tranquillity in his
beloved house and business.

"Catch me, both of you!" cried Hilda.

Edwin had got down, and walked round behind the vehicle to the footpath,
where George stood grinning. The stableman, in classic attitude, was at
the mare’s head.

Hilda jumped rather wildly.  It was Edwin who countered the shock of her
descent.  The edge of her velvet hat knocked against his forehead,
disarranging his cap.  He could smell the velvet, as for an instant he
held his wife--strangely acquiescent and yielding--in his arms, and
there was something intimately feminine in the faint odour.  All Hilda’s
happiness seemed to pass into him, and that felicity sufficed for him.
He did not desire any happiness personal to himself.  He wanted only to
live in her.  His contentment was profound, complete, rapturous.

And yet in the same moment, reflecting that Hilda would certainly have
neglected the well-being of the mare, he could say to the stableman:

"Put the rug over her, will you?"

"Hello!  Here’s Mr. Ingpen!" announced George, as he threw the coloured
rug on the mare.

Ingpen, pale and thickly enveloped, came slowly round the bend of the
road, waving and smiling.  He had had a relapse, after a too early
sortie, and was recovering from it.

"I made sure you’d be about here," he said, shaking hands.  "Merry
Christmas, all!"

"Ought you to be out, my lad?" Edwin asked heartily.

"Out?  Yes.  I’m as fit as a fiddle.  And I’ve been ordered mild
exercise."  He squared off gaily against George and hit the stout
adolescent in the chest.

"What about all your parcels, Hilda?" Edwin enquired.

"Oh!  We’ll call for them afterwards."

"Afterwards?"

"Yes.  Come along--before you catch a chill."  She winked openly at
Ingpen, who returned the wink. "Come along, dear.  It’s not far.  We
have to walk across the fields."

"Put her up, sir?" the stableman demanded of Edwin.

"Yes.  And give her a bit of a rub down," he replied absently,
remembering various references of Hilda’s to a surprise.  His heart
misgave him.  Ingpen and Hilda looked like plotters, very intimate and
mischievous.  He had a notion that living with a woman was comparable to
living with a volcano--you never knew when a dangerous eruption might
not occur.

Within three minutes the first and minor catastrophe had occurred.

"Bit sticky, this field path of yours," said Edwin, uneasily.

They were all four slithering about in brown clay under a ragged hedge
in which a few red berries glowed.

"It was as hard as iron the day before yesterday," said Hilda.

"Oh!  So you were here the day before yesterday, were you? ... What’s
that house there?"  Edwin turned to Ingpen.

"He’s guessed it in one!" Ingpen murmured, and then went off into his
characteristic crescendo laugh.

The upper part of a late eighteenth-century house, squat and square,
with yellow walls, black uncurtained windows, high slim chimney, and a
blue slate roof, showed like a gigantic and mysterious fruit in a clump
of variegated trees, some of which were evergreen.

"Ladderedge Hall, my boy," said Ingpen.  "Seat of the Beechinors for
about a hundred years."

"’Seat’, eh!" Edwin murmured sarcastically.

"It’s been empty for two years," remarked Hilda brightly.  "So we
thought we’d have a look at it."

And Edwin said to himself that he had divined all along what the
surprise was.  It was astounding that a man could pass with such
rapidity as Edwin from vivid joy to black and desolate gloom.  She well
knew that the idea of living in the country was extremely repugnant to
him, and that nothing would ever induce him to consent to it.  And yet
she must needs lay this trap for him, prepare this infantile surprise,
and thereby spoil his Christmas, she who a few moments earlier had been
the embodiment of surrender in his arms!  He said no word.  He hummed a
few notes and glanced airily to right and left with an effort after
unconcern.  The presence of Ingpen and the boy, and the fact of
Christmas, forbade him to speak freely.  He could not suddenly stop and
drive his stick into the earth and say savagely:

"Now listen to me!  Once for all, I won’t have this country house idea!
So let it be understood,--if you want a row, you know how to get it."

The appearance of amity--and the more high-spirited the better--must be
kept up throughout the day. Nevertheless in his heart he challenged
Hilda desperately. All her good qualities became insignificant, all his
benevolent estimates of her seemed ridiculous.  She was the impossible
woman.  He saw a tremendous vista of unpleasantness, for her obstinacy
in warfare was known to him, together with her perfect lack of scruple,
of commonsense, and of social decency.  He had made her a present of a
horse and trap--solely to please her--and this was his reward!  The more
rope you gave these creatures, the more they wanted!  But he would give
no more rope.  Compromise was at an end. The battle would be joined that
night....  In his grim and resolute dejection there was something almost
voluptuous.  He continued to glance airily about, and at intervals to
hum a few notes.

Over a stile they dropped into a rutty side-road, and opposite was the
worn iron gate of Ladderedge Hall, with a house-agent’s board on it.  A
short curved gravel drive, filmed with green, led to the front-door of
the house.  In front were a lawn and a flower-garden, beyond a paddock,
and behind a vegetable garden and a glimpse of stabling; a compact
property! Ingpen drew a great key from his pocket.  The plotters were
all prepared; they took their victim for a simpleton, a ninny, a lamb!

In the damp echoing interior Edwin gazed without seeing, and heard as in
a dream without listening. This was the hall, this the dining-room, this
the drawing-room, this the morning-room....  White marble mantelpieces,
pre-historic grates, wall-paper hanging in strips, cobwebs, uneven
floors, scaly ceilings, the invisible vapour of human memories!  This
was the kitchen, enormous; then the larder, enormous, and the scullery
still more enormous (with a pump-handle flanking the slopstone)!  No
water.  No gas.  And what was this room opening out of the kitchen?  Oh!
That must be the servants’ hall....  Servants’ hall indeed! Imagine
Edwin Clayhanger living in a "Hall," with a servants’ hall therein!
Snobbishness unthinkable!  He would not be able to look his friends in
the face.... On the first floor, endless bedrooms, but no bath-room.
Here, though, was a small bedroom that would make a splendid
bath-room....  Ingpen, the ever expert, conceived a tank-room in the
roof, and traced routes for plumbers’ pipes.  George, excited, and
comprehending that he must conduct himself as behoved an architect, ran
up to the attic floor to study on the spot the problem of the tank-room,
and Ingpen followed.  Edwin stared out of a window at the prospect of
the Arcadian village lying a little below across the sloping fields.

"Come along, Edwin," Hilda coaxed.

Yes, she had pretended a deep concern for the welfare of the suffering
feckless bachelor, Tertius Ingpen.  She had paid visit after visit in
order to watch over his convalescence.  Choosing to ignore his scorn for
all her sex, she had grown more friendly with him than even Edwin had
ever been.  Indeed by her sympathetic attentions she had made Edwin seem
callous in comparison.  And all the time she had merely been pursuing a
private design--with what girlish deceitfulness.

In the emptiness of the house the voices of Ingpen and George echoed
from above down the second flight of stairs.

"No good going to the attics," muttered Edwin, on the landing.

Hilda, half cajoling, half fretful, protested:

"Now, Edwin, don’t be disagreeable."

He followed her on high, martyrised.  The front wall of the house rose
nearly to the top of the attic windows, screening and darkening them.

"Cheerful view!" Edwin growled.

He heard Ingpen saying that the place could be had on a repairing lease
for sixty-five pounds a year, and that perhaps £1,200 would buy it.
Dirt cheap.

"Ah!" Edwin murmured.  "I know those repairing leases.  £1,000 wouldn’t
make this barn fit to live in."

He knew that Ingpen and Hilda exchanged glances.

"It’s larger than Tavy Mansion," said Hilda.

Tavy Mansion!  There was the secret!  Tavy Mansion was at the bottom of
her scheme.  Alicia Hesketh had a fine house, and Hilda must have a
finer. She, Hilda, of all people, was a snob.  He had long suspected it.

He rejoined sharply: "Of course it isn’t larger than Tavy Mansion!  It
isn’t as large."

"Oh! Edwin.  How can you say such things!"

In the portico, as Ingpen was re-locking the door, the husband said
negligently, superiorly, cheerfully:

"It’s not so bad.  I expect there’s hundreds of places like this up and
down the country--going cheap."

The walk back to the "Live and Let Live" was irked by constraint,
against which everyone fought nobly, smiling, laughing, making remarks
about cockrobins, the sky, the Christmas dinner.

"So I hear it’s settled you’re going to London when you leave school,
kiddie," said Tertius Ingpen, to bridge over a fearful hiatus in the
prittle-prattle.

George, so big now and so mannishly dressed as to be amused and not a
bit hurt by the appellation "kiddie," confirmed the statement in his
deepening voice.

Edwin thought:

"It’s more than _I_ hear, anyway!"

Hilda had told him that during the visit to London the project for
articling George to Johnnie Orgreave had been revived, but she had not
said that a decision had been taken.  Though Edwin from careful pride
had not spoken freely--George being Hilda’s affair and not his--he had
shown no enthusiasm.  Johnnie Orgreave had sunk permanently in his
esteem--scarcely less so than Jimmie, whose conjugal eccentricities had
scandalised the Five Towns and were achieving the ruin of the Orgreave
practice; or than Tom, who was developing into a miser.  Moreover, he
did not at all care for George going to London.  Why should it be
thought necessary for George to go to London?  The sagacious and
successful provincial in Edwin was darkly jealous of London, as a rival
superficial and brilliant.  And now he learnt from Ingpen that George’s
destiny was fixed....  A matter of small importance, however!

Did "they" seriously expect him to travel from Ladderedge Hall to his
works, and from his works to Ladderedge Hall every week-day of his life?
He laughed sardonically to himself.

Out came the sun, which George greeted with a cheer.  And Edwin, to his
own surprise, began to feel hungry.



                                  III


"I shan’t take that house, you know," said Edwin, casually and yet
confidentially, in a pause which followed a long analysis, by Ingpen, of
Ingpen’s sensations in hospital before he was out of danger.

They sat on opposite sides of a splendid extravagant fire in Ingpen’s
dining-room.

Ingpen, sprawling in a shabby, uncomfortable easychair, and flushed with
the activity of digestion, raised his eyebrows, squinted down at the
cigarette between his lips, and answered impartially:

"No.  So I gather.  Of course you must understand it was Hilda’s plan to
go up there.  I merely fell in with it,--simplest thing to do in these
cases!"

"Certainly."

Thus they both condescended to the feather-headed capricious woman,
dismissed her, and felt a marked access of sincere intimacy on a plane
of civilisation exclusively masculine.

In the succeeding silence of satisfaction and relief could be heard
George, in the drawing-room above, practising again the piano part of a
Haydn violin sonata which he had very nervously tried over with Ingpen
while they were awaiting dinner.

Ingpen said suddenly:

"I say, old chap!  Why have you never mentioned that you happened to
meet a certain person in my room at Hanbridge that night you went over
there for me?"  He frowned.

Edwin had a thrill, pleasurable and apprehensive, at the prospect of a
supreme confidence.

"It was no earthly business of mine," he answered lightly.  But his tone
conveyed: "You surely ought to be aware that my loyalty and my
discretion are complete."

And Ingpen, replying to Edwin’s tone, said with a simple directness that
flattered Edwin to the heart:

"Naturally I knew I was quite safe in your hands.... I’ve reassured the
lady."  Ingpen smiled slightly.

Edwin was too proud to tell Ingpen that he had not said a word to Hilda,
and Ingpen was too proud to tell Edwin that he assumed as much.

At that moment Hilda came into the room, murmuring a carol that some
children of Stockbrook had sung on the doorstep during dinner.

"Don’t be afraid--I’m not going to interrupt.  I know you’re in the
thick of it," said she archly, not guessing how exactly truthful she
was.

Ingpen, keeping his presence of mind in the most admirable manner,
rejoined with irony:

"You don’t mean to say you’ve finished already explaining to Mrs. Dummer
how she ought to run my house for me!"

"How soon do you mean to have this table cleared?" asked Hilda.

The Christmas dinner, served by a raw girl in a large bluish-white
pinafore, temporarily hired to assist Mrs. Dummer the housekeeper, had
been a good one.  Its only real fault was that it had had a little too
much the air of being a special and mighty effort; and although it owed
something to Hilda’s parcels, Ingpen was justified in the
self-satisfaction which he did not quite conceal as a bachelor host.
But now, under Hilda’s quizzing gaze, not merely the table but the room
and the house sank to the tenth-rate.  The coarse imperfections of the
linen and the cutlery grew very apparent; the disorder of bottles and
glasses and cups recalled the refectory of an inferior club.  And the
untidiness of the room, heaped with accumulations of newspapers,
magazines, documents, books, boxes and musical-instrument cases, loudly
accused the solitary despot whose daily caprices of arrangement were
perpetuated and rendered sacred by the ukase that nothing was to be
disturbed.  Hilda’s glinting eyes seemed to challenge each corner and
dark place to confess its shameful dirt, and the malicious poise of her
head mysteriously communicated the fact that in the past fortnight she
had spied out every sinister secret in the whole graceless, primitive
wigwam.

"This table," retorted Ingpen bravely, "is going to be cleared when it
won’t disturb me to have it cleared."

"All right," said Hilda.  "But Mrs. Dummer does want to get on with her
washing-up."

"Look here, madam," Ingpen replied.  "You’re a little ray of sunshine,
and all that, and I’m the first to say so; but I’m not your husband."
He made a warning gesture.  "Now don’t say you’d be sorry for any woman
I was the husband of.  Think of something more original."  He burst out
laughing.

Hilda went to the window and looked out at the fading day.

"Please, I only popped in to say it’s nearly a quarter to three, and
George and I will go down to the inn and bring the dog-cart up here.  I
want a little walk.  We shan’t get home till dark as it is."

"Oh!  Chance it and stop for tea, and all will be forgiven."

"Drive home in the dark?  Not much!" Edwin murmured.

"He’s afraid of my driving," said Hilda.

When Edwin and Ingpen were alone together once more, Ingpen’s expression
changed back instantly to that which Hilda had disturbed, and Edwin’s
impatience, which had uneasily simmered during the interruption, began
to boil.

"Her husband’s in a lunatic asylum, I may tell you," said Ingpen.

"Whose?"

"The young woman’s in question."

For Edwin, it was as if a door had opened in a wall and disclosed a vast
unsuspected garden of romance.

"Really!"

"Yes, my boy," Ingpen went on, quietly, with restraint, but not without
a naïve and healthy pride in the sudden display of the marvellous
garden.  "And I didn’t meet her at a concert, or on the Grand Canal, or
anything of that sort.  I met her in a mill at Oldham while I was doing
my job.  He was the boss of the mill; I walked into an office and he was
lying on the floor on the flat of his back, and she was wiping her feet
on his chest.  He was saying in a very anxious tone: ’You aren’t half
wiping them.  Harder! Harder!’  That was his little weakness, you see.
He happened to be convinced that he was a doormat. She had been hiding
the thing for weeks, coming with him to the works, and so on, to calm
him."  Ingpen spoke more quickly and excitedly: "I never saw a more
awful thing in my life!  I never saw a more awful thing in my life!  And
coming across it suddenly, you see....  There was something absolutely
odious in him lying down like that, and her trying to soothe him in the
way he wanted.  You should have seen the serious expression of his face,
simply bursting with anxiety for her to wipe her boots properly on him.
And her face when she caught sight of me.  Oh! Dreadful!  Dreadful!"
Ingpen paused, and then continued calmly: "Of course I soon tumbled to
it.  For the matter of that, it didn’t want much tumbling to. He went
raving mad the same afternoon.  And he’s been more or less raving mad
ever since."

"What a ghastly business....  Any children?"

"No, thank God!" Ingpen answered with fresh emotion.  "But don’t you
forget that she’s still the wife of that lunatic, and he’ll probably
live for ever.  She’s tied up to him just as if she was tied up to a
post. Those are our Divorce Laws!  Isn’t it appalling?  Isn’t it
inconceivable?  Just think of the situation of that woman!"  Ingpen
positively glared at Edwin in the intensity of his indignation.

"Awful!" Edwin murmured.

"Quite alone in the world, you know!" said Ingpen. "I’m hanged if I know
what she’d have done without me. She hadn’t a friend--at any rate she
hadn’t a friend with a grain of sense.  Astonishing how solitary some
couples are! ... It aged her frightfully.  She’s much younger than she
looks.  Happily there was a bit of money--enough in fact."

Deeply as Edwin had been impressed by his romantic discovery of a woman
in Ingpen’s room at Hanbridge, he was still more impressed by it now.
He saw the whole scene again, and saw it far more poetically. He accused
himself of blindness, and also of a certain harshness of attitude
towards the woman.  He endowed her now with wondrous qualities.  The
adventure, in its tragicalness and its clandestine tenderness, was
enchanting.  How exquisite must be the relations between Ingpen and the
woman if without warning she could go to his lair at night and wait
confidently for his return!  How divine the surprise for him, how ardent
the welcome!  He envied Ingpen.  And also he admired him, for Ingpen had
obviously conducted the affair with worthy expertise.  And he had known
how to win devotion.

With an air of impartiality Ingpen proceeded:

"You wouldn’t see her quite at her best, I’m afraid. She’s very shy--and
naturally she’d be more shy than ever when you saw her.  She’s quite a
different woman when the shyness has worn off.  The first two or three
times I met her I must say I didn’t think she was anything more than a
nice well-meaning creature,--you know what I mean.  But she’s much more
than that. Can’t play, but I believe she has a real feeling for music.
She has time for reading, and she does read. And she has a more
masculine understanding than nearly any other woman I’ve ever come
across."

"You wait a bit!" thought Edwin.  This simplicity on the part of a
notable man of the world pleased him and gave him a comfortable sense of
superiority.

Aloud he responded sympathetically:

"Good! ... Do I understand she’s living in the Five Towns now?"

"Yes," said Ingpen, after a hesitation.  He spoke in a peculiar,
significant voice, carefully modest.  The single monosyllable conveyed
to Edwin: "I cannot deny it.  I was necessary to this woman, and in the
end she followed me!"

Edwin was impressed anew by the full revelation of romance which had
concealed itself in the squalid dailiness of the Five Towns.

"In fact," said Ingpen, "you never know your luck.  If she’d been free I
might have been fool enough to get married."

"Why do you say a thing like that?"

"Because I think I should be a fool to marry."  Ingpen tapping his front
teeth with his finger-nail, spoke reflectively, persuasively, and with
calm detachment.

"Why?" asked Edwin, persuasively also, but nervously, as though the
spirit of adventure in the search for truth was pushing him to fatal
dangers.

"Marriage isn’t worth the price--for me, that is. I daresay I’m
peculiar."  Ingpen said this quite seriously, prepared to consider
impartially the proposition that he was peculiar.  "The fact is, my boy,
I think my freedom is worth a bit more than I could get out of any
marriage."

"That’s all very well," said Edwin, trying to speak with the same
dispassionate conviction as Ingpen, and scarcely succeeding.  "But look
what you miss!  Look how you live!"  Almost involuntarily he glanced
with self-complacence round the unlovely, unseemly room, and his glance
seemed to penetrate ceilings and walls, and to discover and condemn the
whole charmless house from top to bottom.

"Why?  What’s the matter with it?" Ingpen replied uneasily; a slight
flush came into his cheeks. "Nobody has a more comfortable bed or more
comfortable boots than I have.  How many women can make coffee as good
as mine?  No woman ever born can make first-class tea.  I have all I
want."

"No, you don’t.  And what’s the good of talking about coffee, and tea,
and beds?"

"Well, what else is there I want that I haven’t got?  If you mean fancy
cushions and draperies, no, thanks!"

"You know what I mean all right....  And then ’freedom’ as you say.
What do you mean by freedom?"

"I don’t specially mean," said Ingpen, tranquil and benevolent, "what I
may call physical freedom.  I’d give that up.  I like a certain amount
of untidiness, for instance, and I don’t think an absence of dust is the
greatest thing in the world; but I wouldn’t in the least mind giving all
that up.  It wouldn’t really matter to me.  What I won’t give up is my
intellectual freedom.  Perhaps I mean intellectual honesty.  I’d give up
even my intellectual freedom if I could be deprived of it fairly and
honestly.  But I shouldn’t be. There’s almost no intellectual honesty in
marriage. There can’t be.  The entire affair is a series of compromises,
chiefly base on the part of the man.  The alternative is absolute
subjection of the woman, which is offensive.  No woman not absolutely a
slave ever hears the truth except in anger.  You can’t say the same
about men, and you know it.  I’m not blaming; I’m stating.  Even
assuming a married man gets a few advantages that I miss, they’re all
purely physical----"

"Oh no!  Not at all."

"My boy," Ingpen insisted, sitting up, and gazing earnestly at Edwin.
"Analyse them down, and they’re all physical--all!  And I tell you I
won’t pay the price for them.  I won’t.  I’ve no grievance against
women; I can enjoy being with women as much as anybody, but I won’t--I
will not--live permanently on their level.  That’s why I say I might
have been fool enough to get married.  It’s quite simple."

"Hm!"

Edwin, although indubitably one of those who had committed the vast
folly of marriage, and therefore subject to Ingpen’s indictment, felt
not the least constraint, nor any need to offer an individual defence.
Ingpen’s demeanour seemed to have lifted the argument above the
personal.  His assumption that Edwin could not be offended was
positively inspiring to Edwin.  The fear of truth was exorcised.
Freedom of thought existed in that room in England.  Edwin reflected:
"If he’s right and I’m condemned accordingly,--well, I can’t help it.
Facts are facts, and they’re extremely interesting."

He also reflected:

"Why on earth can’t Hilda and I discuss like that?"

He did not know why, but he profoundly and sadly knew that such
discussion would be quite impossible with Hilda.

The red-hot coals in the grate subsided together.

"And I’ll tell you another thing----" Ingpen commenced.

He was stopped by the entrance of Mrs. Dummer, a fat woman, with an old
japanned tray.  Mrs. Dummer came in like a desperate forlorn hope.  Her
aged, grim, and yet somewhat hysterical face seemed to say: "I’m going
to clear this table and get on with my work, even if I die for it at the
hands of a brutal tyrant."  Her gestures as she made a space for the
tray and set it down on the table were the formidable gestures of the
persecuted at bay.

"Mrs. Dummer," said Ingpen, in a weak voice, leaning back in his chair,
"would you mind fetching me my tonic off my dressing-table?  I’ve
forgotten it."

"Bless us!" exclaimed Mrs. Dummer.

As she had hurried out, Ingpen winked placidly at Edwin in the room in
which the shadows were already falling.

Nevertheless, when the dog-cart arrived at the front-door, Ingpen did
seem to show some signs of exhaustion.  Hilda would not get down.  She
sent word into the house by George that the departure must occur at
once.  Ingpen went out with Edwin, plaintively teased Hilda about the
insufferable pride of those who sit in driving-seats, and took leave of
her with the most punctilious and chivalrous ceremonial, while Hilda
inscrutably smiling bent down to him with condescension from her perch.

"I’ll sit behind going home, I think," said Edwin. "George, you can sit
with your mother."

"Tchik!  Tchik!" Hilda signalled.

The mare with a jerk started off down the misty and darkening road.



                                   IV


The second and major catastrophe occurred very soon after the arrival in
Trafalgar Road.  It was three-quarters of an hour after sunset and the
street lamps were lighted.  Unchpin, with gloomy fatalism, shivered
obscurely in the dark porch, waiting to drive the dog-cart down to the
stable.  Hilda had requested his presence; it was she also who had got
him to bring the equipage up to the house in the morning.  She had
implied, but not asserted, that to harness the mare and trot up to
Bleakridge was the work of a few minutes, and that a few minutes’ light
labour could make no real difference to Unchpin’s Christmas Day. Edwin,
descrying Unchpin in the porch, saw merely a defenceless man who had
been robbed of the most sacred holiday of the year in order to gratify
the selfish caprice of an overbearing woman.  When asked how long he had
been in the porch, Unchpin firmly answered that he had been there since
three o’clock, the hour appointed by Mrs. Clayhanger.  Edwin knew
nothing of this appointment, and in it he saw more evidence of Hilda’s
thoughtless egotism.  He perceived that he would be compelled to stop
her from using his employees as her private servants, and that the
prohibition would probably cause trouble.  Hilda demanded curtly of
Unchpin why he had not waited in the warm kitchen, according to
instructions, instead of catching his death of cold in the porch.  The
reply was that he had rung and knocked fifteen times without getting a
response.

At this Hilda became angry, not only with Emmie, the defaulting servant,
but with the entire servant class and with the world.  Emmie, the new
cook, and temporarily the sole resident servant, was to have gone to
Maggie’s for her Christmas dinner, and to have returned at half past two
without fail in order to light the drawing-room fire and prepare for
tea-making. But, Maggie at the last moment having decided to go to
Clara’s for the middle of the day, Emmie was told to go with her and be
as useful as she could at Mrs. Benbow’s until a quarter past two.

"I hope you’ve got your latch-key, Edwin," said Hilda threateningly, as
if ready to assume that with characteristic and inexcusable negligence
he had left his latch-key at home.

"I have," he said drily, drawing the key from his pocket.

"Oh!" she muttered, as if saying: "Well, after all, you’re no better
than you ought to be."  And took the key.

While she opened the door, Edwin surreptitiously gave half a crown to
Unchpin, who was lighting the carriage-lamps.

George, with the marvellous self-preserving instinct of a small animal
unprotected against irritated prowling monsters, had become invisible.

The front-doorway yawned black like the portal of a tomb.  The place was
a terrible negation of Christmas.  Edwin felt for the radiator; it was
as cold to the touch as a dead hand.  He lit the hall-lamp, and the
decorations of holly and mistletoe contrived by Hilda and George with
smiles and laughter on Christmas Eve stood revealed as the very symbol
of insincerity.  Without taking off his hat and coat, he went into the
unlighted glacial drawing-room, where Hilda was kneeling at the grate
and striking matches.  A fragment of newspaper blazed, and then the
flame expired.  The fire was badly laid.

"I’m sick of servants!" Hilda exclaimed with fury. "Sick!  They’re all
alike!"  Her tone furiously blamed Edwin and everybody.

And Edwin knew that the day was a pyramid of which this moment was the
dreadful apex.  At intervals during the drive home Hilda had talked
confidentially to George of the wondrous things he and she could do if
they only resided in the country--things connected with flowers,
vegetables, cocks, hens, ducks, cows, rabbits, horses.  She had sketched
out the life of a mistress of Ladderedge Hall, and she had sketched it
out for the benefit of the dull, hard man sitting behind.  Her voice, so
persuasive and caressing to George, had been charged with all sorts of
accusations against the silent fellow whose back now and then collided
with hers.  She had exasperated him.  She had wilfully and deliberately
exasperated him....  Her treatment of Unchpin, her childish outburst
concerning servants, her acutely disagreeable demeanour, all combined
now to exhaust the poor remainder of Edwin’s patience. Not one word had
been said about Ladderedge Hall, but Ladderedge Hall loomed always
between them. Deadly war was imminent.  Let it come!  He would prefer
war to a peace which meant for him nothing but insults and injustice.
He would welcome war.  He turned brusquely and lit the chandelier.  On
the table beneath it lay the writing-case that Hilda had given to
George, and the edition of Matthew Arnold that she had given to Edwin,
for a Christmas present.  One of Edwin’s Christmas presents to her, an
ermine stole, she was wearing round her neck.  Tragic absurdities, these
false tokens of love....  There they were, both of them in full street
attire, she kneeling at the grate and he standing at the table, in the
dank drawing-room which now had no resemblance to a home.

Edwin said with frigid and disdainful malevolence:

"I wish you could control yourself, Hilda.  The fact that a servant’s a
bit late on Christmas Day is no reason for you to behave like a spoilt
child.  You’re offensive."

His words, righteously and almost murderously resentful, seemed to
startle and frighten the very furniture, which had the air of waiting,
enchanted, for disaster.

Hilda turned her head and glared at Edwin.  She threw back her
shoulders, and her thick eyebrows seemed to meet in a passionate frown.

"Yes," she said, with her clear, stinging articulation. "That’s just
like you, that is!  I lend my servant to your sister.  She doesn’t send
her back,--and it’s my fault!  I should have thought the Benbows twisted
you round their little finger enough, without you having to insult me
because of them.  Goodness knows what tricks they didn’t play to get
your Aunt’s money--every penny of it!  And now they make you do all the
work of the estate, for their benefit, and of course you do it like a
lamb!  You can never spare a minute from the works for me, but you can
spare hours and hours for Auntie Hamps’s estate and the Benbows! It’s
always like that."  She paused and spoke more thickly: "But I don’t see
why you should insult me on the top of it!"

Her features went awry.  She sobbed.

"You make me ill!" said Edwin savagely.

He walked out of the room and pulled the door to.

George was descending the stairs.

"Where are you going to, uncle?" demanded George, as Edwin opened the
front-door.

"I’m going down to see Auntie Maggie," Edwin answered, forcing himself
to speak very gently.  "Tell your mother if she asks."  The boy guessed
the situation.  It was humiliating that he should guess it, and still
more humiliating to be compelled to make use of him in the fatal affair.



                                   V


He walked at a moderate pace down Trafalgar Road.  He did not know where
he was going. Certainly he was not going to see Maggie.  He had invented
the visit to Maggie instantly in answer to George’s question, and he
could not understand why he had invented it.  Maggie would be at
Clara’s; and, in a misfortune, he would never go to Clara’s; only when
he was successful and triumphant could he expose himself to the Benbows.

The weather was damp and chill without rain.  The chilliness was rather
tonic and agreeable to his body, and he felt quite warm, though on
getting down from the dog-cart a few minutes earlier he had been cold
almost to the point of numbness.  He could not remember how, nor when,
the change had occurred.

Every street lamp was the centre of a greenish-grey sphere, which
presaged rain as though the street-lamp were the moon.  The pavements
were greasy with black slime, the road deep in lamp-reflecting mire
through which the tram-lines ran straight and gleaming.  Far down the
slope a cage of light moving obscurely between the glittering avenue of
lamps indicated the steam-tram as it lifted towards the further hill
into the heart of the town.  Where the lamps merged together and
vanished, but a little to the left, the illuminated dial of the clock in
the Town Hall tower glowed in the dark heavens.  The street was
deserted; no _Signal_ boys, no ragged girls staring into sweet shops, no
artisans returning from work, no rattling carts, no vehicles of any kind
save the distant tram. All the little shops were shut; even the little
greengrocer’s shop, which never closed, was shut now, and its customary
winter smell of oranges and apples withdrawn. The little inns, not yet
open, showed through their lettered plate windows one watching jet of
gas amid blue-and-red paper festoons and bunches of holly. The gloomy
fronts of nearly all the houses were pierced with oblongs of light on
which sometimes appeared transient shadows of human beings.  A very few
other human beings, equally mysterious, passed furtive and baffling up
and down the slope.  Melancholy, familiar, inexplicable, and
piteous--the melancholy of existence itself--rose like a vapour out of
the sodden ground, ennobling all the scene.  The lofty disc of the Town
Hall clock solitary in the sky was somehow so heart-rending, and the
lives of the people both within and without the houses seemed to be so
woven of futility and sorrow, that the menace of eternity grew
intolerable.

Edwin’s brain throbbed and shook like an engine-house in which the
machinery was his violent thoughts. He no longer saw his marriage as a
chain of disconnected episodes; he saw it as a drama the true meaning of
which was at last revealed by the climax now upon him.  He had had many
misgivings about it, and had put them away, and they all swept back
presenting themselves as a series of signs that pointed to inevitable
disaster.  He had been blind, from wilfulness or cowardice.  He now had
vision.  He had arrived at honesty.  He said to himself, as millions of
men and women have said to themselves, with awestruck calm: "My marriage
was a mistake."  And he began to face the consequences of the admission.
He was not such a fool as to attach too much importance to the immediate
quarrel, nor even to the half-suppressed but supreme dissension
concerning a place of residence.  He assumed, even, that the present
difficulties would somehow, with more or less satisfaction, be adjusted.
What, however, would not and could not be adjusted was the temperament
that produced them.  Those difficulties, which had been preceded by
smaller difficulties, would be followed by greater.  It was inevitable.
To hope otherwise would be weakly sentimental, as his optimism during
the vigil in Auntie Hamps’s bedroom had been weakly sentimental.  He
must face the truth: "She won’t alter her ways--and I shan’t stand
them."  No matter what their relations might in future superficially
appear to be, their union was over.  Or, if it was not actually over, it
soon would be over, for the forces to shatter it were uncontrollable and
increasing in strength.

"Of course she can’t help being herself!" he said impartially.  "But
what’s that got to do with me?"

His indictment of his wife was terrific and not to be answered.  She had
always been a queer girl.  On the first night he ever saw her, she had
run after him into his father’s garden, and stood with him in the
garden-porch that he had since done away with, and spoken to him in the
strangest manner.  She was abnormal. The dismal and perilous adventure
with George Cannon could not have happened to a normal woman.  She could
not see reason, and her sense of justice was non-existent.  If she
wanted a thing she must have it.  In reality she was a fierce and
unscrupulous egotist, incapable of understanding a point of view other
than her own.  Imagine her bursting out like that about Auntie Hamps’s
will!  It showed how her mind ran. That Auntie Hamps had an absolute
right to dispose of her goods as she pleased; that there was a great
deal to be said for Auntie Hamps’s arrangements; that in any case the
Benbows were not to blame; that jealousy was despicable and the mark of
a mean mind; that the only dignified course for himself was to execute
the trust imposed upon him without complaining,--these things were
obvious; but not to her!  No human skill could ever induce her to grant
them.  She did not argue,--she felt; and the disaster was that she did
not feel rightly....  Imagine her trying to influence Ingpen’s
housekeeping, to worry the man,--she the guest and he the host!  What
would she say if anybody played the same game on her?...

She could not be moderate.  She expected every consideration from
others, but she would yield none.  She had desired a horse and trap.
She had received it.  And how had she used the gift?  She had used it in
defiance of the needs of the works.  She had upset everybody and
everything, and assuredly Unchpin had a very legitimate grievance....
She had said that she could not feel at home in her own house while the
house belonged to Maggie.  Edwin had obediently bought the house,--and
now she wanted another house.  She scorned her husband’s convenience and
preferences, and she wanted a house that was preposterously
inaccessible.  The satisfaction of her caprice for a dog-cart had not in
the slightest degree appeased her egotism.  On the contrary it had
further excited her egotism and sharpened its aggressiveness.  And by
what strange infantile paths had she gone about the enterprise of
shifting Edwin into the country!  Not a frank word to Edwin of the house
she had found and decided upon!  Silly rumours of a "surprise!"  And she
had counted upon the presence of Ingpen to disarm Edwin and to tie his
hands.  The conspiracy was simply childish.  And because Edwin had at
once shown his distaste for her scheme, she had taken offence.  Her
acrimony had gradually increased throughout the day, hiding for a time
under malicious silences and enigmatic demeanours, darting out in
remarks to third persons and drawing back, and at last displaying itself
openly, cruelly, monstrously.  The injustice of it all passed belief.
There was no excuse for Hilda, and there never would be any excuse for
her.  She was impossible; she would be still more impossible.  He did
not make her responsible; he admitted that she was not responsible.  But
at the same time, with a disdainful and cold resentment, he condemned
and hated her.

He recalled Ingpen’s: "I won’t pay the price."

"And I won’t!" he said.  "The end has come!"

He envied Ingpen.

And there flitted through his mind the dream of liberty--not the liberty
of ignorant youth, but liberty with experience and knowledge to use it.
Ravishing prospect!  Marriage had advantages.  But he could retain those
advantages in freedom.  He knew what a home ought to be; he had the
instinct of the interior; he considered that he could keep house as well
as any woman, and better than most; he was not, in that respect, at all
like Ingpen, who suffered from his inability to produce and maintain
comfort....  He remembered Ingpen’s historic habitual phrase about the
proper place for women,--"behind the veil."  It was a phrase which
intensely annoyed women; but nevertheless how true!  And Ingpen had put
it into practice. Ingpen, even in the banal Five Towns, had shown the
way.... He saw the existence of males, with its rationality and its
dependableness, its simplicity, its directness, its honesty, as
something ideal.  And as he pictured such an existence--with or without
the romance of mysterious and interesting creatures ever modestly
waiting for attention behind the veil--further souvenirs of Hilda’s
wilful naughtiness and injustice rushed into his mind by thousands; in
formulating to himself his indictment against her, he had overlooked
ninety per cent of them; they were endless, innumerable.  He marshalled
them again and again, with the fiercest virulence, the most sombre
gloom, with sardonic, bitter pleasure.

In the hollow where Trafalgar Road begins to be known as Duck Bank, he
turned to the left and, crossing the foot of Woodisun Bank, arrived at
one of the oldest quarters of the town, where St. Luke’s Church stands
in its churchyard amid a triangle of little ancient houses.  By the
light of a new and improved gas-lamp at the churchyard gates could be
seen the dark silhouette of the Norman tower and the occasional white
gleam of gravestones.

One solitary couple, arm-in-arm, and bending slightly towards each
other, came sauntering in the mud past the historic National Schools
towards the illumination of the lamp.  The man was a volunteer, with a
brilliant vermilion tunic, white belt, and black trousers; he wore his
hat jauntily and carried a diminutive cane; pride was his warm overcoat.
The girl was stout and short, with a heavily flowered hat and a dark
amorphous cloak; under her left arm she carried a parcel.  They were
absorbed in themselves.  Edwin discerned first the man’s face, in which
was a gentle and harmless coxcombry, and then the girl’s face, ecstatic,
upward-gazing, seeing absolutely naught but the youth.... It was Emmie’s
face, as Edwin perceived after a momentary doubt due to his
unfamiliarity with the inhabitants of his own house.  Emmie, so
impatiently and angrily awaited by her mistress, had lost her head about
a uniform.  Emmie, whose place was in the kitchen among saucepans and
crockery, dish-clouts and brushes, had escaped into another realm, where
time is not.  That she had no immediate intention of returning to her
kitchen was shown by the fact that she was moving deliberately in a
direction away from it. She was not pretty, for Hilda had perforce long
since ceased to insist upon physical charm in her servants. She was not
even young,--she was probably older than the adored soldier.  But her
rapt ecstasy, her fearful bliss, made a marvellous sight, rendered
touching by the girl’s coarse gawkiness.

It seemed lamentable, pathetic, to Edwin that destiny should not permit
her to remain forever in that dream.  "Can it be possible," he thought,
"that a creature capable of such surpassing emotion is compelled to cook
my bacon and black my boots?"

The couple, wordless, strolled onwards, sticking close to the railings.
The churchyard was locked, but Emmie and the soldier were doing the best
they could to satisfy that instinct which in the Five Towns seems to
drive lovers to graves for their pleasure.  The little houses cast here
and there a blind yellow eye on the silent and tranquil scene.  Edwin
turned abruptly back into Woodisun Bank, feeling that he was a disturber
of the peace.

Suddenly deciding to walk up to Hillport "for the sake of exercise," he
quickened his pace.  After a mile and a half, when he had crossed the
railway at Shawport and was on the Hillport rise, and the Five Towns had
begun to spread out in a map behind him, he noticed that he was
perspiring.  He very seldom perspired, and therefore he had the
conviction that the walk was "doing him good."  He felt exhilarated, and
moved still faster.

His mood was now changed.  The spectacle of Emmie and the soldier had
thrown him violently out of resentment into wonder.  His indignation was
somewhat exhausted, and though he tried again and again to flick it back
into full heat and activity, he could not.  He kept thinking of the
moment in the morning when, standing ready to jump from the dog-cart,
his wife had said: "Catch me, both of you," and he recalled vividly the
sensation of her acquiescence, her momentary yielding--imperceptible yet
unforgettable--as he supported her strongly in his arms; and with this
memory was mingled the smell of velvet.  Strange that a woman so harsh,
selfish and overbearing, could thus contradict her whole character in an
instant of surrender!  Was she in that gesture confiding to him the
deepest secret? ... Rubbish!  But now he no longer looked down on her
disdainfully.  Honesty made him admit that it was puerile to affect
disdain of an individuality so powerful and so mysterious.  If she was a
foe, she was at any rate a dangerous fighter, and not to be played with.
And yet she could be a trifle, a wisp of fragile flesh in his arms!

He saw the beatific face of Emmie against the churchyard gates under the
lamp....  Why not humour Hilda?  Why not let her plant their home
according to her caprice? ... Certainly not!  Never would he do it!  Why
should he?  Time after time he angrily rejected the idea.  Time after
time it returned.  What did it matter to Hilda where she lived?  And had
he not bought their present house solely in order to please her?  The
first consideration in choosing a home ought to be and must be the
consideration of business convenience....  Yet, what did it matter to
him where his home was?  (He remembered a phrase of Ingpen’s: "I don’t
live on that plane.")  Could he not adapt himself?  He dreamt of very
rapid transit between Ladderedge Hall and the works.  Motor-cars had
just become lawful; but he had never happened to see one, though he had
heard of several in the district, or passing through.  His imagination
could not rise so high as a motor-car.  That he could ever use or
possess one did not even occur to him.  He thought only of a
fast-trotting horse, and a trap with indiarubber tyres; himself the
driver; sometimes Hilda the driver....  An equipage to earn renown in
the district.  "Clayhanger’s trap,"--"He drives in from Ladderedge in
thirty-five minutes.  The horse simply won’t walk; doesn’t know how to!"
And so on.  He had heard such talk of others.  Why should not others
hear it of him? ... Then, the pleasure, the mere pleasure--call it
sensual or what you like--of granting a caprice to the capricious
creature!  If a thing afforded her joy, why not give it? ... To see her
in the rôle of mistress of a country-house, delicately horsey, excited
about charitable schemes, protecting the poor, working her will upon
gardeners and grooms, stamping her foot in the violence of her
resolution to have her own way, offering sugar to a horse, nursing a
sick dog!  Amusing; Agreeable! ... And all that activity of hers a mere
dependence of his own!  Flattering to his pride! ... He could afford it
easily, for he was richer even than his wife supposed.  To let the
present house ought not to be difficult.  To sell it advantageously
ought not to be impossible.  In this connection, he thought, though not
seriously, of Tom Swetman, who had at last got himself engaged to one of
those Scandinavian women about whom he had been chaffed for years; Tom
would be wanting an abode, and probably a good one.

He was carried away by his own dream.  To realise that dream he had only
to yield, to nod negligently, to murmur with benevolent tolerance: "All
right.  Do as you please."  He would have nothing to withdraw, for he
had uttered no refusal.  Not a word had passed between them as to
Ladderedge Hall since they had quitted it.  He had merely said that he
did not like it,--"poured cold water on it" as the phrase was.  True,
his demeanour had plainly intimated that he was still opposed in
principle to the entire project of living in the country; but a
demeanour need not be formally retracted; it could be negatived without
any humiliation....

No, he would never yield, though yielding seemed to open up a pleasant,
a delicious prospect.  He could not yield.  It would be wrong, and it
would be dangerous, to yield.  Had he not already quite clearly argued
out with himself the whole position?  And yet why not yield? ... He was
afraid as before a temptation.

He re-crossed the railway, and crossed Fowlea Brook, a boundary, back
into the borough.  The dark path lay parallel with the canal, but below
it.  He had gone right through Hillport and round Hillport Marsh and
returned down the flank of the great ridge that protects the Five Towns
on the West.  He could not recollect the details of the walk; he only
knew that he had done it all, that time and the miles had passed with
miraculous rapidity, and that his boots were very muddy.  A change in
the consistency of the mud caused him to look up at the sky, which was
clearing and showed patches of faint stars.  A frost had set in, despite
the rainy prophecy of street-lamps.  In a few moments he had climbed the
short steep curving slope on to the canal-bridge.  He was breathless and
very hot.

He stopped and sat on the parapet.  In his school-days he had crossed
this bridge twice a day on the journey to and from Oldcastle.  Many
times he had lingered on it.  But he had forgotten the little episodes
of his schooldays, which seemed now almost to belong to another
incarnation.  He did, however, recall that as a boy he could not sit on
the parapet unless he vaulted up to it.  He thought he must have been
ridiculously small and boyish.  The lights of Bursley, Bleakridge,
Hanbridge and Cauldon hung round the eastern horizon in an arc.  To the
north presided the clock of Bursley Town Hall, and to the south the
clock of Cauldon Church; but both were much too far off to be
deciphered.  Below and around the Church clock the vague fires of
Cauldon Bar Ironworks played, and the tremendous respiration of the
blast-furnaces filled the evening.  Beneath him gleamed the foul water
of the canal....  He trembled with the fever that precedes a supreme
decision.  He trembled as though he was about to decide whether or not
he would throw himself into the canal.  Should he accept the
country-house scheme?  Ought he to accept it?  The question was not
simply that of a place of residence,--it concerned all his life.

He admitted that marriage must be a mutual accommodation.  He was, and
always had been, ready to accommodate.  But Hilda was unjust,
monstrously unjust.  Of that he was definitely convinced.... Well,
perhaps not monstrously unjust, but very unjust. How could he excuse
such injustice as hers?  He obviously could not excuse it....  On
previous occasions he had invented excuses for her conduct, but they
were not convincing excuses.  They were compromises between his
intellectual honesty and his desire for peace.  They were, at bottom,
sentimentalism.

And then there flashed into his mind, complete, the great discovery of
all his career.  It was banal; it was commonplace; it was what everyone
knew.  Yet it was the great discovery of all his career.  If Hilda had
not been unjust in the assertion of her own individuality, there could
be no merit in yielding to her.  To yield to a just claim was not
meritorious, though to withstand it would be wicked.  He was objecting
to injustice as a child objects to rain on a holiday. Injustice was a
tremendous actuality!  It had to be faced and accepted.  (He himself was
unjust.  At any rate he intellectually conceived that he must be unjust,
though honestly he could remember no instance of injustice on his part.)
To reconcile oneself to injustice was the master achievement.  He had
read it; he had been aware of it; but he had never really felt it till
that moment on the dark canal-bridge.  He was awed, thrilled by the
realisation.  He longed ardently to put it to the test.  He did put it
to the test.  He yielded on the canal-bridge.  And in yielding, it
seemed to him that he was victorious.

He thought confidently and joyously:

"I’m not going to be beaten by Hilda!  And I’m not going to be beaten by
marriage.  Dashed if I am!  A nice thing if I had to admit that I wasn’t
clever enough to be a husband!"

He was happy, but somewhat timorously so.  He had the sense to suspect
that his discovery would scarcely transform marriage into an everlasting
Eden, and that serious trouble would not improbably recur.  "Marriage
keeps on all the time till you’re dead!" he said to himself.  But he
profoundly knew that he had advanced a stage, that he had acquired new
wisdom and new power, and that no danger in the future could equal the
danger that was past.

He thought:

"I know where I am!"

It had taken him years to discover where he was. Why should the
discovery occur just then?  He could only suppose that the cumulative
battering of experience had at length knocked a hole through his thick
head, and let saving wisdom in.  The length of time necessary for the
operation depended upon the thickness of the head.  Some heads were
impenetrable and their owners came necessarily to disaster.  His head
was probably of an average thickness.

When he got into Trafalgar Road, at the summit of Bleakridge, he
hesitated to enter his own house, on account of the acute social
difficulties that awaited him there, and passed it like a beggar who is
afraid.  One by one he went by all the new little streets of cottages
with drawing-rooms--Millett Street, Wilcox Street, Paul Street, Oak
Street, Hulton Street,--and the two old little streets, already partly
changed--Manor Street and Higginbotham Street.  Those mysterious
newcoming families from nowhere were driving him out--through the agency
of his wife!  The Orgreaves had gone, and been succeeded by excellent
people with whom it was impossible to fraternise.  There were rumours
that in view of Tom Swetnam’s imminent defection the Swetnam household
might be broken up and the home abandoned.  The Suttons, now that
Beatrice Sutton had left the district, talked seriously of going.  Only
Dr. Sterling was left on that side of the road, and he stayed because he
must.  The once exclusive Terraces on the other side were losing their
quality.  Old Darius Clayhanger had risen out of the mass, but he was
fiercely exceptional.  Now the whole mass seemed to be rising, under the
action of some strange leaven, and those few who by intelligence, by
manners, or by money counted themselves select were fleeing as from an
inundation.

Edwin had not meant to join in the exodus.  But he too would join it.
Destiny had seized him.  Let him be as democratic in spirit as he would,
his fate was to be cut off from the democracy, with which, for the rest,
he had very little of speech or thought or emotion in common, but in
which, from an implacable sense of justice, he was religiously and
unchangeably determined to put his trust.

He braced himself, and, mounting the steps of the porch, felt in his
pocket for his latchkey.  It was not there.  Hilda had taken it and not
returned it.  She never did return it when she borrowed it, and probably
she never would.  He had intended to slip quietly into the house, and
prepare if possible an astute opening to minimise the difficulty of the
scenes which must inevitably occur.  For his dignity would need some
protection.  In the matter of his dignity, he wished that he had not
said quite so certainly to Ingpen: "I shan’t take that house."

With every prim formality, Emmie answered his ring.  She was wearing the
mask and the black frock and the white apron and cap of her vocation.
Not the slightest trace of the beatified woman in the flowered hat under
the lamp at the gates of the churchyard!  No sign of a heart or of
passion or of ecstasy!  Incredible creatures--they were all incredible!

He thought, nervous:

"I shall meet Hilda in half a second."

George ran into the hall, wearing his new green shade over his eyes.

"Here he is, mother!" cried George.  "I say, nunks, Emmie brought up a
parcel for you from Uncle Albert, and Auntie Clara.  Here it is.  It
wasn’t addressed outside, so I opened it."

He indicated the hall-table, on which, in a bed of tissue paper and
brown paper, lay a dreadful flat ink-stand of blue glass and bronze,
with a card: "Best wishes to Edwin from Albert and Clara."

George and Edwin gazed at each other with understanding.

"Just my luck isn’t it, sonny?" said Edwin.  "It’s worse than last
year’s."

"You poor dear!" said Hilda, appearing, all smiles and caressing
glances.  She was in a pale grey dress. "Whatever shall you do with it?
You know you’ll have to put it on view when they come up.  Emmie----" to
the maid vanishing into the kitchen--"We’ll have supper now."

"Yes," said Edwin to himself, with light but sardonic tolerance.  "Yes,
my lady.  You’re all smiles because you’re bent on getting Ladderedge
Hall out of me.  But you don’t know what a near shave you’ve had of
getting something else."

He was elated.  The welcome of his familiar home was beautiful to him.
And the incalculable woman with a single gesture had most unexpectedly
annihilated the unpleasant past and its consequences.  He could yield
upon the grand contention how and when he chose.  He had his
acquiescence waiting like a delightful surprise for Hilda.  As he looked
at her lovingly, with all her crimes of injustice thick upon her, he
clearly realised that he saw her as no other person saw her, and that
because it was so she in her entirety was indispensable to him.  And
when he tried to argue impartially and aloofly with himself about rights
and wrongs, asinine reason was swamped by an entirely irrational and
wise joy in the simple fact of the criminal’s existence.



                                   VI


In the early spring of 1897 there was an evening party at the
Clayhangers’.  But it was not called a party; it was not even called a
reception.  The theory of the affair was that Hilda had "just asked a
few people to come in, without any fuss."  The inhabitants of the Five
Towns had, and still have, an aversion for every sort of formal
hospitality, or indeed for any hospitality other than the impulsive and
the haphazard. One or two fathers with forceful daughters agitated by
newly revealed appetites in themselves, might hire a board-schoolroom in
January, and give a dance at which sharp exercise and hot drinks alone
kept bodies warm in the icy atmosphere.  Also musical and dramatic
societies and games clubs would have annual conversaziones and dances,
which however were enterprises of coöperation rather than of
hospitality. Beyond these semi-public entertainments there was almost
nothing, in the evening, save card-parties and the small regular
reunions of old friends who had foregathered on a certain night of the
week for whiskey or tea and gossip ever since the beginning of time, and
would continue to do so till some coffin or other was ordered. Every
prearranged assemblage comprising more than two persons beyond the
family was a "function"--a term implying both contempt and respect for
ceremonial; and no function could be allowed to occur without an excuse
for it,--such as an anniversary.  The notion of deliberately cultivating
human intercourse for its own sake would have been regarded as an
affectation approaching snobbishness.  Hundreds of well-to-do and
socially unimpeachable citizens never gave or received an invitation to
a meal.  The reason of all this was not meanness, for no community
outside America has more generous instincts than the Five Towns; it was
merely a primitive self-consciousness striving to conceal itself beneath
breezy disdain for those more highly developed manners which it read
about with industry and joy in the weekly papers, but which it lacked
the courage to imitate.

The break-up of the Orgreave household had been a hard blow to the cult
of hospitality in Bleakridge. Lane End House in the old days was a
creative centre of hospitality; for the force of example, the desire to
emulate, and the necessity of paying in kind for what one has permitted
oneself to receive will make hosts of those who by their own initiative
would never have sent out an invitation.  When the Orgreaves vanished,
sundry persons in Bleakridge were discouraged,--and particularly Edwin
and Hilda, whose musical evenings had never recovered from the effect of
the circumstances of the first one.  They entertained only by fits and
starts, when Hilda happened to remember that she held a high position in
the suburb.  Hilda was handicapped by the fact that she could not easily
strike up friendships with other women.  She had had one friend, and
after Janet’s departure she had fully confided in no woman.  Moreover it
was only at intervals that Hilda felt the need of companionship.  Her
present party was due chiefly to what Edwin in his more bitter moods
would have called snobbishness,--to-wit, partly a sudden resolve not to
be outshone by the Swetnams, who in recent years, as the younger
generation of the family grew up, had beyond doubt increased their
ascendancy; and partly the desire to render memorable the last months of
her residence in Bleakridge.

The list of Hilda’s guests, and the names absent from it, gave an
indication of the trend of social history.  The Benbows were not asked;
the relations of the two families remained as friendly as ever they
were, but the real breach between them, caused by profound differences
of taste and intelligence, was now complete.  Maggie would have been
asked, had she not refused in advance, from a motive of shyness.  In all
essential respects Maggie had been annexed by Clara and Albert.  She had
given up Auntie Hamps’s house (of which the furniture had been either
appropriated or sold) and gone to live with the Benbows as a working
aunt,--this in spite of Albert’s default in the matter of interest; she
forewent her rights, slept in a small room with Amy, paid a share of the
household expenses, and did the work of a nursemaid and servant
combined--simply because she was Maggie.  She might, had she chosen,
have lived in magnificence with the Clayhangers, but she would not face
the intellectual and social strain of doing so.  Jim Orgreave was not
invited; briefly he had become impossible, though he was still
well-dressed.  More strange--Tom Orgreave and his wife had only been
invited after some discussion, and had declined!  Tom was growing
extraordinarily secretive, solitary, and mysterious.  It was reported
that Mrs. Tom had neither servant nor nursemaid, and that she dared not
ask her husband for money to buy clothes.  Yet Edwin and Tom when they
met in the street always stopped for a talk, generally about books.
Daisy Marrion, who said openly that Tom and Mrs. Tom were a huge
disappointment to everybody, was invited and she accepted.  Janet
Orgreave had arrived in Bursley on a visit to the Clayhangers on the
very day of the party.  The Cheswardines were asked, mainly on account
of Stephen, whose bluff, utterly unintellectual, profound good-nature,
and whose adoration of his wife, were gradually endearing him to the
perceptive.  Mr. and Mrs. Fearns were requested to bring their daughter
Annunciata, now almost marriageable, and also Mademoiselle Renée
Souchon, the French governess, newly arrived in the district, of the
Fearns younger children.  Folks hinted their astonishment that Alma
Fearns should have been imprudent enough to put so exotic a woman under
the same roof with her husband.  Ingpen needed no invitation; nothing
could occur at the Clayhangers’ without him. Doctor Stirling was the
other mature bachelor.  Finally in the catalogue were four Swetnams, the
vigorous and acute Sarah (who was a mere acquaintance), aged
twenty-five, Tom Swetnam, and two younger brothers. Tom had to bring
with him the prime excuse for the party,--namely, Miss Manna Höst of
Copenhagen, to whom Hilda intended to show that the Swetnams were not
the only people on earth.  There were thus eight women, eight men (who
had put on evening dress out of respect for the foreigner), and George.

At eleven o’clock, when the musical part of the entertainment was over,
Miss Höst had already fully secured for herself the position which later
she was to hold as the wife of Tom Swetnam.  Bleakridge had been asked
to meet her and inspect her, and the opinion of Bleakridge was soon
formed that Copenhagen must be a wondrous and a romantic place and that
Tom Swetnam knew his way about.  In the earliest years when the tourist
agencies first discovered the advertising value of the phrase "Land of
the Midnight Sun," Tom the adventurous had made the Scandinavian round
trip, and each subsequent Summer he had gone off again in the same
direction.  The serpents of the Hanbridge and the Bursley Conservative
clubs, and of the bar of the Five Towns Hotel, had wagered that there
was a woman at the bottom of it.  There was. He had met her at
Marienlyst, the watering-place near Helsingor (called by the tourist
agencies Elsinore). Manna Höst was twenty-three, tall and athletically
slim, and more blonde than any girl ever before seen in the Five Towns.
She had golden hair and she wore white.  It was understood that she
spoke Danish, Swedish and Norwegian.  She talked French with facility to
Renée Souchon.  And Tom said that her knowledge of German surpassed her
knowledge of either French or English.  She spoke English excellently,
with a quaint, endearing accent, but with correctness. Sometimes she
would use an idiom (picked up from the Swetnam boys), exquisitely
unaware that it was not quite suited to the lips of a young woman in a
strange drawing-room; her innocence, however, purified it.

She sang classical songs in German, with dramatic force, and she could
play accompaniments.  She was thoroughly familiar with all the music
haltingly performed by Ingpen, Janet, Annunciata, and young George.
Ingpen was very seriously interested in her views thereon.  She knew
about the French authors from whose works Renée Souchon chose her
recitations. And standing up at the buffet table in the dining-room, she
had fabricated astounding sandwiches in the Danish style.  She stated
that Danish cooks reckoned ninety-three sorts of sandwiches.  She said
in her light, eager voice, apropos of cooking: "There is one thing I
cannot understand.  I cannot understand why you English throw your
potatoes to melt in cold water for an hour before you boil them."  "Nor
I!" interjected Renée Souchon.  No other woman standing round the table
had ever conceived the propriety of boiling potatoes without first
soaking them in cold water, and Manna was requested to explain.
"Because," she said, "it--it lets go the salts of potassium which are so
necessary for the pheesical deve*lop*ment of the body."  Whereupon
Tertius Ingpen had been taken by one of his long _crescendo_ laughs, a
laugh that ended by his being bent nearly double below the level of the
table.  Everybody was much impressed, and Ingpen himself not the least.
Ingpen wondered what a girl so complex could see in a man like Tom
Swetnam, who, although he could talk about the arts, had no real feeling
for any of them.

But what impressed the company even more than Miss Höst’s
accomplishments was the candid fervour of her comprehensive interest in
life, which was absolutely without self-consciousness or fear.  She
talked with the same disarming ingenuous eager directness to hard-faced
Charles Fearns, the secret rake; to his wife, the ageing and sweetly-sad
mother of a family; to Renée Souchon, who despite her plainness and her
rumoured bigotry seemed to attract all the men in the room by something
provocative in her eye and the carriage of her hips; to the simple and
powerful Stephen Cheswardine; to Vera, the delicious and elegant cat; to
Doctor Stirling with his Scotch mysticism, and to Tertius Ingpen the
connoisseur and avowed bachelor. She spoke to Hilda, Janet and Daisy
Marrion as one member of a secret sisterhood to other members, to
Annunciata as a young girl, and to George as an initiated sister.  She
left them to turn to Edwin with a trustful glance as to one whose
special reliability she had divined from the first.  "Have a liqueur,
Miss Höst," Edwin enjoined her.  In a moment she was sipping Chartreuse.
"I love it!" she murmured.

But somehow beneath all such freedoms and frankness she did not cease to
be a maiden with reserves of mystery.  Her assumption that nobody could
misinterpret her demeanour was remarkable to the English observers, and
far more so to Renée Souchon.  All gazed at her piquant blonde face,
scarcely pretty, with its ardent restless eyes, and felt the startling
compliment of her quick, searching sympathy.  And she, tinglingly aware
of her success, proved easily equal to the ordeal of it.  Only at rare
intervals did she give a look at the betrothed, as if for confirmation
of her security. As for Tom, he was positively somewhat unnerved by the
brilliance of the performance.  He left her alone, without guidance, as
a ring-master who should stand aside during a turn and say: "See this
marvel!  I am no longer necessary."  When people glanced at him after
one of her effects, he would glance modestly away, striving to hide from
them his illusion that he himself had created the bewitching girl.  At
half past eleven, when the entire assemblage passed into the
drawing-room, she dropped on to the piano-stool and began a Waldteufel
waltz with irresistible seductiveness.

Hilda’s heart leaped.  In a minute the carpet was up, and the night,
which all had supposed to be at an end, began.

At nearly one o’clock in the morning the party was moving strongly by
its own acquired momentum and needed neither the invigoration nor the
guidance which hosts often are compelled to give.  Hilda, having
finished a schottische with Dr. Stirling, missed Janet from the
drawing-room.  Leaving the room in search of her, she saw Edwin with Tom
Swetnam and the glowing Manna at the top of the stairs.

"Hello!" she called out.  "What are you folks doing?"

Manna’s light laugh descended like a shower of crystals.

"Just taking a constitutional," Edwin answered.

Hilda waved to them in passing.  She was extremely elated.  Among other
agreeable incidents was the success of her new black lace frock.
Edwin’s voice pleased her,--it was so calm, wise, and kind, and at the
same time mysteriously ironical.  She occasionally admitted, at the
sound of that voice when Edwin was in high spirits, that she had never
been able to explore completely the more withdrawn arcana of his nature.
He had behaved with perfection that evening.  She admitted that he was
the basis of the evening, that without him she could never have such
triumphs.  It was strange that a man by spending so many hours per day
at a works could create the complicated ease and luxury of a home.  She
perceived how steadily and surely he had progressed since their
marriage, and how his cautiousness always justified itself, and how he
had done all that he had said he would do.  And she had a vision of that
same miraculous creative force of his at work, by her volition, in the
near future upon Ladderedge Hall.  Her mood became a strange compound of
humility before him and of self-confident pride in her own power to
influence him.

In the boudoir Janet was reclining in the sole easy chair.  Dressed in
grey (she had abandoned white), she was as slim as ever, and did not
look her age.  With face flushed, eyes glinting under drooping lids, and
bosom heaving rather quickly, she might have passed in the half-light
for a young married woman still under the excitement of matrimony,
instead of a virgin of forty.

"I was so done up I had to come and hide myself!" she murmured in a
dreamy tone.

"Well, of course you’ve had the journey to-day and everything..."

"I never did come across such a dancer as Charles Fearns!" Janet went
on.

"Yes," said Hilda, standing with her back to the fire, with one hand on
the mantelpiece.  "He’s a great dancer--or at least he makes you think
so.  But I’m sure he’s a bad man."

"Yes, I suppose he is!" Janet agreed with a sigh.

Neither of the women spoke for a moment, and each looked away.

Through the closed door came the muffled sound o£ the piano, played by
Annunciata.  No melody was distinguishable,--only the percussion of the
bass chords beating out the time of a new mazurka.  It was as if the
whole house faintly but passionately pulsed in the fever of the dance.

"I see you’ve got a Rossetti," said Janet at last, fingering a blue
volume that lay on the desk.

"Edwin gave it me," Hilda replied.  "He’s gradually giving me all my
private poets.  But somehow I haven’t been able to read much lately.  I
expect it’s the idea of moving into the country that makes me restless."

"But is it settled, all that?"

"Of course it’s settled, my dear.  I’m determined to take him away--"
Hilda spoke of her husband as of a parcel or an intelligent bear on a
chain, as loving wives may--"right out of all this.  I’m sure it will be
a good thing for him.  He doesn’t mind, really.  He’s promised me.  Only
he wants to make sure of either selling or letting this house first.
He’s always very cautious, Edwin is.  He simply hates doing a thing
straight off."

"Yes, he is rather that way inclined," said Janet.

"I wanted him to take Ladderedge at once, even if we didn’t move into
it.  Anyhow we couldn’t move into it immediately, because of the repairs
and things.  They’ll take a fine time, I know.  We can get it for sixty
pounds a year.  And what’s sixty pounds more or less to Edwin?  It’s no
more than what the rent of this house would be.  But no, he wouldn’t!
He must see where he stands with this house before he does anything
else! You can’t alter him, you know!"

The door was cautiously pushed, and Ingpen entered.

"So you’re discussing her!" he said, low, with a satiric grin.

"Discussing who?" Hilda sharply demanded.

"You know."

"Tertius," said Hilda, "you’re worse than a woman."

He giggled with delight.

"I suppose you mean that to be very severe."

"If you want to know, we were talking about Ladderedge."

"So apologise!" added Janet, sitting up.

Ingpen’s face straightened, and he began to tap his teeth with his
thumb.

"Curious!  That’s just what I came in about.  I’ve been trying to get a
chance to tell you all the evening. There’s somebody else after
Ladderedge, a man from Axe.  He’s been to look over it twice this week.
I thought I’d tip you the wink."

Hilda stood erect, putting her shoulders back.

"Have you told Edwin?" she asked very curtly.

"Yes."

"What did he say?"

"He said it was only a dodge of the house-agent’s to quicken things up."

"And do you think it is?"

"Well, I doubt it," Ingpen answered apprehensively. "That’s why I wanted
to warn you--his lordship being what he is."

Voices, including Edwin’s, could be heard in the hall.

"Here, I’m not going to be caught conspiring with you!" Ingpen
whispered.  "It’s more than my place is worth."  And he departed.

The voices receded, and Hilda noiselessly shut the door.  Everything was
now changed for her by a tremendous revulsion.  The beating of the
measure of the mazurka seemed horrible and maddening.  Her thought was
directed upon Edwin with the cold fury of which only love is capable.
It was not his fault that some rival was nibbling at Ladderedge, but it
was his fault that Ladderedge should still be in peril.  She saw all her
grandiose plan ruined.  She felt sure that the rival was powerful and
determined, and that Edwin would let him win, either by failing to bid
against him, or by mere shilly-shallying.  Ladderedge was not the only
suitable country residence in the county; there were doubtless many
others; but Ladderedge was just what she wanted, and--more important
with her--it had become a symbol.  She had a misgiving that if they did
not get Ladderedge they would remain in Trafalgar Road, Bursley, for
ever and ever.  Yet, angry and desperate though she was, she somehow did
not accuse and arraign Edwin--any more than she would have accused and
arraigned a climate.  He was in fact the climate in which she lived.  A
moment ago she had said: "You can’t alter him!"  But now all the energy
of her volition cried out that he must be altered.

"My girl," she said, turning to Janet, "do you think you can stand a
scene to-morrow?"

"A scene?"  Janet repeated the word guardedly.  The look on Hilda’s face
somewhat alarmed her.

"Between Edwin and me.  I’m absolutely determined that we shall take
Ladderedge, and I don’t care how much of a row we have over it."

"It isn’t as bad as all that?" Janet softly murmured, with her skill to
soothe.

"Yes it is!" said Hilda violently.

"I was wondering the other day, after one of your letters," Janet
proceeded gently, "why after all you were so anxious to go into the
country.  I thought you wanted Edwin to be on the Town Council or
something of that kind.  How can he do that if you’re right away at a
place like Stockbrook?"

"So I should like him to be on the Town Council! But all I really want
is to get him away from his business.  You don’t know, Janet!" she spoke
bitterly, and with emotion.  "Nobody knows except me.  He’ll soon be the
slave of his business if he keeps on.  Oh!  I don’t mean he stays at
nights at it.  He scarcely ever does. But he’s always thinking about it.
He simply can’t bear being a minute late for it, everything must give
way to it,--he takes that as a matter of course, and that’s what annoys
me, especially as there’s no reason for it, seeing how much he trusts
Big James and Simpson.  I believe he’d do anything for Big James.  He’d
listen to Big James far sooner than he’d listen to me.... Disagreeable
fawning old man, and quite stupid. Simpson isn’t so bad.  I tell you
Edwin only looks on his home as a nice place to be quiet in when he
isn’t at the works.  I’ve never told him so, and I don’t think he
suspects it, but I will tell him one of these days.  He’s very good,
Edwin is, in all the little things.  He always tries to be just.  But he
isn’t just in the big thing. He’s most frightfully unjust.  I sometimes
wonder where he imagines I come in.  Of course he’d do any mortal thing
for me--except spare half a minute from the works....  What do I care
about money?  I don’t care that much about money.  When there’s money I
can spend it, that’s all.  But I’d prefer to be poor, and him to be rude
and cross and impatient--which he scarcely ever is--than have this
feeling all the time that it’s the works first, and everything else
second. I don’t mind for myself--no, really I don’t, at least very
little!  But I do mind for him.  I call it humiliating for a man to get
like that.  It puts everything upside down.  Look at Stephen
Cheswardine, for instance.  There’s a pretty specimen!  And Edwin’ll be
as bad as him soon."

"But everyone says how fond Stephen is of his wife!"

"And isn’t Edwin fond of me?  Stephen Cheswardine despises his
wife--only he can’t do without her.  That’s all.  And he treats her
accordingly.  And I shall be the same."

"Oh!  Hilda!’

"Yes, I shall.  Yes, I shall.  But I won’t have it. I’d as lief be
married to a man like Charles Fearns. He isn’t a slave to his business
anyhow.  I shall get Edwin further away.  And when I’ve got him away I
shall see he doesn’t go to the works on Saturdays, too.  I’ve quite made
up my mind about that.  And if he isn’t on the Town Council he can be on
the County Council--that’s quite as good, I hope!"

Never before had Hilda spoken so freely to anyone, not even to Janet.
Fierce pride had always kept her self-contained.  But now she had no
feeling of shame at her outburst.  Tears stood in her eyes--and yet she
faced Janet, making no effort to hide them.

"My dear!" breathed the deprecating Janet, shocked out of her tepid
virginal calm by a revelation of conjugal misery such as had never been
vouchsafed to her.  She was thinking: "How can the poor thing face her
guests after this?  Everybody will see that something’s happened--it
will be awful!  She really ought to think of her position."

There was a silence.

The door opened with a sharp sound, and Hilda turned away her head as
from the suddenly visible mouth of a cannon.  The music could be heard
plainly, and beneath it the dull shuffling of feet on the bare boards of
the drawing-room.  Manna Höst came in radiant, followed by Edwin and Tom
Swetnam.

"Well, Hilda," said Edwin, with a slight timid constraint.  "I’ve got
rid of your house for you.  Here are the deluded victims."

"We have seen every corner of it, Mrs. Clayhanger," said Manna Höst,
enthusiastically.  "It is lovely.  But how can you wish to leave it?  It
is so practical!"

Perceiving the agitation of Hilda’s face, Edwin added in a lower voice
to his wife:

"I thought I wouldn’t say anything until it was settled, for fear you
might be let in for a disappointment. He’ll buy it if I leave fifteen
hundred on mortgage. So I shall.  But of course he wanted her to have a
good look at it first."

"How unfair I am!" thought Hilda, as she made some banal remark to Miss
Höst.  "Don’t I know I can always rely on him?"

"Mr. Clayhanger made us promise not to----" Miss Höst began to explain.

"It was just like him!" Hilda interrupted, smiling.

She had a strong desire to jump at Edwin and kiss him.  She was saved.
Her grandiose plan would proceed.  The house sold, Edwin was bound to
secure Ladderedge Hall against no matter what rival; and he would do it.
But it was the realisation of her power over her husband that gave her
the profoundest joy.

About an hour later, when everyone felt that the party was over, the
guests, reluctant to leave, and excited afresh by the news that the
house had changed hands during the revel, were all assembled in the
drawing-room.  A few were seated on the chairs which, with the tables,
had been pushed against the walls.  George had squatted on the carpet
rolled up into the hearth, where the fire was extinct; he was not
wearing his green shade.  The rest were grouped around Manna Höst in the
middle of the room.

Miss Höst, the future mistress of the abode, was now more than ever the
centre of regard.  Apparently as fresh as at the start, and picking
delicately at a sweet biscuit, the flushed blonde stood answering
questions about her views on England and especially on the Five Towns.
She was quite sure of herself, and utterly charming in her confidence.
Annunciata Fearns envied her acutely.  The other women were a little
saddened by the thought of all the disillusions that inevitably lay
before her.  It was touching to see her glance at Tom Swetnam, convinced
that she understood him to the core, and in him all the psychology of
his sex.

"Everybody knows," she was saying, "that the English are the finest
nation, and I think the Five Towns are much more English than London.
That’s why I adore the Five Towns.  You do not know how English you are
here.  It makes me laugh because you are so English, and you do not know
it.  I love you."

"You’re flattering us," said Stephen Cheswardine, enchanted with the
girl.

Everybody waited in eager delight for her next words.  Such tit-bits of
attention and laudation did not often fall to the district.  It occurred
to people that after all the local self-conceit might not be entirely
unjustified.

"Ah!" Manna pouted.  "But you have spots!"

"Spots!" repeated young Paul Swetnam, amid a general laugh.

She turned to him: "You said there were no spots on Knype Football Club,
did you not?  Well, there is a spot on you English.  You are dreadfully
exasperating to us Danes.  Oh, I mean it!  You are exasperating because
you will not show your feelings!"

"Tom, that must be one for you," said Charlie Fearns.

"We’re too proud," said Dr. Stirling.

"No," replied Manna maliciously.  "It is not pride. You are afraid to
show your feelings.  It is because you are cowards--in that!"

"We aren’t!" cried Hilda, inspired.  And yielding to the temptation
which had troubled her incessantly ever since she left the boudoir, she
put her arms round Edwin and kissed him.  "So there!"

"Loud applause!" said young George on the roll of carpet.  He said it
kindly, but with a certain superiority, perhaps due to the facts that he
was wearing a man’s "long trousers" for the first time that night, and
that he regarded himself as already almost a Londoner.  There was some
handclapping.

Edwin’s eyes had seduced Hilda.  Looking at them surreptitiously she had
suddenly recalled another of his tricks,--tricks of goodness.  When she
had told him one evening that Minnie was prematurely the mother of a
girl, he had said: "Well, we’ll put £130 in the savings bank for the
kid."  "£130?  Whatever are you talking about?"  "£130.  I received it
from America this very morning as ever is."  And he showed her a draft
on Brown, Shipley & Co.  He said ’from America.’  He was too delicate to
say ’from George Cannon.’  It had been a triumphant moment for him.  And
now, as before them all Hilda held him to her, the delicious thought
that she had power over him, that she was shaping the large contours of
his existence, made her feel solemn in her bliss.  And yet
simultaneously she was reflecting with a scarcely perceptible hardness:
"It’s each for himself in marriage after all, and I’ve got my own way."
And then she noticed the whiteness of his shirt-front under her chin,
and that reminded her of his mania for arranging his linen according to
his own ideas in his own drawer, and the absurd tidiness of his linen;
and she wanted to laugh.

"What a romance she has made of my life!" thought Edwin, confused and
blushing, as she loosed him.  And though he looked round with affection
at the walls which would soon no longer be his, the greatness of the
adventure of existence with this creature, to him unique, and the
eternal expectation of some new ecstasy, left no room in his heart for a
regret.

He caught sight of Ingpen alone in a corner by the piano, nervously
stroking his silky beard.  The memory of the secret woman in Ingpen’s
room came back to him.  Without any process of reasoning, he felt very
sorry for both of them, and he was aware of a certain condescension in
himself towards Ingpen.





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