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Title: "E R B"
Author: Ridge, W. Pett (William Pett)
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book ""E R B"" ***

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                          [Picture: Book cover]



                                 “E R B”


                                    BY
                              W. PETT RIDGE

                      [Picture: Decorative graphic]

                                 NEW YORK
                         D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
                                   1902

                                * * * * *

                             COPYRIGHT, 1902
                        BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

                          _All rights reserved_

_Published October_, 1902.

                                * * * * *



CHAPTER I


“BUT I am reminded,” shouted the scarlet-faced man on the chair, still
keeping his voice to the high note on which he had started, “I am
reminded that my time is exhausted.  Another talented speaker is ’ere to
address you.  I refer to our friend Barnes—better known per’aps to all of
you as Erb.”

The crescent-shaped crowd, growling applause, gave signs of movement, and
a round-faced young man, standing at the side of the chair, looked up
modestly at the sky.

“He, as you all know, ’ails from the district of Berminsey, where he
exercises a certain amount of influence, and, in spite of his youth, is
recognised as a positive power in the labour world.  He is accustomed to
hit straight from the shoulder, and he fears neether friend nor foe.  I
am going to tell you some’ing you very like don’t know, and there’s no
necessity for it to go any further; that is that he stands a vurry good
chance of being made the secretary of a new society.  Friends! without
further remarks from me, I call upon Comrade Barnes, better known as Erb,
to address you.  Thanks.”

The man stepped down from the chair.  “Where’s my hat been and gone?” he
asked.  “Someone’s shifted it.”

The hour being half past twelve, the crowd had no business of an urgent
nature for thirty minutes.  A few strolled away to join other groups, and
Herbert Barnes, as he took off his bowler hat and stepped upon the green
chair, watched these sternly.  Southwark Park was being wooed by the
morning sun of spring-time, the green fresh grass covered a space that
was here and there protected by warning boards; the trees, after a
shivering winter, were clothing themselves with a suit of new leaves.
Away to the right, masts of shipping in the Surrey Commercial Docks
showed high and gaunt above the middle-aged trees that fringed the park:
on the other side rows of small houses pressed closely.  A few
light-haired Scandinavian sailors looked on amiably; timber-carrying men,
who showed a horny skin at the back of their necks, as badges of their
labour, made up, with railway men in unaccustomed mufti, the rest of the
group.  The new speaker’s features relaxed slightly as he saw two girls,
conspicuous in the presence of so many men, join his audience, to resume
his earlier manner when one exclaimed disappointedly, “Oh, it’s only
joring!” and both strolled away towards a bed of flaming tulips.  A tall
young woman, slightly lame, took their place.

“Friends,” said Erb, very quietly, “I was not altogether prepared to be
called upon for an address this morning, but—All right, my lad,” this in
reply to an appeal from the outside of the crescent, “I’ll speak up
presently.  I’ll speak up when I’m ready, in a way that’ll make even you
understand me.” The line of speakers near the chair smiled, and the
interjector’s friends remarked gleefully that this was one in the eye for
him.  “I say that I came ’ere to this park this morning,” he went on,
raising his voice defiantly, and smoothing his obstinate hair with one
hand, “more as a listener than a teacher, more ready to learn from others
than to learn them anything myself.”  The tall young person on the edge
of the crowd winced.  “But as I have been called upon, I shall take the
liberty of askin’ you one or two very straight questions.  My friend from
Camberwell, who preceded, referred to me as one accustomed to hit
straight from the shoulder; that’s the way I’m going to play the game
this morning.  I stand up ’ere,” he said, commencing to finger the
buttons of his waistcoat, “as a working man addressing his fellow working
men.  Prouder titles there can never be, and if they was to offer to make
me Lord Mayor of London at this present moment I should make answer to
the effect that I preferred to be a working man.”  A voice on the outside
asked where he worked?  “I am a parcels carman on a railway I am, and I
earn twenty-three shillings and sixpence a week.”  A voice said it was a
shame to pay a van-boy the money earned by grown men; Herbert Barnes
flushed at this and went on.  The voice, deluded, threw at him another
remark.  “Was he” (asked the voice), “was he a half-timer?”

“I’m going to spare one minute with this chap,” said Erb, turning
suddenly.  “Bring him forward!  Stand back from him then, if he’s too shy
for that, and let’s see who we’re dealing with.  Oh, it’s you, is it?”

“Yus,” admitted the owner of the voice resentfully, “it is me.”

“You don’t look ’appy,” said Erb.

“I’ve been listening to you,” explained the man.

“Take your ’ands out of your pockets and let’s ’ave a look at them.”  The
man turned to go, but the circle declined to permit this.  “Take a sight
at his little hansy-pansy.”  Order complied with.  “What d’you make of
’em?”  “Soft,” retorted the expert.  “I knew he was a loafer,” said Erb.
“Let him go now and prop up his favourite pubs; I want to talk to genuine
working men, not to bits of touch-wood.  My first question is,” here he
referred to the notes on the back of an envelope which he held in his
hand, “my first question is, what is it we working men most keenly desire
at the present moment?”

“Tankard of bitter,” said someone.

“Ah!”  Herbert Barnes whirled round, and pointed a forefinger at the
humorist and his friends.  “_There’s_ a man who speaks the truth.
_There’s_ a man what says jest the thing he really thinks.  _There’s_ a
man who utters that which is uppermost in his mind.  _There’s_ a man,” he
leaned forward as though about to give one last applauding compliment,
“whose ’ighest ambition, whose most elevated thought, whose one supreme
anxiety is for a tankard of bitter.  Friends,” with a whirl of both arms,
“we talk about the tyranny and what not of capital; the enmity of the
upper circles, but _there_, jest over _there_, is the class of man that
is our greatest opponent, the man from whom we have most to fear.  A
ten-kard of bit-ter!” he repeated deliberately.

“Well, but,” said the humorist in an injured tone, “I suppose a chep can
open his mouth?”

“You can open your mouth, and when you do, apparently, it’s generally for
the purpose of em’tying down it a—”

He hesitated.  The crowd, glad to find personalities introduced, gave the
words in a muffled chorus.

“Makin’ a bloomin’ song of it,” grumbled the humorist, going off.  “Some
people can’t take a joke.”

“’Aving finished with our friend,” said Herbert Barnes, loudly, “we will
now resume our attention to our original argument.  What is it that the
working man—”

His voice grew so much in volume that people at Christadelphian and other
crowds near the iron gates deserted these, and came across in the hope of
better sport.  One of his arguments created some dissension, and two men,
detaching themselves from the crescent, went off to debate it, and an
interested circle formed around these, listening with almost pained
interest, and seemingly (from the nodding of their heads) convinced by
each argument in turn.  The round-faced young man on the Windsor chair,
now aiming the fist of one hand into the palm of the other as he laboured
at an argument, and giving a tremendous and convincing thump as he made
his point, noted the new crowd with approval: it was good to have said
the stimulating thing.  There were no interrupters now, but occasionally
a voice would throw an approving sentence, caught neatly by Herbert
Barnes, and used if he thought it wise or necessary; his best retorts
were given with a glance at the one young woman of the crowd.  He was in
the middle of a long sentence decked out with many a paraphrase, and
whole regiments of adjectives hurrying to the support of a noun, when the
hem of his jacket was pulled, and he stopped.  “Surely,” he said, in an
undertone, “the time ain’t up?”  The man next him replied, “Oh, ain’t it
though?” rather caustically.

“Friends,” said Herbert resuming his quiet voice, “I’m afraid I’ve kept
you rather long.  We’ve had opportunities before of meetin’ each other;
we shall ’ave opportunities again.  I ’ave only to add one word.”  The
man next to him frowned up at him on hearing this ominous phrase.  “It’s
my firm and steadfast opinion that we shall increase our power and
magnify our strength only by sticking close, quite close, shoulder to
shoulder, in what I may call the march of progress.  Not otherwise shall
we see the risin’ sun salute the dawn—” (a momentary frown from the lame
young woman had disconcerted him)—“of labour’s triumph: not otherwise
shall we—shall we—”

“Gain,” prompted the young man next to him, sulkily.

“Gain—thank you—gain the respect of future ages and the admiration of
posterity; not otherwise shall we lead others on in that battle which, to
use the language of metaphor—”

“I say, old man,” whispered his neighbour, “really!  Play the game.”

“I will not pursue the train of thought,” said Erb, “on which I had, in a
manner of speakin’, embarked.  One an’ all, friends—thank you—kind
’tention—I now give way!”

“Feriends!” shouted the next man, stepping quickly on the chair, “our
comrade from Berminsey has been so far carried away by his own eloquence
as to overstep his time.  In these circs, I will abstain from all
preliminary remarks and come to the point at once.  First of all,
’owever—”

The bowler-hatted men, who had spoken, seemed bored now with the
proceedings, and tried to make out the exact time by the clock on the
great biscuit factory; unable to do this, they appealed to Erb, who,
heated with his oratorical efforts, and gratified to notice that the tall
young woman had limped away directly that he had finished, produced a
smart silver watch and gave the required information.  They spoke in an
undertone of the evening’s engagements: one proud man was to turn on the
gas, as he cheerfully expressed it, at Victoria Park in the afternoon,
another had had a long talk with a member of Parliament, and the member
had shaken hands with him, “Quite ’omely and affable”; they all presented
to the crowd a very serious and thoughtful and statesmanlike appearance
as they whispered to each other.  Flakes of the crowd began to fall away.
The last speaker finished, hoarse and panting.

“Whose turn is it to carry the chair?”

“Erb’s!” said the others, quickly.

“But I thought—” he began.

“You thought wrong,” said the others.  “Besides you’re going straight
’ome.”

They walked across the grass to the gates near the station, where men and
children, and men with babies perched on their shoulders, were making way
back to the homes from which they had been temporarily expelled in order
to give wives and mothers opportunity for concentrating minds on the
preparation for dinner.

“No use trying to blister you for ’alf a pint, Erb?”

“Waste of time,” said Erb.

“What d’you do with all your money?”

“I don’t find no difficulty,” he replied, “in getting rid of it.  Any
spare cash goes in books.  I’ve got a reg’lar little library at ’ome.
John Stuart Mill and Professor Wallace and Robert Owen, and goodness
knows what all.”

“The only reely sensible thing you’ve done, Erb,” remarked one, “is not
getting married.”

“That’s one of ’em,” he admitted.

“You don’t know what it is to be always buying boots for the kiddies.”

“Don’t want.”

“You single men get it all your own way.  Same time, it’s a selfish life
in my opinion.  You don’t live for the sake of anybody.”

“I live for the sake of a good many people,” said Erb, dodging into the
road to evade a square of girls carrying hymn books, and returning with
his chair to the pavement.  “What I’m anxious to do is to see the world
better and brighter, to organise either by word of mouth or otherwise—”

“Old man!” protested the others indignantly, “give us a rest.  You ain’t
in the park now.”

He gave up the wooden chair to one of the men, who took it inside the
passage of a house in Upper Grange Road.  The others stepped across to a
public-house; he nodded and went on.

“Won’t change your mind and ’ave one, Erb?”

“My mind,” he called back, “is the one thing I never ’ardly change.”

He did not relax his seriousness of demeanour until he had passed the
high-walled enclosure of Bricklayers’ Arms Goods Station and had turned
into Page’s Walk.  There the fact was borne on the air that dinner-time
was near, for attractive scents of cooking issued out of every doorway;
he moved his lips appreciatively and hurried on with a more cheerful air.
Women slipped along with their aprons hiding plates of well-baked joints
and potatoes: children waited anxiously in doorways for the signal to
approach the one gay, over-satisfying meal of the week, at which there
was always an unusual exhibition of geniality and good temper that would
eventually conciliate the worried mother, who had devoted the morning to
providing the meal.  Men returned from a morning at their clubs, where
the hours had been chased by a third-rate music-hall entertainment; these
walked slowly and hummed or whistled some enticing air with which they
desired better acquaintance.  Erb scraped his boots carefully on the edge
of the pavement, and went up the stone steps of some model dwellings.
From No. 17 came a broad hint of rabbit pie: a veiled suggestion of
pickled pork.

“Well, young six foot,” he said cheerfully, “is the banquet prepared, and
are all our honoured guests assembled?”

“Wouldn’t be you,” remarked his short sister, quickly, “if you didn’t
come ’ome long before you were wanted.”  She stood on tiptoe and glanced
at herself in the glass over the mantelpiece, and rolled up her sleeves
again; her head was covered with steel hair-curlers, which had held it
fiercely since the previous morning.  “And me in me disables.”

“You look all right,” said Erb.

“I shall ’ave to be this afternoon.”

“What’s going to ’appen this afternoon?

“I told you!” remonstrated his sister.  “My new young man’s going to drop
in for a cup of tea.”

“Which?”

“I never have more than one at a time.”

“You mean the one in the hat place in Southwark Street.”

“Bah!” said his young sister contemptuously.  “I gave him the sack weeks
ago.”

“You’re always a choppin’ and a changin’,” said Erb tolerantly.

“If you weren’t such a great gawk,” remarked his sister, bending to peep
into the oven, “you’d put the knives and forks, and not sit there like
a—like a—I don’t know what.”

Erb pulled a drawer underneath the table and complied.

“The other way about, stupid,” said the short girl wrathfully.  “You
don’t take your knife in your left hand, do you?  ’Pon me word, I often
wonder that men was ever invented.  I s’pose you’ve been talkin’ yourself
’ungry, as usual?”

“I addressed a large meeting,” said Erb, with a touch of his important
manner, “for upwards of eleven minutes.”

“Did they aim straight?”

“They were very appreciative,” said Erb.  “One chap that interrupted I
went for with ’orse, foot, and artillery.”

“Did you, though?” asked his short sister with reluctant admiration.
“Make him squirm, eh, Erb?  Did ye call him names, or did you say
something about his nose?”

“I treated him with satire!”

“Weren’t there ladies present, then?”

“There was one, as it happened.”

“_She’d_ been better off at ’ome,” remarked the girl severely.  “The
minx.”

“She looked all right.”

“You can’t go by looks nowadays.”

“A tremendous weapon satire in the ’ands of a clever man,” said Erb
exultantly, “takes the starch out of ’em like drenching with a fire ’ose.
Am I supposed to stay on ’ere whilst this new chap of yours mops up his
tea?”

“Unless me lady comes down from Eaton Square to lord it over us all.”

“Nice occupation for a man of my—a man of my—”

“Don’t say ‘intellect,’” begged his sister.  “Spoils me appetite if I
laugh much before dinner.”

A pleasure to watch the sister, her sleeves rolled up to the elbow,
setting right the things on the table, placing, with the aid of an exact
pair of eyes, the china cruet-stand at the very centre, fabricating some
mustard in a teacup, and pouring it cleanly and carefully into the
mustard-pot, glancing at the oven with an encouraging, “’Urry up there!”
to the pie, and ever a wary look-out on the lid of the saucepan on the
fire; the intervals she filled by complaining of the price of coals, by
dusting the mantelpiece, by asking questions about the morning’s
speeches, and by explaining with great interest the trouble that came to
a girl in her workshop consequent on accepting engagement rings from two
young men at the same time.  Presently the one right moment arrived, and
out came the rabbit pie, with a crust not to be equalled for lightness
and flakiness in Page’s Walk, where, indeed, experiments in the higher
walks of cookery usually proved so disastrous as to lead to domestic
contention and a review of all the varied grievances that had accumulated
throughout the ages.  Erb, at the head of the table, cut the pie, and his
young sister sat at the side, with one foot on the insecure support, so
that the table scarcely wobbled under this trying operation; there ensued
some argument because Erb wanted to place both of the kidneys on her
plate, and his sister would not hear of this, but a compromise was
effected by sharing these dainties fairly and equally.  His sister said
grace.

“For what we are ’bout ’ceive, Lord make us truly thankful for.”

“Well?” she asked, rather nervously, as Erb took his first mouthful.  Erb
tasted with the air of a connoisseur.

“I’ve tasted worse,” he said.

“I was afraid how it was going to turn out,” confessed his sister with
relief.  “It’s long since I tried my ’and at a pie.”

“There’s nothing anyone can’t do in this so-called life of ours,” said
Erb oracularly, “providin’ that we put our best into it.  We’ve all been
endowed—”

“Pickle pork all right?”

“The pickle pork isn’t nearly so bad as it might be,” said Erb.  “They
couldn’t beat it in Eaton Square.  As I was saying, the human brain—”

“If Alice comes down from Eaton Square this afternoon in anything new,”
said his young sister definitely, “I shall simply ignore it.  In fact, I
shall say, ‘Oh, you havn’t got anything new for the spring then yet?’
That,” said the girl gleefully, “that’ll make her aspirate her aitches.”

“We mustn’t forget that she’s our sister.”

“She’d like to get it out of her memory.  Being parlourmaid in Eaton
Square, and about five foot ten from top to toe, don’t entitle anybody to
come down ’ere to Page’s Walk and act about as though Bricklayers’ Arms
Station belonged to them.  After all, she’s only a servant, Erb; there’s
no getting away from that.  She doesn’t get her evenings to herself like
I do.  Compared with her, I’m almost independent, mind you.  I may ’ave
to work ’ard in the day, I don’t deny it, but after seven o’clock at
night I’m me own mistress, and I can go out and about jest as I jolly
well like.  Tip up the dish, and take some more gravy.”

“As a matter of fact you come ’ome ’ere, and you work about and get the
place ready against me coming ’ome.”

“And why shouldn’t I?” demanded his young sister warmly, “if I like to?
Can’t I please meself?  I’d a jolly sight rather do that than go and wait
at table on a lot of over-dressed or under-dressed people, and obliged to
keep a straight face whatever silly things you might ’ear them say.  Is
there a little bit more of the crust you can spare me?”

“I quite admit,” said Erb, supplying her offered plate, “that to me there
is something distasteful—”

“I only put the leastest bit of onion in.”

“I’m referrin’ now to the arrangement by which those who possess riches
are able to call upon the working portion of the population to enable
them to live idle, slothful lives.  I may be wrong, but it seems to me—”

“I don’t blame them,” remarked his sister quickly, with her involuntary
twitching of the head.  “I should do the same if I was in their place.
Tapioca pudding, Erb, for after.  How does that strike you?”

“A tapioca and me,” said Erb genially, “have always been on speaking
terms.  I can always do with a tapioca.  A tapioca and me are good chums.
Don’t forget your stout.”

“Wish I was.”

“What I mean is, don’t forget to drink it.  My friend Payne, by the way,
may call with a message.”

“I’d as lief take doctor’s stuff,” said his sister with a wry face.
“What’s Payne calling about?”

“Orgenisation,” answered Erb mysteriously.

“Oh,” she said casually, “_that_ rot.”

“You’ll have a lay down after dinner.”

“I shall be busy,” answered his sister, “making meself good-looking.”

“You’ll have a lay down,” Erb repeated firmly.  “Besides, you look all
right.  Your face is a bit white, but,” with a burst of compliment,
“you’d pass in a crowd.  No cheese for me.  _You_ ’ave some.”

“I’ve done, thanks.”  She bowed her head and spoke rapidly in an
undertone “F,” “What we _have_ received the Lord make us—”

The fact that the tall sister from Eaton Square called before Louisa had
changed and taken her hair out of curlers was attributed by Louisa to the
tall sister’s unvarying desire to see Page’s Walk at its worst, to find
thus excuse for showering upon it her contempt.  Alice, from a lofty
height added to by an astonishing hat from which Louisa could not, in
spite of herself, keep her eyes, complained bitterly to her sister of the
state of Old Kent Road, upbraided Erb for the impudence of a ’bus
conductor who, because she had talked a little on the way, offered to
carry her on to the Deaf and Dumb Asylum without extra charge.  “The
vulgar humour of these poor men,” said Alice, unnecessarily dusting a
chair before sitting down, “appals one.”  She mentioned that the Eaton
Square coachman had offered to drive her anywhere she wanted to go, but
that, for various reasons, into which she preferred not to enter, she had
declined.

“I’ve brought you a bottle of Burgundy, Louisa.  You’ll find it in my
muff.”

“To put on me ’andkerchief?” asked Louisa satirically.

The tall sister glanced appealingly first at the stolid Erb, then at the
ceiling.

“I am on good terms with the housekeeper,” she explained, “for the
moment, and there is no difficulty in obtaining any little thing of this
kind.  And you’re not looking well.  You want picking up.”

“_Your_ idea seems to be to give me a set down,” said Louisa.  “Going to
take your things off?”

“I’ll just loosen my jacket.  I won’t take it off, thank you.”

“You know the state of the lining better than I do.  Erb, you’re silent
all at once.”

“I was thinking,” said Erb, going across the room and taking the bottle
from its resting place.  “How much does a bottle of Burgundy wine like
this run into, Alice?”

An exclamation came from the short girl as the tall sister took a pair of
pince-nez from her breast, and, with great care, put on these new
decorations in order to assist her in giving the answer.

“A bottle like that would ‘run into,’” she explained with a short laugh
as she quoted Erb, “about, what shall I say, six or seven shillings.”

“You can take it back,” he said shortly.

“Bra-vo, Erb,” whispered Louisa.

“I’m not going to be indebted,” said Erb, leaning his fists on the deal
table, “to Eaton Square or any other haunt of the aristocracy for
philanthropy of any kind or description whatever, not even when they are
not aware that they’re giving anything away.  I should be stultifying
meself if I did.  If Louisa or me wants Burgundy we can buy it at the
grocer’s, and, if necessary, go as far as to drink it, with the satisfied
feeling that we’re not beholden to any one.  Eh, Louisa?”

“You’ve hit it in once,” agreed the short sister.  “Cigar or coker-nut?”

“Therefore, whilst thankin’ you, one and all, for your doubtless
well-meant kindness, perhaps, Alice, you’ll understand that my
principles—”

“You needn’t bang the table about,” interrupted the tall sister.

“It’s ours,” retorted Louisa.  “We can bang it if we like.”

“My principles,” repeated Erb with relish, “prevent me from accepting
anything whatsoever concerning which I have reason to believe that it had
not been acquired, or bought, or paid for by the party at whose hands—at
whose hands–”

“That’s right, Erb,” said Louisa encouragingly.

“At whose hands that gift is, so to speak, attempted to be bestowed.”

“I shall look pretty,” protested Alice, “carrying that about all the
evening.”

“If it has that effect,” said her short sister, “I don’t see how you can
grumble.  Come in the bedroom and show me how you manage this new way of
doing up the hair.”

Erb read a chapter from Herbert Spencer whilst the girls were out of the
room, well repaid if here and there he understood a sentence, or now and
again caught sight of a view that soon eluded him.  The book had been
recommended by a speaker at the Liberal and Radical Club a few Sundays
before, an Honourable Somebody, whose proud boast it was that he had
unsuccessfully contested more seats at general and at bye-elections than
any man belonging to his party, and who was, indeed, such an
uncompromising bore, that he might well and appropriately have been
subsidized by his very grateful opponents.  The Honourable Somebody had
also strongly recommended a book by Ruskin, and this, too, Erb had
procured from the Free Library, but had given it up after a brief
struggle, confessing that it was a bit too thick even for him.  Erb made
notes on the back of parcels’ waybills when he came on something that
seemed to him lucid: smiled to think of the start his companions would
give when they heard him say in a speech, “I am inclined to go with our
friend Spencer and say with him—” conveying in this way an impression
that his acquaintance with literature was so complete that he had but to
pick and choose from the treasures of his memory in order to give an
illuminating quotation.  He had made a bag of five when his sisters
returned to the front room; Louisa without her fierce hair curlers, her
head decked out in a new fashion, and more amiable in her attitude
towards her sister, and, indeed, holding her arm affectionately.  Alice,
with her hat off, slightly less austere, took up Erb’s book with a word
of apology and remarked, “Oh, yes!” in the manner of one recognising an
old companion.

“Read it?”

“Well,” said the tall sister, “I have not exactly read it, but I have
heard of it.  Two of our young ladies talk about it sometimes at meals:
Lady Frances declares she can’t understand half of it.”

“It’s easy enough,” said Erb, “once you get the hang of the thing.”

“What are the young ladies like, Alice, at your new place?” asked the
short sister at the looking-glass.

“I’ve often been going to tell you, but you’d never listen,” complained
Alice.

“Tell us now!”

They all became much interested in this subject, and even Erb put some
elucidating questions.  Louisa looked admiringly at her tall sister as
Alice went from this to the subject of visitors to Eaton Square: young
Lady Frances, it seemed, occasionally gave mixed dinners, where no one
knew anybody else, and even Lady Frances herself did not insist on
previous acquaintance: the passport to these was notoriety.  From this
subject to the servants’ coming party of the following Thursday week was
an easy stage.  Thursday had been selected to fit the convenience of
certain visitors whose establishments on that day closed early.

“Another foot or so,” said Louisa gazing up at her sister, “and _I_ might
’ave been in your shoes.”

“Height isn’t the only thing required.  We shall be rather short of
gentlemen, by the bye.”

“I can quite understand that.”

“I suppose, Erb,” said Alice to her brother doubtfully, “you wouldn’t
care to come if I got you an invite?  If you did, you’d have to remember
that I told them you were an inspector: you mustn’t make me look like a
story-teller.”

“Not much in my line,” growled Erb.  “Besides, I’ve got a big job coming
on that I mustn’t tell you anything further about jest now.”

“I’d get you asked, Louisa,” she said candidly to her short sister, “if
you looked better than you do.  I don’t think your work does you any
good.”

“I’m not in it for me health,” retorted the other, her head giving its
involuntary shake.

“I’ve advised her to try something else,” agreed Erb, walking up and down
the room.  “She’s only a bit of a girl, and the circumstances under which
our female workers are compelled to carry on their duties amount to a
species of white slavery which would not be tolerated in Russia.”

“Loud cheers!” commented Louisa.  “It’s about time my young man was ’ere.
If he can’t keep his appointments I shall have to talk to him straight.”

As though in answer to this threat a loud single knock came at the door.

“Let him wait a bit,” said Louisa.  “Do him good.”

Another knock came and the girl went to the door to upbraid the caller
for unmannerly impatience.  She withdrew her head quickly.

“It’s Payne,” she announced to her brother.

“Deuce it is!” said Erb with excitement.

In the passage stood a man with a stiff, short, red beard, his upper lip
shaven; near to him, a newer arrival, a nervous youth, with a wired
flower in his coat, who asked shyly whether Miss Barnes happened by any
chance to be at home.

“Trot in,” said Erb, jerking his head.  The nervous youth took off his
hat and obeyed.  “Well, Payne, old man,” said Erb to the other.

“I’ve won the three old ’uns over,” whispered the man with the red beard.

“Good on you!”

“They’ll sign to-morrow.”

“And if the answer ain’t satisfactory?”

“Then,” said Payne in an undertone, with his hand guarding the words at
his mouth, “then they’ll follow our lead.”

“And strike?”

“And strike!” said Payne.



CHAPTER II


LONDON starts its day as freshly as the country, and in the early hours
of a spring morning, before the scent of the tanning-yards is awake, even
Bermondsey seems pure and bright.  The loads of vegetables strolling up
Old Kent Road, the belated pockets of last year’s hops coming, roped sky
high, out of the gates of the goods station; the rapid barrows returning
from Covent Garden with supplies of flowers and fruit for suburban
shops—all these help.  At half-past seven comes a transition period.  The
day’s work has begun and it has not begun.  Every five minutes increases
the haste of those who come out of the giant model dwellings, and up from
the tributary roads; girls, as they run, stab at their hats; men, at a
trot, endeavour in vain to light their pipes, but continue trying as they
go, because matches are cheap and time is priceless.  The law of
compensation asserts itself: those who were merry last night and stayed
out until half-past twelve to sing their way joyously home are, in the
morning, thoughtful or surly, whilst those who eluded the attractions of
the club or public-house rally them with much enjoyment on their obvious
depression.

Erb, after the exaltation of Sunday night’s meeting in St. George’s Road,
where his unreasonable hope to see again the tall, lame girl had been
disappointed, but where he had received from one of the leading men in
the labour world, grown white-haired in the service, a gracious
compliment (“I was like my enthusiastic friend Barnes, here, when I was a
lad,” the white-haired man had said), Erb experienced a slight reaction
to find that here was the old matter-of-fact world and—Monday morning!
An independent set, because of the fact that for so many hours of the day
they were their own masters, with a horse and van to take them about, and
a vanboy for slave or despot, on Monday mornings carmen were specially
curt of speech and unreliable of temper.  In the stables was contentious
dispute about horses, about the condition of the empty vans, about
tardily arriving boys, about anything, in fact, that lent itself to
disapproval.  Erb’s boy, William Henry, was prompt as ever, but Erb found
annoyance in the circumstance that his friend Payne, instead of taking up
conversation in regard to an important matter where it had been left the
previous afternoon, now treated this as a subject of secondary
importance, and as they drove up in the direction of town and the
Borough, insisted, with the interruptions that came when traffic parted
their vans, on giving to Erb details of a domestic quarrel, in which his
wife, Payne said, had been wrong and he had been right; Payne seemed
anxious, however, to obtain confirmation of this view from some impartial
outsider.  The boy on each van left his rope at the back to listen.

“Shall we have time to do that,” asked Erb at St. George’s Church, where
there was a stop of traffic, “before we start out on our first rounds?  I
should like to see it under weigh.”

“It isn’t,” said Payne from his van, still absorbed with his own affairs,
“it isn’t as though I was always nagging.  I don’t seepose I’ve lifted me
’and at her half-a-dozen times this year, and then only when she’s
aggravated me.”

“It ought to have an effect if we can get every name signed to it.”

“Question is, has a legally married wife got any right to go throwing a
man’s rel’tives in his face jest because they don’t come to see her?  I
ain’t responsible for my Uncle Richard, am I?  If he’s gone and got
himself into trouble in his time it ain’t me that’s got to be punished,
is it?  Very well, then, what’s the use of talkin’?”

William Henry, in Erb’s van, made a note.  Never have an Uncle Richard.

“It must be unanimous,” remarked Erb, speaking in fragments, and
endeavouring to entice Payne’s mind to imperial subjects as the
policeman’s hand allowed them to go on, “or else it might as well not be
done at all.  It’s a case of all of us sticking together like glue.  If
it don’t have no effect, what I’ve been thinking of is a deputation to
the General Manager.”

“She’s not a going to manage me,” returned Payne, catching something of
the last sentence.  “If I’m treated with proper respect I’m a lamb, but
if anyone attempts to lord it over me, I’m simply a—”

William Henry, ordered back to the tail of his van, made note number two.
Trouble brewing, and, in the case of wholesale discharges, a fair chance
of honest lads gaining promotion.

The van foreman waited at the entrance to the railway arch where the up
parcels office, after many experiments in other places, had decided to
settle; he looked on narrowly as the vans drove up the side street.  The
van foreman had been a carman in his day (to say nothing of a more lowly
start in boyhood), and he openly flattered himself that he knew the whole
bag of tricks: he also sometimes remarked acutely that anyone who had the
best of him had only one other person to get over, and that other person
did not live on this earth.  The van foreman was not really so clever as
he judged himself to be (but his case was neither unprecedented nor
without imitators), and his maxim—which was that in dealing with men you
had to keep hammering away at them—was one that in practice had at times
defective results.

“Yes,” said the van foreman gloomily, as though replying to a question,
“of course, you two are not the first to arrive.  Barnes and Payne—Payne
and Barnes.  There ain’t a pin to choose between you.  What’s your
excuse?”

“Wh-oh!” said Erb to his horse, assuming that it had shied.  “Wo—ho! my
beauty.  Don’t be frightened at him.  He ain’t pretty, but he’s quite
harmless.”

“I want no sauce,” snapped the van foreman.  “Good manners cost nothing.”

“You might as well replenish your stock, then,” retorted Erb.

“Re-plenish!” echoed the other disgustedly.  “Why don’t you talk the
Queen’s English like what I do?  What’s all this I ’ear about a round
robin to the guy’nor?”

“Fond of game, isn’t he?”

“Look ’ere,” said the van foreman seriously, “I’m not going to bemean
meself by talking to you.  I’ve spoken to some of the others, and I’ve
told them there’s the sack for every man jack of ’em that signs it.  I
give no such warning to you, mind: I simply turn me back on you, like
this.”

“Your back view’s bad enough,” called Erb as the other went off; “but
your front view’s something awful.”

“I was a better lookin’ chap than you,” called the van foreman hotly,
“once.”

“Once ain’t often,” said Erb.

He backed his van into position, and was about to cry, “Chain on!” but
William Henry had anticipated the order, and had, moreover, fetched from
the booking-up desk the long white delivery sheet, with its entries of
names and addresses.

William Henry also assisted in loading up the parcels with more than
usual alacrity, that he might have a few minutes in which to saunter
about with an air of unconcern and pick up news concerning possible
vacancies.  The carmen who had finished their work of loading, went up to
the further end of the arch, waiting for the hour of twenty to nine, and
snatching the opportunity for discussing a matter of public interest.
Erb followed, watched keenly by the van foreman.

“Got the document, Erb?”

“’Ere it is,” said Erb importantly, drawing a long envelope from the
inside pocket of his uniform jacket.  “All drawn up in due order, I
think.”

“What we’ve got to be careful about,” said a cautious, elderly carman
preparing to listen, “is not to pitch it too strong, and not to pitch it
too weak.”

“The same first-class idea occurred to me,” remarked Erb.

“Read it out to ’em, Erb,” suggested Payne.

Pride and a suggestion of Southwark Park was in the young man’s tones,
as, unfolding the sheet of foolscap paper, he proceeded to recite the
terms of the memorial.  The style was, perhaps, slightly too elaborate
for the occasion, but this appeared to be no defect in the eyes and ears
of the listening men.

“‘And your petitioners respectfully submit, therefore, these facts to
your notice, viz.,’—”

“What does ‘viz.’ mean?” asked the cautious, elderly carman.

“‘Viz,’” explained Erb, “is quite a well-known phrase, always used in
official communications.  ‘To your notice, viz., the long hours which we
work, the paucity of pay, and the mediocre prospects of advancement.
Whilst your petitioners are unwilling to resort to extreme measures, they
trust it will be understood that there exists a general and a unanimous
determination to improve or ameliorate’—”

“He’ll never understand words like that,” said the elderly carman
despairingly.  “Why, I can only guess at their meaning.”

“‘Or ameliorate the present environments under which they are forced to
carry on their duties.  Asking the favour of an early answer, We are,
sir, your obedient servants—’”

“That,” concluded Erb, “that is where we all sign.”

“Your respectful and obedient servants, _I_ should say,” suggested the
elderly carman.

“Hark!” said Erb authoritatively.  “The terms of this have all been very
carefully considered, and once you begin to interfere with them, you’ll
mar the unity of the whole thing.  Payne, got your pen?”

Payne seemed to feel that he was adjusting his quarrel with domestic
events by dipping his penholder into an inkstand and signing his name
fiercely.  Erb followed, and the other men contributed to the irregular
circle of names.  The elderly carman hesitated, but one of his colleagues
remarked that one might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and the
elderly carman appeared to derive great encouragement from this, signing
his name carefully and legibly, and looking at it when done with
something like affection.

“I sha’n’t ask you to get away with your loads many more times,” shouted
the van foreman from the other end of the arch.  “Yes, it’s you I’m
talkin’ to.  You’re all champion mikers, every one of you.  I wouldn’t
give three ’apence a dozen for you, not if I was allowed to pick and
choose.”

The men flushed.

“Chaps,” said Erb quickly, “there’s only one thing we might add.  Shall
we recommend that this old nuisance be done away with?  I can easily work
it in.”

“I beg to second that,” growled Payne.

“Thought you wasn’t taking any suggestions?” remarked the elderly carman.

“This is more than a suggestion,” said Erb masterfully.  “Are we all
agreed?”  The men held up their hands, shoulder high.  “Much obliged!
Payne, after you with that pen.”

Many of the van boys had snatched the opportunity to have a furtive game
of banker with picture cards, but William Henry stood precisely at the
tail of his mate’s van, responding in no way to the raillery of his young
comrades, who, in their efforts to move him from the path of good
behaviour, exhausted a limited stock of adjectives, and a generous supply
of nouns.  To William Henry, as a safe lad, was entrusted the duty of
taking the long envelope to the Chief’s office, and his quick ears having
gained something of the nature of the communication, he ran, and meeting
the Chief at the door of the private office, gave it up with the message,
“Answer wanted sharp, sir!” a gratuitous remark, ill-calculated to secure
for it an amiable reception.

The labour member who had given to Erb a golden compliment on the
previous evening had many proud titles; he was accustomed to say that the
one he prized highest was that of “a manager of men,” and, indeed, the
labour member had lost the colour of his hair and added lines to his face
by piloting many a strike, guiding warily many a lock-out, but he had
been rewarded by the universal acknowledgment that he could induce the
men to do as he wished them to do; having gained this position, any idea
of revolt against his command appeared, on the face of it, preposterous.
It pleased Erb, as he drove his soberly-behaved horse and his van through
the City to commence deliveries in the Pimlico district, to think that
he, too, at the very outset, had impressed the colleagues with a
confident manner.  It was fine to see the wavering minds pin themselves
to his superior direction, and give to him the duty of leading.  He
rehearsed to himself, as he drove along the Embankment, the speech which
he would make when they held a meeting consequent on a refusal of the
application; one sentence that came to his mind made him glow with
delight, and he felt sure it had occurred to no one before.  “United we
must succeed; divided we most certainly shall fail!”  He talked himself
into such a state of ecstasy (William Henry, the while, swinging out by
the rope, and repelling the impertinent action of boys driving shop
cycles, who desired to economise labour by holding on at the rear of the
van), that when he drove his thoughtful horse round by the Houses of
Parliament it seemed to him that if the House were sitting he had almost
achieved the right to get down and go in there and vote.  At his first
delivery to a contumacious butler, ill-tempered from an impudent attempt
on the part of his master to cut down expenses, recalled Erb to his
actual position in life, and as he went on Grosvenor Road way he was
again a carman at twenty-three shillings and sixpence a week.  Later, at
a coffee shop which proclaimed itself “A Good Pull-up for Carmen,” and
added proudly, “Others Compete, Few Equal, None Excel,” he stopped for
lunch, having by that time nearly finished his first round of deliveries.

He shouted an order of “Bag on!” to William Henry, and, stepping down,
went inside.  Other drivers from other companies were in the
coffee-house, and Erb, taking a seat in one of the pews, listened with
tolerant interest to their confused arguments.  All the variously
uniformed men had a grievance, and all were quite certain that something
ought to be done.  The least vague of all the preferred solutions came
from a North Western man, who said that “We must be up and doing.”

“The great thing is,” went on the North Western man, encouraged by the
absence of contradiction, “to keep on pegging away.”

“Which way?” asked the carman at the end of the room.

“_That_,” said the North Western man modestly, “_that_ it is not for me
to decide.  I leave that to wiser men than me.  I candidly confess that
I’m not one of your busybodies.”

“Seems to me,” remarked a Great Western man, cutting the thick bacon on
his bread gloomily, “that every other department’s getting a look in
excepting the drivers.  We’re out of sight part of the day, and out of
mind all the day.  Take my own case.  I’ve got children growing up, and I
find,” here the Great Western man rapped the handle end of his knife on
the table, “I find they all want boots.”

“What can I get for you?” said the matronly waitress, coming down the
aisle.

“I didn’t call you, my dear.  I was only arguin’.”

“Man-like!” said the waitress, going back to the kitchen.

“I find ’em in boots,” went on the man, “but do I ever ’ave a chance of
seeing the kids ’cept Sunday?”  A murmur of anticipatory agreement with
the coming answer went round.  “My youngest is about a year old, and
takes notice in a manner that’s simply wonderful—my wife says so,
everybody says so, but he forgets me from one Sunday to another, and
screams like anything when he catches sight of me.”

“P’raps you smile at him, old man?”

“And that’s why I agree,” concluded the Great Western man earnestly,
“that some’ing ought to be done.  Has anybody got ’alf a pipe of ’bacca
to spare?”

“What we want,” remarked the North Western man, “is a chap that’ll
persuade us to—”

“Yes, but—after you with the metch, old sort—but where is he?”

Erb closed the black shiny bag which his sister Louisa had packed and
stood out in the gangway between the pews.  He held his peaked cap in his
hand, and fingered at the brass buttons of his waistcoat.

“I’ve took the liberty of listening,” he said, speaking slowly, “to the
remarks you chaps have been making, and if there’s two minutes to spare,
I should like to offer my views.  I sha’n’t take more’n two minutes.”

“Fire away,” said the others, leaning out of their pews.

“Let me first of all preface my observations by telling you what we have
done only this morning at my place.  We have simply—” Erb described the
procedure; the men listened interestedly.  “And now let me tell you,
friends, what we propose to do when this round robin of ours gets the
usual sort of answer.  We shall fix on a certain morning—this is in
confidence, mind.  We shall resolve upon a certain, definite, and final
course of action.  Then it’ll be war, and we shall find out who’s
master.”

“And s’posing they are?”

“They would stand no chance,” cried Erb, “if we could but preserve a
united front.  But you’re too nervous, all of you, to do that.  You’ve
been tied up, hand and foot, too long to know how to move.  It will be
for us at our place to show you a lead, and I can only ’ope for your
sakes that when we prove successful you will ’ave the common-sense, the
energy, and the intelligence to go and do likewise.  Meanwhile, so long!”

He punched at the inside of his peaked cap and strode out of the doorway,
an exit that would have been dignified had not the stout waitress hurried
down after him with a demand for fourpence-halfpenny.  Even in these
circumstances, he had the gratification of hearing inquiries, “Who is he,
who is he?”  And one commendatory remark from the North Western man, “Got
his ’ead screwed on the right way.”

“Now, why ain’t you lookin’ after the van, William Henry?” asked Erb
appealingly.

“I’m very sorry, mate,” said the boy, “but I never can resist the
temptation of listening to you.”

Erb accepted the explanation.  He climbed up to his seat, and, awakening
the well-fed horse, induced him to finish the deliveries.  Eventually he
drove back to the station.  There he heard the latest news.  The Chief
had sent for the Van Foreman, a cabinet council had been held, the Chief
had gone now to consult the General Manager.  So far, good; the dovecotes
had been fluttered.  He met five or six of the carmen as he waited for
his second deliveries, and criticised the writing of the clerk at the
booking-up desk; they were nervous now that the arrow had been shot, and
they impressed upon Erb the fact that it was he who really pulled the
bow.  He accepted this implication of responsibility, his attitude
slightly reassured the nervous.  A young horse was brought up from the
stables to take the place of the solemn animal, and its eccentric and
sportive behaviour served to occupy Erb’s thoughts during the afternoon.
He had occasion to deliver a hamper of vegetables at a house in Eaton
Square, and to collect a basket of laundry, and as he waited he saw his
sister Alice on the steps of her house whistling for a hansom; he would
have offered assistance, only that he remembered that in the eyes of that
house he was an Inspector; when a cab answered the appeal a very tall,
neatly-dressed young woman came down the steps, preceded by Alice, who
ran to guard the muddy wheel with a basket protector.  An attractive face
the tall young woman had.  Erb would have thought more of it, but for the
fact that at this period of his career he had determined to wave from his
purview all members of the fair sex, excepting only his sisters; the work
before him would not permit of the interference that women sometimes
gave.  He resented the fact that the lame young woman of Southwark Park
would not go from his memory.  Erb reproved him sharply, and ordered him
to mind his own business.

“Carman Barnes.  To see me here, on to-day, certain.”

This was the endorsement in red ink on the sheet of blue foolscap which
had set out the grievances of the carmen, and Erb flushed with pride to
find that he, and he alone, had been selected to argue the grievances of
his colleagues with the Chief of the department.  The men appeared not to
grudge him the honour, and the van foreman held himself austerely in a
corner, declining to open his mouth, as though fearful of disclosing an
important state secret.  Erb thought it diplomatic to ask the others
whether they had any suggestions to offer for the coming debate (this
without any intention of accepting advice); they all declared moodily
that it was he who had led them into trouble, and his, therefore, should
be the task of getting them out.  Payne wished him good luck, but
appeared to have no great confidence in his own powers of prophecy.  Erb
washed in a zinc pail, parted his obstinate hair carefully with the
doubtful assistance given by a cheap pocket mirror which William Henry
always carried, and, watched by the carmen and chaffed by the casually
interested porters and clerks, he went to endure that experience of an
interview with the Chief, known as “going on the carpet.”  The Chief was
engaged for the moment; would Carman Barnes please wait for a few
moments?  It happened that Erb himself was boiling for the consultation,
and this enforced delay of a few moments, which grew into ten minutes,
disconcerted him; when at last a shorthand clerk came out, and he was
admitted into the presence, some of his warm confidence had cooled.  The
Chief, a big, polite, good-tempered man, sat at the table signing
letters.

“Shan’t keep you half a second,” he remarked, looking up.

“Very good, sir.”

“Beautiful weather,” said the Chief absently, as he read, “for the time
of the year.”

“We can’t complain, sir,” said Erb meaningly, “of the weather.”  The
clock up high on the wall of the office ticked on, and Erb endeavoured to
marshal his arguments in his mind afresh.

“That little job is finished,” said the Chief, dabbing the blotting paper
on his last signature.  “I wonder how many times I sign my name in the
course of a day; if only I had as many sovereigns.  Let me see, what was
it we wanted to talk to each other about?”  Erb produced the memorial,
and stood cap in hand as the Chief read it with an air that suggested no
previous knowledge of the communication.  “Oh, yes,” said the Chief, “of
course.  I remember now.  Something about the hours of duty.”

“And wages,” said Erb, “et cetera.”

“I get so much to think of,” went on the Chief, autobiographically, “that
unless I put it all down on a memo I forget about it.  Now when I was
your age.  What are you, Barnes?”

“Twenty-one next birthday, sir.”

“Ah,” sighed the Chief, “a fine thing to be one and twenty, you’ve got
all the world before you.  You ought to be as happy as a lord at your
age.”

“The ’appiness that a lord would extract from twenty-three and six a week
would go in a waistcoat pocket.”

“There’s something in that,” admitted the other, cheerfully.  “But, bless
my soul, there are plenty worse off.  A man can grub along very well on
it so long as he is not ambitious.”

“And why shouldn’t a man be ambitious?” demanded Erb.  “Some people raise
themselves up from small beginnings”—the Chief took up his paper
cutter—“and all honour to them for it.”  The Chief laid down the paper
cutter.  “It must be a great satisfaction to look back when they are
getting their three or four ’undred a year and think of the time when
they were getting only a quid a week.  It must make ’em proud of
themselves, and their wife and their women folk must be proud of ’em
too.”

“Married, Barnes?”

“No, sir.  Live with my sister.”

“Engaged perhaps?”

“Not on twenty-three and six.”

Difficult to use the well-rehearsed arguments and the violent phrases to
a courteous man, who showed so much personal interest.  If he would but
raise his voice or show defiant want of sympathy.

“But some of us _are_ married, sir,” Erb went on, “and some of us have
children, and I tell you straight, when the rent is paid, and when the
children’s clothes are bought and just the necessaries of life are
purchased, there’s precious little left over.  You can’t realise perhaps,
sir, what it means to look at every penny, and look at it hard, before
it’s paid away.”

“Pick up a bit, don’t you, you carmen?”

“An occasional twopence,” cried Erb, “and think what a degrading thing it
is for some of us to accept voluntary contributions from those placed in
a more fortunate position in life?”

“Never knew a railway man object to it before,” mused the Chief.

“You’re thinking of the old school, sir.  Men are beginning to recognise
that capital can’t do without them, and capital must therefore fork out
accordingly.  This memorial which you hold at the present time in your
’and, sir, contains a moderate appeal.  If that moderate appeal is
refused, I won’t be answerable for the consequences.”

“And yet, I take it, you know more about the consequences than anyone
else?”

“Be that as it may, sir,” said Erb, flattered, “we needn’t go into
hypo—hypo—”

“Hypothetical?”

“Thank you, sir.  We needn’t go into that part of the question at
present.  But it’s only fair to warn you that when I go back to the men
and tell them that their very reasonable applications have been one and
all refused, and refused, if I may say so, with ignominy, then there’ll
be such an outbreak.  Mind you, sir, I’m not blaming you; I only talk to
you in this way, because ’ere’s me representing labour on this side of
the table, and there’s you on the other side of the table representing
capital.”

“Labour,” remarked the Chief, trying to make a tent of three pen holders,
“is to be congratulated.”

“Therefore, not wishing to take up your time any longer, I should like to
conclude by remarking in the language of one of our poets of old, who
remarks—”

“No, no,” protested the Chief gently, “don’t let us drag in the poets.
They were all very well in their way, but really you know, not railway
men.  Not one of them.  What I want you to tell the others is that if I
had the power of deciding on this matter, likely enough I should give
them everything they ask.  But above me, Barnes, above me is the
Superintendent, above the Superintendent is the General Manager, above
the General Manager are the Directors, and above the Directors are the
Shareholders.”

“And all of you a stamping down on poor us.”

“To a certain extent,” admitted the Chief, in his friendly way, “but only
to a certain extent.  What they want, what I want, is that everything
should go on smoothly.”

“To come to the point,” suggested Erb.  “I take it that you answer this
application, sir, in the negative.  I take it that I’m to go back to the
men and say to them, ‘All my efforts on your behalf have been
fruitless.’”

“_Your_ efforts?”

“My efforts,” said Erb proudly.

“You are mainly responsible then?”

“I don’t deny it.”

“I see,” said the Chief, slowly pulling the feathers from a quill pen.
“My information was to that effect, but it is well to have it confirmed
by you.  Now look here, Barnes.”  He took up the sheet of blue foolscap,
with a change of manner.  “The men ask for the removal of the van
foreman.  That suggestion will not be acted upon.  If we were all to be
allowed to choose our own masters we should be playing a nice topsy-turvy
game.  You understand?”

“I’ve taken a note of it,” remarked Erb darkly.  He wrote something with
a short pencil on the back of an envelope.  “Negative answer also, I
s’pose, to the question of hours?”

“Not so fast.  In regard to the question of hours some concession will be
made.  They have increased of late without my knowledge.  The men will
take it in turns, in batches of three or four, to go off duty at six
o’clock one week in the month.  This will necessitate a couple of extra
carmen.”

“Good!” approved Erb, making a fresh note.  “We now approach the question
of wages.”

“The men who have been in the service for five years will receive an
additional two shillings a week.”

“That’s a fair offer.”

“The men who have been with us for more than a year will, with one
exception, receive an increase of one and six.”

Erb wrote the figures on the back of the envelope.  Already he was
composing in his mind the elaborate sentences by which he would make the
satisfactory announcement to his colleagues.  A telephone bell in the
corner of the office stung the ear; the Chief rose, and bidding Erb wait
outside for a few minutes, went to answer it.  Erb closed the door after
him in order to avoid any suspicion of overhearing, and, big with the
important news, could not resist the temptation to hurry through into the
arch where the men in a group were waiting; the van foreman sat on a high
stool in the corner, in an attitude that suggested contrition.

“Well, chaps,” said Payne, when Erb, in one long, ornate sentence had
given the information, “this is a little bit of all right.  I think I’m
speaking the general opinion when I say we’re very much indebted to Erb
for all the trouble he’s took.”

“Hear, hear!” said the men cheerfully.

“I could see from the first,” remarked the eldest carman, “that he meant
to pull it off for us.”

“The occasion being special,” said Payne, bunching his short, red beard
in one hand, “I think we might all of us treat ourselves to a tonic.”

“Not me,” said Erb.  “I’ve got to get back just to say a few words to the
gov’nor.  But don’t let me stop you chaps from ’aving one.”

“You won’t!” remarked Payne with candour.

The conversation at the telephone was still going on when Erb returned to
the Chief’s office; some time having been occupied, apparently, with the
usual preliminaries of one party begging the other to speak up, and the
other urging on the first the advisability of seeking some remedy for
increasing deafness.  The Chief rang off presently, and came to the door
and opened it.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Barnes.”

“Was there anything else you wanted to say, sir?”

“Only this.  I told you there was one exception in this scheme of
increases.”

“Everitt is a bit too fond of the glass, sir, but p’raps a word of
warning from you—”

“Everitt drinks, but Everitt does his work quietly, and he doesn’t
disturb the other men.  The one exception, Barnes, is yourself.”

“Me?” exclaimed Erb.

“It’s like this,” said the Chief, going on with the work of plucking a
quill pen.  “You’re a restless organiser, and no doubt somewhere in the
world there is a place for you.  But not here, Barnes, not here!  Of
course, we don’t want to sack you, but if you don’t mind looking out for
another berth—No hurry, you know, next week will do—why—”

The Chief threw down the stark quill pen; intimation that the conference
was at an end.

“I’m not the first martyr that’s suffered in the cause of right and
justice,” said Erb, his face white, “and I’m probably not the last.  I
take this as a distinct encouragement, sir, to go on in the path that
Fate has mapped out for me, ever striving, I trust, not so much to
improve my own personal position, as to better—”

“Shut the door after you,” said the Chief, “and close it quietly, there’s
a good chap.”



CHAPTER III


TURMOIL of the mind that followed in the next few days was increased by
the worry of a Society engagement.  To the servants’ party in Eaton
Square, Erb, having been formally invited, sent answer that he was busy
with meetings of one sort and another, and begged, therefore, to be
excused: this to his sister Louisa’s great content.  Arrived another post
card from Alice, saying that if this meant that he would not come unless
Louisa were invited, then she supposed there was nothing to do but to ask
them both; she would send a few things down by Carter Paterson the day
before the party, that Louisa might adorn herself with something like
distinction, and do as little harm as possible to the repute of Alice.
To this, after an enthusiastic discussion, that was not a discussion, in
that Louisa did all the talking, a reply was sent, stating that Louisa
and himself would arrive by a series of ’buses on the night mentioned,
and that Louisa begged her sister would not deprive herself of articles
of attire, “me having,” said Louisa’s note, “ample.”  The incident had
its fortunate side, insomuch that it absorbed the whole mind of the
delighted young sister, and prevented her from giving much attention to
the matter of Erb’s forced resignation.  Lady experts called every
evening at the model dwellings to give advice in regard to costume, and,
in the workshop, other white-faced girls pushed aside the relation of
their love affairs in order to give their minds to this subject: Louisa’s
current young man received stern orders not so much as dare show his face
in Page’s Walk for a good fortnight.  It was only on the evening of the
party, when Louisa, gorgeously apparelled, sat in the living-room, ready
a full hour before the time for starting, and Erb in his bedroom about to
start on the work of changing from a parcels carman to a private
gentleman, that the short girl found leisure and opportunity to review
Erb’s affairs.

“And all the rest,” said Louisa severely in conclusion, “all the rest of
these ’umbugs reaping the fruits of your labours, and you thrown out neck
and crop.  I can’t think how you come to be such a idiot.  You don’t see
me doing such silly things.  What do you think your poor mother would say
if she were ’ere?”

“You haven’t seen the evening paper, I s’pose?” asked the voice of Erb,
muffled by soap-suds.

“Evening paper,” echoed the short sister, fractiously.  “Is this a time
for bothering about evening papers?  The question is what are you going
to do next, Erb?  Been round to any of the other stations?”  A grunt from
the bedroom intimated a negative answer.  “You’ll come to rack and ruin,
Erb, that’s what you’ll come to if I don’t look after you.”

“Catch hold.”  A bare arm held out from the bedroom doorway a pink
evening paper.

“What d’you want me to read now?  I don’t want to go botherin’ my ’ead
about murders when I’m full of this party.”

“Where my thumb is,” said Erb’s voice.  A damp mark guided her attention,
and she read it, her lips moving silently as she went through the
paragraph, her head giving its uncontrollable shake.

“We understand that a Society of Railway Carmen has been formed, and that
the first meeting will be held at the Druid’s Arms, Southwark, on
Saturday evening, at half-past nine o’clock, a late hour fixed in order
to secure the attendance of the men.  There are two candidates for the
position of secretary—Messrs. Herbert Barnes and James Spanswick.  The
former is losing his situation for taking part in a labour movement, and
his case has excited a great deal of interest.”

“I say,” cried Louisa, in an awed voice, “that’s never meant for you,
Erb?”

“It ain’t meant for anyone else,” called Erb.  “Seen anything of my
stud?”

“Where did you put it last?  But, just fancy, in print too.  And
underneath is something about Royalty.”  Louisa clicked her tongue
amazedly.  “You never said anything about it, either.”

“No use talking too much.  Why, here’s the collar stud in the shirt all
the time.  No use talking too much beforehand.  Besides, it isn’t what
you may call definitely settled yet.  Spanswick’s got very strong
support, and he hates me as much as he likes beer.  I said something
rather caustic on one occasion about his grammar.”

“I shall snip this out,” said Louisa, as Erb appeared struggling into his
coat, “and I shall show it privately to everybody I come across in Eaton
Square to-night.”

“I don’t know that that’s worth while,” he said doubtfully.

“It’ll let ’em see,” said Louisa, with decision, “that they ain’t
everybody.  When you’ve done trimming your cuffs with the scissors—”

No further word of disparagement came from the short girl as she trotted
along proudly by the side of her brother to the junction where New Kent
Road starts for Walworth and town.  Indeed, outside the tram she
expressed some surprise at the fact that so many people were not
acquainted with her brother; she consoled herself by the assurance that
once Erb obtained a start the whole world would join her in an attitude
of respect; she also enjoyed, in anticipation, the reflected glory that
would be hers in the workshop the following morning.  Being as outspoken
in praise as in blame, it resulted, as they walked over Westminster
Bridge and took an omnibus, that not only Louisa, but Erb himself, had
attained a glowing state of content, and when they arrived eventually at
the house in Eaton Square (lighted recklessly below and sparsely
illuminated above) they felt that the world might possibly contain their
equals, but they were certainly not prepared to look on anybody as a
superior.

“Jackson,” said the buttoned boy who opened the door as they descended
the area, “this looks like your lot.”

“They call her Jackson,” whispered Louisa to her brother, interrupting
his protest.  “Parlour-maid here is always called Jackson.”

Alice came forward.  A spray of wild flowers meandered from the waist of
her pale blue dress to her neck; she took her brother’s hand up high in
the air before shaking it.  A few tightly-collared young men stood about
the entrance to the cleared kitchen, encouraging white gloves to cover
their hands; they also had bunches of flowers in buttonholes, and one of
them wore an open dress waistcoat.  A Japanese screen masked the big
range; nails in the walls had been relieved of their duties, a white
cloth’d table with refreshments stood at the end near a pianoforte.

“You’re early,” said Alice, kissing her sister casually.  Louisa took the
brown paper parcel from Erb’s arm.

“Thought you’d like the evening to start well,” she said.  “Any gentlemen
coming?”

“Haven’t you got eyes?” asked Alice, leading the way upstairs and waving
a hand in the direction of the shy youths.

“Gentlemen, _I_ said,” remarked Louisa.

“I shall begin to wish I hadn’t asked you,” said Alice pettishly, “if
you’re going on like that all the evening.  I believe you only do it to
annoy me.”

“What else could I do it for?” asked the short sister.

“Erb,” ordered the tall sister from the stairs, “you leave your hat and
coat in that room.  Thank goodness I’ve got a brother who knows how to
behave.  Good mind now not to titivate your hair for you.”

“You mustn’t mind me,” said Louisa, relenting at this threat.  “It’s only
me manner.”

They were received on returning downstairs by the housekeeper, a large
important lady in black silk and with so many chains that she might have
been a contented inmate of some amazingly gorgeous and generous prison;
the housekeeper having been informed that Erb was an official on a South
of England railway begged him to explain why, in travelling through
Ireland during the winter, it was so difficult to obtain foot-warmers,
and seemed not altogether satisfied with the reply that it was probably
because the Irish railways did not keep them in sufficient quantities.
The cook, also stout but short, engaged Erb for the first two dances,
assuring him (this proved indeed to be a fact) that she was, in spite of
appearances, very light on her toes, and quoting a compliment that had
been paid to her by a perfect stranger, and therefore unbiased, at
Holborn Town Hall in the early eighties.

“And this, Erb, is Jessie,” said Alice, introducing a large-eyed young
woman in pale green.  “Jessie is my _very_ great friend.”  She added,
“Just at present.”

“I think you speak, Mr. Barnes?” said the large-eyed young woman
earnestly.

“I open my mouth now and again,” admitted Erb, “just for the sake of
exercising my face.”

“Ah!” she sighed, looking at him in a rapt, absorbed way.  “Somehow you
put it all in a nutshell.  I should simply love to be able to say the
true, the right, the inevitable thing.  I could almost—perhaps, I ought
not to say it—but I could almost worship a clever man.”

Erb, reddening, said that there were precious few of them about.

“Talk to me, please!” she said appealingly.  “Button this glove of mine,
and then tell me all about yourself.  I shall be frightfully interested.”

“You don’t want to hear about me,” said Erb, essaying the task set him.

“If you only knew!” she said.

This was really very gratifying.  Erb had wondered whether the evening
would interfere for a time with consideration of his great crisis: he
soon found that the evening was to put that subject entirely out of his
thoughts.  This was in itself a relief, for, despite confidence in
himself, he felt nervous about the result of the forthcoming meeting;
to-night he could dismiss worry and give his mind a holiday.  He found
that Jessie’s surname was Luker, and the house called her Masters; the
tall young woman declared that she positively hated the name of Luker,
and confessed to a special admiration for the name of Barnes, strongly
contesting Erb’s suggestion that Barnes was a second-class sort of name,
and worthy of but little esteem.  Near the cottage pianoforte that had
been fixed in the corner of the kitchen, a sombre young person in black
sat on a chair that had to be improved and made suitable by an enormous
dictionary, fetched by the pageboy from upstairs, and, receiving orders
to play just what she liked for the first, this lady struck violently
into the prelude of a waltz, choosing a square in the pattern of the
wall-paper before her at which she could yawn.  Couples, standing up,
waited impatiently for the real waltz to commence; young women moving a
smartly-slippered foot; Louisa formulating her first protest against
convention by saying aloud to her partner, a precise footman, “Oh, let me
and you make a start!”  The others said, “S-s-s-h!” and watched the
butler.  The butler gave a pull at his yellow waistcoat and advanced
solemnly to the housekeeper.

“Mrs. Margetson,” he said, “I’m not so handy on me feet as I used to be,
but I trust I may have the honour of opening the dance with you?”

“Mr. Rackham,” replied the housekeeper with a slight bow, “thank you very
much for asking, but, as you know, the leastest excitement makes my head
a torture.  Would you mind,” with a wave of the fan, “asking Mamselle to
take my place?”

“I shall have much plaisure,” said the French lady’s maid, promptly.  “_A
deux temps_ or _a trois temps_, Meestair R-rackham?”

“Leave it to you, Mamselle,” replied the butler.

The two went half way round the kitchen before the other couples ventured
to move: a nod from the housekeeper then gave permission.  Erb found
himself rather unfortunate at first, and this was his own fault, for,
with his usual manner of taking charge, he endeavoured to pilot the
agreeable Miss Luker and ran her into rocks and whirlpools and on to the
quicksands of ladies’ trains; it was only after the fourth disaster, when
the fiancé of the upper-housemaid (who was one of the tightly-collared
men and wore his short hair brushed forward in the manner of grooms) said
to him audibly, “Not accustomed to drive, apparently!” that he permitted
Miss Luker to take up the duty of guidance, and thereafter they went in
and out the swinging dancers with no accident.  Miss Luker was quite a
marvellous young woman, for she could dance and talk calmly at the same
time, a trick so impossible to Erb that, when he attempted it, he found
he could only stammer acquiescence to some contestable theory advanced by
his partner, or ejaculate some words in acceptance of an undeserved
compliment.

“It seems like fate,” sighed Miss Luker, as she saved Erb from sweeping
the pianiste from her dictionary and chair, “but do you know you have
exactly my step?  It seems like fate,” repeated Miss Luker, as the music
stopped and couples began to walk around the room, “and it _is_ fate.”

“I don’t quite follow you,” said Erb, trying to regain his breath and
dodging the long train of Mamselle.  “To my mind, most things depend on
us, and if we want anything to happen we can generally make it happen.
Otherwise, where would ambition, and energy, and what not come in?”

“You mustn’t talk above my head,” said Miss Luker, winningly.  “You
forget how stupid we poor women are.”  An accidental lull came in the
clatter of conversation.

“You’re an exception,” declared Erb.

His sister looked over their shoulders at him with surprise, and the
footman giggled.  The others, with an elaborate show of tact, began to
speak hurriedly on the first subject that occurred to them, and the lady
at the pianoforte, checked half way through a yawn, was ordered by the
housekeeper to play a set of Lancers.  Erb, in his life, had many trying
moments, but none seemed so acute as this, when he had been caught paying
a compliment to a lady.  It was the first time he had ever done it, and
when his self-control returned, and, taking sides, he and cook went
through the devious ways of the set dance, he warned himself to use more
care in future.  Nevertheless, some excuse could be urged: whenever he
glanced at Miss Luker, now with the gloomy young man for partner, he
found that her large eyes were looking at him, and she turned away
quickly with great show of confusion.  When the Lancers had, by gracious
permission of the housekeeper, repeated its last figure, cook, beckoned
aside by the footman, introduced her partner with due formality.  Mr.
Danks—the footman bowed.

“We—er—know each other by reputation, Mr. Barnes.”

“Very kind of you to say so,” said Erb.

“When you feel inclined for a cigarette,” said the footman, “give me the
tip.  What I mean to say is—tip me the wink!  They won’t let us smoke
here, but we can go into the pantry, or we can take a whiff round the
square if you prefer it.”  Here the footman giggled, “I often wonder
whether ’round the square’ is a correct expression.  Find any trouble,
may I ask, in choosin’ your language?”

“It comes to me pretty free,” said Erb, “if I’m at all ’eated.”

“Heated,” corrected Mr. Danks, “heated!  Before I went to my uncle’s in
Southampton Street, Camberwell, to take lessons, I used to drop ’em
like—like anything.”

“Never trouble about trifles meself.”

“For public men like me and you,” said Mr. Danks.  He stopped a giggle,
perceiving that what he had thought to be a humorous remark did not,
judging from Erb’s expression, really bear that character.  “Like me and
you,” he went on, “the letter aitch is one of the toughest difficulties
that we have to encounter.  In my profession, at one time, it was looked
on, to use your words, as a trifle.  Those times, Mr. Barnes, are gone
and done with.  The ability to aspirate the letter aitch in the right
place—in the _right_ place, mind you—has done more to break down the
barriers that separated class from class than any other mortal thing in
this blessed world.”

“I wonder, now,” said Erb, with some interest, “whether you’re talking
rot, or whether there’s something in what you say?”

“If you think anything more of it,” said Mr. Danks, feeling in his
waistcoat pocket, “take my uncle’s card, and go on and chat it over with
him.”

“‘Professor of Elocution.  Declamation Taught!’” read Erb.

“His daughter knows you; heard you speak in Southwark Park.”

“Not a lame girl?”

“If I hadn’t gone to him,” said Mr. Danks nodding affirmatively, “I
should never have known how to recite.”

“Nice drawback that would have been.  So her name’s Danks?”

“Rosalind Danks.”

“Rosalind,” repeated Erb thoughtfully.

“As it is,” said the other with a giggle of satisfaction, “my ‘King
Robert of Sicily’ gets me more invites out than I know what to do with.
I suppose your sister has told you all about it.”

“Talks of nothing else,” declared Erb inventively.

To his surprise, Mr. Danks shook him very warmly by the hand, giggling
the while with satisfaction, and, with the remark that he must now do the
amiable to the remaining member of the family, left Erb and went across
to Louisa—Louisa, flushed and almost attractive looking from the
excitement of dancing.  Erb calculated the distance between himself and
the fair Miss Luker, and, with an attempt to imitate the easy manner of
Mr. Danks, lounged across in her direction, but before he reached her
three of the young men had formed up defensively, and Erb had to lean
clumsily against the wall near to his short sister and her new companion.
Mr. Danks had placed a footstool for Louisa.

“You are rather short,” explained the excellently mannered footman.

“I stopped growin’ a purpose,” said Louisa, kicking the footstool aside.

“You don’t resemble your sister at all.”

“Mustn’t let her hear you say that,” remarked Louisa, “else she’ll be
mad.”

“It’s been a very dull season in town,” said Mr. Danks regretfully.

“Have you been away, then?”

“I suppose you get a good many engagements, Miss Barnes?  What I mean to
say is, don’t you find it a great tax?  The demands of society seem to
increase year by year.”

“It’s some’ing awful,” agreed Louisa.  “I shall be out again—let me see—”

“To-morrow night?”

“In about six weeks’ time, to a cantata at Maze Pond Chapel.  Scarcely
gives you time to breathe, does it?”

Alice perceived that her brother was growing moody in his solitude, and
brought up to him the French lady’s maid, who, discovering that he had
once spent a day at Boulogne—conveyed to and fro by a free pass—talked to
him vivaciously on the superiority of her native country over all others.
The young woman at the pianoforte, aroused from a brief nap, was ordered
to play a schottische.

At this point the evening suffered a check.  It was Cook’s fault.  Cook,
fearing that the hours were not moving with enough rapidity, suggested
games; suggested also one called the Stool of Repentance.  Necessary for
one person to leave the room, and Mr. Danks being selected for this
honour, went out, and the others thereupon selected libellous statements,
of which Erb took charge.

“Come in, King Robert of Sicily,” called Erb.  Mr. Danks entered, and was
ordered by Cook (hugging herself with enjoyment) to take a chair in the
centre of the kitchen.  “Someone says you’re conceited.”

“That’s you,” said Mr. Danks pointing to Alice.

“Wrong!” remarked Erb.  “Someone says all the gels laugh at you.”

“That’s you,” decided Mr. Danks, pointing at Cook.  Cook now convulsed
with amusement.

“Wrong again!  Someone says you can’t recite for nuts.”

“I say,” urged Mr. Danks, wriggling on the chair, “I’m as fond of a joke
as anyone, but really—  That sounds like you, miss.” Louisa shook her
head negatively.

“You’re not lucky, old man.  Someone says you’ll never get married in all
your life for the simple reason that no one wants you.”

“That’s you this time, at any rate,” cried Mr. Danks, with melancholy
triumph.  And, as Louisa it was, the short young woman had to go out.

“Come in!” cried Erb, when the accusations had been decided upon.  “Some
of ’em have been making it warm for you, Louiser.”

“I’ll make it hot for them, Erb.”

“Someone says you’d be a fine looking gel if you were twice as broad and
three times as long.”

“Cook!” exclaimed Louisa.

Cook, slightly disappointed at this swift identification, made her way
out with a large sigh of regret at enforced exercise.  It was determined
now to show more ingenuity, and Cook had to knock two or three times ere
permission could be given for her return.

“Someone says,” remarked Erb, “that you’re the finest woman in Eaton
Square, bar none.”

Cook laughed coquettishly.  “That sounds like you, Mr. Barnes.”

“No fear,” said Erb.  “Someone says that you’ll get engaged some day—”

“What nonsense!” interrupted Cook delightedly.

“If you only wear a thick veil over your face.”

“Look here!” said Cook definitely.  “That’s enough of it.  If I find out
who said that I shall make no bones about it, but I shall go straight
upstairs and complain to Lady Frances, so there now.”

“Someone says,” Erb went on, “that you’ve got such an uncommon size mouth
that it would take three men and a boy to kiss you.”

“I don’t want to lose me temper,” said Cook heatedly, and speaking with
no stops, “and I’m not going to but once I know who dared say that and
I’ll go to the County Court first thing to-morrow morning and take out a
summons against them people shan’t go saying just what they like about me
behind me back without having to prove every single—  No, no, I’m not
getting cross nothing of the kind but once I know who so much as dared—
It’s a silly stupid game and I can’t think why it was ever suggested.”

They were going back to dancing after this unsuccessful essay, when a
quiet tap came at the door of the kitchen; and the couples, standing up
to begin, suddenly released each other, the French lady’s maid crying
humorously, “Ciel! c’est mon mari!”  Conversation ceased, and Cook
bustled forward and opened the door.

“May I come in, Cook, I wonder?”

“Why,” cried Cook; hysterical with delight, “as though you need ask, my
dear, I mean, m’lady!”

It seemed to Erb that the West End possessed some exceptional forcing
properties that made all of its young women grow tall.  He stood upright,
as though on parade, unconsciously following the lead given by the
tightly collared men and by Mr. Danks.  As the very tall young woman went
across the silent room to the housekeeper his gaze followed her; he would
have given half his savings to have been permitted to assume a light,
unconcerned, and, if possible, a defiant manner.

“Do you know,” she said brightly, “that I have not been down here since I
was ten years old?”

“That’s twelve years ago, Lady Frances,” said the housekeeper.  The
housekeeper adjusted a bow at the white shoulders of the new arrival with
an air of privilege.

“You sometimes used to let me bake things, didn’t you, Cook?”

“I had to take care you didn’t eat ’em,” said Cook, admiring her from the
opposite side of the room.  The strain on severe countenances around the
kitchen relaxed slightly.  “The others,” added Cook proudly, “don’t
remember.  It was before their time, Lady Frances.”

“And now that I am here,” said Lady Frances, “it seems that I am to spoil
your party.”  The servants and their visitors murmured, “Oh, no!” in an
unconvincing way.

“What I thought was,” she went on brightly, “that I might play to you.”

“We have taken the liberty,” said the housekeeper, “of hiring a musical
person.”

“But you will be glad of a rest,” said Lady Frances, touching the
pianiste on the hand and stopping her in a yawn.  “When I was at school
at Cheltenham I used to be rather good at dance music.”  She turned
suddenly and looked down at Louisa.  “Perhaps you play?”

“Me?” echoed Louisa confusedly.  Louisa’s sister Alice lifted her eyes in
silent appeal to the fates.  “I draw the line at a mouth organ.”  Her
sister frowned at the ceiling.  “And even that I’m out of practice with.”
Louisa found her handkerchief in a back pocket, and with some idea of
hiding her confusion, rubbed her little nose vigorously.

“I think you have dropped this,” said Lady Frances, stooping.

“Oh, that’s only a bit out of this evening’s newspaper.  About my
brother,” added the girl.

“Really!  May I read it, I wonder.”

“Spell the words you can’t pronounce,” said Louisa.  The room waited.
Erb shifted his feet and endeavoured to look unconcerned.

“Are you—  Are you Miss Spanswick, then?” pleasantly and encouragingly.

“Am I Miss Spanswick?” echoed Louisa with despair in her voice.  “Give it
’old!  _This_ is my brother’s name—Herbert Barnes—and, consequently, my
name is Barnes.  Not Spanswick.”

“I see! tell me what can I play?”

“Play something you know,” advised Louisa.

“Rackham! please suggest something.”

“If it wasn’t troubling your ladyship,” said Mr. Rackham, taking off the
dictionary, “and putting you to a great amount of ill-convenience, I
should venture to suggest—hem!—a set of quadrilles.”

Something in the playing, once the couples had persuaded themselves to
make up sets and to dance to such an august musician, that had escaped
the art of the hired pianiste.  An emphasis at the right place; a
marvellous ability for bringing the music of each figure to an end just
as the dancing ceased, so that there was no longer necessity for clapping
of hands to intimate that further melody was useless, or to go on dancing
with no music at all.  For the next, Lady Frances played a well-marked
air for a new dance that had possessed town, and in this Miss Luker gave
up her partner and undertook to teach Erb, who was not fully informed on
the subject.  It occurred to Erb, as he tried to lift his foot at the
appointed moment, and prepared immediately afterwards to swing the
agreeable upper housemaid round by the waist, that although his partner
had modelled her style on that of the young woman seated at the
pianoforte, there existed between them a long interval.  Both had the
same interested way of speaking, the same attention in listening, but,
with Miss Luker, there seemed to be nothing at the back of the eyes.
Erb, finding himself possessed with a hope that Lady Frances might
presently speak to him, tried to compensate for this weakness by telling
Miss Luker, when they were lifting one foot and swinging round at the far
end of the kitchen, that the title meant nothing to him, and that, for
his part, he preferred to mix with everybody on a common platform, to
which Miss Luker replied, “Ah! that’s because you’re a railway man.”
Presently, in one of those sudden blanks of general talk that surprise
the unwary, his raised voice was heard to say,—

“—Consequence is that the few revel in luxury, while the many—”  He
hesitated, and went on floundering through the silence.  “Whilst the many
’ave not the wherewithal to buy their daily bread.”

The awkward silence continued, broken only by the music from the
pianoforte and the swishing of skirts.

“Erb,” said his sister Alice, frowning over Mr. Danks’s shoulder,
“remember where you are.”

“Exercise tack, my dear sir,” recommended the butler.  “Exercise tack.”

“Even visitors,” remarked the housekeeper severely, so that the young
woman at the pianoforte should hear, “even visitors ought to draw the
line somewhere.  We can’t help our opinions, but we can all stop
ourselves from expressing them.”

The music stopped, and the household looked rather nervously towards the
chair, with an endeavour to ascertain whether the occupant had overheard
the discordant remarks.  To their relief, she leaned engagingly back, and
beckoned to Louisa.  Louisa, her head twitching with pride and agitation,
went across the floor, and stood swinging her programme round and round.

“You _can_ play!” admitted Louisa.  “Where did you pick it up?”

“I want you to bring your brother over to me,” said Lady Frances.

Quite useless for the kitchen to pretend that it was giving its entire
mind to the subject of refreshments.  The situation demanded their eyes
and ears; they ate oblong pieces of cake in a detached way, rather as
though they were feeding someone else; the housekeeper looked at Alice,
and shook her head desolately.

“I have been reading about you,” said Lady Frances in her alert,
interested way.

“Licker to me how these things get into the papers,” he mumbled.

“I should be tremendously interested in life,” said the girl, “if I
occupied your position.  There’s something sporting about it.”  She
looked at him intently, and he rubbed his nose under a vague impression
that it bore some defect.  “I wish you the best of good luck.”

“Then I shall have it,” said Erb.  Alice looked round the room
triumphantly, as who should say, _Now_ we are scoring.  “Not acquainted
much with the working-classes, p’raps, me lady?”

“To my regret, no!”

“They’re made up of all sorts,” went on Erb, wishing that he dared to
look at her white shoulders as she looked at his face, “and for the most
part they are very easily led.  It’s only now and again that you find one
step out of the common ruck.”  He hesitated, seeing no way out of the
sentence except by a self-congratulatory exit.

“If I should ever want to see through Bermondsey,” she said, clasping her
knee, her head up attractively, “will you be my guide?”

“It would be a proud moment,” said Erb.  He added, hastily, “For me, I
mean.”

“Cook, shall I play one more, and then go back upstairs and leave off
bothering you?”

“The idea,” said Cook reproachfully; “the idea, m’lady, of calling it
botherin’ us.”

The others murmured polite sympathy with Cook’s view, but when Lady
Frances had played the four figures in a manner that seemed to Erb quite
without flaw, she said good-night, giving a special word to Louisa that
made the short girl redden with delight; coming back to the doorway after
Cook had seen her out to say to Erb:

“Won’t forget your promise, will you?”

The dance finished at half-past eleven, and the yawning pianiste went off
to another engagement in Eccleston Street that began at midnight and was
to last until the hour of four.  The servants came up the steps of the
area to see their visitors go, Alice now so proud of her brother that she
declined to acknowledge the compliments of Mr. Danks, ignoring that
gentleman’s fervent assurance that she had been, as he expressed it, the
belle of the evening.

“Good-bye, Mr. Barnes,” said Miss Luker fervently.  She walked on a few
steps with him.  “This evening will always, always remain in my mind as a
precious memory.”

“_I_ shan’t forget it in a hurry.”

“Oh, thank you for those words,” whispered Miss Luker.

“Don’t mention it.”

“But promise.  You won’t think harshly of me, will you?”

“As a matter of fact, I don’t suppose I shall ’ave time to think of you
at all, ’arshly or otherwise.  To-morrow night there’s an important
meeting on, and—”

“But if you should want to write to me,” went on Miss Luker, undeterred
and looking back at the gossiping bunch of visitors near the area
entrance, “let me know and I’ll send you some addressed envelopes.  We
live in a censorious world, Mr. Barnes, and—  Here comes your young
sister.  Think of me at four o’clock every afternoon, and I’ll promise to
think of you.”

“Well, but,” protested Erb, “what’s the use?”

“Bah!” said Miss Luker, with a sudden burst of undisguised contempt, “I
wouldn’t be a dunderheaded man for anything.”



CHAPTER IV


THE third round of deliveries was finished, and, arrived at his last
evening, Erb, coat and collar off, washed away the traces of work in the
stable pail with the aid of some aggressive soft soap that seemed to have
its own way in everything.  He had brought with him that morning a parcel
of private clothes, and just before going out with the six o’clock turn,
he had changed, and had handed in the corduroy uniform.  A relief to feel
that he no longer wore the brass buttons of servitude; of late they had
seemed to reproach him.  He had driven round the Surrey side with the air
of a sporting gentleman taking out his own horse and trap; the private
clothes helped him to say his good-byes with dignity to all, and
especially to his old enemy, the van foreman.

“You _would_ go on in your own tin-pot way,” said the van foreman
regretfully, “no matter what I said.  Your case ought to act as a
warnin’.”

“To _you_?”

“I _should_ ’ave thought,” said the van foreman, with a wistful air,
“after all that’s passed between us we might as well part good friends,
at any rate.”

“Look here, old chap,” said Erb good-temperedly, “_I_ tried to out you,
and _you_ tried to out me; and you’ve got the best of it.  I don’t
complain, but I’m not going to pretend I’m on friendly terms with a man
when I ain’t.”

“That’s what I say,” retorted the van foreman argumentatively.  “You’ve
got no discretion.”

The manners of William Henry had about them a fine blend of
condescension; the lad came forward from the tail of the van and sat on a
hamper, big with news.  He had been approached that afternoon and
informed that, consequent on the departure of Erb, there would be some
changes, and would he, William Henry, accept the position of junior
porter at fourteen shillings a week.

“I shall probably work on from that,” said William Henry, “to some even
higher position, and then on again.  See?  And if ever you want a friend,
Erb—”

“I don’t let boys call me Erb.  Mr. Barnes, if you please.”

“If I’m a boy,” said William Henry thoughtfully, “I don’t quite see where
you’re going to find your men.  As I was a sayin’, if ever you should be
down in the gutter—and, mind you, there’s unlikelier things than that—you
come to me.  It may be in my power to ’elp you.  And I tell you what you
can do for me in exchange.  You might take the van ’ome to the stables by
yourself, so that I can run round to Rotherhithe New Road and tell my
young lady.”

“_Your_ young lady!”

“And why not?” demanded William Henry with some indignation.  “We ain’t
all like you.”

It gratified Erb, as he parted his hair with an imperfect pocket comb,
and tried to make the obstinate wisp at the back of his head remain flat,
to think that he had the reputation of one who exhibited no sort of
weakness in regard to women; this came in well with his profound attitude
towards the world.  He had had a letter from the tall upper housemaid at
Eaton Square, to which he had sent no reply; indeed, the communication
scarcely demanded an answer, for it furnished only information in regard
to the weather, and a fervent hope that his health had not been impaired
by his presence at the dance; it would not have remained in his memory
but for one sentence, “Her young ladyship has spoken of you once or
twice.”  An incomplete way of conveying a fact: something, of course, to
know that she had referred to him, but it would have been more
interesting to know the precise terms.  He flushed at the appalling
thought that she might have made some humorous comment on his behaviour.

Men balanced themselves on the edge of the kerb outside the “Druid’s
Arms,” and whilst a swollen-faced cornet blared patriotic tunes at them
from the opposite side in a ferocious way that permitted of no argument,
some of the youngest tried to do a few steps of a dance.  Two butchers,
affecting to be rivals, chaffed each other derisively in raucous voices,
one demanding to know how the widow was, and, on the second man replying
incautiously, “What widder?” the first explained that he referred to the
widow of the man who bought a joint at the second man’s shop last
Saturday week.  A hoarse-voiced man sold cough tablets for the voice; a
mild, sightless old man, with bootlaces, had an eager little girl with
him, who cried shrilly and commandingly and unceasingly, “Petronise the
belind, petronise the belind, petronise the—”  Boys and girls thrust
bunches of flowers against the noses of passers by; a depressed woman
cried, “Twenty-four comic papers for a punny,” with a catch in her voice
that expressed regret at the small demand for humour.  Erb nodded to the
uniformed men whom he recognised, and, going into the bar, found his
competitor Spanswick.  Always a short, stout man, Spanswick to-night had
every sign of his insufficient neck covered with white collar; Erb was
pleased to see that Spanswick’s tie had rucked up at the back.

Spanswick stopped suddenly in the remarks he was making to an interested
group who stood leaning over him in the manner of palm trees, and, coming
away, shook hands publicly and elaborately with Erb, as men in the boxing
ring salute their opponents.

“Feeling fit?”

“Never better,” said Erb.  “How’s yourself?”

“Bit of a cold,” said Spanswick with important reserve; “but otherwise—”

If there is time, one would like to explain here Spanswick’s position
amongst the men.  It was of that assured kind that newcomers do not dare
to question, and contemporaries have agreed to respect.  If this ever
exhibited signs of waning, Spanswick would gather an audience together
and beat the bounds of the incident that had made him a man to be treated
with consideration, and the story had been re-told so many times, and so
many improvements and additions had been made to it, that for the sake of
true history the real facts may as well be set down.

Spanswick had given way to drink.  To say this meant much, for at the
time the limits set upon the consumption of beer by many of the carmen
was only that fixed by their own capabilities.  Spanswick’s case must
have been exceptional, and, indeed, he was so inclined, not so much to
the bottle, perhaps, as to the quart, that his appearance on the morning
following these carousals was truly deplorable: his strong-minded wife
taking these opportunities to damage his face, with the eventual result
that his van boy and his horse sneered at him openly.  Wherefore Payne
and a man named Kirby and another called Old Jim, decided, in the best
interests of mankind at large, and of Spanswick in particular, that some
steps should be taken, that it was for them to take these steps, and that
the following Friday evening (being pay day) was the time to be selected.
Payne’s idea was this.  They would run Spanswick to earth in one of his
resorts, they would form a ring (or as much of a ring as three could
make) around him, and by wise counsel and urgent illustration force upon
him a recognition of the downward career that was his, and its inevitable
end.  It took some time to arrive at this decision, because Old Jim, who
was not abreast of the times and of modern methods, had a remedy that
included the dropping of the patient in the canal; whilst Kirby had
another proposal.  “Let us set the teetotal chaps on him,” urged Kirby.
Payne’s scheme was adopted, and, the Friday night arriving, the three,
after they had finished work, had a shave and a wash, and put on their
best clothes (Payne himself wore a silk hat of adequate age, but of
insufficient size), and they set out solemnly to take up their
self-appointed duties.

“Now,” said Old Jim, “the likeliest place is ‘The World Turned Upside
Down.’”

“Pardon me,” said Kirby, with the politeness that comes with the wearing
of Sunday clothes, “pardon me, but ‘The Chequers’ is his ’ouse.”

“I thought,” remarked Payne, “the ‘Dun Cow’ was.”

“I’m prutty sure I’m right,” said Old Jim.

“I’m jolly well certain you’re both wrong,” declared Kirby with emphasis.

“Standing here all night arguin’,” decided Payne, “won’t settle the
matter.  Let’s make a start at one of them.”

Spanswick was not in “The World Turned Upside Down,” but the three had a
drink there, because it would be notoriously a gross breach of etiquette
to go from a public-house without ordering refreshment; to do this were
to deride the landlord openly, and insinuate libels on his stock.  At the
next place the three went into each bar to make sure, and, having money
in their pockets, it seemed like doing the thing well and completely to
have a drink here in every bar, still discussing the painful case of poor
old Spanny, regretting deeply the curse that liquor brought upon men who
could not use it with discretion.

“It’s good servant,” said Old Jim, raising his glass and shutting one eye
in order to see it clearly, “but bad mas’er.  That’s what I always says
about it.  It’s a good mas’r, but—  What I mean to say is it’s a bad
servant—”

“Every man,” declared Kirby, attempting to slap the counter, but missing
it, “ought to know where to draw line.”

“The chap who don’t,” agreed Payne, “(You’re upsetting your glass, Jim,
old man)—the chap who don’t is like the beas’s of field.”

“Worse!” said Old Jim.

“No, not worse!” urged Payne obstinately.

“Fight you for it,” offered Old Jim.

Kirby interfered and made peace, and throughout the evening, wherever
they went in search of Spanswick, it happened that some two of the three
were always quarrelling, whilst the third endeavoured to appease and
conciliate.  They were on the very edge of a triangular dispute in the
last house of call when Payne, sobering himself for a moment, pointed out
to the others that it was closing time, and they must not go to bed
without feeling that something accomplished, something done, had earned a
night’s repose; necessary that they should proceed now with as much
directness as possible to Spanswick’s house, and (if they found him)
there deliver the calculated words of warning, the prepared sentences of
advice.

“’Ullo, old man,” said Payne, as the door of Spanswick’s house opened.
“Many ’appy returns day.”

“What’s all this?” demanded Spanswick coldly.  “Brought anything with you
in a bottle?”

“We’ve brought good ’dvice,” said Old Jim, seating himself on the sill.
“How is it we didn’t see you at any of the places?”

“The wife locked up me boots,” replied Spanswick surlily.  “That’s why.
But surely one of you’s got a bottle about him somewheres.  Search!”

“We want you, old chap,” said Payne, steadying himself with a hand on
either side of the doorway, “to give up the drink.  ‘Oh that man should
put an en’my into his mouth to steal out his brains.’  Chuck it, my
friend, chuck it, before it is too late.  Shun the flowing bowl, and save
your money to buy harmonium with.”

“I’ll harmonium you,” said Spanswick threateningly, “if you don’t all
three of you make yourselves precious scarce.  How dare you come round
here in this disgraceful condition to annoy a sober, honest man?  Go to
your ’omes and take an example by me.  I never saw such a painful
exhibition in all me life.”

“How was we to know you’d be sober?” asked Kirby, swaying.

Spanswick emphasised the situation by remaining comparatively sober for a
week; a busy week in other ways, for he lost no opportunity of reciting
the incident of his own pure and heroic action, establishing thus a
concrete foundation for the building up of a character that had never
entirely disappeared.

(This is the story of carman Spanswick.)

One or two men standing at the zinc bar called on Erb to have a drink,
but Erb replied, “Afterwards,” and went up the wooden staircase to the
club room.  There, on the landing, men were consulting in undertones,
which they changed for much louder speech on seeing Erb, commencing to
talk noisily of contests with superiors whom they had, it appeared,
worsted in argument; of fresh young horses that required a somewhat
similar treatment; of trouble in regard to Shuts-up, to water allowances,
to Brought-backs, and other technical matters.  A late colleague of Erb’s
introduced him to those who were strangers, and Erb made quite a
considerable effort to exhibit friendly manners, until a South Western
man, mistaking him for Spanswick, told him some of the things that were
being said about young Barnes, whereupon Erb left and went into the club
room.  In the club room tables had been arranged in something of the
shape of a capital U, and at the base a wooden hammer had been placed and
a decanter and tumbler; sheets of blue foolscap and scarlet blotting
paper gave the room an official, business-like appearance.  Payne was
there in mufti as to coat, in uniform as to waistcoat and corduroy
trousers; he was to be proposed as Chairman, and he stood now with his
face to a Scotch whisky advertisement, his lips moving silently; he
nodded to Erb, and went on with his rehearsal.  Spanswick coming up with
his _entourage_, took one of the sheets of paper and, with the stump of a
pencil, began to make calculations which were audited, as he went on, by
his friends.  A few of the men marked the special nature of the
proceedings by smoking cigars.  The alert clock on the mantelpiece struck
the half-hour in a sharp, energetic way and hurried on.

“I beg to move that Jack Payne do take the chair.”

“I beg to second.”

“All in favour,” said the first voice.  “On the contrary?  Carried
unanimously and nem. con.  Jack” (turning to Mr. Payne), “in you go.”

“In ordinary circs,” said Payne, after he had taken the chair and had
risen to some applause, “I’m perfectly well aware that the proper course
to pursue at an affair like this is for the chair to call on the
secretary to read the minutes of the last meeting.  I know that without
any of you telling me.  But we’re in the position to-night of not ’aving
no secretary and not ’aving no previous meetin’.”

The heads around the table nodded agreement.  A gloomy man seated in the
position that a vice-chairman might have occupied half rose and said,
“Mr. Chairman, sir,” and was at once pulled back into his chair by those
near him.

“I was never a man,” went on the Chairman, his forehead damp with
nervousness, “to what you may call force me opinions on any body of men.
’Cepting once, and that was at New Cross in ’89.  I forget exactly what
it was about, and I forget who was there, and I forget what I said, but
the entire incident is quite fresh in my memory, and, as I say, that was
the only occasion on which—”

“Question, question,” cried the gloomy man at the other end of the room.
His neighbours hushed him into silence.

“I’m coming to the question as fast as ever I can.  Few know better than
me how to conduct a meeting of this kind, although I say it p’raps as
shouldn’t, because it sounds like flattery, but it ain’t flattery, it’s
only the truth.  I’ve had it said to me over and over again, not once or
twice, but many times—”

“Mr. Chairman, reely,” said the gloomy man, “I must call you to order.
We shall never get the business done this side of Chris’mas if—”

“Kindly sed down,” ordered Mr. Payne, in tones of command, “or else
resume your seat; one or the other.  It’s me,” tapping his waistcoat,
“me, sir, that calls people to order, not you.”

The gloomy man argued in a loud whisper with his neighbours, and, on
these counselling that he should simmer down, sat back in his chair,
surveying the ceiling, his lips closed determinedly.

“First thing is shall we, being all of a trade, form a separate society,
or shall we jolly well do the other thing?  That’s the point.  Now then,
who’s going to give us a start?  You, my friend, of the Great Eastern,
down at the bottom of this left ’and table, you seem to have a lot to
say, p’raps we might give you ten minutes and see whether or not there’s
any sense in you.”

The gloomy man affected deafness until this had been explained to him by
those sitting near, on which he told them rather haughtily that he spoke
when he liked, and not when he was called upon.

“Then we must throw the ’andkerchief to somebody else.  Spanswick, you
might set the ball a-rolling.  Don’t be longer than you can ’elp.”

Erb watched.  The impression that his rival made now would affect the
later decision, and Erb could not help wishing that Spanswick might prove
halting in utterance and clumsy of speech.  Cheers greeted Spanswick;
some of the men looked at Erb, as they slapped the table with the palms
of their hands to see how _he_ took it, and Erb remembered, just in time,
to join in the compliment.  He recovered his hopefulness as soon as
Spanswick spoke, for he noted that his opponent started with great
rapidity of utterance, speaking also overloudly—encouraging facts both.
Spanswick was, of course, urging that they should form a separate
society, but he had no arguments, only hurried expressions of his own
opinion.  Erb, with his eyes on a sheet of foolscap paper, noticed that
the room relaxed its attention; the gloomy man had his watch out, and was
clearly preparing to shout at the appropriate moment, “Time, time!”
Spanswick halted and went over one sentence twice, word for word.  Then
he stopped altogether, and the silent room saw him endeavour to recall
his fleeting memory, saw him take from the inside pocket of his coat the
entire speech and laboriously find the place.

“Beg pardon,” cried the gloomy man, starting up, “but is a member
entitled to read—”

Spanswick, with now and again an anxious glance at Erb, read the
remainder of his speech in a shamed undertone.  There was but little
cheering when he finished; he was called up again because he had
forgotten to move the resolution.  Four men competed for the honour of
seconding this.

“Now then!” said the Chairman, with relish, “let’s go on in a orderly
manner.  First thing is, any amendment?  No amendment?  Vurry well, then!
Now, is there any further remarks?  The subject hasn’t been, if I may say
so, thor’ly threshed out yet, and if—  Thank you!  Friend Barnes will now
address the meeting.”

Erb rose with the slight nervousness that he always felt in commencing a
speech.  He began slowly and quietly: the Great Eastern man saw his
chance for an interruption, and shouted, “Let’s ’ear you,” but Erb took
no notice.  They were there, he said, to inaugurate a great work, a work
to which some of them had given a considerable amount of care, and the
scheme was so far advanced that he thought he could place a few details
before them for consideration.  There had been the grave question whether
they should join the general society of London carmen, or whether they
should form an independent society of their own.

“On a point of order, sir—” began the gloomy man.

“If there is one man,” said Erb, raising his voice, “in this room who is
absolutely ignorant of order it is our Great Eastern friend at the other
end of the room.  A yelping little terrier that runs after a van doesn’t
make the van go faster.”

The room, now very crowded with uniformed men, especially near the
doorway, approved this, and the Great Eastern man first looked round for
support from his own colleagues, and, obtaining none, began to take
desperate notes as Erb went on.

“I can’t waste time over a man who can only interrupt: I address myself
to you.  First, let me put my friend Spanswick right on a small detail.
He urged that we should work quietly and secretly”—(cheers from
Spanswick’s supporters)—“I disagree!  I fail to see the usefulness of
that.  I think that all we do should be fair and above board, and I say
this because if you combine, and let the railway companies see that you
are combining, you will be treated with greater respect.  See what’s
happened in the case of my own late fellow carmen!  It’s true I was
sacrificed, but let that pass; see what advantages _they_ got, just for
the asking.  They got—”

Payne’s watch must have been suddenly affected, for he allowed Erb to
speak for more than the period of ten minutes; no one complained; they
were all too much interested.  When Erb, in a fiery peroration, appealed
to them to extend the recent action and make it general, with a strong
reference to individualism, which they did not understand, and about
which Erb himself was not quite sure, then the supporters of Spanswick
forgot their reticence and cheered with the rest.

“And I trust,” added Erb modestly and finally, “that I ’aven’t took up
too much of your time.”

The resolution was carried.

“Now,” said the Chair, “if any of you thought of standing me a drink, or
even of ’aving one yourself, p’raps you’ll seize the opportunity whilst
the waiters are in the room, and then we can shut them out whilst we go
on to the next bisness.”

“Erb!” cried Spanswick along the table, “what’s yours?”

It was felt that this was a great piece of strategy on Spanswick’s part,
and Erb’s refusal counted nothing for righteousness; one or two of Erb’s
supporters shook their heads to intimate that this was not diplomacy.
The waiters brought in japanned trays of glasses on their high,
outstretched palms, carrying change everywhere, in their pockets, in
their tweed caps, in a knot in their handkerchiefs, in their mouths.
They completed their work in a few minutes and went, obeying leisurely
the Chairman’s imperious wave of the hammer.

“We come, now,” said Payne loudly, “to what I venture to term the
principal item on the agender.  That is, the appointment of seceretary.”
Both Erb and Spanswick showed signs of puzzled astonishment.  “There’s no
less than two suggestions that have been ’anded up: one is that we should
’ave a honery seceretary, which I may explain for the benefit of some,
means one who will perform his services in a honery way: the other is
that we should ’ave a paid seceretary, which means that we should have to
plank down about a ’undred a year, otherwise, two quid a week, and that’d
cover his slight travelling expenses.  There’s a good deal,” added the
Chair impartially, “to be said on both sides, and, at this stage of the
proceedings, I don’t attempt to dictate.  This room’s a bit warmish, and
if you don’t mind me taking off my coat, why, I shall be more comfortable
than what I am at the present moment.”

The men around the table imitated example, and, hanging their jackets on
the backs of the chairs, addressed themselves to the new subject.

“What?” said the Chair.  “You woke up again?”

“I should like to ask,” said the gloomy Great Eastern man, ignoring this
remark, “whether there’s any sense in paying a ’undred pounds a year for
a article that we can get for nothing?  That’s all I want to know.”

“Argue the point, my good sir,” urged the Chair, “argue in a speech.”

“I’ve said my say,” retorted the other stubbornly.

“If it was the self-same article,” said the Chair, shaking his hammer in
a friendly way towards the Great Eastern man, “then I should be with you.
But is it?”  The shirt sleeves rested on the tables; the men began to
show renewed interest.

“I asked a plain question, I want a plain answer!”

“Oh!” said the Chair, disgustedly, “you go to—well, I won’t say where.
You’ve got no more idea of conducting a meeting than this ’ammer.  Why
don’t someone prepose a resolution?”

“Beg—propose,” said a young man desperately, “my friend Spanswick—honery
sec’tary—new society.”

“Beg second that,” jerked another youth.

“In view of the fac’,” said a South Eastern man, half rising, “that if
you want a thing done well you ought to pay for it, I think we ought to
’ave a man who’ll devote his whole energies to the work.  Therefore, I
beg to suggest Erb Barnes as—as—”

“Organisin’ secretary!” whispered a neighbour.

“I second that vote—mean to say, resolution.”

“Any other names?” asked the Chair.  “Very good then!  Now, I shall ask
these two chaps to kindly retire, in other words, to leave the room, so
as to leave us free to discuss—”

“Point of order occurs to me,” interrupted the gloomy Great Eastern man
acutely, “Can they leave the room?”

The room watched Erb and Spanswick as the two made their way behind the
chairs to the doorway.  Erb opened the door, and motioned to Spanswick to
go first, but Spanswick, not to be outdone in politeness, declined
absolutely, insisting that Erb should take precedence, and when they
decided to stop the display of courtesy, both blundered out at the same
moment.  As they closed the door behind them they heard several voices
addressing the chair.

“Ever gone in for scarlet runners?” asked Spanswick.  “I’ve only got a
little bit of a garden, but I suppose there isn’t another man in
Rotherhithe that grows the scarlet runners I do; people come from far and
near to see ’em.  There’s a good deal of art, mind you, in the stickin’
of ’em.  Sunflowers, too!  I’ve had tremendous luck with my sunflowers.
I believe I could grow most anything in my little back place if it wasn’t
for the cats.  Vurry good plan of dealin’ with cats—”

Erb allowed his rival to make conversation whilst he himself considered
the importance of these moments that were passing.  He looked hard at a
picture on the walls of the landing, a picture representing a cheerful
Swiss valley and advertising Somebody’s Ginger Beer; the villagers held
goblets containing (presumably) this beverage, and toasted the
snow-topped mountains at the back.  He forced himself to recognise that
his chances were small; unless he had made a particularly good impression
by his speech he had no chance at all; he would have to commence
to-morrow morning a round of calls on master carmen and on contracting
firms with the obsequious inquiry, “You don’t ’appen to want a hand, I
s’pose?” and receiving the negative reply.  He had obtained a clean
character from the Railway Company, and the Chief had wished him
good-luck, but the information that he was a stirabout would fly round in
advance of him, and all the best places would be on the defensive.  It
might come to driving a cheap coal van, otherwise known as working in the
slate business.  There was an alternative even less agreeable to think
of.  He knew one or two men who had just missed being leaders of labour,
who sometimes opened debates at Clubs, and were paid fairly liberal
expenses, who were sometimes approached by the capitalists to stump
through London in an endeavour to lash working men into a state of
indignation in regard to Foreign Competition, Sugar Bounties, or the
tyranny of Trades Unions, or some other subject for which the capitalists
had affection: these men at times coalesced and, urged by a common
jealousy, denounced some prominent men of their own party, and found
their names mentioned in the opposition journals, the reporters of which
bribed them in order to obtain exclusive information of semi-public
meetings.  Erb told the Swiss valley that it would be long ere he came
down to that.

“You take a spade,” exclaimed his companion, “an ornery spade will do,
and you dig it in the garden like so, and what do you find?  Why you
find—”

Young Louisa would be disappointed too.  Louisa had been less successful
since the servants’ dance at Eaton Square in cloaking her admiration for
her brother, and the last young man had been dismissed with ignominy
because he showed hesitation in sacrificing his own views on political
subjects and accepting those held by Erb.  If he had not already passed
from the memory of Lady Frances, she might perhaps inquire of Alice the
result of the meeting, and, hearing it, would smile agreeably and push
him away from her thoughts.  To be shown through Bermondsey by an
official in the labour world would be one thing; to be conducted by a
grimy-faced carman was another.  And there was Rosalind—Rosalind—what was
her other name?

“Now, in regard to meenure,” said Spanswick dogmatically, “the long and
short of the matter is simply this.”

He had found in Southampton Street, Camberwell, on the previous day
(being on the Surrey side round), a painted board on a house announcing
here, “Elocution and Public Speaking Taught!  Pupils prepared for the
Dramatic Stage!  Apply within to Professor Danks!” and it then occurred
to him that this was the address given him by the footman in Eaton
Square.  The front garden was filled with monumental statues belonging to
an undertaker next door, and engraved with names and dates, tombstones
which for some inexplicable reason had not been used.  He had gone up the
uneven pavement from the front gate to the door and had knocked there,
but the door being opened by the tall, bright-eyed girl, plainly and
economically dressed, and with a suggestion of care near to her bright
eyes, he had for some extraordinary reason, muttered “Beg pardon.  Wrong
number!” and had stumbled back to the gate, hot-faced with confusion.  He
knew that his powers of speech lacked refinement, and one or two
finishing lessons would work miracles: he might perhaps learn how to
aspirate without the show of pain and anxiety that he exhibited now when
he endeavoured to observe the trying rule.  The bright-eyed girl, he
remembered, had stood at the doorway looking after him rather
reproachfully.

“Of course,” said the injured voice of Spanswick, “if it’s too much
trouble for you to listen, why it isn’t any use me talking.”

“Sorry,” he said absently.  “Fact is, I don’t take very much interest in
gardening.”

“I was talking about poultry.”

“They both come under the same head,” remarked Erb.

“I suppose, as a matter of fact, you’re pretty keen on this ’ere job?”

“They’re a long time deciding,” said Erb.

“I’ve been expectin’,” Spanswick made circles on the landing with his
right foot in a hesitating way, “I’ve been expectin’ that you’d approach
me and ask me to withdraw from the contest.”

“What’d be the use of that?”

“Well,” said Spanswick in a mysterious whisper, “you know what
Shakespeare says?”

“He said a lot.”

“You’re a mere kid in these matters,” remarked the other contemptuously,
walking away to the other end of the landing.  “Haven’t you never ’eard
of buying off the opposition?  In the present case, suppose you was to
say, ‘Spanny, old man, is twen’y-five bob any use to you?’ and I should
answer ‘Well, I could do with it,’ and you paid the money over ’ere.”
Spanswick held out one hand.  “And I said, ‘Well, now, come to think of
it, what’s the good of this job to me?  I shan’t make nothing out of it,
unless it is a silver teapot for the missus; I’ll withdraw my nomination
and leave you a clear field.’  See?”

“Upon my word,” exclaimed Erb indignantly, “upon my word if you ain’t the
biggest—”

“Mind you,” interrupted the other, “I was only putting a suppositious
case.”  The door of the club room opened, and a voice said importantly,
“Spanswick and Barnes, this way, please.”  They turned to obey.  “There
y’are,” said Spanswick reproachfully, “you’ve left it too late.”

Looking over the banisters, Erb saw that women-folk had arrived, charged
with the double duty of listening to the coming concert and of conveying
their male relatives home at a reasonable hour.  Louisa’s white young
face glanced up at him with a twitch, and asked anxiously whether it was
all over; Erb replied that, on the contrary, it was just about to begin.

“Kindly take your former seats,” said the Chairman importantly.  The
chattering room became quiet as the two men entered, and Payne rapped
with his hammer for silence.  “The voting has come out,” he went on,
looking at some figures on the sheet of foolscap before him, “the voting
has come out 29 on one side and 14 on the other.”

The rattle of conversation recommenced.

“Less noise there, less noise!” cried the Chair urgently.  “I can’t ’ear
meself talk.”

“Wish we couldn’t,” remarked the Great Eastern man from his end of the
table.

“Be careful, my friend,” said the Chair warningly.  “Be careful, or else
I shall rule you out of order.  I have the pleasure now of calling on my
friend Erb Barnes.”  The room cheered.  “Order, please, for Erb Barnes.”

“What have I got to talk about?” demanded Erb.

“Talk about?” echoed the Chair amazedly.  “Talk about?  Why, you’ve got
to acknowledge in a few appropriate words your appointment as paid
organisin’ secretary of the Railway Carmen’s Society.”



CHAPTER V


ERB entered upon his duties with appetite.  The single office of the new
society was a spare room over a coffee tavern in Grange Road, and the
first disbursement was for the painting on the window in bold white
letters the full title of the society, with the added words, “Herbert
Barnes, secretary.”  (Young Louisa went five minutes out of her way,
morning and evening, in order to see this proclamation of her brother’s
name.)  To the office came Erb promptly every morning at an hour when the
attendants at the coffee-room were on their knees scrubbing, chairs set
high on tables, and forms on end against the walls, and the young women
were a good deal annoyed by the fact that Erb, in these circumstances,
bestowed on them none of the chaff and badinage which were as necessary
to their existence as the very air.  When he had gone through the post
letters—the more there were of these the more contented he was—and had
answered them on post-cards, he went out, fixing a notice on the door,
“Back Shortly.  Any messages leave at Bar,” and hurried to some railway
depot, or some point where railway carmen were likely to congregate,
hurrying non-members into becoming members, passing the word round in
regard to public meetings, hunting for grievances, and listening always,
even when some, with erroneous ideas of his duties, requested advice in
regard to some domestic trouble with lodgers, or insubordination on the
part of babes.  All this meant visits to Paddington, to Willesden, to
Dalston, to Poplar, to Nine Elms: it gave to him a fine sensation of
ruling London and, in some way, the thought that he was repairing errors
made by the Creator of the world.  He came in contact with the
white-haired Labour member of Parliament, and watched his manner closely;
the Labour member invited Erb one evening to the House of Commons, and
Erb found that the Labour member had for the House a style differing
entirely from that which he used in other places, measuring words with
care, speaking with deliberation, and avoiding all the colloquialisms and
the jagged sentences that made him popular when he addressed outdoor
meetings.  And as all young men starting the journey through life model
themselves on some one who has arrived, Erb determined to acquire this
admirable alternative manner.

Thus it was that one Thursday evening he took courage by the hand, and
went Camberwell way to call again at the house where on his previous
visit he had made undignified departure because of a pair of rather
bright eyes.  He thought of her with some nervousness as he went down
Camberwell New Road, and, putting aside for a moment the serious matters,
gave himself the joy of reviewing his female acquaintances.  He had just
come to the sage decision that different women exacted entirely different
tributes, some demanding reverence, others admiration, and others
something more fervent, when he found himself at the gate and the uneven
path between the monumental statuary that led to the door of Professor
Danks’s house.  The street was one affecting to make a short cut to
Queen’s Road, Peckham, but it did not really make a short cut; within its
crescent form it included new model dwellings of a violent red, elderly
houses with red verandahs, a Liberal Club, and a chapel.  A part of the
road had undergone the process of being shopped, which is to say that the
long useless front gardens had been utilised, and anxious, empty,
unsuccessful young establishments came out to the pavement, expending all
their profits on gas, and making determined efforts either by placard or
minatory signs to persuade the passers-by that business was enormous, and
that it was with difficulty that customers could be checked in their
desire to patronise.  One had started with the proud boast, “Everything
at Sixpence-halfpenny,” and had later altered the six to five, and the
five to four; only necessary to allow time, and there seemed some good
prospect that the reckless shop would eventually give its contents free.
Erb pulled at the bell handle, and it came out obligingly.

“Now you ’ave gone and done it,” said the small servant who opened the
door.  “That’s clever, that is.  I suppose you get medals for doing
tricks like that?  Well, well,” she continued fractiously, as Erb made no
reply, “don’t stand there like a great gawk with the knob in your ’and.
What d’you want?”

“Might Professor Danks be in?” asked Erb.

“He might and he might not,” explained the small servant.  “He’s jest
sleepin’ it off a bit on the sofa.”

“Can I see anyone else?”

“Come in,” said the girl with a burst of friendliness.  “Never mind about
wipin’ your boots; it’s getting to the end of the week.  You could see
_her_ if you didn’t mind waiting till she’s finished giving a lesson.”

“Shall I wait here in the passage?”

“Don’t disturb him,” whispered the girl, “if I let you rest your weary
bones in the back room.”  She opened the door of the back room quietly.
“_She’s_ as right as rain,” whispered the girl confidently, “but _he_—”
The girl gave an expressive wave of the hand, signifying that the
Professor was not indispensable to the world’s happiness.  Erb went in.
“I’d stay and chat to you,” she said through the doorway, “only there’s
my ironin’.  I’ve got the ’ole ’ouse to look after, mind you, besides
answering the front door.”

“Takes a bit of doing, no doubt.”

“You never said a truer word,” whispered the short servant.  “There’s
pictures in that magazine you can look at.  If you want me, ’oller
‘Lizer!’ over the banisters.”

Professor Danks, asleep on the sofa, had the _Era_ over his face for
better detachment from a wakeful world: the paper was slipping gradually,
and Erb, watching him over the top of the book, knew that the eclipse
would be over and the features fully visible in a few minutes.
Meanwhile, he noticed that the Professor was a large, heavy man, with
snowy hair at one end, and slippers which had walked along muddy
pavements at the other; not a man, apparently, of active habits.

“I fear I shall never make anything of you,” her decided voice came from
the front room.  “You don’t pay attention.  You don’t seem to remember
what I tell you.”

“Mustn’t be too harsh with my husband, miss,” said a voice with the South
London whine.  “We all have to make a beginning, don’t forget that.”

“Now, sir.  Once more, please, we’ll go through this piece of poetry.
And when you say the first lines, ‘Give others the flags of foreign
states,’ show some animation; don’t say the words casually, as though you
were talking of the weather.”

“You understand, miss,” interposed the pupil’s wife, “that he’s made up
the words out of his own head.”

“I am sure of that,” with a touch of sarcasm.

“But, whilst he’s very clever in putting poetry together, he is not so
good—I’m speaking, Albert dear, for your own benefit—he is not so good in
reciting of them.  And we go out into Society a great deal (there’s two
parties on at New Cross only next month that we’re asked to), and what I
thought was that it would be so nice any time when an evening began to go
a bit slow for me to say casually, ye know, ‘Albert, what about that
piece you made up yourself?’  Then for him to get up and recite it in a
gentlemanly way.”

“Come now,” said the instructress, “‘Give others the flags of foreign
states, I care not for them a jot.’”

“Of course,” interposed the wife again, “his high-pitched voice is
against him, but that’s his misfortune, not his fault.  Also you may
think that he’s left it rather late to take up with elocution.  If we’d
ever had any children of our own—”

“I really think,” said the girl, “that we must get on with the lesson.
Now, sir, if you please.  ‘Give others the flags.’”

The _Era_ had slipped from the Professor’s red face, and the swollen,
poached-egg eyes moved, the heavy eyelids made one or two reluctant
efforts to unclose.  The room, Erb thought, looked as though it were
troubled by opposing forces, one anxious to keep it neat and keep it
comfortable, the other with entirely different views, and baulking these
efforts with some success.  Erb saw the household clearly and felt a
desire to range himself on the side of order.

“Good evening,” he said, when the leaden eyelids had decided to open.
“Having your little nap, sir?”

The Professor sat up, kneading his eyes and then rubbing his white hair
violently.

“I have been,” he said, in a voice that would have sounded important if
it had not been hoarse, “making a brief excursion into the land of
dreams.”  He clicked his tongue.  “And a devil of a mouth I’ve got on me,
too.”  He rose heavily and went to a bamboo table where two syphons were
standing, tried them, and found they were empty.  “A curse,” he said, “on
both your houses.”

“I’ve called about some lessons.”

“Lessons!” repeated the Professor moodily.  “That I, Reginald Danks,
should be reduced to this!  I, who might have been at the Lyceum at the
present moment but for fate and Irving.  How many lessons,” he asked with
a change of manner, “do you require, laddie?”

“I thought about six,” said Erb.

“Make it a dozen.  We offer thirteen for the price of twelve.”

“What would that number run me into?  I want them more for public
speaking than anything else.”

“We shall do the whole bag of tricks for you,” said the Professor,
placing an enormous hand on Erb’s shoulder, “for a mere trifle.”

“Who is ‘we?’”

“Rather should you say, ‘To whom is it that you refer?’  In this
self-appointed task of imparting the principles of voice production and
elocution to the—to the masses,” the Professor seemed to restrain himself
forcibly from using a contumelious adjective, “I have the advantage of
valuable assistance from my daughter.  Her system is my system, her
methods are my methods, her rules are my rules.  If at any time I should
be called away on professional business,” here the Professor passed his
hand over his lip, “my daughter, Rosalind, takes my place.  What is your
age?”

Erb gave the information.

“Ah,” the Professor sighed deeply, “in ’74 I was with Barry Sullivan
doing the principal towns in a repertoire.  No, I’m telling you a lie.
It was not in ’74.  It was in the autumn of ’73.  I played Rosencrantz
and the First Grave-digger—an enormous success.”

“Which?”

“I went from Barry Sullivan to join the ‘Murderous Moment’ Company, and
that,” said the Professor, striking his waistcoat, “was perhaps one of
the biggest triumphs ever witnessed on the dramatic stage.  From that
hour, sir, from that hour I never looked back.”

The high-voiced pupil in the front room finished his lesson, and his wife
took him off with the congratulatory remark that he promised well to make
her relatives at forthcoming parties sit up with astonishment.  The
Professor’s daughter, seeing them both to the front door, remarked that
her pupil would be able to find his way alone the next time, whereupon
the pupil’s wife answered darkly, “Do you really think I should let him
go out?”

“Shall I settle with you?” asked Erb.

“My daughter Rosalind,” said the Professor regretfully, “insists, as a
general rule, on taking charge of the business side, but on this
occasion—”

“If that’s the rule,” interrupted Erb, “don’t let’s break it.  I don’t
want any misunderstanding about matters of cash.”

“There have been times in my life, sir, when money has been as nothing to
me.  Will you believe that there was a time in my professional career
when I earnt twenty guineas—twenty of the best—per week?”

“Since you ask me, my answer is ‘No.’”

“You are quite right,” said the Professor, and in no way disconcerted.
“Let us be exact in our statements or perish.  Not twenty guineas, twenty
pounds.  But that,” he went on rather hurriedly, “that was at a time when
real acting, sir, was appreciated.  Nowadays they walk in from the
streets.  Ee-locution is a lost art; acting, real acting, is not to be
seen on the London boards.  If you have a cigarette about you, I can get
a light from the fireplace.”

Erb acted upon this hint, and listened for the girl’s voice.

“Her mother,” went on the Professor, puffing at the cigarette, and then
looking at it disparagingly, “her mother before she fell ill—mind, I’m
not complaining—was perhaps, without exception, the most diversified
arteest that ever graced the dramatic stage.  Ingénue, old woman,
soubrette, nothing came amiss to her.  That was the difference between
us—she liked work.  And when, just before the end, when I’d been out of
engagement for some time, she had an offer for the pair of us, two pounds
ten the couple, such was her indomitable spirit that she actually wanted
to accept it.  But I said ‘No.’  I put my foot down.  I admit,” said the
Professor genially, “that I lost my temper with her.  I told her pretty
definitely that I had made up my mind—”

“Your _what_?” inquired Erb.

“That poverty I could face, dee-privation I could endure, hunger and
thirst I could welcome with o-pen arms, but a contemptuous proposition
such as this I could not, should not, and would not tolerate.  I repeated
this,” added the Professor with a fine roll and a sweep of the left hand,
“at the inquest.”

“You’re a nice one, I don’t think,” said Erb critically.  “How is it they
let you live on?”

“Laddie,” said the Professor, tearfully, “my life is not an enviable one
even now.  My own daughter—Soft!—she comes.”

It occurred to Erb later that in his anxiety to show himself a careless,
self-possessed fellow, he rather overdid it, presenting himself in the
light of one slightly demented.  He nodded his head on formal
introduction by the Professor, hummed a cheerful air, and, taking out a
packet of cigarette papers, blew at one, and recollecting, twisted the
detached slip into a butterfly shape and puffed it to the ceiling.  The
girl looked at him, at her father, then again at Erb.  She had a pencil
resting between the buttons of her pink blouse, and but for a slight
contraction of the forehead that is the public sign of private worry,
would have been a very happy-looking young person indeed.

“A would-be student,” said her father with a proud wave of the hand
towards Erb, as though he had just made him, “a would-be student, my
love: one anxious to gain at our hands the principles of voice
pro-duction and ee-locution.”

“When do you propose to begin, sir?” she asked, limping slightly as she
went to a desk.

“Soon as your father’s ready, miss.”

“I have heard you speak in the park.”

“Most people have!” replied Erb, with a fine assumption of indifference.

“I’ll just register your name, please.”

“Our sys-tem,” said the Professor oracularly, as Erb bent over her and
gave the information (there was a pleasant warm scent from her hair), “is
to conduct everything in a perfectly businesslike manner.  I remember on
one occasion Mr. Phelps said to me, ‘Danks, my dear young friend, never,
never—’  My dear Rosalind, give me the word.  What was it,” the Professor
tapped his large forehead reprovingly, “what was it I was talking about?”

“I don’t think it matters, father.  You pay in advance, please,” she said
to Erb.  “Thank you.  I’m not sure that I have sufficient change in the
house.”

“I will step down the road,” suggested the Professor with a slight excess
of eagerness, “and obtain the necessary—”

“No, father.”

“Think I’ve got just enough silver,” said Erb.

“Thank you, Mr. Barnes.”

Good to be called Mister, better still to find it accompanied by a smile
of gratitude that somehow also intimated comradeship and a defensive
alliance against the ingenious Professor.  The Professor, affecting to
examine a pimple on his chin at the mirror, looked at his daughter’s
reflection in an appealing way; but she shook her head quickly.  The
Professor sighed and, turning back the cuffs of his shirt, put on an
elderly velvet jacket.

“I have some work to do downstairs,” she said, with a curt little bow to
Erb.  “You will excuse me.”

“Only too pleased, miss,” he said blunderingly.

“Father, you will give Mr. Barnes an hour, please, in the front room.  I
will come up when the time is—”

“Then I needn’t say good-bye,” remarked Erb gallantly.

The Professor in the front room declaimed to the new pupil a passage from
the “Merchant of Venice,” from the centre of the carpet, and then invited
him to repeat it, which Erb did, the Professor arresting him at every
line, correcting the accent with acerbity and calling attention to the
aspirates with something like tears.  “Why don’t you speak naturally,
sir?” demanded the Professor, hitting his own chest with his fist, “as I
dew?”  At the end of twenty minutes, when the Professor had furnished
some really valuable rules in regard to the artifices of voice
production, he gave a sudden dramatic start, and begged Erb for pity’s
sake not to tell him that the day was Thursday and the hour half-past
seven.  On Erb admitting his inability to give him other information
without stepping beyond the confines of truth, the Professor strode up
and down the worn carpet in a state of great agitation, declaring that
unless he were in the Strand by eight fifteen, or, at the very latest,
eight twenty that evening, he would, in all probability, lose the chance
of a lifetime.

“What am I to do?” he asked imploringly.  “I appeal to you, laddie?  Show
me where duty calls?”

On Erb suggesting that perhaps Miss Rosalind would finish the lesson, the
Professor shook him warmly by both hands and ordered heaven in a
dictatorial way to rain down blessings on the head of his pupil.  One
difficulty remained.  Time pressed, and every moment was (in all
probability) golden.  Could Mr. Barnes, as an old friend, oblige with
half a—no, not half a crown, two shillings.  The Professor, in the
goodness of his heart, did not mind four sixpences, and hurrying out into
the passage, struggled into a long brown overcoat of the old Newmarket
shape, took his soft hat, and, having called over the banisters to his
daughter to favour him with a moment’s conversation, bustled through the
passage whispering to Erb, “You can explain better than I,” and going
out, closed the door quietly.  There were signs of flour on the girl’s
plump arms as she came up; she rolled down the sleeves of the pink blouse
as she entered the front room.  Her forehead contracted as she listened.

“How much did he borrow?” she asked, checking a sigh.

“Nothing,” replied Erb boldly.

“Two shillings or a half a crown?”

“But I couldn’t possibly think for a moment—” he began protestingly.

“I wish you had,” she said.  “Take it, please.  I don’t want father to
run into debt if I can help it.”

“Makes me feel as though I’m robbing you.”

“Do you know,” said Miss Rosalind, with not quite half a smile, “it makes
me feel as though I were being robbed.  Let us get on with the lesson,
please; I have another pupil coming at half-past eight.”  Erb, for a hot
moment, was consumed with unreasonable jealousy of the next pupil.  “She
is always punctual,” added Rosalind, and Erb became cooler.  “Take this
book, please, and read aloud the passage I have marked.”

There were faded photographs on the mantelpiece of ladies with exuberant
smiles, calculated to disarm any criticism in regard to their eccentric
attire, their signatures sprawled across the lower right hand corner,
“Ever yours most affectionate!”  A frame that had seen stormy days
outside provincial theatres hung on the wall with the address of its last
exhibition half rubbed off.  Erb as he listened to the girl’s serious
corrections and warning, guessed that the half-dozen portraits it
contained were all of Rosalind’s mother; they ranged from one as Robinson
Crusoe with a white muff to a more matronly representation of (judging
from her hat) a designing Frenchwoman holding a revolver in one hand, and
clearly prepared to use this.  In another she was fondling a child, whose
head and face were almost covered by a stage wig, and the child bore some
far-away resemblance to the present instructress.  On Rosalind limping
across the room to place on the fire an economical lump of coal, Erb
framed an expression of sympathy; common-sense most fortunately gagged
him.

“You left school when you were very young?” said the girl, looking over
her shoulder from the fireplace.

“Pawsed the sixth standard when I was—”

“Oh, please, please!  Don’t say pawsed.”

“I passed the sixth standard when I was twelve, because I had to.  Father
was Kentish born, mother wasn’t.  Both died in the”—Rosalind put her
hands apprehensively to her ears—“in the hospital in one week, both in
one week, and I had to set to and get shot of the Board School and go
out.”

“As?” she asked curiously.

“As chief of the Transport Department to the principal railway
companies,” said Erb glibly, “and personal friend, and, I may say,
adviser to his Royal—”

“We will proceed,” said Rosalind, haughty on the receipt of sarcasm,
“with the lesson, please.  There is much to be done in the way of
eradicating errors in your speech.”

The reliable lady pupil due at eight thirty spoilt her record by arriving
half an hour late.  Thus, when Erb’s lesson was finished and the clock on
the mantelpiece gave the hour in a hurried asthmatic way, there was still
time for polite conversation on a variety of topics; the house, Erb
discovered, was not theirs, they only occupied furnished apartments; they
had lived in many parts of London, because, said Rosalind cautiously, the
Professor liked a change now and again.  Erb backed slowly towards the
door as each subject was discussed, anxious to stay as long as possible,
but more anxious still to make his exit with some clever impressive final
remark.  He found her book of notices, and insisted politely on reading
the neatly pasted slips cut from the “Hornsey Express,” the “South London
Journal,” the “Paddington Magpie,” and other newspapers of repute, which
said “Miss Rosalind Danks in her recitals made the hit of the evening,
and the same may be said of all the other artists on the programme.”
That “Miss R. Danks, as our advertisement column shows, is to give An
Evening with the Poets and Humorists at our Town Hall on Thursday
evening.  We wish her a bumper.”  That “Miss Rosalind Danks’s _naïveté_
of manner and general _chic_ enabled her in an American contribution to
score a terrific ‘succés d’estime.’  She narrowly escaped an enthusiastic
_encore_.”  That “Miss Danks lacks some of the charms necessary for a
good platform appearance—”

“I’d like to argue the point with the man who wrote that,” said Erb.

“They have to fill the paper with something,” remarked Miss Rosalind.

“For a good platform appearance, but she has a remarkably distinct
enunciation, and some of her lines could be heard almost distinctly at
the back of the hall.”  That “Miss Danks comes of a theatrical stock, and
her father is none other than the celebrated Mr. Reginald Danks, whose
Antonio still remains in the memory of the few privileged to witness it.
Mr. Reginald Danks informs us that he has had several offers from West
End theatres, but that he has some idea of going in for management
himself as soon as a convenient playhouse can be secured.  Of this, more
anon.”

It was natural when Erb had looked through these notices that he should
find in his pocket two or three copies of a small poster advertising a
lecture by him on the forthcoming Sunday evening, at a hall in Walworth
Road.  “Mr. Herbert Barnes,” said the poster loudly, adding in a lower
voice, “Organising Secretary Railway Carmen’s Union, will speak on The
Working Man: What Will Become of Him?  No collection.  Discussion
invited.”  Erb gave Miss Rosalind one of these as a present, and then
said, “Well now, I must be off,” as though he had been detained greatly
against his will.

And here it was that Erb made one of those mistakes of commission which
the most reliable of us effect at uncertain intervals.  He took up the
photograph of a fur-coated young man, clean-shaven face, thin lips, and
not quite enough of chin.

“And who,” asked Erb pityingly, “who might this young toff be?”

“He is stage manager,” she said rather proudly, “to a company touring in
the provinces.  Plays too.”

“Relation?”

“Not yet,” said Rosalind.

As Erb blundered through the passage Rosalind warned him to attend to the
home-work she had given him to do, and to come promptly to his next
lesson; she held the door open until Erb went out of the gate, a new
politeness which he acknowledged by lifting his hat.  He had never lifted
his hat to a lady before, and had always smiled contemptuously when he
had seen gallant youths performing this act of respect.  To atone for
this retrograde movement he ran against the tardily-arriving lady pupil,
and went on without apology.  The lady pupil ejaculated, “Clown!” and Erb
felt that he had righted himself in his own estimation.

He looked about him as he walked up the crowded pavement towards the
Elephant and Castle, because it was always one of his duties to recognise
the railway vans.  Disappointment clouded his eyes: he blamed himself for
so far forgetting the principal duty of his life as to waste time on
unremunerative investments.  This was why he missed a Brighton goods van
standing with its pair of horses near a large shop in Newington Causeway;
the van boy reported Erb’s negligence to his mate when he returned, and
this coming on the top of other annoying circumstances, the Brighton man
said to himself, “This shall be chalked up against you, young Erb.”

Erb reached Page’s Walk, having tried ineffectually to walk himself into
a good humour, and found Louisa with a round spot of colour high up on
either cheek, looking out of the window of the model dwellings and
hailing him excitedly.

“Put that ’ead of yours in,” he counselled.  “You’ll go and catch cold.”

“You won’t catch much,” retorted Louisa, “if you don’t arrange to be on
’and when wanted.  ’Urry upstairs, I’ve got something to tell you that
can’t be bawled.”

Erb ran up the stone stairs, and Louisa met him at the door of the
sitting-room, her eyes bigger than ever with the importance.  The room
had a slight perfume of violets.

“Who d’you think’s been ’ere?”

“Tell us,” said Erb.

“But guess,” begged Louisa, enjoying the power that was hers.

“Can’t guess.”

“Lady Frances,” said Louisa, in an impressive whisper.

“Well,” remarked Erb curtly, “what of it?”

“What of it?  Why, she wanted you to show her over Bermondsey, and she
waited here upwards of a hower, chatting away to me like anything.”

“Any other news?”

“Yes,” said Louisa reluctantly, “but nothing of much importance.  Letter
from Aunt Emma; she’s coming up soon.  Oh, and a man called to say there
was trouble brewin’ at Willer Walk, and would you see about it as soon as
possible.”

“_Now_,” remarked Erb elatedly, “_now_ you’re talking.”



CHAPTER VI


THE particular blend of trouble which Willow Walk was occupied in brewing
proved highly attractive to Erb, and one that gave to all the men
concerned a taste of the joys that must have come in the French
Revolution.  A few impetuous young spirits who had been brooding on
grievances since the days when they were van boys were responsible.  Erb
recognised that here was the first opportunity of justifying his
appointment.  Warned, however, by the example of other organisers within
memory, who had sometimes in similar experiments shown a tendency to
excess, Erb took care.  He wrote letters to the General Manager, letters
for which he received a printed form of acknowledgment and no other, he
wrote to the Directors, and received a brief reply to the effect that
they could not recognise Mr. Herbert Barnes in the matter, and that the
grievances of the staff concerned only the staff and themselves; the men
were bitterly annoyed at this, but Erb, because he had anticipated the
reply, showed no concern.  He worked from dawn near to dawn again,
sending letters to members of Parliament, going round to the depots of
other railways, attending meetings, and in many ways devoting himself to
the work of what he called directing public opinion.  In point of fact,
he had first to create it.  For a good fortnight he gave up everything to
devote himself to this one object, gave up everything but his lessons in
Camberwell.  One of the halfpenny evening papers said, amongst other
things, “Mr. Herbert Barnes made an impassioned but logical and
excellently delivered speech.”  Erb knew the deplorable looking man with
a silk hat of the early seventies who had reported this, but that did not
prevent him from being highly gratified on seeing the words in print;
Louisa spent eighteenpence on a well-bound manuscript book, and in it
commenced to paste these notices.  The point at issue being that the men
demanded better payment of overtime, Erb found here a subject that lent
itself to oratorical argument; the story of the man who was so seldom at
home that one Sunday his little girl asked the other parent, “Mother,
who’s this strange man?” never failed to prove effective, and Erb felt
justified in leaving out the fact that the carman in question was one
accustomed, when his work finished at night, to go straight from the
stables to a house in Old Kent Road, where he usually remained until the
potman cried “Time! gentlemen, time!”

The men had sent in their ultimatum to the head office, and had held
their last meeting.  The Directors had remained adamant on the question
of receiving Erb as spokesman, and the men, not having an orator of equal
power in their ranks, and fearful of being worsted in a private
interview, had insisted either that Erb should accompany the deputation
or that there should be no deputation at all, but only a strike on the
following Monday morning.  (The advanced party protested against the idea
of giving this formal notice of an unlikely event but Erb insisted and
the moderates supported him.  “If we can get what we want,” argued the
moderates, “by showing a certain amount of what you may call bluff, by
all means let us stop at that.”)

It gave Erb a sensation of power to find that not one of these uniformed
men in their brass-bound caps was strong-minded enough or sufficiently
clear of intellect to carry out any big scheme by himself; they could
only keep of one mind by shoring each other up, and he felt that he
himself was the one steady, upright person who prevented them all from
slipping.  He not only kept them together, but he guided them.  A
suggestion from him on some minor point of detail, and they followed as a
ship obeys the helm; if any began a remark with doubting preface of “Ah,
but—” the others hushed them down and begged them to have some sense.
Erb had made all his plans for the possible stop of work; the other
stations and depots were willing to contribute something infinitesimal
every week with much the same spirit that they would have paid to see a
wrestling match.  All the same, Erb showed more confidence than he felt,
and when he left the men, declining their invitation to drink success to
the movement (clear to them that Fortune was a goddess only to be
appeased and gained over by the pouring out of libations of mild and
bitter), he took cheerfulness from his face, and walked, his collar up,
along Bermondsey New Road to call for his young sister at her workshop.
The sellers on the kerb appealed to him in vain, a shrill-voiced little
girl thrust groundsel in his face, and he took no notice.  Gay bunches of
flowers were flourished in front of his eyes, and he waved them aside.
If the men went weak at the knees at the last moment it would be
deplorable, but it would be an incident for which he could not blame
himself; if he himself were to make some blunder in the conduct of the
negotiations it would be fatal to his career, and all other secretaries
of all other organisations would whisper about it complacently.

“Anxious times, my girl,” said Erb to Louisa.  “Anxious times.  We’ll
have a tram-ride down to Greenwich and back, and blow dull care away.”

“I’ve just finished,” said Louisa in a whisper.  “I’ll pop on me hat,
Erb, and be with you in ’alf a moment.”

“What’s become of your voice?”

“Mislaid it somewhere,” said his young sister lightly.  “Can’t think for
the life of me where I put it last.”

“This work’s beginning to affect your chest,” said Erb.

“Funny thing,” remarked Louisa, with great good temper, halfway up the
wooden stairs of the workshop, “but my medical man ordered me carriage
exercise.  Shan’t be two ticks.”

When Louisa returned, stabbing her hat in one or two places before
gaining what seemed to be a satisfactory hold, she was accompanied by
giggling young women who had been sent by the rest as a commission to
ascertain whether it was Louisa’s own brother or some other girl’s
brother who had called for her; Louisa’s own statement appearing too
absurd to have any relationship to truth.  Moreover, presuming it were
Louisa’s young man who had called for her, it was something of a breach
of etiquette, as understood by the girls of the workshop, for one young
couple to go out alone, the minimum number for such an expedition being
four, in which case they talked not so much to their immediate companion
as to the other half of the square party, with whom they communicated by
shouting.  Having ascertained, to their surprise, that Louisa had spoken
the exact and literal truth, they saw the brother and sister off from the
doorway, warning Louisa to wrap up her neck, and begging Erb to smile and
think of something pleasant.

“Never mind their chaff,” said Louisa, in her deep whisper.  “I’d a jolly
sight rather be going out a bit of an excursion with you than I would
with—well, _you_ know.”

“Wish you hadn’t lost your voice,” said Erb, with concern.  “I don’t like
the sound of it, at all.”

“There’s some girls in our place never get it back, and after about four
or five years of it—Don’t cross over here.”

“Why not?”

“He makes my ’ead ache,” said Louisa promptly.  “I’ve only been going out
with him for a fortnight, and I know all what he’s going to say as though
I’d read it in a printed book.  He talks about the weather first, then
about his aunt’s rheumatics, then about the day he had at Brighton when
he was a kid, then about where he thinks of spendin’ his ’oliday next
year, then about how much his ’oliday cost him last year—”  A mild gust
of wind came and struck Louisa on the mouth; she stopped to cough,
holding her hand the while flat on her blouse.

“Keep your mouth shut, youngster,” advised Erb kindly, “until you’ve got
used to the fresh air.”

Because both brother and sister felt that in sailing down to New Cross
Gate on the top of a tram, and then along by a line less straight and
decided to Greenwich they were escaping from worry, they enjoyed the
evening’s trip.  Going through Hatcham, Louisa declared that one might be
in the country, and thereupon, in her own way, declared that they were in
the country, that she and her brother had been left a bit of money, which
enabled her to give up work at the factory and wear a fresh set of cuffs
and collars every day: this sudden stroke of good fortune also permitted
Erb to give up his agitating rigmarole (the phrase was Louisa’s own, and
Erb accepted it without protest), and they had both settled down
somewhere near Epping Forest; Erb, as lord of the manor, with the vicar
of the parish church for slave, and Louisa as the generous Lady
Bountiful, giving blankets and home-made jam to all those willing to
subscribe to Conservative principles.  They had a stroll up the hill to
Greenwich Park, Lady Louisa forced to go slowly on account of some
aristocratic paucity of breath, and Sir Herbert, her brother, playing
imaginary games of golf with a stick and some pebbles, and going round
the links in eighty-two.  At the Chalet near the Blackheath side of the
park they had tea, Louisa’s insistence on addressing her brother by a
full title astonishing the demure people at other wooden tables, puzzling
them greatly, and causing, after departure, acrimonious debate between
husbands and wives, some deciding that Erb and Louisa were really
superior people and others making reference to escapes from Colney Hatch.
Louisa, delighted with the game of fooling people, darted down the hill,
with Erb following at a sedate trot; she stopped three parts of the way
down, and Erb found her leaning against a tree panting with tears in her
eyes.  These tears she brushed away, declaring that something had come to
her mind that had made her laugh exhaustedly, and the two went on more
sedately through the open way at the side of the tall iron gates, happier
in each other’s company than in the company of anyone else, and showing
this in the defiant way with which some people hide real emotions.

“_You’re_ a bright companion,” said Louisa satirically, as the tram
turned with a jerk at the foot of Blackheath Hill.  “You ’aven’t made me
laugh for quite five minutes.”

“I’ve been thinking, White Face.”

“My face isn’t white,” protested his sister, leaning back to get a
reflection of herself in a draper’s window.  “I’ve got quite a colour.
Besides, why don’t you give up thinking for a bit?  You’re always at it.
I wonder your brain—or whatever you like to call it—stands the tax you
put on it.”

“You’d be a rare old nagger,” said Erb, hooking the tarpaulin covering
carefully and affectionately around his sister, “if ever anybody had the
misfortune to marry you.  It’d be jor, jor, jor, from morning, noon, till
night.”

“And if ever you was silly enough to get engaged, Erb.  That’s Deptford
Station down there,” said Louisa, as the tram stopped for a moment’s
rest.  “I used to know a boy who’s ticket collector now.  He got so
confused the other day when I come down here to go to a lecture that he
forgot to take my ticket.”  She laughed out of sheer exultation at the
terrifying powers of her sex.  “Take my advice, Erb, don’t you never get
married, even if you are asked to.  Not even if it was young Lady
Frances.”

“Young idiot,” said Erb.  “Think I ever bother my head about such
matters?  I’ve got much more important work in life.  This business that
I’ve got on now—”

“Our girls are always asking about you,” said Louisa musingly.  “It’s
all, ‘Is he engaged?’ ‘Does he walk out with anybody?’  ‘Is he a woman
’ater?’ and all such rot.”

Erb looked down at the traffic that was speeding at the side of the
leisurely tram and gave himself up for a while to the luxury of feeling
that he had been the subject of this discussion.  He thought of his young
elocution teacher, and wondered whether he had any right to accept this
position of a misogynist when he knew so well that it was made by adverse
circumstances and the existence of a good-looking youth with an
unreliable chin and his hair in waves.  The driver below whistled
aggrievedly at a high load of hops that was coolly occupying the tram
lines; the load of hops seemed to be asleep, and the tram driver had to
pull up and whistle again.  In a side road banners were stretched across
with the word “Welcome,” signifying thus that a church bazaar was being
held, where articles could be bought at quite six times the amount of
their real value.  A landau, drawn by a pair of conceited greys, came out
of the side street, with a few children following and crying,
“Ipipooray!” the proud horses snorted indignantly to find that they were
checked by a bucolic waggon and a plebeian tram.  A young woman with a
scarlet parasol in the landau looked out over the door rather anxiously.

“It’s her ladyship,” cried Louisa, clutching Erb’s arm.

“Good shot,” agreed Erb.

“If only she’d look up and recognise us,” said Louisa.  The other people
on the tram began to take an interest in the encounter, and Louisa’s head
already trembled with pride.

“She wouldn’t recognise us.”

“Go on with you,” contradicted his sister.

Louisa was afflicted with a sudden cough of such eccentric timbre that
some might have declared it to be forced.  People on the pavement looked
up at her surprisedly, and Lady Frances just then closing her scarlet
parasol, for the use of which, indeed, the evening gave but little
reason, also glanced upwards.  Erb took off his hat and jerked a bow, and
Louisa noticed that the closed scarlet parasol was being waved
invitingly.  She unhooked the tarpaulin cover at once, and, despite Erb’s
protestation that they had paid fares to the Elephant, hurried him down
the steps.  To Louisa’s great delight, the tram, with its absorbedly
interested passengers, did not move until the two had reached the open
landau, and Lady Frances’s neatly-gloved hand had offered itself in the
most friendly way.  Louisa declared later that she would have given all
that she had in the Post Office Savings Bank to have heard the comments
of the passengers.

“This,” said Lady Frances pleasantly, “is the long arm of coincidence.
Step in both of you, please, and let me take you home to your place.”

“If you don’t mind excusing us—” began Erb.

(“Oh you—you man,” said his sister to herself.  “I can’t call you
anything else.”)

“Please, _please_,” begged Lady Frances.  They stepped in.  By a great
piece of good luck,’ Erb remembered that amongst the recipes and axioms
and words of advice on the back page of an evening paper he had a night
or two previously read that gentlemen should always ride with their backs
to the horses, and he took his seat opposite to Lady Frances: that young
woman, with a touch on Louisa’s arm, directed the short girl to be seated
at her side.

“Bricklayers’ Arms Station, Old Kent Road,” said Lady Frances.  Mr.
Danks, in livery, and his hair prematurely whitened, had jumped down to
close the door.  Mr. Danks touched his hat, and, without emotion, resumed
his seat at the side of the coachman.  “You are keeping well, I hope?”
To Louisa.

“I _have_ been feeling a bit chippy,” said Erb’s sister, trying to loll
back in the seat, but fearful of losing her foothold.

“So sorry,” said Lady Frances.  “And you?”

“Thank you,” said Erb, “middlin’.  Can’t say more than that.  Been
somewhat occupied of late with various matters.”

“I know, I know,” she remarked briskly.  “It is that that makes it
providential I should have met you.  My uncle is a director on one of the
railways, and he was talking about you only last night at dinner.”

“Very kind of the gentleman.  What name, may I ask?”  Lady Frances gave
the information, gave also an address, and Erb nodded.  “Me and him are
somewhat in opposite camps at the present time.”

“My uncle was anxious to meet you,” said young Lady Frances, in her
agreeable way.

“Just at this moment I scarcely think—”

“Under a flag of truce,” she suggested.  “I was going to write to you,
but this will save me from troubling you with a note.”

“No trouble.”

“I’ve been opening a bazaar down here,” went on Lady Frances with a
determined air of vivacity.  “The oddest thing.  Do you ever go to
bazaars?”

“Can’t say,” said Erb cautiously, “that I make a practice of frequenting
them.”

“Then let me tell you about this.  When you open a bazaar you have first
to fill your purse with gold, empty it, and then—”

Louisa sat, bolt upright, her feet just touching the floor of the
carriage, and feeling, as she afterwards intimated, disinclined to call
the Prince of Wales her brother.  Her ears listened to Lady Frances’s
conversation, and she made incoherent replies when an opinion was
demanded, but her eyes were alert on one side of the carriage or the
other, sparkling with anxiety to encounter someone whom she knew.  Nearly
everybody turned to look at them, but it was not until they reached the
Dun Cow at the corner of Rotherhithe New Road (the hour being now eight
o’clock), at a moment when Louisa had begun to tell herself regretfully
no one would believe her account of this gratifying and epoch-making
event, that into Old Kent Road, chasing each other, came two girls
belonging to her factory.  The foremost dodged behind a piano-organ that
made a fruitless effort to make its insistent jangle heard above the roar
and the murmur of traffic; seeing her pursuer stand transfixed, with a
cheerful scream of vengeance half finished, she turned her head.  At the
sight of Louisa bowing with a genteel air of half recognition the first
girl staggered back and sat down helplessly on the handles of the
piano-organ, jerking that instrument of music and causing the Italian
lady with open bodice to remonstrate in the true accents of Clerkenwell.
When near to Bricklayers’ Arms Station Louisa saw again her current young
man morbid with the thought of a wasted evening, but still waiting
hopefully for his _fiancée_, now three hours behind time; the young
gentleman’s eyesight being dimmed with resentfulness, it became necessary
for her to wave a handkerchief that might, she knew, have been cleaner,
and thus engage his attention.  At the very last possible moment he
signalled astonished acknowledgment.

For Erb, on the other hand, the journey had something less of exultation.
From the moment of starting from St. James’s Road, Hatcham, the fear
possessed him that he might be seen by some member of his society, who
would thereupon communicate facts to colleagues.  Thus would his
character for independence find itself bruised: thus would the jealousy
of the men be aroused; thus would the Spanswick party be able to whisper
round the damaging report that Erb had been nobbled by the capitalists.
Wherefore Erb, anxious for none of these eventualities, tipped his hat
well over his forehead, and, leaning forward, with his face down,
listened to Lady Frances’s conversation.  The carriage had a scent of
refinement; the young woman opposite in her perfect costume was something
to be worshipped respectfully, and he scarce wondered when, at one point
of the journey up the straight Old Kent Road, he heard one loafer say to
another, “Where’s there an election on to-day?”  Lady Frances, having
completed her account of the bazaar, had information of great importance
to communicate, and this she gave in a confidential undertone that was
pleasant and flattering.

“From what my uncle says, it appears there is a strike threatening,
and—you know all about it perhaps?”

“Heard rumours,” said Erb guardedly.

“He is anxious that you should call upon him at the earliest possible
moment to discuss the affair privately, but he is most anxious that it
should not appear that he has sought the meeting.  You quite see, don’t
you?  It’s a question of _amour propre_.”

“Ho!” said Erb darkly.

“And I should be so glad,” she went on, with the excitement of a young
diplomatist, “if I could bring you two together.  It would be doing so
much good.”

“To him?”

“I could drive you on now,” she suggested hesitatingly, “and we should
catch my uncle just after his dinner; an excellent time.”

“I think,” said Erb stolidly, “that we’d better let events work out their
natural course.”

“You’re wrong, quite wrong, believe me.  Events left alone work out very
clumsily at times.”  Lady Frances touched him lightly on the knee.
“Please do me this very small favour.”

“Since you put it like that then, I don’t mind going up to see him
to-night.  Not that anything will come from it, mind you.  Don’t let’s
delude ourselves into thinking _that_.”

“This,” cried Lady Frances, clapping her hands, “is excellent.  This is
just what I like to be doing.”  Erb, still watching fearfully for
acquaintances, glanced at her excited young face, with respectful
admiration.  “Now, I shall drive you straight on—”

“If you don’t mind,” said Erb, “no; we’ll hop out at the corner of Page’s
Walk.”

“And not drive up to the dwellings?” asked Louisa disappointed.

“And _not_ drive up to the dwellings,” said Erb firmly.  “I’ll get on
somehow to see your uncle to-night.”

“You won’t break your word?”

“I should break a lot of other things before I did that.”

Thus it was.  Lady Frances shook hands; Erb stepped out, looking narrowly
through the open gateway of the goods station, and offering assistance to
Louisa absently.  As he did so, he saw William Henry, his old van boy,
marching out of the gates in a violently new suit of corduroys, and with
the responsible air of one controlling all the railways in the world.

“Get better soon,” said Lady Frances to Louisa.  “Mr. Barnes, to-night.”
Mr. Danks, down from his seat and closing the door (Erb and his sister
standing on the pavement, Erb wondering whether he ought to give the
footman threepence for himself, and Louisa coming down slowly from heaven
to earth), Mr. Danks received the order, “Home, please.”

Erb went half an hour later by tram to Westminster Bridge and walked
across.  He perceived the necessity for extreme caution; reading and
natural wisdom told him that many important schemes had been ruined by
the interference of woman.  He looked at the lights that starred the
borders of the wide river, saw the Terrace where a member of Parliament
walked up and down, following the red glow of a cigar, and he knew that
if he were ever to get there it would only be by leaping successfully
over many obstacles similar to the one which at present confronted him;
to allow himself to be distracted from the straight road of progress
would be to court disaster.

“Boy,” said the porter at the Mansions, “show No. 124A.”  In a lift that
darted to the skies Erb was conveyed and ordered to wait in a corridor
whilst Boy, who wore as many buttons as could be crowded on his tight
jacket, went and hunted for Lady Frances’s uncle and presently ran him to
earth in the smoking room, bringing him out triumphantly to the corridor.
Erb found himself greeted with considerable heartiness, invited to come
into the smoking room that looked down at a height suggesting vertigo at
St. James’s Park, taken to a corner, and furnished with a big cigar.  Men
in evening dress, with the self-confidence that comes after an adequate
meal, were telling each other what they would do were they Prime
Minister, and Erb was surprised to hear the drastic measures proposed for
stamping out opposition; some of these seemed to be scarcely within the
limits of reason.  And what had Erb to say?  A plain man, said Lady
Frances’s uncle of himself (which, in one respect at any rate, was a
statement bearing the indelible stamp of truth), always of opinion that
it was well to plunge _in medias res_.  On Erb replying that at present
he had no remark to offer, the purple-faced Director seemed taken aback,
and diverted the conversation for a time to Trichinopolies and how best
to keep them, a subject on which Erb was unable to speak with any
pretence of authority.

“A little whiskey?” suggested the Director, with his thumb on the
electric bell, “just to keep one alive.”

Lady Frances’s uncle sighed on receiving Erb’s reply, and proceeded to
relate a long and not very interesting anecdote concerning an attempt
that had once been made to swindle him by an hotel proprietor at Cairo,
and the courageous way in which he had resisted the overcharge.  On Erb
looking at his silver watch, the colour of the Director’s face, from
sheer anxiety deepened, and he waved into the discussion with a “Pall
Mall Gazette” a silent friend who had been sitting in a low easy chair,
with hands clasped over his capacious dress waistcoat, gazing at the room
with the fixed stare of repletion.  The silent friend craned himself into
an upright position and lumbered across the room to the window.  The
Director, thus usefully reinforced, proceeded to open the affair of the
impending strike, and, having done this, urged that there never was a
difficulty yet that had not a way out, and demanded that Erb should show
this way out instantly.  Erb suggested that the Director’s colleagues
should receive him and the men, listen to their arguments, and concede
their requests, or some of them.  Director, appealing for the support of
the silent man, but receiving none, replied explosively, “That be hanged
for a tale!”  On which Erb remarked that he had some distance to go, and
if the Director would excuse him—  Director said, fervently, “For
goodness gracious’ sake, let us sit down, and let us thresh this matter
out.”  Giving up now his original idea of an exit, he remarked that a
golden bridge must be built.  Why should not Erb simply stand aside, and
let the men alone seek consultation with the Directors?  Erb declared
that he would do this like one o’clock (intimating thus prompt and
definite action), providing there was good likelihood of the men’s
requests being complied with.  Director, looking at silent friend, and
trying to catch that gentleman’s lack lustre eye, inquired how on earth
he could pledge his colleagues.  Erb, now interested in the game,
suggested that Lady Frances’s uncle probably had some idea of the
feelings entertained by his fellow directors, and the host, giving up all
efforts to get help from his silent friend, admitted that there was
something in this.  Pressed by Erb to speak as man to man, Director gave
the limits of concession that had been decided upon—limits which would
not, however, come within sight unless the men came alone, and quite
alone, to plead their cause.  Erb thought for a few moments, the glare of
the silent friend now directed upon him, and then said that he would take
Director’s word as the word of a gentleman; the men should send a
deputation the following day in their luncheon hour, and he (Erb) would
stand aside to watch the result.  Director offered a hand, and Erb,
instinctively rubbing his palm on his trousers, took it, and the silent
friend thereupon suddenly burst into speech (which was the last thing of
which one would have thought him capable) saying huskily, and with
pompous modesty, that he was very pleased to think that any poor efforts
of his should have brought about such a happy agreement; that it was not
the first time, and probably would not be the last, that he had presided
over a meeting of reconciliation, and that his methods were always—if he
might say so—tact, impartiality, and a desire to hear both sides.

“Quite glad to have met you,” said the Director, also gratified in having
accomplished something that would give him the halo of notoriety at
to-morrow’s Board meeting.  “You’ll go far.  Your head is screwed on the
right way, my man.  Not a liqueur?”

“I take partic’lar care it ain’t screwed in any other fashion,” said Erb.

“Good-bye,” said the Director.

“Be good,” said Erb.



CHAPTER VII


ERB admitted, at an elocution lesson in Camberwell, that the settlement
of the Willow Walk affair had given him a good jerk forward.  There was
always now a quarter of an hour between the close of his time and the
appearance of the next pupil—a quarter of an hour generally occupied by a
soliloquy from Erb, prefaced by the cue from Rosalind.  “Well now, tell
me what you’ve been doing this week.”  She had some of the important
security that comes to an engaged young woman, and Erb, who looked
forward to this weekly exchange of confidences, forced himself to ask
politely after Mr. Lawrence Railton, of the “Sin’s Reward” Company, and
when Rosalind answered (as she usually did) with a sigh that Mr. Railton
had not written for some time, Erb made excuses for him on various
grounds, such as that he was probably over-occupied with the work of his
profession, that a man in Mr. Railton’s place had to be here, there and
everywhere, that it being sometimes the gentleman’s affectionate habit to
scribble a hurried postcard to his _fiancée_ on the Sunday journeys,
likely enough there would be a letter next Monday.  On this Rosalind
would brighten very much, and sing cheerful words of praise of Mr.
Railton, who occupied, it seemed, a unique and delicate position, in that
he was much too good for the provinces and not quite good enough for
town; nevertheless, “Sin’s Reward” had booked a week for the Surrey, and
the young woman’s bright eyes danced at the thought of seeing him again.
Mr. Railton’s real name was Botts, which was held to be unattractive as a
name on the bills; his father was a silver chaser in Clerkenwell, and it
was generally understood that Mr. Railton had had to cut off his parents
with a shilling on the grounds that they insisted on calling him Sammy.

Walking home after this fifteen minutes of happiness, Erb found himself
continuing the talk, and affecting that Rosalind was tripping along at
his side: it was in these silent talks that he dared to call her “dear,”
thereupon colouring so much that passers-by glanced at him curiously;
plain-faced ladies went on gay with the thought that their features had
the power to confuse a stranger.  When, in these circumstances, he
encountered men of the society they were sometimes greatly diverted, and
cried, “’Ullo, Erb.  Going over a speech, eh, Erb?”

No doubt at this period of Erb’s popularity.  His unselfish reticence in
the Willow Walk affair, the commonsense he exhibited in one or two minor
troubles, the increased polish of the spoken word: all these things
increased the men’s respect.  Also they knew that he worked for them day
and night: he had not developed the swollen head of importance that in
secretaries of other societies was nearly always a prominent feature.  He
organised a system of benefits on three scales, by which, if you paid in
twopence a week, you received fifteen shillings a week in the case of
unjust dismissal; twelve shillings a week for unjust suspension; and ten
shillings a week for strike pay.  He arranged with a pushful solicitor in
Camberwell to give legal advice.  He had written one or two articles
concerning the society in weekly penny papers, and in these he had taken
care not to obtrude his own name or his own work.  Even Spanswick
admitted now that Erb was turning out better than he had expected, but
Spanswick’s views might have been brightened by the fact that Erb was
organising a ticket benefit at the Surrey on Spanswick’s behalf: this not
so much on account of any personal misfortune, but because Mrs.
Spanswick, always a thoughtless, inconsiderate woman, had mistakenly
chosen a time when Spanswick was temporarily suspended from duty for
insobriety, to present him with twin babies.  “Three,” grumbled
Spanswick, “three, I could have understood.  There’d been a bit of money
about three.  But two—”  Spanswick’s friends had promised to rally round
him, a feat they performed in theory only, and Erb had to go elsewhere to
find buyers of the tickets.  Lady Frances had taken a box—a fact which
modified and chastened Spanswick’s very extreme views in regard to what
he usually called the slave-owning upper classes.  Lady Frances had done
a kinder thing than this.  On one of her visits to Bermondsey she had met
Louisa, white-faced and twitching as a result of her work, had gone to
Louisa’s employer, and had made him shake in his very shoes by denouncing
him and all his works, had demanded for Louisa a fortnight’s holiday,
which the employer, anxious enough to conciliate this emphatic young
titled person, and fearful of being sent to the Tower, at once conceded;
sent Louisa, with sister Alice for company, away to the country house at
Penshurst where the better side of Alice’s nature detached itself, and
she became an attentive nurse.  Erb’s Aunt Emma lived at Penshurst: the
old lady went up high in the estimation of the other villagers by reason
of her nieces’ visit to the Court.

The month being July, work well in demand and overtime to be had without
asking, Erb was able to obtain consent to almost any project that he
liked to submit to his committee.  The society was new enough to feel the
enthusiasm of youth; the men were pleased with the sensation of power
that it gave to them, and they assumed there were no limits to its
possibilities.  From which causes Erb had several irons heating in the
fire, of which one was a new paper to be called “The Carman,” to be
issued twice a month, and to cost one halfpenny per copy.  The expense of
production would be something more than this, but when Erb, who was to be
managing editor, used that blessed word “propaganda,” there was nothing
more to be said, and the last doubter gave in.

It was at this time that Erb gave up whistling in the streets.



The white-haired labour member had taken him to the House on two
occasions, and in the smoking room had introduced him to some wealthy
members of the party; and, whilst the board at the side showed the names
of unattractive speakers, the members chatted so agreeably that Erb
forgot himself occasionally and addressed one who was in evening dress,
and had so much money that he wore several coins on his watch chain, as
“Sir;” lifting of eyebrows on the part of the labour member told him he
had blundered.  Members asked questions of Erb, questions which betrayed
the fact that their knowledge of the real feelings of the working men was
superficial, and thenceforth Erb felt more at his ease.  They gave their
names as patrons of the Spanswick benefit, and the member who wore coins
offered Erb a cigarette, and, seeing him through the outer lobby, begged
him to drop a line should anything important occur; this in a way that
suggested later to Erb, as he crossed Westminster, that the coin member
wanted to find opportunity of becoming attached to some creditable
grievance, not so much for the sake of the grievance as for the sake of
himself.

“Now,” said Erb definitely to the fringe of lights near St. Thomas’s
Hospital, “I’m not going to be made a cat’s paw, mind you.”

Interest came with the arrangements for Spanswick’s benefit.  This
necessitated calls at the theatre near the Obelisk in the evenings, and
speech with excited men who went about behind the scenes with their hats
at the backs of their heads: men who were for ever mislaying letters and
documents, and complaining of everybody else’s carelessness, and
eventually finding the letters or documents in their own hands; the while
on the stage some lady in black, with her face whitened, was bewailing to
a keenly interested house the perfidy of man, and assuring the gallery of
her determination to track down one particular individual, though he
should have made his way to the uttermost ends of the earth.  The
Spanswick night was to be a ticket benefit (which, being interpreted,
meant that only the tickets sold outside the theatre would add to
Spanswick’s income and assuage his present distress), and the night
selected was a Friday in the week booked by the “Sin’s Reward”
Company—Friday, because that was near to the men’s pay day, and would
hook them at the fleeting moment when spare cash was on the very point of
burning a hole in their pockets.  Because Lawrence Railton was of the
company, and because Erb was responsible for the success of the evening,
Rosalind communicated to the scheme the keen interest that became her so
well; her father, with ponderous generosity, had promised to ensure a
triumphant evening by giving what he termed the considerable advantage of
a somewhat long and not altogether undistinguished experience.  Erb was
anxious to see Lawrence Railton, desirous of seeing what manner of youth
had succeeded where he had desired to do so.  Matters being as they were,
there was no alternative but to play the friend of the family, to meet
Mr. Railton with the outstretched hand of amity, to congratulate him, and
to save up presently for a wedding present which should represent nicely
a genial interest in the welfare of the young couple.  A plated
cruet-stand he thought, as at present advised, but there were arguments
in favour of an inkstand that looked like a lawn-tennis set—an inkstand
had a suggestion of literary tastes that appealed to the prospective
editor of “The Carman;” it suggested also a compliment to Rosalind that a
cruet-stand with the best intentions could never convey.  He did not
quite know how he would endure it all.  Perhaps it would best be remedied
by increased application to the work of the society, and if ever the day
should come when he found himself elected to a seat in that House at
Westminster (the outside of which he went to see very often, just for
self-encouragement), Rosalind would feel that she might have done better
than marry Mr. Lawrence Railton.

“But I don’t quite see,” admitted Erb, as he wrestled with all this, “I
don’t quite see what sort of help I shall get out of that.”



CHAPTER VIII


AT the Obelisk streets radiate, and the trams going to London have to
make their choice.  The theatre in the road that leads to Blackfriars
Bridge is a theatre of middle age, with its own opinion of the many
juvenile competitors that have sprung up during recent years in near and
in distant suburbs: it endeavours to preserve the semblance of youth and
modernity by putting on four white globes of electric light, but its age
is betrayed by a dozen women with aprons full of oranges, “Two a punny, a
punny for two” (oranges are not eaten in the new theatres), and a tray on
high trestles loaded with pigs’ trotters, which no one ever buys.  Some
steps go up to the shilling and the sixpenny seats; early doors, which
exact from the over-anxious an additional threepence, are in a dark alley
at the side, at the end of which is a door that leads to the box-office
by day and the stage entrance by night.  The outside of the house has
coloured posters of grisly scenes that make the passer-by chill with
fear: a yellow woman hurled down a blue precipice; the same lady bound by
cords to a grandfather’s clock, which shows the hour as three minutes to
twelve, and facing her two crape masked men with pistols; underneath the
horrid words, “At midnight, my lady, you die.”  A pleasanter note in the
frames of photographs that hang slightly askew.  Here, Mr. Lawrence
Railton as a wicked Italian (at any rate, his moustache turns upwards, as
Gratiano in a third-hand costume of the Louis the Fifteenth period, as
Inspector Beagle in “Tracking the Criminal,” and in as many more
characters as the frame will carry).  In the centre, Mr. Lawrence Railton
as the art of the photographer would have him be in real life, evening
dress, insufficient chin, contemptuous smile—the portrait which occupied
the position of honour on Rosalind’s mantelpiece.

A conspicuous evening for Erb, by reason of the circumstance that he had
the honour of conveying Rosalind to the theatre; this because her father,
having borrowed individual shillings on individual days from her on the
promise of accompanying her had, at the last moment, come into a windfall
of two and threepence, and had thereupon remembered an urgent appointment
with a dramatist of note at a public-house just off the Strand.  “Should
the fates be kind,” said Rosalind’s father, “I shall endeavour to honour
the performance with my presence later on.”  Louisa, interested in
everything that interested Erb, had organised a raffle at her factory for
a circle ticket, and a chapel-going girl, who had picked the highest
number out of a straw hat accompanied her, with the full
anticipation—this being her first visit to the play—that she was about to
witness scenes that might well imperil her future existence; unwilling,
all the same, to give her prize away or to sell.  Erb, confronted with
the responsibility of transporting three ladies, had vague ideas of a
four-wheeler, but remembered in time that this would excite criticism
from members ever anxious to detect and crush any effort he might make to
commit the unpardonable sin of “putting on side;” compensation came in
being allowed to walk by the side of Rosalind, who, near Camberwell Gate,
seemed to be dressed prettily but with restraint, but who, as they
approached the Elephant and Castle, increased in smartness by contrast
with the surroundings of Walworth Road.  There were crossings to be
managed, and Erb, in the most artful way, assisted her here by
insinuating his arm underneath her cape, wondering at his own courage,
and rather astonished to find that he was not reproved.  Rosalind’s
manner differed from that of other young women of the district in that
she dispensed with the defiant attitude which they assumed, never to be
varied from the first introduction to the last farewell.

“And now the question is,” said Louisa’s colleague, “ought I to go in or
ought I to stay outside?”

“Considering you’ve got a ticket,” replied little Louisa satirically, “it
seems a pity to go in.  Why not stay outside and ’ave an orange instead?”

“Oh,” said the chapel-goer recklessly, “now I’m here I may jest as well
go on with it.  In for a penny in for a pound.  If the worst comes to the
worst, I can shut me eyes and—  Who’s that lifting his cap to you?”

“’Ullo,” remarked Louisa, “you alive still?”

The lad threw away the end of his cigarette, and, advancing, remarked in
a bass voice that he had thought it as well to come up on the off chance
of meeting Louisa.

“My present young man,” said Louisa, introducing the lad.

“Well,” said the chapel young woman resignedly, “this is the beginning of
it.”

Erb, again assisting, took Rosalind up the broad stone staircase; swing
doors permitted them to go into the warm, talkative theatre.  A few
shouts of recognition were raised from various quarters as Erb went in,
and he nodded his head in return, but he looked sternly at the direction
whence a cry came of “Is that the missus, Erb?” and the chaffing question
was not repeated.  Down near the stage the orchestra made discordant
sounds, the cornet blew a few notes of a frivolous air for practice.  Erb
bought a programme for Rosalind, and asked if anything else was required;
but Rosalind, from a satin bag which hung from her wrist, produced a pair
of early Victorian opera glasses, bearing an inscription addressed to her
mother, “From a few Gallery Boys,” and said, “No, thank you,” with a
smile that made his head spin round.

“But would you mind,” she flushed as she leaned forward to whisper this,
“would you mind telling Mr. Railton that I—I should _very_ much like to
see him after the show?”

At the stage door a postman had just called, and Erb, waiting for
permission to go in whilst the door-keeper sorted the letters, could not
help noticing that a violet envelope, in a feminine handwriting, was
placed under the clip marked R; it was addressed to Lawrence Railton,
Esquire.  The doorkeeper gave permission with a jerk of the head, as
though preferring not to compromise himself by speech, and Erb went up
through the narrow corridor where the office and the dressing-rooms were
situated.  Cards were pinned on the door of the latter, and one of them
bore, in eccentric type, the name of the gentleman for whom Rosalind had
given him the message.  A lady’s head came out cautiously from one of the
other rooms and called in a shrill voice, “Mag-gie!”  A middle-aged woman
flew from somewhere in reply with a pair of shoes.  Below, the orchestra
started the overture of an elderly comic opera; a boy, in a cap, came
along the corridor shouting, “Beginners, please!”

“She got in everything for the entire week,” said a triumphant voice
inside the room, “settled for my washing, cashed up for every blessed
thing, and I’ve never paid the old girl a sou from that day to this.
Hullo! what’s blown this in?”

Two young men in the small room, and each making-up in front of a
looking-glass; before them open tin cases, powder puffs, sticks of grease
paint; bits of linen of many colours.  On the walls previous occupiers
had drawn rough caricatures: here and there someone had stuck an
applauding newspaper notice, or a butterfly advertisement.  Neither of
the young men looked round as Erb came in, but each viewed his reflection
in the looking-glass.

“Name of Railton?” said Erb, inquiringly.

“That’s me,” replied one of the two, still gazing into his looking-glass.

“My name’s Barnes.  I’m secretary to the R.C.A.S.”

“Any connection with the press?” asked Mr. Railton, fixing a white
whisker at the side of his floridly made-up face.

“Not at present!”

“Then what the devil do you mean,” demanded the other hotly, “by forcing
your way into the room of two professional men?  What—”

“Yes,” said the man at the other glass, taking up a hand-mirror to
examine the back of his head, “what the deuce next, I wonder?  For two
pins I’d take him by the scruff of his neck and pitch him downstairs.”
He glanced at Erb, and added rather hastily to Mr. Railton: “If I were
you.”

“I shall most certainly complain to the management,” went on Mr. Railton.
“It isn’t the first time.”

“I don’t know,” said his companion, “what they think the profession’s
made of.  Because we allow ourselves to be treated like a flock of sheep
they seem to think they can do just what they damn well please.”

“I’ve a precious good mind,” said Mr. Railton, vehemently, “to hand in my
notice.  Would, too, if it wasn’t for the sake of the rest of the crowd.”

He ceased for a second, whilst he made lines down either side of his
mouth, falling back from the mirror to consider the effect.

“Quite finished?” asked Erb, good humouredly.  “If so, I should like to
tell you, my fiery-tempered warriors, that I have only called with a
message from Miss Danks—Miss Rosalind Danks.”

“That’s one of yours, Lorrie!”

“You mean,” said Mr. Railton casually, as he toned down a line with the
powder-puff, “a dot and carry one girl?”

“Miss Danks,” said Erb, “is the leastest bit lame.”  He repeated
precisely the message which Rosalind had given him, and Mr. Railton
clicked his tongue to intimate impatience.  “I’ll call in again later
on,” said Erb, “when you’ve finished your little bit, and then I can take
you round to where she’s sitting.”

“Now, why in the world,” cried Mr. Railton, throwing a hairbrush on the
floor violently, “why in the world can’t people mind their own business?
There’s a class of persons going about on this earth, my dear Chippy—”

“I know what you are going to say,” remarked the other approvingly.

“And if I had my will I’d hang the whole shoot of them.  I would,
honestly.”

“I quite believe you would,” said Chippy.

“And I’d draw and quarter them afterwards.”

“And then burn ’em,” suggested Chippy.

“And then burn ’em.”

“Would you amiable gentlemen like to have the door closed?” asked Erb.

“Put yourself outside first,” recommended Mr. Railton.

The stage and its eccentricities attracted Erb as they attract everyone,
and, a licensed person for the evening, he went about through the
feverish atmosphere, meeting people who appeared ridiculous as they stood
at the side of the stage waiting to go on, but who, as he knew, would
look more life-like than life with the footlights intervening.
Pimple-faced men, in tweed caps, hidden from the audience, held up
unreliable trees; kept a hand on a ladder, which enabled the leading lady
to go up and speak to her lover from the casemented upper window of a
cottage; ran against each other at every fair opportunity, complaining in
hoarse whispers of clumsiness.  A boy came holding clusters of shining
pewter cans by the handles, and peace was restored amongst the stage
hands, but for the folk in evening dress, with unnatural eyes and amazing
faces, who stood about ready to go on, there remained the strain of
excitement; some of them soliloquised in a corner, whilst others talked
in extravagant terms of dispraise concerning the new leading lady,
hinting that no doubt she was a very good girl and kind to her mother,
but that she could not act, my dear old boy, for nuts, or for toffee, or
for apples, or other rewards of a moderate nature.  These seemed to be
only their private views, for they were discarded when the leading lady
came down the ladder, and they then gathered round her and told her that
she was playing for all she was worth, that she had managed to extract
more from that one scene than her predecessor had obtained from the
entire play, and hinting quite plainly that it was a dear and a precious
privilege to be playing in the same company with her.  Mr. Lawrence
Railton brought for the leading lady a wooden chair; a middle-aged bird
(who was her dresser) hopped forward bringing a woollen shawl, that had
started by being white and still showed some traces of its original
intention, to place around her shoulders.

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Railton, stretching his arms, when, having been
ousted from attendance by others, he had strolled up towards Erb, “I
don’t feel much like acting to-night!”

“Do you ever?” asked Erb.

“It’s wonderful,” went on the young man, “simply and absolutely wonderful
the different moods that one goes through, and the effect they have on
one’s performance.  I go on giving much the same rendering of a part for
several nights on end, and, suddenly, I seem to get a flash of
inspiration.”

“Better language!” recommended Erb.

“A flash of inspiration,” said the white whiskered young man with perfect
confidence, and keeping his eye on the stage.  “It all comes in a moment
as it were.  And then, by Jove! one can fairly electrify an audience.
One sees the house absolutely rise.”

“And go out?” asked Erb.

On the stage the leading man (who was an honest gentleman farmer, showing
the gentleman by wearing patent boots, and the farmer by carrying a
hunting crop), cried aloud demanding of misfortune whether she had
finished her fell conspiracy against him, and this, it appeared, was the
cue for Lawrence Railton in his white whiskers and frock-coated suit and
a brown hand-bag to go on with the announcement that he had come to
foreclose a mortgage, information which the house, knowing vaguely that
it boded no good to the hero, received with groans and hisses.  Erb,
watching from the side, prepared for an exhibition of superior acting on
the part of Mr. Railton, and was somewhat astonished to find that,
instead of playing a part that forwarded the action of the piece, he was
a mere butt sent on in order to be kicked off, treatment served out to
him by an honest labourer, faithful to his master and with considerable
humour in his disposition.  Any expectations that Railton would take a
more serious part in the melodrama were set aside, in a later scene of
Act I., when the hero and the faithful young labourer had both enlisted
in a crack cavalry regiment, he came on with his brown bag to find them
and give information of importance, and was at once, to the great joy of
the pit and gallery, again kicked off, whilst the regiment, consisting of
eight men and a girl officer, marched round the stage several times to a
military air, and, after the girl officer had delivered a few sentences
of admirable patriotism, went off to the Royal Albert Docks to take ship
for South Africa.  Indeed, throughout the piece it was Mr. Railton’s
privilege to follow the leading man and his low comedy friend, and
whether he encountered them on the quay at Cape Town, out on the veldt
near Modder River, or at the Rhodes Club at Kimberley, he was ever hailed
by the entire theatre with joyous cries of “Kick him, kick him!” advice
upon which the low comedy man always acted.

“D’you like your job?” asked Erb at the end of Act II., as he prepared to
go round to the front and collect the men of his committee.

“Someone must hold the piece together,” said young Railton, wearily
making a cigarette.  “Take me away, and the entire show falls to pieces.
Even you must have noticed that.”

“Upon my word,” said Erb, looking at him wonderingly, “you are a perfect
marvel.  I never saw anything like you.”

“Thanks, old chap,” replied the other gratefully, and shaking his hand.
“Meet me after the show and we’ll have a drink together.  I was afraid at
first you were a bit of a bounder.  Don’t mind me saying so now, do you?”

“Not at all,” replied Erb.  “You gave me much the same impression.”

“That’s most extr’ordinary.  There’s an idea for a curtain-raiser in
that.  Two men beginning by hating each other, and later on—”

“Any message for your young lady?”

“Which?” asked Mr. Railton.

“You know very well who I mean,” said Erb with some annoyance.

“Oh,” with sudden enlightenment, “you mean the Danks person.  Oh, tell
her I’m all right.”

Erb looked at him rather dangerously, but the young man, secure in the
mailed armour of self-content, did not observe this.  Erb, placing his
doubled fists well down into the pockets of his coat, turned and went
off.

“By the bye,” called Mr. Railton, in his affected voice.

Erb did not trust himself to answer, but went down the narrow stone
passage, and drew a deep breath when he reached the doorway and the dimly
lighted alley; he had work to do, and this, as always, enabled him to
forget his personal grievances.  In the saloon bar of a neighbouring
public-house he found two members of his committee: because they wore
their Sunday clothes they smoked cigars, extinguishing them carefully,
and placing the ends in their waistcoat pockets; they came out on Erb’s
orders to take up position at the stage door.  The others were in front
of the house, and Erb, going in and standing by the swing door of the
circle, discovered them one by one and gave them signal to come out,
which they did with great importance, stepping on toes of mere ordinary
people in a lordly way.

“Did he send any message?” asked Rosalind anxiously.

“Sent his love.”  Worth saying this to see the quick look of relief and
happiness that danced across her face.  “Said he was looking forward to
seeing you.”

“Ah!”

Three minutes later, when the leading man had done something noble that
in the proclaimed opinion of the heroine (there, oddly enough, as a
nurse) foreshadowed the inevitable Victoria Cross, and Mr. Railton had
come on in a kilt to be kicked off once more, and there remained only the
affairs of England, home, and beauty to be arranged in the last act; the
curtain went down, and two minutes later still, the orchestra having
disappeared in search of refreshment and the audience occupied in
cracking nuts and hailing acquaintances with great trouble at distant
points, the curtain went up again on a flapping scene, behind which the
tweed-capped men, it appeared, were setting an elaborate set for Act IV.,
doing it with some audible argument and no little open condemnation of
each other’s want of dexterity.  Chairs on the stage stood in a
semicircle, and marching on from the left came the dozen members of the
committee in their suits of black, twirling bowler hats, and glancing
nervously across the footlights in response to the ejaculatory shouting
of names.  Spanswick, wearing a look of pained resignation, received a
special shout, but the loudest cheers were reserved for the secretary,
and those in front who did not know him soon took up the cry.

“Erberberberb—”

It became certain at once that Payne was not to give an epoch-making
speech.  Confused perhaps by the footlights, uncertain of the attitude of
this great crowded theatre, Payne’s memory ran its head against a brick
wall and stayed there: he made three repetitions of one sentence, and
then, having reversed the positions of the tumbler and the decanter,
started afresh, the audience encouraging him by cries of “Fetch him out,
Towser, fetch him out,” as though Mr. Payne were an unwilling dog, but
the same brick wall stood in his way, and, concluding weakly with the
remark, “Well, you all know what I mean,” he called upon Erb, and sat
down glancing nervously across to the pit stalls, where was Mrs. Payne,
her head shaking desolately, her lips moving with unspoken words of
derision.

“I’m going to take five minutes,” said Erb, in his distinct and
deliberate way.  He took out his watch and laid it on the table.  “Even
if I’m in the middle of a sentence when that time is up, I promise I’ll
go down like a shot.  I suppose you know the story of the man who—”

Good temper smiled and laughed from the front row of the pit stalls and
up to the very topmost row of the gallery at Erb’s anecdote, and, hoping
for another story, they sat forward and listened.  He knew that he held
them now, knew they would cheer anything he liked to say, providing he
said it with enough of emphasis.  He went on quickly that this advantage
might not be lost, pounding the palm of one hand with the fist of the
other, so that the dullest might know by this gesture when a point was
intended; spoke of the good feeling that was aroused by the presence of a
fellow-man’s misfortune; mentioned the work of his own society, urged
that so long as this feeling of comradeship existed, so long would their
condition improve, not perhaps by a leap or a bound, but by steady,
cautious, and gradual progression.  Up in the circle his young elocution
teacher nodded approvingly, flushing with pride at her pupil’s careful
enunciation, giving a start of pain at a superfluous aspirate that
cleaved the air.

“He can talk,” admitted a man behind her.

“If I’d had the gift of the gab,” said the man’s neighbour, “I could have
made a fortune.”

Erb stepped out near to the footlights and gave his peroration in an
impassioned manner that had the useful note of sincerity.  Those in the
theatre, who were sympathisers, rose and cheered like a hurricane; the
rest, not to be left out of a gratifying show of emotion, joined in, and
Spanswick, the hero of the evening, as he rose from his chair to say a
few words, might have been a leading politician, a general who had
rescued his country from difficulties, or an exceptionally popular member
of the Royal Family, instead of a railway carman of third-rate excellence
with a notable wife.

Spanswick said this was the proudest moment of his life.  Spanswick would
never forget that night: useless for anybody to ask him to do so.  If
people should come to Spanswick and invite him to erase that evening from
his recollection, he would answer definitely and decidedly, “Never!”  So
long as memory lasted and held its sway, so long would he guarantee to
keep that evening in mind, and carry remembrance with him.  Thus
Spanswick, in a generous way that suggested he was doing a noble and
spontaneous act, and one for which the audience should be everlastingly
grateful.  Payne, as Chairman, rose, and ignoring a suggestion from the
gallery that he should dance a hornpipe, led the group off, the members
looking shyly across at the audience, and the audience howling
indignantly at one of the men who replaced his hat before getting off.

“Were you nervous, Erb?” asked Louisa excitedly.  “_I_ was.  Nearly
fainted, didn’t I?”

“Oh, don’t talk,” whispered her lady-companion, enchanted by the
commencement of Act Four.  “Don’t talk, please, when there’s such
beautiful things going on.”

Mr. Railton had nothing to do in the last act, the dramatist having
apparently felt that the thin vein of humour which had been struck in the
character was by this time exhausted, and Rosalind looked with anxiety at
the curtained doorway of the circle, but Mr. Railton did not appear
during the last act, and he was not in the vestibule below when the
audience poured out into Blackfriars Road.  She was very silent on this,
and when Erb saw her into a tram she shook hands without a word.  Going
back to assist Louisa’s young man in the task of escorting the two other
ladies, he found himself intercepted by Mr. Lawrence Railton—Railton, in
an astrachan bordered coat, and well wrapped around the throat, giving
altogether the impression that here was some rare and valuable product of
nature that had to be specially protected.

“I want you!” said the young man.

“You’ll have to want,” said Erb brusquely, and going on.

“But it concerns the girl you were speaking of.”

“Where can we go?” asked Erb, stopping.

“Come round to the bar at the back of the circle,” said Railton, “and you
can give me a drink,” he added generously.

A few members of the company were near the bar, and Railton, to
compensate for the presence of such an ordinary-looking companion, began
to talk loudly and condescendingly.  Never drank till after the show, he
explained, some drank during the performance, but none of the best men
did so.  One could not give a good reading of the part unless one
observed the principles of strict abstemiousness.  He flattered himself
that he was not one likely to make mistakes, and he held his future, as
it were, well and securely in both hands.  If Erb would promise not to
let the matter go any further, he would show him, in the strictest
confidence, a letter from a West End manager, that would prove how near
one could be to conspicuous success.

“Not that one,” he said, opening a violet envelope.  “That’s from a dear
thing at Skipton.  Worships the very ground I walk on.”

The letter in question fell on the floor.  Erb picked it up and, in doing
so, could not help noticing that it began: “Sir, unless you forward two
and eight by return, the parcel of laundry will be sold without—”

“Here it is,” cried Railton.  “‘Mr. So-and-so thanks Mr. Lawrence Railton
for his note, and regrets that the arrangements for the forthcoming
production are complete.’”  “Regrets, you see, mark that!  A post
earlier, and evidently he would have—don’t drown it, my dear chap!”

“In regard,” said Erb, putting down the water-bottle, “to Miss Rosalind
Danks.”

“I hadn’t finished what I was saying.”

“Didn’t mean you should.  Let’s drop your personal grievances for a bit.
Why didn’t you come round and see her before she left?”

“Now that,” said Railton, leaning an elbow on the counter, “goes straight
to the very crux of the question.  That’s just where I wanted to carry
you.  I hate a man who wastes time on preliminaries.  My idea always is
that if you’ve got a thing to say, say it!”

“Well then, say it!”

“My position,” said Railton, importantly, “is this.  I have, as I think I
said, the artistic temperament.  I am all emotion, all sentiment, all
heart!  It may be a virtue, it may be a defect; I won’t go into that.
The point is that little Rosie is the exact opposite.  I confess that I
thought at one time that we might be well suited to each other, but I see
now that I made a mistake.  Doesn’t often happen, but I did make a
mistake there, and the unfortunate part of the business is that I—in a
kind of way, don’t you know—promised to marry her.”

“So I understood.  When does the affair come off?”

“My dear old chap,” said Railton, with effusive confidence, “the affair
is off.  But you know what women are, and I find it rather difficult—for,
mind you, I am above all things a man of honour—I find it rather
difficult to write to her and tell her so.  Some men wouldn’t hesitate
for a moment.  Some men have no delicacy.  But what I thought was this:
Do you want to earn a couple of pounds?”

“Go on!” said Erb, quietly.

“Assuming that you _do_ want to earn a couple of pounds, this is where
you come in.  You, I gain, have a certain admiration for her.  Now, if
you can take her off my hands so that I can get out of the engagement
with dignity, I am prepared to give you, in writing mind, a promise to
pay—”

Mr. Railton went down swiftly on the floor.  The other people hurried up.

“You dare strike me!” he cried complainingly, as he rose his handkerchief
to his face.  “Do it again, that’s all.”

He went down again with the same unexpectedness as before.  Three men
stood round Erb, who looked quietly at his own clenched fist; the
knuckles had a slight abrasion.

“Want any more?” he asked.

Mr. Railton made one or two efforts from his crumpled position to speak;
the three men suggested police, but he waved his hand negatively.

“Do you want any more, you scoundrel you?” repeated Erb.

“No,” answered Mr. Lawrence Railton, weakly, from the linoleum, “I don’t
want any more.  I always know my limit.”



CHAPTER IX


THIS being a period of his life when Erb could do nothing wrong, the
unpremeditated experiment with fists had a result that seldom attends
efforts of the kind.  Railton sent to Erb by post the following day an
elaborate letter of apology, in which he argued that Erb, by a quite
excusable error, had misunderstood what he (Railton) had intended to
convey; that he honoured Mr. Barnes for the attitude he had taken up
(which, under similar circumstances, would have been his own), that he
should of course carry out his engagement with the young lady whose name
it was unnecessary to mention, that he should ever retain an agreeable
memory of Mr. Barnes (to whose efforts in the cause of labour he begged
in passing to offer his best wishes), he trusted very sincerely that
their friendship would not be impaired by the unfortunate incident of the
preceding night.  Thus Mr. Railton, with many an emphasising underline
and note of exclamation, and a flourish under the signature, intended to
convey the impression that here was a document of value to be preserved
for all time.  On Erb discovering his elocution teacher—whose lessons he
now scarce required, but whose services as instructress in the art of
public oratory he continued for the sheer pleasure of listening to her
private speech—on Erb discovering her at his next visit with traces of
recent tears he insisted on knowing the cause, and was told, first, that
father had been borrowing seventeen shillings and sixpence, which she
would have to pay back, amount required in order, the Professor had
explained to the credulous lender, to enable him to purchase a comedy
which had a part that would fit the Professor like a glove (“I can see
myself in it,” the Professor declared); and on Erb dismissing this
incident as too common for tears, Rosalind reluctantly showed him a
letter from the admirable Railton, written by that young gentleman at the
same time apparently as the communication he had sent to Erb: in this he
regretted time had not permitted him to call at Camberwell Gate, the loss
was his; but what he particularly wanted to say was that the farce of
their engagement need no longer be allowed to run.  On neither side,
wrote Mr. Railton, had there been any real affection, and he was sure
that this formal intimation would be as great a relief to Rosalind as to
himself; he trusted she would find another good _fiancé_, and he was,
with all regards, her friend and well-wisher, Lawrence Railton.  Erb,
greatly concerned for Rosalind, told her nothing of the incident of the
benefit performance, but tried to comfort her with the suggestion that
Railton had probably written without thought.

“I am beginning to see,” said Rosalind presently, “I am beginning to see
that I have at least one real friend in the world.”

“One’s ample,” replied Erb stolidly.

With the men of the society the occurrence gave to Erb distinct
promotion.  Something to have a quick mind with figures, something to be
ready of speech, something to be always at hand wherever in London a
railway carman was in trouble, but better than all these things was it to
be able to think of their secretary as one able to put up his fists.
Wherever he went, for a time, congratulations were shouted from the hood
of parcels carts or the high seat of pair-horse goods vans; boys hanging
by ropes at the tail boards giving a cheer as they went by.  There is
nothing quite so dear and precious as the world’s applause, and if here
and there a man should announce his distaste for it, the world may be
quite sure that this is said only to extort an additional and an undue
share.  At the next committee meeting Erb was requested, with a good deal
of importance, by Payne, as chairman, to be good enough to leave the room
for ten minutes: on his return it was announced to him that, moved by G.
Spanswick, and seconded by H. R. Bates, a resolution had been carried,
according to Herbert Barnes, secretary, an increase in salary of twenty
pounds per annum.  Erb announced this to his young white-faced sister,
and added to the announcement an order directing her to leave her factory
and look after the home in Page’s Walk; but Louisa would not hear of
this, declaring that a humdrum life would never suit her, that she should
mope herself into a state of lunacy if Erb insisted, and that the money
could be laid out much more usefully on, first, a pianoforte; second, a
new suite of chairs for the sitting room in place of furniture which had
been in the Barnes family for two generations; third, in articles of
costume for Erb, and—if any sum remained—in something for herself.  They
argued the point with desperate good humour from either side of the
table, until Erb found that she was really in earnest, and then he gave
in.

“You always have your own way, Louisa.”

“Precious little use having anybody else’s,” she retorted sharply.

“You’ve got a knack of deciding questions,” complained her brother,
good-temperedly, “that makes you a little debating society in yourself.”

“There’s something in connection with your society,” went on Louisa,
encouraged, “that you might arrange if you’d got any gumption.”

“Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that I have.”

“It’s this.  When one of your single chaps gets engaged let him begin
paying into a wedding fund.  You’ve got your strike funds and what not,
but you ain’t got no wedding fund.”

“We haven’t any wedding fund,” corrected Erb.

“Oh, never mind about grammar,” said his young sister impetuously, “I’m
talking sense.  Let them all pay a bob or so a week, and the one that
draws a good number gets his ten pound and goes off and gets married like
a shot.  See what an interest it’d make the girls take in your society.
See how it’d make your young carmen sought after.  See how fine it’d be
for them to start life on their own, instead of having to go on paying so
much a week for ’ire to the furniture shops.  See how—”

“A reg’lar little orator,” said Erb approvingly.  “It must run in the
blood, I think.  Besides, there’s an idea in what you say.”

“I never speak,” said his sister with confidence, “without I say
something.”  She paused for a moment.  “I suppose, Erb, that—that with
all this money coming in, you’ll begin to think about getting—”

He put his knife and fork down and rose from his chair.

The marriage club was only one of the new features that Erb introduced to
the society, but it was the one which had a tinge of melancholy, in that
it appeared to him that he was almost alone in not having in hand a
successful affair of the heart.  Lady Frances came frequently to
Bermondsey, where she threw herself with great earnestness into the
excellent work of providing amusing hours for children—children who had
never been taught games, and knew no other sport than that of imperilling
their little lives in the street.  Erb, being seen with her one evening
as she returned from a Board School, there ensued at the next committee
meeting considerable badinage of a lumbering type; Payne declared that
Erb should join the wedding club in order that the happy pair should be
in a position to set up a house in Portman Square together; Spanswick
remarked with less of good temper, that some people’s heads were getting
too big for their hats; whilst other members, ever ready to take part in
the fine old London sport of chipping, offered gibes.  Erb retorted with
his usual readiness, and laughed at the suggestion; but afterwards found
himself fearing whether Lady Frances was, in point of fact, lavishing
upon him a hopeless affection.  He had almost persuaded himself to admit
that this was the case, when his sister Alice made one of her
condescending calls at Page’s Walk and gave, with other information, the
fact that the sweetheart of Lady Frances, a lieutenant, the Honourable
Somebody, had some time since been ordered away on a mission to the
North-West Coast of Africa; her young ladyship was, by this desperate
interest in the juveniles of Bermondsey, endeavouring to distract her
mind from thoughts of her absent lover.  Erb breathed again and gave
assistance in managing the most trying boys at the “Happy Evenings.”  One
night, as he performed the duty of seeing Lady Frances through the
dimly-lighted streets to Spa Road Station, they met Rosalind and her
father.  Rosalind flushed hotly, and Erb wondered why.  He demanded of
her the reason at the next elocution lesson, and Rosalind said calmly,
that it was because at that moment she had given her second-best ankle a
twist.

Lady Frances brought to Erb an invitation that flattered him.  Her uncle,
of Queen Anne’s Mansions, a man in most of the money-making schemes of
London, but one never anxious to obtrude his own name or his own
personality, felt desirous of starting a movement for (to give the full
Christian names) “The Anglicising of Foreign Manufactures.”

This Lady Frances explained to him, with her usual vivacity, the while
both kept an eye on some noisy Bermondsey infants, who were playing in
the hall of the Board School.

“Other countries are getting ahead of us, my uncle says, and unless
something is done at once, British trade (Now, children, do play without
quarrelling, please, to oblige me!), British trade will go down, and
down, and down, and there will be nothing left.”

“Are things really so bad?”

“Oh, they’re terrible,” declared Lady Frances, with great cheerfulness.
“Apparently the bed-rock has almost been reached, and it is only by a
great and a unanimous effort that Great Britain will ever again be
enabled to get its head above water.  So, at any rate, my uncle tells
me.”

“I don’t know—(Young Tommy Gibbons, if I catch you at that again you know
what will happen)—I don’t know that I’ve ever studied the subject in the
large.  My own society takes up nearly all my time, and other work I
leave to other people.”

“Exactly, Mr. Barnes, exactly!  I quite understand your position.  But I
have such faith in my uncle.  Do you know that nearly everything he
touches turns into money.”

“Very agreeable gift.”

“But the point is this, that nothing can be done unless capital and
labour work in unison for a common end.  One is affected quite as much as
the other, and alone neither can do anything.  British trades are being
snapped up by America, by France, by Germany, even by Belgium, the only
remedy, my uncle says, is for us to take some of their manufactures and
plant them here.—(I was sure you’d fall down and hurt your knee, little
boy.  Come here and let me kiss the place and make it well)—I don’t know
whether I make myself quite plain to you, Mr. Barnes?”

“In one sense you do,” said Erb.  “Only thing I can’t see is, where your
uncle imagines that I come in.”

A dispute between two children over a doll necessitated interference,
based on the judgment of Solomon.

“Obviously,” replied the girl, delighted at the importance of her task,
“obviously, your work will be to organise.”

“Organise what?”

“Meetings of working men to take up the idea, discussion in the halfpenny
papers, argument in workshops.  In this way,” she said, with her engaging
frankness, “in this way, you see, you could strengthen my uncle’s hands.”

“Not sure that that is the one desire of my life.”

“I am so clumsy,” deplored Lady Frances.

“Not more than most people.”

“If you would only see my uncle and argue it out!  He, I am sure, would
succeed where I,” with a sigh, “where I so horribly fail.”

“Look here,” said Erb, hastily, “if it’s any satisfaction to you, I’ll
say at once that I’m with the movement, heart, body, and soul.”

Lady Frances took his big hand and patted it thankfully.

“Can’t tell you how pleased I am,” she declared.  “I’ll send on all the
circulars and figures and things when I reach Eaton Square
to-night—(Children, children, you are tiresome, really)—and then you can
start work directly, can’t you?”

A busy man always has time to spare; it is only your lazy person who can
never place a minute at anyone’s disposal.  Thus it was that Erb tacked
on to his other duties, the work of making known the Society for
Anglicising Foreign Manufactures, pressing into the service all the young
orators of his acquaintance, and furnishing them with short and easy
arguments.  Our import trade was so many millions in excess of our
outgoing trade: why should this be so?  Our villages were becoming
deserted, and country manufactories dwindled day by day: this must be
stopped.  Vague talk about technical education; praise for the English
working man, and adulation of his extraordinary, but sometimes dormant
brain power; necessity of providing tasks for the rising generation that
they might not push men of forty out of berths.  An agreeable programme,
one that could be promulgated without those submissive inquiries
addressed to the labour leaders in the House, which always had a
suggestion of servility.  Erb, the following Sunday, spoke at Southwark
Park in the morning, at Peckham Rye in the afternoon, and Deptford
Broadway in the evening, and, the subject being new, he found himself
invited to address several working men’s clubs during the week.
Paragraphs, slipped into the newspapers, sometimes contained his name:
Lady Frances wrote that her uncle was delighted, and had asked to be
especially remembered.  A later note mentioned that it was intended to
hold a mass meeting at St. James’s Hall, to bring the subject well before
the people of London: her uncle would not be able to be present, but he
had begged her to request Mr. Barnes to speak on this occasion: there
would be a Duchess of philanthropic tendencies in the chair, and several
members of Parliament had promised to speak.  “Don’t disappoint us!” said
the postscript appealingly.  Erb sent an agreeable postcard in reply, and
a friend of his, an assistant-librarian in the Free Library, promised to
devote himself to work of research and ascertain how one addressed a lady
of such distinguished rank as the wife of a Duke.  The
assistant-librarian urged that evening-dress was the correct thing, and
offered to lend a suit which he and his brother wore when they went out
into society, patronising dances at the Surrey Masonic Hall but here
Erb’s commonsense interfered.  The meeting was advertised in the daily
papers and on hoardings, his name given as Herbert Barnes, Esquire, with
full qualifications set out: he never saw one of the posters without
stopping to enjoy the sight, and it pained him extremely to find that on
one or two in the neighbourhood of home some friend had erased the affix.
Louisa went boldly one evening to the offices of the new society, in
College Street, Westminster, and obtained a copy of the poster; this she
would have exhibited in the front window, but compromised by sticking it
at its four corners on the wall of the sitting room.

St. James’s Hall was not over-crowded on the evening, and a wealthy
member of the committee went about telling everybody that a smaller room
would have been cheaper, but it was full enough to please Erb as he took
a view of it from the stairs leading to the platform.  The platform was
fringed with palms; on the walls were hung banners, with quotations from
Shakespeare down to the newest poet; quotations, that appeared to give
vague support to the movement.  Lady Frances, hovering about in the
manner of an anxious butterfly, introduced Erb to the Duchess, and the
Duchess, without using her lorgnon, said beamingly that she had read all
of Mr. Barnes’s works, and felt quite too delighted to meet the author;
Erb protested nervously that he had never written a book, but the Duchess
waved this aside as ineffective badinage, and went on talking the while
she looked away through her glasses at arriving people.  So delighted,
said the Duchess absently, to mingle with men of talent; it took one into
another atmosphere.  The Duchess, for her part, claimed to have powers of
observation, and trusted piously that she was not altogether without a
sense of humour, but these exceptional qualities, she said, had never
availed her when she took pen in hand.  Erb, perceiving the futility of
contradiction, suggested that she should one day, when a spare moment
arrived, have another dash at it, and the Duchess, bringing her gaze by a
process of exhaustion round to him, stared at him wonderingly for a
moment, and then promised to act upon his advice.  A shy little man of
letters being submitted just then to her consideration, the Duchess
dropped Erb, and engaged in animated monologue on the subject of labour
and how to conciliate it: her own method seemed to be to treat it as an
elephant and give it buns.  Erb stood about the room, whilst well-dressed
people flew one to the other with every sign of gratification; he felt
all his usual difficulty of not knowing what to do with his hands.  The
people had a manner of speech that he could understand with difficulty,
they talked of things that for him were a sealed book.  Three clergymen
who came in a bunch and seemed similarly out of the movement, gave him a
feeling of companionship.  When they all formed in a line and marched up
on the platform to a mild, whispered cheering from the Hall, Erb’s
interest quickened, and the slight feeling of nervousness came which
always affected him when he was going to speak.

“And I _do_ think,” said the Duchess, with shrill endeavour to make her
voice reach the back of the hall, “I _do_ think that the more we consider
such matters the more likely we are to understand them and to realise
what they mean, and to gain a better and a wider and a truer knowledge.”
The three clergymen said, “Good, good,” in a burst of respectful
approbation, as men suddenly illuminated by a new thought.  “I am tempted
to go further,” said the Duchess, waving her notes threateningly at the
audience, “to go further, and express myself, if I may so say, that
having put our hands to the plough—”  She looked round at the straight
line of folk behind her, and they endeavoured to convey by their looks
that if a Duchess could not be allowed the use of daring metaphor, then
it would have to be denied to everybody.  “Having put our hands to the
plough, we shall not turn back—(slight cheering)—we shall not
falter—(renewed slight cheering)—we shall not loiter by the roadside, but
we shall go steadily on, knowing well that—that—”  Here the Duchess found
her notes and read the last words of her peroration carefully, “knowing
well that our goal is none other than the rising sun, which symbolises so
happily the renaissance—”  Here she looked down at the reporters’ table,
and seemed about to spell the word, but refraining contented herself by
saying it again with great distinctness.  “The renaissance of British
Trade and British Supremacy!”

A service member of Parliament proposed the first resolution, and did so
in a speech that would have suited any and every occasion on sea or land,
in that it was made up entirely of platitudes, and included not one
argument that could be seized by the most contentious; the whole
brightened by what the member of Parliament himself described as a most
amusing discussion which he had held with a man of the labouring classes
not many years since (on which occasion the member had travelled second,
this being notoriously the only way of discovering the true aspirations
of the lower classes), and the member had subjected the man to a rigid
cross-examination of the most preposterous and useless nature which he
now repeated with many an “Ah, but I said—” and “Now listen to me, my
good fellow—” and “Permit me to explain what I mean in simple words so
that even you can understand,” the labouring man eventually giving in
(so, at any rate, the Member declared), admitting that the gallant Member
had won the game at every point—the probability being that the poor
fellow, bullied and harried by a talkative bore, had done so in the
interests of peace and with a desire to be let alone and allowed to read
his evening paper.  The service Member clearly prided himself not only on
the acuteness which he had displayed in the argument, but also on the
wonderful imitative faculty which enabled him to reproduce the dialect of
his opponent, a dialect which seemed to have been somewhat mixed, for in
one instance he spoke Lancashire with, “Aye, ah niver thowt o’ that,” and
the next broad Somerset, “There be zummat in what yew zay, zir,” and anon
in a strange blend of Irish and Scotch.

“‘That this meeting calls upon the working classes to put aside all
differences and to contribute their indispensable assistance to the new
movement, from which they themselves have so much to gain.’  Will Mr.
Herbert Barnes please second?”

This was written on the slip of paper, and passed along to Erb at a
moment when the grisly fear had begun to possess him that he might not be
called upon at all.  He nodded to the secretary, and felt that the
audience, now tired of listening to spoken words, looked at him
doubtfully.  One of the three clergymen being selected to move the
resolution, the other two looked at their shoes with a pained interest,
and presently tugged at their black watch-guards, ascertained the time,
and, just before the chosen man arose, slipped quietly out.  Fortunately
for Erb, the remaining clergyman started on a line of reasoning
excellently calculated to annoy and to stimulate.  Began by pointing out
that everybody nowadays worked excepting the working man, doubted whether
it was of much use offering to him help, but declaring himself, in
doleful tones, an optimist, congratulated the new movement on its
courage, its altruism, its high nobility of purpose, and managed, before
sitting down, to intimate very defiantly that unless labour seized this
unique opportunity, then labour must be left to shift for itself and
could no longer expect any assistance from him.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” said Erb distinctly.  The promise of listening to
a voice that could be heard without difficulty aroused the Hall.  “I
should be glad if the gentleman who spoke last could spare just three
minutes of his time, and refrain for that space from making a hurried and
somewhat undignified departure from the Hall.”  The clergyman who had
adopted the crouching attitude of those who desire to escape furtively
from close confinement, returned and sat, his back straightened.  “He has
spoke—I should say, he has spoken—in a patronising way of labour, and I
want to tell him that we resent very strongly his condescending and
almost contemptuous words.”

His predecessor rose and said, “May it please your—”

“No, no, no!” said Erb, with but a slight modification of his Southwark
Park manner, “I didn’t interrupt the reverend gentleman, and I’m not
going to allow him to interrupt me.  Or to assume the duties, your
Grace,” with a nod to the chair, “which you perform with such conspicuous
charm and ability.”

The Duchess, who, fearing a row, had been anxiously consulting those
around her in order to gain hints as to procedure, recovered confidence
on receiving this compliment, and gave a smile of relief.  Men at the
table below adjusted their black leaves of carbonic paper and began to
write.

“Now, I’ve been into the details almost as carefully as the reverend
gentleman has, and what I want to say, in order that this audience should
not consider that we are absolutely silly fools, is, that so far from
this movement having been arranged in order to benefit the workers
exclusively, it is very clear to me that there’s a few behind the scenes
who are going to make a bit out of it.”

One cry of approval came from the distant gallery, but this scarcely
counted, for it was a voice that had applauded contrary statements with
the same decision.  Erb knew the owner of the voice, a queer old crank,
who went about to public meetings, his pockets bursting with newspapers,
more than content if in the Free Library the next day he should find but
one of his solitary cries of “Hear, hear,” reported in the daily press.

“I’ve no doubt they feel pretty certain of a safe eight or ten per cent.;
if they didn’t, this meeting would never have been held, and we should
have been denied the pleasure of listening to that lucid and illuminating
speech with which your Grace has favoured us.  I say this that the
previous speaker may see and that you all may recognise the fact that if
those I represent give the cause any assistance, we do so with our eyes
wide open, and that we are not blindfolded by the cheap flannel sort of
arguments to which we have just listened.  But let me go on.  Because
this is going to be a soft thing for the capitalists, it by no means
follows that it is going to be a hard thing for the worker.  On the
contrary!  I can see—or I think I can see—that this is likely to benefit
both of us.  (Cheers.)  And whilst I repudiate the attitude and the
arguments of the last speaker, I promise you that I am prepared to do all
that I can for the scheme—(cheers)—not in the interests of capital, for
capital can look after itself, but in the interests of labour, which
sometimes wants a lot of looking after.  Your Grace, I beg to second the
resolution.”

Not a great speech by any means, but one with the golden virtue of
brevity, and one spoken with obvious earnestness.  The Hall liked it; the
subsequent speakers made genial references to it, and the Duchess, in
acknowledging a vote of thanks, repaid Erb for his compliment to herself
by prophesying that Mr. Barnes would prove a pillar of strength to the
cause, declaring graciously that she should watch his career with
interest, and gave him a fierce smile that seemed to hint that this in
itself was sufficient to ensure success.  (Later, when he said goodbye,
the Duchess called him Mr. Blenkinsop, and begged him to convey her
kindest regards to his dear wife.)

“I wonder,” said a gentleman with concave spectacles, “I wonder, now,
whether you have a card about you?”

“Going to do a trick?” asked Erb.

“Here’s mine.  Have you ever thought of entering the House?”

“Someone would have to provide me with a latch-key.”

“I take you!” remarked the spectacled gentleman adroitly.  “Don’t happen
to be Welsh, I suppose, by any chance?  Ah! a pity!”

For a moment it occurred to Erb that this might be a sample of
aristocratic chaff; he stopped his retort on seeing that the other was
talking with perfect seriousness.  “But something else may happen at any
moment.  We live in strange times.”

“We always do,” said Erb.

“I shall keep you in my mind.”

Lady Frances eluded some dowagers who were bearing down upon her, and
came to him; she took an envelope from a pretty hiding place.

“My uncle particularly begged me to give you this.  You were so good, Mr.
Barnes.  (Don’t open it until you get home.)  Your speech was just what
one wanted.  You quite cleared the air.”

“Afraid I should clear the ’All.”  Lady Frances seemed not to comprehend,
and the knowledge came to Erb that he had missed an aspirate.

“My uncle will be so pleased.  I shall be down at Bermondsey next week,
and I can bring any message my uncle wishes to send.  I don’t bother you,
Mr. Barnes?”

“Need you ask?” replied Erb.

“You’re not going?” with her gloved hand held out.

Erb took the hint and made his exit with difficulty, because several
ladies buzzed around him, humming pleasant words.  The spectacled man
walked with him along Piccadilly, talking busily, and expressed a desire
to take Erb into the club for coffee.  “Only that my place is so deucedly
uncivil to visitors.”  He contented himself with a threat that Erb should
most certainly hear from him again.

“I shan’t lose your address,” said the spectacled person.

It was not until the Committee Meeting of the R.C.S. had nearly finished
one evening that Erb, in searching for a letter which some members
desired to see, found the note from Lady Frances’s uncle.  He tore the
flap casually, and, recognising it, placed the opened envelope aside, and
pursued his searches for the required document.  Spanswick, with a busy
air of giving assistance, looked through the letters, and opened the
communication which Lady Frances had brought.

“Pardon, old man,” whispered Spanswick confidentially.  “Didn’t know I
was interfering with money matters.”



CHAPTER X


IT is the ingenious habit of Kentish railways directly that hop-picking
is over and pay-day is done, to advertise excursions to London at a fare
so cheap that not to take advantage of it were to discourage Providence
in its attempts to make the world pleasant.  Country folk, who make but
one visit a year to town, seize this September opportunity; some avail
themselves not only of this but of the Cattle Show trip later on; a few
also take the pantomime excursion in February, and these are counted in
quiet villages as being, by frequent contact with town, blades of the
finest temper, to whom (if they would but be candid) no mysteries of the
great town are unknown.  Erb’s Aunt Emma, giving herself reward for a
month’s hard work in the hop-garden, came up every year by the September
excursion.  It happened on this occasion that the day could not have made
a more awkward attempt to fit in with Erb’s convenience.

“Well,” said Aunt Emma, in the ’bus, desolately, “I’m not surprised!
It’s what comes of looking forward to anything.  When I heerd as you may
say, you’d left the railway, I said to the party that comes in on Mondays
to help me do my week’s washing, ‘I don’t know,’ I says, ‘what to think
’bout all this.’”

“Any other day, almost,” urged her nephew, “I could have arranged for the
day off, but I’ve got important work to do that’ll take me up to nine
o’clock.”

“Whenever I find a bit of a lad giving up a honest living, I always say
to Mrs. Turley, I say, ‘Dang it all, this won’t do!’  And when it
’appened to my brother’s own boy I turned round at once, I did, and I
said, ‘I don’t know what to—’”

“If Louisa had been quite herself, why, of course, she—”

“I’ll get back to Lonnon Bridge,” said Aunt Emma grimly.  “Reckon I shall
be some’ing like Mrs. Turley’s eldest.  He come up one November, he
did—first time he’d been to Lonnon—and it were a bit foggy, so he kep’ in
the station all day; when he come home, he says, ‘Mother,’ he says, ‘it’s
a fine big place, Lonnon is, but it dedn’t quite come up to my
expectations.’”  The parchment-faced old lady was pleased by Erb’s
reception of this anecdote, and, gratified also to get a smile from other
passengers, she relaxed in manner; Erb saw the opportunity.

“Tell you what we’ve arranged, Aunt Emma.  Louisa and me talked it over
as soon’s ever we made out your letter—”

“I don’t perfess,” remarked the old lady, “to be first-class in me
spellin’.  ’Sides, I got someone else to write it.”

“And we decided that we’d get a friend of mine—a friend of ours to look
after you for the day.”

“What’s he like?” asked the old lady, with reluctant show of interest.

“It’s a she!”

“Your young woman?”

“I don’t go in for anything of that kind,” said Erb, looking round the
’bus apprehensively.  “Too busy for such nonsense.”

“Never knew the man yet,” said Aunt Emma, “that couldn’t make time to get
fond of somebody.”

Arrived at the office at Grange Road, Erb was showing the aunt some of
his newspaper notices, when he heard on the stairs the swish of skirts.
He lost the remaining half of his remark.

“And you’ve been fairly walking out, then, as you may say, with our Lady
Frances?”

“You can’t call it that, Aunt.  I’ve only just been paying her polite
attention.”

“I know what you mean,” remarked the old lady acutely.  “Her
grandmother—I’m speaking now of forty year ago, mind you—her grandmother
ran off with a—let me see!  Forget me own name next.”

Erb answered the quiet tap at the open door.

“Good girl!” he cried cheerfully.  “Welcome to our baronial hall!  Aunt
Emma, this is the young lady that’s going to pilot you round.  Almost
makes you seem,” he said to Rosalind, “like one of the family.”

“I only had to put off three pupils,” said Rosalind quickly.  “How do you
do?”

“I’m going downstairs to fetch coffee and scones for you two,” announced
Erb.  “Try not to come to blows whilst I’m away.”

“My sciatica is just beginning to wake up, as you may say,” replied Aunt
Emma.

“So sorry,” said Rosalind sympathetically.  “It must interfere with
getting about.”

“Thank you,” replied Aunt Emma coldly.  “I’m able to set up and take
nourishment.”

“I expect your nephew has a lot of callers,” she said with determination.
“He knows a good many people.”

“Are you acquainted with our Lady Frances,” asked the aunt in a
mysterious whisper.

“I have just seen her,” flushing a little for some reason.

“These upper classes, they don’t stand at nothing, as you may say, when—”
Erb returned, and the aunt, with the wink of a diplomatist, raised her
voice.  “They paid eight to the shillin’ this year it ought to’ve been
seven.  I said so straight, all through the hopping, I did, to Mrs.
Turley.”

The doors were to open at two for the afternoon’s entertainment, and the
aunt’s idea was that it were well to get there by noon, and thus ensure
the best value in seats for a shilling; Rosalind gently over-ruled this,
and they went first to Westminster Abbey, at which the aunt sneered,
saying it was not her idea of a place of worship, and to the National
Gallery, in regard to the contents of which the old lady hinted that they
compared badly with a rare set of illuminated almanacks which she had at
home, issued yearly by Deane, the grocer; the almanacks, it appeared, had
the advantage of giving the date of jolly nigh every month you could
think of.  Trafalgar Square, looked on as a square, the aunt thought not
much better than middling; the Embankment, in her opinion, lacked many of
the attractions that she remembered once to have found at Ramsgate.  But
when, later, they were seated in the front row of the gallery in a small
hall, and the curtain went up disclosing a crescent of black-faced men,
with instrumentalists behind them, and similarly coloured gentlemen, with
be-frilled shirtfronts, at either end asked riddles of the gentlemanly
man at the centre, riddles of which the gentlemanly man almost alone in
the Hall knew not the answer, able only to repeat the question in a
sonorous manner, then Aunt Emma relinquished all attempt at criticism,
and gave herself up to pure delight.  “Can you tole me, Mithter Johnthon,
how a woman differth from an umbrella?”

“Can I tell you,” repeated the gentlemanly man very distinctly, “how a
woman differs from an umbrella?”

“Now ’ark for the answer!” whispered Aunt Emma, nudging her young
companion gleefully.

“No, sir,” said the gentlemanly man, “I cannot tell you how a woman
differs from an umbrella.”

“You can’t tole me how a woman differth from an umbrella?  Why,”
explained the corner-man, “you can shut an umbrella up!”

“How in the world they think of all these things!” said Aunt Emma
exhaustedly.  “Dang my old eyes if it ’ent a miracle!”

Aunt Emma wept when a thin-voiced youth sang, “Don’t neglect your mother
’cause her hair is getting grey,” became hysterical with amusement over,
“I’m a gay old bachelor widow.”  Rosalind found herself enjoying the
enjoyment of the old lady, and when they came out into daylight, and went
across the way to a noble establishment, where they had high tea, the two
were on excellent terms with each other, and information regarding small
scandals of Penshurst was placed freely at Rosalind’s disposal.  The old
lady spoke in an awed whisper when she came to the people at the Court,
and arrested a slice of ham on her fork, as though sensible of the
demands of etiquette when dealing with the upper classes.

“You’re not married, my dear,” said Aunt Emma, loosening the strings of
her bonnet and allowing it to fall to the back of her head in an elegant
way, “or else I could speak more free, as you may say, on the subject.
That grandmother of hers—”  The old lady pursed her lips, and glanced at
her reflection in the mirrored walls with a pained shake of the head.

“But,” urged Rosalind, perturbed by the aunt’s confident manner of
prophecy, “Lady Frances, I understand, is engaged to a lieutenant out in
North Africa.”

“Then sooner he comes back,” shaking a spoon threateningly, “sooner he
comes back the better.  I don’t want to go opening my old mouth too wide,
or else like enough I shall go and put my foot in it.  I’ve said all I
want to say, and I don’t want folk to turn round arterwards and say to
me, ‘Why didn’t you give us warnin’?’  Strikes me, my dear, we might have
drop more hot water with this yere tea.”

“Do you know her uncle at all?”

“I know _of_ him.  I used to be upper housemaid at the Court.”

“And what—”

“I don’t think no worse of him,” said Aunt Emma in a slow, careful, and
judicial manner, “I don’t think no worse of him than what he’s thought
worse of.”

“I see,” said Rosalind doubtfully.  The girl was silent for a few
moments.  She looked at the walnut face of Erb’s aunt, at the elderly
dimple beside the mouth, she watched the old lady’s cautious way of
munching food.

“What you thinking of, my dear?”

“Nothing, nothing,” said Rosalind, arousing herself.

“You won’t ’spect me to finish up these yere bits I hope,” said Aunt
Emma, looking at the crusts by the side of her plate.  “My teeth ain’t
what they was when I was your age.  Ah,” with a sigh, “that seems long
time ago.”

“You have never been married, have you?”

“Could ha’ been,” said the old lady shortly.  “’Twarnt for want of being
asked.”

“Why, of course not.”

“Only chap I ever wanted,” she said reminiscently, “I let him go and get
snapped up by someone else; silly bit of a gel that I was.  I tell ye
what ’tis!”

People at the neighbouring tables were listening, and Rosalind touched
her wrinkled hand gently to call her attention to the fact.

“Once you’ve made up your mind, as you may say, about a young man, you’ve
got to be jeggerin’ well careful you don’t go and lose him.  Makes all
the difference whether you get the right man or the wrong man, or no man
at all.  Now what about this Drury Lane?  We’d bedder be too soon than
too late.”

A wonderful old person for her age, and Rosalind, made rather thoughtful
for some reason by the conversation, had much ado to keep up with her as
they walked through Leicester Square and Long Acre in the direction of
Autumn Melodrama.  When the doors opened, Erb’s aunt fought her way in
with the best of them, securing two seats in the second row, and keeping
strong men and insurgent women at bay until Rosalind came up; she ordered
a very tall man in the front row to sit down, and when he replied that he
was a sitting down Aunt Emma suggested that he should lie down.  Then the
old lady loosened her elastic-sided boots slightly, and prepared to meet
enjoyment.

A great evening.  Aunt Emma confessed to Rosalind, as they came out,
that, say what you liked, there was no place like London, and, but for
the fact that she wanted to save the bit of money she had put away, she
would willingly bid good-bye to Penshurst and come up to town, spending
every afternoon at Moore and Burgess’, and every evening at Drury Lane.
Outside the theatre was Erb.

“Nice young woman, if ever there was one,” whispered Emma to her nephew.
“Superior manner, and all that.”

“Thought you’d get along all right with her,” remarked Erb.

“I’ve been giving her advice.”

“Trust you.”

“Wonnerful to see such qualities of people about,” said the old lady,
hailing Rosalind into the discussion as they walked along the crowded
Strand.  “Nothin like this down where I live.”

“Have you far to walk at the other end?” asked the girl solicitously.

“Not fur,” replied the wonderful old lady.  “Ony ’bout four mile and
h’af.”

The excursion train was nearly ready to start, and Erb, finding an old
acquaintance in the guard, arranged for appropriate finish to a great day
by placing his aunt in a first-class compartment.  She remarked gleefully
that this would be something to tell Mrs. Turley.

“God bless ye, my dear,” she said, kissing Rosalind.  “And don’t forget
what I told you.  Erb, take care of her.”

Rosalind wanted to go into the Strand telegraph office opposite the
station for a moment, if Erb did not mind.  Erb did not mind, and he
waited.

“As much as that?” said Rosalind to the clerk.  “Seems a lot of money.”

“Well, you see, miss,” replied the clerk, apologetically, “people don’t
telegraph to these distant parts unless it’s about something important.”



CHAPTER XI


“MY dear Mr. Barnes,” wrote Lady Frances’ uncle in a genial note, dated
from a Pall Mall club, “I am sorry my niece did not make my intention
more apparent; possibly the mistake was my own.  I never dreamt of
offering you, as you assume, anything in the shape of a bribe.  What I
thought was that, as one who had the interests both of capital and labour
at heart, I might be allowed to make a small contribution towards any
movement in which you were interested.  You mentioned once an idea of
starting a small paper; let my small cheque assist in this excellent
effort.

“I was glad to see your admirable speech so fully reported in the
newspapers.  The new movement owes much to your influential voice.  I
think we shall want you to run down to Birmingham next week, but the
secretary will write you, and he also will see to the expenses.  If you
will not accept payment for your services, at any rate there is no reason
why you should be out of pocket over the business.—Yours with great
regard.”

“Reads fair enough,” commented Erb.  “I may have worded my letter a bit
too harsh.”

From Birmingham the party went to Stafford and to Coventry, all somewhat
in the manner of a travelling theatrical company, the party including,
indeed, some eccentrics which emphasised the resemblance.  There was an
Irish barrister, who had hitherto pleaded mainly at Cogers’ Hall, and had
a change in temperament for every glass of whiskey that he drank, going
up and up the hill of cheerfulness until a certain number was reached,
whereupon each succeeding glass made him descend slowly to the tableland
of contempt for the world; a young Oxford man eager to make some
alteration in the world without delay; and one or two safe men, who could
always be relied upon to say a few appropriate words.  Erb sent to
Rosalind from each town press notices, with crosses near to the
references to himself, until it suddenly occurred to him that these signs
might have two meanings; afterwards he drew a rather clumsy hand to draw
attention to the only item in the papers worthy of Rosalind’s notice.

Erb was now so much in the movement of life that he experienced a kind of
restless fever unless he had some new project in hand.  He felt ashamed
to confess himself hurt on his journey back to town when he found names
of other labour leaders endowed with the importance of print, and a
newspaper which did not contain his name appeared to him to have been
scarce worth the trouble of setting up; this was emphasised by the fact
that the Irish barrister, on seeing him off, had given him a generous
compliment; patting him on the back, he had assured Erb that the name of
Barnes was one that would be engraven in imperishable letters of gold on
the temple of Fame, and that he, for his part, would never, never forget
him.  Small wonder, with this feeling of self-importance, that Erb should
give but little attention to the fact that Louisa was at home in Page’s
Walk, looking paler than usual.  Louisa remarked that she was really only
playing truant, having made up her mind not to work so hard in future.
“They think all the more of you,” said Louisa acutely.

A storm seldom occurs without some premonitory signs, and it was on the
tramcar that took him to Camberwell—no reason why he should go to
Camberwell other than his desire to see Rosalind, and this would make him
late for the committee meeting—it was on the tramcar that the first
warnings appeared.  Erb was seated at the back reading the manuscript, an
article commencing, “Brother Workers!” when two men in railway uniform
came up the steps, so keenly engaged in conversation that they stopped
half-way to settle some disputed point, barring the descent of passengers
who wished to alight.  When, at the strenuously-worded request of the
delayed passengers, and the mild appeal of a tame conductor, they were
induced to move, they scampered up, and taking seats immediately in front
of Erb, recommenced their argument.  One was a member of Erb’s society;
the other, a man who had obstinately kept outside.  Erb would have spoken
to them, but that he was just then in a state of ecstatic admiration over
what seemed to him a well-turned sentence in the article.

“Tell you what it is, old man,” said the non-member, slapping his
corduroyed knee emphatically.  “You’ve been makin’ a little tin god of
the chap, and, naturally enough, he’s taken advantage of it.  You pass
him votes of thanks, and what not, and fill him up with soft soap, and
consequence is, he goes swelling about, and—”

“He wasn’t far wrong about that South Western business,” remarked the
other with meek determination, “and chance it.”

“You can’t expect a man not to do right sometimes.  I ain’t arguin’, mind
you, that Erb’s a fool.  Far from it!  My view of the matter is, if you
must know—”

“I never ast for your opinion!”

“Never mind whether you ast for it or not.  My view of the whole matter
is that he’s the only clever man amongst you.  He’s got you all on a bit
o’ string.  He goes away, as you mentioned, for a week or ten days
together, and never thinks of communicatin’ with you; he gets his name in
the papers; for all you know he may be playin’ a double game—”

The conductor came up for fares, and the argumentative man fortified his
position by paying for both.

“A double game.  No, no! let me finish!  And all the time laughing in his
sleeve at the lot of you.  I’ve known that sort before.  I’ve met ’em.
I’ve come across ’em.  I say no more,” he added mysteriously, and sat
back, glaring at the sky.

“Well, but—”  The member seemed ill-qualified for debate, and Erb was
greatly tempted to prompt him.  “What I mean is—  What I was about to say
was—”

“He’s a having you,” said the other, smiling thoughtfully at the sky,
“he’s a having you on toast!”

“But what’s it to do with you?” demanded the other, not finding the
argument for which he had searched.

“Nothing!” retorted the other.

The member, taken aback by this unexpected reply, could not speak for a
few moments.  He looked appealingly at the names on the shops by which
they were passing for a suggestion, and appeared to find one in the word
Goodenough.

“After all,” he began, “for our purpose—”

“Don’t forget this!” interrupted the other.  “Don’t let _this_ fact slip
out of your memory.  It was you began this argument.  I never seeked for
it.  We was having a glass in the Old Kent Road, and you, or one of the
others, began by saying that Erb was growing a great deal too big for his
boots.”

“_I_ never said it,” growled the other sulkily.

“Did someone pass a remark to that effect, or did someone not pass a
remark to that effect?  Am I speaking the truth, or am I a bloomin’
liar?”

“It’s one or the other,” said the member cautiously.

“That won’t do for me,” said the non-member, now in the sheer enjoyment
of cross-examination.  “I ast you a straightforward question, and if you
can’t give me a straightforward answer, why, I must draw me own
conclusions.  That’s all.”  And smiled again mysteriously at the sky.

“Well,” replied the other, goaded, “I don’t mind going so far as this.
Certain things _have_ been said of late at certain depots that I needn’t
name, and it’s all going to be brought up at the meeting to-night.  Mind
you, it mustn’t go any further.”  The other man gave a nod intended to
signify that he had guessed all this.  “And being meself on Erb’s side,
and not wanting to be mixed up in anything like a shindy, why, I’m giving
it a miss, and I’m off down to meet the wife’s brother at his club in
Peckham and spend a nice, quiet, sociable evening.  See?”

“And you,” remarked the other thoughtfully, “you call yourself a man?
Well, well, well!” with a sigh, “the longer we live the older we get.”

“What are you snacking at me about now?” demanded the member heatedly.

Erb slipped down the steps, disturbed by the news which he had heard, but
with also a feeling of elation at the prospect of a fight.  He found the
Professor alone in the house in Southampton Street; Rosalind was out
giving lessons at a school for superior young ladies at Brixton.
Professor full of a kind of stale enthusiasm concerning a new project,
which was to take a theatre or a town hall or a room or something and
give costume recitals, grave and gay, and to keep on at it night after
night until people found themselves forced to come in their thousands;
the Professor seemed to have worked this out as though it were a scheme
for winning gold at Monte Carlo, and he had already decided what he
should do with the enormous profits.  Difficulty was to select from the
many suburbs of London one place which should be favoured with the
experiment; another difficulty (but this he seemed to think of less
importance) consisted in the fact that, from inquiries he had caused to
be made, it appeared that those who controlled the letting of public
premises had a distrustful habit of requiring the rent in advance.  Erb,
in answer to a question, declared that he had no sort of influence in the
City, a place with which the Professor seemed imperfectly acquainted in
that he regarded it as a storehouse of valuables, the door of which flew
open if you but knew the one, the indispensable word; the Professor
considered the matter for a while with one hand twirling his hair, and
then, illuminated, announced his intention of taking off his coat to the
work.  As a first step, he proposed to take a cab to Throgmorton Street,
and have a thoroughly good look round.  Erb suggested a ’bus and the
Professor replied that undertakings of this kind had to be carried
through with a certain amount of dash and spirit which could not be done
under one and six, or, at the very least, one and three.  For this sum
Erb compounded, and the Professor made a note of the amount on the back
of an envelope that a treacherous memory should not play tricks; the
message for Rosalind he could trust to his mind.  He was working like a
bonded slave, he added, on behalf of his little girl: she was fortunate,
indeed, in having a father who could keep accounts.  Erb restrained an
obvious repartee, and the old gentleman, in his slippers, walked with him
out to Camberwell Gate, where, in the interests of economy, he proposed
to look in at a bar which had in its window a card bearing the ambiguous
announcement, “The ‘Stage’ Taken In.”

Erb found that he had allowed the garrulous old gentleman to detain him
longer than he should have done; when, on reaching the coffee-shop in
Grange Road he ran upstairs to the committee rooms, he could hear voices
raised, and he knew that not only had the meeting already commenced, but
that a contentious subject was being debated.  The rapping of Payne’s
hammer failed to arrest tumultuous speech, and it was only when Erb
opened the door that the argumentative voices stopped.

“Fact of the matter is,” said Payne, in the chair, rather hurriedly—“good
evening, Erb, you’re lateish—the fact of the matter is this is one of
them very peculiar subjects where there’s something, no doubt, to be said
on both sides.  Let’s get on to the next business.”

Erb went to his chair by the side of Payne and took some papers from his
pocket.  He looked up and down the table nodding; his salutation was not
in every case returned, and some of the men glared sternly at the
advertisements; Spanswick waved his hand in the friendliest manner.

“There’s the matter,” said Payne, “the matter of starting a paper or a
organ or something of a sim’lar nature.  I call upon the secretary to
make a statement.”

“I object,” said a voice.

“That you, Lindsay?”

“Yes, Mr. Chairman,” announced a hot-faced youth, rising from his seat,
“it _is_ me.”

“Sed down,” advised Spanswick audibly at his side.  “Don’t make a silly
young laughing-stock of yourself.”

This was sufficient for the fiery-faced Mr. Lindsay.  He was from St.
Pancras, and an engagement with a lady who kept a small laundry at
Child’s Hill had recently been annulled at her particular request (a
circumstance he had related in confidence to everybody), the Midland man
having been driving about London for some days boiling up his thoughts,
had decided that the world was managed on some erroneous system; it
behoved him to put it right.  Lindsay had come to the meeting with the
vague desire to get satisfaction by opposing something; here in the
discussion concerning Erb appeared a subject which exactly fitted his
requirements.

“I should like to say a few brief words on the matter which we ’ave jest
been discussing.”

“Question!” cried Spanswick.

“I’ll question you,” retorted Lindsay heatedly, “if you can’t leave off
interruptin’.  I appeal to the Midland men present, and I ask whether
they’re going to allow themselves to be sat upon?”

“You’ll be jumped on if you don’t look out,” said Spanswick.  The room
began to take sides.

“You do it,” shouted the other, goaded.  “You do it, that’s all!  Try it
on!  Have a dash at it, my friend, and see what ’appens.  You talk a lot,
but I vurry much doubt whether you can do anything else.”

Payne in the chair made his hammer heard above the din of contending
voices, and then, standing up, shook the hammer threateningly.  If they
did not at once stop their row, said Payne, he, as Chairman, would have
to consider the advisability of jolly well doing something; having given
this vague threat Payne conferred with Erb in a whisper.

“Tell you what occurs to me,” said Payne, with a weak pretence of
proclaiming an idea of his own.  “Let’s hear what friend Lindsay has to
say, and if there’s anything in it, why no doubt our friend the secretary
will reply.”

“On a point of order—” said Spanswick, rising.

“I should like to point out—” began a Great Western man in the corner.

“Seems to me that the proper course to pursue—” said another.

The Chair hammered away noisily.  A half-minute of strenuous tumult, and
the noise subsided.  Lindsay, of St. Pancras, rose, buttoning his jacket;
this done he unbuttoned it again, continuing this eccentric action during
the whole of his speech.  He had some difficulty in finding words at
first, but irritating comments from Spanswick served to encourage him,
and he succeeded in recapitulating charges which it seemed had been made
by certain members, now coy and reserved, against the secretary during
the previous half-hour; these Lindsay emphasised by a suggestion that
friend Barnes was using the society only for his own personal advancement
(at this there was a shout of protest from most of the members that made
Erb, his gaze fixed on the blank sheet of white foolscap before him,
tingle with satisfaction).  When having made his fiercest rush, Lindsay,
of St. Pancras, showed signs of wavering, it was Spanswick who pricked
him again into fury with a banderillo question to another neighbour: “But
what was the real reason why the gel wouldn’t have him?” asked Spanswick.

Lindsay from St. Pancras, waving his arms excitedly, cried now in a
scream that they were paying a princely salary to a man who thought he
could twist the society round his little finger; who went about mixing
with the nobs and getting his name into the papers; who lorded it over
everybody, or tried to; who, to put it briefly, and to put it finally,
was trying to push everybody else off the earth.  Lindsay begged to move
that the secretary, Herbert Barnes, be requested to hand in his
resignation without delay.

Lindsay, of St. Pancras, sat down, grumbling to himself in an undertone,
his head still shaking with excitement.  There was more applause than one
would have expected, applause being a thing that can be created furtively
by the stamping of feet hidden under the table.  Erb rose.  As he did so,
Spanswick, with his right arm raised, a reminiscence of Board School
manners, rose also, and claimed the attention of Payne in the chair.

“I consider it an insult,” said Spanswick loudly, “to allow our friend
the secretary to answer the ridic’lous attack that has been made upon
him.  I claim the right to reply on his behalf.”  Erb sat down.  “It’s
all very well for men to talk who’ve never been tempted either by the
attractions of ’igh society, or—what shall I say—the allurements and what
not that titled parties, be they gentlemen or be they ladies, can offer,
but put them in our friend Erb’s position, and wouldn’t they make
mistakes the same as he has?  Course they would!  Besides, there’s this
to be said—”

Spanswick, going on with elaborate replies to attacks that had never been
made, did not look at Erb, preferring to direct his argument to the
contumacious Lindsay and his friends: the cheers from Erb’s supporters
which greeted Spanswick’s start diminished in volume as he went on.

“Drop it!” whispered somebody to him.  “Drop it, old man, before you
spile it.”

When Spanswick came to a finish of his ingenious Mark Antony speech the
room was left with the impression that charges of a very serious nature
had been brought against Erb, and that the principal defence to be urged
was the fact of Erb’s youth and inexperience.  Erb, recognising the
damage that Spanswick’s advocacy had effected, started up to argue the
case from his own point of view, but he was again anticipated by a
supporter, this time by a man on whose loyalty he could depend, although
his stock of discretion had limits.

“I claim the right to say a few words!” shouted the new man.  The room
cried, “Erb, Erb, Erb!” being, it seemed, anxious to see if the case
could possibly be readjusted, and wishful, at any rate, to see the effort
made.

“Take five minutes,” ordered the Chair.

“I can do it in under that,” said the other generously.  “If it’s a case
of argument by words, I think I’m equal to it: if it’s case of argument
by fists, I jolly well know I am.  Understand that, my fine friend!” he
added, addressing Lindsay.

Lindsay of St. Pancras, at a loss for a good repartee, suggested rather
wearily that the speaker should go home and fry his face.  The room
looked on this as wanting in finish, and to Lindsay’s confusion gave it
no applause.

“You come from St. Pancras, I believe?  Very well; I’ll St. Pancras you
before I’ve done with you.”

“Do it!” cried Lindsay, annoyed by the failure of his retort.  “You do
it, that’s all!”

Lindsay slipped from his seat, and, evading the efforts made by
neighbours to detain him, went quickly to the side of the speaker.  The
Chair half rose, his hammer uplifted.  Erb stood up with a pained look.

“Here I am,” said Lindsay, offering his scarlet face to Erb’s supporter.
“Now show us what you can do.”

The invitation was one not to be declined.  The loud smack on the scarlet
face made Lindsay stagger; the next moment he had seized a wooden chair,
and the speaker had similarly armed himself.  Voices in the room shouted,
Payne hammered on the table before him, everybody, in an excited way,
begged everybody else to keep calm.  Erb made his way, thrusting aside
the intervening arm, to the quarter of the room where the two men were
facing each other.  Lindsay swung his chair, and the other guarded; the
two chairs broke noisily, and left the two disputants holding a single
wooden leg.  Spanswick remarked that Lindsay seemed about as successful
in undertakings of this kind as in his love affairs, and the St. Pancras
youth, goaded by this, brought the leg of the chair viciously down on the
head of his opponent.  A red line matted the hair; the room filled with
uproar.

“Stop ’em!  Keep ’em apart!”

“Let ’em fight it out!  Stand back and let ’em finish it!”

“Leave off shoving me then!  I’ve got as good a right to look on as you
have.  For two pins—”

“The other one began it.  He asked for it.”

“I beg your pardon, he did nothing of the kind whatsoever.  Keep your
elbows out of the way, or else I’ll serve you like he served him.  Yes,
and quick about it, too!”

The sight of blood excited all to the point of ill-temper.  Two, with the
best intentions, held Erb firmly, screaming to him urgent recommendations
to keep cool, and as Erb was the only man in the room capable of
exercising any control over the members, there seemed no reason why the
disturbance should not go on for all time; the arrival of the landlord
with a threat of police caused the two men to loosen their hold of Erb,
and he, with a fierce remark condemning the stupidity of all, freed
himself, and took charge of the proceedings.  Ordered Payne to turn the
landlord out and lock the door.  Directed his supporters to resume their
seats.  Found the decanter, the contents of which had been only partly
upset, and, pouring water into the palm of his hand, bathed the damaged
man’s head.  Commanded Lindsay to stand away at the end of the room by
himself, which that young man did, to his own astonishment, in the manner
of a penitent schoolboy.  Gave orders to members of one or two disputant
groups, causing them to separate and occupy themselves with other duties.
Whispered to Payne.  Payne went back to his chair and his hammer.

“Friends,” cried Payne, mopping his forehead, “this meeting’s going to be
adjourned for ’alf a hower so as to get cool.”

Most of the men went downstairs, and in the bar discussed the tumultuous
event with hushed voices, that outsiders might not share the knowledge;
they were not quite certain whether to be proud of the incident or
ashamed.  Erb told off two men to take his damaged advocate to a
chemist’s, and, giving no answer to inquiries concerning his intentions,
went out, and walked up and down Grange Road alone.  He saw the whole
case clearly; admitted that his popularity had received a shock;
recognised the true inwardness of Spanswick’s intervention, and foresaw
the difficulties that would obstruct his path if he should lose his
position.  Not seeing Rosalind this evening was, he now felt, an augury
of bad luck; he would be glad when the night was over and done with.

“This ain’t my birthday,” said Erb grimly.

All the same, something had to be done.  Individual men one could deal
with, but with men in a lump you could only safely count on their
unreliability.  Erb stopped at a furniture shop and tried to guess the
identity of a young man with hat tipped back and forehead creased with
thought; the face looked familiar, and it was only on approaching that he
discovered it was his own reflection in a long mirror marked in chalk, “A
Rare Bargain.  Late the Property of a Club.”  He laughed and went back.

“I don’t want to make a speech,” he said quietly.  The room had refilled,
members conducting themselves with a studied decorum almost painful to
behold; the smoke had escaped by the open windows, and it was possible to
see everything clearly.  “It appears that there’s some dissatisfaction.”

“No, no!” said voices.

“There’s some dissatisfaction,” repeated Erb determinedly, “and it
doesn’t really matter much whether it’s grounded or not.  No society can
go on like this with success under these circumstances.  I started this
society—”

“Earear!”

“And I tell you candidly, I feel much more interested in the prosperity
of this society than I do in the prosperity of myself.  I’m a single man,
I regret to—  I mean to say I’m a single man, and as a single man, I can
find something else to do.”

Members looked at each other with concern.

“That is why, Mr. Chairman, I address myself to you, because you’re an
old friend and a—and a good sort.”  Payne blinked at the compliment.
“And I hand to you, old chum, this letter that I’ve just written out,
which contains—”

The room leaned forward to listen.

“Contains my resignation.”  Erb sat down.

A murmur started slowly near the Chairman and went down the table,
increased its pace and its volume, and came back to Erb in the condition
of an angry remonstrance.  Half a dozen men rose.

“I give notice,” said Spanswick, “that at the next meeting I shall move
the appointment of a new secretary.”

“At the next meeting,” said a Cannon Street man, who had never heard his
own voice raised in public speech before, and seemed himself astonished
by the novelty, “at the next meeting you’ll damn well do nothing of the
kind.”  The room roared its approval.  “We don’t want a new secretary,
because we ain’t a going to get rid of the old one.  The position isn’t
vacant.  I move, Mr. Chairman, or second, or whatever you call it, that
that letter what you’ve got in your hand be given back to our friend Erb,
and that he be asked or invited or requested—I don’t know how you put
these things—to tear it up and forget all about it; I will now conclude
my few remarks by asking you to join me in a well-known song.”

    “F—or _he’s_ a jolly good faillow,
                For he’s—”

The room sang the refrain with enthusiasm; the man with the broken head
came, bandaged, and joined in.  Spanswick, recognising that the game for
the present was over, beat time.

“That’s all right, then,” said Payne, when the hurrahing stopped.  “Now,
let’s get on to the next business.  ‘Proposed starting of a new paper to
be called “The Carman.”’”



CHAPTER XII


THE incident revealed to Erb the fact that the men’s support and
confidence had something of a tidal nature.  He had watched, sometimes
with amusement, always with interest, the state of other leaders—from
high water, when they could swim luxuriously, to low water, when they
were left stranded ludicrously on the beach; it had not before occurred
to him that he himself might encounter a similar experience; he
determined now to make his position as secure as possible.  In this
effort he relied a good deal on the new journal he was preparing, the
first number of which was to bear on the front page the words, “Edited by
Herbert C. Barnes.”  Lady Frances had written on the subject of labour—

    “Oh horny-handed sons of toil,
          Who spin and weave and dig in mines.”

Erb, summoned to Eaton Square to take charge of this (the risk of loss in
the post being too great to endure), had ventured to point out to the
poetess, with, of course, great respect, that it would have been more
appropriate to introduce something about kindness to horses and the
difficulties occasioned by the stress and turmoil of traffic; Lady
Frances, listening with a slight frown on her young forehead, answered
that she was much obliged, that she thought she saw her way to another
poem to be called “Sturm and Drang,” but she felt it would be unwise to
touch the first effort; good poetry was always dashed off on the impulse
of the moment.

“I didn’t know that,” remarked Erb, with deference.

So poem Number One was to go in, please, exactly as she had written it,
and on the day the paper came out would Erb oblige her very much by
coming to dinner at Eaton Square.

“Dinner?” echoed Erb amazedly.

Coming to dinner at Eaton Square, and bringing with him one, or perhaps
more, copies.

“What about an evening suit, Lady Frances?”

The managerial young woman had thought of that; her uncle and a few more
men would be present, and, to make the dinner quite informal, they would
wear morning dress.  No, no, please, no excuses of any kind.  Lady
Frances was going to see her tailor in Maddox Street, and she could give
Erb a lift so far.  The tall maid (who was Miss Luker of the dance) being
rung for, brought in hat and cloak, and helped her young mistress with
them, giving no glance towards Erb, and the two went downstairs together.
Seated at the side of Lady Frances, he was watched curiously by the
drivers of one or two railway vans, who, in their anxiety to verify what
appeared to be a dream, looked round by the side, allowing thus their
blinkered horses to peer into omnibuses and nibble at conductors’ hats,
necessitating a swift exchange of the kind of repartee in which the
London driver is a past master.  When Erb stepped out at Maddox Street
and raising his hat started back to a point whence he could walk to his
office at Bermondsey, Erb noticed that Lady Frances had a look on her
face that might come to one who advanced the cause of millions and, by an
act of her own, had made a whole world glad.  It would be quite unfair to
suggest that at this period Erb was by way of becoming a snob, but it
would be untrue to say that he had any objection to the soft, pleasant
scent, the well-bred air, the gracious manner that he found with Lady
Frances.  It is also right to say that directly he had left her he began
to think of Rosalind and of his work.  At this period sometimes one came
first, sometimes the other.

“Dinner!” he said to himself.

“_Me_ at dinner at Eaton Square.  ’Pon my life, this is the funniest
world I ever saw.”

He retained his old habit of talking as he went along the London streets,
and people in a hurry stopped on noticing this, and delivered themselves
of an opinion in regard to his sanity.  In this way he often had long
talks with Rosalind of an extremely fervent nature; Rosalind helping him
with a few coy questions, all in a way that had never yet found
realisation; his fluency in these rehearsals astonished him sometimes as
much as his inexcusable awkwardness when he called at Camberwell.

“I’m a bit of a muddler,” he confessed in Waterloo Place, “where women
are concerned.  In other matters, now—  Look where you’re coming,
stupid!”

Spanswick, red faced, short necked, and pimpled, addressed in this way,
was walking backwards in the inconvenient manner adopted by some on
crowded pavements who wish to review scenes that have passed; it was a
silken ankle stepping into a carriage that had clipped Spanswick’s
attention.

“What ho!” cried Spanswick.  “Still a lordin’ it, Erb, old man?  Kind of
a amphibious animal, ain’t you?”

“I can swim!” said Erb.

“The best swimmers get drownded sometimes.”

“Not more than once.”

“Talking of which,” said Spanswick cheerily, “are you going to stand us a
drink?”

“No,” replied Erb.

“Ah, well,” said Spanswick with an effort, “me and you can’t afford to
quarrel.  We’ve both got our axes to grind.  Whereabouts is Pall Mall?”

“You’re in it now.  It runs up that way to the bottom of St. James’s
Street.”

“That’s the best of ’aving been a parcels carman,” sighed Spanswick
enviously.  “I was never anything but a goods man, and I never had no
chances of getting amongst the aristocracy as you have.  Otherwise I
should meet you on equal terms.  How’s the young woman?”

“What young woman?”

“Are there so many of ’em as all that?  Seems to me,” remarked Spanswick
thoughtfully, “that some of you lead a double life.  You’ll come a
cropper over it some day, mark my words.”

“I’ll mark your face,” retorted Erb with a sudden burst of annoyance.
“I’ve put up with just about enough from you.  I may be your secretary,
but I’m not your slave.”

“Old man, don’t let’s go kicking up a common fracass here.  You don’t
understand my style of humour.  This newspaper, or journal, or organ, or
whatever you like to call it—how’s it going?”

“Well,” said Erb, returning to good temper.  “I find I’m having to do it
pretty nigh all myself.  There’s another column to do now before the
first number’s ready.”

“_I’m_ pretty ’andy with me pen,” remarked the other.  “I don’t prefess
to be a literary man, of course, but—  I’ll send you in a few items of
news.”

“I shall be ever so much obliged to you.  Make ’em smart and readable,
mind.”

“_I’ll_ make ’em smart,” said Spanswick.

It seemed to Erb, on the day “The Carman” was to appear, that something
special of a less selfish character than the dinner in Eaton Square
should be arranged to mark the event.  What he vaguely desired was to
give an outing to Louisa—the short sister had become too weak to take
public promenade, and the current young man had to shout to her of an
evening, gripping the railings in Page’s Walk.  Erb had some daring
thought of inviting Rosalind, and taking them both up the river.  This
detail of the plan he accepted and rejected, and accepted and rejected
again; meeting Rosalind herself one evening in the strenuous fight for
trams on the Surrey side of Blackfriars Bridge, he, after protecting her
in the struggle up the steps, and allowing himself in the carrying out of
his duty to press the plump arm above the elbow, found himself in the
mood of accepting the detail, and he submitted the proposal in a way
meant to be deferential, which, however, came out quite brusque and
defiant.  “Ever been to Battersea Park?” he asked gruffly.  Rosalind had
never been to Battersea Park.  “Care to go?”  Rosalind was so busy that
she feared—  “I’m going to take Louisa.”  In that case (with a flush that
went partly over her face and then ran away), in that case Rosalind would
be very pleased.  “Must be Wednesday next,” said Erb shortly.  Wednesday
was rather an awkward day, because there was a pupil at half-past one,
who came in her dinner hour, and another at three.  “Put her off,”
commanded Erb.  Very well, then, the three o’clock pupil should be off;
Rosalind declared she would be thinking of the afternoon every hour of
the day until it arrived.  “So shall I,” said Erb shortly.  Had Erb seen
Lady Frances lately?  “We can’t bear to be apart,” said Erb, in a tone
meant to be jocular.

There were times when the one thing certain seemed to be that by no
possible chance could the first number of “The Carman” come out on the
day appointed.  The printers did not place the importance of the
undertaking so high as Erb did; difficult to make them understand the
importance of producing it on the day fixed; the foreman of the noisy,
rattling printing establishment in Southwark said frankly that the world
having done without the journal for so long, no great hurt could be
occasioned if it should be a day or two late.

But on the day, their van drove up to the doorway of the office where Erb
and some of the committee were waiting, and a minute later each man had a
copy in his hands, his eyes fixed on the gratifying place where his own
name appeared.  Erb had taken ingenious care to mention as many names as
possible, and, because of this, railway vans sent, say, from Paddington
to Haverstock Hill, made a slight detour and called at Bermondsey for
copies.  There were some misprints, and one man, whose Christian name was
given as John instead of James, cancelled his subscription instantly, and
prophesied a gloomy future for the paper.  Erb demanded opinions, and
discovered to his regret, that nearly every line in the small paper
received condemnation from somebody (personal paragraphs about high
officials in the railway world alone excepted), the fact being that the
readers of “The Carman” misapprehended the question, and assumed, when
asked for an opinion, that they were invited to give adverse judgment; a
thing that has happened with other critics in other circumstances.

But the particular copies presented to Louisa and to Rosalind extorted
from these young women, on their way slowly to Cherry Garden Pier,
unqualified approval.  On the pier, where they waited for the steamer
coming up from Greenwich, the two ladies read again the printed
references to themselves.

“Yours,” said Erb importantly, fanning himself with his straw hat, “yours
is what we newspaper people call a dummy ad.”

“I can pay for mine,” said Rosalind quickly.

“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” retorted Erb.  “Read it out!”

She read it with a flush of gratification on her young face, Erb looking
over her shoulder.  The scent of brown Windsor came to him.

“‘Miss Rosalind Danks,’” she read, “‘Professor of Elocution, Declamation,
Gesture, et cetera, et cetera.  Number so-and-so Southampton Street,
Camberwell, S.E.  Schools attended.  Private lessons given.  Assisted by
Mr. Reginald C. Danks, formerly of the principal West End theatres.  “We
shall never forget his Montgiron.”—Vide Press.’”

“Now yours, Louisa.”

A break in his short sister’s voice betokened uncontrollable pride.

“‘We are glad to say that Miss L. Barnes, younger sister of our
secretary, is slowly recovering from a rather serious illness.’  First
time,” said Louisa, waving the journal in the air, “the very first time
my name’s ever been in print.”

“May I suggest, Mr. Editor,” said Rosalind, leading him to the iron chain
that protected the edge of the pier, “that it is a little clumsy to
express satisfaction at slow recovery?  It wasn’t what you meant.”

“Don’t let on to her about it,” urged Erb distressed.  “I haven’t got
quite the hang of writing.  Is there anything else you noticed?”

“Nothing of importance.”

“Tell us,” begged the anxious editor, “and get it over.”

“These personal paragraphs, headed ‘What we Want to Know.’”

“The men all liked them.”

“A little spiteful,” she said quietly.  “Calculated to hurt somebody.  I
shouldn’t, if I were you.  This one, for instance.”

“We’ll drop ’em in number two.  Here’s our boat coming.”

Some particular people complain of the river steamers, but the “Flying
Arrow” that took charge of the three at London Bridge, and conveyed them
up under railway bridges, and past embankments, and by the terrace of the
House of Commons—Erb waved his straw hat to his friend the white-haired
labour member, and the labour member waved in return in such a friendly
manner that other passengers became at once interested in Erb, and
whispered (to Louisa’s great satisfaction), “Who is he?  Who is he,
eh?”—by the Tate Gallery, and between unattractive stores, Nine Elms way,
the “Flying Arrow,” I say, for these three young people might have been a
gaily caparisoned barge lent by Cleopatra; the gramophone that squeaked
out songs in a ghostly, unnatural tone of voice, a selected troupe from
the Royal Italian Opera; and the changes that the atmosphere took from
inexpensive cigars and cheap tobaccos, the choicest perfumes from Old
Bond Street.  The top note of satisfaction was reached when Erb, invited
to political debate by the self-confident captain, worsted that uniformed
official with the greatest possible ease, and sent him back limp to the
bridge, to resume a profession for which he was qualified.
Disappointing, perhaps, to find that people on the steamboat who studied
literature were not applying themselves to “The Carman,” devoting their
minds, instead, to cheap journals, which offered German pictures
(second-hand), with American jokes underneath, not absolutely new.  Erb
left two copies of “The Carman,” one aft and one at the other end, and
the girls watched results; a lad with a bulgy forehead took up a copy and
read it with languid interest; he presently dropped it on the deck, and a
waiter in a bowler hat who came along at that moment threw it into the
river, where it drifted away helplessly.  The other copy seemed likely to
taste more of success, for a woman seized it with every sign of delight;
when she proceeded to wrap up a pair of boots in the new journal Erb felt
annoyed.  But it was not easy to remain in this state with a cheerful
young woman like Louisa, or with a more sedate but equally agreeable
person like Rosalind, and they presently had a great game of pretending
that they were royalty on a tour round the world, so that Nine Elms pier
became Gibraltar, and a few minutes later they were going through the
Suez Canal, which others called Battersea Bridge.  On reaching Sydney
(which had no harbour to speak of, but possessed a wobbling pier marked
Battersea Park) they disembarked with most of the other voyagers, some of
whom had decided that the three were either theatrical people or not
quite right in their heads.  As they went up the wooden gangway and
entered the Park, Louisa had colour in her white cheeks, and, declining
assistance of her companions, ordered them to give each other their arms.
Which they did for a moment only.

“Shan’t go to that dinner this evening,” said Erb.

“I think you will,” remarked Rosalind.

“Catch you,” said Louisa satirically, “catch you missing a chance like
that.”

“I shan’t go.  I don’t want anything better’n this.”

“You’ll have to,” decided Louisa.  “And come back and tell us all about
it.  I’d give anything to see Alice’s face when she hears you’ve been
upstairs.”

“I’d forgot about Alice.”

“She’s forgot about us,” retorted Louisa.  “That’s the worst of tall
people, they always look down on you.  How’d it be if I sat down here for
a bit and let you two walk on and come back for me?”

“And leave you alone?” asked Rosalind.

“I can set here and laugh at the foreigners,” she remarked.

Erb and Rosalind made Louisa comfortable on a chair, and left her
applying herself once more to the intellectual delight of again reading
through “The Carman,” with special attention to the paragraph that
concerned herself.  Just before they went out of sight of her, in going
round the circle where bicycles were swishing along, they turned and
waved their hands: she unpinned her straw hat and lifted it in a
gentlemanly way.

“I wonder,” said Erb thoughtfully, “whether she’s going to make old
bones.”

“I shouldn’t let her go again to that work of hers.”

“If anything serious happened,” he said slowly, “I’d make such a stir
about the business that they’d have to shut up the factory.”

“That wouldn’t bring her back,” remarked Rosalind.

“Back?” Erb stopped affrighted.  “Why you don’t think—you don’t fancy for
a moment, do you, that she’s going to—”  They walked on quickly for a
while.  “My goodness,” he cried excitedly, “I’d tear the place down for
them!  There shouldn’t be a stone left!  I’d get questions asked about
the business in Parliament!  I’d organise meetings.  I’d make London get
white hot about it!  I’d never let ’em rest.  I’d set every society at
’em.  We’d get up demonstrations in the streets.  We’d—”

“Don’t let’s get cross about anything,” said Rosalind.  “I want to look
back on to-day when I get into my dull moments.”

“_You_ never get dull.”

“I suppose nobody’s life is perfectly happy.”

“I say,” said Erb, walking nearer to her and speaking in an undertone.
“You never worry about that chap Railton, do you?”

“Not—not very often.”

“That’s right,” he said.  “You know there’s no man in this world that is
worth a single tear from your eyes.”

“Don’t talk about me as though I were perfect.”

“You wouldn’t be perfect,” said Erb, “if it wasn’t for your faults.”

They talked of Louisa, and reckoned up amusedly her long list of
engagements.  From this Erb went on to a short lecture on the time that
some wasted over affairs of the heart, urging that there were other
matters of equal or greater interest in life, such as the joy of getting
on better than other people, and thus extorting the open envy, the
cloaked admiration of colleagues.  He succeeded at last in minimising the
value of love to such a small amount that his companion ceased to give
any consenting words, and, noticing her silence, he recognised that he
was outrunning her approval; he had to hark back to the point where her
silence had commenced to hint at want of agreement.  They read the wooden
labels on preposterous-looking trees, and invented names of like manner
for themselves: Erb delivered a brief address from the banks of the lake
to the swans on the water, urging them to form a society of their own and
to fight to the last feather for their rights: they found a long broad
avenue under trees that leaned across at the top, and a perfectly new
Rosalind offered, in a sportive way that amazed Erb and gratified him, to
race him as far as a mail-cart, and Erb starting, took no trouble over
what appeared an easy task, with the result that he reached the
winning-post badly beaten by the limping girl by several yards, and
forced to endure from the baby occupant of a mail-cart a sneer of
contempt.  They rested after this, and, whilst Erb fanned her with his
copy of “The Carman,” Rosalind talked of her father, and, instead of
becoming serious as usual when the old Professor occupied her thoughts,
told with great enjoyment the story of a great week once at Littlehampton
when they were playing “East Lynne” with a fit-up company to such
imperfectly filled houses that it became certain there would be not only
no money with which to pay the excellent landlady on Sunday morning, but
scarce a penny to buy food on Saturday.  Of aforesaid excellent landlady
coming in on the Saturday night and making one of eight people in the
pit, and being so affected by the performance by Rosalind as little
Willy, and moved to such anguish of tears by the scene, that she bustled
out between the last acts, purchased a sheep’s head at the butcher’s, had
a fragrant, gorgeous supper ready for the Professor and Rosalind on their
hungry return, and came in after the meal, when the two had searched once
more for an emergency exit from the situation, with formal announcement
to the effect that she knew quite well that they hadn’t a shilling to
bless themselves with, that her native town in regard to appreciation of
the dramatic art was past praying for; that Rosalind was a little dear,
and that, for her part, if she touched a copper of their non-existent
money she would never again know a moment’s peace: the landlady begged
two favours, and two favours only—first, that she might give the little
girl a good hug; second, that she might be permitted to stay up and bake
them a meat and potato pie that would keep their bodies and souls
together on to-morrow’s journey.

They remembered Louisa presently, and went back to the white-faced girl,
who had found company in a penny novelette left on the seat by someone
tired of literature, and who made them go away again until she
ascertained whether the young woman in the story married the brilliant
young journalist or the middle-aged Peer.  When justice had been done by
presentation of the prize to brains, and the House of Lords, resigning
itself without a murmur, had given its blessing and a cheque, she called
them back, and the three held council in regard to the dinner in Eaton
Square.  Erb was still inclined to be obstinate, but the two young women
were equally determined, and they took him across the bridge into King’s
Road, where the committee purchased for him a new neck-tie, the while
they sent him away to wash his face and hands.  They left him presently
at Sloane Square, and went home to Bermondsey, because Louisa was now
forced to confess that she had become tired; Rosalind having the evening
free, and being anxious to hear the report of Erb’s experience in Eaton
Square, offered to read to her in Page’s Walk.

Events progressed in Page’s Walk to the point of a cozy chat, where
Louisa defied sleep in order to recite to Rosalind in their due order the
circumstances of the many engagements from the respective starts to the
individual finishes, with imitations of the voice of each suitor, and
occasionally a parody of the gait.  It was in the middle of a diverting
account of Number Five—who had at least one defect in that he had no roof
to his mouth—that Erb returned.  The two surrounded him, firing
questions.

“One at a time,” said Erb, good humoured, because of the unexpected joy
of seeing Rosalind again.  “One at a time.  There were small things
first, sardines and what not—”

“Hors d’œuvres,” said Rosalind.

“I daresay.  Anyhow, after that, soup.”

“Can’t stand soup,” remarked Louisa.  “There’s no stay in soup.  Go on,
Erb.”

“Now comes what I may term,” said Erb, “the gist or point of this
anecdote.  The lady with the shoulders next to me—”

“I should faint if I found myself going out like that,” declared Louisa,
interrupting again.  “How anyone can do it beats me.  It’s like being
caught in your disables.”

“The lady with the shoulders next to me turned and asked me something
that I didn’t exactly catch, and I turned round rather suddenly and said,
‘Beg pardon?’  Knocked the arm of the girl who was serving the fish, and
as near upset the plate that she held in her hand as didn’t matter.  I
jumps up, and then for the first time I recognised it was Alice.”

“Wasn’t she took aback?”

“Not half so much as I was,” said Erb.  “I suppose being rather a large
dinner party they’d laid her on extra.  Of course, I shook hands with her
and said, ‘Hullo, Alice, how’s the world using you?’”

“Well, you are,” said Louisa with horror, “absolutely the biggest juggins
I ever come across.”

“But what was I to do?”

“Do?” echoed the short sister.  “Do?  I could have soon shown you what to
do.  All you’d got to do was to take no notice of her.  Ignore her!  Look
past her!  Pretend she wasn’t there!  You’ll never get asked again,
that’s a very sure thing.”

“I don’t care,” answered Erb.  “I’m an awkward chap in these West End
circles.  When I’m not in ’em I want to be there, and once I’m there I
look round directly for an open door to slip out of.”

“And what did Miss Alice have to say for herself?” asked Louisa, coming
back to the incident with relish.

“Oh, she kept very cool, and she just whispered, ‘Sit down, Erb, and
behave.’”

“That’s her all over.”

“They stared at me naturally enough, and young Lady Frances seemed a bit
upset just for a moment, and nobody spoke for a bit, but after a while
they were all chatting away again, and the party with the shoulders next
to me began asking me what I thought of the new woman at Covent Garden.
Then I put me foot in it again,” said Erb amusedly.  “I thought she meant
the market.”

“How they’d pull you to pieces after you left,” remarked Louisa sighing.
“I can ’ear ’em saying things.”

“I can’t,” said Erb contentedly.  “And if I did I shouldn’t care.  What
would you have done,” he appealed to Rosalind, “what would you have done,
now, in similar circumstances?”

Rosalind, as she put on her gloves, considered for a moment before
replying.  Then she leaned towards him and touched Erb’s knee lightly.

“I should have done,” she said, “exactly as you did.”

There were several reasons why Erb should not take her by the arms; all
these reasons jumped up before him as he rose and made a step forward.
He stopped himself with an effort, and preceded her to the door.  They
went downstairs, and he walked bareheaded as far as the “Lord Nelson.”

“You were never nearer being kissed,” he said to her ear, “in all your
life.”

“Please, please,” she said reprovingly.

Erb went back to Page’s Walk checked and cooled by this reproof.  The
prospect that he had had momentarily in his mind of the small house close
to Wandsworth Common, with a billiard table lawn at the back, at a time
when he, perhaps, would be in the House, unique among all labour members
by reason of having a wife who could be introduced with confidence, was
dismissed with a caution.

“Letter for you, Erb, on the mantel,” cried Louisa from her room.  “It’s
just been sent over.  Good-night!”

A portentous envelope, addressed to the Editor of “The Carman.”  Erb
sliced it with his penknife.  The large letter paper was folded in three.

    “SIR,

    “We have been consulted by our client, Sir William Durmin, with
    reference to the libellous statement which appears in No. I of ‘The
    Carman.’

    “Our client cannot allow such statements to be made, and our
    instructions are to issue a writ without further notice.

    “If you wish to avoid personal service, please supply us by return of
    post with the name of your solicitor who will accept service on your
    behalf.

                                                       “Yours faithfully.”

“Now,” said Erb, “the band’s beginning to play.”



CHAPTER XIII


IF publicity at any cost be a good thing for a new journal, then “The
Carman” had no right whatever to complain.  The men belonging to the
Society felt exultant at references to the impending action.  It seemed
that they were defying Capital as Capital had never been defied before.
They told each other, when they met at receiving offices and railway
stations, that Capital was going to have a nasty show up.  Erb looked
forward to the struggle with eagerness, until he had a meeting with
Spanswick, the writer of the paragraph; that amateur journalist admitted,
at the end of a keen cross-examination, that he had, perhaps, erred in
stating that he knew the statement as a fact of his own knowledge: he
remembered now that it had been related to him by a chap of his
acquaintance, who was either on the Great Eastern or the South Western,
he would not swear which, and he confessed to the indignant Erb that he
could no more place his hand on this man’s shoulders and produce him at
the Law Courts “than the dead.”  Erb told Spanswick exactly what he
thought of him, and Spanswick, penitent, declared that it would be a
warning for the future: he would not have had this happen for forty
thousand pounds.  If Erb required him to go into a witness-box he would
guarantee to say on oath just whatever Erb wished him to say.  This
sporting offer being declined, Spanswick went with downcast head, and
examined the lining of his cap, as though hopeful that some solution of
the difficulty would be found there.  Once clear of the place he gave on
the wooden flags of a cellar in Grange Road a few steps of a dance, which
seemed to intimate that his regret was but a cloak that could be
discarded without much difficulty.

No easy thing to keep up an attitude of hopefulness before the men whilst
searching uselessly for facts to justify the Spanswick paragraph; but
this was a mere diversion compared with the trouble that came to him the
following week.  Louisa was at home again after a few days of work at the
factory, and Erb, going one afternoon to Page’s Walk for some
correspondence, encountered the doctor who had called for a minute to see
her.  The doctor was a breathless, energetic man, whose fees were so
small that, added up, they only made a living wage by reason of the
number of his patients.

“Going on all right, doctor?”

“Yes, thanks,” replied the medical man, walking rapidly through the
passage, and brushing his hat the while.  “Busy though!  Up to my eyes in
work.”

“I was referring more particularly to my young sister.”

“Oh! she!  Oh! it’s what might be expected.  Hideous occupation, I call
it.  One of those manufactures that might well be left to foreigners.
Good day!”

“One moment,” said Erb, placing a hand on the doctor’s arm, and speaking
with great anxiety.  “Tell us exactly what you mean in plain language.
Ought she to be sent away again?”

“You don’t want to waste money,” said the doctor, glancing at his watch.

“If it’s necessary for her health, I’d spend the last penny I’ve got.”

“Would you really?”  The doctor seemed genuinely surprised.  “Well, then,
perhaps she might get away to the country or the seaside or somewhere.”

“May be the means of saving her life?”

“Oh, no,” said the doctor cheerfully.  “I wouldn’t go so far as that.”

Erb shook him violently.

“Why didn’t you tell me this before? You—”

“Thought you had the sense to see,” said the doctor curtly.  “Credited
you with more intelligence apparently than you possess.  Good day!”

Louisa resting upstairs in the one armchair declared that she had never
felt better.  It was only that she was tired, and had no appetite; but,
then, see what a good thing it was to feel tired, and just imagine what a
saving was effected by the absence of a craving for unlimited food!  Erb
did not tell his sister what the doctor had said, but his grave
appearance hinted something, and Louisa declared not only that all
doctors were fools, but went further, and asserted that most of them were
born fools.  All the same, she consented with some reluctance to go away.
Erb went down to Camberwell, to see Rosalind and talk it over.  At
Camberwell, Rosalind, ready dressed for public promenade, came halfway
down the uneven pavement and met him, with both hands outstretched, just
by Minerva.  She had only that moment been speaking of him to the
Professor, and the Professor had said that he, for his part, felt a keen
desire to see Erb again.

“But we won’t see him,” she said, in a confidential way that was very
pleasing, “because he will only want to borrow, and I am used to his
borrowing from most people; but it hurts when he borrows from you.”

“We’ll talk in the hall,” suggested Erb.

“In a whisper,” said Rosalind.

The rare good point of talking in a whisper was that they were obliged to
place their heads closely together.  Erb explained the difficulty, and
Rosalind, after considering for a moment, announced the decision in her
emphatic way.  School holidays would soon be on.  She wanted to take a
fortnight’s holiday herself: she would take Louisa away with her, either
to Aunt Emma’s, at Penshurst, or, if the seaside was ordered, to
Worthing.

“Spoiling your own holiday!”

“Not at all, not at all!” she answered decidedly.  “It’s going to be, any
way.”

“But why should _you_ trouble?  I could get Lady Frances—she’d do
anything for me.”

“No doubt!  Find my umbrella there in the corner—the one with the silver
knob—and walk down with me to the school.”

It was certainly very pleasant to see how the young woman, after a few
moments of reserve, and in the presence of Erb’s depression, became
brighter than usual, pushing away all her own trouble, and talking of the
Professor’s last escapade as though it were the best joke in the world.
The Professor, still declining in the service of the profession, had
recently been offered the post of baggage man in a newly-starting
provincial company, with the added duty of acting as understudies to the
man who played the old City man in Act I., and the Chief of Police in
Russia in Act IV.  Professor, with many protestations and frequent
appeals to the shades of Barry Sullivan and John Ryder and others, had
accepted the offer, and, securing on the Saturday night the sum of ten
shillings in advance for the purpose of obtaining fine linen, appeared at
St. Pancras station the next afternoon on the starting of the special,
and denounced “The Banker’s Blood” Company, individually and generally,
called upon Heaven to punish them for the attempt to degrade one who had
trod the boards long before many of them had been allowed, mistakenly, to
see the light of day, and altogether making such a furious scene on the
platform, that the manager, consulting hastily with other members of the
company in the labelled compartments, gave Rosalind’s father another
half-sovereign to refrain from accompanying the party.  All of which
Rosalind told in such a merry way that Erb found himself for a time half
wooed from melancholy.

“That blessed paper,” he said, going back to trouble ruefully, “has got
me in a corner the very first start off.”

“It wants fifteen minutes to the hour,” said Rosalind, looking up at the
clock at the corner.  “Let’s walk round the Green and hear all about it.”

Rosalind’s hopeful view of the matter was that it might be only what was
called a “try on,” and the statement of Erb that he felt he hadn’t a leg
to stand on, she declared to be unworthy of him.

Erb walked back to his office feeling that the talk had done good.  It
was certainly a great thing to find himself more hopeful in regard to
Louisa.  But he composed on the way a bitter, bitter paragraph concerning
the firm in Neckinger Road and its occupation.  This seemed so excellent,
that he had half a mind to turn it into poetry, but there proved to be
some difficulty in finding rhymes for “murder” and for “dastardly,” and
he allowed himself on arrival to write it in prose.  The copy for number
three being made up, he deleted a humorous paragraph about a Bricklayers’
Arms man, whose wife had run away, and this made room.  There was much in
the lines themselves; more to be read by those who could fill up the
blank spaces intervening.  Erb looked at it when he had crossed the t’s
and dotted the i’s with the pride of a man who, with a mere dip of ink,
could force monied folk to tremble.  A fine thing to have control in this
way over the printed word.

All the more satisfactory to get on a grievance, which appeared to be
solid, in that he eventually found that he had to step out apologetically
from the corner into which Spanswick’s ingenuity had thrust him.  There
were, it appeared, no grounds whatever for the statement made, and in
Featherstone Buildings, Holborn, in a dim office with one light, under
which he had to sit, whilst the two partners of the legal firm remained
at the other end of the table in the shadow, he underwent, perhaps, the
very worst quarter of an hour that he had endured since the time of
schooldays.  He had had to wait some time whilst one partner was sent for
by the other.

“Then we may take it, Mr. Barnes, that you withdraw unreservedly every
word of the paragraph in question?”

“That is so.”

“And you are prepared to offer every apology and every recompense that is
in your power?” asked the other partner.

“I don’t know,” said Erb, “about recompense.”

“Well, then, every apology?”

“I suppose I shall have to taste blacking,” he said.

The two partners conferred for a long time in an undertone, the while Erb
played nervously with a paper-knife.  When one of them spoke he held his
breath.

“If the paragraph had been copied into other journals, if it had had a
wider circulation than that given by your little paper, Mr. Barnes, our
client would have instructed us to go on with the legal proceedings, and
we should have asked for and obtained heavy damages.  If the journal
itself was not below contempt—”

“Look here!” interrupted Erb sharply, “don’t you go rubbing it in too
thick.”

“Sir William is a man with a large heart,” said the other partner, taking
up a more conciliatory tone, “and we shall advise him in the
circumstances to do the generous thing.  You will print in the next issue
of your paper an apology?”

“A most humble apology,” remarked the other partner, “terms of which you
will permit us to dictate to you.  He will not ask you to pay the costs
already incurred, and you must think yourself confoundedly—”

“He understands,” remarked the second partner.  “I am sure Mr. Barnes
quite understands.  Now let us see about drafting the apology.”

“I think I’d better see to that.”

“Now, my dear old friend,” urged the conciliatory partner.

A most abject apology it was, and the only encouragement for Erb came
from the severe partner, who recommended several additions intended to
make it of a more cringing nature.  Erb signed it after a moment’s
hesitation, and gave a great sigh of relief when he found himself in
Holborn again; he knew that there would be some trouble in convincing his
Committee that he had acted throughout with wisdom, but he had so much
assurance in his own powers of speech, he had so often taken difficult
positions by reason of his own generous ammunition of words, and of their
short supply, that he felt confident of success.  All the same, the
incident would do him no good, and a repetition would undoubtedly weaken
his power.

Number Three of “The Carman” came out rather opportunely, for he was able
to present a copy to Rosalind and to Louisa on the day he saw them off
from London Bridge.  They were going to Worthing.  Aunt Emma, who had not
viewed the sea since childhood’s days, was going there from Penshurst in
order to ascertain whether it had changed much.  Louisa had to be taken
to the station in a four-wheeler, and as she was helped along by her two
companions through a rush of arriving City men, the girl seemed proud of
the notice that her white face attracted.  Erb recited the stinging
paragraph that concerned Louisa’s late employers through the open
carriage window, when Rosalind had made her patient comfortable with
cushions.  Two of Louisa’s sweethearts, friends in the presence of
disaster, stood away against a lamp-post, and toyed with automatic
machines.

“That’s one up against them,” said Louisa with relish.  She smiled, but
the look soon faded.

“If this don’t have any effect,” declared Erb, “I shall follow it up with
something stronger.  I’ll never let go of ’em.”

“Shouldn’t like the other gels to lose their shops,” remarked Louisa
apprehensively.

“But you wouldn’t see ’em all get ill like you are?”

“I’m not reely ill,” said Louisa.  “I’m only pretendin’.  Besides, some
gels can stand the work and some can’t.”

“Make her get better,” said Erb to Rosalind.  “Don’t let her have her own
way too much.”

“Not much use having anyone else’s,” remarked Louisa, with an effort at
the old pertness.

“If she gets up to any of her nonsense send me a telegram.”

“I’ll write to you very often,” said Rosalind quietly.  “Let me know—let
me know if you see Lady Frances.”

The guard cried, “Stand away!” and gave the signal to start.  Erb put his
head in and kissed his sister’s face.

“Might as well serve both alike,” suggested Louisa sportively.  She
rubbed her eyes with her glove.

“Don’t dare,” said Erb.

One of the infatuated youths walked along with the train, and when Erb,
with a wistful look in his eyes, fell back, the youth aimed a packet of
chocolate, but either from nervousness or want of practice, missed the
compartment and sent it into the next, where four children pounced upon
it with a high scream of delight.

The violence of the paragraph concerning the Neckinger Road firm helped
to appease those on the Committee who showed uneasiness in regard to what
they called the “climb down.”  True, some of them remarked that the
attacks on the Neckinger Road firm had nothing to do with the objects of
the society, and Erb, reckoning up, found that he had lost the confidence
of three, but a carman who had been discharged by the firm for slight
inebriety—“I’m a man that varies,” said the ex-carman.  “Sometimes I may
’ave twenty pints, sometimes I may ’ave thirty pints, and then other days
I may ’ave quite a lot,”—came and begged permission to thank them for the
public service that the journal was doing, and assured the Committee,
with the air of one having exclusive information, that they would get
their reward, in this world or in the next, or in both.  As the reports
from Rosalind at Worthing became less satisfactory, so the fierceness of
the attacks in “The Carman” increased; but it was not until a paragraph
appeared headed “Wilful Murder!” that Neckinger Road, after taking the
previous outbursts with a calm that suggested it was either deaf or
asleep, suddenly started up and took action in the most decided and
emphatic manner.

    Information               has been laid this day by               for
    that you,                within the district aforesaid, did
    unlawfully and maliciously publish a certain defamatory libel of and
    concerning the said               well knowing the same defamatory
    libel to be false, contrary to the statute in such case made and
    provided.  You are therefore hereby summoned to appear before the
    Court of Summary Jurisdiction sitting at the Southwark Police Court
    on the twentieth day of October, at the hour of ten in the forenoon,
    to answer to the said information.  Signed with an indistinct
    signature, one of the magistrates of the police-court of the
    metropolis.

This, on a blue-coloured form, which a friendly policeman left one
evening, when Erb was wrestling with his brief leading article, and
unable to decide whether to give a touch of brightness to the column by
the two lines of poetry from William Morris, and risk offending a few
subscribers who looked on rhymes as frivolous, or to remain on the safer
ground of prose.  Erb, in his attacks on the Neckinger Road firm, had
begun to feel as a fencer does who makes ingenious passes at the air, and
he was so much gratified now to find that he had at last struck
something, that he gave the warrant-officer something with which to
purchase a drink, and had a very friendly chat with him concerning points
of law.  Erb had to confess he had not hitherto understood—being a man
whose mind was occupied with other matters—that one had to appear at a
police-court in regard to a charge of libel: the warrant-officer
increased Erb’s knowledge by informing him that not only was this the
case where no damages were claimed, but that the publication had only to
be proved and you were at once committed to the Central Criminal Court to
take your trial.

“There,” said the officer with relish, “there the Grand Jury has the
first go at you, see?”

“They can throw out the Bill?”

“They can,” admitted the other grudgingly, “but bless my soul,” with a
return to cheerfulness, “they won’t in your case.  Then, in what you may
term due course, on comes your case.  See?  You can either defend
yourself—”

“I shall.”

“You know the old saying, I s’pose?”

“Never mind the old saying,” replied Erb.  “Get on!”

“Then, of course, if you’re fool enough to conduct your own case, you’ll
be fool enough to cross-examine the witnesses for the other side.”

“I shall,” said Erb.

“And a fine old mess you’ll make of it,” remarked the warrant-officer,
laughing uproariously.  “Lord! I’d give an ounce of shag to be in court
when it comes off.”

“I’ll see that it comes off.”

“I’ve seen some of the biggest larks when chaps have been trying to do
this sort of thing on their own, that ever you can imagine.  Sometimes
when I’m a bit down-hearted over anything, or if the wife’s a bit
aggravatin’, I just cast my mind back and—”

The warrant-officer laughed again, and, taking off his helmet, mopped the
inside of it with his handkerchief.

“Never, I suppose,” said Erb, a little nettled by this ill-timed
hilarity, “seen a man in the witness box turned thoroughly inside out?”

“Not by an amateur.”

“Never seen him pinned down to certain facts, never watched him being led
on and on and on, until he finds that he hasn’t got a shred of a
reputation, a remnant of a character, not a single white spot of
innocence or—”

“I like your talk, old man,” interrupted the warrant-officer, fixing on
his helmet, “and I wish I could stay to hear more of it.  But take care
you don’t wear your face out.  So long!”

The police of London are not infallible, but the first prophecies of the
warrant-officer seemed likely to prove correct.  Erb, determined not to
fetter himself by legal knowledge, nevertheless found information thrust
upon him, and this confirmed the statement that the police-court
proceedings would be of a simple and formal nature.  He regretted the
delay, for he was eager to get to close quarters with the firm, and he
spent his days in collecting evidence, he walked about at night, always
taking in Camberwell in the tour that he might look up at _her_ window,
rehearsing the questions that he would put to the firm, imagining
contests of words with counsel on the other side, contests from which he
always emerged victorious.  Spanswick had at last given up all pretence
of being a railway carman, and had resigned his membership (this to the
relief of Payne and of Erb); it made Erb stop and think for a few
minutes, when one afternoon, looking out of his office window he saw
Spanswick driving a single-horse van belonging to the Neckinger Road
firm.

Nothing could be more gratifying than the notice accorded by the evening
papers to the hearing at the police-court.  It happened on a day when
little else of importance occurred, so that two journals had the item on
their placards—

                          “ALLEGED NEWSPAPER LIBEL,”

and one of them gave an astonishing portrait of Erb, “Sketched by our
Artist in Court,” declared the legend underneath, as though this were any
excuse.  Railway carmen from all quarters somehow managed to include
Southwark Police Court in their rounds at the precise hour of the hearing
of the case, and when Payne and another householder gave their names in
for the purpose of bail they cheered, and the magistrate threatening to
have them expelled, they cheered again and filed out at the door.

“Let’s have a bloomin’ meeting,” cried one.

The suggestion clipped their fancy.  Erb, coming out quietly, found
himself seized by two of the strongest men, carried triumphantly to an
empty South Western van standing in Marshalsea Road, and hoisted up to
the seat of this, whence, to the obvious surprise of the two roan horses,
he made a speech.

“We’ll stick to you, Erb,” cried some of the crowd.

“Through thick and thin,” cried the rest.  “Three cheers for Erb.  Hip!
hip—”



CHAPTER XIV


THE weeks had hurried rapidly, more rapidly than usual, for they were
pressed with business.  The trial at the Central Criminal Court was over,
after a hearing that struck Erb as being surprisingly brief, in view of
the importance of the case; immediately on the conclusion of the
evidence, and the speeches of counsel, the Recorder, from his
scarlet-cushioned seat, where he had a robed Alderman and a knee-breeched
Under Sheriff for company, had fined him, courteously and pleasantly, the
sum of fifty pounds, or in default two months’ imprisonment.  The
shortness of the trial rendered an organised demonstration of little
value in that the men arrived outside the Old Bailey some three hours
after the case had been disposed of.  Now there is nothing more galling
to the Londoner than to be disappointed in his anticipations of a show,
and it had required all Erb’s tact and more than his usual amiability to
appease them.

Erb had expressed a desire to go to prison to purge the offence (a short
purgatory in jail was no bad prelude to political life), but the men
would not hear of this: they could not manage without him, he was
indispensable, they must have someone to look after the society, there
was none to take his place, and he had given up this idea with less of
reluctance because a disquieting tone had come into the letters of
Rosalind from Worthing.  But, determined to do something heroic, he
insisted that his household goods in Page’s Walk should be sold up, and a
scene thus contrived that should attract public attention.  Wherefore
there was an auction room in New Kent Road, to which all the furniture
(with the single exception of the bedding) had been removed “For
Convenience of Sale,” and here were as many of the railway carmen of
London as could spare themselves conveniently from their duties, and here
also were a few alert-eyed youths with note books and sharpened pencils
eager to record some incident so amusing that not even a sub-editor’s
pencil should venture to delete.  A fusty smell of cocoanut wrappings in
the long room, bran new furniture gave an odour of polish, retained and
preserved because there was no ventilation except that afforded by the
entrance from the street; a good-tempered auctioneer at the end of the
room, high up and leaning on a rostrum, with a flaring, whistling, naked
gas jet that compelled attention, because every now and then it exhibited
a humorous desire to singe the top of the auctioneer’s shining silk hat.
Erb stood by the wall, rather proud of being in the position of a martyr,
his men formed a body-guard around him.  Close up by the auctioneer stood
half a dozen decrepit old men, the _habitués_ of the place, ready to
snatch up a bargain, to become the intermediaries between buyers and
auctioneer, to knock out a sale, or, in short, to do anything and
everything except serious labour.

“We have here,” said the auctioneer, leaning over his high desk and
pointing with his hammer, “a very fine lot—show No. 13, George, and don’t
be all day about it—a very fine lot, consisting of a pianoforte.  Music
hath charms, gentlemen, as you know, to soothe the savage breast, and
it’s always a good investment from that point of view alone.  George,
jest run over the keys to show these gentlemen what a first-class
musician you are.”  The attendant, first rubbing the palm of his hand on
his green baize apron, stroked the keys from first note to last.
“There!” cried the auctioneer, “there’s execution for you!  Many a man’s
been ’anged for less.  Now then, what shall we say for this magnificent
instrument?  Don’t all speak at once.  Did you say twenty pounds,
mister?”  This to one of the regulars at the side.

“Not being a blank fool,” replied the musty old gentleman, “I did not say
twen’y pounds.”

“Well! won’t anyone say twenty pounds jest for a start?  Come now.
You’ve all learnt some language or other.”

“Four and six,” said one of the carmen chaffingly.

“No, no!” said the auctioneer rather coldly.  “I enjoy a joke as well as
anyone, but ’pon my word—”

“Five bob!”

“I’m very good tempered,” went on the auctioneer, getting red in the
face, “and I can stand as much as most men.  But—”

“Five and six!”

“Well,” with resignation, “have your own way about it.  Five and six is
offered; five and six in two places; six shillings.  I thank you, sir!
Who’ll say ’alf a sov’, eh?  Seven shillings!  Very well then.  But do
let’s go on a shilling at a time; I can’t take sixpenny advances.  You
know the old story of the girl—”

Erb, looking round with a determined smile on his features, saw Spanswick
entering from the pavement; with him a gentleman whose eyes were watery
and whose gait was uncertain.  Spanswick gave a casual nod to the clump
of men, and beckoned to Erb in such an authoritative way that Erb crossed
the room when the pianoforte—poor Louisa’s pianoforte, that she would
allow no one to play—had been knocked down for twenty-five shillings.
The auctioneer ordered his man to show the horsehair sofa and chairs.

“My friend Doubleday,” said Spanswick, introducing his companion.  Mr.
Doubleday removed his silk hat with care, for the brims seemed rather
weak, and in a husky voice declared himself honoured.  “One of the
cleverest men in South London,” whispered Spanswick to Erb, “only he
won’t recognise the fact.  Educated, too!”

“This is a noble action of yours, sir,” said Mr. Doubleday, trying to
clear his voice.  “Reflects the highest credit on what I may venture to
term the manhood of South London.”  Spanswick looked at Erb proudly, as
though to say, “He can talk, can’t he?”  “The newspapers will ring with
your praises, sir.  Capital will sneak away, abashed and ashamed in the
presence of such a brilliant example of self-sacrifice and whole-hearted
devotion.  I suppose you haven’t got such a thing as a pipe full of
tobacco about you?  I’ve come out without my pouch.”

“Always comes out without his pouch,” remarked Spanswick admiringly.

“No, no!” said Mr. Doubleday, refusing with something of haughtiness
Erb’s further offer.  “I have a match, thank you.  I have no desire to be
indebted for anything,” he drew hard at his pipe, “for anything which I
myself possess.”

“Independent old beggar, ain’t he?” whispered Spanswick.

“My friend here gives me to understand—and I have no doubt that his
information is per-fectly correct—that you have adopted this attitude
because a female relative—a sister, if I mistake not—”

“A sister,” admitted Erb.

“Has suffered grievously.  Assuming that to be the case, I can only say
that I am proud to grasp your hand, sir, and that I desire your
acquaintance.”

“It ain’t many that he’d say that to,” whispered Spanswick.

“I want all the friends I’ve got just now,” said Erb.

“The lines of Longfellow,” said Mr. Doubleday condescendingly, “spring
readily to one’s mind.”  The hammer of the auctioneer went down with a
startling crack; something that he said made the group of men laugh, and
Erb was called by them to hear it.  “We can make our lives sublime, and
um-tee, umpty, umpty, umpty—footsteps on the sands of time,” quoted Mr.
Doubleday.

“I must hop off,” said Spanswick.  “Hasn’t he got a marvellous memory?”

“You’ll take your friend with you?” said Erb.

“No,” said Spanswick, rather awkwardly, “I’ll leave him.  Fancy he’s got
something to say to you.”

When the sale was over, it occurred to Erb that he had not eaten that
day, and as the men had to hurry off to their duties, he would have been
left alone but for Mr. Doubleday’s presence.  Erb was glad to leave the
gas-scented auction rooms, and would have been content with no other
company but his own; he had been acting in a hot, tempestuous way of
late, and he was anxious, now that this business was over, to review it
all calmly.  Anxious, also, think of Louisa, and—  But Mr. Doubleday
stuck to him, and when Erb entered the Enterprise Dining Rooms, in New
Kent Road, Doubleday followed him to the pew, and sat down opposite.  Erb
gave his order to the girl, who rested the palms of her red hands on the
table; when she turned to the other, Doubleday said, assuming the manner
of a complaisant guest, that he would have the same.

“Fate,” he said, hanging the deplorable silk hat on a wooden peg, “Fate
has thrown us together, sir, in a most remarkable way.”

“Thought it was Spanswick,” said Erb.

“Most inscrutable, the workings of Providence.  Stagger even me at
times.”

“You don’t mean that?” said Erb.

“Positive truth!” declared Mr. Doubleday.  “Now this meeting with you,
for instance.  If it had been planned it couldn’t have happened more
fortunately.  Because I have information to give you of the very highest
possible value.  It means, my dear sir, an absolute epoch-making event in
your life, and—  Ah! roast beef and Yorkshire pudding!  Reminds me of my
young days.  I recollect when I was a bit of a boy—”

Mr. Doubleday, with heavy jest and leaden-footed reminiscence, took the
duty of conversation upon himself, evidently feeling that he was a
bright, diverting companion, one who just for his exceptional powers as a
_raconteur_ well deserved to be asked out to dine.  His stories were so
long, and the telling of them so complicated, that Erb was able to allow
his mind to concentrate itself on his own affairs.  He had taken a
definite, a desperate step; the reaction was setting in, and he began to
wonder whether he had been precisely right.  Something to feel that
whatever he did, right or wrong, he had the solid, obstinate, unreasoning
support of the men; one could, of course, count upon this; the greater
the misfortune he encountered, the more faithful and obedient would they
become.  There could be no doubt about that.  Besides, they had no one
else to guide them.  He was, as they had admitted, the one, the necessary
man.  Any signs of rebellion in the past he had always been able to quell
with very little trouble; as a last resource, there was always the threat
of resignation.  So _that_ was satisfactory enough.  Less grateful to
remember that the revenge he had tried to take on the Neckinger Road firm
had done his sister’s health no good whatever.  He would run down to
Worthing soon to see her and to cheer her.

“Joking apart,” said Mr. Doubleday, snapping his finger and thumb to
secure the attention of the waitress, “let’s come to business.  (Cabinet
pudding, my dear!  I daresay my genial host will take the same.)  You
must understand, please, that what I am about to submit to you is, as we
say in the law, entirely without prejudice.”

“Are you a lawyer?”

“I used to be in a secondhand bookseller’s.  Now, I suppose I’m right in
assuming that you could, if necessary, place your hands on a certain sum
of money?”

“I could.”

“About how much shall we say?” asked Mr. Doubleday engagingly.

Erb counted the money in his pocket.

“Twelve shillings and ninepence.”

“I appreciate the humour of that remark,” said Mr. Doubleday in his husky
voice, “but I want to talk business.  I’m a plain, straightforward man,
and what I want to know is simply this.  Is there a five-pound note
flying about?”

“If there was,” said Erb, “I should catch it.”

“There’s the benefit money,” said the other, looking at himself curiously
in the hollow of a spoon, “the benefit money to borrow from, and Yes,
yes! I know what you are going to say and I quite agree with you.  I
think you’re most decidedly in the right.  Far be it from me to suggest
for a single moment—”

“I’m getting tired of you,” interrupted Erb suddenly.  “I wish you’d take
your hook and go away.  Your face worries me, and your talk makes my head
ache.”

“Then it’s time I came to close quarters.  Listen to me!”  Mr. Doubleday
leaned his elbows on the table, and, bending forward, shielded his mouth
with his hand that words might not go astray.  “This is the situation.  A
man, a young man, takes up a certain high-minded attitude in regard to a
certain firm; gets hauled up for libel; gets fined.  His society comes to
his rescue.  Newspapers have paragraphs applauding him.  So far, so good!
Fine thing to show up, as far as he can, dangerous trades.  But he
forgets or he pretends to forget, doesn’t matter which—that not so long
ago he, this same young man, went all over the country, making speeches
in favour of a syndicate that called itself something or other—”

“I don’t ask your permission before I open my mouth,” cried Erb heatedly.

“True, my lad, true!  You can go further than that.  You can say that you
didn’t do so without being adequately bribed to do it.”

“Bribed!”  Erb rose at the table and clenched his fist.

“Keep cool!” said Mr. Doubleday, making a military tent of his two hands.
“There’s no extra charge for sitting down.”

“Let me know what you mean by saying that I’ve been bribed.”

“I should have thought that you would have known the meaning of the term
by this time.  B-r-i-b-e is a word meaning the sum accepted for doing
work that you had no business to do.  We can easily verify it.”  He
snapped his fingers.  “Got a dictionary, my dear?”

“To eat?” asked the waitress.

“A dictionary,” he repeated with impatience.

“We’ve got an old London directory.”

“Never mind about the exact definition of the word,” said Erb steadily.
“Tell me at once what you mean by your accusation.”

“Have you ever in all your life seen a cheque for twenty pounds?”

“Yes!”

“Made payable to yourself?”

“Yes!”

“And signed by—”

“Yes, yes, go on.”

“Nothing more to say,” remarked Mr. Doubleday.  “There’s an end of the
matter.  Only it’s rather a pretty circumstance altogether, don’t you
think?  This self-sacrificing chap who has allowed himself to be sold up
publicly as a protest against harmful trades, is the same man who earlier
in the year was speaking throughout the length and breadth of the land in
support of trade infinitely more harmful than the one carried on in
Neckinger Road.  _And_,” here Mr. Doubleday took down his elderly silk
hat and made elaborate pretence of smoothing the nap, “getting uncommonly
well paid for it, too.  Pretty situation, isn’t it?”

“There’s a very good answer to the charge you bring against me,” said
Erb, trying to keep his temper, “but there’s no earthly reason why I
should give it.  I’m not responsible to you; I _am_ responsible to my
society.”

“Ah,” cried Mr. Doubleday, putting his hat on jauntily, “glad you
recognise that.”

“I _do_ recognise it.”

“And having recognised it, you see that it would be very much to your
interest that the unfortunate transaction should be kept dark.”

“Not at all!”

“In which case,” here he stood up ready to go, and slapped his foot with
his bamboo cane, “in which case you’d better come, my lad, to this
place”—he placed a worn and travelled card with two addresses ruled out
and a third written in, “before six o’clock to-night.  Before six
o’clock, mind.  A minute past will be too late.  And—er—bring that
five-pound note along with you.”

He walked jauntily up the aisle of the dining rooms to the street door;
when the waitress flew after him, he whispered a few words and pointed
back at Erb with his cane.

“Is that right?” demanded the waitress breathlessly of Erb, “is that
right that you pay?”

“Looks like it!” replied Erb moodily.

The threat did good in one way in that it aroused all his fighting
instincts and that it diverted his mind from Worthing.  Going down
Walworth Road to look at Rosalind’s house, he rehearsed the expected
scene, striking the palm of one hand with the fist the other, and scoring
with great neatness over Spanswick and other opponents.  Women at the
stalls stopped in their loud declaration of the admirable character of
their goods, to watch the excited young man as he went by, and remarked
to each other that he was evidently in love; an excuse that in their eyes
justified any and every sign of eccentric behaviour.  On the way back
(after walking up and down near the garden of monumental statuary and
glancing shyly each time at her window), he met the Professor, and for
the sheer pleasure of talking of her engaged him in conversation.  The
Professor deplored the fact that after you had given the best years of
your life to the education of an only child, she should go off to the
seaside for a holiday without so much as thinking for a moment of taking
you with her, and asked Erb whether he had half a crown about him in
exchange for two separate shillings and a sixpence.  On Erb producing
this coin the Professor found, with many expressions of deep regret, that
he had left the smaller pieces in a waistcoat at home.

“But I shan’t forget, my dear chap,” said the Professor, raising his hand
for a stage clasp.  “I am one of those who never permit a kindness to
escape from their memory.  But I hate to be badgered.  That ungrateful
young scamp Railton, for instance.”

“Ah!”

“What have I not done, or rather what have I not promised to do, for
him.”

“Daresay!  But—”

“Engaged at one time to my accomplished daughter.”

“But what about him?”

“I am not romancing,” said the other impressively.  “I am simply giving
you the downright, honest, blunt, straightforward truth when I tell you
that he wrote this morning asking me for two pounds on the plea that he
had become married at the beginning of the week to a publican’s daughter
at Oldham.”

“Did you send it?” asked Erb, with great cheerfulness.

“I wrote and I told him that if, as he said, he had in the past lent me
sums amounting in the aggregate to this total, why I could only say that
the fact had escaped my memory.  I would, however, take an opportunity of
looking through my memoranda in order to see whether I had made any
record of such transactions.  Could I say anything fairer?”

“And he’s actually married?”

“There is a piece of what is termed wedding cake at home, awaiting my
daughter’s return.”

“Will it—will it upset her do you think?” asked Erb nervously.

“I shall warn her not to eat it,” said the Professor.

Erb did an extraordinary thing.  Delighted by the news which the
Professor had brought he set out upon a walk down through Camberwell into
Surrey, a walk that he determined should last until he was tired out, a
walk that had some vague advantage of going in the direction of Worthing.
He was not used to heroic physical exercise, but on this unique occasion
there seemed nothing else to do that would have been appropriate, and he
mingled with the evening tide of people receding from London, beating it
easily, and finally arriving beyond Dulwich, and well out into the
country, where the rare gas lamps were being lighted and a mist came like
a decorous veil and protected the face of the roadway modestly.  Easier
to think here than in the hurry and turmoil and clatter of town.  After
all, what did public life matter, what did the cause of labour or
anything else matter so long as one was personally happy?  That had ever
been the aim of wise men; in future it should be his.  There could always
come the superadded amusement of playing with lesser minds, directing
them and making them perform, exercising control in the manner of the
unseen director of a Punch and Judy show.  Erb argued this in a quiet
road, with gesture and excitement; a sparrow hopped along for some
distance with him in a companionable way, twittering approval, and
hinting that if there should be such a thing in the corner of a pocket as
a few bread crumbs—

It was late when Erb returned by train from Croydon to South Bermondsey
station, and in the nearly empty rooms of Page’s Walk he found Payne
awaiting him.  Payne, with something more than his usual gravity of
countenance, seated on the one remaining chair and smoking an empty pipe
in a desolate, absent-minded way.

“Well,” said Payne lugubriously, “you’ve done for yourself now.”

“That so,” remarked Erb.  “What’s the latest?”

“One of the worst crisisises,” said Payne solemnly, and taking some
gloomy enjoyment in making the word as long and as important as possible,
“that ever you encountered in all your puff.”

“I’m ready for it,” said Erb.

“They’ve sacked you,” said Payne.

“Is that all?”

“They’ve shown you the door.  They’ve helped you downstairs with their
foot.  They’ve kicked you out, old man.”

“This a joke?” asked Erb.

“Never made a joke in me life,” declared Payne, “and well you know it.”

Erb went over to the window and rested on the window sill.

“Spanswick?” he asked briefly.

“Him,” answered Payne, “and no other.”

“And they settled it all without hearing my account of the case?”

“Old chum! there didn’t seem to be no room for any other account.  He’d
got chapter and verse for everything he said.  All about a twenty pound
cheque, all about—”

“And it never occurred to this—this flock of sheep,” shouted Erb
excitedly, “that I destroyed that cheque and never cashed it?”

“I don’t think they understand much about cheques,” said Payne.  “The
fact that you took it was what impressed them.”

Neither spoke for a few minutes.

“Who’s going to take my place?”

“Friend of Spanswick’s.”

“Name Doubleday?”

“Name of Doubleday,” said Payne affirmatively.  “Clever sort of sweat, so
far as I could judge.  What are you going to do about it, old man?  Going
to organise, I trust.  Open-air meeting, say.”

“Did any of the others stick up for my side?”

“Only me!”

A pause again.

“Well, you’re going to do something?”

“You’ve got another guess,” said Erb.



CHAPTER XV


IF Erb’s experience of life had been greater, if his knowledge of the
trend of events had been more extensive, he would have been helped by the
assurance that in this world, mist and sunshine alternate, and that
rarely a fog descends on the life of an energetic man and remains there
always.  But had Erb known this, there would still have remained the
undeniable fact that, for the time at any rate, the atmosphere was murky.
He showed a certain amount of temper.  He sent in his keys addressed to
the acting secretary, and, knowing that the accounts were all in order,
declined the request that he should attend to explain money matters to
his successor; he decided to leave London (having indeed very little
there to leave) and to go down to Worthing, giving no one but Payne his
address.

“Looks as though you had turned sulky,” remonstrated Payne.

“I have!” said Erb.

The new number of “The Carman,” which he himself had made up, contained a
brief paragraph, to make room for which a quotation from Ruskin had been
deleted.

“We beg to state that Herbert Barnes has no longer any connection with
the Society, and that the position of Secretary will be filled up at the
next meeting of the committee.  At present everything points to Friend
Doubleday, who is in a position to devote the whole of his time to the
work, and can be relied on not to have dealings with the representatives
of capital.”

                                * * * * *

More stings came on the way up the Boro’ to London Bridge station.  Four
railway carmen he met, driving their vans, instead of the “Hello!” and
the mystic twist of the whip, there was first a glance of cautious
recognition, then a steady look ahead, with an air of absorbed interest,
as though realising for the first time the horse’s presence.  At the
station itself, men of his old Society, on seeing him, hurried round to
the tails of their vans, and commenced sorting parcels there with amazing
industry.  All this sent Erb into the deeper depths, and it was not until
he reached Worthing, and found on the platform Rosalind and Aunt Emma and
his sister, Louisa, Louisa’s white face becoming pink with excitement,
that he forgot his worries.

“Well,” said Aunt Emma, “what’s the best news?”

“There isn’t any best news,” replied Erb.

They went, arm in arm, down the long road to the sea front, and in a
shelter there, Erb sat between them, and for the first time since the
downfall found the luxury of detailed description and frank avowal.  When
the account came of the worst Rosalind touched his sleeve
sympathetically.

“And there you are!” said Erb when he had finished.  He found himself now
inclined to look on the disasters as though they had occurred to someone
else with whom he had nothing in common.  “And here _I_ am, in about as
awkward a situation as I’ve ever been in in all my life.”

“Complimentary to us,” said Rosalind brightly.

He took her hand and patted it.

“You know what I mean,” he whispered.

“They’d no right to sell up the ’ome,” said Louisa fiercely.

“Yes they had,” said Erb.  “By the law.”

“But that Spanswick’s the one that should have suffered.”

“An oven in a oast house,” suggested Aunt Emma, “would finish him off.
That’s how he’ll be treated in the next world, anyway.”

“I ought to have verified the information he gave me about the first
affair.”

“And in the second affair you were perfectly right.”

“That don’t make any difference to the law of libel.  Besides, I was in a
temper when I wrote it.  I let my feelings get the better of me.”

“What do you propose—”

“Haven’t a single idea,” declared Erb exultantly.  “Go back on me hands
and knees and get a berth as carman again, I s’pose.”

“That you never shall,” said the two young women emphatically.  “You have
some long walks whilst you’re down here,” counselled Rosalind, “and think
it over by yourself.”

“If a bit of money’s wanted—” began Aunt Emma.

“All this time,” he said, turning to Louisa and pinching her white cheek,
“all this time I haven’t inquired how _you_ are pulling along.”

“I’m as right as rain, Erb.”

“Ah!” he remarked doubtfully, “so you’ve always said.  Heard anything of
Alice?”

“Not a word from the overgrown minx,” said Louisa with wrath.  “If she
was here I’d speak my mind to her, and pretty quick about it, too.  Oh,
yes, I know,” Louisa went on, not to be deterred by an interruption from
the rare luxury of an access of temper, “she may have a lot to think of;
she takes jolly good care not to think of us.”

“Has anyone written to tell her?” asked Rosalind quietly.

“Why should we?” demanded Erb’s young sister with illogical heat.  “It’s
her business to find out!  But, of course, she wouldn’t care if we was
both in the workhouse.”

“I wouldn’t go so far as that.”

“I shouldn’t let you,” said Aunt Emma.

“Meanwhile,” interrupted Rosalind, “we’re not giving your brother
anything to eat.  Let me run off to our rooms and get something ready.”

The opportunity came here for Louisa to tell her brother how good
Rosalind had been, what a first-class nurse she had proved herself, how
bright and attentive.  “I should have kicked the bucket, I think,” said
Louisa looking out across the sea rather thoughtfully, “if it hadn’t been
for her.  And such a manager!  Isn’t she, Aunt Emma?”  Erb listening,
began to feel that the world was not such a bad world after all.  He
talked hopefully, but vaguely, of either going to Canada, where he
believed a man with a handful of capital was welcomed, and estates
presented to him by a hospitable Government, or to New South Wales,
where, so far as he could ascertain, labour leaders were in demand, and
treated with proper amount of trustfulness.  On Aunt Emma asking whether
these places were not in point of fact a long way off, Erb was forced to
admit that they were a pretty tidy step, and that, everything else being
equal, he would prefer to stay in the London where he had been born—the
London that he knew, the London that he liked.

“I haven’t played the game well,” admitted Erb candidly.  “I’ve tried to
be fair and straightforward with both sides, and I’ve managed to fall
down in between them.  And I’ve hurt myself!”

They had nearly finished their steak at dinner, and Louisa, breaking from
new and fiercer condemnation of Alice, was about to inquire of Rosalind
whether there was anything for after, when a miniature telegraph boy
passed the window in Portland Street, and gave a double knock, altogether
out of proportion to his size, at the front door.  The landlady’s
daughter brought in a telegram, and “Please,” said the landlady’s
daughter (inspecting Erb with curiosity, in order to give a report to her
mother), “Please is there any answer?”

    “Just heard of trouble.  Lady Frances wishes to see you this evening.
    Most important.—ALICE.”

“Take no notice of it,” said Louisa, not yet restored to coolness.
“Ignore it!”

Rosalind offered no counsel.  Aunt Emma watched her narrowly.  Erb
considered for a moment, looking from one to another.

“Thought you were going to stay with us a few days?” remarked his sister.

“I ought to go back if it’s really important,” he said.  “And Lady
Frances is a young lady who doesn’t like being disappointed.”

“Please yourself,” said Aunt Emma shortly.  “But take care, that’s all!”

He found news, on his return after this very brief visit, in a letter at
the emptied rooms in Page’s Walk that at once encouraged him and gave him
perturbation.  The white-haired Labour Member wrote in cautious terms
that a certain bye-election in a London constituency was imminent.  It
had been decided to run a Labour candidate; the other two sides were
pretty evenly matched, and if the game were played well, and played out,
there was good chance of the Labour man making a fair show; there was
another chance, less probable, but possible, that the Liberal candidate,
if he found he had no prospect of winning, might retire before the
election.  The point was (wrote the Labour M.P.), would Erb consent to
stand if he were selected?  All the expenses would be paid, and all the
help that the party could give would be willingly afforded.  It would be
better to put up a man like Erb, who had never before submitted to the
suffrages of a constituency, than a man who had elsewhere undergone the
experience of rejection.  A reply to the House of Commons would oblige,
and, meanwhile, this communication was to be regarded as strictly
private.

“He hasn’t heard,” said Erb thoughtfully, “of my come down.”

There were many courses, Erb felt, to pursue which were not
straightforward, but only one that was honest.  He went into a
stationer’s in Willow Walk, and, borrowing pen and ink, and purchasing
paper and envelope, wrote a frank letter, giving all the necessary
details of recent events, and just caught the five-thirty post as the
pillar box was being deprived of its contents.  Then he made his way on
foot—a desperate spirit of economy possessing him—to Eaton Square.

“Ages since I saw you,” said Mr. Danks the footman, receiving him on the
area steps with something like enthusiasm, “but I’ve heard of you over
and over again.”

“How are you getting on with your aitches?” asked Erb.

“Very complimentary remarks, too,” said Mr. Danks, ignoring the inquiry.
“My cousin Rosie seems to think of nobody else, so far as I can judge.
I’d no idea you were a favourite with the fair sex!”

“Ah!” remarked Erb.  “It’s brain that tells in the long run.”

“If I thought there was anything in that remark,” said the footman,
interested, “I’d go in for literature or something of the kind myself.
I’m expecting to be thrown over by a young lady in Lowndes Square by
every post, and—but I’m keeping you waiting.”

“I noticed that,” said Erb.

“Jackson,” said cook, now stouter and apparently shorter than ever,
“would be down directly.”  Would Erb let her cut for him a sandwich or a
snack of—well, Erb could please himself, cook’s own motto in the matter
of feeding was, “Little and often,” but it had never been her way to
force her opinions on other people, in which particular her motto was
“Interfere with nobody, and nobody will interfere with you.”  Cook had
many other aphorisms to impart, and seemed a little hurt when Alice came
into the kitchen and claimed her brother with a kiss that had about it
unexpected affection.

“I’ve been worrying about you day and night,” declared Alice.  “I never
thought anything would upset me so much.”

“Wonder you don’t ask after Jessie,” interrupted cook.

“Jessie who?” demanded Erb.

“Just Jessie!  Thought you was rather struck on her.  She’s with a family
travelling abroad now.  Tall girl with eyes.”

“I’d forgotten all about her.”

“Ah!” sighed the cook.  “That’s a man all over.  It’s the old saying over
again—”

“And I told Lady Frances,” continued Alice, leaving cook to mutter to a
large joint of beef turning before a desperately fierce fire, “and you’re
to see her, Erb, directly after dinner.”

“What’s in the wind?”

“That’s more than I can tell you.  But I’m very glad you’ve cut your
connection with all those common working men.”

“They’ve cut their connection with me,” said Erb.

“Comes to the same thing,” said his sister, equably.

“Last time you was here, Mr. Barnes,” said cook, over her shoulder from
the fire, “you came as a friend of the family.  Funny world isn’t it?
Upstairs one day, downstairs the next.”

“You must be short of money, Erb,” whispered his sister, in an undertone.
“I’ve got quite a tidy bit put away in the savings bank.  If ten or
twenty pounds—”

“Upon my word,” cried Erb, “it’s worth while having a touch of misfortune
now and again, if it’s only just to find how much kindness there is
about.  But I shall find my feet somehow, Alice.  Don’t you worry about
me.”

“Can’t help doing so.”

“You might do what you can for Louisa, though.  If it hadn’t been for—for
a friend of mine, I don’t know where she’d have been.”

“We’ve never quite got on together in the past,” said Alice regretfully.
“The difference in our heights seem to have led to other differences.
But I’ll see that it all dries straight.  She’ll pull through, of
course.”

“I think she’ll just pull through,” said Erb, thoughtfully, “and that’s
about all.  Doctor says that if there was unlimited money about she’d be
herself in a few months.  But there you are, you see!  Just when it’s
wanted particularly, it goes and hides.”

Mr. Danks knocked and came in with a reverential air that differed from
the one with which he had greeted Erb in the area.  Lady Frances’
compliments, and she would be pleased to see Mr. Barnes in the
drawing-room now.

“Let me put your tie straight,” said Alice.

Lady Frances, looking taller and more charming than ever in her dinner
dress, was delighted to see Mr. Barnes again.  Quite a long time since
they had met.  She herself had been very busy—would not Mr. Barnes sit
down?—very busy, and that must be taken as her excuse, rather worried,
too.  There was trouble out in North Africa, and when one had friends
there—  But the point was this: Lady Frances had heard all about the
disastrous events in the Barnes household.  In regard to Louisa, she must
go to the Riviera with Lady Frances this winter.  No, no!  It was
entirely a selfish proposition, and Louisa would be a most amusing
companion; Lady Frances never tired of Cockney humour.

“In return for which,” said Erb, fervently, “I’ll do any blessed thing
you like to ask me.”

“So far, good!” said Lady Frances, with a gesture of applause with her
fan.  “Now to get on a little further.  Her uncle—Mr. Barnes remembered
her uncle?”

“I remember him well!”

“Now, this was a great secret, and must not be mentioned to a soul.  Her
uncle was going to stand for the coming bye-election at—  Ah! Mr. Barnes
had heard of the probable vacancy.  Strange how information flew
about—and in this constituency” (here Lady Frances tried to wrinkle her
smooth young forehead, and to look extremely wise), “there was, it
appeared, a large working class element.  Mr. Barnes had been useful in a
somewhat similar way before.  Why should not he again be of assistance?
The money that he would thus earn would enable him to do almost anything.
Go abroad to one of the Colonies, or stay here and marry and settle down,
or—”

“There’s just this about it that I ought to tell you,” said Erb.  “I’ve
been asked to have a dash at the same event as an Independent Labour
Candidate.”

That, Lady Frances admitted with another effort to look aged, that
certainly did complicate matters.  Was there probability of Mr. Barnes
accepting the offer?

“Not the least probability in the world.”

Capital, capital!  The young diplomatist again signified approval with
her fan and leaned forward from her chair in a most attractive way.  All
that now remained to do was for Mr. Barnes to say “yes,” and the whole
matter would be arranged satisfactorily.

“Upon my word,” declared Erb, after a few moments’ thought, “to say ‘yes’
would be far and away the easiest thing to do.  I owe precious little to
my men after the way they’ve treated me, and it would just let them see—”

Mr. Barnes would excuse Lady Frances for interrupting, but a really most
supremely brilliant idea had just occurred to her, and it was
indispensable that she should communicate it without an instant’s delay.
(The young woman panted with surprise and enthusiasm, and Erb watched her
reverently.)  Why should not Mr. Barnes—this was absolutely the greatest
notion that had ever occurred to anybody since the world began—why should
not Mr. Barnes do everything he could to forward his candidature as an
Independent, and then, just at the last moment retire in favour of—

“No!” said Erb suddenly.

The young woman did not conceal her disappointment at Erb’s unreasonable
attitude.  No ambassador rebuffed in a mission on which future promotion
depended, could have felt greater annoyance.  But she recovered her usual
amiability, and, leaving the discussion where it was, spoke further of
her intentions in regard to Louisa and the trip to the South of France,
on which subject she showed such real kindness that when Erb was
presently shown out into Eaton Square by Mr. Danks (“Good evening, sir,”
said Mr. Danks respectfully), he felt something like contempt for himself
for having declined so abruptly to accept her suggestion and advice.  He
went off to Payne’s house, where something was done to a magic piece of
furniture that pretended ordinarily to be a chair, whereupon it became a
bedstead, and afforded comfortable rest for the night.

The next morning Erb, for about the first time in his life, found himself
with nothing to do but to count the hours.  He envied the easy
carelessness of men able to loaf outside the public-houses in Dover
Street; in some public gardens near there were able-bodied youths smoking
cigarettes and sunning themselves luxuriously, content apparently to feel
that there, at any rate, work could never force itself upon their
attention, and no danger existed of encountering a job.  Whatever
happened, Erb knew that he would never slide down to this.  It might well
be that he would not find himself now in a position to ask Rosalind to
become his wife, but he would never become a loafer.  He walked up
through the increasingly busy crowd of High Street, Borough, and
comparison between their state and his forced him to recognise the fact
that in no place, under certain conditions, can one be so lonely as in
London.

“The very man!” cried a voice.  The hook of a walking-stick caught his
arm.

“That you?” said Erb.  “Get my letter?”

“Got your letter,” said the white-haired Labour M.P. in his swift,
energetic way, “and I’m going down now to put everything straight for
you.”

“That’ll take a bit of doing.”

“I’ve had more twisted things to deal with than this.  Which way were you
going?”

“I scarcely know.”

“Then you’re coming down with me.”

“Shan’t I be rather in the way?”

“I hope so,” said the Labour M.P.

A swift walker, the Labour M.P., and one with whom it was not easy to
keep pace; he talked at a corresponding rate, so that by the time they
reached the office of the London Railway Carmen’s Society, he was showing
signs of exhaustion, and the duty of talking to Spanswick, who was
perched on the window-sill on the landing, devolved upon Erb.  Spanswick
wore a look of perturbation and showed some desire not to look at Erb in
speaking to him; he puffed at a ragged cigar, at which he glanced now and
again with deep regret.

“I can’t make ’ead or tail of it,” said Spanswick, despondently.  “It’s a
mystery, that’s what it is.  Why I should have trusted that man with
untold gold.”

“What’s happened?” asked Erb.

“After all I’ve done for him, too,” went on Spanswick.  “I’ve treated him
like a brother, I have; I might go so far as to say I’ve treated him more
like a friend than a brother.  It was only last night that we were ’aving
a few friendly glasses together—I paid for the last, worse luck!—and he
was talking about what he was going to do for the Society, and all the
time he must have had this letter in his pocket, ready to pop in the
post.”

“Where’s the key to this door?” asked the Labour M.P. sharply.

“He might well call himself Mister Doubleday,” went on Spanswick, finding
the key in his pocket, “I’ve never been more deceived in anybody in all
my life.  Him and me has been pals for over six weeks, and this is how he
turns round and treats me.”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“I’ve seen him home when it’s been necessary after the places were
closed, and sometimes,” Spanswick admitted this grudgingly, “sometimes of
course, he’s seen me ’ome when it’s been necessary.  He’s told me things
about his early boyhood; I’ve told him things about my early boyhood.  If
I’ve had more tobacco in me pouch than he has, he’s always been welcome
to a pipeful.  I got him the best berth he ever had in all his born
days—”

“And outed me from it,” remarked Erb.  “What—?”

“But don’t it jest shew you,” demanded Spanswick eagerly, “how the very
best of us can sometimes be taken in?  I’m looked on as a man who knows
enough to come in when it rains, and I certainly pride myself more on
taking in others than being took in meself.  And here am I, in me
fortysecond year—”

“Barnes!” called the voice of the Labour M.P. from the office, “come
here!”

Spanswick went on growling to himself as Erb left him and entered the
office.

“The books do not appear to have been touched since you left,” said the
white-haired man.  “Not a figure, not a letter.”

“Then he can’t be accused of tampering with ’em.”

“How much cash did you leave in the safe?”  Erb showed the sum at the
foot of a page in the accounts book.  “I’ve half a mind,” said the Labour
M.P., in a determined way, that suggested he was making an
understatement, “I have half a mind to break it open!”

“Wouldn’t it be better to give him a chance of coming back?”

“Read that letter!”

Erb read a slip of paper that Doubleday had left on the desk.  Doubleday
had addressed it to the committee, and it told them that, finding his
health was giving way under the stress of the few days’ work, he had
decided to take a holiday.  If there should be any little trifle short in
the cash accounts, that would be replaced as soon as he could make it
convenient to do so.  He added that he had drawn the sum standing to the
Society’s credit, because there was not enough money in the safe to
enable him to take the somewhat lengthened holiday which he felt was
necessary.  Thanking them for all past favours, regretting their
acquaintance had been so brief, and wishing the Society every success, he
remained, Theirs faithfully, Edward H. Doubleday.

“I’d like to know the worst,” said the Labour M.P.  “I suppose you’ve no
experience in forcing looks?”

“It’s a branch of my education,” replied Erb, “that’s been sadly neg—
Why, the blessed thing’s open!”

The safe was, indeed, unlocked, and this mattered the less, because the
safe was quite empty.  Erb struck a match and searched the corners; there
was nothing to be seen but an envelope bearing the words, “I.O.U.,” a
certain large amount, and Doubleday’s portentous signature.

“What’s the next step, sir?” asked Erb.

“Set the police on his track.”

“And the next?”

“Call the committee together at the earliest possible moment.  Make them
do what I should have induced them to do even though this had not
happened—reinstate you as secretary.”

“Anything else?”

“After that you and I can talk over this bye-election business.  I think
we shall get you in the House, Barnes, before you’re very much older.”
The M.P. looked at his large silver watch, “I must be moving.  Deputation
to the Home Secretary at one.  Fine life ours, Barnes; always something
doing.  Always difficulties to be cleared away.  You’ll enjoy it when
you’re in the midst of it.”

“Think so?”

The Labour M.P. hurried off, pushing Spanswick aside as that desolate man
made an effort to impart some further details of his acute grievance.
Spanswick went to the door of the office, but found it shut in his face.

“Now, if _I’d_ been in his place,” cried Spanswick, through the keyhole,
“the least I should have thought of saying would have been ‘’Alves!’”



CHAPTER XVI


THE bustle, the hurry, the excitement were again here; the grievance that
a day contained, only twenty-four hours reconstituted itself; the feeling
came once more that one was a person of some importance.  But Erb, spite
the old environments, found himself wanting in enthusiasm.  He could not
deny this, although for a time he tried to do so.  Face to face with a
situation that a month earlier would have aroused all his most aggressive
instincts, he found he was quite unable to feel any excitement in the
matter.  The rebuff the men had given him he could not forget; the empty
space that the dispute had made could not be easily bridged.  Moreover,
there were other matters which seemed larger and much more important than
this to occupy his consideration.  Rosalind brought Louisa back to town,
the vacation being over, and Camberwell desiring to go on with its
lessons in voice production, and Lady Frances, hearing of this from
Alice, antedated her trip to the Continent, and, in her generous way,
prepared to fly off with Louisa and Jessie, the maid; Louisa, dazed by
the rapidity of events, said goodbye with apparent calm to her brother
and her three most recent _fiancés_.

“Likely as not,” said Louisa casually, “I shall marry one of you when I
come back!”

“Which?” inquired the three youths eagerly.

“The one that’s got the most money.”

“Ah!” said the young baker from Rotherhithe New Road contentedly.

“And the most sense.”

“Good!” remarked the assistant from the Free Library.

“And the best temper.”

“Right-o!” said the booking clerk from Walworth Road station.

Lady Frances asked Erb to get an evening paper, and he went to the small
bookstall on the platform.  The train was on the point of starting, and
he took up a Conservative evening paper.  As he did so, he glanced at the
placard that was being pinned to the stall, and observed a line “Massacre
of English Commission in Morocco.”  He quickly bought another journal of
an earlier edition.  Later, when the train had gone, he found in the
“fudge” of the first journal a brief message, printed unevenly, with a
similar heading:—

“The Foreign Office has received news of the massacre of the English
Commission recently sent out to Morocco.  No particulars are to hand, but
the Commission included the Lieutenant the Hon.—”

“Her young man!” cried Erb distressedly.  “Thought as much!  This’ll be a
fearful upset for her.”

He had some idea of going at once to Eaton Square, but this seemed of
little use, and he had become so much accustomed to consulting Rosalind
that he decided instead to go down to Southampton Street.  Arrived there,
he found commotion of such importance that this trouble concerning Lady
Frances took a second place.

An ambulance stood inside the gate, near to the specimens of graveyard
statuary, and on the steps of the house, a constable.

“Are you,” asks C 243, barring the way, “any relation to the deceased?
By deceased,” explains the constable, giving additional information with
great wariness, “he doesn’t, of course, mean deceased exactly, but nearly
as good as that; he means old gentleman—white-haired old gentleman—that
was knocked down by a cab in the Strand not half an hour ago, as he
stooped down in the middle of the roadway to pick up a halfpenny he
dropped.  Happened just at the corner of Wellington Street, it did.  Knew
the old chap by sight.  One of what C 243 ventures to call the regulars.
See them every day between Bedford Street and Wellington Street.  You
don’t know their names, of course,” says constable argumentatively, “but,
bless your soul, you know their faces so well that, when one of them
drops out, it makes you feel as though you’ve lost a personal friend.
Every one of them on the cadge, so C 243 understands, and apparently
manage to live on by borrowing from each other.  A rum life, if ever
there was one; no two ways about that.”

“Is he still able to recognise—?”

“Old chap’s first words were ‘Not a hospital; take me home.’  Constable
inquired where was home, and old chap managed to give the address.
Whereupon constable, after deliberation with a colleague, decided to take
four-wheeler and see old chap home as desired.  Thought, perhaps, he was
only a bit stunned.  Or, perhaps, dazed.  Instead of which, coming past
the Obelisk, old chap suddenly lurched forward, and—”

The small servant came out and beckoned.  The voice of Rosalind called
gently.

“I am here,” replies Erb.

“Want you just one moment.”

A boy doctor who stood inside the room, endeavouring to wear a look of
uncountable years, nodded curtly, and went to the foot of the sofa.  On
the sofa lay the Professor, with a rug thrown over him, the rug close up
to his chin, one hand free, and travelling restlessly over the pattern.

“That bourne,” whispered the Professor, “from which no traveller—  You
are a good lad, and you will look after her.”

“If she’ll let me,” says Erb.  “How are you feeling, sir, by this time?”

“Look after her better than I have done.  See that when you arrive at my
state, laddie, you—you can glance back on your life with content.”

Erb, with a kindly touch, pushed the Professor’s hair from his eyes, and
the old man looked up gratefully.  Erb touched his hand, and the hand
gripped his as though with desire to attach itself to something reliable.

“I’m slipping,” said the Professor simply.  He closed his eyes, and
presently reopened them as with difficulty.  “We few, we happy few, we
band of brothers.  Give me the word, sir, give me the word.  What in
Heaven’s name,” with sudden indignation, “is the use of having a prompter
if—”

Rosalind, keeping her tears back, came with the heavy volume, opening it
quickly at the place where a ringletted youth in a steel engraving was
addressing soldiers.

Erb discovering the lines with the aid of Rosalind’s finger, gave the
cue.  “For he to-day—”  The old Professor goes on.

“‘For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my be-rother! be he
ne’er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition, And gentlemen in
England, And gentlemen in England.’  No use,” said the Professor weakly,
“my study’s gone.”

“Don’t bother about it, sir.”

“Laddie,” said the Professor, “you—you think me a thriftless, miserable
wastrel.”

“No, no,” answered Erb.  “Not that exactly.  But we’re none of us
perfect.”

“I’ve reached me last hour, and the time has come for plain speech.  I’ve
been—” a smile dared to creep halfway across the Professor’s face.  “I’ve
been a fraud.”

“Father,” said Rosalind brokenly.  “You’ve always been the dearest,
dearest—”

The boy doctor, snatching the opportunity to whisper to Erb, who could
not lose the Professor’s hand, said that he had administered a sleeping
draught: if the Professor desired to say anything it would be better to
allow him to speak without interruption.

“I have been a fraud,” repeated the Professor, with something of relish.
“I have been a—’Neither a borrower or a lender be.  For borrowing oft—’”

“You’ve always been welcome, sir.”

“I have been the most fraudulent of all frauds.  There is a note in my
desk to send to the ‘Era.’  I have often, in my salad days, advertised in
the ‘Era.’  I think they will put it in.”

“I’ll pay them to, if necessary.”

The Professor gave a faint echo of a chuckle.  “How they will talk about
it in the Strand!  I’d give the remainder of my life to hear them.”

The old, old mouth, twisted in the effort to display amusement, and
remained twisted; one eyelid nearly closed.  The boy doctor looked
anxiously from the foot of the sofa: Rosalind knelt.

“You’re going to have a nice long sleep, sir,” said Erb, bending down.
“And you’ll wake up a different man, bless you.”

“I shall wake up,” repeated the Professor slowly, “wake up a different
man.”

Both eyelids closing now, he turned his white head a little towards the
wall.  Presently his grip of Erb’s hand relaxed, and Erb, disengaging
himself, went with the others to the window, where the three spoke in an
undertone, Erb holding Rosalind’s elbows supportingly.  A slight groan
from the sofa called the doctor.

“All over,” announced the boy doctor, with a desperate effort to assume
the air of one used to making such announcements, and rendered callous by
long centuries of habit.  “I’ll let the Coroner’s officer know.  Don’t
mind my running off, do you?  Fearfully busy, just now.”

The Professor’s words were counted as the mere wandering of speech, and
dismissed from memory until, when the inquest was over, and some days
later the journey to Honor Oak cemetery and back at an end, Erb took upon
himself the duty of examining the locked drawers of the desk.  Then it
was found that tardily in his life, the Professor had hinted at truth,
for books entitled Post Office Savings Bank were discovered there, and it
was realised that this old spendthrift, this most careless member of a
careless profession, had hoarded carefully throughout his life, engaging
stray half-crowns, only to add them instantly to his store, and the five
brown covered books announced that to his credit stood what seemed to Erb
and to Rosalind the extravagant fortune of nearly four hundred pounds.  A
will, drawn up in commendable order, directed that all this was left to
“my dear daughter Rosalind, and may she forgive her father for many
shortcomings, and think of him if she can, with affection and regard.”

“This,” said Erb, when he had reckoned up the amounts on a slip of paper,
“this is very satisfactory for you, but it makes all the difference to
me.”

“It’s going to make no sort of difference whatever,” said Rosalind
emphatically.

“Money matters always do.”

“Depends on the people who have the money.  Money in itself doesn’t bring
happiness, but it doesn’t follow that it destroys it.  Your Lady Frances,
for instance—”

“What makes you call her my Lady Frances?”

“She looks upon you as her property,” said Rosalind, turning away.

“If I hadn’t got such a stiff collar on I’d laugh,” declared Erb.  “By
the bye, I’m very glad to see by to-day’s papers that her sweetheart was
on his way back before that nasty affair took place out near Tetuan;
mysterious thing, rather.  Been telegraphed for apparently, by somebody.”

“I know.”

“You saw about it in the paper?”

“No,” said Rosalind.

“Well, but how—”

“_I_ sent the telegram,” she said quietly.  “I thought it better he
should be back here.  I didn’t want her to get you.”

Erb took her hands.  She tried to keep her lips from his, but she tried
for a moment only.

“This simplifies matters,” he said.  “I never could tell whether you
liked me or not.”

“You never asked!”

“People will say I married you for your money,” he said half jokingly.

“And I shall know,” replied Rosalind, patting his face, “that you married
me because—because you liked me.”



CHAPTER XVII


SILK hatted men were hurrying to and fro in the lobby, each with an air
of bearing the responsibilities of the Empire on his shoulders; cards
were being sent in by the attendants: a few country visitors stood about
near to the statue of Mr. Gladstone waiting awkwardly for the arrival of
their member.  Swing-doors moved unceasingly: now and again two members
would encounter each other and consult furtively with wrinkled foreheads,
and visitors stood back from the round space at the centre with awe and
respect, giving them room.  Erb, in a morning coat and a necktie of such
gaiety, that alone it betrayed the fact of his wedding-day, was an event
not yet forgotten, strolled about, less appalled by the surroundings than
most, so that provincials came to him now and again and made inquiries.
Whenever he had been to the House before he had always felt wistful, and
had looked through corridor to the inner lobby with anticipation; this
evening the feeling was absent.

“Haven’t kept you waiting I hope, Barnes?”  The white-haired Labour
member bustling out was conspicuous by reason of his bowler hat.  “Rather
a lot of things to do one way and another.  When you get here you’ll
find—I can’t see him now,” answering a messenger.  “Tell him I’m going
down to Bermondsey to put something straight that has got crooked, and I
shall not be back till ten.  Tell him that!”

“Cab or ’bus?” inquired Erb, as they went down the broad steps.

“’Bus,” said the Labour member, promptly.  “Somebody might see us if we
took a hansom.  You’ll find that you can’t be too careful.  And there’s
another thing, too.  Flower in your coat, you know—”

With axiom and words of counsel, the white-haired member shortened the
journey from Westminster to the rooms in Grange Road; Erb listening with
a proper deference, and refraining from all but appropriate and
well-chosen interruptions.  The member appeared stimulated by the task
before him, and Erb felt quite mature in remembering the time when he,
too, would have found his blood run quicker at the prospect of argument.
His companion hurried up the corkscrew staircase of the coffee-house, Erb
following slowly, nodding to a few of the men who, with anxious
expression of countenance stood about on the landing.  He went into a
room at the side, where he hoped to be alone.  Spanswick, however, had
seen him, and Spanswick, following in, took a wooden chair on the
opposite side of the table.  But Erb’s old van boy interposed, big with a
message.  The chief had sent him (said William Henry) to mention in
confidence that, if Erb cared to come back to his former
position—“Extraordinary thing,” said Erb, “how much the world wants you
when you show that you don’t want the world.  No answer, William Henry,
only thanks.”

“I’ve been telling a lot of ’em,” said Spanswick, jerking his hand in the
direction of the other room as the young diplomatist went, “that if they
take my advice, Erb, they’ll ask you to come back.”

“I see!”

“I’ve pointed out to ’em that they’ve blundered all along.  That matter
of the cheque, for instance—it’s proved that it’s never been cashed and,
therefore, as I say, the money could never have come into your pocket.
On the top of that,” said Spanswick, with something like indignation,
“they go and select a bounder like old Doubleday.  Why I could see what
the man was like from the very start.  I took his measure the first time
I came across him.  A talkative, interfering, muddle-headed gas-bag—I
told some of ’em that it was a wonder they got men to take the trouble to
lead them at all.”

“It _is_ a wonder!”

“And here they are now,” said Spanswick, rising to go and join in the
deliberations of the next room, “here they are now down on their ’ands
and knees without a single penny in the cash-box, worse off than they’ve
ever been ever since the Society started, and not one amongst ’em capable
of taking what you may call the reins of government in hand.  It all
comes,” concluded Spanswick, tapping at his nose with his forefinger, “it
all comes through people not listening to the advice of the few of us,”
here he struck his waistcoat impressively, “the few of us, either me and
you, that know.”

Through the partition Erb could hear the voice of the Labour member.
Impossible to distinguish the words, but clearly there was reproof in the
tones at first; this gave place later to the quieter key of counsel.  The
men who had hitherto been silent began to applaud; fists struck the table
with approval, and presently there came the sound of emphatic cheering
that had often made Erb warm with pleasure.

“You’re wanted, old man,” said Payne, opening the door importantly.
“Foller me into the next room, will you?”

The old scent of gas and cheap tobacco and corduroys.  The old faces
looking round as he entered, elbows resting on the table, some of the men
with tumblers before them, others, wearing the stern look of sobriety,
had been making notes of the speech to which they had just listened.
Circular stains on the long wooden T-shaped tables; the impaled
advertisements on the wall awry as though affected by the perfumes coming
up from the bar downstairs.  The dulled mirrors at the end reflected the
room mistily with its frame protected eternally by tissue paper.  The
barman waiting for orders at the doorway gave Erb a tap of encouragement
as he went in.

“Bravo! vo! vo! vo!” murmured the room.

“Order! order!” said the Chairman.  “I call on our old and trusted
friend—I forget his blessed name—from Paddington Parcels, at any rate, to
address the meeting.”

The Paddington Parcels member cleared his throat and rose.  He had been
one of the first to go over, and this he frankly admitted.  “Gives me all
the more title,” said Paddington Parcels determinedly, “to undertake what
I’m undertaking of now.”

Paddington Parcels handsomely offered to cut a long story short, and the
room gave encouragement to this proposal, whereupon he proceeded to speak
at intolerable length with ever, “Just one word and I’ve done,” and “Let
me add a couple of words more,” and “Finally, I should like to remark,”
and other phrases all suggesting an immediate finish, anticipation not
justified by results.

Summarised, the argument was that the society had made a grievous
blunder; that when a chap made a mistake he should apologise for it and
set it right; that a society was like a chap, and should behave as a chap
would, and that in the present deplorable state of the society there was
only one thing they could do, namely, to ask Erb Barnes to let byegones
be byegones, and to come back and resume the secretaryship.  When, after
many feints of sitting down, thus arousing the oratorical desires of
those anxious to second the resolution, and always thinking of more words
that retained him in a standing position, Paddington Parcels did
unexpectedly resume his seat, there was great competition for the honour
of speaking next, and twenty faces looked gloomy and disappointed when
Payne was selected.  Payne spoke briefly.  Every society had its ups and
downs: this society was just now all in the downs, as the song had it.
But it was well worth while to have such an experience, if only to see
his old chum, his good old chum Erb, righted in the eyes of everybody and
restored to a position that he ought never to have quitted.

The Labour member begged leave (his tones intimating nothing of humility)
to say a few words before this was put to the vote.  The society had been
compared to a man, but the society, as a society, was, so to speak, a
mere child, and it had recently behaved in the impulsive wrong-headed
manner of a child.  That might be overlooked once; it would not be
overlooked a second time.  Mind that!  Brains had been served out to one
and all, but some hadn’t quite got their proper share with the result
that others had more than the average supply, and if the man who had come
out rather short in the matter had not sufficient sense, when in a
position of difficulty, to ask advice from those fully equipped, why the
men with the short supply would have to put up with the consequences of
their own blundering.  And there was another thing.  The success of the
labour movement as a whole depended on the loyalty of the men to those
who were doing brain work on their behalf; let that loyalty once exhibit
anything of doubt and the whole scheme, the whole business, the whole
movement—the Labour member struck the wooden table emphatically at each
variant of the phrase—the whole show would go to pot.  All the same, he
congratulated them on the wise decision at which they were about to
arrive, and he strongly urged his friend Erb Barnes, “in consideration of
certain prospective events,” said the white-haired member, lowering his
voice mysteriously, “of which _he_ is aware, but cannot at the present
time be made public,” to accept good-temperedly the invitation of the
men.

The men had kept silent whilst receiving criticism; at these last words
they rose from the Windsor chairs and shouted approval.  The shirt
sleeved waiter went up and down the tables, culling empty glasses and
making them into a bouquet.  Erb went to the mantelpiece, and resting one
hand there, spoke quietly.  Every face turned in his direction.  “I
think,” said the Chairman importantly, “I think I may say carried _per
se_—I mean _nem. con._”

“I’m not going to occupy your time for long,” said Erb from the fireplace
when the renewed cheering had ceased.  “You’ll have other business to
do—(No, no)—and, contrary to my usual practice I’m going to be very brief
indeed.  There have been times when you’ve heard me speak at a
considerable length, and for all your kindness to me under those
circumstances I give you my thanks.  I shan’t ever trouble you again to
that extent.  A month or so ago you met here—you, just the same men that
you are now—and you gave me the sack.  You never gave me a chance of
defending myself or explaining my actions; you just pushed me off.”

The room murmured an unintelligible protest.

“You just pushed me off.  You jilted me.  You broke off the engagement.
Chaps, that broken engagement can’t be mended.  We’re all constituted
differently, I suppose, but I’m like this: if anybody’s faithful to me I
should be glad of the opportunity of going through fire and water for
them, if they’re not, then fire and water are things they can go through
for themselves.  I reckon I’ve been in love with this society for the
last year, and I’ve been loyal to it; now I’m in love with somebody
else.”

“Who?” demanded the room.

“I’m in love,” said Erb, turning to glance at himself contentedly in the
clouded mirror, “in love with my wife.”

“In love with his _wife_!” said the members to each other amazedly.

“Some people possess a stock of enthusiasm that’s got no limits; mine all
vanished, I find, directly you treated me unfairly.  My friend who’s
kindly come down from Westminster to talk to you knows that I’m giving up
prospects that would tempt a good many; it’s only honest to tell you that
those prospects, which a month since would have made my head swell, at
this moment don’t allure me in the slightest degree.  I think—I don’t
know, mind—I think I’m seeing things clearer than I did.  I thought all
the right and all the justice and all the everything was on our side;
I’ve come to see that, as a matter of fact, it’s about fairly divided.
I’m going to take up a little business on my own account down in
Wandsworth as a master carman, and I should be very glad, chaps, if you
could manage to—to wish me luck.  I’m going now.  I’m going to leave you
to go on with the business of appointing a secretary.  There’s plenty of
capable men in the world, and the opportunity always finds them.  So I
wish you every prosperity, and I wish we may always keep friends, because
some day we might find ourselves shoulder to shoulder again.  And I wish
you—” Erb hesitated for a moment in order to steady his voice, “I wish
you good-bye.”

The men crowded towards the doorway as Erb went in that direction.

“Come back to us, old man,” they cried.  “We want you.  Can’t you see
that—”

On the opposite side of the roadway below, warmly jacketed in view of the
coolness of an autumn evening, a pleasant figure walked to and fro.
Regardless of the circumstances that faces looked down from the windows,
Erb hurried across and kissed her.

Up the street they walked, arm-in-arm with each other, and arm-in-arm
with happiness.

                                * * * * *

                                 THE END

                                * * * * *





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