They had taken bus. They had gone Saturday afternoon to Mr Jones’ uncle and aunt that were lodge-keepers at gate of big house one mile out from bus terminus.
They had taken bus and had walked out They had come in time for tea. They had stayed for supper. Lily Gates took pleasure in feeding chickens, it was infinitely amusing for her, and she had on new dress.
After supper they had started back for bus terminus towards ten o’clock. They had talked. Lily thought Bert Jones was great on talking. She had said what kind of a life did they live up in the big house which his uncle was gatekeeper of and he said there was three young ladies, daughters of the house, but were no sons, father employed a lot of men in Birmingham he said. She said when they married, those three, would the eldest come with her ‘usband to live in the house so it would stay in the family, and he said he couldn’t tell and she said she wondered what kind of lives they did live there.
She said it seemed a pity there wasn’t a man the house wouldn’t come to though girls were as good as, men but still. She said they’d go out to dances every night probably and have a high old time. He said perhaps he kept his daughters in and didn’t let them out much but she said that class never did that, the girls were free as the fishes in the sea and as slippery, using words her father would have used. And more than that she said, she had asked his aunt and she’d seen them come out of an evening scores of times, so she said.
From joking with him and from the long day talking with him her laughing went out all at once into confidences. Coming closer to him she began to tell what she had not meant to tell anyone, as if he had taken her will from her. She said how low Mr Craigan was often now in his self, and that once when he came back from work some time since she had thought he was finished.
‘ ‘E’s the man in our house really too you see’ she said ‘and he ain’t never said it out like that before. When he an’ dad gets too old for work I don’t know what’ll ‘appen. I know I don’t.’
‘Well, of course,’ Mr Jones said, ‘he wouldn’t be so young now’ he said and was moved at her confiding in him.
She pressed closer to him.
‘No, that’s right, he ain’t But he loves his work. What’ll come to us when he an’ dad gets too old for it I don’t know. Grandad won’t know where he is. Yes I often lie awake o’ nights thinking ‘ow ‘e’ll manage. And how us’ll get on, dad and the rest,’ she said and was silent. As they walked, then Mr Jones had rush of feeling. He saw everything one way. ‘Us working people we got to work for our living,’ he said passionately, ‘till we’re too old. It’s no manner of use thinking about it, it’s like that, right on till we’re too old for them to use us. Then our children’ll make provision for us,’ he said and stopped and suddenly he kissed her for the first time. She pressed up to his face, her eyes shining. Then for a long time they kissed each other, murmuring and not hearing what they murmured, behind cattle shed in field they had been crossing.
He sat at home alone in a chair picking his nose.
‘The other day I met a girl called Glossop’ he said in his mind. He remembered he had asked Mary about her and she had known her by sight, had seen her at dances. Then how had he not seen her? But sometimes in reading, he thought, you will find word you do not know and when you learn the meaning then for a few days you come again and again upon that word. So perhaps he only noticed same people at dances. He thought you made a little circle and yours reflects other circles. Death, death, sackcloth and ashes.
When Lily wakes, her eyelids fold up and her two eyes soft, brutal with sleep blink out on what is too bright for them at first. She stirs a little in the warmness of bed. Then, eyes waking, she sees clearly about her and stretches. She brings arms up above heir head and takes hold on one of those parallel bars up behind pillow, and pulls her heavy thighs and legs out straight. Till she brings head up against that bar and till it forces head down on her breast, so she pulls. This done, she sits up, awake.
She saw in images in her mind how Mr Dale was to her like being on the verge of sleep, in safe bed. She laughed and stretched again. She turned to thinking of this new day and what she would have to get for the house today. Then she laughed again for she saw that was how she was with Bert Jones; with Jim she forgot, but with Bert she remembered. When she was with Bert it was like she had just stretched, then waked, then was full of purposes. But with Jim, it was like end of the day with him. Yes, she said, Bert’s someone to work for, yes there’s something in him she said in feeling and jumped out of bed.
Now Miss Gates and Mr Jones went out often together.
When they were out together once, after that, she saw clearly how unjust her life at home was to her, staying in all day, ‘I never see another girl but over the garden fence and all the housework to do, yes, sometimes I could sit down and cry. And look at old Craigan now,’ she said, ‘I get black looks from him every time I come in after being out with you, he wants me to go out with Jim you see. But women aren’t what they were, I’m not going to stay in an ‘arem of his making, we’re educated now. Yes he’s made it pretty plain he wants Jim and me to be married but ‘e can keep me in all day if he likes but he won’t pick my husband. You’ve no idea, the ‘ouse has got to be shining, there can’t be a speck of dust or he’ll say “what’s this my wench?” Yes, that’s what he says.’
‘He won’t let you go out to work?’
‘No, he won’t ‘ear of it, I’ve got to stay in and wear away the linoleum by scrubbing,’ and she said she did not know how she’d stood it up to then. She went on talking when he, more to draw her sympathy on him, said wasn’t all that much enjoyment in factories.
‘Oh yes, and how would you like to stay in all day by yourself and keep a place tidy, you’re like all men, and then when they give you the ‘ouse-keeping money Friday night to have nothing but black looks,’ and seeing all this clearly in her mind she was scornful with him. He too, then, began to be angry.
‘But when we’re married, won’t…’ he began but she sprang at his face and then it was like so many other of their walks over again.
Later, still exalted, she drew back from him and said, whispering, surely he would not expect her to be like those other women, ‘you won’t be like dad,’ she said, ‘that had never any idea of bettering himself. You wouldn’t want me to slave all my life till I was a bag of bones.’ She said she was not afraid of the work, yes she was used to that looking after three men, but she couldn’t do it if she didn’t believe there was nothing better coming, ‘we shan’t be like the others Bert?’ and he said of course they wouldn’t be, at the works he was a picked man already.
‘Come on then,’ she cried jumping up, holding out arms to him, ‘I can’t sit still.’ He jumped up and she ran backwards at that, her head held back and her arms now behind her back. But running forward to catch her he fell full length, cutting his forehead slightly.
She sat cross-legged and making resting place for his head in her lap she spat on handkerchief and wiped cut on his forehead, disconsolate, wiping blood off his forehead. Then he was happier than he had ever been before.
They came into front room after supper.
‘Have you caught a chill or something?’ Mrs Tarver said to her husband.
‘I don’t know. I don’t think I feel well.’
‘You ought to be in bed.’
‘The young chap came down today.’
‘What young chap’s that?’
‘Where’s your mind? Why, young Dupret. Doris’ he said to only child, ‘what have we got there?’
‘Young Mr Dupret,’ breathed Mrs Tarver and moved her chair nearer his. ‘Darling’ she said to the child, ‘don’t worry daddy now.’
‘Don’t talk to her like that mother, you’ll upset the child. What’s that you’ve got in your hands, answer your daddy.’
‘It’s only a toy ukulele she got at Mrs Smith’s party, dear. What did he say to you? You ain’t going to say he didn’t see at once who was right, and the wrong.’
‘I don’t know. Here, Doris, come and sit on daddie’s knee and show him the ukulele. Well, ain’t you a ukulele lady now!’
‘Johnikins you don’t say you couldn’t see him so’s to get your word in first.’
‘Yes I saw him.’
‘What did he say?’
‘He didn’t say anything.’
‘Didn’t say anything? D’you mean to say…. Then what did he do?’
‘Nothing. Well he did this. He took the man off they’d put by the lavatory door checking the men in and out.’
‘Daddy, don’t you like my uku — uku — ukulele?’
‘Was that all he did?’
‘Don’t you like my ukulele, daddy?’
‘Don’t worry daddy now dear. Go and play over there and put the doll to bed. What did he do that for?’
‘To please himself I suppose.’
‘And didn’t he give you another draughtsman?’
‘What did he say to you, then?’
‘He had a lot of this educated jargon, I didn’t understand much of it, though I got a bit nearer to it than old Bridges. He went on about what a fine looking chap — beautiful, that’s the word he used — a man in the iron foundry was. I don’t know how an iron moulder can be beautiful but there you are.’
‘He must be a dandy though if that’s all he thinks of in the works. I suppose he ‘as ladies trailing round him once he gets home, and a lot of good they’ll do him.’
‘But did you go through the works with him?’
‘No, I was coming through the iron foundry from the fettling shop when I ran into him and the old man.’
‘And didn’t you speak to him?’
‘Of course I spoke to him, what d’you think I am?’
‘Johnikins, why don’t you tell me something?’
‘What can I tell you? I was there for about five minutes and he went back to the offices and turned round to me — “I’ll come along and see you before I go” lardida he said and went into the old man’s room. So I waited for him in my department and the next thing I knew was the noise of him going off in ‘is Bentley.’
‘Then how d’you think it was him who took the man away from there?’
‘Ah that’s where I come in. I sent down Bumpus to get some stamps in the outside office and to look about him and make eyes at the girls when all of a sudden out bursts the old squire right up in the air and behind him was the young fellow saying — “but come Mr Bridges it’s nothing very terrible” (fancy saying that to the old squire!) “it’s nothing very terrible, surely, such a small thing, lavatories…” and then he banged the door right in the young chap’s face and went off. Bumpus comes back to tell me and the first thing I did was to get up to go and catch him in there with the old devil out of the way, when I hear the noise of his car. I run to the window and there’s the young chap driving himself away.’
‘Did he? What d’you say to that?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘So he didn’t come up and see you after all?’
‘Doris, come and play to Daddy on your ukulele, daddie’s tired.’
‘Leave the child alone, do, you’ll be the death of her. What d’you think? Didn’t he say nothing about another draughtsman?’
‘Not a word.’
‘Well he’s crossed old Bridges in one thing, and that’s to the good, the old scarecrow.’
‘Yes, but what do we know went on else. He was there some time, must have been. And if he’d crossed the old man before then the old scarecrow would have been out of the room before that and Bumpus would have seen him. You can depend on his always rushing out when he’s crossed.’
‘I see they’ve took the man off from there,’ nodding to lavatory door said Mr Tupe to Mr Bentley.
‘They had to.’
‘They were made to’ Bentley heavily said. ‘As soon as ever I saw a man put on there I said that’s a thing a woman won’t stand. I ‘ad that factory inspector in me mind’s eye. I thought to myself she’d never stand for it. And she didn’t, that’s why he’s suspended.’
‘But she ‘asn’t been through, not since that man was put on. ‘Er angel feet’ve not crossed our thres-bloody-‘old.’
‘She must’ve ‘eard then.’
‘Well if you wan’t to know, the young feller took ‘m off. And the more’s the pity I say.’
‘That’s ‘im. Now it’ll be the old story again, ‘alf an hour’s work and then twenty-one minutes in there for a smoke and a chat. They’ve got no conscience to the firm or to theirselves.’
‘As the fly said to the spider. Of all the dirty swine — excuse my saying so — you’re one of them. And if it was young Dupret ‘e was made to.’
‘ ‘E wasn’t, ‘e did it on ‘is own from what I can ‘ear of it. Probably ‘e was ‘alf witted enough to suppose ‘e was pleasing mangy young Russian tykes like you.’
‘I wonder at a man of your age swallowing what you swallow.’
‘Speaking of beer’ Mr Tupe said genially ‘I could get down twice what you’d had after you couldn’t drink no more, when your head was communing with the stars: if you’d care to try any night, you paying the drinks?’
‘My poor old man, how are you?’ Mrs Dupret said coming into sick room, ‘how do you feel in yourself?’
Mr Dupret lay propped up on pillows. He related how his nurse had told him that he was ‘naughty to ring so often and should be spanked.’ Courageously he made a comedy out of it.
Mrs Dupret asked what tip should be given to this nurse when she had packed her things, for her one line of original research was into the question of tips. Mr Dupret decided at once and when his wife said surely not so little, since Archie, when he was ill, and had had a nurse for about the same period, had given her quite six shillings more he said no, he would give her that amount and no less. She said how very interesting that was to her. He said she would call him mean perhaps but she said not the least bit in the world, only it was so fascinating what tips people gave. The most absurd person of course was Proust, she said — her voice hazed with wonder. He had given enormous tips, big, huge, it was fantastic, she said sitting down by the bed, he had thought nothing of giving 200 francs to a waiter who brought his, his — well any little thing, but then he was not a gentleman she murmured, enviously almost. For what she wanted most in the world sometimes was to give huge tips but had never dared, she thought the waiter might take her for an actress. (She was of that generation of women which still feared actresses.)
Mr Dupret said Jews had brought the Continent to a ridiculous state with extravagant tipping, that was why he would never go abroad. ‘I know dear,’ she said. But he went on that it was really to spare her the anxiety of having to give them, he said she knew she never slept the night before moving out of a hotel abroad, and to spare her the disappointment when ten per cent was added to the bill so that there were no tips.
‘I’ve got such a clever book here for you dear’ she said, ‘it’s called Lenin and Gandhi. You ought to read it.’ He put it down by the side of the bed.
‘There’s a thing in it which I thought so amusing darling,’ she said ‘which is where he says the Brahmins or Hindus, one of those people I don’t know which, sit for whole half hours saying the same word over and over again. Of course it’s very unkind, but it’s so like Dickie when he’s in love.’ She said didn’t he know that Dickie was starting another affair and Mr Dupret said another one? and she said yes, a girl called Glossop, a very nice girl from all she could make out, ‘but very dull, I’m afraid, like all Dick’s young ladies.’ There was a certain stage in all his affairs when he sat and repeated to himself over and over again darling, darling, darling, like that, so like those old men squatting on the mountains. Mr Dupret laughed ‘ho, ho!’ Then he asked how she knew. ‘Why the darling’ she said ‘he always tells me in spite of himself all those things like that about his girls. Then he has to go and make out a reason for his having told me so he shan’t seem to have given himself away without meaning to. He is rather a darling, isn’t he, Jack?’
‘He’s a nice boy but he’s very silly still’ said Mr Dupret. ‘He’s got no head.’
Mrs Dupret said she thought he wouldn’t marry for another nine years at least but now her husband was bored and began to give instructions, summoning people and sending them off, all on business, and he dismissed Mrs Dupret. Going away she thought how nice it had been and still was while he lay ill though he wasn’t really ill now any more of course, he was just pretending and it was high time he got about again. But how nice it had been, she had seen so much more of him since he had hurt his shoulder, usually he was working when he wasn’t asleep. He worked all day.
She marvelled at the correctness of the tip he had decided on for that nurse, and to decide at once like that, he had a genius for tips, she thought. She went to get ready before going out.
But still, poor old man she thought, there was something about it which she didn’t altogether like. His staying in bed like that made her uneasy. And when the doctors said there was nothing the matter with him now, why didn’t he get up?
Again, some other morning, she was in his bedroom and they were talking about young Mr Dupret, Dick, and she said how she had seen this girl Hannah Glossop several times again and that she was giving a dinner party for her soon, though of course the party was not to look as though it were hers; Hannah — from talking about her to Dickie she called her Hannah now — would just, to all appearances, be one of the other girls.
Mr Dupret was listless and asked how Dick was getting on with the Dupret and son business and his wife said she thought he was so interested. Why was it, she asked him, that all this time he had not once asked after that ‘side’ when he had been managing all his other interests from his bed. He answered that he had decided to give him a free run of the place till he got back to work again, ‘there is nothing like the actual experience for teaching you’ he said and that when he got back he intended altering every single alteration the boy had made ‘just to show him.’
Wasn’t that rather cruel Mrs Dupret said, and he said no, of course not. For one thing, if he had done anything it was almost bound to be wrong, and then if you let them have all their own way, young men lost their keenness. After that he sank into a greater apathy and although he did not send her away, which was in itself, she thought, a sign that he was not right, she could hardly get anything out of him.
After Sunday dinner, when Lily Gates had cleared table and had put back on it bowl in which Mr Craigan kept tobacco, she said to those three what were they going to do that Sunday afternoon.
‘Where are you goin’?’ said Mr Dale.
‘I’m not going anywhere.
‘Aren’t you goin’ out?’
‘I’m not goin’ anywhere without you go.’
‘Don’t trouble about me’ Mr Dale said. ‘I’m used to that.’
‘I didn’t mean you particular, I meant all on you.’
‘I’m stayin’ in with me pipe,’ Gates said half asleep. ‘You go and get the beer.’ Mr Craigan reached out and took wireless headphones which he fitted about his head.
‘I thought you couldn’t mean me,’ said Mr Dale.
‘No, I should think I couldn’t.’
‘But don’t you put yourself out for us. You go on out.’
‘I got nowhere to go.’
‘What, ain’t ‘e waitin’ for you at the corner?’
‘Who’s that!!’ he said.
‘Well what business is it of yours if ‘e is?’
‘I wouldn’t keep ‘im waitin’.’
‘I tell you I’m not going out this afternoon.’
‘Then what’s it all about. ‘Ad a lover’s quarrel or what?’
She smiled at him and said what business was it of his and her smiling made him shout that most likely he had to take most of his time keeping his other loves quiet. Dropping voice he said people of that sort which took other people’s girls from them, were not content with one only, they had several, wife in every port and married women some of them most likely, he said, voice rising. Still she smiled when, jumping up, he said he would give her smack across that smile. Craigan took off headphones then and said ‘you go and get the beer Lil.’ When she had shut door behind her he said to Dale to leave her alone. Mr Gates slept noisily in chair.
Mr Dale sat down. He leant towards fire which made room thick hot. They said-nothing for a time. He looked up then towards Mr Craigan and said:
‘I’ve been thinkin’ I’d better change my lodgings.’
‘You’ll do nothing of the kind’ Craigan said.
Again was silence.
‘It makes it awkward for me’ he said ‘staying ‘ere.’
Mr Craigan said nothing. Dale kicked Joe Gates: ‘Joe’ he said ‘I’ve been thinkin’ I ought to look out for other lodgings. Our wench and me don’t seem to ‘it it off any more, Joe.’
Mr Gates looked at Mr Craigan. Craigan said:
‘You’ll stay ‘ere Jim.’
Dale kicked fender and upset poker which clattered and crashed on floor.
‘I won’t stand by and see ‘er marry Bert Jones.’
‘I can’t stand by and see that feller go off with Lil’ he said later. ‘If her likes ‘im better’n me well then let ‘er ‘ave ‘im but I’m not goin’ to be there to watch it.’
‘I’m telling you she’ll not marry Bert Jones’ said Mr Craigan and again was silence and furtively Mr Gates watched Mr Craigan. Then Craigan said to Mr Dale: ‘You go on off out, Jim, don’t sit moping inside.’
‘That’s right’ said Joe Gates. ‘Lord love me, you ain’t jealous of ‘im are you? ‘Im?!! Why ‘e’s nothing more than something to look at, though ‘e’s as ugly as your backside. But ‘e’s got no use to ‘imself. You didn’t ought to worry yourself about him. An’ talkin’ about women, the times I ‘ad with ‘er mother before we was married. Why if any dago stopped in the street her was after ‘im.’
Taking hat Mr Dale went out of the house. He took a different way from where she had gone to fetch beer. Those two sat and said nothing. Then Gates said:
‘I’ve a mind to ‘ave it out with ‘er.’
‘You sit still.’
‘She wants a good clout. You do it then.’
‘If you touch ‘er I’ll break the poker ‘cross yer legs.’
Mr Gates stayed silent then and Mr Craigan said no more. But he did not put headphones back on his head so later Gates said:
‘Without meanin’ any offence, what d’you think on it?’ but Craigan did not answer and little later Mr Gates slept again. Mr Craigan sat on. With thinking he forgot what was to have been greatest treat, concert from Berlin.
Then, one morning in iron foundry, Arthur Jones began singing. He did not often sing. When he began the men looked up from work and at each other and stayed quiet. In machine shop, which was next iron foundry, they said it was Arthur singing and stayed quiet also. He sang all morning.
He was Welsh and sang in Welsh. His voice had a great soft yell in it. It rose and rose and fell then rose again and, when the crane was quiet for a moment, then his voice came out from behind noise of the crane in passionate singing. Soon each one in this factory heard that Arthur had begun and, if he had two moments, came by iron foundry shop to listen. So all through that morning, as he went on, was a little group of men standing by door in the machine shop, always different men. His singing made all of them sad. Everything in iron foundries is black with the burnt sand and here was his silver voice yelling like bells. The black grimed men bent over their black boxes.
When he came to end of a song or something in his work kept him from singing, men would call out to him with names of English songs but he would not sing these. So his morning was going on. And Mr Craigan was glad, work seemed light to him this morning who had only three months before he got old age pension, he ought to work at his voice he said of him in his mind and kept Joe Gates from humming tune of Arthur’s songs.
Every one looked forward to Arthur’s singing, each one was glad when he sang, only, this morning, Jim Dale had bitterness inside him like girders and when Arthur began singing his music was like acid to that man and it was like that girder was being melted and bitterness and anger decrystallized, up rising up in him till he was full and would have broken out — when he put on coat and walked off and went into town and drank. Mr Craigan did not know he was gone till he saw he did not come back.
Still Arthur sang and it might be months before he sang again. And no one else sang that day, but all listened to his singing. That night son had been born to him.
And now time is passing.
Mr Dupret had fallen into a greater apathy, nor was there anything which pleased him now. Nor was he ever angry.
Nothing interested him. Mr Dupret had sent for his friends. Those who came he recognized and they talked to him but he could find no answer to their questions or anything in their conversation which would rouse him.
The days come and then the evening, morning papers are hawked about, last editions of the evening papers are sold in the night while men sit writing morning papers. It rained. The summer was passing. Young Dupret would go into the sick room but while old Mr Dupret recognized him and once or twice thought of what he could say, he never arrived at wishing him more than good morning. If he came in the evening as soon as he was in the room old Mr Dupret said ‘goodnight’ and if he ignored this then the old man would lie with eyelids shut over his eyes. And his wife was treated in the same way.
Then Mrs Dupret had him moved to the house in the country. Young Mr Dupret used to come down for the weekends. Doctors came and went. Electrical treatment was given him, many other remedies were tried, even the most strikingly beautiful nurses were found to tend him, once a well-known courtesan was hired for the night, but the old man still showed no interest and little irritation; he said good-morning to his wife, son, doctors and nurses, goodnight to the harlot.
Lines came out on his wife’s face. He never mentioned the City or his interests, whenever he spoke it was about the needs of his body. He spoke of no more than these to the nurses, it is not known for certain if he spoke to the harlot. No one could find the face to be present when she was introduced into his room. He had constantly, before his illness, betrayed his wife and she had known it. Nothing really was simpler for her or more natural in such an emergency than to arrange for the lady to come down, what was odd was the doctor of that particular moment allowing it. Mrs Dupret could have no official knowledge of her coming, she could not see her and had to invent many ruses that the servants might not know.
Richard had to receive this lady and show her to the bedroom, and he stood outside with the doctor and one of the nurses. The doctor insisted on standing close to the door as he said he feared ‘the possible effects’ upon a man of Mr Dupret’s age, but his son stood further away, lost in embarrassment, particularly as the nurse seemed nervous and insisted on standing by him. After thirty minutes the lady reappeared. She lit a cigarette. The doctor said ‘well’ in a threatening voice and she answered that nothing has passed between them, she had done everything in her power, had done her utmost, she was ready to try again although she had packed up her things in her suitcase and if they liked they could go in with her and see for themselves, (she was plainly intimidated by the doctor and cast imploring glances at young Dupret), but she insisted that all he had said was goodnight and then he had shut eyelids over his eyes, ‘the good baby’ she said.
Some time passed before young Mr Dupret could recover from his surprise at this visit. To his friends in London he talked with horror about the cynical attitude of older women towards sex. There was so much horror in the tone of his voice that his friends asked themselves what could have happened to him and talked of it to each other. But while he soon recovered his old assurance it was some time before he could go into his father’s room. Secretly he was annoyed that his mother had not asked him for his opinion, and for the rest of his life he spoke with venom of doctors.
So nobody knew what the old man thought, though everyone was certain that his brain was still working. A submarine is rammed and sinks. It lies for days upon the bed of the ocean and divers tap out messages to it and the survivors tap out answers to the divers, asking for oxygen and food. Above, on the surface of the ocean men work frantically but the day grows on into the evening, night falls, there is another day, another night, and as everyone realizes gradually that they cannot hope to raise the submarine in time, their efforts are not so frantic, they take a little longer over what they do. In the same way fresh doctors were still fetched to Mr Dupret, but no daring experiments were expected of them. They all said very much the same, that his frame was worn out and that only complete rest might bring him out of his illness. More they did not say and Mrs Dupret though she had never been very fond of him, was now thinking how very fond of him she was.
It was hot and it had been hot all day. Mr Gates had gone out, quite often now alone he went out, and Jim Dale had gone out.
When Lily had tea things put away she came with some darning to back door which opened onto the garden. This evening Mr Craigan sat there.
He smoked pipe. She brought chair and sat on it. She began darning.
Almost whispering he said:
‘I’m getting to be an old man.’
‘Why grandad, you’re not.’
‘It’s the heat of the day’s tired you.’
‘It’s been very hot.’
She darned his socks.
‘I bought those socks three years ago,’ he said and she said was another twelve months’ wear in them yet. She asked in her mind what he was talking for, and was he going to talk to her about it? She waited.
‘My mother’ he said then, ‘knitted socks that wore longer’n that, and they came farther up the leg. They was very good socks.’
‘This day’ he said ‘brought me to mind of the days I was in the fields there and the cider we ‘ad. The farmer was bound to give us cider. It was good cider, but it’s not such a drink as beer.’
So much talk from him frightened her.
‘I mind’ he said ‘yer Aunt Ellie well.’ He spoke cheerfully. ‘She was older by nine years than your mother. She married a drover by name of Curley. I remember their getting married. I was in the choir.’
‘Was you in the choir grandad?’ Lily said from nervousness.
‘Ah, I sang in the choir. I ain’t been in a church since. Nor I shall go even if I ‘ave to bury one of my own.’
‘Wouldn’t you go the funeral.’
‘I would not. Yes I sang when them were married. They made a fine show. I ate myself sick at the dinner there was after. She went to live with ‘em up t’other end of the village. We lived next door to yer mother’s parents so I didn’t see much of ‘er after that. But you’d say she was contented if you’d seen ‘er. Curley was a nice young chap by what I can remember of ‘im and yer aunt was a great upstanding woman. But she ‘adn’t the looks your ma had when she grew to be a woman. Any road she ran away from ‘im three years after. No one knew where she’d went, she just gone out through the garden and down the road.’
‘Didn’t they put the police onto ‘er?’
‘No, Curley was frightened to do that. She went off. I ain’t never ‘eard of ‘er since, nor nobody ain’t.’
‘And didn’t you go away grandad?’ She was trembling.
‘Yes. Her going off like she did, that worked on me, and I thought I’d try my luck. And it was years after when I was settled in this town and earning good money that I wrote to yer father — I’d been pals with him though younger’n me — to find out ‘ow my old folks was getting on. And when ‘e read in my letter ‘ow I was doing ‘e brought your ma and you over to Brummagem. You was a baby then. But I’d’ve been better where I was. I wouldn’t ‘ave got the money but I broke the old people’s hearts and where am I now, with no one of my own about me? I got no home and the streets is a poor place after the fields.’
‘But you got me, and there’s Dad, and Jim.’
‘You’ll be marrying.’
‘Well, if I do we’ll live in this ‘ouse if you’d let us.’
‘Would ‘e like it? Maybe while you couldn’t get a ‘ouse of yer own. But not after.’
‘Ah,’ he said, ‘she left ‘er man and went off with a flashy sort of card, ‘e was a groom to some hunting people that lived a mile off. And I left my people soon after without a word to tell them I was going, thinking it was a fine thing to do. I wanted to make my way up in the world. But I’m no more’n a moulder, a sand rat, and will be till they think I’m too old for work. Three pounds a week and lucky to get it. I’d rather be in the country on twenty-five shillings. And what’s ‘appened to yer Aunt Ellie? D’you suppose ‘e’s kept her? That sort never do.’
Lily was crying. She feared and loved Mr Craigan.
‘No that sort never do’ he said, and smoked pipe and did not watch her crying. He got up and went inside and listened in to the wireless.
In morning Mr Dupret came to office. Soon Mr Archer came into his office.
He said good-morning sir and said how was the Chief and Mr Dupret said they hoped to move him into country tomorrow afternoon. Archer said change was bound to do him good and when he got to country home he would be different man altogether and would come back nine years younger.
‘In the meantime’ he said ‘I think we are carrying on very nicely with you at the helm Mr Dupret. It’s being a most interesting time for all of us, sir, working together as the team we shall be when you take over the old ship.’
Mr Dupret said crew would be very different when he was captain, would be more able seamen in it, and he could not help laughing at this and Mr Archer tittered.
Then he looked serious and said: ‘Look here, Archer,’ and Archer said yes sir, ‘you know I didn’t touch on the subject of Tarver’s having another draughtsman when I was last in Birmingham three months ago but I think we ought to see how the land lies about it now.’
Archer said he thought time was ripe. Mr Dupret said he did not want to go too far with old Bridges, after all, he said, Tarver is still subordinate to the old man and must be while Bridges is still works manager, but that was no reason why Tarver should not have one, he said.
‘We’ve lost several orders through it, Mr Dupret.’
Of course, Mr Dupret said, Tarver can’t get his drawings out when he’s understaffed. But Bridges must not be offended, or rather must be offended as little as possible. What did Archer think Walters thought about it?
‘Of course’ said Mr Archer, ‘Mr Walters is a first class engineer, or was, and you know as well as I Mr Dupret that he’s probably done more for the old firm than anyone — always excepting your father, sir. But I cannot get on with him, heaven knows I’ve tried, but his methods are not mine, his slowness grates on a nature like mine Mr Dupret. I should certainly not like to try sounding him on the matter.’
‘No, I haven’t asked you to.’
‘Precisely, precisely, but I was afraid perhaps you were expecting me—’
Mr Walters came in. He was loud-voiced this morning.
‘Good-morning Dick, how’s your father?’
Why should he call me Dick, young Mr Dupret said in his mind, his familiarity was jovial but then he went on thinking any joviality was offensively familiar and was smiling at that while he answered Mr Walters his father was being taken down to country day after tomorrow.
Walters said they were all looking forward to seeing Mr Dupret back amongst them, which angered young Mr Dupret. Then they talked about business. Soon Walters began looking at Archer, expecting him to go and later Walters was glaring at him, but still Archer stayed on, very self conscious, till Mr Walters went off and was first to leave.
Young Mr Dupret saw this and dismissed Archer and was miserable and annoyed at both of them.
Another day and he was talking to Mr Archer about how Bridges would take idea of another draughtsman for Mr Tarver. He said he was not afraid of old Bridges and had taken man off lavatory door just to show Mr Bridges only that. And was also another reason. He thought it had interfered with reasonable liberty of men in the works. He said he thought they would work better for being left alone with as far as possible. After all, he said, it was comfortable factory and the shops were as safe as they could be.
Mr Archer replied yes, they had been very lucky in matter of accidents, but for the one they had had in iron foundry some months back.
‘What accident?’ said Mr Dupret sharply.
‘Why, sir, a wire rope parted and one end in coming down narrowly missed a man.’
‘When was this? Why wasn’t I told?’ Mr Dupret rose from out of chair.
‘Three months ago I think sir. I only heard the other day and I didn’t mention it to you as of course I thought Mr Bridges would have reported it to you.’
‘This is disgraceful, I didn’t even know of it!’ Mr Dupret was furious. ‘What happened?’
‘The wire rope parted, sir, and nearly caught an iron moulder called Craigan. Of course it would have killed the man if he had met it.’
‘Of course, yes. Why didn’t Bridges tell me?’
‘Mr Bridges certainly should have reported the matter. I did not mention it as I felt he was sure to have done so.’
‘I suppose he thinks I’m a back number and mustn’t be told what’s going on. What if he’d killed what’s-his-name?’
‘He is getting an old man now I’m afraid, Mr Dupret, and he doesn’t go round to see for himself that things are in a proper condition.’
He thought to himself yes, yes that was it, hush it up and think he wouldn’t get to hear of it, incompetent old loafer, he’d see who was the boss, he’d teach him. Where was Walters? He’d let him see what he thought. He’d show them in their dotage they weren’t still kings of old castle and they couldn’t impose on him as they’d done on his father. Where was Walters? But perhaps he had better wait till he had calmed down. Yes, he would wait till tomorrow.
‘All right, Archer,’ he said, and Archer went out delighted.
Had anyone ever heard anything like it, young Mr Dupret shouted to himself, serious accident and no word about it said to head of the business. That swine Bridges. Damn them.
Soon as hooters in these factories sounded for dinner hour young man took his dinner over to where Mr Craigan sat every dinner hour eating bread and meat. This young man was in great state of agitation. He spoke quickly and was saying Andrew (foreman in iron foundry shop) had been at him again, it was persecution, Andrew had said he was used to getting eight of those brackets he was doing now to the five he was getting from him. But he knew, he said, Andrew was lying there as last time any had been off that pattern Will, who was in thick with Andrew, had done not more than four with no word spoke to him. He was saying to Mr Craigan Andrew was dead against him, lord if was another job going he’d go to it quick enough, and he’d like to see Andrew do eight off that pattern himself, he’d have eight wasters, you’d see, when they came to be cast. Anyroad, he said, if it was possible for a man to do eight it was a day work job anyway, was no bonus or piece work on that job. It wasn’t right, he kept on saying, it wasn’t right.
Mr Craigan said to go back and do what the foreman told him. When you were young you had to go about and into different shops to learn the trade, but he had not been in this foundry long, which was good shop for experience in general work. Besides that, Mr Craigan said, was no work going just now, and he didn’t want to be out of a job, surely.
‘You go back and do what the foreman tells you,’ he said, and soon this young man said well he would see how it was going to turn out, and if Andrew had in mind to go on dogging him and making it misery for him to work under him or no.
‘You go on back,’ Mr Craigan said, ‘in my time foremen ‘ave asked me to do a number more than eight off patterns similar to what you’re workin’ off.’ He said no more and then this young man went away.
Mr Craigan sat there all the hour as he did always and when hooters sounded once more in these factories to tell men was only five minutes before work, he went to gate to put his check in, which he did. He went over then to drinking water tap. It happened Tupe was there. Stream of men was coming through gate. They put in their checks. Tupe was very angry. He had no money left for beer and it angered him to drink water. No one would lend him money. Mr Craigan waited till he was done and then took white enamelled cup which hung down from nail on the wall and which Tupe had been drinking from. He rinsed it out. Mr Tupe saw this and for benefit of men who were coming in he began joking about Mr Craigan rinsing cup out. But he hated Mr Craigan, and, from crowd of men being about, anger rose in him and he made personal injury to himself out of Mr Craigan’s rinsing cup out. Then veil passed on his eyes and he shouted insults though he did not mention Mr Craigan’s family. Men stood round. Mr Craigan meantime was drinking water. When he was done he rinsed cup out and went away. As he went through the door into factory he said ‘ow do to one who was standing with other men there. When he was gone all turned backs on Tupe.
Mr Dupret, after he had waited three days, dictated letter to Mr Bridges in Birmingham. He dictated with many pauses for he was not used to it, but he wanted all London office to know what he had put in this letter.
‘Dear Mr Bridges,’ it was, ‘I have just learned of an accident which happened in the iron foundry some months back which might have caused serious injury or cost the life of a moulder named, I think, Craigan. I am sorry that you should not have notified me re this matter. In future I would be glad if you sent me a full report in the event of similar occurrences. Yrs faithfully,’ and he signed name after that and had office girl to type managing director under signature. He was pleased with letter as being very restrained.
So soon as Mr Bridges read it he telephoned to Mr Walters in London. When Mr Walters came to telephone he asked him had he heard anything about letter which he had just got from young Dupret and Walters said no. What tomfoolery was it now, Mr Walters asked? Mr Bridges said it wasn’t tomfoolery, news of today was that he was resigning. Mr Walters said come now Arthur. Mr Bridges said he was and Mr Walters said what, Dick? and Bridges said no, Arthur Bridges was sending for his cards after fifty-four years’ work. Walters said what was it for God’s sake, and Mr Bridges said listen to this and read young Mr Dupret’s letter to him. ‘Managing director, d’you get that rightly’ screamed he down telephone. Mr Walters said bloody cheek. He said he would speak to young fool-now about it and rang off then, leaving Bridges wildly talking.
Saturday afternoon. Lily Gates and Bert Jones went out together.
‘Old Mr Craigan was on at me’ she said, ‘the other night about our going out together.’
‘On at you was ‘e? What did he say about me?’
‘ ‘E didn’t say anything about you. It was all about my Auntie Ellie.’
‘What did she do?’
‘She ran away with a groom, yes, when she was married.’
‘What’s that got to do with you and me? Are you going to run off with some other chap when we’re married?’
They kissed then.
‘Go on’ he said, ‘don’t listen to that old cuckoo.’
‘ ‘E’s been like a father to me Bert.’
‘Is that any reason why ‘e should ‘ave you all to ‘imself?’
‘D’you really want to ‘ave me?’
‘Yes,’ she said. She drew a little back from him. ‘ ‘E said some terrible things.’
‘What did he say then?’
‘I don’t know, not what you might like put into words. But to one who knowed him!’
‘ ‘Ow old are you? Are you still a kid?’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘D’you mean to tell me ‘e can frighten you into trembles just by talking about something else to you?’
‘ ‘E never says much in the ordinary way of things you see.’
‘You’re a girl’ he said, ‘I suppose that’s how it is. But we’re respectable. I don’t see what ‘e’s got against me. If my father and mother lived in Birmingham I’d ‘ve taken you to see ‘em long before now. We’ve been out to take tea with my mother’s sister. And I’ve often said, often ‘aven’t I now, that I’d like you to come to Liverpool to see the ma and dad. I’d better go and see your old man, shall I?’
‘No, Bert, no you mustn’t go and see ‘im.’
‘Well what about your father?’
‘Oh dad, ‘e does what Mr Craigan tells ‘im.’
‘And so do you from what I can see of it.’
Moodily together they walked. Revolt gathered in her.
Later she was saying, exalted:
‘Yes we’re different to what we were, we’ve a right now to know things and choose for ourselves. Time was when a girl did just what her parents told ‘er and thought herself lucky to do it, yes but we’re different now. Why shouldn’t I go out with you and ‘ave a good time on me own? ‘E’s getting old, that’s what it is. Of course I’m fond of ‘im, ‘e’s been like a father and mother to me since my mother died when I was born so to speak, but I’ve worked for ‘im ever since I was old enough, yes I’ve earned the right to think for myself. I cooks for all of them, ‘im and dad and Jim Dale that lives with us as a boarder.’
‘Well, I mean, you’re a ‘uman being aren’t you?’
‘Yes, girls now can pick for themselves. It’s not like it was in the old days. Yes, I’ve chosen and ‘e can say what ‘e likes.’
Under this hedge again they kissed. Later again she was saying: ‘Oh Bert we shan’t be like the others shall we dear,’ and he said if Duprets didn’t appreciate him he would move some place where he was appreciated. And was a place he had written to, had got friend when they were boys together from Liverpool there, who would put in word for him and was more chance there, for Duprets was old fashioned, you couldn’t get on in it. And when ‘flu had been so bad January they had sent him out to that very firm with a fitter to put job up and manager there had said kind things to him, ‘you should ‘ave ‘eard ‘im,’ said he. Lily Gates, listening, saw him as being foreman one day soon.
Old Mr Dupret lay in bed and as, day by day, he said a little more, so the hopes of each one in his house were raised little by little. Mrs Dupret even was becoming her old helpless self again. In the past he had always done all her thinking for her, then, while he had been so ill, she had been forced into being practical to a certain degree, and now, as he seemed to become daily more and more competent to deal with what was about him, so her sanity, what there was of it, so it ebbed and she was drifting back again to the gentle undulations of her spirit which heaved regularly with her breathing like the sea, and was as commonplace.
One day even he called for his letters. Of the first six letters they opened for him one was from Walters, one of his weekly reports. After describing the progress of several orders Walters went on to say how well Dick was doing, only that he had slightly overstepped the bounds of his authority when he had told Bridges to take that man off the lavatory door. But perhaps Mr Walters wrote, Mr Dupret himself had authorized it. After reading this Mr Dupret sent for Walters and a stenographer.
He was never so well again.
The next day Walters arrived and Mr Dupret had strength enough to dictate and sign a letter in which he ordered a different man to be put on at the lavatory door to check the men in and out. He whispered to Walters, when he had signed, that Dick’s having done that must have made Bridges very angry, ‘who is so young for his sixty years,’ Mr Dupret whispered with a sly smile and then lay back and shut eyelids over his eyes. Thus Mr Walters was unable to tell him of the letter his son had written to Bridges because the old man was so visibly exhausted. Even if the doctor had not come in at that moment and ordered him out, he would have crept out then.
Walters went back to London, by Birmingham. He called at works on his way. He gave Bridges that letter from the chief and told him old man was very bad, he said it looked to him he might be dead any, time now. Bridges said nonsense. His father, he said, had gone that way, but would be about again soon like his father had been, you’d see. And that letter was just what he wanted, said he, this would show young chap he wasn’t cock of the roost yet. Had he told him about young chap’s last effort, Mr Bridges asked, but Walters, eyes dimmed, said no, what manner of use was in talking of that to a dying man. ‘He was a grand fine man,’ Mr Walters said, ‘a grand man,’ in his dull voice. ‘Is ‘e as sick as that?’ said Mr Bridges.