Mr Dupret ‘pater’ indeed had fallen on his shoulder after slipping on dog’s mess and was in bed now: pretty young nurse read out of The Field to him lying in bed, and doctors had said he would be six weeks in bed seeing what he had done at his age. So he had said to his wife, ‘Get me a pretty young nurse.’
At the club they said ‘Dupret has fallen on his shoulder, that sort of thing is a perpetual menace at our age’: at the works they said, ‘the gaffer’s fallen on ‘is shoulder so they say, at ‘is time of life you don’t get over it so easy as that,’ and two men had quarrelled at dinner hour over his age.
So young Mr Dupret was left in charge of business. He came to the London offices early every morning and made great trouble with those who were late. Was all the others let him do. And he signed the cheques also.
Yet Mr Archer had in his pocket letter from Mr Tarver about Whitacre his fitter and this told also of one man suspended for two weeks while the other had nothing done to him though he was as guilty. This was the opportunity. The old man had fallen on his shoulder, young Mr Dupret would be wanting to do something, to assert himself. Now he would work in with young Mr Dupret, now young Mr Dupret could splash about, would want to. Would be rows when the old man came back over what had been done but it could be managed so to fall back on Tarver. Tarver was a fool and did not see whatever row he made was sure to come back on him. Also on young Mr Dupret. So Mr Archer thought and planned.
But he was sincere in his thinking the old place wanted a rouser and in his thinking he was always building, always building in his thinking.
‘ ‘Ow you goin’ Albert’ Tupe asked storekeeper.
‘Rotten, I’m all any’ow today.’
‘I ‘eard a good one yesterday Albert, there was a chap died, see, and when ‘e was dead ‘e went to ‘eaven. Well after a day or two ‘e went to the side like and looked to see if ‘e could see any of ‘is acquaintance down in ‘ell. ‘E sees one that ‘e used to be friendly with and ‘e calls down to ‘im ” ‘Ow do Ben, ‘ow be you goin’?” “Fine thanks Jim.” “There wouldn’t be no way of my getting down to where you works Ben would there” ‘e says. ” ‘Ow’s that Jim?” ” ‘Ow many hours d’you reckon to work down where you are Ben?” “Four-and-a-half with the weekends off.” “Yus,” ‘e says, “and it’s ten with us up in ‘eaven, Sundays and all, there being so few on us to run the place on” that’s why ‘e wanted to change eh?’
‘Yes’ she said to Bert Jones ‘yes when ‘e said ‘e was going to the concert in the City Hall’ she breathed on H in Hall ‘I said let you go and so ‘ere we are again, the city orchestra ‘ave begun for another season and now I’ll be on my own again, Friday nights. I said to ‘im, “Yes. But don’t consider” I said, “that I’ll be a stay at ‘ome even if I ‘ave to go out alone, no I can go and take myself out for a walk and get a mouthful of fresh air for myself thank you.” Still who would’ve thought it, meeting you in the road like that, I don’t know I’m sure.’
‘The world’s a small place.’
‘Yes’ she said ‘me walking down the road and there you are. Well!’
‘I did use to be going out with a young lady but ‘er parents ‘ave just moved to London where her dad’s found a job so she’s up there now.’
‘So we’re both in the same boat, as they say.’
‘Ah and it’s a lonely kind of a boat ain’t it? But you wouldn’t be affected really seeing the orchestra only plays Friday nights.’
‘Yes, but I got no use for someone that goes off at a moment’s notice when I was just looking forward to the pictures for this evening. There’s not many in front of us, we’ll be inside within a half hour.’
‘It kind of puts you out.’
‘Yes it does, yes I like to know what I’m going to do of an evening. So when ‘e went I said it’s no use your sitting moping indoors alone, you go out to the pictures anyway, even if it is alone.’
‘But wasn’t there anyone in where you live?’
‘No you see Mr Craigan was gone with Jim to the concert, ‘e says girls can’t understand music though I’m very fond of it myself, yes I am, and my dad was out of the ‘ouse before you could say knife, soon as Mr Craigan was off to the concert.’
‘It makes the evenings long when there’s no one in the ‘ouse.’
‘Yes it does doesn’t it. Yes the minutes seem like hours.’
‘I like a bit of music myself. And it’s pretty fair the music in this movie ‘ouse.’
Why she said when they did get in, wasn’t that strange what would’ve happened to the lights and girl in front turned round to her saying they had been up ever since she’d been in. Lily said with the film going on and all, wasn’t it hard on the eyes she said and Mr Jones said he didn’t understand it, he’d never known it before like this. Yes man in front said turning back to him, yes all the evening but people in front cried ssh: band was playing softly, softly.
A great number were in cinema, many standing, battalions were in cinemas over all the country, young Mr Dupret was in a cinema, over above up into the sky their feeling panted up supported by each other’s feeling, away away, Europe and America, mass on mass their feeling united supporting, renewed their sky.
‘They’re always playing this tune ‘ere’ she said looking for opening in conversation.
‘They are’ he said carefully.
‘D’you come to this one often then?’
‘Before my young lady went up to London.’
‘I think the music’s lovely ‘ere.’
Later they found seats. Sweetness of agitation in her, both her and he sitting bolt upright. So they continued sitting. And film came round again, that one, to where it was when they first came in.
‘Shall we stay on a bit now the band’s back again?’ he said.
‘I don’t mind I’m sure.’
So still upright. But she tired.
‘We might as well go’ she said trembling. He did not see this.
He walked her home, neither said much to other. She no longer trembled and indeed was bored now. In the street they met Gates that was a little drunk. He wheezed, out of breath.
‘They’re only takin’ those that are short of breath up in ‘eaven now’ he said ‘they run short of trumpets there, ‘arps is all the go now’ he said.
‘I’ll wager that was Tupe you got that from’ she said.
‘ ‘Ow’d you know’ said he.
‘Everyone is in the Guards now or in business’ repeated he to himself coming in to one of the private rooms in London office. He thought if she had said that as last night she had well then he need not be so humiliated. But he was, oh yes. Last night had been one of those nights, clearly had he seen then extent of tomorrow’s humiliation. Aye and clearly had seen himself throwing up bastions around citadel of his personality now all of it retreated back, in state of siege, behind ‘everyone now is a Guardee or in business’.
He threw away cigarette.
It was because, all of it, because she was so beautiful, he repeated to himself, so beautiful.
After all I work, repeated he to himself, I work, here I am in London offices of Dupret & Son, general engineers.
Why had they not brought the correspondence? He rang.
‘Why hasn’t Mr Sewell brought in this morning’s letters?’
‘He hasn’t come yet Mr Dupret’
‘He hasn’t come’ he said echo echo to Miss Wilbraham. That dreadful night he thought. Mary had been late — that other with fellows twirling small moustaches round about her, she laughing — and Mary, when she had come, furious, he could not find why. May have been she’d bought new hat. Bother bother. And here was whole day stretching out in front. What had been her name? A — a — Anne — Anya — Nunk — HANNAH GLOSSOP.
‘It is not’ Archer was saying ‘it is not a thing I want to bring officially before you Mr Dupret, for instance I would never contemplate putting the facts before your father, sir, but I would like to bring it to your notice in a semi-official manner. Of course in your position you want to know everything that is going on and I know that you are already “au fay” with everything that goes on. I know that you have already noticed in the short time, comparatively short time you have been in the business that, all is not well at Birmingham. I mean this that it is not running smoothly. I always look on a business as a kind of machine Mr Dupret, one unit, I shall never forget my old employer old Mr March drawing my attention to that aspect of trade, and of course when one part is not running smoothly, wants oiling shall we say, then that machine or unit is not functioning to its full productive capacity. Well a few days ago I received this letter Mr Dupret which I should like to place before you. Of course before you read it I must say that the writer never intended it to be read by anyone but myself, Tarver is not the man to do anything behind another man’s back, but in my opinion, for what it is worth, I am sure he is one of the most promising younger men in the Birmingham side. Of course this letter is in the strictest confidence sir, I’m sure Tarver would be most upset if he knew I was giving it to you to read and yet I am certain I would be failing in my duty if I didn’t bring it to your notice.’
More frightful trouble Mr Dupret said to himself and took the letter.
Intrigue he cried in his mind, still sitting in private room in London office, intrigue and how horrible people are. Of course Archer was working against old Bridges for Bridges ignored Mr Archer and only dealt with him through old Walters. Both these were old, old.’ How horrible they all were and everyone too for that matter, loathsome the people in buses, worse in trams of course — he faintly smiled.
And when you went out anywhere, he went on in his mind about people, how rude everyone, and they did not laugh at your jokes. And when you sat sweating here in daytime when you might be dodging enemies in the Park or receiving rudeness impassively there, here you were dying of it, the badly managed intrigues, another’s mistake so ignorantly exploited, mismanaged. They were like children in their intrigues, like little children, cried he in his mind and then casting back to Hannah Glossop, what figure must he have cut when she did not see point in ‘a little place I know of.’ He might have said ‘I wot of and so it would have been worse, one should never be, he thought, facetious in conversation with a stranger. Still it would have been ‘I know of,’ yes must have been.
So stupid are they he said still going on, that there is no doing with them, and there his mind stopped and only kept on repeating then, ‘no doing with them.’
Later temper began to come up gorgon-headed within him, he flagellated it, words hung across his mind — stupidity, and then — angry, and then — old men. We shall be ruined cried he in his mind, business will go bankrupt, ‘to Siam, Siam,’ ‘not functioning to its full capacity for production’: the old men are smashing it, he cried, something has got to be done, must.
‘Who would it be?’ Mrs Eames said, holding baby.
‘Bentley ‘is name is’ said Mr Eames.
‘So that’s what you do when you go up to the garden, you stand talking to that class. You ought to ‘ave more respect for your child.’
‘Well I didn’t tell ‘im he was right did I?’
‘And what’s coming to the garden when you’re standing there gossiping all the time?’
‘It’s staying there.’
‘Oh gor blimey, you men it’s enough to drive us women mad.’
‘Well it is staying there isn’t it?’
‘You hadn’t ought to stand listening to a man of ‘is kind.’
‘I’ll do as I please’ he said taking off spectacles to wipe them ‘and I’m not saying a good deal of what ‘e said weren’t true.’
‘Lord I can’t keep mad at you when you take your specs off. You ‘ave a look about you of the lamp post outside.’
‘I’m not saying a lot of what ‘e touched on ‘e wasn’t justified in saying. To my way of thinking they didn’t ought to keep the tackle in the way they do. The crane in our shop ain’t safe now and Aaron Connolly driving it don’t make it any safer.’
The lathes he said were all anyhow and any time now he said glass roof might fall in if gale of wind came.
‘You’ll give me fits’ she said.
‘And the government inspector’s meant to look to all that but there’s a woman comes to our place mostly and what can she know about it. And there ain’t a girl in the whole factory. Old Bentley didn’t mention that no nor did I for I thought ‘e might never stop if I went suggesting things to ‘im.’
‘That’s, right’ she said ‘don’t get into argument with that sort.’
‘ ‘E’s a decent enough feller all right.’
‘Don’t you go talking with them.’
‘Why shouldn’t I?’
‘It ain’t going to do no good to your wife or child.’
‘What ain’t. You talk too much that’s what it is. If Eve hadn’t’ve started off clacking the serpent wouldn’t ‘ave caught ‘er in his trap.’
‘Oo began it, the serpent or her, tell me that.’
‘Well I don’t know if I remember for sure which of ‘em it was.’
‘You don’t know the Bible, that’s what’s the matter with you my man.’
‘Well what if I don’t know, where’s the Bible come into it anyway?’
‘Never you mind.’
‘What’s Adam and Eve got to do with Bentley?’
‘You begun that, I don’t know.’
‘I did not.’
‘Why you know you did.’
‘I did not.’
‘I don’t know I’m sure,’ she said, ‘but you did, I know that. Well anyway what’s the use in arguing. I’m going to bed.’
‘I’m about ready too.’
Halfway upstairs she turned round and said to remember to lock front door for turning then to baby in her arms ‘love’ she said ‘they might come in the night and steal you away. And what would we do then, and what would we do then?’
‘Well when are you going to let us have some of that Bryson order?’ asked Mr Walters.
‘In a twelve month’ darkly said Mr Bridges.
‘Someone at it again?’
‘The day I got the specifications from London I sent them to the drawing office and now I can’t get anything. Everything’s done that I can do. Seven days they’ve had ‘em and not a thing on paper yet.’
‘What’s Tarver up to then?’
‘I don’t know’ cried Mr Bridges ‘don’t ask me. But ‘is nails take a long time paring.’
‘We’ve got to have them’ (Walters’ voice today was dull as felt).
‘You can’t get drawings out of him, everyone hi this place knows how I’ve tried to get on with ‘im. I could go up there and cry my eyes out but dirty Shylock he’s like stone, and he’d leave the place straightaway, quick as knife, if anyone went into his place. If I went in he’d knock me on the head. I never go near him, just to keep him in a good temper I daren’t do it, he goes up in smoke if you so much as look at ‘im.’
‘What are we to do then?’
‘Don’t ask me I’m telling you.’
‘I’d better see him.’
‘Only a week or two ago I had to have a word with him over that Smithson plant he was seven weeks with, only a week ago. He said Bumpus had been ill and he wanted another man as well. Where’s the money going to come from to pay that extra man, eh, tell me that? If we can’t keep overheads down where are we? And still there’s not everyone could do so nice a job when ‘e’s in the mood. But we’ll be out of business before he’s done. It’s all fine enough to be pleased with yourself as punch but there’s others can do the job just as good and in half the time. That’s what it is in business now, they take any job so long as you do it quick.’
‘I’ll see him, Arthur.’
‘You look out what you’re doing. Something’s up, you haven’t got to be blind to see that. I gave ‘im something to chew that other day and had ‘im on his knees before my chair there where you’re sitting. He was sick as if I’d been Mussolini and given him cod liver oil. And then he looked so perked up a day or two after I didn’t know what to make of it. Now the young fellow’s coming down. What’s there in all this?’
‘Archer and young Mr Dupret have been a lot together lately’ said Mr Walters with muted drama and called through to office for Miss Maisie Alexander to get Mr Tarver.
‘Have they eh? And d’you know what Tarver said I was to Maisie, said I was off it, crazy. Can you work with a man like that, and when he’s old enough to be your son. What are you going to say to ‘im?’
‘You leave it to me Arthur.’
Then Tarver came in.
‘How are you Mr Tarver? Keeping fit?’
‘I’m fine thanks Colonel. Feeling on top of the world.’
‘That’s good. Is the wife well?’
‘Fit as she can be.’
‘That’s good. Look here about that Bryson order, they telephoned me yesterday—’
‘Yesterday? How’s that?’
‘They’re expecting that jacket right away.’
‘Why I only got the rough drawings three days ago.’
‘Three days ago’ cried Mr Bridges.
‘Three days ago’ said Mr Tarver.
‘What’s that?’ said Mr Walters.
‘I don’t know when anyone else got ‘em’ said Mr Tarver ‘but we got the specifications Tuesday in our office.’
Then they lied for some time all of them.
Was no record of when specifications went from office of works manager to drawing office and Walters said perhaps they had been lying about in cost office before they had gone through to Tarver, but Bridges and this one did not listen. One waved newspaper, other clenched fist over rolled up handkerchief in his hand and bit at ends of it.
Gradually they got quieter.
‘What we want’ said Mr Bridges ‘is the work to go through.’
‘That’s what we are all trying to do in our different ways’ said Mr Walters and Mr Tarver said ‘We’re working just for that and nothing else.’
‘Of course it’s got to be a good job, an engineer’s job’ Bridges said.
‘We’ve got the best name in the trade for the quality of the work we turn out’ Walters said.
‘But how’d you expect anyone to turn it out in three days, that’s what I can’t get hold of Tarver said.
‘But as you were saying just now Arthur’ Mr Walters murmured as if he had not heard Mr Tarver ‘the whole trend of modern business is that they don’t care how it is so long as they get the job quick.’
‘What d’you mean three days’ said Bridges to Tarver, ‘more like three weeks, and that’s not guess work it’s observation, I haven’t sat watching you these days and days with what I’ve seen going in at one eye and out of the next.’
‘Where’d you get three weeks. It was the day before yesterday when I got those measurements.’
‘Day before yesterday, Thursday, Wednesday, d’you hear that Tom’ to Mr Walters ‘ ‘e’s on a new talk now, it was six days I remember him telling us not three minutes back.’
‘It was not.’
‘I’m not saying any more’ Mr Bridges said ‘you go on and talk it out between you if talking helped anyone ever.’ He went out.
‘There goes a fine man’ said Mr Walters. ‘Look here’ he said speaking like as of earthquake or the deluge ‘look here we’re all Brummagen men all three of us let’s face up to this, John, like fellow citizens. I know and you know Arthur’s hard to work with when he’s got one of his tantrums on him, I’ve had some times with him, my word, but you know he’s got a lot better in the last few years. But in the old days my word, it’s nothing to what it used to be. And of course you’re a young man and this place will seem to you a dead alive sort of hole but you’ve got to take into account mind you that there’s not more than ten per cent of the engineering firms in this country making above three per cent profits.’
‘That’s all they declare’ said Mr Tarver.
‘I don’t know, that’s a big thing to say. In London you get a pretty good view of the whole thing and from what I’ve been told I say it’s that myself. Now look here John you won’t find another firm that’ll give you so much scope, you haven’t got much to do, you get time here to work out your ideas and put ‘em on paper. Let’s get down to it and live in peace. Why when I was with Watsons you were lucky if you got away with it of a morning without someone about the place resigning or getting the sack. There was no time to work or know whether you were on your head or not. But here you’ve got your own office pretty well, and there isn’t all that amount to do.’
‘That’s just what there is. I can’t get through it with Bumpus bad on and off like ‘e is. We’ve got to do something, though it’ll take two years to do it in this place. And I must have another draughtsman because as it is now he’ nodding to door ‘he’s on at me the whole time like a can with a stone in it at the end of a dog’s tail so that I can’t do anything for worry three parts of the time. You can’t work with him.’
‘I’ve had terrible times with him myself, terrible times, don’t I know it. But I’ve stuck it out and I’ve done better for myself in this firm than I could in most others. Though you might see eye to eye with him, he’s a fine man, you can’t help respecting him. There’s not everyone could have done what he’s done for himself.’
‘But what’s ‘e do for the firm?’
‘He’s done more than anyone for it except myself John.’
‘Oh well I’ll say this, squire, I’ve got nothing against him personally.’
‘No that’s right—’ and so Mr Walters quieted Mr Tarver and the door opened minutes later.
‘That bed-plate’ said Mr Bridges coming in, ‘it’s a worry, every time I go into the works and go by it I could go crazy. Crazy’ he said remembering Miss Alexander, ‘crazy, of course you can’t expect much of a man that’s crazy especially when he’s manager. Little things like dates you can’t expect him to remember that.’
‘What’s wrong with the bed-plate Arthur?’ Mr Walters said.
‘It’s cracked, you can put the blade of your knife in a full quarter of an inch. I’m having them fake it up but there it is there, they’ve only got to spot it and the money’s gone.’
‘You cement it and no one will notice.’
‘The vibration of the engine when it’s set up will crack it right across’ said Mr Tarver.
‘Oho’ said Mr Bridges ‘but when you’ve seen as many bed-plates as I have my lad you’ll tell a different tale to your grandmother. Why I remember one bed-plate I saw at the H.B.S. and the moulder put his trowel right down into it and it’s working now on a liner.’
Mr Tarver was smiling.
‘Well that’s all Tarver for the moment’ said Mr Walters but as soon as he was gone Mr Bridges cried out’ ‘ave you seen anything like it, smilin’ like a mandarin, what’s ‘e got up his sleeve? And he talks about engineering, why if it came down to drawing a door knob ‘e couldn’t do it. That’s what we’re coming to, eh, cubs like ‘im and ‘is little master trying to teach us. And I’ve given all I know to this firm, you know it, we all know it, I’ve worked my heart out. It makes you want to hang yourself by the window cord from the window. Years of work and now this.’
‘The chief isn’t dead yet’ said Mr Walters ‘and now he’s fallen down in the street maybe he won’t be so fond of walking across them as he was before, so he’ll add another ten years to his life. You can’t do it now unless you’re a young man’ said Mr Walters to Mr Bridges and soon he was talking of the difference in Birmingham and London streets and by much talking of such things friendly to both of them he dressed Mr Bridges’ wounds.
‘That bed-plate’ said Mr Bridges — ‘come along John as you’re there. They were at me this morning on the ‘phone calling me names, I might have been anything, a urinal, anything.’
‘Their man said he’d put his walking stick into the one we sent him, he knows how he did it I don’t, it was a wee crack, I could only put my knife in a bare eighth. What’s he want with a walking stick in a factory eh, d’you call that business. It beats me how he’s the cheek to say that over a public service like the telephone.’
Bridges and Tarver hurried down through works to iron foundry.
‘It’s going to cost a fortune, eh, we’ve got to cut the old one up and this one to replace it will take two men and a boy five days to ram up and six-and-a-half to finish, then it’s got to be dried. We can’t stand it. It’s a worry.’
They came to iron foundry.
‘They’ve put Craigan on it then’ said Mr Tarver when he had seen what, as he told Bumpus later, he had not believed when he was told.
‘I told him (meaning foreman) to do that. Craigan may be a bit slow now but he’s sure. It’ll be a fine job when he’s done with it’ Bridges was singing with sureness almost. ‘We can’t afford to have another like the last one.’ His mood changing ‘By God’ he cried ‘but look at the land it’s taking.’
We can’t afford to have them at all thought Mr Tarver. But I’m not saying anything yet awhile he said to himself.
‘Get on with that bed-plate man’ Bridges said rushing threateningly on foundry foreman Philpots.
‘Yessir’ foreman said ‘they’re tearing into it.’
Tearing into it thought Mr Tarver, two old age pension men and one young feller which looks like girl!
‘We’re doing over on it’ said Philpots, foundry foreman.
There you are said Tarver to himself overtime and so much more on the job and one that I wouldn’t answer their enquiry if I was manager. You can bet, he thought, they had to circularize all the old county to find a fool big enough to try and cast a thing that shape and manage to make a good one. Robbery, just robbery.
‘It’s robbery, dirty robbery in daylight, making us do another’ said Mr Bridges to Philpots, ‘I put my knife in that crack and it was a bare quarter yet they sent it back. But we can’t afford to quarrel with them. Don’t you leave it day or night Andrew’ foreman’s name was Andrew Philpots, ‘it’s worth your job to you, and mine to myself. The chief’d soon have me chasing if this happened twice in a year.’
‘There they are’ Joe Gates said of Mr Bridges and Tarver to Dale and Mr Craigan, ramming. Gates shovelled sand.
‘More sand’ Dale said.
They worked fast for another hour.
‘Hold on’ said Mr Craigan and then straightened backs. His eyes were like black stones with anger.
Later that evening, when they were home he said again he was getting to be old man. Lily and Jim Dale separately worried about his saying this, Joe Gates was too tired. He had never said that before, either said in his own mind.