Lily stood in hat and coat by kitchen window quickly cutting stairs of bread. When she had stack of these by her she reached to tin of beef that was by the loaf and in stretching she raised head and saw man in garden next theirs digging in his garden. Behind him was line of chimney pots, for next street to theirs in that direction was beneath, hidden by swell of gardens back of their street. This man, then, leant on his spade and was like another chimney pot, dark against dark low clouds in the sky. Here pigeon quickly turned rising in spirals, grey, when clock in the church tower struck the quarter and away, away the pigeon fell from this noise in a diagonal from where church was built and that man who leant on his spade. Like hatchets they came towards Lily, down at her till when they were close to window they stopped, each clapped his wings then flew away slowly all of them, to the left. She had drawn back to full height. Then again she looked at that man and he also had been watching the pigeon. He again began to dig but the clock striking had told her she had time yet and she wondered at him digging in that unfruitful earth and that he was out of work and most likely would be for most of the rest of his days. There he was digging land which was worn out.
She reached to the beef and cut thin slices off it. One slice she put between two stairs of bread and when the sandwiches were all made she wrapped them up into a parcel. She looked once more at man digging and went out into the streets. At a corner some way from their house she waited for Mr Jones.
While she stood there waiting for Bert Jones clock struck the half hour and noise of it came faintly to her from where she had come. Just afterwards the syrens sounded and in Dupret factory. Mr Gates came out of iron foundry with the others and joined in long crowd of other men going out. All were animated at thought of the weekend though many talked still of how that morning nine men had been turned off for age. Laughing, and one man would shout to another ten yards in front of him in the crowd and some boys, separated from each other, threw balls of rolled up paper at each other above heads of these men. Day was dark and white paper balls were thrown above this dark crowd quickly moving to the gate and darkly Mr Gates went with them by side of Mr Tupe. He said his stomach felt like that lathe was working on end of it and he said this day was bitterest he would ever remember, a black day. Mr Tupe did not listen then, he also had got his cards and indeed, from moment that morning when they had been turned off both of them he had no use for Gates any more. By his being suspended he would be short of money so he would have to crawl to Gates now when he wanted a drink, (Mr Craigan was said to have money put by), instead of Gates making up to him for his company. Also this had been great shock to him, he had felt secure as Mr Bridges’ spy.
Bentley came up outside gate and tried to shake hands with Gates, saying how bad he felt about their being turned off but Mr Gates would have nothing to do with him, his mind was all on himself. Bentley went off with Tupe. One thing only cheered Mr Gates. He had Craigan’s cards in his pocket, now he had only to go on living in that house and Craigan would keep him to end of his days. And he would bring the wench to reason, if she married Dale then they were set right till they should die.
As he walked back along streets to Mr Craigan’s house he thought how Tupe had made him the goat for all others in public house last night and he thought he was all square with Tupe now, being in the better position. But also he felt hopeless for he saw how he would be always under the dominion of Mr Craigan, and that made Mm savage with that hang-over he had, and being suspended being on his mind.
When he came into their house he found Dale was before him there. He went into kitchen.
‘Where’s Lil?’ Dale said.
‘ ‘Ow do I know where she is?’ said Mr Gates.
‘She ain’t laid the dinner,’ he said and Gates looked and swore. It was bare except for loaf of bread and the tinned beef so he picked up tinned beef and would have thrown it up chimney with histrionic gesture but he remembered he was now on Craigan’s charity. He put it back on table.
‘Maybe she’s up with the old man,’ he said and went to wash.
Mr Dale went upstairs. By time Mr Gates had done washing he calls down from top of the stairs to say she hasn’t been up there since half past ten. Carefully putting Mr Craigan’s cards in middle of kitchen table Mr Gates went out, bursting to get drunk.
(He had money he had earned from Wednesday to Saturday and still had some of his last Friday’s money which he had not been able to drink away all of it.)
Mr Dale went back to Craigan where he lay in bed. He said Lily was gone and Craigan said gone? Mr Dale said yes and she had not laid any dinner for them, hadn’t cooked anything. Craigan said he was sorry for that, and this was first time he had ever apologized to Mr Dale, perhaps he could go cut himself some bread and cheese he said. But Mr Dale sat down on chair at side of the bed and Craigan, after looking at his face which was expressionless, began complaining. He said, and lately he had talked more and more, here he lay looking out of his window on the city with nothing but his thoughts by him. When you were old was little else to do but think, people same age as you died and you could not always expect young people to come and talk to you. And somehow, he said, he had lost the taste for Dickens, times were different now to when that man lived — it was funny he said that he should wait till he was this age to grow restless. Then again wireless was no longer what it had been and it got monotonous looking out down on the town hour after hour with days growing longer as they were.
Mr Dale looked past him out of the window and saw the shapes of factories and looked down streets down there below them. He picked out Parker’s and out beyond was the Selwyn Motor Co. and over there was Beales and over there was Pullins. Then again picture of Lily running off with Bert Jones came before his mind and he looked down at floor again.
Town beneath them was a deep blue, like the Gulf Stream, with channels which were the roads cutting it up, appearing, being hidden, and they the colour of steel when it has been machined. Above it factory chimneys were built, the nearest rose up almost to level of where they were in bedroom only way away, and others further away came not so high. Rain had fallen ninety minutes before and this wet was now drying off the roofs. But these still glowed with white cold that steel has when it has been machined, and the streets also.
Mr Dale spoke out then. He said maybe she had run off with Bert Jones. But Craigan said why should it bother him her going for a walk with Jones and most likely she had not had dinner ready for them because she had been wild with her father at his clouting her. He said Dale should not worry about things like that, because he was a young man, and to wait till he got to his, Craigan’s, age, then was time to worry when was no longer time for anything, when life began to draw away from you.
So Craigan’s voice droned on his complaint and Mr Dale thought bow much more reason he had to complain and how the old man was losing grip, not to see Lily meant running off with Jones. But Mr Craigan did not want to see and when Dale went off he lay back and looked at the ceiling.
Mr Dale went up to centre of the town, to the Bull Ring and he wandered through markets there and through the Rag Market, joining in the crowds, drifting where they went. Mr Craigan lay on his back in his bed. He did not want to realize, even that he no longer worked at Dupret’s (for Mr Dale had told him when first he came in) till turning his head his face rolled over opposite to the window. Sun had come out and showed between two rolls of cloud. Shining on the streets, points of the factory chimneys also caught some of it, and the wet roofs also that were on a path between him and the sun struck out at his eyes with brilliance. Mr Craigan turned his face from it.
Mr Craigan had gone to work when he was nine and every day he had worked through most of daylight till now, when he was going to get old age pension. So you will hear men who have worked like this talk of monotony of their lives, but when they grow to be old they are more glad to have work and this monotony has grown so great that they have forgotten it. Like on a train which goes through night smoothly and at an even pace — so monotony of noise made by the wheels bumping over joints between the rails becomes rhythm — so this monotony of hours grows to be the habit and regulation on which we grow old. And as women who have had nits in their hair over a long period collapse when these are killed, feeling so badly removal of that violent irritation which has become stimulus for them, so when men who have worked these regular hours are now deprived of work, so, often, their lives come to be like puddles on the beach where tide no longer reaches. But his time being up at Dupret factory woke Mr Craigan. At first, lying in bed after Mr Dale had gone, he was bitter. But when fully he saw that his working days were done he thought it was right he should be discharged, being an old man like he was. He began thinking again about Lily Gates.
When he had lain in bed, when he should have been at work, then rhythm had stopped for him and he had no motive, as rhythm was stopped, to get out of bed. Like as if train had stopped outside a station but now it draws in where he must get out and see to motorbike he rides on from now on. So this woke Mr Craigan, and he saw Lily was indispensable to his being now he had to sit about. Turning head on his pillow he saw shower was gathering over beyond the town and he was pleased. He thought that would drive them in if indeed they were out together.
Miss Gates walked with Mr Jones through streets and she was leading him to field where first he had kissed her.
She stopped him by yard of a monumental sculptor and they looked at tombstones there, both saying nothing and both dark with the white marble. One small stone had ‘Reunited’ only carved in middle of it and she wondered there should be no name and then wondered how much families got off price of headstones when they let them be shown lettered in the yard. All were recent — to memory of so-and-so 1927 and another, January, 1928.
When we think — it might be flock of pigeons flying in the sky so many things go to make our thought, the number of pigeons, and they don’t fly straight. Now one pigeon will fly away from the greater number, now another: sometimes half the flock will follow one, half the other till they join again. So she thought about tombstones and how sculptor made it pay showing so many spoiled ones in his window as it might be. Till she dismissed this from her mind, thinking he would make it pay handsomely and well in any case.
When they came to that field they sat under hedge and he spread mackintosh he was carrying for them to sit on. At once she came to the point. She said they had waited too long…
She went on with arguments for their going which we have heard and he. Soon passionate scene was being enacted, as they say. Shower came on, rain welted down on them but neither noticed till at last, as she pushed her face into his yet again, suddenly her arms round his clothes felt his nerves go slack and he said they would go tomorrow.
So, as pigeon when she had watched out of kitchen window had flown diagonally down in a wedge and then recovered themselves, as each one had clapped his wings and gone slowly away, so she drew back from him, her mind unbound, and said to him: ‘Why look it’s raining.’
It was raining — it’s coming on to rain decided Mr Craigan when he noticed it. He thought this would drive them in and he must see her face when first she came in from being with him, if indeed they had been out together.
With great care he got out of bed and went on his knees. He crawled to cupboard where his clothes were. This he had thought out, considering that his legs after three weeks in bed would be too weak to support his body, and he did not want to risk falls. Shapeless hump in his nightshirt he crawled along the floor. He dressed. His fingers trembled. Now and again he doubted if he had been discharged from Dupret factory. He knew he was best moulder in the shop.
With very great care he went downstairs. When he was down he stood at the foot to take breath. Well, he thought, he was down and this evening he would sit in the front room. He opened door into it and like all these front rooms air in it was stagnant but as he looked round for something out of its place, or as it should not be, he was satisfied by it. Was nothing but what was right. Well, he thought, whatever you might say against her the wench kept house clean as a whistle.
She would not keep it so clean if she had some light-witted notion in her head, so he thought and he was wrong for in this case Miss Gates was half ashamed at what she planned and had tried to justify herself in her own mind by doing more on the house than she had done before. But Mr Craigan was growing old, so more easily to be reassured. Still, picking out Little Dorrit from the bookshelf, he sat down in his best suit in the best chair and thought of what he would say to her that evening when she came in. Most likely she would be late if she had been with him and that would be added chance of saying something.
He sat. And he was so satisfied at how he had found the house after his time in bed, and above all so satisfied with his legs that had not given way as he went downstairs, as he had feared they would, that he fell into doze over open book.
Round about seven Miss Gates came in. Taking off hat and coat she put them on a chair. She pressed palms of hands to her cheeks. Then she began to put out things for supper and to get food out of the cupboard. Her moving about in the next room woke Mr Craigan. He got out of his chair and carefully went to the door. He came in. As he came in she put his cards down which she had just seen on kitchen table. Her face wore guilty look as if he had sur prised her prying into his life. She said:
‘So you’re down.’ He was expecting to be first to speak and this put him off his guard but also he had recognized them as his cards which she had been holding, and now what had been uneasy feeling about losing his job was big as a slag heap before him.
‘Ah. I’m down.’
She said no more to this and went on getting things out for supper. He was hurt she should take no more notice of his being downstairs, now of all times. But he was not going to talk about his being finished at Dupret’s, he was not going to be first to open that. He thought of what to say:
‘Maybe that’s so much labour wasted o’ your’n my gal,’ he said, ‘maybe they won’t come in for supper after there weren’t any dinner for ‘em.’
‘Maybe they will, maybe they won’t but it’ll be there for them, yes, on the kitchen table.’
This was so unlike her that Mr Craigan thought must have been more in her bawl out with her father than Jim had told him. For more you came to think on it more unlikely it was that she thought to run away from him. Where would they go? She hadn’t got the banns out or he’d have heard. And his Lil would never stand for rooms, married or not. And there were his cards on the table.
‘What made you not put dinner on for ‘em?’
She did not answer him.
‘Surely,’ he said, ‘you can’t be mopin’ like a pup that your dad ‘it you?’
He waited to hear her sniff. Time was when anything from him had made her cry. Irritated, he expounded one of the great principles he lived by:
‘In this ‘ouse,’ he said, ‘the wage earners must ‘ave hot meals every night bar Fridays, if they don’t come back midday for it And on Saturdays there is to be two ‘ot meals, and one on Sunday.’
‘Well ain’t this going to be a ‘ot meal?’ she said.
He turned and went back into front room. In two minutes he felt he would be complaining to her of his health, instead of taking her to task. Again he said in mind he felt now to be an old man. Yes, and then, he thought, they took first chance they had to deprive you of work. Thinking he would have it out with her Sunday night, not now, not just now, he turned all his anger on to subject of Dupret factory, against his better judgment.
She was so excited anything she handled seemed to be alive. Bert had surprised her, yes, out of all knowledge. Once he’d said he would go he’d let out he’d looked up trains, he’d been so masterful, yes, it was now or never.
Neither Mr Dale nor Gates came in to supper. She waited for them. When still they did not come she put up the hot dish and took some sewing into front room where Mr Craigan sat. He said hadn’t they come in and she said no. He said how was that? ‘they ‘ave no right not to come in when their supper’s ready for ‘em,’ and she was pleased at that and thought her coming in had taken all suspicion from his mind.
She sat in a tumult, trying to keep fingers steady on her sewing.
Mr Dale came in then. She went into the kitchen and brought him his supper. When all had been put before him she said was anything he wanted? but he said no. She said something about bed and went upstairs. Craigan thought it was that she did not want to come face to face with Gates, when he would make her say to Joe she was wrong before all of them. Mr Dale ate and then came into front room where Craigan was. They sat in silence. Then at last Craigan began complaining. Gates being out gave him pretext for his complaint, how Gates was always out and now that they were finished at Dupret’s they would not be able to afford boozers. Mr Dale also thought if it weren’t for Lily he could go out and see the world now, travelling up and down England. But he would say goodbye to more than that for Lily. Some years of his life had been staked on her, like impaled, he could not think to let them go for nothing, the years and all he had said to her. (He had spoken little or nothing to her all that time.)
Just then Mr Gates came out of public house. He was drunk and in state of righteous indignation. Mr Tupe came out after him. He was in same state as Mr Gates. He said to find her out, to go and give her a good thraipin. ah, to make her give up all these mad thoughts and to marry decent and regular, to a respectable man, to Mr Dale, he said, that everyone in factory respected along with Mr Craigan. This he meant and he was sincere in this for he saw many free drinks in money Joe would get from that old man. But misfortune was following him like a dog for Mr Gates at that moment suddenly became aware to full extent of his own misfortunes come upon him this day. He broke loudly into long recitation of all the oaths known to him. This was more than what policeman on the corner would stand for and this one ran him in, took him to police station, locked Joe up.