What is a town then, how do I know? What did they do? They went by lamps, lamps, lamps, each one with light and dark strung up on it each with streets these were in. Houses made the streets, people made the houses. People lived in them, thousands millions of lives. Each life dully lived and the life next it, pitched together, walls between built, dully these lives went out onto streets promenaded dullness there. Ugly clothes, people, houses. They went along through these, strangers to it, she did not recognize her own form of ugliness in it.
Thousands of lamps, hundreds of streets, each house had generally a mother and complacent father, procreation, breeding, this was only natural thing there in that miserable thing home, natural to them because it was domesticated. Procreating was like having a dog, in particular spaniels. Fido who I’m so grateful to. Miserable people. Clerks dregs lowest of people these not fat and meat but like bellied fish or schoolmasters, in particular cod.
Sunday is worst day in the world. You can go out Sunday and come back in everything sucked out of you by inquisitiveness in eyes in residential districts, from clerk’s fleshlessness. At night they all stay in, most of all Sundays, after a little fiddling walk for the wife to show off clothes after showing them off through a little bit of fiddling church service. Some of them have little jolly card parties with a few jolly fellows. They may be coming walking back from it. But for them, no one about. Getting dark now, each lamp has light and dark to it. By gad didn’t know it was so late well better be getting along now or the wife won’t have it eh, think I’m up to some of the old games what well old chap I’ll say goodnight now oh I say no I say old man did you see your wife give me a kiss well perhaps it was a good thing you didn’t what, Gracie you’re the sweetest little woman, with another of course oh, that well dash it all that ever was. Well goodnight and God bless you all — well and my goodness now if he wasn’t wiping a little wet wetness out of the corner of his little yellow little eyeballs God bless us.
Or is it the young sweetheart saying goodnight at the gate of the eight by four front garden to the girl chosen for him, her arch as her photographs. And her kiss has lit such a little light in him, like a little flaming candle, he’ll warm himself over it all night yes he will. Inside the old people draw up nearer to the fire, out at the garden gate, Mary, when we were young what a glorious thing life was, Mary, glorious youth — but there’s life in these old bones yet be said thinking Fido, only Fido wasn’t biting.
They had come on tram to outskirts of Liverpool. They were walking in the direction back in now. They looked for address of shop. Mr Jones knew his way. Smell of the sea was at her, forcing itself on her.
They had been on edge of the Residential District. They were coming now to blinded shops. Roads were broader, lighter by a little. Here was dropsical fatness of shopkeepers’ paunches, when they got to address they were looking for they knocked one up. Early to bed early to rise this one’s motto. In nightshirt he came to window above. He leaned paunch out over window frame, he let his weight sink on it, bulging. If they’d wait two minutes he would get address for them where their parents had moved and in his place at window showed curling papers like bobbins. Whining voice came from inside of that room — ‘what is it ma? Ma, ma, who’s there ma, what is it?’ His wife poked her nose over window frame. Lily saw nose, one eye, curling papers.
‘Well now’ said fat shopkeeper they met afterwards squirming along in shadows of the street looking for a bit of fun — these courting couples in the doorways y’know, y’know you can see a bit o’ fun o’ nights — ‘well now’ he said, ‘it’s Mulgrave Street you want is it?’ He told them, shopkeeper they had knocked up hadn’t been able to tell them way to address he had given them and Mr Jones did not know that part of town it was in. Dropsically fat, hatpin little eyes, shopkeeper watched Miss Gates as he told them. Something up here. That gal looked frightened out of her life. But that young chap was up to a bit o’ fun. Didn’t know how to start with ‘er, that’s ‘ow it looked. Yum yum he felt in huge belly, um yum.
Now first that feeling which had soaked all through about Mr Jones, how everything, everything was wonderful, she was the sweetest girl in the world and wouldn’t the old people be glad to see her, now first that feeling ebbed and died in him. He was afraid for her as now they were going into poorer quarter of the town, streets were getting now to be the streets of ports, darkness of waters looked now to be flowing over into these streets. He did not know the way, but he knew they were going towards the docks. He had seen in his mind their coming to that shop and those there telling him to go back the way he had come with Miss Gates, to go back in direction of the Residential District. In his heart picture had warmed him of his bringing Lily to quiet respectable shop in a quiet decent street. He had thought out two ways of turning off her surprise and admiration when she saw so much prosperity. ‘It’s simple,’ was one thing he was going to say, ‘it’s simple but the old folks knows what’s comfortable.’ One thing he had always feared, and that was effect his father would have on Miss Gates and now, as they walked further, and the streets were poorer and poorer streets, it was his father he suspected as having thrown his ma’s prosperity away.
Ship’s syren sounded, wailing, and with a great pang Miss Gates thought a factory buzzer at this time of the night, it couldn’t be nightshift at this time of the night, O she did feel afraid. And that man they had asked their way of, his eyes! How dark it was getting! Well she just wouldn’t look any more if it only made her shivery, she just wouldn’t notice anything more. But it didn’t happen often, did it, that all you thought of worst came to pass. But then she thought it wasn’t quite so bad, they’d not expected to find them first go off. All the same, these streets! Well, she wouldn’t look that’s all.
At this time Mr Craigan and Mr Dale sat in kitchen.
‘Well I’ll tell you, which is more’n she did,’ Mr Dale said, ‘I’m going off.’
‘Yes,’ Mr Craigan said in low voice, ‘when ‘er cooked the Sunday dinner I dain’t think she was goin’ after. Her even doesn’t wait to wash up but off she goes like that.’
‘I ain’t goin’ to stay in this ‘ouse, I’m goin” said Mr Dale.
‘I’m not goin’ to stay ‘ere when she’s gone.’
‘I say I’m not going to stay here, I’m off too.’
‘I ain’t goin’ to stay in this ‘ouse.’
‘Where will you go to?’
‘I don’t know, I’ll find a place.’
‘Better you stay the night here Jim.’
‘No, I’m goin’ off.’
‘But what’s in your mind, leavin’ me like this?’
Mr Dale did not answer.
‘First her goes then you goes,’ Mr Craigan said, looking away from him.
Mr Dale did not answer.
‘Maybe her’ll come back tonight,’ Mr Craigan said.
‘Oh ah, so she takes ‘er sleeping things for the afternoon like she ‘as.’
Rain kept on falling. A drip made sound like hammer striking on thick piece of iron, light tap, repeating, repeating.
‘Where would you go then,’ said Mr Craigan, ‘if you be goin?’
‘I dunno,’ said Mr Dale.
‘Don’t you go. I might come over bad and then who’d be there to see to me.’
Someone knocked on front door.
‘ ‘Tis ‘er,’ Mr Craigan said and got up quickly.
Trembling he went out and stopped in front of door and heart in his mouth, holding to the wall — his hands were sweating and dampness on them sucked to it — he said who was it. If it was Lily he would not let her in at first, so he intended. But Mrs Eames answered him and said if Lily had bit of cheese she might borrow. Mr Craigan stood for three minutes then he said no. No.
‘No cheese? Not just a little bit?’
‘No,’ said Mr Craigan.
‘Sorry to ‘ave troubled you I’m sure,’ said Mrs Eames with meaning in her voice, not that she guessed Lily was away at all, only that she knew they kept cheese in their house. She went back in and said to Mr they were bad neighbours, she’d always thought it, how anybody could live with the old man, being as mean as he was, she didn’t know. Mr Eames said Joe Gates was locked up for swearing and that would be on old Craigan’s mind. Also Craigan had got the sack, along with Joe, for old age. Mrs said if she’d known she wouldn’t ‘ave gone, why hadn’t he told her. ‘I wanted a bit of cheese,’ he said. ‘What a shame on old Craigan,’ said Mrs Eames ‘that always kept himself so respectable and then his mate goes and gets himself locked up.’ ‘Well you know what I always did think about ‘im,’ she said, ‘Well now I wouldn’t like to say what I think, not now,’ she said.
But Mr Dale saw in his mind when he knew it was not her knocking, he saw he could not stay in this house and not see her any more, he could not stay and not see her any more, any more. When he had told Craigan he was going he had not really meant it but waiting to know who was knocking them up had torn only one way at his heart this time. Time was when her movements, it might be her putting plates up on the rack, they had torn all ways at his heart and he hadn’t known what way he felt towards her. But now, as formerly he’d wanted to be comforted by a woman for just going on and on every day, every day, now especially he wanted to be comforted for her not coming back. He saw he would get no sympathy in this house. So he went.
Now Mr Craigan raised no objections. He saw Dale really meant to go this time.
So Miss Gates did not look at anything. She just followed Mr Jones.
They went by public house. Man played on instrument, which was kind of xylophone, laid flat in the doorway. As the air sweats on metal so little balls of notes this man made hung on smell of stale beer which was like a slab outside the door. Man playing on this instrument was on his knees, and trunk of his body bent over it, head almost touched ground on other side of this flat instrument. Mr Jones saw position that man was in. He’d never seen one like it. Feeling of uneasiness grew up in him.
They were now in working class streets. Doors stood open. Miss Gates heard voices talking dialect strange to her. But she shut her ears to this, though it gave her slight feeling of comfort. She was so tired with walking. She got more and more blank.
Mr Jones took tighter grip on bag he was carrying, (his own he had left at railway station). They were getting into the dockers’ quarter. He did not like it. But this was Mulgrave St. And this was no. 439. He knocked on the door. Miss Gates stood, she did not look up. He knocked. Door was opened by man in his shirt sleeves. He was a stranger to Mr Jones. He told them where his parents had gone was a half-mile further on and then they’d shifted from there so he’d heard though he couldn’t say where they’d gone. He’d better go there, he said, and the people there might tell him. Miss Gates heard this and did not think at all, except she thought once it would have to finish some time. Mr Jones was frightened now. Man shut door on him and he stood frightened. Street was dark.
Street was dark. Miss Gates felt something in the street looking out, looking out then it was gone. Then it was back again. Where was Bert, had he gone? She looked up quickly but of course he was there. But street was dark. She got much more frightened and was rigid with it for two moments. Again something looked and was gone. And again. She felt no, after looking up to see if Bert was there she wouldn’t look up again to see what that was. There it was. She had to look. No she wouldn’t. She had to, so she looked. It was searchlight from the lighthouse, it stroked over sky and was gone. With great pang she wondered what that was doing there. Then she decided that was what came from looking up. She would not look up again. They began walking again. She was blank, blank. Again it came along the sky.
Mr Jones watched, watched everything but Lil. He did not like to look at her. He thought of his parents, what could have brought them to this part? He was ashamed. What they would do now he couldn’t say. What would come of it if the next address didn’t know where they’d gone. What’d he do with Lil.
Once before when their relations one with the other had come to a point, he had seen it like he was setting job up on a lathe, the foreman looking on and others in the shop watching him. Job was difficult, he’d been in two minds to begin or not. Now he was alone, lathe was stopped, he was alone. Job was going wrong. If he went now, and he would never come back, chances were they could work that bit in again for now he thought this ending was like the finish of all what you might call dreams. Anything a bit out of the way and he couldn’t do it. He blamed himself. What was the good in trying to better yourself when you couldn’t hold a better job. Now if he went on with this bit on the lathe he would hopelessly spoil it. Now, he thought, if he went on with Lily, and his parents weren’t there or in a bad way, he couldn’t ask her to take on any wife’s life in this town, the ordinary kind of life anywhere, when she’d come out to get on in the world. Better she went back to Mr Craigan which had money of his own.
For if he could not find father and mother who then would give them money for their passage. Besides it was like taking Lil on false pretences to take her to this. Smelling of the sea like this street did, it wasn’t respectable, apart from the people that lived in it. He was afraid then she might not be able to go on, who had walked so far already this evening. He hardly dared look at her. Dragging a little behind, face turned down towards the ground, he thought she looked all one way, skint. He thought it was no wonder, but then this would be the address.
He stopped. Lily stopped. Door of this house was open, man he did not know sat on chair just by it. Mr Jones said in low voice so Lily would not hear, did a man called Jones live here at one time? This man said yes but he and his wife had gone and had left no address. ‘Would you be connected with the family?’ he said. Mr Jones said ‘Yes.’ ‘Well then,’ this man said, he believed there’d been a bit of trouble but he couldn’t say for sure and said goodnight to Mr Jones. For looking at Lily he took her for daft, and he decided he did not want to be mixed up in this, for it looked funny to his mind’s eye.
Mr Jones said, ‘it ain’t much further to go now Lil,’ and went off again. She followed a little behind. He was so ashamed he did not like to come near her to help her. He only went slower as he was afraid her strength might give up any time now. He thought her blankness he saw to look at her, was her hating him.
He had remembered great tall street which should be near to them to the west. Trams ran down it. He leads her there.
They get there. It is bright with street lamps. He was sure now was nothing but to leave her get home, if he went with her it might all begin again, he might not be able to let her alone. Here they were in this tall street. He stopped by lamp post where trams stopped. She stopped. Then he sees she is crying quietly. He comes close to her and she leans a little on him. He stood so for a bit then he said, ‘Lil, here’s your bag.’ Without thinking, she was all blank, she reached down to pick it up. She looks up to him then. But he was running away down this street. She picked up bag and began to run after him, still not realizing and like obediently, like small children run, in steps, not strides. She put forefinger in her mouth. She could not see distinctly so did not see him turn down alley way. (When he got into dark court at end of this alley he crouches down in a corner beyond cone of light which falls in front of it.) He looks back over his shoulder but she had not seen him turn, she is still trotting. Tear drops off her chin. Then she saw a policeman and no Bert. She stopped. Tram drew up there which was another stopping place for trams. Woman that was there and had seen her face said quickly come in on the tram dear. She got on. Policeman turned away.