Part 2 out of 4
A GREAT CHANGE
"Helen Rathbone," said Uncle James one Tuesday afternoon, "have ye been
meddling in my cashbox?"
They were sitting in the front room, Helen in a light-grey costume that
cascaded over her chair and half the next chair, and James Ollerenshaw
in the deshabille of his Turkish cap. James was at his desk. It is
customary in the Five Towns, when you feel combative, astonished, or
ironic towards another person, to address that other person by his full
"You left the key in your cashbox this morning, uncle," said Helen,
glancing up from a book, "while you were fiddling with your safe in your
He did not like the word "fiddling." It did not suit either his dignity
or the dignity of his huge Milner safe.
"Well," he said, "and if I did! I wasn't upstairs more nor five minutes,
and th' new servant had na' come! There was but you and me in th'
"Yes. But, you see, I was in a hurry to go out marketing, and I
couldn't wait for you to come down."
He ignored this remark. "There's a tenpun' note missing," said he.
"Don't play them tricks on me, lass; I'm getting an oldish man. Where
hast hidden it? I mun go to th' bank." He spoke plaintively.
"My dear uncle," she replied, "I've not hidden your ten-pound note. I
wanted some money in a hurry, so I took it. I've spent some of it."
"Spent some of it!" he exclaimed. "How much hast spent?"
"Oh, I don't know. But I make up my accounts every night."
"Lass," said he, staring firmly out of the window, "this won't do. I let
ye know at once. This wunna' do." He was determined to be master in his
own house. She also was determined to be master in his own house.
Conflict was imminent.
"May I ask what you mean, uncle?"
He hesitated. He was not afraid of her. But he was afraid of her
dress--not of the material, but of the cut of it. If she had been Susan
in Susan's dowdy and wrinkled alpaca, he would have translated his just
emotion into what critics call "simple, nervous English"--that is to
say, Shakespearean prose. But the aristocratic, insolent perfection of
Helen's gown gave him pause.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he demanded.
"I merely didn't think of it," she said. "I've been very busy."
"If you wanted money, why didn't you ask me for it?" he demanded.
"I've been here over a week," said she, "and you've given me a pound and
a postal order for ten shillings, which I had to ask for. Surely you
must have guessed, uncle, that even if I'd put the thirty shillings in
the savings bank we couldn't live on the interest of it, and that I was
bound to want more. Something like seventy meals have been served in
this house since I entered it."
"I gave Mrs. Butt a pound a wik," he observed.
"But think what a good manager Mrs. Butt was!" she said, with the
sweetness of a saint.
He was accustomed to distributing satire, but not to receiving it. And,
receiving this snowball full in the mouth, he did not quite know what to
do with it; whether to pretend that he had received nothing, or to call
a policeman. He ended by spluttering.
"It's easy enough to ask for money when you want it," he said.
"I hate asking for money," she said. "All women do."
"Then am I to be inquiring every morning whether you want money?" he
"Certainly, uncle," she answered. "How else are you to know?"
Difficult to credit that that girl had been an angel of light all the
week, existing in a paradise which she had created for herself, and for
him! And now, to defend an action utterly indefensible, she was
employing a tone that might be compared to some fiendish instrumental
device of a dentist.
But James Ollerenshaw did not wish his teeth stopped, nor yet extracted.
He had excellent teeth. And, in common with all men who have never taken
thirty consecutive repasts alone with the same woman, he knew how to
treat women, how to handle them--the trout!
He stood up. He raised all his body. Helen raised only her eyebrows.
"Helen Rathbone!" Such was the exordium. As an exordium, it was
faultless. But it was destined to remain a fragment. It goes down to
history as a perfect fragment, like the beginning of a pagan temple that
the death of gods has rendered superfluous.
For a dog-cart stopped in front of the house at that precise second,
deposited a lady of commanding mien, and dashed off again. The lady
opened James's gate and knocked at James's front door. She could not be
a relative of a tenant. James was closely acquainted with all his
tenants, and he had none of that calibre. Moreover, Helen had caused a
small board to be affixed to the gate: "Tenants will please go round to
"Bless us!" he murmured, angrily. And, by force of habit, he went and
opened the door. Then he recognised the lady. It was Sarah Swetnam,
eldest child of the large and tumultuously intellectual Swetnam family
that lived in a largish house in a largish way higher up the road, and
as to whose financial stability rumour always had something interesting
"Is Miss Rathbone here?"
Before he could reply, there was an ecstatic cry behind him: "Sally!"
And another in front of him: "Nell!"
In the very nick of time he slipped aside, and thus avoided the
inconvenience of being crushed to pulp between two locomotives under
full steam. It appeared that they had not met for some years, Sally
having been in London. The reunion was an affecting sight, and such a
sight as had never before been witnessed in James's house. The little
room seemed to be full of fashionable women, to be all gloves, frills,
hat, parasol, veil, and whirling flowers; also scent. They kissed,
through Sally's veil first, and then she lifted the veil, and four
vermilion lips clung together. Sally was even taller than Helen, with a
solid waist; and older, more brazen. They both sat down. Fashionable
women have a manner of sitting down quite different from that of
ordinary women, such as the wives of James's tenants. They only touch
the back of the chair at the top. They don't loll, but they only escape
lolling by dint of gracefulness. It is an affair of curves, slants,
descents, nicely calculated. They elaborately lead your eye downwards
over gradually increasing expanses, and naturally you expect to see
their feet--and you don't see their feet. The thing is apt to be
disturbing to unhabituated beholders.
Then fashionable women always begin their conversation right off. There
are no modest or shy or decently awkward silences at the start. They
slip into a conversation as a duck into water. In three minutes Helen
had told Sarah Swetnam everything about her leaving the school, and
about her establishment with her great-stepuncle. And Sarah seemed
delighted, and tapped the tiles of the floor with the tip of her
sunshade, and gazed splendidly over the room.
"And there are your books there, I see!" she said, in her positive, calm
voice, pointing to a few hundred books that were stacked in a corner.
"How lovely! You remember you promised to lend me that book of
Thoreau's--what did you call it?--and you never did!"
"Next time you come I'll find it for you," said Helen.
Next time she came! This kind of visit would occur frequently, then!
They were talking just as if James Ollerenshaw had been in Timbuctoo,
instead of by the mantelpiece, when Sally suddenly turned on him.
"It must be very nice for you to have Nell like this!" She addressed him
with a glowing smile.
They had never been introduced! A week ago they had passed each other in
St. Luke's-square without a sign. Of the Swetnam family, James "knew"
the father alone, and him slightly. What chiefly impressed him in Sarah
was her nerve. He said nothing; he was tongue-tied.
"It's a great change for you," proceeded Sarah.
"Ay," he agreed; "it's that."
The next moment the two fluffy women had decided, without in the least
consulting James, that they would ascend to Helen's bedroom to look at a
hat which, James was surprised to learn, Helen had seen in Brunt's
window that morning and had bought on the spot. No wonder she had been
in a hurry to go marketing; no wonder she had spent "some" of his
ten-pound note! He had seen hats in Brunt's marked as high as two
guineas; but he had not dreamt that such hats would ever enter his
house. While he had been labouring, collecting his rents and arranging
for repairs, throughout the length and the breadth of Bursley and
Turnhill, she, under pretence of marketing, had been flinging away
ten-pound notes at Brunt's. The whole business was fantastic, simply and
madly fantastic; so fantastic that he had not yet quite grasped the
reality of it! The whole business was unheard of. He saw, with all the
clearness of his masculine intellect, that it must cease. The force with
which he decided within himself that it must cease--and
instanter!--bordered upon the hysterical. As he had said, plaintively,
he was an oldish man. His habits, his manners, and his notions,
especially his notions about money, were fixed and set like plaster of
Paris in a mould. Helen's conduct was nothing less than dangerous. It
might bring him to a sudden death from heart disease. Happily, he had
had a very good week indeed with his rents. He trotted about all day on
Mondays and on Tuesday mornings, gathering his rents, and on Tuesday
afternoons he usually experienced the assuaged content of an alligator
after the weekly meal. Otherwise there was no knowing what might not
have been the disastrous consequences of Helen's barefaced robbery and
of her unscrupulous, unrepentant defence of that robbery. For days and
days he had imagined himself in heaven with a seraph who was also a good
cook. He had forty times congratulated himself on catching Helen. And
But it must stop.
Then he thought of the cooking. His mouth remembered its first taste of
the incomparable kidney omelette. What an ecstasy! Still, a ten-pound
note for even a kidney omelette jarred on the fineness of his sense of
A feminine laugh--Helen's--came down the narrow stairs and through the
kitchen.... No, the whole house was altered, with well-bred,
distinguished women's laughter floating about the stairs like that.
He called upon his lifelong friend and comforter--the concertina. That
senseless thing of rose-wood, ivory, ebony, mother-of-pearl, and leather
was to him what a brother, a pipe, a bull terrier, a trusted confidant,
might have been to another James. And now, in the accents of the
Hallelujah Chorus, it yielded to his squeezings the secret and sublime
solace which men term poetry.
Then there was a second, and equally imperious, knock at the door.
He loosed his fingers from his friend, and opened the door.
Mr. Emanuel Prockter stood on the doorstep. Mr. Emanuel Prockter wore a
beautiful blue suit, with a white waistcoat and pale gold tie; yellow
gloves, boots with pointed toes, a glossy bowler hat, a cane, and an
eyeglass. He was an impeccable young man, and the avowed delight of his
tailor, whose bills were paid by Mrs. Prockter.
"Is Miss Rathbone at home?" asked Emanuel, after a cough.
"Ay," said James, grimly. "Her's quite at home."
"Can I see her?"
James opened more widely the door. "Happen you'd better step inside,"
"Thanks, Mr. Ollerenshaw. What--er--fine weather we're having!"
James ignored this quite courteous and truthful remark. He shut the
door, went into the kitchen, and called up the stairs: "Helen, a young
man to see ye."
In the bedroom, Helen and Sarah Swetnam had exhausted the Brunt hat, and
were spaciously at sea in an enchanted ocean of miscellaneous gossip
such as is only possible between two highly-educated women who scorn
tittle-tattle. Helen had the back bedroom; partly because the front
bedroom was her uncle's, but partly also because the back bedroom was
just as large as and much quieter than the other, and because she
preferred it. There had been no difficulty about furniture. Even so good
a landlord as James Ollerenshaw is obliged now and then to go to
extremes in the pursuit of arrears of rent, and the upper part of the
house was crowded with choice specimens of furniture which had once
belonged to the more magnificent of his defaulting tenants. Helen's
bedroom was not "finished"; nor, since she regarded it as a temporary
lodging rather than a permanent habitation, was she in a mind to finish
it. Still, with her frocks dotted about, the hat on the four-post bed,
and her silver-mounted brushes and manicure tools on the dressing-table,
it had a certain stylishness. Sarah shared the bed with the hat. Helen
knelt at a trunk.
"Whatever made you think of coming to Bursley?" Sarah questioned.
"Don't you think it's better than Longshaw?" said Helen.
"Yes, my darling child. But that's not why you came. If you ask me, I
believe it was your deliberate intention to capture your great-uncle.
Anyhow, I congratulate you on your success."
"Ah!" Helen murmured, smiling to herself, "I'm not out of the wood yet."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you see, uncle and I haven't quite decided whether he is to have
his way or I am to have mine; we were both thinking about it when you
happened to call." And then, as there was a little pause: "Are people
talking about us much?"
She did not care whether people were talking much or little, but she had
an obscure desire to shift ever so slightly the direction of the
"I've only been here a day or two, so I can scarcely judge," said Sarah.
"But Lilian came in from the art school this morning with an armful of
"Let me see, I forget," Helen said. "Is Lilian the youngest, or the next
to the youngest?"
"My dearest child, Lilian is the youngest but one, of course; but she's
grown up now--naturally."
"What! When I saw her last, that day when she was with you at Knype,
she had a ribbon in her hair, and she looked ten."
"She's eighteen. And haven't you heard?"
"Do you mean to say you've been in Bursley a week and more, and haven't
heard? Surely you know Andrew Dean?"
"I know Andrew Dean," said Helen; and she said nothing else.
"When did you last see him?"
"Oh, about a fortnight ago."
"It was before that. He didn't tell you? Well, it's just like him, that
is; that's Andrew all over!"
"He's engaged to Lilian. It's the first engagement in the family, and
she's the youngest but one."
Helen shut the trunk with a snap, then opened it and shut it again. And
then she rose, smoothing her hair.
"I scarcely know Lilian," she said, coldly. "And I don't know your
mother at all. But I must call and congratulate the child. No, Andrew
Dean didn't breathe a word."
"I may tell you as a dreadful secret, Nell, that we aren't any of us in
the seventh heaven about it. Aunt Annie said yesterday: 'I don't know
that I'm so set up with it as all that, Jane' (meaning mother). We
aren't so set up with it as all that."
"Oh, we aren't. I don't know why. I pretend to be, lest Lilian should
imagine I'm jealous."
It was at this point that the voice of James Ollerenshaw announced a
The remainder of that afternoon was like a bewildering dream to James
Ollerenshaw. His front room seemed to be crowded with a multitude of
peacocks, that would have been more at home under the sun of Mrs.
Prockter's lawns up at Hillport. Yet there were only three persons
present besides himself. But decidedly they were not of his world; they
were of the world that referred to him as "old Jimmy Ollerenshaw," or
briefly as "Jimmy." And he had to sit and listen to them, and even to
answer coherently when spoken to. Emanuel Prockter was brilliant. He had
put his hat on one chair and his cane across another, and he conversed
with ducal facility. The two things about him that puzzled the master of
the house were--first, why he was not, at such an hour, engaged in at
any rate the pretence of earning his living; and, second, why he did not
take his gloves off. No notion of work seemed to exist in the minds of
the three. They chattered of tennis, novels, music, and particularly of
amateur operatic societies. James acquired the information that Emanuel
was famous as a singer of songs. The topic led then naturally to James's
concertina; the talk lightly caressed James's concertina, and then
Emanuel swept it off to the afternoon tea-room of the new Midland Grand
Hotel at Manchester, where Emanuel had lately been. And that led to the
Old Oak Tree tea-house in Bond-street, where, not to be beaten by
Emanuel, Sarah Swetnam had lately been.
"Suppose we have tea," said Helen.
And she picked up a little brass bell which stood on the central table
and tinkled it. James had not noticed the bell. It was one of the many
little changes that Helen had introduced. Each change by itself was a
nothing--what is one small bell in a house?--yet in the mass they
amounted to much. The bell was obviously new. She must have bought it;
but she had not mentioned it to him. And how could they all sit at the
tiny table in the kitchen? Moreover, he had no fancy for entertaining
the whole town of Bursley to meals. However, the immediate prospect of
tea produced in James a feeling of satisfaction, even though he remained
in perfect ignorance of the methods by which Helen meant to achieve the
tea. She had rung the bell, and gone on talking, as if the tea would
cook itself and walk in on its hind legs and ask to be eaten.
Then the new servant entered with a large tray. James had never seen
such a servant, a servant so entirely new. She was wearing a black frock
and various parts of the frock, and the top of her head, were covered
with stiffly-starched white linen--or was it cotton? Her apron, which
had two pockets, was more elaborate than an antimacassar. Helen coolly
instructed her to place the tray on his desk; which she did, brushing
irreverently aside a number of rent books.
On the tray there was nothing whatever to eat but a dozen slices of the
thinnest conceivable bread and butter.
Helen rose. Emanuel also rose.
Helen poured out the tea. Emanuel took a cup and saucer in one hand and
the plate of bread and butter in the other, and ceremoniously approached
Sarah Swetnam. Sarah accepted the cup and saucer, delicately chose a
piece of bread and butter and lodged it on her saucer, and went on
Emanuel returned to the table, and, reladen, approached old Jimmy, and
old Jimmy had to lodge a piece of bread and butter on his saucer. Then
Emanuel removed his gloves, and in a moment they were all drinking tea
and nibbling bread and butter.
What a fall was this from kidney omelettes! And four had struck! Did
Helen expect her uncle to make his tea off a slice of bread and butter
that weighed about two drachms?
When the alleged tea was over James got on his feet, and silently slid
into the kitchen. The fact was that Emanuel Prockter and the manikin
airs of Emanuel Prockter made him positively sick. He had not been in
the kitchen more than a minute before he was aware of amazing matters
in the conversation.
"Yes," said Helen; "it's small."
"But, my child, you've always been used to a small house, surely. I
think it's just as quaint and pretty as a little museum."
"Would you like to live in a little museum?"
A laugh from Emanuel, and the voice of Helen proceeding:
"I've always lived in a small house, just as I've taught six hours a day
in a school. But not because I wanted to. I like room. I daresay that
uncle and I may find another house one of these days."
"Up at Hillport, I hope," Emanuel put in. James could see his mincing
imbecile smile through the kitchen wall.
"Who knows?" said Helen.
James returned to the front room. "What's that ye're saying?" he
questioned the company.
"I was just saying how quaint and pretty your house is," said Sarah, and
she rose to depart. More kissings, flutterings, swishings! Emanuel
Emanuel followed Miss Swetnam in a few minutes. Helen accompanied him to
the gate, where she stayed a little while talking to him. James was in
the blackest gloom.
"And now, you dear old thing," said Helen, vivaciously bustling into the
house, "you shall have your _tea_. You've behaved like a perfect
And she kissed him on the cheek, very excitedly, as he thought.
She gave him another kidney omelette for his tea. It was even more
adorable than the former one. With the taste of it in his mouth, he
could not recur to the question of the ten-pound note all at once. When
tea was over she retired upstairs, and remained in retirement for ages.
She descended at a quarter to eight, with her hat and gloves on. It
appeared to him that her eyes were inflamed.
"I'm going out," she said, with no further explanation.
And out she went, leaving the old man, stricken daft by too many
sensations, to collect his wits.
He had not even been to the bank!
And the greatest sensation of all the nightmarish days was still in
reserve for him. At a quarter-past eight some one knocked at the door.
He opened it, being handier than the new servant. He imagined himself
ready for anything; but he was not ready for the apparition which met
him on the threshold.
Mrs. Prockter, of Hillport, asked to be admitted!
Mrs. Prockter was compelled to ask for admission, because James, struck
moveless and speechless by the extraordinary sight of her, offered no
invitation to enter. He merely stood in front of the half-opened door.
"May I come in, Mr. Ollerenshaw?" she said, very urbanely. "I hope you
will excuse this very informal call. I've altered my dinner hour in
order to pay it."
And she smiled. The smile seemed to rouse him from a spell.
"Come in, missis, do!" he conjured her, warmly.
He was James; he was even Jimmy; but he was also a man, very much a man,
though the fact had only recently begun to impress itself on him. Mrs.
Prockter, while a dowager--portly, possibly fussy, perhaps slightly
comic to a younger generation--was still considerably younger than
James. With her rich figure, her excellent complexion, her
carefully-cherished hair, and her apparel, she was a woman to captivate
a man of sixty, whose practical experience of the sex extended over
"Thank you," said she, gratefully.
He shut the front door, as if he were shutting a bird in a cage; and he
also shut the door leading to the kitchen--a door which had not been
shut since the kitchen fire smoked in the celebrated winter of 1897. She
sat down at once in the easy-chair.
"Ah!" she exclaimed, in relief. And then she began to fan herself with a
fan which was fastened to her person by a chain that might have moored a
James, searching about for something else to do while he was collecting
his forces, drew the blind and lighted the gas. But it was not yet dark.
"I wonder what you will think of me, calling like this?" she said, with
a sardonic smile.
It was apparent that, whatever he thought of her, she would not be
disturbed or abashed. She was utterly at her ease. She could not,
indeed, have recalled the moment when she had not been at her ease. She
sat in the front room with all the external symptoms of being at home.
This was what chiefly surprised James Ollerenshaw in his grand
guests--they all took his front room for granted. They betrayed no
emotion at its smallness or its plainness, or its eccentricities. He
would somehow have expected them to signify, overtly or covertly, that
that kind of room was not the kind of room to which they were
"Anyhow, I'm glad to see ye, Mrs. Prockter," James returned.
A speech which did not in the least startle Mrs. Prockter, who was
thoroughly used to people being glad to see her. But it startled James.
He had uttered it instinctively; it was the expression of an instinctive
gladness which took hold of him and employed his tongue on its own
account, and which rose superior even to his extreme astonishment at the
visit. He _was_ glad to see her. She was stout and magnificent, in her
silk and her ribbons. He felt that he preferred stout women to thin; and
that, without being aware of it, he had always preferred stout women to
thin. It was a question of taste. He certainly preferred Mrs. Prockter
to Sarah Swetnam. Mrs. Prockter's smile was the smile of a benevolently
cynical creature whose studies in human nature had reached the advanced
stage. James was reassured by this, for it avoided the necessity for
"nonsense."....Yes, she was decidedly better under a roof and a gas-jet
than in the street.
"May I ask if your niece is in?" she said, in a low voice.
He had been sure that she had called about Helen, if not to see Helen.
But there was a conspiratorial accent in her question for which he was
unprepared. So he sat down at last.
"Well," said Mrs. Prockter, "I'm not sorry she isn't. But if she had been
I should have spoken just the same--not to her, but to you. Now, Mr.
Ollerenshaw, I think you and I are rather alike in some things. I hate
beating about the bush, and I imagine that you do."
He was flattered. And he was perfectly eased by her tone. She was a
woman to whom you could talk sense. And he perceived that, though a
casual observer might fail to find the points of resemblance between
them, they _were_ rather alike.
"I expect," said he, "it's pretty well known i' this town as I'm not one
that beats about the bush."
"Good!" said she. "You know my stepson, Emanuel?"
"He was here a bit since," James replied.
"What do you think of him?"
"As a man?"
"Well, missis, as we are na' beating about the bush, I think he's a
"Now that's what I like!" she exclaimed, quite ravished. "He _is_ a
fool, Mr. Ollerenshaw--between ourselves. I can see that you and I will
get on together splendidly! Emanuel is a fool. I can't help it. I took
him along with my second husband, and I do my best for him. But I'm not
responsible for his character. As far as that goes, he isn't responsible
for it, either. Not only is he a fool, but he is a conceited fool, and
an idle fool; and he can't see a joke. At the same time he is quite
honest, and I think he's a gentleman. But being a gentleman is no excuse
for being a fool; indeed, I think it makes it worse."
"Nothing can make it worse," James put in.
She drew down the corners of her lips and stroked her fine grey hair.
"You say Emanuel has been here to-day?"
"Ay!" said James. "He came in an' had a sup o' tea."
"Do you know why he came?"
"Maybe he felt faintlike, and slipped in here, as there's no public
nearer than the Queen Adelaide. Or maybe he thought as I was getting on
in years, and he wanted for to make my acquaintance afore I died. I
didna' ask him."
"I see you understand," said Mrs. Prockter. "Mr. Ollerenshaw, my stepson
is courting your niece."
"Great-stepniece," James corrected; and added: "Is he now? To tell ye
th' truth I didn't know till th' other day as they were acquainted."
"They haven't been acquainted long," Mrs. Prockter informed him. "You
may have heard that Emanuel is thinking of going into partnership with
Mr. Andrew Dean--a new glaze that Mr. Dean has invented. The matter may
turn out well, because all that Mr. Dean really wants is a sleeping
partner with money. Emanuel has the money, and I think he can be
guaranteed to sleep. Your stepniece met Emanuel by accident through Mr.
Dean some weeks ago, over at Longshaw. They must have taken to each
other at once. And I must tell you that not merely is my stepson
courting your niece, but your niece is courting my stepson."
"You surprise me, missis!"
"I daresay I do. But it is the fact. She isn't a Churchwoman; at least,
she wasn't a Churchwoman at Longshaw; she was Congregational, and not
very much at that. You aren't a Churchman, either; but your niece now
goes to St. Luke's every Sunday. So does my stepson. Your niece is out
to-night. So is my stepson. And if they are not together somewhere I
shall be very much astonished. Of course, the new generation does as it
"And what next?" James inquired.
"I'll tell you what next," cried the mature lady, with the most charming
vivacity. "I like your niece. I've met her twice at the St. Luke's
Guild, and I like her. I should have asked her to come and see me, only
I'm determined not to encourage her with Emanuel. Mr. Ollerenshaw, I'm
not going to have her marrying Emanuel, and that's why I've come to see
The horror of his complicated situation displayed itself suddenly to
James. He who had always led a calm, unworried life, was about to be
shoved into the very midst of a hullabaloo of women and fools.
His wizened body shrank; and he was not sure that his pride was quite
unhurt. Mrs. Prockter noticed this.
"Oh!" she resumed, with undiminished vivacity, "it's not because I think
your niece isn't good enough for Emanuel; it's because I think she's a
great deal too good! And yet it isn't that, either. The truth is, Mr.
Ollerenshaw, I'm a purely selfish woman. I'm the last person in the
world to stand in the way of my poor stepson getting a better wife than
he deserves. And if the woman chooses to throw herself away on him,
that's not my affair. What I scent danger in is that your stepniece
would find my stepson out. At present she's smitten by his fancy
waistcoat. But she would soon see through the fancy waistcoat--and then
there would be a scandal. If I have not misjudged your stepniece, there
would be a scandal, and I do not think that I have misjudged her. She is
exactly the sort of young woman who, when she had discovered she had
made a mistake, would walk straight out of the house."
"She is!" James agreed with simple heartiness of conviction.
"And Emanuel, having no sense of humour, would leave nothing undone to
force her back again. Imagine the scandal, Mr. Ollerenshaw! Imagine my
position; imagine yours! _Me_, in an affair like that! I won't have
it--that is to say, I won't have it if I can stop it. Now, what can we
Despite the horror of the situation, he had sufficient loose, unemployed
sentiment (left over from pitying himself) to be rather pleased by her
manner of putting it: What can _we_ do?
But he kept this pleasure to himself.
"Nowt!" he said, drily.
He spoke to her as one sensible person speaks to another sensible person
in the Five Towns. Assuredly she was a very sensible person. He had in
past years credited, or discredited, her with "airs." But here she was
declaring that Helen was too good for her stepson. If his pride had
momentarily suffered, through a misconception, it was now in the full
vigour of its strength.
"You think we can do nothing?" she said, reflectively, and leant forward
on her chair towards him, as if struck by his oracular wisdom.
"What can us do?"
"You might praise Emanuel to her--urge her on." She fixed him with her
Sensible? She was prodigious. She was the serpent of serpents.
He took her gaze twinkling. "Ay!" he said. "I might. But if I'm to urge
her on, why didna' ye ask her to your house like, and chuck 'em at each
She nodded several times, impressed by this argument. "You are quite
right, Mr. Ollerenshaw," she admitted.
"It's a dangerous game," he warned her.
She put her lips together in meditation, and stared into a corner.
"I must think it over"--she emerged from her reflections. "I feel much
easier now I've told you all about it. And I feel sure that two
common-sense, middle-aged people like you and me can manage to do what
we want. Dear me! How annoying stepsons are! Obviously, Emanuel ought to
marry another fool. And goodness knows there are plenty to choose from.
And yet he must needs go and fall in love with almost the only sensible
girl in the town! There's no end to that boy's foolishness. He actually
wants me to buy Wilbraham Hall, furniture, and everything! What do you
think it's worth, Mr. Ollerenshaw?"
"Worth? It's worth what it'll fetch."
"Th' land's worth that," said James.
"It's a silly idea. But he put it into my head. Now will you drop in one
day and see me?"
"No," said James. "I'm not much for tea-parties, thank ye."
"I mean when I'm alone," she pleaded, delightfully; "so that we can
talk over things, and you can tell me what is going on."
He saw clearly all the perils of such a course, but his instinct seized
"Happen I may look in some morning when I'm round yonder."
"That will be very nice of you," she flattered him, and rose.
Helen came home about ten o'clock, and went direct to bed. Never before
had James Ollerenshaw felt like a criminal, but as Helen's eyes dwelt
for a moment on his in bidding him good-night, he could scarcely
restrain the blush of the evildoer. And him sixty! Turn which way he
would he saw nothing but worry. What an incredible day he had lived
through! And how astounding was human existence!
He had an unsatisfactory night--that is to say, in the matter of sleep.
In respect of sagacity he rose richer than he had lain down. He had
clearly perceived, about three a.m., that he was moving too much in
circles which were foreign to him, and which called him "Jimmy." And at
five a.m., when the first workmen's car woke bumpily the echoes of the
morn, he had perceived that Mrs. Prockter's plan for separating Emanuel
and Helen by bringing them together was not a wise plan. Of course,
Helen must not marry Emanuel Prockter. The notion of such a union was
ludicrous. (In spite of all the worry she was heaping upon him, he did
not see any urgent reason why she should marry anybody.) But the proper
method of nipping the orange-blossom in the bud was certainly to have a
plain chat with Helen, one of those plain chats which can only occur,
successfully, between plain, common-sense persons. He was convinced
that, notwithstanding Mrs. Prockter's fears, Helen had not for an
instant thought of Emanuel as a husband. It was inconceivable that she,
a girl so utterly sensible, should have done so. And yet--girls! And
Mrs. Prockter was no fool, come to think of it. A sterling creature. Not
of his world, but nevertheless--At this point he uneasily dozed.
However, he determined to talk with Helen that morning at breakfast. He
descended at half-past seven, as usual, full of a diplomatic intention
to talk to Helen. She was wholly sensible; she was a person to whom you
_could_ talk. Still, tact would be needed. Lack of sleep had rendered
his nervous system such that he would have preferred to receive tact
rather than to give it. But, happily, he was a self-controlled man.
His post, which lay scattered on the tiles at the foot of the front
door, did not interest him. He put it aside, in its basket. Nor could he
work, according to his custom, at his accounts. Even the sight of the
unfilled-in credit-slips for the bank did not spur him to industry.
There can be no doubt that he was upset.
He walked across the room to the piles of Helen's books against the
wall, and in sheer absence of mind picked one up, and sat on a chair, on
which he had never before sat, and began to read the volume.
Then the hurried, pretentious striking of the kitchen clock startled
him. Half-an-hour had passed in a moment. He peeped into the kitchen.
Not a sign of breakfast! Not a sign of the new servant, with her
starched frills! And for thirty years he had breakfasted at eight
And no Helen! Was Helen laughing at him? Was Helen treating him as an
individual of no importance? It was unimaginable that his breakfast
should be late. If anybody thought that he was going to--No! he must not
give way to righteous resentment. Diplomacy! Tact! Forbearance!
But he would just go up to Helen's room and rap, and tell her of the
amazing and awful state of things on the ground-floor. As a fact, she
herself was late. At that moment she appeared.
She was cold, prim, cut off like China from human intercourse by a wall.
"Th' servant has na' come," said he, straining to be tolerant and
amicable. He did his best to keep a grieved astonishment out of his
voice; but he could not.
"Oh!" she murmured, calmly. It was nothing to her, then, that James's
life should be turned upside down! And she added, with icy detachment:
"I'm not surprised. You'll never get servants to be prompt in the
morning when they don't sleep in the house. And there's no room for
Georgiana to sleep in the house."
Georgiana! Preposterous name!
"Mrs. Butt was always prompt. I'll say that for her," he replied.
This, as he immediately recognised, was a failure in tact on his part.
So when she said quickly: "I'm sure Mrs. Butt would be delighted to come
back if you asked her," he said nothing.
What staggered his intellect and his knowledge of human nature was that
she remained absolutely unmoved by this appalling, unprecedented, and
complete absence of any sign of breakfast at after eight o'clock.
Just then Georgiana came. She had a key to the back door, and entered
the house by way of the scullery.
"Good-morning, Georgiana," Helen greeted her, going into the
scullery--much more kindly than she had greeted her uncle. Instead of
falling on Georgiana and slaying her, she practically embraced her.
A gas cooking-stove is a wondrous gift of Heaven. You do not have to
light it with yesterday's paper, damp wood, and the remains of last
night's fire. In twelve minutes not merely was the breakfast ready, but
the kitchen was dusted, and there was a rose in a glass next to the
bacon. James had calmed himself by reading the book, and the period of
waiting had really been very short. As he fronted the bacon and the
flower, Helen carefully shut the scullery door. The _Manchester
Guardian_ lay to the left of his plate. Thoughtful! Altogether it was
not so bad.
Further, she smiled in handing him his tea. She, too, he observed,
must have slept ill. Her agreeable face was drawn. But her
blue-and-white-striped dress was impeccably put on. It was severe, and
yet very smooth. It suited her mood. It also suited his. They faced each
other, as self-controlled people do face each other at breakfast after
white nights, disillusioned, tremendously sensible, wise, gently
cynical, seeing the world with steady and just orbs.
"I've been reading one o' your books, lass," he began, with superb
amiability. "It's pretty near as good as a newspaper. There's summat
about a law case as goes on for ever. It isna' true, I suppose, but it
might be. The man as wrote that knew what he was talking about for once
in a way. It's rare and good."
"You mean Jarndyce _v_. Jarndyce?" she said, with a smile--not one of
her condescending smiles.
"Ay," he said, "I believe that _is_ the name. How didst know, lass?"
"I just guessed," she answered. "I suppose you don't have much time for
"Not me!" said he. "I'm one o' th' busiest men in Bosley. And if ye
don't know it now, you will afore long."
"Oh!" she cried, "I've noticed that. But what can you expect? With all
those rents to collect yourself! Of course, I think you're quite right
to collect them yourself. Rent-collectors can soon ruin a property." Her
tone was exceedingly sympathetic and comprehending. He was both
surprised and pleased by it. He had misjudged her mood. It was certainly
comfortable to have a young woman in the house who understood things as
"Ye're right, lass," he said. "It's small houses as mean trouble. You're
never done--wi' cottage property. Always summat!"
"It's all small, isn't it?" she went on. "About how much do the rents
average? Three-and-six a week?"
"About that," he said. She was a shrewd guesser.
"I can't imagine how you carry the money about," she exclaimed. "It must
be very heavy for you."
"I'll tell you," he explained. "I've got my own system o' collecting. If
I hadn't, I couldna' get through. In each street I've one tenant as I
trust. And the other tenants can leave their rent and their rent books
there. When they do that regular for a month, I give 'em twopence apiece
for their children. If they do it regular for a year, I mak' 'em a
present of a wik's rent at Christmas. It's cheaper nor rent-collectors."
"What a good idea!" she said, impressed. "But how _do_ you carry the
"I bank i' Bosley, and I bank i' Turnhill, too. And I bank once i'
Bosley and twice i' Turnhill o' Mondays, and twice i' Bosley o'
Tuesdays. Only yesterday I was behind. I reckon as I can do all my
collecting between nine o'clock Monday and noon Tuesday. I go to th'
worst tenants first--be sure o' that. There's some o' 'em, if you don't
catch 'em early o' Monday, you don't catch 'em at all."
"It's incredible to me how you can do it all in a day and a half," she
pursued. "Why, how many houses are there?"
"Near two hundred and forty i' Bosley," he responded. "Hast forgotten
th' sugar this time, lass?"
"And in Turnhill?" she said, passing the sugar. "I think I'll have that
piece of bacon if you don't want it."
"Over a hundred," said he. "A hundred and twenty."
"So that, first and last, you have to handle about sixty pounds each
week, and all in silver and copper. Fancy! What a weight it must be!"
"Ay!" he said, but with less enthusiasm.
"That's three thousand a-year," she continued.
Her tone was still innocuously sympathetic. She seemed to be talking of
money as she might have talked of counters. Nevertheless, he felt that
he had been entrapped.
"I expect you must have saved at the very least thirty thousand pounds
by this time," she reflected, judicially, disinterestedly--speaking as a
lawyer might have spoken.
He offered no remark.
"That means another thirty pounds a week," she resumed. Decidedly she
was marvellous at sums of interest.
He persisted in offering no remark.
"By the way," she said, "I must look into my household accounts. How
much did you tell me you allowed Mrs. Butt a week for expenses?"
"A pound," he replied, shortly.
She made no comment. "You don't own the house, do you?" she inquired.
"No," he said.
"What's the rent?"
"Eighteen pounds," he said. Reluctant is a word that inadequately
describes his attitude.
"The worst of this house is that it has no bathroom," she remarked.
"Still, eighteen pounds a year is eighteen pounds a year."
Her tone was faultless, in its innocent, sympathetic common sense. The
truth was, it was too faultless; it rendered James furious with a fury
that was dangerous, because it had to be suppressed.
Then suddenly she left the table.
"The Kiel butter at a shilling a pound is quite good enough, Georgiana,"
he heard her exhorting the servant in the scullery.
Ten minutes later, she put ten sovereigns in front of him.
"There's that ten-pound note," she said, politely (but not quite
accurately). "I've got enough of my own to get on with."
She fled ere he could reply.
And not a word had he contrived to say to her concerning Emanuel.
A few days later James Ollerenshaw was alone in the front room, checking
various accounts for repairs of property in Turnhill, when twin letters
fell into the quietude of the apartment. The postman--the famous old
postman of Bursley, who on fine summer days surmounted the acute
difficulty of tender feet by delivering mails in worsted slippers--had
swiftly pushed the letters, as usual, through the slit in the door; but,
nevertheless, their advent had somehow the air of magic, as, indeed, the
advent of letters always had. Mr. Ollerenshaw glanced curiously from his
chair, over his spectacles, at the letters as they lay dead on the
floor. Their singular appearance caused him to rise at once and pick
them up. They were sealed with a green seal, and addressed in a large
and haughty hand--one to Helen and the other to himself. Obviously they
came from the world which referred to him as "Jimmy." He was not used to
being thrilled by mere envelopes, but now he became conscious of a
slight quickening of pulsation. He opened his own envelope--the paper
was more like a blanket than paper, and might have been made from the
material of a child's untearable picture-book. He had to use a stout
paper-knife, and when he did get into the envelope he felt like a
The discerning and shrewd ancient had guessed the contents. He had
feared, and he had also hoped, that the contents would comprise an
invitation to Mrs. Prockter's house at Hillport. They did; and more than
that. The signature was Mrs. Prockter's, and she had written him a
four-page letter. "My dear Mr. Ollerenshaw." "Believe me, yours most
cordially and sincerely, Flora Prockter."
The strangest thing, perhaps, in all this strange history is that he
thought the name suited her.
He had no intention of accepting the invitation. Not exactly! But he
enjoyed receiving it. It constituted a unique event in his career. And
the wording of it was very agreeable. Mrs. Prockter proceeded thus: "In
pursuance of our plan"--our plan!--"I am also inviting your niece.
Indeed, I have gathered from Emanuel that he considers her as the prime
justification of the party. We will throw them together. She will hear
him sing. She has never heard him sing. If this does not cure her,
nothing will, though he has a nice voice. I hope it will be a fine
night, so that we may take the garden. I did not thank you half enough
for the exceedingly kind way in which you received my really
unpardonable visit the other evening," etc.
James had once heard Emanuel Prockter sing, at a concert given in aid of
something which deserved every discouragement, and he agreed with Mrs.
Prockter; not that he pretended to know anything about singing.
He sat down again, to compose a refusal to the invitation; but before he
had written more than a few words it had transformed itself into an
acceptance. He was aware of the entire ridiculousness of his going to an
evening party at Mrs. Prockter's; still an instinct, powerful but
obscure (it was the will-to-live and naught else), persuaded him by
force to say that he would go.
"Have you had an invitation from Mrs. Prockter?" Helen asked him at tea.
"Yes," said he. "Have you?"
"Yes," said she. "Shall you go?"
"Ay, lass, I shall go."
She seemed greatly surprised.
"Us'll go together," he said.
"I don't think that I shall go," said she, hesitatingly.
"Have ye written to refuse?"
"Then I should advise ye to go, my lass."
"Unless ye want to have trouble with me," said he, grimly.
"It's no good butting uncle," he replied. "If ye didna' mean to go, why
did ye give young Prockter to understand as ye would go? I'll tell ye
why ye changed your mind, lass. It's because you're ashamed o' being
seen there with yer old uncle, and I'm sorry for it."
"Uncle!" she protested. "How can you say such a thing? You ought to know
that no such idea ever entered my head."
He did know that no such idea had ever entered her head, and he was
secretly puzzling for the real reason of her projected refusal. But,
being determined that she should go, he had employed the surest and the
least scrupulous means of achieving his end.
He tapped nervously on the table, and maintained the silence of the
wounded and the proud.
"Of course, if you take it in that way," she said, after a pause, "I
And he went through the comedy of gradually recovering from a wound.
His boldness in accepting the invitation and in compelling Helen to
accompany him was the audacity of sheer ignorance. He had not surmised
the experiences which lay before him. She told him to order a cab. She
did not suggest the advisability of a cab. She stated, as a platitude,
the absolute indispensability of a cab. He had meant to ride to Hillport
in the tramcar, which ran past Mrs. Prockter's gates. However, he
reluctantly agreed to order a cab, being fearful lest she might, after
all, refuse to go. It was remarkable that, after having been opposed to
the policy of throwing Helen and Emanuel together, he was now in favour
On the evening, when at five minutes past nine she came into the front
room clad for Mrs. Prockter's party, he perceived that the tramcar would
have been unsuitable. A cab might hold her. A hansom would certainly not
have held her. She was all in white, and very complicated. No hat;
simply a white, silver-spangled bandage round her head, neck, and
She glanced at him. He wore his best black clothes. "You look very
well," said she, surprisingly. "That old-fashioned black necktie is
So they went. James had the peculiar illusion that he was going to a
belated funeral, for except at funerals he had never in his life ridden
in a cab.
When he descended with his fragile charge in Mrs. Prockter's illuminated
porch, another cab was just ploughing up the gravel of the drive in
departure, and nearly the whole tribe of Swetnams was on the doorstep;
some had walked, and were boasting of speed. There were Sarah Swetnam,
her brother Ted, the lawyer, her brother Ronald, the borough surveyor,
her brother Adams, the bank cashier, and her sister Enid, aged
seventeen. This child was always called "Jos" by the family, because
they hated the name "Enid," which they considered to be "silly." Lilian,
the newly-affianced one, was not in the crowd.
"Where's Lilian?" Helen asked, abruptly.
"Oh, she came earlier with the powerful Andrew," replied the youthful
and rather jealous Jos. "She isn't an ordinary girl now."
Sarah rapidly introduced her brothers and sisters to James. They were
all very respectful and agreeable; and Adams Swetnam pressed his hand
quite sympathetically, and Jos's frank smile was delicious. What
surprised him was that nobody seemed surprised at his being there. None
of the girls wore hats, he noticed, and he also noticed that the three
men (all about thirty in years) wore silk hats, white mufflers, and blue
A servant--a sort of special edition of James's Georgiana--appeared, and
robbed everybody of every garment that would yield easily to pulling.
And then those lovely creatures stood revealed. Yes, Sarah herself was
lovely under the rosy shades. The young men were elegantly slim, and
looked very much alike, except that Adams had a beard--a feeble beard,
but a beard. It is true that in their exact correctness they might have
been mistaken for toast-masters, or, with the slight addition of silver
neck-chains, for high officials in a costly restaurant. But
great-stepuncle James could never have been mistaken for anything but a
chip of the early nineteenth century flicked by the hammer of Fate into
the twentieth. His wide black necktie was the secret envy of the Swetnam
The Swetnam boys had the air of doing now what they did every night of
their lives. With facile ease, they led the way through the long hall to
the drawing-room. James followed, and _en route_ he observed at the
extremity of a side-hall two young people sitting with their hands
together in a dusky corner. "Male and female created He them!" reflected
James, with all the tolerant, disdainful wisdom of his years and
A piano was then heard, and as Ronald Swetnam pushed open the
drawing-room door for the women to enter, there came the sound of a
Whereupon the invaders took to the tips of their toes and crept in as
sinners. At the farther end a girl was sitting at a grand piano, and in
front of the piano, glorious, effulgent, monarchical, stood Emanuel
Prockter, holding a piece of music horizontally at the level of his
waist. He had a white flower in his buttonhole, and, adhering to a
quaint old custom which still lingers in the Five Towns, and possibly
elsewhere, he showed a crimson silk handkerchief tucked in between his
shirt-front and his white waistcoat. He had broad bands down the sides
of his trousers. Not a hair of his head had been touched by the
accidental winds of circumstance. He surveyed the couple of dozen people
in the large, glowing room with a fixed smile and gesture of benevolent
Mrs. Prockter was close to the door. "Emanuel is just going to sing,"
she whispered, and shook hands silently with James Ollerenshaw first.
SONG, SCENE AND DANCE
Every head was turned. Emanuel coughed, frowned, and put his left hand
between his collar and his neck, as though he had concealed something
there. The new arrivals slipped cautiously into chairs. James was
between Helen and Jos. And he distinctly saw Jos wink at Helen, and
Helen wink back. The winks were without doubt an expression of
sentiments aroused by the solemnity of Emanuel's frown.
The piano tinkled on, and then Emanuel's face was observed to change.
The frown vanished and a smile of heavenly rapture took its place. His
mouth gradually opened till its resemblance to the penultimate vowel was
quite realistic, and simultaneously, by a curious muscular
co-ordination, he rose on his toes to a considerable height in the air.
The strain was terrible--like waiting for a gun to go off. James was
conscious of a strange vibration by his side, and saw that Jos Swetnam
had got the whole of a lace handkerchief into her mouth.
The gun went off--not with a loud report, but with a gentle and lofty
tenor piping, somewhere in the neighbourhood of F, or it might have been
only E (though, indeed, a photograph would have suggested that Emanuel
was singing at lowest the upper C), and the performer slowly resumed his
"O Love!" he had exclaimed, adagio and sostenuto.
Then the piano, in its fashion, also said: "O Love!"
"O Love!" Emanuel exclaimed again, with slight traces of excitement, and
rising to heights of stature hitherto undreamt of.
And the piano once more, in turn, called plaintively on love.
It would be too easy to mock Emanuel's gift of song. I leave that to
people named Swetnam. There can be no doubt Emanuel had a very taking
voice, if thin, and that his singing gave pleasure to the majority of
his hearers. More than any one else, it pleased himself. When he sang he
seemed to be inspired by the fact, to him patent, that he was conferring
on mankind a boon inconceivably precious. If he looked a fool, his looks
seriously misinterpreted his feelings. He did not spare himself on that
evening. He told his stepmother's guests all about love and all about
his own yearnings. He hid nothing from them. He made no secret of the
fact that he lived for love alone, that he had known innumerable loves,
but none like one particular variety, which he described in full detail.
As a confession, and especially as a confession uttered before many
maidens, it did not err on the side of reticence. Presently, having
described a kind of amorous circle, he came again to: "O Love!" But this
time his voice cracked: which made him angry, with a stern and
controlled anger. Still singing, he turned slowly to the pianist, and
fiercely glared at the pianist's unconscious back. The obvious inference
was that if his voice had cracked the fault was the pianist's. The
pianist, poor thing, utterly unaware of the castigation she was
receiving, stuck to her business. Less than a minute later, Emanuel's
voice cracked again. This time he turned even more deliberately to the
pianist. He was pained. He stared during five complete bars at the back
of the pianist, still continuing his confession. He wished the audience
to understand clearly where the blame lay. Finally, when he thought the
pianist's back was sufficiently cooked, he faced the audience.
"I hope the pianist will not be so atrociously clumsy as to let my voice
crack again," he seemed to be saying.
Evidently his reproof to the pianist's back was effectual, for his voice
did not crack again.
And at length, when Jos had communicated her vibration to all her
family, and every one had ceased to believe that the confession would
ever end, the confession did end. It ended as it had begun, in an even,
agreeable tenor piping. Emanuel was much too great an artist to allow
himself to be carried away by his emotion. The concluding words were,
"Oh, rapture!" and Emanuel sang them just as if he had been singing
"Oh, rats!" said Jos, under cover of the impassioned applause.
"It was nearly as long as Jarndyce _v_. Jarndyce," observed Adams, under
the same cover.
"What!" cried James, enchanted. "Have you been reading that too?"
Adams Swetnam and great-stepuncle James had quite a little chat on the
subject of Jarndyce _v_. Jarndyce. Several other people, including the
hostess, joined in the conversation, and James was surprised at the
renown which Jarndyce _v._ Jarndyce seemed to enjoy; he was glad to
find his view shared on every hand. He was also glad, and startled, to
discover himself a personality in the regions of Hillport. He went
through more formal introductions in ten minutes than he had been
through during the whole of his previous life. It was a hot evening; he
wiped his brow. Then iced champagne was served to him. Having fluttered
round him, in her ample way, and charmingly flattered him, Mrs. Prockter
left him, encircled chiefly by young women, in order to convey to later
arrivals that they, and they alone, were the authentic objects of her
solicitude. Emanuel Prockter, clad in triumph, approached, and
questioned James, as one shrewd man of business may question another,
concerning the value in the market of Wilbraham Hall.
Shortly afterwards a remarkable occurrence added zest to the party.
Helen had wandered away with Sarah and Jos Swetnam. She reentered the
drawing-room while James and Emanuel were in discussion, and her
attitude towards Emanuel was decidedly not sympathetic. Then Sarah
Swetnam came in alone. And then Andrew Dean came in alone.
"Oh, here's Andrew, Helen!" Sarah exclaimed.
Andrew Dean had the air of a formidable personage. He was a tall, heavy,
dark young man, with immense sloping shoulders, a black moustache, and
incandescent eyes, which he used as though he were somewhat suspicious
of the world in general. If his dress had been less untidy, he would
have made a perfect villain of melodrama. He smiled the unsure smile of
a villain as he awkwardly advanced, with out-stretched hand, to Helen.
Helen put her lips together, kept her hands well out of view, and
offered him a bow that could only have been properly appreciated under a
The episode was quite negative; but it amounted to a scene--a scene at
one of Mrs. Prockter's parties! A scene, moreover, that mystified
everybody; a scene that implied war and the wounded!
Some discreetly withdrew. Of these was Emanuel, who had the
sensitiveness of an artist.
Andrew Dean presently perceived, after standing for some seconds like an
imbecile stork on one leg, that the discretion of the others was worthy
to be imitated. At the door he met Lilian, and they disappeared together
arm in arm, as betrothed lovers should. Three people remained in that
quarter of the drawing-room--Helen, her uncle, and Sarah Swetnam.
"Why, Nell," said Sarah, aghast, "what's the matter?"
"Nothing," said Helen, calmly.
"But surely you shake hands with Andrew when you meet him, don't you?"
"That depends how I feel, my dear," said Helen.
"Then something _is_ the matter?"
"If you want to know," said Helen, with haughtiness, "in the hall, just
now--that is--I--I overheard Mr. Dean say something about Emanuel
Prockter's singing which I consider very improper."
"But we all----"
"I'm going out into the garden," said Helen.
"A pretty how-d'ye-do!" James muttered inaudibly to himself as he
meandered to and fro in the hall, observing the manners and customs of
Hillport society. Another couple were now occupying the privacy of the
seat at the end of the side-hall, and James noticed that the heads of
this couple had precisely the same relative positions as the heads of
the previous couple. "Bless us!" he murmured, apropos of the couple,
who, seeing in him a spy, rose and fled. Then he resumed his silent
soliloquy. "A pretty how-d'ye-do! The chit's as fixed on that there
Emanuel Prockter as ever a chit could be!" And yet James had caught the
winking with Jos Swetnam during the song! As an enigma, Helen grew
darker and darker to him. He was almost ready to forswear his former
belief, and to assert positively that Helen had no sense whatever.
Mrs. Prockter loomed up, disengaged. "Ah, Mr. Ollerenshaw," she said,
"everybody seems to be choosing the garden. Shall we go there? This
She led him down the side-hall. "By the bye," she murmured, with a
smile, "I think our plan is succeeding."
And, without warning him, she sat down in the seat, and of course he
joined her, and she put her head close to his, evidently in a
"Bless us!" he said to himself, apropos of himself and Mrs. Prockter,
glancing about for spies.
"It's horrid of me to make fun of poor dear Emanuel's singing," pursued
Mrs. Prockter. "But how did she take it? If I am not mistaken, she
"Her winked," said James; "yes, her winked."
"Then everything's all right."
"Missis," said he, "if you don't mind what ye're about, you'll have a
daughter-in-law afore you can say 'knife'!"
"But, Mr. Ollerenshaw----"
Here happened an interruption--a servant with a tray of sustenance,
comprising more champagne. James, prudent, would have refused, but under
the hospitable urgency of Mrs. Prockter he compromised--and yielded.
"I'll join ye."
So she joined him. Then a string of young people passed the end of the
side-hall, and among them was Jos Swetnam, who capered up to the old
couple on her long legs.
"Oh, Mrs. Prockter," she cried, "what a pity we can't dance on the
"I wish you could, my dear," said Mrs. Prockter.
"And why can't ye?" demanded James.
"No music!" said Jos.
"You see," Mrs. Prockter explained, "the lawn is at the far end of the
garden, and it is impossible to hear the piano so far off. If it were
only a little piano we could move it about, but it's a grand piano."
In James's next speech was to be felt the influence of champagne. "Look
here," he said, "it's nobbut a step from here to the Green Man, is it?"
"The Green Man!" echoed Mrs. Prockter, not comprehending.
"Ay, the pub!"
"I believe there is an inn at the bend," said Mrs. Prockter; "but I
don't think I've ever noticed the sign."
"It's the Green Man," said James. "If you'll send some one round there,
and the respex of Mr. Ollerenshaw to Mr. Benskin--that's the
land-lord--and will he lend me the concertina as I sold him last
"Oh, Mr. Ollerenshaw!" shrieked Jos. "Can you play for dancing? How
perfectly lovely it would be!"
"I fancy as I can keep _your_ trotters moving, child," said he, gaily.
Upon this, two spinsters, the Misses Webber, wearing duplicates of one
anxious visage, supervened, and, with strange magic gestures, beckoned
Mrs. Prockter away. News of the episode between Andrew Dean and Helen
had at length reached them, and they had deemed it a sacred duty to
inform the hostess of the sad event. They were of the species of woman
that spares neither herself nor others. Their fault was, that they were
too compassionate for this world. Promising to send the message to Mr.
Benskin, Mrs. Prockter vanished to her doom.
Within a quarter of an hour a fete unique in the annals of Hillport had
organised itself on the lawn in the dim, verdurous retreats behind Mrs.
Prockter's house. The lawn was large enough to be just too small for a
tennis-court. It was also of a pretty mid-Victorian irregularity as
regards shape, and guarded from the grim horizons of the Five Towns by a
ring of superb elms. A dozen couples, mainly youngish, promenaded upon
its impeccable surface in obvious expectation; while on the borders, in
rustic chairs, odd remnants of humanity, mainly oldish, gazed in ecstasy
at the picturesque ensemble. In the midst of the lawn was Mrs.
Prockter's famous weeping willow, on whose branches Chinese lanterns had
been hung by a reluctant gardener, who held to the proper gardener's
axiom that lawns are made to be seen and not hurt. The moon aided these
lanterns to the best of her power. Under the tree was a cane chair, and
on the cane chair sat an ageing man with a concertina between his hands.
He put his head on one side and played a few bars, and the couples posed
"Hold on a bit!" the virtuoso called out. "It's a tidy bit draughty
He put the concertina on his knees, fumbled in his tail-pocket, and drew
forth a tasselled Turkish cap, which majestically he assumed; the tassel
fell over his forehead. He owned several Turkish caps, and never went
abroad without one.
Then he struck up definitely, and Mrs. Prockter's party had resolved
itself, as parties often do, into a dance. In the blissful excitation
caused by the ancient and jiggy tunes which "Jimmy" played, the sad
episode of Helen Rathbone and Andrew Dean appeared to be forgotten.
Helen danced with every man except Andrew, and Andrew danced with every
woman except Helen. But Mrs. Prockter had not forgotten the episode; nor
had the Misses Webber. The reputation of Mrs. Prockter's entertainments
for utter correctness, and her own enormous reputation for fine tact,
were impaired, and Mrs. Prockter was determined that that which ought to
happen should happen.
She had a brief and exceedingly banal interview with Helen, and another
with Andrew. And an interval having elapsed, Andrew was observed to
approach Helen and ask her for a polka. Helen punctiliously accepted.
And he led her out. The outraged gods of social decorum were appeased,
and the reputations of Mrs. Prockter and her parties stood as high as
ever. It was well and diplomatically done.
Nevertheless, the unforeseen came to pass. For at the end of the polka
Helen fainted on the grass; and not Andrew but Emanuel was first to
succour her. It was a highly disconcerting climax. Of course, Helen,
being Helen, recovered with singular rapidity. But that did not lighten
In the cab, going home, she wept. James could scarcely have believed it
"Oh, uncle," she half whispered, in a voice of grief, "you fiddled while
Rome was burning!"
This obscure saying baffled him, the more so that he had been playing a
concertina and not a fiddle at all. His feelings were vague, and in some
respects contradictory; but he was convinced that Mrs. Prockter's scheme
for separating Helen and the Apollo Emanuel was not precisely
After that night great-stepuncle James became more than a celebrity--he
became a notoriety in Bursley. Had it not been for the personal
influence of Mrs. Prockter with the editor of the _Signal_, James's
exploits upon the concertina under weeping willows at midnight would
have received facetious comment in the weekly column of gossip that
appears in the great daily organ of the Five Towns on Saturdays. James,
aided by nothing but a glass or two of champagne, had suddenly stepped
into the forefront of the town's life. He was a card. He rather liked
being a card.
But within his own heart the triumph and glory of James Ollerenshaw were
less splendid than outside it. Helen, apparently ashamed of having wept
into his waistcoat, kept him off with a kind of a rod of stiff
politeness. He could not get near her, and for at least two reasons he
was anxious to get near her. He wanted to have that frank, confidential
talk with her about the general imbecility of her adorer, Emanuel
Prockter--that talk which he had failed to begin on the morning when
she had been so sympathetic concerning his difficulties in collecting a
large income. Her movements from day to day were mysterious. Facts
pointed to the probability that she and Emanuel were seeing each other
with no undue publicity. And yet, despite facts, despite her behaviour
at the party, he could scarcely believe that shrewd Helen had not
pierced the skin of Emanuel and perceived the emptiness therein. At any
rate, Emanuel had not repeated his visit to the house. The only visitors
had been Sarah Swetnam and her sister Lilian, the fiancee of Andrew
Dean. The chatter of the three girls had struck James as being almost
hysterically gay. But in the evening Helen was very gloomy, and he
fancied a certain redness in her eyes. Though Helen was assuredly the
last woman in the world to cry, she had, beyond doubt, cried once, and
he now suspected her of another weeping.
Even more detrimental to his triumph in his own heart was the affair of
the ten-pound note, which she had stolen (or abstracted if you will) and
then restored to him with such dramatic haughtiness. That ten pounds was
an awful trial to him. It rankled, not only with him, but (he felt sure)
with her. Still, if she had her pride, he also had his. He reckoned that
she had not rightly behaved in taking the note without his permission,
and that in returning the full sum, and pretending that he had made it
necessary for her to run the house on her own money, she had treated him
meanly. The truth was, she had wounded him--again. Instincts of
astounding generosity were budding in him, but he was determined to
await an advance from her. He gave her money for housekeeping, within
moderation, and nothing more.
Then one evening she announced that the morrow would be her birthday.
James felt uneasy. He had never given birthday presents, but he well
knew that presents were the correct things on birthdays. He went to bed
in a state of the most absurd and causeless mental disturbance. He did
not know what to do. Whereas it was enormously obvious what to do.
He woke up about one o'clock, and reflected, with an air of discovery:
"Her tone was extremely friendly when she told me it was her birthday
to-morrow. She meant it as an advance. I shall take it as an advance."
About half-past one he said to himself: "I'll give her a guinea to spend
as she likes." It did genuinely seem to him a vast sum. A guinea to
However, towards three o'clock its vastness had shrunk.
"Dashed if I don't give the wench a fiver!" he exclaimed. It was
madness, but he had an obscure feeling that he might have had more
amusement if he had begun being mad rather earlier in life.
Upon this he slept soundly till six o'clock.
His mind then unfortunately got entangled in the painful episode of the
ten-pound note. He and Helen had the same blood in their veins. They
were alike in some essential traits. He knew that neither of them could
ever persuade himself, or herself, to mention that miserable ten-pound
"If I gave her a tenner," he said, "that would make her see as I'd
settled to forget that business, and let bygones _be_ bygones. I'll give
her a tenner."
It was preposterous. She could not, of course, spend it. She would put
it away. So it would not be wasted.
Upon this he rose.
Poor simpleton! Ever since the commencement of his relations with Helen,
surprise had followed surprise for him. And the series was not ended.
The idea of giving a gift made him quite nervous. He fumbled in his
cashbox for quite a long time, and then he called, nervously:
She came out of the kitchen into the front room. (Dress: White
muslin--unspeakable extravagance in a town of smuts.)
"It's thy birthday, lass?"
She nodded, smiling.
"Well, tak' this."
He handed her a ten-pound note.
"Oh, thank you, uncle!" she cried, just on the calm side of
At this point the surprise occurred.
There was another ten-pound note in the cashbox. His fingers went for a
stroll on their own account and returned with that note.
"Hold on!" he admonished her for jumping to conclusions. "And this!" And
he gave her a second note. He was much more startled than she was.
"Oh, _thank_ you, uncle!" And then, laughing: "Why, it's nearly a
sovereign for every year of my life!"
"How old art?"
"I'm gone dotty!" he said to his soul. "I'm gone dotty!" And his eyes
watched his fingers take six sovereigns out of the box, and count them
into her small white hand. And his cheek felt her kiss.
She went off with twenty-six pounds--twenty-six pounds! The episode was
Breakfast was a most pleasing meal. Though acknowledging himself an
imbecile, he was obliged to acknowledge also that a certain pleasure
springs from a certain sort of imbecility. Helen was adorable.
Now that same morning he had received from Mrs. Prockter a flattering
note, asking him, if he could spare the time, to go up to Hillport and
examine Wilbraham Hall with her, and give her his expert advice as to
its value, etc. He informed Helen of the plan.
"I'll go with you," she said at once.
"What's in the wind?" he asked himself. He saw in the suggestion a
device for seeing Emanuel.
"The fact is," she added, "I want to show you a house up at Hillport
that might do for us."
He winced. She had said nothing about a removal for quite some time. He
hated the notion of removal. ("Flitting," he called it.) It would mean
extra expense, too. As for Hillport, he was sure that nothing, except
cottages, could be got in Hillport for less than fifty pounds a year. If
she thought he was going to increase his rent by thirty-two pounds a
year, besides rates, she was in error. The breakfast finished in a
slight mist. He hardened. The idea of her indicating houses to him! The
idea of her assuming that----Well, no use in meeting trouble half-way!
THE HALL AND ITS RESULT
"Yes," said Mrs. Prockter, gazing about her, to James Ollerenshaw, "it
certainly is rather spacious."
"Rather spacious!" James repeated in the secret hollows of his mind. It
was not spacious; it was simply fantastic. They stood, those two--Mrs.
Prockter in her usual flowered silk, and James in his usual hard,
rent-collecting clothes--at the foot of the double staircase, which
sprang with the light of elegance of wings from the floor of the
entrance-hall of Wilbraham Hall. In front of them, over the great door,
was a musicians' gallery, and over that a huge window. On either side of
the great door were narrow windows which looked over stretches of green
country far away from the Five Towns. For Wilbraham Hall was on the
supreme ridge of Hillport, and presented only its back yard, so to
speak, to the Five Towns. And though the carpets were rolled up and tied
with strings, and though there were dark rectangular spaces on the walls
showing where pictures had been, the effect of the hall was quite a
furnished effect. Polished oak and tasselled hangings, and monstrous
vases and couches and chairs preserved in it the appearance of a home,
if a home of giants.
Decidedly it was worthy of the mighty reputations of the extinct
Wilbrahams. The Wilbrahams had gradually risen in North Staffordshire
for two centuries. About the Sunday of the Battle of Waterloo they were
at their apogee. Then for a century they had gradually fallen. And at
last they had extinguished themselves in the person of a young-old fool
who was in prison for having cheated a pawnbroker. This young-old fool
had nothing but the name of Wilbraham to his back. The wealth of the
Wilbrahams, or what remained of it after eight decades of declension,
had, during the course of a famous twenty years' law-suit between the
father of the said young-old fool and a farming cousin in California,
slowly settled like golden dust in the offices of lawyers in
Carey-street, London. And the house, grounds, lake, and furniture (save
certain portraits) were now on sale by order of the distant winner of
the law-suit. And both Mrs. Prockter and James could remember the time
when the twin-horsed equipage of the Wilbrahams used to dash about the
Five Towns like the chariot of the sun. The recollection made Mrs.
Prockter sad, but in James it produced no such feeling. To Mrs.
Prockter, Wilbraham Hall was the last of the stylish port-wine estates
that in old days dotted the heights around the Five Towns. To her it was
the symbol of the death of tone and the triumph of industrialism.
Whereas James merely saw it as so much building land upon which streets
of profitable and inexpensive semi-detached villas would one day rise at
the wand's touch of the man who had sufficient audacity for a prodigious
"It 'ud be like living in th' covered market, living here," James
The St. Luke's Market is the largest roof in Bursley. And old
inhabitants, incapable of recovering from the surprise of marketing
under cover instead of in an open square, still, after thirty years,
refer to it as the covered market.
Mrs. Prockter smiled.
"By the way," said James, "where's them childer?"
The old people looked around. Emanuel and Helen, who had entered the
proud precincts with them, had vanished.
"I believe they're upstairs, ma'am," said the fat caretaker, pleating
her respectable white apron.
"You can go," said Mrs. Prockter, curtly, to this vestige of grandeur.
"I will see you before I leave."
The apron resented the dismissal, and perhaps would have taken it from
none but Mrs. Prockter. But Mrs. Prockter had a mien, and a flowered
silk, before which even an apron of the Wilbrahams must quail.
"I may tell you, Mr. Ollerenshaw," she remarked, confidentially, when
they were alone, "that I have not the slightest intention of buying this
place. Emanuel takes advantage of my good nature. You've no idea how
persistent he is. So all you have to do is to advise me firmly not to
buy it. That's why I've asked you to come up. He acknowledges that
you're an authority, and he'll be forced to accept your judgment."
"Why didn't ye say that afore, missis?" asked James bluntly.
"Before that kick-up (party) o' yours. He got out of me then as I
thought it were dirt cheap at eight thousand."
"But I don't want to move," pleaded Mrs. Prockter.
"I'm asking ye why ye didn't tell me afore?" James repeated.
Mrs. Prockter looked at him. "Men are trying creatures!" she said. "So
it seems you can't tell a tarradiddle for me?" And she sighed.
"I don't know as I object to that. What I object to is contradicting
"Why did you bring Helen?" Mrs. Prockter demanded.
"I didna'. She come hersen."
They exchanged glances.
"And now she and Emanuel have run off."
"It looks to me," said James, "as if your plan for knocking their two
heads together wasna' turning out as you meant it, missis."
"And what's more," said she, "I do believe that Emanuel wants me to buy
this place so that when I'm gone he can make a big splash here with your
niece and your money, Mr. Ollerenshaw! What do you think of that?"
"He may make as much splash as he's a mind to, wi' my niece," James
answered. "But he won't make much of a splash with my money, I can
promise ye." His orbs twinkled. "I can promise ye," he repeated.
"To whom do you mean to leave it, then?"
"Not to _his_ wife."
"H'm! Well, as we're here, I suppose we may as well see what there is to
be seen. And those two dreadful young people must be found."
They mounted the stairs.
"Will you give me your arm, Mr. Ollerenshaw?"
To such gifts he was not used. Already he had given twenty-six pounds
that day. The spectacle of Jimmy ascending the state staircase of
Wilbraham Hall with all the abounding figure of Mrs. Prockter on his arm
would have drawn crowds had it been offered to the public at sixpence a
They inspected the great drawing-room, the great dining-room, the great
bedroom, and all the lesser rooms; the galleries, the balconies, the
panellings, the embrasures, the suites and suites and suites of Georgian
and Victorian decaying furniture; the ceilings and the cornices; the
pictures and engravings (of which some hundreds remained); the
ornaments, the clocks, the screens, and the microscopic knick-knacks.
Both of them lost count of everything, except that before they reached
the attics they had passed through forty-five separate apartments, not
including linen closets. It was in one of the attics, as empty as
Emanuel's head, that they discovered Emanuel and Helen, gazing at a
magnificent prospect over the moorlands, with the gardens, the paddock,
and Wilbraham Water immediately beneath.
"We've been looking for you everywhere," Helen burst out. "Oh, Mrs.
Prockter, do come with me to the end of the corridor, and look at three
old distaffs that I've found in a cupboard!"
During the absence of the women, James Ollerenshaw contradicted himself
to Emanuel for the sweet sake of Emanuel's stepmother. Little by little
they descended to the earth, with continual detours and halts by Helen,
who was several times lost and found.
"I've told him," said James, quietly and proudly. "I've told him it's no
use to you unless you want to turn it into a building estate."
They separated into two couples at the gate, with elaborate formalities
on the part of Emanuel, which Uncle James more or less tried to imitate.
"Well?" murmured James, sighing relief, as they waited for the electric
tram in that umbrageous and aristocratic portion of the Oldcastle-road
which lies nearest to the portals of Wilbraham Hall. He was very pleased
with himself, because, at the cost of his own respect, he had pleased
"Well?" murmured Helen, in response, tapping on the edge of the pavement
the very same sunshade in whose company James had first made her
acquaintance. She seemed nervous, hesitating, apprehensive.
"What about that house as ye've so kindly chosen for me?" he asked,
genially. He wanted to humour her.
She looked him straight in the eyes. "You've seen it," said she.
"What!" he snorted. "When han I seen it?"
"Just now," she replied. "It's Wilbraham Hall. I knew that Mrs. Prockter
wouldn't have it. And, besides, I've made Emanuel give up all idea of
He laughed, but with a strange and awful sensation in his stomach.
"A poor joke, lass!" he observed, with the laugh dead in his throat.
"It isn't a poor joke," said she. "It isn't a joke at all."
"Didst thou seriously think as I should buy that there barracks to
"Certainly," she said, courageously. "Just that--to please me."
"I'm right enough where I am," he asserted, grimly. "What for should I
buy Wilbraham Hall? What should I do in it?"
"Live in it."
"Trafalgar-road's good enough for me."
"But it isn't good enough for me," said she.
"I wouldna' ha' minded," he said, savagely--"I wouldna' ha' minded going
into a house a bit bigger, but--"
"Nothing is big enough for me except Wilbraham Hall," she said.
He said nothing. He was furious. It was her birthday, and he had given
her six-and-twenty pounds--ten shillings a week for a year--and she had
barely kissed him. And now, instantly after that amazing and mad
generosity, she had the face to look cross because he would not buy
Wilbraham Hall! It was inconceivable; it was unutterable. So he said
"Why shouldn't you, after all?" she resumed. "You've got an income of
nearly five thousand a year." (Now he hated her for the mean manner in
which she had wormed out of him secrets that previously he had shared
with no one.) "You don't spend the twentieth part of it. What are you
going to do with it? _What are you going to do with it_? You're getting
an old man." (Cold horrors!) "You can't take it with you when you leave
the Five Towns, you know. Whom shall you leave your money to? You'll
probably die worth a hundred thousand pounds, at this rate. You'll leave
it to me, of course. Because there's nobody else for you to leave it to.
Why can't you use it now, instead of wasting it in old stockings?"
"I bank my money, wench," he hissingly put in.
"Old stockings!" she repeated, loudly. "We could live splendidly at
Wilbraham Hall on two thousand a year, and you would still be saving
nearly three thousand a year."
He said nothing.
"Do you suppose I gave up my position at school in order to live in a
poky little hole at eighteen pounds a year? What do you think I can do
with myself all day in Trafalgar-road? Why, nothing. There's no room
even for a piano, and so my fingers are stiffening every day. It's not
life at all. Naturally, it's a great privilege," she pursued, with a
vicious inflection that reminded him perfectly of Susan, "for a girl
like me to live with an old man like you, all alone, with one servant
and no sitting-room. But some privileges cost too dear. The fact is, you
never think of me at all." (And he had but just given her six-and-twenty
pounds.) "You think you've got a cheap housekeeper in me--but you
haven't. I'm a very good housekeeper--especially in a very large
house--but I'm not cheap."
She spoke as if she had all her life been accustomed to living in vast
mansions. But James knew that, despite her fine friends, she had never
lived in anything appreciably larger than his own dwelling. He knew
there was not a house in Sneyd-road, Longshaw, worth more than
twenty-five pounds a year. The whole outbreak was shocking and
disgraceful. He scarcely recognised her.
He said nothing. And then suddenly he said: "I shall buy no Wilbraham
Hall, lass." His voice was final.
"You could sell it again at a profit," said she. "You could turn it into
a building estate" (parrot-cry caught from himself or from Emanuel),
"and later on we could go and live somewhere else."
"Yes," said he; "Buckingham Palace, likely!"
"I don't--" she began.
"I shall buy no Wilbraham Hall," he reiterated. Greek had met Greek.
The tram surged along and swallowed up the two Greeks. They were alone
in the tram, and they sat down opposite each other. The conductor came
and took James's money, and the conductor had hardly turned his back
when Helen snapped, with nostrils twitching:
"You're a miser, that's what you are! A regular old miser! Every one
knows that. Every one calls you a miser. If you aren't a miser, I should
like you to tell me why you live on about three pounds a week when your
income is ninety pounds a week. I thought I might do you some good. I
thought I might get you out of it. But it seems I can't."
"All!" he snorted. It was a painful sight. Other persons boarded the
At tea she behaved precisely like an angel. Not the least hint of her
demeanour of the ineffable affray of the afternoon. She was so sweet
that he might have given her twenty-six Wilbraham Halls instead of
twenty-six pounds. He spoke not. He was, in a very deep sense, upset.
She spent the evening in her room.
"Good-bye," she said the next morning, most amiably. It was after
breakfast. She was hatted, gloved and sunshaded.
"What?" he exclaimed.
"Au revoir," she said. "All my things are packed up. I shall send for
them. I think I can go back to the school. If I can't, I shall go to
mother in Canada. Thank you very much for all your kindness. If I go to
Canada, of course I shall come and see you before I leave." He let her
shake his hand.
* * * * *
For two days he was haunted by memories of kidney omelettes and by the
word "miser." Miser, eh? Him a miser! Him! Ephraim Tellwright was a
Then the natty servant gave notice, and Mrs. Butt called and suggested
that she should resume her sway over him. But she did not employ exactly
He longed for one of Helen's meals as a drunkard longs for alcohol.
Then Helen called, with the casual information that she was off to
Canada. She was particularly sweet. She had the tact to make the
interview short. The one blot on her conduct of the interview was that
she congratulated him on the possible return of Mrs. Butt, of which she
had heard from the natty servant.
"Good-bye, uncle," she said.
She had got as far as the door, when he whispered, brokenly: "Lass--"
Helen turned quickly towards him.
DESCENDANTS OF MACHIAVELLI
Yes, she turned towards him with a rapid, impulsive movement, which
expressed partly her sympathy for her old uncle, and partly a feeling of
joy caused by the sudden hope that he had decided to give way and buy
Wilbraham Hall after all.
And the fact was that, in his secret soul, he had decided to give way;
he had decided that Helen, together with Helen's cooking, was worth to
him the price of Wilbraham Hall. But when he saw her brusque, eager
gesture, he began to reflect. His was a wily and profound nature; he
reckoned that he could read the human soul, and he said to himself:
"The wench isn't so set on leaving me as I thought she was."
And instead of saying to her: "Helen, lass, if you'll stop you shall