Part 3 out of 5
them in safety to the platform. It was in this pause that the passengers
on the left looked out with an upward jerk of the head, and saw that the
sun had found a new plaything in Regent Street.
It was the model of a shoe, fifteen feet long, the hugest thing within
sight, covered with silver leaf that glittered like metal in the morning
sun. A gang of men had hoisted it into position last night by the flare
of naphtha lamps, and now it trod securely on air above the new bootshop
whose advertisement sprawled across half a page of the morning paper.
In Regent Street a week of painting and hammering had prepared them for
surprises; two shops had been knocked into one, with two plate-glass
windows framed in brass, and now the shop with its triumphant sign caught
the eye like a check suit or a red umbrella. Every inch of the walls was
covered with lettering in silver leaf, and across the front in huge
characters ran the sign:
JONAH'S SILVER SHOE EMPORIUM
Meanwhile, the shop was closed, the windows obscured by blinds; but the
children, attracted by the noise of hammering, flattened their noses
against the plate glass, trying to spy out the busy privacy within.
Evening fell, and the hammering ceased. Then, precisely on the stroke
of seven, the electric lights flashed out, the curtains were withdrawn,
and the shop stood smiling like a coquette at her first ball.
Everything was new. The fittings glistened with varnish, mirrors and
brass rods reflected the light at every angle, and the building was packed
from roof to floor with boots. The shelves were loaded with white
cardboard boxes containing the better sort of boot. But there was not
room enough on the shelves, and boots and shoes hung from the ceiling like
bunches of fruit; they clung to brass rods like swarming bees. The
strong, peculiar odour of leather clogged the air. The shopmen stood
about, whispering to one another or changing the position of a pair of
boots as they waited for the customers.
A crowd had gathered round the window on the left, which was fitted out
like a workshop. On one side a clicker was cutting uppers from the skin;
beside him a girl sat at a machine stitching the uppers together at racing
speed. On the other side a man stood at a bench lasting the uppers to the
insoles, and then pegging for dear life; near him sat a finisher, who
shaved and blackened the rough edges, handing the finished article to a
boy, who gave it a coat of gloss and placed it in the front of the window
for inspection. A placard invited the public to watch the process of
making Jonah's Famous Silver Shoes. The people crowded about as if it
were a play, delighted with the novelty, following the stages in the
growth of a boot with the pleasure of a boy examining the inside of
At eight o'clock another surprise was ready. A brass band began to play
popular airs on the balcony, hung about with Chinese lanterns, and a row
of electric bulbs flashed out, marking the outline of the wonderful silver
shoe, glittering and gigantic in the white light.
The crowd looked up, and made bets on the length of the shoe, and recalled
the time, barely five years ago, when the same man--Jonah the hunchback--had
astonished Botany Road with his flaring signs in red and white. True, his
shop was still on the Road, for Regent Street is but the fag end of a
long, dusty road where it saunters into town, snobbishly conscious of
larger buildings and higher rents. Since then his progress had been
marked by removals, and each step had carried him nearer to the great city.
He had outgrown his shops as a boy outgrows his trousers.
It was reported that everything turned to gold that he touched. It was
certain that he had captured the trade of the Road, and this move meant
that he had fastened his teeth in the trade of the roaring city. And not
so long ago people could remember when he was a common larrikin, reputed
leader of the Cardigan Street Push, and working for old Paasch, whose shop
was now empty, his business absorbed by Jonah with the ease one swallows
a lozenge. And they say he began life as a street-arab, selling papers
and sleeping in the gutter. Well, some people's luck was marvellous!
The crowd became so dense that the police cleared a passage through it,
and the carts and buses slackened to a walk as they passed the shop,
where the electric lights glittered, the Chinese lanterns swung gaily in
the breeze, and the band struck noisily into the airs from a comic opera.
Meanwhile the shop was crowded with customers, impatient to be served,
each carrying a coupon cut from the morning paper, which entitled the
holder to a pair of Jonah's Famous Silver Shoes at cost price. And near
the door, in an interval of business, stood the proprietor, a hunchback,
his grey eyes glittering with excitement at seeing his dream realized,
the huge shop, spick and span as paint could make it, the customers
jostling one another as they passed in and out, and the coin clinking
merrily in the till.
Yes, they were quite right. Everything that he touched turned to gold.
Outsiders confused his fortune with the luck of the man who draws the
first prize in a sweep, enriched without effort by a chance turn of
Fortune's wrist. They were blind to the unresting labour, the ruthless
devices that left his rivals gaping, and the fixed idea that shaped
everything to its needs. In five years he had fought his way down the
Road, his line of march dotted with disabled rivals.
Old Paasch, the German, had been his first victim. Bewildered and
protesting, he had succumbed to Jonah's novel methods of attack as a
savage goes down under the fire of machine-guns. His shop was closed
years ago, and he lived in a stuffy room, smelling vilely of tobacco-smoke,
where he taught the violin to hazardous pupils for little more than
a crust. He always spoke of Jonah with a vague terror in his blue eyes,
convinced that he had once employed Satan as an errand-boy.
People were surprised to find that Jonah meant to live in the rooms over
the new shop, when he could well afford to take a private house in the
suburbs. It was said he treated his wife like dirt; that they lived like
cat and dog; that he grudged her bare living and clothing. Jonah set his
lips grimly on a hint of these rumours.
Three years ago he had planted Ada in a house of her own, and had gone
home daily to rooms choked with dirt, for with years of ease she had grown
more slovenly. Servants were a failure, for she made a friend of them,
and their families lived in luxury at her expense. And when Ada was left
alone, the meals were never ready, the house was like a pigsty, and she
sat complacently amidst the dirt, reading penny novelettes in a gaudy
dressing-jacket, or entertaining her old pals from the factory.
These would sit through an afternoon with envy in their hearts, and cries
of wonder on their lips at the sight of some useless and costly article,
which Ada, with the instinct of the parvenu, had bought to dazzle their
eyes. For she remained on the level where she was born, and the gaping
admiration of her poorer friends was the only profit she drew from Jonah's
success. If Jonah arrived without warning, they tumbled over one another
to get out unseen by the back door, but never forgot to carry away some
memento of their visit--a tin of salmon, a canister of tea, a piece of
bacon, a bottle whose label puzzled them--for Ada bestowed gifts like
Royalty, with the invariable formula "Oh! take it; there's plenty more
where that comes from."
But the worst was her neglect of Ray, now seven years old, and the apple
of Jonah's eye. She certainly spent part of the morning in dressing him
up in his clothes, which were always new, for they were discarded by
Jonah when the creases wore off; but when this duty, which she was afraid
to neglect, was ended, she sent him out into the street to play in the
gutter. His meals were the result of hazard, starving one day, and
over-eating the next. And then, one day, some stains which Ada had been
unable to sponge out elicited a stammering tale of a cart-wheel that had
stopped three inches from the prostrate child.
This had finished Jonah, and with an oath he had told Ada to pack up,
and move into the rooms over the shop, when they could be got ready.
Ada made a scene, grumbled and sulked, but Jonah would take no more risks.
His son and his shop, he had fathered both, and they should be brought
together under his watchful eye, and Ada's parasites could sponge
It had happened in time for him to have the living-rooms fitted up over
the shop, for the part which was required as a store-room left ample space
for a family of three. Ada gave in with a sullen anger, refusing to
notice the splendours of the new establishment. But she had a real
terror, besides her objection to being for ever under Jonah's sharp eyes.
Born and bred in a cottage, she had a natural horror of staircases,
looking on them as dangerous contrivances on which people daily risked
their lives. She climbed them slowly, feeling for safety with her feet,
and descended with her heart in her mouth. The sight of others tripping
lightly up and down impressed her like a dangerous performance on the
tight-rope in a circus. And the new rooms could only be reached by two
staircases, one at the far end of the shop, winding like a corkscrew to
the upper floor, and another, sickening to the eye, dropping from the
rear balcony in the open air to the kitchen and the yard.
Mrs Yabsley continued to live in the old cottage in Cardigan Street.
Jonah made her an allowance, but she still worked at the laundry, not for
a living, as she carefully explained to every new customer, but for the
sake of exercise. And she had obstinately refused to be pensioned off.
"I've seen too many of them pensioners, creepin' an' coughin' along the
street, because they thought they was too old fer work, an' one fine
mornin' they fergit ter come down ter breakfust, an' the neighbours are
invited to the funeral. An' but for that they might 'ave lived fer
years, drawin' their money an' standin' in the way of younger men. No
pensions fer me, thank yer!"
When Jonah had pointed out that she could not live alone in the cottage,
she had listened with a mysterious smile. With Jonah's allowance and her
earnings, she was the rich woman, the lady chatelaine of the street, and
she chose a companion from the swarm of houseless women that found a
precarious footing in the houses of their relations--women with raucous
voices, whose husbands had grown tired of life and fled; ladies who were
vaguely supposed to be widows; comely young women cast on a cold world
with a pitiful tale and a handbag. And she fed them till they were plump
and vicious again, when they invariably disappeared, taking everything of
value they could lay hands on. When Jonah, exasperated by these petty
thefts, begged her to come and live with them, she shook her head, with a
humorous twinkle in her eyes.
"No, yer'd 'ave ter pull me up by the roots like that old tree if yer took
me out of this street. I remember w'en 'arf this street was open
paddicks, an' now yer can't stick a pin between the 'ouses. I was a young
gell then, an' a lot better lookin' than yer'd think. Ada's father
thought a lot o' me, I tell yer. That was afore 'e took ter drink. I was
'is first love, as the sayin' is, but beer was 'is second. 'E was a good
'usbind ter me wot time 'e could spare from the drink, an' I buried 'im
out of this very 'ouse, w'en Ada could just walk. I often think life's a
bloomin' fraud, Joe, w'ichever way yer look at it. W'en ye're young, it
promises yer everythin' yer want, if yer only wait. An' w'en ye're done
waitin', yer've lost yer teeth an' yer appetite, or forgot wot yer were
waitin' for. Yes, Joe, the street an' me's old pals. We've seen one
another in sickness an' sorrer an' joy an' jollification, an' it 'ud be
a poor job ter part us now. Funny, ain't it? This street is more like a
'uman bein' ter me than plenty I know. Yer see, I can't read the paper,
an' see 'oo's bin married and murdered through the week, bein' no scholar,
but I can read Cardigan Street like a book. An' I've found that wot
'appens in this street 'appens everywhere else, if yer change the names
About a week after the triumphant opening of the Silver Shoe, Jonah was
running his eye down some price-lists, when he was disturbed by a loud
noise. He looked round, and was surprised to see Miss Giltinan, head of
the ladies' department, her lips tight with anger, replacing a heap of
cardboard boxes with jerks of suppressed fury.
She was his best saleswoman, gathered in from the pavement a week after
she had been ejected from Packard's factory for cheeking the boss. She
had spent a few weeks dusting shoes and tying up parcels, and then,
brushing the old hands aside, had taken her place as a born saleswoman.
Sharp as a needle, the customers were like clay in her hands. She
recognized two classes of buyers--those who didn't know what they wanted,
and always, under her guidance, spent more than they intended, and those
who knew quite well what they wanted, the best quality at an impossible
price. Both went away satisfied, for she took them into her confidence,
and, with covert glances for fear she should be overheard, gave them her
private opinion of the articles in a whisper. And they went away
satisfied that they had saved money, and made a friend who would always
look after their interests. But this morning she was blazing.
"Save the pieces, Mary," said Jonah, "wot's the matter?"
"A woman in there's got me beat," replied the girl savagely--"says she
must 'ave Kling & Wessel's, an' we 'aven't got a pair in the place. Not
likely either, when the firm's gone bung; but I wasn't goin' to tell 'er
that. Better come an' try 'er yourself, or she'll get away with
As Jonah entered, the troublesome customer looked up with an air of great
composure. She was a young woman of five-and-twenty, tall, dark, and
slight, with features more uncommon than beautiful. Her face seemed quite
familiar to Jonah.
"Good mornin', Miss. Can I 'elp you in any way?" he said, trying to
remember where he had seen her before.
"So sorry to trouble you, but my feet are rather a nuisance," she said,
in a voice that broke like the sound of harps and flutes on Jonah's ear.
Jonah noted mechanically that her eyes were brown, peculiar, and luminous
as if they glowed from within. They were marked by dark eyebrows that
formed two curves of remarkable beauty. She showed her teeth in a smile;
they were small and white and even, so perfect that they passed for false
with strangers. She explained that she had an abnormally high instep,
and could only be fitted by one brand of shoe. She showed her foot, cased
in a black stocking, and the sight of it carried Jonah back to Cardigan
Street and the push, for the high instep was a distinguished mark of
beauty among the larrikins, adored by them with a Chinese reverence.
"I can only wear Kling & Wessel's, and your assistant tells me you are out
of them at present," she continued, "so I am afraid I must give it up as a
bad job." She picked up her shoe, and Jonah was seized with an imperious
desire to keep her in the shop at any cost.
"I'm afraid yer've worn yer last pair of that make," said Jonah. "The
Americans 'ave driven them off the market, and the agency's closed."
"How annoying! I must wear shoes. Whatever shall I do?" she replied,
staring at the shelves as if lost in thought.
Jonah marked with an extraordinary pleasure every detail of her face and
dress. The stuff was a cheap material, but it was cut and worn with a
daintiness that marked her off from the shopgirls and others that Jonah
was most familiar with. And as he looked, a soft glow swept through him
like the first stage of intoxication. Sometimes at the barber's a similar
hypnotic feeling had come over him, some electric current stirred by the
brushing of his hair, when common sounds and movements struck on his
nerves like music. Again his nerves vibrated tunefully, and he became
aware that she was speaking.
"So sorry to have troubled you," she said, and prepared to go.
He felt he must keep her at any cost. "A foot like yours needs a special
last shaped to the foot. I don't make to order now, as a rule, but I'll
try wot I can do fer yer, if yer care to leave an order," he said.
He spoke like one in a dream.
She looked at him with a peculiar, intense gaze. "I should prefer that,
but I'm afraid they would be too expensive," she said.
"No, I can do them at the same price as Kling & Wessel's," said Jonah.
Miss Giltinan started and looked sharply from Jonah to his customer. She
knew that was impossible. And she looked with a frown at this woman who
could make Jonah forget his business instincts for a minute. For she
worshipped him in secret, grateful to him for lifting her out of the
gutter, and regarded him as the arbiter of her destiny.
He went to the desk and found the sliding rule and tape. As he passed the
tape round the stranger's foot, he found that his hands were trembling.
And as he knelt before her on one knee, the young woman studied, with a
slight repugnance, the large head, wedged beneath the shoulders as if a
giant's hand had pressed it down, and the hump projecting behind,
monstrous and inhuman. Suddenly Jonah looked up and met her eyes.
She coloured faintly.
"Wot sort of fit do yer like?" he asked. His voice, usually sharp and
nasal, was rather hoarse.
All her life she remembered that moment. The huge shop, glittering with
varnish, mirrors, and brass rods, the penetrating odour of leather, the
saleswoman silently copying the figures into the book, and the misshapen
hunchback kneeling before her and looking up into her face with his
restless grey eyes, grown suddenly steady, that asked one question and
sought another. She frowned slightly, conscious of some strange and
"I prefer them as tight as possible without hurting me," she replied
nervously; "but I'm afraid I'm giving you too much trouble."
"Not a bit," replied Jonah, clearing his throat.
As he finished measuring, a small boy, dressed in a Fauntleroy velvet
suit, with an enormous collar and a flap cap, ran noisily into the shop,
dragging a toy train at his heels.
"Get upstairs at once, Ray," said Jonah, without looking round.
The child, puffing and snorting like an engine, took no notice of the command.
"Did yez 'ear me speak?" cried Jonah, angrily.
The child laughed, and stopped with his train in front of the customer,
staring at her with unabashed eyes.
"What a pretty boy!" said the young woman. "Won't you tell me your name?"
"My name's Ray Jones, and I'll make old bones," he cried, with the
glibness of a parrot.
The young woman laughed, and Jonah's face changed instantly. It wore
the adoring gaze of the fond parent, who thinks his child is a marvel
and a prodigy.
"Tell the lady 'ow old yer are," he said.
"I'm seven and a bit old-fashioned," cried the child, looking into the
customer's face for the amused look that always followed the words.
The young woman smiled pleasantly as she laced her shoe.
"'E's as sharp as a needle," said Jonah, with a proud look, "but I 'aven't
put 'im to school yet, 'cause 'e'll get enough schooling later on. But
I'll 'ave ter do somethin' with 'im soon; 'e's up ter 'is neck in
mischief. I wish 'e was old enough ter learn the piano. 'E's got a
wonderful ear fer music."
"But he is old enough," said the young woman with a sudden interest.
"I have two pupils the same age as he."
"Ah?" said Jonah, inquiringly.
"I am a teacher of music," continued the young woman, "and in my opinion,
they can't start too early, if they have any gift."
"An' 'ow would yer judge that?" said Jonah, delighted at the turn of the
"I generally go by the width of the forehead at the temples.
Phrenologists always look for that, and I have never found it fail. Come
here," she said to the child, in a sharp, businesslike tone. She passed
her hand over his forehead, and pointed out to Jonah a fullness over the
corner of the eye. "That is the bump of music. You have it yourself,"
she said, suddenly looking at Jonah's face. "I'm sure you're fond of
music. Do you sing or play?"
"I can do a bit with the mouth-organ," said Jonah, off his guard. He
turned red with shame at this vulgar admission but the young woman only
"Well, about the boy," said Jonah, anxious to change the subject, "I'd
like yer to take 'im in 'and, if yer could make anythin' of 'im."
"I should be very pleased," said the young woman.
"Very well, we'll talk it over on Thursday, when yer come fer yer shoes,"
said Jonah, feeling that he was making an appointment with this
As she left the shop she handed Jonah a card, on which was printed:
MISS CLARA GRIMES,
TEACHER OF MUSIC.
Terms: 1 pound 1 shilling per quarter.
"Well, I'm damned!" said Jonah. "Old Grimes's daughter, of course." And
as he watched her crossing the street with a quick, alert step, an intense
yearning and loneliness came over him. Something within him contracted
till it hurt. And suddenly there flashed across his mind some
half-forgotten words of Mrs Yabsley's:
"Don't think of marryin' till yer feel there's somethin' wrong wi'
yer inside, for that's w'ere it ketches yer."
He sighed heavily, and went into the shop, preoccupied and silent for
A FAMILY IN EXILE
Dad Grimes had just finished the story of his nose and the cabman, and the
group in the bar of the Angel exploded like a shell. Dicky Freeman's
mouth seemed to slip both ways at once till it reached his ears. The
barman put down the glass he was wiping and twisted the cloth in his
fingers till the tears stood in his eyes. The noise was deafening.
"An' 'e sez, 'Cum on, you an' yer nose, an' I'll fight the pair o' yez,'"
spluttered Dicky, with hysterical gasps, and went off again. His chuckles
ended in a dead silence. There was no sound but the rapid breathing of
the men. The barman flattened a mosquito on his cheek, the smack sounded
like a kiss. Dicky Freeman emptied his glass, and then stared through the
bottom as if he wondered where the liquor had gone.
"I assure you for the moment I was staggered," said Dad, rounding off his
story. "I am aware that my nose has added to the gaiety of nations, but
it was the first time that it had been reckoned as a creature distinct
from myself with an individuality of its own."
Dad Grimes was a man of fifty, wearing a frock coat that showed a faint
green where the light fell on the shoulders, and a tall silk hat that had
grown old with the wearer. But for his nose he might have been an
undertaker. It was an impossible nose, the shape and size of a potato,
and the colour of pickled cabbage--the nose for a clown in the Carnival of
Venice. Its marvellous shape was none of Dad's choosing, but the colour
was his own, laid on by years of patient drinking as a man colours a
favourite pipe. Years ago, when he was a bank manager, his heart had bled
at the sight of this ungainly protuberance; but since his downfall, he had
led the chorus of laughter that his nose excited, with a degraded pride in
his physical defect.
It was Dicky Freeman's turn to shout, and he began another story as Dad
sucked the dregs of beer off his moustache. Dad recognized the opening
sentence. It was one of the interminable stories out of the Decameron of
the bar-room, realistic and obscene, that circulate among drinkers. Dad
knew it by heart. He looked at his glass, and remembered that it was his
fourth drink. Instantly he thought of the Duchess. With his usual
formula "'Scuse me; I'm a married man, y'know," he hurried out of the bar
in search of his little present.
It was nine o'clock, and the Duchess would be waiting for him with his tea
since six. And always when he stopped at the "Angel" on his way home, he
tried to soften her icy looks with a little present. Sometimes it was a
bunch of grapes that he crushed to a pulp by rolling on them; sometimes a
dozen apples that he spilt out of the bag, and recovered from the gutter
with lurching steps. But tonight he happened to stop in front of the fish
shop, and a lobster caught his eye. The beer had quickened the poetry in
his soul, and the sight of this fortified inhabitant of the deep pleased
him like a gorgeous sunset. He shuffled back to the Angel with the
lobster under his arm, wrapped in a piece of paper.
One more drink and he would go home. He put the lobster carefully at his
elbow and called for drinks. But Dicky was busy with a new trick with a
box of matches, and Dad, who was a recognized expert in the idle devices
of bar-room loafers--picking up glasses and bottles with a finger and
thumb, opening a footrule with successive jerks from the wrist, drinking
beer out of a spoon--forgot the lapse of time with the new toy.
Punctually on the stroke of eleven the swinging doors of the Angel were
closed and the huge street lamps were extinguished. Dad's eye was glassy,
but he remembered the lobster.
"Whersh my lil' present?" he wailed. "Mush 'ave lil' present for the
Duchess, y'know. 'Ow could I g'ome, d'ye think?"
He made so much noise that the landlord came to see what was the matter,
and then the barman pointed to where he had left the lobster on the
counter. He tucked it under his arm and lurched into the street. Now,
Dad could run when he couldn't walk. He swayed a little, then suddenly
broke into a run whose speed kept him from falling and preserved his
balance like a spinning top.
The Duchess, seen through a haze, seemed unusually stern tonight; but with
beery pride he produced his little present, the mail-clad delicacy, the
armoured crustacean. But Dicky Freeman, offended by Dad's sudden
departure in the middle of the story, had taken a mean revenge with the
aid of the barman, and, as Dad unfastened the wrapping, there appeared,
not the shellfish in its vermilion armour, but something smooth and
black--an empty beer-bottle! Dad stared and blinked. A look at the
Duchess revealed a face like the Ten Commandments. The situation was too
abject for words; he grinned vacantly and licked his lips.
The Grimes family lived in the third house in the terrace, counting from
the lamp-post at the corner of Buckland Street, where, running parallel to
Cardigan Street, it tumbles over the hill and is lost to sight on its way
to Botany Road. It was a long, ugly row of two-storey houses, the model
lodging-houses of the crowded suburbs, so much alike that Dad had forced
his way, in a state of intoxication, into every house in the terrace at
one time or another, under the impression that he lived there.
Ten years ago the Grimes family had come to live in Waterloo, when the
Bank of New Guinea had finally dispensed with Dad's services as manager at
Billabong. His wife had picked on this obscure suburb of working men to
hide her shame, and Dad who could make himself at home on an ant-hill, had
cheerfully acquiesced. He had started in business as a house-agent, and
the family of three lived from hand to mouth on the profits that escaped
the publican. Not that Dad was idle. He was for ever busy; but it was
the busyness of a fly. He would call for the rent, and spend half the
morning fixing a tap for Mrs Brown, instead of calling in the plumber;
he would make a special journey to the other end of Sydney for Mrs Smith,
to prove that he had a nose for bargains.
Mrs Grimes forgot with the greatest ease that her neighbours were made of
the same clay as herself, but she never forgot that she had married a bank
manager, and she never forgave Dad for lowering her pride to the dust.
True, she was only the governess at Nullah Nullah station when Dad married
her, but her cold aristocratic features had given her the pick of the
neighbouring stations, and Dad was reckoned a lucky man when he carried
her off. It was her fine, aquiline features and a royal condescension in
manner that had won her the title of "Duchess" in this suburb of workmen.
She tried to be affable, and her visitors smarted under a sense of
patronage. The language of Buckland Street, coloured with oaths, the
crude fashions of the slop-shop, and the drunken brawls, jarred on her
nerves like the sharpening of a saw. So she lived, secluded as a nun,
mocked and derided by her inferiors.
She was born with the love of the finer things that makes poverty tragic.
She kept a box full of the tokens of the past--a scarf of Maltese lace,
yellow with age, that her grandmother had sent from England; a long chain
of fine gold, too frail to be worn; a brooch set with diamonds in a bygone
fashion; a ring with her father's seal carved in onyx.
Her daughter Clara was the image of herself in face and manner, and her
grudge against her husband hardened every time she thought of her only
child's future. Clara was fifteen when they descended to Buckland Street,
a pampered child, nursed in luxury. The Duchess belonged to the Church of
England, and it had been one of the sights of Billabong to see her move
down the aisle on Sunday like a frigate of Nelson's time in full sail; but
she had overcome her scruples, and sent Clara to the convent school for
finishing lessons in music, dancing, and painting.
We each live and act our parts on a stage built to our proportions, and
set in a corner of the larger theatre of the world, and the revolution
that displaces princes was not more surprising to them than the
catastrophe that dropped the Grimes family in Buckland Street was to Clara
and her mother.
Clara had been taught to look on her equals with scorn, and she stared at
her inferiors with a mute contempt that roused the devil in their hearts.
She had lived in the street ten years, and was a stranger in it. Buckland
Street was never empty, but she learned to pick her time for going in and
out when the neighbours were at their meals or asleep. She attended a
church at an incredible distance from Waterloo, for fear people should
learn her unfashionable address. Her few friends lived in other suburbs
whose streets she knew by heart, so that they took her for a neighbour.
When she was twenty-two she had become engaged to a clerk in a Government
office, who sang in the same choir. A year passed, and the match was
suddenly broken off. This was her only serious love-affair, for, though
she was handsome in a singular way, her flirtations never came to
anything. She belonged to the type of woman who can take her pick of the
men, and remains unmarried while her plainer friends are rearing families.
The natural destiny of the Waterloo girls was the factory, or the
workshops of anaemic dressmakers, stitching slops at racing speed for the
warehouses. A few of the better sort, marked out by their face and
figure, found their way to the tea-rooms and restaurants. But the Duchess
had encouraged her daughter's belief that she was too fine a lady to soil
her hands with work, and she strummed idly on the dilapidated piano while
her mother roughened her fine hands with washing and scrubbing. This was
in the early days, when Dad, threatened with starvation, had passed the
hotels at a run to avoid temptation, for which he made amends by drinking
himself blind for a week at a time. Then, after years of genteel poverty,
the Duchess had consented to Clara giving lessons on the piano--that last
refuge of the shabby-genteel. But pupils were scarce in Waterloo, and
Clara's manner chilled the enthusiasm of parents who only paid for lessons
on the understanding that their child was to become the wonder of the
world for a guinea a quarter.
This morning Clara was busy practising scales, while her mother dusted and
swept with feverish haste, for Mr Jones, the owner of the great boot-shop,
was bringing his son in the afternoon to arrange for lessons on the piano.
The Duchess knew the singular history of Jonah, the boot king, and awaited
his arrival with intense curiosity. She had married a failure, and adored
success. She decided to treat Jonah as an equal, forgiving his lowly
origin with a confused idea that it was the proper thing for millionaires
to spring from the gutter, the better to show their contempt for the
ordinary advantages of education and family. She had decided to wear her
black silk, faded and darned, but by drawing the curtains; she hoped it
would pass. From some receptacle unknown to Dad she had fished out a few
relics of her former grandeur--an old-fashioned card-tray of solid silver,
and the quaint silver tea-set with the tiny silver spoons that her
grandmother had sent as a wedding present from England.
Clara had just finished a variation with three tremendous fortissimo
chords when she heard the wheels of a cab. This was an event in itself,
for cabs in Buckland Street generally meant doctors, hospitals, or sudden
death. She ran to the window and saw the hunchback and the boy stepping
out. Clara opened the door with an air of surprise, and led them to the
parlour where the Duchess was waiting. Years and misfortune had added to
her dignity, and Jonah felt his shop and success and money slip away from
him, leaving him the street-arab sprung from the gutter before this
aristocrat. Ray took to her at once, and climbed into her lap, bringing
her heart into her mouth as he rubbed his feet on the famous black silk.
"I have never had the pleasure of meeting you, but I have heard of your
romantic career," she said.
"Well, I've got on, there's no denying that," said Jonah. "Some people
think it's luck, but I tell 'em it's 'ard graft."
"Exactly," said the Duchess, wondering what he meant by graft.
Jonah looked round the stuffy room. It had an indescribable air of
antiquity. Every piece of furniture was of a pattern unknown to him,
and there was a musty flavour in the air, for the Duchess, valuing privacy
more than fresh air, never opened the windows. On the wall opposite was
a large picture in oils, an English scene, with the old rustic bridge and
the mill in the distance, painted at Billabong by Clara at an early age.
The Duchess caught Jonah's eye.
"That was painted by my daughter ten years ago. Her teachers considered
she had a wonderful talent, but misfortune came, and she was unable to
follow it up," she said.
Jonah's amazement increased. It was a mere daub, but to his untrained eye
it was like the pictures in the Art Gallery, where he had spent a couple
of dull afternoons. Over the piano a framed certificate announced that
Clara Grimes had passed the junior grade of Trinity College in 1890. And
Jonah, who had an eye for business like a Jew, who moved in an atmosphere
of profit and loss, suddenly felt ill at ease. His shop, his money, and
his success must seem small things to these women who lived in the world
of art. His thoughts were brought back to earth by a sudden crash. Ray
was sitting on a chair, impatient for the music to begin, and, as he never
sat on a chair in the ordinary fashion, he had paralysed the Duchess with
a series of gymnastic feats, twining his legs round the chair, sitting on
his feet, kneeling on the seat with his feet on the back of the chair,
until at last an unlucky move had tilted the chair backwards into a
pot-stand. The jar fell with a crash, and Ray laughed. The Duchess
uttered a cry of terror.
"Yer young devil, keep still," cried Jonah, angrily. "Yer can pay fer
that out of yer pocket-money," he added.
"It was of no value," said the Duchess, with frigid dignity.
"Perhaps Miss Grimes will play something," said Jonah. "Ray's talked of
nothing else since daylight this morning."
Clara sat down at the piano and ran her fingers over the keys. She had
selected her masterpiece, "The Wind Among the Pines", a tone-picture from
a shilling album. Her fingers ran over the keys with amazing rapidity as
she beat out the melody with the left hand on the groaning bass, while
with the right she executed a series of scales to the top of the keyboard
and back. Jonah listened spellbound to the clap-trap arrangement. He had
the native ear for music, and he recognized that he was in the presence
of a born musician. Ray crept near, and listened with open mouth to this
display of musical fireworks. When she had finished, Clara turned to
Jonah with a languid smile, the look of the artist conscious of
"My daughter was considered the best player at the convent where she was
educated," said the Duchess--"a great talent wasted in this dreadful
"I niver 'eard anythin' like that in my natural," said Jonah with
enthusiasm. "If yer can teach Ray ter play like that, I'm satisfied."
"You may depend upon her doing her best with your son, but it is not
everyone who has Clara's talent," said the Duchess.
"Play some more," said Ray.
This time she selected a grand march, striking the dilapidated piano a
series of stunning blows with both hands, filling the air with the noise
"That must be terrible 'ard," said Jonah.
"It takes it out of one," replied Clara, with the simplicity of an artist.
Then she gave Ray his first lesson, showing him how to sit and place his
hands, anxious to impress the parent that she was a good teacher. She
declared that Ray was very apt, and would learn rapidly. An hour later,
Jonah paid for Ray's first quarter. Clara's terms were a guinea, but
Jonah insisted on two guineas on the understanding that Ray would receive
But in spite of her promises, Ray's progress was slow. As Jonah had no
piano, the boy came half an hour early to his lesson to practise, but the
twenty minutes' journey from the Silver Shoe occupied the best part of an
hour, for Ray, who took to the streets as a duck takes to water, could
spend a morning idling before shop windows, following fiddlers on their
rounds, watching navvies dig a drain, with a frank, sensuous delight in
the sights and sounds of the streets, an inheritance from Jonah's years
of vagabondage. Then the street-arabs fell on him, annoyed by his new
clothes and immense white collar, and at the end of the third week he
reached home after dark with a cut on his forehead and spattered with mud.
The next day Jonah called on Clara to make some other arrangements. His
tone was brusque, and Clara noticed with surprise that he was inclined to
blame her for Ray's mishap. He seemed to forget everything when it was a
question of his son. But all of the Duchess in Clara came to the surface
in her annoyance, and she suggested that the lessons had better come to
an end. Absorbed in his egotistic feelings, Jonah looked up in surprise,
and his anger vanished. He saw that he had offended her, and apologized.
Then he remembered what had brought him. His overpowering desire to see
this woman had surprised him like the first symptoms of an illness.
He had not seen her for three weeks, and in the increased flow of business
at the Silver Shoe had half forgotten his amazing emotions as one forgets
a powerful dream. Women, he repeated, were worse than drink for taking a
man's mind off his work.
In his experience he had observed with some curiosity that drink and women
were alike in throwing men off their balance. Drink, fortunately, had no
power over him. Beer only fuddled his brain, and he looked on its effect
with the curious dislike women look on smoking, blind to its fascinations.
As for women, Ada was the only one he had ever been on intimate terms
with, and, judging by his sensations, people who talked about love were
either fools or liars. True, he had heard Chook talking like a fool about
Pinkey, swearing that he couldn't live without her, but thought naturally
that he lied. And they had quarrelled so fiercely over the colour of her
hair, that for years each looked the other way when they met in the
street. But as he looked at Clara again, something vibrated within him,
and he was conscious of nothing but a desire to look at her and hear
"My idea was to buy a piano, an' then yer could give Ray 'is lessons at
'ome," he said.
"That is the only way out of the difficulty," said Clara.
Jonah thought awhile, and made up his mind with a snap.
"Could yer come with me now, an' pick me a piano? I can tell a boot by
the smell of the leather, but pianos are out of my line. Clara's manner
changed instantly as she thought of the commission she would get from
Kramer's, where she had a running account for music."
"I shall be only too pleased," she said.
As they left the house she remembered, with a slight repugnance, Jonah's
deformity. She hoped people wouldn't notice them as they went down the
street. But to her surprise and relief, Jonah hailed a passing cab.
"Time's money to me," he said, with an apologetic look.
Cabs were a luxury in Buckland Street, and Clara was delighted. She felt
suddenly on the level of the rich people who could afford to ride where
others trudged afoot. She leaned forward, hoping that the people would
At Kramer's she took charge of Jonah as a guide takes charge of tourists
in a foreign land, anxious to show him that she was at home among this
display of expensive luxuries. The floor was packed with pianos,
glittering with varnish which reflected the strong light of the street.
From another room came a monotonous sound repeated indefinitely, a tuner
at work on a piano.
The salesman stepped up, glancing at the hunchback with the quick look
of surprise which Clara had noticed in others. They stopped in front of
an open piano, and Clara, taking off her gloves, ran her fingers over the
keys. The rich, singing notes surprised Jonah, they were quite unlike
those he had heard on Clara's piano. Clara played as much as she could
remember of "The Wind Among the Pines", and Jonah decided to buy that one.
"'Ow much is that?" he inquired.
"A hundred guineas," replied the shopman, indifferently.
"Garn! Yer kiddin'?" cried Jonah, astounded.
The salesman looked in surprise from Jonah to Clara. She coloured
slightly. Jonah saw that she was annoyed. The salesman led them to
another instrument, and, with less deference in his tone, remarked that
this was the firm's special cheap line at fifty guineas. But Jonah had
noticed the change in Clara's manner, and decided against the cheaper
instrument instantly. They thought he wasn't good for a hundred quid,
did they? Well, he would show them. But, to his surprise, Clara opposed
the idea. The Steinbech, she explained, was an instrument for artists.
It would be a sacrilege for a beginner to touch it. Jonah persisted, but
the shopman agreed with Clara that the celebrated Ropp at eighty guineas
would meet his wants. A long discussion followed, and Jonah listened
while Clara tried to beat the salesman down below catalogue price for
cash. Here was a woman after his own heart, who could drive a bargain
with the best of them. At the end of half an hour Jonah filled in a
cheque for eighty guineas, and the salesman, reading the signature, bowed
them deferentially out of the shop.
Clara walked out of the shop with the air of a millionaire. To be brought
in contact even for a moment with this golden stream of sovereigns excited
her like wine. All her life she had desired things whose price put them
beyond her reach, and she felt suddenly friendly to this man who took what
he wanted regardless of cost. She thought pleasantly of the ride home in
the cab, but she was pulled up with a jerk when Jonah led the way to the
tram. He wore an anxious look, as if he had spent more than he could
afford, and yet the money was a mere flea-bite to him. But whenever he
spent money, a panic terror seized him--a survival of the street-arab's
instinct, who counted his money in pennies instead of pounds.
ADA MAKES A FRIEND
Ada moved uneasily, opened her eyes and stared at the patch of light on
the opposite wall. As she lay half awake, she tried to remember the day
of the week, and, deceived by the morning silence, decided that it was
Sunday. She thought, with lazy pleasure, that a day of idleness lay
before her, and felt under the pillow for the tin of lollies that she hid
there every night. This movement awakened her completely, and stretching
her limbs luxuriously between the warm sheets, she began to suck the
lollies, at first slowly revolving the sticky globules on her tongue, and
then scrunching them between her firm teeth with the tranquil pleasure
of a quadruped.
This was her only pleasure and the only pleasant hour of the day. She
looked at Jonah, who lay on his side with his nose buried in the pillow,
without repugnance and without liking. That had gone long ago. And as
she looked, she remembered that he was to be awakened early and that it
was Friday the hardest day of the week, when she must make up her arrears
of scrubbing and dusting. Her luxurious mood changed to one of dull
irritation, and she looked sullenly at the enormous wardrobe and
dressing-table with their speckled mirrors. These had delighted her at
first, but in her heart she preferred the battered, makeshift furniture
of Cardigan Street. A few licks with the duster and her work was done;
but here the least speck of dust showed on the polished surface. Jonah,
too, had got into a nasty habit of writing insulting words on the dusty
surface with his finger.
Well, let him! There had been endless trouble since he bought the piano.
As sure as Miss Grimes came to give Ray his lesson, he declared the place
was a pigsty and tried to shame her by taking off his coat and dusting the
room himself. Not that she blamed Miss Grimes. She was quite a lady in
her way, and had won Ada's heart by telling her that she hated housework.
She thought Ada must be a born housekeeper to do without a servant, and
Ada didn't trouble to put her right. Anyhow, Jonah should keep a servant.
He pretended that their servants in Wyndham Street had made game of her
behind her back, and robbed her right and left. What did that matter?
she thought--Jonah could afford it.
The real reason was that he wanted no one in the house to see how he
treated his wife. She cared little herself whether she had a girl or not,
for she had always been accustomed to make work easy by neglecting it.
If Jonah wanted a floor that you could eat your dinner off, let him get a
servant. He was as mean as dirt. A fat lot she got out of his money.
Here she was, shut up in these rooms, little better than a prisoner, for
her old pals never dared show their noses in this house, and she could
never go out without all the shop-hands knowing it. She never bought a
new dress, but Jonah stormed like a madman, declaring that she looked like
a servant dressed up. Well, her clothes knocked Cardigan Street endways
when she paid her mother a visit, and that was all she wanted.
There was her mother, too. She had never been a real mother to her; you
could never tell what she was thinking about. Other people took their
troubles to her, but she treated her own daughter like a stranger. And,
of course, she sided with Jonah and talked till her jaw ached about her
duty to her child and her husband. She would have married Tom Mullins if
it hadn't been for the kid, and lived in Cardigan Street like her pals.
Her thoughts travelled back to Packard's and the Road. She remembered
with intense longing the group at the corner, the drunken rows, and the
nightly gossip on the doorstep. That was life for her. She had been like
a fish out of water ever since she left it. She thought with singular
bitterness of Jonah's attempts to introduce her to the wives of the men he
met in business, women who knew not Cardigan Street, and annoyed her by
staring at her hands, and talking of their troubles with servants till
they made her sick.
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by Jonah. He turned in his sleep
and pushed the sheet from his face, but a loud scrunch from Ada's jaw woke
him completely. He tugged at the pillow and his hand fell on the tin
of sticky lollies.
"Bah!" he cried in disgust, and rubbed his fingers on the sheet. "Only
kids eat that muck."
"Kid yerself!" cried Ada furiously. "Anybody 'ud think I was eatin'
di'monds. Yer'd grudge me the air I breathe, if yer thought it cost money."
"Yah, git up an' light the fire!" replied Jonah.
"Yes, that's me all over. Anybody else 'ud keep a servant; but as long as
I'm fool enough ter slave an' drudge, yer save the expense."
"You slave an' drudge?" cried Jonah in scorn--"that was in yer dream.
Are yer sure ye're awake?"
"Yes, I am awake, an' let me tell yer that it's the talk of the
neighbourhood that yer've got thousands in the bank, an' too mean ter keep
"That's a lie, an' yer know it!" cried Jonah. "Didn't yez 'ave a girl in
Wyndham Street, an' didn't she pinch enough things to set up 'er sister's
'ouse w'en she got married?"
"Yous couldn't prove it," said Ada, sullenly.
"No, I couldn't prove it without showing everybody wot sort of wife
"She's a jolly sight too good fer yous, an' well yer know it."
"Yes, that's wot I complain of," said Jonah. "I'd prefer a wife like
other men 'ave that can mind their 'ouse, an' not make a 'oly show of
themselves w'en they take 'em out."
"A fat lot yer take me out!"
"Take yous out! Yah! Look at yer neck!"
Ada flushed a sullen red. So far the quarrel had been familiar and
commonplace, like a conversation about the weather, but her neck, hidden
under grubby lace, was Ada's weak point.
"Look at the hump on yer back before yer talk about my neck," she shouted.
It was the first time she had ever dared to taunt Jonah with his
deformity, and the sound of her words frightened her. He would strike her
Jonah's face turned white. He raised himself on his elbow and clenched
his fist, the hard, knotty fist of the shoemaker swinging at the end of
the unnaturally long arms, another mark of his deformity. Jonah had never
struck her--contrary to the habit of Cardigan Street--finding that he
could hit harder with his tongue; but it was coming now, and she nerved
herself for the blow. But Jonah's hand dropped helplessly.
"You low, dirty bitch," he said. "If a man said that to me, I'd strangle
him. I took yer out of the factory, I married yer, an' worked day an'
night ter git on in the world, an' that's yer thanks. Pity I didn't leave
yer in the gutter w'ere yer belonged. I wonder who yer take after? Not
after yer mother. She is clean an' wholesome. Any other woman would take
an interest in my business, an' be a help to a man; but you're like a
millstone round my neck. I thought I'd done with Cardigan Street, an' the
silly loafers I grew up with, but s'elp me Gawd, when I married you I
married Cardigan Street. I could put up with yer want of brains--you
don't want much brains ter git through this world--but it's yer nasty,
sulky temper, an' yer bone idleness. I suppose yer git them from yer
lovely father. The 'ardest work 'e ever did was to drink beer. It's a
wonder yer don't take after 'im in that. I suppose I've got something to
be thankful for."
"Yes, I suppose yer'd like me ter drink meself ter death, so as yer could
marry again. But yer needn't fear I'll last yous out," cried Ada,
recovering her tongue now that she was no longer in fear of a blow.
"Ah well, yer can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear they say," said
Jonah. There was an intense weariness in his voice as he turned his back
"No more than yer can make a man out of a monkey on a stick," muttered Ada
to herself as she got out of bed.
Ada got the breakfast and went about the house in sullen silence. Jonah
was used to this. For days together after a quarrel she would sulk
without speaking, proud of her stubborn temper that forced others to give
in first. And they would sit down to meals and pass one another in the
rooms, watching each other's movements to avoid the necessity for
speaking. The day had begun badly for Ada, and her anger increased as she
brooded over her wrongs. Heavy and sullen by nature, her wrath came to a
head hours after the provocation, burning with a steady heat when others
were cooling down.
But as she was pegging out some towels in the yard she heard a discreet
cough on the other side of the fence. Ada recognized the signal. It was
her neighbour, the woman with the hairy lip, housekeeper to Aaron the Jew.
It had taken Ada weeks to discover Mrs Herring's physical defect, which
she humoured by shaving. Now Ada could tell in an instant whether she
was shaven or hairy, for when her lip bristled with hairs for lack of the
razor, she peered over the fence so as to hide the lower part of her face.
Ada, being used to such things, thought at first she was hiding a black
eye. But who was there to give her one? Aaron the pawnbroker, not being
her husband, could not take such a liberty.
She had introduced herself over the fence the week of Ada's arrival,
giving her the history of the neighbourhood in an unceasing flow of
perfect English, her voice never rising above a whisper. For days she
would disappear altogether, and then renew the conversation by coughing
gently on her side of the fence. This morning her lip was shaven, and she
leaned over the fence, full of gossip. But Ada's sullen face caught her
eye, and instantly she was full of sympathy, a peculiar look of falsity
shining in her light blue eyes.
"Why, what's the matter, dearie?" she inquired.
"Oh, nuthin'," said Ada roughly.
"Ah, you mustn't tell me that! When my poor husband was alive, I've often
looked in my glass and seen a face like that. He was my husband, and I
suppose I should say no more, but men never brought any happiness to me
or any other woman that I know of. The first day I set eyes on you,
I said, 'That's an unhappy woman.'"
"Well, yer needn't tell the bloomin' street," growled Ada.
"What you want is love and sympathy, but I suppose your husband is too
busy making money to spare the time for that. Ah, many's the time, when
my poor dear husband was alive, did I pine for a kind word, and get a
black look instead! And a woman can turn to no one in a trouble like
that. She feels as if her own door had been slammed in her face. What
you want is a cheerful outing with a sympathetic friend, but I hear
you're little more than a prisoner in your own house."
"Who told yer that?" cried Ada, flushing angrily.
"A little bird told me," said the woman, with a false grin.
"Well, I'd wring its neck, if I 'eard it," cried Ada. "And as fer bein' a
prisoner, I'm goin' out this very afternoon."
"Why, how curious!" cried Mrs Herring. "This is my afternoon out. We
could have a pleasant chat, if you have nothing better to do."
Ada hesitated. Jonah always wanted to know where she was going, and had
forbidden her to make friends with the neighbours, for in Cardigan Street
friendship with neighbours generally ended in a fight or the police court.
She had never defied Jonah before, but her anger was burning with a steady
flame. She'd show him!
"I'll meet yer at three o'clock opposite the church," she cried,
and walked away.
She gave Jonah his meal in silence, and sent Ray off on a message before
two o'clock. But Jonah seemed to have nothing to do this afternoon, and
sat, contrary to custom, reading the newspaper. Ada watched the clock
anxiously, fearing she would be baulked. But, as luck would have it,
Jonah was suddenly called into the shop, and the coast was clear. It
never took Ada long to dress; her clothes always looked as if they had
been thrown on with a pitchfork, and she slipped down the outside stairs
into the lane at the back. It was the first time she had gone out without
telling Jonah where she was going and when she would be back. And
afterwards she could never understand why she crept out in this furtive
manner. Mrs Herring was waiting, dressed in dingy black, a striking
contrast to Ada's flaring colours. They walked up Regent Street, as
Mrs Herring said she wanted to buy a thimble.
But when they reached Redfern Street, Mrs Herring put her hand suddenly
to her breast and cried "Oh, dearie, if you could feel how my heart is
beating! I really feel as if I am going to faint. I've suffered for
years with my heart, and the doctor told me always to take a drop of
something soothing, when I had an attack."
They were opposite the "Angel", no longer sinister and forbidding in the
broad daylight. The enormous lamps hung white and opaque; the huge
mirrors reflected the cheerful light of the afternoon sun. The
establishment seemed harmless and respectable, like the grocer's or
baker's. But from the swinging doors came a strong odour of alcohol,
enveloping the two women in a vinous caress that stirred hidden desires
like a strong perfume.
"Do you think we could slip in here without being seen?" said the
"If ye're so bad as all that, we can," replied Ada.
Mrs Herring turned and slipped in at the side door with the dexterity of
customers entering a pawnshop, and Ada followed, slightly bewildered.
The housekeeper, seeming quite familiar with the turnings, led the way to
a small room at the back. Ada looked round with great curiosity. She had
never entered a hotel before in this furtive fashion. In Cardigan Street
she had always fetched her mother's beer in a jug from the bar. On the
walls were two sporting prints of dogs chasing a hare, and a whisky
calendar. On the table was a small gong, which Mrs Herring rang. Cassidy
himself, the landlord, answered the ring.
"Good dey, good dey to you, Mrs Herring," he said briskly. "The same as
usual, I suppose? And what'll your friend take?" he added, grinning
"My friend, Mrs Jones," said the housekeeper.
"Glad to meet you," cried Cassidy. "A terrible hill this," he continued,
winking at Ada. "We should never see Mrs Herring, if it wasn't for
"Nothing for me," said Ada, shaking her head.
"Now just a drop to keep me company," begged Mrs Herring.
As Ada continued to shake her head, Cassidy went out, and returned with a
bottle of brandy and three glasses on a tray.
"Sure, I forgot to tell you I'm a father again; father number nine,
unless I've lost count. Sure your friend will join us in a glass to wet
the head of the baby?"
He filled three glasses as he spoke, and winked at Mrs Herring. Ada's
brain was in a whirl. She saw that she had been trapped, and that
Mrs Herring was a liar and a comedian. She might as well drink now she
was here. But Jonah would kill her, if he smelt drink on her. Well,
let him! It was little enough fun she got out of life anyhow. She nodded
to Cassidy. They clinked the three glasses and drank, the landlord and
Mrs Herring at a gulp, Ada with tiny sips as if it were poison.
"Well, I'll leave you to your bit of gossip; I think I hear the child
crying," said the landlord, backing out of the door with a grin.
Mrs Herring, who had forgotten her palpitations, filled her glass again,
and sipped slowly to keep Ada company. In half an hour Ada finished her
second glass. A pleasant glow had spread through her body. The weight
was lifted off her mind, and she felt calm and happy. She thought of
Jonah with indifference. What did he matter? She listened cheerfully to
Mrs Herring's ceaseless whisper, only catching the meaning of one word
"And many's the time, when my poor dear husband was alive, have I gone out
meaning to throw myself into the harbour, and a drop of cordial has
changed my mind."
Ada nodded to show that she understood that the late Mr Herring was a
brute and a tyrant.
"And then he went with the contingent to South Africa, and the next I
heard was that he was dead. And the thought of my poor dear lying with
his face turned to the skies would have driven me mad, if the doctor
hadn't insisted on my taking a drop of cordial to bear my grief. And when
I recovered, I vowed I would never marry again. The men dearie, are all
alike. They marry one woman, and want twenty. And if you as much as look
at another man, they smash the furniture and threaten to get a divorce.
I can see you've found that out."
"Ye're barkin' up the wrong tree," said Ada. "My old man's as 'ard as
nails, but 'e don't run after women. 'E's the wrong shape, see."
Ada had never spent such a pleasant time in her life. She had never
tasted brandy till that afternoon. Cardigan Street drank beer, and the
glasses Ada had drunk at odd times had only made her sleepy without
excitement. But this seductive liquid leapt through her veins, bringing
a delicious languor and a sense of comfort. Her mind, dull and heavy by
habit, ran on wheels. She wanted to interrupt Mrs Herring to make some
observations of her own which seemed too good to lose. She felt a silly
impulse to ask her whether she was born with a moustache, who taught her
to shave, whether she could grow a moustache if she left it alone. She
wanted to ask why her palpitations had gone off so quickly, and why she
seemed perfectly at home in the "Angel", but her thoughts crowded heel on
heel so fast that she had forgotten them before she could speak.
She remembered that a few weeks ago the housekeeper's husband had died of
typhoid in the Never Never country, and Mrs Herring had nursed him bravely
to the end. She tried to reconcile this with his death this afternoon in
the Boer War, and decided that it didn't matter. He must have died
somewhere, for no one had ever seen him. She was discovering slowly that
this woman was a consummate liar, who lied as the birds sing, but forgot
her many inventions, a born liar without a memory. Suddenly Mrs Herring
said she must be going, and Ada got up to leave. She lurched as she
stood, and pushed her chair over with a clumsy movement.
"I b'lieve I'm drunk," she muttered, with a foolish titter.
Mrs PARTRIDGE LENDS A HAND
Since ten o'clock in the morning the large house, standing in its own
grounds, had been invaded by a swarm of dealers, hook-nosed and
ferret-eyed, prying into every corner, searching each lot for hidden
faults, judging at a glance the actual value of every piece of furniture,
their blood stirred with the hereditary joy in chaffering, for an auction
is as full of surprises as a battle, the prices rising and falling
according to the temper of the crowd. And they watched one another with
crafty eyes that had long lost the power to see anything but the faults
and defects in the property of others. Those who had commissions from
buyers marked the chosen lots in their catalogue with a stumpy pencil.
Mother Jenkins was one of these. She was the auctioneer's scavenger,
snapping up the dishonoured, broken remnants disdained by the others,
buying for a song the job lots on the way to the rubbish-heap. All was
fish that came to her net, for her second-hand shop in Bathurst Street
had taught her to despise nothing that had an ounce of wear left in it.
Her bids never ran beyond a few shillings, but to-day she had an important
commission, twenty pounds to lay out on the furnishing of three rooms for
a married couple. These were her windfalls. Sometimes she got a wedding
order, and furnished the house out of her amazing collection, supplemented
by her bargains at the next auction sale. This had brought her to the
sale early, for the young couple, deciding to furnish in style, had
exhausted her resources by demanding wardrobes, dressing-tables, and
washstands with marble tops.
The young woman with the mop of red hair followed on her heels, amazed by
the luxury of the interior harmonized in a scheme of colour. Her
day-dreams, coloured by the descriptions of ducal mansions in penny
novelettes, came suddenly true. And she lingered before carved cabinets,
strange vases like frozen rainbows, and Oriental tapestry with the
instinctive delight in luxury planted in women.
But Mother Jenkins had no time to spare. She had found the very thing
for Pinkey, and led the way to the servants' quarters, hidden at the back
of the house. Pinkey's visions of grandeur fled at the sight. The rooms
were small, and a sour smell hung on the air, the peculiar odour of
servants' rooms where ventilation is unknown. Pinkey recognized the
curtains and drapes at a glance, the pick of a suburban rag-shop. One
room was as bare as a prison cell, merely a place to sleep in, but the
next was royally furnished with a wardrobe, toilet-table, and washstand,
solid and old-fashioned like the generation it had outlived. By its look
it had descended in regular stages from the bedrooms of the family to the
casual guests' room and then to the servants. But Pinkey had seen
nothing so beautiful at home, and her heart swelled at the thought of
possessing such genteel furniture. Mother Jenkins explained that with a
lick of furniture polish they would look as good as new, but Pinkey's only
fear was that they would be too expensive. Then the dealer reckoned that
she could get the lot for seven pounds. The only rivals she feared were
women who, if they set their heart on anything, sometimes forced the price
up till you could buy it for less in the shop.
Meanwhile the sale had begun, and in the distance Pinkey could hear the
monotonous voice of the auctioneer forcing the bids up till he reached the
limit. From time to time there was a roar of laughter as he cracked a
joke over the heads of his customers. The buyers stood wedged like
sardines in the room, craning their necks to see each lot as it was put
up. As the crowd moved from room to room, Pinkey's excitement increased.
Mother Jenkins had gone to the kitchen, where she always found a few
pickings. She came back and found Pinkey's husband, the young man with
the ugly face and dancing eyes, who was waiting outside with the cart,
watching while Pinkey polished a corner of the wardrobe to show him its
quality. She hurried them down to the kitchen to examine the linoleum on
the floor, as it would fit their dining-room, if the worn parts were
The crowd moved like a mob of sheep into the servants rooms, standing in
each other's way, tired of the strain on their attention. Mother Jenkins
whispered that things would go cheap because the auctioneer was in a hurry
to get to his lunch. Pinkey stood behind her, ready to poke her in the
ribs if she wished her to keep on bidding.
"Now, gentlemen," said the auctioneer, "lot one hundred and seventy-five.
Duchesse wardrobe, dressing-table with bevelled mirrors, and marble-top
washstand, specially imported from England by Mrs Harper. What am I
"Specially imported from England?" cried a dealer. "Yes, came out in the
"What's that?" cried the auctioneer. "Thank you for telling me,
Mr Isaacs." And he began again: "What offer for this solid ash bedroom
suite, imported in the first fleet, guaranteed by Mr Isaacs, who was in
leg-irons and saw it."
There was a roar of laughter at the dealer's discomfiture.
"Now, Mr Isaacs, how much are you going to bid, for old times' sake?"
cried the auctioneer, pushing his advantage. But Isaacs had turned sulky.
"A pound," said Mother Jenkins.
"No, mother, you don't mean it," cried the auctioneer, grinning.
"That'll leave you nothing to pay your tram fare home." But he went on:
"I'm offered a pound for this solid ash bedroom suite that cost thirty
guineas in London."
The bids crawled slowly up to six pounds.
"It's against you, mother," cried the auctioneer; "don't let a few
shillings stand in the way of your getting married. I knew the men
couldn't leave you alone with that face. Thank you, six-five."
The old hag showed her toothless gums in a hideous smile, the woman that
was left in the dried shell still tickled at the reference to marriage.
But her look changed to one of intense pain as Pinkey, trembling with
excitement, nudged her violently in the ribs as a signal to keep on
bidding. However, there was no real opposition, and the bidding stopped
suddenly at seven pounds, forced up to that price by a friend of Mother
Jenkins's to increase her commission.
In the kitchen the auctioneer lost his temper, and knocked down to Mother
Jenkins enough pots and pans to last Pinkey a lifetime for ten shillings
before the others could get in a bid. Chook, who had borrowed Jack Ryan's
cart for the day, drove off with his load in triumph, while Pinkey went
with Mother Jenkins to her shop in Bathurst Street to sort out her
curtains, bed-linen, and crockery from that extraordinary collection.
Twenty pounds would pay for the lot, and leave a few shillings over.
One Saturday morning, two years ago, Pinkey had set out for the factory as
usual, and had come home to dinner with her wages in her handkerchief and
a wedding ring on her finger. Mrs Partridge gave up novelettes for a week
when she learned that her stepdaughter had married Chook that morning at
the registry office. Partridge had taken the news with a look that had
frightened the women; the only sign of emotion that he had given was to
turn his back without a word on his favourite daughter. Since then they
had lived with Chook's mother, as he had no money to furnish; but last
month Chook had joined a syndicate of three to buy a five-shilling sweep
ticket, which, to their amazement, drew a hundred-pound prize. With
Chook's share they had decided to take Jack Ryan's shop in Pitt Street
just round the corner from Cardigan Street. It was a cottage that had
been turned into a shop by adding a false front to it. The rent, fifteen
shillings a week, frightened Chook, but he reserved ten pounds to stock it
with vegetables, and buy the fittings from Jack Ryan, who had tried to
conduct his business from the bar of the nearest hotel, and failed. If
the money had run to Jack's horse and cart, their fortunes would have
Mrs Partridge's wanderings had ended with the marriage of Pinkey. Only
once had she contrived to move, and the result had frightened her, for
William had mumbled about his lost time in his sleep. And she had lived
in Botany Street for two years, a stone's throw from the new shop in Pitt
Street. She remembered that Chook had helped to move her furniture in at
their first meeting, and, not liking to be out-done in generosity,
resolved to slip round after tea and lend a hand. She knew, if any woman
did, the trouble of moving furniture and setting it straight. She
prepared for her labours by putting on her black silk blouse and her best
skirt, and as William was anchored by the fireside with the newspaper, she
decided to wear her new hat with the ostrich feathers, twenty years too
young for her face, which she had worn for three months on the quiet out
of regard for William's feelings, for it had cost the best part of his
week's wages, squeezed out in shillings and sixpences, the price of
imaginary pounds of tea, butter, and groceries.
She found Chook with his mouth full of nails, hanging pictures at five
shillings the pair; Pinkey, dishevelled, sweating in beads, covered with
dust, her sleeves tucked up to the elbows, ordering Chook to raise or
lower the picture half an inch to increase the effect. It was some time
before Mrs Partridge could find a comfortable chair where she ran no risk
of soiling her best clothes, but when she did she smiled graciously on
them, noting with intense satisfaction Pinkey's stare of amazement at the
black hat, twenty years too young for her face.
"I thought I'd come round and give you a hand," she explained.
"Thanks, Missis," said Chook, thankful for even a little assistance.
Pinkey stared again at the hat, and Mrs Partridge felt a momentary
dissatisfaction with life in possessing such a hat without the right to
wear it in public. In half an hour Chook and Pinkey had altered the
position of everything in the room under the direction of Mrs Partridge,
who sat in her chair like a spectator at the play. At last they sat down
exhausted and Mrs Partridge, who felt as fresh as paint, gave them her
opinion on matrimony and the cares of housekeeping. But Pinkey, unable to
sit in idleness among this beautiful furniture, got to work with her
"Ah," said Mrs Partridge, "it's natural to take a pride in the bit of
furniture you start with, but when you've been through the mill like I
'ave, you'll think more of your own comfort. There was yer Aunt Maria
wore 'er fingers to the bone polishing 'er furniture on the time-payment
plan, an' then lost it all through the death of 'er 'usband, an' the
furniture man thanked 'er kindly fer keepin' it in such beautiful order
when 'e took it away. An' Mrs Ross starved 'erself to buy chairs an'
sofas, which she needed, in my opinion, being too weak to walk about; an'
then 'er 'usband dropped a match, an' they 'ad the best fire ever seen in
the street, an' 'ave lived in lodgings ever since."
"That's all right," said Chook uneasily, "but this ain't time-payment
furniture, an' I ain't goin' ter sling matches about like some people
"That's very true," said Mrs Partridge, warming up to her subject, "but
there's no knowin' 'ow careless yer may git when yer stomach's undermined
with bad cookin'."
"Wot rot ye're talkin'!" cried Chook. "Mother taught her to cook a fair
treat these two years. She niver got anythin' to practise on in your
"That's true," said Mrs Partridge, placidly. "I was never one to poison
meself with me own cooking. When I was a girl I used ter buy a penn'orth
of everythin', peas-pudden, saveloys, pies, brawn, trotters, Fritz, an'
German sausage. Give me the 'am shop, an' then I know who ter blame, if
anythin' goes wrong with me stomach."
Chook gave his opinion of cookshops.
"Ah well," said Mrs Partridge, "what the eye doesn't see the 'eart doesn't
grieve over, as the sayin' is! An' that reminds me. Elizabeth suffers
from 'er 'eart, an' that means a doctor's bill which I could never
understand the prices they charge, knowin' plenty as got better before the
doctor could cure 'em an' so takin' the bread out of 'is mouth, as the
sayin' is. Though I make it my business to be very smooth with them as
might put somethin' nasty in the medsin an' so carry you off, an' none the
wiser, as the sayin' is."
"'Ere, this ain't a funeral," cried Chook, in disgust.
"An' thankful you ought ter be that it ain't," cried Mrs Partridge, "after
what I read in the paper only last week about people bein' buried alive
oftener than dead, an' fair gave me the creeps thinkin' I could see the
people scratchin' their way out of the coffin, an' sittin' on a tombstone
with nuthin' but a sheet round 'em. It would cure anybody of wantin' ter
die. I've told William to stick pins in me when my time comes."
"Anybody could tell w'en you're dead," said Chook.
"Why, 'ow?" cried Mrs Partridge, eagerly.
"Yer'll stop gassin' about yerself," cried Chook, roughly.
Mrs Partridge started to smile, and then stopped. It dawned slowly on her
mind that she was insulted, and she rose to her feet.
"Thank's fer yer nasty remark," she cried. "That's all the thanks I get
fer comin' to give a 'elpin' 'and. But I know when I'm not wanted."
"Yer don't," said Pinkey, "or yer'd 'ave gone 'ours ago."
Mrs Partridge turned to go, the picture of offended dignity, when her eyes
fell on an apparition in the doorway, and she quailed. It was William,
left safely by the fireside for the night, and now glowering, not at her
as she swiftly divined, but at the hat with the drooping feathers, twenty
years too young for her face. For the first time in her life she lost her
nerve, but with wonderful presence of mind, she smiled in her agony.
"Why, there you are, William," she cried. "Yer gave me quite a start.
I was just tryin' on Elizabeth's new 'at, to see if it suited me."
As she spoke, she tore out the hatpins with feverish dexterity, and thrust
the hat into Pinkey's astonished hand.
"Take it, yer little fool," she whispered, savagely.
Her face looked suddenly old and withered under the scanty grey hair.
"Good evenin', Mr Partridge--glad ter see yer," cried Chook, advancing
with outstretched hand; but the old man ignored him. His eyes travelled
slowly round the room, taking in every detail of the humble furniture.
The others stood silent with a little fear in their hearts at the sight of
this old man with the face of a sleep-walker; but suddenly Pinkey walked
up to him, and, reaching on tiptoe, kissed him, her face pink with emotion.
It was the first time since her unforgiven marriage. And she hung on him
like a child, her wonderful hair, the colour of a new penny, heightening
the bloodless pallor of the old man's face. The stolid grey eyes turned
misty, and, in silence, he slowly patted his daughter's cheek.
Chook kept his distance, feeling that he was not wanted. Mrs Partridge,
who had recovered her nerve, came as near cursing as her placid, selfish
nature would permit. She could have bitten her tongue for spite. She
thought of a thousand ways of explaining away the hat. She should have
said that a friend had lent it to her; that she had bought it for half
price at a sale. She had meant to show it to William some night after his
beer with a plausible story, but his sudden appearance had upset her
apple-cart, and the lie had slipped out unawares. She wasn't afraid of
William, she scorned him in her heart. And now that little devil must
keep it, for if she went back on her word it would put William on the
track of other little luxuries that she squeezed out of his wages unknown
to him--luxuries whose chief charm lay in their secrecy. She felt ready
to weep with vexation. Instead she cried gaily:
"I've been tellin' them what a nice little 'ome they've got together.
I've seen plenty would be glad to start on less."
Partridge seemed not to hear his wife's remark. His mind dulled by shock
and misfortune, was slowly revolving forgotten scenes. He saw with
incredible sharpness of view his first home, with its few sticks of
second-hand furniture like Pinkey's, and Pinkey's mother, the dead image
of her daughter. That was where he belonged--to the old time, when he was
young and proud of himself, able to drink his glass and sing a song with
the best of them. Someone pulled him gently. He looked round, wondering
what he was doing there. But Pinkey pulled him across the room to Chook,
who was standing like a fool. He looked Chook up and down as if he were a
piece of furniture, and then, without a word, held out his hand. The
reconciliation was complete.
"Well, we must be goin', William," said Mrs Partridge, wondering how she
was to get home without a hat; but Partridge followed Chook into the
kitchen, where a candle was burning. Chook held the candle in his hand to
show the little dresser with the cups and saucers and plates arranged in
mathematical precision. The pots and pans were already hung on hooks.
They had all seen service, and in Chook's eyes seemed more at home than
the brand-new things that hung in the shops. As Chook looked round with
pride, he became aware that Partridge was pushing something into his hand.
It seemed like a wad of dirty paper, and Chook held it to the candle in
surprise. He unrolled it with his fingers, and recognized banknotes.
"'Ere, I don't want yer money," cried Chook, offering the wad of paper to
the old man; but he pushed it back into Chook's hand with an imploring
"D'ye mean it fer Liz?" asked Chook.
Partridge nodded; his eyes were full of tears.
"Yous are a white man, an' I always knew it. Yer niver 'ad no cause ter
go crook on me, but I ain't complainin'," cried Chook hoarsely.
The tears were running a zigzag course over the grey stubble of
"Yer'll be satisfied if I think as much of 'er as yous did of her mother?"
asked Chook, feeling a lump in his throat.
Partridge nodded, swallowing as if he were choking.
"She's my wife, an' the best pal I ever 'ad, an' a man can't say more than
that," cried Chook proudly, but his eyes were full of tears.
Without a word the grey-haired old man shook his head and hurried to the
front door, where Mrs Partridge was waiting impatiently. She had forced
the hat on Pinkey in a speech full of bitterness, and had refused the loan
of a hat to see her home. To explain her bare head, she had prepared a
little speech about running down without a hat because of the fine night,
but Partridge was too agitated to notice what she wore.
When they stepped inside, the first thing that met Chook's eyes was the
hat with the wonderful feathers lying on a chair where Pinkey had
disdainfully thrown it. He stood and laughed till his ribs ached as he
thought of the figure cut by Mrs Partridge. He looked round for Pinkey to
join in, and was amazed to find her in tears.
"W'y, wot's the matter, Liz?" he cried, serious in a moment.
"Nuthin'," said Pinkey, drying her eyes "I was cryin' because I'm glad
father made it up with you. 'E's bin a good father to me. W'en Lil an'
me was kids, 'e used ter take us out every Saturday afternoon, and buy us
lollies," and the tears flowed again.
Chook wisely decided to say nothing about the banknotes till her nerves
"'Ere, cum an' try on yer new 'at," he cried, to divert her thoughts.
"Me?" cried Pinkey, blazing. "Do yer think I'd put anythin' on my 'ead
belongin' to 'er?"
"All right," said Chook, with regret, "I'll give it to mother fer one of
"Yer can burn it, if yer like," cried Pinkey.
Chook held up the hat, and examined it with interest. It was quite
unlike any he had seen before.
"See 'ow it look on yer," he coaxed.
"Not me," said Pinkey, glaring at the hat as if it were Mrs Partridge.
But Chook had made up his mind, and after a short scuffle, he dragged
Pinkey before the glass with the hat on her head.
"That's back ter front, yer silly," she said, suddenly quiet.
A minute later she was staring into the glass, silent and absorbed,
forgetful of Mrs Partridge, Chook, and her father. The hat was a dream.
The black trimmings and drooping feathers set off the ivory pallor of her
face and made the wonderful hair gleam like threads of precious metal.
She turned her head to judge it at very angle, surprised at her own beauty.
Presently she lifted it off her head as tenderly as if it were a crown,
with the reverence of women for the things that increase their beauty.
She put it down as if it were made of glass.
"I'll git Miss Jones to alter the bow, an' put the feathers farther back,"
she said, like one in a dream.
"I thought yer wouldn't wear it at any price," said Chook, delighted,
"Sometimes you talk like a man that's bin drinkin'," said Pinkey, with
the faintest possible smile.
A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
It was past ten o'clock, and one by one, with a sudden, swift collapse,
each shop in Botany Road extinguished its lights, leaving a blank gap in
the shining row of glass windows. Mrs Yabsley turned into Cardigan Street
and, taking a firmer grip of her parcels, mounted the hill slowly on
account of her breath. She still continued to shop at the last minute,
in a panic, as her mother had done before her, proud of her habit of being
the last customer at the butcher's and the grocer's. She looked up at the
sky and, being anxious for the morrow, tried to forecast the weather.
A sharp wind was blowing, and the stars winked cheerfully in a windswept
sky. There was every promise of a fine day, but to make sure, she tried
the corn on her left foot. The corn gave no sign, and she thought with
satisfaction of her new companion, Miss Perkins.
For years she had searched high and low for some penniless woman to share
her cottage and Jonah's allowance, and her pensioners had gone out of
their way to invent new methods of robbing her. But Miss Perkins (whom
she had found shivering and hungry on the doorstep as she was going to bed
one night and had taken in without asking questions, as was her habit)
guarded Mrs Yabsley's property like a watchdog. For Cardigan Street, when
it learned that Mrs Yabsley only worked for the fun of the thing, had
leaped to the conclusion that she was rolling in money. They knew that
she had given Jonah his start in life, and felt certain that she owned
half of the Silver Shoe.
So the older residents had come to look on Mrs Yabsley as their property,
and they formed a sort of club to sponge on her methodically. They ran
out of tea, sugar and flour, and kept the landlord waiting while they ran
up to borrow a shilling. They each had their own day, and kept to it,
respecting the rights of their friends to a share of the plunder. None
went away empty-handed, and they looked with unfriendly eyes on any new
arrivals who might interfere with their rights. They thought they
deceived the old woman, and the tea and groceries had a finer flavour in
consequence; but they would have been surprised to know that Mrs Yabsley
had herself fixed her allowance from Jonah at two pounds a week and
"That's enough money fer me to play the fool with, an' if it don't do much
good, it can't do much 'arm," she had remarked, with a mysterious smile,
when he had offered her anything she needed to live in comfort.
The terrible Miss Perkins had altered all that. She had discovered that
Mrs Harris was paying for a new hat with the shilling a week she got for
Johnny's medicine; that Mrs Thorpe smelt of drink half an hour after she
had got two shillings towards the rent; that Mr Hawkins had given his wife
a black eye for saying that he was strong enough to go to work again.
Mrs Yabsley had listened with a perplexing smile to her companion's cries
"I could 'ave told yer all that meself," she said, "but wot's it matter?
Who am I to sit in judgment on 'em? They know I've got more money than I
want, but they're too proud to ask fer it openly. People with better
shirts on their backs are built the same way, if all I 'ear is true. I've
bin poor meself an' yer may think there's somethin' wrong in me 'ead, but
if I've got a shillin', an' some poor devil's got nuthin', I reckon I owe
'im sixpence. It isn't likely fer you to understand such things, bein'
brought up in the lap of luxury, but don't yer run away with the idea that
poor people are the only ones who are ashamed to beg an' willin' to steal."
Mrs Yabsley had asked no questions when she had found Miss Perkins on the
step, but little by little her companion had dropped hints of former
glory, and then launched into a surprising tale. She was the daughter of
a rich man, who had died suddenly, and left her at the mercy of a
stepmother and she had grown desperate and fled, choosing to earn her own
bread till her cousin arrived, who was on his way from England to marry
her. On several occasions she had forgotten that her name was Perkins,
and when Mrs Yabsley dryly commented on this, she confessed that she had
borrowed the name from her maid when she fled. And she whispered her real
name in the ear of Mrs Yabsley, who marvelled, and promised to keep the
Mrs Yabsley, who was no fool, looked for some proof of the story, and was
satisfied. The girl was young and pretty, and gave herself the airs of a
duchess. Mrs Swadling, indeed, had spent so much of her time at the
cottage trying to worm her secret from the genteel stranger that she
unconsciously imitated her aristocratic manner and way of talking, until
Mr Swadling had brought her to her senses by getting drunk and giving her
a pair of black eyes, which destroyed all resemblance to the fascinating
stranger. Mrs Swadling had learned nothing, but she assured half the
street that Miss Perkins's father had turned her out of doors for refusing
to marry a man old enough to be her father, and the other half that a
forged will had robbed her of thousands and a carriage and pair.
Cardigan Street had watched the aristocracy from the gallery of the
theatre with sharp, envious eyes, and reported their doings to Mrs Yabsley,
but Miss Perkins was the first specimen she had ever seen in the flesh.
In a week she learned more about the habits of the idle rich than she had
ever imagined in a lifetime. Her lodger lay in bed till ten in the
morning, and expected to be waited on hand and foot. And when Mrs Yabsley
could spare a minute, she described in detail the splendours of her
father's home. She talked incessantly of helping Mrs Yabsley with the
washing, but she seemed as helpless as a child, and Mrs Yabsley, noticing
the softness and whiteness of her hands, knew that she had never done a
stroke of work in her life. Then, with the curious reverence of the
worker for the idler, she explained to her lodger that she only worked
When Miss Perkins came, she had nothing but what she stood up in; but one
night she slipped out under cover of darkness, and returned with a
dress-basket full of finery, with which she dazzled Mrs Yabsley's eyes in
the seclusion of the cottage. The basket also contained a number of pots
and bottles with which she spent hours before the mirror, touching up her
eyebrows and cheeks and lips. When Mrs Yabsley remarked bluntly that she
was young and pretty enough without these aids, she learned with amazement
that all ladies in society used them. Mrs Yabsley never tired of hearing
Miss Perkins describe the splendours of her lost home. She recognized
that she had lived in another world, where you lounged gracefully on
velvet couches and life was one long holiday.
"It's funny," she remarked, "'ow yer run up agin things in this world.
I never 'ad no partic'lar fancy fer dirty clothes an' soapsuds, but in my
time, which ever way I went, I never ran agin the drorin'-room carpet an'
the easy-chairs. It was the boilin' copper, the scrubbin' brush, an' the
kitchen floor every time."
She was intensely interested in Miss Perkins's cousin, who was on his way
from England to marry her. She described him so minutely that Mrs Yabsley
would have recognized him if she had met him in the street. His income,
his tastes and habits, his beautiful letters to Miss Perkins, filled
Mrs Yabsley with respectful admiration. As a special favour Miss Perkins
promised to read aloud one of his letters announcing his departure from
England, but found that she had mislaid it. She made up for it by
consulting Mrs Yabsley on the choice of a husband. Mrs Yabsley, who had
often been consulted on this subject, gave her opinion.
"Some are ruled by 'is 'andsome face, an' some by 'ow much money 'e's got,
but they nearly all fergit they've got ter live in the same 'ouse with
'im. Women 'ave only one way of lookin' at a man in the long run, an' if
yer ask my opinion of any man, I want ter know wot 'e thinks about women.
That's more important, yer'll find in the long run, than the shape of his
nose or the size of 'is bankin' account."
Mrs Yabsley still hid her money, but out of the reach of rats and mice,
and Miss Perkins had surprised her one day by naming the exact amount she
had in her possession. And she had insisted on Mrs Yabsley going with her
to the Ladies' Paradise and buying a toque, trimmed with jet, for thirty
shillings, a fur tippet for twenty-five shillings, and a black cashmere
dress, ready-made, for three pounds. Mrs Yabsley had never spent so much
money on dress in her life, but Miss Perkins pointed out that the cadgers
in Cardigan Street went out better dressed than she on Sunday, and
Mrs Yabsley gave in. Miss Perkins refused to accept a fur necklet,
slightly damaged by moth, reduced to twelve-and-six, but took a plain
leather belt for eighteen pence. They were going out to-morrow for the
first time to show the new clothes, and she had left Miss Perkins at home
altering the waistband of the skirt and the hooks on the bodice, as there
had been some difficulty in fitting Mrs Yabsley's enormous girth.
Mrs Yabsley's thoughts came to a sudden stop as she reached the steep
part of the hill. On a steep grade her brain ceased to work, and her body
became a huge, stertorous machine, demanding every ounce of vitality to
force it an inch farther up the hill. Always she had to fight for wind on
climbing a hill, but lately a pain like a knife in her heart had
accompanied the suffocation, robbing her of all power of locomotion.
The doctor had said that her heart was weak, but, judging by the rest of
her body, that was nonsense, and a sniff at the medicine before she threw
it away had convinced her that he was merely guessing.
When she reached the cottage she was surprised to find it in darkness,
but, thinking no harm, took the key from under the doormat and went in.
She lit the candle and looked round, as Jonah had done one night ten years
ago. The room was unchanged. The walls were stained with grease and
patches of dirt, added, slowly through the years as a face gathers
wrinkles. The mottoes and almanacs alone differed. She looked round,
wondering what errand had taken Miss Perkins out at that time of night.
She was perplexed to see a sheet of paper with writing on it pinned to the
table. Miss Perkins knew she was no scholar. Why had she gone out and
left a note on the table? The pain eased in her heart, and strength came
back slowly to her limbs as the suffocation in her throat lessened. At
last she was able to think. She had left Miss Perkins busy with her
needle and cotton, and she noticed with surprise that the clothes
With a sudden suspicion she went into the bedroom with the candle, and
looked in the wardrobe made out of six yards of cretonne. The black
cashmere dress, the fur tippet, and the box containing the toque with jet
trimmings were gone! She shrank from the truth, and, candle in hand,
examined every room, searching the most unlikely corners for the missing
articles. She came back and, taking the note pinned to the table, stared
at it with intense curiosity. What did these black scratches mean? For
the first time in her life she wished she were scholar enough to read.
She had had no schooling and when she grew up it seemed a poor way to
spend the time reading, when you might be talking. Somebody always told
you what was in the newspapers, and if you wanted to know anything else,
why, where was your tongue? She examined the paper again, but it conveyed
no meaning to her anxious eyes.
And then in a flash she saw Miss Perkins in a new light, The woman's
anxiety about her was a blind to save her money from dribbling out in
petty loans. Mrs Yabsley, knowing that banks were only traps, still hid
her money so carefully that no one could lay hands on it. So that was the
root of her care for Mrs Yabsley's appearance. She held up the note,
and regarded it with a grimly humorous smile. She knew the truth now,
and felt no desire to read what was written there--some lie, she
supposed--and dropped it on the floor.
Suddenly she felt old and lonely, and wrapping a shawl round her
shoulders, went out to her seat on the veranda. It was near eleven, and
the street was humming with life. The sober and thrifty were trudging
home with their loads of provisions; gossips were gathered at intervals;
sudden jests were bandied, conversations were shouted across the width of
the street, for it was Saturday night, and innumerable pints of beer had
put Cardigan Street in a good humour. The doors were opened, and the eye
travelled straight into the front rooms lit with a kerosene lamp or a
candle. Under the veranda at the corner the Push was gathered, the
successors of Chook and Jonah, young and vicious, for the larrikin never
She looked on the familiar scenes that had been a part of her life since
she could remember. The street was changed, she thought, for a new
generation had arrived, scorning the old traditions. The terrace opposite,
sinking in decay, had become a den of thieves, the scum of a city rookery.
She felt a stranger in her own street, and saw that her money had spoilt
her relations with her neighbours. Once she could read them like a book,
but these people came to her with lies and many inventions for the sake of
a few miserable shillings. She wondered what the world was coming to.
She threw her thoughts into the past with an immense regret. A group on
the kerbstone broke into song:
Now, honey, yo' stay in yo' own back yard,
Doan min' what dem white chiles do;
What show yo' suppose dey's a-gwine to gib
A little black coon like yo'?
So stay on this side of the high boahd fence,
An', honey, doan cry so hard;
Go out an' a-play, jes' as much as yo' please,
But stay in yo' own back yard.
The tune, with a taking lilt in it, made no impression on the old woman.
And she thought with regret that the old tunes had died out with the
people who sang them. These people had lost the trick of enjoying
themselves in a simple manner. Ah for the good old times, when the street
was as good as a play, and the people drank and quarrelled and fought and
sang without malice! A meaner race had come in their stead, with meaner
habits and meaner vices. Her thoughts were interrupted by a tinkling bell,
and a voice that cried:
"Peas an' pies, all 'ot!--all 'ot!"
It was the pieman, pushing a handcart. He went the length of the street,
unnoticed. She thought of Joey, dead and gone these long years, with his
shop on wheels and his air of prosperity. His widow lived on the rent of
a terrace of houses, but his successor was as lean as a starved cat, for
the people's tastes had changed, and the chipped-potato shop round the
corner took all their money. She thought with pride of Joey and the
famous wedding feast--the peas, the pies, the saveloys, the beer, the
songs and laughter. Ah well, you could say what you liked, the good old
times were gone for ever. Once the street was like a play, and now...Her
thoughts were disturbed again by a terrific noise in the terrace opposite.
The door of a cottage flew open, and a woman ran screaming into the road,
followed by her husband with a tomahawk. But as the door slammed behind
him, he suddenly changed his mind and, turning back, hammered on the
closed door with frantic rage, calling on someone within to come out and
be killed. Then, as he grew tired of trying to get in, he remembered his
wife, but she had disappeared.
The crowd gathered about, glad of a diversion, and the news travelled
across the street to Mrs Yabsley on her veranda. Doughy the baker,
stepping down unexpectedly from the Woolpack to borrow a shilling from his
wife, had found her drinking beer in the kitchen with Happy Jack. And
while Doughy was hammering on the front door, Happy Jack had slipped out
at the back, and was watching Doughy's antics over the shoulders of his
pals. Presently Doughy grew tired and, crossing the street, sat on the
kerbstone in front of Mrs Yabsley's, with his eye on the door. And as he
sat, he caressed the tomahawk, and carried on a loud conversation with
himself, telling all the secrets of his married life to the street.
Cardigan Street was enjoying itself. The crowd dwindled as the excitement
died out, and Doughy was left muttering to himself. From the group at the
corner came the roar of a chorus:
You are my honey, honeysuckle, I am the bee,
I'd like to sip the honey sweet from those red lips, you see;
I love you dearly, dearly, and I want you to love me;
You are my honey, honeysuckle, I am the bee.
Doughy still muttered, but the beer had deadened his senses and his
jealous anger had evaporated. Half an hour later his wife crossed the
street cautiously and went inside. Doughy saw her and, having reached the
maudlin stage, got up and lurched across the street, anxious to make it up
and be friends. Quite like the old times, thought Mrs Yabsley, when the
street was as good as a play. And suddenly remembering her dismal
thoughts of an hour ago, she saw in a flash that she had grown old and
that the street had remained young. The past, on which her mind dwelt so
fondly, was not wonderful. It was her youth that was wonderful, and now
she was grown old. She recognized that the street was the same, and that
she had changed--that the world is for ever beginning for some and ending
It was nearly midnight, and, with a shiver, she pulled the shawl over her
shoulders and took a last look at the street before she went to bed.
Thirty years ago since she came to live in it, when half the street was
an open paddock! If Jim could see it now he wouldn't know it! The thought
brought the vision of him before her eyes. She was an old woman now, but
in her mind's eye he remained for ever young and for ever joyous, the
smart workman in a grey cap, with the brown moustache and laughing eyes,
who was nobody's enemy but his own. Something within her had snapped when
he died, and she had remained on the defensive against life, expecting
nothing, surprised at nothing, content to sit out the performance like a
spectator at the play.
She thought of to-morrow, and decided to pay a surprise visit to the
Silver Shoe before the people set out for church. There was something
wrong with Ada, she felt sure. Jonah had failed to look her in the eye
when she had asked news of Ada the last time. Well, she would go and see
for herself, and talk Ada into her senses again. She locked the door and
went to bed.
She gave Jonah and Ada a surprise, but not in the way she intended.
On Sunday morning it happened that Mrs Swadling sent over for a pinch of
tea, and, growing impatient, ran across to see what was keeping Tommy.
She found that he could make no one hear, and growing suspicious, called
the neighbours. An hour later the police forced the door, and found
Mrs Yabsley dead in bed. The doctor said that she had died in her sleep
from heart failure. Mrs Swadling, wondering what had become of
Miss Perkins, found a note lying on the floor, and wondered no more when
DEAR MRS YABSLEY,
I am sorry that I can't stay for the outing to-morrow, but my cousin came
out of Darlinghurst jail this morning, and we are going to the West to
make a fresh start. All I told you about my beautiful home was quite
true, only I was the upper housemaid. I am taking a few odds and ends
that you bought for the winter, as I could never find out where you hid
your money. I have searched till my back ached, and quite agree with you
that it is safer than a bank. I left your clothes at Aaron's pawnshop,
and will post you the ticket. When you get this I shall be safe on the
steamer, which is timed to leave at ten o'clock. I hope someone will
read this to you, and tell you that I admire you immensely, although I
take a strange way of showing it.
THE TWO-UP SCHOOL
The silence of sleeping things hung over the Haymarket, and the three
long, dingy arcades lay huddled and lifeless in the night, black and
threatening against a cloudy sky. Presently, among the odd nocturnal
sounds of a great city, the vague yelping of a dog, the scream of a
locomotive, the furtive step of a prowler, the shrill cry of a feathered
watchman from the roost, the ear caught a continuous rumble in the
distance that changed as it grew nearer into the bumping and jolting of
a heavy cart.
It was the first of a lumbering procession that had been travelling all
night from the outlying suburbs--Botany, Fairfield, Willoughby, Smithfield,
St Peters, Woollahra and Double Bay--carrying the patient harvest of
Chinese gardens laid out with the rigid lines of a chessboard. A sleepy
Chinaman, perched on a heap of cabbages, pulled the horse to a standstill,
and one by one the carts backed against the kerbstone forming a line the
length of the arcades, waiting patiently for the markets to open. And
still, muffled in the distance, or growing sharp and clear, the continuous
rumble broke the silence, the one persistent sound in the brooding night.
Presently the iron gates creaked on rusty hinges, the long, silent arcades
were flooded with the glow from clusters of electric bulbs, and, with the
shuffle of feet on the stone flags, the huge market woke slowly to life,
like a man who stretches himself and yawns. Outside, the carters
encouraged the horses with short, guttural cries, the heavy vehicles
bumped on the uneven flags, the horses' feet clattered loudly on the
stones as the drivers backed the carts against the stalls, and the
In half an hour the grimy stalls had disappeared under piles of green
vegetables, built up in orderly masses by the Chinese dealers. The rank
smell of cabbages filled the air, the attendants gossiped in a strange
tongue, and the arcades formed three green lanes, piled with the fruits
of the earth. Here and there the long green avenues were broken with
splashes of colour where piles of carrots, radishes and rhubarb, the
purple bulbs of beetroot, the creamy white of cauliflowers, and the soft
green of eschalots and lettuce broke the dominant green of the cabbage.
The markets were transformed; it was an invasion from the East. Instead
of the sharp, broken cries of the dealers on Saturday night, the shuffle
of innumerable feet, the murmur of innumerable voices in a familiar
tongue, there was a silence broken only by strange guttural sounds
dropping into a sing-song cadence, the language of the East. Chinamen
stood on guard at every stall, slant-eyed and yellow, clothed in the cheap
slops of Sydney, their impassive features carved in fantastic ugliness,
surveying the scene with inscrutable eyes that had opened first on
rice-fields, sampans, junks, pagodas, and the barbaric trappings of the
At four o'clock the sales began, and the early buyers arrived with the
morose air of men who have been robbed of their sleep. There were small
dealers, Dagoes from the fruit shops, greengrocers from the suburbs, with
a chaff-bag slung across their arm, who buy by the dozen. They moved
silently from stall to stall, pricing the vegetables, feeling the market,
calculating what they would gain by waiting till the prices dropped,
making the round of the markets before they filled the chaff-bags and
disappeared into the darkness doubled beneath their loads.
Chook and Pinkey reached the markets by the first workman's tram in the
morning. As the rain had set in, Chook had thrown the chaff-bags over his
shoulders, and Pinkey wore an old jacket that she was ashamed to wear in
the daytime. By her colour you could tell that they had been quarrelling
as usual, because she had insisted on coming with Chook to carry one of
the chaff-bags. And now, as she came into the light of the arcades, she
looked like a half-drowned sparrow. The rain dripped from her hat, and
the shabby thin skirt clung to her legs like a wet dishcloth. Chook
looked at her with rage in his heart. These trips to the market always
rolled his pride in the mud, the pride of the male who is willing to work
his fingers to the bone to provide his mate with fine plumage.
The cares of the shop had told on Pinkey's looks, for the last two years
spent with Chook's mother had been like a long honeymoon, and Pinkey had
led the life of a lady, with nothing to do but scrub and wash and help
Chook's mother keep her house like a new pin. So she had grown plump and
pert like a well-fed sparrow, but the care and worry of the new shop had
sharpened the angles of her body. Not that Pinkey cared. She had the
instinct for property, the passionate desire to call something her own,
an instinct that lay dormant and undeveloped while she lived among other
people's belongings. Moreover, she had discovered a born talent for
shopkeeping. With her natural desire to please, she enchanted the
customers, welcoming them with a special smile, and never forgetting to
remember that it was Mrs Brown's third child that had the measles, and
that Mrs Smith's case puzzled the doctors. They only wanted a horse and
cart, so that she could mind the shop while Chook went hawking about the
streets, and their fortunes were made. But this morning the rain and
Chook's temper had damped her spirits, and she looked round with dismay on
the cold, silent arcades, recalling with a passionate longing the same
spaces transformed by night into the noisy, picturesque bazaar through
which she had been accustomed to saunter as an idler walks the block on a