Part 14 out of 15
Philip did not answer, and the doctor went on.
"Of course it's nonsense. He's led a very good life, he's done his duty,
he's been a good parish priest, and I'm sure we shall all miss him; he
can't have anything to reproach himself with. I very much doubt whether
the next vicar will suit us half so well."
For several days Mr. Carey continued without change. His appetite which
had been excellent left him, and he could eat little. Dr. Wigram did not
hesitate now to still the pain of the neuritis which tormented him; and
that, with the constant shaking of his palsied limbs, was gradually
exhausting him. His mind remained clear. Philip and Mrs. Foster nursed him
between them. She was so tired by the many months during which she had
been attentive to all his wants that Philip insisted on sitting up with
the patient so that she might have her night's rest. He passed the long
hours in an arm-chair so that he should not sleep soundly, and read by the
light of shaded candles The Thousand and One Nights. He had not read
them since he was a little boy, and they brought back his childhood to
him. Sometimes he sat and listened to the silence of the night. When the
effects of the opiate wore off Mr. Carey grew restless and kept him
At last, early one morning, when the birds were chattering noisily in the
trees, he heard his name called. He went up to the bed. Mr. Carey was
lying on his back, with his eyes looking at the ceiling; he did not turn
them on Philip. Philip saw that sweat was on his forehead, and he took a
towel and wiped it.
"Is that you, Philip?" the old man asked.
Philip was startled because the voice was suddenly changed. It was hoarse
and low. So would a man speak if he was cold with fear.
"Yes, d'you want anything?"
There was a pause, and still the unseeing eyes stared at the ceiling. Then
a twitch passed over the face.
"I think I'm going to die," he said.
"Oh, what nonsense!" cried Philip. "You're not going to die for years."
Two tears were wrung from the old man's eyes. They moved Philip horribly.
His uncle had never betrayed any particular emotion in the affairs of
life; and it was dreadful to see them now, for they signified a terror
that was unspeakable.
"Send for Mr. Simmonds," he said. "I want to take the Communion."
Mr. Simmonds was the curate.
"Now?" asked Philip.
"Soon, or else it'll be too late."
Philip went to awake Mrs. Foster, but it was later than he thought and she
was up already. He told her to send the gardener with a message, and he
went back to his uncle's room.
"Have you sent for Mr. Simmonds?"
There was a silence. Philip sat by the bed-side, and occasionally wiped
the sweating forehead.
"Let me hold your hand, Philip," the old man said at last.
Philip gave him his hand and he clung to it as to life, for comfort in his
extremity. Perhaps he had never really loved anyone in all his days, but
now he turned instinctively to a human being. His hand was wet and cold.
It grasped Philip's with feeble, despairing energy. The old man was
fighting with the fear of death. And Philip thought that all must go
through that. Oh, how monstrous it was, and they could believe in a God
that allowed his creatures to suffer such a cruel torture! He had never
cared for his uncle, and for two years he had longed every day for his
death; but now he could not overcome the compassion that filled his heart.
What a price it was to pay for being other than the beasts!
They remained in silence broken only once by a low inquiry from Mr. Carey.
"Hasn't he come yet?"
At last the housekeeper came in softly to say that Mr. Simmonds was there.
He carried a bag in which were his surplice and his hood. Mrs. Foster
brought the communion plate. Mr. Simmonds shook hands silently with
Philip, and then with professional gravity went to the sick man's side.
Philip and the maid went out of the room.
Philip walked round the garden all fresh and dewy in the morning. The
birds were singing gaily. The sky was blue, but the air, salt-laden, was
sweet and cool. The roses were in full bloom. The green of the trees, the
green of the lawns, was eager and brilliant. Philip walked, and as he
walked he thought of the mystery which was proceeding in that bedroom. It
gave him a peculiar emotion. Presently Mrs. Foster came out to him and
said that his uncle wished to see him. The curate was putting his things
back into the black bag. The sick man turned his head a little and greeted
him with a smile. Philip was astonished, for there was a change in him, an
extraordinary change; his eyes had no longer the terror-stricken look, and
the pinching of his face had gone: he looked happy and serene.
"I'm quite prepared now," he said, and his voice had a different tone in
it. "When the Lord sees fit to call me I am ready to give my soul into his
Philip did not speak. He could see that his uncle was sincere. It was
almost a miracle. He had taken the body and blood of his Savior, and they
had given him strength so that he no longer feared the inevitable passage
into the night. He knew he was going to die: he was resigned. He only said
one thing more:
"I shall rejoin my dear wife."
It startled Philip. He remembered with what a callous selfishness his
uncle had treated her, how obtuse he had been to her humble, devoted love.
The curate, deeply moved, went away and Mrs. Foster, weeping, accompanied
him to the door. Mr. Carey, exhausted by his effort, fell into a light
doze, and Philip sat down by the bed and waited for the end. The morning
wore on, and the old man's breathing grew stertorous. The doctor came and
said he was dying. He was unconscious and he pecked feebly at the sheets;
he was restless and he cried out. Dr. Wigram gave him a hypodermic
"It can't do any good now, he may die at any moment."
The doctor looked at his watch and then at the patient. Philip saw that it
was one o'clock. Dr. Wigram was thinking of his dinner.
"It's no use your waiting," he said.
"There's nothing I can do," said the doctor.
When he was gone Mrs. Foster asked Philip if he would go to the carpenter,
who was also the undertaker, and tell him to send up a woman to lay out
"You want a little fresh air," she said, "it'll do you good."
The undertaker lived half a mile away. When Philip gave him his message,
"When did the poor old gentleman die?"
Philip hesitated. It occurred to him that it would seem brutal to fetch a
woman to wash the body while his uncle still lived, and he wondered why
Mrs. Foster had asked him to come. They would think he was in a great
hurry to kill the old man off. He thought the undertaker looked at him
oddly. He repeated the question. It irritated Philip. It was no business
"When did the Vicar pass away?"
Philip's first impulse was to say that it had just happened, but then it
would seem inexplicable if the sick man lingered for several hours. He
reddened and answered awkwardly.
"Oh, he isn't exactly dead yet."
The undertaker looked at him in perplexity, and he hurried to explain.
"Mrs. Foster is all alone and she wants a woman there. You understood,
don't you? He may be dead by now."
The undertaker nodded.
"Oh, yes, I see. I'll send someone up at once."
When Philip got back to the vicarage he went up to the bed-room. Mrs.
Foster rose from her chair by the bed-side.
"He's just as he was when you left," she said.
She went down to get herself something to eat, and Philip watched
curiously the process of death. There was nothing human now in the
unconscious being that struggled feebly. Sometimes a muttered ejaculation
issued from the loose mouth. The sun beat down hotly from a cloudless sky,
but the trees in the garden were pleasant and cool. It was a lovely day.
A bluebottle buzzed against the windowpane. Suddenly there was a loud
rattle, it made Philip start, it was horribly frightening; a movement
passed through the limbs and the old man was dead. The machine had run
down. The bluebottle buzzed, buzzed noisily against the windowpane.
Josiah Graves in his masterful way made arrangements, becoming but
economical, for the funeral; and when it was over came back to the
vicarage with Philip. The will was in his charge, and with a due sense of
the fitness of things he read it to Philip over an early cup of tea. It
was written on half a sheet of paper and left everything Mr. Carey had to
his nephew. There was the furniture, about eighty pounds at the bank,
twenty shares in the A. B. C. company, a few in Allsop's brewery, some in
the Oxford music-hall, and a few more in a London restaurant. They had
been bought under Mr. Graves' direction, and he told Philip with
"You see, people must eat, they will drink, and they want amusement.
You're always safe if you put your money in what the public thinks
His words showed a nice discrimination between the grossness of the
vulgar, which he deplored but accepted, and the finer taste of the elect.
Altogether in investments there was about five hundred pounds; and to that
must be added the balance at the bank and what the furniture would fetch.
It was riches to Philip. He was not happy but infinitely relieved.
Mr. Graves left him, after they had discussed the auction which must be
held as soon as possible, and Philip sat himself down to go through the
papers of the deceased. The Rev. William Carey had prided himself on never
destroying anything, and there were piles of correspondence dating back
for fifty years and bundles upon bundles of neatly docketed bills. He had
kept not only letters addressed to him, but letters which himself had
written. There was a yellow packet of letters which he had written to his
father in the forties, when as an Oxford undergraduate he had gone to
Germany for the long vacation. Philip read them idly. It was a different
William Carey from the William Carey he had known, and yet there were
traces in the boy which might to an acute observer have suggested the man.
The letters were formal and a little stilted. He showed himself strenuous
to see all that was noteworthy, and he described with a fine enthusiasm
the castles of the Rhine. The falls of Schaffhausen made him `offer
reverent thanks to the all-powerful Creator of the universe, whose works
were wondrous and beautiful,' and he could not help thinking that they who
lived in sight of `this handiwork of their blessed Maker must be moved by
the contemplation to lead pure and holy lives.' Among some bills Philip
found a miniature which had been painted of William Carey soon after he
was ordained. It represented a thin young curate, with long hair that fell
over his head in natural curls, with dark eyes, large and dreamy, and a
pale ascetic face. Philip remembered the chuckle with which his uncle used
to tell of the dozens of slippers which were worked for him by adoring
The rest of the afternoon and all the evening Philip toiled through the
innumerable correspondence. He glanced at the address and at the
signature, then tore the letter in two and threw it into the
washing-basket by his side. Suddenly he came upon one signed Helen. He did
not know the writing. It was thin, angular, and old-fashioned. It began:
my dear William, and ended: your affectionate sister. Then it struck him
that it was from his own mother. He had never seen a letter of hers
before, and her handwriting was strange to him. It was about himself.
My dear William,
Stephen wrote to you to thank you for your congratulations on the birth of
our son and your kind wishes to myself. Thank God we are both well and I
am deeply thankful for the great mercy which has been shown me. Now that
I can hold a pen I want to tell you and dear Louisa myself how truly
grateful I am to you both for all your kindness to me now and always since
my marriage. I am going to ask you to do me a great favour. Both Stephen
and I wish you to be the boy's godfather, and we hope that you will
consent. I know I am not asking a small thing, for I am sure you will take
the responsibilities of the position very seriously, but I am especially
anxious that you should undertake this office because you are a clergyman
as well as the boy's uncle. I am very anxious for the boy's welfare and I
pray God night and day that he may grow into a good, honest, and Christian
man. With you to guide him I hope that he will become a soldier in
Christ's Faith and be all the days of his life God-fearing, humble, and
Your affectionate sister,
Philip pushed the letter away and, leaning forward, rested his face on his
hands. It deeply touched and at the same time surprised him. He was
astonished at its religious tone, which seemed to him neither mawkish nor
sentimental. He knew nothing of his mother, dead now for nearly twenty
years, but that she was beautiful, and it was strange to learn that she
was simple and pious. He had never thought of that side of her. He read
again what she said about him, what she expected and thought about him; he
had turned out very differently; he looked at himself for a moment;
perhaps it was better that she was dead. Then a sudden impulse caused him
to tear up the letter; its tenderness and simplicity made it seem
peculiarly private; he had a queer feeling that there was something
indecent in his reading what exposed his mother's gentle soul. He went on
with the Vicar's dreary correspondence.
A few days later he went up to London, and for the first time for two
years entered by day the hall of St. Luke's Hospital. He went to see the
secretary of the Medical School; he was surprised to see him and asked
Philip curiously what he had been doing. Philip's experiences had given
him a certain confidence in himself and a different outlook upon many
things: such a question would have embarrassed him before; but now he
answered coolly, with a deliberate vagueness which prevented further
inquiry, that private affairs had obliged him to make a break in the
curriculum; he was now anxious to qualify as soon as possible. The first
examination he could take was in midwifery and the diseases of women, and
he put his name down to be a clerk in the ward devoted to feminine
ailments; since it was holiday time there happened to be no difficulty in
getting a post as obstetric clerk; he arranged to undertake that duty
during the last week of August and the first two of September. After this
interview Philip walked through the Medical School, more or less deserted,
for the examinations at the end of the summer session were all over; and
he wandered along the terrace by the river-side. His heart was full. He
thought that now he could begin a new life, and he would put behind him
all the errors, follies, and miseries of the past. The flowing river
suggested that everything passed, was passing always, and nothing
mattered; the future was before him rich with possibilities.
He went back to Blackstable and busied himself with the settling up of his
uncle's estate. The auction was fixed for the middle of August, when the
presence of visitors for the summer holidays would make it possible to get
better prices. Catalogues were made out and sent to the various dealers in
second-hand books at Tercanbury, Maidstone, and Ashford.
One afternoon Philip took it into his head to go over to Tercanbury and
see his old school. He had not been there since the day when, with relief
in his heart, he had left it with the feeling that thenceforward he was
his own master. It was strange to wander through the narrow streets of
Tercanbury which he had known so well for so many years. He looked at the
old shops, still there, still selling the same things; the booksellers
with school-books, pious works, and the latest novels in one window and
photographs of the Cathedral and of the city in the other; the games shop,
with its cricket bats, fishing tackle, tennis rackets, and footballs; the
tailor from whom he had got clothes all through his boyhood; and the
fishmonger where his uncle whenever he came to Tercanbury bought fish. He
wandered along the sordid street in which, behind a high wall, lay the red
brick house which was the preparatory school. Further on was the gateway
that led into King's School, and he stood in the quadrangle round which
were the various buildings. It was just four and the boys were hurrying
out of school. He saw the masters in their gowns and mortar-boards, and
they were strange to him. It was more than ten years since he had left and
many changes had taken place. He saw the headmaster; he walked slowly down
from the schoolhouse to his own, talking to a big boy who Philip supposed
was in the sixth; he was little changed, tall, cadaverous, romantic as
Philip remembered him, with the same wild eyes; but the black beard was
streaked with gray now and the dark, sallow face was more deeply lined.
Philip had an impulse to go up and speak to him, but he was afraid he
would have forgotten him, and he hated the thought of explaining who he
Boys lingered talking to one another, and presently some who had hurried
to change came out to play fives; others straggled out in twos and threes
and went out of the gateway, Philip knew they were going up to the cricket
ground; others again went into the precincts to bat at the nets. Philip
stood among them a stranger; one or two gave him an indifferent glance;
but visitors, attracted by the Norman staircase, were not rare and excited
little attention. Philip looked at them curiously. He thought with
melancholy of the distance that separated him from them, and he thought
bitterly how much he had wanted to do and how little done. It seemed to
him that all those years, vanished beyond recall, had been utterly wasted.
The boys, fresh and buoyant, were doing the same things that he had done,
it seemed that not a day had passed since he left the school, and yet in
that place where at least by name he had known everybody now he knew not
a soul. In a few years these too, others taking their place, would stand
alien as he stood; but the reflection brought him no solace; it merely
impressed upon him the futility of human existence. Each generation
repeated the trivial round. He wondered what had become of the boys who
were his companions: they were nearly thirty now; some would be dead, but
others were married and had children; they were soldiers and parsons,
doctors, lawyers; they were staid men who were beginning to put youth
behind them. Had any of them made such a hash of life as he? He thought
of the boy he had been devoted to; it was funny, he could not recall his
name; he remembered exactly what he looked like, he had been his greatest
friend; but his name would not come back to him. He looked back with
amusement on the jealous emotions he had suffered on his account. It was
irritating not to recollect his name. He longed to be a boy again, like
those he saw sauntering through the quadrangle, so that, avoiding his
mistakes, he might start fresh and make something more out of life. He
felt an intolerable loneliness. He almost regretted the penury which he
had suffered during the last two years, since the desperate struggle
merely to keep body and soul together had deadened the pain of living. In
the sweat of thy brow shalt thou earn thy daily bread: it was not a curse
upon mankind, but the balm which reconciled it to existence.
But Philip was impatient with himself; he called to mind his idea of the
pattern of life: the unhappiness he had suffered was no more than part of
a decoration which was elaborate and beautiful; he told himself
strenuously that he must accept with gaiety everything, dreariness and
excitement, pleasure and pain, because it added to the richness of the
design. He sought for beauty consciously, and he remembered how even as a
boy he had taken pleasure in the Gothic cathedral as one saw it from the
precincts; he went there and looked at the massive pile, gray under the
cloudy sky, with the central tower that rose like the praise of men to
their God; but the boys were batting at the nets, and they were lissom and
strong and active; he could not help hearing their shouts and laughter.
The cry of youth was insistent, and he saw the beautiful thing before him
only with his eyes.
At the beginning of the last week in August Philip entered upon his duties
in the `district.' They were arduous, for he had to attend on an average
three confinements a day. The patient had obtained a `card' from the
hospital some time before; and when her time came it was taken to the
porter by a messenger, generally a little girl, who was then sent across
the road to the house in which Philip lodged. At night the porter, who had
a latch-key, himself came over and awoke Philip. It was mysterious then to
get up in the darkness and walk through the deserted streets of the South
Side. At those hours it was generally the husband who brought the card. If
there had been a number of babies before he took it for the most part with
surly indifference, but if newly married he was nervous and then sometimes
strove to allay his anxiety by getting drunk. Often there was a mile or
more to walk, during which Philip and the messenger discussed the
conditions of labour and the cost of living; Philip learnt about the
various trades which were practised on that side of the river. He inspired
confidence in the people among whom he was thrown, and during the long
hours that he waited in a stuffy room, the woman in labour lying on a
large bed that took up half of it, her mother and the midwife talked to
him as naturally as they talked to one another. The circumstances in which
he had lived during the last two years had taught him several things about
the life of the very poor, which it amused them to find he knew; and they
were impressed because he was not deceived by their little subterfuges. He
was kind, and he had gentle hands, and he did not lose his temper. They
were pleased because he was not above drinking a cup of tea with them, and
when the dawn came and they were still waiting they offered him a slice of
bread and dripping; he was not squeamish and could eat most things now
with a good appetite. Some of the houses he went to, in filthy courts off
a dingy street, huddled against one another without light or air, were
merely squalid; but others, unexpectedly, though dilapidated, with
worm-eaten floors and leaking roofs, had the grand air: you found in them
oak balusters exquisitely carved, and the walls had still their panelling.
These were thickly inhabited. One family lived in each room, and in the
daytime there was the incessant noise of children playing in the court.
The old walls were the breeding-place of vermin; the air was so foul that
often, feeling sick, Philip had to light his pipe. The people who dwelt
here lived from hand to mouth. Babies were unwelcome, the man received
them with surly anger, the mother with despair; it was one more mouth to
feed, and there was little enough wherewith to feed those already there.
Philip often discerned the wish that the child might be born dead or might
die quickly. He delivered one woman of twins (a source of humour to the
facetious) and when she was told she burst into a long, shrill wail of
misery. Her mother said outright:
"I don't know how they're going to feed 'em."
"Maybe the Lord'll see fit to take 'em to 'imself," said the midwife.
Philip caught sight of the husband's face as he looked at the tiny pair
lying side by side, and there was a ferocious sullenness in it which
startled him. He felt in the family assembled there a hideous resentment
against those poor atoms who had come into the world unwished for; and he
had a suspicion that if he did not speak firmly an `accident' would occur.
Accidents occurred often; mothers `overlay' their babies, and perhaps
errors of diet were not always the result of carelessness.
"I shall come every day," he said. "I warn you that if anything happens to
them there'll have to be an inquest."
The father made no reply, but he gave Philip a scowl. There was murder in
"Bless their little 'earts," said the grandmother, "what should 'appen to
The great difficulty was to keep the mothers in bed for ten days, which
was the minimum upon which the hospital practice insisted. It was awkward
to look after the family, no one would see to the children without
payment, and the husband tumbled because his tea was not right when he
came home tired from his work and hungry. Philip had heard that the poor
helped one another, but woman after woman complained to him that she could
not get anyone in to clean up and see to the children's dinner without
paying for the service, and she could not afford to pay. By listening to
the women as they talked and by chance remarks from which he could deduce
much that was left unsaid, Philip learned how little there was in common
between the poor and the classes above them. They did not envy their
betters, for the life was too different, and they had an ideal of ease
which made the existence of the middle-classes seem formal and stiff;
moreover, they had a certain contempt for them because they were soft and
did not work with their hands. The proud merely wished to be left alone,
but the majority looked upon the well-to-do as people to be exploited;
they knew what to say in order to get such advantages as the charitable
put at their disposal, and they accepted benefits as a right which came to
them from the folly of their superiors and their own astuteness. They bore
the curate with contemptuous indifference, but the district visitor
excited their bitter hatred. She came in and opened your windows without
so much as a by your leave or with your leave, `and me with my bronchitis,
enough to give me my death of cold;' she poked her nose into corners, and
if she didn't say the place was dirty you saw what she thought right
enough, `an' it's all very well for them as 'as servants, but I'd like to
see what she'd make of 'er room if she 'ad four children, and 'ad to do
the cookin', and mend their clothes, and wash them.'
Philip discovered that the greatest tragedy of life to these people was
not separation or death, that was natural and the grief of it could be
assuaged with tears, but loss of work. He saw a man come home one
afternoon, three days after his wife's confinement, and tell her he had
been dismissed; he was a builder and at that time work was slack; he
stated the fact, and sat down to his tea.
"Oh, Jim," she said.
The man ate stolidly some mess which had been stewing in a sauce-pan
against his coming; he stared at his plate; his wife looked at him two or
three times, with little startled glances, and then quite silently began
to cry. The builder was an uncouth little fellow with a rough,
weather-beaten face and a long white scar on his forehead; he had large,
stubbly hands. Presently he pushed aside his plate as if he must give up
the effort to force himself to eat, and turned a fixed gaze out of the
window. The room was at the top of the house, at the back, and one saw
nothing but sullen clouds. The silence seemed heavy with despair. Philip
felt that there was nothing to be said, he could only go; and as he walked
away wearily, for he had been up most of the night, his heart was filled
with rage against the cruelty of the world. He knew the hopelessness of
the search for work and the desolation which is harder to bear than
hunger. He was thankful not to have to believe in God, for then such a
condition of things would be intolerable; one could reconcile oneself to
existence only because it was meaningless.
It seemed to Philip that the people who spent their time in helping the
poorer classes erred because they sought to remedy things which would
harass them if themselves had to endure them without thinking that they
did not in the least disturb those who were used to them. The poor did not
want large airy rooms; they suffered from cold, for their food was not
nourishing and their circulation bad; space gave them a feeling of
chilliness, and they wanted to burn as little coal as need be; there was
no hardship for several to sleep in one room, they preferred it; they were
never alone for a moment, from the time they were born to the time they
died, and loneliness oppressed them; they enjoyed the promiscuity in which
they dwelt, and the constant noise of their surroundings pressed upon
their ears unnoticed. They did not feel the need of taking a bath
constantly, and Philip often heard them speak with indignation of the
necessity to do so with which they were faced on entering the hospital: it
was both an affront and a discomfort. They wanted chiefly to be left
alone; then if the man was in regular work life went easily and was not
without its pleasures: there was plenty of time for gossip, after the
day's work a glass of beer was very good to drink, the streets were a
constant source of entertainment, if you wanted to read there was
Reynolds' or The News of the World; `but there, you couldn't make out
'ow the time did fly, the truth was and that's a fact, you was a rare one
for reading when you was a girl, but what with one thing and another you
didn't get no time now not even to read the paper.'
The usual practice was to pay three visits after a confinement, and one
Sunday Philip went to see a patient at the dinner hour. She was up for the
"I couldn't stay in bed no longer, I really couldn't. I'm not one for
idling, and it gives me the fidgets to be there and do nothing all day
long, so I said to 'Erb, I'm just going to get up and cook your dinner for
'Erb was sitting at table with his knife and fork already in his hands. He
was a young man, with an open face and blue eyes. He was earning good
money, and as things went the couple were in easy circumstances. They had
only been married a few months, and were both delighted with the rosy boy
who lay in the cradle at the foot of the bed. There was a savoury smell of
beefsteak in the room and Philip's eyes turned to the range.
"I was just going to dish up this minute," said the woman.
"Fire away," said Philip. "I'll just have a look at the son and heir and
then I'll take myself off."
Husband and wife laughed at Philip's expression, and 'Erb getting up went
over with Philip to the cradle. He looked at his baby proudly.
"There doesn't seem much wrong with him, does there?" said Philip.
He took up his hat, and by this time 'Erb's wife had dished up the
beefsteak and put on the table a plate of green peas.
"You're going to have a nice dinner," smiled Philip.
"He's only in of a Sunday and I like to 'ave something special for him, so
as he shall miss his 'ome when he's out at work."
"I suppose you'd be above sittin' down and 'avin' a bit of dinner with
us?" said 'Erb.
"Oh, 'Erb," said his wife, in a shocked tone.
"Not if you ask me," answered Philip, with his attractive smile.
"Well, that's what I call friendly, I knew 'e wouldn't take offence,
Polly. Just get another plate, my girl."
Polly was flustered, and she thought 'Erb a regular caution, you never
knew what ideas 'e'd get in 'is 'ead next; but she got a plate and wiped
it quickly with her apron, then took a new knife and fork from the chest
of drawers, where her best cutlery rested among her best clothes. There
was a jug of stout on the table, and 'Erb poured Philip out a glass. He
wanted to give him the lion's share of the beefsteak, but Philip insisted
that they should share alike. It was a sunny room with two windows that
reached to the floor; it had been the parlour of a house which at one time
was if not fashionable at least respectable: it might have been inhabited
fifty years before by a well-to-do tradesman or an officer on half pay.
'Erb had been a football player before he married, and there were
photographs on the wall of various teams in self-conscious attitudes, with
neatly plastered hair, the captain seated proudly in the middle holding a
cup. There were other signs of prosperity: photographs of the relations of
'Erb and his wife in Sunday clothes; on the chimney-piece an elaborate
arrangement of shells stuck on a miniature rock; and on each side mugs, `A
present from Southend' in Gothic letters, with pictures of a pier and a
parade on them. 'Erb was something of a character; he was a non-union man
and expressed himself with indignation at the efforts of the union to
force him to join. The union wasn't no good to him, he never found no
difficulty in getting work, and there was good wages for anyone as 'ad a
head on his shoulders and wasn't above puttin' 'is 'and to anything as
come 'is way. Polly was timorous. If she was 'im she'd join the union, the
last time there was a strike she was expectin' 'im to be brought back in
an ambulance every time he went out. She turned to Philip.
"He's that obstinate, there's no doing anything with 'im."
"Well, what I say is, it's a free country, and I won't be dictated to."
"It's no good saying it's a free country," said Polly, "that won't prevent
'em bashin' your 'ead in if they get the chanst."
When they had finished Philip passed his pouch over to 'Erb and they lit
their pipes; then he got up, for a `call' might be waiting for him at his
rooms, and shook hands. He saw that it had given them pleasure that he
shared their meal, and they saw that he had thoroughly enjoyed it.
"Well, good-bye, sir," said 'Erb, "and I 'ope we shall 'ave as nice a
doctor next time the missus disgraces 'erself."
"Go on with you, 'Erb," she retorted." 'Ow d'you know there's going to be
a next time?"
The three weeks which the appointment lasted drew to an end. Philip had
attended sixty-two cases, and he was tired out. When he came home about
ten o'clock on his last night he hoped with all his heart that he would
not be called out again. He had not had a whole night's rest for ten days.
The case which he had just come from was horrible. He had been fetched by
a huge, burly man, the worse for liquor, and taken to a room in an
evil-smelling court, which was filthier than any he had seen: it was a
tiny attic; most of the space was taken up by a wooden bed, with a canopy
of dirty red hangings, and the ceiling was so low that Philip could touch
it with the tips of his fingers; with the solitary candle that afforded
what light there was he went over it, frizzling up the bugs that crawled
upon it. The woman was a blowsy creature of middle age, who had had a long
succession of still-born children. It was a story that Philip was not
unaccustomed to: the husband had been a soldier in India; the legislation
forced upon that country by the prudery of the English public had given a
free run to the most distressing of all diseases; the innocent suffered.
Yawning, Philip undressed and took a bath, then shook his clothes over the
water and watched the animals that fell out wriggling. He was just going
to get into bed when there was a knock at the door, and the hospital
porter brought him a card.
"Curse you," said Philip. "You're the last person I wanted to see tonight.
Who's brought it?"
"I think it's the 'usband, sir. Shall I tell him to wait?"
Philip looked at the address, saw that the street was familiar to him, and
told the porter that he would find his own way. He dressed himself and in
five minutes, with his black bag in his hand, stepped into the street. A
man, whom he could not see in the darkness, came up to him, and said he
was the husband.
"I thought I'd better wait, sir," he said. "It's a pretty rough
neighbour'ood, and them not knowing who you was."
"Bless your heart, they all know the doctor, I've been in some damned
sight rougher places than Waver Street."
It was quite true. The black bag was a passport through wretched alleys
and down foul-smelling courts into which a policeman was not ready to
venture by himself. Once or twice a little group of men had looked at
Philip curiously as he passed; he heard a mutter of observations and then
"It's the 'orspital doctor."
As he went by one or two of them said: "Good-night, sir."
"We shall 'ave to step out if you don't mind, sir," said the man who
accompanied him now. "They told me there was no time to lose."
"Why did you leave it so late?" asked Philip, as he quickened his pace.
He glanced at the fellow as they passed a lamp-post.
"You look awfully young," he said.
"I'm turned eighteen, sir."
He was fair, and he had not a hair on his face, he looked no more than a
boy; he was short, but thick set.
"You're young to be married," said Philip.
"We 'ad to."
"How much d'you earn?"
Sixteen shillings a week was not much to keep a wife and child on. The
room the couple lived in showed that their poverty was extreme. It was a
fair size, but it looked quite large, since there was hardly any furniture
in it; there was no carpet on the floor; there were no pictures on the
walls; and most rooms had something, photographs or supplements in cheap
frames from the Christmas numbers of the illustrated papers. The patient
lay on a little iron bed of the cheapest sort. It startled Philip to see
how young she was.
"By Jove, she can't be more than sixteen," he said to the woman who had
come in to `see her through.'
She had given her age as eighteen on the card, but when they were very
young they often put on a year or two. Also she was pretty, which was rare
in those classes in which the constitution has been undermined by bad
food, bad air, and unhealthy occupations; she had delicate features and
large blue eyes, and a mass of dark hair done in the elaborate fashion of
the coster girl. She and her husband were very nervous.
"You'd better wait outside, so as to be at hand if I want you," Philip
said to him.
Now that he saw him better Philip was surprised again at his boyish air:
you felt that he should be larking in the street with the other lads
instead of waiting anxiously for the birth of a child. The hours passed,
and it was not till nearly two that the baby was born. Everything seemed
to be going satisfactorily; the husband was called in, and it touched
Philip to see the awkward, shy way in which he kissed his wife; Philip
packed up his things. Before going he felt once more his patient's pulse.
"Hulloa!" he said.
He looked at her quickly: something had happened. In cases of emergency
the S. O. C.--senior obstetric clerk--had to be sent for; he was a
qualified man, and the `district' was in his charge. Philip scribbled a
note, and giving it to the husband, told him to run with it to the
hospital; he bade him hurry, for his wife was in a dangerous state. The
man set off. Philip waited anxiously; he knew the woman was bleeding to
death; he was afraid she would die before his chief arrived; he took what
steps he could. He hoped fervently that the S. O. C. would not have been
called elsewhere. The minutes were interminable. He came at last, and,
while he examined the patient, in a low voice asked Philip questions.
Philip saw by his face that he thought the case very grave. His name was
Chandler. He was a tall man of few words, with a long nose and a thin face
much lined for his age. He shook his head.
"It was hopeless from the beginning. Where's the husband?"
"I told him to wait on the stairs," said Philip.
"You'd better bring him in."
Philip opened the door and called him. He was sitting in the dark on the
first step of the flight that led to the next floor. He came up to the
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Why, there's internal bleeding. It's impossible to stop it." The S. O. C.
hesitated a moment, and because it was a painful thing to say he forced
his voice to become brusque. "She's dying."
The man did not say a word; he stopped quite still, looking at his wife,
who lay, pale and unconscious, on the bed. It was the midwife who spoke.
"The gentlemen 'ave done all they could, 'Arry," she said. "I saw what was
comin' from the first."
"Shut up," said Chandler.
There were no curtains on the windows, and gradually the night seemed to
lighten; it was not yet the dawn, but the dawn was at hand. Chandler was
keeping the woman alive by all the means in his power, but life was
slipping away from her, and suddenly she died. The boy who was her husband
stood at the end of the cheap iron bed with his hands resting on the rail;
he did not speak; but he looked very pale and once or twice Chandler gave
him an uneasy glance, thinking he was going to faint: his lips were gray.
The midwife sobbed noisily, but he took no notice of her. His eyes were
fixed upon his wife, and in them was an utter bewilderment. He reminded
you of a dog whipped for something he did not know was wrong. When
Chandler and Philip had gathered together their things Chandler turned to
"You'd better lie down for a bit. I expect you're about done up."
"There's nowhere for me to lie down, sir," he answered, and there was in
his voice a humbleness which was very distressing.
"Don't you know anyone in the house who'll give you a shakedown?"
"They only moved in last week," said the midwife. "They don't know nobody
Chandler hesitated a moment awkwardly, then he went up to the man and
"I'm very sorry this has happened."
He held out his hand and the man, with an instinctive glance at his own to
see if it was clean, shook it.
"Thank you, sir."
Philip shook hands with him too. Chandler told the midwife to come and
fetch the certificate in the morning. They left the house and walked along
together in silence.
"It upsets one a bit at first, doesn't it?" said Chandler at last.
"A bit," answered Philip.
"If you like I'll tell the porter not to bring you any more calls
"I'm off duty at eight in the morning in any case."
"How many cases have you had?"
"Good. You'll get your certificate then."
They arrived at the hospital, and the S. O. C. went in to see if anyone
wanted him. Philip walked on. It had been very hot all the day before, and
even now in the early morning there was a balminess in the air. The street
was very still. Philip did not feel inclined to go to bed. It was the end
of his work and he need not hurry. He strolled along, glad of the fresh
air and the silence; he thought that he would go on to the bridge and look
at day break on the river. A policeman at the corner bade him
good-morning. He knew who Philip was from his bag.
"Out late tonight, sir," he said.
Philip nodded and passed. He leaned against the parapet and looked towards
the morning. At that hour the great city was like a city of the dead. The
sky was cloudless, but the stars were dim at the approach of day; there
was a light mist on the river, and the great buildings on the north side
were like palaces in an enchanted island. A group of barges was moored in
midstream. It was all of an unearthly violet, troubling somehow and
awe-inspiring; but quickly everything grew pale, and cold, and gray. Then
the sun rose, a ray of yellow gold stole across the sky, and the sky was
iridescent. Philip could not get out of his eyes the dead girl lying on
the bed, wan and white, and the boy who stood at the end of it like a
stricken beast. The bareness of the squalid room made the pain of it more
poignant. It was cruel that a stupid chance should have cut off her life
when she was just entering upon it; but in the very moment of saying this
to himself, Philip thought of the life which had been in store for her,
the bearing of children, the dreary fight with poverty, the youth broken
by toil and deprivation into a slatternly middle age--he saw the pretty
face grow thin and white, the hair grow scanty, the pretty hands, worn
down brutally by work, become like the claws of an old animal--then, when
the man was past his prime, the difficulty of getting jobs, the small
wages he had to take; and the inevitable, abject penury of the end: she
might be energetic, thrifty, industrious, it would not have saved her; in
the end was the workhouse or subsistence on the charity of her children.
Who could pity her because she had died when life offered so little?
But pity was inane. Philip felt it was not that which these people needed.
They did not pity themselves. They accepted their fate. It was the natural
order of things. Otherwise, good heavens! otherwise they would swarm over
the river in their multitude to the side where those great buildings were,
secure and stately. and they would pillage, burn, and sack. But the day,
tender and pale, had broken now, and the mist was tenuous; it bathed
everything in a soft radiance; and the Thames was gray, rosy, and green;
gray like mother-of-pearl and green like the heart of a yellow rose. The
wharfs and store-houses of the Surrey Side were massed in disorderly
loveliness. The scene was so exquisite that Philip's heart beat
passionately. He was overwhelmed by the beauty of the world. Beside that
nothing seemed to matter.
Philip spent the few weeks that remained before the beginning of the
winter session in the out-patients' department, and in October settled
down to regular work. He had been away from the hospital for so long that
he found himself very largely among new people; the men of different years
had little to do with one another, and his contemporaries were now mostly
qualified: some had left to take up assistantships or posts in country
hospitals and infirmaries, and some held appointments at St. Luke's. The
two years during which his mind had lain fallow had refreshed him, he
fancied, and he was able now to work with energy.
The Athelnys were delighted with his change of fortune. He had kept aside
a few things from the sale of his uncle's effects and gave them all
presents. He gave Sally a gold chain that had belonged to his aunt. She
was now grown up. She was apprenticed to a dressmaker and set out every
morning at eight to work all day in a shop in Regent Street. Sally had
frank blue eyes, a broad brow, and plentiful shining hair; she was buxom,
with broad hips and full breasts; and her father, who was fond of
discussing her appearance, warned her constantly that she must not grow
fat. She attracted because she was healthy, animal, and feminine. She had
many admirers, but they left her unmoved; she gave one the impression that
she looked upon love-making as nonsense; and it was easy to imagine that
young men found her unapproachable. Sally was old for her years: she had
been used to help her mother in the household work and in the care of the
children, so that she had acquired a managing air, which made her mother
say that Sally was a bit too fond of having things her own way. She did
not speak very much, but as she grew older she seemed to be acquiring a
quiet sense of humour, and sometimes uttered a remark which suggested that
beneath her impassive exterior she was quietly bubbling with amusement at
her fellow-creatures. Philip found that with her he never got on the terms
of affectionate intimacy upon which he was with the rest of Athelny's huge
family. Now and then her indifference slightly irritated him. There was
something enigmatic in her.
When Philip gave her the necklace Athelny in his boisterous way insisted
that she must kiss him; but Sally reddened and drew back.
"No, I'm not going to," she said.
"Ungrateful hussy!" cried Athelny. "Why not?"
"I don't like being kissed by men," she said.
Philip saw her embarrassment, and, amused, turned Athelny's attention to
something else. That was never a very difficult thing to do. But evidently
her mother spoke of the matter later, for next time Philip came she took
the opportunity when they were alone for a couple of minutes to refer to
"You didn't think it disagreeable of me last week when I wouldn't kiss
"Not a bit," he laughed.
"It's not because I wasn't grateful." She blushed a little as she uttered
the formal phrase which she had prepared. "I shall always value the
necklace, and it was very kind of you to give it me."
Philip found it always a little difficult to talk to her. She did all that
she had to do very competently, but seemed to feel no need of
conversation; yet there was nothing unsociable in her. One Sunday
afternoon when Athelny and his wife had gone out together, and Philip,
treated as one of the family, sat reading in the parlour, Sally came in
and sat by the window to sew. The girls' clothes were made at home and
Sally could not afford to spend Sundays in idleness. Philip thought she
wished to talk and put down his book.
"Go on reading," she said. "I only thought as you were alone I'd come and
sit with you."
"You're the most silent person I've ever struck," said Philip.
"We don't want another one who's talkative in this house," she said.
There was no irony in her tone: she was merely stating a fact. But it
suggested to Philip that she measured her father, alas, no longer the hero
he was to her childhood, and in her mind joined together his entertaining
conversation and the thriftlessness which often brought difficulties into
their life; she compared his rhetoric with her mother's practical common
sense; and though the liveliness of her father amused her she was perhaps
sometimes a little impatient with it. Philip looked at her as she bent
over her work; she was healthy, strong, and normal; it must be odd to see
her among the other girls in the shop with their flat chests and anaemic
faces. Mildred suffered from anaemia.
After a time it appeared that Sally had a suitor. She went out
occasionally with friends she had made in the work-room, and had met a
young man, an electrical engineer in a very good way of business, who was
a most eligible person. One day she told her mother that he had asked her
to marry him.
"What did you say?" said her mother.
"Oh, I told him I wasn't over-anxious to marry anyone just yet awhile."
She paused a little as was her habit between observations. "He took on so
that I said he might come to tea on Sunday."
It was an occasion that thoroughly appealed to Athelny. He rehearsed all
the afternoon how he should play the heavy father for the young man's
edification till he reduced his children to helpless giggling. Just before
he was due Athelny routed out an Egyptian tarboosh and insisted on putting
"Go on with you, Athelny," said his wife, who was in her best, which was
of black velvet, and, since she was growing stouter every year, very tight
for her. "You'll spoil the girl's chances."
She tried to pull it off, but the little man skipped nimbly out of her
"Unhand me, woman. Nothing will induce me to take it off. This young man
must be shown at once that it is no ordinary family he is preparing to
"Let him keep it on, mother," said Sally, in her even, indifferent
fashion. "If Mr. Donaldson doesn't take it the way it's meant he can take
himself off, and good riddance."
Philip thought it was a severe ordeal that the young man was being exposed
to, since Athelny, in his brown velvet jacket, flowing black tie, and red
tarboosh, was a startling spectacle for an innocent electrical engineer.
When he came he was greeted by his host with the proud courtesy of a
Spanish grandee and by Mrs. Athelny in an altogether homely and natural
fashion. They sat down at the old ironing-table in the high-backed monkish
chairs, and Mrs. Athelny poured tea out of a lustre teapot which gave a
note of England and the country-side to the festivity. She had made little
cakes with her own hand, and on the table was home-made jam. It was a
farm-house tea, and to Philip very quaint and charming in that Jacobean
house. Athelny for some fantastic reason took it into his head to
discourse upon Byzantine history; he had been reading the later volumes of
the Decline and Fall; and, his forefinger dramatically extended, he
poured into the astonished ears of the suitor scandalous stories about
Theodora and Irene. He addressed himself directly to his guest with a
torrent of rhodomontade; and the young man, reduced to helpless silence
and shy, nodded his head at intervals to show that he took an intelligent
interest. Mrs. Athelny paid no attention to Thorpe's conversation, but
interrupted now and then to offer the young man more tea or to press upon
him cake and jam. Philip watched Sally; she sat with downcast eyes, calm,
silent, and observant; and her long eye-lashes cast a pretty shadow on her
cheek. You could not tell whether she was amused at the scene or if she
cared for the young man. She was inscrutable. But one thing was certain:
the electrical engineer was good-looking, fair and clean-shaven, with
pleasant, regular features, and an honest face; he was tall and well-made.
Philip could not help thinking he would make an excellent mate for her,
and he felt a pang of envy for the happiness which he fancied was in store
Presently the suitor said he thought it was about time he was getting
along. Sally rose to her feet without a word and accompanied him to the
door. When she came back her father burst out:
"Well, Sally, we think your young man very nice. We are prepared to
welcome him into our family. Let the banns be called and I will compose a
Sally set about clearing away the tea-things. She did not answer. Suddenly
she shot a swift glance at Philip.
"What did you think of him, Mr. Philip?"
She had always refused to call him Uncle Phil as the other children did,
and would not call him Philip.
"I think you'd make an awfully handsome pair."
She looked at him quickly once more, and then with a slight blush went on
with her business.
"I thought him a very nice civil-spoken young fellow," said Mrs. Athelny,
"and I think he's just the sort to make any girl happy."
Sally did not reply for a minute or two, and Philip looked at her
curiously: it might be thought that she was meditating upon what her
mother had said, and on the other hand she might be thinking of the man in
"Why don't you answer when you're spoken to, Sally?" remarked her mother,
a little irritably.
"I thought he was a silly."
"Aren't you going to have him then?"
"No, I'm not."
"I don't know how much more you want," said Mrs. Athelny, and it was quite
clear now that she was put out. "He's a very decent young fellow and he
can afford to give you a thorough good home. We've got quite enough to
feed here without you. If you get a chance like that it's wicked not to
take it. And I daresay you'd be able to have a girl to do the rough work."
Philip had never before heard Mrs. Athelny refer so directly to the
difficulties of her life. He saw how important it was that each child
should be provided for.
"It's no good your carrying on, mother," said Sally in her quiet way. "I'm
not going to marry him."
"I think you're a very hard-hearted, cruel, selfish girl."
"If you want me to earn my own living, mother, I can always go into
"Don't be so silly, you know your father would never let you do that."
Philip caught Sally's eye, and he thought there was in it a glimmer of
amusement. He wondered what there had been in the conversation to touch
her sense of humour. She was an odd girl.
During his last year at St. Luke's Philip had to work hard. He was
contented with life. He found it very comfortable to be heart-free and to
have enough money for his needs. He had heard people speak contemptuously
of money: he wondered if they had ever tried to do without it. He knew
that the lack made a man petty, mean, grasping; it distorted his character
and caused him to view the world from a vulgar angle; when you had to
consider every penny, money became of grotesque importance: you needed a
competency to rate it at its proper value. He lived a solitary life,
seeing no one except the Athelnys, but he was not lonely; he busied
himself with plans for the future, and sometimes he thought of the past.
His recollection dwelt now and then on old friends, but he made no effort
to see them. He would have liked to know what was become of Norah Nesbit;
she was Norah something else now, but he could not remember the name of
the man she was going to marry; he was glad to have known her: she was a
good and a brave soul. One evening about half past eleven he saw Lawson,
walking along Piccadilly; he was in evening clothes and might be supposed
to be coming back from a theatre. Philip gave way to a sudden impulse and
quickly turned down a side street. He had not seen him for two years and
felt that he could not now take up again the interrupted friendship. He
and Lawson had nothing more to say to one another. Philip was no longer
interested in art; it seemed to him that he was able to enjoy beauty with
greater force than when he was a boy; but art appeared to him unimportant.
He was occupied with the forming of a pattern out of the manifold chaos of
life, and the materials with which he worked seemed to make preoccupation
with pigments and words very trivial. Lawson had served his turn. Philip's
friendship with him had been a motive in the design he was elaborating: it
was merely sentimental to ignore the fact that the painter was of no
further interest to him.
Sometimes Philip thought of Mildred. He avoided deliberately the streets
in which there was a chance of seeing her; but occasionally some feeling,
perhaps curiosity, perhaps something deeper which he would not
acknowledge, made him wander about Piccadilly and Regent Street during the
hours when she might be expected to be there. He did not know then whether
he wished to see her or dreaded it. Once he saw a back which reminded him
of hers, and for a moment he thought it was she; it gave him a curious
sensation: it was a strange sharp pain in his heart, there was fear in it
and a sickening dismay; and when he hurried on and found that he was
mistaken he did not know whether it was relief that he experienced or
At the beginning of August Philip passed his surgery, his last
examination, and received his diploma. It was seven years since he had
entered St. Luke's Hospital. He was nearly thirty. He walked down the
stairs of the Royal College of Surgeons with the roll in his hand which
qualified him to practice, and his heart beat with satisfaction.
"Now I'm really going to begin life," he thought.
Next day he went to the secretary's office to put his name down for one of
the hospital appointments. The secretary was a pleasant little man with a
black beard, whom Philip had always found very affable. He congratulated
him on his success, and then said:
"I suppose you wouldn't like to do a locum for a month on the South coast?
Three guineas a week with board and lodging."
"I wouldn't mind," said Philip.
"It's at Farnley, in Dorsetshire. Doctor South. You'd have to go down at
once; his assistant has developed mumps. I believe it's a very pleasant
There was something in the secretary's manner that puzzled Philip. It was
a little doubtful.
"What's the crab in it?" he asked.
The secretary hesitated a moment and laughed in a conciliating fashion.
"Well, the fact is, I understand he's rather a crusty, funny old fellow.
The agencies won't send him anyone any more. He speaks his mind very
openly, and men don't like it."
"But d'you think he'll be satisfied with a man who's only just qualified?
After all I have no experience."
"He ought to be glad to get you," said the secretary diplomatically.
Philip thought for a moment. He had nothing to do for the next few weeks,
and he was glad of the chance to earn a bit of money. He could put it
aside for the holiday in Spain which he had promised himself when he had
finished his appointment at St. Luke's or, if they would not give him
anything there, at some other hospital.
"All right. I'll go."
"The only thing is, you must go this afternoon. Will that suit you? If so,
I'll send a wire at once."
Philip would have liked a few days to himself; but he had seen the
Athelnys the night before (he had gone at once to take them his good news)
and there was really no reason why he should not start immediately. He had
little luggage to pack. Soon after seven that evening he got out of the
station at Farnley and took a cab to Doctor South's. It was a broad low
stucco house, with a Virginia creeper growing over it. He was shown into
the consulting-room. An old man was writing at a desk. He looked up as the
maid ushered Philip in. He did not get up, and he did not speak; he merely
stared at Philip. Philip was taken aback.
"I think you're expecting me," he said. "The secretary of St. Luke's wired
to you this morning."
"I kept dinner back for half an hour. D'you want to wash?"
"I do," said Philip.
Doctor South amused him by his odd manner. He got up now, and Philip saw
that he was a man of middle height, thin, with white hair cut very short
and a long mouth closed so tightly that he seemed to have no lips at all;
he was clean-shaven but for small white whiskers, and they increased the
squareness of face which his firm jaw gave him. He wore a brown tweed suit
and a white stock. His clothes hung loosely about him as though they had
been made for a much larger man. He looked like a respectable farmer of
the middle of the nineteenth century. He opened the door.
"There is the dining-room," he said, pointing to the door opposite. "Your
bed-room is the first door you come to when you get on the landing. Come
downstairs when you're ready."
During dinner Philip knew that Doctor South was examining him, but he
spoke little, and Philip felt that he did not want to hear his assistant
"When were you qualified?" he asked suddenly.
"Were you at a university?"
"Last year when my assistant took a holiday they sent me a 'Varsity man.
I told 'em not to do it again. Too damned gentlemanly for me."
There was another pause. The dinner was very simple and very good. Philip
preserved a sedate exterior, but in his heart he was bubbling over with
excitement. He was immensely elated at being engaged as a locum; it made
him feel extremely grown up; he had an insane desire to laugh at nothing
in particular; and the more he thought of his professional dignity the
more he was inclined to chuckle.
But Doctor South broke suddenly into his thoughts. "How old are you?"
"Getting on for thirty."
"How is it you're only just qualified?"
"I didn't go in for the medical till I was nearly twenty-three, and I had
to give it up for two years in the middle."
Doctor South gave him an odd look and relapsed into silence. At the end of
dinner he got up from the table.
"D'you know what sort of a practice this is?"
"No," answered Philip.
"Mostly fishermen and their families. I have the Union and the Seamen's
Hospital. I used to be alone here, but since they tried to make this into
a fashionable sea-side resort a man has set up on the cliff, and the
well-to-do people go to him. I only have those who can't afford to pay for
a doctor at all."
Philip saw that the rivalry was a sore point with the old man.
"You know that I have no experience," said Philip.
"You none of you know anything."
He walked out of the room without another word and left Philip by himself.
When the maid came in to clear away she told Philip that Doctor South saw
patients from six till seven. Work for that night was over. Philip fetched
a book from his room, lit his pipe, and settled himself down to read. It
was a great comfort, since he had read nothing but medical books for the
last few months. At ten o'clock Doctor South came in and looked at him.
Philip hated not to have his feet up, and he had dragged up a chair for
"You seem able to make yourself pretty comfortable," said Doctor South,
with a grimness which would have disturbed Philip if he had not been in
such high spirits.
Philip's eyes twinkled as he answered.
"Have you any objection?"
Doctor South gave him a look, but did not reply directly.
"What's that you're reading?"
"Peregrine Pickle. Smollett."
"I happen to know that Smollett wrote Peregrine Pickle."
"I beg your pardon. Medical men aren't much interested in literature, are
Philip had put the book down on the table, and Doctor South took it up. It
was a volume of an edition which had belonged to the Vicar of Blackstable.
It was a thin book bound in faded morocco, with a copperplate engraving as
a frontispiece; the pages were musty with age and stained with mould.
Philip, without meaning to, started forward a little as Doctor South took
the volume in his hands, and a slight smile came into his eyes. Very
little escaped the old doctor.
"Do I amuse you?" he asked icily.
"I see you're fond of books. You can always tell by the way people handle
Doctor South put down the novel immediately.
"Breakfast at eight-thirty," he said and left the room.
"What a funny old fellow!" thought Philip.
He soon discovered why Doctor South's assistants found it difficult to get
on with him. In the first place, he set his face firmly against all the
discoveries of the last thirty years: he had no patience with the drugs
which became modish, were thought to work marvellous cures, and in a few
years were discarded; he had stock mixtures which he had brought from St.
Luke's where he had been a student, and had used all his life; he found
them just as efficacious as anything that had come into fashion since.
Philip was startled at Doctor South's suspicion of asepsis; he had
accepted it in deference to universal opinion; but he used the precautions
which Philip had known insisted upon so scrupulously at the hospital with
the disdainful tolerance of a man playing at soldiers with children.
"I've seen antiseptics come along and sweep everything before them, and
then I've seen asepsis take their place. Bunkum!"
The young men who were sent down to him knew only hospital practice; and
they came with the unconcealed scorn for the General Practitioner which
they had absorbed in the air at the hospital; but they had seen only the
complicated cases which appeared in the wards; they knew how to treat an
obscure disease of the suprarenal bodies, but were helpless when consulted
for a cold in the head. Their knowledge was theoretical and their
self-assurance unbounded. Doctor South watched them with tightened lips;
he took a savage pleasure in showing them how great was their ignorance
and how unjustified their conceit. It was a poor practice, of fishing
folk, and the doctor made up his own prescriptions. Doctor South asked his
assistant how he expected to make both ends meet if he gave a fisherman
with a stomach-ache a mixture consisting of half a dozen expensive drugs.
He complained too that the young medical men were uneducated: their
reading consisted of The Sporting Times and The British Medical
Journal; they could neither write a legible hand nor spell correctly. For
two or three days Doctor South watched Philip closely, ready to fall on
him with acid sarcasm if he gave him the opportunity; and Philip, aware of
this, went about his work with a quiet sense of amusement. He was pleased
with the change of occupation. He liked the feeling of independence and of
responsibility. All sorts of people came to the consulting-room. He was
gratified because he seemed able to inspire his patients with confidence;
and it was entertaining to watch the process of cure which at a hospital
necessarily could be watched only at distant intervals. His rounds took
him into low-roofed cottages in which were fishing tackle and sails and
here and there mementoes of deep-sea travelling, a lacquer box from Japan,
spears and oars from Melanesia, or daggers from the bazaars of Stamboul;
there was an air of romance in the stuffy little rooms, and the salt of
the sea gave them a bitter freshness. Philip liked to talk to the
sailor-men, and when they found that he was not supercilious they told him
long yarns of the distant journeys of their youth.
Once or twice he made a mistake in diagnosis: (he had never seen a case of
measles before, and when he was confronted with the rash took it for an
obscure disease of the skin;) and once or twice his ideas of treatment
differed from Doctor South's. The first time this happened Doctor South
attacked him with savage irony; but Philip took it with good humour; he
had some gift for repartee, and he made one or two answers which caused
Doctor South to stop and look at him curiously. Philip's face was grave,
but his eyes were twinkling. The old gentleman could not avoid the
impression that Philip was chaffing him. He was used to being disliked and
feared by his assistants, and this was a new experience. He had half a
mind to fly into a passion and pack Philip off by the next train, he had
done that before with his assistants; but he had an uneasy feeling that
Philip then would simply laugh at him outright; and suddenly he felt
amused. His mouth formed itself into a smile against his will, and he
turned away. In a little while he grew conscious that Philip was amusing
himself systematically at his expense. He was taken aback at first and
"Damn his impudence," he chuckled to himself. "Damn his impudence."
Philip had written to Athelny to tell him that he was doing a locum in
Dorsetshire and in due course received an answer from him. It was written
in the formal manner he affected, studded with pompous epithets as a
Persian diadem was studded with precious stones; and in the beautiful
hand, like black letter and as difficult to read, upon which he prided
himself. He suggested that Philip should join him and his family in the
Kentish hop-field to which he went every year; and to persuade him said
various beautiful and complicated things about Philip's soul and the
winding tendrils of the hops. Philip replied at once that he would come on
the first day he was free. Though not born there, he had a peculiar
affection for the Isle of Thanet, and he was fired with enthusiasm at the
thought of spending a fortnight so close to the earth and amid conditions
which needed only a blue sky to be as idyllic as the olive groves of
The four weeks of his engagement at Farnley passed quickly. On the cliff
a new town was springing up, with red brick villas round golf links, and
a large hotel had recently been opened to cater for the summer visitors;
but Philip went there seldom. Down below, by the harbour, the little stone
houses of a past century were clustered in a delightful confusion, and the
narrow streets, climbing down steeply, had an air of antiquity which
appealed to the imagination. By the water's edge were neat cottages with
trim, tiny gardens in front of them; they were inhabited by retired
captains in the merchant service, and by mothers or widows of men who had
gained their living by the sea; and they had an appearance which was
quaint and peaceful. In the little harbour came tramps from Spain and the
Levant, ships of small tonnage; and now and then a windjammer was borne in
by the winds of romance. It reminded Philip of the dirty little harbour
with its colliers at Blackstable, and he thought that there he had first
acquired the desire, which was now an obsession, for Eastern lands and
sunlit islands in a tropic sea. But here you felt yourself closer to the
wide, deep ocean than on the shore of that North Sea which seemed always
circumscribed; here you could draw a long breath as you looked out upon
the even vastness; and the west wind, the dear soft salt wind of England,
uplifted the heart and at the same time melted it to tenderness.
One evening, when Philip had reached his last week with Doctor South, a
child came to the surgery door while the old doctor and Philip were making
up prescriptions. It was a little ragged girl with a dirty face and bare
feet. Philip opened the door.
"Please, sir, will you come to Mrs. Fletcher's in Ivy Lane at once?"
"What's the matter with Mrs. Fletcher?" called out Doctor South in his
The child took no notice of him, but addressed herself again to Philip.
"Please, sir, her little boy's had an accident and will you come at once?"
"Tell Mrs. Fletcher I'm coming," called out Doctor South.
The little girl hesitated for a moment, and putting a dirty finger in a
dirty mouth stood still and looked at Philip.
"What's the matter, Kid?" said Philip, smiling.
"Please, sir, Mrs. Fletcher says, will the new doctor come?" There was a
sound in the dispensary and Doctor South came out into the passage.
"Isn't Mrs. Fletcher satisfied with me?" he barked. "I've attended Mrs.
Fletcher since she was born. Why aren't I good enough to attend her filthy
The little girl looked for a moment as though she were going to cry, then
she thought better of it; she put out her tongue deliberately at Doctor
South, and, before he could recover from his astonishment, bolted off as
fast as she could run. Philip saw that the old gentleman was annoyed.
"You look rather fagged, and it's a goodish way to Ivy Lane," he said, by
way of giving him an excuse not to go himself.
Doctor South gave a low snarl.
"It's a damned sight nearer for a man who's got the use of both legs than
for a man who's only got one and a half."
Philip reddened and stood silent for a while.
"Do you wish me to go or will you go yourself?" he said at last frigidly.
"What's the good of my going? They want you."
Philip took up his hat and went to see the patient. It was hard upon eight
o'clock when he came back. Doctor South was standing in the dining-room
with his back to the fireplace.
"You've been a long time," he said.
"I'm sorry. Why didn't you start dinner?"
"Because I chose to wait. Have you been all this while at Mrs.
"No, I'm afraid I haven't. I stopped to look at the sunset on my way back,
and I didn't think of the time."
Doctor South did not reply, and the servant brought in some grilled
sprats. Philip ate them with an excellent appetite. Suddenly Doctor South
shot a question at him.
"Why did you look at the sunset?"
Philip answered with his mouth full.
"Because I was happy."
Doctor South gave him an odd look, and the shadow of a smile flickered
across his old, tired face. They ate the rest of the dinner in silence;
but when the maid had given them the port and left the room, the old man
leaned back and fixed his sharp eyes on Philip.
"It stung you up a bit when I spoke of your game leg, young fellow?" he
"People always do, directly or indirectly, when they get angry with me."
"I suppose they know it's your weak point."
Philip faced him and looked at him steadily.
"Are you very glad to have discovered it?"
The doctor did not answer, but he gave a chuckle of bitter mirth. They sat
for a while staring at one another. Then Doctor South surprised Philip
"Why don't you stay here and I'll get rid of that damned fool with his
"It's very kind of you, but I hope to get an appointment at the hospital
in the autumn. It'll help me so much in getting other work later."
"I'm offering you a partnership," said Doctor South grumpily.
"Why?" asked Philip, with surprise.
"They seem to like you down here."
"I didn't think that was a fact which altogether met with your approval,"
Philip said drily.
"D'you suppose that after forty years' practice I care a twopenny damn
whether people prefer my assistant to me? No, my friend. There's no
sentiment between my patients and me. I don't expect gratitude from them,
I expect them to pay my fees. Well, what d'you say to it?"
Philip made no reply, not because he was thinking over the proposal, but
because he was astonished. It was evidently very unusual for someone to
offer a partnership to a newly qualified man; and he realised with wonder
that, although nothing would induce him to say so, Doctor South had taken
a fancy to him. He thought how amused the secretary at St. Luke's would be
when he told him.
"The practice brings in about seven hundred a year. We can reckon out how
much your share would be worth, and you can pay me off by degrees. And
when I die you can succeed me. I think that's better than knocking about
hospitals for two or three years, and then taking assistantships until you
can afford to set up for yourself."
Philip knew it was a chance that most people in his profession would jump
at; the profession was over-crowded, and half the men he knew would be
thankful to accept the certainty of even so modest a competence as that.
"I'm awfully sorry, but I can't," he said. "It means giving up everything
I've aimed at for years. In one way and another I've had a roughish time,
but I always had that one hope before me, to get qualified so that I might
travel; and now, when I wake in the morning, my bones simply ache to get
off, I don't mind where particularly, but just away, to places I've never
Now the goal seemed very near. He would have finished his appointment at
St. Luke's by the middle of the following year, and then he would go to
Spain; he could afford to spend several months there, rambling up and down
the land which stood to him for romance; after that he would get a ship
and go to the East. Life was before him and time of no account. He could
wander, for years if he chose, in unfrequented places, amid strange
peoples, where life was led in strange ways. He did not know what he
sought or what his journeys would bring him; but he had a feeling that he
would learn something new about life and gain some clue to the mystery
that he had solved only to find more mysterious. And even if he found
nothing he would allay the unrest which gnawed at his heart. But Doctor
South was showing him a great kindness, and it seemed ungrateful to refuse
his offer for no adequate reason; so in his shy way, trying to appear as
matter of fact as possible, he made some attempt to explain why it was so
important to him to carry out the plans he had cherished so passionately.
Doctor South listened quietly, and a gentle look came into his shrewd old
eyes. It seemed to Philip an added kindness that he did not press him to
accept his offer. Benevolence is often very peremptory. He appeared to
look upon Philip's reasons as sound. Dropping the subject, he began to
talk of his own youth; he had been in the Royal Navy, and it was his long
connection with the sea that, when he retired, had made him settle at
Farnley. He told Philip of old days in the Pacific and of wild adventures
in China. He had taken part in an expedition against the head-hunters of
Borneo and had known Samoa when it was still an independent state. He had
touched at coral islands. Philip listened to him entranced. Little by
little he told Philip about himself. Doctor South was a widower, his wife
had died thirty years before, and his daughter had married a farmer in
Rhodesia; he had quarrelled with him, and she had not come to England for
ten years. It was just as if he had never had wife or child. He was very
lonely. His gruffness was little more than a protection which he wore to
hide a complete disillusionment; and to Philip it seemed tragic to see him
just waiting for death, not impatiently, but rather with loathing for it,
hating old age and unable to resign himself to its limitations, and yet
with the feeling that death was the only solution of the bitterness of his
life. Philip crossed his path, and the natural affection which long
separation from his daughter had killed--she had taken her husband's part
in the quarrel and her children he had never seen--settled itself upon
Philip. At first it made him angry, he told himself it was a sign of
dotage; but there was something in Philip that attracted him, and he found
himself smiling at him he knew not why. Philip did not bore him. Once or
twice he put his hand on his shoulder: it was as near a caress as he had
got since his daughter left England so many years before. When the time
came for Philip to go Doctor South accompanied him to the station: he
found himself unaccountably depressed.
"I've had a ripping time here," said Philip. "You've been awfully kind to
"I suppose you're very glad to go?"
"I've enjoyed myself here."
"But you want to get out into the world? Ah, you have youth." He hesitated
a moment. "I want you to remember that if you change your mind my offer
"That's awfully kind of you."
Philip shook hands with him out of the carriage window, and the train
steamed out of the station. Philip thought of the fortnight he was going
to spend in the hop-field: he was happy at the idea of seeing his friends
again, and he rejoiced because the day was fine. But Doctor South walked
slowly back to his empty house. He felt very old and very lonely.
It was late in the evening when Philip arrived at Ferne. It was Mrs.
Athelny's native village, and she had been accustomed from her childhood
to pick in the hop-field to which with her husband and her children she
still went every year. Like many Kentish folk her family had gone out
regularly, glad to earn a little money, but especially regarding the
annual outing, looked forward to for months, as the best of holidays. The
work was not hard, it was done in common, in the open air, and for the
children it was a long, delightful picnic; here the young men met the
maidens; in the long evenings when work was over they wandered about the
lanes, making love; and the hopping season was generally followed by
weddings. They went out in carts with bedding, pots and pans, chairs and
tables; and Ferne while the hopping lasted was deserted. They were very
exclusive and would have resented the intrusion of foreigners, as they
called the people who came from London; they looked down upon them and
feared them too; they were a rough lot, and the respectable country folk
did not want to mix with them. In the old days the hoppers slept in barns,
but ten years ago a row of huts had been erected at the side of a meadow;
and the Athelnys, like many others, had the same hut every year.
Athelny met Philip at the station in a cart he had borrowed from the
public-house at which he had got a room for Philip. It was a quarter of a
mile from the hop-field. They left his bag there and walked over to the
meadow in which were the huts. They were nothing more than a long, low
shed, divided into little rooms about twelve feet square. In front of each
was a fire of sticks, round which a family was grouped, eagerly watching
the cooking of supper. The sea-air and the sun had browned already the
faces of Athelny's children. Mrs. Athelny seemed a different woman in her
sun-bonnet: you felt that the long years in the city had made no real
difference to her; she was the country woman born and bred, and you could
see how much at home she found herself in the country. She was frying
bacon and at the same time keeping an eye on the younger children, but she
had a hearty handshake and a jolly smile for Philip. Athelny was
enthusiastic over the delights of a rural existence.
"We're starved for sun and light in the cities we live in. It isn't life,
it's a long imprisonment. Let us sell all we have, Betty, and take a farm
in the country."
"I can see you in the country," she answered with good-humoured scorn.
"Why, the first rainy day we had in the winter you'd be crying for
London." She turned to Philip. "Athelny's always like this when we come
down here. Country, I like that! Why, he don't know a swede from a
"Daddy was lazy today," remarked Jane, with the frankness which
characterized her, "he didn't fill one bin."
"I'm getting into practice, child, and tomorrow I shall fill more bins
than all of you put together."
"Come and eat your supper, children," said Mrs. Athelny. "Where's Sally?"
"Here I am, mother."
She stepped out of their little hut, and the flames of the wood fire
leaped up and cast sharp colour upon her face. Of late Philip had only
seen her in the trim frocks she had taken to since she was at the
dressmaker's, and there was something very charming in the print dress she
wore now, loose and easy to work in; the sleeves were tucked up and showed
her strong, round arms. She too had a sun-bonnet.
"You look like a milkmaid in a fairy story," said Philip, as he shook
hands with her.
"She's the belle of the hop-fields," said Athelny. "My word, if the
Squire's son sees you he'll make you an offer of marriage before you can
say Jack Robinson."
"The Squire hasn't got a son, father," said Sally.
She looked about for a place to sit down in, and Philip made room for her
beside him. She looked wonderful in the night lit by wood fires. She was
like some rural goddess, and you thought of those fresh, strong girls whom
old Herrick had praised in exquisite numbers. The supper was simple, bread
and butter, crisp bacon, tea for the children, and beer for Mr. and Mrs.
Athelny and Philip. Athelny, eating hungrily, praised loudly all he ate.
He flung words of scorn at Lucullus and piled invectives upon
"There's one thing one can say for you, Athelny," said his wife, "you do
enjoy your food and no mistake!"
"Cooked by your hand, my Betty," he said, stretching out an eloquent
Philip felt himself very comfortable. He looked happily at the line of
fires, with people grouped about them, and the colour of the flames
against the night; at the end of the meadow was a line of great elms, and
above the starry sky. The children talked and laughed, and Athelny, a
child among them, made them roar by his tricks and fancies.
"They think a rare lot of Athelny down here," said his wife. "Why, Mrs.
Bridges said to me, I don't know what we should do without Mr. Athelny
now, she said. He's always up to something, he's more like a schoolboy
than the father of a family."
Sally sat in silence, but she attended to Philip's wants in a thoughtful
fashion that charmed him. It was pleasant to have her beside him, and now
and then he glanced at her sunburned, healthy face. Once he caught her
eyes, and she smiled quietly. When supper was over Jane and a small
brother were sent down to a brook that ran at the bottom of the meadow to
fetch a pail of water for washing up.
"You children, show your Uncle Philip where we sleep, and then you must be
thinking of going to bed."
Small hands seized Philip, and he was dragged towards the hut. He went in
and struck a match. There was no furniture in it; and beside a tin box, in
which clothes were kept, there was nothing but the beds; there were three
of them, one against each wall. Athelny followed Philip in and showed them
"That's the stuff to sleep on," he cried. "None of your spring-mattresses
and swansdown. I never sleep so soundly anywhere as here. YOU will
sleep between sheets. My dear fellow, I pity you from the bottom of my
The beds consisted of a thick layer of hopvine, on the top of which was a
coating of straw, and this was covered with a blanket. After a day in the
open air, with the aromatic scent of the hops all round them, the happy
pickers slept like tops. By nine o'clock all was quiet in the meadow and
everyone in bed but one or two men who still lingered in the public-house
and would not come back till it was closed at ten. Athelny walked there
with Philip. But before he went Mrs. Athelny said to him:
"We breakfast about a quarter to six, but I daresay you won't want to get
up as early as that. You see, we have to set to work at six."
"Of course he must get up early," cried Athelny, "and he must work like
the rest of us. He's got to earn his board. No work, no dinner, my lad."
"The children go down to bathe before breakfast, and they can give you a
call on their way back. They pass The Jolly Sailor."
"If they'll wake me I'll come and bathe with them," said Philip.
Jane and Harold and Edward shouted with delight at the prospect, and next
morning Philip was awakened out of a sound sleep by their bursting into
his room. The boys jumped on his bed, and he had to chase them out with
his slippers. He put on a coat and a pair of trousers and went down. The
day had only just broken, and there was a nip in the air; but the sky was
cloudless, and the sun was shining yellow. Sally, holding Connie's hand,
was standing in the middle of the road, with a towel and a bathing-dress
over her arm. He saw now that her sun-bonnet was of the colour of
lavender, and against it her face, red and brown, was like an apple. She
greeted him with her slow, sweet smile, and he noticed suddenly that her
teeth were small and regular and very white. He wondered why they had
never caught his attention before.
"I was for letting you sleep on," she said, "but they would go up and wake
you. I said you didn't really want to come."
"Oh, yes, I did."
They walked down the road and then cut across the marshes. That way it was
under a mile to the sea. The water looked cold and gray, and Philip
shivered at the sight of it; but the others tore off their clothes and ran
in shouting. Sally did everything a little slowly, and she did not come
into the water till all the rest were splashing round Philip. Swimming was
his only accomplishment; he felt at home in the water; and soon he had
them all imitating him as he played at being a porpoise, and a drowning
man, and a fat lady afraid of wetting her hair. The bathe was uproarious,
and it was necessary for Sally to be very severe to induce them all to
"You're as bad as any of them," she said to Philip, in her grave, maternal
way, which was at once comic and touching. "They're not anything like so
naughty when you're not here."
They walked back, Sally with her bright hair streaming over one shoulder
and her sun-bonnet in her hand, but when they got to the huts Mrs. Athelny
had already started for the hop-garden. Athleny, in a pair of the oldest
trousers anyone had ever worn, his jacket buttoned up to show he had no
shirt on, and in a wide-brimmed soft hat, was frying kippers over a fire
of sticks. He was delighted with himself: he looked every inch a brigand.
As soon as he saw the party he began to shout the witches' chorus from
Macbeth over the odorous kippers.
"You mustn't dawdle over your breakfast or mother will be angry," he said,
when they came up.
And in a few minutes, Harold and Jane with pieces of bread and butter in
their hands, they sauntered through the meadow into the hop-field. They
were the last to leave. A hop-garden was one of the sights connected with
Philip's boyhood and the oast-houses to him the most typical feature of
the Kentish scene. It was with no sense of strangeness, but as though he
were at home, that Philip followed Sally through the long lines of the
hops. The sun was bright now and cast a sharp shadow. Philip feasted his
eyes on the richness of the green leaves. The hops were yellowing, and to
him they had the beauty and the passion which poets in Sicily have found
in the purple grape. As they walked along Philip felt himself overwhelmed
by the rich luxuriance. A sweet scent arose from the fat Kentish soil, and
the fitful September breeze was heavy with the goodly perfume of the hops.
Athelstan felt the exhilaration instinctively, for he lifted up his voice
and sang; it was the cracked voice of the boy of fifteen, and Sally turned
"You be quiet, Athelstan, or we shall have a thunderstorm."
In a moment they heard the hum of voices, and in a moment more came upon
the pickers. They were all hard at work, talking and laughing as they
picked. They sat on chairs, on stools, on boxes, with their baskets by
their sides, and some stood by the bin throwing the hops they picked
straight into it. There were a lot of children about and a good many
babies, some in makeshift cradles, some tucked up in a rug on the soft
brown dry earth. The children picked a little and played a great deal. The
women worked busily, they had been pickers from childhood, and they could
pick twice as fast as foreigners from London. They boasted about the
number of bushels they had picked in a day, but they complained you could
not make money now as in former times: then they paid you a shilling for
five bushels, but now the rate was eight and even nine bushels to the
shilling. In the old days a good picker could earn enough in the season to
keep her for the rest of the year, but now there was nothing in it; you
got a holiday for nothing, and that was about all. Mrs. Hill had bought
herself a pianner out of what she made picking, so she said, but she was
very near, one wouldn't like to be near like that, and most people thought
it was only what she said, if the truth was known perhaps it would be
found that she had put a bit of money from the savings bank towards it.
The hoppers were divided into bin companies of ten pickers, not counting
children, and Athelny loudly boasted of the day when he would have a
company consisting entirely of his own family. Each company had a bin-man,
whose duty it was to supply it with strings of hops at their bins (the bin
was a large sack on a wooden frame, about seven feet high, and long rows
of them were placed between the rows of hops;) and it was to this position
that Athelny aspired when his family was old enough to form a company.
Meanwhile he worked rather by encouraging others than by exertions of his
own. He sauntered up to Mrs. Athelny, who had been busy for half an hour
and had already emptied a basket into the bin, and with his cigarette
between his lips began to pick. He asserted that he was going to pick more
than anyone that day, but mother; of course no one could pick so much as
mother; that reminded him of the trials which Aphrodite put upon the
curious Psyche, and he began to tell his children the story of her love
for the unseen bridegroom. He told it very well. It seemed to Philip,
listening with a smile on his lips, that the old tale fitted in with the
scene. The sky was very blue now, and he thought it could not be more
lovely even in Greece. The children with their fair hair and rosy cheeks,
strong, healthy, and vivacious; the delicate form of the hops; the
challenging emerald of the leaves, like a blare of trumpets; the magic of
the green alley, narrowing to a point as you looked down the row, with the
pickers in their sun-bonnets: perhaps there was more of the Greek spirit
there than you could find in the books of professors or in museums. He was
thankful for the beauty of England. He thought of the winding white roads
and the hedgerows, the green meadows with their elm-trees, the delicate
line of the hills and the copses that crowned them, the flatness of the
marshes, and the melancholy of the North Sea. He was very glad that he
felt its loveliness. But presently Athelny grew restless and announced
that he would go and ask how Robert Kemp's mother was. He knew everyone in
the garden and called them all by their Christian names; he knew their
family histories and all that had happened to them from birth. With
harmless vanity he played the fine gentleman among them, and there was a
touch of condescension in his familiarity. Philip would not go with him.
"I'm going to earn my dinner," he said.
"Quite right, my boy," answered Athelny, with a wave of the hand, as he
strolled away. "No work, no dinner."
Philip had not a basket of his own, but sat with Sally. Jane thought it
monstrous that he should help her elder sister rather than herself, and he
had to promise to pick for her when Sally's basket was full. Sally was
almost as quick as her mother.
"Won't it hurt your hands for sewing?" asked Philip.
"Oh, no, it wants soft hands. That's why women pick better than men. If
your hands are hard and your fingers all stiff with a lot of rough work
you can't pick near so well."
He liked to see her deft movements, and she watched him too now and then
with that maternal spirit of hers which was so amusing and yet so
charming. He was clumsy at first, and she laughed at him. When she bent
over and showed him how best to deal with a whole line their hands met. He
was surprised to see her blush. He could not persuade himself that she was
a woman; because he had known her as a flapper, he could not help looking
upon her as a child still; yet the number of her admirers showed that she
was a child no longer; and though they had only been down a few days one
of Sally's cousins was already so attentive that she had to endure a lot
of chaffing. His name was Peter Gann, and he was the son of Mrs. Athelny's
sister, who had married a farmer near Ferne. Everyone knew why he found it
necessary to walk through the hop-field every day.
A call-off by the sounding of a horn was made for breakfast at eight, and
though Mrs. Athelny told them they had not deserved it, they ate it very
heartily. They set to work again and worked till twelve, when the horn
sounded once more for dinner. At intervals the measurer went his round
from bin to bin, accompanied by the booker, who entered first in his own
book and then in the hopper's the number of bushels picked. As each bin
was filled it was measured out in bushel baskets into a huge bag called a
poke; and this the measurer and the pole-puller carried off between them
and put on the waggon. Athelny came back now and then with stories of how
much Mrs. Heath or Mrs. Jones had picked, and he conjured his family to
beat her: he was always wanting to make records, and sometimes in his
enthusiasm picked steadily for an hour. His chief amusement in it,
however, was that it showed the beauty of his graceful hands, of which he
was excessively proud. He spent much time manicuring them. He told Philip,
as he stretched out his tapering fingers, that the Spanish grandees had
always slept in oiled gloves to preserve their whiteness. The hand that
wrung the throat of Europe, he remarked dramatically, was as shapely and
exquisite as a woman's; and he looked at his own, as he delicately picked
the hops, and sighed with self-satisfaction. When he grew tired of this he
rolled himself a cigarette and discoursed to Philip of art and literature.
In the afternoon it grew very hot. Work did not proceed so actively and
conversation halted. The incessant chatter of the morning dwindled now to
desultory remarks. Tiny beads of sweat stood on Sally's upper lip, and as
she worked her lips were slightly parted. She was like a rosebud bursting
Calling-off time depended on the state of the oast-house. Sometimes it was
filled early, and as many hops had been picked by three or four as could
be dried during the night. Then work was stopped. But generally the last
measuring of the day began at five. As each company had its bin measured
it gathered up its things and, chatting again now that work was over,
sauntered out of the garden. The women went back to the huts to clean up
and prepare the supper, while a good many of the men strolled down the
road to the public-house. A glass of beer was very pleasant after the
The Athelnys' bin was the last to be dealt with. When the measurer came
Mrs. Athelny, with a sigh of relief, stood up and stretched her arms: she
had been sitting in the same position for many hours and was stiff.
"Now, let's go to The Jolly Sailor," said Athelny. "The rites of the day
must be duly performed, and there is none more sacred than that."
"Take a jug with you, Athelny," said his wife, "and bring back a pint and
a half for supper."
She gave him the money, copper by copper. The bar-parlour was already well
filled. It had a sanded floor, benches round it, and yellow pictures of
Victorian prize-fighters on the walls. The licencee knew all his customers
by name, and he leaned over his bar smiling benignly at two young men who
were throwing rings on a stick that stood up from the floor: their failure
was greeted with a good deal of hearty chaff from the rest of the company.
Room was made for the new arrivals. Philip found himself sitting between
an old labourer in corduroys, with string tied under his knees, and a
shiny-faced lad of seventeen with a love-lock neatly plastered on his red
forehead. Athelny insisted on trying his hand at the throwing of rings. He
backed himself for half a pint and won it. As he drank the loser's health
"I would sooner have won this than won the Derby, my boy."
He was an outlandish figure, with his wide-brimmed hat and pointed beard,
among those country folk, and it was easy to see that they thought him
very queer; but his spirits were so high, his enthusiasm so contagious,
that it was impossible not to like him. Conversation went easily. A
certain number of pleasantries were exchanged in the broad, slow accent of
the Isle of Thanet, and there was uproarious laughter at the sallies of
the local wag. A pleasant gathering! It would have been a hard-hearted
person who did not feel a glow of satisfaction in his fellows. Philip's
eyes wandered out of the window where it was bright and sunny still; there
were little white curtains in it tied up with red ribbon like those of a
cottage window, and on the sill were pots of geraniums. In due course one
by one the idlers got up and sauntered back to the meadow where supper was
"I expect you'll be ready for your bed," said Mrs. Athelny to Philip.
"You're not used to getting up at five and staying in the open air all
"You're coming to bathe with us, Uncle Phil, aren't you?" the boys cried.
He was tired and happy. After supper, balancing himself against the wall
of the hut on a chair without a back, he smoked his pipe and looked at the
night. Sally was busy. She passed in and out of the hut, and he lazily
watched her methodical actions. Her walk attracted his notice; it was not
particularly graceful, but it was easy and assured; she swung her legs
from the hips, and her feet seemed to tread the earth with decision.
Athelny had gone off to gossip with one of the neighbours, and presently
Philip heard his wife address the world in general.
"There now, I'm out of tea and I wanted Athelny to go down to Mrs. Black's
and get some." A pause, and then her voice was raised: "Sally, just run
down to Mrs. Black's and get me half a pound of tea, will you? I've run