Part 2 out of 4
They did not stay long, and when they were gone she came across to the
lounge and gazed at him provocatively.
'Dashed if she hasn't taken a fancy to me!'
The thought ran through him like lightning.
'Well?' she said.
'What do you do with yourself Sundays?' he asked her.
'What do you do in the afternoon?'
She laughed gaily.
'Come out with me, eh?'
'To-morrow? Oh, I should LOVE TO!' she cried.
Her voice expanded into large capitals because by a singular chance both
the neighbouring orchestras stopped momentarily together, and thus gave
her shout a fair field. The effect was startling. It startled Ellis. He
had not for an instant expected that she would consent. Never, dog
though he was, had he armed a girl out on any afternoon, to say nothing
of Sunday afternoon, and Knype's Wakes Sunday at that! He had talked
about girls at the club. He understood the theory. But the practice----
The foundation of England's greatness is that Englishmen hate to look
fools. The fear of being taken for a ninny will spur an Englishman to
the most surprising deeds of courage. Ellis said 'Good!' with apparent
enthusiasm, and arranged to be waiting for her at half-past two at the
Turk's Head. Then he left the saloon and struck out anew into the ocean.
He wanted to think it over.
Once, painful to relate, he had thoughts of failing to keep the
appointment. However, she was so jolly and frank. And what a fancy she
must have taken to him! No, he would see it through.
If anybody had prophesied to Ellis that he would be driving out a Wakes
girl in a dogcart that Sunday afternoon he would have laughed at the
prophet; but so it occurred. He arrived at the Turk's Head at two
twenty-five. She was there before him, dressed all in blue, except the
white shoes and stockings, weighing herself on the machine in the yard.
She showed her teeth, told him she weighed nine stone one, and abruptly
asked him if he could drive. He said he could. She clapped her hands and
sprang off the machine. Her father had bought a new mare the day before,
and it was in the Turk's Head stable, and the yardman said it wanted
exercise, and there was a dogcart and harness idling about, and, in
short, Ellis should drive her to Sneyd Park, which she had long desired
Ellis wished to ask questions, but the moment did not seem auspicious.
In a few minutes the new mare, a high and somewhat frisky bay, with big
shoulders, was in the shafts of a high, green dogcart. When asked if he
could drive, Ellis ought to have answered: 'That depends--on the horse.'
Many men can tool a fifteen-year-old screw down a country lane who would
hesitate to get up behind a five-year-old animal (in need of exercise)
for a spin down Broad Street, Hanbridge, on Knype Wakes Sunday. Ellis
could drive; he could just drive. His father had always steadfastly
refused to keep horses, but the fathers of other dogs were more
progressive, and Ellis had had opportunities. He knew how to take the
reins, and get up, and give the office; indeed, he had read a handbook
on the subject. So he rook the reins and got up, and the Wakes girl got
He chirruped. The mare merely backed.
'Give 'er 'er mouth,' said the yardman disgustedly.
'Oh!' said Ellis, and slackened the reins, and the mare pawed forward.
Then he had to turn her in the yard, and get her and the dogcart down
the passage. He doubted whether he should do it, for the passage seemed
a size too small. However, he did it, or the mare did it, and the entire
organism swerved across a portion of the footpath into Broad Street.
For quite a quarter of a mile down Broad Street Ellis blushed, and kept
his gaze between the mare's ears. However, the mare went beautifully.
You could have driven her with a silken thread, so it seemed. And then
the dog, growing accustomed to his prominence up there on the dogcart,
began to be a bit doggy. He knew the little thing's age and weight,
but, really, when you take a girl out for a Sunday spin you want more
information about her than that. Her asked her name, and her name was
Jenkins--Ada. She was the great Jenkins's daughter.
('Oh,' thought Ellis, 'the deuce you are!')
'Father's gone to Manchester for the day, and aunt's looking after me,'
'Do they know you've come out--like this?'
'Not much!' She laughed deliciously. 'How lovely it is!'
At Knype they drew up before the Five Towns Hotel and descended. The
Five Towns Hotel is the greatest hotel in North Staffordshire. It has
two hundred rooms. It would not entirely disgrace Northumberland Avenue.
In the Five Towns it is august, imposing, and unique. They had a
lemonade there, and proceeded. A clock struck; it was a near thing. No
more refreshments now until they had passed the three-mile limit!
Yes! Not two hundred yards further on she spied an ice-cream shop in
Fleet Road, and Ellis learnt that she adored ice-cream. The mare waited
patiently outside in the thronged street.
After that the pilgrimage to Sneyd was punctuated with ice-creams. At
the Stag at Sneyd (where, among ninety-and-nine dogcarts, Ellis's
dogcart was the brightest green of them all) Ada had another lemonade,
and Ellis had something else. They saw the Park, and Ada giggled
charmingly her appreciation of its beauty. The conversation throughout
consisted chiefly of Ada's teeth. Ellis said he would return by a
different route, and he managed to get lost. How anyone driving to
Hanbridge from Sneyd could arrive at the mining village of Silverton is
a mystery. But Ellis arrived there, and he ultimately came out at
Hillport, the aristocratic suburb of Bursley, where he had always lived
till the last year. He feared recognition there, and his fear was
justified. Some silly ass, a schoolmate, cried, 'Go it!' as the machine
bowled along, and the mischief was that the mare, startled, went it. She
went it down the curving hill, and the vehicle after her, like a kettle
tied to a dog's tail.
Ellis winked stoutly at Ada when they reached the bottom, and gave the
mare a piece of his mind, to which she objected. As they crossed the
railway-bridge a goods-train ran underneath and puffed smoke into the
mare's eyes. She set her ears back.
'Would you!' cried Ellis authoritatively, and touched her with the whip
(he had forgotten the handbook).
He scarcely touched her, but you never know where you are with any
horse. That mare, which had been a mirror of all the virtues all the
afternoon, was off like a rocket. She overtook an electric car as if it
had been standing still. Ellis sawed her mouth; he might as well have
sawed the funnel of a locomotive. He had meant to turn off and traverse
Bursley by secluded streets, but he perceived that safety lay solely in
letting her go straight ahead up the very steep slope of Oldcastle
Street into the middle of the town. It would be an amazing mare that
galloped to the top of Oldcastle Street! She galloped nearly to the top,
and then Ellis began to get hold of her a bit.
'Don't be afraid,' he said masculinely to Ada.
And, conscious of victory, he jerked the mare to the left to avoid an
The next instant they were anchored against the roots of a lamp-post.
When Ellis saw the upper half of the lamp-post bent down at right
angles, and pieces of glass covering the pavement, he could not believe
that he and his dogcart had done that, especially as neither the mare,
nor the dogcart, nor its freight, was damaged. The machine was merely
jammed, and the mare, satisfied, stood quiet, breathing rapidly.
But Ada Jenkins was crying.
And the car stopped a moment to observe. And then a number of
chapel-goers on their way to the Sytch Chapel, which the Carter family
still faithfully attended, joined the scene; and then a policeman.
Ellis sat like a stuck pig in the dogcart. He knew that speech was
demanded of him, but he did not know where to begin.
The worst thing of all was the lamp-post, bent, moveless, unnatural,
atrociously comic, accusing him.
The affair was over the town in a minute; the next morning it reached
Llandudno. Ellis Carter had been out on the spree with _a Wakes girl_ in
a dogcart on Sunday afternoon, and had got into such a condition that he
had driven into a lamp-post at the top of Oldcastle Street just as
people were going into chapel.
The lamp-post remained bent for three days--a fearful warning to all
dogs that doggishness has limits.
If it had not been a dogcart, and such a high, green dogcart; if it had
been, say, a brougham, or even a cab! If it had not been Sunday! And,
granting Sunday, if it had not been just as people were going into
chapel! If he had not chosen that particular lamp-post, visible both
from the market-place and St. Luke's Square! If he had only contrived to
destroy a less obtrusive lamp-post in some unfrequented street! And if
it had not been a Wakes girl--if the reprobate had only selected for his
guilty amours an actress from one of the touring companies, or even a
star from the Hanbridge Empire--yea, or even a local barmaid! But _a
Ellis himself saw the enormity of his transgression. He lay awake
astounded by his own doggishness.
And yet he had seldom felt less doggy than during that trip. It seemed
to him that doggishness was not the glorious thing he had thought.
However, he cut a heroic figure at the dogs' club. Every admiring face
said: 'Well, you _have_ been going the pace! We always knew you were a
hot un, but, really----'
On the following Friday evening, when Ellis jumped off the car opposite
his home on the Hawkins, he saw in the road, halted, a train of vast and
queer-shaped waggons in charge of two traction-engines. They were
painted on all sides with the great name of Jenkins. They contained
Jenkins's roundabouts and shooting-saloons, on their way to rouse the
joy of life in other towns. And he perceived in front of the portico the
high, green dogcart and the lamp-post-destroying mare.
He went in. The family had come home that afternoon. Sundry of his
sisters greeted him with silent horror on their faces in the hall. In
the breakfast-room, which gave off the drawing-room, was his mother in
the attitude of an intent listener. She spoke no word.
And Ellis listened, too.
'Yes,' a very powerful and raucous voice was saying in the drawing-room,
'I reckoned I'd call and tell ye myself, Mister Carter, what I thought
on it. My gell, a motherless gell, but brought up respectable; sixth
standard at Whalley Range Board School; and her aunt a strict
God-fearing woman! And here your son comes along and gets hold of the
girl while her aunt's at the special service for Wakes folks in Bethesda
Chapel, and runs off with her in my dogcart with one of my hosses, and
raises a scandal all o'er the Five Towns. God bless my soul, mister! I
tell'n ye I hardly liked to open o' Monday afternoon, I was that
ashamed! And I packed Ada off to Manchester. It seems to me that if the
upper classes, as they call 'em--the immoral classes _I_ call 'em--'ud
look after themselves a bit instead o' looking after other people so
much, things might be a bit better, Mister Carter. I dare say you think
it's nothing as your son should go about ruining the reputation of any
decent, respectable girl as he happens to fancy, Mister Carter; but this
is what I say. I say----'
Mr. Carter was understood to assert, in his most pacific and pained
public-meeting voice, that he regretted, infinitely regretted----
Mrs. Carter, weeping, ran out of the breakfast-room.
And soon afterwards the traction-engines rumbled off, and the high,
green dogcart followed them.
Ellis sat spell-bound.
He heard the parlourmaid go into the drawing-room and announce, 'Tea is
ready, sir!' and then his father's dry cough.
And then the parlourmaid came into the breakfast-room: 'Tea is ready,
Oh, the meal!
* * * * *
When Clive Timmis paused at the side-door of Ezra Brunt's great shop in
Machin Street, and the door was opened to him by Ezra Brunt's daughter
before he had had time to pull the bell, not only all Machin Street knew
it within the hour, but also most persons of consequence left in
Hanbridge on a Thursday afternoon--Thursday being early-closing day. For
Hanbridge, though it counts sixty thousand inhabitants, and is the chief
of the Five Towns--that vast, huddled congeries of boroughs devoted to
the manufacture of earthenware--is a place where the art of attending to
other people's business still flourishes in rustic perfection.
Ezra Brunt's drapery establishment was the foremost retail house, in any
branch of trade, of the Five Towns. It had no rival nearer than
Manchester, thirty-six miles off; and even Manchester could exhibit
nothing conspicuously superior to it. The most acutely critical shoppers
of the Five Towns--women who were in the habit of going to London every
year for the January sales--spoke of Brunt's as a 'right-down good
shop.' And the husbands of these ladies, manufacturers who employed from
two hundred to a thousand men, regarded Ezra Brunt as a commercial
magnate of equal importance with themselves. Brunt, who had served his
apprenticeship at Birmingham, started business in Machin Street in 1862,
when Hanbridge was half its present size and all the best shops of the
district were in Oldcastle, an ancient burg contiguous with, but holding
itself proudly aloof from, the industrial Five Towns. He paid eighty
pounds a year rent, and lived over the shop, and in the summer quarter
his gas bill was always under a sovereign. For ten years success
tarried, but in 1872 his daughter Eva was born and his wife died, and
from that moment the sun of his prosperity climbed higher and higher
into heaven. He had been profoundly attached to his wife, and, having
lost her he abandoned himself to the mercantile struggle with that
morose and terrible ferocity which was the root of his character. Of
rude, gaunt aspect, gruffly taciturn by nature, and variable in temper,
he yet had the precious instinct for soothing customers. To this day he
can surpass his own shop-walkers in the admirable and tender solicitude
with which, forsaking dialect, he drops into a lady's ear his famous
stereotyped phrase: 'Are you receiving proper attention, madam?' From
the first he eschewed the facile trickeries and ostentations which
allure the populace. He sought a high-class trade, and by waiting he
found it. He would never advertise on hoardings; for many years he had
no signboard over his shop-front; and whereas the name of 'Bostocks,'
the huge cheap drapers lower down Machin Street, on the opposite side,
attacks you at every railway-station and in every tramcar, the name of
'E. Brunt' is to be seen only in a modest regular advertisement on the
front page of the _Staffordshire Signal_. Repose, reticence,
respectability--it was these attributes which he decided his shop should
possess, and by means of which he succeeded. To enter Brunt's, with its
silently swinging doors, its broad, easy staircases, its long floors
covered with warm, red linoleum, its partitioned walls, its smooth
mahogany counters, its unobtrusive mirrors, its rows of youths and
virgins in black, and its pervading atmosphere of quietude and
discretion, was like entering a temple before the act of oblation has
commenced. You were conscious of some supreme administrative influence
everywhere imposing itself. That influence was Ezra Brunt. And yet the
man differed utterly from the thing he had created. His was one of those
dark and passionate souls which smoulder in this harsh Midland district
as slag-heaps smoulder on the pit-banks, revealing their strange fires
only in the darkness.
In 1899 Brunt's establishment occupied four shops, Nos. 52, 56, 58, and
60, in Machin Street. He had bought the freeholds at a price which timid
people regarded as exorbitant, but the solicitors of Hanbridge secretly
applauded his enterprise and shrewdness in anticipating the enormous
rise in ground-values which has now been in rapid, steady progress there
for more than a decade. He had thrown the interiors together and rebuilt
the frontages in handsome freestone. He had also purchased several
shops opposite, and rumour said that it was his intention to offer these
latter to the Town Council at a low figure if the Council would cut a
new street leading from his premises to the Market Square. Such a scheme
would have met with general approval. But there was one serious hiatus
in the plans of Ezra Brunt--to wit, No. 54, Machin Street. No. 54,
separating 52 and 56, was a chemist's shop, shabby but sedate as to
appearance, owned and occupied by George Christopher Timmis, a mild and
venerable citizen, and a local preacher in the Wesleyan Methodist
Connexion. For nearly thirty years Brunt had coveted Mr. Timmis's shop;
more than twenty years have elapsed since he first opened negotiations
for it. Mr. Timmis was by no means eager to sell--indeed, his attitude
was distinctly a repellent one--but a bargain would undoubtedly have
been concluded had not a report reached the ears of Mr. Timmis to the
effect that Ezra Brunt had remarked at the Turk's Head that 'th' old
leech was only sticking out for every brass farthing he could get.' The
report was untrue, but Mr. Timmis believed it, and from that moment Ezra
Brunt's chances of obtaining the chemist's shop vanished completely.
His lawyer expended diplomacy in vain, raising the offer week by week
till the incredible sum of three thousand pounds was reached. Then Ezra
Brunt himself saw Mr. Timmis, and without a word of prelude said:
'Will ye take three thousand guineas for this bit o' property?'
'Not thirty thousand guineas,' said Mr. Timmis quietly; the stern pride
of the benevolent old local preacher had been aroused.
'Then be damned to you!' said Ezra Brunt, who had never been known to
Thenceforth a feud existed, not less bitter because it was a feud in
which nothing was said and nothing done--a silent and implacable mutual
resistance. The sole outward sign of it was the dirty and stumpy
brown-brick shop-front of Mr. Timmis, squeezed in between those massive
luxurious facades of stone which Ezra Brunt soon afterwards erected. The
pharmaceutical business of Mr. Timmis was not a very large one, and,
fiscally, Ezra Brunt could have swallowed him at a meal and suffered no
inconvenience; but in that the aged chemist had lived on just half his
small income for some fifty years past, his position was impregnable.
Hanbridge smiled cynically at this _impasse_ produced by an idle word,
and, recognising the equality of the antagonists, leaned neither to one
side nor to the other. At intervals, however, the legend of the feud was
embroidered with new and effective detail in the mouth of some inventive
gossip, and by degrees it took high place among those piquant social
histories which illustrate the real life of a town, and which parents
recount to their children with such zest in moods of reminiscence.
When George Christopher Timmis buried his wife, Ezra Brunt, as a near
neighbour, was asked to the funeral. 'The cortege will move at 1.30,'
ran the printed invitation, and at 1.15 Brunt's carriage was decorously
in place behind the hearse and the two mourning-coaches. The demeanour
of the chemist and the draper towards each other was a sublime answer to
the demands of the occasion; some people even said that the breach had
been healed, but these were not of the discerning.
The most active person at the funeral was the chemist's only nephew,
Clive Timmis, partner in a small but prosperous firm of majolica
manufacturers at Bursley. Clive, who was seldom seen in Hanbridge, made
a favourable impression on everyone by his pleasing, unaffected manner
and his air of discretion and success. He was a bachelor of thirty-two,
and lived in lodgings at Bursley. On the return of the funeral-party
from the cemetery, Clive Timmis found Brunt's daughter Eva in his
uncle's house. Uninvited, she had left her place in the private room at
her father's shop in order to assist Timmis's servant Sarah in the
preparation of that solid and solemn repast which must inevitably follow
every proper interment in the Five Towns. Without false modesty, she
introduced herself to one or two of the men who had surprised her at her
work, and then quietly departed just as they were sitting down to table
and Sarah had brought in the hot tea-cakes. Clive Timmis saw her only
for a moment, but from that moment she was his one thought. During the
evening, which he spent alone with his uncle, he behaved in every
particular as a nephew should, yet he was acting a part; his real self
roved after Ezra Brunt's daughter, wherever she might be. Clive had
never fallen in love, though several times in his life he had tried hard
to do so. He had long wished to marry--wished ardently; he had even got
into the way of regarding every woman he met--and he met many--in the
light of a possible partner. 'Can it be _she_? he had asked himself a
thousand times, and then answered half sadly, 'No.' Not one woman had
touched his imagination, coincided with his dream. It is strange that
after seeing Eva Brunt he forgot thus to interrogate himself. For a
fortnight, while he went his ways as usual, her image occupied his
heart, throwing that once orderly chamber into the wildest confusion;
and he let it remain, dimly aware of some delicious danger. He inspected
the image every night before he slept, and every morning when he awoke,
and made no effort to define its distracting charm; he knew only that
Eva Brunt was absolutely and in every detail unlike all other women. On
the second Sunday he murmured during the sermon: 'But I only saw her for
a minute.' A few days afterwards he took the tram to Hanbridge.
'Uncle,' he said, 'how should you like me to come and live here with
you? I've been thinking things out a bit, and I thought perhaps you'd
like it. I expect you must feel rather lonely now.'
The neat, fragrant shop was empty, and the two men stood behind the big
glass-fronted case of Burroughs and Wellcome's preparations. Clive's
venerable uncle happened to be looking into a drawer marked 'Gentianae
Rad. Pulv.' He closed the drawer with slow hesitation, and then,
stroking his long white beard, replied in that deliberate voice which
seemed always to tremble with religious fervour:
'The hand of the Lord is in this thing, Clive. I have wished that you
might come to live here with me. But I was afraid it would be too far
from the works.'
'Pooh! that's nothing,' said Clive.
As he lingered at the shop door for the Bursley car to pass the end of
Machin Street, Eva Brunt went by. He raised his hat with diffidence, and
she smiled. It was a marvellous chance. His heart leapt into a throb
which was half agony and half delight.
'I am in love,' he said gravely.
He had just discovered the fact, and the discovery filled him with
If he had waited till the age of thirty-two for that springtime of the
soul which we call love, Clive had not waited for nothing. Eva was a
woman to enravish the heart of a man whose imagination could pierce the
agitating secrets immured in that calm and silent bosom. Slender and
scarcely tall, she belonged to the order of spare, slight-made women,
who hide within their slim frames an endowment of profound passion far
exceeding that of their more voluptuously-formed sisters, who never
coarsen into stoutness, and who at forty are as disturbing as at twenty.
At this date Eva was twenty-six. She had a rather small, white face,
which was a mask to the casual observer, and the very mirror of her
feelings to anyone with eyes to read its signs.
'I tell you what you are like,' said Clive to her once: 'you are like a
fine racehorse, always on the quiver.'
Yet many people considered her cold and impassive. Her walk and bearing
showed a sensitive independence, and when she spoke it was usually in
tones of command. The girls in the shop, where she was a power second
only to Ezra Brunt, were a little afraid of her, chiefly because she
poured terrible scorn on their small affectations, jealousies, and
vendettas. But they liked her because, in their own phrase, 'there was
no nonsense about' this redoubtable woman. She hated shams and
make-believes with a bitter and ruthless hatred. She was the heiress to
at least five thousand a year, and knew it well, but she never
encouraged her father to complicate their simple mode of life with the
pomps of wealth. They lived in a house with a large garden at Pireford,
which is on the summit of the steep ridge between the Five Towns and
Oldcastle, and they kept two servants and a coachman, who was also
gardener. Eva paid the servants good wages, and took care to get good
'It's not often I have any bother with my servants,' she would say, 'for
they know that if there is any trouble I would just as soon clear them
out and put on an apron and do the work myself.'
She was an accomplished house-mistress, and could bake her own bread: in
towns not one woman in a thousand can bake. With the coachman she had
little to do, for she could not rid herself of a sentimental objection
to the carriage--it savoured of 'airs'; when she used it she used it as
she might use a tramcar. It was her custom, every day except Saturday,
to walk to the shop about eleven o'clock, after her house had been set
in order. She had been thoroughly trained in the business, and had spent
a year at a first-rate shop in High Street, Kensington. Millinery was
her speciality, and she still watched over that department with a
particular attention; but for some time past she had risen beyond the
limitations of departments, and assisted her father in the general
management of the vast concern. In commercial aptitude she resembled the
Although he was her father, Ezra Brunt had the wit to recognise her
talents, and he always listened to her suggestions, which, however,
sometimes startled him. One of them was that he should import into the
Five Towns a modiste from Paris, offering a salary of two hundred a
year. The old provincial stood aghast. He had the idea that all Parisian
women were stage-dancers. And to pay four pounds a week to a female!
Nevertheless, Mademoiselle Bertot--styled in the shop 'Madame'--now
presides over Ezra Brunt's dressmakers, draws her four pounds a week (of
which she saves two), and by mere nationality has given a unique
distinction and success to her branch of the business.
Eva occupied a small room opening off the principal showroom, and during
hours of work she issued thence but seldom. Only customers of the
highest importance might speak with her. She was a power felt rather
than seen. Employes who knocked at her door always did so with a certain
awe of what awaited them on the other side, and a consciousness that the
moment was unsuitable for levity. 'If you please, Miss Eva----'. Here
she gave audience to the 'buyers' and window-dressers, listened to
complaints and excuses, and occasionally had a secret orgy of afternoon
tea with one or two of her friends. None but these few girls--mostly
younger than herself, and remarkable only in that their dislike of the
snobbery of the Five Towns, though less fiercely displayed, agreed with
her own--really knew Eva. To them alone did she unveil herself, and by
them she was idolized.
'She is simply splendid when you know her--such a jolly girl!' they
would say to other people; but other people, especially other women,
could not believe it. They fearfully respected her because she was very
well dressed and had quantities of money. But they called her 'a curious
creature'; it was inconceivable to them that she should choose to work
in a shop; and her tongue had a causticity which was sometimes
exceedingly disconcerting and mortifying. As for men, she was shy of
them, and, moreover, she loathed the elaborate and insincere ritual of
deference which the average man practises towards women unrelated to
him, particularly when they are young and rich. Her father she adored,
without knowing it; for he often angered her, and humiliated her in
private. As for the rest, she was, after all, only six-and-twenty.
'If you don't mind, I should like to walk along with you,' Clive Timmis
said to her one Sunday evening in the porch of the Bethesda Chapel.
'I shall be glad,' she answered at once; 'father isn't here, and I'm all
Ezra Brunt was indeed seldom there, counting in the matter of
attendance at chapel among what were called 'the weaker brethren.'
'I am going over to Oldcastle,' Clive explained calmly.
So began the formal courtship--more than a month after Clive had settled
in Machin Street, for he was far too discreet to engender by
precipitancy any suspicion in the haunts of scandal that his true reason
for establishing himself in his uncle's household was a certain rich
young woman who was to be found every day next door. Guided as much by
instinct as by tact, Clive approached Eva with an almost savage
simplicity and naturalness of manner, ignoring not only her father's
wealth, but all the feigned punctilio of a wooer. His face said: 'Let
there be no beating about the bush--I like you.' Hers answered: 'Good!
we will see.'
From the first he pleased her, and not least in treating her exactly as
she would have wished to be treated--namely, as a quite plain person of
that part of the middle class which is neither upper nor lower. Few men
in the Five Towns would have been capable of forgetting Ezra Brunt's
income in talking to Ezra Brunt's daughter. Fortunately, Timmis had a
proud, confident spirit--the spirit of one who, unaided, has wrested
success from the world's deathlike clutch. Had Eva the reversion of
fifty thousand a year instead of five, he, Clive, was still a prosperous
plain man, well able to support a wife in the position to which God had
Their walks together grew more and more frequent, and they became
intimate, exchanging ideas and rejoicing openly at the similarity of
those ideas. Although there was no concealment in these encounters,
still, there was a circumspection which resembled the clandestine. By a
silent understanding Clive did not enter the house at Pireford; to have
done so would have excited remark, for this house, unlike some, had
never been the rendezvous of young men; much less, therefore, did he
invade the shop. No! The chief part of their love-making (for such it
was, though the term would have roused Eva's contemptuous anger)
occurred in the streets; in this they did but follow the traditions of
their class. Thus, the idyll, so matter-of-fact upon the surface, but
within which glowed secret and adorable fires, progressed towards its
culmination. Eva, the artless fool--oh, how simple are the wisest at
times!--thought that the affair was hid from the shop. But was it
possible? Was it possible that in those tiny bedrooms on the third
floor, where the heavy evening hours were ever lightened with breathless
interminable recitals of what some 'he' had said and some 'she' had
replied, such an enthralling episode should escape discovery? The
dormitories knew of Eva's 'attachment' before Eva herself. Yet none knew
how it was known. The whisper arose like Venus from a sea of trivial
gossip, miraculously, exquisitely. On the night when the first rumour of
it traversed the passages there was scarcely any sleep at Brunt's, while
Eva up at Pireford slumbered as a young girl.
On the Thursday afternoon with which we began, Brunt's was deserted save
for the housekeeper and Eva, who was writing letters in her room.
'I saw you from my window, coming up the street,' she said to Clive,
'and so I ran down to open the door. Will you come into father's room?
He is in Manchester for the day, buying.
'I knew that,' said Timmis.
'How did you know?' She observed that his manner was somewhat nervous
'You yourself told me last night--don't you remember?'
'So I did.'
'That's why I sent the note round this morning to say I'd call this
afternoon. You got it, I suppose?'
She nodded thoughtfully.
'Well, what is this business you want to talk about?'
It was spoken with a brave carelessness, but he caught the tremor in her
voice, and saw her little hand shake as it lay on the table amid her
father's papers. Without knowing why he should do so, he stepped hastily
forward and seized that hand. Her emotion unmanned him. He thought he
was going to cry; he could not account for himself.
'Eva,' he said thickly, 'you know what the business is; you know, don't
She smiled. That smile, the softness of her hand, the sparkle in her
eye, the heave of her small bosom ... it was the divinest miracle!
Clive, manufacturer of majolica, went hot and then cold, and then his
wits were suddenly his own again.
'That's all right,' he murmured, and sighed, and placed on Eva's lips
the first kiss that had ever lain there.
'Dear boy,' she said later, 'you should have come up to Pireford, not
here, and when father was there.'
'Should I?' he answered happily. 'It just occurred to me all of a sudden
this morning that you would be here, and that I couldn't wait.'
'You will come up to-night and see father?'
'I had meant to.'
'You had better go home now.'
She nodded, putting her lips tightly together--a trick of hers.
'Come up about half-past eight.'
'Good! I will let myself out.'
He left her, and she gazed dreamily at the window, which looked on to a
whitewashed yard. The next moment someone else entered the room with
heavy footsteps. She turned round a little startled.
It was her father.
'Why! You _are_ back early, father! How----' She stopped. Something in
the old man's glance gave her a premonition of disaster. To this day she
does not know what accident brought him from Manchester two hours sooner
than usual, and to Machin Street instead of Pireford.
'Has young Timmis been here?' he inquired curtly.
'Ha!' with subdued, sinister satisfaction, 'I saw him going out. He
didna see me.' Ezra Brunt deposited his hat and sat down.
Intimate with all her father's various moods, she saw instantly and with
terrible certainty that a series of chances had fatally combined
themselves against her. If only she had not happened to tell Clive that
her father would be at Manchester this day! If only her father had
adhered to his customary hour of return! If only Clive had had the sense
to make his proposal openly at Pireford some evening! If only he had
left a little earlier! If only her father had not caught him going out
by the side-door on a Thursday afternoon when the place was empty!
Here, she guessed, was the suggestion of furtiveness which had raised
her father's unreasoning anger, often fierce, and always incalculable.
'Clive Timmis has asked me to marry him, father.'
'Surely you must have known, father, that he and I were seeing each
other a great deal.'
'Not from your lips, my girl.'
'Well, father----' Again she stopped, this strong and capable woman,
gifted with a fine brain to organize and a powerful will to command. She
quailed, robbed of speech, before the causeless, vindictive, and
infantile wrath of an old man who happened to be in a bad temper. She
actually felt like a naughty schoolgirl before him. Such is the
tremendous influence of lifelong habit, the irresistible power of the
_patria potestas_ when it has never been relaxed. Ezra Brunt saw in
front of him only a cowering child. 'Clive is coming up to see you
to-night,' she went on timidly, clearing her throat.
'Humph! Is he?'
The rosy and tender dream of five minutes ago lay in fragments at Eva's
feet. She brooded with stricken apprehension upon the forms of
obstruction which his despotism might choose.
* * * * *
The next morning Clive and his uncle breakfasted together as usual in
the parlour behind, the chemist's shop.
'Uncle,' said Clive brusquely, when the meal was nearly finished, 'I'd
better tell you that I've proposed to Eva Brunt.'
Old George Timmis lowered the _Manchester Guardian_ and gazed at Clive
over his steel-rimmed spectacles.
'She is a good girl,' he remarked; 'she will make you a good wife. Have
you spoken to her father?'
'That's the point. I saw him last night, and I'll tell you what he said.
These were his words: "You can marry my daughter, Mr. Timmis, when your
uncle agrees to part with his shop!"'
'That I shall never do, nephew,' said the aged patriarch quietly and
'Of course you won't, uncle. I shouldn't think of suggesting it. I'm
merely telling you what he said.' Clive laughed harshly. 'Why,' he
added, 'the man must be mad!'
'What did the young woman say to that?' his uncle inquired.
'I didn't see her last night,' he said. 'I didn't ask to see her. I was
Just then the post arrived, and there was a letter for Clive, which he
read and put carefully in his waistcoat pocket.
'Eva writes asking me to go to Pireford to-night,' he said, after a
pause. 'I'll soon settle it, depend on that. If Ezra Brunt refuses his
consent, so much the worse for him. I wonder whether he actually
imagines that a grown man and a grown woman are to be.... Ah well, I
can't talk about it! It's too silly. I'll be off to the works.'
When Clive reached Pireford that night, Eva herself opened the door to
him. She was wearing a gray frock, and over it a large white apron,
'My girls are both out to-night,' she said, 'and I was making some puffs
for the sewing-meeting tea. Come into the breakfast-room.... This way,'
she added, guiding him. He had entered the house on the previous night
for the first time. She spoke hurriedly, and, instead of stopping in
the breakfast-room, wandered uncertainly through it into the greenhouse,
to which it gave access by means of a French window. In the dark,
confined space, amid the close-packed blossoms, they stood together. She
bent down to smell at a musk-plant. He took her hand and drew her soft
and yielding form towards him and kissed her warm face.
'Oh, Clive!' she said. 'Whatever are we to do?'
'Do?' he replied, enchanted by her instinctive feminine surrender and
reliance upon him, which seemed the more precious in that creature so
proud and reserved to all others. 'Do! Where is your father?'
'Reading the _Signal_ in the dining-room.'
Every business man in the Five Towns reads the _Staffordshire Signal_
from beginning to end every night.
'I will see him. Of course he is your father; but I will just tell
him--as decently as I can--that neither you nor I will stand this
'You mustn't--you mustn't see him.'
'It will only lead to unpleasantness.'
'That can't be helped.'
'He never, never changes when once he has _said_ a thing. I know him.'
Clive was arrested by something in her tone, something new to him, that
in its poignant finality seemed to have caught up and expressed in a
single instant that bitterness of a lifetime's renunciation which falls
to the lot of most women.
'Will you come outside?' he asked in a different voice.
Without replying, she led the way down the long garden, which ended in
an ivy-grown brick wall and a panorama of the immense valley of
industries below. It was a warm, cloudy evening. The last silver tinge
of an August twilight lay on the shoulder of the hill to the left. There
was no moon, but the splendid watch-fires of labour flamed from ore-heap
and furnace across the whole expanse, performing their nightly miracle
of beauty. Trains crept with noiseless mystery along the middle
distance, under their canopies of yellow steam. Further off the
far-extending streets of Hanbridge made a map of starry lines on the
blackness. To the south-east stared the cold, blue electric lights of
Knype railway-station. All was silent, save for a distant thunderous
roar, the giant breathing of the forge at Cauldon Bar Ironworks.
Eva leaned both elbows on the wall and looked forth.
'Do you mean to say,' said Clive, 'that Mr. Brunt will actually stick by
what he has said?'
'Like grim death,' said Eva.
'But what's his idea?'
'Oh! how can I tell you?' she burst out passionately.
'Perhaps I did wrong. Perhaps I ought to have warned him earlier--said
to him, "Father, Clive Timmis is courting me!" Ugh! He cannot bear to be
surprised about anything. But yet he must have known.... It was all an
accident, Clive--all an accident. He saw you leaving the shop yesterday.
He would say he _caught_ you leaving the shop--_sneaking_ off like----'
'I know--I know! Don't tell me! But it was that, I am sure. He would
resent the mere look of things, and then he would think and think, and
the notion of your uncle's shop would occur to him again, after all
these years. I can see his thoughts as plain ... My dear, if he had not
seen you at Machin Street yesterday, or if you had seen him and spoken
to him, all might have gone right. He would have objected, but he would
have given way in a day or two. Now he will never give way! I asked you
just now what was to be done, but I knew all the time that there was
'There is one thing to be done, Eva, and the sooner the better.'
'Do you mean that old Mr. Timmis must give up his shop to my father?
'I mean,' said Clive quietly, 'that we must marry without your father's
She shook her head slowly and sadly, relapsing into calmness.
'You shake your head, Eva, but it must be so.'
'I can't, my dear.'
'Do you mean to say that you will allow your father's childish whim--for
it's nothing else; he can't find any objection to me as a husband for
you, and he knows it--that you will allow his childish whim to spoil
your life and mine? Remember, you are twenty-six and I am thirty-two.'
'I can't do it! I daren't! I'm mad with myself for feeling like this,
but I daren't! And even if I dared I wouldn't. Clive, you don't know!
You can't tell how it is!'
Her sorrowful, pathetic firmness daunted him. She was now composed,
mistress again of herself, and her moral force dominated him.
'Then, you and I are to be unhappy all our lives, Eva?'
The soft influences of the night seemed to direct her voice as, after a
long pause, she uttered the words: 'No one is ever quite unhappy in all
this world.' There was another pause, as she gazed steadily down into
the wonderful valley. 'We must wait.'
'Wait!' echoed Clive with angry grimness. 'He will live for twenty
'No one is ever quite unhappy in all this world,' she repeated dreamily,
as one might turn over a treasure in order to examine it.
Now for the epilogue to the feud. Two years passed, and it happened
that there was to be a Revival at the Bethesda Chapel. One morning the
superintendent minister and the revivalist called on Ezra Brunt at his
shop. When informed of their presence, the great draper had an impulse
of anger, for, like many stouter chapel-goers than himself, he would
scarcely tolerate the intrusion of religion into commerce. However, the
visit had an air of ceremony, and he could not decline to see these
ambassadors of heaven in his private room. The revivalist, a cheery,
shrewd man, whose powers of organization were obvious, and who seemed to
put organization before everything else, pleased Ezra Brunt at once.
'We want a specially good congregation at the opening meeting to-night,'
said the revivalist. 'Now, the basis of a good congregation must
necessarily be the regular pillars of the church, and therefore we are
making a few calls this morning to insure the presence of our chief
men--the men of influence and position. You will come, Mr. Brunt, and
you will let it be known among your employes that they will please you
by coming too?'
Ezra Brunt was by no means a regular pillar of the Bethesda, but he had
a vague sensation of flattery, and he consented; indeed, there was no
The first hymn was being sung when he reached the chapel. To his
surprise, he found the place crowded in every part. A man whom he did
not know led him to a wooden form which had been put in the space
between the front pews and the Communion-rail. He felt strange there,
and uneasy, apprehensive.
The usual discreet somnolence of the chapel had been disturbed as by
some indecorous but formidable awakener; the air was electric; anything
might occur. Ezra was astounded by the mere volume of the singing; never
had he heard such singing. At the end of the hymn the congregation sat
down, hiding their faces in expectation. The revivalist stood erect and
terrible in the pulpit, no longer a shrewd, cheery man of the world, but
the very mouthpiece of the wrath and mercy of God. Ezra's
self-importance dwindled before that gaze, till, from a renowned magnate
of the Five Towns, he became an item in the multitude of suppliants. He
profoundly wished he had never come.
'Remember the hymn,' said the revivalist, with austere emphasis:
'"My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride."'
The admirable histrionic art with which he intensified the consonants in
the last line produced a tremendous effect. Not for nothing was this man
cerebrated throughout Methodism as a saver of souls. When, after a
pause, he raised his hand and ejaculated, 'Let us pray,' sobs could be
heard throughout the chapel. The Revival had begun.
At the end of a quarter of an hour Ezra Brunt would have given fifty
pounds to be outside, but he could not stir; he was magnetized. Soon the
revivalist came down from the pulpit and stood within the
Communion-rail, whence he addressed the nearmost part of the people in
low, soothing tones of persuasion. Apparently he ignored Ezra Brunt, but
the man was convicted of sin, and felt himself melting like an icicle in
front of a fire. He recalled the days of his youth, the piety of his
father and mother, and the long traditions of a stern Dissenting
family. He had backslidden, slackened in the use of the means of grace,
run after the things of this world. It is true that none of his chiefest
iniquities presented themselves to him; he was quite unconscious of them
even then; but the lesser ones were more than sufficient to overwhelm
him. Class-leaders were now reasoning with stricken sinners, and Ezra,
who could not take his eyes off the revivalist, heard the footsteps of
those who were going to the 'inquiry-room' for more private counsel. In
vain he argued that he was about to be ridiculous; that the idea of him,
Ezra Brunt, a professed Wesleyan for half a century, being publicly
'saved' at the age of fifty-seven was not to be entertained; that the
town would talk; that his business might suffer if for any reason he
should be morally bound to apply to it too strictly the principles of
the New Testament. He was under the spell. The tears coursed down his
long cheeks, and he forgot to care, but sat entranced by the
revivalist's marvellous voice. Suddenly, with an awful sob, he bent and
hid his face in his hands. The spectacle of the old, proud man helpless
in the grasp of profound emotion was a sight to rend the heart-strings.
'Brother, be of good cheer,' said a tremulous and benign voice above
him. 'The love of God compasseth all things. Only believe.'
He looked up and saw the venerable face and long white beard of George
Ezra Brunt shrank away, embittered and ashamed.
'I cannot,' he murmured with difficulty.
'The love of God is all-powerful.'
'Will it make you part with that bit o' property, think you?' said Ezra
Brunt, with a kind of despairing ferocity.
'Brother,' replied the aged servant of God, unmoved, 'if my shop is in
truth a stumbling-block in this solemn hour, you shall have it.'
Ezra Brunt was staggered.
'I believe! I believe!' he cried.
'Praise God!' said the chemist, with majestic joy.
* * * * *
Three months afterwards Eva Brunt and Clive Timmis were married. It is
characteristic of the fine sentimentality which underlies the surface
harshness of the inhabitants of the Five Towns that, though No. 54
Machin Street was duly transferred to Ezra Brunt, the chemist retiring
from business, he has never rebuilt it to accord with the rest of his
premises. In all its shabbiness it stands between the other big dazzling
shops as a reminding monument.
* * * * *
The heart of the Five Towns--that undulating patch of England covered
with mean streets, and dominated by tall smoking chimneys, whence are
derived your cups and saucers and plates, some of your coal, and a
portion of your iron--is Hanbridge, a borough larger and busier than its
four sisters, and even more grimy and commonplace than they. And the
heart of Hanbridge is probably the offices of the Five Towns Banking
Company, where the last trace of magic and romance is beaten out of
human existence, and the meaning of life is expressed in balances,
deposits, percentages, and overdrafts--especially overdrafts. In a fine
suite of rooms on the first floor of the bank building resides Mr.
Lionel Woolley, the manager, with his wife May and their children. Mrs.
Woolley is compelled to change her white window-curtains once a week
because of the smuts. Mr. Woolley, forty-five, rather bald, frigidly
suave, positive, egotistic, and pontifical, is a specimen of the man of
business who is nothing else but a man of business. His career has been
a calculation from which sentiment is entirely omitted; he has no
instinct for the things which cannot be defined and assessed. Scarcely a
manufacturer in Hanbridge but who inimically and fearfully regards Mr.
Woolley as an amazing instance of a creature without a soul; and the
absence of soul in a fellow-man must be very marked indeed before a
Hanbridge manufacturer notices it. There are some sixty thousand
immortal souls in Hanbridge, but they seldom attract attention.
Yet Mr. Woolley was once brought into contact with the things which
cannot be defined and assessed; once he stood face to face with some
strange visible resultant of those secret forces that lie beyond the
human ken. And, moreover, the adventure affected the whole of his
domestic life. The wonder and the pathos of the story lie in the fact
that Nature, prodigal though she is known to be, should have wasted the
rare and beautiful visitation on just Mr. Woolley. Mr. Woolley was
bathed in romance of the most singular kind, and the precious fluid ran
off him like water off a duck's back.
Ten years ago on a Thursday afternoon in July, Lionel Woolley, as he
walked up through the new park at Bursley to his celibate rooms in Park
Terrace, was making addition sums out of various items connected with
the institution of marriage. Bursley is next door to Hanbridge, and
Lionel happened then to be cashier of the Bursley branch of the bank. He
had in mind two possible wives, each of whom possessed advantages which
appealed to him, and he was unable to decide between them by any
mathematical process. Suddenly, from a glazed shelter near the empty
bandstand, there emerged in front of him one of the delectable creatures
who had excited his fancy. May Lawton was twenty-eight, an orphan, and a
schoolmistress. She, too, had celibate rooms in Park Terrace, and it
was owing to this coincidence that Lionel had made her acquaintance six
months previously. She was not pretty, but she was tall, straight, well
dressed, well educated, and not lacking in experience; and she had a
little money of her own.
'Well, Mr. Woolley,' she said easily, stopping for him as she raised her
sunshade, 'how satisfied you look!'
'It's the sight of you,' he replied, without a moment's hesitation.
He had a fine assured way with women (he need not have envied a curate
accustomed to sewing meetings), and May Lawton belonged to the type of
girl whose demeanour always challenges the masculine in a man. Gazing at
her, Lionel was swiftly conscious of several things: the piquancy of her
snub nose, the brightness of her smile, at once defiant and wistful, the
lingering softness of her gloved hand, and the extraordinary charm of
her sunshade, which matched her dress and formed a sort of canopy and
frame for that intelligent, tantalizing face. He remembered that of late
he and she had grown very intimate; and it came upon him with a shock,
as though he had just opened a telegram which said so, that May, and not
the other girl, was his destined mate. And he thought of her fortune,
tiny but nevertheless useful, and how clever she was, and how
inexplicably different from the rest of her sex, and how she would adorn
his house, and set him off, and help him in his career. He heard himself
saying negligently to friends: 'My wife speaks French like a native. Of
course, my wife has travelled a great deal. My wife has thoroughly
studied the management of children. Now, my wife does understand the art
of dress. I put my wife's bit of money into so-and-so.' In short, Lionel
was as near being in love as his character permitted.
And while he walked by May's side past the bowling-greens at the summit
of the hill, she lightly quizzing the raw newness of the park and its
appurtenances, he wondered, he honestly wondered, that he could ever
have hesitated between May Lawton and the other. Her superiority was too
obvious; she was a woman of the world! She.... In a flash he knew that
he would propose to her that very afternoon. And when he had suggested
a stroll towards Moorthorne, and she had deliciously agreed, he was
conscious of a tumultuous uplifting and splendid carelessness of
spirits. 'Imagine me bringing it to a climax to-day,' he reflected,
profoundly pleased with himself. 'Ah well, it will be settled once for
all!' He admired his own decision; he was quite struck by it. 'I shall
call her May before I leave her,' he thought, gazing at her, and
discovering how well the name suited her, with its significances of
alertness, geniality, and half-mocking coyness.
'So school is closed,' he said, and added humorously: '"Broken up" is
the technical term, I believe.'
'Yes,' she answered, 'and I had walked out into the park to meditate
seriously upon the question of my holiday.'
She caught his eye in a net of bright glances, and romance was in the
air. They had crossed a couple of smoke-soiled fields, and struck into
the old Hanbridge road just below the abandoned toll-house with its
'And whither do your meditations point?' he demanded playfully.
'My meditations point to Switzerland,' she said. 'I have friends in
The reference to foreign climes impressed him.
'Would that I could go to Switzerland too!' he exclaimed; and privately:
'Now for it! I'm about to begin.'
'Why?' she questioned, with elaborate simplicity.
At the moment, as they were passing the toll-house, the other girl
appeared surprisingly from round the corner of the toll-house, where the
lane from Toft End joins the highroad. This second creature was smaller
than Miss Lawton, less assertive, less intelligent, perhaps, but much
Everyone halted and everyone blushed.
'May!' the interrupter at length stammered.
'May!' responded Miss Lawton lamely.
The other girl was named May too--May Deane, child of the well-known
majolica manufacturer, who lived with his sons and daughter in a
solitary and ancient house at Toft End.
Lionel Woolley said nothing until they had all shaken hands--his famous
way with women seemed to have deserted him--and then he actually stated
that he had forgotten an appointment, and must depart. He had gone
before the girls could move.
When they were alone, the two Mays fronted each other, confused,
hostile, almost homicidal.
'I hope I didn't spoil a _tete-a-tete_,' said May Deane, stiffly and
sharply, in a manner quite foreign to her soft and yielding nature.
The schoolmistress, abandoning herself to an inexplicable but
overwhelming impulse, took breath for a proud lie.
'No,' she answered; 'but if you had come three minutes earlier----'
She smiled calmly.
'Oh!' murmured May Deane, after a pause.
That evening May Deane returned home at half-past nine. She had been
with her two brothers to a lawn-tennis party at Hillport, and she told
her father, who was reading the _Staffordshire Signal_ in his accustomed
solitude, that the boys were staying later for cards, but that she had
declined to stay because she felt tired. She kissed the old widower
good-night, and said that she should go to bed at once. But before
retiring she visited the housekeeper in the kitchen in order to discuss
certain household matters: Jim's early breakfast, the proper method of
washing Herbert's new flannels (Herbert would be very angry if they were
shrunk), and the dog-biscuits for Carlo. These questions settled, she
went to her room, drew the blind, lighted some candles, and sat down
near the window.
She was twenty-two, and she had about her that strange and charming
nunlike mystery which often comes to a woman who lives alone and
unguessed-at among male relatives. Her room was her bower. No one, save
the servants and herself, ever entered it. Mr. Deane and Jim and Bertie
might glance carelessly through the open door in passing along the
corridor, but had they chanced in idle curiosity to enter, the room
would have struck them as unfamiliar, and they might perhaps have
exclaimed with momentary interest, 'So this is May's room!' And some
hint that May was more than a daughter and sister--a woman, withdrawn,
secret, disturbing, living her own inner life side by side with the
household life--might have penetrated their obtuse paternal and
fraternal masculinity. Her beautiful face (the nose and mouth were
perfect, and at either extremity of the upper lip grew a soft down), her
dark hair, her quiet voice and her gentle acquiescence (diversified by
occasional outbursts of sarcasm), appealed to them and won them; but
they accepted her as something of course, as something which went
without saying. They adored her, and did not know that they adored her.
May took off her hat, stuck the pins into it again, and threw it on the
bed, whose white and green counterpane hung down nearly to the floor on
either side. Then she lay back in the chair, and, pulling away the
blind, glanced through the window; the moon, rather dim behind the
furnace lights of Red Cow Ironworks, was rising over Moorthorne. May
dropped the blind with a wearied gesture, and turned within the room,
examining its contents as if she had not seen them before: the wardrobe,
the chest of drawers, which was also a dressing-table, the washstand,
the dwarf book-case with its store of Edna Lyalls, Elizabeth Gaskells,
Thackerays, Charlotte Yonges, Charlotte Brontes, a Thomas Hardy or so,
and some old school-books. She looked at the pictures, including a
sampler worked by a deceased aunt, at the loud-ticking Swiss clock on
the mantelpiece, at the higgledy-piggledy photographs there, at the new
Axminster carpet, the piece of linoleum in front of the washstand, and
the bad joining of the wallpaper to the left of the door. She missed
none of the details which she knew so well, with such long monotonous
intimacy, and sighed.
Then she got up from the chair, and, opening a small drawer in the chest
of drawers, put her hand familiarly to the back and drew forth a
photograph. She carried the photograph to the light of the candles on
the mantelpiece, and gazed at it attentively, puckering her brows. It
was a portrait of Lionel Woolley. Heaven knows by what subterfuge or
lucky accident she had obtained it, for Lionel certainly had not given
it to her. She loved Lionel. She had loved him for five years, with a
love silent, blind, intense, irrational, and too elemental to be
concealed. Everyone knew of May's passion. Many women admired her taste;
a few were shocked and puzzled by it. All the men of her acquaintance
either pitied or despised her for it. Her father said nothing. Her
brothers were less cautious, and summed up their opinion of Lionel in
the curt, scornful assertion that he showed a tendency to cheat at
tennis. But May would never hear ill of him; he was a god to her, and
she could not hide her worship. For more than a year, until lately, she
had been almost sure of him, and then came a faint vague rumour
concerning Lionel and May Lawton, a rumour which she had refused to take
seriously. The encounter of that afternoon, and Miss Lawton's triumphant
remark, had dazed her. For seven hours she had existed in a kind of
semi-conscious delirium, in which she could perceive nothing but the
fatal fact, emerging more clearly every moment from the welter of her
thoughts, that she had lost Lionel. Lionel had proposed to May Lawton,
and been accepted, just before she surprised them together; and Lionel,
with a man's excusable cowardice, had left his betrothed to announce
She tore up the photograph, put the fragments in the grate, and set a
light to them.
Her father's step sounded on the stairs; he hesitated, and knocked
sharply at her door.
'What's burning, May?'
'It's all right, father,' she answered calmly, 'I'm only burning some
papers in the fire-grate.'
'Well, see you don't burn the house down.'
He passed on.
Then she found a sheet of notepaper, and wrote on it in pencil, using
the mantelpiece for a desk: 'Dear home. Good-night, good-bye.' She
cogitated, and wrote further: 'Forgive me.--MAY.'
She put the message in an envelope, and wrote on the envelope 'Jim,' and
placed it prominently in front of the clock. But after she had looked at
it for a minute, she wrote 'Father' above Jim, and then 'Herbert' below.
There were noises in the hall; the boys had returned earlier than she
expected. As they went along the corridor and caught a glimpse of her
light under the door, Jim cried gaily: 'Now then, out with that light! A
little thing like you ought to be asleep hours since.'
She listened for the bang of their door, and then, very hurriedly, she
removed her pink frock and put on an old black one, which was rather
tight in the waist. And she donned her hat, securing it carefully with
both pins, extinguished the candles, and crept quietly downstairs, and
so by the back-door into the garden. Carlo, the retriever, came halfway
out of his kennel and greeted her in the moonlight with a yawn. She
patted his head and ran stealthily up the garden, through the gate, and
up the waste green land towards the crown of the hill.
The top of Toft End is the highest land in the Five Towns, and from it
may be clearly seen all the lurid evidences of manufacture which sweep
across the borders of the sky on north, east, west, and south.
North-eastwards lie the moorlands, and far off Manifold, the 'metropolis
of the moorlands,' as it is called. On this night the furnaces of Red
Cow Ironworks, in the hollow to the east, were in full blast; their
fluctuating yellow light illuminated queerly the grass of the fields
above Deane's house, and the regular roar of their breathing reached
that solitary spot like the distant rumour of some leviathan beast
angrily fuming. Further away to the south-west the Cauldon Bar Ironworks
reproduced the same phenomena, and round the whole horizon, near and
far, except to the north-east, the lesser fires of labour leapt and
flickered and glinted in their mists of smoke, burning ceaselessly, as
they burned every night and every day at all seasons of all years. The
town of Bursley slept in the deep valley to the west, and vast Hanbridge
in the shallower depression to the south, like two sleepers accustomed
to rest quietly amid great disturbances; the beacons of their Town Halls
and churches kept watch, and the whole scene was dominated by the
placidity of the moon, which had now risen clear of the Red Cow furnace
clouds, and was passing upwards through tracts of stars.
Into this scene, climbing up from the direction of Manifold, came Lionel
Woolley, nearly at midnight, having walked some eighteen miles in a
vain effort to re-establish his self-satisfaction by a process of
reasoning and ingenious excuses. Lionel felt that in the brief episode
of the afternoon he had scarcely behaved with dignity. In other words,
he was fully and painfully aware that he must have looked a fool, a
coward, an ass, a contemptible and pitiful person, in the eyes of at
least one girl, if not of two. He did not like this--no man would have
liked it; and to Lionel the memory of an undignified act was acute
torture. Why had he bidden the girls adieu and departed? Why had he, in
fact, run away? What precisely would May Lawton think of him? How could
he explain his conduct to her--and to himself? And had that worshipping,
affectionate thing, May Deane, taken note of his confusion--of the
confusion of him who was never confused, who was equal to every occasion
and every emergency? These were some of the questions which harried him
and declined to be settled. He had walked to Manifold, and had tea at
the Roebuck, and walked back, and still the questions were harrying; and
as he came over the hill by the field-path, and descried the lone house
of the Deanes in the light of the Red Cow furnaces and of the moon, the
worship of May Deane seemed suddenly very precious to him, and he could
not bear to think that any stupidity of his should have impaired it.
Then he saw May Deane walking slowly across the field, close to an
abandoned pit-shaft, whose low protecting circular wall of brick was
crumbling to ruin on the side nearest to him.
She stopped, appeared to gaze at him intently, turned, and began to
approach him. And he too, moved by a mysterious impulse which he did not
pause to examine, swerved, and quickened his step in order to lessen the
distance between them. He did not at first even feel surprise that she
should be wandering solitary on the hill at that hour. Presently she
stood still, while he continued to move forward. It was as if she drew
him; and soon, in the pale moonlight and the wavering light of the
furnaces, he could decipher all the details of her face, and he saw that
she was smiling fondly, invitingly, admiringly, lustrously, with the old
undiminished worship and affection. And he perceived a dark
discoloration on her right cheek, as though she had suffered a blow,
but this mark did not long occupy his mind. He thought suddenly of the
strong probability that her father would leave a nice little bit of
money to each of his three children; and he thought of her beauty, and
of her timid fragility in the tight black dress, and of her immense and
unquestioning love for him, which would survive all accidents and
mishaps. He seemed to sink luxuriously into this grand passion of hers
(which he deemed quite natural and proper) as into a soft feather-bed.
To live secure in an atmosphere of exhaustless worship; to keep a fount
of balm and admiration for ever in the house, a bubbling spring of
passionate appreciation which would be continually available for the
refreshment of his self-esteem! To be always sure of an obedience blind
and willing, a subservience which no tyranny and no harshness and no
whim would rouse into revolt; to sit on a throne with so much beauty
kneeling at his feet!
And the possession of her beauty would be a source of legitimate pride
to him. People would often refer to the beautiful Mrs. Woolley.
He felt that in sending May Deane to interrupt his highly emotional
conversation with May Lawton Providence had watched over him and done
him a good turn. May Lawton had advantages, and striking advantages, but
he could not be sure of her. The suspicion that if she married him she
would marry him for her own ends caused him a secret disquiet, and he
feared that one day, perhaps one morning at breakfast, she might take it
into her intelligent head to mock him, to exercise upon him her gift of
irony, and to intimate to him that if he fancied she was his slave he
was deceived. That she sincerely admired him he never for an instant
And, moreover, the unfortunate episode of the afternoon might have
cooled her ardour to freezing-point.
He stood now in front of his worshipper, and the notion crossed his mind
that in after-years he could say to his friends: 'I proposed to my wife
at midnight under the moon. Not many men have done that.'
'Good-evening,' he ventured to the girl; and he added with bravado:
'We've met before to-day, haven't we?'
She made no reply, but her smile was more affectionate, more inviting,
'I'm glad of this opportunity--very glad,' he proceeded. 'I've been
wanting to ... You must know, my dear girl, how I feel....'
She gave a gesture, charming in its sweet humility, as if to say: 'Who
am I that I should dare----'
And then he proposed to her, asked her to share his life, and all that
sort of thing; and when he had finished he thought, 'It's done now,
Strange to relate, she offered no immediate reply, but she bent a little
towards him with shining, happy eyes. He had an impulse to seize her in
his arms and kiss her, but prudence suggested that he should defer the
rite. She turned and began to walk slowly and meditatively towards the
pit-shaft. He followed almost at her side, but a foot or so behind,
waiting for her to speak. And as he waited, expectant, he looked at her
profile and reflected how well the name May suited her, with its
significances of shyness and dreamy hope, and hidden fire and the
modesty of spring.
And while he was thus savouring her face, and they were still ten yards
from the pit-shaft, she suddenly disappeared from his vision, as it were
by a conjuring trick. He had a horrible sensation in his spinal column.
He was not the man to mistrust the evidence of his senses, and he knew,
therefore, that he had been proposing to a phantom.
The next morning--early, because of Jim's early breakfast--when May
Deane's disappearance became known to the members of the household, Jim
had the idea of utilizing Carlo in the search for her. The retriever
went straight, without a fault, to the pit-shaft, and May was discovered
alive and unscathed, save for a contusion of the face and a sprain in
Her suicidal plunge had been arrested, at only a few feet from the top
of the shaft, by a cross-stay of timber, upon which she lay prone. There
was no reason why the affair should be made public, and it was not. It
was suppressed into one of those secrets which embed themselves in the
history of families, and after two or three generations blossom into
romantic legends full of appropriate circumstantial detail.
Lionel Woolley spent a woeful night at his rooms. He did not know what
to do, and on the following day May Lawton encountered him again, and
proved by her demeanour that the episode of the previous afternoon had
caused no estrangement. Lionel vacillated. The sway of the
schoolmistress was almost restored, and it would have been restored
fully had he not been preoccupied by a feverish curiosity--the curiosity
to know whether or not May Deane was dead. He felt that she must indeed
be dead, and he lived through the day expectant of the news of her
sudden decease. Towards night his state of mind was such that he was
obliged to call at the Deanes'. May heard him, and insisted on seeing
him; more, she insisted on seeing him alone in the breakfast-room, where
she reclined, interestingly white, on the sofa. Her father and brothers
objected strongly to the interview, but they yielded, afraid that a
refusal might induce hysteria and worse things.
And when Lionel Woolley came into the room, May, steeped in felicity,
related to him the story of her impulsive crime.
'I was so happy,' she said, 'when I knew that Miss Lawton had deceived
me.' And before he could inquire what she meant, she continued rapidly:
'I must have been unconscious, but I felt you were there, and something
of me went out towards you. And oh! the answer to your question--I heard
your question; the real _me_ heard it, but that _something_ could not
'You asked a question, didn't you?' she faltered, sitting up.
He hesitated, and then surrendered himself to her immense love and sank
into it, and forgot May Lawton.
'Yes,' he said.
'The answer is yes. Oh, you must have known the answer would be yes! You
did know, didn't you?'
He nodded grandly.
She sighed with delicious and overwhelming joy.
In the ecstasy of the achievement of her desire the girl gave little
thought to the psychic aspect of the possibly unique wooing.
As for Lionel, he refused to dwell on it even in thought. And so that
strange, magic, yearning effluence of a soul into a visible projection
and shape was ignored, slurred over, and, after ten years of domesticity
in the bank premises, is gradually being forgotten.
He is a man of business, and she, with her fading beauty, her ardent,
continuous worship of the idol, her half-dozen small children, the
eldest of whom is only eight, and the white window-curtains to change
every week because of the smuts--do you suppose she has time or
inclination to ponder upon the theory of the subliminal consciousness
and kindred mysteries?
* * * * *
It was the dinner-hour, and a group of ragged and clay-soiled apprentice
boys were making a great noise in the yard of Henry Mynors and Co.'s
small, compact earthenware manufactory up at Toft End. Toft End caps the
ridge to the east of Bursley; and Bursley, which has been the home of
the potter for ten centuries, is the most ancient of the Five Towns in
Staffordshire. The boys, dressed for the most part in shirt, trousers,
and boots, all equally ragged and insecure, were playing at prison-bars.
Soon the game ended abruptly in a clamorous dispute upon a point of law,
and it was not recommenced. The dispute dying a natural death, the
tireless energies of the boys needed a fresh outlet. Inspired by a
common instinct, they began at once to bait one of their number, a
slight youngster of twelve years, much better clothed than the rest, who
had adventurously strolled in from a neighbouring manufactory. This
child answered their jibes in an amiable, silly, drawling tone which
seemed to justify the epithet 'Loony,' frequently applied to him. Now
and then he stammered; and then companions laughed loud, and he with
them. It was known that several years ago he had fallen down a flight of
stone steps, alighting on the back of his head, and that ever since he
had been deaf of one ear and under some trifling mental derangement. His
sublime calmness under their jests baffled them until the terrible
figure of Mr. Machin, the engine-man, standing at the door of the
slip-house, caught their attention and suggested a plan full of joyous
possibilities. They gathered round the lad, and, talking in subdued
murmurs, unanimously urged him with many persuasions to a certain course
of action. He declined the scheme, and declined again. Suddenly a boy
'Thee dars' na'!'
'I dare,' was the drawled, smiling answer.
'I tell thee thee dars' na'!'
'I tell thee I dare.' And thereupon he slowly but resolutely set out
for the slip-house door and Mr. Machin.
Eli Machin was beyond doubt the most considerable employe on Clarke's
'bank' (manufactory). Even Henry Clarke approached him with a
subtly-indicated deference, and whenever Silas Emery, the immensely rich
and miserly sleeping partner in the firm, came up to visit the works,
these two old men chatted as old friends. In a modern earthenware
manufactory the engine-room is the source of all activity, for, owing to
the inventive genius of a famous and venerable son of the Five Towns,
steam now presides at nearly every stage in the long process of turning
earth into ware. It moves the pug-mill, the jollies, and the marvellous
batting machines, dries the unfired clay, heats the printers' stoves,
and warms the offices where the 'jacket-men' dwell. Coal is a tremendous
item in the cost of production, and a competent, economical engine-man
can be sure of good wages and a choice of berths; he is desired like a
good domestic servant. Eli Machin was the prince of engine-men. His
engine never went wrong, his coal bills were never extravagant, and
(supreme virtue!) he was never absent on Mondays. From his post in the
slip-house he watched over the whole works like a father, stern, gruff,
forbidding, but to be trusted absolutely. He was sixty years old, and
had been 'putting by' for nearly half a century. He lived in a tiny
villa-cottage with his bed-ridden, cheerful wife, and lent small sums on
mortgage of approved freeholds at 5 per cent.--no more and no less.
Secure behind this rampart of saved money, he was the equal of the King
on the throne. Not a magnate in all the Five Towns who would dare to be
condescending to Eli Machin. He had been a sidesman at the old church. A
trades-union had once asked him to become a working-man candidate for
the Bursley Town Council, but he had refused because he did not care for
the possibility of losing caste by being concerned in a strike. His
personal respectability was entirely unsullied, and he worshipped this
abstract quality as he worshipped God.
There was only one blot--but how foul!--on Eli Machin's career, and that
had been dropped by his daughter Miriam, when, defying his authority,
she married a scene-shifter at Hanbridge Theatre. The atrocious idea of
being connected with the theatre had rendered him speechless for a
time. He could but endure it in the most awful silence that ever hid
passionate feeling. Then one day he had burst out, 'The wench is no
better than a tiddy-fol-lol!' Only this solitary phrase--nothing else.
What a tiddy-fol-lol was no one quite knew; but the word, getting about,
stuck to him, and for some weeks boys used to shout it after him in the
streets, until he caught one of them, and in thirty seconds put an end
to the practice. Thenceforth Miriam, with all hers, was dead to him.
When her husband expired of consumption, Eli Machin saw the avenging arm
of the Lord in action; and when her boy grew to be a source of painful
anxiety to her, he said to himself that the wrath of Heaven was not yet
cooled towards this impious daughter. The passage of fifteen years had
apparently in no way softened his resentment.
The challenged lad in Mynors' yard slowly approached the slip-house
door, and halted before Eli Machin, grinning.
'Well, young un,' the old man said absently, 'what dost want?'
'Tiddy-fol-lol, grandfeyther,' the child drawled in his silly,
irritating voice, and added: 'They said I darena say it to ye.'
Without and instant's hesitation Eli Machin raised his still powerful
arm, and, catching the boy under the ear, knocked him down. The other
boys yelled with unaffected pleasure and ran away.
'Get up, and be off wi' ye. Ye dunna belong to this bank,' said Eli
Machin in cold anger to the lad. But the lad did not stir; the lad's
eyes were closed, and he lay white on the stones.
Eli Machin bent down, and peered through his spectacles at the prone
form upon which the mid-day sun was beating.
'It's Miriam's boy!' he ejaculated under his breath, and looked round as
if in inquiry--the yard was empty. Then with quick decision he picked up
this limp and inconvenient parcel of humanity and hastened--ran--with it
out of the yard into the road.
Down the road he ran, turned to the left into Clowes Street, and stopped
before a row of small brown cottages. At the open door of one of these
cottages a woman sat sewing. She was rather stout and full-bosomed,
with a fair, fresh face, full of sense and peace; she looked under
thirty, but was older.
'Here's thy Tommy, Miriam,' said Eli Machin shortly. 'He give me some of
his sauce, and I doubt I've done him an injury.'
The woman dropped her sewing.
'Eh, dear!' she cried, 'is that lad o' mine in mischief again? I do hope
he's no limb brokken.'
'It in'na that,' said the old man, 'but he's dazed-like. Better lay him
on th' squab.'
She calmly took Tommy and placed him gently down on the check-covered
sofa under the window. 'Come in, father, do.'
The man obeyed, astonished at the entire friendliness of this daughter,
whom, though he had frequently seen her, he had never spoken to for more
than ten years. Her manner, at once filial and quite natural, perfectly
ignored the long breach, and disclosed no trace of animosity.
Father and daughter examined the unconscious child. Pale, pulseless,
cold, he lay on the sofa like a corpse except for the short, faint
breaths which he drew through his blue lips.
'I doubt I've killed him,' said Eli.
'Nay, nay, father!' And her face actually smiled. This supremacy of the
soul against years of continued misfortune lifted her high above him,
and he suddenly felt himself an inferior creature.
'I'll go for th' doctor,' he said.
'Nay! I shall need ye.' And she put her head out of the window. 'Mrs.
Walley, will ye let your Lucy run quick for th' club doctor? my Tommy's
The whole street awoke instantly from its nap, and in a few moments
every door was occupied. Miriam closed her own door softly, as though
she might wake the boy, and spoke in whispers to people through the
window, finally telling them to go away. When the doctor came, half an
hour afterwards, she had done all that she knew for Tommy, without the
slightest apparent result.
'What is it?' asked the doctor curtly, as he lifted the child's thin and
Eli Machin explained that he had boxed the boy's ear.
'Tommy was impudent to his grandfather,' Miriam added hastily.
'Which ear?' the doctor inquired. It was the left. He gazed into it,
and then raised the boy's right leg and arm. 'There is no paralysis,' he
said. Then he felt the heart, and then took out his stethoscope and
applied it, listening intently.
'Canst hear owt?' the old man said.
'I cannot,' he answered.
'Don't say that, doctor--don't say that! said Miriam, with an accent of
'In these cases it is almost impossible to tell whether the patient is
alive or dead. We must wait. Mrs. Baddeley, make a mustard plaster for
his feet, and we will put another over the heart.' And so they waited
one hour, while the clock ticked and the mustard plasters gradually
cooled. Then Tommy's lips parted.
After another half-hour the doctor said:
'I must go now; I will come again at six. Do nothing but apply fresh
plasters. Be sure to keep his neck free. He is breathing, but I may as
well be plain with you--there is a great risk of your child dying in
Neighbours were again at the window, and Miriam drew the blind, waving
them away. At six o'clock the doctor reappeared. 'There is no change,'
he remarked. 'I will call in before I go to bed.'
When he lifted the latch for the third time, at ten o'clock, Eli Machin
and Miriam still sat by the sofa, and Tommy still lay thereon, moveless,
a terrible enigma. But the glass lamp was lighted on the mantelpiece,
and Miriam's sewing, by which she earned a livelihood, had been hidden
out of sight.
'There is no change,' said the doctor. 'You can do nothing except hope.'
'And pray,' the calm mother added.
Eli neither stirred nor spoke. For nine hours he had absolutely
forgotten his engine. He knew the boy would die.
The clock struck eleven, twelve, one, two, three, each time fretting the
nerves of the old man like a rasp. It was the hour of summer dawn. A
cold gray light fell unkindly across the small figure on the sofa.
'Open th' door a bit, father,' said Miriam. 'This parlour's gettin'
close; th' lad canna breathe.'
'Nay, lass,' Eli sighed, as he stumbled obediently to the door. 'The
lad'll breathe no more. I've killed him i' my anger.' He frowned
heavily, as though someone was annoying him.
'Hist!' she exclaimed, when, after extinguishing the lamp, she returned
to her boy's side. 'He's reddened--he's reddened! Look thee at his
cheeks, father!' She seized the child's inert hands and rubbed them
between her own. The blood was now plain in Tommy's face. His legs
faintly twitched. His breathing was slower. Miriam moved the coverlet
and put her head upon his heart. 'It's beating loud, father,' she cried.
Eli stared at the child with the fixity of a statue. Then Tommy opened
his eyes for an instant. The old man groaned. Tommy looked vacantly
round, closed his eyes again, and was unmistakably asleep. He slept for
one minute, and then waked. Eli involuntarily put a hand on the sofa.
Tommy gazed at him, and, with the most heavenly innocent smile of
recognition, lightly touched his grandfather's hand. Then he turned over
on his right side. In the anguish of sudden joy Eli gave a deep, piteous
sob. That smile burnt into him like a coal of fire.
'Now for the beef-tea,' said Miriam, crying.
'Beef-tea?' the boy repeated after her, mildly questioning.
'Yes, my poppet,' she answered; and then aside, 'Father, he can hear i'
his left ear. Did ye notice it?'
'It's a miracle--a miracle of God!' said Eli.
In a few hours Tommy was as well as ever--indeed, better; not only was
his hearing fully restored, but he had ceased to stammer, and the thin,
almost imperceptible cloud upon his intellect was dissipated. The doctor
expressed but little surprise at these phenomena, and, in fact, stated
that similar things had occurred often before, and were duly written
down in the books of medicine. But Eli Machin's firm, instinctive faith
that Providence had intervened will never be shaken.
Miriam and Tommy now live in the villa-cottage with the old people.
* * * * *
William Froyle, ostler at the Queen's Arms at Moorthorne, took the
letter, and, with a curt nod which stifled the loquacity of the village
postman, went at once from the yard into the coach-house. He had
recognised the hand-writing on the envelope, and the recognition of it
gave form and quick life to all the vague suspicions that had troubled
him some months before, and again during the last few days. He felt
suddenly the near approach of a frightful calamity which had long been
stealing towards him.
A wire-sheathed lantern, set on a rough oaken table, cast a wavering
light round the coach-house, and dimly showed the inner stable. Within
the latter could just be distinguished the mottled-gray flanks of a fat
cob which dragged its chain occasionally, making the large slow
movements of a horse comfortably lodged in its stall. The pleasant odour
of animals and hay filled the wide spaces of the shed, and through the
half-open door came a fresh thin mist rising from the rain-soaked yard
in the November evening.
Froyle sat down on the oaken table, his legs dangling, and looked again
at the envelope before opening it. He was a man about thirty years of
age, with a serious and thoughtful, rather heavy countenance. He had a
long light moustache, and his skin was a fresh, rosy salmon colour; his
straw-tinted hair was cut very short, except over the forehead, where it
grew full and bushy. Dressed in his rough stable corduroys, his forearms
bare and white, he had all the appearance of the sturdy Englishman, the
sort of Englishman that crosses the world in order to find vent for his
taciturn energy on virgin soils. From the whole village he commanded and
received respect. He was known for a scholar, and it was his scholarship
which had obtained for him the proud position of secretary to the
provident society styled the Queen's Arms Slate Club. His respectability
and his learning combined had enabled him to win with dignity the hand
of Susie Trimmer, the grocer's daughter, to whom he had been engaged
about a year. The village could not make up its mind concerning that
match; without doubt it was a social victory for Froyle, but everyone
wondered that so sedate and sagacious a man should have seen in Susie a
He tore open the envelope with his huge forefinger, and, bending down
towards the lantern, began to read the letter. It ran:
'I asked father to tell you, but he would not. He said I must
write. Dear Will, I hope you will never see me again. As you will
see by the above address, I am now at Aunt Penrose's at Bursley.
She is awful angry, but I was obliged to leave the village because
of my shame. I have been a wicked girl. It was in July. You know
the man, because you asked me about him one Sunday night. He is no
good. He is a villain. Please forget all about me. I want to go to
London. So many people know me here, and what with people coming
in from the village, too. Please forgive me.
After reading the letter a second time, Froyle folded it up and put it
in his pocket. Beyond a slight unaccustomed pallor of the red cheeks, he
showed no sign of emotion. Before the arrival of the postman he had been
cleaning his master's bicycle, which stood against the table. To this he
returned. Kneeling down in some fresh straw, he used his dusters slowly
and patiently--rubbing, then stopping to examine the result, and then
rubbing again. When the machine was polished to his satisfaction, he
wheeled it carefully into the stable, where it occupied a stall next to
that of the cob. As he passed back again, the animal leisurely turned
its head and gazed at Froyle with its large liquid eyes. He slapped the
immense flank. Content, the animal returned to its feed, and the
weighted chain ran down with a rattle.
The fortnightly meeting of the Slate Club was to take place at eight
o'clock that evening. Froyle had employed part of the afternoon in
making ready his books for the event, to him always so solemn and
ceremonious; and the affairs of the club were now prominent in his mind.
He was sorry that it would be impossible for him to attend the meeting;
fortunately, all the usual preliminaries were complete.
He took a piece of notepaper from a little hanging cupboard, and,
sprawling across the table, began to write under the lantern. The pencil
seemed a tiny toy in his thick roughened fingers:
'_To Mr. Andrew McCall, Chairman Queen's Arms Slate Club._
'I regret to inform you that I shall not be at the meeting
to-night. You will find the' books in order....'
Here he stopped, biting the end of the pencil in thought. He put down
the pencil and stepped hastily out of the stable, across the yard, and
into the hotel. In the large room, the room where cyclists sometimes
took tea and cold meat during the summer season, the long deal table
and the double line of oaken chairs stood ready for the meeting. A fire
burnt warmly in the big grate, and the hanging lamp had been lighted. On
the wall was a large card containing the rules of the club, which had
been written out in a fair hand by the schoolmaster. It was to this card
that Froyle went. Passing his thumb down the card, he paused at Rule
'Each member shall, on the death of another member, pay 1s. for
benefit of widow or nominee of deceased, same to be paid within
one month after notice given.'
'Or nominee--nominee,' he murmured reflectively, staring at the
card. He mechanically noticed, what he had noticed often before
with disdain, that the chairman had signed the rules without the
use of capitals.
He went back to the dusk of the coach-house to finish his letter,
still murmuring the word 'nominee,' of whose meaning he was not
'I request that the money due to me from the Slate Club on my death
shall be paid to my nominee, Miss Susan Trimmer, now staying with
her aunt, Mrs. Penrose, at Bursley.
After further consideration he added:
'P.S.--My annual salary of sixpence per member would be due at the
end of December. If so be the members would pay that, or part of
it, should they consider the same due, to Susan Trimmer as well, I
should be thankful.--Yours resp, W.F.'
He put the letter in an envelope, and, taking it to the large room, laid
it carefully at the end of the table opposite the chairman's seat. Once
more he returned to the coach-house. From the hanging cupboard he now
produced a piece of rope. Standing on the table he could just reach, by
leaning forward, a hook in the ceiling, that was sometimes used for the
slinging of bicycles. With difficulty he made the rope fast to the hook.
Putting a noose on the other end, he tightened it round his neck. He
looked up at the ceiling and down at the floor in order to judge whether
the rope was short enough.
'Good-bye, Susan, and everyone,' he whispered, and then stepped off the
The tense rope swung him by his neck halfway across the coach-house. He
swung twice to and fro, but as he passed under the hook for the fifth
time his toes touched the floor. The rope had stretched. In another
second he was standing firm on the floor, purple and panting, but
'Good-even to you, Mr. Froyle. Be you committing suicide?' The tones
were drawling, uncertain, mildly astonished.
He turned round hastily, his hands busy with the rope, and saw in the
doorway the figure of Daft Jimmy, the Moorthorne idiot.
He hesitated before speaking, but he was not confused. No one could have
been confused before Daft Jimmy. Neither man nor woman in the village
considered his presence more than that of a cat.
'Yes, I am,' he said.
The middle-aged idiot regarded him with a vague, interested smile, and
came into the coach-house.
'You'n gotten the rope too long, Mr. Froyle. Let me help you.'
Froyle calmly assented. He stood on the table, and the two rearranged
the noose and made it secure. As they did so the idiot gossiped:
'I was going to Bursley to-night to buy me a pair o' boots, and when I
was at top o' th' hill I remembered as I'd forgotten the measure o' my
feet. So I ran back again for it. Then I saw the light in here, and I
stepped up to bid ye good-evening.'
Someone had told him the ancient story of the fool and his boots, and,
with the pride of an idiot in his idiocy, he had determined that it
should be related of himself.
Froyle was silent.
The idiot laughed with a dry cackle.
'Now you go,' said Froyle, when the rope was fixed.
'Let me see ye do it,' the idiot pleaded with pathetic eyes.
'No; out you get!'
Protesting, the idiot went forth, and his irregular clumsy footsteps
sounded on the pebble-paved yard. When the noise of them ceased in the
soft roadway, Froyle jumped off the table again. Gradually his body,
like a stopping pendulum, came to rest under the hook, and hung
twitching, with strange disconnected movements. The horse in the stable,
hearing unaccustomed noises, rattled his chain and stamped about in the
straw of his box.
Furtive steps came down the yard again, and Daft Jimmy peeped into the
'He done it! he done it!' the idiot cried gleefully. 'Damned if he
hasna'.' He slapped his leg and almost danced. The body still twitched
occasionally. 'He done it!'
'Done what, Daft Jimmy? You're making a fine noise there! Done what?'
The idiot ran out of the stable. At the side-entrance to the hotel stood
the barmaid, the outline of her fine figure distinct against the light
The idiot continued to laugh.
'Done what?' the girl repeated, calling out across the dark yard in
clear, pleasant tones of amused inquiry. 'Done what?'
'What's that to you, Miss Tucker?'
'Now, none of your sauce, Daft Jimmy! Is Willie Froyle in there?'
The idiot roared with laughter.
'Yes, he is, miss.'
'Well, tell him his master wants him. I don't want to cross this mucky,
The girl closed the door.
The idiot went into the coach-house, and, slapping William's body in a
friendly way so that it trembled on the rope, he spluttered out between
'Master wants ye, Mr. Froyle.'
Then he walked out into the village street, and stood looking up the
muddy road, still laughing quietly. It was quite dark, but the moon
aloft in the clear sky showed the highway with its shining ruts leading
in a straight line over the hill to Bursley.
'Them shoes!' the idiot ejaculated suddenly. 'Well, I be an idiot, and
that's true! They can take the measure from my feet, and I never thought
on it till this minute!'
Laughing again, he set off at a run up the hill.
* * * * *
* * * * *
THE HUNGARIAN RHAPSODY