Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE GRIM SMILE OF THE FIVE TOWNS
To my old and constant friend
a student profoundly versed
in the human nature of
the Five Towns
The Lion's Share
The Silent Brothers
The Nineteenth Hat
Vera's First Christmas Adventure
The Murder of the Mandarin
Vera's Second Christmas Adventure
News of the Engagement
Beginning the New Year
From One Generation to Another
The Death of Simon Fuge
In a New Bottle
THE LION'S SHARE
In the Five Towns the following history is related by those who
know it as something side-splittingly funny--as one of the best
jokes that ever occurred in a district devoted to jokes. And I,
too, have hitherto regarded it as such. But upon my soul, now that
I come to write it down, it strikes me as being, after all, a
pretty grim tragedy. However, you shall judge, and laugh or cry as
It began in the little house of Mrs Carpole, up at Bleakridge, on
the hill between Bursley and Hanbridge. Mrs Carpole was the second
Mrs Carpole, and her husband was dead. She had a stepson, Horace,
and a son of her own, Sidney. Horace is the hero, or the villain,
of the history. On the day when the unfortunate affair began he
was nineteen years old, and a model youth. Not only was he getting
on in business, not only did he give half his evenings to the
study of the chemistry of pottery and the other half to various
secretaryships in connection with the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel
and Sunday-school, not only did he save money, not only was he a
comfort to his stepmother and a sort of uncle to Sidney, not only
was he an early riser, a total abstainer, a non-smoker, and a good
listener; but, in addition to the practice of these manifold and
rare virtues, he found time, even at that tender age, to pay his
tailor's bill promptly and to fold his trousers in the same crease
every night--so that he always looked neat and dignified. Strange
to say, he made no friends. Perhaps he was just a thought too
perfect for a district like the Five Towns; a sin or so might have
endeared him to the entire neighbourhood. Perhaps his loneliness
was due to his imperfect sense of humour, or perhaps to the dull,
unsmiling heaviness of his somewhat flat features.
Sidney was quite a different story. Sidney, to use his mother's
phrase, was a little jockey. His years were then eight. Fair-
haired and blue-eyed, as most little jockeys are, he had a smile
and a scowl that were equally effective in tyrannizing over both
his mother and Horace, and he was beloved by everybody. Women
turned to look at him in the street. Unhappily, his health was not
good. He was afflicted by a slight deafness, which, however, the
doctor said he would grow out of; the doctor predicted for him a
lusty manhood. In the meantime, he caught every disease that
happened to be about, and nearly died of each one. His latest
acquisition had been scarlet fever. Now one afternoon, after he
had 'peeled' and his room had been disinfected, and he was
beginning to walk again, Horace came home and decided that Sidney
should be brought downstairs for tea as a treat, to celebrate his
convalescence, and that he, Horace, would carry him downstairs.
Mrs Carpole was delighted with the idea, and Sidney also, except
that Sidney did not want to be carried downstairs--he wanted to
'I think it will be better for him to walk, Horace dear,' said Mrs
Carpole, in her thin, plaintive voice. 'He can, quite well. And
you know how clumsy you are. Supposing you were to fall!'
Horace, nevertheless, in pursuance of his programme of being uncle
to Sidney, was determined to carry Sidney. And carry Sidney he
did, despite warnings and kickings. At least he carried him as far
as the turn in the steep stairs, at which point he fell, just as
his stepmother had feared, and Sidney with him. The half-brothers
arrived on the ground floor in company, but Horace, with his
eleven stone two, was on top, and the poor suffering little
convalescent lay moveless and insensible.
It took the doctor forty minutes to bring him to, and all the time
the odour of grilled herrings, which formed part of the uneaten
tea, made itself felt through the house like a Satanic comment on
the spectacle of human life. The scene was dreadful at first. The
agony then passed. There were no bruises on the boy, not a mark,
and in a couple of hours he seemed to be perfectly himself. Horace
breathed again, and thanked Heaven it was no worse. His gratitude
to Heaven was, however, slightly premature, for in the black
middle of the night poor Sidney was seized with excruciating pains
in the head, and the doctor lost four hours' sleep. These pains
returned at intervals of a few days, and naturally the child's
convalescence was retarded. Then Horace said that Airs Carpole
should take Sidney to Buxton for a fortnight, and he paid all the
expenses of the trip out of his savings. He was desolated, utterly
stricken; he said he should never forgive himself. Sidney
After several months, during which Horace had given up all his
limited spare time to the superintendence of the child's first
steps in knowledge, Sidney was judged to be sufficiently strong to
go to school, and it was arranged that he should attend the
Endowed School at the Wedgwood Institution. Horace accompanied him
thither on the opening day of the term--it was an inclement
morning in January--and left the young delicate sprig, apparently
joyous and content, to the care of his masters and the mercy of
his companions. But Sidney came home for dinner weeping--weeping
in spite of his new mortar-board cap, his new satchel, his new box
of compasses, and his new books. His mother kept him at home in
the afternoon, and by the evening another of those terrible
attacks had supervened. The doctor and Horace and Mrs Carpole once
more lost much precious sleep. The mysterious malady continued.
School was out of the question.
And when Sidney took the air, in charge of his mother, everybody
stopped to sympathize with him and to stroke his curls and call
him a poor dear, and also to commiserate Mrs Carpole. As for
Horace, Bursley tried to feel sorry for Horace, but it only
succeeded in showing Horace that it was hiding a sentiment of
indignation against him. Each friendly face as it passed Horace in
the street said, without words, 'There goes the youth who probably
ruined his young stepbrother's life. And through sheer obstinacy
too! He dropped the little darling in spite of warnings and
protests, and then fell on the top of him. Of course, he didn't do
it on purpose, but--'
The doctor mentioned Greatorex of Manchester, the celebrated brain
specialist. And Horace took Sidney to Manchester. They had to wait
an hour and a quarter to see Greatorex, his well-known consulting-
rooms in John Dalton Street being crowded with imperfect brains;
but their turn came at last, and they found themselves in
Greatorex's presence. Greatorex was a fat man, with the voice of a
thin man, who seemed to spend the whole of his career in the care
of his fingernails.
'Well, my little fellow,' said Greatorex, 'don't cry.' (For Sidney
was already crying.) And then to Horace, in a curt tone: 'What is
And Horace was obliged to humiliate himself and relate the
accident in detail, together with all that had subsequently
'Yes, yes, yes, yes!' Greatorex would punctuate the recital, and
when tired of 'yes' he would say 'Hum, hum, hum, hum!'
When he had said 'hum' seventy-two times he suddenly remarked that
his fee was three guineas, and told Horace to strengthen Sidney
all he could, not to work him too hard, and to bring him back in a
Horace paid the money, Greatorex emitted a final 'hum', and then
the stepbrothers were whisked out by an expeditious footman. The
experience cost Horace over four pounds and the loss of a day's
time. And the worst was that Sidney had a violent attack that very
School being impossible for him, Sidney had intermittent
instruction from professors of both sexes at home. But he learnt
practically nothing except the banjo. Horace had to buy him a
banjo: it cost the best part of a ten-pound note; still, Horace
could do no less. Sidney's stature grew rapidly; his general
health certainly improved, yet not completely; he always had a
fragile, interesting air. Moreover, his deafness did not
disappear: there were occasions when it was extremely pronounced.
And he was never quite safe from these attacks in the head. He
spent a month or six weeks each year in the expensive bracing
atmosphere of some seaside resort, and altogether he was decidedly
a heavy drain on Horace's resources. People were aware of this,
and they said that Horace ought to be happy that he was in a
position to spend money freely on his poor brother. Had not the
doctor predicted, before the catastrophe due to Horace's culpable
negligence, that Sidney would grow into a strong man, and that his
deafness would leave him? The truth was, one never knew the end of
those accidents in infancy! Further, was not Sidney's sad
condition slowly killing his mother? It was whispered about that,
since the disaster, Sidney had not been QUITE sound mentally. Was
not the mere suspicion of this enough to kill any mother?
And, as a fact, Mrs Carpole did die. She died of quinsy, doubtless
aggravated by Sidney's sad condition.
Not long afterwards Horace came into a small fortune from his
maternal grandfather. But poor Sidney did not come into any
fortune, and people somehow illogically inferred that Horace had
not behaved quite nicely in coming into a fortune while his
suffering invalid brother, whom he had so deeply harmed, came into
nothing. Even Horace had compunctions due to the visitations of a
similar idea. And with part of the fortune he bought a house with
a large garden up at Toft End, the highest hill of the hilly Five
Towns, so that Sidney might have the benefit of the air. He also
engaged a housekeeper and servants. With the remainder of the
fortune he obtained a partnership in the firm of earthenware
manufacturers for whom he had been acting as highly-paid manager.
Sidney reached the age of eighteen, and was most effective to look
upon, his bright hair being still curly, and his eyes a wondrous
blue, and his form elegant; and the question of Sidney's future
arose. His health was steadily on the up grade. The deafness had
quite disappeared. He had inclinations towards art, and had
already amused himself by painting some beautiful vases. So it was
settled that he should enter Horace's works on the art side, with
a view to becoming, ultimately, art director. Horace gave him
three pounds a week, in order that he might feel perfectly
independent, and, to the same end, Sidney paid Horace seven-and-
sixpence a week for board and lodging. But the change of life
upset the youth's health again. After only two visits to the works
he had a grave recurrence of the head-attacks, and he was solemnly
exhorted not to apply himself too closely to business. He
therefore took several half-holidays a week, and sometimes a whole
one. And even when he put in one of his full days he would arrive
at the works three hours after Horace, and restore the balance by
leaving an hour earlier. The entire town watched over him as a
mother watches over a son. The notion that he was not QUITE right
in the pate gradually died away, and everybody was thankful for
that, though it was feared an untimely grave might be his portion.
She was a nice girl: the nicest girl that Horace had ever met
with, because her charming niceness included a faculty of being
really serious about serious things--and yet she could be
deliciously gay. In short, she was a revelation to Horace. And her
name was Ella, and she had come one year to spend some weeks with
Mrs Penkethman, the widowed headmistress of the Wesleyan Day
School, who was her cousin. Mrs Penkethman and Ella had been
holidaying together in France; their arrival in Bursley naturally
coincided with the reopening of the school in August for the
Now at this period Horace was rather lonely in his large house and
garden; for Sidney, in pursuit of health, had gone off on a six
weeks' cruise round Holland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, in one
of those Atlantic liners which, translated like Enoch without
dying, become in their old age 'steam-yachts', with fine names apt
to lead to confusion with the private yacht of the Tsar of Russia.
Horace had offered him the trip, and Horace was also paying his
weekly salary as usual.
So Horace, who had always been friendly with Mrs Penkethman, grew
now more than ever friendly with Mrs Penkethman. And Mrs
Penkethman and Ella were inseparable. The few aristocrats left in
Bursley in September remarked that Horace knew what he was about,
as it was notorious that Ella had the most solid expectations. But
as a matter of fact Horace did not know what he was about, and he
never once thought of Ella's expectations. He was simply, as they
say in Bursley, knocked silly by Ella. He honestly imagined her to
be the wonderfullest woman on the earth's surface, with her dark
eyes and her expressive sympathetic gestures, and her alterations
of seriousness and gaiety. It astounded him that a girl of twenty-
one could have thought so deeply upon life as she had. The
inexplicable thing was that she looked up to HIM. She evidently
admired HIM. He wanted to tell her that she was quite wrong about
him, much too kind in her estimate of him--that really he was a
very ordinary man indeed. But another instinct prevented him from
thus undeceiving her.
And one Saturday afternoon, the season being late September,
Horace actually got those two women up to tea in his house and
garden. He had not dared to dream of such bliss. He had hesitated
long before asking them to come, and in asking them he had blushed
and stammered: the invitation had seemed to him to savour of
audacity. But, bless you! they had accepted with apparent ecstasy.
They gave him to think that they had genuinely wanted to come. And
they came extra-specially dressed--visions, lilies of the field.
And as the day was quite warm, tea was served in the garden, and
everybody admired the view; and there was no restraint, no
awkwardness. In particular Ella talked with an ease and a
distinction that enchanted Horace, and almost made him talk with
ease and distinction too. He said to himself that, seeing he had
only known her a month, he was getting on amazingly. He said to
himself that his good luck passed belief.
Then there was a sound of cab-wheels on the other side of the
garden-wall, and presently Horace heard the housekeeper
complimenting Sidney on his good looks, and Sidney asking the
housekeeper to lend him three shillings to pay the cabman. The
golden youth had returned without the slightest warning from his
cruise. The tea trio, at the lower end of the garden, saw him
standing in the porch, tanned, curly, graceful, and young. Horace
half rose, and then sat down again. Ella stared hard.
'That must be your brother,' she said.
'Yes, that's Sid,' Horace answered; and then, calling out loudly:
'Come down here, Sid, and tell them to bring another cup and
'Right you are, old man,' Sidney shouted. 'You see I'm back. What!
Mrs Penkethman, is that you?' He came down the central path of the
garden like a Narcissus.
'He DOES look delicate,' said Ella under her breath to Horace.
Tears came to her eyes.
Naturally Ella knew all about Sidney. She enjoyed the entire
confidence of Mrs Penkethman, and what Mrs Penkethman didn't know
of the private history of the upper classes in Bursley did not
amount to very much.
These were nearly the last words that Ella spoke to Horace that
afternoon. The introduction was made, and Sidney slipped into the
party as comfortably as he slipped into everything, like a candle
slipping into a socket. But nevertheless Ella talked no more. She
just stared at Sidney, and listened to him. Horace was proud that
Sidney had made such an impression on her; he was glad that she
showed no aversion to Sidney, because, in the event of Horace's
marriage, where would Sidney live, if not with Horace and Horace's
wife? Still, he could have wished that Ella would continue to
display her conversational powers.
Presently, Sidney lighted a cigarette. He was of those young men
whose delicate mouths seem to have been fashioned for the nice
conduct of a cigarette. And he had a way of blowing out the smoke
that secretly ravished every feminine beholder. Horace still held
to his boyhood's principles; but he envied Sidney a little.
At the conclusion of the festivity these two women naturally could
not be permitted to walk home alone. And, naturally, also, the
four could not walk abreast on the narrow pavements. Horace went
first with Mrs Penkethman. He was mad with anxiety to appropriate
Ella, but he dared not. It would not have been quite correct; it
would have been, as they say in Bursley, too thick. Besides, there
was the question of age. Horace was over thirty, and Mrs
Penkethman was also--over thirty; whereas Sidney was twenty-one,
and so was Ella. Hence Sidney walked behind with Ella, and the
procession started in silence. Horace did not look round too
often--that would not have been quite proper--but whenever he did
look round the other couple had lagged farther and farther behind,
and Ella seemed perfectly to have recovered her speech. At length
he looked round, and lo! they had not turned the last corner; and
they arrived at Mrs Penkethman's cottage at Hillport a quarter of
an hour after their elders.
The wedding cost Horace a large sum of money. You see, he could
not do less than behave handsomely by the bride, owing to his
notorious admiration for her; and of course the bridegroom needed
setting up. Horace practically furnished their home for them out
of his own pocket; it was not to be expected that Sidney should
have resources. Further, Sidney as a single man, paying seven-and-
six a week for board and lodging, could no doubt struggle along
upon three pounds weekly. But Sidney as a husband, with the nicest
girl in the world to take care of, and house-rent to pay, could
not possibly perform the same feat. Although he did no more work
at the manufactory--Horace could not have been so unbrotherly as
to demand it--Horace paid him eight pounds a week instead of
And the affair cost Horace a good deal besides money. But what
could Horace do? He decidedly would not have wished to wreck the
happiness of two young and beautiful lives, even had he possessed
the power to do so. And he did not possess the power. Those two
did not consult Horace before falling in love. They merely fell in
love, and there was an end of it--and an end of Horace too! Horace
had to suffer. He did suffer.
Perhaps it was for his highest welfare that other matters came to
monopolize his mind. One sorrow drives out another. If you sit on
a pin you are apt to forget that you have the toothache. The
earthenware manufactory was not going well. Plenty of business was
being done, but not at the right prices. Crushed between the upper
and nether millstones of the McKinley Tariff and German
competition, Horace, in company with other manufacturers, was
breathing out his life's blood in the shape of capital. The truth
was that he had never had enough capital. He had heavily mortgaged
the house at Toft End in order to purchase his partners' shares in
the business and have the whole undertaking to himself, and he
profoundly regretted it. He needed every penny that he could
collect; the strictest economy was necessary if he meant to
survive the struggle. And here he was paying eight pounds a week
to a personage purely ornamental, after having squandered hundreds
in rendering that personage comfortable! The situation was
You may ask, Why did he not explain the situation to Sidney? Well,
partly because he was too kind, and partly because he was too
proud, and partly because Sidney would not have understood. Horace
fought on, keeping up a position in the town and hoping that
miracles would occur.
Then Ella's expectations were realized. Sidney and she had some
twenty thousand pounds to play with. And they played the most
agreeable games. But not in Bursley. No. They left Horace in
Bursley and went to Llandudno for a spell. Horace envied them, but
he saw them off at the station as an elder brother should, and
tipped the porters.
Certainly he was relieved of the formality of paying eight pounds
a week to his brother. But this did not help him much. The sad
fact was that 'things' (by which is meant fate, circumstances,
credit, and so on) had gone too far. It was no longer a question
of eight pounds a week; it was a question of final ruin.
Surely he might have borrowed money from Sidney? Sidney had no
money; the money was Ella's, and Horace could not have brought
himself to borrow money from a woman--from Ella, from a heavenly
creature who always had a soothing sympathetic word for him. That
would have been to take advantage of Ella. No, if you suggest such
a thing, you do not know Horace.
I stated in the beginning that he had no faults. He was therefore
absolutely honest. And he called his creditors together while he
could yet pay them twenty shillings in the pound. It was a noble
act, rare enough in the Five Towns and in other parts of England.
But he received no praise for it. He had only done what every man
in his position ought to do. If Horace had failed for ten times
the sum that his debts actually did amount to, and then paid two
shillings in the pound instead of twenty, he would have made a
stir in the world and been looked up to as no ordinary man of
Having settled his affairs in this humdrum, idiotic manner, Horace
took a third-class return to Llandudno. Sidney and Ella were
staying at the hydro with the strange Welsh name, and he found
Sidney lolling on the sunshiny beach in front of the hydro
discoursing on the banjo to himself. When asked where his wife
was, Sidney replied that she was lying down, and was obliged to
rest as much as possible.
Horace, ashamed to trouble this domestic idyl, related his
misfortunes as airily as he could.
And Sidney said he was awfully sorry, and had no notion how
matters stood, and could he do anything for Horace? If so, Horace
'No,' said Horace. 'I'm all right. I've very fortunately got an
excellent place as manager in a big new manufactory in Germany.'
(This is how we deal with German competition in the Five Towns.)
'Germany?' cried Sidney.
'Yes,' said Horace; 'and I start the day after tomorrow.'
'Well,' said Sidney, 'at any rate you'll stay the night.'
'Thanks,' said Horace, 'you're very kind. I will.'
So they went into the hydro together, Sidney caressing his
wonderful new pearl-inlaid banjo; and Horace talked in low tones
to Ella as she lay on the sofa. He convinced Ella that his
departure to Germany was the one thing he had desired all his
life, because it was not good that Ella should be startled,
shocked, or grieved.
They dined well.
But in the night Sidney had a recurrence of his old illness--a bad
attack; and Horace sat up through the dark hours, fetched the
doctor, and bought things at the chemist's. Towards morning Sidney
was better. And Horace, standing near the bed, gazed at his
stepbrother and tried in his stupid way to read the secrets
beneath that curly hair. But he had no success. He caught himself
calculating how much Sidney had cost him, at periods of his career
when he could ill spare money; and, having caught himself, he was
angry with himself for such baseness. At eight o'clock he ventured
to knock at Ella's door and explain to her that Sidney had not
been quite well. She had passed a peaceful night, for he had, of
course, refrained from disturbing her.
He was not quite sure whether Sidney had meant him to stay at the
hydro as his guest, so he demanded a bill, paid it, said good-bye,
and left for Bonn-on-the-Rhine. He was very exhausted and sleepy.
Happily the third-class carriages on the London & North-Western
are pretty comfortable. Between Chester and Crewe he had quite a
doze, and dreamed that he had married Ella after all, and that her
twenty thousand pounds had put the earthenware business on a
footing of magnificent and splendid security.
A few months later Horace's house and garden at Toft End were put
up to auction by arrangement with his mortgagee and his trade-
creditors. And Sidney was struck with the idea of buying the
place. The impression was that it would go cheap. Sidney said it
would be a pity to let the abode pass out of the family. Ella said
that the idea of buying it was a charming one, because in the
garden it was that she had first met her Sidney. So the place was
duly bought, and Sidney and Ella went to live there.
Several years elapsed.
Then one day little Horace was informed that his uncle Horace,
whom he had never seen, was coming to the house on a visit, and
that he must be a good boy, and polite to his uncle, and all the
usual sort of thing.
And in effect Horace the elder did arrive in the afternoon. He
found no one to meet him at the station, or at the garden gate of
the pleasaunce that had once been his, or even at the front door.
A pert parlour-maid told him that her master and mistress were
upstairs in the nursery, and that he was requested to go up. And
he went up, and to be sure Sidney met him at the top of the
stairs, banjo in hand, cigarette in mouth, smiling, easy and
elegant as usual--not a trace of physical weakness in his face or
form. And Horace was jocularly ushered into the nursery and
introduced to his nephew. Ella had changed. She was no longer
slim, and no longer gay and serious by turns. She narrowly missed
being stout, and she was continuously gay, like Sidney. The child
was also gay. Everybody was glad to see Horace, but nobody seemed
deeply interested in Horace's affairs. As a fact he had done
rather well in Germany, and had now come back to England in order
to assume a working partnership in a small potting concern at
Hanbridge. He was virtually beginning life afresh. But what
concerned Sidney and Ella was themselves and their offspring. They
talked incessantly about the infinitesimal details of their daily
existence, and the alterations which they had made, or meant to
make, in the house and garden. And occasionally Sidney thrummed a
tune on the banjo to amuse the infant. Horace had expected them to
be curious about Germany and his life in Germany. But not a bit!
He might have come in from the next street and left them only
yesterday, for all the curiosity they exhibited.
'Shall we go down to the drawing-room and have tea, eh?' said
'Yes, let's go and kill the fatted calf,' said Sidney.
And strangely enough, inexplicably enough, Horace did feel like a
Sidney went off with his precious banjo, and Ella picked up sundry
belongings without which she never travelled about the house.
'You carry me down-stairs, unky?' the little nephew suggested,
with an appealing glance at his new uncle. 'No,' said Horace, 'I'm
dashed if I do!'
Mrs Blackshaw had a baby. It would be an exaggeration to say that
the baby interested the entire town, Bursley being an ancient,
blase sort of borough of some thirty thousand inhabitants. Babies,
in fact, arrived in Bursley at the rate of more than a thousand
every year. Nevertheless, a few weeks after the advent of Mrs
Blackshaw's baby, when the medical officer of health reported to
the Town Council that the births for the month amounted to ninety-
five, and that the birth-rate of Bursley compared favourably with
the birth-rates of the sister towns, Hanbridge, Knype, Longshaw,
and Turnhill--when the medical officer read these memorable words
at the monthly meeting of the Council, and the Staffordshire
Signal reported them, and Mrs Blackshaw perused them, a blush of
pride spread over Mrs Blackshaw's face, and she picked up the
baby's left foot and gave it a little peck of a kiss. She could
not help feeling that the real solid foundation of that formidable
and magnificent output of babies was her baby. She could not help
feeling that she had done something for the town--had caught the
As for the baby, except that it was decidedly superior to the
average infant in external appearance and pleasantness of
disposition, it was, in all essential characteristics, a typical
baby--that is to say, it was purely sensuous and it lived the
life of the senses. It was utterly selfish. It never thought of
anyone but itself. It honestly imagined itself to be the centre of
the created universe. It was convinced that the rest of the
universe had been brought into existence solely for the
convenience and pleasure of it--the baby. When it wanted anything
it made no secret of the fact, and it was always utterly
unscrupulous in trying to get what it wanted. If it could have
obtained the moon it would have upset all the astronomers of
Europe and made Whitaker's Almanack unsalable without a pang. It
had no god but its stomach. It never bothered its head about
higher things. It was a bully and a coward, and it treated women
as beings of a lower order than men. In a word, it was that ideal
creature, sung of the poets, from which we gradually sink and fall
away as we grow older.
At the age of six months it had quite a lot of hair, and a
charming rosy expanse at the back of its neck, caused through
lying on its back in contemplation of its own importance. It
didn't know the date of the Battle of Hastings, but it knew with
the certainty of absolute knowledge that it was master of the
house, and that the activity of the house revolved round it.
Now, the baby loved its bath. In any case its bath would have been
an affair of immense and intricate pomp; but the fact that it
loved its bath raised the interest and significance of the bath to
the nth power. The bath took place at five o'clock in the evening,
and it is not too much to say that the idea of the bath was
immanent in the very atmosphere of the house. When you have an
appointment with the dentist at five o'clock in the afternoon the
idea of the appointment is immanent in your mind from the first
moment of your awakening. Conceive that an appointment with the
dentist implies heavenly joy instead of infernal pain, and you
will have a notion of the daily state of Mrs Blackshaw and Emmie
(the nurse) with regard to the baby's bath.
Even at ten in the morning Emmie would be keeping an eye on the
kitchen fire, lest the cook might let it out. And shortly after
noon Mrs Blackshaw would be keeping an eye on the thermometer in
the bedroom where the bath occurred. From four o'clock onwards the
clocks in the house were spied on and overlooked like suspected
persons; but they were used to that, because the baby had his
sterilized milk every two hours. I have at length allowed you to
penetrate the secret of his sex.
And so at five o'clock precisely the august and exciting ceremony
began in the best bedroom. A bright fire was burning (the month
being December), and the carefully-shaded electric lights were
also burning. A large bath-towel was spread in a convenient place
on the floor, and on the towel were two chairs facing each other,
and a table. On one chair was the bath, and on the other was Mrs
Blackshaw with her sleeves rolled up, and on Mrs Blackshaw was
another towel, and on that towel was Roger (the baby). On the
table were zinc ointment, vaseline, scentless eau de Cologne,
Castile soap, and a powder-puff.
Emmie having pretty nearly filled the bath with a combination of
hot and cold waters, dropped the floating thermometer into it, and
then added more waters until the thermometer indicated the precise
temperature proper for a baby's bath. But you are not to imagine
that Mrs Blackshaw trusted a mere thermometer. No. She put her arm
in the water up to the elbow. She reckoned the sensitive skin near
the elbow was worth forty thermometers.
Emmie was chiefly an audience. Mrs Blackshaw had engaged her as a
nurse, but she could have taught a nigger-boy to do all that she
allowed the nurse to do. During the bath Mrs Blackshaw and Emmie
hated and scorned each other, despite their joy. Emmie was twice
Mrs Blackshaw's age, besides being twice her weight, and she knew
twice as much about babies as Mrs Blackshaw did. However, Mrs
Blackshaw had the terrific advantage of being the mother of that
particular infant, and she could always end an argument when she
chose, and in her own favour. It was unjust, and Emmie felt it to
be unjust; but this is not a world of justice.
Roger, though not at all precocious, was perfectly aware of the
carefully-concealed hostility between his mother and his nurse,
and often, with his usual unscrupulousness, he used it for his own
ends. He was sitting upon his mother's knees toying with the edge
of the bath, already tasting its delights in advance. Mrs
Blackshaw undressed the upper half of him, and then she laid him
on the flat of his back and undressed the lower half of him, but
keeping some wisp of a garment round his equatorial regions. And
then she washed his face with a sponge and the Castile soap, very
gently, but not half gently enough for Emmie, nor half gently
enough for Roger, for Roger looked upon this part of the business
as insulting and superfluous. He breathed hard and kicked his feet
'Yes, it's dreadful having our face washed, isn't it?' said Mrs
Blackshaw, with her sleeves up, and her hair by this time down.
'We don't like it, do we? Yes, yes.'
Emmie grunted, without a sound, and yet Mrs Blackshaw heard her,
and finished that face quickly and turned to the hands.
'Potato-gardens every day,' she said. 'Evzy day-day. Enough of
that, Colonel!' (For, after all, she had plenty of spirit.) 'Fat
little creases! Fat little creases! There! He likes that! There!
Feet! Feet! Feet and legs! Then our back. And then WHUP we shall
go into the bath! That's it. Kick! Kick your mother!'
And she turned him over.
'Incredible bungler!' said the eyes of the nurse. 'Can't she turn
him over neater than that?'
'Harridan!' said the eyes of Mrs Blackshaw. 'I wouldn't let you
bath him for twenty thousand pounds!'
Roger continued to breathe hard, as if his mother were a horse and
he were rubbing her down.
'Now! Zoop! Whup!' cried his mother, and having deprived him of
his final rag, she picked him up and sat him in the bath, and he
was divinely happy, and so were the women. He appeared a gross
little animal in the bath, all the tints of his flesh shimmering
under the electric light. His chest was superb, but the rolled and
creased bigness of his inordinate stomach was simply appalling,
not to mention his great thighs and calves. The truth was, he had
grown so that if he had been only a little bit bigger, he would
have burst the bath. He resembled an old man who had been steadily
eating too much for about forty years.
His two womenfolk now candidly and openly worshipped him,
forgetting sectarian differences.
And he splashed. Oh! he splashed. You see, he had learnt how to
splash, and he had certainly got an inkling that to splash was
wicked and messy. So he splashed--in his mother's face, in Emmie's
face, in the fire. He pretty well splashed the fire out. Ten
minutes before, the bedroom had been tidy, a thing of beauty. It
was now naught but a wild welter of towels, socks, binders--
peninsulas of clothes nearly surrounded by water.
Finally his mother seized him again, and, rearing his little legs
up out of the water, immersed the whole of his inflated torso
beneath the surface.
'Hallo!' she exclaimed. 'Did the water run over his mouf? Did it?'
'Angels and ministers of grace defend us! How clumsy she is!'
commented the eyes of Emmie.
'There! I fink that's about long enough for this kind of wevver,'
said the mother.
'I should think it was! There's almost a crust of ice on the water
now!' the nurse refrained from saying.
And Roger, full of regrets, was wrenched out of the bath. He had
ceased breathing hard while in the water, but he began again
immediately he emerged.
'We don't like our face wiped, do we?' said his mother on his
behalf. 'We want to go back into that bath. We like it. It's more
fun than anything that happens all day long! Eh? That old
dandruff's coming up in fine style. It's a-peeling off like
And all the while she wiped him, patted eau de Cologne into him
with the flat of her hand, and rubbed zinc ointment into him, and
massaged him, and powdered him, and turned him over and over and
over, till he was thoroughly well basted and cooked. And he kept
on breathing hard.
Then he sneezed, amid general horror!
'I told you so!' the nurse didn't say, and she rushed to the bed
where all the idol's beautiful, clean, aired things were lying
safe from splashings, and handed a flannel shirt, about two inches
in length, to Mrs Blackshaw. And Mrs Blackshaw rolled the left
sleeve of it into a wad and stuck it over his arm, and his poor
little vaccination marks were hidden from view till next morning.
'We don't like clothes, do we?' said his mother. 'We want to
tumble back into our tub. We aren't much for clothes anyway. We'se
a little Hottentot, aren't we?'
And she gradually covered him with one garment or another until
there was nothing left of him but his head and his hands and feet.
And she sat him up on her knees, so as to fasten his things
behind. And then it might have been observed that he was no longer
breathing hard, but giving vent to a sound between a laugh and a
cry, while sucking his thumb and gazing round the room.
'That's our little affected cry that we start for our milk, isn't
it?' his mother explained to him.
And he agreed that it was.
And before Emmie could fly across the room for the bottle, all
ready and waiting, his mouth, in the shape of a perfect rectangle,
had monopolized five-sixths of his face, and he was scarlet and
bellowing with impatience.
He took the bottle like a tiger his prey, and seized his mother's
hand that held the bottle, and he furiously pumped the milk into
that insatiable gulf of a stomach. But he found time to gaze about
the room too. A tear stood in each roving eye, caused by the
effort of feeding.
'Yes, that's it,' said his mother. 'Now look round and see what's
happening. Curiosity! Well, if you WILL bob your head, I can't
'Of course you can!' the nurse didn't say.
Then he put his finger into his mouth side by side with the
bottle, and gagged himself, and choked, and gave a terrible--
excuse the word--hiccough. After which he seemed to lose interest
in the milk, and the pumping operations slackened and then ceased.
'Goosey!' whispered his mother, 'getting seepy? Is the sandman
throwing sand in your eyes? Old Sandman at it? Sh--' ... He had
Emmie took him. The women spoke in whispers. And Mrs Blackshaw,
after a day spent in being a mother, reconstituted herself a wife,
and began to beautify herself for her husband.
Yes, there was a Mr Blackshaw, and with Mr Blackshaw the tragedy
of the bath commences. Mr Blackshaw was a very important young
man. Indeed, it is within the mark to say that, next to his son,
he was the most important young man in Bursley. For Mr Blackshaw
was the manager of the newly opened Muncipal Electricity Works.
And the Municipal Electricity had created more excitement and
interest than anything since the 1887 Jubilee, when an ox was
roasted whole in the market-place and turned bad in the process.
Had Bursley been a Swiss village, or a French country town, or a
hamlet in Arizona, it would have had its electricity fifteen years
ago, but being only a progressive English Borough, with an annual
value of a hundred and fifty thousand pounds, it struggled on with
gas till well into the twentieth century. Its great neighbour
Hanbridge had become acquainted with electricity in the nineteenth
All the principal streets and squares, and every decent shop that
Hanbridge competition had left standing, and many private houses,
now lighted themselves by electricity, and the result was splendid
and glaring and coldly yellow. Mr. Blackshaw developed into the
hero of the hour. People looked at him in the street as though he
had been the discoverer and original maker of electricity. And if
the manager of the gasworks had not already committed murder, it
was because the manager of the gasworks had a right sense of what
was due to his position as vicar's churchwarden at St Peter's
But greatness has its penalties. And the chief penalty of Mr
Blackshaw's greatness was that he could not see Roger have his
nightly bath. It was impossible for Mr Blackshaw to quit his
arduous and responsible post before seven o'clock in the evening.
Later on, when things were going more smoothly, he might be able
to get away; but then, later on, his son's bath would not be so
amusing and agreeable as it then, by all reports, was. The baby
was, of course, bathed on Saturday nights, but Sunday afternoon
and evening Mr Blackshaw was obliged to spend with his invalid
mother at Longshaw. It was on the sole condition of his weekly
presence thus in her house that she had consented not to live with
the married pair. And so Mr Blackshaw could not witness Roger's
bath. He adored Roger. He understood Roger. He weighed, nursed,
and fed Roger. He was 'up' in all the newest theories of infant
rearing. In short, Roger was his passion, and he knew everything
of Roger except Roger's bath. And when his wife met him at the
front door of a night at seven-thirty and launched instantly into
a description of the wonders, delights, and excitations of Roger's
latest bath, Mr Blackshaw was ready to tear his hair with
disappointment and frustration.
'I suppose you couldn't put it off for a couple of hours one
night, May?' he suggested at supper on the evening of the
particular bath described above.
'Sidney!' protested Mrs Blackshaw, pained.
Mr Blackshaw felt that he had gone too far, and there was a
'Well!' said Mr Blackshaw at length, 'I have just made up my mind.
I'm going to see that Kid's bath, and, what's more, I'm going to
see it tomorrow. I don't care what happens.'
'But how shall you manage to get away, darling?'
'You will telephone me about a quarter of an hour before you're
ready to begin, and I'll pretend it's something very urgent, and
'Well, that will be lovely, darling!' said Mrs Blackshaw. 'I WOULD
like you to see him in the bath, just once! He looks so--'
And so on.
The next day, Mr Blackshaw, that fearsome autocrat of the
Municipal Electricity Works, was saying to himself all day that at
five o'clock he was going to assist at the spectacle of his
wonderful son's bath. The prospect inspired him. So much so that
every hand on the place was doing its utmost in fear and
trembling, and the whole affair was running with the precision and
smoothness of a watch.
From four o'clock onwards, Mr Blackshaw, in the solemn,
illuminated privacy of the managerial office, safe behind glass
partitions, could no more contain his excitement. He hovered in
front of the telephone, waiting for it to ring. Then, at a quarter
to five, just when he felt he couldn't stand it any longer, and
was about to ring up his wife instead of waiting for her to ring
him up, he saw a burly shadow behind the glass door, and gave a
desolate sigh. That shadow could only be thrown by one person, and
that person was his Worship the Mayor of Bursley. His Worship
entered the private office with mayoral assurance, pulling in his
wake a stout old lady whom he introduced as his aunt from
Wolverhampton. And he calmly proposed that Mr Blackshaw should
show the mayoral aunt over the new Electricity Works!
Mr Blackshaw was sick of showing people over the Works. Moreover,
he naturally despised the Mayor. All permanent officials of
municipalities thoroughly despise their mayors (up their sleeves).
A mayor is here today and gone tomorrow, whereas a permanent
official is permanent. A mayor knows nothing about anything except
his chain and the rules of debate, and he is, further, a tedious
and meddlesome person--in the opinion of permanent officials.
So Mr Blackshaw's fury at the inept appearance of the Mayor and
the mayoral aunt at this critical juncture may be imagined. The
worst of it was, he didn't know how to refuse the Mayor.
Then the telephone-bell rang.
'Excuse me,' said Mr Blackshaw, with admirably simulated
politeness, going to the instrument. 'Are you there? Who is it?'
'It's me, darling,' came the thin voice of his wife far away at
Bleakridge. 'The water's just getting hot. We're nearly ready. Can
you come now?'
'By Jove! Wait a moment!' exclaimed Mr Blackshaw, and then turning
to his visitors, 'Did you hear that?'
'No,' said the Mayor.
'All those three new dynamos that they've got at the Hanbridge
Electricity Works have just broken down. I knew they would. I told
them they would!'
'Dear, dear!' said the Mayor of Bursley, secretly delighted by
this disaster to a disdainful rival. 'Why! They'll have the town
in darkness. What are they going to do?'
'They want me to go over at once. But, of course, I can't. At
least, I must give myself the pleasure of showing you and this
lady over our Works, first.'
'Nothing of the kind, Mr Blackshaw!' said the Mayor. 'Go at once.
Go at once. If Bursley can be of any assistance to Hanbridge in
such a crisis, I shall be only too pleased. We will come tomorrow,
won't we, auntie?'
Mr Blackshaw addressed the telephone.
'The Mayor is here, with a lady, and I was just about to show them
over the Works, but his Worship insists that I come at once.'
'Certainly,' the Mayor put in pompously.
'Wonders will never cease,' came the thin voice of Mrs Blackshaw
through the telephone. 'It's very nice of the old thing! What's
his lady friend like?'
'Not like anything. Unique!' replied Mr Blackshaw.
'Young?' came the voice.
'Dates from the thirties,' said Mr Blackshaw. 'I'm coming.' And
'I didn't know there was any electric machinery as old as that,'
said the mayoral aunt.
'We'll just look about us a bit,' the Mayor remarked. 'Don't lose
a moment, Mr Blackshaw.'
And Mr Blackshaw hurried off, wondering vaguely how he should
explain the lie when it was found out, but not caring much. After
all, he could easily ascribe the episode to the trick of some
He arrived at his commodious and electrically lit residence in the
very nick of time, and full to overflowing with innocent paternal
glee. Was he not about to see Roger's tub? Roger was just ready to
be carried upstairs as Mr Blackshaw's latchkey turned in the door.
'Wait a sec!' cried Mr Blackshaw to his wife, who had the child in
her arms, 'I'll carry him up.'
And he threw away his hat, stick, and overcoat and grabbed
ecstatically at the infant. And he had got perhaps halfway up the
stairs, when lo! the electric light went out. Every electric light
in the house went out.
'Great Scott!' breathed Mr Blackshaw, aghast.
He pulled aside the blind of the window at the turn of the stairs,
and peered forth. The street was as black as your hat, or nearly
'Great Scott!' he repeated. 'May, get candles.'
Something had evidently gone wrong at the Works. Just his luck! He
had quitted the Works for a quarter of an hour, and the current
Of course, the entire house was instantly in an uproar, turned
upside down, startled out of its life. But a few candles soon
calmed its transports. And at length Mr Blackshaw gained the
bedroom in safety, with the offspring of his desires comfortable
in a shawl.
'Give him to me,' said May shortly. 'I suppose you'll have to go
back to the Works at once?'
Mr Blackshaw paused, and then nerved himself; but while he was
pausing, May, glancing at the two feeble candles, remarked: 'It's
very tiresome. I'm sure I shan't be able to see properly.'
'No!' almost shouted Mr Blackshaw. 'I'll watch this kid have his
bath or I'll die for it! I don't care if all the Five Towns are in
darkness. I don't care if the Mayor's aunt has got caught in a
dynamo and is suffering horrible tortures. I've come to see this
bath business, and dashed if I don't see it!'
'Well, don't stand between the bath and the fire, dearest,' said
Meanwhile, Emmie, having pretty nearly filled the bath with a
combination of hot and cold waters, dropped the floating
thermometer into it, and then added more waters until the
thermometer indicated the precise temperature proper for a baby's
bath. But you are not to imagine that Mrs Blackshaw trusted a
She did not, however, thrust her bared arm into the water this
time. No! Roger, who never cried before his bath, was crying, was
indubitably crying. And he cried louder and louder.
'Stand where he can't see you, dearest. He isn't used to you at
bath-time,' said Mrs Blackshaw still coldly. 'Are you, my pet?
Mr Blackshaw effaced himself, feeling a fool. But Roger continued
to cry. He cried himself purple. He cried till the veins stood out
on his forehead and his mouth was like a map of Australia. He
cried himself into a monster of ugliness. Neither mother nor nurse
could do anything with him at all.
'I think you've upset him, dearest,' said Mrs Blackshaw even more
coldly. 'Hadn't you better go?'
'Well--' protested the father.
'I think you had better go,' said Mrs Blackshaw, adding no term of
endearment, and visibly controlling herself with difficulty.
And Mr Blackshaw went. He had to go. He went out into the
unelectric night. He headed for the Works, not because he cared
twopence, at that moment, about the accident at the Works,
whatever it was; but simply because the Works was the only place
to go to. And even outside in the dark street he could hear the
rousing accents of his progeny.
People were talking to each other as they groped about in the
road, and either making jokes at the expense of the new
Electricity Department, or frankly cursing it with true Five Towns
directness of speech. And as Mr Blackshaw went down the hill into
the town his heart was as black as the street itself with rage and
disappointment. He had made his child cry!
Someone stopped him.
'Eh, Mester Blackshaw!' said a voice, and under the voice a hand
struck a match to light a pipe. 'What's th' maning o' this eclipse
as you'm treating us to?'
Mr Blackshaw looked right through the inquirer--a way he had when
his brain was working hard. And he suddenly smiled by the light of
'That child wasn't crying because I was there,' said Mr Blackshaw
with solemn relief. 'Not at all! He was crying because he didn't
understand the candles. He isn't used to candles, and they
And he began to hurry towards the Works.
At the same instant the electric light returned to Bursley. The
current was resumed.
'That's better,' said Mr Blackshaw, sighing.
THE SILENT BROTHERS
John and Robert Hessian, brothers, bachelors, and dressed in
mourning, sat together after supper in the parlour of their house
at the bottom of Oldcastle Street, Bursley. Maggie, the middle-
aged servant, was clearing the table.
'Leave the cloth and the coffee,' said John, the elder, 'Mr
Liversage is coming in.'
'Yes, Mr John,' said Maggie.
'Slate, Maggie,' Robert ordered laconically, with a gesture
towards the mantelpiece behind him.
'Yes, Mr Robert,' said Maggie.
She gave him a slate with slate-pencil attached, which hung on a
nail near the mantlepiece.
Robert took the slate and wrote on it: 'What is Liversage coming
And he pushed the slate across the table to John.
Whereupon John wrote on the slate: 'Don't know. He telephoned me
he wanted to see us tonight.'
And he pushed back the slate to Robert.
This singular procedure was not in the least attributable to
deafness on the part of the brothers; they were in the prime of
life, aged forty-two and thirty-nine respectively, and in complete
possession of all their faculties. It was due simply to the fact
that they had quarrelled, and would not speak to each other. The
history of their quarrel would be incredible were it not full of
that ridiculous pathetic quality known as human nature, and did
not similar things happen frequently in the manufacturing
Midlands, where the general temperament is a fearful and strange
compound of pride, obstinacy, unconquerableness, romance, and
stupidity. Yes, stupidity.
No single word had passed between the brothers in that house for
ten years. On the morning after the historical quarrel Robert had
not replied when John spoke to him. 'Well,' said John's secret
heart--and John's secret heart ought to have known better, as it
was older than its brother heart--'I'll teach him a lesson. I
won't speak until he does.' And Robert's secret heart had somehow
divined this idiotic resolution, and had said: 'We shall see.'
Maggie had been the first to notice the stubborn silence. Then
their friends noticed it, especially Mr Liversage, the solicitor,
their most intimate friend. But you are not to suppose that
anybody protested very strongly. For John and Robert were not the
kind of men with whom liberties may be taken; and, moreover,
Bursley was slightly amused--at the beginning. It assumed the
attitude of a disinterested spectator at a fight. It wondered who
would win. Of course, it called both the brothers fools, yet in a
tone somewhat sympathetic, because such a thing as had occurred to
the Hessians might well occur to any man gifted with the true
Bursley spirit. There is this to be said for a Bursley man: Having
made his bed, he will lie on it, and he will not complain.
The Hessians suffered severely by their self-imposed dumbness, but
they suffered like Stoics. Maggie also suffered, and Maggie would
not stand it. Maggie it was who had invented the slate. Indeed,
they had heard some plain truths from that stout, bustling woman.
They had not yielded, but they had accepted the slate in order to
minimize the inconvenience to Maggie, and afterwards they deigned
to make use of it for their own purposes. As for friends--friends
accustomed themselves to the status quo. There came a time when
the spectacle of two men chattering to everybody else in a
company, and not saying a word to each other, no longer appealed
to Bursley's sense of humour. The silent scenes at which Maggie
assisted every day did not, either, appeal to Maggie's sense of
humour, because she had none. So the famous feud grew into a sort
of elemental fact of Nature. It was tolerated as the weather is
tolerated. The brothers acquired pride in it; even Bursley
regarded it as an interesting municipal curiosity. The sole
imperfection in a lovely and otherwise perfect quarrel was that
John and Robert, being both employed at Roycroft's Majolica
Manufactory, the one as works manager and the other as commercial
traveller, were obliged to speak to each other occasionally in the
way of business. Artistically, this was a pity, though they did
speak very sternly and distantly. The partial truce necessitated
by Roycroft's was confined strictly to Roycroft's. And when Robert
was not on his journeys, these two tall, strong, dark, bearded men
might often be seen of a night walking separately and doggedly
down Oldcastle Street from the works, within five yards of each
And no one suggested the lunatic asylum. Such is the force of
pride, of rank stupidity, and of habit.
The slate-scratching was scarcely over that evening when Mr Powell
Liversage appeared. He was a golden-haired man, with a jolly face,
lighter and shorter in structure than the two brothers. His
friendship with them dated from school-days, and it had survived
even the entrance of Liversage into a learned profession.
Liversage, who, being a bachelor like the Hessians, had many
unoccupied evenings, came to see the brothers regularly every
Saturday night, and one or other of them dropped in upon him most
Wednesdays; but this particular night was a Thursday.
'How do?' John greeted him succinctly between two puffs of a pipe.
'How do?' replied Liversage.
'How do, Pow?' Robert greeted him in turn, also between two puffs
of a pipe.
And 'How do, little 'un?' replied Liversage.
A chair was indicated to him, and he sat down, and Robert poured
out some coffee into a third cup which Maggie had brought. John
pushed away the extra special of the Staffordshire Signal, which
he had been reading.
'What's up these days?' John demanded.
'Well,' said Liversage, and both brothers noticed that he was
rather ill at ease, instead of being humorous and lightly caustic
as usual, 'the will's turned up.'
'The devil it has!' John exclaimed. 'When?'
And then, as there was a pause, Liversage added: 'Yes, my sons,
the will's turned up.'
'But where, you cuckoo, sitting there like that?' asked Robert.
'It was in that registered letter addressed to your sister that
the Post Office people wouldn't hand over until we'd taken out
letters of administration.'
'Well, I'm dashed!' muttered John. 'Who'd have thought of that?
You've got the will, then?'
The Hessians had an elder sister, Mrs Bott, widow of a colour
merchant, and Mrs Bott had died suddenly three months ago, the
night after a journey to Manchester. (Even at the funeral the
brothers had scandalized the town by not speaking to each other.)
Mrs Bott had wealth, wit, and wisdom, together with certain
peculiarities, of which one was an excessive secrecy. It was known
that she had made a will, because she had more than once notified
the fact, in a tone suggestive of highly important issues, but the
will had refused to be found. So Mr Liversage had been instructed
to take out letters of administration of the estate, which, in the
continued absence of the will, would be divided equally between
the brothers. And twelve or thirteen thousand pounds may be
compared to a financial beef-steak that cuts up very handsomely
for two persons. The carving-knife was about to descend on its
succulence, when, lo! the will!
'How came the will to be in the post?' asked Robert.
'The handwriting on the envelope was your sister's,' said
Liversage. 'And the package was posted in Manchester. Very
probably she had taken the will to Manchester to show it to a
lawyer or something of that sort, and then she was afraid of
losing it on the journey back, and so she sent it to herself by
registered post. But before it arrived, of course, she was dead.'
'That wasn't a bad scheme of poor Mary Ann's!' John commented.
'It was just like her!' said Robert, speaking pointedly to
Liversage. 'But what an odd thing!'
Now, both these men were, no doubt excusably, agonized by
curiosity to learn the contents of the will. But would either of
them be the first to express that curiosity? Never in this world!
Not for the fortune itself! To do so would scarcely have been
Bursleyish. It would certainly not have been Hessianlike. So
Liversage was obliged at length to say--
'I reckon I'd better read you the will, eh?'
The brothers nodded.
'Mind you,' said Liversage, 'it's not my will. I've had nothing to
do with it; so kindly keep your hair on. As a matter of fact, she
must have drawn it up herself. It's not drawn properly at all, but
it's witnessed all right, and it'll hold water, just as well as if
the blooming Lord Chancellor had fixed it up for her in person.'
He produced the document and read, awkwardly and self-
'"This is my will. You are both of you extremely foolish, John and
Robert, and I've often told you so. Nobody has ever understood,
and nobody ever will understand, why you quarrelled like that over
Annie Emery. You are punishing yourselves, but you are punishing
her as well, and it isn't fair her waiting all these years. So I
give all my estate, no matter what it is, to whichever of you
marries Annie. And I hope this will teach you a lesson. You need
it more than you need my money. But you must be married within a
year of my death. And if the one that marries cares to give five
thousand pounds or so to the other, of course there's nothing to
prevent him. This is just a hint. And if you don't either of you
marry Annie within a year, then I just leave everything I have to
Miss Annie Emery (spinster), stationer and fancy-goods dealer,
Duck Bank, Bursley. She deserves something for her disappointment,
and she shall have it. Mr Liversage, solicitor, must kindly be my
executor. And I commit my soul to God, hoping for a blessed
resurrection. 20th January, 1896. Signed Mary Ann Bott, widow." As
I told you, the witnessing is in order,' Liversage finished.
'Give it here,' said John shortly, and scanned the sheet of paper.
And Robert actually walked round the table and looked over his
brother's shoulder--ample proof that he was terrifically moved.
'And do you mean to tell me that a will like that is good in law?'
'Of course it's good in law!' Liversage replied. 'Legal
phraseology is a useful thing, and it often saves trouble in the
end; but it ain't indispensable, you know.'
'Humph!' was Robert's comment as he resumed his seat and relighted
All three men were nervous. Each was afraid to speak, afraid even
to meet the eyes of the other two. An unmajestic silence followed.
'Well, I'll be off, I think,' Liversage remarked at length with
'I say,' Robert stopped him. 'Better not say anything about this
to Miss--to Annie, eh?'
'I will say nothing,' agreed Liversage (infamously and
unprofessionally concealing the fact that he had already said
And he departed.
The brothers sat in flustered meditation over the past and the
Ten years before, Annie Emery had been an orphan of twenty-three,
bravely starting in business for herself amid the plaudits of the
admiring town; and John had fallen in love with her courage and
her sense and her feminine charm. But alas, as Ovid points out,
how difficult it is for a woman to please only one man! Robert
also had fallen in love with Annie. Each brother had accused the
other of underhand and unbrotherly practices in the pursuit of
Annie. Each was profoundly hurt by the accusations, and each, in
the immense fatuity of his pride, had privately sworn to prove his
innocence by having nothing more to do with Annie. Such is life!
Such is man! Such is the terrible egoism of man! And thus it was
that, for the sake of wounded pride, John and Robert not only did
not speak to one another for ten years, but they spoilt at least
one of their lives; and they behaved ignobly to Annie, who would
certainly have married either one or the other of them.
At two o'clock in the morning John pulled a coin out of his pocket
and made the gesture of tossing.
'Who shall go first!' he explained.
Robert had a queer sensation in his spine as his elder brother
spoke to him for the first time in ten years. He wanted to reply
vocally. He had a most imperious desire to reply vocally. But he
could not. Something stronger even than the desire prevented his
tongue from moving.
John tossed the coin--it was a sovereign--and covered it with his
'Tail!' Robert murmured, somewhat hoarsely.
But it was head.
Then they went to bed.
The side door of Miss Emery's shop was in Brick Passage, and not
in the main street, so that a man, even a man of commanding
stature and formidable appearance, might by insinuating himself
into Brick Street, off King Street, and then taking the passage
from the quieter end, arrive at it without attracting too much
attention. This course was adopted by John Hessian. From the
moment when he quitted his own house that Friday evening in June
he had been subject to the delusion that the collective eye of
Bursley was upon him. As a matter of fact, the collective eye of
Bursley is much too large and important to occupy itself
exclusively with a single individual. Bursley is not a village,
and let no one think it. Nevertheless, John was subject to the
The shop was shut, as he knew it would be. But the curtained
window of the parlour, between the side-door and the small
shuttered side-window of the shop, gave a strange suggestion of
interesting virgin spotless domesticity within. John cast a
fearful eye on the main thoroughfare. Nobody seemed to be passing.
The chapel-keeper of the Wesleyan Chapel on the opposite side of
Trafalgar Road was refreshing the massive Corinthian portico of
that fane, and paying no regard whatever to the temple of Eros
which Miss Emery's shop had suddenly become.
So John knocked.
'I am a fool!' his thought ran as he knocked.
Because he did not know what he was about. He had won the toss,
and with it the right to approach Annie Emery before his brother.
But what then? Well, he did desire to marry her, quite as much for
herself as for his sister's fortune. But what then? How was he
going to explain the tepidity, the desertion, the long sin against
love of ten years? In short, how was he going to explain the
inexplicable? He could decidedly do nothing that evening except
make a blundering ass of himself. And how soon would Robert have
the right to come along and say HIS say? That point had not been
settled. Points so extremely delicate cannot be settled on a
slate, and he had not dared to broach it viva voce to his younger
brother. He had been too afraid of a rebuff.
He then hoped that Annie's servant would tell him that Annie was
Annie, however, took him at a disadvantage by opening the door
'Well, MR HESSIAN!' she exclaimed, her face bursting into a swift
and welcoming smile.
'I was just passing,' the donkey in him blundered forth. 'And I
However, in fifteen seconds he was on the domestic side of the
sitting-room window, and seated in the antimacassared armchair
between the fire-place and the piano, and Annie had taken his hat
and told him that her servant was out for the evening.
'But I'm disturbing your supper, Miss Emery,' he said. Flurried
though he was, he could not fail to notice the white embroidered
cloth spread diagonally on the table, and the cold meat and the
pastry and the glittering cutlery and crystal thereon.
'Not at all,' she replied. 'You haven't had supper yet, I expect?'
'No,' he said, not thinking.
'It will be nice of you to help me to eat mine,' said she.
'Oh! But really--'
But she got plates and things out of the cupboard below the
bookcase--and there he was! She would take no refusal. It was
'I'm awfully glad I came now,' his thought ran; I'm managing it
His sole discomfort was that he could not invent a sufficiently
ingenious explanation of his call. You can't tell a woman you've
called to make love to her, and when your previous call happens to
have been ten years ago, some kind of an explanation does seem to
be demanded. Ultimately, as Annie was so very pleased to see him,
so friendly, so feminine, so equal to the occasion, he decided to
let his presence in her abode that night stand as one of those
central facts in existence that need no explanation. And they went
on talking and eating till the dusk deepened and Annie lit the gas
and drew the blind.
He watched her on the sly as she moved about the room. He decided
that she did not appear a day older. There was the same plump,
erect figure, the same neatness, the same fair skin and fair hair,
the same little nose, the same twinkle in the eye--only perhaps
the twinkle in the eye was a trifle less cruel than it used to be.
She was not a day older. (In this he was of course utterly
mistaken; she was ten years older, she was thirty-three, with ten
years of successful commercial experience behind her; she would
never be twenty-three again. Still she was a most desirable woman,
and a woman infinitely beyond his deserts.) Her air of general
capability impressed him. And with that there was mingled a
strange softness, a marvellous hint of a concealed wish to
surrender.... Well, she made him feel big and masculine--in brief,
He regretted the lost ten years. His present way of life seemed
intolerable to him. The new heaven opened its gate and gave
glimpses of paradise. After all, he felt himself well qualified
for that paradise. He felt that he had all along been a woman's
man, without knowing it.
'By Jove!' his thought ran. 'At this rate I might propose to her
in a week or two.'
'Poor old Bobbie!'
A quarter of an hour later, in some miraculous manner, they were
more intimate than they had ever been, much more intimate. He
revised his estimate of the time that must elapse before he might
propose to her. In another five minutes he was fighting hard
against a mad impulse to propose to her on the spot. And then the
fight was over, and he had lost. He proposed to her under the
rose-coloured shade of the Welsbach light.
She drew away, as though shot.
And with the rapidity of lightning, in the silence which followed,
he went back to his original criticism of himself, that he was a
fool. Naturally she would request him to leave. She would accuse
him of effrontery.
Her lips trembled. He prepared to rise.
'It's so sudden!' she said.
Bliss! Glory! Celestial joy! Her words were at least equivalent to
an absolution of his effrontery! She would accept! She would
accept! He jumped up and approached her. But she jumped up too and
retreated. He was not to win his prize so easily.
'Please sit down,' she murmured. 'I must think it over,' she said,
apparently mastering herself. 'Shall you be at chapel next Sunday
'Yes,' he answered.
'If I am there, and if I am wearing white roses in my hat, it will
mean--' She dropped her eyes.
'Yes?' he queried.
And she nodded.
'And supposing you aren't there?'
'Then the Sunday after,' she said.
He thanked her in his Hessian style.
'I prefer that way of telling you,' she smiled demurely. 'It will
avoid the necessity for another--so much--you understand?...'
'Quite so, quite so!' he agreed. 'I quite understand.'
'And if I DO see those roses,' he went on, 'I shall take upon
myself to drop in for tea, may I?'
'In any case, you mustn't speak to me coming out of chapel,
As he walked home down Oldcastle Street he said to himself that
the age of miracles was not past; also that, after all, he was not
so old as the tale of his years would mathematically indicate.
Her absence from chapel on the next Sunday disagreed with him.
However, Robert was away nearly all the week, and he had the house
to himself to dream in. It frequently happened to him to pass by
Miss Emery's shop, but he caught no glimpse of her, and though he
really was in serious need of writing-paper and envelopes, he
dared not enter. Robert returned on the Friday.
On the morning of the second Sunday, John got up early, in order
to cope with a new necktie that he had purchased in Hanbridge.
Nevertheless he found Robert afoot before him, and Robert, by some
unlucky chance, was wearing not merely a new necktie, but a new
suit of clothes. They breakfasted in their usual august silence,
and John gathered from a remark of Robert's to Maggie when she
brought in the boots that Robert meant to go to chapel. Now,
Robert, being a commercial traveller and therefore a bit of a
caution, did not attend chapel with any remarkable assiduity. And
John, in the privacy of his own mind, blamed him for having been
so clumsy as to choose that particular morning for breaking the
habits of a lifetime. Still, the presence of Robert in the pew
could not prejudicially affect John, and so there was no genuine
cause for gloominess.
After a time it became apparent that each was waiting for the
other to go. John began to get annoyed. At last he made the plunge
and went. Turning his head halfway up Oldcastle Street, opposite
the mansion which is called 'Miss Peel's', he perceived Robert
fifty yards behind. It was a glorious June day.
He blushed as he entered chapel. If he was nervous, it may be
accorded to him as excuse that the happiness of his life depended
on what he should see within the next few minutes. However, he
felt pretty sure, though it was exciting all the same.
To reach the Hessian pew he was obliged to pass Miss Emery's. And
it was empty! Robert arrived.
The organist finished the voluntary. The leading tenor of the
choir put up the number of the first hymn. The minister ascended
the staircase of the great mahogany pulpit, and prayed silently,
and arranged his papers in the leaves of the hymn-book, and
glanced about to see who was there and who was presumably still in
bed, and coughed; and then Miss Annie Emery sailed in with that
air of false calm which is worn by the experienced traveller who
catches a train by the fifth of a second. The service commenced.
She was wearing white roses. There could be no mistake as to that.
There were about a hundred and fifty-five white roses in the
garden of her hat.
What a thrill ran through John's heart! He had won Annie, and he
had won the fortune. Yes, he would give Robert the odd five
thousand pounds. His state of mind might even lead him to make it
guineas. He heard not a word of the sermon, and throughout the
service he rose up and sat down several instants after the rest of
the congregation, because he was so absent-minded.
After service he waited for everybody else to leave, in order not
to break his promise to the divine Annie. So did Robert. This ill-
timed rudeness on Robert's part somewhat retarded the growth of a
young desire in John's heart to make friends with poor Bob. Then
he got up and left, and Robert followed.
They dined in silence, John deciding that he would begin his
overtures of friendship after he had seen Annie, and could tell
Robert that he was formally engaged. The brothers ate little. They
both improved their minds during their repast--John with the
Christian Commonwealth, and Robert with the Saturday cricket
edition of the Signal (I regret it).
Then, after pipes, they both went out for a walk, naturally not in
the same direction. The magnificence of the weather filled them
both with the joy of life. As for John, he went out for a walk
simply because he could not contain himself within the house. He
could not wait immovable till four-thirty, the hour at which he
meant to call on Annie for tea and the betrothal kiss. Therefore
he ascended to Hillport and wandered as far as Oldcastle, all in a
silk hat and a frock-coat.
It was precisely half-past four as he turned, unassumingly, from
Brick Street into Brick Passage, and so approached the side door
of Annie Emery's. And his astonishment and anger were immense when
he saw Robert, likewise in silk hat and frock-coat, penetrating
into Brick Passage from the other end.
They met, and their inflamed spirits collided.
'What's the meaning of this?' John demanded, furious; and,
simultaneously, Robert demanded: 'What in Hades are YOU doing
Only Sunday and the fine clothes and the proximity to Annie
prevented actual warfare.
'I'm calling on Annie,' said John.
'So am I,' said Robert.
'Well, you're too late,' said John.
'Oh, I'm too late, am I?' said Robert, with a disdainful laugh.
'I tell you you're too late,' said John. 'You may as well know at
once that I've proposed to Annie and she's accepted me.'
'I like that! I like that!' said Robert.
'Don't shout!' said John.
'I'm not shouting,' said Robert. 'But you may as well know that
you're mistaken, my boy. It's me that's proposed to Annie and been
accepted. You must be off your chump.'
'When did you propose to her?' said John.
'On Friday, if you must know,' said Robert.
'And she accepted you at once?' said John.
'No. She said that if she was wearing white roses in her hat this
morning at chapel, that would mean she accepted,' said Robert.
'Liar!' said John.
'I suppose you'll admit she WAS wearing white roses in her hat?'
said Robert, controlling himself.
'Liar!' said John, and continued breathless: 'That was what she
said to ME. She must have told you that white roses meant a
'Oh no, she didn't!' said Robert, quailing secretly, but keeping
up a formidable show of courage. 'You're an old fool!' he added
They were both breathing hard, and staring hard at each other.
'Come away,' said John. 'Come away! We can't talk here. She may
look out of the window.'
So they went away. They walked very quickly home, and, once in the
parlour, they began to have it out. And, before they had done, the
reading of cricket news on Sunday was as nothing compared to the
desecrating iniquity which they committed. The scene was not such
as can be decently recounted. But about six o'clock Maggie
entered, and, at considerable personal risk, brought them back to
a sense of what was due to their name, the town, and the day. She
then stated that she would not remain in such a house, and she
'But whatever made you do it, dearest?'
These words were addressed to Annie Emery on the glorious summer
evening which closed that glorious summer day, and they were
addressed to her by no other person than Powell Liversage. The
pair were in the garden of the house in Trafalgar Road occupied by
Mr Liversage and his mother, and they looked westwards over the
distant ridge of Hillport, where the moon was setting.
'Whatever made me do it!' repeated Annie, and the twinkle in her
eye had that charming cruelty which John had missed. 'Did they not
deserve it? Of course, I can talk to you now with perfect freedom,
can't I? Well, what do you THINK of it? Here for ten years neither
one nor the other does more than recognize me in the street, and
then all of a sudden they come down on me like that--simply
because there's a question of money. I couldn't have believed men
could be so stupid--no, I really couldn't! They're friends of
yours, Powell, I know, but--however, that's no matter. But it was
too ridiculously easy to lead them on! They'd swallow any
flattery. I just did it to see what they'd do, and I think I
arranged it pretty well. I quite expected they would call about
the same time, and then shouldn't I have given them my mind!
Unfortunately they met outside, and got very hot--I saw them from
the bedroom window--and went away.'
'You mustn't forget, my dear girl,' said Liversage, 'that it was
you they quarrelled about. I don't want to defend 'em for a
minute, but it wasn't altogether the money that sent them to you;
it was more that the money gave them an excuse for coming!'
'It was a very bad excuse, then!' said Annie.
'Agreed!' Liversage murmured.
The moon was extremely lovely and romantic against the distant
spire of Hillport Church, and its effect on the couple was just
what might have been anticipated.
'Perhaps I'm sorry,' Annie admitted at length, with a charming
'Oh! I don't think there's anything to be SORRY about,' said
Liversage. 'But of course they'll think I've had a hand in it. You
see, I've never breathed a word to them about--about my feelings
'No. It would have been rather a delicate subject, you see, with
them. And I'm sure they'll be staggered when they know that we got
engaged last night. They'll certainly say I've--er--been after
you for the--No, they won't. They're decent chaps, really; very
'Anyhow, you may be sure, dear,' said Annie stiffly, 'that _I_
shan't rob them of their vile money! Nothing would induce me to
'Of course not, dearest!' said Liversage--or, rather the finer
part of him said it; the baser part somewhat regretted that vile
twelve thousand or so. (I must be truthful.)
He took her hand again.
At the same moment old Mrs Liversage came hastening down the
garden, and Liversage dropped the hand.
'Powell,' she said. 'Here's John Hessian, and he wants to see
'The dickens!' exclaimed Liversage, glancing at Annie.
'I must go,' said Annie. 'I shall go by the fields. Good night,
dear Mrs Liversage.'
'Wait ten seconds,' Liversage pleaded, 'and I'll be with you.' And
he ran off.
John, haggard and undone, was awaiting him in the drawing-room.
'Pow,' said he, 'I've had a fearful row with Bob, and I can't
possibly sleep in our house tonight. Don't talk to me. But let me
have one of the beds in your spare room, will you? There's a good
'Why, of course, Johnnie,' said Liversage. 'Of course.'
'And I'll go right to bed now,' said John.
An hour later, after Powell Liversage had seen his affianced to
her abode and returned home, and after his mother had gone to bed,
there was a knock at the front door, and Liversage opened to
'Look here, Pow,' said Robert, whose condition was deplorable, 'I
want to sleep here tonight. Do you mind? Fact is, I've had a devil
of a shindy with Jack, and Maggie's run off, and, anyhow, I
couldn't possibly stop in the same house with Jack tonight.'
'See here,' said Robert. 'I can't talk. Just let me have a bed in
your spare room. I'm sure you mother won't mind.'
'Why, certainly,' said Liversage.
He lit a candle, escorted Robert upstairs, opened the door of the
spare room, gave the candle to Robert, pushed him in, said 'Good
night,' and shut the door.
What a night!
THE NINETEENTH HAT
A dramatic moment was about to arrive in the joint career of
Stephen Cheswardine and Vera his wife. The motor-car stood by the
side of the pavement of the Strand, Torquay, that resort of
southern wealth and fashion. The chauffeur, Felix, had gone into
the automobile shop to procure petrol. Mr Cheswardine looking
longer than ever in his long coat, was pacing the busy footpath.
Mrs Cheswardine, her beauty obscured behind a flowing brown veil,
was lolling in the tonneau, very pleased to be in the tonneau,
very pleased to be observed by all Torquay in the tonneau, very
satisfied with her husband, and with the Napier car, and
especially with Felix, now buying petrol. Suddenly Mrs Cheswardine
perceived that next door but one to the automobile shop was a
milliner's. She sat up and gazed. According to a card in the
window an 'after-season sale' was in progress that June day at the
milliner's. There were two rows of hats in the window, each hat
plainly ticketed. Mrs Cheswardine descended from the car, crossed
the pavement, and gave to the window the whole of her attention.
She sniffed at most of the hats. But one of them, of green straw,
with a large curving green wing on either side of the crown, and a
few odd bits of fluffiness here and there, pleased her. It was
Parisian. She had been to Paris--once. An 'after-season' sale at a
little shop in Torquay would not, perhaps, seem the most likely
place in the world to obtain a chic hat; it is, moreover, a
notorious fact that really chic hats cannot be got for less than
three pounds, and this hat was marked ten shillings. Nevertheless,
hats are most mysterious things. Their quality of being chic is
more often the fruit of chance than of design, particularly in
England. You never know when nor where you may light on a good
hat. Vera considered that she had lighted on one.
'They're probably duck's feathers dyed,' she said to herself. 'But
it's a darling of a hat and it will suit me to a T.'
As for the price, when once you have taken the ticket off a hat
the secret of its price is gone forever. Many a hat less smart
than this hat has been marked in Bond Street at ten guineas
instead of ten shillings. Hats are like oil-paintings--they are
worth what people will give for them.
So Vera approached her husband, and said, with an enchanting,
'Lend me half-a-sovereign, will you, doggie?'
She called him doggie in those days because he was a sort of dog-
man, a sort of St Bernard, shaggy and big, with faithful eyes; and
he enjoyed being called doggie.
But on this occasion he was not to be bewitched by the enchanting
innocence of the smile nor by the endearing epithet. He refused to
relax his features.
'You aren't going to buy another hat, are you?' he asked sternly,
The smile disappeared from her face, and she pulled her slim young
'Yes,' she replied harshly.
The battle was definitely engaged. You may inquire why a man
financially capable of hiring a 20-24 h.p. Napier car, with a
French chauffeur named Felix, for a week or more, should grudge
his wife ten shillings for a hat. Well, you are to comprehend that
it was not a question of ten shillings, it was a question of
principle. Vera already had eighteen hats, and it had been clearly
understood between them that no more money should be spent on
attire for quite a long time. Vera was entirely in the wrong. She
knew it, and he knew it. But she wanted just that hat.
And they were on their honeymoon, you know: which enormously
intensified the poignancy of the drama. They had been married only
six days; in three days more they were to return to the Five
Towns, where Stephen was solidly established as an earthenware
manufacturer. You who have been through them are aware what
ticklish things honeymoons are, and how much depends on the
tactfulness of the more tactful of the two parties. Stephen,
thirteen years older than Vera, was the more tactful of the two
parties. He had married a beautiful and elegant woman, with vast
unexploited capacities for love in her heart. But he had married a
capricious woman, and he knew it. So far he had yielded to her
caprices, as well became him; but in the depths of his masculine
mind he had his own private notion as to the identity of the
person who should ultimately be master in their house, and he had
decided only the previous night that when the next moment for
being firm arrived, firm he would be.
And now the moment was upon him. It was their eyes that fought,
silently, bitterly. There is a great deal of bitterness in true
Stephen perceived the affair broadly, in all its aspects. He was
older and much more experienced than Vera, and therefore he was
responsible for the domestic peace, and for her happiness, and for
his own, and for appearances, and for various other things. He
perceived the moral degradation which would be involved in an open
quarrel during the honeymoon. He perceived the difficulties of a
battle in the street, in such a select and prim street as the
Strand, Torquay, where the very backbone of England's
respectability goes shopping. He perceived Vera's vast ignorance
of life. He perceived her charm, and her naughtiness, and all her
defects. And he perceived, further, that, this being the first
conflict of their married existence, it was of the highest
importance that he should emerge from it the victor. To allow Vera
to triumph would gravely menace their future tranquillity and
multiply the difficulties which her adorable capriciousness would
surely cause. He could not afford to let her win. It was his duty,
not merely to himself but to her, to conquer. But, on the other
hand, he had never fully tested her powers of sheer obstinacy, her
willingness to sacrifice everything for the satisfaction of a
whim; and he feared these powers. He had a dim suspicion that Vera
was one of that innumerable class of charming persons who are
perfectly delicious and perfectly sweet so long as they have
precisely their own way--and no longer.
Vera perceived only two things. She perceived the hat--although
her back was turned towards it--and she perceived the half-
sovereign--although it was hidden in Stephen's pocket.
'But, my dear,' Stephen protested, 'you know--'