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The Grim Smile of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett

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'And what's YOUR game?'

Sir Jee was taken aback. He, the chairman of the borough Bench,
and the leading philanthropist in the country, to be so spoken to!
But what could he do? He himself had legally established Smith's
innocence. Smith was as free as air, and had a perfect right to
adopt any tone he chose to any man he chose. And Sir Jee desired a
service from William Smith.

'I was hoping I might be of use to you,' said Sir Jehoshaphat

'Well,' said Smith, 'that's all right, that is. But none of your
philanthropic dodges, you know. I don't want to lead a new life,
and I don't want to turn over a new leaf, and I don't want a
helpin' hand, nor none o' those things. And, what's more, I don't
want a situation. I've got all the situation as I need. But I
never refuse money, nor beer neither. Never did, and I'm forty
years old next month.'

'I suppose burgling doesn't pay very well, does it?' Sir Jee
boldly ventured.

William Smith laughed coarsely.

'It pays right enough,' said he. 'But I don't put my money on my
back, governor, I put it into a bit of public-house property when
I get the chance.'

'It may pay,' said Sir Jee. 'But it is wrong. It is very anti-social.'

'Is it, indeed?' Smith returned dryly. 'Anti-social, is it? Well,
I've heard it called plenty o' things in my time, but never that.
Now, I should have called it quite sociablelike, sort of making
free with strangers, and so on. However,' he added, 'I come across
a cove once as told me crime was nothing but a disease and ought
to be treated as such. I asked him for a dozen o' port, but he
never sent it.'

'Ever been caught before?' Sir Jee inquired.

'Not much!' Smith exclaimed. 'And this'll be a lesson to me, I can
tell you. Now, what are you getting at, governor? Because my
time's money, my time is.'

Sir Jee coughed once more.

'Sit down,' said Sir Jee.

And William Smith sat down opposite to him at the table, and put
his shiny elbows on the table precisely in the manner of Sir Jee's

'Well?' he cheerfully encouraged Sir Jee.

'How would you like to commit a burglary that was not a crime?'
said Sir Jee, his shifty eyes wandering around the room. 'A
perfectly lawful burglary?'

'What ARE you getting at?' William Smith was genuinely astonished.

'At my residence, Sneyd Castle,' Sir Jee proceeded, 'there's a
large portrait of myself in the dining-room that I want to have
stolen. You understand?'


'Yes. I want to get rid of it. And I want--er--people to think
that it has been stolen.'

'Well, why don't you stop up one night and steal it yourself, and
then burn it?' William Smith suggested.

'That would be deceitful,' said Sir Jee, gravely. 'I could not
tell my friends that the portrait had been stolen if it had not
been stolen. The burglary must be entirely genuine.'

'What's the figure?' said Smith curtly.


'What are you going to give me for the job?'

'GIVE you for doing the job?' Sir Jee repeated, his secret and
ineradicable meanness aroused. 'GIVE you? Why, I'm giving you the
opportunity to honestly steal a picture that's worth over a
thousand pounds--I dare say it would be worth two thousand pounds
in America--and you want to be paid into the bargain! Do you know,
my man, that people come all the way from Manchester, and even
London, to see that portrait?' He told Smith about the painting.

'Then why are you in such a stew to be rid of it?' queried the

'That's my affair,' said Sir Jee. 'I don't like it. Lady Dain
doesn't like it. But it's a presentation portrait, and so I can't--
you see, Mr Smith?'

'And how am I going to dispose of it when I've got it?' Smith
demanded. 'You can't melt a portrait down as if it was silver. By
what you say, governor, it's known all over the blessed world.
Seems to me I might just as well try to sell the Nelson Column.'

'Oh, nonsense!' said Sir Jee. 'Nonsense. You'll sell it in America
quite easily. It'll be a fortune to you. Keep it for a year first,
and then send it to New York.'

William Smith shook his head and drummed his fingers on the table;
and then quite suddenly he brightened and said--

'All right, governor. I'll take it on, just to oblige you.'

'When can you do it?' asked Sir Jee, hardly concealing his joy.

'No,' said Smith, mysteriously. 'I'm engaged tonight.'

'Well, tomorrow night?'

'Nor tomorrow. I'm engaged tomorrow too.'

'You seem to be very much engaged, my man,' Sir Jee observed.

'What do you expect?' Smith retorted. 'Business is business. I
could do it the night after tomorrow.'

'But that's Christmas Eve,' Sir Jee protested.

'What if it is Christmas Eve?' said Smith coldly. 'Would you
prefer Christmas Day? I'm engaged on Boxing Day AND the day

'Not in the Five Towns, I trust?' Sir Jee remarked.

'No,' said Smith shortly. 'The Five Towns is about sucked dry.'

The affair was arranged for Christmas Eve.

'Now,' Sir Jee suggested, 'shall I draw you a plan of the castle,
so that you can--'

William Smith's face expressed terrific scorn. 'Do you suppose,'
he said, 'as I haven't had plans o' your castle ever since it was
built? What do you take me for? I'm not a blooming excursionist,
I'm not. I'm a business man--that's what I am.'

Sir Jee was snubbed, and he agreed submissively to all William
Smith's arrangements for the innocent burglary. He perceived that
in William Smith he had stumbled on a professional of the highest
class, and this good fortune pleased him.

'There's only one thing that riles me,' said Smith, in parting,
'and that is that you'll go and say that after you'd done
everything you could for me I went and burgled your castle. And
you'll talk about the ingratitude of the lower classes. I know
you, governor!'


On the afternoon of the 24th of December Sir Jehoshaphat drove
home to Sneyd Castle from the principal of the three Dain
manufactories, and found Lady Dain superintending the work of
packing up trunks. He and she were to quit the castle that
afternoon in order to spend Christmas on the other side of the
Five Towns, under the roof of their eldest son, John, who had a
new house, a new wife, and a new baby (male). John was a
domineering person, and, being rather proud of his house and all
that was his, he had obstinately decided to have his own Christmas
at his own hearth. Grandpapa and Grandmamma, drawn by the
irresistible attraction of that novelty, a grandson (though Mrs
John HAD declined to have the little thing named Jehoshaphat), had
yielded to John's solicitations, and the family gathering, for the
first time in history, was not to occur round Sir Jee's mahogany.

Sir Jee, very characteristically, said nothing to Lady Dain
immediately. He allowed her to proceed with the packing of the
trunks, and then tea was served, and as the time was approaching
for the carriage to come round to take them to the station, at
last he suddenly remarked-

'I shan't be able to go with you to John's this afternoon.'

'Oh, Jee!' she exclaimed. 'Really, you are tiresome. Why couldn't
you tell me before?'

'I will come over tomorrow morning--perhaps in time for church,'
he proceeded, ignoring her demand for an explanation.

He always did ignore her demand for an explanation. Indeed, she
only asked for explanations in a mechanical and perfunctory
manner--she had long since ceased to expect them. Sir Jee had been
born like that--devious, mysterious, incalculable. And Lady Dain
accepted him as he was. She was somewhat surprised, therefore,
when he went on--

'I have some minutes of committee meetings that I really must go
carefully through and send off tonight, and you know as well as I
do that there'll be no chance of doing that at John's. I've
telegraphed to John.'

He was obviously nervous and self-conscious.

'There's no food in the house,' sighed Lady Dain. 'And the
servants are all going away except Callear, and HE can't cook your
dinner tonight. I think I'd better stay myself and look after

'You'll do no such thing,' said Sir Jee, decisively. 'As for my
dinner, anything will do for that. The servants have been promised
their holiday, to start from this evening, and they must have it.
I can manage.'

Here spoke the philanthropist with his unshakable sense of

So Lady Dain departed, anxious and worried, having previously
arranged something cold for Sir Jee in the dining-room, and
instructed Callear about boiling the water for Sir Jee's tea on
Christmas morning. Callear was the under-coachman and a useful odd
man. He it was who would drive Sir Jee to the station on Christmas
morning, and then guard the castle and the stables thereof during
the absence of the family and the other servants. Callear slept
over the stables.

And after Sir Jee had consumed his cold repast in the dining-room
the other servants went, and Sir Jee was alone in the castle,
facing the portrait.

He had managed the affair fairly well, he thought. Indeed, he had
a talent for chicane, and none knew it better than himself. It
would have been dangerous if the servants had been left in the
castle. They might have suffered from insomnia, and heard William
Smith, and interfered with the operations of William Smith. On the
other hand, Sir Jee had no intention whatever of leaving the
castle uninhabited to the mercies of William Smith. He felt that
he himself must be on the spot to see that everything went right
and that nothing went wrong. Thus, the previously-arranged scheme
for the servants' holiday fitted perfectly into his plans, and all
that he had had to do was to refuse to leave the castle till the
morrow. It was ideal.

Nevertheless, he was a little afraid of what he had done, and of
what he was going to permit William Smith to do. It was certainly
dangerous--certainly rather a wild scheme. However, the die was
cast. And within twelve hours he would be relieved of the
intolerable incubus of the portrait.

And when he thought of the humiliations which that portrait had
caused him; when he remembered the remarks of his sons concerning
it, especially John's remarks; when he recalled phrases about it
in London newspapers, he squirmed, and told himself that no scheme
for getting rid of it could be too wild and perilous. And, after
all, the burglary dodge was the only dodge, absolutely the only
conceivable practical method of disposing of the portrait--except
burning down the castle. And surely it was preferable to a
conflagration, to arson! Moreover, in case of fire at the castle
some blundering fool would be sure to cry; 'The portrait! The
portrait must be saved!' And the portrait would be saved.

He gazed at the repulsive, hateful thing. In the centre of the
lower part of the massive gold frame was the legend: 'Presented to
Sir Jehoshaphat Dain, Knight, as a mark of public esteem and
gratitude,' etc. He wondered if William Smith would steal the
frame. It was to be hoped that he would not steal the frame. In
fact, William Smith would find it very difficult to steal that
frame unless he had an accomplice or so.

'This is the last time I shall see YOU!' said Sir Jee to the

Then he unfastened the catch of one of the windows in the dining-
room (as per contract with William Smith), turned out the electric
light, and went to bed in the deserted castle.

He went to bed, but not to sleep. It was no part of Sir Jee's
programme to sleep. He intended to listen, and he did listen.

And about two o'clock, precisely the hour which William Smith had
indicated, he fancied he heard muffled and discreet noises. Then
he was sure that he heard them. William Smith had kept his word.
Then the noises ceased for a period, and then they recommenced.
Sir Jee restrained his curiosity as long as he could, and when he
could restrain it no more he rose and silently opened his bedroom
window and put his head out into the nipping night air of
Christmas. And by good fortune he saw the vast oblong of the
picture, carefully enveloped in sheets, being passed by a couple
of dark figures through the dining-room window to the garden
outside. William Smith had a colleague, then, and he was taking
the frame as well as the canvas. Sir Jee watched the men disappear
down the avenue, and they did not reappear. Sir Jee returned to

Yes, he felt himself equal to facing it out with his family and
friends. He felt himself equal to pretending that he had no
knowledge of the burglary.

Having slept a few hours, he got up early and, half-dressed,
descended to the dining-room just to see what sort of a mess
William Smith had made.

The canvas of the portrait lay flat on the hearthrug, with the
following words written on it in chalk: 'This is no use to me.' It
was the massive gold frame that had gone.

Further, as was later discovered, all the silver had gone. Not a
spoon was left in the castle.


My mother never came to meet me at Bursley station when I arrived
in the Five Towns from London; much less did she come as far as
Knype station, which is the great traffic centre of the district,
the point at which one changes from the express into the local
train. She had always other things to do; she was 'preparing' for
me. So I had the little journey from Knype to Bursley, and then
the walk up Trafalgar Road, amid the familiar high chimneys and
the smoke and the clayey mud and the football posts and the
Midland accent, all by myself. And there was leisure to consider
anew how I should break to my mother the tremendous news I had for
her. I had been considering that question ever since getting into
the train at Euston, where I had said goodbye to Agnes; but in the
atmosphere of the Five Towns it seemed just slightly more
difficult; though, of course, it wasn't difficult, really.

You see, I wrote to my mother regularly every week, telling her
most of my doings. She knew all my friends by name. I dare say she
formed in her mind notions of what sort of people they were. Thus
I had frequently mentioned Agnes and her family in my letters. But
you can't write even to your mother and say in cold blood: 'I
think I am beginning to fall in love with Agnes,' 'I think Agnes
likes me,' 'I am mad on her,' 'I feel certain she likes me,' 'I
shall propose to her on such a day.' You can't do that. At least I
couldn't. Hence it had come about that on the 20th of December I
had proposed to Agnes and been accepted by Agnes, and my mother
had no suspicion that my happiness was so near. And on the 22nd,
by a previous and unalterable arrangement, I had come to spend
Christmas with my mother.

I was the only son of a widow; I was all that my mother had. And
lo! I had gone and engaged myself to a girl she had never seen,
and I had kept her in the dark! She would certainly be extremely
surprised, and she might be a little bit hurt--just at first.
Anyhow, the situation was the least in the world delicate.

I walked up the whitened front steps of my mother's little house,
just opposite where the electric cars stop, but before I could put
my hand on the bell my little plump mother, in her black silk and
her gold brooch and her auburn hair, opened to me, having
doubtless watched me down the road from the bay-window, as usual,
and she said, as usual kissing me--

'Well, Philip! How are you?'

And I said--

'Oh! I'm all right, mother. How are you?'

I perceived instantly that she was more excited than my arrival
ordinarily made her. There were tears in her smiling eyes, and she
was as nervous as a young girl. She did indeed look remarkably
young for a woman of forty-five, with twenty-five years of
widowhood and a brief but too tempestuous married life behind her.

The thought flashed across my mind: 'By some means or other she
has got wind of my engagement. But how?'

But I said nothing. I, too, was naturally rather nervous. Mothers
are kittle cattle.

'I'll tell her at supper,' I decided.

And she hovered round me, like a sea-gull round a steamer, as I
went upstairs.

There was a ring at the door. She flew, instead of letting the
servant go. It was a porter with my bag.

Just as I was coming down-stairs again there was another ring at
the door. And my mother appeared magically out of the kitchen, but
I was beforehand with her, and with a laugh I insisted on opening
the front door myself this time. A young woman stood on the step.

'Please, Mrs Dawson wants to know if Mrs Durance can kindly lend
her half-a-dozen knives and forks?'

'Eh, with pleasure,' said my mother, behind me. 'Just wait a
minute, Lucy. Come inside on the mat.'

I followed my mother into the drawing-room, where she kept her
silver in a cabinet.

'That's Mrs Dawson's new servant,' my mother whispered. 'But she
needn't think I'm going to lend her my best, because I'm not.'

'I shouldn't, if I were you,' I supported her.

And she went out with some second-best in tissue paper, and beamed
on Mrs Dawson's servant with an assumed benevolence.

'There!' she exclaimed. 'And the compliments of the season to your
mistress, Lucy.'

After that my mother disappeared into the kitchen to worry an
entirely capable servant. And I roamed about, feeling happily
excited, examining the drawing-room, in which nothing was changed
except the incandescent light and the picture postcards on the
mantelpiece. Then I wandered into the dining-room, a small room at
the back of the house, and here an immense surprise awaited me.

Supper was set for three!

'Well,' I reflected. 'Here's a nice state of affairs! Supper for
three, and she hasn't breathed a word!'

My mother was so clever in social matters, and especially in the
planning of delicious surprises, that I believed her capable even
of miracles. In some way or other she must have discovered the
state of my desires towards Agnes. She had written, or something.
She and Agnes had been plotting together by letter to startle me,
and perhaps telegraphing. Agnes had fibbed in telling me that she
could not possibly come to Bursley for Christmas; she had
delightfully fibbed. And my mother had got her concealed somewhere
in the house, or was momentarily expecting her. That explained the
tears, the nervousness, the rushes to the door.

I crept out of the dining-room, determined not to let my mother
know that I had secretly viewed the supper-table. And as I was
crossing the lobby to the drawing-room there was a third ring at
the door, and a third time my mother rushed out of the kitchen.

'By Jove!' I thought. 'Suppose it's Agnes. What a scene!'

And trembling with expectation I opened the door. It was Mr Nixon.

Now, Mr Nixon was an old friend of the family's, a man of forty-
nine or fifty, with a reputation for shrewdness and increasing
wealth. He owned a hundred and seventy-five cottages in the town,
having bought them gradually in half-dozens, and in rows; he
collected the rents himself, and attended to the repairs himself,
and was celebrated as a good landlord, and as being almost the
only man in Bursley who had made cottage property pay. He lived
alone in Commerce Street, and, though not talkative, was usually
jolly, with one or two good stories tucked away in the corners of
his memory. He was my mother's trustee, and had morally aided her
in the troublous times before my father's early death.

'Well, young man,' cried he. 'So you're back in owd Bosley!' It
amused him to speak the dialect a little occasionally.

And he brought his burly, powerful form into the lobby.

I greeted him as jovially as I could, and then he shook hands with
my mother, neither of them speaking.

'Mr Nixon is come for supper, Philip,' said my mother.

I liked Mr Nixon, but I was not too well pleased by this
information, for I wanted to talk confidentially to my mother. I
had a task before me with my mother, and here Mr Nixon was
plunging into the supper. I could not break it gently to my mother
that I was engaged to a strange young woman in the presence of Mr
Nixon. Mr Nixon had been in to supper several times during
previous visits of mine, but never on the first night.

However, I had to make the best of it. And we sat down and began
on the ham, the sausages, the eggs, the crumpets, the toast, the
jams, the mince-tarts, the Stilton, and the celery. But we none of
us ate very much, despite my little plump mother's protestations.

My suspicion was that perhaps something had gone slightly wrong
with my mother's affairs, and that Mr Nixon was taking the first
opportunity to explain things to me. But such a possibility did
not interest me, for I could easily afford to keep my mother and a
wife too. I was still preoccupied in my engagement--and surely
there is nothing astonishing in that--and I began to compose the
words in which, immediately on the departure of Mr Nixon after
supper, I would tackle my mother on the subject.

When we had reached the Stilton and celery, I intimated that I
must walk down to the post-office, as I had to dispatch a letter.

'Won't it do tomorrow, my pet?' asked my mother.

'It will not,' I said.

Imagine leaving Agnes two days without news of my safe arrival and
without assurances of my love! I had started writing the letter in
the train, near Willesden, and I finished it in the drawing-room.

'A lady in the case?' Mr Nixon called out gaily.

'Yes,' I replied with firmness.

I went forth, bought a picture postcard showing St Luke's Square,
Bursley, most untruthfully picturesque, and posted the card and
the letter to my darling Agnes. I hoped that Mr Nixon would have
departed ere my return; he had made no reference at all during
supper to my mother's affairs. But he had not departed. I found
him solitary in the drawing-room, smoking a very fine cigar.

'Where's the mater?' I demanded.

'She's just gone out of the room,' he said. 'Come and sit down.
Have a weed. I want a bit of a chat with you, Philip.'

I obeyed, taking one of the very fine cigars.

'Well, Uncle Nixon,' I encouraged him, wishing to get the chat
over because my mind was full of Agnes. I sometimes called him
uncle for fun.

'Well, my boy,' he began. 'It's no use me beating about the bush.
What do you think of me as a stepfather?'

I was struck, as they say down there, all of a heap.

'What?' I stammered. 'You don't mean to say--you and mother--?'

He nodded.

'Yes, I do, lad. Yesterday she promised as she'd marry my unworthy
self. It's been coming along for some time. But I don't expect
she's given you any hint in her letters. In fact, I know she
hasn't. It would have been rather difficult, wouldn't it? She
couldn't well have written, "My dear Philip, an old friend, Mr
Nixon, is falling in love with me and I believe I'm falling in
love with him. One of these days he'll be proposing to me." She
couldn't have written like that, could she?'

I laughed. I could not help it.

'Shake hands,' I said warmly. 'I'm delighted.'

And soon afterwards my mother sidled in, shyly.

'The lad's delighted, Sarah,' said Mr Nixon shortly.

I said nothing about my own engagement that night. I had never
thought of my mother as a woman with a future, I had never
realized that she was desirable, and that a man might desire her,
and that her lonely existence in that house was not all that she
had the right to demand from life. And I was ashamed of my
characteristic filial selfish egoism. So I decided that I would
not intrude my joys on hers until the next morning. We live and



We are a stolid and a taciturn race, we of the Five Towns. It may
be because we are geographically so self contained; or it may be
because we work in clay and iron; or it may merely be because it
is our nature to be stolid and taciturn. But stolid and taciturn
we are; and some of the instances of our stolidity and our
taciturnity are enough to astound. They do not, of course, astound
us natives; we laugh at them, we think they are an immense joke,
and what the outer world may think does not trouble our deep
conceit of ourselves. I have often wondered what would be the
effect, other than an effect of astonishment, on the outer world,
of one of these narratives illustrating our Five Towns
peculiarities of deportment. And I intend for the first time in
history to make such a narrative public property. I have purposely
not chosen an extreme example; just an average example. You will
see how it strikes you.

Toby Hall, once a burgess of Turnhill, the northernmost and
smallest of the Five Towns, was passing, last New Year's Eve,
through the district by train on his way from Crewe to Derby. He
lived at Derby, and he was returning from the funeral of a brother
member of the Ancient Order of Foresters at Crewe. He got out of
the train at Knype, the great railway centre of the Five Towns, to
have a glass of beer in the second-class refreshment-room. It
being New Year's Eve, the traffic was heavy and disorganized,
especially in the refreshment-room, and when Toby Hall emerged on
to the platform again the train was already on the move. Toby was
neither young nor active. His years were fifty, and on account of
the funeral he wore broadcloth and a silk hat, and his overcoat
was new and encumbering. Impossible to take a flying leap into the
train! He missed the train. And then he reflectively stroked his
short grey beard (he had no moustache, and his upper lip was very
long), and then he smoothed down his new overcoat over his rotund

'Young man,' he asked a porter. 'When's next train Derby way?'

'Ain't none afore tomorrow.'

Toby went and had another glass of beer.

'D--d if I don't go to Turnhill,' he said to himself, slowly and
calmly, as he paid for the second glass of beer.

He crossed the station by the subway and waited for the loop-line
train to Turnhill. He had not set foot in the Five Towns for
three-and-twenty years, having indeed carefully and continuously
avoided it, as a man will avoid the street where his creditor
lives. But he discovered no change in Knype railway-station. And
he had a sort of pleasure in the fact that he knew his way about
it, knew where the loop-line trains started from and other
interesting little details. Even the special form of the loop-line
time-table, pasted here and there on the walls of the station, had
not varied since his youth. (We return Radicals to Parliament, but
we are proud of a railway which for fine old English conservatism
brooks no rival.)

Toby gazed around, half challengingly and half nervously--it was
conceivable that he might be recognized, or might recognize. But
no! Not a soul in the vast, swaying, preoccupied, luggage-laden
crowds gave him a glance. As for him, although he fully recognized
nobody, yet nearly every face seemed to be half-familiar. He
climbed into a second-class compartment when the train drew up,
and ten other people, all with third-class tickets, followed his
example; three persons were already seated therein. The
compartment was illuminated by one lamp, and in the Bleakridge
Tunnel this lamp expired. Everything reminded him of his youth.

In twenty minutes he was leaving Turnhill station and entering the
town. It was about nine o'clock, and colder than winters of the
period usually are. The first thing he saw was an electric tram,
and the second thing he saw was another electric tram. In Toby's
time there were no trams at Turnhill, and the then recently-
introduced steam-trams between Bursley and Longshaw, long since
superseded, were regarded as the final marvel of science as
applied to traction. And now there were electric trams at
Turnhill! The railway renewed his youth, but this darting
electricity showed him how old he was. The Town Hall, which was
brand-new when he left Turnhill, had the look of a mediaeval hotel
de ville as he examined it in the glamour of the corporation's
incandescent gas. And it was no more the sole impressive pile in
the borough. The High Street and its precincts abounded in
impressive piles. He did not know precisely what they were, but
they had the appearance of being markets, libraries, baths, and
similar haunts of luxury; one was a bank. He thought that Turnhill
High Street compared very well with Derby. He would have preferred
it to be less changed. If the High Street was thus changed,
everything would be changed, including Child Row. The sole
phenomenon that recalled his youth (except the Town Hall) was the
peculiar smell of oranges and apples floating out on the frosty
air from holly-decorated greengrocers' shops.

He passed through the Market Square, noting that sinister freak,
the Jubilee Tower, and came to Child Row. The first building on
your right as you enter Child Row from the square is the Primitive
Methodist Chapel. Yes, it was still there; Primitive Methodism had
not failed in Turnhill because Toby Hall had deserted the cause
three-and-twenty years ago! But something serious had happened to
the structure. Gradually Toby realized that its old face had been
taken out and a new one put in, the classic pillars had vanished,
and a series of Gothic arches had been substituted by way of
portico; a pretty idea, but not to Toby's liking. It was another
change, another change! He crossed the street and proceeded
downwards in the obscurity, and at length halted and peered with
his little blue eyes at a small house (one of twins) on the other
side from where he stood. That house, at any rate, was unchanged.
It was a two-storeyed house, with a semicircular fanlight over a
warped door of grained panelling. The blind of the window to the
left of the door was irradiated from within, proving habitation.

'I wonder--' ran Toby's thought. And he unhesitatingly crossed the
street again, towards it, feeling first for the depth of the
kerbstone with his umbrella. He had a particular and special
interest in that house (No. 11 it was--and is), for, four-and-
twenty years ago he had married it. II

Four-and-twenty years ago Toby Hall (I need not say that his
proper Christian name was Tobias) had married Miss Priscilla
Bratt, then a calm and self-reliant young woman of twenty-three,
and Priscilla had the house, together with a certain income, under
the will of her father. The marriage was not the result of burning
passion on either side. It was a union of two respectabilities,
and it might have succeeded as well as such unions generally do
succeed, if Priscilla had not too frequently mentioned the fact
that the house they lived in was hers. He knew that the house was
hers. The whole world was perfectly aware of the ownership of the
house, and her references to the matter amounted to a lack of
tact. Several times Toby had indicated as much. But Priscilla took
no heed. She had the hide of an alligator herself (though a
personable girl), and she assumed that her husband's hide was of
similar stuff. This assumption was justifiable, except that in
just one spot the skin of Toby was tender. He really did not care
to be reminded that he was living under his wife's roof. The
reiteration settled on his nerves like a malady. And before a year
had elapsed Priscilla had contrived to remind him once too often.
And one day he put some things in a carpet-bag, and a hat on his
head, and made for the door. The house was antique, and the front-
parlour gave directly on to the street.

'Where be going?' Priscilla asked him.

He hesitated a second, and said--


And he was. In the Five Towns we are apt to end our marriages in
that laconic manner. Toby did not complain too much; he simply and
unaffectedly went. It might be imagined that the situation was a
trying one for Priscilla. Not so! Priscilla had experienced
marriage with Toby and had found it wanting. She was content to be
relieved of Toby. She had her house and her money and her self-
esteem, and also tranquillity. She accepted the solution, and
devoted her days to the cleanliness of the house.

Toby drew all the money he had out of the Bursley and Turnhill
Permanent Fifty Pounds Benefit Building Society (four shares,
nearly paid up) and set sail--in the Adriatic, which was then the
leading greyhound of the Atlantic--for New York. From New York he
went to Trenton (New Jersey), which is the Five Towns of America.
A man of his skill in handling clay on a wheel had no difficulty
whatever in wresting a good livelihood from Trenton. When he had
tarried there a year he caused a letter to be written to his wife
informing her that he was dead. He wished to be quite free; and
also (we have our feeling for justice) he wished his wife to be
quite free. It did not occur to him that he had done anything
extraordinary, either in deserting his wife or in forwarding false
news of his death. He had done the simple thing, the casual thing,
the blunt thing, the thing that necessitated the minimum of
talking. He did not intend to return to England.

However, after a few years, he did return to England. The cause of
his return is irrelevant to the history, but I may say that it
sprang from a conflict between the Five Towns temperament and the
Trenton Union of Earthenware Operatives. Such is the power of
Unions in the United States that Toby, if he wished to remain
under the Federal Flag, had either to yield or to starve. He would
not yield. He changed his name and came to England; strolled
calmly into the Crown Porcelain Works at Derby one day, and there
recommenced his career as an artificer of earthenware. He did
well. He could easily earn four pounds a week, and had no desires,
save in the direction of fly-fishing--not an expensive diversion.
He knew better than to marry. He existed quietly; and one year
trod on the heels of another, and carried him from thirty to forty
and forty to fifty, and no one found out his identity, though
there are several direct trains daily between Derby and Knype.

And now, owing to the death of a friend and a glass of beer, he
was in Child Row, crossing the street towards the house whose
ownership had caused him to quit it.

He knocked on the door with the handle of his umbrella. There was
no knocker; there never had been a knocker. III

The door opened cautiously, as such doors in the Five Towns do,
after a shooting of bolts and a loosing of chains; it opened to
the extent of about nine inches, and Toby Hall saw the face of a
middle-aged woman eyeing him.

'Is this Mrs Hall's?' he asked sternly.

'No. It ain't Mrs Hall's. It's Mrs Tansley's.'

'I thowt--'

The door opened a little wider.

'That's not you, Tobias?' said the woman unmoved.

'I reckon it is, though,' replied Toby, with a difficult smile.

'Bless us!' exclaimed the woman. The door oscillated slightly
under her hand. 'Bless us!' she repeated. And then suddenly,
'You'd happen better come in, Tobias.'

'Aye!' said Tobias.

And he entered.

'Sit ye down, do,' said his wife. 'I thowt as you were dead. They
wrote and told me so.'

'Aye!' said Tobias. 'But I am na'.'

He sat down in an arm-chair near the old-fashioned grate, with its
hobs at either side. He was acquainted with that chair, and it had
not appreciably altered since his departure. The lastingness of
furniture under fair treatment is astonishing. This chair was
uncomfortably in exactly the same spot where it had always been
uncomfortable; and the same anti-macassar was draped over its
uncompromising back. Toby put his hat on the table, and leaned his
umbrella against the chimney-piece. His overcoat he retained. Same
table; same chimney-piece; same clock and ornaments on the
chimney-piece! But a different carpet on the floor, and different
curtains before the window.

Priscilla bolted and chained the door, and then she too sat down.
Her gown was black, with a small black silk apron. And she was
stout, and she wore felt slippers and moved with the same gingerly
care as Toby himself did. She looked fully her years. Her thin
lips were firmer than ever. It was indeed Priscilla.

'Well, well!' she murmured.

But her capacity for wonder was nearly exhausted.

'Aye!' said Toby, with an air that was meant to be quasi-humorous.
He warmed his hands at the fire, and then rubbed them over the
front of his calves, leaning forward.

'So ye've come back?' said Priscilla.

'Aye!' concurred Toby.

There was a pause.

'Cold weather we're having,' he muttered.

'It's seasonable,' Priscilla pointed out.

Her glance rested on a sprig of holly that was tied under the gas-
chandelier, unique relic of Christmas in the apartment.

Another pause. It would be hazardous to guess what their feelings
were; perhaps their feelings were scarcely anything at all.

'And what be the news?' Toby inquired, with what passes in the
Five Towns for geniality.

'News?' she repeated, as if not immediately grasping the
significance of the question. 'I don't know as there's any news,
nothing partic'ler, that is.'

Hung on the wall near the chimney-piece was a photograph of a
girl. It was an excellent likeness to Priscilla, as she was in
Toby's pre-Trenton days. How young and fresh the creature looked;
so simple, so inexperienced! It startled Toby.

'I don't remember that,' he said.


'That!' And he jerked his elbow towards the photograph.

'Oh! THAT! That's my daughter,' said Priscilla.

'Bless us!' said Toby in turn.

'I married Job Tansley,' Priscilla continued. 'He died four years
ago last Knype Wakes Monday. HER'S married'--indicating the
photograph--'her married young Gibson last September.'

'Well, well!' murmured Toby.

Another pause.

There was a shuffling on the pavement outside, and some children
began to sing about shepherds and flocks.

'Oh, bother them childer,' said Priscilla. 'I must send 'em off.'

She got up.

'Here! Give 'em a penny,' Toby suggested, holding out a penny.

'Yes, and then they'll tell others, and I shan't have a moment's
peace all night!' Priscilla grumbled.

However, she bestowed the penny, cutting the song off abruptly in
the middle. And she bolted and chained the door and sat down

Another pause.

'Well, well!' said Priscilla.

'Aye!' Toby agreed. 'Good coal that!'

'Fourteen shilling a ton!'

Another pause, and a longer.

'Is Ned Walklate still at th' Rose and Crown?' Toby asked.

'For aught I know he is,' said Priscilla.

'I'll just step round there,' said Toby, picking up his hat and

As he was manoeuvring the door-chain, Priscilla said--

'You're forgetting your umbrella, Tobias.'

'No,' he answered. 'I hanna' forgotten it. I'm coming back.'

Their eyes met, charged with meaning.

'That'll be all right,' she said. 'Well, well!'


And he stepped round to Ned Walklate's.



It is the greatest mistake in the world to imagine that, because
the Five Towns is an industrial district, devoted to the
manufacture of cups and saucers, marbles and door-knobs, therefore
there is no luxury in it.

A writer, not yet deceased, who spent two nights there, and wrote
four hundred pages about it, has committed herself to the
assertion that there are no private carriages in its streets--
only perambulators and tramcars.

That writer's reputation is ruined in the Five Towns. For the Five
Towns, although continually complaining of bad times, is immensely
wealthy, as well as immensely poor--a country of contrasts,
indeed--and private carriages, if they do not abound, exist at any
rate in sufficient numbers.

Nay, more, automobiles of the most expensive French and English
makes fly dashingly along its hilly roads and scatter in profusion
the rich black mud thereof.

On a Saturday afternoon in last spring, such an automobile stood
outside the garden entrance of Bleakridge House, just halfway
between Hanbridge and Bursley. It belonged to young Harold Etches,
of Etches, Limited, the great porcelain manufacturers.

It was a 20 h.p. Panhard, and was worth over a thousand pounds as
it stood there, throbbing, and Harold was proud of it.

He was also proud of his young wife, Maud, who, clad in several
hundred pounds' worth of furs, had taken her seat next to the
steering-wheel, and was waiting for Harold to mount by her side.
The united ages of this handsome and gay couple came to less than

And they owned the motor-car, and Bleakridge House with its ten
bedrooms, and another house at Llandudno, and a controlling
interest in Etches, Limited, that brought them in seven or eight
thousand a year. They were a pretty tidy example of what the Five
Towns can do when it tries to be wealthy.

At that moment, when Harold was climbing into the car, a shabby
old man who was walking down the road, followed by a boy carrying
a carpet-bag, stopped suddenly and touched Harold on the shoulder.

'Bless us!' exclaimed the old man. And the boy and the carpet-bag
halted behind him.

'What? Uncle Dan?' said Harold.

'Uncle Dan!' cried Maud, springing up with an enchanting smile.
'Why, it's ages since--'

'And what d'ye reckon ye'n gotten here?' demanded the old man.

'It's my new car,' Harold explained.

'And ca'st drive it, lad?' asked the old man.

'I should think I could!' said Harold confidently.

'H'm!' commented the old man, and then he shook hands, and
thoroughly scrutinized Maud.

Now, this is the sort of thing that can only be seen and
appreciated in a district like the Five Towns, where families
spring into splendour out of nothing in the course of a couple of
generations, and as often as not sink back again into nothing in
the course of two generations more.

The Etches family is among the best known and the widest spread in
the Five Towns. It originated in three brothers, of whom Daniel
was the youngest. Daniel never married; the other two did. Daniel
was not very fond of money; the other two were, and they founded
the glorious firm of Etches. Harold was the grandson of one
brother, and Maud was the Granddaughter of the other.
Consequently, they both stood in the same relation to Dan, who was
their great-uncle--addressed as uncle 'for short'.

There is a good deal of snobbery in the Five Towns, but it does
not exist between relatives. The relatives in danger of suffering
by it would never stand it. Besides, although Dan's income did not
exceed two hundred a year, he was really richer than his
grandnephew, since Dan lived on half his income, whereas Harold,
aided by Maud, lived on all of his.

Consequently, despite the vast difference in their stations,
clothes, and manners, Daniel and his young relatives met as
equals. It would have been amusing to see anyone--even the
Countess of Chell, who patronized the entire district--attempt to
patronize Dan.

In his time he had been the greatest pigeon-fancier in the

'So you're paying a visit to Bursley, uncle?' said Maud.

'Aye!' Dan replied. 'I'm back i' owd Bosley. Sarah--my
housekeeper, thou know'st--'

'Not dead?'

'No. Her inna' dead; but her sister's dead, and I've give her a
week's play [holiday], and come away. Rat Edge'll see nowt o' me
this side Easter.'

Rat Edge was the name of the village, five miles off, which Dan
had honoured in his declining years.

'And where are you going to now?' asked Harold.

'I'm going to owd Sam Shawn's, by th' owd church, to beg a bed.'

'But you'll stop with us, of course?' said Harold.

'Nay, lad,' said Dan.

'Oh yes, uncle,' Maud insisted.

'Nay, lass,' said Dan.

'Indeed, you will, uncle,' said Maud positively. 'If you don't,
I'll never speak to you again.'

She had a charming fire in her eyes, had Maud.

Daniel, the old bachelor, yielded at once, but in his own style.

'I'll try it for a night, lass,' said he.

Thus it occurred that the carpet-bag was carried into Bleakridge
House, and that after some delay Harold and Maud carried off Uncle
Dan with them in the car. He sat in the luxurious tonneau behind,
and Maud had quitted her husband in order to join him. Possibly
she liked the humorous wrinkles round his grey eyes. Or it may
have been the eyes themselves. And yet Dan was nearer seventy than

The car passed everything on the road; it seemed to be overtaking
electric trams all the time.

'So ye'n been married a year?' said Uncle Dan, smiling at Maud.

'Oh yes; a year and three days. We're quite used to it.'

'Us'n be in h-ll in a minute, wench!' exclaimed Dan, calmly
changing the topic, as Harold swung the car within an inch of a
brewer's dray, and skidded slightly in the process. No anti-
skidding device would operate in that generous, oozy mud.

And, as a matter of fact, they were in Hanbridge the next minute--
Hanbridge, the centre of the religions, the pleasures, and the
vices of the Five Towns.

'Bless us!' said the old man. 'It's fifteen year and more since I
were here.'

'Harold,' said Maud, 'let's stop at the Piccadilly Cafe and have
some tea.'

'Cafe?' asked Dan. 'What be that?'

'It's a kind of a pub.' Harold threw the explanation over his
shoulder as he brought the car up with swift dexterity in front of
the Misses Callear's newly opened afternoon tea-rooms.

'Oh, well, if it's a pub,' said Uncle Dan, 'I dunna' object.'

He frankly admitted, on entering, that he had never before seen a
pub full of little tables and white cloths, and flowers, and young
women, and silver teapots, and cake-stands. And though he did pour
his tea into his saucer, he was sufficiently at home there to
address the younger Miss Callear as 'young woman', and to inform
her that her beverage was lacking in Orange Pekoe. And the Misses
Callear, who conferred a favour on their customers in serving
them, didn't like it.

He became reminiscent.

'Aye!' he said, 'when I left th' Five Towns fifty-two years sin'
to go weaving i' Derbyshire wi' my mother's brother, tay were ten
shilling a pun'. Us had it when us were sick--which wasna' often.
We worked too hard for be sick. Hafe past five i' th' morning till
eight of a night, and then Saturday afternoon walk ten mile to
Glossop with a week's work on ye' back, and home again wi' th'

'They've lost th' habit of work now-a-days, seemingly,' he went
on, as the car moved off once more, but slowly, because of the
vast crowds emerging from the Knype football ground. 'It's
football, Saturday; bands of a Sunday; football, Monday; ill i'
bed and getting round, Tuesday; do a bit o' work Wednesday;
football, Thursday; draw wages Friday night; and football,
Saturday. And wages higher than ever. It's that as beats me--
wages higher than ever--

'Ye canna' smoke with any comfort i' these cars,' he added, when
Harold had got clear of the crowds and was letting out. He
regretfully put his pipe in his pocket.

Harold skirted the whole length of the Five Towns from south to
north, at an average rate of perhaps thirty miles an hour; and
quite soon the party found itself on the outer side of Turnhill,
and descending the terrible Clough Bank, three miles long, and of
a steepness resembling the steepness of the side of a house.

The car had warmed to its business, and Harold took them down that
declivity in a manner which startled even Maud, who long ago had
resigned herself to the fact that she was tied for life to a young
man for whom the word 'danger' had no meaning.

At the bottom they had a swerve skid; but as there was plenty of
room for eccentricities, nothing happened except that the car
tried to climb the hill again.

'Well, if I'd known,' observed Uncle Dan, 'if I'd guessed as you
were reservin' this treat for th' owd uncle, I'd ha' walked.'

The Etches blood in him was pretty cool, but his nerve had had a

Then Harold could not restart the car. The engine had stopped of
its own accord, and, though Harold lavished much physical force on
the magic handle in front, nothing would budge. Maud and the old
man got down, the latter with relief.

'Stuck, eh?' said Dan. 'No steam?'

'That's it!' Harold cried, slapping his leg. 'What an ass I am!
She wants petrol, that's all. Maud, pass a couple of cans. They're
under the seat there, behind. No; on the left, child.'

However, there was no petrol on the car.

'That's that cursed Durand' (Durand being the new chauffeur--
French, to match the car). 'I told him not to forget. Last thing I
said to the fool! Maud, I shall chuck that chap!'

'Can't we do anything?' asked Maud stiffly, putting her lips

'We can walk back to Turnhill and buy some petrol, some of us!'
snapped Harold. 'That's what we can do!'

'Sithee,' said Uncle Dan. 'There's the Plume o' Feathers half-a-
mile back. Th' landlord's a friend o' mine. I can borrow his mare
and trap, and drive to Turnhill and fetch some o' thy petrol, as
thou calls it.'

'It's awfully good of you, uncle.'

'Nay, lad, I'm doing it for please mysen. But Maud mun come wi'
me. Give us th' money for th' petrol, as thou calls it.'

'Then I must stay here alone?' Harold complained.

'Seemingly,' the old man agreed.

After a few words on pigeons, and a glass of beer, Dan had no
difficulty whatever in borrowing his friend's white mare and black
trap. He himself helped in the harnessing. Just as he was driving
triumphantly away, with that delicious vision Maud on his left
hand and a stable-boy behind, he reined the mare in.

'Give us a couple o' penny smokes, matey,' he said to the
landlord, and lit one.

The mare could go, and Dan could make her go, and she did go. And
the whole turn-out looked extremely dashing when, ultimately, it
dashed into the glare of the acetylene lamps which the deserted
Harold had lighted on his car.

The red end of a penny smoke in the gloom of twilight looks
exactly as well as the red end of an Havana. Moreover, the mare
caracolled ornamentally in the rays of the acetylene, and the
stable-boy had to skip down quick and hold her head.

'How much didst say this traction-engine had cost thee?' Dan
asked, while Harold was pouring the indispensable fluid into the

'Not far off twelve hundred,' answered Harold lightly. 'Keep that
cigar away from here.'

'Fifteen pun' ud buy this mare,' Dan announced to the road.

'Now, all aboard!' Harold commanded at length. 'How much shall I
give to the boy for the horse and trap, uncle?'

'Nothing,' said Dan. 'I havena' finished wi' that mare yet. Didst
think I was going to trust mysen i' that thing o' yours again?
I'll meet thee at Bleakridge, lad.'

'And I think I'll go with uncle too, Harold,' said Maud.

Whereupon they both got into the trap.

Harold stared at them, astounded.

'But I say--' he protested, beginning to be angry.

Uncle Dan drove away like the wind, and the stable-boy had all he
could do to clamber up behind.


Now, at dinner-time that night, in the dining-room of the
commodious and well-appointed mansion of the youngest and richest
of the Etches, Uncle Dan stood waiting and waiting for his host
and hostess to appear. He was wearing a Turkish tasselled smoking-
cap to cover his baldness, and he had taken off his jacket and put
on his light, loose overcoat instead of it, since that was a
comfortable habit of his.

He sent one of the two parlourmaids upstairs for his carpet
slippers out of the carpet-bag, and he passed part of the time in
changing his boots for his slippers in front of the fire. Then at
length, just as a maid was staggering out under the load of those
enormous boots, Harold appeared, very correct, but alone.

'Awfully sorry to keep you waiting, uncle,' said Harold, 'but Maud
isn't well. She isn't coming down tonight.'

'What's up wi' Maud?'

'Oh, goodness knows!' responded Harold gloomily. 'She's not well--
that's all.'

'H'm!' said Dan. 'Well, let's peck a bit.'

So they sat down and began to peck a bit, aided by the two maids.
Dan pecked with prodigious enthusiasm, but Harold was not in good
pecking form. And as the dinner progressed, and Harold sent dish
after dish up to his wife, and his wife returned dish after dish
untouched, Harold's gloom communicated itself to the house in

One felt that if one had penetrated to the farthest corner of the
farthest attic, a little parcel of spiritual gloom would have
already arrived there. The sense of disaster was in the abode. The
cook was prophesying like anything in the kitchen. Durand in the
garage was meditating upon such of his master's pithy remarks as
he had been able to understand.

When the dinner was over, and the coffee and liqueurs and cigars
had been served, and the two maids had left the dining-room, Dan
turned to his grandnephew and said--

'There's things as has changed since my time, lad, but human
nature inna' one on em.'

'What do you mean, uncle?' Harold asked awkwardly, self-

'I mean as thou'rt a dashed foo'!'


'But thou'lt get better o' that,' said Dan.

Harold smiled sheepishly.

'I don't know what you're driving at, uncle,' said he.

'Yes, thou dost, lad. Thou'st been and quarrelled wi' Maud. And I
say thou'rt a dashed foo'!'

'As a matter of fact--' Harold stammered.

'And ye've never quarrelled afore. This is th' fust time. And so
thou'st under th' impression that th' world's come to an end.
Well, th' fust quarrel were bound to come sooner or later.'

'It isn't really a quarrel--it's about nothing--'

'I know--I know,' Dan broke in. 'They always are. As for it not
being a quarrel, lad, call it a picnic if thou'st a mind. But
heir's sulking upstairs, and thou'rt sulking down here.'

'She was cross about the petrol,' said Harold, glad to relieve his
mind. 'I hadn't a notion she was cross till I went up into the
bedroom. Not a notion! I explained to her it wasn't my fault. I
argued it out with her very calmly. I did my best to reason with

'Listen here, young 'un,' Dan interrupted him. 'How old art?'


'Thou may'st live another fifty years. If thou'st a mind to spend
'em i' peace, thoud'st better give up reasoning wi' women. Give it
up right now! It's worse nor drink, as a habit. Kiss 'em, cuddle
'em, beat 'em. But dunna' reason wi' 'em.'

'What should you have done in my place?' Harold asked.

'I should ha' told Maud her was quite right.'

'But she wasn't.'

'Then I should ha' winked at mysen i' th' glass,' continued Dan,
'and kissed her.'

'That's all very well--'

'Naturally,' said Dan, 'her wanted to show off that car i' front
o' me. That was but natural. And her was vexed when it went

'But I told her--I explained to her.'

'Her's a handsome little wench,' Dan proceeded. 'And a good heart.
But thou'st got ten times her brains, lad, and thou ought'st to
ha' given in.'

'But I can't always be--'

'It's allus them as gives in as has their own way. I remember her
grandfather--he was th' eldest o' us--he quarrelled wi' his wife
afore they'd been married a week, and she raced him all over th'
town wi' a besom--'

'With a besom, uncle?' exclaimed Harold, shocked at these family

'Wi' a besom,' said Dan. That come o' reasoning wi' a woman. It
taught him a lesson, I can tell thee. And afterwards he always
said as nowt was worth a quarrel--NOWT! And it isna'.'

'I don't think Maud will race me all over the town with a besom,'
Harold remarked reflectively.

'There's worse things nor that,' said Dan. 'Look thee here, get
out o' th' house for a' 'our. Go to th' Conservative Club, and
then come back. Dost understand?'

'But what--'

'Hook it, lad!' said Dan curtly.

And just as Harold was leaving the room, like a school-boy, he
called him in again.

'I havena' told thee, Harold, as I'm subject to attacks. I'm
getting up in years. I go off like. It isna' fits, but I go off.
And if it should happen while I'm here, dunna' be alarmed.'

'What are we to do?'

'Do nothing. I come round in a minute or two. Whatever ye do,
dunna' give me brandy. It might kill me--so th' doctor says. I'm
only telling thee in case.'

'Well, I hope you won't have an attack,' said Harold.

'It's a hundred to one I dunna',' said Dan.

And Harold departed.

Soon afterwards Uncle Dan wandered into a kitchen full of

'Show me th' missis's bedroom, one on ye,' he said to the crowd.

And presently he was knocking at Maud's door.


'Who is it?' came a voice.

'It's thy owd uncle. Can'st spare a minute?'

Maud appeared at the door, smiling, and arrayed in a peignoir.

'HE'S gone out,' said Dan, implying scorn of the person who had
gone out. 'Wilt come down-stairs?'

'Where's he gone to?' Maud demanded.

She didn't even pretend she was ill.

'Th' Club,' said Dan.

And in about a hundred seconds or so he had her in the drawing-
room, and she was actually pouring out gin for him. She looked
ravishing in that peignoir, especially as she was munching an
apple, and balancing herself on the arm of a chair.

'So he's been quarrelling with ye, Maud?' Dan began.

'No; not quarrelling, uncle.'

'Well, call it what ye'n a mind,' said Dan. 'Call it a prayer-
meeting. I didn't notice as ye came down for supper--dinner, as ye
call it.'

'It was like this, uncle,' she said. 'Poor Harry was very angry
with himself about that petrol. Of course, he wanted the car to go
well while you were in it; and he came up-stairs and grumbled at
me for leaving him all alone and driving home with you.'

'Oh, did he?' exclaimed Dan.

'Yes. I explained to him that of course I couldn't leave you all
alone. Then he got hot. I kept quite calm. I reasoned it out with
him as quietly as I could--'

'Maudie, Maudie,' protested the old man, 'thou'rt th' prettiest
wench i' this town, though I AM thy great-uncle, and thou'st got
plenty o' brains--a sight more than that husband o' thine.'

'Do you think so, uncle?'

'Aye, but thou hasna' made use o' 'em tonight. Thou'rt a foolish
wench, wench. At thy time o' life, and after a year o' th' married
state, thou ought'st to know better than reason wi' a man in a

'But, really, uncle, it was so absurd of Harold, wasn't it?'

'Aye!' said Dan. 'But why didst-na' give in and kiss him, and
smack his face for him?'

'There was nothing to give in about, uncle.'

'There never is,' said Dan. 'There never is. That's the point.
Still, thou'rt nigh crying, wench.'

'I'm not, uncle,' she contradicted, the tears falling on to the

'And Harold's using bad language all up Trafalgar Road, I lay,'
Dan added.

'It was all Harold's fault,' said Maud.

'Why, in course it were Harold's fault. But nowt's worth a
quarrel, my dear--NOWT. I remember Harold's grandfeyther--he were
th' second of us, your grandfeyther were the eldest, and I were
the youngest--I remember Harold's grandfeyther chasing his wife
all over th' town wi' a besom a week after they were married.'

'With a besom!' murmured Maud, pained and forgetting to cry.
'Harold's grandfather, not mine?'

'Wi' a besom,' Dan repeated, nodding. 'They never quarrelled
again--ne'er again. Th' old woman allus said after that as
quarrels were for fools. And her was right.'

'I don't see Harold chasing me across Bursley with a besom,' said
Maud primly. 'But what you say is quite right, you dear old uncle.
Men are queer--I mean husbands. You can't argue with them. You'd
much better give in--'

'And have your own way after all.'

'And perhaps Harold was--'

Harold's step could be heard in the hall.

'Oh, dear!' cried Maud. 'What shall I do?'

'I'm not feeling very well,' whispered Uncle Dan weakly. 'I have
these 'ere attacks sometimes. There's only one thing as'll do me
any good--brandy.'

And his head fell over one side of the chair, and he looked
precisely like a corpse.

'Maud, what are you doing?' almost shouted Harold, when he came
into the room.

She was putting a liqueur-glass to Uncle Dan's lips.

'Oh, Harold,' she cried, 'uncle's had an attack of some sort. I'm
giving him some brandy.'

'But you mustn't give him brandy,' said Harold authoritatively to

'But I MUST give him brandy,' said Maud. 'He told me that brandy
was the only thing to save him.'

'Nonsense, child!' Harold persisted. 'Uncle told ME all about
these attacks. They're perfectly harmless so long as he doesn't
have brandy. The doctors have warned him that brandy will be

'Harold, you are absolutely mistaken. Don't you understand that
uncle has only this minute told me that he MUST have brandy?'

And she again approached the glass to the pale lips of the old
man. His tasselled Turkish smoking-cap had fallen to the floor,
and the hemisphere of his bald head glittered under the gas.

'Maud, I forbid you!' And Harold put a hand on the glass. 'It's a
matter of life and death. You must have misunderstood uncle.'

'It was you who misunderstood uncle,' said Maud. 'Of course, if
you mean to prevent me by brute force--'

They both paused and glanced at Daniel, and then at each other.

'Perhaps you are right, dearest,' said Harold, in a new tone.

'No, dearest,' said Maud, also in a new tone. 'I expect you are
right. I must have misunderstood.'

'No, no, Maud. Give him the brandy by all means. I've no doubt
you're right.'

'But if you think I'd better not give it him--'

'But I would prefer you to give it him, dearest. It isn't likely
you would be mistaken in a thing like that.'

'I would prefer to be guided by you, dearest,' said Maud.

So they went on for several minutes, each giving way to the other
in the most angelic manner.

suddenly sitting up. 'You'd let th' old uncle peg out while you
practise his precepts! A nice pair you make! I thought for see
which on ye' ud' give way to th' other, but I didna' anticipate as
both on ye 'ud be ready to sacrifice my life for th' sake o'
domestic peace.'

'But, uncle,' they both said later, amid the universal and yet
rather shamefaced peace rejoicings, 'you said nothing was worth a

'And I was right,' answered Dan; 'I was right. Th' Divorce Court
is full o' fools as have begun married life by trying to convince
the other fool, instead o' humouring him--or her. Kiss us, Maud.'


It was in the train that I learnt of his death. Although a very
greedy eater of literature, I can only enjoy reading when I have
little time for reading. Give me three hours of absolute leisure,
with nothing to do but read, and I instantly become almost
incapable of the act. So it is always on railway journeys, and so
it was that evening. I was in the middle of Wordsworth's
Excursion; I positively gloated over it, wondering why I should
have allowed a mere rumour that it was dull to prevent me from
consuming it earlier in my life. But do you suppose I could
continue with Wordsworth in the train? I could not. I stared out
of the windows; I calculated the speed of the train by my watch; I
thought of my future and my past; I drew forth my hopes, examined
them, polished them, and put them back again; I forgave myself for
my sins; and I dreamed of the exciting conquest of a beautiful and
brilliant woman that I should one day achieve. In short, I did
everything that men habitually do under such circumstances. The
Gazette was lying folded on the seat beside me: one of the two
London evening papers that a man of taste may peruse without
humiliating himself. How appetizing a morsel, this sheet new and
smooth from the press, this sheet written by an ironic,
understanding, small band of men for just a few thousand persons
like me, ruthlessly scornful of the big circulations and the idols
of the people! If the Gazette and its sole rival ceased to appear,
I do believe that my existence and many similar existences would
wear a different colour. Could one dine alone in Jermyn Street or
Panton Street without this fine piquant evening commentary on the
gross newspapers of the morning? (Now you perceive what sort of a
man I am, and you guess, rightly, that my age is between thirty
and forty.) But the train had stopped at Rugby and started again,
and more than half of my journey was accomplished, ere at length I
picked up the Gazette, and opened it with the false calm of a
drunkard who has sworn that he will not wet his lips before a
certain hour. For, well knowing from experience that I should
suffer acute ennui in the train, I had, when buying the Gazette at
Euston, taken oath that I would not even glance at it till after
Rugby; it is always the final hour of these railway journeys that
is the nethermost hell.

The second thing that I saw in the Gazette (the first was of
course the 'Entremets' column of wit, humour, and parody, very
uneven in its excellence) was the death of Simon Fuge. There was
nearly a column about it, signed with initials, and the subheading
of the article ran, 'Sudden death of a great painter'. That was
characteristic of the Gazette. That Simon Fuge was indeed a great
painter is now admitted by most dilettantes, though denied by a
few. But to the great public he was not one of the few great
names. To the great public he was just a medium name. Ten to one
that in speaking of him to a plain person you would feel compelled
to add: 'The painter, you know,' and the plain person would
respond: 'Oh yes,' falsely pretending that he was perfectly
familiar with the name. Simon Fuge had many friends on the press,
and it was solely owing to the loyalty of these friends in the
matter of obituary notices that the great public heard more of
Simon Fuge in the week after his death than it had heard of him
during the thirty-five years of his life. It may be asked: Why, if
he had so many and such loyal friends on the press, these friends
did not take measures to establish his reputation before he died?
The answer is that editors will not allow journalists to praise a
living artist much in excess of the esteem in which the public
holds him; they are timid. But when a misunderstood artist is dead
the editors will put no limit on laudation. I am not on the press,
but it happens that I know the world.

Of all the obituary notices of Simon Fuge, the Gazette's was the
first. Somehow the Gazette had obtained exclusive news of the
little event, and some one high up on the Gazette's staff had a
very exalted notion indeed of Fuge, and must have known him
personally. Fuge received his deserts as a painter in that column
of print. He was compared to Sorolla y Bastida for vitality; the
morbidezza of his flesh-tints was stated to be unrivalled even by
--I forget the name, painting is not my speciality. The writer
blandly inquired why examples of Fuge's work were to be seen in
the Luxembourg, at Vienna, at Florence, at Dresden; and not, for
instance, at the Tate Gallery, or in the Chantrey collection. The
writer also inquired, with equal blandness, why a painter who had
been on the hanging committee of the Societe Nationale des Beaux
Arts at Paris should not have been found worthy to be even an
A.R.A. in London. In brief, old England 'caught it', as occurred
somewhere or other most nights in the columns of the Gazette. Fuge
also received his deserts as a man. And the Gazette did not
conceal that he had not been a man after the heart of the British
public. He had been too romantically and intensely alive for that.
The writer gave a little penportrait of him. It was very good,
recalling his tricks of manner, his unforgettable eyes, and his
amazing skill in talking about himself and really interesting
everybody in himself. There was a special reference to one of
Fuge's most dramatic recitals--a narration of a night spent in a
boat on Ham Lake with two beautiful girls, sisters, natives of the
Five Towns, where Fuge was born. Said the obituarist: 'Those two
wonderful creatures who played so large a part in Simon Fuge's

This death was a shock to me. It took away my ennui for the rest
of the journey. I too had known Simon Fuge. That is to say, I had
met him once, at a soiree, and on that single occasion, as luck
had it, he had favoured the company with the very narration to
which the Gazette contributor referred. I remembered well the
burning brilliance of his blue-black eyes, his touching assurance
that all of us were necessarily interested in his adventures, and
the extremely graphic and convincing way in which he reconstituted
for us the nocturnal scene on Ham Lake--the two sisters, the boat,
the rustle of trees, the lights on shore, and his own difficulty
in managing the oars, one of which he lost for half-an-hour and
found again. It was by such details as that about the oar that,
with a tint of humour, he added realism to the romantic quality of
his tales. He seemed to have no reticences concerning himself.
Decidedly he allowed things to be understood...! Yes, his was a
romantic figure, the figure of one to whom every day, and every
hour of the day, was coloured by the violence of his passion for
existence. His pictures had often an unearthly beauty, but for him
they were nothing but faithful renderings of what he saw.

My mind dwelt on those two beautiful sisters. Those two beautiful
sisters appealed to me more than anything else in the Gazette's
obituary. Surely--Simon Fuge had obviously been a man whose
emotional susceptibility and virile impulsiveness must have opened
the door for him to multifarious amours--but surely he had not
made himself indispensable to both sisters simultaneously. Surely
even he had not so far forgotten that Ham Lake was in the middle
of a country called England, and not the ornamental water in the
Bois de Boulogne! And yet.... The delicious possibility of
ineffable indiscretions on the part of Simon Fuge monopolized my
mind till the train stopped at Knype, and I descended.
Nevertheless, I think I am a serious and fairly insular
Englishman. It is truly astonishing how a serious person can be
obsessed by trifles that, to speak mildly, do not merit sustained

I wondered where Ham Lake was. I knew merely that it lay somewhere
in the environs of the Five Towns. What put fuel on the fire of my
interest in the private affairs of the dead painter was the
slightly curious coincidence that on the evening of the news of
his death I should be travelling to the Five Towns--and for the
first time in my life. Here I was at Knype, which, as I had
gathered from Bradshaw, and from my acquaintance Brindley, was the
traffic centre of the Five Towns.


My knowledge of industrial districts amounted to nothing. Born in
Devonshire, educated at Cambridge, and fulfilling my destiny as
curator of a certain department of antiquities at the British
Museum, I had never been brought into contact with the vast
constructive material activities of Lancashire, Yorkshire, and
Staffordshire. I had but passed through them occasionally on my
way to Scotland, scorning their necessary grime with the perhaps
too facile disdain of the clean-faced southerner, who is apt to
forget that coal cannot walk up unaided out of the mine, and that
the basin in which he washes his beautiful purity can only be
manufactured amid conditions highly repellent. Well, my
impressions of the platform of Knype station were unfavourable.
There was dirt in the air; I could feel it at once on my skin. And
the scene was shabby, undignified, and rude. I use the word 'rude'
in all its senses. What I saw was a pushing, exclamatory, ill-
dressed, determined crowd, each member of which was bent on the
realization of his own desires by the least ceremonious means. If
an item of this throng wished to get past me, he made me instantly
aware of his wish by abruptly changing my position in infinite
space; it was not possible to misconstrue his meaning. So much
crude force and naked will-to-live I had not before set eyes on.
In truth, I felt myself to be a very brittle, delicate bit of
intellectual machinery in the midst of all these physical
manifestations. Yet I am a tallish man, and these potters appeared
to me to be undersized, and somewhat thin too! But what elbows!
What glaring egoistic eyes! What terrible decisiveness in action!

'Now then, get in if ye're going!' said a red-haired porter to me

'I'm not going. I've just got out,' I replied.

'Well, then, why dunna' ye stand out o' th' wee and let them get
in as wants to?'

Unable to offer a coherent answer to this crushing demand, I stood
out of the way. In the light of further knowledge I now surmise
that that porter was a very friendly and sociable porter. But at
the moment I really believed that, taking me for the least
admirable and necessary of God's creatures, he meant to convey his
opinion to me for my own good. I glanced up at the lighted windows
of the train, and saw the composed, careless faces of haughty
persons who were going direct from London to Manchester, and to
whom the Five Towns was nothing but a delay. I envied them. I
wanted to return to the shelter of the train. When it left, I
fancied that my last link with civilization was broken. Then
another train puffed in, and it was simply taken by assault in a
fraction of time, to an incomprehensible bawling of friendly
sociable porters. Season-ticket holders at Finsbury Park think
they know how to possess themselves of a train; they are deceived.
So this is where Simon Fuge came from (I reflected)! The devil it
is (I reflected)! I tried to conceive what the invaders of the
train would exclaim if confronted by one of Simon Fuge's pictures.
I could imagine only one word, and that a monosyllable, that would
meet the case of their sentiments. And his dalliance, his
tangential nocturnal deviations in gondolas with exquisite twin
odalisques! There did not seem to be much room for amorous
elegance in the lives of these invaders. And his death! What would
they say of his death? Upon my soul, as I stood on that dirty
platform, in a milieu of advertisements of soap, boots, and
aperients, I began to believe that Simon Fuge never had lived,
that he was a mere illusion of his friends and his small public.
All that I saw around me was a violent negation of Simon Fuge,
that entity of rare, fine, exotic sensibilities, that perfectly
mad gourmet of sensations, that exotic seer of beauty.

I caught sight of my acquaintance and host, Mr Robert Brindley,
coming towards me on the platform. Hitherto I had only met him in
London, when, as chairman of the committee of management of the
Wedgwood Institution and School of Art at Bursley, he had called
on me at the British Museum for advice as to loan exhibits. He was
then dressed like a self-respecting tourist. Now, although an
architect by profession, he appeared to be anxious to be mistaken
for a sporting squire. He wore very baggy knickerbockers, and
leggings, and a cap. This raiment was apparently the agreed
uniform of the easy classes in the Five Towns; for in the crowd I
had noticed several such consciously superior figures among the
artisans. Mr Brindley, like most of the people in the station, had
a slightly pinched and chilled air, as though that morning he had
by inadvertence omitted to don those garments which are not seen.
He also, like most of the people there, but not to the same
extent, had a somewhat suspicious and narrowly shrewd regard, as
who should say: 'If any person thinks he can get the better of me
by a trick, let him try--that's all.' But the moment his eye
encountered mine, this expression vanished from his face, and he
gave me a candid smile.

'I hope you're well,' he said gravely, squeezing my hand in a sort
of vice that he carried at the end of his right arm.

I reassured him.

'Oh, I'm all right,' he said, in response to the expression of my

It was a relief to me to see him. He took charge of me. I felt, as
it were, safe in his arms. I perceived that, unaided and
unprotected, I should never have succeeded in reaching Bursley
from Knype.

A whistle sounded.

'Better get in,' he suggested; and then in a tone of absolute
command: 'Give me your bag.'

I obeyed. He opened the door of a first-class carriage.

'I'm travelling second,' I explained.

'Never mind. Get in.'

In his tones was a kindly exasperation.

I got in; he followed. The train moved.

'Ah!' breathed Mr Brindley, blowing out much air and falling like
a sack of coal into a corner seat. He was a thin man, aged about
thirty, with brown eyes, and a short blonde beard.

Conversation was at first difficult. Personally I am not a
bubbling fount of gay nothings when I find myself alone with a
comparative stranger. My drawbridge goes up as if by magic, my
postern is closed, and I peer cautiously through the narrow slits
of my turret to estimate the chances of peril. Nor was Mr Brindley
offensively affable. However, we struggled into a kind of chatter.
I had come to the Five Towns, on behalf of the British Museum, to
inspect and appraise, with a view to purchase by the nation, some
huge slip-decorated dishes, excessively curious according to
photographs, which had been discovered in the cellars of the
Conservative Club at Bursley. Having shared in the negotiations
for my visit, Mr Brindley had invited me to spend the night at his
house. We were able to talk about all this. And when we had talked
about all this we were able to talk about the singular scenery of
coal dust, potsherds, flame and steam, through which the train
wound its way. It was squalid ugliness, but it was squalid
ugliness on a scale so vast and overpowering that it became
sublime. Great furnaces gleamed red in the twilight, and their
fires were reflected in horrible black canals; processions of
heavy vapour drifted in all directions across the sky, over what
acres of mean and miserable brown architecture! The air was alive
with the most extraordinary, weird, gigantic sounds. I do not
think the Five Towns will ever be described: Dante lived too soon.
As for the erratic and exquisite genius, Simon Fuge, and his
odalisques reclining on silken cushions on the enchanted bosom of
a lake--I could no longer conjure them up even faintly in my mind.

'I suppose you know Simon Fuge is dead?' I remarked, in a pause.

'No! Is he?' said Mr Brindley, with interest. 'Is it in the

He did not seem to be quite sure that it would be in the paper.

'Here it is,' said I, and I passed him the Gazette.

'Ha!' he exclaimed explosively. This 'Ha!' was entirely different
from his 'Ah!' Something shot across his eyes, something
incredibly rapid--too rapid for a wink; yet it could only be
called a wink. It was the most subtle transmission of the beyond-
speech that I have ever known any man accomplish, and it endeared
Mr Brindley to me. But I knew not its significance.

'What do they think of Fuge down here?' I asked.

'I don't expect they think of him,' said my host.

He pulled a pouch and a packet of cigarette papers from his

'Have one of mine,' I suggested, hastily producing my case.

He did not even glance at its contents.

'No, thanks,' he said curtly.

I named my brand.

'My dear sir,' he said, with a return to his kindly exasperation,
'no cigarette that is not fresh made can be called a cigarette.' I
stood corrected. 'You may pay as much as you like, but you can
never buy cigarettes as good as I can make out of an ounce of
fresh B.D.V. tobacco. Can you roll one?' I had to admit that I
could not, I who in Bloomsbury was accepted as an authority on
cigarettes as well as on porcelain. 'I'll roll you one, and you
shall try it.'

He did so.

I gathered from his solemnity that cigarettes counted in the life
of Mr Brindley. He could not take cigarettes other than seriously.
The worst of it was that he was quite right. The cigarette which
he constructed for me out of his wretched B.D.V. tobacco was
adorable, and I have made my own cigarettes ever since. You will
find B.D.V. tobacco all over the haunts frequented by us of the
Museum now-a-days, solely owing to the expertise of Mr Brindley. A
terribly capable and positive man! He KNEW, and he knew that he

He said nothing further as to Simon Fuge. Apparently he had
forgotten the decease.

'Do you often see the Gazette?' I asked, perhaps in the hope of
attracting him back to Fuge.

'No,' he said; 'the musical criticism is too rotten.'

Involuntarily I bridled. It was startling, and it was not
agreeable, to have one's favourite organ so abruptly condemned by
a provincial architect in knickerbockers and a cap, in the midst
of all that industrial ugliness. What could the Five Towns know
about art? Yet here was this fellow condemning the Gazette on
artistic grounds. I offered no defence, because he was right--
again. But I did not like it.

'Do you ever see the Manchester Guardian?' he questioned, carrying
the war into my camp.

'No,' I said.

'Pity!' he ejaculated.

'I've often heard that it's a very good paper,' I said politely.

'It isn't a very good paper,' he laid me low. 'It's the best paper
in the world. Try it for a month--it gets to Euston at half-past
eight--and then tell me what you think.'

I saw that I must pull myself together. I had glided into the Five
Towns in a mood of gentle, wise condescension. I saw that it would
be as well, for my own honour and safety, to put on another mood
as quickly as possible, otherwise I might be left for dead on the
field. Certainly the fellow was provincial, curt, even brutal in
his despisal of diplomacy. Certainly he exaggerated the importance
of cigarettes in the great secular scheme of evolution. But he was
a man; he was a very tonic dose. I thought it would be safer to
assume that he knew everything, and that the British Museum knew
very little. Yet at the British Museum he had been quite
different, quite deferential and rather timid. Still, I liked him.
I liked his eyes.

The train stopped at an incredible station situated in the centre
of a rolling desert whose surface consisted of broken pots and
cinders. I expect no one to believe this.

'Here we are,' said he blithely. 'No, give me the bag. Porter!'

His summons to the solitary porter was like a clap of thunder.


He lived in a low, blackish-crimson heavy-browed house at the
corner of a street along which electric cars were continually
thundering. There was a thin cream of mud on the pavements and
about two inches of mud in the roadway, rich, nourishing mud like
Indian ink half-mixed. The prospect of carrying a pound or so of
that unique mud into a civilized house affrighted me, but Mr
Brindley opened his door with his latchkey and entered the abode
as unconcernedly as if some fair repentent had cleansed his feet
with her tresses.

'Don't worry too much about the dirt,' he said. 'You're in

The house seemed much larger inside than out. A gas-jet burnt in
the hall, and sombre portieres gave large mysterious hints of
rooms. I could hear, in the distance, the noise of frizzling over
a fire, and of a child crying. Then a tall, straight, wellmade,
energetic woman appeared like a conjuring trick from behind a

'How do you do, Mr Loring?' she greeted me, smiling. 'So glad to
meet you.'

'My wife,' Mr Brindley explained gravely.

'Now, I may as well tell you now, Bob,' said she, still smiling at
me. 'Bobbie's got a sore throat and it may be mumps; the chimney's
been on fire and we're going to be summoned; and you owe me

'Why do I owe you sixpence?'

'Because Annie's had her baby and it's a girl.'

'That's all right. Supper ready?'

'Supper is waiting for you.'

She laughed. 'Whenever I have anything to tell my husband, I
always tell him at ONCE!' she said. 'No matter who's there.' She
pronounced 'once' with a wholehearted enthusiasm for its vowel
sound that I have never heard equalled elsewhere, and also with a
very magnified 'w' at the beginning of it. Often when I hear the
word 'once' pronounced in less downright parts of the world, I
remember how they pronounce it in the Five Towns, and there rises
up before me a complete picture of the district, its atmosphere,
its spirit.

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