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The Grim Smile of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett

Part 4 out of 5

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Mr Brindley led me to a large bathroom that had a faint odour of
warm linen. In addition to a lot of assorted white babyclothes
there were millions of towels in that bathroom. He turned on a tap
and the place was instantly full of steam from a jet of boiling

'Now, then,' he said, 'you can start.'

As he showed no intention of leaving me, I did start. 'Mind you
don't scald yourself,' he warned me, 'that water's HOT.' While I
was washing, he prepared to wash. I suddenly felt as if I had been
intimate with him and his wife for about ten years.

'So this is Bursley!' I murmured, taking my mouth out of a towel.

'Bosley, we call it,' he said. 'Do you know the limerick--"There
was a young woman of Bosley"?'


He intoned the local limerick. It was excellently good; not meet
for a mixed company, but a genuine delight to the true amateur.
One good limerick deserves another. It happened that I knew a
number of the unprinted Rossetti limericks, precious things, not
at all easy to get at. I detailed them to Mr Brindley, and I do
not exaggerate when I say that I impressed him. I recovered all
the ground I had lost upon cigarettes and newspapers. He
appreciated those limericks with a juster taste than I should have
expected. So, afterwards, did his friends. My belief is that I am
to this day known and revered in Bursley, not as Loring the
porcelain expert from the British Museum, but as the man who
first, as it were, brought the good news of the Rossetti limericks
from Ghent to Aix.

'Now, Bob,' an amicable voice shrieked femininely up from the
ground-floor, 'am I to send the soup to the bathroom or are you
coming down?'

A limerick will make a man forget even his dinner.

Mr Brindley performed once more with his eyes that something that
was, not a wink, but a wink unutterably refined and spiritualized.
This time I comprehended its import. Its import was to the effect
that women are women.

We descended, Mr Brindley still in his knickerbockers.

'This way,' he said, drawing aside a portiere. Mrs Brindley, as we
entered the room, was trotting a male infant round and round a
table charged with everything digestible and indigestible. She
handed the child, who was in its nightdress, to a maid.

'Say good night to father.'

'Good ni', faver,' the interesting creature piped.

'By-bye, sonny,' said the father, stooping to tickle. 'I suppose,'
he added, when maid and infant had gone, 'if one's going to have
mumps, they may as well all have it together.'

'Oh, of course,' the mother agreed cheerfully. 'I shall stick them
all into a room.'

'How many children have you?' I inquired with polite curiosity.

'Three,' she said; 'that's the eldest that you've seen.'

What chiefly struck me about Mrs Brindley was her serene air of
capableness, of having a self-confidence which experience had
richly justified. I could see that she must be an extremely
sensible mother. And yet she had quite another aspect too--how
shall I explain it?--as though she had only had children in her
spare time.

We sat down. The room was lighted by four candles, on the table. I
am rather short-sighted, and so I did not immediately notice that
there were low book-cases all round the walls. Why the presence of
these book-cases should have caused me a certain astonishment I do
not know, but it did. I thought of Knype station, and the scenery,
and then the other little station, and the desert of pots and
cinders, and the mud in the road and on the pavement and in the
hall, and the baby-linen in the bathroom, and three children all
down with mumps, and Mr Brindley's cap and knickerbockers and
cigarettes; and somehow the books--I soon saw there were at least
a thousand of them, and not circulating-library books, either, but
BOOKS--well, they administered a little shock to me.

To Mr Brindley's right hand was a bottle of Bass and a corkscrew.

'Beer!' he exclaimed, with solemn ecstasy, with an ecstasy gross
and luscious. And, drawing the cork, he poured out a glass, with
fine skill in the management of froth, and pushed it towards me.

'No, thanks,' I said.

'No beer!' he murmured, with benevolent, puzzled disdain.

'No, thanks,' I said. 'Water.'

'_I_ know what Mr Loring would like,' said Mrs Brindley, jumping
up. 'I KNOW what Mr Loring would like.' She opened a cupboard and
came back to the table with a bottle, which she planted in front
of me. 'Wouldn't you, Mr Loring?'

It was a bottle of mercurey, a wine which has given me many
dreadful dawns, but which I have never known how to refuse.

'I should,' I admitted; 'but it's very bad for me.'

'Nonsense!' said she. She looked at her husband in triumph.

'Beer!' repeated Mr Brindley with undiminished ecstasy, and drank
about two-thirds of a glass at one try. Then he wiped the froth
from his moustache. 'Ah!' he breathed low and soft. 'Beer!'

They called the meal supper. The term is inadequate. No term that
I can think of would be adequate. Of its kind the thing was
perfect. Mrs Brindley knew that it was perfect. Mr Brindley also
knew that it was perfect. There were prawns in aspic. I don't know
why I should single out that dish, except that it seemed strange
to me to have crossed the desert of pots and cinders in order to
encounter prawns in aspic. Mr Brindley ate more cold roast beef
than I had ever seen any man eat before, and more pickled walnuts.
It is true that the cold roast beef transcended all the cold roast
beef of my experience. Mrs Brindley regaled herself largely on
trifle, which Mr Brindley would not approach, preferring a most
glorious Stilton cheese. I lost touch, temporarily, with the
intellectual life. It was Mr Brindley who recalled me to it.

'Jane,' he said. (This was at the beef and pickles stage.)

No answer.


Mrs Brindley turned to me. 'My name is not Jane,' she said,
laughing, and making a moue simultaneously. 'He only calls me that
to annoy me. I told him I wouldn't answer to it, and I won't. He
thinks I shall give in because we've got "company"! But I won't
treat you as "company", Mr Loring, and I shall expect you to take
my side. What dreadful weather we're having, aren't we?'

'Dreadful!' I joined in the game.


'Did you have a comfortable journey down?'

'Yes, thank you.'

'Well, then, Mary!' Mr Brindley yielded.

'Thank you very much, Mr Loring, for your kind assistance,' said
his wife. 'Yes, dearest?'

Mr Brindley glanced at me over his second glass of beer.

'If those confounded kids are going to have mumps,' he addressed
his words apparendy into the interior of the glass, 'it probably
means the doctor, and the doctor means money, and I shan't be able
to afford the Hortulus Animoe.'

I opened my ears.

'My husband goes stark staring mad sometimes,' said Mrs Brindley
to me. 'It lasts for a week or so, and pretty nearly lands us in
the workhouse. This time it's the Hortulus Animoe. Do you know
what it is? I don't.'

'No,' I said, and the prestige of the British Museum trembled.
Then I had a vague recollection. 'There's an illuminated
manuscript of that name in the Imperial Library of Vienna, isn't

'You've got it in one,' said Mr Brindley. 'Wife, pass those

'You aren't by any chance buying it?' I laughed.

'No,' he said. 'A Johnny at Utrecht is issuing a facsimile of it,
with all the hundred odd miniatures in colour. It will be the
finest thing in reproduction ever done. Only seventy-five copies
for England.'

'How much?' I asked.

'Well,' said he, with a preliminary look at his wife,'thirty-three

'Thirty-three POUNDS!' she screamed. 'You never told me.'

'My wife never will understand,' said Mr Brindley, 'that complete
confidence between two human beings is impossible.'

'I shall go out as a milliner, that's all,' Mrs Brindley returned.
'Remember, the Dictionary of National Biography isn't paid for

'I'm glad I forgot that, otherwise I shouldn't have ordered the

'You've not ORDERED it?'

'Yes, I have. It'll be here tomorrow--at least the first part

Mrs Brindley affected to fall back dying in her chair.

'Quite mad!' she complained to me. 'Quite mad. It's a hopeless

But obviously she was very proud of the incurable lunatic.

'But you're a book-collector!' I exclaimed, so struck by these
feats of extravagance in a modest house that I did not conceal my

'Did you think I collected postage-stamps?' the husband retorted.
'No, _I_'m not a book-collector, but our doctor is. He has a few
books, if you like. Still, I wouldn't swop him; he's much too fond
of fashionable novels.'

'You know you're always up his place,' said the wife; 'and I
wonder what _I_ should do if it wasn't for the doctor's novels!'
The doctor was evidently a favourite of hers.

'I'm not always up at his place,' the husband contradicted. 'You
know perfectly well I never go there before midnight. And HE knows
perfectly well that I only go because he has the best whisky in
the town. By the way, I wonder whether he knows that Simon Fuge is
dead. He's got one of his etchings. I'll go up.'

'Who's Simon Fuge?' asked Mrs Brindley.

'Don't you remember old Fuge that kept the Blue Bell at Cauldon?'

'What? Simple Simon?'

'Yes. Well, his son.'

'Oh! I remember. He ran away from home once, didn't he, and his
mother had a port-wine stain on her left cheek? Oh, of course. I
remember him perfectly. He came down to the Five Towns some years
ago for his aunt's funeral. So he's dead. Who told you?'

'Mr Loring.'

'Did you know him?' she glanced at me.

'I scarcely knew him,' said I. 'I saw it in the paper.'

'What, the Signal?'

'The Signal's the local rag,' Mr Brindley interpolated. 'No. It's
in the Gazette.'

'The Birmingham Gazette?'

'No, bright creature--the Gazette,' said Mr Brindley.

'Oh!' She seemed puzzled.

'Didn't you know he was a painter?' the husband condescendingly

'I knew he used to teach at the Hanbridge School of Art,' said Mrs
Brindley stoutly. 'Mother wouldn't let me go there because of
that. Then he got the sack.'

'Poor defenceless thing! How old were you?'

'Seventeen, I expect.'

'I'm much obliged to your mother.'

'Where did he die?' Mrs Brindley demanded.

'At San Remo,' I answered. 'Seems queer him dying at San Remo in
September, doesn't it?'


'San Remo is a winter place. No one ever goes there before

'Oh, is it?' the lady murmured negligently. 'Then that would be
just like Simon Fuge. _I_ was never afraid of him,' she added, in
a defiant tone, and with a delicious inconsequence that choked her
husband in the midst of a draught of beer.

'You can laugh,' she said sturdily.

At that moment there was heard a series of loud explosive sounds
in the street. They continued for a few seconds apparently just
outside the dining-room window. Then they stopped, and the noise
of the bumping electric cars resumed its sway over the ear.

'That's Oliver!' said Mr Brindley, looking at his watch. 'He must
have come from Manchester in an hour and a half. He's a terror.'

'Glass! Quick!' Mrs Brindley exclaimed. She sprang to the
sideboard, and seized a tumbler, which Mr Brindley filled from a
second bottle of Bass. When the door of the room opened she was
standing close to it, laughing, with the full, frothing glass in
her hand.

A tall, thin man, rather younger than Mr Brindley and his wife,
entered. He wore a long dust-coat and leggings, and he carried a
motorist's cap in a great hand. No one spoke; but little puffs of
laughter escaped all Mrs Brindley's efforts to imprison her mirth.
Then the visitor took the glass with a magnificent broad smile,
and said, in a rich and heavy Midland voice--

'Here's to moy wife's husband!'

And drained the nectar.

'Feel better now, don't you?' Mrs Brindley inquired.

'Aye, Mrs Bob, I do!' was the reply. 'How do, Bob?'

'How do?' responded my host laconically. And then with gravity:
'Mr Loring--Mr Oliver Colclough--thinks he knows something about

'Glad to meet you, sir,' said Mr Colclough, shaking hands with me.
He had a most attractively candid smile, but he was so long and
lanky that he seemed to pervade the room like an omnipresence.

'Sit down and have a bit of cheese, Oliver,' said Mrs Brindley, as
she herself sat down.

'No, thanks, Mrs Bob. I must be getting towards home.'

He leaned on her chair.

'Trifle, then?'

'No, thanks.'

'Machine going all right?'

'Like oil. Never stopped th' engine once.'

'Did you get the Sinfonia Domestica, Ol?' Mr Brindley inquired.

'Didn't I say as I should get it, Bob?'

'You SAID you would.'

'Well, I've got it.'

'In Manchester?'

'Of course.'

Mr Brindley's face shone with desire and Mr Oliver Colclough's
face shone with triumph.

'Where is it?'

'In the hall.'

'My hall?'


'We'll play it, Ol.'

'No, really, Bob! I can't stop now. I promised the wife--'

'We'll PLAY it, Ol! You'd no business to make promises. Besides,
suppose you'd had a puncture!'

'I expect you've heard Strauss's Sinfonia Domestica, Mr Loring, up
in the village?' Mr Colclough addressed me. He had surrendered to
the stronger will.

'In London?' I said. 'No. But I've heard of it.'

'Bob and I heard it in Manchester last week, and we thought it 'ud
be a bit of a lark to buy the arrangement for pianoforte duet.'

'Come and listen to it,' said Mr Brindley. 'That is, if nobody
wants any more beer.'


The drawing-room was about twice as large as the dining-room, and
it contained about four times as much furniture. Once again there
were books all round the walls. A grand piano, covered with music,
stood in a corner, and behind was a cabinet full of bound music.

Mr Brindley, seated on one corner of the bench in front of the
piano, cut the leaves of the Sinfonia Domestica.

'It's the devil!' he observed.

'Aye, lad!' agreed Mr Colclough, standing over him. 'It's

'Come on,' said Mr. Brindley, when he had finished cutting.

'Better take your dust-coat off, hadn't you?' Mrs Brindley
suggested to the friend. She and I were side by side on a sofa at
the other end of the room.

'I may as well,' Mr Colclough admitted, and threw the long garment
on to a chair. 'Look here, Bob, my hands are stiff with steering.'

'Don't find fault with your tools,' said Mr Brindley; 'and sit
down. No, my boy, I'm going to play the top part. Shove along.'

'I want to play the top part because it's easiest,' Mr Colclough

'How often have I told you the top part is never easiest? Who do
you suppose is going to keep this symphony together--you or me?'

'Sorry I spoke.'

They arranged themselves on the bench, and Mr Brindley turned up
the lower corners of every alternate leaf of the music.

'Now,' said he. 'Ready?'

'Let her zip,' said Mr Colclough.

They began to play. And then the door opened, and a servant, whose
white apron was starched as stiff as cardboard, came in carrying a
tray of coffee and unholy liqueurs, which she deposited with a
rattle on a small table near the hostess.

'Curse!' muttered Mr Brindley, and stopped.

'Life's very complex, ain't it, Bob?' Mr Colclough murmured.

'Aye, lad.' The host glanced round to make sure that the rattling
servant had entirely gone. 'Now start again.'

'Wait a minute, wait a minute!' cried Mrs Brindley excitedly. 'I'm
just pouring out Mr Loring's coffee. There!' As she handed me the
cup she whispered, 'We daren't talk. It's more than our place is

The performance of the symphony proceeded. To me, who am not a
performer, it sounded excessively brilliant and incomprehensible.
Mr Colclough stretched his right hand to turn over the page, and
fumbled it. Another stoppage.

'Damn you, Ol!' Mr Brindley exploded. 'I wish you wouldn't make
yourself so confoundedly busy. Leave the turning to me. It takes a
great artist to turn over, and you're only a blooming chauffeur.
We'll begin again.'

'Sackcloth!' Mr Colclough whispered.

I could not estimate the length of the symphony; but my impression
was one of extreme length. Halfway through it the players both
took their coats off. There was no other surcease.

'What dost think of it, Bob?' asked Mr Colclough in the weird
silence that reigned after they had finished. They were standing
up and putting on their coats and wiping their faces.

'I think what I thought before,' said Mr Brindley. 'It's

'It isn't childish,' the other protested. 'It's ugly, but it isn't

'It's childishly clever,' Mr Brindley modified his description. He
did not ask my opinion.

'Coffee's cold,' said Mrs Brindley.

'I don't want any coffee. Give me some Chartreuse, please. Have a
drop o' green, Ol?'

'A split soda 'ud be more in my line. Besides, I'm just going to
have my supper. Never mind, I'll have a drop, missis, and chance
it. I've never tried Chartreuse as an appetizer.'

At this point commenced a sanguinary conflict of wills to settle
whether or not I also should indulge in green Chartreuse. I was
defeated. Besides the Chartreuse, I accepted a cigar. Never before
or since have I been such a buck.

'I must hook it,' said Mr Colclough, picking up his dust-coat.

'Not yet you don't,' said Mr Brindley. 'I've got to get the taste
of that infernal Strauss out of my mouth. We'll play the first
movement of the G minor? La-la-la--la-la-la--la-la-la-ta.' He
whistled a phrase.

Mr Colclough obediently sat down again to the piano.

The Mozart was like an idyll after a farcical melodrama. They
played it with an astounding delicacy. Through the latter half of
the movement I could hear Mr Brindley breathing regularly and
heavily through his nose, exactly as though he were being
hypnotized. I had a tickling sensation in the small of my back, a
sure sign of emotion in me. The atmosphere was changed.

'What a heavenly thing!' I exclaimed enthusiastically, when they
had finished.

Mr Brindley looked at me sharply, and just nodded in silence.
Well, good night, Ol.'

'I say,' said Mr Colclough; 'if you've nothing doing later on,
bring Mr Loring round to my place. Will you come, Mr Loring? Do!
Us'll have a drink.'

These Five Towns people certainly had a simple, sincere way of
offering hospitality that was quite irresistible. One could see
that hospitality was among their chief and keenest pleasures.

We all went to the front door to see Mr Colclough depart homewards
in his automobile. The two great acetylene head-lights sent long
glaring shafts of light down the side street. Mr Colclough,
throwing the score of the Sinfonia Domestica into the tonneau of
the immense car, put on a pair of gloves and began to circulate
round the machine, tapping here, screwing there, as chauffeurs
will. Then he bent down in front to start the engine.

'By the way, Ol,' Mr Brindley shouted from the doorway, 'it seems
Simon Fuge is dead.'

We could see the man's stooping form between the two head-lights.
He turned his head towards the house.

'Who the dagger is Simon Fuge?' he inquired. 'There's about five
thousand Fuges in th' Five Towns.'

'Oh! I thought you knew him.'

'I might, and I mightn't. It's not one o' them Fuge brothers
saggar-makers at Longshaw, is it?'

'No, It's--'

Mr Colclough had succeeded in starting his engine, and the air was
rent with gun-shots. He jumped lightly into the driver's seat.

'Well, see you later,' he cried, and was off, persuading the
enormous beast under him to describe a semicircle in the narrow
street backing, forcing forward, and backing again, to the
accompaniment of the continuous fusillade. At length he got away,
drew up within two feet of an electric tram that slid bumping down
the main street, and vanished round the corner. A little ragged
boy passed, crying, 'Signal, extra,' and Mr Brindley hailed him.

'What IS Mr Colclough?' I asked in the drawing-room.

'Manufacturer--sanitary ware,' said Mr Brindley. 'He's got one of
the best businesses in Hanbridge. I wish I'd half his income.
Never buys a book, you know.'

'He seems to play the piano very well.'

'Well, as to that, he doesn't what you may call PLAY, but he's the
best sight-reader in this district, bar me. I never met his equal.
When you come across any one who can read a thing like the
Domestic Symphony right off and never miss his place, you might
send me a telegram. Colclough's got a Steinway. Wish I had.'

Mrs Brindley had been looking through the Signal.

'I don't see anything about Simon Fuge here,' said she.

'Oh, nonsense!' said her husband. 'Buchanan's sure to have got
something in about it. Let's look.'

He received the paper from his wife, but failed to discover in it
a word concerning the death of Simon Fuge.

'Dashed if I don't ring Buchanan up and ask him what he means!
Here's a paper with an absolute monopoly in the district, and
brings in about five thousand a year clear to somebody, and it
doesn't give the news! There never is anything but advertisements
and sporting results in the blessed thing.'

He rushed to his telephone, which was in the hall. Or rather, he
did not rush; he went extremely quickly, with aggressive footsteps
that seemed to symbolize just retribution. We could hear him at
the telephone.

'Hello! No. Yes. Is that you, Buchanan? Well, I want Mr Buchanan.
Is that you, Buchanan? Yes, I'm all right. What in thunder do you
mean by having nothing in tonight about Simon Fuge's death? Eh?
Yes, the Gazette. Well, I suppose you aren't Scotch for nothing.
Why the devil couldn't you stop in Scotland and edit papers
there?' Then a laugh. 'I see. Yes. What did you think of those
cigars? Oh! See you at the dinner. Ta-ta.' A final ring.

'The real truth is, he wanted some advice as to the tone of his
obituary notice,' said Mr Brindley, coming back into the drawing-
room. 'He's got it, seemingly. He says he's writing it now, for
tomorrow. He didn't put in the mere news of the death, because it
was exclusive to the Gazette, and he's been having some difficulty
with the Gazette lately. As he says, tomorrow afternoon will be
quite soon enough for the Five Towns. It isn't as if Simon Fuge
was a cricket match. So now you see how the wheels go round, Mr

He sat down to the piano and began to play softly the Castle
motive from the Nibelung's Ring. He kept repeating it in different

'What about the mumps, wife?' he asked Mrs Brindley, who had been
out of the room and now returned.

'Oh! I don't think it is mumps,' she replied. 'They're all

'Good!' he murmured, still playing the Castle motive.

'Talking of Simon Fuge,' I said determined to satisfy my
curiosity, 'who WERE the two sisters?'

'What two sisters?'

'That he spent the night in the boat with, on Ilam Lake.'

'Was that in the Gazette? I didn't read all the article.'

He changed abruptly into the Sword motive, which he gave with a
violent flourish, and then he left the piano. 'I do beg you not to
wake my children,' said his wife.

'Your children must get used to my piano,' said he. 'Now, then,
what about these two sisters?'

I pulled the Gazette from my pocket and handed it to him. He read
aloud the passage describing the magic night on the lake.

'_I_ don't know who they were,' he said. 'Probably something tasty
from the Hanbridge Empire.'

We both observed a faint, amused smile on the face of Mrs
Brindley, the smile of a woman who has suddenly discovered in her
brain a piece of knowledge rare and piquant.

'I can guess who they were,' she said. 'In fact, I'm sure.'


'Annie Brett and--you know who.'

'What, down at the Tiger?'

'Certainly. Hush!' Mrs Brindley ran to the door and, opening it,
listened. The faint, fretful cry of a child reached us. 'There!
You've done it! I told you you would!'

She disappeared. Mr Brindley whistled.

'And who is Annie Brett?' I inquired.

'Look here,' said he, with a peculiar inflection. 'Would you like
to see her?'

'I should,' I said with decision.

'Well, come on, then. We'll go down to the Tiger and have a drop
of something.'

'And the other sister?' I asked.

'The other sister is Mrs Oliver Colclough,' he answered. 'Curious,
ain't it?'

Again there was that swift, scarcely perceptible phenomenon in his


We stood at the corner of the side-street and the main road, and
down the main road a vast, white rectangular cube of bright light
came plunging--its head rising and dipping--at express speed, and
with a formidable roar. Mr Brindley imperiously raised his stick;
the extraordinary box of light stopped as if by a miracle, and we
jumped into it, having splashed through mud, and it plunged off
again--bump, bump, bump--into the town of Bursley. As Mr Brindley
passed into the interior of the car, he said laconically to two
men who were smoking on the platform--

'How do, Jim? How do, Jo?'

And they responded laconically--

'How do, Bob?'

'How do, Bob?'

We sat down. Mr Brindley pointed to the condition of the floor.

'Cheerful, isn't it?' he observed to me, shouting above the din of
vibrating glass.

Our fellow-passengers were few and unromantic, perhaps halfa-dozen
altogether on the long, shiny, yellow seats of the car, each
apparently lost in gloomy reverie.

'It's the advertisements and notices in these cars that are the
joy of the super-man like you and me,' shouted Mr Brindley. 'Look
there, "Passengers are requested not to spit on the floor." Simply
an encouragement to lie on the seats and spit on the ceiling,
isn't it? "Wear only Noble's wonderful boots." Suppose we did!
Unless they came well up above the waist we should be prosecuted.
But there's no sense of humour in this district.'

Greengrocers' shops and public-houses were now flying past the
windows of the car. It began to climb a hill, and then halted.

'Here we are!' ejaculated Mr Brindley.

And he was out of the car almost before I had risen.

We strolled along a quiet street, and came to a large building
with many large lighted windows, evidently some result of public

'What's that place?' I demanded.

'That's the Wedgwood Institution.'

'Oh! So that's the Wedgwood Institution, is it?'

'Yes. Commonly called the Wedgwood. Museum, reading-room, public
library--dirtiest books in the world, I mean physically--art
school, science school. I've never explained to you why I'm
chairman of the Management Committee, have I? Well, it's because
the Institution is meant to foster the arts, and I happen to know
nothing about 'em. I needn't tell you that architecture,
literature, and music are not arts within the meaning of the act.
Not much! Like to come in and see the museum for a minute? You'll
have to see it in your official capacity tomorrow.'

We crossed the road, and entered an imposing portico. Just as we
did so a thick stream of slouching men began to descend the steps,
like a waterfall of treacle. Mr Brindley they appeared to see, but
evidently I made no impression on their retinas. They bore down
the steps, hands deep in pockets, sweeping over me like Fate. Even
when I bounced off one of them to a lower step, he showed by no
sign that the fact of my existence had reached his consciousness--
simply bore irresistibly downwards. The crowd was absolutely
silent. At last I gained the entrance hall.

'It's closing-time for the reading room,' said Mr Brindley.

'I'm glad I survived it,' I said.

'The truth is,' said he, 'that people who can't look after
themselves don't flourish in these latitudes. But you'll be
acclimatized by tomorrow. See that?'

He pointed to an alabaster tablet on which was engraved a record
of the historical certainty that Mr Gladstone opened the
Institution in 1868, also an extract from the speech which he
delivered on that occasion.

'What do you THINK of Gladstone down here?' I demanded.

'In my official capacity I think that these deathless words are
the last utterance of wisdom on the subject of the influence of
the liberal arts on life. And I should advise you, in your
official capacity, to think the same, unless you happen to have a
fancy for having your teeth knocked down your throat.'

'I see,' I said, not sure how to take him.

'Lest you should go away with the idea that you have been visiting
a rude and barbaric people, I'd better explain that that was a
joke. As a matter of fact, we're rather enlightened here. The only
man who stands a chance of getting his teeth knocked down his
throat here is the ingenious person who started the celebrated
legend of the man-and-dog fight at Hanbridge. It's a long time
ago, a very long time ago; but his grey hairs won't save him from
horrible tortures if we catch him. We don't mind being called
immoral, we're above a bit flattered when London newspapers come
out with shocking details of debauchery in the Five Towns, but we
pride ourselves on our manners. I say, Aked!' His voice rose
commandingly, threateningly, to an old bent, spectacled man who
was ascending a broad white staircase in front of us.

'Sir!' The man turned.

'Don't turn the lights out yet in the museum.'

'No, sir! Are you coming up?' The accents were slow and tremulous.

'Yes. I have a gentleman here from the British Museum who wants to
look round.'

The oldish man came deliberately down the steps, and approached
us. Then his gaze, beginning at my waist, gradually rose to my

'From the British Museum?' he drawled. 'I'm sure I'm very glad to
meet you, sir. I'm sure it's a very great honour.'

He held out a wrinkled hand, which I shook.

'Mr Aked,' said Mr Brindley, by way of introduction. 'Been
caretaker here for pretty near forty years.'

'Ever since it opened, sir,' said Aked.

We went up the white stone stairway, rather a grandiose
construction for a little industrial town. It divided itself into
doubling curving flights at the first landing, and its walls were
covered with pictures and designs. The museum itself, a series of
three communicating rooms, was about as large as a pocket-

'Quite small,' I said.

I gave my impression candidly, because I had already judged Mr
Brindley to be the rare and precious individual who is worthy of
the high honour of frankness.

'Do you think so?' he demanded quickly. I had shocked him, that
was clear. His tone was unmistakable; it indicated an instinctive,
involuntary protest. But he recovered himself in a flash. 'That's
jealousy,' he laughed. 'All you British Museum people are the
same.' Then he added, with an unsuccessful attempt to convince me
that he meant what he was saying: 'Of course it is small. It's
nothing, simply nothing.'

Yes, I had unwittingly found the joint in the armour of this
extraordinary Midland personage. With all his irony, with all his
violent humour, with all his just and unprejudiced perceptions, he
had a tenderness for the Institution of which he was the dictator.
He loved it. He could laugh like a god at everything in the Five
Towns except this one thing. He would try to force himself to
regard even this with the same lofty detachment, but he could not
do it naturally.

I stopped at a case of Wedgwood ware, marked 'Perkins Collection.'

'By Jove!' I exclaimed, pointing to a vase. 'What a body!'

He was enchanted by my enthusiasm.

'Funny you should have hit on that,' said he. 'Old Daddy Perkins
always called it his ewe-lamb.'

Thus spoken, the name of the greatest authority on Wedgwood ware
that Europe has ever known curiously impressed me.

'I suppose you knew him?' I questioned.

'Considering that I was one of the pall-bearers at his funeral,
and caught the champion cold of my life!'

'What sort of a man was he?'

'Outside Wedgwood ware he wasn't any sort of a man. He was that
scourge of society, a philanthropist,' said Mr Brindley. 'He was
an upright citizen, and two thousand people followed him to his
grave. I'm an upright citizen, but I have no hope that two
thousand people will follow me to my grave.'

'You never know what may happen,' I observed, smiling.

'No.' He shook his head. 'If you undermine the moral character of
your fellow-citizens by a long course of unbridled miscellaneous
philanthropy, you can have a funeral procession as long as you
like, at the rate of about forty shillings a foot. But you'll
never touch the great heart of the enlightened public of these
boroughs in any other way. Do you imagine anyone cared a twopenny
damn for Perkins's Wedgwood ware?'

'It's like that everywhere,' I said.

'I suppose it is,' he assented unwillingly.

Who can tell what was passing in the breast of Mr Brindley? I
could not. At least I could not tell with any precision. I could
only gather, vaguely, that what he considered the wrong-
headedness, the blindness, the lack of true perception, of his
public was beginning to produce in his individuality a faint trace
of permanent soreness. I regretted it. And I showed my sympathy
with him by asking questions about the design and construction of
the museum (a late addition to the Institution), of which I
happened to know that he had been the architect.

He at once became interested and interesting. Although he perhaps
insisted a little too much on the difficulties which occur when
original talent encounters stupidity, he did, as he walked me up
and down, contrive to convey to me a notion of the creative
processes of the architect in a way that was in my experience
entirely novel. He was impressing me anew, and I was wondering
whether he was unique of his kind or whether there existed
regiments of him in this strange parcel of England.

'Now, you see this girder,' he said, looking upwards.

That's surely something of Fuge's, isn't it?' I asked, indicating
a small picture in a corner, after he had finished his explanation
of the functions of the girder.

As on the walls of the staircase and corridors, so on the walls
here, there were many paintings, drawings, and engravings. And of
course the best were here in the museum. The least uninteresting
items of the collection were, speaking generally, reproductions in
monotint of celebrated works, and a few second--or third-rate loan
pictures from South Kensington. Aside from such matters I had
noticed nothing but the usual local trivialities, gifts from one
citizen or another, travel-jottings of some art-master, careful
daubs of apt students without a sense of humour. The aspect of the
place was exactly the customary aspect of the small provincial
museum, as I have seen it in half-a-hundred towns that are not
among 'the great towns'. It had the terrible trite 'museum'
aspect, the aspect that brings woe and desolation to the heart of
the stoutest visitor, and which seems to form part of the
purgatorio of Bank-holidays, wide mouths, and stiff clothes. The
movement for opening museums on Sundays is the most natural
movement that could be conceived. For if ever a resort was
invented and fore-ordained to chime with the true spirit of the
British sabbath, that resort is the average museum. I ought to
know. I do know.

But there was the incomparable Wedgwood ware, and there was the
little picture by Simon Fuge. I am not going to lose my sense of
perspective concerning Simon Fuge. He was not the greatest painter
that ever lived, or even of his time. He had, I am ready to
believe, very grave limitations. But he was a painter by himself,
as all fine painters are. He had his own vision. He was Unique. He
was exclusively preoccupied with the beauty and the romance of the
authentic. The little picture showed all this. It was a painting,
unfinished, of a girl standing at a door and evidently hesitating
whether to open the door or not: a very young girl, very thin,
with long legs in black stockings, and short, white, untidy frock;
thin bare arms; the head thrown on one side, and the hands raised,
and one foot raised, in a wonderful childish gesture--the gesture
of an undecided fox-terrier. The face was an infant's face,
utterly innocent; and yet Simon Fuge had somehow caught in that
face a glimpse of all the future of the woman that the girl was to
be, he had displayed with exquisite insolence the essential
naughtiness of his vision of things. The thing was not much more
than a sketch; it was a happy accident, perhaps, in some day's
work of Simon Fuge's. But it was genius. When once you had yielded
to it, there was no other picture in the room. It killed
everything else. But, wherever it had found itself, nothing could
have killed IT. Its success was undeniable, indestructible. And it
glowed sombrely there on the wall, a few splashes of colour on a
morsel of canvas, and it was Simon Fuge's unconscious, proud
challenge to the Five Towns. It WAS Simon Fuge, at any rate all of
Simon Fuge that was worth having, masterful, imperishable. And not
merely was it his challenge, it was his scorn, his aristocratic
disdain, his positive assurance that in the battle between them he
had annihilated the Five Towns. It hung there in the very midst
thereof, calmly and contemptuously waiting for the acknowledgement
of his victory.

'Which?' said Mr Brindley.

That one.'

'Yes, I fancy it is,' he negligently agreed. 'Yes, it is.'

'It's not signed,' I remarked.

'It ought to be,' said Mr Brindley; then laughed, 'Too late now!'

'How did it get here?'

'Don't know. Oh! I think Mr Perkins won it in a raffle at a
bazaar, and then hung it here. He did as he liked here, you know.'

I was just going to become vocal in its praise, when Mr Brindley

'That thing under it is a photograph of a drinking-cup for which
one of our pupils won a national scholarship last year!'

Mr Aked appeared in the distance.

'I fancy the old boy wants to be off to bed,' Mr Brindley
whispered kindly.

So we left the Wedgwood Institution. I began to talk to Mr
Brindley about music. The barbaric attitude of the Five Towns
towards great music was the theme of some very lively
animadversions on his part.


The Tiger was very conveniently close to the Wedgwood Institution.
The Tiger had a 'yard', one of those long, shapeless expanses of
the planet, partly paved with uneven cobbles and partly
unsophisticated planet, without which no provincial hotel can call
itself respectable. We came into it from the hinterland through a
wooden doorway in a brick wall. Far off I could see one light
burning. We were in the centre of Bursley, the gold angel of its
Town Hall rose handsomely over the roof of the hotel in the
diffused moonlight, but we might have been in the purlieus of some
dubious establishment on the confines of a great seaport, where
anything may happen. The yard was so deserted, so mysterious, so
shut in, so silent, that, really, infamous characters ought to
have rushed out at us from the obscurity of shadows, and felled us
to the earth with no other attendant phenomenon than a low groan.
There are places where one seems to feel how thin and brittle is
the crust of law and order. Why one should be conscious of this in
the precincts of such a house as the Tiger, which I was given to
understand is as respectable as the parish church, I do not know.
But I have experienced a similar feeling in the yards of other
provincial hotels that were also as correct as parish churches. We
passed a dim fly, with its shafts slanting forlornly to the
ground, and a wheelbarrow. Both looked as though they had been
abandoned for ever. Then we came to the lamp, which illuminated a
door, and on the door was a notice: 'Private Bar. Billiards.'

I am not a frequenter of convivial haunts. I should not dare to
penetrate alone into a private bar; when I do enter a private bar
it is invariably under the august protection of an habitue, and it
is invariably with the idea that at last I am going to see life.
Often has this illusion been shattered, but each time it perfectly
renewed itself. So I followed the bold Mr Brindley into the
private bar of the Tiger.

It was a small and low room. I instinctively stooped, though there
was no necessity for me to stoop. The bar had no peculiarity. It
can be described in a breath: Three perpendicular planes. Back
plane, bottles arranged exactly like books on bookshelves; middle
plane, the upper halves of two women dressed in tight black; front
plane, a counter, dotted with glasses, and having strange areas of
zinc. Reckon all that as the stage, and the rest of the room as
auditorium. But the stage of a private bar is more mysterious than
the stage of a theatre. You are closer to it, and yet it is far
less approachable. The edge of the counter is more sacred than the
footlights. Impossible to imagine yourself leaping over it.
Impossible to imagine yourself in that cloistered place behind it.
Impossible to imagine how the priestesses got themselves into that
place, or that they ever leave it. They are always there; they are
always the same. You may go into a theatre when it is empty and
dark; but did you ever go into a private bar that was empty and
dark? A private bar is as eternal as the hills, as changeless as
the monomania of a madman, as mysterious as sorcery. Always the
same order of bottles, the same tinkling, the same popping, the
same time-tables, and the same realistic pictures of frothing
champagne on the walls, the same advertisements on the same ash-
trays on the counter, the same odour that wipes your face like a
towel the instant you enter; and the same smiles, the same
gestures, the same black fabric stretched to tension over the same
impressive mammiferous phenomena of the same inexplicable
creatures who apparently never eat and never sleep, imprisoned for
life in the hallowed and mystic hollow between the bottles and the

In a tone almost inaudible in its discretion, Mr Brindley let fall
to me as he went in--

This is she.'

She was not quite the ordinary barmaid. Nor, as I learnt
afterwards, was she considered to be the ordinary barmaid. She was
something midway in importance between the wife of the new
proprietor and the younger woman who stood beside her in the
cloister talking to a being that resembled a commercial traveller.
It was the younger woman who was the ordinary barmaid; she had
bright hair, and the bright vacant stupidity which, in my narrow
experience, barmaids so often catch like an infectious disease
from their clients. But Annie Brett was different. I can best
explain how she impressed me by saying that she had the mien of a
handsome married woman of forty with a coquettish and
superficially emotional past, but also with a daughter who is just
going into long skirts. I have known one or two such women. They
have been beautiful; they are still handsome at a distance of
twelve feet. They are rather effusive; they think they know life,
when as a fact their instinctive repugnance for any form of truth
has prevented them from acquiring even the rudiments of the
knowledge of life. They are secretly preoccupied by the burning
question of obesity. They flatter, and they will pay any price for
flattery. They are never sincere, not even with themselves; they
never, during the whole of their existence, utter a sincere word,
even in anger they coldly exaggerate. They are always frothing at
the mouth with ecstasy. They adore everything, including God; go
to church carrying a prayer-book and hymn-book in separate
volumes, and absolutely fawn on the daughter. They are stylish--
and impenetrable. But there is something about them very wistful
and tragic.

In another social stratum, Miss Annie Brett might have been such a
woman. Without doubt nature had intended her for the role. She
was just a little ample, with broad shoulders and a large head and
a lot of dark chestnut hair; a large mouth, and large teeth. She
had earrings, a brooch, and several rings; also a neat originality
of cuffs that would not have been permitted to an ordinary
barmaid. As for her face, there were crow's-feet, and a mole
(which had selected with infinite skill a site on her chin), and a
general degeneracy of complexion; but it was an effective face.
The little thing of twenty-three or so by her side had all the
cruel advantages of youth and was not ugly; but she was 'killed'
by Annie Brett. Miss Brett had a maternal bust. Indeed, something
of the maternal resided in all of her that was visible above the
zinc. She must have been about forty; that is to say, apparently
older than the late Simon Fuge. Nevertheless, I could conceive
her, even now, speciously picturesque in a boat at midnight on a
moonstruck water. Had she been on the stage she would have been
looking forward to ingenue parts for another five years yet--such
was her durable sort of effectiveness. Yes, she indubitably
belonged to the ornamental half of the universe.

'So this is one of them!' I said to myself.

I tried to be philosophical; but at heart I was profoundly
disappointed. I did not know what I had expected; but I had not
expected THAT. I was well aware that a thing written always takes
on a quality which does not justly appertain to it. I had not
expected, therefore, to see an odalisque, a houri, an ideal toy or
the remains of an ideal toy; I had not expected any kind of
obvious brilliancy, nor a subtle charm that would haunt my memory
for evermore. On the other hand, I had not expected the banal, the
perfectly commonplace. And I think that Miss Annie Brett was the
most banal person that it has pleased Fate to send into my life. I
knew that instantly. She was a condemnation of Simon Fuge. SHE,
one of the 'wonderful creatures who had played so large a part' in
the career of Simon Fuge! Sapristi! Still, she WAS one of the
wonderful creatures, etc. She HAD floated o'er the bosom of the
lake with a great artist. She HAD received his homage. She HAD
stirred his feelings. She HAD shared with him the magic of the
night. I might decry her as I would; she had known how to cast a
spell over him--she and the other one! Something there in her
which had captured him and, seemingly, held him captive.

'Good-EVENING, Mr Brindley,' she expanded. 'You're quite a
stranger.' And she embraced me also in the largeness of her

'It just happens,' said Mr Brindley, 'that I was here last night.
But you weren't.'

'Were you now!' she exclaimed, as though learning a novel fact of
the most passionate interest. The truth is, I had to leave the bar
to Miss Slaney last night. Mrs Moorcroft was ill--and the baby
only six weeks old, you know--and I wouldn't leave her. No, I

It was plain that in Miss Annie Brett's opinion there was only one
really capable intelligence in the Tiger. This glimpse of her
capability, this out-leaping of the latent maternal in her,
completely destroyed for the moment my vision of her afloat on the
bosom of the lake.

'I see,' said Mr Brindley kindly. Then he turned to me with
characteristic abruptness. 'Well, give it a name, Mr Loring.'

Such is my simplicity that I did not immediately comprehend his
meaning. For a fraction of a second I thought of the baby. Then I
perceived that he was merely employing one of the sacred phrases,
sanctified by centuries of usage, of the private bar. I had
already drunk mercurey, green Chartreuse, and coffee. I had a
violent desire not to drink anything more. I knew my deplorable
tomorrows. Still, I would have drunk hot milk, cold water, soda
water, or tea. Why should I not have had what I did not object to
having? Herein lies another mystery of the private bar. One could
surely order tea or milk or soda water from a woman who left
everything to tend a mother with a six-weeks-old baby! But no. One
could not. As Miss Annie Brett smiled at me pointedly, and rubbed
her ringed hands, and kept on smiling with her terrific mechanical
effusiveness, I lost all my self control; I would have resigned
myself to a hundred horrible tomorrows under the omnipotent,
inexplicable influence of the private bar. I ejaculated, as though
to the manner born--


It proved to have been rather clever of me, showing as it did a
due regard for convention combined with a pretty idiosyncrasy. Mr
Brindley was clearly taken aback. The idea struck him as a new
one. He reflected, and then enthusiastically exclaimed--

'Dashed if I don't have Irish too!'

And Miss Brett, delighted by this unexpected note of Irish in the
long, long symphony of Scotch, charged our glasses with gusto. I
sipped, death in my heart, and rakishness in my face and gesture.
Mr Brindley raised his glass respectfully to Miss Annie Brett, and
I did the same. Those two were evidently good friends.

She led the conversation with hard, accustomed ease. When I say
'hard' I do not in the least mean unsympathetic. But her
sympathetic quality was toughened by excessive usage, like the
hand of a charwoman. She spoke of the vagaries of the Town Hall
clock, the health of Mr Brindley's children, the price of coal,
the incidence of the annual wakes, the bankruptcy of the draper
next door, and her own sciatica, all in the same tone of metallic
tender solicitude. Mr Brindley adopted an entirely serious
attitude towards her. If I had met him there and nowhere else I
should have taken him for a dignified mediocrity, little better
than a fool, but with just enough discretion not to give himself
away. I said nothing. I was shy. I always am shy in a bar. Out of
her cold, cold roving eye Miss Brett watched me, trying to add me
up and not succeeding. She must have perceived, however, that I
was not like a fish in water.

There was a pause in the talk, due, I think, to Miss Annie Brett's
preoccupation with what was going on between Miss Slaney, the
ordinary barmaid, and her commercial traveller. The commercial
traveller, if he was one, was reading something from a newspaper
to Miss Slaney in an indistinct murmur, and with laughter in his

'By the way,' said Mr Brindley, 'you used to know Simon Fuge,
didn't you?'

'Old Simon Fuge!' said Miss Brett. 'Yes; after the brewery company
took the Blue Bell at Cauldon over from him, I used to be there.
He would come in sometimes. Such a nice queer old man!'

'I mean the son,' said Mr Brindley.

'Oh yes,' she answered. 'I knew young Mr Simon too.' A slight
hesitation, and then: 'Of course!' Another hesitation. 'Why?'

'Nothing,' said Mr Brindley. 'Only he's dead.'

'You don't mean to say he's dead?' she exclaimed.

'Day before yesterday, in Italy,' said Mr Brindley ruthlessly.

Miss Annie Brett's manner certainly changed. It seemed almost to
become natural and unecstatic.

'I suppose it will be in the papers?' she ventured.

'It's in the London paper.'

'Well I never!' she muttered.

'A long time, I should think, since he was in this part of the
world,' said Mr Brindley. 'When did YOU last see him?'

He was exceedingly skilful, I considered.

She put the back of her hand over her mouth, and bending her head
slightly and lowering her eyelids, gazed reflectively at the

'It was once when a lot of us went to Ilam,' she answered quietly.
'The St Luke's lot, YOU know.'

'Oh!' cried Mr Brindley, apparently startled. 'The St Luke's lot?'


'How came he to go with you?'

'He didn't go with us. He was there--stopping there, I suppose.'

'Why, I believe I remember hearing something about that,' said Mr
Brindley cunningly. 'Didn't he take you out in a boat?'

A very faint dark crimson spread over the face of Miss Annie
Brett. It could not be called a blush, but it was as like a blush
as was possible to her. The phenomenon, as I could see from his
eyes, gave Mr Brindley another shock.

'Yes,' she replied. 'Sally was there as well.'

Then a silence, during which the commercial traveller could be
heard reading from the newspaper.

'When was that?' gently asked Mr Brindley.

'Don't ask ME when it was, Mr Brindley,' she answered nervously.
'It's ever so long ago. What did he die of?'

'Don't know.'

Miss Annie Brett opened her mouth to speak, and did not speak.
There were tears in her reddened eyes. I felt very awkward, and I
think that Mr Brindley also felt awkward. But I was glad. Those
moist eyes caused me a thrill. There was after all some humanity
in Miss Annie Brett. Yes, she had after all floated on the bosom
of the lake with Simon Fuge. The least romantic of persons, she
had yet felt romance. If she had touched Simon Fuge, Simon Fuge
had touched her. She had memories. Once she had lived. I pictured
her younger. I sought in her face the soft remains of
youthfulness. I invented languishing poses for her in the boat. My
imagination was equal to the task of seeing her as Simon Fuge saw
her. I did so see her. I recalled Simon Fuge's excited description
of the long night in the boat, and I could reconstitute the night
from end to end. And there the identical creature stood before me,
the creature who had set fire to Simon Fuge, one of the 'wonderful
creatures' of the Gazette, ageing, hardened, banal, but
momentarily restored to the empire of romance by those unshed,
glittering tears. As an experience it was worth having.

She could not speak, and we did not. I heard the commercial
traveller reading: '"The motion was therefore carried by twenty-
five votes to nineteen, and the Countess of Chell promised that
the whole question of the employment of barmaids should be raised
at the next meeting of the B.W.T.S." There! what do you think of

Miss Annie Brett moved quickly towards the commercial traveller.

Til tell you what _I_ think of it,' she said, with ecstatic
resentment. 'I think it's just shameful! Why should the Countess
of Chell want to rob a lot of respectable young ladies of their
living? I can tell you they're just as respectable as the Countess
of Chell is--yes, and perhaps more, by all accounts. I think
people do well to call her "Interfering Iris". When she's robbed
them of their living, what does she expect them to do? Is she
going to keep them? Then what does she expect them to do?'

The commercial traveller was inept enough to offer a jocular
reply, and then he found himself involved in the morass of 'the
whole question'. He, and we also, were obliged to hear in immense
detail Miss Annie Brett's complete notions of the movement for the
abolition of barmaids. The subject was heavy on her mind, and she
lifted it off. Simon Fuge was relinquished; he dropped like a
stone into the pool of forgetfulness. And yet, strange as it
seems, she was assuredly not sincere in the expression of her
views on the question of barmaids. She held no real views. She
merely persuaded herself that she held them. When the commercial
traveller, who was devoid of sense, pointed out that it was not
proposed to rob anybody of a livelihood, and that existent
barmaids would be permitted to continue to grace the counters of
their adoption, she grew frostily vicious. The commercial
traveller decided to retire and play billiards. Mr Brindley and I
in our turn departed. I was extremely disappointed by this sequel.

'Ah!' breathed Mr Brindley when we were outside, in front of the
Town Hall. 'She was quite right about that clock.'

After that we turned silently into a long illuminated street which
rose gently. The boxes of light were flashing up and down it, but
otherwise it seemed to be quite deserted. Mr Brindley filled a
pipe and lit it as he walked. The way in which that man kept the
match alight in a fresh breeze made me envious. I could conceive
myself rivalling his exploits in cigarette-making, the purchase of
rare books, the interpretation of music, even (for a wager) the
drinking of beer, but I knew that I should never be able to keep a
match alight in a breeze. He threw the match into the mud, and in
the mud it continued miraculously to burn with a large flame, as
though still under his magic dominion. There are some things that
baffle the reasoning faculty. 'Well,' I said, 'she must have been
a pretty woman once.'

'"Pretty," by God!' he replied, 'she was beautiful. She was
considered the finest piece in Hanbridge at one time. And let me
tell you we're supposed to have more than our share of good looks
in the Five Towns.'

'What--the women, you mean?'


'And she never married?'



'Oh no,' he said carelessly.

'But you don't mean to tell me she's never--' I was just going to
exclaim, but I did not, I said: 'And it's her sister who is Mrs

'Yes.' He seemed to be either meditative or disinclined to talk.
However, my friends have sometimes hinted to me that when my
curiosity is really aroused, I am capable of indiscretions.

'So one sister rattles about in an expensive motor-car, and the
other serves behind a bar!' I observed.

He glanced at me.

'I expect it's a bit difficult for you to understand,' he
answered; 'but you must remember you're in a democratic district.
You told me once you knew Exeter. Well, this isn't a cathedral
town. It's about a century in front of any cathedral town in the
world. Why, my good sir, there's practically no such thing as
class distinction here. Both my grandfathers were working potters.
Colclough's father was a joiner who finished up as a builder. If
Colclough makes money and chooses to go to Paris and get the best
motor-car he can, why in Hades shouldn't his wife ride in it? If
he is fond of music and can play like the devil, that isn't his
sister-in-law's fault, is it? His wife was a dressmaker, at least
she was a dressmaker's assistant. If she suits him, what's the

'But I never suggested--'

'Excuse me,' he stopped me, speaking with careful and slightly
exaggerated calmness, 'I think you did. If the difference in the
situations of the two sisters didn't strike you as very
extraordinary, what did you mean?'

'And isn't it extraordinary?' I demanded.

'It wouldn't be considered so in any reasonable society,' he
insisted. 'The fact is, my good sir, you haven't yet quite got rid
of Exeter. I do believe this place will do you good. Why, damn it!
Colclough didn't marry both sisters. You think he might keep the
other sister? Well, he might. But suppose his wife had half-a-
dozen sisters, should he keep them all! I can tell you we're just
like the rest of the world, we find no difficulty whatever in
spending all the money we make. I dare say Colclough would be
ready enough to keep his sister-in-law. I've never asked him. But
I'm perfectly certain that his sister-in-law wouldn't be kept. Not
much! You don't know these women down here, my good sir. She's
earned her living at one thing or another all her life, and I
reckon she'll keep on earning it till she drops. She is, without
exception, the most exasperating female I ever came across, and
that's saying something; but I will give her THAT credit: she's
mighty independent.'

'How exasperating?' I asked, surprised to hear this from him.

'_I_ don't know. But she is. If she was my wife I should kill her
one night. Don't you know what I mean?'

'Yes, I quite agree with you,' I said. 'But you seemed to be
awfully good friends with her.'

'No use being anything else. No woman that it ever pleased
Providence to construct is going to frighten me away from the
draught Burton that you can get at the Tiger. Besides, she can't
help it. She was born like that.'

'She TALKS quite ordinarily,' I remarked.

'Oh! It isn't what she says, particularly. It's HER. Either you
like her or you don't like her. Now Colclough thinks she's all
right. In fact, he admires her.'

'There's one thing,' I said, 'she jolly nearly cried tonight.'

'Purely mechanical!' said Mr Brindley with cruel curtness.

What seemed to me singular was that the relations which had
existed between Miss Annie Brett and Simon Fuge appeared to have
no interest whatever for Mr Brindley. He had not even referred to

'You were just beginning to draw her out,' I ventured.

'No,' he replied; 'I thought I'd just see what she'd say. No one
ever did draw that woman out.'

I had completely lost my vision of her in the boat, but somehow
that declaration of his, 'no one ever did draw that woman out',
partially restored the vision to me. It seemed to invest her with
agreeable mystery.

'And the other sister--Mrs Colclough?' I questioned.

'I'm taking you to see her as fast as I can,' he answered. His
tone implied further: 'I've just humoured one of your whims, now
for the other.'

'But tell me something about her.'

'She's the best bridge-player--woman, that is--in Bursley. But she
will only play every other night for fear the habit should get
hold of her. There you've got her.'

'Younger than Miss Brett?'

'Younger,' said Mr Brindley. 'She isn't the same sort of person,
is she?'

'She is not,' said Mr Brindley. And his tone implied: 'Thank God
for it!'

Very soon afterwards, at the top of a hill, he drew me into the
garden of a large house which stood back from the road.


It was quite a different sort of house from Mr Brindley's. One
felt that immediately on entering the hall, which was extensive.
There was far more money and considerably less taste at large in
that house than in the other. I noticed carved furniture that must
have been bought with a coarse and a generous hand; and on the
walls a diptych by Marcus Stone portraying the course of true love
clingingly draped. It was just like Exeter or Onslow Square. But
the middle-aged servant who received us struck at once the same
note as had sounded so agreeably at Mr Brindley's. She seemed
positively glad to see us; our arrival seemed to afford her a
peculiar and violent pleasure, as though the hospitality which we
were about to accept was in some degree hers too. She robbed us of
our hats with ecstasy.

Then Mr Colclough appeared.

'Delighted you've come, Mr Loring!' he said, shaking my hand
again. He said it with fervour. He obviously was delighted. The
exercise of hospitality was clearly the chief joy of his life; at
least, if he had a greater it must have been something where
keenness was excessive beyond the point of pleasure, as some joys
are. 'How do, Bob? Your missis has just come.' He was still in his
motoring clothes.

Mr Brindley, observing my gaze transiently on the Marcus Stones,
said: 'I know what you're looking for; you're looking for "Saul's
Soul's Awakening". We don't keep it in the window; you'll see it

'Bob's always rotting me about my pictures,' Mr Colclough smiled
indulgently. He seemed big enough to eat his friend, and his rich,
heavy voice rolled like thunder about the hall. 'Come along in,
will you?'

'Half-a-second, Ol,' Mr Brindley called in a conspiratorial tone,
and, turning to me: Tell him THE Limerick. You know.'

'The one about the hayrick?'

Mr Brindley nodded.

There were three heads close together for a space of twenty
seconds or so, and then a fearful explosion happened--the unique,
tremendous laughter of Mr Colclough, which went off like a charge
of melinite and staggered the furniture.

'Now, now!' a feminine voice protested from an unseen interior.

I was taken to the drawing-room, an immense apartment with an
immense piano black as midnight in it. At the further end two
women were seated close together in conversation, and I distinctly
heard the name 'Fuge'. One of them was Mrs Brindley, in a hat. The
other, a very big and stout woman, in an elaborate crimson garment
that resembled a teagown, rose and came to meet me with extended

'My wife--Mr Loring,' said Mr Oliver Colclough.

'So glad to meet you,' she said, beaming on me with all her
husband's pleasure. 'Come and sit between Mrs Brindley and me,
near the window, and keep us in order. Don't you find it very
close? There are at least a hundred cats in the garden.'

One instantly perceived that ceremonial stiffness could not exist
in the same atmosphere with Mrs Oliver Colclough. During the whole
time I spent in her house there was never the slightest pause in
the conversation. Mrs Oliver Colclough prevented nobody from
talking, but she would gladly use up every odd remnant of time
that was not employed by others. No scrap was too small for her.

'So this is the other one!' I said to myself. 'Well, give me this

Certainly there was a resemblance between the two, in the general
formation of the face, and the shape of the shoulders; but it is
astonishing that two sisters can differ as these did, with a
profound and vital difference. In Mrs Colclough there was no
coquetterie, no trace of that more-than-half-suspicious challenge
to a man that one feels always in the type to which her sister
belonged. The notorious battle of the sexes was assuredly carried
on by her in a spirit of frank muscular gaiety--she could, I am
sure, do her share of fighting. Put her in a boat on the bosom of
the lake under starlight, and she would not by a gesture, a tone,
a glance, convey mysterious nothings to you, a male. She would not
be subtly changed by the sensuous influences of the situation; she
would always be the same plump and earthly piece of candour. Even
if she were in love with you, she would not convey mysterious
nothings in such circumstances. If she were in love with you she
would most clearly convey unmysterious and solid somethings. I was
convinced that the contributing cause to the presence of the late
Simon Fuge in the boat on Ilam Lake on the historic night was
Annie the superior barmaid, and not Sally of the automobile. But
Mrs Colclough, if not beautiful, was a very agreeable creation.
Her amplitude gave at first sight an exaggerated impression of her
age; but this departed after more careful inspection. She could
not have been more than thirty. She was very dark, with plenteous
and untidy black hair, thick eyebrows, and a slight moustache. Her
eyes were very vivacious, and her gestures, despite that bulk,
quick and graceful. She was happy; her ideals were satisfied; it
was probably happiness that had made her stout. Her massiveness
was apparently no grief to her; she had fallen into the
carelessness which is too often the pitfall of women who, being
stout, are content.

'How do, missis?' Mr Brindley greeted her, and to his wife, 'How
do, missis? But, look here, bright star, this gadding about is all
very well, but what about those precious kids of yours? None of
'em dead yet, I hope.'

'Don't be silly, Bob.'

'I've been over to your house,' Mrs Colclough put in. 'Of course
it isn't mumps. The child's as right as rain. So I brought Mary
back with me.'

'Well,' said Mr Brindley, 'for a woman who's never had any
children your knowledge of children beggars description. What you
aren't sure you know about them isn't knowledge. However--'

'Listen,' Mrs Colclough replied, with a delightful throwingdown of
the glove. 'I'll bet you a level sovereign that child hasn't got
the mumps. So there! And Oliver will guarantee to pay you.'

'Aye!' said Mr Colclough; 'I'll back my wife any day.'

'Don't bet, Bob,' Mrs Brindley enjoined her husband excitedly in
her high treble.

'I won't,' said Mr Brindley.

'Now let's sit down.' Mrs Colclough addressed me with particular,
confidential grace.

We three exactly filled the sofa. I have often sat between two
women, but never with such calm, unreserved, unapprehensive
comfortableness as I experienced between Mrs Colclough and Mrs
Brindley. It was just as if I had known them for years.

'You'll make a mess of that, Ol,' said Mr Brindley.

The other two men were at some distance, in front of a table, on
which were two champagne bottles and five glasses, and a plate of
cakes. 'Well,' I said to myself, 'I'm not going to have any
champagne, anyhow. Mercurey! Green Chartreuse! Irish whisky! And
then champagne! And a morning's hard work tomorrow! No!'

Plop! A cork flew up and bounced against the ceiling.

Mr Colclough carefully emptied the bottle into the glasses, of
which Mr Brindley seized two and advanced with one in either hand
for the women. It was the host who offered a glass to me.

'No, thanks very much, I really can't,' I said in a very firm

My tone was so firm that it startled them. They glanced at each
other with alarmed eyes, like simple people confronted by an
inexplicable phenomenon. 'But look here, mister!' said Mr
Colclough, pained, 'we've got this out specially for you. You
don't suppose this is our usual tipple, do you?'

I yielded. I could do no less than sacrifice myself to their
enchanting instinctive kindness of heart. 'I shall be dead
tomorrow,' I said to myself; 'but I shall have lived tonight.'
They were relieved, but I saw that I had given them a shock from
which they could not instantaneously recover. Therefore I began
with a long pull, to reassure them.

'Mrs Brindley has been telling me that Simon Fuge is dead,' said
Mrs Colclough brightly, as though Mrs Brindley had been telling
her that the price of mutton had gone down.

I perceived that those two had been talking over Simon Fuge, after
their fashion.

'Oh yes,' I responded.

'Have you got that newspaper in your pocket, Mr Loring?' asked Mrs

I had.

'No,' I said, feeling in my pockets; 'I must have left it at your

'Well,' she said, 'that's strange. I looked for it to show it to
Mrs Colclough, but I couldn't see it.'

This was not surprising. I did not want Mrs Colclough to read the
journalistic obituary until she had given me her own obituary of

'It must be somewhere about,' I said; and to Mrs Colclough: 'I
suppose you knew him pretty well?'

'Oh, bless you, no! I only met him once.'

'At Ilam?'

'Yes. What are you going to do, Oliver?'

Her husband was opening the piano.

'Bob and I are just going to have another smack at that Brahms.'

'You don't expect us to listen, do you?'

'I expect you to do what pleases you, missis,' said he. 'I should
be a bigger fool than I am if I expected anything else.' Then he
smiled at me. 'No! Just go on talking. Ol and I'll drown you easy
enough. Quite short! Back in five minutes.'

The two men placed each his wine-glass on the space on the piano
designed for a candlestick, lighted cigars, and sat down to play.

'Yes,' Mrs Colclough resumed, in a lower, more confidential tone,
to the accompaniment of the music. 'You see, there was a whole
party of us there, and Mr Fuge was staying at the hotel, and of
course he knew several of us.'

'And he took you out in a boat?'

'Me and Annie? Yes. Just as it was getting dusk he came up to us
and asked us if we'd go for a row. Eh, I can hear him asking us
now! I asked him if he could row, and he was quite angry. So we
went, to quieten him.' She paused, and then laughed.

'Sally!' Mrs Brindley protested. 'You know he's dead!'

'Yes.' She admitted the rightness of the protest. 'But I can't
help it. I was just thinking how he got his feet wet in pushing
the boat off.' She laughed again. 'When we were safely off,
someone came down to the shore and shouted to Mr Fuge to bring the
boat back. You know his quick way of talking.' (Here she began to
imitate Fuge.) '"I've quarrelled with the man this boat belongs
to. Awful feud! Fact is, I'm in a hostile country here!" And a lot
more like that. It seemed he had quarrelled with everybody in
Ilam. He wasn't sure if the landlord of the hotel would let him
sleep there again. He told us all about all his quarrels, until he
dropped one of the oars. I shall never forget how funny he looked
in the moonlight when he dropped the oar. "There, that's your
fault!" he said. "You make me talk too much about myself, and I
get excited." He kept striking matches to look for the oar, and
turning the boat round and round with the other oar. "Last match!"
he said. "We shall never see land tonight." Then he found the oar
again. He considered we were saved. Then he began to tell us about
his aunt. "You know I'd no business to be here. I came down from
London for my aunt's funeral, and here I am in a boat at night
with two pretty girls!" He said the funeral had taught him one
thing, and that was that black neckties were the only possible
sort of necktie. He said the greatest worry of his life had always
been neckties; but he wouldn't have to worry any more, and so his
aunt hadn't died for nothing. I assure you he kept on talking
about neckties. I assure you, Mr Loring, I went to sleep--at least
I dozed--and when I woke up he was still talking about neckties.
But then his feet began to get cold. I suppose it was because they
were wet. The way he grumbled about his feet being cold! I
remember he turned his coat collar up. He wanted to get on shore
and walk, but he'd taken us a long way up the lake by that time,
and he saw we were absolutely lost. So he put the oars in the boat
and stood up and stamped his feet. It might have upset the boat.'

'How did it end?' I inquired.

'Well, Annie and I caught the train, but only just. You see it was
a special train, so they kept it for us, otherwise we should have
been in a nice fix.'

'So you have special trains in these parts?'

'Why, of course! It was the annual outing of the teachers of St
Luke's Sunday School and their friends, you see. So we had a
special train.'

At this point the duettists came to the end of a movement, and Mr
Brindley leaned over to us from his stool, glass in hand.

'The railway company practically owns Ilam,' he explained, 'and so
they run it for all they're worth. They made the lake, to feed the
canals, when they bought the canals from the canal company. It's
an artificial lake, and the railway runs alongside it. A very good
scheme of the company's. They started out to make Ilam a popular
resort, and they've made it a popular resort, what with special
trains and things. But try to get a special train to any other
place on their rotten system, and you'll soon see!'

'How big is the lake?' I asked.

'How long is it, Ol?' he demanded of Colclough. 'A couple of

'Not it! About a mile. Adagio!'

They proceeded with Brahms.

'He ran with you all the way to the station, didn't he?' Mrs
Brindley suggested to Mrs Colclough.

'I should just say he did!' Mrs Colclough concurred. 'He wanted to
get warm, and then he was awfully afraid lest we should miss it.'

'I thought you were on the lake practically all night!' I

'All night! Well, I don't know what you call all night. But I was
back in Bursley before eleven o'clock, I'm sure.'

I then contrived to discover the Gazette in an unsearched pocket,
and I gave it to Mrs Colclough to read. Mrs Brindley looked over
her shoulder.

There was no slightest movement of depreciation on Mrs Colclough's
part. She amiably smiled as she perused the GAZETTE'S version of
Fuge's version of the lake episode. Here was the attitude of the
woman whose soul is like crystal. It seems to me that most women
would have blushed, or dissented, or simulated anger, or failed to
conceal vanity. But Mrs Coclough might have been reading a fairy
tale, for any emotion she displayed.

'Yes,' she said blandly; 'from the things Annie used to tell me
about him sometimes, I should say that was just how he WOULD talk.
They seem to have thought quite a lot of him in London, then?'

'Oh, rather!' I said. 'I suppose your sister knew him pretty

'Annie? I don't know. She knew him.'

I distinctly observed a certain self-consciousness in Mrs
Colclough as she made this reply. Mrs Brindley had risen and with
wifely attentiveness was turning over the music page for her


Soon afterwards, for me, the night began to grow fantastic; it
took on the colour of a gigantic adventure. I do not suppose that
either Mr Brindley or Mr Colclough, or the other person who
presently arrived, regarded it as anything but a pleasant
conviviality, but to a man of my constitution and habits it was an
almost incredible occurrence. The other person was the book-
collecting doctor. He arrived with a discreet tap on the window at
midnight, to spend the evening. Mrs Brindley had gone home and Mrs
Colclough had gone to bed. The book-collecting doctor refused
champagne; he was, in fact, very rude to champagne in general. He
had whisky. And those astonishing individuals, Messieurs Brindley
and Colclough, secretly convinced of the justice of the attack on
champagne, had whisky too. And that still most astonishing
individual, Loring of the B.M., joined them. It was the hour of
limericks. Limericks were demanded for the diversion of the
doctor, and I furnished them. We then listened to the tale of the
doctor's experiences that day amid the sturdy, natural-minded
population of a muling village not far from Bursley. Seldom have I
had such a bath in the pure fluid of human nature. All sense of
time was lost. I lived in an eternity. I could not suggest to my
host that we should depart. I could, however, decline more whisky.
And I could, given the chance, discourse with gay despair
concerning the miserable wreck that I should be on the morrow in
consequence of this high living. I asked them how I could be
expected, in such a state, to judge delicate points of expertise
in earthenware. I gave them a brief sketch of my customary
evening, and left them to compare it with that evening. The doctor
perceived that I was serious. He gazed at me with pity, as if to
say: 'Poor frail southern organism! It ought to be in bed, with
nothing inside it but tea!' What he did actually say was: 'You
come round to my place, I'll soon put you right!' 'Can you stop me
from having a headache tomorrow?' I eagerly asked. 'I think so,'
he said with calm northern confidence.

At some later hour Mr Brindley and I 'went round'. Mr Colclough
would not come. He bade me good-bye, as his wife had done, with
the most extraordinary kindness, the most genuine sorrow at
quitting me, the most genuine pleasure in the hope of seeing me

'There are three thousand books in this room!' I said to myself,
as I stood in the doctor's electrically lit library.

'What price this for a dog?' Mr Brindley drew my attention to an
aristocratic fox-terrier that lay on the hearth. 'Well, Titus! Is
it sleepy? Well, well! How many firsts has he won, doctor?'

'Six,' said the doctor. 'I'll just fix you up, to begin with,' he
turned to me.

After I had been duly fixed up ('This'll help you to sleep, and
THIS'll placate your "god",' said the doctor), I saw to my intense
surprise that another 'evening' was to be instantly superimposed
on the 'evening' at Mr Colclough's. The doctor and Mr Brindley
carefully and deliberately lighted long cigars, and sank deeply
into immense arm-chairs; and so I imitated them as well as I could
in my feeble southern way. We talked books. We just simply
enumerated books without end, praising or damning them, and
arranged authors in neat pews, like cattle in classes at an
agricultural show. No pastime is more agreeable to people who have
the book disease, and none more quickly fleets the hours, and none
is more delightfully futile.

Ages elapsed, and suddenly, like a gun discharging, Mr Brindley

'We must go!'

Of all things that happened this was the most astonishing.

We did go.

'By the way, doc.,' said Mr Brindley, in the doctor's wide porch,
'I forgot to tell you that Simon Fuge is dead.'

'Is he?' said the doctor.

'Yes. You've got a couple of his etchings, haven't you?'

'No,' said the doctor. 'I had. But I sold them several months

'Oh!' said Mr Brindley negligently; 'I didn't know. Well, so

We had a few hundred yards to walk down the silent, wide street,
where the gas-lamps were burning with the strange, endless
patience that gas-lamps have. The stillness of a provincial town
at night is quite different from that of London; we might have
been the only persons alive in England.

Except for a feeling of unreality, a feeling that the natural
order of things had been disturbed by some necromancer, I was
perfectly well the same morning at breakfast, as the doctor had
predicted I should be. When I expressed to Mr Brindley my
stupefaction at this happy sequel, he showed a polite but careless
inability to follow my line of thought. It appeared that he was
always well at breakfast, even when he did stay up 'a little later
than usual'. It appeared further that he always breakfasted at a
quarter to nine, and read the Manchester Guardian during the meal,
to which his wife did or did not descend--according to the moods
of the nursery; and that he reached his office at a quarter to
ten. That morning the mood of the nursery was apparently
unpropitious. He and I were alone. I begged him not to pretermit
his GUARDIAN, but to examine it and give me the news. He agreed,
scarcely unwilling.

'There's a paragraph in the London correspondence about Fuge,' he
announced from behind the paper.

'What do they say about him?'

'Nothing particular.'

'Now I want to ask you something,' I said.

I had been thinking a good deal about the sisters and Simon Fuge.
And in spite of everything that I had heard--in spite even of the
facts that the lake had been dug by a railway company, and that
the excursion to the lake had been an excursion of Sunday-school
teachers and their friends--I was still haunted by certain notions
concerning Simon Fuge and Annie Brett. Annie Brett's flush, her
unshed tears; and the self-consciousness shown by Mrs Colclough
when I had pointedly mentioned her sister's name in connection
with Simon Fuge's: these were surely indications! And then the
doctor's recitals of manners in the immediate neighbourhood of
Bursley went to support my theory that even in Staffordshire life
was very much life.

'What?' demanded Mr Brindley.

'Was Miss Brett ever Simon Fuge's mistress?'

At that moment Mrs Brindley, miraculously fresh and smiling,
entered the room.

'Wife,' said Mr Brindley, without giving her time to greet me,
'what do you think he's just asked me?'

'_I_ don't know.'

'He's just asked me if Annie Brett was ever Simon Fuge's

She sank into a chair.

'Annie BRETT?' She began to laugh gently. 'Oh! Mr Loring, you
really are too funny!' She yielded to her emotions. It may be said
that she laughed as they can laugh in the Five Towns. She cried.
She had to wipe away the tears of laughter.

'What on earth made you think so?' she inquired, after recovery.

'I--had an idea,' I said lamely. 'He always made out that one of
those two sisters was so much to him, and I knew it couldn't be
Mrs Colclough.'

'Well,' she said, 'ask anybody down here, ANY-body! And see what
they'll say.'

'No,' Mr Brindley put in, 'don't go about asking ANY-body. You
might get yourself disliked. But you may take it it isn't true.'

'Most certainly,' his wife concurred with seriousness.

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