Part 6 out of 6
stairs, lots of us paddling about in that lake, and perfectly lost to
all sense of--what shall I say?--well, correctness. I do believe most of
us had forgotten all about civilization. We wanted our things. We wanted
our things so badly that we even lost our interest in the origin of the
fire and in the question whether we should get anything out of the
insurance company. By the way, I mustn't omit to tell you that we never
saw the proprietors after the fire was out; the proprietors could only
be seen by appointment. The German and Swiss waiters had to bear the
brunt of us.
I was very lucky. I received both my trunks nearly at once. They came
sliding on a plank down those stairs. And most of my things were in them
too. I was determined to be energetic then, and to get out of all that
crowd. Do you know what I did? I simply called two men in out of the
street, and told them to shoulder my trunks into the main building of
the hotel. I defied policemen and the superintendent of the
fire-brigade. And in the main building I demanded a bedroom, and I was
told that everything would be done to accommodate me as quickly as
possible. So I went straight upstairs and told the men to follow me, and
I began knocking at every door till I found a room that wasn't occupied,
and I took possession of it, and gave the men a shilling a piece. They
seemed to expect half-a-crown, because I'd been in a fire, I suppose!
Curious ideas odd job men have! Then I dressed myself out of what was
left of my belongings and went down again.
All the people said how lucky I was, and what presence of mind I had,
and how calm and practical I was, and so on and so on. But they didn't
know that I'd been stupid enough not to give a thought to Ellis's blue
suit. One can't think of everything, and I didn't think of that. I
believe if I had thought of it, at the start, I should have taken the
bonnet-box with me at any cost.
I came across Ellis; smoking a cigarette, of course, just to show, I
suppose, that a fire was a most ordinary event to him. He was completely
dressed, like me. He had saved the whole of his belongings. He said the
Smiths were fixing themselves up in private rooms somewhere, and would
be down soon. So we moved along into the dining-room and had breakfast.
The place was full and noisy. Ellis was exceedingly facetious. He said:
"Well, auntie, did you have a pretty good night?"
"A fire is a very clumsy way of waking you up in the morning. A bell
would be much simpler, and cost less," etcetera, etcetera. And then he
"A nice thing, auntie, if I'd followed your advice and brought my
beauteous new suit! It would have been bound to be burnt to a cinder.
One's best suit always is in a fire."
I ought to have told him then the trick I'd played on him, but I didn't.
I merely agreed with him in a lame sort of way that it _would_ have been
a nice thing if he'd brought his beauteous suit. I hoped that I might be
able later on to invent some good excuse, something really plausible,
for having brought along with me his newest suit unknown to him. But the
more I reflected the more I couldn't think of anything clever enough.
Then the three Smiths came in. There was some queer attire in that
dining-room, but I think that Mrs Smith won the gold medal for
queerness. All her "colonialness" had come suddenly out. They evidently
hadn't been very fortunate. But they didn't seem to mind much. They
hadn't thought very highly of the hotel before, and they accepted the
fire good-humouredly as one of the necessary drawbacks of a hotel that
wasn't quite up to their Winnipeg form. Nellie Smith was delightful. I
must say she was delightful, and she looked delightful. She was wearing
a blue-and-red striped petticoat, rather short, and a white jersey, and
over that a man's blue jacket, which fitted her pretty well. She looked
indescribably pert and charming, though the jacket was dirty and
I noticed Ellis staring and staring at that jacket....
I needn't tell you. You can see a mile off what had happened.
Ellis said in his casual way:
"Hello! Where did you pick up that affair, Miss Smith?" Meaning the
She said she had picked it up on one of the landings, and that there was
a pair of continuations lying in a broken bonnet-box just close to it,
and that the continuations were ruined by too much water.
I could feel myself blushing redder and redder.
"In a bonnet-box, eh?" said Master Ellis.
Then he said: "Would you mind letting me look at the right-hand
breast-pocket of that jacket?"
She didn't mind in the least. He looked at the strip of white linen that
your men's tailors always stitch into that pocket with your name and
address and date, and age and weight, and I don't know what.
He said, "Thank you."
And she asked him if the jacket was his.
"Yes," he said, "but I hope you'll keep it."
Everybody said what a very curious coincidence! Ellis avoided my eyes,
and I avoided his.... Will you believe me that when we "had it out"
afterwards, he and I, that boy was seriously angry. He suspected me of a
plan "to make the best of him" during the stay with the Smiths, and he
very strongly objected to being "made the best of." His notion
apparently was that even his worst was easily good enough for my
Colonial friends, although, as he'd have said, they _had_ "simply wiped
the floor with him" in the billiard-room. Anyhow, he was furious. He
actually used the word "unwarrantable," and it was rather a long word
for a mere stripling of a nephew to use to an auntie who was paying all
his expenses. However, he's a nice enough boy at the bottom, and soon
got down off his high horse. I must tell you that Nellie Smith wore that
jacket all day, quite without any concern. These Colonials don't really
seem to mind what they wear. At any rate she didn't. She was just as
much at ease in that jacket as she had been in her gorgeousness the
evening before. And she and Ellis were walking about together all day.
The next day of course we all left. We couldn't stay, seeing the state
we were in.... Now, don't you think it's a very curious story?
Thus spake Mrs Ellis across the tea-table in an alcove at the Hanover.
"But you've not finished the story!" I explained.
"Yes, I have," she said.
"You haven't explained what you were doing at my tailor's in Sackville
"Oh!" she cried, "I was forgetting that. Well, I promised Ellis a new
suit. And as I wanted to show him that after all I had larger ideas
about tailoring than he had, I told him I knew a very good tailor's in
Sackville Street--a real West End tailor--and that if he liked he could
have his presentation suit made there. He pooh-poohed the offer at
first, and pretended that his Bursley tailor was just as good as any of
your West End tailors. But at last he accepted. You see--it meant an
authorized visit to London.... I'd been into the tailor's just now to
pay the bill. That's all."
"But even now," I said, "you haven't finished the story."
"Yes, I have," she replied again.
"What about Nellie Smith?" I demanded. "A story about a handsome girl
named Nellie, who could make a break of twenty-eight at billiards, and a
handsome dog like Ellis Carter, and a fire, and the girl wearing the
youth's jacket--it can't break off like that."
"Look here," she said, leaning a little across the table. "Did you
expect them to fall in love with each other on the spot and be engaged?
What a sentimental old thing you are, after all!"
"But haven't they seen each other since?"
"Oh yes! In London, and in Bursley too."
"And haven't they--"
"Not yet.... They may or they mayn't. You must remember this isn't the
reign of Queen Victoria.... If they _do_, I'll let you know."
THE TIGER AND THE BABY
George Peel and Mary, his wife, sat down to breakfast. Their only son,
Georgie, was already seated. George the younger showed an astounding
disregard for the decencies of life, and a frankly gluttonous absorption
in food which amounted to cynicism. Evidently he cared for nothing but
the satisfaction of bodily desires. Yet he was twenty-two months old,
and occupied a commanding situation in a high chair! His father and
mother were aged thirty-two and twenty-eight respectively. They both had
pale, intellectual faces; they were dressed with elegance, and their
gestures were the gestures of people accustomed to be waited upon and to
consider luxuries as necessaries. There was silver upon the table, and
the room, though small and somewhat disordered, had in it beautiful
things which had cost money. Through a doorway half-screened by a
portiere could be seen a large studio peopled with heroic statuary,
plaster casts, and lumps of clay veiled in wet cloths. And on the other
side of the great window of the studio green trees waved their foliage.
The trees were in Regent's Park. Another detail to show that the Peels
had not precisely failed in life: the time was then ten-thirty o'clock!
Millions of persons in London had already been at hard work for hours.
And indeed George Peel was not merely a young sculptor of marked talent;
he was also a rising young sculptor. For instance, when you mentioned
his name in artistic circles the company signified that it knew whom
you meant, and those members of the company who had never seen his work
had to feel ashamed of themselves. Further, he had lately been awarded
the Triennial Gold Medal of the International Society, an honour that no
Englishman had previously achieved. His friends and himself had, by the
way, celebrated this dazzling event by a noble and joyous gathering in
the studio, at which famous personages had been present.
Everybody knew that George Peel, in addition to what he earned, had
important "private resources." For even rising young sculptors cannot
live luxuriously on what they gain, and you cannot eat gold medals. Nor
will gold medals pay a heavy rent or the cost of manual help in marble
cutting. All other rising young sculptors envied George Peel, and he
rather condescended to them (in his own mind) because they had to keep
up appearances by means of subterfuges, whereas there was no deception
about his large and ample existence.
On the table by Mary's plate was a letter, the sole letter. It had come
by the second post. The contents of the first post had been perused in
bed. While Mary was scraping porridge off the younger George's bib with
a spoon, and wiping porridge out of his eyes with a serviette, George
the elder gave just a glance at the letter.
"So he has written after all!" said George, in a voice that tried to be
"Who?" asked Mary, although she had already seen the envelope, and knew
exactly what George meant. And her voice also was unnatural in its
"The old cock," said George, beginning to serve bacon.
"Oh!" said Mary, coming to her chair, and beginning to dispense tea.
She was dying to open the letter, yet she poured out the tea with
superhuman leisureliness, and then indicated to Georgie exactly where to
search for bits of porridge on his big plate, while George with a great
appearance of calm unfolded a newspaper. Then at length she did open the
letter. Having read it, she put her lips tighter together, nodded, and
passed the letter to George. And George read:
"DEAR MARY,--I cannot accede to your request.--Your affectionate uncle,
"_P.S._--The expenses connected with my County Council election will be
George lifted his eyebrows, as if to indicate that in his opinion there
was no accounting for the wild stupidity of human nature, and that he as
a philosopher refused to be startled by anything whatever.
"Curt!" he muttered coldly.
Mary uneasily laughed.
"What shall you do?" she inquired.
"Without!" replied George, with a curtness that equalled Mary's uncle's.
"And what about the rent?"
"The rent will have to wait."
A brave young man! Nevertheless he saw in that moment chasms at his
feet--chasms in which he and his wife and child and his brilliant
prospects might be swallowed up. He changed the subject.
"You didn't see this cutting," he said, and passed a slip from a
newspaper gummed to a piece of green paper.
George, in his quality of rising young sculptor, received Press cuttings
from an agency. This one was from a somewhat vulgar Society journal, and
it gave, in two paragraphs, an account of the recent festivity at
George's studio. It finished with the words: "Heidsieck flowed freely."
He could not guess who had written it. No! It was not in the nicest
taste, but it furnished indubitable proof that George was still rising,
that he was a figure in the world. "What a rag!" he observed, with an
explosion of repugnance. "Read by suburban shop-girls, I suppose."
George had arranged his career in a quite exceptional way. It is true
that chance had served him; but then he had known how to make use of
chance to the highest advantage. The chance that had served him lay in
the facts that Mary Peel had fallen gravely in love with him, that her
sole surviving relative was a rich uncle, and that George's surname was
the same as hers and her uncle's. He had met niece and uncle in Bursley
in the Five Towns, where old Samuel Peel was a personage, and, timidly,
a patron of the arts. Having regard to his golden hair and
affection-compelling appearance, it was not surprising that Mary,
accustomed to the monotony of her uncle's house, had surrendered her
heart to him. And it was not surprising that old Peel had at once
consented to the match, and made a will in favour of Mary and her
offspring. What was surprising was that old Peel should have begun to
part with his money at once, and in large quantities, for he was not of
a very open-handed disposition.
The explanation of old Samuel Peel's generosity was due to his being a
cousin of the Peels of Bursley, the great eighteenth-century family of
earthenware manufacturers. The main branch had died out, the notorious
Carlotta Peel having expired shockingly in Paris, and another young
descendant, Matthew, having been forced under a will to alter his name
to Peel-Swynnerton. So that only the distant cousin, Samuel Peel, was
left, and he was a bachelor with no prospect of ever being anything
else. Now Samuel had made a fortune of his own, and he considered that
all the honour and all the historical splendours of the Peel family were
concentrated in himself. And he tried to be worthy of them. He tried to
restore the family traditions. For this he became a benefactor to his
native town, a patron of the arts, and a candidate for the Staffordshire
County Council. And when Mary set her young mind on a young man of parts
and of ambition, and bearing by hazard the very same name of Peel, old
Samuel Peel said to himself: "The old family name will not die out. It
ought to be more magnificent than ever." He said this also to George
Whereupon George Peel talked to him persuasively and sensibly about the
risks and the prizes of the sculptor's career. He explained just how
extremely ambitious he was, and all that he had already done, and all
that he intended to do. And he convinced his uncle-in-law that young
sculptors were tremendously handicapped in an expensive and difficult
profession by poverty or at least narrowness of means. He convinced his
uncle-in-law that the best manner of succeeding was to begin at the top,
to try for only the highest things, to sell nothing cheaply, to be
haughty with dealers and connoisseurs, and to cut a figure in the very
centre of the art-world of London. George was a good talker, and all
that he said was perfectly true. And his uncle was dazzled by the
immediate prospect of new fame for the ancient family of Peel. And in
the end old Samuel promised to give George and Mary five hundred a year,
so that George, as a sculptor, might begin at the top and "succeed like
success." And George went off with his bride to London, whence he had
come. And the old man thought he had done a very noble and a very
wonderful thing, which, indeed, he had.
This had occurred when George was twenty-five.
Matters fell out rather as George had predicted. The youth almost at
once obtained a commission for three hundred pounds' worth of symbolic
statues for the front of the central offices of the Order of Rechabites,
which particularly pleased his uncle, because Samuel Peel was a strong
temperance man. And George got one or two other commissions.
Being extravagant was to George Peel the same thing as "putting all the
profits into the business" is to a manufacturer. He was extravagant and
ostentatious on principle, and by far-sighted policy--or, at least, he
thought that he was.
And thus the world's rumours multiplied his success, and many persons
said and believed that he was making quite two thousand a year, and
would be an A.R.A. before he was grey-haired. But George always related
the true facts to his uncle-in-law; he even made them out to be much
less satisfactory than they really were. His favourite phrase in letters
to his uncle was that he was "building," "building"--not houses, but his
future reputation and success.
Then commissions fell off or grew intermittent, or were refused as being
unworthy of George's dignity. And then young Georgie arrived, with his
insatiable appetites and his vociferous need of doctors, nurses,
perambulators, nurseries, and lacy garments. And all the time young
George's father kept his head high and continued to be extravagant by
far-sighted policy. And the five hundred a year kept coming in regularly
by quarterly instalments. Many a tight morning George nearly decided
that Mary must write to her uncle and ask for a little supplementary
estimate. But he never did decide, partly because he was afraid, and
partly from sheer pride. (According to his original statements to his
uncle-in-law, seven years earlier, he ought at this epoch to have been
in an assured position with a genuine income of thousands.)
But the state of trade worsened, and he had a cheque dishonoured. And
then he won the Triennial Gold Medal. And then at length he did arrange
with Mary that she should write to old Samuel and roundly ask him for an
extra couple of hundred. They composed the letter together; and they
stated the reasons so well, and convinced themselves so completely of
the righteousness of their cause, that for a few moments they looked on
the two hundred as already in hand. Hence the Heidsieck night. But on
the morrow of the Heidsieck night they thought differently. And George
was gloomy. He felt humiliated by the necessity of the application to
his uncle--the first he had ever made. And he feared the result.
His fears were justified.
They were far more than justified. Three mornings after the first
letter, to which she had made no reply, Mary received a second. It ran:
"DEAR MARY,--And what is more, I shall henceforth pay you three hundred
instead of five hundred a year. If George has not made a position for
himself it is quite time he had. The Gold Medal must make a lot of
difference to him. And if necessary you must economize. I am sure there
is room for economy in your household. Champagne, for instance.--Your
affectionate uncle, SAMUEL PEEL.
"_P.S._--I am, of course, acting in your best interests.
This letter infuriated George, so much so that George the younger,
observing strange symptoms on his father's face, and strange sounds
issuing from his father's mouth, stopped eating in order to give the
whole of his attention to them.
"Champagne! What's he driving at?" exclaimed George, glaring at Mary as
though it was Mary who had written the letter.
"I expect he's been reading that paper," said Mary.
"Do you mean to say," George asked scornfully, "that your uncle reads a
rag like that? I thought all _his_ lot looked down on worldliness."
"So they do," said Mary. "But somehow they like reading about it. I
believe uncle has read it every week for twenty years."
"Well, why didn't you tell me?"
"The other morning?"
"Oh, I didn't want to worry you. What good would it have done?"
"What good would it have done!" George repeated in accents of terrible
disdain, as though the good that it would have done was obvious to the
lowest intelligence. (Yet he knew quite well that it would have done no
good at all.) "Georgie, take that spoon out of your sleeve."
And Georgie, usually disobedient, took the porridge-laden spoon out of
his sleeve and glanced at his mother for moral protection. His mother
merely wiped him rather roughly. Georgie thought, once more, that he
never in this world should understand grown-up people. And the recurring
thought made him cry gently.
George lapsed into savage meditation. During all the seven years of his
married life he had somehow supposed himself to be superior, as a man,
to his struggling rivals. He had regarded them with easy toleration, as
from a height. And now he saw himself tumbling down among them,
humiliated. Everything seemed unreal to him then. The studio and the
breakfast-room were solid; the waving trees in Regent's Park were
solid; the rich knick-knacks and beautiful furniture and excellent food
and fine clothes were all solid enough; but they seemed most
disconcertingly unreal. One letter from old Samuel had made them
tremble, and the second had reduced them to illusions, or delusions.
Even George's reputation as a rising sculptor appeared utterly
fallacious. What rendered him savage was the awful injustice of Samuel.
Samuel had no right whatever to play him such a trick. It was, in a way,
worse than if Samuel had cut off the allowance altogether, for in that
case he could at any rate have gone majestically to Samuel and said:
"Your niece and her child are starving." But with a minimum of three
hundred a year for their support three people cannot possibly starve.
"Ring the bell and have this kid taken out," said he.
Whereupon Georgie yelled.
Kate came, a starched white-and-blue young thing of sixteen.
"Kate," said George, autocratically, "take baby."
"Yes, sir," said Kate, with respectful obedience. The girl had no notion
that she was not real to her master, or that her master was saying to
himself: "I ought not to be ordering human beings about like this. I
can't pay their wages. I ought to be starving in a garret."
When George and Mary were alone, George said: "Look here! Does he mean
"You may depend he means it. It's so like him. Me asking for that L200
must have upset him. And then seeing that about Heidsieck in the
paper--he'd make up his mind all of a sudden--I know him so well."
"H'm!" snorted George. "I shall make my mind up all of a sudden, too!"
"What shall you do?"
"There's one thing I shan't do," said George.
"And that is, stop here. Do you realize, my girl, that we shall be
absolutely up a gum-tree?"
"I should have thought you would be able--"
"Absolute gum-tree!" George interrupted her. "Simply can't keep the shop
open! To-morrow, my child, we go down to Bursley."
"You, me, and the infant."
"And what about the servants?"
"Send 'em home."
"But we can't descend on uncle like that without notice, and him full of
his election! Besides, he's cross."
"We shan't descend on him."
"Then where shall you go?"
"We shall put up at the Tiger," said George, impressively.
"The Tiger?" gasped Mary.
George had meant to stagger, and he had staggered.
"The Tiger," he iterated.
"But what will uncle say? I shouldn't be surprised if uncle has never
been in the Tiger in his life. You know his views--"
"I don't care twopence for your uncle," said George, again implicitly
blaming Mary for the peculiarities of her uncle's character.
"Something's got to be done, and I'm going to do it."
Two days later, at about ten o'clock in the morning, Samuel Peel, J.P.,
entered the market-place, Bursley, from the top of Oldcastle Street. He
had walked down, as usual, from his dignified residence at Hillport. It
was his day for the Bench, and he had, moreover, a lot of complicated
election business. On a dozen hoardings between Hillport and Bursley
market-place blazed the red letters of his posters inviting the faithful
to vote for Peel, whose family had been identified with the district for
a century and a half. He was pleased with these posters, and with the
progress of canvassing. A slight and not a tall man, with a feeble grey
beard and a bald head, he was yet a highly-respected figure in the town.
He had imposed himself upon the town by regular habits, strict morals, a
reasonable philanthropy, and a successful career. He had, despite
natural disadvantages, upheld on high the great name of Peel. So that he
entered the town on that fine morning with a certain conquering
jauntiness. And citizens saluted him with respect and he responded with
And as, nearly opposite that celebrated hotel, the Tiger, he was about
to cross over to the eastern porch of the Town Hall, he saw a
golden-haired man approaching him with a perambulator. And the sight
made him pause involuntarily. It was a strange sight. Then he recognized
his nephew-in-law. And he blanched, partly from excessive astonishment,
but partly from fear.
"How do, uncle?" said George, nonchalantly, as though he had parted from
him on the previous evening. "Just hang on to this pram a sec., will
you?" And, pushing the perambulator towards Samuel Peel, J.P., George
swiftly fled, and, for the perfection of his uncle-in-law's amazement,
disappeared into the Tiger.
Then the occupant of the perambulator began to weep.
The figure of Samuel Peel, dressed as a Justice of the Peace should be
dressed for the Bench, in a frock-coat and a ceremonious necktie, and
(of course) spats over his spotless boots; the figure of Samuel Peel,
the wrinkled and dry bachelor (who never in his life had held a saucepan
of infant's food over a gas-jet in the middle of the night), this figure
staring horror-struck through spectacles at the loud contents of the
perambulator, soon excited attention in the market-place of Bursley. And
Mr Peel perceived the attention.
He guessed that the babe was Mary's babe, though he was quite incapable
of recognizing it. And he could not imagine what George was doing with
it (and the perambulator) in Bursley, nor why he had vanished so swiftly
into the Tiger, nor why he had not come out again. The whole situation
was in the acutest degree mysterious. It was also in the acutest degree
amazing. Samuel Peel had no facility in baby-talk, so, to tranquillize
Georgie, he attempted soothing strokes or pats on such portions of
Georgie's skin as were exposed. Whereupon Georgie shrieked, and even
dogs stood still and lifted noses inquiringly.
Then Jos Curtenty, very ancient but still a wag, passed by, and said:
"Hello, Mr Peel. Truth will out. And yet who'd ha' suspected you o'
being secretly married!"
Samuel Peel could not take offence, because Jos Curtenty, besides being
old and an alderman, and an ex-Mayor, was an important member of his
election committee. Of course such a friendly joke from an incurable
joker like Jos Curtenty was all right; but supposing enemies began to
joke on similar lines--how he might be prejudiced at the polls! It was
absurd, totally absurd, to conceive Samuel Peel in any other relation
than that of an uncle to a baby; yet the more absurd a slander the more
eagerly it was believed, and a slander once started could never be
What on earth was George Peel doing in Bursley with that baby? Why had
he not announced his arrival? Where was the baby's mother? Where was
their luggage? Why, in the name of reason, had George vanished so
swiftly into the Tiger, and what in the name of decency and sobriety was
he doing in the Tiger such a prodigious time?
It occurred to him that possibly George had written to him and the
letter had miscarried.
But in that case, where had they slept the previous night? They could
not have come down from London that morning; it was too early.
Little Georgie persevered in the production of yells that might have
been heard as far as the Wesleyan Chapel, and certainly as far as the
Then Mr Duncalf, the Town Clerk, went by, from his private office,
towards the Town Hall, and saw the singular spectacle of the public man
and the perambulator. Mr Duncalf, too, was a bachelor.
"So you've come down to see 'em," said Mr Duncalf, gruffly, pretending
that the baby was not there.
"Well, your niece and her husband, of course."
"Where are they?" asked Mr Peel, without having; sufficiently considered
the consequences of his question.
"Aren't they in the Tiger?" said Mr Duncalf. "They put up there
yesterday afternoon, anyhow. But naturally you know that."
He departed, nodding. The baby's extraordinary noise incommoded him and
seemed somehow to make him blush if he stood near it.
Mr Peel did not gasp. It is at least two centuries since men gasped from
astonishment. Nevertheless, Mr Duncalf with those careless words had
simply knocked the breath out of him. Never, never would he have
guessed, even in the wildest surmise, that Mary and her husband and
child would sleep at the Tiger! The thought unmanned him. What! A baby
at the Tiger!
Let it not be imagined for a moment that the Tiger is not an utterly
respectable hotel. It is, always was, always will be. Not the faintest
slur had ever been cast upon its licence. Still, it had a bar and a
barmaid, and indubitably people drank at the bar. When a prominent man
took to drink (as prominent men sometimes did), people would say, "He's
always nipping into the Tiger!" Or, "You'll see him at the Tiger before
eleven o'clock in the morning!" Hence to Samuel Peel, total abstainer
and temperance reformer, the Tiger, despite its vast respectability and
the reputation of its eighteen-penny ordinary, was a place of sin, a
place of contamination; briefly, a "gin palace," if not a
"gaming-saloon." On principle, Samuel Peel (as his niece suspected) had
never set foot in the Tiger. The thought that his great-nephew and his
niece had actually slept there horrified him.
And further and worse; what would people say about Samuel Peel's
relatives having to stop at the Tiger, while Samuel Peel's large house
up at Hillport was practically empty? Would they not deduce family
quarrels, feuds, scandals? The situation was appalling.
He glanced about, but he did not look high enough to see that George was
watching him from a second-floor window of the Tiger, and he could not
hear Mary imploring George: "Do for goodness sake go back to him."
Ladies passed along the pavement, stifling their curiosity. At the back
of the Town Hall there began to collect the usual crowd of idlers who
interest themselves in the sittings of the police-court.
Then Georgie, bored with weeping, dropped off into slumber. Samuel Peel
saw that he could not, with dignity, lift the perambulator up the steps
into the porch of the Tiger, and so he began to wheel it cautiously down
the side-entrance into the Tiger yard. And in the yard he met George,
just emerging from the side-door on whose lamp is written the word
"So sorry to have troubled you, uncle. But the wife's unwell, and I'd
forgotten something. Asleep, is he?"
George spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, with no hint whatever that he
bore ill-will against Samuel Peel for having robbed him of two hundred
a year. And Samuel felt as though he had robbed George of two hundred a
"But--but," asked Samuel, "what are you doing here?"
"We're stopping here," said George. "I've come down to look out for some
work--modelling, or anything I can get hold of. I shall begin a round of
the manufacturers this afternoon. We shall stay here till I can find
furnished rooms, or a cheap house. It's all up with sculpture now, you
"Why! I thought you were doing excellently. That medal--"
"Yes. In reputation. But it was just now that I wanted money for a big
job, and--and--well, I couldn't have it. So there you are. Seven years
wasted. But, of course, it was better to cut the loss. I never pretend
that things aren't what they are. Mind you, I'm not blaming you, uncle.
You're no doubt hard up like other people."
"But--but," Samuel began stammering again. "Why didn't you come straight
to me--instead of here?"
George put on a confidential look.
"The fact is," said he, "Mary wouldn't. She's vexed. You know how women
are. They never understand things--especially money."
"Vexed with me?"
"But why?" Again Samuel felt like a culprit.
"I fancy it must be something you said in your letter concerning
"It was only what I read about you in a paper."
"I suppose so. But she thinks you meant it to insult her. She thinks you
must have known perfectly well that we simply asked the reporter to put
champagne in because it looks well--seems very flourishing, you know."
"I must see Mary," said Samuel. "Of course the idea of you staying on
here is perfectly ridiculous, perfectly ridiculous. What do you suppose
people will say?"
"I'd like you-to-see her," said George. "I wish you would. You may be
able to do what I can't. You'll find her in Room 14. She's all dressed.
But I warn you she's in a fine state."
"You'd better come too," said Samuel.
George lifted Georgie out of the perambulator.
"Here," said George. "Suppose you carry him to her."
Samuel hesitated, and yielded. And the strange procession started
In two hours a cab was taking all the Peels to Hillport.
In two days George and his family were returning to London, sure of the
continuance of five hundred a year, and with a gift of two hundred
But it was long before Bursley ceased to talk of George Peel and his
family putting up at the Tiger. And it was still longer before the
barmaid ceased to describe to her favourite customers the incredible
spectacle of Samuel Peel, J.P., stumbling up the stairs of the Tiger
with an infant in his arms.
When friends observed his occasional limp, Alderman Keats would say,
with an air of false casualness, "Oh, a touch of the gout."
And after a year or two, the limp having increased in frequency and
become almost lameness, he would say, "My gout!"
He also acquired the use of the word "twinge." A scowl of torture would
pass across his face, and then he would murmur, "Twinge."
He was proud of having the gout, "the rich man's disease." Alderman
Keats had begun life in Hanbridge as a grocer's assistant, a very simple
person indeed. At forty-eight he was wealthy, and an alderman. It is
something to be alderman of a town of sixty thousand inhabitants. It was
at the age of forty-five that he had first consulted his doctor as to
certain capricious pains, which the doctor had diagnosed as gout. The
diagnosis had enchanted him, though he tried to hide his pleasure,
pretending to be angry and depressed. It seemed to Alderman Keats a mark
of distinction to be afflicted with the gout. Quite against the doctor's
orders he purchased a stock of port, and began to drink it steadily. He
was determined that there should be no mistake about his gout; he was
determined to have the gout properly and fully. Indulgence in port made
him somewhat rubicund and "portly,"--he who had once been a pale little
counter-jumper; and by means of shooting-coats, tight gaiters, and the
right shape of hat he turned himself into a passable imitation of the
fine old English gentleman. His tone altered, too, and instead of being
uniformly diplomatic, it varied abruptly between a sort of Cheeryble
philanthropy and a sort of Wellingtonian ferocity. During an attack of
gout he was terrible in the house, and the oaths that he "rapped out" in
the drawing-room could be heard in the kitchen and further. Nobody
minded, however, for everyone shared in the glory of his gout, and
cheerfully understood that a furious temper was inseparable from gout.
Alderman Keats succeeded once in being genuinely laid up with gout. He
then invited acquaintances to come and solace him in misfortune, and his
acquaintances discovered him with one swathed leg horizontal on a chair
in front of his arm-chair, and twinging and swearing like anything, in
the very manner of an eighteenth-century squire. And even in that plight
he would insist on a glass of port, "to cheat the doctor."
He had two boys, aged sixteen and twelve, and he would allow both of
them to drink wine in the evening, saying they must learn to "carry
their liquor like gentlemen." When the lad of twelve calmly ordered the
new parlour-maid to bring him the maraschino, Alderman Keats thought
that that was a great joke.
Quickly he developed into the acknowledged champion of all ancient
English characteristics, customs, prejudices and ideals.
It was this habit of mind that led to the revolver.
He saw the revolver _prominent_ in the window of Stetton's, the
pawnbroker in Crown Square, and the notion suddenly occurred to him that
a fine old English gentleman could not be considered complete without a
revolver. He bought the weapon, which Stetton guaranteed to be
first-rate and fatal, and which was, in fact, pretty good. It seemed to
the alderman bright, complex and heavy. He had imagined a revolver to be
smaller and lighter; but then he had never handled an instrument more
dangerous than a razor. He hesitated about going to his cousin's, Joe
Keats, the ironmonger; Joe Keats always laughed at him as if he were a
farce; Joe would not be ceremonious, and could not be corrected because
he was a relative and of equal age with the alderman. But he was obliged
to go to Joe Keats, as Joe made a speciality of cartridges. In
Hanbridge, people who wanted cartridges went as a matter of course to
Joe's. So Alderman Keats strolled with grand casualness into Joe's, and
"I say, Joe, I want some cartridges."
"What for?" the thin Joe asked.
"A barker," the alderman replied, pleased with this word, and producing
"Well," said Joe, "you don't mean to say you're going about with that
thing in your pocket, you?"
"Oh! No reason why not! But you ought to be preceded by a chap with a
red flag, you know, same as a steam-roller."
And the alderman, ignoring this, remarked with curt haughtiness:
"Every man ought to have a revolver."
Then he went to his tailor and had a right-hand hip-pocket put into all
Soon afterwards, walking down Slippery Lane, near the Big Pits,
notoriously a haunt of mischief, he had an encounter with a collier who
was drunk enough to be insulting and sober enough to be dangerous. In
relating the affair afterwards Alderman Keats said:
"Fortunately I had my revolver. And I soon whipped it out, I can tell
"And are you really never without your revolver?" he was asked.
"And it's always loaded?"
"Always! What's the good of a revolver if it isn't loaded?"
Thus he became known as the man who never went out without a loaded
revolver in his pocket. The revolver indubitably impressed people; it
seemed to match the gout. People grew to understand that evil-doers had
better look out for themselves if they meant to disturb Alderman Keats,
with his gout, and his revolver all ready to be whipped out.
One day Brindley, the architect from Bursley, who knew more about music
than revolvers, called to advise the alderman concerning some projected
alterations to his stabling--alterations not necessitated by the
purchase of a motor-car, for motor-cars were not old English. And
somehow, while they were in the stable-yard, the revolver got into the
conversation, and Brindley said: "I should like to see you hit
something. You'll scarcely believe me, but I've never seen a revolver
fired--not with shot in it, I mean."
Alderman Keats smiled bluffly.
"I've been told it's difficult enough to hit even a door with a
revolver," said Brindley.
"You see that keyhole," said the alderman, startlingly, pointing to a
worn rusty keyhole in the middle of the vast double-doors of the
Brindley admitted that he did see it.
The next moment there was an explosion, and the alderman glanced at the
smoking revolver, blew on it suspiciously, and put it back into his
Brindley, whom the explosion had intimidated, examined the double-doors,
and found no mark.
"Where did you hit?" he inquired.
"Through the keyhole," said the alderman, after a pause. He opened the
doors, and showed half a load of straw in the dusk behind them.
"The bullet's imbedded in there," said he.
"Well," said Brindley, "that's not so bad, that isn't."
"There aren't five men in the Five Towns who could do that," the
And as he said it he looked, with his legs spread apart, and his
short-tailed coat, and his general bluff sturdiness, almost as old
English as he could have desired to look. Except that his face had paled
somewhat. Mr Brindley thought that that transient pallor had been caused
by legitimate pride in high-class revolver-shooting. But he was wrong.
It had been caused by simple fear. The facts of the matter were that
Alderman Keats had never before dared to fire the revolver, and that the
infernal noise and the jar on his hand (which had held the weapon too
loosely) had given him what is known in the Five Towns as a fearful
start. He had offered to shoot on the spur of the moment, without due
reflection, and he had fired as a woman might have fired. It was a piece
of the most heavenly good fortune that he had put the bullet through the
keyhole. Indeed, at first he was inclined to believe that marksmanship
must be less difficult than it was reported to be, for his aim had been
entirely casual. In saying to Brindley, "You see that keyhole," he had
merely been boasting in a jocular style. However, when Brindley left,
Brindley carried with him the alderman's reputation as a perfect Wild
The alderman had it in mind to practise revolver-shooting seriously,
until the Keats coachman made a discovery later in the day. The coachman
slept over the carriage-house, and on going up the ladder to put on his
celluloid collar he perceived a hole in his ceiling and some plaster on
his bit of carpet. The window had been open all day. The alderman had
not only failed to get the keyhole, he had not only failed to get the
double-doors, he had failed to hit any part whatever of the ground
And this unsettled the alderman. This proved to the alderman that the
active use of a revolver incurred serious perils. It proved to him that
nearly anything might happen with a revolver. He might aim at a
lamp-post and hit the town hall clock; he might mark down a burglar and
destroy the wife of his affections. There were no limits to what could
occur. And so he resolved never to shoot any more. He would still carry
the revolver; but for his old English gentlemanliness he would rely less
on that than on the gout.
But the whole town (by which I mean the councillors and the leading
manufacturers and tradesmen and their sons) had now an interest in the
revolver, for Brindley, the architect, had spoken of that which he had
seen with his own eyes. Some people accepted the alderman without demur
as a great and terrible shot; but others talked about a fluke; and a
very small minority mentioned that there was such a thing as blank
cartridge. It was the monstrous slander of this minority that induced
the alderman to stand up morally for his revolver and to continue
talking about it. He suppressed the truth about the damaged ceiling; he
deliberately allowed the public to go on believing, with Brindley, that
he had aimed at the keyhole and really gone through it, and his
conscience was not at all disturbed. But that wicked traducers should
hint that he had been using blank cartridge made him furiously
indignant, and also exacerbated his gout. And he called on his cousin
Joe to prove that he had never spent a penny on blank cartridge.
It was a pity that he dragged the sardonic Joe back into the affair. Joe
observed to him that for a man in regular revolver practice he was
buying precious few cartridges; and so he had to lay in a stock. Now he
dared not employ these cartridges; and yet he wished to make a noise
with his revolver in order to convince the neighbourhood that he was in
steady practice. Nor dare he buy blank cartridges from Joe. It was not
safe to buy blank cartridges anywhere in the Five Towns, so easily does
news travel there, and so easily are reputations blown. Hence it
happened that Alderman Keats went as far as Crewe specially to buy blank
cartridge, and he drowned the ball cartridge secretly in the Birches
Pond. To such lengths may a timid man be driven in order to preserve and
foster the renown of being a dog of the old sort. All kinds of persons
used to hear the barking of the alderman's revolver in his stable-yard,
and the cumulative effect of these noises wore down calumny and
incredulity. And, of course, having once begun to practise, the alderman
could not decently cease. The absurd situation endured. And a coral reef
of ball cartridges might have appeared on the surface of Birches Pond
had it not been for the visit (at enormous expense) of Hagentodt's ten
tigers to the Hanbridge Empire.
This visit, epoch-making in the history of music-hall enterprise in the
Five Towns, coincided with the annual venison feast of a society known
as Ye Ancient Corporation of Hanbridge, which society had no connection
whatever with the real rate-levying corporation, but was a piece of
elaborate machinery for dinner-eating. Alderman Keats, naturally, was
prominent in the affair of the venison feast. Nobody was better fitted
than he to be in the chair at such a solemnity, and in the chair he was,
and therein did wonderful things. In putting the loyal toasts he spoke
for half an hour concerning the King's diplomacy, with a reference to
royal gout; which was at least unusual. And then, when the feast was far
advanced, he uprose, ignoring the toast list, and called upon the
assembled company to drink to Old England and Old Port for ever, and a
fig for gout! And after this, amid a genial informality, the
conversation of a knot of cronies at the Chair end of the table deviated
to the noble art of self-defence, and so to revolvers. And the alderman,
jolly but still aldermanic, produced his revolver, proving that it went
even with his dress-suit.
"Look here," said one. "Is it loaded?"
"Of course," said the alderman.
"Of course," said the alderman.
"Well, would you mind putting it back in your pocket--with all this wine
and whisky about--"
The alderman complied, proud.
He was limping goutily home with the Vice, at something after midnight,
when, as they passed the stage-door of the Empire, both men were aware
of fearsome sounds within the building. And the stage-door was ajar.
Being personages of great importance, they entered into the interior
gloom and collided with the watchman, who was rushing out.
"Is that you, Alderman Keats?" exclaimed the watchman. "Thank Heaven!"
The alderman then learnt that two of Hagentodt's Bengal tigers were
having an altercation about a lady, and that it looked like a duel to
the death. (Yet one would have supposed that after two performances, at
eight-thirty and ten-thirty respectively, those tigers would have been
too tired and bored to quarrel about anything whatever.) The watchman
had already fetched Hagentodt from his hotel, but Hagentodt's revolver
was missing--could not be found anywhere, and the rivals were in such a
state of fury that even the unique Hagentodt would not enter their cage
without a revolver. Meanwhile invaluable tigers were being mutually
destructive, and the watchman was just off to the police-station to
borrow a revolver.
The roaring grew terrific.
"Have you got your revolver, Alderman Keats?" asked the watchman.
"No," said the alderman, "I haven't."
"Oh!" said the Vice. "I thought I saw you showing it to your cousin and
At the same moment Joe and some others, equally attracted by the
roaring, strolled in.
The alderman hesitated.
"Yes, of course; I was forgetting."
"If you'll lend it to the professor a minute or so?" said the watchman.
The alderman pulled it out of his pocket, and hesitatingly handed it to
the watchman, and the watchman was turning hurriedly away with it when
the alderman said nervously:
"I'm not sure if it's loaded."
"Well, you're a nice chap!" Joe Keats put in.
"I forget," muttered the alderman.
"We'll soon see," said the watchman, who was accustomed to revolvers.
And he opened it. "Yes," glancing into it, "it's loaded right enough."
And turned away again towards the sound of the awful roaring.
"I say," the alderman cried, "I'm afraid it's only blank cartridge."
He might have saved his reputation by allowing the unique Hagentodt to
risk his life with a useless revolver. But he had a conscience. A clear
conscience was his sole compensation as he faced the sardonic laughter
which Joe led and which finished off his reputation as a dog of the old
sort. The annoying thing was that his noble self-sacrifice was useless,
for immediately afterwards the roaring ceased, Hagentodt having
separated the combatants by means of a burning newspaper at the end of a
stick. And the curious thing was that Alderman Keats never again
mentioned his gout.
AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE
James Peake and his wife, and Enoch Lovatt, his wife's half-sister's
husband, and Randolph Sneyd, the architect, were just finishing the
usual Saturday night game of solo whist in the drawing-room of Peake's
large new residence at Hillport, that unique suburb of Bursley. Ella
Peake, twenty-year-old daughter of the house, sat reading in an
arm-chair by the fire which blazed in the patent radiating grate. Peake
himself was banker, and he paid out silver and coppers at the rate of
sixpence a dozen for the brass counters handed to him by his wife and
"I've made summat on you to-night, Lovatt," said Peake, with his broad
easy laugh, as he reckoned up Lovatt's counters. Enoch Lovatt's
principles and the prominence of his position at the Bursley Wesleyan
Chapel, though they did not prevent him from playing cards at his
sister-in-law's house, absolutely forbade that he should play for money,
and so it was always understood that the banker of the party should be
his financier, supplying him with counters and taking the chances of
gain or loss. By this kindly and ingenious arrangement Enoch Lovatt was
enabled to live at peace with his conscience while gratifying that
instinct for worldliness which the weekly visit to Peake's always
aroused from its seven-day slumber into a brief activity.
"Six shillings on my own; five and fourpence on you," said Peake.
"Lovatt, we've had a good night; no mistake." He laughed again, took
out his knife, and cut a fresh cigar.
"You don't think of your poor wife," said Mrs Peake, "who's lost over
three shillings," and she nudged Randolph Sneyd.
"Here, Nan," Peake answered quickly. "You shall have the lot." He
dropped the eleven and fourpence into the kitty-shell, and pushed it
across the table to her.
"Thank you, James," said Mrs Peake. "Ella, your father's given me eleven
"Oh, father!" The long girl by the fire jumped up, suddenly alert. "Do
give me half-a-crown. You've no conception how hard up I am."
"You're a grasping little vixen, that's what you are. Come and give me a
light." He gazed affectionately at her smiling flushed face and tangled
When she had lighted his cigar, Ella furtively introduced her thin
fingers into his waistcoat-pocket, where he usually kept a reserve of
money against a possible failure of his trouser-pockets.
"May I?" she questioned, drawing out a coin. It was a four-shilling
"No. Get away."
"I'll give you change."
"Oh! take it," he yielded, "and begone with ye, and ring for something
"You are a duck, pa!" she said, kissing him. The other two men smiled.
"Let's have a tune now, Ella," said Peake, after she had rung the bell.
The girl dutifully sat down to the piano and sang "The Children's Home."
It was a song which always touched her father's heart.
Peake was in one of those moods at once gay and serene which are
possible only to successful middle-aged men who have consistently worked
hard without permitting the faculty for pleasure to deteriorate through
disuse. He was devoted to his colliery, and his commercial acuteness
was scarcely surpassed in the Five Towns, but he had always found time
to amuse himself; and at fifty-two, with a clear eye and a perfect
digestion, his appreciation of good food, good wine, a good cigar, a
fine horse, and a pretty woman was unimpaired. On this night his
happiness was special; he had returned in the afternoon from a week's
visit to London, and he was glad to get back again. He loved his wife
and adored his daughter, in his own way, and he enjoyed the feminized
domestic atmosphere of his fine new house with exactly the same zest as,
on another evening, he might have enjoyed the blue haze of the
billiard-room at the Conservative Club. The interior of the drawing-room
realized very well Peake's ideals. It was large, with two magnificent
windows, practicably comfortable, and unpretentious. Peake despised, or
rather he ignored, the aesthetic crazes which had run through
fashionable Hillport like an infectious fever, ruthlessly decimating its
turned and twisted mahogany and its floriferous carpets and wall-papers.
That the soft thick pile under his feet would wear for twenty years, and
that the Welsbach incandescent mantles on the chandelier saved thirty
per cent, in gas-bills while increasing the light by fifty per cent.: it
was these and similar facts which were uppermost in his mind as he gazed
round that room, in which every object spoke of solid, unassuming luxury
and represented the best value to be obtained for money spent. He
desired, of a Saturday night, nothing better than such a room, a couple
of packs of cards, and the presence of wife and child and his two
life-long friends, Sneyd and Lovatt--safe men both. After cards were
over--and on Lovatt's account play ceased at ten o'clock--they would
discuss Bursley and Bursley folk with a shrewd sagacity and an intimate
and complete knowledge of circumstance not to be found in combination
anywhere outside a small industrial town. To listen to Sneyd and Mrs
Peake, when each sought to distance the other in tracing a genealogy,
was to learn the history of a whole community and the secret springs of
the actions which constituted its evolution.
"Haven't you any news for me?" asked Peake, during a pause in the talk.
At the same moment the door opened and Mrs Lovatt entered. "Eh, Auntie
Lovatt," he went on, greeting her, "we'd given ye up." Mrs Lovatt
usually visited the Peakes on Saturday evenings, but she came later than
"Eh, but I was bound to come and see you to-night, Uncle Peake, after
your visit to the great city. Well, you're looking bonny." She shook
hands with him warmly, her face beaming goodwill, and then she kissed
her half-sister and Ella, and told Sneyd that she had seen him that
morning in the market-place.
Mrs Peake and Mrs Lovatt differed remarkably in character and
appearance, though this did not prevent them from being passionately
attached to one another. Mrs Lovatt was small, and rather plain; content
to be her husband's wife, she had no activities beyond her own home. Mrs
Peake was tall, and strikingly handsome in spite of her fifty years,
with a brilliant complexion and hair still raven black; her energy was
exhaustless, and her spirit indomitable; she was the moving force of the
Wesleyan Sunday School, and there was not a man in England who could
have driven her against her will. She had a fortune of her own. Enoch
Lovatt treated her with the respect due to an equal who had more than
once proved herself capable of insisting on independence and equal
rights in the most pugnacious manner.
"Well, auntie," said Peake, "I've won eleven and fourpence to-night, and
my wife's collared it all from me." He laughed with glee.
"Eh, you should be ashamed!" said Mrs Lovatt, embracing the company in a
glance of reproof which rested last on Enoch Lovatt. She was a
Methodist of the strictest, and her husband happened to be chapel
steward. "If I had my way with those cards I'd soon play with them; I'd
play with them at the back of the fire. Now you were asking for news
when I came in, Uncle Peake. Have they told you about the new organ?
We're quite full of it at our house."
"No," said Peake, "they haven't."
"What!" she cried reproachfully. "You haven't told him, Enoch--nor you,
"Upon my word it never entered my head," said Mrs Peake.
"Well, Uncle Peake," Mrs Lovatt began, "we're going to have a new organ
for the Conference."
"Not before it's wanted," said Peake. "I do like a bit of good music at
service, and Best himself couldn't make anything of that old wheezer
we've got now."
"Is that the reason we see you so seldom at chapel?" Mrs Lovatt asked
"I was there last Sunday morning."
"And before that, Uncle Peake?" She smiled sweetly on him.
Peake was one of the worldlings who, in a religious sense, existed
precariously on the fringe of the Methodist Society. He rented a pew,
and he was never remiss in despatching his wife and daughter to occupy
it. He imagined that his belief in the faith of his fathers was
unshaken, but any reference to souls and salvation made him exceedingly
restless and uncomfortable. He could not conceive himself crowned and
harping in Paradise, and yet he vaguely surmised that in the last result
he would arrive at that place and state, wafted thither by the prayers
of his womenkind. Logical in all else, he was utterly illogical in his
attitude towards the spiritual--an attitude which amounted to this: "Let
a sleeping dog lie, but the animal isn't asleep and means mischief."
He smiled meditatively at Mrs Lovatt's question, and turned it aside
"What about this organ?"
"It's going to cost nine hundred pounds," continued Mrs Lovatt, "and
Titus Blackhurst has arranged it all. It was built for a hall in
Birmingham, but the manufacturers have somehow got it on their hands.
Young Titus the organist has been over to see it, and he says it's a
bargain. The affair was all arranged as quick as you please at the
Trustees' meeting last Monday. Titus Blackhurst said he would give a
hundred pounds if eight others would do the same within a fortnight--it
must be settled at once. As Enoch said to me afterwards, it seemed, as
soon as Mr Blackhurst had made his speech, that we _must_ have that
organ. We really couldn't forshame to show up with the old one again at
_this_ Conference--don't you remember the funny speech the President
made about it at the last Conference, eleven years ago? Of course he was
very polite and nice with his sarcasm, but I'm sure he meant us to take
the hint. Now, would you believe, seven out of those eight subscriptions
were promised by Wednesday morning! I think that was just splendid!"
"Well, well!" exclaimed Peake, genuinely amazed at this proof of
religious vitality. "Who are the subscribers?"
"I'm one," said Enoch Lovatt, quietly, but with unconcealed pride.
"And I'm another," said Mrs Lovatt. "Bless you, I should have been
ashamed of myself if I hadn't responded to such an appeal. You may say
what you like about Titus Blackhurst--I know there's a good many that
don't like him--but he's a real good sort. I'm sure he's the best Sunday
School superintendent we ever had. Then there's Mr Clayton-Vernon, and
Alderman Sutton, and young Henry Mynors and--"
"And Eardley Brothers--they're giving a hundred apiece," put in Lovatt,
glancing at Randolph Sneyd.
"I wish they'd pay their debts first," said Peake, with sudden
"They're all right, I suppose?" said Sneyd, interested, and leaning over
"Oh, they're all _right_," Peake said testily. "At least, I hope so,"
and he gave a short, grim laugh. "But they're uncommon slow payers. I
sent 'em in an account for coal only last week--three hundred and fifty
pound. Well, auntie, who's the ninth subscriber?"
"Ah, that's the point," said Enoch Lovatt. "The ninth isn't
Mrs Lovatt looked straight at her sister's husband. "We want you to be
the ninth," she said.
"Me!" He laughed heartily, perceiving a broad humour in the suggestion.
"Oh, but I mean it," Mrs Lovatt insisted earnestly. "Your name was
mentioned at the trustees' meeting, wasn't it, Enoch?"
"Yes," said Lovatt, "it was."
"And dost mean to say as they thought as I 'ud give 'em a hundred pound
towards th' new organ?" said Peake, dropping into dialect.
"Why not?" returned Mrs Lovatt, her spirit roused. "I shall. Enoch will.
Why not you?"
"Oh, you're different. You're _in_ it."
"You can't deny that you're one of the richest pew-holders in the
chapel. What's a hundred pound to you? Nothing, is it, Mr Sneyd? When Mr
Copinger, our superintendent minister, mentioned it to me yesterday, I
told him I was sure you would consent."
"I did," she said boldly.
"Well, I shanna'."
Like many warm-hearted, impulsive and generous men, James Peake did not
care that his generosity should be too positively assumed. To take it
for granted was the surest way of extinguishing it. The pity was that
Mrs Lovatt, in the haste of her zeal for the amelioration of divine
worship at Bursley Chapel, had overlooked this fact. Peake's manner was
final. His wife threw a swift glance at Ella, who stood behind her
father's chair, and received a message back that she too had discerned
finality in the tone.
Sneyd got up, and walking slowly to the fireplace emitted the casual
remark: "Yes, you will, Peake."
He was a man of considerable education, and though in neither force nor
astuteness was he the equal of James Peake, it often pleased him to
adopt towards his friend a philosophic pose--the pose of a seer, of one
far removed from the trivial disputes in which the colliery-owner was
"Yes, you will, Peake," he repeated.
"I shanna', Sneyd."
"I can read you like a book, Peake." This was a favourite phrase of
Sneyd's, which Peake never heard without a faint secret annoyance. "At
the bottom of your mind you mean to give that hundred. It's your duty to
do so, and you will. You'll let them persuade you."
"I'll bet thee a shilling I don't."
"Ssh!" murmured Mrs Lovatt, "I'm ashamed of both of you, betting on such
a subject--or on any subject," she added. "And Ella here too!"
"It's a bet, Sneyd," said Peake, doggedly, and then turned to Lovatt.
"What do you say about this, Enoch?"
But Enoch Lovatt, self-trained to find safety in the middle, kept that
neutral and diplomatic silence which invariably marked his demeanour in
the presence of an argument.
"Now, Nan, you'll talk to James," said Mrs Lovatt, when they all stood
at the front-door bidding good-night.
"Nay, I've nothing to do with it," Mrs Peake replied, as quickly as at
dinner she might have set down a very hot plate. In some women profound
affection exists side by side with a nervous dread lest that affection
should seem to possess the least influence over its object.
Peake dismissed from his mind as grotesque the suggestion that he should
contribute a hundred pounds to the organ fund; it revolted his sense of
the fitness of things; the next morning he had entirely forgotten it.
But two days afterwards, when he was finishing his midday dinner with a
piece of Cheshire cheese, his wife said:
"James, have you thought anything more about that organ affair?" She
gave a timid little laugh.
He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, holding a morsel of cheese
on the end of his knife; then he ate the cheese in silence.
"Nan," he said at length, rather deliberately, "have they been trying to
come round you? Because it won't work. Upon my soul I don't know what
some people are dreaming of. I tell you I never was more surprised i' my
life than when your sister made that suggestion. I'll give 'em a guinea
towards their blooming organ if that's any use to 'em. Ella, go and see
if the horse is ready."
He felt genuinely aggrieved.
"If they'd get a new organist," he remarked, with ferocious satire, five
minutes later, as he lit a cigar, "and a new choir--I could see summat
In another minute he was driving at a fine pace towards his colliery at
Toft End. The horse, with swift instinct, had understood that to-day its
master was not in the mood for badinage.
Half-way down the hill into Shawport he overtook a lady walking very
"Mrs Sutton!" he shouted in astonishment, and when he had finished with
the tense frown which involuntarily accompanied the effort of stopping
the horse dead within its own length, his face softened into a beautiful
smile. "How's this?" he questioned.
"Our mare's gone lame," Mrs Sutton answered, "and as I'm bound to get
about I'm bound to walk."
He descended instantly from the dogcart. "Climb up," he said, "and tell
me where you want to go to."
"Climb up," he repeated, and he helped her into the dogcart.
"Well," she said, laughing, "what must be, must. I was trudging home,
and I hope it isn't out of your way."
"It isn't," he said; "I'm for Toft End, and I should have driven up
Trafalgar Road anyhow."
Mrs Sutton was one of James Peake's ideals. He worshipped this small
frail woman of fifty-five, whose soft eyes were the mirror of as candid
a soul as was ever prisoned in Staffordshire clay. More than forty years
ago he had gone to school with her, and the remembrance of having kissed
the pale girl when she was crying over a broken slate was still vivid in
his mind. For nearly half a century she had remained to him exactly that
same ethereal girl. The sole thing about her that puzzled him was that
she should have found anything attractive in the man whom she allowed to
marry her--Alderman Sutton. In all else he regarded her as an angel.
And to many another, besides James Peake, it seemed that Sarah Sutton
wore robes of light. She was a creature born to be the succour of
misery, the balm of distress. She would have soothed the two thieves on
Calvary. Led on by the bounteous instinct of a divine, all-embracing
sympathy, the intrepid spirit within her continually forced its fragile
physical mechanism into an activity which appeared almost supernatural.
According to every rule of medicine she should have been dead long
since; but she lived--by volition. It was to the credit of Bursley that
the whole town recognized in Sarah Sutton the treasure it held.
"I wanted to see you," Mrs Sutton said, after they had exchanged various
"Mrs Lovatt was telling me yesterday you hadn't made up your mind about
that organ subscription." They were ascending the steepest part of
Oldcastle Street, and Peake lowered the reins and let the horse into a
"Now look here, Mrs Sutton," he began, with passionate frankness, "I can
talk to you. You know me; you know I'm not one of their set, as it were.
Of course I've got a pew and all that; but you know as well as I do that
I don't belong to the chapel lot. Why should they ask me? Why should
they come to me? Why should I give all that sum?"
"Why?" she repeated the word, smiling. "You're a generous man; you've
felt the pleasure of giving. I always think of you as one of the most
generous men in the town. I'm sure you've often realized what a really
splendid thing it is to be able to give. D'you know, it comes over me
sometimes like a perfect shock that if I couldn't give--something,
do--something, I shouldn't be able to live; I would be obliged to go to
bed and die right off."
"Ah!" he murmured, and then paused. "We aren't all like you, Mrs
Sutton. I wish to God we were. But seriously, I'm not for giving that
hundred; it's against my grain, and that's flat--you'll excuse me
"I like it," she said quickly. "Then I know where I am."
"No," he reiterated firmly, "I'm not for giving that hundred."
"Then I'm bound to say I'm sorry," she returned kindly. "The whole
scheme will be ruined, for it's one of those schemes that can only be
carried out in a particular way--if they aren't done on the inspiration
of the moment they're not done at all. Not that I care so much for the
organ itself. It's the idea that was so grand. Fancy--nine hundred
pounds all in a minute; such a thing was never known in Bursley Chapel
"Well," said Peake, "I guess when it comes to the pinch they'll find
someone else instead of me."
"They won't; there isn't another man who could afford it and trade so
Peake was silent; but he was inflexible. Not even Mrs Sutton could make
the suggestion of this subscription seem other than grossly unfair to
him, an imposition on his good-nature.
"Think it over," she said abruptly, after he had assisted her to alight
at the top of Trafalgar Road. "Think it over, to oblige me."
"I'd do anything to oblige you," he replied. "But I'll tell you
this"--he put his mouth to her ear and whispered, half-smiling at the
confession. "You call me a generous man, but whenever that organ's
mentioned I feel just like a miser--yes, as hard as a miser. Good-bye!
I'm very glad to have had the pleasure of driving you up." He beamed on
her as the horse shot forward.
This was on Tuesday. During the next few days Peake went through a novel
and very disturbing experience. He gradually became conscious of the
power of that mysterious and all-but-irresistible moral force which is
called public opinion. His own public of friends and acquaintances
connected with the chapel seemed to be, for some inexplicable reason,
against him on the question of the organ subscription. They visited him,
even to the Rev. Mr Copinger (whom he heartily admired as having
"nothing of the parson" about him), and argued quietly, rather severely,
and then left him with the assurance that they relied on his sense of
what was proper. He was amazed and secretly indignant at this combined
attack. He thought it cowardly, unscrupulous; it resembled brigandage.
He felt most acutely that no one had any right to demand from him that
hundred pounds, and that they who did so transgressed one of those
unwritten laws which govern social intercourse. Yet these transgressors
were his friends, people who had earned his respect in years long past
and kept it through all the intricate situations arising out of daily
contact. They could defy him to withdraw his respect now; and, without
knowing it, they did. He was left brooding, pained, bewildered. The
explanation was simply this: he had failed to perceive that the
grandiose idea of the ninefold organ fund had seized, fired, and
obsessed the imaginations of the Wesleyan community, and that under the
unwonted poetic stimulus they were capable of acting quite differently
from their ordinary selves.
Peake was perplexed, he felt that he was weakening; but, being a man of
resourceful obstinacy, he was by no means defeated. On Friday morning he
told his wife that he should go to see a customer at Blackpool about a
contract, and probably remain at the seaside for the week-end.
Accustomed to these sudden movements, she packed his bag without
questioning, and he set off for Knype station in the dogcart. Once
behind the horse he felt safe, he could breathe again. The customer at
Blackpool was merely an excuse to enable him to escape from the circle
of undue influence. Ardently desiring to be in the train and on the
other side of Crewe, he pulled up at his little order-office in the
market-place to give some instructions. As he did so his clerk, Vodrey,
came rushing out and saw him.
"I have just telephoned to your house, sir," the clerk said excitedly.
"They told me you were driving to Knype and so I was coming after you in
"Why, what's up now?"
"Eardley Brothers have called their creditors together."
"I've just had a circular-letter from them, sir."
Peake stared at Vodrey, and then took two steps forward, stamping his
"The devil!" he exclaimed, with passionate ferocity. "The devil!"
Other men of business, besides James Peake, made similar exclamations
that morning; for the collapse of Eardley Brothers, the great
earthenware manufacturers, who were chiefly responsible for the ruinous
cutting of prices in the American and Colonial markets, was no ordinary
trade fiasco. Bursley was staggered, especially when it learnt that the
Bank, the inaccessible and autocratic Bank, was an unsecured creditor
for twelve thousand pounds.
Peake abandoned the Blackpool customer and drove off to consult his
lawyer at Hanbridge; he stood to lose three hundred and fifty pounds, a
matter sufficiently disconcerting. Yet, in another part of his mind, he
felt strangely serene and happy, for he was sure now of winning his bet
of one shilling with Randolph Sneyd. In the first place, the failure of
Eardleys would annihilate the organ scheme, and in the second place no
one would have the audacity to ask him for a subscription of a hundred
pounds when it was known that he would be a heavy sufferer in the
Later in the day he happened to meet one of the Eardleys, and at once
launched into a stream of that hot invective of which he was a master.
And all the while he was conscious of a certain hypocrisy in his
attitude of violence; he could not dismiss the notion that the Eardleys
had put him under an obligation by failing precisely at this juncture.
On the Saturday evening only Sneyd and Mrs Lovatt came up to Hillport,
Enoch Lovatt being away from home. Therefore there were no cards; they
talked of the Eardley affair.
"You'll have to manage with the old organ now," was one of the first
things that Peake said to Mrs Lovatt, after he had recited his own woe.
He smiled grimly as he said it.
"I don't see why," Sneyd remarked. It was not true; he saw perfectly;
but he enjoyed the rousing of Jim Peake into a warm altercation.
"Not at all," said Mrs Lovatt, proudly. "We shall have the organ, I'm
sure. There was an urgency committee meeting last night. Titus
Blackhurst has most generously given another hundred; he said it would
be a shame if the bankruptcy of professed Methodists was allowed to
prejudice the interests of the chapel. And the organ-makers have taken
fifty pounds off their price. Now, who do you think has given another
fifty? Mr Copinger! He stood up last night, Mr Blackhurst told me this
morning, and he said, 'Friends, I've only seventy pounds in the world,
but I'll give fifty pounds towards this organ.' There! What do you think
of that? Isn't he a grand fellow?"
"He is a grand fellow," said Peake, with emphasis, reflecting that the
total income of the minister could not exceed three hundred a year.
"So you see you'll _have_ to give your hundred," Mrs Lovatt continued.
"You can't do otherwise after that."
There was a pause.
"I won't give it," said Peake. "I've said I won't, and I won't."
He could think of no argument. To repeat that Eardley's bankruptcy would
cost him dear seemed trivial. Nevertheless, the absence of any plausible
argument served only to steel his resolution.
At that moment the servant opened the door.
"Mr Titus Blackhurst, senior, to see you, sir."
Peake and his wife looked at one another in amazement, and Sneyd laughed
"He told me he should come up," Mrs Lovatt explained.
"Show him into the breakfast-room, Clara," said Mrs Peake to the
Peake frowned angrily as he crossed the hall, but as he opened the
breakfast-room door he contrived to straighten out his face into a
semblance of urbanity. Though he could have enjoyed accelerating the
passage of his visitor into the street, there were excellent commercial
reasons why he should adopt a less strenuous means towards the end which
he had determined to gain.
"Glad to see you, Mr Blackhurst," he began, a little awkwardly.
"You know, I suppose, what I've come for, Mr Peake," said the old man,
in that rich, deep, oily voice of which Mrs Lovatt, in one of those
graphic phrases that came to her sometimes, had once remarked that it
must have been "well basted in the cooking."
"I suppose I do," Peake answered diffidently.
Mr Blackhurst took off a wrinkled black glove, stroked his grey beard,
and started on a long account of the inception and progress of the organ
scheme. Peake listened and was drawn into an admission that it was a
good scheme and deserved to succeed. Mr Blackhurst then went on to make
plain that it was in danger of utterly collapsing, that only one man of
"our Methodist friends" could save it, and that both Mrs Sutton and Mrs
Lovatt had advised him to come and make a personal appeal to that man.
Peake knew of old, and in other affairs, the wily diplomatic skill of
this Sunday School superintendent, and when Mr Blackhurst paused he
collected himself for an effort which should conclude the episode at a
"The fact is," he said, "I've decided that I can't help you. It's no
good beating about the bush, and so I tell you this at once. Mind you,
Mr Blackhurst, if there's anyone in Bursley that I should have liked to
oblige, it's you. We've had business dealings, you and me, for many
years now, and I fancy we know one another. I've the highest respect for
you, and if you'll excuse me saying so, I think you've some respect for
me. My rule is always to be candid. I say what I mean and I mean what I
say; and so, as I've quite made up my mind, I let you know straight off.
I can't do it. I simply _can't_ do it."
"Of course if you put it that way, if you _can't_--"
"I do put it that way, Mr Blackhurst," Peake continued quickly, warming
himself into eloquence as he perceived the most effective line to
pursue. "I admire your open-handedness. It's an example to us all. I
wish I could imitate it. But I mustn't. I'm not one o' them as rushes
out and promises a hundred pound before they've looked at their profit
and loss account. Eardleys, for example. By the way, I'm pleased to hear
from Sneyd that you aren't let in there. I'm one of the flats. Three
hundred and fifty pound--that's my bit; I'm told they won't pay six
shillings in the pound. Isn't that a warning? What right had they to go
offering their hundred pound apiece to your organ fund?"
"It was very wrong," said Mr Blackhurst, severely, "and what's more, it
brings discredit on the Methodist society."
"True!" agreed Peake, and then, leaning over confidentially, he spoke in
a different voice: "If you ask me, I don't mind saying that I think that
magnificent subscription o' theirs was a deliberate and fraudulent
attempt to inspire pressing creditors with fresh confidence. That's what
I think. I call it monstrous."
Mr Blackhurst nodded slowly, as though meditating upon profound truths
"Well," Peake resumed, "I'm not one of that sort. If I can afford to
give, I give; but not otherwise. How do I know how I stand? I needn't
tell you, Mr Blackhurst, that trade in this district is in a very queer
state--a very queer state indeed. Outside yourself, and Lovatt, and one
or two more, is there a single manufacturer in Bursley that knows how he
stands? Is there one of them that knows whether he's making money or
losing it? Look at prices; can they go lower? And secret discounts; can
they go higher? And all this affects the colliery-owners. I shouldn't
like to tell you the total of my book-debts; I don't even care to think
of it. And suppose there's a colliers' strike--as there's bound to be
sooner or later--where shall we be then?"
Mr Blackhurst nodded once more, while Peake, intoxicated by his own
rhetoric, began actually to imagine that his commercial condition was
"I've had several very severe losses lately," he went on. "You know I
was in that newspaper company; that was a heavy drain; I've done with
newspapers for ever more. I was a fool, but calling myself a fool won't
bring back what I've lost. It's got to be faced. Then there's that new
shaft I sunk last year. What with floodings, and flaws in the seam, that
shaft alone is running me into a loss of six pound a week at this very
moment, and has been for weeks."
"Dear me!" exclaimed Mr Blackhurst, sympathetically.
"Yes! Six pound a week! And that isn't all"--he had entirely forgotten
the immediate object of Mr Blackhurst's visit--"that isn't all. I've got
a big lawsuit coming on with the railway company. Goodness knows how
that will end! If I lose it ... well!"
"Mr Peake," said the old man, with quiet firmness, "if things are as bad
as you say we will have a word of prayer."
He knelt down and forthwith commenced to intercede with God on behalf of
this luckless colliery-owner, his business, his family, his soul.
Peake jumped like a shot rabbit, reddening to the neck with
stupefaction, excruciating sheepishness and annoyance. Never in the
whole course of his life had he been caught in such an ineffable
predicament. He strode to and fro in futile speechless rage and shame.
The situation was intolerable. He felt that at no matter what cost he
must get Titus Blackhurst up from his knees. He approached him, meaning
to put a hand on his shoulder, but dared not do so. Inarticulate sounds
escaped from his throat, and then at last he burst out:
"Stop that, stop that! I canna stand it. Here, I'll give ye a cheque
for a hundred. I'll write it now."
When Mr Blackhurst had departed he rang for a brandy-and-soda, and then,
after an interval, returned to the drawing-room.
"Sneyd," he said, trying to laugh, "here's your shilling. I've lost."
"There!" exclaimed Mrs Lovatt. "Didn't I say that Mr Copinger's example
would do it? Eh, James! Bless you!"