Clayhanger, by Arnold Bennett

Chapter Fourteen.

The Architect.

One morning Edwin was busy in the shop with his own private minion, the paper boy, who went in awe of him. But this was not the same Edwin, though people who could only judge by features, and by the length of trousers and sleeves on legs and arms, might have thought that it was the same Edwin enlarged and corrected. Half a year had passed. The month was February, cold. Mr Enoch Peake had not merely married Mrs Louisa Loggerheads, but had died of an apoplexy, leaving behind him Cocknage Gardens, a widow, and his name painted in large letters over the word ‘Loggerheads’ on the lintel of the Dragon. The steam-printer had done the funeral cards, and had gone to the burial of his hopes of business in that quarter. Many funeral cards had come out of the same printing office during the winter, including that of Mr Udall, the great marble-player. It seemed uncanny to Edwin that a marble-player whom he had actually seen playing marbles should do anything so solemn as expire. However, Edwin had perfectly lost all interest in marbles; only once in six months had he thought of them, and that once through a funeral card. Also he was growing used to funeral cards. He would enter an order for funeral cards as nonchalantly as an order for butterscotch labels. But it was not deaths and the spectacle of life as seen from the shop that had made another Edwin of him.

What had changed him was the slow daily influence of a large number of trifling habitual duties none of which fully strained his faculties, and the monotony of them, and the constant watchful conventionality of his deportment with customers. He was still a youth, very youthful, but you had to keep an eye open for his youthfulness if you wished to find it beneath the little man that he had been transformed into. He now took his watch out of his pocket with an absent gesture and look exactly like his father’s; and his tones would be a reflection of those of the last important full-sized man with whom he had happened to have been in contact. And though he had not developed into a dandy (finance forbidding), he kept his hair unnaturally straight, and amiably grumbled to Maggie about his collars every fortnight or so. Yes, another Edwin! Yet it must not be assumed that he was growing in discontent, either chronic or acute. On the contrary, the malady of discontent troubled him less and less.

To the paper boy he was a real man. The paper boy accepted him with unreserved fatalism, as Edwin accepted his father. Thus the boy stood passive while Edwin brought business to a standstill by privately perusing the “Manchester Examiner.” It was Saturday morning, the morning on which the “Examiner” published its renowned Literary Supplement. All the children read eagerly the Literary Supplement; but Edwin, in virtue of his office, got it first. On the first and second pages was the serial story, by George MacDonald, W. Clark Russell, or Mrs Lynn Linton; then followed readable extracts from new books, and on the fourth page were selected jokes from “Punch.” Edwin somehow always began with the jokes, and in so doing was rather ashamed of his levity. He would skim the jokes, glance at the titles of the new books, and look at the dialogue parts of the serial, while business and the boy waited. There was no hurry then, even though the year had reached 1873 and people were saying that they would soon be at the middle of the seventies; even though the Licensing Act had come into force and publicans were predicting the end of the world. Morning papers were not delivered till ten, eleven, or twelve o’clock in Bursley, and on Saturdays, owing to Edwin’s laudable interest in the best periodical literature, they were apt to be delivered later than usual.

Two.

On this particular morning Edwin was disturbed in his studies by a greater than the paper boy, a greater even than his father. Mr Osmond Orgreave came stamping his cold feet into the shop, the floor of which was still a little damp from the watering that preceded its sweeping. Mr Orgreave, though as far as Edwin knew he had never been in the shop before, went straight to the coke-stove, bent his knees, and began to warm his hands. In this position he opened an interview with Edwin, who dropped the Literary Supplement. Miss Ingamells was momentarily absent.

“Father in?”

“No, sir.”

Edwin did not say where his father was, because he had received general instructions never to ‘volunteer information’ on that point.

“Where is he?”

“He’s out, sir.”

“Oh! Well! Has he left any instructions about those specifications for the Shawport Board School?”

“No, sir. I’m afraid he hasn’t. But I can ask in the printing office.”

Mr Orgreave approached the counter, smiling. His face was angular, rather stout, and harsh, with a grey moustache and a short grey beard, and yet his demeanour and his voice had a jocular, youthful quality. And this was not the only contradiction about him. His clothes were extremely elegant and nice in detail — the whiteness of his linen would have struck the most casual observer — but he seemed to be perfectly oblivious of his clothes, indeed, to show carelessness concerning them. His finger-nails were marvellously tended. But he scribbled in pencil on his cuff, and apparently was not offended by a grey mark on his hand due to touching the top of the stove. The idea in Edwin’s head was that Mr Orgreave must put on a new suit of clothes once a week, and new linen every day, and take a bath about once an hour. The man had no ceremoniousness. Thus, though he had never previously spoken to Edwin, he made no preliminary pretence of not being sure who Edwin was; he chatted with him as though they were old friends and had parted only the day before; he also chatted with him as though they were equals in age, eminence, and wealth. A strange man!

“Now look here!” he said, as the conversation proceeded, “those specifications are at the Sytch Chapel. If you could come along with me now — I mean now — I could give them to you and point out one or two things to you, and perhaps Big James could make a start on them this morning. You see it’s urgent.”

So he was familiar with Big James.

“Certainly,” said Edwin, excited.

And when he had curtly told the paper boy to do portions of the newspaper job which he had always held the paper boy was absolutely incapable of doing, he sent the boy to find Miss Ingamells, informed her where he was going, and followed Mr Orgreave out of the shop.

Three.

“Of course you know Charlie’s at school in France,” said Mr Orgreave, as they passed along Wedgwood Street in the direction of Saint Luke’s Square. He was really very companionable.

“Er — yes!” Edwin replied, nervously explosive, and buttoning up his tight overcoat with an important business air.

“At least it isn’t a school — it’s a university. Besancon, you know. They take university students much younger there. Oh! He has a rare time — a rare time. Never writes to you, I suppose?”

“No.” Edwin gave a short laugh.

Mr Orgreave laughed aloud. “And he wouldn’t to us either, if his mother didn’t make a fuss about it. But when he does write, we gather there’s no place like Besancon.”

“It must be splendid,” Edwin said thoughtfully.

“You and he were great chums, weren’t you? I know we used to hear about you every day. His mother used to say that we had Clayhanger with every meal.” Mr Orgreave again laughed heartily.

Edwin blushed. He was quite startled, and immensely flattered. What on earth could the Sunday have found to tell them every day about him? He, Edwin Clayhanger, a subject of conversation in the household of the Orgreaves, that mysterious household which he had never entered but which he had always pictured to himself as being so finely superior! Less than a year ago Charlie Orgreave had been ‘the Sunday,’ had been ‘old Perish-inthe-attempt,’ and now he was a student in Besancon University, unapproachable, extraordinarily romantic; and he, Edwin, remained in his father’s shop! He had been aware that Charlie had gone to Besancon University, but he had not realised it effectively till this moment. The realisation blew discontent into a flame, which fed on the further perception that evidently the Orgreave family were a gay, jolly crowd of cronies together, not in the least like parents and children; their home life must be something fundamentally different from his.

Four.

When they had crossed the windy space of Saint Luke’s Square and reached the top of the Sytch Bank, Mr Orgreave stopped an instant in front of the Sytch Pottery, and pointed to a large window at the south end that was in process of being boarded up.

“At last!” he murmured with disgust. Then he said: “That’s the most beautiful window in Bursley, and perhaps in the Five Towns; and you see what’s happening to it.”

Edwin had never heard the word ‘beautiful’ uttered in quite that tone, except by women, such as Auntie Hamps, about a baby or a valentine or a sermon. But Mr Orgreave was not a woman; he was a man of the world, he was almost the man of the world; and the subject of his adjective was a window!

“Why are they boarding it up, Mr Orgreave?” Edwin asked.

“Oh! Ancient lights! Ancient lights!”

Edwin began to snigger. He thought for an instant that Mr Orgreave was being jocular over his head, for he could only connect the phrase ‘ancient lights’ with the meaner organs of a dead animal, exposed, for example, in tripe shops. However, he saw his ineptitude almost simultaneously with the commission of it, and smothered the snigger in becoming gravity. It was clear that he had something to learn in the phraseology employed by architects.

“I should think,” said Mr Orgreave, “I should think they’ve been at law about that window for thirty years, if not more. Well, it’s over now, seemingly.” He gazed at the disappearing window. “What a shame!”

“It is,” said Edwin politely.

Mr Orgreave crossed the road and then stood still to gaze at the facade of the Sytch Pottery. It was a long two-storey building, purest Georgian, of red brick with very elaborate stone facings which contrasted admirably with the austere simplicity of the walls. The porch was lofty, with a majestic flight of steps narrowing to the doors. The ironwork of the basement railings was unusually rich and impressive.

“Ever seen another pot-works like that?” demanded Mr Orgreave, enthusiastically musing.

“No,” said Edwin. Now that the question was put to him, he never had seen another pot-works like that.

“There are one or two pretty fine works in the Five Towns,” said Mr Orgreave. “But there’s nothing elsewhere to touch this. I nearly always stop and look at it if I’m passing. Just look at the pointing! The pointing alone —”

Edwin had to readjust his ideas. It had never occurred to him to search for anything fine in Bursley. The fact was, he had never opened his eyes at Bursley. Dozens of times he must have passed the Sytch Pottery, and yet not noticed, not suspected, that it differed from any other pot-works: he who dreamed of being an architect!

“You don’t think much of it?” said Mr Orgreave, moving on. “People don’t.”

“Oh yes! I do!” Edwin protested, and with such an air of eager sincerity that Mr Orgreave turned to glance at him. And in truth he did think that the Sytch Pottery was beautiful. He never would have thought so but for the accident of the walk with Mr Orgreave; he might have spent his whole life in the town, and never troubled himself a moment about the Sytch Pottery. Nevertheless he now, by an act of sheer faith, suddenly, miraculously and genuinely regarded it as an exquisitely beautiful edifice, on a plane with the edifices of the capitals of Europe, and as a feast for discerning eyes. “I like architecture very much,” he added. And this too was said with such feverish conviction that Mr Orgreave was quite moved.

“I must show you my new Sytch Chapel,” said Mr Orgreave gaily.

“Oh! I should like you to show it me,” said Edwin.

But he was exceedingly perturbed by misgivings. Here was he wanting to be an architect, and he had never observed the Sytch Pottery! Surely that was an absolute proof that he had no vocation for architecture! And yet now he did most passionately admire the Sytch Pottery. And he was proud to be sharing the admiration of the fine, joyous, superior, luxurious, companionable man, Mr Orgreave.

Five.

They went down the Sytch Bank to the new chapel of which Mr Orgreave, though a churchman, was the architect, in that vague quarter of the world between Bursley and Turnhill. The roof was not on; the scaffolding was extraordinarily interesting and confusing; they bent their heads to pass under low portals; Edwin had the delicious smell of new mortar; they stumbled through sand, mud, cinders and little pools; they climbed a ladder and stepped over a large block of dressed stone, and Mr Orgreave said —

“This is the gallery we’re in, here. You see the scheme of the place now . . . That hole — only a flue. Now you see what that arch carries — they didn’t like it in the plans because they thought it might be mistaken for a church —”

Edwin was receptive.

“Of course it’s a very small affair, but it’ll cost less per sitting than any other chapel in your circuit, and I fancy it’ll look less like a box of bricks.” Mr Orgreave subtly smiled, and Edwin tried to equal his subtlety. “I must show you the elevation some other time — a bit later. What I’ve been after in it, is to keep it in character with the street . . . Hi! Dan, there!” Now, Mr Orgreave was calling across the hollow of the chapel to a fat man in corduroys. “Have you remembered about those blue bricks?”

Perhaps the most captivating phenomenon of all was a little lean-to shed with a real door evidently taken from somewhere else, and a little stove, and a table and a chair. Here Mr Orgreave had a confabulation with the corduroyed man, who was the builder, and they pored over immense sheets of coloured plans that lay on the table, and Mr Orgreave made marks and even sketches on the plans, and the fat man objected to his instructions, and Mr Orgreave insisted, “Yes, yes!” And it seemed to Edwin as though the building of the chapel stood still while Mr Orgreave cogitated and explained; it seemed to Edwin that he was in the creating-chamber. The atmosphere of the shed was inexpressibly romantic to him. After the fat man had gone Mr Orgreave took a clothes-brush off a plank that had been roughly nailed on two brackets to the wall, and brushed Edwin’s clothes, and Edwin brushed Mr Orgreave, and then Mr Orgreave, having run his hand through the brush, lightly brushed his hair with it. All this was part of Edwin’s joy.

“Yes,” he said, “I think the idea of that arch is splendid.”

“You do?” said Mr Orgreave quite simply and ingenuously pleased and interested. “You see — with the lie of the ground as it is —”

That was another point that Edwin ought to have thought of by himself — the lie of the ground — but he had not thought of it. Mr Orgreave went on talking. In the shop he had conveyed the idea that he was tremendously pressed for time; now he had apparently forgotten time.

“I’m afraid I shall have to be off,” said Edwin timidly. And he made a preliminary movement as if to depart.

“And what about those specifications, young man?” asked Mr Orgreave, drily twinkling. He unlocked a drawer in the rickety table. Edwin had forgotten the specifications as successfully as Mr Orgreave had forgotten time. Throughout the remainder of the day he smelt imaginary mortar.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31