On the following Saturday afternoon — that is, six days later — Edwin had unusually been down to the shop after dinner, and he returned home about four o’clock. Ada, hearing his entrance, came into the hall and said:
“Please, sir, missis is over at Miss Orgreave’s and will ye please go over?”
“Where’s Master George?”
“In missis’s own room, sir.”
The “mistress’s own room” was the new nomenclature adopted by the kitchen, doubtless under suggestion, for the breakfast-room or boudoir. Edwin opened the door and glanced in. George, apparently sketching, sat at his mother’s desk, with the light falling over his right shoulder.
He looked up quickly in self-excuse:
“Mother said I could! Mother said I could!”
For the theory of the special sanctity of the boudoir had mysteriously established itself in the house during the previous eight or ten days. George was well aware that even Edwin was not entitled to go in and out as he chose.
“Keep calm, sonny,” said Edwin, teasing him.
With permissible and discreet curiosity he glanced from afar at the desk, its upper drawers and its pigeon-holes. Obviously it was very untidy. Its untidiness gave him sardonic pleasure, because Hilda was ever implying, or even stating, that she was a very tidy woman. He remembered that many years ago Janet had mentioned orderliness as a trait of the wonderful girl, Hilda Lessways. But he did not personally consider that she was tidy; assuredly she by no means reached his standard of tidiness, which standard indeed she now and then dismissed as old-maidish. Also, he was sardonically amused by the air of importance and busyness which she put on when using the desk and the room; her household accounts, beheld at a distance, were his wicked joy. He saw a bluish envelope lying untidily on the floor between the desk and the fireplace, and he picked it up. It had been addressed to “Mrs. George Cannon, 59 Preston Street, Brighton,” and readdressed in a woman’s hand to “Mrs. Clayhanger, Trafalgar Road, Bursley.” Whether the handwriting of the original address was masculine or feminine he could not decide. The envelope had probably contained only a bill or a circular. Nevertheless he felt at once inimically inquisitive towards the envelope. Without quite knowing it he was jealous of all Hilda’s past life up to her marriage with him. After a moment, reflecting that she had made no mention of a letter, he dropped the envelope superciliously, and it floated to the ground.
“I’m going to Lane End House,” he said.
“Can I come?”
The same overhanging spirit of a great event which had somehow justified him in being curt to the boy, rendered him self-conscious and furtive as he stood in the porch of the Orgreaves, waiting for the door to open. Along the drive that curved round the oval lawn under the high trees were wheel-marks still surviving from the previous day. The house also survived; the curtains in all the windows, and the plants or the pieces of furniture between the curtains, were exactly as usual. Yet the solid building and its contents had the air of an illusion.
A servant appeared.
“Good afternoon, Selina.”
He had probably never before called her by name, but today his self-consciousness impelled him to do uncustomary things.
“Good afternoon, sir,” said Selina, whose changeless attire ignored even the greatest events. And it was as if she had said:
“Ah, sir! To what have we come!”
She too was self-conscious and furtive.
Aloud she said:
“Miss Orgreave and Mrs. Clayhanger are upstairs, sir. I’ll tell Miss Orgreave.”
Coughing nervously, he went into the drawing-room, the large obscure room, crowded with old furniture and expensive new furniture, with books, knickknacks, embroidery, and human history, in which he had first set eyes on Hilda. It was precisely the same as it had been a few days earlier; absolutely nothing had been changed, and yet now it had the archæological and forlorn aspect of a museum.
He dreaded the appearance of Janet and Hilda. What could he say to Janet, or she to him? But he was a little comforted by the fact that Hilda had left a message for him to join them.
On the previous Tuesday Osmond Orgreave had died, and within twenty-four hours Mrs. Orgreave was dead also. On the Friday they were buried together. To-day the blinds were up again; the funereal horses with their artificially curved necks had already dragged other corpses to the cemetery; the town existed as usual; and the family of Orgreave was scattered once more. Marian, the eldest daughter, had not been able to come at all, because her husband was seriously ill. Alicia Hesketh, the youngest daughter, far away in her large house in Devonshire, had not been able to come at all, because she was hourly expecting her third child; nor would Harry, her husband, leave her. Charlie, the doctor at Ealing, had only been able to run down for the funeral, because, his partner having broken his leg, the whole work of the practice was on his shoulders. And today Tom, the solicitor, was in his office exploring the financial side of his father’s affairs; Johnnie was in the office of Orgreave and Sons, busy with the professional side of his father’s affairs; Jimmie, who had made a sinister marriage, was nobody knew precisely where; Tom’s wife had done what she could and gone home; Jimmie’s wife had never appeared; Elaine, Marian’s child, was shopping at Hanbridge for Janet; and Janet remained among her souvenirs. An epoch was finished, and the episode that concluded it, in its strange features and its swiftness, resembled a vast hallucination.
Certain funerals will obsess a whole town. And the funeral of Mr. and Mrs. Osmond Orgreave might have been expected to do so. Not only had their deaths been almost simultaneous, but they had been preceded by superficially similar symptoms, though the husband had died of pericarditis following renal disease, and the wife of hyperæmia of the lungs following increasingly frequent attacks of bronchial catarrh. The phenomena had been impressive, and rumour had heightened them. Also Osmond Orgreave for half a century had been an important and celebrated figure in the town; architecturally a large portion of the new parts of it were his creation. Yet the funeral had not been one of the town’s great feverish funerals. True, the children would have opposed anything spectacular; but had municipal opinion decided against the children, they would have been compelled to yield. Again and again prominent men in the town had as it were bought their funeral processions in advance by the yard — processions in which their families, willing or not, were reduced to the rôle of stewards.
Tom and Janet, however, had ordained that nobody whatever beyond the family should be invited to the funeral, and there had been no sincere protest from outside.
The fact was that Osmond Orgreave had never related himself to the crowd. He was not a Freemason; he had never been President of the Society for the Prosecution of Felons; he had never held municipal office; he had never pursued any object but the good of his family. He was a particularist. His charm was kept chiefly for his own home. And beneath the cordiality of his more general connections, there had always been a subtle reservation — on both sides. He was admired for his cleverness and his distinction, liked where he chose to be liked, but never loved save by his own kin. Further, he had a name for being “pretty sharp” in business. Clients had had prolonged difficulties with him — Edwin himself among them. The town had made up its mind about Osmond Orgreave, and the verdict, as with most popular verdicts, was roughly just so far as it went, but unjust in its narrowness. The laudatory three-quarters of a column in the Signal and the briefer effusive notice in the new half-penny morning paper, both reflected, for those with perceptions delicate enough to understand, the popular verdict. And though Edwin hated long funerals and the hysteria of a public woe, he had nevertheless a sense of disappointment in the circumstances of the final disappearance of Osmond Orgreave.
The two women entered the room, silently. Hilda looked fierce and protective. Janet Orgreave, pale and in black, seemed very thin. She did not speak. She gave a little nod of greeting.
Edwin, scarcely controlling his voice and his eyes, murmured:
They would not shake hands; the effort would have broken them. All remained standing, uncertainly. Edwin saw before him two girls aged by the accumulation of experience. Janet, though apparently healthy, with her smooth fair skin, was like an old woman in the shell of a young one. Her eyes were dulled, her glance plaintive, her carriage slack. The conscious wish to please had left her, together with her main excuse for being alive. She was over thirty-seven, and more and more during the last ten years she had lived for her parents. She alone among all the children had remained absolutely faithful to them. To them, and to nobody else, she had been essential — a fountain of vigour and brightness and kindliness from which they drew. To see her in the familiar and historic room which she had humanised and illuminated with her very spirit, was heartrending. In a day she had become unnecessary, and shrunk to the unneeded, undesired virgin which in truth she was. She knew it. Everybody knew it. All the waves of passionate sympathy which Hilda and Edwin in their different ways ardently directed towards her broke in vain upon that fact.
“And only the other day she was keen on tennis!”
“Edwin,” said Hilda. “Don’t you think she ought to come across to our place for a bit? I’m sure it would be better for her not to sleep here.”
“Most decidedly,” Edwin answered, only too glad to agree heartily with his wife.
“But Johnnie?” Janet objected.
“Pooh! Surely he can stay at Tom’s.”
“She can come with you. Heaps of room for two.”
“I couldn’t leave the servants all alone. I really couldn’t. They wouldn’t like it,” Janet persisted. “Moreover, I’ve got to give them notice.”
Edwin had to make the motion of swallowing.
“Well,” said Hilda obstinately. “Come along now — for the evening, anyhow. We shall be by ourselves.”
“Yes, you must,” said Edwin, curtly.
“I— I don’t like walking down the street,” Janet faltered, blushing.
“You needn’t. You can get over the wall,” said Edwin.
“Of course you can,” Hilda concurred. “Just as you are now. I’ll tell Selina.”
She left the room with decision, and the next instant returned with a telegram in her hand.
“Open it, please. I can’t,” said Janet.
“Mother and boy both doing splendidly. Harry.”
Janet dropped onto a chair and burst into tears.
“I’m so glad. I’m so glad,” she spluttered. “I can’t help it.”
Then she jumped up, wiped her eyes, and smiled.
For a few yards the Clayhanger and the Orgreave properties were contiguous, and separated by a fairly new wall, which, after much procrastination on the part of owners, had at last replaced an unsatisfactory thorn-hedge. While Selina put a chair in position for the ladies to stand on as a preliminary to climbing the wall, Edwin suddenly remembered that in the days of the untidy thorn-hedge Janet had climbed a pair of steps in order to surmount the hedge and visit his garden. He saw her balanced on the steps, and smiling and then jumping, like a child. Now, he preceded her and Hilda on to the wall, and they climbed carefully, and when they were all up Selina handed him the chair and he dropped it on his own side of the wall so that they might descend more easily.
“Be careful, Edwin. Be careful,” cried Hilda, neither pleasantly nor unpleasantly.
And as he tried to read her mood in her voice, the mysterious and changeful ever-flowing undercurrent of their joint life bore rushingly away his sense of Janet’s tragedy; and he knew that no events exterior to his marriage could ever overcome for long that constant secret preoccupation of his concerning Hilda’s mood.
When they came into the house, Ada met them with zest and calamity in her whispering voice:
“Please ‘m, Mr. and Mrs. Benbow are here. They’re in the drawing-room. They said they’d wait a bit to see if you came back.”
Ada had foreseen that, whatever their superficially indifferent demeanour as members of the powerful ruling caste, her master and mistress would be struck all of a heap by this piece of news. And they were. For the Benbows did not pay chance calls; in the arrangement of their lives every act was neatly planned and foreordained. Therefore this call was formal, and behind it was an intention.
“I can’t see them. I can’t possibly, dear,” Janet murmured, as it were intimidated. “I’ll run back home.”
Hilda replied with benevolent firmness:
“No you won’t. Come upstairs with me till they’re gone. Edwin, you go and see what they’re after.”
Janet faltered and obeyed, and the two women crept swiftly upstairs. They might have been executing a strategic retirement from a bad smell. The instinctive movement, and the manner, were a judgment on the ideals of the Benbows so terrible and final that even the Benbows, could they have seen it, must have winced and doubted for a moment their own moral perfection. It came to this, that the stricken fled from their presence.
“‘What they’re after’!” Edwin muttered to himself, half resenting the phrase; because Clara was his sister; and though she bored and exasperated him, he could not class her with exactly similar boring and exasperating women.
And, throwing down his cap, he went with false casual welcoming into the drawing-room.
Young Bert Benbow, prodigiously solemn and uncomfortable in his birthday spectacles, was with his father and mother. Immense satisfaction, tempered by a slight nervousness, gleamed in the eyes of the parents. And the demeanour of all three showed instantly that the occasion was ceremonious. Albert and Clara could not have been more pleased and uplifted had the occasion been a mourning visit of commiseration or even a funeral.
The washed and brushed schoolboy, preoccupied, did not take his share in the greetings with sufficient spontaneity and promptitude.
Clara said, gently shocked:
“Bert, what do you say to your uncle?”
“Good afternoon, uncle.”
“I should think so indeed!”
Clara of course sprang at once to the luscious first topic, as to a fruit:
“How is poor Janet bearing up?”
Edwin was very characteristically of the Five Towns in this — he hated to admit, in the crisis itself, that anything unusual was happening or had just happened. Thus he replied negligently:
“Oh! All right!”
As though his opinion was that Janet had nothing to bear up against.
“I hear it was a very quiet funeral,” said Clara, suggesting somehow that there must be something sinister behind the quietness of the funeral.
“Yes,” said Edwin.
“Didn’t they ask you?”
“Well — my word!”
There was a silence, save for faint humming from Albert. And then, just as Clara was mentioning her name, in rushed Hilda.
“What’s the matter?” the impulsive Hilda demanded bluntly.
This gambit did not please Edwin, whose instinct was always to pretend that nothing was the matter. He would have maintained as long as anybody that the call was a chance call.
After a few vague exchanges, Clara coughed and said:
“It’s really about your George and our Bert. . . . Haven’t you heard? . . . Hasn’t George said anything?”
“No. . . . What?”
Clara looked at her husband expectantly, and Albert took the grand male rôle.
“I gather they had a fight yesterday at school,” said he.
The two boys went to the same school, the new-fangled Higher Grade School at Hanbridge, which had dealt such a blow at the ancient educational foundations at Oldcastle. That their Bert should attend the same school as George was secretly a matter of pride to the Benbows.
“Oh,” said Edwin. “We’ve seen no gaping wounds, have we, Hilda?”
Albert’s face did not relax.
“You’ve only got to look at Bert’s chin,” said Clara.
Bert shuffled under the world’s sudden gaze. Undeniably there was a small discoloured lump on his chin.
“I’ve had it out with Bert,” Albert continued severely. “I don’t know who was in the wrong — it was about that penknife business, you know — but I’m quite sure that Bert was not in the right. And as he’s the older we’ve decided that he must ask George’s forgiveness.”
“Yes,” eagerly added Clara, tired of listening. “Albert says we can’t have quarrels going on like this in the family — they haven’t spoken friendly to each other since that night we were here — and it’s the manly thing for Bert to ask George’s forgiveness, and then they can shake hands.”
“That’s what I say.” Albert massively corroborated her.
“I suppose these people imagine they’re doing something rather fine.”
Whatever they imagined they were doing, they had made both Edwin and Hilda sheepish. Either of them would have sacrificed a vast fortune and the lives of thousands of Sunday school officers in order to find a dignified way of ridiculing and crushing the expedition of Albert and Clara; but they could think of naught that was effective.
Hilda asked, somewhat curtly, but lamely:
“Where is George?”
“He was in your boudoir a two-three minutes ago, drawing,” said Edwin.
Clara’s neck was elongated at the sound of the word “boudoir.”
“Boudoir?” said she. And Edwin could in fancy hear her going down Trafalgar Road and giggling at every house-door: “Did ye know Mrs. Clayhanger has a boudoir? That’s the latest.” Still he had employed the word with intention, out of deliberate bravado.
“Breakfast-room,” he added, explanatory.
“I should suggest,” said Albert, “that Bert goes to him in the breakfast-room. They’ll settle it much better by themselves.” He was very pleased by this last phrase, which proved him a man of the world after all.
“So long as they don’t smash too much furniture while they’re about it,” murmured Edwin.
“Now, Bert, my boy,” said Albert, in the tone of a father who is also a brother.
And, as Hilda was inactive, Bert stalked forth upon his mission of manliness, smiling awkwardly and blushing. He closed the door after him, and not one of the adults dared to rise and open it.
“Had any luck with missing words lately?” Albert asked, in a detached airy manner, showing that the Bert–George affair was a trifle to him, to be dismissed from the mind at will.
“No,” said Edwin. “I’ve been off missing words lately.”
“Of course you have,” Clara agreed with gravity. “All this must have been very trying to you all. . . . Albert’s done very well of course.”
“I was on ‘politeness,’ my boy,” said Albert.
“Didn’t you know?” Clara expressed surprise.
“Sixty-four pounds nineteen shillings per share,” said Albert tremendously.
Edwin appreciatively whistled.
“Had the money?”
“No. Cheques go out on Monday, I believe. Of course,” he added, “I go in for it scientifically. I leave no chances, I don’t. I’m making a capital outlay of over five pounds ten on next week’s competition, and I may tell you I shall get it back again, with interest.”
At the same moment, Bert reentered the room.
“He’s not there,” said Bert. “His drawing’s there, but he isn’t.”
This news was adverse to the cause of manly peace.
“Are you sure?” asked Clara, implying that Bert might not have made a thorough search for George in the boudoir.
Hilda sat grim and silent.
“He may be upstairs,” said the weakly amiable Edwin.
Hilda rang the bell with cold anger.
“Is Master George in the house?” she harshly questioned Ada.
“No’m. He went out a bit since.”
The fact was that George, on hearing from the faithful Ada of the arrival of the Benbows, had retired through the kitchen and through the back-door, into the mountainous country towards Bleakridge railway-station, where kite-flying was practised on immense cinder-heaps.
“Ah! Well,” said Albert, undefeated, to Edwin. “You might tell him Bert’s been up specially to apologise to him. Oh! And here’s that penknife!” He looked now at Hilda, and, producing Tertius Ingpen’s knife, he put it with a flourish on the mantelpiece. “I prefer it to be on your mantelpiece than on ours,” he added, smiling rather grandiosely. His manner as a whole, though compound, indicated with some clearness that while he adhered to his belief in the efficacy of prayer, he could not allow his son to accept from George earthly penknives alleged to have descended from heaven. It was a triumphant hour for Albert Benbow, as he stood there dominating the drawing-room. He perceived that, in addition to silencing and sneaping the elder and richer branch of the family, he was cutting a majestic figure in the eyes of his own son.
In an awful interval, Clara said with a sweet bright smile:
“By the way, Albert, don’t forget about what Maggie asked you to ask.”
“Oh, yes! By the way,” said Albert, “Maggie wants to know how soon you can complete the purchase of this house of yours.”
Edwin moved uneasily.
“I don’t know,” he mumbled.
“Can you stump up in a month? Say the end of October anyway, at latest.” Albert persisted, and grew caustic. “You’ve only got to sell a few of your famous securities.”
“Certainly. Before the end of October,” Hilda replied, with impulsive and fierce assurance.
Edwin was amazed by this interference on her part. Was she incapable of learning from experience? Let him employ the right tone with absolutely perfect skill, marriage would still be impossible if she meant to carry on in this way! What did she know about the difficulties of completing the purchase? What right had she to put in a word apparently so decisive? Such behaviour was unheard of. She must be mad. Nevertheless he did not yield to anger. He merely said feebly and querulously:
“That’s all very well! That’s all very well! But I’m not quite so sure as all that. Will she let some of it be on mortgage?”
“No, she won’t,” said Albert.
“Because I’ve got a new security for the whole amount myself.”
Edwin glanced at his wife and his resentful eyes said: “There you are! All through your infernal hurry and cheek Maggie’s going to lose eighteen hundred pounds in a rotten investment. I told you Albert would get hold of that money if he heard of it. And just look!”
At this point Albert, who knew fairly well how to draw an advantage from his brother-in-law’s characteristic weaknesses, perceived suddenly the value of an immediate departure. And amid loud enquiries of all sorts from Clara, and magnificent generalities from Albert, and gloomy, stiff salutations from uncomfortable Bert, the visit closed.
But destiny lay in wait at the corner of the street for Albert Benbow’s pride. Precisely as the Benbows were issuing from the portico, the front-door being already closed upon them, the second Swetnam son came swinging down Trafalgar Road. He stopped, raising his hat.
“Hallo, Mr. Benbow,” he said. “You’ve heard the news, I suppose?”
“Missing word competitions.”
It is a fact that Albert paled.
“Injunction in the High Court this morning. All the money’s impounded, pending a hearing as to whether the competitions are illegal or not. At the very least half of it will go in costs. It’s all over with missing words.”
“Who told you?”
“I’ve had a wire to stop me from sending in for next week’s.”
Albert Benbow gave an oath. His wife ought surely to have been horrorstruck by the word; but she did not blench. Flushing and scowling she said:
“What a shame! We’ve sent ours in.”
The faithful creature had for days past at odd moments been assisting her husband in the dictionary and as a clerk. . . . And lo! at last, confirmation of those absurd but persistent rumours to the effect that certain busybodies meant if they could to stop missing word competitions on the ground that they were simply a crude appeal to the famous “gambling instincts” of mankind and especially of Englishmen!
Albert had rebutted the charge with virtuous warmth, insisting on the skill involved in word-choosing, and insisting also on the historical freedom of the institutions of his country. He maintained that it was inconceivable that any English court of justice should ever interfere with a pastime so innocent and so tonic for the tired brain. And though he had had secret fears, and had been disturbed and even hurt by the comments of a religious paper to which he subscribed, he would not waver from his courageous and sensible English attitude. Now the fearful blow had fallen, and Albert knew in his heart that it was heaven’s punishment for him. He turned to shut the gate after him, and noticed Bert. It appeared to him that in hearing the paternal oath, Bert had been guilty of a crime, or at least an indiscretion, and he at once began to make Bert suffer.
Meanwhile Swetnam had gone on, to spread the tale which was to bring indignation and affliction into tens of thousands of respectable homes.
Janet came softly and timidly into the drawing-room.
“They are gone?” she questioned. “I thought I heard the front-door.”
“Yes, thank goodness!” Hilda exclaimed candidly, disdaining the convention (which Edwin still had in respect) that a weakness in family ties should never be referred to, beyond the confines of the family, save in urbane terms of dignity and regret excusing so far as possible the sinner. But in this instance the immense ineptitude of the Benbows had so affected Edwin that, while objecting to his wife’s outbreak, he could not help giving a guffaw which supported it. And all the time he kept thinking to himself:
“Imagine that d —— d pietistic rascal dragging the miserable shrimp up here to apologise to George!”
He was ashamed, not merely of his relatives, but somehow of all humanity. He could scarcely look even a chair in the face. The Benbows had left behind them desolation, and this desolation affected everything, and could be tasted on the tongue. Janet of course instantly noticed it, and felt that she ought not to witness the shaming of her friends. Moreover, her existence now was chiefly an apology for itself.
“I really think I ought to go back and see about a meal for Johnnie in case he turns up.”
“Nonsense!” said Hilda, sharply. “With three servants in the house, I suppose Johnnie won’t starve! Now just sit down. Sit down!” Her tone softened. “My dear, you’re worse than a child. . . . Tell Edwin.” She put a cushion behind Janet in the easy chair. And the gesture made Janet’s eyes humid once more.
Edwin had the exciting, disquieting, vitalising sensation of being shut up in an atmosphere of women. Not two women, but two thousand, seemed to hem him in with their incalculable impulses, standards, inspirations.
“Janet wants to consult you,” Hilda added; and even Hilda appeared to regard him as a strong saviour.
“After all, then, I’m not the born idiot she’d like to make out. Now we’re getting at her real opinion of me!”
“It’s only about father’s estate,” said Janet.
“Why? Hasn’t he made a will?”
“Oh yes! He made a will over thirty years ago. He left everything to mother and made her sole executor or whatever you call it. Just like him, wasn’t it? . . . D’you know that he and mother never had a quarrel, nor anything near a quarrel?”
“Well,” Edwin, nodding appreciatively, answered with an informed masculine air. “The law provides for all that. Tom will know. Did your mother make a will?”
“No. Dear thing! She would never have dreamt of it.”
“Then letters of administration will have to be taken out,” said Edwin.
Janet began afresh:
“Father was talking of making a new will two or three months ago. He mentioned it to Tom. He said he should like you to be one of the executors. He said he would sooner have you for an executor than anybody.”
An intense satisfaction permeated Edwin, that he should have been desired as an executor by such an important man as Osmond Orgreave. He felt as though he were receiving compensation for uncounted detractions.
“Really?” said he. “I expect Tom will take out letters of administration, or Tom and Johnnie together; they’ll make better executors than I should.”
“It doesn’t seem to make much difference who looks after it and who doesn’t,” Hilda sharply interrupted. “When there’s nothing to look after.”
“Nothing to look after?” Edwin repeated.
“Nothing to look after!” said Hilda in a firm and clear tone. “According to what Janet says.”
“But surely there must be something!”
Janet answered mildly:
“I’m afraid there isn’t much.”
It was Hilda who told the tale. The freehold of Lane End House belonged to the estate, but there were first and second mortgages on it, and had been for years. Debts had always beleaguered the Orgreave family. A year ago money had apparently been fairly plentiful, but a great deal had been spent on refurnishing. Jimmie had had money, in connection with his sinister marriage; Charlie had had money in connection with his practice, and Tom had enticed Mr. Orgreave into the Palace Porcelain Company. Mr. Orgreave had given a guarantee to the Bank for an overdraft, in exchange for debentures and shares in that company. The debentures were worthless, and therefore the shares also, and the bank had already given notice under the guarantee. There was an insurance policy — one poor little insurance policy for a thousand pounds — whose capital well invested might produce an income of twelve or fifteen shillings a week; but even that policy was lodged as security for an overdraft on one of Osmond’s several private banking accounts. There were many debts, small to middling. The value of the Orgreave architectural connection was excessively dubious — so much of it had depended upon Osmond Orgreave himself. The estate might prove barely solvent; on the other hand it might prove insolvent; so Johnnie, who had had it from Tom, had told Janet that day, and Janet had told Hilda.
“Your father was let in for the Palace Porcelain Company?” Edwin breathed, with incredulous emphasis on the initial p’s. “What on earth was Tom thinking of?”
“That’s what Johnnie wants to know,” said Janet. “Johnnie was very angry. They’ve had some words about it.”
Except for the matter of the Palace Porcelain Company, Edwin was not surprised at the revelations, though he tried to be. The more closely he examined his attitude for years past to the Orgreave household structure, the more clearly he had to admit that a suspicion of secret financial rottenness had never long been absent from his mind — not even at the period of renewed profuseness, a year or two ago, when furniture-dealers, painters, and paperhangers had been enriched. His resentment against the deceased charming Osmond and also against the affectionate and blandly confident mother, was keen and cold. They had existed, morally, on Janet for many years; monopolised her, absorbed her, aged her, worn her out, done everything but finish her — and they had made no provision for her survival. In addition to being useless, she was defenceless, helpless, penniless, and old; and she shivered now that the warmth of her parents’ affection was withdrawn by death.
“You see,” said Janet. “Father was so transparently honest and generous.”
Edwin said nothing to this sincere outburst.
“Have you got any money at all, Janet?” asked Hilda.
“There’s a little household money, and by a miracle I’ve never spent the ten-pound note poor dad gave me on my last birthday.”
“Well,” said Edwin, sardonically imaging that ten-pound note as a sole defence for Janet against the world. “Of course Johnnie will have to allow you something out of the business — for one thing.”
“I’m sure he will, if he can,” Janet agreed. “But he says it’s going to be rather tight. He wants us to clear out of the house at once.”
“Take my advice and don’t do it,” said Edwin. “Until the house is let or sold it may as well be occupied by you as stand empty — better in fact, because you’ll look after it.”
“That’s right enough, anyway,” said Hilda, as if to imply that by a marvellous exception a man had for once in a while said something sensible.
“You needn’t use all the house,” Edwin proceeded. “You won’t want all the servants.”
“I wish you’d say a word to Johnnie,” breathed Janet.
“I’ll say a word to Johnnie, all right,” Edwin answered loudly. “But it seems to me it’s Tom that wants talking to. I can’t imagine what he was doing to let your father in for that Palace Porcelain business. It beats me.”
Janet quietly protested:
“I feel sure he thought it was all right.”
“Oh, of course!” said Hilda, bitterly. “Of course! They always do think it’s all right. And here’s my husband just going into one of those big dangerous affairs, and he thinks it’s all right, and nothing I can say will stop him from going into it. And he’ll keep on thinking it’s all right until it’s all wrong and we’re ruined, and perhaps me left a widow with George.” Her lowered eyes blazed at the carpet.
Janet, troubled, glanced from one to the other, and then, with all the tremendous unconscious persuasive force of her victimhood and her mourning, murmured gently to Edwin:
“Oh! Don’t run any risks! Don’t run any risks!”
Edwin was staggered by the swift turn of the conversation. Two thousand women hemmed him in more closely than ever. He could do nothing against them except exercise an obstinacy which might be esteemed as merely brutal. They were not accessible to argument — Hilda especially. Argument would be received as an outrage. It would be impossible to convince Hilda that she had taken a mean and disgraceful advantage of him, and that he had every right to resent her behaviour. She was righteousness and injuredness personified. She partook, in that moment, of the victimhood of Janet. And she baffled him.
He bit his lower lip.
“All that’s not the business before the meeting,” he said as lightly as he could. “D’you think if I stepped down now I should catch Johnnie at the office?”
And all the time, while his heart hardened against Hilda, he kept thinking:
“Suppose I did come to smash!”
Janet had put a fear in his mind, Janet who in her wistfulness and her desolating ruin seemed to be like only a little pile of dust — all that remained of the magnificent social structure of a united and numerous Orgreave family.
Edwin met Tertius Ingpen in the centre of the town outside the offices of Orgreave and Sons, amid the commotion caused by the return of uplifted spectators from a football match in which the team curiously known to the sporting world as “Bursley Moorthorne” had scored a broken leg and two goals to nil.
“Hello!” Ingpen greeted him. “I was thinking of looking in at your place to-night.”
“Do!” said Edwin. “Come up with me now.”
“Can’t! . . . Why do these ghastly louts try to walk over you as if they didn’t see you?” Then in another tone, very quietly, and nodding in the direction of the Orgreave offices: “Been in there? . . . What a week, eh! . . . How are things?”
“Bad,” Edwin answered. “In a word, bad!”
Ingpen lifted his eyebrows.
They turned away out of the crowd, up towards the tranquillity of the Turnhill Road. They were manifestly glad to see each other. Edwin had had a satisfactory interview with Johnnie Orgreave — satisfactory in the sense that Johnnie had admitted the wisdom of all that Edwin said and promised to act on it.
“I’ve just been talking to young Johnnie for his own good,” said Edwin.
And in a moment, with eagerness, with that strange deep satisfaction felt by the carrier of disastrous tidings, he told Ingpen all that he knew of the plight of Janet Orgreave.
“If you ask me,” said he, “I think it’s infamous.”
“Infamous,” Ingpen repeated the word savagely. “There’s no word for it. What’ll she do?”
“Well, I suppose she’ll have to live with Johnnie.”
“And where will Mrs. Chris come in, then?” Ingpen asked in a murmur.
“Mrs. Chris Hamson?” exclaimed Edwin startled. “Oh! Is that affair still on the carpet? . . . Cheerful outlook!”
Ingpen pulled his beard.
“Anyhow,” said he, “Johnnie’s the most reliable of the crew. Charlie’s the most agreeable, but Johnnie’s the most reliable. I wouldn’t like to count much on Tom, and as for Jimmie, well of course ——!”
“I always look on Johnnie as a kid. Can’t help it.”
“There’s no law against that, so long as you don’t go and blub it out to Mrs. Chris,” Ingpen laughed.
“I don’t know her.”
“You ought to know her. She’s an education, my boy.”
“I’ve been having a fair amount of education lately,” said Edwin. “Only this afternoon I was practically told that I ought to give up the idea of my new works because it has risks and the Palace Porcelain Co. was risky and Janet hasn’t a cent. See the point?”
He was obliged to talk about the affair, because it was heavily on his mind. A week earlier he had persuaded himself that the success of a marriage depended chiefly on the tone employed to each other by the contracting parties. But in the disturbing scene of the afternoon, his tone had come near perfection, and yet marriage presented itself as even more stupendously difficult than ever. Ingpen’s answering words salved and strengthened him. The sensation of being comprehended was delicious. Intimacy progressed.
“I say,” said Edwin, as they parted. “You’d better not know anything about all this when you come to-night.”
“Right you are, my boy.”
Their friendship seemed once more to be suddenly and surprisingly intensified.
When Edwin returned, Janet had vanished again. Like an animal which fears the hunt and whose shyness nothing can cure, she had fled to cover at the first chance. According to Hilda she had run home because it had occurred to her that she must go through her mother’s wardrobe and chest of drawers without a moment’s delay.
Edwin’s account to his wife of the interview with Johnnie Orgreave was given on a note justifiably triumphant. In brief he had “talked sense” to Johnnie, and Johnnie had been convicted and convinced. Hilda listened with respectful propriety. Edwin said nothing as to his encounter with Tertius Ingpen, partly from prudence and partly from timidity. When Ingpen arrived at the house, much earlier than he might have been expected to arrive, Edwin was upstairs, and on descending he found his wife and his friend chatting in low and intimate voices close together in the drawing-room. The gas had been lighted.
“Here’s Mr. Ingpen,” said Hilda, announcing a surprise.
“How do, Ingpen?”
“How do, Ed?”
Ingpen did not rise. Nor did they shake hands, but in the Five Towns friends who have reached a certain degree of intimacy proudly omit the ceremony of handshaking when they meet. It was therefore impossible for Hilda to divine that Edwin and Tertius had previously met that day, and apparently Ingpen had not divulged the fact. Edwin felt like a plotter.
The conversation of course never went far away from the subject of the Orgreaves — and Janet in particular. Ingpen’s indignation at the negligence which had left Janet in the lurch was more than warm enough to satisfy Hilda, whose grievance against the wicked carelessness of heads of families in general seemed to be approaching expression again. At length she said:
“It’s enough to make every woman think seriously of where she’d be-if anything happened.”
Ingpen smiled teasingly.
“Now you’re getting personal.”
“And what if I am? With my headstrong husband going in for all sorts of schemes!” Hilda’s voice was extraordinarily clear and defiant.
Edwin nervously rose.
“I’ll just get some cigarettes,” he mumbled.
Hilda and Ingpen scarcely gave him any attention. Already they were exciting themselves. Although he knew that the supply of cigarettes was in the dining-room, he toured half the house before going there; and then lit the gas and with strange deliberation drew the blinds; next he rang the bell for matches, and, having obtained them, lit a cigarette.
When he reentered the drawing-room, Ingpen was saying with terrific conviction:
“You’re quite wrong, as I’ve told you before. It’s your instinct that’s wrong, not your head. Women will do anything to satisfy their instincts, simply anything. They’ll ruin your life in order to satisfy their instincts. Yes, even when they know jolly well their instincts are wrong!”
“Well, if these two mean to have a row, it’s no affair of mine.”
But Hilda, seemingly overfaced, used a very moderate tone to retort:
“You’re very outspoken.”
Tertius Ingpen answered firmly:
“I’m only saying aloud what every man thinks. . . . Mind — every man.”
“And how comes it that you know so much about women?”
“I’ll tell you sometime,” said Ingpen, shortly, and then smiled again.
Edwin, advancing, murmured:
“Here. Have a cigarette.”
A few moments later Ingpen was sketching out a Beethoven symphony unaided on the piano, and holding his head back to keep the cigarette-smoke out of his eyes.
When the hour struck for which Hilda had promised a sandwich supper Edwin and Tertius Ingpen were alone in the drawing-room, and Ingpen was again at the piano, apparently absorbed in harmonic inventions of his own. No further word had been said upon the subject of the discussion between Ingpen and Hilda. On the whole, despite the reserve of Hilda’s demeanour, Edwin considered that marriage at the moment was fairly successful, and the stream of existence running in his favour. At five minutes after the hour, restless, he got up and said:
“I’d better be seeing what’s happened to that supper.”
Ingpen nodded, as in a dream.
Edwin glanced into the dining-room, where the complete supper was waiting in illuminated silence and solitude. Then he went to the boudoir. There, the two candlesticks from the mantelpiece had been put side by side on the desk, and the candles lit the figures of Hilda and her son. Hilda, kneeling, held a stamped and addressed letter in her hand, the boy was bent over the desk at his drawing, which his mother regarded. Edwin in his heart affectionately derided them for employing candles when the gas would have been so much more effective; he thought that the use of candles was “just like” one of Hilda’s unforeseeable caprices. But in spite of his secret derision he was strangely affected by the group as revealed by the wavering candle-flames in the general darkness of the room. He seldom saw Hilda and George together; neither of them was very expansive; and certainly he had never seen Hilda kneeling by her son’s side since a night at the Orgreaves’ before her marriage, when George lay in bed unconscious and his spirit hesitated between earth and heaven. He knew that Hilda’s love for George had in it something of the savage, but, lacking demonstrations of it, he had been apt to forget its importance in the phenomena of their united existence. Kneeling by her son, Hilda had the look of a girl, and the ingenuousness of her posture touched Edwin. The idea shot through his brain like a star, that life was a marvellous thing.
As the door had been ajar, they scarcely heard him come in. George turned first.
And then Ada was standing at the door.
“Oh! Ada! Just run across with this letter to the pillar, will you?”
“You’ve missed the post, you know,” said Edwin.
Hilda got up slowly.
“It doesn’t matter. Only I want it to be in the post.”
As she gave the letter to Ada he speculated idly as to the address of the letter, and why she wanted it to be in the post. Anyhow, it was characteristic of her to want the thing to be in the post. She would delay writing a letter for days, and then, having written it, be “on pins” until it was safely taken out of the house; and even when the messenger returned she would ask: “Did you put that letter in the post?”
Ada had gone.
“What’s he drawing, this kid?” asked Edwin, genially.
Nobody answered. Standing between his wife and the boy he looked at the paper. The first thing he noticed was some lettering, achieved in an imitation of architect’s lettering: “Plan for proposed new printing-works to be erected by Edwin Clayhanger, Esq., upon land at Shawport. George Edwin Clayhanger, architect.” And on other parts of the paper, “Ground-floor plan” and “Elevation.” The plan at a distance resembled the work of a real architect. Only when closely examined did it reveal itself as a piece of boyish mimicry. The elevation was not finished. . . . It was upon this that, with intervals caused by the necessity of escaping from bores, George had been labouring all day. And here was exposed the secret and the result of his chumminess with Johnnie Orgreave. Yet the boy had never said a word to Edwin in explanation of that chumminess; nor had Johnnie himself.
“He’s been telling me he’s going to be an architect,” said Hilda.
“Is this plan a copy of Johnnie’s, or is it his own scheme?” asked Edwin.
“Oh, his own!” Hilda answered, with a rapidity and an earnestness which disclosed all her concealed pride in the boy.
Edwin was thrilled. He pored over the plan, making remarks and putting queries, in a dull matter-of-fact tone; but he was so thrilled that he scarcely knew what he was saying or understood the replies to his questions. It seemed to him wondrous, miraculous, overwhelming, that his own disappointed ambition to be an architect should have reflowered in his wife’s child who was not his child. He was reconciled to being a printer, and indeed rather liked being a printer, but now all his career presented itself to him as a martyrisation. And he passionately swore that such a martyrisation should not happen to George. George’s ambition should be nourished and forwarded as no boyish ambition had ever been nourished and forwarded before. For a moment he had a genuine conviction that George must be a genius.
Hilda, behind the back of proud, silent George, pulled Edwin’s face to hers and kissed it. And as she kissed she gazed at Edwin and her eyes seemed to be saying: “Have your works; I have yielded. Perhaps it is George’s plan that has made me yield, but anyhow I am strong enough to yield. And my strength remains.”
And Edwin thought: “This woman is unique. What other woman could have done that in just that way?” And in their embrace, intensifying and complicating its significance, were mingled the sensations of their passion, his triumph, her surrender, the mysterious boy’s promise, and their grief for Janet’s tragedy.
“Old Ingpen’s waiting for his supper, you know,” said Edwin tenderly. “George, you must show that to Mr. Ingpen.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:47