Edwin, sitting behind a glazed door with the word “Private” elaborately patterned on the glass, heard through the open window of his own office the voices of the Benbow children and their mother in the street outside.
“Oh, Mother! What a big sign!”
“Yes. Isn’t Uncle Edwin a proud man to have such a big sign?”
“It wasn’t up yesterday.”
“L, i, t, h, o — —”
“My word, Rupy! You are getting on!”
“They’re such large letters, aren’t they, mother? . . . ‘Lithographic’ . . . ‘Lithographic printing. Edwin Clayhanger’.”
“Hsh! . . . Bert, how often do you want me to tell you about your shoe-lace?”
“I wonder if George has come.”
“Mother, can’t I ring the bell?”
All the children were there, with their screeching voices. Edwin wondered that Rupert should have been brought. Where was the sense of showing a three-year-old infant like Rupert over a printing-works? But Clara was always like that. The difficulty of leaving little Rupert alone at home did not present itself to the august uncle.
Edwin rose, locked a safe that was let into the wall of the room, and dropped the key into his pocket. The fact of the safe being let into the wall gave him as much simple pleasure as any detail of the new works; it was an idea of Johnnie Orgreave’s. He put a grey hat carelessly at the back of his head, and, hands in pockets, walked into the next and larger room, which was the clerks’ office.
Both these rooms had walls distempered in a green tint, and were fitted and desked in pitchpine. Their newness was stark, and yet in the clerks’ office the irrational habituating processes of time were already at work. On the painted iron mantelpiece lay a dusty white tile, brought as a sample long before the room was finished, and now without the slightest excuse for survival. Nevertheless the perfunctory cleaner lifted the tile on most mornings, dusted underneath it, and replaced it; and Edwin and his staff saw it scores of times daily and never challenged it, and gradually it was acquiring a prescriptive right to exist just where it did. And the day was distant when some inconvenient, reforming person would exclaim:
“What’s this old tile doing here?”
What Edwin did notice was that the walls and desks showed marks and even wounds; it seemed to him somehow wrong that the brand new could not remain forever brand new. He thought he would give a mild reproof or warning to the elder clerk, (once the shop-clerk in the ancient establishment at the corner of Duck Bank and Wedgwood Street) and then he thought: “What’s the use?” and only murmured:
“I’m not going off the works.”
And he passed out, with his still somewhat gawky gait, to the small entrance-hall of the works. On the outer face of the door, which he closed, was painted the word “Office.” He had meant to have the words “Counting–House” painted on that door, because they were romantic and fine-sounding; but when the moment came to give the order he had quaked before such romance; he was afraid as usual of being sentimental and of “showing off,” and with assumed satire had publicly said: “Some chaps would stick ‘Counting-house’ as large as life all across the door.” He now regretted his poltroonery. And he regretted sundry other failures in courage connected with the scheme of the works. The works existed, but it looked rather like other new buildings, and not very much like the edifice he had dreamed. It ought to have been grander, more complete, more dashingly expensive, more of an exemplar to the slattern district. He had been (he felt) unduly influenced by the local spirit for half-measures. And his life seemed to be a life of half-measures, a continual falling-short. Once he used to read studiously on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings. He seldom read now, and never with regularity. Scarcely a year ago he had formed a beautiful vague project of being “musical.” At Hilda’s instigation he had bought a book of musical criticism by Hubert Parry, and Hilda had swallowed it in three days, but he had begun it and not finished it. And the musical evenings, after feeble efforts to invigorate them, had fainted and then died on the miserable excuse that circumstances were not entirely favourable to them. And his marriage, so marvellous in its romance during the first days . . .!
Then either his commonsense or his self-respect curtly silenced these weak depreciations. He had wanted the woman and he had won her — he had taken her. There she was, living in his house, bearing his name, spending his money! The world could not get over that fact, and the carper in Edwin’s secret soul could not get over it either. He had said that he would have a new works, and, with all its faults and little cowardices, there the new works was! And moreover it had just been assessed for municipal rates at a monstrous figure. He had bought his house (and mortgaged it); he had been stoical to bad debts; he had sold securities — at rather less than they cost him; he had braved his redoubtable wife; and he had got his works! His will, and naught else, was the magic wand that had conjured it into existence.
The black and gold sign that surmounted its blue roofs could be seen from the top of Acre Lane and half way along Shawport Lane, proclaiming the progress of lithography and steam-printing, and the name of Edwin Clayhanger. Let the borough put that in its pipe and smoke it! He was well aware that the borough felt pride in his works. And he had orders more than sufficient to keep the enterprise handsomely going. Even in the Five Towns initiative seemed to receive its reward.
Life might be as profoundly unsatisfactory as you pleased, but there was zest in it.
The bell had rung. He opened the main door, and there stood Clara and her brood. And Edwin was the magnificent, wonderful uncle. The children entered, with maternal precautions and recommendations. Every child was clean and spruce: Bert clumsy, Clara minxlike, Amy heavy and benignant, Lucy the pretty little thing, and Rupert simply adorable — each representing a separate and considerable effort of watchful care. The mother came last, worn, still pretty, with a slight dragging movement of the limbs. In her glittering keen eyes were both envy and naïve admiration of her brother. “What a life!” thought Edwin, meaning what a narrow, stuffy, struggling, conventional, unlovely existence was the Benbows’! He and they lived in different worlds of intelligence. Nevertheless he savoured the surpassing charm of Rupert, the goodness of Amy, the floral elegance of Lucy, and he could appreciate the unending labours of that mother of theirs, malicious though she was. He was bluff and jolly with all of them. The new works being fairly close to the Benbow home, the family had often come en masse to witness its gradual mounting, regarding the excursions as a sort of picnic. And now that the imposing place was inaugurated and the signs up, Uncle Edwin had been asked to show them over it in a grand formal visit, and he had amiably consented.
“Has George come, Uncle Edwin?” asked Bert.
George had not come. A reconciliation had occurred between the cousins (though by no means at the time nor in the manner desired by Albert); they were indeed understood by the Benbows to be on the most touching terms of intimacy, which was very satisfactory to the righteousness of Albert and Clara; and George was to have been of the afternoon party; but he had not arrived. Edwin, knowing the unknowableness of George, suspected trouble.
“Machines! Machines!” piped tiny white-frocked Rupert, to whom wondrous tales had been told.
“You’ll see machines all right,” said Edwin promisingly. It was not his intention to proceed straight to the machine-room. He would never have admitted it, but his deliberate intention was to display the works dramatically, with the machine-room as a culmination. The truth was, the man was full of secret tricks, contradicting avuncular superior indifference. He was a mere boy — he was almost a school-girl.
He led them through a longish passage, and up steps and down steps — steps which were not yet hollowed, but which would be hollowed — into the stone-polishing shop, which was romantically obscure, with a specially dark corner where a little contraption was revolving all by itself in the process of smoothing a stone. Young Clara stared at the two workmen, while the rest stared at the contraption, and Edwin, feeling ridiculously like a lecturer, mumbled words of exposition. And then next, after climbing some steps, they were in a lofty apartment with a glass roof, sunshine-drenched and tropical. Here lived two more men, including Karl the German, bent in perspiration over desks, and laboriously drawing. Round about were coloured designs, and stones covered with pencilling, and boards, and all sorts of sheets of paper and cardboard.
“Ooh!” murmured Bert, much impressed by the meticulous cross-hatching of Karl’s pencil on a stone.
And Edwin said:
“This is the drawing-office.”
“Oh yes!” murmured Clara vaguely. “It’s very warm, isn’t it?”
None of them except Bert was interested. They gazed about dully, uncomprehendingly, absolutely incurious.
“Machines!” Rupert urged again.
“Come on, then,” said Edwin going out with assumed briskness and gaiety.
At the door stood Tertius Ingpen, preoccupied and alert, with all the mien of a factory inspector in full activity.
“Don’t mind me,” said Ingpen, “I can look after myself. In fact I prefer to.”
At the sight of an important stranger speaking familiarly to Uncle Edwin, all the children save Rupert grew stiff, dismal and apprehensive, and Clara looked about as though she had suddenly discovered very interesting phenomena in the corners of the workshop.
“My sister, Mrs. Benbow — Mr. Ingpen. Mr. Ingpen is Her Majesty’s Inspector of Factories, so we must mind what we’re about,” said Edwin.
Clara gave a bright, quick smile as she limply shook hands. The sinister enchantment which precedes social introduction was broken. And Clara, overcome by the extraordinary chivalry and deference of Ingpen’s customary greeting to women, decided that he was a particularly polite man; but she reserved her general judgment on him, having several times heard Albert inveigh against the autocratic unreasonableness of this very inspector, who, according to Albert, forgot that even an employer had to live, and that that which handicapped the employer could not possibly help the workman —“in the long run.”
“Machines!” Rupert insisted.
They all laughed; the other children laughed suddenly and imitatively, and an instant later than the elders; and Tertius Ingpen, as he grasped the full purport of the remark, laughed more than anyone. He turned sideways and bent slightly in order to give vent to his laughter, which, at first noiseless and imprisoned, gradually grew loud in freedom. When he had recovered, he said thoughtfully, stroking his soft beard:
“Now it would be very interesting to know exactly what that child understands by ‘machines’— what his mental picture of them is. Very interesting! Has he ever seen any?”
“No,” said Clara.
“Ah! That makes it all the more interesting,” Ingpen added roguishly: “I suppose you think you do know, Mrs. Benbow?”
Clara smiled the self-protective, non-committal smile of one who is not certain of having seen the point.
“It’s very hot in here, Edwin,” she said, glancing at the door. The family filed out, shepherded by Edwin.
“I’ll be back in a sec,” said he to Clara, on the stairs, and returned to the drawing-office.
Ingpen was in apparently close conversation with Karl.
“Yes,” murmured Ingpen, thoughtfully tapping his teeth. “The whole process is practically a contest between grease and water on the stone.”
“Yes,” said Karl gruffly, but with respect.
And Edwin could almost see the tentacles of Ingpen’s mind feeling and tightening round a new subject of knowledge, and greedily possessing it. What a contrast to the vacuous indifference of Clara, who was so narrowed by specialisation that she could never apply her brain to anything except the welfare and the aggrandizement of her family! He dwelt sardonically upon the terrible results of family life on the individual, and dreamed of splendid freedoms.
“Mr. Clayhanger,” said Ingpen, in his official manner, turning.
The two withdrew to the door. Invisible, at the foot of the stairs, could be heard the family, existing.
“Haven’t seen much of lithography, eh?” said Edwin, in a voice discreetly restrained.
Ingpen, ignoring the question, murmured:
“I say, you know this place is much too hot.”
“Well,” said Edwin. “What do you expect in August?”
“But what’s the object of all that glass roof?”
“I wanted to give ’em plenty of light. At the old shop they hadn’t enough, and Karl, the Teuton there, was always grumbling.”
“Why didn’t you have some ventilation in the roof?”
“We did think of it. But Johnnie Orgreave said if we did we should never be able to keep it watertight.”
“It certainly isn’t right as it is,” said Ingpen. “And our experience is that these skylighted rooms that are too hot in summer are too cold in winter. How should you like to have your private office in here?”
“Oh!” protested Edwin. “It isn’t so bad as all that.”
Ingpen said quietly:
“I should suggest you think it over — I mean the ventilation.”
“But you don’t mean to say that this shop here doesn’t comply with your confounded rules?”
“That may or may not be. But we’re entitled to make recommendations in any case, and I should like you to think this over, if you don’t mind. I haven’t any thermometer with me, but I lay it’s ninety degrees here, if not more.” In Ingpen’s urbane, reasonable tone there was just a hint of the potential might of the whole organised kingdom.
“All serene,” said Edwin, rather ashamed of the temperature after all, and loyally responsive to Ingpen’s evident sense of duty, which somehow surprised him; he had not chanced, before, to meet Ingpen at work; earthenware manufactories were inspected once a quarter, but other factories only once a year. The thought of the ameliorating influence that Ingpen must obviously be exerting all day and every day somewhat clashed with and overset his bitter scepticism concerning the real value of departmental administrative government — a scepticism based less upon experience than upon the persuasive tirades of democratic apostles.
They walked slowly towards the stairs, and Ingpen scribbled in a notebook.
“You seem to take your job seriously,” said Edwin, teasing.
“While I’m at it. Did you imagine that I’d dropped into a sinecure? Considering that I have to keep an eye on three hundred and fifty potbanks, over a thousand other factories, and over two thousand workshops of sorts, my boy . . .! And you should see some of ’em. And you should listen to the excuses.”
“No wonder,” thought Edwin, “he hasn’t told me what a fine and large factory mine is! . . . Still, he might have said something, all the same. Perhaps he will.”
When, after visiting the composing-room, and glancing from afar at the engine-house, the sight-seeing party reached the machine-room, Rupert was so affected by the tremendous din and the confusing whir of huge machinery in motion that he began to cry, and, seizing his mother’s hand, pressed himself hard against her skirt. The realisation of his ambition had overwhelmed him. Amy protectingly took Lucy’s hand. Bert and Clara succeeded in being very casual.
In the great lofty room there were five large or fairly large machines, and a number of small ones. The latter had chiefly to do with envelope and bill-head printing and with bookbinding, and only two of them were in use. Of the large machines, three were functioning — the cylinder printing-machine which had been the pride of Edwin’s father, the historic “old machine,” also his father’s, which had been so called ever since Edwin could remember and which was ageless, and Edwin’s latest and most expensive purchase, the “Smithers” litho-printer. It was on the guarded flank of the Smithers, close to the roller-racks, that Edwin halted his convoy. The rest of the immense shop with its complex masses of metal revolving, sliding, or paralysed, its shabby figures of men, boys, and girls shifting mysteriously about, its smell of iron, grease, and humanity, and its fearful racket, was a mere background for the Smithers in its moving might.
The Smithers rose high above the spectators, and at one end of it, higher even than the top parts of the machine, was perched a dirty, frowsy, pretty girl. With a sweeping gesture of her bare arms this girl took a wide sheet of blank paper from a pile of sheets, and lodged it on the receiving rack, whereupon it was whirled off, caught into the clutches of the machine, turned, reversed, hidden away from sight among revolving rollers red and black, and finally thrust out at the other end of the machine, where it was picked up by a dirty, frowsy girl, not pretty, smaller and younger than the high-perched creature, indeed scarcely bigger than Amy. And now on the sheet was printed four times in red the words “Knype Mineral Water Mnfg. Co. Best and cheapest. Trademark.” Clara screeched a question about the trademark, which was so far invisible. Edwin made a sign to the lower dirty, frowsy girl, who respectfully but with extreme rapidity handed him a sheet as it came off the machine, and he shouted through the roar in explanation that the trademark, a soda-water syphon in blue, would be printed on the same sheet later from another stone, and the sheets cut into fours, each quarter making a complete poster. “I thought it must be like that,” replied Clara superiorly. From childhood she had been well accustomed to printing processes, and it was not her intention to be perplexed by “this lithography.” Edwin made a gesture to hand back the sheet to the machine-girl, but the machine would not pause to allow her to take it. She was the slave of the machine; so long as it functioned, every second of her existence was monopolised, and no variation of conduct permissible. The same law applied to the older girl up near the ceiling. He put the sheet in its place himself, and noticed that to do so required appreciable care and application of the manipulative faculty.
These girls, and the other girls at their greasy task in the great shaking interior which he had created, vaguely worried him. Exactly similar girls were employed in thousands on the pot-banks, and had once been employed also at the pit-heads and even in the pits; but until lately he had not employed girls, nor had his father ever employed girls; and these girls so close to him, so dependent on him, so submissive, so subjugated, so soiled, so vulgar, whose wages would scarcely have kept his wife in boots and gloves, gave rise to strange and disturbing sensations in his heart — not merely in regard to themselves, but in regard to the whole of the workpeople. A question obscure and lancinating struck upwards through his industrial triumph and through his importance in the world, a question scarcely articulate, but which seemed to form itself into the words: Is it right?
“Is what right?” his father would have snapped at him. “Is what right?” would have respectfully demanded Big James, who had now sidled grandiosely to the Smithers, and was fussing among the rollers in the rack. Neither of them would have been capable of comprehending his trouble. To his father an employee was an employee, to be hired as cheaply as possible, and to be exploited as completely as possible. And the attitude of Big James towards the underlings was precisely that of his deceased master. They would not be unduly harsh, they would often be benevolent, but the existence of any problem, and especially any fundamental problem, beyond the direct inter-relation of wages and work could not conceivably have occurred to them. After about three quarters of a century of taboo trade-unions had now for a dozen years ceased to be regarded as associations of anarchistic criminals. Big James was cautiously in favor of trade-unions, and old Darius Clayhanger in late life had not been a quite uncompromising opponent of them. As for Edwin, he had always in secret sympathised with them, and the trade-unionists whom he employed had no grievance against him. Yet this unanswerable, persistent question would pierce the complacency of Edwin’s prosperity. It seemed to operate in a sort of fourth dimension; few even amongst trade-unionists themselves would have reacted to it. But Edwin lived with it more and more. He was indeed getting used to it. Though he could not answer it, he could parry it, thanks to scientific ideas obtained from Darwin and Spencer, by the reflection that both he and his serfs, whatever their sex, were the almost blind agencies of a vast process of evolution. And this he did, exulting with pride sometimes in the sheer adventure of the affair, and sharing his thoughts with none. . . . Strange that once, and not so many years ago either, he had been tempted to sell the business and live inert and ignobly secure on the interest of invested moneys! But even today he felt sudden fears of responsibility; they came and went.
The visitors, having wandered to and fro, staring, trailed out of the machine-room, led by Edwin. A wide door swung behind them, and they were in the abrupt, startling peace of another corridor. Clara wiped Rupert’s eyes, and he smiled, like a blossom after a storm. The mother and the uncle exchanged awkward glances. They had nothing whatever to say to each other. Edwin could seldom think of anything that he really wanted to say to Clara. The children were very hot and weary of wonders.
“Well,” said Clara, “I suppose we’d better be moving on now.” She had somewhat the air of a draught-animal about to resume the immense labour of dragging a train. “It’s very queer about George. He was to have come with us for tea.”
“Oh! Was he?”
“Of course he was,” Clara replied sharply. “It was most distinctly arranged.”
At this moment Tertius Ingpen and Hilda appeared together at the other end of the corridor. Hilda’s unsmiling face seemed enigmatic. Ingpen was talking with vivacity.
Edwin thought apprehensively:
“What’s up now? What’s she doing here, and not George?”
And when the sisters-in-law, so strangely contrasting, shook hands, he thought:
“Is it possible that Albert looks on his wife as something unpredictable? Do those two also have moods, and altercations and antagonisms? Are they always preoccupied about what they are thinking of each other? No! It’s impossible. Their life must be simply fiendishly monotonous.” And Clara’s inferiority before the erect, flashing individuality of Hilda appeared to him despicable. Hilda bent and kissed Rupert, Lucy, Amy and young Clara, as it were with passion. She was marvellous as she bent over Rupert. She scarcely looked at Edwin. Ingpen stood aside.
“I’m very sorry,” said Hilda perfunctorily. “I had to send George on an errand to Hanbridge at the last moment.”
Nothing more! No genuine sign of regret! Edwin blamed her severely. “Send George on an errand to Hanbridge!” That was Hilda all over! Why the devil should she go out of her way to make unpleasantness with Clara? She knew quite well what kind of a woman Clara was, and that the whole of Clara’s existence was made up of domestic trifles, each of which was enormous for her.
“Will he be down to tea?” asked Clara.
“I doubt it.”
“Well . . . another day, then.”
Clara, gathering her offspring, took leave at a door in the corridor which gave on to the yard. Mindful to the last of Mr. Ingpen’s presence (which Hilda apparently now ignored), she smiled sweetly as she went. But behind the smile, Edwin with regret, and Hilda with satisfaction, could perceive her everlasting grudge against their superior splendour. Even had they sunk to indigence Clara could never have forgiven Edwin for having towards the end of their father’s life prevented Albert from wheedling a thousand pounds out of old Darius, nor Hilda for her occasional pricking, unanswerable sarcasms. . . . Still, Rupert, descending two titanic steps into the yard, clung to his mother as to an angel.
“And what errand to Hanbridge?” Edwin asked himself mistrustfully.
Scarcely a minute later, when Edwin, with Hilda and Ingpen, was back at the door of the machine-room, the office boy could be seen voyaging between roaring machines across the room towards his employer. The office boy made a sign of appeal, and Edwin answered with a curt sign that the office boy was to wait.
“What’s that ye say?” Edwin yelled in Ingpen’s ear.
Ingpen laughed, and made a trumpet with his hands:
“I was only wondering what your weekly running expenses are.”
Even Ingpen was surprised and impressed by the scene, and Edwin was pleased now, after the flatness of Clara’s inspection, that he had specially arranged for two of the machines to be running which strictly need not have been running that afternoon. He had planned a spectacular effect, and it had found a good public.
“Ah!” He hesitated, in reply to Ingpen. Then he saw Hilda’s face, and his face showed confusion and he smiled awkwardly.
Hilda had caught Ingpen’s question. She said nothing. Her expressive, sarcastic, unappeasable features seemed to say: “Running expenses! Don’t mention them. Can’t you see they must be enormous? How can he possibly make this place pay? It’s a gigantic folly — and what will be the end of it?”
After all, her secret attitude towards the new enterprise was unchanged. Arguments, facts, figures, persuasions, brutalities had been equally and totally ineffective. And Edwin thought:
“She is the bitterest enemy I have.”
“I like that girl up there on the top of that machine. And doesn’t she just know where she is! What a movement of the arms, eh?”
Edwin nodded, appreciative, and then beckoned to the office boy.
“What is it?”
“Please, Sir, Mrs. ‘Amps in the office to see you.”
“All right,” he bawled, casually. But in reality he was taken aback. “It’s Auntie Hamps now!” he said to the other two. “We shall soon have all Bursley here this afternoon.”
Hilda raised her eyebrows.
“D’you know ‘Auntie Hamps’?” she grimly asked Ingpen. Her voice, though she scarcely raised it, was plainer than the men’s when they shouted. As Ingpen shook his head, she added: “You ought to.”
Edwin did not altogether care for this public ridicule of a member of the family. Auntie Hamps, though possibly a monster, had her qualities. Hilda, assuming the lead, beckoned with a lift of the head. And Edwin did not care for that either, on his works. Ingpen followed Hilda as though to a menagerie.
Auntie Hamps, in her black attire, which by virtue of its changeless style amounted to a historic uniform, was magnificent in the private office. The three found her standing in wait, tingling with vitality and importance and eagerness. She watched carefully that Edwin shut the door, and kept her eye not only on the door but also on the open window. She received the presentation of Mr. Tertius Ingpen with grandeur and with high cordiality, and she could appreciate even better than Clara the polished fealty of his greeting.
“Sit down, Auntie.”
“No, I won’t sit down. I thought Clara was here. I told her I might come if I could spare a moment. I must say, Edwin”— she looked around the small office, and seemed to be looking round the whole works in a superb glance —“you make me proud of you. You make me proud to be your Auntie.”
“Well,” said Edwin, “you can be proud sitting down.”
She smiled. “No, I won’t sit down. I only just popped in to catch Clara. I was going to tea with her and the chicks.” Then she lowered her voice: “I suppose you’ve heard about Mr. John Orgreave?” Her tone proved, however, that she supposed nothing of the kind.
“No. What about Johnnie?”
“He’s run away with Mrs. Chris Hamson.”
Her triumph was complete. It was perhaps one of her last triumphs, but it counted among the greatest of her career as a watchdog of society.
The thing was a major event, and the report was convincing. Useless to protest “Never!” “Surely not!” “It can’t be true!” It carried truth on its face. Useless to demand sternly: “Who told you?” The news had reached Auntie Hamps through a curious channel — the stationmaster at Latchett. Heaven alone could say how Auntie Hamps came to have relations with the stationmaster at Latchett. But you might be sure that, if an elopement was to take place from Latchett station, Auntie Hamps would by an instinctive prescience have had relations with the station-master for twenty years previously. Latchett was the next station, without the least importance, to Shawport on the line to Crewe. Johnnie Orgreave had got into the train at Shawport, and Mrs. Chris had joined it at Latchett, her house being near by. Once on the vast platforms of Crewe, the guilty couple would be safe from curiosity, lost in England, like needles in a haystack.
The Orgreave–Hamson flirtation had been afoot for over two years, but had only been seriously talked about for less than a year. Mrs. Chris did not “move” much in town circles. She was older than Johnnie, but she was one of your blonde, slim, unfruitful women, who under the shade of a suitable hat-brim are ageless. Mr. Chris was a heavy man, “glumpy” as they say down there, a moneymaker in pots, and great on the colonial markets. He made journeys to America and to Australia. His Australian journey occupied usually about four months. He was now on his way back from Sydney, and nearly home. Mrs. Chris had not long since inherited a moderate fortune. It must have been the fortune, rendering them independent, that had decided the tragic immoralists to abandon all for love. The time of the abandonment was fixed for them by circumstance, for it had to occur before the husband’s return.
Imagine the Orgreave business left in the hands of an incompetent irresponsible like Jimmie Orgreave! And then, what of that martyr, Janet? Janet and Johnnie had been keeping house together — a tiny house. And Janet had had to “have an operation.” Women, talking together, said exactly what the operation was, but the knowledge was not common. The phrase “have an operation” was enough in its dread. As a fact the operation, for calculus, was not very serious; it had perfectly succeeded, and Janet, whom Hilda had tenderly visited, was to emerge from the nursing home at Knype Vale within three days. Could not Johnnie and his Mrs. Chris have waited until she was reestablished? No, for the husband was unpreventibly approaching, and romantic love must not be baulked. Nothing could or should withstand romantic love. Janet had not even been duly warned; Hilda had seen her that very morning, and assuredly she knew nothing then. Perhaps Johnnie would write to her softly from some gay seaside resort where he and his leman were hiding their strong passion. The episode was shocking; it was ruinous. The pair could never return. Even Johnnie alone would never dare to return.
“He was a friend of yours, was he not?” asked Auntie Hamps in bland sorrow of Tertius Ingpen.
He was a friend, and a close friend, of all three of them. And not only had he outraged their feelings — he had shamed them, irretrievably lowered their prestige. They could not look Auntie Hamps in the face. But Auntie Hamps could look them in the face. And her glance, charged with grief and with satisfaction, said: “How are the mighty fallen, with their jaunty parade of irreligion, and their musical evenings on Sundays, with the windows open while folks are coming home from chapel!” And there could be no retort.
“Another good man ruined by women!” observed Tertius Ingpen, with a sigh, stroking his beard.
Hilda sprang up; and all her passionate sympathy for Janet, and her disappointment and disgust with Johnnie, the victim of desire, and her dissatisfaction with her husband and her hatred of Auntie Hamps, blazed forth and devastated the unwise Ingpen as she scathingly replied:
“Mr. Ingpen, that is a caddish thing to say!”
She despised convention; she was frankly and atrociously rude; and she did not care. Edwin blushed. Tertius Ingpen blushed.
“I’m sorry,” said Ingpen, keeping his temper. “I think I ought to have left a little earlier. Good-bye, Ed. Mrs. Hamps —” He bowed with extreme urbanity to the ladies, and departed.
Shortly afterwards Auntie Hamps also departed, saying that she must not be late for tea at dear Clara’s. She was secretly panting to disclose the whole situation to dear Clara. What a scene had Clara missed by leaving the works too soon!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05