The events of the portentous week-end which included the musical evening began early on the Saturday, and the first one was a chance word uttered by George.
Breakfast was nearly over in the Clayhanger dining-room. Hilda sat opposite to Edwin, and George between them. They had all eaten with appetite, and the disillusion which usually accompanies the satisfaction of desire was upon them. They had looked forward to breakfast, scenting with zest its pleasing odours, and breakfast was over, save perhaps for a final unnecessary piece of toast or half a cup of chilled coffee.
Hilda did not want to move, because she did not care for the Saturday morning task of shopping and revictualling and being bland with fellow-shoppers in the emporiums. The house-doors were too frequently open on Saturday mornings, and errand-boys thereat, and a wind blowing through the house, and it was the morning for specially cleaning the hall — detestable and damp operation — and servants seemed loose on Saturday morning, and dinner was apt to be late. But Hilda knew she would have to move. To postpone was only to aggravate. Destiny grasped her firm. George was not keen about moving, because he had no plan of campaign; the desolating prospect of resuming school on Monday had withered his energy; he was in a mood to be either a martyr or a villain. Edwin was lazily sardonic, partly because the leisure of breakfast was at an end, partly because he hated the wage-paying slackness of Saturday morning at the shop, and partly because his relations with Hilda had remained indefinite and disquieting, despite a thousand mutual urbanities and thoughtful refinements, and even some caresses. A sense of aimlessness dejected him; and in the central caves of his brain the question was mysteriously stirring: What is the use of all these things — success, dignity, importance, luxury, love, sensuality, order, moral superiority? He foresaw thirty years of breakfasts, with plenty of the finest home-cured bacon and fresh eggs, but no romance.
Before his marriage he used to read the paper honestly and rudely at breakfast. That is to say, he would prop it up squarely in front of him, hiding his sister Maggie, and anyhow ignoring her; and Maggie had to “like it or lump it”; she probably lumped it. But upon marriage he had become a chevalier; he had nobly decided that it was not correct to put a newspaper between yourself and a woman who had denied you nothing. Nevertheless, his appetite for newspapers being almost equal to his appetite for bacon, he would still take nips at the newspaper during breakfast, hold it in one hand, glance at it, drop it, pick it up, talk amiably while glancing at it, drop it, pick it up again. So long as the newspaper was held aside and did not touch the table, so long as he did not read more than ten lines at a time, he considered that punctilio was satisfied, and that he was not in fact reading the newspaper at all. But towards the end of breakfast, when the last food was disappearing, and he had lapped the cream off the news, he would hold the newspaper in both hands — and brazenly and conscientiously read. His chief interest, just then, was political. Like most members of his party, he was endeavouring to decipher the party programme and not succeeding, and he feared for his party and was a little ashamed for it. Grave events had occurred. The substructure of the state was rocking. A newly elected supporter of the Government, unaware that he was being admitted to the best club in London, had gone to the House of Commons in a tweed cap and preceded by a brass-band. Serious pillars of society knew that the time had come to invest their savings abroad. Edwin, with many another ardent liberal, was seeking to persuade himself that everything was all right after all. The domestic atmosphere — Hilda’s baffling face, the emptied table, the shadow of business, repletion, early symptoms of indigestion, the sound of a slop-pail in the hall — did not aid him to optimism. In brief the morning was a fair specimen of a kind of morning that seemed likely to be for him an average morning.
“Can’t I leave the table, mother?” asked George discontentedly.
George gave a coarse sound of glee.
“George! . . . That’s so unlike you!” his mother frowned.
Instead of going directly towards the door, he must needs pass right round the table, behind the chair of his occupied uncle. As he did so, he scanned the newspaper and read out loudly in passing for the benefit of the room:
“‘Local Divorce Case. Etches v. Etches. Painful details.’”
The words meant nothing to George. They had happened to catch his eye. He read them as he might have read an extract from the books of Euclid, and noisily and ostentatiously departed, not without a further protest from Hilda.
And Edwin and Hilda, left alone together, were self-conscious.
“Lively kid!” murmured Edwin self-consciously.
And Hilda, self-consciously:
“You never told me that case was on.”
“I didn’t know till I saw it here.”
“What’s the result?”
“Not finished. . . . Here you are, if you want to read it.”
He handed the sheet across the table. Despite his serious interest in politics he had read the report before anything else. Etches v. Etches, indeed, surpassed Gladstonian politics as an aid to the dubious prosperity of the very young morning newspaper, which represented the latest and most original attempt to challenge the journalistic monopoly of the afternoon Staffordshire Signal. It lived scarcely longer than the divorce case, for the proprietors, though Non-conformists and therefore astute, had failed to foresee that the Five Towns public would not wait for racing results until the next morning.
“Thanks,” Hilda amiably and negligently murmured.
Useless for Hilda to take that casual tone! Useless for Edwin to hum! The unconcealable thought in both their minds was — and each could divine the other’s thought and almost hear its vibration:
“We might end in the divorce court, too.”
Hence their self-consciousness.
The thought was absurd, irrational, indefensible, shocking, it had no father and no mother, it sprang out of naught; but it existed, and it had force enough to make them uncomfortable.
The Etches couple, belonging to the great, numerous, wealthy, and respectable family of Etches, had been married barely a year.
Edwin rose and glanced at his well-tended fingernails. The pleasant animation of his skin caused by the bath was still perceptible. He could feel it in his back, and it helped his conviction of virtue. He chose a cigarette out of his silver case — a good cigarette, a good case — and lit it, and waved the match into extinction, and puffed out much smoke, and regarded the correctness of the crease in his trousers (the vertical trouser-crease having recently been introduced into the district and insisted on by that tailor and artist and seeker after perfection, Shillitoe), and walked firmly to the door. But the self-consciousness remained.
Just as he reached the door, his wife, gazing at the newspaper, stopped him:
He did not move from the door, and she did not look up from the newspaper.
“Seen your friend Big James this morning?”
Edwin usually went down to business before breakfast, so that his conscience might be free for a leisurely meal at nine o’clock. Big James was the oldest employee in the business. Originally he had been foreman compositor, and was still technically so described, but in fact he was general manager and Edwin’s majestic vicegerent in all the printing-shops. “Ask Big James,” was the watchword of the whole organism.
“No,” said Edwin. “Why?”
“Oh, nothing! It doesn’t matter.”
Edwin had made certain resolutions about his temper, but it seemed to him that such a reply justified annoyance, and he therefore permitted himself to be annoyed, failing to see that serenity is a positive virtue only when there is justification for annoyance. The nincompoop had not even begun to perceive that what is called “right-living” means the acceptance of injustice and the excusing of the inexcusable.
“Now then,” he said, brusquely. “Out with it.” But there was still a trace of rough tolerance in his voice.
“No. It’s all right. I was wrong to mention it.”
Her admission of sin did not in the least placate him.
He advanced towards the table.
“You haven’t mentioned it,” he said stiffly.
Their eyes met, as Hilda’s quitted the newspaper. He could not read hers. She seemed very calm. He thought as he looked at her: “How strange it is that I should be living with this woman! What is she to me? What do I know of her?”
She said with tranquillity:
“If you do see Big James you might tell him not to trouble himself about that programme.”
“Programme? What programme?” he asked, startled.
“Oh! Edwin!” She gave a little laugh. “The musical evening programme, of course. Aren’t we having a musical evening tomorrow night?”
More justification for annoyance! Why should she confuse the situation by pretending that he had forgotten the musical evening? The pretence was idiotic, deceiving no one. The musical evening was constantly being mentioned.
Reports of assiduous practising had reached them; and on the previous night they had had quite a subdued altercation over a proposal of Hilda’s for altering the furniture in the drawing-room.
“This is the first I’ve heard of any programme,” said Edwin. “Do you mean a printed programme?”
Of course she could mean nothing else. He was absolutely staggered at the idea that she had been down to his works, without a word to him, and given orders to Big James, or even talked to Big James, about a programme. She had no remorse. She had no sense of danger. Had she the slightest conception of what business was? Imagine Maggie attempting such a thing! It was simply not conceivable. A wife going to her husband’s works, and behind his back giving orders ——! It was as though a natural law had suspended its force.
“Why, Edwin,” she said in extremely clear, somewhat surprised, and gently benevolent accents. “What ever’s the matter with you? There is a programme of music, I suppose?” (There she was, ridiculously changing the meaning of the word programme! What infantile tactics!) “It occurred to me all of a sudden yesterday afternoon how nice it would be to have it printed on gilt-edged cards, so I ran down to the shop, but you weren’t there. So I saw Big James.”
“You never said anything to me about it last night. Nor this morning.”
“Didn’t I? . . . Well, I forgot.”
“Well, what did Big James say?”
“Oh! Don’t ask me. But if he treats all your customers as he treated me . . . However, it doesn’t matter now. I shall write the programme out myself.”
“What did he say?”
“It wasn’t what he said. . . . But he’s very rude, you know. Other people think so too.”
“What other people?”
“Oh! Never mind who! Of course, I know how to take it. And I know you believe in him blindly. But his airs are preposterous. And he’s a dirty old man. And I say, Edwin, seeing how very particular you are about things at home, you really ought to see that the front shop is kept cleaner. It’s no affair of mine, and I never interfere — but really . . .!”
Not a phrase of this speech but what was highly and deliberately provocative. Assuredly no other person had ever said that Big James was rude. (But had someone else said so, after all? Suppose, challenged, she gave a name!) Big James’s airs were not preposterous; he was merely old and dignified. His apron and hands were dirty, naturally. . . . And then the implication that Big James was a fraud, and that he, Edwin, was simpleton enough to be victimised by the fraud, while the great all-seeing Hilda exposed it at a single glance! And the implication that he, Edwin, was fussy at home, and negligent at the shop! And the astounding assertion that she never interfered!
He smothered up all his feelings, with difficulty, as a sailor smothers up a lowered sail in a high wind, and merely demanded, for the third time:
“What did Big James say?”
“I was given to understand,” said Hilda roguishly, “that it was quite, quite, quite impossible. But his majesty would see! . . . Well, he needn’t ‘see.’ I see how wrong I was to suggest it at all.”
Edwin moved away in silence.
“Are you going, Edwin?” she asked innocently.
“You haven’t kissed me.”
She did not put him to the shame of returning to her. No, she jumped up blithely, radiant. Her make-believe that nothing had happened was maddening. She kissed him lovingly, with a smile, more than once. He did not kiss; he was kissed. Nevertheless somehow the kissing modified his mental position and he felt better after it.
“Don’t work yourself up, darling,” she counselled him, with kindness and concern, as he went out of the room. “You know how sensitive you are.” It was a calculated insult, but an insult which had to be ignored. To notice it would have been a grave tactical error.
When he reached the shop, he sat down at his old desk in the black-stained cubicle, and spied forth and around for the alleged dust which he would tolerate in business but would not tolerate at home. It was there. He could see places that had obviously not been touched for weeks, withdrawn places where the undisturbed mounds of stock and litter had the eternal character of Roman remains or vestiges of creation. The senior errand-boy was in the shop, snuffling over a blue-paper parcel.
“Boy,” said Edwin. “What time do you come here in the morning?”
“‘A’ past seven, sir.”
“Well, on Monday morning you’ll be here at seven and you’ll move everything — there and there and there — and sweep and dust properly. This shop’s like a pigstye. I believe you never dust anything but the counters.”
He was mild but firm. He knew himself for a just man; yet the fact that he was robbing this boy of half-an-hour’s sleep and probably the boy’s mother also, and upsetting the ancient order of the boy’s household, did not trouble him, did not even occur to him. For him the boy had no mother and no household, but was a patent self-causing boy that came miraculously into existence on the shop doorstep every morning and achieved annihilation thereon every night.
The boy was a fatalist, but his fatalism had limits, because he well knew that the demand for errand-boys was greater than the supply. Though the limits of his fatalism had not yet been reached, he was scarcely pleased.
“If I come at seven who’ll gi’ me th’ kays, sir?” he demanded rather surlily, wiping his nose on his sleeve.
“I’ll see that you have the keys,” said Edwin, with divine assurance, though he had not thought of the difficulty of the keys.
The boy left the shop, his body thrown out of the perpendicular by the weight of the blue-paper parcel.
“You ought to keep an eye on this place,” said Edwin quietly to the young man who combined the function of clerk with that of salesman to the rare retail customers. “I can’t see to everything. Here, check these wages for me.” He indicated small piles of money.
“Yes, sir,” said the clerk with self-respect, but admitting the justice of the animadversion.
Edwin seldom had difficulty with his employees. Serious friction was unknown in the establishment.
He went out by the back-entrance, thinking:
“It’s no affair whatever of hers. Moreover the shop’s as clean as shops are, and a damned sight cleaner than most. A shop isn’t a drawing-room. . . . And now there’s the infernal programme.”
He would have liked to bury and forget the matter of the programme. But he could not. His conscience, or her fussiness, would force him to examine into it. There was no doubt that Big James was getting an old man, with peculiar pompous mannerisms and a disposition towards impossibilism. Big James ought to have remembered, in speaking to Hilda, that he was speaking to the wife of his employer. That Hilda should give an order, or even make a request, direct was perhaps unusual, but — dash it! — you knew what women were, and if that old josser of a bachelor, Big James, didn’t know what women were, so much the worse for him. He should just give Big James a hint. He could not have Big James making mischief between himself and Hilda.
But the coward would not go straight to Big James. He went first up to what had come to be called “the litho room,” partly in order to postpone Big James, but partly also because he had quite an affectionate proud interest in the litho room. In Edwin’s childhood this room, now stripped and soiled into a workshop, had been the drawing-room of the Clayhanger family; and it still showed the defect which it had always shown; the window was too small and too near the corner of the room. No transformation could render it satisfactory save a change in the window. Old Darius Clayhanger had vaguely talked of altering the window. Edwin had thought seriously of it. But nothing had been done. Edwin was continuing the very policy of his father which had so roused his disdain when he was young: the policy of “making things do.” Instead of entering upon lithography in a manner bold, logical, and decisive, he had nervously and half-heartedly slithered into it. Thus at the back of the yard was a second-hand “Newsom” machine in quarters too small for it, and the apparatus for the preliminary polishing of the stones; while up here in the exdrawing-room were grotesquely mingled the final polishing process and the artistic department.
The artist who drew the designs on the stone was a German, with short fair hair and moustache, a thick neck and a changeless expression. Edwin had surprisingly found him in Hanbridge. He was very skilled in judging the amount of “work” necessary on the stone to produce a desired result on the paper, and very laborious. Without him the nascent lithographic trade could not have prospered. His wages were extremely moderate, but they were what he had asked, and in exchange for them he gave his existence. Edwin liked to watch him drawing, slavishly, meticulously, endlessly. He was absolutely without imagination, artistic feeling, charm, urbanity, or elasticity of any sort — a miracle of sheer gruff positiveness. He lived somewhere in Hanbridge, and had once been seen by Edwin on a Sunday afternoon, wheeling a perambulator and smiling at a young enceinte woman who held his free arm. An astounding sight, which forced Edwin to adjust his estimates! He grimly called himself an Englishman, and was legally entitled to do so. On this morning he was drawing a ewer and basin, for the illustrated catalogue of an earthenware manufacturer.
“Not a very good light today,” murmured Edwin.
“Not a very good light.”
“No,” said Karl sourly and indifferently, bent over the stone, and breathing with calm regularity. “My eyesight is being destroit.”
Behind, a young man in a smock was industriously polishing a stone.
Edwin beheld with pleasure. It was a joy to think that here was the sole lithography in Bursley, and that his own enterprise had started it. Nevertheless he was ashamed too — ashamed of his hesitations, his half-measures, his timidity, and of Karl’s impaired eyesight. There was no reason why he should not build a proper works, and every reason why he should; the operation would be remunerative; it would set an example; it would increase his prestige. He grew resolute. On the day of the party at the Benbows’ he had been and carefully inspected the plot of land at Shawport, and yesterday he had made a very low offer for it. If the offer was refused, he would raise it. He swore to himself he would have his works.
Then Big James came into the litho room.
“I was seeking ye, sir,” said Big James majestically, with a mysterious expression.
Edwin tried to look at him anew, as it were with Hilda’s eyes. Certainly his bigness amounted now to an enormity, for proportionately his girth more than matched his excessive height. His apron descended from the semicircle of his paunch like a vast grey wall. The apron was dirty, this being Saturday, but it was at any rate intact; in old days Big James and others at critical moments of machining used to tear strips off their aprons for machine-rags. . . . Yes, he was conceivably a grotesque figure, with his spectacles, which did not suit him, his heavy breathing, his mannerisms, and his grandiose air of Atlas supporting the moral world. A woman might be excused for seeing the comic side of him. But surely he was honest and loyal. Surely he was not the adder that Hilda with an intonation had suggested!
“I’m coming,” said Edwin, rather curtly.
He felt just in the humour for putting Big James “straight.” Still his reply had not been too curt, for to his staff he was the opposite of a bully; he always scorned to take a facile advantage of his power, often tried even to conceal his power in the fiction that the employee was one man and himself merely another. He would be far more devastating to his wife and his sister than to any employee. But at intervals a bad or careless workman had to meet the blaze of his eye and accept the lash of his speech.
“It’s about that little job for the mistress, sir,” said Big James in a soft voice, when they were out on the landing.
Edwin gave a start. The ageing man’s tones were so eager, so anxiously loyal! His emphasis on the word ‘mistress’ conveyed so clearly that the mistress was a high and glorious personage to serve whom was an honour and a fearful honour! The ageing man had almost whispered, like a boy, glancing with jealous distrust at the shut door of the room that contained the German.
“Oh!” muttered Edwin, taken aback.
“I set it up myself,” said Big James, and holding his head very high looked down at Edwin under his spectacles.
“Why!” said Edwin cautiously. “I thought you’d given Mrs. Clayhanger the idea it couldn’t be done in time.”
“Bless ye, sir! Not if I know it! I intimated to her the situation in which we were placed, with urgent jobs on hand, as in duty bound, sir, she being the mistress. Ye know how slow I am to give a promise, sir. But not to do it — such was not my intention. And as I have said already, sir, I’ve set it up myself, and here’s a rough pull.”
He produced a piece of paper.
Edwin’s ancient affection for Big James grew indignant. The old fellow was the very mirror of loyalty. He might be somewhat grotesque and mannered upon occasion, but he was the soul of the Clayhanger business. He had taught Edwin most of what he knew about both typesetting and machining. It seemed not long since that he used to call Edwin “young sir,” a to enter into tacit leagues with him against the dangerous obstinacies of his decaying father. Big James had genuinely admired Darius Clayhanger. Assuredly he admired Darius’s son not less. His fidelity to the dynasty was touching; it was wistful. The order from the mistress had tremendously excited and flattered him in his secret heart. . . . And yet Hilda must call him names, must insinuate against his superb integrity, must grossly misrepresent his attitude to herself. Whatever in his pompous old way he might have said, she could not possibly have mistaken his anxiety to please her. No, she had given a false account of their interview — and Edwin had believed it! Edwin now swerved violently back to his own original view. He firmly believed Big James against his wife. He reflected: “How simple I was to swallow all Hilda said without confirmation! I might have known!” And that he should think such a thought shocked him tremendously.
The programme was not satisfactorily set up. Apart from several mistakes in the spelling of proper names, the thing with its fancy types, curious centring, and superabundance of full-stops, resembled more the libretto of a Primitive Methodist Tea-meeting than a programme of classical music offered to refined dilettanti on a Sunday night. Though Edwin had endeavoured to modernise Big James, he had failed. It was perhaps well that he had failed. For the majority of customers preferred Big James’s taste in printing to Edwin’s. He corrected the misspellings and removed a few full-stops, and then said:
“It’s all right. But I doubt if Mrs. Clayhanger’ll care for all these fancy founts,” implying that it was a pity, of course, that Big James’s fancy founts would not be appreciated at their true value, but women were women. “I should almost be inclined to set it all again in old-face. I’m sure she’d prefer it. Do you mind?”
“With the greatest of pleasure, sir,” Big James heartily concurred, looking at his watch. “But I must be lively.”
He conveyed his immense bulk neatly and importantly down the narrow stairs.
Edwin sat in his cubicle again, his affection for Big James very active. How simple and agreeable it was to be a man among men only! The printing-business was an organism fifty times as large as the home, and it worked fifty times more smoothly. No misunderstandings, no secrecies (at any rate among the chief persons concerned), and a general recognition of the principles of justice! Even the errand-boy had understood. And the shop-clerk by his tone had admitted that he too was worthy of blame. The blame was not overdone, and common-sense had closed the episode in a moment. And see with what splendid good-will Big James, despite the intense conservatism of old age, had accepted the wholesale condemnation of his idea of a programme! The relations of men were truly wonderful, when you come to think about it. And to be at business was a relief and even a pleasure. Edwin could not remember having ever before regarded the business as a source of pleasure. A youth, he had gone into it greatly against his will, and by tradition he had supposed himself still to hate it.
Why had Hilda misled him as to Big James? For she had misled him. Yes, she had misled him. What was her motive? What did she think she could gain by it? He was still profoundly disturbed by this deception. “Why!” he thought, “I can’t trust her! I shall have to be on my guard! I’ve been in the habit of opening my mouth and swallowing practically everything she says!” His sense of justice very sharply resented her perfidy to Big James. His heart warmed to the defence of the excellent old man. What had she got against Big James? Since the day when the enormous man had first shown her over the printing shops, before their original betrothal, a decade and more ago, he had never treated her with anything but an elaborate and sincere respect. Was she jealous of him, because of his, Edwin’s, expressed confidence in and ancient regard for him, and because Edwin and he had always been good companions? Or had she merely taken a dislike to him — a physical dislike? Edwin had noticed that some women had a malicious detestation for some old men, especially when the old men had any touch of the grotesque or the pompous. . . . Well, he should defend Big James against her. She should keep her hands off Big James. His sense of justice was so powerful in that moment that if he had had to choose between his wife and Big James he would have chosen Big James.
He came out of the cubicle into the shop, and arranged his countenance so that the clerk should suppose him to be thinking in tremendous concentration upon some complex problem of the business. And simultaneously Hilda passed up Duck Bank on the way to market. She passed so close to the shop that she seemed to brush it like a delicious, exciting, and exasperating menace. If she turned her head she could scarcely fail to see Edwin near the door of the shop. But she did not turn her head. She glided up the slope steadily and implacably. And even in the distance of the street her individuality showed itself mysterious and strong. He could never decide whether she was beautiful or not; he felt that she was impressive, and not to be scorned or ignored. Perhaps she was not beautiful. Certainly she was not young. She had not the insipidity of the young girl unfulfilled. Nor did she inspire melancholy like the woman just beyond her prime. The one was going to be; the other had been. Hilda was. And she had lived. There was in her none of the detestable ignorance and innocence that, for Edwin, spoilt the majority of women. She knew. She was an equal, and a dangerous equal. Simultaneously he felt that he could crush and kill the little thing, and that he must beware of the powerful, unscrupulous, inscrutable individuality. . . . And she receded still higher up Duck Bank and then turned round the corner to the Market Place and vanished. And there was a void.
She would return. As she had receded gradually, so she would gradually approach the shop again with her delicious, exciting, exasperating menace. And he had a scheme for running out to her and with candour inviting her in and explaining to her in just the right tone of good-will that loyalty to herself simply hummed and buzzed in the shop and the printing-works, and that Big James worshipped her, and that though she was perfect in sagacity she had really been mistaken about Big James. And he had a vision of her smiling kindly and frankly upon Big James, and Big James twisting upon his own axis in joyous pride. Nothing but good-will and candour was required to produce this bliss.
But he knew that he would never run out to her and invite her to enter. The enterprise was perilous to the point of being foolhardy. With a tone, with a hesitation, with an undecipherable pout, she might, she would, render it absurd. . . . And then, his pride! . . . At that moment young Alec Batchgrew, perhaps then the town’s chief mooncalf, came down Duck Bank in dazzling breeches on a superb grey horse. And Edwin went abruptly back to work lest the noodle should rein in at the shop door and talk to him.
When he returned home, a few minutes before the official hour of one o’clock, he heard women’s voices and laughter in the drawing-room. And as he stood in the hall, fingering the thin little parcel of six programmes which he had brought with him, the laughter overcame the voices and then expended itself in shrieks of quite uncontrolled mirth. The drawing-room door was half open. He stepped quietly to it.
The weather, after being thunderous, had cleared, and the part of the drawing-room near the open window was shot with rays of sunshine.
Janet Orgreave, all dressed in white, lay back in an easy chair; she was laughing and wiping the tears from her eyes. At the piano sat very upright a seemingly rather pert young woman, not laughing, but smiling, with arch sparkling eyes fixed on the others; this was Daisy Marrion, a cousin of Mrs. Tom Orgreave, and the next to the last unmarried daughter of a large family up at Hillport. Standing by the piano was a young timid girl of about sixteen, whom Edwin, who had not seen her before, guessed to be Janet’s niece, Elaine, eldest daughter of Janet’s elder sister in London; Elaine’s approaching visit had been announced. These other two, like Janet, were in white. Lastly there was Hilda, in grey, with a black hat, laughing like a child. “They are all children,” he thought as, unnoticed, he watched them in their bright fragile frocks and hats, and in their excessive gaiety, and in the strange abandon of their gestures. “They are a foreign race encamped among us men. Fancy women of nearly forty giggling with these girls as Janet and Hilda are giggling!” He felt much pleasure in the sight. It could not have happened in poor old Maggie’s reign. It was delicious. It was one of the rewards of existence, for the grace of these creatures was surpassing. But at the same time it was hysterical and infantile. He thought: “I’ve been taking women too seriously.” And his heart lightened somewhat.
Elaine saw him first. A flush flowed from her cheeks to her neck. Her body stiffened. She became intensely self-conscious. She could not speak, but she leaned forward and gazed with a passion of apprehension at Janet, as if murmuring: “Look! The enemy! Take care!” The imploring silent movement was delightful in its gawky ingenuousness.
“Do tell us some more, Daisy,” Hilda implored weakly.
“There is no more,” said Daisy, and then started: “Oh, Mr. Clayhanger! How long have you been there?”
He entered the room, yielding himself, proud, masculine, acutely aware of his sudden effect on these girls. For even Hilda was naught but a girl at the moment; and Janet was really a girl, though the presence of that shy niece, just awaking to her own body and to the world, made Janet seem old in spite of her slimness and of that smoothness of skin that was due to a tranquil, kind temperament. The shy niece was enchantingly constrained upon being introduced to Edwin, whom she was enjoined to call uncle. Only yesterday she must have been a child. Her marvellously clear complexion could not have been imitated by any aunt or elder sister.
“And now perhaps you’ll tell me what it’s all about,” said Edwin.
“Janet’s called about tennis. It seems they’re sick of the new Hillport Club. I knew they would be. And so next year Janet’s having a private club on her lawn ——”
“Bad as it is,” said Janet.
“Where the entire conversation won’t be remarks by girls about other girls’ frocks and remarks by men about the rotten inferiority of other men.”
“This is all very sound,” said Edwin, rather struck by Hilda’s epigrammatic quality. “But what I ask is — what were you laughing at?”
“Oh, nothing!” said Daisy Marrion.
“Very well then,” said Edwin, going to the door and shutting it. “Nobody leaves this room till I know. . . . Now, niece Elaine!”
Elaine went crimson and squirmed on her only recently hidden legs, but she did not speak.
“Tell him, Daisy,” said Janet.
Daisy sat still straighter.
“It was only about Alec Batchgrew, Mr. Clayhanger; I suppose you know him.”
Alec was the youngest scion of the great and detested plutocratic family of Batchgrew — enormously important in his nineteen years.
“Yes, I know him,” said Edwin. “I saw him on his new grey horse this morning.”
“His ‘orse,” Janet corrected. They all began to laugh again loudly.
“He’s taken a terrific fancy to Maud, my kiddie sister,” said Daisy. “She’s sixteen. Yesterday afternoon at the tennis club he said to Maud: ‘Look ’ere. I shall ride through the town tomorrow morning on my ‘orse, while you’re all marketing. I shan’t take any notice of any of the other girls, but if you bow to me I’ll take my ‘at off to you.’” She imitated the Batchgrew intonation.
“That’s a good tale,” said Edwin calmly. “What a cuckoo! He ought to be put in a museum.”
Daisy, made rather nervous by the success of her tale, bent over the piano, and skimmed pianissimo and rapidly through the “Clytie” waltz. Elaine moved her shoulders to the rhythm.
Janet said they must go.
“Here! Hold on a bit!” said Edwin, through the light film of music, and undoing the little parcel he handed one specimen of the programme to Hilda and another to Janet, simultaneously.
“Oh, so my ideas are listened to, sometimes!” murmured Hilda, who was, however, pleased.
A malicious and unjust remark, he thought. But the next instant Hilda said in a quite friendly natural tone:
“Janet’s going to bring Elaine. And she says Tom says she is to tell you that he’s coming whether he’s wanted or not. Daisy won’t come.”
“Why?” asked Edwin, but quite perfunctorily; he knew that the Marrions were not interested in interesting music, and his design had been to limit the audience to enthusiasts.
“Church,” answered Daisy succinctly.
“Come after church.”
She shook her head.
“And how’s the practising?” Edwin enquired from Janet.
“Pretty fair,” said she. “But not so good as this programme. What swells we are, my word!”
“Hilda’s idea,” said Edwin generously. “Your mother coming?”
“Oh, yes, I think so.”
As the visitors were leaving, Hilda stopped Janet.
“Don’t you think it’ll be better if we have the piano put over there, and all the chairs together round here, Janet?”
“It might be,” said Janet uncertainly.
Hilda turned sharply to Edwin:
“There! What did I tell you?”
“Well,” he protested good-humouredly, “what on earth do you expect her to say, when you ask her like that? Anyhow I may announce definitely that I’m not going to have the piano moved. We’ll try things as they are, for a start, and then see. Why, if you put all the chairs together over there, the place’ll look like a blooming boarding-house.”
The comparison was a failure in tact, which he at once recognised but could not retrieve. Hilda faintly reddened, and the memory of her struggles as manageress of a boarding-house was harshly revived in her.
“Some day I shall try the piano over there,” she said, low.
And Edwin concurred, amiably:
“All right. Some day we’ll try it together, just to see what it is like.”
The girls, the younger ones still giggling, slipped elegantly out of the house, one after another.
Dinner passed without incident.
The next day, Sunday, Edwin had a headache; and it was a bilious headache. Hence he insisted to himself and to everyone that it was not a bilious headache, but just one of those plain headaches which sometimes visit the righteous without cause or excuse; for he would never accept the theory that he had inherited his father’s digestive weakness. A liability to colds he would admit, but not on any account a feeble stomach. Hence, further, he was obliged to pretend to eat as usual. George was rather gnat-like that morning, and Hilda was in a susceptible condition, doubtless due to nervousness occasioned by the novel responsibilities of the musical evening — and a Sabbath musical evening at that! After the one o’clock dinner, Edwin lay down on the sofa in the dining-room and read and slept; and when he woke up he felt better, and was sincerely almost persuaded that his headache had not been and was not a bilious headache. He said to himself that a short walk might disperse the headache entirely. He made one or two trifling adjustments in the disposition of the drawing-room furniture — his own disposition of it, and immensely and indubitably superior to that so pertinaciously advocated by Hilda — and then he went out. Neither Hilda nor George was visible. Possibly during his rest they had gone for a walk; they had fits of intimacy.
He walked in the faint September sunshine down Trafalgar Road into the town. Except for a few girls in dowdy finery and a few heavy youths with their black or dark-blue trousers turned up round the ankles far enough to show the white cotton lining, the street was empty. The devout at that hour were either dozing at home or engaged in Sunday school work; thousands of children were concentrated in the hot Sunday schools. As he passed the Bethesda Chapel and School he heard the voices of children addressing the Lord of the Universe in laudatory and intercessory song. Near the Bethesda chapel, by the Duke of Cambridge Vaults, two men stood waiting, their faces firm in the sure knowledge that within three hours the public-houses would again be open. Thick smoke rose from the chimneys of several manufactories and thin smoke from the chimneys of many others. The scheme of a Sunday musical evening in that land presented itself to Edwin as something rash, fantastic, and hopeless — and yet solacing. Were it known it could excite only hostility, horror, contempt, or an intense bovine indifference; chiefly the last. . . . Breathe the name of Chopin in that land! . . .
As he climbed Duck Bank he fumbled in his pocket for his private key of the shop, which he had brought with him; for, not the desire for fresh air, but an acute curiosity as to the answer to his letter to the solicitor to the Hall trustees making an offer for the land at Shawport, had sent him out of the house. Would the offer be accepted or declined, or would a somewhat higher sum be suggested? The reply would have been put into the post on Saturday, and was doubtless then lying in the letter-box within the shop. The whole future seemed to be lying unopened in that letter-box.
He penetrated into his own shop like a thief, for it was not meet for an important tradesman to be seen dallying with business of a Sunday afternoon. As he went into the shutter-darkened interior he thought of Hilda, whom many years earlier he had kissed in that very same shutter-darkened interior one Thursday afternoon. Life appeared incredible to him, and in his wife he could see almost no trace of the girl he had kissed there in the obscure shop. There was a fair quantity of letters in the box. The first one he opened was from a solicitor; not the solicitor to the Hall trustees, but Tom Orgreave, who announced to Edwin Clayhanger, Esquire, dear sir, that his clients, the Palace Porcelain Company of Longshaw, felt compelled to call their creditors together. The Palace Porcelain Company, who had believed in the efficacy of printed advertising matter and expensive catalogues, owed Edwin a hundred and eighty pounds. It was a blow, and the more so in that it was unexpected. “Did I come messing down here on a Sunday afternoon to receive this sort of news?” he bitterly asked. A moment earlier he had not doubted the solvency of the Palace Porcelain Company; but now he felt that the Company wouldn’t pay two shillings in the pound — perhaps not even that, as there were debenture-holders. The next letter was an acceptance of his offer for the Shawport land. The die was cast, then. The new works would have to be created; lithography would increase; in the vast new enterprise he would be hampered by the purchase of Maggie’s house; he had just made a bad debt; and he would have Hilda’s capricious opposition to deal with. He quitted the shop abruptly, locked the door, and went back home, his mind very active but undirected.
Something unfamiliar in the aspect of the breakfast-room as glimpsed through the open door from the hall, drew him within. Hilda had at last begun to make it into “her” room. She had brought an old writing-desk from upstairs and put it between the fireplace and the window. Edwin thought: “Doesn’t she even know the light ought to fall over the left shoulder, not over the right?” Letter paper and envelopes and even stamps were visible; and a miscellaneous mass of letters and bills had been pushed into the space between the flat of the desk and the small drawers about it. There was also an easy-chair, with a freshly-covered cushion on it; a new hearthrug that Edwin neither recognised nor approved of; several framed prints, and other oddments. His own portrait still dominated the mantelpiece, but it was now flanked by two brass candle-sticks. He thought: “If she’d ask me, I could have arranged it for her much better than that.” Nevertheless the idea of her being absolute monarch of the little room, and expressing her individuality in it and by it, both pleased and touched him. Nor did he at all resent the fact that she had executed her plan in secret. She must have been anxious to get the room finished for the musical evening.
Thence he passed into the drawing-room — and was thunderstruck. The arrangement of the furniture was utterly changed, and the resemblance to a boarding-house parlour after all achieved. The piano had crossed the room; the chairs were massed together in the most ridiculous way; the sofa was so placed as to be almost useless. His anger was furious but cold. The woman had considerable taste in certain directions, but she simply did not understand the art of fixing up a room. Whereas he did. Each room in the house (save her poor little amateurish breakfast-room or “boudoir”) had been arranged by himself, even to small details — and well arranged. Everyone admitted that he had a talent for interiors. The house was complete before she ever saw it, and he had been responsible for it. He was not the ordinary inexperienced ignorant husband who “leaves all that sort of thing to the missis.” Interiors mattered to him; they influenced his daily happiness. The woman had clearly failed to appreciate the sacredness of the status quo. He appreciated it himself, and never altered anything without consulting her and definitely announcing his intention to alter. She probably didn’t care a fig for the status quo. Her conduct was inexcusable. It was an attack on vital principles. It was an outrage. Doubtless, in her scorn for the status quo, she imagined that he would accept the fait accompli. She was mistaken. With astounding energy he set to work to restore the status quo ante. The vigour with which he dragged and pushed an innocent elephantine piano was marvellous. In less than five minutes not a trace remained of the fait accompli. He thought: “This is a queer start for a musical evening!” But he was triumphant, resolute, and remorseless. He would show her a thing or two. In particular he would show that fair play had to be practised in his house. Then, perceiving that his hands were dirty, and one finger bleeding, he went majestically, if somewhat breathless, upstairs to the bathroom, and washed with care. In the glass he saw that, despite his exertions, he was pale. At length he descended, wondering where she was, where she had hidden herself, who had helped her to move the furniture, and what exactly the upshot would be. There could be no doubt that he was in a state of high emotion, in which unflinching obstinacy was shot through with qualms about disaster.
He revisited the drawing-room to survey his labours. She was there. Whence she had sprung, he knew not. But she was there. He caught sight of her standing by the window before entering the room.
When he got into the room he saw that her emotional excitement far surpassed his own. Her lips and her hands were twitching; her nostrils dilated and contracted; tears were in her eyes.
“Edwin,” she exclaimed very passionately, in a thick voice, quite unlike her usual clear tones, as she surveyed the furniture, “this is really too much!”
Evidently she thought of nothing but her resentment. No consideration other than her outraged dignity would have affected her demeanour. If a whole regiment of their friends had been watching at the door, her demeanour would not have altered. The bedrock of her nature had been reached.
“It’s war, this is!” thought Edwin.
He was afraid; he was even intimidated by her anger; but he did not lose his courage. The determination to fight for himself, and to see the thing through no matter what happened, was not a bit weakened. An inwardly feverish but outwardly calm vindictive desperation possessed him. He and she would soon know who was the stronger.
At the same time he said to himself:
“I was hasty. I ought not to have acted in such a hurry. Before doing anything I ought to have told her quietly that I intended to have the last word as regards furniture in this house. I was within my rights in acting at once, but it wasn’t very clever of me, clumsy fool!”
Aloud he said, with a kind of self-conscious snigger:
“What’s too much?”
Hilda went on:
“You simply make me look a fool in my own house, before my own son and the servants.”
“You’ve brought it on yourself,” said he fiercely. “If you will do these idiotic things you must take the consequences. I told you I didn’t want the furniture moved, and immediately my back’s turned you go and move it. I won’t have it, and so I tell you straight.”
“You’re a brute,” she continued, not heeding him, obsessed by her own wound. “You’re a brute!” She said it with terrifying conviction. “Everybody knows it. Didn’t Maggie warn me? You’re a brute and a bully. And you do all you can to shame me in my own house. Who’d think I was supposed to be the mistress here? Even in front of my friends you insult me.”
“Don’t act like a baby. How do I insult you?”
“Talking about boarding-houses. Do you think Janet and all of them didn’t notice it?”
“Well,” he said. “Let this be a lesson to you.”
She hid her face in her hands and sobbed, moving towards the door.
“She’s beaten. She knows she’s got to take it.”
Then he said:
“Do I go altering furniture without consulting you? Do I do things behind your back? Never!”
“That’s no reason why you should try to make me look a fool in my own house. I told Ada how I wanted the furniture, and George and I helped her. And then a moment afterwards you give them contrary orders. What will they think of me? Naturally they’ll think I’m not your wife, but your slave. You’re a brute.” Her voice rose.
“I didn’t give any orders. I haven’t seen the damned servants and I haven’t seen George.”
She looked up suddenly:
“Then who moved the furniture?”
“Who helped you?”
“Nobody helped me.”
“But I was here only a minute or two since.”
“Well, do you suppose it takes me half a day to move a few sticks of furniture?”
She was impressed by his strength and his swiftness, and apparently silenced; she had thought that the servants had been brought into the affair.
“You ought to know perfectly well,” he proceeded, “I should never dream of insulting you before the servants. Nobody’s more careful of your dignity than I am. I should like to see anybody do anything against your dignity while I’m here.”
She was still sobbing.
“I think you ought to apologise to me,” she blubbered. “Yes, I really do.”
“Why should I apologise to you? You moved the furniture against my wish. I moved it against yours. That’s all. You began. I didn’t begin. You want everything your own way. Well, you won’t have it.”
She blubbered once more:
“You ought to apologise to me.”
And then she wept hysterically.
He meditated sourly, harshly. He had conquered. The furniture was as he wished, and it would remain so. The enemy was in tears, shamed, humiliated. He had a desire to restore her dignity, partly because she was his wife and partly because he hated to see any human being beaten. Moreover, at the bottom of his heart he had a tremendous regard for appearances, and he felt fears for the musical evening. He could not contemplate the possibility of visitors perceiving that the host and hostess had violently quarrelled. He would have sacrificed almost anything to the social proprieties. And he knew that Hilda would not think of them, or at any rate would not think of them effectively. He did not mind apologising to her, if an apology would give her satisfaction. He was her superior in moral force, and naught else mattered.
“I don’t think I ought to apologise,” he said, with a slight laugh. “But if you think so I don’t mind apologising. I apologise. There!” He dropped into an easy-chair.
To him it was as if he had said:
“You see what a magnanimous chap I am.”
She tried to conceal her feelings, but she was pleased, flattered, astonished. Her self-respect returned to her rapidly.
“Thank you,” she murmured, and added: “It was the least you could do.”
At her last words he thought:
“Women are incapable of being magnanimous.”
She moved towards the door.
“Hilda,” he said.
“Come here,” he commanded with gentle bluffness.
She wavered towards him.
“Come here, I tell you,” he said again.
He drew her down to him, all fluttering and sobbing and wet, and kissed her, kissed her several times; and then, sitting on his knees, she kissed him. But, though she mysteriously signified forgiveness, she could not smile; she was still far too agitated and out of control to be able to smile.
The scene was over. The proprieties of the musical evening were saved. Her broken body and soul huddled against him were agreeably wistful to his triumphant manliness.
But he had had a terrible fright. And even now there was a certain mere bravado in his attitude. In his heart he was thinking:
“By Jove! Has it come to this?”
The responsibilities of the future seemed too complicated, wearisome and overwhelming. The earthly career of a bachelor seemed almost heavenly in its wondrous freedom. . . . Etches v. Etches. . . . The unexampled creature, so recently the source of ineffable romance, still sat on his knees, weighing them down. Suddenly he noticed that his head ached very badly — worse than it had ached all day.
The Sunday musical evening, beyond its artistic thrills and emotional quality, proved to be exciting as a social manifestation. Those present at it felt as must feel Russian conspirators in a back room of some big grey house of a Petrograd suburb when the secret printing-press begins to function before their eyes. This concert of profane harmonies, deliberately planned and pouring out through open windows to affront the ears of returners from church and chapel, was considered by its organisers as a remarkable event; and rightly so. The Clayhanger house might have been a fortress, with the blood-red standard of art and freedom floating from a pole lashed to its chimney. Of course everybody pretended to everybody else that the musical evening was a quite ordinary phenomenon.
It was a success, and a flashing success, yet not unqualified. The performers — Tertius Ingpen on the piano, on the fiddle, and on the clarinet, Janet Orgreave on the piano, and very timidly in a little song by Grieg, Tom Orgreave on the piano and his contralto wife in two famous and affecting songs by Schumann and also on the piano, and Edwin sick but obstinate as turner-over of pages — all did most creditably. The music was given with ardent sympathy, and in none of it did any marked pause occur which had not been contemplated by the composer himself. But abstentions had thinned the women among the audience. Elaine Hill did not come, and, far more important, Mrs. Orgreave did not come. Her husband, old Osmond Orgreave, had not been expected, as of late (owing to the swift onset of renal disease, hitherto treated by him with some contempt) he had declined absolutely to go out at night; but Edwin had counted on Mrs. Orgreave. She simply sent word that she did not care to leave her husband, and that Elaine was keeping her company. Disappointment, keen but brief, resulted. Edwin’s severe sick headache was also a drawback. It did, however, lessen the bad social effect of an altercation between him and Hilda, in which Edwin’s part was attributed to his indisposition. This altercation arose out of an irresponsible suggestion from somebody that something else should be played instead of something else. Now, for Edwin, a programme was a programme — sacred, to be executed regardless of every extrinsic consideration. And seeing that the programme was printed . . .! Edwin negatived the suggestion instantly, and the most weighty opinion in the room agreed with him, but Hilda must needs fly out: “Why not change it? I’m sure it will be better,” etc. Whereas she could be sure of nothing of the sort, and was incompetent to offer an opinion. And she unreasonably and unnecessarily insisted, despite Tertius Ingpen, and the change was made. It was astounding to Edwin that, after the shattering scene of the afternoon, she should be so foolhardy, so careless, so obstinate. But she was. He kept his resentment neatly in a little drawer in his mind, and glanced at it now and then. And he thought of Tertius Ingpen’s terrible remark about women at Ingpen’s first visit. He said to himself: “There’s a lot in it, no doubt about that.”
At the close of the last item, two of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances for pianoforte duet (played with truly electrifying brio by little wizening Tom Orgreave and his wife), both Tertius Ingpen and Tom fussed consciously about the piano, triumphant, not knowing quite what to do next, and each looking rather like a man who has told a good story, and in the midst of the applause tries to make out by an affectation of casualness that the story is nothing at all.
“Of course,” said Tom Orgreave carelessly, and glancing at the ground as he usually did when speaking, “Fine as those dances are on the piano, I should prefer to hear them with the fiddle.”
“Why?” demanded Ingpen challengingly.
“Because they were written for the fiddle,” said Tom Orgreave with finality.
“Written for the fiddle? Not a bit of it!”
With superiority outwardly unruffled, Tom said:
“Pardon me. Brahms wrote them for Joachim. I’ve heard him play them.”
“So have I,” said Tertius Ingpen, lightly but scornfully. “But they were written originally for pianoforte duet, as you played them to-night. Brahms arranged them afterwards for Joachim.”
Tom Orgreave shook under the blow, for in musical knowledge his supremacy had never been challenged in Bleakridge.
“Surely ——!” he began weakly.
“My dear fellow, it is so,” said Ingpen impatiently.
“Look it up,” said Edwin, with false animation, for his head was thudding. “George, fetch the encyclopædia B— and J too.”
Delighted, George ran off. He had been examining Johnnie Orgreave’s watch, and it was to Johnnie he delivered the encyclopædia, amid mock protests from his uncle Edwin. More than one person had remarked the growing alliance between Johnnie and young George.
But the encyclopædia gave no light.
Then the eldest Swetnam (who had come by invitation at the last moment) said:
“I’m sure Ingpen is right.”
He was not sure, but from the demeanour of the two men he could guess, and he thought he might as well share the glory of Ingpen’s triumph.
The next instant Tertius Ingpen was sketching out future musical evenings at which quartets and quintets should be performed. He knew men in the orchestra at the Theatre Royal, Hanbridge; he knew girl-violinists who could be drilled, and he was quite certain that he could get a ‘cello. From this he went on to part-songs, and in answer to scepticism about local gift for music, he said that during his visits of inspection to factories he had heard spontaneous part-singing “that would knock spots off the Savoy chorus.” Indeed, since his return to it, Ingpen had developed some appreciation of certain aspects of his native district. He said that the kindly commonsense with which as an inspector he was received on pot-banks, surpassed anything in the whole country.
“Talking of pot-banks, you’ll get a letter from me about the Palace Porcelain Company,” Tom Orgreave lifting his eyebrows muttered to Edwin with a strange gloomy constraint.
“I’ve had it,” said Edwin. “You’ve got some nice clients, I must say.”
In a moment, though Tom said not a word more, the Palace Porcelain Company was on the carpet, to Edwin’s disgust. He hated to talk about a misfortune. But others beside himself were interested in the Palace Porcelain Company, and the news of its failure had boomed mysteriously through the Sabbath air of the district.
Hilda and Janet were whispering together. And Edwin, gazing at them, saw in them the giggling tennis-playing children of the previous day — specimens of a foreign race encamped among the men.
Suddenly Hilda turned her head towards the men, and said:
“Of course Edwin’s been let in!”
It was a reference to the Palace Porcelain Company. How ungracious! How unnecessary! How unjust! And somehow Edwin had been fearing it. And that was really why he had not liked the turn of the conversation — he had been afraid of one of her darts!
Useless for Tom Swetnam to say that a number of business men quite as keen as Edwin had been “let in”! From her disdainful silence it appeared that Hilda’s conviction of the unusual simplicity of her husband was impregnable.
“I hear you’ve got that Shawport land,” said Johnnie Orgreave.
The mystic influences of music seemed to have been overpowered.
“Who told ye?” asked Edwin in a low voice, once more frightened of Hilda.
“Young Toby Hall. Met him at the Conservative Club last night.”
But Hilda had heard.
“What land is that?” she demanded curtly.
“‘What land is that?’” Johnnie mimicked her. “It’s the land for the new works, missis.”
Hilda threw her shoulders back, glaring at Edwin with a sort of outraged fury. Happily most of the people present were talking among themselves.
“You never told me,” she muttered.
“I only knew this afternoon.”
Her anger was unmistakable. She was no longer a fluttering feminine wreck on his manly knee.
“Well, good-bye,” said Janet Orgreave startlingly to him. “Sorry I have to go so soon.”
“You aren’t going!” Edwin protested with unnatural loudness. “What about the victuals? I shan’t touch ’em myself. But they must be consumed. Here! You and I’ll lead the way.”
Half playfully he seized her arm. She glanced at Hilda uncertainly.
“Edwin,” said Hilda very curtly and severely, “don’t be so clumsy. Janet has to go at once. Mr. Orgreave is very ill — very ill indeed. She only came to oblige us.” Then she passionately kissed Janet.
It was like a thunderclap in the room. Johnnie and Tom confirmed the news. Of the rest only Tom’s wife and Hilda knew. Janet had told Hilda before the music began. Osmond Orgreave had been taken ill between five and six in the afternoon. Dr. Stirling had gone in at once, and pronounced the attack serious. Everything possible was done; even a nurse was obtained instantly, from the Clowes Hospital by the station. From reasons of sentiment, if from no other, Janet would have stayed at home and foregone the musical evening. But those Orgreaves at home had put their heads together and decided that Janet should still go, because without her the entire musical evening would crumble to naught. Here was the true reason of the absence of Mrs. Orgreave and Elaine — both unnecessary to the musical evening. The boys had come, and Tom’s wife had come, because, even considered only as an audience, the Orgreave contingent was almost essential to the musical evening. And so Janet, her father’s especial favourite and standby, had come, and she had played, and not a word whispered except to Hilda. It was wondrous. It was impressive. All the Orgreaves departed, and the remnant of guests meditated in proud, gratified silence upon the singular fortitude and heroic commonsense that distinguished their part of the world. The musical evening was dramatically over, the refreshments being almost wasted.
Hilda was climbing on to the wooden-seated chair in the hall to put out the light there when she heard a noise behind the closed door of the kitchen, which she had thought to be empty. She went to the door and pushed it violently open. Not only was the gas flaring away in an unauthorised manner, not only were both servants (theoretically in bed) still up, capless and apronless and looking most curious in unrelieved black, but the adventurous and wicked George was surreptitiously with them, flattering them with his aristocratic companionship, and eating blanc-mange out of a cut-glass dish with a tablespoon. Twice George had been sent to bed. Once the servants had been told to go to bed. The worst of carnivals is that the dregs of the population, such as George, will take advantage of them to rise to the surface and, conscienceless and mischievous, set at defiance the conventions by which society protects itself.
She merely glanced at George; the menace of her eyes was alarming. His lower lip fell; he put down the dish and spoon, and slunk timorously past her on his way upstairs.
Then she said to the servants:
“You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, encouraging him! Go to bed at once.” And as they began nervously to handle the things on the table, she added, more imperiously: “At once! Don’t keep me waiting. I’ll see to all this.”
And they followed George meekly.
She gazed in disgust at the general litter of broken refreshments, symbolising the traditional inefficiency of servants, and extinguished the gas.
The three criminals were somewhat the victims of her secret resentment against Edwin, who, a mere martyrised perambulating stomach, had retired. Edwin had defeated her in the afternoon; and all the evening, in the disposition of the furniture, the evidence of his victory had confronted her. By prompt and brutal action, uncharacteristic of him and therefore mean, he had defeated her. True he had embraced and comforted her tears, but it was the kiss of a conqueror. And then, on the top of that, he had proved his commercial incompetence by making a large bad debt, and his commercial rashness by definitely adopting a scheme of whose extreme danger she was convinced. One part of her mind intellectually knew that he had not wilfully synchronised these events in order to wound her, but another part of her mind felt deeply that he had. She had been staggered by the revelation that he was definitely committed to the project of lithography and the new works. Not one word about the matter had he said to her since their altercation on the night of the reception; and she had imagined that, with his usual indecision, he was allowing it to slide. She scarcely recognised her Edwin. Now she accused him of a malicious obstinacy, not understanding that he was involved in the great machine of circumstance and perhaps almost as much surprised as herself at the movement of events. At any rate she was being beaten once more, and her spirit rebelled. Through all the misfortunes previous to her marriage that spirit, if occasionally cowed, had never been broken. She had sat grim and fierce against even bum-bailiffs in her time. Yes, her spirit rebelled, and the fact that others had known about the Shawport land before she knew made her still more mutinous against destiny. She looked round dazed at the situation. What? The mild Edwin defying and crushing her? It was scarcely conceivable. The tension of her nerves from this cause only was extreme. Add to it the strain of the musical evening, intensified by the calamity at the Orgreaves’!
A bell rang in the kitchen, and all the ganglions of her spinal column answered it. Had Edwin rung? No. It was the front-door.
“Pardon me,” said Tertius Ingpen, when she opened. “But all my friends soon learn how difficult it is to get rid of me.”
“Come in,” she said, liking his tone, which flattered her by assuming her sense of humour.
“As I’m sleeping at the office to-night, I thought I might as well take one or two of my musical instruments after all. So I came back.”
“You’ve been round?” she asked, meaning round to the Orgreaves’.
“What is it, really?”
“Well, it appears to be pericarditis supervening on renal disease. He lost consciousness, you know.”
“Yes, I know. But what is pericarditis?”
“Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium.”
“And what’s the pericardium?”
They both smiled faintly.
“The pericardium is the membrane that encloses the heart. I don’t mind telling you that I’ve only just acquired this encyclopædic knowledge from Stirling — he was there.”
“And is it supposed to be very dangerous?”
“I don’t know. Doctors never want to tell you anything except what you can find out for yourself.”
After a little hesitating pause they went into the drawing-room, where the lights were still burning, and the full disorder of the musical evening persisted, including the cigarette-ash on the carpet. Tertius Ingpen picked up his clarinet case, took out the instrument, examined the mouthpiece lovingly, and with tenderness laid it back.
“Do sit down a moment,” said Hilda, sitting limply down. “It’s stifling, isn’t it?”
“Let me open the window,” he suggested politely.
As he returned from the window, he said, pulling his short beard:
“It was wonderful how those Orgreaves went through the musical evening, wasn’t it? Makes you proud of being English. . . . I suppose Janet’s a great friend of yours?”
His enthusiasm touched her, and her pride in Janet quickened to it. She gave a deliberate, satisfied nod in reply to his question. She was glad to be alone with him in the silence of the house.
“Ed gone to bed?” he questioned, after another little pause.
Already he was calling her husband Ed, and with an affectionate intonation!
She nodded again.
“He stuck it out jolly well,” said Ingpen, still standing.
“He brings these attacks on himself,” said Hilda, with the calm sententiousness of a good digestion discussing a bad one. She was becoming pleased with herself — with her expensive dress, her position, her philosophy, and her power to hold the full attention of this man.
Ingpen replied, looking steadily at her:
“We bring everything on ourselves.”
Then he smiled, as a comrade to another.
She shifted her pose. A desire to discuss Edwin with this man grew in her, for she needed sympathy intensely.
“What do you think of this new scheme of his?” she demanded somewhat self-consciously.
“The new works? Seems all right. But I don’t know much about it.”
“Well, I’m not so sure.” And she exposed her theory of the entire satisfactoriness of their present situation, of the needlessness of fresh risks, and of Edwin’s unsuitability for enterprise. “Of course he’s splendid,” she said. “But he’ll never push. I can look at him quite impartially — I mean in all those things.”
Ingpen murmured as it were dreamily:
“Have you had much experience of business yourself?”
“It depends what you call business. I suppose you know I used to keep a boarding-house.” She was a little defiant.
“No, I didn’t know. I may have heard vaguely. Did you make it pay?”
“It did pay in the end.”
“But not at first? . . . Any disasters?”
She could not decide whether she ought to rebuff the cross-examiner or not. His manner was so objective, so disinterested, so innocent, so disarming, that in the end she smiled uncertainly, raising her thick eyebrows.
“Oh yes,” she said bravely.
“And who came to the rescue?” Ingpen proceeded.
“I see,” said Ingpen, still dreamily.
“I believe you knew all about it,” she remarked, having flushed.
“Pardon me! Almost nothing.”
“Of course you take Edwin’s side.”
“Are we talking man to man?” he asked suddenly, in a new tone.
“Most decidedly!” She rose to the challenge.
“Then I’ll tell you my leading theory,” he said in a soft, polite voice. “The proper place for women is the harem.”
“No, no!” he soothed her, but firmly. “We’re talking man to man. I can whisper sweet nothings to you, if you prefer it, but I thought we were trying to be honest. I hold a belief. I state it. I may be wrong, but I hold that belief. You can persecute me for my belief if you like. That’s your affair. But surely you aren’t afraid of an idea! If you don’t like the mere word, let’s call it zenana. Call it the drawing-room and kitchen.”
“So we’re to be kept to our sphere!”
“Now don’t be resentful. Naturally you’re to be kept to your own sphere. If Edwin began dancing around in the kitchen, you’d soon begin to talk about his sphere. You can’t have the advantages of married life for nothing — neither you nor he. But some of you women nowadays seem to expect them gratis. Let me tell you, everything has to be paid for on this particular planet. I’m a bachelor. I’ve often thought about marrying, of course. I might get married some day. You never know your luck. If I do ——”
“You’ll keep your wife in the harem, no doubt! And she’ll have to accept without daring to say a word all the risks you choose to take.”
“There you are again!” he said. “This notion that marriage ought to be the end of risks for a woman is astonishingly rife, I find. Very curious! Very curious!” He seemed to address the wall. “Why, it’s the beginning of them. Doesn’t the husband take risks?”
“He chooses his own. He doesn’t have business risks thrust upon him by his wife.”
“Doesn’t he? What about the risk of finding himself tied for life to an inefficient housekeeper? That’s a bit of a business risk, isn’t it? I’ve known more than one man let in for it.”
“And you’ve felt so sorry for him!”
“No, not specially. You must run risks. When you’ve finished running risks you’re dead and you ought to be buried. If I was a wife I should enjoy running a risk with my husband. I swear I shouldn’t want to shut myself up in a glass case with him out of all the draughts! Why, what are we all alive for?”
The idea of the fineness of running risks struck her as original. It challenged her courage, and she began to meditate.
“Yes,” she murmured. “So you sleep at the office sometimes?”
“A certain elasticity in one’s domestic arrangements.” He waved a hand, seeming to pooh-pooh himself lightly. Then, quickly changing his mood, he bent and said good-night, but not quite with the saccharine artificiality of his first visit — rather with honest, friendly sincerity, in which were mingled both thanks and appreciation. Hilda jumped up responsively. And, the clarinet-case under his left arm, and the fiddle-case in his left hand, leaving the right arm free, Ingpen departed.
She did not immediately go to bed. Now that Ingpen was gone she perceived that though she had really said little in opposition to Edwin’s scheme, he had at once assumed that she was a strong opponent of it. Hence she must have shown her feelings far too openly at the first mention of the affair before anybody had left. This annoyed her. Also the immense injustice of nearly all Ingpen’s argument grew upon her moment by moment. She was conscious of a grudge against him, even while greatly liking him. But she swore that she would never show the grudge, and that he should never suspect it. To the end she would play a man’s part in the man-to-man discussion. Moreover her anger against Edwin had not decreased. Nevertheless, a sort of zest, perhaps an angry joy, filled her with novel and intoxicating sensations. Let the scheme of the new works go forward! Let it fail! Let it ruin them! She would stand in the breach. She would show the whole world that no ordeal could lower her head. She had had enough of being the odalisque and the queen, reclining on the soft couch of security. Her nostrils scented life on the wind. . . . Then she heard a door close upstairs, and began at last rapidly, as it were cruelly, to put out the lights.
The incubus and humiliations of a first-class bilious attack are not eternal. Edwin had not retired very long before the malignant phase of the terrible malady passed inevitably, by phenomena according with all clinical experience, into the next phase. And the patient, who from being chiefly a stomach, had now become chiefly a throbbing head, lay on his pillow exhausted but once more capable of objective thought. His resentment against his wife on account of her gratuitous disbelief in his business faculty, and on account of her interference in a matter that did not concern her, flickered up into new flame. He was absolutely innocent. She was absolutely guilty; no excuse existed or could be invented for her rude and wounding attitude. He esteemed Tertius Ingpen, bachelor, the most fortunate of men. . . . Women — unjust, dishonourable, unintelligent, unscrupulous, giggling, pleasure-loving! Their appetite for pleasure was infantile and tigerish. He had noticed it growing in Hilda. Previous to marriage he had regarded Hilda as combining the best feminine with the best masculine qualities. In many ways she had exhibited the comforting straightforward characteristics of the male. But since marriage her mental resemblance to a man had diminished daily, and now she was the most feminine woman he had ever met, in the unsatisfactory sense of the word. Women . . . Still, the behaviour of Janet and Hilda during the musical evening had been rather heroic. Impossible to dismiss them as being exclusively of the giggling race! They had decided to play a part, and they had played it with impressive fortitude. . . . And the house of the Orgreaves — was it about to fall? He divined that it was about to fall. No death had so far occurred in the family, which had seemed to be immune through decades and forever. He wondered what would have happened to the house of Orgreave in six months’ time. . . . Then he went back into the dark origins of his bilious attack. . . . And then he was at inexcusable Hilda again.
At length he heard her on the landing.
She entered the bedroom, and quickly he shut his eyes. He felt unpleasantly through his eyelids that she had turned up the gas. Then she was close to him, sat down on the edge of the bed. She asked him a question, calmly, as to occurrences since his retirement. He nodded an affirmative.
“Your forehead’s all broken out,” she said, moving away.
In a few moments he was aware of the delicious, soothing, heavenly application to his forehead of a handkerchief drenched in eau de cologne and water. The compress descended upon his forehead with the infinite gentleness of an endearment and the sudden solace of a reprieve. He made faint, inarticulate noises.
The light was extinguished for his ease.
He murmured weakly:
“Are you undressed already?”
“No,” she said quietly. “I can undress all right in the dark.”
He opened his eyes, and could dimly see her moving darkly about, brushing her hair, casting garments. Then she came towards him, a vague whiteness against the gloom, and, bending, felt for his face, and kissed him. She kissed him with superb and passionate violence; she drew his life out of him, and poured in her own. The tremendous kiss seemed to prove that there is no difference between love and hate. It contained everything — surrender, defiance, anger and tenderness.
Neither of them spoke. The kiss dominated and assuaged him. Its illogicalness overthrew him. He could never have kissed like that under such circumstances. It was a high and bold gesture. It expressed and transmitted confidence. She had explained nothing, justified nothing, made no charge, asked no forgiveness. She had just confronted him with one unarguable fact. And it was the only fact that mattered. His pessimism about marriage lifted. If his spirit was splendidly romantic enough to match hers, marriage remained a feasible state. And he threw away logic and the past, and in a magic vision saw that success in marriage was an affair of goodwill and the right tone. With the whole force of his heart he determined to succeed in marriage. And in the mighty resolve marriage presented itself to him as really rather easy after all.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51