Flame-lurid his face as he turned among the throng of flame-lit and dark faces upon the platform. In the light of the furnace she caught sight of his drifting countenance, like a piece of floating fire. And the nostalgia, the doom of homecoming went through her veins like a drug. His eternal face, flame-lit now! The pulse and darkness of red fire from the furnace towers in the sky, lighting the desultory, industrial crowd on the wayside station, lit him and went out.
Of course he did not see her. Flame-lit and unseeing! Always the same, with his meeting eyebrows, his common cap, and his red-and-black scarf knotted round his throat. Not even a collar to meet her! The flames had sunk, there was shadow.
She opened the door of her grimy, branch-line carriage, and began to get down her bags. The porter was nowhere, of course, but there was Harry, obscure, on the outer edge of the little crowd, missing her, of course.
‘Here! Harry!’ she called, waving her umbrella in the twilight. He hurried forward.
‘Tha’s come, has ter?’ he said, in a sort of cheerful welcome. She got down, rather flustered, and gave him a peck of a kiss.
‘Two suit-cases!’ she said.
Her soul groaned within her, as he clambered into the carriage after her bags. Up shot the fire in the twilight sky, from the great furnace behind the station. She felt the red flame go across her face. She had come back, she had come back for good. And her spirit groaned dismally. She doubted if she could bear it.
There, on the sordid little station under the furnaces, she stood, tall and distinguished, in her well-made coat and skirt and her broad grey velour hat. She held her umbrella, her bead chatelaine, and a little leather case in her grey-gloved hands, while Harry staggered out of the ugly little train with her bags.
‘There’s a trunk at the back,’ she said in her bright voice. But she was not feeling bright. The twin black cones of the iron foundry blasted their sky-high fires into the night. The whole scene was lurid. The train waited cheerfully. It would wait another ten minutes. She knew it. It was all so deadly familiar.
Let us confess it at once. She was a lady’s maid, thirty years old, come back to marry her first-love, a foundry worker: after having kept him dangling, off and on, for a dozen years. Why had she come back? Did she love him? No. She didn’t pretend to. She had loved her brilliant and ambitious cousin, who had jilted her, and who had died. She had had other affairs which had come to nothing. So here she was, come back suddenly to marry her first-love, who had waited — or remained single — all these years.
‘Won’t a porter carry those?’ she said, as Harry strode with his workman’s stride down the platform towards the guard’s van.
‘I can manage,’ he said.
And with her umbrella, her chatelaine, and her little leather case, she followed him.
The trunk was there.
‘We’ll get Heather’s greengrocer’s cart to fetch it up,’ he said.
‘Isn’t there a cab?’ said Fanny, knowing dismally enough that there wasn’t.
‘I’ll just put it aside o’ the penny-inthe-slot, and Heather’s greengrocers’ll fetch it about half past eight,’ he said.
He seized the box by its two handles and staggered with it across the level-crossing, bumping his legs against it as he waddled. Then he dropped it by the red sweet-meats machine.
‘Will it be safe there?’ she said.
‘Ay — safe as houses,’ he answered. He returned for the two bags. Thus laden, they started to plod up the hill, under the great long black building of the foundry. She walked beside him — workman of workmen he was, trudging with that luggage. The red lights flared over the deepening darkness. From the foundry came the horrible, slow clang, clang, clang of iron, a great noise, with an interval just long enough to make it unendurable.
Compare this with the arrival at Gloucester: the carriage for her mistress, the dog-cart for herself with the luggage; the drive out past the river, the pleasant trees of the carriage-approach; and herself sitting beside Arthur, everybody so polite to her.
She had come home — for good! Her heart nearly stopped beating as she trudged up that hideous and interminable hill, beside the laden figure. What a come-down! What a come-down! She could not take it with her usual bright cheerfulness. She knew it all too well. It is easy to bear up against the unusual, but the deadly familiarity of an old stale past!
He dumped the bags down under a lamp-post, for a rest. There they stood, the two of them, in the lamplight. Passers-by stared at her, and gave good-night to Harry. Her they hardly knew, she had become a stranger.
‘They’re too heavy for you, let me carry one,’ she said.
‘They begin to weigh a bit by the time you’ve gone a mile,’ he answered.
‘Let me carry the little one,’ she insisted.
‘Tha can ha’e it for a minute, if ter’s a mind,’ he said, handing over the valise.
And thus they arrived in the streets of shops of the little ugly town on top of the hill. How everybody stared at her; my word, how they stared! And the cinema was just going in, and the queues were tailing down the road to the corner. And everybody took full stock of her. ‘Night, Harry!’ shouted the fellows, in an interested voice.
However, they arrived at her aunt’s — a little sweet-shop in a side street. They ‘pinged’ the door-bell, and her aunt came running forward out of the kitchen.
‘There you are, child! Dying for a cup of tea, I’m sure. How are you?’
Fanny’s aunt kissed her, and it was all Fanny could do to refrain from bursting into tears, she felt so low. Perhaps it was her tea she wanted.
‘You’ve had a drag with that luggage,’ said Fanny’s aunt to Harry.
‘Ay — I’m not sorry to put it down,’ he said, looking at his hand which was crushed and cramped by the bag handle.
Then he departed to see about Heather’s greengrocery cart.
When Fanny sat at tea, her aunt, a grey-haired, fair-faced little woman, looked at her with an admiring heart, feeling bitterly sore for her. For Fanny was beautiful: tall, erect, finely coloured, with her delicately arched nose, her rich brown hair, her large lustrous grey eyes. A passionate woman — a woman to be afraid of. So proud, so inwardly violent! She came of a violent race.
It needed a woman to sympathize with her. Men had not the courage. Poor Fanny! She was such a lady, and so straight and magnificent. And yet everything seemed to do her down. Every time she seemed to be doomed to humiliation and disappointment, this handsome, brilliantly sensitive woman, with her nervous, overwrought laugh.
‘So you’ve really come back, child?’ said her aunt.
‘I really have, Aunt,’ said Fanny.
‘Poor Harry! I’m not sure, you know, Fanny, that you’re not taking a bit of an advantage of him.’
‘Oh, Aunt, he’s waited so long, he may as well have what he’s waited for.’ Fanny laughed grimly.
‘Yes, child, he’s waited so long, that I’m not sure it isn’t a bit hard on him. You know, I like him, Fanny — though as you know quite well, I don’t think he’s good enough for you. And I think he thinks so himself, poor fellow.’
‘Don’t you be so sure of that, Aunt. Harry is common, but he’s not humble. He wouldn’t think the Queen was any too good for him, if he’d a mind to her.’
‘Well — It’s as well if he has a proper opinion of himself.’
‘It depends what you call proper,’ said Fanny. ‘But he’s got his good points —’
‘Oh, he’s a nice fellow, and I like him, I do like him. Only, as I tell you, he’s not good enough for you.’
‘I’ve made up my mind, Aunt,’ said Fanny, grimly.
‘Yes,’ mused the aunt. ‘They say all things come to him who waits —’
‘More than he’s bargained for, eh, Aunt?’ laughed Fanny rather bitterly.
The poor aunt, this bitterness grieved her for her niece.
They were interrupted by the ping of the shop-bell, and Harry’s call of ‘Right!’ But as he did not come in at once, Fanny, feeling solicitous for him presumably at the moment, rose and went into the shop. She saw a cart outside, and went to the door.
And the moment she stood in the doorway, she heard a woman’s common vituperative voice crying from the darkness of the opposite side of the road:
‘Tha’rt theer, ar ter? I’ll shame thee, Mester. I’ll shame thee, see if I dunna.’
Startled, Fanny stared across the darkness, and saw a woman in a black bonnet go under one of the lamps up the side street.
Harry and Bill Heather had dragged the trunk off the little dray, and she retreated before them as they came up the shop step with it.
‘Wheer shalt ha’e it?’ asked Harry.
‘Best take it upstairs,’ said Fanny.
She went up first to light the gas.
When Heather had gone, and Harry was sitting down having tea and pork pie, Fanny asked:
‘Who was that woman shouting?’
‘Nay, I canna tell thee. To somebody, Is’d think,’ replied Harry. Fanny looked at him, but asked no more.
He was a fair-haired fellow of thirty-two, with a fair moustache. He was broad in his speech, and looked like a foundry-hand, which he was. But women always liked him. There was something of a mother’s lad about him — something warm and playful and really sensitive.
He had his attractions even for Fanny. What she rebelled against so bitterly was that he had no sort of ambition. He was a moulder, but of very commonplace skill. He was thirty-two years old, and hadn’t saved twenty pounds. She would have to provide the money for the home. He didn’t care. He just didn’t care. He had no initiative at all. He had no vices — no obvious ones. But he was just indifferent, spending as he went, and not caring. Yet he did not look happy. She remembered his face in the fire-glow: something haunted, abstracted about it. As he sat there eating his pork pie, bulging his cheek out, she felt he was like a doom to her. And she raged against the doom of him. It wasn’t that he was gross. His way was common, almost on purpose. But he himself wasn’t really common. For instance, his food was not particularly important to him, he was not greedy. He had a charm, too, particularly for women, with his blondness and his sensitiveness and his way of making a woman feel that she was a higher being. But Fanny knew him, knew the peculiar obstinate limitedness of him, that would nearly send her mad.
He stayed till about half past nine. She went to the door with him.
‘When are you coming up?’ he said, jerking his head in the direction, presumably, of his own home.
‘I’ll come tomorrow afternoon,’ she said brightly. Between Fanny and Mrs. Goodall, his mother, there was naturally no love lost.
Again she gave him an awkward little kiss, and said good-night.
‘You can’t wonder, you know, child, if he doesn’t seem so very keen,’ said her aunt. ‘It’s your own fault.’
‘Oh, Aunt, I couldn’t stand him when he was keen. I can do with him a lot better as he is.’
The two women sat and talked far into the night. They understood each other. The aunt, too, had married as Fanny was marrying: a man who was no companion to her, a violent man, brother of Fanny’s father. He was dead, Fanny’s father was dead.
Poor Aunt Lizzie, she cried woefully over her bright niece, when she had gone to bed.
Fanny paid the promised visit to his people the next afternoon. Mrs. Goodall was a large woman with smooth-parted hair, a common, obstinate woman, who had spoiled her four lads and her one vixen of a married daughter. She was one of those old-fashioned powerful natures that couldn’t do with looks or education or any form of showing off. She fairly hated the sound of correct English. She thee’d and tha’d her prospective daughter-inlaw, and said:
‘I’m none as ormin’ as I look, seest ta.’
Fanny did not think her prospective mother-inlaw looked at all orming, so the speech was unnecessary.
‘I towd him mysen,’ said Mrs. Goodall, ‘‘Er’s held back all this long, let ‘er stop as ‘er is. ‘E’d none ha’ had thee for my tellin’— tha hears. No, ‘e’s a fool, an’ I know it. I says to him, ‘Tha looks a man, doesn’t ter, at thy age, goin’ an’ openin’ to her when ter hears her scrat’ at th’ gate, after she’s done gallivantin’ round wherever she’d a mind. That looks rare an’ soft.’ But it’s no use o’ any talking: he answered that letter o’ thine and made his own bad bargain.’
But in spite of the old woman’s anger, she was also flattered at Fanny’s coming back to Harry. For Mrs. Goodall was impressed by Fanny — a woman of her own match. And more than this, everybody knew that Fanny’s Aunt Kate had left her two hundred pounds: this apart from the girl’s savings.
So there was high tea in Princes Street when Harry came home black from work, and a rather acrid odour of cordiality, the vixen Jinny darting in to say vulgar things. Of course Jinny lived in a house whose garden end joined the paternal garden. They were a clan who stuck together, these Goodalls.
It was arranged that Fanny should come to tea again on the Sunday, and the wedding was discussed. It should take place in a fortnight’s time at Morley Chapel. Morley was a hamlet on the edge of the real country, and in its little Congregational Chapel Fanny and Harry had first met.
What a creature of habit he was! He was still in the choir of Morley Chapel — not very regular. He belonged just because he had a tenor voice, and enjoyed singing. Indeed his solos were only spoilt to local fame because when he sang he handled his aitches so hopelessly.
‘And I saw ‘eaven hopened And be’old, a wite ‘orse-’
This was one of Harry’s classics, only surpassed by the fine outburst of his heaving:
‘Hangels — hever bright an’ fair-’
It was a pity, but it was inalterable. He had a good voice, and he sang with a certain lacerating fire, but his pronunciation made it all funny. And nothing could alter him.
So he was never heard save at cheap concerts and in the little, poorer chapels. The others scoffed.
Now the month was September, and Sunday was Harvest Festival at Morley Chapel, and Harry was singing solos. So that Fanny was to go to afternoon service, and come home to a grand spread of Sunday tea with him. Poor Fanny! One of the most wonderful afternoons had been a Sunday afternoon service, with her cousin Luther at her side, Harvest Festival in Morley Chapel. Harry had sung solos then — ten years ago. She remembered his pale blue tie, and the purple asters and the great vegetable marrows in which he was framed, and her cousin Luther at her side, young, clever, come down from London, where he was getting on well, learning his Latin and his French and German so brilliantly.
However, once again it was Harvest Festival at Morley Chapel, and once again, as ten years before, a soft, exquisite September day, with the last roses pink in the cottage gardens, the last dahlias crimson, the last sunflowers yellow. And again the little old chapel was a bower, with its famous sheaves of corn and corn-plaited pillars, its great bunches of grapes, dangling like tassels from the pulpit corners, its marrows and potatoes and pears and apples and damsons, its purple asters and yellow Japanese sunflowers. Just as before, the red dahlias round the pillars were dropping, weak-headed among the oats. The place was crowded and hot, the plates of tomatoes seemed balanced perilously on the gallery front, the Rev. Enderby was weirder than ever to look at, so long and emaciated and hairless.
The Rev. Enderby, probably forewarned, came and shook hands with her and welcomed her, in his broad northern, melancholy singsong before he mounted the pulpit. Fanny was handsome in a gauzy dress and a beautiful lace hat. Being a little late, she sat in a chair in the side-aisle wedged in, right in front of the chapel. Harry was in the gallery above, and she could only see him from the eyes upwards. She noticed again how his eyebrows met, blond and not very marked, over his nose. He was attractive too: physically lovable, very. If only — if only her pride had not suffered! She felt he dragged her down.
‘Come, ye thankful people come, Raise the song of harvest-home. All is safely gathered in Ere the winter storms begin —’
Even the hymn was a falsehood, as the season had been wet, and half the crops were still out, and in a poor way.
Poor Fanny! She sang little, and looked beautiful through that inappropriate hymn. Above her stood Harry — mercifully in a dark suit and dark tie, looking almost handsome. And his lacerating, pure tenor sounded well, when the words were drowned in the general commotion. Brilliant she looked, and brilliant she felt, for she was hot and angrily miserable and inflamed with a sort of fatal despair. Because there was about him a physical attraction which she really hated, but which she could not escape from. He was the first man who had ever kissed her. And his kisses, even while she rebelled from them, had lived in her blood and sent roots down into her soul. After all this time she had come back to them. And her soul groaned, for she felt dragged down, dragged down to earth, as a bird which some dog has got down in the dust. She knew her life would be unhappy. She knew that what she was doing was fatal. Yet it was her doom. She had to come back to him.
He had to sing two solos this afternoon: one before the ‘address’ from the pulpit and one after. Fanny looked at him, and wondered he was not too shy to stand up there in front of all the people. But no, he was not shy. He had even a kind of assurance on his face as he looked down from the choir gallery at her: the assurance of a common man deliberately entrenched in his commonness. Oh, such a rage went through her veins as she saw the air of triumph, laconic, indifferent triumph which sat so obstinately and recklessly on his eyelids as he looked down at her. Ah, she despised him! But there he stood up in that choir gallery like Balaam’s ass in front of her, and she could not get beyond him. A certain winsomeness also about him. A certain physical winsomeness, and as if his flesh were new and lovely to touch. The thorn of desire rankled bitterly in her heart.
He, it goes without saying, sang like a canary this particular afternoon, with a certain defiant passion which pleasantly crisped the blood of the congregation. Fanny felt the crisp flames go through her veins as she listened. Even the curious loud-mouthed vernacular had a certain fascination. But, oh, also, it was so repugnant. He would triumph over her, obstinately he would drag her right back into the common people: a doom, a vulgar doom.
The second performance was an anthem, in which Harry sang the solo parts. It was clumsy, but beautiful, with lovely words.
‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy, He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him —’
‘Shall doubtless come, Shall doubtless come —’ softly intoned the altos —‘Bringing his she-e-eaves with him,’ the trebles flourished brightly, and then again began the half-wistful solo:
‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy —’
Yes, it was effective and moving.
But at the moment when Harry’s voice sank carelessly down to his close, and the choir, standing behind him, were opening their mouths for the final triumphant outburst, a shouting female voice rose up from the body of the congregation. The organ gave one startled trump, and went silent; the choir stood transfixed.
‘You look well standing there, singing in God’s holy house,’ came the loud, angry female shout. Everybody turned electrified. A stoutish, red-faced woman in a black bonnet was standing up denouncing the soloist. Almost fainting with shock, the congregation realized it. ‘You look well, don’t you, standing there singing solos in God’s holy house, you, Goodall. But I said I’d shame you. You look well, bringing your young woman here with you, don’t you? I’ll let her know who she’s dealing with. A scamp as won’t take the consequences of what he’s done.’ The hard-faced, frenzied woman turned in the direction of Fanny. ‘That’s what Harry Goodall is, if you want to know.’
And she sat down again in her seat. Fanny, startled like all the rest, had turned to look. She had gone white, and then a burning red, under the attack. She knew the woman: a Mrs. Nixon, a devil of a woman, who beat her pathetic, drunken, red-nosed second husband, Bob, and her two lanky daughters, grown-up as they were. A notorious character. Fanny turned round again, and sat motionless as eternity in her seat.
There was a minute of perfect silence and suspense. The audience was open-mouthed and dumb; the choir stood like Lot’s wife; and Harry, with his music-sheet, stood there uplifted, looking down with a dumb sort of indifference on Mrs. Nixon, his face naïve and faintly mocking. Mrs. Nixon sat defiant in her seat, braving them all.
Then a rustle, like a wood when the wind suddenly catches the leaves. And then the tall, weird minister got to his feet, and in his strong, bell-like, beautiful voice — the only beautiful thing about him — he said with infinite mournful pathos:
‘Let us unite in singing the last hymn on the hymn-sheet; the last hymn on the hymn-sheet, number eleven.
‘Fair waved the golden corn, In Canaan’s pleasant land.’
The organ tuned up promptly. During the hymn the offertory was taken. And after the hymn, the prayer.
Mr. Enderby came from Northumberland. Like Harry, he had never been able to conquer his accent, which was very broad. He was a little simple, one of God’s fools, perhaps, an odd bachelor soul, emotional, ugly, but very gentle.
‘And if, O our dear Lord, beloved Jesus, there should fall a shadow of sin upon our harvest, we leave it to Thee to judge, for Thou art judge. We lift our spirits and our sorrow, Jesus, to Thee, and our mouths are dumb. O, Lord, keep us from forward speech, restrain us from foolish words and thoughts, we pray Thee, Lord Jesus, who knowest all and judgest all.’
Thus the minister said in his sad, resonant voice, washed his hands before the Lord. Fanny bent forward open-eyed during the prayer. She could see the roundish head of Harry, also bent forward. His face was inscrutable and expressionless. The shock left her bewildered. Anger perhaps was her dominating emotion.
The audience began to rustle to its feet, to ooze slowly and excitedly out of the chapel, looking with wildly-interested eyes at Fanny, at Mrs. Nixon, and at Harry. Mrs. Nixon, shortish, stood defiant in her pew, facing the aisle, as if announcing that, without rolling her sleeves up, she was ready for anybody. Fanny sat quite still. Luckily the people did not have to pass her. And Harry, with red ears, was making his way sheepishly out of the gallery. The loud noise of the organ covered all the downstairs commotion of exit.
The minister sat silent and inscrutable in his pulpit, rather like a death’s-head, while the congregation filed out. When the last lingerers had unwillingly departed, craning their necks to stare at the still seated Fanny, he rose, stalked in his hooked fashion down the little country chapel and fastened the door. Then he returned and sat down by the silent young woman.
‘This is most unfortunate, most unfortunate!’ he moaned. ‘I am so sorry, I am so sorry, indeed, indeed, ah, indeed!’ he sighed himself to a close.
‘It’s a sudden surprise, that’s one thing,’ said Fanny brightly.
‘Yes — yes — indeed. Yes, a surprise, yes. I don’t know the woman, I don’t know her.’
‘I know her,’ said Fanny. ‘She’s a bad one.’
‘Well! Well!’ said the minister. ‘I don’t know her. I don’t understand. I don’t understand at all. But it is to be regretted, it is very much to be regretted. I am very sorry.’
Fanny was watching the vestry door. The gallery stairs communicated with the vestry, not with the body of the chapel. She knew the choir members had been peeping for information.
At last Harry came — rather sheepishly — with his hat in his hand.
‘Well!’ said Fanny, rising to her feet.
‘We’ve had a bit of an extra,’ said Harry.
‘I should think so,’ said Fanny.
‘A most unfortunate circumstance — a most unfortunate circumstance. Do you understand it, Harry? I don’t understand it at all.’
‘Ah, I understand it. The daughter’s goin’ to have a childt, an’ ‘er lays it on to me.’
‘And has she no occasion to?’ asked Fanny, rather censorious.
‘It’s no more mine than it is some other chap’s,’ said Harry, looking aside.
There was a moment of pause.
‘Which girl is it?’ asked Fanny.
‘Annie — the young one —’
There followed another silence.
‘I don’t think I know them, do I?’ asked the minister.
‘I shouldn’t think so. Their name’s Nixon — mother married old Bob for her second husband. She’s a tanger —‘s driven the gel to what she is. They live in Manners Road.’
‘Why, what’s amiss with the girl?’ asked Fanny sharply. ‘She was all right when I knew her.’
‘Ay — she’s all right. But she’s always in an’ out o’ th’ pubs, wi’ th’ fellows,’ said Harry.
‘A nice thing!’ said Fanny.
Harry glanced towards the door. He wanted to get out.
‘Most distressing, indeed!’ The minister slowly shook his head.
‘What about tonight, Mr. Enderby?’ asked Harry, in rather a small voice. ‘Shall you want me?’
Mr. Enderby looked up painedly, and put his hand to his brow. He studied Harry for some time, vacantly. There was the faintest sort of a resemblance between the two men.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Yes, I think. I think we must take no notice, and cause as little remark as possible.’
Fanny hesitated. Then she said to Harry.
‘But will you come?’
He looked at her.
‘Ay, I s’ll come,’ he said.
Then he turned to Mr. Enderby.
‘Well, good-afternoon, Mr. Enderby,’ he said.
‘Good-afternoon, Harry, good-afternoon,’ replied the mournful minister. Fanny followed Harry to the door, and for some time they walked in silence through the late afternoon.
‘And it’s yours as much as anybody else’s?’ she said.
‘Ay,’ he answered shortly.
And they went without another word, for the long mile or so, till they came to the corner of the street where Harry lived. Fanny hesitated. Should she go on to her aunt’s? Should she? It would mean leaving all this, for ever. Harry stood silent.
Some obstinacy made her turn with him along the road to his own home. When they entered the house-place, the whole family was there, mother and father and Jinny, with Jinny’s husband and children and Harry’s two brothers.
‘You’ve been having yours ears warmed, they tell me,’ said Mrs. Goodall grimly.
‘Who telled thee?’ asked Harry shortly.
‘Maggie and Luke’s both been in.’
‘You look well, don’t you!’ said interfering Jinny.
Harry went and hung his hat up, without replying.
‘Come upstairs and take your hat off,’ said Mrs. Goodall to Fanny, almost kindly. It would have annoyed her very much if Fanny had dropped her son at this moment.
‘What’s ‘er say, then?’ asked the father secretly of Harry, jerking his head in the direction of the stairs whence Fanny had disappeared.
‘Nowt yet,’ said Harry.
‘Serve you right if she chucks you now,’ said Jinny. ‘I’ll bet it’s right about Annie Nixon an’ you.’
‘Tha bets so much,’ said Harry.
‘Yi — but you can’t deny it,’ said Jinny.
‘I can if I’ve a mind.’
His father looked at him inquiringly.
‘It’s no more mine than it is Bill Bower’s, or Ted Slaney’s, or six or seven on ’em,’ said Harry to his father.
And the father nodded silently.
‘That’ll not get you out of it, in court,’ said Jinny.
Upstairs Fanny evaded all the thrusts made by his mother, and did not declare her hand. She tidied her hair, washed her hands, and put the tiniest bit of powder on her face, for coolness, there in front of Mrs. Goodall’s indignant gaze. It was like a declaration of independence. But the old woman said nothing.
They came down to Sunday tea, with sardines and tinned salmon and tinned peaches, besides tarts and cakes. The chatter was general. It concerned the Nixon family and the scandal.
‘Oh, she’s a foul-mouthed woman,’ said Jinny of Mrs. Nixon. ‘She may well talk about God’s holy house, she had. It’s first time she’s set foot in it, ever since she dropped off from being converted. She’s a devil and she always was one. Can’t you remember how she treated Bob’s children, mother, when we lived down in the Buildings? I can remember when I was a little girl she used to bathe them in the yard, in the cold, so that they shouldn’t splash the house. She’d half kill them if they made a mark on the floor, and the language she’d use! And one Saturday I can remember Garry, that was Bob’s own girl, she ran off when her stepmother was going to bathe her — ran off without a rag of clothes on — can you remember, mother? And she hid in Smedley’s closes — it was the time of mowing-grass — and nobody could find her. She hid out there all night, didn’t she, mother? Nobody could find her. My word, there was a talk. They found her on Sunday morning —’
‘Fred Coutts threatened to break every bone in the woman’s body, if she touched the children again,’ put in the father.
‘Anyhow, they frightened her,’ said Jinny. ‘But she was nearly as bad with her own two. And anybody can see that she’s driven old Bob till he’s gone soft.’
‘Ah, soft as mush,’ said Jack Goodall. ‘‘E’d never addle a week’s wage, nor yet a day’s if th’ chaps didn’t make it up to him.’
‘My word, if he didn’t bring her a week’s wage, she’d pull his head off,’ said Jinny.
‘But a clean woman, and respectable, except for her foul mouth,’ said Mrs. Goodall. ‘Keeps to herself like a bull-dog. Never lets anybody come near the house, and neighbours with nobody.’
‘Wanted it thrashed out of her,’ said Mr. Goodall, a silent, evasive sort of man.
‘Where Bob gets the money for his drink from is a mystery,’ said Jinny.
‘Chaps treats him,’ said Harry.
‘Well, he’s got the pair of frightenedest rabbit-eyes you’d wish to see,’ said Jinny.
‘Ay, with a drunken man’s murder in them, I think,’ said Mrs. Goodall.
So the talk went on after tea, till it was practically time to start off to chapel again.
‘You’ll have to be getting ready, Fanny,’ said Mrs. Goodall.
‘I’m not going tonight,’ said Fanny abruptly. And there was a sudden halt in the family. ‘I’ll stop with you tonight, Mother,’ she added.
‘Best you had, my gel,’ said Mrs. Goodall, flattered and assured.
End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of England, My England, by D.H. Lawrence
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10