Until he was nearly arrived at manhood, it did not become clear to Kipps how it was that he had come into the care of an aunt and uncle instead of having a father and mother like other little boys. He had vague memories of a somewhere else, a dim room, a window looking down on white buildings, and of a some one else who talked to forgotten people and who was his mother. He could not recall her features very distinctly, but he remembered with extreme definition a white dress she wore, with a pattern of little sprigs of flowers and little bows upon it, and a girdle of straight-ribbed white ribbon about the waist. Linked with this, he knew not how, were clouded half-obliterated recollections of scenes in which there was weeping, weeping in which he was inscrutably moved to join. Some terrible tall man with a loud voice played a part in these scenes, and, either before or after them, there were impressions of looking for interminable periods out of the window of railway trains in the company of these two people.
He knew, though he could not remember that he had ever been told, that a certain faded wistful face that looked at him from a plush and gilt framed daguerreotype above the mantel of the ‘sitting-room’ was the face of his mother. But that knowledge did not touch his dim memories with any elucidation. In that photograph she was a girlish figure, leaning against a photographer’s stile, and with all the self-conscious shrinking natural to that position. She had curly hair and a face far younger and prettier than any other mother in his experience. She swung a Dolly Varden hat by the string, and looked with obedient, respectful eyes on the photographer-gentleman who had commanded the pose. She was very slight and pretty. But the phantom mother that haunted his memory so elusively was not like that, though he could not remember how she differed.
Perhaps she was older or a little less shrinking, or, it may be, only dressed in a different way . . . It is clear she handed him over to his aunt and uncle at New Romney with explicit directions and a certain endowment. One gathers she had something of that fine sense of social distinctions that subsequently played so large a part in Kipps’ career. He was not to go to a ‘Common’ school, she provided, but to a certain seminary in Hastings, that was not only a ‘middle-class academy’ with mortar-boards and every evidence of a higher social tone, but also remarkably cheap. She seems to have been animated by the desire to do her best for Kipps even at a certain sacrifice of herself, as though Kipps were in some way a superior sort of person. She sent pocket-money to him from time to time for a year or more after Hastings had begun for him, but her face he never saw in the days of his lucid memory.
His aunt and uncle were already high on the hill of life when first he came to them. They had married for comfort in the evening or, at any rate, in the late afternoon of their days. They were at first no more then vague figures in the background of proximate realities, such realities as familiar chairs and tables, quiet to ride and drive, the newel of the staircase, kitchen furniture, pieces of firewood, the boiler tap, old newspapers, the cat, the High Street, the back-yard and the flat fields that are always so near in that little town. He knew all the stones in the yard individually, the creeper in the corner, the dust-bin and the mossy wall, better than many men know the faces of their wives. There was a corner under the ironing-board which, by means of a shawl, could be made, under propitious gods, a very decent cubby-house, a corner that served him for several years as the indisputable hub of the world, and the stringy places in the carpet, the knots upon the dresser, and the several corners of the rag hearthrug his uncle had made, became essential parts of his mental foundations. The shop he did not know so thoroughly; it was a forbidden region to him, yet somehow he managed to know it very well.
His aunt and uncle were, as it were, the immediate gods of this world, and, like the gods of the world of old, occasionally descended right into it, with arbitrary injunctions and disproportionate punishments. And, unhappily, one rose to their Olympian level at meals. Then one had to say one’s ‘grace,’ hold one’s spoon and fork in mad, unnatural ways called ‘properly,’ and refrain from eating even nice, sweet things ‘too fast.’ If he ‘gobbled’ there was trouble, and at the slightest abandon with knife, fork, and spoon his aunt rapped his knuckles, albeit his uncle always finished up his gravy with his knife. Sometimes, moreover, his uncle would come pipe in hand out of a sedentary remoteness in the most disconcerting way when a little boy was doing the most natural and attractive things, with ‘Drat and drabbit that young rascal! What’s he a-doing of now?’ and his aunt would appear at door or window to interrupt interesting conversation with children who were upon unknown grounds considered ‘low’ and undesirable, and call him in. The pleasantest little noises, however softly you did them, drumming on tea-trays, trumpeting your fists, whistling on keys, ringing chimes with a couple of pails, or playing tunes on the window-panes, brought down the gods in anger. Yet what noise is fainter than your finger on the window — gently done? Sometimes, however, these gods gave him broken toys out of the shop, and then one loved them better — for the shop they kept was, among other things, a toy-shop. (The other things included books to read and books to give away, and local photographs; it had some pretentions to be a china-shop and the fascia spoke of glass; it was also a stationer’s shop with a touch of haberdashery about it, and in the windows and odd corners were mats and terra-cotta dishes and milking-stools for painting, and there was a hint of picture-frames, and firescreens, and fishing-tackle, and air-guns and bathing-suits, and tents — various things, indeed, but all cruelly attractive to a small boy’s fingers.) Once his aunt gave him a trumpet if he would promise faithfully not to blow it, and afterwards took it away again. And his aunt made him say his catechism, and something she certainly called the ‘Colic for the Day,’ every Sunday in the year.
As the two grew old as he grew up, and as his impression of them modified insensibly from year to year, it seemed to him at last that they had always been as they were when in his adolescent days his impression of things grew fixed; his aunt he thought of as always lean, rather worried looking, and prone to a certain obliquity of cap, and his uncle massive, many chinned, and careless about his buttons. They neither visited nor received visitors. They were always very suspicious about their neighbours and other people generally; they feared the ‘low’ and they hated and despised the ‘stuck up’ and so they ‘kept themselves to themselves,’ according to the English ideal. Consequently Little Kipps had no playmates, except through the sin of disobedience. By inherent nature he had a sociable disposition. When he was in the High Street he made a point of saying ‘Hallo!’ to passing cyclists, and he would put his tongue out at the Quodling children whenever their nursemaid was not looking. And he began a friendship with Sid Pornick, the son of the haberdasher next door, that, with wide intermissions, was destined to last his lifetime through.
Pornick, the haberdasher, I may say at once, was, according to old Kipps, a ‘blaring jackass’; he was a teetotaller, a ‘nyar, nyar, ‘imsinging Methodis’,’ and altogether distasteful and detrimental, he and his together, to true Kipps ideals so far as little Kipps could gather them. This Pornick certainly possessed an enormous voice, and he annoyed old Kipps greatly by calling ‘You — Arn’ and ‘Siddee’ up and down his house. He annoyed old Kipps by private choral services on Sunday, all his family, ‘nyar, nyar’ing; and by mushroom culture, by behaving as though the pilaster between the two shops was common property, by making a noise of hammering in the afternoon when old Kipps wished to be quiet after his midday meal, by going up and down uncarpeted stairs in his boots, by having a black beard, by attempting to be friendly, and by — all that sort of thing. In fact, he annoyed old Kipps. He annoyed him especially with his shop-door mat. Old Kipps never beat his mat, preferring to let sleeping dust lie, and seeking a motive for a foolish proceeding, he held that Pornick waited until there was a suitable wind in order that the dust disengaged in that operation might defile his neighbour’s shop. These issues would frequently develop into loud and vehement quarrels, and on one occasion came so near to violence as to be subsequently described by Pornick (who read his newspaper) as a ‘Disgraceful Frackass.’ On that occasion he certainly went into his own shop with extreme celerity.
But it was through one of these quarrels that the friendship of little Kipps and Sid Pornick came about. The two small boys found themselves one day looking through the gate at the doctor’s goats together; they exchanged a few contradictions about which goat could fight which, and then young Kipps was moved to remark that Sid’s father was a ‘blaring jackess.’ Sid said he wasn’t, and Kipps repeated that he was, and quoted his authority. Then Sid, flying off at a tangent rather alarmingly, said he could fight young Kipps with one hand, an assertion young Kipps with a secret want of confidence denied. There were some vain repetitions, and the incident might have ended there, but happily a sporting butcher boy chanced on the controversy at this stage, and insisted upon seeing fair play.
The two small boys, under his pressing encouragement, did at last button up their jackets, square, and fight an edifying drawn battle until it seemed good to the butcher boy to go on with Mrs. Holyer’s mutton. Then, according to his directions and under his experienced stage management, they shook hands and made it up. Subsequently a little tear-stained, perhaps, but flushed with the butcher boy’s approval (‘tough little kids’), and with cold stones down their necks as he advised, they sat side by side on the doctor’s gate, projecting very much behind, staunching an honourable bloodshed, and expressing respect for one another. Each had a bloody nose and a black eye — three days later they matched to a shade — neither had given in, and, though this was tacit, neither wanted any more.
It was an excellent beginning. After this first encounter the attributes of their parents and their own relative value in battle never rose between them, and if anything was wanted to complete the warmth of their regard it was found in a joint dislike of the eldest Quodling. The eldest Quodling lisped, had a silly sort of straw hat and a large pink face (all covered over with self-satisfaction), and he went to the National school with a green-baize bag — a contemptible thing to do. They called him names and threw stones at him, and when he replied by threatenings (‘Look ’ere, young Art Kipth, you better thtoppit!’) they were moved to attack, and put him to fight.
And after that they broke the head of Ann Pornick’s doll, so that she went home weeping loudly — a wicked and endearing proceeding. Sid was whacked, but, as he explained, he wore a newspaper tactically adjusted during the transaction, and really it didn’t hurt him at all . . . And Mrs. Pornick put her head out of the shop door suddenly and threatened Kipps as he passed.
‘Cavendish Academy,’ the school that had won the limited choice of Kipps’ vanished mother, was established in a battered private house in the part of Hastings remotest from the sea; it was called an Academy for Young Gentlemen, and many of the young gentlemen had parents in ‘India’ and other unverifiable places. Others were the sons of credulous widows, anxious, as Kipps’ mother had been, to get something a little ‘superior’ to a board school education as cheaply as possible, and others, again, were sent to demonstrate the dignity of their parents and guardians. And of course there were boys from France.
Its ‘principal’ was a lean, long creature of indifferent digestion and temper, who proclaimed himself on a gilt-lettered board in his front area, George Garden Woodrow, F.S.Sc., letters indicating that he had paid certain guineas for a bogus diploma. A bleak, white-washed outhouse constituted his schoolroom, and the scholastic quality of its carved and worn desks and forms was enhanced by a slippery blackboard and two large, yellow, out-of-date maps — one of Africa and the other of Wiltshire — that he had picked up cheap at a sale. There were other maps and globes in his study, where he interviewed inquiring parents, but these his pupils never saw. And in a glass cupboard in the passage were several shillings-worth of test-tubes and chemicals, a tripod, a glass retort, and a damaged Bunsen burner, manifesting that the ‘Scientific laboratory’ mentioned in the prospectus was no idle boast.
This prospectus, which was in dignified but incorrect English, laid particular stress on the sound preparation for a commercial career given in the Academy, but the army, navy, and civil service were glanced at in an ambiguous sentence. There was something vague in the prospectus about ‘examinational successes’— though Woodrow, of course, disapproved of ‘cram’— and a declaration that the curriculum included ‘art,’ ‘modern foreign languages,’ and ‘a sound technical and scientific training.’ Then came insistence upon the ‘moral well-being’ of the pupils, and an emphatic boast of the excellence of the religious instruction, ‘so often neglected nowadays even in schools of wide repute.’
‘That’s bound to fetch ’em,’ Mr. Woodrow had remarked when he drew up the prospectus. And in conjunction with the mortar-boards it certainly did. Attention was directed to the ‘motherly’ care of Mrs. Woodrow, in reality a small, partially effaced woman with a plaintive face and a mind above cookery, and the prospectus concluded with a phrase intentionally vague, ‘Fare unrestricted, and our own milk and produce.’
The memories Kipps carried from that school into afterlife were set in an atmosphere of stuffiness and mental muddle, and included countless pictures of sitting on creaking forms, bored and idle; of blot licking and the taste of ink; of torn books with covers that set one’s teeth on edge; of the slimy surface of the laboured slates; of furtive marble-playing, whispered story-telling, and of pinches, blows, and a thousand such petty annoyances being perpetually ‘passed on’ according to the custom of the place; of standing up in class and being hit suddenly and unreasonably for imaginary misbehaviour; of Mr. Woodrow’s raving days, when a scarcely sane injustice prevailed; of the cold vacuity of the hour of preparation before the bread-and-butter breakfast; and of horrible headaches and queer, unprecedented internal feelings, resulting from Mrs. Woodrow’s motherly rather than intelligent cookery. There were dreary walks when the boys marched two by two, all dressed in the mortar-board caps that so impressed the widowed mothers; there were dismal half-holidays when the weather was wet, and the spirit of evil temper and evil imagination had the pent boys to work its will on; there were unfair, dishonourable fights, and miserable defeats and victories; there was bullying and being bullied. A coward boy Kipps particularly afflicted, until at last he was goaded to revolt by incessant persecution, and smote Kipps to tolerance with whirling fists. There were memories of sleeping three in a bed; of the dense, leathery smell of the school-room when one returned thither after ten minutes’ play; of a playground of mud and incidental sharp flints. And there was much furtive foul language.
‘Our Sundays are our happiest days,’ was one of Woodrow’s formulae with the inquiring parent, but Kipps was not called in evidence. They were to him terrible gaps of inanity, no work, no play, a dreary expanse of time with the mystery of church twice and plum-duff once in the middle. The afternoon was given up to furtive relaxations, among which ‘Torture Chamber’ games with the less agreeable weaker boys figured. It was from the difference between this day and common days that Kipps derived his first definite conceptions of the nature of God and Heaven. His instinct was to evade any closer acquaintance as long as he could.
The solid work varied, according to the prevailing mood of Mr. Woodrow. Sometimes that was a despondent lethargy, copy-books were distributed or sums were ‘set,’ or the great mystery of book-keeping was declared in being, and beneath these superficial activities lengthy conversations and interminable guessing games with marbles went on, while Mr. Woodrow sat inanimate at his desk, heedless of school affairs, staring in front of him at unseen things. At times his face was utterly inane; at times it had an expression of stagnant amazement, as if he saw before his eyes with pitiless clearness the dishonour and mischief of his being . . .
At other times the F.S.Sc., roused himself to action, and would stand up a wavering class and teach it, goading it with bitter mockery and blows through a chapter of Ahn’s ‘First French Course’; or, ‘France and the French,’ or a dialogue about a traveller’s washing or the parts of an opera house. His own knowledge of French had been obtained years ago in another English private school, and he had refreshed it by occasional weeks of loafing and mean adventure in Dieppe. He would sometimes in their lessons hit upon some reminiscence of these brighter days, and then he would laugh inexplicably and repeat French phrases of an unfamiliar type.
Among the commoner exercises he prescribed the learning of long passages of poetry from a ‘Potry Book,’ which he would delegate an elder boy to ‘hear’ and there was reading aloud from the Holy Bible, verse by verse — it was none of your ‘godless’ schools! — so that you counted the verses up to your turn and then gave yourself to conversation; and sometimes one read from a cheap History of this land. They did, as Kipps reported, ‘loads of catechism.’ Also there was much learning of geographical names and lists, and sometimes Woodrow, in an outbreak of energy, would see these names were actually found in a map. And once, just once, there was a chemistry lesson — a lesson of indescribable excitement — glass things of the strangest shape, a smell like bad eggs, something bubbling in something, a smash and stench, and Mr. Woodrow saying quite distinctly — they threshed it out in the dormitory afterwards —‘Damn!’ Followed by the whole school being kept in, with extraordinary severities, for an hour . . .
But interspersed with the memories of this gray routine were certain patches of brilliant colour, the Holidays, his holidays, which, in spite of the feud between their seniors, he spent as much as possible with Sid Pornick, the son of the irascible black-bearded haberdasher next door. They seemed to be memories of a different world. There were glorious days of ‘mucking about’ along the beach, the siege of unresisting Martello towers, the incessant interest of the mystery and motion of windmills, the windy excursions with boarded feet over the yielding shingle to Dungeness lighthouse — Sid Pornick and he far adrift from reality, smugglers and armed men from the moment they left Great Stone behind them — wanderings in the hedgeless, reedy marsh, long excursions reaching even to Hythe, where the machine-guns of the Empire are for ever whirling and tapping, and to Rye and Winchelsea perched like dream-cities on their little hills. The sky in these memories was the blazing hemisphere of the marsh heaven in summer, or its wintry tumult of sky and sea; and there were wrecks, real wrecks, in it (near Dymchurch pitched high and blackened and rotting were the ribs of a fishing smack, flung aside like an empty basket when the sea had devoured its crew), and there was bathing all naked in the sea, bathing to one’s armpits, and even trying to swim in the warm sea-water (spite of his aunt’s prohibition) and (with her indulgence) the rare eating of dinner from a paper parcel miles away from home. Cake and cold ground-rice puddin’ with plums it used to be — there is no better food at all. And for the background, in the place of Woodrow’s mean and fretting rule, were his aunt’s spare but frequently quite amiable figure — for though she insisted on his repeating the English Church catechism every Sunday, she had an easy way over dinners that one wanted to take abroad — and his uncle, corpulent and irascible, but sedentary and easily escaped. And freedom!
The holidays were, indeed, very different from school. They were free, they were spacious, and though he never knew it in these words — they had an element of beauty. In his memory of his boyhood they shone like strips of stained-glass window in a dreary waste of scholastic wall, they grew brighter and brighter as they grew remoter. There came a time at last and moods when he could look back to them with a feeling akin to tears.
The last of these windows was the brightest, and instead of the kaleidoscopic effect of its predecessors its glory was a single figure. For in the last of his holidays before the Moloch of Retail Trade got hold of him, Kipps made his first tentative essays at the mysterious shrine of Love. Very tentative they were, for he had become a boy of subdued passions, and potential rather than actual affectionateness.
And the object of these first stirrings of the great desire was no other than Ann Pornick, the head of whose doll he and Sid had broken long ago, and rejoiced over long ago, in the days when he had yet to learn the meaning of a heart.
Negotiations were already on foot to make Kipps into a draper before he discovered the lights that lurked in Ann Pornick’s eyes. School was over, absolutely over, and it was chiefly present to him that he was never to go to school again. It was high summer. The ‘breaking up’ of school had been hilarious; and the excellent maxim, ‘Last Day’s Pay Day,’ had been observed by him with a scrupulous attention to his honour. He had punched the heads of all his enemies, wrung wrists and kicked shins; he had distributed all his unfinished copy-books, all his school books, his collection of marbles, and his mortar-board cap among such as loved him; and he had secretly written in obscure pages of their books ‘remember Art Kipps.’ He had also split the anaemic Woodrow’s cane, carved his own name deeply in several places about the premises, and broken the scullery window. He had told everybody so often that he was to learn to be a sea captain, that he had come almost to believe the thing himself. And now he was home, and school was at an end for him for evermore.
He was up before six on the day of his return, and out in the hot sunlight of the yard. He set himself to whistle a peculiarly penetrating arrangement of three notes, supposed by the boys of the Hastings Academy and himself and Sid Pornick, for no earthly reason whatever, to be the original Huron war-cry. As he did this he feigned not to be doing it, because of the hatred between his uncle and the Pornicks, but to be examining with respect and admiration a new wing of the dustbin recently erected by his uncle — a pretence that would not have deceived a nestling tom-tit.
Presently there came a familiar echo from the Pornick hunting-ground. Then Kipps began to sing, ‘Ar pars eight tra-la, in the lane be’ind the church.’ To which an unseen person answered, ‘Ar pars eight it is, in the lane be’ind the church.’ The ‘tra-la’ was considered to render the sentence incomprehensible to the uninitiated. In order to conceal their operations still more securely, both parties to this duet then gave vent to a vocalisation of the Huron war-cry again, and after a lingering repetition of the last and shrillest note, dispersed severally, as became boys in the enjoyment of holidays, to light the house fires for the day.
Half-past eight found Kipps sitting on the sunlit gate at the top of the long lane that runs towards the sea, clashing his boots in a slow rhythm, and whistling with great violence all that he knew of an excruciatingly pathetic air. There appeared along by the churchyard wall a girl in a short frock, brown-haired, quick-coloured, and with dark blue eyes. She had grown so that she was a little taller than Kipps, and her colour had improved. He scarcely remembered her, so changed was she since last holidays — if, indeed, he had seen her during his last holidays, a thing he could not clearly recollect.
Some vague emotion arose at the sight of her. He stopped whistling and regarded her, oddly tongue-tied. ‘He can’t come,’ said Ann, advancing boldly. ‘Not yet.’
‘What — not Sid?’
‘No. Father’s made him dust all his boxes again.’
‘I dunno. Father’s in a stew’s morning.’
Pause. Kipps looked at her, and then was unable to look at her again. She regarded him with interest. ‘You left school?’ she remarked, after a pause.
The conversation languished. Ann put her hands on the top of the gate, and began a stationary hopping, a sort of ineffectual gymnastic experiment.
‘Can you run?’ she said presently. ‘Run you any day,’ said Kipps. ‘Gimme a start?’
‘Where for?’ said Kipps.
Ann considered, and indicated a tree. She walked towards it and turned. ‘Gimme to here?’ she called. Kipps, standing now and touching the gate, smiled to express conscious superiority. ‘Farther!’ he said.
‘Bit more!’ said Kipps; and then, repenting of his magnanimity, said ‘Orf!’ suddenly, and so recovered his lost concession.
They arrived abreast at the tree, flushed and out of breath. ‘Tie!’ said Ann, throwing her hair back from her face with her hand. ‘I won,’ panted Kipps. They disputed firmly, but quite politely. ‘Run it again then,’ said Kipps.’ I don’t mind.’
They returned towards the gate.
‘You don’t run bad,’ said Kipps, temperately, expressing sincere admiration. ‘I’m pretty good, you know.’ Ann sent her hair back by an expert toss of the head. ‘You give me a start,’ she allowed.
They became aware of Sid approaching them. ‘You better look out, young Ann’, said Sid, with that irreverent want of sympathy usual in brothers. ‘You have been out nearly ‘arf-‘our. Nothing ain’t been done upstairs. Father said he didn’t know where you was, but when he did he’d warm y’r young ear.’
Ann prepared to go.
‘How about that race?’ asked Kipps.
‘Lor!’ cried Sid, quite shocked. ‘You ain’t been racing her!’
Ann swung herself round the end to the gate with her eyes on Kipps, and then turned away suddenly and ran off down the lane. Kipps’ eyes tried to go after her, and came back to Sid’s.
‘I give her a lot of start,’ said Kipps apologetically. ‘It wasn’t a proper race.’ And so the subject was dismissed. But Kipps was distrait for some seconds perhaps, and the mischief had begun in him.
They proceeded to the question of how two accomplished Hurons might most satisfactorily spend the morning. Manifestly their line lay straight along the lane to the sea. ‘There’s a new wreck,’ said Sid, ‘and my! — don’t it stink just!’
‘Fair make you sick. It’s rotten wheat.’
They fell to talking of wrecks, and so came to ironclads and wars and such-like manly matters. Half-way to the wreck Kipps made a casual, irrelevant remark.
‘Your sister ain’t a bad sort,’ he said off-handedly.
‘I clout her a lot,’ said Sidney modestly; and, after a pause, the talk reverted to more suitable topics.
The new wreck was full of rotting grain, and stank abominably, even as Sid had said. This was excellent. They had it all to themselves. They took possession of it in force, at Sid’s suggestion, and had speedily to defend it against enormous numbers of imaginary ‘natives,’ who were at last driven off by loud shouts of bang bang, and vigorous thrusting and shoving of sticks. Then, also at Sid’s direction, they sailed with it into the midst of a combined French, German, and Russian fleet, demolishing the combination unassisted, and having descended to the beach, clambered up the side and cut out their own vessel in brilliant style; they underwent a magnificent shipwreck (with vocalised thunder) and floated ‘waterlogged’— so Sid insisted — upon an exhausted sea.
These things drove Ann out of mind for a time. But at last, as they drifted without food or water upon a stagnant ocean, haggard-eyed, chins between their hands, looking in vain for a sail, she came to mind again abruptly.
‘It’s rather nice ‘aving sisters,’ remarked one perishing mariner.
Sid turned round and regarded him thoughtfully.
‘Not it!’ he said.
‘Not a bit of it.’
He grinned confidentially. ‘Know too much,’ he said, and afterwards, ‘get out of things.’
He resumed his gloomy scrutiny of the hopeless horizon. Presently he fell spitting jerkily between his teeth, as he had read was the way with such ripe manhood as chews its quid.
‘Sisters,’ he said, ‘is rot. That’s what sisters are. Girls, if you like, but sisters — No!’
‘But ain’t sisters girls?’
‘N-eaow!’ said Sid, with unspeakable scorn; and Kipps answered, ‘Of course, I didn’t mean — I wasn’t thinking of that.’
‘You got a girl?’ asked Sid, spitting very cleverly again.
Kipps admitted his deficiency. He felt compunction.
‘You don’t know who my girl is, Art Kipps, I bet.’
‘Who is, then?’ asked Kipps, still chiefly occupied by his own poverty. ‘Ah!’
Kipps let a moment elapse before he did his duty. ‘Tell us!’ Sid eyed him and hesitated.
‘Secret?’ he said.
‘Dying solemn!’ Kipps’ self-concentration passed into curiosity.
Sid administered a terrible oath.
Sid adhered lovingly to his facts. ‘It begins with a Nem,’ he said, doling it out parsimoniously. ‘M-A-U-D,’ he spelt, with a stern eye on Kipps. ‘C-H-A-R-T-E-R-I-S.’
Now, Maud Charteris was a young person of eighteen and the daughter of the vicar of St. Bavon’s — besides which, she had a bicycle — so that as her name unfolded, the face of Kipps lengthened with respect. ‘Get out,’ he gasped incredulously. ‘She ain’t your girl, Sid Pornick.’
‘She is!’ answered Sid stoutly.
‘What — truth?’
Kipps scrutinised his face. ‘Reely?’
Sid touched wood, whistled, and repeated a binding doggerel with great solemnity.
Kipps still struggled with the amazing new light on the world about him. ‘D’you mean — she knows?’
Sid flushed deeply, and his aspect became stern and gloomy. He resumed his wistful scrutiny of the sunlit sea. ‘I’d die for that girl, Art Kipps,’ he said presently; and Kipps did not press a question he felt to be ill-timed. I’d do anything she asked me to do,’ said Sid; ‘just anything. If she was to ask me to chuck myself into the sea.’ He met Kipps’ eye. ‘I would,’ he said.
They were pensive for a space, and then Sid began to discourse in fragments of Love, a theme upon which Kipps had already in a furtive way meditated a little, but which, apart from badinage, he had never yet heard talked about in the light of day. Of course, many and various aspects of life had come to light in the muffled exchange of knowledge that went on under the shadow of Woodrow, but this of Sentimental Love was not among them. Sid, who was a boy with an imagination, having once broached this topic, opened his heart, or, at any rate, a new chamber of his heart, to Kipps, and found no fault with Kipps for a lack of return. He produced a thumbed novelette that had played a part in his sentimental awakening; he proffered it to Kipps, and confessed there was a character in it, a baronet, singularly like himself. This baronet was a person of volcanic passions, which he concealed beneath a demeanour of ‘icy cynicism.’ The utmost expression he permitted himself was to grit his teeth, and, now his attention was called to it, Kipps remarked that Sid also had a habit of gritting his teeth, and, indeed, had had all the morning. They read for a time, and presently Sid talked again. The conception of love, Sid made evident, was compact of devotion and much spirited fighting and a touch of mystery, but through all that cloud of talk there floated before Kipps a face that was flushed and hair that was tossed aside.
So they budded, sitting on the blackening old wreck in which men had lived and died, looking out to sea, talking of that other sea upon which they must presently embark.
They ceased to talk, and Sid read; but Kipps, falling behind with the reading, and not wishing to admit that he read slowlier than Sid, whose education was of the inferior Elementary School brand, lapsed into meditation.
‘I would like to ‘ave a girl,’ said Kipps.
‘I mean just to talk to, and all that —’
A floating sack distracted them at last from this obscure topic. They abandoned the wreck, and followed the new interest a mile along the beach, bombarding it with stones until it came to land. They had inclined to a view that it would contain romantic mysteries, but it was simply an ill-preserved kitten — too much even for them. And at last they were drawn dinner-ward, and went home hungry and pensive side by side.
But Kipps’ imagination had been warmed by that talk of love, and in the afternoon when he saw Ann Pornick in the High Street and said ‘Hallo!’ it was a different ‘hallo’ from that of their previous intercourse. And when they had passed they both looked back and caught each other doing so. Yes, he did want a girl badly —
Afterwards he was distracted by a traction engine going through the town, and his aunt had got some sprats for supper. When he was in bed, however, sentiment came upon him again in a torrent quite abruptly and abundantly, and he put his head under the pillow and whispered very softly, ‘I love Ann Pornick,’ as a sort of supplementary devotion.
In his subsequent dreams he ran races with Ann, and they lived in a wreck together, and always her face was flushed and her hair about her face. They just lived in a wreck and ran races, and were very, very fond of one another. And their favourite food was rock chocolate, dates, such as one buys off barrows, and sprats — fried sprats —
In the morning he could hear Ann singing in the scullery next door. He listened to her for some time, and it was clear to him that he must put things before her.
Towards dusk that evening they chanced on one another out by the gate by the church, but though there was much in his mind, it stopped there with a resolute shyness until he and Ann were out of breath catching cockchafers and were sitting on that gate of theirs again. Ann sat up upon the gate, dark against vast masses of flaming crimson and darkling purple, and her eyes looked at Kipps from a shadowed face. There came a stillness between them, and quite abruptly he was moved to tell his love.
‘Ann,’ he said, ‘I do like you. I wish you was my girl ‘ . . . ‘I say, Ann. Will you be my girl?’
Ann made no pretence of astonishment. She weighed the proposal for a moment with her eyes on Kipps. ‘If you like, Artie,’ she said lightly. ‘I don’t mind if I am.’
‘All right,’ said Kipps, breathless with excitement, ‘then you are.’
‘All right,’ said Ann.
Something seemed to fall between them, they no longer looked openly at one another. ‘Lor!’ cried Ann, suddenly, ‘see that one!’ and jumped down and darted after a cockchafer that had boomed within a yard of her face. And with that they were girl and boy again . . .
They avoided their new relationship painfully.
They did not recur to it for several days, though they met twice. Both felt that there remained something before this great experience was to be regarded as complete; but there was an infinite diffidence about the next step. Kipps talked in fragments of all sorts of matters, telling particularly of the great things that were being done to make a man and a draper of him; how he had two new pairs of trousers and a black coat and four new shirts. And all the while his imagination was urging him to that unknown next step, and when he was alone and in the dark he became even an enterprising wooer. It became evident to him that it would be nice to take Ann by the hand; even the decorous novelettes Sid affected egged him on to that greater nearness of intimacy.
Then a great idea came to him, in a paragraph called ‘Lover’s Tokens’ that he read in a torn fragment of Tit–Bits. It fell in to the measure of his courage — a divided sixpence! He secured his aunt’s best scissors, fished a sixpence out of his jejune tin money-box, and jabbed his finger in a varied series of attempts to get it in half. When they met again the sixpence was still undivided. He had not intended to mention the matter to her at that stage, but it came up spontaneously. He endeavoured to explain the theory of broken sixpences and his unexpected failure to break one.
‘But what you break it for?’ said Ann. ‘It’s no good if it’s broke.’
‘It’s a Token,’ said Kipps.
‘Oh, you keep half and I keep half, and when we’re sep’rated, you look at your half and I look at mine — see? Then we think of each other.’
‘Oh!’ said Ann, and appeared to assimilate this information.
‘Only, I can’t get it in ‘arf nohow,’ said Kipps.
They discussed this difficulty for some time without illumination. Then Ann had a happy thought.
‘Tell you what,’ she said, starting away from him abruptly and laying a hand on his arm, ‘you let me ‘ave it, Artie. I know where father keeps his file.’
Kipps handed her the sixpence, and they came upon a pause. ‘I’ll easy do it,’ said Ann.
In considering the sixpence side by side, his head had come near her cheek. Quite abruptly he was moved to take his next step into the unknown mysteries of love. ‘Ann,’ he said, and gulped at his temerity, ‘I do love you. Straight. I’d do anything for you, Ann. Reely — I would.’
He paused for breath. She answered nothing, but she was no doubt enjoying herself. He came yet closer to her, his shoulder touched hers. ‘Ann, I wish you’d —’
‘What?’ said Ann.
‘Ann — lemme kiss you.’
Things seemed to hang for a space; his tone, the drop of his courage made the thing incredible as he spoke. Kipps was not of that bold order of wooers who impose conditions.
Ann perceived that she was not prepared for kissing after all. Kissing, she said, was silly, and when Kipps would have displayed a belated enterprise she flung away from him. He essayed argument. He stood afar off as it were — the better part of a yard — and said she might let him kiss her, and then that he didn’t see what good it was for her to be his girl if he couldn’t kiss her . . .
She repeated that kissing was silly. A certain estrangement took them homeward. They arrived in the dusky High Street not exactly together, and not exactly apart, but straggling. They had not kissed, but all the guilt of kissing was between them. When Kipps saw the portly contours of his uncle standing dimly in the shop doorway his footsteps faltered, and the space between our young couple increased. Above, the window over Pornick’s shop was open, and Mrs. Pornick was visible, taking the air. Kipps assumed an expression of extreme innocence. He found himself face to face with his uncle’s advanced outposts of waistcoat buttons.
‘Where ye bin, my boy?’
‘Bin for a walk, uncle.’
‘Not along of that brat of Pornick’s?’
‘Along of who?’
‘That gell’— indicating Ann with his pipe. ‘Oh, no, uncle!’— very faintly.
‘Run in, my boy.’ Old Kipps stood aside, with an oblique glance upward, and his nephew brushed clumsily by him and vanished out of sight of the street into the vague obscurity of the little shop. The door closed behind old Kipps with a nervous jangle of its bell, and he set himself to light the single oil-lamp that illuminated his shop at nights. It was an operation requiring care and watching, or else it flared and ‘smelt.’ Often it smelt after all. Kipps, for some reason, found the dusky living-room with his aunt in it too populous for his feelings, and went upstairs.
‘That brat of Pornick’s!’ It seemed to him that a horrible catastrophe had occurred. He felt he had identified himself inextricably with his uncle and cut himself off from her for ever by saying ‘Oh, no!’ At supper he was so visibly depressed that his aunt asked him if he wasn’t feeling well. Under this imminent threat of medicine he assumed an unnatural cheerfulness . . .
He lay awake for nearly half an hour that night, groaning because things had all gone wrong, because Ann wouldn’t let him kiss her, and because his uncle had called her a brat. It seemed to Kipps almost as though he himself had called her a brat . . .
There came an interval during which Ann was altogether inaccessible. One, two, three days passed and he did not see her. Sid he met several times; they went fishing and twice they bathed, but though Sid lent and received back two further love stories, they talked no more of love. They kept themselves in accord, however, agreeing that the most flagrantly sentimental story was ‘proper.’ Kipps was always wanting to speak of Ann, and never daring to do so. He saw her on Sunday evening going off to chapel. She was more beautiful than ever in her Sunday clothes, but she pretended not to see him because her mother was with her. But he thought she pretended not to see him because she had given him up for ever. Brat! — who could be expected ever to forgive that? He abandoned himself to despair, he ceased even to haunt the places where she might be found . . .
With paralysing unexpectedness came the end.
Mr. Shalford, the draper at Folkestone to whom he was to be bound apprentice, had expressed a wish to ‘shape the lad a bit’ before the autumn sale. Kipps became aware that his box was being packed, and gathered the full truth of things on the evening before his departure. He became feverishly eager to see Ann just once more. He made silly and needless excuses to go out into the yard, he walked three times across the street without any excuse at all to look up at the Pornick windows. Still she was hidden. He grew desperate. It was within half an hour of his departure that he came on Sid.
‘Hallo!’ he said, ‘I’m orf!’
‘I say, Sid. You going ‘ome?’
‘D’you mind —. Ask Ann about that.’
And Sid said he would. But even that, it seemed, failed to evoke Ann.
At last the Folkestone bus rumbled up, and he ascended. His aunt stood in the doorway to see him off. His uncle assisted with the box and portmanteau. Only furtively could he glance up at the Pornick windows and still it seemed Ann hardened her heart against him. ‘Get up!’ said the driver, and the hoofs began to clatter. No — she would not come out even to see him off. The bus was in motion, and old Kipps was going back into his shop. Kipps stared in front of him, assuring himself that he did not care.
He heard a door slam, and instantly craned out his neck to look back. He knew that slam so well. Behold! out of the haberdasher’s door a small, untidy figure in homely pink print had shot resolutely into the road and was sprinting in pursuit. In a dozen seconds she was abreast of the bus. At the sight of her Kipps’ heart began to beat very quickly, but he made no immediate motion of recognition.
‘Artie!’ she cried breathlessly. ‘Artie! Artie! You know! I got that!’
The bus was already quickening its pace and leaving her behind again, when Kipps realised what ‘that’ meant. He became animated, he gasped, and gathered his courage together and mumbled an incoherent request to the driver to ‘stop jest a jiff for sunthin’. The driver grunted, as the disparity of their years demanded, and then the bus had pulled up and Ann was below.
She leapt up upon the wheel. Kipps looked down into Ann’s face, and it was foreshortened and resolute. He met her eyes just for one second as their hands touched. He was not a reader of eyes. Something passed quickly from hand to hand, something that the driver, alert at the corner of his eye, was not allowed to see. Kipps hadn’t a word to say, and all she said was, ‘I done it, ‘smorning.’ It was like a blank space in which something pregnant should have been written and wasn’t. Then she dropped down, and the bus moved forward.
After the lapse of about ten seconds, it occurred to him to stand and wave his new bowler hat at her over the corner of the bus top, and to shout hoarsely, ‘Goo’-bye, Ann! Don’ forget me — while I’m away!’
She stood in the road looking after him, and presently she waved her hand.
He remained standing unstably, his bright, flushed face looking back at her and his hair fluffing in the wind, and he waved his hat until at last the bend of the road hid her from his eyes. Then he turned about and sat down, and presently he began to put the half-sixpence he held clenched in his hand into his trouser-pocket. He looked sideways at the driver to judge how much he had seen.
Then he fell a-thinking. He resolved that, come what might, when he came back to New Romney at Christmas, he would, by hook or by crook, kiss Ann.
Then everything would be perfect and right, and he would be perfectly happy.
When Kipps left New Romney, with a small yellow tin box, a still smaller portmanteau, a new umbrella, and a keepsake half-sixpence, to become a draper, he was a youngster of fourteen, thin, with whimsical drakes’-tails at the pole of his head, smallish features, and eyes that were sometimes very light and sometimes very dark, gifts those of his birth; and by the nature of his training he was indistinct in his speech, confused in his mind, and retreating in his manners. Inexorable fate had appointed him to serve his country in commerce, and the same national bias towards private enterprise and leaving bad alone, which had left his general education to Mr. Woodrow, now indentured him firmly into the hands of Mr. Shalford of the Folkestone Drapery Bazaar. Apprenticeship is still the recognised English way to the distributing branch of the social service. If Mr. Kipps had been so unfortunate as to have been born a German he might have been educated in an elaborate and costly special school (‘over-educated — crammed up’— old Kipps) to fit him for his end — such being their pedagogic way.
He might — But why make unpatriotic reflections in a novel? There was nothing pedagogic about Mr. Shalford.
He was an irascible, energetic little man with hairy hands, for the most part under his coat-tails, a long, shiny, bald head, a pointed aquiline nose a little askew, and a neatly trimmed beard. He walked lightly and with a confident jerk, and he was given to humming. He had added to exceptional business ‘push,’ bankruptcy under the old dispensation, and judicious matrimony. His establishment was now one of the most considerable in Folkestone, and he insisted on every inch of frontage by alternate stripes of green and yellow down the house over the shops. His shops were numbered 3, 5, and 7 on the street, and on his bill-heads 3 to 7. He encountered the abashed and awe-stricken Kipps with the praises of his System and himself. He spread himself out behind his desk with a grip on the lapel of his coat, and made Kipps a sort of speech. ‘We expect y’r to work, y’r know, and we expect y’r to study our interests,’ explained Mr. Shalford, in the regal and commercial plural.
‘Our System here is the best system y’r could have. I made it, and I ought to know. I began at the very bottom of the ladder when I was fourteen, and there isn’t a step in it I don’t know. Not a step. Mr. Booch in the desk will give y’r the card of rules and fines. Jest wait a minute.’ He pretended to be busy with some dusty memoranda under a paper-weight, while Kipps stood in a sort of paralysis of awe regarding his new master’s oval baldness. ‘Two thous’n three forty-seven pounds,’ whispered Mr. Shalford audibly, feigning forgetfulness of Kipps. Clearly a place of great transactions!
Mr. Shalford rose, and, handing Kipps a blotting-pad and an inkpot to carry, mere symbols of servitude, for he made no use of them, emerged into a counting-house where three clerks had been feverishly busy ever since his door-handle had turned. ‘Booch,’ said Mr. Shalford, ‘‘ave y’r copy of the Rules?’ and a downtrodden, shabby little old man, with a ruler in one hand and a quill pen in his mouth, silently held out a small book with green and yellow covers, mainly devoted, as Kipps presently discovered, to a voracious system of Fines. He became acutely aware that his hands were full and that everybody was staring at him. He hesitated a moment before putting the inkpot down to free a hand.
‘Mustn’t fumble like that,’ said Mr. Shalford as Kipps pocketed the Rules. ‘Won’t do here. Come along, come along,’ cocked his coat-tails high, as a lady might hold up her dress, and led the way into the shop.
A vast, interminable place it seemed to Kipps, with unending shining counters and innumerable faultlessly dressed young men and, presently, Houri-like young women staring at him. Here there was a long vista of gloves dangling from overhead rods, there ribbons and baby linen. A short young lady in black mittens was making out the account of a customer, and was clearly confused in her addition by Shalford’s eagle eye.
A thick-set young man with a bald head and a round very wise face, who was profoundly absorbed in adjusting all the empty chairs down the counter to absolutely equal distances, awoke out of his preoccupation and answered respectfully to a few Napoleonic and quite unnecessary remarks from his employer. Kipps was told that this young man’s name was Mr. Buggins, and that he was to do whatever Mr. Buggins told him to do.
They came round a corner into a new smell, which was destined to be the smell of Kipps’ life for many years, the vague, distinctive smell of Manchester goods. A fat man with a large nose jumped — actually jumped — at their appearance, and began to fold a pattern of damask in front of him exactly like an automaton that is suddenly set going. ‘Carshot, see to this boy tomorrow,’ said the master. ‘See he don’t fumble. Smart’n ‘imup.’
‘Yussir,’ said Carshot fatly, glanced at Kipps, and resumed his pattern-folding with extreme zeal.
‘Whatever Mr. Carshot says y’r to do, ye do,’ said Mr. Shalford, trotting onward; and Carshot blew out his face with an appearance of relief.
They crossed a large room full of the strangest things Kipps had ever seen. Lady-like figures, surmounted by black, wooden knobs in the place of the refined heads one might have reasonably expected stood about with a lifelike air of conscious fashion. ‘Costume Room,’ said Shalford. Two voices engaged in some sort of argument —‘I can assure you, Miss Mergle, you are entirely mistaken — entirely, in supposing I should do anything so unwomanly,’— sank abruptly, and they discovered two young ladies, taller and fairer than any of the other young ladies, and with black trains to their dresses, who were engaged in writing at a little table. Whatever they told him to do Kipps gathered he was to do. He was also, he understood, to do whatever Carshot and Booch told him to do. And there were also Buggins and Mr. Shalford. And not to forget or fumble!
They descended into a cellar called The Warehouse, and Kipps had an optical illusion of errand-boys fighting. Some aerial voice said ‘Teddy!’ and the illusion passed. He looked again, and saw quite clearly that they were packing parcels, and always would be, and that the last thing in the world that they would or could possibly do was to fight. Yet he gathered from the remarks Mr. Shalford addressed to their busy backs that they had been fighting — no doubt at some past period of their lives.
Emerging in the shop again among a litter of toys and what are called ‘fancy articles,’ Shalford withdrew a hand from beneath his coat-tails to indicate an overhead change carrier. He entered into elaborate calculations to show how many minutes in one year were saved thereby, and lost himself among the figures. ‘Seven turns eight seven nine — was it? Or seven eight nine? Now, now! Why, when I was a boy your age I c’d do a sum like that as soon as hear it. We’ll soon get y’r into better shape than that. Make you Fishent. Well, y’r must take my word it comes to pounds and pounds saved in the year — pounds and pounds. System! System everywhere. Fishency.’ He went on murmuring ‘Fishency’ and ‘System’ at intervals for some time. They passed into a yard, and Mr. Shalford waved his hand to his three delivery vans, all striped green and yellow —‘uniform — green, yell’r — System.’ All over the premises were pinned absurd little cards, ‘This door locked after 7.30. By order, Edwin Shalford,’ and the like.
Mr. Shalford always wrote ‘By Order,’ though it conveyed no earthly meaning to him. He was one of those people who collect technicalities upon them as the Reduvius bug collects dirt. He was the sort of man who is not only ignorant but absolutely incapable of English. When he wanted to say he had a sixpenny-ha’penny longcloth to sell, he put it thus to startled customers: ‘Can DO you one six half, if y’like.’ He always omitted pronouns and articles and so forth; it seemed to him the very essence of the efficiently business-like. His only preposition was ‘as’ or the compound ‘as per.’ He abbreviated every word he could; he would have considered himself the laughingstock of Wood Street if he had chanced to spell socks in any way but ‘sox.’ But, on the other hand, if he saved words here he wasted them there; he never acknowledged an order that was not an esteemed favour, nor sent a pattern without begging to submit it. He never stipulated for so many months’ credit, but bought in November ‘as Jan.’ It was not only words he abbreviated in his London communications. In paying his wholesalers his ‘System’ admitted of a constant error in the discount of a penny or twopence, and it ‘facilitated business,’ he alleged, to ignore odd pence in the cheques he wrote. His ledger clerk was so struck with the beauty of this part of the System that he started a private one on his own account with the stampbox that never came to Shalford’s knowledge.
This admirable British merchant would glow with a particular pride of intellect when writing his London orders.
‘Ah! do y’r think you’ll ever be able to write London orders?’ he would say with honest pride to Kipps, waiting impatiently long after closing-time to take these triumphs of commercial efficiency to post, and so end the interminable day.
Kipps shook his head, anxious for Mr. Shalford to get on.
‘Now, here, f’example, I’ve written — see? ‘1 piece 1 in, cott blk elas 1/or’; what do I mean by that or — eh? d’ye know?’
Kipps promptly hadn’t the faintest idea.
‘And then, ‘2 ea silk net as per patts herewith’; ea — eh?’
It was not Mr. Shalford’s way to explain things. ‘Dear, dear!
Pity you couldn’t get some c’mercial education at your school. ‘Stid of all this lit’ry stuff. Well, my boy, if y’r not a bit sharper, y’ll never write London orders, that’s pretty plain. Jest stick stamps on all those letters and mind y’r stick ’em right way up, and try and profit a little more by the opportunities your aunt and uncle have provided ye. Can’t say what’ll happen t’ye if ye don’t.’ And Kipps, tired, hungry, and belated, set about stamping with vigour and dispatch.
‘Lick the envelope,’ said Mr. Shalford, ‘lick the envelope, as though he grudged the youngster the postage-stamp gum. ‘It’s the little things mount up,’ he would say and, indeed, that was his philosophy of life — to hustle and save, always to hustle and save. His political creed linked Reform, which meant nothing, with Peace and Economy, which meant a sweated expenditure, and his conception of a satisfactory municipal life was to ‘keep down the rates.’ Even his religion was to save his soul and to preach a similar cheeseparing to the world.
The indentures that bound Kipps to Mr. Shalford were antique and complex; they insisted on the latter gentleman’s parental privileges, they forbade Kipps to dice and game, they made him over, body and soul, to Mr. Shalford for seven long years, the crucial years of his life. In return there were vague stipulations about teaching the whole art and mystery of the trade to him, but as there was no penalty attached to negligence, Mr. Shalford being a sound, practical, business man, considered this a mere rhetorical flourish, and set himself assiduously to get as much out of Kipps and to put as little into him as he could in the seven years of their intercourse.
What he put into Kipps was chiefly bread and margarine, infusions of chicory and tea-dust, colonial meat by contract at threepence a pound, potatoes by the sack, and watered beer. If, however, Kipps chose to buy any supplementary material for growth, Mr. Shalford had the generosity to place his kitchen resources at his disposal free — if the fire chanced to be going. He was also allowed to share a bedroom with eight other young men, and to sleep in a bed which, except in very severe weather, could be made, with the help of his overcoat and private under-linen, not to mention newspapers, quite sufficiently warm for any reasonable soul. In addition, Kipps was taught the list of fines, and how to tie up parcels, to know where goods were kept in Mr. Shalford’s systematised shop, to hold his hands extended upon the counter, and to repeat such phrases as ‘What can I have the pleasure —?’ ‘No trouble, I assure you,’ and the like; to block, fold, and measure materials of all sorts, to lift his hat from his head when he passed Mr. Shalford abroad, and to practise a servile obedience to a large number of people. But he was not, of course, taught the ‘cost’ mark of the goods he sold, nor anything of the method of buying such goods. Nor was his attention directed to the unfamiliar social habits and fashions to which his trade ministered. The use of half the goods he saw sold and was presently to assist in selling he did not understand; materials for hangings, cretonnes, chintzes, and the like; serviettes, and all the bright, hard whitewear of a well-ordered house; pleasant dress materials, linings, stiffenings; they were to him from first to last no more than things, heavy and difficult to handle in bulk, that one folded up, unfolded, cut into lengths, and saw dwindle and pass away out into that mysterious, happy world in which the Customer dwells. Kipps hurried from piling linen table-cloths, that were, collectively, as heavy as lead, to eat off oil-cloth in a gas-lit dining-room underground, and he dreamt of combing endless blankets beneath his overcoat, spare undershirt, and three newspapers, so he had at least the chance of learning the beginnings of philosophy.
In return for these benefits he worked so that he commonly went to bed exhausted and footsore. His round began at half past six in the morning, when he would descend, unwashed and shirtless, in old clothes and a scarf, and dust boxes and yawn, and take down wrappers and clean the windows until eight. Then in half an hour he would complete his toilet, and take an austere breakfast of bread and margarine and what only an Imperial Englishman wou’d admit to be coffee, after which refreshment he ascended to the shop for the labours of the day.
Commonly these began with a mighty running to and fro with planks and boxes and goods for Carshot, the window-dresser, who, whether he worked well or ill, nagged persistently, by reason of a chronic indigestion, until the window was done. Sometimes the costume window had to be dressed, and then Kipps staggered down the whole length of the shop from the costume room with one after another of those ladylike shapes grasped firmly but shamefully each about her single ankle of wood. Such days as there was no window-dressing there was a nightly carrying and lifting of blocks and bales of goods into piles and stacks. After this there were terrible exercises, at first almost despairfully difficult; certain sorts of goods that came in folded had to be rolled upon rollers, and for the most part refused absolutely to be rolled, at any rate by Kipps; certain other sorts of goods that came from the wholesalers rolled had to be measured and folded, and folding makes young apprentices wish they were dead. All of it, too, quite avoidable trouble, you know, that is not avoided because of the cheapness of the genteeler sorts of labour and the dearness of forethought in the world. And then consignments of new goods had to be marked off and packed into paper parcels, and Carshot packed like conjuring tricks, and Kipps packed like a boy with tastes in some other direction — not ascertained. And always Carshot nagged —.
He had a curious formula of appeal to his visceral economy that the refinement of our times and the earnest entreaties of my friends oblige me to render by an etiolated paraphrase.
‘My Heart and Liver! I never see such a boy,’ so I will present Carshot’s refrain; and even when he was within a foot or so of the customer’s face, the disciplined ear of Kipps would still at times develop a featureless intercalary murmur into — well, ‘My Heart and Liver!’
There came a blessed interval when Kipps was sent abroad ‘matching.’ This consisted chiefly in supplying unexpected defects in buttons, ribbon, lining, and so forth in the dressmaking department. He was given a written paper of orders with patterns pinned thereto and discharged into the sunshine and interest of the street. Then until he thought it wise to return and stand the racket of his delay, he was a free man, clear of all reproach.
He made remarkable discoveries in topography, as, for example, that the most convenient way from the establishment of Mr. Adolphus Davis to the establishment of Messrs. Plummer, Roddis, and Tyrrell, two of his principal places of call, is not, as is generally supposed, down the Sandgate road, but up the Sandgate road, round by West Terrace and along the Leas to the lift, watch the lift up and down twice, but not longer, because that wouldn’t do, back along the Leas, watch the Harbour for a short time, and then round by the churchyard, and so (hurrying) into Church Street and Rendezvous Street. But on some exceptionally fine days the route lay through Radnor Park to the pond where little boys sail ships and there are interesting swans.
He would return to find the shop settling down to the business of serving customers. And now he had to stand by to furnish any help that was necessary to the seniors who served, to carry parcels and bills about the shop, to clear away ‘stuff’ after each engagement, to hold up curtains until his arms ached, and, what was more difficult than all, to do nothing and not stare disconcertingly at customers when there was nothing for him to do. He plumbed an abyss of boredom, or stood a mere carcass with his mind far away, fighting the enemies of the empire, or steering a dream-ship perilously into unknown seas. To be recalled sharply to our higher civilisation by some bustling senior’s ‘Nar then, Kipps. Look alive! Ketch ‘old. (My Heart and Liver!)’
At half-past seven o’clock — except on late nights — a feverish activity of straightening ‘up’ began, and when the last shutter was up outside, Kipps, with the speed of an arrow leaving a bow, would start hanging wrappers over the fixtures and over the piles of wares upon the counters, preparatory to a vigorous scattering of wet sawdust and the sweeping out of the shop.
Sometimes people would stay long after the shop was closed. ‘They don’t mind a bit at Shalford’s,’ these ladies used to say, and while they loitered it was forbidden to touch a wrapper or take any measures to conclude the day until the doors closed behind them.
Mr. Kipps would watch these later customers from the shadow of a stack of goods, and death and disfigurement was the least he wished for them. Rarely much later than nine, a supper of bread and cheese and watered beer awaited him downstairs, and, that consumed, the rest of the day was entirely at his disposal for reading, recreation, and the improvement of his mind . . .
The front door was locked at half-past ten, and the gas in the dormitory extinguished at eleven.
On Sundays he was obliged to go to church once, and commonly he went twice, for there was nothing else to do. He sat in the free seats at the back; he was too shy to sing, and not always clever enough to keep his place in the Prayer Book, and he rarely listened to the sermon. But he had developed a sort of idea that going to church had a tendency to alleviate life. His aunt wanted to have him confirmed, but he evaded this ceremony for some years.
In the intervals between services he walked about Folkestone with an air of looking for something. Folkestone was not so interesting on Sundays as on week-days because the shops were shut; but, on the other hand, there was a sort of confusing brilliance along the front of the Leas in the afternoon. Sometimes the apprentice next above him would condescend to go with him; but when the apprentice next but one above him condescended to go with the apprentice next above him, then Kipps, being habited as yet in ready-made clothes without tails, and unsuitable, therefore, to appear in such company, went alone.
Sometimes he would strike out into the country — still as if looking for something he missed — but the rope of meal-times haled him home again, and sometimes he would invest the major portion of the weekly allowance of a shilling that old Booch handed out to him, in a sacred concert on the pier. He would sometimes walk up and down the Leas between twenty and thirty times after supper, desiring much the courage to speak to some other person in the multitude similarly employed. Almost invariably he ended his Sunday footsore.
He never read a book, there were none for him to read, and, besides, in spite of Mr. Woodrow’s guidance through a cheap and cheaply annotated edition of The Tempest (English Literature), he had no taste that way; he never read any newspapers except, occasionally, Tit–Bits or a ha’penny ‘comic.’ His chief intellectual stimulus was an occasional argey-bargey that sprang up between Carshot and Buggins at dinner. Kipps listened as if to unparalleled wisdom and wit, and treasured all the gems of repartee in his heart against the time when he, too, should be a Buggins and have the chance and courage for speech.
At times there came breaks in this routine — sale-times, darkened by extra toil and work past midnight, but brightened by a sprat supper and some shillings in the way of ‘premiums.’ And every year — not now and then, but every year — Mr. Shalford, with parenthetic admiration of his own generosity and glancing comparisons with the austerer days when he was apprenticed, conceded Kipps no less than ten days holiday — ten whole days every year! Many a poor soul at Portland might well envy the fortunate Kipps. Insatiable heart of man! but how those days were grudged and counted as they snatched themselves away from him one after another!
Once a year came stocktaking, and at intervals gusts of ‘marking off’ goods newly arrived. Then the splendours of Mr. Shalford’s being shone with oppressive brilliancy. ‘System!’ he would say, ‘system! Come! ‘ussel!’ and issue sharp, confusing, contradictory orders very quickly. Carshot trotted about, confused, perspiring, his big nose up in the air, his little eye on Mr. Shalford, his forehead crinkled, his lips always going to the formula, ‘Oh, my Heart and Liver!’ The smart junior and the second apprentice vied with one another in obsequious alacrity. The smart junior aspired to Carshot’s position and that made him almost violently subservient to Shalford. They all snapped at Kipps. Kipps held the blotting-pad and the safety inkpot and a box of tickets, and ran and fetched things. If he put the ink down before he went to fetch things, Mr. Shalford usually knocked it over, and if he took it away Mr. Shalford wanted it before he returned. ‘You make my tooth ache, Kipps,’ Mr. Shalford would say. ‘You gimme n’ralgia. You got no more System in you than a bad potato.’ And at the times when Kipps carried off the inkpot Mr. Shalford would become purple in the face, and jab round with his dry pen at imaginary inkpots and swear, and Carshot would stand and vociferate, and the smart junior would run to the corner of the department and vociferate, and the second apprentice would pursue Kipps, vociferating, ‘Look Alive, Kipps! Look Alive! Ink, Man! Ink!’
A vague self-disgust that shaped itself as an intense hate of Shalford and all his fellow-creatures filled the soul of Kipps during these periods of storm and stress. He felt that the whole business was unjust and idiotic, but the why and the wherefore was too much for his unfortunate brain. His mind was a welter. One desire, the desire to dodge some, at least, of a pelting storm of disagreeable comment, guided him through a fumbling performance of his duties. His disgust was infinite! It was not decreased by the inflamed ankles and sore feet that form a normal incident in the business of making an English draper, and the senior apprentice Minton, a gaunt, sullen-faced youngster with close-cropped, wiry, black hair, a loose, ugly mouth, and a moustache like a smudge of ink, directed his attention to deeper aspects of the question and sealed his misery.
‘When you get too old to work they chuck you away,’ said Minton. ‘Lor! you find old drapers everywhere — tramps, beggars, dock labourers, bus conductors — Quod. Anywhere but in a crib.’
‘Don’t they get shops of their own?’
‘Lord! ‘Ow are they to get shops of their own? They ‘aven’t any Capital! How’s a draper’s shopman to save up five hundred pounds even? I tell you it can’t be done. You got to stick to Cribs until it’s over. I tell you we’re in a blessed drain-pipe, and we’ve got to crawl along it till we die.’
The idea that fermented perpetually in the mind of Minton was to ‘hit the little beggar slap in the eye’— the little beggar being Mr. Shalford —‘and see how his blessed System met that.’
This threat filled Kipps with splendid anticipations whenever Shalford went marking off on Minton’s department. He would look at Minton and look at Shalford and decide where he would best like Shalford hit . . . But for reasons known to himself Shalford never pished and tushed with Minton as he did at the harmless Carshot, and this interesting experiment upon the System was never attempted.
There were times when Kipps would lie awake, all others in the dormitory asleep and snoring, and think dismally of the outlook Minton pictured. Dimly he perceived the thing that had happened to him, how the great stupid machine of retail trade had caught his life into its wheels, a vast, irresistible force which he had neither strength of will nor knowledge to escape. This was to be his life until his days should end. No adventures, no glory, no change, no freedom. Neither — though the force of that came home to him later — might he dream of effectual love and marriage. And there was a terrible something called the ‘swap,’ or ‘the key of the street,’ and ‘crib hunting,’ of which the talk was scanty but sufficient. Night after night he would resolve to enlist, to run away to sea, to set fire to the warehouse, or drown himself, and morning after morning he rose up and hurried downstairs in fear of a sixpenny fine. He would compare his dismal round of servile drudgery with those windy, sunlit days at Littlestone, those windows of happiness shining ever brighter as they receded. The little figure of Ann seemed in all these windows now.
She, too, had happened on evil things. When Kipps went home for the first Christmas after he was bound, that great suspended resolve of his to kiss her flared up to hot determination, and he hurried out and whistled in the yard. There was a silence, and then old Kipps appeared behind him.
‘It’s no good your whistling there, my boy,’ said old Kipps in a loud, clear tone, designed to be audible over the wall. ‘They’ve cleared out all you ‘ad any truck with. She’s gone as help to Ashford, my boy. Help! Slavey is what we used to call ’em, but times are changed. Wonder they didn’t say lady-‘elp while they was about it. It ‘ud be like ’em.’
And Sid —? Sid had gone too. ‘Arrand boy or somethink,’ said old Kipps. ‘To one of these here brasted bicycle shops.’
‘Has ‘e?’ said Kipps, with a feeling that he had been gripped about the chest; and he turned quickly and went indoors.
Old Kipps, still supposing him present, went on to further observations of an anti-Pornick tendency . . .
When Kipps got upstairs, safe in his own bedroom, he sat down on the bed and stared at nothing. They were caught — they were all caught. All life took on the hue of one perpetual dismal Monday morning. The Hurons were scattered, the wrecks and the beach had passed away from him, the sun of those warm evenings at Littlestone had set for evermore . . .
The only pleasure left for the brief remainder of his holiday after that was to think he was not in the shop. Even that was transient. Two more days, one more day, half a day. When he went back there were one or two very dismal nights indeed. He went so far as to write home some vague intimation of his feelings about business and his prospects, quoting Minton, but Mrs. Kipps answered him, ‘Did he want the Pornicks to say he wasn’t good enough to be a draper?’ This dreadful possibility was, of course, conclusive in the matter. ‘No,’ he resolved they should not say he failed at that.
He derived much help from a ‘manly’ sermon delivered in an enormous voice by a large, fat, sun-red clergyman, just home from a colonial bishopric he had resigned on the plea of ill-health, exhorting him that whatever his hand found to do, he was to do with all his might, and the revision of his catechism preparatory to his confirmation reminded him that it behoved him to do his duty in that state of life into which it had pleased God to call him.
After a time the sorrows of Kipps grew less acute, and, save for a miracle, the brief tragedy of his life was over. He subdued himself to his position even as his church required of him, seeing, moreover, no way out of it.
The earliest mitigation of his lot was that his soles and ankles became indurated to the perpetual standing. The next was an unexpected weekly whiff of freedom that came every Thursday. Mr. Shalford, after a brave stand for what he called ‘Innyvishal lib’ty’ and the ‘Idea of my System,’ a stand which, he explained, he made chiefly on patriotic grounds, was at last, under pressure of certain of his customers, compelled to fall in line with the rest of the local Early Closing Association, and Mr. Kipps could emerge in daylight and go where he listed for long, long hours. Moreover, Minton, the pessimist, reached the end of his appointed time and left — to enlist in a cavalry regiment, and go about this planet leading an insubordinate but interesting life that ended at last in an intimate, vivid, and really, you know, by no means painful or tragic night grapple in the Terah Valley. In a little while Kipps cleaned windows no longer; he was serving customers (of the less important sort) and taking goods out on approval, and presently he was third apprentice, and his moustache was visible, and there were three apprentices whom he might legally snub and cuff. But one was (most dishonestly) too big to cuff, in spite of his greener years.
There came still other distractions, the natural distractions of adolescence, to take his mind off the inevitable. His costume, for example, began to interest him more; he began to realise himself as a visible object, to find an interest in the costume-room mirrors and the eyes of the girl-apprentices.
In this he was helped by counsel and example. Pearce, his immediate senior, was by way of being what was called a Masher, and preached his cult. During slack times grave discussions about collars, ties, the cut of trouser-legs, and the proper shape of a boot-toe, were held in the Manchester department. In due course Kipps went to a tailor, and his short jacket was replaced by a morning coat with tails. Stirred by this he purchased at his own expense three stand-up collars to replace his former turndown ones. They were nearly three inches high, higher than those Pearce wore, and they made his neck quite sore, and left a red mark under his ears . . . So equipped, he found himself fit company even for this fashionable apprentice who had now succeeded Minton in his seniority.
Most potent help of all in the business of forgetting his cosmic disaster was this, that so soon as he was in tail coats, the young ladies of the establishment began to discover that he was no longer a ‘horrid little boy.’ Hitherto they had tossed heads at him and kept him in his place. Now they discovered that he was a ‘nice boy,’ which is next door at least to being a ‘feller,’ and in some ways even preferable. It is painful to record that his fidelity to Ann failed at their first onset. I am fully sensible how entirely better this story would be, from a sentimental point of view, if he had remained true to that early love. Only then it would have been a different story altogether. And at least Kipps was thus far true, that with none of these later loves was there any of that particular quality that linked Ann’s flushed face and warmth and the inner things of life so inseparably together. Though they were not without emotions of various sorts.
It was one of the young ladies in the costume-room who first showed by her manner that he was a visible object and capable of exciting interest. She talked to him, she encouraged him to talk to her, she lent him a book she possessed, and darned a sock for him and said she would be his elder sister. She allowed him to escort her to church with a great air of having induced him to go. Then she investigated his eternal welfare, overcame a certain affectation of virile indifference to religion, and extorted a promise that he would undergo ‘confirmation.’ This excited the other young lady in the costumes, her natural rival, and she set herself with great charm and subtlety to the capture of the ripening heart of Kipps. She took a more worldly line. She went for a walk with him to the pier on Sunday afternoon, and explained to him how a gentleman must always walk ‘outside’ a lady on a pavement, and how all gentlemen wore, or, at least, carried gloves, and generally the broad beginnings of the British social ideal. Afterwards the ladies exchanged ‘words’ upon Sabbatical grounds. In this way was the toga virilis bestowed on Kipps, and he became recognised as a suitable object for that Platonic Eros whose blunted darts devastate even the very highest class establishments. In this way, too, did that pervading ambition of the British young man to be, if not a ‘gentleman,’ at least mistakably like one, take root in his heart.
He took to these new interests with a quite natural and personal zest. He became initiated into the mysteries of ‘flirting’ and — at a slightly later stage and with some leading hints from Pearce, who was of a communicative disposition in these matters of the milder forms of ‘spooning.’ Very soon he was engaged. Before two years were out he had been engaged six times, and was beginning to be rather a desperate fellow, so far as he could make out. Desperate, but quite gentlemanly, be it understood, and without let or hindrance to the fact that he was in four brief lessons ‘prepared’ by a distant-mannered and gloomy young curate, and ‘confirmed’ a member of the Established Church.
The engagements in drapery establishments do not necessarily involve a subsequent marriage. They are essentially more refined, less coarsely practical, and altogether less binding than the engagements of the vulgar rich. These young ladies do not like not to be engaged, it is so unnatural, and Mr. Kipps was as easy to get engaged to as one could wish. There are, from the young lady’s point of view, many conveniences in being engaged. You get an escort for Church and walks, and so forth. It is not quite the thing to walk abroad with a ‘feller’, much more to ‘spoon’ with him, when he is neither one’s fiance nor an adopted brother; it is considered either a little fast or else as savouring of the ‘walking-out’ habits of the servant girls. Now, such is the sweetness of human charity, that the shop young lady in England has just the same horror of doing anything that savours of the servant girl as the lady journalist, let us say, has of anything savouring of the shop-girl, or the really quite nice young lady has of anything savouring of any sort of girl who has gone down into the economic battlefield to earn herself a living . . . But the very deepest of these affairs was still among the shallow places of love, at best it was paddling where it is decreed that men must sink or swim. Of the deep and dangerous places, and of the huge, buoyant lift of its waves, he tasted nothing. Affairs of clothes and vanities they were, jealousies about a thing said, flatteries and mutual boastings, climaxes in the answering grasp of hands, the temerarious use of Christian names, culminations in a walk, or a near confidence, or a little pressure more or less. Close sitting on a seat after twilight with some little fondling was, indeed, the boldest of a lover’s adventures, the utmost limit of his enterprises in the service of that stark Great Lady who is daughter of Uranus and the sea. The ‘young ladies’ who reigned in his heart came and went like people in an omnibus; there was the vehicle, so to speak, upon the road, and they entered and left it without any cataclysm of emotion. For all that, this development of the sex interest was continuously very interesting to Kipps, and kept him going as much as anything through all these servile years . . .
For a tailpiece to this chapter one may vignette a specimen minute.
It is a bright Sunday afternoon; the scene is a secluded little seat half-way down the front of the Leas, and Kipps is four years older than when he parted from Ann. There is a quite perceptible down upon his upper lip, and his costume is just as tremendous a ‘mash’ as lies within his means. His collar is so high that it scars his inaggressive jaw-bone, and his hat has a curly brim, his tie shows taste, his trousers are modestly brilliant, and his boots have light cloth uppers and a button at the side. He jabs at the gravel before him with a cheap cane and glances sideways at Flo Bates, the young lady from the cash desk. She is wearing a brilliant blouse and a gaily trimmed hat. There is an air of fashion about her that might disappear under the analysis of a woman of the world, but which is quite sufficient to make Kipps very proud to be distinguished as her particular ‘feller,’ and to be allowed at temperate intervals to use her Christian name.
The conversation is light and gay in the modern style, and Flo keeps on smiling, good temper being her special charm.
‘Ye see, you don’t mean what I mean,’ he is saying.
‘Well, what do you mean?’
‘Not what you mean!’
‘Well, tell me.’
‘Ah! That’s another story.’
Pause. They look meaningly at one another.
‘You are a one for being roundabout,’ says the lady.
‘Well, you’re not so plain, you know.’
‘You don’t mean to say I’m roundabout?’
‘No. I mean to say — Though —’ Pause.
‘You’re not a bit plain — you’re’ (his voice jumps up to a squeak) ‘pretty. See?’
‘Oh, get out!’— her voice lifts also — with pleasure.
She strikes him with her glove, then glances suddenly at a ring upon her finger. Her smile disappears momentarily. Another pause. Eyes meet and the smile returns.
‘I wish I knew —’ says Kipps. ‘Knew —?’
‘Where you got that ring.’
She lifts the hand with the ring until her eyes just show (very prettily) over it. ‘You’d just like to know,’ she says slowly, and smiles still more brightly with the sense of successful effect.
‘I dessay I could guess.’
‘I dessay you couldn’t.’
‘Guess it in three.’
‘Not the name.’
‘Well, anyhow, lemme look at it.’
He looks at it. Pause. Giggles, slight struggle, and a slap on Kipps’ coat-sleeve. A passer-by appears down the path and she hastily withdraws her hand.
She glances at the face of the approaching man. They maintain a bashful silence until he has passed . . .
Though these services to Venus Epipontia, and these studies in the art of dress, did much to distract his thoughts and mitigate his earlier miseries, it would be mere optimism to present Kipps as altogether happy. A vague dissatisfaction with life drifted about him, and every now and again enveloped him like a sea-fog. During these periods it was grayly evident that there was something, something vital in life, lacking. For no earthly reason that Kipps could discover, he was haunted by a suspicion that life was going wrong, or had already gone wrong in some irrevocable way. The ripening self-consciousness of adolescence developed this into a clearly felt insufficiency. It was all very well to carry gloves, open doors, never say ‘Miss’ to a girl, and walk ‘outside’, but were there not other things, conceivably even deeper things, before the complete thing was attained? For example, certain matters of knowledge. He perceived great bogs of ignorance about him, fumbling traps, where other people, it was alleged, real gentlemen and ladies, for example, and the clergy, had knowledge and assurance, bogs which it was sometimes difficult to elude. A girl arrived in the millinery department who could, she said, speak French and German. She snubbed certain advances, and a realisation of inferiority blistered Kipps. But he tried to pass the thing off as a joke by saying ‘Parlez-vous Francey’ whenever he met her, and inducing the junior apprentice to say the same.
He even made some dim, half-secret experiments towards remedying the deficiencies he suspected. He spent five shillings on five serial numbers of a Home Educator, and bought (and even thought of reading) a Shakespeare and a Bacon’s ‘Advancement of Learning,’ and the poems of Herrick from a chap who was hard up. He battled with Shakespeare all one Sunday afternoon, and found the ‘English Literature,’ with which Mr. Woodrow had equipped him, had vanished down some crack in his mind. He had no doubt it was very splendid stuff, but he couldn’t quite make out what it was all about. There was an occult meaning, he knew, in literature, and he had forgotten it. Moreover, he discovered one day, while taunting the junior apprentice with ignorance, that his ‘rivers of England’ had also slipped his memory, and he laboriously restored that fabric of rote learning: Ty Wear Tees ‘Umber —’
I suppose some such phase of discontent is a normal thing in every adolescence. The ripening mind seeks something upon which its will may crystallise, upon which its discursive emotions, growing more abundant with each year of life, may concentrate. For many, though not for all, it takes a religious direction; but in those particular years the mental atmosphere of Folkestone was exceptionally free from any revivalistic disturbance that might have reached Kipps’ mental being. Sometimes they fall in love. I have known this uneasiness end in different cases in a vow to read one book (not a novel) every week, to read the Bible through in a year, to pass in the Honours division of the London Matriculation examination, to become an accomplished chemist, and never more to tell a lie. It led Kipps finally into Technical Education, as we understand it in the south of England.
It was in the last year of his apprenticeship that he had pursued his researches after that missing qualification into the Folkestone Young Men’s Association, where Mr. Chester Coote prevailed. Mr. Chester Coote was a young man of semi-independent means, who inherited a share in a house agency, read Mrs. Humphry Ward, and took an interest in social work. He was a whitish-faced young man, with a prominent nose, pale blue eyes, and a quivering quality in his voice. He was very active upon committees; he was very prominent and useful on all social occasions, in evidence upon platforms, and upon all those semi-public occasions when the Great descend. He lived with an only sister. To Kipps and his kind in the Young Men’s Association he read a stimulating paper on ‘Self–Help.’ He said it was the noblest of all our distinctive English characteristics, and he was very much down upon the ‘over-educated’ Germans. At the close a young German hairdresser made a few commendatory remarks which developed somehow into an oration on Hanoverian politics. As he became excited he became guttural and obscure; the meeting sniggered cheerfully at such ridiculous English, and Kipps was so much amused that he forgot a private project to ask this Chester Coote how he might set about a little Self–Help on his own private account in such narrow margins of time as the System of Mr. Shalford spared him. But afterwards in the night-time it came to him again. It was a few months later, and after his apprenticeship was over, and Mr. Shalford had with depreciatory observations taken him on as an Improver at twenty pounds a year, that this question was revived by a casual article on Technical Education in a morning paper that a commercial traveller left behind him. It played the role of the word in season. Something in the nature of conversion, a faint sort of concentration of purpose, really occurred in him then. The article was written with penetrating vehemence, and it stimulated him to the pitch of inquiring about the local Science and Art Classes; and after he had told everybody in the shop about it, and taken the advice of all who supported his desperate resolution, he joined. At first he attended the class in Freehand, that being the subject taught on early closing night, and he had already made some progress in that extraordinary routine of reproducing freehand ‘copies’, which for two generations has passed with English people for instruction in art, when the dates of the classes were changed. Thereby, just as the March winds were blowing, he was precipitated into the Woodcarving class, and his mind diverted first to this useful and broadening pursuit, and then to its teacher.
The class in woodcarving was an extremely select class, conducted at that time by a young lady named Walshingham; and as this young lady was destined by fortune to teach Kipps a great deal more than woodcarving, it will be well if the reader gets the picture of her correctly in mind. She was only a year or so older than he was, she had a pale, intellectual face, dark gray eyes and black hair, which she wore over her forehead in an original and striking way that she had adapted from a picture by Rossetti in the South Kensington Museum. She was slender, so that without ungainliness she had an effect of being tall, and her hands were shapely and white when they came into contrast with hands much exercised in rolling and blocking. She dressed in those loose and pleasant forms and those soft and tempered shades that arose in England in the socialistic-aesthetic epoch, and remain to this day among us as the badge of those who read Turgenev’s novels, scorn current fiction, and think on higher planes. I think she was as beautiful as most beautiful people, and to Kipps she was altogether beautiful. She had, Kipps learnt, matriculated at London University, an astounding feat to his imagination, and the masterly way in which she demonstrated how to prod and worry honest pieces of wood into useless and unedifying patterns in relief, extorted his utmost admiration.
At first when Kipps had learnt he was to be taught by a ‘girl’ he was inclined to resent it, the more so as Buggins had recently been very strong on the gross injustice of feminine employment. ‘We have to keep wives,’ said Buggins (though, as a matter of fact, he did not keep even one), ‘and how are we to do it with a lot of girls coming in to take the work out of our mouths?’ Afterwards, Kipps, in conjunction with Pearce, looked at it from another point of view, and thought it would be rather a ‘lark.’ Finally when he saw her, and saw her teaching and coming nearer to him with an impressive deliberation, he was breathless with awe and the quality of her dark, slender femininity.
The class consisted of two girls and a maiden lady of riper years, friends of Miss Walshingham’s, and anxious rather to support her in an interesting experiment than to become really expert woodcarvers; an elderly, oldish young man with spectacles and a black beard, who never spoke to any one, and who was evidently too shortsighted to see his work as a whole; a small boy, who was understood to have a ‘gift’ for wood-carving; and a lodging-house keeper, who ‘took classes’ every winter, she told Mr. Kipps, as though they were a tonic, and ‘found they did her good.’ And occasionally Mr. Chester Coote — refined and gentlemanly — would come into the class, with or without papers, ostensibly on committee business, but in reality to talk to the less attractive of the two girl-students, and sometimes a brother of Miss Walshingham’s, a slender, dark young man with a pale face and fluctuating resemblances to the young Napoleon, would arrive just at the end of the class-time to see his sister home.
All these personages impressed Kipps with a sense of inferiority that in the case of Miss Walshingham became positively abysmal. The ideas and knowledge they appeared to have, their personal capacity and freedom, opened a new world to his imagination. These people came and went with a sense of absolute assurance, against an overwhelming background of plaster casts, diagrams and tables, benches and a blackboard, a background that seemed to him to be saturated with recondite knowledge and the occult and jealously guarded tips and secrets that constitute Art and the Higher Life. They went home, he imagined, to homes where the piano was played with distinction and freedom, and books littered the tables and foreign languages were habitually used. They had complicated meals, no doubt. They ‘knew etiquette,’ and how to avoid all the errors for which Kipps bought penny manuals —‘What to Avoid,’ ‘Common Errors in Speaking,’ and the like. He knew nothing about it all, nothing whatever; he was a creature of the outer darkness blinking in an unsuspected light.
He heard them speak easily and freely to one another of examinations, of books and paintings, of ‘last year’s Academy’— a little contemptuously — and once, just at the end of the class-time, Mr. Chester Coote and young Walshingham and the two girls argued about something or other called, he fancied, ‘Vagner,’ or ‘Vargner’— they seemed to say it both ways — and which presently shaped itself more definitely as the name of a man who made up music. (Carshot and Buggins weren’t in it with them.) Young Walshingham, it appeared, said something or other that was an ‘epigram,’ and they all applauded him. Kipps, I say, felt himself a creature of outer darkness, an inexcusable intruder in an altitudinous world. When the epigram happened he first of all smiled to pretend he understood, and instantly suppressed the smile to show he did not listen. Then he became extremely hot and uncomfortable, though nobody had noticed either phase.
It was clear his only chance of concealing his bottomless baseness was to hold his tongue, and meanwhile he chipped with earnest care and abased his soul before the very shadow of Miss Walshingham. She used to come and direct and advise him, with, he felt, an effort to conceal the scorn she had for him, and, indeed, it is true that at first she thought of him chiefly as the clumsy young man with the red ears.
And as soon as he emerged from the first effect of pure and awe-stricken humility — he was greatly helped to emerge from that condition to a perception of human equality by the need the lodging-house keeper was under to talk while she worked, and as she didn’t like Miss Walshingham and her friends very much, and the young man with spectacles was deaf, she naturally talked to Kipps — he perceived that he was in a state of adoration for Miss Walshingham that it seemed almost a blasphemous familiarity to speak of as being in love.
This state, you must understand, had nothing to do with ‘flirting’ or ‘spooning’ and that superficial passion that flashes from eye to eye upon the Leas and Pier — absolutely nothing. That he knew from the first. Her rather pallid, intellectual young face beneath those sombre clouds of hair put her in a class apart; towards her the thought of ‘attentions’ paled and vanished. To approach such a being, to perform sacrifices and to perish obviously for her, seemed the limit he might aspire to, he or any man. For if his love was abasement, at any rate it had this much of manliness that it covered all his sex. It had not yet come to Kipps to acknowledge any man as his better in his heart of hearts. When one does that the game is played, and one grows old indeed.
The rest of his sentimental interests vanished altogether in this great illumination. He meditated about her when he was blocking cretonne, her image was before his eyes at teatime, and blotted out the more immediate faces and made him silent and preoccupied and so careless in his bearing that the junior apprentice, sitting beside him, mocked at and parodied his enormous bites of bread and butter unreproved. He became conspicuously less popular on the ‘fancy’ side, the ‘costumes’ was chilly with him and the ‘millinery’ cutting. But he did not care. An intermittent correspondence with Flo Bates, that had gone on since she left Mr. Shalford’s desk for a position at Tunbridge, ‘nearer home,’ and which had roused Kipps in its earlier stages to unparalleled heights of epistolary effort, died out altogether by reason of his neglect. He heard with scarcely a pang that, as a consequence, perhaps, of his neglect, Flo was ‘carrying on with a chap who managed a farm.’
Every Thursday he jabbed and gouged at his wood, jabbing and gouging intersecting circles and diamond traceries, and that laboured inane which our mad world calls ornament, and he watched Miss Walshingham furtively whenever she turned away. The circles, in consequence, were jabbed crooked, and his panels, losing their symmetry, became comparatively pleasing to the untrained eye — and once he jabbed his finger. He would cheerfully have jabbed all his fingers if he could have found some means of using the opening to express himself of the vague emotions that possessed him. But he shirked conversation just as earnestly as he desired it; he feared that profound general ignorance of his might appear.
There came a time when she could not open one of the classroom windows. The man with the black beard pored over his chipping heedlessly . . .
It did not take Kipps a moment to grasp his opportunity. He dropped his gouge and stepped forward. ‘Lem me,’ he said . . .
He could not open the window either! ‘Oh, please don’t trouble,’ she said. ‘Sno trouble,’ he gasped.
Still the sash stuck. He felt his manhood was at stake. He gathered himself together for a tremendous effort, and the pane broke with a snap, and he thrust his hand into the void beyond.
‘There!’ said Miss Walshingham, and the glass fell ringing into the courtyard below.
Then Kipps made to bring his hand back and felt the keen touch of the edge of the broken glass at his wrist. He turned dolefully. ‘I’m tremendously sorry,’ he said, in answer to the accusation in Miss Walshingham’s eyes. ‘I didn’t think it would break like that’— as if he had expected it to break in some quite different and entirely more satisfactory manner. The boy with the gift for woodcarving, having stared at Kipps’ face for a moment, became involved in a Laocoon struggle with a giggle.
‘You’ve cut your wrist,’ said one of the girl friends, standing up and pointing. She was a pleasant-faced, greatly freckled girl, with a helpful disposition, and she said, ‘You’ve cut your wrist’ as brightly as if she had been a trained nurse.
Kipps looked down and saw a swift line of scarlet rush down his hand. He perceived the other man-student regarding this with magnified eyes. ‘You have cut your wrist,’ said Miss Walshingham; and Kipps regarded his damage with greater interest.
‘He’s cut his wrist,’ said the maiden lady to the lodging-house keeper, and seemed in doubt what a lady should do.
‘It’s —’ she hesitated at the word ‘bleeding,’ and nodded to the lodging-house keeper instead. ‘Dreadfully,’ said the maiden lady, and tried to look and tried not to look at the same time.
‘Of course he’s cut his wrist,’ said the lodging-house keeper, momentarily quite annoyed at Kipps; and the other young lady, who thought Kipps rather common, went on quietly with her wood-cutting with an air of its being the proper thing to do — though nobody else seemed to know it.
‘You must tie it up,’ said Miss Walshingham.
‘We must tie it up,’ said the freckled girl.
‘I ‘adn’t the slightest idea that window was going to break like that,’ said Kipps, with candour. ‘Nort the slightest.’
He glanced again at the blood on his wrist, and it seemed to him that it was on the very point of dropping on the floor of that cultured class-room. So he very neatly licked it off, feeling at the same time for his handkerchief. ‘Oh, don’t!’ said Miss Walshingham as he did so, and the girl with the freckles made a movement of horror. The giggle got the better of the boy with the gift, and celebrated its triumph by unseemly noises, in spite of which it seemed to Kipps at the moment that the act that had made Miss Walshingham say, ‘Oh, don’t!’ was rather a desperate and manly treatment of what was, after all, a creditable injury.
‘It ought to be tied up,’ said the lodging-house keeper, holding her chisel upright in her hand. ‘It’s a bad cut to bleed like that.’
‘We must tie it up,’ said the freckled girl, and hesitated in front of Kipps. ‘Have you got a handkerchief?’ she said.
‘I dunno ‘ow I managed not to bring one,’ said Kipps. ‘I— Not ‘aving a cold, I suppose some ‘ow I didn’t think —!’ He checked a further flow of blood.
The girl with the freckles caught Miss Walshingham’s eye and held it for a moment. Both glanced at Kipps’ injury. The boy with the gift, who had reappeared with a chastened expression from some noisy pursuit beneath his desk, made the neglected motions of one who proffers shyly. Miss Walshingham, under the spell of the freckled girl’s eye, produced a handkerchief. The voice of the maiden lady could be heard in the background: ‘I’ve been through all the technical education Ambulance classes twice, and I know you go so if it’s a vein, and so if it’s an artery — at least you go so for one, and so for the other, whichever it may be — but . . . ’
‘If you will give me your hand,’ said the freckled girl; and proceeded, with Miss Walshingham’s assistance, to bandage Kipps in a most businesslike way. Yes, they actually bandaged Kipps. They pulled up his cuffs — happily they were not a very frayed pair — and held his wrist and wrapped the soft handkerchief round it, and tightened the knot together. And Miss Walshingham’s face, the face of that almost divine Over-human came close to the face of Kipps.
‘We’re not hurting you, are we?’ she said.
‘Not a bit,’ said Kipps, as he would have said if they had been sawing his arm off. ‘We’re not experts, you know,’ said the freckled girl.
‘I’m sure it’s a dreadful cut,’ said Miss Walshingham.
‘It ain’t much, reely,’ said Kipps; ‘and you’re taking a lot of trouble. I’m sorry I broke that window. I can’t think what I could have been doing.’
‘It isn’t so much the cut at the time, it’s the poisoning afterwards,’ came the voice of the maiden lady. ‘Of course, I’m quite willing to pay for the window,’ panted Kipps opulently.
‘We must make it just as tight as possible to stop the bleeding,’ said the freckled girl.
‘I don’t think it’s much, reely,’ said Kipps. ‘I’m awful sorry I broke that window, though.’
Tut your finger on the knot, dear,’ said the freckled girl.
‘Eh?’ said Kipps. ‘I mean —’
Both the young ladies became very intent on the knot, and Mr. Kipps was very red and very intent upon the two young ladies.
‘Mortified, and had to be sawn off,’ said the maiden lady.
‘Sawn off,’ said the lodging-house keeper.
‘Sawn right off,’ said the maiden lady, and jabbed at her mangled design.
‘There,’ said the freckled girl, ‘I think that ought to do. You’re sure it’s not too tight?’
‘Not a bit,’ said Kipps.
He met Miss Walshingham’s eyes and smiled to show how little he cared for wounds and pain. ‘It’s only a little cut,’ he added.
The maiden lady appeared as an addition to their group. ‘You should have washed the wound, dear,’ she said. ‘I was just telling Miss Collis —’ She peered through her glasses at the bandage. ‘That doesn’t look quite right,’ she remarked critically. ‘You should have taken the ambulance classes. But I suppose it will have to do. Are you hurting?’
‘Not a bit,’ said Kipps; and smiled at them all with the air of a brave soldier in hospital. ‘I’m sure it must hurt,’ said Miss Walshingham.
‘Anyhow, you’re a very good patient,’ said the girl with the freckles.
Mr. Kipps became bright pink. ‘I’m only sorry I broke the window — that’s all,’ he said. ‘But who would have thought it was going to break like that?’
‘I’m afraid you won’t be able to go on carving to-night,’ said Miss Walshingham. ‘I’ll try,’ said Kipps. ‘It reely doesn’t hurt — not anything to matter.’
Presently Miss Walshingham came to him as he carved heroically with his hand bandaged in her handkerchief. There was a touch of novel interest in her eyes. ‘I’m afraid you’re not getting on very fast,’ she said.
The freckled girl looked up and regarded Miss Walshingham.
‘I’m doing a little, anyhow,’ said Kipps. ‘I don’t want to waste any time. A feller like me hasn’t much time to spare.’
It struck the girls that there was a quality of modest disavowal about that ‘feller like me.’ It gave them a light into this obscure person, and Miss Walshingham ventured to commend his work as ‘promising’ and to ask whether he meant to follow it up. Kipps didn’t ‘altogether know’—‘things depended on so much,’ but if he was in Folkestone next winter he certainly should. It did not occur to Miss Walshingham at the time to ask why his progress in art depended upon his presence in Folkestone. There were some more questions and answers — they continued to talk to him for a little time even when Mr. Chester Coote had come into the room — and when at last the conversation had died out, it dawned upon Kipps just how much his cut wrist had done for him . . .
He went to sleep that night revising that conversation for the twentieth time, treasuring this and expanding that, and inserting things he might have said to Miss Walshingham — things he might still say about himself — in relation, more or less explicit, to her. He wasn’t quite sure if he wouldn’t like his arm to mortify a bit, which would make him interesting, or to heal up absolutely, which would show the exceptional purity of his blood . . .
The affair of the broken window happened late in April, and the class came to an end in May. In that interval there were several small incidents and great developments of emotion. I have done Kipps no justice if I have made it seem that his face was unsightly. It was, as the freckled girl pointed out to Helen Walshingham, an ‘interesting’ face, and that aspect of him which presented chiefly erratic hair and glowing ears ceased to prevail.
They talked him over, and the freckled girl discovered there was something ‘wistful’ in his manner. They detected a ‘natural delicacy,’ and the freckled girl set herself to draw him out from that time forth. The freckled girl was nineteen, and very wise and motherly and benevolent, and really she greatly preferred drawing out Kipps to woodcarving. It was quite evident to her that Kipps was in love with Helen Walshingham, and it struck her as a queer and romantic and pathetic and extremely interesting phenomenon. And as at that time she regarded Helen as ‘simply lovely,’ it seemed only right and proper that she should assist Kipps in his modest efforts to place himself in a state of absolute abandon upon her altar.
Under her sympathetic management the position of Kipps was presently defined quite clearly. He was unhappy in his position — misunderstood. He told her he ‘didn’t seem to get on like’ with customers, and she translated this for him as ‘too sensitive.’ The discontent with his fate in life, the dreadful feeling that Education was slipping by him, troubles that time and usage were glazing over a little, revived to their old acuteness but not to their old hopelessness. As a basis for sympathy, indeed, they were even a source of pleasure.
And one day at dinner it happened that Carshot and Buggins fell talking of ‘these here writers,’ and how Dickens had been a labeller of blacking, and Thackeray ‘an artis’ who couldn’t sell a drawing,’ and how Samuel Johnson had walked to London without any boots, having thrown away his only pair ‘out of pride.’
‘It’s Luck,’ said Buggins, ‘to a very large extent. They just happen to hit on something that catches on, and there you are!’
‘Nice easy life they have of it, too,’ said Miss Mergle. ‘Write just an hour or so, and done for the day! Almost like gentlefolks.’
‘There’s more work in it than you’d think,’ said Carshot, stooping to a mouthful.
‘I wouldn’t mind changing for all that,’ said Buggins. ‘I’d like to see one of these here authors marking off with Jimmy.’
‘I think they copy from each other a good deal,’ said Miss Mergle.
‘Even then (chup, chup, chup),’ said Carshot, ‘there’s writing it out in their own hands.’
They proceeded to enlarge upon the literary life, on its ease and dignity, on the social recognition accorded to those who led it, and on the ample gratifications their vanity achieved. ‘Pictures everywhere — never get a new suit without being photographed — almost like Royalty,’ said Miss Mergle. And all this talk impressed the imagination of Kipps very greatly. Here was a class that seemed to bridge the gulf. On the one hand essentially Low, but by fictitious circumstances capable of entering upon these levels of social superiority to which all true Englishmen aspire, these levels from which one may tip a butler, scorn a tailor, and even commune with those who lead ‘men’ into battle. ‘A’most like gentlefolks’— that was it! He brooded over these things in the afternoon, until they blossomed into daydreams. Suppose, for example, he had chanced to write a book, a well-known book, under an assumed name, and yet kept on being a draper all the time . . . Impossible, of course; but suppose — It made quite a long dream.
And at the next woodcarving class he let it be drawn from him that his real choice in life was to be a Nawther —‘only one doesn’t get a chance.’
After this there were times when Kipps had the pleasant sense that comes of attracting interest. He was a mute, inglorious Dickens, or at any rate something of that sort, and they were all taking him at that. The discovery of this indefinable ‘something’ in him, the development of which was now painfully restricted and impossible, did much to bridge the gulf between himself and Miss Walshingham. He was unfortunate, he was futile, but he was not ‘common’. Even now with help —? The two girls, and the freckled girl in particular, tried to ‘stir him up’ to some effort to do his imputed potentialities justice. They were still young enough to believe that to nice and niceish members of the male sex — more especially when under the stimulus of feminine encouragement — nothing is finally impossible.
The freckled girl was, I say, the stage manager of this affair, but Miss Walshingham was the presiding divinity. A touch of proprietorship came in her eyes at times when she looked at him. He was hers — unconditionally — and she knew it.
To her directly, Kipps scarcely ever made a speech. The enterprising things that he was continually devising to say to her, he usually did not say, or said, with a suitable modification, to the girl with the freckles. And one day the girl with the freckles smote him to the heart. She said to him, looking across the class-room to where her friend reached a cast from the shelf, ‘I do think Helen Walshingham is sometimes the most lovely person in the world. Look at her now!’
Kipps gasped for a moment. The moment lengthened, and she regarded him as an intelligent young surgeon might regard an operation without anaesthetics. ‘You’re right,’ he said, and then looked at her with an entire abandonment of visage.
She coloured under his glare of silent avowal, and he blushed brightly. ‘I think so, too,’ he said hoarsely, cleared his throat, and, after a meditative moment, proceeded sacramentally with his woodcarving.
‘You are wonderful,’ said the freckled girl to Miss Walshingham, apropos of nothing, as they went on their way home together. ‘He simply adores you.’
‘But, my dear, what have I done?’ said Helen.
‘That’s just it,’ said the freckled girl. ‘What have you done?’
And then with a terrible swiftness came the last class of the course to terminate this relationship altogether. Kipps was careless of dates, and the thing came upon him with an effect of abrupt surprise. Just as his petals were expanding so hopefully, ‘Finis,’ and the thing was at an end. But Kipps did not fully appreciate that the end was indeed and really and truly the end until he was back in the emporium after the end was over.
The end began practically in the middle of the last class, when the freckled girl broached the topic of terminations. She developed the question of just how he was going on after the class ended. She hoped he would stick to certain resolutions of self-improvement he had breathed. She said quite honestly that he owed it to himself to develop his possibilities. He expressed firm resolve, but dwelt on difficulties. He had no books. She instructed him how to get books from the public library. He was to get a form of application for a ticket signed by a ratepayer, and he said ‘of course’ when she said Mr. Shalford would do that, though all the time he knew perfectly well it would ‘never do’ to ask Mr. Shalford for anything of the sort. She explained that she was going to North Wales for the summer, information he received without immediate regret. At intervals he expressed his intention of going on with woodcarving when the summer was over, and once he added, ‘if —’
She considered herself extremely delicate not to press for the completion of that ‘if —’
After that talk there was an interval of languid woodcarving and watching Miss Walshingham.
Then presently there came a bustle of packing, a great ceremony of handshaking all round by Miss Collis and the maiden lady of ripe years, and then Kipps found himself outside the class-room, on the landing with his two friends. It seemed to him he had only just learnt that this was the last class of all. There came a little pause, and the freckled girl suddenly went back into the class-room, and left Kipps and Miss Walshingham alone together for the first time. Kipps was instantly breathless. She looked at his face with a glance that mingled sympathy and curiosity, and held out her white hand.
‘Well, good-bye, Mr. Kipps,’ she said.
He took her hand and held it, ‘I’d do anything,’ said Kipps, and had not the temerity to add ‘for you.’ He stopped awkwardly.
He shook her hand and said ‘Good-bye.’
There was a little pause. ‘I hope you will have a pleasant holiday,’ she said.
‘I shall come back to the class next year, anyhow,’ said Kipps, valiantly, and turned abruptly to the stairs.
‘I hope you will,’ said Miss Walshingham. He turned back towards her.
‘Really?’ he said.
‘I hope everybody will come back.’
‘I will — anyhow,’ said Kipps. ‘You may count on that;’ and he tried to make his tones significant.
They looked at one another through a little pause.
‘Good-bye,’ she said.
Kipps lifted his hat.
She turned towards the class-room.
‘Well?’ said the freckled girl, coming back towards her.
‘Nothing,’ said Helen. ‘At least — presently.’
And she became very energetic about some scattered tools on a desk. The freckled girl went out and stood for a moment at the head of the stairs. When she came back she looked very hard at her friend. The incident struck her as important — wonderfully important. It was unassimilable, of course, and absurd, but there it was, the thing that is so cardinal to a girl, the emotion, the subservience, the crowning triumph of her sex. She could not help feeling that Helen took it on the whole a little too hardly.
The hour of the class on the following Thursday found Kipps in a state of nearly incredible despondency. He was sitting with his eyes on the reading-room clock, his chin resting on his fists, and his elbows on the accumulated comic papers, that were comic, alas! in vain. He paid no heed to the little man in spectacles glaring opposite to him, famishing for Fun. In this place it was he had sat night after night, each night more blissful than the last, waiting until it should be time to go to Her! and then — bliss! And now the hour had come and there was no class! There would be no class now until next October. It might be there would never be a class, so far as he was concerned, again.
It might be there would never be a class again, for Shalford, taking exception at a certain absent-mindedness that led to mistakes, and more particularly to the ticketing of several articles in Kipps’ Manchester window upside down, had been ‘on to’ him for the past few days in an exceedingly onerous manner —
He sighed profoundly, pushed the comic papers back — they were rent away from him instantly by the little man in spectacles — and tried the old engravings of Folkestone in the pats that hung about the room. But these, too, failed to minister to his bruised heart. He wandered about the corridors for a time and watched the Library Indicator for a while. Wonderful thing that! But it did not hold him for long. People came and laughed near him, and that jarred with him dreadfully. He went out of the building, and a beastly cheerful barrel-organ mocked him in the street. He was moved to a desperate resolve to go down to the beach. There, it might be, he would be alone. The sea might be rough — and attuned to him. It would certainly be dark.
‘If I ‘ad a penny I’m blest if I wouldn’t go and chuck myself off the end of the pier . . . She’d never miss me . . . ’ He followed a deepening vein of thought.
‘Penny, though! It’s tuppence,’ he said, after a space.
He went down Dover Street in a state of profound melancholia — at the pace and mood, as it were, of his own funeral procession — and he crossed at the corner of Tontine Street, heedless of all mundane things. And there it was that Fortune came upon him, in disguise and with a loud shout, the shout of a person endowed with an unusually rich, full voice, followed immediately by a violent blow in the back.
His hat was over his eyes, and an enormous weight rested on his shoulders, and something kicked him in the back of his calf.
Then he was on all fours in some mud that Fortune, in conjunction with the Folkestone corporation and in the pursuit of equally mysterious ends, had heaped together even lavishly for his reception.
He remained in that position for some seconds, awaiting further developments, and believing almost anything broken before his heart. Gathering at last that this temporary violence of things in general was over, and being perhaps assisted by a clutching hand, he arose, and found himself confronting a figure holding a bicycle and thrusting forward a dark face in anxious scrutiny.
‘You aren’t hurt, Matey?’ gasped the figure.
‘Was that you ‘it me?’ said Kipps.
‘It’s these handles, you know,’ said the figure with an air of being a fellow-sufferer. ‘They’re too low. And when I go to turn, if I don’t remember, Bif! —— and I’m in to something.’
‘Well — you give me a oner in the back — anyhow,’ said Kipps, taking stock of his damages.
‘I was coming downhill, you know,’ explained the bicyclist. ‘These little Folkestone hills are a Fair Treat. It isn’t as though I’d been on the level. I came rather a whop.’
‘You did that,’ said Kipps.
‘I was back-pedalling for all I was worth, anyhow,’ said the bicyclist. ‘Not that I’m worth much back-pedalling.’
He glanced round and made a sudden movement almost as if to mount his machine. Then he turned as rapidly to Kipps again, who was now stooping down, pursuing the tale of his injuries.
‘Here’s the back of my trouser-leg all tore down,’ said Kipps, ‘and I believe I’m bleeding. You reely ought to be more careful —’
The stranger investigated the damage with a rapid movement. ‘Holy Smoke, so you are!’ He laid a friendly hand on Kipps’ arm. ‘I say — look here! Come up to my diggings and sew it up. I’m — Of course I’m to blame, and I say —’
His voice sank to a confidential friendliness. ‘Here’s a slop. Don’t let on I ran you down. Haven’t a lamp, you know. Might be at bit awkward, for me.’
Kipps looked up towards the advancing policeman. The appeal to his generosity was not misplaced. He immediately took sides with his assailant. He stood as the representative of the law drew nearer. He assumed an air which he considered highly suggestive of an accident not having happened.
‘All right,’ he said, ‘go on!’
‘Right you are,’ said the cyclist, promptly, and led the way; and then, apparently with some idea of deception, called over his shoulder, ‘I’m tremendous glad to have met you, old chap.’
‘It really isn’t a hundred yards,’ he said, after they had passed the policeman; ‘it’s just round the corner.’
‘Of course,’ said Kipps, limping slightly. ‘I don’t want to get a chap into trouble. Accidents will happen. Still —’
‘Oh, rather! I believe you. Accidents will happen. Especially when you get me on a bicycle.’ He laughed. ‘You aren’t the first I’ve run down, not by any manner of means! I don’t think you can be hurt much, either. It isn’t as though I was scorching. You didn’t see me coming. I was back-pedalling like anything. Only naturally it seems to you I must have been coming fast. And I did all I could to ease off the bump as I hit you. It was just the treadle, I think, came against your calf. But it was All Right of you about that policeman, you know. That was a Fair Bit of All Right. Under the Circs., if you’d told him I was riding, it might have been forty bob! Forty bob! I’d have had to tell ’em Time is Money just now for Mr. H. C.’
‘I shouldn’t have blamed you either, you know. Most men, after a bump like that, might have been spiteful. The least I can do is to stand you a needle and thread. And a clothes’ brush. It isn’t every one who’d have taken it like you.’
‘Scorching! Why, if I’d been scorching you’d have — coming as we did — you’d have been knocked silly.’
‘But, I tell you, the way you caught on about that slop was something worth seeing. When I asked you — I didn’t half expect it. Bif! Right off. Cool as a cucumber. Had your line at once. I tell you that there isn’t many men would have acted as you have done, I will say that. You acted like a gentleman over that slop.’
Kipps’ first sense of injury disappeared. He limped along a pace or so behind, making depreciatory noises in response to these flattering remarks, and taking stock of the very appreciative person who uttered them.
As they passed the lamps he was visible as a figure with a slight anterior plumpness, progressing buoyantly on knicker-bockered legs, with quite enormous calves, legs that, contrasting with Kipps’ own narrow practice, were even exuberantly turned out at the knees and toes. A cycling cap was worn very much on one side, and from beneath it protruded carelessly straight wisps of dark-red hair, and ever and again an ample nose came into momentary view round the corner. The muscular cheeks of this person and a certain generosity of chin he possessed were blue shaven, and he had no moustache. His carriage was spacious and confident, his gestures up and down the narrow, deserted back street they traversed were irresistibly suggestive of ownership; a succession of broadly gesticulating shadows were born squatting on his feet, and grew and took possession of the road and reunited at least with the shadows of the infinite, as lamp after lamp was passed. Kipps saw by the flickering light of one of them that they were in Little Fenchurch Street, and then they came around a corner sharply into a dark court and stopped at the door of a particularly ramshackle-looking little house, held up between two larger ones, like a drunken man between policemen.
The cyclist propped his machine carefully against the window, produced a key and blew down it sharply. ‘The lock’s a bit tricky,’ he said, and devoted himself for same moments to the task of opening the door. Some mechanical catastrophe ensued, and the door was open.
‘You’d better wait here a bit while I get the lamp,’ he remarked to Kipps; ‘very likely it isn’t filled,’ and vanished into the blackness of the passage. ‘Thank God for matches!’ he said; and Kipps had an impression of a passage in the transitory pink flare and the bicyclist disappearing into a farther room. Kipps was so much interested by these things that for the time he forgot his injuries altogether.
An interval, and Kipps was dazzled by a pink-shaded kerosene lamp. ‘You go in,’ said the red-haired man, ‘and I’ll bring in the bike,’ and for a moment Kipps was alone in the lamp-lit room. He took in rather vaguely the shabby ensemble of the little apartment, the round table covered with a torn, red, glass-stained cover on which the lamp stood, a mottled looking-glass over the fireplace reflecting this, a disused gas-bracket, an extinct fire, a number of dusty postcards and memoranda stuck round the glass, a dusty, crowded paper-rack on the mantel with a number of cabinet photographs, a table littered with papers and cigarette ash, and a siphon of soda-water. Then the cyclist reappeared, and Kipps saw his blue-shaved, rather animated face, and bright, reddish-brown eyes for the first time. He was a man, perhaps, ten years older than Kipps, but his beardless face made them in a way contemporary.
‘You behaved all right about that policeman, anyhow,’ he repeated as he came forward.
‘I don’t see ‘ow else I could ‘ave done,’ said Kipps, quite modestly. The cyclist scanned his guest for the first time, and decided upon hospitable details.
‘We’d better let that mud dry a bit before we brush it. Whisky there is, good old Methuselah, Canadian Rye; and there’s some brandy that’s all right. Which’ll you have?’
‘I dunno,’ said Kipps, taken by surprise; and then seeing no other course but acceptance, ‘Well, whisky, then.’
‘Right you are, old boy; and if you’ll take my advice you’ll take it neat. I may not be a particular judge of this sort of thing, but I do know old Methuselah pretty well. Old Methuselah — four stars. That’s me! Good old Harry Chitterlow, and good old Methuselah. Leave ’em together. Bif! He’s gone!’
He laughed loudly, looked about him, hesitated, and retired, leaving Kipps in possession of the room, and free to make a more precise examination of its contents.
He particularly remarked the photographs that adorned the apartment. They were chiefly photographs of ladies, in one case in tights, which Kipps thought a ‘bit ‘ot’; but one represented the bicyclist in the costume of some remote epoch. It did not take Kipps long to infer that the others were probably actresses, and that his host was an actor, and the presence of the half of a large coloured playbill seemed to confirm this. A note in an Oxford frame that was a little too large for it he presently demeaned himself to read. ‘Dear Mr. Chitterlow,’ it ran its brief course, ‘if, after all, you will send the play you spoke of, I will endeavour to read it,’ followed by a stylish but absolutely illegible signature, and across this was written in pencil, ‘What price Harry now?’ And in the shadow by the window was a rough and rather able sketch of the bicyclist in chalk on brown paper, calling particular attention to the curvature of the forward lines of his hull and calves and the jaunty carriage of his nose, and labelled unmistakably ‘Chitterlow.’ Kipps thought it ‘rather a take-off.’ The papers on the table by the siphon were in manuscript, Kipps observed, manuscript of a particularly convulsive and blottesque sort, and running obliquely across the page.
Presently he heard the metallic clamour as if of a series of irreparable breakages with which the lock of the front door discharged its function, and then Chitterlow reappeared, a little out of breath, and with a starry-labelled bottle in his large, freckled hand.
‘Sit down, old chap,’ he said, ‘sit down. I had to get out for it after all. Wasn’t a solitary bottle left. However, it’s all right now we’re here. No, don’t sit on that chair, there’s sheets of my play on that. That’s the one — with the broken arm. I think this glass is clean, but, anyhow, wash it out with a squizz of siphon and shy it in the fireplace. Here, I’ll do it! Lend it here!’
As he spoke Mr. Chitterlow produced a corkscrew from a table drawer, attacked and overcame good old Methuselah’s cork in a style a bar-tender might envy, washed out two tumblers in his simple, effectual manner, and poured a couple of inches of the ancient fluid into each. Kipps took his tumbler, said ‘Thenks’ in an off-hand way, and, after a momentary hesitation whether he should say ‘Here’s to you!’ or not, put it to his lips without that ceremony. For a space fire in his throat occupied his attention to the exclusion of other matters, and then he discovered Mr. Chitterlow with an intensely bulldog pipe alight, seated on the opposite side of the empty fireplace, and pouring himself out a second dose of whisky.
‘After all,’ said Mr. Chitterlow, with his eye on the bottle and a little smile wandering to hide amidst his larger features, ‘this accident might have been worse. I wanted some one to talk to a bit, and I didn’t want to go to a pub, leastways not a Folkestone pub, because, as a matter of fact, I’d promised Mrs. Chitterlow, who’s away, not to, for various reasons, though, of course, if I’d wanted to, I’m just that sort, I should have all the same — and here we are! It’s curious how one runs up against people out bicycling!’
‘Isn’t it!’ said Kipps, feeling that the time had come for him to say something.
‘Here we are, sitting and talking like old friends, and half an hour ago we didn’t know we existed. Leastways we didn’t know each other existed. I might have passed you in the street, perhaps, and you might have passed me, and how was I to tell that, put to the test, you would have behaved as decently as you have behaved. Only it happened otherwise, that’s all. You’re not smoking!’ he said. ‘Have a cigarette?’
Kipps made a confused reply that took the form of not minding if he did, and drank another sip of old Methuselah in his confusion. He was able to follow the subsequent course of that sip for quite a long way. It was as though the old gentleman was brandishing a burning torch through his vitals, lighting him here and lighting him there, until at last his whole being was in a glow. Chitterlow produced a tobacco-pouch and cigarette-papers, and, with an interesting parenthesis that was a little difficult to follow about some lady, named Kitty something or other, who had taught him the art when he was as yet only what you might call a nice boy, made Kipps a cigarette, and, with a consideration that won Kipps’ gratitude, suggested that, after all, he might find a little soda-water an improvement with the whisky. ‘Some people like it that way,’ said Chitterlow; and then with voluminous emphasis, ‘I don’t.’ Emboldened by the weakened state of his enemy, Kipps promptly swallowed the rest of him, and had his glass at once hospitably replenished. He began to feel he was of a firmer consistency than he commonly believed, and turned his mind to what Chitterlow was saying with the resolve to play a larger part in the conversation than he had hitherto done. Also he smoked through his nose quite successfully, an art he had only very recently acquired.
Meanwhile, Chitterlow explained that he was a playwright, and the tongue of Kipps was unloosened to respond that he knew a chap or rather one of their fellows knew a chap, or at least, to be perfectly, correct this fellow’s brother did, who had written a play. In response to Chitterlow’s inquiries, he could not recall the title of the play, nor where it had appeared, nor the name of the manager who produced it, though he thought the title was something about ‘Love’s Ransom,’ or something like that.
‘He made five ‘undred pounds by it, though,’ said Kipps. ‘I know that.’
‘That’s nothing,’ said Chitterlow, with an air of experience that was extremely convincing. ‘Nothing. May seem a big sum to you, but I can assure you it’s just what one gets any day. There’s any amount of money, an-ny amount, in a good play.’
‘I dessay,’ said Kipps, drinking. ‘Any amount of money!’
Chitterlow began a series of illustrative instances. He was clearly a person of quite unequalled gift for monologue. It was as though some conversational dam had burst upon Kipps, and in a little while he was drifting along upon a copious rapid of talk about all sorts of theatrical things by one who knew all about them, and quite incapable of anticipating whither that rapid meant to carry him. Presently, somehow, they had got to anecdotes about well-known theatrical managers — little Teddy Bletherskite, artful old Chumps and the magnificent Behemoth, ‘petted to death, you know, fair sickened, by all these society women.’ Chitterlow described various personal encounters with these personages, always with modest self-depreciation, and gave Kipps a very amusing imitation of old Chumps in a state of intoxication. Then he took two more stiff doses of old Methuselah in rapid succession.
Kipps reduced the hither end of his cigarette to a pulp as he sat ‘dessaying’ and ‘quite believing’ Chitterlow in the sagest manner, and admiring the easy way in which he was getting on with this very novel and entertaining personage. He had another cigarette made for him, and then Chitterlow, assuming by insensible degrees more and more of the manner of a rich and successful playwright being interviewed by a young admirer, set himself to answer questions which sometimes Kipps asked, and sometimes Chitterlow, about the particulars and methods of his career. He undertook this self-imposed task with great earnestness and vigour, treating the matter, indeed, with such fullness that at times it seemed lost altogether under a thicket of parentheses, footnotes, and episodes that branched and budded from its stem. But it always emerged again, usually by way of illustration to its own digressions. Practically it was a mass of material for the biography of a man who had been everywhere and done everything (including the Hon. Thomas Norgate, which was a record), and in particular had acted with great distinction and profit (he dated various anecdotes, ‘when I was getting thirty, or forty, or fifty dollars a week’) throughout America and the entire civilised world.
And as he talked on and on in that full, rich, satisfying voice he had, and as old Methuselah, indisputably a most drunken old reprobate of a whisky, busied himself throughout Kipps, lighting lamp after lamp until the entire framework of the little draper was illuminated and glowing like some public building on a festival, behold Chitterlow, and Kipps with him, and the room in which they sat were transfigured! Chitterlow became in very truth that ripe, full man of infinite experience and humour and genius, fellow of Shakespeare and Ibsen and Maeterlinck (three names he placed together quite modestly far above his own), and no longer ambiguously dressed in a sort of yachting costume with cycling knickerbockers, but elegantly if unconventionally attired, and the room ceased to be a small and shabby room in a Folkestone slum, and grew larger and more richly furnished, and the flyblown photographs were curious old pictures, and the rubbish on the walls the most rare and costly bric-a-brac, and the indisputable paraffin lamp a soft and splendid light. A certain youthful heat that to many minds might have weakened old Methuselah’s starry claim to a ripe antiquity vanished in that glamour; two burnt holes and a clamant darn in the table-cloth, moreover, became no more than the pleasing contradictions natural in the house of genius; and as for Kipps — Kipps was a bright young man of promise, distinguished by recent quick, courageous proceedings not too definitely insisted upon, and he had been rewarded by admission to a sanctum and confidences for which the common prosperous, for which ‘society women’ even, were notoriously sighing in vain. ‘Don’t want them, my boy; they’d simply play old Harry with the Work, you know! Chaps outside, bank clerks and university fellows, think the life’s all that sort of thing. Don’t you believe ’em! Don’t you believe ’em!’
And then —!
‘Boom . . . Boom . . . Boom . . . Boom . . . ’ right in the middle of a most entertaining digression on flats who join touring companies under the impression that they are actors, Kipps much amused at their flatness as exposed by Chitterlow.
‘Lor!’ said Kipps, like one who awakens, ‘that’s not eleven!’
‘Must be,’ said Chitterlow. ‘It was nearly ten when I got that whisky. It’s early yet —’
‘All the same, I must be going,’ said Kipps, and stood up. ‘Even now — maybe. Fact is — I ‘ad no idea. The ’ouse door shuts at ‘arf-past ten, you know. I ought to ‘ave thought before.’
‘Well, if you must go —! I tell you what. I’ll come to . . . Why! There’s your leg, old man! Clean forgot it! You can’t go through the streets like that. I’ll sew up the tear. And meanwhile have another whiskey.’
‘I ought to be getting on now,’ protested Kipps, feebly; and then Chitterlow was showing him how to kneel on a chair in order that the rent trouser leg should be attainable, and old Methuselah on his third round was busy repairing the temporary eclipse of Kipps’ arterial glow. Then suddenly Chitterlow was seized with laughter, and had to leave off sewing to tell Kipps that the scene wouldn’t make a bad bit of business in a farcical comedy, and then he began to sketch out the farcical comedy, and that led him to a digression about another farcical comedy of which he had written a ripping opening scene which wouldn’t take ten minutes to read. It had something in it that had never been done on the stage before, and was yet perfectly legitimate, namely a man with a live beetle down the back of his neck trying to seem at his ease in a roomful of people . . .
‘They won’t lock you out,’ he said, in a singularly reassuring tone, and began to read and act what he explained to be (not because he had written it, but simply because he knew it was so on account of his exceptional experience of the stage), and what Kipps also quite clearly saw to be, one of the best opening scenes that had ever been written.
When it was over, Kipps, who rarely swore, was inspired to say the scene was ‘damned fine’ about six times over, whereupon, as if by way of recognition, Chitterlow took a simply enormous portion of the inspired antediluvian, declaring at the same time that he had rarely met a ‘finer’ intelligence than Kipps’ (stronger there might be, that he couldn’t say with certainty as yet, seeing how little, after all, they had seen of each other, but a finer never), that it was a shame such a gallant and discriminating intelligence should be nightly either locked up or locked out at ten — well, ten-thirty, then — and that he had half a mind to recommend old somebody or other (apparently the editor of a London daily paper) to put on Kipps forthwith as a dramatic critic in the place of the current incapable.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever made up anything for print,’ said Kipps, ‘ever. I’d have a thundering good try, though, if ever I got a chance. I would that! I’ve written window tickets orfen enough. Made ’em up and everything. But that’s different.’
‘You’d come to it all the fresher for not having done it before. And the way you picked up every point in that scene, my boy, was a Fair Treat! I tell you, you’d knock William Archer into fits. Not so literary, of course, you’d be, but I don’t believe in literary critics any more than in literary playwrights. Plays aren’t literature — that’s just the point they miss. Plays are plays. No! That won’t hamper you, anyhow. You’re wasted down here, I tell you. Just as I was, before I took to acting. I’m hanged if I wouldn’t like your opinion on these first two acts of that tragedy I’m on to. I haven’t told you about that. It wouldn’t take me more than an hour to read.’ . . .
Then, so far as he could subsequently remember, Kipps had ‘another,’ and then it would seem that, suddenly regardless of the tragedy, he insisted that he ‘really must be getting on,’ and from that point his memory became irregular. Certain things remained quite clearly, and as it is a matter of common knowledge that intoxicated people forget what happens to them, it follows that he was not intoxicated. Chitterlow came with him, partly to see him home and partly for a freshener before turning in. Kipps recalled afterwards very distinctly how in Little Fenchurch Street he discovered that he could not walk straight, and also that Chitterlow’s needle and thread in his still unmended trouser leg was making an annoying little noise on the pavement behind him. He tried to pick up the needle suddenly by surprise, and somehow tripped and fell, and then Chitterlow, laughing uproariously, helped him up. ‘It wasn’t a bicycle this time, old boy,’ said Chitterlow, and that appeared to them both at the time as being a quite extraordinarily good joke indeed. They punched each other about on the strength of it.
For a time after that Kipps certainly pretended to be quite desperately drunk and unable to walk, and Chitterlow entered into the pretence and supported him. After that Kipps remembered being struck with the extremely laughable absurdity of going downhill to Tontine Street in order to go uphill again to the Emporium, and trying to get that idea into Chitterlow’s head and being unable to do so on account of his own merriment and Chitterlow’s evident intoxication; and his next memory after that was of the exterior of the Emporium, shut and darkened, and, as it were, frowning at him with all its stripes of yellow and green. The chilly way in which ‘SHALFORD’ glittered in the moonlight printed itself with particular vividness on his mind. It appeared to Kipps that that establishment was closed to him for evermore. Those gilded letters, in spite of appearances, spelt FINIS for him and exile from Folkestone. He would never do wood-carving, never see Miss Walshingham again. Not that he had ever hoped to see her again. But this was the knife, this was final. He had stayed out, he had got drunk, there had been that row about the Manchester window dressing only three days ago . . . In the retrospect he was quite sure that he was perfectly sober then and at bottom extremely unhappy, but he kept a brave face on the matter nevertheless, and declared stoutly he didn’t care if he was locked out.
Whereupon Chitterlow slapped him on the back very hard and told him that was a ‘Bit of All–Right,’ and assured him that when he himself had been a clerk in Sheffield, before he took to acting, he had been locked out sometimes for six nights running.
‘What’s the result?’ said Chitterlow. ‘I could go back to that place now, and they’d be glad to have me . . . Glad to have me,’ he repeated, and then added, ‘That is to say, if they remember me — which isn’t very likely.’
Kipps asked a little weakly, ‘What am I to do?’
‘Keep out,’ said Chitterlow. ‘You can’t knock ’em up now — that would give you Right away. You’d better try and sneak in in the morning with the Cat. That’ll do you. You’ll probably get in all right in the morning if nobody gives you away.’
Then for a time — perhaps as the result of that slap on the back — Kipps felt decidedly queer, and, acting on Chitterlow’s advice, went for a bit of a freshener upon the Leas. After a time he threw off the temporary queerness, and found Chitterlow patting him on the shoulder and telling him that he’d be all right now in a minute and all the better for it — which he was. And the wind having dropped and the night being now a really very beautiful moonlight night indeed, and all before Kipps to spend as he liked, and with only a very little tendency to spin round now and again to mar its splendour, they set out to walk the whole length of the Leas to the Sandgate lift and back, and as they walked Chitterlow spoke first of moonlight transfiguring the sea and then of moonlight transfiguring faces, and so at last he came to the topic of Love, and upon that he dwelt a great while, and with a wealth of experience and illustrative anecdote that seemed remarkably pungent and material to Kipps. He forgot his lost Miss Walshingham and his outraged employer again. He became, as it were, a desperado by reflection.
Chitterlow had had adventures, a quite astonishing variety of adventures, in this direction; he was a man with a past, a really opulent past, and he certainly seemed to like to look back and see himself amidst its opulence.
He made no consecutive history, but he gave Kipps vivid momentary pictures of relations and entanglements. One moment he was in flight — only too worthily in flight — before the husband of a Malay woman in Cape Town. At the next he was having passionate complications with the daughter of a clergyman in York. Then he passed to a remarkable grouping at Seaford.
They say you can’t love two women at once,’ said Chitterlow. ‘But I tell you —’ He gesticulated and raised his ample voice. ‘It’s Rot! Rot!’
‘I know that,’ said Kipps.
‘Why, when I was in the smalls with Bessie Hopper’s company there were Three.’ He laughed, and decided to add, ‘not counting Bessie, that is.’
He set out to reveal Life as it is lived in touring companies, a quite amazing jungle of interwoven ‘affairs’ it appeared to be, a mere amorous winepress for the crushing of hearts.
‘People say this sort of thing’s a nuisance and interferes with Work. I tell you it isn’t. The Work couldn’t go on without it. They must do it. They haven’t the Temperament if they don’t. If they hadn’t the Temperament they wouldn’t want to act; if they have — Bif!’
‘You’re right,’ said Kipps. ‘I see that.’
Chitterlow proceeded to a close criticism of certain historical indiscretions of Mr. Clement Scott respecting the morals of the stage. Speaking in confidence, and not as one who addresses the public, he admitted regretfully the general truth of these comments. He proceeded to examine various typical instances that had almost forced themselves upon him personally, and with especial regard to the contrast between his own character towards women and that of the Hon. Thomas Norgate, with whom it appeared he had once been on terms of great intimacy . . .
Kipps listened with emotion to these extraordinary recollections. They were wonderful to him, they were incredibly credible. This tumultuous, passionate, irregular course was the way life ran — except in high-class establishments! Such things happened in novels, in plays —— only he had been fool enough not to understand they happened. His share in the conversation was now, indeed, no more than faint writing in the margin; Chitterlow was talking quite continuously. He expanded his magnificent voice into huge guffaws, he drew it together into a confidential intensity, it became drawlingly reminiscent, he was frank, frank with the effect of a revelation, reticent also with the effect of a revelation, a stupendously gesticulating moonlit black figure, wallowing in itself, preaching Adventure and the Flesh to Kipps. Yet withal shot with something of sentiment, with a sort of sentimental refinement very coarsely and egotistically done. The Times he had had! — even before he was as old as Kipps he had had innumerable Times.
Well, he said with a sudden transition, he had sown his wild oats — one had to somewhen — and now, he fancied he had mentioned it earlier in the evening, he was happily married. She was, he indicated, a ‘born lady.’ Her father was a prominent lawyer, a solicitor in Kentish Town, ‘done a lot of public-house business’; her mother was second cousin to the wife of Abel Jones, the fashionable portrait painter —‘almost Society people in a way.’ That didn’t count with Chitterlow. He was no snob. What did count was that she possessed what he ventured to assert, without much fear of contradiction, was the very finest completely untrained contralto voice in all the world. (‘But to hear it properly,’ said Chitterlow, ‘you want a Big Hall.’) He became rather vague, and jerked his head about to indicate when and how he had entered matrimony. She was, it seemed, ‘away with her people.’ It was clear that Chitterlow did not get on with these people very well. It would seem they failed to appreciate his playwriting, regarding it as an unremunerative pursuit, whereas, as he and Kipps knew, wealth beyond the dreams of avarice would presently accrue. Only patience and persistence were needful.
He went off at a tangent to hospitality. Kipps must come down home with him. They couldn’t wander about all night with a bottle of the right sort pining at home for them. ‘You can sleep on the sofa. You won’t be worried by broken springs, anyhow, for I took ’em all out myself two or three weeks ago. I don’t see what they ever put ’em in for. It’s a point I know about. I took particular notice of it when I was with Bessie Hopper. Three months we were, and all over England, North Wales, and the Isle of Man, and I never struck a sofa in diggings anywhere that hadn’t a broken spring. Not once — all the time.’
He added, almost absently, ‘It happens like that at times.’
They descended the slant road towards Harbour Street and went on past the Pavilion Hotel.
They came into the presence of old Methuselah again, and that worthy, under Chitterlow’s direction, at once resumed the illumination of Kipps’ interior with the conscientious thoroughness that distinguished him. Chitterlow took a tall portion to himself with an air of asbestos, lit the bulldog pipe again and lapsed for a space into meditation, from which Kipps roused him by remarking that he expected ‘a nacter ‘as a lot of ups and downs like, now and then.’
At which Chitterlow seemed to bestir himself. ‘Rather,’ he said. ‘And sometimes it’s his own fault and sometimes it isn’t. Usually it is. If it isn’t one thing it’s another. If it isn’t the manager’s wife it’s bar-bragging. I tell you things happen at times. I’m a fatalist. The fact is, Character has you. You can’t get away from it. You may think you do, but you don’t.’
He reflected for a moment. ‘It’s that what makes tragedy. Psychology really. It’s the Greek irony — Ibsen and — all that. Up to date.’
He emitted this exhaustive summary of high-toned modern criticism as if he was repeating a lesson while thinking of something else; but it seemed to rouse him as it passed his lips, by including the name of Ibsen.
He became interested in telling Kipps, who was, indeed open to any information whatever about this quite novel name, exactly where he thought Ibsen fell short, points where it happened that Ibsen was defective just where it chanced that he, Chitterlow, was strong. Of course, he had no desire to place himself in any way on an equality with Ibsen; still, the fact remained that his own experience in England and America and the colonies was altogether more extensive than Ibsen could have had. Ibsen had probably never seen ‘one decent bar scrap’ in his life. That, of course, was not Ibsen’s fault, or his own merit, but there the thing was. Genius, he knew, was supposed to be able to do anything or to do without anything; still, he was now inclined to doubt that. He had a play in hand that might perhaps not please William Archer — whose opinion, after all, he did not value as he valued Kipps’ opinion — but which, he thought, was, at any rate, as well constructed as anything Ibsen ever did.
So with infinite deviousness Chitterlow came at last to his play. He decided he would not read it to Kipps, but tell him about it. This was the simpler, because much of it was still unwritten. He began to explain his plot. It was a complicated plot, and all about a nobleman who had seen everything and done everything and knew practically all that Chitterlow knew about women, that is to say, ‘all about women’ and such-like matters. It warmed and excited Chitterlow. Presently he stood up to act a situation which could not be explained. It was an extremely vivid situation.
Kipps applauded the situation vehemently. ‘Tha’s dam fine,’ said the new dramatic critic, quite familiar with his part now, striking the table with his fist and almost upsetting his third portion (in the second series) of old Methuselah. ‘Tha’s dam fine, Chit’low!’
‘You see it?’ said Chitterlow, with the last vestiges of that incidental gloom disappearing. ‘Good old boy! I thought you’d see it. But it’s just the sort of thing the literary critic can’t see. However, it’s only a beginning —’
He replenished Kipps and proceeded with his exposition.
In a little while it was no longer necessary to give that over-advertised Ibsen the purely conventional precedence he had hitherto had. Kipps and Chitterlow were friends, and they could speak frankly and openly of things not usually admitted. ‘Any’ow,’ said Kipps, a little irrelevantly, and speaking over the brim of the replenishment, ‘what you read jus’ now was dam fine. Nothing can’t alter that.’
He perceived a sort of faint buzzing vibration about things that was very nice and pleasant, and with a little care he had no difficulty whatever in putting his glass back on the table. Then he perceived Chitterlow was going on with the scenario, and then that old Methuselah had almost entirely left his bottle. He was glad there was so little more Methuselah to drink, because that would prevent his getting drunk. He knew that he was not now drunk, but he knew that he had had enough. He was one of those who always know when they have had enough. He tried to interrupt Chitterlow to tell him this, but he could not get a suitable opening. He doubted whether Chitterlow might not be one of those people who did not know when they had had enough. He discovered that he disapproved of Chitterlow. Highly. It seemed to him that Chitterlow went on and on like a river. For a time he was inexplicably and quite unjustly cross with Chitterlow, and wanted to say to him ‘you got the gift of the gab,’ but he only got so far as to say ‘the gift,’ and then Chitterlow thanked him and said he was better than Archer any day. So he eyed Chitterlow with a baleful eye until it dawned upon him that a most extraordinary thing was taking place. Chitterlow kept mentioning some one named Kipps. This presently began to perplex Kipps very greatly. Dimly but decidedly he perceived this was wrong.
‘Look ’ere,’ he said suddenly, ‘what Kipps?’
‘This chap Kipps I’m telling you about.’
‘What chap Kipps you’re telling which about?’
‘I told you.’
Kipps struggled with a difficulty in silence for a space. Then he reiterated firmly, ‘What chap Kipps?’
‘This chap in my play — man who kisses the girl.’
‘Never kissed a girl,’ said Kipps, ‘leastways —’ and subsided for a space. He could not remember whether he had kissed Ann or not — he knew he had meant to. Then suddenly, in a tone of great sadness, and addressing the hearth, he said, ‘My name’s Kipps.’
‘Eh?’ said Chitterlow.
‘Kipps,’ said Kipps, smiling a little cynically.
‘What about him?’
‘He’s me.’ He tapped his breastbone with his middle finger to indicate his essential self.
He leant forward very gravely towards Chitterlow. ‘Look ’ere, Chit’low,’ he said. ‘You haven’t no business putting my name into play. You mustn’t do things like that. You’d lose me my crib, right away.’ And they had a little argument — so far as Kipps could remember. Chitterlow entered upon a general explanation of how he got his names. These he had for the most part got out of a newspaper that was still, he believed, ‘lying about.’ He even made to look for it, and while he was doing so Kipps went on with the argument, addressing himself more particularly to the photograph of the girl in tights. He said that at first her costume had not commended her to him, but now he perceived she had an extremely sensible face. He told her she would like Buggins if she met him, he could see she was just that sort. She would admit — all sensible people would admit — that using names in plays was wrong. You could, for example, have the law on him.
He became confidential. He explained that he was already in sufficient trouble for stopping out all night, without having his name put in plays: He was certain to be in the deuce of a row, the deuce of a row. Why had he done it? Why hadn’t he gone at ten? Because one thing leads to another. One thing, he generalised, always does lead to another . . .
He was trying to tell her that he was utterly unworthy of Miss Walshingham, when Chitterlow gave up the search, and suddenly accused him of being drunk and talking ‘Rot —’
He awoke on the thoroughly comfortable sofa that had had all its springs removed, and although he had certainly not been intoxicated, he awoke with what Chitterlow pronounced to be, quite indisputably, a Head and a Mouth. He had slept in his clothes, and he felt stiff and uncomfortable all over, but the head and mouth insisted that he must not bother over little things like that. In the head was one large, angular idea that it was physically painful to have there. If he moved his head, the angular idea shifted about in the most agonising away. This idea was that he had lost his situation and was utterly ruined, and that it really mattered very little. Shalford was certain to hear of his escapade, and that, coupled with that row about the Manchester window —!
He raised himself into a sitting position under Chitterlow’s urgent encouragement.
He submitted apathetically to his host’s attentions. Chitterlow, who admitted being a ‘bit off it’ himself and in need of an egg-cupful of brandy, just an egg-cupful neat, dealt with that Head and Mouth as a mother might deal with the fall of an only child. He compared it with other Heads and Mouths that he had met, and in particular to certain experienced by the Hon. Thomas Norgate. ‘Right up to the last,’ said Chitterlow, ‘he couldn’t stand his liquor. It happens like that at times.’ And after Chitterlow had pumped on the young beginner’s head and given him some anchovy paste piping hot on buttered toast, which he preferred to all the other remedies he had encountered, Kipps resumed his crumpled collar, brushed his clothes, tacked up his knee, and prepared to face Mr. Shalford and the reckoning for this wild, unprecedented night — the first ‘night out’ that ever he had taken.
Acting on Chitterlow’s advice to have a bit of a freshner before returning to the Emporium, Kipps walked some way along the Leas and back, and then went down to a shop near the Harbour to get a cup of coffee. He found that extremely reinvigorating, and he went on up the High Street to face the inevitable terrors of the office, a faint touch of pride in his depravity tempering his extreme self-abasement. After all, it was not an unmanly headache; he had been out all night, and he had been drinking, and his physical disorder was there to witness the fact. If it wasn’t for the thought of Shalford, he would have been even a proud man to discover himself at last in such a condition. But the thought of Shalford was very dreadful. He met two of the apprentices snatching a walk before shop began. At the sight of them he pulled his spirits together, put his hat back from his pallid brow, thrust his hands into his trousers pockets, and adopted an altogether more dissipated carriage; he met their innocent faces with a wan smile. Just for a moment he was glad that his patch at the knee was, after all, visible, and that some, at least, of the mud on his clothes had refused to move at Chitterlow’s brushing. What wouldn’t they think he had been up to? He passed them without speaking. He could imagine how they regarded his back. Then he recollected Mr. Shalford . . .
The deuce of a row certainly, and perhaps —! He tried to think of plausible versions of the affair. He could explain he had been run down by rather a wild sort of fellow who was riding a bicycle, almost stunned for the moment (even now he felt the effects of the concussion in his head), and had been given whisky to restore him, and ‘the fact is, Sir,’— with an upward inflection of the voice, an upward inflection of the eyebrows, and an air of its being the last thing one would have expected whisky to do, the manifestation, indeed, of a practically unique physiological weakness —‘it got into my ‘ed! ‘ . . .
Put like that it didn’t look so bad.
He got to the Emporium a little before eight, and the housekeeper, with whom he was something of a favourite (‘There’s no harm in Mr. Kipps,’ she used to say), seemed to like him, if anything, better for having broken the rules, and gave him a piece of dry toast and a hot cup of tea.
‘I suppose the G. V. —’ began Kipps.
‘He knows,’ said the housekeeper.
He went down to the shop a little before time, and presently Booch summoned him to the presence. He emerged from the private office after an interval of ten minutes.
The junior clerk scrutinised his visage. Buggins put the frank question.
Kipps answered with one word.
‘Swapped!’ said Kipps.
Kipps leant against the fixtures with his hands in his pockets and talked to the two apprentices under him. ‘I don’t care if I am swapped,’ said Kipps. ‘I been sick of Teddy and his System some time.’
‘I was a good mind to chuck it when my time was up,’ said Kipps. ‘Wish I ‘ad now.’
Afterwards Pearce came round, and Kipps repeated this.
‘What’s it for?’ said Pearce. ‘That row about the window tickets?’
‘No fear!’ said Kipps, and sought to convey a perspective of splendid depravity. ‘I wasn’t in las’ night,’ he said, and made even Pearce, ‘man about town’ Pearce, open his eyes.
‘Why, where did you get to?’ asked Pearce.
He conveyed that he had been ‘fair all round the town, with a Nactor chap’ he knew. ‘One can’t always be living like a curit,’ he said.
‘No fear,’ said Pearce, trying to play up to him.
But Kipps had the top place in that conversation.
‘My lor!’ said Kipps, when Pearce had gone, ‘but wasn’t my mouth and ‘ed bad this morning before I ‘ad a pick-me-up!’
‘Whad jer ‘ave?’
‘Anchovy on ‘ot buttered toast. It’s the very best pick-me-up there is. You trust me, Rodgers. I never take no other, and I don’t advise you to. See?’
And when pressed for further particulars, he said again he had been ‘fair all round the town, with a Nactor chap’ he knew. They asked curiously all he had done, and he said, ‘Well, what do you think?’ And when they pressed for still further details, he said there were things little boys ought not to know, and laughed darkly and found them some huckaback to roll.
And in this manner for a space did Kipps fend off the contemplation of the ‘key of the street’ that Shalford had presented him.
This sort of thing was all very well when junior apprentices were about, but when Kipps was alone with himself it served him not at all. He was uncomfortable inside, and his skin was uncomfortable, and the Head and Mouth, palliated, perhaps, but certainly not cured, were still with him. He felt, to tell the truth, nasty and dirty, and extremely disgusted with himself. To work was dreadful, and to stand still and think still more dreadful. His patched knee reproached him. These were the second best of his three pairs of trousers, and they had cost him thirteen and sixpence. Practically ruined they were. His dusting pair was unfit for shop, and he would have to degrade his best, when he was under inspection he affected the slouch of a desperado, but directly he found himself alone, this passed insensibly into the droop.
The financial aspect of things grew large before him. His whole capital in the world was the sum of five pounds in the Post Office Savings Bank, and four and sixpence cash. Besides, there would be two months’ ‘screw.’ His little tin box upstairs was no longer big enough for his belongings, he would have to buy another, let alone that it was not calculated to make a good impression in a new ‘crib.’ Then there would be paper and stamps needed in some abundance for answering advertisements and railway fares when he went ‘crib hunting.’ He would have to write letters, and he never wrote letters. There was spelling, for example, to consider. Probably if nothing turned up before his month was up, he would have to go home to his Uncle and Aunt.
How would they take it? . . .
For the present, at any rate, he resolved not to write to them.
Such disagreeable things as this it was that lurked below the fair surface of Kipps’ assertion, ‘I been wanting a change. If ‘e ‘adn’t swapped me, I should very likely ‘ave swapped ’im.’
In the perplexed privacies of his own mind he could not understand how everything had happened. He had been the Victim of Fate, or at least of one as inexorable — Chitterlow. He tried to recall the successive steps that had culminated so disastrously. They were difficult to recall . . .
Buggins that night abounded in counsel and reminiscence.
‘Curious thing,’ said Buggins, ‘but every time I’ve had the swap I’ve never believed I should get another Crib — never. But I have,’ said Buggins. ‘Always. So don’t lose heart, whatever you do.’
‘Whatever you do,’ said Buggins, ‘keep hold of your collars and cuffs — shirts, if you can, but collars anyhow. Spout them last. And, anyhow, it’s summer, you won’t want your coat . . . You got a good umbrella . . .
‘You’ll no more get a shop from New Romney than — anything. Go straight up to London, get the cheapest room you can find — and hang out. Don’t eat too much. Many a chap’s put his prospects in his stomach. Get a cup o’ coffee and a slice — egg, if you like — but remember you got to turn up at the Warehouse tidy. The best places now, I believe, are the old cabmen’s eating houses. Keep your watch and chain as long as you can . . .
‘There’s lots of shops going,’ said Buggins, ‘Lots!’
And added reflectively, ‘But not this time of year, perhaps.’
He began to recall his own researches. ‘‘Stonishing lot of chaps you see,’ he said. ‘All sorts. Look like Dukes, some of ’em. High hat. Patent boots. Frockcoat. All there. All right for a West End crib. Others — Lord! It’s a caution, Kipps. Boots been inked in some reading-rooms — I used to write in a Reading Room in Fleet Street, regular penny club — hat been wetted, collar frayed, tail-coat buttoned up, black chest-plaster tie — spread out. Shirt, you know, gone —’ Buggins pointed upward with a pious expression.
‘No shirt, I expect?’
‘Eat it.’ said Buggins.
Kipps meditated. ‘I wonder where old Minton is,’ he said at last. ‘I often wondered about ’im.’
It was the morning following Kipps’ notice of dismissal that Miss Walshingham came into the shop. She came in with a dark, slender lady, rather faded, rather tightly dressed, whom Kipps was to know some day as her mother. He discovered them in the main shop, at the counter of the ribbon department. He had come to the opposite glove counter with some goods enclosed in a parcel that he had unpacked in his own department. The two ladies were both bent over a box of black ribbon.
He had a moment of tumultuous hesitations. The etiquette of the situation was incomprehensible. He put down his goods very quietly and stood, hands on counter, staring at these two ladies. Then, as Miss Walshingham sat back, the instinct of flight seized him . . .
He returned to his Manchester shop wildly agitated. Directly he was out of sight of her he wanted to see her. He fretted up and down the counter, and addressed some snappish remarks to the apprentice in the window. He fumbled for a moment with a parcel, untied it needlessly, began to tie it up again, and then bolted back again into the main shop. He could hear his own heart beating.
The two ladies were standing in the manner of those who have completed their purchases and are waiting for their change. Mrs. Walshingham regarded some remnants with impersonal interest; Helen’s eyes searched the shop. They distinctly lit up when they discovered Kipps.
He dropped his hands to the counter by habit, and stood for a moment regarding her awkwardly. What would she do? Would she cut him? She came across the shop to him.
‘How are you, Mr. Kipps?’ she said, in her clear, distinct tones, and she held out her hand. ‘Very well, thank you,’ said Kipps; ‘how are you?’
She said she had been buying some ribbon.
He became aware of Mrs. Walshingham very much surprised. This checked something allusive about the class, and he said instead that he supposed she was glad to be having her holidays now. She said she was, it gave her more time for reading and that sort of thing. He supposed that she would be going abroad, and she thought that perhaps they would go to Knocke or Bruges for a time.
Then came a pause, and Kipps’ soul surged within him. He wanted to tell her he was leaving and would never see her again. He could find neither words nor voice to say it. The swift seconds passed. The girl in the ribbons was handing Mrs. Walshingham her change. ‘Well,’ said Miss Walshingham, ‘good-bye,’ and gave him her hand again.
Kipps bowed over her hand. His manners, his counter manners, were the easiest she had ever seen upon him. She turned to her mother. It was no good now, no good. Her mother! You couldn’t say a thing like that before her mother! All was lost but politeness. Kipps rushed for the door. He stood at the door bowing with infinite gravity, and she smiled and nodded as she went out. She saw nothing of the struggle within him, nothing but a gratifying emotion. She smiled like a satisfied goddess as the incense ascends.
Mrs. Walshingham bowed stiffly and a little awkwardly.
He remained holding the door open for some seconds after they had passed out, then rushed suddenly to the back of the ‘costume’ window to watch them go down the street. His hands tightened on the window rack as he stared. Her mother appeared to be asking discreet questions. Helen’s bearing suggested the off-hand replies of a person who found the world a satisfactory place to live in. ‘Really, Mumsie, you cannot expect me to cut my own students dead,’ she was, in fact, saying —
They vanished round Henderson’s corner.
Gone! And he would never see her again — never!
It was as though some one had struck his heart with a whip. Never! Never! Never! And she didn’t know! He turned back from the window, and the department, with its two apprentices, was impossible. The whole glaring world was insupportable.
He hesitated, and made a rush, head down, for the cellar that was his Manchester warehouse. Rogers asked him a question that he pretended not to hear.
The Manchester warehouse was a small cellar apart from the general basement of the building, and dimly lit by a small gas flare. He did not turn that up, but rushed for the darkest corner, where, on the lowest shelf, the Sale window-tickets were stored. He drew out the box of these with trembling hands and upset them on the floor, and so, having made himself a justifiable excuse for being on the ground with his head well in the dark, he could let his poor bursting little heart have its way with him for a space.
And there he remained until the cry of ‘Kipps! Forward!’ summoned him once more to face the world.
Now in the slack of that same day, after the midday dinner and before the coming of the afternoon customers, this disastrous Chitterlow descended upon Kipps with the most amazing coincidence in the world. He did not call formally, entering and demanding Kipps, but privately, in a confidential and mysterious manner. Kipps was first aware of him as a dark object bobbing about excitedly outside the hosiery window. He was stooping and craning and peering in the endeavour to see into the interior between and over the socks and stockings. Then he transferred his attention to the door, and after a hovering scrutiny, tried the baby-linen display. His movements and gestures suggested a suppressed excitement.
Seen by daylight, Chitterlow was not nearly such a magnificent figure as he had been by the subdued nocturnal lightings and beneath the glamour of his own interpretation. The lines were the same, indeed, but the texture was different. There was a quality about the yachting cap, an indefinable finality of dustiness, a shiny finish on all the salient surfaces of the reefer coat. The red hair and the profile, though still forcible and fine, were less in the quality of Michelangelo and more in that of the merely picturesque. But it was a bright, brown eye still that sought amidst the interstices of the baby-linen.
Kipps was by no means anxious to interview Chitterlow again. If he had felt sure that Chitterlow would not enter the shop, he would have hid in the warehouse until the danger was past, but he had no idea of Chitterlow’s limitations. He decided to keep up the shop in the shadows until Chitterlow reached the side window of the Manchester department, and then to go outside as if to inspect the condition of the window and explain to him that things were unfavourable to immediate intercourse. He might tell him he had already lost his situation . . .
‘‘Ullo, Chit’low,’ he said, emerging.
‘Very man I want to see,’ said Chitterlow, shaking with vigour. ‘Very man I want to see.’ He laid a hand on Kipps’ arm. ‘How old are you, Kipps?’
‘One-and-twenty,’ said Kipps. ‘Why?’
‘Talk about coincidences! And your name, now? Wait a minute.’ He held out a finger. ‘Is it Arthur?’
‘Yes,’ said Kipps.
‘You’re the man,’ said Chitterlow.
‘It’s about the thickest coincidence I ever struck,’ said Chitterlow, plunging his extensive hand into his breast coat pocket. ‘Half a jiff and I’ll tell you your mother’s Christian name.’ He laughed and struggled with his coat for a space, produced a washing-book and two pencils, which he deposited in his side pocket, then in one capacious handful, a bent but by no means finally disabled cigar, the rubber proboscis of a bicycle pump, some twine and a lady’s purse, and finally a small pocket-book, and from this after dropping and recovering several visiting-cards, he extracted a carelessly torn piece of newspaper. ‘Euphemia,’ he read, and brought his face close to Kipps’. ‘Eh?’ He laughed noisily. ‘It’s about as fair a Bit of All Right as any one could have — outside a coincidence play. Don’t say her name wasn’t Euphemia, Kipps, and spoil the whole blessed show.’
‘Whose name Euphemia?’ asked Kipps.
‘Lemme see what it says on the paper.’
Chitterlow handed him the fragment and turned away.
‘You may say what you like,’ he said, addressing a vast, deep laugh to the street generally.
Kipps attempted to read. ‘WADDY or KIPPS. If Arthur Waddy or Arthur Kipps, the son of Margaret Euphemia Kipps, who —’
Chitterlow’s finger swept over the print. ‘I went down the column, and every blessed name that seemed to fit my play I took. I don’t believe in made-up names. As I told you. I’m all with Zola in that. Documents whenever you can. I like ’em hot and real. See? Who was Waddy?’
‘Never heard his name.’
Kipps tried to read again, and abandoned the attempt. ‘What does it mean?’ he said. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘It means,’ said Chitterlow, with a momentary note of lucid exposition, ‘so far as I can make out, that you’re going to strike it Rich. Never mind about the Waddy — that’s a detail. What does it usually mean? You’ll hear of something to your advantage — very well. I took that newspaper up to get my names by the merest chance. Directly I saw it again and read that — I knew it was you. I believe in coincidences. People say they don’t happen. I say they do. Everything’s a coincidence. Seen properly. Here you are. Here’s one! Incredible? Not a bit of it! See? It’s you! Kipps! Waddy be damned! It’s a Mascot. There’s luck in my play. Bif! You’re there. I’m there. Fair in it! Snap!’ And he discharged his fingers like a pistol. ‘Never you mind about the ‘Waddy.’’
‘Eh?’ said Kipps, with a nervous eye on Chitterlow’s fingers.
‘You’re all right,’ said Chitterlow, ‘you may bet the seat of your only breeches on that! Don’t you worry about the Waddy — that’s as clear as day. You’re about as right side up as a billiard ball . . . whatever you do. Don’t stand there gaping, man! Read the paper if you don’t believe me. Read it!’
He shook it under Kipps’ nose.
Kipps became aware of the second apprentice watching them from the shop. His air of perplexity gave place to a more confident bearing.
‘— who was born at East Grinstead.’ I certainly was born there. I’ve ‘eard my Aunt say —’
‘I knew it,’ said Chitterlow, taking hold of one edge of the paper and bringing his face close alongside Kipps’. ‘— on September the first, eighteen hundred and seventy-eight —’
‘That’s all right,’ said Chitterlow. ‘It’s all, all right, and all you have to do is to write to Watson and Bean and get it —’
‘Whatever it is.’
Kipps sought his moustache. ‘You’d write?’ he asked. ‘Ra-ther.’
‘But what do you think it is?’
‘That’s the fun of it!’ said Chitterlow, taking three steps in some as yet uninvented dance. ‘That’s where the joke comes in. It may be anything — it may be a million. If so! Where does little Harry come in? Eh?’
Kipps was trembling slightly. ‘But —’ he said, and thought. ‘If you was me —’ he began. ‘About that Waddy —?’
He glanced up and saw the second apprentice disappear with amazing swiftness from behind the goods in the window.
‘What?’ asked Chitterlow, but he never had an answer.
‘Lor! There’s the guv’nor!’ said Kipps, and made a prompt dive for the door.
He dashed in, only to discover that Shalford, with the junior apprentice in attendance, had come to mark off remnants of Kipps’ cotton dresses, and was demanding him. ‘Hallo, Kipps,’ he said, ‘outside —?’
‘Seein’ if the window was straight, Sir,’ said Kipps. ‘Umph!’ said Shalford.
For a space Kipps was too busily employed to think at all of Chitterlow or the crumpled bit of paper in his trouser pocket. He was, however, painfully aware of a suddenly disconnected excitement at large in the street. There came one awful moment when Chitterlow’s nose loomed interrogatively over the ground glass of the department door, and his bright little red-brown eye sought for the reason of Kipps’ disappearance, and then it became evident that he saw the high light of Shalford’s baldness, and grasped the situation and went away. And then Kipps (with that advertisement in his pocket) was able to come back to the business in hand.
He became aware that Shalford had asked a question. ‘Yessir, nosir, rightsir. I’m sorting up zephyrs tomorrow, Sir,’ said Kipps.
Presently he had a moment to himself again, and, taking up a safe position behind a newly unpacked pile of summer lace curtains, he straightened out the piece of paper and re-perused it. It was a little perplexing. That ‘Arthur Waddy or Arthur Kipps’— did that imply two persons or one? He would ask Pearce or Buggins. Only —
It had always been impressed upon him that there was something demanding secrecy about his mother.
‘Don’t you answer no questions about your mother,’ his aunt had been wont to say. ‘Tell them you don’t know, whatever it is they ask you.’
Now, this —?
Kipps’ face became portentously careful, and he rugged at his moustache, such as it was, hard.
He had always represented his father as being a ‘gentleman farmer.’ ‘It didn’t pay,’ he used to say, with a picture in his own mind of a penny magazine aristocrat prematurely worn out by worry. ‘I’m a Norfan, both sides,’ he would explain, with the air of one who had seen trouble. He said he lived with his uncle and aunt, but he did not say that they kept a toy-shop, and to tell any one that his uncle had been a butler — a servant! — would have seemed the maddest of indiscretions. Almost all the assistants in the Emporium were equally reticent and vague, so great is their horror of ‘Lowness’ of any sort. To ask about this ‘Waddy or Kipps’ would upset all these little fictions. He was not, as a matter of fact, perfectly clear about his real status in the world (he was not, as a matter of fact, perfectly clear about anything), but he knew that there was a quality about his status that was — detrimental.
Under the circumstances —?
It occurred to him that it would save a lot of trouble to destroy the advertisement there and then. In which case he would have to explain to Chitterlow!
‘Eng!’ said Mr. Kipps.
‘Kipps!’ cried Carshot, who was shop-walking. ‘Kipps Forward!’
He thrust back the crumpled paper into his pocket, and sallied forth to the customer.
‘I want,’ said the customer, looking vaguely about her through glasses, ‘a little bit of something to cover a little stool I have. Anything would do — a remnant or anything.’
The matter of the advertisement remained in abeyance for half an hour, and at the end the little stool was still a candidate for covering, and Kipps had a thoroughly representative collection of the textile fabrics in his department to clear away. He was so angry about the little stool that the crumpled advertisement lay for a space in his pocket, absolutely forgotten.
Kipps sat on his tin box under the gas-bracket that evening, and looked up the name Euphemia, and learnt what it meant in the ‘Inquire Within About Everything’ that constituted Buggins’ reference library. He hoped Buggins, according to his habit, would ask him what he was looking for, but Buggins was busy turning out his week’s washing. ‘Two collars,’ said Buggins, ‘half pair socks, two dickeys. Shirt? . . . M’m. There ought to be another collar somewhere’.
‘Euphemia,’ said Kipps at last, unable altogether to keep to himself this suspicion of a high origin that floated so delightfully about him. ‘Eu-phemia; it isn’t a name common people would give a girl, is it?’
‘It isn’t the name any decent people would give to a girl,’ said Buggins, ‘common or not.’
‘Lor!’ said Kipps. ‘Why?’
‘It’s giving girls names like that,’ said Buggins, ‘that nine times out of ten makes ’em go wrong. It unsettles ’em. If ever I was to have a girl, if ever I was to have a dozen girls, I’d call ’em all Jane. Every one of ’em. You couldn’t have a better name than that. Euphemia, indeed! What next? . . . Good Lord! . . . That isn’t one of my collars there, is it, under your bed?’
Kipps got him the collar.
‘I don’t see no great ‘arm in Euphemia,’ he said as he did so.
After that he became restless. ‘I’m a good mind to write that letter,’ he said; and then, finding Buggins preoccupied wrapping his washing up in the ‘sox,’ added to himself, ‘a thundering good mind.’
So he got his penny bottle of ink, borrowed the pen from Buggins, and with no very serious difficulty in spelling or composition, did as he had resolved.
He came back into the bedroom about an hour afterwards, a little out of breath and pale. ‘Where you been?’ said Buggins, who was now reading the Daily World Manager, which came to him in rotation from Carshot.
‘Out to post some letters,’ said Kipps, hanging up his hat. ‘Crib hunting?’
‘Mostly,’ said Kipps.
‘Rather,’ he added, with a nervous laugh; ‘what else?’
Buggins went on reading. Kipps sat on his bed and regarded the back of the Daily World Manager thoughtfully.
‘Buggins,’ he said at last.
Buggins lowered his paper and looked.
‘I say, Buggins, what do these here advertisements mean that say so-and-so will hear of something greatly to his advantage?’
‘Missin’ people,’ said Buggins, making to resume reading.
‘How d’yer mean?’ asked Kipps. ‘Money left and that sort of thing?’
Buggins shook his head. ‘Debts,’ he said, ‘more often than not.’
‘But that ain’t to his advantage.’
‘They put that to get ‘old of ’em’, said Buggins. ‘Often it’s wives.’
‘What you mean?’
‘Deserted wives try and get their husbands back that way.’
‘I suppose it is legacies sometimes, eh? Perhaps if some one was left a hundred pounds by some one —’
‘Hardly ever,’ said Buggins.
‘Well, ‘ow —?’ began Kipps, and hesitated.
Buggins resumed reading. He was very much excited by a leader on Indian affairs. ‘By Jove!’ he said, ‘it won’t do to give these here Blacks votes.’
‘No fear,’ said Kipps.
‘They’re different altogether,’ said Buggins. ‘They ‘aven’t the sound sense of Englishmen, and they ‘aven’t the character. There’s a sort of tricky dishonesty about ’em — false witness and all that — of which an Englishman has no idea. Outside their courts of law — it’s a pos’tive fact, Kipps — there’s witnesses waitin’ to be ‘ired. Reg’lar trade. Touch their ‘ats as you go in. Englishmen ‘ave no idea, I tell you — not ord’nary Englishmen. It’s in their blood. They’re too timid to be honest. Too slavish. They aren’t used to being free like we are, and if you gave ’em freedom they woudn’t make a proper use of it. Now, we — Oh, Damn!’
For the gas had suddenly gone out, and Buggins had the whole column of Society Club Chat still to read.
Buggins could talk of nothing after that but Shalford’s meanness in turning off the gas, and after being extremely satirical about their employer, undressed in the dark, hit his bare toe against a box, and subsided, after unseemly ejaculations, into silent ill-temper.
Though Kipps tried to get to sleep before the affair of the letter he had just posted resumed possession of his mind, he could not do so. He went over the whole thing again, quite exhaustively.
Now that his first terror was abating, he couldn’t quite determine whether he was glad or sorry that he had posted that letter. If it should happen to be a hundred pounds!
It must be a hundred pounds!
If it was he could hold out for a year, for a couple of years even, before he got a Crib.
Even if it was fifty pounds —!
Buggins was already breathing regularly when Kipps spoke again. ‘Buggins,’ he said.
Buggins pretended to be asleep, and thickened his regular breathing (a little too hastily) to a snore.
‘I say, Buggins,’ said Kipps, after an interval.
‘What’s up now?’ said Buggins, unamiably.
‘S’pose you saw an advertisement in a paper, with your name in it, see, asking you to come and see some one, like, so as to hear of something very much to your —’
‘Hide,’ said Buggins, shortly. ‘But —’
‘Goo’-night, o’man,’ said Buggins, with convincing earnestness. Kipps lay still for a long time, then blew profoundly, turned over and stared at the other side of the dark.
He had been a fool to post that letter!
Lord! Hadn’t he been a fool!
It was just five days and a half after the light had been turned out while Buggins was reading, that a young man with a white face, and eyes bright and wide open, emerged from a side road upon the Leas front. He was dressed in his best clothes, and, although the weather was fine, he carried his umbrella, just as if he had been to church. He hesitated, and turned to the right. He scanned each house narrowly as he passed it, and presently came to an abrupt stop. ‘Hughenden,’ said the gateposts in firm, black letters, and the fanlight in gold repeated ‘Hughenden.’ It was a stucco house, fit to take your breath away, and its balcony was painted a beautiful sea green, enlivened with gilding. He stood looking up at it.
‘Gollys!’ he said at last in an awe-stricken whisper.
It had rich-looking crimson curtains to all the lower windows, and brass-railed blinds above. There was a splendid tropical plant in a large artistic pot in the drawing-room window. There was a splendid bronzed knocker (ring also) and two bells — one marked ‘servants.’
‘Gollys! Servants, eh?’
He walked past away from it with his eyes regarding it, and then turned and came back. He passed through a further indecision, and finally drifted away to the sea front and sat down on a seat a little way along the Leas and put his arm over the back and regarded ‘Hughenden.’ He whistled an air very softly to himself, put his head first on one side and then on the other. Then for a space he scowled fixedly at it.
A very stout old gentleman with a very red face and very protuberant eyes sat down beside Kipps, removed a Panama hat of the most abandoned desperado cut, and mopped his brow and blew. Then he began mopping the inside of his hat. Kipps watched him for a space, wondering how much he might have a year, and where he bought his hat. Then ‘Hughenden’ reasserted itself.
An impulse overwhelmed him. ‘I say,’ he said, leaning forward to the old gentleman. The old gentleman started and stared.
‘What did you say?’ he asked fiercely.
‘You wouldn’t think,’ said Kipps, indicating with his forefinger, ‘that that ‘ous there belongs to me.’
The old gentleman twisted his neck round to look at ‘Hughenden.’ Then he came back to Kipps, looked at his mean little garments with apoplectic intensity, and blew at him by way of reply.
‘It does,’ said Kipps, a little less confidently.
‘Don’t be a fool,’ said the old gentleman, and put his hat on and wiped out the corners of his eyes. ‘It’s hot enough,’ panted the old gentleman indignantly, ‘without Fools.’ Kipps looked from the old gentleman to the house, and back to the old gentleman. The old gentleman looked at Kipps, and snorted and looked out to sea, and again, snorting very contemptuously, at Kipps.
‘Mean to say it doesn’t belong to me?’ said Kipps.
The old gentleman just glanced over his shoulder at the house in dispute, and then fell to pretending Kipps didn’t exist. ‘It’s been lef me this very morning,’ said Kipps. ‘It ain’t the only one that’s been lef me, neither.’
‘Aw!’ said the old gentleman, like one who is sorely tried. He seemed to expect the passers-by presently to remove Kipps.
‘It ‘as,’ said Kipps. He made no further remark to the old gentleman for a space, but looked with a little less certitude at the house . . .
‘I got —’ he said, and stopped.
‘It’s no good telling you if you don’t believe,’ he said.
The old gentleman, after a struggle with himself, decided not to have a fit. ‘Try that game on with me,’ he panted. ‘Give you in charge.’
‘Wasn’t born yesterday,’ said the old gentleman, and blew. ‘Besides,’ he added, ‘look at you!’
‘I know you,’ said the old gentleman, and coughed shortly and nodded to the horizon, and coughed again.
Kipps looked dubiously from the house to the old gentleman and back to the house. Their conversation, he gathered, was over.
Presently he got up and went slowly across the grass to its stucco portal again. He stood, and his mouth shaped the precious word, ‘Hughenden.’ It was all right! He looked over his shoulder as if in appeal to the old gentleman, then turned and went his way. The old gentleman was so evidently past all reason!
He hung for a moment some distance along the parade, as though some invisible string was pulling him back. When he could no longer see the house from the pavement he went out into the road. Then with an effort he snapped the string.
He went on down a quiet side street, unbuttoned his coat furtively, took out three bank-notes in an envelope, looked at them, and replaced them. Then he fished up five new sovereigns from his trouser pocket, and examined them. To such confidence had his exact resemblance to his dead mother’s portrait carried Messrs. Watson and Bean.
It was right enough. It really was all right.
He replaced the coins with grave precaution, and went his way with a sudden briskness. It was all right — he had it now — he was a rich man at large. He went up a street and round a corner and along another street, and started towards the Pavilion, and changed his mind and came round back, resolved to go straight to the Emporium and tell them all.
He was aware of some one crossing a road far off ahead of him, some one curiously relevant to his present extraordinary state of mind. It was Chitterlow. Of course, it was Chitterlow who had told him first of the whole thing! The playwright was marching buoyantly along a cross street. His nose was in the air, the yachting cap was on the back of his head, and the large freckled hand grasped two novels from the library, a morning newspaper, a new hat done up in paper, and a lady’s net bag full of onions and tomatoes . . .
He passed out of sight behind the wine-merchant’s at the corner, as Kipps decided to hurry forward and tell him of the amazing change in the Order of the Universe that had just occurred.
Kipps uttered a feeble shout, arrested as it began, and waved his umbrella. Then he set off at a smart pace in pursuit. He came round the corner, and Chitterlow had gone; he hurried to the next, and there was no Chitterlow; he turned back unavailingly, and his eyes sought some other possible corner. His hand fluttered to his mouth, and he stood for a space on the pavement edge, staring about him. No good!
But the sight of Chitterlow was a wholesome thing, it connected events together, joined him on again to the past at a new point, and that was what he so badly needed . . .
It was all right — all right.
He became suddenly very anxious to tell everybody at the Emporium, absolutely everybody, all about it. That was what wanted doing. He felt that telling was the thing to make this business real. He gripped his umbrella about the middle, and walked very eagerly.
He entered the Emporium through the Manchester department. He flung open the door (over whose ground glass he had so recently, in infinite apprehension, watched the nose of Chitterlow), and discovered the second apprentice and Pearce in conversation. Pearce was prodding his hollow tooth with a pin and talking in fragments about the distinctive characteristics of Good Style.
Kipps came up in front of the counter.
‘I say,’ he said. ‘What d’yer think?’
‘What?’ said Pearce over the pin.
‘You’ve slipped out because Teddy’s in London.’
‘Been left a fortune.’
‘Straight. I been lef twelve ‘undred pounds — twelve ‘undred pounds a year!’
He moved towards the little door out of the department into the house, moving as heralds say, regardant passant. Pearce stood with mouth wide open and pin poised in air.
‘No!’ he said at last.
‘It’s right,’ said Kipps, ‘and I’m going.’
And he fell over the doormat into the house.
It happened that Mr. Shalford was in London buying summer sale goods, and, no doubt, also interviewing aspirants to succeed Kipps.
So that there was positively nothing to hinder a wild rush of rumour from end to end of the Emporium. All the masculine members began their report with the same formula. ‘Heard about Kipps?’
The new girl in the cash desk had had it from Pearce, and had dashed out into the fancy shop to be the first with the news on the fancy side. Kipps had been left a thousand pounds a year — twelve thousand pounds a year. Kipps had been left twelve hundred thousand pounds. The figures were uncertain, but the essential facts they had correct. Kipps had gone upstairs. Kipps was packing his box. He said he wouldn’t stop another day in the old Emporium not for a thousand pounds! It was said that he was singing ribaldry about old Shalford. He had come down! He was in the counting-house. There was a general movement thither. (Poor old Buggins had a customer, and couldn’t make out what the deuce it was all about! Completely out of it, was Buggins.)
There was a sound of running to and fro, and voices saying this, that, and the other thing about Kipps. Ring-a-dinger, ring-a-dinger went the dinner-bell, all unheeded. The whole of the Emporium was suddenly bright-eyed, excited, hungry to tell somebody, to find at any cost somebody who didn’t know, and be first to tell them, ‘Kipps has been left thirty — forty — fifty thousand pounds!’
‘What!’ cried the senior porter. ‘Him!’ and ran up to the counting-house as eagerly as though Kipps had broken his neck.
‘One of our chaps just been left sixty thousand pounds,’ said the first apprentice, returning after a great absence to his customer.
‘Unexpectedly?’ said the customer. ‘Quite,’ said the first apprentice . . .
‘I’m sure if Any One deserves it, it’s Mr. Kipps,’ said Miss Mergle; and her train rustled as she hurried to the counting-house.
There stood Kipps amidst a pelting shower of congratulations. His face was flushed, and his hair disordered. He still clutched his hat and best umbrella in his left hand. His right hand was any one’s to shake rather than his own. (Ring-a-dinger, ring-a-dinger, ding, ding, ding, dang you! went the neglected dinner-bell.)
‘Good old Kipps!’ said Pearce, shaking. ‘Good old Kipps!’ Booch rubbed one anaemic hand upon the other. ‘You’re sure it’s all right, Mr. Kipps?’ he said in the background. ‘I’m sure we all congratulate him,’ said Miss Mergle. ‘Great Scott!’ said the new young lady in the glove department. ‘Twelve hundred a year! Great Scott! You aren’t thinking of marrying any one, are you, Mr. Kipps?’
‘Three pounds five and ninepence a day,’ said Mr. Booch, working in his head almost miraculously . . .
Every one, it seemed, was saying how glad they were it was Kipps, except the junior apprentice, upon whom — he being the only son of a widow, and used to having the best of everything as a right — an intolerable envy, a sense of unbearable wrong, had cast its gloomy shade. All the rest were quite honestly and simply glad — gladder, perhaps, at that time than Kipps, because they were not so overpowered . . .
Kipps went downstairs to dinner, emitting fragmentary disconnected statements. ‘Never expected anything of the sort . . . When this here old Bean told me, you could have knocked me down with a feather . . . He says, “You ben lef money.” Even then I didn’t expect it’d be mor’n a hundred pounds, perhaps. Something like that.’
With the sitting down to dinner and the handing of plates, the excitement assumed a more orderly quality. The housekeeper emitted congratulations as she carved, and the maidservant became dangerous to clothes with the plates — she held them anyhow; one expected to see one upside down, even — she found Kipps so fascinating to look at. Every one was the brisker and hungrier for the news (except the junior apprentice), and the housekeeper carved with unusual liberality. It was High Old Times there under the gaslight, High Old Times. ‘I’m sure if Any One deserves it,’ said Miss Mergle —‘pass the salt, please — it’s Mr. Kipps.’
The babble died away a little as Carshot began barking across the table at Kipps. ‘You’ll be a bit of a Swell, Kipps,’ he said. ‘You won’t hardly know yourself.’
‘Quite the gentleman,’ said Miss Mergle.
‘Many real gentlemen’s families,’ said the housekeeper, ‘have to do with less.’
‘See you on the Leas,’ said Carshot. ‘My —!’ He met the housekeeper’s eye. She had spoken about that expression before. ‘My eye!’ he said tamely, lest words should mar the day.
‘You’ll go to London, I reckon,’ said Pearce. ‘You’ll be a man about town. We shall see you mashing ’em, with violets in your button ‘ole, down the Burlington Arcade.’
‘One of these West End Flats. That’d be my style,’ said Pearce. ‘And a first-class club.’
‘Aren’t these Clubs a bit ‘ard to get into?’ asked Kipps, open-eyed over a mouthful of potato.
‘No fear. Not for Money,’ said Pearce. And the girl in the laces, who had acquired a cynical view of Modern Society from the fearless exposures of Miss Marie Corelli, said, ‘Money goes everywhere nowadays, Mr. Kipps.’
But Carshot showed the true British strain. ‘If I was Kipps,’ he said, pausing momentarily for a knifeful of gravy, ‘I should go to the Rockies and shoot bears.’
‘I’d certainly ‘ave a run over to Boulogne,’ said Pearce, ‘and look about a bit. I’m going to do that next Easter myself, anyhow — see if I don’t.’
‘Go to Oireland, Mr. Kipps,’ came the soft insistence of Biddy Murphy, who managed the big workroom, flushed and shining in the Irish way as she spoke, ‘Go to Oireland. Ut’s the loveliest country in the world. Outside currs. Fishin’, shoot-in’, huntin’. An’ pretty gals! Eh! You should see the Lakes of Killarney, Mr. Kipps!’ And she expressed ecstasy by a facial pantomine, and smacked her lips.
And presently they crowned the event. It was Pearce who said, ‘Kipps, you ought to stand Sham!’ And it was Carshot who found the more poetical word ‘Champagne.’
‘Rather!’ said Kipps, hilariously; and the rest was a question of detail and willing emissaries. ‘Here it comes!’ they said, as the apprentice come down the staircase, ‘How about the shop?’ said some one. ‘Oh, hang the shop!’ said Carshot; and made gruntulous demands for a corkscrew with a thing to cut the wire. Pearce, the dog! had a wire-cutter in his pocket-knife. How Shalford would have stared at the gold-tipped bottles if he had chanced to take an early train! Bang went the corks, and bang! Gluck, gluck, gluck, and sizzle!
When Kipps found them all standing about him under the gas flare, saying almost solemnly ‘Kipps!’ with tumblers upheld, ‘Have it in tumblers,’ Carshot had said, ‘have it in tumblers. It isn’t a wine like you have in glasses. Not like port and sherry. It cheers you up, but you don’t get drunk. It isn’t hardly stronger than lemonade. They drink it at dinner, some of ’em, every day.’
‘What! At three and six a bottle!’ said the housekeeper, incredulously. ‘They don’t stick at that,’ said Carshot. ‘Not the champagne sort.’ The housekeeper pursed her lips and shook her head —
When Kipps, I say, found them all standing up to toast him in that manner, there came such a feeling in his throat and face that for the life of him he scarcely knew for a moment whether he was not going to cry. ‘Kipps!’ they all said, with kindly eyes. It was very good of them, and hard there wasn’t a stroke of luck for them all!
But the sight of upturned chins and glasses pulled him together again . . . They did him honour. Unenviously and freely they did him honour.
For example, Carshot, being subsequently engaged in serving cretonne, and desiring to push a number of rejected blocks up the counter in order to have space for measuring, swept them by a powerful and ill-calculated movement of the arm, with a noise like thunder, partly on to the floor, and partly on to the foot of the still gloomily preoccupied junior apprentice. And Buggins, whose place it was to shopwalk while Carshot served, shopwalked with quite unparalleled dignity, dangling a new season’s sunshade with a crooked handle on one finger. He arrested each customer who came down the shop with a grave and penetrating look. ‘Showing very tractive line new sheason’ sunshade,’ he would remark; and after a suitable pause, ‘Markable thing, one our ‘sistant leg’sy twelve ‘undred a year. Very tractive. Nothing more today, mum? No!’ And he would then go and hold the door open for them with perfect decorum, and with the sunshade dangling elegantly from his left hand . . .
And the second apprentice, serving a customer with cheap ticking, and being asked suddenly if it was strong, answered remarkably,
‘Oo, no, mum! Strong! Why, it ain’t ‘ardly stronger than lemonade’ . . .
The head porter, moreover, was filled with a virtuous resolve to break the record as a lightning packer, and make up for lost time. Mr. Swaffenham of the Sandgate Riviera, for example, who was going to dinner that night at seven, received at half-past six, instead of the urgently needed dress shirt he expected, a corset specially adapted to the needs of persons inclined to embonpoint. A parcel of summer underclothing selected by the elder Miss Waldershawe was somehow distributed in the form of gratis additions throughout a number of parcels of a less intimate nature, and a box of millinery on approval to Lady Pamshort (at Wampachs) was enriched by the addition of the junior porter’s cap . . .
These little things, slight in themselves, witness, perhaps none the less eloquently to the unselfish exhilaration felt throughout the Emporium at the extraordinary and unexpected enrichment of Mr. Kipps.
The bus that plies between New Romney and Folkestone is painted a British red, and inscribed on either side with the word Tip-top’ in gold amidst voluptuous scrolls. It is a slow and portly bus; even as a young bus it must have been slow and portly. Below it swings a sort of hold, hung by chains between the wheels and in the summer time the top has garden seats. The front over those two dauntless, unhurrying horses rises in tiers like a theatre; there is first a seat for the driver and his company, and above that a seat, and above that, unless my memory plays me false, a seat. You sit in a sort of composition by some Italian painter — a celestial group of you. There are days when it doesn’t go — you have to find out. And so you get to New Romney. So you will continue to get to New Romney for many years, for the light railway concession along the coast is happily in the South Eastern Railway Company’s keeping, and the peace of the marsh is kept inviolate save for the bicycle bells of such as Kipps and I. This bus it was, this ruddy, venerable and, under God’s mercy, immortal bus, that came down the Folkestone hill with unflinching deliberation, and trundled through Sandgate and Hythe, and out into the windy spaces of the Marsh, with Kipps and all his fortunes on its brow.
You figure him there. He sat on the highest seat diametrically above the driver, and his head was spinning and spinning with champagne and this stupendous Tomfoolery of Luck; and his heart was swelling, swelling indeed at times as though it would burst him, and his face toward the sunlight was transfigured. He said never a word, but ever and again as he thought of this or that, he laughed. He seemed full of chuckles for a time, detached and independent chuckles, chuckles that rose and burst on him like bubbles in a wine . . . He held a banjo sceptre-fashion and resting on his knee. He had always wanted a banjo, now he had got one at Melchior’s, while he was waiting for the bus.
There sat beside him a young servant, who was sucking peppermint, and a little boy with a sniff whose flitting eyes showed him curious to know why ever and again Kipps laughed, and beside the driver were two young men in gaiters talking about ‘tegs.’ And there sat Kipps, all unsuspected, twelve hundred a year as it were, except for the protrusion of the banjo, disguised as a common young man, and the young man in gaiters, to the left of the driver, eyed Kipps and his banjo, and especially his banjo, ever and again, as if he found it and him, with his rapt face, an insoluble enigma. And many a King has ridden into a conquered city with a lesser sense of splendour than Kipps.
Their shadows grew long behind them, and their faces were transfigured in gold as they rumbled on towards the splendid west. The sun set before they had passed Dymchurch, and as they came lumbering into New Romney past the windmill the dusk had come.
The driver handed down the banjo and the portmanteau, and Kipps having paid him, ‘That’s aw right,’ he said to the change as a gentleman should, turned about, and ran the portmanteau smartly into old Kipps, whom the sound of the stopping of the bus had brought to the door of the shop in an aggressive mood and with his mouth full of supper.
‘‘Ullo, Uncle, didn’t see you,’ said Kipps.
‘Blunderin’ ninny,’ said old Kipps. ‘What’s brought you here? Ain’t early closing, is it? Not Toosday?’
‘Got some news for you, Uncle,’ said Kipps, dropping the portmanteau.
‘Ain’t lost your situation, ‘ave you? What’s that you got there? I’m blowed if it ain’t a banjo, Goolord! Spendin’ your money on banjoes! Don’t put down your portmanty there — anyhow. Right in the way of everybody. I’m blowed if ever I saw such a boy as you’ve got lately. Here! Molly! And look here! What you got a portmanty for? Why! Goolord! You ain’t really lost your place, ‘ave you?’
‘Somethin’s happened,’ said Kipps, slightly dashed. ‘It’s all right, Uncle. I’ll tell you in a minute.’ Old Kipps took the banjo as his nephew picked up the portmanteau again.
The living-room door opened quickly, showing a table equipped with elaborate simplicity for supper, and Mrs. Kipps appeared.
‘If it ain’t young Artie!’ she said. ‘Why, whatever’s brought you ‘ome?’
‘‘Ullo, Aunt,’ said Artie. ‘I’m coming in. I got somethin’ to tell you. I’ve ‘ad a bit of luck.’
He wouldn’t tell them all at once. He staggered with the portmanteau round the corner of the counter, set a bundle of children’s tin pails into clattering oscillation, and entered the little room. He deposited his luggage in the corner beside the tall clock, and turned to his aunt and uncle again. His aunt regarded him doubtfully; the yellow light from the little lamp on the table escaped above the shade, and lit her forehand and the tip of her nose. It would be all right in a minute. He wouldn’t tell them all at once. Old Kipps stood in the shop door with the banjo in his hand, breathing nosily. ‘The fact is, Aunt, I’ve ‘ad a bit of luck.’
‘You ain’t been backin’ gordless ‘orses, Artie?’ she asked. ‘No fear.’
‘It’s a draw he’s been in,’ said old Kipps, still panting from the impact of the portmanteau, ‘it’s a dratted draw. Jest look here, Molly. He’s won this ’ere trashy banjer and throwd up his situation on the strength of it — that’s what he’s done. Goin’ about singing. Dash and plunge. Jest the very fault poor Pheamy always ‘ad. Blunder right in, and no one mustn’t stop ‘er!’
‘You ain’t thrown up your place, Artie, ‘ave you?’ said Mrs. Kipps. Kipps perceived his opportunity. ‘I ‘ave,’ he said. ‘I’ve throwed it up.’
‘What for?’ said old Kipps.
‘So’s to learn the banjo!’
‘Goo Lord!’ said old Kipps, in horror to find himself verified. ‘I’m going about playing,’ said Kipps, with a giggle.
‘Goin’ to black my face, Aunt, and sing on the beach. I’m going to ‘ave a most tremenjous lark and earn any amount of money — you see. Twenty-six fousand pounds I’m going to earn just as easy as nothing!’
‘Kipps,’ said Mrs. Kipps, ‘he’s been drinking!’
They regarded their nephew across the supper table with long faces. Kipps exploded with laughter, and broke out again when his aunt shook her head very sadly at him. Then suddenly he fell grave. He felt he could keep it up no longer. ‘It’s all right, Aunt. Reely, I ain’t mad, and I ain’t been drinking. I been lef money. I been left twenty-six fousand pounds.’
‘And you thrown up your place?’ said old Kipps.
‘Yes,’ said Kipps, ‘rather!’
‘And bort this banjer, put on your best noo trousers, and come right on ’ere?’
‘Well,’ said Mrs. Kipps, ‘I— never — did!’
‘These ain’t my noo trousers, Aunt,’ said Kipps, regretfully. ‘My noo trousers wasn’t done.’
‘I shouldn’t ha’ thought that even you could ha’ been such a fool as that,’ said old Kipps.
‘It’s all right,’ said Kipps, a little disconcerted by their distrustful solemnity. ‘It’s all right, reely! Twenny-six thousan’ pounds. And a ’ouse.’
Old Kipps pursed his lips and shook his head.
‘A ’ouse on the Leas. I could have gone there. Only I didn’t. I didn’t care to. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to come and tell you.’
‘How d’yer know the ’ouse —?’
‘They told me.’
‘Well,’ said old Kipps, and nodded his head portentously towards his nephew, with the corners of his mouth pulled down in a strikingly discouraging way. ‘Well, you are a young Gaby.’
‘I didn’t think it of you, Artie!’ said Mrs. Kipps.
‘Wadjer mean?’ asked Kipps, faintly, looking from one to the other with a withered face.
Old Kipps closed the shop door. ‘They been ‘avin’ a lark with you,’ said old Kipps, in a mournful undertone. ‘That’s what I mean, my boy. They jest been seein’ what a Gaby like you ‘ud do.’
‘I dessay that young Quodling was in it,’ said Mrs. Kipps. ‘‘E’s jest that sort.’
(For Quodling of the green-baize bag had grown up to be a fearful dog, the terror of New Romney.) ‘It’s somebody after your place, very likely,’ said old Kipps.
Kipps looked from one sceptical reproving face to the other, and round him at the familiar shabby little room, with his familiar cheap portmanteau on the mended chair, and that banjo amidst the supper-things, like some irrevocable deed. Could he be rich indeed? Could it be that these things had really happened? Or had some insane fancy whirled him thither?
Still — perhaps a hundred pounds —
‘But,’ he said. ‘It’s all right, reely, Uncle. You don’t think —? I ‘ad a letter.’
‘Got up,’ said old Kipps.
‘But I answered it and went to a norfis.’
Old Kipps felt staggered for a moment, but he shook his head and chins sagely from side to side. As the memory of old Bean and Shalford’s revived, the confidence of Kipps came back to him.
‘I saw a nold gent, Uncle — perfect gentleman. And ‘e told me all about it. Mos’ respectable ‘e was. Said ‘is name was Watson and Bean — leastways ‘e was Bean. Said it was lef me.’
— Kipps suddenly dived into his breast pocket —‘by my Grandfather —’
The old people started.
Old Kipps uttered an exclamation and wheeled round towards the mantelshelf, above which the daguerreotype of his lost younger sister smiled its fading smile upon the world.
‘Waddy, ‘is name was,’ said Kipps, with his hand still deep in his pocket. ‘It was ‘is son was my father —’
‘Waddy!’ said old Kipps.
‘Waddy!’ said Mrs. Kipps.
‘She’d never say,’ said old Kipps.
There was a long silence.
Kipps fumbled with a letter, a crumpled advertisement and three banknotes. He hesitated between these items.
‘Why! That young chap what was arsting questions —’ said old Kipps, and regarded his wife with an eye of amazement.
‘Must ‘ave been,’ said Mrs. Kipps.
‘Must ‘ave been,’ said old Kipps.
‘James,’ said Mrs. Kipps, in an awe-stricken voice. ‘After all — perhaps — it’s true!’
‘‘Ow much did you say?’ asked old Kipps. ‘‘Ow much did you say ‘e’d lef you, me b’y?’
It was thrilling, though not quite in the way Kipps had expected. He answered almost meekly across the meagre supper-things, with his documentary evidence in his hand —
‘Twelve ‘undred pounds.’ Proximately, he said. Twelve ‘undred pounds a year. ‘E made ‘is will jest before ‘e died — not mor’n a month ago. When ‘e was dying, ‘e seemed to change like, Mr. Bean said. ‘E’d never forgiven ‘is son, never — not till then. ‘Is son ‘ad died in Australia, years and years ago, and then ‘e ‘adn’t forgiven ’im. You know —‘is son what was my father. But jest when ‘e was ill and dying ‘e seemed to get worried like, and longing for some one of ‘is own. And ‘e told Mr. Bean it was ’im that had prevented them marrying. So ‘e thought. That’s ‘ow it all come about . . . ’
At last Kipps’ flaring candle went up the narrow, uncarpeted staircase to the little attic that had been his shelter and refuge during all the days of his childhood and youth. His head was whirling. He had been advised, he had been warned, he had been flattered and congratulated, he had been given whisky and hot water and lemon and sugar; and his health had been drunk in the same. He had also eaten two Welsh rarebits — an unusual supper. His uncle was chiefly for his going into Parliament, his aunt was consumed with a great anxiety. ‘I’m afraid he’ll go and marry beneath him.’
‘Y’ought to ‘ave a bit o’ shootin’ somewhere,’ said old Kipps.
‘It’s your duty to marry into a county family, Artie — remember that.’
There’s lots of young noblemen’ll be glad to ‘eng on to you,’ said old Kipps. ‘You mark my words. And borrow your money. And then good-day to ye.’
‘I got to be precious careful,’ said Kipps. ‘Mr. Bean said that.’
‘And you got to be precious careful of this old Bean,’ said old Kipps. ‘We may be out of the world in Noo Romney, but I’ve ‘eard a bit about solicitors for all that. You keep your eye on old Bean, me b’y.’
‘‘Ow do we know what ‘e’s up to, with your money, even now?’ said old Kipps, pursuing his uncomfortable topic.
‘‘E looked very respectable,’ said Kipps.
Kipps undressed with great deliberation and with vast gasps of pensive margin. Twenty-six thousand pounds!
His aunt’s solicitude had brought back certain matters into the foreground that his ‘Twelve ‘undred a year!’ had for a time driven away altogether. His thoughts went back to the wood-carving class. Twelve Hundred a Year. He sat on the edge of the bed in profound meditation, and his boots fell ‘whop’ and ‘whop’ upon the floor, with a long interval between each ‘whop.’ Twenty-six thousand pounds. ‘By Gum!’ He dropped the remainder of his costume about him on the floor, got into bed, pulled the patchwork quilt over him, and put his head on the pillow that had been first to hear of Ann Pornick’s accession to his heart. But he did not think of Ann Pornick now.
It was about everything in the world except Ann Pornick that he seemed to be trying to think of — simultaneously. All the vivid happenings of the day came and went in his overtaxed brain —‘that old Bean’ explaining and explaining, the fat man who wouldn’t believe, an overpowering smell of peppermint, the banjo, Miss Mergle saying he deserved it, Chitterlow vanishing round a corner, the wisdom and advice and warnings of his aunt and uncle. She was afraid he would marry beneath him, was she? She didn’t know . . .
His brain made an excursion into the woodcarving class and presented Kipps with the picture of himself amazing that class by a modest yet clearly audible remark, ‘I been left twenty-six thousand pounds.’ Then he told them all quietly but firmly that he had always loved Miss Walshingham — always, and so he had brought all his twenty-six thousand pounds with him to give to her there and then. He wanted nothing in return . . . Yes, he wanted nothing in return. He would give it to her all in an envelope and go. Of course he would keep the banjo — and a little present for his aunt and uncle — and a new suit perhaps — and one or two other things she would not miss. He went off at a tangent. He might buy a motor-car, he might buy one of these here things that will play you a piano — that would make old Buggins sit up! He could pretend he had learnt to play — he might buy a bicycle and a cyclist suit . . .
A terrific multitude of plans of what he might do, and in particular of what he might buy, came crowding into his brain, and he did not so much fall asleep as pass into a disorder of dreams in which he was driving a four-horse Tip–Top coach down Sandgate Hill (‘I shall have to be precious careful’), wearing innumerable suits of clothes, and through some terrible accident wearing them all wrong. Consequently, he was being laughed at. The coach vanished in the interest of the costume. He was wearing golfing suits and a silk hat. This passed into a nightmare that he was promenading on the Leas in a Highland costume, with a kilt that kept shrinking, and Shalford was following him with three policemen. ‘He’s my assistant,’ Shalford kept repeating; ‘he’s escaped. He’s an escaped Improver. Keep by him, and in a minute you’ll have to run him in. I know ’em. We say they wash but they won’t’ . . . He could feel the kilt creeping up his legs. He would have tugged at it to pull it down, only his arms were paralysed. He had an impression of giddy crises. He uttered a shriek of despair. ‘Now!’ said Shalford. He woke in horror, his quilt had slipped off the bed.
He had a fancy he had just been called, that he had somehow overslept himself and missed going down for dusting. Then he perceived it was still night, and light by reason of the moonlight, and that he was no longer in the Emporium. He wondered where he could be. He had a curious fancy that the world had been swept and rolled up like a carpet, and that he was nowhere. It occurred to him that perhaps he was mad. ‘Buggins!’ he said. There was no answer, not even the defensive snore. No room, no Buggins, nothing!
Then he remembered better. He sat on the edge of his bed for some time. Could any one have seen his face, they would have seen it white, and drawn, with staring eyes. Then he groaned weakly. ‘Twenty-six thousand pounds!’ he whispered.
Just then it presented itself in an almost horribly overwhelming mass.
He remade his bed and returned to it. He was still dreadfully wakeful. It was suddenly clear to him that he need never trouble to get up punctually at seven again. That fact shone out upon him like a star through clouds. He was free to lie in bed as long as he liked, get up when he liked, go where he liked; have eggs every morning for breakfast, or rashers, or bloater-paste, or . . . Also he was going to astonish Miss Walshingham . . .
Astonish her and astonish her . . .
He was awakened by a thrush singing in the fresh dawn. The whole room was flooded with warm, golden sunshine. ‘I say!’ said the thrush. ‘I say! I say! Twelve ‘Undred a Year! Twelve ‘UNDRED a Year! I say! I say! I say!’
He sat up in bed and rubbed the sleep from his eyes with his knuckles. Then he jumped out of bed and began dressing very eagerly. He did not want to lose any time in beginning the new life.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15