The Matador of the Five Towns and Other Stories
Arnold Bennett

Part 1 out of 6
















(In Collaboration with EDEN PHILLPOTTS)









Mrs Brindeley looked across the lunch-table at her husband with
glinting, eager eyes, which showed that there was something unusual in
the brain behind them.

"Bob," she said, factitiously calm. "You don't know what I've just

"Well?" said he.

"It's only grandma's birthday to-day!"

My friend Robert Brindley, the architect, struck the table with a
violent fist, making his little boys blink, and then he said quietly:

"_The_ deuce!"

I gathered that grandmamma's birthday had been forgotten and that it was
not a festival that could be neglected with impunity. Both Mr and Mrs
Brindley had evidently a humorous appreciation of crises, contretemps,
and those collisions of circumstances which are usually called
"junctures" for short. I could have imagined either of them saying to
the other: "Here's a funny thing! The house is on fire!" And then
yielding to laughter as they ran for buckets. Mrs Brindley, in
particular, laughed now; she gazed at the table-cloth and laughed almost
silently to herself; though it appeared that their joint forgetfulness
might result in temporary estrangement from a venerable ancestor who was
also, birthdays being duly observed, a continual fount of rich presents
in specie.

Robert Brindley drew a time-table from his breast-pocket with the rapid
gesture of habit. All men of business in the Five Towns seem to carry
that time-table in their breast-pockets. Then he examined his watch

"You'll have time to dress up your progeny and catch the 2.5. It makes
the connection at Knype for Axe."

The two little boys, aged perhaps four and six, who had been ladling the
messy contents of specially deep plates on to their bibs, dropped their
spoons and began to babble about grea'-granny, and one of them insisted
several times that he must wear his new gaiters.

"Yes," said Mrs Brindley to her husband, after reflection. "And a fine
old crowd there'll be in the train--with this football match!"

"Can't be helped!... Now, you kids, hook it upstairs to nurse."

"And what about you?" asked Mrs Brindley.

"You must tell the old lady I'm kept by business."

"I told her that last year, and you know what happened."

"Well," said Brindley. "Here Loring's just come. You don't expect me to
leave him, do you? Or have you had the beautiful idea of taking him over
to Axe to pass a pleasant Saturday afternoon with your esteemed

"No," said Mrs Brindley. "Hardly that!"

"Well, then?"

The boys, having first revolved on their axes, slid down from their high
chairs as though from horses.

"Look here," I said. "You mustn't mind me. I shall be all right."

"Ha-ha!" shouted Brindley. "I seem to see you turned loose alone in this
amusing town on a winter afternoon. I seem to see you!"

"I could stop in and read," I said, eyeing the multitudinous books on
every wall of the dining-room. The house was dadoed throughout with

"Rot!" said Brindley.

This was only my third visit to his home and to the Five Towns, but he
and I had already become curiously intimate. My first two visits had
been occasioned by official pilgrimages as a British Museum expert in
ceramics. The third was for a purely friendly week-end, and had no
pretext. The fact is, I was drawn to the astonishing district and its
astonishing inhabitants. The Five Towns, to me, was like the East to
those who have smelt the East: it "called."

"I'll tell you what we _could_ do," said Mrs Brindley. "We could put him
on to Dr Stirling."

"So we could!" Brindley agreed. "Wife, this is one of your bright,
intelligent days. We'll put you on to the doctor, Loring. I'll impress
on him that he must keep you constantly amused till I get back, which I
fear it won't be early. This is what we call manners, you know--to
invite a fellow-creature to travel a hundred and fifty miles to spend
two days here, and then to turn him out before he's been in the house an
hour. It's _us_, that is! But the truth of the matter is, the birthday
business might be a bit serious. It might easily cost me fifty quid and
no end of diplomacy. If you were a married man you'd know that the ten
plagues of Egypt are simply nothing in comparison with your wife's
relations. And she's over eighty, the old lady."

"_I_'ll give you ten plagues of Egypt!" Mrs Brindley menaced her spouse,
as she wafted the boys from the room. "Mr Loring, do take some more of
that cheese if you fancy it." She vanished.

Within ten minutes Brindley was conducting me to the doctor's, whose
house was on the way to the station. In its spacious porch he explained
the circumstances in six words, depositing me like a parcel. The doctor,
who had once by mysterious medicaments saved my frail organism from the
consequences of one of Brindley's Falstaffian "nights," hospitably
protested his readiness to sacrifice patients to my pleasure.

"It'll be a chance for MacIlroy," said he.

"Who's MacIlroy?" I asked.

"MacIlroy is another Scotchman," growled Brindley. "Extraordinary how
they stick together! When he wanted an assistant, do you suppose he
looked about for some one in the district, some one who understood us
and loved us and could take a hand at bridge? Not he! Off he goes to
Cupar, or somewhere, and comes back with another stage Scotchman, named
MacIlroy. Now listen here, Doc! A charge to keep you have, and mind you
keep it, or I'll never pay your confounded bill. We'll knock on the
window to-night as we come back. In the meantime you can show Loring
your etchings, and pray for me." And to me: "Here's a latchkey." With no
further ceremony he hurried away to join his wife and children at
Bleakridge Station. In such singular manner was I transferred forcibly
from host to host.


The doctor and I resembled each other in this: that there was no
offensive affability about either of us. Though abounding in
good-nature, we could not become intimate by a sudden act of volition.
Our conversation was difficult, unnatural, and by gusts falsely
familiar. He displayed to me his bachelor house, his etchings, a few
specimens of modern _rouge flambe_ ware made at Knype, his whisky, his
celebrated prize-winning fox-terrier Titus, the largest collection of
books in the Five Towns, and photographs of Marischal College, Aberdeen.
Then we fell flat, socially prone. Sitting in his study, with Titus
between us on the hearthrug, we knew no more what to say or do. I
regretted that Brindley's wife's grandmother should have been born on a
fifteenth of February. Brindley was a vivacious talker, he could be
trusted to talk. I, too, am a good talker--with another good talker.
With a bad talker I am just a little worse than he is. The doctor said
abruptly after a nerve-trying silence that he had forgotten a most
important call at Hanbridge, and would I care to go with him in the car?
I was and still am convinced that he was simply inventing. He wanted to
break the sinister spell by getting out of the house, and he had not the
face to suggest a sortie into the streets of the Five Towns as a
promenade of pleasure.

So we went forth, splashing warily through the rich mud and the dank
mist of Trafalgar Road, past all those strange little Indian-red houses,
and ragged empty spaces, and poster-hoardings, and rounded kilns, and
high, smoking chimneys, up hill, down hill, and up hill again,
encountering and overtaking many electric trams that dipped and rose
like ships at sea, into Crown Square, the centre of Hanbridge, the
metropolis of the Five Towns. And while the doctor paid his mysterious
call I stared around me at the large shops and the banks and the gilded
hotels. Down the radiating street-vistas I could make out the facades of
halls, theatres, chapels. Trams rumbled continually in and out of the
square. They seemed to enter casually, to hesitate a few moments as if
at a loss, and then to decide with a nonchalant clang of bells that they
might as well go off somewhere else in search of something more
interesting. They were rather like human beings who are condemned to
live for ever in a place of which they are sick beyond the
expressiveness of words.

And indeed the influence of Crown Square, with its large effects of
terra cotta, plate glass, and gold letters, all under a heavy skyscape
of drab smoke, was depressing. A few very seedy men (sharply contrasting
with the fine delicacy of costly things behind plate-glass) stood
doggedly here and there in the mud, immobilized by the gloomy
enchantment of the Square. Two of them turned to look at Stirling's
motor-car and me. They gazed fixedly for a long time, and then one said,
only his lips moving:

"Has Tommy stood thee that there quart o' beer as he promised thee?"

No reply, no response of any sort, for a further long period! Then the
other said, with grim resignation:


The conversation ceased, having made a little oasis in the dismal desert
of their silent scrutiny of the car. Except for an occasional stamp of
the foot they never moved. They just doggedly and indifferently stood,
blown upon by all the nipping draughts of the square, and as it might be
sinking deeper and deeper into its dejection. As for me, instead of
desolating, the harsh disconsolateness of the scene seemed to uplift me;
I savoured it with joy, as one savours the melancholy of a tragic work
of art.

"We might go down to the _Signal_ offices and worry Buchanan a bit,"
said the doctor, cheerfully, when he came back to the car. This was the
second of his inspirations.

Buchanan, of whom I had heard, was another Scotchman and the editor of
the sole daily organ of the Five Towns, an evening newspaper cried all
day in the streets and read by the entire population. Its green sheet
appeared to be a permanent waving feature of the main thoroughfares. The
offices lay round a corner close by, and as we drew up in front of them
a crowd of tattered urchins interrupted their diversions in the sodden
road to celebrate our glorious arrival by unanimously yelling at the top
of their strident and hoarse voices:

"Hooray! Hoo--bl----dy--ray!"

Abashed, I followed my doctor into the shelter of the building, a new
edifice, capacious and considerable, but horribly faced with terra
cotta, and quite unimposing, lacking in the spectacular effect; like
nearly everything in the Five Towns, carelessly and scornfully ugly! The
mean, swinging double-doors returned to the assault when you pushed
them, and hit you viciously. In a dark, countered room marked
"Enquiries" there was nobody.

"Hi, there!" called the doctor.

A head appeared at a door.

"Mr Buchanan upstairs?"

"Yes," snapped the head, and disappeared.

Up a dark staircase we went, and at the summit were half flung back
again by another self-acting door.

In the room to which we next came an old man and a youngish one were
bent over a large, littered table, scribbling on and arranging pieces of
grey tissue paper and telegrams. Behind the old man stood a boy. Neither
of them looked up.

"Mr Buchanan in his--" the doctor began to question. "Oh! There you

The editor was standing in hat and muffler at the window, gazing out.
His age was about that of the doctor--forty or so; and like the doctor
he was rather stout and clean-shaven. Their Scotch accents mingled in
greeting, the doctor's being the more marked. Buchanan shook my hand
with a certain courtliness, indicating that he was well accustomed to
receive strangers. As an expert in small talk, however, he shone no
brighter than his visitors, and the three of us stood there by the
window awkwardly in the heaped disorder of the room, while the other two
men scratched and fidgeted with bits of paper at the soiled table.

Suddenly and savagely the old man turned on the boy:

"What the hades are you waiting there for?"

"I thought there was something else, sir."

"Sling your hook."

Buchanan winked at Stirling and me as the boy slouched off and the old
man blandly resumed his writing.

"Perhaps you'd like to look over the place?" Buchanan suggested politely
to me. "I'll come with you. It's all I'm fit for to-day.... 'Flu!" He
glanced at Stirling, and yawned.

"Ye ought to be in bed," said Stirling.

"Yes. I know. I've known it for twelve years. I shall go to bed as soon
as I get a bit of time to myself. Well, will you come? The half-time
results are beginning to come in."

A telephone-bell rang impatiently.

"You might just see what that is, boss," said the old man without
looking up.

Buchanan went to the telephone and replied into it: "Yes? What? Oh!
Myatt? Yes, he's playing.... Of course I'm sure! Good-bye." He turned to
the old man: "It's another of 'em wanting to know if Myatt is playing.
Birmingham, this time."

"Ah!" exclaimed the old man, still writing.

"It's because of the betting," Buchanan glanced at me. "The odds are on
Knype now--three to two."

"If Myatt is playing Knype have got me to thank for it," said the
doctor, surprisingly.


"Me! He fetched me to his wife this morning. She's nearing her
confinement. False alarm. I guaranteed him at least another twelve

"Oh! So that's it, is it?" Buchanan murmured.

Both the sub-editors raised their heads.

"That's it," said the doctor.

"Some people were saying he'd quarrelled with the trainer again and was
shamming," said Buchanan. "But I didn't believe that. There's no
hanky-panky about Jos Myatt, anyhow."

I learnt in answer to my questions that a great and terrible football
match was at that moment in progress at Knype, a couple of miles away,
between the Knype Club and the Manchester Rovers. It was conveyed to me
that the importance of this match was almost national, and that the
entire district was practically holding its breath till the result
should be known. The half-time result was one goal each.

"If Knype lose," said Buchanan, explanatorily, "they'll find themselves
pushed out of the First League at the end of the season. That's a cert
... one of the oldest clubs in England! Semi-finalists for the English
Cup in '78."

"'79," corrected the elder sub-editor.

I gathered that the crisis was grave.

"And Myatt's the captain, I suppose?" said I.

"No. But he's the finest full-back in the League."

I then had a vision of Myatt as a great man. By an effort of the
imagination I perceived that the equivalent of the fate of nations
depended upon him. I recollected, now, large yellow posters on the
hoardings we had passed, with the names of Knype and of Manchester
Rovers in letters a foot high and the legend "League match at Knype"
over all. It seemed to me that the heroic name of Jos Myatt, if truly he
were the finest full-back in the League, if truly his presence or
absence affected the betting as far off as Birmingham, ought also to
have been on the posters, together with possibly his portrait. I saw Jos
Myatt as a matador, with a long ribbon of scarlet necktie down his
breast, and embroidered trousers.

"Why," said Buchanan, "if Knype drop into the Second Division they'll
never pay another dividend! It'll be all up with first-class football in
the Five Towns!"

The interests involved seemed to grow more complicated. And here I had
been in the district nearly four hours without having guessed that the
district was quivering in the tense excitement of gigantic issues! And
here was this Scotch doctor, at whose word the great Myatt would have
declined to play, never saying a syllable about the affair, until a
chance remark from Buchanan loosened his tongue. But all doctors are
strangely secretive. Secretiveness is one of their chief private

"Come and see the pigeons, eh?" said Buchanan.

"Pigeons?" I repeated.

"We give the results of over a hundred matches in our Football Edition,"
said Buchanan, and added: "not counting Rugby."

As we left the room two boys dodged round us into it, bearing telegrams.

In a moment we were, in the most astonishing manner, on a leaden roof of
the _Signal_ offices. High factory chimneys rose over the horizon of
slates on every side, blowing thick smoke into the general murk of the
afternoon sky, and crossing the western crimson with long pennons of
black. And out of the murk there came from afar a blue-and-white pigeon
which circled largely several times over the offices of the _Signal_. At
length it descended, and I could hear the whirr of its strong wings. The
wings ceased to beat and the pigeon slanted downwards in a curve, its
head lower than its wide tail. Then the little head gradually rose and
the tail fell; the curve had changed, the pace slackened; the pigeon was
calculating with all its brain; eyes, wings, tail and feet were being
co-ordinated to the resolution of an intricate mechanical problem. The
pinkish claws seemed to grope--and after an instant of hesitation the
thing was done, the problem solved; the pigeon, with delicious
gracefulness, had established equilibrium on the ridge of a pigeon-cote,
and folded its wings, and was peering about with strange motions of its
extremely movable head. Presently it flew down to the leads, waddled to
and fro with the ungainly gestures of a fat woman of sixty, and
disappeared into the cote. At the same moment the boy who had been
dismissed from the sub-editor's room ran forward and entered the cote by
a wire-screened door.

"Handy things, pigeons!" said the doctor as we approached to examine the
cote. Fifty or sixty pigeons were cooing and strutting in it. There was
a protest of wings as the boy seized the last arriving messenger.

"Give it here!" Buchanan ordered.

The boy handed over a thin tube of paper which he had unfastened from
the bird's leg. Buchanan unrolled it and showed it to me. I read:
"Midland Federation. Axe United, Macclesfield Town. Match abandoned
after half-hour's play owing to fog. Three forty-five."

"Three forty-five," said Buchanan, looking at his watch. "He's done the
ten miles in half an hour, roughly. Not bad. First time we tried pigeons
from as far off as Axe. Here, boy!" And he restored the paper to the
boy, who gave it to another boy, who departed with it.

"Man," said the doctor, eyeing Buchanan. "Ye'd no business out here.
Ye're not precisely a pigeon."

Down we went, one after another, by the ladder, and now we fell into the
composing-room, where Buchanan said he felt warmer. An immense, dirty,
white-washed apartment crowded with linotypes and other machines, in
front of which sat men in white aprons, tapping, tapping--gazing at
documents pinned at the level of their eyes--and tapping, tapping. A
kind of cavernous retreat in which monstrous iron growths rose out of
the floor and were met half-way by electric flowers that had their roots
in the ceiling! In this jungle there was scarcely room for us to walk.
Buchanan explained the linotypes to me. I watched, as though
romantically dreaming, the flashing descent of letter after letter, a
rain of letters into the belly of the machine; then, going round to the
back, I watched the same letters rising again in a close, slow
procession, and sorting themselves by themselves at the top in readiness
to answer again to the tapping, tapping of a man in a once-white apron.
And while I was watching all that I could somehow, by a faculty which we
have, at the same time see pigeons far overhead, arriving and arriving
out of the murk from beyond the verge of chimneys.

"Ingenious, isn't it?" said Stirling.

But I imagine that he had not the faculty by which to see the pigeons.

A reverend, bearded, spectacled man, with his shirt-sleeves rolled up
and an apron stretched over his hemispherical paunch, strolled slowly
along an alley, glancing at a galley-proof with an ingenuous air just as
if he had never seen a galley-proof before.

"It's a stick more than a column already," said he confidentially,
offering the long paper, and then gravely looking at Buchanan, with head
bent forward, not through his spectacles but over them.

The editor negligently accepted the proof, and I read a series of
titles: "Knype _v_. Manchester Rovers. Record Gate. Fifteen thousand
spectators. Two goals in twelve minutes. Myatt in form. Special Report."

Buchanan gave the slip back without a word.

"There you are!" said he to me, as another compositor near us attached a
piece of tissue paper to his machine. It was the very paper that I had
seen come out of the sky, but its contents had been enlarged and amended
by the sub-editorial pen. The man began tapping, tapping, and the
letters began to flash downwards on their way to tell a quarter of a
million people that Axe _v_. Macclesfield had been stopped by fog.

"I suppose that Knype match is over by now?" I said.

"Oh no!" said Buchanan. "The second half has scarcely begun."

"Like to go?" Stirling asked.

"Well," I said, feeling adventurous, "it's a notion, isn't it?"

"You can run Mr Loring down there in five or six minutes," said
Buchanan. "And he's probably never seen anything like it before. You
might call here as you come home and see the paper on the machines."


We went on the Grand Stand, which was packed with men whose eyes were
fixed, with an unconscious but intense effort, on a common object. Among
the men were a few women in furs and wraps, equally absorbed. Nobody
took any notice of us as we insinuated our way up a rickety flight of
wooden stairs, but when by misadventure we grazed a human being the
elbow of that being shoved itself automatically and fiercely outwards,
to repel. I had an impression of hats, caps, and woolly overcoats
stretched in long parallel lines, and of grimy raw planks everywhere
presenting possibly dangerous splinters, save where use had worn them
into smooth shininess. Then gradually I became aware of the vast field,
which was more brown than green. Around the field was a wide border of
infinitesimal hats and pale faces, rising in tiers, and beyond this
border fences, hoardings, chimneys, furnaces, gasometers,
telegraph-poles, houses, and dead trees. And here and there, perched in
strange perilous places, even high up towards the sombre sky, were more
human beings clinging. On the field itself, at one end of it, were a
scattered handful of doll-like figures, motionless; some had white
bodies, others red; and three were in black; all were so small and so
far off that they seemed to be mere unimportant casual incidents in
whatever recondite affair it was that was proceeding. Then a whistle
shrieked, and all these figures began simultaneously to move, and then
I saw a ball in the air. An obscure, uneasy murmuring rose from the
immense multitude like an invisible but audible vapour. The next instant
the vapour had condensed into a sudden shout. Now I saw the ball rolling
solitary in the middle of the field, and a single red doll racing
towards it; at one end was a confused group of red and white, and at the
other two white dolls, rather lonely in the expanse. The single red doll
overtook the ball and scudded along with it at his twinkling toes. A
great voice behind me bellowed with an incredible volume of sound:

"Now, Jos!"

And another voice, further away, bellowed:

"Now, Jos!"

And still more distantly the grim warning shot forth from the crowd:

"Now, Jos! Now, Jos!"

The nearer of the white dolls, as the red one approached, sprang
forward. I could see a leg. And the ball was flying back in a
magnificent curve into the skies; it passed out of my sight, and then I
heard a bump on the slates of the roof of the grand stand, and it fell
among the crowd in the stand-enclosure. But almost before the flight of
the ball had commenced, a terrific roar of relief had rolled formidably
round the field, and out of that roar, like rockets out of thick smoke,
burst acutely ecstatic cries of adoration:

"Bravo, Jos!"

"Good old Jos!"

The leg had evidently been Jos's leg. The nearer of these two white
dolls must be Jos, darling of fifteen thousand frenzied people.

Stirling punched a neighbour in the side to attract his attention.

"What's the score?" he demanded of the neighbour, who scowled and then

"Two--one--agen uz!" The other growled.

"It'll take our b----s all their time to draw. They're playing a man


"No! Referee ordered him off for rough play."

Several spectators began to explain, passionately, furiously, that the
referee's action was utterly bereft of common sense and justice; and I
gathered that a less gentlemanly crowd would undoubtedly have lynched
the referee. The explanations died down, and everybody except me resumed
his fierce watch on the field.

I was recalled from the exercise of a vague curiosity upon the set,
anxious faces around me by a crashing, whooping cheer which in volume
and sincerity of joy surpassed all noises in my experience. This massive
cheer reverberated round the field like the echoes of a battleship's
broadside in a fiord. But it was human, and therefore more terrible than
guns. I instinctively thought: "If such are the symptoms of pleasure,
what must be the symptoms of pain or disappointment?" Simultaneously
with the expulsion of the unique noise the expression of the faces
changed. Eyes sparkled; teeth became prominent in enormous, uncontrolled
smiles. Ferocious satisfaction had to find vent in ferocious gestures,
wreaked either upon dead wood or upon the living tissues of
fellow-creatures. The gentle, mannerly sound of hand-clapping was a kind
of light froth on the surface of the billowy sea of heartfelt applause.
The host of the fifteen thousand might have just had their lives saved,
or their children snatched from destruction and their wives from
dishonour; they might have been preserved from bankruptcy, starvation,
prison, torture; they might have been rewarding with their impassioned
worship a band of national heroes. But it was not so. All that had
happened was that the ball had rolled into the net of the Manchester
Rovers' goal. Knype had drawn level. The reputation of the Five Towns
before the jury of expert opinion that could distinguish between
first-class football and second-class was maintained intact. I could
hear specialists around me proving that though Knype had yet five League
matches to play, its situation was safe. They pointed excitedly to a
huge hoarding at one end of the ground on which appeared names of other
clubs with changing figures. These clubs included the clubs which Knype
would have to meet before the end of the season, and the figures
indicated their fortunes on various grounds similar to this ground all
over the country. If a goal was scored in Newcastle, or in Southampton,
the very Peru of first-class football, it was registered on that board
and its possible effect on the destinies of Knype was instantly
assessed. The calculations made were dizzying.

Then a little flock of pigeons flew up and separated, under the illusion
that they were free agents and masters of the air, but really wafted
away to fixed destinations on the stupendous atmospheric waves of
still-continued cheering.

After a minute or two the ball was restarted, and the greater noise had
diminished to the sensitive uneasy murmur which responded like a
delicate instrument to the fluctuations of the game. Each feat and
manoeuvre of Knype drew generous applause in proportion to its intention
or its success, and each sleight of the Manchester Rovers, successful or
not, provoked a holy disgust. The attitude of the host had passed beyond
morality into religion.

Then, again, while my attention had lapsed from the field, a devilish, a
barbaric, and a deafening yell broke from those fifteen thousand
passionate hearts. It thrilled me; it genuinely frightened me. I
involuntarily made the motion of swallowing. After the thunderous crash
of anger from the host came the thin sound of a whistle. The game
stopped. I heard the same word repeated again and again, in divers
tones of exasperated fury:


I felt that I was hemmed in by potential homicides, whose arms were
lifted in the desire of murder and whose features were changed from the
likeness of man into the corporeal form of some pure and terrible

And I saw a long doll rise from the ground and approach a lesser doll
with threatening hands.

"Foul! Foul!"

"Go it, Jos! Knock his neck out! Jos! He tripped thee up!"

There was a prolonged gesticulatory altercation between the three black
dolls in leather leggings and several of the white and the red dolls. At
last one of the mannikins in leggings shrugged his shoulders, made a
definite gesture to the other two, and walked away towards the edge of
the field nearest the stand. It was the unprincipled referee; he had
disallowed the foul. In the protracted duel between the offending
Manchester forward and the great, honest Jos Myatt he had given another
point to the enemy. As soon as the host realized the infamy it yelled
once more in heightened fury. It seemed to surge in masses against the
thick iron railings that alone stood between the referee and death. The
discreet referee was approaching the grand stand as the least unsafe
place. In a second a handful of executioners had somehow got on to the
grass. And in the next second several policemen were in front of them,
not striking nor striving to intimidate, but heavily pushing them into

"Get back there!" cried a few abrupt, commanding voices from the stand.

The referee stood with his hands in his pockets and his whistle in his
mouth. I think that in that moment of acutest suspense the whole of his
earthly career must have flashed before him in a phantasmagoria. And
then the crisis was past. The inherent gentlemanliness of the outraged
host had triumphed and the referee was spared.

"Served him right if they'd man-handled him!" said a spectator.

"Ay!" said another, gloomily, "ay! And th' Football Association 'ud ha'
fined us maybe a hundred quid and disqualified th' ground for the rest
o' th' season!"

"D----n th' Football Association!"

"Ay! But you canna'!"

"Now, lads! Play up, Knype! Now, lads! Give 'em hot hell!" Different
voices heartily encouraged the home team as the ball was thrown into

The fouling Manchester forward immediately resumed possession of the
ball. Experience could not teach him. He parted with the ball and got it
again, twice. The devil was in him and in the ball. The devil was
driving him towards Myatt. They met. And then came a sound quite new: a
cracking sound, somewhat like the snapping of a bough, but sharper, more

"By Jove!" exclaimed Stirling. "That's his bone!"

And instantly he was off down the staircase and I after him. But he was
not the first doctor on the field. Nothing had been unforeseen in the
wonderful organization of this enterprise. A pigeon sped away and an
official doctor and an official stretcher appeared, miraculously,
simultaneously. It was tremendous. It inspired awe in me.

"He asked for it!" I heard a man say as I hesitated on the shore of the
ocean of mud.

Then I knew that it was Manchester and not Knype that had suffered. The
confusion and hubbub were in a high degree disturbing and puzzling. But
one emotion emerged clear: pleasure. I felt it myself. I was aware of
joy in that the two sides were now levelled to ten men apiece. I was
mystically identified with the Five Towns, absorbed into their life. I
could discern on every face the conviction that a divine providence was
in this affair, that God could not be mocked. I too had this conviction.
I could discern also on every face the fear lest the referee might give
a foul against the hero Myatt, or even order him off the field, though
of course the fracture was a simple accident. I too had this fear. It
was soon dispelled by the news which swept across the entire enclosure
like a sweet smell, that the referee had adopted the theory of a simple
accident. I saw vaguely policemen, a stretcher, streaming crowds, and my
ears heard a monstrous universal babbling. And then the figure of
Stirling detached itself from the moving disorder and came to me.

"Well, Hyatt's calf was harder than the other chap's, that's all," he

"Which _is_ Myatt?" I asked, for the red and the white dolls had all
vanished at close quarters, and were replaced by unrecognizably gigantic
human animals, still clad, however, in dolls' vests and dolls'

Stirling warningly jerked his head to indicate a man not ten feet away
from me. This was Myatt, the hero of the host and the darling of
populations. I gazed up at him. His mouth and his left knee were red
with blood, and he was piebald with thick patches of mud from his
tousled crown to his enormous boot. His blue eyes had a heavy, stupid,
honest glance; and of the three qualities stupidity predominated. He
seemed to be all feet, knees, hands and elbows. His head was very
small--the sole remainder of the doll in him.

A little man approached him, conscious--somewhat too obviously
conscious--of his right to approach. Myatt nodded.

"Ye'n settled _him_, seemingly, Jos!" said the little man.

"Well," said Myatt, with slow bitterness. "Hadn't he been blooming well
begging and praying for it, aw afternoon? Hadn't he now?"

The little man nodded. Then he said in a lower tone:

"How's missis, like?"

"Her's altogether yet," said Myatt. "Or I'd none ha' played!"

"I've bet Watty half-a-dollar as it inna' a lad!" said the little man.

Myatt seemed angry.

"Wilt bet me half a _quid_ as it inna' a lad?" he demanded, bending down
and scowling and sticking out his muddy chin.

"Ay!" said the little man, not blenching.



"I'll take thee, Charlie," said Myatt, resuming his calm.

The whistle sounded. And several orders were given to clear the field.
Eight minutes had been lost over a broken leg, but Stirling said that
the referee would surely deduct them from the official time, so that
after all the game would not be shortened.

"I'll be up yon, to-morra morning," said the little man.

Myatt nodded and departed. Charlie, the little man, turned on his heel
and proudly rejoined the crowd. He had been seen of all in converse with
supreme greatness.

Stirling and I also retired; and though Jos Myatt had not even done his
doctor the honour of seeing him, neither of us, I think, was quite
without a consciousness of glory: I cannot imagine why. The rest of the
game was flat and tame. Nothing occurred. The match ended in a draw.


We were swept from the football ground on a furious flood of
humanity--carried forth and flung down a slope into a large waste space
that separated the ground from the nearest streets of little reddish
houses. At the bottom of the slope, on my suggestion, we halted for a
few moments aside, while the current rushed forward and, spreading out,
inundated the whole space in one marvellous minute. The impression of
the multitude streaming from that gap in the wooden wall was like
nothing more than the impression of a burst main which only the emptying
of the reservoir will assuage. Anybody who wanted to commit suicide
might have stood in front of that gap and had his wish. He would not
have been noticed. The interminable and implacable infantry charge would
have passed unheedingly over him. A silent, preoccupied host, bent on
something else now, and perhaps teased by the inconvenient thought that
after all a draw is not as good as a win! It hurried blindly,
instinctively outwards, knees and chins protruding, hands deep in
pockets, chilled feet stamping. Occasionally someone stopped or
slackened to light a pipe, and on being curtly bunted onward by a blind
force from behind, accepted the hint as an atom accepts the law of
gravity. The fever and ecstasy were over. What fascinated the Southern
in me was the grim taciturnity, the steady stare (vacant or dreaming),
and the heavy, muffled, multitudinous tramp shaking the cindery earth.
The flood continued to rage through the gap.

Our automobile had been left at the Haycock Hotel; we went to get it,
braving the inundation. Nearly opposite the stable-yard the electric
trams started for Hanbridge, Bursley and Turnhill, and for Longshaw.
Here the crowd was less dangerous, but still very formidable--to my
eyes. Each tram as it came up was savagely assaulted, seized, crammed
and possessed, with astounding rapidity. Its steps were the western bank
of a Beresina. At a given moment the inured conductor, brandishing his
leather-shielded arm with a pitiless gesture, thrust aspirants down
into the mud and the tram rolled powerfully away. All this in silence.

After a few minutes a bicyclist swished along through the mud, taking
the far side of the road, which was comparatively free. He wore grey
trousers, heavy boots, and a dark cut-away coat, up the back of which a
line of caked mud had deposited itself. On his head was a bowler hat.

"How do, Jos?" cried a couple of boys, cheekily. And then there were a
few adult greetings of respect.

It was the hero, in haste.

"Out of it, there!" he warned impeders, between his teeth, and plugged
on with bent head.

"He keeps the Foaming Quart up at Toft End," said the doctor. "It's the
highest pub in the Five Towns. He used to be what they call a
pot-hunter, a racing bicyclist, you know. But he's got past that and
he'll soon be past football. He's thirty-four if he's a day. That's one
reason why he's so independent--that and because he's almost the only
genuine native in the team."

"Why?" I asked. "Where do they come from, then?"

"Oh!" said Stirling as he gently started the car. "The club buys 'em, up
and down the country. Four of 'em are Scots. A few years ago an Oldham
club offered Knype L500 for Myatt, a big price--more than he's worth
now! But he wouldn't go, though they guaranteed to put him into a
first-class pub--a free house. He's never cost Knype anything except his
wages and the goodwill of the Foaming Quart."

"What are his wages?"

"Don't know exactly. Not much. The Football Association fix a maximum. I
daresay about four pounds a week _Hi there! Are you deaf_?"

"Thee mind what tha'rt about!" responded a stout loiterer in our path.
"Or I'll take thy ears home for my tea, mester."

Stirling laughed.

In a few minutes we had arrived at Hanbridge, splashing all the way
between two processions that crowded either footpath. And in the middle
of the road was a third procession of trams,--tram following tram, each
gorged with passengers, frothing at the step with passengers; not the
lackadaisical trams that I had seen earlier in the afternoon in Crown
Square; a different race of trams, eager and impetuous velocities. We
reached the _Signal_ offices. No crowd of urchins to salute us this

Under the earth was the machine-room of the _Signal_. It reminded me of
the bowels of a ship, so full was it of machinery. One huge machine
clattered slowly, and a folded green thing dropped strangely on to a
little iron table in front of us. Buchanan opened it, and I saw that the
broken leg was in it at length, together with a statement that in the
_Signal's_ opinion the sympathy of every true sportsman would be with
the disabled player. I began to say something to Buchanan, when suddenly
I could not hear my own voice. The great machine, with another behind
us, was working at a fabulous speed and with a fabulous clatter. All
that my startled senses could clearly disentangle was that the blue
arc-lights above us blinked occasionally, and that folded green papers
were snowing down upon the iron table far faster than the eye could
follow them. Tall lads in aprons elbowed me away and carried off the
green papers in bundles, but not more quickly than the machine shed
them. Buchanan put his lips to my ear. But I could hear nothing. I shook
my head. He smiled, and led us out from the tumult.

"Come and see the boys take them," he said at the foot of the stairs.

In a sort of hall on the ground floor was a long counter, and beyond the
counter a system of steel railings in parallel lines, so arranged that a
person entering at the public door could only reach the counter by
passing up or down each alley in succession. These steel lanes, which
absolutely ensured the triumph of right over might, were packed with
boys--the ragged urchins whom we had seen playing in the street. But not
urchins now; rather young tigers! Perhaps half a dozen had reached the
counter; the rest were massed behind, shouting and quarrelling. Through
a hole in the wall, at the level of the counter, bundles of papers shot
continuously, and were snatched up by servers, who distributed them in
smaller bundles to the hungry boys; who flung down metal discs in
exchange and fled, fled madly as though fiends were after them, through
a third door, out of the pandemonium into the darkling street. And
unceasingly the green papers appeared at the hole in the wall and
unceasingly they were plucked away and borne off by those maddened
children, whose destination was apparently Aix or Ghent, and whose wings
were their tatters.

"What are those discs?" I inquired.

"The lads have to come and buy them earlier in the day," said Buchanan.
"We haven't time to sell this edition for cash, you see."

"Well," I said as we left, "I'm very much obliged."

"What on earth for?" Buchanan asked.

"Everything," I said.

We returned through the squares of Hanbridge and by Trafalgar Road to
Stirling's house at Bleakridge. And everywhere in the deepening twilight
I could see the urchins, often hatless and sometimes scarcely shod,
scudding over the lamp-reflecting mire with sheets of wavy green, and
above the noises of traffic I could hear the shrill outcry: "_Signal_.
Football Edition. Football Edition. _Signal_." The world was being
informed of the might of Jos Myatt, and of the averting of disaster from
Knype, and of the results of over a hundred other matches--not counting


During the course of the evening, when Stirling had thoroughly
accustomed himself to the state of being in sole charge of an expert
from the British Museum, London, and the high walls round his more
private soul had yielded to my timid but constant attacks, we grew
fairly intimate. And in particular the doctor proved to me that his
reputation for persuasive raciness with patients was well founded. Yet
up to the time of dessert I might have been justified in supposing that
that much-praised "manner" in a sick-room was nothing but a provincial
legend. Such may be the influence of a quite inoffensive and shy
Londoner in the country. At half-past ten, Titus being already asleep
for the night in an arm-chair, we sat at ease over the fire in the study
telling each other stories. We had dealt with the arts, and with
medicine; now we were dealing with life, in those aspects of it which
cause men to laugh and women uneasily to wonder. Once or twice we had
mentioned the Brindleys. The hour for their arrival was come. But being
deeply comfortable and content where I was, I felt no impatience. Then
there was a tap on the window.

"That's Bobbie!" said Stirling, rising slowly from his chair. "_He_
won't refuse whisky, even if you do. I'd better get another bottle."

The tap was repeated peevishly.

"I'm coming, laddie!" Stirling protested.

He slippered out through the hall and through the surgery to the side
door, I following, and Titus sneezing and snuffing in the rear.

"I say, mester," said a heavy voice as the doctor opened the door. It
was not Brindley, but Jos Myatt. Unable to locate the bell-push in the
dark, he had characteristically attacked the sole illuminated window. He
demanded, or he commanded, very curtly, that the doctor should go up
instantly to the Foaming Quart at Toft End.

Stirling hesitated a moment.

"All right, my man," said he, calmly.

"Now?" the heavy, suspicious voice on the doorstep insisted.

"I'll be there before ye if ye don't sprint, man. I'll run up in the
car." Stirling shut the door. I heard footsteps on the gravel path

"Ye heard?" said he to me. "And what am I to do with ye?"

"I'll go with you, of course," I answered.

"I may be kept up there a while."

"I don't care," I said roisterously. "It's a pub and I'm a traveller."

Stirling's household was in bed and his assistant gone home. While he
and Titus got out the car I wrote a line for the Brindleys: "Gone with
doctor to see patient at Toft End. Don't wait up.--A.L." This we pushed
under Brindley's front door on our way forth. Very soon we were
vibrating up a steep street on the first speed of the car, and the
yellow reflections of distant furnaces began to shine over house roofs
below us. It was exhilaratingly cold, a clear and frosty night, tonic,
bracing after the enclosed warmth of the study. I was joyous, but
silently. We had quitted the kingdom of the god Pan; we were in Lucina's
realm, its consequence, where there is no laughter. We were on a

"I didn't expect this," said Stirling.

"No?" I said. "But seeing that he fetched you this morning--"

"Oh! That was only in order to be sure, for himself. His sister was
there, in charge. Seemed very capable. Knew all about everything. Until
ye get to the high social status of a clerk or a draper's assistant
people seem to manage to have their children without professional

"Then do you think there's anything wrong?" I asked.

"I'd not be surprised."

He changed to the second speed as the car topped the first bluff. We
said no more. The night and the mission solemnized us. And gradually, as
we rose towards the purple skies, the Five Towns wrote themselves out in
fire on the irregular plain below.

"That's Hanbridge Town Hall," said Stirling, pointing to the right. "And
that's Bursley Town Hall," he said, pointing to the left. And there were
many other beacons, dominating the jewelled street-lines that faded on
the horizon into golden-tinted smoke.

The road was never quite free of houses. After occurring but sparsely
for half a mile, they thickened into a village--the suburb of Bursley
called Toft End. I saw a moving red light in front of us. It was the
reverse of Hyatt's bicycle lantern. The car stopped near the dark facade
of the inn, of which two yellow windows gleamed. Stirling, under Myatt's
shouted guidance, backed into an obscure yard under cover. The engine
ceased to throb.

"Friend of mine," he introduced me to Myatt. "By the way, Loring, pass
me my bag, will you? Mustn't forget that." Then he extinguished the
acetylene lamps, and there was no light in the yard except the ray of
the bicycle lantern which Myatt held in his hand. We groped towards the
house. Strange, every step that I take in the Five Towns seems to have
the genuine quality of an adventure!


In five minutes I was of no account in the scheme of things at Toft End,
and I began to wonder why I had come. Stirling, my sole protector, had
vanished up the dark stairs of the house, following a stout, youngish
woman in a white apron, who bore a candle. Jos Myatt, behind, said to
me: "Happen you'd better go in there, mester," pointing to a half-open
door at the foot of the stairs. I went into a little room at the rear of
the bar-parlour. A good fire burned in a small old-fashioned grate, but
there was no other light. The inn was closed to customers, it being past
eleven o'clock. On a bare table I perceived a candle, and ventured to
put a match to it. I then saw almost exactly such a room as one would
expect to find at the rear of the bar-parlour of an inn on the outskirts
of an industrial town. It appeared to serve the double purpose of a
living-room and of a retreat for favoured customers. The table was
evidently one at which men drank. On a shelf was a row of bottles, more
or less empty, bearing names famous in newspaper advertisements and in
the House of Lords. The dozen chairs suggested an acute bodily
discomfort such as would only be tolerated by a sitter all of whose
sensory faculties were centred in his palate. On a broken chair in a
corner was an insecure pile of books. A smaller table was covered with a
chequered cloth on which were a few plates. Along one wall, under the
window, ran a pitch-pine sofa upholstered with a stuff slightly
dissimilar from that on the table. The mattress of the sofa was uneven
and its surface wrinkled, and old newspapers and pieces of brown paper
had been stowed away between it and the framework. The chief article of
furniture was an effective walnut bookcase, the glass doors of which
were curtained with red cloth. The window, wider than it was high, was
also curtained with red cloth. The walls, papered in a saffron tint,
bore framed advertisements and a few photographs of self-conscious
persons. The ceiling was as obscure as heaven; the floor tiled, with a
list rug in front of the steel fender.

I put my overcoat on the sofa, picked up the candle and glanced at the
books in the corner: Lavater's indestructible work, a paper-covered
_Whitaker_, the _Licensed Victuallers' Almanac, Johnny Ludlow_, the
illustrated catalogue of the Exhibition of 1856, _Cruden's Concordance_,
and seven or eight volumes of _Knight's Penny Encyclopaedia_. While I was
poring on these titles I heard movements overhead--previously there had
been no sound whatever--and with guilty haste I restored the candle to
the table and placed myself negligently in front of the fire.

"Now don't let me see ye up here any more till I fetch ye!" said a
woman's distant voice--not crossly, but firmly. And then, crossly: "Be
off with ye now!"

Reluctant boots on the stairs! Jos Myatt entered to me. He did not speak
at first; nor did I. He avoided my glance. He was still wearing the
cut-away coat with the line of mud up the back. I took out my watch, not
for the sake of information, but from mere nervousness, and the sight of
the watch reminded me that it would be prudent to wind it up.

"Better not forget that," I said, winding it.

"Ay!" said he, gloomily. "It's a tip." And he wound up his watch; a
large, thick, golden one.

This watch-winding established a basis of intercourse between us.

"I hope everything is going on all right," I murmured.

"What dun ye say?" he asked.

"I say I hope everything is going on all right," I repeated louder, and
jerked my head in the direction of the stairs, to indicate the place
from which he had come.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, as if surprised. "Now what'll ye have, mester?" He
stood waiting. "It's my call to-night."

I explained to him that I never took alcohol. It was not quite true, but
it was as true as most general propositions are.

"Neither me!" he said shortly, after a pause.

"You're a teetotaller too?" I showed a little involuntary astonishment.

He put forward his chin.

"What do _you_ think?" he said confidentially and scornfully. It was
precisely as if he had said: "Do you think that anybody but a born ass
would _not_ be a teetotaller, in my position?"

I sat down on a chair.

"Take th' squab, mester," he said, pointing to the sofa. I took it.

He picked up the candle; then dropped it, and lighted a lamp which was
on the mantelpiece between his vases of blue glass. His movements were
very slow, hesitating and clumsy. Blowing out the candle, which smoked
for a long time, he went with the lamp to the bookcase. As the key of
the bookcase was in his right pocket and the lamp in his right hand he
had to change the lamp, cautiously, from hand to hand. When he opened
the cupboard I saw a rich gleam of silver from every shelf of it except
the lowest, and I could distinguish the forms of ceremonial cups with
pedestals and immense handles.

"I suppose these are your pots?" I said.


He displayed to me the fruits of his manifold victories. I could see him
straining along endless cinder-paths and highroads under hot suns, his
great knees going up and down like treadles amid the plaudits and howls
of vast populations. And all that now remained of that glory was these
debased and vicious shapes, magnificently useless, grossly ugly, with
their inscriptions lost in a mess of flourishes.

"Ay!" he said again, when I had fingered the last of them.

"A very fine show indeed!" I said, resuming the sofa.

He took a penny bottle of ink and a pen out of the bookcase, and also,
from the lowest shelf, a bag of money and a long narrow account book.
Then he sat down at the table and commenced accountancy. It was clear
that he regarded his task as formidable and complex. To see him
reckoning the coins, manipulating the pen, splashing the ink, scratching
the page; to hear him whispering consecutive numbers aloud, and
muttering mysterious anathemas against the untamable naughtiness of
figures--all this was painful, and with the painfulness of a simple
exercise rendered difficult by inaptitude and incompetence. I wanted to
jump up and cry to him: "Get out of the way, man, and let me do it for
you! I can do it while you are wiping hairs from your pen on your
sleeve." I was sorry for him because he was ridiculous--and even more
grotesque than ridiculous. I felt, quite acutely, that it was a shame
that he could not be for ever the central figure of a field of mud,
kicking a ball into long and grandiose parabolas higher than gasometers,
or breaking an occasional leg, surrounded by the violent affection of
hearts whose melting-point was the exclamation, "Good old Jos!" I felt
that if he must repose his existence ought to have been so contrived
that he could repose in impassive and senseless dignity, like a mountain
watching the flight of time. The conception of him tracing symbols in a
ledger, counting shillings and sixpences, descending to arithmetic, and
suffering those humiliations which are the invariable preliminaries to
legitimate fatherhood, was shocking to a nice taste for harmonious
fitness.... What, this precious and terrific organism, this slave with a
specialty--whom distant towns had once been anxious to buy at the
prodigious figure of five hundred pounds--obliged to sit in a mean
chamber and wait silently while the woman of his choice encountered the
supreme peril! And he would "soon be past football!" He was "thirty-four
if a day!" It was the verge of senility! He was no longer worth five
hundred pounds. Perhaps even now this jointed merchandise was only worth
two hundred pounds! And "they"--the shadowy directors, who could not
kick a ball fifty feet and who would probably turn sick if they broke a
leg--"they" paid him four pounds a week for being the hero of a quarter
of a million of people! He was the chief magnet to draw fifteen thousand
sixpences and shillings of a Saturday afternoon into a company's cash
box, and here he sat splitting his head over fewer sixpences and
shillings than would fill a half-pint pot! Jos, you ought in justice to
have been Jose, with a thin red necktie down your breast (instead of a
line of mud up your back), and embroidered breeches on those miraculous
legs, and an income of a quarter of a million pesetas, and the
languishing acquiescence of innumerable mantillas. Every moment you were
getting older and stiffer; every moment was bringing nearer the moment
when young men would reply curtly to their doddering elders: "Jos
Myatt--who was '_e?_"

The putting away of the ledger, the ink, the pen and the money was as
exasperating as their taking out had been. Then Jos, always too large
for the room, crossed the tiled floor and mended the fire. A poker was
more suited to his capacity than a pen. He glanced about him, uncertain
and anxious, and then crept to the door near the foot of the stairs and
listened. There was no sound; and that was curious. The woman who was
bringing into the world the hero's child made no cry that reached us
below. Once or twice I had heard muffled movements not quite
overhead--somewhere above--but naught else. The doctor and Jos's sister
seemed to have retired into a sinister and dangerous mystery. I could
not dispel from my mind pictures of what they were watching and what
they were doing. The vast, cruel, fumbling clumsiness of Nature, her
lack of majesty in crises that ought to be majestic, her incurable
indignity, disgusted me, aroused my disdain, I wanted, as a philosopher
of all the cultures, to feel that the present was indeed a majestic
crisis, to be so esteemed by a superior man. I could not. Though the
crisis possibly intimidated me somewhat, yet, on behalf of Jos Myatt, I
was ashamed of it. This may be reprehensible, but it is true.

He sat down by the fire and looked at the fire. I could not attempt to
carry on a conversation with him, and to avoid the necessity for any
talk at all, I extended myself on the sofa and averted my face,
wondering once again why I had accompanied the doctor to Toft End. The
doctor was now in another, an inaccessible world. I dozed, and from my
doze I was roused by Jos Myatt going to the door on the stairs.

"Jos," said a voice. "It's a girl."

Then a silence.

I admit there was a flutter in my heart. Another soul, another formed
and unchangeable temperament, tumbled into the world! Whence?
Whither?... As for the quality of majesty--yes, if silver trumpets had
announced the advent, instead of a stout, aproned woman, the moment
could not have been more majestic in its sadness. I say "sadness," which
is the inevitable and sole effect of these eternal and banal questions,
"Whence? Whither?"

"Is her bad?" Jos whispered.

"Her's pretty bad," said the voice, but cheerily. "Bring me up another
scuttle o' coal."

When he returned to the parlour, after being again dismissed, I said to

"Well, I congratulate you."

"I thank ye!" he said, and sat down. Presently I could hear him
muttering to himself, mildly: "Hell! Hell! Hell!"

I thought: "Stirling will not be very long now, and we can depart
home." I looked at my watch. It was a quarter to two. But Stirling did
not appear, nor was there any message from him or sign. I had to submit
to the predicament. As a faint chilliness from the window affected my
back I drew my overcoat up to my shoulders as a counterpane. Through a
gap between the red curtains of the window I could see a star blazing.
It passed behind the curtain with disconcerting rapidity. The universe
was swinging and whirling as usual.


Sounds of knocking disturbed me. In the few seconds that elapsed before
I could realize just where I was and why I was there, the summoning
knocks were repeated. The early sun was shining through the red blind. I
sat up and straightened my hair, involuntarily composing my attitude so
that nobody who might enter the room should imagine that I had been
other than patiently wide-awake all night. The second door of the
parlour--that leading to the bar-room of the Foaming Quart--was open,
and I could see the bar itself, with shelves rising behind it and the
upright handles of a beer-engine at one end. Someone whom I could not
see was evidently unbolting and unlocking the principal entrance to the
inn. Then I heard the scraping of a creaky portal on the floor.

"Well, Jos lad!"

It was the voice of the little man, Charlie, who had spoken with Myatt
on the football field.

"Come in quick, Charlie. It's cowd [cold]," said the voice of Jos Myatt,

"Ay! Cowd it is, lad! It's above three mile as I've walked, and thou
knows it, Jos. Give us a quartern o' gin."

The door grated again and a bolt was drawn.

The two men passed together behind the bar, and so within my vision.
Charlie had a grey muffler round his neck; his hands were far in his
pockets and seemed to be at strain, as though trying to prevent his
upper and his lower garments from flying apart. Jos Myatt was extremely
dishevelled. In the little man's demeanour towards the big one there was
now none of the self-conscious pride in the mere fact of acquaintance
that I had noticed on the field. Clearly the two were intimate friends,
perhaps relatives. While Jos was dispensing the gin, Charlie said, in a
low tone:

"Well, what luck, Jos?"

This was the first reference, by either of them, to the crisis.

Jos deliberately finished pouring out the gin. Then he said:

"There's two on 'em, Charlie."

"Two on 'em? What mean'st tha', lad?"

"I mean as it's twins."

Charlie and I were equally startled.

"Thou never says!" he murmured, incredulous.

"Ay! One o' both sorts," said Jos.

"Thou never says!" Charlie repeated, holding his glass of gin steady in
his hand.

"One come at summat after one o'clock, and th' other between five and
six. I had for fetch old woman Eardley to help. It were more than a
handful for Susannah and th' doctor."

Astonishing, that I should have slept through these events!

"How is her?" asked Charlie, quietly, as it were casually. I think this
appearance of casualness was caused by the stoic suppression of the
symptoms of anxiety.

"Her's bad," said Jos, briefly.

"And I am na' surprised," said Charlie. And he lifted the glass.
"Well--here's luck." He sipped the gin, savouring it on his tongue like
a connoisseur, and gradually making up his mind about its quality. Then
he took another sip.

"Hast seen her?"

"I seed her for a minute, but our Susannah wouldna' let me stop i' th'
room. Her was raving like."



"And th' babbies--hast seen _them_?"

"Ay! But I can make nowt out of 'em. Mrs Eardley says as her's never
seen no finer."

"Doctor gone?"

"That he has na'! He's bin up there all the blessed night, in his
shirt-sleeves. I give him a stiff glass o' whisky at five o'clock and
that's all as he's had."

Charlie finished his gin. The pair stood silent.

"Well," said Charlie, striking his leg. "Swelp me bob! It fair beats me!
Twins! Who'd ha'thought it? Jos, lad, thou mayst be thankful as it isna'
triplets. Never did I think, as I was footing it up here this morning,
as it was twins I was coming to!"

"Hast got that half quid in thy pocket?"

"What half quid?" said Charlie, defensively.

"Now then. Chuck us it over!" said Jos, suddenly harsh and overbearing.

"I laid thee half quid as it 'ud be a wench," said Charlie, doggedly.

"Thou'rt a liar, Charlie!" said Jos. "Thou laidst half a quid as it
wasna' a boy."

"Nay, nay!" Charlie shook his head.

"And a boy it is!" Jos persisted.

"It being a lad _and_ a wench," said Charlie, with a judicial air, "and
me 'aving laid as it 'ud be a wench, I wins." In his accents and his
gestures I could discern the mean soul, who on principle never paid
until he was absolutely forced to pay. I could see also that Jos Myatt
knew his man.

"Thou laidst me as it wasna' a lad," Jos almost shouted. "And a lad it
is, I tell thee."

"_And_ a wench!" said Charlie; then shook his head.

The wrangle proceeded monotonously, each party repeating over and over
again the phrases of his own argument. I was very glad that Jos did not
know me to be a witness of the making of the bet; otherwise I should
assuredly have been summoned to give judgment.

"Let's call it off, then," Charlie suggested at length. "That'll settle
it. And it being twins--"

"Nay, thou old devil, I'll none call it off. Thou owes me half a quid,
and I'll have it out of thee."

"Look ye here," Charlie said more softly. "I'll tell thee what'll settle
it. Which on 'em come first, th' lad or th'wench?"

"Th' wench come first," Jos Myatt admitted, with resentful reluctance,
dully aware that defeat was awaiting him.

"Well, then! Th' wench is thy eldest child. That's law, that is. And
what was us betting about, Jos lad? Us was betting about thy eldest and
no other. I'll admit as I laid it wasna' a lad, as thou sayst. And it
_wasna'_ a lad. First come is eldest, and us was betting about eldest."

Charlie stared at the father in triumph.

Jos Myatt pushed roughly past him in the narrow space behind the bar,
and came into the parlour. Nodding to me curtly, he unlocked the
bookcase and took two crown pieces from a leathern purse which lay next
to the bag. Then he returned to the bar and banged the coins on the
counter with fury.

"Take thy brass!" he shouted angrily. "Take thy brass! But thou'rt a
damned shark, Charlie, and if anybody 'ud give me a plug o' bacca for
doing it, I'd bash thy face in."

The other sniggered contentedly as he picked up his money.

"A bet's a bet," said Charlie.

He was clearly accustomed to an occasional violence of demeanour from
Jos Myatt, and felt no fear. But he was wrong in feeling no fear. He had
not allowed, in his estimate of the situation, for the exasperated
condition of Jos Hyatt's nerves under the unique experiences of the

Jos's face twisted into a hundred wrinkles and his hand seized Charlie
by the arm whose hand held the coins.

"Drop 'em!" he cried loudly, repenting his naive honesty. "Drop 'em! Or

The stout woman, her apron all soiled, now came swiftly and scarce heard
into the parlour, and stood at the door leading to the bar-room.

"What's up, Susannah?" Jos demanded in a new voice.

"Well may ye ask what's up!" said the woman. "Shouting and brangling
there, ye sots!"

"What's up?" Jos demanded again, loosing Charlie's arm.

"Her's gone!" the woman feebly whimpered. "Like that!" with a vague
movement of the hand indicating suddenness. Then she burst into wild
sobs and rushed madly back whence she had come, and the sound of her
sobs diminished as she ascended the stairs, and expired altogether in
the distant shutting of a door.

The men looked at each other.

Charlie restored the crown-pieces to the counter and pushed them towards

"Here!" he murmured faintly.

Jos flung them savagely to the ground. Another pause followed.

"As God is my witness," he exclaimed solemnly, his voice saturated with
feeling, "as God is my witness," he repeated, "I'll ne'er touch a
footba' again!"

Little Charlie gazed up at him sadly, plaintively, for what seemed a
long while.

"It's good-bye to th' First League, then, for Knype!" he tragically
muttered, at length.


Dr Stirling drove the car very slowly back to Bursley. We glided gently
down into the populous valleys. All the stunted trees were coated with
rime, which made the sharpest contrast with their black branches and the
black mud under us. The high chimneys sent forth their black smoke
calmly and tirelessly into the fresh blue sky. Sunday had descended on
the vast landscape like a physical influence. We saw a snake of children
winding out of a dark brown Sunday school into a dark brown chapel. And
up from the valleys came all the bells of all the temples of all the
different gods of the Five Towns, chiming, clanging, ringing, each
insisting that it alone invited to the altar of the one God. And priests
and acolytes of the various cults hurried occasionally along, in silk
hats and bright neckties, and smooth coats with folded handkerchiefs
sticking out of the pockets, busy, happy and self-important, the
convinced heralds of eternal salvation: no doubt nor hesitation as to
any fundamental truth had ever entered their minds. We passed through a
long, straight street of new red houses with blue slate roofs, all gated
and gardened. Here and there a girl with her hair in pins and a rough
brown apron over a gaudy frock was stoning a front step. And half-way
down the street a man in a scarlet jersey, supported by two women in
blue bonnets, was beating a drum and crying aloud: "My friends, you may
die to-night. Where, I ask you, where--?" But he had no friends; not
even a boy heeded him. The drum continued to bang in our rear.

I enjoyed all this. All this seemed to me to be fine, seemed to throw
off the true, fine, romantic savour of life. I would have altered
nothing in it. Mean, harsh, ugly, squalid, crude, barbaric--yes, but
what an intoxicating sense in it of the organized vitality of a vast
community unconscious of itself! I would have altered nothing even in
the events of the night. I thought of the rooms at the top of the
staircase of the Foaming Quart--mysterious rooms which I had not seen
and never should see, recondite rooms from which a soul had slipped away
and into which two had come, scenes of anguish and of frustrated effort!
Historical rooms, surely! And yet not a house in the hundreds of houses
past which we slid but possessed rooms ennobled and made august by
happenings exactly as impressive in their tremendous inexplicableness.

The natural humanity of Jos Myatt and Charlie, their fashion of
comporting themselves in a sudden stress, pleased me. How else should
they have behaved? I could understand Charlie's prophetic dirge over the
ruin of the Knype Football Club. It was not that he did not feel the
tragedy in the house. He had felt it, and because he had felt it he had
uttered at random, foolishly, the first clear thought that ran into his

Stirling was quiet. He appeared to be absorbed in steering, and looked
straight in front, yawning now and again. He was much more fatigued than
I was. Indeed, I had slept pretty well. He said, as we swerved into
Trafalgar Road and overtook the aristocracy on its way to chapel and

"Well, ye let yeself in for a night, young man! No mistake!"

He smiled, and I smiled.

"What's going to occur up there?" I asked, indicating Toft End.

"What do you mean?"

"A man like that--left with two babies!"

"Oh!" he said. "They'll manage that all right. His sister's a widow.
She'll go and live with him. She's as fond of those infants already as
if they were her own."

We drew up at his double gates.

"Be sure ye explain to Brindley," he said, as I left him, "that it isn't
my fault ye've had a night out of bed. It was your own doing. I'm going
to get a bit of sleep now. See you this evening, Bob's asked me to

A servant was sweeping Bob Brindley's porch and the front door was open.
I went in. The sound of the piano guided me to the drawing-room.
Brindley, the morning cigarette between his lips, was playing one of
Maurice Ravel's "L'heure espagnole." He held his head back so as to keep
the smoke out of his eyes. His children in their blue jerseys were
building bricks on the carpet.

Without ceasing to play he addressed me calmly:

"You're a nice chap! Where the devil have you been?"

And one of the little boys, glancing up, said, with roguish, imitative
innocence, in his high, shrill voice:

"Where the del you been?"



On a Saturday afternoon in late October Edward Coe, a satisfactory
average successful man of thirty-five, was walking slowly along the
King's Road, Brighton. A native and inhabitant of the Five Towns in the
Midlands, he had the brusque and energetic mien of the Midlands. It
could be seen that he was a stranger to the south; and, in fact, he was
now viewing for the first time the vast and glittering spectacle of the
southern pleasure city in the unique glory of her autumn season. A
spectacle to enliven any man by its mere splendour! And yet Edward Coe
was gloomy. One reason for his gloom was that he had just left a
bicycle, with a deflated back tyre, to be repaired at a shop in Preston
Street. Not perhaps an adequate reason for gloom!... Well, that depends.
He had been informed by the blue-clad repairer, after due inspection,
that the trouble was not a common puncture, but a malady of the valve

And the deflation was not the sole cause of his gloom. There was
another. He was on his honeymoon. Understand me--not a honeymoon of
romance, but a real honeymoon. Who that has ever been on a real
honeymoon can look back upon the adventure and faithfully say that it
was an unmixed ecstasy of joy? A honeymoon is in its nature and
consequences so solemn, so dangerous, and so pitted with startling
surprises, that the most irresponsible bridegroom, the most
light-hearted, the least in love, must have moments of grave anxiety.
And Edward Coe was far from irresponsible. Nor was he only a little in
love. Moreover, the circumstances of his marriage were peculiar, and he
had married a dark, brooding, passionate girl.

Mrs Coe was the younger of two sisters named Olive Wardle, well known in
the most desirable circles in the Five Towns. I mean those circles where
intellectual and artistic tastes are united with sound incomes and
excellent food delicately served. It will certainly be asked why two
sisters should be named Olive. The answer is that though Olive One and
Olive Two were treated as sisters, and even treated themselves as
sisters, they were not sisters. They were not even half-sisters. They
had first met at the age of nine. The father of Olive One, a widower,
had married the mother of Olive Two, a widow. Olive One was the elder by
a few months. Olive Two gradually allowed herself to be called Wardle
because it saved trouble. They got on with one another very well indeed,
especially after the death of both parents, when they became joint
mistresses, each with a separate income, of a nice house at Sneyd, the
fashionable residential village on the rim of the Five Towns. Like all
persons who live long together, they grew in many respects alike. Both
were dark, brooding and passionate, and to this deep similarity a
superficial similarity of habits and demeanour was added. Only, whereas
Olive One was rather more inclined to be the woman of the world, Olive
Two was rather more inclined to study and was particularly interested in
the theory of music.

They were sought after, naturally. And yet they had reached the age of
twenty-five before the world perceived that either of them was not
sought after in vain. The fact, obvious enough, that Pierre Emile
Vaillac had become an object of profound human interest to Olive
One--this fact excited the world, and the world would have been still
more excited had it been aware of another fact that was not at all
obvious: namely, that Pierre Emile Vaillac was the cause of a secret and
terrible breach between the two sisters. Vaillac, a widower with two
young children, Mimi and Jean, was a Frenchman, and a great authority on
the decoration of egg-shell china, who had settled in the Five Towns as
expert partner in one of the classic china firms at Longshaw. He was
undoubtedly a very attractive man.

Olive One, when the relations between herself and Vaillac were
developing into something unmistakable, had suddenly, and without
warning, accused Olive Two of poaching. It was a frightful accusation,
and a frightful scene followed it, one of those scenes that are seldom
forgiven and never forgotten. It altered their lives; but as they were
women of considerable common sense and of good breeding, each did her
best to behave afterwards as though nothing had happened.

Olive Two did not convince Olive One of her innocence, because she did
not bring forward the supreme proof of it. She was too proud--in her
brooding and her mystery--to do so. The supreme proof was that at this
time she herself was secretly engaged to be married to Edward Coe, who
had conquered her heart with unimaginable swiftness a few weeks before
she was about to sit for a musical examination at Manchester. "Let us
say nothing till after my exam," she had suggested to her betrothed.
"There will be an enormous fuss, and it will put me off, and I shall
fail, and I don't want to fail, and you don't want me to fail." He
agreed rapturously. Of course she did fail, nevertheless. But being
obstinate she said she would go in again, and they continued to make a
secret of the engagement. They found the secret delicious. Then followed
the devastating episode of Vaillac. Shortly afterwards Olive One and
Vaillac were married, and then Olive Two was alone in the nice house.
The examination was forgotten, and she hated the house. She wanted to be
married; Coe also. But nothing had been said. Difficult to announce her
engagement just then! The world would say that she had married out of
imitation, and her sister would think that she had married out of pique.
Besides, there would be the fuss, which Olive Two hated. Already the
fuss of her sister's marriage, and the effort at the wedding of
pretending that nothing had happened between them, had fatigued the
nerves of Olive Two.

Then Edward Coe had had the brilliant and seductive idea of marrying in
secret. To slip away, and then to return, saying, "We are married.
That's all!" ... Why not? No fuss! No ceremonial! The accomplished fact,
which simplifies everything!

It was, therefore, a secret honeymoon that Edward Coe was on;
delightful--but surreptitious, furtive! His mental condition may be best
described by stating that, though he was conscious of rectitude, he
somehow could not look a policeman in the face. After all, plain people
do not usually run off on secret honeymoons. Had he acted wisely?
Perhaps this question, presenting itself now and then, was the chief
cause of his improper gloom.


However, the spectacle of Brighton on a fine Saturday afternoon in
October had its effect on Edward Coe--the effect which it has on
everybody. Little by little it inspired him with the joy of life, and
straightened his back, and put a sparkle into his eyes. And he was
filled with the consciousness of the fact that it is a fine thing to be
well-dressed and to have loose gold in your pocket, and to eat, drink,
and smoke well; and to be among crowds of people who are well-dressed
and have loose gold in their pockets, and eat and drink and smoke well;
and to know that a magnificent woman will be waiting for you at a
certain place at a certain hour, and that upon catching sight of you
her dark orbs will take on an enchanting expression reserved for you
alone, and that she is utterly yours. In a word, he looked on the bright
side of things again. It could not ultimately matter a bilberry whether
his marriage was public or private.

He lit a cigarette gaily. He could not guess that untoward destiny was
waiting for him close by the newspaper kiosque.

A little girl was leaning against the palisade there, and gazing
somewhat restlessly about her. A quite little girl, aged, perhaps,
eleven, dressed in blue serge, with a short frock and long legs, and a
sailor hat (H.M.S. _Formidable_), and long hair down her back, and a
mild, twinkling, trustful glance. Somewhat untidy, but nevertheless the
image of grace.

She saw him first. Otherwise he might have fled. But he was right upon
her before he saw her. Indeed, he heard her before he saw her.

"Good afternoon, Mr Coe."


The Vaillacs were in Brighton! He had chosen practically the other end
of the world for his honeymoon, and lo! by some awful clumsiness of fate
the Vaillacs were at the same end! The very people from whom he wished
to conceal his honeymoon until it was over would know all about it at
the very start! Relations between the two Olives would be still more
strained and difficult! In brief, from optimism he swung violently back
to darkest pessimism. What could be worse than to be caught red-handed
in a surreptitious honeymoon?

She noticed his confusion, and he knew that she noticed it. She was a
little girl. But she was also a little woman, a little Frenchwoman, who
spoke English perfectly--and yet with a difference! They had flirted
together, she and Mr Coe. She had a new mother now, but for years she
had been without a mother, and she would receive callers at her
father's house (if he happened to be out) with a delicious imitation of
a practised hostess.

He raised his hat and shook hands and tried to play the game.

"What are you doing here, Mimi?" he asked.

"What are _you_ doing here?" she parried, laughing. And then, perceiving
his increased trouble, and that she was failing in tact, she went on
rapidly, with a screwing up of the childish shoulders and something
between a laugh and a grin: "It's my back. It seems it's not strong. And
so we've taken an ever so jolly little house for the autumn, because of
the air, you know. Didn't you know?"

No, he did not know. That was the worst of strained relations. You were
not informed of events in advance.

"Where?" he asked.

"Oh!" she said, pointing. "That way. On the road to Rottingdean. Near
the big girls' school. We came in on that lovely electric railway--along
the beach. Have you been on it, Mr Coe?"

Terrible! Rottingdean was precisely the scene of his honeymoon. The
hazard of fate was truly appalling. He and his wife might have walked
one day straight into the arms of her sister! He went hot and cold.

"And where are the others?" he asked nervously.

"Mamma"--she coloured as she used this word, so strange on her
lips--"mamma's at home. Father may come to-night. And Ada has brought us
here so that Jean can have his hair cut. He didn't want to come without


"Ada's a new servant. She's just gone in there again to see how long the
barber will be." Mimi indicated a barber's shop opposite. "And I'm
waiting here," she added.

"Mimi," he said, in a confidential tone, "can you keep a secret?"

She grew solemn. "Yes." She smiled seriously. "What?"

"About meeting me. Don't tell anybody you've met me to-day. See?"

"Not Jean?"

"No, not Jean. But later on you can tell--when I give you the tip. I
don't want anybody to know just now."

It was a shame. He knew it was a shame. He deliberately flattered her by
appealing to her as to a grown woman. He deliberately put a cajoling
tone into his voice. He would not have done it if Mimi had not been
Mimi--if she had been an ordinary sort of English girl. But she was
Mimi. And the temptation was very strong. She promised, gravely. He knew
that he could rely on her.

Hurrying away lest Jean and the servant might emerge from the barber's,
he remembered with compunction that he had omitted to show any curiosity
about Mimi's back.


The magnificent woman was to be waiting for him in the lounge of the
Royal York Hotel at a quarter to four. She was coming in to Brighton by
the Rottingdean omnibus, which function, unless the driver changes his
mind, occurs once in every two or three hours. He, being under the
necessity of telephoning to London on urgent business, had hired a
bicycle and ridden in. Despite the accident to this prehistoric machine,
he arrived at the Royal York half a minute before the Rottingdean
omnibus passed through the Old Steine and set down the magnificent woman
his wife. The sight of her stepping off the omnibus really did thrill
him. They entered the hotel together, and, accustomed though the Royal
York is to the reception of magnificent women, Olive made a sensation
therein. As for him, he could not help feeling just as though he had
eloped with her. He could not help fancying that all the brilliant
company in the lounge was murmuring under the strains of the band: "That
johnny there has certainly eloped with that splendid creature!"

"Ed," she asked, fixing her dark eyes upon him, "is anything the

They were having tea at a little Moorish table in the huge bay window of
the lounge.

"No," he said. This was the first lie of his career as a husband. But
truly he could not bring himself to give her the awful shock of telling
her that the Vaillacs were close at hand, that their secret was
discovered, and that their peace and security depended entirely upon the
discretion of little Mimi and upon their not meeting other Vaillacs.

"Then it's having that puncture that has upset you," his wife insisted.
You see her feelings towards him were so passionate that she could not
leave him alone. She was utterly preoccupied by him.

"No," he said guiltily.

"I'm afraid you don't very much care for this place," she went on,
because she knew now that he was not telling her the truth, and that
something, indeed, was the matter.

"On the contrary," he replied, "I was informed that the finest tea and
the most perfect toast in Brighton were to be had in this lounge, and
upon my soul I feel as if I could keep on having tea here for ever and
ever amen!"

He was trying to be gay, but not very successfully.

"I don't mean just here," she said. "I mean all this south coast."

"Well--" he began judicially.

"Oh! Ed!" she implored him. "_Do_ say you don't like it!"

"Why!" he exclaimed. "Don't _you_?"

She shook her head. "I much prefer the north," she remarked.

"Well," he said, "let's go. Say Scarborough."

"You're joking," she murmured. "You adore this south coast."

"Never!" he asserted positively.

"Well, darling," she said, "if you hadn't said first that you didn't
care for it, of course I shouldn't have breathed a word--"

"Let's go to-morrow," he suggested.

"Yes." Her eyes shone.

"First train! We should have to leave Rottingdean at six o'clock a.m."

"How lovely!" she exclaimed. She was enchanted by this idea of a
capricious change of programme. It gave such a sense of freedom, of
irresponsibility, of romance!

"More toast, please," he said to the waiter, joyously.

It cost him no effort to be gay now. He could not have been sad. The
world was suddenly transformed into the best of all possible worlds. He
was saved! They were saved! Yes, he could trust Mimi. By no chance would
they be caught. They would stick in their rooms all the evening, and on
the morrow they would be away long before the Vaillacs were up. Papa and
"mamma" Vaillac were terrible for late rising. And when he had got his
magnificent Olive safe in Scarborough, or wherever their noses might
lead them, then he would tell her of the risk they had run.

They both laughed from mere irrational glee, and Edward Coe nearly
forgot to pay the bill. However, he did pay it. They departed from the
Royal York. He put his Olive into the returning Rottingdean omnibus, and
then hurried to get his repaired bicycle. He had momentarily quaked
lest Mimi and company might be in the omnibus. But they were not. They
must have left earlier, fortunately, or walked.


When he was still about a mile away from Rottingdean, and the hour was
dusk, and he was walking up a hill, he caught sight of a girl leaning on
a gate that led by a long path to a house near the cliffs. It was Mimi.
She gave a cry of recognition. He did not care now--he was at ease
now--but really, with that house so close to the road and so close to
Rottingdean, he and his Olive had practically begun their honeymoon on
the summit of a volcano!

Mimi was pensive. He felt remorse at having bound her to secrecy. She
was so pensive, and so wistful, and her eyes were so loyal, that he felt
he owed her a more complete confidence.

"I'm on my honeymoon, Mimi," he said. It gave him pleasure to tell her.

"Yes," she said simply, "I saw Auntie Olive go by in the omnibus."

That was all she said. He was thunderstruck, as much by her calm
simplicity as by anything else. Children were astounding creatures.

"Did Jean see her, or anyone?" he asked.

Mimi shook her head.

Then he told her they were leaving the next morning at six.

"Shall you be in a carriage?" she inquired.


"Oh! Do let me come out and see you go past," she pleaded. "Nobody else
in our house will be up till hours afterwards!... Do!"


Back to Full Books