The Matador of the Five Towns and Other Stories
Part 3 out of 6
van happened to descend violently into a rut, and the steady murmur of
Mrs Clowes's voice rehearsing the grandiloquence of the part of
And then there was another sound, which Mrs Clowes did not notice until
it had been repeated several times; the cry of a human voice out on the
She opened wide the doors of the van and looked prudently forth.
Naturally, inevitably, Jock-at-a-Venture was trudging alongside, level
with the horse's tail! He stepped nimbly--he was a fine walker--but none
the less his breath came short and quick, for he had been making haste
up a steepish hill in order to overtake the van. And he carried a bundle
and a stick in his hands, and on his head a superb but heavy beaver hat.
"I'm going your way, missis," said Jock.
"Seemingly," agreed Mrs Clowes, with due caution.
"Canst gi' us a lift?" he asked.
"And welcome," she said, her face changing like a flash to suit the
"Nay, ye needna' stop!" shouted Jock.
In an instant he had leapt easily up into the van, and was seated by her
side therein on the children's stool.
"That's a hat--to travel in!" observed Mrs Clowes.
Jock removed the hat, examined it lovingly and replaced it.
"I couldn't ha' left it behind," said he, with a sigh, and continued
rapidly in another voice: "Missis, we'n seen a pretty good lot o' each
other this wik, and yet ye slips off o'this'n, without saying good-bye,
nor a word about yer soul!"
Mrs Clowes heaved her enormous breast and shook the reins.
"I've had my share of trouble," she remarked mysteriously.
"Tell me about it, missis!"
And lo! in a moment, lured on by his smile, she was telling him quite
familiarly about the ailments of her younger children, the escapades of
her unmarried daughter aged fifteen, the surliness of one of her
sons-in-law, the budding dishonesty of the other, the perils of infant
life, and the need of repainting the big van and getting new pictures
for the front of the booth. Indeed, all the worries of a queen of the
"And I'm so fat!" she said, "and yet I'm not forty, and shan't be for
two year--and me a grandmother!"
"I knowed it!" Jock exclaimed.
"If I wasn't such a heap o' flesh--"
"Ye're the grandest heap o' flesh as I ever set eyes on, and I'm telling
ye!" Jock interrupted her.
Then there were disconcerting sounds out in the world beyond the van.
The horse stopped. The double doors were forced open from without, and a
black figure, with white eyes in a black face, filled the doorway. The
van had passed through the mining village of Moorthorne, and this was
one of the marauding colliers on the outskirts thereof. When the
colliers had highroad business in the night they did not trouble to wash
their faces after work. The coal-dust was a positive aid to them, for it
gave them a most useful resemblance to the devil.
Jock-at-a-Venture sprang up as though launched from a catapult.
"Is it thou, Jock?" cried the collier, astounded.
"Ay, lad!" said Jock, briefly.
And caught the collier a blow under the chin that sent him flying into
the obscurity of the night. Other voices sounded in the road. Jock
rushed to the doorway, taking a pistol from his pocket. And Mrs Clowes,
all dithering like a jelly, heard shots. The horse started into a
gallop. The reins escaped from the hands of the mistress, but Jock
secured them, and lashed the horse to greater speed with the loose ends
"I've saved thee, missis!" he said later. "I give him a regular lifter
under the gob, same as I give Jabez, Sunday. But where's the sense of a
lone woman wandering about dark roads of a night wi' a pack of
childer?... Them childer 'ud ha' slept through th' battle o' Trafalgar,"
Mrs Clowes wept.
"Well may you say it!" she murmured. "And it's not the first time as
I've been set on!"
"Thou'rt nowt but a girl, for all thy flesh and thy grandchilder!" said
Jock. "Dry thy eyes, or I'll dry 'em for thee!"
She smiled in her weeping. It was an invitation to him to carry out his
And while he was drying her eyes for her, she asked:
"How far are ye going? Axe?"
"Ay! And beyond! Can I act, I ask ye? Can I fight, I ask ye? Can ye do
without me, I ask ye, you a lone woman? And yer soul, as is mine to
"But that business o' yours at Bursley?"
"Here's my bundle," he said, "and here's my best hat. And I've money and
a pistol in my pocket. The only thing I've clean forgot is my cornet;
but I'll send for it and I'll play it at my wedding. I'm
And while the van was rumbling in the dark night across the waste and
savage moorland, and while the children were sleeping hard at the back
of the van, and while the crockery was restlessly clinking in the racks
and the lamp swaying, and while he held the reins, the thin, lithe,
greying man contrived to take into his arms the vast and amiable
creature whom he desired. And the van became a vehicle of high romance.
THE HEROISM OF THOMAS CHADWICK
"Have you heard about Tommy Chadwick?" one gossip asked another in
"He's a tram-conductor now."
This information occasioned surprise, as it was meant to do, the
expression on the faces of both gossips indicating a pleasant curiosity
as to what Tommy Chadwick would be doing next.
Thomas Chadwick was a "character" in the Five Towns, and of a somewhat
unusual sort. "Characters" in the Five Towns are generally either very
grim or very jolly, either exceptionally shrewd or exceptionally simple;
and they nearly always, in their outward aspect, depart from the
conventional. Chadwick was not thus. Aged fifty or so, he was a portly
and ceremonious man with an official gait. He had been a policeman in
his youth, and he never afterwards ceased to look like a policeman in
plain clothes. The authoritative mien of the policeman refused to quit
his face. Yet, beneath that mien, few men (of his size) were less
capable of exerting authority than Chadwick. He was, at bottom, a weak
fellow. He knew it himself, and everybody knew it. He had left the
police force because he considered that the strain was beyond his
strength. He had the constitution of a she-ass, and the calm, terrific
appetite of an elephant; but he maintained that night duty in January
was too much for him. He was then twenty-seven, with a wife and two
small girls. He abandoned the uniform with dignity. He did everything
with dignity. He looked for a situation with dignity, saw his wife and
children go hungry with dignity, and even went short himself with
dignity. He continually got fatter, waxing on misfortune. And--another
curious thing--he could always bring out, when advisable, a shining suit
of dark blue broadcloth, a clean collar and a fancy necktie. He was not
a consistent dandy, but he could be a dandy when he liked.
Of course, he had no trade. The manual skill of a policeman is useless
outside the police force. One cannot sell it in other markets. People
said that Chadwick was a fool to leave the police force. He was; but he
was a sublime and dignified fool in his idle folly. What he wanted was a
position of trust, a position where nothing would be required from him
but a display of portliness, majesty and incorruptibility. Such
positions are not easy to discover. Employers had no particular
objection to portliness, majesty and incorruptibility, but as a rule
they demanded something else into the bargain. Chadwick's first
situation after his defection from the police was that of night watchman
in an earthenware manufactory down by the canal at Shawport. He accepted
it regretfully, and he firmly declined to see the irony of fate in
forcing such a post on a man who conscientiously objected to night duty.
He did not maintain this post long, and his reasons for giving it up
were kept a dark secret. Some said that Chadwick's natural tendency to
sleep at night had been taken amiss by his master.
Thenceforward he went through transformation after transformation,
outvying the legendary chameleon. He was a tobacconist, a park-keeper, a
rent collector, a commission agent, a clerk, another clerk, still
another clerk, a sweetstuff seller, a fried fish merchant, a coal
agent, a book agent, a pawnbroker's assistant, a dog-breeder, a
door-keeper, a board-school keeper, a chapel-keeper, a turnstile man at
football matches, a coachman, a carter, a warehouseman, and a
chucker-out at the Empire Music Hall at Hanbridge. But he was nothing
long. The explanations of his changes were invariably vague, unseizable.
And his dignity remained unimpaired, together with his broadcloth. He
not only had dignity for himself, but enough left over to decorate the
calling which he happened for the moment to be practising. He was
dignified in the sale of rock-balls, and especially so in encounters
with his creditors; and his grandeur when out of a place was a model to
Further, he was ever a pillar and aid of the powers. He worshipped
order, particularly the old order, and wealth and correctness. He was
ever with the strong against the weak, unless the weak happened to be an
ancient institution, in which case he would support it with all the
valour of his convictions. Needless to say, he was a very active
politician. Perhaps the activity of his politics had something to do
with the frequency of his transformations--for he would always be his
somewhat spectacular self; he would always call his soul his own, and he
would quietly accept a snub from no man.
And now he was a tram-conductor. Things had come to that.
In the old days of the steam trams, where there were only about a score
of tram-conductors and eight miles of line in all the Five Towns, the
profession of tram-conductor had still some individuality in it, and a
conductor was something more than a number. But since the British
Electric Traction Company had invaded the Five Towns, and formed a
subsidiary local company, and constructed dozens of miles of new line,
and electrified everything, and raised prices, and abolished season
tickets, and quickened services, and built hundreds of cars and engaged
hundreds of conductors--since then a tram-conductor had been naught but
an unhuman automaton in a vast machine-like organization. And passengers
no longer had their favourite conductors.
Gossips did not precisely see Thomas Chadwick as an unhuman automaton
for the punching of tickets and the ringing of bells and the ejaculation
of street names. He was never meant by nature to be part of a system.
Gossips hoped for the best. That Chadwick, at his age and with his
girth, had been able, in his extremity, to obtain a conductorship was
proof that he could bring influences to bear in high quarters. Moreover,
he was made conductor of one of two cars that ran on a little branch
line between Bursley and Moorthorne, so that to the village of
Moorthorne he was still somebody, and the chances were just one to two
that persons who travelled by car from or to Moorthorne did so under the
majestic wing of Thomas Chadwick. His manner of starting a car was
unique and stupendous. He might have been signalling "full speed ahead"
from the bridge of an Atlantic liner.
Chadwick's hours aboard his Atlantic liner were so long as to interfere
seriously, not only with his leisure, but with his political activities.
And this irked him the more for the reason that at that period local
politics in the Five Towns were extremely agitated and interesting.
People became politicians who had never been politicians before. The
question was, whether the Five Towns, being already one town in
practice, should not become one town in theory--indeed, the twelfth
largest town in the United Kingdom! And the district was divided into
Federationists and anti-Federationists. Chadwick was a convinced
anti-Federationist. Chadwick, with many others, pointed to the history
of Bursley, "the mother of the Five Towns," a history which spread over
a thousand years and more; and he asked whether "old Bursley" was to
lose her identity merely because Hanbridge had insolently outgrown her.
A poll was soon to be taken on the subject, and feelings were growing
hotter every day, and rosettes of different colours flowered thicker and
thicker in the streets, until nothing but a strong sense of politeness
prevented members of the opposing parties from breaking each other's
noses in St Luke's Square.
Now on a certain Tuesday afternoon in spring Tommy Chadwick's car stood
waiting, opposite the Conservative Club, to depart to Moorthorne. And
Tommy Chadwick stood in all his portliness on the platform. The driver,
a mere nobody, was of course at the front of the car. The driver held
the power, but he could not use it until Tommy Chadwick gave him
permission; and somehow Tommy's imperial attitude seemed to indicate
this important fact.
There was not a soul in the car.
Then Mrs Clayton Vernon came hurrying up the slope of Duck Bank and
signalled to Chadwick to wait for her. He gave her a wave of the arm,
kindly and yet deferential, as if to say, "Be at ease, noble dame! You
are in the hands of a man of the world, who knows what is due to your
position. This car shall stay here till you reach it, even if Thomas
Chadwick loses his situation for failing to keep time."
And Mrs Clayton Vernon puffed into the car. And Thomas Chadwick gave her
a helping hand, and raised his official cap to her with a dignified
sweep; and his glance seemed to be saying to the world, "There, you see
what happens when _I_ deign to conduct a car! Even Mrs Clayton Vernon
travels by car then." And the whole social level of the electric
tramway system was apparently uplifted, and conductors became fine,
For Mrs Clayton Vernon really was a personage in the town--perhaps,
socially, the leading personage. A widow, portly as Tommy himself,
wealthy, with a family tradition behind her, and the true grand manner
in every gesture! Her entertainments at her house at Hillport were
unsurpassed, and those who had been invited to them seldom forgot to
mention the fact. Thomas, a person not easily staggered, was
nevertheless staggered to see her travelling by car to Moorthorne--even
in his car, which to him in some subtle way was not like common
cars--for she was seldom seen abroad apart from her carriage. She kept
two horses. Assuredly both horses must be laid up together, or her
coachman ill. Anyhow, there she was, in Thomas's car, splendidly dressed
in a new spring gown of flowered silk.
"Thank you," she said very sweetly to Chadwick, in acknowledgment of his
Then three men of no particular quality mounted the car.
"How do, Tommy?" one of them carelessly greeted the august conductor.
This impertinent youth was Paul Ford, a solicitor's clerk, who often
went to Moorthorne because his employer had a branch office there, open
twice a week.
Tommy did not respond, but rather showed his displeasure. He hated to be
called Tommy, except by a few intimate coevals.
"Now then, hurry up, please!" he said coldly.
"Right oh! your majesty," said another of the men, and they all three
What was still worse, they all three wore the Federationist rosette,
which was red to the bull in Thomas Chadwick. It was part of Tommy's
political creed that Federationists were the "rag, tag, and bob-tail" of
the town. But as he was a tram-conductor, though not an ordinary
tram-conductor, his mouth was sealed, and he could not tell his
passengers what he thought of them.
Just as he was about to pull the starting bell, Mrs Clayton Vernon
sprang up with a little "Oh, I was quite forgetting!" and almost darted
out of the car. It was not quite a dart, for she was of full habit, but
the alacrity of her movement was astonishing. She must have forgotten
something very important.
An idea in the nature of a political argument suddenly popped into
Tommy's head, and it was too much for him. He was obliged to let it out.
To the winds with that impartiality which a tram company expects from
"Ah!" he remarked, jerking his elbow in the direction of Mrs Clayton
Vernon and pointedly addressing his three Federationist passengers,
"she's a lady, she is! _She_ won't travel with anybody, she won't! _She
chooses her company_--_and quite right too, I say_!"
And then he started the car. He felt himself richly avenged by this
sally for the "Tommy" and the "your majesty" and the sneering laughter.
Paul Ford winked very visibly at his companions, but made no answering
remark. And Thomas Chadwick entered the interior of the car to collect
fares. In his hands this operation became a rite. His gestures seemed to
say, "No one ever appreciated the importance of the vocation of
tram-conductor until I came. We will do this business solemnly and
meticulously. Mind what money you give me, count your change, and don't
lose, destroy, or deface this indispensable ticket that I hand to you.
Do you hear the ting of my bell? It is a sign of my high office. I am
When he had taken his toll he stood at the door of the car, which was
now jolting and climbing past the loop-line railway station, and
continued his address to the company about the aristocratic and
exclusive excellences of his friend Mrs Clayton Vernon. He proceeded to
explain the demerits and wickedness of federation, and to descant on the
absurdity of those who publicly wore the rosettes of the Federation
party, thus branding themselves as imbeciles and knaves; in fact, his
tongue was loosed. Although he stooped to accept the wages of a
tram-conductor, he was not going to sacrifice the great political right
of absolutely free speech.
"If I wasn't the most good-natured man on earth, Tommy Chadwick," said
Paul Ford, "I should write to the tram company to-night, and you'd get
the boot to-morrow."
"All I say is," persisted the singular conductor--"all I say is--she's a
lady, she is--a regular real lady! She chooses her company--and quite
right too! That I do say, and nobody's going to stop my mouth." His
manner was the least in the world heated.
"What's that?" asked Paul Ford, with a sudden start, not inquiring what
Thomas Chadwick's mouth was, but pointing to an object which was lying
on the seat in the corner which Mrs Clayton Vernon had too briefly
He rose and picked up the object, which had the glitter of gold.
"Give it here," said Thomas Chadwick, commandingly. "It's none of your
business to touch findings in my car;" and he snatched the object from
Paul Ford's hands.
It was so brilliant and so obviously costly, however, that he was
somehow obliged to share the wonder of it with his passengers. The find
levelled all distinctions between them. A purse of gold chain-work, it
indiscreetly revealed that it was gorged with riches. When you shook it
the rustle of banknotes was heard, and the chink of sovereigns, and
through the meshes of the purse could be seen the white of valuable
paper and the tawny orange discs for which mankind is so ready to commit
all sorts of sin. Thomas Chadwick could not forbear to open the
contrivance, and having opened it he could not forbear to count its
contents. There were, in that purse, seven five-pound notes, fifteen
sovereigns, and half a sovereign, and the purse itself was probably
worth twelve or fifteen pounds as mere gold.
"There's some that would leave their heads behind 'em if they could!"
observed Paul Ford.
Thomas Chadwick glowered at him, as if to warn him that in the presence
of Thomas Chadwick noble dames could not be insulted with impunity.
"Didn't I say she was a lady?" said Chadwick, holding up the purse as
proof. "It's lucky it's _me_ as has laid hands on it!" he added, plainly
implying that the other occupants of the car were thieves whenever they
had the chance.
"Well," said Paul Ford, "no doubt you'll get your reward all right!"
"It's not--" Chadwick began; but at that moment the driver stopped the
car with a jerk, in obedience to a waving umbrella. The conductor, who
had not yet got what would have been his sea-legs if he had been captain
of an Atlantic liner, lurched forward, and then went out on to the
platform to greet a new fare, and his sentence was never finished.
That day happened to be the day of Thomas Chadwick's afternoon off; at
least, of what the tram company called an afternoon off. That is to say,
instead of ceasing work at eleven-thirty p.m. he finished at six-thirty
p.m. In the ordinary way the company housed its last Moorthorne car at
eleven-thirty (Moorthorne not being a very nocturnal village), and gave
the conductors the rest of the evening to spend exactly as they liked;
but once a week, in turn, it generously allowed them a complete
afternoon beginning at six-thirty.
Now on this afternoon, instead of going home for tea, Thomas Chadwick,
having delivered over his insignia and takings to the inspector in
Bursley market-place, rushed away towards a car bound for Hillport. A
policeman called out to him:
"What's up?" asked Chadwick, unwillingly stopping.
"Mrs Clayton Vernon's been to the station an hour ago or hardly, about a
purse as she says she thinks she must have left in your car. I was just
coming across to tell your inspector."
"Tell him, then, my lad," said Chadwick, curtly, and hurried on towards
the Hillport car. His manner to policemen always mingled the veteran
with the comrade, and most of them indeed regarded him as an initiate of
the craft. Still, his behaviour on this occasion did somewhat surprise
the young policeman who had accosted him. And undoubtedly Thomas
Chadwick was scarcely acting according to the letter of the law. His
proper duty was to hand over all articles found in his car instantly to
the police--certainly not to keep them concealed on his person with a
view to restoring them with his own hands to their owners. But Thomas
Chadwick felt that, having once been a policeman, he was at liberty to
interpret the law to suit his own convenience. He caught the Hillport
car, and nodded the professional nod to its conductor, asking him a
technical question, and generally showing to the other passengers on the
platform that he was not as they, and that he had important official
privileges. Of course, he travelled free; and of course he stopped the
car when, its conductor being inside, two ladies signalled to it at the
bottom of Oldcastle Street. He had meant to say nothing whatever about
his treasure and his errand to the other conductor; but somehow, when
fares had been duly collected, and these two stood chatting on the
platform, the gold purse got itself into the conversation, and presently
the other conductor knew the entire history, and had even had a glimpse
of the purse itself.
Opposite the entrance to Mrs Clayton Vernon's grounds at Hillport Thomas
Chadwick slipped neatly, for all his vast bulk, off the swiftly-gliding
car. (A conductor on a car but not on duty would sooner perish by a
heavy fall than have a car stopped in order that he might descend from
it.) And Thomas Chadwick heavily crunched the gravel of the drive
leading up to Mrs Clayton Vernon's house, and imperiously rang the bell.
"Mrs Clayton Vernon in?" he officially asked the responding servant.
"She's _in_," said the servant. Had Thomas Chadwick been wearing his
broadcloth she would probably have added "sir."
"Well, will you please tell her that Mr Chadwick--Thomas Chadwick--wants
to speak to her?"
"Is it about the purse?" the servant questioned, suddenly brightening
into eager curiosity.
"Never you mind what it's about, miss," said Thomas Chadwick, sternly.
At the same moment Mrs Clayton Vernon's grey-curled head appeared behind
the white cap of the servant. Probably she had happened to catch some
echo of Thomas Chadwick's great rolling voice. The servant retired.
"Good-evening, m'm," said Thomas Chadwick, raising his hat airily.
"Good-evening." He beamed.
"So you did find it?" said Mrs Vernon, calmly smiling. "I felt sure it
would be all right."
"Oh, yes, m'm." He tried to persuade himself that this sublime
confidence was characteristic of great ladies, and a laudable symptom
of aristocracy. But he would have preferred her to be a little less
confident. After all, in the hands of a conductor less honourable than
himself, of a common conductor, the purse might not have been so "all
right" as all that! He would have preferred to witness the change on Mrs
Vernon's features from desperate anxiety to glad relief. After all, L50,
10s. was money, however rich you were!
"Have you got it with you?" asked Mrs Vernon.
"Yes'm," said he. "I thought I'd just step up with it myself, so as to
"It's very good of you!"
"Not at all," said he; and he produced the purse. "I think you'll find
it as it should be."
Mrs Vernon gave him a courtly smile as she thanked him.
"I'd like ye to count it, ma'am," said Chadwick, as she showed no
intention of even opening the purse.
"If you wish it," said she, and counted her wealth and restored it to
the purse. "_Quite_ right--_quite_ right! Fifty pounds and ten
shillings," she said pleasantly. "I'm very much obliged to you,
"Not at all, m'm!" He was still standing in the sheltered porch.
An idea seemed to strike Mrs Clayton Vernon.
"Would you like something to drink?" she asked.
"Well, thank ye, m'm," said Thomas.
"Maria," said Mrs Vernon, calling to someone within the house, "bring
this man a glass of beer." And she turned again to Chadwick, smitten
with another idea. "Let me see. Your eldest daughter has two little
boys, hasn't she?"
"Yes'm," said Thomas--"twins."
"I thought so. Her husband is my cook's cousin. Well, here's two
threepenny bits--one for each of them." With some trouble she extracted
the coins from a rather shabby leather purse--evidently her household
purse. She bestowed them upon the honest conductor with another grateful
and condescending smile. "I hope you don't _mind_ taking them for the
chicks," she said. "I _do_ like giving things to children. It's so much
_nicer_, isn't it?"
Then the servant brought the glass of beer, and Mrs Vernon, with yet
another winning smile, and yet more thanks, left him to toss it off on
the mat, while the servant waited for the empty glass.
On the following Friday afternoon young Paul Ford was again on the
Moorthorne car, and subject to the official ministrations of Thomas
Chadwick. Paul Ford was a man who never bore malice when the bearing of
malice might interfere with the gratification of his sense of humour.
Many men--perhaps most men--after being so grossly insulted by a
tram-conductor as Paul Ford had been insulted by Chadwick, would at the
next meeting have either knocked the insulter down or coldly ignored
him. But Paul Ford did neither. (In any case, Thomas Chadwick would have
wanted a deal of knocking down.) For some reason, everything that Thomas
Chadwick said gave immense amusement to Paul Ford. So the young man
commenced the conversation in the usual way:
"How do, Tommy?"
The car on this occasion was coming down from Moorthorne into Bursley,
with its usual bump and rattle of windows. As Thomas Chadwick made no
reply, Paul Ford continued:
"How much did she give you--the perfect lady, I mean?"
Paul Ford was sitting near the open door. Thomas Chadwick gazed
absently at the Town Park, with its terra-cotta fountains and terraces,
and beyond the Park, at the smoke rising from the distant furnaces of
Red Cow. He might have been lost in deep meditation upon the meanings of
life; he might have been prevented from hearing Paul Ford's question by
the tremendous noise of the car. He made no sign. Then all of a sudden
he turned almost fiercely on Paul Ford and glared at him.
"Ye want to know how much she gave me, do ye?" he demanded hotly.
"Yes," said Paul Ford.
"How much she gave me for taking her that there purse?" Tommy Chadwick
He was obliged to temporize, because he could not quite resolve to seize
the situation and deal with it once for all in a manner favourable to
his dignity and to the ideals which he cherished.
"Yes," said Paul Ford.
"Well, I'll tell ye," said Thomas Chadwick--"though I don't know as it's
any business of yours. But, as you're so curious!... She didn't give me
anything. She asked me to have a little refreshment, like the lady she
is. But she knew better than to offer Thomas Chadwick any pecooniary
reward for giving her back something as she'd happened to drop. She's a
lady, she is!"
"Oh!" said Paul Ford. "It don't cost much, being a lady!"
"But I'll tell ye what she _did_ do," Thomas Chadwick went on, anxious,
now that he had begun so well, to bring the matter to an artistic
conclusion--"I'll tell ye what she did do. She give me a sovereign
apiece for my grandsons--my eldest daughter's twins." Then, after an
effective pause: "Ye can put that in your pipe and smoke it!... A
"And have you handed it over?" Paul Ford inquired mildly, after a
period of soft whistling.
"I've started two post-office savings bank accounts for 'em," said
Thomas Chadwick, with ferocity.
The talk stopped, and nothing whatever occurred until the car halted at
the railway station to take up passengers. The heart of Thomas Chadwick
gave a curious little jump when he saw Mrs Clayton Vernon coming out of
the station and towards his car. (Her horses must have been still lame
or her coachman still laid aside.) She boarded the car, smiling with a
quite particular effulgence upon Thomas Chadwick, and he greeted her
with what he imagined to be the true antique chivalry. And she sat down
in the corner opposite to Paul Ford, beaming.
When Thomas Chadwick came, with great respect, to demand her fare, she
"By the way, Chadwick, it's such a short distance from the station to
the town, I think I should have walked and saved a penny. But I wanted
to speak to you. I wasn't aware, last Tuesday, that your other daughter
got married last year and now has a dear little baby. I gave you
threepenny bits each for those dear little twins. Here's another one for
the other baby, I think I ought to treat all your grandchildren
alike--otherwise your daughters might be jealous of each other"--she
smiled archly, to indicate that this passage was humorous--"and there's
no knowing what might happen!"
Mrs Clayton Vernon always enunciated her remarks in a loud and clear
voice, so that Paul Ford could not have failed to hear every word. A
faint but beatific smile concealed itself roguishly about Paul Ford's
mouth, and he looked with a rapt expression on an advertisement above
Mrs Clayton Vernon's head, which assured him that, with a certain soap,
washing-day became a pleasure.
Thomas Chadwick might have flung the threepenny bit into the road. He
might have gone off into language unseemly in a tram-conductor and a
grandfather. He might have snatched Mrs Clayton Vernon's bonnet off and
stamped on it. He might have killed Paul Ford (for it was certainly Paul
Ford with whom he was the most angry). But he did none of these things.
He said, in his best unctuous voice:
"Thank you, m'm, I'm sure!"
And, at the journey's end, when the passengers descended, he stared a
harsh stare, without winking, full in the face of Paul Ford, and he
courteously came to the aid of Mrs Clayton Vernon. He had proclaimed Mrs
Clayton Vernon to be his ideal of a true lady, and he was heroically
loyal to his ideal, a martyr to the cause he had espoused. Such a man
was not fitted to be a tram-conductor, and the Five Towns Electric
Traction Company soon discovered his unfitness--so that he was again
thrown upon the world.
UNDER THE CLOCK
It was one of those swift and violent marriages which occur when the
interested parties are so severely wounded by the arrow of love that
only immediate and constant mutual nursing will save them from a fatal
issue. (So they think.) Hence when Annie came from Sneyd to inhabit the
house in Birches Street, Hanbridge, which William Henry Brachett had
furnished for her, she really knew very little of William Henry save
that he was intensely lovable, and that she was intensely in love with
him. Their acquaintance extended over three months; And she knew equally
little of the manners and customs of the Five Towns. For although Sneyd
lies but a few miles from the immense seat of pottery manufacture, it is
not as the Five Towns are. It is not feverish, grimy, rude, strenuous,
Bacchic, and wicked. It is a model village, presided over by the
Countess of Chell. The people of the Five Towns go there on Thursday
afternoons (eightpence, third class return), as if they were going to
Paradise. Thus, indeed, it was that William Henry had met Annie,
daughter of a house over whose door were writ the inviting words, "Tea
and Hot Water Provided."
There were a hundred and forty-two residences in Birches Street,
Hanbridge, all alike, differing only in the degree of cleanliness of
their window-curtains. Two front doors together, and then two
bow-windows, and then two front doors again, and so on all up the street
and all down the street. Life was monotonous, but on the whole
respectable. Annie came of an economical family, and, previous to the
wedding, she had been afraid that William Henry's ideal of economy
might fall short of her own. In this she was mistaken. In fact, she was
startlingly mistaken. It was some slight shock to her to be informed by
William Henry that owing to slackness of work the honeymoon ought to be
reduced to two days. Still, she agreed to the proposal with joy. (For
her life was going to be one long honeymoon.) When they returned from
the brief honeymoon, William Henry took eight shillings from her, out of
the money he had given her, and hurried off to pay it into the Going
Away Club, and there was scarcity for a few days. This happened in
March. She had then only a vague idea of what the Going Away Club was.
But from William Henry's air, and his fear lest he might be late, she
gathered that the Going Away Club must be a very important institution.
Brachett, for a living, painted blue Japanese roses on vases at Gimson &
Nephews' works. He was nearly thirty years of age, and he had never done
anything else but paint blue Japanese roses on vases. When the demand
for blue Japanese roses on vases was keen, he could earn what is called
"good money"--that is to say, quite fifty shillings a week. But the
demand for blue Japanese roses on vases was subject to the caprices of
markets--especially Colonial markets--and then William Henry had
undesired days of leisure, and brought home less than fifty shillings,
sometimes considerably less. Still, the household over which Annie
presided was a superiorly respectable household and William Henry's
income was, week in, week out, one of the princeliest in the street; and
certainly Annie's window-curtains, and her gilt-edged Bible and
artificial flowers displayed on a small table between the
window-curtains was not to be surpassed. Further, William was "steady,"
and not quite raving mad about football matches; nor did he bet on
horses, dogs or pigeons.
Nevertheless Annie--although, mind you, extraordinarily happy--found
that her new existence, besides being monotonous, was somewhat hard,
narrow and lacking in spectacular delights. Whenever there was any
suggestion of spending more money than usual, William Henry's fierce
chin would stick out in a formidable way, and his voice would become
harsh, and in the result more money than usual was not spent. His
notion of an excursion, of a wild and costly escapade, was a walk in
Hanbridge Municipal Park and two shandy-gaffs at the Corporation
Refreshment House therein. Now, although the Hanbridge Park is a
wonderful triumph of grass-seed and terra-cotta over cinder-heaps and
shard-rucks, although it is a famous exemplar to other boroughs, it is
not precisely the Vale of Llangollen, nor the Lake District. It is the
least bit in the world tedious, and by the sarcastic has been likened to
a cemetery. And it seemed to symbolize Annie's life for her, in its
cramped and pruned and smoky regularity. She began to look upon the Five
Towns as a sort of prison from which she could never, never escape.
I say she was extraordinarily happy; and yet she was unhappy too. In a
word, she resembled all the rest of us--she had "somehow expected
something different" from what life actually gave her. She was
astonished that her William Henry seemed to be so content with things as
they were. Far, now, from any apprehension of his extravagance, she
wished secretly that he would be a little more dashing. He did not seem
to feel the truth that, though prudence is all very well, you can only
live your life once, and that when you are dead you are dead. He did not
seem to understand the value of pleasure. Few people in the Five Towns
did seem to understand the value of pleasure. He had no distractions
except his pipe. Existence was a harsh and industrious struggle, a
series of undisturbed daily habits. No change, no gaiety, no freak!
Grim, changeless monotony!
And once, in July, William Henry abandoned even his pipe for ten days.
Work, and therefore pay, had been irregular, but that was not in itself
a reason sufficient for cutting off a luxury that cost only a shilling a
week. It was the Going Away Club that swallowed up the tobacco money.
Nothing would induce William Henry to get into arrears with his payments
to that mysterious Club. He would have sacrificed not merely his pipe,
but his dinner--nay, he would have sacrificed his wife's dinner--to the
greedy maw of that Club. Annie hated the Club nearly as passionately as
she loved William Henry.
Then on the first of August (a Tuesday) William Henry came into the
house and put down twenty sovereigns in a row on the kitchen table. He
did not say much, being (to Annie's mild regret) of a secretive
Annie had never seen so much money in a row before.
"What's that?" she said weakly.
"That?" said William Henry. "That's th' going away money."
A flat barrow at the door, a tin trunk and two bags on the barrow, and a
somewhat ragged boy between the handles of the barrow! The curtains
removed from the windows, and the blinds drawn! A double turn of the key
in the portal! And away they went, the ragged boy having previously spit
on his hands in order to get a grip of the barrow. Thus they arrived at
Hanbridge Railway Station, which was a tempest of traffic that Saturday
before Bank Holiday. The whole of the Five Towns appeared to be going
away. The first thing that startled Annie was that William Henry gave
the ragged boy a shilling, quite as much as the youth could have earned
in a couple of days in a regular occupation. William Henry was also
lavish with a porter. When they arrived, after a journey of ten minutes,
at Knype, where they had to change for Liverpool, he was again lavish
with a porter. And the same thing happened at Crewe, where they had to
change once more for Liverpool. They had time at Crewe for an expensive
coloured drink. On the long seething platform William Henry gave Annie
all his money to keep.
"Here, lass!" he said. "This'll be safer with you than with me."
She was flattered.
When it came in, the Liverpool train was crammed to the doors. And two
hundred people pumped themselves into it, as air is forced into a
pneumatic tyre. The entire world seemed to be going to Liverpool. It was
uncomfortable, but it was magnificent. It was joy, it was life. The
chimneys and kilns of the Five Towns were far away. And Annie, though in
a cold perspiration lest she might never see her tin trunk again, was
feverishly happy. At Liverpool William Henry demanded silver coins from
her. She had a glimpse of her trunk. Then they rattled and jolted and
whizzed in an omnibus to Prince's Landing Stage. And William Henry
demanded more coins from her. A great ship awaited them. Need it be said
that Douglas was their destination? The deck of the great ship was like
a market-place. Annie had never seen such a thing. They climbed up into
the market-place among the shouting, gesticulating crowd. There was a
real shop, at which William Henry commanded her to buy a hat-guard. The
hat-guard cost sixpence. At home sixpence was sixpence, and would buy
seven pounds of fine mealy potatoes; but here sixpence was
nothing--certainly it was not more than a halfpenny. They wandered and
found other shops. Annie could not believe that all those solid shops
and the whole market-place could move. And she was not surprised, a
little later, to see Prince's Landing Stage sliding away from the ship,
instead of the ship sliding away from Prince's Landing Stage. Then they
went underground, beneath the market-place, and Annie found marble
halls, colossal staircases, bookshops, trinket shops, highly-decorated
restaurants, glittering bars, and cushioned drawing-rooms. They had the
most exciting meal in the restaurant that Annie had ever had; also the
most expensive; the price of it indeed staggered her; still, William
Henry did not appear to mind that one meal should exceed the cost of two
days living in Birches Street. Then they went up into the market-place
again, and lo! the market-place had somehow of itself got into the
middle of the sea!
Before the end of the voyage they had tea at threepence a cup. Annie
reflected that the best "Home and Colonial" tea cost eighteenpence a
pound, and that a pound would make two hundred and twenty cups.
Similarly with the bread and butter which they ate, and the jam! But it
was glorious. Not the jam (which Annie could have bettered), but life!
Particularly as the sea was smooth! Presently she descried a piece of
chalk sticking up against the horizon, and it was Douglas lighthouse.
There followed six days of delirium, six days of the largest conceivable
existence. The holiday-makers stopped in a superb boarding-house on the
promenade, one of about a thousand superb boarding-houses. The day's
proceedings began at nine o'clock with a regal breakfast, partaken of at
a very long table which ran into a bow window. At nine o'clock, in all
the thousand boarding-houses, a crowd of hungry and excited men and
women sat down thus to a very long table, and consumed the same dishes,
that is to say, Manx herrings, and bacon and eggs, and jams. Everybody
ate as much as he could. William Henry was never content with less than
two herrings, two eggs, about four ounces of bacon, and as much jam as
would render a whole Board school sticky. And in four hours after that
he was ready for an enormous dinner, and so was she; and in five hours
after that they neither of them had the slightest disinclination for a
truly high and complex tea. Of course, the cost was fabulous.
Thirty-five shillings per week each. Annie would calculate that, with
thirty boarders and extras, the boarding-house was taking in money at
the rate of over forty pounds a week. She would also calculate that
about a hundred thousand herrings and ten million little bones were
swallowed in Douglas each day.
But the cost of the boarding-house was as naught. It was the flowing out
of coins between meals that deprived Annie of breath. They were always
doing something. Sailing in a boat! Rowing in a boat! Bathing! The Pier!
Sand minstrels! Excursions by brake, tram and train to Laxey, Ramsey,
Sulby Glen, Port Erin, Snaefell! Morning shows! Afternoon shows! Evening
shows! Circuses, music-halls, theatres, concerts! And then the public
balls, with those delicious tables in corners, lighted by Chinese
lanterns, where you sat down and drew strange liquids up straws. And it
all meant money. There were even places in Douglas where you couldn't
occupy a common chair for half a minute without paying for it. Each
night Annie went to bed exhausted with joy. On the second night she
counted the money in her bag, and said to William Henry:
"How much money do you think we've spent already? Just--"
"Don't tell me, lass!" he interrupted her curtly. "When I want to know,
I'll ask ye."
And on the fifth evening of this heaven he asked her:
"What'n ye got left?"
She informed him that she had five pounds and twopence left, of which
the boarding-house and tips would absorb four pounds.
"H'm!" he replied. "It's going to be a bit close."
On the seventh day they set sail. The dream was not quite over, but it
was nearly over. On the ship, when the porter had been discharged, she
had two and twopence, and William Henry had the return tickets. Still,
this poverty did not prevent William Henry from sitting down and
ordering a fine lunch for two (the sea being again smooth). Having
ordered it, he calmly told his wife that he had a sovereign in his
waistcoat pocket. A sovereign was endless riches. But it came to an end
during a long wait for the Five Towns train at Crewe. William Henry had
apparently decided to finish the holiday as he had begun it. And the two
and twopence also came to an end, as William Henry, suddenly remembering
the children of his brother, was determined to buy gifts for them on
Crewe platform. At Hanbridge man and wife had sixpence between them. And
the boy with the barrow, who had been summoned by a postcard, was not
visible. However, a cab was visible. William Henry took that cab.
"Shut up, lass!" he stopped her.
They plunged into the smoke and squalor of the Five Towns, and reached
Birches Street with pomp, while Annie wondered how William Henry would
contrive to get credit from a cabman. The entire street would certainly
gather round if there should be a scene.
"Just help us in with this trunk, wilt?" said William Henry to the
cabman. This, with sixpence in his pocket!
Then turning to his wife, he whispered:
"Lass, look under th' clock on th' mantelpiece in th' parlour. Ye'll
find six bob."
He explained to her later that prudent members of Going Away Clubs
always left money concealed behind them, as this was the sole way of
providing against a calamitous return. The pair existed on the remainder
of the six shillings and on credit for a week. William Henry became his
hard self again. The prison life was resumed. But Annie did not mind,
for she had lived for a week at the rate of a thousand a year. And in a
fortnight William Henry began grimly to pay his subscriptions to the
next year's Going Away Club.
THREE EPISODES IN THE LIFE OF MR COWLISHAW,
They all happened on the same day. And that day was a Saturday, the red
Saturday on which, in the unforgettable football match between Tottenham
Hotspur and the Hanbridge F.C. (formed regardless of expense in the
matter of professionals to take the place of the bankrupt Knype F.C.),
the referee would certainly have been murdered had not a Five Towns
crowd observed its usual miraculous self-restraint.
Mr Cowlishaw--aged twenty-four, a fair-haired bachelor with a weak
moustache--had bought the practice of the retired Mr Rapper, a dentist
of the very old school. He was not a native of the Five Towns. He came
from St Albans, and had done the deal through an advertisement in the
_Dentists' Guardian_, a weekly journal full of exciting interest to
dentists. Save such knowledge as he had gained during two preliminary
visits to the centre of the world's earthenware manufacture, he knew
nothing of the Five Towns; practically, he had everything to learn. And
one may say that the Five Towns is not a subject that can be "got up" in
His place of business--or whatever high-class dentists choose to call
it--in Crown Square was quite ready for him when he arrived on the
Friday night: specimen "uppers" and "lowers" and odd teeth shining in
their glass case, the new black-and-gold door-plate on the door, and
the electric filing apparatus which he had purchased, in the
operating-room. Nothing lacked there. But his private lodgings were not
ready; at least, they were not what he, with his finicking Albanian
notions, called ready, and, after a brief altercation with his landlady,
he went off with a bag to spend the night at the Turk's Head Hotel. The
Turk's Head is the best hotel in Hanbridge, not excepting the new Hotel
Metropole (Limited, and German-Swiss waiters). The proof of its
excellence is that the proprietor, Mr Simeon Clowes, was then the Mayor
of Hanbridge, and Mrs Clowes one of the acknowledged leaders of
Mr Cowlishaw went to bed. He was a good sleeper; at least, he was what
is deemed a good sleeper in St Albans. He retired about eleven o'clock,
and requested one of the barmaids to instruct the boots to arouse him at
7 a.m. She faithfully promised to do so.
He had not been in bed five minutes before he heard and felt an
earthquake. This earthquake seemed to have been born towards the
north-east, in the direction of Crown Square, and the shock seemed to
pass southwards in the direction of Knype. The bed shook; the basin and
ewer rattled together like imperfect false teeth in the mouth of an
arrant coward; the walls of the hotel shook. Then silence! No cries of
alarm, no cries for help, no lamentations of ruin! Doubtless, though
earthquakes are rare in England, the whole town had been overthrown and
engulfed, and only Mr Cowlishaw's bed left standing. Conquering his
terror, Mr Cowlishaw put his head under the clothes and waited.
He had not been in bed ten minutes before he heard and felt another
earthquake. This earthquake seemed to have been born towards the
north-east, in the direction of Crown Square, and to be travelling
southwards; and Mr Cowlishaw noticed that it was accompanied by a
strange sound of heavy bumping. He sprang courageously out of bed and
rushed to the window. And it so happened that he caught the earthquake
in the very act of flight. It was one of the new cars of the Five Towns
Electric Traction Company, Limited, guaranteed to carry fifty-two
passengers. The bumping was due to the fact that the driver, by a too
violent application of the brake, had changed the form of two of its
wheels from circular to oval. Such accidents do happen, even to the
newest cars, and the inhabitants of the Five Towns laugh when they hear
a bumpy car as they laugh at _Charley's Aunt_. The car shot past,
flashing sparks from its overhead wire and flaming red and green lights
of warning, and vanished down the main thoroughfare. And gradually the
ewer and basin ceased their colloquy. The night being the night of the
29th December, and exceedingly cold, Mr Cowlishaw went back to bed.
"Well," he muttered, "this is a bit thick, this is!" (They use such
language in cathedral towns.) "However, let's hope it's the last."
It was not the last. Exactly, it was the last but twenty-three.
Regularly at intervals of five minutes the Five Towns Electric Traction
Company, Limited, sent one of their dreadful engines down the street,
apparently with the object of disintegrating all the real property in
the neighbourhood into its original bricks. At the seventeenth time Mr
Cowlishaw trembled to hear a renewal of the bump-bump-bump. It was the
oval-wheeled car, which had been to Longshaw and back. He recognized it
as an old friend. He wondered whether he must expect it to pass a third
time. However, it did not pass a third time. After several clocks in and
out of the hotel had more or less agreed on the fact that it was one
o'clock, there was a surcease of earthquakes. Mr Cowlishaw dared not
hope that earthquakes were over. He waited in strained attention during
quite half an hour, expectant of the next earthquake. But it did not
come. Earthquakes were, indeed, done with till the morrow.
It was about two o'clock when his nerves were sufficiently
tranquillized to enable him to envisage the possibility of going to
sleep. And he was just slipping, gliding, floating off when he was
brought back to realities by a terrific explosion of laughter at the
head of the stairs outside his bedroom door. The building rang like the
inside of a piano when you strike a wire directly. The explosion was
followed by low rumblings of laughter and then by a series of jolly,
hearty "Good-nights." He recognized the voices as being those of a
group of commercial travellers and two actors (of the Hanbridge Theatre
Royal's specially selected London Pantomime Company), who had been
pointed out to him with awe and joy by the aforesaid barmaid. They were
telling each other stories in the private bar, and apparently they had
been telling each other stories ever since. And the truth is that the
atmosphere of the Turk's Head, where commercial travellers and actors
forgather every night except perhaps Sundays, contains more good stories
to the cubic inch than any other resort in the county of Staffordshire.
A few seconds after the explosion there was a dropping fusillade--the
commercial travellers and the actors shutting their doors. And about
five minutes later there was another and more complicated dropping
fusillade--the commercial travellers and actors opening their doors,
depositing their boots (two to each soul), and shutting their doors.
And then out of the silence the terrified Mr Cowlishaw heard arising and
arising a vast and fearful breathing, as of some immense prehistoric
monster in pain. At first he thought he was asleep and dreaming. But he
was not. This gigantic sighing continued regularly, and Mr Cowlishaw had
never heard anything like it before. It banished sleep.
After about two hours of its awful uncanniness, Mr Cowlishaw caught the
sound of creeping footsteps in the corridor and fumbling noises. He got
up again. He was determined, though he should have to interrogate
burglars and assassins, to discover the meaning of that horrible
sighing. He courageously pulled his door open, and saw an aproned man
with a candle marking boots with chalk, and putting them into a box.
"I say!" said Mr Cowlishaw.
"Beg yer pardon, sir," the man whispered. "I'm getting forward with my
work so as I can go to th' fut-baw match this afternoon. I hope I didn't
wake ye, sir."
"Look here!" said Mr Cowlishaw. "What's that appalling noise that's
going on all the time?"
"Noise, sir?" whispered the man, astonished.
"Yes," Mr Cowlishaw insisted. "Like something breathing. Can't you hear
The man cocked his ears attentively. The noise veritably boomed in Mr
"Oh! _That_!" said the man at length. "That's th' blast furnaces at
Cauldon Bar Ironworks. Never heard that afore, sir? Why, it's like that
every night. Now you mention it, I _do_ hear it! It's a good couple o'
miles off, though, that is!"
Mr Cowlishaw closed his door.
At five o'clock, when he had nearly, but not quite, forgotten the
sighing, his lifelong friend, the oval-wheeled electric car, bumped and
quaked through the street, and the ewer and basin chattered together
busily, and the seismic phenomena definitely recommenced. The night was
still black, but the industrial day had dawned in the Five Towns. Long
series of carts without springs began to jolt past under the window of
Mr Cowlishaw, and then there was a regular multitudinous clacking of
clogs and boots on the pavement. A little later the air was rent by
first one steam-whistle, and then another, and then another, in divers
tones announcing that it was six o'clock, or five minutes past, or
half-past, or anything. The periodicity of earthquakes had by this time
quickened to five minutes, as at midnight. A motor-car emerged under
the archway of the hotel, and remained stationary outside with its
engine racing. And amid the earthquakes, the motor-car, the carts, the
clogs and boots, and the steam muezzins calling the faithful to work, Mr
Cowlishaw could still distinguish the tireless, monstrous sighing of the
Cauldon Bar blast furnaces. And, finally, he heard another sound. It
came from the room next to his, and, when he heard it, exhausted though
he was, exasperated though he was, he burst into laughter, so comically
did it strike him.
It was an alarm-clock going off in the next room.
And, further, when he arrived downstairs, the barmaid, sweet,
conscientious little thing, came up to him and said, "I'm so sorry, sir.
I quite forgot to tell the boots to call you!"
That afternoon he sat in his beautiful new surgery and waited for dental
sufferers to come to him from all quarters of the Five Towns. It needs
not to be said that nobody came. The mere fact that a new dentist has
"set up" in a district is enough to cure all the toothache for miles
around. The one martyr who might, perhaps, have paid him a visit and a
fee did not show herself. This martyr was Mrs Simeon Clowes, the
mayoress. By a curious chance, he had observed, during his short sojourn
at the Turk's Head, that the landlady thereof was obviously in pain from
her teeth, or from a particular tooth. She must certainly have informed
herself as to his name and condition, and Mr Cowlishaw thought that it
would have been a graceful act on her part to patronize him, as he had
patronized the Turk's Head. But no! Mayoresses, even the most tactful,
do not always do the right thing at the right moment.
Besides, she had doubtless gone, despite toothache, to the football
match with the Mayor, the new club being under the immediate patronage
of his Worship. All the potting world had gone to the football match.
Mr Cowlishaw would have liked to go, but it would have been madness to
quit the surgery on his opening day. So he sat and yawned, and peeped at
the crowd crowding to the match at two o'clock, and crowding back in the
gloom at four o'clock; and at a quarter past five he was reading a full
description of the carnage and the heroism in the football edition of
the _Signal_. Though Hanbridge had been defeated, it appeared from the
_Signal_ that Hanbridge was the better team, and that Rannoch, the new
Scotch centre-forward, had fought nobly for the town which had bought
him so dear.
Mr Cowlishaw was just dozing over the _Signal_ when there happened a
ring at his door. He did not precipitate himself upon the door. With
beating heart he retained his presence of mind, and said to himself that
of course it could not possibly be a client. Even dentists who bought a
practice ready-made never had a client on their first day. He heard the
attendant answer the ring, and then he heard the attendant saying, "I'll
It was, in fact, a patient. The servant, having asked Mr Cowlishaw if Mr
Cowlishaw was at liberty, introduced the patient to the Presence, and
the Presence trembled.
The patient was a tall, stiff, fair man of about thirty, with a tousled
head and inelegant but durable clothing. He had a drooping moustache,
which prevented Mr Cowlishaw from adding his teeth up instantly.
"Good afternoon, mister," said the patient, abruptly.
"Good afternoon," said Mr Cowlishaw. "Have you ... Can I ..."
Strange; in the dental hospital and school there had been no course of
study in the art of pattering to patients!
"It's like this," said the patient, putting his hand in his waistcoat
"Will you kindly sit down," said Mr Cowlishaw, turning up the gas, and
pointing to the chair of chairs.
"It's like this," repeated the patient, doggedly. "You see these three
He displayed three very real teeth in a piece of reddened paper. As a
spectacle, they were decidedly not appetizing, but Mr Cowlishaw was
"Really!" said Mr Cowlishaw, impartially, gazing on them.
"They're my teeth," said the patient. And thereupon he opened his mouth
wide, and displayed, not without vanity, a widowed gum. "'Ont 'eeth," he
exclaimed, keeping his mouth open and omitting preliminary consonants.
"Yes," said Mr Cowlishaw, with a dry inflection. "I saw that they were
upper incisors. How did this come about? An accident, I suppose?"
"Well," said the man, "you may call it an accident; I don't. My name's
Rannoch; centre-forward. Ye see? Were ye at the match?"
Mr Cowlishaw understood. He had no need of further explanation; he had
read it all in the _Signal_. And so the chief victim of Tottenham
Hotspur had come to him, just him! This was luck! For Rannoch was, of
course, the most celebrated man in the Five Towns, and the idol of the
populace. He might have been M.P. had he chosen.
"Dear me!" Mr Cowlishaw sympathized, and he said again, pointing more
firmly to the chair of chairs, "Will you sit down?"
"I had 'em all picked up," Mr Rannoch proceeded, ignoring the
suggestion. "Because a bit of a scheme came into my head. And that's why
I've come to you, as you're just commencing dentist. Supposing you put
these teeth on a bit of green velvet in the case in your window, with a
big card to say as they're guaranteed to be my genuine teeth, knocked
out by that blighter of a Tottenham half-back, you'll have such a crowd
as was never seen around your door. All the Five Towns'll come to see
'em. It'll be the biggest advertisement that either you or any other
dentist ever had. And you might put a little notice in the _Signal_
saying that my teeth are on view at your premises; it would only cost ye
a shilling.... I should expect ye to furnish me with new teeth for
nothing, ye see."
In his travels throughout England Mr Rannoch had lost most of his Scotch
accent, but he had not lost his Scotch skill in the art and craft of
trying to pay less than other folks for whatever he might happen to
Assuredly the idea was an idea of genius. As an advertisement it would
be indeed colossal and unique. Tens of thousands would gaze spellbound
for hours at those relics of their idol, and every gazer would
inevitably be familiarized with the name and address of Mr Cowlishaw,
and with the fact that Mr Cowlishaw was dentist-in-chief to the heroical
Rannoch. Unfortunately, in dentistry there is etiquette. And the
etiquette of dentistry is as terrible, as unbending, as the etiquette of
the Court of Austria.
Mr Cowlishaw knew that he could not do this thing without sinning
"I'm sorry I can't fall in with your scheme," said he, "but I can't."
"But, _man_!" protested the Scotchman, "it's the greatest scheme that
"Yes," said Mr Cowlishaw, "but it would be unprofessional."
Mr Rannoch was himself a professional. "Oh, well," he said
sarcastically, "if you're one of those amateurs--"
"I'll put you the job in as low as possible," said Mr Cowlishaw,
But Scotchmen are not to be persuaded like that.
Mr Rannoch wrapped up his teeth and left.
What finally happened to those teeth Mr Cowlishaw never knew. But he
satisfied himself that they were not advertised in the _Signal_.
Now, just as Mr Cowlishaw was personally conducting to the door the
greatest goal-getter that the Five Towns had ever seen there happened
another ring, and thus it fell out that Mr Cowlishaw found himself in
the double difficulty of speeding his first visitor and welcoming his
second all in the same breath. It is true that the second might imagine
that the first was a client, but then the aspect of Mr Rannoch's mouth,
had it caught the eye of the second, was not reassuring. However, Mr
Rannoch's mouth happily did not catch the eye of the second.
The second was a visitor beyond Mr Cowlishaw's hopes, no other than Mrs
Simeon Clowes, landlady of the Turk's Head and Mayoress of Hanbridge; a
tall and well-built, handsome, downright woman, of something more than
fifty and something less than sixty; the mother of five married
daughters, the aunt of fourteen nephews and nieces, the grandam of
seven, or it might be eight, assorted babies; in short, a lady of vast
influence. After all, then, she had come to him! If only he could please
her, he regarded his succession to his predecessor as definitely
established and his fortune made. No person in Hanbridge with any
yearnings for style would dream, he trusted, of going to any other
dentist than the dentist patronized by Mrs Clowes.
She eyed him interrogatively and firmly. She probed into his character,
and he felt himself pierced.
"You _are_ Mr Cowlishaw?" she began.
"Good afternoon, Mrs Clowes," he replied. "Yes, I am. Can I be of
service to you?"
"That depends," she said.
He asked her to step in, and in she stepped.
"Have you had any experience in taking teeth out?" she asked in the
surgery. Her hand stroked her left cheek.
"Oh yes," he said eagerly. "But, of course, we try to avoid extraction
as much as possible."
"If you're going to talk like that," she said coldly, and even bitterly,
"I'd better go."
He wondered what she was driving at.
"Naturally," he said, summoning all his latent powers of diplomacy,
"there are cases in which extraction is unfortunately necessary."
"How many teeth have you extracted?" she inquired.
"I really couldn't say," he lied. "Very many."
"Because," she said, "you don't look as if you could say 'Bo!' to a
He observed a gleam in her eye.
"I think I can say 'Bo!' to a goose," he said. She laughed.
"Don't fancy, Mr Cowlishaw, that if I laugh I'm not in the most horrible
pain. I am. When I tell you I couldn't go with Mr Clowes to the match--"
"Will you take this seat?" he said, indicating the chair of chairs;
"then I can examine."
She obeyed. "I do hate the horrid, velvety feeling of these chairs," she
said; "it's most creepy."
"I shall have to trouble you to take your bonnet off."
So she removed her bonnet, and he took it as he might have taken his
firstborn, and laid it gently to rest on his cabinet. Then he pushed the
gas-bracket so that the light came through the large crystal sphere, and
made the Mayoress blink.
"Now," he said soothingly, "kindly open your mouth--wide."
Like all women of strong and generous character, Mrs Simeon Clowes had a
large mouth. She obediently extended it to dimensions which must be
described as august, at the same time pointing with her gloved and
chubby finger to a particular part of it.
"Yes, yes," murmured Mr Cowlishaw, assuming a tranquillity which he did
not feel. This was the first time that he had ever looked into the mouth
of a Mayoress, and the prospect troubled him.
He put his little ivory-handled mirror into that mouth and studied its
"I see," he said, withdrawing the mirror. "Exposed nerve. Quite simple.
Merely wants stopping. When I've done with it the tooth will be as sound
as ever it was. All your other teeth are excellent."
Mrs Clowes arose violently out of the chair.
"Now just listen to me, please," she said. "I don't want any stopping; I
won't have any stopping; I want that tooth out. I've already quarrelled
with one dentist this afternoon because he refused to take it out. I
came to you because you're young, and I thought you'd be more
reasonable. Surely a body can decide whether she'll have a tooth out or
not! It's my tooth. What's a dentist for? In my young days dentists
never did anything else but take teeth out. All I wish to know is, will
you take it out or will you not?"
"It's really a pity--"
"That's my affair, isn't it?" she stopped him, and moved towards her
"If you insist," he said quickly, "I will extract."
"Well," she said, "if you don't call this insisting, what do you call
insisting? Let me tell you I didn't have a wink of sleep last night!"
"Neither did I, in your confounded hotel!" he nearly retorted; but
thought better of it.
The Mayoress resumed her seat, taking her gloves off.
"It's decided then?" she questioned.
"Certainly," said he. "Is your heart good?"
"Is my heart good?" she repeated. "Young man, what business is that of
yours? It's my tooth I want you to deal with, not my heart."
"I must give you gas," said Mr Cowlishaw, faintly.
"Gas!" she exclaimed. "You'll give me no gas, young man. No! My heart is
not good. I should die under gas. I couldn't bear the idea of gas. You
must take it out without gas, and you mustn't hurt me. I'm a perfect
baby, and you mustn't on any account hurt me." The moment was crucial.
Supposing that he refused--a promising career might be nipped in the
bud; would, undoubtedly, be nipped in the bud. Whereas, if he accepted
the task, the patronage of the aristocracy of Hanbridge was within his
grasp. But the tooth was colossal, monumental. He estimated the length
of its triple root at not less than 0.75 inch.
"Very well, madam," he said, for he was a brave youngster.
But he was in a panic. He felt as though he were about to lead the
charge of the Light Brigade. He wanted a stiff drink. (But dentists may
not drink.) If he failed to wrench the monument out at the first pull
the result would be absolute disaster; in an instant he would have
ruined the practice which had cost him so dear. And could he hope not to
fail with the first pull? At best he would hurt her indescribably.
However, having consented, he was obliged to go through with the affair.
He took every possible precaution. He chose his most vicious instrument.
He applied to the vicinity of the tooth the very latest substitute for
cocaine; he prepared cotton wool and warm water in a glass. And at
length, when he could delay the fatal essay no longer, he said:
"Now, I think we are ready."
"You won't hurt me?" she asked anxiously.
"Not a bit," he replied, with an admirable simulation of gaiety.
"Because if you do--"
He laughed. But it was a hysterical laugh. All his nerves were on end.
And he was very conscious of having had no sleep during the previous
night. He had a sick feeling. The room swam. He collected himself with a
"When I count one," he said, "I shall take hold; when I count two you
must hold very tight to the chair; and when I count three, out it will
Then he encircled her head with his left arm--brutally, as dentists
always are brutal in the thrilling crisis. "Wider!" he shouted.
And he took possession of that tooth with his fiendish contrivance of
He didn't know what he was doing.
There was no three. There was a slight shriek and a thud on the floor.
Mrs Simeon Clowes jumped up and briskly rang a bell. The attendant
rushed in. The attendant saw Mrs Clowes gurgling into a handkerchief,
which she pressed to her mouth with one hand, while with the other, in
which she held her bonnet, she was fanning the face of Mr Cowlishaw. Mr
Cowlishaw had fainted from nervous excitement under fatigue. But his
unconscious hand held the forceps; and the forceps, victorious, held the
"O-o-pen the window," spluttered Mrs Clowes to the attendant. "He's gone
off; he'll come to in a minute."
She was flattered. Mr Cowlishaw was for ever endeared to Mrs Clowes by
this singular proof of her impressiveness. And a woman like that can
make the fortune of half a dozen dentists.
CATCHING THE TRAIN
Arthur Cotterill awoke. It was not exactly with a start that he awoke,
but rather with a swift premonition of woe and disaster. The strong,
bright glare from the patent incandescent street lamp outside, which the
lavish Corporation of Bursley kept burning at the full till long after
dawn in winter, illuminated the room (through the green blind) almost as
well as it illuminated Trafalgar Road. He clearly distinguished every
line of the form of his brother Simeon, fast and double-locked in sleep
in the next bed. He saw also the open trunk by the dressing-table in
front of the window. Then he looked at the clock on the mantelpiece, the
silent witness of the hours. And a pair of pincers seemed to clutch his
heart, and an anvil to drop on his stomach and rest heavily there,
producing an awful nausea. Why had he not looked at the clock before?
Was it possible that he had been awake even five seconds without looking
at the clock--the clock upon which it seemed that his very life, more
than his life, depended? The clock showed ten minutes to seven, and the
train went at ten minutes past. And it was quite ten minutes' walk to
the station, and he had to dress, and button those new boots, and finish
packing--and the porter from the station was late in coming for the
trunk! But perhaps the porter had already been; perhaps he had rung and
rung, and gone away in despair of making himself heard (for Mrs Hopkins
slept at the back of the house).
Something had to be done. Yet what could he do with those hard pincers
pinching his soft, yielding heart, and that terrible anvil pressing on
his stomach? He might even now, by omitting all but the stern
necessities of his toilet, and by abandoning the trunk and his brother,
just catch the train, the indispensable train. But somehow he could not
move. Yet he was indubitably awake.
"Simeon!" he cried at length, and sat up.
The younger Cotterill did not stir.
"Sim!" he cried again, and, leaning over, shook the bed.
"What's up?" Simeon demanded, broad awake in a second, and, as usual,
"We've missed the train! It's ten--eight--minutes to seven," said
Arthur, in a voice which combined reproach and terror. And he sprang out
of bed and began with hysteric fury to sort out his garments.
Simeon turned slowly on his side and drew a watch from under his pillow.
Putting it close to his face, Simeon could just read the dial.
"It's all right," he said. "Still, you'd better get up. It's eight
minutes to six. We've got an hour and eighteen minutes."
"What do you mean? That clock was right last night."
"Yes. But I altered it."
"After you got into bed."
"I never saw you."
"No. But I altered it."
"To be on the safe side."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"If I'd told you, I might just as well have not altered it. The man who
puts a clock on and then goes gabbling all over the house about what he
has done is an ass; in fact, to call him an ass is to flatter him."
Arthur tried to be angry.
"That's all very well--" he began to grumble.
But he could not be angry. The pincers and the anvil had suddenly ceased
their torment. He was free. He was not a disgraced man. He would catch
the train easily. All would be well. All would be as the practical
Simeon had arranged that it should be. And in advancing the clock Simeon
had acted for the best. Of course, it _was_ safer to be on the safe
side! In an affair such as that in which he was engaged, he felt, and he
honestly admitted to himself, that he would have been nowhere without
"Light the stove first, man," Simeon enjoined him. "There's been a
change in the weather, I bet. It's as cold as the very deuce."
Yes, it was very cold. Arthur now noticed the cold. Strange--or rather
not strange--that he had not noticed it before! He lit the gas stove,
which exploded with its usual disconcerting _plop_, and a marvellously
agreeable warmth began to charm his senses. He continued his dressing as
near as possible to the source of this exquisite warmth. Then Simeon, in
his leisurely manner, arose out of bed without a word, put his feet into
slippers and lit the gas.
"I never thought of that," said Arthur, laughing nervously.
"Shows what a state you're in," said Simeon.
Simeon went to the window and peeped out into the silence of Trafalgar
"Slight mist," he observed.
Arthur felt a faint return of the pincers and anvil.
"But it will clear off," Simeon added.
Then Simeon put on a dressing-gown and padded out of the room, and
Arthur heard him knock at another door and call:
"Mrs Hopkins, Mrs Hopkins!" And then the sound of a door opening.
"She was dressed and just going downstairs," said Simeon when he
returned to their bedroom. "Breakfast ready in ten minutes. She set the
table last night. I told her to."
"Good!" Arthur murmured.
At sixteen minutes past six they were both dressed, and Simeon was
showing Arthur that Simeon alone knew how to pack a trunk. At twenty
minutes past six the trunk was packed, locked and strapped.
"What about getting the confounded thing downstairs?" Arthur asked.
"When the porter comes," said Simeon, "he and I will do that. It's too
heavy for you to handle."
At six twenty-one they were having breakfast in the little dining-room,
by the heat of another gas-stove. And Arthur felt that all was well, and
that in postponing their departure till that morning in order not to
upset the immemorial Christmas dinner of their Aunt Sarah, they had done
rightly. At half-past six they had, between them, drunk five cups of tea
and eaten four eggs, four slices of bacon, and about a pound and a half
of bread. Simeon, with what was surely an exaggeration of
imperturbability, charged his pipe, and began to smoke. They had forty
minutes in which to catch the Loop-Line train, even if it was prompt.
There would then be forty minutes to wait at Knype for the London
express, which arrived at Euston considerably before noon. After which
there would be a clear ninety minutes before the business itself--and
less than a quarter of a mile to walk! Yes, there was a rich and
generous margin for all conceivable delays and accidents.
"The porter ought to be coming," said Simeon. It was twenty minutes to
seven, and he was brushing his hat.
Now such a remark from that personification of calm, that living denial
of worry, Simeon, was decidedly unsettling to Arthur. By chance, Mrs
Hopkins came into the room just then to assure herself that the young
men whose house she kept desired nothing.
"Mrs Hopkins," Simeon asked, "you didn't forget to call at the station
"Oh no, Mr Simeon," said she; "I saw the second porter, Merrith. He
knows me. At least, I know his mother--known her forty year--and he
promised me he wouldn't forget. Besides, he never has forgot, has he? I
told him particular to bring his barrow."
It was true the porter never had forgotten! And many times had he
transported Simeon's luggage to Bleakridge Station. Simeon did a good
deal of commercial travelling for the firm of A. & S. Cotterill, teapot
makers, Bursley. In many commercial hotels he was familiarly known as
The brothers were reassured by Mrs Hopkins. There was half an hour to
the time of the train--and the station only ten minutes off. Then the
chiming clock in the hall struck the third quarter.
"That clock right?" Arthur nervously inquired, assuming his overcoat.
"It's a minute late," said Simeon, assuming _his_ overcoat.
And at that word "late," the pincers and the anvil revisited Arthur.
Even the confidence of Mrs Hopkins in the porter was shaken. Arthur
looked at Simeon, depending on him. It was imperative that they should
catch the train, and it was imperative that the trunk should catch the
train. Everything depended on a porter. Arthur felt that all his future
career, his happiness, his honour, his life depended on a porter. And,
after all, even porters at a pound a week are human. Therefore, Arthur
looked at Simeon.
Simeon walked through the kitchen into the backyard. In a shed there an
old barrow was lying. He drew out the barrow, and ticklishly wheeled it
into the house, as far as the foot of the stairs.
"Mrs Hopkins," he called. "And you too!" he glanced at Arthur.
"What are you going to do?" Arthur demanded.
"Wheel the trunk to the station myself, of course," Simeon replied. "If
we meet the porter on the way, so much the better for us ... and so much
the worse for him!" he added.
It was just as dark as though it had been midnight--dark and excessively
cold; not a ray of hope in the sky; not a sign of life in the street.
All Bursley, and, indeed, all the Five Towns, were sleeping off the
various consequences of Christmas on the human frame. Trafalgar Road,
with its double row of lamps, each exactly like that one in front of the
house of the Cotterills, stretched downwards into the dead heart of
Bursley, and upwards over the brow of the hill into space. And although
Arthur Cotterill knew Trafalgar Road as well as Mrs Hopkins knew the
hundred and twenty-first Psalm, the effect of the scene on him was most
uncanny. He watched Simeon persuade the loaded barrow down the step into
the tiny front garden, not daring to help him, because Simeon did not
like to be helped by clumsy people in delicate operations. Mrs Hopkins
was rapidly pouring all the goodness of her soul into his ear, when
Simeon and the barrow reached the pavement, and Simeon staggered and
"Look out, Arthur," Simeon cried. "The road's like glass. It's rained in
the night, and now it's freezing. Come along."
Arthur bade adieu to Mrs Hopkins.
"Eh, Mr Arthur," said she. "Things'll be different when ye come back,
this time a month."
He said nothing. The pincers and the anvil were at him again. He thought
of falls, torn garments, broken legs.
Simeon lifted the arms of the barrow, and then dropped them.
"Have you got it?" he demanded of Arthur.
"Yes," said Arthur, comprehending.
"Are you sure? Show it me. Better give it me. It will be safer with me."
Arthur unbuttoned his overcoat, took off his left glove, and drew from
one of his pockets a small, bright object, which shone under the street
lamp. Simeon took it silently. Then he definitely seized the arms of the
barrow, and the procession started up the street.
No time had been lost, for Simeon had an extraordinary gift of celerity.
It was eleven minutes to seven. Nevertheless, Arthur felt the pincers,
and the feel of the pincers made him look at his watch.
"See here," said Simeon, briefly. "You needn't worry. _We shall catch
that train_. We've got twenty minutes, and we shall get to the station
in nine." The exertion of wheeling the barrow over what was practically
a sheet of rough ice made him speak in short gasps.
Impossible for the pincers and the anvil to remain in face of that
assured, almost god-like tone!
"Good!" murmured Arthur. "By Jove, but it's cold though!"
"I've never been hotter in my life," said Simeon, puffing. "Except in my
"Can't I take it for a bit?"
"No, you can't," said Simeon. At the robust finality of the refusal
Arthur laughed. Then Simeon laughed. The party became gay. The pincers
and the anvil were gone for ever. Simeon turned gingerly into Pollard
Street-half-way to the station. They had but to descend Pollard Street
and climb the path across the cinder-heaps beyond, and they would be, as
it were, in harbour. In Pollard Street Simeon had the happy idea of
taking to the roadway. It was rougher, and, therefore, less dangerous,
than the pavement. At intervals he shoved the wheel of the barrow by
main force over a stone.
"Put my hat straight, will you?" he asked of Arthur, and Arthur obeyed.
It was becoming a task under the winter stars.
Then Arthur happened to notice the wheel of the barrow--its sole wheel.
"I say," he said, "what's up with that wheel?"
"It's rocky, that's what that wheel is," replied Simeon. "I hope it will
Instead of pushing the barrow he was now holding it back, down the slant
of Pollard Street. The mist had cleared. And Arthur could see the red
gleam of a signal in the neighbourhood of the station. But now the
pincers and the anvil were at him again, for Simeon's tone was alarming.
It indicated that the wobbling wheel of the barrow might not hold out.
The catastrophe happened when they were climbing the cinder-slope and
within two hundred yards of the little station. Simeon was propelling
with all his might, and he propelled the wheel against half a brick. The
wheel collapsed. There was a splintering even of the main timbers of the
vehicle as the immense weight of the trunk crashed to the solid earth.
Simeon fell, and rose with difficulty, standing on one leg, and terribly
He said nothing, but consulted his watch by the aid of a fusee.
"We must carry it," Arthur suggested wildly.
"We can't carry it up here. It's much too heavy."
Arthur remembered the tremendous weight of even his share of it as they
had slid it down the stairs.
No. It could not be carried.
"Besides," said Simeon, "I've sprained my ankle, I fear." And he sat
down on the trunk.
"What are we to do?" Arthur asked tragically.
"Do? Why, it's perfectly simple! You must go without me. Anyhow, run to
the station, and try to get the porter down here with another barrow."
Man of infinite calm, of infinite resource. Though the pincers and the
anvil were horribly torturing him at that moment, Arthur could not but
admire his younger brother's astounding _sangfroid_.
And he set off.
"Here!" Simeon called him peremptorily. "Take this--in case you don't
And he handed him the small bright object.
"But I must come back. I can't possibly go without the trunk. All my
things are in it."
"I know that, man. _But perhaps you'll have to go without it_. Hurry!"
Arthur ran. He encountered the senior porter at the gate of the station.
"Where's Merrith?" he began. "He was to have--"
"Merrith's mother is dead--died at five o'clock," said the senior
porter. "And I'm here all alone."
Arthur stopped as if shot.
"Well," he recovered himself. "Lend me a barrow."
"I shall lend ye no barrow. It's against the rules. Since they
transferred our stationmaster to Clegg there's been an inspector down
here welly [well nigh] every day."
"But I must _have_ a barrow."
"I shall lend ye no barrow," said the senior porter, a brute.
A signal close to the signal-box clattered down from red to green.
"Her's signalled," said the senior porter. "Are ye travelling by her?"
Arthur had to decide in a moment. Must he or must he not abandon Simeon
and the trunk? The train, a procession of lights, could be seen in the
distance under the black sky. He gave one glance in the direction of
Simeon and the trunk, and then entered the station.
Simeon had been right. He did catch the train.
It was fortunate that there was a wide margin between the advertised
time of arrival of the Loop-Line train at Knype and the departure
therefrom of the London express. For, beyond Hanbridge, the Loop-Line
train came to a standstill, and obstinately remained at a standstill for
near upon forty minutes. Dawn began and completed itself while that
train reposed there. Things got to such a point that, despite the
intense cold, the few passengers stuck their heads out of the windows
and kept them there. Arthur suffered unspeakably. He imparted his awful
anxiety to an old man in the same compartment. And the old man said:
"They always keep the express waiting for the Loop. Moreover, you've
plenty o' time yet."
He knew that the Loop was supposed to catch the express, and that in
actual practice it did catch it. He knew that there was yet enough time.
Still, he continued to suffer. He continued to believe, at the bottom of
his heart, that on this morning, of all mornings, the Loop would not
catch the express.
However, he was wrong. The Loop caught the express, though it was a
nearish thing. He dashed down into the subterranean passage at Knype
Station, reappeared on the up-platform, ran to the fore-part of the
express, which was in and waiting, and jumped; a porter banged the door,
a guard inspired the driver by a tune on a whistle, and off went the
express. Arthur was now safe. Nothing ever happened to a North-Western
express. He was safe. He was shorn of his luggage (almost, but not
quite, indispensable) and of Simeon; but he was safe. He could not be
disgraced in the world's eye. He thought of poor, gallant,
imperturbable, sprained Simeon freezing on the trunk in the middle of
The train stopped momentarily at a station which he thought to be
Lichfield. Then (out of his waking dreams) it seemed to him that
Lichfield Station had strangely grown in length, and just as the train
was drawing out he saw the word "Stafford" in immense white enamelled
letters on a blue ground. There was nobody else in the compartment. His
heart and stomach in a state of frightful torture, he sprang out of
it--not on to the line, but into the corridor (for it was a corridor
train) and into the next compartment, where were seated two men.
"Is this the London train?" he demanded, not concealing his terror.
"No, it isn't. It's the Birmingham train," said one of the men
fiercely--a sort of a Levite.
"Great heavens!" ejaculated Arthur Cotterill.
"You ought to inquire before you get into a train," said the Levite.
"The fact is," said the other man, who was perhaps a cousin of a Good
Samaritan, "the express from Manchester is split up at Knype--one part
for London, and the other part for Birmingham."
"I know that," said Arthur Cotterill.
"Ever since I can remember the London part has gone off first."
"Of course," said Arthur; "I've travelled by it lots of times."
"But they altered it only last week."
"I only just caught the train," Arthur breathed.
"Seems to me you didn't catch it," said the Levite.
"_I must be in London before two o'clock_," said Arthur, and he said it
so solemnly, he said it with so much of his immortal soul, that even the
Levite was startled out of his callous indifference.
"There are expresses from Birmingham to London that do the journey in
two hours," said he.
"Let us see," said the cousin of a Good Samaritan, kindly, opening a bag
and producing Bradshaw.
And he explained to Arthur that the train reached New Street,
Birmingham, at 10.45, and that, by a singular good fortune, a very fast
express left New Street at 11.40, and arrived at Euston at 1.45.
Arthur thanked him and retired with his pincers and anvil to his own
He was a ruined man, a disgraced man. The loss of his trunk was now
nothing. At the best he would be over half an hour late, and it was
quite probable that he would be too late altogether. He pictured the
other people waiting, waiting for him anxiously, as minute after minute
passed, until the fatal hour struck. The whole affair was unthinkable.
Simeon's fault, of course. Simeon had convinced him that to go up to
London on Christmas Day would be absurd, whereas it was now evident that
to go up to London on Christmas Day was obviously the only prudent thing
to do. Awful!
The train to Birmingham was in an ironical mood, for it ran into New
Street to the very minute of the time-table. Thus Arthur had fifty-five
futile minutes to pass. At another time New Street, as the largest
single station in the British Empire, might have interested him. But now
it was no more interesting than Purgatory when you know where you are
ultimately going to. He sought out the telegraph-office, and
telegraphed to London--despairing, yet a manly telegram. Then he sought
out the refreshment-room, and ordered a whisky. He was just putting the
whisky to his lips when he remembered that if, after all, he did arrive
in time, the whisky would amount to a serious breach of manners. So he
put the glass down untasted, and the barmaid justifiably felt herself to
have been insulted.
He watched the slow formation of the Birmingham-London express. He also
watched the various clocks. For whole hours the fingers of the clocks
never budged, and even then they would show an advance of only a minute
"Is this the train for London?" he asked an inspector at 11.35.
"Can't you see?" said the inspector, brightly. As a fact, "Euston" was
written all over the train. But Arthur wanted to be sure this time.
The express departed from Birmingham with the nicest exactitude, and
covered itself with glory as far as Watford, when it ran into a mist,
and lost more than a quarter of an hour, besides ruining Arthur's
Arthur arrived in London at one minute past two. He got out of the train
with no plan. The one feasible enterprise seemed to be that of suicide.
"Come on, now," said a voice--a voice that staggered Arthur. It was a
man with a crutch who spoke. It was Simeon. "Come on, quick, and don't
talk too much! To the hotel first." Simeon hobbled forward rapidly, and
somehow (he could not explain how) the anvil and pincers had left
"I got hold of a milk-cart with a sharpened horse, and drove to Knype.
Horse fell once, but he picked himself up again. Cost me a sovereign.
Only just caught the train. Shouldn't have caught it if they hadn't sent
off the Birmingham part before the London part. I was astonished, I can
tell you, not to find you at Euston. Went to the hotel. Found 'em all
waiting, of course, and practically weeping over a telegram from you.
However, I soon arranged things. Had to buy a crutch.... Here, boy,
lift!" They were in the hotel.
On a bed all Arthur's finest clothes were laid out. The famous trunk was
at the foot of the bed.
"But look here!" Arthur remonstrated. "It's after two now."
"Well, if it is? We've got till three. I've arranged with the mandarin
chap for a quarter to three."
"I thought these things couldn't occur after two o'clock--by law."
"That's what's the matter with you," said Simeon; "you think too much.
The two o'clock law was altered years ago. Had anything to eat?" He was
helping Arthur with buttons.
"I expected not. Here! Swallow this whisky."
"Not I!" Arthur protested in a startled tone.
"Because I shall have to kiss her after the ceremony."
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