Helen with the High Hand (2nd ed.)
by Arnold Bennett
HELEN WITH THE HIGH HAND
BY ARNOLD BENNETT
AUTHOR OF “THE OLD WIVES TALE,” ETC.
A NEW EDITION
HODDER AND STOUGHTON
LONDON NEW YORK TORONTO
BEGINNING OF THE
CHAPTER II. AN
AFFAIR OF THE
MARRYING OFF A
CHAPTER V. A
CHAPTER VI. MRS.
CHAPTER VII. THE
CHAPTER IX. A
CHAPTER X. A
SONG, SCENE AND
CHAPTER XV. THE
CHAPTER XVI. THE
HALL AND ITS
CHAPTER XIX. THE
CHAPTER XX. THE
SHIP AND OCEAN
SEEING A LADY
CHAPTER I. BEGINNING OF THE IDYLL
In the Five Towns human nature is reported to be so hard that you
can break stones on it. Yet sometimes it softens, and then we have one
of our rare idylls of which we are very proud, while pretending not to
be. The soft and delicate South would possibly not esteem highly our
idylls, as such. Nevertheless they are our idylls, idyllic for us, and
reminding us, by certain symptoms, that though we never cry there is
concealed somewhere within our bodies a fount of happy tears.
The town park is an idyll in the otherwise prosaic municipal history
of the Borough of Bursley, which previously had never got nearer to
romance than a Turkish bath. It was once waste ground covered with
horrible rubbish-heaps, and made dangerous by the imperfectly-protected
shafts of disused coal-pits. Now you enter it by emblazoned gates; it
is surrounded by elegant railings; fountains and cascades babble in it;
wild-fowl from far countries roost in it, on trees with long names; tea
is served in it; brass bands make music on its terraces, and on its
highest terrace town councillors play bowls on billiard-table greens
while casting proud glances on the houses of thirty thousand people
spread out under the sweet influence of the gold angel that tops the
Town Hall spire. The other four towns are apt to ridicule that gold
angel, which for exactly fifty years has guarded the borough and only
been regilded twice. But ask the plumber who last had the fearsome job
of regilding it whether it is a gold angel to be despised, and—you
The other four towns are also apt to point to their own parks when
Bursley mentions its park (especially Turnhill, smallest and most
conceited of the Five); but let them show a park whose natural
situation equals that of Bursley's park. You may tell me that the
terra-cotta constructions within it carry ugliness beyond a joke; you
may tell me that in spite of the park's vaunted situation nothing can
be seen from it save the chimneys and kilns of earthenware
manufactories, the scaffoldings of pitheads, the ample dome of the
rate-collector's offices, the railway, minarets of non-conformity,
sundry undulating square miles of monotonous house-roofs, the long
scarves of black smoke which add such interest to the sky of the Five
Towns—and, of course, the gold angel. But I tell you that before the
days of the park lovers had no place to walk in but the cemetery; not
the ancient churchyard of St. Luke's (the rector would like to catch
them at it!)—the borough cemetery! One generation was forced to make
love over the tombs of another—and such tombs!—before the days of the
park. That is the sufficient answer to any criticism of the park.
The highest terrace of the park is a splendid expanse of gravel,
ornamented with flower-beds. At one end is the north bowling-green; at
the other is the south bowling-green; in the middle is a terra-cotta
and glass shelter; and at intervals, against the terra-cotta
balustrade, are arranged rustic seats from which the aged, the
enamoured, and the sedentary can enjoy the gold angel.
Between the southernmost seat and the south bowling-green, on that
Saturday afternoon, stood Mr. James Ollerenshaw. He was watching a man
who earned four-and-sixpence a day by gently toying from time to time
with a roller on the polished surface of the green. Mr. James
Ollerenshaw's age was sixty; but he looked as if he did not care. His
appearance was shabby; but he did not seem to mind. He carried his
hands in the peculiar horizontal pockets of his trousers, and stuck out
his figure, in a way to indicate that he gave permission to all to
think of him exactly what they pleased. Those pockets were
characteristic of the whole costume; their very name is unfamiliar to
the twentieth century. They divide the garment by a fissure whose sides
are kept together by many buttons, and a defection on the part of even
a few buttons is apt to be inconvenient. James Ollerenshaw was one of
the last persons in Bursley to defy fashion in the matter of pockets.
His suit was of a strange hot colour—like a brick which, having become
very dirty, has been imperfectly cleaned and then powdered with
sand—made in a hard, eternal, resistless cloth, after a pattern which
has not survived the apprenticeship of Five Towns' tailors in London.
Scarcely anywhere save on the person of James Ollerenshaw would you see
nowadays that cloth, that tint, those very short coat-tails, that
curved opening of the waistcoat, or those trouser-pockets. The paper
turned-down collar, and the black necktie (of which only one square
inch was ever visible), and the paper cuffs, which finished the
tailor-made portion of Mr. Ollerenshaw, still linger in sporadic
profusion. His low, flat-topped hat was faintly green, as though a
delicate fungoid growth were just budding on its black. His small feet
were cloistered in small, thick boots of glittering brilliance. The
colour of his face matched that of his suit. He had no moustache and no
whiskers, but a small, stiff grey beard was rooted somewhere under his
chin. He had kept a good deal of his hair. He was an undersized man,
with short arms and legs, and all his features—mouth, nose, ears, blue
eyes—were small and sharp; his head, as an entirety, was small. His
thin mouth was always tightly shut, except when he spoke. The general
expression of his face was one of suppressed, sarcastic amusement.
He was always referred to as Jimmy Ollerenshaw, and he may strike
you as what is known as a “character,” an oddity. His sudden appearance
at a Royal Levee would assuredly have excited remark, and even in
Bursley he diverged from the ordinary; nevertheless, I must expressly
warn you against imagining Mr. Ollerenshaw as an oddity. It is the most
difficult thing in the world for a man named James not to be referred
to as Jimmy. The temptation to the public is almost irresistible. Let
him have but a wart on his nose, and they will regard it as sufficient
excuse for yielding. I do not think that Mr. Ollerenshaw was
consciously set down as an oddity in his native town. Certainly he did
not so set down himself. Certainly he was incapable of freakishness. By
the town he was respected. His views on cottage property, the state of
trade, and the finances of the borough were listened to with a
respectful absence of comment. He was one of the few who had made
cottage property pay. It was said he owned a mile of cottages in
Bursley and Turnhill. It was said that, after Ephraim Tellwright, he
was the richest man in Bursley. There was a slight resemblance of type
between Ollerenshaw and Tellwright. But Tellwright had buried two
wives, whereas Ollerenshaw had never got within arm's length of a
woman. The town much preferred Ollerenshaw.
After having duly surveyed the majestic activities of the ground-man
on the bowling-green, and having glanced at his watch, Mr. Ollerenshaw
sat down on the nearest bench; he was waiting for an opponent, the
captain of the bowling-club. It is exactly at the instant of his
downsitting that the drama about to be unfolded properly begins.
Strolling along from the northern extremity of the terrace to the
southern was a young woman. This young woman, as could be judged from
her free and independent carriage, was such a creature as, having once
resolved to do a thing, is not to be deterred from doing it by the
caprices of other people. She had resolved—a resolution of no
importance whatever—to seat herself on precisely the southernmost
bench of the terrace. There was not, indeed, any particular reason why
she should have chosen the southernmost bench; but she had chosen it.
She had chosen it, afar off, while it was yet empty and Mr. Ollerenshaw
was on his feet. When Mr. Ollerenshaw dropped into a corner of it the
girl's first instinctive volition was to stop, earlier than she had
intended, at one of the other seats.
Despite statements to the contrary, man is so little like a sheep
that when he has a choice of benches in a park he will always select an
empty one. This rule is universal in England and Scotland, though
elsewhere exceptions to it have been known to occur. But the girl,
being a girl, and being a girl who earned her own living, and being a
girl who brought all conventions to the bar of her reason and forced
them to stand trial there, said to herself, proudly and coldly: “It
would be absurd on my part to change my mind. I meant to occupy that
bench, and why should I not? There is amply sufficient space for the
man and me too. He has taken one corner, and I will take the other.
These notions that girls have are silly.” She meant the notion that she
herself had had.
So she floated forward, charmingly and inexorably. She was what in
the Five Towns is called “a stylish piece of goods.” She wore a
black-and-white frock, of a small check pattern, with a black belt and
long black gloves, and she held over her serenity a black parasol
richly flounced with black lace—a toilet unusual in the district, and
as effective as it was unusual. She knew how to carry it. She was a
tall girl, and generously formed, with a complexion between fair and
dark; her age, perhaps, about twenty-five. She had the eye of an
empress—and not an empress-consort either, nor an empress who trembles
in secret at the rumour of cabals and intrigues. Yes, considered as a
decoration of the terrace, she was possibly the finest, most dazzling
thing that Bursley could have produced; and Bursley doubtless regretted
that it could only claim her as a daughter by adoption.
Approaching, step by dainty and precise step, the seat invested by
Mr. James Ollerenshaw, she arrived at the point whence she could
distinguish the features of her forestaller; she was somewhat
short-sighted. She gave no outward sign of fear, irresolution,
cowardice. But if she had not been more afraid of her own contempt than
of anything else in the world, she would have run away; she would have
ceased being an empress and declined suddenly into a scared child.
However, her fear of her own contempt kept her spine straight, her face
towards the danger, and her feet steadily moving.
“It's not my fault,” she said to herself. “I meant to occupy that
bench, and occupy it I will. What have I to be ashamed of?”
And she did occupy that bench. She contrived to occupy it without
seeing Mr. Ollerenshaw. Each separate movement of hers denied
absolutely the existence of Mr. Ollerenshaw. She arranged her dress,
and her parasol, and her arms, and the exact angle of her chin; and
there gradually fell upon her that stillness which falls upon the
figure of a woman when she has definitively adopted an attitude in the
public eye. She was gazing at the gold angel, a mile off, which flashed
in the sun. But what a deceptive stillness was that stillness! A hammer
was hammering away under her breast with what seemed to her a
reverberating sound. Strange that that hammering did not excite
attention throughout the park! Then she had the misfortune to think of
the act of blushing. She violently willed not to blush. But her blood
was too much for her. It displayed itself in the most sanguinary manner
first in the centre of each cheek, and it increased its area of
conquest until the whole of her visible skin—even the back of her neck
and her lobes—had rosily yielded. And she was one of your girls who
never blush! The ignominy of it! To blush because she found herself
within thirty inches of a man, an old man, with whom she had never in
her life exchanged a single word!
CHAPTER II. AN AFFAIR OF THE
Having satisfied her obstinacy by sitting down on the seat of her
choice, she might surely—one would think—have ended a mysteriously
difficult situation by rising again and departing, of course with due
dignity. But no! She could not! She wished to do so, but she could not
command her limbs. She just sat there, in horridest torture, like a
stoical fly on a pin—one of those flies that pretend that nothing
hurts. The agony might have been prolonged to centuries had not an
extremely startling and dramatic thing happened—the most startling and
dramatic thing that ever happened either to James Ollerenshaw or to the
young woman. James Ollerenshaw spoke, and I imagine that nobody was
more surprised than James Ollerenshaw by his brief speech, which
slipped out of him quite unawares. What he said was:
“Well, lass, how goes it, like?”
If the town could have heard him, the town would have rustled from
boundary to boundary with agitated and delicious whisperings.
The young woman, instead of being justly incensed by this monstrous
molestation from an aged villain who had not been introduced to her,
gave a little jump (as though relieved from the spell of an
enchantment), and then deliberately turned and faced Mr. Ollerenshaw.
She also smiled, amid her roses.
“Very well indeed, thank you,” she replied, primly, but nicely.
Upon this, they both of them sought to recover—from an affair that
had occurred in the late seventies.
In the late seventies James Ollerenshaw had been a young-old man of
nearly thirty. He had had a stepbrother, much older and much poorer
than himself, and the stepbrother had died, leaving a daughter, named
Susan, almost, but not quite, in a state of indigence. The stepbrother
and James had not been on terms of effusive cordiality. But James was
perfectly ready to look after Susan, his stepniece. Susan, aged
seventeen years, was, however, not perfectly ready to be looked after.
She had a little money, and she earned a little (by painting asters on
toilet ware), and the chit was very rude to her stepuncle. In less than
a year she had married a youth of twenty, who apparently had not in him
even the rudiments of worldly successfulness. James Ollerenshaw did his
avuncular duty by formally and grimly protesting against the marriage.
But what authority has a stepuncle? Susan defied him, with a maximum of
unforgettable impoliteness; and she went to live with her husband at
Longshaw, which is at the other end of the Five Towns. The fact became
public that a solemn quarrel existed between James and Susan, and that
each of them had sworn not to speak until the other spoke. James would
have forgiven, if she had hinted at reconciliation. And, hard as it is
for youth to be in the wrong, Susan would have hinted at reconciliation
if James had not been so rich. The riches of James offended Susan's
independence. Not for millions would she have exposed herself to the
suspicion that she had broken her oath because her stepuncle was a
wealthy and childless man. She was, of course, wrong. Nor was this her
only indiscretion. She was so ridiculously indiscreet as to influence
her husband in such a way that he actually succeeded in life. Had James
perceived them to be struggling in poverty, he might conceivably have
gone over to them and helped them, in an orgy of forgiving charity. But
the success of young Rathbone falsified his predictions utterly, and
was, further, an affront to him. Thus the quarrel slowly crystallised
into a permanent estrangement, a passive feud. Everybody got thoroughly
accustomed to it, and thought nothing of it, it being a social
phenomenon not at all unique of its kind in the Five Towns. When,
fifteen years later, Rathbone died in mid-career, people thought that
the feud would end. But it did not. James wrote a letter of condolence
to his niece, and even sent it to Longshaw by special messenger in the
tramcar; but he had not heard of the death until the day of the
funeral, and Mrs. Rathbone did not reply to his letter. Her
independence and sensitiveness were again in the wrong. James did no
more. You could not expect him to have done more. Mrs. Rathbone, like
many widows of successful men, was “left poorly off.” But she
“managed.” Once, five years before the scene on the park terrace, Mrs.
Rathbone and James had encountered one another by hazard on the
platform of Knype Railway Station. Destiny hesitated while Susan waited
for James's recognition and James waited for Susan's recognition. Both
of them waited too long. Destiny averted its head and drew back, and
the relatives passed on their ways without speaking. James observed
with interest a girl of twenty by Susan's side—her daughter. This
daughter of Susan's was now sharing the park bench with him. Hence the
hidden drama of their meeting, of his speech, of her reply.
“And what's your name, lass?”
“Helen, great-stepuncle,” said she.
He laughed; and she laughed also. The fact was that he had been
aware of her name, vaguely. It had come to him, on the wind, or by some
bird's wing, although none of his acquaintances had been courageous
enough to speak to him about the affair of Susan for quite twenty years
past. Longshaw is as far from Bursley, in some ways, as San Francisco
from New York. There are people in Bursley who do not know the name of
the Mayor of Longshaw—who make a point of not knowing it. Yet
news travels even from Longshaw to Bursley, by mysterious channels; and
Helen Rathbone's name had so travelled. James Ollerenshaw was glad that
she was just Helen. He had been afraid that there might be something
fancy between Helen and Rathbone—something expensive and aristocratic
that went with her dress and her parasol. He illogically liked her for
being called merely Helen—as if the credit were hers! Helen was an old
Ollerenshaw name—his grandmother's (who had been attached to the
household of Josiah Wedgwood), and his aunt's. Helen was historic in
his mind. And, further, it could not be denied that Rathbone was a fine
old Five Towns name too.
He was very illogical that afternoon; he threw over the principles
of a lifetime, arguing from particulars to generals exactly like a
girl. He had objected, always, to the expensive and the aristocratic.
He was proud of his pure plebeian blood, as many plebeians are; he
gloried in it. He disliked show, with a calm and deep aversion. He was
a plain man with a simple, unostentatious taste for money. The
difference between Helen's name and her ornamental raiment gave him
pleasure in the name. But he had not been examining her for more than
half a minute when he began to find pleasure in her rich clothes (rich,
that is, to him!). Quite suddenly he, at the age of sixty, abandoned
without an effort his dear prejudice against fine feathers, and began,
for the first time, to take joy in sitting next to a pretty and
well-dressed woman. And all this, not from any broad, philosophic
perception that fine feathers have their proper part in the great
scheme of cosmic evolution; but because the check dress suited her, and
the heavy, voluptuous parasol suited her, and the long black gloves
were inexplicably effective. Women grow old; women cease to learn; but
As for Helen, she liked him. She had liked him for five years, ever
since her mother had pointed him out on the platform of Knype Railway
Station. She saw him closer now. He was older than she had been
picturing him; indeed, the lines on his little, rather wizened face,
and the minute sproutings of grey-white hair in certain spots on his
reddish chin, where he had shaved himself badly, caused her somehow to
feel quite sad. She thought of him as “a dear old thing,” and then as
“a dear old darling.” Yes, old, very old! Nevertheless, she felt
maternal towards him. She felt that she was much wiser than he was, and
that she could teach him a great deal. She saw very clearly how wrong
he and her mother had been, with their stupidly terrific quarrel; and
the notion of all the happiness which he had missed, in his solitary,
unfeminised, bachelor existence, nearly brought into her eyes tears of
a quick and generous sympathy.
He, blind and shabby ancient, had no suspicion that his melancholy
state and the notion of all the happiness he had missed had tinged with
sorrow the heart within the frock, and added a dangerous humidity to
the glance under the sunshade. It did not occur to him that he was an
object of pity, nor that a vast store of knowledge was waiting to be
poured into him. The aged, self-satisfied wag-beard imagined that he
had conducted his career fairly well. He knew no one with whom he would
have changed places. He regarded Helen as an extremely agreeable little
thing, with her absurd air of being grown-up. Decidedly in five years
she had tremendously altered. Five years ago she had been gawky. Now
... Well, he was proud of her. She had called him great-stepuncle, thus
conferring on him a sort of part-proprietorship in her; and he was
proud of her. The captain of the bowling-club came along, and James
Ollerenshaw gave him just such a casual nod as he might have given to a
person of no account. The nod seemed to say: “Match this, if you can.
It's mine, and there's nothing in the town to beat it. Mrs. Prockter
herself hasn't got more style than this.” (Of this Mrs. Prockter, more
Helen soon settled down into a condition of ease, which put an end
to blushing. She knew she was admired.
“What are you doing i' Bosley?” James demanded.
“I'm living i' Bosley,” she retorted, smartly.
“Living here!” He stopped, and his hard old heart almost stopped
too. If not in mourning, she was in semi-mourning. Surely Susan had not
had the effrontery to die, away in Longshaw, without telling him!
“Mother has married again,” said Helen, lightly.
“Married!” He was staggered. The wind was knocked out of him.
“Yes. And gone to Canada!” Helen added.
You pick up your paper in the morning, and idly and slowly peruse
the advertisements on the first page, forget it, eat some bacon,
grumble at the youngest boy, open the paper, read the breach of promise
case on page three, drop it, and ask your wife for more
coffee—hot—glance at your letters again, then reopen the paper at the
news page, and find that the Tsar of Russia has been murdered, and a
few American cities tumbled to fragments by an earthquake—you know how
you feel then. James Ollerenshaw felt like that. The captain of the
bowling-club, however, poising a bowl in his right hand, and waiting
for James Ollerenshaw to leave his silken dalliance, saw nothing but an
old man and a young woman sitting on a Corporation seat.
CHAPTER III. MARRYING OFF A MOTHER
“Yes,” said Helen Rathbone, “mother fell in love. Don't you think it
“That's as may be,” James Ollerenshaw replied, in his quality of the
wiseacre who is accustomed to be sagacious on the least possible
expenditure of words.
“We both thought it was awfully funny,” Helen said.
“Both? Who else is there?”
“Why, mother and I, of course! We used to laugh over it. You see,
mother is a very simple creature. And she's only forty-four.”
“She's above forty-four,” James corrected.
“She told me she was thirty-nine five years ago,” Helen
“Did she tell ye she was forty, four years ago?”
“No. At least, I don't remember.”
“Did she ever tell ye she was forty?”
“Happen she's not such a simple creature as ye thought for, my
lass,” observed James Ollerenshaw.
“You don't mean to infer,” said Helen, with cold dignity, “that my
mother would tell me a lie?”
“All as I mean is that Susan was above thirty-nine five years ago,
and I can prove it. I had to get her birth certificate when her father
died, and I fancy I've got it by me yet.” And his eyes added: “So much
for that point. One to me.”
Helen blushed and frowned, and looked up into the darkling heaven of
her parasol; and then it occurred to her that her wisest plan would be
to laugh. So she laughed. She laughed in almost precisely the same
manner as James had heard Susan laugh thirty years previously, before
love had come into Susan's life like a shell into a fortress, and
finally blown their fragile relations all to pieces. A few minutes
earlier the sight of great-stepuncle James had filled Helen with
sadness, and he had not suspected it. Now her laugh filled James with
sadness, and she did not suspect it. In his sadness, however, he was
glad that she laughed so naturally, and that the sombre magnificence of
her dress and her gloves and parasol did not prevent her from opening
her rather large mouth and showing her teeth.
“It was just like mother to tell me fibs about her age,” said Helen,
generously (it is always interesting to observe the transformation of a
lie into a fib). “And I shall write and tell her she's a horrid mean
thing. I shall write to her this very night.”
“So Susan's gone and married again!” James murmured, reflectively.
Helen now definitely turned the whole of her mortal part towards
James, so that she fronted him, and her feet were near his. He also
turned, in response to this diplomatic advance, and leant his right
elbow on the back of the seat, and his chin on his right palm. He put
his left leg over his right leg, and thus his left foot swayed like a
bird on a twig within an inch of Helen's flounce. The parasol covered
the faces of the just and the unjust impartially.
“I suppose you don't know a farmer named Bratt that used to have a
farm near Sneyd?” said Helen.
“I can't say as I do,” said James.
“Well, that's the man!” said Helen. “He used to come to Longshaw
cattle-market with sheep and things.”
“Sheep and things!” echoed James. “What things?”
“Oh! I don't know,” said Helen, sharply. “Sheep and things.”
“And what did your mother take to Longshaw cattle-market?” James
inquired. “I understood as she let lodgings.”
“Not since I've been a teacher,” said Helen, rather more sharply.
“Mother didn't take anything to the cattle-market. But you know our
house was just close to the cattle-market.”
“No, I didn't,” said James, stoutly. “I thought as it was in
“Oh! that's years ago!” said Helen, shocked by his ignorance. “We've
lived in Sneyd-road for years—years.”
“I'll not deny it,” said James.
“The great fault of our house,” Helen proceeded, “was that mother
daren't stir out of it on cattle-market days.”
“Cows!” said Helen. “Mother simply can't look at a cow, and they
were passing all the time.”
“She should ha' been thankful as it wasn't bulls,” James put in.
“But I mean bulls too!” exclaimed Helen. “In fact, it was a bull
that led to it.”
“What! Th' farmer saved her from a mad bull, and she fell in love
with him? He's younger than her, I lay!”
“How did you know that?” Helen questioned. “Besides, he isn't.
They're just the same age.”
“Forty-four?” Perceiving delicious danger in the virgin's face,
James continued before she could retort, “I hope Susan wasn't gored?”
“You're quite wrong. You're jumping to conclusions,” said Helen,
with an air of indulgence that would have been exasperating had it not
been enchanting. “Things don't happen like that except in novels.”
“I've never read a novel in my life,” James defended himself.
“Haven't you? How interesting!”
“But I've known a woman knocked down by a bull.”
“Well, anyhow, mother wasn't knocked down by a bull. But there was a
mad bull running down the street; it had escaped from the market. And
Mr. Bratt was walking home, and the bull was after him like a shot.
Mother was looking out of the window, and she saw what was going on. So
she rushed to the front door and opened it, and called to Mr. Bratt to
run in and take shelter. And they only just got the door shut in time.”
“Bless us!” muttered James. “And what next?”
“Why, I came home from school and found them having tea together.”
“And ninety year between them!” James reflected.
“Then Mr. Bratt called every week. He was a widower, with no
“It couldn't ha' been better,” said James.
“Oh yes, it could,” said Helen. “Because I had the greatest
difficulty in marrying them; in fact, at one time I thought I should
never do it. I'm always in the right, and mother's always in the wrong.
She's admitted that for years. She's had to admit it. Yet she would
go her own way. Nothing would ever cure mother.”
“She used to talk just like that of your grandfather,” said James.
“Susan always reckoned as she'd got more than her fair share of sense.”
“I don't think she thinks that now,” said Helen, calmly, as if to
say: “At any rate I've cured her of that.” Then she went on:
“You see, Mr. Bratt had sold his farm—couldn't make it pay—and he was
going out to Manitoba. He said he would stop in England. Mother said
she wouldn't let him stop in England where he couldn't make a farm pay.
She was quite right there,” Helen admitted, with careful justice. “But
then she said she wouldn't marry him and go out to Manitoba, because of
leaving me alone here to look after myself! Can you imagine such a
James merely raised his head quickly several times. The gesture
meant whatever Helen preferred that it should mean.
“The idea!” she continued. “As if I hadn't looked after mother and
kept her in order, and myself, too, for several years! No. She wouldn't
marry him and go out there! And she wouldn't marry him and stay here!
She actually began to talk all the usual conventional sort of stuff,
you know—about how she had no right to marry again, and she didn't
believe in second marriages, and about her duty to me. And so on. You
know. I reasoned with her—I explained to her that probably she had
another thirty years to live. I told her she was quite young. She is. And why should she make herself permanently miserable, and Mr.
Bratt, and me, merely out of a quite mistaken sense of duty? No
use! I tried everything I could. No use!”
“She was too much for ye?”
“Oh, no!” said Helen, condescendingly. “I'd made up my
mind. I arranged things with Mr. Bratt. He quite agreed with me. He
took out a licence at the registrar's, and one Saturday morning—it had
to be a Saturday, because I'm busy all the other days—I went out with
mother to buy the meat and things for Sunday's dinner, and I got her
into the registrar's office—and, well, there she was! Now, what do you
“Her last excuse was that she couldn't be married because she was
wearing her third-best hat. Don't you think it's awfully funny?”
“That's as may be,” said James. “When was all this?”
“Just recently,” Helen answered. “They sailed from Glasgow last
Thursday but two. And I'm expecting a letter by every post to say that
they've arrived safely.”
“And Susan's left you to take care of yourself!”
“Now, please don't begin talking like mother,” Helen said, frigidly.
“I've certainly got less to take care of now than I had. Mother quite
saw that. But what difficulty I had in getting her off, even after I'd
safely married her! I had to promise that if I felt lonely I'd go and
join them. But I shan't.”
“No. I don't see myself on a farm in Manitoba. Do you?”
“I don't know as I do,” said James, examining her appearance, with a
constant increase of his pride in it. “So ye saw 'em off at Glasgow. I
reckon she made a great fuss?”
“Oh yes, of course.”
“Did you cry, miss?”
“Of course I cried,” said Helen, passionately, sitting up straight.
“Why do you ask such questions?”
“And us'll never see Susan again?”
“Of course I shall go over and see them,” said Helen. “I only
meant that I shouldn't go to stop. I daresay I shall go next year, in
CHAPTER IV. INVITATION TO TEA
They were most foolishly happy as they sat there on the bench, this
man whose dim eyes ought to have been waiting placidly for the ship of
death to appear above the horizon, and this young girl who imagined
that she knew all about life and the world. When I say that they were
foolishly happy, I of course mean that they were most wisely happy.
Each of them, being gifted with common sense, and with a certain
imperviousness to sentimentality which invariably accompanies common
sense, they did not mar the present by regretting the tragic stupidity
of a long estrangement; they did not mourn over wasted years that could
not be recalled. It must be admitted, in favour of the Five Towns, that
when its inhabitants spill milk they do not usually sit down on the
pavement and adulterate the milk with their tears. They pass on. Such
passing on is termed callous and cold-hearted in the rest of England,
which loves to sit down on pavements and weep into irretrievable milk.
Nor did Helen and her great-stepuncle mar the present by worrying
about the future; it never occurred to them to be disturbed by the
possibility that milk not already spilt might yet be spilt.
Helen had been momentarily saddened by private reflections upon what
James Ollerenshaw had missed in his career; and James had been
saddened, somewhat less, by reminiscences which had sprung out of
Helen's laugh. But their melancholies had rapidly evaporated in the
warmth of the unexpected encounter. They liked one another. She liked
him because he was old and dry; and because he had a short laugh, and a
cynical and even wicked gleam of the eye that pleased her; and because
there was an occasional tone in his voice that struck her as
deliciously masculine, ancient, and indulgent; and because he had
spoken to her first; and because his gaze wandered with an admiring
interest over her dress and up into the dome of her sunshade; and
because he put his chin in his palm and leant his head towards her; and
because the skin of his hand was so crinkled and glossy. And he liked
her because she was so exquisitely fresh and candid, so elegant, so
violent and complete a contrast to James Ollerenshaw; so absurdly
sagacious and sure of herself, and perhaps because of a curve in her
cheek, and a mysterious suggestion of eternal enigma in her large and
liquid eye. When she looked right away from him, as she sometimes did
in the conversation, the outline of her soft cheek, which drew in at
the eye and swelled out again to the temple, resembled a map of the
coast of some smooth, romantic country not mentioned in geographies.
When she looked at him—well, the effect on him astonished him;
but it enchanted him. He was discovering for the first time the soul of
a girl. If he was a little taken aback he is to be excused. Younger men
than he have been taken aback by that discovery. But James Ollerenshaw
did not behave as a younger man would have behaved. He was more like
some one who, having heard tell of the rose for sixty years, and having
paid no attention to rumour, suddenly sees a rose in early bloom. At
his age one knows how to treat a flower; one knows what flowers are
It was no doubt this knowledge of what flowers are for that almost
led to the spilling of milk at the very moment when milk-spilling
seemed in a high degree improbable.
The conversation had left Susan and her caprices, and had reached
Helen and her solid wisdom.
“But you haven't told me what you're doing i' Bosley,” said the old
“I've told you I'm living here,” said Helen. “I've now been living
here for one week and one day. I'm teaching at the Park Road Board
School. I got transferred from Longshaw. I never liked Longshaw, and I
always like a change.”
“Yes,” said Ollerenshaw, judiciously, “of the two I reckon as Bosley
is the frying-pan. So you're teaching up yonder?” He jerked his elbow
in the direction of the spacious and imposing terra-cotta Board School,
whose front looked on the eastern gates of the park. “What dost teach?”
“Oh, everything,” Helen replied.
“You must be very useful to 'em,” said James. “What do they pay you
for teaching everything?”
“Seventy-two pounds,” said Helen.
“A month? It 'ud be cheap at a hundred, lass; unless there's a whole
crowd on ye as can teach everything. Can you sew?”
“Sew!” she exclaimed. “I've given lessons in sewing for years.
And cookery. And mathematics. I used to give evening lessons
in mathematics at Longshaw secondary school.”
Great-stepuncle James gazed at her. It was useless for him to try to
pretend to himself that he was not, secretly, struck all of a heap by
the wonders of the living organism in front of him. He was. And this
shows, though he was a wise man and an experienced, how ignorant he was
of the world. But I do not think he was more ignorant of the world than
most wise and experienced men are. He conceived Helen Rathbone as an
extraordinary, an amazing creature. Nothing of the kind. There are
simply thousands of agreeable and good girls who can accomplish
herring-bone, omelettes, and simultaneous equations in a breath, as it
were. They are all over the kingdom, and may be seen in the streets and
lanes thereof about half-past eight in the morning and again about five
o'clock in the evening. But the fact is not generally known. Only the
stern and blase members of School Boards or Education Committees
know it. And they are so used to marvels that they make nothing of
However, James Ollerenshaw had no intention of striking his flag.
“Mathematics!” he murmured. “I lay you can't tell me the interest on
eighty-nine pounds for six months at four and a half per cent.”
Consols happened to be at eighty-nine that day.
Her lips curled. “I'm really quite surprised you should encourage me
to gamble,” said she. “But I'll bet you a shilling I can. And I'll bet
you one shilling against half-a-crown that I do it in my head, if you
like. And if I lose I'll pay.”
She made a slight movement, and he noticed for the first time that
she was carrying a small purse as black as her glove.
He hesitated, and then he proved what a wise and experienced man he
“No,” he said, “I'll none bet ye, lass.”
He had struck his flag.
It is painful to be compelled to reinforce the old masculine
statement that women have no sense of honour. But have they? Helen
clearly saw that he had hauled down his flag. Yet did she cease firing?
Not a bit. She gave him a shattering broadside, well knowing that he
had surrendered. Her disregard of the ethics of warfare was deplorable.
“Two pounds and one half-penny—to the nearest farthing,” said she,
a faint blush crimsoning her cheek.
Mr. Ollerenshaw glanced round at the bowling-green, where the
captain in vain tried to catch his eye, and then at the groups of
children playing on the lower terraces.
“I make no doubt ye can play the piano?” he remarked, when he had
“Certainly,” she replied. “Not that we have to teach the piano. No!
But it's understood, all the same, that one or another of us can play
marches for the children to walk and drill to. In fact,” she added,
“for something less than thirty shillings a week we do pretty nearly
everything, except build the schools. And soon they'll be expecting us
to build the new schools in our spare time.” She spoke bitterly, as a
native of the Congo Free State might refer to the late King of the
“Thirty shillings a wik!” said James, acting with fine
histrionic skill. “I thought as you said seventy-two pounds a month!”
“Oh no, you didn't!” she protested, firmly. “So don't try to tease
me. I never joke about money. Money's a very serious thing.”
(“Her's a chip o' th' owd block,” he told himself, delighted. When
he explained matters to himself, and when he grew angry, he always
employed the Five Towns dialect in its purest form.)
“You must be same as them hospital nurses,” he said, aloud. “You do
it because ye like it—for love on it, as they say.”
“Like it! I hate it. I hate any sort of work. What fun do you
suppose there is in teaching endless stupid children, and stuffing in
classrooms all day, and correcting exercises and preparing sewing all
night? Of course, they can't help being stupid. It's that that's so
amazing. You can't help being kind to them—they're so stupid.”
“If ye didn't do that, what should ye do?” James inquired.
“I shouldn't do anything unless I was forced,” said she. “I don't
want to do anything, except enjoy myself—read, play the piano, pay
visits, and have plenty of really nice clothes. Why should I
want to do anything? I can tell you this—if I didn't need the money
I'd never go inside that school again, or any other!”
She was heated.
“Dun ye mean to say,” he asked, with an ineffable intonation, “that
Susan and that there young farmer have gone gadding off to Canada and
left you all alone with nothing?”
“Of course they haven't,” said Helen. “Why, mother is the most
generous old thing you can possibly imagine. She's left all her own
income to me.”
“Well, it comes to rather over thirty shillings a week.”
“And can't a single woman live on thirty shillings a wik?
Bless us! I don't spend thirty shillings a wik myself.”
Helen raised her chin. “A single woman can live on thirty shillings
a week,” she said. “But what about her frocks?”
“Well, what about her frocks?” he repeated.
“Well,” she said, “I like frocks. It just happens that I can't do
without frocks. It's just frocks that I work for; I spend nearly all I
earn on them.” And her eyes, descending, seemed to say: “Look at the
“Seventy pounds a year on ye clothes! Ye're not serious, lass?”
She looked at him coldly. “I am serious,” she said.
Experienced as he was, he had never come across a fact so incredible
as this fact. And the compulsion of believing it occupied his forces to
such an extent that he had no force left to be wise. He did not observe
the icy, darting challenge in her eye, and he ignored the danger in her
“All as I can say is you ought to be ashamed o' yourself, lass!” he
said, sharply. The reflection was blown out of him by the expansion of
his feelings. Seventy pounds a year on clothes!... He too was serious.
Now, James Ollerenshaw was not the first person whom Helen's passion
for clothes had driven into indiscretions. Her mother, for example, had
done battle with that passion, and had been defeated with heavy loss. A
head-mistress and a chairman of a School Board (a pompous coward) had
also suffered severely. And though Helen had been the victor, she had
not won without some injury to her nerves. Her campaigns and conquests
had left her, on this matter, “touchy”—as the word is used in the Five
“I shall be very much obliged if you will not speak to me in that
tone,” said she. “Because I cannot permit it either from you or any
other man. When I venture to criticise your private life I shall expect
you to criticise mine—and not before. I don't want to be rude, but I
hope you understand, great-stepuncle.”
The milk was within the twentieth of an inch of the brim. James
Ollerenshaw blushed as red as Helen herself had blushed at the
beginning of their acquaintance. A girl, the daughter of the chit
Susan, to address him so! She had the incomparable insolence of her
mother. Yes, thirty years ago Susan had been just as rude to him. But
he was thirty years younger then; he was not a sage of sixty then. He
continued to blush. He was raging. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration
to assert that his health was momentarily in peril. He glanced for an
instant at Helen, and saw that her nostrils were twitching. Then he
looked hurriedly away, and rose. The captain of the bowling club
excusably assumed that James was at length going to attack the serious
business of the day.
“Now, Mr. Ollerenshaw!” the captain called out; and his tone
implied, gently: “Don't you think you've kept me waiting long enough?
Women are women; but a bowling-match is a bowling-match.”
James turned his back on the captain, moved off, and then—how can
one explain it? He realised that in the last six words of Helen's
speech there had been a note, a hint, a mere nothing, of softness, of
regret for pain caused. He realised, further, the great universal
natural law that under any circumstances—no matter what they may
be—when any man—no matter who he may be—differs from any pretty and
well-dressed woman—no matter who she may be—he is in the wrong. He
saw that it was useless for serious, logical, high-minded persons to
inveigh against the absurdity of this law, and to call it bad names.
The law of gravity is absurd and indefensible when you fall downstairs;
but you obey it.
He returned to Helen, who bravely met his eyes. “I'm off home,” he
said, hoarsely. “It's my tea-time.”
“Good-afternoon,” she replied, with amiability.
“Happen you'll come along with me, like?”
The use of that word “like” at the end of an interrogative sentence,
in the Five Towns, is a subject upon which a book ought to be written;
but not this history. The essential point to observe is that Helen got
up from the bench and said, with adorable sweetness:
“Why, I shall be charmed to come!”
(“What a perfect old darling he is!” she said to herself.)
CHAPTER V. A SALUTATION
As they walked down Moorthorne-road towards the town they certainly
made a couple piquant enough, by reason of the excessive violence of
the contrast between them, to amuse the eye of the beholder. A young
and pretty woman who spends seventy pounds a year on her
ornamentations, walking by the side of a little old man (she had the
better of him by an inch) who had probably not spent seventy pounds on
clothes in sixty years—such a spectacle must have drawn attention even
in the least attentive of towns. And Bursley is far from the least
attentive of towns. James and his great-stepniece had not got as far as
the new Independent Chapel when it was known in St. Luke's-square, a
long way farther on, that they were together; a tramcar had flown
forward with the interesting fact. From that moment, of course, the
news, which really was great news, spread itself over the town with the
rapidity of a perfume; no corner could escape it. All James's
innumerable tenants seemed to sniff it simultaneously. And that evening
in the mouth of the entire town (I am licensing myself to a little
poetical exaggeration) there was no word but the word “Jimmy.”
Their converse, as they descended into the town, was not effective.
It was, indeed, feeble. They had fought a brief but bitter duel, and
James Ollerenshaw had been severely wounded. His dignity bled freely;
he made, strange to say, scarcely any attempt to staunch the blood,
which might have continued to flow for a considerable time had not a
diversion occurred. (It is well known that the dignity will only bleed
while you watch it. Avert your eyes, and it instantly dries up.) The
diversion, apparently of a trifling character, had, in truth, an
enormous importance, though the parties concerned did not perceive this
till later. It consisted in the passing of Mrs. Prockter and her
stepson, Emanuel Prockter, up Duck Bank as James and Helen were passing
down Duck Bank.
Mrs. Prockter (who by reason of the rare “k” in her name regarded
herself as the sole genuine in a district full of Proctors) may be
described as the dowager of Bursley, the custodian of its
respectability, and the summit of its social ladder. You could not
climb higher than Mrs. Prockter. She lived at Hillport, and even in
that haughty suburb there was none who dared palter with an invitation
from Mrs. Prockter. She was stout and deliberate. She had waving
flowers in her bonnet and pictures of flowers on her silken gown, and a
grey mantle. Much of her figure preceded her as she walked. Her stepson
had a tenor voice and a good tailor; his age was thirty.
Now, Mrs. Prockter was simply nothing to James Ollerenshaw. They
knew each other by sight, but their orbits did not touch. James would
have gone by Mrs. Prockter as indifferently as he would have gone by a
policeman or a lamp-post. As for Emanuel, James held him in mild,
benignant contempt. But when, as the two pairs approached one another,
James perceived Emanuel furtively shifting his gold-headed cane from
his right hand to his left, and then actually raise his hat to Helen,
James swiftly lost his indifference. He also nearly lost his presence
of mind. He was utterly unaccustomed to such crises. Despite his
wealthy indifference to Mrs. Prockter, despite his distinguished scorn
of Emanuel, despite the richness of Helen's attire, he was astounded,
and deeply impressed, to learn that Helen had the acquaintance of
people like the Prockters. Further, except at grave-sides, James
Ollerenshaw had never in his life raised his hat. Hat-raising formed no
part of his code of manners. In his soul he looked upon hat-raising as
affected. He believed that all people who raised hats did so from a
snobbish desire to put on airs. Hat-raising was rather like saying
“please,” only worse.
Happily, his was one of those strong, self-reliant natures that can,
when there is no alternative, face the most frightful situations with
unthumping heart. He kept his presence of mind, and decided in the
fraction of a second what he must do. The faculty of instant decision
is indispensable to safety in these swift-rising crises.
He raised his hat, praying that Helen would not stop to speak. Not
gracefully, not with the beauteous curves of an Emanuel did he raise
his hat—but he raised it. His prayer was answered.
“There!” his chest said to Helen. “If you thought I didn't know how
to behave to your conceited acquaintances, you were mistaken.”
And his casual, roving eye pretended that hat-raising was simply the
most ordinary thing on earth.
Such was the disturbing incident which ended the bleeding of his
dignity. In order to keep up the pretence that hat-raising was a normal
function of his daily life he was obliged to talk freely; and he did
talk freely. But neither he nor Helen said a word as to the Prockters.
CHAPTER VI. MRS. BUTT'S DEPARTURE
James Ollerenshaw's house was within a few hundred yards of the top
of Trafalgar-road, on the way from Bursley to Hanbridge. I may not
indicate the exact house, but I can scarcely conceal that it lay
between Nos. 160 and 180, on the left as you go up. It was one of the
oldest houses in the street, and though bullied into insignificance by
sundry detached and semi-detached villas opposite—palaces occupied by
reckless persons who think nothing of paying sixty or even sixty-five
pounds a year for rent alone—it kept a certain individuality and
distinction because it had been conscientiously built of good brick
before English domestic architecture had lost trace of the Georgian
style. First you went up two white steps (white in theory), through a
little gate in a wrought-iron railing painted the colour of peas after
they have been cooked in a bad restaurant. You then found yourself in a
little front yard, twelve feet in width (the whole width of the house)
by six feet in depth. The yard was paved with large square Indian-red
tiles, except a tiny circle in the midst bordered with
black-currant-coloured tiles set endwise with a scolloped edge. This
magical circle contained earth, and in the centre of it was a
rhododendron bush which, having fallen into lazy habits, had forgotten
the art of flowering. Its leaves were a most pessimistic version of the
tint of the railing.
The facade of the house comprised three windows and a door—that is
to say, a window and a door on the ground floor and two windows above.
The brickwork was assuredly admirable; James had it “pointed” every few
years. Over the windows the bricks, of special shapes, were arranged as
in a flat arch, with a keystone that jutted slightly. The panes of the
windows were numerous and small; inside, on the sashes, lay long thin
scarlet sausages of red cloth and sawdust, to keep out the draughts.
The door was divided into eight small panels with elaborate beadings,
and over it was a delicate fanlight—one of about a score in
Bursley—to remind the observer of a lost elegance. Between the
fanlight and the upstairs window exactly above it was a rusty iron
plaque, with vestiges in gilt of the word “Phoenix.” It had been put
there when fire insurance had still the fancied charm of novelty. At
the extremity of the facade farthest from the door a spout came down
from the blue-slate roof. This spout began with a bold curve from the
projecting horizontal spout under the eaves, and made another curve at
the ground into a hollow earthenware grid with very tiny holes.
Helen looked delicious in the yard, gazing pensively at the slothful
rhododendron while James Ollerenshaw opened his door. She was seen by
two electric cars-full of people, for although James's latchkey was
very highly polished and the lock well oiled, he never succeeded in
opening his door at the first attempt. It was a capricious door. You
could not be sure of opening it any more than Beau Brummel could be
sure of tying his cravat. It was a muse that had to be wooed.
But when it did open you perceived that there were no half measures
about that door, for it let you straight into the house. To open it was
like taking down part of the wall. No lobby, hall, or vestibule behind
that door! One instant you were in the yard, the next you were in the
middle of the sitting-room, and through a doorway at the back of the
sitting-room you could see the kitchen, and beyond that the scullery,
and beyond that a back yard with a whitewashed wall.
James Ollerenshaw went in first, leaving Helen to follow. He had
learnt much in the previous hour, but there were still one or two odd
things left for him to learn.
“Ah!” he breathed, shut the door, and hung up his hard hat on the
inner face of it. “Sit ye down, lass.”
So she sat her down. It must be said that she looked as if she had
made a mistake and got on to the wrong side of Trafalgar-road. The
sitting-room was a crowded and shabby little apartment (though clean).
There was a list carpet over the middle of the floor, which was tiled,
and in the middle of the carpet a small square table with flap-sides.
On this table was a full-rigged ship on a stormy sea in a glass box,
some resin, a large stone bottle of ink, a ready reckoner, Whitaker's
Almanack (paper edition), a foot-rule, and a bright brass candlestick.
Above the table there hung from the ceiling a string with a ball of
fringed paper, designed for the amusement of flies. At the window was a
flat desk, on which were transacted the affairs of Mr. Ollerenshaw.
When he stationed himself at it in the seat of custom and of judgment,
defaulting tenants, twirling caps or twisting aprons, had a fine view
of the left side of his face. He usually talked to them while staring
out of the window. Before this desk was a Windsor chair. There were
eight other Windsor chairs in the room—Helen was sitting on one that
had not been sat upon for years and years—a teeming but idle
population of chairs. A horsehair arm-chair seemed to be the sultan of
the seraglio of chairs. Opposite the window a modern sideboard, which
might have cost two-nineteen-six when new, completed the tale of
furniture. The general impression was one of fulness; the low ceiling,
and the immense harvest of overblown blue roses which climbed
luxuriantly up the walls, intensified this effect. The mantelpiece was
crammed with brass ornaments, and there were two complete sets of brass
fire-irons in the brass fender. Above the mantelpiece a looking-glass,
in a wan frame of bird's-eye maple, with rounded corners, reflected
Helen abandoned the Windsor chair and tried the arm-chair, and then
“Which chair do you recommend?” she asked, nicely.
“Bless ye, child! I never sit here, except at th' desk. I sit in the
A peculiarity of houses in the Five Towns is that rooms are seldom
called by their right names. It is a point of honour, among the
self-respecting and industrious classes, to prepare a room elaborately
for a certain purpose, and then not to use it for that purpose. Thus
James Ollerenshaw's sitting-room, though surely few apartments could
show more facilities than it showed for sitting, was not used as a
sitting-room, but as an office. The kitchen, though it contained a
range, was not used as a kitchen, but as a sitting-room. The scullery,
though it had no range, was filled with a gas cooking-stove and used as
a kitchen. And the back yard was used as a scullery. This arrangement
never struck anybody as singular; it did not strike even Helen as
singular. Her mother's house had exhibited the same oddness until she
reorganised it. If James Ollerenshaw had not needed an office, his
sitting-room would have languished in desuetude. The fact is that the
thrifty inhabitants of the Five Towns save a room as they save money.
If they have an income of six rooms they will live on five, or rather
in five, and thereby take pride to themselves.
Somewhat nervous, James feigned to glance at the rent books on the
Helen's eye swept the room. “I suppose you have a good servant?” she
“I have a woman as comes in,” said James. “But her isn't in th'
house at the moment.”
This latter statement was a wilful untruth on James's part. He had
distinctly caught a glimpse of Mrs. Butt's figure as he entered.
“Well,” said Helen, kindly, “it's quite nice, I'm sure. You must be
very comfortable—for a man. But, of course, one can see at once that
no woman lives here.”
“How?” he demanded, naively.
“Oh,” she answered, “I don't know. But one can.”
“Dost mean to say as it isn't clean, lass?”
“The brasses are very clean,” said Helen.
Such astonishing virtuosity in the art of innuendo is the privilege
of one sex only.
“Come into th' kitchen, lass,” said James, after he had smiled into
a corner of the room, “and take off them gloves and things.”
“But, great-stepuncle, I can't stay.”
“You'll stop for tea,” said he, firmly, “or my name isn't James
He preceded her into the kitchen. The door between the kitchen and
the scullery was half-closed; in the aperture he again had a momentary,
but distinct, glimpse of the eye of Mrs. Butt.
“I do like this room,” said Helen, enthusiastically.
“Uninterrupted view o' th' back yard,” said Ollerenshaw. “Sit ye
He indicated an article of furniture which stood in front of the
range, at a distance of perhaps six feet from it, cutting the room in
half. This contrivance may be called a sofa, or it may be called a
couch; but it can only be properly described by the Midland word for
it—squab. No other term is sufficiently expressive. Its seat—five
feet by two—was very broad and very low, and it had a steep, high back
and sides. All its angles were right angles. It was everywhere
comfortably padded; it yielded everywhere to firm pressure; and it was
covered with a grey and green striped stuff. You could not sit on that
squab and be in a draught; yet behind it, lest the impossible should
arrive, was a heavy curtain, hung on an iron rod which crossed the room
from wall to wall. Not much imagination was needed to realise the joy
and ecstasy of losing yourself on that squab on a winter afternoon,
with the range fire roaring in your face, and the curtain drawn abaft.
Helen assumed the mathematical centre of the squab, and began to
arrange her skirts in cascading folds; she had posed her parasol in a
corner of it, as though the squab had been a railway carriage, which,
indeed, it did somewhat resemble.
“By the way, lass, what's that as swishes?” James demanded.
“What's that as swishes?”
She looked puzzled for an instant, then laughed—a frank, gay laugh,
light and bright as aluminium, such as the kitchen had never before
“Oh!” she said. “It's my new silk petticoat, I suppose. You mean
that?” She brusquely moved her limbs, reproducing the unique and
delicious rustle of concealed silk.
“Ay!” ejaculated the old man, “I mean that.”
“Yes. It's my silk petticoat. Do you like it?”
“I havena' seen it, lass.”
She bent down, and lifted the hem of her dress just two inches—the
discreetest, the modestest gesture. He had a transient vision of
something fair—it was gone again.
“I don't know as I dislike it,” said he.
He was standing facing her, his back to the range, and his head on a
level with the high narrow mantelpiece, upon which glittered a row of
small tin canisters. Suddenly he turned to the corner to the right of
the range, where, next to an oak cupboard, a velvet Turkish smoking cap
depended from a nail. He put on the cap, of which the long tassel
curved down to his ear. Then he faced her again, putting his hands
behind him, and raising himself at intervals on his small,
well-polished toes. She lifted her two hands simultaneously to her
head, and began to draw pins from her hat, which pins she placed one
after another between her lips. Then she lowered the hat carefully from
her head, and transfixed it anew with the pins.
“Will you mind hanging it on that nail?” she requested.
He took it, as though it had been of glass, and hung it on the nail.
Without her hat she looked as if she lived there, a jewel in a
pipe-case. She appeared to be just as much at home as he was. And they
were so at home together that there was no further necessity to strain
after a continuous conversation. With a vague smile she gazed round and
about, at the warm, cracked, smooth red tiles of the floor; at the
painted green walls, at a Windsor chair near the cupboard—a solitary
chair that had evidently been misunderstood by the large family of
relatives in the other room and sent into exile; at the pair of bellows
that hung on the wall above the chair, and the rich gaudiness of the
grocer's almanac above the bellows; at the tea-table, with its coarse
grey cloth and thick crockery spread beneath the window.
“So you have all your meals here?” she ventured.
“Ay,” he said. “I have what I call my meals here.”
“Why,” she cried, “don't you enjoy them?”
“I eat 'em,” he said.
“What time do you have tea?” she inquired.
“Four o'clock,” said he. “Sharp!”
“But it's a quarter to, now!” she exclaimed, pointing to a clock
with weights at the end of brass chains and a long pendulum. “And
didn't you say your servant was out?”
“Ay,” he mysteriously lied. “Her's out. But her'll come back. Happen
her's gone to get a bit o' fish or something.”
“Fish! Do you always have fish for tea?”
“I have what I'm given,” he replied. “I fancy a snack for my tea.
Something tasty, ye know.”
“Why,” she said, “you're just like me. I adore tea. I'd sooner have
tea than any other meal of the day. But I never yet knew a servant who
could get something tasty every day. Of course, it's quite easy if you
know how to do it; but servants don't—that is to say, as a rule—but I
expect you've got a very good one.”
“So-so!” James murmured.
“The trouble with servants is that they always think that if you
like a thing one day you'll like the same thing every day for the next
“Ay,” he said, drily. “I used to like a kidney, but it's more than
three years ago.” He stuck his lips out, and raised himself higher than
ever on his toes.
He did not laugh. But she laughed, almost boisterously.
“I can't help telling you,” she said, “you're perfectly lovely,
great-stepuncle. Are we both going to drink out of the same cup?” In
such manner did the current of her talk gyrate and turn corners.
He approached the cupboard.
“No, no!” She sprang up. “Let me. I'll do that, as the servant is so
And she opened the cupboard. Among a miscellany of crocks therein
was a blue-and-white cup and saucer, and a plate to match underneath
it, that seemed out of place there. She lifted down the pile.
“Steady on!” he counselled her. “Why dun you choose that?”
“Because I like it,” she replied, simply.
He was silenced. “That's a bit o' real Spode,” he said, as she put
it on the table and dusted the several pieces with a corner of the
“It won't be in any danger,” she retorted, “until it comes to be
washed up. So I'll stop afterwards and wash it up myself. There!”
“Now you can't find the teaspoons, miss!” he challenged her.
“I think I can,” she said.
She raised the tablecloth at the end, discovered the knob of a
drawer, and opened it. And, surely, there were teaspoons.
“Can't I just take a peep into the scullery?” she begged, with a
bewitching supplication. “I won't stop. It's nearly time your servant
was back, if she's always so dreadfully prompt as you say. I won't
touch anything. Servants are so silly. They always think one wants to
interfere with them.”
Without waiting for James's permission, she burst youthfully into
“Oh,” she exclaimed, “there's some one here!”
Of course there was. There was Mrs. Butt.
Although the part played by Mrs. Butt in the drama was vehement and
momentous, it was nevertheless so brief that a description of Mrs. Butt
is hardly called for. Suffice it to say that she had so much waist as
to have no waist, and that she possessed both a beard and a moustache.
This curt catalogue of her charms is unfair to her; but Mrs. Butt was
ever the victim of unfairness.
James Ollerenshaw looked audaciously in at the door. “It's Mrs.
Butt,” said he. “Us thought as ye were out.”
“Good-afternoon, Mrs. Butt,” Helen began, with candid pleasantness.
“And what have you got for uncle's tea to-day? Something tasty?”
“I've got this,” said Mrs. Butt, with candid unpleasantness. And she
pointed to an oblate spheroid, the colour of brick, but smoother, which
lay on a plate near the gas-stove. It was a kidney.
“It's not cooked yet, I see,” Helen observed. “And—”
The clock finished her remark.
“No, miss, it's not cooked,” said Mrs. Butt. “To tell ye the honest
truth, miss, I've been learning, 'stead o' cooking this 'ere kidney.”
She picked up the kidney in her pudding-like hand and gazed at it. “I'm
glad the brasses is clean, miss, at any rate, though the house does
look as though there was no woman about the place, and servants are
silly. I'm thankful to Heaven as the brasses is clean. Come into my
scullery, and welcome.”
She ceased, still holding up the kidney.
“H'm!”—from Uncle James.
This repeated remark of his seemed to rouse the fury in her. “You
may 'h'm,' Mester Ollerenshaw,” she glared at him. “You may 'h'm' as
much as yo'n a mind.” Then to Helen: “Come in, miss; come in. Don't be
afraid of servants.” And finally, with a striking instinct for
theatrical effect: “But I go out!”
She flung the innocent and yielding kidney to the floor, snatched up
a bonnet, cast off her apron, and departed.
“There!” said James Ollerenshaw. “You've done it!”
CHAPTER VII. THE NEW COOK
Ten minutes later Mr. James Ollerenshaw stood alone in his
kitchen-sitting-room. And he gazed at the door between the
kitchen-sitting-room and the scullery. This door was shut; that is to
say, it was nearly shut. He had been turned out of the scullery; not
with violence—or, rather, with a sort of sweet violence that he liked,
and that had never before been administered to him by any human soul.
An afternoon highly adventurous—an afternoon on which he had permitted
himself to be insulted, with worse than impunity to the insulter, by
the childish daughter of that chit Susan—an afternoon on which he had
raised his hat to Mrs. Prockter—a Saturday afternoon on which he had
foregone, on account of a woman, his customary match at bowls—this
afternoon was drawing to a close in a manner which piled thrilling
event on thrilling event.
Mrs. Butt had departed. For unnumbered years Mrs. Butt had miscooked
his meals. The little house was almost inconceivable without Mrs. Butt.
And Mrs. Butt had departed. Already he missed her as one misses an
ancient and supersensitive corn—if the simile may be permitted to one;
it is a simile not quite nice, but, then, Mrs. Butt was not quite nice
either. The fault was not hers; she was born so.
The dropping of the kidney with a plop, by Mrs. Butt, on the
hard, unsympathetic floor of the scullery, had constituted an extremely
dramatic moment in three lives. Certainly Mrs. Butt possessed a
wondrous instinct for theatrical effect. Helen, on the contrary, seemed
to possess none. She had advanced nonchalantly towards the kidney, and
delicately picked it up between finger and thumb, and turned it over,
and then put it on a plate.
“That's a veal kidney,” she had observed.
“Art sure it isn't a sheep's kidney, lass?” James had asked,
carefully imitating Helen's nonchalance.
“Yes,” she had said. “I gather you are not passionately fond of
kidneys, great-stepuncle?” she had asked.
“I was once. What art going to do, lass?”
“I'm going to get our tea,” she had said.
At the words, our tea, the antique James Ollerenshaw, who had
never thought to have such a sensation again, was most distinctly
conscious of an agreeable, somewhat disturbing sensation of being
tickled in the small of his back.
“Well,” he had asked her, “what can I do?”
“You can go out,” she had replied. “Wouldn't it be a good thing for
you to go out for a walk? Tea will be ready at half-past four.”
“I go for no walk,” he said, positively....
“Yes, that's all right,” she had murmured, but not in response to
his flat refusal to obey her. She had been opening the double cupboard
and the five drawers which constituted the receptacles of the
scullery-larders; she had been spying out the riches and the poverty of
the establishment. Then she had turned to him, and, instead of engaging
him in battle, she had just smiled at him, and said: “Very well. As you
wish. But do go into the front room, at any rate.”
And there he was in the middle room, the kitchen, listening to her
movements behind the door. He heard the running of water, and then the
mild explosion of lighting the second ring of the gas-stove; the first
had been lighted by Mrs. Butt. Then he heard nothing whatever for
years, and when he looked at the clock it was fourteen minutes past
four. In the act of looking at the clock, his eye had to traverse the
region of the sofa. On the sofa were one parasol and two gloves.
Astonishing, singular, disconcerting, how those articles—which, after
all, bore no kind of resemblance to any style of furniture or
hangings—seemed, nevertheless, to refurnish the room, to give the room
an air of being thickly inhabited which it never had before!
Then she burst into the kitchen unexpectedly, with a swish of silk
that was like the retreat of waves down the shingle of some Atlantic
“My dear uncle,” she protested, “please do make yourself scarce. You
are in my way, and I'm very busy.”
She went to the cupboard and snatched at some plates, two of which
she dropped on the table, and three of which she took into the kitchen.
“Have ye got all as ye want?” he questioned her politely, anxious to
be of assistance.
“Everything!” she answered, positively, and with just the least hint
of an intention to crush him.
“Have ye indeed!”
He did not utter this exclamation aloud; but with it he applied balm
to his secret breast. For he still remembered, being an old man, her
crushing him in the park, and the peril of another crushing roused the
male in him. And it was with a sardonic and cruel satisfaction that he
applied such balm to his secret breast. The truth was, he knew that she
had not got all she wanted. He knew that, despite her extraordinary
capableness (of which she was rather vain), despite her ability to
calculate mentally the interest on eighty-nine pounds for six months at
four-and-a-half per cent., she could not possibly prepare the tea
without coming to him and confessing to him that she had been mistaken,
and that she had not got everything she wanted. She would be
compelled to humble herself before him—were it ever so little. He was
a hard old man, and the prospect of this humbling gave him pleasure (I
regret to say).
You cannot have tea without tea-leaves; and James Ollerenshaw kept
the tea-leaves in a tea-caddy, locked, in his front room. He had an
extravagant taste in tea. He fancied China tea; and he fancied China
tea that cost five shillings a pound. He was the last person to leave
China tea at five shillings a pound to the economic prudence of a Mrs.
Butt. Every day Mrs. Butt brought to him the teapot (warmed) and a
teaspoon, and he unlocked the tea-caddy, dispensed the right quantity
of tea, and relocked the tea-caddy.
There was no other tea in the house. So with a merry heart the
callous fellow (shamefully delighting in the imminent downfall of a
fellow-creature—and that a woman!) went into the front room as he had
been bidden. On one of the family of chairs, in a corner, was a black
octagonal case. He opened this case, which was not locked, and drew
from it a concertina, all inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Then he went to
the desk, and from under a pile of rent books he extracted several
pieces of music, and selected one. This selected piece he reared up on
the mantelpiece against two brass candlesticks. It was obvious, from
the certainty and ease of his movements, that he had the habit of
lodging pieces of music against those two brass candlesticks. The music
bore the illustrious name of George Frederick Handel.
Then he put on a pair of spectacles which were lying on the
mantelpiece, and balanced them on the end of his nose. Finally he
adjusted his little hands to the straps of the concertina. You might
imagine that he would instantly dissolve into melody. Not at all. He
glanced at the page of music first through his spectacles, and then,
bending forward his head, over his spectacles. Then he put down
the concertina, gingerly, on a chair, and moved the music half-an-inch
(perhaps five-eighths) to the left. He resumed the concertina, and was
on the very point of song, when he put down the concertina for the
second time, and moved the tassel of his Turkish cap from the
neighbourhood of his left ear to the neighbourhood of his right ear.
Then, with a cough, he resumed the concertina once more, and embarked
upon the interpretation of Handel.
It was the Hallelujah Chorus.
Any surprise which the musical reader may feel on hearing that James
Ollerenshaw was equal to performing the Hallelujah Chorus on a
concertina (even one inlaid with mother-of-pearl) argues on the part of
that reader an imperfect acquaintance with the Five Towns. In the Five
Towns there are (among piano scorners) two musical instruments, the
concertina and the cornet. And the Five Towns would like to see the
composer clever enough to compose a piece of music that cannot be
arranged for either of these instruments. It is conceivable that
Beethoven imagined, when he wrote the last movement of the C Minor
Symphony, that he had produced a work which it would be impossible to
arrange for cornet solo. But if he did he imagined a vain thing. In the
Five Towns, where the taste for classical music is highly developed,
the C Minor Symphony on a single cornet is as common as “Robin Adair"
on a full brass band.
James Ollerenshaw played the Hallelujah Chorus with much feeling and
expression. He understood the Hallelujah Chorus to its profoundest
depths; which was not surprising in view of the fact that he had been
playing it regularly since before Helen was born. (The unfading charm
of classical music is that you never tire of it.)
Nevertheless, the grandeur of his interpretation of the Hallelujah
Chorus appeared to produce no effect whatever in the scullery; neither
alarm nor ecstasy! And presently, in the midst of a brief pianissimo
passage, James's sensitive ear caught the distant sound of chopping,
which quite marred the soft tenderness at which he had been aiming. He
stopped abruptly. The sound of chopping intrigued his curiosity. What
could she be chopping? He advanced cautiously to the doorway; he had
left the door open. The other door—between the kitchen and the
scullery—which had previously been closed, was now open, so that he
could see from the front room into the scullery. His eager, inquisitive
glance noted a plate of beautiful bread and butter on the tea-table in
She was chopping the kidney. Utterly absorbed in her task, she had
no suspicion that she was being overlooked. After the chopping of the
kidney, James witnessed a series of operations the key to whose
significance he could not find.
She put a flat pan over the gas, and then took it off again. Then
she picked up an egg, broke it into a coffee-cup, and instantly poured
it out of the coffee-cup into a basin. She did the same to another egg,
and yet another. Four eggs! The entire household stock of eggs! It was
terrible! Four eggs and a kidney among two people! He could not divine
what she was at.
Then she got some butter on the end of a knife and dropped it into
the saucepan, and put the saucepan over the gas; and then poured the
plateful of kidney-shreds into the saucepan. Then she began furiously
to beat the four eggs with a fork, glancing into the saucepan
frequently, and coaxing it with little touches. Then the kidney-shreds
raised a sound of frizzling, and bang into the saucepan went the
contents of the basin. All the time she had held her hands and her
implements and utensils away from her as much as possible, doubtless
out of consideration for her frock; not an inch of apron was she
wearing. Now she leant over the gas-stove, fork in hand, and made
baffling motions inside the saucepan with the fork; and while doing so
she stretched forth her left hand, obtained some salt, and sprinkled
the saucepan therewith. The business seemed to be exquisitely delicate
and breathless. Her face was sternly set, as though the fate of
continents depended on her nerve and audacity in this tremendous
crisis. But what she was doing to the interior of the saucepan James
Ollerenshaw could not comprehend. She stroked it with a long gesture;
she tickled it, she stroked it in a different direction; she lifted it
and folded it on itself.
Anyhow, he knew it was not scrambled eggs, because you have to stir
scrambled eggs without ceasing.
Then she stopped and stood quite still, regarding the saucepan.
“You've watched me quite long enough,” she said, without moving her
head. She must have known all the time that he was there.
So he shuffled away, and glanced out of the window at the stir and
traffic of Trafalgar-road.
“Tea's ready,” she said.
He went into the kitchen, smiling, enchanted, but disturbed. She had
not come to him and confessed that she could not make tea without
tea-leaves. Yet there was the teapot steaming and puffing on the table!
CHAPTER VIII. OMELETTE
The mystery lay on a plate in the middle of the table. In colour it
resembled scrambled eggs, except that it was tinted a more brownish, or
coppery, gold—rather like a first-class Yorkshire pudding. He
suspected for an instant that it might be a Yorkshire pudding according
to the new-fangled recipe of Board Schools. But four eggs! No! He was
sure that so small a quantity of Yorkshire pudding could not possibly
have required four eggs.
He picked up the teapot, after his manner, and was in the act of
pouring, when she struck him into immobility with a loud cry:
He understood that she had a caprice for pouring the tea on the top
of the milk instead of the milk on the top of the tea.
“What difference does it make?” he demanded defiantly.
“What!” she cried again. “You think yourself a great authority on
China tea, and yet you don't know that milk ought to be poured in
first! Why, it makes quite a different taste!”
How in the name of Confucius did she know that he thought himself a
great authority on China tea?
“Here!” she said. “If you don't mind, I'll pour out the tea. Thank
you. Help yourself to this.” She pointed to the mystery. “It must be
eaten while it's hot, or it's worse than useless.”
“What is it?” he asked, with false calm.
“It's a kidney omelette,” she replied.
“Omelette!” he repeated, rather at a loss. He had never tasted an
omelette; he had never seen an omelette. Omelettes form no part of the
domestic cuisine of England. “Omelette!” he repeated. How was he
familiar with the word—the word which conveyed nothing to his mind?
Then he remembered: “You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.”
Of course she had broken eggs. She had broken four eggs—she had broken
the entire household stock of eggs. And he had employed that proverb
scores, hundreds of times! It was one of half-a-dozen favourite
proverbs which he flung at the less sagacious and prudent of his
tenants. And yet it had never occurred to him to wonder what an
omelette was! Now he knew. At any rate, he knew what it looked like;
and he was shortly to know what it tasted like.
“Yes,” she said. “Cut it with a knife. Don't be frightened of it.
You'll eat it; it won't eat you. And please give me very little.
I ate a quarter of a pound of chocolates after dinner.”
He conveyed one-third of the confection to his plate, and about a
sixth to hers.
And he tasted—just a morsel, with a dash of kidney in the centre of
it, on the end of his fork. He was not aware of the fact, but that was
the decisive moment of his life—sixty though he was!
Had she really made this marvel, this dream, this idyll, this
indescribable bliss, out of four common fresh eggs and a veal kidney
that Mrs. Butt had dropped on the floor? He had come to loathe kidney.
He had almost come to swearing that no manifestation or incarnation of
kidney should ever again pass between his excellent teeth. And now he
was ravished, rapt away on the wings of paradisaical ecstasy by a
something that consisted of kidney and a few eggs. This omelette had
all the finer and nobler qualities of Yorkshire pudding and scrambled
eggs combined, together with others beyond the ken of his greedy fancy.
Yes, he was a greedy man. He knew he was greedy. He was a greedy man
whose evil passion had providentially been kept in check for over a
quarter of a century by the gross unskilfulness, the appalling
monotony, of a Mrs. Butt. Could it be that there existed women, light
and light-handed creatures, creatures of originality and resource, who
were capable of producing prodigies like this kidney omelette on the
spur of the moment? Evidently! Helen existed. And the whole omelette,
from the melting of the butter to the final steady glance into the
saucepan, had not occupied her more than six minutes—at most. She had
tossed it off as he might have tossed off a receipt for a week's rent.
And the exquisite thought in his mind, the thought of penetrating
sweetness, was that whence this delicacy had come, other and even rarer
delicacies might have come. All his past life seemed to him to be a
miserable waste of gloomy and joyless years.
“Do you like it?” she inquired.
He paused, as though reflecting whether he liked it or not. “Ay,” he
said, judicially, “it's none so bad. I could do a bit more o' that.”
“Well,” she urged him, “do help yourself. Take it all. I shan't eat
“Sure?” he said, trembling lest she might change her mind.
Then he ate the remaining half of the omelette, making five-sixths
in all. He glanced at her surreptitiously, in her fine dress, on which
was not a single splash or stain. He might have known that so
extraordinary and exotic a female person would not concoct anything so
trite as a Yorkshire pudding or scrambled eggs.
Not till the omelette was an affair of the past (so far as his
plate was concerned) did he begin to attend to his tea—his tea which
sustained a mystery as curious as, and decidedly more sinister than,
the mystery of the omelette.
He stared into the cup; then, to use the Five Towns phrase, he
supped it up.
There could be no doubt; it was his special China tea. It had a
peculiar flavour (owing, perhaps, to the precedence given to milk), but
it was incontestably his guarded and locked tea. How had she got it?
“Where didst find this tea, lass?” he asked.
“In the little corner cupboard in the scullery,” she said. “I'd no
idea that people drank such good China tea in Bursley.”
“Ah!” he observed, concealing his concern under a mask of irony,
“China tea was drunk i' Bursley afore your time.”
“Mother would only drink Ceylon,” said she.
“That doesna' surprise me,” said he, as if to imply that no vagary
on the part of Susan could surprise him. And he proceeded,
reflectively: “In th' corner cupboard, sayst tha?”
“Yes, in a large tin box.”
A large tin box. This news was overwhelming. He rose abruptly and
went into the scullery. Indubitably there was a large tin box, pretty
nearly half full of his guarded tea, in the corner cupboard.
He returned, the illusion of half a lifetime shattered. “That there
woman was a thief!” he announced.
And he explained to Helen all his elaborate precautions for the
preservation of his China tea. Helen was wholly sympathetic. The utter
correctness of her attitude towards Mrs. Butt was balm to him. Only one
theory was conceivable. The wretched woman must have had a key to his
caddy. During his absence from the house she must have calmly helped
herself to tea at five shillings a pound—a spoonful or so at a time.
Doubtless she made tea for her private consumption exactly when she
chose. It was even possible that she walked off from time to time with
quantities of tea to her own home. And he who thought himself so
clever, so much cleverer than a servant!
“You can't have her back, as she isn't honest, even if she comes
back,” said Helen.
“Oh, her won't come back,” said James. “Fact is, I've had
difficulties with her for a long time now.”
“Then what shall you do, my poor dear uncle?”
“Nay,” said he, “I mun ask you that. It was you as was th' cause of
“Oh, uncle!” she exclaimed, laughing. “How can you say such a
thing?” And she added, seriously: “You can't be expected to cook for
yourself, can you? And as for getting a new one—”
He noticed with satisfaction that she had taken to calling him
simply uncle, instead of great-stepuncle.
“A new 'un!” he muttered, grimly, and sighed in despair.
“I shall stay and look after your supper,” she said, brightly.
“Yes, and what about to-morrow?” He grew gloomier.
“To-morrow's Sunday. I'll come to-morrow, for breakfast.”
“Yes, and what about Monday?” His gloom was not easily to be
“I'll come on Monday,” she replied, with increasing cheerfulness.
“But your school, where ye teach everything, lass?”
“Of course, I shall give up school,” said she, “at once. They must
do without me. It will mean promotion for some one. I can't bother
about giving proper notice. Supposing you had been dangerously ill, I
should have come, and they would have managed without me. Therefore,
they can manage without me. Therefore, they must.”
He kept up a magnificent gloom until she left for the night. And
then he danced a hornpipe of glee—not with his legs, but in his heart.
He had deliberately schemed to get rid of Mrs. Butt by means of Helen
Rathbone. The idea had occurred to him as he entered the house. That
was why he had encouraged her to talk freely about servants by assuring
her that Mrs. Butt was not in the scullery, being well aware that Mrs.
Butt was in the scullery. He had made a tool of the unsuspecting,
good-natured Helen, smart though she was! He had transitory qualms of
fear about the possible expensiveness of Helen. He had decidedly not
meant that she should give up school and nearly thirty shillings a
week. But, still, he had managed her so far, and he reckoned that he
could continue to manage her.
He regretted that she had not praised his music. And Helen wrote the
same evening to her mother. From a very long and very exciting letter
the following excerpts may be culled:
“I saw the fat old servant in the scullery at once. But uncle
thought she wasn't there. He is a funny old man—rather silly, like
most old men——but I like him, and you can say what you please. He
isn't silly really. I instantly decided that I would get rid of that
servant. And I did do, and poor uncle never suspected. In a few days I
shall come to live here. It's much safer. Supposing he was taken ill
and died, and left all his money to hospitals and things, how awfully
stupid that would be! I told him I should leave the school, and he
didn't turn a hair. He's a dear, and I don't care a fig for his
money—except to spend it for him. His tiny house is simply lovely,
terrifically clean, and in the loveliest order. But I've no intention
that we shall stay here. I think I shall take a large house up at
Hillport. Uncle is only old in some ways; in many ways he's quite
young. So I hope he won't mind a change. By the way, he told me about
your age. My dearest mother, how could you—” etc.
In such manner came Helen Rathbone to keep house for her
CHAPTER IX. A GREAT CHANGE
“Helen Rathbone,” said Uncle James one Tuesday afternoon, “have ye
been meddling in my cashbox?”
They were sitting in the front room, Helen in a light-grey costume
that cascaded over her chair and half the next chair, and James
Ollerenshaw in the deshabille of his Turkish cap. James was at his
desk. It is customary in the Five Towns, when you feel combative,
astonished, or ironic towards another person, to address that other
person by his full name.
“You left the key in your cashbox this morning, uncle,” said Helen,
glancing up from a book, “while you were fiddling with your safe in
He did not like the word “fiddling.” It did not suit either his
dignity or the dignity of his huge Milner safe.
“Well,” he said, “and if I did! I wasn't upstairs more nor five
minutes, and th' new servant had na' come! There was but you and me in
“Yes. But, you see, I was in a hurry to go out marketing, and I
couldn't wait for you to come down.”
He ignored this remark. “There's a tenpun' note missing,” said he.
“Don't play them tricks on me, lass; I'm getting an oldish man. Where
hast hidden it? I mun go to th' bank.” He spoke plaintively.
“My dear uncle,” she replied, “I've not hidden your ten-pound note.
I wanted some money in a hurry, so I took it. I've spent some of it.”
“Spent some of it!” he exclaimed. “How much hast spent?”
“Oh, I don't know. But I make up my accounts every night.”
“Lass,” said he, staring firmly out of the window, “this won't do. I
let ye know at once. This wunna' do.” He was determined to be master in
his own house. She also was determined to be master in his own house.
Conflict was imminent.
“May I ask what you mean, uncle?”
He hesitated. He was not afraid of her. But he was afraid of her
dress—not of the material, but of the cut of it. If she had been Susan
in Susan's dowdy and wrinkled alpaca, he would have translated his just
emotion into what critics call “simple, nervous English”—that is to
say, Shakespearean prose. But the aristocratic, insolent perfection of
Helen's gown gave him pause.
“Why didn't you tell me?” he demanded.
“I merely didn't think of it,” she said. “I've been very busy.”
“If you wanted money, why didn't you ask me for it?” he demanded.
“I've been here over a week,” said she, “and you've given me a pound
and a postal order for ten shillings, which I had to ask for. Surely
you must have guessed, uncle, that even if I'd put the thirty shillings
in the savings bank we couldn't live on the interest of it, and that I
was bound to want more. Something like seventy meals have been served
in this house since I entered it.”
“I gave Mrs. Butt a pound a wik,” he observed.
“But think what a good manager Mrs. Butt was!” she said, with the
sweetness of a saint.
He was accustomed to distributing satire, but not to receiving it.
And, receiving this snowball full in the mouth, he did not quite know
what to do with it; whether to pretend that he had received nothing, or
to call a policeman. He ended by spluttering.
“It's easy enough to ask for money when you want it,” he said.
“I hate asking for money,” she said. “All women do.”
“Then am I to be inquiring every morning whether you want money?” he
“Certainly, uncle,” she answered. “How else are you to know?”
Difficult to credit that that girl had been an angel of light all
the week, existing in a paradise which she had created for herself, and
for him! And now, to defend an action utterly indefensible, she was
employing a tone that might be compared to some fiendish instrumental
device of a dentist.
But James Ollerenshaw did not wish his teeth stopped, nor yet
extracted. He had excellent teeth. And, in common with all men who have
never taken thirty consecutive repasts alone with the same woman, he
knew how to treat women, how to handle them—the trout!
He stood up. He raised all his body. Helen raised only her eyebrows.
“Helen Rathbone!” Such was the exordium. As an exordium, it was
faultless. But it was destined to remain a fragment. It goes down to
history as a perfect fragment, like the beginning of a pagan temple
that the death of gods has rendered superfluous.
For a dog-cart stopped in front of the house at that precise second,
deposited a lady of commanding mien, and dashed off again. The lady
opened James's gate and knocked at James's front door. She could not be
a relative of a tenant. James was closely acquainted with all his
tenants, and he had none of that calibre. Moreover, Helen had caused a
small board to be affixed to the gate: “Tenants will please go round to
“Bless us!” he murmured, angrily. And, by force of habit, he went
and opened the door. Then he recognised the lady. It was Sarah Swetnam,
eldest child of the large and tumultuously intellectual Swetnam family
that lived in a largish house in a largish way higher up the road, and
as to whose financial stability rumour always had something interesting
“Is Miss Rathbone here?”
Before he could reply, there was an ecstatic cry behind him:
“Sally!” And another in front of him: “Nell!”
In the very nick of time he slipped aside, and thus avoided the
inconvenience of being crushed to pulp between two locomotives under
full steam. It appeared that they had not met for some years, Sally
having been in London. The reunion was an affecting sight, and such a
sight as had never before been witnessed in James's house. The little
room seemed to be full of fashionable women, to be all gloves, frills,
hat, parasol, veil, and whirling flowers; also scent. They kissed,
through Sally's veil first, and then she lifted the veil, and four
vermilion lips clung together. Sally was even taller than Helen, with a
solid waist; and older, more brazen. They both sat down. Fashionable
women have a manner of sitting down quite different from that of
ordinary women, such as the wives of James's tenants. They only touch
the back of the chair at the top. They don't loll, but they only escape
lolling by dint of gracefulness. It is an affair of curves, slants,
descents, nicely calculated. They elaborately lead your eye downwards
over gradually increasing expanses, and naturally you expect to see
their feet—and you don't see their feet. The thing is apt to be
disturbing to unhabituated beholders.
Then fashionable women always begin their conversation right off.
There are no modest or shy or decently awkward silences at the start.
They slip into a conversation as a duck into water. In three minutes
Helen had told Sarah Swetnam everything about her leaving the school,
and about her establishment with her great-stepuncle. And Sarah seemed
delighted, and tapped the tiles of the floor with the tip of her
sunshade, and gazed splendidly over the room.
“And there are your books there, I see!” she said, in her positive,
calm voice, pointing to a few hundred books that were stacked in a
corner. “How lovely! You remember you promised to lend me that book of
Thoreau's—what did you call it?—and you never did!”
“Next time you come I'll find it for you,” said Helen.
Next time she came! This kind of visit would occur frequently, then!
They were talking just as if James Ollerenshaw had been in Timbuctoo,
instead of by the mantelpiece, when Sally suddenly turned on him.
“It must be very nice for you to have Nell like this!” She addressed
him with a glowing smile.
They had never been introduced! A week ago they had passed each
other in St. Luke's-square without a sign. Of the Swetnam family, James
“knew” the father alone, and him slightly. What chiefly impressed him
in Sarah was her nerve. He said nothing; he was tongue-tied.
“It's a great change for you,” proceeded Sarah.
“Ay,” he agreed; “it's that.”
CHAPTER X. A CALL
The next moment the two fluffy women had decided, without in the
least consulting James, that they would ascend to Helen's bedroom to
look at a hat which, James was surprised to learn, Helen had seen in
Brunt's window that morning and had bought on the spot. No wonder she
had been in a hurry to go marketing; no wonder she had spent “some” of
his ten-pound note! He had seen hats in Brunt's marked as high as two
guineas; but he had not dreamt that such hats would ever enter his
house. While he had been labouring, collecting his rents and arranging
for repairs, throughout the length and the breadth of Bursley and
Turnhill, she, under pretence of marketing, had been flinging away
ten-pound notes at Brunt's. The whole business was fantastic, simply
and madly fantastic; so fantastic that he had not yet quite grasped the
reality of it! The whole business was unheard of. He saw, with all the
clearness of his masculine intellect, that it must cease. The force
with which he decided within himself that it must cease—and
instanter!—bordered upon the hysterical. As he had said, plaintively,
he was an oldish man. His habits, his manners, and his notions,
especially his notions about money, were fixed and set like plaster of
Paris in a mould. Helen's conduct was nothing less than dangerous. It
might bring him to a sudden death from heart disease. Happily, he had
had a very good week indeed with his rents. He trotted about all day on
Mondays and on Tuesday mornings, gathering his rents, and on Tuesday
afternoons he usually experienced the assuaged content of an alligator
after the weekly meal. Otherwise there was no knowing what might not
have been the disastrous consequences of Helen's barefaced robbery and
of her unscrupulous, unrepentant defence of that robbery. For days and
days he had imagined himself in heaven with a seraph who was also a
good cook. He had forty times congratulated himself on catching Helen.
But it must stop.
Then he thought of the cooking. His mouth remembered its first taste
of the incomparable kidney omelette. What an ecstasy! Still, a
ten-pound note for even a kidney omelette jarred on the fineness of his
sense of values.
A feminine laugh—Helen's—came down the narrow stairs and through
the kitchen.... No, the whole house was altered, with well-bred,
distinguished women's laughter floating about the stairs like that.
He called upon his lifelong friend and comforter—the concertina.
That senseless thing of rose-wood, ivory, ebony, mother-of-pearl, and
leather was to him what a brother, a pipe, a bull terrier, a trusted
confidant, might have been to another James. And now, in the accents of
the Hallelujah Chorus, it yielded to his squeezings the secret and
sublime solace which men term poetry.
Then there was a second, and equally imperious, knock at the door.
He loosed his fingers from his friend, and opened the door.
Mr. Emanuel Prockter stood on the doorstep. Mr. Emanuel Prockter
wore a beautiful blue suit, with a white waistcoat and pale gold tie;
yellow gloves, boots with pointed toes, a glossy bowler hat, a cane,
and an eyeglass. He was an impeccable young man, and the avowed delight
of his tailor, whose bills were paid by Mrs. Prockter.
“Is Miss Rathbone at home?” asked Emanuel, after a cough.
“Ay,” said James, grimly. “Her's quite at home.”
“Can I see her?”
James opened more widely the door. “Happen you'd better step
inside,” said he.
“Thanks, Mr. Ollerenshaw. What—er—fine weather we're having!”
James ignored this quite courteous and truthful remark. He shut the
door, went into the kitchen, and called up the stairs: “Helen, a young
man to see ye.”
In the bedroom, Helen and Sarah Swetnam had exhausted the Brunt hat,
and were spaciously at sea in an enchanted ocean of miscellaneous
gossip such as is only possible between two highly-educated women who
scorn tittle-tattle. Helen had the back bedroom; partly because the
front bedroom was her uncle's, but partly also because the back bedroom
was just as large as and much quieter than the other, and because she
preferred it. There had been no difficulty about furniture. Even so
good a landlord as James Ollerenshaw is obliged now and then to go to
extremes in the pursuit of arrears of rent, and the upper part of the
house was crowded with choice specimens of furniture which had once
belonged to the more magnificent of his defaulting tenants. Helen's
bedroom was not “finished”; nor, since she regarded it as a temporary
lodging rather than a permanent habitation, was she in a mind to finish
it. Still, with her frocks dotted about, the hat on the four-post bed,
and her silver-mounted brushes and manicure tools on the
dressing-table, it had a certain stylishness. Sarah shared the bed with
the hat. Helen knelt at a trunk.
“Whatever made you think of coming to Bursley?” Sarah questioned.
“Don't you think it's better than Longshaw?” said Helen.
“Yes, my darling child. But that's not why you came. If you ask me,
I believe it was your deliberate intention to capture your great-uncle.
Anyhow, I congratulate you on your success.”
“Ah!” Helen murmured, smiling to herself, “I'm not out of the wood
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you see, uncle and I haven't quite decided whether he is to
have his way or I am to have mine; we were both thinking about it when
you happened to call.” And then, as there was a little pause: “Are
people talking about us much?”
She did not care whether people were talking much or little, but she
had an obscure desire to shift ever so slightly the direction of the
“I've only been here a day or two, so I can scarcely judge,” said
Sarah. “But Lilian came in from the art school this morning with an
armful of chatter.”
“Let me see, I forget,” Helen said. “Is Lilian the youngest, or the
next to the youngest?”
“My dearest child, Lilian is the youngest but one, of course; but
she's grown up now—naturally.”
“What! When I saw her last, that day when she was with you at Knype,
she had a ribbon in her hair, and she looked ten.”
“She's eighteen. And haven't you heard?”
“Do you mean to say you've been in Bursley a week and more, and
haven't heard? Surely you know Andrew Dean?”
“I know Andrew Dean,” said Helen; and she said nothing else.
“When did you last see him?”
“Oh, about a fortnight ago.”
“It was before that. He didn't tell you? Well, it's just like him,
that is; that's Andrew all over!”
“He's engaged to Lilian. It's the first engagement in the family,
and she's the youngest but one.”
Helen shut the trunk with a snap, then opened it and shut it again.
And then she rose, smoothing her hair.
“I scarcely know Lilian,” she said, coldly. “And I don't know your
mother at all. But I must call and congratulate the child. No, Andrew
Dean didn't breathe a word.”
“I may tell you as a dreadful secret, Nell, that we aren't any of us
in the seventh heaven about it. Aunt Annie said yesterday: 'I don't
know that I'm so set up with it as all that, Jane' (meaning mother). We
aren't so set up with it as all that.”
“Oh, we aren't. I don't know why. I pretend to be, lest Lilian
should imagine I'm jealous.”
It was at this point that the voice of James Ollerenshaw announced a
The remainder of that afternoon was like a bewildering dream to
James Ollerenshaw. His front room seemed to be crowded with a multitude
of peacocks, that would have been more at home under the sun of Mrs.
Prockter's lawns up at Hillport. Yet there were only three persons
present besides himself. But decidedly they were not of his world; they
were of the world that referred to him as “old Jimmy Ollerenshaw,” or
briefly as “Jimmy.” And he had to sit and listen to them, and even to
answer coherently when spoken to. Emanuel Prockter was brilliant. He
had put his hat on one chair and his cane across another, and he
conversed with ducal facility. The two things about him that puzzled
the master of the house were—first, why he was not, at such an hour,
engaged in at any rate the pretence of earning his living; and, second,
why he did not take his gloves off. No notion of work seemed to exist
in the minds of the three. They chattered of tennis, novels, music, and
particularly of amateur operatic societies. James acquired the
information that Emanuel was famous as a singer of songs. The topic led
then naturally to James's concertina; the talk lightly caressed James's
concertina, and then Emanuel swept it off to the afternoon tea-room of
the new Midland Grand Hotel at Manchester, where Emanuel had lately
been. And that led to the Old Oak Tree tea-house in Bond-street, where,
not to be beaten by Emanuel, Sarah Swetnam had lately been.
“Suppose we have tea,” said Helen.
And she picked up a little brass bell which stood on the central
table and tinkled it. James had not noticed the bell. It was one of the
many little changes that Helen had introduced. Each change by itself
was a nothing—what is one small bell in a house?—yet in the mass they
amounted to much. The bell was obviously new. She must have bought it;
but she had not mentioned it to him. And how could they all sit at the
tiny table in the kitchen? Moreover, he had no fancy for entertaining
the whole town of Bursley to meals. However, the immediate prospect of
tea produced in James a feeling of satisfaction, even though he
remained in perfect ignorance of the methods by which Helen meant to
achieve the tea. She had rung the bell, and gone on talking, as if the
tea would cook itself and walk in on its hind legs and ask to be eaten.
Then the new servant entered with a large tray. James had never seen
such a servant, a servant so entirely new. She was wearing a black
frock and various parts of the frock, and the top of her head, were
covered with stiffly-starched white linen—or was it cotton? Her apron,
which had two pockets, was more elaborate than an antimacassar. Helen
coolly instructed her to place the tray on his desk; which she did,
brushing irreverently aside a number of rent books.
On the tray there was nothing whatever to eat but a dozen slices of
the thinnest conceivable bread and butter.
Helen rose. Emanuel also rose.
Helen poured out the tea. Emanuel took a cup and saucer in one hand
and the plate of bread and butter in the other, and ceremoniously
approached Sarah Swetnam. Sarah accepted the cup and saucer, delicately
chose a piece of bread and butter and lodged it on her saucer, and went
Emanuel returned to the table, and, reladen, approached old Jimmy,
and old Jimmy had to lodge a piece of bread and butter on his saucer.
Then Emanuel removed his gloves, and in a moment they were all drinking
tea and nibbling bread and butter.
What a fall was this from kidney omelettes! And four had struck! Did
Helen expect her uncle to make his tea off a slice of bread and butter
that weighed about two drachms?
When the alleged tea was over James got on his feet, and silently
slid into the kitchen. The fact was that Emanuel Prockter and the
manikin airs of Emanuel Prockter made him positively sick. He had not
been in the kitchen more than a minute before he was aware of amazing
matters in the conversation.
“Yes,” said Helen; “it's small.”
“But, my child, you've always been used to a small house, surely. I
think it's just as quaint and pretty as a little museum.”
“Would you like to live in a little museum?”
A laugh from Emanuel, and the voice of Helen proceeding:
“I've always lived in a small house, just as I've taught six hours a
day in a school. But not because I wanted to. I like room. I daresay
that uncle and I may find another house one of these days.”
“Up at Hillport, I hope,” Emanuel put in. James could see his
mincing imbecile smile through the kitchen wall.
“Who knows?” said Helen.
James returned to the front room. “What's that ye're saying?” he
questioned the company.
“I was just saying how quaint and pretty your house is,” said Sarah,
and she rose to depart. More kissings, flutterings, swishings! Emanuel
Emanuel followed Miss Swetnam in a few minutes. Helen accompanied
him to the gate, where she stayed a little while talking to him. James
was in the blackest gloom.
“And now, you dear old thing,” said Helen, vivaciously bustling into
the house, “you shall have your tea. You've behaved like a
And she kissed him on the cheek, very excitedly, as he thought.
She gave him another kidney omelette for his tea. It was even more
adorable than the former one. With the taste of it in his mouth, he
could not recur to the question of the ten-pound note all at once. When
tea was over she retired upstairs, and remained in retirement for ages.
She descended at a quarter to eight, with her hat and gloves on. It
appeared to him that her eyes were inflamed.
“I'm going out,” she said, with no further explanation.
And out she went, leaving the old man, stricken daft by too many
sensations, to collect his wits.
He had not even been to the bank!
And the greatest sensation of all the nightmarish days was still in
reserve for him. At a quarter-past eight some one knocked at the door.
He opened it, being handier than the new servant. He imagined himself
ready for anything; but he was not ready for the apparition which met
him on the threshold.
Mrs. Prockter, of Hillport, asked to be admitted!
CHAPTER XI. ANOTHER CALL
Mrs. Prockter was compelled to ask for admission, because James,
struck moveless and speechless by the extraordinary sight of her,
offered no invitation to enter. He merely stood in front of the
“May I come in, Mr. Ollerenshaw?” she said, very urbanely. “I hope
you will excuse this very informal call. I've altered my dinner hour in
order to pay it.”
And she smiled. The smile seemed to rouse him from a spell.
“Come in, missis, do!” he conjured her, warmly.
He was James; he was even Jimmy; but he was also a man, very much a
man, though the fact had only recently begun to impress itself on him.
Mrs. Prockter, while a dowager—portly, possibly fussy, perhaps
slightly comic to a younger generation—was still considerably younger
than James. With her rich figure, her excellent complexion, her
carefully-cherished hair, and her apparel, she was a woman to captivate
a man of sixty, whose practical experience of the sex extended over
“Thank you,” said she, gratefully.
He shut the front door, as if he were shutting a bird in a cage; and
he also shut the door leading to the kitchen—a door which had not been
shut since the kitchen fire smoked in the celebrated winter of 1897.
She sat down at once in the easy-chair.
“Ah!” she exclaimed, in relief. And then she began to fan herself
with a fan which was fastened to her person by a chain that might have
moored a steamer.
James, searching about for something else to do while he was
collecting his forces, drew the blind and lighted the gas. But it was
not yet dark.
“I wonder what you will think of me, calling like this?” she said,
with a sardonic smile.
It was apparent that, whatever he thought of her, she would not be
disturbed or abashed. She was utterly at her ease. She could not,
indeed, have recalled the moment when she had not been at her ease. She
sat in the front room with all the external symptoms of being at home.
This was what chiefly surprised James Ollerenshaw in his grand
guests—they all took his front room for granted. They betrayed no
emotion at its smallness or its plainness, or its eccentricities. He
would somehow have expected them to signify, overtly or covertly, that
that kind of room was not the kind of room to which they were
“Anyhow, I'm glad to see ye, Mrs. Prockter,” James returned.
A speech which did not in the least startle Mrs. Prockter, who was
thoroughly used to people being glad to see her. But it startled James.
He had uttered it instinctively; it was the expression of an
instinctive gladness which took hold of him and employed his tongue on
its own account, and which rose superior even to his extreme
astonishment at the visit. He was glad to see her. She was stout
and magnificent, in her silk and her ribbons. He felt that he preferred
stout women to thin; and that, without being aware of it, he had always
preferred stout women to thin. It was a question of taste. He certainly
preferred Mrs. Prockter to Sarah Swetnam. Mrs. Prockter's smile was the
smile of a benevolently cynical creature whose studies in human nature
had reached the advanced stage. James was reassured by this, for it
avoided the necessity for “nonsense.”....Yes, she was decidedly better
under a roof and a gas-jet than in the street.
“May I ask if your niece is in?” she said, in a low voice.
He had been sure that she had called about Helen, if not to see
Helen. But there was a conspiratorial accent in her question for which
he was unprepared. So he sat down at last.
“Well,” said Mrs. Prockter, “I'm not sorry she isn't. But if she had
been I should have spoken just the same—not to her, but to you. Now,
Mr. Ollerenshaw, I think you and I are rather alike in some things. I
hate beating about the bush, and I imagine that you do.”
He was flattered. And he was perfectly eased by her tone. She was a
woman to whom you could talk sense. And he perceived that, though a
casual observer might fail to find the points of resemblance between
them, they were rather alike.
“I expect,” said he, “it's pretty well known i' this town as I'm not
one that beats about the bush.”
“Good!” said she. “You know my stepson, Emanuel?”
“He was here a bit since,” James replied.
“What do you think of him?”
“As a man?”
“Well, missis, as we are na' beating about the bush, I think he's a
“Now that's what I like!” she exclaimed, quite ravished. “He is
a fool, Mr. Ollerenshaw—between ourselves. I can see that you and I
will get on together splendidly! Emanuel is a fool. I can't help it. I
took him along with my second husband, and I do my best for him. But
I'm not responsible for his character. As far as that goes, he isn't
responsible for it, either. Not only is he a fool, but he is a
conceited fool, and an idle fool; and he can't see a joke. At the same
time he is quite honest, and I think he's a gentleman. But being a
gentleman is no excuse for being a fool; indeed, I think it makes it
“Nothing can make it worse,” James put in.
She drew down the corners of her lips and stroked her fine grey
“You say Emanuel has been here to-day?”
“Ay!” said James. “He came in an' had a sup o' tea.”
“Do you know why he came?”
“Maybe he felt faintlike, and slipped in here, as there's no public
nearer than the Queen Adelaide. Or maybe he thought as I was getting on
in years, and he wanted for to make my acquaintance afore I died. I
didna' ask him.”
“I see you understand,” said Mrs. Prockter. “Mr. Ollerenshaw, my
stepson is courting your niece.”
“Great-stepniece,” James corrected; and added: “Is he now? To tell
ye th' truth I didn't know till th' other day as they were acquainted.”
“They haven't been acquainted long,” Mrs. Prockter informed him.
“You may have heard that Emanuel is thinking of going into partnership
with Mr. Andrew Dean—a new glaze that Mr. Dean has invented. The
matter may turn out well, because all that Mr. Dean really wants is a
sleeping partner with money. Emanuel has the money, and I think he can
be guaranteed to sleep. Your stepniece met Emanuel by accident through
Mr. Dean some weeks ago, over at Longshaw. They must have taken to each
other at once. And I must tell you that not merely is my stepson
courting your niece, but your niece is courting my stepson.”
“You surprise me, missis!”
“I daresay I do. But it is the fact. She isn't a Churchwoman; at
least, she wasn't a Churchwoman at Longshaw; she was Congregational,
and not very much at that. You aren't a Churchman, either; but your
niece now goes to St. Luke's every Sunday. So does my stepson. Your
niece is out to-night. So is my stepson. And if they are not together
somewhere I shall be very much astonished. Of course, the new
generation does as it likes.”
“And what next?” James inquired.
“I'll tell you what next,” cried the mature lady, with the most
charming vivacity. “I like your niece. I've met her twice at the St.
Luke's Guild, and I like her. I should have asked her to come and see
me, only I'm determined not to encourage her with Emanuel. Mr.
Ollerenshaw, I'm not going to have her marrying Emanuel, and that's why
I've come to see you.”
The horror of his complicated situation displayed itself suddenly to
James. He who had always led a calm, unworried life, was about to be
shoved into the very midst of a hullabaloo of women and fools.
His wizened body shrank; and he was not sure that his pride was
quite unhurt. Mrs. Prockter noticed this.
“Oh!” she resumed, with undiminished vivacity, “it's not because I
think your niece isn't good enough for Emanuel; it's because I think
she's a great deal too good! And yet it isn't that, either. The truth
is, Mr. Ollerenshaw, I'm a purely selfish woman. I'm the last person in
the world to stand in the way of my poor stepson getting a better wife
than he deserves. And if the woman chooses to throw herself away on
him, that's not my affair. What I scent danger in is that your
stepniece would find my stepson out. At present she's smitten by his
fancy waistcoat. But she would soon see through the fancy
waistcoat—and then there would be a scandal. If I have not misjudged
your stepniece, there would be a scandal, and I do not think that I
have misjudged her. She is exactly the sort of young woman who, when
she had discovered she had made a mistake, would walk straight out of
“She is!” James agreed with simple heartiness of conviction.
“And Emanuel, having no sense of humour, would leave nothing undone
to force her back again. Imagine the scandal, Mr. Ollerenshaw! Imagine
my position; imagine yours! Me, in an affair like that! I won't
have it—that is to say, I won't have it if I can stop it. Now, what
can we do?”
Despite the horror of the situation, he had sufficient loose,
unemployed sentiment (left over from pitying himself) to be rather
pleased by her manner of putting it: What can we do?
But he kept this pleasure to himself.
“Nowt!” he said, drily.
He spoke to her as one sensible person speaks to another sensible
person in the Five Towns. Assuredly she was a very sensible person. He
had in past years credited, or discredited, her with “airs.” But here
she was declaring that Helen was too good for her stepson. If his pride
had momentarily suffered, through a misconception, it was now in the
full vigour of its strength.
“You think we can do nothing?” she said, reflectively, and leant
forward on her chair towards him, as if struck by his oracular wisdom.
“What can us do?”
“You might praise Emanuel to her—urge her on.” She fixed him with
Sensible? She was prodigious. She was the serpent of serpents.
He took her gaze twinkling. “Ay!” he said. “I might. But if I'm to
urge her on, why didna' ye ask her to your house like, and chuck 'em at
She nodded several times, impressed by this argument. “You are quite
right, Mr. Ollerenshaw,” she admitted.
“It's a dangerous game,” he warned her.
She put her lips together in meditation, and stared into a corner.
“I must think it over”—she emerged from her reflections. “I feel
much easier now I've told you all about it. And I feel sure that two
common-sense, middle-aged people like you and me can manage to do what
we want. Dear me! How annoying stepsons are! Obviously, Emanuel ought
to marry another fool. And goodness knows there are plenty to choose
from. And yet he must needs go and fall in love with almost the only
sensible girl in the town! There's no end to that boy's foolishness. He
actually wants me to buy Wilbraham Hall, furniture, and everything!
What do you think it's worth, Mr. Ollerenshaw?”
“Worth? It's worth what it'll fetch.”
“Th' land's worth that,” said James.
“It's a silly idea. But he put it into my head. Now will you drop in
one day and see me?”
“No,” said James. “I'm not much for tea-parties, thank ye.”
“I mean when I'm alone,” she pleaded, delightfully; “so that we can
talk over things, and you can tell me what is going on.”
He saw clearly all the perils of such a course, but his instinct
seized him again.
“Happen I may look in some morning when I'm round yonder.”
“That will be very nice of you,” she flattered him, and rose.
Helen came home about ten o'clock, and went direct to bed. Never
before had James Ollerenshaw felt like a criminal, but as Helen's eyes
dwelt for a moment on his in bidding him good-night, he could scarcely
restrain the blush of the evildoer. And him sixty! Turn which way he
would he saw nothing but worry. What an incredible day he had lived
through! And how astounding was human existence!
CHAPTER XII. BREAKFAST
He had an unsatisfactory night—that is to say, in the matter of
sleep. In respect of sagacity he rose richer than he had lain down. He
had clearly perceived, about three a.m., that he was moving too much in
circles which were foreign to him, and which called him “Jimmy.” And at
five a.m., when the first workmen's car woke bumpily the echoes of the
morn, he had perceived that Mrs. Prockter's plan for separating Emanuel
and Helen by bringing them together was not a wise plan. Of course,
Helen must not marry Emanuel Prockter. The notion of such a union was
ludicrous. (In spite of all the worry she was heaping upon him, he did
not see any urgent reason why she should marry anybody.) But the proper
method of nipping the orange-blossom in the bud was certainly to have a
plain chat with Helen, one of those plain chats which can only occur,
successfully, between plain, common-sense persons. He was convinced
that, notwithstanding Mrs. Prockter's fears, Helen had not for an
instant thought of Emanuel as a husband. It was inconceivable that she,
a girl so utterly sensible, should have done so. And yet—girls! And
Mrs. Prockter was no fool, come to think of it. A sterling creature.
Not of his world, but nevertheless—At this point he uneasily dozed.
However, he determined to talk with Helen that morning at breakfast.
He descended at half-past seven, as usual, full of a diplomatic
intention to talk to Helen. She was wholly sensible; she was a person
to whom you could talk. Still, tact would be needed. Lack of
sleep had rendered his nervous system such that he would have preferred
to receive tact rather than to give it. But, happily, he was a
His post, which lay scattered on the tiles at the foot of the front
door, did not interest him. He put it aside, in its basket. Nor could
he work, according to his custom, at his accounts. Even the sight of
the unfilled-in credit-slips for the bank did not spur him to industry.
There can be no doubt that he was upset.
He walked across the room to the piles of Helen's books against the
wall, and in sheer absence of mind picked one up, and sat on a chair,
on which he had never before sat, and began to read the volume.
Then the hurried, pretentious striking of the kitchen clock startled
him. Half-an-hour had passed in a moment. He peeped into the kitchen.
Not a sign of breakfast! Not a sign of the new servant, with her
starched frills! And for thirty years he had breakfasted at eight
And no Helen! Was Helen laughing at him? Was Helen treating him as
an individual of no importance? It was unimaginable that his breakfast
should be late. If anybody thought that he was going to—No! he must
not give way to righteous resentment. Diplomacy! Tact! Forbearance!
But he would just go up to Helen's room and rap, and tell her of the
amazing and awful state of things on the ground-floor. As a fact, she
herself was late. At that moment she appeared.
She was cold, prim, cut off like China from human intercourse by a
“Th' servant has na' come,” said he, straining to be tolerant and
amicable. He did his best to keep a grieved astonishment out of his
voice; but he could not.
“Oh!” she murmured, calmly. It was nothing to her, then, that
James's life should be turned upside down! And she added, with icy
detachment: “I'm not surprised. You'll never get servants to be prompt
in the morning when they don't sleep in the house. And there's no room
for Georgiana to sleep in the house.”
Georgiana! Preposterous name!
“Mrs. Butt was always prompt. I'll say that for her,” he replied.
This, as he immediately recognised, was a failure in tact on his
part. So when she said quickly: “I'm sure Mrs. Butt would be delighted
to come back if you asked her,” he said nothing.
What staggered his intellect and his knowledge of human nature was
that she remained absolutely unmoved by this appalling, unprecedented,
and complete absence of any sign of breakfast at after eight o'clock.
Just then Georgiana came. She had a key to the back door, and
entered the house by way of the scullery.
“Good-morning, Georgiana,” Helen greeted her, going into the
scullery—much more kindly than she had greeted her uncle. Instead of
falling on Georgiana and slaying her, she practically embraced her.
A gas cooking-stove is a wondrous gift of Heaven. You do not have to
light it with yesterday's paper, damp wood, and the remains of last
night's fire. In twelve minutes not merely was the breakfast ready, but
the kitchen was dusted, and there was a rose in a glass next to the
bacon. James had calmed himself by reading the book, and the period of
waiting had really been very short. As he fronted the bacon and the
flower, Helen carefully shut the scullery door. The Manchester
Guardian lay to the left of his plate. Thoughtful! Altogether it
was not so bad.
Further, she smiled in handing him his tea. She, too, he observed,
must have slept ill. Her agreeable face was drawn. But her
blue-and-white-striped dress was impeccably put on. It was severe, and
yet very smooth. It suited her mood. It also suited his. They faced
each other, as self-controlled people do face each other at breakfast
after white nights, disillusioned, tremendously sensible, wise, gently
cynical, seeing the world with steady and just orbs.
“I've been reading one o' your books, lass,” he began, with superb
amiability. “It's pretty near as good as a newspaper. There's summat
about a law case as goes on for ever. It isna' true, I suppose, but it
might be. The man as wrote that knew what he was talking about for once
in a way. It's rare and good.”
“You mean Jarndyce v. Jarndyce?” she said, with a smile—not
one of her condescending smiles.
“Ay,” he said, “I believe that is the name. How didst know,
“I just guessed,” she answered. “I suppose you don't have much time
for reading, uncle?”
“Not me!” said he. “I'm one o' th' busiest men in Bosley. And if ye
don't know it now, you will afore long.”
“Oh!” she cried, “I've noticed that. But what can you expect? With
all those rents to collect yourself! Of course, I think you're quite
right to collect them yourself. Rent-collectors can soon ruin a
property.” Her tone was exceedingly sympathetic and comprehending. He
was both surprised and pleased by it. He had misjudged her mood. It was
certainly comfortable to have a young woman in the house who understood
things as she did.
“Ye're right, lass,” he said. “It's small houses as mean trouble.
You're never done—wi' cottage property. Always summat!”
“It's all small, isn't it?” she went on. “About how much do the
rents average? Three-and-six a week?”
“About that,” he said. She was a shrewd guesser.
“I can't imagine how you carry the money about,” she exclaimed. “It
must be very heavy for you.”
“I'll tell you,” he explained. “I've got my own system o'
collecting. If I hadn't, I couldna' get through. In each street I've
one tenant as I trust. And the other tenants can leave their rent and
their rent books there. When they do that regular for a month, I give
'em twopence apiece for their children. If they do it regular for a
year, I mak' 'em a present of a wik's rent at Christmas. It's cheaper
“What a good idea!” she said, impressed. “But how do you
carry the money about?”
“I bank i' Bosley, and I bank i' Turnhill, too. And I bank once i'
Bosley and twice i' Turnhill o' Mondays, and twice i' Bosley o'
Tuesdays. Only yesterday I was behind. I reckon as I can do all my
collecting between nine o'clock Monday and noon Tuesday. I go to th'
worst tenants first—be sure o' that. There's some o' 'em, if you don't
catch 'em early o' Monday, you don't catch 'em at all.”
“It's incredible to me how you can do it all in a day and a half,”
she pursued. “Why, how many houses are there?”
“Near two hundred and forty i' Bosley,” he responded. “Hast
forgotten th' sugar this time, lass?”
“And in Turnhill?” she said, passing the sugar. “I think I'll have
that piece of bacon if you don't want it.”
“Over a hundred,” said he. “A hundred and twenty.”
“So that, first and last, you have to handle about sixty pounds each
week, and all in silver and copper. Fancy! What a weight it must be!”
“Ay!” he said, but with less enthusiasm.
“That's three thousand a-year,” she continued.
Her tone was still innocuously sympathetic. She seemed to be talking
of money as she might have talked of counters. Nevertheless, he felt
that he had been entrapped.
“I expect you must have saved at the very least thirty thousand
pounds by this time,” she reflected, judicially,
disinterestedly—speaking as a lawyer might have spoken.
He offered no remark.
“That means another thirty pounds a week,” she resumed. Decidedly
she was marvellous at sums of interest.
He persisted in offering no remark.
“By the way,” she said, “I must look into my household accounts. How
much did you tell me you allowed Mrs. Butt a week for expenses?”
“A pound,” he replied, shortly.
She made no comment. “You don't own the house, do you?” she
“No,” he said.
“What's the rent?”
“Eighteen pounds,” he said. Reluctant is a word that inadequately
describes his attitude.
“The worst of this house is that it has no bathroom,” she remarked.
“Still, eighteen pounds a year is eighteen pounds a year.”
Her tone was faultless, in its innocent, sympathetic common sense.
The truth was, it was too faultless; it rendered James furious with a
fury that was dangerous, because it had to be suppressed.
Then suddenly she left the table.
“The Kiel butter at a shilling a pound is quite good enough,
Georgiana,” he heard her exhorting the servant in the scullery.
Ten minutes later, she put ten sovereigns in front of him.
“There's that ten-pound note,” she said, politely (but not quite
accurately). “I've got enough of my own to get on with.”
She fled ere he could reply.
And not a word had he contrived to say to her concerning Emanuel.
CHAPTER XIII. THE WORLD
A few days later James Ollerenshaw was alone in the front room,
checking various accounts for repairs of property in Turnhill, when
twin letters fell into the quietude of the apartment. The postman—the
famous old postman of Bursley, who on fine summer days surmounted the
acute difficulty of tender feet by delivering mails in worsted
slippers—had swiftly pushed the letters, as usual, through the slit in
the door; but, nevertheless, their advent had somehow the air of magic,
as, indeed, the advent of letters always had. Mr. Ollerenshaw glanced
curiously from his chair, over his spectacles, at the letters as they
lay dead on the floor. Their singular appearance caused him to rise at
once and pick them up. They were sealed with a green seal, and
addressed in a large and haughty hand—one to Helen and the other to
himself. Obviously they came from the world which referred to him as
“Jimmy.” He was not used to being thrilled by mere envelopes, but now
he became conscious of a slight quickening of pulsation. He opened his
own envelope—the paper was more like a blanket than paper, and might
have been made from the material of a child's untearable picture-book.
He had to use a stout paper-knife, and when he did get into the
envelope he felt like a burglar.
The discerning and shrewd ancient had guessed the contents. He had
feared, and he had also hoped, that the contents would comprise an
invitation to Mrs. Prockter's house at Hillport. They did; and more
than that. The signature was Mrs. Prockter's, and she had written him a
four-page letter. “My dear Mr. Ollerenshaw.” “Believe me, yours most
cordially and sincerely, Flora Prockter.”
The strangest thing, perhaps, in all this strange history is that he
thought the name suited her.
He had no intention of accepting the invitation. Not exactly! But he
enjoyed receiving it. It constituted a unique event in his career. And
the wording of it was very agreeable. Mrs. Prockter proceeded thus: “In
pursuance of our plan”—our plan!—“I am also inviting your niece.
Indeed, I have gathered from Emanuel that he considers her as the prime
justification of the party. We will throw them together. She will hear
him sing. She has never heard him sing. If this does not cure her,
nothing will, though he has a nice voice. I hope it will be a fine
night, so that we may take the garden. I did not thank you half enough
for the exceedingly kind way in which you received my really
unpardonable visit the other evening,” etc.
James had once heard Emanuel Prockter sing, at a concert given in
aid of something which deserved every discouragement, and he agreed
with Mrs. Prockter; not that he pretended to know anything about
He sat down again, to compose a refusal to the invitation; but
before he had written more than a few words it had transformed itself
into an acceptance. He was aware of the entire ridiculousness of his
going to an evening party at Mrs. Prockter's; still an instinct,
powerful but obscure (it was the will-to-live and naught else),
persuaded him by force to say that he would go.
“Have you had an invitation from Mrs. Prockter?” Helen asked him at
“Yes,” said he. “Have you?”
“Yes,” said she. “Shall you go?”
“Ay, lass, I shall go.”
She seemed greatly surprised.
“Us'll go together,” he said.
“I don't think that I shall go,” said she, hesitatingly.
“Have ye written to refuse?”
“Then I should advise ye to go, my lass.”
“Unless ye want to have trouble with me,” said he, grimly.
“It's no good butting uncle,” he replied. “If ye didna' mean to go,
why did ye give young Prockter to understand as ye would go? I'll tell
ye why ye changed your mind, lass. It's because you're ashamed o' being
seen there with yer old uncle, and I'm sorry for it.”
“Uncle!” she protested. “How can you say such a thing? You ought to
know that no such idea ever entered my head.”
He did know that no such idea had ever entered her head, and he was
secretly puzzling for the real reason of her projected refusal. But,
being determined that she should go, he had employed the surest and the
least scrupulous means of achieving his end.
He tapped nervously on the table, and maintained the silence of the
wounded and the proud.
“Of course, if you take it in that way,” she said, after a pause, “I
And he went through the comedy of gradually recovering from a wound.
His boldness in accepting the invitation and in compelling Helen to
accompany him was the audacity of sheer ignorance. He had not surmised
the experiences which lay before him. She told him to order a cab. She
did not suggest the advisability of a cab. She stated, as a platitude,
the absolute indispensability of a cab. He had meant to ride to
Hillport in the tramcar, which ran past Mrs. Prockter's gates. However,
he reluctantly agreed to order a cab, being fearful lest she might,
after all, refuse to go. It was remarkable that, after having been
opposed to the policy of throwing Helen and Emanuel together, he was
now in favour of it.
On the evening, when at five minutes past nine she came into the
front room clad for Mrs. Prockter's party, he perceived that the
tramcar would have been unsuitable. A cab might hold her. A hansom
would certainly not have held her. She was all in white, and very
complicated. No hat; simply a white, silver-spangled bandage round her
head, neck, and shoulders!
She glanced at him. He wore his best black clothes. “You look very
well,” said she, surprisingly. “That old-fashioned black necktie is
So they went. James had the peculiar illusion that he was going to a
belated funeral, for except at funerals he had never in his life ridden
in a cab.
When he descended with his fragile charge in Mrs. Prockter's
illuminated porch, another cab was just ploughing up the gravel of the
drive in departure, and nearly the whole tribe of Swetnams was on the
doorstep; some had walked, and were boasting of speed. There were Sarah
Swetnam, her brother Ted, the lawyer, her brother Ronald, the borough
surveyor, her brother Adams, the bank cashier, and her sister Enid,
aged seventeen. This child was always called “Jos” by the family,
because they hated the name “Enid,” which they considered to be
“silly.” Lilian, the newly-affianced one, was not in the crowd.
“Where's Lilian?” Helen asked, abruptly.
“Oh, she came earlier with the powerful Andrew,” replied the
youthful and rather jealous Jos. “She isn't an ordinary girl now.”
Sarah rapidly introduced her brothers and sisters to James. They
were all very respectful and agreeable; and Adams Swetnam pressed his
hand quite sympathetically, and Jos's frank smile was delicious. What
surprised him was that nobody seemed surprised at his being there. None
of the girls wore hats, he noticed, and he also noticed that the three
men (all about thirty in years) wore silk hats, white mufflers, and
A servant—a sort of special edition of James's Georgiana—appeared,
and robbed everybody of every garment that would yield easily to
pulling. And then those lovely creatures stood revealed. Yes, Sarah
herself was lovely under the rosy shades. The young men were elegantly
slim, and looked very much alike, except that Adams had a beard—a
feeble beard, but a beard. It is true that in their exact correctness
they might have been mistaken for toast-masters, or, with the slight
addition of silver neck-chains, for high officials in a costly
restaurant. But great-stepuncle James could never have been mistaken
for anything but a chip of the early nineteenth century flicked by the
hammer of Fate into the twentieth. His wide black necktie was the
secret envy of the Swetnam boys.
The Swetnam boys had the air of doing now what they did every night
of their lives. With facile ease, they led the way through the long
hall to the drawing-room. James followed, and en route he
observed at the extremity of a side-hall two young people sitting with
their hands together in a dusky corner. “Male and female created He
them!” reflected James, with all the tolerant, disdainful wisdom of his
years and situation.
A piano was then heard, and as Ronald Swetnam pushed open the
drawing-room door for the women to enter, there came the sound of a
Whereupon the invaders took to the tips of their toes and crept in
as sinners. At the farther end a girl was sitting at a grand piano, and
in front of the piano, glorious, effulgent, monarchical, stood Emanuel
Prockter, holding a piece of music horizontally at the level of his
waist. He had a white flower in his buttonhole, and, adhering to a
quaint old custom which still lingers in the Five Towns, and possibly
elsewhere, he showed a crimson silk handkerchief tucked in between his
shirt-front and his white waistcoat. He had broad bands down the sides
of his trousers. Not a hair of his head had been touched by the
accidental winds of circumstance. He surveyed the couple of dozen
people in the large, glowing room with a fixed smile and gesture of
Mrs. Prockter was close to the door. “Emanuel is just going to
sing,” she whispered, and shook hands silently with James Ollerenshaw
CHAPTER XIV. SONG, SCENE AND DANCE
Every head was turned. Emanuel coughed, frowned, and put his left
hand between his collar and his neck, as though he had concealed
something there. The new arrivals slipped cautiously into chairs. James
was between Helen and Jos. And he distinctly saw Jos wink at Helen, and
Helen wink back. The winks were without doubt an expression of
sentiments aroused by the solemnity of Emanuel's frown.
The piano tinkled on, and then Emanuel's face was observed to
change. The frown vanished and a smile of heavenly rapture took its
place. His mouth gradually opened till its resemblance to the
penultimate vowel was quite realistic, and simultaneously, by a curious
muscular co-ordination, he rose on his toes to a considerable height in
The strain was terrible—like waiting for a gun to go off. James was
conscious of a strange vibration by his side, and saw that Jos Swetnam
had got the whole of a lace handkerchief into her mouth.
The gun went off—not with a loud report, but with a gentle and
lofty tenor piping, somewhere in the neighbourhood of F, or it might
have been only E (though, indeed, a photograph would have suggested
that Emanuel was singing at lowest the upper C), and the performer
slowly resumed his normal stature.
“O Love!” he had exclaimed, adagio and sostenuto.
Then the piano, in its fashion, also said: “O Love!”
“O Love!” Emanuel exclaimed again, with slight traces of excitement,
and rising to heights of stature hitherto undreamt of.
And the piano once more, in turn, called plaintively on love.
It would be too easy to mock Emanuel's gift of song. I leave that to
people named Swetnam. There can be no doubt Emanuel had a very taking
voice, if thin, and that his singing gave pleasure to the majority of
his hearers. More than any one else, it pleased himself. When he sang
he seemed to be inspired by the fact, to him patent, that he was
conferring on mankind a boon inconceivably precious. If he looked a
fool, his looks seriously misinterpreted his feelings. He did not spare
himself on that evening. He told his stepmother's guests all about love
and all about his own yearnings. He hid nothing from them. He made no
secret of the fact that he lived for love alone, that he had known
innumerable loves, but none like one particular variety, which he
described in full detail. As a confession, and especially as a
confession uttered before many maidens, it did not err on the side of
reticence. Presently, having described a kind of amorous circle, he
came again to: “O Love!” But this time his voice cracked: which made
him angry, with a stern and controlled anger. Still singing, he turned
slowly to the pianist, and fiercely glared at the pianist's unconscious
back. The obvious inference was that if his voice had cracked the fault
was the pianist's. The pianist, poor thing, utterly unaware of the
castigation she was receiving, stuck to her business. Less than a
minute later, Emanuel's voice cracked again. This time he turned even
more deliberately to the pianist. He was pained. He stared during five
complete bars at the back of the pianist, still continuing his
confession. He wished the audience to understand clearly where the
blame lay. Finally, when he thought the pianist's back was sufficiently
cooked, he faced the audience.
“I hope the pianist will not be so atrociously clumsy as to let my
voice crack again,” he seemed to be saying.
Evidently his reproof to the pianist's back was effectual, for his
voice did not crack again.
And at length, when Jos had communicated her vibration to all her
family, and every one had ceased to believe that the confession would
ever end, the confession did end. It ended as it had begun, in an even,
agreeable tenor piping. Emanuel was much too great an artist to allow
himself to be carried away by his emotion. The concluding words were,
“Oh, rapture!” and Emanuel sang them just as if he had been singing
“Oh, rats!” said Jos, under cover of the impassioned applause.
“It was nearly as long as Jarndyce v. Jarndyce,” observed
Adams, under the same cover.
“What!” cried James, enchanted. “Have you been reading that too?”
Adams Swetnam and great-stepuncle James had quite a little chat on
the subject of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Several other people,
including the hostess, joined in the conversation, and James was
surprised at the renown which Jarndyce v. Jarndyce seemed to
enjoy; he was glad to find his view shared on every hand. He was also
glad, and startled, to discover himself a personality in the regions of
Hillport. He went through more formal introductions in ten minutes than
he had been through during the whole of his previous life. It was a hot
evening; he wiped his brow. Then iced champagne was served to him.
Having fluttered round him, in her ample way, and charmingly flattered
him, Mrs. Prockter left him, encircled chiefly by young women, in order
to convey to later arrivals that they, and they alone, were the
authentic objects of her solicitude. Emanuel Prockter, clad in triumph,
approached, and questioned James, as one shrewd man of business may
question another, concerning the value in the market of Wilbraham Hall.
Shortly afterwards a remarkable occurrence added zest to the party.
Helen had wandered away with Sarah and Jos Swetnam. She reentered the
drawing-room while James and Emanuel were in discussion, and her
attitude towards Emanuel was decidedly not sympathetic. Then Sarah
Swetnam came in alone. And then Andrew Dean came in alone.
“Oh, here's Andrew, Helen!” Sarah exclaimed.
Andrew Dean had the air of a formidable personage. He was a tall,
heavy, dark young man, with immense sloping shoulders, a black
moustache, and incandescent eyes, which he used as though he were
somewhat suspicious of the world in general. If his dress had been less
untidy, he would have made a perfect villain of melodrama. He smiled
the unsure smile of a villain as he awkwardly advanced, with
out-stretched hand, to Helen.
Helen put her lips together, kept her hands well out of view, and
offered him a bow that could only have been properly appreciated under
The episode was quite negative; but it amounted to a scene—a scene
at one of Mrs. Prockter's parties! A scene, moreover, that mystified
everybody; a scene that implied war and the wounded!
Some discreetly withdrew. Of these was Emanuel, who had the
sensitiveness of an artist.
Andrew Dean presently perceived, after standing for some seconds
like an imbecile stork on one leg, that the discretion of the others
was worthy to be imitated. At the door he met Lilian, and they
disappeared together arm in arm, as betrothed lovers should. Three
people remained in that quarter of the drawing-room—Helen, her uncle,
and Sarah Swetnam.
“Why, Nell,” said Sarah, aghast, “what's the matter?”
“Nothing,” said Helen, calmly.
“But surely you shake hands with Andrew when you meet him, don't
“That depends how I feel, my dear,” said Helen.
“Then something is the matter?”
“If you want to know,” said Helen, with haughtiness, “in the hall,
just now—that is—I—I overheard Mr. Dean say something about Emanuel
Prockter's singing which I consider very improper.”
“But we all——”
“I'm going out into the garden,” said Helen.
“A pretty how-d'ye-do!” James muttered inaudibly to himself as he
meandered to and fro in the hall, observing the manners and customs of
Hillport society. Another couple were now occupying the privacy of the
seat at the end of the side-hall, and James noticed that the heads of
this couple had precisely the same relative positions as the heads of
the previous couple. “Bless us!” he murmured, apropos of the couple,
who, seeing in him a spy, rose and fled. Then he resumed his silent
soliloquy. “A pretty how-d'ye-do! The chit's as fixed on that there
Emanuel Prockter as ever a chit could be!” And yet James had caught the
winking with Jos Swetnam during the song! As an enigma, Helen grew
darker and darker to him. He was almost ready to forswear his former
belief, and to assert positively that Helen had no sense whatever.
Mrs. Prockter loomed up, disengaged. “Ah, Mr. Ollerenshaw,” she
said, “everybody seems to be choosing the garden. Shall we go there?
She led him down the side-hall. “By the bye,” she murmured, with a
smile, “I think our plan is succeeding.”
And, without warning him, she sat down in the seat, and of course he
joined her, and she put her head close to his, evidently in a
“Bless us!” he said to himself, apropos of himself and Mrs.
Prockter, glancing about for spies.
“It's horrid of me to make fun of poor dear Emanuel's singing,”
pursued Mrs. Prockter. “But how did she take it? If I am not mistaken,
“Her winked,” said James; “yes, her winked.”
“Then everything's all right.”
“Missis,” said he, “if you don't mind what ye're about, you'll have
a daughter-in-law afore you can say 'knife'!”
“But, Mr. Ollerenshaw——”
Here happened an interruption—a servant with a tray of sustenance,
comprising more champagne. James, prudent, would have refused, but
under the hospitable urgency of Mrs. Prockter he compromised—and
“I'll join ye.”
So she joined him. Then a string of young people passed the end of
the side-hall, and among them was Jos Swetnam, who capered up to the
old couple on her long legs.
“Oh, Mrs. Prockter,” she cried, “what a pity we can't dance on the
“I wish you could, my dear,” said Mrs. Prockter.
“And why can't ye?” demanded James.
“No music!” said Jos.
“You see,” Mrs. Prockter explained, “the lawn is at the far end of
the garden, and it is impossible to hear the piano so far off. If it
were only a little piano we could move it about, but it's a grand
In James's next speech was to be felt the influence of champagne.
“Look here,” he said, “it's nobbut a step from here to the Green Man,
“The Green Man!” echoed Mrs. Prockter, not comprehending.
“Ay, the pub!”
“I believe there is an inn at the bend,” said Mrs. Prockter; “but I
don't think I've ever noticed the sign.”
“It's the Green Man,” said James. “If you'll send some one round
there, and the respex of Mr. Ollerenshaw to Mr. Benskin—that's the
land-lord—and will he lend me the concertina as I sold him last
“Oh, Mr. Ollerenshaw!” shrieked Jos. “Can you play for dancing? How
perfectly lovely it would be!”
“I fancy as I can keep your trotters moving, child,” said he,
Upon this, two spinsters, the Misses Webber, wearing duplicates of
one anxious visage, supervened, and, with strange magic gestures,
beckoned Mrs. Prockter away. News of the episode between Andrew Dean
and Helen had at length reached them, and they had deemed it a sacred
duty to inform the hostess of the sad event. They were of the species
of woman that spares neither herself nor others. Their fault was, that
they were too compassionate for this world. Promising to send the
message to Mr. Benskin, Mrs. Prockter vanished to her doom.
Within a quarter of an hour a fete unique in the annals of Hillport
had organised itself on the lawn in the dim, verdurous retreats behind
Mrs. Prockter's house. The lawn was large enough to be just too small
for a tennis-court. It was also of a pretty mid-Victorian irregularity
as regards shape, and guarded from the grim horizons of the Five Towns
by a ring of superb elms. A dozen couples, mainly youngish, promenaded
upon its impeccable surface in obvious expectation; while on the
borders, in rustic chairs, odd remnants of humanity, mainly oldish,
gazed in ecstasy at the picturesque ensemble. In the midst of the lawn
was Mrs. Prockter's famous weeping willow, on whose branches Chinese
lanterns had been hung by a reluctant gardener, who held to the proper
gardener's axiom that lawns are made to be seen and not hurt. The moon
aided these lanterns to the best of her power. Under the tree was a
cane chair, and on the cane chair sat an ageing man with a concertina
between his hands. He put his head on one side and played a few bars,
and the couples posed themselves expectantly.
“Hold on a bit!” the virtuoso called out. “It's a tidy bit draughty
He put the concertina on his knees, fumbled in his tail-pocket, and
drew forth a tasselled Turkish cap, which majestically he assumed; the
tassel fell over his forehead. He owned several Turkish caps, and never
went abroad without one.
Then he struck up definitely, and Mrs. Prockter's party had resolved
itself, as parties often do, into a dance. In the blissful excitation
caused by the ancient and jiggy tunes which “Jimmy” played, the sad
episode of Helen Rathbone and Andrew Dean appeared to be forgotten.
Helen danced with every man except Andrew, and Andrew danced with every
woman except Helen. But Mrs. Prockter had not forgotten the episode;
nor had the Misses Webber. The reputation of Mrs. Prockter's
entertainments for utter correctness, and her own enormous reputation
for fine tact, were impaired, and Mrs. Prockter was determined that
that which ought to happen should happen.
She had a brief and exceedingly banal interview with Helen, and
another with Andrew. And an interval having elapsed, Andrew was
observed to approach Helen and ask her for a polka. Helen punctiliously
accepted. And he led her out. The outraged gods of social decorum were
appeased, and the reputations of Mrs. Prockter and her parties stood as
high as ever. It was well and diplomatically done.
Nevertheless, the unforeseen came to pass. For at the end of the
polka Helen fainted on the grass; and not Andrew but Emanuel was first
to succour her. It was a highly disconcerting climax. Of course, Helen,
being Helen, recovered with singular rapidity. But that did not lighten
In the cab, going home, she wept. James could scarcely have believed
it of her.
“Oh, uncle,” she half whispered, in a voice of grief, “you fiddled
while Rome was burning!”
This obscure saying baffled him, the more so that he had been
playing a concertina and not a fiddle at all. His feelings were vague,
and in some respects contradictory; but he was convinced that Mrs.
Prockter's scheme for separating Helen and the Apollo Emanuel was not
CHAPTER XV. THE GIFT
After that night great-stepuncle James became more than a
celebrity—he became a notoriety in Bursley. Had it not been for the
personal influence of Mrs. Prockter with the editor of the Signal, James's exploits upon the concertina under weeping willows at midnight
would have received facetious comment in the weekly column of gossip
that appears in the great daily organ of the Five Towns on Saturdays.
James, aided by nothing but a glass or two of champagne, had suddenly
stepped into the forefront of the town's life. He was a card. He rather
liked being a card.
But within his own heart the triumph and glory of James Ollerenshaw
were less splendid than outside it. Helen, apparently ashamed of having
wept into his waistcoat, kept him off with a kind of a rod of stiff
politeness. He could not get near her, and for at least two reasons he
was anxious to get near her. He wanted to have that frank, confidential
talk with her about the general imbecility of her adorer, Emanuel
Prockter—that talk which he had failed to begin on the morning when
she had been so sympathetic concerning his difficulties in collecting a
large income. Her movements from day to day were mysterious. Facts
pointed to the probability that she and Emanuel were seeing each other
with no undue publicity. And yet, despite facts, despite her behaviour
at the party, he could scarcely believe that shrewd Helen had not
pierced the skin of Emanuel and perceived the emptiness therein. At any
rate, Emanuel had not repeated his visit to the house. The only
visitors had been Sarah Swetnam and her sister Lilian, the fiancee of
Andrew Dean. The chatter of the three girls had struck James as being
almost hysterically gay. But in the evening Helen was very gloomy, and
he fancied a certain redness in her eyes. Though Helen was assuredly
the last woman in the world to cry, she had, beyond doubt, cried once,
and he now suspected her of another weeping.
Even more detrimental to his triumph in his own heart was the affair
of the ten-pound note, which she had stolen (or abstracted if you will)
and then restored to him with such dramatic haughtiness. That ten
pounds was an awful trial to him. It rankled, not only with him, but
(he felt sure) with her. Still, if she had her pride, he also had his.
He reckoned that she had not rightly behaved in taking the note without
his permission, and that in returning the full sum, and pretending that
he had made it necessary for her to run the house on her own money, she
had treated him meanly. The truth was, she had wounded him—again.
Instincts of astounding generosity were budding in him, but he was
determined to await an advance from her. He gave her money for
housekeeping, within moderation, and nothing more.
Then one evening she announced that the morrow would be her
birthday. James felt uneasy. He had never given birthday presents, but
he well knew that presents were the correct things on birthdays. He
went to bed in a state of the most absurd and causeless mental
disturbance. He did not know what to do. Whereas it was enormously
obvious what to do.
He woke up about one o'clock, and reflected, with an air of
discovery: “Her tone was extremely friendly when she told me it was her
birthday to-morrow. She meant it as an advance. I shall take it as an
About half-past one he said to himself: “I'll give her a guinea to
spend as she likes.” It did genuinely seem to him a vast sum. A guinea
to fritter away!
However, towards three o'clock its vastness had shrunk.
“Dashed if I don't give the wench a fiver!” he exclaimed. It was
madness, but he had an obscure feeling that he might have had more
amusement if he had begun being mad rather earlier in life.
Upon this he slept soundly till six o'clock.
His mind then unfortunately got entangled in the painful episode of
the ten-pound note. He and Helen had the same blood in their veins.
They were alike in some essential traits. He knew that neither of them
could ever persuade himself, or herself, to mention that miserable
ten-pound note again.
“If I gave her a tenner,” he said, “that would make her see as I'd
settled to forget that business, and let bygones be bygones.
I'll give her a tenner.”
It was preposterous. She could not, of course, spend it. She would
put it away. So it would not be wasted.
Upon this he rose.
Poor simpleton! Ever since the commencement of his relations with
Helen, surprise had followed surprise for him. And the series was not
The idea of giving a gift made him quite nervous. He fumbled in his
cashbox for quite a long time, and then he called, nervously:
She came out of the kitchen into the front room. (Dress: White
muslin—unspeakable extravagance in a town of smuts.)
“It's thy birthday, lass?”
She nodded, smiling.
“Well, tak' this.”
He handed her a ten-pound note.
“Oh, thank you, uncle!” she cried, just on the calm side of
At this point the surprise occurred.
There was another ten-pound note in the cashbox. His fingers went
for a stroll on their own account and returned with that note.
“Hold on!” he admonished her for jumping to conclusions. “And this!”
And he gave her a second note. He was much more startled than she was.
“Oh, thank you, uncle!” And then, laughing: “Why, it's nearly
a sovereign for every year of my life!”
“How old art?”
“I'm gone dotty!” he said to his soul. “I'm gone dotty!” And his
eyes watched his fingers take six sovereigns out of the box, and count
them into her small white hand. And his cheek felt her kiss.
She went off with twenty-six pounds—twenty-six pounds! The episode
was entirely incredible.
Breakfast was a most pleasing meal. Though acknowledging himself an
imbecile, he was obliged to acknowledge also that a certain pleasure
springs from a certain sort of imbecility. Helen was adorable.
Now that same morning he had received from Mrs. Prockter a
flattering note, asking him, if he could spare the time, to go up to
Hillport and examine Wilbraham Hall with her, and give her his expert
advice as to its value, etc. He informed Helen of the plan.
“I'll go with you,” she said at once.
“What's in the wind?” he asked himself. He saw in the suggestion a
device for seeing Emanuel.
“The fact is,” she added, “I want to show you a house up at Hillport
that might do for us.”
He winced. She had said nothing about a removal for quite some time.
He hated the notion of removal. (“Flitting,” he called it.) It would
mean extra expense, too. As for Hillport, he was sure that nothing,
except cottages, could be got in Hillport for less than fifty pounds a
year. If she thought he was going to increase his rent by thirty-two
pounds a year, besides rates, she was in error. The breakfast finished
in a slight mist. He hardened. The idea of her indicating houses to
him! The idea of her assuming that——Well, no use in meeting trouble
CHAPTER XVI. THE HALL AND ITS RESULT
“Yes,” said Mrs. Prockter, gazing about her, to James Ollerenshaw,
“it certainly is rather spacious.”
“Rather spacious!” James repeated in the secret hollows of his mind.
It was not spacious; it was simply fantastic. They stood, those
two—Mrs. Prockter in her usual flowered silk, and James in his usual
hard, rent-collecting clothes—at the foot of the double staircase,
which sprang with the light of elegance of wings from the floor of the
entrance-hall of Wilbraham Hall. In front of them, over the great door,
was a musicians' gallery, and over that a huge window. On either side
of the great door were narrow windows which looked over stretches of
green country far away from the Five Towns. For Wilbraham Hall was on
the supreme ridge of Hillport, and presented only its back yard, so to
speak, to the Five Towns. And though the carpets were rolled up and
tied with strings, and though there were dark rectangular spaces on the
walls showing where pictures had been, the effect of the hall was quite
a furnished effect. Polished oak and tasselled hangings, and monstrous
vases and couches and chairs preserved in it the appearance of a home,
if a home of giants.
Decidedly it was worthy of the mighty reputations of the extinct
Wilbrahams. The Wilbrahams had gradually risen in North Staffordshire
for two centuries. About the Sunday of the Battle of Waterloo they were
at their apogee. Then for a century they had gradually fallen. And at
last they had extinguished themselves in the person of a young-old fool
who was in prison for having cheated a pawnbroker. This young-old fool
had nothing but the name of Wilbraham to his back. The wealth of the
Wilbrahams, or what remained of it after eight decades of declension,
had, during the course of a famous twenty years' law-suit between the
father of the said young-old fool and a farming cousin in California,
slowly settled like golden dust in the offices of lawyers in
Carey-street, London. And the house, grounds, lake, and furniture (save
certain portraits) were now on sale by order of the distant winner of
the law-suit. And both Mrs. Prockter and James could remember the time
when the twin-horsed equipage of the Wilbrahams used to dash about the
Five Towns like the chariot of the sun. The recollection made Mrs.
Prockter sad, but in James it produced no such feeling. To Mrs.
Prockter, Wilbraham Hall was the last of the stylish port-wine estates
that in old days dotted the heights around the Five Towns. To her it
was the symbol of the death of tone and the triumph of industrialism.
Whereas James merely saw it as so much building land upon which streets
of profitable and inexpensive semi-detached villas would one day rise
at the wand's touch of the man who had sufficient audacity for a
“It 'ud be like living in th' covered market, living here,” James
The St. Luke's Market is the largest roof in Bursley. And old
inhabitants, incapable of recovering from the surprise of marketing
under cover instead of in an open square, still, after thirty years,
refer to it as the covered market.
Mrs. Prockter smiled.
“By the way,” said James, “where's them childer?”
The old people looked around. Emanuel and Helen, who had entered the
proud precincts with them, had vanished.
“I believe they're upstairs, ma'am,” said the fat caretaker,
pleating her respectable white apron.
“You can go,” said Mrs. Prockter, curtly, to this vestige of
grandeur. “I will see you before I leave.”
The apron resented the dismissal, and perhaps would have taken it
from none but Mrs. Prockter. But Mrs. Prockter had a mien, and a
flowered silk, before which even an apron of the Wilbrahams must quail.
“I may tell you, Mr. Ollerenshaw,” she remarked, confidentially,
when they were alone, “that I have not the slightest intention of
buying this place. Emanuel takes advantage of my good nature. You've no
idea how persistent he is. So all you have to do is to advise me firmly
not to buy it. That's why I've asked you to come up. He acknowledges
that you're an authority, and he'll be forced to accept your judgment.”
“Why didn't ye say that afore, missis?” asked James bluntly.
“Before that kick-up (party) o' yours. He got out of me then as I
thought it were dirt cheap at eight thousand.”
“But I don't want to move,” pleaded Mrs. Prockter.
“I'm asking ye why ye didn't tell me afore?” James repeated.
Mrs. Prockter looked at him. “Men are trying creatures!” she said.
“So it seems you can't tell a tarradiddle for me?” And she sighed.
“I don't know as I object to that. What I object to is contradicting
“Why did you bring Helen?” Mrs. Prockter demanded.
“I didna'. She come hersen.”
They exchanged glances.
“And now she and Emanuel have run off.”
“It looks to me,” said James, “as if your plan for knocking their
two heads together wasna' turning out as you meant it, missis.”
“And what's more,” said she, “I do believe that Emanuel wants me to
buy this place so that when I'm gone he can make a big splash here with
your niece and your money, Mr. Ollerenshaw! What do you think of that?”
“He may make as much splash as he's a mind to, wi' my niece,” James
answered. “But he won't make much of a splash with my money, I can
promise ye.” His orbs twinkled. “I can promise ye,” he repeated.
“To whom do you mean to leave it, then?”
“Not to his wife.”
“H'm! Well, as we're here, I suppose we may as well see what there
is to be seen. And those two dreadful young people must be found.”
They mounted the stairs.
“Will you give me your arm, Mr. Ollerenshaw?”
To such gifts he was not used. Already he had given twenty-six
pounds that day. The spectacle of Jimmy ascending the state staircase
of Wilbraham Hall with all the abounding figure of Mrs. Prockter on his
arm would have drawn crowds had it been offered to the public at
sixpence a head.
They inspected the great drawing-room, the great dining-room, the
great bedroom, and all the lesser rooms; the galleries, the balconies,
the panellings, the embrasures, the suites and suites and suites of
Georgian and Victorian decaying furniture; the ceilings and the
cornices; the pictures and engravings (of which some hundreds
remained); the ornaments, the clocks, the screens, and the microscopic
knick-knacks. Both of them lost count of everything, except that before
they reached the attics they had passed through forty-five separate
apartments, not including linen closets. It was in one of the attics,
as empty as Emanuel's head, that they discovered Emanuel and Helen,
gazing at a magnificent prospect over the moorlands, with the gardens,
the paddock, and Wilbraham Water immediately beneath.
“We've been looking for you everywhere,” Helen burst out. “Oh, Mrs.
Prockter, do come with me to the end of the corridor, and look at three
old distaffs that I've found in a cupboard!”
During the absence of the women, James Ollerenshaw contradicted
himself to Emanuel for the sweet sake of Emanuel's stepmother. Little
by little they descended to the earth, with continual detours and halts
by Helen, who was several times lost and found.
“I've told him,” said James, quietly and proudly. “I've told him
it's no use to you unless you want to turn it into a building estate.”
They separated into two couples at the gate, with elaborate
formalities on the part of Emanuel, which Uncle James more or less
tried to imitate.
“Well?” murmured James, sighing relief, as they waited for the
electric tram in that umbrageous and aristocratic portion of the
Oldcastle-road which lies nearest to the portals of Wilbraham Hall. He
was very pleased with himself, because, at the cost of his own respect,
he had pleased Mrs. Prockter.
“Well?” murmured Helen, in response, tapping on the edge of the
pavement the very same sunshade in whose company James had first made
her acquaintance. She seemed nervous, hesitating, apprehensive.
“What about that house as ye've so kindly chosen for me?” he asked,
genially. He wanted to humour her.
She looked him straight in the eyes. “You've seen it,” said she.
“What!” he snorted. “When han I seen it?”
“Just now,” she replied. “It's Wilbraham Hall. I knew that Mrs.
Prockter wouldn't have it. And, besides, I've made Emanuel give up all
idea of it.”
He laughed, but with a strange and awful sensation in his stomach.
“A poor joke, lass!” he observed, with the laugh dead in his throat.
“It isn't a poor joke,” said she. “It isn't a joke at all.”
“Didst thou seriously think as I should buy that there barracks to
“Certainly,” she said, courageously. “Just that—to please me.”
“I'm right enough where I am,” he asserted, grimly. “What for should
I buy Wilbraham Hall? What should I do in it?”
“Live in it.”
“Trafalgar-road's good enough for me.”
“But it isn't good enough for me,” said she.
“I wouldna' ha' minded,” he said, savagely—“I wouldna' ha' minded
going into a house a bit bigger, but—”
“Nothing is big enough for me except Wilbraham Hall,” she said.
He said nothing. He was furious. It was her birthday, and he had
given her six-and-twenty pounds—ten shillings a week for a year—and
she had barely kissed him. And now, instantly after that amazing and
mad generosity, she had the face to look cross because he would not buy
Wilbraham Hall! It was inconceivable; it was unutterable. So he said
“Why shouldn't you, after all?” she resumed. “You've got an income
of nearly five thousand a year.” (Now he hated her for the mean manner
in which she had wormed out of him secrets that previously he had
shared with no one.) “You don't spend the twentieth part of it. What
are you going to do with it? What are you going to do with it?
You're getting an old man.” (Cold horrors!) “You can't take it with you
when you leave the Five Towns, you know. Whom shall you leave your
money to? You'll probably die worth a hundred thousand pounds, at this
rate. You'll leave it to me, of course. Because there's nobody else for
you to leave it to. Why can't you use it now, instead of wasting it in
“I bank my money, wench,” he hissingly put in.
“Old stockings!” she repeated, loudly. “We could live splendidly at
Wilbraham Hall on two thousand a year, and you would still be saving
nearly three thousand a year.”
He said nothing.
“Do you suppose I gave up my position at school in order to live in
a poky little hole at eighteen pounds a year? What do you think I can
do with myself all day in Trafalgar-road? Why, nothing. There's no room
even for a piano, and so my fingers are stiffening every day. It's not
life at all. Naturally, it's a great privilege,” she pursued, with a
vicious inflection that reminded him perfectly of Susan, “for a girl
like me to live with an old man like you, all alone, with one servant
and no sitting-room. But some privileges cost too dear. The fact is,
you never think of me at all.” (And he had but just given her
six-and-twenty pounds.) “You think you've got a cheap housekeeper in
me—but you haven't. I'm a very good housekeeper—especially in a very
large house—but I'm not cheap.”
She spoke as if she had all her life been accustomed to living in
vast mansions. But James knew that, despite her fine friends, she had
never lived in anything appreciably larger than his own dwelling. He
knew there was not a house in Sneyd-road, Longshaw, worth more than
twenty-five pounds a year. The whole outbreak was shocking and
disgraceful. He scarcely recognised her.
He said nothing. And then suddenly he said: “I shall buy no
Wilbraham Hall, lass.” His voice was final.
“You could sell it again at a profit,” said she. “You could turn it
into a building estate” (parrot-cry caught from himself or from
Emanuel), “and later on we could go and live somewhere else.”
“Yes,” said he; “Buckingham Palace, likely!”
“I don't—” she began.
“I shall buy no Wilbraham Hall,” he reiterated. Greek had met Greek.
The tram surged along and swallowed up the two Greeks. They were
alone in the tram, and they sat down opposite each other. The conductor
came and took James's money, and the conductor had hardly turned his
back when Helen snapped, with nostrils twitching:
“You're a miser, that's what you are! A regular old miser! Every one
knows that. Every one calls you a miser. If you aren't a miser, I
should like you to tell me why you live on about three pounds a week
when your income is ninety pounds a week. I thought I might do you some
good. I thought I might get you out of it. But it seems I can't.”
“All!” he snorted. It was a painful sight. Other persons boarded the
At tea she behaved precisely like an angel. Not the least hint of
her demeanour of the ineffable affray of the afternoon. She was so
sweet that he might have given her twenty-six Wilbraham Halls instead
of twenty-six pounds. He spoke not. He was, in a very deep sense,
She spent the evening in her room.
“Good-bye,” she said the next morning, most amiably. It was after
breakfast. She was hatted, gloved and sunshaded.
“What?” he exclaimed.
“Au revoir,” she said. “All my things are packed up. I shall send
for them. I think I can go back to the school. If I can't, I shall go
to mother in Canada. Thank you very much for all your kindness. If I go
to Canada, of course I shall come and see you before I leave.” He let
her shake his hand.
* * * * *
For two days he was haunted by memories of kidney omelettes and by
the word “miser.” Miser, eh? Him a miser! Him! Ephraim Tellwright was a
Then the natty servant gave notice, and Mrs. Butt called and
suggested that she should resume her sway over him. But she did not
employ exactly that phrase.
He longed for one of Helen's meals as a drunkard longs for alcohol.
Then Helen called, with the casual information that she was off to
Canada. She was particularly sweet. She had the tact to make the
interview short. The one blot on her conduct of the interview was that
she congratulated him on the possible return of Mrs. Butt, of which she
had heard from the natty servant.
“Good-bye, uncle,” she said.
She had got as far as the door, when he whispered, brokenly:
Helen turned quickly towards him.
CHAPTER XVII. DESCENDANTS OF
Yes, she turned towards him with a rapid, impulsive movement, which
expressed partly her sympathy for her old uncle, and partly a feeling
of joy caused by the sudden hope that he had decided to give way and
buy Wilbraham Hall after all.
And the fact was that, in his secret soul, he had decided to give
way; he had decided that Helen, together with Helen's cooking, was
worth to him the price of Wilbraham Hall. But when he saw her brusque,
eager gesture, he began to reflect. His was a wily and profound nature;
he reckoned that he could read the human soul, and he said to himself:
“The wench isn't so set on leaving me as I thought she was.”
And instead of saying to her: “Helen, lass, if you'll stop you shall
have your Wilbraham Hall,” in tones of affecting, sad surrender, he
“I'm sorry to lose thee, my girl; but what must be must.”
And when he caught the look in her eyes, he was more than ever
convinced that he would be able to keep Helen without satisfying her
extremely expensive whim.
Helen, for her part, began to suspect that if she played the fish
with sufficient skill, she would capture it. Thus they both, in a
manner of speaking, got out their landing-nets.
“I don't say,” James Ollerenshaw proceeded, in accents calculated to
prove to her that he had just as great a horror of sentimentality as
she had—“I don't say as you wouldn't make a rare good mistress o'
Wilbraham Hall. I don't say as I wouldn't like to see you in it. But
when a man reaches my age, he's fixed in his habits like. And, what's
more, supposing I am saving a bit o' money, who am I saving it
for, if it isn't for you and your mother? You said as much yourself. I
might pop off any minute—”
“Uncle!” Helen protested.
“Ay, any minute!” he repeated, firmly. “I've known stronger men nor
me pop off as quick as a bottle o' ginger-beer near the fire.” Here he
gazed at her, and his gaze said: “If I popped off here and now,
wouldn't you feel ashamed o' yerself for being so hard on your old
“You'll live many and many a year yet,” Helen smiled.
He shook his head pessimistically. “I've set my heart,” he
continued, “on leaving a certain sum for you and yer mother. I've had
it in mind since I don't know when. It's a fancy o' mine. And I canna'
do it if I'm to go all around th' Five Towns buying barracks.”
Helen laughed. “What a man you are for exaggerating!” she flattered
him. Then she sat down.
He considered that he was gradually winding in his line with immense
skill. “Ay,” he ejaculated, with an absent air, “it's a fancy o' mine.”
“How much do you want to leave?” Helen questioned, faintly smiling.
“Don't you bother your head about that,” said he. “You may take it
from me as it's a tidy sum. And when I'm dead and gone, and you've got
it all, then ye can do as ye feel inclined.”
“I shall beat her, as sure as eggs!” he told himself.
“All this means that he'll give in when it comes to the point,” she
And aloud she said: “Have you had supper, uncle?”
“No,” he replied.
The next development was that, without another word, she removed her
gloves, lifted her pale hands to her head, and slowly drew hatpins from
her hat. Then she removed her hat, and plunged the pins into it again.
He could scarcely refrain from snatching off his own tasselled Turkish
cap and pitching it in the air. He felt as if he had won the Battle of
Hastings, or defeated the captain of the bowling club in a
“And to think,” he reflected, “that I should ha' given in to her by
this time if I hadn't got more sense in my little finger than—” etc.
“I think I'll stay and cook you a bit of supper,” said Helen. “I
suppose Georgiana is in the kitchen?”
“If her isn't, her's in the back entry,” said Jimmy.
“What's she doing in the back entry?”
“Counting the stars,” said Jimmy; “and that young man as comes with
the bread helping her, most like.”
“I must talk to that girl.” Helen rose.
“Ye may,” said Jimmy; “but th' baker's man'll have th' last word, or
times is changed.”
He was gay. He could not conceal his gaiety. He saw himself freed
from the menace of the thraldom of Mrs. Butt. He saw himself
gourmandising over the meals that Helen alone could cook. He saw
himself trotting up and down the streets of Bursley with the finest,
smartest lass in the Five Towns by his side. And scarcely a penny of
extra expenditure! And all this happy issue due to his diplomatic and
histrionic skill! The fact was, Helen really liked him. There could be
no doubt about that. She liked him, and she would not leave him. Also,
she was a young woman of exceptional common sense, and, being such, she
would not risk the loss of a large fortune merely for the sake of
indulging pique engendered by his refusal to gratify a ridiculous
Before she had well quitted the room he saw with clearness that he
was quite the astutest man in the world, and that Helen was clay in his
The sound of crockery in the scullery, and the cheerful little
explosion when the gas-ring was ignited, and the low mutter of
conversation that ensued between Helen and Georgiana—these phenomena
were music to the artist in him. He extracted the concertina from its
case and began to play “The Dead March in Saul.” Not because his
sentiments had a foundation in the slightest degree funereal, but
because he could perform “The Dead March in Saul” with more virtuosity
than any other piece except “The Hallelujah Chorus.” And he did not
desire to insist too much on his victory by filling Trafalgar-road with
“The Hallelujah Chorus.” He was discretion itself.
When she came back to the parlour (astoundingly natty in a muslin
apron of Georgiana's) to announce supper, she made no reference to the
concert which she was interrupting. He abandoned the concertina gently,
caressing it into its leather shell. He was full to the brim with
kindliness. It seemed to him that his life with Helen was commencing
all over again. Then he followed the indications of his nose, which
already for some minutes had been prophesying to him that in the
concoction of the supper Helen had surpassed herself.
And she had. There was kidney ... No, not in an omelette, but
impaled on a skewer. A novel species of kidney, a particularity in
“Where didst pick this up, lass?” he asked.
“It's the kidneys of that rabbit that you've bought for to-morrow,”
Now, he had no affection for rabbit as an article of diet, and he
had only bought the rabbit because the rabbit happened to be going past
his door (in the hands of a hawker) that morning. His perfunctory
purchase of it showed how he had lost interest in life and meals since
Helen's departure. And lo! she had transformed a minor part of it into
something wondrous, luscious, and unforgettable. Ah, she was Helen! And
she was his!
“I've asked Georgiana to make up my bed,” Helen said, after the
“I'll tell ye what I'll do,” he said, in an ecstasy of generosity,
“I'll buy thee a piano, lass, and we'll put it in th' parlour against
the wall where them books are now.”
She kept silence—a silence which vaguely disturbed him.
So that he added: “And if ye're bent on a bigger house, there's one
up at Park-road, above th' Park, semi-detached—at least, it's the end
of a terrace—as I can get for thirty pounds a year.”
“My dearest uncle,” she said, in a firm, even voice, “what are
you talking about? Didn't I tell you when I came in that I had settled
to go to Canada? I thought it was all decided. Surely you don't think
I'm going to live in a poky house in Park-road—the very street where
my school was, too! I perfectly understand that you won't buy Wilbraham
Hall. That's all right. I shan't pout. I hate women who pout. We can't
agree, but we're friends. You do what you like with your money, and I
do what I like with myself. I had a sort of idea I would try to make
you beautifully comfortable just for the last time before I left
England, and that's why I'm staying. I do hope you didn't imagine
anything else, uncle. There!”
She kissed him, not as a niece, but as a wise, experienced nurse
might have kissed a little boy. For she too, in her way, reckoned
herself somewhat of a diplomatist and a descendant of Machiavelli. She
had thought: “It's a funny thing if I can't bring him to his knees with
a tasty supper—just to make it clear to him what he'll lose if he
James Ollerenshaw had no sleep that night. And Helen had but little.
CHAPTER XVIII. CHICANE
He came downstairs early, as he had done after a previous sleepless
night—also caused by Helen.
That it would be foolish, fatuous, and inexcusable to persevere
further in his obstinacy against Helen, this he knew. He saw clearly
that all his arguments to her about money and the saving of money were
ridiculous; they would not have carried conviction even to the most
passive intelligence, and Helen's intelligence was far from passive.
They were not even true in fact, for he had never intended to leave any
money to Helen's mother; he had never intended to leave any money to
anybody, simply because he had not cared to think of his own decease;
he had made no plans about the valuable fortune which, as Helen had too
forcibly told him, he would not be able to bear away with him when he
left Bursley for ever; this subject was not pleasant to him. All his
rambling sentences to Helen (which he had thought so clever when he
uttered them) were merely an excuse for not parting with money—money
that was useless to him.
On the other hand, what Helen had said was both true and convincing;
at any rate, it convinced him.
He was a miser; he admitted it. Being a miser, he saw, was one way
of enjoying yourself, but not the best way. Again, if he really desired
to enrich Helen, how much better to enrich her at once than at an
uncertain date when he would be dead. Dead people can't be thanked.
Dead people can't be kissed. Dead people can't have curious dainties
offered to them for their supper. He wished to keep Helen; but Helen
would only stay on one condition. That condition was a perfectly easy
condition for him to fulfil. After paying eight thousand pounds (or a
bit less) for Wilbraham Hall, he would still have about ten times as
much money as he could possibly require. Of course, eight thousand
pounds was a lot of coin. But, then, you can't measure women
(especially when they are good cooks) in terms of coin. For instance,
it happened that he had exactly L8,000 in shares of the London and
North Western Railway Company. The share-certificates were in his safe;
he could hold them in his hand; he could sell them and buy Wilbraham
Hall with the proceeds. That is to say, he could exchange them for
Helen. Now, it would be preposterous to argue that he would not derive
more satisfaction from Helen than from those crackling
Wilbraham Hall, once he became its owner, would be a worry—an awful
worry. Well, would it? Would not Helen be entirely capable of looking
after it, of superintending it in every way? He knew that she would! As
for the upkeep of existence in Wilbraham Hall, had not Helen proved to
him that its cost was insignificant when compared to his income? She
And as to his own daily manner of living, could he not live
precisely as he chose at Wilbraham Hall? He could. It was vast; but
nothing would compel him to live in all of it at once. He could choose
a nice little room, and put a notice on the door that it was not to be
disturbed. And Helen could run the rest of the mansion as her caprice
The process of argument was over when Helen descended to put the
finishing touches to a breakfast which she had evidently concocted with
Georgiana the night before.
“Breakfast is ready, uncle,” she called to him.
He obeyed. Flowers on the table once more! The first since her
departure! A clean cloth! A general, inexplicable tuning-up of the
You would now, perhaps, have expected him to yield, as gracefully as
an old man can. He wanted to yield. He hungered to yield. He knew that
it was utterly for his own good to yield. But if you seriously expected
him to yield, your knowledge of human nature lacks depth. Something far
stronger than argument, something far stronger than desire for his own
happiness, prevented him from yielding. Pride, a silly self-conceit,
the greatest enemy of the human race, forbade him to yield. For, on the
previous night, Helen had snubbed him—and not for the first time. He
could not accept the snub with meekness, though it would have paid him
handsomely to do so, though as a Christian and a philosopher he ought
to have done so. He could not.
So he put on a brave face, pretended to accept the situation with
contented calm, and talked as if Canada was the next street, and as if
her going was entirely indifferent to him. Helen imitated him.
It was a lovely morning; not a cloud in the sky—only in their
“Uncle!” she said after breakfast was done and cleared away.
He was counting rents in his cashbox in the front parlour, and she
had come to him, and was leaning over his shoulder.
“Have you got twenty-five pounds in that box?”
It was obvious that he had.
“I shouldna' be surprised,” said he.
“I wish you'd lend it me.”
“I want to go over to Hanbridge and book my berth, definitely, and
I've no loose cash.”
Now here was a chance to yield. But no.
“Dost mean to say,” he exclaimed, “as ye havena' booked your berth?
When does th' steamer sail?”
“There's one from Glasgow next Saturday,” said she—“the
Saskatchewan. I secured the berth, but I didn't pay for it.”
“It's a rare lot of money,” he observed.
“Oh,” she said, “I didn't want all that for the fare. I've other
things to pay for—railway to Glasgow, etc. You will lend it me, won't
Her fingers were already in the cashbox. She was behaving just like
a little girl, like a spoilt child. It was remarkable, he considered,
how old and mature Helen could be when she chose, and how kittenish
when she chose.
She went off with four five-pound notes and five sovereigns. “Will
you ask me to come back and cook the dinner?” she smiled, ironically,
“Ay!” he said. He was bound to smile also.
She returned in something over two hours.
“There you are!” she said, putting a blue-green paper into his hand.
“Ever seen one of these before?”
It was the ticket for the steamer.
This staggered him. A sensible, determined woman, who disappears to
buy a steamer-ticket, may be expected to reappear with a
steamer-ticket. And yet it staggered him. He could scarcely believe it.
She was going, then! She was going! It was inevitable now.
“The boat leaves the Clyde at ten in the morning,” she said,
resuming possession of the paper, “so we must go to Glasgow on Friday,
and stop the night at an hotel.”
“We?” he murmured, aghast.
“Well,” she said, “you surely won't let me travel to Glasgow all
alone, will you?”
“Her's a caution, her is!” he privately reflected.
“You can come back on Saturday,” she said; “so that you'll be in
time to collect your rents. There's an express to Glasgow from Crewe at
1.15, and to catch that we must take the 12.20 at Shawport.”
She had settled every detail.
“And what about my dinner?” he inquired.
“I'm going to set about it instantly,” laughed she.
“I mean my dinner on Friday?” he said.
“Oh, that!” she replied. “There's a restaurant-car from
Crewe. So we can lunch on the train.”
This idea of accompanying her to Glasgow pleased him intensely.
“Glasgow isna' much i' my line,” he said. “But you wenches do as ye
Thus, on the Friday morning, he met her down at Shawport Station. He
was in his best clothes, but he had walked. She arrived in a cab, that
carried a pagoda of trunks on its fragile roof; she had come straight
from her lodgings. There was a quarter of an hour before train-time. He
paid for the cab. He also bought one second-class single and one
second-class return to Glasgow, while she followed the porter who
trundled her luggage. When he came out of the booking-office (minus
several gold pieces), she was purchasing papers at the bookstall, and
farther up the platform the porter had seized a paste-brush, and was
opening a cupboard of labels. An extraordinary scheme presented itself
to James Ollerenshaw's mind, and he trotted up to the porter.
“I've seen to the baggage myself,” said Helen, without looking at
“All right,” he said.
The porter touched his cap.
“Label that luggage for Crewe,” he whispered to the porter, and
passed straight on, as if taking exercise on the platform.
“Yes, sir,” said the porter.
When he got back to Helen of course he had to make conversation with
a nonchalant air, in order to hide his guilty feelings.
“So none of 'em has come to see you off!” he observed.
“None of whom?”
“None o' yer friends.”
“No fear!” she said. “I wouldn't have it for anything. I do hate and
loathe good-byes at a railway station. Don't you?”
“Never had any,” he said.
The train was prompt, but between Shawport and Crewe it suffered
delays, so that there was not an inordinate amount of time to spare at
the majestic junction.
Heedless, fly-away creature that she was, Helen scurried from the
North Stafford platform to the main-line platform without a thought as
to her luggage. She was apparently so preoccupied with her handbag,
which contained her purse, that she had no anxiety left over for her
As they hastened forward, he saw the luggage being tumbled out on to
The Glasgow train rolled grandiosely in, and the restaurant-car came
to a standstill almost exactly opposite the end of the North Stafford
platform. They obtained two seats with difficulty. Then, as there was
five minutes to wait, Jimmy descended from the car to the asphalte and
peeped down the North Stafford platform. Yes, her luggage was lying
there, deserted, in a pile. He regained the carriage.
“I suppose the luggage will be all right?” Helen said, calmly, just
as the guard whistled.
“Ay!” said he, with the mien of a traveller of vast experience. “I
saw 'em bringing all th' N.S. luggage over. It were th' fust thing I
As a liar he reckoned he was pretty good.
He glanced from the window as the train slid away from Crewe, and
out of the tail of his eye, in the distance, over the heads of people,
he had a momentary glimpse of the topmost of Helen's trunks safely at
rest on the North Stafford platform.
He felt safe. He felt strangely joyous. He ate largely, and made
very dry, humorous remarks about the novelty of a restaurant on wheels.
“Bless us!” he said, as the express flashed through Preston without
stopping. “It's fust time as I've begun a bottle o' Bass in one town
and finished it in another.”
He grew positively jolly, and the journey seemed to be accomplished
with the rapidity of a dream.
CHAPTER XIX. THE TOSSING
“You said you'd seen it into the van,” pouted Helen—she who never
“Nay, lass,” he corrected her, “I said I'd seen 'em bringing all th'
The inevitable moment of reckoning had arrived. They stood together
on the platform of St. Enoch's, Glasgow. The last pieces of luggage
were being removed from the guard's van under the direction of
passengers, and there was no sign whatever of Helen's trunks. This
absence of Helen's trunks did not in the least surprise James
Ollerenshaw; he was perfectly aware that Helen's trunks reposed, at
that self-same instant, in the lost luggage office at Crewe; but, of
course, he had to act surprise. In case of necessity he could act very
well. It was more difficult for him to act sorrow than to act surprise;
but he did both to his own satisfaction. He climbed into the van and
scanned its corners—in vain. Then, side by side, they visited the
other van at the head of the train, with an equal result.
The two guards, being Scotch, responded to inquiries with extreme
caution. All that they would answer for was that the trunks were not in
the train. Then the train was drawn out of the station by a toy-engine,
and the express engine followed it with grave dignity, and Helen and
Jimmy were left staring at the empty rails.
“Something must be done,” said Helen, crossly.
“Ay!” Jimmy agreed. “It's long past my tea-time. We must find out if
there's anything to eat i' Scotland.”
But Helen insisted on visiting the stationmaster. Now, the
stationmaster at St. Enoch's is one of the most important personages
north of the Tweed, and not easily to be seen. However, Helen saw him.
He pointed out that the train came from London in two portions, which
were divided in Scotland, one going to Edinburgh, and his suggestion
was that conceivably the luggage had been put into the Edinburgh van in
mistake for the Glasgow van. Such errors did occur sometimes, he said,
implying that the North Western was an English railway, and that
surprising things happened in England. He said, also, that Helen might
telephone to Edinburgh and inquire.
She endeavoured to act on this counsel, but came out of the
telephone cabin saying that she could not get into communication with
“Better go over to Edinburgh and see for yourself,” said Jimmy,
“Yes, and what about my steamer?” Helen turned on him.
“Scotland canna' be so big as all that,” said Jimmy. “Not according
to th' maps. Us could run over to Edinburgh to-night, and get back to
Glasgow early to-morrow.”
Just as he was taking two second returns to Edinburgh (they had
snatched railway eggs and railway tea while waiting for a fast train)
he stopped and said:
“Unless ye prefer to sail without your trunks, and I could send 'em
on by th' next steamer?”
“Uncle,” she protested, “I do wish you wouldn't be so silly. The
idea of me sailing without my trunks! Why don't you ask me to sail
without my head?”
“All right—all right!” he responded. “But don't snap mine off. Two
second returns to Edinburgh, young man, and I'll thank ye to look
slippy over it.”
In the Edinburgh train he could scarcely refrain from laughing. And
Helen, too, seemed more in a humour to accept the disappearance of five
invaluable trunks, full of preciosities, as a facetious sally on the
part of destiny.
He drew out a note-book which he always carried, and did
“That makes twenty-seven pounds eighteen and ninepence as ye owe
me,” he remarked.
“What? For railway tickets?”
“Railway tickets, tips, and that twenty-five pounds I lent ye. I'm
making ye a present o' my fares, and dinner, and tea and so
“Twenty-five pounds that you lent me!” she murmured.
“Yes,” he said. “Tuesday morning, while I was at my cashbox.”
“Oh, that!” she ejaculated. “I thought you were giving me
that. I never thought you'd ask me for it again, uncle. I'd completely
forgotten all about it.”
She seemed quite sincere in this amazing assertion.
His acquaintance with the ways of women was thus enlarged, suddenly,
and at the merely nominal expense of twenty-five pounds. It was a
wondrous proof of his high spirits and his general contentedness with
himself that he should have submitted to the robbery without a groan.
“What's twenty-five pun'?” he reflected. “There'll be no luggage for
her at Edinburgh; that steamer'll go without her; and then I shall give
in. I shall talk to her about the ways o' Providence, and tell her it's
borne in upon me as she must have Wilbraham Hall if she's in a mind to
stay. I shall save my face, anyhow.”
And he further decided that, in case of necessity, in case of Helen
at a later stage pushing her inquiries as to the luggage inconveniently
far he would have to bribe the porter at Shawport to admit to her that
he, the porter, had made a mistake in the labelling.
When they had satisfied themselves that Edinburgh did not contain
Helen's trunks—no mean labour, for the lost luggage office was closed,
and they had to move mountains in order to get it opened on the plea of
extremest urgency—Jimmy Ollerenshaw turned to Susan's daughter, saying
to himself that she must be soothed regardless of cost. Miracles would
not enable her to catch the steamer now, and the hour was fast
approaching when he would benevolently offer her the gift of Wilbraham
“Well, lass,” he began, “I'm right sorry. What's to be done?”
“There's nothing at all to be done,” she replied, smiling sadly. She
might have upbraided him for carelessness in the matter of the luggage.
She might have burst into tears and declared passionately that it was
all his fault. But she did not. “Except, of course, that I must
cable to mother. She's coming to Quebec to meet me.”
“That'll do to-morrow,” he said. “What's to be done to-night? In th'
way o' supper, as ye might say?”
“We must go to an hotel. I believe the station hotel is the best.”
She pointed to a sign and a directing black hand which said: “To the
In a minute James Ollerenshaw found himself in the largest and most
gorgeous hotel in Scotland.
“Look here, wench,” he said. “I don't know as this is much in my
line. Summat a thought less gaudy'll do for my old bones.”
“I won't move a step farther this night!” Helen declared. “I'm ready
He remembered that she must be soothed.
“Well,” he said, “here goes!”
And he strode across the tessellated pavement under the cold,
scrutinizing eye of menials to a large window marked in gold letters:
“Have ye gotten a couple of bedrooms like?” he asked the clerk.
“Yes, sir,” said the clerk (who was a perfect lady). “What do you
“Don't I tell ye as we want a couple o' bedrooms, miss?”
After negotiations she pushed across the counter to him—two discs
of cardboard numbered 324 and 326, each marked 6s. 6d. He regarded the
price as fantastic, but no cheaper rooms were to be had, and Helen's
glance was dangerous.
“Why,” he muttered, “I've got a four-roomed cottage empty at
Turnhill as I'd let for a month for thirteen shillings, and
“Where is your luggage, sir?” asked a muscular demon with shiny
“That's just what we want to know, young feller,” said Jimmy. “For
the present, that's all as we can lay our hands on.” And he indicated
His experiences in the lift were exciting, and he suggested the
laying of a tramway along the corridor of the fourth floor. The
beautiful starched creature who brought in his hot water (without being
asked) found him in the dark struggling with the electric light, which
he had extinguished from curiosity and had not been able to rekindle,
having lost the location of the switch.
At 10.30 the travellers were seated at a table in the immense
dining-room, which was populated by fifteen waiters of various European
nationalities, and six belated guests including themselves. The one
item on the menu which did not exceed his comprehension was Welsh
rarebit, and he ordered it.
It was while they were waiting in anticipation of this dish that he
decided to commence operations upon Helen. The fact was, he was
becoming very anxious to put affairs on a definite footing. “Well, my
girl,” he said, “cheer up. If ye tak' my advice ye'll make up yer mind
to stop i' owd England with yer owd uncle.”
“Of course I will,” she answered, softly; and added: “If you'll do
as I want.”
“Buy that barracks?”
He was on the very point of yielding; he was on the very point of
saying, with grandfatherly, god-like tone of utter beneficence: “Lass,
ye shall have it. I wouldn't ha' given it ye, but it's like as if what
must be—this luggage being lost. It's like as if Providence was in
it.” He was on the very point of this decisive pronouncement, when a
novel and dazzling idea flashed into his head.
“Listen here,” he said, bending across the table towards her, “I'll
“Toss me?” she exclaimed, startled.
“Ay! I'll toss thee, if thou'lt stay. Heads I buy the barracks;
tails I don't, and you live with me in a house.”
“Very well,” she agreed, lightly.
He had not really expected her to agree to such a scheme. But, then,
young women named Helen can be trusted absolutely to falsify
He took a sixpence from his pocket.
“Heads I win, eh?” he said.
She acquiesced, and up went the sixpence.
It rolled off the table on to the Turkey carpet (Jimmy was not so
adroit as he had been in his tossing days), and seven Austrians,
Germans, and Swiss sprang towards it with a simultaneous impulse to
restore it to its owner.
Jimmy jumped to his feet.
“Don't touch it!” he cried, and bent over it.
“Nay, nay!” he muttered, “I've lost. Th' old man's lost, after all!”
And he returned to the table, having made a sensation in the room.
Helen was in paradise. “I'm surprised you were ready to toss,
uncle,” said she. “However, it's all right; we can get the luggage
to-morrow. It's at Crewe.”
“How dost know it's at Crewe?” he demanded.
“Because I had it labelled for Crewe. You were silly to
imagine that I was going to leave you. But I thought I'd just leave
nothing undone to make you give way. I made sure I was beaten. I made
sure I should have to knuckle under. And now you are goose enough to
toss, and you've lost, you've lost! Hurrah!” She clapped her hands
“Do ye mean to tell me,” Jimmy thundered, “as ye've been playing a
game wi' me all this time?”
“Of course.” She had no shame.
“And bought th' steamer-ticket without meaning to go?”
“Well,” she said, “it's no good half-playing when you're playing for
high stakes. Besides, what's fifteen pounds?”
He did not let her into the secret that he also had ordered the
luggage to be labelled for Crewe. They returned to the Five Towns the
following morning. And by mutual tacit agreement they never spoke of
that excursion to Scotland.
In such manner came Helen Rathbone to be the mistress of Wilbraham
CHAPTER XX. THE FLITTING
Before the spacious crimson facade of Wilbraham Hall upon an autumn
day stood Mr. Crump's pantechnicon. That is to say, it was a
pantechnicon only by courtesy—Mr. Crump's courtesy. In strict
adherence to truth it was just a common furniture-removing van, dragged
over the earth's surface by two horses. On the outer walls of it were
an announcement that Mr. Crump removed goods by road, rail or steamer,
and vast coloured pictures of Mr. Crump removing goods by road, rail
and steamer. One saw the van in situations of grave danger—travelling
on an express train over a lofty viaduct at sixty miles an hour, or
rolling on the deck of a steamer in a stormy sea. One saw it also in
situations of impressive natural beauty—as, for instance, passing by
road through terrific mountain defiles, where cataracts rushed and
foamed. The historic fact was that the van had never been beyond the
Five Towns. Nevertheless, Mr. Crump bound himself in painted letters
six inches high to furnish estimates for any removal whatsoever; and,
what is more, as a special boon to the Five Towns, to furnish estimates
free of charge. In this detail Mr. Crump had determined not to lag
behind his fellow-furniture-removers, who, one and all, persist in
refusing to accept even a small fee for telling you how much they
demand for their services.
In the van were the entire worldly possessions of James Ollerenshaw
(except his houses, his investments, a set of bowls up at the bowling
club, and the clothes he wore), and the entire worldly possessions of
Helen Rathbone (except the clothes she wore). If it be asked where was
the twenty-six pounds so generously given to her by a loving uncle, the
reply is that the whole sum, together with much else, was in the
coffers of Ezra Brunt, the draper and costumier at Hanbridge; and the
reply further is that Helen was in debt. I have hitherto concealed
Helen's tendency to debts, but it was bound sooner or later to come
out. And here it is.
After an adventurous journey by bridge over the North Staffordshire
Railway, and by bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal, and by bridge
over the foaming cataract of the Shaws Brook, and down the fearful
slants of Oldcastle-street, and through the arduous terrific denies of
Oldcastle-road, the van had arrived at the portals of Wilbraham Hall.
It would have been easy, by opening wide the portals, to have
introduced the van and the horses too into the hall of Wilbraham Hall.
But this course was not adopted.
Helen and Georgiana had preceded the van, and they both stood at the
door to receive the goods. Georgiana was in one of Georgiana's aprons,
and Helen also was in one of Georgiana's aprons. Uncle James had
followed the van. He had not let it out of his sight. The old man's
attachment to even the least of his goods was touching, and his
attachment to the greatest of his goods carried pathos into farce. The
greatest of his goods was, apparently, the full-rigged ship and
tempestuous ocean in a glass box which had stood on the table in the
front room of the other house for many years. No one had suspected his
esteem for that glass box and its contents. He had not suspected it
himself until the moment for packing it had come. But he seemed to love
it more than his bits of Spode china or his concertina; and, taking it
with him, he had quitted with a softened regret the quantity of
over-blown blue roses which, in their eternal bloom, had enlivened his
existence during a longer period even than the ship and ocean.
The ship and ocean was the last thing put into the van and the first
thing taken out, and James Ollerenshaw introduced the affair, hugged
against his own breast, into the house of his descendants. The
remainder of the work of transference was relatively unimportant. Two
men accomplished it easily while the horses ate a late dinner. And then
the horses and the van and the men went off, and there was nothing left
but a few wisps of straw and so forth, on the magnificent sweep of
gravel, to indicate that they had ever been there. And Uncle James, and
Helen, and Georgiana felt rather forlorn and abandoned. They stood in
the hall and looked at each other a little blankly, like gipsies
camping out in an abandoned cathedral. An immense fire was burning in
the immense fireplace of the hall, and similar fires were burning in
the state bedroom, in a little drawing-room beyond the main
drawing-room, in another bedroom, in the giant's kitchen, and in one of
the attics. These fires and a certain amount of cleaning were the only
preparations which Helen had permitted herself to make. Even the
expense of the coal had startled James, and she proposed to get him
safely in the cage before commencing the serious business which would
shatter all his nerves. By a miracle of charm and audacity she had
obtained from him the control of a sum of seven hundred and fifty
pounds. This sum, now lying nominally to her credit at one of James's
various banks, represented the difference between eight thousand pounds
(at which James had said Wilbraham Hall would be cheap) and seven
thousand two hundred and fifty pounds (at which James had succeeded in
buying Wilbraham Hall).
To the left of the hall, near the entrance, was quite a small room
(originally, perhaps, a butler's lair), and James was obstinate in
selecting this room as his office. He had his desk carried there, and
everything that personally affected him except his safe and the simple
necessaries of his bedroom. These were taken, not to the state bedroom,
which he had declined, after insincere pressure from Helen to accept
it, but to a much smaller sleeping-chamber. The numerous family of
Windsor chairs, together with other ancient honesties, were sent up to
attics—too old at forty! Georgiana was established in a glorious
attic; the state bedroom was strewn with Helen's gear; and scarcely
anything remained unniched in the Hall save the ship and ocean. They
all rested from their labours, and Helen was moved by one of her
“Georgiana,” she said, “go and make some tea. Bring a cup for
“Yes, miss. Thank you, miss.”
On removal days miserable distinctions of class are invariably lost
in the large-heartedness of mutual endeavour.
It was while the trio were thus drinking tea together, standing,
and, as it were, with loins still girt after the pilgrimage, that the
first visitor to the new owners of Wilbraham Hall rang its great bell
and involved Georgiana in her first ceremonial duty. Georgiana was
quite nervous as she went to the door.
The caller was Emanuel Prockter.
“Mother thought I might perhaps be able to help you,” said he, in
the slightly simpering tone which he adopted in delicate situations,
and which he thought suited him. What made the situation delicate, to
him, was Helen's apron—quite agreeable though the apron was. He felt,
with his unerring perceptiveness, that young ladies do not care to
receive young gentlemen in the apron of a Georgiana. His own attire
was, as usual, fabulously correct; the salient features of it being a
pair of light yellow chamois gloves, loose-fitting and unbuttoned, with
the gauntlets negligently turned back. These gloves were his method of
expressing the fact that the visit was a visit of usefulness and not a
kid-glove visit. But Helen seemed quite composed behind Georgiana's
“Yes,” he repeated, with smiling inanity, after he had shaken hands.
“Mother thought I might help you.”
(“What a fool that woman is!” reflected James. “And what a fool
he is to put it on to his mother instead of keeping it to
“And what did you think, Mr. Prockter?” Helen demanded.
“Another cup and saucer, Georgiana.”
Helen's question was one of her insolent questions.
(“Perhaps his mother ain't such a fool!” reflected James. And he
perceived, or imagined he perceived, that their fears of Helen marrying
Emanuel were absurd.)
Emanuel sniffed humour in the air. He never understood humour; but
he was, at any rate, sufficiently gifted with the wisdom of the simple
to smile vaguely and amiably when he sniffed humour.
And then Helen said, with cordial kindliness: “It's awfully good of
you—awfully good of you. Here we are, you see!”
And the degree of cordiality was such that the fear of her marrying
Emanuel suddenly seemed less absurd to James. The truth was that James
never had a moment's peace of mind with Helen. She was continually
proving that as a student in the University of Human Nature he had not
Georgiana appeared with an odd cup and saucer, and a giggling
statement that she had not been able to discover any more teaspoons.
“Never mind,” said Helen. “Mr. Prockter shall have mine.”
(“Well, I'm hanged!” reflected James.)
Whereupon Georgiana departed, bearing her own tea, into the giant's
kitchen. The miserable distinctions of class had been mysteriously
CHAPTER XXI. SHIP AND OCEAN
The host, the hostess, and the guest all remained on their feet in
the noble hall of the Wilbrahams, it not being good etiquette to sit at
removals, even when company calls. Emanuel, fortunately for him, was
adept at perambulation with a full cup of tea in one hand and a hat or
so in the other. There were two things which he really could do—one
was to sing a sentimental song without laughing, and the other was to
balance a cup of tea. And it was only when he was doing the one or the
other that he genuinely lived. During the remainder of his existence he
was merely a vegetable inside a waistcoat. He held his cup without a
tremor while Helen charmingly introduced into it her teaspoon and
stirred up the sugar. Then, after he had sipped and pronounced the
result excellent, he began to admire the Hall and the contents of the
Hall. A proof of his real Christian charity was that, whereas he had
meant to have that Hall for himself, he breathed no word of envy nor
discontent. He praised everything; and presently he arrived at the ship
and ocean, and praised that. He particularly praised the waves.
The heart of James instantly and instinctively softened towards him.
For the realism of those foaming waves had always struck James as the
final miracle of art. And, moreover, this was the first time that any
of Helen's haughty “set” had ever deigned to recognise the merits of
the ship and ocean.
“Where shouldst hang it, Master Prockter?” James genially asked.
“Hang it, uncle?” exclaimed Helen. “Are you going to hang it? Aren't
you going to keep it on the table in your own room?”
She was hoping that it might occupy a position not too prominent.
She did not intend it to be the central decorative attraction of the
“It ought to be hung,” said Emanuel. “See, here are the little iron
things for the nails.”
This gift of observation pleased James. Emanuel was indeed beginning
to show quite an intelligent interest in the ship and ocean.
“Of course it must be hung,” said he.
He was very human, was Jimmy Ollerenshaw. For at least twenty-five
years he had possessed the ship and ocean, and cherished it, always
meaning one day to hang it against the wall as it deserved. And yet he
had never arrived at doing so, though the firm resolution to do so had
not a whit weakened in his mind. And now he was absolutely decided,
with the whole force of his will behind him, to hang the ship and ocean
“There! under the musicians' gallery wouldn't be a bad place, would
it, Mr. Ollerenshaw?” Emanuel suggested, respectfully.
James trained his eye on the spot. “The very thing, lad!” said he,
“Lad!” Helen had not recovered from a private but extreme
astonishment at this singular mark of paternal familiarity to Emanuel
when there was another and a far louder ring at the door.
Georgiana minced and tripped out of her retreat, and opened the
majestic portal to a still greater surprise for Helen. The ringer was
Mr. Andrew Dean—Mr. Andrew Dean with his dark, quasi-hostile eyes, and
his heavy shoulders, and his defiant, suspicious bearing—Mr. Andrew
Dean in workaday clothes and with hands that could not be called clean.
Andrew stared about him like a scout, and then advanced rapidly to
Helen and seized her hand, hurting it.
“I was just passing,” said he, in a hoarse voice. “I expected you'd
be in a bit of a mess, so I thought I might be useful. How d'ye do, Mr.
Ollerenshaw?” And he hurt James's hand also.
“It's very kind of you,” Helen remarked, flushing.
“How do, Prockter?” Andrew jerked out at Emanuel, not taking his
This abstention on Andrew's part from physical violence was capable
of two interpretations. The natural interpretation was that Andrew's
social methods were notoriously casual and capricious. The interesting
interpretation was that a failure of the negotiations between Emanuel
and Andrew for a partnership—a failure which had puzzled Bursley—had
left rancour behind it.
Emanuel, however, displayed no symptom of being disturbed. His
blandness remained intact. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was
mysteriously electric. Helen felt it to be so, and an atmosphere which
is deemed to be electric by even one person only, ipso facto, is
electric. As for James Ollerenshaw, he was certainly astonished by the
visit of Andrew Dean; but, being absorbed in the welfare of his ship
and ocean, he permitted his astonishment to dissolve in a vague
satisfaction that, anyhow, Helen's unexplained quarrel with Andrew Dean
was really at an end. This call was assuredly Andrew's way of expiatory
“The very thing!” he repeated, glancing at Emanuel as if in
Emanuel did not seem to comprehend that aught was expected of him.
He amiably stood, with hands still appropriately gloved, and his kindly
glance wandered between the ship and ocean and the spot which he had
hit on for the ship and ocean's last resting-place.
“Where's the steps, Helen?” James inquired, and, after a brief
silence: “Georgiana!” he yelled.
The girl flew in.
“Bring us a pair o' steps,” said he.
Followed an unsuccessful search for the pair of steps, which Andrew
Dean ultimately discovered in a corner of the hall itself, lying flat
behind a vast roll of carpet which was included in the goods purchased
for seven thousand two hundred and fifty pounds. The steps being found,
Georgiana explained at length how she distinctly remembered seeing one
of the men put them behind the roll of carpet.
“Now, what is it?” Andrew vigorously questioned. He was prepared,
evidently, to do anything that a man may do with a pair of steps. When
the operation was indicated to him, his first act was to take off his
coat, which he threw on the floor.
“Hammer! Nails!” he ejaculated. And Georgiana, intimidated by his
tone, contrived to find both hammer and nails. It is true that the
hammer was a coal hammer.
And in a remarkably short space of time he was balanced on the
summit of the steps with a nail in one hand, a hammer in the other, a
pencil behind his ear, and another nail in his mouth. The other three
encircled him from below, with upturned faces and open mouths, like
young birds expecting food. (Not that young birds expecting food wear
gloves so appropriate to the occasion as were Emanuel's.) James
Ollerenshaw was impressed by the workmanlike manner in which Andrew
measured the width of the glass box and marked it off on the wall
before beginning to knock nails. The presence of one nail in Andrew's
mouth while he was knocking in the other with a coal hammer, prevented
him from outraging the social code when the coal hammer embraced his
fingers as well as the nail in the field of its activity. Unhappily,
when it came to the second nail, no such hindrance operated.
The nails, having been knocked in, were duly and satisfactorily
Then solemnly James seized the glass box containing the ship and
ocean, and bore it with all possible precautions to the pair of steps
in front of the great doors. Andrew descended two storeys, and, bending
his body, received the box from James as a parson receives a baby at
the font. He then remounted. The steps rocked.
“I'd happen better hold 'em,” said James.
“It'll be all right,” said Andrew.
“I'll hold them,” said Emanuel, hastening forward.
The precise cause of the accident will probably never be known, but
no sooner did Emanuel lay his gloved hand on the steps than the whole
edifice, consisting of steps, Andrew, and ship and ocean tottered and
“Clumsy fool!” Andrew was distinctly heard to exclaim during his
swift passage to the floor.
The ship and ocean were incurably disintegrated into a mess of
coloured cardboard, linen, and sticks.
And catastrophes even more dreadful might have occurred had it not
been for the calm and wise tact of Helen. Where a person is pleased by
an event, that person can usually, without too much difficulty,
exercise a calm and wise tact upon other persons whom the event has not
pleased. And Helen was delighted by the catastrophe to the ship and
ocean. The ship and ocean had formed no part in her scheme for the
decoration of the hall; her one poor solace had been that the relative
proportions of the hall and of the ship and ocean were such that even a
careful observer might have spent hours in the former without
discovering the latter; on the other hand, some blundering ninny might
have lighted instantly on the ship and ocean, and awkwardly inquired
what it was doing there. So Helen was really enchanted by the ruin. She
handled her men with notable finesse: Uncle James savage and
vindictive, but uncertain upon whom to pour out his anger; Emanuel
nursing his injured innocence; and Andrew Dean nursing his elbow, his
head, and vengeance. She also found a moment in which to calm
Georgiana, who had run flying and hysterical into the hall at the sound
of the smash.
Even the steps were broken.
After a time harmony was established, both Uncle James and Emanuel
being, at bottom, men of peace. But it was undeniable that Uncle James
had lost more than gold, and that Emanuel had been touched in a
perilous place—his conceit of himself.
Then Georgiana swept up the ship and ocean, and James retired to his
own little room, where he assumed his Turkish cap, and began to arrange
his personal effects in a manner definite and final, which would be a
law for ever to the servants of Wilbraham Hall.
Left with the two young men, Helen went from triumph to triumph. In
quite a few minutes she had them actually talking to each other. And
she ended by speeding them away together. And by the time they departed
each was convinced that Georgiana's apron, on Helen, was one of the
most bewitching manifestations of the inexpressibly feminine that he
had ever been privileged to see.
They took themselves off by a door at the farther end of the hall
behind the stairs, whence there was a short cut through the undulating
grounds to the main road.
Helen ascended to the state bedroom, where there was simply
everything to be done; Georgiana followed her, after having made up the
fires, and, while helping to unpack boxes, offered gossamer
hints—fluffy, scarcely palpable, elusive things—to her mistress that
her real ambition had always been to be a lady's-maid, and to be served
at meals by the third, or possibly the fourth, house-maid. And the hall
of Wilbraham Hall was abandoned for a space to silence and solitude.
Now, the window of Uncle James's little room was a little window
that lived modestly between the double pillars of the portico and the
first window of the great dining-room. Resting from his labours of
sorting and placing, he gazed forth at his domain, and mechanically
calculated what profit would accrue to him if he cut off a slip a
hundred and fifty feet deep along by the Oldcastle-road, and sold it in
lots for villas, or built villas and sold them on ninety-nine-year
leases. He was engaged in his happy exercise of mental arithmetic when
he heard footsteps crunching the gravel, and then a figure, which had
evidently come round by the north side from the back of the Hall,
passed across the field of James's vision. This figure was a walking
baptism to the ground it trod. It dripped water plenteously. It was, in
a word, soaked, and its garments clung to it. Its yellow chamois gloves
clung to its hands. It had no hat. It hesitated in front of the
Uncle James pushed up his window. “What's amiss, lad?” he inquired,
with a certain blandness of satisfaction.
“I fell into the Water,” said Emanuel, feebly, meaning the sheet
known as Wilbraham Water, which diversified the park-like splendours of
“How didst manage that?”
“The path is very muddy and slippery just there,” said Emanuel.
“Hadn't you better run home as quick as may be?” James suggested.
“I can't,” said Emanuel.
“I've got no hat, and I'm all wet. And everybody in Oldcastle-road
will see me. Can you lend me a hat and coat?”
And all the while he was steadily baptising the gravel.
Uncle James's head disappeared for a moment, and then he threw out
of the window a stiff yellow mackintosh of great age. It was his
rent-collecting mackintosh. It had the excellent quality of matching
the chamois gloves.
Emanuel thankfully took it. “And what about a cap or something?” he
“Tak' this,” said Uncle James, with remarkable generosity whipping
the Turkish cap from his own head, and handing it to Emanuel.
Emanuel hesitated, then accepted; and, thus uniquely attired, sped
away, still baptising.
At tea (tea proper) James recounted this episode to a somewhat
taciturn and preoccupied Helen.
“He didn't fall into the Water,” said Helen, curtly. “Andrew Dean
pushed him in.”
“How dost know that?”
“Georgiana and I saw it from my bedroom window. It was she who first
saw them fighting, or at any rate arguing. Then Andrew Dean 'charged'
him in, as if they were playing football, and walked on; and Emanuel
Prockter scrambled out.”
“H'm!” reflected James. “Well, if ye ask me, lass, Emanuel brought
that on himsen. I never seed a man look a bigger foo' than Emanuel
looked when he went off in my mackintosh and Turkish cap.”
“Your Turkish cap?”
“One of 'em.”
“With the tassel?”
“It's a great shame! That's what it is! I'm sure he didn't look a
fool! He's been very badly treated, and I'll—”
She rose from the table, in sudden and speechless indignation.
“You should ha' seen him, lass!” said James, and added: “I wish ye
had!” He tried to be calm. But she had sprung on him another of her
disconcerting surprises. Was it, after all, possible, conceivable, that
she was in love with Emanuel?
She sat down again. “I know why you say that, uncle”—she looked him
in the face, and put her elbows on the table. “Now, just listen to me!”
Highly perturbed, he wondered what was coming next.
CHAPTER XXII. CONFESSIONAL
“What's the matter with Emanuel Prockter?” Helen asked; meaning,
what were the implied faults of Emanuel Prockter.
There was defiance in her tone. She had risen from the table, and
she had sat down again, and she seemed by her pose to indicate that she
had sat down again with a definite purpose, a purpose to do grievous
harm to the soul's peace of anybody who differed from the statements
which she was about to enunciate, or who gave the wrong sort of answers
to her catechism. She was wearing her black mousseline dress
(theoretically “done with"), which in its younger days always had the
effect of rousing the grande dame in her. She laid her ringless
hands, lightly clasped, on a small, heavy, round mahogany table which
stood in the middle of the little drawing-room, and she looked over
James's shoulder into the vistas of the great drawing-room. The sombre,
fading magnificence of the Wilbrahams—a magnificence of dark woods,
tasselled curtains, reps, and gilt—was her theatre, and the theatre
suited her mood.
Still, Jimmy Ollerenshaw, somewhat embittered by the catastrophe of
the afternoon, conceived that he was not going to be brow-beaten.
“What's the matter with Emanuel Prockter,” said he, “is as he's
probably gotten a cold by this.”
“Yes, and you're glad!” Helen retorted. “You think he looked a fool
after he'd been in the water. And you were glad.”
“I dunna think,” said James, “I'm sure.”
“But why should you be glad? That's what I want to know.”
James could not sagaciously reply to this query. He merely scratched
his head, tilting one of his Turkish caps to that end.
“The fact is,” she cried, with a grammatical carelessness which was
shocking in a woman who had professed to teach everything, “every one
has got their knives into Emanuel Prockter. And it's simply because
he's good-looking and well-dressed and sings beautifully.”
“Good-looking!” murmured James.
“Well, isn't he?”
“He's pretty,” said James.
“No one ever said he had a lot of brains—”
“I never did,” James put in.
“But what does that matter? He is polite. He does know how to
behave himself in polite society. If Andrew Dean pushed him into the
water, that wasn't his fault. Andrew is stronger than he is, but that's
no credit to Andrew Dean. It's to his discredit. Andrew Dean is nothing
but a bully—we all know that. He might have pushed you into the water,
“He might,” James admitted, “if I'd been silly enough to get between
the water and him.”
“And I should like to know who looked a fool when Andrew Dean fell
off those steps. And just listen to the language the man used. I will
say this for Emanuel Prockter—I never heard him swear.”
“No,” said James. “He wears gloves. He even wears 'em when he takes
his bath of a November afternoon.”
“I don't care who knows it,” Helen observed, hotly, “I like Emanuel
“There's nobody as dunna' know it,” said James. “It's the talk of
Bosley as you've set your cap at him.”
“I don't wear caps,” said Helen. “I'm not a servant.”
“Hat, then,” James corrected himself. “Ye'll not deny as you wear
hats, I reckon. I've seen ye in forty.”
“I know who started that tale,” Helen exploded. “Andrew Dean started
“No,” said James. “It was Mrs. Prockter, I'm thinking.”
“Has Mrs. Prockter spoken to you about me and—and Emanuel?”
James hesitated. But the devil-may-care, agreeably vicious
Ollerenshaw impulses were afoot in him, and he did not hesitate long.
“Her has,” said he.
“What a ridiculous, fat old woman she is, with her fancies!”
Frankly, James did not like this. He was in a mind to resent it, and
then a certain instinct of self-preservation prompted him to seek cover
in silence. But in any battle of the sexes silence is no cover to the
male, as he ought to have known.
Helen pursued him behind his cover. “I wonder who she's
setting her cap at! I suppose you'll not deny that she wears a
It was quite a long time since James Ollerenshaw had blushed; but he
blushed at these words. Nothing could have been more foolish, inept, on
his part. Why should he blush because Helen expressed a vague, hostile
curiosity as to the direction of Mrs. Prockter's cap? What had the
direction of Mrs. Prockter's cap to do with him? Yet blush he did. He
grew angry, not—curiously enough—with Helen, but with himself and
with Mrs. Prockter. His anger had the strange effect of making him an
arrant coward. He got up from his chair, having pushed away his cup
towards the centre of the table. As tea was over he was within his
rights in doing so.
“I mun be getting to work again,” he muttered.
“Please do wait a minute, uncle,” she said, imperiously. “Can't you
see I want to talk to you? Can't you see I've got something on my
Deliberately challenged in this way, the formidable James was no
more than a sheep to the shearer. Until he met Helen, he had perhaps
never received deliberate, audacious challenges, and even now he was
far from being accustomed to them. So he just stood foolishly near his
“I can't talk to you while you're standing up,” she said.
So he sat down. How simple it ought to have been for him to exert
authority over Helen, to tell her fiercely that he had no intention of
being talked to like that, and that if she persisted in such tactics
the front door was at her entire disposal! She had no claim on him. Yet
he ate his humble pie and sat down.
“So they are saying that there is something between Emanuel Prockter
and me, are they?” she recommenced, in a new, mollified voice, a voice
that waved the white flag over her head.
“It wouldna' surprise me to hear as they were,” said James.
“And supposing there was something between us, uncle, should
“I don't know as I should mind,” said he. “And I don't know as it
'ud matter a brass button if I did mind.”
“What should you do, uncle?”
“I should do as I've always done,” said he; “eat and sleep and take
my walks abroad. Them as wants to marry will marry, and they will marry
what suits 'em. But I shall tak' my meat and drink as usual.”
“Would you come to the wedding?”
“I've only got a funeral suit,” said he. “But I'd buy me some togs
if Emanuel 'ud tak' this place off my hands at what I gave.”
“Would you give me a wedding-present?”
“I'd give thee some advice. It's what thou'rt most in need of.”
His tone was gloomy and resigned.
She slipped round the table and sat on the arm of his chair.
“You are a horrid old thing,” she told him—not for the first time.
“I am in need of advice. And there's no one can give it me but
“Nay, nay!” he recoiled. “There's Sarah Swetnam. You're as thick as
“She's the very last person I can go to,” said Helen.
“Why! Because Andrew is engaged to her sister, of course. That's the
awful part of it.”
“Ay?” he questioned.
“Yes. Because, you see, it's Andrew Dean that I'm in love with.”
She said it in very pert and airy accents. And then the next moment
she put James into terrible consternation by crying, and clutching his
arm. He saw that she was serious. Light beat down upon him. He had to
blink and collect himself.
“I' thy place, lass,” he said, “I should keep that to mysen.”
“But I can't, uncle. That is, I haven't done. Andrew knows. You
don't understand how much I'm in love with him. I've—he's—”
“Thou'st not kissed him?”
“He's been kissing you in mistake for his other young woman?”
“Helen, what 'ud thy mother say?”
“It was because of Andrew Dean that I came to live in Bursley,” said
she. “I knew I shouldn't see him often enough if I stayed in Longshaw.
So I came here. You know we had always liked each other, I think, ever since he spent two years at Longshaw at Spitz Brothers'. Then I
didn't see him for some time. You know how rude and awkward he is.
Well, there was a coolness. And then we didn't see each other for
another long time. And then when I next saw him I knew I really was
in love with him. (Of course, I never said anything to mother. One
doesn't, you know. And she was so taken up with her own affairs, poor
dear!) And I thought he was really fond of me. I thought so because he
was so cross and queer. He's like that, you know. And, after all, it
was not that that made him cross and queer. It was just because he was
as good as engaged to Lilian, and he didn't like to tell me. And I
never knew. How could I guess? I'd never heard there was anything
between him and Lilian. And besides, although he was cross and queer,
he said things to me that he oughtn't to have said, considering how he
was carrying on with Lilian. It was then that I settled on coming to
Bursley. There was no reason why I should stay in Longshaw. I
saw him again in Longshaw, after he was engaged to Lilian, and
yet he never told me! And then, when I come here, the first thing I
hear is that he's engaged to Lilian. It was that afternoon when Sarah
called; do you remember, uncle?”
“I saw Mr. Dean that night, and somehow I told him what I thought of
him. I don't know how it began; but I did. He said he couldn't help
being engaged to Lilian. He said it was one of those engagements that
go on by themselves, and you can't stop them. He wanted to stop it. But
he was engaged before he knew where he was—so he says. He said he
preferred me, and if he'd known—So of course I was obliged to be very
angry with him. That was why I didn't speak to him at first at Mrs.
Prockter's; at least, that was partly why. The other reason was that he
had accused me of running after Emanuel—of all people! I had been, you
know. But what had that got to do with Andrew, seeing that he was
engaged to Lilian? Besides, I'd been doing it on purpose. And he was so
insolent. And then, to crown all, Mrs. Prockter makes me dance with
him. No wonder I fainted! He is the rudest, rudest, crudest man
I ever knew.”
She wiped her eyes.
“H'm!” mused James.
“He'll simply kill poor little Lilian!” She sobbed.
“What's that got to do with you, if you and Emanuel has got nothing
to do with him? It isn't you as'll be hung when Lilian's murdered.”
“Can't you see he mustn't marry Lilian?” Helen burst out. “Silly
little thing! How can she understand him? She's miles beneath him.”
“Is there anybody as does understand him?” James asked.
“I do,” said she. “And that's flat. And I've got to marry him, and
you must help me. I wanted to tell you, and now I've told you. Don't
you think I've done right in being quite open with you? Most girls are
so foolish in these things. But I'm not. Aren't you glad, uncle?”
“Glad inna' the word,” said he.
“You must help me,” she repeated.
CHAPTER XXIII. NOCTURNAL
Many things which previously had not been plain to James Ollerenshaw
were plain to him that night, as, in the solitude of his chosen room,
he reflected upon the astonishing menu that Helen had offered him by
way of supplement to his tea. But the chief matter in his mind was the
great, central, burning, blinding fact of the endless worry caused to
him by his connection with the chit. He had bought Wilbraham Hall under
her threat to leave him if he did not buy it. Even at Trafalgar-road
she had filled the little house with worry. And now, within a dozen
hours of arriving in it, she had filled Wilbraham Hall with
worry—filled it to its farthest attic. If she had selected it as a
residence, she would have filled the Vatican with worry. All that James
demanded was a quiet life; and she would not let him have it. He wished
he was back again in Trafalgar-road. He wished he had never met Helen
and her sunshade in the park.
That is to say, he asserted to himself positively that he wished he
had never met Helen. But he did not mean it.
And so he was to help her to wrest Andrew Dean from Lilian Swetnam!
He was to take part in a shameful conspiracy! He was to assist in
ruining an innocent child's happiness! And he was deliberately to
foster the raw material of a scandal in which he himself would be
involved! He, the strong, obstinate, self-centred old man who had
never, till Helen's advent, done anything except to suit his own
The one bright spot was that Helen had no genuine designs on Emanuel
Prockter. As a son-in-law, Andrew Dean would be unbearable; but Emanuel
Prockter would have been—well, impossible. Andrew Dean (he mused) was
at any rate a man whom you could talk to and look at without feeling
When he had gazed at the affair from all points of view, and
repeated to himself the same deep moral truths (such as “There's no
doing nowt wi' a young woman afore she's forty") about thirty-nine
times, and pitied himself from every quarter of the compass, he rose to
go to bed; he did not expect to sleep. But the gas was not yet in
order, and he had only one candle, which was nearly at its latter end.
The ladies—Helen and Georgiana—had retired long since.
He left his little room, and was just setting forth on the adventure
of discovering his bedchamber, when a bell rang in the bowels of the
house. His flesh crept. It was as if—
The clock struck twelve, and shook the silent tower.
Then he collected his powers of memory and of induction, and
recognised in the sound of the bell the sound of the front door bell.
Some one must be at the front door. The singular and highly-disturbing
phenomena of distant clanging, of thrills, and of flesh-creepings were
all resolved into the simple fact that some one was at the front door.
He went back into his little room; instead of opening the front door
like a man, he opened the window of the little room, and stuck out the
tassel of his cap.
“Who's there?” he demanded.
“It's I, Mr. Ollerenshaw,” said a voice, queenly and nervous.
“Not Mrs. Prockter?” he suggested.
“I reckon ye'd like to come in,” he said.
She admitted the desire with a laugh which struck him as excessively
free. He did not know whether to be glad or sorry that Helen had
departed to bed. He did not even know whether to be glad or sorry that
Mrs. Prockter had called. But he vividly remembered what Helen had said
Naturally, he had to let her in. He held the candle in his left
hand, as he opened the door with his right, and the tassel of his cap
was over his eye.
“You'll think I'm in the habit of calling on you at night,” said
Mrs. Prockter, as she slid through the narrow space which James
allotted to her, and she laughed again. “Where is dear Helen?”
“She's gone to bed, missis,” said James, holding high the candle and
gazing at the generous vision in front of him. It wore a bonnet, and a
rich Paisley shawl over its flowered silk.
“But it's only ten o'clock!” Mrs. Prockter protested.
“Yes. But her's gone to bed.”
“Why,” Mrs. Prockter exclaimed, changing the subject wilfully, “you
are all straight here!” (For the carpets had been unrolled and laid.)
And she sat down on a massive Early Victorian mahogany chair about
fifteen feet from the dying fire, and began to fan herself with her
hands. She was one of your women who are never cold.
James, having nothing to say, said nothing, following his custom.
“I'm not ill-pleased,” said Mrs. Prockter, “that Helen is out of the
way. The fact is—it was you that I wanted to have a word with. You'll
guess what about?”
“Mr. Emanuel?” James hazarded.
“Precisely. I had to put him to bed. He is certainly in for a very
serious cold, and I trust—I fervently trust—it may not be bronchitis.
That would mean nurses, and nothing upsets a house more than nurses.
What happened, Mr. Ollerenshaw?”
James set the candle down on another Early Victorian chair, there
being no occasional table at hand, and very slowly lowered himself to a
sitting posture on a third.
“I'll tell you what happened, missis,” he said, putting his hands on
And he told her, beginning with the loss of the ship and ocean, and
ending with Helen's ever memorable words: “You must help me.”
“That's what happened, missis,” he said, grimly.
She had punctuated his recital by several exclamations, and when he
had finished she gave rein to her sentiments.
“My dear Mr. Ollerenshaw,” she said, in the kindest manner
conceivable, “how I sympathise with you! How I wish I could help you!”
Her sympathy was a genuine comfort to him. He did not, in that
instant, care a fig for Helen's notion about the direction of caps. He
was simply and humanly eased by the sweet tones of this ample and
comely dame. Besides, the idea of a woman such as Mrs. Prockter
marrying a man such as him was (he knew) preposterous. She belonged to
a little world which called him “Jimmy,” whereas he belonged to a
little world of his own. True, he was wealthy; but she was not
poor—and no amount of money (he thought) could make a bridge to join
those two worlds. Nevertheless, here she was, talking to him alone at
ten o'clock at night—and not for the first time, either! Obviously,
then, there was no nonsense about her, whatever nonsensical
world she belonged to.
She ran over with sympathy. Having no further fear of Helen making
trouble in her own family, she had all her feelings at liberty to
condone with James.
The candle, throwing a small hemisphere of feeble radiance in the
vastness of the dim hall, sat on its chair between them.
“I can help you,” she said, suddenly, after grunts from
James. “I'm calling on the Swetnams the day after to-morrow. I'll tell
them about—about to-day, and when Mrs. Swetnam asks me for an
explanation of it, I will be mysterious. If Lilian is there, Mrs.
Swetnam will certainly get her out of the room. Then I will just give
the faintest hint that the explanation is merely jealousy between
Emanuel and Mr. Dean concerning—a certain young lady. I shall treat it
all as a joke; you can rely on me. Immediately I am gone Lilian will
hear about it. She will quarrel with Andrew the next time she sees him;
and if he wishes to be free, he may be.”
She smiled the arch, naughty, pleasantly-malign smile of a terribly
experienced dowager. And she seemed positively anxious that James
should have Andrew Dean for a son-in-law.
James, in his simplicity, was delighted. It appeared to him a
Mephistophelian ingenuity. He thought how clever women were, on their
own ground, and what an advantage they had in their immense lack of
“Of course,” said she, “I have always said that a marriage between
Andrew Dean and Lilian would be a mistake—a very serious mistake. They
are quite unsuited to each other. She isn't in love with him—she's
only been flattered by his attentions into drawing him on. I feel sorry
for the little thing.”
At a stroke, she had converted a shameful conspiracy into an act of
the highest virtue. And her smile changed, too—became a good
smile, a smile on which a man might depend. His heart went out to her,
and he contemplated the smile in a pleased, beatific silence.
Just then the candle—a treacherous thing—flamed up and went out.
“Oh!” cried Mrs. Prockter.
And James had not a match. He never smoked. And without an atlas of
the Hall, showing the location of match-boxes, he saw no hope of
finding a match.
The fire was as good as gone. A few cinders burnt red under the ash,
showing the form of the chimney-piece, but no more.
“An ye got a match?” he asked her.
“No,” she said, drily, “I don't carry matches. But I can tell you I
don't like being in the dark at all.” Her voice came to him out of
nothing, and had a most curious effect on his spine. “Where are you,
“I'm a-sitting here,” he replied.
“Well,” said she, “if you can't find a match, I think you had
better lead me to the door. I certainly can't find my way there myself.
Where is your hand?”
Then a hand touched his shoulder and burnt him. “Is that you?” asked
“Ay!” he said.
And he took the hand, and the hand squeezed his hand—squeezed it
violently. It may have been due to fear, it may have been due to mere
inadvertence on the part of the hand; but the hand did, with
unmistakable, charming violence, squeeze his hand.
And he rose.
“What's that light there?” questioned the voice, in a whisper.
“Where?” he whispered also.
He turned. A luminance seemed to come from above, from the unseen
heights of the magnificent double staircase. As his eyes grew
accustomed to the conditions, he gradually made out the details of the
“You'd better go and see,” the whispering voice commanded.
He dropped the hand and obeyed, creeping up the left wing of the
staircase. As he faced about at the half-landing, he saw Helen, in an
orange-tinted peignoir, and her hair all down her back, holding a
candle. She beckoned to him. He ascended to her.
“Who's there?” she inquired, coldly.
“Mrs. Prockter,” he murmured.
“And are you sitting together in the dark?” she inquired, coldly.
The story that the candle had expired seemed feeble in the extreme.
And for him the word “cap” was written in letters of fire on the
He made no attempt to answer her question.
CHAPTER XXIV. SEEING A LADY HOME
Those words of Helen's began a fresh chapter in the life of her
great-stepuncle, James Ollerenshaw. They set up in him a feeling, or
rather a whole range of feelings, which he had never before
experienced. At tea, Helen had hinted at the direction of Mrs.
Prockter's cap. That was nothing. He could not be held responsible for
the direction of Mrs. Prockter's cap. He could laugh at that, even
though he faintly blushed. But to be caught sitting in the dark with
Mrs. Prockter, after ten o'clock at night, in his own house; to have
the fact pointed out to him in such a peculiar, meaningful tone as
Helen employed—here was something that connected him and Mrs. Prockter
in a manner just a shade too serious for mere smiling. Here was
something that had not before happened to him in his career as
rent-collector and sage.
Not that he minded! No, he did not mind. Although he had no
intention whatever of disputing the possession of Mrs. Prockter with
her stepson, he did not object to all the implication in Helen's
remarkable tone. On the contrary, he was rather pleased. Why should not
he sit with a lady in the dark? Was he not as capable as any man of
sitting with a lady in the dark? He was even willing that Helen should
credit him, or pretend to credit him, with having prearranged the dark.
Ah! People might say what they chose! But what a dog he might have
been had he cared to be a dog! Here he was, without the slightest
preliminary practice, successfully sitting with a lady in the dark, at
the first attempt! And what lady? Not the first-comer! Not Mrs. Butt!
Not the Mayoress! But the acknowledged Queen of Bursley, the undisputed
leader of all that was most distinguished in Bursley society! And no
difficulty about it either! And she had squeezed his hand. She had
continued to squeeze it. She, in her rich raiment, with her fine ways,
and her correct accent, had squeezed the hand of Jimmy Ollerenshaw,
with his hard old clothes and his Turkish cap, his simple barbarisms,
his lack of style, and his uncompromising dialect! Why? Because he was
rich? No. Because he was a man, because he was the best man in Bursley,
when you came down to essentials.
So his thoughts ran.
His interest in Helen's heart had become quite a secondary interest,
but she recalled him to a sense of his responsibilities as
great-stepuncle of a capricious creature like her.
“What are you and Mrs. Prockter talking about?” she questioned him
in a whisper, holding the candle towards his face and scrutinising it,
as seemed to him, inimically.
“Well,” he said, “if you must know, about you and that there Andrew
She made a brusque movement. And then she beckoned him to follow her
along the corridor, out of possible earshot of Mrs. Prockter.
“Do you mean to say, uncle,” she demanded, putting the candle down
on a small table that stood under a large oil-painting of Joshua and
the Sun in the corridor, “that you've been discussing my affairs with
He saw instantly that he had not been the sage he imagined himself
to be. But he was not going to be bullied by Helen, or any other woman
younger than Mrs. Prockter. So he stiffly brazened it out.
“Ay!” he said.
“I never heard of such a thing!” she exploded, but still whispering.
“You said as I must help ye, and I'm helping ye,” said he.
“But I didn't mean that you were to go chattering about me all over
Bursley, uncle,” she protested, adopting now the pained, haughty, and
“I don't know as I've been chattering all over Bursley,” he rebutted
her. “I don't know as I'm much of a chatterer. I might name them as
could give me a start and a beating when it comes to talking the nose
off a brass monkey. Mrs. Prockter came in to inquire about what had
happened here this afternoon, as well she might, seeing as Emanuel went
home with a couple o' gallons o' my water in his pockets. So I told her
all about it. Her's a very friendly woman. And her's promised to do
what her can for ye.”
“Why, to get Andrew Dean for ye, seeing as ye're so fixed on him,
wi' as little gossip as maybe.”
“Oh! So Mrs. Prockter has kindly consented to get Andrew Dean for
me! And how does she mean to do it?”
James had no alternative; he was obliged to relate how Mrs. Prockter
meant to do it.
“Now, uncle,” said Helen, “just listen to me. If Mrs. Prockter says
a single word about me to any one, I will never speak either to her or
you again. Mind! A single word! A nice thing that she should go up to
Swetnam's, and hint that Andrew and Emanuel have been fighting because
of me! What about my reputation? And do you suppose that I want the
leavings of Lilian Swetnam? Me! The idea is preposterous!”
“You wanted 'em badly enough this afternoon,” said he.
“No, I didn't,” she contradicted him passionately. “You are quite
mistaken. You misunderstood me, though I'm surprised that you should
have done. Perhaps I was a little excited this afternoon. Certainly you
were thinking about other things. I expect you were expecting Mrs.
Prockter this evening. It would have been nicer of you to have told me
she was coming.”
“Now, please let it be clearly understood,” she swept on. “You must
go down and tell Mrs. Prockter at once that you were entirely in error,
and that she is on no account to breathe a word about me to any one.
Whatever you were both thinking of I cannot imagine! But I can assure
you I'm extremely annoyed. Mrs. Prockter putting her finger in the
pie!... Let her take care that I don't put my finger into her
pie! I always knew she was a gossiping old thing, but, really—”
“Mr. Ollerenshaw!” A prettily plaintive voice rose from the black
“There! she's getting impatient for you!” Helen snapped. “Run off to
her at once. To think that if I hadn't happened to hear the bell ring,
and come out to see what was the matter, I should have been the talk of
Bursley before I was a day older!”
She picked up the candle.
“I must have a light!” said James, somewhat lamely.
“Why?” Helen asked, calmly. “If you could begin in the dark, why
can't you finish in the dark? You and she seem to like being in the
“Mr. Ollerenshaw!” The voice was a little nearer.
“Her's coming!” James ejaculated.
Helen seemed to lose her courage before that threat.
“Here! Take this one, then!” said she, giving James her candle, and
fleeing down the corridor.
James had the sensation of transacting a part in a play at a theatre
where the scenery was absolutely realistic and at the same time of a
romantic quality. Moonlight streaming in through the windows of the
interminable corridor was alone wanting to render the illusion perfect.
It was certainly astonishing—what you could buy with seven thousand
two hundred and fifty pounds! Perhaps the most striking portion of the
scenery was Helen's peignoir. He had not before witnessed her in a
peignoir. The effect of it was agreeable; but, indeed, the modern taste
for luxury was incredible! He wondered if Mrs. Prockter practised
While such notions ran through his head he was hurrying to the
stairs, and dropping a hail of candle-grease on the floor. He found
Mrs. Prockter slowly and cautiously ascending the stairway. If he was
at the summit of Mont Blanc she had already reached Les Grands Mulets.
“What is it?” she asked, pausing, and looking up at him with an
“Why have you been so long?” It was as if she implied that these
minutes without him were an eternity of ennui. He grew more and more
conceited. He was already despising Don Juan as a puling boy.
“Helen heard summat, and so she had come out of her bedroom. Her's
nervous i' this big house.”
“Did you tell her I was here, Mr. Ollerenshaw?”
By this time he had rejoined her at Les Grands Mulets.
“No,” he said, without sufficiently reflecting.
“She didn't hear me call out, then?”
“Did ye call out?” If he was in a theatre, he also could act.
“Perhaps it's just as well,” said Mrs. Prockter, after a momentary
meditation. “Under the circumstances she cannot possibly suspect our
Their little plot! In yielding to the impulse to tell her that Helen
was unaware of her presence in the house he had forgotten that he had
made it excessively difficult for him to demolish the said plot. He
could not one moment agree with enthusiasm to the plot, and the next
moment say that the plot had better be abandoned. Some men, doubtless,
could. But he could not. He was scarcely that kind of man. His proper
course would have been to relate to Mrs. Prockter exactly what had
passed between himself and Helen, and trust to her common sense.
Unhappily, with the intention of pleasing her, or reassuring her, or
something equally silly, he had lied to her and rendered the truth
impracticable. However, he did not seem to care much. He had already
pushed Helen's affairs back again to quite a secondary position.
“I suppose ye think it'll be all right, missis,” he said,
carelessly—“ye going up to Mrs. Swetnam's o' that 'n, and—”
“Rely on me,” said she, silencing him. Thus, without a pang, he left
Helen to her fate. They had touched the ground-floor. “Thank you very
much, Mr. Ollerenshaw,” said Mrs. Prockter. “Good-night. I'll make the
best of my way home.”
Curious, how sorry he felt at this announcement! He had become quite
accustomed to being a conspirator with her in the vast house lighted by
a single candle, and he did not relish the end of the performance.
“I'll step along wi' ye,” said he.
“Oh, no!” she said. “I really can't allow—”
“Allow you to inconvenience yourself like that for me.”
“Pooh!” said he.
And he, who had never in his life seen a lady to her door, set out
on the business as though he had done nothing else every night of his
life, as though it was an enterprise that did not require practice.
He opened the door, and put the candle on the floor behind it, where
he could easily find it on returning. “I'll get a box o' matches from
somewhere while I'm out,” said he.
He was about to extinguish the candle when she stopped him. “Mr.
Ollerenshaw,” she said, firmly, “you haven't got your boots on. Those
slippers are not thick enough for this weather.”
He gazed at her. Should he yield to her? The idea of yielding to
her, for the mere sake of yielding to her, presented itself to him as a
charming idea. So he disappeared with the candle, and reappeared in his
“You won't need a muffler?” she suggested.
Now was the moment to play the hardy Norseman. “Oh, no!” he laughed.
This concern for his welfare, coming from such a royal creature,
was, however, immensely agreeable.
She stood out on the steps; he extinguished the candle, and then
joined her and banged the door. They started. Several hundred yards of
winding pitch-dark drive had to be traversed.
“Will you kindly give me your arm?” she said.
She said it so primly, so correctly, and with such detachment, that
they might have been in church, and she saying: “Will you kindly let me
look over your Prayer Book?”
When they arrived at the gas-lit Oldcastle-road he wanted to
withdraw his arm, but he did not know how to begin withdrawing it.
Hence he was obliged to leave it where it was.
And as they were approaching the front gate of the residence of Mr.
Buchanan, the Scotch editor of the Signal, a perfect string of
people emerged from that front gate. Mrs. Buchanan had been giving a
whist drive. There were sundry Swetnams among the string. And the whole
string was merry and talkative. It was a fine night. The leading pearls
of the string bore down on the middle-aged pair, and peered, and
“Good-night, Mrs. Prockter. Good-night, Mr. Ollerenshaw.”
Then another couple did the same. “Good-night, Mrs. Prockter.
Good-night, Mr. Ollerenshaw.”
And so it went on. And the string, laughing and talking, gradually
disappeared diminuendo in the distance towards Bursley.
“I suppose you know you've done it this time?” observed Mrs.
It was a dark saying, but James fully understood it. He felt as
though he had drunk champagne. “As well be hung for a sheep as a lamb!”
he said to himself. And deliberately squeezed the royal arm.
Nothing violent happened. He had rather expected the heavens to
fall, or that at least Mrs. Prockter would exclaim: “Unhand me,
monster!” But nothing violent happened.
“And this is me, James Ollerenshaw!” he said to himself, still
CHAPTER XXV. GIRLISH CONFIDENCES
One afternoon Sarah Swetnam called, and Helen in person opened the
great door to the visitor.
“I saw that frock in Brunt's three days ago,” Helen began, kissing
the tall, tightbound, large-boned woman.
“I know you did, Nell,” Sarah admitted. “But you needn't tell me so.
Don't you like it?”
“I think it's a dream,” Helen replied, quickly. “Turn round.” But
there was a certain lack of conviction in her voice, and in Sarah's
manner there was something strained. Accordingly, they both became
extravagantly effusive—or, at any rate, more effusive than usual,
though each was well aware that the artifice was entirely futile.
“All alone?” Sarah asked, when she had recovered from the first
shock of the hall's magnificence.
“Yes,” said Helen. “It's Georgiana's afternoon out, and uncle's
away, and I haven't got any new servants yet.”
“Mr. Ollerenshaw away! No one ever heard of such a thing! If you
knew him as well as we do, you'd have fainted with surprise. It ought
to be in the paper. Where's he gone to?”
“He's gone to Derby, to try to buy some property that he says is
going very cheap there. He's been gone three days now. He got a letter
at breakfast, and said he must go to Derby at once. However, he had to
finish his rents. The trouble is that his rents never are finished, and
I'm bothered all the time by people coming with three and sixpence, or
four shillings, and a dirty rent-book! Oh! and the dirt on the coins!
My dear, you can't imagine! There's one good thing. He will have to
come back for next week's rents. Not that I'm sorry he's gone. It gives
me a chance, you see. By the time he returns I shall have my servants
“Do tell me what servants you're going to have?”
“Well, I went to that agency at Oldcastle. I've got a German butler.
He speaks four languages, and has beautiful eyes.”
“A German butler!”
If it had been a German prince Sarah could not have been more
startled nor more delighted.
“Yes, and a cook, and two other maids; and a gardener and a boy. I
shall keep Georgiana as my own maid.”
“My child, you're going it!”
“My child, I came here to go it.”
“And—and Mr. Ollerenshaw is really pleased?”
Helen laughed. “Uncle never goes into raptures, you know. But I hope
he will be pleased. The fact is, he doesn't know anything about these
new servants yet. He'll find them installed when he returns. It will be
a little treat for him. My piano came this morning. Care to try it?”
“Rather!” said Sarah. “Well, I never saw anything like it!” This was
in reference to her first glimpse of the great drawing-room. “How
you've improved it, you dear thing!”
“You see, I have my own cheque-book; it saves worry.”
“I see!” said Sarah, meaningly, putting her purse on the piano, her
umbrella on a chair, and herself on the music-stool.
“Shall we have tea?” Helen suggested, after Sarah had performed on
“Yes. Let me help you, do, dearest.”
They wandered off to the kitchens, and while they were seated at the
kitchen-table, sipping tea, side by side, Sarah said:
“Now if you want an idea, I've got a really good one for you.”
“For me? What sort of an idea?”
“I'll tell you. You know Mrs. Wiltshire is dead.”
“I don't. I didn't even know there was a Mrs. Wiltshire.”
“Well, there was, and there isn't any longer. Mrs. Wiltshire was the
main social prop of the old rector. And the annual concert of the St.
Luke's Guild has always been held at her house, down at Shawport, you
know. Awfully poky! But it was the custom since the Flood, and no one
ever dared to hint at a change. Now the concert was to have been next
week but one, and she's just gone and died, and the rector is wondering
where he can hold it. I met him this morning. Why don't you let him
hold it here? That would be a splendid way of opening your house—Hall,
I beg its pardon. And you could introduce the beautiful eyes of your
German butler to the entire neighbourhood. Of course, I don't know
whether Mr. Ollerenshaw would like it.”
“Oh!” said Helen, without blenching, “uncle would do as I wish.”
She mused, in silence, during a number of seconds.
“The idea doesn't appeal to you?” Sarah queried, disappointment in
“Yes, it does,” said Helen. “But I must think it over. Now, would
you care to see the rest of the house?”
“I should love to. Oh dear, I've left my handkerchief with my purse
in the drawing-room.”
“Have mine!” said Helen, promptly.
But even after this final proof of intimate friendship, there still
remained an obstinate trifle of insincerity in their relations that
afternoon. Helen was sure that Sarah Swetnam had paid the call
specially to say something, and that the something had not yet been
said. And the apprehension of an impending scene gradually took
possession of her nerves and disarranged them. When they reached the
attics, and were enjoying the glorious views of the moorland in the
distance and of Wilbraham Water in the immediate foreground, Helen
said, very suddenly:
“Will the rector be in this afternoon?”
“I should say so. Why?”
“I was thinking we might walk down there together, and I could
suggest to him at once about having the concert here.”
Sarah clapped her hands. “Then you've decided?”
“How funny you are, Nell, with your decisions!”
In Helen's bedroom, amid her wardrobe, there was no chance of
dangerous topics, the attention being monopolised by one subject, and
that a safe one.
At last they went out together, two models of style and deportment,
and Helen pulled to the great front door with a loud echoing clang.
“Fancy that place being all empty. Aren't you afraid of sleeping
there while your uncle is away?”
“No,” said Helen. “But I should be afraid if Georgiana wasn't
After this example of courageous introspection, a silence fell upon
the pair; the silence held firm while they got out of the grounds and
crossed Oldcastle-road, and took to the Alls field-path, from which a
unique panorama of Bursley—chimneys, kilns, canals, railways, and
smoke-pall—is to be obtained. Helen was determined not to break the
silence. And then came the moment when Sarah Swetnam could no longer
suffer the silence; and she began, very cautiously:
“I suppose you've heard all about Andrew and Emanuel Prockter?”
Helen perceived that she had not been mistaken, and that the scene
was at hand. “No,” said she. “What about them?”
“You don't mean to say you've not heard?”
“No. What about?”
“The quarrel between those two?”
“Emanuel and Mr. Dean?”
“Yes. But you must have heard?”
“I assure you, Sally, no one has told me a word about it.” (Which
was just as true as it was untrue.)
“But they quarrelled up here. I did hear that Andrew threw
Emanuel into your lake.”
“Who told you that?”
“It was Mrs. Prockter. She was calling on the mater yesterday, and
she seemed to be full of it—according to the mater's account. Mrs.
Prockters' idea was that they had quarrelled about a woman.”
(“Mrs. Prockter shall be repaid for this,” said Helen to herself.)
“Surely Emanuel hasn't been falling in love with Lilian, has he?”
said Helen, aloud. She considered this rather clever on her part. And
“Oh, no!” replied Sally, positively. “It's not Lilian.” And there
was that in her tone which could not be expressed in ten volumes. “You
know perfectly well who the woman is,” Helen seemed to hear her say.
Then Helen said: “I think I can explain it. They were both at our
house the day we removed.”
“Oh, were they?” murmured Sarah, in well-acted surprise.
“And Mr. Dean fell off some steps that Emanuel was supposed to be
holding. I thought he was furious—but not to that point. That's
probably the secret of the whole thing. As for Mr. Dean having pushed
Emanuel into the lake, I don't believe a word of it.”
“Then how was it that Emanuel had a cold and had to stay in bed?”
“My dear, to have a cold it isn't necessary to have been thrown into
“That's true,” Sarah admitted.
“However,” Helen calmly proceeded, “I'll find out all about it and
let you know.”
“How shall you find out?”
“I shall make Emanuel tell me. He will tell me anything. And he's a
“Do you see him often up here?” Sarah inquired.
“Oh, yes!” This was not true. “We get on together excellently. And
I'm pretty sure that Emanuel is not—well—interested in any other
woman. That's why I should say that they have not been quarrelling
about a woman. Unless, of course, the woman is myself.” She laughed,
and added: “But I'm not jealous. I can trust Emanuel.”
And with marvellous intrepidity she looked Sarah Swetnam in the
“Then,” Sarah stammered, “you and Emanuel—you don't mean——”
“My dear Sally, don't you think Emanuel is a perfectly delightful
“Oh, yes!” said Sarah.
“So do I,” said Helen.
“But are you——”
“Between ourselves,” Helen murmured. “Mind you, between ourselves
—I could imagine stranger things happening.”
“Well,” said Sarah, “this is news.”
“Mind, not a syllable!”
“Oh, of course not.”
“By the way,” Helen asked, “when are Andrew and Lilian going to get
“I don't know. No one knows. One confidence for another, my dear;
they don't always hit it off.”
“What a pity!” Helen remarked. “Because if ever two people were
suited to each other in this world, they are. But I hope they'll shake
They arrived at the rector's.
CHAPTER XXVI. THE CONCERT
On another afternoon a middle-aged man and a young-hearted woman
emerged together from Bursley Railway Station. They had a little
luggage, and a cab from the Tiger met them by appointment. Impossible
to deny that the young-hearted one was wearing a flowered silk under a
travelling mantle. The man, before getting into the cab, inquired as to
the cost of the cab. The gold angel of the Town Hall rose majestically
in front of him, and immediately behind him the Park, with the
bowling-green at the top, climbed the Moorthorne slope. The bowling
season was of course over, but even during the season he had scarcely
played. He was a changed person. And the greatest change of all had
occurred that very morning. Throughout a long and active career he had
worn paper collars. Paper collars had sufficed him, and they had not
shocked his friends. But now he wore a linen collar, and eleven other
linen collars were in his carpet-bag. Yet it has been said, by some
individual who obviously lacked experience of human nature, that a man
never changes the style of his collar after forty.
The cab drove up to Hillport, and deposited flowered silk and one
bag at the residence of Mrs. Prockter. It then ascended higher, passing
into the grounds of Wilbraham Hall, and ultimately stopping at the
grandiose portals thereof, which were wide open.
The occupant of the cab was surprised to see two other cabs just
departing. The next moment he was more than surprised—he was startled.
A gentleman in evening dress stood at the welcoming doors, and on
perceiving him this gentleman ran down the steps, and, with a sort of
hurried grace, took his carpet-bag from him, addressing him in broken
English, and indicating by incomprehensible words and comprehensible
signs that he regarded him, the new arrival, as the light of his eyes
and the protector of the poor and of the oppressed. And no sooner had
he got the new arrival safe into the hall than he stripped him of hat,
coat, and muffler, and might have proceeded to extremes had not his
attention been distracted by another vehicle.
This vehicle contained the aged rector of Bursley.
“Ha! Mr. Ollerenshaw!” cried the divine. “Your niece told me only
yesterday that you were still in Derby buying property, and would not
“I've bought it, parson,” said James.
“Ha! ha!” said the divine, rubbing his hands. He stooped habitually,
which gave him the air of always trying to glimpse at his toes over the
promontory of his waist. And as James made no reply to the remark, he
repeated: “Ha! ha! So you decided to come to my concert, eh?”
“I only heard of it yesterday,” said James.
“Well,” said the divine, “I'm afraid they'll be waiting for me. Ha!
ha! This way, isn't it? Fine place you've got here. Very fine! Noble!”
And he disappeared through the double doors that led to the
drawing-room, which doors were parted for him by a manikin whose
clothes seemed to be held together by new sixpences. During the brief
instant of opening, a vivacious murmur of conversation escaped like gas
from the drawing-room into the hall.
James glanced about for his bag—it was gone. The gentleman in
evening dress was out on the steps. Disheartened by the mysterious
annihilation of his old friend the bag, James, weary with too much and
too various emotion, went slowly up the grand staircase. In his bedroom
the first thing he saw was his bag, which had been opened and its
contents suitably bestowed. Thus his hair-brushes were on the
dressing-table. This miracle completed his undoing. He sat down on an
easy-chair, drew the eider-down off the bed, and put it on his knees,
for the temperature was low. He did not intend to go to sleep. But he
did go to sleep. It was simply a case of nature recovering from
He slept about an hour, and then, having brushed his wispish hair,
he descended the stairs, determined to do or die. Perhaps he would not
have plumped himself straight into the drawing-room had not the manikin
clad in sixpences assumed that the drawing-room was his Mecca and
thrown open the doors.
A loud “Hush!” greeted him. The splendid chamber was full of women's
hats and men's heads; but hats predominated. And the majority of the
audience were seated on gilt chairs which James had never before seen.
Probably there were four or five score gilt chairs. At the other end of
the room the aged rector sat in an easy-chair. Helen herself was
perched at the piano, and in front of the piano stood Emanuel Prockter.
Except that the room was much larger, and that, instead of a faultless
evening dress, Emanuel wore a faultless frock-coat (with the rest of a
suit), the scene reminded James of a similar one on the great
concertina night at Mrs. Prockter's.
Many things had happened since then. Still, history repeats itself.
“O Love!” exclaimed Emanuel Prockter, adagio and sostenuto, thus
diverting from James a hundred glances which James certainly was
delighted to lose.
And Helen made the piano say “O Love!” in its fashion.
And presently Emanuel was launched upon the sea of his yearnings,
and voyaging behind the hurricane of passion. And, as usual, he hid
nothing from his hearers. Then he hove to, and, as it were, climbed to
the main-topgallant-sail in order to announce:
It was not surprising that his voice cracked. Emanuel ought to have
been the last person to be surprised at such a phenomenon. But he was
surprised. To him the phenomenon of that cracking was sempiternally
novel and astounding. It pained and shocked him. He wondered whose the
fault could be? And then, according to his habit, he thought of the
pianist. Of course, it was the fault of the pianist. And, while
continuing to sing, he slowly turned and gazed with sternness at the
pianist. The audience must not be allowed to be under any
misapprehension as to the identity of the culprit. Unfortunately,
Emanuel, wrapped up, like the artist he was, in his performance, had
himself forgotten the identity of the culprit. Helen had ceased to be
Helen; she was merely his pianist. The thing that he least expected to
encounter when gazing sternly at the pianist was the pianist's gaze. He
was accustomed to flash his anger on the pianist's back. But Helen, who
had seen other pianists at work for Emanuel, turned as he turned, and
their eyes met. The collision disorganised Emanuel. He continued to
glare with sternness, and he ceased to sing. A contretemps had
happened. For the fifth of a second everybody felt exceedingly awkward.
Then Helen said, with a faint, cold smile, in a voice very low and very
“What's the matter with you, Mr. Prockter? It wasn't my voice that
There was a half-hearted attempt at the maintenance of the
proprieties, and then Wilbraham Hall rang with the laughter of a joke
which the next day had become the common precious property of all the
Five Towns. When the aged rector had restored his flock to a sense of
decency Mr. Emanuel Prockter had vanished. In that laughter his career
as a singer reached an abrupt and final conclusion. The concert also
came to an end. And the collection, by which the divine always
terminated these proceedings, was the largest in the history of the
A quarter of an hour or twenty minutes later all the guests,
members, and patrons of the St. Luke's Guild had left, most of them
full of kind inquiries after Mr. Ollerenshaw, the genial host of that
so remarkably successful entertainment. The appearances and
disappearances of Mr. Ollerenshaw had been a little disturbing. First
it had been announced that he was detained in Derby, buying property.
Indeed, few persons were unaware that, except for a flying visit in the
middle, of two days, to collect his rents, James had spent a fortnight
in Derby purchasing sundry portions of Derby. Certainly Helen had not
expected him. Nor had she expected Mrs. Prockter, who two days
previously had been called away by telegram to the bedside of a sick
cousin in Nottingham. Nor had she expected Lilian Swetnam, who was
indisposed. The unexpected ladies had not arrived; but James had
arrived, as disconcerting as a ghost, and then had faded away with
equal strangeness. None of the departing audience had seen even the
tassel of his cap.
Helen discovered him in his little room at the end of the hall. She
was resplendent in black and silver.
“So here you are, uncle!” said she, and kissed him. “I'm so glad you
got back in time. Can you lend me sixpence?”
“What for, lass?”
“I want to give it to the man who's taking away the chairs I had to
“What's become of that seven hundred and seventy pound odd as ye
“Oh,” she said, lightly, “I've spent that.” She thought she might as
well have done with it, and added: “And I'm in debt—lots. But we'll
talk about that later. Sixpence, please.”
He blenched. But he, too, had been expensive in the pursuit of
delight. He, too, had tiresome trifles on his mind. So he produced the
sixpence, and accepted the dissipation of nearly eight hundred pounds
in less than a month with superb silence.
Helen rang the bell. “You see, I've had all the bells put in order,”
The gentleman in evening dress entered.
“Fritz,” said she, “give this sixpence to the man with the chairs.”
“Yes, miss,” Fritz dolefully replied. “A note for you, miss.”
And he stretched forth a charger on which was a white envelope.
“Excuse me, uncle,” said she, tearing the envelope.
“Dinna' mind me, lass,” said he.
The note ran:
“I must see you by the Water to-night at nine o'clock. Don't
or there will be a row.—
She crushed it.
“No answer, Fritz,” said she. “Tell cook, dinner for two.”
“Who's he?” demanded James when Fritz had bowed himself out.
“That's our butler,” said Helen, kindly. “Don't you like his eyes?”
“I wouldna' swop him eyes,” said James. He could not trust himself
to discuss the butler's eyes at length.
“Don't be late for dinner, will you, uncle?” she entreated him.
“Dinner!” he cried. “I had my dinner at Derby. What about my tea?”
“I mean tea,” she said.
He went upstairs again to his room, but did not stay there a moment.
In the corridor he met Helen, swishing along.
“Look here, lass,” he stopped her. “A straight question deserves a
straight answer. I'm not given to curiosity as a rule, but what is
Emanuel Prockter doing on my bed?”
“Emanuel Prockter on your bed!” Helen repeated, blankly. He saw that
she was suffering from genuine surprise.
“On my bed!” he insisted.
The butler appeared, having heard the inquiry from below. He
explained that Mr. Prockter, after the song, had come to him and asked
where he could lie down, as he was conscious of a tendency to faint.
The butler had indicated Mr. Ollerenshaw's room as the only masculine
“Go and ask him how he feels,” Helen commanded.
Fritz obeyed, and returned with the message that Mr. Prockter had
“one of his attacks,” and desired his mother.
“But he can't have his mother,” said Helen. “She's at Nottingham. He
told me so himself. He must be delirious.” And she laughed.
“No, her isn't,” James put in. “Her's at wum” (home).
“How do you know, uncle?”
“I know,” said James. “Her'd better be sent for.”
And she was sent for.
CHAPTER XXVII. UNKNOTTING AND
When Mrs. Prockter arrived it was obvious to Helen, in spite of her
wonderful calm upon discovering James Ollerenshaw's butler and page,
that the lady was extremely ill-at-ease. And Helen, though preoccupied
herself by matters of the highest personal importance, did what she
could to remedy a state of affairs so unusual. Probably nobody, within
the memory of that generation, had ever seen Mrs. Prockter ill-at-ease.
Helen inquired as to the health of the sick relative at Nottingham, and
received a reply in which vagueness was mingled with hesitancy and a
blush. It then became further obvious to the perspicuous Helen that
Mrs. Prockter must have heard of her stepson's singular adventure, and
either resented Helen's share in it, or was ashamed of Emanuel's share
“You know that Emanuel is here?” said Helen, with her most
diplomatic and captivating smile.
But Mrs. Prockter did not know. “I thought Mr. Ollerenshaw wanted
me,” Mrs. Prockter explained, “so I came as quickly as I could.”
“It was I who wanted to speak to you,” said Helen. “The truth is
that Emanuel is lying on uncle's bed, unwell or something, and he
expressed a wish to see you. He was singing at the concert——”
“So sorry I wasn't able to be here,” Mrs. Prockter inserted, with
“We missed you awfully,” Helen properly responded. “The rector was
inconsolable. So was everybody,” she added, feeling that as a
compliment the rector's grief might be deemed insufficient. “And he had
“Yes. I was accompanying him, and I am afraid it was my fault.
Anyhow, he didn't finish his song. And then we missed him. He had asked
the butler to let him lie down somewhere, and uncle found him in his
bedroom. I hope it's nothing serious.”
“Oh, my dear girl,” said Mrs. Prockter, regaining somewhat her
natural demeanour in a laugh, “if it's only one of Emanuel's singing
breakdowns, we needn't worry. Can I go up and talk sense to him? He's
just like a child, you know.”
“Let me take you up,” cried Helen.
And the two women ascended the grand staircase. It was the first
time the grand staircase had been used with becoming dignity since Mrs.
Prockter had used it on her visit of inspection. That staircase and
Mrs. Prockter were made for each other.
No sooner had they disappeared than James popped out of his lair,
where he had been hiding, and gazed up the staircase like a hunter
stalking his prey. The arrival of the page in sixpences put him out of
countenance for a moment, especially when the page began to feed the
hall-fire in a manner contrary to all James's lifelong notions of
feeding fires. However, he passed the time by giving the page a lesson.
Helen tapped at the bedroom door, left Mrs. Prockter to enter, and
descended the stairs again.
“Is her up there with him?” James asked, in a whisper.
“Ye'd better ask her stop and have something to eat wi' us,” said
Helen had to reconcile James Ollerenshaw to the new scale of
existence at Wilbraham Hall. She had to make him swallow the butler,
and the page, and the other servants, and the grand piano—in
themselves a heavy repast—without counting the evening dinner. Up to
the present he had said nothing, because there had been no fair
opportunity to say anything. But he might start at any moment. And
Helen had no reason to believe that he had even begun the process of
swallowing. She argued, with a sure feminine instinct and a large
experience of mankind, that if he could only be dodged into tacitly
accepting the new scale for even a single meal, her task would be very
much simplified. And what an ally Mrs. Prockter would be!
“Tell cook there will be three to dinner,” she said to the page, who
After a protracted interval Mrs. Prockter reappeared.
She began by sighing. “The foolish boy is seriously damaged,” said
“Not hurt?” Helen asked.
“Yes. But only in his dignity. He pretends it's his throat, but it
isn't. It's only his dignity. I suppose all singers are children, like
that. I'm really ashamed to have to ask you to let him lie there a
little, dear Miss Rathbone; but he is positively sure that he can't get
up. I've been through these crises with him before, but never one quite
She laughed. They all laughed.
“I'll let him lie there on one condition,” Helen sweetly replied.
“And that is that you stay to dinner. I am relying on you. And I won't
take a refusal.”
Mrs. Prockter looked sharply at James, and James blushed.
“James,” she exclaimed, “you've told her. And you promised you
wouldn't till to-morrow.”
“Nay!” said James. “I've said nowt! It's you as has let it out,
“Told me what, Mrs. Prockter?” Helen asked, utterly unexpectant of
the answer she was to get.
“My dear girl,” said the elder dame, “do not call me Mrs. Prockter.
I am Mrs. Ollerenshaw. I am the property that your uncle has been
buying at Derby. And he is my sick relative at Nottingham. We preferred
to do it like that. We could not have survived engagements and
“Oh, you wicked sinners! You—you terrible darlings!” Helen burst
out as soon as she could control her voice.
Mrs. Ollerenshaw wept discreetly.
“Bless us! Bless us!” murmured James, not to beseech a benediction,
but simply to give the impression (quite false) that, in his opinion,
much fuss was being made about nothing.
The new scale of existence was definitely accepted. And in private
Mrs. Ollerenshaw entirely agreed with Helen as to the merits of the
After dinner James hurried to his lair to search for a book. The
book was not where he had left it, on his original entry into Wilbraham
Hall. Within two minutes, the majority of the household staff was
engaged in finding that book. Ultimately the butler discovered it; the
butler had been reading it.
“Ay!” said James, opening the volume as he stood in front of the
rich, expensive fire in the hall. “Dickens—Charles Dickens—that's the
chap's name. I couldn't think of it when I was telling you about th'
book th' other day. I mun' go on wi” that.”
“Couldn't you play us something?” responded his wife.
In the triumph of concertinas over grand pianos, poor Emanuel, lying
wounded upstairs, was forgotten. At five minutes to nine Helen stole,
unperceived, away from the domestic tableau. She had by no means
recovered from her amazement; but she had screened it off by main force
in her mind, and she was now occupied with something far more important
than the blameless amours of the richest old man in Hillport.
By Wilbraham Water a young man was walking to and fro in the deep
autumn night. He wore a cap and a muffler, but no overcoat, and his
hands were pushed far down into the pockets of his trousers. He
regarded the ground fixedly, and stamped his feet at every step. Then a
pale grey figure, with head enveloped in a shawl, and skirts carefully
withdrawn from the ground, approached him.
He did not salute the figure, he did not even take his hands out of
his pockets. He put his face close to hers, and each could see that the
other's features were white and anxious.
“So you've come,” said he, glumly.
“What do you want?” Helen coldly asked.
“I want to speak to you. That's what I want. If you care for Emanuel
Prockter, why did you play that trick on him this afternoon?”
“You know perfectly well what I mean. So I'll thank you not to beat
about the bush. The plain fact is that you don't care a pin for
“I never said I did.”
“You've made every one believe you did, anyhow. You've even made me
think so, though all the time I knew it was impossible. An ass like
“What do you want?” Helen repeated.
They were both using a tone intended to indicate that they were
enemies from everlasting to everlasting, and that mere words could not
express the intensity of their mutual hatred and scorn. The casual
distant observer might have conceived the encounter to be a love idyll.
There was a short silence.
“I broke off my engagement last night,” Andrew Dean muttered,
“Really!” Helen commented.
“You don't seem to care.”
“I don't see what it has to do with me. But if you talked to Lilian
Swetnam in the same nice agreeable manner that you talk to me, I can't
say I'm surprised to hear that she broke with you.”
“Who told you she broke?” Andrew demanded.
“I guessed,” said Helen. “You'd never have had the courage to break
it off yourself.”
Andrew made a vicious movement.
“If you mean to serve me as you served Emanuel,” she remarked, with
bitter calm, “please do it as gently as you can. And don't throw me
far. I can only swim a little.”
Andrew walked away.
“Good-night,” she called.
“Look here!” he snarled coming back to her “What's the matter with
you? I know I oughtn't to have asked Lilian to marry me. Everybody
knows that. It's universally agreed. But are you going to make that an
excuse for spoiling the whole show? What's up with you is pride.”
“And what is up with you?” she inquired.
“Pride,” said he. “How could I know you were in love with me all the
time? How could——”
“You couldn't,” said Helen. “I wasn't. No more than you were with
“If you weren't in love with me, why did you try to make me
“Me try to make you jealous!” she exclaimed, disdainfully. “You
flatter yourself, Mr. Dean!”
“I can stand a good deal, but I can't stand lies, and I won't!” he
exploded. “I say you did try to make me jealous.”
He then noticed that she was crying.
The duologue might have extended itself indefinitely if her tears
had not excited him to uncontrollable fury, to that instinctive cruelty
that every male is capable of under certain conditions. Without asking
her permission, without uttering a word of warning, he rushed at her
and seized her in his arms. He crushed her with the whole of his very
considerable strength. And he added insult to injury by kissing her
about forty seven times. Women are such strange, incalculable
creatures. Helen did not protest. She did not invoke the protection of
Heaven. She existed, passively and silently, the unremonstrating victim
of his disgraceful violence.
Then he held her at arm's length. “Will you marry me?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Did you try to make me jealous?”
Later, as they walked by the lake, he ejaculated: “I'm an awful
“I like you as you are,” she replied.
But the answer was lacking in precision, for at that moment he was
being as tender as only an awful brute can be.
“Of course,” she said, “we mustn't say anything about it yet.”
“No,” he agreed. “To let it out at once might make unpleasantness
between you and the Swetnams.”
“Oh!” she said, “I wasn't thinking of that. But there's another
love-affair in the house, and no house will hold two at once. It would
That is how they talk in the Five Towns. As if one could have too
much love, even in a cottage—to say nothing of a Wilbraham Hall! Mrs.
Ollerenshaw placidly decided that she and James would live at the Hall,
though James would have preferred something a size smaller. As I have
already noticed, the staircase suited her; James suited her, too. No
one could guess why, except possibly James. They got on together, as
the Five Towns said, “like a house afire.”
Helen and Andrew Dean were satisfied with a semi-detached villa in
Park-road, with a fine view of the gold angel. Women vary, capricious
beings! Helen is perfectly satisfied with one servant. But she dresses
rather better than ever.