The Heroism of Thomas Chadwick by Arnold Bennett
“Have you heard about Tommy Chadwick?” one gossip asked another in
“He's a tram-conductor now.”
This information occasioned surprise, as it was meant to do, the
expression on the faces of both gossips indicating a pleasant curiosity
as to what Tommy Chadwick would be doing next.
Thomas Chadwick was a “character” in the Five Towns, and of a
somewhat unusual sort. “Characters” in the Five Towns are generally
either very grim or very jolly, either exceptionally shrewd or
exceptionally simple; and they nearly always, in their outward aspect,
depart from the conventional. Chadwick was not thus. Aged fifty or so,
he was a portly and ceremonious man with an official gait. He had been
a policeman in his youth, and he never afterwards ceased to look like a
policeman in plain clothes. The authoritative mien of the policeman
refused to quit his face. Yet, beneath that mien, few men (of his size)
were less capable of exerting authority than Chadwick. He was, at
bottom, a weak fellow. He knew it himself, and everybody knew it. He
had left the police force because he considered that the strain was
beyond his strength. He had the constitution of a she-ass, and the
calm, terrific appetite of an elephant; but he maintained that night
duty in January was too much for him. He was then twenty-seven, with a
wife and two small girls. He abandoned the uniform with dignity. He did
everything with dignity. He looked for a situation with dignity, saw
his wife and children go hungry with dignity, and even went short
himself with dignity. He continually got fatter, waxing on misfortune.
And—another curious thing—he could always bring out, when advisable,
a shining suit of dark blue broadcloth, a clean collar and a fancy
necktie. He was not a consistent dandy, but he could be a dandy when he
Of course, he had no trade. The manual skill of a policeman is
useless outside the police force. One cannot sell it in other markets.
People said that Chadwick was a fool to leave the police force. He was;
but he was a sublime and dignified fool in his idle folly. What he
wanted was a position of trust, a position where nothing would be
required from him but a display of portliness, majesty and
incorruptibility. Such positions are not easy to discover. Employers
had no particular objection to portliness, majesty and
incorruptibility, but as a rule they demanded something else into the
bargain. Chadwick's first situation after his defection from the police
was that of night watchman in an earthenware manufactory down by the
canal at Shawport. He accepted it regretfully, and he firmly declined
to see the irony of fate in forcing such a post on a man who
conscientiously objected to night duty. He did not maintain this post
long, and his reasons for giving it up were kept a dark secret. Some
said that Chadwick's natural tendency to sleep at night had been taken
amiss by his master.
Thenceforward he went through transformation after transformation,
outvying the legendary chameleon. He was a tobacconist, a park-keeper,
a rent collector, a commission agent, a clerk, another clerk, still
another clerk, a sweetstuff seller, a fried fish merchant, a coal
agent, a book agent, a pawnbroker's assistant, a dog-breeder, a
door-keeper, a board-school keeper, a chapel-keeper, a turnstile man at
football matches, a coachman, a carter, a warehouseman, and a
chucker-out at the Empire Music Hall at Hanbridge. But he was nothing
long. The explanations of his changes were invariably vague,
unseizable. And his dignity remained unimpaired, together with his
broadcloth. He not only had dignity for himself, but enough left over
to decorate the calling which he happened for the moment to be
practising. He was dignified in the sale of rock-balls, and especially
so in encounters with his creditors; and his grandeur when out of a
place was a model to all unemployed.
Further, he was ever a pillar and aid of the powers. He worshipped
order, particularly the old order, and wealth and correctness. He was
ever with the strong against the weak, unless the weak happened to be
an ancient institution, in which case he would support it with all the
valour of his convictions. Needless to say, he was a very active
politician. Perhaps the activity of his politics had something to do
with the frequency of his transformations—for he would always be his
somewhat spectacular self; he would always call his soul his own, and
he would quietly accept a snub from no man.
And now he was a tram-conductor. Things had come to that.
In the old days of the steam trams, where there were only about a
score of tram-conductors and eight miles of line in all the Five Towns,
the profession of tram-conductor had still some individuality in it,
and a conductor was something more than a number. But since the British
Electric Traction Company had invaded the Five Towns, and formed a
subsidiary local company, and constructed dozens of miles of new line,
and electrified everything, and raised prices, and abolished season
tickets, and quickened services, and built hundreds of cars and engaged
hundreds of conductors—since then a tram-conductor had been naught but
an unhuman automaton in a vast machine-like organization. And
passengers no longer had their favourite conductors.
Gossips did not precisely see Thomas Chadwick as an unhuman
automaton for the punching of tickets and the ringing of bells and the
ejaculation of street names. He was never meant by nature to be part of
a system. Gossips hoped for the best. That Chadwick, at his age and
with his girth, had been able, in his extremity, to obtain a
conductorship was proof that he could bring influences to bear in high
quarters. Moreover, he was made conductor of one of two cars that ran
on a little branch line between Bursley and Moorthorne, so that to the
village of Moorthorne he was still somebody, and the chances were just
one to two that persons who travelled by car from or to Moorthorne did
so under the majestic wing of Thomas Chadwick. His manner of starting a
car was unique and stupendous. He might have been signalling “full
speed ahead” from the bridge of an Atlantic liner.
Chadwick's hours aboard his Atlantic liner were so long as to
interfere seriously, not only with his leisure, but with his political
activities. And this irked him the more for the reason that at that
period local politics in the Five Towns were extremely agitated and
interesting. People became politicians who had never been politicians
before. The question was, whether the Five Towns, being already one
town in practice, should not become one town in theory—indeed, the
twelfth largest town in the United Kingdom! And the district was
divided into Federationists and anti-Federationists. Chadwick was a
convinced anti-Federationist. Chadwick, with many others, pointed to
the history of Bursley, “the mother of the Five Towns,” a history which
spread over a thousand years and more; and he asked whether “old
Bursley” was to lose her identity merely because Hanbridge had
insolently outgrown her. A poll was soon to be taken on the subject,
and feelings were growing hotter every day, and rosettes of different
colours flowered thicker and thicker in the streets, until nothing but
a strong sense of politeness prevented members of the opposing parties
from breaking each other's noses in St Luke's Square.
Now on a certain Tuesday afternoon in spring Tommy Chadwick's car
stood waiting, opposite the Conservative Club, to depart to Moorthorne.
And Tommy Chadwick stood in all his portliness on the platform. The
driver, a mere nobody, was of course at the front of the car. The
driver held the power, but he could not use it until Tommy Chadwick
gave him permission; and somehow Tommy's imperial attitude seemed to
indicate this important fact.
There was not a soul in the car.
Then Mrs Clayton Vernon came hurrying up the slope of Duck Bank and
signalled to Chadwick to wait for her. He gave her a wave of the arm,
kindly and yet deferential, as if to say, “Be at ease, noble dame! You
are in the hands of a man of the world, who knows what is due to your
position. This car shall stay here till you reach it, even if Thomas
Chadwick loses his situation for failing to keep time.”
And Mrs Clayton Vernon puffed into the car. And Thomas Chadwick gave
her a helping hand, and raised his official cap to her with a dignified
sweep; and his glance seemed to be saying to the world, “There, you see
what happens when I deign to conduct a car! Even Mrs Clayton
Vernon travels by car then.” And the whole social level of the electric
tramway system was apparently uplifted, and conductors became fine,
For Mrs Clayton Vernon really was a personage in the town—perhaps,
socially, the leading personage. A widow, portly as Tommy himself,
wealthy, with a family tradition behind her, and the true grand manner
in every gesture! Her entertainments at her house at Hillport were
unsurpassed, and those who had been invited to them seldom forgot to
mention the fact. Thomas, a person not easily staggered, was
nevertheless staggered to see her travelling by car to Moorthorne—even
in his car, which to him in some subtle way was not like common
cars—for she was seldom seen abroad apart from her carriage. She kept
two horses. Assuredly both horses must be laid up together, or her
coachman ill. Anyhow, there she was, in Thomas's car, splendidly
dressed in a new spring gown of flowered silk.
“Thank you,” she said very sweetly to Chadwick, in acknowledgment of
Then three men of no particular quality mounted the car.
“How do, Tommy?” one of them carelessly greeted the august
conductor. This impertinent youth was Paul Ford, a solicitor's clerk,
who often went to Moorthorne because his employer had a branch office
there, open twice a week.
Tommy did not respond, but rather showed his displeasure. He hated
to be called Tommy, except by a few intimate coevals.
“Now then, hurry up, please!” he said coldly.
“Right oh! your majesty,” said another of the men, and they all
What was still worse, they all three wore the Federationist rosette,
which was red to the bull in Thomas Chadwick. It was part of Tommy's
political creed that Federationists were the “rag, tag, and bob-tail"
of the town. But as he was a tram-conductor, though not an ordinary
tram-conductor, his mouth was sealed, and he could not tell his
passengers what he thought of them.
Just as he was about to pull the starting bell, Mrs Clayton Vernon
sprang up with a little “Oh, I was quite forgetting!” and almost darted
out of the car. It was not quite a dart, for she was of full habit, but
the alacrity of her movement was astonishing. She must have forgotten
something very important.
An idea in the nature of a political argument suddenly popped into
Tommy's head, and it was too much for him. He was obliged to let it
out. To the winds with that impartiality which a tram company expects
from its conductors!
“Ah!” he remarked, jerking his elbow in the direction of Mrs Clayton
Vernon and pointedly addressing his three Federationist passengers,
“she's a lady, she is! She won't travel with anybody, she won't!
She chooses her company—and quite right too, I say!”
And then he started the car. He felt himself richly avenged by this
sally for the “Tommy” and the “your majesty” and the sneering laughter.
Paul Ford winked very visibly at his companions, but made no
answering remark. And Thomas Chadwick entered the interior of the car
to collect fares. In his hands this operation became a rite. His
gestures seemed to say, “No one ever appreciated the importance of the
vocation of tram-conductor until I came. We will do this business
solemnly and meticulously. Mind what money you give me, count your
change, and don't lose, destroy, or deface this indispensable ticket
that I hand to you. Do you hear the ting of my bell? It is a sign of my
high office. I am fully authorized.”
When he had taken his toll he stood at the door of the car, which
was now jolting and climbing past the loop-line railway station, and
continued his address to the company about the aristocratic and
exclusive excellences of his friend Mrs Clayton Vernon. He proceeded to
explain the demerits and wickedness of federation, and to descant on
the absurdity of those who publicly wore the rosettes of the Federation
party, thus branding themselves as imbeciles and knaves; in fact, his
tongue was loosed. Although he stooped to accept the wages of a
tram-conductor, he was not going to sacrifice the great political right
of absolutely free speech.
“If I wasn't the most good-natured man on earth, Tommy Chadwick,”
said Paul Ford, “I should write to the tram company to-night, and you'd
get the boot to-morrow.”
“All I say is,” persisted the singular conductor—“all I say
is—she's a lady, she is—a regular real lady! She chooses her
company—and quite right too! That I do say, and nobody's going to stop
my mouth.” His manner was the least in the world heated.
“What's that?” asked Paul Ford, with a sudden start, not inquiring
what Thomas Chadwick's mouth was, but pointing to an object which was
lying on the seat in the corner which Mrs Clayton Vernon had too
He rose and picked up the object, which had the glitter of gold.
“Give it here,” said Thomas Chadwick, commandingly. “It's none of
your business to touch findings in my car;” and he snatched the object
from Paul Ford's hands.
It was so brilliant and so obviously costly, however, that he was
somehow obliged to share the wonder of it with his passengers. The find
levelled all distinctions between them. A purse of gold chain-work, it
indiscreetly revealed that it was gorged with riches. When you shook it
the rustle of banknotes was heard, and the chink of sovereigns, and
through the meshes of the purse could be seen the white of valuable
paper and the tawny orange discs for which mankind is so ready to
commit all sorts of sin. Thomas Chadwick could not forbear to open the
contrivance, and having opened it he could not forbear to count its
contents. There were, in that purse, seven five-pound notes, fifteen
sovereigns, and half a sovereign, and the purse itself was probably
worth twelve or fifteen pounds as mere gold.
“There's some that would leave their heads behind 'em if they
could!” observed Paul Ford.
Thomas Chadwick glowered at him, as if to warn him that in the
presence of Thomas Chadwick noble dames could not be insulted with
“Didn't I say she was a lady?” said Chadwick, holding up the purse
as proof. “It's lucky it's me as has laid hands on it!” he
added, plainly implying that the other occupants of the car were
thieves whenever they had the chance.
“Well,” said Paul Ford, “no doubt you'll get your reward all right!”
“It's not—” Chadwick began; but at that moment the driver stopped
the car with a jerk, in obedience to a waving umbrella. The conductor,
who had not yet got what would have been his sea-legs if he had been
captain of an Atlantic liner, lurched forward, and then went out on to
the platform to greet a new fare, and his sentence was never finished.
That day happened to be the day of Thomas Chadwick's afternoon off;
at least, of what the tram company called an afternoon off. That is to
say, instead of ceasing work at eleven-thirty p.m. he finished at
six-thirty p.m. In the ordinary way the company housed its last
Moorthorne car at eleven-thirty (Moorthorne not being a very nocturnal
village), and gave the conductors the rest of the evening to spend
exactly as they liked; but once a week, in turn, it generously allowed
them a complete afternoon beginning at six-thirty.
Now on this afternoon, instead of going home for tea, Thomas
Chadwick, having delivered over his insignia and takings to the
inspector in Bursley market-place, rushed away towards a car bound for
Hillport. A policeman called out to him:
“What's up?” asked Chadwick, unwillingly stopping.
“Mrs Clayton Vernon's been to the station an hour ago or hardly,
about a purse as she says she thinks she must have left in your car. I
was just coming across to tell your inspector.”
“Tell him, then, my lad,” said Chadwick, curtly, and hurried on
towards the Hillport car. His manner to policemen always mingled the
veteran with the comrade, and most of them indeed regarded him as an
initiate of the craft. Still, his behaviour on this occasion did
somewhat surprise the young policeman who had accosted him. And
undoubtedly Thomas Chadwick was scarcely acting according to the letter
of the law. His proper duty was to hand over all articles found in his
car instantly to the police—certainly not to keep them concealed on
his person with a view to restoring them with his own hands to their
owners. But Thomas Chadwick felt that, having once been a policeman, he
was at liberty to interpret the law to suit his own convenience. He
caught the Hillport car, and nodded the professional nod to its
conductor, asking him a technical question, and generally showing to
the other passengers on the platform that he was not as they, and that
he had important official privileges. Of course, he travelled free; and
of course he stopped the car when, its conductor being inside, two
ladies signalled to it at the bottom of Oldcastle Street. He had meant
to say nothing whatever about his treasure and his errand to the other
conductor; but somehow, when fares had been duly collected, and these
two stood chatting on the platform, the gold purse got itself into the
conversation, and presently the other conductor knew the entire
history, and had even had a glimpse of the purse itself.
Opposite the entrance to Mrs Clayton Vernon's grounds at Hillport
Thomas Chadwick slipped neatly, for all his vast bulk, off the
swiftly-gliding car. (A conductor on a car but not on duty would sooner
perish by a heavy fall than have a car stopped in order that he might
descend from it.) And Thomas Chadwick heavily crunched the gravel of
the drive leading up to Mrs Clayton Vernon's house, and imperiously
rang the bell.
“Mrs Clayton Vernon in?” he officially asked the responding servant.
“She's in,” said the servant. Had Thomas Chadwick been
wearing his broadcloth she would probably have added “sir.”
“Well, will you please tell her that Mr Chadwick—Thomas
Chadwick—wants to speak to her?”
“Is it about the purse?” the servant questioned, suddenly
brightening into eager curiosity.
“Never you mind what it's about, miss,” said Thomas Chadwick,
At the same moment Mrs Clayton Vernon's grey-curled head appeared
behind the white cap of the servant. Probably she had happened to catch
some echo of Thomas Chadwick's great rolling voice. The servant
“Good-evening, m'm,” said Thomas Chadwick, raising his hat airily.
“Good-evening.” He beamed.
“So you did find it?” said Mrs Vernon, calmly smiling. “I felt sure
it would be all right.”
“Oh, yes, m'm.” He tried to persuade himself that this sublime
confidence was characteristic of great ladies, and a laudable symptom
of aristocracy. But he would have preferred her to be a little less
confident. After all, in the hands of a conductor less honourable than
himself, of a common conductor, the purse might not have been so “all
right” as all that! He would have preferred to witness the change on
Mrs Vernon's features from desperate anxiety to glad relief. After all,
L50, 10s. was money, however rich you were!
“Have you got it with you?” asked Mrs Vernon.
“Yes'm,” said he. “I thought I'd just step up with it myself, so as
to be sure.”
“It's very good of you!”
“Not at all,” said he; and he produced the purse. “I think you'll
find it as it should be.”
Mrs Vernon gave him a courtly smile as she thanked him.
“I'd like ye to count it, ma'am,” said Chadwick, as she showed no
intention of even opening the purse.
“If you wish it,” said she, and counted her wealth and restored it
to the purse. “Quite right—quite right! Fifty pounds and
ten shillings,” she said pleasantly. “I'm very much obliged to you,
“Not at all, m'm!” He was still standing in the sheltered porch.
An idea seemed to strike Mrs Clayton Vernon.
“Would you like something to drink?” she asked.
“Well, thank ye, m'm,” said Thomas.
“Maria,” said Mrs Vernon, calling to someone within the house,
“bring this man a glass of beer.” And she turned again to Chadwick,
smitten with another idea. “Let me see. Your eldest daughter has two
little boys, hasn't she?”
“Yes'm,” said Thomas—“twins.”
“I thought so. Her husband is my cook's cousin. Well, here's two
threepenny bits—one for each of them.” With some trouble she extracted
the coins from a rather shabby leather purse—evidently her household
purse. She bestowed them upon the honest conductor with another
grateful and condescending smile. “I hope you don't mind taking
them for the chicks,” she said. “I do like giving things to
children. It's so much nicer, isn't it?”
Then the servant brought the glass of beer, and Mrs Vernon, with yet
another winning smile, and yet more thanks, left him to toss it off on
the mat, while the servant waited for the empty glass.
On the following Friday afternoon young Paul Ford was again on the
Moorthorne car, and subject to the official ministrations of Thomas
Chadwick. Paul Ford was a man who never bore malice when the bearing of
malice might interfere with the gratification of his sense of humour.
Many men—perhaps most men—after being so grossly insulted by a
tram-conductor as Paul Ford had been insulted by Chadwick, would at the
next meeting have either knocked the insulter down or coldly ignored
him. But Paul Ford did neither. (In any case, Thomas Chadwick would
have wanted a deal of knocking down.) For some reason, everything that
Thomas Chadwick said gave immense amusement to Paul Ford. So the young
man commenced the conversation in the usual way:
“How do, Tommy?”
The car on this occasion was coming down from Moorthorne into
Bursley, with its usual bump and rattle of windows. As Thomas Chadwick
made no reply, Paul Ford continued:
“How much did she give you—the perfect lady, I mean?”
Paul Ford was sitting near the open door. Thomas Chadwick gazed
absently at the Town Park, with its terra-cotta fountains and terraces,
and beyond the Park, at the smoke rising from the distant furnaces of
Red Cow. He might have been lost in deep meditation upon the meanings
of life; he might have been prevented from hearing Paul Ford's question
by the tremendous noise of the car. He made no sign. Then all of a
sudden he turned almost fiercely on Paul Ford and glared at him.
“Ye want to know how much she gave me, do ye?” he demanded hotly.
“Yes,” said Paul Ford.
“How much she gave me for taking her that there purse?” Tommy
He was obliged to temporize, because he could not quite resolve to
seize the situation and deal with it once for all in a manner
favourable to his dignity and to the ideals which he cherished.
“Yes,” said Paul Ford.
“Well, I'll tell ye,” said Thomas Chadwick—“though I don't know as
it's any business of yours. But, as you're so curious!... She didn't
give me anything. She asked me to have a little refreshment, like the
lady she is. But she knew better than to offer Thomas Chadwick any
pecooniary reward for giving her back something as she'd happened to
drop. She's a lady, she is!”
“Oh!” said Paul Ford. “It don't cost much, being a lady!”
“But I'll tell ye what she did do,” Thomas Chadwick went on,
anxious, now that he had begun so well, to bring the matter to an
artistic conclusion—“I'll tell ye what she did do. She give me a
sovereign apiece for my grandsons—my eldest daughter's twins.” Then,
after an effective pause: “Ye can put that in your pipe and smoke
it!... A sovereign apiece!”
“And have you handed it over?” Paul Ford inquired mildly, after a
period of soft whistling.
“I've started two post-office savings bank accounts for 'em,” said
Thomas Chadwick, with ferocity.
The talk stopped, and nothing whatever occurred until the car halted
at the railway station to take up passengers. The heart of Thomas
Chadwick gave a curious little jump when he saw Mrs Clayton Vernon
coming out of the station and towards his car. (Her horses must have
been still lame or her coachman still laid aside.) She boarded the car,
smiling with a quite particular effulgence upon Thomas Chadwick, and he
greeted her with what he imagined to be the true antique chivalry. And
she sat down in the corner opposite to Paul Ford, beaming.
When Thomas Chadwick came, with great respect, to demand her fare,
“By the way, Chadwick, it's such a short distance from the station
to the town, I think I should have walked and saved a penny. But I
wanted to speak to you. I wasn't aware, last Tuesday, that your other
daughter got married last year and now has a dear little baby. I gave
you threepenny bits each for those dear little twins. Here's another
one for the other baby, I think I ought to treat all your grandchildren
alike—otherwise your daughters might be jealous of each other”—she
smiled archly, to indicate that this passage was humorous—“and there's
no knowing what might happen!”
Mrs Clayton Vernon always enunciated her remarks in a loud and clear
voice, so that Paul Ford could not have failed to hear every word. A
faint but beatific smile concealed itself roguishly about Paul Ford's
mouth, and he looked with a rapt expression on an advertisement above
Mrs Clayton Vernon's head, which assured him that, with a certain soap,
washing-day became a pleasure.
Thomas Chadwick might have flung the threepenny bit into the road.
He might have gone off into language unseemly in a tram-conductor and a
grandfather. He might have snatched Mrs Clayton Vernon's bonnet off and
stamped on it. He might have killed Paul Ford (for it was certainly
Paul Ford with whom he was the most angry). But he did none of these
things. He said, in his best unctuous voice:
“Thank you, m'm, I'm sure!”
And, at the journey's end, when the passengers descended, he stared
a harsh stare, without winking, full in the face of Paul Ford, and he
courteously came to the aid of Mrs Clayton Vernon. He had proclaimed
Mrs Clayton Vernon to be his ideal of a true lady, and he was
heroically loyal to his ideal, a martyr to the cause he had espoused.
Such a man was not fitted to be a tram-conductor, and the Five Towns
Electric Traction Company soon discovered his unfitness—so that he was
again thrown upon the world.