MOREL was rather a heedless man, careless of danger. So he had endles_ccidents. Now, when Mrs. Morel heard the rattle of an empty coal-cart ceas_t her entry-end, she ran into the parlour to look, expecting almost to se_er husband seated in the waggon, his face grey under his dirt, his body lim_nd sick with some hurt or other. If it were he, she would run out to help.
About a year after William went to London, and just after Paul had lef_chool, before he got work, Mrs. Morel was upstairs and her son was paintin_n the kitchen—he was very clever with his brush—when there came a knock a_he door. Crossly he put down his brush to go. At the same moment his mothe_pened a window upstairs and looked down.
A pit-lad in his dirt stood on the threshold.
"Is this Walter Morel's?" he asked.
"Yes," said Mrs. Morel. "What is it?"
But she had guessed already.
"Your mester's got hurt," he said.
"Eh, dear me!" she exclaimed. "It's a wonder if he hadn't, lad. And what's h_one this time?"
"I don't know for sure, but it's 'is leg somewhere. They ta'ein' 'im ter th'
"Good gracious me!" she exclaimed. "Eh, dear, what a one he is! There's no_ive minutes of peace, I'll be hanged if there is! His thumb's nearly better, and now—Did you see him?"
"I seed him at th' bottom. An' I seed 'em bring 'im up in a tub, an' 'e wor i_ dead faint. But he shouted like anythink when Doctor Fraser examined him i'
th' lamp cabin—an' cossed an' swore, an' said as 'e wor goin' to be ta'e_hoam—'e worn't goin' ter th' 'ospital."
The boy faltered to an end.
"He WOULD want to come home, so that I can have all the bother. Thank you, m_ad. Eh, dear, if I'm not sick—sick and surfeited, I am!"
She came downstairs. Paul had mechanically resumed his painting.
"And it must be pretty bad if they've taken him to the hospital," she went on.
"But what a CARELESS creature he is! OTHER men don't have all these accidents.
Yes, he WOULD want to put all the burden on me. Eh, dear, just as we WER_etting easy a bit at last. Put those things away, there's no time to b_ainting now. What time is there a train? I know I s'll have to go trailing t_eston. I s'll have to leave that bedroom."
"I can finish it," said Paul.
"You needn't. I shall catch the seven o'clock back, I should think. Oh, m_lessed heart, the fuss and commotion he'll make! And those granite setts a_inder Hill—he might well call them kidney pebbles—they'll jolt him almost t_its. I wonder why they can't mend them, the state they're in, an' all the me_s go across in that ambulance. You'd think they'd have a hospital here. Th_en bought the ground, and, my sirs, there'd be accidents enough to keep i_oing. But no, they must trail them ten miles in a slow ambulance t_ottingham. It's a crying shame! Oh, and the fuss he'll make! I know he will!
I wonder who's with him. Barker, I s'd think. Poor beggar, he'll wish himsel_nywhere rather. But he'll look after him, I know. Now there's no telling ho_ong he'll be stuck in that hospital—and WON'T he hate it! But if it's onl_is leg it's not so bad."
All the time she was getting ready. Hurriedly taking off her bodice, sh_rouched at the boiler while the water ran slowly into her lading-can.
"I wish this boiler was at the bottom of the sea!" she exclaimed, wrigglin_he handle impatiently. She had very handsome, strong arms, rather surprisin_n a smallish woman.
Paul cleared away, put on the kettle, and set the table.
"There isn't a train till four-twenty," he said. "You've time enough."
"Oh no, I haven't!" she cried, blinking at him over the towel as she wiped he_ace.
"Yes, you have. You must drink a cup of tea at any rate. Should I come wit_ou to Keston?"
"Come with me? What for, I should like to know? Now, what have I to take him?
Eh, dear! His clean shirt—and it's a blessing it IS clean. But it had bette_e aired. And stockings—he won't want them—and a towel, I suppose; an_andkerchiefs. Now what else?"
"A comb, a knife and fork and spoon," said Paul. His father had been in th_ospital before.
"Goodness knows what sort of state his feet were in," continued Mrs. Morel, a_he combed her long brown hair, that was fine as silk, and was touched no_ith grey. "He's very particular to wash himself to the waist, but below h_hinks doesn't matter. But there, I suppose they see plenty like it."
Paul had laid the table. He cut his mother one or two pieces of very thi_read and butter.
"Here you are," he said, putting her cup of tea in her place.
"I can't be bothered!" she exclaimed crossly.
"Well, you've got to, so there, now it's put out ready," he insisted.
So she sat down and sipped her tea, and ate a little, in silence. She wa_hinking.
In a few minutes she was gone, to walk the two and a half miles to Kesto_tation. All the things she was taking him she had in her bulging string bag.
Paul watched her go up the road between the hedges—a little, quick-steppin_igure, and his heart ached for her, that she was thrust forward again int_ain and trouble. And she, tripping so quickly in her anxiety, felt at th_ack of her her son's heart waiting on her, felt him bearing what part of th_urden he could, even supporting her. And when she was at the hospital, sh_hought: "It WILL upset that lad when I tell him how bad it is. I'd better b_areful." And when she was trudging home again, she felt he was coming t_hare her burden.
"Is it bad?" asked Paul, as soon as she entered the house.
"It's bad enough," she replied.
She sighed and sat down, undoing her bonnet-strings. Her son watched her fac_s it was lifted, and her small, work-hardened hands fingering at the bo_nder her chin.
"Well," she answered, "it's not really dangerous, but the nurse says it's _readful smash. You see, a great piece of rock fell on his leg—here—and it's _ompound fracture. There are pieces of bone sticking through—"
"Ugh—how horrid!" exclaimed the children.
"And," she continued, "of course he says he's going to die—it wouldn't be hi_f he didn't. 'I'm done for, my lass!' he said, looking at me. 'Don't be s_illy,' I said to him. 'You're not going to die of a broken leg, however badl_t's smashed.' 'I s'll niver come out of 'ere but in a wooden box,' h_roaned. 'Well,' I said, 'if you want them to carry you into the garden in _ooden box, when you're better, I've no doubt they will.' 'If we think it'_ood for him,' said the Sister. She's an awfully nice Sister, but rathe_trict."
Mrs. Morel took off her bonnet. The children waited in silence.
"Of course, he IS bad," she continued, "and he will be. It's a great shock, and he's lost a lot of blood; and, of course, it IS a very dangerous smash.
It's not at all sure that it will mend so easily. And then there's the feve_nd the mortification—if it took bad ways he'd quickly be gone. But there, he's a clean-blooded man, with wonderful healing flesh, and so I see no reaso_hy it SHOULD take bad ways. Of course there's a wound—"
She was pale now with emotion and anxiety. The three children realised that i_as very bad for their father, and the house was silent, anxious.
"But he always gets better," said Paul after a while.
"That's what I tell him," said the mother.
Everybody moved about in silence.
"And he really looked nearly done for," she said. "But the Sister says that i_he pain."
Annie took away her mother's coat and bonnet.
"And he looked at me when I came away! I said: 'I s'll have to go now, Walter, because of the train—and the children.' And he looked at me. It seems hard."
Paul took up his brush again and went on painting. Arthur went outside fo_ome coal. Annie sat looking dismal. And Mrs. Morel, in her little rocking- chair that her husband had made for her when the first baby was coming, remained motionless, brooding. She was grieved, and bitterly sorry for the ma_ho was hurt so much. But still, in her heart of hearts, where the love shoul_ave burned, there was a blank. Now, when all her woman's pity was roused t_ts full extent, when she would have slaved herself to death to nurse him an_o save him, when she would have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent to him and to hi_uffering. It hurt her most of all, this failure to love him, even when h_oused her strong emotions. She brooded a while.
"And there," she said suddenly, "when I'd got halfway to Keston, I found I'_ome out in my working boots—and LOOK at them." They were an old pair o_aul's, brown and rubbed through at the toes. "I didn't know what to do wit_yself, for shame," she added.
In the morning, when Annie and Arthur were at school, Mrs. Morel talked agai_o her son, who was helping her with her housework.
"I found Barker at the hospital. He did look bad, poor little fellow! 'Well,'
I said to him, 'what sort of a journey did you have with him?' 'Dunna ax me, missis!' he said. 'Ay,' I said, 'I know what he'd be.' 'But it WOR bad fo_im, Mrs. Morel, it WOR that!' he said. 'I know,' I said. 'At ivry jolt _hought my 'eart would ha' flown clean out o' my mouth,' he said. 'An' th_cream 'e gives sometimes! Missis, not for a fortune would I go through wi' i_gain.' 'I can quite understand it,' I said. 'It's a nasty job, though,' h_aid, 'an' one as'll be a long while afore it's right again.' 'I'm afraid i_ill,' I said. I like Mr. Barker—I DO like him. There's something so manl_bout him."
Paul resumed his task silently.
"And of course," Mrs. Morel continued, "for a man like your father, th_ospital IS hard. He CAN'T understand rules and regulations. And he won't le_nybody else touch him, not if he can help it. When he smashed the muscles o_is thigh, and it had to be dressed four times a day, WOULD he let anybody bu_e or his mother do it? He wouldn't. So, of course, he'll suffer in there wit_he nurses. And I didn't like leaving him. I'm sure, when I kissed him an'
came away, it seemed a shame."
So she talked to her son, almost as if she were thinking aloud to him, and h_ook it in as best he could, by sharing her trouble to lighten it. And in th_nd she shared almost everything with him without knowing.
Morel had a very bad time. For a week he was in a critical condition. Then h_egan to mend. And then, knowing he was going to get better, the whole famil_ighed with relief, and proceeded to live happily.
They were not badly off whilst Morel was in the hospital. There were fourtee_hillings a week from the pit, ten shillings from the sick club, and fiv_hillings from the Disability Fund; and then every week the butties ha_omething for Mrs. Morel—five or seven shillings—so that she was quite well t_o. And whilst Morel was progressing favourably in the hospital, the famil_as extraordinarily happy and peaceful. On Saturdays and Wednesdays Mrs. More_ent to Nottingham to see her husband. Then she always brought back som_ittle thing: a small tube of paints for Paul, or some thick paper; a coupl_f postcards for Annie, that the whole family rejoiced over for days befor_he girl was allowed to send them away; or a fret-saw for Arthur, or a bit o_retty wood. She described her adventures into the big shops with joy. Soo_he folk in the picture-shop knew her, and knew about Paul. The girl in th_ook-shop took a keen interest in her. Mrs. Morel was full of information whe_he got home from Nottingham. The three sat round till bed-time, listening, putting in, arguing. Then Paul often raked the fire.
"I'm the man in the house now," he used to say to his mother with joy. The_earned how perfectly peaceful the home could be. And they almos_egretted—though none of them would have owned to such callousness—that thei_ather was soon coming back.
Paul was now fourteen, and was looking for work. He was a rather small an_ather finely-made boy, with dark brown hair and light blue eyes. His face ha_lready lost its youthful chubbiness, and was becoming somewhat like William's —rough-featured, almost rugged—and it was extraordinarily mobile. Usually h_ooked as if he saw things, was full of life, and warm; then his smile, lik_is mother's, came suddenly and was very lovable; and then, when there was an_log in his soul's quick running, his face went stupid and ugly. He was th_ort of boy that becomes a clown and a lout as soon as he is not understood, or feels himself held cheap; and, again, is adorable at the first touch o_armth.
He suffered very much from the first contact with anything. When he was seven, the starting school had been a nightmare and a torture to him. But afterward_e liked it. And now that he felt he had to go out into life, he went throug_gonies of shrinking self-consciousness. He was quite a clever painter for _oy of his years, and he knew some French and German and mathematics that Mr.
Heaton had taught him. But nothing he had was of any commercial value. He wa_ot strong enough for heavy manual work, his mother said. He did not care fo_aking things with his hands, preferred racing about, or making excursion_nto the country, or reading, or painting.
"What do you want to be?" his mother asked.
"That is no answer," said Mrs. Morel.
But it was quite truthfully the only answer he could give. His ambition, a_ar as this world's gear went, was quietly to earn his thirty or thirty-fiv_hillings a week somewhere near home, and then, when his father died, have _ottage with his mother, paint and go out as he liked, and live happy eve_fter. That was his programme as far as doing things went. But he was prou_ithin himself, measuring people against himself, and placing them, inexorably. And he thought that PERHAPS he might also make a painter, the rea_hing. But that he left alone.
"Then," said his mother, "you must look in the paper for the advertisements."
He looked at her. It seemed to him a bitter humiliation and an anguish to g_hrough. But he said nothing. When he got up in the morning, his whole bein_as knotted up over this one thought:
"I've got to go and look for advertisements for a job."
It stood in front of the morning, that thought, killing all joy and even life, for him. His heart felt like a tight knot.
And then, at ten o'clock, he set off. He was supposed to be a queer, quie_hild. Going up the sunny street of the little town, he felt as if all th_olk he met said to themselves: "He's going to the Co-op. reading-room to loo_n the papers for a place. He can't get a job. I suppose he's living on hi_other." Then he crept up the stone stairs behind the drapery shop at the Co- op., and peeped in the reading-room. Usually one or two men were there, eithe_ld, useless fellows, or colliers "on the club". So he entered, full o_hrinking and suffering when they looked up, seated himself at the table, an_retended to scan the news. He knew they would think: "What does a lad o_hirteen want in a reading-room with a newspaper?" and he suffered.
Then he looked wistfully out of the window. Already he was a prisoner o_ndustrialism. Large sunflowers stared over the old red wall of the garde_pposite, looking in their jolly way down on the women who were hurrying wit_omething for dinner. The valley was full of corn, brightening in the sun. Tw_ollieries, among the fields, waved their small white plumes of steam. Far of_n the hills were the woods of Annesley, dark and fascinating. Already hi_eart went down. He was being taken into bondage. His freedom in the belove_ome valley was going now.
The brewers' waggons came rolling up from Keston with enormous barrels, four _ide, like beans in a burst bean-pod. The waggoner, throned aloft, rollin_assively in his seat, was not so much below Paul's eye. The man's hair, o_is small, bullet head, was bleached almost white by the sun, and on his thic_ed arms, rocking idly on his sack apron, the white hairs glistened. His re_ace shone and was almost asleep with sunshine. The horses, handsome an_rown, went on by themselves, looking by far the masters of the show.
Paul wished he were stupid. "I wish," he thought to himself, "I was fat lik_im, and like a dog in the sun. I wish I was a pig and a brewer's waggoner."
Then, the room being at last empty, he would hastily copy an advertisement o_ scrap of paper, then another, and slip out in immense relief. His mothe_ould scan over his copies.
"Yes," she said, "you may try."
William had written out a letter of application, couched in admirable busines_anguage, which Paul copied, with variations. The boy's handwriting wa_xecrable, so that William, who did all things well, got into a fever o_mpatience.
The elder brother was becoming quite swanky. In London he found that he coul_ssociate with men far above his Bestwood friends in station. Some of th_lerks in the office had studied for the law, and were more or less goin_hrough a kind of apprenticeship. William always made friends among me_herever he went, he was so jolly. Therefore he was soon visiting and stayin_n houses of men who, in Bestwood, would have looked down on th_napproachable bank manager, and would merely have called indifferently on th_ector. So he began to fancy himself as a great gun. He was, indeed, rathe_urprised at the ease with which he became a gentleman.
His mother was glad, he seemed so pleased. And his lodging in Walthamstow wa_o dreary. But now there seemed to come a kind of fever into the young man'_etters. He was unsettled by all the change, he did not stand firm on his ow_eet, but seemed to spin rather giddily on the quick current of the new life.
His mother was anxious for him. She could feel him losing himself. He ha_anced and gone to the theatre, boated on the river, been out with friends; and she knew he sat up afterwards in his cold bedroom grinding away at Latin, because he intended to get on in his office, and in the law as much as h_ould. He never sent his mother any money now. It was all taken, the little h_ad, for his own life. And she did not want any, except sometimes, when sh_as in a tight corner, and when ten shillings would have saved her much worry.
She still dreamed of William, and of what he would do, with herself behin_im. Never for a minute would she admit to herself how heavy and anxious he_eart was because of him.
Also he talked a good deal now of a girl he had met at a dance, a handsom_runette, quite young, and a lady, after whom the men were running thick an_ast.
"I wonder if you would run, my boy," his mother wrote to him, "unless you sa_ll the other men chasing her too. You feel safe enough and vain enough in _rowd. But take care, and see how you feel when you find yourself alone, an_n triumph." William resented these things, and continued the chase. He ha_aken the girl on the river. "If you saw her, mother, you would know how _eel. Tall and elegant, with the clearest of clear, transparent oliv_omplexions, hair as black as jet, and such grey eyes—bright, mocking, lik_ights on water at night. It is all very well to be a bit satirical till yo_ee her. And she dresses as well as any woman in London. I tell you, your so_oesn't half put his head up when she goes walking down Piccadilly with him."
Mrs. Morel wondered, in her heart, if her son did not go walking dow_iccadilly with an elegant figure and fine clothes, rather than with a woma_ho was near to him. But she congratulated him in her doubtful fashion. And, as she stood over the washing-tub, the mother brooded over her son. She sa_im saddled with an elegant and expensive wife, earning little money, draggin_long and getting draggled in some small, ugly house in a suburb. "But there,"
she told herself, "I am very likely a silly—meeting trouble halfway."
Nevertheless, the load of anxiety scarcely ever left her heart, lest Willia_hould do the wrong thing by himself.
Presently, Paul was bidden call upon Thomas Jordan, Manufacturer of Surgica_ppliances, at 21, Spaniel Row, Nottingham. Mrs. Morel was all joy.
"There, you see!" she cried, her eyes shining. "You've only written fou_etters, and the third is answered. You're lucky, my boy, as I always said yo_ere."
Paul looked at the picture of a wooden leg, adorned with elastic stockings an_ther appliances, that figured on Mr. Jordan's notepaper, and he felt alarmed.
He had not known that elastic stockings existed. And he seemed to feel th_usiness world, with its regulated system of values, and its impersonality, and he dreaded it. It seemed monstrous also that a business could be run o_ooden legs.
Mother and son set off together one Tuesday morning. It was August and blazin_ot. Paul walked with something screwed up tight inside him. He would hav_uffered much physical pain rather than this unreasonable suffering at bein_xposed to strangers, to be accepted or rejected. Yet he chattered away wit_is mother. He would never have confessed to her how he suffered over thes_hings, and she only partly guessed. She was gay, like a sweetheart. She stoo_n front of the ticket-office at Bestwood, and Paul watched her take from he_urse the money for the tickets. As he saw her hands in their old black ki_loves getting the silver out of the worn purse, his heart contracted wit_ain of love of her.
She was quite excited, and quite gay. He suffered because she WOULD talk alou_n presence of the other travellers.
"Now look at that silly cow!" she said, "careering round as if it thought i_as a circus."
"It's most likely a bottfly," he said very low.
"A what?" she asked brightly and unashamed.
They thought a while. He was sensible all the time of having her opposite him.
Suddenly their eyes met, and she smiled to him—a rare, intimate smile, beautiful with brightness and love. Then each looked out of the window.
The sixteen slow miles of railway journey passed. The mother and son walke_own Station Street, feeling the excitement of lovers having an adventur_ogether. In Carrington Street they stopped to hang over the parapet and loo_t the barges on the canal below.
"It's just like Venice," he said, seeing the sunshine on the water that la_etween high factory walls.
"Perhaps," she answered, smiling.
They enjoyed the shops immensely.
"Now you see that blouse," she would say, "wouldn't that just suit our Annie?
And for one-and-eleven-three. Isn't that cheap?"
"And made of needlework as well," he said.
They had plenty of time, so they did not hurry. The town was strange an_elightful to them. But the boy was tied up inside in a knot of apprehension.
He dreaded the interview with Thomas Jordan.
It was nearly eleven o'clock by St. Peter's Church. They turned up a narro_treet that led to the Castle. It was gloomy and old-fashioned, having lo_ark shops and dark green house doors with brass knockers, and yellow-ochre_oorsteps projecting on to the pavement; then another old shop whose smal_indow looked like a cunning, half-shut eye. Mother and son went cautiously, looking everywhere for "Thomas Jordan and Son". It was like hunting in som_ild place. They were on tiptoe of excitement.
Suddenly they spied a big, dark archway, in which were names of various firms, Thomas Jordan among them.
"Here it is!" said Mrs. Morel. "But now WHERE is it?"
They looked round. On one side was a queer, dark, cardboard factory, on th_ther a Commercial Hotel.
"It's up the entry," said Paul.
And they ventured under the archway, as into the jaws of the dragon. The_merged into a wide yard, like a well, with buildings all round. It wa_ittered with straw and boxes, and cardboard. The sunshine actually caught on_rate whose straw was streaming on to the yard like gold. But elsewhere th_lace was like a pit. There were several doors, and two flights of steps.
Straight in front, on a dirty glass door at the top of a staircase, loomed th_minous words "Thomas Jordan and Son—Surgical Appliances." Mrs. Morel wen_irst, her son followed her. Charles I mounted his scaffold with a lighte_eart than had Paul Morel as he followed his mother up the dirty steps to th_irty door.
She pushed open the door, and stood in pleased surprise. In front of her was _ig warehouse, with creamy paper parcels everywhere, and clerks, with thei_hirt-sleeves rolled back, were going about in an at-home sort of way. Th_ight was subdued, the glossy cream parcels seemed luminous, the counters wer_f dark brown wood. All was quiet and very homely. Mrs. Morel took two step_orward, then waited. Paul stood behind her. She had on her Sunday bonnet an_ black veil; he wore a boy's broad white collar and a Norfolk suit.
One of the clerks looked up. He was thin and tall, with a small face. His wa_f looking was alert. Then he glanced round to the other end of the room, where was a glass office. And then he came forward. He did not say anything, but leaned in a gentle, inquiring fashion towards Mrs. Morel.
"Can I see Mr. Jordan?" she asked.
"I'll fetch him," answered the young man.
He went down to the glass office. A red-faced, white-whiskered old man looke_p. He reminded Paul of a pomeranian dog. Then the same little man came up th_oom. He had short legs, was rather stout, and wore an alpaca jacket. So, wit_ne ear up, as it were, he came stoutly and inquiringly down the room.
"Good-morning!" he said, hesitating before Mrs. Morel, in doubt as to whethe_he were a customer or not.
"Good-morning. I came with my son, Paul Morel. You asked him to call thi_orning."
"Come this way," said Mr. Jordan, in a rather snappy little manner intended t_e businesslike.
They followed the manufacturer into a grubby little room, upholstered in blac_merican leather, glossy with the rubbing of many customers. On the table wa_ pile of trusses, yellow wash-leather hoops tangled together. They looked ne_nd living. Paul sniffed the odour of new wash-leather. He wondered what th_hings were. By this time he was so much stunned that he only noticed th_utside things.
"Sit down!" said Mr. Jordan, irritably pointing Mrs. Morel to a horse-hai_hair. She sat on the edge in an uncertain fashion. Then the little old ma_idgeted and found a paper.
"Did you write this letter?" he snapped, thrusting what Paul recognised as hi_wn notepaper in front of him.
"Yes," he answered.
At that moment he was occupied in two ways: first, in feeling guilty fo_elling a lie, since William had composed the letter; second, in wondering wh_is letter seemed so strange and different, in the fat, red hand of the man, from what it had been when it lay on the kitchen table. It was like part o_imself, gone astray. He resented the way the man held it.
"Where did you learn to write?" said the old man crossly.
Paul merely looked at him shamedly, and did not answer.
"He IS a bad writer," put in Mrs. Morel apologetically. Then she pushed up he_eil. Paul hated her for not being prouder with this common little man, and h_oved her face clear of the veil.
"And you say you know French?" inquired the little man, still sharply.
"Yes," said Paul.
"What school did you go to?"
"And did you learn it there?"
"No—I—" The boy went crimson and got no farther.
"His godfather gave him lessons," said Mrs. Morel, half pleading and rathe_istant.
Mr. Jordan hesitated. Then, in his irritable manner—he always seemed to kee_is hands ready for action—he pulled another sheet of paper from his pocket, unfolded it. The paper made a crackling noise. He handed it to Paul.
"Read that," he said.
It was a note in French, in thin, flimsy foreign handwriting that the bo_ould not decipher. He stared blankly at the paper.
"'Monsieur,'" he began; then he looked in great confusion at Mr. Jordan. "It'_he—it's the—"
He wanted to say "handwriting", but his wits would no longer work eve_ufficiently to supply him with the word. Feeling an utter fool, and hatin_r. Jordan, he turned desperately to the paper again.
He wanted to say "handwriting", but the word still refused to come. Seeing hi_tuck, Mr. Jordan snatched the paper from him.
"'Please send by return two pairs grey thread stockings without TOES.'"
"Well," flashed Paul, "'doigts' means 'fingers'—as well—as a rule—"
The little man looked at him. He did not know whether "doigts" meant
"fingers"; he knew that for all HIS purposes it meant "toes".
"Fingers to stockings!" he snapped.
"Well, it DOES mean fingers," the boy persisted.
He hated the little man, who made such a clod of him. Mr. Jordan looked at th_ale, stupid, defiant boy, then at the mother, who sat quiet and with tha_eculiar shut-off look of the poor who have to depend on the favour of others.
"And when could he come?" he asked.
"Well," said Mrs. Morel, "as soon as you wish. He has finished school now."
"He would live in Bestwood?"
"Yes; but he could be in—at the station—at quarter to eight."
It ended by Paul's being engaged as junior spiral clerk at eight shillings _eek. The boy did not open his mouth to say another word, after havin_nsisted that "doigts" meant "fingers". He followed his mother down th_tairs. She looked at him with her bright blue eyes full of love and joy.
"I think you'll like it," she said.
"'Doigts' does mean 'fingers', mother, and it was the writing. I couldn't rea_he writing."
"Never mind, my boy. I'm sure he'll be all right, and you won't see much o_im. Wasn't that first young fellow nice? I'm sure you'll like them."
"But wasn't Mr. Jordan common, mother? Does he own it all?"
"I suppose he was a workman who has got on," she said. "You mustn't min_eople so much. They're not being disagreeable to YOU—it's their way. Yo_lways think people are meaning things for you. But they don't."
It was very sunny. Over the big desolate space of the market-place the blu_ky shimmered, and the granite cobbles of the paving glistened. Shops down th_ong Row were deep in obscurity, and the shadow was full of colour. Just wher_he horse trams trundled across the market was a row of fruit stalls, wit_ruit blazing in the sun—apples and piles of reddish oranges, small green-gag_lums and bananas. There was a warm scent of fruit as mother and son passed.
Gradually his feeling of ignominy and of rage sank.
"Where should we go for dinner?" asked the mother.
It was felt to be a reckless extravagance. Paul had only been in an eating- house once or twice in his life, and then only to have a cup of tea and a bun.
Most of the people of Bestwood considered that tea and bread-and-butter, an_erhaps potted beef, was all they could afford to eat in Nottingham. Rea_ooked dinner was considered great extravagance. Paul felt rather guilty.
They found a place that looked quite cheap. But when Mrs. Morel scanned th_ill of fare, her heart was heavy, things were so dear. So she ordered kidney- pies and potatoes as the cheapest available dish.
"We oughtn't to have come here, mother," said Paul.
"Never mind," she said. "We won't come again."
She insisted on his having a small currant tart, because he liked sweets.
"I don't want it, mother," he pleaded.
"Yes," she insisted; "you'll have it."
And she looked round for the waitress. But the waitress was busy, and Mrs.
Morel did not like to bother her then. So the mother and son waited for th_irl's pleasure, whilst she flirted among the men.
"Brazen hussy!" said Mrs. Morel to Paul. "Look now, she's taking that man HI_udding, and he came long after us."
"It doesn't matter, mother," said Paul.
Mrs. Morel was angry. But she was too poor, and her orders were too meagre, s_hat she had not the courage to insist on her rights just then. They waite_nd waited.
"Should we go, mother?" he said.
Then Mrs. Morel stood up. The girl was passing near.
"Will you bring one currant tart?" said Mrs. Morel clearly.
The girl looked round insolently.
"Directly," she said.
"We have waited quite long enough," said Mrs. Morel.
In a moment the girl came back with the tart. Mrs. Morel asked coldly for th_ill. Paul wanted to sink through the floor. He marvelled at his mother'_ardness. He knew that only years of battling had taught her to insist even s_ittle on her rights. She shrank as much as he.
"It's the last time I go THERE for anything!" she declared, when they wer_utside the place, thankful to be clear.
"We'll go," she said, "and look at Keep's and Boot's, and one or two places, shall we?"
They had discussions over the pictures, and Mrs. Morel wanted to buy him _ittle sable brush that be hankered after. But this indulgence he refused. H_tood in front of milliners' shops and drapers' shops almost bored, bu_ontent for her to be interested. They wandered on.
"Now, just look at those black grapes!" she said. "They make your mouth water.
I've wanted some of those for years, but I s'll have to wait a bit before _et them."
Then she rejoiced in the florists, standing in the doorway sniffing.
"Oh! oh! Isn't it simply lovely!"
Paul saw, in the darkness of the shop, an elegant young lady in black peerin_ver the counter curiously.
"They're looking at you," he said, trying to draw his mother away.
"But what is it?" she exclaimed, refusing to be moved.
"Stocks!" he answered, sniffing hastily. "Look, there's a tubful."
"So there is—red and white. But really, I never knew stocks to smell like it!"
And, to his great relief, she moved out of the doorway, but only to stand i_ront of the window.
"Paul!" she cried to him, who was trying to get out of sight of the elegan_oung lady in black—the shop-girl. "Paul! Just look here!"
He came reluctantly back.
"Now, just look at that fuchsia!" she exclaimed, pointing.
"H'm!" He made a curious, interested sound. "You'd think every second as th_lowers was going to fall off, they hang so big an' heavy."
"And such an abundance!" she cried.
"And the way they drop downwards with their threads and knots!"
"Yes!" she exclaimed. "Lovely!"
"I wonder who'll buy it!" he said.
"I wonder!" she answered. "Not us."
"It would die in our parlour."
"Yes, beastly cold, sunless hole; it kills every bit of a plant you put in, and the kitchen chokes them to death."
They bought a few things, and set off towards the station. Looking up th_anal, through the dark pass of the buildings, they saw the Castle on it_luff of brown, green-bushed rock, in a positive miracle of delicate sunshine.
"Won't it be nice for me to come out at dinner-times?" said Paul. "I can g_ll round here and see everything. I s'll love it."
"You will," assented his mother.
He had spent a perfect afternoon with his mother. They arrived home in th_ellow evening, happy, and glowing, and tired.
In the morning he filled in the form for his season-ticket and took it to th_tation. When he got back, his mother was just beginning to wash the floor. H_at crouched up on the sofa.
"He says it'll be here on Saturday," he said.
"And how much will it be?"
"About one pound eleven," he said.
She went on washing her floor in silence.
"Is it a lot?" he asked.
"It's no more than I thought," she answered.
"An' I s'll earn eight shillings a week," he said.
She did not answer, but went on with her work. At last she said:
"That William promised me, when he went to London, as he'd give me a pound _onth. He has given me ten shillings—twice; and now I know he hasn't _arthing if I asked him. Not that I want it. Only just now you'd think h_ight be able to help with this ticket, which I'd never expected."
"He earns a lot," said Paul.
"He earns a hundred and thirty pounds. But they're all alike. They're large i_romises, but it's precious little fulfilment you get."
"He spends over fifty shillings a week on himself," said Paul.
"And I keep this house on less than thirty," she replied; "and am supposed t_ind money for extras. But they don't care about helping you, once they'v_one. He'd rather spend it on that dressed-up creature."
"She should have her own money if she's so grand," said Paul.
"She should, but she hasn't. I asked him. And I know he doesn't buy her a gol_angle for nothing. I wonder whoever bought ME a gold bangle."
William was succeeding with his "Gipsy", as he called her. He asked th_irl—her name was Louisa Lily Denys Western—for a photograph to send to hi_other. The photo came—a handsome brunette, taken in profile, smirkin_lightly—and, it might be, quite naked, for on the photograph not a scrap o_lothing was to be seen, only a naked bust.
"Yes," wrote Mrs. Morel to her son, "the photograph of Louie is very striking, and I can see she must be attractive. But do you think, my boy, it was ver_ood taste of a girl to give her young man that photo to send to hi_other—the first? Certainly the shoulders are beautiful, as you say. But _ardly expected to see so much of them at the first view."
Morel found the photograph standing on the chiffonier in the parlour. He cam_ut with it between his thick thumb and finger.
"Who dost reckon this is?" he asked of his wife.
"It's the girl our William is going with," replied Mrs. Morel.
"H'm! 'Er's a bright spark, from th' look on 'er, an' one as wunna do hi_wermuch good neither. Who is she?"
"Her name is Louisa Lily Denys Western."
"An' come again to-morrer!" exclaimed the miner. "An' is 'er an actress?"
"She is not. She's supposed to be a lady."
"I'll bet!" he exclaimed, still staring at the photo. "A lady, is she? An' ho_uch does she reckon ter keep up this sort o' game on?"
"On nothing. She lives with an old aunt, whom she hates, and takes what bit o_oney's given her."
"H'm!" said Morel, laying down the photograph. "Then he's a fool to ha' ta'e_p wi' such a one as that."
"Dear Mater," William replied. "I'm sorry you didn't like the photograph. I_ever occurred to me when I sent it, that you mightn't think it decent.
However, I told Gyp that it didn't quite suit your prim and proper notions, s_he's going to send you another, that I hope will please you better. She'_lways being photographed; in fact, the photographers ask her if they may tak_er for nothing."
Presently the new photograph came, with a little silly note from the girl.
This time the young lady was seen in a black satin evening bodice, cut square, with little puff sleeves, and black lace hanging down her beautiful arms.
"I wonder if she ever wears anything except evening clothes," said Mrs. More_arcastically. "I'm sure I ought to be impressed."
"You are disagreeable, mother," said Paul. "I think the first one with bar_houlders is lovely."
"Do you?" answered his mother. "Well, I don't."
On the Monday morning the boy got up at six to start work. He had the season- ticket, which had cost such bitterness, in his waistcoat pocket. He loved i_ith its bars of yellow across. His mother packed his dinner in a small, shut- up basket, and he set off at a quarter to seven to catch the 7.15 train. Mrs.
Morel came to the entry-end to see him off.
It was a perfect morning. From the ash tree the slender green fruits that th_hildren call "pigeons" were twinkling gaily down on a little breeze, into th_ront gardens of the houses. The valley was full of a lustrous dark haze, through which the ripe corn shimmered, and in which the steam from Minton pi_elted swiftly. Puffs of wind came. Paul looked over the high woods o_ldersley, where the country gleamed, and home had never pulled at him s_owerfully.
"Good-morning, mother," he said, smiling, but feeling very unhappy.
"Good-morning," she replied cheerfully and tenderly.
She stood in her white apron on the open road, watching him as he crossed th_ield. He had a small, compact body that looked full of life. She felt, as sh_aw him trudging over the field, that where he determined to go he would get.
She thought of William. He would have leaped the fence instead of going roun_he stile. He was away in London, doing well. Paul would be working i_ottingham. Now she had two sons in the world. She could think of two places, great centres of industry, and feel that she had put a man into each of them, that these men would work out what SHE wanted; they were derived from her, they were of her, and their works also would be hers. All the morning long sh_hought of Paul.
At eight o'clock he climbed the dismal stairs of Jordan's Surgical Applianc_actory, and stood helplessly against the first great parcel-rack, waiting fo_omebody to pick him up. The place was still not awake. Over the counters wer_reat dust sheets. Two men only had arrived, and were heard talking in _orner, as they took off their coats and rolled up their shirt-sleeves. It wa_en past eight. Evidently there was no rush of punctuality. Paul listened t_he voices of the two clerks. Then he heard someone cough, and saw in th_ffice at the end of the room an old, decaying clerk, in a round smoking-ca_f black velvet embroidered with red and green, opening letters. He waited an_aited. One of the junior clerks went to the old man, greeted him cheerily an_oudly. Evidently the old "chief" was deaf. Then the young fellow cam_triding importantly down to his counter. He spied Paul.
"Hello!" he said. "You the new lad?"
"Yes," said Paul.
"H'm! What's your name?"
"Paul Morel? All right, you come on round here."
Paul followed him round the rectangle of counters. The room was second storey.
It had a great hole in the middle of the floor, fenced as with a wall o_ounters, and down this wide shaft the lifts went, and the light for th_ottom storey. Also there was a corresponding big, oblong hole in the ceiling, and one could see above, over the fence of the top floor, some machinery; an_ight away overhead was the glass roof, and all light for the three storey_ame downwards, getting dimmer, so that it was always night on the groun_loor and rather gloomy on the second floor. The factory was the top floor, the warehouse the second, the storehouse the ground floor. It was a_nsanitary, ancient place.
Paul was led round to a very dark corner.
"This is the 'Spiral' corner," said the clerk. "You're Spiral, wit_appleworth. He's your boss, but he's not come yet. He doesn't get here til_alf-past eight. So you can fetch the letters, if you like, from Mr. Mellin_own there."
The young man pointed to the old clerk in the office.
"All right," said Paul.
"Here's a peg to hang your cap on. Here are your entry ledgers. Mr.
Pappleworth won't be long."
And the thin young man stalked away with long, busy strides over the hollo_ooden floor.
After a minute or two Paul went down and stood in the door of the glas_ffice. The old clerk in the smoking-cap looked down over the rim of hi_pectacles.
"Good-morning," he said, kindly and impressively. "You want the letters fo_he Spiral department, Thomas?"
Paul resented being called "Thomas". But he took the letters and returned t_is dark place, where the counter made an angle, where the great parcel-rac_ame to an end, and where there were three doors in the corner. He sat on _igh stool and read the letters—those whose handwriting was not too difficult.
They ran as follows:
"Will you please send me at once a pair of lady's silk spiral thigh-hose, without feet, such as I had from you last year; length, thigh to knee, etc."
Or, "Major Chamberlain wishes to repeat his previous order for a silk non- elastic suspensory bandage."
Many of these letters, some of them in French or Norwegian, were a grea_uzzle to the boy. He sat on his stool nervously awaiting the arrival of his
"boss". He suffered tortures of shyness when, at half-past eight, the factor_irls for upstairs trooped past him.
Mr. Pappleworth arrived, chewing a chlorodyne gum, at about twenty to nine, when all the other men were at work. He was a thin, sallow man with a re_ose, quick, staccato, and smartly but stiffly dressed. He was about thirty- six years old. There was something rather "doggy", rather smart, rather 'cut_nd shrewd, and something warm, and something slightly contemptible about him.
"You my new lad?" he said.
Paul stood up and said he was.
"Fetched the letters?"
Mr. Pappleworth gave a chew to his gum.
"Well, come on then, let's look slippy. Changed your coat?"
"You want to bring an old coat and leave it here." He pronounced the las_ords with the chlorodyne gum between his side teeth. He vanished into th_arkness behind the great parcel-rack, reappeared coatless, turning up a smar_triped shirt-cuff over a thin and hairy arm. Then he slipped into his coat.
Paul noticed how thin he was, and that his trousers were in folds behind. H_eized a stool, dragged it beside the boy's, and sat down.
"Sit down," he said.
Paul took a seat.
Mr. Pappleworth was very close to him. The man seized the letters, snatched _ong entry-book out of a rack in front of him, flung it open, seized a pen, and said:
"Now look here. You want to copy these letters in here." He sniffed twice, gave a quick chew at his gum, stared fixedly at a letter, then went very stil_nd absorbed, and wrote the entry rapidly, in a beautiful flourishing hand. H_lanced quickly at Paul.
"Think you can do it all right?"
"All right then, let's see you."
He sprang off his stool. Paul took a pen. Mr. Pappleworth disappeared. Pau_ather liked copying the letters, but he wrote slowly, laboriously, an_xceedingly badly. He was doing the fourth letter, and feeling quite busy an_appy, when Mr. Pappleworth reappeared.
"Now then, how'r' yer getting on? Done 'em?"
He leaned over the boy's shoulder, chewing, and smelling of chlorodyne.
"Strike my bob, lad, but you're a beautiful writer!" he exclaimed satirically.
"Ne'er mind, how many h'yer done? Only three! I'd 'a eaten 'em. Get on, m_ad, an' put numbers on 'em. Here, look! Get on!"
Paul ground away at the letters, whilst Mr. Pappleworth fussed over variou_obs. Suddenly the boy started as a shrill whistle sounded near his ear. Mr.
Pappleworth came, took a plug out of a pipe, and said, in an amazingly cros_nd bossy voice:
Paul heard a faint voice, like a woman's, out of the mouth of the tube. H_azed in wonder, never having seen a speaking-tube before.
"Well," said Mr. Pappleworth disagreeably into the tube, "you'd better ge_ome of your back work done, then."
Again the woman's tiny voice was heard, sounding pretty and cross.
"I've not time to stand here while you talk," said Mr. Pappleworth, and h_ushed the plug into the tube.
"Come, my lad," he said imploringly to Paul, "there's Polly crying out fo_hem orders. Can't you buck up a bit? Here, come out!"
He took the book, to Paul's immense chagrin, and began the copying himself. H_orked quickly and well. This done, he seized some strips of long yello_aper, about three inches wide, and made out the day's orders for the work- girls.
"You'd better watch me," he said to Paul, working all the while rapidly. Pau_atched the weird little drawings of legs, and thighs, and ankles, with th_trokes across and the numbers, and the few brief directions which his chie_ade upon the yellow paper. Then Mr. Pappleworth finished and jumped up.
"Come on with me," he said, and the yellow papers flying in his hands, h_ashed through a door and down some stairs, into the basement where the ga_as burning. They crossed the cold, damp storeroom, then a long, dreary roo_ith a long table on trestles, into a smaller, cosy apartment, not very high, which had been built on to the main building. In this room a small woman wit_ red serge blouse, and her black hair done on top of her head, was waitin_ike a proud little bantam.
"Here y'are!" said Pappleworth.
"I think it is 'here you are'!" exclaimed Polly. "The girls have been her_early half an hour waiting. Just think of the time wasted!"
"YOU think of getting your work done and not talking so much," said Mr.
Pappleworth. "You could ha' been finishing off."
"You know quite well we finished everything off on Saturday!" cried Pony, flying at him, her dark eyes flashing.
"Tu-tu-tu-tu-terterter!" he mocked. "Here's your new lad. Don't ruin him a_ou did the last."
"As we did the last!" repeated Polly. "Yes, WE do a lot of ruining, we do. M_ord, a lad would TAKE some ruining after he'd been with you."
"It's time for work now, not for talk," said Mr. Pappleworth severely an_oldly.
"It was time for work some time back," said Polly, marching away with her hea_n the air. She was an erect little body of forty.
In that room were two round spiral machines on the bench under the window.
Through the inner doorway was another longer room, with six more machines. _ittle group of girls, nicely dressed in white aprons, stood talking together.
"Have you nothing else to do but talk?" said Mr. Pappleworth.
"Only wait for you," said one handsome girl, laughing.
"Well, get on, get on," he said. "Come on, my lad. You'll know your road dow_ere again."
And Paul ran upstairs after his chief. He was given some checking an_nvoicing to do. He stood at the desk, labouring in his execrable handwriting.
Presently Mr. Jordan came strutting down from the glass office and stoo_ehind him, to the boy's great discomfort. Suddenly a red and fat finger wa_hrust on the form he was filling in.
"MR. J. A. Bates, Esquire!" exclaimed the cross voice just behind his ear.
Paul looked at "Mr. J. A. Bates, Esquire" in his own vile writing, an_ondered what was the matter now.
"Didn't they teach you any better THAN that while they were at it? If you put
'Mr.' you don't put Esquire'-a man can't be both at once."
The boy regretted his too-much generosity in disposing of honours, hesitated, and with trembling fingers, scratched out the "Mr." Then all at once Mr.
Jordan snatched away the invoice.
"Make another! Are you going to send that to a gentleman?" And he tore up th_lue form irritably.
Paul, his ears red with shame, began again. Still Mr. Jordan watched.
"I don't know what they DO teach in schools. You'll have to write better tha_hat. Lads learn nothing nowadays, but how to recite poetry and play th_iddle. Have you seen his writing?" he asked of Mr. Pappleworth.
"Yes; prime, isn't it?" replied Mr. Pappleworth indifferently.
Mr. Jordan gave a little grunt, not unamiable. Paul divined that his master'_ark was worse than his bite. Indeed, the little manufacturer, although h_poke bad English, was quite gentleman enough to leave his men alone and t_ake no notice of trifles. But he knew he did not look like the boss and owne_f the show, so he had to play his role of proprietor at first, to put thing_n a right footing.
"Let's see, WHAT'S your name?" asked Mr. Pappleworth of the boy.
It is curious that children suffer so much at having to pronounce their ow_ames.
"Paul Morel, is it? All right, you Paul-Morel through them things there, an_hen—"
Mr. Pappleworth subsided on to a stool, and began writing. A girl came up fro_ut of a door just behind, put some newly-pressed elastic web appliances o_he counter, and returned. Mr. Pappleworth picked up the whitey-blue knee- band, examined it, and its yellow order-paper quickly, and put it on one side.
Next was a flesh-pink "leg". He went through the few things, wrote out _ouple of orders, and called to Paul to accompany him. This time they wen_hrough the door whence the girl had emerged. There Paul found himself at th_op of a little wooden flight of steps, and below him saw a room with window_ound two sides, and at the farther end half a dozen girls sitting bendin_ver the benches in the light from the window, sewing. They were singin_ogether "Two Little Girls in Blue". Hearing the door opened, they all turne_ound, to see Mr. Pappleworth and Paul looking down on them from the far en_f the room. They stopped singing.
"Can't you make a bit less row?" said Mr. Pappleworth. "Folk'll think we kee_ats."
A hunchback woman on a high stool turned her long, rather heavy face toward_r. Pappleworth, and said, in a contralto voice:
"They're all tom-cats then."
In vain Mr. Pappleworth tried to be impressive for Paul's benefit. H_escended the steps into the finishing-off room, and went to the hunchbac_anny. She had such a short body on her high stool that her head, with it_reat bands of bright brown hair, seemed over large, as did her pale, heav_ace. She wore a dress of green-black cashmere, and her wrists, coming out o_he narrow cuffs, were thin and flat, as she put down her work nervously. H_howed her something that was wrong with a knee-cap.
"Well," she said, "you needn't come blaming it on to me. It's not my fault."
Her colour mounted to her cheek.
"I never said it WAS your fault. Will you do as I tell you?" replied Mr.
"You don't say it's my fault, but you'd like to make out as it was," th_unchback woman cried, almost in tears. Then she snatched the knee-cap fro_er "boss", saying: "Yes, I'll do it for you, but you needn't be snappy."
"Here's your new lad," said Mr. Pappleworth.
Fanny turned, smiling very gently on Paul.
"Oh!" she said.
"Yes; don't make a softy of him between you."
"It's not us as 'ud make a softy of him," she said indignantly.
"Come on then, Paul," said Mr. Pappleworth.
"Au revoy, Paul," said one of the girls.
There was a titter of laughter. Paul went out, blushing deeply, not havin_poken a word.
The day was very long. All morning the work-people were coming to speak to Mr.
Pappleworth. Paul was writing or learning to make up parcels, ready for th_idday post. At one o'clock, or, rather, at a quarter to one, Mr. Papplewort_isappeared to catch his train: he lived in the suburbs. At one o'clock, Paul, feeling very lost, took his dinner-basket down into the stockroom in th_asement, that had the long table on trestles, and ate his meal hurriedly, alone in that cellar of gloom and desolation. Then he went out of doors. Th_rightness and the freedom of the streets made him feel adventurous and happy.
But at two o'clock he was back in the corner of the big room. Soon the work- girls went trooping past, making remarks. It was the commoner girls who worke_pstairs at the heavy tasks of truss-making and the finishing of artificia_imbs. He waited for Mr. Pappleworth, not knowing what to do, sittin_cribbling on the yellow order-paper. Mr. Pappleworth came at twenty minute_o three. Then he sat and gossiped with Paul, treating the boy entirely as a_qual, even in age.
In the afternoon there was never very much to do, unless it were near th_eek-end, and the accounts had to be made up. At five o'clock all the men wen_own into the dungeon with the table on trestles, and there they had tea, eating bread-and-butter on the bare, dirty boards, talking with the same kin_f ugly haste and slovenliness with which they ate their meal. And ye_pstairs the atmosphere among them was always jolly and clear. The cellar an_he trestles affected them.
After tea, when all the gases were lighted, WORK went more briskly. There wa_he big evening post to get off. The hose came up warm and newly pressed fro_he workrooms. Paul had made out the invoices. Now he had the packing up an_ddressing to do, then he had to weigh his stock of parcels on the scales.
Everywhere voices were calling weights, there was the chink of metal, th_apid snapping of string, the hurrying to old Mr. Melling for stamps. And a_ast the postman came with his sack, laughing and jolly. Then everythin_lacked off, and Paul took his dinner-basket and ran to the station to catc_he eight-twenty train. The day in the factory was just twelve hours long.
His mother sat waiting for him rather anxiously. He had to walk from Keston, so was not home until about twenty past nine. And he left the house befor_even in the morning. Mrs. Morel was rather anxious about his health. But sh_erself had had to put up with so much that she expected her children to tak_he same odds. They must go through with what came. And Paul stayed a_ordan's, although all the time he was there his health suffered from th_arkness and lack of air and the long hours.
He came in pale and tired. His mother looked at him. She saw he was rathe_leased, and her anxiety all went.
"Well, and how was it?" she asked.
"Ever so funny, mother," he replied. "You don't have to work a bit hard, an_hey're nice with you."
"And did you get on all right?"
"Yes: they only say my writing's bad. But Mr. Pappleworth—he's my man—said t_r. Jordan I should be all right. I'm Spiral, mother; you must come and see.
It's ever so nice."
Soon he liked Jordan's. Mr. Pappleworth, who had a certain "saloon bar"
flavour about him, was always natural, and treated him as if he had been _omrade. Sometimes the "Spiral boss" was irritable, and chewed more lozenge_han ever. Even then, however, he was not offensive, but one of those peopl_ho hurt themselves by their own irritability more than they hurt othe_eople.
"Haven't you done that YET?" he would cry. "Go on, be a month of Sundays."
Again, and Paul could understand him least then, he was jocular and in hig_pirits.
"I'm going to bring my little Yorkshire terrier bitch tomorrow," he sai_ubilantly to Paul.
"What's a Yorkshire terrier?"
"DON'T know what a Yorkshire terrier is? DON'T KNOW A YORKSHIRE—" Mr.
Pappleworth was aghast.
"Is it a little silky one—colours of iron and rusty silver?"
"THAT'S it, my lad. She's a gem. She's had five pounds' worth of pups already, and she's worth over seven pounds herself; and she doesn't weigh twent_unces."
The next day the bitch came. She was a shivering, miserable morsel. Paul di_ot care for her; she seemed so like a wet rag that would never dry. Then _an called for her, and began to make coarse jokes. But Mr. Pappleworth nodde_is head in the direction of the boy, and the talk went on sotto voce.
Mr. Jordan only made one more excursion to watch Paul, and then the only faul_e found was seeing the boy lay his pen on the counter.
"Put your pen in your ear, if you're going to be a clerk. Pen in your ear!"
And one day he said to the lad: "Why don't you hold your shoulders straighter?
Come down here," when he took him into the glass office and fitted him wit_pecial braces for keeping the shoulders square.
But Paul liked the girls best. The men seemed common and rather dull. He like_hem all, but they were uninteresting. Polly, the little brisk oversee_ownstairs, finding Paul eating in the cellar, asked him if she could cook hi_nything on her little stove. Next day his mother gave him a dish that coul_e heated up. He took it into the pleasant, clean room to Polly. And very soo_t grew to be an established custom that he should have dinner with her. Whe_e came in at eight in the morning he took his basket to her, and when he cam_own at one o'clock she had his dinner ready.
He was not very tall, and pale, with thick chestnut hair, irregular features, and a wide, full mouth. She was like a small bird. He often called her a
"robinet". Though naturally rather quiet, he would sit and chatter with he_or hours telling her about his home. The girls all liked to hear him talk.
They often gathered in a little circle while he sat on a bench, and held fort_o them, laughing. Some of them regarded him as a curious little creature, s_erious, yet so bright and jolly, and always so delicate in his way with them.
They all liked him, and he adored them. Polly he felt he belonged to. The_onnie, with her mane of red hair, her face of apple-blossom, her murmurin_oice, such a lady in her shabby black frock, appealed to his romantic side.
"When you sit winding," he said, "it looks as if you were spinning at _pinning-wheel—it looks ever so nice. You remind me of Elaine in the 'Idyll_f the King'. I'd draw you if I could."
And she glanced at him blushing shyly. And later on he had a sketch he prize_ery much: Connie sitting on the stool before the wheel, her flowing mane o_ed hair on her rusty black frock, her red mouth shut and serious, running th_carlet thread off the hank on to the reel.
With Louie, handsome and brazen, who always seemed to thrust her hip at him, he usually joked.
Emma was rather plain, rather old, and condescending. But to condescend to hi_ade her happy, and he did not mind.
"How do you put needles in?" he asked.
"Go away and don't bother."
"But I ought to know how to put needles in."
She ground at her machine all the while steadily.
"There are many things you ought to know," she replied.
"Tell me, then, how to stick needles in the machine."
"Oh, the boy, what a nuisance he is! Why, THIS is how you do it."
He watched her attentively. Suddenly a whistle piped. Then Polly appeared, an_aid in a clear voice:
"Mr. Pappleworth wants to know how much longer you're going to be down her_laying with the girls, Paul."
Paul flew upstairs, calling "Good-bye!" and Emma drew herself up.
"It wasn't ME who wanted him to play with the machine," she said.
As a rule, when all the girls came back at two o'clock, he ran upstairs t_anny, the hunchback, in the finishing-off room. Mr. Pappleworth did no_ppear till twenty to three, and he often found his boy sitting beside Fanny, talking, or drawing, or singing with the girls.
Often, after a minute's hesitation, Fanny would begin to sing. She had a fin_ontralto voice. Everybody joined in the chorus, and it went well. Paul wa_ot at all embarrassed, after a while, sitting in the room with the half _ozen work-girls.
At the end of the song Fanny would say:
"I know you've been laughing at me."
"Don't be so soft, Fanny!" cried one of the girls.
Once there was mention of Connie's red hair.
"Fanny's is better, to my fancy," said Emma.
"You needn't try to make a fool of me," said Fanny, flushing deeply.
"No, but she has, Paul; she's got beautiful hair."
"It's a treat of a colour," said he. "That coldish colour like earth, and ye_hiny. It's like bog-water."
"Goodness me!" exclaimed one girl, laughing.
"How I do but get criticised," said Fanny.
"But you should see it down, Paul," cried Emma earnestly. "It's simpl_eautiful. Put it down for him, Fanny, if he wants something to paint."
Fanny would not, and yet she wanted to.
"Then I'll take it down myself," said the lad.
"Well, you can if you like," said Fanny.
And he carefully took the pins out of the knot, and the rush of hair, o_niform dark brown, slid over the humped back.
"What a lovely lot!" he exclaimed.
The girls watched. There was silence. The youth shook the hair loose from th_oil.
"It's splendid!" he said, smelling its perfume. "I'll bet it's worth pounds."
"I'll leave it you when I die, Paul," said Fanny, half joking.
"You look just like anybody else, sitting drying their hair," said one of th_irls to the long-legged hunchback.
Poor Fanny was morbidly sensitive, always imagining insults. Polly was cur_nd businesslike. The two departments were for ever at war, and Paul wa_lways finding Fanny in tears. Then he was made the recipient of all her woes, and he had to plead her case with Polly.
So the time went along happily enough. The factory had a homely feel. No on_as rushed or driven. Paul always enjoyed it when the work got faster, toward_ost-time, and all the men united in labour. He liked to watch his fellow- clerks at work. The man was the work and the work was the man, one thing, fo_he time being. It was different with the girls. The real woman never seeme_o be there at the task, but as if left out, waiting.
From the train going home at night he used to watch the lights of the town, sprinkled thick on the hills, fusing together in a blaze in the valleys. H_elt rich in life and happy. Drawing farther off, there was a patch of light_t Bulwell like myriad petals shaken to the ground from the shed stars; an_eyond was the red glare of the furnaces, playing like hot breath on th_louds.
He had to walk two and more miles from Keston home, up two long hills, dow_wo short hills. He was often tired, and he counted the lamps climbing th_ill above him, how many more to pass. And from the hilltop, on pitch-dar_ights, he looked round on the villages five or six miles away, that shon_ike swarms of glittering living things, almost a heaven against his feet.
Marlpool and Heanor scattered the far-off darkness with brilliance. An_ccasionally the black valley space between was traced, violated by a grea_rain rushing south to London or north to Scotland. The trains roared by lik_rojectiles level on the darkness, fuming and burning, making the valley clan_ith their passage. They were gone, and the lights of the towns and village_littered in silence.
And then he came to the corner at home, which faced the other side of th_ight. The ash-tree seemed a friend now. His mother rose with gladness as h_ntered. He put his eight shillings proudly on the table.
"It'll help, mother?" he asked wistfully.
"There's precious little left," she answered, "after your ticket and dinner_nd such are taken off."
Then he told her the budget of the day. His life-story, like an Arabia_ights, was told night after night to his mother. It was almost as if it wer_er own life.