The trouble with her ship was that it would _not_ sail. It rode waterlogge_n the rotting port of home. All very well to have wild, reckless moods o_rony and independence, if you have to pay for them by withering dustily o_he shelf.
Alvina fell again into humility and fear: she began to show symptoms of he_other's heart trouble. For day followed day, month followed month, seaso_fter season went by, and she grubbed away like a housemaid in Mancheste_ouse, she hurried round doing the shopping, she sang in the choir on Sundays, she attended the various chapel events, she went out to visit friends, an_aughed and talked and played games. But all the time, what was there actuall_n her life? Not much. She was withering towards old-maiddom. Already in he_wenty-eighth year, she spent her days grubbing in the house, whilst he_ather became an elderly, frail man still too lively in mind and spirit. Mis_innegar began to grow grey and elderly too, money became scarcer and scarcer, there was a black day ahead when her father would die and the home be broke_p, and she would have to tackle life as a worker.
There lay the only alternative: in work. She might slave her days awa_eaching the piano, as Miss Frost had done: she might find a subordinate pos_s nurse: she might sit in the cash-desk of some shop. Some work of some sor_ould be found for her. And she would sink into the routine of her job, as di_o many women, and grow old and die, chattering and fluttering. She would hav_hat is called her independence. But, seriously faced with that treasure, an_ithout the option of refusing it, strange how hideous she found it.
Work!—a job! More even than she rebelled against the Withams did she rebe_gainst a job. Albert Witham was distasteful to her—or rather, he was no_xactly distasteful, he was chiefly incongruous. She could never get over th_eeling that he was mouthing and smiling at her through the glass wall of a_quarium, he being on the watery side. Whether she would ever be able to tak_o his strange and dishuman element, who knows? Anyway it would be some sor_f an adventure: better than a job. She rebelled with all her backbone agains_he word _job_. Even the substitutes, _employment_ or _work_ , wer_etestable, unbearable. Emphatically, she did not want to work for a wage. I_as too humiliating. Could anything be more _infra dig_ than the performin_f a set of special actions day in day out, for a life-time, in order t_eceive some shillings every seventh day. Shameful! A condition of shame. Th_ost vulgar, sordid and humiliating of all forms of slavery: so mechanical.
Far better be a slave outright, in contact with all the whims and impulses o_ human being, than serve some mechanical routine of modern work.
She trembled with anger, impotence, and fear. For months, the thought o_lbert was a torment to her. She might have married him. He would have bee_trange, a strange fish. But were it not better to take the strange leap, ove_nto his element, than to condemn oneself to the routine of a job? He woul_ave been curious and dishuman. But after all, it would have been a_xperience. In a way, she liked him. There was something odd and integra_bout him, which she liked. He was not a liar. In his own line, he was hones_nd direct. Then he would take her to South Africa: a whole new _milieu_. An_erhaps she would have children. She shivered a little. No, not his children!
He seemed so curiously cold-blooded. And yet, why not? Why not his curious, pale, half cold-blooded children, like little fishes of her own? Why not?
Everything was possible: and even desirable, once one could see th_trangeness of it. Once she could plunge through the wall of the aquarium!
Once she could kiss him!
Therefore Miss Pinnegar's quiet harping on the string was unbearable.
"I can't understand that you disliked Mr. Witham so much?" said Miss Pinnegar.
"We never can understand those things," said Alvina. "I can't understand why _islike tapioca and arrowroot—but I do."
"That's different," said Miss Pinnegar shortly.
"It's no more easy to understand," said Alvina.
"Because there's no need to understand it," said Miss Pinnegar. "And is ther_eed to understand the other?"
"Certainly. I can see nothing wrong with him," said Miss Pinnegar.
Alvina went away in silence. This was in the first months after she had give_lbert his dismissal. He was at Oxford again—would not return to Woodhous_ill Christmas. Between her and the Woodhouse Withams there was a decide_oldness. They never looked at her now—nor she at them.
None the less, as Christmas drew near Alvina worked up her feelings. Perhap_he would be reconciled to him. She would slip across and smile to him. Sh_ould take the plunge, once and for all—and kiss him and marry him and bea_he little half-fishes, his children. She worked herself into quite a fever o_nticipation.
But when she saw him, the first evening, sitting stiff and staring flatly i_ront of him in Chapel, staring away from everything in the world, at heave_nows what—just as fishes stare—then his dishumanness came over her again lik_n arrest, and arrested all her flights of fancy. He stared flatly in front o_im, and flatly set a wall of oblivion between him and her. She trembled an_et be.
After Christmas, however, she had nothing at all to think forward to. And i_as then she seemed to shrink: she seemed positively to shrink. "You neve_poke to Mr. Witham?" Miss Pinnegar asked.
"He never spoke to me," replied Alvina.
"He raised his hat to me."
" _You_ ought to have married him, Miss Pinnegar," said Alvina. "He woul_ave been right for you." And she laughed rather mockingly.
"There is no need to make provision for me," said Miss Pinnegar.
And after this, she was a long time before she forgave Alvina, and was reall_riendly again. Perhaps she would never have forgiven her if she had not foun_er weeping rather bitterly in her mother's abandoned sitting-room.
Now so far, the story of Alvina is commonplace enough. It is more or less th_tory of thousands of girls. They all find work. It is the ordinary solutio_f everything. And if we were dealing with an ordinary girl we should have t_arry on mildly and dully down the long years of employment; or, at the best, marriage with some dull schoolteacher or office-clerk.
But we protest that Alvina is not ordinary. Ordinary people, ordinary fates.
But extraordinary people, extraordinary fates. Or else no fate at all. Th_ll-to-one-pattern modern system is too much for most extraordinar_ndividuals. It just kills them off or throws them disused aside.
There have been enough stories about ordinary people. I should think the Duk_f Clarence must even have found malmsey nauseating, when he choked and wen_urple and was really asphyxiated in a butt of it. And ordinary people are n_almsey. Just ordinary tap-water. And we have been drenched and deluged and s_early drowned in perpetual floods of ordinariness, that tap-water tends t_ecome a really hateful fluid to us. We loathe its out-of-the-ta_astelessness. We detest ordinary people. We are in peril of our lives fro_hem: and in peril of our souls too, for they would damn us one and all to th_rdinary. Every individual should, by nature, have his extraordinary points.
But nowadays you may look for them with a microscope, they are so worn-down b_he regular machine-friction of our average and mechanical days.
There was no hope for Alvina in the ordinary. If help came, it would have t_ome from the extraordinary. Hence the extreme peril of her case. Hence th_itter fear and humiliation she felt as she drudged shabbily on in Mancheste_ouse, hiding herself as much as possible from public view. Men can suck th_eady juice of exalted self-importance from the bitter weed o_ailure—failures are usually the most conceited of men: even as was Jame_oughton. But to a woman, failure is another matter. For her it means failur_o live, failure to establish her own life on the face of the earth. And thi_s humiliating, the ultimate humiliation.
And so the slow years crept round, and the completed coil of each one was _urther heavy, strangling noose. Alvina had passed her twenty-sixth, twenty- seventh, twenty-eighth and even her twenty-ninth year. She was in he_hirtieth. It ought to be a laughing matter. But it isn't.
> Ach, schon zwanzig
> Ach, schon zwanzig
> Immer noch durch's Leben tanz' ich
> Jeder, Jeder will mich küssen
> Mir das Leben zu versüssen.
> > Ach, schon dreissig
> Ach, schon dreissig
> Immer Mädchen, Mädchen heiss' ich.
> In dem Zopf schon graue Härchen
> Ach, wie schnell vergehn die Jährchen.
> > Ach, schon vierzig
> Ach, schon vierzig
> Und noch immer Keiner find 'sich.
> Im gesicht schon graue Flecken
> Ach, das muss im Spiegel stecken.
> > Ach, schon fünfzig
> Ach, schon fünfzig
> Und noch immer Keiner will 'mich;
> Soll ich mich mit Bänden zieren
> Soll ich einen Schleier führen?
> Dann heisst's, die Alte putzt sich,
> Sie ist fu'fzig, sie ist fu'fzig.
True enough, in Alvina's pig-tail of soft brown the grey hairs were alread_howing. True enough, she still preferred to be thought of as a girl. And th_low-footed years, so heavy in passing, were so imperceptibly numerous i_heir accumulation.
But we are not going to follow our song to its fatal and dreary conclusion.
Presumably, the _ordinary_ old-maid heroine nowadays is destined to die i_er fifties, she is not allowed to be the long-liver of the bygone novels. Le_he song suffice her.
James Houghton had still another kick in him. He had one last scheme up hi_leeve. Looking out on a changing world, it was the popular novelties whic_ad the last fascination for him. The Skating Rink, like another Charybdis, had all but entangled him in its swirl as he pushed painfully off from th_ocks of Throttle-Ha'penny. But he had escaped, and for almost three years ha_ain obscurely in port, like a frail and finished bark, selling the last o_is bits and bobs, and making little splashes in warehouse-oddments. Mis_innegar thought he had really gone quiet.
But alas, at that degenerated and shabby, down-at-heel club he met anothe_empter: a plump man who had been in the music-hall line as a sort of agent.
This man had catered for the little shows of little towns. He had been i_merica, out West, doing shows there. He had trailed his way back to England, where he had left his wife and daughter. But he did not resume his famil_ife. Wherever he was, his wife was a hundred miles away. Now he found himsel_ore or less stranded in Woodhouse. He had _nearly_ fixed himself up with _usic-hall in the Potteries—as manager: he had all-but got such another plac_t Ickley, in Derbyshire: he had forced his way through the industrial an_ining townlets, prospecting for any sort of music-hall or show from which h_ould get a picking. And now, in very low water, he found himself a_oodhouse.
Woodhouse had a cinema already: a famous Empire run-up by Jordan, the sl_uilder and decorator who had got on so surprisingly. In James's younger days, Jordan was an obscure and illiterate nobody. And now he had a motor car, an_ooked at the tottering James with sardonic contempt, from under his heavy, heavy-lidded dark eyes. He was rather stout, frail in health, but silent an_nsuperable, was A. W Jordan.
"I missed a chance there," said James, fluttering. "I missed a rare chanc_here. I ought to have been first with a cinema."
He admitted as much to Mr. May, the stranger who was looking for some sort of
"managing" job. Mr. May, who also was plump and who could hold his tongue, bu_hose pink, fat face and light-blue eyes had a loud look, for all that, pu_he speech in his pipe and smoked it. Not that he smoked a pipe: alway_igarettes. But he seized on James's admission, as something to be made th_ost of.
Now Mr. May's mind, though quick, was pedestrian, not winged. He had come t_oodhouse not to look at Jordan's "Empire," but at the temporary woode_tructure that stood in the old Cattle Market "Wright's Cinematograph an_ariety Theatre." Wright's was not a superior show, like the Woodhouse Empire.
Yet it was always packed with colliers and work-lasses. But unfortunatel_here was no chance of Mr. May's getting a finger in the Cattle Market pie.
Wright's was a family affair. Mr. and Mrs. Wright and a son and two daughter_ith their husbands: a tight old lock-up family concern. Yet it was the kin_f show that appealed to Mr. May: pictures between the turns. Th_inematograph was but an item in the program, amidst the more thrillin_ncidents—to Mr. May—of conjurors, popular songs, five-minute farces, performing birds, and comics. Mr. May was too human to believe that a sho_hould consist entirely of the dithering eye-ache of a film.
He was becoming really depressed by his failure to find any opening. He ha_is family to keep—and though his honesty was of the variety sort, he had _eavy conscience in the direction of his wife and daughter. Having been s_ong in America, he had acquired American qualities, one of which was thi_eavy sort of private innocence, coupled with complacent and natura_nscrupulousness in "matters of business." A man of some odd sensitiveness i_aterial things, he liked to have his clothes neat and spick, his line_mmaculate, his face clean-shaved like a cherub. But alas, his clothes wer_ow old-fashioned, so that their rather expensive smartness was detrimental t_is chances, in spite of their scrupulous look of having come almost new ou_f the bandbox that morning. His rather small felt hats still curved jauntil_ver his full pink face. But his eyes looked lugubrious, as if he felt he ha_ot deserved so much bad luck, and there were bilious lines beneath them.
So Mr. May, in his room in the Moon and Stars, which was the best inn i_oodhouse—he must have a good hotel—lugubriously considered his position.
Woodhouse offered little or nothing. He must go to Alfreton. And would he fin_nything there? Ah, where, where in this hateful world was there refuge for _an saddled with responsibilities, who wanted to do his best and was given n_pportunity? Mr. May had travelled in his Pullman car and gone straight to th_est hotel in the town, like any other American with money—in America. He ha_one it smart, too. And now, in this grubby penny-picking England, he saw hi_oots being worn-down at the heel, and was afraid of being stranded withou_ash even for a railway ticket. If he had to clear out without paying hi_otel bill—well, that was the world's fault. He had to live. But he mus_erforce keep enough in hand for a ticket to Birmingham. He always said hi_ife was in London. And he always walked down to Lumley to post his letters.
He was full of evasions.
So again he walked down to Lumley to post his letters. And he looked a_umley. And he found it a damn god-forsaken hell of a hole. It was a lon_traggle of a dusty road down in the valley, with a pale-grey dust and spatte_rom the pottery, and big chimneys bellying forth black smoke right by th_oad. Then there was a short cross-way, up which one saw the iron foundry, _lack and rusty place. A little further on was the railway junction, an_eyond that, more houses stretching to Hathersedge, where the stockin_actories were busy. Compared with Lumley, Woodhouse, whose church could b_een sticking up proudly and vulgarly on an eminence, above trees and meadow- slopes, was an idyllic heaven.
Mr. May turned in to the Derby Hotel to have a small whiskey. And of course h_ntered into conversation.
"You seem somewhat quiet at Lumley," he said, in his odd, refined-showman'_oice. "Have you _nothing at all_ in the way of amusement?"
"They all go up to Woodhouse, else to Hathersedge."
"But couldn't you support some place of your own—some _rival_ to Wright'_ariety?"
"Ay—'appen—if somebody started it."
And so it was that James was inoculated with the idea of starting a cinema o_he virgin soil of Lumley. To the women he said not a word. But on the ver_irst morning that Mr. May broached the subject, he became a new man. H_luttered like a boy, he fluttered as if he had just grown wings.
"Let us go down," said Mr. May, "and look at a site. You pledge yourself t_othing—you don't compromise yourself. You merely have a site in your mind."
And so it came to pass that, next morning, this oddly assorted couple wen_own to Lumley together. James was very shabby, in his black coat and dar_rey trousers, and his cheap grey cap. He bent forward as he walked, and stil_ipped along hurriedly, as if pursued by fate. His face was thin and stil_andsome. Odd that his cheap cap, by incongruity, made him look more _entleman. But it did. As he walked he glanced alertly hither and thither, an_aluted everybody.
By his side, somewhat tight and tubby, with his chest out and his head back, went the prim figure of Mr. May, reminding one of a consequential bird of th_maller species. His plumbago-grey suit fitted exactly—save that it wa_erhaps a little tight. The jacket and waistcoat were bound with silk braid o_xactly the same shade as the cloth. His soft collar, immaculately fresh, ha_ dark stripe like his shirt. His boots were black, with grey suede uppers: but a _little_ down at heel. His dark-grey hat was jaunty. Altogether h_ooked very spruce, though a _little_ behind the fashions: very pink faced, though his blue eyes were bilious beneath: very much on the spot, although th_pot was the wrong one.
They discoursed amiably as they went, James bending forward, Mr. May bendin_ack. Mr. May took the refined man-of-the-world tone.
"Of course," he said—he used the two words very often, and pronounced th_econd, rather mincingly, to rhyme with _sauce_ : "Of course," said Mr. May,
"it's a disgusting place— _disgusting_! I never was in a worse, in all th_cauce_ of my travels. But _then_ —that isn't the point—"
He spread his plump hands from his immaculate shirt-cuffs.
"No, it isn't. Decidedly it isn't. That's beside the point altogether. What w_ant—" began James.
"Is an audience—of _cauce_ —! And we have it—! Virgin soil—!"
"Yes, decidedly. Untouched! An unspoiled market."
"An unspoiled market!" reiterated Mr. May, in full confirmation, though with _aint flicker of a smile. "How very _fortunate_ for us."
"Properly handled," said James. "Properly handled."
"Why yes—of _cauce_! Why _shouldn't_ we handle it properly!"
"Oh, we shall manage that, we shall manage that," came the quick, slightl_usky voice of James.
"Of _cauce_ we shall! Why bless my life, if we can't manage an audience i_umley, what _can_ we do."
"We have a guide in the matter of their taste," said James. "We can see wha_right's are doing—and Jordan's—and we can go to Hathersedge and Knarboroug_nd Alfreton—beforehand, that is—"
"Why certainly—if you think it's _necessary_. I'll do all that for you.
_And_ I'll interview the managers and the performers themselves—as if I wer_ journalist, don't you see. I've done a fair amount of journalism, an_othing easier than to get cards from various newspapers."
"Yes, that's a good suggestion," said James. "As if you were going to write a_ccount in the newspapers—excellent."
"And so simple! You pick up just _all_ the information you require."
"Decidedly—decidedly!" said James.
And so behold our two heroes sniffing round the sordid backs and waste_eadows and marshy places of Lumley. They found one barren patch where tw_aravans were standing. A woman was peeling potatoes, sitting on the botto_tep of her caravan. A half-caste girl came up with a large pale-blu_namelled jug of water. In the background were two booths covered up wit_oloured canvas. Hammering was heard inside.
"Good-morning!" said Mr. May, stopping before the woman. "'Tisn't fair time, is it?"
"No, it's no fair," said the woman.
"I see. You're just on your own. Getting on all right?"
"Fair," said the woman.
"Only fair! Sorry. Good-morning."
Mr. May's quick eye, roving round, had seen a negro stoop from under th_anvas that covered one booth. The negro was thin, and looked young but rathe_rail, and limped. His face was very like that of the young negro in Watteau'_rawing—pathetic, wistful, north-bitten. In an instant Mr. May had taken al_n: the man was the woman's husband—they were acclimatized in these regions: the booth where he had been hammering was a Hoop-La. The other would be _ocoanut-shy. Feeling the instant American dislike for the presence of _egro, Mr. May moved off with James.
They found out that the woman was a Lumley woman, that she had two children, that the negro was a most quiet and respectable chap, but that the family kep_o itself, and didn't mix up with Lumley.
"I should think so," said Mr. May, a little disgusted even at the suggestion.
Then he proceeded to find out how long they had stood on this ground—thre_onths—how long they would remain—only another week, then they were moving of_o Alfreton fair—who was the owner of the pitch—Mr. Bows, the butcher. Ah! An_hat was the ground used for? Oh, it was building land. But the foundatio_asn't very good.
"The very thing! Aren't we _fortunate_!" cried Mr. May, perking up the momen_hey were in the street. But this cheerfulness and brisk perkiness was a grea_train on him. He missed his eleven o'clock whiskey terribly—terribly—hi_ick-me-up! And he daren't confess it to James, who, he knew, was T-T. So h_ragged his weary and hollow way up to Woodhouse, and sank with a long "Oh!"
of nervous exhaustion in the private bar of the Moon and Stars. He wrinkle_is short nose. The smell of the place was distasteful to him. Th_disgusting_ beer that the colliers drank. Oh!—he _was_ so tired. He san_ack with his whiskey and stared blankly, dismally in front of him. Beneat_is eyes he looked more bilious still. He felt thoroughly out of luck, an_etulant.
None the less he sallied out with all his old bright perkiness, the next tim_e had to meet James. He hadn't yet broached the question of costs. When woul_e be able to get an advance from James? He _must_ hurry the matter forward.
He brushed his crisp, curly brown hair carefully before the mirror. How gre_e was at the temples! No wonder, dear me, with such a life! He was in hi_hirt-sleeves. His waistcoat, with its grey satin back, fitted him tightly. H_ad filled out—but he hadn't developed a corporation. Not at all. He looked a_imself sideways, and feared dismally he was thinner. He was one of those me_ho carry themselves in a birdie fashion, so that their tail sticks out _ittle behind, jauntily. How wonderfully the satin of his waistcoat had worn!
He looked at his shirt-cuffs. They were going. Luckily, when he had had th_hirts made he had secured enough material for the renewing of cuffs and neck- bands. He put on his coat, from which he had flicked the faintest suspicion o_ust, and again settled himself to go out and meet James on the question of a_dvance. He simply must have an advance.
He didn't get it that day, none the less. The next morning he was ringing fo_is tea at six o'clock. And before ten he had already flitted to Lumley an_ack, he had already had a word with Mr. Bows, about that pitch, and, overcoming all his repugnance, a word with the quiet, frail, sad negro, abou_lfreton fair, and the chance of buying some sort of collapsible building, fo_is cinematograph.
With all this news he met James—not at the shabby club, but in the deserte_eading-room of the so-called Artizans Hall—where never an artizan entered, but only men of James's class. Here they took the chess-board and pretended t_tart a game. But their conversation was rapid and secretive.
Mr. May disclosed all his discoveries. And then he said, tentatively:
"Hadn't we better think about the financial part now? If we're going to loo_ound for an erection—" curious that he always called it an erection—"we shal_ave to know what we are going to spend."
"Yes—yes. Well—" said James vaguely, nervously, giving a glance at Mr. May.
Whilst Mr. May abstractedly fingered his black knight.
"You see at the moment," said Mr. May, "I have no funds that I can represen_n cash. I have no doubt a little _later_ —if we need it—I can find a fe_undreds. Many things are _due_ —numbers of things. But it is so difficult t_collect_ one's dues, particularly from America." He lifted his blue eyes t_ames Houghton. "Of course we can _delay_ for some time, until I get m_upplies. Or I can act just as your manager—you can _employ_ me—"
He watched James's face. James looked down at the chess-board. He wa_luttering with excitement. He did not want a partner. He wanted to be in thi_ll by himself. He hated partners.
"You will agree to be manager, at a fixed salary?" said James hurriedly an_uskily, his fine fingers slowly rubbing each other, along the sides.
"Why yes, willingly, if you'll give me the option of becoming your partne_pon terms of mutual agreement, later on."
James did not quite like this.
"What terms are you thinking of?" he asked.
"Well, it doesn't matter for the moment. Suppose for the moment I enter a_ngagement as your manager, at a salary, let us say, of—of what, do yo_hink?"
"So much a week?" said James pointedly.
"Hadn't we better make it monthly?"
The two men looked at one another.
"With a month's notice on either hand?" continued Mr. May. "How much?" sai_ames, avaricious.
Mr. May studied his own nicely kept hands.
"Well, I don't see how I can do it under twenty pounds a month. Of course it'_idiculously low. In America I _never_ accepted less than three hundre_ollars a month, and that was my poorest and lowest. But of _cauce_ , England's not America—more's the pity."
But James was shaking his head in a vibrating movement. "Impossible!" h_eplied shrewdly. "Impossible! Twenty pounds a month? Impossible. I couldn'_o it. I couldn't think of it."
"Then name a figure. Say what you _can_ think of," retorted Mr. May, rathe_nnoyed by this shrewd, shaking head of a doddering provincial, and by his ow_udden collapse into mean subordination.
"I can't make it more than ten pounds a month," said James sharply.
"What!" screamed Mr. May. "What am I to live on? What is my wife to live on?"
"I've got to make it pay," said James. "If I've got to make it pay, I mus_eep down expenses at the beginning."
"No,—on the contrary. You must be prepared to spend something at th_eginning. If you go in a pinch-and-scrape fashion in the beginning, you wil_et nowhere at all. Ten pounds a month! Why it's impossible! Ten pounds _onth! But how am I to _live_?"
James's head still vibrated in a negative fashion. And the two men came to n_greement _that_ morning. Mr. May went home more sick and weary than ever, and took his whiskey more biliously. But James was lit with the light o_attle.
Poor Mr. May had to gather together his wits and his sprightliness for hi_ext meeting. He had decided he must make a percentage in other ways. H_chemed in all known ways. He would accept the ten pounds—but really, did eve_ou hear of anything so ridiculous in your life, _ten pounds_!—dirty ol_crew, dirty, screwing old woman! He would accept the ten pounds; but he woul_et his own back.
He flitted down once more to the negro, to ask him of a certain wooden show- house, with section sides and roof, an old travelling theatre which stoo_losed on Selverhay Common, and might probably be sold. He pressed across onc_ore to Mr. Bows. He wrote various letters and drew up certain notes. And th_ext morning, by eight o'clock, he was on his way to Selverhay: walking, poo_an, the long and uninteresting seven miles on his small and rather tight-sho_eet, through country that had been once beautiful but was now scrubbled al_ver with mining villages, on and on up heavy hills and down others, askin_is way from uncouth clowns, till at last he came to the Common, which wasn'_ Common at all, but a sort of village more depressing than usual: naked, high, exposed to heaven and to full barren view.
There he saw the theatre-booth. It was old and sordid-looking, painted dark- red and dishevelled with narrow, tattered announcements. The grass was growin_igh up the wooden sides. If only it wasn't rotten? He crouched and probed an_ierced with his penknife, till a country-policeman in a high helmet like _ug saw him, got off his bicycle and came stealthily across the grass wheelin_he same bicycle, and startled poor Mr. May almost into apoplexy by demandin_ehind him, in a loud voice:
"What're you after?"
Mr. May rose up with flushed face and swollen neck-veins, holding his pen- knife in his hand.
"Oh," he said, "good-morning." He settled his waistcoat and glanced over th_all, lanky constable and the glittering bicycle. "I was taking a look at thi_ld erection, with a view to buying it. I'm afraid it's going rotten from th_ottom."
"Shouldn't wonder," said the policeman suspiciously, watching Mr. May shut th_ocket knife.
"I'm afraid that makes it useless for my purpose," said Mr. May. The policema_id not deign to answer.
"Could you tell me where I can find out about it, anyway?" Mr. May used hi_ost affable, man of the world manner. But the policeman continued to star_im up and down, as if he were some marvellous specimen unknown on the normal, honest earth.
"What, find out?" said the constable.
"About being able to buy it," said Mr. May, a little testily. It was wit_reat difficulty he preserved his man-to-man openness and brightness. "The_ren't here," said the constable.
"Oh indeed! Where _are_ they? And _who_ are they?"
The policeman eyed him more suspiciously than ever.
"Cowlard's their name. An' they live in Offerton when they aren't travelling."
"Cowlard—thank you." Mr. May took out his pocket-book. "C-o-w-l-a-r-d—is tha_ight? And the address, please?"
"I dunno th' street. But you can find out from the Three Bells. That's Missis'
"The Three Bells—thank you. Offerton did you say?"
"About eight mile."
"Really—and how do you get there?"
"You can walk—or go by train."
"Oh, there is a station?"
"Station!" The policeman looked at him as if he were either a criminal or _ool.
"Yes. There _is_ a station there?"
"Ay—biggest next to Chesterfield—"
Suddenly it dawned on Mr. May.
"Oh-h!" he said. "You mean _Alfreton_ —"
"Alfreton, yes." The policeman was now convinced the man was a wrong-'un. Bu_ortunately he was not a pushing constable, he did not want to rise in th_olice-scale: thought himself safest at the bottom.
"And which is the way to the station here?" asked Mr. May. "Do yer want Pinxo_r Bull'ill?"
"Pinxon or Bull'ill?"
"There's two," said the policeman.
"For Selverhay?" asked Mr. May.
"Yes, them's the two."
"And which is the best?"
"Depends what trains is runnin'. Sometimes yer have to wait an hour or two—"
"You don't know the trains, do you—?"
"There's one in th' afternoon—but I don't know if it'd be gone by the time yo_et down."
"Oh Bull'ill! Well, perhaps I'll try. Could you tell me the way?"
When, after an hour's painful walk, Mr. May came to Bullwell Station and foun_here was no train till six in the evening, he felt he was earning every penn_e would ever get from Mr. Houghton.
The first intelligence which Miss Pinnegar and Alvina gathered of the comin_dventure was given them when James announced that he had let the shop t_arsden, the grocer next door. Marsden had agreed to take over James'_remises at the same rent as that of the premises he already occupied, an_oreover to do all alterations and put in all fixtures himself. This was _rand scoop for James: not a penny was it going to cost him, and the rent wa_lear profit.
"But when?" cried Miss Pinnegar.
"He takes possession on the first of October."
"Well—it's a good idea. The shop isn't worth while," said Miss Pinnegar.
"Certainly it isn't," said James, rubbing his hands: a sign that he was rarel_xcited and pleased.
"And you'll just retire, and live quietly," said Miss Pinnegar.
"I shall see," said James. And with those fatal words he wafted away to fin_r. May.
James was now nearly seventy years old. Yet he nipped about like a leaf in th_ind. Only, it was a frail leaf.
"Father's got something going," said Alvina, in a warning voice.
"I believe he has," said Miss Pinnegar pensively. "I wonder what it is, now."
"I can't imagine," laughed Alvina. "But I'll bet it's something awful—els_e'd have told us."
"Yes," said Miss Pinnegar slowly. "Most likely he would. I wonder what it ca_e."
"I haven't an idea," said Alvina.
Both women were so retired, they had heard nothing of James's little trip_own to Lumley. So they watched like cats for their man's return, at dinner- time.
Miss Pinnegar saw him coming along talking excitedly to Mr. May, who, all i_rey, with his chest perkily stuck out like a robin, was looking rather pinke_han usual. Having come to an agreement, he had ventured on whiskey and sod_n honour, and James had actually taken a glass of port.
"Alvina!" Miss Pinnegar called discreetly down the shop. "Alvina! Quick!"
Alvina flew down to peep round the corner of the shop window. There stood th_wo men, Mr. May like a perky, pink-faced grey bird standing cocking his hea_n attention to James Houghton, and occasionally catching James by the lape_f his coat, in a vain desire to get a word in, whilst James's head nodded an_is face simply wagged with excited speech, as he skipped from foot to foot, and shifted round his listener.
"Who _ever_ can that common-looking man be?" said Miss Pinnegar, her hear_oing down to her boots.
"I can't imagine," said Alvina, laughing at the comic sight. "Don't you thin_e's dreadful?" said the poor elderly woman. "Perfectly impossible. Did eve_ou see such a pink face?"
" _And_ the braid binding!" said Miss Pinnegar in indignation. "Father migh_lmost have sold him the suit," said Alvina.
"Let us hope he hasn't sold your father, that's all," said Miss Pinnegar.
The two men had moved a few steps further towards home, and the women prepare_o flee indoors. Of course it was frightfully wrong to be standing peeping i_he high street at all. But who could consider the proprieties now?
"They've stopped again," said Miss Pinnegar, recalling Alvina.
The two men were having a few more excited words, their voices just audible.
"I do wonder who he can be," murmured Miss Pinnegar miserably. "In th_heatrical line, I'm sure," declared Alvina.
"Do you think so?" said Miss Pinnegar. "Can't be! Can't be!"
"He couldn't be anything else, don't you think?"
"Oh I _can't_ believe it, I can't."
But now Mr. May had laid his detaining hand on James's arm. And now he wa_haking his employer by the hand. And now James, in his cheap little cap, wa_miling a formal farewell. And Mr. May, with a graceful wave of his grey- suede-gloved hand, was turning back to the Moon and Stars, strutting, whils_ames was running home on tip-toe, in his natural hurry.
Alvina hastily retreated, but Miss Pinnegar stood it out. James started as h_ipped into the shop entrance, and found her confronting him. "Oh—Mis_innegar!" he said, and made to slip by her.
"Who was that man?" she asked sharply, as if James were a child whom she coul_ndure no more.
"Eh? I beg your pardon?" said James, starting back.
"Who was that man?"
"Eh? Which man?"
James was a little deaf, and a little husky.
"The man—" Miss Pinnegar turned to the door. "There! That man!"
James also came to the door, and peered out as if he expected to see a sight.
The sight of Mr. May's tight and perky back, the jaunty little hat and th_rey suede hands retreating quite surprised him. He was angry at bein_ntroduced to the sight.
"Oh," he said. "That's my manager." And he turned hastily down the shop, asking for his dinner.
Miss Pinnegar stood for some moments in pure oblivion in the shop entrance.
Her consciousness left her. When she recovered, she felt she was on the brin_f hysteria and collapse. But she hardened herself once more, though th_ffort cost her a year of her life. She had never collapsed, she had neve_allen into hysteria.
She gathered herself together, though bent a little as from a blow, and, closing the shop door, followed James to the living room, like the inevitable.
He was eating his dinner, and seemed oblivious of her entry. There was a smel_f Irish stew.
"What manager?" said Pinnegar, short, silent, and inevitable in the doorway.
But James was in one of his abstractions, his trances.
"What manager?" persisted Miss Pinnegar.
But he still bent unknowing over his plate and gobbled his Irish stew.
"Mr. Houghton!" said Miss Pinnegar, in a sudden changed voice. She had gone _ivid yellow colour. And she gave a queer, sharp little rap on the table wit_er hand.
James started. He looked up bewildered, as one startled out of sleep.
"Eh?" he said, gaping. "Eh?"
"Answer me," said Miss Pinnegar. "What manager?"
"Manager? Eh? Manager? What manager?"
She advanced a little nearer, menacing in her black dress. James shrank.
"What manager?" he re-echoed. "My manager. The manager of my cinema."
Miss Pinnegar looked at him, and looked at him, and did not speak. In tha_oment all the anger which was due to him from all womanhood was silentl_ischarged at him, like a black bolt of silent electricity. But Miss Pinnegar, the engine of wrath, felt she would burst.
"Cinema! Cinema! Do you mean to tell me—" but she was really suffocated, th_essels of her heart and breast were bursting. She had to lean her hand on th_able.
It was a terrible moment. She looked ghastly and terrible, with her mask-lik_ace and her stony eyes and her bluish lips. Some fearful thunderbolt seeme_o fall. James withered, and was still. There was silence for minutes, _uspension.
And in those minutes, she finished with him. She finished with him for ever.
When she had sufficiently recovered, she went to her chair, and sat dow_efore her plate. And in a while she began to eat, as if she were alone.
Poor Alvina, for whom this had been a dreadful and uncalled-for moment, ha_ooked from one to another, and had also dropped her head to her plate. Jame_oo, with bent head, had forgotten to eat. Miss Pinnegar ate very slowly, alone.
"Don't you want your dinner, Alvina?" she said at length. "Not as much as _id," said Alvina.
"Why not?" said Miss Pinnegar. She sounded short, almost like Miss Frost.
Oddly like Miss Frost.
Alvina took up her fork and began to eat automatically.
"I always think," said Miss Pinnegar, "Irish stew is more tasty with a bit o_wede" in it."
"So do I, really," said Alvina. "But Swedes aren't come yet."
"Oh! Didn't we have some on Tuesday?"
"No, they were yellow turnips—but they weren't Swedes."
"Well then, yellow turnip. I like a little yellow turnip," said Miss Pinnegar.
"I might have put some in, if I'd known," said Alvina.
"Yes. We will another time," said Miss Pinnegar.
Not another word about the cinema: not another breath. As soon as James ha_aten his plum tart, he ran away.
"What can he have been doing?" said Alvina when he had gone. "Buying a cinem_how—and that man we saw is his manager. It's quite simple."
"But what are we going to do with a cinema show?" said Alvina.
"It's what is _he_ going to do. It doesn't concern me. It's no concern o_ine. I shall not lend him anything, I shall not think about it, it will b_he same to me as if there _were_ no cinema. Which is all I have to say,"
announced Miss Pinnegar.
"But he's gone and done it," said Alvina.
"Then let him go through with it. It's no affair of mine. After all, you_ather's affairs don't concern me. It would be impertinent of me to introduc_yself into them."
"They don't concern _me_ very much," said Alvina.
"You're different. You're his daughter. He's no connection of mine, I'm gla_o say. I pity your mother."
"Oh, but he was always alike," said Alvina.
"That's where it is," said Miss Pinnegar.
There was something fatal about her feelings. Once they had gone cold, the_ould never warm up again. As well try to warm up a frozen mouse. It onl_utrifies.
But poor Miss Pinnegar after this looked older, and seemed to get a littl_ound-backed. And the things she said reminded Alvina so often of Miss Frost.
James fluttered into conversation with his daughter the next evening, afte_iss Pinnegar had retired.
"I told you I had bought a cinematograph building," said James. "We ar_egotiating for the machinery now: the dynamo and so on."
"But where is it to be?" asked Alvina.
"Down at Lumley. I'll take you and show you the site tomorrow. The building—i_s a frame-section travelling theatre—will arrive on Thursday—next Thursday."
"But who is in with you, father?"
"I am quite alone—quite alone," said James Houghton. "I have found a_xcellent manager, who knows the whole business thoroughly—a Mr. May. Ver_ice man. Very nice man."
"Rather short and dressed in grey?"
"Yes. And I have been thinking—if Miss Pinnegar will take the cash and issu_ickets: if she will take over the ticket-office: and you will play the piano: and if Mr. May learns the control of the machine—he is having lessons now—: and if I am the indoors attendant, we shan't need any more staff."
"Miss Pinnegar won't take the cash, father."
"Why not? Why not?"
"I can't say why not. But she won't do anything—and if I were you I wouldn'_sk her."
There was a pause.
"Oh, well," said James, huffy. "She isn't indispensable."
And Alvina was to play the piano! Here was a blow for her! She hurried off t_er bedroom to laugh and cry at once. She just saw herself at that piano, banging off the _Merry Widow Waltz_ , and, in tender moments, _The Rosary_.
Time after time, _The Rosary_. While the pictures flickered and the audienc_ave shouts and some grubby boy called "Chot-let, penny a bar! Chot-let, penn_ bar! Chot-let, penny a bar!" away she banged at another tune.
What a sight for the gods! She burst out laughing. And at the same time, sh_hought of her mother and Miss Frost, and she cried as if her heart woul_reak. And then all kinds of comic and incongruous tunes came into her head.
She imagined herself dressing up with most priceless variations. _Linge_onger Lucy_ , for example. She began to spin imaginary harmonies an_ariations in her head, upon the theme of _Linger Longer Lucy_.
> Linger longer Lucy, linger longer Loo.
> How I love to linger longer linger long o' you.
> Listen while I sing, love, promise you'll be true,
> And linger longer longer linger linger longer Loo.
All the tunes that used to make Miss Frost so angry. All the Dream Waltzes an_aiden's Prayers, and the awful songs.
> For in Spooney-ooney Island
> Is there any one cares for me?
> In Spooney-ooney Island
> Why surely there ought to be.
Poor Miss Frost! Alvina imagined herself leading a chorus of collier louts, i_ bad atmosphere of "Woodbines" and oranges, during the intervals when th_ictures had collapsed.
> How'd you like to spoon with me?
> How'd you like to spoon with me?
> ( _Why ra-ther!_ )
> > Underneath the oak-tree nice and shady
> Calling me your tootsey-wootsey lady?
> How'd you like to hug and squeeze,
> ( _Just try me!_ )
> > Dandle me upon your knee,
> Calling me your little lovey-dovey
> How'd you like to spoon with me?
> ( _Oh-h—Go on!_ )
Alvina worked herself into quite a fever, with her imaginings. In the mornin_he told Miss Pinnegar.
"Yes," said Miss Pinnegar, "you see me issuing tickets, don't you? Yes—well.
I'm afraid he will have to do that part himself. And you're going to play th_iano. It's a disgrace! It's a disgrace! It's a disgrace! It's a mercy Mis_rost and your mother are dead. He's lost every bit of shame—every bit—if h_ver had any—which I doubt very much. Well, all I can say, I'm glad I am no_oncerned. And I'm sorry for you, for being his daughter. I'm heart sorry fo_ou, I am. Well, well—no sense of shame—no sense of shame—"
And Miss Pinnegar padded out of the room.
Alvina walked down to Lumley and was shown the site and was introduced to Mr.
May. He bowed to her in his best American fashion, and treated her wit_dmirable American deference.
"Don't you think," he said to her, "it's an admirable scheme?"
"Wonderful," she replied.
"Of cauce," he said, "the erection will be a merely temporary one. Of cauce i_on't be anything to _look_ at: just an old wooden travelling theatre. Bu_then_ —all we need is to make a start."
"And you are going to work the film?" she asked.
"Yes," he said with pride, "I spend every evening with the operator at Marsh'_n Knarborough. Very interesting I find it—very interesting indeed. And _you_re going to play the piano?" he said, perking his head on one side an_ooking at her archly.
"So father says," she answered.
"But what do _you_ say?" queried Mr. May.
"I suppose I don't have any say."
"Oh but _surely_. Surely you won't do it if you don't wish to. That woul_ever do. Can't we hire some young fellow—?" And he turned to Mr. Houghto_ith a note of query.
"Alvina can play as well as anybody in Woodhouse," said James. "We mustn't ad_o our expenses. And wages in particular—"
"But surely Miss Houghton will have her wage. The labourer is worthy of hi_ire. Surely! Even of _her_ hire, to put it in the feminine. And for th_ame wage you could get some unimportant fellow with strong wrists. I'm afrai_t will tire Miss Houghton to death—"
"I don't think so," said James. "I don't think so. Many of the turns she wil_ot need to accompany—"
"Well, if it comes to that," said Mr. May, "I can accompany some of the_yself, when I'm not operating the film. I'm not an expert pianist—but I ca_lay a little, you know—" And he trilled his fingers up and down an imaginar_eyboard in front of Alvina, cocking his eye at her smiling a little archly.
"I'm sure," he continued, "I can accompany anything except a man jugglin_inner-plates—and then I'd be afraid of making him drop the plates. Bu_ongs—oh, songs! _Con molto espressione!_ "
And again he trilled the imaginary keyboard, and smiled his rather fat cheek_t Alvina.
She began to like him. There was something a little dainty about him, when yo_new him better—really rather fastidious. A showman, true enough! Blatant too.
But fastidiously so.
He came fairly frequently to Manchester House after this. Miss Pinnegar wa_ather stiff with him and he did not like her. But he was very happy sittin_hatting tête-à-tête with Alvina.
"Where is your wife?" said Alvina to him.
"My wife! Oh, don't speak of _her_ ," he said comically. "She's in London."
"Why not speak of her?" asked Alvina.
"Oh, every reason for not speaking of her. We don't get on at _all_ well, she and I."
"What a pity," said Alvina.
"Dreadful pity! But what are you to do?" He laughed comically. Then he becam_rave. "No," he said. "She's an impossible person."
"I see," said Alvina.
"I'm sure you _don't_ see," said Mr. May. "Don't—" and here he laid his han_n Alvina's arm—"don't run away with the idea that she's _immoral!_ You'_ever make a greater mistake. Oh dear me, no. Morality's her strongest point.
Live on three lettuce leaves, and give the rest to the char. That's her. Oh, dreadful times we had in those first years. We only lived together for thre_ears. But dear _me!_ how awful it was!"
"There was no pleasing the woman. She wouldn't eat. If I said to her 'Wha_hall we have for supper, Grace?' as sure as anything she'd answer 'Oh, _hall take a bath when I go to bed—that will be my supper.' She was one o_hese advanced vegetarian women, don't you know."
"How extraordinary!" said Alvina.
"Extraordinary! I should think so. Extraordinary hard lines on _me_. And sh_ouldn't let _me_ eat either. She followed me to the kitchen in a _fury_hile I cooked for myself. Why imagine! I prepared a dish of champignons: oh, most _beautiful_ champignons, beautiful—and I put them on the stove to fr_n butter: beautiful young champignons. I'm hanged if she didn't go into th_itchen while my back was turned, and pour a pint of old carrot-water into th_an. I was _furious_. Imagine!—beautiful fresh young champignons—"
"Fresh mushrooms," said Alvina.
"Mushrooms—most beautiful things in the world. Oh! don't you think so?" And h_olled his eyes oddly to heaven.
"They _are_ good," said Alvina.
"I should say so. And swamped— _swamped_ with her dirty old carrot water. O_ was so angry. And all she could say was, 'Well, I didn't want to waste it!'
Didn't want to waste her old carrot water, and so _ruined_ my champignons.
_Can_ you imagine such a person?"
"It must have been trying."
"I should think it was. I lost weight. I lost I don't know how many pounds, the first year I was married to that woman. She hated me to eat. Why, one o_er great accusations against me, at the last, was when she said: 'I've looke_ound the larder,' she said to me, 'and seen it was quite empty, and I though_o myself _Now_ he _can't_ cook a supper! And _then_ you did!' There!
What do you think of that? The spite of it! 'And _then_ you did!"
"What did she expect you to live on?" asked Alvina.
"Nibble a lettuce leaf with her, and drink water from the tap—and then elevat_yself with a Bernard Shaw pamphlet. That was the sort of woman she was. Al_t gave _me_ was gas in the stomach."
"So overbearing!" said Alvina.
"Oh!" he turned his eyes to heaven, and spread his hands. "I didn't believe m_enses. I didn't know such people existed. And her friends! Oh the dreadfu_riends she had—these Fabians!" Oh, their eugenics. They wanted to examine m_rivate morals, for eugenic reasons. Oh, you can't imagine such a state. Wors_han the Spanish Inquisition. And I stood it for three years. _How_ I stoo_t, I don't know—"
"Now don't you see her?"
"Never! I never let her know where I am! But I _support_ her, of cauce."
"And your daughter?"
"Oh, she's the dearest child in the world. I saw her at a friend's when I cam_ack from America. Dearest little thing in the world. But of _cauce_uspicious of me. Treats me as if she didn't _know_ me—"
"What a pity!"
"Oh—unbearable!" He spread his plump, manicured hands, on one finger of whic_as a green intaglio ring.
"How old is your daughter?"
"What is her name?"
"Lemma. She was born in Rome, where I was managing for Miss Maud Callum, th_danseuse_."
Curious the intimacy Mr. May established with Alvina at once. But it was al_urely verbal, descriptive. He made no physical advances. On the contrary, h_as like a dove-grey, disconsolate bird pecking the crumbs of Alvina'_ympathy, and cocking his eye all the time to watch that she did not advanc_ne step towards him. If he had seen the least sign of coming-on-ness in her, he would have fluttered off in a great dither. Nothing _horrified_ him mor_han a woman who was coming-on towards him. It horrified him, it exasperate_im, it made him hate the whole tribe of women: horrific two-legged cat_ithout whiskers. If he had been a bird, his innate horror of a cat would hav_een such. He liked the _angel_ , and particularly the angel-mother in woman.
Oh!—that he worshipped. But coming-on-ness!
So he never wanted to be seen out-of-doors with Alvina; if he met her in th_treet he bowed and passed on: bowed very deep and reverential, indeed, bu_assed on, with his little back a little more strutty and assertive than ever.
Decidedly he turned his back on her in public.
But Miss Pinnegar, a regular old, grey, dangerous she-puss, eyed him from th_orner of her pale eye, as he turned tail.
"So unmanly!" she murmured. "In his dress, in his way, in everything—s_nmanly."
"If I was you, Alvina," she said, "I shouldn't see so much of Mr. May, in th_rawing-room. People will talk."
"I should almost feel flattered," laughed Alvina.
"What do you mean?" snapped Miss Pinnegar.
None the less, Mr. May was dependable in matters of business. He was up a_alf-past five in the morning, and by seven was well on his way. He saile_ike a stiff little ship before a steady breeze, hither and thither, out o_oodhouse and back again, and across from side to side. Sharp and snappy, h_as, on the spot. He trussed himself up, when he was angry or displeased, an_harp, snip-snap came his words, rather like scissors.
"But how is it—" he attacked Arthur Witham—"that the gas isn't connected wit_he main yet? It was to be ready yesterday."
"We've had to wait for the fixings for them brackets," said Arthur.
" _Had_ to _wait_ for _fixings!_ But didn't you know a fortnight ago tha_ou'd want the fixings?"
"I thought we should have some as would do."
"Oh! you thought so! Really! Kind of you to think so. And have you jus_hought about those that are coming, or have you made sure?"
Arthur looked at him sullenly. He hated him. But Mr. May's sharp touch was no_o be foiled.
"I hope you'll go further than _thinking_ ," said Mr. May. "Thinking seem_uch a slow process. And when do you expect the fittings—?"
"What! Another day! Another day _still!_ But you're strangely indifferent t_ime, in your line of business. Oh! _Tomorrow!_ Imagine it! Two days lat_lready, and then _tomorrow!_ Well I hope by tomorrow you mean _Wednesday_ , and not tomorrow's tomorrow, or some other absurd and fanciful date tha_ou've just _thought about_. But now, _do_ have the thing finished b_omorrow—" here he laid his hand cajoling on Arthur's arm. "You promise me i_ill all be ready by tomorrow, don't you?"
"Yes, I'll do it if anybody could do it."
"Don't say 'if anybody could do it.' Say it shall be done."
"It shall if I can possibly manage it—"
"Oh—very well then. Mind you manage it—and thank you very much. I shall b_most_ obliged, if it _is_ done."
Arthur was annoyed, but he was kept to the scratch. And so, early in Octobe_he place was ready, and Woodhouse was plastered with placards announcing
"Houghton's Pleasure Palace." Poor Mr. May could not but see an irony in th_alace part of the phrase. "We can guarantee the _pleasure_ ," he said. "Bu_ersonally, I feel I can't take the responsibility for the palace."
But James, to use the vulgar expression, was in his eye-holes. "Oh, father'_n his eye-holes," said Alvina to Mr. May.
"Oh!" said Mr. May, puzzled and concerned.
But it merely meant that James was having the time of his life. He was drawin_ut announcements. First was a batch of vermilion strips, with the mysti_cript, in big black letters: Houghton's Picture Palace, underneath which, quite small: Opens at Lumley on October 7th, at 6:30 P.M. Everywhere you went, these vermilion and black bars sprang from the wall at you. Then there wer_ther notices, in delicate pale-blue and pale red, like a genuine theatr_otice, giving full programs. And beneath these a broad-letter notic_nnounced, in green letters on a yellow ground: "Final and Ultimate Clearanc_ale at Houghton's, Knarborough Road, on Friday, September 30th. Come and Bu_ithout Price."
James was in his eye-holes. He collected all his odds and ends from ever_orner of Manchester House. He sorted them in heaps, and marked the heaps i_is own mind. And then he let go. He pasted up notices all over the window an_ll over the shop: "Take what you want and Pay what you Like."
He and Miss Pinnegar kept shop. The women flocked in. They turned things over.
It nearly killed James to take the prices they offered. But take them he did.
But he exacted that they should buy one article at a time. "One piece at _ime, if you don't mind," he said, when they came up with their three-a-penn_andfuls. It was not till later in the evening that he relaxed this rule.
Well, by eleven o'clock he had cleared out a good deal—really, a very grea_eal—and many women had bought what they didn't want, at their own figure.
Feverish but content, James shut the shop for the last time. Next day, b_leven, he had removed all his belongings, the door that connected the hous_ith the shop was screwed up fast, the grocer strolled in and looked round hi_are extension, took the key from James, and immediately set his boy to past_ new notice in the window, tearing down all James's announcements. Poor Jame_ad to run round, down Knarborough Road, and down Wellington Street as far a_he Livery Stable, then down long narrow passages, before he could get int_is own house, from his own shop.
But he did not mind. Every hour brought the first performance of his Pleasur_alace nearer. He was satisfied with Mr. May: he had to admit that he wa_atisfied with Mr. May. The Palace stood firm at last—oh, it was so rickett_hen it arrived!—and it glowed with a new coat, all over, of dark-red paint, like ox-blood. It was tittivated up with a touch of lavender and yellow roun_he door and round the decorated wooden eaving. It had a new wooden slope u_o the doors—and inside, a new wooden floor, with red-velvet seats in front, before the curtain, and old chapel-pews behind. The collier youths recognize_he pews.
"Hey! These 'ere's the pews out of the old Primitive Chapel."
"Sorry ah! We'n come ter hear t' parson."
Theme for endless jokes. And the Pleasure Palace was christened, in some luck_troke, Houghton's Endeavour, a reference to that particular Chapel effor_alled the Christian Endeavour, where Alvina and Miss Pinnegar both figured.
"Wheer art off, Sorry?"
So, when one laconic young collier accosted another. But we anticipate.
Mr. May had worked hard to get a program for the first week. His picture_ere: "The Human Bird," which turned out to be a ski-ing film from Norway, purely descriptive; "The Pancake," a humorous film: and then his grand serial:
"The Silent Grip." And then, for Turns, his first item was Miss Poppy Trherne, a lady in innumerable petticoats, who could whirl herself into anything yo_ike, from an arum lily in green stockings to a rainbow and a Catherine whee_nd a cup-and-saucer: marvellous, was Miss Poppy Traherne. The next turn wa_he Baxter Brothers, who ran up and down each other's backs and up and dow_ach other's front, and stood on each other's heads and on their own heads, and perched for a moment on each other's shoulders, as if each of them was _light of stairs with a landing, and the three of them were three flights, three storeys up, the top flight continually running down and becoming th_ottom flight, while the middle flight collapsed and became a horizonta_orridor.
Alvina had to open the performance by playing an overture called "Welcom_ll": a ridiculous piece. She was excited and unhappy. On the Monday mornin_here was a rehearsal, Mr. May conducting. She played "Welcome All," and the_ook the thumbed sheets which Miss Poppy Traherne carried with her. Miss Popp_as rather exacting. As she whirled her skirts she kept saying: "A littl_aster, please"—"A little slower"—in a rather haughty, official voice that wa_omewhat muffled by the swim of her drapery. "Can you give it _expression?_ "
she cried, as she got the arum lily in full blow, and there was a sound o_eal ecstasy in her tones. But why she should have called "Stronger!
Stronger!" as she came into being as a cup and saucer, Alvina could no_magine: unless Miss Poppy was fancying herself a strong cup of tea.
However, she subsided into her mere self, panted frantically, and then, in _oarse voice, demanded if she was in the bare front of the show. She scorne_o count "Welcome All." Mr. May said Yes. She was the first item. Whereupo_he began to raise a dust. Mr. Houghton said, hurriedly interposing, that h_eant to make a little opening speech. Miss Poppy eyed him as if he were _uckoo-clock, and she had to wait till he'd finished cuckooing. Then she said:
"That's not every night. There's six nights to a week." James was properl_nubbed. It ended by Mr. May metamorphizing himself into a pug dog: he said h_ad got the "costoom" in his bag: and doing a lump-of-sugar scene with one o_he Baxter Brothers, as a brief first item. Miss Poppy's professiona_irginity was thus saved from outrage.
At the back of the stage there was half-a-yard of curtain screening the tw_ressing-rooms, ladies and gents. In her spare time Alvina sat in the ladies'
dressing room, or in its lower doorway, for there was not room right inside.
She watched the ladies making up—she gave some slight assistance. She saw th_en's feet, in their shabby pumps, on the other side of the curtain, and sh_eard the men's gruff voices. Often a slangy conversation was carried o_hrough the curtain—for most of the turns were acquainted with each other: very affable before each other's faces, very sniffy behind each other's backs.
Poor Alvina was in a state of bewilderment. She was extremely nice—oh, muc_oo nice with the female turns. They treated her with a sort of off-han_riendliness, and they snubbed and patronized her and were a little spitefu_ith her because Mr. May treated her with attention and deference. She fel_ewildered, a little excited, and as if she was not herself.
The first evening actually came. Her father had produced a pink crêpe de Chin_louse and a back-comb massed with brilliants—both of which she refused t_ear. She stuck to her black blouse and black shirt, and her simple hair- dressing. Mr. May said "Of cauce! She wasn't intended to attract attention t_erself." Miss Pinnegar actually walked down the hill with her, and began t_ry when she saw the oxblood red erection, with its gas-flares in front. I_as the first time she had seen it. She went on with Alvina to the littl_tage door at the back, and up the steps into the scrap of dressing-room. Bu_he fled out again from the sight of Miss Poppy in her yellow hair and gree_nickers with green-lace frills. Poor Miss Pinnegar! She stood outside on th_rodden grass behind the Band of Hope, and really cried. Luckily she had put _eil on.
She went valiantly round to the front entrance, and climbed the steps. Th_rowd was just coming. There was James's face peeping inside the littl_icket-window.
"One!" he said officially, pushing out the ticket. And then he recognized her.
"Oh," he said, " _You're_ not going to pay."
"Yes I am," she said, and she left her fourpence, and James's coppery, grim_ingers scooped it in, as the youth behind Miss Pinnegar shoved her forward.
"Ail way down, fourpenny," said the man at the door, poking her in th_irection of Mr. May, who wanted to put her in the red velvet. But she marche_own one of the pews, and took her seat.
The place was crowded with a whooping, whistling, excited audience. Th_urtain was down. James had let it out to his fellow tradesmen, and i_epresented a patchwork of local adverts. There was a fat porker and a fa_ork-pie, and the pig was saying: "You all know where to find me. Inside th_rust at Frank Churchill's, Knarborough Road, Woodhouse." Round about the nam_f W. H. Johnson floated a bowler hat, a collar-and-necktie, a pair of brace_nd an umbrella. And so on and so on. It all made you feel very homely. Bu_iss Pinnegar was sadly hot and squeezed in her pew.
Time came, and the colliers began to drum their feet. It was exactly th_xcited, crowded audience Mr. May wanted. He darted out to drive James roun_n front of the curtain. But James, fascinated by raking in the money so fast, could not be shifted from the pay-box, and the two men nearly had a fight. A_ast Mr. May was seen shooing James, like a scuffled chicken, down the sid_angway and on to the stage.
James before the illuminated curtain of local adverts, bowing and beginnin_nd not making a single word audible! The crowd quieted itself, the eloquenc_lowed on. The crowd was sick of James, and began to shuffle. "Come down, com_own!" hissed Mr. May frantically from in front. But James did not move. H_ould flow on all night. Mr. May waved excitedly at Alvina, who sat obscurel_t the piano, and darted on to the stage. He raised his voice and drowne_ames. James ceased to wave his penny-blackened hands, Alvina struck up
"Welcome All" as loudly and emphatically as she could.
And all the time Miss Pinnegar sat like a sphinx—like a sphinx. What sh_hought she did not know herself. But stolidly she stared at James, an_nxiously she glanced sideways at the pounding Alvina. She knew Alvina had t_ound until she received the cue that Mr. May was fitted in his pug-dog
A twitch of the curtain. Alvina wound up her final flourish, the curtain rose, and:
"Well really!" said Miss Pinnegar, out loud.
There was Mr. May as a pug dog begging, too lifelike and too impossible. Th_udience shouted. Alvina sat with her hands in her lap. The Pug was a grea_uccess.
Curtain! A few bars of Toreador—and then Miss Poppy's sheets of music. Sof_usic. Miss Poppy was on the ground under a green scarf. And so th_ccumulating dilation, on to the whirling climax of the perfect arum lily.
Sudden curtain, and a yell of ecstasy from the colliers. Of all blossoms, th_rum, the arum lily is most mystical and portentous.
Now a crash and rumble from Alvina's piano. This is the storm from whence th_ainbow emerges. Up goes the curtain—Miss Poppy twirling till her skirts lif_s in a breeze, rise up and become a rainbow above her now darkened legs. Th_ootlights are all but extinguished. Miss Poppy is all but extinguished also.
The rainbow is not so moving as the arum lily. But the Catherine wheel, don_t the last moment on one leg and then an amazing leap into the air backwards, again brings down the house.
Miss Poppy herself sets all store on her cup and saucer. But the audience, vulgar as ever, cannot quite see it.
And so, Alvina slips away with Miss Poppy's music-sheets, while Mr. May sit_own like a professional at the piano and makes things fly for the up-and- down-stairs Baxter Bros. Meanwhile, Alvina's pale face hovering like a ghos_n the side darkness, as it were under the stage.
The lamps go out: gurglings and kissings—and then the dither on the screen:
"The Human Bird," in awful shivery letters. It's not a very good machine, an_r. May is not a very good operator. Audience distinctly critical. Light_p—an "Chot-let, penny a bar! Chot-let, penny a bar!" even as in Alvina'_ream—and then "The Pancake"—so the first half over. Lights up for th_nterval.
Miss Pinnegar sighed and folded her hands. She looked neither to right nor t_eft. In spite of herself, in spite of outraged shame and decency, she wa_xcited. But she felt such excitement was not wholesome. In vain the boy mos_ertinently yelled "Chot-let" at her. She looked neither to right nor left.
But when she saw Alvina nodding to her with a quick smile from the sid_angway under the stage, she almost burst into tears. It was too much for her, all at once. And Alvina looked almost indecently excited. As she slippe_cross in front of the audience, to the piano, to play the seductive "Drea_altz!" she looked almost fussy, like her father. James, needless to say, flittered and hurried hither and thither around the audience and the stage, like a wagtail on the brink of a pool.
The second half consisted of a comic drama acted by two Baxter Bros., disguised as women, and Miss Poppy disguised as a man—with a couple of local_hrown in to do the guardsman and the Count. This went very well. The windin_p was the first instalment of "The Silent Grip."
When lights went up and Alvina solemnly struck "God Save Our Gracious King,"
the audience was on its feet and not very quiet, evidently hissing wit_xcitement like doughnuts in the pan even when the pan is taken off the fire.
Mr. Houghton thanked them for their courtesy and attention, and hoped—An_obody took the slightest notice.
Miss Pinnegar stayed last, waiting for Alvina. And Alvina, in her excitement, waited for Mr. May and her father.
Mr. May fairly pranced into the empty hall.
"Well!" he said, shutting both his fists and flourishing them in Mis_innegar's face. "How did it go?"
"I think it went very well," she said.
"Very well! I should think so, indeed. It went like a house on fire. What?
Didn't it?" And he laughed a high, excited little laugh.
James was counting pennies for his life, in the cash-place, and dropping the_nto a Gladstone bag. The others had to wait for him. At last he locked hi_ag.
"Well," said Mr. May, "done well?"
"Fairly well," said James, huskily excited. "Fairly well."
"Only fairly? Oh-h!" And Mr. May suddenly picked up the bag. James turned a_f he would snatch it from him. "Well! Feel that, for fairly well!" said Mr.
May, handing the bag to Alvina.
"Goodness!" she cried, handing it to Miss Pinnegar.
"Would you believe it?" said Miss Pinnegar, relinquishing it to James. But sh_poke coldly, aloof.
Mr. May turned off the gas at the meter, came talking through the darkness o_he empty theatre, picking his way with a flash-light.
"C'est le premier pas qui coute," he said, in a sort of American French, as h_ocked the doors and put the key in his pocket. James tripped silentl_longside, bowed under the weight of his Gladstone bag of pennies.
"How much have we taken, father?" asked Alvina gaily.
"I haven't counted," he snapped.
When he got home he hurried upstairs to his bare chamber. He swept his tabl_lear, and then, in an expert fashion, he seized handfuls of coin and pile_hem in little columns on his board. There was an army of fat pennies, a doze_o a column, along the back, rows and rows of fat brown rank-and-file. I_ront of these, rows of slim halfpence, like an advance-guard. And commandin_ll, a stout column of half-crowns, a few stoutish and important florin- figures, like general and colonels, then quite a file of shillings, like s_any captains, and a little cloud of silvery lieutenant sixpences. Right a_he end, like a frail drummer boy, a thin stick of three-penny pieces.
There they all were: burly dragoons of stout pennies, heavy and holding thei_round, with a screen of halfpenny light infantry, officered by the immovabl_alf-crown general, who in his turn was flanked by all his staff of flori_olonels and shilling captains, from whom lightly moved the nimble six-penn_ieutenants all ignoring the wan, frail Joey of the threepenny-bits.
Time after time James ran his almighty eye over his army. He loved them. H_oved to feel that his table was pressed down, that it groaned under thei_eight. He loved to see the pence, like innumerable pillars of cloud, standin_aiting to lead on into wildernesses of unopened resource, while the silver, as pillars of light, should guide the way down the long night of fortune.
Their weight sank sensually into his muscle, and gave him gratification. Th_ark redness of bronze, like full-blooded fleas, seemed alive and pulsing, th_ilver was magic as if winged.