Friday and Mr Bridges talked to Mr Dupret in the office. ‘It’s like this Dick,’ he said, ‘Walters telephoned me to say you were coming down but the wire was so bad I couldn’t for the life of me hear all he had to tell me. Well when he had had his say I told ‘im I thought of putting the men on short time, but the wire being as it was, ‘e didn’t hear it. That’s how you didn’t come to know. The fact is we’re right up to the quota that your dad laid down was safe to carry stock to. And as there’s very little coming in you can’t keep the men and ‘ave nothing for ‘em to do.’
‘No of course not. But in future I’d be grateful if you would write a letter to go through our files. What I mean is it looks better if we seem to have a say in it,’ Mr Dupret said smiling.
‘There’s no dirty work going on here, Dick.’
‘No, no I know there’s not. I didn’t mean that. Only you must spare our feelings up there Mr Bridges, you must make us feel a little more important than we are perhaps.’
He was not being sarcastic. They had made up differences and Mr Bridges had said he liked a man who spoke out. But they were quite ready, both of them, to break out again. Indeed Bridges had said to wife, dramatizing, that he only stayed on still out of loyalty to the memory of the chief.
‘Well you see Dick, this is how it was. We start our working week Wednesdays. It was simpler to start short time on Thursday or the books would get cockeyed. And I was watching the quota like a cat watches a mouse, watching it all the time. As soon as ever we were right up to it I came down and put the whole show on short time till we could get more orders.’
‘Exactly. Well now it’s all straight in my mind. But you’ll remember about next time. I’m not sure we couldn’t carry more stock but still I don’t want to bring that up. How are the men taking it Mr Bridges?’
‘That’s the rub, that’s the rub. If we have to work short more’n a week or two all our best men will be leaving us. I got a good team together, it’d break my heart if it was broken up.’
‘I suppose it’s only the young men will go?’
‘Yes, it’s the young chaps that’ll send for their cards.’
‘That’s the disaster, to my mind. You’re always telling me how difficult it is to get fully trained younger men. And of course the old men will hang on and be a millstone round our necks.’
‘Ah I know you,’ cried Mr Bridges and hit Mr Dupret on the back with palm of his hand.
‘For God’s sake don’t hit me’ said Mr Dupret.
‘Sorry’ said Mr Bridges, ‘but the old men ain’t so ‘opeless as you young fellers would like to think. In the iron foundry now there’s one or two older men I wouldn’t part with for love or money. And the crane driver in the engineers, Aaron Connolly, rising seventy, I wouldn’t part with him for love or money.’
‘The iron foundry is just one of the things I wanted to talk to you about.’
‘Go ahead’ Mr Bridges said complacently.
‘Well you’ve always told me there’s no money to be made in iron founding but — you know, I’m not trying to be quarrelsome — isn’t that rather a defeatist policy?’
‘Diabetes?’ said Mr Bridges.
‘No I meant isn’t that lying down before you’re hit? If we can’t make money in that horrible foundry can’t we lose a little less at the very least.’
‘That’s just what I’m working for the whole time, I’m always after that place. But there’s not one in all Brummagem but doesn’t lose more money than we do.’
‘Well look here, I’ve been talking it over’ — talking it over eh? Mr Bridges cried in mind, ‘and I think we ought to change our policy. What we do now as I understand it is to let the men work comparatively slow so as to be sure each job is a good one and not a waster.’
‘They don’t idle Dick,’ said Mr Bridges.
‘No, I don’t mean they work idly but since we are all agreed we can’t put them on piece work owing to the nature of the work what I want is that we should get rid of the old men, give the others a bit of extra money, and drive them a bit, taking our chance on the wasters. The point is that the old men keep production down with the tone they give the shop.’
‘Taking our chance on the wasters eh?’ said Mr Bridges. He laughed. ‘No lad it won’t do. I remember they tried that at the O.K. when I was with ‘em. D’you know what ‘appened, they went down’ on production by fifteen per cent.’
‘What sort of a manager did they have?’
‘They ‘ad a man. ‘E wasn’t a fairy.’
‘Well opinions differ, that’s all I can say.’
‘Who doesn’t think so?’ Mr Bridges said defiantly.
‘Your subordinates don’t.’
‘What, Cummings?’ Bridges thought he had made Mr Richard give away Tarver.
‘Cummings? I’d rather ask Lot’s wife what she thought of salt,’ said Mr Dupret and was so pleased with that, it seemed to him so in the Bridges tradition, he thought he would go away on it.
‘Well, it’s lunch time,’ he said pleasantly and went out
Mr Bridges did not laugh.
Friday morning. While Mrs Eames visited Mr Craigan Miss Gates was walking back from Labour Exchange where she had got pamphlets on Canada.
She felt now they must be practical. No longer now she thought of tea plantations.
She thought how Mr Craigan had said it was the demand for men raised wages, only that. It was most practical to go where men were wanted.
They would be married in Liverpool, where his parents were. Then they would go.
But she loved Mr Craigan. She thought then he had been father to her for years and years. Now he was old and he was ill, she didn’t ought to leave him, not now. ‘But us workin’ people, we got to work for our living, yes we have,’ she cried out in mind, quoting Mr Jones, ‘and go out to find the work.’
She thought how Mr Craigan was rich enough, was no need for him to work with the money he had put by. He would not be comfortable as she had made him but he could pay for comfort.
Mr Gates. She owed him nothing, nothing at all.
(She had forgotten Mr Dale.)
Mr Dupret walked down the street Lily was walking down.
He thought it was not poverty you saw in this quarter, the artisan class lived here, but a kind of terrible respectability on too little money. And what was in all this, he said as he was feeling now, or in any walk of life — you were born, you went to school, you worked, you married, you worked harder, you had children, you went on working, with a good deal of trouble your children grew up, then they married. What had you before you died? Grandchildren? The satisfaction of breeding the glorious Anglo Saxon breed?
He thought how he would sit in office chairs for another forty years, gradually taking to golf at the week-ends or the cultivation of gardenias. All because of Miss Glossop.
But these people, how much worse it was, he at least, he thought, had money. These people had music of course, but second-hand music. Still they had really only marriage and growing old. Every day in the year, every year, if they were lucky they went to work all through daylight. That is, the men did. Time passed quickly for them, in a rhythm. But it was the monotony, as one had said to him.
Coming to a recreation ground he walked into it and made to go across. At the gate he passed Lily and did not notice her, she was so like the others. Here, because it was mid-morning, some mothers had brought out their children too young still to walk. Cold winter sunshine. They stood about in groups while older children with cries ran about, like trying to catch their cries in the air, the boys at football, the girls at some game of their own. Passing through this he shuddered, a sense of foreboding gathered in him. What will they grow up to he thought in mind — they’ll work, they’ll marry, they’ll work harder, have children and go on working, they’ll die. He shuddered. Then he forgot all about them and thought about himself.
But Lily coming through the gate saw children running and those mothers and she stood and watched them, feeling out of it. ‘I must have babies,’ she said then, looking at baby in mother’s arms. She was not excited when she said it. Just now she was being very practical.
Going down road after this, to Mr Craigan, excitement took hold on her. Every woman she passed, were mostly women in the streets now, every woman she looked at like she was a queen, they her subjects, was an eagle in her eyes.
What were they to her, they were like sheep and would always be here, was no kind of independence in them she thought in image in her mind, like lettuces in a row they were, yes, separate from one another but in one teeny plot of land.
Ashamed at so much imagining she thought then oh if I could break out now and run, yes and run in to grandad and scream to him I’ve got them, I got the things about Canada.
But thought of him being against it quietened her. So like any other girl there, only she had no shopping basket, she walked down the street only if you looked it was all over her face, what she was feeling.
Lily went home to get Mr Craigan his midday meal. She did not speak much to him and again he wondered at her. So it was only when she had washed the plates up afterwards that she sat down and read about Canada.
Then she took some clothes that were to be mended. Putting away the leaflets in her dress she went to window of the kitchen, and sat there where she could look over garden at the back and not be seen. In her senses she felt golden light covering a golden land, that was how she saw it from what she had been reading, and she thought how she always did love darning — and what it would be to her when she was mending for someone more particular, or her own child. Something fluttered at her fingers. (How can you darn when as it might be a bird is in your hand, fluttering between thumb and fingers.) Panting she laid her needle down. That’s funny, she thought, my not being able to darn, and why, I’m all out of breath.
Now, for first time that year, day lingered noticeably in sky as the hour grew later, clouds were blown away or melted, I don’t know, only all of a sudden spring nodded from a clear sky and most beautifully that clear light hung there far into evening. She folded hands in her lap. Everywhere round became suddenly quiet. Then syrens in the factories began sounding, mournful sound.
When she heard the syrens she rose from chair and put bread and cheese on the table, for other than bread and cheese no supper was put out on Fridays. She went upstairs to Mr Craigan to see if he wanted anything but he did not. She hardly noticed him. Now, the syrens having sounded, she was disappointed.
Now also in Mr Dupret’s factory the men were being paid week’s wages. Every pay envelope had at least £1 less in it as this had been a short week. Mr Gates and Mr Dale came back home silent. Joe was in bad temper because he had less money and because he had been put to work with another man who had more to do than Mr Craigan. Mr Dale was desperate because he had been put onto small work after Craigan’s being ill had broken up the gang they worked in, all three of them.
When Mr Gates had finished washing he looked at bread and cheese on the table and spat. Lily said not to spit on the floor but into the grate if he had to spit. He did not listen to what she told him but said you got tired of the women never keeping any money to end of a week, and wasn’t he entitled to a hot supper who had worked to fill her mouth. She said it always had been the custom with them to go out to a fish and chip on Friday nights. He said oil they fried the fish in was machine oil. She said particular wasn’t he all at once and what about her who had to clean it up when he spat on floor. He said: ‘Well, if it’s been the custom to go out for a bit of fish Friday nights then it’s all along of the same custom that I spit on the floor and spit I do,’ he said and spat again.
Mr Dale sat and ate bread and cheese. They had had a short week yet he did not dare to give her less money than he always gave. One day, he thought so to speak, she must remember my goodness, that I would be a good husband to her, bringing the money back regular at end of the week. And if he gave less money than he always gave he did not dare to face her reproaches. He must risk nothing now that might offend Miss Gates. So when Mr Gates’ back was turned to the bread and cheese he said here was his money for her housekeeping. Row with her father had made her forget short time they had been working and without saying a word she took it and put it in her dress. She asked Mr Gates what about him? He said here you are and puts down money on the table. She says what, only that much? He says yes and if that isn’t enough well she doesn’t have any, and snatches it back again.
She said that was half what Mr Craigan had said they should all give. He says well wasn’t it a short week and why should he pay for Bert Jones into the movies with money he gave for housekeeping money. Why should he pay for Bert Jones into cinemas at all he says. She began to cry. He mimicked her, he was old, it was terrible the way he did it.
When, after that, in height of their argument Mr Gates hit his daughter she went upstairs to get hat and coat and then left the house. Mr Dale was very angry. He said to Joe to get out of it before the old man heard, Lily he said was gone up now to tell him. Mr Gates did go but he said ever since Craigan had been sick he had felt a new man. He was the girl’s father, when she asked for a clout he’d give her one. What business was it of the old man’s he said if he had kicked his daughter where it would hurt her most, and that’s what he would do next time. He went and, greatly daring, he tried to drink all the money that night he had taken for a week’s work, thing he had not done since he was a lad.
Mr Dale went upstairs to Mr Craigan. He thought he would find Lily there but Craigan told him she had not been in after they had come in from work. He was sorry. He had hoped to benefit when he found her womanlike, as he thought, in tears beside Mr Craigan’s bed. Or he hoped to make all that might be said about it felt, as she was not one to take being hit quietly and what had happened made him afraid.
‘Joe hit ‘er.’
‘What did ‘e’it ‘er for?’
‘Why ‘e wouldn’t give ‘er the money, seeing we’ve had a short week.’
‘Where would ‘er be now?’ Mr Craigan said.
‘I don’t know where she would be,’ said Mr Dale, ‘now you say she’s gone outside.’