Mr Craigan sat by bed at their home in Birmingham in which was Miss Gates.
‘Dear heart,’ he said, ‘don’t grieve so.’
Sobs tore her.
He put hand over her eyes, her eyes, tears would not come from them. Sobs seemed as though they would split her. ‘Quiet, quiet,’ he said. Her troubles stood up in her feeling like plinths to her. Sobs in spasms retched through body. Tear ran down by his nose then another, then from under his hand tears came from her eyes. Her body sank into the bed, down. Then she did not retch any more and tears came to her parched mouth and softened lips there and she opened them and sucked tears in. Her tears came more freely and she turned face into the pillow and they made wet patch on this.
Then, as after rain so the sky shines and again birds rise up into sky and turn there with still movements so her sorrow folded wings, so gently crying she sank deeper into the bed and was quieted. He still kept hand over her eyes, but she was quieted.
Sweat poured out from all her body now.
Miss Gates was still sleeping. Mr Craigan coming into room saw mass of her shapeless in the bed. Out of this her hair was like short golden rivers. When he came in she woke up and jumped round in bed.
He was carrying in his two hands — (in his two hands for his one hand would have spilt it, they trembled so, he was old,) — he carried cup of tea. Sleep still lay on her, from up on her elbows she watched him. He came up to the bed and looked to see where he would put down the tea. He put the cup on floor. He brought chair up. With difficulty he bent down and put the cup of tea onto chair. She thought when she saw him do this oh not on the chair, not that way, look at him, he would spill it. When he had safely put it down she thought how kind of him, how kind, how kind he was.
Year after year, every day after every day, she had brought him cup of tea in the morning.
She made to get up. He pushed her onto her back again.
‘I brought you a cup o’ tea.’
‘You oughtn’t, no, you oughtn’t.’
‘Lie you back, my wench, you’ll stay where you is today.’
‘But what about Jim’s tea?’
‘ ‘E’s gone.’
‘Gone?’ Miss Gates said. Mr Craigan did not answer. Oh dear, oh dear but she thought she better not say anything.
‘There’s Joe,’ she said.
‘ ‘E’s gone too.’
‘Joe gone too?’ She began crying. ‘Oh dear, Joe gone too.’
‘Was you about then all the time I was away?’
‘You drink up that tea.’
She cried. She began drinking tea. She cried. Between catching her breaths she had sip of tea.
‘You lie there all today,’ he said, ‘an’ I’ll get you a bite to eat. You must be wore out.’
He went downstairs and sat on chair in kitchen. She went to sleep again.
Later when he came up again she was still sleeping. He did not wake her.
Later she woke. He’d said for her to stay in bed, so she’d better stay. She looked at empty tea cup. Then she lay over on her back and looked at ceiling.
She thought now her father would have told everyone she’d gone when he left the house. What had he gone for? All the street would know. But they didn’t make no difference to her, she’d behave like she didn’t notice them. What they said didn’t touch her.
Downstairs Craigan thought it was likely nobody didn’t know. She hadn’t mixed much ever with the other women, only thing was Mrs Eames calling round like she had night before last. And as it was Liverpool they’d gone to, so she’d told him when she got in last night, it wasn’t likely there’d be anyone knew her in Liverpool. And it was likely Mrs Eames came just by chance. Anyroad she hadn’t asked after her. But what had they been up to when they got to Liverpool?
Lily was now thinking she couldn’t abide their eyes on her. She couldn’t stand the way they’d look at her. No she thought she’d never be able to stand face to face with them, no never, never again, it was awful. Mr Craigan came up. He came into her room. He went over to chair at side of her bed and put the cup and saucer onto mantelpiece, then he sat on the chair.
‘Let’s ‘ave it from start to finish,’ he said.
She lay on her back in bed and her face on pillow was away from him so all he could see was her cheek and one side of her nose.
‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘we walked an’ walked.’
‘Begin at the beginnin’,’ he said.
‘Well I wonder you didn’t notice me makin’ all those clothes and all, yes, but I didn’t think you would. You were only men all of you so I didn’t trouble, I just made ‘em under your noses. Then goin’ out with my bag like that, you’d ‘ve thought you’d ‘ave stopped me, but no not a word and there I went with all the street watching me, the eyes nearly dropping out of their ‘eads I expect. But it was funny,’ Miss Gates said forgetting to be defiant and now getting interested, ‘it was funny but I didn’t meet no one. Except at the corner of James Road and Hobmore Lane I made sure there was Mrs Ludd but no I didn’t meet no one all the way to the station. And there was ‘im on the station platform with a bunch of tulips in ‘is right ‘and, yes, but oh well, well we got into the train and it went off. It was all right for a bit but then ‘e ‘ad to get out at Derby and then after that I don’t know but nothing seemed to go right.’
‘Wasn’t that train slow,’ said Miss Gates continuing after gulping. Now she lay looking up to the ceiling. She frowned a little. ‘And we couldn’t get anything to eat. I couldn’t eat any dinner that morning only you didn’t notice none of you, but I ‘ad too much on me mind and we didn’t like to nip out of the train to buy something, it might ‘ave gone on you see and left one of us behind. O it was slow. Then we went on and on and it got like darker and darker, we was very quiet, and I got frightened. You see it was him bringing them tulips give me a turn at the start and then—’ she turned face over away from him again, ‘O I did wish I was back ‘ere.’
She stopped. He did not say anything. He looked at his slippers. Then she went on:
‘Well then, it seemed like hours and hours, and then we got to a little station and there was nine men on the platform, I counted them, and they all got in an’ once the train started they began playing, it was a band. On a Sunday! One of them ‘ad a green muffler on and soon as I saw it I said to myself there’s a bad luck for you. Then after that there was that black that ‘ad a green muffler when we was walking, that was in Liverpool. We come to a place in the road where they ‘ad arc lamps up. They ‘ad a crane there. There was three men right up on it doing somethin’ and a great crowd of people below, I was frightened.’
Here again she stopped.
‘When we got to Liverpool,’ she said, ‘it was night time and I knew I wouldn’t like the town. But he took me to a posh place on the platform, not just a ordinary tea room and we ‘ad a bite to eat there. That kind of put ‘eart into me but that’s what it was,’ she said, ‘yes, I ‘ad too much heart, I didn’t ought to ‘ave been there at all. Then we got on a tram an’ I didn’t like the looks of that town, yes I thought I’ll never be happy ‘ere and then ‘e took me off it, and we went to the first address. You see he didn’t know where ‘is people lived exactly, they’d changed addresses, O yes it’s true, I know that by the way ‘e left me. Well then we went from place to place. There was those arc lamps and the black, O it’s like a dream and the ships ‘ooting, I couldn’t make out what that was at first. And then you see we couldn’t find them. By the time it came to that I was too tired to take notice, we’d come so far. Then ‘e took me to a road where the trams went and I thought we was just going on again but I was crying then and no wonder and there, he said,’ said she extemporizing but she believed now he had said it, which he never had,’ “well Lil it’s goodbye now” he says, “I ain’t no good, you’d better go ‘ome.”’
Here Miss Gates cried.
‘Was that all?’ Mr Craigan said.
‘Oh I don’t know ‘ow I found the train. Next thing I remember was being sick, oh dear I didn’t sleep at all an’ being sick gave me black eyes. And when we got to Birmingham I couldn’t come back home by daylight, you see someone might spot me. So I waited about till it was dark. And then I came, when you let me in.’
Here she was so grateful to him for letting her back that she grew small again and her eyes looking at him were warm, adoring. Was silence. She drew out her arm from under bedclothes and laid it over his hands. He opened his hands and her forearm lay in over open palms. Was silence.
‘Aye, he weren’t much of a man,’ he said.
‘No grandad he was. Things is different now to what they were in your day.’
‘Then you daint pass the night with ‘im?’
‘You would ‘ave done when I was a lad.’
‘Yes but things is different now you see, yes, they are really. Yes we didn’t go for that.’
‘What for then?’
‘We went to better ourselves, and grandad I do wish we ‘adn’t gone.’
‘You were dreamin’.’
‘Nothin’ ever come of dreams like them kind,’ he said. ‘Nothin’ dain’t ever come of dreams, I could ‘ave told yer but that wouldn’t be of no use, you ‘ad to find out of yourselves and so you ‘ave,’ he said.
That morning Mr Craigan went out to buy food for both of them and Mrs Eames took it into her head to call on Miss Gates. Mrs Eames had not seen Lily about for some days. She had met Mr Craigan as he went out that morning to buy food and he had said Lily had a fever when Mrs Eames had asked after her. So Mrs Eames called in, thinking for a moment in her mind men did not know how to care for anybody when they were sick and it would be neighbourly in her to call round.
When Mrs Eames came up Lily of course was frightened with her at first. Then she began to make allusions to Liverpool. These Mrs Eames did not notice. She was too full of her child which was due any time now. She had now in her feeling contempt for this girl which had never had kids. Yet she felt kindly towards her because she thought Lily had man of her own, Mr Jones, and so was to be respected.
Both now had longing to talk of their own affairs. Mrs Eames hung back from speaking openly about herself, (she spoke now in sighs), not openly because she had in her feeling of superiority, Lily because she was frightened. Lily saw in mind Mrs Eames believing she had a kid coming in nine months time and her superiority, which Lily guessed at, was because hers would be bastard and Mrs Eames’ legitimate. But she wasn’t going to have a child, she’d had no chance to get one, but they’d never believe that, oh dear. When the nine months was up and she still didn’t have one they’d only say she was one of the lucky ones or careful ones. But Mrs Eames was not thinking of Miss Gates, even if she were she had no call to be suspicious of her.
Is nothing wonderful in migrating birds but when we see them we become muddled in our feeling, we think it so romantic they should go so far, far. Is nothing wonderful in a woman carrying but Mrs Eames was muddled in her feeling by it. As these birds would go where so where would this child go? She thought this and Lily in her thinking now was simpler still, as she had done wrong so she had to suffer for it, thought she. Both sat intent, not saying anything now. Their relation one with the other was like two separate triangles. Till strain of that silence worked on Miss Gates till she broke it, so scattering her intentness. She said when you had done wrong you had to suffer for it. When she had gone to Liverpool it had been wrong in her to go she said. Mrs Eames. said she’d gone to Liverpool? With Bert Jones then? Lily said hadn’t she heard, why she’d thought all the street would know but Mrs Eames, with fine return said she’d had all day been gossiping lately but hadn’t heard a word.
‘Your time’s coming?’
‘Yes, ‘e or she’ll be bawling to the world in a day or two now.’
‘Then you hadn’t ‘eard.’
‘No, not a breath of it. Then you’ve come back,’ said Mrs Eames. Lily was shocked at so little feeling in Mrs Eames. When she had expanded, had burst into admitting, so her intentness had scattered and now it crystallized in her again.
‘Don’t nobody know?’
Mrs Eames shook her head, looking now at Lily who was a bit disappointed at first.
‘No, nobody,’ Mrs Eames said, ‘and I don’t want to ‘ear, not now anyway, I got too much on me mind with ‘er coming — ‘cos she’ll be a gal won’t you, love. I’m praying she won’t sneeze every time the sun goes out like ‘er dad but then,’ she said, from charity perhaps, ‘I certainly didn’t know about you. Don’t you worry your ‘ead about it dear, stick by old Craigan now you’re back. I suppose you ‘aven’t a kid coming?’
‘Yes I know I ‘aven’t’ said Miss Gates with irritation and bitterness.
‘Well I’m sure I’m surprised at ‘earing what you just told me,’ Mrs Eames said and then said the doctors told you against going out too much, she’d better be going back and went back home.
This decided Miss Gates to get up. She felt she must get to work on the house to still her thoughts. She thought we got no one but ourselves, you learn that, yes, you do.
Some days later, when his ten days were up, Mr Gates came back. It was in morning, when Lily had gone out to buy food. Gates came into kitchen and found Mr Craigan in shirt sleeves again and his slippers.
‘ ‘Ere we am,’ said Gates with forced sort of joviality.
‘Lil’s back, but it makes I laugh to see you,’ Mr Craigan said. ‘Aint you a lumpin’ sort of young fool. By Christ as if that time fifteen year ago weren’t enough, ah and almost to a day, but you go and ‘as to get run in again.’
‘I’ll get back on that copper if it takes me my ‘ealth. But did you say Lil was back.’
‘You won’t,’ said Mr Craigan. He groped for something to say to him. But he was old now. He felt he should bawl him out over it. But he could not find anything to say to him except ‘ ‘ah ‘er’s come back.’
Then quickly he brought out what he had planned.
‘I got a job for you.’
‘No but you’ll go to Prescotts and when they come out at end of the day you’ll stop Jim and bring ‘im back ‘ere to board like ‘e used to.’
‘What, did ‘e go too?’
‘Yes an’ I’m tellin’ yer if you don’t bring ‘im back then you mightn’t come back at all, yes my lad you’ll ‘ave to find someone else to feed you because I’m through with you.’
‘After twenty year.’
‘I got no money.’
‘After twenty year together.’
‘Don’t talk silly.’
‘It’s you will look silly.’
‘Look ‘ere’ said Mr Gates — he had discovered this in prison, ‘don’t you be too sure of that. It’d be a pretty thing for a man like you, not too old oh no, to be living with a young wench that bears no relation to yer.’ Mr Gates thought what luck she should be back for as he had thought in prison if only she had been home he would be all right. Now she was back. Things did not often happen that way. Indeed he was all right. Craigan was imprisoned by his love for Lily, he was tied down by it. Miss Gates chained him to her father and this he had never seen. So when Mr Gates spoke out Craigan seemed to shrink and now for ever, except for one time later, his old authority was gone. At last he said weakly.
‘You go and get Jim.’
‘I ain’t got no money,’ said Mr Gates with confidence. Craigan sat silent for a long time then. At last he thought was no help for it.
‘ ‘Ere’s a bob then,’ said he. That’s what comes of talking he thought in mind, blackmail and all through a word dropped edgeways, many a man ‘as lost everything by it. It’s a funny kind of world, he said in mind, first you work with a man for twenty years and then he tries to blackmail you. ‘And ‘e’s got me but what do I care,’ he said in mind.
As pigeon never fly far from house which provides for them (except when they are taken off then they fly back there), as they might be tied by piece of string to that house, so Mr Craigan’s eyes did not leave off from Lily where she went. We are imprisoned by that person whom we love. In the same way as pigeon have an almost irritating knack of homing so our thoughts are coming back. And as the fancier soon forgets to wonder at their sure return so we forget to notice, as we get used to it, which way our thoughts are turned. And which way our eyes.
For now, wherever Miss Gates went there Mr Craigan followed with his eyes. As her hand fell so his eyes dropped, when she got up his eyes rose up to her from where he sat in chair. He was not watching, it was like these pigeons, that flying in a circle always keep that house in sight, so we are imprisoned, with that kind of liberty tied down.
Uncertainty also gripped Mr Craigan, or rather a certainty. He thought when she wasn’t many days older, strong hearty wench as her would soon find another man and they would be married this time, she would see to that, he thought. And then what would he do, would they have him? Where would he live?
That was very much, from his position, what Mr Gates was thinking. He thought if Lily didn’t marry Dale and married someone else then he was nowhere. A man can’t live on the old age pension, 10/— a week won’t feed you and keep a roof over you. If you don’t sleep under a roof then they put you in prison. He was too old to get another job, nobody would take him in but this house where he was now, he was too old to tramp. Only thing was, he thought, was to prevent her ever marrying again.
So at this first dinner after he had been let out, he made no mention of her having gone away and she did not speak to him of where he had been. He even tried to compliment her and found one to say which he thought good and which also reminded her he was her father. He said it had always gladdened him she was not cleg handed like her mother had been.
Then he thought and later he said why didn’t she eat more, she didn’t eat enough, not sufficient to feed a pigeon, he said.
Soon he was only thinking how he could stop Mr Dale from coming here to live when he went to ask him back this evening.