Mr Bert Jones with Mr Herbert Tomson, who smoked cigarette, walked along street. They did not speak. Then blowing ash from cigarette end he said:
‘I’m going off.’
‘Where to? Down the road?’
‘I’m going off. I’m fed up. In this country it’s nothin’ doin’ all the time. I’m going to Orstrylia.’
‘What d’you want to go there for?’
‘You can’t get on in this country. You’ll never get out of that tool room an’ll be lucky if you stay there, just the same as I shan’t never get off the bench in the engineers but be there all my life. I’m goin’ to get off while there’s nothin’ keepin’ me. You can get somewhere out in Orstrylia.’
‘And what’ll you do when you get there?’
‘I got an aunt out there.’
‘I got you fixed in me mind’s eye tucking away lamb with mint sauce.’
‘I wouldn’t go ranching not me but in the shops out there where you’ve got a chance not like ‘ere where you’re lucky if you keep the job.’
‘Well they say there’s a lot of unemployment out there.’
‘It’s those that don’t want a day’s work I’m for getting on.’
‘There won’t be no job for you ‘Erbert. Take my tip, don’t you go, not for nothing. They’ll only ship you back again and where’ll you be then?’
‘I’ll ‘ave ‘ad the trip any road.’
‘No but honest are you going?’
Craigan sat at head of table in his house. His mate Mr Gates sat with him to supper and his mate’s daughter brought over shepherd’s pie from range and the young fellow also was at table who worked with him also in the foundry, Jim Dale.
She laid dish on the table. She wiped red, wet hands on dishcloth. She said:
‘Mr Craigan Mrs Eames that’s next door, her sister says a job’s going with the packers at Waley’s.’
‘None o’ the womenfolk go to work from the house I inhabit’ he said.
‘Don’t get thinking crazy Lily’ her father said to her and she wiped fingers white. She carried dirty plates to the sink then.
She came back to table and ate of the shepherd’s pie. She took big helping. Her father swallowed mouthful and said:
‘You got a appetite’ he said. ‘You didn’t ought to eat that much. Yer mother was sparin’.’
Craigan said: ‘Who’d think anybody was the worser off for eatin’ a stomach-full at her age.’
Weather was hot. They lived back of a street and kitchen which they ate in was on to their garden. Range made kitchen hotter. A man next door to them kept racing pigeon and these were in slow air. They ate in shirt sleeves. Plump she was. They did not say much.
Baby howled till mother there lifted him from bed to breast and sighed most parts asleep in darkness. Gluttonously baby sucked. Then he choked for a moment. Then he slept. Mrs Eames held baby and slept again.
Later woke Mr Eames. Sun shone in room and Mrs woke.
‘Oh dear’ he cried. He sneezed.
‘What makes you always sneeze at the sun I don’t know’ she said most parts asleep and he said ‘another day.’ She now was not quite woke up and said you wouldn’t believe, she was so happy now.
‘Dear me’ he murmured sliding back into sleep.
Later alarm clock sounded next door. They woke. She began to get out of bed and he put on his spectacles. ‘Another day’ he said after he sneezed. She said was one thing to these houses with narrow walls it saved buying alarm clocks; ‘they’re ten and six now if they’re a tanner and it’s wonderful to me old Craigan let his folk buy one.’ Rod of iron he ruled with in that house she said, pulling on stockings, ‘or more likely a huge great poker. That poor girl’ she said, ‘and not even his daughter but ‘e won’t let ‘er go out to work, nor out of the House Hardly’; and he said, quite awake, ‘Oho, listen to your haitches.’
Lily Gates and Jim Dale, who was Mr Craigan’s young mate in iron foundry, stood in queue outside cinema on Friday night. They said nothing to each other. Later they got in and found seats. Light rain had been falling, so when these two acting on screen walked by summer night down leafy lane, hair over her ears left wet on his cheek as she leant head, when they on screen stopped and looked at each other. Boys at school had been singing outside schoolroom on screen, had been singing at stars, and these two heard them and kissed in boskage deep low in this lane and band played softly, women in audience crooning. Lily Gates sank lower over arm of her seat. Mr Dale did not move.
Play on screen went on and this girl who was acting had married another man now. She had children now. But her husband thought she still loved other man because when they had first started on the honeymoon this other man had taken his new wife away in the motor car. They had spent night together leaving husband alone in America. But she had gone back to him. They had children now. Still he wasn’t sure.
Lily Gates was sitting up now and she told Jim Dale to take arm off arm of her chair; ‘you might give me room to move myself in’ she said, and he said ‘sorry.’
Then this play ended and Lily Gates thought this girl on screen still loved both men though it was meant she should love only her husband. ‘She loves the first one still in her heart and then she loves the father of ‘er children’ she said to herself. Mr Dale spoke and mumbling said band had not played so well tonight and she said he mumbled so you could not tell what he said. Before he could speak again she said he was kill-joy taking the pleasant out of the evening, not that it was not a bad film she said, by saying he thought band had played badly when they had played better than she had known for three months. Then she said she could not understand what he came to cinemas for, to listen to the band and not watch the picture, she liked the stories.
Later her head was leaning on his shoulder again, like hanging clouds against hills every head in this theatre tumbled without hats against another, leaning everywhere.
Eight o’clock of morning. Thousands came up the road to work and few turned in to Mr Dupret’s factory. Sirens were sounded, very sad.
Then road was empty, only one or two were running and bicyclist, bent over handle bars, drove his legs fast as he could.
Later office people began to come up road. And man, Mr Tarver, who had spoken to Mr Dupret’s son outside brass foundry came along with a man in drawing office, Mr Bumpus, and talked to him. ‘Tis ‘im, he said, could be decent at times almost or it wasn’t decent rather but the pretence and that did not take him in. He and the wife had gone with ‘Tis ‘im and the wife ‘Tis ‘er out on motor ride to a ruined abbey ‘and you know the style ‘e throws himself about in a tea-room well ‘e put the napkin under ‘is chin which is what the wife won’t stand for and while I was talking to his wife there was the wife snatching ‘is napkin down each time ‘e put it up. It wasn’t fair on ‘er to behave that way before everyone. You know what womenfolk are. I ‘ad a time with ‘er that night for taking her but as I put it to ‘er I said: “How could I tell ‘e was going to indulge himself in what ‘e learned in Wales.”’ They stood now by works office doors and Mr Bridges came in and said:
‘How are you, John?’
And he said, speaking refinedly, ‘Top hole. What about you Colonel?’
‘I’m fine. Come in John. Take a cigar.’
‘I’m sure I don’t mind, sir.’
‘Eh it’s a fine leaf, a great smoke. John, I don’t know what’s the matter with me but I feel like someone had given me a cut over the brow with a five-eighth spanner. Worry, I’ve ‘ad enough of that washing about in my head to drown a dolphin. If another bit comes along it’ll displace the brains. Yes there won’t be room, something’ll have to go. Anyone else’d be dead now in my place. Ah, so it goes on, every day, and then one day it breaks, the blood comes running out of your nose as you might be a fish has got a knock on the snout. Till you drop dead. I’ll have to get right away, go right away for a bit.’
They talked. John and Mr Bridges’ faces grew red with companionship and Bridges waved cigar and John got smoke once in lungs and coughed; — they shouted together and held each other by the arm.
This girl Lily Gates went shopping with basket and by fruiterer’s she met Mrs Eames who stood to watch potatoes on trestle table there. Mrs Eames carried her baby. Lily Gates said why Mrs Eames and oh the lovely baby the little lump. She said she saw prices was going up again. She put finger into baby’s hand and sang goo-goo. Then she said to Mrs Eames who had not said much up till then how the old man would not let her try for job at Waley’s though she knew her father would not think twice about that if it was for him to decide, who thought only of money. Mrs Eames said to listen at her, talking like that of her own dad. But Lily Gates said it was so lonely doing house all day with the food and everything that it put her all wrong, and Mrs Eames said she would be in rooms of her own not so very long now. Most likely with a husband.
‘Well I don’t know much about that.’
‘That’s what you all say. And when you ‘ave children’s when you’ll find your hands full my girl.’
Baby in her arms lay mass of flesh, no bones, eyes open to the sky. Lily Gates sang goo-goo at baby.
Craigan household was at supper. Mr Craigan, Dale his young mate, Joe Gates and his daughter Lily, sat eating rhubarb tart there. Mr Gates asked Mr Craigan if he had ever taken rhubarb wine and that it was very strong, he had had it once. Mr Craigan did not speak. Mr Gates said but after all was nothing to touch good old beer and they could say who liked that water was what lions drank. His daughter Lily broke in saying would he get the beer tonight for she was going to the movies, and he said didn’t he fetch it every night and work to buy food for her stomach all day and every. She answered him that she could just change and only be in time for second performance now. He said he’d never go. This time was once too many he said. But Craigan told him to go and fetching down the jug from dresser he stood by mantelpiece. Then why didn’t they both go off now both of them he said if they were in so much hurry; but Dale said he was not going. Lily Gates opened door and went out quickly then. Mr Craigan asked slowly who was she going to pictures with; Dale said she had told him it was Bert Jones, who would be the one working with Alf Smith on the bench in tool room. Mr Craigan said nothing and Joe Gates thought Mr Craigan did not mind Lily going out with Bert Jones so he said how when he was young chap his dad would never have let his girls go, but that now things were different. Mr Craigan said nothing so he went out with the jug.
Soon after Lily Gates came quickly out of house and went quickly up the street.
Then when Joe Gates came back with the beer and he and Mr Craigan sat on kitchen chairs and Dale on a box, at back of house before garden, he said he met a man in the public who had told him one or two good tales. Then for some time then Joe Gates told dirty stories. He spoke of tarts and birds. ‘An’ speakin’ of birds’ he said, ‘look there’s a bird caught in the window.’ (Window was open and a sparrow was caught between upper and lower window frames.) He went over and began to push up upper frame to free this bird. But it fluttered and seemed as though it would be crushed. Mr Dale said, ‘don’t push ‘er up so Joe, you’ll crush it,’ and he went over to the window. Mr Dale said he would put his hand in between the two frames, which he did, but bird fluttered more and pecked at his finger. ‘Don’t go ‘urting it Jim don’t be so rough with the little bleeder’ Joe Gates said and Dale answered him ‘ain’t they got sharp beaks to ‘em.’ Joe Gates now took over and raised upper frame again, and gently. This bird only fluttered the more. At this time Mr Craigan came over and took fork and said to leave it to him. Very gently he pushed up upper frame and put fork under the bird and very gently tried to force the bird up but the bird got away from this fork and fluttered. Then all three together moithered round the window and then they all drew back and watched and the bird was still. Then Craigan said to fetch Mrs Eames and Dale went. Mr Craigan and Joe Gates stood and said nothing, watching, and now still the bird was quiet.
Mrs Eames came and she lowered upper frame and put hand in and gathered this bird up and gently carefully lifted it out and opened hand and it flew away and was gone. Mr Gates asked to strike him dead. Mr Dale said it looked easy the way she done it, and Mr Craigan, dignified and courtly, said they had to thank Mrs Eames for what three men could not do. She said, ‘Where’s Lily then?’ and Mr Dale said she had gone out. Mrs Eames said what a fine evening it was to be sure but Craigan was saying no more though Mr Gates began talking at once to Mrs Eames; this happening of the bird put him in mind of some stories, he said, and not long after Mrs Eames had gone, offended. Dale said she did not like Joe’s stories and Joe Gates answered that anyone could see it and he knew it before but he wanted to wake her up he said. Mr Craigan did not speak and looked to be troubled in his mind. He sat outside in the last light of sun which had shone all day.
In the evening Gates went to public house. He went alone, which he did not do often. Every Monday night Mr Craigan and he went together to their public house but this was Friday so he went further up Coventry Road to house he did not often visit, Tupe was there. At first they did not speak. Mr Gates looked at tiled lower part of wall (pattern on the tiles was like beetles with backs open and three white lilies in each of these) and he looked at rows of bottles on shelves against mirror glass which was above these tiles and at paper doylies which now again regularly were under bottles there and hung down in triangles from the shelves. (Orange coloured roses with a few curly green leaves were round corner of these which hung down.) Then Tupe shouted across saying was no use in saying nothing and what would he have and Mr Gates said another half of mild and he was obliged he said. Soon they were sitting next each her and they told dirty stories one after the other to each other and Gates laughed and drank and got a little drunk.
Soon then Mr Tupe made him begin laughing at old Craigan. Mr Gates never used to laugh about that man. Soon he told Tupe Lily had gone out with Bert Jones and left Dale at home. Tupe said didn’t the old man mean Lily to marry Jim Dale and Mr Gates said Craigan was mad at her going. Tupe said wasn’t Joe Gates her father and wasn’t a father’s word enough in arranging for his daughter and Gates said but Craigan hadn’t dared speak to her about having gone out like that. He had said you put a girl wrong with you nowadays and like too independent minded if you talk to her straight away. Tupe said wasn’t Joe Gates her father and wasn’t what a father said and thought enough for his girl without another interfering. And soon Mr Gates was saying it was and never again would he let himself be bossed in his family, not ever again, no, not he, said he.
Joe Gates stood by tap in factory, drinking water, and Mr Tupe came by wheeling barrow of coke. ‘What’ll you ‘ave’ Tupe cried and Mr Gates answered him ‘a pint of mild.’ ‘It’s strange to see you drinkin’ water’ and Gates said he could hardly believe it of himself but they had been casting in their shop and running metal made their shop warm in such weather. Maybe Aaron Connolly had the only cool job, he said, up on travelling crane in the machine shop among draughts; but it was cold up there in winter. Tupe said perhaps that was why he was so mingy, not a penny coming from his pocket without his making a groan. But he had been paid out for it. Had Joe Gates heard, he asked, about the other night, and reason for Aaron Connolly’s black eye next morning. He had told his son it wasn’t right him paying so little in at end of the week at home, ‘not as if Aaron drew more’n labourer’s wages though he be on the crane,’ Tupe said. ‘But ‘is son up and knocked him spark out, and he done a good job that night.’ Mr Gates laughed and said that would teach him. ‘Ah and his missus’ said Tupe ‘dropped the chamber pot on his head not so long ago when ‘e was at her for buying a ‘aporth of salt, her being on the landing as he were coming upstairs.’ They walked through machine shop, Joe Gates laughing with Mr Tupe when five-eighth spanner fell from above close to them. They looked up and saw the crane but they could see no one on the crane. ‘Hi Aaron’ bawled Mr Tupe and Mr Connolly’s face came out over side of it, ‘Hi Aaron you’ll be killin’ people next dropping things, bein’ like palsied from ‘oldin’ too tight on to yer money.’ ‘In ‘ell they will stoke the coke on your tongue babble baby’ he answered and several men laughing at Tupe, Gates also, he went off with his barrow load. Mr Gates went to the stores.
Just then in iron foundry shop Craigan look up from big cylinder he was making and beckoned to boy who was one of the boys making cores. This one came up. Craigan said how would he like piece of cake and while boy ate piece of cake he said it was easier for boys in foundries now than when he started. Boy said it may have been but all the same wouldn’t have been a misery like Craigan in any iron foundry, not to touch him, not since they started. Mr Craigan said in his young days you could never have said that to a moulder when you were core boy. ‘You would say worse’ boy said and Craigan said this one would never make a moulder. ‘And your mate’ boy said ‘ ‘as been laughin’ with old Tupey this last ‘alf ‘our, I seen ‘em’ boy said earnestly. Craigan answered him ‘Clear off my lad and don’t tell tales.’
Mr Milligan who was storekeeper told Joe Gates about his health. But soon he came back to iron foundry and Dale told him to look out against Mr Craigan.