Mrs Dupret and her son, (who had walked round factory with Mr Bridges) these two were in drawing-room of the London house; each had engagement book, hers she had laid on her knees, he held his up close to his nose, so she would not see him picking his nose.
She said: ‘Tuesday fortnight then is the first evening I’ve got free.’
Slowly he turned pages.
‘No I can’t manage Tuesday fortnight I’m dining with the Masons for their dance.’
Mr Tarver came home.
‘The old man’s been at it again’ he said to wife. ‘Been and sacked my best fitter.’ ‘Jim!’ said Mrs Tarver. ‘Yes sacked ‘im, said ‘e was faking his time on the outdoor jobs but it’s spite, that’s it go and sack the only man who can put up my work and then expect me to carry on.’ ‘It’s low’ said Mrs Tarver. ‘Low’ said Mr Tarver, ‘low’ he said ‘but when Walters comes down Wednesday from the London office I’ll speak straight out to him, but it’s crazy, ‘ow can you do your work conscientiously and be ‘eld up like this and a pistol put to your heart. It is a firm. It’s a policy of obstruction. Do you know what ‘e did today on top of that, ‘e caught two men lounging about and gave one a fortnight’s holiday and let the other johnny off. Well you can’t do things like that. You can’t run a factory on those lines, one rule for one and none for the other. I’ll go raving mad. Then my fitter.’ ‘It’s downright low’ said Mrs Tarver. ‘Whitacre was the only man I could trust,’ he said, ‘the others would put a spanner into the job and wreck it to please ‘im, or they didn’t know the difference between a nut and a washer. It’s no wonder we’re the laughing stock of every firm in Brummagen. If I ‘ad a better chance I’d go this minute. But I got nothing to show for it, ‘e’s seen to that, ‘olding my stuff up in the shops and in the end, after you’ve ‘owled to get it, turning out a job a dog wouldn’t sniff. Then ‘e says it’s the design, while ‘e can’t read a drawing. Why if you asked ‘im the principle underlying the simple bolt and nut ‘e couldn’t tell you. It’s sickening. I’m wearing away the best years of my life. Walters’s in league with him, ‘e’s backed ‘im up all along. There’s only Archer on my side. I’ll write to Mr Dupret, that’s what I’ll do. I saw ‘is son but ‘e’s a schoolboy, ‘e didn’t take it in. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll write to Mr Dupret.’
‘You write to Mr Dupret, John, and act by what your conscience tells you and he’ll see you’re a honest man.’
‘That’s right, I’ll do it. What is there for supper? I’ll write after I’ve ‘ad a feed. I’ll put it to ‘im this way, I’ll say…’
He wrote to Mr Archer, chief accountant in London office, instead.
Mr Bridges picked up letter in his office.
‘Ah these cylinders, they’re a worry’ he said to Miss Alexander, typist. ‘In business there’s always something wrong, I’ve had my share of it. These big cylinders, you never can depend on them. And ‘ere’s Simson howling for delivery and Walters been shouting for ‘em from London. I said to ‘im on the telephone, “What can I do?” Can never depend on a foundry, same job same men and perhaps they’ll go three months without a waster and then they’ll get a run of seven that are scrap and a loss to the firm. It’s enough to drive you crazy, eh?’
‘Yes Mr Bridges.’
‘Tarver sent those drawings down?’
‘Not yet Mr Bridges.’
‘Then why the devil not eh? Here I am, been waiting for ‘em six weeks now. What’s up with the man?’
‘He’s been very excited lately ay think.’
‘I can’t understand Tarver. What’s the matter with him anyway. I can’t live with that fellow about, my life’s no pleasure to me. And I take him with his wife out in the car, there’s nothing I don’t do, keeping everyone happy.’
‘Yes and grateful you’d hardly believe’ said Miss Alexander, ‘ay don’t think he knows the meaning of a long word layke that, why he said you were crazy only yesterday Mr Bridges.’
‘What? Eh? What d’you mean? How do you know about that any way?’
‘He said it to my face.’
‘Did ‘e? In front of you. It’s a comedy ain’t it? What’s ‘e mean. Crazy am I? You see who’ll be in Siam first, him or me. That’s what it is, you work with a man, you make things difficult for yourself to be pleasant and easy, and then ‘e rounds on you. Spits in your face. It’s dis’eartening. Walters knows how things are and ‘e can’t abide the man no more than me. I’ll see him. I’m through. Done up. Who’s manager here, perhaps ‘e can tell me, Mr lord Tarver? Yes, who’s boss here? Said it to your face? I’ll wait till tomorrow though. I might raise my ‘ands to ‘im if I saw ‘im now. Yes there’s no knowing what I might do to him, so his mammy wouldn’t know ‘im.’
Four o’clock. And now men in iron foundry in Mr Dupret’s factory straightened their backs for the fan had been started which gave draught in cupola in which the iron was melted. They stood by, two by two, holding ladles, or waiting. Craigan and Joe Gates and Dale stood by their box ready weighted for pouring and in which was mould of one of those cylinders. They said nothing. They had worked all day. The foreman stood near by. They waited. Gates was tired. Foreman stood near by. Mr Craigan threw spade to ground then which had been in his hand. He went up to foreman.
‘I know there’s been three wasters off this job better’n nobody. But man I’ll tell you this’ns a good un.’
‘Right you are Phil’ foreman said and moved away. ‘I can’t sleep at night for those cylinders’ he told himself again, ‘I can’t sleep at night. I took tablets last night’ he told himself ‘but did I sleep, no I did not. No I didn’t sleep,’ he said to himself, moving away.
‘Dirty bleeder, what call ‘as ‘e to stand waiting for?’ said Mr Gates muttering.
‘You talk more’n is natural in a man’ Mr Craigan said and then no word was said between them not while their eight ton of metal was carried them in a ladle by the crane or after when they fed their casting, lifting their rods up in the risers and letting them down, and again and again.
Later moulder going home, his boxes cast, called to Gates saying: ‘is it a good one this time Joeie?’ and Mr Gates answered him it would be if his sweat was what it used to be.
In the foundry was now sharp smell of burnt sand. Steam rose from the boxes round about. On these, in the running gates and risers, metal shone out red where it set. On Mr Craigan’s huge box in which was his casting Mr Craigan and Jim Dale stood. They raised and lowered long rods into metal in the risers so as to keep the metal molten. Steam rose up round them so their legs were wet and heat from the molten metal under them made balls of sweat roll down them. Arc lamps above threw their shadows out sprawling along over the floor and as they worked rhythmically their rods up and down so their shadows worked. Mr Craigan called to Gates to take his place. He got down off the box. He sat himself on a sieve and wiped his face. And all this time as the metal set and contracted down in casting so metal which they kept molten by disturbing it with their rods, sank in the risers down to the casting. So their strength ebbed after the hard day. Mr Craigan’s face was striped with black dust which had stuck to his face and which the sweat, in running down his face, had made in stripes. He put hands up over his face and laid weight of his head on them, resting elbows on his knees.
Continuing conversation Mrs Dupret said to her son well she was sorry it could not be then, she had so wanted they should have one quiet evening together, well it would have to be another time. He said some other time. Immediately he thought: ‘When I am with her I echo as a landscape by Claude echoes.’ She yawned. She said it was so boring discussing engagements and he answered he thought planning the evenings most important part of the day. Immediately, as was his custom, he analysed this and thought very clever what he had said, and correct.
She yawned and said she was tired, season was so busy.
He said he was tired, last night had been late.
‘Whose dance dear?’
‘The White’s. I was back at four. And tonight it will be late again,’ he said. ‘I take Mary on to Prince’s after Mrs James’ dance.’
They went in to dinner, Mrs Dupret and her son. Butler and footman brought soup to them.
‘James’ said Mrs Dupret after searching ‘I left my handkerchief upstairs’ and footman went to get this.
‘Now this is very unexpected’ she said to son, ‘Emily threw me over and here you are when I thought we were never going to have our quiet evening together.’
‘Dolly chucked me. I’m tired. It’s so tiring in the train.’
‘Yes trains are very uncomfortable now. You went to the works at Birmingham today didn’t you? Tell me about it’
‘Well there’s nothing to tell really. I’d never been before you know. It was all grimy and tiring. It was so dirty there that I had to have a bath as soon as I was back before going out to tea somewhere. Where did I go for tea now? But no matter, yes, the works, yes you know there’s a kind of romance about it or perhaps it’s only romantic. In the iron foundry the castings, they call them, were very moving. And there was a fellow there who had a beautiful face, really beautiful, he was about my age…’
(He went on talking and she thought how true when she had told Grizel he was really so appreciative.)
‘… but it was pretty boring on the whole.’
‘Tell me’ she said with fish before her, ‘are you still happy in the London office?’
‘It’s all right, but of course I can’t do anything. You can’t shift Father, he’s set in his ways and the others are like him, you’ve no idea of it, they’ve had no fresh blood in the show for years. Look at Bridges the manager at Birmingham, he’s an old man, so’s Walters our head man in London, they all are. A man came up to me in the works just now and said as much, he’d be Tarver I expect, he’s about the only coming younger chap in the place. You see Father’s all right in his way only he’s slow, but he hasn’t the time with all his other business.’ And while he talked she thought what a success it had turned out, putting him into business.
‘What we want in the place is some go and push’ he said ‘but it’s what none of them seem to realize.’
She smiled and had occasion to sniff. ‘Where can James have got to’ she cried, breaking into his argument ‘I sent him for a handkerchief while we were at the soup, and here we are in the middle of the fish.’
She pushed button of bell; this was in onyx. She laid hand by it on table and diamonds on her rings glittered together with white metal round onyx button under the electric light. Electric light was like stone. He was cut short by her. He was hurt at it. He kept silence then.
‘Pringle,’ she said to butler ‘would you mind going up to see what has become of James?’
Mr Walters was saying in Mr Bridges’ office at Birmingham factory if you took average profits of all engineering firms in the country you found it was but three per cent. Mr Bridges said ‘that’s right, that’s right.’ Mr Walters went on saying were no profits anywhere, why look if they quoted for one of their big cylinders their price was double what those Belgians asked. ‘It is’ said Mr Bridges.
‘It’s wonderful isn’t it?’ said Mr Walters.
‘You’ve got it’ said Mr Bridges. ‘Not as if’ he said ‘there isn’t worry every minute either, it wasn’t as if we sat still and did nothing. And you can’t keep your men’ he shouted. ‘Whitacre now, one of the best fitters I’ve taught, what’s he do? He goes and fakes his time. He’s on a job outside and takes three days off and charges it on the firm. Says he was working. But I’ve got the letter here, from their manager, complaining ‘e wouldn’t stay on the job. I sacked him, had to. What can you do? Then I go into the latrines, what do I run into, more trouble two robbers sitting on the seat, without even their trousers off, smoking. I said to them ‘You might as well go straight to the chief’s back pocket and take the money from it.’ That’s right isn’t it? I’m going to put a honest man on at the door to clock ‘em in and out, seven minutes each man. And one of them was the crane driver in the machine shop, a key man. Then when I sack that Whitacre Tarver comes to me and says I did it to spite ‘imself. To spite him! Said he was the only one could do his work. But I never get his work, that’s where it is, I never get it down from the drawing office, I’ve been standing my thumbs tied for a drawing seven weeks now. What can you do, eh? ‘E’s no good.’
‘I don’t know Arthur, we’ve got to be careful. Young Mr Dupret thinks well of him, and his father does.’
‘What’s the young chap know of it?’
‘I know but don’t you forget he’s the one the old man sees most often. If he was in his pram I’d still treat him like a lord. What do you know he tells the old man about us, the old man don’t come into the office often now. He’s getting shaky, he might be run into by a bus, with this circular traffic you’re lucky if you get away with it crossing the street. He’ll leave it all to his son soon.’
‘And I’ve served ‘im faithfully for fifteen years. It’s a nightmare. Where am I, eh? Where do I stand then, tell me that.’
Mrs Eames put cold new potato into her mouth.
‘Ain’t they good’ said she.
‘They are’ he said.
‘Better’n what you could get up the road or if you took a tram up into town.’
‘There’s none like your own.’
So for a time they ate supper. She sat on then looking out of window. When she turned and put hands on table to get up and clear away supper she noticed those flowers.
‘Why look’ said she ‘you brought ‘em back from the garden only yesterday and I put them in that pot, and now all their faces’ve turned to the sun.’