Water dripped from tap on wall into basin and into water there. Sun. Water drops made rings in clear coloured water. Sun in there shook on the walls and ceiling. As rings went out round trembling over the water shadows of light from sun in these trembled on walls. On the ceiling.
They came back from work. Mr Joe Gates was speaking.
‘Ah and didn’t I tell that foreman only a month or two back it would go, silly cow keeping on using it till it went. “It’s dangerous” I said to ‘im “it’s dangerous it’ll go one of these days” I said “you see, it’s all wore away that wire rope is and the block too, look at it, being lopsided like that, it ain’t safe.” And he said “What business is it of yourn?” and I said “Ain’t my life my business with a daughter to keep at ‘ome” and ‘e said one of these days ‘ed get on a line about me so I sheered off then, it doesn’t serve no purpose to lose a job through just talking, might as well lose it for something better’n that, knock ‘is bloody ‘ead off.’
Mr Craigan washed first in basin. Lily Gates came in then.
‘D’you know what nearly came to pass Lily, it were nearly all up with ‘im, ah, the wire rope parted when they were pulling out the trolley with it from the core stove. Ah and it dain’t miss ‘im but by inches.’
Lily Gates went to basin and stood there by Mr Craigan.
‘Why grandad!’ she said.
‘Ah and when I sees ‘im standin’ there I thought to meself it ain’t safe standin’ there, now if it went now it would get anyone as was standin’ there as ‘e was. Then it parted. It dain’t miss ‘im but by inches.’
Mr Craigan dried face and hands. Joe Gates put head under the water in basin.
‘It weren’t far off’ Mr Dale said.
‘You mightn’t have come back?’ Lily Gates picked piece of cotton off his sleeve.
‘Don’t do that my wench’ Mr Craigan said ‘I can still do that for meself.’
‘It didn’t ought to be’ said Mr Gates, drying face.
‘They did ought to look to them things and not wait till you complain to ‘em about it and then do nothing. With that trolley gear and with the boxes you’ve got to wait for ‘em to go before they change them and when a box breaks when the crane’s carrying it the feller underneath, why think of it, flat, when I was working at Grey’s I seen a feller catch a six by four box on top of ‘im and when they lifted it it was just like they’d mangled ‘im, ‘orrible, like as if they’d mangled ‘im, like they’d put a steam roller on to ‘im. It’s a funny thing to get a living by ain’t it?’
Once she had said to Mrs Eames she had said it made you ridiculous she had said walking with Jim, yes she had said that to Mrs Eames, when he looked odd like that, daft you might say, she had gone far as that even, dafty with his eyes yes, she had said, yes and with the girls tittering behind him it made you feel awkward to be with him and Mrs Eames had said she shouldn’t be so touchy, not she meant you shouldn’t be particular so she said, but touchy it only brought you trouble in this world so your life wasn’t your own, that’s how she thought so she had said. Now walking with Dale Lily thought that. Girls tittering behind not that he was posh. Not as if they would like to be with him, but for his being strange.
She wasn’t the giggling sort. No.
So it wasn’t hardly respectable going up the street with him, drawing so much notice.
(He had on bowler hat, high, high crown. Thousands walked along broad pavements of this big street in bowler hats with high, high crowns, in sun, in evening.)
He didn’t ever speak either.
(She walked with him, arm round his arm. Party in front, four girls four young men, the girls on one pavement men on the other side, two parties but one at same time, these did Charleston dance along pavements.)
‘What d’you think of that?’ she said.
‘Ah’ said he.
‘It mightn’t be a public place where they can see you for all they take notice of she said ‘be’aving as if they was in their favourite dance ‘all; it’s funny what people are coming to these days’ she said.
They walked on, said no more. He was pale. Many were laughing, screeching, not at him really, perhaps partly, but it was Friday night.
She then had to sneeze. As she sneezed Mr Dale called out: ‘Ello.’
She said: ‘Yes it’s me sneezing, I know that thank you.’
‘Ello’ he said to Mr Bert Jones who had come up.
‘Oh’ she said.
‘ ‘Ow do Jim, I hear your old man very near ‘ad a nasty accident last night.’
‘Ah and it was a near go and all. ‘Ow d’you come to ‘ear?’
‘Oh someone round at the club. So you ‘eard about my being suspended for a fortnight.’
‘It’s the talk of the shops. By the way you know Miss Gates would you? This is Bert Jones from our place.’ Lily Gates shook hands, holding limply out hand, looking down her nose.
‘I believe we’ve met before’ said Mr Jones. He had on plum coloured suit, trousers were cone-shaped.
‘And it was Jim here introduced us’ said Miss Gates furiously.
‘Now I come to think on it it would be’ Mr Dale said.
‘I remembered right enough’ said Mr Jones.
‘It’s the talk of the shops’ Mr Dale said. ‘Giving you a fortnight’s ‘oliday and not doing the same by Aaron.’
‘Ah it’s a firm ain’t it. Twisting, twisting all the time. And by all I ‘ear what nearly made your old man a goner was the fault of their never getting new equipment. It’s the same old tale, in our shop anyway.’
‘You’re right. I don’t know if you knows your way about a foundry but we ‘as to dry some moulds before the metal can be poured into ‘em. They’re put on a trolley, see, and the crane pulls it into the stove with a wire rope. Well the wire rope give. Ah, it parted right at the top, mate, right by the eye and whipped out not above a foot away from our old man. It’s wicked I reckon.’
‘No, they don’t give you a square deal. If you work for them they ought to see you can do it with a decent amount of safety.’
‘Yes’ said Lily Gates. ‘I think it’s a shame, yes, I do.’
That’s right. And you can’t get a job outside, that’s where it is. So we’ve got to put up with it and there it is. But you know ‘erbert Tomson, well ‘e’s going to Australia,’ but Mr Dale was not listening. ‘ ‘E’s a feller that works in the fitters. I don’t know. They tell me there’s not a great many jobs going there.’
‘ ‘Ere you don’t mind’ Dale said suddenly. ‘See you in the park’ he said pointing across road and quickly went off.
‘Well that’s a bit sudden.’
‘It’s his digestion you see’ said Miss Gates.
‘It comes over him all of a sudden, yes, no matter where ‘e may be’ she said furiously.
‘But that’s a bad bit of news about your old man.’
‘Yes’ she said. ‘There’d still’ve been breadwinners in the house,’ she said, ‘but where we’d’ve been without ‘im I don’t know at all. We all live by Mr Craigan.’
‘All the men in the place respect ‘im.’
‘ ‘E’s been like a father to me. And now I shan’t lie quiet in my bed at night for thinking harm’ll come to ‘im.’
They stood silent.
‘Look ‘ere’ he said ‘shall we go across the road into the park’ he said ‘and wait for Jim there?’
‘Oh! I shouldn’t like to.’
‘Go on. I got nothing on tonight.’
‘I don’t like to bother you like that. You go on, I’ll wait here.’
‘Get out. It’s a pleasure.’
‘Oh well it’s nicer in the park isn’t it?’
They crossed the road.
‘We went to the Lickeys Sunday’ she said.
‘It’s nice there isn’t it.’
‘Yes, and don’t they keep the roads beautiful with the grass in between them and the trams going one road and cars t’other. Yes it’s a pleasure to be there of a Sunday afternoon. I’d say I saw quite seven from our street up there. And only a 6d bus ride.’
‘Ah, it’s worth a tanner every time.’
‘Yes it is. Yes we all went there last Sunday. Mr Craigan said ‘e’d like a bit of fresh air after all the hot weather we’ve been ‘aving so we packed up and went. I cut steps of bread and cheese that we took with us, oh we did ‘ave a time.’
‘I reckon it was a good thing when the Corporation took it over, giving the people somewhere to go on a Sunday.’
‘Yes because you can get right out into the country and get the fresh air. You know where we live there’s a factory where they make phosphor bronze they call it, I don’t mean they make only that but when they’re making it the fumes come down into our ‘ouse when the winds is one way and the fumes is awful. I wonder the poor fellows can stick it inside.’
‘It’s terrible stuff by all accounts.’
‘Yes. Of course we could live in a better part than we do now but Mr Craigan won’t live in another man’s house, yes that’s what he says isn’t it funny, and ‘e bought this one years back and he wouldn’t change now for love nor money. I keep ‘ouse for them. Of course it’s very lonely sometimes, there being no one much to talk to while they’re all out at work. Yes sometimes I wish I could go outside into a factory but Mr Craigan won’t hear of it, yes, isn’t it funny. He won’t ‘ear of it. Still I get along I suppose like we all do.’
‘It must be lonely at times.’
‘It isn’t as if you don’t soon get used to that though, don’t you.’
‘I’m glad that accident didn’t turn out any worse for ‘im. Did ‘e seem at all affected by it.’
‘No but ‘e’d never show you you know. But isn’t it a shame about your being suspended, well I never.’
‘I thought I’d lose you’ Mr Dale said coming up ‘seeing it’s dark in this park. Lil’ he said ‘we ought to be going ‘ome or the old man won’t like it.’
‘I’d better be getting along’ said Mr Jones and they said goodnight then and went their ways.
‘Where’d you go?’ she said. ‘There ain’t no public lavatorv for miles round ‘ere.’
‘In the Horse and Lion.’
‘Well what about it?’
‘What about what?’
So began Mr Bridges to Tarver, so Tarver answered him. That’s how he answers me thought Bridges. Then Mr Bridges said he didn’t see Tarver got through anything, couldn’t go on like that, here he’d been six weeks for those drawings, and Tarver said what about Bumpus was it his fault he’d gone to bed and not got up since. Mr Bridges said couldn’t he do work without Bumpus and Tarver said what did he mean.
‘I mean what I speak.’
Bridges said Tarver not to be gay with him, he was general manager, people could think they were fine, fine, but he was general manager, was no one disputed that, and what he said was what went through in this firm. Mr Tarver said what he had meant was he hadn’t heard. Bridges went on not listening that he’d soon see who stuck himself up against him, whatever friends that one had in London office, he and his friends he’d see who was general manager, while Tarver speaking at same time said what he’d meant saying was pardon me, I could not hear you, girls in office make such noise giggling.
Later Mr Tarver was saying ‘Yes sir’ and Father said ‘my boy’ often then.
Bentley came up to where Mr Eames worked on his allotment garden.
‘That’s a fine crop of apples you’ll pick off that tree of yours’ he said and said was no tree in all the gardens like it there.
‘Yes’ said Mr Eames ‘I don’t remember its bearing so well in years, it’s a picture. When the blossom was out the missus and I came along and sat under it of a Sunday with the baby.’
‘There’ll be a pound or two off it when they’re ripe.’ Changing tone he said he had seen Bert Jones back at work in factory that morning.
Mr Eames said he had not noticed him yet.
‘Ah he’s back and ‘e ought never to’ve gone away.’
‘ ‘E didn’t ‘ave any choice.’
‘I didn’t mean it lay with him, what I meant was they ‘ad no right to send one away and do nothing to t’other when it was the same offence.’
‘Well I suppose they can do as they like doing.’
‘That’s where you’re wrong Fred, there’s the law of England. And the pity of it is they ain’t forbidden to go on as they do, one man a favourite and nothing too bad for the next.’
‘Well they ‘aven’t trespassed against the law.’
‘I’m not so sure they ain’t. But leaving that as may be ‘ad they any right to treat young Alfred Parker the way they did eight months back?’
‘I ain’t got nothing to say for that.’
‘Now I’m asking you a straight question, ‘ad they any right?’
‘No, they ‘ad no business to do it.’
‘It’s wicked, that’s what it is. And look at that feller Whitacre. ‘E was 30/— short in his money when they sent it to ‘im so ‘e writes to ‘em about it and by the next post they tell ‘im they’re done with ‘im and ‘e can go tramp over England looking for another job. ‘E wrote for ‘is money again what ‘e’d earned by labour but didn’t get an answer. Is that straight?’
‘Why don’t he take it to the Courts?’
‘What would they do? ‘E’d get ‘is marching orders quick enough. They’d ‘ave a lawyer, so’s the firm shouldn’t get a bad name and ‘e’d be tied into knots in no time. I shouldn’t wonder if it ended in ‘is being tried for perjury.’
‘Well I don’t know anything about that but what you just said there — it ain’t anything but ‘is story is it?’
‘I can’t say I’ve seen ‘im personally to talk to, but ‘e’s a truthful feller mind you. But you ain’t going to believe their tale are you?’
‘I don’t see myself believing either of ‘em.’
‘Twisters that’s all they are, dirty twisters. And I’m waiting for ‘em, I know the laws of England and once they step over on the wrong side I’ll bring ‘em into court, I’ll sue them with me own money. They’ll see soon enough. Why with the lavatories as they’re now it ain’t decent for a woman to come through the works.’
‘I ain’t seen one of the girls from the office come through in seven months. I shouldn’t like a woman to do it with the language some use.’
‘No nor should I. But the lavatories ain’t made it any better for ‘em.’
‘Well it’s not decent a man timing you in and out, it’s contrary to nature. Any road I ain’t told the wife about it. Besides she ‘as ‘ardships enough keeping her and me alive on our money without me telling ‘er the pinpricks you get all the time at our place.’
Bentley filled pipe.
‘It’s downright wicked’ he said going on.
He lit pipe. Smoke from it went slowly up through bars of sunlight here and there which came between leaves of apple tree.
‘Ah it’s a fine crop’ Mr Bentley said, changing tone, ‘and it’s a good thing for a man to get away in the evenings out into the air.’
As they went downstairs in to dinner he had been shouting to one in front — this was only but nervousness because her he was taking in was so pretty — so when they sat down and he turned to her it was first time he had spoken to her.
‘Didn’t we meet at dinner with the Masons about a fortnight ago before going on to somebody’s dance’ he said.
‘Probably, I expect so.’
‘Whose dance was it, I can’t remember, I’m so bad at names. Anyway I know I’ve got to go on tonight to Lady Randolph’s afterwards to pick someone up.’
‘Isn’t it Lady Radolph’s we’re going to?’
‘Isn’t that lucky? Think of it, going to the dance one’s going on to.’
‘But it may be boring, and boring waiting on so long.’
He thought why couldn’t she say ‘you’ may be bored: flattery, he thought, flattery, you could count on fingers of two hands only the girls who flattered you at dinner and that surely he thought was next most important after champagne at dinner parties. Was danger these people they were dining with would not give champagne, he saw glasses did not look like champagne.
‘Brilliant’ he said letting no break in conversation, ‘brilliant’ thinking more of himself ‘of course it will be ghastly waiting, and it was for two o’clock when we were going on to a little place I know of he said. ‘But of course I can go away and come back again: you don’t think that’s rude do you?’
She thought what a priggish boy and hadn’t heard more of what he said than his little place he knew of. Why speak like a serial she asked in her mind.
‘It’s done a great deal’ he said after waiting for her ‘I’ve done it but perhaps it’s rude.’
She thinks it rude he thought, she’s half witted and why not take up his quotation ‘a little place I wot of he cried in his mind.
‘D’you go much to the dog races?’ he said changing conversation.
‘Yes I do.’
‘Isn’t it astounding the crowds that go there.’
‘Crowds’ she said.
‘And all you hear about the lower classes not being able to live decently when you see ten’s of thousands there every night.’
‘Perhaps that’s why.’
‘No I can’t allow that’ he said. ‘If they really couldn’t afford it they wouldn’t go’ he said.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Well we’ve got a factory in Birmingham and I know if you really can’t afford it there you don’t go.’
He didn’t know but why had she taken him up and he was desperate.
‘Are you in business then?’ she said.
‘Yes I am worse luck.’
‘Everyone’s in business or in the Guards now’ she said and, satisfied, he leaned back in chair and said to himself what incredible, incredible things you heard, he would tell it to Mary when they went on to Princes, she would laugh.
‘Another thing I can’t understand about the lower classes’ he said ‘is this business by which they pay 1d per week for all their lives and get a whopping £60 funeral at their end.’
‘Well they tell me it’s because they don’t like their families to pay for it, you see, as it’s hard on them after they’re dead.’
Why be well informed at dinner he said to himself. And would be no champagne; it was claret. Would he tell her what wrong it was not giving champagne at dinner, but was she the hostess’ daughter, anyway what was her name. Not even cards on the table he said to himself looking round, and saw she was talking now to next door neighbour and he turned to his left but that one talked also to neighbour next door, and he refused claret then, asked for lemonade, took water, was no lemonade in house.
Monday night Mr Craigan and Mr Gates in bowler hats went along Coventry Road to public house. Mr Tupe saw them. He said to young man he was with was no man so deceitful as man he could see walking on other side of road if he looked. No man like it for deceit. And didn’t he think a deal of himself for never saying much when that was easy as picking a tart up in this street. ‘I could hold my gob for a day and a year if I so wanted’ he said. ‘Pity was they hadn’t killed him when they nearly did.’ Wire rope breaking had nearly caught him day or two ago. You never heard such a hullaballoo as there was over him. It might have been the gaffer himself that had been burnt alive in the boilers. He’d gone about with a look on his dial days after like ‘hold it up where it hurts and let mammy kiss it.’ ‘Deceitful old bleeder’ he said. ‘Enough to make you go bald’eaded just seeing ‘im go up the street.’
Tarver went down to tennis club. ‘Hello Captain.’ ‘How are you Colonel, how’s it going?’
Mr Tarver had in him feeling of expectation this evening, sinking feeling in his stomach. Standing behind row of deck chairs from which people watched the tennis he made violent swings with his racket. ‘I say look out,’ one man said Tarver’s in form, men.’ ‘Boy’ said Mr Tarver, imitating American slang he saw at the movies, ‘if that old ball was our old manager, well, he wouldn’t have much shape after I’d finished with him.’ Then he went on, but spoke to himself, that already the old devil looked a bit lopsided already. No you couldn’t go on like the old man went on, was some justice had got to overtake you. You couldn’t victimize the people under you for ever and always, not you. That was a bright lad, Archer. That letter he’d got from Archer was a peach of a letter, a peach.
When these four finished who had been playing he went on the court next with three others. Man served to Tarver. Tarver full of anger and victory against Mr Bridges leapt at the ball as it came and sent it back faster yet. He stood still and watched where it went and this man who had served ran after it, but he won’t get to it said Mr Tarver. But this man did get to it, though he could only return it high and soft, like a harmonic.
‘What’ said Mr Tarver and rushed at this return and smashed it Indeed his shot went so fast over the net that those two opponents against him in this game could only stand and watch, it came by so fast They clapped hands who sat on chairs. Mr Tarver looked round triumphant in young manhood. Bridges, he sang in his mind, what could Bridges do against him in the long run, he sang. You can’t keep a good man down. You can fill him with pins like a pincushion but he will come up again. And at this moment ball came past him and he was not ready for it — he did not even know they had begun to play again. He could only stand and watch. ‘Oh Mr Tarver!’ said his partner and Mr Tarver said damn. One of the ladies heard that. ‘Careful, ladies present y’know,’ she said to him, archly smiling, and he blushed for shame, who was so careful always in his expressions.
Lily Gates was saying half smiling to Jim Dale it gave her creeps Mr Craigan always sitting at home of an evening. He listened to the wireless every night of the week except Mondays. And look what Sunday was, was as much as they could do to get him out to the Lickeys she said. No when you asked he said he would not come, and what for? all the morning listening to preachers in foreign countries, why when you didn’t know the language she couldn’t see what was in it, and the afternoon and the evening the same, right till he went to his room, she said.
And when it wasn’t the wireless he was reading the works of Dickens, over and over again. ‘Don’t you ever read any but the works of Dickens?’ she’d asked him once. ‘No why should I?’ he’d said. Always the same books, she was fond of a book now and again, but she couldn’t do that. He was a wonderful old man.
‘ ‘E’s like the deep sea’ she was saying, half smiling.