She lay, above town, with Jones. Autumn. Light from sky grew dark over town.
She half opened eyelids from her eyes, showing whites. She saw in feeling. She saw in every house was woman with her child. In all streets, in clumps, were children.
Here factories were and more there, in clumps. She saw in her feeling, she saw men working there, all the men, and girls and the two were divided, men from women. Racketing noise burst on her. They worked there with speed. And then over all town sound of hooters broke out. Men and women thickly came from, now together mixed, and they went like tongues along licking the streets.
Then children went into houses from streets along with these men and girls. Women gave them to eat. Were only sparrows now in streets. But on roads ceaselessly cars came in from country, or they went out into it, in, out.
Smell of food pressed on her. All were eating. All was black with smoke, here even, by her, cows went soot-covered and the sheep grey. She saw milk taken out from them, grey the surface of it. Yes, and blackbird fled across that town flying crying and made noise like noise made by ratchet Yes and in every house was mother with her child and that was grey and that fluttered hands and then that died, in every house died those children to women. Was low wailing low in her ears.
Then clocks in that town all over town struck three and bells in churches there ringing started rushing sound of bells like wings tearing under roof of sky, so these bells rang. But women stood, reached up children drooping to sky, sharp boned, these women wailed and their noise rose and ate the noise of bells ringing.
But roaring sound came in her ears and a sun, dark half cold, pressed onto her face. Bert kissed her. She woke. She heard tinkling sound of a pebble in a can which boy was dragging along path. Till all women she remembered, to each one a child, and she clung to man and said she had dreamed, had dreamed, dreamed.
And then in bed, after, rigid, she cried in her, I, I am I.
I am I, why do I do work of this house, unloved work, why but they cannot find other woman to do this work.
Why may I not have children, feed them with my milk. Why may I not kiss their eyes, lick their skin, softness to softness, why not I? I have no man, my work is for others, not for mine.
Why may I not work for mine?
Why mayn’t they laugh at my coming in to them. Why is there nothing that lives by me. And I would do everything by my child in the morning and at evening, why haven’t I one? I would work for him who made child with me, oh day and night I’d be working for them, and get up in the night to feed him and in morning to get father’s tea. I would be his mother, he his father, why have I no child?
Lord give me a child that I might wash him, feed him, give him life. Yes let him be a boy. Give him blue eyes, let him cling to me with his hands and never be loosed from me. Give him me to love that I’m always kissing him and working for him. I’ve had nothing of my own. Give him me and let him be mine, oh, oh give me a life to work for, and give me the love of him, and his father’s.
Young Mr Dupret sat in their country house picking nose.
Why, he said in mind, why could not the old man die? Of course was gratitude and all that of sons to fathers but, old mummy, why couldn’t he die. He had made mother’s life misery to her, he had never done anything for him but to pull him up, all the time, taking him away from school, and again, little things, whole time. Then to pretend collapse, question was if he wasn’t just shamming, when dinner party for Hannah was to come off, so it had to be cancelled. And how did fathers expect sons to learn business without making mistakes? Now after what had been done he couldn’t go back to Birmingham. He couldn’t look Bridges face to face.
How pleased Bridges would be.
He wasn’t, he said again in his mind, going back to business till old man thought better of it. Besides mother wanted him. And what picture she had made of him and herself and of father with that ridiculous harlot. To put her into bedroom where he lay and all of them waiting outside — disgusting, filthy, revolting. He’d made that plain to her and it seemed to be telling on her. She mustn’t do that again, or something like it. Pity was the old man did not get rush of blood to head and die of it, malicious old figure head.
Doctors said was no hope for him now. He felt he could go up now to room and say ‘die, old fool, die.’ Trouble was of course he was not an old fool, but clever like the devil.
Mr Bridges went down through works in Birmingham till Tupe he found.
‘What about that Craigan?’ Mr Bridges said.
‘What about ‘im?’ Tupe said.
‘What I want to get at is’ said Mr Bridges, ‘is what happened when that wire rope gave some time back.’
‘Nothin’ didn’t ‘appen.’
‘Didn’t it come down somewhere by Craigan?’
‘I know it daint,’ Mr Tupe said. ‘It broke sure enough but there weren’t much strain on it that moment and it wouldn’t’ve bruised ‘is arse if it ‘ad fetched ‘im one. But God strike me ‘andsome if ‘e didn’t raise ‘is ugly old dial an’ start blubberin’ an’ made such a ‘ullaballoo as if ‘e might be dead, or the only one in the shop. That’s ‘im all over.’
‘So it wasn’t nearly all over with ‘im.’
‘All over with ‘im? No! But it would’ve been a good thing for this factory if it’d caught ‘im and so killed ‘im. There’s only one man in that shop by ‘is way of looking at it and that’s ‘im. There’s always trouble between ‘im and Andrew (that was foreman in iron foundry shop in this factory). You listen to me, sir, the men’ll go to ‘im before they go to the foreman, it’s God’s truth I’m telling you. There’d be ‘alf as much more work done again in there if ‘e weren’t in there. ‘E’s a trouble maker, like you find in all factories, but there ain’t been a place I’ve worked in where there’s been the like of ‘im.’
‘ ‘E’s the best moulder I’ve got. I’d give £100 for another like him.’
‘ ‘E may be a good enough moulder, Mr Bridges, but look ‘ow slow ‘e is. ‘E works to suit ‘is own convenience, not the firm’s.’
Mr Bridges was moving off.
‘ ‘Ow’s the gaffer, sir, if you don’t mind me asking you,’ Mr Tupe said to change subject of conversation and because he could not abide seeing Bridges going away.
‘He’s pretty bad. The young chap is down there with ‘im, and aint been to work this week. It looks bad.’
‘Well, I don’t know,’ said Tupe, cunning, ‘that dandy ‘e daint ever go to work, do ‘e!’ Mr Tupe said and Bridges, laughing, went away.
‘I knows what the old man likes, it’s butter, not margarine, an’ I gives it to ‘im,’ Tupe said, in his mind, rejoicing.
Later Mr Bridges sat in chair in his office.
Mr Bridges in his thinking and in most of his living was all theatre. Words were exciting to him, they made more words in him and wilder thinking.
Sometimes liquid metal foundrymen are pouring into moulding box will find hole in this, at the joint perhaps, and pour out. Sometimes stream of metal pouring out will fall on patch of wet sand or on cold iron, then it will shower out off in flying drops of liquid metal. To see this once or twice perhaps is exciting. But after twice, or once even, you just go to stop hole up where metal from box is pouring.
So with Mr Bridges.
You were to him speaking, and he began quietly answering, then, suddenly, he was acting, sincere in feeling, but acting, and words were out pouring, fine sentiments fine. At first you said, ‘fine old man’ in your mind, at last you were thinking only how to plug him. And with him this was not only with his talking, it was also in his silent thinking.
So in his thinking he thought now Mr Dupret is dying. He thought how he’d worked fifteen years for Mr Dupret. ‘And never a cross word between us.’ He began now in his thinking. He made Mr Dupret into angel beaming from sky, he saw Mrs Dupret and all their servants weeping in front parlour. He saw slavey bring Mrs Dupret cup of tea from the kitchen, ‘from humblest to the highest’ he was saying in his thinking, without her ever having asked for a cup. He was seeing doctors, great surgeons going in and out of room where the Chief was lying. Inside he for life was fighting. Mr Bridges thought then how all had to come to it, ‘great and small, King and navvy.’ He thought one day he would die, the wife would die.
And he thought then, sobering, he was too old to get another job and what would happen when young Dupret was head of business? And he couldn’t afford to retire, wife had made him spend all the salary, were hardly no savings. What would happen to them? But then he thought the Chief was sure to put someone older as partner to young chap, or adviser, or trustee. You couldn’t put kid like that at head of business, government wouldn’t allow it. No, he thought, forgetting grieving.
Young Mr Dupret sat at bottom of garden down by where flowed river Thames. Autumn was about. Down this river leaves came floating on the water, yellow leaves, and with each coming of the wind yellow leaves left trees and came floating down on to the water, quietly settling on the Thames. So now thoughts settled three by three in his mind and soon he thought no more but as river Thames slipped away to the sea so drifted into sleeping.
Sunshine was pale. So drifted into sleep. Yet came party from Maidenhead in launch up the river, men and women, a silver launch. Laughter came like birds from women in it. It came on slowly and he opened eyes and it went by, this laughter reaching him. He stretched and watched it go. Laughter from it fluttered back to him and then in wide circle launch turned leisurely and came back past him and he thought why did they turn it there. Why did they turn it there he thought and then man on launch played dance tune from the wireless they had on it and it went on down with stream till he could see them no more but still hear them, then he could not hear them any more.
Women were on that launch, he envied the men. They would be back at Maidenhead for tea, he thought.
He thought and saw in his mind was no good his staying here with father getting no better nor any worse, and he saw what he most needed now was the company of women, like on that silver launch. Hannah. He thought he would go back to London. Also mother needed rest, he would try and bring her with him.
Again he thought was no use in struggling against that one defeat with Bridges. He would go back to work, and if Bridges and Walters mentioned man being put on at lavatory door he would tell them just what he thought. It was hollow triumph of theirs he thought and he would show them just how hollow. It would not be long now before he showed them.
He shook afternoon from off him and went back into house.
Still flowed river Thames and still the leaves were disturbed, then were loosed, and came down on to water and went by London where he was going, by there and out into the sea.
Mr Craigan with Joe Gates and Dale that was his mate in iron foundry, these sat at supper and Lily brought food in to them. Happiness moved with her where she went. Yet Bert was not going out with her that night, he had business. Yet in all she did showed happiness.
Dale wanted a knife, but, getting up from table, for himself fetched it.
And Gates asked to pass bread. Lily stretched for this, but Mr Dale leaned, he pushed bread forward over to him.
When plate of meat was eaten he handed plate to her and Craigan’s that was next him.
When supper was over he fetched beer. The two old men had settled in chairs and were smoking. He said then to Miss Gates if she was going out tonight. She said not tonight. He said would she care to go to the movies? She said she didn’t mind. They went off.
When they had got seats even at cinema he said nothing, like he always did say nothing. She for this was grateful and sat apart from him in her seat in glory of secret happiness. He felt this and he was miserable. She was so grateful to him and he said nothing and she hardly watched film, she thought so of Bert.