When Lily got to station, bag in hand, she was so tired with strain of walking through streets seeing in each man or woman she passed someone who would ask her where she was going off to with a bag on Sunday morning, and at the first, leaving home like she had — all those lies and the way she crept downstairs had so tired her that she could hardly see who were standing on the platform. Whether were any there she knew. She said in mind she was in such a state now she did not mind if there was someone who’d see her. She put bag down and there, when she looked up again, was Mr Jones. In his hand was bouquet of tulips.
‘Why, what ‘ave you got there?’
‘I stopped by the cemetery and bought ‘em.’
‘Whatever did you bring those for?’ she said, ‘Yes, what for?’ growing hysterical. ‘Why I nearly fainted away. Oh Bert, ‘ow could you?’
‘Why, what’s the matter? I thought…’
‘And me thinkin’ ‘ow I could make myself less conspicuous, yes, and then there you are with a great bunch of flowers on the station platform, why whatever will they think?’
‘Think? Oo’ll think? What’s it matter what they think?’
‘You stand where you are while I ‘ave a look round your shoulder.’
Trembling, breathing deeply, she peered round his shoulder at those who were to travel with them. She stood by shoulder of the arm below which hung the tulips, his head bent over hers as she peered round and this movement repeated in her knee which was bent over heads of the tulips as they hung. She had on silk stockings today.
She gave up looking at the travellers. She looked now at the tulips.
‘Where’ll you put them?’
‘Where will I put them?’ He raised them up till they were upright as they grew.
‘Do not!’ she said and snatched at his wrist and turned them upside down.
‘Oo’s being conspicuous now?’
‘You go and leave them in the Gentlemen.’
‘Leave ‘em in the lavatory?’
‘Yes, what are you lookin’ at me for, we can’t take them with us what’s come over you, yes, leave ‘em in there. Why, at every station the train stopped we’d ‘ave porters lookin’ in at the window and wondering.’
‘Well what’s it matter if they do wonder, what do they know?’
‘O Bert I do wish I ‘adn’t come.’
‘All right,’ he said, ‘if that’s the way you feel I’ll leave ‘em there.’ He went off to do this. Looking at her shoes she thought in mind why you see they’d telegraph back, telegraphs being free between themselves so to speak, they’d telegraph back along the line — seen a young lady with a boy and tulips, something’s up evidently, do the police want ‘em, like that, yes, O why had he bought them? Look at those people on the platform now watching him going — but they were not watching him, being too disgusted at having to travel on a Sunday to notice anything but themselves.
When he came back without the tulips she breathed easier for it and began to feel for her hair under brim of hat. He was bewildered.
But they were not long without their tulips. Like old stage joke they were brought to them by lavatory attendant. As he gave them to Mr Jones, who did not resist, he said:
‘You’m be by the banks of the river Nile, mister,’ he said. ‘I sees you forget ‘em out of the corner of me eye from where I was in the office, and I daint stay longer’n to put me coat on before I was after you.’
Miss Gates turned and walked off to end of platform furthest from where other passengers stood.
‘You’ll ‘ave the missus create at you my lad,’ he said, ‘if you go hon forgetting.’ He turned and started back. ‘Maybe, again, you’ll forget ‘erself,’ he said, more to himself than to Mr Jones, turning prophetic. Mr Jones went-after Miss Gates. Now again tulips hung down bobbing along, thumping against calves of his legs under plum coloured suit he wore. When he got to her she said:
‘I come over bad.’
‘Sit on the seat then.’
They sat there.
‘Give ‘em to me dear,’ she said then, suddenly reckless, ‘I don’t care and it’s a shame to hold ‘em the way you are,’ and she took them and rocked them in her arms. He smiled and for a moment had great relief. (For he wanted badly to go to the lavatory and having to leave the tulips had not given him time to have one. Now he could not go back, because of the lavatory attendant. His mind was fixed on possibility of train being corridor train.) At this moment train came in.
As on platform suddenly then she had stopped being afraid to meet someone she knew, now in the compartment, empty but for themselves — and, being Sunday, it was not corridor train — she put tulips on the rack and they did not worry her any more. Now one or two, their heads drooping through meshes of the rack, wobbled at them when train drew out of station.
They sat side by side. Now it was all over she folded eyelids down over her eyes. He thought Derby would be the next stop where there’d be any wait worth calling by the name. Other stations they’d just stop, look out, and be off again.
Tulips, tulips she remembered time of infinite happiness in a cinema when a film was on about tulips. Not about tulips, but tulips came in.
This train stopped at next station. Man came into their compartment. He was working man. They both looked at him, not speaking, and he looked at them and all three turned eyes away from each other’s eyes. Then he looked again at Mr Jones and when train started again he said ‘Excuse me won’ cher but would your name be Pinks?’ Mr Jones said no, his name weren’t Pinks. This man said Pinks had a double in him then, they might be twin brothers for all you could tell the difference between them. ‘Excuse my asking you like that,’ he said and he noticed suddenly tulips on rack above his head — (he was sitting opposite to them). He had to lean his head back to see them properly and when he did Lily winked at Mr Jones. Then, bringing his face down to them, again all three turned eyes away from each other’s eyes.
Lily looked to see if that man should smile but he did not and she thought it unobservant in him not to smile at meaning of those tulips. Then she was surprised because Mr Jones had winked at this man and jerked with his head to other side of the compartment. Both of them went over there, leaving her by herself, and Bert began whispering to him. Miss Gates did not know what to make of it.
They came into next station and stopped. This man got out. As he got out she heard him say to Mr Jones no, he wouldn’t get real chance before Derby. As he went away she plainly heard him say well he hoped it would come out all right for him. She was amazed.
‘What’ll come out all right for you?’ she said and Bert said it was nothing.
‘You didn’t take ‘im into the corner away from me for nothing.’
‘I just wanted to ask ‘im something.’
‘O it’s something now is it, instead of being nothin? Ain’t I supposed to know.’
‘Well no, you ain’t, that is…’
‘Why ain’t I supposed to know?’
‘There weren’t anything in it Lil, it was only I … I won’t tell yer.’
But she looked so miserable then that he explained. He went red in the face when she began to laugh at him. ‘Ah, but I’m not laughing,’ he said and she laughed and discussed ways and means with him. They could find no way out. ‘Kiss me Bert,’ she said but that was no good as he said he could not, the way he was feeling now. Somehow this delighted her. Their journey, at last, was beginning. Every minute they were further from Birmingham and everything harassing was away behind them now. And they were getting near to Derby.
When train drew into Derby station he ran out of the train and she leant out of the window. When he came back all smiles she opened door for him from where she was on the inside, and once he was in she put hands on his shoulders and pushed him down onto the seat. She sat down across his legs and kissed him.
Then she got down and sat by his side. Train started again. Now at last, she thought in mind, this journey is begun. He kissed her.
But it’s not like that. While she expected to be happy she was not and Mr Jones could only think of what they would do when they got to Liverpool.
For as racing pigeon fly in the sky, always they go round above house which provides for them or, if loosed at a distance from that house then they fly straight there, so her thoughts would not point away long from house which had provided for her.
With us it is not only food, as possibly it is for pigeon, but if we are for any length of time among those who love us and whom we love too, then those people become part of ourselves.
As, in Yorkshire, the housewives on a Sunday will go out, in their aprons, carrying a pigeon and throw this one up and it will climb in spirals up in the air, then, when it has reached a sufficient height it will drop down plumb into the apron she holds out for it, so Miss Gates, in her thoughts and when these ever threatened to climb up in air, was always coming bump back again to Mr Craigan. And again, as when we set off impetuously sometimes then all at once we have to stop as suddenly just how little we are rushing off for becomes apparent to us, so, now first excitement was over, for first time it was plain to her just what she was after. She wanted to better herself and she wanted a kid.
At home was Mr Craigan with no more work in him, and her father, and Mr Dale. For some years Mr Dale’s life had been part of hers and she thought in mind how she was mostly Mr Dale’s life.
We do not want a thing so very badly all the time: just now she didn’t, now she came to think on it, particularly want children.
Mr Craigan, what would he do without her? And in his illness, who’d look after him? And wasn’t a bird in hand worth two in the bush? Who’d say if they’d be any better off wherever they were going.
Mr Jones jogged at her arm. What was she thinking of, he thought, she was so silent now? Nodding to window, he said:
She looked out of window. It was the Black Country. Now series of little hills followed one on the heels of another. Small houses. Lots of smoke.
Train began to slow down. She did hate the country anyway really. You couldn’t say anything for this bit but that were lots of towns in it.
Mr Jones then said, wondering still what she could be thinking about.
‘Black Country courtship.’
She looked out at once. When she had heard word ‘courtship’ just now and for some time past heart had tugged at her breathing.
She saw man and girl walking up winding path which had been made up a slag heap. Man was dressed in dark suit with a white stock for collar and wore bowler hat, high crowned. But it was the girl’s clothes interested Miss Gates.
Her clothes were so much exactly what she liked that seeing her walking there, it might have been her twin. Not that she could see her face, but it was just what Miss Gates liked in clothes. And she who had been saving to go to Canada where they wore those things you saw in movie pictures, wide hats and blue shirts! Though the older women did dress more ordinary. But O it was so safe and comfortable what that girl was wearing. Temptation clutched at her. She put forefinger to her mouth. She hoped for train to go on. Train stopped. She could not take eyes away from looking at those two, O it was so safe and comfortable to be walking on this slag heap. For where was she going herself? Where would they walk themselves when they got out there. Miss Gates felt she didn’t want to walk any place where she hadn’t walked before. Or to wear any clothes but what that girl and she liked, and that only where would be others who liked those clothes looking out of train windows or from the roads, wherever they might be.
Looking at her Mr Jones saw she was dreaming. He thought this was a funny way to start off on life’s journey, but then women, he thought in mind, were funny things. He relapsed back into his own worries. Fact was his parents had not written to him for three years. They’d be able to put her up for a night or two till he got the licence and he and Lily got married before they went off. Why hadn’t Lily liked to get married in Brum. Anyway was no hanky panky about her, it was marry or nothing with her, and that’s the way any responsible chap looks at it he thought in mind.
But that was the trouble, suppose he could not find parents. He knew they had changed shop they had managed, and lived over, for another. They had written to say they would write from their new address, but they never had. Suppose the people at the old address did not know where his home had gone. It made you bad to think of it. And his aunt, her who was wife of the lodge-keeper not far from tram terminus, she hadn’t had word of them, not since long before he had. He hadn’t told Lily, had kept it from her. He’d have to tell her, it wouldn’t be right if he didn’t tell her. He’d say, just as they were drawing into Liverpool, how he didn’t know their address just yet as they’d changed houses and he’d lost letter when they’d written to tell him, but he and she would go to the old address and ask. Made you look foolish when you told all that was on your mind and then there was nothing in it. Yes, that’s what he’d say and besides, they’d find them, the people who’d taken over their shop would be bound to know where they’d gone.
Now everything which before had seemed terrible to her, like how if she stayed in Birmingham she would get like all the other women, and Bert the same as all other men, never any better off — only poorer, now this to her put on appearance of the great comfort. But now at the same time she put this from her mind. Wheeling turning her thoughts took on formation ducks have or aeroplanes when they are flying, both of them. She had come so far. She could not go back. ‘Yes, I can’t go back now,’ she said in mind. Blindly her hand stumbled to get in crook of his arm, (for she did not look at him), and crept through like water seeping and round his arm. He turned and kissed her. Then he turned back and watched those two on the slag heap.
They sat. The train was still. She looked at shoes on her feet, he at those two standing on the slag heap above. Her arm was round his arm. She put head on his shoulder, their hair whispered together, both had yellow hair. Train moved on now, smoothly, like water the land glided past outside. He rested his head on hers where it rested on his shoulder. So their heads inclined one to the other, so their breathing fell in one with the other, so they took breath together in one breath as they had been, once before in night. Her arm through his arm felt his body breathe with hers and then her life was deep and strong to her like she couldn’t remember feeling before. He did not notice, for he worried yet.
Mr Craigan took headphones off his head.
Perhaps he could have a sleep. He leant back in chair.
He interlocked fingers of his hand across his belly. He crossed his feet. He closed eyes.
No he could not sleep.
He made movement as if to pick up Little Dorrit which lay on the table.
No he knew he could not read.
He drew back his hand and picked bits of fluff and cotton off his trousers.
He unbuttoned one more button of his shirt.
His fingers worried then at button of his waistcoat. Then he buttoned that button up again on his shirt, with difficulty, his fingers were swollen.
He thought what was it doing outside? He got up. He went to window and drew aside lace curtains. It looked like rain. He thought if it rained it might drive them in. If they weren’t under cover this time.
Coming back to his chair which was by fireplace he saw again photograph of her aunt Ellie. What happened of her. What did her come to?
He knew if he went upstairs he’d know one way or t’other but that’s just what he couldn’t bring himself to do just now. When a thing’s done it’s done. When a job’s scabbed it’s scabbed. He’d talk to her tonight when she came back, her’d know, when she came back. If she did come back.
He sat down again. He looked into grate which had pink paper fan in it. Was clean as a whistle. Her didn’t stint her work. If her took on a job you could wager she’d go right through with it, not just play with it. But there, that was it. He blamed himself. He shouldn’t have put off bawling her out last night.
He’d see what they were doing now in Berlin. He put headphones on his head. As he did this he remembered again how, out of corner of his eye, he’d seen she go past this door out to the street with something in her hand, might have been a bag. It was no use. He took headphones off his head. He sat for a moment Then he got up out of chair and made for the stairs. He climbed them. He went into her room.
They sat in railway carriage side by side. Now she had drawn back from him.
He was so sure they would find his parents when they got to Liverpool that he was making plans now of what they would do in Canada, of how well they would do. Again was first day outside, another fine evening. They stopped at station and he let down the window to let country air in onto air they had brought with them from Birmingham, but Lily asked him to close it. He thought how nervous she seemed but then it was only natural in a woman starting on life’s journey.
Miss Gates was very nervous. She kept herself by force now, as it might be, from thinking of Mr Craigan. She was now wondering how she could ever happen to be in this railway carriage. Bert seemed like stranger to her, and in these strange stations. And the night air that was coming up, it couldn’t be healthy in these parts. But she was frightened, O yes. Night was coming in, she was frightened of this night. In strange house. Not in her own bed. Her underclothes she was now wearing were strange to her, she had made them for this. No, they couldn’t have had that window open, it wasn’t safe.
Then — he was so confident he brought it out by the way like — he told her how he did not know his parents’ address. He told her what they would do.
‘Why did you tell me?’
‘I ‘ad to tell you, love. I wouldn’t ‘ave been right.’
‘But we’ll find them shan’t we Bert?’
‘Of course we will.’
‘Then why put ideas into my ‘ead. Now I feel frightened,’ she said.
He put his arms about her shoulders. He poked his face blindly round in her hair. Strength of his arms about her made her feel safer but all the same her thoughts turned round and round this new thing now, in images. She lay limp against him. She saw them in streets, it getting darker, and they walking and walking till there’d be nowhere they could go. Being with his parents, well it was decent, it wasn’t the last word on what they were going to do, she could still then go back to Birmingham, she hadn’t burnt her boats as they say. But being alone with him, well there you were. She wondered if she could yet go back, even if his people were in Liverpool. She thought they’d just got to be in Liverpool.
Just then train came into a station and stopped. Mr Jones took arms from off her and looked out of window. Noise of loud voices came from towards them along platform, one man said ‘ ‘Ere Charley this’d do,’ another, ‘No Ed let’s go farther along.’ Terrified Miss Gates watched bit of platform through the window and wooden paling behind it on which was nailed advertisement for Pears Soap. Next that was advertisement for Liverpool paper. Behind road outside was pink house and the sky in bars of red and black. She watched this space most intently. Nine men came into it. They looked into this carriage, she saw one man with white face who had bright green muffler. That was bad luck about, seeing green like that. They went by, she heard ‘ere you are — get in ‘ere Sid — of course there ain’t no bloody corridor one said. Good thing there wasn’t a corridor now, even if it had caused a bit of a bother before. Then she remembered these men had been carrying musical instrument cases. She thought what would they have been up to on a Sunday, think, on a Sunday. She did feel so nervous. Porter ran up laughing and said through window to these men how he hoped they were all right. Then he said, walking along by side of train which was now moving, how he did not think the folks down this way would forget them coming for some time yet. The men were all laughing.
This dance band had been hired by vicar to play hymn tunes in church service, for every Sunday now his church was empty and he would do anything to have it full. He had given them tea and while he had gone off to take his evening service and to find the church quite full again, not even standing room, these nine men had come and caught this train back to Liverpool where they lived and worked.
This Sunday had been unusual Sunday for them, by now they were quite worked up. Three sat in racks, six about on the seats. One said to come on and have a tune. As he took saxophone out of case this turned red in sunset light. Pianist said what’ll I do? Someone said he could raise his ugly voice. As they got instruments out of the cases they laughed each one to himself, alone, they played a little separately to tune these instruments. Then they all looked at one man. This one did not seem to move yet all at once suddenly they all slipped into playing, all nine of them, pianist played on cushions of the seat, they were one, no more nine of them, one now.
What more could have been wanted to fit in so with Mr Jones’ happy feelings? In wonderment he listened. He got up. Forgetting Lily he opened window to listen better to them and hung head out
‘Bert’ screamed Miss Gates. She jumped up and pulled at his shoulders.
When he came in again she said: ‘whatever were you doing that for? Why a bridge might ‘ave come and cut your head off and where would I be then?’
Sharp air of evening rushed in on them. She pulled window up. He sat down and when window was up he drew her down onto his knees. He said had she been seared? He kissed her. But she got down from his knees. She listened to tune they were playing with distrust. She trembled.
As he listened beat of that music, so together, made everything in the world brother to him. As he listened and they played he expanded in his feeling and looking back in his memory for something he might express this by he put arms round Lily. He said:
‘In our iron foundry at our place there was a chap used to sing. ‘E ‘ad a wonderful voice, what you might call a really fine voice, you know love what I mean. Last time I ‘eard him sing ‘e went on all day. D’you know what it was? ‘Is wife ‘ad given ‘im a son the night before.’ He kissed Miss Gates. ‘All the chaps used to come round when he sang.’
Again she lay limp in his arms, distraught. Kids, I don’t want ‘em she cried in mind.
Pianist sang. He was tenor. He sang:
Your eyes are my eyes
My heart looks through
Horror. She looked past Mr Jones’ head which was pressing against her head and there was Liverpool beginning. She hated it. Factories. Poor quarters. More and more of them.
She got up and tidied herself by the glass. Her face even frightened her.
So when they got into station and got out she said in mind it was all she could do to walk.
‘Aren’t you going to take the flowers,’ he said laughing.
‘What are you talking of?’ she said. ‘Leave ‘em in there for Christ’s sake.’