The Lost GirlD. H. Lawrence / Romance & Love
THE LOST GIRL
D. H. LAWRENCE
New YorkThomas Seltzer1921
Copyright, 1921,by Thomas Seltzer, Inc.All rights reserved
First Printing, February, 1921Second Printing, February, 1921Third Printing, September, 1921
Printed in the United States of America
I THE DECLINE OF MANCHESTER HOUSE 7
II THE RISE OF ALVINA HOUGHTON 27
III THE MATERNITY NURSE 36
IV TWO WOMEN DIE 49
V THE BEAU 64
VI HOUGHTON'S LAST ENDEAVOUR 95
VII NATCHA-KEE-TAWARA 130
VIII CICCIO 164
IX ALVINA BECOMES ALLAYE 191
X THE FALL OF MANCHESTER HOUSE 235
XI HONOURABLE ENGAGEMENT 273
XII ALLAYE ALSO IS ENGAGED 304
XIII THE WEDDED WIFE 317
XIV THE JOURNEY ACROSS 327
XV THE PLACE CALLED CALIFANO 350
XVI SUSPENSE 359
THE DECLINE OF MANCHESTER HOUSE
Take a mining townlet like Woodhouse, with a population of tenthousand people, and three generations behind it. This space ofthree generations argues a certain well-established society. The oldCounty has fled from the sight of so much disembowelled coal, toflourish on mineral rights in regions still idyllic. Remains onegreat and inaccessible magnate, the local coal owner: threegenerations old, and clambering on the bottom step of the County,kicking off the mass below. Rule him out.
A well established society in Woodhouse, full of fine shades,ranging from the dark of coal-dust to grit of stone-mason andsawdust of timber-merchant, through the lustre of lard and butterand meat, to the perfume of the chemist and the disinfectant of thedoctor, on to the serene gold-tarnish of bank-managers, cashiers forthe firm, clergymen and such-like, as far as the automobilerefulgence of the general-manager of all the collieries. Here the_ne plus ultra_. The general manager lives in the shrubberiedseclusion of the so-called Manor. The genuine Hall, abandoned by theCounty, has been taken over as offices by the firm.
Here we are then: a vast substratum of colliers; a thick sprinklingof tradespeople intermingled with small employers of labour anddiversified by elementary schoolmasters and nonconformist clergy; ahigher layer of bank-managers, rich millers and well-to-doironmasters, episcopal clergy and the managers of collieries, thenthe rich and sticky cherry of the local coal-owner glistening overall.
Such the complicated social system of a small industrial town in theMidlands of England, in this year of grace 1920. But let us go backa little. Such it was in the last calm year of plenty, 1913.
A calm year of plenty. But one chronic and dreary malady: that ofthe odd women. Why, in the name of all prosperity, should everyclass but the lowest in such a society hang overburdened with DeadSea fruit of odd women, unmarried, unmarriageable women, called oldmaids? Why is it that every tradesman, every school-master, everybank-manager, and every clergyman produces one, two, three or moreold maids? Do the middle-classes, particularly the lowermiddle-classes, give birth to more girls than boys? Or do the lowermiddle-class men assiduously climb up or down, in marriage, thusleaving their true partners stranded? Or are middle-class women verysqueamish in their choice of husbands?
However it be, it is a tragedy. Or perhaps it is not.
Perhaps these unmarried women of the middle-classes are the famoussexless-workers of our ant-industrial society, of which we hear somuch. Perhaps all they lack is an occupation: in short, a job. Butperhaps we might hear their own opinion, before we lay the law down.
In Woodhouse, there was a terrible crop of old maids among thenobs, the tradespeople and the clergy. The whole town of women,colliers' wives and all, held its breath as it saw a chance of oneof these daughters of comfort and woe getting off. They flocked tothe well-to-do weddings with an intoxication of relief. For letclass-jealousy be what it may, a woman hates to see another womanleft stalely on the shelf, without a chance. They all _wanted_ themiddle-class girls to find husbands. Every one wanted it, includingthe girls themselves. Hence the dismalness.
Now James Houghton had only one child: his daughter Alvina. SurelyAlvina Houghton--
But let us retreat to the early eighties, when Alvina was a baby: oreven further back, to the palmy days of James Houghton. In his palmydays, James Houghton was _creme de la creme_ of Woodhouse society.The house of Houghton had always been well-to-do: tradespeople, wemust admit; but after a few generations of affluence, tradespeopleacquire a distinct _cachet_. Now James Houghton, at the age oftwenty-eight, inherited a splendid business in Manchester goods, inWoodhouse. He was a tall, thin, elegant young man with side-whiskers,genuinely refined, somewhat in the Bulwer style. He had a taste forelegant conversation and elegant literature and elegant Christianity:a tall, thin, brittle young man, rather fluttering in his manner, fullof facile ideas, and with a beautiful speaking voice: most beautiful.Withal, of course, a tradesman. He courted a small, dark woman, olderthan himself, daughter of a Derbyshire squire. He expected to get atleast ten thousand pounds with her. In which he was disappointed, forhe got only eight hundred. Being of a romantic-commercial nature, henever forgave her, but always treated her with the most elegantcourtesy. To seehim peel and prepare an apple for her was an exquisitesight. But that peeled and quartered apple was her portion. Thiselegant Adam of commerce gave Eve her own back, nicely cored, and hadno more to do with her. Meanwhile Alvina was born.
Before all this, however, before his marriage, James Houghton hadbuilt Manchester House. It was a vast square building--vast, thatis, for Woodhouse--standing on the main street and high-road of thesmall but growing town. The lower front consisted of two fine shops,one for Manchester goods, one for silk and woollens. This was JamesHoughton's commercial poem.
For James Houghton was a dreamer, and something of a poet: commercial,be it understood. He liked the novels of George Macdonald, and thefantasies of that author, extremely. He wove one continual fantasy forhimself, a fantasy of commerce. He dreamed of silks and poplins,luscious in texture and of unforeseen exquisiteness: he dreamed ofcarriages of the County arrested before his windows, of exquisitewomen ruffling charmed, entranced to his counter. And charming,entrancing, he served them his lovely fabrics, which only he and theycould sufficiently appreciate. His fame spread, until Alexandra,Princess of Wales, and Elizabeth, Empress of Austria, the twobest-dressed women in Europe, floated down from heaven to the shop inWoodhouse, and sallied forth to show what could be done by purchasingfrom James Houghton.
We cannot say why James Houghton failed to become the Liberty or theSnelgrove of his day. Perhaps he had too much imagination. Be that asit may, in those early days when he brought his wife to her new home,his window on the Manchester side was a foam and a may-blossom ofmuslins and prints, his window on the London side was an autumn eveningof silks and rich fabrics. What wife could fail to be dazzled! But she,poor darling, from her stone hall in stony Derbyshire, was a little bitrepulsed by the man's dancing in front of his stock, like David beforethe ark.
The home to which he brought her was a monument. In the great bedroomover the shop he had his furniture _built_: built of solid mahogany: ohtoo, too solid. No doubt he hopped or skipped himself with satisfactioninto the monstrous matrimonial bed: it could only be mounted by meansof a stool and chair. But the poor, secluded little woman, older thanhe, must have climbed up with a heavy heart, to lie and face the gloomyBastille of mahogany, the great cupboard opposite, or to turn wearilysideways to the great cheval mirror, which performed a perpetual andhideous bow before her grace. Such furniture! It could never be removedfrom the room.
The little child was born in the second year. And then James Houghtondecamped to a small, half-furnished bedroom at the other end of thehouse, where he slept on a rough board and played the anchorite for therest of his days. His wife was left alone with her baby and thebuilt-in furniture. She developed heart disease, as a result of nervousrepressions.
But like a butterfly James fluttered over his fabrics. He was a tyrantto his shop-girls. No French marquis in a Dickens' novel could havebeen more elegant and _raffine_ and heartless. The girls detested him.And yet, his curious refinement and enthusiasm bore them away. Theysubmitted to him. The shop attracted much curiosity. But thepoor-spirited Woodhouse people were weak buyers. They wearied JamesHoughton with their demand for common zephyrs, for red flannel whichthey would scallop with black worsted, for black alpacas and bombazinesand merinos. He fluffed out his silk-striped muslins, his Indiacotton-prints. But the natives shied off as if he had offered them thepoisoned robes of Herakles.
There was a sale. These sales contributed a good deal to Mrs.Houghton's nervous heart-disease. They brought the first signs of wearand tear into the face of James Houghton. At first, of course, hemerely marked down, with discretion, his less-expensive stock of printsand muslins, nuns-veilings and muslin delaines, with a few fancybraidings and trimmings in guimp or bronze to enliven the affair. AndWoodhouse bought cautiously.
After the sale, however, James Houghton felt himself at liberty toplunge into an orgy of new stock. He flitted, with a tense look on hisface, to Manchester. After which huge bundles, bales and boxes arrivedin Woodhouse, and were dumped on the pavement of the shop. Fridayevening came, and with it a revelation in Houghton's window: the firstpiques, the first strangely-woven and honey-combed toilet covers andbed quilts, the first frill-caps and aprons for maid-servants: a wonderin white. That was how James advertised it. A Wonder in White. Whoknows but that he had been reading Wilkie Collins' famous novel!
As the nine days of the wonder-in-white passed and receded, Jamesdisappeared in the direction of London. A few Fridays later he came outwith his Winter Touch. Weird and wonderful winter coats, forladies--everything James handled was for ladies, he scorned the coarsersex--: weird and wonderful winter coats for ladies, of thick, black,pockmarked cloth, stood and flourished their bear-fur cuffs in thebackground, while tippets, boas, muffs and winter-fancies coquetted infront of the window-space. Friday-night crowds gathered outside: thegas-lamps shone their brightest: James Houghton hovered in thebackground like an author on his first night in the theatre. Theresult was a sensation. Ten villages stared and crushed round the plateglass. It was a sensation: but what sensation! In the breasts of thecrowd, wonder, admiration, _fear_, and ridicule. Let us stress the wordfear. The inhabitants of Woodhouse were afraid lest James Houghtonshould impose his standards upon them. His goods were in excellenttaste: but his customers were in as bad taste as possible. They stoodoutside and pointed, giggled, and jeered. Poor James, like an author onhis first night, saw his work fall more than flat.
But still he believed in his own excellence: and quite justly. Whathe failed to perceive was that the crowd hated excellence. Woodhousewanted a gently graduated progress in mediocrity, a mediocrity sostale and flat that it fell outside the imagination of any sensitivemortal. Woodhouse wanted a series of vulgar little thrills, as onetawdry mediocrity was imported from Nottingham or Birmingham to takethe place of some tawdry mediocrity which Nottingham and Birminghamhad already discarded. That Woodhouse, as a very condition of itsown being, hated any approach to originality or real taste, thisJames Houghton could never learn. He thought he had not been cleverenough, when he had been far, far too clever already. He alwaysthought that Dame Fortune was a capricious and fastidious dame, asort of Elizabeth of Austria or Alexandra, Princess of Wales,elegant beyond his grasp. Whereas Dame Fortune, even in London orVienna, let alone in Woodhouse, was a vulgar woman of the middle andlower middle-class, ready to put her heavy foot on anything that wasnot vulgar, machine-made, and appropriate to the herd. When he sawhis delicate originalities, as well as his faint flourishes ofdraper's fantasy, squashed flat under the calm and solid foot ofvulgar Dame Fortune, he fell into fits of depression bordering onmysticism, and talked to his wife in a vague way of higherinfluences and the angel Israfel. She, poor lady, was thoroughlyscared by Israfel, and completely unhooked by the vagaries of James.
At last--we hurry down the slope of James' misfortunes--the realdays of Houghton's Great Sales began. Houghton's Great BargainEvents were really events. After some years of hanging on, he let gosplendidly. He marked down his prints, his chintzes, his dimitiesand his veilings with a grand and lavish hand. Bang went his bluepencil through 3/11, and nobly he subscribed 1/0-3/4. Prices felllike nuts. A lofty one-and-eleven rolled down to six-three, 1/6magically shrank into 4-3/4d, whilst good solid prints exposedthemselves at 3-3/4d per yard.
Now this was really an opportunity. Moreover the goods, havingbecome a little stale during their years of ineffectuality, werebeginning to approximate to the public taste. And besides, goodsound stuff it was, no matter what the pattern. And so the littleWoodhouse girls went to school in petties and drawers made ofmaterial which James had destined for fair summer dresses: pettiesand drawers of which the little Woodhouse girls were ashamed, forall that. For if they should chance to turn up their little skirts,be sure they would raise a chorus among their companions: Yah-h-h,yer've got Houghton's threp'ny draws on!
All this time James Houghton walked on air. He still saw the FataMorgana snatching his fabrics round her lovely form, and pointinghim to wealth untold. True, he became also Superintendent of theSunday School. But whether this was an act of vanity, or whether itwas an attempt to establish an Entente Cordiale with higher powers,who shall judge.
Meanwhile his wife became more and more an invalid; the littleAlvina was a pretty, growing child. Woodhouse was really impressedby the sight of Mrs. Houghton, small, pale and withheld, taking awalk with her dainty little girl, so fresh in an ermine tippet and amuff. Mrs. Houghton in shiny black bear's-fur, the child in thewhite and spotted ermine, passing silent and shadowy down thestreet, made an impression which the people did not forget.
But Mrs. Houghton had pains at her heart. If, during her walk, shesaw two little boys having a scrimmage, she had to run to them withpence and entreaty, leaving them dumfounded, whilst she leaned blueat the lips against a wall. If she saw a carter crack his whip overthe ears of the horse, as the horse laboured uphill, she had tocover her eyes and avert her face, and all her strength left her.
So she stayed more and more in her room, and the child was given tothe charge of a governess. Miss Frost was a handsome, vigorous youngwoman of about thirty years of age, with grey-white hair andgold-rimmed spectacles. The white hair was not at all tragical: itwas a family _trait_.
Miss Frost mattered more than any one else to Alvina Houghton,during the first long twenty-five years of the girl's life. Thegoverness was a strong, generous woman, a musician by nature. Shehad a sweet voice, and sang in the choir of the chapel, and took thefirst class of girls in the Sunday-School of which James Houghtonwas Superintendent. She disliked and rather despised James Houghton,saw in him elements of a hypocrite, detested his airy and graciousselfishness, his lack of human feeling, and most of all, his fairyfantasy. As James went further into life, he became a dreamer. Sadindeed that he died before the days of Freud. He enjoyed the mostwonderful and fairy-like dreams, which he could describe perfectly,in charming, delicate language. At such times his beautifullymodulated voice all but sang, his grey eyes gleamed fiercely underhis bushy, hairy eyebrows, his pale face with its side-whiskers hada strange _lueur_, his long thin hands fluttered occasionally. Hehad become meagre in figure, his skimpy but genteel coat would bebuttoned over his breast, as he recounted his dream-adventures,adventures that were half Edgar Allan Poe, half Andersen, withtouches of Vathek and Lord Byron and George Macdonald: perhaps morethan a touch of the last. Ladies were always struck by theseaccounts. But Miss Frost never felt so strongly moved to impatienceas when she was within hearing.
For twenty years, she and James Houghton treated each other with acourteous distance. Sometimes she broke into open impatience withhim, sometimes he answered her tartly: Indeed, indeed! Oh, indeed!Well, well, I'm sorry you find it so-- as if the injury consistedin her finding it so. Then he would flit away to the ConservativeClub, with a fleet, light, hurried step, as if pressed by fate. Atthe club he played chess--at which he was excellent--and conversed.Then he flitted back at half-past twelve, to dinner.
The whole morale of the house rested immediately on Miss Frost. Shesaw her line in the first year. She must defend the little Alvina,whom she loved as her own, and the nervous, petulant, heart-strickenwoman, the mother, from the vagaries of James. Not that James hadany vices. He did not drink or smoke, was abstemious and clean as ananchorite, and never lowered his fine tone. But still, the twounprotected ones must be sheltered from him. Miss Frostimperceptibly took into her hands the reins of the domesticgovernment. Her rule was quiet, strong, and generous. She was notseeking her own way. She was steering the poor domestic ship ofManchester House, illuminating its dark rooms with her own sure,radiant presence: her silver-white hair, and her pale, heavy,reposeful face seemed to give off a certain radiance. She seemed togive weight, ballast, and repose to the staggering and bewilderedhome. She controlled the maid, and suggested the meals--meals whichJames ate without knowing what he ate. She brought in flowers andbooks, and, very rarely, a visitor. Visitors were out of place inthe dark sombreness of Manchester House. Her flowers charmed thepetulant invalid, her books she sometimes discussed with the airyJames: after which discussions she was invariably filled withexasperation and impatience, whilst James invariably retired to theshop, and was heard raising his musical voice, which the work-girlshated, to one or other of the work-girls.
James certainly had an irritating way of speaking of a book. Hetalked of incidents, and effects, and suggestions, as if the wholething had just been a sensational-aesthetic attribute to himself. Nota grain of human feeling in the man, said Miss Frost, flushing pinkwith exasperation. She herself invariably took the human line.
Meanwhile the shops began to take on a hopeless and frowsy look.After ten years' sales, spring sales, summer sales, autumn sales,winter sales, James began to give up the drapery dream. He himselfcould not bear any more to put the heavy, pock-holed black clothcoat, with wild bear cuffs and collar, on to the stand. He hadmarked it down from five guineas to one guinea, and then, oh ignobleday, to ten-and-six. He nearly kissed the gipsy woman with a basketof tin saucepan-lids, when at last she bought it for five shillings,at the end of one of his winter sales. But even she, in spite of thebitter sleety day, would not put the coat on in the shop. Shecarried it over her arm down to the Miners' Arms. And later, with ashock that really hurt him, James, peeping bird-like out of his shopdoor, saw her sitting driving a dirty rag-and-bone cart with agreen-white, mouldy pony, and flourishing her arms like some wildand hairy-decorated squaw. For the long bear-fur, wet with sleet,seemed like a _chevaux de frise_ of long porcupine quills round herfore-arms and her neck. Yet such good, such wonderful material! Jameseyed it for one moment, and then fled like a rabbit to the stove inhis back regions.
The higher powers did not seem to fulfil the terms of treaty whichJames hoped for. He began to back out from the Entente. The SundaySchool was a great trial to him. Instead of being carried away byhis grace and eloquence, the nasty louts of colliery boys and girlsopenly banged their feet and made deafening noises when he tried tospeak. He said many acid and withering things, as he stood there onthe rostrum. But what is the good of saying acid things to thoselittle fiends and gall-bladders, the colliery children. Thesituation was saved by Miss Frost's sweeping together all the biggirls, under her surveillance, and by her organizing that the talland handsome blacksmith who taught the lower boys should extend hisinfluence over the upper boys. His influence was more thaneffectual. It consisted in gripping any recalcitrant boy just abovethe knee, and jesting with him in a jocular manner, in the dialect.The blacksmith's hand was all a blacksmith's hand need be, and hisdialect was as broad as could be wished. Between the grip and thehomely idiom no boy could endure without squealing. So the SundaySchool paid more attention to James, whose prayers were beautiful.But then one of the boys, a protege of Miss Frost, having been leftfor half an hour in the obscure room with Mrs. Houghton, gave awaythe secret of the blacksmith's grip, which secret so haunted thepoor lady that it marked a stage in the increase of her malady, andmade Sunday afternoon a nightmare to her. And then James Houghtonresented something in the coarse Scotch manner of the minister ofthat day. So that the superintendency of the Sunday School came toan end.
At the same time, Solomon had to divide his baby. That is, he letthe London side of his shop to W. H. Johnson, the tailor andhaberdasher, a parvenu little fellow whose English would not bearanalysis. Bitter as it was, it had to be. Carpenters and joinersappeared, and the premises were completely severed. From her room inthe shadows at the back the invalid heard the hammering and sawing,and suffered. W. H. Johnson came out with a spick-and-span window,and had his wife, a shrewd, quiet woman, and his daughter, ahandsome, loud girl, to help him on Friday evenings. Men flockedin--even women, buying their husbands a sixpence-halfpenny tie. Theycould have bought a tie for four-three from James Houghton. But no,they would rather give sixpence-halfpenny for W.H. Johnson's freshbut rubbishy stuff. And James, who had tried to rise to anothersuccessful sale, saw the streams pass into the other doorway, andheard the heavy feet on the hollow boards of the other shop: hisshop no more.
After this cut at his pride and integrity he lay in retirement for awhile, mystically inclined. Probably he would have come toSwedenborg, had not his clipt wings spread for a new flight. He hitupon the brilliant idea of working up his derelict fabrics intoready-mades: not men's clothes, oh no: women's, or rather, ladies'.Ladies' Tailoring, said the new announcement.
James Houghton was happy once more. A zig-zag wooden stair-way wasrigged up the high back of Manchester House. In the great loftssewing-machines of various patterns and movements were installed. Amanageress was advertised for, and work-girls were hired. So a newphase of life started. At half-past six in the morning there was aclatter of feet and of girls' excited tongues along the back-yardand up the wooden stair-way outside the back wall. The poor invalidheard every clack and every vibration. She could never get over hernervous apprehension of an invasion. Every morning alike, she feltan invasion of some enemy was breaking in on her. And all day longthe low, steady rumble of sewing-machines overhead seemed like thelow drumming of a bombardment upon her weak heart. To make mattersworse, James Houghton decided that he must have his sewing-machinesdriven by some extra-human force. He installed another plant ofmachinery--acetylene or some such contrivance--which was intended todrive all the little machines from one big belt. Hence a furtherthrobbing and shaking in the upper regions, truly terrible toendure. But, fortunately or unfortunately, the acetylene plant wasnot a success. Girls got their thumbs pierced, and sewing machinesabsolutely refused to stop sewing, once they had started, andabsolutely refused to start, once they had stopped. So that after awhile, one loft was reserved for disused and rusty, but expensiveengines.
Dame Fortune, who had refused to be taken by fine fabrics and fancytrimmings, was just as reluctant to be captured by ready-mades.Again the good dame was thoroughly lower middle-class. JamesHoughton designed robes. Now Robes were the mode. Perhaps it wasAlexandra, Princess of Wales, who gave glory to the slim,glove-fitting Princess Robe. Be that as it may, James Houghtondesigned robes. His work-girls, a race even more callous thanshop-girls, proclaimed the fact that James tried on his owninventions upon his own elegant thin person, before the privacy ofhis own cheval mirror. And even if he did, why not? Miss Frost,hearing this legend, looked sideways at the enthusiast.
Let us remark in time that Miss Frost had already ceased to draw anymaintenance from James Houghton. Far from it, she herselfcontributed to the upkeep of the domestic hearth and board. She hadfully decided never to leave her two charges. She knew that agoverness was an impossible item in Manchester House, as thingswent. And so she trudged the country, giving music lessons to thedaughters of tradesmen and of colliers who boasted pianofortes. Sheeven taught heavy-handed but dauntless colliers, who were seizedwith a passion to play. Miles she trudged, on her round fromvillage to village: a white-haired woman with a long, quick stride,a strong figure, and a quick, handsome smile when once her faceawoke behind her gold-rimmed glasses. Like many short-sightedpeople, she had a certain intent look of one who goes her own way.
The miners knew her, and entertained the highest respect andadmiration for her. As they streamed in a grimy stream home frompit, they diverged like some magic dark river from off the pavementinto the horse-way, to give her room as she approached. And the menwho knew her well enough to salute her, by calling her name MissFrost! giving it the proper intonation of salute, were fussy menindeed. She's a lady if ever there was one, they said. And theymeant it. Hearing her name, poor Miss Frost would flash a smile anda nod from behind her spectacles, but whose black face she smiled toshe never, or rarely knew. If she did chance to get an inkling, thengladly she called in reply Mr. Lamb, or Mr. Calladine. In herway she was a proud woman, for she was regarded with cordialrespect, touched with veneration, by at least a thousand colliers,and by perhaps as many colliers' wives. That is something, for anywoman.
Miss Frost charged fifteen shillings for thirteen weeks' lessons,two lessons a week. And at that she was considered rather dear. Shewas supposed to be making money. What money she made went chiefly tosupport the Houghton household. In the meanwhile she drilled Alvinathoroughly in theory and pianoforte practice, for Alvina wasnaturally musical, and besides this she imparted to the girl theelements of a young lady's education, including the drawing offlowers in water-colour, and the translation of a Lamartine poem.
Now incredible as it may seem, fate threw another prop to thefalling house of Houghton, in the person of the manageress of thework-girls, Miss Pinnegar. James Houghton complained of Fortune, yetto what other man would Fortune have sent two such women as MissFrost and Miss Pinnegar, _gratis_? Yet there they were. And doubtfulif James was ever grateful for their presence.
If Miss Frost saved him from heaven knows what domestic debacle andhorror, Miss Pinnegar saved him from the workhouse. Let us not mincematters. For a dozen years Miss Frost supported the heart-stricken,nervous invalid, Clariss Houghton: for more than twenty years shecherished, tended and protected the young Alvina, shielding thechild alike from a neurotic mother and a father such as James. Fornearly twenty years she saw that food was set on the table, andclean sheets were spread on the beds: and all the time remainedvirtually in the position of an outsider, without one grain ofestablished authority.
And then to find Miss Pinnegar! In her way, Miss Pinnegar was verydifferent from Miss Frost. She was a rather short, stout,mouse-coloured, creepy kind of woman with a high colour in hercheeks, and dun, close hair like a cap. It was evident she was not alady: her grammar was not without reproach. She had pale grey eyes,and a padding step, and a soft voice, and almost purplish cheeks.Mrs. Houghton, Miss Frost, and Alvina did not like her. Theysuffered her unwillingly.
But from the first she had a curious ascendancy over James Houghton.One would have expected his aesthetic eye to be offended. But nodoubt it was her voice: her soft, near, sure voice, which seemedalmost like a secret touch upon her hearer. Now many of her hearersdisliked being secretly touched, as it were beneath their clothing.Miss Frost abhorred it: so did Mrs. Houghton. Miss Frost's voice wasclear and straight as a bell-note, open as the day. Yet Alvina,though in loyalty she adhered to her beloved Miss Frost, did notreally mind the quiet suggestive power of Miss Pinnegar. For MissPinnegar was not vulgarly insinuating. On the contrary, the thingsshe said were rather clumsy and downright. It was only that sheseemed to weigh what she said, secretly, before she said it, andthen she approached as if she would slip it into her hearer'sconsciousness without his being aware of it. She seemed to slide herspeeches unnoticed into one's ears, so that one accepted themwithout the slightest challenge. That was just her manner ofapproach. In her own way, she was as loyal and unselfish as MissFrost. There are such poles of opposition between honesties andloyalties.
Miss Pinnegar had the _second_ class of girls in the Sunday School,and she took second, subservient place in Manchester House. By forceof nature, Miss Frost took first place. Only when Miss Pinnegarspoke to Mr. Houghton--nay, the very way she addressed herself tohim--What do _you_ think, Mr. Houghton?--then there seemed to beassumed an immediacy of correspondence between the two, and anunquestioned priority in their unison, his and hers, which was acruel thorn in Miss Frost's outspoken breast. This sort of secretintimacy and secret exulting in having, _really_, the chief power,was most repugnant to the white-haired woman. Not that there was, infact, any secrecy, or any form of unwarranted correspondence betweenJames Houghton and Miss Pinnegar. Far from it. Each of them wouldhave found any suggestion of such a possibility repulsive in theextreme. It was simply an implicit correspondence between their twopsyches, an immediacy of understanding which preceded allexpression, tacit, wireless.
Miss Pinnegar lived in: so that the household consisted of theinvalid, who mostly sat, in her black dress with a white lace collarfastened by a twisted gold brooch, in her own dim room, doingnothing, nervous and heart-suffering; then James, and the thin youngAlvina, who adhered to her beloved Miss Frost, and then these twostrange women. Miss Pinnegar never lifted up her voice in householdaffairs: she seemed, by her silence, to admit her own inadequacy inculture and intellect, when topics of interest were being discussed,only coming out now and then with defiant platitudes andtruisms--for almost defiantly she took the commonplace, vulgarianpoint of view; yet after everything she would turn with her quiet,triumphant assurance to James Houghton, and start on some point ofbusiness, soft, assured, ascendant. The others shut their ears.
Now Miss Pinnegar had to get her footing slowly. She had to letJames run the gamut of his creations. Each Friday night new wonders,robes and ladies' suits--the phrase was very new--garnished thewindow of Houghton's shop. It was one of the sights of the place,Houghton's window on Friday night. Young or old, no individual,certainly no female left Woodhouse without spending an excited andusually hilarious ten minutes on the pavement under the window.Muffled shrieks of young damsels who had just got their first view,guffaws of sympathetic youths, continued giggling and expostulationand Eh, but what price the umbrella skirt, my girl! and You'dlike to marry me in _that_, my boy--what? not half!--or else Eh,now, if you'd seen me in _that_ you'd have fallen in love with me atfirst sight, shouldn't you?--with a probable answer I should havefallen over myself making haste to get away--loud guffaws:--allthis was the regular Friday night's entertainment in Woodhouse.James Houghton's shop was regarded as a weekly comic issue. Hispique costumes with glass buttons and sort of steel-trimming collarsand cuffs were immortal.
But why, once more, drag it out. Miss Pinnegar served in the shop onFriday nights. She stood by her man. Sometimes when the shrieks grewloudest she came to the shop door and looked with her pale grey eyesat the ridiculous mob of lasses in tam-o-shanters and youths halfburied in caps. And she imposed a silence. They edged away.
Meanwhile Miss Pinnegar pursued the sober and even tenor of her ownway. Whilst James lashed out, to use the local phrase, in robes andsuits, Miss Pinnegar steadily ground away, producing strong,indestructible shirts and singlets for the colliers, sound,serviceable aprons for the colliers' wives, good print dresses forservants, and so on. She executed no flights of fancy. She had hergoods made to suit her people. And so, underneath the foam and frothof James' creative adventure flowed a slow but steady stream ofoutput and income. The women of Woodhouse came at last to _depend_on Miss Pinnegar. Growing lads in the pit reduce their garments toshreds with amazing expedition. I'll go to Miss Pinnegar for thyshirts this time, my lad, said the harassed mothers, and see if_they'll_ stand thee. It was almost like a threat. But it servedManchester House.
James bought very little stock in these days: just remnants andpieces for his immortal robes. It was Miss Pinnegar who saw thetravellers and ordered the unions and calicoes and grey flannel.James hovered round and said the last word, of course. But what washis last word but an echo of Miss Pinnegar's penultimate! He was notinterested in unions and twills.
His own stock remained on hand. Time, like a slow whirlpoolchurned it over into sight and out of sight, like a mass of deadsea-weed in a backwash. There was a regular series of salesfortnightly. The display of creations fell off. The newentertainment was the Friday-night's sale. James would attack someportion of his stock, make a wild jumble of it, spend a deliriousWednesday and Thursday marking down, and then open on Fridayafternoon. In the evening there was a crush. A good moire underskirtfor one-and-eleven-three was not to be neglected, and a handsomestring-lace collarette for six-three would iron out and be worth atleast three-and-six. That was how it went: it would nearly all ofit iron out into something really nice, poor James' crumpled stock.His fine, semi-transparent face flushed pink, his eyes flashed as hetook in the sixpences and handed back knots of tape or packets ofpins for the notorious farthings. What matter if the farthing changehad originally cost him a halfpenny! His shop was crowded with womenpeeping and pawing and turning things over and commenting in loud,unfeeling tones. For there were still many comic items. Once, forexample, he suddenly heaped up piles of hats, trimmed and untrimmed,the weirdest, sauciest, most screaming shapes. Woodhouse enjoyeditself that night.
And all the time, in her quiet, polite, think-the-more fashion MissPinnegar waited on the people, showing them considerable forbearanceand just a tinge of contempt. She became very tired thoseevenings--her hair under its invisible hairnet became flatter, hercheeks hung down purplish and mottled. But while James stood shestood. The people did not like her, yet she influenced them. And thestock slowly wilted, withered. Some was scrapped. The shop seemed tohave digested some of its indigestible contents.
James accumulated sixpences in a miserly fashion. Luckily for herwork-girls, Miss Pinnegar took her own orders, and received paymentsfor her own productions. Some of her regular customers paid her ashilling a week--or less. But it made a small, steady income. Shereserved her own modest share, paid the expenses of her department,and left the residue to James.
James had accumulated sixpences, and made a little space in hisshop. He had desisted from creations. Time now for a new flight.He decided it was better to be a manufacturer than a tradesman. Hisshop, already only half its original size, was again too big. Itmight be split once more. Rents had risen in Woodhouse. Why not cutoff another shop from his premises?
No sooner said than done. In came the architect, with whom he hadplayed many a game of chess. Best, said the architect, take off onegood-sized shop, rather than halve the premises. James would be lefta little cramped, a little tight, with only one-third of his presentspace. But as we age we dwindle.
More hammering and alterations, and James found himself cooped in along, long narrow shop, very dark at the back, with a high oblongwindow and a door that came in at a pinched corner. Next door to himwas a cheerful new grocer of the cheap and florid type. The newgrocer whistled Just Like the Ivy, and shouted boisterously to hisshop-boy. In his doorway, protruding on James' sensitive vision, wasa pyramid of sixpence-halfpenny tins of salmon, red, shiny tins withpink halved salmons depicted, and another yellow pyramid offour-pence-halfpenny tins of pineapple. Bacon dangled in pale rolls_almost_ over James' doorway, whilst straw and paper, redolent ofcheese, lard, and stale eggs filtered through the threshold.
This was coming down in the world, with a vengeance. But what Jameslost downstairs he tried to recover upstairs. Heaven knows what hewould have done, but for Miss Pinnegar. She kept her own work-roomsagainst him, with a soft, heavy, silent tenacity that would havebeaten stronger men than James. But his strength lay in hispliability. He rummaged in the empty lofts, and among the discardedmachinery. He rigged up the engines afresh, bought two new machines,and started an elastic department, making elastic for garters andfor hat-chins.
He was immensely proud of his first cards of elastic, and saw DameFortune this time fast in his yielding hands. But, becoming used todisillusionment, he almost welcomed it. Within six months herealized that every inch of elastic cost him exactly sixty per cent.more than he could sell it for, and so he scrapped his newdepartment. Luckily, he sold one machine and even gained two poundson it.
After this, he made one last effort. This was hosiery webbing, whichcould be cut up and made into as-yet-unheard-of garments. MissPinnegar kept her thumb on this enterprise, so that it was not muchmore than abortive. And then James left her alone.
Meanwhile the shop slowly churned its oddments. Every Thursdayafternoon James sorted out tangles of bits and bobs, antiquegarments and occasional finds. With these he trimmed his window, sothat it looked like a historical museum, rather soiled and scrappy.Indoors he made baskets of assortments: threepenny, sixpenny,ninepenny and shilling baskets, rather like a bran pie in whicheverything was a plum. And then, on Friday evening, thin and alerthe hovered behind the counter, his coat shabbily buttoned over hisnarrow chest, his face agitated. He had shaved his side-whiskers,so that they only grew becomingly as low as his ears. His ratherlarge, grey moustache was brushed off his mouth. His hair, gone verythin, was brushed frail and floating over his baldness. But still agentleman, still courteous, with a charming voice he suggested thepossibilities of a pad of green parrots' tail-feathers, or of a fewyards of pink-pearl trimming or of old chenille fringe. The womenwould pinch the thick, exquisite old chenille fringe, delicate andfaded, curious to feel its softness. But they wouldn't givethreepence for it. Tapes, ribbons, braids, buttons, feathers,jabots, bussels, appliques, fringes, jet-trimmings, bugle-trimmings,bundles of old coloured machine-lace, many bundles of strange cord,in all colours, for old-fashioned braid-patterning, ribbons withH.M.S. Birkenhead, for boys' sailor caps--everything that nobodywanted, did the women turn over and over, till they chanced on afind. And James' quick eyes watched the slow surge of his flotsam,as the pot boiled but did not boil away. Wonderful that he did notthink of the days when these bits and bobs were new treasures. Buthe did not.
And at his side Miss Pinnegar quietly took orders for shirts,discussed and agreed, made measurements and received instalments.
The shop was now only opened on Friday afternoons and evenings, soevery day, twice a day, James was seen dithering bare-headed andhastily down the street, as if pressed by fate, to the ConservativeClub, and twice a day he was seen as hastily returning, to hismeals. He was becoming an old man: his daughter was a young woman:but in his own mind he was just the same, and his daughter was alittle child, his wife a young invalid whom he must charm by somefew delicate attentions--such as the peeled apple.
At the club he got into more mischief. He met men who wanted toextend a brickfield down by the railway. The brickfield was calledKlondyke. James had now a new direction to run in: down hill towardsBagthorpe, to Klondyke. Big penny-daisies grew in tufts on the brinkof the yellow clay at Klondyke, yellow eggs-and-bacon spread theirmidsummer mats of flower. James came home with clay smeared all overhim, discoursing brilliantly on grit and paste and presses and kilnsand stamps. He carried home a rough and pinkish brick, and gloatedover it. It was a _hard_ brick, it was a non-porous brick. It was anugly brick, painfully heavy and parched-looking.
This time he was sure: Dame Fortune would rise like Persephone outof the earth. He was all the more sure, because other men of thetown were in with him at this venture: sound, moneyed grocers andplumbers. They were all going to become rich.
Klondyke lasted a year and a half, and was not so bad, for in theend, all things considered, James had lost not more than five percent. of his money. In fact, all things considered, he was aboutsquare. And yet he felt Klondyke as the greatest blow of all. MissPinnegar would have aided and abetted him in another scheme, if itwould but have cheered him. Even Miss Frost was nice with him. Butto no purpose. In the year after Klondyke he became an old man, heseemed to have lost all his feathers, he acquired a plucked,tottering look.
Yet he roused up, after a coal-strike. Throttle-Ha'penny put newlife into him. During a coal-strike the miners themselves begandigging in the fields, just near the houses, for the surface coal.They found a plentiful seam of drossy, yellowish coal behind theMethodist New Connection Chapel. The seam was opened in the side ofa bank, and approached by a footrill, a sloping shaft down which themen walked. When the strike was over, two or three miners stillremained working the soft, drossy coal, which they sold foreight-and-sixpence a ton--or sixpence a hundredweight. But a miningpopulation scorned such dirt, as they called it.
James Houghton, however, was seized with a desire to work theConnection Meadow seam, as he called it. He gathered two minerpartners--he trotted endlessly up to the field, he talked, as he hadnever talked before, with inumerable colliers. Everybody he met hestopped, to talk Connection Meadow.
And so at last he sank a shaft, sixty feet deep, rigged up acorrugated-iron engine-house with a winding-engine, and lowered hismen one at a time down the shaft, in a big bucket. The whole affairwas ricketty, amateurish, and twopenny. The name Connection Meadowwas forgotten within three months. Everybody knew the place asThrottle-Ha'penny. What! said a collier to his wife: have we gotno coal? You'd better get a bit from Throttle-Ha'penny. Nay,replied the wife, I'm sure I shan't. I'm sure I shan't burn thatmuck, and smother myself with white ash.
It was in the early Throttle-Ha'penny days that Mrs. Houghton died.James Houghton cried, and put a black band on his Sunday silk hat.But he was too feverishly busy at Throttle-Ha'penny, selling hishundredweights of ash-pit fodder, as the natives called it, torealize anything else.
He had three men and two boys working his pit, besides asuperannuated old man driving the winding engine. And in spite ofall jeering, he flourished. Shabby old coal-carts rambled up behindthe New Connection, and filled from the pit-bank. The coal improveda little in quality: it was cheap and it was handy. James could sellat last fifty or sixty tons a week: for the stuff was easy getting.And now at last he was actually handling money. He saw millionsahead.
This went on for more than a year. A year after the death of Mrs.Houghton, Miss Frost became ill and suddenly died. Again JamesHoughton cried and trembled. But it was Throttle-Ha'penny that madehim tremble. He trembled in all his limbs, at the touch of success.He saw himself making noble provision for his only daughter.
But alas--it is wearying to repeat the same thing over and over.First the Board of Trade began to make difficulties. Then there wasa fault in the seam. Then the roof of Throttle-Ha'penny was so looseand soft, James could not afford timber to hold it up. In short,when his daughter Alvina was about twenty-seven years old,Throttle-Ha'penny closed down. There was a sale of poor machinery,and James Houghton came home to the dark, gloomy house--to MissPinnegar and Alvina.
It was a pinched, dreary house. James seemed down for the last time.But Miss Pinnegar persuaded him to take the shop again on Fridayevening. For the rest, faded and peaked, he hurried shadowily downto the club.