Less noise there

THE third round of deliveries was finished, and, arrived at his last
evening, Erb, coat and collar off, washed away the traces of work in the
stable pail with the aid of some aggressive soft soap that seemed to have
its own way in everything. He had brought with him that morning a parcel
of private clothes, and just before going out with the six o’clock turn,
he had changed, and had handed in the corduroy uniform. A relief to feel
that he no longer wore the brass buttons of servitude; of late they had
seemed to reproach him. He had driven round the Surrey side with the air
of a sporting gentleman taking out his own horse and trap; the private
clothes helped him to say his good-byes with dignity to all, and
especially to his old enemy, the van foreman.

“You _would_ go on in your own tin-pot way,” said the van foreman
regretfully, “no matter what I said. Your case ought to act as a

“To _you_?”

“I _should_ ’ave thought,” said the van foreman, with a wistful air,
“after all that’s passed between us we might as well part good friends,
at any rate.”

“Look here, old chap,” said Erb good-temperedly, “_I_ tried to out you,
and _you_ tried to out me; and you’ve got the best of it. I don’t
complain, but I’m not going to pretend I’m on friendly terms with a man
when I ain’t.”

“That’s what I say,” retorted the van foreman argumentatively. “You’ve
got no discretion.”

The manners of William Henry had about them a fine blend of
condescension; the lad came forward from the tail of the van and sat on a
hamper, big with news. He had been approached that afternoon and
informed that, consequent on the departure of Erb, there would be some
changes, and would he, William Henry, accept the position of junior
porter at fourteen shillings a week.

“I shall probably work on from that,” said William Henry, “to some even
higher position, and then on again. See? And if ever you want a friend,

“I don’t let boys call me Erb. Mr. Barnes, if you please.”

“If I’m a boy,” said William Henry thoughtfully, “I don’t quite see where
you’re going to find your men. As I was a sayin’, if ever you should be
down in the gutter—and, mind you, there’s unlikelier things than that—you
come to me. It may be in my power to ’elp you. And I tell you what you
can do for me in exchange. You might take the van ’ome to the stables by
yourself, so that I can run round to Rotherhithe New Road and tell my
young lady.”

“_Your_ young lady!”

“And why not?” demanded William Henry with some indignation. “We ain’t
all like you.”

It gratified Erb, as he parted his hair with an imperfect pocket comb,
and tried to make the obstinate wisp at the back of his head remain flat,
to think that he had the reputation of one who exhibited no sort of
weakness in regard to women; this came in well with his profound attitude
towards the world. He had had a letter from the tall upper housemaid at
Eaton Square, to which he had sent no reply; indeed, the communication
scarcely demanded an answer, for it furnished only information in regard
to the weather, and a fervent hope that his health had not been impaired
by his presence at the dance; it would not have remained in his memory
but for one sentence, “Her young ladyship has spoken of you once or
twice.” An incomplete way of conveying a fact: something, of course, to
know that she had referred to him, but it would have been more
interesting to know the precise terms. He flushed at the appalling
thought that she might have made some humorous comment on his behaviour.

Men balanced themselves on the edge of the kerb outside the “Druid’s
Arms,” and whilst a swollen-faced cornet blared patriotic tunes at them
from the opposite side in a ferocious way that permitted of no argument,
some of the youngest tried to do a few steps of a dance. Two butchers,
affecting to be rivals, chaffed each other derisively in raucous voices,
one demanding to know how the widow was, and, on the second man replying
incautiously, “What widder?” the first explained that he referred to the
widow of the man who bought a joint at the second man’s shop last
Saturday week. A hoarse-voiced man sold cough tablets for the voice; a
mild, sightless old man, with bootlaces, had an eager little girl with
him, who cried shrilly and commandingly and unceasingly, “Petronise the
belind, petronise the belind, petronise the—” Boys and girls thrust
bunches of flowers against the noses of passers by; a depressed woman
cried, “Twenty-four comic papers for a punny,” with a catch in her voice
that expressed regret at the small demand for humour. Erb nodded to the
uniformed men whom he recognised, and, going into the bar, found his
competitor Spanswick. Always a short, stout man, Spanswick to-night had
every sign of his insufficient neck covered with white collar; Erb was
pleased to see that Spanswick’s tie had rucked up at the back.

Spanswick stopped suddenly in the remarks he was making to an interested
group who stood leaning over him in the manner of palm trees, and, coming
away, shook hands publicly and elaborately with Erb, as men in the boxing
ring salute their opponents.

“Feeling fit?”

“Never better,” said Erb. “How’s yourself?”

“Bit of a cold,” said Spanswick with important reserve; “but otherwise—”

If there is time, one would like to explain here Spanswick’s position
amongst the men. It was of that assured kind that newcomers do not dare
to question, and contemporaries have agreed to respect. If this ever
exhibited signs of waning, Spanswick would gather an audience together
and beat the bounds of the incident that had made him a man to be treated
with consideration, and the story had been re-told so many times, and so
many improvements and additions had been made to it, that for the sake of
true history the real facts may as well be set down.

Spanswick had given way to drink. To say this meant much, for at the
time the limits set upon the consumption of beer by many of the carmen
was only that fixed by their own capabilities. Spanswick’s case must
have been exceptional, and, indeed, he was so inclined, not so much to
the bottle, perhaps, as to the quart, that his appearance on the morning
following these carousals was truly deplorable: his strong-minded wife
taking these opportunities to damage his face, with the eventual result
that his van boy and his horse sneered at him openly. Wherefore Payne
and a man named Kirby and another called Old Jim, decided, in the best
interests of mankind at large, and of Spanswick in particular, that some
steps should be taken, that it was for them to take these steps, and that
the following Friday evening (being pay day) was the time to be selected.
Payne’s idea was this. They would run Spanswick to earth in one of his
resorts, they would form a ring (or as much of a ring as three could
make) around him, and by wise counsel and urgent illustration force upon
him a recognition of the downward career that was his, and its inevitable
end. It took some time to arrive at this decision, because Old Jim, who
was not abreast of the times and of modern methods, had a remedy that
included the dropping of the patient in the canal; whilst Kirby had
another proposal. “Let us set the teetotal chaps on him,” urged Kirby.
Payne’s scheme was adopted, and, the Friday night arriving, the three,
after they had finished work, had a shave and a wash, and put on their
best clothes (Payne himself wore a silk hat of adequate age, but of
insufficient size), and they set out solemnly to take up their
self-appointed duties.

“Now,” said Old Jim, “the likeliest place is ‘The World Turned Upside

“Pardon me,” said Kirby, with the politeness that comes with the wearing
of Sunday clothes, “pardon me, but ‘The Chequers’ is his ’ouse.”

“I thought,” remarked Payne, “the ‘Dun Cow’ was.”

“I’m prutty sure I’m right,” said Old Jim.

“I’m jolly well certain you’re both wrong,” declared Kirby with emphasis.

“Standing here all night arguin’,” decided Payne, “won’t settle the
matter. Let’s make a start at one of them.”

Spanswick was not in “The World Turned Upside Down,” but the three had a
drink there, because it would be notoriously a gross breach of etiquette
to go from a public-house without ordering refreshment; to do this were
to deride the landlord openly, and insinuate libels on his stock. At the
next place the three went into each bar to make sure, and, having money
in their pockets, it seemed like doing the thing well and completely to
have a drink here in every bar, still discussing the painful case of poor
old Spanny, regretting deeply the curse that liquor brought upon men who
could not use it with discretion.

“It’s good servant,” said Old Jim, raising his glass and shutting one eye
in order to see it clearly, “but bad mas’er. That’s what I always says
about it. It’s a good mas’r, but— What I mean to say is it’s a bad

“Every man,” declared Kirby, attempting to slap the counter, but missing
it, “ought to know where to draw line.”

“The chap who don’t,” agreed Payne, “(You’re upsetting your glass, Jim,
old man)—the chap who don’t is like the beas’s of field.”

“Worse!” said Old Jim.

“No, not worse!” urged Payne obstinately.

“Fight you for it,” offered Old Jim.

Kirby interfered and made peace, and throughout the evening, wherever
they went in search of Spanswick, it happened that some two of the three
were always quarrelling, whilst the third endeavoured to appease and
conciliate. They were on the very edge of a triangular dispute in the
last house of call when Payne, sobering himself for a moment, pointed out
to the others that it was closing time, and they must not go to bed
without feeling that something accomplished, something done, had earned a
night’s repose; necessary that they should proceed now with as much
directness as possible to Spanswick’s house, and (if they found him)
there deliver the calculated words of warning, the prepared sentences of

“’Ullo, old man,” said Payne, as the door of Spanswick’s house opened.
“Many ’appy returns day.”

“What’s all this?” demanded Spanswick coldly. “Brought anything with you
in a bottle?”

“We’ve brought good ’dvice,” said Old Jim, seating himself on the sill.
“How is it we didn’t see you at any of the places?”

“The wife locked up me boots,” replied Spanswick surlily. “That’s why.
But surely one of you’s got a bottle about him somewheres. Search!”

“We want you, old chap,” said Payne, steadying himself with a hand on
either side of the doorway, “to give up the drink. ‘Oh that man should
put an en’my into his mouth to steal out his brains.’ Chuck it, my
friend, chuck it, before it is too late. Shun the flowing bowl, and save
your money to buy harmonium with.”

“I’ll harmonium you,” said Spanswick threateningly, “if you don’t all
three of you make yourselves precious scarce. How dare you come round
here in this disgraceful condition to annoy a sober, honest man? Go to
your ’omes and take an example by me. I never saw such a painful
exhibition in all me life.”

“How was we to know you’d be sober?” asked Kirby, swaying.

Spanswick emphasised the situation by remaining comparatively sober for a
week; a busy week in other ways, for he lost no opportunity of reciting
the incident of his own pure and heroic action, establishing thus a
concrete foundation for the building up of a character that had never
entirely disappeared.

(This is the story of carman Spanswick.)

One or two men standing at the zinc bar called on Erb to have a drink,
but Erb replied, “Afterwards,” and went up the wooden staircase to the
club room. There, on the landing, men were consulting in undertones,
which they changed for much louder speech on seeing Erb, commencing to
talk noisily of contests with superiors whom they had, it appeared,
worsted in argument; of fresh young horses that required a somewhat
similar treatment; of trouble in regard to Shuts-up, to water allowances,
to Brought-backs, and other technical matters. A late colleague of Erb’s
introduced him to those who were strangers, and Erb made quite a
considerable effort to exhibit friendly manners, until a South Western
man, mistaking him for Spanswick, told him some of the things that were
being said about young Barnes, whereupon Erb left and went into the club
room. In the club room tables had been arranged in something of the
shape of a capital U, and at the base a wooden hammer had been placed and
a decanter and tumbler; sheets of blue foolscap and scarlet blotting
paper gave the room an official, business-like appearance. Payne was
there in mufti as to coat, in uniform as to waistcoat and corduroy
trousers; he was to be proposed as Chairman, and he stood now with his
face to a Scotch whisky advertisement, his lips moving silently; he
nodded to Erb, and went on with his rehearsal. Spanswick coming up with
his _entourage_, took one of the sheets of paper and, with the stump of a
pencil, began to make calculations which were audited, as he went on, by
his friends. A few of the men marked the special nature of the
proceedings by smoking cigars. The alert clock on the mantelpiece struck
the half-hour in a sharp, energetic way and hurried on.

“I beg to move that Jack Payne do take the chair.”

“I beg to second.”

“All in favour,” said the first voice. “On the contrary? Carried
unanimously and nem. con. Jack” (turning to Mr. Payne), “in you go.”

“In ordinary circs,” said Payne, after he had taken the chair and had
risen to some applause, “I’m perfectly well aware that the proper course
to pursue at an affair like this is for the chair to call on the
secretary to read the minutes of the last meeting. I know that without
any of you telling me. But we’re in the position to-night of not ’aving
no secretary and not ’aving no previous meetin’.”

The heads around the table nodded agreement. A gloomy man seated in the
position that a vice-chairman might have occupied half rose and said,
“Mr. Chairman, sir,” and was at once pulled back into his chair by those
near him.

“I was never a man,” went on the Chairman, his forehead damp with
nervousness, “to what you may call force me opinions on any body of men.
’Cepting once, and that was at New Cross in ’89. I forget exactly what
it was about, and I forget who was there, and I forget what I said, but
the entire incident is quite fresh in my memory, and, as I say, that was
the only occasion on which—”

“Question, question,” cried the gloomy man at the other end of the room.
His neighbours hushed him into silence.

“I’m coming to the question as fast as ever I can. Few know better than
me how to conduct a meeting of this kind, although I say it p’raps as
shouldn’t, because it sounds like flattery, but it ain’t flattery, it’s
only the truth. I’ve had it said to me over and over again, not once or
twice, but many times—”

“Mr. Chairman, reely,” said the gloomy man, “I must call you to order.
We shall never get the business done this side of Chris’mas if—”

“Kindly sed down,” ordered Mr. Payne, in tones of command, “or else
resume your seat; one or the other. It’s me,” tapping his waistcoat,
“me, sir, that calls people to order, not you.”

The gloomy man argued in a loud whisper with his neighbours, and, on
these counselling that he should simmer down, sat back in his chair,
surveying the ceiling, his lips closed determinedly.

“First thing is shall we, being all of a trade, form a separate society,
or shall we jolly well do the other thing? That’s the point. Now then,
who’s going to give us a start? You, my friend, of the Great Eastern,
down at the bottom of this left ’and table, you seem to have a lot to
say, p’raps we might give you ten minutes and see whether or not there’s
any sense in you.”

The gloomy man affected deafness until this had been explained to him by
those sitting near, on which he told them rather haughtily that he spoke
when he liked, and not when he was called upon.

“Then we must throw the ’andkerchief to somebody else. Spanswick, you
might set the ball a-rolling. Don’t be longer than you can ’elp.”

Erb watched. The impression that his rival made now would affect the
later decision, and Erb could not help wishing that Spanswick might prove
halting in utterance and clumsy of speech. Cheers greeted Spanswick;
some of the men looked at Erb, as they slapped the table with the palms
of their hands to see how _he_ took it, and Erb remembered, just in time,
to join in the compliment. He recovered his hopefulness as soon as
Spanswick spoke, for he noted that his opponent started with great
rapidity of utterance, speaking also overloudly—encouraging facts both.
Spanswick was, of course, urging that they should form a separate
society, but he had no arguments, only hurried expressions of his own
opinion. Erb, with his eyes on a sheet of foolscap paper, noticed that
the room relaxed its attention; the gloomy man had his watch out, and was
clearly preparing to shout at the appropriate moment, “Time, time!”
Spanswick halted and went over one sentence twice, word for word. Then
he stopped altogether, and the silent room saw him endeavour to recall
his fleeting memory, saw him take from the inside pocket of his coat the
entire speech and laboriously find the place.

“Beg pardon,” cried the gloomy man, starting up, “but is a member
entitled to read—”

Spanswick, with now and again an anxious glance at Erb, read the
remainder of his speech in a shamed undertone. There was but little
cheering when he finished; he was called up again because he had
forgotten to move the resolution. Four men competed for the honour of
seconding this.

“Now then!” said the Chairman, with relish, “let’s go on in a orderly
manner. First thing is, any amendment? No amendment? Vurry well, then!
Now, is there any further remarks? The subject hasn’t been, if I may say
so, thor’ly threshed out yet, and if— Thank you! Friend Barnes will now
address the meeting.”

Erb rose with the slight nervousness that he always felt in commencing a
speech. He began slowly and quietly: the Great Eastern man saw his
chance for an interruption, and shouted, “Let’s ’ear you,” but Erb took
no notice. They were there, he said, to inaugurate a great work, a work
to which some of them had given a considerable amount of care, and the
scheme was so far advanced that he thought he could place a few details
before them for consideration. There had been the grave question whether
they should join the general society of London carmen, or whether they
should form an independent society of their own.

“On a point of order, sir—” began the gloomy man.

“If there is one man,” said Erb, raising his voice, “in this room who is
absolutely ignorant of order it is our Great Eastern friend at the other
end of the room. A yelping little terrier that runs after a van doesn’t
make the van go faster.”

The room, now very crowded with uniformed men, especially near the
doorway, approved this, and the Great Eastern man first looked round for
support from his own colleagues, and, obtaining none, began to take
desperate notes as Erb went on.

“I can’t waste time over a man who can only interrupt: I address myself
to you. First, let me put my friend Spanswick right on a small detail.
He urged that we should work quietly and secretly”—(cheers from
Spanswick’s supporters)—“I disagree! I fail to see the usefulness of
that. I think that all we do should be fair and above board, and I say
this because if you combine, and let the railway companies see that you
are combining, you will be treated with greater respect. See what’s
happened in the case of my own late fellow carmen! It’s true I was
sacrificed, but let that pass; see what advantages _they_ got, just for
the asking. They got—”

Payne’s watch must have been suddenly affected, for he allowed Erb to
speak for more than the period of ten minutes; no one complained; they
were all too much interested. When Erb, in a fiery peroration, appealed
to them to extend the recent action and make it general, with a strong
reference to individualism, which they did not understand, and about
which Erb himself was not quite sure, then the supporters of Spanswick
forgot their reticence and cheered with the rest.

“And I trust,” added Erb modestly and finally, “that I ’aven’t took up
too much of your time.”

The resolution was carried.

“Now,” said the Chair, “if any of you thought of standing me a drink, or
even of ’aving one yourself, p’raps you’ll seize the opportunity whilst
the waiters are in the room, and then we can shut them out whilst we go
on to the next bisness.”

“Erb!” cried Spanswick along the table, “what’s yours?”

It was felt that this was a great piece of strategy on Spanswick’s part,
and Erb’s refusal counted nothing for righteousness; one or two of Erb’s
supporters shook their heads to intimate that this was not diplomacy.
The waiters brought in japanned trays of glasses on their high,
outstretched palms, carrying change everywhere, in their pockets, in
their tweed caps, in a knot in their handkerchiefs, in their mouths.
They completed their work in a few minutes and went, obeying leisurely
the Chairman’s imperious wave of the hammer.

“We come, now,” said Payne loudly, “to what I venture to term the
principal item on the agender. That is, the appointment of seceretary.”
Both Erb and Spanswick showed signs of puzzled astonishment. “There’s no
less than two suggestions that have been ’anded up: one is that we should
’ave a honery seceretary, which I may explain for the benefit of some,
means one who will perform his services in a honery way: the other is
that we should ’ave a paid seceretary, which means that we should have to
plank down about a ’undred a year, otherwise, two quid a week, and that’d
cover his slight travelling expenses. There’s a good deal,” added the
Chair impartially, “to be said on both sides, and, at this stage of the
proceedings, I don’t attempt to dictate. This room’s a bit warmish, and
if you don’t mind me taking off my coat, why, I shall be more comfortable
than what I am at the present moment.”

The men around the table imitated example, and, hanging their jackets on
the backs of the chairs, addressed themselves to the new subject.

“What?” said the Chair. “You woke up again?”

“I should like to ask,” said the gloomy Great Eastern man, ignoring this
remark, “whether there’s any sense in paying a ’undred pounds a year for
a article that we can get for nothing? That’s all I want to know.”

“Argue the point, my good sir,” urged the Chair, “argue in a speech.”

“I’ve said my say,” retorted the other stubbornly.

“If it was the self-same article,” said the Chair, shaking his hammer in
a friendly way towards the Great Eastern man, “then I should be with you.
But is it?” The shirt sleeves rested on the tables; the men began to
show renewed interest.

“I asked a plain question, I want a plain answer!”

“Oh!” said the Chair, disgustedly, “you go to—well, I won’t say where.
You’ve got no more idea of conducting a meeting than this ’ammer. Why
don’t someone prepose a resolution?”

“Beg—propose,” said a young man desperately, “my friend Spanswick—honery
sec’tary—new society.”

“Beg second that,” jerked another youth.

“In view of the fac’,” said a South Eastern man, half rising, “that if
you want a thing done well you ought to pay for it, I think we ought to
’ave a man who’ll devote his whole energies to the work. Therefore, I
beg to suggest Erb Barnes as—as—”

“Organisin’ secretary!” whispered a neighbour.

“I second that vote—mean to say, resolution.”

“Any other names?” asked the Chair. “Very good then! Now, I shall ask
these two chaps to kindly retire, in other words, to leave the room, so
as to leave us free to discuss—”

“Point of order occurs to me,” interrupted the gloomy Great Eastern man
acutely, “Can they leave the room?”

The room watched Erb and Spanswick as the two made their way behind the
chairs to the doorway. Erb opened the door, and motioned to Spanswick to
go first, but Spanswick, not to be outdone in politeness, declined
absolutely, insisting that Erb should take precedence, and when they
decided to stop the display of courtesy, both blundered out at the same
moment. As they closed the door behind them they heard several voices
addressing the chair.

“Ever gone in for scarlet runners?” asked Spanswick. “I’ve only got a
little bit of a garden, but I suppose there isn’t another man in
Rotherhithe that grows the scarlet runners I do; people come from far and
near to see ’em. There’s a good deal of art, mind you, in the stickin’
of ’em. Sunflowers, too! I’ve had tremendous luck with my sunflowers.
I believe I could grow most anything in my little back place if it wasn’t
for the cats. Vurry good plan of dealin’ with cats—”

Erb allowed his rival to make conversation whilst he himself considered
the importance of these moments that were passing. He looked hard at a
picture on the walls of the landing, a picture representing a cheerful
Swiss valley and advertising Somebody’s Ginger Beer; the villagers held
goblets containing (presumably) this beverage, and toasted the
snow-topped mountains at the back. He forced himself to recognise that
his chances were small; unless he had made a particularly good impression
by his speech he had no chance at all; he would have to commence
to-morrow morning a round of calls on master carmen and on contracting
firms with the obsequious inquiry, “You don’t ’appen to want a hand, I
s’pose?” and receiving the negative reply. He had obtained a clean
character from the Railway Company, and the Chief had wished him
good-luck, but the information that he was a stirabout would fly round in
advance of him, and all the best places would be on the defensive. It
might come to driving a cheap coal van, otherwise known as working in the
slate business. There was an alternative even less agreeable to think
of. He knew one or two men who had just missed being leaders of labour,
who sometimes opened debates at Clubs, and were paid fairly liberal
expenses, who were sometimes approached by the capitalists to stump
through London in an endeavour to lash working men into a state of
indignation in regard to Foreign Competition, Sugar Bounties, or the
tyranny of Trades Unions, or some other subject for which the capitalists
had affection: these men at times coalesced and, urged by a common
jealousy, denounced some prominent men of their own party, and found
their names mentioned in the opposition journals, the reporters of which
bribed them in order to obtain exclusive information of semi-public
meetings. Erb told the Swiss valley that it would be long ere he came
down to that.

“You take a spade,” exclaimed his companion, “an ornery spade will do,
and you dig it in the garden like so, and what do you find? Why you

Young Louisa would be disappointed too. Louisa had been less successful
since the servants’ dance at Eaton Square in cloaking her admiration for
her brother, and the last young man had been dismissed with ignominy
because he showed hesitation in sacrificing his own views on political
subjects and accepting those held by Erb. If he had not already passed
from the memory of Lady Frances, she might perhaps inquire of Alice the
result of the meeting, and, hearing it, would smile agreeably and push
him away from her thoughts. To be shown through Bermondsey by an
official in the labour world would be one thing; to be conducted by a
grimy-faced carman was another. And there was Rosalind—Rosalind—what was
her other name?

“Now, in regard to meenure,” said Spanswick dogmatically, “the long and
short of the matter is simply this.”

He had found in Southampton Street, Camberwell, on the previous day
(being on the Surrey side round), a painted board on a house announcing
here, “Elocution and Public Speaking Taught! Pupils prepared for the
Dramatic Stage! Apply within to Professor Danks!” and it then occurred
to him that this was the address given him by the footman in Eaton
Square. The front garden was filled with monumental statues belonging to
an undertaker next door, and engraved with names and dates, tombstones
which for some inexplicable reason had not been used. He had gone up the
uneven pavement from the front gate to the door and had knocked there,
but the door being opened by the tall, bright-eyed girl, plainly and
economically dressed, and with a suggestion of care near to her bright
eyes, he had for some extraordinary reason, muttered “Beg pardon. Wrong
number!” and had stumbled back to the gate, hot-faced with confusion. He
knew that his powers of speech lacked refinement, and one or two
finishing lessons would work miracles: he might perhaps learn how to
aspirate without the show of pain and anxiety that he exhibited now when
he endeavoured to observe the trying rule. The bright-eyed girl, he
remembered, had stood at the doorway looking after him rather

“Of course,” said the injured voice of Spanswick, “if it’s too much
trouble for you to listen, why it isn’t any use me talking.”

“Sorry,” he said absently. “Fact is, I don’t take very much interest in

“I was talking about poultry.”

“They both come under the same head,” remarked Erb.

“I suppose, as a matter of fact, you’re pretty keen on this ’ere job?”

“They’re a long time deciding,” said Erb.

“I’ve been expectin’,” Spanswick made circles on the landing with his
right foot in a hesitating way, “I’ve been expectin’ that you’d approach
me and ask me to withdraw from the contest.”

“What’d be the use of that?”

“Well,” said Spanswick in a mysterious whisper, “you know what
Shakespeare says?”

“He said a lot.”

“You’re a mere kid in these matters,” remarked the other contemptuously,
walking away to the other end of the landing. “Haven’t you never ’eard
of buying off the opposition? In the present case, suppose you was to
say, ‘Spanny, old man, is twen’y-five bob any use to you?’ and I should
answer ‘Well, I could do with it,’ and you paid the money over ’ere.”
Spanswick held out one hand. “And I said, ‘Well, now, come to think of
it, what’s the good of this job to me? I shan’t make nothing out of it,
unless it is a silver teapot for the missus; I’ll withdraw my nomination
and leave you a clear field.’ See?”

“Upon my word,” exclaimed Erb indignantly, “upon my word if you ain’t the

“Mind you,” interrupted the other, “I was only putting a suppositious
case.” The door of the club room opened, and a voice said importantly,
“Spanswick and Barnes, this way, please.” They turned to obey. “There
y’are,” said Spanswick reproachfully, “you’ve left it too late.”

Looking over the banisters, Erb saw that women-folk had arrived, charged
with the double duty of listening to the coming concert and of conveying
their male relatives home at a reasonable hour. Louisa’s white young
face glanced up at him with a twitch, and asked anxiously whether it was
all over; Erb replied that, on the contrary, it was just about to begin.

“Kindly take your former seats,” said the Chairman importantly. The
chattering room became quiet as the two men entered, and Payne rapped
with his hammer for silence. “The voting has come out,” he went on,
looking at some figures on the sheet of foolscap before him, “the voting
has come out 29 on one side and 14 on the other.”

The rattle of conversation recommenced.

“Less noise there, less noise!” cried the Chair urgently. “I can’t ’ear
meself talk.”

“Wish we couldn’t,” remarked the Great Eastern man from his end of the

“Be careful, my friend,” said the Chair warningly. “Be careful, or else
I shall rule you out of order. I have the pleasure now of calling on my
friend Erb Barnes.” The room cheered. “Order, please, for Erb Barnes.”

“What have I got to talk about?” demanded Erb.

“Talk about?” echoed the Chair amazedly. “Talk about? Why, you’ve got
to acknowledge in a few appropriate words your appointment as paid
organisin’ secretary of the Railway Carmen’s Society.”

ERB entered upon his duties with appetite. The single office of the new
society was a spare room over a coffee tavern in Grange Road, and the
first disbursement was for the painting on the window in bold white
letters the full title of the society, with the added words, “Herbert
Barnes, secretary.” (Young Louisa went five minutes out of her way,
morning and evening, in order to see this proclamation of her brother’s
name.) To the office came Erb promptly every morning at an hour when the
attendants at the coffee-room were on their knees scrubbing, chairs set
high on tables, and forms on end against the walls, and the young women
were a good deal annoyed by the fact that Erb, in these circumstances,
bestowed on them none of the chaff and badinage which were as necessary
to their existence as the very air. When he had gone through the post
letters—the more there were of these the more contented he was—and had
answered them on post-cards, he went out, fixing a notice on the door,
“Back Shortly. Any messages leave at Bar,” and hurried to some railway
depot, or some point where railway carmen were likely to congregate,
hurrying non-members into becoming members, passing the word round in
regard to public meetings, hunting for grievances, and listening always,
even when some, with erroneous ideas of his duties, requested advice in
regard to some domestic trouble with lodgers, or insubordination on the
part of babes. All this meant visits to Paddington, to Willesden, to
Dalston, to Poplar, to Nine Elms: it gave to him a fine sensation of
ruling London and, in some way, the thought that he was repairing errors
made by the Creator of the world. He came in contact with the
white-haired Labour member of Parliament, and watched his manner closely;
the Labour member invited Erb one evening to the House of Commons, and
Erb found that the Labour member had for the House a style differing
entirely from that which he used in other places, measuring words with
care, speaking with deliberation, and avoiding all the colloquialisms and
the jagged sentences that made him popular when he addressed outdoor
meetings. And as all young men starting the journey through life model
themselves on some one who has arrived, Erb determined to acquire this
admirable alternative manner.

Thus it was that one Thursday evening he took courage by the hand, and
went Camberwell way to call again at the house where on his previous
visit he had made undignified departure because of a pair of rather
bright eyes. He thought of her with some nervousness as he went down
Camberwell New Road, and, putting aside for a moment the serious matters,
gave himself the joy of reviewing his female acquaintances. He had just
come to the sage decision that different women exacted entirely different
tributes, some demanding reverence, others admiration, and others
something more fervent, when he found himself at the gate and the uneven
path between the monumental statuary that led to the door of Professor
Danks’s house. The street was one affecting to make a short cut to
Queen’s Road, Peckham, but it did not really make a short cut; within its
crescent form it included new model dwellings of a violent red, elderly
houses with red verandahs, a Liberal Club, and a chapel. A part of the
road had undergone the process of being shopped, which is to say that the
long useless front gardens had been utilised, and anxious, empty,
unsuccessful young establishments came out to the pavement, expending all
their profits on gas, and making determined efforts either by placard or
minatory signs to persuade the passers-by that business was enormous, and
that it was with difficulty that customers could be checked in their
desire to patronise. One had started with the proud boast, “Everything
at Sixpence-halfpenny,” and had later altered the six to five, and the
five to four; only necessary to allow time, and there seemed some good
prospect that the reckless shop would eventually give its contents free.
Erb pulled at the bell handle, and it came out obligingly.

“Now you ’ave gone and done it,” said the small servant who opened the
door. “That’s clever, that is. I suppose you get medals for doing
tricks like that? Well, well,” she continued fractiously, as Erb made no
reply, “don’t stand there like a great gawk with the knob in your ’and.
What d’you want?”

“Might Professor Danks be in?” asked Erb.

“He might and he might not,” explained the small servant. “He’s jest
sleepin’ it off a bit on the sofa.”

“Can I see anyone else?”

“Come in,” said the girl with a burst of friendliness. “Never mind about
wipin’ your boots; it’s getting to the end of the week. You could see
_her_ if you didn’t mind waiting till she’s finished giving a lesson.”

“Shall I wait here in the passage?”

“Don’t disturb him,” whispered the girl, “if I let you rest your weary
bones in the back room.” She opened the door of the back room quietly.
“_She’s_ as right as rain,” whispered the girl confidently, “but _he_—”
The girl gave an expressive wave of the hand, signifying that the
Professor was not indispensable to the world’s happiness. Erb went in.
“I’d stay and chat to you,” she said through the doorway, “only there’s
my ironin’. I’ve got the ’ole ’ouse to look after, mind you, besides
answering the front door.”

“Takes a bit of doing, no doubt.”

“You never said a truer word,” whispered the short servant. “There’s
pictures in that magazine you can look at. If you want me, ’oller
‘Lizer!’ over the banisters.”

Professor Danks, asleep on the sofa, had the _Era_ over his face for
better detachment from a wakeful world: the paper was slipping gradually,
and Erb, watching him over the top of the book, knew that the eclipse
would be over and the features fully visible in a few minutes.
Meanwhile, he noticed that the Professor was a large, heavy man, with
snowy hair at one end, and slippers which had walked along muddy
pavements at the other; not a man, apparently, of active habits.

“I fear I shall never make anything of you,” her decided voice came from
the front room. “You don’t pay attention. You don’t seem to remember
what I tell you.”

“Mustn’t be too harsh with my husband, miss,” said a voice with the South
London whine. “We all have to make a beginning, don’t forget that.”

“Now, sir. Once more, please, we’ll go through this piece of poetry.
And when you say the first lines, ‘Give others the flags of foreign
states,’ show some animation; don’t say the words casually, as though you
were talking of the weather.”

“You understand, miss,” interposed the pupil’s wife, “that he’s made up
the words out of his own head.”

“I am sure of that,” with a touch of sarcasm.

“But, whilst he’s very clever in putting poetry together, he is not so
good—I’m speaking, Albert dear, for your own benefit—he is not so good in
reciting of them. And we go out into Society a great deal (there’s two
parties on at New Cross only next month that we’re asked to), and what I
thought was that it would be so nice any time when an evening began to go
a bit slow for me to say casually, ye know, ‘Albert, what about that
piece you made up yourself?’ Then for him to get up and recite it in a
gentlemanly way.”

“Come now,” said the instructress, “‘Give others the flags of foreign
states, I care not for them a jot.’”

“Of course,” interposed the wife again, “his high-pitched voice is
against him, but that’s his misfortune, not his fault. Also you may
think that he’s left it rather late to take up with elocution. If we’d
ever had any children of our own—”

“I really think,” said the girl, “that we must get on with the lesson.
Now, sir, if you please. ‘Give others the flags.’”

The _Era_ had slipped from the Professor’s red face, and the swollen,
poached-egg eyes moved, the heavy eyelids made one or two reluctant
efforts to unclose. The room, Erb thought, looked as though it were
troubled by opposing forces, one anxious to keep it neat and keep it
comfortable, the other with entirely different views, and baulking these
efforts with some success. Erb saw the household clearly and felt a
desire to range himself on the side of order.

“Good evening,” he said, when the leaden eyelids had decided to open.
“Having your little nap, sir?”

The Professor sat up, kneading his eyes and then rubbing his white hair

“I have been,” he said, in a voice that would have sounded important if
it had not been hoarse, “making a brief excursion into the land of
dreams.” He clicked his tongue. “And a devil of a mouth I’ve got on me,
too.” He rose heavily and went to a bamboo table where two syphons were
standing, tried them, and found they were empty. “A curse,” he said, “on
both your houses.”

“I’ve called about some lessons.”

“Lessons!” repeated the Professor moodily. “That I, Reginald Danks,
should be reduced to this! I, who might have been at the Lyceum at the
present moment but for fate and Irving. How many lessons,” he asked with
a change of manner, “do you require, laddie?”

“I thought about six,” said Erb.

“Make it a dozen. We offer thirteen for the price of twelve.”

“What would that number run me into? I want them more for public
speaking than anything else.”

“We shall do the whole bag of tricks for you,” said the Professor,
placing an enormous hand on Erb’s shoulder, “for a mere trifle.”

“Who is ‘we?’”

“Rather should you say, ‘To whom is it that you refer?’ In this
self-appointed task of imparting the principles of voice production and
elocution to the—to the masses,” the Professor seemed to restrain himself
forcibly from using a contumelious adjective, “I have the advantage of
valuable assistance from my daughter. Her system is my system, her
methods are my methods, her rules are my rules. If at any time I should
be called away on professional business,” here the Professor passed his
hand over his lip, “my daughter, Rosalind, takes my place. What is your

Erb gave the information.

“Ah,” the Professor sighed deeply, “in ’74 I was with Barry Sullivan
doing the principal towns in a repertoire. No, I’m telling you a lie.
It was not in ’74. It was in the autumn of ’73. I played Rosencrantz
and the First Grave-digger—an enormous success.”


“I went from Barry Sullivan to join the ‘Murderous Moment’ Company, and
that,” said the Professor, striking his waistcoat, “was perhaps one of
the biggest triumphs ever witnessed on the dramatic stage. From that
hour, sir, from that hour I never looked back.”

The high-voiced pupil in the front room finished his lesson, and his wife
took him off with the congratulatory remark that he promised well to make
her relatives at forthcoming parties sit up with astonishment. The
Professor’s daughter, seeing them both to the front door, remarked that
her pupil would be able to find his way alone the next time, whereupon
the pupil’s wife answered darkly, “Do you really think I should let him
go out?”

“Shall I settle with you?” asked Erb.

“My daughter Rosalind,” said the Professor regretfully, “insists, as a
general rule, on taking charge of the business side, but on this

“If that’s the rule,” interrupted Erb, “don’t let’s break it. I don’t
want any misunderstanding about matters of cash.”

“There have been times in my life, sir, when money has been as nothing to
me. Will you believe that there was a time in my professional career
when I earnt twenty guineas—twenty of the best—per week?”

“Since you ask me, my answer is ‘No.’”

“You are quite right,” said the Professor, and in no way disconcerted.
“Let us be exact in our statements or perish. Not twenty guineas, twenty
pounds. But that,” he went on rather hurriedly, “that was at a time when
real acting, sir, was appreciated. Nowadays they walk in from the
streets. Ee-locution is a lost art; acting, real acting, is not to be
seen on the London boards. If you have a cigarette about you, I can get
a light from the fireplace.”

Erb acted upon this hint, and listened for the girl’s voice.

“Her mother,” went on the Professor, puffing at the cigarette, and then
looking at it disparagingly, “her mother before she fell ill—mind, I’m
not complaining—was perhaps, without exception, the most diversified
arteest that ever graced the dramatic stage. Ingénue, old woman,
soubrette, nothing came amiss to her. That was the difference between
us—she liked work. And when, just before the end, when I’d been out of
engagement for some time, she had an offer for the pair of us, two pounds
ten the couple, such was her indomitable spirit that she actually wanted
to accept it. But I said ‘No.’ I put my foot down. I admit,” said the
Professor genially, “that I lost my temper with her. I told her pretty
definitely that I had made up my mind—”

“Your _what_?” inquired Erb.

“That poverty I could face, dee-privation I could endure, hunger and
thirst I could welcome with o-pen arms, but a contemptuous proposition
such as this I could not, should not, and would not tolerate. I repeated
this,” added the Professor with a fine roll and a sweep of the left hand,
“at the inquest.”

“You’re a nice one, I don’t think,” said Erb critically. “How is it they
let you live on?”

“Laddie,” said the Professor, tearfully, “my life is not an enviable one
even now. My own daughter—Soft!—she comes.”

It occurred to Erb later that in his anxiety to show himself a careless,
self-possessed fellow, he rather overdid it, presenting himself in the
light of one slightly demented. He nodded his head on formal
introduction by the Professor, hummed a cheerful air, and, taking out a
packet of cigarette papers, blew at one, and recollecting, twisted the
detached slip into a butterfly shape and puffed it to the ceiling. The
girl looked at him, at her father, then again at Erb. She had a pencil
resting between the buttons of her pink blouse, and but for a slight
contraction of the forehead that is the public sign of private worry,
would have been a very happy-looking young person indeed.

“A would-be student,” said her father with a proud wave of the hand
towards Erb, as though he had just made him, “a would-be student, my
love: one anxious to gain at our hands the principles of voice
pro-duction and ee-locution.”

“When do you propose to begin, sir?” she asked, limping slightly as she
went to a desk.

“Soon as your father’s ready, miss.”

“I have heard you speak in the park.”

“Most people have!” replied Erb, with a fine assumption of indifference.

“I’ll just register your name, please.”

“Our sys-tem,” said the Professor oracularly, as Erb bent over her and
gave the information (there was a pleasant warm scent from her hair), “is
to conduct everything in a perfectly businesslike manner. I remember on
one occasion Mr. Phelps said to me, ‘Danks, my dear young friend, never,
never—’ My dear Rosalind, give me the word. What was it,” the Professor
tapped his large forehead reprovingly, “what was it I was talking about?”

“I don’t think it matters, father. You pay in advance, please,” she said
to Erb. “Thank you. I’m not sure that I have sufficient change in the

“I will step down the road,” suggested the Professor with a slight excess
of eagerness, “and obtain the necessary—”

“No, father.”

“Think I’ve got just enough silver,” said Erb.

“Thank you, Mr. Barnes.”

Good to be called Mister, better still to find it accompanied by a smile
of gratitude that somehow also intimated comradeship and a defensive
alliance against the ingenious Professor. The Professor, affecting to
examine a pimple on his chin at the mirror, looked at his daughter’s
reflection in an appealing way; but she shook her head quickly. The
Professor sighed and, turning back the cuffs of his shirt, put on an
elderly velvet jacket.

“I have some work to do downstairs,” she said, with a curt little bow to
Erb. “You will excuse me.”

“Only too pleased, miss,” he said blunderingly.

“Father, you will give Mr. Barnes an hour, please, in the front room. I
will come up when the time is—”

“Then I needn’t say good-bye,” remarked Erb gallantly.

The Professor in the front room declaimed to the new pupil a passage from
the “Merchant of Venice,” from the centre of the carpet, and then invited
him to repeat it, which Erb did, the Professor arresting him at every
line, correcting the accent with acerbity and calling attention to the
aspirates with something like tears. “Why don’t you speak naturally,
sir?” demanded the Professor, hitting his own chest with his fist, “as I
dew?” At the end of twenty minutes, when the Professor had furnished
some really valuable rules in regard to the artifices of voice
production, he gave a sudden dramatic start, and begged Erb for pity’s
sake not to tell him that the day was Thursday and the hour half-past
seven. On Erb admitting his inability to give him other information
without stepping beyond the confines of truth, the Professor strode up
and down the worn carpet in a state of great agitation, declaring that
unless he were in the Strand by eight fifteen, or, at the very latest,
eight twenty that evening, he would, in all probability, lose the chance
of a lifetime.

“What am I to do?” he asked imploringly. “I appeal to you, laddie? Show
me where duty calls?”

On Erb suggesting that perhaps Miss Rosalind would finish the lesson, the
Professor shook him warmly by both hands and ordered heaven in a
dictatorial way to rain down blessings on the head of his pupil. One
difficulty remained. Time pressed, and every moment was (in all
probability) golden. Could Mr. Barnes, as an old friend, oblige with
half a—no, not half a crown, two shillings. The Professor, in the
goodness of his heart, did not mind four sixpences, and hurrying out into
the passage, struggled into a long brown overcoat of the old Newmarket
shape, took his soft hat, and, having called over the banisters to his
daughter to favour him with a moment’s conversation, bustled through the
passage whispering to Erb, “You can explain better than I,” and going
out, closed the door quietly. There were signs of flour on the girl’s
plump arms as she came up; she rolled down the sleeves of the pink blouse
as she entered the front room. Her forehead contracted as she listened.

“How much did he borrow?” she asked, checking a sigh.

“Nothing,” replied Erb boldly.

“Two shillings or a half a crown?”

“But I couldn’t possibly think for a moment—” he began protestingly.

“I wish you had,” she said. “Take it, please. I don’t want father to
run into debt if I can help it.”

“Makes me feel as though I’m robbing you.”

“Do you know,” said Miss Rosalind, with not quite half a smile, “it makes
me feel as though I were being robbed. Let us get on with the lesson,
please; I have another pupil coming at half-past eight.” Erb, for a hot
moment, was consumed with unreasonable jealousy of the next pupil. “She
is always punctual,” added Rosalind, and Erb became cooler. “Take this
book, please, and read aloud the passage I have marked.”

There were faded photographs on the mantelpiece of ladies with exuberant
smiles, calculated to disarm any criticism in regard to their eccentric
attire, their signatures sprawled across the lower right hand corner,
“Ever yours most affectionate!” A frame that had seen stormy days
outside provincial theatres hung on the wall with the address of its last
exhibition half rubbed off. Erb as he listened to the girl’s serious
corrections and warning, guessed that the half-dozen portraits it
contained were all of Rosalind’s mother; they ranged from one as Robinson
Crusoe with a white muff to a more matronly representation of (judging
from her hat) a designing Frenchwoman holding a revolver in one hand, and
clearly prepared to use this. In another she was fondling a child, whose
head and face were almost covered by a stage wig, and the child bore some
far-away resemblance to the present instructress. On Rosalind limping
across the room to place on the fire an economical lump of coal, Erb
framed an expression of sympathy; common-sense most fortunately gagged

“You left school when you were very young?” said the girl, looking over
her shoulder from the fireplace.

“Pawsed the sixth standard when I was—”

“Oh, please, please! Don’t say pawsed.”

“I passed the sixth standard when I was twelve, because I had to. Father
was Kentish born, mother wasn’t. Both died in the”—Rosalind put her
hands apprehensively to her ears—“in the hospital in one week, both in
one week, and I had to set to and get shot of the Board School and go

“As?” she asked curiously.

“As chief of the Transport Department to the principal railway
companies,” said Erb glibly, “and personal friend, and, I may say,
adviser to his Royal—”

“We will proceed,” said Rosalind, haughty on the receipt of sarcasm,
“with the lesson, please. There is much to be done in the way of
eradicating errors in your speech.”

The reliable lady pupil due at eight thirty spoilt her record by arriving
half an hour late. Thus, when Erb’s lesson was finished and the clock on
the mantelpiece gave the hour in a hurried asthmatic way, there was still
time for polite conversation on a variety of topics; the house, Erb
discovered, was not theirs, they only occupied furnished apartments; they
had lived in many parts of London, because, said Rosalind cautiously, the
Professor liked a change now and again. Erb backed slowly towards the
door as each subject was discussed, anxious to stay as long as possible,
but more anxious still to make his exit with some clever impressive final
remark. He found her book of notices, and insisted politely on reading
the neatly pasted slips cut from the “Hornsey Express,” the “South London
Journal,” the “Paddington Magpie,” and other newspapers of repute, which
said “Miss Rosalind Danks in her recitals made the hit of the evening,
and the same may be said of all the other artists on the programme.”
That “Miss R. Danks, as our advertisement column shows, is to give An
Evening with the Poets and Humorists at our Town Hall on Thursday
evening. We wish her a bumper.” That “Miss Rosalind Danks’s _naïveté_
of manner and general _chic_ enabled her in an American contribution to
score a terrific ‘succés d’estime.’ She narrowly escaped an enthusiastic
_encore_.” That “Miss Danks lacks some of the charms necessary for a
good platform appearance—”

“I’d like to argue the point with the man who wrote that,” said Erb.

“They have to fill the paper with something,” remarked Miss Rosalind.

“For a good platform appearance, but she has a remarkably distinct
enunciation, and some of her lines could be heard almost distinctly at
the back of the hall.” That “Miss Danks comes of a theatrical stock, and
her father is none other than the celebrated Mr. Reginald Danks, whose
Antonio still remains in the memory of the few privileged to witness it.
Mr. Reginald Danks informs us that he has had several offers from West
End theatres, but that he has some idea of going in for management
himself as soon as a convenient playhouse can be secured. Of this, more

It was natural when Erb had looked through these notices that he should
find in his pocket two or three copies of a small poster advertising a
lecture by him on the forthcoming Sunday evening, at a hall in Walworth
Road. “Mr. Herbert Barnes,” said the poster loudly, adding in a lower
voice, “Organising Secretary Railway Carmen’s Union, will speak on The
Working Man: What Will Become of Him? No collection. Discussion
invited.” Erb gave Miss Rosalind one of these as a present, and then
said, “Well now, I must be off,” as though he had been detained greatly
against his will.

And here it was that Erb made one of those mistakes of commission which
the most reliable of us effect at uncertain intervals. He took up the
photograph of a fur-coated young man, clean-shaven face, thin lips, and
not quite enough of chin.

“And who,” asked Erb pityingly, “who might this young toff be?”

“He is stage manager,” she said rather proudly, “to a company touring in
the provinces. Plays too.”


“Not yet,” said Rosalind.

As Erb blundered through the passage Rosalind warned him to attend to the
home-work she had given him to do, and to come promptly to his next
lesson; she held the door open until Erb went out of the gate, a new
politeness which he acknowledged by lifting his hat. He had never lifted
his hat to a lady before, and had always smiled contemptuously when he
had seen gallant youths performing this act of respect. To atone for
this retrograde movement he ran against the tardily-arriving lady pupil,
and went on without apology. The lady pupil ejaculated, “Clown!” and Erb
felt that he had righted himself in his own estimation.

He looked about him as he walked up the crowded pavement towards the
Elephant and Castle, because it was always one of his duties to recognise
the railway vans. Disappointment clouded his eyes: he blamed himself for
so far forgetting the principal duty of his life as to waste time on
unremunerative investments. This was why he missed a Brighton goods van
standing with its pair of horses near a large shop in Newington Causeway;
the van boy reported Erb’s negligence to his mate when he returned, and
this coming on the top of other annoying circumstances, the Brighton man
said to himself, “This shall be chalked up against you, young Erb.”

Erb reached Page’s Walk, having tried ineffectually to walk himself into
a good humour, and found Louisa with a round spot of colour high up on
either cheek, looking out of the window of the model dwellings and
hailing him excitedly.

“Put that ’ead of yours in,” he counselled. “You’ll go and catch cold.”

“You won’t catch much,” retorted Louisa, “if you don’t arrange to be on
’and when wanted. ’Urry upstairs, I’ve got something to tell you that
can’t be bawled.”

Erb ran up the stone stairs, and Louisa met him at the door of the
sitting-room, her eyes bigger than ever with the importance. The room
had a slight perfume of violets.

“Who d’you think’s been ’ere?”

“Tell us,” said Erb.

“But guess,” begged Louisa, enjoying the power that was hers.

“Can’t guess.”

“Lady Frances,” said Louisa, in an impressive whisper.

“Well,” remarked Erb curtly, “what of it?”

“What of it? Why, she wanted you to show her over Bermondsey, and she
waited here upwards of a hower, chatting away to me like anything.”

“Any other news?”

“Yes,” said Louisa reluctantly, “but nothing of much importance. Letter
from Aunt Emma; she’s coming up soon. Oh, and a man called to say there
was trouble brewin’ at Willer Walk, and would you see about it as soon as

“_Now_,” remarked Erb elatedly, “_now_ you’re talking.”

THE particular blend of trouble which Willow Walk was occupied in brewing
proved highly attractive to Erb, and one that gave to all the men
concerned a taste of the joys that must have come in the French
Revolution. A few impetuous young spirits who had been brooding on
grievances since the days when they were van boys were responsible. Erb
recognised that here was the first opportunity of justifying his
appointment. Warned, however, by the example of other organisers within
memory, who had sometimes in similar experiments shown a tendency to
excess, Erb took care. He wrote letters to the General Manager, letters
for which he received a printed form of acknowledgment and no other, he
wrote to the Directors, and received a brief reply to the effect that
they could not recognise Mr. Herbert Barnes in the matter, and that the
grievances of the staff concerned only the staff and themselves; the men
were bitterly annoyed at this, but Erb, because he had anticipated the
reply, showed no concern. He worked from dawn near to dawn again,
sending letters to members of Parliament, going round to the depots of
other railways, attending meetings, and in many ways devoting himself to
the work of what he called directing public opinion. In point of fact,
he had first to create it. For a good fortnight he gave up everything to
devote himself to this one object, gave up everything but his lessons in
Camberwell. One of the halfpenny evening papers said, amongst other
things, “Mr. Herbert Barnes made an impassioned but logical and
excellently delivered speech.” Erb knew the deplorable looking man with
a silk hat of the early seventies who had reported this, but that did not
prevent him from being highly gratified on seeing the words in print;
Louisa spent eighteenpence on a well-bound manuscript book, and in it
commenced to paste these notices. The point at issue being that the men
demanded better payment of overtime, Erb found here a subject that lent
itself to oratorical argument; the story of the man who was so seldom at
home that one Sunday his little girl asked the other parent, “Mother,
who’s this strange man?” never failed to prove effective, and Erb felt
justified in leaving out the fact that the carman in question was one
accustomed, when his work finished at night, to go straight from the
stables to a house in Old Kent Road, where he usually remained until the
potman cried “Time! gentlemen, time!”

The men had sent in their ultimatum to the head office, and had held
their last meeting. The Directors had remained adamant on the question
of receiving Erb as spokesman, and the men, not having an orator of equal
power in their ranks, and fearful of being worsted in a private
interview, had insisted either that Erb should accompany the deputation
or that there should be no deputation at all, but only a strike on the
following Monday morning. (The advanced party protested against the idea
of giving this formal notice of an unlikely event but Erb insisted and
the moderates supported him. “If we can get what we want,” argued the
moderates, “by showing a certain amount of what you may call bluff, by
all means let us stop at that.”)

It gave Erb a sensation of power to find that not one of these uniformed
men in their brass-bound caps was strong-minded enough or sufficiently
clear of intellect to carry out any big scheme by himself; they could
only keep of one mind by shoring each other up, and he felt that he
himself was the one steady, upright person who prevented them all from
slipping. He not only kept them together, but he guided them. A
suggestion from him on some minor point of detail, and they followed as a
ship obeys the helm; if any began a remark with doubting preface of “Ah,
but—” the others hushed them down and begged them to have some sense.
Erb had made all his plans for the possible stop of work; the other
stations and depots were willing to contribute something infinitesimal
every week with much the same spirit that they would have paid to see a
wrestling match. All the same, Erb showed more confidence than he felt,
and when he left the men, declining their invitation to drink success to
the movement (clear to them that Fortune was a goddess only to be
appeased and gained over by the pouring out of libations of mild and
bitter), he took cheerfulness from his face, and walked, his collar up,
along Bermondsey New Road to call for his young sister at her workshop.
The sellers on the kerb appealed to him in vain, a shrill-voiced little
girl thrust groundsel in his face, and he took no notice. Gay bunches of
flowers were flourished in front of his eyes, and he waved them aside.
If the men went weak at the knees at the last moment it would be
deplorable, but it would be an incident for which he could not blame
himself; if he himself were to make some blunder in the conduct of the
negotiations it would be fatal to his career, and all other secretaries
of all other organisations would whisper about it complacently.

“Anxious times, my girl,” said Erb to Louisa. “Anxious times. We’ll
have a tram-ride down to Greenwich and back, and blow dull care away.”

“I’ve just finished,” said Louisa in a whisper. “I’ll pop on me hat,
Erb, and be with you in ’alf a moment.”

“What’s become of your voice?”

“Mislaid it somewhere,” said his young sister lightly. “Can’t think for
the life of me where I put it last.”

“This work’s beginning to affect your chest,” said Erb.

“Funny thing,” remarked Louisa, with great good temper, halfway up the
wooden stairs of the workshop, “but my medical man ordered me carriage
exercise. Shan’t be two ticks.”

When Louisa returned, stabbing her hat in one or two places before
gaining what seemed to be a satisfactory hold, she was accompanied by
giggling young women who had been sent by the rest as a commission to
ascertain whether it was Louisa’s own brother or some other girl’s
brother who had called for her; Louisa’s own statement appearing too
absurd to have any relationship to truth. Moreover, presuming it were
Louisa’s young man who had called for her, it was something of a breach
of etiquette, as understood by the girls of the workshop, for one young
couple to go out alone, the minimum number for such an expedition being
four, in which case they talked not so much to their immediate companion
as to the other half of the square party, with whom they communicated by
shouting. Having ascertained, to their surprise, that Louisa had spoken
the exact and literal truth, they saw the brother and sister off from the
doorway, warning Louisa to wrap up her neck, and begging Erb to smile and
think of something pleasant.

“Never mind their chaff,” said Louisa, in her deep whisper. “I’d a jolly
sight rather be going out a bit of an excursion with you than I would
with—well, _you_ know.”

“Wish you hadn’t lost your voice,” said Erb, with concern. “I don’t like
the sound of it, at all.”

“There’s some girls in our place never get it back, and after about four
or five years of it—Don’t cross over here.”

“Why not?”

“He makes my ’ead ache,” said Louisa promptly. “I’ve only been going out
with him for a fortnight, and I know all what he’s going to say as though
I’d read it in a printed book. He talks about the weather first, then
about his aunt’s rheumatics, then about the day he had at Brighton when
he was a kid, then about where he thinks of spendin’ his ’oliday next
year, then about how much his ’oliday cost him last year—” A mild gust
of wind came and struck Louisa on the mouth; she stopped to cough,
holding her hand the while flat on her blouse.

“Keep your mouth shut, youngster,” advised Erb kindly, “until you’ve got
used to the fresh air.”

Because both brother and sister felt that in sailing down to New Cross
Gate on the top of a tram, and then along by a line less straight and
decided to Greenwich they were escaping from worry, they enjoyed the
evening’s trip. Going through Hatcham, Louisa declared that one might be
in the country, and thereupon, in her own way, declared that they were in
the country, that she and her brother had been left a bit of money, which
enabled her to give up work at the factory and wear a fresh set of cuffs
and collars every day: this sudden stroke of good fortune also permitted
Erb to give up his agitating rigmarole (the phrase was Louisa’s own, and
Erb accepted it without protest), and they had both settled down
somewhere near Epping Forest; Erb, as lord of the manor, with the vicar
of the parish church for slave, and Louisa as the generous Lady
Bountiful, giving blankets and home-made jam to all those willing to
subscribe to Conservative principles. They had a stroll up the hill to
Greenwich Park, Lady Louisa forced to go slowly on account of some
aristocratic paucity of breath, and Sir Herbert, her brother, playing
imaginary games of golf with a stick and some pebbles, and going round
the links in eighty-two. At the Chalet near the Blackheath side of the
park they had tea, Louisa’s insistence on addressing her brother by a
full title astonishing the demure people at other wooden tables, puzzling
them greatly, and causing, after departure, acrimonious debate between
husbands and wives, some deciding that Erb and Louisa were really
superior people and others making reference to escapes from Colney Hatch.
Louisa, delighted with the game of fooling people, darted down the hill,
with Erb following at a sedate trot; she stopped three parts of the way
down, and Erb found her leaning against a tree panting with tears in her
eyes. These tears she brushed away, declaring that something had come to
her mind that had made her laugh exhaustedly, and the two went on more
sedately through the open way at the side of the tall iron gates, happier
in each other’s company than in the company of anyone else, and showing
this in the defiant way with which some people hide real emotions.

“_You’re_ a bright companion,” said Louisa satirically, as the tram
turned with a jerk at the foot of Blackheath Hill. “You ’aven’t made me
laugh for quite five minutes.”

“I’ve been thinking, White Face.”

“My face isn’t white,” protested his sister, leaning back to get a
reflection of herself in a draper’s window. “I’ve got quite a colour.
Besides, why don’t you give up thinking for a bit? You’re always at it.
I wonder your brain—or whatever you like to call it—stands the tax you
put on it.”

“You’d be a rare old nagger,” said Erb, hooking the tarpaulin covering
carefully and affectionately around his sister, “if ever anybody had the
misfortune to marry you. It’d be jor, jor, jor, from morning, noon, till

“And if ever you was silly enough to get engaged, Erb. That’s Deptford
Station down there,” said Louisa, as the tram stopped for a moment’s
rest. “I used to know a boy who’s ticket collector now. He got so
confused the other day when I come down here to go to a lecture that he
forgot to take my ticket.” She laughed out of sheer exultation at the
terrifying powers of her sex. “Take my advice, Erb, don’t you never get
married, even if you are asked to. Not even if it was young Lady

“Young idiot,” said Erb. “Think I ever bother my head about such
matters? I’ve got much more important work in life. This business that
I’ve got on now—”

“Our girls are always asking about you,” said Louisa musingly. “It’s
all, ‘Is he engaged?’ ‘Does he walk out with anybody?’ ‘Is he a woman
’ater?’ and all such rot.”

Erb looked down at the traffic that was speeding at the side of the
leisurely tram and gave himself up for a while to the luxury of feeling
that he had been the subject of this discussion. He thought of his young
elocution teacher, and wondered whether he had any right to accept this
position of a misogynist when he knew so well that it was made by adverse
circumstances and the existence of a good-looking youth with an
unreliable chin and his hair in waves. The driver below whistled
aggrievedly at a high load of hops that was coolly occupying the tram
lines; the load of hops seemed to be asleep, and the tram driver had to
pull up and whistle again. In a side road banners were stretched across
with the word “Welcome,” signifying thus that a church bazaar was being
held, where articles could be bought at quite six times the amount of
their real value. A landau, drawn by a pair of conceited greys, came out
of the side street, with a few children following and crying,
“Ipipooray!” the proud horses snorted indignantly to find that they were
checked by a bucolic waggon and a plebeian tram. A young woman with a
scarlet parasol in the landau looked out over the door rather anxiously.

“It’s her ladyship,” cried Louisa, clutching Erb’s arm.

“Good shot,” agreed Erb.

“If only she’d look up and recognise us,” said Louisa. The other people
on the tram began to take an interest in the encounter, and Louisa’s head
already trembled with pride.

“She wouldn’t recognise us.”

“Go on with you,” contradicted his sister.

Louisa was afflicted with a sudden cough of such eccentric timbre that
some might have declared it to be forced. People on the pavement looked
up at her surprisedly, and Lady Frances just then closing her scarlet
parasol, for the use of which, indeed, the evening gave but little
reason, also glanced upwards. Erb took off his hat and jerked a bow, and
Louisa noticed that the closed scarlet parasol was being waved
invitingly. She unhooked the tarpaulin cover at once, and, despite Erb’s
protestation that they had paid fares to the Elephant, hurried him down
the steps. To Louisa’s great delight, the tram, with its absorbedly
interested passengers, did not move until the two had reached the open
landau, and Lady Frances’s neatly-gloved hand had offered itself in the
most friendly way. Louisa declared later that she would have given all
that she had in the Post Office Savings Bank to have heard the comments
of the passengers.

“This,” said Lady Frances pleasantly, “is the long arm of coincidence.
Step in both of you, please, and let me take you home to your place.”

“If you don’t mind excusing us—” began Erb.

(“Oh you—you man,” said his sister to herself. “I can’t call you
anything else.”)

“Please, _please_,” begged Lady Frances. They stepped in. By a great
piece of good luck,’ Erb remembered that amongst the recipes and axioms
and words of advice on the back page of an evening paper he had a night
or two previously read that gentlemen should always ride with their backs
to the horses, and he took his seat opposite to Lady Frances: that young
woman, with a touch on Louisa’s arm, directed the short girl to be seated
at her side.

“Bricklayers’ Arms Station, Old Kent Road,” said Lady Frances. Mr.
Danks, in livery, and his hair prematurely whitened, had jumped down to
close the door. Mr. Danks touched his hat, and, without emotion, resumed
his seat at the side of the coachman. “You are keeping well, I hope?”
To Louisa.

“I _have_ been feeling a bit chippy,” said Erb’s sister, trying to loll
back in the seat, but fearful of losing her foothold.

“So sorry,” said Lady Frances. “And you?”

“Thank you,” said Erb, “middlin’. Can’t say more than that. Been
somewhat occupied of late with various matters.”

“I know, I know,” she remarked briskly. “It is that that makes it
providential I should have met you. My uncle is a director on one of the
railways, and he was talking about you only last night at dinner.”

“Very kind of the gentleman. What name, may I ask?” Lady Frances gave
the information, gave also an address, and Erb nodded. “Me and him are
somewhat in opposite camps at the present time.”

“My uncle was anxious to meet you,” said young Lady Frances, in her
agreeable way.

“Just at this moment I scarcely think—”

“Under a flag of truce,” she suggested. “I was going to write to you,
but this will save me from troubling you with a note.”

“No trouble.”

“I’ve been opening a bazaar down here,” went on Lady Frances with a
determined air of vivacity. “The oddest thing. Do you ever go to

“Can’t say,” said Erb cautiously, “that I make a practice of frequenting

“Then let me tell you about this. When you open a bazaar you have first
to fill your purse with gold, empty it, and then—”

Louisa sat, bolt upright, her feet just touching the floor of the
carriage, and feeling, as she afterwards intimated, disinclined to call
the Prince of Wales her brother. Her ears listened to Lady Frances’s
conversation, and she made incoherent replies when an opinion was
demanded, but her eyes were alert on one side of the carriage or the
other, sparkling with anxiety to encounter someone whom she knew. Nearly
everybody turned to look at them, but it was not until they reached the
Dun Cow at the corner of Rotherhithe New Road (the hour being now eight
o’clock), at a moment when Louisa had begun to tell herself regretfully
no one would believe her account of this gratifying and epoch-making
event, that into Old Kent Road, chasing each other, came two girls
belonging to her factory. The foremost dodged behind a piano-organ that
made a fruitless effort to make its insistent jangle heard above the roar
and the murmur of traffic; seeing her pursuer stand transfixed, with a
cheerful scream of vengeance half finished, she turned her head. At the
sight of Louisa bowing with a genteel air of half recognition the first
girl staggered back and sat down helplessly on the handles of the
piano-organ, jerking that instrument of music and causing the Italian
lady with open bodice to remonstrate in the true accents of Clerkenwell.
When near to Bricklayers’ Arms Station Louisa saw again her current young
man morbid with the thought of a wasted evening, but still waiting
hopefully for his _fiancée_, now three hours behind time; the young
gentleman’s eyesight being dimmed with resentfulness, it became necessary
for her to wave a handkerchief that might, she knew, have been cleaner,
and thus engage his attention. At the very last possible moment he
signalled astonished acknowledgment.

For Erb, on the other hand, the journey had something less of exultation.
From the moment of starting from St. James’s Road, Hatcham, the fear
possessed him that he might be seen by some member of his society, who
would thereupon communicate facts to colleagues. Thus would his
character for independence find itself bruised: thus would the jealousy
of the men be aroused; thus would the Spanswick party be able to whisper
round the damaging report that Erb had been nobbled by the capitalists.
Wherefore Erb, anxious for none of these eventualities, tipped his hat
well over his forehead, and, leaning forward, with his face down,
listened to Lady Frances’s conversation. The carriage had a scent of
refinement; the young woman opposite in her perfect costume was something
to be worshipped respectfully, and he scarce wondered when, at one point
of the journey up the straight Old Kent Road, he heard one loafer say to
another, “Where’s there an election on to-day?” Lady Frances, having
completed her account of the bazaar, had information of great importance
to communicate, and this she gave in a confidential undertone that was
pleasant and flattering.

“From what my uncle says, it appears there is a strike threatening,
and—you know all about it perhaps?”

“Heard rumours,” said Erb guardedly.

“He is anxious that you should call upon him at the earliest possible
moment to discuss the affair privately, but he is most anxious that it
should not appear that he has sought the meeting. You quite see, don’t
you? It’s a question of _amour propre_.”

“Ho!” said Erb darkly.

“And I should be so glad,” she went on, with the excitement of a young
diplomatist, “if I could bring you two together. It would be doing so
much good.”

“To him?”

“I could drive you on now,” she suggested hesitatingly, “and we should
catch my uncle just after his dinner; an excellent time.”

“I think,” said Erb stolidly, “that we’d better let events work out their
natural course.”

“You’re wrong, quite wrong, believe me. Events left alone work out very
clumsily at times.” Lady Frances touched him lightly on the knee.
“Please do me this very small favour.”

“Since you put it like that then, I don’t mind going up to see him
to-night. Not that anything will come from it, mind you. Don’t let’s
delude ourselves into thinking _that_.”

“This,” cried Lady Frances, clapping her hands, “is excellent. This is
just what I like to be doing.” Erb, still watching fearfully for
acquaintances, glanced at her excited young face, with respectful
admiration. “Now, I shall drive you straight on—”

“If you don’t mind,” said Erb, “no; we’ll hop out at the corner of Page’s

“And not drive up to the dwellings?” asked Louisa disappointed.

“And _not_ drive up to the dwellings,” said Erb firmly. “I’ll get on
somehow to see your uncle to-night.”

“You won’t break your word?”

“I should break a lot of other things before I did that.”

Thus it was. Lady Frances shook hands; Erb stepped out, looking narrowly
through the open gateway of the goods station, and offering assistance to
Louisa absently. As he did so, he saw William Henry, his old van boy,
marching out of the gates in a violently new suit of corduroys, and with
the responsible air of one controlling all the railways in the world.

“Get better soon,” said Lady Frances to Louisa. “Mr. Barnes, to-night.”
Mr. Danks, down from his seat and closing the door (Erb and his sister
standing on the pavement, Erb wondering whether he ought to give the
footman threepence for himself, and Louisa coming down slowly from heaven
to earth), Mr. Danks received the order, “Home, please.”

Erb went half an hour later by tram to Westminster Bridge and walked
across. He perceived the necessity for extreme caution; reading and
natural wisdom told him that many important schemes had been ruined by
the interference of woman. He looked at the lights that starred the
borders of the wide river, saw the Terrace where a member of Parliament
walked up and down, following the red glow of a cigar, and he knew that
if he were ever to get there it would only be by leaping successfully
over many obstacles similar to the one which at present confronted him;
to allow himself to be distracted from the straight road of progress
would be to court disaster.

“Boy,” said the porter at the Mansions, “show No. 124A.” In a lift that
darted to the skies Erb was conveyed and ordered to wait in a corridor
whilst Boy, who wore as many buttons as could be crowded on his tight
jacket, went and hunted for Lady Frances’s uncle and presently ran him to
earth in the smoking room, bringing him out triumphantly to the corridor.
Erb found himself greeted with considerable heartiness, invited to come
into the smoking room that looked down at a height suggesting vertigo at
St. James’s Park, taken to a corner, and furnished with a big cigar. Men
in evening dress, with the self-confidence that comes after an adequate
meal, were telling each other what they would do were they Prime
Minister, and Erb was surprised to hear the drastic measures proposed for
stamping out opposition; some of these seemed to be scarcely within the
limits of reason. And what had Erb to say? A plain man, said Lady
Frances’s uncle of himself (which, in one respect at any rate, was a
statement bearing the indelible stamp of truth), always of opinion that
it was well to plunge _in medias res_. On Erb replying that at present
he had no remark to offer, the purple-faced Director seemed taken aback,
and diverted the conversation for a time to Trichinopolies and how best
to keep them, a subject on which Erb was unable to speak with any
pretence of authority.

“A little whiskey?” suggested the Director, with his thumb on the
electric bell, “just to keep one alive.”

Lady Frances’s uncle sighed on receiving Erb’s reply, and proceeded to
relate a long and not very interesting anecdote concerning an attempt
that had once been made to swindle him by an hotel proprietor at Cairo,
and the courageous way in which he had resisted the overcharge. On Erb
looking at his silver watch, the colour of the Director’s face, from
sheer anxiety deepened, and he waved into the discussion with a “Pall
Mall Gazette” a silent friend who had been sitting in a low easy chair,
with hands clasped over his capacious dress waistcoat, gazing at the room
with the fixed stare of repletion. The silent friend craned himself into
an upright position and lumbered across the room to the window. The
Director, thus usefully reinforced, proceeded to open the affair of the
impending strike, and, having done this, urged that there never was a
difficulty yet that had not a way out, and demanded that Erb should show
this way out instantly. Erb suggested that the Director’s colleagues
should receive him and the men, listen to their arguments, and concede
their requests, or some of them. Director, appealing for the support of
the silent man, but receiving none, replied explosively, “That be hanged
for a tale!” On which Erb remarked that he had some distance to go, and
if the Director would excuse him— Director said, fervently, “For
goodness gracious’ sake, let us sit down, and let us thresh this matter
out.” Giving up now his original idea of an exit, he remarked that a
golden bridge must be built. Why should not Erb simply stand aside, and
let the men alone seek consultation with the Directors? Erb declared
that he would do this like one o’clock (intimating thus prompt and
definite action), providing there was good likelihood of the men’s
requests being complied with. Director, looking at silent friend, and
trying to catch that gentleman’s lack lustre eye, inquired how on earth
he could pledge his colleagues. Erb, now interested in the game,
suggested that Lady Frances’s uncle probably had some idea of the
feelings entertained by his fellow directors, and the host, giving up all
efforts to get help from his silent friend, admitted that there was
something in this. Pressed by Erb to speak as man to man, Director gave
the limits of concession that had been decided upon—limits which would
not, however, come within sight unless the men came alone, and quite
alone, to plead their cause. Erb thought for a few moments, the glare of
the silent friend now directed upon him, and then said that he would take
Director’s word as the word of a gentleman; the men should send a
deputation the following day in their luncheon hour, and he (Erb) would
stand aside to watch the result. Director offered a hand, and Erb,
instinctively rubbing his palm on his trousers, took it, and the silent
friend thereupon suddenly burst into speech (which was the last thing of
which one would have thought him capable) saying huskily, and with
pompous modesty, that he was very pleased to think that any poor efforts
of his should have brought about such a happy agreement; that it was not
the first time, and probably would not be the last, that he had presided
over a meeting of reconciliation, and that his methods were always—if he
might say so—tact, impartiality, and a desire to hear both sides.

“Quite glad to have met you,” said the Director, also gratified in having
accomplished something that would give him the halo of notoriety at
to-morrow’s Board meeting. “You’ll go far. Your head is screwed on the
right way, my man. Not a liqueur?”

“I take partic’lar care it ain’t screwed in any other fashion,” said Erb.

“Good-bye,” said the Director.

“Be good,” said Erb.