Now in the slack of that same day, after the midday dinner and before the coming of the afternoon customers, this disastrous Chitterlow descended upon Kipps with the most amazing coincidence in the world. He did not call formally, entering and demanding Kipps, but privately, in a confidential and mysterious manner.
Kipps was first aware of him as a dark object bobbing about excitedly outside the hosiery window. He was stooping and craning and peering in the endeavour to see into the interior between and over the socks and stockings. Then he transferred his attention to the door, and after a hovering scrutiny, tried the baby-linen display. His movements and gestures suggested a suppressed excitement.
Seen by daylight, Chitterlow was not nearly such a magnificent figure as he had been by the subdued nocturnal lightings and beneath the glamour of his own interpretation. The lines were the same indeed, but the texture was different. There was a quality about the yachting cap, an indefinable finality of dustiness, a shiny finish on all the salient surfaces of the reefer coat. The red hair and the profile, though still forcible and fine, were less in the quality of Michael Angelo and more in that of the merely picturesque. But it was a bright brown eye still that sought amidst the interstices of the baby-linen.
Kipps was by no means anxious to interview Chitterlow again. If he had felt sure that Chitterlow would not enter the shop he would have hid in the warehouse until the danger was past, but he had no idea of Chitterlow's limitations. He decided to keep up the shop in the shadows until Chitterlow reached the side window of the Manchester department and then to go outside as if to inspect the condition of the window and explain to him that things were unfavourable to immediate intercourse. He might tell him he had already lost his situation....
"Ullo, Chit'low," he said, emerging.
"Very man I want to see," said Chitterlow, shaking with vigour. "Very man I want to see." He laid a hand on Kipps' arm. "How old are you, Kipps?"
"One and twenty," said Kipps. "Why?"
"Talk about coincidences! And your name now? Wait a minute." He held out a finger. "Is it Arthur?"
"Yes," said Kipps.
"You're the man," said Chitterlow.
"It's about the thickest coincidence I ever struck," said Chitterlow, plunging his extensive hand into his breast coat pocket. "Half a jiff and I'll tell you your mother's Christian name." He laughed and struggled with his coat for a space, produced a washing book and two pencils, which he deposited in his side pocket; then in one capacious handful, a bent but by no means finally disabled cigar, the rubber proboscis of a bicycle pump, some twine and a lady's purse, and finally a small pocket book, and from this, after dropping and recovering several visiting cards, he extracted a carelessly torn piece of newspaper. "Euphemia," he read and brought his face close to Kipps'. "Eh?" He laughed noisily. "It's about as fair a Bit of All Right as anyone could have—outside a coincidence play. Don't say her name wasn't Euphemia, Kipps, and spoil the whole blessed show."
"Whose name—Euphemia?" asked Kipps.
"Lemme see what it says on the paper."
Chitterlow handed him the fragment and turned away. "You may say what you like," he said, addressing a vast, deep laugh to the street generally.
Kipps attempted to read. "'WADDY or KIPPS. If Arthur Waddy or Arthur Kipps, the son of Margaret Euphemia Kipps, who——'"
Chitterlow's finger swept over the print. "I went down the column and every blessed name that seemed to fit my play I took. I don't believe in made-up names. As I told you. I'm all with Zola in that. Documents whenever you can. I like 'em hot and real. See? Who was Waddy?"
"Never heard his name."
Kipps tried to read again and abandoned the attempt. "What does it mean?" he said. "I don't understand."
"It means," said Chitterlow, with a momentary note of lucid exposition, "so far as I can make out that you're going to strike it Rich. Never mind about the Waddy—that's a detail. What does it usually mean? You'll hear of something to your advantage—very well. I took that newspaper up to get my names by the merest chance. Directly I saw it again and read that—I knew it was you. I believe in coincidences. People say they don't happen. I say they do. Everything's a coincidence. Seen properly. Here you are. Here's one! Incredible? Not a bit of it! See? It's you! Kipps! Waddy be damned! It's a Mascot. There's luck in my play. Bif! You're there. I'm there. Fair in it! Snap!" And he discharged his fingers like a pistol. "Never you mind about the 'Waddy.'"
"Eh?" said Kipps, with a nervous eye on Chitterlow's fingers.
"You're all right," said Chitterlow; "you may bet the seat of your only breeches on that! Don't you worry about the Waddy—that's as clear as day. You're about as right side up as a billiard ball—whatever you do. Don't stand there gaping, man! Read the paper if you don't believe me. Read it!"
He shook it under Kipps' nose.
Kipps became aware of the second apprentice watching them from the shop. His air of perplexity gave place to a more confident bearing.
"'—— who was born at East Grinstead.' I certainly was born there. I've 'eard my Aunt say——"
"I knew it," said Chitterlow, taking hold of one edge of the paper and bringing his face close alongside Kipps'.
"'——on September the first, eighteen hundred and seventy-eight——'"
"That's all right," said Chitterlow. "It's all, all right, and all you have to do is write to Watson and Bean and get it——"
"Whatever it is."
Kipps sought his moustache. "You'd write?" he asked.
"But what d'you think it is?"
"That's the fun of it!" said Chitterlow, taking three steps in some as yet uninvented dance. "That's where the joke comes in. It may be anything—it may be a million. If so! Where does little Harry come in? Eh?"
Kipps was trembling slightly. "But——" he said, and thought. "If you was me——" he began. "About that Waddy——?"
He glanced up and saw the second apprentice disappear with amazing swiftness from behind the goods in the window.
"What?" asked Chitterlow, but he never had an answer.
"Lor'! There's the guv'nor!" said Kipps, and made a prompt dive for the door.
He dashed in only to discover that Shalford, with the junior apprentice in attendance, had come to mark off remnants of Kipps' cotton dresses and was demanding him. "Hullo, Kipps," he said, "outside——?"
"Seein' if the window was straight, Sir," said Kipps.
"Umph!" said Shalford.
For a space Kipps was too busily employed to think at all of Chitterlow or the crumpled bit of paper in his trouser pocket. He was, however, painfully aware of a suddenly disconcerted excitement at large in the street. There came one awful moment when Chitterlow's nose loomed interrogatively over the ground glass of the department door, and his bright, little, red-brown eye sought for the reason of Kipps' disappearance, and then it became evident that he saw the high light of Shalford's baldness and grasped the situation and went away. And then Kipps (with that advertisement in his pocket) was able to come back to the business in hand.
He became aware that Shalford had asked a question. "Yessir, nosir, rightsir. I'm sorting up zephyrs to-morrow, Sir," said Kipps.
Presently he had a moment to himself again, and, taking up a safe position behind a newly unpacked pile of summer lace curtains, he straightened out the piece of paper and reperused it. It was a little perplexing. That "Arthur Waddy or Arthur Kipps"—did that imply two persons or one? He would ask Pierce or Buggins. Only——
It had always been impressed upon him that there was something demanding secrecy about his mother.
"Don't you answer no questions about your mother," his aunt had been wont to say. "Tell them you don't know, whatever it is they ask you."
Kipps' face became portentously careful and he tugged at his moustache, such as it was, hard.
He had always represented his father as being a "gentleman farmer." "It didn't pay," he used to say with a picture in his own mind of a penny magazine aristocrat prematurely worn out by worry. "I'm a Norfan, both sides," he would explain, with the air of one who had seen trouble. He said he lived with his uncle and aunt, but he did not say that they kept a toy shop, and to tell anyone that his uncle had been a butler—a servant!—would have seemed the maddest of indiscretions. Almost all the assistants in the Emporium were equally reticent and vague, so great is their horror of "Lowness" of any sort. To ask about this "Waddy or Kipps" would upset all these little fictions. He was not, as a matter of fact, perfectly clear about his real status in the world (he was not, as a matter of fact, perfectly clear about anything), but he knew that there was a quality about his status that was—detrimental.
Under the circumstances——?
It occurred to him that it would save a lot of trouble to destroy the advertisement there and then.
In which case he would have to explain to Chitterlow!
"Eng!" said Mr. Kipps.
"Kipps," cried Carshot, who was shopwalking; "Kipps, Forward!"
He thrust back the crumpled paper into his pocket and sallied forth to the customers.
"I want," said the customer, looking vaguely about her through glasses, "a little bit of something to cover a little stool I have. Anything would do—a remnant or anything——"
The matter of the advertisement remained in abeyance for half an hour, and at the end the little stool was still a candidate for covering and Kipps had a thoroughly representative collection of the textile fabrics in his department to clear away. He was so angry about the little stool that the crumpled advertisement lay for a space in his pocket, absolutely forgotten.
Kipps sat on his tin box under the gas bracket that evening, and looked up the name Euphemia and learnt what it meant in the "Enquire Within About Everything" that constituted Buggins' reference library. He hoped Buggins, according to his habit, would ask him what he was looking for, but Buggins was busy turning out his week's washing. "Two collars," said Buggins, "half pair socks, two dickeys. Shirt?... M'm. There ought to be another collar somewhere."
"Euphemia," said Kipps at last, unable altogether to keep to himself this suspicion of a high origin that floated so delightfully about him, "Eu—phemia; it isn't a name common people would give to a girl, is it?"
"It isn't the name any decent people would give to a girl," said Buggins, "——common or not."
"Lor'!" said Kipps. "Why?"
"It's giving girls names like that," said Buggins, "that nine times out of ten makes 'em go wrong. It unsettles 'em. If ever I was to have a girl, if ever I was to have a dozen girls, I'd call 'em all Jane. Every one of 'em. You couldn't have a better name than that. Euphemia indeed! What next?... Good Lord!... That isn't one of my collars there, is it? under your bed?"...
Kipps got him the collar.
"I don't see no great 'arm in Euphemia," he said as he did so.
After that he became restless. "I'm a good mind to write that letter," he said, and then, finding Buggins preoccupied wrapping his washing up in the "half sox," added to himself, "a thundering good mind."
So he got his penny bottle of ink, borrowed the pen from Buggins and with no very serious difficulty in spelling or composition, did as he had resolved.
He came back into the bedroom about an hour afterwards a little out of breath and pale. "Where you been?" said Buggins, who was now reading the Daily World Manager, which came to him in rotation from Carshot.
"Out to post some letters," said Kipps, hanging up his hat.
"Mostly," said Kipps.
"Rather," he added, with a nervous laugh; "what else?"
Buggins went on reading. Kipps sat on his bed and regarded the back of the Daily World Manager thoughtfully.
"Buggins," he said at last.
Buggins lowered his paper and looked.
"I say, Buggins, what do these here advertisements mean that say so-and-so will hear of something greatly to his advantage?"
"Missin' people," said Buggins, making to resume reading.
"How d'yer mean?" asked Kipps. "Money left and that sort of thing?"
Buggins shook his head. "Debts," he said, "more often than not."
"But that ain't to his advantage."
"They put that to get 'old of 'em," said Buggins. "Often it's wives."
"What you mean?"
"Deserted wives, try and get their husbands back that way."
"I suppose it is legacies sometimes, eh? Perhaps if someone was left a hundred pounds by someone——"
"Hardly ever," said Buggins.
"Well, 'ow——?" began Kipps and hesitated.
Buggins resumed reading. He was very much excited by a leader on Indian affairs. "By Jove!" he said, "it won't do to give these here Blacks votes."
"No fear," said Kipps.
"They're different altogether," said Buggins. "They 'aven't the sound sense of Englishmen, and they 'aven't the character. There's a sort of tricky dishonesty about 'em—false witness and all that—of which an Englishman has no idea. Outside their courts of law—it's a pos'tive fact, Kipps—there's witnesses waitin' to be 'ired. Reg'lar trade. Touch their 'ats as you go in. Englishmen 'ave no idea, I tell you—not ord'nary Englishmen. It's in their blood. They're too timid to be honest. Too slavish. They aren't used to being free like we are, and if you gave 'em freedom they wouldn't make a proper use of it. Now we——. Oh, Damn!"
For the gas had suddenly gone out and Buggins had the whole column of Society Club Chat still to read.
Buggins could talk of nothing after that but Shalford's meanness in turning off the gas, and after being extremely satirical indeed about their employer, undressed in the dark, hit his bare toe against a box and subsided after unseemly ejaculations into silent ill-temper.
Though Kipps tried to get to sleep before the affair of the letter he had just posted resumed possession of his mind he could not do so. He went over the whole thing again, quite exhaustively. Now that his first terror was abating he couldn't quite determine whether he was glad or sorry that he had posted that letter. If it should happen to be a hundred pounds!
It must be a hundred pounds!
If it was he could hold out for a year, for a couple of years even, before he got a Crib.
Even if it was fifty pounds——!
Buggins was already breathing regularly when Kipps spoke again. "Bug-gins," he said.
Buggins pretended to be asleep, and thickened his regular breathing (a little too hastily) to a snore.
"I say Buggins," said Kipps after an interval.
"What's up now?" said Buggins unamiably.
"'Spose you saw an advertisement in a paper, with your name in it, see, asking you to come and see someone, like, so as to hear of something very much to your——"
"Hide," said Buggins shortly.
"Goonight, o' man," said Buggins, with convincing earnestness. Kipps lay still for a long time, then blew profoundly, turned over and stared at the other side of the dark.
He had been a fool to post that letter!
Lord! Hadn't he been a fool!
It was just five days and a half after the light had been turned out while Buggins was reading, that a young man with a white face and eyes bright and wide-open, emerged from a side road upon the Leas front. He was dressed in his best clothes, and, although the weather was fine, he carried his umbrella, just as if he had been to church. He hesitated and turned to the right. He scanned each house narrowly as he passed it, and presently came to an abrupt stop. "Hughenden," said the gateposts in firm, black letters, and the fanlight in gold repeated "Hughenden." It was a stucco house fit to take your breath away, and its balcony was painted a beautiful sea-green, enlivened with gilding. He stood looking up at it.
"Gollys!" he said at last in an awestricken whisper.
It had rich-looking crimson curtains to all the lower windows and brass railed blinds above. There was a splendid tropical plant in a large, artistic pot in the drawing-room window. There was a splendid bronzed knocker (ring also) and two bells—one marked "servants." Gollys! Servants, eh?
He walked past away from it, with his eyes regarding it, and then turned and came back. He passed through a further indecision, and finally drifted away to the sea front and sat down on a seat a little way along the Leas and put his arm over the back and regarded "Hughenden." He whistled an air very softly to himself, put his head first on one side and then on the other. Then for a space he scowled fixedly at it.
A very stout old gentleman, with a very red face and very protuberant eyes, sat down beside Kipps, removed a Panama hat of the most abandoned desperado cut, and mopped his brow and blew. Then he began mopping the inside of his hat. Kipps watched him for a space, wondering how much he might have a year, and where he bought his hat. Then "Hughenden" reasserted itself.
An impulse overwhelmed him. "I say," he said, leaning forward, to the old gentleman.
The old gentleman started and stared.
"Whad do you say?" he asked fiercely.
"You wouldn't think," said Kipps, indicating with his forefinger, "that that 'ouse there belongs to me."
The old gentleman twisted his neck round to look at "Hughenden." Then he came back to Kipps, looked at his mean, little garments with apoplectic intensity and blew at him by way of reply.
"It does," said Kipps, a little less confidently.
"Don't be a Fool," said the old gentleman, and put his hat on and wiped out the corners of his eyes. "It's hot enough," panted the old gentleman indignantly, "without Fools." Kipps looked from the old gentleman to the house and back to the old gentleman. The old gentleman looked at Kipps and snorted and looked out to sea, and again, snorting very contemptuously, at Kipps.
"Mean to say it doesn't belong to me?" said Kipps.
The old gentleman just glanced over his shoulder at the house in dispute and then fell to pretending Kipps didn't exist. "It's been lef' me this very morning," said Kipps. "It ain't the only one that's been lef' me, neither."
"Aw!" said the old gentleman, like one who is sorely tried. He seemed to expect the passers-by presently to remove Kipps.
"It 'as," said Kipps. He made no further remark to the old gentleman for a space, but looked with a little less certitude at the house....
"I got——" he said and stopped.
"It's no good telling you if you don't believe," he said.
The old gentleman, after a struggle with himself, decided not to have a fit. "Try that game on with me," he panted. "Give you in charge."
"Wasn't born yesterday," said the old gentleman, and blew. "Besides," he added, "look at you! I know you," and the old gentleman coughed shortly and nodded to the horizon and coughed again.
Kipps looked dubiously from the house to the old gentleman and back to the house. Their conversation, he gathered, was over. Presently he got up and went slowly across the grass to its stucco portal again. He stood and his mouth shaped the precious word, "Hughenden." It was all right! He looked over his shoulder as if in appeal to the old gentleman, then turned and went his way. The old gentleman was so evidently past all reason!
He hung for a moment some distance along the parade, as though some invisible string was pulling him back. When he could no longer see the house from the pavement he went out into the road. Then with an effort he snapped the string.
He went on down a quiet side street, unbuttoned his coat furtively, took out three bank notes in an envelope, looked at them and replaced them. Then he fished up five new sovereigns from his trouser pocket and examined them. To such a confidence had his exact resemblance to his dead mother's portrait carried Messrs. Watson and Bean.
It was right enough.
It really was all right.
He replaced the coins with grave precaution and went his way with a sudden briskness. It was all right—he had it now—he was a rich man at large. He went up a street and round a corner and along another street, and started towards the Pavilion and changed his mind and came round back, resolved to go straight to the Emporium and tell them all.
He was aware of someone crossing a road far off ahead of him, someone curiously relevant to his present extraordinary state of mind. It was Chitterlow. Of course it was Chitterlow who had told him first of the whole thing! The playwright was marching buoyantly along a cross street. His nose was in the air, the yachting cap was on the back of his head and the large freckled hand grasped two novels from the library, a morning newspaper, a new hat done up in paper and a lady's net bag full of onions and tomatoes....
He passed out of sight behind the wine merchant's at the corner, as Kipps decided to hurry forward and tell him of the amazing change in the Order of the Universe that had just occurred.
Kipps uttered a feeble shout, arrested as it began, and waved his umbrella. Then he set off at a smart pace in pursuit. He came round the corner and Chitterlow had gone; he hurried to the next and there was no Chitterlow, he turned back unavailingly and his eyes sought some other possible corner. His hand fluttered to his mouth and he stood for a space at the pavement edge, staring about him. No good!
But the sight of Chitterlow was a wholesome thing, it connected events together, joined him on again to the past at a new point, and that was what he so badly needed....
It was all right—all right.
He became suddenly very anxious to tell everybody at the Emporium, absolutely everybody, all about it. That was what wanted doing. He felt that telling was the thing to make this business real. He gripped his umbrella about the middle and walked very eagerly.
He entered the Emporium through the Manchester department. He flung open the door (over whose ground glass he had so recently, in infinite apprehension, watched the nose of Chitterlow) and discovered the second apprentice and Pierce in conversation. Pierce was prodding his hollow tooth with a pin and talking in fragments about the distinctive characteristics of Good Style.
Kipps came up in front of the counter.
"I say," he said; "what d'yer think?"
"What?" said Pierce over the pin.
"You've slipped out because Teddy's in London."
"Been left a fortune."
"Straight. I been lef' twelve 'undred pounds—twelve 'undred pounds a year!"
He moved towards the little door out of the department into the house, moving, as heralds say, regardant passant. Pierce stood with mouth wide open and pin poised in air. "No!" he said at last.
"It's right," said Kipps, "and I'm going."
And he fell over the doormat into the house.
It happened that Mr. Shalford was in London buying summer sale goods—and no doubt also interviewing aspirants to succeed Kipps.
So that there was positively nothing to hinder a wild rush of rumour from end to end of the Emporium. All the masculine members began their report with the same formula. "Heard about Kipps?"
The new girl in the cash desk had had it from Pierce and had dashed out into the fancy shop to be the first with the news on the fancy side. Kipps had been left a thousand pounds a year, twelve thousand pounds a year. Kipps had been left twelve hundred thousand pounds. The figures were uncertain, but the essential facts they had correct. Kipps had gone upstairs. Kipps was packing his box. He said he wouldn't stop another day in the old Emporium, not for a thousand pounds! It was said that he was singing ribaldry about old Shalford.
He had come down! He was in the counting house. There was a general movement thither. Poor old Buggins had a customer and couldn't make out what the deuce it was all about! Completely out of it was Buggins.
There was a sound of running to and fro and voices saying this, that and the other thing about Kipps. Ring-a-dinger, ring-a-dinger went the dinner bell all unheeded. The whole of the Emporium was suddenly bright-eyed, excited, hungry to tell somebody, to find at any cost somebody who didn't know and be first to tell them, "Kipps has been left thirty—forty—fifty thousand pounds!"
"What!" cried the senior porter, "Him!" and ran up to the counting house as eagerly as though Kipps had broken his neck.
"One of our chaps just been left sixty thousand pounds," said the first apprentice, returning after a great absence, to his customer.
"Unexpectedly?" said the customer.
"Quite," said the first apprentice....
"I'm sure if Anyone deserves it, it's Mr. Kipps," said Miss Mergle, and her train rustled as she hurried to the counting house.
There stood Kipps amidst a pelting shower of congratulations. His face was flushed and his hair disordered. He still clutched his hat and best umbrella in his left hand. His right hand was anyone's to shake rather than his own. (Ring-a-dinger, ring-a-dinger ding, ding, ding, dang you! went the neglected dinner bell.)
"Good old Kipps," said Pierce, shaking; "Good old Kipps."
Booch rubbed one anæmic hand upon the other. "You're sure it's all right, Mr. Kipps," he said in the background.
"I'm sure we all congratulate him," said Miss Mergle.
"Great Scott!" said the new young lady in the glove department. "Twelve hundred a year! Great Scott! You aren't thinking of marrying anyone, are you, Mr. Kipps?"
"Three pounds, five and ninepence a day," said Mr. Booch, working in his head almost miraculously....
Everyone, it seemed, was saying how glad they were it was Kipps, except the junior apprentice, upon whom—he being the only son of a widow and used to having the best of everything as a right—an intolerable envy, a sense of unbearable wrong, had cast its gloomy shade. All the rest were quite honestly and simply glad—gladder perhaps at that time than Kipps because they were not so overpowered....
Kipps went downstairs to dinner, emitting fragmentary, disconnected statements. "Never expected anything of the sort.... When this here old Bean told me, you could have knocked me down with a feather.... He says, 'You b'en lef' money.' Even then I didn't expect it'd be mor'n a hundred pounds perhaps. Something like that."
With the sitting down to dinner and the handing of plates the excitement assumed a more orderly quality. The housekeeper emitted congratulations as she carved and the maidservant became dangerous to clothes with the plates—she held them anyhow, one expected to see one upside down even—she found Kipps so fascinating to look at. Everyone was the brisker and hungrier for the news (except the junior apprentice) and the housekeeper carved with unusual liberality. It was High Old Times there under the gaslight, High Old Times. "I'm sure if Anyone deserves it," said Miss Mergle—"pass the salt, please—it's Kipps."
The babble died away a little as Carshot began barking across the table at Kipps. "You'll be a bit of a Swell, Kipps," he said. "You won't hardly know yourself."
"Quite the gentleman," said Miss Mergle.
"Many real gentlemen's families," said the housekeeper, "have to do with less."
"See you on the Leas," said Carshot. "My gu—!" He met the housekeeper's eye. She had spoken about that before. "My eye!" he said tamely, lest words should mar the day.
"You'll go to London, I reckon," said Pierce. "You'll be a man about town. We shall see you mashing 'em, with violets in your button'ole down the Burlington Arcade."
"One of these West End Flats. That'd be my style," said Pierce. "And a first-class club."
"Aren't these clubs a bit 'ard to get into?" asked Kipps, open-eyed, over a mouthful of potato.
"No fear. Not for Money," said Pierce. And the girl in the laces who had acquired a cynical view of Modern Society from the fearless exposures of Miss Marie Corelli, said, "Money goes everywhere nowadays, Mr. Kipps."
But Carshot showed the true British strain.
"If I was Kipps," he said, pausing momentarily for a knifeful of gravy, "I should go to the Rockies and shoot bears."
"I'd certainly 'ave a run over to Boulogne," said Pierce, "and look about a bit. I'm going to do that next Easter myself, anyhow—see if I don't."
"Go to Oireland, Mr. Kipps," came the soft insistence of Biddy Murphy, who managed the big workroom, flushed and shining in the Irish way, as she spoke. "Go to Oireland. Ut's the loveliest country in the world. Outside Car-rs. Fishin', shootin', huntin'. An' pretty gals! Eh! You should see the Lakes of Killarney, Mr. Kipps!" And she expressed ecstasy by a facial pantomime and smacked her lips.
And presently they crowned the event.
It was Pierce who said, "Kipps, you ought to stand Sham!"
And it was Carshot who found the more poetical word, "Champagne."
"Rather!" said Kipps hilariously, and the rest was a question of detail and willing emissaries. "Here it comes!" they said as the apprentice came down the staircase. "How about the shop?" said someone. "Oh! hang the shop!" said Carshot and made gruntulous demands for a corkscrew with a thing to cut the wire. Pierce, the dog! had a wire cutter in his pocket knife. How Shalford would have stared at the gold tipped bottles if he had chanced to take an early train! Bang with the corks, and bang! Gluck, gluck, gluck, and sizzle!
When Kipps found them all standing about him under the gas flare, saying almost solemnly "Kipps!" with tumblers upheld—"Have it in tumblers," Carshot had said; "have it in tumblers. It isn't a wine like you have in glasses. Not like port and sherry. It cheers you up, but you don't get drunk. It isn't hardly stronger than lemonade. They drink it at dinner, some of 'em, every day."
"What! At three and six a bottle!" said the housekeeper incredulously.
"They don't stick at that," said Carshot; "not the champagne sort."
The housekeeper pursed her lips and shook her head....
When Kipps, I say, found them all standing up to toast him in that manner, there came such a feeling in his throat and face that for the life of him he scarcely knew for a moment whether he was not going to cry. "Kipps!" they all said, with kindly eyes. It was very good of them, it was very good of them, and hard there wasn't a stroke of luck for them all!
But the sight of upturned chins and glasses pulled him together again....
They did him honour. Unenviously and freely they did him honour.
For example, Carshot being subsequently engaged in serving cretonne and desiring to push a number of rejected blocks up the counter in order to have space for measuring, swept them by a powerful and ill-calculated movement of the arm, with a noise like thunder partly on to the floor and partly on to the foot of the still gloomily preoccupied junior apprentice. And Buggins, whose place it was to shopwalk while Carshot served, shopwalked with quite unparalleled dignity, dangling a new season's sunshade with a crooked handle on one finger. He arrested each customer who came down the shop with a grave and penetrating look. "Showing very 'tractive line new sheason's shun-shade," he would remark, and, after a suitable pause, "'Markable thing, one our 'sistant leg'sy twelve 'undred a year. V'ry 'tractive. Nothing more to-day, mum? No!" And he would then go and hold the door open for them with perfect decorum and with the sunshade dangling elegantly from his left hand....
And the second apprentice, serving a customer with cheap ticking, and being asked suddenly if it was strong, answered remarkably,
"Oo! no, mum! Strong! Why it ain't 'ardly stronger than lemonade...."
The head porter, moreover, was filled with a virtuous resolve to break the record as a lightning packer and make up for lost time. Mr. Swaffenham, of the Sandgate Riviera, for example, who was going out to dinner that night at seven, received at half-past six, instead of the urgently needed dress shirt he expected, a corset specially adapted to the needs of persons inclined to embonpoint. A parcel of summer underclothing selected by the elder Miss Waldershawe, was somehow distributed in the form of gratis additions throughout a number of parcels of a less intimate nature, and a box of millinery on approval to Lady Pamshort (at Wampachs) was enriched by the addition of the junior porter's cap....
These little things, slight in themselves, witness perhaps none the less eloquently to the unselfish exhilaration felt throughout the Emporium at the extraordinary and unexpected enrichment of Mr. Kipps.
The 'bus that plies between New Romney and Folkestone is painted a British red and inscribed on either side with the word "Tip-top" in gold amidst voluptuous scrolls. It is a slow and portly 'bus. Below it swings a sort of hold, hung by chains between the wheels, and in the summer time the top has garden seats. The front over the two dauntless unhurrying horses rises in tiers like a theatre; there is first a seat for the driver and his company, and above that a seat and above that, unless my memory plays me false, a seat. There are days when this 'bus goes and days when it doesn't go—you have to find out. And so you get to New Romney.
This 'bus it was, this ruddy, venerable and immortal 'bus, that came down the Folkestone hill with unflinching deliberation, and trundled through Sandgate and Hythe, and out into the windy spaces of the Marsh, with Kipps and all his fortunes on its brow. You figure him there. He sat on the highest seat diametrically above the driver and his head was spinning and spinning with champagne and this stupendous Tomfoolery of Luck and his heart was swelling, swelling indeed at times as though it would burst him, and his face towards the sunlight was transfigured. He said never a word, but ever and again as he thought of this or that, he laughed. He seemed full of chuckles for a time, detached and independent chuckles, chuckles that rose and burst in him like bubbles in a wine.... He held a banjo sceptre-fashion and restless on his knee. He had always wanted a banjo, and now he had got one at Malchior's while he was waiting for the 'bus.
There sat beside him a young servant who was sucking peppermint and a little boy with a sniff, whose flitting eyes showed him curious to know why ever and again Kipps laughed, and beside the driver were two young men in gaiters talking about "tegs." And there sat Kipps, all unsuspected, twelve hundred a year, as it were, disguised as a common young man. And the young man in gaiters to the left of the driver eyed Kipps and his banjo, and especially his banjo, ever and again as if he found it and him, with his rapt face, an insoluble enigma. And many a King has ridden into a conquered city with a lesser sense of splendour than Kipps.
Their shadows grew long behind them and their faces were transfigured in gold as they rumbled on towards the splendid West. The sun set before they had passed Dymchurch, and as they came lumbering into New Romney past the windmill the dusk had come.
The driver handed down the banjo and the portmanteau, and Kipps having paid him—"That's aw right," he said to the change, as a gentleman should—turned about and ran the portmanteau smartly into Old Kipps, whom the sound of the stopping of the 'bus had brought to the door of the shop in an aggressive mood and with his mouth full of supper.
"Ullo, Uncle, didn't see you," said Kipps.
"Blunderin' ninny," said Old Kipps. "What's brought you here? Ain't early closing, is it? Not Toosday?"
"Got some news for you, Uncle," said Kipps, dropping the portmanteau.
"Ain't lost your situation, 'ave you? What's that you got there? I'm blowed if it ain't a banjo. Goo-lord! Spendin' your money on banjoes! Don't put down your portmanty there—anyhow. Right in the way of everybody. I'm blowed if ever I saw such a boy as you've got lately. Here! Molly! And, look here! What you got a portmanty for? Why! Goo-lord! You ain't really lost your place, 'ave you?"
"Somethin's happened," said Kipps slightly dashed. "It's all right, Uncle. I'll tell you in a minute."
Old Kipps took the banjo as his nephew picked up the portmanteau again.
The living room door opened quickly, showing a table equipped with elaborate simplicity for supper, and Mrs. Kipps appeared.
"If it ain't young Artie," she said. "Why! Whatever's brought you 'ome?"
"Ullo, Aunt," said Artie. "I'm coming in. I got somethin' to tell you. I've 'ad a bit of Luck."
He wouldn't tell them all at once. He staggered with the portmanteau round the corner of the counter, set a bundle of children's tin pails into clattering oscillation, and entered the little room. He deposited his luggage in the corner beside the tall clock, and turned to his Aunt and Uncle again. His Aunt regarded him doubtfully, the yellow light from the little lamp on the table escaped above the shade and lit her forehead and the tip of her nose. It would be all right in a minute. He wouldn't tell them all at once. Old Kipps stood in the shop door with the banjo in his hand, breathing noisily. "The fact is, Aunt, I've 'ad a bit of Luck."
"You ain't been backin' gordless 'orses, Artie?" she asked.
"It's a draw he's been in," said Old Kipps, still panting from the impact of the portmanteau; "it's a dratted draw. Jest look here, Molly. He's won this 'ere trashy banjer and thrown up his situation on the strength of it—that's what he's done. Goin' about singing. Dash and plunge! Jest the very fault poor Pheamy always 'ad. Blunder right in and no one mustn't stop 'er!"
"You ain't thrown up your place, Artie, 'ave you?" said Mrs. Kipps.
Kipps perceived his opportunity. "I 'ave," he said; "I've throwed it up."
"What for?" said Old Kipps.
"So's to learn the banjo!"
"Goo Lord!" said Old Kipps, in horror to find himself verified.
"I'm going about playing!" said Kipps with a giggle. "Goin' to black my face, Aunt, and sing on the beach. I'm going to 'ave a most tremenjous lark and earn any amount of money—you see. Twenty-six fousand pounds I'm going to earn just as easy as nothing!"
"Kipps," said Mrs. Kipps, "he's been drinking!"
They regarded their nephew across the supper table with long faces. Kipps exploded with laughter and broke out again when his Aunt shook her head very sadly at him. Then suddenly he fell grave. He felt he could keep it up no longer. "It's all right, Aunt. Reely. I ain't mad and I ain't been drinking. I been lef' money. I been left twenty-six fousand pounds."
"And you thrown up your place?" said Old Kipps.
"Yes," said Kipps. "Rather!"
"And bort this banjer, put on your best noo trousers and come right on 'ere?"
"Well," said Mrs. Kipps, "I never did."
"These ain't my noo trousers, Aunt," said Kipps regretfully. "My noo trousers wasn't done."
"I shouldn't ha' thought that even you could ha' been such a fool as that," said Old Kipps.
"It's all right," said Kipps a little disconcerted by their distrustful solemnity. "It's all right—reely! Twenny-six fousan' pounds. And a 'ouse——"
Old Kipps pursed his lips and shook his head.
"A 'ouse on the Leas. I could have gone there. Only I didn't. I didn't care to. I didn't know what to say. I wanted to come and tell you."
"How d'yer know the 'ouse——?"
"They told me."
"Well," said Old Kipps, and nodded his head portentously towards his nephew, with the corners of his mouth pulled down in a portentous, discouraging way. "Well, you are a young Gaby."
"I didn't think it of you, Artie!" said Mrs. Kipps.
"Wadjer mean?" asked Kipps faintly, looking from one to the other with a withered face.
Old Kipps closed the shop door. "They been 'avin' a lark with you," said Old Kipps in a mournful undertone. "That's what I mean, my boy. They jest been seein' what a Gaby like you 'ud do."
"I dessay that young Quodling was in it," said Mrs. Kipps. "'E's jest that sort."
(For Quodling of the green baize bag had grown up to be a fearful dog, the terror of New Romney.)
"It's somebody after your place very likely," said Old Kipps.
Kipps looked from one sceptical, reproving face to the other, and round him at the familiar shabby, little room, with his familiar cheap portmanteau on the mended chair, and that banjo amidst the supper things like some irrevocable deed. Could he be rich indeed? Could it be that these things had really happened? Or had some insane fancy whirled him hither?
Still—perhaps a hundred pounds——
"But," he said. "It's all right, reely, Uncle. You don't think——? I 'ad a letter."
"Got up," said Old Kipps.
"But I answered it and went to a norfis."
Old Kipps felt staggered for a moment, but he shook his head and chins sagely from side to side. As the memory of old Bean and Shalford revived, the confidence of Kipps came back to him.
"I saw a nold gent, Uncle—perfect gentleman. And 'e told me all about it. Mos' respectable 'e was. Said 'is name was Watson and Bean—leastways 'e was Bean. Said it was lef' me——" Kipps suddenly dived into his breast pocket. "By my Grandfather——"
The old people started.
Old Kipps uttered an exclamation and wheeled round towards the mantel shelf above which the daguerreotype of his lost younger sister smiled its fading smile upon the world.
"Waddy 'is name was," said Kipps, with his hand still deep in his pocket. "It was 'is son was my father——"
"Waddy!" said Old Kipps.
"Waddy!" said Mrs. Kipps.
"She'd never say," said Old Kipps.
There was a long silence.
Kipps fumbled with a letter, a crumpled advertisement and three bank notes. He hesitated between these items.
"Why! That young chap what was arsting questions——" said Old Kipps, and regarded his wife with an eye of amazement.
"Must 'ave been," said Mrs. Kipps.
"Must 'ave been," said Old Kipps.
"James," said Mrs. Kipps, in an awestricken voice, "after all—perhaps—it's true!"
"'Ow much did you say?" asked Old Kipps. "'Ow much did you say 'ed lef' you, me b'y?"
It was thrilling, though not quite in the way Kipps had expected. He answered almost meekly across the meagre supper things, with his documentary evidence in his hand:
"Twelve 'undred pounds. 'Proximately, he said. Twelve 'undred pounds a year. 'E made 'is will, jest before 'e died—not more'n a month ago. When 'e was dying, 'e seemed to change like, Mr. Bean said. 'E'd never forgiven 'is son, never—not till then. 'Is son 'ad died in Australia, years and years ago, and then 'e 'adn't forgiven 'im. You know—'is son what was my father. But jest when 'e was ill and dying 'e seemed to get worried like and longing for someone of 'is own. And 'e told Mr. Bean it was 'im that had prevented them marrying. So 'e thought. That's 'ow it all come about...."
At last Kipps' flaring candle went up the narrow uncarpeted staircase to the little attic that had been his shelter and refuge during all the days of his childhood and youth. His head was whirling. He had been advised, he had been warned, he had been flattered and congratulated, he had been given whiskey and hot water and lemon and sugar, and his health had been drunk in the same. He had also eaten two Welsh Rabbits—an unusual supper. His Uncle was chiefly for his going into Parliament, his Aunt was consumed with a great anxiety. "I'm afraid he'll go and marry beneath 'im."
"Y'ought to 'ave a bit o' shootin' somewheer," said Old Kipps.
"It's your duty to marry into a county family, Artie. Remember that."
"There's lots of young noblemen'll be glad to 'ang on to you," said Old Kipps. "You mark my words. And borry your money. And then, good day to ye."
"I got to be precious Careful," said Kipps. "Mr. Bean said that."
"And you got to be precious careful of this old Bean," said Old Kipps. "We may be out of the world in Noo Romney, but I've 'eard a bit about s'licitors, for all that. You keep your eye on old Bean, me b'y.
"'Ow do we know what 'e's up to, with your money, even now?" said Old Kipps, pursuing this uncomfortable topic.
"'E looked very respectable," said Kipps....
Kipps undressed with great deliberation, and with vast gaps of pensive margin. Twenty-six thousand pounds!
His Aunt's solicitude had brought back certain matters into the foreground that his "Twelve 'Undred a year!" had for a time driven away altogether. His thoughts went back to the wood-carving class. Twelve Hundred a Year. He sat on the edge of the bed in profound meditation and his boots fell "whop" and "whop" upon the floor, with a long interval between each "whop." Twenty-five thousand pounds. "By Gum!" He dropped the remainder of his costume about him on the floor, got into bed, pulled the patchwork quilt over him and put his head on the pillow that had been first to hear of Ann Pornick's accession to his heart. But he did not think of Ann Pornick now.
It was about everything in the world except Ann Pornick that he seemed to be trying to think of—simultaneously. All the vivid happenings of the day came and went in his overtaxed brain; "that old Bean" explaining and explaining, the fat man who wouldn't believe, an overpowering smell of peppermint, the banjo, Miss Mergle saying he deserved it, Chitterlow's vanishing round a corner, the wisdom and advice and warnings of his Aunt and Uncle. She was afraid he would marry beneath him, was she? She didn't know....
His brain made an excursion into the wood-carving class and presented Kipps with the picture of himself amazing that class by a modest yet clearly audible remark, "I been left twenty-six thousand pounds."
Then he told them all quietly but firmly that he had always loved Miss Walshingham, always, and so he had brought all his twenty-six thousand pounds with him to give to her there and then. He wanted nothing in return.... Yes, he wanted nothing in return. He would give it to her all in an envelope and go. Of course he would keep the banjo—and a little present for his Aunt and Uncle—and a new suit perhaps—and one or two other things she would not miss. He went off at a tangent. He might buy a motor car, he might buy one of these here things that will play you a piano—that would make old Buggins sit up! He could pretend he had learnt to play—he might buy a bicycle and a cyclist suit....
A terrific multitude of plans of what he might do and in particular of what he might buy, came crowding into his brain, and he did not so much fall asleep as pass into a disorder of dreams in which he was driving a four-horse Tip-Top coach down Sandgate Hill ("I shall have to be precious careful"), wearing innumerable suits of clothes, and through some terrible accident wearing them all wrong. Consequently he was being laughed at. The coach vanished in the interest of the costume. He was wearing golfing suits and a silk hat. This passed into a nightmare that he was promenading on the Leas in a Highland costume, with a kilt that kept shrinking, and Shalford was following him with three policemen. "He's my assistant," Shalford kept repeating; "he's escaped. He's an escaped Improver. Keep by him and in a minute you'll have to run him in. I know 'em. We say they wash, but they won't."... He could feel the kilt creeping up his legs. He would have tugged at it to pull it down only his arms were paralysed. He had an impression of giddy crisis. He uttered a shriek of despair. "Now!" said Shalford. He woke in horror, his quilt had slipped off the bed.
He had a fancy he had just been called, that he had somehow overslept himself and missed going down for dusting. Then he perceived it was still night and light by reason of the moonlight, and that he was no longer in the Emporium. He wondered where he could be. He had a curious fancy that the world had been swept and rolled up like a carpet and that he was nowhere. It occurred to him that perhaps he was mad. "Buggins!" he said. There was no answer, not even the defensive snore. No room, no Buggins, nothing!
Then he remembered better. He sat on the edge of his bed for some time. Could anyone have seen his face they would have seen it white and drawn with staring eyes. Then he groaned weakly. "Twenty-six thousand pounds?" he whispered.
Just then it presented itself in an almost horribly overwhelming mass.
He remade his bed and returned to it. He was still dreadfully wakeful. It was suddenly clear to him that he need never trouble to get up punctually at seven again. That fact shone out upon him like a star through clouds. He was free to lie in bed as long as he liked, get up when he liked, go where he liked, have eggs every morning for breakfast or rashers or bloater paste or.... Also he was going to astonish Miss Walshingham....
Astonish her and astonish her....
* * * * * *
He was awakened by a thrush singing in the fresh dawn. The whole room was flooded with warm, golden sunshine. "I say!" said the thrush. "I say! I say! Twelve 'undred a year! Twelve 'Undred a Year. Twelve 'UNDRED a Year! I say! I say! I say!"
He sat up in bed and rubbed the sleep from his eyes with his knuckles. Then he jumped out of bed and began dressing very eagerly. He did not want to lose any time in beginning the new life.
END OF BOOK I