It might be there would never be a class again, for Shalford, taking exception at a certain absent-mindedness that led to mistakes, and more particularly to the ticketing of several articles in Kipps’ Manchester window upside down, had been ‘on to’ him for the past few days in an exceedingly onerous manner-
He sighed profoundly, pushed the comic papers back—they were rent away from him instantly by the little man in spectacles—and tried the old engravings of Folkestone in the pats that hung about the room. But these, too, failed to minister to his bruised heart. He wandered about the corridors for a time and watched the Library Indicator for a while. Wonderful thing that! But it did not hold him for long. People came and laughed near him, and that jarred with him dreadfully. He went out of the building, and a beastly cheerful barrel-organ mocked him in the street. He was moved to a desperate resolve to go down to the beach. There, it might be, he would be alone. The sea might be rough—and attuned to him. It would certainly be dark.
‘If I ’ad a penny I’m blest if I wouldn’t go and chuck myself off the end of the pier . . . She’d never miss me . . . ’
He followed a deepening vein of thought.
‘Penny, though! It’s tuppence,’ he said, after a space.
He went down Dover Street in a state of profound melancholia—at the pace and mood, as it were, of his own funeral procession—and he crossed at the corner of Tontine Street, heedless of all mundane things. And there it was that Fortune came upon him, in disguise and with a loud shout, the shout of a person endowed with an unusually rich, full voice, followed immediately by a violent blow in the back.
His hat was over his eyes, and an enormous weight rested on his shoulders, and something kicked him in the back of his calf.
Then he was on all fours in some mud that Fortune, in conjunction with the Folkestone corporation and in the pursuit of equally mysterious ends, had heaped together even lavishly for his reception.
He remained in that position for some seconds, awaiting further developments, and believing almost anything broken before his heart. Gathering at last that this temporary violence of things in general was over, and being perhaps assisted by a clutching hand, he arose, and found himself confronting a figure holding a bicycle and thrusting forward a dark face in anxious scrutiny.
‘You aren’t hurt, Matey?’ gasped the figure.
‘Was that you ’it me?’ said Kipps.
‘It’s these handles, you know,’ said the figure with an air of being a fellow-sufferer. ‘They’re too low. And when I go to turn, if I don’t remember, Bif!—-and I’m in to something.’
‘Well—you give me a oner in the back—anyhow,’ said Kipps, taking stock of his damages.
‘I was coming downhill, you know,’ explained the bicyclist. ‘These little Folkestone hills are a Fair Treat. It isn’t as though I’d been on the level. I came rather a whop.’
‘You did that,’ said Kipps.
‘I was back-pedalling for all I was worth, anyhow,’ said the bicyclist. ‘Not that I’m worth much back-pedalling.’
He glanced round and made a sudden movement almost as if to mount his machine. Then he turned as rapidly to Kipps again, who was now stooping down, pursuing the tale of his injuries.
‘Here’s the back of my trouser-leg all tore down,’ said Kipps, ‘and I believe I’m bleeding. You reely ought to be more careful—’
The stranger investigated the damage with a rapid movement. ‘Holy Smoke, so you are!’ He laid a friendly hand on Kipps’ arm. ‘I say—look here! Come up to my diggings and sew it up. I’m—Of course I’m to blame, and I say—’
His voice sank to a confidential friendliness. ‘Here’s a slop. Don’t let on I ran you down. Haven’t a lamp, you know. Might be at bit awkward, for me.’
Kipps looked up towards the advancing policeman. The appeal to his generosity was not misplaced. He immediately took sides with his assailant. He stood as the representative of the law drew nearer. He assumed an air which he considered highly suggestive of an accident not having happened.
‘All right,’ he said, ‘go on!’
‘Right you are,’ said the cyclist, promptly, and led the way; and then, apparently with some idea of deception, called over his shoulder, ‘I’m tremendous glad to have met you, old chap.’
‘It really isn’t a hundred yards,’ he said, after they had passed the policeman; ‘it’s just round the corner.’
‘Of course,’ said Kipps, limping slightly. ‘I don’t want to get a chap into trouble. Accidents will happen. Still—’
‘Oh, rather! I believe you. Accidents will happen. Especially when you get me on a bicycle.’ He laughed. ‘You aren’t the first I’ve run down, not by any manner of means! I don’t think you can be hurt much, either. It isn’t as though I was scorching. You didn’t see me coming. I was back-pedalling like anything. Only naturally it seems to you I must have been coming fast. And I did all I could to ease off the bump as I hit you. It was just the treadle, I think, came against your calf. But it was All Right of you about that policeman, you know. That was a Fair Bit of All Right. Under the Circs., if you’d told him I was riding, it might have been forty bob! Forty bob! I’d have had to tell ’em Time is Money just now for Mr. H. C.’
‘I shouldn’t have blamed you either, you know. Most men, after a bump like that, might have been spiteful. The least I can do is to stand you a needle and thread. And a clothes’ brush. It isn’t every one who’d have taken it like you.’
‘Scorching! Why, if I’d been scorching you’d have—coming as we did—you’d have been knocked silly.’
‘But, I tell you, the way you caught on about that slop was something worth seeing. When I asked you—I didn’t half expect it. Bif! Right off. Cool as a cucumber. Had your line at once. I tell you that there isn’t many men would have acted as you have done, I will say that. You acted like a gentleman over that slop.’
Kipps’ first sense of injury disappeared. He limped along a pace or so behind, making depreciatory noises in response to these flattering remarks, and taking stock of the very appreciative person who uttered them.
As they passed the lamps he was visible as a figure with a slight anterior plumpness, progressing buoyantly on knicker-bockered legs, with quite enormous calves, legs that, contrasting with Kipps’ own narrow practice, were even exuberantly turned out at the knees and toes. A cycling cap was worn very much on one side, and from beneath it protruded carelessly straight wisps of dark-red hair, and ever and again an ample nose came into momentary view round the corner. The muscular cheeks of this person and a certain generosity of chin he possessed were blue shaven, and he had no moustache. His carriage was spacious and confident, his gestures up and down the narrow, deserted back street they traversed were irresistibly suggestive of ownership; a succession of broadly gesticulating shadows were born squatting on his feet, and grew and took possession of the road and reunited at least with the shadows of the infinite, as lamp after lamp was passed. Kipps saw by the flickering light of one of them that they were in Little Fenchurch Street, and then they came around a corner sharply into a dark court and stopped at the door of a particularly ramshackle-looking little house, held up between two larger ones, like a drunken man between policemen.
The cyclist propped his machine carefully against the window, produced a key and blew down it sharply. ‘The lock’s a bit tricky,’ he said, and devoted himself for same moments to the task of opening the door. Some mechanical catastrophe ensued, and the door was open.
‘You’d better wait here a bit while I get the lamp,’ he remarked to Kipps; ‘very likely it isn’t filled,’ and vanished into the blackness of the passage. ‘Thank God for matches!’ he said; and Kipps had an impression of a passage in the transitory pink flare and the bicyclist disappearing into a farther room. Kipps was so much interested by these things that for the time he forgot his injuries altogether.
An interval, and Kipps was dazzled by a pink-shaded kerosene lamp. ‘You go in,’ said the red-haired man, ‘and I’ll bring in the bike,’ and for a moment Kipps was alone in the lamp-lit room. He took in rather vaguely the shabby ensemble of the little apartment, the round table covered with a torn, red, glass-stained cover on which the lamp stood, a mottled looking-glass over the fireplace reflecting this, a disused gas-bracket, an extinct fire, a number of dusty postcards and memoranda stuck round the glass, a dusty, crowded paper-rack on the mantel with a number of cabinet photographs, a table littered with papers and cigarette ash, and a siphon of soda-water. Then the cyclist reappeared, and Kipps saw his blue-shaved, rather animated face, and bright, reddish-brown eyes for the first time. He was a man, perhaps, ten years older than Kipps, but his beardless face made them in a way contemporary.
‘You behaved all right about that policeman, anyhow,’ he repeated as he came forward.
‘I don’t see ’ow else I could ’ave done,’ said Kipps, quite modestly. The cyclist scanned his guest for the first time, and decided upon hospitable details.
‘We’d better let that mud dry a bit before we brush it. Whisky there is, good old Methuselah, Canadian Rye; and there’s some brandy that’s all right. Which’ll you have?’
‘I dunno,’ said Kipps, taken by surprise; and then seeing no other course but acceptance, ‘Well, whisky, then.’
‘Right you are, old boy; and if you’ll take my advice you’ll take it neat. I may not be a particular judge of this sort of thing, but I do know old Methuselah pretty well. Old Methuselah—four stars. That’s me! Good old Harry Chitterlow, and good old Methuselah. Leave ’em together. Bif! He’s gone!’
He laughed loudly, looked about him, hesitated, and retired, leaving Kipps in possession of the room, and free to make a more precise examination of its contents.
He particularly remarked the photographs that adorned the apartment. They were chiefly photographs of ladies, in one case in tights, which Kipps thought a ‘bit ’ot’; but one represented the bicyclist in the costume of some remote epoch. It did not take Kipps long to infer that the others were probably actresses, and that his host was an actor, and the presence of the half of a large coloured playbill seemed to confirm this. A note in an Oxford frame that was a little too large for it he presently demeaned himself to read. ‘Dear Mr. Chitterlow,’ it ran its brief course, ‘if, after all, you will send the play you spoke of, I will endeavour to read it,’ followed by a stylish but absolutely illegible signature, and across this was written in pencil, ‘What price Harry now?’ And in the shadow by the window was a rough and rather able sketch of the bicyclist in chalk on brown paper, calling particular attention to the curvature of the forward lines of his hull and calves and the jaunty carriage of his nose, and labelled unmistakably ‘Chitterlow.’ Kipps thought it ‘rather a take-off.’ The papers on the table by the siphon were in manuscript, Kipps observed, manuscript of a particularly convulsive and blottesque sort, and running obliquely across the page.
Presently he heard the metallic clamour as if of a series of irreparable breakages with which the lock of the front door discharged its function, and then Chitterlow reappeared, a little out of breath, and with a starry-labelled bottle in his large, freckled hand.
‘Sit down, old chap,’ he said, ‘sit down. I had to get out for it after all. Wasn’t a solitary bottle left. However, it’s all right now we’re here. No, don’t sit on that chair, there’s sheets of my play on that. That’s the one—with the broken arm. I think this glass is clean, but, anyhow, wash it out with a squizz of siphon and shy it in the fireplace. Here, I’ll do it! Lend it here!’
As he spoke Mr. Chitterlow produced a corkscrew from a table drawer, attacked and overcame good old Methuselah’s cork in a style a bar-tender might envy, washed out two tumblers in his simple, effectual manner, and poured a couple of inches of the ancient fluid into each. Kipps took his tumbler, said ‘Thenks’ in an off-hand way, and, after a momentary hesitation whether he should say ‘Here’s to you!’ or not, put it to his lips without that ceremony. For a space fire in his throat occupied his attention to the exclusion of other matters, and then he discovered Mr. Chitterlow with an intensely bulldog pipe alight, seated on the opposite side of the empty fireplace, and pouring himself out a second dose of whisky.
‘After all,’ said Mr. Chitterlow, with his eye on the bottle and a little smile wandering to hide amidst his larger features, ‘this accident might have been worse. I wanted some one to talk to a bit, and I didn’t want to go to a pub, leastways not a Folkestone pub, because, as a matter of fact, I’d promised Mrs. Chitterlow, who’s away, not to, for various reasons, though, of course, if I’d wanted to, I’m just that sort, I should have all the same—and here we are! It’s curious how one runs up against people out bicycling!’
‘Isn’t it!’ said Kipps, feeling that the time had come for him to say something.
‘Here we are, sitting and talking like old friends, and half an hour ago we didn’t know we existed. Leastways we didn’t know each other existed. I might have passed you in the street, perhaps, and you might have passed me, and how was I to tell that, put to the test, you would have behaved as decently as you have behaved. Only it happened otherwise, that’s all. You’re not smoking!’ he said. ‘Have a cigarette?’
Kipps made a confused reply that took the form of not minding if he did, and drank another sip of old Methuselah in his confusion. He was able to follow the subsequent course of that sip for quite a long way. It was as though the old gentleman was brandishing a burning torch through his vitals, lighting him here and lighting him there, until at last his whole being was in a glow. Chitterlow produced a tobacco-pouch and cigarette-papers, and, with an interesting parenthesis that was a little difficult to follow about some lady, named Kitty something or other, who had taught him the art when he was as yet only what you might call a nice boy, made Kipps a cigarette, and, with a consideration that won Kipps’ gratitude, suggested that, after all, he might find a little soda-water an improvement with the whisky. ‘Some people like it that way,’ said Chitterlow; and then with voluminous emphasis, ‘I don’t.’ Emboldened by the weakened state of his enemy, Kipps promptly swallowed the rest of him, and had his glass at once hospitably replenished. He began to feel he was of a firmer consistency than he commonly believed, and turned his mind to what Chitterlow was saying with the resolve to play a larger part in the conversation than he had hitherto done. Also he smoked through his nose quite successfully, an art he had only very recently acquired.
Meanwhile, Chitterlow explained that he was a playwright, and the tongue of Kipps was unloosened to respond that he knew a chap or rather one of their fellows knew a chap, or at least, to be perfectly, correct this fellow’s brother did, who had written a play. In response to Chitterlow’s inquiries, he could not recall the title of the play, nor where it had appeared, nor the name of the manager who produced it, though he thought the title was something about ‘Love’s Ransom,’ or something like that.
‘He made five ’undred pounds by it, though,’ said Kipps. ‘I know that.’
‘That’s nothing,’ said Chitterlow, with an air of experience that was extremely convincing. ‘Nothing. May seem a big sum to you, but I can assure you it’s just what one gets any day. There’s any amount of money, an-ny amount, in a good play.’
‘I dessay,’ said Kipps, drinking.
‘Any amount of money!’
Chitterlow began a series of illustrative instances. He was clearly a person of quite unequalled gift for monologue. It was as though some conversational dam had burst upon Kipps, and in a little while he was drifting along upon a copious rapid of talk about all sorts of theatrical things by one who knew all about them, and quite incapable of anticipating whither that rapid meant to carry him. Presently, somehow, they had got to anecdotes about well-known theatrical managers—little Teddy Bletherskite, artful old Chumps and the magnificent Behemoth, ‘petted to death, you know, fair sickened, by all these society women.’ Chitterlow described various personal encounters with these personages, always with modest self-depreciation, and gave Kipps a very amusing imitation of old Chumps in a state of intoxication. Then he took two more stiff doses of old Methuselah in rapid succession.
Kipps reduced the hither end of his cigarette to a pulp as he sat ‘dessaying’ and ‘quite believing’ Chitterlow in the sagest manner, and admiring the easy way in which he was getting on with this very novel and entertaining personage. He had another cigarette made for him, and then Chitterlow, assuming by insensible degrees more and more of the manner of a rich and successful playwright being interviewed by a young admirer, set himself to answer questions which sometimes Kipps asked, and sometimes Chitterlow, about the particulars and methods of his career. He undertook this self-imposed task with great earnestness and vigour, treating the matter, indeed, with such fullness that at times it seemed lost altogether under a thicket of parentheses, footnotes, and episodes that branched and budded from its stem. But it always emerged again, usually by way of illustration to its own digressions. Practically it was a mass of material for the biography of a man who had been everywhere and done everything (including the Hon. Thomas Norgate, which was a record), and in particular had acted with great distinction and profit (he dated various anecdotes, ‘when I was getting thirty, or forty, or fifty dollars a week’) throughout America and the entire civilised world.
And as he talked on and on in that full, rich, satisfying voice he had, and as old Methuselah, indisputably a most drunken old reprobate of a whisky, busied himself throughout Kipps, lighting lamp after lamp until the entire framework of the little draper was illuminated and glowing like some public building on a festival, behold Chitterlow, and Kipps with him, and the room in which they sat were transfigured! Chitterlow became in very truth that ripe, full man of infinite experience and humour and genius, fellow of Shakespeare and Ibsen and Maeterlinck (three names he placed together quite modestly far above his own), and no longer ambiguously dressed in a sort of yachting costume with cycling knickerbockers, but elegantly if unconventionally attired, and the room ceased to be a small and shabby room in a Folkestone slum, and grew larger and more richly furnished, and the flyblown photographs were curious old pictures, and the rubbish on the walls the most rare and costly bric-a-brac, and the indisputable paraffin lamp a soft and splendid light. A certain youthful heat that to many minds might have weakened old Methuselah’s starry claim to a ripe antiquity vanished in that glamour; two burnt holes and a clamant darn in the table-cloth, moreover, became no more than the pleasing contradictions natural in the house of genius; and as for Kipps—Kipps was a bright young man of promise, distinguished by recent quick, courageous proceedings not too definitely insisted upon, and he had been rewarded by admission to a sanctum and confidences for which the common prosperous, for which ‘society women’ even, were notoriously sighing in vain. ‘Don’t want them, my boy; they’d simply play old Harry with the Work, you know! Chaps outside, bank clerks and university fellows, think the life’s all that sort of thing. Don’t you believe ’em! Don’t you believe ’em!’
‘Boom . . . Boom . . . Boom . . . Boom . . . ’ right in the middle of a most entertaining digression on flats who join touring companies under the impression that they are actors, Kipps much amused at their flatness as exposed by Chitterlow.
‘Lor!’ said Kipps, like one who awakens, ‘that’s not eleven!’
‘Must be,’ said Chitterlow. ‘It was nearly ten when I got that whisky. It’s early yet—’
‘All the same, I must be going,’ said Kipps, and stood up. ‘Even now—maybe. Fact is—I ’ad no idea. The ’ouse door shuts at ’arf-past ten, you know. I ought to ’ave thought before.’
‘Well, if you must go—! I tell you what. I’ll come to . . . Why! There’s your leg, old man! Clean forgot it! You can’t go through the streets like that. I’ll sew up the tear. And meanwhile have another whiskey.’
‘I ought to be getting on now,’ protested Kipps, feebly; and then Chitterlow was showing him how to kneel on a chair in order that the rent trouser leg should be attainable, and old Methuselah on his third round was busy repairing the temporary eclipse of Kipps’ arterial glow. Then suddenly Chitterlow was seized with laughter, and had to leave off sewing to tell Kipps that the scene wouldn’t make a bad bit of business in a farcical comedy, and then he began to sketch out the farcical comedy, and that led him to a digression about another farcical comedy of which he had written a ripping opening scene which wouldn’t take ten minutes to read. It had something in it that had never been done on the stage before, and was yet perfectly legitimate, namely a man with a live beetle down the back of his neck trying to seem at his ease in a roomful of people . . .
‘They won’t lock you out,’ he said, in a singularly reassuring tone, and began to read and act what he explained to be (not because he had written it, but simply because he knew it was so on account of his exceptional experience of the stage), and what Kipps also quite clearly saw to be, one of the best opening scenes that had ever been written.
When it was over, Kipps, who rarely swore, was inspired to say the scene was ‘damned fine’ about six times over, whereupon, as if by way of recognition, Chitterlow took a simply enormous portion of the inspired antediluvian, declaring at the same time that he had rarely met a ‘finer’ intelligence than Kipps’ (stronger there might be, that he couldn’t say with certainty as yet, seeing how little, after all, they had seen of each other, but a finer never), that it was a shame such a gallant and discriminating intelligence should be nightly either locked up or locked out at ten—well, ten-thirty, then—and that he had half a mind to recommend old somebody or other (apparently the editor of a London daily paper) to put on Kipps forthwith as a dramatic critic in the place of the current incapable.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever made up anything for print,’ said Kipps, ‘ever. I’d have a thundering good try, though, if ever I got a chance. I would that! I’ve written window tickets orfen enough. Made ’em up and everything. But that’s different.’
‘You’d come to it all the fresher for not having done it before. And the way you picked up every point in that scene, my boy, was a Fair Treat! I tell you, you’d knock William Archer into fits. Not so literary, of course, you’d be, but I don’t believe in literary critics any more than in literary playwrights. Plays aren’t literature—that’s just the point they miss. Plays are plays. No! That won’t hamper you, anyhow. You’re wasted down here, I tell you. Just as I was, before I took to acting. I’m hanged if I wouldn’t like your opinion on these first two acts of that tragedy I’m on to. I haven’t told you about that. It wouldn’t take me more than an hour to read.’ . . .
Then, so far as he could subsequently remember, Kipps had ‘another,’ and then it would seem that, suddenly regardless of the tragedy, he insisted that he ‘really must be getting on,’ and from that point his memory became irregular. Certain things remained quite clearly, and as it is a matter of common knowledge that intoxicated people forget what happens to them, it follows that he was not intoxicated. Chitterlow came with him, partly to see him home and partly for a freshener before turning in. Kipps recalled afterwards very distinctly how in Little Fenchurch Street he discovered that he could not walk straight, and also that Chitterlow’s needle and thread in his still unmended trouser leg was making an annoying little noise on the pavement behind him. He tried to pick up the needle suddenly by surprise, and somehow tripped and fell, and then Chitterlow, laughing uproariously, helped him up. ‘It wasn’t a bicycle this time, old boy,’ said Chitterlow, and that appeared to them both at the time as being a quite extraordinarily good joke indeed. They punched each other about on the strength of it.
For a time after that Kipps certainly pretended to be quite desperately drunk and unable to walk, and Chitterlow entered into the pretence and supported him. After that Kipps remembered being struck with the extremely laughable absurdity of going downhill to Tontine Street in order to go uphill again to the Emporium, and trying to get that idea into Chitterlow’s head and being unable to do so on account of his own merriment and Chitterlow’s evident intoxication; and his next memory after that was of the exterior of the Emporium, shut and darkened, and, as it were, frowning at him with all its stripes of yellow and green. The chilly way in which ‘SHALFORD’ glittered in the moonlight printed itself with particular vividness on his mind. It appeared to Kipps that that establishment was closed to him for evermore. Those gilded letters, in spite of appearances, spelt finis for him and exile from Folkestone. He would never do wood-carving, never see Miss Walshingham again. Not that he had ever hoped to see her again. But this was the knife, this was final. He had stayed out, he had got drunk, there had been that row about the Manchester window dressing only three days ago . . . In the retrospect he was quite sure that he was perfectly sober then and at bottom extremely unhappy, but he kept a brave face on the matter nevertheless, and declared stoutly he didn’t care if he was locked out.
Whereupon Chitterlow slapped him on the back very hard and told him that was a ‘Bit of All-Right,’ and assured him that when he himself had been a clerk in Sheffield, before he took to acting, he had been locked out sometimes for six nights running.
‘What’s the result?’ said Chitterlow. ‘I could go back to that place now, and they’d be glad to have me . . . Glad to have me,’ he repeated, and then added, ‘That is to say, if they remember me—which isn’t very likely.’
Kipps asked a little weakly, ‘What am I to do?’
‘Keep out,’ said Chitterlow. ‘You can’t knock ’em up now—that would give you right away. You’d better try and sneak in in the morning with the Cat. That’ll do you. You’ll probably get in all right in the morning if nobody gives you away.’
Then for a time—perhaps as the result of that slap on the back—Kipps felt decidedly queer, and, acting on Chitterlow’s advice, went for a bit of a freshener upon the Leas. After a time he threw off the temporary queerness, and found Chitterlow patting him on the shoulder and telling him that he’d be all right now in a minute and all the better for it—which he was. And the wind having dropped and the night being now a really very beautiful moonlight night indeed, and all before Kipps to spend as he liked, and with only a very little tendency to spin round now and again to mar its splendour, they set out to walk the whole length of the Leas to the Sandgate lift and back, and as they walked Chitterlow spoke first of moonlight transfiguring the sea and then of moonlight transfiguring faces, and so at last he came to the topic of Love, and upon that he dwelt a great while, and with a wealth of experience and illustrative anecdote that seemed remarkably pungent and material to Kipps. He forgot his lost Miss Walshingham and his outraged employer again. He became, as it were, a desperado by reflection.
Chitterlow had had adventures, a quite astonishing variety of adventures, in this direction; he was a man with a past, a really opulent past, and he certainly seemed to like to look back and see himself amidst its opulence.
He made no consecutive history, but he gave Kipps vivid momentary pictures of relations and entanglements. One moment he was in flight—only too worthily in flight—before the husband of a Malay woman in Cape Town. At the next he was having passionate complications with the daughter of a clergyman in York. Then he passed to a remarkable grouping at Seaford.
‘They say you can’t love two women at once,’ said Chitterlow. ‘But I tell you—’ He gesticulated and raised his ample voice. ‘It’s Rot! Rot!’
‘I know that,’ said Kipps.
‘Why, when I was in the smalls with Bessie Hopper’s company there were Three.’ He laughed, and decided to add, ‘not counting Bessie, that is.’
He set out to reveal Life as it is lived in touring companies, a quite amazing jungle of interwoven ‘affairs’ it appeared to be, a mere amorous winepress for the crushing of hearts.
‘People say this sort of thing’s a nuisance and interferes with Work. I tell you it isn’t. The Work couldn’t go on without it. They must do it. They haven’t the Temperament if they don’t. If they hadn’t the Temperament they wouldn’t want to act; if they have—Bif!’
‘You’re right,’ said Kipps. ‘I see that.’
Chitterlow proceeded to a close criticism of certain historical indiscretions of Mr. Clement Scott respecting the morals of the stage. Speaking in confidence, and not as one who addresses the public, he admitted regretfully the general truth of these comments. He proceeded to examine various typical instances that had almost forced themselves upon him personally, and with especial regard to the contrast between his own character towards women and that of the Hon. Thomas Norgate, with whom it appeared he had once been on terms of great intimacy . . .
Kipps listened with emotion to these extraordinary recollections. They were wonderful to him, they were incredibly credible. This tumultuous, passionate, irregular course was the way life ran—except in high-class establishments! Such things happened in novels, in plays—-only he had been fool enough not to understand they happened. His share in the conversation was now, indeed, no more than faint writing in the margin; Chitterlow was talking quite continuously. He expanded his magnificent voice into huge guffaws, he drew it together into a confidential intensity, it became drawlingly reminiscent, he was frank, frank with the effect of a revelation, reticent also with the effect of a revelation, a stupendously gesticulating moonlit black figure, wallowing in itself, preaching Adventure and the Flesh to Kipps. Yet withal shot with something of sentiment, with a sort of sentimental refinement very coarsely and egotistically done. The Times he had had!—even before he was as old as Kipps he had had innumerable Times.
Well, he said with a sudden transition, he had sown his wild oats—one had to somewhen—and now, he fancied he had mentioned it earlier in the evening, he was happily married. She was, he indicated, a ‘born lady.’ Her father was a prominent lawyer, a solicitor in Kentish Town, ‘done a lot of public-house business’; her mother was second cousin to the wife of Abel Jones, the fashionable portrait painter—‘almost Society people in a way.’ That didn’t count with Chitterlow. He was no snob. What did count was that she possessed what he ventured to assert, without much fear of contradiction, was the very finest completely untrained contralto voice in all the world. (‘But to hear it properly,’ said Chitterlow, ‘you want a Big Hall.’) He became rather vague, and jerked his head about to indicate when and how he had entered matrimony. She was, it seemed, ‘away with her people.’ It was clear that Chitterlow did not get on with these people very well. It would seem they failed to appreciate his playwriting, regarding it as an unremunerative pursuit, whereas, as he and Kipps knew, wealth beyond the dreams of avarice would presently accrue. Only patience and persistence were needful.
He went off at a tangent to hospitality. Kipps must come down home with him. They couldn’t wander about all night with a bottle of the right sort pining at home for them. ‘You can sleep on the sofa. You won’t be worried by broken springs, anyhow, for I took ’em all out myself two or three weeks ago. I don’t see what they ever put ’em in for. It’s a point I know about. I took particular notice of it when I was with Bessie Hopper. Three months we were, and all over England, North Wales, and the Isle of Man, and I never struck a sofa in diggings anywhere that hadn’t a broken spring. Not once—all the time.’
He added, almost absently, ‘It happens like that at times.’
They descended the slant road towards Harbour Street and went on past the Pavilion Hotel.
They came into the presence of old Methuselah again, and that worthy, under Chitterlow’s direction, at once resumed the illumination of Kipps’ interior with the conscientious thoroughness that distinguished him. Chitterlow took a tall portion to himself with an air of asbestos, lit the bulldog pipe again and lapsed for a space into meditation, from which Kipps roused him by remarking that he expected ‘a nacter ‘as a lot of ups and downs like, now and then.’
At which Chitterlow seemed to bestir himself. ‘Rather,’ he said. ‘And sometimes it’s his own fault and sometimes it isn’t. Usually it is. If it isn’t one thing it’s another. If it isn’t the manager’s wife it’s bar-bragging. I tell you things happen at times. I’m a fatalist. The fact is, Character has you. You can’t get away from it. You may think you do, but you don’t.’
He reflected for a moment. ‘It’s that what makes tragedy. Psychology really. It’s the Greek irony—Ibsen and—all that. Up to date.’
He emitted this exhaustive summary of high-toned modern criticism as if he was repeating a lesson while thinking of something else; but it seemed to rouse him as it passed his lips, by including the name of Ibsen.
He became interested in telling Kipps, who was, indeed open to any information whatever about this quite novel name, exactly where he thought Ibsen fell short, points where it happened that Ibsen was defective just where it chanced that he, Chitterlow, was strong. Of course, he had no desire to place himself in any way on an equality with Ibsen; still, the fact remained that his own experience in England and America and the colonies was altogether more extensive than Ibsen could have had. Ibsen had probably never seen ‘one decent bar scrap’ in his life. That, of course, was not Ibsen’s fault, or his own merit, but there the thing was. Genius, he knew, was supposed to be able to do anything or to do without anything; still, he was now inclined to doubt that. He had a play in hand that might perhaps not please William Archer—whose opinion, after all, he did not value as he valued Kipps’ opinion—but which, he thought, was, at any rate, as well constructed as anything Ibsen ever did.
So with infinite deviousness Chitterlow came at last to his play. He decided he would not read it to Kipps, but tell him about it. This was the simpler, because much of it was still unwritten. He began to explain his plot. It was a complicated plot, and all about a nobleman who had seen everything and done everything and knew practically all that Chitterlow knew about women, that is to say, ‘all about women’ and such-like matters. It warmed and excited Chitterlow. Presently he stood up to act a situation which could not be explained. It was an extremely vivid situation.
Kipps applauded the situation vehemently. ‘Tha’s dam fine,’ said the new dramatic critic, quite familiar with his part now, striking the table with his fist and almost upsetting his third portion (in the second series) of old Methuselah. ‘Tha’s dam fine, Chit’low!’
‘You see it?’ said Chitterlow, with the last vestiges of that incidental gloom disappearing. ‘Good old boy! I thought you’d see it. But it’s just the sort of thing the literary critic can’t see. However, it’s only a beginning—’
He replenished Kipps and proceeded with his exposition.
In a little while it was no longer necessary to give that over-advertised Ibsen the purely conventional precedence he had hitherto had. Kipps and Chitterlow were friends, and they could speak frankly and openly of things not usually admitted. ‘Any’ow,’ said Kipps, a little irrelevantly, and speaking over the brim of the replenishment, ‘what you read jus’ now was dam fine. Nothing can’t alter that.’
He perceived a sort of faint buzzing vibration about things that was very nice and pleasant, and with a little care he had no difficulty whatever in putting his glass back on the table. Then he perceived Chitterlow was going on with the scenario, and then that old Methuselah had almost entirely left his bottle. He was glad there was so little more Methuselah to drink, because that would prevent his getting drunk. He knew that he was not now drunk, but he knew that he had had enough. He was one of those who always know when they have had enough. He tried to interrupt Chitterlow to tell him this, but he could not get a suitable opening. He doubted whether Chitterlow might not be one of those people who did not know when they had had enough. He discovered that he disapproved of Chitterlow. Highly. It seemed to him that Chitterlow went on and on like a river. For a time he was inexplicably and quite unjustly cross with Chitterlow, and wanted to say to him ‘you got the gift of the gab,’ but he only got so far as to say ‘the gift,’ and then Chitterlow thanked him and said he was better than Archer any day. So he eyed Chitterlow with a baleful eye until it dawned upon him that a most extraordinary thing was taking place. Chitterlow kept mentioning some one named Kipps. This presently began to perplex Kipps very greatly. Dimly but decidedly he perceived this was wrong.
‘Look ’ere,’ he said suddenly, ‘what Kipps?’
‘This chap Kipps I’m telling you about.’
‘What chap Kipps you’re telling which about?’
‘I told you.’
Kipps struggled with a difficulty in silence for a space. Then he reiterated firmly, ‘What chap Kipps?’
‘This chap in my play—man who kisses the girl.’
‘Never kissed a girl,’ said Kipps, ‘leastways—’ and subsided for a space. He could not remember whether he had kissed Ann or not—he knew he had meant to. Then suddenly, in a tone of great sadness, and addressing the hearth, he said, ‘My name’s Kipps.’
‘Eh?’ said Chitterlow.
‘Kipps,’ said Kipps, smiling a little cynically.
‘What about him?’
‘He’s me.’ He tapped his breastbone with his middle finger to indicate his essential self.
He leant forward very gravely towards Chitterlow. ‘Look ’ere, Chit’low,’ he said. ‘You haven’t no business putting my name into play. You mustn’t do things like that. You’d lose me my crib, right away.’ And they had a little argument—so far as Kipps could remember. Chitterlow entered upon a general explanation of how he got his names. These he had for the most part got out of a newspaper that was still, he believed, ‘lying about.’ He even made to look for it, and while he was doing so Kipps went on with the argument, addressing himself more particularly to the photograph of the girl in tights. He said that at first her costume had not commended her to him, but now he perceived she had an extremely sensible face. He told her she would like Buggins if she met him, he could see she was just that sort. She would admit—all sensible people would admit—that using names in plays was wrong. You could, for example, have the law on him.
He became confidential. He explained that he was already in sufficient trouble for stopping out all night, without having his name put in plays: He was certain to be in the deuce of a row, the deuce of a row. Why had he done it? Why hadn’t he gone at ten? Because one thing leads to another. One thing, he generalised, always does lead to another . . .
He was trying to tell her that he was utterly unworthy of Miss Walshingham, when Chitterlow gave up the search, and suddenly accused him of being drunk and talking ‘Rot—’