When he returned his face was very white, and his countenance disordered. He let himself in with his latchkey and came into the dining-room, where Ann sat, affecting to work at a little thing she called a bib. She heard his hat fall in the hall before he entered, as though he had missed the peg. ‘I got something to tell you, Ann,’ he said, disregarding their overnight quarrel, and went to the hearthrug and took hold of the mantel and stared at Ann as though the sight of her was novel.
‘Well?’ said Ann, not looking up, and working a little faster.
Ann looked up sharply, and her hands stopped. ‘Who’s gone?’ For the first time she perceived Kipps’ pallor.
‘Young Walshingham—I saw ’er, and she tole me.’
‘Gone! What d’you mean?’
‘Cleared out! Gone off for good!’
‘For ’is ’ealth,’ said Kipps, with sudden bitterness. ‘’E’s been speckylating. He’s speckylated our money, and ’e’s speckylated their money, and now ’e’s took ’is hook. That’s all about it, Ann.’
‘I mean ’e’s orf, and our twenty-four fousand’s orf too! And ’ere we are! Smashed up! That’s all about it, Ann.’ He panted.
Ann had no vocabulary for such an occasion. ‘Oh, Lor!’ she said, and sat still.
Kipps came about and stuck his hands deeply in his trouser pockets. ‘Speckylated every penny—lorst it all—and gorn.’
Even his lips were white.
‘You mean we ain’t got nothing’ left, Artie?’
‘Not a penny! Not a bloomin’ penny, Ann. No!’
A gust of passion whirled across the soul of Kipps. He flung out a knuckly fist. ‘If I ’ad ’im ’ere,’ he said, ‘I’d—I’d—I’d wring ’is neck for ’im. I’d—I’d—’ His voice rose to a shout. He thought of Gwendolen in the kitchen, and fell to, ‘Ugh!’
‘But, Artie,’ said Ann, trying to grasp it, ‘d’you mean to say he’s took our money?’
‘Speckylated it!’ said Kipps, with an illustrative flourish of the arm that failed to illustrate. ‘Bort things dear and sold’ em cheap, and played the ’ankeypankey jackass with everything we got. That’s what I mean ’e’s done, Ann.’ He repeated this last sentence with the addition of violent adverbs.
‘D’you mean to say our money’s gone, Artie?’
‘Ter-dash it, Yes, Ann!’ swore Kipps, exploding in a shout. ‘Ain’t I tellin’ you?’
He was immediately sorry. ‘I didn’t mean to ’oller at you, Ann,’ he said, ‘but I’m all shook up. I don’t ’ardly know what I’m sayin’. Ev’ry penny . . . ’
Kipps grunted. He went to the window and stared for a moment at a sunlit sea. ‘Gord!’ he swore.
‘I mean,’ he said coming back to Ann, and with an air of exasperation, ‘that he’s ’bezzled and ’ooked it. That’s what I mean, Ann.’
Ann put down the bib. ‘But wot are we going to do, Artie?’
Kipps indicated ignorance, wrath, and despair with one comprehensive gesture of his hands. He caught an ornament from the mantel and replaced it. ‘I’m going to bang about,’ he said, ‘if I ain’t precious careful.’
‘You saw ’er, you say?’
‘What did she say ’xactly?’ said Ann.
‘Told me to see a s’licitor—tole me to get some one to ’elp me at once. She was there in black—like she used to be, and speaking cool and careful like. ’Elen! . . . She’s precious ’ard, is ’Elen. She looked at me straight. ‘It’s my fault,’ she said. ‘I ought to ’ave warned you . . . Only under the circumstances it was a little difficult.’ Straight as anything. I didn’t ’ardly say anything to ’er. I didn’t seem to begin to take it in until she was showing me out. I ’adn’t anything to say. Jest as well, perhaps. She talked—like a Call a’most. She said—what was it she said about her mother?—‘My mother’s overcome with grief,’ she said, ‘so naturally everything comes on me.’’
‘And she told you to get some one to ’elp you?’
‘Yes. I been to old Bean.’
‘Yes. What I took my business away from!’
‘What did he say?’
‘He was a bit off ’and at first, but then ’e come round. He couldn’t tell me anything till ’e knew the facts. What I know of young Walshingham, there won’t be much ’elp in the facts. No!’
He reflected for a space. ‘It’s a Smash-up, Ann. More likely than not, Ann—’e’s left us over’ead in debt. We got to get out of it just ’ow we can . . .
‘We got to begin again,’ he went on. ‘’Ow, I don’t know. All the way ’ome—my ’ead’s been going. We got to get a living some’ow or other. ’Aving time to ourselves, and a bit of money to spend, and no hurry and worry; it’s all over for ever, Ann. We was fools, Ann. We didn’t know our benefits. We been caught. Gord!—Gord!’
He was on the verge of ‘banging about’ again.
They heard a jingle in the passage, the large, soft impact of a servant’s indoor boots. As if she were a part, a mitigatory part of Fate, came Gwendolen to lay the midday meal. Kipps displayed self-control forthwith. Ann picked up the bib again and bent over it, and the Kippses bore themselves gloomily, perhaps, but not despairfully, while their dependent was in the room. She spread the cloth and put out the cutlery with a slow inaccuracy, and Kipps, after a whisper to himself, went again to the window. Ann got up and put away her work methodically in the chiffonier.
‘When I think,’ said Kipps, as soon as the door closed again behind Gwendolen—‘when I think of the ’ole people, and ’aving to tell ’em of it all, I want to smesh my ’ead against the nearest wall. Smesh my silly brains out! And Buggins—Buggins, what I’d arf promised to start in a lil’ outfitting shop in Rendezvous Street . . . ’
Gwendolen returned, and restored dignity. The midday meal spread itself slowly before them. Gwendolen, after her custom, left the door open, and Kipps closed it carefully before sitting down.
He stood for a moment, regarding the meal doubtfully.
‘I don’t feel as if I could swaller a moufful,’ he said.
‘You got to eat,’ said Ann . . .
For a time they said little, and once swallowing was achieved, ate on with a sort of melancholy appetite. Each was now busy thinking.
‘After all,’ said Kipps, presently, ‘whatever ’appens they can’t turn us out or sell us up before nex’ quarter day. I’m pretty sure about that.’
‘Sell us up!’ said Ann.
‘I dessay we’re bankrup’,’ said Kipps, trying to say it easily, and helping himself with a trembling hand to unnecessary potatoes.
Then a long silence. Ann ceased to eat, and there were silent tears.
‘More potatoes, Artie?’ choked Ann.
‘I couldn’t,’ said Kipps. ‘No.’
He pushed back his plate, which was indeed replete with potatoes, got up and walked about the room. Even the dinner-table looked distraught and unusual.
‘What to do, I don’t know,’ he said.
‘Oh, Lord!’ he ejaculated, and picked up and slapped down a book.
Then his eye fell upon another post card that had come from Chitterlow by the morning’s post, and which now lay by him on the mantelshelf. He took it up, glanced at its imperfectly legible message, and put it down.
‘Delayed!’ he said scornfully. ‘Not produced in the smalls. Or is it smells ’e says? ’Ow can one understand that? Any’ow, ’e’s ’umbugging again. Somefing about the Strand. No! . . . Well, ’e’s ’ad all the money ’e’ll ever get out of me! . . . I’m done.’
He seemed to find a momentary relief in the dramatic effect of his announcement. He came near to a swagger of despair upon the hearthrug, and then suddenly came and sat down next to Ann, and rested his chin on the knuckles of his two clenched hands.
‘I been a fool, Ann,’ he said in a gloomy monotone. ‘I been a brasted fool. But it’s ’ard on us, all the same. It’s ’ard.’
‘’Ow was you to know?’ said Ann.
‘I ought to ’ave known. I did in a sort of way know. And ’ere we are! I wouldn’t care so much if it was myself, but it’s you, Ann! ’Ere we are! Regular smashed up! And you—’
He checked at an unspeakable aggravation of their disaster. ‘I knew ’e wasn’t to be depended upon, and there I left it! And you got pay . . . What’s to ’appen to us all, I don’t know.’
He thrust out his chin and glared at fate.
‘’Ow do you know ’e’s specklated everything?’ said Ann, after a silent survey of him.
‘’E ’as,’ said Kipps, irritably, holding firm to disaster.
‘She say so?’
‘She don’t know, of course; but you depend upon it, that’s it. She told me she knew something was on, and when she found ’im gone and a note lef for her, she knew it was up with ’im. ’E went by the night boat. She wrote that telegrarf off to me straight away.’
Ann surveyed his features with tender, perplexed eyes; she had never seen him so white and drawn before, and her hand rested an inch or so away from his arm. The actual loss was still, as it were, afar from her. The immediate thing was his enormous distress.
‘’Ow do you know—?’ she said, and stopped. It would irritate him too much.
Kipps’ imagination was going headlong.
‘Sold up!’ he emitted presently, and Ann flinched.
‘Going back to work, day after day. I can’t stand it, Ann, I can’t. And you—’
‘It don’t do to think of it,’ said Ann.
Presently he came upon a resolve. ‘I keep on thinking of it, and thinking of it, and what’s to be done, and what’s to be done. I shan’t be any good ’ome ’s’arfernoon. It keeps on going round and round in my ’ead, and round and round. I better go for a walk or something. I’d be no comfort to you, Ann. I should want to ’owl and ’ammer things if I ’ung about ’ome. My fingers ’r all atwitch. I shall keep on thinking ’ow I might ’ave stopped it, and callin’ myself a fool . . . ’
He looked at her between pleading and shame. It seemed like deserting her.
Ann regarded him with tear-dimmed eyes.
‘You’d better do what’s good for you, Artie,’ she said . . . ‘I’ll be best cleaning. It’s no use sending off Gwendolen before her month, and the top room wants turning out.’ She added with a sort of grim humour, ‘May as well turn it out now while I got it.’
‘I better go for a walk,’ said Kipps . . .
And presently our poor, exploded Kipps was marching out to bear his sudden misery. Habit turned him up the road towards his growing house, and then suddenly he perceived his direction—‘Oh, Lor!’—and turned aside and went up the steep way to the hill-crest and the Sandling Road, and over the line by that tree-embowered Junction, and athwart the wide fields towards Postling—a little, black, marching figure—and so up the Downs and over the hills, whither he had never gone before . . .
He came back long after dark, and Ann met him in the passage.
‘Where you been, Artie?’ she asked, with a strained note in her voice.
‘I been walking and walking—trying to tire myself out. All the time I been thinking, what shall I do? Trying to fix something up, all out of nothing.’
‘I didn’t know you meant to be out all this time.’
Kipps was gripped by compunction . . .
‘I can’t think what we ought to do,’ he said presently.
‘You can’t do anything much, Artie, not till you hear from Mr. Bean.’
‘No. I can’t do anything much. That’s jest it. And all this time I keep feelin’ if I don’t do something the top of my ’ead’ll bust . . . Been trying to make up advertisements ’arf the time I been out—’bout finding a place; good salesman and stockkeeper, good Manchester dresses, window-dressing—Lor! Fancy that all beginning again! . . . If you went to stay with Sid a bit—If I sent every penny I got to you—I dunno! I dunno!’
When they had gone to bed there was an elaborate attempt to get to sleep . . . In one of their great waking pauses Kipps remarked in a muffled tone, ‘I didn’t mean to frighten you, Ann, being out so late. I kep’ on walking and walking, and some ’ow it seemed to do me good. I went out to the ’ill-top ever so far beyond Stanford, and sat there ever so long, and it seemed to make me better. Jest looking over the marsh like, and seeing the sunset . . . ’
‘Very likely,’ said Ann, after a long interval, ‘it isn’t so bad as you think it is, Artie.’
‘It’s bad,’ said Kipps. ‘Very likely, after all, it isn’t quite so bad. If there’s only a little—’
There came another long silence.
‘Ann,’ said Kipps, in the quiet darkness.
‘Yes,’ said Ann.
‘Ann,’ said Kipps, and stopped as though he had hastily shut a door upon speech.
‘I kep’ thinking,’ he said, trying again—‘kep’ thinking, after all, I been cross to you and a fool about things—about them cards, Ann—but’—his voice shook to pieces—‘we ’ave been ’appy, Ann . . . some’
And with that he and then she fell into a passion of weeping. They clung very tightly together—closer than they had been since ever the first brightness of their married days turned to the gray of common life again . . .
All the disaster in the world could not prevent their going to sleep at last with their poor little troubled heads close together on one pillow. There was nothing more to be done; there was nothing more to be thought. Time might go on with his mischiefs, but for a little while at least they still had one another.
Kipps returned from his second interview with Mr. Bean in a state of strange excitement. He let himself in with his latchkey and slammed the door. ‘Ann!’ he shouted, in an unusual note; ‘Ann!’
Ann replied distantly.
‘Something to tell you,’ said Kipps; ‘something noo!’
Ann appeared apprehensive from the kitchen.
‘Ann,’ he said, going before her into the little dining-room, for his news was too dignified for the passage, ‘very likely, Ann, o’ Bean says, we shall ’ave—’ He decided to prolong the suspense. ‘Guess!’
‘I can’t, Artie.’
‘Think of a lot of money!’
‘A ’undred pounds p’r’aps?’
He spoke with immense deliberation. ‘Over a fousand pounds!’
Ann stared and said nothing, only went a shade whiter.
‘Over,’ he said. ‘A’most certainly over.’
He shut the dining-room door and came forward hastily, for Ann, it was clear, meant to take this mitigation of their disaster with a complete abandonment of her self-control. She came near flopping; she fell into his arms.
‘Artie,’ she got to at last, and began to weep, clinging tightly to him.
‘Pretty near certain,’ said Kipps, holding her. ‘A fousand pounds!’
‘I said, Artie,’ she wailed on his shoulder with the note of accumulated wrongs, ‘very likely it wasn’t so bad—’
‘There’s things,’ he said, when presently he came to particulars, ‘’e couldn’t touch. The noo place! It’s freehold and paid for, and with the bit of building on it, there’s five or six ’undred pounds p’r’aps—say worf free ’undred for safety.
‘We can’t be sold up to finish it, like we thought. O’ Bean says we can very likely sell it and get money. ’E says you often get a chance to sell a ’ouse lessen ’arf done, specially free-old. Very likely, ’e says. Then there’s Hughenden. Hughenden ’asn’t been mortgaged not for more than ’arf its value. There’s a ’undred or so to be got on that, and the furniture, and the rent for the summer still coming in. ’E says there’s very likely other things. A fousand pounds; that’s what ’e said. ’E said it might even be more . . . ’
They were sitting now at the table.
‘It alters everything,’ said Ann.
‘I been thinking that, Ann, all the way ’ome. I came in the motor-car. First ride I’ve had since the Smash. We needn’t send off Gwendolen; leastways, not till after. You know. We needn’t turn out of ’ere—not for a long time. What we been doing for the o’ people we can go on doing a’most as much. And your mother! . . . I wanted to ’oller, coming along. I pretty near run coming down the road by the Hotel.’
‘Oh, I am glad we can stop ’ere and be comfortable a bit,’ said Ann. ‘I am glad for that.’
‘I pretty near told the driver on the motor—only ’e was the sort won’t talk—You see, Ann, we’ll be able to start a shop, we’ll be able to get into something like. All about our ’aving to go back to places and that—all that doesn’t matter any more.’
For a while they abandoned themselves to ejaculating transports. Then they fell talking to shape an idea to themselves of the new prospect that opened before them.
‘We must start a sort of shop,’ said Kipps, whose imagination had been working. ‘It’ll ’ave to be a shop.’
‘Drapery?’ said Ann.
‘You want such a lot of capital for the drapery; mor’n a thousand pounds you want by a long way—to start it anything like proper.’
‘Well, outfitting. Like Buggins was going to do.’
Kipps glanced at that for a moment, because the idea had not occurred to him. Then he came back to his prepossession.
‘Well, I thought of something else, Ann,’ he said. ‘You see, I’ve always thought a little bookshop—It isn’t like drapery—’aving to be learnt. I thought even before this Smash Up, ’ow I’d like to ’ave something to do, instead of always ’aving ’olidays always like we ’ave been ’aving.’
‘You don’t know much about books, do you, Artie?’
‘You don’t want to.’ He illustrated. ‘I noticed when we used to go to that Lib’ry at Folkestone, ladies weren’t anything like what they was in a draper’s—if you ’aven’t got just what they want, it’s ‘Oh, no!’ and out they go. But in a bookshop it’s different. One book’s very like another—after all, what is it? Something to read and done with. It’s not a thing that matters like print dresses or serviettes—where you either like ’em or don’t, and people judge you by. They take what you give ’em in books and lib’ries, and glad to be told what to. See ’ow we was—up at that lib’ry . . . ’
He paused. ‘You see, Ann—’
‘Well, I read ’n ‘dvertisement the other day—I been asking Mr. Bean. It said—five ’undred pounds.’
‘Branches,’ said Kipps.
Ann failed to understand. ‘It’s a sort of thing that gets up bookshops all over the country,’ said Kipps. ‘I didn’t tell you, but I arst about it a bit. On’y I dropped it again. Before this Smash, I mean. I’d thought I’d like to keep a shop for a lark, on’y then I thought it silly. Besides, it ’ud ’ave been beneath me.’
He blushed vividly. ‘It was a sort of projek of mine, Ann.
‘On’y it wouldn’t ’ave done,’ he added.
It was a tortuous journey when the Kippses set out to explain anything to each other. But through a maze of fragmentary elucidations and questions, their minds did presently begin to approximate to a picture of a compact, bright little shop, as a framework for themselves.
‘I thought of it one day when I was in Folkestone. I thought of it one day when I was looking in at a window. I see a chap dressin’ a window, and he was whistlin’, reg’lar light-hearted . . . I thought—I’d like to keep a bookshop any’ow, jest for something to do. And when people weren’t about, then you could sit and read the books. See? It wouldn’t be arf bad . . . ’
They mused, each with elbows on table and knuckles to lips, looking with speculative eyes at each other.
‘Very likely we’ll be ’appier than we should’ve been with more money’ said Kipps, presently.
‘We wasn’t ’ardly suited—’ reflected Ann, and left her sentence incomplete.
‘Fish out of water like,’ said Kipps—
‘You won’t ’ave to return that call now,’ said Kipps, opening a new branch of the question. ‘That’s one good thing.’
‘Lor!’ said Ann, ‘no more I shan’t!’
‘I don’t s’pose they’d want you to even if you did—with things as they are.’
A certain added brightness came into Ann’s face. ‘Nobody won’t be able to come leaving cards on us, Artie, now, any more. We are out of that!’
‘There isn’t no necessity for us to be Stuck Up,’ said Kipps, ‘any more for ever! ’Ere we are, Ann, common people, with jest no position at all, as you might say, to keep up. No se’v’nts, not if you don’t like. No dressin’ better than other people. If it wasn’t we been robbed—dashed if I’d care a rap about losing that money. I b’lieve’—his face shone with the rare pleasure of paradox—‘I reely b’lieve, Ann, it’ll prove a savin’ in the end.’
The remarkable advertisement which had fired Kipps’ imagination with this dream of a bookshop opened out in the most alluring way. It was one little facet in a comprehensive scheme of transatlantic origin, which was to make our old-world methods of bookselling ‘sit up,’ and it displayed an imaginative briskness, a lucidity and promise, that aroused the profoundest scepticism in the mind of Mr. Bean. To Kipps’ renewed investigations it presented itself in an expository illustrated pamphlet (far too well printed, Mr. Bean thought, for a reputable undertaking) of the most convincing sort. Mr. Bean would not let him sink his capital in shares in its projected company that was to make all things new in the world of books, but he could not prevent Kipps becoming one of their associated booksellers. And so, when presently it became apparent that an Epoch was not to be made, and the ‘Associated Booksellers’ Trading Union (Limited)’ receded and dissolved and liquidated (a few drops) and vanished and went away to talk about something else, Kipps remained floating undamaged in this interestingly uncertain universe as an independent bookseller.
Except that it failed, the Associated Booksellers’ Trading Union had all the stigmata of success. Its fault, perhaps, was that it had them all instead of only one or two. It was to buy wholesale for all its members and associates and exchange stock, having a common books-in-stock list and a common lending library, and it was to provide a uniform registered shop-front to signify these things to the intelligent passer-by. Except that it was controlled by buoyant young Overmen, with a touch of genius in their arithmetic, it was, I say, a most plausible and hopeful project. Kipps went several times to London, and an agent came to Hythe, Mr. Bean made some timely interventions, and then behind a veil of planks and an announcement in the High Street, the uniform registered shop-front came rapidly into being. ‘Associated Booksellers’ Trading Union,’ said this shop-front, in a refined artistic lettering that bookbuyers were going to value, as wise men over forty value the proper label for Berncasteler Doctor, and then, ‘Arthur Kipps.’
Next to starting a haberdasher’s shop, I doubt if Kipps could have been more truly happy than during those weeks of preparation.
There is, of course, nothing on earth, and I doubt at times if there is a joy in heaven, like starting a small haberdasher’s shop. Imagine, for example, having a drawerful of tapes (one whole piece most exquisitely blocked) of every possible width of tape, or again, an army of neat, large packages, each displaying one sample of hooks and eyes. Think of your cottons, your drawer of coloured silks, the little, less, of the compartments and thin packets of your needle-drawer! Poor princes and wretched gentlefolk, mysteriously above retail trade, may taste only the faint unsatisfactory shadow of these delights with trays of stamps or butterflies. I write, of course, for those to whom these things appeal; there are clods alive who see nothing, or next to nothing, in spools of mercerised cotton and endless bands of paper-set pins. I write for the wise, and as I write I wonder that Kipps resisted haberdashery. He did. Yet even starting a bookshop is at least twenty times as interesting as building your own house to your own design in unlimited space and time, or any possible thing people with indisputable social position and sound securities can possibly find to do. Upon that I rest.
You figure Kipps ‘going to have a look to see how the little shop is getting on,’ the shop that is not to be a loss and a spending of money, but a gain. He does not walk too fast towards it; as he comes into view of it his paces slacken and his head goes to one side. He crosses to the pavement opposite in order to inspect the fascia better; already his name is adumbrated in faint white lines; stops in the middle of the road and scrutinises imaginary details, for the benefit of his future next-door neighbour, the curiosity-shop man, and so at last, in . . . A smell of paint and of the shavings of imperfectly seasoned pinewood! The shop is already glazed, and a carpenter is busy over the fittings for adjustable shelves in the side windows. A painter is busy on the fixtures round about (shelving above and drawers below), which are to accommodate most of the stock, and the counter—the counter and desk are done. Kipps goes inside the desk, the desk which is to be the strategic centre of the shop, brushes away some sawdust, and draws out the marvellous till; here gold is to be, here silver, here copper—notes locked up in a cashbox in the well below. Then he leans his elbows on the desk, rests his chin on his fist and fills the shelves with imaginary stock; books beyond reading. Every day a man who cares to wash his hands and read uncut pages artfully may have his cake and eat it, among that stock. Under the counter to the right paper and string are to lurk, ready to leap up and embrace goods sold; on the table to the left, art publications—whatever they may prove to be. He maps it out, serves an imaginary customer, receives a dream seven-and-sixpence, packs, bows out. He wonders how it was he ever came to fancy a shop a disagreeable place.
‘It’s different,’ he says at last, after musing on that difficulty, ‘being your own.’
It is different . . .
Or, again, you figure Kipps with something of the air of a young sacristan, handling his brightly virginal account books, and looking and looking again, and then still looking, at an unparalleled specimen of copperplate engraving, ruled money below, and above bearing the words, ‘In Account with ARTHUR KIPPS (loud flourishes), The Booksellers’ Trading Union’ (temperate decoration). You figure Ann sitting and stitching at one point of the circumference of the light of the lamp, stitching queer little garments for some unknown stranger and over against her sits Kipps. Before him is one of those engraved memorandum forms, a moist pad, wet with some thick and greasy, greenish-purple ink, that is also spreading quietly but steadily over his fingers, a cross-nibbed pen for first-aid surgical assistance to the patient in his hand, a dating rubber stamp. At intervals he brings down this latter with great care and emphasis upon the paper, and when he lifts it there appears a beautiful oval design, of which ‘Paid, Arthur Kipps. The Associated Booksellers’ Trading Union,’ and a date, are the essential ingredients, stamped in purple ink.
Anon he turns his attention to a box of small, round, yellow labels, declaring. ‘This book was bought from the Associated Booksellers’ Trading Union.’ He licks one with deliberate care, sticks it on the paper before him and defaces it with great solemnity. ‘I can do it, Ann,’ he says, looking up brightly. For the Associated Booksellers’ Trading Union, among other brilliant notions and inspirations, devised an ingenious system of taking back its books again in part payment for new ones within a specified period. When it failed, all sorts of people were left with these unredeemed pledges in hand.
Amidst all this bustle and interest, all this going to and fro before they ‘moved in’ to the High Street, came the great crisis that hung over the Kippses, and one morning in the small hours Ann’s child was born . . .
Kipps was coming to manhood swiftly now. The once rabbit-like soul that had been so amazed by the discovery of ‘chubes’ in the human interior and so shocked by the sight of a woman’s shoulder-blades, that had found shame and anguish in a mislaid Gibus and terror in an Anagram Tea, was at last facing the greater realities. He came suddenly upon the master thing in life—birth. He passed through hours of listening, hours of impotent fear in the night and in the dawn, and then there was put into his arms something most wonderful, a weak and wailing creature, incredibly, heart-stirringly soft and pitiful, with minute appealing hands that it wrung his heart to see. He held it in his arms and touched its tender cheek as if he feared his lips might injure it. And this marvel was his Son!
And there was Ann, with a greater strangeness and a greater familiarity in her quality than he had ever found before. There were little beads of perspiration on her temples and her lips, and her face was flushed, not pale, as he had feared to see it. She had the look of one who emerges from some strenuous and invigorating act. He bent down and kissed her, and he had no words to say. She wasn’t to speak much yet, but she stroked his arm with her hand and had to tell him one thing.
‘He’s over nine pounds, Artie,’ she whispered. ‘Bessie’s—Bessie’s wasn’t no more than eight.’
To have given Kipps a pound of triumph over Sid seemed to her almost to justify Nunc Dimittis. She watched his face for a moment, then closed her eyes in a kind of blissful exhaustion as the nurse, with something motherly in her manner, pushed Kipps out of the room.
Kipps was far too much preoccupied with his own life to worry about the further exploits of Chitterlow. The man had got his two thousand; on the whole, Kipps was glad he had it rather than young Walshingham, and there was an end to the matter. As for the complicated transactions he achieved and proclaimed by mainly illegible and always incomprehensible post cards, they were like passing voices heard in the street as one goes about one’s urgent concerns. Kipps put them aside, and they got in between the pages of the stock and were lost for ever, and sold with the goods to customers, who puzzled over them mightily.
Then one morning as our bookseller was dusting round before breakfast, Chitterlow returned, appeared suddenly in the shop doorway.
It was the most unexpected thing in the world. The man was in evening dress, evening dress in that singularly crumpled state it assumes after the hour of dawn, and above his dishevelled red hair a smallish Gibus had tilted remarkably forward. He opened the door and stood tall and spread, with one vast white glove flung out, as if to display how burst a glove might be, his eyes bright, such wrinkling of brow and mouth as only an experienced actor can produce, and a singular radiance of emotion upon his whole being—an altogether astonishing spectacle.
The bell jangled for a bit, and then gave it up and was silent. For a long, long second everything was quietly attentive. Kipps was amazed to his uttermost; had he had ten times the capacity, he would still have been fully amazed. ‘It’s Chit’low!’ he said at last, standing duster in hand.
But he doubted whether it was not a dream.
‘Tzit!’ gasped that most extraordinary person, still in an incredibly expanded attitude, and then with a slight forward jerk of the starry split glove, ‘Bif!’
He could say no more. The tremendous speech he had had ready vanished from his mind. Kipps stared at his facial changes, vaguely conscious of the truth of the teachings of Nisbet and Lombroso concerning men of genius.
Then suddenly Chitterlow’s features were convulsed, the histrionic fell from him like a garment, and he was weeping. He said something indistinct about ‘Old Kipps! Good old Kipps! Oh, old Kipps!’ and somehow he managed to mix a chuckle and a sob in the most remarkable way. He emerged from somewhere near the middle of his original attitude, a merely lifesize creature. ‘My play, boohoo!’ he sobbed, clutching at his friend’s arm. ‘My play, Kipps! (sob). You know?’
‘Well?’ cried Kipps, with his heart sinking in sympathy. ‘It ain’t—?’
‘No,’ howled Chitterlow. ‘No. It’s a Success! My dear chap! my dear boy! Oh! It’s a—Bu—boohoo!—a Big Success!’ He turned away and wiped streaming tears with the back of his hand. He walked a pace or so and turned. He sat down on one of the specially designed artistic chairs of the Associated Booksellers’ Trading Union and produced an exiguous lady’s handkerchief, extraordinarily belaced. He choked. ‘My play,’ and covered his face here and there.
He made an unsuccessful effort to control himself, and shrank for a space to the dimensions of a small and pathetic creature. His great nose suddenly came through a careless place in the handkerchief.
‘I’m knocked,’ he said in a muffled voice, and so remained for a space—wonderful—veiled.
He made a gallant effort to wipe his tears away. ‘I had to tell you,’ he said, gulping.
‘Be all right in a minute,’ he added, ‘Calm!’ and sat still—
Kipps stared in commiseration of such success. Then he heard footsteps, and went quickly to the house doorway. ‘Jest a minute,’ he said. ‘Don’t go in the shop, Ann, for a minute. It’s Chitterlow. He’s a bit essited. But he’ll be better in a minute. It’s knocked him over a bit. You see’—his voice sank to a hushed note as one who announces death—‘’e’s made a success with his play.’
He pushed her back, lest she should see the scandal of another male’s tears . . .
Soon Chitterlow felt better, but for a little while his manner was even alarmingly subdued. ‘I had to come and tell you,’ he said. ‘I had to astonish some one. Muriel—she’ll be first-rate, of course. But she’s over at Dymchurch.’ He blew his nose with enormous noise, and emerged instantly, a merely garrulous optimist.
‘I expect she’ll be precious glad.’
‘She doesn’t know yet, my dear boy. She’s at Dymchurch—with a friend. She’s seen some of my first nights before . . . Better out of it . . . I’m going to her now. I’ve been up all night—talking to the Boys and all that. I’m a bit off it just for a bit. But—it Knocked ’em. It Knocked everybody.’
He stared at the floor and went on in a monotone. ‘They laughed a bit at the beginning—but nothing like a settled laugh—not until the second act—you know—the chap with the beetle down his neck. Little Chisholme did that bit to rights. Than they began—to rights.’ His voice warmed and increased. ‘Laughing! It made me laugh! We jumped ’em into the third act before they had time to cool. Everybody was on it. I never saw a first night go so fast. Laugh, laugh, laugh, LAUGH, LAUGH, LAUGH’ (he howled the last repetition with stupendous violence). ‘Everything they laughed at. They laughed at things that we hadn’t meant to be funny—not for one moment. Bif! Bizz! Curtain. A Fair Knock Out!—I went on—but I didn’t say a word. Chisholme did the patter. Shouting! It was like walking under Niagara—going across that stage. It was like never having seen an audience before—
‘Then afterwards—the Boys!’
His emotion held him for a space. ‘Dear old Boys!’ he murmured.
His words multiplied, his importance increased. In a little while he was restored to something of his old self. He was enormously excited. He seemed unable to sit down anywhere. He came into the breakfast-room so soon as Kipps was sure of him, shook hands with Mrs. Kipps parenthetically, sat down and immediately got up again. He went to the bassinet in the corner and looked absent-mindedly at Kipps junior, and said he was glad if only for the youngster’s sake. He immediately resumed the thread of his discourse . . . He drank a cup of coffee noisily and walked up and down the room talking, while they attempted breakfast amidst the gale of his excitement. The infant slept marvellously through it all.
‘You won’t mind my not sitting down, Mrs Kipps—I couldn’t sit down for any one, or I’d do it for you. It’s you I’m thinking of more than any one, you and Muriel, and all Old Pals and Good Friends. It means wealth, it means money—hundreds and thousands . . . If you’d heard ’em you’d know.’
He was silent through a portentous moment, while topics battled for him, and finally he burst and talked of them all together. It was like the rush of water when a dam bursts and washes out a fair-sized provincial town; all sorts of things floated along on the swirl. For example, he was discussing his future behaviour. ‘I’m glad it’s come now. Not before. I’ve had my lesson. I shall be very discreet now, trust me. We’ve learnt the value of money.’ He discussed the possibility of a country house, of taking a Martello tower as a swimming-box (as one might say a shooting-box), of living in Venice because of its artistic associations and scenic possibilities, of a flat in Westminster or a house in the West End. He also raised the question of giving up smoking and drinking, and what classes of drink were especially noxious to a man of his constitution. But discourses on all this did not prevent a parenthetical computation of the probable profits on the supposition of a thousand nights here and in America, nor did it ignore the share Kipps was to have, nor the gladness with which Chitterlow would pay that share, nor the surprise and regret with which he had learnt, through an indirect source which had awakened many associations, of the turpitude of young Walshingham, nor the distaste Chitterlow had always felt for young Walshingham, and men of his type. An excursus upon Napoleon had got into the torrent somehow, and kept bobbing up and down. The whole thing was thrown into the form of a single complex sentence, with parenthetical and subordinate clauses fitting one into the other like Chinese boxes, and from first to last it never even had an air of approaching anything in the remotest degree partaking of the nature of a full stop.
Into this deluge came the Daily News, like the gleam of light in Watts’ picture, the waters were assuaged while its sheet was opened, and it had a column, a whole column of praise. Chitterlow held the paper, and Kipps read over his left hand, and Ann under his right. It made the affair more real to Kipps; it seemed even to confirm Chitterlow against lurking doubts he had been concealing. But it took him away. He departed in a whirl, to secure a copy of every morning paper, every blessed rag there is, and take them all to Dymchurch and Muriel forthwith. It had been the send-off the Boys had given him that had prevented his doing as much at Charing Cross—let alone that he only caught it by the skin of his teeth . . . Besides which, the bookstall wasn’t open. His white face, lit by a vast excitement, bid them a tremendous farewell, and he departed through the sunlight, with his buoyant walk, buoyant almost to the tottering pitch. His hair, as one got it sunlit in the street, seemed to have grown in the night.
They saw him stop a newsboy.
‘Every blessed rag,’ floated to them on the notes of that gorgeous voice.
The newsboy, too, had happened on luck. Something like a faint cheer from the newsboy came down the air to terminate that transaction.
Chitterlow went on his way swinging a great budget of papers, a figure of merited success. The newsboy recovered from his emotion with a jerk, examined something in his hand again, transferred it to his pocket, watched Chitterlow for a space, and then in a sort of hushed silence resumed his daily routine . . .
Ann and Kipps regarded that receding happiness in silence, until it vanished round the bend of the road.
‘I am glad,’ said Ann at last, speaking with a little sigh.
‘So’m I,’ said Kipps, with emphasis. ‘For if ever a feller ’as worked and waited—it’s ’im . . . ’
They went back through the shop rather thoughtfully and, after a peep at the sleeping baby, resumed their interrupted breakfast. ‘If ever a feller ’as worked and waited, it’s ‘im,’ said Kipps, cutting bread.
‘Very likely it’s true,’ said Ann, a little wistfully.
‘About all that money coming.’
Kipps meditated. ‘I don’t see why it shouldn’t be,’ he decided, and handed Ann a piece of bread on the tip of his knife.
‘But we’ll keep on the shop,’ he said, after an interval for further reflection, ‘all the same . . . I ’aven’t much trust in money after the things we’ve seen.’
That was two years ago, and, as the whole world knows, the Pestered Butterfly is running still. It was true. It has made the fortune of a once declining little theatre in the Strand; night after night the great beetle scene draws happy tears from a house packed to repletion, and Kipps—for all that Chitterlow is not what one might call a business man—is almost as rich as he was in the beginning. People in Australia, people in Lancashire, Scotland, Ireland, in New Orleans, in Jamaica, in New York, and Montreal, have crowded through doorways to Kipps’ enrichment, lured by the hitherto unsuspected humours of the entomological drama. Wealth rises like an exhalation all over our little planet, and condenses, or at least some of it does, in the pockets of Kipps.
‘It’s rum,’ said Kipps.
He sat in the little kitchen out behind the bookshop and philosophised and smiled while Ann gave Arthur Waddy Kipps his evening tub before the fire. Kipps was always present at this ceremony, unless customers prevented; there was something in the mixture of the odours of tobacco, soap, and domesticity that charmed him unspeakably.
‘Chuckerdee, o’ man,’ he said affably, wagging his pipe at his son, and thought incidentally, after the manner of all parents, that very few children could have so straight and clean a body.
‘Dadda’s got a cheque,’ said Arthur Waddy Kipps, emerging for a moment from the towel.
‘’E gets ’old of everything,’ said Ann. ‘You can’t say a word—’
‘Dadda got a cheque,’ this marvellous child repeated.
‘Yes, o’ man, I got a cheque. And it’s got to go into a bank for you, against when you got to go to school. See? So’s you’ll grow up knowing your way about a bit.’
‘Dadda’s got a cheque,’ said the wonder son, and then gave his mind to making mighty splashes with his foot. Every time he splashed, laughter overcame him, and he had to be held up for fear he should tumble out of the tub in his merriment. Finally he was towelled to his toe-tips, wrapped up in warm flannel and kissed and carried off to bed by Ann’s cousin and lady help, Emma. And then after Ann had carried away the bath into the scullery, she returned to find her husband with his pipe extinct and the cheque still in his hand.
‘Two fousand pounds,’ he said. ‘It’s dashed rum. Wot ’ave I done to get two fousand pounds, Ann?’
‘What ’aven’t you—not to?’ said Ann.
He reflected upon this view of the case.
‘I shan’t never give up this shop,’ he said at last.
‘We’re very ’appy ’ere,’ said Ann.
‘Not if I ’ad fifty fousand pounds.’
‘No fear,’ said Ann.
‘You got a shop,’ said Kipps, ‘and you come along in a year’s time and there it is. But money—look ’ow it comes and goes! There’s no sense in money. You may kill yourself trying to get it, and then it comes when you aren’t looking. There’s my ’riginal money! Where is it now? Gone! And it’s took young Walshingham with it, and ’e’s gone, too. It’s like playing skittles. ’Long comes the ball, right and left you fly, and there it is rolling away and not changed a bit. No sense in it. ’E’s gone, and she’s gone—gone off with that chap Revel, that sat with me at dinner. Merried man! And Chit’low rich! Lor!—what a fine place that Gerrik Club is to be sure! where I ’ad lunch wiv’ ’im! Better’n any ’otel. Footmen in powder they got—not waiters, Ann—footmen! ’E’s rich and me rich—in a sort of way . . . Don’t seem much sense in it, Ann—’owever you look at it.’ He shook his head.
‘I know one thing.’ said Kipps.
‘I’m going to put it in jest as many different banks as I can. See? Fifty ’ere, fifty there. ‘Posit. I’m not going to ’nvest it—no fear.’
‘It’s only frowing money away,’ said Ann.
‘I’m arf a mind to bury some of it under the shop. Only I expect one ’ud always be coming down at nights to make sure it was there . . . I don’t seem to trust any one—not with money.’ He put the cheque on the table corner and smiled and tapped his pipe on the grate, with his eyes on that wonderful document. ‘S’pose old Bean started orf,’ he reflected . . . ‘One thing—’e is a bit lame.’
‘’E wouldn’t,’ said Ann; ‘not ’im.’
‘I was only joking like.’ He stood up, put his pipe among the candlesticks on the mantel, took up the cheque and began folding it carefully to put it back in his pocket-book.
A little bell jangled.
‘Shop!’ said Kipps. ‘That’s right. Keep a shop and the shop’ll keep you. That’s ’ow I look at it, Ann.’
He drove his pocket-book securely into his breast-pocket before he opened the living-room door . . .
But whether, indeed, it is the bookshop that keeps Kipps or whether it is Kipps who keeps the bookshop, is just one of those commercial mysteries people of my unarithmetical temperament are never able to solve. They do very well, the dears, anyhow, thank Heaven!
The bookshop of Kipps is on the left-hand side of the Hythe High Street coming from Folkestone, between the yard of the livery stable and the shop window full of old silver and suchlike things—it is quite easy to find—and there you may see him for yourself, and speak to him and buy this book of him if you like. He has it in stock, I know. Very delicately I’ve seen to that. His name is not Kipps, of course, you must understand that; but everything else is exactly as I have told you. You can talk to him about books, about politics, about going to Boulogne, about life, and the ups and downs of life. Perhaps he will quote you Buggins—from whom, by the bye, one can now buy everything a gentleman’s wardrobe should contain at the little shop in Rendezvous Street, Folkestone. If you are fortunate to find Kipps in a good mood, he may even let you know how he inherited a fortune ’once.’ ‘Run froo it,’ he’ll say with a not unhappy smile. ‘Got another afterwards—speckylating in plays. Needn’t keep this shop if I didn’t like. But it’s something to do . . . ’
Or he may be even more intimate. ‘I seen some things,’ he said to me once. ‘Raver! Life! Why, once I—I loped! I did—reely!’
(Of course, you will not tell Kipps that he is ‘Kipps,’ or that I have put him in this book. He hasn’t the remotest suspicion of that. And, you know, you never can tell how people are going to take sort of thing. I am an old and trusted customer now, and for many amiable reasons I should prefer that things remained exactly on their present footing.)
One early-closing evening in July they left the baby to the servant cousin, and Kipps took Ann for a row on the Hythe canal. The sun set in a mighty blaze, and left a world warm, and very still. The twilight came. And there was the water, shinning bright, and the sky a deepening blue, and the great trees that dipped their boughs towards the water, exactly as it had been when he paddled home with Helen, when her eyes had seemed to him like dusky stars. He had ceased from rowing and rested on his oars, and suddenly he was touched by the wonder of life—the strangeness that is a presence stood again by his side.
Out of the darkness beneath the shallow, weedy stream of his being rose a question, a question that looked up dimly and never reached the surface. It was the question of the wonder of the beauty, the purposeless, inconsecutive beauty, that falls so strangely among the happenings and memories of life. It never reached the surface of his mind, it never took to itself substance or form; it looked up merely as the phantom of a face might look, out of deep waters, and sank again into nothingness.
‘Artie,’ said Ann.
He woke up and pulled a stroke. ‘What?’ he said. ‘Penny for your thoughts, Artie.’
He considered. ‘I reely don’t think I was thinking of anything,’ he said at last, with a smile. ‘No.’
He still rested on his oars.
‘I expect,’ he said, ‘I was thinking jest what a Rum Go everything is. I expect it was something like that.’
‘Queer old Artie!’
‘Ain’t I? I don’t suppose there ever was a chap quite like me before.’
He reflected for just another minute.
‘Oo!—I dunno,’ he said at last, and roused himself to pull.