Book One - the Making of Kipps

Chapter the Fifth


H.G. Wells


§ 1

HE AWOKE on the thoroughly comfortable sofa that had had all its springs removed, and although he had certainly not been intoxicated, he awoke with what Chitterlow pronounced to be, quite indisputably, a Head and a Mouth. He had slept in his clothes, and he felt stiff and uncomfortable all over, but the head and mouth insisted that he must not bother over little things like that. In the head was one large, angular idea that it was physically painful to have there. If he moved his head, the angular idea shifted about in the most agonising away. This idea was that he had lost his situation and was utterly ruined, and that it really mattered very little. Shalford was certain to hear of his escapade, and that, coupled with that row about the Manchester window—!

He raised himself into a sitting position under Chitterlow’s urgent encouragement.

He submitted apathetically to his host’s attentions. Chitterlow, who admitted being a ‘bit off it’ himself and in need of an egg-cupful of brandy, just an egg-cupful neat, dealt with that Head and Mouth as a mother might deal with the fall of an only child. He compared it with other Heads and Mouths that he had met, and in particular to certain experienced by the Hon. Thomas Norgate. ‘Right up to the last,’ said Chitterlow, ‘he couldn’t stand his liquor. It happens like that at times.’ And after Chitterlow had pumped on the young beginner’s head and given him some anchovy paste piping hot on buttered toast, which he preferred to all the other remedies he had encountered, Kipps resumed his crumpled collar, brushed his clothes, tacked up his knee, and prepared to face Mr. Shalford and the reckoning for this wild, unprecedented night—the first ‘night out’ that ever he had taken.

Acting on Chitterlow’s advice to have a bit of a freshner before returning to the Emporium, Kipps walked some way along the Leas and back, and then went down to a shop near the Harbour to get a cup of coffee. He found that extremely reinvigorating, and he went on up the High Street to face the inevitable terrors of the office, a faint touch of pride in his depravity tempering his extreme self-abasement. After all, it was not an unmanly headache; he had been out all night, and he had been drinking, and his physical disorder was there to witness the fact. If it wasn’t for the thought of Shalford, he would have been even a proud man to discover himself at last in such a condition. But the thought of Shalford was very dreadful. He met two of the apprentices snatching a walk before shop began. At the sight of them he pulled his spirits together, put his hat back from his pallid brow, thrust his hands into his trousers pockets, and adopted an altogether more dissipated carriage; he met their innocent faces with a wan smile. Just for a moment he was glad that his patch at the knee was, after all, visible, and that some, at least, of the mud on his clothes had refused to move at Chitterlow’s brushing. What wouldn’t they think he had been up to? He passed them without speaking. He could imagine how they regarded his back. Then he recollected Mr. Shalford . . . 

The deuce of a row certainly, and perhaps—! He tried to think of plausible versions of the affair. He could explain he had been run down by rather a wild sort of fellow who was riding a bicycle, almost stunned for the moment (even now he felt the effects of the concussion in his head), and had been given whisky to restore him, and ‘the fact is, Sir,’—with an upward inflection of the voice, an upward inflection of the eyebrows, and an air of its being the last thing one would have expected whisky to do, the manifestation, indeed, of a practically unique physiological weakness—‘it got into my ’ed!’ . . . 

Put like that it didn’t look so bad.

He got to the Emporium a little before eight, and the housekeeper, with whom he was something of a favourite (‘There’s no harm in Mr. Kipps,’ she used to say), seemed to like him, if anything, better for having broken the rules, and gave him a piece of dry toast and a hot cup of tea.

‘I suppose the G. V.—’ began Kipps.

‘He knows,’ said the housekeeper.

He went down to the shop a little before time, and presently Booch summoned him to the presence.

He emerged from the private office after an interval of ten minutes.

The junior clerk scrutinised his visage. Buggins put the frank question. Kipps answered with one word

‘Swapped!’ said Kipps.


§ 2

Kipps leant against the fixtures with his hands in his pockets and talked to the two apprentices under him.

‘I don’t care if I am swapped,’ said Kipps. ‘I been sick of Teddy and his System some time.’

‘I was a good mind to chuck it when my time was up,’ said Kipps. ‘Wish I ’ad now.’

Afterwards Pearce came round, and Kipps repeated this.

‘What’s it for?’ said Pearce. ‘That row about the window tickets?’

‘No fear!’ said Kipps, and sought to convey a perspective of splendid depravity. ‘I wasn’t in las’ night,’ he said, and made even Pearce, ‘man about town’ Pearce, open his eyes.

‘Why, where did you get to?’ asked Pearce.

He conveyed that he had been ‘fair all round the town, with a Nactor chap’ he knew.

‘One can’t always be living like a curit,’ he said.

‘No fear,’ said Pearce, trying to play up to him. But Kipps had the top place in that conversation.

‘My lor!’ said Kipps, when Pearce had gone, ‘but wasn’t my mouth and ’ed bad this morning before I ’ad a pick-me-up!’

‘Whad jer ’ave?’

‘Anchovy on ’ot buttered toast. It’s the very best pick-me-up there is. You trust me, Rodgers. I never take no other, and I don’t advise you to. See?’

And when pressed for further particulars, he said again he had been ‘fair all round the town, with a Nactor chap’ he knew. They asked curiously all he had done, and he said, ‘Well, what do you think?’ And when they pressed for still further details, he said there were things little boys ought not to know, and laughed darkly and found them some huckaback to roll.

And in this manner for a space did Kipps fend off the contemplation of the ‘key of the street’ that Shalford had presented him.


§ 3

This sort of thing was all very well when junior apprentices were about, but when Kipps was alone with himself it served him not at all. He was uncomfortable inside, and his skin was uncomfortable, and the Head and Mouth, palliated, perhaps, but certainly not cured, were still with him. He felt, to tell the truth, nasty and dirty, and extremely disgusted with himself. To work was dreadful, and to stand still and think still more dreadful. His patched knee reproached him. These were the second best of his three pairs of trousers, and they had cost him thirteen and sixpence. Practically ruined they were. His dusting pair was unfit for shop, and he would have to degrade his best, when he was under inspection he affected the slouch of a desperado, but directly he found himself alone, this passed insensibly into the droop.

The financial aspect of things grew large before him. His whole capital in the world was the sum of five pounds in the Post Office Savings Bank, and four and sixpence cash. Besides, there would be two months’ ‘screw.’ His little tin box upstairs was no longer big enough for his belongings, he would have to buy another, let alone that it was not calculated to make a good impression in a new ‘crib.’ Then there would be paper and stamps needed in some abundance for answering advertisements and railway fares when he went ‘crib hunting.’ He would have to write letters, and he never wrote letters. There was spelling, for example, to consider. Probably if nothing turned up before his month was up, he would have to go home to his Uncle and Aunt.

How would they take it? . . . 

For the present, at any rate, he resolved not to write to them.

Such disagreeable things as this it was that lurked below the fair surface of Kipps’ assertion, ‘I been wanting a change. If ’e ’adn’t swapped me, I should very likely ’ave swapped ’im.’

In the perplexed privacies of his own mind he could not understand how everything had happened. He had been the Victim of Fate, or at least of one as inexorable—Chitterlow. He tried to recall the successive steps that had culminated so disastrously. They were difficult to recall . . . 

Buggins that night abounded in counsel and reminiscence.

‘Curious thing,’ said Buggins, ‘but every time I’ve had the swap I’ve never believed I should get another Crib—never. But I have,’ said Buggins. ‘Always. So don’t lose heart, whatever you do.’

‘Whatever you do,’ said Buggins, ‘keep hold of your collars and cuffs—shirts, if you can, but collars anyhow. Spout them last. And, anyhow, it’s summer, you won’t want your coat . . .  You got a good umbrella . . . 

‘You’ll no more get a shop from New Romney than—anything. Go straight up to London, get the cheapest room you can find—and hang out. Don’t eat too much. Many a chap’s put his prospects in his stomach. Get a cup o’ coffee and a slice—egg, if you like—but remember you got to turn up at the Warehouse tidy. The best places now, I believe, are the old cabmen’s eating houses. Keep your watch and chain as long as you can . . . 

‘There’s lots of shops going,’ said Buggins, ‘Lots!’

And added reflectively, ‘But not this time of year, perhaps.’

He began to recall his own researches. ‘’Stonishing lot of chaps you see,’ he said. ‘All sorts. Look like Dukes, some of ’em. High hat. Patent boots. Frockcoat. All there. All right for a West End crib. Others—Lord! It’s a caution, Kipps. Boots been inked in some reading-rooms—I used to write in a Reading Room in Fleet Street, regular penny club—hat been wetted, collar frayed, tail-coat buttoned up, black chest-plaster tie—spread out. Shirt, you know, gone—’ Buggins pointed upward with a pious expression.

‘No shirt, I expect?’

‘Eat it.’ said Buggins.

Kipps meditated. ‘I wonder where old Minton is,’ he said at last. ‘I often wondered about ’im.’


§ 4

It was the morning following Kipps’ notice of dismissal that Miss Walshingham came into the shop. She came in with a dark, slender lady, rather faded, rather tightly dressed, whom Kipps was to know some day as her mother. He discovered them in the main shop, at the counter of the ribbon department. He had come to the opposite glove counter with some goods enclosed in a parcel that he had unpacked in his own department. The two ladies were both bent over a box of black ribbon.

He had a moment of tumultuous hesitations. The etiquette of the situation was incomprehensible. He put down his goods very quietly and stood, hands on counter, staring at these two ladies. Then, as Miss Walshingham sat back, the instinct of flight seized him . . . 

He returned to his Manchester shop wildly agitated. Directly he was out of sight of her he wanted to see her. He fretted up and down the counter, and addressed some snappish remarks to the apprentice in the window. He fumbled for a moment with a parcel, untied it needlessly, began to tie it up again, and then bolted back again into the main shop. He could hear his own heart beating.

The two ladies were standing in the manner of those who have completed their purchases and are waiting for their change. Mrs. Walshingham regarded some remnants with impersonal interest; Helen’s eyes searched the shop. They distinctly lit up when they discovered Kipps.

He dropped his hands to the counter by habit, and stood for a moment regarding her awkwardly. What would she do? Would she cut him? She came across the shop to him.

‘How are you, Mr. Kipps?’ she said, in her clear, distinct tones, and she held out her hand.

‘Very well, thank you,’ said Kipps; ‘how are you?’

She said she had been buying some ribbon.

He became aware of Mrs. Walshingham very much surprised. This checked something allusive about the class, and he said instead that he supposed she was glad to be having her holidays now. She said she was, it gave her more time for reading and that sort of thing. He supposed that she would be going abroad, and she thought that perhaps they would go to Knocke or Bruges for a time.

Then came a pause, and Kipps’ soul surged within him. He wanted to tell her he was leaving and would never see her again. He could find neither words nor voice to say it. The swift seconds passed. The girl in the ribbons was handing Mrs. Walshingham her change. ‘Well,’ said Miss Walshingham, ‘good-bye,’ and gave him her hand again.

Kipps bowed over her hand. His manners, his counter manners, were the easiest she had ever seen upon him. She turned to her mother. It was no good now, no good. Her mother! You couldn’t say a thing like that before her mother! All was lost but politeness. Kipps rushed for the door. He stood at the door bowing with infinite gravity, and she smiled and nodded as she went out. She saw nothing of the struggle within him, nothing but a gratifying emotion. She smiled like a satisfied goddess as the incense ascends.

Mrs. Walshingham bowed stiffly and a little awkwardly.

He remained holding the door open for some seconds after they had passed out, then rushed suddenly to the back of the ‘costume’ window to watch them go down the street. His hands tightened on the window rack as he stared. Her mother appeared to be asking discreet questions. Helen’s bearing suggested the off-hand replies of a person who found the world a satisfactory place to live in. ‘Really, Mumsie, you cannot expect me to cut my own students dead,’ she was, in fact, saying—

They vanished round Henderson’s corner.

Gone! And he would never see her again—never!

It was as though some one had struck his heart with a whip. Never! Never! Never! And she didn’t know! He turned back from the window, and the department, with its two apprentices, was impossible. The whole glaring world was insupportable.

He hesitated, and made a rush, head down, for the cellar that was his Manchester warehouse. Rogers asked him a question that he pretended not to hear.

The Manchester warehouse was a small cellar apart from the general basement of the building, and dimly lit by a small gas flare. He did not turn that up, but rushed for the darkest corner, where, on the lowest shelf, the Sale window-tickets were stored. He drew out the box of these with trembling hands and upset them on the floor, and so, having made himself a justifiable excuse for being on the ground with his head well in the dark, he could let his poor bursting little heart have its way with him for a space.

And there he remained until the cry of ‘Kipps! Forward!’ summoned him once more to face the world.

Kipps - Contents    |     Book One - Chapter The Sixth - The Unexpected

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