Book Two - Mr. Coote the Chaperon

Chapter the First

The New Conditions

H.G. Wells


§ 1

THERE COMES a gentlemanly figure into these events, and for a space takes a leading part therein, a Good Influence, a refined and amiable figure, Mr. Chester Coote. You must figure him as about to enter our story, walking with a curious rectitude of bearing through the evening dusk towards the Public Library, erect, large-headed—he had a great big head, full of the suggestion of a powerful mind well under control—with a large, official-looking envelope in his white and knuckly hand. In the other he carries a gold-handled cane. He wears a silken gray jacket suit, buttoned up, and anon he coughs behind the official envelope. He has a prominent nose, slaty gray eyes, and a certain heaviness about the mouth. His mouth hangs breathing open, with a slight protrusion of the lower jaw. His straw hat is pulled down a little in front, and he looks each person he passes in the eye, and, directly his look is answered, looks away.

Thus Mr. Chester Coote, as he was on the evening when he came upon Kipps. He was a local house-agent, and a most active and gentlemanly person, a conscious gentleman, equally aware of society and the serious side of life. From amateur theatricals of a nice refined sort to science classes, few things were able to get along without him. He supplied a fine full bass, a little flat and quavery perhaps, but very abundant, to the St. Stylites’ choir . . . 

He goes on towards the Public Library, lifts the envelope in salutation to a passing curate, smiles, and enters . . . 

It was in the Public Library that he came upon Kipps.

By that time Kipps had been rich a week or more, and the change in his circumstances was visible upon his person. He was wearing a new suit of drab flannels, a Panama hat, and a red tie for the first time, and he carried a silver-mounted stick with a tortoise-shell handle. He felt extraordinarily different, perhaps more different than he really was, from the meek Improver of a week ago. He felt as he felt Dukes must feel, yet at bottom he was still modest. He was leaning on his stick and regarding the indicator with a respect that never palled. He faced round to meet Mr. Coote’s overflowing smile.

‘What are you doang hea?’ asked Mr. Chester Coote. Kipps was momentarily abashed. ‘Oh,’ he said slowly, and then, ‘Mooching round a bit.’

That Coote should address him with this easy familiarity was a fresh reminder of his enhanced social position. ‘Jest mooching round,’ he said. ‘I been back in Folkestone free days now. At my ’ouse, you know.’

‘Ah!’ said Mr. Coote. ‘I haven’t yet had an opportunity of congratulating you on your good fortune.’

Kipps held out his hand. ‘It was the cleanest surprise that ever was,’ he said. ‘When Mr. Bean told me of it—you could have knocked me down with a feather.’

‘It must mean a tremendous change for you.’

‘O-o. Rather. Change? Why, I’m like the chap in the song they sing, I don’t ’ardly know where I are. You know.’

‘An extraordinary change,’ said Mr. Coote. ‘I can quite believe it. Are you stopping in Folkestone?’

‘For a bit. I got a ’ouse, you know. What my grandfather ’ad. I’m stopping there. His housekeeper was kept on. Fancy—being in the same town and everything!’

‘Precisely,’ said Mr. Coote. ‘That’s it,’ and coughed like a sheep behind four straight fingers.

‘Mr. Bean got me to come back to see to things. Else I was out in New Romney, where my uncle and aunt live. But it’s a lark coming back. In a way . . . ’

The conversation hung for a moment.

‘Are you getting a book?’ asked Coote.

‘Well, I ’aven’t got a ticket yet. But I shall get one all right, and have a go in at reading. I’ve often wanted to. Rather. I was just ’aving a look at this Indicator. First-class idea. Tells you all you want to know.’

‘It’s simple,’ said Coote, and coughed again, keeping his eyes fixed on Kipps. For a moment they hung, evidently disinclined to part. Then Kipps jumped at an idea he had cherished for a day or more—not particularly in relation to Coote, but in relation to any one.

‘You doing anything?’ he asked.

‘Just called with a papah about the classes.’

‘Because—Would you care to come up and look at my ’ouse and ’ave a smoke and a chat—eh?’ He made indicative back jerks of the head, and was smitten with a horrible doubt whether possibly this invitation might not be some hideous breach of etiquette. Was it, for example, the correct hour? ‘I’d be awfully glad if you would,’ he added.

Mr. Coote begged for a moment while he handed the official-looking envelope to the librarian, and then declared himself quite at Kipps’ service. They muddled a moment over precedence at each door they went through, and so emerged to the street.

‘It feels awful rum to me at first, all this,’ said Kipps. ‘’Aving a ’ouse of my own—and all that. It’s strange, you know. ’Aving all day. Reely I don’t ’ardly know what to do with my time.’

‘D’ju smoke?’ he said suddenly, proffering a magnificent gold-decorated pig-skin cigarette case, which he produced from nothing, almost as though it was some sort of trick. Coote hesitated and declined, and then with great liberality, ‘Don’t let me hinder you . . . ’

They walked a little way in silence, Kipps being chiefly concerned to affect ease in his new clothes and keeping a wary eye on Coote. ‘It’s rather a big windfall,’ said Coote presently. ‘It yields you an income—?’

‘Twelve ’undred a year,’ said Kipps. ‘Bit over—if anything.’

‘Do you think of living in Folkestone?’

‘Don’t know ’ardly yet. I may. Then again, I may not. I got a furnished ’ouse, but I may let it.’

‘Your plans are undecided?’

‘That’s jest it,’ said Kipps.

‘Very beautiful sunset it was to-night,’ said Coote, and Kipps said, ‘Wasn’t it?’ and they began to talk of the merits of sunsets. Did Kipps paint? Not since he was a boy. He didn’t believe he could now. Coote said his sister was a painter, and Kipps received this intimation with respect. Coote sometimes wished he could find time to paint himself, but one couldn’t do everything, and Kipps said that was ‘jest it.’

They came out presently upon the end of the Leas, and looked down to where the squat, dark masses of the harbour and harbour station, gemmed with pin-point lights, crouched against the twilight gray of the sea. ‘If one could do that,’ said Coote; and Kipps was inspired to throw his head back, cock it on one side, regard the harbour with one eye shut, and say that it would take some doing. Then Coote said something about ‘Abend,’ which Kipps judged to be in a foreign language, and got over by lighting another cigarette from his by no means completed first one. ‘You’re right—puff, puff.’

He felt that so far he had held up his end of the conversation in a very creditable manner, but that extreme discretion was advisable.

They turned away, and Coote remarked that the sea was good for crossing, and asked Kipps if he had been over the water very much. Kipps said he hadn’t been—‘much,’ but he thought very likely he’d have a run over to Boulogne soon; and Coote proceeded to talk of the charms of foreign travel, mentioning quite a number of unheard-of places by name. He had been to them! Kipps remained on the defensive, but behind his defences his heart sank. It was all very well to pretend, but presently it was bound to come out. He didn’t know anything of all this—

So they drew near the house. At his own gate Kipps became extremely nervous. It was a fine impressive door. He knocked neither a single knock nor a double but about one and a half—an apologetic half. They were admitted by an irreproachable housemaid with a steady eye, before which Kipps cringed dreadfully. He hung up his hat and fell about over hall chairs and things. ‘There’s a fire in the study, Mary?’ he had the audacity to ask, though evidently he knew, and led the way upstairs panting. He tried to shut the door and discovered the housemaid behind him coming to light his lamp. This enfeebled him further. He said nothing until the door closed behind her. Meanwhile to show his sang-froid, he hummed and flitted towards the window and here and there.

Coote went to the big hearthrug and turned and surveyed his host. His hand went to the back of his head and patted his occiput—a gesture frequent with him.

‘’Ere we are,’ said Kipps, hands in his pockets, and glancing round him.

It was a gaunt, Victorian room, with a heavy, dirty cornice, and the ceiling enriched by the radiant plaster ornament of an obliterated gas chandelier. It held two large glass-fronted bookcases, one of which was surmounted by a stuffed terrier encased in glass. There was a mirror over the mantel, and hangings and curtains of magnificent crimson patternings. On the mantel were a huge black clock of classical design, vases in the Burslem Etruscan style, spills, and toothpicks in large receptacles of carved rock, large lava ash-trays, and an exceptionally big box of matches. The fender was very great and brassy. In a favourable position under the window was a spacious rosewood writing-desk, and all the chairs and other furniture were of rosewood and well stuffed.

‘This,’ said Kipps, in something near an undertone, ‘was the o’ gentleman’s study—my grandfather that was. ’E used to sit at that desk and write.’


‘No. Letters to the Times and things like that. ’E’s got ’em all cut out—stuck in a book . . .  Leastways he ’ad. It’s in that bookcase . . .  Won’t you sit down?’

Coote did, blowing very slightly, and Kipps secured his vacated position on the extensive black-skin rug. He spread out his legs compass fashion, and tried to appear at his ease. The rug, the fender, the mantel, and mirror, conspired with great success to make him look a trivial and intrusive little creature amidst their commonplace hauteur, and his own shadow on the opposite wall seemed to think everything a great lark, and mocked and made tremendous fun of him—.


§ 2

For a space Kipps played a defensive game, and Coote drew the lines of the conversation. They kept away from the theme of Kipps’ change of fortune, and Coote made remarks upon local and social affairs. ‘You must take an interest in these things now,’ was as much as he said in the way of personalities. But it speedily became evident that he was a person of wide and commanding social relationships. He spoke of ‘society’ being mixed in the neighbourhood, and of the difficulty of getting people to work together and ‘do’ things; they were cliquish. Incidentally he alluded quite familiarly to men with military titles and once even to some one with a title, a Lady Punnet.

Not snobbishly, you understand, nor deliberately, but quite in passing. He had, it appeared, talked to Lady Punnet about private theatricals! In connection with the hospitals. She had been reasonable, and he had put her right—gently, of course, but firmly. ‘If you stand up to these people,’ said Coote, ‘they like you all the better.’ It was also very evident he was at his ease with the clergy; ‘my friend Mr. Densmore—a curate, you know, and rather curious, the Reverend and Honourable.’ Coote grew visibly in Kipps’ eyes as he said these things; he became, not only the exponent of ‘Vagner or Vargner,’ the man whose sister had painted a picture to be exhibited at the Royal Academy, the type of the hidden thing called culture, but a delegate, as it were, or at least an intermediary from that great world ’up there,’ where there were men-servants, where there were titles, where people dressed for dinner, drank wine at meals, wine costing very often as much as three and sixpence the bottle, and followed through a maze of etiquette, the most stupendous practices . . . 

Coote sat back in the arm-chair smoking luxuriously and expanding pleasantly with the delightful sense of savoir faire; Kipps sat forward, his elbows on his chair arm, alert, and his head a little on one side. You figure him as looking little and cheap, and feeling smaller and cheaper amidst his new surroundings. But it was a most stimulating and interesting conversation. And soon it became less general, and more serious and intimate. Coote spoke of people who had got on, and of people who hadn’t; of people who seemed to be in everything, and people who seemed to be out of everything; and then he came round to Kipps.

‘You’ll have a good time,’ he said abruptly, with a smile that would have interested a dentist.

‘I dunno,’ said Kipps.

‘There’s mistakes, of course.’

‘That’s jest it.’

Coote lit a new cigarette. ‘One can’t help being interested in what you will do,’ he remarked. ‘Of course—for a young man of spirit, come suddenly into wealth—there’s temptations.’

‘I got to go careful,’ said Kipps. ‘O’ Bean told me that at the very first.’

Coote went on to speak of pitfalls, of Betting, of Bad Companions. ‘I know,’ said Kipps, ‘I know.’

‘There’s Doubt again,’ said Coote. ‘I know a young fellow—a solicitor—handsome, gifted. And yet, you know—utterly sceptical. Practically altogether a Sceptic.’

‘Lor!’ said Kipps, ‘not a Natheist?’

‘I fear so,’ said Coote. ‘Really, you know, an awfully fine young fellow—Gifted! But full of this dreadful Modern Spirit—Cynical! All this Overman stuff. Nietzsche and all that . . .  I wish I could do something for him.’

‘Ah!’ said Kipps, and knocked the ash off his cigarette. ‘I know a chap—one of our apprentices he was—once. Always scoffing . . .  He lef.’

He paused. ‘Never wrote for his refs,’ he said, in the deep tone proper to a moral tragedy; and then, after a pause, ‘Enlisted!’

‘Ah!’ said Coote.

‘And often,’ he said, after a pause, ‘it’s just the most spirited chaps, just the chaps one likes best, who Go Wrong.’

‘It’s temptation,’ Kipps remarked.

He glanced at Coote, leant forward, knocked the ash from his cigarette into the mighty fender. ‘That’s jest it,’ he said, ‘you get tempted. Before you know where you are.’

‘Modern life,’ said Coote, ‘is so—complex. It isn’t every one is Strong. Half the young fellows who go wrong aren’t really bad.’

‘That’s jest it,’ said Kipps.

‘One gets a tone from one’s surroundings—’

‘That’s exactly it,’ said Kipps.

He meditated. ‘I picked up with a chap,’ he said. ‘A Nacter. Leastways, he writes plays. Clever feller. But—’

He implied extensive moral obloquy by a movement of his head. ‘Of course it’s seeing life,’ he added.

Coote pretended to understand the full implications of Kipps’ remark. ‘Is it worth it?’ he asked.

‘That’s jest it,’ said Kipps.

He decided to give some more. ‘One gets talking,’ he said. ‘Then it’s ’Ave a drink!’ Old Methuselah three stars—and where are you? I been drunk,’ he said, in a tone of profound humility, and added, ‘lots of times.’

‘Tt—tt,’ said Coote.

‘Dozens of times,’ said Kipps, smiling sadly; and added, ‘lately.’

His imagination became active and seductive. ‘One thing leads to another. Cards, p’raps. Girls—’

‘I know,’ said Coote, ‘I know.’

Kipps regarded the fire, and flushed slightly. He borrowed a sentence that Chitterlow had recently used. ‘One can’t tell tales out of school,’ he said.

‘I can imagine it,’ said Coote.

Kipps looked with a confidential expression into Coote’s face. ‘It was bad enough when money was limited,’ he remarked. ‘But now’—he spoke with raised eyebrows—‘I got to steady down.’

‘You must’ said Coote, protruding his lips into a sort of whistling concern for a moment.

‘I must,’ said Kipps, nodding his head slowly, with raised eyebrows. He looked at his cigarette end and threw it into the fender. He was beginning to think he was holding his own in this conversation rather well after all.

Kipps was never a good liar. He was the first to break silence. ‘I don’t mean to say I been reely bad or reely bad drunk. A ’eadache, perhaps—three or four times, say. But there it is!’

‘I have never tasted alcohol in my life,’ said Coote, with an immense frankness, ‘never!’


‘Never. I don’t feel I should be likely to get drunk at all—it isn’t that. And I don’t go so far as to say even that in small quantities—at meals—it does one harm. But if I take it, some one else who doesn’t know where to stop—you see?’

‘That’s jest it,’ said Kipps, with admiring eyes.

‘I smoke,’ admitted Coote. ‘One doesn’t want to be a Pharisee.’

It struck Kipps what a tremendously Good chap this Coote was, not only tremendously clever and educated and a gentleman, and one knowing Lady Punnet, but Good. He seemed to be giving all his time and thought to doing good things to other people. A great desire to confide certain things to him arose. At first Kipps hesitated whether he should confide an equal desire for Benevolent activities or for further Depravity—either was in his mind. He rather affected the pose of the Good Intentioned Dog. Then suddenly his impulses took quite a different turn—fell, indeed, into what was a far more serious rut in his mind. It seemed to him Coote might be able to do for him something he very much wanted done.

‘Companionship accounts for so much,’ said Coote.

‘That’s jest it,’ said Kipps. ‘Of course, you know, in my new position—That’s just the difficulty.’

He plunged boldly at his most secret trouble. He knew that he wanted refinement—culture. It was all very well—but he knew. But how was one to get it? He knew no one, knew no people—He rested on the broken sentence. The shop chaps were all very well, very good chaps and all that, but not what one wanted. ‘I feel be’ind,’ said Kipps. ‘I feel out of it. And consequently I feel it’s no good. And then if temptation comes along—’

‘Exactly,’ said Coote.

Kipps spoke of his respect for Miss Walshingham and her freckled friend. He contrived not to look too selfconscious. ‘You know, I’d like to talk to people like that, but I can’t. A chap’s afraid of giving himself away.’

‘Of course,’ said Coote, ‘of course.’

‘I went to a middle-class school, you know. You mustn’t fancy I’m one of these here board-school chaps, but you know it reely wasn’t a first-class affair. Leastways he didn’t take pains with us. If you didn’t want to learn you needn’t. I don’t believe it was much better than one of these here national schools. We wore mortar-boards, o’ course. But what’s that? I’m a regular fish out of water with this money. When I got it—it’s a week ago—reely I thought I’d got everything I wanted. But I dunno what to do.’

His voice went up into a squeak. ‘Practically,’ he said, ‘it’s no good shuttin’ my eyes to things—I’m a gentleman.’

Coote indicated a serious assent. ‘And there’s the responsibilities of a gentleman,’ he remarked.

‘That’s jest it,’ said Kipps. ‘There’s calling on people,’ said Kipps. ‘If you want to go on knowing someone you knew before, like. People that’s refined.’ He laughed nervously. ‘I’m a regular fish out of water,’ he said, with expectant eyes on Coote.

But Coote only nodded for him to go on.

‘This actor chap,’ he meditated, ‘is a good sort of chap. But ’e isn’t what I call a gentleman. I got to ’old myself in with ’im. ’E’d make me go it wild in no time. ’E’s pretty near the on’y chap I know. Except the shop chaps. They’ve come round to ’ave supper once already and a bit of a sing-song afterwards. I sang. I got a banjo, you know, and I vamp a bit. Vamping—you know. Haven’t got far in the book—’Ow to Vamp—but still I’m getting on. Jolly, of course, in a way, but what does it lead to? . . .  Besides that, there’s my aunt and uncle. They’re very good old people—very—jest a bit interfering p’r’aps, and thinking one isn’t grown up, but Right enough. Only—It isn’t what I want. I feel I’ve got be’ind with everything. I want to make it up again. I want to get with educated people who know ’ow to do things—in the regular proper way.’

His beautiful modesty awakened nothing but benevolence in the mind of Chester Coote.

‘If I had some one like you,’ said Kipps, ‘that I knew regular like—’

From that point their course ran swift and easy. ‘If I could be of any use to you,’ said Coote . . . 

‘But you’re so busy, and all that.’

‘Not too busy. You know, your case is a very interesting one. It was partly that made me speak to you and draw you out. Here you are with all this money and no experience, a spirited young chap—’

‘That’s jest it,’ said Kipps.

‘I thought I’d see what you were made of, and I must confess I’ve rarely talked to any one that I’ve found quite so interesting as you have been—’

‘I seem able to say things to you, like, somehow,’ said Kipps.

‘I’m glad. I’m tremendously glad.’

‘I want a Friend. That’s it—straight.’

‘My dear chap, if I—’

‘Yes; but—’

‘I want a Friend too.’


‘Yes. You know, my dear Kipps—if I may call you that.’

‘Go on,’ said Kipps.

‘I’m rather a lonely dog myself. This to-night—I’ve not had any one I’ve spoken to so freely of my Work for months.’


‘Yes. And, my dear chap, if I can do anything to guide or help you—’

Coote displayed all his teeth in a kindly tremulous smile, and his eyes were shiny. ‘Shake ’ands,’ said Kipps, deeply moved; and he and Coote rose and clasped with mutual emotion.

‘It’s reely too good of you,’ said Kipps.

‘Whatever I can do I will,’ said Coote.

And so their compact was made. From that moment they were friends—intimate, confidential, high-thinking sotto-voce friends. All the rest of their talk (and it inclined to be interminable) was an expansion of that. For that night Kipps wallowed in self-abandonment, and Coote behaved as one who had received a great trust. That sinister passion for pedagogy to which the Good-Intentioned are so fatally liable, that passion of infinite presumption that permits one weak human being to arrogate the direction of another weak human being’s affairs, had Coote in its grip. He was to be a sort of lay confessor and director of Kipps; he was to help Kipps in a thousand ways; he was, in fact, to chaperon Kipps into the higher and better sort of English life. He was to tell him his faults, advise him about the right thing to do—

‘It’s all these things I don’t know,’ said Kipps. ‘I don’t know, for instance, what’s the right sort of dress to wear—I don’t even know if I’m dressed right now—’

‘All these things’—Coote stuck out his lips and nodded rapidly to show he understood—‘trust me for that,’ he said; ‘trust me.’

As the evening wore on Coote’s manner changed, became more and more the manner of a proprietor. He began to take up his role, to survey Kipps with a new, with a critical affection. It was evident the thing fell in with his ideas. ‘It will be awfully interesting,’ he said. ‘You know, Kipps, you’re really good stuff.’ (Every sentence now he said ‘Kipps,’ or ‘my dear Kipps,’ with a curiously authoritative intonation.)

‘I know,’ said Kipps, ’only there’s such a lot of things I don’t seem to be up to some’ow. That’s where the trouble comes in.’

They talked and talked, and now Kipps was talking freely. They rambled over all sorts of things. Among others Kipps’ character was dealt with at length. Kipps gave valuable lights on it. ‘When I’m reely excited,’ he said, ‘I don’t seem to care what I do. I’m like that.’ And again, ‘I don’t like to do anything under’and. I must speak out—’

He picked a piece of cotton from his knee, the fire grimaced behind his back, and his shadow on the wall and ceiling was disrespectfully convulsed.


§ 3

Kipps went to bed at last with an impression of important things settled, and he lay awake for quite a long time. He felt he was lucky. He had known—in fact Buggins and Carshot and Pearce had made it very clear indeed—that his status in life had changed, and that stupendous adaptations had to be achieved; but how they were to be effected had driven that adaptation into the incredible. Here, in the simplest, easiest way, was the adapter. The thing had become possible. Not, of course, easy, but possible.

There was much to learn, sheer intellectual toil, methods of address, bowing, an enormous complexity of laws. One broken, you are an outcast. How, for example, would one encounter Lady Punnet? It was quite possible some day he might really have to do that. Coote might introduce him. ‘Lord!’ he said aloud to the darkness between grinning and dismay. He figured himself going into the Emporium, to buy a tie, for example, and there in the face of Buggins, Carshot, Pearce, and the rest of them, meeting ‘my friend, Lady Punnet!’ It might not end with Lady Punnet! His imagination plunged and bolted with him, galloped, took wings, and soared to romantic, to poetical altitudes-

Suppose some day one met Royalty. By accident, say! He soared to that! After all—twelve hundred a year is a lift, a tremendous lift. How did one address Royalty? ‘Your Majesty’s Goodness’ it would be, no doubt—something like that—and on the knees. He became impersonal. Over a thousand a year made him an Esquire, didn’t it? He thought that was it. In which case, wouldn’t he have to be presented at court? Velvet breeches, like you wear cycling, and a sword! What a curious place a court must be! Kneeling and bowing; and what was it Miss Mergle used to talk about? Of course!—ladies with long trains walking about backward. Everybody walked about backward at court, he knew, when not actually on their knees. Perhaps, though, some people regular stood up to the King! Talked to him, just as one might talk to Buggins, say. Cheek, of course! Dukes, it might be, did that—by permission? Millionaires? . . . 

From such thoughts this free citizen of our Crowned Republic passed insensibly into dreams—turgid dreams of that vast ascent which constitutes the true-born Briton’s social scheme, which terminates with retrogressive progression and a bending back.

The next morning he came down to breakfast looking grave—a man with much before him in the world.

Kipps made a very special thing of his breakfast. Daily once hopeless dreams came true then. It had been customary in the Emporium to supplement Shalford’s generous, indeed unlimited, supply of bread and butter-substitute by private purchases, and this had given Kipps very broad artistic conceptions of what the meal might be. Now there would be a cutlet or so or a mutton chop—this splendour Buggins had reported from the great London clubs—haddock, kipper, whiting, or fish-balls, eggs, boiled or scrambled, or eggs and bacon, kidney also frequently, and sometimes liver. Amidst a garland of such themes, sausages, black and white puddings, bubble-and-squeak, fried cabbage and scallops, came and went. Always as camp followers came potted meat in all varieties, cold bacon, German sausage, brawn, marmalade, and two sorts of jam; and when he had finished these he would sit among his plates and smoke a cigarette, and look at all these dishes crowded round him with beatific approval. It was his principal meal. He was sitting with his cigarette regarding his apartment with the complacency begotten of a generous plan of feeding successfully realised, when newspapers and post arrived.

There were several things by the post, tradesmen’s circulars and cards, and two pathetic begging letters—his luck had got into the papers—and there was a letter from a literary man and a book to enforce his request for 10s. to put down Socialism. The book made it very clear that prompt action on the part of property owners was becoming urgent, if property was to last out the year. Kipps dipped in it, and was seriously perturbed. And there was a letter from old Kipps, saying it was difficult to leave the shop and come over and see him again just yet, but that he had been to a sale at Lydd the previous day, and bought a few good old books and things it would be difficult to find the equal of in Folkestone. ‘They don’t know the value of these things out here,’ wrote old Kipps, ‘but you may depend upon it they are valuable,’ and a brief financial statement followed. ‘There is an engraving some one might come along and offer you a lot of money for one of these days. Depend upon it, these old things are about the best investment you could make . . . ’

Old Kipps had long been addicted to sales, and his nephew’s good fortune had converted what had once been but a looking and a craving—he had rarely even bid for anything in the old days, except the garden tools or the kitchen gallipots or things like that, things one gets for sixpence and finds a use for—into a very active pleasure. Sage and penetrating inspection, a certain mystery of bearing, tactical bids and Purchase—Purchase!—the old man had had a good time.

While Kipps was re-reading the begging letters, and wishing he had the sound, clear common sense of Buggins to help him a little, the Parcels Post brought along the box from his uncle. It was a large, insecure-looking case, held together by a few still loyal nails, and by what the British War Office would have recognised at once as an Army Corps of string—rags, and odds and ends tied together. Kipps unpacked it with a table knife, assisted at a critical point by the poker, and found a number of books and other objects of an antique type.

There were three bound volumes of early issues of Chambers’ Journal, a copy of Punch’s Pocket Book for 1875, Sturm’s Reflections, an early version of Gill’s Geography (slightly torn), an illustrated work on Spinal Curvature, an early edition of Kirke’s Human Physiology, The Scottish Chiefs, and a little volume on the Language of Flowers. There was a fine steel engraving, oak-framed, and with some rusty spots, done in the Colossal style and representing the Handwriting on the Wall. There were also a copper kettle, a pair of candle-snuffers, a brass shoe-horn, a tea-caddy to lock, two decanters (one stoppered), and what was probably a portion of an eighteenth-century child’s rattle. Kipps examined these objects one by one, and wished he knew more about them. Turning over the pages of the Physiology again, he came upon a striking plate, in which a youth of agreeable profile displayed his interior in an unstinted manner to the startled eye. It was a new view of humanity altogether for Kipps, and it arrested his mind. ‘Chubes,’ he whispered. ‘Chubes.’

This anatomised figure made him forget for a space that he was ‘practically a gentleman’ altogether, and he was still surveying its extraordinary complications when another reminder of a world quite outside those spheres of ordered gentility into which his dreams had carried him overnight arrived (following the servant) in the person of Chitterlow.


§ 5

‘’Ullo!’ said Kipps, rising.

‘Not busy?’ said Chitterlow, enveloping Kipps’ hand for a moment in one of his own, and tossing the yachting cap upon the monumental carved oak sideboard.

‘Only a bit of reading,’ said Kipps.

‘Reading, eh?’ Chitterlow cocked the red eye at the books and other properties for a moment and then, ‘I’ve been expecting you round again one night.’

‘I been coming round,’ said Kipps; ‘on’y there’s a chap ’ere—I was coming round last night, on’y I met ’im.’

He walked to the hearthrug. Chitterlow drifted round the room for a time, glancing at things as he talked. ‘I’ve altered that play tremendously since I saw you,’ he said.

‘Pulled it all to pieces.’

‘What play’s that, Chitlow?’

‘The one we were talking about. You know. You said something—I don’t know if you meant it—about buying half of it. Not the tragedy. I wouldn’t sell my own twin brother a share in that. That’s my investment. That’s my serious Work. No! I mean that new farce I’ve been on to. Thing with the business about a beetle.’

‘Oo yes,’ said Kipps. ‘I remember.’

‘I thought you would. Said you’d take a fourth share for a hundred pounds. You know.’

‘I seem to remember something—’

‘Well, it’s all different. Every bit of it. I’ll tell you. You remember what you said about a butterfly. You got confused, you know—Old Meth. Kept calling the beetle a butterfly, and that set me off. I’ve made it quite different. Quite different. Instead of Popplewaddle—thundering good farce-name that, you know, for all that it came from a Visitors’ List—instead of Popplewaddle getting a beetle down his neck and rushing about, I’ve made him a collector—collects butterflies, and this one you know’s a rare one. Comes in at window, centre!’ Chitterlow began to illustrate with appropriate gestures. ‘Pop rushes about after it. Forgets he mustn’t let on he’s in the house. After that—Tells ’em. Rare butterfly, worth lots of money. Some are, you know. Every one’s on to it after that. Butterfly can’t get out of the room; every time it comes out to have a try, rush, and scurry. Well, I’ve worked on that. Only—’

He came very close to Kipps. He held up one hand horizontally and tapped it in a striking and confidential manner with the fingers of the other. ‘Something else,’ he said. ‘That’s given me a Real Ibsenish Touch—like the Wild Duck. You know that woman—I’ve made her lighter—and she sees it. When they’re chasing the butterfly the third time, she’s on! She looks. “That’s me!” she says. Bif! Pestered Butterfly. She’s the Pestered Butterfly. It’s legitimate. Much more legitimate than the Wild Duck—where there isn’t a duck!

‘Knock ’em! The very title ought to knock ’em. I’ve been working like a horse at it . . .  You’ll have a goldmine in that quarter share, Kipps . . .  I don’t mind. It’s suited me to sell it, and suited you to buy. Bif!’

Chitterlow interrupted his discourse to ask, ‘You haven’t any brandy in the house, have you? Not to drink, you know. But I want just an eggcupful to pull me steady. My liver’s a bit queer . . .  It doesn’t matter if you haven’t. Not a bit. I’m like that. Yes, whisky’ll do. Better!’

Kipps hesitated for a moment, then turned and fumbled in the cupboard of his sideboard. Presently he disinterred a bottle of whisky and placed it on the table. Then he put out first one bottle of soda-water, and, after the hesitation of a moment, another. Chitterlow picked up the bottle and read the label. ‘Good old Methuselah,’ he said. Kipps handed him the corkscrew, and then his hand fluttered up to his mouth. ‘I’ll have to ring now,’ he said, ‘to get glasses.’ He hesitated for a moment before doing so, leaning doubtfully, as it were, towards a bell.

When the housemaid appeared, he was standing on the hearthrug with his legs wide apart, with the bearing of a desperate fellow. And after they had both had whiskies, ‘You know a decent whisky,’ Chitterlow remarked, and took another, ‘just to drink.’ Kipps produced cigarettes, and the conversation flowed again.

Chitterlow paced the room. He was, he explained, taking a day off; that was why he had come round to see Kipps. Whenever he thought of any extensive change in a play he was writing, he always took a day off. In the end it saved time to do so. It prevented his starting rashly upon work that might have to be re-written. There was no good in doing work when you might have to do it over again—none whatever.

Presently they were descending the steps by the parade en route for the Warren, with Chitterlow doing the talking and going with a dancing drop from step to step . . . 

They had a great walk, not a long one, but a great one. They went up by the Sanatorium, and over the East Cliff and into that queer little wilderness of slippery and tumbling clay and rock under the chalk cliffs—a wilderness of thorn and bramble, wild rose and wayfaring tree, that adds so greatly to Folkestone’s charm. They traversed its intricacies, and clambered up to the crest of the cliffs at last by a precipitous path that Chitterlow endowed in some mysterious way with suggestions of Alpine adventure. Every now and then he would glance aside at sea and cliffs with a fresh boyishness of imagination that brought back New Romney and the stranded wrecks to Kipps’ memory; but mostly he talked of his great obsession, of plays and playwriting and that empty absurdity that is so serious to its kind, his Art. That was a thing that needed a monstrous lot of explaining. Along they went, sometimes abreast, sometimes in single file, up the little paths and down the little paths, and in among the bushes and out along the edge above the beach; and Kipps went along trying ever and again to get an insignificant word in edgeways, and the gestures of Chitterlow flew wide and far, and his great voice rose and fell, and he said this and he said that, and he biffed and banged into the circumambient Inane.

It was assumed that they were embarked upon no more trivial enterprise than the Reform of the British Stage, and Kipps found himself classed with many opulent and even royal and noble amateurs—the Honourable Thomas Norgate came in here—who had interested themselves in the practical realisation of high ideals about the Drama. Only he had a finer understanding of these things, and instead of being preyed upon by the common professional—‘and they are a lot,’ said Chitterlow; ‘I haven’t toured for nothing’—he would have Chitterlow. Kipps gathered a few details. It was clear he had bought the quarter of a farcical comedy—practically a goldmine—and it would appear it would be a good thing to buy the half. A suggestion, or the suggestion of a suggestion, floated out that he should buy the whole play and produce it forthwith. It seemed he was to produce the play upon a royalty system of a new sort, whatever a royalty system of any sort might be. Then there was some doubt after all, whether that farcical comedy was in itself sufficient to revolutionise the present lamentable state of the British Drama. Better, perhaps, for such a purpose was that tragedy—as yet unfinished—which was to display all that Chitterlow knew about women, and which was to centre about a Russian nobleman embodying the fundamental Chitterlow personality. Then it became clearer that Kipps was to produce several plays. Kipps was to produce a great number of plays. Kipps was to found a National Theatre—

It is probable that Kipps would have expressed some sort of disavowal, if he had known how to express it. Occasionally his face assumed an expression of whistling meditation, but that was as far as he got towards protest.

In the clutch of Chitterlow and the Incalculable, Kipps came round to the house in Fenchurch Street, and was there made to participate in the midday meal. He came to the house forgetting certain confidences, and was reminded of the existence of a Mrs. Chitterlow (with the finest completely untrained contralto voice in England) by her appearance. She had an air of being older than Chitterlow, although probably she wasn’t and her hair was a reddish brown, streaked with gold. She was dressed in one of those complaisant garments that are dressing-gowns, or tea-gowns, or bathing wraps, or rather original evening robes, according to the exigencies of the moment—from the first Kipps was aware that she possessed a warm and rounded neck, and her well-moulded arms came and vanished from the sleeves—and she had large expressive eyes, that he discovered ever and again fixed in an enigmatical manner upon his own.

A simple but sufficient meal had been distributed with careless spontaneity over the little round table in the room with the photographs and looking-glass, and when a plate had, by Chitterlow’s direction, been taken from under the marmalade in the cupboard, and the kitchen fork and a knife that was not loose in its handle had been found for Kipps, they began and made a tumultuous repast. Chitterlow ate with quiet enormity, but it did not interfere with the flow of his talk. He introduced Kipps to his wife very briefly; she had obviously heard of Kipps before, and he made it vaguely evident that the production of the comedy was the thing chiefly settled. His reach extended over the table, and he troubled nobody. When Mrs. Chitterlow, who for a little while seemed socially self-conscious, reproved him for taking a potato with a jab of his fork, he answered, ‘Well, you shouldn’t have married a man of Genius,’ and from a subsequent remark it was perfectly clear that Chitterlow’s standing in this respect was made no secret of in his household.

They drank old Methuselah and siphon soda, and there was no clearing away; they just sat among the plates and things, and Mrs. Chitterlow took her husband’s tobacco-pouch and made a cigarette and smoked and blew smoke, and looked at Kipps with her large brown eyes. Kipps had seen cigarettes smoked by ladies before, for fun, but this was real smoking. It frightened him rather. He felt he must not encourage this lady—at any rate in Chitterlow’s presence.

They became very cheerful after the repast, and as there was now no waste to deplore, such as one experiences in the windy open air, Chitterlow gave his voice full vent. He fell to praising Kipps very highly and loudly. He said he had known Kipps was the right sort, he had seen it from the first, almost before he got up out of the mud on that memorable night. ‘You can,’ he said, ‘sometimes. That was why—’ He stopped, but he seemed on the verge of explaining that it was his certainty of Kipps being the right sort had led him to confer this great Fortune upon him. He left that impression. He threw out a number of long sentences and material for sentences of a highly philosophical and incoherent character about Coincidences. It became evident he considered dramatic criticism in a perilously low condition . . . 

About four Kipps found himself stranded, as it were, by a receding Chitterlow on a seat upon the Leas.

He was chiefly aware that Chitterlow was an overwhelming personality. He puffed his cheeks and blew.

No doubt this was seeing life, but had he particularly wanted to see life that day? In a way Chitterlow had interrupted him. The day he had designed for himself was altogether different from this. He had been going to read through a precious little volume called Don’t that Coote had sent round for him—a book of invaluable hints, a summary of British deportment, that had only the one defect of being at points a little out of date.

That reminded him he had intended to perform a difficult exercise called an Afternoon Call upon the Cootes, as a preliminary to doing it in deadly earnest upon the Walshinghams. It was no good to-day, anyhow, now.

He came back to Chitterlow. He would have to explain to Chitterlow he was taking too much for granted—he would have to do that. It was so difficult to do in Chitterlow’s presence, though; in his absence it was easy enough. This half-share, and taking a theatre and all of it, was going too far.

The quarter share was right enough, he supposed, but even that—! A hundred pounds! What wealth is there left in the world after one has paid out a hundred pounds from it?

He had to recall that, in a sense, Chitterlow had indeed brought him his fortune before he could face even that.

You must not think too hardly of him. To Kipps, you see, there was as yet no such thing as proportion in these matters. A hundred pounds went to his horizon. A hundred pounds seemed to him just exactly as big as any other large sum of money.

Kipps - Contents    |     Book Two - Chapter the Second - The Walshinghams

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