Book Two - Mr. Coote the Chaperon

Chapter the Fourth

The Bicycle Manufacturer

H.G. Wells


§ 1

SO KIPPS embarked upon his engagement, steeled himself to the high enterprise of marrying above his breeding. The next morning found him dressing with a certain quiet severity of movement, and it seemed to his landlady’s housemaid that he was unusually dignified at breakfast. He meditated profoundly over his kipper and his kidney and bacon. He was going to New Romney to tell the old people what had happened and where he stood. And the love of Helen had also given him courage to do what Buggins had once suggested to him as a thing he would do were he in Kipps’ place, and that was to hire a motor-car for the afternoon. He had an early cold lunch, and then, with an air of quiet resolution, assumed a cap and coat he had purchased to this end, and, thus equipped, strolled round, blowing slightly, to the motor shop. The transaction was unexpectedly easy, and within the hour, Kipps, spectacled and wrapped about, was tootling through Dymchurch.

They came to a stop smartly and neatly outside the little toyshop. ‘Make that thing ’oot a bit, will you?’ said Kipps. ‘Yes. That’s it.’ ‘Whup,’ said the motor-car. ‘Whurrup.’ Both his aunt and uncle came out on the pavement. ‘Why, it’s Artie!’ cried his aunt; and Kipps had a moment of triumph.

He descended to hand-claspings, removed wraps and spectacles, and the motor-driver retired to take ‘an hour off.’ Old Kipps surveyed the machinery and disconcerted Kipps for a moment by asking him, in a knowing tone, what they asked him for a thing like that. The two men stood inspecting the machine and impressing the neighbours for a time, and then they strolled through the shop into the little parlour for a drink.

‘They ain’t settled,’ old Kipps had said at the neighbours. ‘They ain’t got no further than experiments. There’s a bit of take-in about each. You take my advice and wait, me boy, even if it’s a year or two before you buy one for your own use.’

(Though Kipps had said nothing of doing anything of the sort.)

‘’Ow d’you like that whisky I sent?’ asked Kipps, dodging the old familiar bunch of children’s pails.

Old Kipps became tactful. ‘It’s very good whisky, my boy,’ said old Kipps. ‘I ’aven’t the slightest doubt it’s a very good whisky, and cost you a tidy price. But—dashed if it soots me! They put this here Foozle Ile in it, my boy, and it ketches me jest ’ere.’ He indicated his centre of figure. ‘Gives me the heartburn,’ he said, and shook his head rather sadly.

‘It’s a very good whisky,’ said Kipps. ‘It’s what the actor-manager chaps drink in London, I ’appen to know.’

‘I dessay they do, my boy,’ said old Kipps, ‘but then they’ve ’ad their livers burnt out—and I aven’t. They ain’t dellicat like me. My stummik always ’as been extrydellicat. Sometimes it’s almost been as though nothing would lay on it. But that’s in passing. I liked those segars. You can send me some more of them segars . . . ’

You cannot lead a conversation straight from the gastric consequences of Foozle Ile to Love, and so Kipps after a friendly inspection of a rare old engraving after Morland (perfect except for a hole kicked through the centre) that his Uncle had recently purchased by private haggle, came to the topic of the old people’s removal.

At the outset of Kipps’ great fortunes there had been much talk of some permanent provision for them. It had been conceded they were to be provided for comfortably, and the phrase, ‘retire from business,’ had been very much in the air. Kipps had pictured an ideal cottage with a creeper always in exuberant flower about the door, where the sun shone for ever, and the wind never blew, and a perpetual welcome hovered in the doorway. It was an agreeable dream, but when it came to the point of deciding upon this particular cottage or that, and on this particular house or that, Kipps was surprised by an unexpected clinging to the little home, which he had always understood to be the worst of all possible houses.

‘We don’t want to move in a ’urry,’ said Mrs. Kipps.

‘When we want to move, we want to move for life. I’ve had enough moving about in my time,’ said old Kipps.

‘We can do here a bit more now we done here so long,’ said Mrs. Kipps.

‘You lemme look about a bit fust,’ said old Kipps.

And in looking about old Kipps found perhaps a finer joy than any mere possession could have given. He would shut his shop more or less effectually against the intrusion of customers, and toddle abroad seeking a new matter for his dream; no house was too small and none too large for his knowing inquiries. Occupied houses took his fancy more than vacant ones, and he would remark. ‘You won’t be a-livin’ ’ere for ever, even if you think you will,’ when irate householders protested against the unsolicited examination of their more intimate premises . . . 

Remarkable difficulties arose, of a totally unexpected sort.

‘If we ’ave a larger ’ouse,’ said Mrs. Kipps, with sudden bitterness, ‘we shall want a servant, and I don’t want no gells in the place larfin’ at me, sniggerin’ and larfin’ and prancin’ and trapesin’, lardy da!’

‘If we ’ave a smaller ’ouse,’ said Mrs. Kipps, ‘there won’t be room to swing a cat.’

Room to swing a cat, it seemed, was absolutely essential. It was an infrequent but indispensable operation.

‘When we do move,’ said old Kipps, ‘if we could get a bit of shootin’—’

‘I don’t want to sell off all this here stock for nothin’,’ said old Kipps. ‘It’s took years to ’cumulate. I put a ticket in the winder sayin’, “sellin’ orf,” but it ’asn’t brought nothing like a roosh. One of these ’ere dratted visitors, pretendin’ to want an air-gun, was all me ’ad in yesterday. Jest an excuse for spyin’ round, and then go away and larf at you. No thanky to everything, it didn’t matter what . . .  That’s ’ow I look at it, Artie.’

They pursued meandering fancies about the topic of their future settlement for a space, and Kipps became more and more hopeless of any proper conversational opening that would lead to his great announcement, and more and more uncertain how such an opening should be taken. Once, indeed, old Kipps, anxious to get away from this dangerous subject of removals, began, ‘And what are you a-doin’ of in Folkestone? I shall have to come over and see you one of these days,’ but before Kipps could get in upon that, his uncle had passed into a general exposition of the proper treatment of landladies and their humbugging, cheating ways, and so the opportunity vanished. It seemed to Kipps the only thing to do was to go out into the town for a stroll, compose an effectual opening at leisure, and then come back and discharge it at them in its consecutive completeness. And even out-of-doors and alone, he found his mind distracted by irrelevant thoughts.

His steps led him out of the High Street towards the church, and he leant for a time over the gate that had once been the winning-post of his race with Ann Pornick, and presently found himself in a sitting position on the top rail. He had to get things smooth again, he knew; his mind was like a mirror of water after a breeze. The image of Helen and his great future was broken and mingled into fragmentary reflections of remoter things, of the good name of Old Methuselah Three Stars, of long-dormant memories the High Street saw fit, by some trick of light and atmosphere, to arouse that afternoon . . . 

Abruptly a fine full voice from under his elbow shouted, ‘What-o, Art!’ and behold Sid Pornick was back in his world, leaning over the gate beside him, and holding out a friendly hand.

He was oddly changed, and yet oddly like the Sid that Kipps had known. He had the old broad face and mouth, abundantly freckled, the same short nose, and the same blunt chin, the same odd suggestion of his sister Ann without a touch of her beauty; but he had quite a new voice, loud, and a little hard, and his upper lip carried a stiff and very fair moustache.

Kipps shook hands. ‘I was jest thinking of you, Sid,’ he said, ‘jest this very moment, and wondering if ever I should see you again—ever. And ’ere you are!’

‘One likes a look round at times,’ said Sid. ‘How are you, old chap?’

‘All right,’ said Kipps. ‘I just been lef—’

‘You aren’t changed much,’ interrupted Sid.

‘Ent I?’ said Kipps, foiled.

‘I knew your back directly I came round the corner. Spite of that ’at you got on. Hang it, I said, that’s Art Kipps or the devil. And so it was.’

Kipps made a movement of his neck as if he would look at his back and judge. Then he looked Sid in the face. ‘You got a moustache, Sid,’ he said.

‘I s’pose you’re having your holidays?’ said Sid.

‘Well, partly. But I just been lef—’

‘I’m taking a bit of a holiday,’ Sid went on. ‘But the fact is, I have to give myself holidays nowadays. I’ve set up for myself.’

‘Not down here?’

‘No fear! I’m not a turnip. I’ve started in Hammersmith, manufacturing.’ Sid spoke off-hand, as though there was no such thing as pride.

‘Not drapery?’

‘No fear! Engineer. Manufacture bicycles.’ He clapped his hand to his breast pocket and produced a number of pink handbills. He handed one to Kipps, and prevented him reading it by explanations and explanatory dabs of a pointing finger. ‘That’s our make—my make, to be exact—the Red Flag—see? I got a transfer with my name—Pantocrat tyres, eight pounds—yes, there—Clinchers ten, Dunlops eleven, Ladies’ one pound more—that’s the lady’s. Best machine at a democratic price in London. No guineas and no discounts—honest trade. I build ’em—to order. I’ve built,’ he reflected, looking away seaward, ‘seventeen. Counting orders in ’and . . . 

‘Come down to look at the old place a bit,’ said Sid. ‘Mother likes it at times.’

‘Thought you’d all gone away—’

‘What! after my father’s death? No! My mother’s come back, and she’s living at Muggett’s cottages. The sea-air suits ’er. She likes the old place better than Hammersmith . . .  and I can afford it. Got an old crony or so here . . .  Gossip—have tea . . .  S’pose you ain’t married, Kipps?

Kipps shook his head. ‘I—’ he began.

‘I am,’ said Sid. ‘Married these two years, and got a nipper. Proper little chap.’

Kipps got his word in at last. ‘I got engaged day before yesterday,’ he said.

‘Ah!’ said Sid airily. ‘That’s all right. Who’s the fortunate lady!’

Kipps tried to speak in an off-hand way. He stuck his hands in his pockets as he spoke. ‘She’s a solicitor’s daughter,’ he said, ‘in Folkestone. Rather’r nice set. County family. Related to the Earl of Beauprés—’

‘Steady on!’ cried Sid.

‘You see, I’ve ’ad a bit of luck, Sid. Been lef money.’

Sid’s eye travelled instinctively to mark Kipps’ garments. ‘How much?’ he asked.

‘’Bout twelve ’undred a year,’ said Kipps, more off-handedly than ever.

‘Lord!’ said Sid, with a note of positive dismay, and stepped back a pace or two.

‘My granfaver it was,’ said Kipps, trying hard to be calm and simple. ‘’Ardly knew I ’ad a granfaver. And then bang! When o’ Bean, the solicitor, told me of it, you could ’ave knocked me down—’

‘Ow much?’ demanded Sid, with a sharp note in his voice.

‘Twelve ’undred pound a year—proximately, that is . . . ’

Sid’s attempt at genial unenvious congratulation did not last a minute. He shook hands with an unreal heartiness, and said he was jolly glad. ‘It’s a blooming stroke of Luck,’ he said.

‘It’s a blooming’ stroke of Luck,’ he repeated, ‘that’s what it is,’ with the smile fading from his face. ‘Of course, better you ’ave it than me, o’ chap. So I don’t envy you, anyhow. I couldn’t keep it if I did ’ave it.’

‘Ow’s that?’ said Kipps, a little hipped by Sid’s patent chagrin.

‘I’m a Socialist, you see,’ said Sid. ‘I don’t ’old with Wealth. What is Wealth? Labour robbed out of the poor. At most it’s only yours in trust. Leastways, that’s ’ow I should take it.’

He reflected. ‘The Present distribution of Wealth,’ he said, and stopped.

Then he let himself go, with unmasked bitterness. ‘It’s no sense at all. It’s jest damn foolishness. Who’s going to work and care in a muddle like this? Here first you do—something anyhow—of the world’s work and it pays you hardly anything, and then it invites you to do nothing, nothing whatever, and pays you twelve hundred pounds a year. Who’s going to respect laws and customs when they come to damn silliness like that?’

He repeated, ‘Twelve hundred pounds a year!’

At the sight of Kipps’ face he relented slightly.

‘It’s not you I’m thinking of, o’ man; it’s the system. Better you than most people. Still—’

He laid both hands on the gate and repeated to himself, ‘Twelve ’undred a year—Gee-whiz, Kipps! You’ll be a swell!’

‘I shan’t,’ said Kipps, with imperfect conviction. ‘No fear.’

‘You can’t ’ave money like that and not swell out. You’ll soon be too big to speak to—’ow do they put it?—a mere mechanic like me.’

‘No fear, Siddee,’ said Kipps, with conviction. ‘I ain’t that sort.’

‘Ah!’ said Sid, with a sort of unwilling scepticism, ‘money’ll be too much for you. Besides—you’re caught by a swell already.’

‘’Ow d’yer mean?’

‘That girl you’re going to marry. Masterman says—’

‘Oo’s Masterman?’

‘Rare good chap, I know—takes my first-floor front room. Masterman says it’s always the wife pitches the key. Always. There’s no social differences—till women come in.’

‘Ah!’ said Kipps profoundly. ‘You don’t know.’

Sid shook his head. ‘Fancy!’ he reflected, ‘Art Kipps! . . .  Twelve ‘Undred a Year!’


‘Rather,’ said Sid.

‘Remember that wreck?’

‘I can smell it now—sort of sour smell.’

Kipps was silent for a moment, with reminiscent eyes on Sid’s still troubled face.

‘I say, Sid, ’ow’s Ann?’

‘She’s all right,’ said Sid.

‘Where is she now?’

‘In a place . . .  Ashford.’


Sid’s face had became a shade sulkier than before.

‘The fact is,’ he said, ‘we don’t get on very well together. I don’t hold with service. We’re common people, I suppose, but I don’t like it. I don’t see why a sister of mine should wait at other people’s tables. No. Not even if they got Twelve ’Undred a Year.’

Kipps tried to change the point of application. ‘Remember ’ow you came out once when we were racing here? . . .  She didn’t run bad for a girl.’

And his own words raised an image brighter than he could have supposed, so bright it seemed to breathe before him, and did not fade altogether, even when he was back in Folkestone an hour or so later.

But Sid was not to be deflected from that other rankling theme by any reminiscences of Ann.

‘I wonder what you will do with all that money,’ he speculated. ‘I wonder if you will do any good at all. I wonder what you could do. You should hear Masterman. He’d tell you things. Suppose it came to me; what should I do? It’s no good giving it back to the State as things are. Start an Owenite profit-sharing factory perhaps. Or a new Socialist paper. We want a new Socialist paper.’

He tried to drown his personal chagrin in elaborate exemplary suggestions . . . 


§ 3

‘I must be gettin’ on to my motor,’ said Kipps at last, having to a large extent heard him out.

‘What! Got a motor?’

‘No,’ said Kipps apologetically. ‘Only jobbed for the day.’

‘’Ow much?’

‘Five pounds.’

‘Keep five families for a week! Good Lord!’ That seemed to crown Sid’s disgust.

Yet drawn by a sort of fascination, he came with Kipps and assisted at the mounting of the motor. He was pleased to note it was not the most modern of motors, but that was the only grain of comfort. Kipps mounted at once, after one violent agitation of the little shop-door to set the bell ajangle and warn his uncle and aunt.

Sid assisted with the great fur-lined overcoat and examined the spectacles.

‘Good-bye, o’ chap!’ said Kipps.

‘Good-bye, o’ chap!’ said Sid.

The old people came out to say good-bye.

Old Kipps was radiant with triumph. ‘’Pon my sammy, Artie! I’m a goo’ mind to come with you,’ he shouted; and then, ‘I got something you might take with you!’

He dodged back into the shop and returned with the perforated engraving after Morland.

‘You stick to this, my boy,’ he said. ‘You get it repaired by some one who knows. It’s the most vallyble thing I got you so far—you take my word.’

‘Warrup!’ said the motor, and tuff, tuff, tuff, and backed and snorted, while old Kipps danced about on the pavement as if foreseeing complex catastrophes, and told the driver, ‘That’s all right.’

He waved his stout stick to his receding nephew. Then he turned to Sid. ‘Now if you could make something like that, young Pornick, you might blow a bit!’

‘I’ll make a doocid sight better than that before I done,’ said Sid, hands deep in his pockets.

‘Not you,’ said old Kipps.

The motor set up a prolonged sobbing moan and vanished round the corner. Sid stood motionless for a space, unheeding some further remark from old Kipps. The young mechanic had just discovered that to have manufactured seventeen bicycles, including orders in hand, is not so big a thing as he had supposed, and such discoveries try one’s manhood . . . 

‘Oh, well!’ said Sid at last, and turned his face towards his mother’s cottage.

She had got a hot tea-cake for him, and she was a little hurt that he was dark and preoccupied as he consumed it. He had always been such a boy for tea-cake, and then when one went out specially and got him one—!

He did not tell her—he did not tell any one—he had seen young Kipps. He did not want to talk about Kipps for a bit to any one at all.

Kipps - Contents    |     Book Two - Chapter the Fifth - The Pupil Lover

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