Book Two - Mr. Coote the Chaperon

Chapter the Sixth


H.G. Wells


§ 1

ONE DAY Kipps set out upon his newly mastered bicycle to New Romney, to break the news of his engagement to his uncle and aunt—positively. He was now a finished cyclist, but as yet an unseasoned one; the south-west wind, even in its summer guise, as one meets it in the Marsh, is the equivalent of a reasonable hill, and ever and again he got off and refreshed himself by a spell of walking. He was walking just outside New Romney preparatory to his triumphal entry (one hand off), when abruptly he came upon Ann Pornick.

It chanced he was thinking about her at the time. He had been thinking curious things; whether, after all, the atmosphere of New Romney and the Marsh had not some difference, some faint impalpable quality that was missing in the great and fashionable world of Folkestone behind there on the hill. Here there was a homeliness, a familiarity. He had noted as he passed that old Mr. Clifferdown’s gate had been mended with a fresh piece of string. In Folkestone he didn’t take notice, and he didn’t care if they built three hundred houses. Come to think of it, that was odd. It was fine and grand to have twelve hundred a year; it was fine to go about on trams and omnibuses and think not a person on board was as rich as oneself; it was fine to buy and order this and that and never have any work to do, and to be engaged to a girl distantly related to the Earl of Beauprés; but yet there had been a zest in the old time out here, a rare zest in the holidays, in sunlight, on the sea beach, and in the High Street, that failed from these new things. He thought of those bright windows of holiday that had seemed so glorious to him in the retrospect from his apprentice days. It was strange that now, amidst his present splendours, they were glorious still!

All those things were over now—perhaps that was it! Something had happened to the world, and the old light had been turned out. He himself was changed, and Sid was changed, terribly changed, and Ann, no doubt, was changed.

He thought of her with the hair blown about her flushed cheeks as they stood together after their race . . . 

Certainly she must be changed, and all the magic she had been fraught with to the very hem of her short petticoats gone, no doubt, for ever. And as he thought that, or before and while he thought it—for he came to all these things in his own vague and stumbling way—he looked up, and there was Ann!

She was seven years older, and greatly altered; yet for the moment it seemed to him that she had not changed at all. ‘Ann!’ he said; and she, with a lifting note, ‘It’s Art Kipps!’

Then he became aware of changes—improvements. She was as pretty as she had promised to be, her blue eyes as dark as his memory of them, and with a quick, high colour; but now Kipps by several inches was the taller again. She was dressed in a simple gray dress, that showed her very clearly as a straight and healthy little woman, and her hat was Sunday-fied, with pink flowers. She looked soft and warm and welcoming. Her face was alight to Kipps with her artless gladness at their encounter.

‘It’s Art Kipps!’ she said.

‘Rather’ said Kipps.

‘You got your holidays?’

It flashed upon Kipps that Sid had not told her of his great fortune. Much regretful meditation upon Sid’s behaviour had convinced him that he himself was to blame for exasperating boastfulness in that affair, and this time he took care not to err in that direction. So he erred in the other.

‘I’m taking a bit of a ’oliday,’ he said.

‘So’m I,’ said Ann.

‘You been for a walk?’ asked Kipps.

Ann showed him a bunch of wayside flowers.

‘It’s a long time since I seen you, Ann. Why, ’ow long must it be? Seven—eight years nearly.’

‘It don’t do to count,’ said Ann.

‘It don’t look like it,’ said Kipps, with the slightest emphasis.

‘You got a moustache,’ said Ann, smelling her flowers and looking at him over them, not without admiration.

Kipps blushed—

Presently they came to the bifurcation of the roads.

‘I’m going down this way to mother’s cottage,’ said Ann.

‘I’ll come a bit your way, if I may.’

In New Romney social distinctions that are primary realities in Folkestone are absolutely non-existent, and it seemed quite permissible for him to walk with Ann, for all that she was no more than a servant. They talked with remarkable ease to one another, they slipped into a vein of intimate reminiscence in the easiest manner. In a little while Kipps was amazed to find Ann and himself at this,—

‘You r’member that half-sixpence? What we cut togevver?’


‘I got it still.’

She hesitated. ‘Funny, wasn’t it?’ she said, and then, ‘You got yours, Artie?’

‘Rather,’ said Kipps. ‘What do you think?’ and wondered in his heart of hearts why he had never looked at that sixpence for so long.

Ann smiled at him frankly. ‘I didn’t expect you’d keep it,’ she said. ‘I thought often—it was silly to keep mine.

‘Besides,’ she reflected, ‘it didn’t mean anything really.’

She glanced at him as she spoke and met his eye.

‘Oh, didn’t it! said Kipps, a little late with his response, and realising his infidelity to Helen even as he spoke.

‘It didn’t mean much anyhow,’ said Ann. ‘You still in the drapery?’

‘I’m living at Folkestone,’ began Kipps, and decided that that sufficed. ‘Didn’t Sid tell you he met me?’

‘No! Here?’

‘Yes. The other day. ’Bout a week or more ago.’

‘That was before I came.’

‘Ah, that was it,’ said Kipps.

‘E’s got on,’ said Ann. ‘Got ’is own shop now, Artie.’

‘’E tole me.’

They found themselves outside Muggett’s cottages. ‘You’re going in?’ said Kipps.

‘I s’pose so,’ said Ann.

They both hung upon the pause. Ann took a plunge. ‘D’you often come to New Romney?’ she asked.

‘I ride over a bit at times,’ said Kipps.

Another pause. Ann held out her hand.

‘I’m glad I seen you,’ she said.

Extraordinary impulses arose in neglected parts of Kipps’ being. ‘Ann,’ he said, and stopped.

‘Yes,’ said she, and was bright to him.

They looked at one another.

All, and more than all, of those first emotions of his adolescence had come back to him. Her presence banished a multitude of countervailing considerations. It was Ann more than ever. She stood breathing close to him with her soft-looking lips a little apart and gladness in her eyes.

‘I’m awful glad to see you again,’ he said; ‘it brings back old times.’

‘Doesn’t it?’

Another pause. He would have liked to have had a long talk to her, to have gone for a walk with her or something, to have drawn nearer to her in any conceivable way, and above all to have had some more of the appreciation that shone in her eyes, but a vestige of Folkestone, still clinging to him, told him it ‘wouldn’t do.’

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I must be getting on,’ and turned away reluctantly, with a will under compulsion—

When he looked back from the corner she was still at the gate. She was perhaps a little disconcerted by his retreat. He felt that. He hesitated for a moment, half turned, stood, and suddenly did great things with his hat. That hat! The wonderful hat of our civilisation! . . . 

In another minute he was engaged in a singularly absent-minded conversation with his uncle about the usual topics.

His uncle was very anxious to buy him a few upright clocks as an investment for subsequent sale. And there were also some very nice globes, one terrestrial and the other celestial, in a shop at Lydd that would look well in a drawing-room, and inevitably increase in value . . .  Kipps either did or did not agree to this purchase, he was unable to recollect.

The south-west wind perhaps helped him back; at any rate he found himself through Dymchurch without having noticed the place. There came an odd effect as he drew near Hythe. The hills on the left and the trees on the right seemed to draw together and close in upon him until his way was straight and narrow. He could not turn round on that treacherous half-tamed machine, but he knew that behind him, he knew so well, spread the wide vast flatness of the Marsh shining under the afternoon sky. In some way this was material to his thoughts. And as he rode through Hythe, he came upon the idea that there was a considerable amount of incompatibility between the existence of one who was practically a gentleman and of Ann.

In the neighbourhood of Seabrook he began to think he had, in some subtle way, lowered himself by walking along by the side of Ann . . .  After all, she was only a servant.


She called out all the least gentlemanly instincts of his nature. There had been a moment in their conversation when he had quite distinctly thought it would really be an extremely nice thing for some one to kiss her lips . . .  There was something warming about Ann—at least for Kipps. She impressed him as having, somewhen during their vast interval of separation, contrived to make herself in some distinctive way his.

Fancy keeping that half-sixpence all this time!

It was the most flattering thing that ever happened to Kipps.


§ 2

He found himself presently sitting over The Art of Conversing, lost in the strangest musings. He got up, walked about, became stagnant at the window for a space, roused himself, and by way of something lighter, tried Sesame and Lilies. From that, too, his attention wandered. He sat back. Anon he smiled, anon sighed. He arose, pulled his keys from his pocket, looked at them, decided, and went upstairs. He opened the little yellow box that had been the nucleus of all his possessions in the world, and took out a small Escritoire, the very humblest sort of present, and opened it—kneeling. And there in the corner was a little packet of paper, sealed as a last defence against any prying invader with red sealing-wax. It had gone untouched for years. He held this little packet between finger and thumb for a moment, regarding it, and then put down the escritoire and broke the seal—

As he was getting into bed that night he remembered something for the first time!

‘Dash it!’ he said. ‘Deshed if I told ’em this time . . .  Well!

‘I shall ’ave to go over to New Romney again!’

He got into bed, and remained sitting pensively on the pillow for a space.

‘Rum world,’ he reflected, after a vast interval.

Then he recalled that she had noticed his moustache. He embarked upon a sea of egotistical musing.

He imagined himself telling Ann how rich he was. What a surprise that would be for her!

Finally he sighed profoundly, blew out his candle, and snuggled down, and in a little while he was asleep . . . 

But the next morning and at intervals afterwards, he found himself thinking of Ann—Ann the bright, the desirable, the welcoming, and with an extra-ordinary streakiness he wanted quite badly to go, and then as badly not to go, over to New Romney again.

Sitting on the Leas in the afternoon, he had an idea. ‘I ought to ’ave told ’er, I suppose, about my being engaged.’


All sorts of dreams and impressions that had gone clean out of his mental existence came back to him, changed and brought up to date to fit her altered presence. He thought of how he had gone back to New Romney for his Christmas holidays, determined to kiss her, and of the awful blankness of the discovery that she had gone away.

It seemed incredible now, and yet not wholly incredible, that he had cried real tears for her—how many years was it ago?


§ 3

Daily I should thank my Maker that He did not delegate to me the Censorship of the world of men. I should temper a fierce injustice with a spasmodic indecision, that would prolong rather than mitigate the bitterness of the Day. For human dignity, for all conscious human superiority I should lack the beginnings of charity; for bishops, prosperous schoolmasters, judges, and all large respect-pampered souls. And more especially bishops, towards whom I bear an atavistic Viking grudge, dreaming not infrequently and with invariable zest of galleys and landings, and well-known living ornaments of the episcopal bench sprinting inland on twinkling gaiters before my thirsty blade—all these people, I say, I should treat below their deserts; but, on the other hand, for such as Kipps—

There the exasperating indecisions would come in. The Judgment would be arrested at Kipps. Every one and everything would wait. The balance would sway and sway, and whenever it heeled towards an adverse decision, my finger would set it swaying again. Kings; warriors, statesmen, brilliant women, ‘personalities’ panting with indignation, headline humanity in general would stand undamned, unheeded, or be damned in the most casual manner for their importunity, while my eye went about for anything possible that could be said on behalf of Kipps . . .  Albeit I fear nothing can save him from condemnation upon this present score, that within two days he was talking to Ann again.

One seeks excuses. Overnight there had been an encounter of Chitterlow and young Walshingham in his presence that had certainly warped his standards. They had called within a few minutes of each other, and the two, swayed by virile attentions to Old Methuselah Three Stars, had talked against each other, over and at the hospitable presence of Kipps. Walshingham had seemed to win at the beginning, but finally Chitterlow had made a magnificent display of vociferation and swept him out of existence. At the beginning Chitterlow had opened upon the great profits of playwrights, and young Walshingham had capped him at once with a cynical but impressive display of knowledge of the High Finance. If Chitterlow boasted his thousands, young Walshingham boasted his hundreds of thousands, and was for a space left in sole possession of the stage, juggling with the wealth of nations. He was going on by way of Financial Politics to the Overman, before Chitterlow recovered from his first check, and came back to victory. ‘Talking of women,’ said Chitterlow, coming in abruptly upon some things not generally known, beyond Walshingham’s more immediate circle, about a recently departed Empire-builder; ‘Talking of Women and the way they Get at a man—’

(Though, as a matter of fact, they had been talking of the Corruption of Society by Speculation.)

Upon this new topic Chitterlow was soon manifestly invincible. He knew so much, he had know so many. Young Walshingham did his best with epigrams and reservations, but even to Kipps it was evident that his was a book-learned depravity. One felt Walshingham had never known the inner realities of passion. But Chitterlow convinced and amazed. He had run away with girls, he had been run away with by girls, he had been in love with several at a time—‘not counting Bessie’—he had loved and lost, he had loved and refrained, and he had loved and failed. He threw remarkable lights upon the moral state of America—in which country he had toured with great success. He set his talk to the tune of one of Mr. Kipling’s best-known songs. He told an incident of simple romantic passion, a delirious dream of love and beauty in a Saturday to Monday steamboat trip up the Hudson, and tagged his end with ‘I learn about women from ’er!’ After that he adopted the refrain, and then lapsed into the praises of Kipling. ‘Little Kipling,’ said Chitterlow, with the familiarity of affection, ‘he knows,’ and broke into quotation:-

I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it;
    I’ve rogued and I’ve ranged in my time;
I’ve ’ad my picking of sweet’earts,
    An’ four of the lot was Prime.’

(These things, I say, affect the moral standards of the best of us.)

‘I’d have liked to have written that,’ said Chitterlow. ‘That’s Life, that is! But go and put it on the Stage, put even a bit of the Realities of Life on the Stage and see what they’ll do to you! Only Kipling could venture on a job like that. That Poem knocked me! I won’t say Kipling hasn’t knocked me before and since, but that was a Fair Knock Out. And yet—you know—there’s one thing in it . . .  this,—’

I’ve taken my fun where I’ve found it.
    And now I must pay for my fun,
For the more you ’ave known o’ the others
    The less will you settle to one.

Well. In my case anyhow—I don’t know how much that proves, seeing I’m exceptional in so many things and there’s no good denying it—but so far as I’m concerned—I tell you two, but, of course, you needn’t let it go any farther—I’ve been perfectly faithful to Muriel ever since I married her—ever since . . .  Not once. Not even by accident have I ever said or done anything in the slightest—’ His little brown eye became pensive after this flattering intimacy, and the gorgeous draperies of his abundant voice fell into graver folds. ‘I learnt about women from ’er,’ he said impressively.

‘Yes,’ said Walshingham, getting into the hinder spaces of that splendid pause, ‘a man must know about women. And the only sound way of learning is the experimental method.’

‘If you want to know about the experimental method, my boy,’ said Chitterlow, resuming . . . 

So they talked. Ex pede Herculem, as Coote, that cultivated polyglot, would have put it. And in the small hours Kipps went to bed, with his brain whirling with words and whisky, and sat for an unconscionable time upon his bed edge, musing sadly upon the unmanly monogamy that had cast its shadow upon his career, musing with his thoughts pointing round more and more certainly to the possibility of at least duplicity with Ann.


§ 4

For some days he had been refraining with some insistence from going off to New Romney again . . . 

I do not know if this may count in palliation of his misconduct. Men, real Strong-Souled, Healthy Men, should be, I suppose, impervious to conversational atmospheres, but I have never claimed for Kipps a place at these high levels. The fact remains, that next day he spent the afternoon with Ann, and found no scruple in displaying himself a budding lover.

He had met her in the High Street, had stopped her, and almost on the spur of the moment had boldly proposed a walk, ‘for the sake of old times.’

‘I don’t mind,’ said Ann.

Her consent almost frightened Kipps. His imagination had not carried him to that. ‘It would be a lark,’ said Kipps, and looked up the street and down, ‘Now,’ he said.

‘I don’t mind a bit, Artie. I was just going for a walk along towards St. Mary’s.’

‘Let’s go that way, be’ind the church,’ said Kipps; and presently they found themselves drifting seaward in a mood of pleasant commonplace. For a while they talked of Sid. It went clean out of Kipps’ head, at that early stage even, that Ann was a ‘girl’ according to the exposition of Chitterlow, and for a time he remembered only that she was Ann. But afterwards, with the reek of that talk in his head, he lapsed a little from that personal relation. They came out upon the beach and sat down in a tumbled pebbly place where a meagre grass and patches of sea poppy were growing, and Kipps reclined on his elbow and tossed pebbles in his hand, and Ann sat up, sunlit, regarding him. They talked in fragments. They exhausted Sid, they exhausted Ann, and Kipps was chary of his riches.

He declined to a faint lovemaking. ‘I got that ’arf-sixpence still,’ he said.


That changed the key. ‘I always kept mine, some’ow,’ said Ann; and there was a pause.

They spoke of how often they had thought of each other during those intervening years. Kipps may have been untruthful, but Ann, perhaps, was not. ‘I met people here and there,’ said Ann; ‘but I never met any one quite like you, Artie.’

‘It’s jolly our meeting again, anyhow,’ said Kipps. ‘Look at that ship out there. She’s pretty close in—’

He had a dull period, became, indeed, almost pensive, and then he was enterprising for a while. He tossed up his pebbles so that, as if by accident, they fell on Ann’s hand. Then, very penitently, he stroked the place. That would have led to all sorts of coquetries on the part of Flo Bates, for example, but it disconcerted and checked Kipps to find Ann made no objection, smiled pleasantly down on him, with eyes half shut because of the sun. She was taking things very much for granted.

He began to talk, and Chitterlow standards resuming possession of him, he said he had never forgotten her.

‘I never forgotten you either, Artie,’ she said. ‘Funny, isn’t it?’

It impressed Kipps also as funny.

He became reminiscent, and suddenly a warm summer’s evening came back to him. ‘Remember them cockchafers, Ann?’ he said. But the reality of the evening he recalled was not the chase of cockchafers. The great reality that had suddenly arisen between them was that he had never kissed Ann in his life. He looked up, and there were her lips.

He wanted to very badly, and his memory leaped and annihilated an interval. That old resolution came back to him, and all sorts of new resolutions passed out of mind. And he had learnt something since those boyish days. This time he did not ask. He went on talking, his nerves began very faintly to quiver, and his mind grew bright.

Presently, having satisfied himself that there was no one to see, he sat up beside her, and remarked upon the clearness of the air, and how close Dungeness seemed to them. Then they came upon a pause again.

‘Ann,’ he whispered, and put an arm that quivered about her.

She was mute and unresisting, and, as he was to remember, solemn.

He turned her face towards him and kissed her lips, and she kissed him back again—kisses frank and tender as a child’s.


§ 5

It was curious that in the retrospect he did not find nearly the satisfaction in this infidelity he had imagined was there. It was no doubt desperately doggish, doggish to an almost Chitterlowesque degree, to recline on the beach at Littlestone with a ‘girl,’ to make love to her and to achieve the triumph of her kissing when he was engaged to another ‘girl’ at Folkestone; but somehow these two people were not ‘girls,’ they were Ann and Helen. Particularly Helen declined to be considered as a ‘girl.’ And there was something in Ann’s quietly friendly eyes, in her frank smile, in the naive pressure of her hand, there was something undefended and welcoming that imparted a flavour to the business upon which he had not counted. He had learnt about women from her. That refrain ran through his mind and deflected his thoughts, but, as a matter of fact, he had learnt about nothing but himself.

He wanted very much to see Ann some more and explain—He did not clearly know what it was he wanted to explain.

He did not clearly know anything. It is the last achievement of the intelligence to get all of one’s life into one coherent scheme, and Kipps was only in a measure more aware of himself as a whole than is a tree. His existence was an affair of dissolving and recurring moods. When he thought of Helen or Ann, or any of his friends, he thought sometimes of this aspect and sometimes of that—and often one aspect was finally incongruous with another. He loved Helen, he revered Helen. He was also beginning to hate her with some intensity. When he thought of that expedition to Lympne, profound, vague, beautiful emotions flooded his being; when he thought of paying calls with her perforce, or of her latest comment on his bearing, he found himself rebelliously composing fierce and pungent insults, couched in the vernacular. But Ann, whom he had seen so much less of, was a simpler memory. She was pretty, she was almost softly feminine, and she was possible to his imagination just exactly where Helen was impossible. More than anything else, she carried the charm of respect for him, the slightest glance of her eyes was balm for his perpetually wounded self-conceit.

Chance suggestions it was set the tune of his thoughts, and his state of health and repletion gave the colour. Yet somehow he had this at least almost clear in his mind, that to have gone to see Ann a second time, to have implied that she had been in possession of his thoughts through all this interval, and, above all, to have kissed her, was shabby and wrong. Only, unhappily, this much of lucidity had come now just a few hours after it was needed.


§ 6

Four days after this it was that Kipps got up so late. He got up late, cut his chin while shaving, kicked a slipper into his sponge bath, and said ‘Dash!’

Perhaps you know those intolerable mornings, dear Reader, when you seem to have neither the heart nor the strength to rise, and your nervous adjustments are all wrong and your fingers thumbs, and you hate the very birds for singing. You feel inadequate to any demand whatever. Often such awakenings follow a poor night’s rest and commonly they mean indiscriminate eating, or those subtle mental influences old Kipps ascribed to ‘Foozle Ile’ in the system, or worry. And with Kipps—albeit Chitterlow had again been his guest overnight—assuredly worry had played a leading role. Troubles had been gathering upon him for days, there had been a sort of concentration of these hosts of Midian overnight, and in the gray small hours Kipps had held his review. The predominating trouble marched under this banner—


    At Home,
        Thursday, September 16th.
                4 to 6.30.


a banner that was the facsimile of a card upon his looking-glass in the room below. And in relation to this terribly significant document, things had come to a pass with Helen, that he would only describe in his own expressive idiom as ‘words.’

It had long been a smouldering issue between them that Kipps was not availing himself with any energy or freedom of the opportunities he had of social exercises, much less was seeking additional opportunities. He had, it was evident, a peculiar dread of that universal afternoon enjoyment, the Call, and Helen made it unambiguously evident that this dread was ‘silly’ and had to be overcome. His first display of this unmanly weakness occurred at the Cootes on the day before he kissed Ann. They were all there, chatting very pleasantly, when the little servant with the big cap announced the younger Miss Wace.

Whereupon Kipps manifested a lively horror and rose partially from his chair. ‘’O Gum!’ he protested. ‘Carn’t I go upstairs?’

Then he sank back, for it was too late. Very probably the younger Miss Wace had heard him as she came in.

Helen said nothing of that, though her manner may have shown her surprise, but afterwards she told Kipps he must get used to seeing people, and suggested that he should pay a series of calls with Mrs. Walshingham and herself. Kipps gave a reluctant assent at the time, and afterwards displayed a talent for evasion that she had not expected in him. At last she did succeed in securing him for a call upon Miss Punchafer of Radnor Park—a particularly easy call, because Miss Punchafer being so deaf, one could say practically what one liked—and then outside the gate he shirked again, ‘I can’t go in’ he said, in a faded voice.

‘You must,’ said Helen, beautiful as ever, but even more than a little hard and forbidding.

‘I can’t.’

He produced his handkerchief hastily, thrust it to his face, and regarded her over it with rounded hostile eyes.

‘Impossible,’ he said in a hoarse, strange voice out of the handkerchief. ‘Nozzez bleedin’’ . . . 

But that was the end of his power of resistance, and when the rally for the Anagram Tea occurred, she bore down his feeble protests altogether. She insisted. She said frankly, ‘I am going to give you a good talking to about this’; and she did . . . 

From Coote he gathered something of the nature of Anagrams and Anagram parties. An anagram, Coote explained, was a word spelt the same way as another, only differently arranged; as, for instance, T.O.C.O.E. would be an anagram for his own name Coote.

‘T.O.C.O.E.,’ repeated Kipps, very carefully.

‘Or T.O.E.C.O.,’ said Coote.

‘Or T.O.E.C.O.,’ said Kipps, assisting his poor head by nodding it at each letter.

‘Toe Company, like,’ he said in his efforts to comprehend.

When Kipps was clear what an anagram meant Coote came to the second heading, the Tea. Kipps gathered there might be from thirty to sixty people present, and that each one would have an anagram pinned on. ‘They give you a card to put your guesses on, rather like a dence programme, and then, you know, you go round and guess,’ said Coote. ‘It’s rather good fun.’

‘Oo, rather!’ said Kipps, with simulated gusto.

‘It shakes everybody up together,’ said Coote.

Kipps smiled and nodded . . . 

In the small hours all his painful meditations were threaded by the vision of that Anagram Tea; it kept marching to and fro and in and out of his other troubles, from thirty to sixty people, mostly ladies and callers, and a great number of the letters of the alphabet, and more particularly P.I.K.P.S. and T.O.E.C.O., and he was trying to make one word out of the whole interminable procession . . . 

This word, as he finally gave it with some emphasis to the silence of the night, was, ‘Demn!’

Then wreathed as it were in this lettered procession was the figure of Helen as she had appeared at the moment of ‘words’; her face a little hard, a little irritated, a little disappointed. He imagined himself going round and guessing under her eye . . . 

He tried to think of other things, without lapsing upon a still deeper uneasiness that was decorated with yellow sea-poppies, and the figures of Buggins, Pearce, and Carshot, three murdered friendships, rose reproachfully in the stillness and changed horrible apprehensions into unspeakable remorse. Last night had been their customary night for the banjo, and Kipps, with a certain tremulous uncertainty, had put Old Methuselah amidst a retinue of glasses on the table and opened a box of choice cigars. In vain. They were in no need, it seemed, of his society. But instead Chitterlow had come, anxious to know if it was all right about that syndicate plan. He had declined anything but a very weak whisky-and-soda, ‘just to drink,’ at least until business was settled, and had then opened the whole affair with an effect of great orderliness to Kipps. Soon he was taking another whisky by sheer inadvertency, and the complex fabric of his conversation was running more easily from the broad loom of his mind. Into that pattern had interwoven a narrative of extensive alterations in the Pestered Butterfly—the neck-and-beetle business was to be restored—the story of a grave difference of opinion with Mrs. Chitterlow, where and how to live after the play had succeeded, the reasons why the Hon. Thomas Norgate had never financed a syndicate, and much matter also about the syndicate now under discussion. But if the current of their conversation had been vortical and crowded, the outcome was perfectly clear. Kipps was to be the chief participator in the syndicate, and his contribution was to be two thousand pounds. Kipps groaned and rolled over, and found Helen again, as it were, on the other side. ‘Promise me,’ she had said, ‘you won’t do anything without consulting me.’

Kipps at once rolled back to his former position, and for a space lay quite still. He felt like a very young rabbit in a trap.

Then suddenly, with extraordinary distinctness, his heart cried out for Ann, and he saw her as he had seen her at New Romney, sitting amidst the yellow sea-poppies with the sunlight on her face. His heart called out for her in the darkness as one calls for rescue. He knew, as though he had known it always, that he loved Helen no more. He wanted Ann, he wanted to hold her and be held by her, to kiss her again, to turn his back for ever on all these other things . . . 

He rose late, but this terrible discovery was still there, undispelled by cockcrow or the day. He rose in a shattered condition, and he cut himself while shaving, but at last he got into his dining-room, and could pull the bell for the hot constituents of his multifarious breakfast. And then he turned to his letters. There were two real letters in addition to the customary electric belt advertisement, continental lottery circular, and betting tout’s card. One was in a slight mourning envelope, and addressed in an unfamiliar hand. This he opened first, and discovered a note.-

MRS. RAYMOND WACE requests the pleasure of MR. KIPPS’ Company at Dinner on Tuesday, Sept. 21st, at 8 o’clock

With a hasty movement Kipps turned his mind to the second letter. It was an unusually long one from his uncle, and ran as follows:-

‘MY DEAR NEPHEW,—We are considerably startled by your letter, though expecting something of the sort and disposed to hope for the best. If the young lady is a relation to the Earl of Beauprés well and good but take care you are not being imposed upon for there are many who will be glad enough to snap you up now your circumstances are altered. I waited on the old Earl once while in service and he was remarkably close with his tips and suffered from corns. A hasty old gent and hard to please—I dare say he has forgotten me altogether—and anyhow there is no need to rake up bygones. To-morrow is bus day and as you say the young lady is living near by we shall shut up shop for there is really nothing doing now what with all the visitors bringing everything with them down to their very children’s pails and say how-de do to her and give her a bit of a kiss and encouragement if we think her suitable—she will be pleased to see your old uncle. We wish we could have had a look at her first but still there is not much mischief done and hoping that all will turn out well yet I am—

‘Your affectionate Uncle,                


‘My heartburn still very bad. I shall bring over a few bits of rhubarb I picked up, a sort you won’t get in Folkestone and if possible a good bunch of flowers for the young lady.’

‘Comin’ over to-day,’ said Kipps, standing helplessly with the letter in his hand.

‘’Ow the Juice—?’

‘I carn’t.’

‘Kiss ’er!’

A terrible anticipation of that gathering framed itself in his mind, a hideous, impossible disaster. ‘I carn’t even face ’er—!’

His voice went up to a note of despair. ‘And it’s too late to telegrarf and stop ’em!’


§ 7

About twenty minutes after this, an out-porter in Castle Hill Avenue was accosted by a young man with a pale, desperate face, an exquisitely rolled umbrella, and a heavy Gladstone bag.

‘Carry this to the station, will you?’ said the young man. ‘I want to ketch the nex’ train to London . . .  You’ll ’ave to look sharp; I ’even’t very much time.’

Kipps - Contents    |     Book Two - Chapter the Seventh - London

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