Book Two - Mr. Coote the Chaperon

Chapter the Eighth

Kipps Enters Society

H.G. Wells


§ 1

SUBMISSION to Inexorable Fate took Kipps to the Anagram Tea.

At any rate he would meet Helen there in the presence of other people, and be able to carry off the worst of the difficulty of explaining his little jaunt to London. He had not seen her since his last portentous visit to New Romney. He was engaged to her, he would have to marry her, and the sooner he faced her again the better. Before wild plans of turning Socialist, defying the world and repudiating all calling for ever, his heart, on second thoughts, sank. He felt Helen would never permit anything of the sort. As for the Anagrams, he could do no more than his best, and that he was resolved to do. What had happened at the Royal Grand, what had happened at New Romney, he must bury in his memory and begin again at the reconstruction of his social position. Ann, Buggins, Chitterlow—all these, seen in the matter-of-fact light of the Folkestone corridor train, stood just as they stood before—people of an inferior social position, who had to be eliminated from his world. It was a bother about Ann, a bother and a pity. His mind rested so for a space on Ann until the memory of those Anagrams drew him away. If he could see Coote that evening he might, he thought, be able to arrange some sort of connivance about the anagrams, and his mind was chiefly busy sketching proposals for such an arrangement. It would not, of course, be ungentlemanly cheating, but only a little mystification. Coote, very probably might drop him a hint of the solution of one or two of the things—not enough to win a prize, but enough to cover his shame. Or failing that, he might take a humorous, quizzical line, and pretend he was pretending to be very stupid. There were plenty of ways out of it if one kept a sharp lookout . . . 

The costume Kipps wore to the Anagram Tea was designed as a compromise between the strict letter of high fashion and seaside laxity—a sort of easy semi-state for afternoon. Helen’s first reproof had always lingered in his mind. He wore a frockcoat, but mitigated it by a Panama hat of romantic shape with a black band, gray gloves, but, for relaxation, brown button boots. The only other man besides the clergy present—a new doctor with an attractive wife—was in full afternoon dress. Coote was not there.

Kipps was a little pale, but quite self-possessed, as he approached Mrs. Bindon Botting’s door. He took a turn while some people went in, and then faced it manfully. The door opened and revealed—Ann!

In the background, through a draped doorway, behind a big fern in a great art pot, the elder Miss Botting was visible talking to two guests; the auditory background was a froth of feminine voices . . . 

Our two young people were much too amazed to give one another any formula of greeting, though they had parted warmly enough. Each was already in a state of extreme tension to meet the demands of this great and unprecedented occasion—an Anagram Tea. ‘Lor!’ said Ann, her sole remark; and then the sense of Miss Botting’s eye ruled her straight again. She became very pale, but she took his hat mechanically, and he was already removing his gloves. ‘Ann,’ he said in a low tone, and then ‘Fency!’

The eldest Miss Botting knew Kipps was the sort of guest who requires nursing, and she came forward vocalising charm. She said it was ’awfully jolly of him to come—awfully jolly. It was awfully difficult to get any good men!’

She handed Kipps forward, mumbling, and in a dazed condition, to the drawing-room, and there he encountered Helen, looking unfamiliar in an unfamiliar hat. It was as if he had not met her for years.

She astonished him. She didn’t seem to mind in the least his going to London. She held out a shapely hand, and smiled encouragingly. ‘You’ve faced the anagrams?’ she said.

The second Miss Botting accosted them, a number of oblong pieces of paper in her hand, mysteriously inscribed. ‘Take an anagram,’ she said; ‘take an anagram,’ and boldly pinned one of these brief documents to Kipps’ lapel. The letters were ‘Cypshi,’ and Kipps from the very beginning suspected this was an anagram for Cuyps. She also left a thing like a long dance programme, from which dangled a little pencil, in his hand. He found himself being introduced to people, and then he was in a corner with the short lady in a big bonnet, who was pelting him with gritty little bits of small talk, that were gone before you could take hold of them and reply.

‘Very hot,’ said this lady. ‘Very hot indeed—hot all the summer—remarkable year—all the years remarkable now—don’t know what we’re coming to. Don’t you think so, Mr. Kipps?’

‘Oo, rather,’ said Kipps, and wondered if Ann was still in that hall. Ann!

He ought not to have stared at her like a stuck fish, and pretended not to know her. That couldn’t be right. But what was right?

The lady in the big bonnet proceeded to a second discharge. ‘Hope you’re fond of anagrams, Mr. Kipps—difficult exercise—still, one must do something to bring people together—better than Ludo, anyway. Don’t you think so, Mr. Kipps?’

Ann fluttered past the open door. Her eyes met his in amazed inquiry. Something had got dislocated in the world for both of them . . . 

He ought to have told her he was engaged. He ought to have explained things to her. Perhaps, even now, he might be able to drop her a hint.

‘Don’t you think so, Mr. Kipps?’

‘O, rather,’ said Kipps for the third time.

A lady with a tired smile who was labelled conspicuously, ‘Wogdelenk,’ drifted towards Kipps’ interlocutor, and the two fell into conversation. Kipps found himself socially aground. He looked about him. Helen was talking to a curate and laughing. Kipps was overcome by a vague desire to speak to Ann. He was for sidling doorward.

‘What are you, please?’ said an extraordinarily bold, tall girl, and arrested him while she took down ‘Cypshi.’

‘I’m sure I don’t know what it means,’ she explained ‘I’m Sir Bubh. Don’t you think anagrams are something chronic?’

Kipps made stockish noises, and the young lady suddenly became the nucleus of a party of excited friends who were forming a syndicate to guess, and barred his escape. She took no further notice of him. He found himself jammed against an occasional table and listening to the conversation of Mrs. ‘Wogdelenk’ and his lady with the big bonnet.

‘She packed her two beauties off together,’ said the lady in the big bonnet. ‘Time enough, too. Don’t think much of this girl she’s got as housemaid now. Pretty, of course, but there’s no occasion for a housemaid to be pretty—none whatever. And she doesn’t look particularly up to her work either. Kind of ’mazed expression.’

‘You never can tell,’ said the lady labelled ‘Wogdelenk’; ‘you never can tell. My wretches are big enough, Heaven knows, and do they work? Not a bit of it!’

Kipps felt dreadfully out of it with regard to all these people, and dreadfully in it with Ann.

He scanned the back of the big bonnet, and concluded it was an extremely ugly bonnet indeed. It got jerking forward as each short, dry sentence was snapped off at the end, and a plume of osprey on it jerked excessively. ‘She hasn’t guessed even one!’ followed by a shriek of girlish merriment, came from the group about the tall, bold girl. They’d shriek at him presently, perhaps! Beyond thinking his own anagram might be Cuyps, he hadn’t a notion. What a chatter they were all making! It was just like a summer sale! Just the sort of people who’d give a lot of trouble and swap you! And suddenly the smouldering fires of rebellion leapt to flame again. These were a rotten lot of people, and the anagrams were rotten nonsense, and he (Kipps) had been a rotten fool to come. There was Helen away there still laughing with her curate. Pity she couldn’t marry a curate, and leave him (Kipps) alone! Then he’d know what to do. He disliked the whole gathering, collectively and in detail. Why were they all trying to make him one of themselves? He perceived unexpected ugliness everywhere about him. There were two great pins jabbed through the tall girl’s hat, and the swirls of her hair below the brim, with the minutest piece of tape tie-up showing, did not repay close examination. Mrs. ‘Wogdelenk’ wore a sort of mumps bandage of lace, and there was another lady perfectly dazzling with beads and jewels and bits of trimming. They were all flaps and angles and flounces, these women. Not one of them looked as neat and decent a shape as Ann’s clean, trim little figure. Echoes of Masterman woke up in him again. Ladies indeed! Here were all these chattering people, with money, with leisure, with every chance in the world, and all they could do was to crowd like this into a couple of rooms and jabber nonsense about anagrams.

‘Could Cypshi really mean Cuyps?’ floated like a dissolving wreath of mist across his mind.

Abruptly resolution stood armed in his heart. He was going to get out of this!

‘’Scuse me,’ he said, and began to wade neck-deep through the bubbling tea-party.

He was going to get out of it all!

He found himself close by Helen. ‘I’m orf,’ he said, but she gave him the briefest glance. She did not appear to hear. ‘Still, Mr. Spratlingdown, you must admit there’s a limit even to conformity,’ she was saying . . . 

He was in a curtained archway and Ann was before him carrying a tray supporting several small sugar-bowls.

He was moved to speech. ‘What a Lot!’ he said and then mysteriously, ‘I’m engaged to her.’ He indicated Helen’s new hat, and became aware of a skirt he had stepped upon.

Ann stared at him helplessly, borne past in the grip of incomprehensive imperatives.

Why shouldn’t they talk together?

He was in a small room, and then at the foot of the staircase in the hall. He heard the rustle of a dress, and what was conceivably his hostess was upon him.

‘But you’re not going, Mr. Kipps?’ she said.

‘I must,’ he said. ‘I got to.’

‘But, Mr. Kipps!’

‘I must,’ he said. ‘I’m not well.’

‘But before the guessing! Without any tea!’

Ann appeared and hovered behind him. ‘I got to go,’ said Kipps. If he parleyed with her Helen might awake to his desperate attempt.

‘Of course, if you must go.’

‘It’s something I’ve forgotten,’ said Kipps, beginning to feel regrets. ‘Reely, I must.’

Mrs. Botting turned with a certain offended dignity, and Ann, in a state of flushed calm that evidently concealed much, came forward to open the door.

‘I’m very sorry,’ he said. ‘I’m very sorry,’ half to his hostess and half to her, and was swept past her by superior social forces—like a drowning man in a mill-race—and into the Upper Sandgate Road. He half turned upon the step, and then slam went the door . . . 

He retreated along the Leas, a thing of shame and perplexity, Mrs. Botting’s aggrieved astonishment uppermost in his mind . . . 

Something—reinforced by the glances of the people he was passing—pressed its way to his attention through the tumultuous disorder of his mind. He became aware that he was still wearing his little placard with the letters ‘Cypshi.’

‘Desh it!’ he said, clutching off this abomination. In another moment its several letters, their task accomplished, were scattering gleefully before the breeze down the front of the Leas.


§ 2

Kipps was dressed for Mrs. Wace’s dinner half an hour before it was time to start, and he sat waiting until Coote should come to take him round. Manners and Rules of Good Society lay beside him neglected. He had read the polished prose of the Member of the Aristocracy on page 96 as far as,—‘the acceptance of an invitation is, in the eyes of diners out, a binding obligation which only ill-health, family bereavement, or some all-important reason justifies its being set on one side or otherwise evaded’—and then he had lapsed into gloomy thoughts.

That afternoon he had had a serious talk with Helen.

He had tried to express something of the change of heart that had happened to him. But to broach the real state of the matter had been altogether too terrible for him. He had sought a minor issue. ‘I don’t like all this Society,’ he had said.

‘But you must see people,’ said Helen.

‘Yes, but—It’s the sort of people you see.’ He nerved himself. ‘I didn’t think much of that lot at the Enegram Tea.’

‘You have to see all sorts of people if you want to see the world,’ said Helen.

Kipps was silent for a space, and a little short of breath.

‘My dear Arthur,’ she began almost kindly, ‘I shouldn’t ask you to go to these affairs if I didn’t think it good for you, should I?’

Kipps acquiesced in silence. ‘You will find the benefit of it all when we get to London. You learn to swim in a tank before you go out into the sea. These people here are good enough to learn upon. They’re stiff and rather silly, and dreadfully narrow, and not an idea in a dozen of them, but it really doesn’t matter at all. You’ll soon get Savoir Faire.’

He made to speak again, and found his powers of verbal expression lacking. Instead he blew a sigh.

‘You’ll get used to it all very soon,’ said Helen helpfully . . . 

As he sat meditating over that interview, and over the vistas of London that opened before him, on the little flat and teas and occasion, and the constant presence of Brudderkins and all the bright prospect of his new and better life, and how he would never see Ann any more, the housemaid entered with a little package, a small, square envelope for ‘Arthur Kipps, Esquire.’

‘A young woman left this, Sir,’ said the housemaid, a little severely.

‘Eh?’ said Kipps. ‘What young woman?’ and then suddenly began to understand.

‘She looked an ordinary young woman,’ said the housemaid coldly.

‘Ah!’ said Kipps. ‘That’s orlright.’

He waited till the door had closed behind the girl, staring at the envelope in his hand, and then, with a curious feeling of increasing tension, tore it open. As he did so, some quicker sense than sight or touch told him its contents. It was Ann’s half-sixpence.

And besides, not a word! Then she must have heard him—!

He was standing with the envelope in his hand when Coote became audible without.

Coote appeared in evening dress, a clean and radiant Coote, with large greenish-white gloves, and a particularly large white tie edged with black. ‘For a third cousin,’ he presently explained, ‘Nace, isn’t it?’ He could see Kipps was pale and disturbed, and put this down to the approaching social trial. ‘You keep your nerve up, Kipps, my dear chap, and you’ll be all right,’ said Coote, with a big brotherly glove on Kipps’ sleeve.


§ 3

The dinner came to a crisis so far as Kipps’ emotions were concerned with Mrs. Bindon Botting’s talk about servants, but before that there had been several things of greater or smaller magnitude to perturb and disarrange his social front. One little matter that was mildly insurgent throughout the entire meal was, if I may be permitted to mention so intimate a matter, the behaviour of his left brace. The webbing—which was of a cheerful scarlet silk—had slipped away from its buckle, fastened, no doubt, in agitation, and had developed a strong tendency to place itself obliquely, in the manner rather of an official decoration, athwart his spotless front. It first asserted itself before they went in to dinner. He replaced this ornament by a dexterous thrust when no one was looking, and there-after the suppression of this novel innovation upon the stereotyped sombreness of evening dress became a standing preoccupation. On the whole, he was inclined to think his first horror excessive; at any rate, no one remarked upon it. However, you imagine him constantly throughout the evening with one eye and one hand, whatever the rest of him might be doing, predominantly concerned with the weak corner.

But this, I say, was a little matter. What exercised him much more was to discover Helen, quite terribly in evening dress.

The young lady had let her imagination rove Londonward, and this costume was perhaps an anticipation of that clever little flat, not too far west, which was to become the centre of so delightful a literary and artistic set. It was, of all the feminine costumes present, most distinctly an evening dress. One was advised Miss Walshingham had arms and shoulders of a type by no means despicable; one was advised Miss Walshingham was capable not only of dignity but charm, even a certain glow of charm. It was, you know, her first evening dress, a tribute paid by Walshingham finance to her brightening future. Had she wanted keeping in countenance, she would have had to have fallen back upon her hostess, who was resplendent in black and steel. The other ladies had to a certain extent compromised. Mrs. Walshingham had dressed with just a refined little V, and Mrs. Bindon Botting, except for her dear mottled arms, confided scarcely more of her plump charm to the world. The elder Miss Botting stopped short of shoulders, and so did Miss Wace. But Helen didn’t. She was—had Kipps had eyes to see it—a quite beautiful human figure; she knew it, and she met him with a radiant smile that had forgotten all the little difference of the afternoon. But to Kipps her appearance was the last release. With that she had become as remote, as foreign, as incredible as a wife and male, as though the Cnidian Venus herself, in all her simple elegance, was, before witnesses, declared to be his. If, indeed, she had ever been credible as a wife and mate!

She ascribed his confusion to modest reverence, and, having blazed smiling upon him for a moment, turned a shapely shoulder towards him and exchanged a remark with Mrs. Bindon Botting. Ann’s poor half-sixpence came against Kipps’ fingers in his pocket, and he clutched at it suddenly as though it was a talisman. Then he abandoned it to suppress his Order of the Brace. He was affected by a cough. ‘Miss Wace tells me Mr. Revel is coming,’ Mrs. Botting was saying.

‘Isn’t it delightful?’ said Helen. ‘We saw him last night. He’s stopped on his way to Paris. He’s going to meet his wife there.’

Kipps’ eyes rested for a moment on Helen’s dazzling deltoid, and then went inquiringly, accusingly, almost, to Coote’s face.

Where in the presence of this terrible emergence was the gospel of suppression now? that Furtive treatment of Religion and Politics, and Birth and Death, and Bathing and Babies and ‘all those things,’ which constitute your True Gentleman? He had been too modest even to discuss this question with his Mentor, but surely, surely this quintessence of all that is good and nice could regard these unsolicited confidences only in one way. With something between relief and the confirmation of his worst fears he perceived, by a sort of twitching of the exceptionally abundant muscles about Coote’s lower jaw, in a certain deliberate avoidance of one particular direction by those pale but resolute gray eyes, by the almost convulsive grip of the ample, greenish-white gloves behind him, a grip broken at times for controlling pats at the black-bordered tie and the back of that spacious head, and by a slight but increasing disposition to cough, that Coote did not approve!

To Kipps Helen had once supplied a delicately beautiful dream, a thing of romance and unsubstantial mystery. But this was her final materialisation, and the last thin wreath of glamour about her was dispelled. In some way (he had forgotten how, and it was perfectly incomprehensible) he was bound to this dark, solid and determined young person, whose shadow and suggestion he had once loved. He had to go through with the thing as a gentleman should. Still—

And then he was sacrificing Ann!

He wouldn’t stand this sort of thing, whatever else he stood . . .  Should he say something about her dress to her—to-morrow?

He could put his foot down firmly. He could say, ‘Look ’ere. I don’t care. I ain’t going to stand it. See?’

She’d say something unexpected, of course. She always did say something unexpected.

Suppose, for once, he overrode what she said, and simply repeated his point.

He found these thoughts battling with certain conversational aggressions from Mrs. Wace, and then Revel arrived and took the centre of the stage.

The author of that brilliant romance, Red Hearts a-Beating, was a less imposing man than Kipps had anticipated, but he speedily effaced that disappointment by his predominating manners. Although he lived habitually in the vivid world of London, his collar and tie were in no way remarkable, and he was neither brilliantly handsome nor curly, nor long-haired. His personal appearance suggested arm-chairs rather than the equestrian exercises and amorous toyings and passionate intensities of his masterpiece; he was inclined to be fat, with whitish flesh, muddy-coloured straight hair; he had a rather shapeless and truncated nose, and his chin was asymmetrical. One eye was more inclined to stare than the other. He might have been esteemed a little undistinguished-looking were it not for his beeswaxed moustache, which came amidst his features with a pleasing note of incongruity, and the whimsical wrinkles above and about his greater eye. His regard sought and found Helen’s as he entered the room, and they shook hands presently with an air of intimacy Kipps, for no clear reason, found objectionable. He saw them clasp their hands, heard Coote’s characteristic cough—a sound rather more like a very, very old sheep a quarter of a mile away being blown to pieces by a small charge of gunpowder than anything else in the world—did some confused beginnings of a thought, and then they were all going in to dinner, and Helen’s shining bare arm lay along his sleeve. Kipps was in no state for conversation. She glanced at him, and, though he did not know it, very slightly pressed his elbow. He struggled with strange respiratory dislocations. Before them went Coote, discoursing in amiable reverberations to Mrs. Walshingham, and at the head of the procession was Mrs. Bindon Botting, talking fast and brightly beside the erect military figure of little Mr. Wace (He was not a soldier really, but he had caught a martinet bearing by living so close to Shorncliffe.) Revel came at last, in charge of Mrs. Wace’s queenly black and steel, politely admiring in a flute-like cultivated voice the mellow wall-paper of the staircase. Kipps marvelled at everybody’s self-possession.

From the earliest spoonful of soup it became evident that Revel considered himself responsible for the tabletalk. And before the soup was over it was almost as manifest that Mrs. Bindon Botting inclined to consider his sense of responsibility excessive. In her circle Mrs. Bindon Botting was esteemed an agreeable rattle, her manner and appearance were conspicuously vivacious for one so plump, and she had an almost Irish facility for humorous description. She would keep people amused all through an afternoon call with the story of how her jobbing gardener had got himself married and what his home was like, or how her favourite butt, Mr. Stigson Warder, had all his unfortunate children taught almost every conceivable instrument because they had the phrenological bump of music abnormally large. The family itself was also abnormally large. ‘They got to trombones, my dear!’ she would say, with her voice coming to a climax. Usually her friends conspired to draw her out, but on this occasion they neglected to do so, a thing that militated against her keen desire to shine in Revel’s eyes. After a time she perceived that the only thing for her to do was to cut in on the talk, on her own account, and this she began to do. She made several ineffectual snatches at the general attention, and then Revel drifted towards a topic she regarded as particularly her own—the ordering of households.

They came to the thing through talk about localities. ‘We are leaving our house in the Boltons,’ said Revel, ‘and taking a little place at Wimbledon, and I think of having rooms in Dane’s Inn. It will be more convenient in many ways. My wife is furiously addicted to golf and exercise of all sorts, and I like to sit about in clubs—I haven’t the strength necessary for these hygienic proceedings—and the old arrangement suited neither of us. And besides, no one could imagine the demoralisation the domestics of West London have undergone during the last three years.’

‘It’s the same everywhere,’ said Mrs. Bindon Botting.

‘Very possibly it is. A friend of mine calls it the servile tradition in decay, and regards it all as a most hopeful phenomenon—’

‘He ought to have had my last two criminals,’ said Mrs. Bindon Botting.

She turned to Mrs. Wace, while Revel came again a little too late with a ‘Possibly—’

‘And I haven’t told you, my dear,’ she said, speaking with voluble rapidity, ‘I’m in trouble again.’

‘That last girl?’

‘The last girl. Before I can get a cook, my hard-won housemaid’—she paused—‘chucks it.’

‘Panic?’ asked young Walshingham.

‘Mysterious grief! Everything merry as a marriage bell until my Anagram Tea! Then in the evening a portentous rigour of bearing, a word or so from my aunt, and immediately—Floods of Tears and Notice!’ For a moment her eye rested thoughtfully on Kipps as she said, ‘Is there anything heartrending about Anagrams?’

‘I find them so,’ said Revel. ‘I—’

But Mrs. Bindon Botting got away again. ‘For a time it made me quite uneasy—’

Kipps jabbed his lip with his fork rather painfully, and was recalled from a fascinated glare at Mrs. Botting to the immediate facts of dinner.

‘—whether anagrams might not have offended the good domestic’s Moral Code—you never can tell. We made inquiries. No. No. No. She must go, and that’s all!’

‘One perceives,’ said Revel, ‘in these disorders, dimly and distantly, the last dying glow of the age of Romance. Let us suppose, Mrs. Botting, let us at least try to suppose—it is Love.’

Kipps clattered with his knife and fork.

‘It’s love,’ said Mrs. Botting; ‘what else can it be? Beneath the orderly humdrum of our lives these romances are going on, until at last they bust up and give Notice and upset our humdrum altogether. Some fatal, wonderful soldier—’

‘The passions of the common or house-domestic—’ began Revel, and recovered possession of the table.

Upon the troubled disorder of Kipps’ table manners, there had supervened a quietness, an unusual calm. For once in his life he had distinctly made up his mind on his own account. He listened no more to Revel. He put down his knife and fork and refused everything that followed. Coote regarded him with tactful concern and Helen flushed a little.


§ 4

About half-past nine that night there came a violent pull at the bell of Mrs. Bindon Botting, and a young man in a dress-suit and a gibus and other marks of exalted social position stood without. Athwart his white expanse of breast lay a ruddy bar of patterned silk that gave him a singular distinction and minimised the glow of a few small stains of Burgundy. His gibus was thrust back, and exposed a disorder of hair that suggested a reckless desperation. He had, in fact, burnt his boats and refused to join the ladies. Coote, in the subsequent conversation, had protested quietly, ‘You’re going on all right, you know,’ to which Kipps had answered he didn’t care a ‘Eng’ about that, and so, after a brief tussle with Walshingham’s detaining arm, had got away. ‘I got something to do,’ he said. ‘’Ome.’ And here he was—panting an extraordinary resolve. The door opened, revealing the pleasantly furnished hall of Mrs. Bindon Botting, lit by rose-tinted lights, and in the centre of the picture, neat and pretty in black and white, stood Ann. At the sight of Kipps her colour vanished.

‘Ann,’ said Kipps, ‘I want to speak to you. I got something to say to you right away. See? I’m—’

‘This ain’t the door to speak to me at,’ said Ann.

‘But, Ann! It’s something special.’

‘You spoke enough,’ said Ann.


‘Besides, that’s my door, down there. Basement. If I was caught talking at this door—!’

‘But, Ann, I’m—’

‘Basement after nine. Them’s my hours. I’m a servant, and likely to keep one. If you’re calling here, what name, please? But you got your friends and I got mine, and you mustn’t go talking to me.’

‘But, Ann, I want to ask you—’

Some one appeared in the hall behind Ann. ‘Not here,’ said Ann. ‘Don’t know any one of that name,’ and incontinently slammed the door in his face.

‘What was that, Ann?’ said Mrs. Bindon Botting’s invalid aunt.

‘Ge’m a little intoxicated, Ma’am—asking for the wrong name, Ma’am.’

‘What name did he want?’ asked the lady doubtfully.

‘No name that we know, Ma’am’ said Ann, hustling along the hall towards the kitchen stairs.

‘I hope you weren’t too short with him, Ann.’

‘No shorter than he deserved, considering ’ow he be’aved,’ said Ann, with her bosom heaving.

And Mrs. Bindon Botting’s invalid aunt, perceiving suddenly that this call had some relation to Ann’s private and sentimental trouble, turned, after one moment of hesitating scrutiny, away.

She was an extremely sympathetic lady was Mrs. Bindon Botting’s invalid aunt; she look an interest in the servants, imposed piety, extorted confessions and followed human nature, blushing and lying defensively to its reluctantly revealed recesses; but Ann’s sense of privacy was strong, and her manner, under drawing-out and encouragement, sometimes even alarming . . . 

So the poor old lady went upstairs again.


§ 5

The basement door opened, and Kipps came into the kitchen. He was flushed and panting.

He struggled for speech.

‘’Ere,’ he said, and held out two half-sixpences.

Ann stood behind the kitchen table—face pale and eyes round, and now—and it simplified Kipps very much—he could see she had indeed been crying.

‘Well?’ she said.

‘Don’t you see?’

Ann moved her head slightly.

‘I kep’ it all these years.’

‘You kep’ it too long.’

His mouth closed and his flush died away. He looked at her. The amulet, it seemed, had failed to work.

‘Ann!’ he said.



The conversation still hung fire.

‘Ann,’ he said; made a movement with his hands that suggested appeal and advanced a step.

Ann shook her head more definitely, and became defensive.

‘Look here, Ann,’ said Kipps. ‘I been a fool.’

They stared into each other’s miserable eyes.

‘Ann,’ he said. ‘I want to marry you.’

Ann clutched the table edge.

‘You can’t,’ she said faintly.

He made as if to approach her round the table, and she took a step that restored their distance.

‘I must,’ he said.

‘You can’t.’

‘I must. You got to marry me, Ann.’

‘You can’t go marrying everybody. You got to marry ’er.’

‘I shan’t.’

Ann shook her head. ‘You’re engaged to that girl. Lady, rather. You can’t be engaged to me.’

‘I don’t want to be engaged to you. I been engaged. I want to be married to you. See? Right away.’

Ann turned a shade paler. ‘But what d’you mean?’ she asked.

‘Come right off to London and marry me. Now.’

‘What d’you mean?’

Kipps became extremely lucid and earnest. ‘I mean, come right off and marry me now before any one else can. See?’

‘In London?’

‘In London.’

They stared at one another again. They took things for granted in the most amazing way.

‘I couldn’t,’ said Ann. ‘For one thing, my month’s not up for mor’n free weeks yet.’

They hung before that for a moment as though it was insurmountable. ‘Look ’ere, Ann! Arst to go. Arst to go!’’

‘She wouldn’t,’ said Ann.

‘Then come without arsting,’ said Kipps.

‘She’d keep my box—’

‘She won’t.’

‘She will.’

‘She won’t.’

‘You don’t know ’er.’

‘Well, desh ’er—let ’er! Let ‘er! Who cares? I’ll buy you a ’undred boxes if you’ll come.’

‘It wouldn’t be right towards Her.’

‘It isn’t Her you got to think about, Ann. It’s me.’

‘And you ’aven’t treated me properly,’ she said. ‘You ’aven’t treated me properly, Artie. You didn’t ought to ’ave—’

‘I didn’t say I ’ad,’ he interrupted, ‘did I? Ann,’ he appealed, ‘I didn’t come to arguefy. I’m all wrong. I never said I wasn’t. It’s yes or no. Me or not . . .  I been a fool. There! See? I been a fool. Ain’t that enough? I got myself all tied up with every one and made a fool of myself all round . . . ’

He pleaded, ‘It isn’t as if we didn’t care for one another, Ann.’

She seemed impassive, and he resumed his discourse. ‘I thought I wasn’t likely ever to see you again, Ann. I reely did. It isn’t as though I was seein’ you all the time. I didn’t know what I wanted, and I went and be’aved like a fool—jest as any one might. I know what I want, and I know what I don’t want now.



‘Will you come? . . .  Will you come? . . . ’


‘If you don’t answer me, Ann—I’m desprit—if you don’t answer me now, if you don’t say you’ll come, I’ll go right out now—’

He turned doorward passionately as he spoke, with his threat incomplete.

‘I’ll go,’ he said. ‘I ’aven’t a friend in the world! I been and throwed everything away. I don’t know why I done things and why I ’aven’t. All I know is I can’t stand nothing in the world any more.’ He choked. ‘The pier,’ he said.

He fumbled with the door-latch, grumbling some inarticulate self-pity, as if he sought a handle, and then he had it open.

Clearly he was going.

‘Artie!’said Ann sharply.

He turned about, and the two hung white and tense.

‘I’ll do it,’ said Ann.

His face began to work, he shut the door and came a step back to her, staring; his face became pitiful, and then suddenly they moved together. ‘Artie!’ she cried, ‘don’t go!’ and held out her arms, weeping. They clung close to one another . . . 

‘Oh, I been so mis’bel!’ cried Kipps, clinging to his lifebuoy; and suddenly his emotion, having no further serious work in hand, burst its way to a loud boohoo! His fashionable and expensive gibus flopped off, and fell and rolled and lay neglected on the floor.

‘I been so mis’bel,’ said Kipps, giving himself vent, ‘Oh, I been so mis’bel, Ann!’

‘Be quiet,’ said Ann, holding his poor blubbering head tightly to her heaving shoulder, herself all a-quiver; ‘be quiet. She’s there! Listenin’. She’ll ’ear you, Artie, on the stairs . . . ’


§ 6

Ann’s last words when, an hour later, they parted—Mrs. and Miss Bindon Botting having returned very audibly upstairs—deserve a section to themselves.

‘I wouldn’t do this for every one, mind you,’ whispered Ann.

Kipps - Contents    |     Book Two - Chapter the Ninth - The Labyrinthodon

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