Book Two - Mr. Coote the Chaperon

Chapter the Ninth

The Labyrinthodon

H.G. Wells


§ 1

YOU IMAGINE them fleeing through our complex and difficult social system as it were for life, first on foot and severally to the Folkestone Central Station, then in a first-class carriage, with Kipps’ bag as sole chaperon to Charing Cross, and then in a four-wheeler, a long, rumbling, palpitating, slow flight through the multitudinous swarming London streets to Sid. Kipps kept peeping out of the window. ‘It’s the next corner after this, I believe,’ he would say. For he had a sort of feeling that at Sid’s he would be immune from the hottest pursuit. He paid the cabman in a manner adequate to the occasion, and turned to his prospective brother-in-law. ‘Me and Ann,’ he said, ‘we’re going to marry.’

‘But I thought—’ began Sid.

Kipps motioned him towards explanations in the shop.

‘It’s no good my arguing with you,’ said Sid, smiling delightedly as the case unfolded. ‘You done it now.’ And Masterman, being apprised of the nature of the affair, descended slowly in a state of flushed congratulation.

‘I thought you might find the Higher Life a bit difficult,’ said Masterman, projecting a bony hand. ‘But I never thought you’d have the originality to clear out . . .  Won’t the young lady of the superior classes swear! Never mind—it doesn’t matter anyhow.

‘You were starting a climb,’ he said at dinner, ‘that doesn’t lead anywhere. You would have clambered from one refinement of vulgarity to another, and never got to any satisfactory top. There isn’t a top. It’s a squirrel’s cage. Things are out of joint, and the only top there is in a lot of blazing card-playing women and betting men, seasoned with archbishops and officials and all that sort of glossy pandering Tosh . . .  You’d have hung on, a disconsolate, dismal little figure somewhere up the ladder, far below even the motor-car class, while your wife larked about, or fretted because she wasn’t a bit higher than she was . . .  I found it all out long ago. I’ve seen women of that sort. And I don’t climb any more.’

‘I often thought about what you said last time I saw you,’ said Kipps.

‘I wonder what I said,’ said Masterman, in parenthesis. ‘Anyhow, you’re doing the right and sane thing, and that’s a rare spectacle. You’re going to marry your equal, and you’re going to take your own line, quite independently of what people up there, or people down there, think you ought or ought not to do. That’s about the only course one can take nowadays, with everything getting more muddled and upside down every day. Make your own little world and your own house first of all; keep that right side up whatever you do, and marry your mate . . .  That, I suppose, it what I should do—-if I had a mate . . .  But people of my sort, luckily for the world, don’t get made in pairs. No!

‘Besides—However—’ And abruptly, taking advantage of an interruption by Master Walt, he lapsed into thought.

Presently he came out of his musings.

‘After all,’ he said, ‘there’s Hope.’

‘What about?’ said Sid.

‘Everything,’ said Masterman.

‘Where there’s life there’s hope,’ said Mrs. Sid. ‘But none of you aren’t eating anything like you ought to.’

Masterman lifted his glass. ‘Here’s to Hope!’ he said, ‘the Light of the World!’

Sid beamed at Kipps, as who should say, ‘You don’t meet a character like this every dinner-time.’

‘Here’s to Hope!’ repeated Masterman. ‘The best thing one can have. Hope of life—Yes.’

He imposed his moment of magnificent self-pity on them all. Even young Walt was impressed.


§ 2

They spent the days before their marriage in a number of agreeable excursions together. One day they went to Kew by steamboat, and admired the house full of paintings of flowers extremely; and one day they went early to have a good long day at the Crystal Palace, and enjoyed themselves very much indeed. They got there so early that nothing was open inside; all the stalls were wrappered up, and all the minor exhibitions locked and barred. They seemed the minutest creatures even to themselves in that enormous empty aisle, and their echoing footsteps indecently loud. They contemplated realistic groups of plaster savages, and Ann thought they’d be queer people to have about. She was glad there were none in this country. They meditated upon replicas of classical statuary without excessive comment. Kipps said, at large, it must have been a queer world then; but Ann very properly doubted if they really went about like that. But the place at that early hour was really lonely. One began to fancy things. So they went out into the October sunshine of the mighty terraces, and wandered amidst miles of stucco tanks, and about those quite Gargantuan grounds. A great gray emptiness it was, and it seemed marvellous to them, but not nearly so marvellous as it might have seemed. ‘I never see a finer place, never,’ said Kipps, turning to survey the entirety of the enormous glass front with Paxton’s vast image in the centre.

‘What it must ’ave cost to build!’ said Ann, and left her sentence eloquently incomplete.

Presently they came to a region of caves and waterways, and amidst these waterways strange reminders of the possibilities of the Creator. They passed under an arch made of a whale’s jaws, and discovered amidst herbage, browsing or standing unoccupied and staring as if amazed at themselves, huge effigies of iguanodons, and deinotheria, and mastodons and such-like cattle gloriously done in green and gold.

‘They got everything,’ said Kipps. ‘Earl’s Court isn’t a patch on it.’

His mind was very greatly exercised by these monsters, and he hovered about them and returned to them. ‘You’d wonder ’ow they ever got enough to eat,’ he said several times.


§ 3

It was later in the day, and upon a seat in the presence of the green and gold Labyrinthodon that looms so splendidly above the lake, that the Kippses fell into talk about their future. They had made a sufficient lunch in the palace, they had seen pictures and no end of remarkable things, and that and the amber sunlight made a mood for them, quiet and philosophical—a haven mood. Kipps broke a contemplative silence with an abrupt allusion to one principal preoccupation. ‘I shall offer an ’pology, and I shall offer ’er brother damages. If she likes to bring an action for Breach after that, well—I done all I can . . .  They can’t get much out of reading my letters in court, because I didn’t write none. I dessay a thousan’ or two’ll settle all that, anyhow. I ain’t much worried about that. That don’t worry me very much, Ann—No.’

And then, ‘It’s a lark our marrying.

‘It’s curious ’ow things come about. If I ’adn’t run against you, where should I ’ave been now—eh? . . .  Even after we met I didn’t seem to see it like—not marrying you, I mean—until that night I came. I didn’t—reely.’

‘I didn’t neither,’ said Ann, with thoughtful eyes on the water.

For a time Kipps’ mind was occupied by the prettiness of her thinking face. A faint tremulous network of lights, reflected, from the ripples of a passing duck, played subtly over her cheek and faded away.

Ann reflected. ‘I s’pose things ’ad to be,’ she said.

Kipps mused. ‘It’s curious ’ow over I got on to be engaged to ’er.’

‘She wasn’t suited to you,’ said Ann.

‘Suited? No fear! That’s jest it. ’Ow did it come about?’

‘I expect she led you on,’ said Ann.

Kipps was half minded to assent. Then he had a twinge of conscience. ‘It wasn’t that, Ann,’ he said. ‘It’s curious. I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t that. I don’t recollect . . .  No . . . Life’s jolly rum; that’s one thing, any’ow. And I suppose I’m a rum sort of feller. I get excited sometimes, and then I don’t seem to care what I do. That’s about what it was reely. Still—’

They meditated, Kipps with his arms folded and pulling at his scanty moustache. Presently a faint smile came over his face.

‘We’ll get a nice little ’ouse out ’Ithe way.’

‘It’s ’omelier than Folkestone,’ said Ann.

‘Jest a nice little ’ouse,’ said Kipps. ‘There’s Hughenden, of course. But that’s let. Besides being miles too big. And I wouldn’t live in Folkestone again some’ow—not for anything.’

‘I’d like to ’ave a ’ouse of my own,’ said Ann. ‘I’ve often thought, being in service, ’ow much I’d like to manage a ’ouse of my own.’

‘You’d know all about what the servants was up to, anyhow,’ said Kipps, amused.

‘Servants! We don’t want no servants,’ said Ann, startled.

‘You’ll ’ave to ’ave a servant,’ said Kipps. ‘If it’s only to do the ’eavy work of the ’ouse.’

‘What! and not be able ’ardly to go into my own kitchen?’ said Ann.

‘You ought to ’ave a servant,’ said Kipps.

‘One could easy ’ave a woman in for anything that’s ’eavy,’ said Ann. ‘Besides—If I ’ad one of the girls one sees about nowadays, I should want to be taking the broom out of er ’and and do it all over myself. I’d manage better without ’er.’

‘We ought to ’ave one servant, anyhow,’ said Kipps, ’else ’ow should we manage if we wanted to go out together or anything like that?’

‘I might get a young girl,’ said Ann, ‘and bring ’er up in my own way.’

Kipps left the matter at that and came back to the house.

‘There’s little ’ouses going into Hythe just the sort we want, not too big and not too small. We’ll ’ave a kitching and a dining-room and a little room to sit in of a night.’

‘I mustn’t be a ’ouse with a basement,’ said Ann.

‘What’s a basement?’

‘It’s a downstairs, where there’s not ’arf enough light and everything got to be carried—up and down, up and down, all day—coals and everything. And it’s got to ’ave a water-tap and sink and things upstairs. You’d ’ardly believe, Artie, if you ’adn’t been in service, ’ow cruel and silly some ’ouses are built—you’d think they ’ad a spite against servants the way the stairs are made.’

‘We won’t ’ave one of that sort,’ said Kipps . . .  ‘We’ll ’ave a quiet little life. Now go out a bit—now come ’ome again. Read a book, perhaps, if we got nothing else to do. ’Ave old Buggins in for an evening at times. ’Ave Sid down. There’s bicycles—’

‘I don’t fancy myself on a bicycle,’ said Ann.

‘’Ave a trailer,’ said Kipps, ‘and sit like a lady. I’d take you out to New Romney easy as anything, jest to see the old people.’

‘I wouldn’t mind that,’ said Ann.

‘We’ll jest ’ave a sensible little ’ouse, and sensible things. No art or anything of that sort, nothing stuck-up or anything, but jest sensible. We’ll be as right as anything, Ann.’

‘No Socialism,’ said Ann, starting a lurking doubt.

‘No Socialism,’ said Kipps, ‘just sensible—that’s all.’

‘I dessay it’s all right for them that understand it, Artie, but I don’t agree with this Socialism.’

‘I don’t neither, reely,’ said Kipps. ‘I can’t argue about it, but it don’t seem real like to me. All the same, Masterman’s a clever fellow, Ann.’

‘I didn’t like ’im at first, Artie, but I do now—in a way. You don’t understand ’im all at once.’

‘’E’s so clever,’ said Kipps. “Arf the time I can’t make out what ’e’s up to. ’E’s the cleverest chap I ever met. I never ’eard such talking. ’E ought to write a book . . .  It’s rum world, Ann, when a chap like that isn’t ’ardly able to earn a living.’

‘It’s ’is ’ealth,’ said Ann.

‘I expect it is,’ said Kipps, and ceased to talk for a little while. ‘We shall be ’appy in that little ’ouse, Ann, don’t y’ think?’ She met his eyes and nodded.

‘I seem to see it,’ said Kipps, ‘sort of cosy like. ’Bout tea-time and muffins, kettle on the ’ob, cat on the ’earthrug—we must ’ave a cat, Ann—and you there. Eh?’

They regarded each other with appreciative eyes, and Kipps became irrelevant.

‘I don’t believe, Ann,’ he said, ‘I ’aven’t kissed you not for ’arf an hour. Leastways, not since we was in those caves.’ For kissing had already ceased to be a matter of thrilling adventure for them.

Ann shook her head. ‘You be sensible and go on talking about Mr. Masterman,’ she said . . . 

But Kipps had wandered to something else. ‘I like the way your ’air turns back jest there,’ he said, with an indicative finger. ‘It was like that, I remember, when you was a girl. Sort of wavy. I’ve often thought of it . . . ’Member when we raced that time—out be’ind the church?’

Then for a time they sat idly, each following out agreeable meditations. ‘It’s rum,’ said Kipps.

‘What’s rum?’

‘’Ow everything’s ’appened,’ said Kipps. ‘Who’d ’ave thought of our being ’ere like this six weeks ago? . . .  Who’d ’ave thought of my ever ’aving any money?’

His eyes went to the big Labyrinthodon. He looked first carelessly and then suddenly with a growing interest in its vast face. ‘I’m deshed,’ he murmured. Ann became interested. He laid a hand on her arm and pointed. Ann scrutinised the Labyrinthodon, and then came round to Kipps’ face in mute interrogation.

‘Don’t you see it?’ said Kipps.

‘See what?’ . . . 

‘’E’s jest like old Coote.’

‘It’s extinct,’ said Ann, not clearly apprehending. ‘I dessay ’e is. But ’e’s jest like Old Coote, all the same for that.’

Kipps meditated on the monstrous shapes in sight. ‘I wonder ’ow all these old antediluvium animals got extinct,’ he asked. ‘No one couldn’t possibly ’ave killed ’em.’

‘Why, I know that!’ said Ann. ‘They was overtook by the Flood . . . ’

Kipps meditated for a while. ‘But I thought they had to take two of everything there was—’

‘Within reason they ’ad,’ said Ann . . . 

The Kippses left it at that.

The great green and gold Labyrinthodon took no notice of their conversation. It gazed with its wonderful eyes over their heads into the infinite—inflexibly calm. It might, indeed, have been Coote himself there, Coote the unassuming, cutting them dead.

There was something about its serenity that suggested patience, suggested the indifference of a power that waits. In the end this quality, dimly apprehended, made the Kippses uneasy, and after a while they got up, and glancing backward, went their way.


§ 4

And in due course these two simple souls married, and Venus Urania, the Goddess of Wedded Love, who is indeed a very great and noble and kindly goddess, bent down and blessed their union.

Kipps - Contents    |     Book Three - Chapter the First - The Housing Problem

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