In the Year of Jubilee by George Gissing
Part I: Miss. Lord
'Where are your friends?'
'That's more than I can tell you.'
They laughed together.
'It's a miracle we've been able to meet,' said Crewe. 'I had to thrash a fellow five minutes ago, and was precious near getting run in. Shall we go the Tottenham Court Road way? Look out! You'd better hold on to my arm. These big crossings are like whirlpools; you might go round and round, and never get anywhere. Don't be afraid; if any one runs up against you, I'll knock him down.'
'There wouldn't be room for him to fall,' said Nancy, wild with merriment, as they swayed amid the uproar. For the first time she understood how perilous such a crowd might be. A band of roisterers, linked arm in arm, were trying to break up the orderly march of thousands into a chaotic fight. The point for which Crewe made was unattainable; just in front of him a woman began shrieking hysterically; another fainted, and dropped into her neighbour's arms.
'Don't get frightened!'
'Not I! I like it. It's good fun.'
'You're the right sort, you are. But we must get out of this. It's worse than the pit-door on the first night of a pantomime. I must hold you up; don't mind.'
His arm encircled her body, and for a moment now and then he carried rather than led her. They were safe at length, in the right part of Oxford Street, and moving with the stream.
'I couldn't find your brother,' Crewe had leisure to say; 'and I didn't see Fanny French. There weren't many people about just then, either. They must have gone off before I came.'
'Yes, they must. It doesn't matter.'
'You have some life in you.' He gazed at her admiringly. 'You're worth half a million of the girls that squeak and wobble when there's a bit of rough play going on.'
'I hope so. Did you set me down as one of that kind?'
Nancy found that her tongue had achieved a liberty suitable to the occasion. She spoke without forethought, and found pleasure in her boldness.
'Not I,' Crewe answered. 'But I never had a chance before now of telling you what I thought.'
Some one in front of them ignited a Bengal light and threw it into the air; the flame flashed across Nancy's features, and fell upon the hat of a man near her.
'How do you mean to get home?' asked Crewe presently. Nancy explained that all her party were to meet on the other side of the river.
'Oh, then, there's plenty of time. When you've had enough of this kind of thing we can strike off into the quiet streets. If you were a man, which I'm glad you're not, I should say I was choking for a glass of beer.'
'Say it, and look for a place where you can quench your thirst.'
'It must be a place, then, where you can come in as well. You don't drink beer, of course, but we can get lemonade and that kind of thing. No wonder we get thirsty; look up there.'
Following the direction of his eyes, Nancy saw above the heads of the multitude a waving dust-canopy, sent up by myriad tramplings on the sun-scorched streets. Glare of gas illumined it in the foreground; beyond, it dimmed all radiance like a thin fog.
'We might cut across through Soho,' he pursued, 'and get among the restaurants. Take my arm again. Only a bit of cross-fighting, and we shall be in the crowd going the other way. Did you do physics at school? Remember about the resultant of forces? Now we're a force tending to the right, and the crowd is a force making for straight on; to find the--'
His hat was knocked over his eyes, and the statement of the problem ended in laughter.
With a good deal of difficulty they reached one of the southward byways; and thenceforth walking was unimpeded.
'You know that I call myself Luckworth Crewe,' resumed Nancy's companion after a short silence.
'Of course I do.'
'Well, the fact is, I've no right to either of the names. I thought I'd just tell you, for the fun of the thing; I shouldn't talk about it to any one else that I know. They tell me I was picked up on a doorstep in Leeds, and the wife of a mill-hand adopted me. Their name was Crewe. They called me Tom, but somehow it isn't a name I care for, and when I was grown up I met a man called Luckworth, who was as kind as a father to me, and so I took his name in place of Tom. That's the long and short of it.'
Nancy looked a trifle disconcerted.
'You won't think any worse of me, because I haven't a name of my own?'
'Why should I? It isn't your fault.'
'No. But I'm not the kind of man to knuckle under. I think myself just as good as anybody else I'll knock the man down that sneers at me; and I won't thank anybody for pitying me; that's the sort of chap I am. And I'm going to have a big fortune one of these days. It's down in the books. I know I shall live to be a rich man, just as well as I know that I'm walking down Dean Street with Miss. Lord.'
'I should think it very possible,' his companion remarked.
'It hasn't begun yet. I can only lay my hand on a few hundred pounds, one way and another. And I'm turned thirty. But the next ten years are going to do it. Do you know what I did last Saturday? I got fifteen hundred pounds' worth of advertising for our people, from a chap that's never yet put a penny into the hands of an agent. I went down and talked to him like a father. He was the hardest nut I ever had to crack, but in thirty-five minutes I'd got him--like a roach on a hook. And it'll be to his advantage, mind you. That fifteen hundred 'll bring him in more business than he's had for ten years past. I got him to confess he was going down the hill. "Of course," I said, "because you don't know how to advertise, and won't let anybody else know for you?" In a few minutes he was telling me he'd dropped more than a thousand on a patent that was out of date before it got fairly going. "All right," said I. "Here's your new cooking-stove. You've dropped a thousand on the other thing; give your advertising to us, and I'll guarantee you shall come home on the cooking-stove."'
'Come home on it?' Nancy inquired, in astonishment.
'Oh, it's our way of talking,' said the other, with his hearty laugh. 'It means to make up one's loss. And he'll do it. And when he has, he'll think no end of me.'
'Not long ago, I boxed a chap for his advertising. A fair turn-up with the gloves. Do you suppose I licked him? Not I; though I could have done it with one hand. I just let him knock me out of time, and two minutes after he put all his business into my hands.'
'Oh, you'll get rich,' declared Nancy, laughing. 'No doubt about it.'
'There was a spot down the South Western Railway where we wanted to stick up a board, a great big board, as ugly as they make 'em. It was in a man's garden; a certain particular place, where the trains slow, and folks have time to read the advertisement and meditate on it. That chap wouldn't listen. What! spoil his garden with our da----with our confounded board! not for five hundred a year! Well, I went down, and I talked to him--'
'Like a father,' put in Nancy.
'Just so, like a father. "Look here," said I, "my dear sir, you're impeding the progress of civilisation. How could we have become what we are without the modern science and art of advertising? Till advertising sprang up, the world was barbarous. Do you suppose people kept themselves clean before they were reminded at every corner of the benefits of soap? Do you suppose they were healthy before every wall and hoarding told them what medicine to take for their ailments? Not they indeed! Why, a man like you--an enlightened man, I see it in your face (he was as ugly as Ben's bull-dog), ought to be proud of helping on the age." And I made him downright ashamed of himself. He asked me to have a bit of dinner, and we came to terms over the cheese.'
In this strain did Luckworth Crewe continue to talk across the gloomy solitudes of Soho. And Nancy would on no account have had him cease. She was fascinated by his rough vigour and by his visions of golden prosperity. It seemed to her that they reached very quickly the restaurant he had in view. With keen enjoyment of the novelty, she followed him between tables where people were eating, drinking, smoking, and took a place beside him on a cushioned seat at the end of the room.
'I know you're tired,' he said. 'There's nearly half-an-hour before you need move.'
Nancy hesitated in her choice of a refreshment. She wished to have something unusual, something that fitted an occasion so remarkable, yet, as Crewe would of course pay, she did not like to propose anything expensive.
'Now let me choose for you,' her companion requested. 'After all that rough work, you want something more than a drop of lemonade. I'm going to order a nice little bottle of champagne out of the ice, and a pretty little sandwich made of whatever you like.'
It had been in her thoughts, a sparkling audacity. Good; champagne let it be. And she leaned back in defiant satisfaction.
'I didn't expect much from Jubilee Day,' observed the man of business, 'but that only shows how things turn out--always better or worse than you think for. I'm not likely to forget it; it's the best day I've had in my life yet, and I leave you to guess who I owe that to.'
'I think this is good wine,' remarked Nancy, as if she had not heard him.
'Not bad. You wouldn't suppose a fellow of my sort would know anything about it. But I do. I've drunk plenty of good champagne, and I shall drink better.'
Nancy ate her sandwich and smiled. The one glass sufficed her; Crewe drank three. Presently, looking at her with his head propped on his hand, he said gravely:
'I wonder whether this is the last walk we shall have together?'
'Who can say?' she answered in a light tone.
'Some one ought to be able to say.'
'I never make prophecies, and never believe other people's.'
'Shows your good sense. But I make wishes, and plenty of them.'
'So do I,' said Nancy.
'Then let us both make a wish to ourselves,' proposed Crewe, regarding her with eyes that had an uncommon light in them.
His companion laughed, then both were quiet for a moment.
They allowed themselves plenty of time to battle their way as far as Westminster Bridge. At one point police and crowd were in brief conflict; the burly guardians of order dealt thwacking blows, right and left, sound fisticuffs, backed with hearty oaths. The night was young; by magisterial providence, hours of steady drinking lay before the hardier jubilants. Thwacks and curses would be no rarity in another hour or two.
At the foot of Parliament Street, Nancy came face to face with Samuel Barmby, on whose arm hung the wearied Jessica. Without heeding their exclamations, she turned to her protector and bade him a hearty good-night. Crewe accepted his dismissal. He made survey of Barmby, and moved off singing to himself, 'Do not forget me--do not forget me--'