Finding himself beginning to think critically of marriage, Francis brought himself up with a start. There had been a time when he had given a great deal of thought to it, his thought had necessarily driven him to attempted discussion with his wife, but on the first hint of what was at the back of his mind she had cried scandal and shame upon him and so scared and wounded him that he had never returned to the subject. He had hoped to break down the wall that had grown up between them, but she put up two bricks for every one he removed. Did she know what she was doing? Did she suffer from it?—He did not know. He would never know. She amused him. He told himself that she was more like Mrs. Nickleby than he had conceived it possible for a woman in real life to be. At any rate she was not hard, armoured against even a joke, like Mrs. Lawrie part time degree hk
That brought him back to Bennett, and he had a gust of anger against the young man—not a violent gust. Francis never could be violent in anything. His anger turned on himself and twinged his conscience with the realisation that he was giving more thought to Bennett and Bennett’s affairs than he had to any of his children. The point of it all was the establishment of Bennett in a career superior to that which had been forced upon him, but then which of his children had been established in a career of any sort? Serge had gone his own way; Leedham had taken things into his own hands; Frederic had a profession, but he (Francis) had no notion how that profession was answering or what prospect it held out. Unfortunately Francis had never been able to take Frederic seriously, and the thought of him was enough to set his mind working in caricature. He thrust aside all that had been troubling him—with considerable relief—and the seed of irony planted in him by his conversation with old Lawrie grew like a magic beanstalk, and he saw himself in the absurd position of having obliged a world hungry for population—(Was it not? Did not everybody agree in saying so?)—with, for one man, a large supply of human beings, produced quite legitimately after due notice given, only to find that one after another the world [Pg 159]rejected them, or at any rate refused to provide the males with worthy work or the females with husbands. He was walking along Miller Street as this new perception came to him, between fifty little houses on one side and fifty little houses on the other, and half-way down the street the door of a house opened and Frederic came out and stopped him. He had no hat on and he was a little nervous. He said Dream beauty pro hard sell
Francis turned and followed Frederic into the house, and down a narrow little passage into the kitchen at the back. This was a little dark room looking into a backyard. Both kitchen and yard were full of washing, for it was Monday. The remnants of a meal were on the table, walled in with piles of damp linen. From the cellar door just outside the kitchen came clouds of steam.
Mrs. Lipsett was a little, faded woman, very thin, very untidy. She was sitting in a hard Windsor chair gazing into the fire, as though she were hypnotised by it. She did not look up as the father and son entered. Frederic placed a chair for his father, introduced him to Mrs. Lipsett, and without worrying as to whether she heard him or not hurried away and shut the door. Mrs. Lipsett turned to Francis and said Transit Tour in Hong Kong
“My husband left me with five children and went off with a theatre woman. He takes young girls and trains them for the dancing. He’s a rich man now, but I don’t have a penny from him. It’s hard work making a living with the lodgers, and you can’t do it when there’s illness.”
“No, I suppose not. I’m very sorry,” replied Francis uneasily. “If I can do anything. . .”
“Do anything!” Mrs. Lipsett was scornful. “As if [Pg 160]you could. I’ve worked my fingers to the bone. Two of the girls are in a shop. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been them, though it would have been bad enough. But Annie’s stayed at home helping me, and I don’t see what’s to be done. I don’t see what’s to be done. He’s owned up to it. There’s that much to be said for him. But that doesn’t help much, does it?”
Francis had learned patience in dealing with his parishioners, who were incapable of a direct statement. Mrs. Lipsett had no intention of being mysterious. It only showed that she could not bring herself to the point of open discussion of her affairs with a stranger. She had flung a certain amount of anger into her letter, all the anger she was capable of feeling, and she was not equal to the task of whipping it up again now that she was in the presence of the man to whom she had written in her first desire to injure Frederic. She made an effort and went on:
Francis did not hear her. He was still trying to grasp the fact, but once more he found himself confronted with the difficulty that he could not take Frederic seriously. That Frederic should be, regularly or irregularly, on the point of becoming a father struck him as comic and grotesque, and yet (he said to himself) it was only to be expected that in course of time the fate that had overtaken himself should overtake his son also.