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caught up the white apron and billowed it out for the sheer fun of the thing, showing trim ankles, the turn of a plump calf, such as Ben Cohen had never even thought of before, the realization of which was like wine, red, fruity, running through his veins, mounting to his head.
Just over the bridge she stopped to speak to another girl who worked in his own counting-house. As Ben hurried up to pass them before they separated, really see her, moving sidewise, with an odd duck of his head, this other girl recognized him, flung him a friendly "Hullo!" and was answered in the same fashion.
As he moved on he heard-was meant to hear, knew from the pitch of the voice that he was meant to hear
childlike shyness and lack of self-confidence in everything apart from his music; that something at once finer and more cruelly persistent and vital than is to be found in the purely Anglo-Saxon race.
Though Jenny liked what she called "a pretty tune," she knew nothing whatever of music, understood less. Yet almost from that first moment she understood Ben Cohen, realizing him as lover and child; understood him better then, maybe, than she did later on, losing her sureness for a while in the immensity of her own love and longing.
But that was not for some time to come; in the meanwhile she was like a dear little bantam hen with one chick, while Ben himself was content to shelter under her wing; until it grew
"Clever ain't no word fur it. There upon him that, loving her as he did, ain't no tune as-"
The end of the sentence was lost; but he knew the sort of thing, knew it by heart, had spent his time running away from it. Now, however, he was grateful; more grateful still when he met Miss Ankles again, and she herself, regarding Florry Hines's eulogy as a sort of introduction, smiled, moved on a step, and tossed a "Hullo" over one shoulder.
Ben's thin, olive-tinted face was flushed as he drew forward to her side with his odd stoop, his way of ducking his head and raising his eyes, dark and glowing. He took Jenny's dinnerbasket, and she noticed his hands, large and well shaped, with long fingers widened at the tips. Florry had said that he was a "Sheeny," though there was nothing of the Jew about him apart from his coloring, his brilliant, dark eyes, unless it was a sort of inner glow, an ardor curbed by his almost
loving his mother, realizing what it meant to be a mother, in thinking of Jenny herself with a child—his child— in her arms, it was "up to" him to make them proud of him and his music,without the faintest idea of how proud they were already,-lift the whole weight of care from their shoulders.
The worst of it was that he told them nothing whatever about it. The better sort of men are given to these crablike ways of appearing to move away from what they intend to move toward. It simply seemed as though he were forgetting them a little, then more and more, elbowing them aside to clear the way for his beloved music.
He had never even thought of his music in the money sense before, but as his love and ambition for the two women grew upon him, he was like a child with a new toy. He would not only make a great name; he would make an immense fortune. His mind
blinked, dazzled at the very thought. He moved with a new pride, and also, alas! a new remoteness.
His health had broken when he was about seventeen,-his bent shoulders still showed that old drag upon the chest, and he was away in a sanatorium for a year. When he came back he was cured. It was young Saere, the junior partner in the timber business, who had sent him away; and it was he who, when Ben returned, paid for lessons for him, so that he learned to play as well as read music.
From that time onward he had always stuck to the firm, working in the tally-sheds; and out of his earnings he paid for the use of a room and a piano for practising upon so many hours each week, completely happy and contented.
He had never even thought of leaving the business until he realized his immense love for Jenny and, through her, for his mother, and the necessity for doing something big. What did sacrifice matter? What did it matter being poor, hungry, shabby? What did anything matter just for a while? There was so little he wanted! Meals were a nuisance.
If his mother had not set food before him, he would scarcely have thought of it. But, all the same, he ate it, and money had to be earned by some one or other. His mother had never let him know the actual pinch of poverty; she wore that shoe upon her own foot. He had no more idea than a child of the cost of mere daily necessities, and during the last few years, between his work and hers, they had been comfortable enough.
"We can hang on for a bit," he said when he spoke of leaving the timberyard; and she answered, almost with triumph, that she had "hung on" well
enough before he 'd earned “aught but a licking."
At first she was proud of shouldering anew the entire burden; it made him more entirely hers. He could not do without her; even with Jenny he could not do without her. But she had not been a young woman when Ben was born; she was old now, and tired with that sort of tiredness which accumulates, and which no single night's rest
can ever cure.
"Hold on until after the concert?" he asked.
"Sorry fur meself if I could n't."
The concert-that was the goal. There was a public hall at Clapton where Ben had chanced on some really good music quite by chance, and this, to his mind, ennobled the Claptonites; there was the place in which to start the revolutionizing of the musical world. Besides, and here he thought himself very canny, by no means a Jew for nothing, there were fine old houses at Clapton, and where there were such houses, there must be rich people.
When the date was actually arranged, he practised for the best part of the day. While he was at home he read music; he lived in a maze of music. He never even thought of advertising, collecting his public; he even avoided his old friends and patrons at the timber-yard, overcome by agonies of shyness at the very thought of so much as mentioning his concert. Quite simply, in a way he did not even attempt to explain to himself, he felt that the world of London would scent it from afar. As to paid claques, presentation-tickets, patrons, advance agents, all the booming and flattery, the jam of the powder for an English
audience, he had no idea of the existence of such things. Beethoven was wonderful, and he had found out wonderful things about him; that was enough.
During those weeks of preparation for the concert his mother worked desperately hard to keep their home together without his earnings, while Jenny helped. At first that had been enough for her, too, to help; but later
Throughout those long evenings when, already tired from her work in the factory, she had stood sorting, sprinkling, folding, ironing, the two women got to a state where they scarcely dared look at each other; just a passing glance, a hardish stare, but no looking into.
If he had but once said, "I can't bear you to work so hard for me," everything would have been different, the fatigue wiped out. But he did n't; he did n't even know they were working for him, working beyond the limit of an ordinary working-woman's workingday, hard enough, in all conscience.
"Men can't be expected to notice things the way we do." That's what they told themselves; they did not say even this much to each other. But far, far away, out of sight, out of all actual knowledge, was the fear which neither of them would have dared to realize, a vague horror, a sort of ghost: "He does n't care; he 's changed."
Indeed, this is how it appeared. All through that time he wore an odd look of excitement, triumph, pleasure, which lifted him away from himself. There was a sort of lilt in his very step; his eyes shone, his cheeks were flushed. When he cleared a pile of freshly ironed, starched things from the end of a table in order to spread out a score upon it, laid them on the floor, where the cat
padded over them with dirty feet, and his mother railed at him, as she still did rail on any subject apart from this of not caring, he glanced up at her with bright, amused eyes, his finger still following the black-and-white tangle of notes, looked at Jenny, and laughed actually laughed.
"You great oaf!" cried Mrs. Cohen, and could have killed him. Up at four o'clock the next morning, to wash over, starch, and iron, she retched with sick fatigue and something more that sense of giddiness, of being hit on the head that had oppressed her of late. It was as though that laugh had stuck like a bone in her chest, so sharply that she could scarcely draw breath, had driven all the blood to her head.
Yet that laugh had been full of nothing but triumph, a sort of tender triumph, almost childish delight. He was going to do wonders, open a new world to them.
Manlike, his eyes were fixed upon the future. No two women had ever been loved as they were loved. All this work, this washing and ironing, resembled nothing more than the opening scene in an opera, a sort of prelude for the sake of contrast. They would see. O-o-oh, yes, they would see!
But they were bound in the closemeshed strait-waistcoat of endless toil and petty anxiety. The days and hours heaped in front of them obliterated all possible view of the future.
In the beginning they had been as excited as he was over the thought of the concert. He must wear a rosette; no, a flower in his buttonhole; and white kid gloves. As he moved forward upon the platform, he must bow right and left, and draw off his gloves as he bowed.
This was Jenny's idea. It was Jenny who made him practise his bows, and it was Jenny who borrowed a dress-suit from a waiter-friend, while it was his mother who "got up" the borrowed shirt to go with it, stiff and shining, who polished his best boots until they looked "near as near like patent."
All this had been done close upon a fortnight before. Jenny was a good girl, but if she, Mrs. Cohen, was not there to see to things, Jenny might fail with a bubble on the shirt-front. No amount of meaning well was of any use in getting-up a stiff shirt as it ought to be got up.
"Whatever they do, they sha'n't keep me from my Ben's concert.' That was what she said, with a vision of motors blocking the road in front of the little hall. But she had been a laundress for the best part of a lifetime before she discovered herself as the mother of a genius, and it had bit into her bone: she could not get finished, and she could not leave the work undone.
"Some one 's got to earn a living," she said, embittered by fatigue, the sweat pouring down her face, beaten to every sensibility, apart from her swollen feet, by the time that Jenny called in for her soon after six. She had longed to go, had never even
apart from her physical pain and weariness, she was alive to only one point her whole being drawn out to a sort of cone with an eye at the end of it, and far away at the back of her brain, struggling with impenetrable mists, but one thought: if she scorched anything, she would have to replace it.
"Better 'ave it all ready, a-case o' thought of not going; but by now, anything happening." That was what Mrs. Cohen said to herself, with a dull dread at the back of her mind. Her face had been oddly flushed of late, with a rather fixed and glassy look about the eyes. Jenny thought of this on her way to the concert alone; for by some ill fate, his nearer vision blurred in that golden maze of the future, Ben had fixed his concert for a Friday.
Friday! Always a bad day, bad in itself, bad for every one, like an east wind; worst of all for a laundress. Not so depressing as a Monday, but hurried, overcrowded, with all the ironing and folding, the packing of the lots, all small, into their separate newspaper parcels the accumulated fatigue of a whole week. Some demon seemed to possess her clients that week: they had come in with a collar here, a shirt there, an odd pillow-slip, table-cloth, right over Thursday. She was working until after twelve o'clock that night, and so was Jenny, up before dawn the next morning, though no one save herself knew of this.
When Jenny found that it was impossible to move her, she made her own way to up Clapton alone; for Ben had to be at the hall early, as there were certain matters to arrange, and he would try over the piano.
Her efforts with Mrs. Cohen had delayed her. She was driven desperate by that cruel malice of inanimate things: every bus and tram was against her, whisking out of sight just as she wanted it, or blocked by slow, crawling carts and lorries. There was a tight, hard pain in her heart, like toothache, round which her whole body gathered, impaled upon it; a sense of desperation.
Ben had promised to reserve seats for his mother and herself; but had he? Would she find the place blocked by swells with their hard stare, duchesses and such-like, glistening in diamonds? In her mind's eye she saw billows of silk, slabs of black cloth, and shining white shirt-fronts, hundreds and hundreds of them, and Ben bowing to them as she had taught him to bow.
For some time past he had been so far away, so detached that she was haunted by the fear that if she put out a finger to touch him, it might go through him, as though he were a ghost. At times she had caught him, held him to her in a passion of love and longing. But even then, with his head against her heart, his lips, or some pulse or nerve, had moved in a wordless tune, the beat of time.
If only he had still seemed to need her, nothing would have mattered. But he did n't: he needed no one. seemed so frail, she had made sure that he wanted looking after; but he did n't. A drunkard might have fallen down in the street, needed supporting, exhorting; a bully might come home with a broken head. But it seemed as though Ben were, in reality, for all his air of appeal, sufficient to himself: moving like a steady light through the darkness, unstirred by so much as a breath of wind.
Overcome by anxiety, she got out of the tram too soon. It had begun to rain, a dull, dark night; there was a blur of misty light flooding the pavement a little way ahead. That must be the hall. She was afraid of overshooting the mark. Those trams had such a way of getting going just as one wanted to be out of them!
But the light was nothing more than a cinema, and she had a good quarter
of a mile to walk in the wet. The cruel wet! Just like it to be wet on that night of all nights! Even her optimism was gone. She kept on thinking of Mrs. Cohen, her flushed face and oddly glazed eyes, the queer, stiff way in which she moved, held her head. For once she was angry with Ben.
"Im and his crowds! 'Im an' 'is fine lydies! 'Im an' 'is motor-cars!"
After all, she did overshoot her mark. Inquiring for the hall she was told that she had passed it, and was obliged to retrace her steps.
No wonder she had passed it, with all she had expected at the back of her mind! The strip of pavement outside was dark, with not so much as a single taxi in sight; the door was half-shut, the dreary vestibule badly lighted, empty, smelling of damp. The sodden-looking sketch of a man in the pay-box seemed half asleep. He stretched, yawned when she spoke, pushing a strip of pink paper toward her as she gave her name.
"For two." He poked out a long neck and peered round the edge of the box, like a tortoise from its shell.
"The other lydy was n't able ter come ter-night," answered Jenny with dignity, and the beast grinned, displaying a wreckage of broken teeth.
"Ain't what you might call a crowd, anyway," he remarked.
She could have killed him for that. She realized the white face of a clock, but she would not look at it. She was early; that was it. Look how she had hurried! No wonder that she was early. And great ladies were always late; she had learned that from the "Daily Mail" stories.
"Two an' two make four-them too late an' me too early," she said to herself, with a gallant effort after her own