The meal came to an end, and Francis asked Frederic to accompany him to the study to discuss a theatrical entertainment that was in process of organisation in aid of the restoration of the organ. Mary and Minna cleared away and Gertrude helped her mother upstairs, carrying her spectacles, book and knitting-bag. Serge, Bennett, and Father Soledano were left in the dining-room. Serge and Bennett smoked and Father Soledano began to talk. Bennett was unused to drinking beer. Serge had plied him with it rather too generously in the frequent lapses in their conversation, and the fumes of it had gone to his head so that it felt very hot and large, while inside it his brain worked with unwonted swiftness and a hectic clarity. His cheeks were flushed and they burned, but on the whole he found his new sensations very pleasant, and there was a sort of splendour in being treated by these grown men, an artist and a priest, as one of themselves. To Bennett all artists were great artists—he was not his father’s son for nothing—and the priesthood [Pg 101]was the noblest and most exalted calling possible for man. He lived from Sunday to Sunday. On Monday morning he died and was buried in his office. On Saturday evening came a glorious resurrection, and he rose to exalted heights each Sunday morning when he took the sacrament. He was an emotional creature and had no other outlet.
He sat looking from Serge to Father Soledano and from Father Soledano to Serge as they talked, but took little account of what they said. They were exchanging impressions of the town and speaking of it in a curious critical way that Bennett found difficulty in following. He knew nothing of the machinery of the world. He was poor, and he had accepted it as axiomatic that poor people had to do work that was distasteful to them. He had no notion of what that work resulted in, or who profited by it. You went on working until you had enough to marry, and then you married and went on working until you died. His brothers were both bank-clerks, and he gathered that their work was even duller than his own, which consisted in addressing envelopes and taking messages down into the warehouse where there were rough men who were even poorer than himself. They packed and unpacked bales of cotton-goods which were placed on lorries and carried off to trains, which took them away to the sea and across the sea to Bombay and Calcutta and Shanghai and Yokohama. There were many other processes going on in the office and warehouses, but that seemed to be the general principle—cotton came from America, was bought on the Exchange, spun and woven in the mills near Oldham, brought to the warehouse and dispatched—fully insured—through the complicated machinery of the office. There were five partners in the firm and they were all very rich. One of the employees, the head-clerk, had six hundred a year, but he himself, Bennett, received every week only thirty shillings. Many young men of his age were earning only half that sum, and he was quite ready to admit, without thought or examination, that he was worth no more to his employers. He did not understand the machinery in which he played [Pg 102]a part, did not want to understand it, and did not find it sufficiently interesting. Being poor, he had to work, and the nature of the work was not his affair. It absorbed the greater part of his life, but it was outside his work that he was as really alive as he could be.