The Old Wives' Tale HTML version

II.8. The Proudest Mother
In the year 1893 there was a new and strange man living at No. 4, St. Luke's
Square. Many people remarked on the phenomenon. Very few of his like had
ever been seen in Bursley before. One of the striking things about him was the
complex way in which he secured himself by means of glittering chains. A chain
stretched across his waistcoat, passing through a special button-hole, without a
button, in the middle. To this cable were firmly linked a watch at one end and a
pencil-case at the other; the chain also served as a protection against a thief who
might attempt to snatch the fancy waistcoat entire. Then there were longer
chains, beneath the waistcoat, partly designed, no doubt, to deflect bullets, but
serving mainly to enable the owner to haul up penknives, cigarette-cases, match-
boxes, and key-rings from the profundities of hip-pockets. An essential portion of
the man's braces, visible sometimes when he played at tennis, consisted of
chain, and the upper and nether halves of his cuff-links were connected by
chains. Occasionally he was to be seen chained to a dog.
A reversion, conceivably, to a mediaeval type! Yes, but also the exemplar of the
excessively modern! Externally he was a consequence of the fact that, years
previously, the leading tailor in Bursley had permitted his son to be apprenticed in
London. The father died; the son had the wit to return and make a fortune while
creating a new type in the town, a type of which multiple chains were but one
feature, and that the least expensive if the most salient. For instance, up to the
historic year in which the young tailor created the type, any cap was a cap in
Bursley, and any collar was a collar. But thenceforward no cap was a cap, and
no collar was a collar, which did not exactly conform in shape and material to
certain sacred caps and collars guarded by the young tailor in his back shop.
None knew why these sacred caps and collars were sacred, but they were; their
sacredness endured for about six months, and then suddenly--again none knew
why--they fell from their estate and became lower than offal for dogs, and were
supplanted on the altar. The type brought into existence by the young tailor was
to be recognized by its caps and collars, and in a similar manner by every other
article of attire, except its boots. Unfortunately the tailor did not sell boots, and so
imposed on his creatures no mystical creed as to boots. This was a pity, for the
boot-makers of the town happened not to be inflamed by the type-creating
passion as the tailor was, and thus the new type finished abruptly at the edges of
the tailor's trousers.
The man at No. 4, St. Luke's Square had comparatively small and narrow feet,
which gave him an advantage; and as he was endowed with a certain vague
general physical distinction he managed, despite the eternal untidiness of his
hair, to be eminent among the type. Assuredly the frequent sight of him in her
house flattered the pride of Constance's eye, which rested on him almost always
with pleasure. He had come into the house with startling abruptness soon after
Cyril left school and was indentured to the head-designer at "Peel's," that classic
earthenware manufactory. The presence of a man in her abode disconcerted