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The Heroism Of Thomas Chadwick
by [?]


“Have you heard about Tommy Chadwick?” one gossip asked another in Bursley.


“He’s a tram-conductor now.”

This information occasioned surprise, as it was meant to do, the expression on the faces of both gossips indicating a pleasant curiosity as to what Tommy Chadwick would be doing next.

Thomas Chadwick was a “character” in the Five Towns, and of a somewhat unusual sort. “Characters” in the Five Towns are generally either very grim or very jolly, either exceptionally shrewd or exceptionally simple; and they nearly always, in their outward aspect, depart from the conventional. Chadwick was not thus. Aged fifty or so, he was a portly and ceremonious man with an official gait. He had been a policeman in his youth, and he never afterwards ceased to look like a policeman in plain clothes. The authoritative mien of the policeman refused to quit his face. Yet, beneath that mien, few men (of his size) were less capable of exerting authority than Chadwick. He was, at bottom, a weak fellow. He knew it himself, and everybody knew it. He had left the police force because he considered that the strain was beyond his strength. He had the constitution of a she-ass, and the calm, terrific appetite of an elephant; but he maintained that night duty in January was too much for him. He was then twenty-seven, with a wife and two small girls. He abandoned the uniform with dignity. He did everything with dignity. He looked for a situation with dignity, saw his wife and children go hungry with dignity, and even went short himself with dignity. He continually got fatter, waxing on misfortune. And–another curious thing–he could always bring out, when advisable, a shining suit of dark blue broadcloth, a clean collar and a fancy necktie. He was not a consistent dandy, but he could be a dandy when he liked.

Of course, he had no trade. The manual skill of a policeman is useless outside the police force. One cannot sell it in other markets. People said that Chadwick was a fool to leave the police force. He was; but he was a sublime and dignified fool in his idle folly. What he wanted was a position of trust, a position where nothing would be required from him but a display of portliness, majesty and incorruptibility. Such positions are not easy to discover. Employers had no particular objection to portliness, majesty and incorruptibility, but as a rule they demanded something else into the bargain. Chadwick’s first situation after his defection from the police was that of night watchman in an earthenware manufactory down by the canal at Shawport. He accepted it regretfully, and he firmly declined to see the irony of fate in forcing such a post on a man who conscientiously objected to night duty. He did not maintain this post long, and his reasons for giving it up were kept a dark secret. Some said that Chadwick’s natural tendency to sleep at night had been taken amiss by his master.

Thenceforward he went through transformation after transformation, outvying the legendary chameleon. He was a tobacconist, a park-keeper, a rent collector, a commission agent, a clerk, another clerk, still another clerk, a sweetstuff seller, a fried fish merchant, a coal agent, a book agent, a pawnbroker’s assistant, a dog-breeder, a door-keeper, a board-school keeper, a chapel-keeper, a turnstile man at football matches, a coachman, a carter, a warehouseman, and a chucker-out at the Empire Music Hall at Hanbridge. But he was nothing long. The explanations of his changes were invariably vague, unseizable. And his dignity remained unimpaired, together with his broadcloth. He not only had dignity for himself, but enough left over to decorate the calling which he happened for the moment to be practising. He was dignified in the sale of rock-balls, and especially so in encounters with his creditors; and his grandeur when out of a place was a model to all unemployed.