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The Long-Lost Uncle
by [?]

On a recent visit to the Five Towns I was sitting with my old schoolmaster, who, by the way, is much younger than I am after all, in the bow window of a house overlooking that great thoroughfare, Trafalgar Road, Bursley, when a pretty woman of twenty-eight or so passed down the street. Now the Five Towns contains more pretty women to the square mile than any other district in England (and this statement I am prepared to support by either sword or pistol). But do you suppose that the frequency of pretty women in Hanbridge, Bursley, Knype, Longshaw and Turnhill makes them any the less remarked? Not a bit of it. Human nature is such that even if a man should meet forty pretty women in a walk along Trafalgar Road from Bursley to Hanbridge, he will remark them all separately, and feel exactly forty thrills. Consequently my ever-youthful schoolmaster said to me:

“Good-looking woman that, eh, boy? Married three weeks ago,” he added.

A piece of information which took the keen edge off my interest in her.

“Really!” I said. “Who is she?”

“Married to a Scotsman named Macintyre, I fancy.”

“That tells me nothing,” I said. “Who was she?”

“Daughter of a man named Roden.”

“Not Herbert Roden?” I demanded.

“Yes. Art director at Jacksons, Limited.”

“Well, well!” I exclaimed. “So Herbert Roden’s got a daughter married. Well, well! And it seems like a week ago that he and his uncle–you know all about that affair, of course?”

“What affair?”

“Why, the Roden affair!”

“No,” said my schoolmaster.

“You don’t mean to say you’ve never–“

Nothing pleases a wandering native of the Five Towns more than to come back and find that he knows things concerning the Five Towns which another man who has lived there all his life doesn’t know. In ten seconds I was digging out for my schoolmaster one of those family histories which lie embedded in the general grey soil of the past like lumps of quartz veined and streaked with the precious metal of passion and glittering here and there with the crystallizations of scandal.

“You could make a story out of that,” he said, when I had done talking and he had done laughing.

“It is a story,” I replied. “It doesn’t want any making.”

And this is just what I told him. I have added on a few explanations and moral reflections–and changed the names.


Silas Roden, commonly called Si Roden–Herbert’s uncle–lived in one of those old houses at Paddock Place, at the bottom of the hill where Hanbridge begins. Their front steps are below the level of the street, and their backyards look out on the Granville Third Pit and the works of the Empire Porcelain Company. 11 was Si’s own house, a regular bachelor’s house, as neat as a pin, and Si was very proud of it and very particular about it. Herbert, being an orphan, lived with his uncle. He would be about twenty-five then, and Si fifty odd. Si had retired from the insurance agency business, and Herbert, after a spell in a lawyer’s office, had taken to art and was in the decorating department at Jackson’s. They had got on together pretty well, had Si and Herbert, in a grim, taciturn, Five Towns way. The historical scandal began when Herbert wanted to marry Alice Oulsnam, an orphan like himself, employed at a dress-maker’s in Crown Square, Hanbridge.

“Thou’lt marry her if thou’st a mind,” said Si to Herbert, “but I s’ll ne’er speak to thee again.”

“But why, uncle?”

“That’s why,” said Si.

Now if you have been born in the Five Towns and been blessed with the unique Five Towns mixture of sentimentality and solid sense, you don’t flare up and stamp out of the house when a well-to-do and childless uncle shatters your life’s dream. You dissemble. You piece the dream together again while your uncle is looking another way. You feel that you are capable of out-witting your uncle, and you take the earliest opportunity of “talking it over” with Alice. Alice is sagacity itself.