proceeding, via by-streets, to fall in with a great procession of heavily
booted men all wearing overalls and all marching in the same direction ... the
air resounded with the ringing rhythmic beat of hobnailed boots ... an
entrancing tune, inspiring, eloquent of the great engineering works where this
army of men were employed ... Three huge chimneys challenged the lowering sky;
three banners of thick black smoke gushed forth from their parapets, swirling,
billowing, expanding as they drifted, with 'imperturbed pace' to merge
imperceptibly into the dirty sky. A docile row of six smaller chimneys thrust up
their steel muzzles like cannon trained on air raiders. Tongues of flame shot
up, fiery sprites, kicking their flaming skirts about for a second then diving
again as instantly as they had appeared. An orange glow reflected dully on the
wet slates of the foundry.
It was as though they belonged to a different species. Somehow she identified them as people who could afford pianos and who could play them; people who lived in houses where there were baths. Their conversation, too, was incomprehensible. When the talk turned on music they referred to something called the 'Halley' where something happened by the names of 'Baytoven' and 'Bark' and other strange names. They spoke politics, arguing hotly about somebody named Marks. Yes, they were of a class apart, to whom the mention of a pawnshop, she supposed, would be incomprehensible. Suppose they saw her home; her bedroom! She blushed, ashamed.
Remember the installation of that new automatic machinery previous to the wholesale dismissal of Billy Higgs's generation? At that time it had held no significance for him except that it had meant promotion; it was merely newer and more up-to-date machinery whose functions were marvellous, whose capacity was manifold and infinite. The screw-cutting lathe that needed only the assistance of a hand to switch on the current: that could work, ceaselessly, remorselessly, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week without pause for meals; a Thing that fed itself, functioned with mathematical precision, 'could do anything except talk', as someone had put it.
The novelty of such machinery was gone now; they were commonplace, established; their predecessors were antidilluvian. They made of inexperienced boys highly skilled men. And the latest boys knew of nothing else; were as to the manner born.
Every year new generations of schoolboys were appearing, each generation pushing him and his a little closer to that incredible abyss of manhood and the dole.