Part 2 out of 5
"I _thought_ you looked rather pale," he said awkwardly.
"Pale!" she repeated the word. "You should have seen me this morning: I
have fits of dizziness, you know, too. The doctor says it's nothing but
dyspepsia. However, don't let's talk about poor little me and my silly
complaints. Perhaps the tea will do me good."
He protested again, but his experience of intimate civilisation was too
brief to allow him to protest with effectiveness. The truth was, he
could not say these things naturally. He had to compose them, and then
pronounce them, and the result failed in the necessary air of
spontaneity. He could not help thinking what marvellous self-control
women had. Now, when he had a headache--which happily was seldom--he
could think of nothing else and talk of nothing else; the entire
universe consisted solely of his headache. And here she was overcome
with a headache, and during more than half-an-hour had not even
She began talking gossip about the Fearnses and the Swetnams, and she
mentioned rumours concerning Henry Mynors (who had scruples against
dancing) and Anna Tellwright, the daughter of that rich old skinflint
Ephraim Tellwright. No mistake; she was on the inside of things in
Bursley society! It was just as if she had removed the front walls of
every house and examined every room at her leisure, with minute
particularity. But of course a teacher of dancing had opportunities....
Denry had to pretend to be nearly as omniscient as she was.
Then she broke off, without warning, and lay back in her chair.
"I wonder if you'd mind going into the barn for me?" she murmured.
She generally referred to her academy as the barn. It had once been a
He jumped up. "Certainly," he said, very eager.
"I think you'll see a small bottle of eau-de-Cologne on the top of the
piano," she said, and shut her eyes.
He hastened away, full of his mission, and feeling himself to be a
terrific cavalier and guardian of weak women. He felt keenly that he
must be equal to the situation. Yes, the small bottle of eau-de-Cologne
was on the top of the piano. He seized it and bore it to her on the
wings of chivalry. He had not been aware that eau-de-Cologne was a
remedy for, or a palliative of, headaches.
She opened her eyes, and with a great effort tried to be bright and
better. But it was a failure. She took the stopper out of the bottle and
sniffed first at the stopper and then at the bottle; then she spilled a
few drops of the liquid on her handkerchief and applied the handkerchief
to her temples.
"It's easier," she said.
"Sure?" he asked. He did not know what to do with himself--whether to
sit down and feign that she was well, or to remain standing in an
attitude of respectful and grave anxiety. He thought he ought to depart;
yet would it not be ungallant to desert her under the circumstances? She
was alone. She had no servant, only an occasional charwoman.
She nodded with brave, false gaiety. And then she had a relapse.
"Don't you think you'd better lie down?" he suggested in more masterful
accents. And added; "And I'll go....? You ought to lie down. It's the
only thing." He was now speaking to her like a wise uncle.
"Oh no!" she said, without conviction. "Besides, you can't go till I've
It was on the tip of his tongue to say, "Oh! don't bother about that
now!" But he restrained himself. There was a notable core of
common-sense in Denry. He had been puzzling how he might neatly mention
the rent while departing in a hurry so that she might lie down. And now
she had solved the difficulty for him.
She stretched out her arm, and picked up a bunch of keys from a basket
on a little table.
"You might just unlock that desk for me, will you?" she said. And,
further, as she went through the keys one by one to select the right
key: "Each quarter I've put your precious Mr Herbert Calvert's rent in a
drawer in that desk. ... Here's the key." She held up the whole ring by
the chosen key, and he accepted it. And she lay back once more in her
chair, exhausted by her exertions.
"You must turn the key sharply in the lock," she said weakly, as he
fumbled at the locked part of the desk.
So he turned the key sharply.
"You'll see a bag in the little drawer on the right," she murmured.
The key turned round and round. It had begun by resisting, but now it
yielded too easily.
"It doesn't seem to open," he said, feeling clumsy.
The key clicked and slid, and the other keys rattled together.
"Oh yes," she replied. "I opened it quite easily this morning. It
_is_ a bit catchy."
The key kept going round and round.
"Here! I'll do it," she said wearily.
"Oh no!" he urged.
But she rose courageously, and tottered to the desk, and took the bunch
"I'm afraid you've broken something in the lock," she announced, with
gentle resignation, after she had tried to open the desk and failed.
"Have I?" he mumbled. He knew that he was not shining.
"Would you mind calling in at Allman's," she said, resuming her chair,
"and tell them to send a man down at once to pick the lock? There's
nothing else for it. Or perhaps you'd better say first thing to-morrow
morning. And then as soon as he's done it I'll call and pay you the
money myself. And you might tell your precious Mr Herbert Calvert that
next quarter I shall give notice to leave."
"Don't you trouble to call, please," said he. "I can easily pop in
She sped him away in an enigmatic tone. He could not be sure whether he
had succeeded or failed, in her estimation, as a man of the world and a
partaker of delicate teas.
"Don't _forget_ Allman's!" she enjoined him as he left the room. He
was to let himself out.
He was coming home late that night from the Sports Club, from a
delectable evening which had lasted till one o'clock in the morning,
when just as he put the large door-key into his mother's cottage he grew
aware of peculiar phenomena at the top end of Brougham Street, where it
runs into St Luke's Square. And then in the gas-lit gloom of the warm
summer night he perceived a vast and vague rectangular form in the slow
movement towards the slope of Brougham Street.
It was a pantechnicon van.
But the extraordinary thing was, not that it should be a pantechnicon
van, but that if should be moving of its own accord and power. For there
were no horses in front of it, and Denry saw that the double shafts had
been pushed up perpendicularly, after the manner of carmen when they
outspan. The pantechnicon was running away. It had perceived the wrath
to come and was fleeing. Its guardians had evidently left it imperfectly
scotched or braked, and it had got loose.
It proceeded down the first bit of Brougham Street with a dignity worthy
of its dimensions, and at the same time with apparently a certain sense
of the humour of the situation. Then it seemed to be saying to itself:
"Pantechnicons will be pantechnicons." Then it took on the absurd
gravity of a man who is perfectly sure that he is not drunk.
Nevertheless it kept fairly well to the middle of the road, but as
though the road were a tight-rope.
The rumble of it increased as it approached Denry. He withdrew the key
from his mother's cottage and put it in his pocket. He was always at his
finest in a crisis. And the onrush of the pantechnicon constituted a
clear crisis. Lower down the gradient of Brougham Street was more
dangerous, and it was within the possibilities that people inhabiting
the depths of the street might find themselves pitched out of bed by the
sharp corner of a pantechnicon that was determined to be a pantechnicon.
A pantechnicon whose ardour is fairly aroused may be capable of
surpassing deeds. Whole thoroughfares might crumble before it.
As the pantechnicon passed Denry, at the rate of about three and a half
miles an hour, he leaped, or rather he scrambled, on to it, losing
nothing in the process except his straw hat, which remained a witness at
his mother's door that her boy had been that way and departed under
unusual circumstances. Denry had the bright idea of dropping the shafts
down to act as a brake. But, unaccustomed to the manipulation of shafts,
he was rather slow in accomplishing the deed, and ere the first pair of
shafts had fallen the pantechnicon was doing quite eight miles an hour
and the steepest declivity was yet to come. Further, the dropping of the
left-hand shafts jerked the van to the left, and Denry dropped the other
pair only just in time to avoid the sudden uprooting of a lamp-post. The
four points of the shafts digging and prodding into the surface of the
road gave the pantechnicon something to think about for a few seconds.
But unfortunately the precipitousness of the street encouraged its
head-strong caprices, and a few seconds later all four shafts were
broken, and the pantechnicon seemed to scent the open prairie. (What it
really did scent was the canal.) Then Denry discovered the brake, and
furiously struggled with the iron handle. He turned it and turned it,
some forty revolutions. It seemed to have no effect. The miracle was
that the pantechnicon maintained its course in the middle of the street.
Presently Denry could vaguely distinguish the wall and double wooden
gates of the canal wharf. He could not jump off; the pantechnicon was
now an express, and I doubt whether he would have jumped off, even if
jumping off had not been madness. His was the kind of perseverance that,
for the fun of it, will perish in an attempt. The final fifty or sixty
yards of Brougham Street were level, and the pantechnicon slightly
abated its haste. Denry could now plainly see, in the radiance of a
gas-lamp, the gates of the wharf, and on them the painted letters:--
SHROPSHIRE UNION CANAL COY., LTD..
_No Admittance except on Business_
He was heading straight for those gates, and the pantechnicon evidently
had business within. It jolted over the iron guard of the
weighing-machine, and this jolt deflected it, so that instead of aiming
at the gates it aimed for part of a gate and part of a brick pillar.
Denry ground his teeth together and clung to his seat. The gate might
have been paper, and the brick pillar a cardboard pillar. The
pantechnicon went through them as a sword will go through a ghost, and
Denry was still alive. The remainder of the journey was brief and
violent, owing partly to a number of bags of cement, and partly to the
propinquity of the canal basin. The pantechnicon jumped into the canal
like a mastodon, and drank.
Denry, clinging to the woodwork, was submerged for a moment, but, by
standing on the narrow platform from which sprouted the splintered ends
of the shafts, he could get his waist clear of the water. He was not a
All was still and dark, save for the faint stream of starlight on the
broad bosom of the canal basin. The pantechnicon had encountered nobody
whatever _en route_. Of its strange escapade Denry had been the
"Well, I'm dashed!" he murmured aloud.
And a voice replied from the belly of the pantechnicon:
"Who is there?"
All Denry's body shook.
"It's me!" said he.
"Not Mr Machin?" said the voice.
"Yes," said he. "I jumped on as it came down the street--and here we
"Oh!" cried the voice. "I do wish you could get round to me."
Ruth Earp's voice.
He saw the truth in a moment of piercing insight. Ruth had been playing
with him! She had performed a comedy for him in two acts. She had meant
to do what is called in the Five Towns "a moonlight flit." The
pantechnicon (doubtless from Birmingham, where her father was) had been
brought to her door late in the evening, and was to have been filled and
taken away during the night. The horses had been stabled, probably in
Ruth's own yard, and while the carmen were reposing the pantechnicon had
got off, Ruth in it. She had no money locked in her unlockable desk. Her
reason for not having paid the precious Mr Herbert Calvert was not the
reason which she had advanced.
His first staggered thought was:
"She's got a nerve! No mistake!"
Her duplicity, her wickedness, did not shock him. He admired her
tremendous and audacious enterprise; it appealed strongly to every cell
in his brain. He felt that she and he were kindred spirits.
He tried to clamber round the side of the van so as to get to the doors
at the back, but a pantechnicon has a wheel-base which forbids leaping
from wheel to wheel, especially, when the wheels are under water. Hence
he was obliged to climb on to the roof, and so slide down on to the top
of one of the doors, which was swinging loose. The feat was not simple.
At last he felt the floor of the van under half a yard of water.
"Where are you?"
"I'm here," said Ruth, very plaintively. "I'm on a table. It was the
only thing they had put into the van before they went off to have their
supper or something. Furniture removers are always like that. Haven't
you got a match?"
"I've got scores of matches," said Denry. "But what good do you suppose
they'll be now, all soaked through?"
A short silence. He noticed that she had offered no explanation of her
conduct towards himself. She seemed to take it for granted that he would
"I'm frightfully bumped, and I believe my nose is bleeding," said Ruth,
still more plaintively. "It's a good thing there was a lot of straw and
Then, after much groping, his hand touched her wet dress.
"You know you're a very naughty girl," he said.
He heard a sob, a wild sob. The proud, independent creature had broken
down under the stress of events. He climbed out of the water on to the
part of the table which she was not occupying. And the van was as black
Gradually, out of the welter of sobs, came faint articulations, and
little by little he learnt the entire story of her difficulties, her
misfortunes, her struggles, and her defeats. He listened to a frank
confession of guilt. But what could she do? She had meant well. But what
could she do? She had been driven into a corner. And she had her father
to think of! Honestly, on the previous day, she had intended to pay the
rent, or part of it. But there had been a disappointment! And she had
been so unwell. In short...
The van gave a lurch. She clutched at him and he at her. The van was
settling down for a comfortable night in the mud.
(Queer that it had not occurred to him before, but at the first visit
she had postponed paying him on the plea that the bank was closed, while
at the second visit she had stated that the actual cash had been slowly
accumulating in her desk! And the discrepancy had not struck him. Such
is the influence of a teagown. However, he forgave her, in consideration
of her immense audacity.)
"What can we do?" she almost whispered.
Her confidence in him affected him.
"Wait till it gets light," said he.
So they waited, amid the waste of waters. In a hot July it is not
unpleasant to dangle one's feet in water during the sultry dark hours.
She told him more and more.
When the inspiring grey preliminaries of the dawn began, Denry saw that
at the back of the pantechnicon the waste of waters extended for at most
a yard, and that it was easy, by climbing on to the roof, to jump
therefrom to the wharf. He did so, and then fixed a plank so that Ruth
could get ashore. Relieved of their weight the table floated out after
them. Denry seized it, and set about smashing it to pieces with his
"What _are_ you doing?" she asked faintly. She was too enfeebled to
protest more vigorously.
"Leave it to me," said Denry. "This table is the only thing that can
give your show away. We can't carry it back. We might meet some one."
He tied the fragments of the table together with rope that was afloat in
the van, and attached the heavy iron bar whose function was to keep the
doors closed. Then he sank the faggot of wood and iron in a distant
corner of the basin.
"There!" he said. "Now you understand. Nothing's happened except that a
furniture van's run off and fallen into the canal owing to the men's
carelessness. We can settle the rest later--I mean about the rent and so
They looked at each other.
Her skirts were nearly dry. Her nose showed no trace of bleeding, but
there was a bluish lump over her left eye. Save that he was hatless, and
that his trousers clung, he was not utterly unpresentable.
They were alone in the silent dawn.
"You'd better go home by Acre Lane, not up Brougham Street," he said.
"I'll come in during the morning."
It was a parting in which more was felt than said.
They went one after the other through the devastated gateway, baptising
the path as they walked. The Town Hall clock struck three as Denry crept
up his mother's stairs. He had seen not a soul.
The exact truth in its details was never known to more than two
inhabitants of Bursley. The one thing clear certainly appeared to be
that Denry, in endeavouring to prevent a runaway pantechnicon from
destroying the town, had travelled with it into the canal. The romantic
trip was accepted as perfectly characteristic of Denry. Around this
island of fact washed a fabulous sea of uninformed gossip, in which
assertion conflicted with assertion, and the names of Denry and Ruth
were continually bumping against each other.
Mr Herbert Calvert glanced queerly and perhaps sardonically at Denry
when Denry called and handed over ten pounds (less commission) which he
said Miss Earp had paid on account.
"Look here," said the little Calvert, his mean little eyes gleaming.
"You must get in the balance at once."
"That's all right," said Denry. "I shall."
"Was she trying to hook it on the q.t.?" Calvert demanded.
"Oh, no!" said Denry. "That was a very funny misunderstanding. The only
explanation I can think of is that that van must have come to the wrong
"Are you engaged to her?" Calvert asked, with amazing effrontery.
Denry paused. "Yes," he said. "Are you?"
Mr Calvert wondered what he meant.
He admitted to himself that the courtship had begun in a manner
WRECKING OF A LIFE
In the Five Towns, and perhaps elsewhere, there exists a custom in
virtue of which a couple who have become engaged in the early summer
find themselves by a most curious coincidence at the same seaside
resort, and often in the same street thereof, during August. Thus it
happened to Denry and to Ruth Earp. There had been difficulties--there
always are. A business man who lives by collecting weekly rents
obviously cannot go away for an indefinite period. And a young woman who
lives alone in the world is bound to respect public opinion. However,
Ruth arranged that her girlish friend, Nellie Cotterill, who had
generous parents, should accompany her. And the North Staffordshire
Railway's philanthropic scheme of issuing four-shilling tourist return
tickets to the seaside enabled Denry to persuade himself that he was not
absolutely mad in contemplating a fortnight on the shores of England.
Ruth chose Llandudno, Llandudno being more stylish than either Rhyl or
Blackpool, and not dearer. Ruth and Nellie had a double room in a
boarding-house, No. 26 St Asaph's Road (off the Marine Parade), and
Denry had a small single room in another boarding-house, No. 28 St
Asaph's Road. The ideal could scarcely have been approached more nearly.
Denry had never seen the sea before. As, in his gayest clothes, he
strolled along the esplanade or on the pier between those two girls in
their gayest clothes, and mingled with the immense crowd of
pleasure-seekers and money-spenders, he was undoubtedly much impressed
by the beauty and grandeur of the sea. But what impressed him far more
than the beauty and grandeur of the sea was the field for profitable
commercial enterprise which a place like Llandudno presented. He had not
only his first vision of the sea, but his first genuine vision of the
possibilities of amassing wealth by honest ingenuity. On the morning
after his arrival he went out for a walk and lost himself near the Great
Orme, and had to return hurriedly along the whole length of the Parade
about nine o'clock. And through every ground-floor window of every house
he saw a long table full of people eating and drinking the same kinds of
food. In Llandudno fifty thousand souls desired always to perform the
same act at the same time; they wanted to be distracted and they would
do anything for the sake of distraction, and would pay for the
privilege. And they would all pay at once.
This great thought was more majestic to him than the sea, or the Great
Orme, or the Little Orme.
It stuck in his head because he had suddenly grown into a very serious
person. He had now something to live for, something on which to lavish
his energy. He was happy in being affianced, and more proud than happy,
and more startled than proud. The manner and method of his courtship had
sharply differed from his previous conception of what such an affair
would be. He had not passed through the sensations which he would have
expected to pass through. And then this question was continually
presenting itself: _What could she see in him?_ She must have got a
notion that he was far more wonderful than he really was. Could it be
true that she, his superior in experience and in splendour of person,
had kissed him? _Him!_ He felt that it would be his duty to live up
to this exaggerated notion which she had of him. But how?
They had not yet discussed finance at all, though Denry would have liked
to discuss it. Evidently she regarded him as a man of means. This became
clear during the progress of the journey to Llandudno. Denry was
flattered, but the next day he had slight misgivings, and on the
following day he was alarmed; and on the day after that his state
resembled terror. It is truer to say that she regarded him less as a man
of means than as a magic and inexhaustible siphon of money.
He simply could not stir out of the house without spending money, and
often in ways quite unforeseen. Pier, minstrels, Punch and Judy,
bathing, buns, ices, canes, fruit, chairs, row-boats, concerts, toffee,
photographs, char-a-bancs: any of these expenditures was likely to
happen whenever they went forth for a simple stroll. One might think
that strolls were gratis, that the air was free! Error! If he had had
the courage he would have left his purse in the house as Ruth invariably
did. But men are moral cowards.
He had calculated thus:--Return fare, four shillings a week. Agreed
terms at boarding-house, twenty-five shillings a week. Total expenses
per week, twenty-nine shillings,--say thirty!
On the first day he spent fourteen shillings on nothing whatever--which
was at the rate of five pounds a week of supplementary estimates! On the
second day he spent nineteen shillings on nothing whatever, and Ruth
insisted on his having tea with herself and Nellie at their
boarding-house; for which of course he had to pay, while his own tea was
wasting next door. So the figures ran on, jumping up each day.
Mercifully, when Sunday dawned the open wound in his pocket was
temporarily stanched. Ruth wished him to come in for tea again. He
refused--at any rate he did not come--and the exquisite placidity of the
stream of their love was slightly disturbed.
Nobody could have guessed that she was in monetary difficulties on her
own account. Denry, as a chivalrous lover, had assisted her out of the
fearful quagmire of her rent; but she owed much beyond rent. Yet, when
some of her quarterly fees had come in, her thoughts had instantly run
to Llandudno, joy, and frocks. She did not know what money was, and she
never would. This was, perhaps, part of her superior splendour. The
gentle, timid, silent Nellie occasionally let Denry see that she, too,
was scandalised by her bosom friend's recklessness. Often Nellie would
modestly beg for permission to pay her share of the cost of an
amusement. And it seemed just to Denry that she should pay her share,
and he violently wished to accept her money, but he could not. He would
even get quite curt with her when she insisted. From this it will be
seen how absurdly and irrationally different he was from the rest of us.
Nellie was continually with them, except just before they separated for
the night. So that Denry paid consistently for three. But he liked
Nellie Cotterill. She blushed so easily, and she so obviously worshipped
Ruth and admired himself, and there was a marked vein of common-sense in
her ingenuous composition.
On the Monday morning he was up early and off to Bursley to collect
rents and manage estates. He had spent nearly five pounds beyond his
expectation. Indeed, if by chance he had not gone to Llandudno with a
portion of the previous week's rents in his pockets, he would have been
in what the Five Towns call a fix.
While in Bursley he thought a good deal. Bursley in August encourages
nothing but thought. His mother was working as usual. His recitals to
her of the existence led by betrothed lovers at Llandudno were vague.
On the Tuesday evening he returned to Llandudno, and, despite the
general trend of his thoughts, it once more occurred that his pockets
were loaded with a portion of the week's rents. He did not know
precisely what was going to happen, but he knew that something was going
to happen; for the sufficient reason that his career could not continue
unless something did happen. Without either a quarrel, an understanding,
or a miracle, three months of affianced bliss with Ruth Earp would
exhaust his resources and ruin his reputation as one who was ever equal
to a crisis.
What immediately happened was a storm at sea. He heard it mentioned at
Rhyl, and he saw, in the deep night, the foam of breakers at Prestatyn.
And when the train reached Llandudno, those two girls in ulsters and
caps greeted him with wondrous tales of the storm at sea, and of wrecks,
and of lifeboats. And they were so jolly, and so welcoming, so plainly
glad to see their cavalier again, that Denry instantly discovered
himself to be in the highest spirits. He put away the dark and brooding
thoughts which had disfigured his journey, and became the gay Denry of
his own dreams. The very wind intoxicated him. There was no rain.
It was half-past nine, and half Llandudno was afoot on the Parade and
discussing the storm--a storm unparalleled, it seemed, in the month of
August. At any rate, people who had visited Llandudno yearly for
twenty-five years declared that never had they witnessed such a storm.
The new lifeboat had gone forth, amid cheers, about six o'clock to a
schooner in distress near Rhos, and at eight o'clock a second lifeboat
(an old one which the new one had replaced and which had been bought for
a floating warehouse by an aged fisherman) had departed to the rescue of
a Norwegian barque, the _Hjalmar_, round the bend of the Little
"Let's go on the pier," said Denry. "It will be splendid."
He was not an hour in the town, and yet was already hanging expense!
"They've closed the pier," the girls told him.
But when in the course of their meanderings among the excited crowd
under the gas-lamps they arrived at the pier-gates, Denry perceived
figures on the pier.
"They're sailors and things, and the Mayor," the girls explained.
"Pooh!" said Denry, fired.
He approached the turnstile and handed a card to the official. It was
the card of an advertisement agent of the _Staffordshire Signal_,
who had called at Brougham Street in Denry's absence about the renewal
of Denry's advertisement.
"Press," said Denry to the guardian at the turnstile, and went through
with the ease of a bird on the wing.
"Come along," he cried to the girls.
The guardian seemed to hesitate.
"These ladies are with me," he said.
The guardian yielded.
It was a triumph for Denry. He could read his triumph in the eyes of his
companions. When she looked at him like that, Ruth was assuredly
marvellous among women, and any ideas derogatory to her marvellousness
which he might have had at Bursley and in the train were false ideas.
At the head of the pier beyond the pavilion, there were gathered
together some fifty people, and the tale ran that the second lifeboat
had successfully accomplished its mission and was approaching the pier.
"I shall write an account of this for the _Signal_," said Denry,
whose thoughts were excusably on the Press.
"Oh, do!" exclaimed Nellie.
"They have the _Signal_ at all the newspaper shops here," said
Then they seemed to be merged in the storm. The pier shook and trembled
under the shock of the waves, and occasionally, though the tide was very
low, a sprinkle of water flew up and caught their faces. The eyes could
see nothing save the passing glitter of the foam on the crest of a
breaker. It was the most thrilling situation that any of them had ever
And at last came word from the mouths of men who could apparently see as
well in the dark as in daylight, that the second lifeboat was close to
the pier. And then everybody momentarily saw it--a ghostly thing that
heaved up pale out of the murk for an instant, and was lost again. And
the little crowd cheered.
The next moment a Bengal light illuminated the pier, and the lifeboat
was silhouetted with strange effectiveness against the storm. And some
one flung a rope, and then another rope arrived out of the sea, and fell
on Denry's shoulder.
"Haul on there!" yelled a hoarse voice. The Bengal light expired.
Denry hauled with a will. The occasion was unique. And those few seconds
were worth to him the whole of Denry's precious life--yes, not excluding
the seconds in which he had kissed Ruth and the minutes in which he had
danced with the Countess of Chell. Then two men with beards took the
rope from his hands. The air was now alive with shoutings. Finally there
was a rush of men down the iron stairway to the lower part of the pier,
ten feet nearer the water.
"You stay here, you two!" Denry ordered.
"Stay here, I tell you!" All the male in him was aroused. He was off,
after the rush of men. "Half a jiffy," he said, coming back. "Just take
charge of this, will you?" And he poured into their hands about twelve
shillings' worth of copper, small change of rents, from his hip-pocket.
"If anything happened, that might sink me," he said, and vanished.
It was very characteristic of him, that effusion of calm sagacity in a
Beyond getting his feet wet Denry accomplished but little in the dark
basement of the pier. In spite of his success in hauling in the thrown
rope, he seemed to be classed at once down there by the experts
assembled as an eager and useless person who had no right to the space
which he occupied. However, he witnessed the heaving arrival of the
lifeboat and the disembarking of the rescued crew of the Norwegian
barque, and he was more than ever decided to compose a descriptive
article for the _Staffordshire Signal._ The rescued and the
rescuing crews disappeared in single file to the upper floor of the
pier, with the exception of the coxswain, a man with a spreading red
beard, who stayed behind to inspect the lifeboat, of which indeed he was
the absolute owner. As a journalist Denry did the correct thing and
engaged him in conversation. Meanwhile, cheering could be heard above.
The coxswain, who stated that his name was Cregeen, and that he was a
Manxman, seemed to regret the entire expedition. He seemed to be unaware
that it was his duty now to play the part of the modest hero to Denry's
interviewing. At every loose end of the chat he would say gloomily:
"And look at her now, I'm telling ye!" Meaning the battered craft, which
rose and fell on the black waves.
Denry ran upstairs again, in search of more amenable material. Some
twenty men in various sou'-westers and other headgear were eating thick
slices of bread and butter and drinking hot coffee, which with foresight
had been prepared for them in the pier buffet. A few had preferred
whisky. The whole crowd was now under the lee of the pavilion, and it
constituted a spectacle which Denry said to himself he should refer to
in his article as "Rembrandtesque." For a few moments he could not
descry Ruth and Nellie in the gloom. Then he saw the indubitable form of
his betrothed at a penny-in-the-slot machine, and the indubitable form
of Nellie at another penny-in-the-slot machine. And then he could hear
the click-click-click of the machines, working rapidly. And his thoughts
took a new direction.
Presently Ruth ran with blithe gracefulness from her machine and
commenced a generous distribution of packets to the members of the
crews. There was neither calculation nor exact justice in her
generosity. She dropped packets on to heroic knees with a splendid
gesture of largesse. Some packets even fell on the floor. But she did
Denry could hear her saying:
"You must eat it. Chocolate is so sustaining. There's nothing like it."
She ran back to the machines, and snatched more packets from Nellie, who
under her orders had been industrious; and then began a second
A calm and disinterested observer would probably have been touched by
this spectacle of impulsive womanly charity. He might even have decided
that it was one of the most beautifully human things that he had ever
seen. And the fact that the hardy heroes and Norsemen appeared scarcely
to know what to do with the silver-wrapped bonbons would not have
impaired his admiration for these two girlish figures of benevolence.
Denry, too, was touched by the spectacle, but in another way. It was the
rents of his clients that were being thus dissipated in a very luxury of
needless benevolence. He muttered:
"Well, that's a bit thick, that is!" But of course he could do nothing.
As the process continued, the clicking of the machine exacerbated his
"Idiotic!" he muttered.
The final annoyance to him was that everybody except himself seemed to
consider that Ruth was displaying singular ingenuity, originality,
enterprise, and goodness of heart.
In that moment he saw clearly for the first time that the marriage
between himself and Ruth had not been arranged in Heaven. He admitted
privately then that the saving of a young woman from violent death in a
pantechnicon need not inevitably involve espousing her. She was without
doubt a marvellous creature, but it was as wise to dream of keeping a
carriage and pair as to dream of keeping Ruth. He grew suddenly cynical.
His age leaped to fifty or so, and the curve of his lips changed.
Ruth, spying around, saw him and ran to him with a glad cry.
"Here!" she said, "take these. They're no good." She held out her hands.
"What are they?" he asked.
"They're the halfpennies."
"So sorry!" he said, with an accent whose significance escaped her, and
took the useless coins.
"We've exhausted all the chocolate," said she. "But there's butterscotch
left--it's nearly as good--and gold-tipped cigarettes. I daresay some of
them would enjoy a smoke. Have you got any more pennies?"
"No!" he replied. "But I've got ten or a dozen half-crowns. They'll work
the machine just as well, won't they?"
This time she did notice a certain unusualness in the flavour of his
accent. And she hesitated.
"Don't be silly!" she said.
"I'll try not to be," said Denry. So far as he could remember, he had
never used such a tone before. Ruth swerved away to rejoin Nellie.
Denry surreptitiously counted the halfpennies. There were eighteen. She
had fed those machines, then, with over a hundred and thirty pence.
He murmured, "Thick, thick!"
Considering that he had returned to Llandudno in the full intention of
putting his foot down, of clearly conveying to Ruth that his conception
of finance differed from hers, the second sojourn had commenced badly.
Still, he had promised to marry her, and he must marry her. Better a
lifetime of misery and insolvency than a failure to behave as a
gentleman should. Of course, if she chose to break it off.... But he
must be minutely careful to do nothing which might lead to a breach.
Such was Denry's code. The walk home at midnight, amid the
reverberations of the falling tempest, was marked by a slight
pettishness on the part of Ruth, and by Denry's polite taciturnity.
Yet the next morning, as the three companions sat together under the
striped awning of the buffet on the pier, nobody could have divined, by
looking at them, that one of them at any rate was the most uncomfortable
young man in all Llandudno. The sun was hotly shining on their bright
attire and on the still turbulent waves. Ruth, thirsty after a breakfast
of herrings and bacon, was sucking iced lemonade up a straw. Nellie was
eating chocolate, undistributed remains of the night's benevolence. Demo
was yawning, not in the least because the proceedings failed to excite
his keen interest, but because he had been a journalist till three a.m.
and had risen at six in order to despatch a communication to the editor
of the _Staffordshire Signal_ by train. The girls were very
playful. Nellie dropped a piece of chocolate into Ruth's glass, and Ruth
fished it out, and bit at it.
"What a jolly taste!" she exclaimed.
And then Nellie bit at it.
"Oh, it's just lovely!" said Nellie, softly.
"Here, dear!" said Ruth, "try it."
And Denry had to try it, and to pronounce it a delicious novelty (which
indeed it was) and generally to brighten himself up. And all the time he
was murmuring in his heart, "This can't go on."
Nevertheless, he was obliged to admit that it was he who had invited
Ruth to pass the rest of her earthly life with him, and not _vice
"Well, shall we go on somewhere else?" Ruth suggested.
And he paid yet again. He paid and smiled, he who had meant to be the
masterful male, he who deemed himself always equal to a crisis. But in
this crisis he was helpless.
They set off down the pier, brilliant in the brilliant crowd. Everybody
was talking of wrecks and lifeboats. The new lifeboat had done nothing,
having been forestalled by the Prestatyn boat; but Llandudno was
apparently very proud of its brave old worn-out lifeboat which had
brought ashore the entire crew of the _Hjalmar,_ without casualty,
in a terrific hurricane.
"Run along, child," said Ruth to Nellie, "while uncle and auntie talk to
each other for a minute."
Nellie stared, blushed, and walked forward in confusion. She was
startled. And Denry was equally startled. Never before had Ruth so
brazenly hinted that lovers must be left alone at intervals. In justice
to her, it must be said that she was a mirror for all the proprieties.
Denry had even reproached her, in his heart, for not sufficiently
showing her desire for his exclusive society. He wondered, now, what was
to be the next revelation of her surprising character.
"I had our bill this morning," said Ruth.
She leaned gracefully on the handle of her sunshade, and they both
stared at the sea. She was very elegant, with an aristocratic air. The
bill, as she mentioned it, seemed a very negligible trifle.
Nevertheless, Denry's heart quaked.
"Oh!" he said. "Did you pay it?"
"Yes," said she. "The landlady wanted the money, she told me. So Nellie
gave me her share, and I paid it at once."
"Oh!" said Denry.
There was a silence. Denry felt as though he were defending a castle, or
as though he were in a dark room and somebody was calling him, calling
him, and he was pretending not to be there and holding his breath.
"But I've hardly enough money left," said Ruth. "The fact is, Nellie and
I spent such a lot yesterday and the day before.... You've no idea how
"Haven't I?" said Denry. But not to her--only to his own heart.
To her he said nothing.
"I suppose we shall have to go back home," she ventured lightly. "One
can't run into debt here. They'd claim your luggage."
"What a pity!" said Denry, sadly.
Just those few words--and the interesting part of the interview was
over! All that followed counted not in the least. She had meant to
induce him to offer to defray the whole of her expenses in Llandudno--no
doubt in the form of a loan; and she had failed. She had intended him to
repair the disaster caused by her chronic extravagance. And he had only
said: "What a pity!"
"Yes, it is!" she agreed bravely, and with a finer disdain than ever of
petty financial troubles. "Still, it can't be helped."
"No, I suppose not," said Denry.
There was undoubtedly something fine about Ruth. In that moment she had
it in her to kill Denry with a bodkin. But she merely smiled. The
situation was terribly strained, past all Denry's previous conceptions
of a strained situation; but she deviated with superlative
_sang-froid_ into frothy small talk. A proud and an unconquerable
woman! After all, what were men for, if not to pay?
"I think I shall go home to-night," she said, after the excursion into
"I'm sorry," said Denry.
He was not coming out of his castle.
At that moment a hand touched his shoulder. It was the hand of Cregeen,
the owner of the old lifeboat.
"Mister," said Cregeen, too absorbed in his own welfare to notice Ruth.
"It's now or never! Five-and-twenty'll buy the _Fleetwing_, if
ten's paid down this mornun."
And Denry replied boldly:
"You shall have it in an hour. Where shall you be?"
"I'll be in John's cabin, under the pier," said Cregeen, "where ye found
me this mornun."
"Right," said Denry.
If Ruth had not been caracoling on her absurdly high horse, she would
have had the truth out of Denry in a moment concerning these early
morning interviews and mysterious transactions in shipping. But from
that height she could not deign to be curious. And so she said naught.
Denry had passed the whole morning since breakfast and had uttered no
word of pre-prandial encounters with mariners, though he had talked a
lot about his article for the _Signal_ and of how he had risen
betimes in order to despatch it by the first train.
And as Ruth showed no curiosity Denry behaved on the assumption that she
felt none. And the situation grew even more strained.
As they walked down the pier towards the beach, at the dinner-hour, Ruth
bowed to a dandiacal man who obsequiously saluted her.
"Who's that?" asked Denry, instinctively.
"It's a gentleman that I was once engaged to," answered Ruth, with cold,
Denry did not like this.
The situation almost creaked under the complicated stresses to which it
was subject. The wonder was that it did not fly to pieces long before
The pride of the principal actors being now engaged, each person was
compelled to carry out the intentions which he had expressed either in
words or tacitly. Denry's silence had announced more efficiently than
any words that he would under no inducement emerge from his castle. Ruth
had stated plainly that there was nothing for it but to go home at once,
that very night. Hence she arranged to go home, and hence Denry
refrained from interfering with her arrangements. Ruth was lugubrious
under a mask of gaiety; Nellie was lugubrious under no mask whatever.
Nellie was merely the puppet of these betrothed players, her elders. She
admired Ruth and she admired Denry, and between them they were spoiling
the little thing's holiday for their own adult purposes. Nellie knew
that dreadful occurrences were in the air--occurrences compared to which
the storm at sea was a storm in a tea-cup. She knew partly because Ruth
had been so queenly polite, and partly because they had come separately
to St Asaph's Road and had not spent the entire afternoon together.
So quickly do great events loom up and happen that at six o'clock they
had had tea and were on their way afoot to the station. The odd man of
No. 26 St Asaph's Road had preceded them with the luggage. All the rest
of Llandudno was joyously strolling home to its half-past six high tea--
grand people to whom weekly bills were as dust and who were in a
position to stop in Llandudno for ever and ever, if they chose! And Ruth
and Nellie were conscious of the shame which always afflicts those whom
necessity forces to the railway station of a pleasure resort in the
middle of the season. They saw omnibuses loaded with luggage and jolly
souls were actually _coming_, whose holiday had not yet properly
commenced. And this spectacle added to their humiliation and their
disgust. They genuinely felt that they belonged to the lower orders.
Ruth, for the sake of effect, joked on the most solemn subjects. She
even referred with giggling laughter to the fact that she had borrowed
from Nellie in order to discharge her liabilities for the final
twenty-four hours at the boarding-house. Giggling laughter being
contagious, as they were walking side by side close together, they all
laughed. And each one secretly thought how ridiculous was such
behaviour, and how it failed to reach the standard of true worldliness.
Then, nearer the station, some sprightly caprice prompted Denry to raise
his hat to two young women who were crossing the road in front of them.
Neither of the two young women responded to the homage.
"Who are they?" asked Ruth, and the words were out of her mouth before
she could remind herself that curiosity was beneath her.
"It's a young lady I was once engaged to," said Denry.
"Which one?" asked the ninny, Nellie, astounded.
"I forget," said Denry.
He considered this to be one of his greatest retorts--not to Nellie, but
to Ruth. Nellie naturally did not appreciate its loveliness. But Ruth
did. There was no facet of that retort that escaped Ruth's critical
At length they arrived at the station, quite a quarter of an hour before
the train was due, and half-an-hour before it came in.
Denry tipped the odd man for the transport of the luggage.
"Sure it's all there?" he asked the girls, embracing both of them in his
"Yes," said Ruth, "but where's yours?"
"Oh!" he said. "I'm not going to-night. I've got some business to attend
to here. I thought you understood. I expect you'll be all right, you two
After a moment, Ruth said brightly: "Oh yes! I was quite forgetting
about your business." Which was completely untrue, since she knew
nothing of his business, and he had assuredly not informed her that he
would not return with them.
But Ruth was being very brave, haughty, and queenlike, and for this the
precise truth must sometimes be abandoned. The most precious thing in
the world to Ruth was her dignity--and who can blame her? She meant to
keep it at no matter what costs.
In a few minutes the bookstall on the platform attracted them as
inevitably as a prone horse attracts a crowd. Other people were near the
bookstall, and as these people were obviously leaving Llandudno, Ruth
and Nellie felt a certain solace. The social outlook seemed brighter for
them. Denry bought one or two penny papers, and then the newsboy began
to paste up the contents poster of the _Staffordshire Signal_,
which had just arrived. And on this poster, very prominent, were the
words:--"The Great Storm in North Wales. Special Descriptive Report."
Denry snatched up one of the green papers and opened it, and on the
first column of the news-page saw his wondrous description, including
the word "Rembrandtesque." "Graphic Account by a Bursley Gentleman of
the Scene at Llandudno," said the sub-title. And the article was
introduced by the phrase: "We are indebted to Mr E.H. Machin, a
prominent figure in Bursley," etc.
It was like a miracle. Do what he would, Denry could not stop his face
With false calm he gave the paper, to Ruth. Her calmness in receiving it
"We'll read it in the train," she said primly, and started to talk about
something else. And she became most agreeable and companionable.
Mixed up with papers and sixpenny novels on the bookstall were a number
of souvenirs of Llandudno--paper-knives, pens, paper-weights,
watch-cases, pen-cases, all in light wood or glass, and ornamented with
coloured views of Llandudno, and also the word "Llandudno" in large
German capitals, so that mistakes might not arise. Ruth remembered that
she had even intended to buy a crystal paper-weight with a view of the
Great Orme at the bottom. The bookstall clerk had several crystal
paper-weights with views of the pier, the Hotel Majestic, the Esplanade,
the Happy Valley, but none with a view of the Great Orme. He had also
paper-knives and watch-cases with a view of the Great Orme. But Ruth
wanted a combination of paper-weight and Great Orme, and nothing else
would satisfy her. She was like that. The clerk admitted that such a
combination existed, but he was sold "out of it."
"Couldn't you get one and send it to me?" said Ruth.
And Denry saw anew that she was incurable.
"Oh yes, miss," said the clerk. "Certainly, miss. To-morrow at latest."
And he pulled out a book. "What name?"
Ruth looked at Denry, as women do look on such occasions.
"Rothschild," said Denry.
It may seem perhaps strange that that single word ended their
engagement. But it did. She could not tolerate a rebuke. She walked
away, flushing. The bookstall clerk received no order. Several persons
in the vicinity dimly perceived that a domestic scene had occurred, in a
flash, under their noses, on a platform of a railway station. Nellie was
speedily aware that something very serious had happened, for the train
took them off without Ruth speaking a syllable to Denry, though Denry
raised his hat and was almost effusive.
The next afternoon Denry received by post a ring in a box. "I will not
submit to insult," ran the brief letter.
"I only said 'Rothschild'!" Denry murmured to himself. "Can't a fellow
But secretly he was proud of himself.
THE MERCANTILE MARINE
The decisive scene, henceforward historic, occurred in the shanty known
as "John's cabin"--John being the unacknowledged leader of the
long-shore population under the tail of Llandudno pier. The cabin,
festooned with cordage, was lighted by an oil-lamp of a primitive model,
and round the orange case on which the lamp was balanced sat Denry,
Cregeen, the owner of the lifeboat, and John himself (to give, as it
were, a semi-official character to whatever was afoot).
"Well, here you are," said Denry, and handed to Cregeen a piece of
"What's this, I'm asking ye?" said Cregeen, taking the paper in his
large fingers and peering at it as though it had been a papyrus.
But he knew quite well what it was. It was a cheque for twenty-five
pounds. What he did not know was that, with the ten pounds paid in cash
earlier in the day, it represented a very large part indeed of such of
Denry's savings as had survived his engagement to Ruth Earp. Cregeen
took a pen as though it had been a match-end and wrote a receipt. Then,
after finding a stamp in a pocket of his waistcoat under his jersey, he
put it in his mouth and lost it there for a long time. Finally Denry got
the receipt, certifying that he was the owner of the lifeboat formerly
known as _Llandudno_, but momentarily without a name, together with
all her gear and sails.
"Are ye going to live in her?" the rather curt John inquired.
"Not in her. On her," said Denry.
And he went out on to the sand and shingle, leaving John and Cregeen to
complete the sale to Cregeen of the _Fleetwing_, a small cutter
specially designed to take twelve persons forth for "a pleasant sail in
the bay." If Cregeen had not had a fancy for the _Fleetwing_ and a
perfect lack of the money to buy her, Denry might never have been able
to induce him to sell the lifeboat.
Under another portion of the pier Denry met a sailor with a long white
beard, the aged Simeon, who had been one of the crew that rescued the
_Hjalmar_, but whom his colleagues appeared to regard rather as an
ornament than as a motive force.
"It's all right," said Demo.
And Simeon, in silence, nodded his head slowly several times.
"I shall give you thirty shilling for the week," said Denry.
And that venerable head oscillated again in the moon-lit gloom and
rocked gradually to a stand-still.
Presently the head said, in shrill, slow tones:
"I've seen three o' them Norwegian chaps. Two of 'em can no more speak
English than a babe unborn; no, nor understand what ye say to 'em,
though I fair bawled in their ear-holes."
"So much the better," said Denry.
"I showed 'em that sovereign," said the bearded head, wagging again.
"Well," said Denry, "you won't forget. Six o'clock to-morrow morning."
"Ye'd better say five," the head suggested. "Quieter like."
"Five, then," Denry agreed.
And he departed to St Asaph's Road burdened with a tremendous thought.
The thought was:
"I've gone and done it this time!"
Now that the transaction was accomplished and could not be undone, he
admitted to himself that he had never been more mad. He could scarcely
comprehend what had led him to do that which he had done. But he
obscurely imagined that his caprice for the possession of sea-going
craft must somehow be the result of his singular adventure with the
pantechnicon in the canal at Bursley. He was so preoccupied with
material interests as to be capable of forgetting, for a quarter of an
hour at a stretch, that in all essential respects his life was wrecked,
and that he had nothing to hope for save hollow worldly success. He knew
that Ruth would return the ring. He could almost see the postman holding
the little cardboard cube which would contain the rendered ring. He had
loved, and loved tragically. (That was how he put it--in his unspoken
thoughts; but the truth was merely that he had loved something too
expensive.) Now the dream was done. And a man of disillusion walked
along the Parade towards St Asaph's Road among revellers, a man with a
past, a man who had probed women, a man who had nothing to learn about
the sex. And amid all the tragedy of his heart, and all his
apprehensions concerning hollow, worldly success, little thoughts of
absurd unimportance kept running about like clockwork mice in his head.
Such as that it would be a bit of a bore to have to tell people at
Bursley that his engagement, which truly had thrilled the town, was
broken off. Humiliating, that! And, after all, Ruth was a glittering gem
among women. Was there another girl in Bursley so smart, so effective,
so truly ornate?
Then he comforted himself with the reflection: "I'm certainly the only
man that ever ended an engagement by just saying 'Rothschild!'" This was
probably true. But it did not help him to sleep.
The next morning at 5.20 the youthful sun was shining on the choppy
water of the Irish Sea, just off the Little Orme, to the west of
Llandudno Bay. Oscillating on the uneasy waves was Denry's lifeboat,
manned by the nodding bearded head, three ordinary British longshoremen,
a Norwegian who could speak English of two syllables, and two other
Norwegians who by a strange neglect of education could speak nothing but
Close under the headland, near a morsel of beach lay the remains of the
_Hjalmar_ in an attitude of repose. It was as if the _Hjalmar_, after a
long struggle, had lain down like a cab-horse and said to the tempest:
"Do what you like now!"
"Yes," the venerable head was piping. "Us can come out comfortable in
twenty minutes, unless the tide be setting east strong. And, as for
getting back, it'll be the same, other way round, if ye understand me."
There could be no question that Simeon had come out comfortable. But he
was the coxswain. The rowers seemed to be perspiringly aware that the
boat was vast and beamy.
"Shall we row up to it?" Simeon inquired, pointing to the wreck.
Then a pale face appeared above the gunwale, and an expiring, imploring
voice said: "No. We'll go back." Whereupon the pale face vanished again.
Denry had never before been outside the bay. In the navigation of
pantechnicons on the squall-swept basins of canals he might have been a
great master, but he was unfitted for the open sea. At that moment he
would have been almost ready to give the lifeboat and all that he owned
for the privilege of returning to land by train. The inward journey was
so long that Denry lost hope of ever touching his native island again.
And then there was a bump. And he disembarked, with hope burning up
again cheerfully in his bosom. And it was a quarter to six.
By the first post, which arrived at half-past seven, there came a brown
package. "The ring!" he thought, starting horribly. But the package was
a cube of three inches, and would have held a hundred rings. He undid
the cover, and saw on half a sheet of notepaper the words:--
"Thank you so much for the lovely time you gave me. I hope you will
like this, NELLIE."
He was touched. If Ruth was hard, mercenary, costly, her young and
ingenuous companion could at any rate be grateful and sympathetic. Yes,
he was touched. He had imagined himself to be dead to all human
affections, but it was not so. The package contained chocolate, and his
nose at once perceived that it was chocolate impregnated with lemon--the
surprising but agreeable compound accidentally invented by Nellie on the
previous day at the pier buffet. The little thing must have spent a part
of the previous afternoon in preparing it, and she must have put the
package in the post at Crewe. Secretive and delightful little thing!
After his recent experience beyond the bay he had imagined himself to be
incapable of ever eating again, but it was not so. The lemon gave a
peculiar astringent, appetising, _settling_ quality to the
chocolate. And he ate even with gusto. The result was that, instead of
waiting for the nine o'clock boarding-house breakfast, he hurried
energetically into the streets and called on a jobbing printer whom he
had seen on the previous evening. As Ruth had said, "There is nothing
like chocolate for sustaining you."
At ten o'clock two Norwegian sailors, who could only smile in answer to
the questions which assailed them, were distributing the following
handbill on the Parade:--
WRECK OF THE _HJALMAR_
HEROISM AT LLANDUDNO
Every hour, at 11, 12, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 o'oclock,[sic] THE IDENTICAL
(guaranteed) LIFEBOAT which rescued the crew of the
will leave the beach for the scene of the wreck Manned by Simeon
Edwards, the oldest boatman in LLANDUDNO, and by members of the
rescued crew, genuine Norwegians (guaranteed)
SIMEON EDWARDS, _Coxswain_.
Return Fare, with use of Cork Belt and Life-lines if desired, 2s. 6d.
A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY
A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE
_P.S._--The bravery of the lifeboatmen has been the theme of the
Press throughout the Principality and neighbouring counties.
At eleven o'clock there was an eager crowd down on the beach where, with
some planks and a piece of rock, Simeon had arranged an embarkation pier
for the lifeboat. One man, in overalls, stood up to his knees in the
water and escorted passengers up the planks, while Simeon's
confidence-generating beard received them into the broad waist of the
boat. The rowers wore sou'westers and were secured to the craft by
life-lines, and these conveniences were also offered, with life-belts,
to the intrepid excursionists. A paper was pinned in the stern:
"Licensed to carry Fourteen." (Denry had just paid the fee.) But quite
forty people were anxious to make the first voyage.
"No more," shrilled Simeon, solemnly. And the wader scrambled in and the
boat slid away.
"Fares, please!" shrilled Simeon.
He collected one pound fifteen, and slowly buttoned it up in the
right-hand pocket of his blue trousers.
"Now, my lads, with a will," he gave the order. And then, with
deliberate method, he lighted his pipe. And the lifeboat shot away.
Close by the planks stood a young man in a negligent attitude, and with
a look on his face as if to say: "Please do not imagine that I have the
slightest interest in this affair." He stared consistently out to sea
until the boat had disappeared round the Little Orme, and then he took a
few turns on the sands, in and out amid the castles. His heart was
beating in a most disconcerting manner. After a time he resumed his
perusal of the sea. And the lifeboat reappeared and grew larger and
larger, and finally arrived at the spot from which it had departed, only
higher up the beach because the tide was rising. And Simeon debarked
first, and there was a small blue and red model of a lifeboat in his
hand, which he shook to a sound of coins.
"_For_ the Lifeboat Fund! _For_ the Lifeboat Fund!" he gravely
Every debarking passenger dropped a coin into the slit.
In five minutes the boat was refilled, and Simeon had put the value of
fourteen more half-crowns into his pocket.
The lips of the young man on the beach moved, and he murmured:
"That makes over three pounds! Well, I'm dashed!"
At the hour appointed for dinner he went to St Asaph's Road, but could
eat nothing. He could only keep repeating very softly to himself, "Well,
Throughout the afternoon the competition for places in the lifeboat grew
keener and more dangerous. Denry's craft was by no means the sole craft
engaged in carrying people to see the wreck. There were dozens of boats
in the business, which had suddenly sprung up that morning, the sea
being then fairly inoffensive for the first time since the height of the
storm. But the other boats simply took what the lifeboat left. The
guaranteed identity of the lifeboat, and of the Norsemen (who replied to
questions in gibberish), and of Simeon himself; the sou'westers, the
life-belts and the lines; even the collection for the Lifeboat Fund at
the close of the voyage: all these matters resolved themselves into a
fascination which Llandudno could not resist.
And in regard to the collection, a remarkable crisis arose. The model of
a lifeboat became full, gorged to the slot. And the Local Secretary of
the Fund had the key. The model was despatched to him by special
messenger to open and to empty, and in the meantime Simeon used his
sou'-wester as a collecting-box. This contretemps was impressive. At
night Denry received twelve pounds odd at the hands of Simeon Edwards.
He showered the odd in largesse on his heroic crew, who had also
received many tips. By the evening post the fatal ring arrived from
Ruth, as he anticipated. He was just about to throw it into the sea,
when he thought better of the idea, and stuck it in his pocket. He tried
still to feel that his life had been blighted by Ruth. But he could not.
The twelve pounds, largely in silver, weighed so heavy in his pocket. He
said to himself: "Of course this can't last!"
Then came the day when he first heard some one saying discreetly behind
"That's the lifeboat chap!"
Or more briefly:
Implying that in all Llandudno "him" could mean only one person.
And for a time he went about the streets self-consciously. However, that
self-consciousness soon passed off, and he wore his fame as easily as he
wore his collar.
The lifeboat trips to the _Hjalmar_ became a feature of daily life
in Llandudno. The pronunciation of the ship's name went through a
troublous period. Some said the "j" ought to be pronounced to the
exclusion of the "h," and others maintained the contrary. In the end the
first two letters were both abandoned utterly, also the last--but nobody
had ever paid any attention to the last. The facetious had a trick of
calling the wreck _Inkerman_. This definite settlement of the
pronunciation of the name was a sign that the pleasure-seekers of
Llandudno had definitely fallen in love with the lifeboat-trip habit.
Denry's timid fear that the phenomenon which put money into his pocket
could not continue, was quite falsified. It continued violently. And
Denry wished that the _Hjalmar_ had been wrecked a month earlier.
He calculated that the tardiness of the _Hjalmar_ in wrecking
itself had involved him in a loss of some four hundred pounds. If only
the catastrophe had happened early in July, instead of early in August,
and he had been there. Why, if forty _Hjalmars_ had been wrecked,
and their forty crews saved by forty different lifeboats, and Denry had
bought all the lifeboats, he could have filled them all!
Still, the regularity of his receipts was extremely satisfactory and
comforting. The thing had somehow the air of being a miracle; at any
rate of being connected with magic. It seemed to him that nothing could
have stopped the visitors to Llandudno from fighting for places in his
lifeboat and paying handsomely for the privilege. They had begun the
practice, and they looked as if they meant to go on with the practice
eternally. He thought that the monotony of it would strike them
unfavourably. But no! He thought that they would revolt against doing
what every one had done. But no! Hundreds of persons arrived fresh from
the railway station every day, and they all appeared to be drawn to that
lifeboat as to a magnet. They all seemed to know instantly and
instinctively that to be correct in Llandudno they must make at least
one trip in Denry's lifeboat.
He was pocketing an income which far exceeded his most golden visions.
And therefore naturally his first idea was to make that income larger
and larger still. He commenced by putting up the price of the afternoon
trips. There was a vast deal too much competition for seats in the
afternoon. This competition led to quarrels, unseemly language, and
deplorable loss of temper. It also led to loss of time. Denry was
therefore benefiting humanity by charging three shillings after two
o'clock. This simple and benign device equalised the competition
throughout the day, and made Denry richer by seven or eight pounds a
But his fertility of invention did not stop there. One morning the
earliest excursionists saw a sort of Robinson Crusoe marooned on the
strip of beach near the wreck. All that heartless fate had left him
appeared to be a machine on a tripod and a few black bags. And there was
no shelter for him save a shallow cave. The poor fellow was quite
respectably dressed. Simeon steered the boat round by the beach, which
shelved down sharply, and as he did so the Robinson Crusoe hid his head
in a cloth, as though ashamed, or as though he had gone mad and believed
himself to be an ostrich. Then apparently he thought the better of it,
and gazed boldly forth again. And the boat passed on its starboard side
within a dozen feet of him and his machine. Then it put about and passed
on the port side. And the same thing occurred on every trip. And the
last trippers of the day left Robinson Crusoe on the strip of beach in
The next morning a photographer's shop on the Parade pulled down its
shutters and displayed posters all over the upper part of its windows.
And the lower part of the windows held sixteen different large
photographs of the lifeboat broad-side on. The likenesses of over a
hundred visitors, many of them with sou'-westers, cork belts, and
life-lines, could be clearly distinguished in these picturesque groups.
A notice said:--
"_Copies of any of these magnificent permanent holographs can be
supplied, handsomely mounted, at a charge of two shillings each. Orders
executed in rotation, and delivered by post if necessary. It is
respectfully requested that cash be paid with order. Otherwise orders
cannot be accepted._"
Very few of those who had made the trip could resist the fascination of
a photograph of themselves in a real lifeboat, manned by real heroes and
real Norwegians on real waves, especially if they had worn the gear
appropriate to lifeboats. The windows of the shop were beset throughout
the day with crowds anxious to see who was in the lifeboat, and who had
come out well, and who was a perfect fright. The orders on the first day
amounted to over fifteen pounds, for not everybody was content with one
photograph. The novelty was acute and enchanting, and it renewed itself
each day. "Let's go down and look at the lifeboat photographs," people
would say, when they were wondering what to do next. Some persons who
had not "taken nicely" would perform a special trip in the lifeboat and
would wear special clothes and compose special faces for the ordeal. The
Mayor of Ashby-de-la-Zouch for that year ordered two hundred copies of a
photograph which showed himself in the centre, for presentation as New
Year's cards. On the mornings after very dull days or wet days, when
photography had been impossible or unsatisfactory, Llandudno felt that
something lacked. Here it may be mentioned that inclement weather (of
which, for the rest, there was little) scarcely interfered with Denry's
receipts. Imagine a lifeboat being deterred by rain or by a breath of
wind! There were tarpaulins. When the tide was strong and adverse, male
passengers were allowed to pull, without extra charge, though naturally
they would give a trifle to this or that member of the professional
Denry's arrangement with the photographer was so simple that a child
could have grasped it. The photographer paid him sixpence on every
photograph sold. This was Denry's only connection with the photographer.
The sixpences totalled over a dozen pounds a week. Regardless of cost,
Denry reprinted his article from the _Staffordshire Signal_
descriptive of the night of the wreck, with a photograph of the lifeboat
and its crew, and presented a copy to every client of his photographic
Llandudno was next titillated by the mysterious "Chocolate Remedy,"
which made its first appearance in a small boat that plied off Robinson
Crusoe's strip of beach. Not infrequently passengers in the lifeboat
were inconvenienced by displeasing and even distressing sensations, as
Denry had once been inconvenienced. He felt deeply for them. The
Chocolate Remedy was designed to alleviate the symptoms while
captivating the palate. It was one of the most agreeable remedies that
the wit of man ever invented. It tasted like chocolate and yet there was
an astringent flavour of lemon in it--a flavour that flattered the
stomach into a good opinion of itself, and seemed to say, "All's right
with the world." The stuff was retailed in sixpenny packets, and you
were advised to eat only a very little of it at a time, and not to
masticate, but merely to permit melting. Then the Chocolate Remedy came
to be sold on the lifeboat itself, and you were informed that if you
"took" it before starting on the wave, no wave could disarrange you.
And, indeed, many persons who followed this advice suffered no distress,
and were proud accordingly, and duly informed the world. Then the
Chocolate Remedy began to be sold everywhere. Young people bought it
because they enjoyed it, and perfectly ignored the advice against
over-indulgence and against mastication. The Chocolate Remedy penetrated
like the refrain of a popular song to other seaside places. It was on
sale from Morecambe to Barmouth, and at all the landing-stages of the
steamers for the Isle of Man and Anglesey. Nothing surprised Denry so
much as the vogue of the Chocolate Remedy. It was a serious anxiety to
him, and he muddled both the manufacture and distribution of the remedy,
from simple ignorance and inexperience. His chief difficulty at first
had been to obtain small cakes of chocolate that were not stamped with
the maker's name or mark. Chocolate manufacturers seemed to have a
passion for imprinting their Quakerly names on every bit of stuff they
sold. Having at length obtained a supply, he was silly enough to spend
time in preparing the remedy himself in his bedroom! He might as well
have tried to feed the British Army from his mother's kitchen. At length
he went to a confectioner in Rhyl and a greengrocer in Llandudno, and by
giving away half the secret to each, he contrived to keep the whole
secret to himself. But even then he was manifestly unequal to the
situation created by the demand for the Chocolate Remedy. It was a
situation that needed the close attention of half a dozen men of
business. It was quite different from the affair of the lifeboat.
One night a man who had been staying a day or two in the boarding-house
in St Asaph's Road said to Denry:
"Look here, mister. I go straight to the point. What'll you take?"
And he explained what he meant. What would Denry take for the entire
secret and rights of the Chocolate Remedy and the use of the name
"Machin" ("without which none was genuine").
"What do you offer?" Denry asked.
"Well, I'll give you a hundred pounds down, and that's my last word."
Denry was staggered. A hundred pounds for simply nothing at all--for
dipping bits of chocolate in lemon-juice!
He shook his head.
"I'll take two hundred," he replied.
And he got two hundred. It was probably the worst bargain that he ever
made in his life. For the Chocolate Remedy continued obstinately in
demand for ten years afterwards. But he was glad to be rid of the thing;
it was spoiling his sleep and wearing him out.
He had other worries. The boatmen of Llandudno regarded him as an enemy
of the human race. If they had not been nature's gentlemen they would
have burned him alive at a stake. Cregeen, in particular, consistently
referred to him in terms which could not have been more severe had Denry
been the assassin of Cregeen's wife and seven children. In daring to
make over a hundred pounds a week out of a ramshackle old lifeboat that
Cregeen had sold to him for thirty-five pounds, Denry was outraging
Cregeen's moral code. Cregeen had paid thirty-five pounds for the
_Fleetwinz_, a craft immeasurably superior to Denry's nameless tub.
And was Cregeen making a hundred pounds a week out of it? Not a hundred
shillings! Cregeen genuinely thought that he had a right to half Denry's
profits. Old Simeon, too, seemed to think that _he_ had a right to
a large percentage of the same profits. And the Corporation, though it
was notorious that excursionists visited the town purposely to voyage in
the lifeboat, the Corporation made difficulties--about the embarking and
disembarking, about the photographic strip of beach, about the crowds on
the pavement outside the photograph shop. Denry learnt that he had
committed the sin of not being a native of Llandudno. He was a stranger,
and he was taking money out of the town. At times he wished he could
have been born again. His friend and saviour was the Local Secretary of
the Lifeboat Institution, who happened to be a Town Councillor. This
worthy man, to whom Denry paid over a pound a day, was invaluable to
him. Further, Denry was invited--nay commanded--to contribute to nearly
every church, chapel, mission, and charity in Carnarvonshire,
Flintshire, and other counties. His youthfulness was not accepted as an
excuse. And as his gross profits could be calculated by any dunce who
chose to stand on the beach for half a day, it was not easy for him to
pretend that he was on the brink of starvation. He could only ward off
attacks by stating with vague, convinced sadness that his expenses were
much greater than any one could imagine.
In September, when the moon was red and full, and the sea glassy, he
announced a series of nocturnal "Rocket Fetes." The lifeboat, hung with
Chinese lanterns, put out in the evening (charge five shillings) and,
followed by half the harbour's fleet of rowing-boats and cutters,
proceeded to the neighbourhood of the strip of beach, where a rocket
apparatus had been installed by the help of the Lifeboat Secretary. The
mortar was trained; there was a flash, a whizz, a line of fire, and a
rope fell out of the sky across the lifeboat. The effect was thrilling
and roused cheers. Never did the Lifeboat Institution receive such an
advertisement as Denry gave it--gratis.
After the rocketing Denry stood alone on the slopes of the Little Orme
and watched the lanterns floating home over the water, and heard the
lusty mirth of his clients in the still air. It was an emotional
experience for him.
"By Jove!" he said, "I've wakened this town up!"
One morning, in the very last sad days of the dying season, when his
receipts had dropped to the miserable figure of about fifty pounds a
week, Denry had a great and pleasing surprise. He met Nellie on the
Parade. It was a fact that the recognition of that innocent, childlike
blushing face gave him joy. Nellie was with her father, Councillor
Cotterill, and her mother. The Councillor was a speculative builder, who
was erecting several streets of British homes in the new quarter above
the new municipal park at Bursley. Denry had already encountered him
once or twice in the way of business. He was a big and portly man of
forty-five, with a thin face and a consciousness of prosperity. At one
moment you would think him a jolly, bluff fellow, and at the next you
would be disconcerted by a note of cunning or of harshness. Mrs
Councillor Cotterill was one of these women who fail to live up to the
ever-increasing height of their husbands. Afflicted with an eternal
stage-fright, she never opened her close-pressed lips in society, though
a few people knew that she could talk as fast and as effectively as any
one. Difficult to set in motion, her vocal machinery was equally
difficult to stop. She generally wore a low bonnet and a mantle. The
Cotterills had been spending a fortnight in the Isle of Man, and they
had come direct from Douglas to Llandudno by steamer, where they meant
to pass two or three days. They were staying at Craig-y-don, at the
eastern end of the Parade.
"Well, young man!" said Councillor Cotterill.
And he kept on young-manning Denry with an easy patronage which Denry
could scarcely approve of. "I bet I've made more money this summer than
you have with all your jerrying!" said Denry silently to the
Councillor's back while the Cotterill family were inspecting the
historic lifeboat on the beach. Councillor Cotterill said frankly that
one reason for their calling at Llandudno was his desire to see this
singular lifeboat, about which there had really been a very great deal
of talk in the Five Towns. The admission comforted Denry. Then the
Councillor recommenced his young-manning.
"Look here," said Demo, carelessly, "you must come and dine with me one
night, all of you--will you?"
Nobody who has not passed at least twenty years in a district where
people dine at one o'clock, and dining after dark is regarded as a wild
idiosyncrasy of earls, can appreciate the effect of this speech.
The Councillor, when he had recovered himself, said that they would be
pleased to dine with him; Mrs Cotterill's tight lips were seen to move,
but not heard; and Nellie glowed.
"Yes," said Denry, "come and dine with me at the Majestic."
The name of the Majestic put an end to the young-manning. It was the new
hotel by the pier, and advertised itself as the most luxurious hotel in
the Principality. Which was bold of it, having regard to the
magnificence of caravanserais at Cardiff. It had two hundred bedrooms,
and waiters who talked English imperfectly; and its prices were supposed
to be fantastic.
After all, the most startled and frightened person of the four was
perhaps Denry. He had never given a dinner to anybody. He had never even
dined at night. He had never been inside the Majestic. He had never had
the courage to go inside the Majestic. He had no notion of the
mysterious preliminaries to the offering of a dinner in a public place.
But the next morning he contracted to give away the lifeboat to a
syndicate of boatmen, headed by John their leader, for thirty-five
pounds. And he swore to himself that he would do that dinner properly,
even if it cost him the whole price of the boat. Then he met Mrs
Cotterill coming out of a shop. Mrs Cotterill, owing to a strange hazard
of fate, began talking at once. And Denry, as an old shorthand writer,
instinctively calculated that not Thomas Allen Reed himself could have
taken Mrs Cotterill down verbatim. Her face tried to express pain, but
pleasure shone out of it. For she found herself in an exciting
contretemps which she could understand.
"Oh, Mr Machin," she said, "what _do_ you think's happened? I don't
know how to tell you, I'm sure. Here you've arranged for that dinner
to-morrow and it's all settled, and now Miss Earp telegraphs to our
Nellie to say she's coming to-morrow for a day or two with us. You know
Ruth and Nellie are _such_ friends. It's like as if what must be,
isn't it? I don't know what to do, I do declare. What _ever_ will
Ruth say at us leaving her all alone the first night she comes? I really
do think she might have----"
"You must bring her along with you," said Denry.
"But won't you--shan't you--won't she--won't it----"
"Not at all," said Denry. "Speaking for myself, I shall be delighted."
"Well, I'm sure you're very sensible," said Mrs Cotterill. "I was but
saying to Mr Cotterill over breakfast--I said to him----"
"I shall ask Councillor Rhys-Jones to meet you," said Denry. "He's one
of the principal members of the Town Council here; Local Secretary of
the Lifeboat Institution. Great friend of mine."
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs Cotterill, "it'll be quite an affair."
Denry found to his relief that the only difficult part of arranging a
dinner at the Majestic was the steeling of yourself to enter the
gorgeous portals of the hotel. After that, and after murmuring that you
wished to fix up a little snack, you had nothing to do but listen to
suggestions, each surpassing the rest in splendour, and say "Yes."
Similarly with the greeting of a young woman who was once to you the
jewel of the world. You simply said, "Good-afternoon, how are you?" And
she said the same. And you shook hands. And there you were, still alive!
The one defect of the dinner was that the men were not in evening dress.
(Denry registered a new rule of life: Never travel without your evening
dress, because you never know what may turn up.) The girls were
radiantly white. And after all there is nothing like white. Mrs
Cotterill was in black silk and silence. And after all there is nothing
like black silk. There was champagne. There were ices. Nellie, not being
permitted champagne, took her revenge in ice. Denry had found an
opportunity to relate to her the history of the Chocolate Remedy. She
said, "How wonderful you are!" And he said it was she who was wonderful.
Denry gave no information about the Chocolate Remedy to her father.
Neither did she. As for Ruth, indubitably she was responsible for the
social success of the dinner. She seemed to have the habit of these
affairs. She it was who loosed tongues. Nevertheless, Denry saw her now
with different eyes, and it appeared incredible to him that he had once
mistaken her for the jewel of the world.
At the end of the dinner Councillor Rhys-Jones produced a sensation by
rising to propose the health of their host. He referred to the superb
heroism of England's lifeboatmen, and in the name of the Institution
thanked Denry for the fifty-three pounds which Denry's public had
contributed to the funds. He said it was a noble contribution and that
Denry was a philanthropist. And he called on Councillor Cotterill to
second the toast. Which Councillor Cotterill did, in good set terms, the
result of long habit. And Denry stammered that he was much obliged, and
that really it was nothing.
But when the toasting was finished, Councillor Cotterill lapsed somewhat
into a patronising irony, as if he were jealous of a youthful success.
And he did not stop at "young man." He addressed Denry grandiosely as
"This lifeboat--it was just an idea, my boy, just an idea," he said.
"Yes," said Denry, "but I thought of it."
"The question is," said the Councillor, "can you think of any more ideas
"Well," said Denry, "can _you_?"
With reluctance they left the luxury of the private dining-room, and
Denry surreptitiously paid the bill with a pile of sovereigns, and
Councillor Rhys-Jones parted from them with lively grief. The other five
walked in a row along the Parade in the moonlight. And when they arrived
in front of Craig-y-don, and the Cotterills were entering, Ruth, who
loitered behind, said to Denry in a liquid voice:
"I don't feel a bit like going to sleep. I suppose you wouldn't care for
"I daresay you're very tired," she said.
"No," he replied, "it's this moonlight I'm afraid of."
And their eyes met under the door-lamp, and Ruth wished him pleasant
dreams and vanished. It was exceedingly subtle.
The next afternoon the Cotterills and Ruth Earp went home, and Denry
with them. Llandudno was just settling into its winter sleep, and
Denry's rather complex affairs had all been put in order. Though the
others showed a certain lassitude, he himself was hilarious. Among his
insignificant luggage was a new hat-box, which proved to be the origin
of much gaiety.
"Just take this, will you?" he said to a porter on the platform at
Llandudno Station, and held out the new hat-box with an air of calm. The
porter innocently took it, and then, as the hat-box nearly jerked his
arm out of the socket, gave vent to his astonishment after the manner of
"By gum, mister!" said he, "that's heavy!"
It, in fact, weighed nearly two stone.
"Yes," said Denry, "it's full of sovereigns, of course."
And everybody laughed.
At Crewe, where they had to change, and again at Knype and at Bursley,
he produced astonishment in porters by concealing the effort with which
he handed them the hat-box, as though its weight was ten ounces. And
each time he made the same witticism about sovereigns.
"What _have_ you got in that hat-box?" Ruth asked.
"Don't I tell you?" said Denry, laughing. "Sovereigns!"
Lastly, he performed the same trick on his mother. Mrs Machin was
working, as usual, in the cottage in Brougham Street. Perhaps the notion
of going to Llandudno for a change had not occurred to her. In any case,
her presence had been necessary in Bursley, for she had frequently
collected Denry's rents for him, and collected them very well. Denry was
glad to see her again, and she was glad to see him, but they concealed
their feelings as much as possible. When he basely handed her the
hat-box she dropped it, and roundly informed him that she was not going
to have any of his pranks.
After tea, whose savouriness he enjoyed quite as much as his own state
dinner, he gave her a key and asked her to open the hat-box, which he
had placed on a chair.
"What is there in it?"
"A lot of jolly fine pebbles that I've been collecting on the beach," he
She got the hat-box on to her knee, and unlocked it, and came to a thick
cloth, which she partly withdrew, and then there was a scream from Mrs
Machin, and the hat-box rolled with a terrific crash to the tiled floor,
and she was ankle-deep in sovereigns. She could see sovereigns running
about all over the parlour. Gradually even the most active sovereigns
decided to lie down and be quiet, and a great silence ensued. Denry's
heart was beating.
Mrs Machin merely shook her head. Not often did her son deprive her of
words, but this theatrical culmination of his home-coming really did
leave her speechless.
Late that night rows of piles of sovereigns decorated the oval table in
"A thousand and eleven," said Denry, at length, beneath the lamp.
"There's fifteen missing yet. We'll look for 'em to-morrow."
For several days afterwards Mrs Machin was still picking up sovereigns.
Two had even gone outside the parlour, and down the two steps into the
backyard, and finding themselves unable to get back, had remained there.
And all the town knew that the unique Denry had thought of the idea of
returning home to his mother with a hat-box crammed with sovereigns.
This was Denry's "latest," and it employed the conversation of the
borough for I don't know how long.
The fact that Denry Machin decided not to drive behind his mule to Sneyd
Hall showed in itself that the enterprise of interviewing the Countess
of Chell was not quite the simple daily trifling matter that he strove
to pretend it was.
The mule was a part of his more recent splendour. It was aged seven, and
it had cost Denry ten pounds. He had bought it off a farmer whose wife
"stood" St Luke's Market. His excuse was that he needed help in getting
about the Five Towns in pursuit of cottage rents, for his business of a
rent-collector had grown. But for this purpose a bicycle would have
served equally well, and would not have cost a shilling a day to feed,
as the mule did, nor have shied at policemen, as the mule nearly always
did. Denry had bought the mule simply because he had been struck all of
a sudden with the idea of buying the mule. Some time previously Jos
Curtenty (the Deputy-Mayor, who became Mayor of Bursley on the Earl of
Chell being called away to govern an Australian colony) had made an
enormous sensation by buying a flock of geese and driving them home
himself. Denry did not like this. He was indeed jealous, if a large mind
can be jealous. Jos Curtenty was old enough to be his grandfather, and
had been a recognised "card" and "character" since before Denry's birth.
But Denry, though so young, had made immense progress as a card, and
had, perhaps justifiably, come to consider himself as the premier card,
the very ace, of the town. He felt that some reply was needed to
Curtenty's geese, and the mule was his reply. It served excellently.
People were soon asking each other whether they had heard that Denry
Machin's "latest" was to buy a mule. He obtained a little old victoria
for another ten pounds, and a good set of harness for three guineas. The
carriage was low, which enabled him, as he said, to nip in and out much
more easily than in and out of a trap. In his business you did almost
nothing but nip in and out. On the front seat he caused to be fitted a
narrow box of japanned tin, with a formidable lock and slits on the top.
This box was understood to receive the rents, as he collected them. It
was always guarded on journeys by a cross between a mastiff and
something unknown, whose growl would have terrorised a lion-tamer. Denry
himself was afraid of Rajah, the dog, but he would not admit it. Rajah
slept in the stable behind Mrs Machin's cottage, for which Denry paid a
shilling a week. In the stable there was precisely room for Rajah, the
mule and the carriage, and when Denry entered to groom or to harness,
something had to go out.
The equipage quickly grew into a familiar sight in the streets of the
district. Denry said that it was funny without being vulgar. Certainly
it amounted to a continual advertisement for him; an infinitely more
effective advertisement than, for instance, a sandwichman at
eighteen-pence a day, and costing no more, even with the licence and the
shoeing. Moreover, a sandwichman has this inferiority to a turnout: when
you have done with him you cannot put him up to auction and sell him.
Further, there are no sandwichmen in the Five Towns; in that democratic
and independent neighbourhood nobody would deign to be a sandwichman.
The mulish vehicular display does not end the tale of Denry's splendour.
He had an office in St Luke's Square, and in the office was an
office-boy, small but genuine, and a real copying-press, and outside it
was the little square signboard which in the days of his simplicity used
to be screwed on to his mother's door. His mother's steely firmness of
character had driven him into the extravagance of an office. Even after
he had made over a thousand pounds out of the Llandudno lifeboat in less
than three months, she would not listen to a proposal for going into a
slightly larger house, of which one room might serve as an office. Nor
would she abandon her own labours as a sempstress. She said that since
her marriage she had always lived in that cottage and had always worked,
and that she meant to die there, working: and that Denry could do what
he chose. He was a bold youth, but not bold enough to dream of quitting
his mother; besides, his share of household expenses in the cottage was
only ten shillings a week. So he rented the office; and he hired an
office-boy, partly to convey to his mother that he _should_ do what
he chose, and partly for his own private amusement.
He was thus, at an age when fellows without imagination are fraying
their cuffs for the enrichment of their elders and glad if they can
afford a cigar once a month, in possession of a business, business
premises, a clerical staff, and a private carriage drawn by an animal
unique in the Five Towns. He was living on less than his income; and in
the course of about two years, to a small extent by economies and to a
large extent by injudicious but happy investments, he had doubled the
Llandudno thousand and won the deference of the manager of the bank at
the top of St Luke's Square--one of the most unsentimental men that ever
wrote "refer to drawer" on a cheque.
And yet Denry was not satisfied. He had a secret woe, due to the facts
that he was gradually ceasing to be a card, and that he was not
multiplying his capital by two every six months. He did not understand
the money market, nor the stock market, nor even the financial article
in the _Signal_; but he regarded himself as a financial genius, and
deemed that as a financial genius he was vegetating. And as for setting
the town on fire, or painting it scarlet, he seemed to have lost the
trick of that.
And then one day the populace saw on his office door, beneath his
name-board, another sign:
FIVE TOWNS UNIVERSAL THRIFT CLUB. _Secretary and Manager_--E.H. MACHIN.
An idea had visited him.
Many tradesmen formed slate-clubs--goose-clubs, turkey-clubs,
whisky-clubs--in the autumn, for Christmas. Their humble customers paid
so much a week to the tradesmen, who charged them nothing for keeping
it, and at the end of the agreed period they took out the total sum in
goods--dead or alive; eatable, drinkable, or wearable. Denry conceived a
universal slate-club. He meant it to embrace each of the Five Towns. He
saw forty thousand industrial families paying weekly instalments into
his slate-club. He saw his slate-club entering into contracts with all
the principal tradesmen of the entire district, so that the members of
the slate-club could shop with slate-club tickets practically where they
chose. He saw his slate-club so powerful that no tradesman could afford
not to be in relations with it. He had induced all Llandudno to perform
the same act daily for nearly a whole season, and he now wished to
induce all the vast Five Towns to perform the same act to his profit for
And he would be a philanthropist into the bargain. He would encourage
thrift in the working-man and the working-man's wife. He would guard the
working-man's money for him; and to save trouble to the working-man he
would call at the working-man's door for the working-man's money.
Further, as a special inducement and to prove superior advantages to
ordinary slate-clubs, he would allow the working man to spend his full
nominal subscription to the club as soon as he had actually paid only
half of it. Thus, after paying ten shillings to Denry, the working-man
could spend a pound in Denry's chosen shops, and Denry would settle with
the shops at once, while collecting the balance weekly at the
working-man's door. But this privilege of anticipation was to be
forfeited or postponed if the working-man's earlier payments were
And Denry would bestow all these wondrous benefits on the working-man
without any charge whatever. Every penny that members paid in, members
would draw out. The affair was enormously philanthropic.
Denry's modest remuneration was to come from the shopkeepers upon whom
his scheme would shower new custom. They were to allow him at least