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The Card, A Story Of Adventure In The Five Towns by Arnold Bennett

Part 3 out of 5

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twopence in the shilling discount on all transactions, which would be
more than 16 per cent. on his capital; and he would turn over his
capital three times a year. He calculated that out of 50 per cent. per
annum he would be able to cover working expenses and a little over.

Of course, he had to persuade the shopkeepers. He drove his mule to
Hanbridge and began with Bostocks, the largest but not the most
distinguished drapery house in the Five Towns. He succeeded in
convincing them on every point except that of his own financial
stability. Bostocks indicated their opinion that he looked far too much
like a boy to be financially stable. His reply was to offer to deposit
fifty pounds with them before starting business, and to renew the sum in
advance as quickly as the members of his club should exhaust it. Cheques
talk. He departed with Bostocks' name at the head of his list, and he
used them as a clinching argument with other shops. But the prejudice
against his youth was strong and general. "Yes," tradesmen would answer,
"what you say is all right, but you are so young." As if to insinuate
that a man must be either a rascal or a fool until he is thirty, just as
he must be either a fool or a physician after he is forty. Nevertheless,
he had soon compiled a list of several score shops.

His mother said:

"Why don't you grow a beard? Here you spend money on razors, strops,
soaps and brushes, besides a quarter of an hour of your time every day,
and cutting yourself--all to keep yourself from having something that
would be the greatest help to you in business! With a beard you'd look
at least thirty-one. Your father had a splendid beard, and so could you
if you chose."

This was high wisdom. But he would not listen to it. The truth is, he
was getting somewhat dandiacal.

At length his scheme lacked naught but what Denry called a "right-down
good starting shove." In a word, a fine advertisement to fire it off.
Now, he could have had the whole of the first page of the _Signal_
(at that period) for five-and-twenty pounds. But he had been so
accustomed to free advertisements of one sort or another that the notion
of paying for one was loathsome to him. Then it was that he thought of
the Countess of Chell, who happened to be staying at Knype. If he could
obtain that great aristocrat, that ex-Mayoress, that lovely witch, that
benefactor of the district, to honour his Thrift Club as patroness,
success was certain. Everybody in the Five Towns sneered at the Countess
and called her a busybody; she was even dubbed "Interfering Iris" (Iris
being one of her eleven Christian names); the Five Towns was fiercely
democratic--in theory. In practice the Countess was worshipped; her
smile was worth at least five pounds, and her invitation to tea was
priceless. She could not have been more sincerely adulated in the United
States, the home of social equality.

Denry said to himself:

"And why _shouldn't_ I get her name as patroness? I will have her
name as patroness."

Hence the expedition to Sneyd Hall, one of the ancestral homes of the
Earls of Chell.


He had been to Sneyd Hall before many times--like the majority of the
inhabitants of the Five Towns--for, by the generosity of its owner,
Sneyd Park was always open to the public. To picnic in Sneyd Park was
one of the chief distractions of the Five Towns on Thursday and Saturday
afternoons. But he had never entered the private gardens. In the midst
of the private gardens stood the Hall, shut off by immense iron
palisades, like a lion in a cage at the Zoo. On the autumn afternoon of
his Historic visit, Denry passed with qualms through the double gates of
the palisade, and began to crunch the gravel of the broad drive that led
in a straight line to the overwhelming Palladian facade of the Hall.

Yes, he was decidedly glad that he had not brought his mule. As he
approached nearer and nearer to the Countess's front-door his arguments
in favour of the visit grew more and more ridiculous. Useless to remind
himself that he had once danced with the Countess at the municipal ball,
and amused her to the giggling point, and restored her lost fan to her.
Useless to remind himself that he was a quite exceptional young man,
with a quite exceptional renown, and the equal of any man or woman on
earth. Useless to remind himself that the Countess was notorious for her
affability and also for her efforts to encourage the true welfare of the
Five Towns. The visit was grotesque.

He ought to have written. He ought, at any rate, to have announced his
visit by a note. Yet only an hour earlier he had been arguing that he
could most easily capture the Countess by storm, with no warning or
preparations of any kind.

Then, from a lateral path, a closed carriage and pair drove rapidly up
to the Hall, and a footman bounced off the hammercloth. Denry could not
see through the carriage, but under it he could distinguish the skirts
of some one who got put of it. Evidently the Countess was just returning
from a drive. He quickened his pace, for at heart he was an audacious

"She can't eat me," he said.

This assertion was absolutely irrefutable, and yet there remained in his
bold heart an irrational fear that after all she _could_ eat him.
Such is the extraordinary influence of a Palladian facade!

After what seemed several hours of torture entirely novel in his
experience, he skirted the back of the carriage and mounted the steps to
the portal. And, although the coachman was innocuous, being apparently
carved in stone, Denry would have given a ten-pound note to find himself
suddenly in his club or even in church. The masonry of the Hall rose up
above him like a precipice. He was searching for the bell-knob in the
face of the precipice when a lady suddenly appeared at the doors. At
first he thought it was the Countess, and that heart of his began to
slip down the inside of his legs. But it was not the Countess.

"Well?" demanded the lady. She was dressed in black.

"Can I see the Countess?" he inquired.

The lady stared at him. He handed her his professional card which lay
waiting all ready in his waistcoat pocket.

"I will ask my lady," said the lady in black.

Denry perceived from her accent that she was not English.

She disappeared through a swinging door; and then Denry most clearly
heard the Countess's own authentic voice saying in a pettish, disgusted

"Oh! Bother!"

And he was chilled. He seriously wished that he had never thought of
starting his confounded Universal Thrift Club.

After some time the carriage suddenly drove off, presumably to the
stables. As he was now within the hollow of the porch, a sort of cave at
the foot of the precipice, he could not see along the length of the
facade. Nobody came to him. The lady who had promised to ask my lady
whether the latter could see him did not return. He reflected that she
had not promised to return; she had merely promised to ask a question.
As the minutes passed he grew careless, or grew bolder, gradually
dropping his correct attitude of a man-about-town paying an afternoon
call, and peered through the glass of the doors that divided him from
the Countess. He could distinguish nothing that had life. One of his
preliminary tremors had been caused by a fanciful vision of
multitudinous footmen, through a double line of whom he would be
compelled to walk in order to reach the Countess.

But there was not even one footman. This complete absence of indoor
footmen seemed to him remiss, not in accordance with centuries of
tradition concerning life at Sneyd.

Then he caught sight, through the doors, of the back of Jock, the
Countess's carriage footman and the son of his mother's old friend. Jock
was standing motionless at a half-open door to the right of the space
between Denry's double doors and the next pair of double doors. Denry
tried to attract his attention by singular movements and strange noises
of the mouth. But Jock, like his partner the coachman, appeared to be
carven in stone. Denry decided that he would go in and have speech with
Jock. They were on Christian-name terms, or had been a few years ago. He
unobtrusively pushed at the doors, and at the very same moment Jock,
with a start--as though released from some spell--vanished away from the
door to the right.

Denry was now within.

"Jock!" He gave a whispering cry, rather conspiratorial in tone. And as
Jock offered no response, he hurried after Jock through the door to the
right. This door led to a large apartment which struck Denry as being an
idealisation of a first-class waiting-room at a highly important
terminal station. In a wall to the left was a small door, half open.
Jock must have gone through that door. Denry hesitated--he had not
properly been invited into the Hall. But in hesitating he was wrong; he
ought to have followed his prey without qualms. When he had conquered
qualms and reached the further door, his eyes were met, to their
amazement, by an immense perspective of great chambers. Denry had once
seen a Pullman car, which had halted at Knype Station with a French
actress on board. What he saw now presented itself to him as a train of
Pullman cars, one opening into the other, constructed for giants. Each
car was about as large as the large hall in Bursley Town Hall, and, like
that auditorium, had a ceiling painted to represent blue sky, milk-white
clouds, and birds. But in the corners were groups of naked Cupids,
swimming joyously on the ceiling; in Bursley Town Hall there were no
naked Cupids. He understood now that he had been quite wrong in his
estimate of the room by which he had come into this Versailles. Instead
of being large it was tiny, and instead of being luxurious it was merely
furnished with miscellaneous odds and ends left over from far more
important furnishings. It was indeed naught but a nondescript box of a
hole insignificantly wedged between the state apartments and the outer

For an instant he forgot that he was in pursuit of Jock. Jock was
perfectly invisible and inaudible. He must, however, have gone down the
vista of the great chambers, and therefore Denry went down the vista of
the great chambers after him, curiously expecting to have a glimpse of
his long salmon-tinted coat or his cockaded hat popping up out of some
corner. He reached the other end of the vista, having traversed three
enormous chambers, of which the middle one was the most enormous and the
most gorgeous. There were high windows everywhere to his right, and to
his left, in every chamber, double doors with gilt handles of a peculiar
shape. Windows and doors, with equal splendour, were draped in hangings
of brocade. Through the windows he had glimpses of the gardens in their
autumnal colours, but no glimpse of a gardener. Then a carriage flew
past the windows at the end of the suite, and he had a very clear though
a transient view of two menials on the box-seat; one of those menials he
knew must be Jock. Hence Jock must have escaped from the state suite by
one of the numerous doors.

Denry tried one door after another, and they were all fastened firmly on
the outside. The gilded handles would turn, but the lofty and ornate
portals would not yield to pressure. Mystified and startled, he went
back to the place from which he had begun his explorations, and was even
more seriously startled, and more deeply mystified to find nothing but a
blank wall where he had entered. Obviously he could not have penetrated
through a solid wall. A careful perusal of the wall showed him that
there was indeed a door in it, but that the door was artfully disguised
by painting and other devices so as to look like part of the wall. He
had never seen such a phenomenon before. A very small glass knob was the
door's sole fitting. Denry turned this crystal, but with no useful
result. In the brief space of time since his entrance, that door, and
the door by which Jock had gone, had been secured by unseen hands. Denry
imagined sinister persons bolting all the multitudinous doors, and
inimical eyes staring at him through many keyholes. He imagined himself
to be the victim of some fearful and incomprehensible conspiracy.

Why, in the sacred name of common-sense, should he have been imprisoned
in the state suite? The only answer to the conundrum was that nobody was
aware of his quite unauthorised presence in the state suite. But then
why should the state suite be so suddenly locked up, since the Countess
had just come in from a drive? It then occurred to him that, instead of
just coming in, the Countess had been just leaving. The carriage must
have driven round from some humbler part of the Hall, with the lady in
black in it, and the lady in black--perhaps a lady's-maid--alone had
stepped out from it. The Countess had been waiting for the carriage in
the porch, and had fled to avoid being forced to meet the unfortunate
Denry. (Humiliating thought!) The carriage had then taken her up at a
side door. And now she was gone. Possibly she had left Sneyd Hall not to
return for months, and that was why the doors had been locked. Perhaps
everybody had departed from the Hall save one aged and deaf retainer--he
knew, from historical novels which he had glanced at in his youth, that
in every Hall that respected itself an aged and deaf retainer was
invariably left solitary during the absences of the noble owner. He
knocked on the small disguised door. His unique purpose in knocking was
naturally to make a noise, but something prevented him from making a
noise. He felt that he must knock decently, discreetly; he felt that he
must not outrage the conventions.

No result to this polite summoning.

He attacked other doors; he attacked every door he could put his hands
on; and gradually he lost his respect for decency and the conventions
proper to Halls, knocking loudly and more loudly. He banged. Nothing but
sheer solidity stopped his sturdy hands from going through the panels.
He so far forgot himself as to shake the doors with all his strength

And finally he shouted: "Hi there! Hi! Can't you hear?"

Apparently the aged and deaf retainer could not hear. Apparently he was
the deafest retainer that a peeress of the realm ever left in charge of
a princely pile.

"Well, that's a nice thing!" Denry exclaimed, and he noticed that he was
hot and angry. He took a certain pleasure in being angry. He considered
that he had a right to be angry.

At this point he began to work himself up into the state of "not
caring," into the state of despising Sneyd Hall, and everything for
which it stood. As for permitting himself to be impressed or intimidated
by the lonely magnificence of his environment, he laughed at the idea;
or, more accurately, he snorted at it. Scornfully he tramped up and down
those immense interiors, doing the caged lion, and cogitating in quest
of the right dramatic, effective act to perform in the singular crisis.
Unhappily, the carpets were very thick, so that though he could tramp,
he could not stamp; and he desired to stamp. But in the connecting
doorways there were expanses of bare, highly-polished oak floor, and
here he did stamp.

The rooms were not furnished after the manner of ordinary rooms. There
was no round or square table in the midst of each, with a checked cloth
on it, and a plant in the centre. Nor in front of each window was there
a small table with a large Bible thereupon. The middle parts of the
rooms were empty, save for a group of statuary in the largest room.
Great arm-chairs and double-ended sofas were ranged about in straight
lines, and among these, here and there, were smaller chairs gilded from
head to foot. Round the walls were placed long narrow tables with tops
like glass-cases, and in the cases were all sorts of strange matters--
such as coins, fans, daggers, snuff-boxes. In various corners white
statues stood awaiting the day of doom without a rag to protect them
from the winds of destiny. The walls were panelled in tremendous panels,
and in each panel was a formidable dark oil-painting. The mantelpieces
were so preposterously high that not even a giant could have sat at the
fireplace and put his feet on them. And if they had held clocks, as
mantelpieces do, a telescope would have been necessary to discern the
hour. Above each mantelpiece, instead of a looking-glass, was a vast
picture. The chandeliers were overpowering in glitter and in dimensions.

Near to a sofa Denry saw a pile of yellow linen things. He picked up the
topmost article, and it assumed the form of a chair. Yes, these articles
were furniture-covers. The Hall, then, was to be shut up. He argued from
the furniture-covers that somebody must enter sooner or later to put the
covers on the furniture.

Then he did a few more furlongs up and down the vista, and sat down at
the far end, under a window. Anyhow, there were always the windows.

High though they were from the floor, he could easily open one, spring
out, and slip unostentatiously away. But he thought he would wait until
dusk fell. Prudence is seldom misplaced. The windows, however, held a
disappointment for him. A mere bar, padlocked, prevented each one of
them from being opened; it was a simple device. He would be under the
necessity of breaking a plate-glass pane. For this enterprise he thought
he would wait until black night. He sat down again. Then he made a fresh
and noisy assault on all the doors. No result. He sat down a third time,
and gazed info the gardens where the shadows were creeping darkly. Not a
soul in the gardens. Then he felt a draught on the crown of his head,
and looking aloft he saw that the summit of the window had a transverse
glazed flap, for ventilation, and that this flap had been left open. If
he could have climbed up, he might have fallen out on the other side
into the gardens and liberty. But the summit of the window was at least
sixteen feet from the floor. Night descended.


At a vague hour in the evening a stout woman dressed in black, with a
black apron, a neat violet cap on her head, and a small lamp in her
podgy hand, unlocked one of the doors giving entry to the state rooms.
She was on her nightly round of inspection. The autumn moon, nearly at
full, had risen and was shining into the great windows. And in front of
the furthest window she perceived in the radiance of the moonshine a
pyramidal group, somewhat in the style of a family of acrobats,
dangerously arranged on the stage of a music-hall. The base of the
pyramid comprised two settees; upon these were several arm-chairs laid
flat, and on the arm-chairs two tables covered with cushions and rugs;
lastly, in the way of inanimate nature, two gilt chairs. On the gilt
chairs was something that unmistakably moved, and was fumbling with the
top of the window. Being a stout woman with a tranquil and sagacious
mind, her first act was not to drop the lamp. She courageously clung to
the lamp.

"Who's there?" said a voice from the apex of the pyramid.

Then a subsidence began, followed by a crash and a multitudinous
splintering of glass. The living form dropped on to one of the settees,
rebounding like a football from its powerful springs. There was a hole
as big as a coffin in the window. The living form collected itself, and
then jumped wildly through that hole into the gardens.

Denry ran. The moment had not struck him as a moment propitious for
explanation. In a flash he had seen the ridiculousness of endeavouring
to convince a stout lady in black that he was a gentleman paying a call
on the Countess. He simply scrambled to his legs and ran. He ran
aimlessly in the darkness and sprawled over a hedge, after crossing
various flower-beds. Then he saw the sheen of the moon on Sneyd Lake,
and he could take his bearings. In winter all the Five Towns skate on
Sneyd Lake if the ice will bear, and the geography of it was quite
familiar to Denry. He skirted its east bank, plunged into Great Shendon
Wood, and emerged near Great Shendon Station, on the line from Stafford
to Knype. He inquired for the next train in the tones of innocency, and
in half an hour was passing through Sneyd Station itself. In another
fifty minutes he was at home. The clock showed ten-fifteen. His mother's
cottage seemed amazingly small. He said that he had been detained in
Hanbridge on business, that he had had neither tea nor supper, and that
he was hungry. Next morning he could scarcely be sure that his visit to
Sneyd Hall was not a dream. In any event, it had been a complete


It was on this untriumphant morning that one of the tenants under his
control, calling at the cottage to pay some rent overdue, asked him when
the Universal Thrift Club was going to commence its operations. He had
talked of the enterprise to all his tenants, for it was precisely with
his tenants that he hoped to make a beginning. He had there a
_clientele_ ready to his hand, and as he was intimately acquainted
with the circumstances of each, he could judge between those who would
be reliable and those to whom he would be obliged to refuse membership.
The tenants, conclaving together of an evening on doorsteps, had come to
the conclusion that the Universal Thrift Club was the very contrivance
which they had lacked for years. They saw in it a cure for all their
economic ills, and the gate to Paradise. The dame who put the question
to him on the morning after his defeat wanted to be the possessor of
carpets, a new teapot, a silver brooch, and a cookery book; and she was
evidently depending upon Denry. On consideration he saw no reason why
the Universal Thrift Club should not be allowed to start itself by the
impetus of its own intrinsic excellence. The dame was inscribed for
three shares, paid eighteen-pence entrance fee, undertook to pay three
shillings a week, and received a document entitling her to spend L3,
18s. in sixty-five shops as soon as she had paid L1, 19s. to Denry. It
was a marvellous scheme. The rumour of it spread; before dinner Denry
had visits from other aspirants to membership, and he had posted a
cheque to Bostocks', but more from ostentation than necessity; for no
member could possibly go into Bostocks' with his coupons until at least
two months had elapsed.

But immediately after dinner, when the posters of the early edition of
the _Signal_ waved in the streets, he had material for other
thought. He saw a poster as he was walking across to his office. The
awful legend ran:


In buying the paper he was afflicted with a kind of ague. And the
description of events at Sneyd Hall was enough to give ague to a negro.
The account had been taken from the lips of Mrs Gater, housekeeper at
Sneyd Hall. She had related to a reporter how, upon going into the state
suite before retiring for the night, she had surprised a burglar of
Herculean physique and Titanic proportions. Fortunately she knew her
duty, and did not blench. The burglar had threatened her with a
revolver, and then, finding such bluff futile, had deliberately jumped
through a large plate-glass window and vanished. Mrs Gater could not
conceive how the fellow had "effected an entrance." (According to the
reporter, Mrs Gater said "effected an entrance," not "got in." And here
it may be mentioned that in the columns of the _Signal_ burglars
never get into a residence; without exception they invariably effect an
entrance.) Mrs Gater explained further how the plans of the burglar must
have been laid with the most diabolic skill; how he must have studied
the daily life of the Hall patiently for weeks, if not months; how he
must have known the habits and plans of every soul in the place, and the
exact instant at which the Countess had arranged to drive to Stafford to
catch the London express.

It appeared that save for four maidservants, a page, two dogs, three
gardeners, and the kitchen-clerk, Mrs Gater was alone in the Hall.
During the late afternoon and early evening they had all been to assist
at a rat-catching in the stables, and the burglar must have been aware
of this. It passed Mrs Gater's comprehension how the criminal had got
clear away out of the gardens and park, for to set up a hue and cry had
been with her the work of a moment. She could not be sure whether he had
taken any valuable property, but the inventory was being checked. Though
surely for her an inventory was scarcely necessary, as she had been
housekeeper at Sneyd Hall for six-and-twenty years, and might be said to
know the entire contents of the mansion by heart! The police were at
work. They had studied footprints and _debris_. There was talk of
obtaining detectives from London. Up to the time of going to press, no
clue had been discovered, but Mrs Gater was confident that a clue would
be discovered, and of her ability to recognise the burglar when he
should be caught. His features, as seen in the moonlight, were imprinted
on her mind for ever. He was a young man, well dressed. The Earl had
telegraphed, offering a reward of L20 for the fellow's capture. A
warrant was out.

So it ran on.

Denry saw clearly all the errors of tact which he had committed on the
previous day. He ought not to have entered uninvited. But having
entered, he ought to have held firm in quiet dignity until the
housekeeper came, and then he ought to have gone into full details with
the housekeeper, producing his credentials and showing her unmistakably
that he was offended by the experience which somebody's gross
carelessness had forced upon him.

Instead of all that, he had behaved with simple stupidity, and the
result was that a price was upon his head. Far from acquiring moral
impressiveness and influential aid by his journey to Sneyd Hall, he had
utterly ruined himself as a founder of a Universal Thrift Club. You
cannot conduct a thrift club from prison, and a sentence of ten years
does not inspire confidence in the ignorant mob. He trembled at the
thought of what would happen when the police learned from the Countess
that a man with a card on which was the name of Machin had called at
Sneyd just before her departure.

However, the police never did learn this from the Countess (who had gone
to Rome for the autumn). It appeared that her maid had merely said to
the Countess that "a man" had called, and also that the maid had lost
the card. Careful research showed that the burglar had been disturbed
before he had had opportunity to burgle. And the affair, after raising a
terrific bother in the district, died down.

Then it was that an article appeared in the _Signal_, signed by
Denry, and giving a full picturesque description of the state apartments
at Sneyd Hall. He had formed a habit of occasional contributions to the
_Signal_. This article began:--

"The recent sensational burglary at Sneyd Hall has drawn attention to
the magnificent state apartments of that unique mansion. As very few
but the personal friends of the family are allowed a glimpse of these
historic rooms, they being of course quite closed to the public, we
have thought that some account of them might interest the readers of
the _Signal_. On the occasion of our last visit...," etc.

He left out nothing of their splendour.

The article was quoted as far as Birmingham in the Midlands Press.
People recalled Denry's famous waltz with the Countess at the memorable
dance in Bursley Town Hall. And they were bound to assume that the
relations thus begun had been more or less maintained. They were struck
by Denry's amazing discreet self-denial in never boasting of them. Denry
rose in the market of popular esteem. Talking of Denry, people talked of
the Universal Thrift Club, which went quietly ahead, and they admitted
that Denry was of the stuff which succeeds and deserves to succeed.

But only Denry himself could appreciate fully how great Denry was, to
have snatched such a wondrous victory out of such a humiliating defeat!

His chin slowly disappeared from view under a quite presentable beard.
But whether the beard was encouraged out of respect for his mother's
sage advice, or with the object of putting the housekeeper of Sneyd Hall
off the scent, if she should chance to meet Denry, who shall say?




It next happened that Denry began to suffer from the ravages of a malady
which is almost worse than failure--namely, a surfeit of success. The
success was that of his Universal Thrift Club. This device, by which
members after subscribing one pound in weekly instalments could at once
get two pounds' worth of goods at nearly any large shop in the district,
appealed with enormous force to the democracy of the Five Towns. There
was no need whatever for Denry to spend money on advertising. The first
members of the club did all the advertising and made no charge for doing
it. A stream of people anxious to deposit money with Denry in exchange
for a card never ceased to flow Into his little office in St Luke's
Square. The stream, indeed, constantly thickened. It was a wonderful
invention, the Universal Thrift Club. And Denry ought to have been
happy, especially as his beard was growing strongly and evenly, and
giving him the desired air of a man of wisdom and stability. But he was
not happy. And the reason was that the popularity of the Thrift Club
necessitated much book-keeping, which he hated.

He was an adventurer, in the old honest sense, and no clerk. And he
found himself obliged not merely to buy large books of account, but to
fill them with figures; and to do addition sums from page to page; and
to fill up hundreds of cards; and to write out lists of shops, and to
have long interviews with printers whose proofs made him dream of
lunatic asylums; and to reckon innumerable piles of small coins; and to
assist his small office-boy in the great task of licking envelopes and
stamps. Moreover, he was worried by shopkeepers; every shopkeeper in the
district now wanted to allow him twopence in the shilling on the
purchases of club members. And he had to collect all the subscriptions,
in addition to his rents; and also to make personal preliminary
inquiries as to the reputation of intending members. If he could have
risen every day at 4 A.M. and stayed up working every night till 4 A.M.
he might have got through most of the labour. He did, as a fact, come
very near to this ideal. So near that one morning his mother said to
him, at her driest:

"I suppose I may as well sell your bedstead. Denry?"

And there was no hope of improvement; instead of decreasing, the work

What saved him was the fortunate death of Lawyer Lawton. The aged
solicitor's death put the town into mourning and hung the church with
black. But Denry as a citizen bravely bore the blow because he was able
to secure the services of Penkethman, Lawyer Lawton's eldest clerk, who,
after keeping the Lawton books and writing the Lawton letters for
thirty-five years, was dismissed by young Lawton for being over fifty
and behind the times. The desiccated bachelor was grateful to Denry. He
called Denry "Sir," or rather he called Denry's suit of clothes "Sir,"
for he had a vast respect for a well-cut suit. On the other hand, he
maltreated the little office-boy, for he had always been accustomed to
maltreating little office-boys, not seriously, but just enough to give
them an interest in life. Penkethman enjoyed desks, ledgers, pens, ink,
rulers, and blotting-paper. He could run from bottom to top of a column
of figures more quickly than the fire-engine could run up Oldcastle
Street; and his totals were never wrong. His gesture with a piece of
blotting-paper as he blotted off a total was magnificent. He liked long
hours; he was thoroughly used to overtime, and his boredom in his
lodgings was such that he would often arrive at the office before the
appointed hour. He asked thirty shillings a week, and Denry in a mood of
generosity gave him thirty-one. He gave Denry his whole life, and put a
meticulous order into the establishment. Denry secretly thought him a
miracle, but up at the club at Porthill he was content to call him "the
human machine." "I wind him up every Saturday night with a sovereign,
half a sovereign, and a shilling," said Denry, "and he goes for a week.
Compensated balance adjusted for all temperatures. No escapement.
Jewelled in every hole. Ticks in any position. Made in England."

This jocularity of Denry's was a symptom that Denry's spirits were
rising. The bearded youth was seen oftener in the streets behind his
mule and his dog. The adventurer had, indeed, taken to the road again.
After an emaciating period he began once more to stouten. He was the
image of success. He was the picturesque card, whom everybody knew and
everybody had pleasure in greeting.

In some sort he was rather like the flag on the Town Hall.

And then a graver misfortune threatened.

It arose out of the fact that, though Denry was a financial genius, he
was in no sense qualified to be a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered
Accountants. The notion that an excess of prosperity may bring ruin had
never presented itself to him, until one day he discovered that out of
over two thousand pounds there remained less than six hundred to his
credit at the bank. This was at the stage of the Thrift Club when the
founder of the Thrift Club was bound under the rules to give credit.
When the original lady member had paid in her two pounds or so, she was
entitled to spend four pounds or so at shops. She did spend four pounds
or so at shops. And Denry had to pay the shops. He was thus temporarily
nearly two pounds out of pocket, and he had to collect that sum by
trifling instalments. Multiply this case by five hundred, and you will
understand the drain on Denry's capital. Multiply it by a thousand, and
you will understand the very serious peril which overhung Denry.
Multiply it by fifteen hundred and you will understand that Denry had
been culpably silly to inaugurate a mighty scheme like the Universal
Thrift Club on a paltry capital of two thousand pounds. He had. In his
simplicity he had regarded two thousand pounds as boundless wealth.

Although new subscriptions poured in, the drain grew more distressing.
Yet he could not persuade himself to refuse new members. He stiffened
his rules, and compelled members to pay at his office instead of on
their own doorsteps; he instituted fines for irregularity. But nothing
could stop the progress of the Universal Thrift Club. And disaster
approached. Denry felt as though he were being pushed nearer and nearer
to the edge of a precipice by a tremendous multitude of people. At
length, very much against his inclination, he put up a card in his
window that no new members could be accepted until further notice,
pending the acquisition of larger offices and other arrangements. For
the shrewd, it was a confession of failure, and he knew it.

Then the rumour began to form, and to thicken, and to spread, that
Denry's famous Universal Thrift Club was unsound at the core, and that
the teeth of those who had bitten the apple would be set on edge.

And Denry saw that something great, something decisive, must be done and
done with rapidity.


His thoughts turned to the Countess of Chell. The original attempt to
engage her moral support in aid of the Thrift Club had ended in a
dangerous fiasco. Denry had been beaten by circumstances. And though he
had emerged from the defeat with credit, he had no taste for defeat. He
disliked defeat even when it was served with jam. And his indomitable
thoughts turned to the Countess again. He put it to himself in this way,
scratching his head:

"I've got to get hold of that woman, and that's all about it!"

The Countess at this period was busying herself with the policemen of
the Five Towns. In her exhaustless passion for philanthropy, bazaars,
and platforms, she had already dealt with orphans, the aged, the blind,
potter's asthma, creches, churches, chapels, schools, economic cookery,
the smoke-nuisance, country holidays, Christmas puddings and blankets,
healthy musical entertainments, and barmaids. The excellent and
beautiful creature was suffering from a dearth of subjects when the
policemen occurred to her. She made the benevolent discovery that
policemen were over-worked, underpaid, courteous and trustworthy public
servants, and that our lives depended on them. And from this discovery
it naturally followed that policemen deserved her energetic assistance.
Which assistance resulted in the erection of a Policemen's Institute at
Hanbridge, the chief of the Five Towns. At the Institute policemen would
be able to play at draughts, read the papers, and drink everything
non-alcoholic at prices that defied competition. And the Institute also
conferred other benefits on those whom all the five Mayors of the Five
Towns fell into the way of describing as "the stalwart guardians of the
law." The Institute, having been built, had to be opened with due
splendour and ceremony. And naturally the Countess of Chell was the
person to open it, since without her it would never have existed.

The solemn day was a day in March, and the hour was fixed for three
o'clock, and the place was the large hall of the Institute itself,
behind Crown Square, which is the Trafalgar Square of Hanbridge. The
Countess was to drive over from Sneyd. Had the epoch been ten years
later she would have motored over. But probably that would not have made
any difference to what happened.

In relating what did happen, I confine myself to facts, eschewing
imputations. It is a truism that life is full of coincidences, but
whether these events comprised a coincidence, or not, each reader must
decide for himself, according to his cynicism or his faith in human

The facts are: First, that Denry called one day at the house of Mrs Kemp
a little lower down Brougham Street, Mrs Kemp being friendly with Mrs
Machin, and the mother of Jock, the Countess's carriage-footman, whom
Denry had known from boyhood. Second, that a few days later, when Jock
came over to see his mother, Denry was present, and that subsequently
Denry and Jock went for a stroll together in the cemetery, the principal
resort of strollers in Bursley. Third, that on the afternoon of the
opening ceremony the Countess's carriage broke down in Sneyd Vale, two
miles from Sneyd and three miles from Hanbridge. Fourth, that five
minutes later Denry, all in his best clothes, drove up behind his mule.
Fifth, that Denry drove right past the breakdown, apparently not
noticing it. Sixth, that Jock, touching his hat to Denry as if to a
stranger (for, of course, while on duty a footman must be dead to all
humanities), said:

"Excuse me, sir," and so caused Denry to stop.

These are the simple facts.

Denry looked round with that careless half-turn of the upper part of the
body which drivers of elegant equipages affect when their attention is
called to something trifling behind them. The mule also looked round--it
was a habit of the mule's--and if the dog had been there the dog would
have shown an even livelier inquisitiveness; but Denry had left the
faithful animal at home.

"Good-afternoon, Countess," he said, raising his hat, and trying to
express surprise, pleasure, and imperturbability all at once.

The Countess of Chell, who was standing in the road, raised her lorgnon,
which was attached to the end of a tortoiseshell pole about a foot long,
and regarded Denry. This lorgnon was a new device of hers, and it was
already having the happy effect of increasing the sale of long-handled
lorgnons throughout the Five Towns.

"Oh! it's you, is it?" said the Countess. "I see you've grown a beard."

It was just this easy familiarity that endeared her to the district. As
observant people put it, you never knew what she would say next, and yet
she never compromised her dignity.

"Yes," said Denry. "Have you had an accident?"

"No," said the Countess, bitterly: "I'm doing this for idle amusement."

The horses had been taken out, and were grazing by the roadside like
common horses. The coachman was dipping his skirts in the mud as he bent
down in front of the carriage and twisted the pole to and fro and round
about and round about. The footman, Jock, was industriously watching

"It's the pole-pin, sir," said Jock.

Denry descended from his own hammercloth. The Countess was not smiling.
It was the first time that Denry had ever seen her without an efficient
smile on her face.

"Have you got to be anywhere particular?" he asked. Many ladies would
not have understood what he meant. But the Countess was used to the Five

"Yes," said she. "I have got to be somewhere particular. I've got to be
at the Police Institute at three o'clock particular, Mr Machin. And I
shan't be. I'm late now. We've been here ten minutes."

The Countess was rather too often late for public ceremonies. Nobody
informed her of the fact. Everybody, on the contrary, assiduously
pretended that she had arrived to the very second. But she was well
aware that she had a reputation for unpunctuality. Ordinarily, being too
hurried to invent a really clever excuse, she would assert lightly that
something had happened to her carriage. And now something in truth had
happened to her carriage--but who would believe it at the Police

"If you'll come with me I'll guarantee to get you there by three
o'clock," said Denry.

The road thereabouts was lonely. A canal ran parallel with it at a
distance of fifty yards, and on the canal a boat was moving in the
direction of Hanbridge at the rate of a mile an hour. Such was the only
other vehicle in sight. The outskirts of Knype, the nearest town, did
not begin until at least a mile further on; and the Countess, dressed
for the undoing of mayors and other unimpressionable functionaries,
could not possibly have walked even half a mile in that rich dark mud.
She thanked him, and without a word to her servants took the seat beside


Immediately the mule began to trot the Countess began to smile again.
Relief and content were painted upon her handsome features. Denry soon
learnt that she knew all about mules--or almost all. She told him how
she had ridden hundreds of miles on mules in the Apennines, where there
were no roads, and only mules, goats and flies could keep their feet on
the steep, stony paths. She said that a good mule was worth forty pounds
in the Apennines, more than a horse of similar quality. In fact, she was
very sympathetic about mules. Denry saw that he must drive with as much
style as possible, and he tried to remember all that he had picked up
from a book concerning the proper manner of holding the reins. For in
everything that appertained to riding and driving the Countess was an
expert. In the season she hunted once or twice a week with the North
Staffordshire Hounds, and the _Signal_ had stated that she was a
fearless horsewoman. It made this statement one day when she had been
thrown and carried to Sneyd senseless.

The mule, too, seemingly conscious of its responsibilities and its high
destiny, put its best foot foremost and behaved in general like a mule
that knew the name of its great-grandfather. It went through Knype in
admirable style, not swerving at the steam-cars nor exciting itself
about the railway bridge. A photographer who stood at his door
manoeuvring a large camera startled it momentarily, until it remembered
that it had seen a camera before. The Countess, who wondered why on
earth a photographer should be capering round a tripod in a doorway,
turned to inspect the man with her lorgnon.

They were now coursing up the Cauldon Bank towards Hanbridge. They were
already within the boundaries of Hanbridge, and a pedestrian here and
there recognised the Countess. You can hide nothing from the quidnunc of
Hanbridge. Moreover, when a quidnunc in the streets of Hanbridge sees
somebody famous or striking, or notorious, he does not pretend that he
has seen nobody. He points unmistakably to what he has observed, if he
has a companion, and if he has no companion he stands still and stares
with such honest intensity that the entire street stands and stares too.
Occasionally you may see an entire street standing and staring without
any idea of what it is staring at. As the equipage dashingly approached
the busy centre of Hanbridge, the region of fine shops, public-houses,
hotels, halls, and theatres, more and more of the inhabitants knew that
Iris (as they affectionately called her) was driving with a young man in
a tumble-down little victoria behind a mule whose ears flapped like an
elephant's. Denry being far less renowned in Hanbridge than in his
native Bursley, few persons recognised him. After the victoria had gone
by people who had heard the news too late rushed from shops and gazed at
the Countess's back as at a fading dream until the insistent clang of a
car-bell made them jump again to the footpath.

At length Denry and the Countess could see the clock of the Old Town
Hall in Crown Square and it was a minute to three. They were less than a
minute off the Institute.

"There you are!" said Denry, proudly. "Three miles if it's a yard, in
seventeen minutes. For a mule it's none so dusty."

And such was the Countess's knowledge of the language of the Five Towns
that she instantly divined the meaning of even that phrase, "none so

They swept into Crown Square grandly.

And then, with no warning, the mule suddenly applied all the automatic
brakes which a mule has, and stopped.

"Oh Lor!" sighed Denry. He knew the cause of that arresting.

A large squad of policemen, a perfect regiment of policemen, was moving
across the north side of the square in the direction of the Institute.
Nothing could have seemed more reassuring, less harmful, than that band
of policemen, off duty for the afternoon and collected together for the
purpose of giving a hearty and policemanly welcome to their benefactress
the Countess. But the mule had his own views about policemen. In the
early days of Denry's ownership of him he had nearly always shied at the
spectacle of a policemen. He would tolerate steam-rollers, and even
falling kites, but a policeman had ever been antipathetic to him. Denry,
by patience and punishment, had gradually brought him round almost to
the Countess's views of policemen--namely, that they were a courteous
and trustworthy body of public servants, not to be treated as scarecrows
or the dregs of society. At any rate, the mule had of late months
practically ceased to set his face against the policing of the Five
Towns. And when he was on his best behaviour he would ignore a policeman

But there were several hundreds of policemen in that squad, the majority
of all the policemen in the Five Towns. And clearly the mule considered
that Denry, in confronting him with several hundred policemen
simultaneously, had been presuming upon his good-nature.

The mule's ears were saying agitatedly:

"A line must be drawn somewhere, and I have drawn it where my forefeet
now are."

The mule's ears soon drew together a little crowd.

It occurred to Denry that if mules were so wonderful in the Apennines
the reason must be that there are no policemen in the Apennines. It also
occurred to him that something must be done to this mule.

"Well?" said the Countess, inquiringly.

It was a challenge to him to prove that he and not the mule was in
charge of the expedition.

He briefly explained the mule's idiosyncrasy, as it were apologising for
its bad taste in objecting to public servants whom the Countess

"They'll be out of sight in a moment," said the Countess. And both she
and Demo tried to look as if the victoria had stopped in that special
spot for a special reason, and that the mule was a pattern of obedience.
Nevertheless, the little crowd was growing a little larger.

"Now," said the Countess, encouragingly. The tail of the regiment of
policemen had vanished towards the Institute.

"Tchk! Tchk!" Denry persuaded the mule.

No response from those forefeet!

"Perhaps I'd better get out and walk," the Countess suggested. The crowd
was becoming inconvenient, and had even begun to offer unsolicited hints
as to the proper management of mules. The crowd was also saying to
itself: "It's her! It's her! It's her!" Meaning that it was the

"Oh no," said Denry, "it's all right."

And he caught the mule "one" over the head with his whip.

The mule, stung into action, dashed away, and the crowd scattered as if
blown to pieces by the explosion of a bomb. Instead of pursuing a right
line the mule turned within a radius of its own length, swinging the
victoria round after it as though the victoria had been a kettle
attached to it with string. And Countess, Denry, and victoria were rapt
with miraculous swiftness away--not at all towards the Policemen's
Institute, but down Longshaw Road, which is tolerably steep. They were
pursued, but ineffectually. For the mule had bolted and was winged. They
fortunately came into contact with nothing except a large barrow of
carrots, turnips, and cabbages which an old woman was wheeling up
Longshaw Road. The concussion upset the barrow, half filled the victoria
with vegetables, and for a second stayed the mule; but no real harm
seemed to have been done, and the mule proceeded with vigour. Then the
Countess noticed that Denry was not using his right arm, which swung
about rather uselessly.

"I must have knocked my elbow against the barrow," he muttered. His face
was pale.

"Give me the reins," said the Countess.

"I think I can turn the brute up here," he said.

And he did in fact neatly divert the mule up Birches Street, which is
steeper even than Longshaw Road. The mule for a few instants pretended
that all gradients, up or down, were equal before its angry might. But
Birches Street has the slope of a house-roof. Presently the mule walked,
and then it stood still. And half Birches Street emerged to gaze, for
the Countess's attire was really very splendid.

"I'll leave this here, and we'll walk back," said Denry. "You won't be
late--that is, nothing to speak of. The Institute is just round the top

"You don't mean to say you're going to let that mule beat you?"
exclaimed the Countess.

"I was only thinking of your being late."

"Oh, bother!" said she. "Your mule may be ruined." The horse-trainer in
her was aroused.

"And then my arm?" said Denry.

"Shall I drive back?" the Countess suggested.

"Oh, do," said Denry. "Keep on up the street, and then to the left."

They changed places, and two minutes later she brought the mule to an
obedient rest in front of the Police Institute, which was all newly red
with terra-cotta. The main body of policemen had passed into the
building, but two remained at the door, and the mule haughtily tolerated
them. The Countess despatched one to Longshaw Road to settle with the
old woman whose vegetables they had brought away with them. The other
policeman, who, owing to the Countess's philanthropic energy, had
received a course of instruction in first aid, arranged a sling for
Denry's arm. And then the Countess said that Denry ought certainly to go
with her to the inauguration ceremony. The policeman whistled a boy to
hold the mule. Denry picked a carrot out of the complex folds of the
Countess's rich costume. And the Countess and her saviour entered the
portico and were therein met by an imposing group of important male
personages, several of whom wore mayoral chains. Strange tales of what
had happened to the Countess had already flown up to the Institute, and
the chief expression on the faces of the group seemed to be one of
astonishment that she still lived.


Denry observed that the Countess was now a different woman. She had
suddenly put on a manner to match her costume, which in certain parts
was stiff with embroidery. From the informal companion and the tamer of
mules she had miraculously developed into the public celebrity, the
peeress of the realm, and the inaugurator-general of philanthropic
schemes and buildings. Not one of the important male personages but
would have looked down on Denry!

And yet, while treating Denry as a jolly equal, the Countess with all
her embroidered and stiff politeness somehow looked down on the
important male personages--and they knew it. And the most curious thing
was that they seemed rather to enjoy it. The one who seemed to enjoy it
the least was Sir Jehoshophat Dain, a white-bearded pillar of terrific

Sir Jee--as he was then beginning to be called--had recently been
knighted, by way of reward for his enormous benefactions to the
community. In the _role_ of philanthropist he was really much more
effective than the Countess. But he was not young, he was not pretty, he
was not a woman, and his family had not helped to rule England for
generations--at any rate, so far as anybody knew. He had made more money
than had ever before been made by a single brain in the manufacture of
earthenware, and he had given more money to public causes than a single
pocket had ever before given in the Five Towns. He had never sought
municipal honours, considering himself to be somewhat above such
trifles. He was the first purely local man to be knighted in the Five
Towns. Even before the bestowal of the knighthood his sense of humour
had been deficient, and immediately afterwards it had vanished entirely.
Indeed, he did not miss it. He divided the population of the kingdom
into two classes--the titled and the untitled. With Sir Jee, either you
were titled, or you weren't. He lumped all the untitled together; and to
be just to his logical faculty, he lumped all the titled together. There
were various titles--Sir Jee admitted that--but a title was a title, and
therefore all titles were practically equal. The Duke of Norfolk was one
titled individual, and Sir Jee was another. The fine difference between
them might be perceptible to the titled, and might properly be
recognised by the titled when the titled were among themselves, but for
the untitled such a difference ought not to exist and could not exist.

Thus for Sir Jee there were two titled beings in the group--the Countess
and himself. The Countess and himself formed one caste in the group, and
the rest another caste. And although the Countess, in her punctilious
demeanour towards him, gave due emphasis to his title (he returning more
than due emphasis to hers), he was not precisely pleased by the
undertones of suave condescension that characterised her greeting of him
as well as her greeting of the others. Moreover, he had known Denry as a
clerk of Mr Duncalf's, for Mr Duncalf had done a lot of legal work
for him in the past. He looked upon Denry as an upstart, a capering
mountebank, and he strongly resented Denry's familiarity with the
Countess. He further resented Denry's sling, which gave to Denry an
interesting romantic aspect (despite his beard), and he more than all
resented that Denry should have rescued the Countess from a carriage
accident by means of his preposterous mule. Whenever the Countess, in
the preliminary chatter, referred to Denry or looked at Denry, in
recounting the history of her adventures, Sir Jee's soul squirmed, and
his body sympathised with his soul. Something in him that was more
powerful than himself compelled him to do his utmost to reduce Denry to
a moral pulp, to flatten him, to ignore him, or to exterminate him by
the application of ice. This tactic was no more lost on the Countess
than it was on Denry. And the Countess foiled it at every instant. In
truth, there existed between the Countess and Sir Jee a rather hot
rivalry in philanthropy and the cultivation of the higher welfare of the
district. He regarded himself, and she regarded herself, as the most
brightly glittering star of the Five Towns.

When the Countess had finished the recital of her journey, and the faces
of the group had gone through all the contortions proper to express
terror, amazement, admiration, and manly sympathy, Sir Jee took the
lead, coughed, and said in his elaborate style:

"Before we adjourn to the hall, will not your ladyship take a little

"Oh no, thanks," said the Countess. "I'm not a bit upset." Then she
turned to the enslinged Denry and with concern added: "But will
_you_ have something?"

If she could have foreseen the consequences of her question, she might
never have put it. Still, she might have put it just the same.

Denry paused an instant, and an old habit rose up in him.

"Oh no, thanks," he said, and turning deliberately to Sir Jee, he added:
"Will _you_?"

This, of course, was mere crude insolence to the titled philanthropic
white-beard. But it was by no means the worst of Denry's behaviour. The
group--every member of the group--distinctly perceived a movement of
Denry's left hand towards Sir Jee. It was the very slightest movement, a
wavering, a nothing. It would have had no significance whatever, but for
one fact. Denry's left hand still held the carrot.

Everybody exhibited the most marvellous self-control. And everybody
except Sir Jee was secretly charmed, for Sir Jee had never inspired
love. It is remarkable how local philanthropists are unloved, locally.
The Countess, without blenching, gave the signal for what Sir Jee called
the "adjournment" to the hall. Nothing might have happened, yet
everything had happened.


Next, Denry found himself seated on the temporary platform which had
been erected in the large games hall of the Policemen's Institute.

The Mayor of Hanbridge was in the chair, and he had the Countess on his
right and the Mayoress of Bursley on his left. Other mayoral chains
blazed in the centre of the platform, together with fine hats of
mayoresses and uniforms of police-superintendents and captains of
fire-brigades. Denry's sling also contributed to the effectiveness; he
was placed behind the Countess. Policemen (looking strange without
helmets) and their wives, sweethearts, and friends, filled the hall to
its fullest; enthusiasm was rife and strident; and there was only one
little sign that the untoward had occurred. That little sign was an
empty chair in the first row near the Countess. Sir Jee, a prey to a
sudden indisposition, had departed. He had somehow faded away, while the
personages were climbing the stairs. He had faded away amid the
expressed regrets of those few who by chance saw him in the act of
fading. But even these bore up manfully. The high humour of the
gathering was not eclipsed.

Towards the end of the ceremony came the votes of thanks, and the
principal of these was the vote of thanks to the Countess, prime cause
of the Institute. It was proposed by the Superintendent of the Hanbridge
Police. Other personages had wished to propose it, but the stronger
right of the Hanbridge Superintendent, as chief officer of the largest
force of constables in the Five Towns, could not be disputed. He made a
few facetious references to the episode of the Countess's arrival, and
brought the house down by saying that if he did his duty he would arrest
both the Countess and Denry for driving to the common danger. When he
sat down, amid tempestuous applause, there was a hitch. According to the
official programme Sir Jehoshophat Dain was to have seconded the vote,
and Sir Jee was not there. All that remained of Sir Jee was his chair.
The Mayor of Hanbridge looked round about, trying swiftly to make up his
mind what was to be done, and Denry heard him whisper to another mayor
for advice.

"Shall I do it?" Denry whispered, and by at once rising relieved the
Mayor from the necessity of coming to a decision.

Impossible to say why Denry should have risen as he did, without any
warning. Ten seconds before, five seconds before, he himself had not the
dimmest idea that he was about to address the meeting. All that can be
said is that he was subject to these attacks of the unexpected.

Once on his legs he began to suffer, for he had never before been on his
legs on a platform, or even on a platform at all. He could see nothing
whatever except a cloud that had mysteriously and with frightful
suddenness filled the room. And through this cloud he could feel that
hundreds and hundreds of eyes were piercingly fixed upon him. A voice
was saying inside him--"What a fool you are! What a fool you are! I
always told you you were a fool!" And his heart was beating as it had
never beat, and his forehead was damp, his throat distressingly dry, and
one foot nervously tap-tapping on the floor. This condition lasted for
something like ten hours, during which time the eyes continued to pierce
the cloud and him with patient, obstinate cruelty.

Denry heard some one talking. It was himself.

The Superintendent had said: "I have very great pleasure in proposing
the vote of thanks to the Countess of Chell."

And so Denry heard himself saying: "I have very great pleasure in
seconding the vote of thanks to the Countess of Chell."

He could not think of anything else to say. And there was a pause, a
real pause, not a pause merely in Denry's sick imagination.

Then the cloud was dissipated. And Denry himself said to the audience of
policemen, with his own natural tone, smile and gesture, colloquially,
informally, comically:

"Now then! Move along there, please! I'm not going to say any more!"

And for a signal he put his hands in the position for applauding. And
sat down.

He had tickled the stout ribs of every bobby in the place. The applause
surpassed all previous applause. The most staid ornaments of the
platform had to laugh. People nudged each other and explained that it
was "that chap Machin from Bursley," as if to imply that that chap
Machin from Bursley never let a day pass without doing something
striking and humorous. The Mayor was still smiling when he put the vote
to the meeting, and the Countess was still smiling when she responded.

Afterwards in the portico, when everything was over, Denry exercised his
right to remain in charge of the Countess. They escaped from the
personages by going out to look for her carriage and neglecting to
return. There was no sign of the Countess's carriage, but Denry's mule
and victoria were waiting in a quiet corner.

"May I drive you home?" he suggested.

But she would not. She said that she had a call to pay before dinner,
and that her brougham would surely arrive the very next minute.

"Will you come and have tea at the Sub Rosa?" Denry next asked.

"The Sub Rosa?" questioned the Countess.

"Well," said Denry, "that's what we call the new tea-room that's just
been opened round here." He indicated a direction. "It's quite a novelty
in the Five Towns."

The Countess had a passion for tea.

"They have splendid China tea," said Denry.

"Well," said the Countess, "I suppose I may as well go through with it."

At the moment her brougham drove up. She instructed her coachman to wait
next to the mule and victoria. Her demeanour had cast off all its
similarity to her dress: it appeared to imply that, as she had begun
with a mad escapade, she ought to finish with another one.

Thus the Countess and Denry went to the tea-shop, and Denry ordered tea
and paid for it. There was scarcely a customer in the place, and the few
who were fortunate enough to be present had not the wit to recognise the
Countess. The proprietress did not recognise the Countess. (Later, when
it became known that the Countess had actually patronised the Sub Rosa,
half the ladies of Hanbridge were almost ill from sheer disgust that
they had not heard of it in time. It would have been so easy for them to
be there, taking tea at the next table to the Countess, and observing
her choice of cakes, and her manner of holding a spoon, and whether she
removed her gloves or retained them in the case of a meringue. It was an
opportunity lost that would in all human probability never occur again.)

And in the discreet corner which she had selected the Countess fired a
sudden shot at Denry.

"How did you get all those details about the state rooms at Sneyd?" she

Upon which opening the conversation became lively.

The same evening Denry called at the _Signal_ office and gave an
order for a half-page advertisement of the Five Towns Universal Thrift
Club--"Patroness, the Countess of Chell." The advertisement informed
the public that the club had now made arrangements to accept new
members. Besides the order for a half-page advertisement, Denry also
gave many interesting and authentic details about the historic drive
from Sneyd Vale to Hanbridge. The next day the _Signal_ was simply
full of Denry and the Countess. It had a large photograph, taken by a
photographer on Cauldon Bank, which showed Denry actually driving the
Countess, and the Countess's face was full in the picture. It presented,
too, an excellently appreciative account of Denry's speech, and it
congratulated Denry on his first appearance in the public life of the
Five Towns. (In parenthesis it sympathised with Sir Jee in his
indisposition.) In short, Denry's triumph obliterated the memory of his
previous triumphs. It obliterated, too, all rumours adverse to the
Thrift Club. In a few days he had a thousand new members. Of course,
this addition only increased his liabilities; but now he could obtain
capital on fair terms, and he did obtain it. A company was formed. The
Countess had a few shares in this company. So (strangely) had Jock and
his companion the coachman. Not the least of the mysteries was that when
Denry reached his mother's cottage on the night of the tea with the
Countess, his arm was not in a sling, and showed no symptom of having
been damaged.




A still young man--his age was thirty--with a short, strong beard
peeping out over the fur collar of a vast overcoat, emerged from a cab
at the snowy corner of St Luke's Square and Brougham Street, and paid
the cabman with a gesture that indicated both wealth and the habit of
command. And the cabman, who had driven him over from Hanbridge through
the winter night, responded accordingly. Few people take cabs in the
Five Towns. There are few cabs to take. If you are going to a party you
may order one in advance by telephone, reconciling yourself also in
advance to the expense, but to hail a cab in the street without
forethought and jump into it as carelessly as you would jump into a
tram--this is by very few done. The young man with the beard did it
frequently, which proved that he was fundamentally ducal.

He was encumbered with a large and rather heavy parcel as he walked down
Brougham Street, and, moreover, the footpath of Brougham Street was
exceedingly dirty. And yet no one acquainted with the circumstances of
his life would have asked why he had dismissed the cab before arriving
at his destination, because every one knew. The reason was that this
ducal person, with the gestures of command, dared not drive up to his
mother's door in a cab oftener than about once a month. He opened that
door with a latch-key (a modern lock was almost the only innovation that
he had succeeded in fixing on his mother), and stumbled with his
unwieldy parcel into the exceedingly narrow lobby.

"Is that you, Denry?" called a feeble voice from the parlour.

"Yes," said he, and went into the parlour, hat, fur coat, parcel, and

Mrs Machin, in a shawl and an antimacassar over the shawl, sat close to
the fire and leaning towards it. She looked cold and ill. Although the
parlour was very tiny and the fire comparatively large, the structure of
the grate made it impossible that the room should be warm, as all the
heat went up the chimney. If Mrs Machin had sat on the roof and put her
hands over the top of the chimney, she would have been much warmer than
at the grate.

"You aren't in bed?" Denry queried.

"Can't ye see?" said his mother. And, indeed, to ask a woman who was
obviously sitting up in a chair whether she was in bed, did seem
somewhat absurd. She added, less sarcastically: "I was expecting ye
every minute. Where have ye had your tea?"

"Oh!" he said lightly, "in Hanbridge."

An untruth! He had not had his tea anywhere. But he had dined richly at
the new Hotel Metropole, Hanbridge.

"What have ye got there?" asked his mother.

"A present for you," said Denry. "It's your birthday to-morrow."

"I don't know as I want reminding of that," murmured Mrs Machin.

But when he had undone the parcel and held up the contents before her,
she exclaimed:

"Bless us!"

The staggered tone was an admission that for once in a way he had
impressed her.

It was a magnificent sealskin mantle, longer than sealskin mantles
usually are. It was one of those articles the owner of which can say:
"Nobody can have a better than this--I don't care who she is." It was
worth in monetary value all the plain, shabby clothes on Mrs Machin's
back, and all her very ordinary best clothes upstairs, and all the
furniture in the entire house, and perhaps all Denry's dandiacal
wardrobe too, except his fur coat. If the entire contents of the
cottage, with the aforesaid exception, had been put up to auction, they
would not have realised enough to pay for that sealskin mantle.

Had it been anything but a sealskin mantle, and equally costly, Mrs
Machin would have upbraided. But a sealskin mantle is not "showy." It
"goes with" any and every dress and bonnet. And the most respectable,
the most conservative, the most austere woman may find legitimate
pleasure in wearing it. A sealskin mantle is the sole luxurious
ostentation that a woman of Mrs Machin's temperament--and there are many
such in the Five Towns and elsewhere--will conscientiously permit

"Try it on," said Denry.

She rose weakly and tried it on. It fitted as well as a sealskin mantle
can fit.

"My word--it's warm!" she said. This was her sole comment.

"Keep it on," said Denry.

His mother's glance withered the suggestion.

"Where are you going?" he asked, as she left the room.

"To put it away," said she. "I must get some moth-powder to-morrow."

He protested with inarticulate noises, removed his own furs, which he
threw down on to the old worn-out sofa, and drew a Windsor chair up to
the fire. After a while his mother returned, and sat down in her
rocking-chair, and began to shiver again under the shawl and the
antimacassar. The lamp on the table lighted up the left side of her face
and the right side of his.

"Look here, mother," said he, "you must have a doctor."

"I shall have no doctor."

"You've got influenza, and it's a very tricky business--influenza is;
you never know where you are with it."

"Ye can call it influenza if ye like," said Mrs Machin. "There was no
influenza in my young days. We called a cold a cold."

"Well," said Denry, "you aren't well, are you?"

"I never said I was," she answered grimly.

"No," said Denry, with the triumphant ring of one who is about to
devastate an enemy. "And you never will be in this rotten old cottage."

"This was reckoned a very good class of house when your father and I
came into it. And it's always been kept in repair. It was good enough
for your father, and it's good enough for me. I don't see myself
flitting. But some folks have gotten so grand. As for health, old Reuben
next door is ninety-one. How many people over ninety are there in those
gimcrack houses up by the Park, I should like to know?"

Denry could argue with any one save his mother. Always, when he was
about to reduce her to impotence, she fell on him thus and rolled him in
the dust. Still, he began again.

"Do we pay four-and-sixpence a week for this cottage, or don't we?" he

"And always have done," said Mrs Machin. "I should like to see the
landlord put it up," she added, formidably, as if to say: "I'd landlord
him, if he tried to put _my_ rent up!"

"Well," said Denry, "here we are living in a four-and-six-a-week
cottage, and do you know how much I'm making? I'm making two thousand
pounds a year. That's what I'm making."

A second wilful deception of his mother! As Managing Director of the
Five Towns Universal Thrift Club, as proprietor of the majority of its
shares, as its absolute autocrat, he was making very nearly four
thousand a year. Why could he not as easily have said four as two to his
mother? The simple answer is that he was afraid to say four. It was as
if he ought to blush before his mother for being so plutocratic, his
mother who had passed most of her life in hard toil to gain a few
shillings a week. Four thousand seemed so fantastic! And in fact the
Thrift Club, which he had invented in a moment, had arrived at a
prodigious success, with its central offices in Hanbridge and its branch
offices in the other four towns, and its scores of clerks and collectors
presided over by Mr Penkethman. It had met with opposition. The mighty
said that Denry was making an unholy fortune under the guise of
philanthropy. And to be on the safe side the Countess of Chell had
resigned her official patronage of the club and given her shares to the
Pirehill Infirmary, which had accepted the high dividends on them
without the least protest. As for Denry, he said that he had never set
out to be a philanthropist nor posed as one, and that his unique
intention was to grow rich by supplying a want, like the rest of them,
and that anyhow there was no compulsion to belong to his Thrift Club.
Then letters in his defence from representatives of the thousands and
thousands of members of the club rained into the columns of the
_Signal_, and Denry was the most discussed personage in the county.
It was stated that such thrift clubs, under various names, existed in
several large towns in Yorkshire and Lancashire. This disclosure
rehabilitated Denry completely in general esteem, for whatever obtains
in Yorkshire and Lancashire must be right for Staffordshire; but it
rather dashed Denry, who was obliged to admit to himself that after all
he had not invented the Thrift Club. Finally the hundreds of tradesmen
who had bound themselves to allow a discount of twopence in the shilling
to the club (sole source of the club's dividends) had endeavoured to
revolt. Denry effectually cowed them by threatening to establish
co-operative stores--there was not a single co-operative store in the
Five Towns. They knew he would have the wild audacity to do it.

Thenceforward the progress of the Thrift Club had been unruffled. Denry
waxed amazingly in importance. His mule died. He dared not buy a proper
horse and dogcart, because he dared not bring such an equipage to the
front door of his mother's four-and-sixpenny cottage. So he had taken to
cabs. In all exterior magnificence and lavishness he equalled even the
great Harold Etches, of whom he had once been afraid; and like Etches he
became a famous _habitue_ of Llandudno pier. But whereas Etches
lived with his wife in a superb house at Bleakridge, Denry lived with
his mother in a ridiculous cottage in ridiculous Brougham Street. He had
a regiment of acquaintances and he accepted a lot of hospitality, but he
could not return it at Brougham Street. His greatness fizzled into
nothing in Brougham Street. It stopped short and sharp at the corner of
St Luke's Square, where he left his cabs. He could do nothing with his
mother. If she was not still going out as a sempstress the reason was,
not that she was not ready to go out, but that her old clients had
ceased to send for her. And could they be blamed for not employing at
three shillings a day the mother of a young man who wallowed in
thousands sterling? Denry had essayed over and over again to instil
reason into his mother, and he had invariably failed. She was too
independent, too profoundly rooted in her habits; and her character had
more force than his. Of course, he might have left her and set up a
suitably gorgeous house of his own.

But he would not.

In fact, they were a remarkable pair.

On this eve of her birthday he had meant to cajole her into some step,
to win her by an appeal, basing his argument on her indisposition. But
he was being beaten off once more. The truth was that a cajoling,
caressing tone could not be long employed towards Mrs Machin. She was
not persuasive herself, nor; favourable to persuasiveness in others.

"Well," said she, "if you're making two thousand a year, ye can spend it
or save it as ye like, though ye'd better save it. Ye never know what
may happen in these days. There was a man dropped half-a-crown down a
grid opposite only the day before yesterday."

Denry laughed.

"Ay!" she said; "ye can laugh."

"There's no doubt about one thing," he said, "you ought to be in bed.
You ought to stay in bed for two or three days at least."

"Yes," she said. "And who's going to look after the house while I'm
moping between blankets?"

"You can have Rose Chudd in," he said.

"No," said she. "I'm not going to have any woman rummaging about my
house, and me in bed."

"You know perfectly well she's been practically starving since her
husband died, and as she's going out charing, why can't you have her and
put a bit of bread into her mouth?"

"Because I won't have her! Neither her nor any one. There's naught to
prevent you giving her some o' your two thousand a year if you've a
mind. But I see no reason for my house being turned upside down by her,
even if I _have_ got a bit of a cold."

"You're an unreasonable old woman," said Denry.

"Happen I am!" said she. "There can't be two wise ones in a family. But
I'm not going to give up this cottage, and as long as I am standing on
my feet I'm not going to pay any one for doing what I can do better
myself." A pause. "And so you needn't think it! You can't come round me
with a fur mantle." She retired to rest. On the following morning he was
very glum.

"You needn't be so glum," she said.

But she was rather pleased at his glumness. For in him glumness was a
sign that he recognised defeat.


The next episode between them was curiously brief. Denry had influenza.
He said that naturally he had caught hers.

He went to bed and stayed there. She nursed him all day, and grew angry
in a vain attempt to force him to eat. Towards night he tossed furiously
on the little bed in the little bedroom, complaining of fearful
headaches. She remained by his side most of the night. In the morning he
was easier. Neither of them mentioned the word "doctor." She spent the
day largely on the stairs. Once more towards night he grew worse, and
she remained most of the second night by his side.

In the sinister winter dawn Denry murmured in a feeble tone:

"Mother, you'd better send for him."

"Doctor?" she said. And secretly she thought that she _had_ better
send for the doctor, and that there must be after all some difference
between influenza and a cold.

"No," said Denry; "send for young Lawton."

"Young Lawton!" she exclaimed. "What do you want young Lawton to come
_here_ for?"

"I haven't made my will," Denry answered.

"Pooh!" she retorted.

Nevertheless she was the least bit in the world frightened. And she sent
for Dr Stirling, the aged Harrop's Scotch partner.

Dr Stirling, who was full-bodied and left little space for anybody else
in the tiny, shabby bedroom of the man with four thousand a year, gazed
at Mrs Machin, and he gazed also at Denry.

"Ye must go to bed this minute," said he.

"But he's _in_ bed," cried Mrs Machin.

"I mean yerself," said Dr Stirling.

She was very nearly at the end of her resources. And the proof was that
she had no strength left to fight Dr Stirling. She did go to bed. And
shortly afterwards Denry got up. And a little later, Rose Chudd, that
prim and efficient young widow from lower down the street, came into the
house and controlled it as if it had been her own. Mrs Machin, whose
constitution was hardy, arose in about a week, cured, and duly dismissed
Rose with wages and without thanks. But Rose had been. Like the
_Signal's_ burglars, she had "effected an entrance." And the house
had not been turned upside down. Mrs Machin, though she tried, could not
find fault with the result of Rose's uncontrolled activities.


One morning--and not very long afterwards, in such wise did Fate seem to
favour the young at the expense of the old--Mrs Machin received two
letters which alarmed and disgusted her. One was from her landlord,
announcing that he had sold the house in which she lived to a Mr
Wilbraham of London, and that in future she must pay the rent to the
said Mr Wilbraham or his legal representatives. The other was from a
firm of London solicitors announcing that their client, Mr Wilbraham,
had bought the house, and that the rent must be paid to their agent,
whom they would name later.

Mrs Machin gave vent to her emotion in her customary manner: "Bless us!"

And she showed the impudent letters to Denry.

"Oh!" said Denry. "So he has bought them, has he? I heard he was going

"Them?" exclaimed Mrs Machin. "What else has he bought?"

"I expect he's bought all the five--this and the four below, as far as
Downes's. I expect you'll find that the other four have had notices just
like these. You know all this row used to belong to the Wilbrahams. You
surely must remember that, mother?"

"Is he one of the Wilbrahams of Hillport, then?"

"Yes, of course he is."

"I thought the last of 'em was Cecil, and when he'd beggared himself
here he went to Australia and died of drink. That's what I always heard.
We always used to say as there wasn't a Wilbraham left."

"He did go to Australia, but he didn't die of drink. He disappeared, and
when he'd made a fortune he turned up again in Sydney, so it seems. I
heard he's thinking of coming back here to settle. Anyhow, he's buying
up a lot of the Wilbraham property. I should have thought you'd have
heard of it. Why, lots of people have been talking about it."

"Well," said Mrs Machin, "I don't like it."

She objected to a law which permitted a landlord to sell a house over
the head of a tenant who had occupied it for more than thirty years. In
the course of the morning she discovered that Denry was right--the other
tenants had received notices exactly similar to hers.

Two days later Denry arrived home for tea with a most surprising article
of news. Mr Cecil Wilbraham had been down to Bursley from London, and
had visited him, Denry. Mr Cecil Wilbraham's local information was
evidently quite out of date, for he had imagined Denry to be a
rent-collector and estate agent, whereas the fact was that Denry had
abandoned this minor vocation years ago. His desire had been that Denry
should collect his rents and watch over his growing interests in the

"So what did you tell him?" asked Mrs Machin.

"I told him I'd do it." said Denry.


"I thought it might be safer for _you_," said Denry, with a certain
emphasis. "And, besides, it looked as if it might be a bit of a lark.
He's a very peculiar chap."


"For one thing, he's got the largest moustaches of any man I ever saw.
And there's something up with his left eye. And then I think he's a bit


"Well, touched. He's got a notion about building a funny sort of a house
for himself on a plot of land at Bleakridge. It appears he's fond of
living alone, and he's collected all kind of dodges for doing without
servants and still being comfortable."

"Ay! But he's right there!" breathed Mrs Machin in deep sympathy. As she
said about once a week, "She never could abide the idea of servants."
"He's not married, then?" she added.

"He told me he'd been a widower three times, but he'd never had any
children," said Denry.

"Bless us!" murmured Mrs Machin.

Denry was the one person in the town who enjoyed the acquaintance and
the confidence of the thrice-widowed stranger with long moustaches. He
had descended without notice on Bursley, seen Denry (at the branch
office of the Thrift Club), and then departed. It was understood that
later he would permanently settle in the district. Then the wonderful
house began to rise on the plot of land at Bleakridge. Denry had general
charge of it, but always subject to erratic and autocratic instructions
from London. Thanks to Denry, who, since the historic episode at
Llandudno, had remained very friendly with the Cotterill family, Mr
Cotterill had the job of building the house; the plans came from London.
And though Mr Cecil Wilbraham proved to be exceedingly watchful against
any form of imposition, the job was a remunerative one for Mr Cotterill,
who talked a great deal about the originality of the residence. The town
judged of the wealth and importance of Mr Cecil Wilbraham by the fact
that a person so wealthy and important as Denry should be content to act
as his agent. But then the Wilbrahams had been magnates in the Bursley
region for generations, up till the final Wilbraham smash in the late
seventies. The town hungered to see those huge moustaches and that
peculiar eye. In addition to Denry, only one person had seen the madman,
and that person was Nellie Cotterill, who had been viewing the
half-built house with Denry one Sunday morning when the madman had most
astonishingly arrived upon the scene, and after a few minutes vanished.
The building of the house strengthened greatly the friendship between
Denry and the Cotterills. Yet Denry neither liked Mr Cotterill nor
trusted him. The next incident in these happening was that
Mrs Machin received notice from the London firm to quit her
four-and-sixpence-a-week cottage. It seemed to her that not merely
Brougham Street, but the world, was coming to an end. She was very angry
with Denry for not protecting her more successfully. He was Mr
Wilbraham's agent, he collected the rent, and it was his duty to guard
his mother from unpleasantness. She observed, however, that he was
remarkably disturbed by the notice, and he assured her that Mr Wilbraham
had not consulted him in the matter at all. He wrote a letter to London,
which she signed, demanding the reason of this absurd notice flung at an
ancient and perfect tenant. The reply was that Mr Wilbraham intended to
pull the houses down, beginning with Mrs Machin's, and rebuild.

"Pooh!" said Denry. "Don't you worry your head, mother; I shall arrange
it. He'll be down here soon to see his new house--it's practically
finished, and the furniture is coming in--and I'll just talk to him."

But Mr Wilbraham did not come, the explanation doubtless being that he
was mad. On the other hand, fresh notices came with amazing frequency.
Mrs Machin just handed them over to Denry. And then Denry received a
telegram to say that Mr Wilbraham would be at his new house that night
and wished to see Denry there. Unfortunately, on the same day, by the
afternoon post, while Denry was at his offices, there arrived a sort of
supreme and ultimate notice from London to Mrs Machin, and it was on
blue paper. It stated, baldly, that as Mrs Machin had failed to comply
with all the previous notices, had, indeed, ignored them, she and her
goods would now be ejected into the street, according to the law. It
gave her twenty-four hours to flit. Never had a respectable dame been so
insulted as Mrs Machin was insulted by that notice. The prospect of
camping out in Brougham Street confronted her. When Denry reached home
that evening, Mrs Machin, as the phrase is, "gave it him."

Denry admitted frankly that he was nonplussed, staggered and outraged.
But the thing was simply another proof of Mr Wilbraham's madness. After
tea he decided that his mother must put on her best clothes, and go up
with him to see Mr Wilbraham and firmly expostulate--in fact, they would
arrange the situation between them; and if Mr Wilbraham was obstinate
they would defy Mr Wilbraham. Denry explained to his mother that an
Englishwoman's cottage was her castle, that a landlord's minions had no
right to force an entrance, and that the one thing that Mr Wilbraham
could do was to begin unbuilding the cottage from the top outside....
And he would like to see Mr Wilbraham try it on!

So the sealskin mantle (for it was spring again) went up with Denry to


The moon shone in the chill night. The house stood back from Trafalgar
Road in the moonlight--a squarish block of a building.

"Oh!" said Mrs Machin, "it isn't so large."

"No! He didn't want it large. He only wanted it large enough," said
Denry, and pushed a button to the right of the front door. There was no
reply, though they heard the ringing of the bell inside. They waited.
Mrs Machin was very nervous, but thanks to her sealskin mantle she was
not cold.

"This is a funny doorstep," she remarked, to kill time.

"It's of marble," said Denry.

"What's that for?" asked his mother.

"So much easier to keep clean," said Denry.

"Well," said Mrs Machin, "it's pretty dirty now, anyway."

It was.

"Quite simple to clean," said Denry, bending down. "You just turn this
tap at the side. You see, it's so arranged that it sends a flat jet
along the step. Stand off a second."

He turned the tap, and the step was washed pure in a moment.

"How is it that that water steams?" Mrs Machin demanded.

"Because it's hot," said Denry. "Did you ever know water steam for any
other reason?"

"Hot water outside?"

"Just as easy to have hot water outside as inside, isn't it?" said

"Well, I never!" exclaimed Mrs Machin. She was impressed.

"That's how everything's dodged up in this house," said Denry. He shut
off the water.

And he rang once again. No answer! No illumination within the abode!

"I'll tell you what I shall do," said Denry at length. "I shall let
myself in. I've got a key of the back door."

"Are you sure it's all right?"

"I don't care if it isn't all right," said Denry, defiantly. "He asked
me to be up here, and he ought to be here to meet me. I'm not going to
stand any nonsense from anybody."

In they went, having skirted round the walls of the house.

Denry closed the door, pushed a switch, and the electric light shone.
Electric light was then quite a novelty in Bursley. Mrs Machin had never
seen it in action. She had to admit that it was less complicated than
oil-lamps. In the kitchen the electric light blazed upon walls tiled in
grey and a floor tiled in black and white. There was a gas range and a
marble slopstone with two taps. The woodwork was dark. Earthenware
saucepans stood on a shelf. The cupboards were full of gear chiefly in
earthenware. Denry began to exhibit to his mother a tank provided with
ledges and shelves and grooves, in which he said that everything except
knives could be washed and dried automatically.

"Hadn't you better go and find your Mr Wilbraham?" she interrupted.

"So I had," said Denry; "I was forgetting him."

She heard him wandering over the house and calling in divers tones upon
Mr Wilbraham. But she heard no other voice. Meanwhile she examined the
kitchen in detail, appreciating some of its devices and failing to
comprehend others.

"I expect he's missed the train," said Denry, coming back. "Anyhow, he
isn't here. I may as well show you the rest of the house now."

He led her into the hall, which was radiantly lighted.

"It's quite warm here," said Mrs Machin.

"The whole house is heated by steam," said Denry. "No fireplaces."

"No fireplaces!"

"No! No fireplaces. No grates to polish, ashes to carry down, coals to
carry up, mantelpieces to dust, fire-irons to clean, fenders to polish,
chimneys to sweep."

"And suppose he wants a bit of fire all of a sudden in summer?"

"Gas stove in every room for emergencies," said Denry.

She glanced into a room.

"But," she cried, "it's all complete, ready! And as warm as toast."

"Yes," said Denry, "he gave orders. I can't think why on earth he isn't

At that moment an electric bell rang loud and sharp, and Mrs Machin

"There he is!" said Denry, moving to the door.

"Bless us! What will he think of us being here like?" Mrs Machin

"Pooh!" said Denry, carelessly. And he opened the door.


Three persons stood on the newly-washed marble step--Mr and Mrs
Cotterill and their daughter.

"Oh! Come in! Come in! Make yourselves quite at home. That's what
_we're_ doing," said Demo in blithe greeting; and added, "I suppose
he's invited you too?"

And it appeared that Mr Cecil Wilbraham had indeed invited them too. He
had written from London saying that he would be glad if Mr and Mrs
Cotterill would "drop in" on this particular evening. Further, he had
mentioned that, as be had already had the pleasure of meeting Miss
Cotterill, perhaps she would accompany her parents.

"Well, he isn't here," said Denry, shaking hands. "He must have missed
his train or something. He can't possibly be here now till to-morrow.
But the house seems to be all ready for him...."

"Yes, my word! And how's yourself, Mrs Cotterill?" put in Mrs Machin.

"So we may as well look over it in its finished state. I suppose that's
what he asked us up for," Denry concluded.

Mrs Machin explained quickly and nervously that she had not been
comprised in any invitation; that her errand was pure business.

"Come on upstairs," Denry called out, turning switches and adding
radiance to radiance.

"Denry!" his mother protested, "I'm sure I don't know what Mr and Mrs
Cotterill will think of you! You carry on as if you owned everything in
the place. I wonder _at_ you!"

"Well," said Denry, "if anybody in this town is the owner's agent I am.
And Mr Cotterill has built the blessed house. If Wilbraham wanted to
keep his old shanty to himself, he shouldn't send out invitations. It's
simple enough not to send out invitations. Now, Nellie!"

He was hanging over the balustrade at the curve of the stairs.

The familiar ease with which he said, "Now, Nellie," and especially the
spontaneity of Nellie's instant response, put new thoughts into the mind
of Mrs Machin. But she neither pricked up her ears, nor started back,
nor accomplished any of the acrobatic feats which an ordinary mother of
a wealthy son would have performed under similar circumstances. Her ears
did not even tremble. And she just said:

"I like this balustrade knob being of black china."

"Every knob in the house is of black china," said Denry. "Never shows
dirt. But if you should take it into your head to clean it, you can do
it with a damp cloth in a second."

Nellie now stood beside him. Nellie had grown up since the Llandudno
episode. She did not blush at a glance. When spoken to suddenly she
could answer without torture to herself. She could, in fact, maintain a
conversation without breaking down for a much longer time than, a few
years ago, she had been able to skip without breaking down. She no
longer imagined that all the people in the street were staring at her,
anxious to find faults in her appearance. She had temporarily ruined the
lives of several amiable and fairly innocent young men by refusing to
marry them. (For she was pretty, and her father cut a figure in the
town, though her mother did not.) And yet, despite the immense
accumulation of her experiences and the weight of her varied knowledge
of human nature, there was something very girlish and timidly roguish
about her as she stood on the stairs near Denry, waiting for the elder
generation to follow. The old Nellie still lived in her.

The party passed to the first floor.

And the first floor exceeded the ground floor in marvels. In each
bedroom two aluminium taps poured hot and cold water respectively into a
marble basin, and below the marble basin was a sink. No porterage of
water anywhere in the house. The water came to you, and every room
consumed its own slops. The bedsteads were of black enamelled iron and
very light. The floors were covered with linoleum, with a few rugs that
could be shaken with one hand. The walls were painted with grey enamel.
Mrs Cotterill, with her all-seeing eye, observed a detail that Mrs
Machin had missed. There were no sharp corners anywhere. Every corner,
every angle between wall and floor or wall and wall, was rounded, to
facilitate cleaning. And every wall, floor, ceiling, and fixture could
be washed, and all the furniture was enamelled and could be wiped with a
cloth in a moment instead of having to be polished with three cloths and
many odours in a day and a half. The bath-room was absolutely
waterproof; you could spray it with a hose, and by means of a gas
apparatus you could produce an endless supply of hot water independent
of the general supply. Denry was apparently familiar with each detail of
Mr Wilbraham's manifold contrivances, and he explained them with an
enormous gusto.

"Bless us!" said Mrs Machin.

"Bless us!" said Mrs Cotterill (doubtless the force of example).

They descended to the dining-room, where a supper-table had been laid by
order of the invisible Mr Cecil Wilbraham. And there the ladies lauded
Mr Wilbraham's wisdom in eschewing silver. Everything of the table
service that could be of earthenware was of earthenware. The forks and
spoons were electro-plate.

"Why," Mrs Cotterill said, "I could run this house without a servant and
have myself tidy by ten o'clock in a morning."

And Mrs Machin nodded.

"And then when you want a regular turn-out, as you call it," said Denry,
"there's the vacuum-cleaner."

The vacuum-cleaner was at that period the last word of civilisation, and
the first agency for it was being set up in Bursley. Denry explained the
vacuum-cleaner to the housewives, who had got no further than a Ewbank.
And they again called down blessings on themselves.

"What price this supper?" Denry exclaimed. "We ought to eat it. I'm sure
he'd like us to eat it. Do sit down, all of you. I'll take the

Mrs Machin hesitated even more than the other ladies.

"It's really very strange, him not being here." She shook her head.

"Don't I tell you he's quite mad," said Denry.

"I shouldn't think he was so mad as all that," said Mrs Machin, dryly.
"This is the most sensible kind of a house I've ever seen."

"Oh! Is it?" Denry answered. "Great Scott! I never noticed those three
bottles of wine on the sideboard."

At length he succeeded in seating them at the table. Thenceforward there
was no difficulty. The ample and diversified cold supper began to
disappear steadily, and the wine with it. And as the wine disappeared so
did Mr Cotterill (who had been pompous and taciturn) grow talkative,
offering to the company the exact figures of the cost of the house, and
so forth. But ultimately the sheer joy of life killed arithmetic.

Mrs Machin, however, could not quite rid herself of the notion that she
was in a dream that outraged the proprieties. The entire affair, for an
unromantic spot like Bursley, was too fantastically and wickedly

"We must be thinking about home, Denry," said she.

"Plenty of time," Denry replied. "What! All that wine gone! I'll see if
there's any more in the sideboard."

He emerged, with a red face, from bending into the deeps of the
enamelled sideboard, and a wine-bottle was in his triumphant hand. It
had already been opened.

"Hooray!" he proclaimed, pouring a white wine into his glass and raising
the glass: "here's to the health of Mr Cecil Wilbraham."

He made a brave tableau in the brightness of the electric light.

Then he drank. Then he dropped the glass, which broke.

"Ugh! What's that?" he demanded, with the distorted features of a

His mother, who was seated next to him, seized the bottle. Denry's hand,
in clasping the bottle, had hidden a small label, which said:

"_POISON--Nettleship's Patent Enamel-Cleaning Fluid. One wipe does it_."

Confusion! Only Nellie Cotterill seemed to be incapable of realising
that a grave accident had occurred. She had laughed throughout the
supper, and she still laughed, hysterically, though she had drunk
scarcely any wine. Her mother silenced her.

Denry was the first to recover.

"It'll be all right," said he, leaning back in his chair. "They always
put a bit of poison in those things. It can't hurt me, really. I never
noticed the label."

Mrs Machin smelt at the bottle. She could detect no odour, but the fact
that she could detect no odour appeared only to increase her alarm.

"You must have an emetic instantly," she said.

"Oh no!" said Denry. "I shall be all right." And he did seem to be
suddenly restored.

"You must have an emetic instantly," she repeated.

"What can I have?" he grumbled. "You can't expect to find emetics here."

"Oh yes, I can," said she. "I saw a mustard tin in a cupboard in the

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