Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Bill Hershey. and the Online Distributed
A FIVE TOWNS STORY OF ADVENTURE IN LONDON
II. THE BANK-NOTE
IV. ENTRY INTO THE THEATRICAL WORLD
V. MR SACHS TALKS
VI. LORD WOLDO AND LADY WOLDO
VIII. DEALING WITH ELSIE
IX. THE FIRST NIGHT
"And yet," Edward Henry Machin reflected as at six minutes to six
he approached his own dwelling at the top of Bleakridge, "and yet--I
don't feel so jolly after all!"
The first two words of this disturbing meditation had reference to the
fact that, by telephoning twice to his stockbrokers at Manchester,
he had just made the sum of three hundred and forty-one pounds in a
purely speculative transaction concerning Rubber Shares. (It was in
the autumn of the great gambling year, 1910.) He had simply opened his
lucky and wise mouth at the proper moment, and the money, like ripe,
golden fruit, had fallen into it, a gift from benign heaven, surely
a cause for happiness! And yet--he did not feel so jolly! He was
surprised, he was even a little hurt, to discover by introspection
that monetary gain was not necessarily accompanied by felicity.
Nevertheless, this very successful man of the world of the Five Towns,
having been born on the 27th of May 1867, had reached the age of
forty-three and a half years!
"I must be getting older," he reflected.
He was right. He was still young, as every man of forty-three will
agree, but he was getting older. A few years ago a windfall of three
hundred and forty-one pounds would not have been followed by morbid
self-analysis; it would have been followed by unreasoning, instinctive
elation, which elation would have endured at least twelve hours.
As he disappeared within the reddish garden wall which sheltered
his abode from the publicity of Trafalgar Road, he half hoped to see
Nellie waiting for him on the famous marble step of the porch, for the
woman had long, long since invented a way of scouting for his advent
from the small window in the bathroom. But there was nobody on the
marble step. His melancholy increased. At the mid-day meal he had
complained of neuralgia, and hence this was an evening upon which he
might fairly have expected to see sympathy charmingly attired in the
porch. It is true that the neuralgia had completely gone. "Still," he
said to himself with justifiable sardonic gloom, "how does she know my
neuralgia's gone? She doesn't know."
Having opened the front-door (with the thinnest, neatest latch-key
in the Five Towns), he entered his home and stumbled slightly over a
brush that was lying against the sunk door-mat. He gazed at that brush
with resentment. It was a dilapidated hand-brush. The offensive object
would have been out of place, at nightfall, in the lobby of any house.
But in the lobby of his house--the house which he had planned a dozen
years earlier, to the special end of minimizing domestic labour, and
which he had always kept up to date with the latest devices--in his
lobby the spectacle of a vile, outworn hand-brush at tea-time amounted
to a scandal. Less than a fortnight previously he had purchased and
presented to his wife a marvellous electric vacuum-cleaner, surpassing
all former vacuum-cleaners. You simply attached this machine by a cord
to the wall, like a dog, and waved it in mysterious passes over the
floor, like a fan, and the house was clean! He was as proud of this
machine as though he had invented it, instead of having merely bought
it; every day he inquired about its feats, expecting enthusiastic
replies as a sort of reward for his own keenness: and be it said that
he had had enthusiastic replies.
And now this obscene hand-brush!
As he carefully removed his hat and his beautiful new Melton overcoat
(which had the colour and the soft smoothness of a damson), he
animadverted upon the astounding negligence of women. There were
Nellie (his wife), his mother, the nurse, the cook, the maid--five of
them; and in his mind they had all plotted together--a conspiracy of
carelessness--to leave the inexcusable tool in his lobby for him to
stumble over. What was the use of accidentally procuring three hundred
and forty-one pounds?
Still no sign of Nellie, though he purposely made a noisy rattle with
his ebon walking-stick. Then the maid burst out of the kitchen with a
tray and the principal utensils for high tea thereon. She had a guilty
air. The household was evidently late. Two steps at a time he rushed
upstairs to the bathroom, so as to be waiting in the dining-room at
six precisely, in order, if possible, to shame the household and fill
it with remorse and unpleasantness. Yet ordinarily he was not a very
prompt man, nor did he delight in giving pain. On the contrary, he was
apt to be casual, blithe and agreeable.
The bathroom was his peculiar domain, which he was always modernizing,
and where his talent for the ingenious organization of comfort, and
his utter indifference to aesthetic beauty, had the fullest scope.
By universal consent admitted to be the finest bathroom in the Five
Towns, it typified the whole house. He was disappointed on this
occasion to see no untidy trace in it of the children's ablution;
some transgression of the supreme domestic law that the bathroom must
always be free and immaculate when father wanted it would have
suited his gathering humour. As he washed his hands and cleansed his
well-trimmed nails with a nail-brush that had cost five shillings and
sixpence, he glanced at himself in the mirror, which he was splashing.
A stoutish, broad-shouldered, fair, chubby man, with a short bright
beard and plenteous bright hair! His necktie pleased him; the elegance
of his turned-back wristbands pleased him; and he liked the rich down
on his forearms.
He could not believe that he looked forty-three and a half. And yet
he had recently had an idea of shaving off his beard, partly to defy
time, but partly also (I must admit) because a friend had suggested to
him, wildly, perhaps--that if he dispensed with a beard his hair might
grow more sturdily ... Yes, there was one weak spot in the middle
of the top of his head, where the crop had of late disconcertingly
thinned! The hairdresser had informed him that the symptom
would vanish under electric massage, and that, if he doubted the
_bona-fides_ of hairdressers, any doctor would testify to the value of
electric massage. But now Edward Henry Machin, strangely discouraged,
inexplicably robbed of the zest of existence, decided that it was not
worth while to shave off his beard. Nothing was worth while. If he was
forty-three and a half, he was forty-three and a half! To become bald
was the common lot. Moreover, beardless, he would need the service of
a barber every day. And he was absolutely persuaded that not a barber
worth the name could be found in the Five Towns. He actually went to
Manchester--thirty-six miles--to get his hair cut. The operation
never cost him less than a sovereign and half a day's time ... And he
honestly deemed himself to be a fellow of simple tastes! Such is the
effect of the canker of luxury. Happily he could afford these simple
tastes, for, although not rich in the modern significance of the term,
he paid income tax on some five thousand pounds a year, without quite
convincing the Surveyor of Taxes that he was an honest man.
He brushed the thick hair over the weak spot, he turned down his
wristbands, he brushed the collar of his jacket, and lastly, his
beard; and he put on his jacket--with a certain care, for he was
very neat. And then, reflectively twisting his moustache to military
points, he spied through the smaller window to see whether the new
high hoarding of the football-ground really did prevent a serious
observer from descrying wayfarers as they breasted the hill from
Hanbridge. It did not. Then he spied through the larger window upon
the yard, to see whether the wall of the new rooms which he had lately
added to his house showed any further trace of damp, and whether the
new chauffeur was washing the new motor car with all his heart. The
wall showed no further trace of damp, and the new chauffeur's bent
back seemed to symbolize an extreme conscientiousness.
Then the clock on the landing struck six and he hurried off to put the
household to open shame.
Nellie came into the dining-room two minutes after her husband. As
Edward Henry had laboriously counted these two minutes almost second
by second on the dining-room clock, he was very tired of waiting. His
secret annoyance was increased by the fact that Nellie took off her
white apron in the doorway and flung it hurriedly on to the table-tray
which, during the progress of meals, was established outside the
dining-room door. He did not actually witness this operation of
undressing, because Nellie was screened by the half-closed door;
but he was entirely aware of it. He disliked it, and he had always
disliked it. When Nellie was at work, either as a mother or as
the owner of certain fine silver ornaments, he rather enjoyed the
wonderful white apron, for it suited her temperament; but as the head
of a household with six thousand pounds a year at its disposal, he
objected to any hint of the thing at meals. And to-night he objected
to it altogether. Who could guess from the homeliness of their family
life that he was in a position to spend a hundred pounds a week and
still have enough income left over to pay the salary of a town clerk
or so? Nobody could guess; and he felt that people ought to be able
to guess. When he was young he would have esteemed an income of
six thousand pounds a year as necessarily implicating feudal state,
valets, castles, yachts, family solicitors, racing-stables, county
society, dinner-calls and a drawling London accent. Why should his
wife wear an apron at all? But the sad truth was that neither his wife
nor his mother ever _looked_ rich, or even endeavoured to look rich.
His mother would carry an eighty-pound sealskin as though she had
picked it up at a jumble sale, and his wife put such simplicity
into the wearing of a hundred-and-eighty pound diamond ring that its
expensiveness was generally quite wasted.
And yet, while the logical male in him scathingly condemned this
feminine defect of character, his private soul was glad of it, for
he well knew that he would have been considerably irked by the
complexities and grandeurs of high life. But never would he have
Nellie's face, as she sat down, was not limpid. He understood naught
of it. More than twenty years had passed since they had first met--he
and a wistful little creature--at a historic town-hall dance. He
could still see the wistful little creature in those placid and pure
features, in that buxom body; but now there was a formidable, capable
and experienced woman there too. Impossible to credit that the wistful
little creature was thirty-seven! But she was! Indeed, it was very
doubtful if she would ever see thirty-eight again. Once he had had the
most romantic feelings about her. He could recall the slim flexibility
of her waist, the timorous melting invitation of her eyes. And now ...
Such was human existence!
She sat up erect on her chair. She did not apologize for being late.
She made no inquiry as to his neuralgia. On the other hand, she was
not cross. She was just neutral, polite, cheerful, and apparently
conscious of perfection. He strongly desired to inform her of the
exact time of day, but his lips would not articulate the words.
"Maud," she said with divine calm to the maid who bore in the baked
York ham under its silver canopy, "you haven't taken away that brush
that's in the passage."
(Another illustration of Nellie's inability to live up to six thousand
pounds a year; she would always refer to the hall as the "passage!")
"Please'm, I did, m'm," replied Maud, now as conscious of perfection
as her mistress. "He must have took it back again."
"Who's 'he?'" demanded the master.
"Carlo, sir." Upon which triumph Maud retired.
Edward Henry was dashed. Nevertheless, he quickly recovered his
presence of mind and sought about for a justification of his previous
verdict upon the negligence of five women.
"It would have been easy enough to put the brush where the dog
couldn't get at it," he said. But he said this strictly to himself. He
could not say it aloud. Nor could he say aloud the words "neuralgia,"
"three hundred and forty-one pounds," any more than he could say
That he was in a peculiar mental condition is proved by the fact that
he did not remark the absence of his mother until he was putting her
share of baked ham on to a plate.
He thought: "This is a bit thick, this is!" meaning the extreme
lateness of his mother for the meal. But his only audible remark was
a somewhat impatient banging down of the hot plate in front of his
mother's empty chair.
In answer to this banging Nellie quietly began:
(He knew instantly, then, that Nellie was disturbed about something or
other. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law lived together under one
roof in perfect amity. Nay, more, they often formed powerful and
unscrupulous leagues against him. But whenever Nellie was disturbed,
by no matter what, she would say "your mother" instead of merely
"mother!" It was an extraordinary subtle, silly and effective way of
putting him in the wrong.)
"Your mother is staying upstairs with Robert."
Robert was the eldest child, aged eight.
"Oh!" breathed Edward Henry. He might have inquired what the nurse was
for; he might have inquired how his mother meant to get her tea. But
he refrained, adding simply, "What's up now?"
And in retort to his wife's "your," he laid a faint emphasis on the
word "now," to imply that those women were always inventing some fresh
imaginary woe for the children.
"Carlo's bitten him--in the calf," said Nellie, tightening her lips.
This, at any rate, was not imaginary.
"The kid was teasing him as usual, I suppose?" he suggested.
"That I don't know," said Nellie. "But I know we must get rid of that
"Of course we must," Nellie insisted, with an inadvertent heat, which
she immediately cooled.
"I mean the bite."
"Well--it's a bite right enough."
"And you're thinking of hydrophobia, death amid horrible agony, and so
"No, I'm not," she said stoutly, trying to smile.
But he knew she was. And he knew also that the bite was a trifle. If
it had been a good bite she would have made it enormous; she would
have hinted that the dog had left a chasm in the boy's flesh.
"Yes, you are," he continued to twit her, encouraged by her attempt at
However, the smile expired.
"I suppose you won't deny that Carlo's teeth may have been dirty? He's
always nosing in some filth or other," she said challengingly, in a
measured tone of sagacity. "And there may be blood-poisoning."
"Blood fiddlesticks!" exclaimed Edward Henry.
Such a nonsensical and infantile rejoinder deserved no answer, and
it received none. Shortly afterwards Maud entered and whispered that
Nellie was wanted upstairs. As soon as his wife had gone Edward Henry
rang the bell.
"Maud," he said, "bring me the _Signal_ out of my left-hand overcoat
And he defiantly finished his meal at leisure, with the news of the
day propped up against the flower-pot, which he had set before him
instead of the dish of ham.
Later, catching through the open door fragments of a conversation on
the stairs which indicated that his mother was at last coming down for
tea, he sped like a threatened delinquent into the drawing-room. He
had no wish to encounter his mother, though that woman usually said
The drawing-room, after the bathroom, was Edward Henry's favourite
district in the home. Since he could not spend the whole of his time
in the bathroom--and he could not!--he wisely gave a special care to
the drawing-room, and he loved it as one always loves that upon which
one has bestowed benefits. He was proud of the drawing-room, and he
had the right to be. The principal object in it, at night, was the
electric chandelier, which would have been adequate for a lighthouse.
Edward Henry's eyes were not what they used to be; and the minor
advertisements in the _Signal_--which constituted his sole evening
perusals--often lacked legibility. Edward Henry sincerely believed in
light and heat; he was almost the only person in the Five Towns who
did. In the Five Towns people have fires in their grates--not to warm
the room, but to make the room bright. Seemingly they use their pride
to keep themselves warm. At any rate, whenever Edward Henry talked to
them of radiators, they would sternly reply that a radiator did
not and could not brighten a room. Edward Henry had made the great
discovery that an efficient chandelier will brighten a room better
even than a fire, and he had gilded his radiator. The notion of
gilding the radiator was not his own; he had seen a gilded radiator
in the newest hotel at Birmingham, and had rejoiced as some peculiar
souls rejoice when they meet a fine line in a new poem. (In concession
to popular prejudice Edward Henry had fire-grates in his house, and
fires therein during exceptionally frosty weather; but this did not
save him from being regarded in the Five Towns as in some ways a
peculiar soul.) The effulgent source of dark heat was scientifically
situated in front of the window, and on ordinarily cold evenings
Edward Henry and his wife and mother, and an acquaintance if one
happened to come in, would gather round the radiator and play bridge
or dummy whist.
The other phenomena of the drawing-room which particularly interested
Edward Henry were the Turkey carpet, the four vast easy-chairs, the
sofa, the imposing cigar-cabinet and the mechanical piano-player.
At one brief period he had hovered a good deal about the revolving
bookcase containing the _Encyclopaedia_ (to which his collection
of books was limited), but the frail passion for literature had
not survived a struggle with the seductions of the mechanical
The walls of the room never drew his notice. He had chosen, some years
before, a patent washable kind of wall-paper (which could be wiped
over with a damp cloth), and he had also chosen the pattern of the
paper, but it is a fact that he could spend hours in any room without
even seeing the pattern of its paper. (In the same way his wife's
cushions and little draperies and bows were invisible to him, though
he had searched for and duly obtained the perfect quality of swansdown
which filled the cushions.)
The one ornament of the walls which attracted him was a large and
splendidly-framed oil-painting of a ruined castle, in the midst of a
sombre forest, through which cows were strolling. In the tower of the
castle was a clock, and this clock was a realistic timepiece, whose
fingers moved and told the hour. Two of the oriel windows of the
castle were realistic holes in its masonry; through one of them you
could put a key to wind up the clock, and through the other you could
put a key to wind up the secret musical box, which played sixteen
different tunes. He had bought this handsome relic of the Victorian
era (not less artistic, despite your scorn, than many devices for
satisfying the higher instincts of the present day) at an auction sale
in the Strand, London. But it, too, had been supplanted in his esteem
by the mechanical piano-player.
He now selected an example of the most expensive cigar in the
cigar-cabinet and lighted it as only a connoisseur can light a cigar,
lovingly; he blew out the match lingeringly, with regret, and dropped
it and the cigar's red collar with care into a large copper bowl on
the centre table, instead of flinging it against the Japanese umbrella
in the fireplace. (A grave disadvantage of radiators is that you
cannot throw odds and ends into them.) He chose the most expensive
cigar because he wanted comfort and peace. The ham was not digesting
Then he sat down and applied himself to the property advertisements
in the _Signal_, a form of sensational serial which usually enthralled
him--but not to-night. He allowed the paper to lapse on to the floor,
and then rose impatiently, rearranged the thick dark blue curtains
behind the radiator, and finally yielded to the silent call of
the mechanical piano-player. He quite knew that to dally with the
piano-player while smoking a high-class cigar was to insult the cigar.
But he did not care. He tilted the cigar upwards from an extreme
corner of his mouth, and through the celestial smoke gazed at the
titles of the new music rolls which had been delivered that day, and
which were ranged on the top of the piano itself.
And while he did so he was thinking:
"Why in thunder didn't the little thing come and tell me at once about
that kid and his dog-bite? I wonder why she didn't! She seemed only
to mention it by accident. I wonder why she didn't bounce into the
bathroom and tell me at once?"
But it was untrue that he sought vainly for an answer to this riddle.
He was aware of the answer. He even kept saying over the answer to
"She's made up her mind I've been teasing her a bit too much lately
about those kids and their precious illnesses. And she's doing the
dignified. That's what she's doing! She's doing the dignified!"
Of course, instantly after his tea he ought to have gone upstairs to
inspect the wounded victim of dogs. The victim was his own child, and
its mother was his wife. He knew that he ought to have gone upstairs
long since. He knew that he ought now to go, and the sooner the
better! But somehow he could not go; he could not bring himself to
go. In the minor and major crises of married life there are not two
partners, but four; each partner has a dual personality; each partner
is indeed two different persons, and one of these fights against the
other, with the common result of a fatal inaction.
The wickeder of the opposing persons in Edward Henry, getting the
upper hand of the more virtuous, sniggered. "Dirty teeth, indeed!
Blood-poisoning, indeed! Why not rabies, while she's about it? I
guarantee she's dreaming of coffins and mourning coaches already!"
Scanning nonchalantly the titles of the music rolls, he suddenly saw:
"Funeral March. Chopin."
"She shall have it," he said, affixing the roll to the mechanism. And
added: "Whatever it is!"
For he was not acquainted with the Funeral March from Chopin's
Pianoforte Sonata. His musical education had, in truth, begun only
a year earlier--with the advertisements of the "Pianisto" mechanical
player. He was a judge of advertisements, and the "Pianisto"
literature pleased him in a high degree. He justifiably reckoned that
he could distinguish between honest and dishonest advertising. He made
a deep study of the question of mechanical players, and deliberately
came to the conclusion that the Pianisto was the best. It was also the
most costly. But one of the conveniences of having six thousand pounds
a year is that you need not deny yourself the best mechanical player
because it happens to be the most costly. He bought a Pianisto, and
incidentally he bought a superb grand piano and exiled the old cottage
piano to the nursery.
The Pianisto was the best, partly because, like the vacuum-cleaner,
it could be operated by electricity, and partly because, by means of
certain curved lines on the unrolling paper, and of certain gun-metal
levers and clutches, it enabled the operator to put his secret ardent
soul into the music. Assuredly it had given Edward Henry a taste for
music. The whole world of musical compositions was his to conquer, and
he conquered it at the rate of about two great masters a month.
From Handel to Richard Strauss, even from Palestrina to Debussy, the
achievements of genius lay at his mercy. He criticized them with a
freedom that was entirely unprejudiced by tradition. Beethoven was no
more to him than Arthur Sullivan--indeed, was rather less. The works
of his choice were the "Tannhaeuser" overture, a potpourri of Verdi's
"Aida," Chopin's Study in Thirds (which ravished him), and a selection
from "The Merry Widow" (which also ravished him). So that on the whole
it may be said that he had a very good natural taste.
He at once liked Chopin's Funeral March. He entered profoundly
into the spirit of it. With the gun-metal levers he produced in a
marvellous fashion the long tragic roll of the drums, and by the
manipulation of a clutch he distilled into the chant at the graveside
a melancholy sweetness that rent the heart. The later crescendoes were
overwhelming. And as he played there, with the bright blaze of the
chandelier on his fair hair and beard, and the blue cigar smoke in his
nostrils, and the effluence of the gilded radiator behind him, and
the intimacy of the drawn window-curtains and the closed and curtained
door folding him in from the world, and the agony of the music
grieving his artistic soul to the core--as he played there he grew
gradually happier and happier, and the zest of existence seemed to
return. It was not only that he felt the elemental, unfathomable
satisfaction of a male who is sheltered in solitude from a pack of
women that have got on his nerves. There was also the more piquant
assurance that he was behaving in a very sprightly manner. How long
was it since he had accomplished anything worthy of his ancient
reputation as a "card," as "the" card of the Five Towns? He could not
say. But now he knew that he was being a card again. The whole town
would smile and forgive and admire if it learnt that--
Nellie invaded the room. She had resumed the affray.
"Denry!" she reproached him, in an uncontrolled voice. "I'm ashamed of
you! I really am!" She was no longer doing the dignified. The mask was
off and the unmistakable lineaments of the outraged mother appeared.
That she should address him as "Denry" proved the intensity of her
agitation. Years ago, when he had been made an alderman, his wife and
his mother had decided that "Denry" was no longer a suitable name for
him, and had abandoned it in favour of "Edward Henry."
He ceased playing.
"Why?" he protested, with a ridiculous air of innocence. "I'm only
playing Chopin. Can't I play Chopin?"
He was rather surprised and impressed that she had recognized
the piece for what it was. But of course she did, as a fact, know
something about music, he remembered, though she never touched the
"I think it's a pity you can't choose some other evening for your
funeral marches!" she exclaimed.
"If that's it," said Edward Henry like lightning, "why did you stick
me out you weren't afraid of hydrophobia?"
"I'll thank you to come upstairs," she replied with warmth.
"Oh, all right, my dear! All right!" he cooed.
And they went upstairs in a rather solemn procession.
Nellie led the way to the chamber known as "Maisie's room," where the
youngest of the Machins was wont to sleep in charge of the nurse who,
under the supervision of the mother of all three, had dominion over
Robert, Ralph and their little sister.
The first thing that Edward Henry noticed was the screen which shut
off one of the beds. The unfurling of the four-fold screen was always
a sure sign that Nellie was taking an infantile illness seriously. It
was an indication to Edward Henry of the importance of the dog-bite in
When all the chicks of the brood happened to be simultaneously sound
the screen reposed, inconspicuous, at an angle against a wall behind
the door; but when pestilence was abroad, the screen travelled from
one room to another in the wake of it, and, spreading wide, took part
in the battle of life and death.
In an angle of the screen, on the side of it away from the bed and
near the fire (in times of stress Nellie would not rely on radiators)
sat old Mrs.. Machin, knitting. She was a thin, bony woman of
sixty-nine years, and as hard and imperishable as teak. So far as her
son knew she had only had two illnesses in her life. The first was an
attack of influenza, and the second was an attack of acute rheumatism,
which had incapacitated her for several weeks.
Edward Henry and Nellie had taken advantage of her helplessness, then,
to force her to give up her barbaric cottage in Brougham Street and
share permanently the splendid comfort of their home. She existed
in their home like a philosophic prisoner-of-war at the court of
conquerors, behaving faultlessly, behaving magnanimously in the
melancholy grandeur of her fall, but never renouncing her soul's
secret independence, nor permitting herself to forget that she was on
When Edward Henry looked at those yellow and seasoned fingers, which
by hard manual labour had kept herself and him in the young days of
his humble obscurity, and which during sixty years had not been idle
for more than six weeks in all, he grew almost apologetic for his
They reminded him of the day when his total resources were five
pounds--won in a wager, and of the day when he drove proudly about
behind a mule collecting other people's rents, and of the glittering
days when he burst in on her from Llandudno with over a thousand
gold sovereigns in a hat-box--product of his first great picturesque
coup--imagining himself to be an English Jay Gould.
She had not blenched, even then. She had not blenched since. And she
never would blench. In spite of his gorgeous position and his unique
reputation, in spite of her well-concealed but notorious pride in
him, he still went in fear of that ageless woman, whose undaunted eye
always told him that he was still the lad Denry, and her inferior in
moral force. The curve of her thin lips seemed ever to be warning him
that with her pretensions were quite useless, and that she saw through
him and through him to the innermost grottoes of his poor human
He caught her eye guiltily.
"Behold the Alderman!" she murmured with grimness.
That was all. But the three words took thirty years off his back,
snatched the half-crown cigar out of his hand and reduced him again to
the raw, hungry boy of Brougham Street. And he knew that he had sinned
gravely in not coming upstairs very much earlier.
"Is that you, father?" called the high voice of Robert from the back
of the screen.
He had to admit to his son that it was he.
The infant lay on his back in Maisie's bed, while his mother sat
lightly on the edge of nurse's bed near by.
"Well, you're a nice chap!" said Edward Henry, avoiding Nellie's
glance, but trying to face his son as one innocent man may face
another--and not perfectly succeeding. He never could feel like a real
"My temperature's above normal," announced Robert, proudly, and then
added with regret, "but not much!"
There was the clinical thermometer--instrument which Edward Henry
despised and detested as being an inciter of illnesses--in a glass of
water on the table between the two beds.
"Father!" Robert began again.
"Well, Robert?" said Edward Henry, cheerfully. He was glad that the
child was in one of his rare loquacious moods, because the chatter not
only proved that the dog had done no serious damage--it also eased the
silent strain between himself and Nellie.
"Why did you play the Funeral March, father?" asked Robert, and the
question fell into the tranquillity of the room rather like a bomb
that had not quite decided whether or not to burst.
For the second time that evening Edward Henry was dashed.
"Have you been meddling with my music rolls?"
"No, father. I only read the labels."
This child simply read everything.
"How did you know I was playing a funeral march?" Edward Henry
"Oh, _I_ didn't tell him!" Nellie put in, excusing herself before
she was accused. She smiled benignly, as an angel-woman, capable of
forgiving all. But there were moments when Edward Henry hated moral
superiority and Christian meekness in a wife. Moreover, Nellie
somewhat spoiled her own effect by adding, with an artificial
continuation of the smile, "You needn't look at _me_!"
Edward Henry considered the remark otiose. Though he had indeed
ventured to look at her, he had not looked at her in the manner which
"It made a noise like funerals and things," Robert explained.
"Well, it seems to me _you've_ been playing a funeral march," said
Edward Henry to the child.
He thought this rather funny, rather worthy of himself, but the child
answered with ruthless gravity and a touch of disdain (for he was a
disdainful child, without bowels):
"I don't know what you mean, father." The curve of his lips (he had
his grandmother's lips) appeared to say: "I wish you wouldn't try to
be silly, father." However, youth forgets very quickly, and the next
instant Robert was beginning once more, "Father!"
By mutual agreement of the parents the child was never addressed
as "Bob" or "Bobby," or by any other diminutive. In their practical
opinion a child's name was his name, and ought not to be mauled or
dismembered on the pretext of fondness. Similarly, the child had not
been baptized after his father, or after any male member of either the
Machin or the Cotterill family. Why should family names be perpetuated
merely because they were family names? A natural human reaction, this,
against the excessive sentimentalism of the Victorian era!
"What does 'stamped out' mean?" Robert inquired.
Now Robert, among other activities, busied himself in the collection
of postage stamps, and in consequence his father's mind, under the
impulse of the question, ran immediately to postage stamps.
"Stamped out?" said Edward Henry, with the air of omniscience that
a father is bound to assume. "Postage stamps are stamped out--by a
Robert's scorn of this explanation was manifest.
"Well," Edward Henry, piqued, made another attempt, "you stamp a fire
out with your feet." And he stamped illustratively on the floor. After
all, the child was only eight.
"I knew all that before," said Robert, coldly. "You don't understand."
"What makes you ask, dear? Let us show father your leg." Nellie's
voice was soothing.
"Yes," Robert murmured, staring reflectively at the ceiling. "That's
it. It says in the _Encyclopaedia_ that hydrophobia is stamped out in
this country--by Mr.. Long's muzzling order. Who is Mr.. Long?"
A second bomb had fallen on exactly the same spot as the first, and
the two exploded simultaneously. And the explosion was none the
less terrible because it was silent and invisible. The tidy domestic
chamber was strewn in a moment with an awful mass of wounded
susceptibilities. Beyond the screen the _nick-nick_ of grandmother's
steel needles stopped and started again. It was characteristic of her
temperament that she should recover before the younger generations
could recover. Edward Henry, as befitted his sex, regained his nerve a
little earlier than Nellie.
"I told you never to touch my _Encyclopaedia_," said he, sternly.
Robert had twice been caught on his stomach on the floor with a vast
volume open under his chin, and his studies had been traced by vile
"I know," said Robert.
Whenever anybody gave that child a piece of unsolicited information he
almost invariably replied, "I know."
"But hydrophobia!" cried Nellie. "How did you know about hydrophobia?"
"We had it in spellings last week," Robert explained.
"The deuce you did!" muttered Edward Henry.
The one bright facet of the many-sided and gloomy crisis was the very
obvious truth that Robert was the most extraordinary child that ever
"But when on earth did you get at the _Encyclopaedia_, Robert?" his
mother exclaimed, completely at a loss.
"It was before you came in from Hillport," the wondrous infant
answered. "After my leg had stopped hurting me a bit."
"But when I came in nurse said it had only just happened!"
"Shows how much _she_ knew!" said Robert, with contempt.
"Does your leg hurt you now?" Edward Henry inquired.
"A bit. That's why I can't go to sleep, of course."
"Well, let's have a look at it." Edward Henry attempted jollity.
"Mother's wrapped it all up in boracic wool."
The bed-clothes were drawn down and the leg gradually revealed. And
the sight of the little soft leg, so fragile and defenceless, really
did touch Edward Henry. It made him feel more like an authentic father
than he had felt for a long time. And the sight of the red wound hurt
him. Still, it was a beautifully clean wound, and it was not a large
"It's a clean wound," he observed judiciously. In spite of himself he
could not keep a certain flippant harsh quality out of his tone.
"Well, I've naturally washed it with carbolic," Nellie returned
He illogically resented this sharpness.
"Of course he was bitten through his stocking?"
"Of course," said Nellie, re-enveloping the wound hastily, as though
Edward Henry was not worthy to regard it.
"Well, then, by the time they got through the stocking the animal's
teeth couldn't be dirty. Everyone knows that."
Nellie shut her lips.
"Were you teasing Carlo?" Edward Henry demanded curtly of his son.
"I don't know."
Whenever anybody asked that child for a piece of information he almost
invariably replied, "I don't know."
"How--you don't know? You must know whether you were teasing the dog
or not!" Edward Henry was nettled.
The renewed spectacle of his own wound had predisposed Robert to feel
a great and tearful sympathy for himself. His mouth now began to take
strange shapes and to increase magically in area, and beads appeared
in the corners of his large eyes.
"I--I was only measuring his tail by his hind leg," he blubbered and
Edward Henry did his best to save his dignity.
"Come, come!" he reasoned, less menacingly. "Boys who can read
_Encyclopaedias_ mustn't be cry-babies. You'd no business measuring
Carlo's tail by his hind leg. You ought to remember that that dog's
older than you." And this remark, too, he thought rather funny, but
apparently he was alone in his opinion.
Then he felt something against his calf. And it was Carlo's nose.
Carlo was a large, very shaggy and unkempt Northern terrier, but owing
to vagueness of his principal points, due doubtless to a vagueness
in his immediate ancestry, it was impossible to decide whether he had
come from the north or the south side of the Tweed. This ageing friend
of Edward Henry's, surmising that something unusual was afoot in his
house, and having entirely forgotten the trifling episode of the bite,
had unobtrusively come to make inquiries.
"Poor old boy!" said Edward Henry, stooping to pat the dog. "Did they
try to measure his tail with his hind leg?"
The gesture was partly instinctive, for he loved Carlo; but it also
had its origin in sheer nervousness, in sheer ignorance of what was
the best thing to do. However, he was at once aware that he had done
the worst thing. Had not Nellie announced that the dog must be got
rid of? And here he was fondly caressing the bloodthirsty dog! With
a hysterical movement of the lower part of her leg Nellie pushed
violently against the dog--she did not kick, but she nearly
kicked--and Carlo, faintly howling a protest, fled.
Edward Henry was hurt. He escaped from between the beds and from that
close, enervating domestic atmosphere where he was misunderstood by
women and disdained by infants. He wanted fresh air; he wanted bars,
whiskies, billiard-rooms and the society of masculine men-about-town.
The whole of his own world was against him.
As he passed by his knitting mother she ignored him and moved not. She
had a great gift of holding aloof from conjugal complications.
On the landing he decided that he would go out at once into the major
world. Half-way down the stairs he saw his overcoat on the hall-stand
beckoning to him and offering release.
Then he heard the bedroom door and his wife's footsteps.
He stopped and looked up inimically at her face, which overhung the
banisters. It was the face of a woman outraged in her most profound
feelings, but amazingly determined to be sweet.
"What do you think of it?"
"What do I think of what? The wound?"
"Why, it's simply nothing. Nothing at all. You know how that kid
always heals up quick. You won't be able to find the wound in a day or
"Don't you think it ought to be cauterized at once?"
He moved on downwards.
"No, I don't. I've been bitten three times in my life by dogs. And I
was never cauterized."
"Well, I _do_ think it ought to be cauterized." She raised her voice
slightly as he retreated from her. "And I shall be glad if you'll call
in at Dr. Stirling's and ask him to come round."
He made no reply, but put on his overcoat and his hat and took his
stick. Glancing up the stairs he saw Nellie was now standing at the
head of them, under the electric light there, and watching him. He
knew that she thought he was cravenly obeying her command. She could
have no idea that before she spoke to him he had already decided to
put on his overcoat and hat and take his stick and go forth into the
major world. However, that was no affair of his.
He hesitated a second. Then the nurse appeared out of the kitchen,
with a squalling Maisie in her arms, and ran upstairs. Why Maisie was
squalling, and why she should have been in the kitchen at such an hour
instead of in bed, he could not guess. But he could guess that if he
remained one second longer in that exasperating minor world he would
begin to smash furniture. And so he quitted it.
It was raining slightly, but he dared not return to the house for his
umbrella. In the haze and wet of the shivering October night the clock
of Bleakridge Church glowed like a fiery disc suspended in the sky,
and, mysteriously hanging there, without visible means of support,
it seemed to him somehow to symbolize the enigma of the universe and
intensify his inward gloom. Never before had he had such feelings to
such a degree. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that never before
had the enigma of the universe occurred to him. The side gates clicked
as he stood hesitant under the shelter of the wall, and a figure
emerged from his domain. It was Bellfield, the new chauffeur, going
across to his home in the little square in front of the church.
Bellfield touched his cap with an eager and willing hand, as new
"Want the car, sir?... Setting in for a wet night!"
It was a lie. He did want the car. He wanted the car so that he might
ride right away into a new and more interesting world, or at any
rate into Hanbridge, centre of the pleasures, the wickedness and the
commerce of the Five Towns. But he dared not have the car. He dared
not have his own car. He must slip off noiseless and unassuming. Even
to go to Dr Stirling's he dared not have the car. Besides, he could
have walked down the hill to Dr. Stirling's in three minutes. Not that
he had the least intention of going to Dr. Stirling's. No! His wife
imagined that he was going. But she was mistaken. Within an hour, when
Dr. Stirling had failed to arrive, she would doubtless telephone and
get her Dr. Stirling. Not, however, with Edward Henry's assistance!
He reviewed his conduct throughout the evening. In what particular had
it been sinful? In no particular. True, the accident to the boy was a
misfortune, but had he not borne that misfortune lightly, minimized it
and endeavoured to teach others to bear it lightly? His blithe humour
ought surely to have been an example to Nellie! And as for the episode
of the funeral march on the Pianisto, really, really, the tiresome
little thing ought to have better appreciated his whimsical drollery!
But Nellie was altered; he was altered; everything was altered.
He remembered the ecstasy of their excursion to Switzerland. He
remembered the rapture with which, on their honeymoon, he had clasped
a new opal bracelet on her exciting arm. He could not possibly have
such sensations now. What was the meaning of life? Was life worth
living? The fact was--he was growing old. Useless to pretend to
himself that it was not so. Both he and she were growing old. Only,
she seemed to be placidly content, and he was not content. And more
and more the domestic atmosphere and the atmosphere of the district
fretted and even annoyed him. To-night's affair was not unique. But it
was a culmination. He gazed pessimistically north and south along
the slimy expanse of Trafalgar Road, which sank northwards in the
direction of Dr. Stirling's, and southwards in the direction of joyous
Hanbridge. He loathed and despised Trafalgar Road. What was the use
of making three hundred and forty-one pounds by a shrewd speculation?
None. He could not employ three hundred and forty-one pounds to
increase his happiness. Money had become futile for him. Astounding
thought! He desired no more of it! He had a considerable income from
investments, and also at least four thousand a year from the Five
Towns Universal Thrift Club, that wonderful but unpretentious
organization which now embraced every corner of the Five Towns--that
gorgeous invention for profitably taking care of the pennies of the
working-classes--that excellent device, his own, for selling to the
working-classes every kind of goods at credit prices after having
received part of the money in advance!
"I want a change!" he said to himself, and threw away his cigar.
After all, the bitterest thought in his heart was, perhaps, that, on
that evening he had tried to be a "card," and, for the first time in
his brilliant career as a "card," had failed. He, Henry Machin, who
had been the youngest Mayor of Bursley years and years ago, he,
the recognized amuser of the Five Towns, he, one of the greatest
"characters" that the Five Towns had ever produced! He had failed of
He slipped out on to the pavement and saw, under the gas-lamp, on the
new hoarding of the football ground, a poster intimating that during
that particular week there was a gigantic attraction at the Empire
Music Hall at Hanbridge. According to the posters there was a gigantic
attraction every week at the Empire, but Edward Henry happened to know
that this week the attraction was indeed somewhat out of the common.
And to-night was Friday, the fashionable night for the bloods and the
modishness of the Five Towns. He looked at the church clock and
then at his watch. He would be in time for the "second house," which
started at nine o'clock. At the same moment an electric tram-car came
thundering up out of Bursley. He boarded it and was saluted by the
conductor. Remaining on the platform he lit a cigarette and tried to
feel cheerful. But he could not conquer his depression.
"Yes," he thought, "what I want is change--and a lot of it, too!"
Alderman Machin had to stand at the back, and somewhat towards the
side, of that part of the auditorium known as the Grand Circle at the
Empire Music Hall, Hanbridge. The attendants at the entrance, and in
the lounge, where the salutation "Welcome" shone in electricity over a
large cupid-surrounded mirror, had compassionately and yet exultingly
told him that there was not a seat left in the house. He had shared
their exultation. He had said to himself, full of honest pride in the
Five Towns: "This music-hall, admitted by the press to be one of the
finest in the provinces, holds over two thousand five hundred people.
And yet we can fill it to overflowing twice every night! And only
a few years ago there wasn't a decent music-hall in the entire
The word "Progress" flitted through his head.
It was not strictly true that the Empire was or could be filled to
overflowing twice every night, but it was true that at that particular
moment not a seat was unsold; and the aspect of a crowded auditorium
is apt to give an optimistic quality to broad generalizations.
Alderman Machin began instinctively to calculate the amount of money
in the house, and to wonder whether there would be a chance for
a second music-hall in the dissipated town of Hanbridge. He also
wondered why the idea of a second music-hall in Hanbridge had never
occurred to him before.
The Grand Circle was so called because it was grand. Its plush
fauteuils cost a shilling, no mean price for a community where seven
pounds of potatoes can be bought for sixpence, and the view of the
stage therefrom was perfect. But the Alderman's view was far from
perfect, since he had to peer as best he could between and above the
shoulders of several men, each apparently, but not really, taller than
himself. By constant slight movements, to comply with the movements
of the rampart of shoulders, he could discern fragments of various
advertisements of soap, motor-cars, whisky, shirts, perfume, pills,
bricks and tea--for the drop-curtain was down. And, curiously, he
felt obliged to keep his eyes on the drop-curtain and across the long
intervening vista of hats and heads and smoke to explore its most
difficult corners again and again, lest when it went up he might not
be in proper practice for seeing what was behind it.
Nevertheless, despite the marked inconveniences of his situation,
he felt brighter, he felt almost happy in this dense atmosphere of
success. He even found a certain peculiar and perverse satisfaction in
the fact that he had as yet been recognized by nobody. Once or twice
the owners of shoulders had turned and deliberately glared at the
worrying fellow who had the impudence to be all the time peeping over
them and between them; they had not distinguished the fellow from any
ordinary fellow. Could they have known that he was the famous Alderman
Edward Henry Machin, founder and sole proprietor of the Thrift Club,
into which their wives were probably paying so much a week, they would
most assuredly have glared to another tune, and they would have said
with pride afterwards: "That chap Machin o'Bursley was standing behind
me at the Empire to-night!" And though Machin is amongst the commonest
names in the Five Towns, all would have known that the great and
admired Denry was meant ... It was astonishing that a personage so
notorious should not have been instantly "spotted" in such a resort
as the Empire. More proof that the Five Towns was a vast and seething
concentration of cities, and no longer a mere district where everybody
The curtain rose, and as it did so a thunderous, crashing applause
of greeting broke forth; applause that thrilled and impressed and
inspired; applause that made every individual in the place feel right
glad that he was there. For the curtain had risen on the gigantic
attraction, which many members of the audience were about to see for
the fifth time that week; in fact, it was rumoured that certain men
of fashion, whose habit was to refuse themselves nothing, had attended
every performance of the gigantic attraction since the second house on
The scene represented a restaurant of quiet aspect, into which entered
a waiter bearing a pile of plates some two feet high. The waiter
being intoxicated the tower of plates leaned this way and that as he
staggered about, and the whole house really did hold its breath in the
simultaneous hope and fear of an enormous and resounding smash. Then
entered a second intoxicated waiter, also bearing a pile of plates
some two feet high, and the risk of destruction was thus more than
doubled--it was quadrupled, for each waiter, in addition to the
risks of his own inebriety, was now subject to the dreadful peril of
colliding with the other. However, there was no catastrophe.
Then arrived two customers, one in a dress suit and an eyeglass, and
the other in a large violet hat, a diamond necklace and a yellow
satin skirt. The which customers, seemingly well used to the sight of
drunken waiters tottering to and fro with towers of plates, sat down
at a table and waited calmly for attention. The popular audience, with
that quick mental grasp for which popular audiences are so renowned,
soon perceived that the table was in close proximity to a lofty
sideboard, and that on either hand of the sideboard were two chairs,
upon which the two waiters were trying to climb in order to deposit
their plates on the topmost shelf of the sideboard. The waiters
successfully mounted the chairs and successfully lifted their towers
of plates to within half an inch of the desired shelf, and then the
chairs began to show signs of insecurity. By this time the audience
was stimulated to an ecstasy of expectation, whose painfulness was
only equalled by its extreme delectability. The sole unmoved
persons in the building were the customers awaiting attention at the
One tower was safely lodged on the shelf. But was it? It was not! Yes?
No! It curved; it straightened; it curved again. The excitement was as
keen as that of watching a drowning man attempt to reach the shore. It
was simply excruciating. It could not be borne any longer, and when it
could not be borne any longer the tower sprawled irrevocably and
seven dozen plates fell in a cascade on the violet hat, and so with
an inconceivable clatter to the floor. Almost at the same moment the
being in the dress-suit and the eyeglass, becoming aware of phenomena
slightly unusual even in a restaurant, dropped his eyeglass, turned
round to the sideboard and received the other waiter's seven dozen
plates in the face and on the crown of his head.
No such effect had ever been seen in the Five Towns, and the felicity
of the audience exceeded all previous felicities. The audience yelled,
roared, shrieked, gasped, trembled, and punched itself in a furious
passion of pleasure. They make plates in the Five Towns. They live by
making plates. They understand plates. In the Five Towns a man will
carry not seven but twenty-seven dozen plates on a swaying plank for
eight hours a day up steps and down steps, and in doorways and out of
doorways, and not break one plate in seven years! Judge, therefore,
the simple but terrific satisfaction of a Five Towns audience in the
hugeness of the calamity. Moreover, every plate smashed means a demand
for a new plate and increased prosperity for the Five Towns. The
grateful crowd in the auditorium of the Empire would have covered the
stage with wreaths, if it had known that wreaths were used for other
occasions than funerals; which it did not know.
Fresh complications instantly ensued, which cruelly cut short the
agreeable exercise of uncontrolled laughter. It was obvious that one
of the waiters was about to fall. And in the enforced tranquillity
of a new dread every dyspeptic person in the house was deliciously
conscious of a sudden freedom from indigestion due to the agreeable
exercise of uncontrolled laughter, and wished fervently that he could
laugh like that after every meal. The waiter fell; he fell through
the large violet hat and disappeared beneath the surface of a sea of
crockery. The other waiter fell too, but the sea was not deep enough
to drown a couple of them. Then the customers, recovering themselves,
decided that they must not be outclassed in this competition of havoc,
and they overthrew the table and everything on it, and all the other
tables and everything on all the other tables. The audience was now
a field of artillery which nothing could silence. The waiters arose,
and, opening the sideboard, disclosed many hundreds of unsuspected
plates of all kinds, ripe for smashing. Niagaras of plates surged on
to the stage. All four performers revelled and wallowed in smashed
plates. New supplies of plates were constantly being produced from
strange concealments, and finally the tables and chairs were broken to
pieces, and each object on the walls was torn down and flung in bits
on to the gorgeous general debris, to the top of which clambered the
violet hat, necklace and yellow petticoat, brandishing one single
little plate, whose life had been miraculously spared. Shrieks of
joy in that little plate played over the din like lightning in a
thunderstorm. And the curtain fell.
It was rung up fifteen times, and fifteen times the quartette of
artists, breathless, bowed in acknowledgment of the frenzied and
boisterous testimony to their unique talents. No singer, no tragedian,
no comedian, no wit could have had such a triumph, could have given
such intense pleasure. And yet none of the four had spoken a word.
Such is genius.
At the end of the fifteenth call the stage-manager came before the
curtain and guaranteed that two thousand four hundred plates had been
The lights went up. Strong men were seen to be wiping tears from their
eyes. Complete strangers were seen addressing each other in the manner
of old friends. Such is art.
"Well, that was worth a bob, that was!" muttered Edward Henry to
himself. And it was. Edward Henry had not escaped the general fate.
Nobody, being present, could have escaped it. He was enchanted. He had
utterly forgotten every care.
"Good evening, Mr. Machin," said a voice at his side. Not only he
turned but nearly everyone in the vicinity turned. The voice was the
voice of the stout and splendid managing director of the Empire, and
it sounded with the ring of authority above the rising tinkle of the
bar behind the Grand Circle.
"Oh! How d'ye do, Mr. Dakins?" Edward Henry held out a cordial hand,
for even the greatest men are pleased to be greeted in a place of
entertainment by the managing director thereof. Further, his identity
was now recognized.
"Haven't you seen those gentlemen in that box beckoning to you?" said
Mr. Dakins, proudly deprecating complimentary remarks on the show.
Mr. Dakins' hand indicated a stage-box. And Henry, looking, saw three
men, one unknown to him, the second, Robert Brindley, the architect,
of Bursley, and the third, Dr. Stirling.
Instantly his conscience leapt up within him. He thought of rabies.
Yes, sobered in the fraction of a second, he thought of rabies.
Supposing that, after all, in spite of Mr. Long's Muzzling Order, as
cited by his infant son, an odd case of rabies should have lingered in
the British Isles, and supposing that Carlo had been infected ...!
Not impossible ...! Was it providential that Dr. Stirling was in the
"You know two of them?" said Mr. Dakins.
"Well, the third's a Mr. Bryany. He's manager to Mr. Seven Sachs." Mr.
Dakins' tone was respectful.
"And who's Mr. Seven Sachs?" asked Edward Henry, absently. It was a
He was impressively informed that Mr. Seven Sachs was the arch-famous
American actor-playwright, now nearing the end of a provincial tour,
which had surpassed all records of provincial tours, and that he
would be at the Theatre Royal, Hanbridge, next week. Edward Henry then
remembered that the hoardings had been full of Mr. Seven Sachs for
some time past.
"They keep on making signs to you," said Mr. Dakins, referring to the
occupants of the stage-box.
Edward Henry waved a reply to the box.
"Here! I'll take you there the shortest way," said Mr. Dakins.
"Welcome to Stirling's box, Machin!" Robert Brindley greeted
the alderman with an almost imperceptible wink. Edward Henry had
encountered this wink once or twice before; he could not decide
precisely what it meant; it was apt to make him reflective. He did
not dislike Robert Brindley, his habit was not to dislike people; he
admitted Brindley to be a clever architect, though he objected to the
"modern" style of the fronts of his houses and schools. But he did
take exception to the man's attitude towards the Five Towns, of which,
by the way, Brindley was just as much a native as himself. Brindley
seemed to live in the Five Towns like a highly-cultured stranger in a
savage land, and to derive rather too much sardonic amusement from the
spectacle of existence therein. Brindley was a very special crony of
Stirling's, and had influenced Stirling. But Stirling was too clever
to submit unduly to the influence. Besides, Stirling was not a
native; he was only a Scotchman, and Edward Henry considered that what
Stirling thought of the district did not matter. Other details about
Brindley which Edward Henry deprecated were his necktie, which, for
Edward Henry's taste, was too flowing, his scorn of the Pianisto
(despite the man's tremendous interest in music) and his incipient
madness on the subject of books--a madness shared by Stirling.
Brindley and the doctor were for ever chattering about books--and
So that, on the whole, Dr. Stirling's box was not a place where
Edward Henry felt entirely at home. Nevertheless, the two men, having
presented Mr. Bryany, did their best, each in his own way, to make him
feel at home.
"Take this chair, Machin," said Stirling, indicating a chair at the
"Oh! I can't take the front chair!" Edward Henry protested.
"Of course you can, my dear Machin!" said Brindley, sharply. "The
front chair in a stage-box is the one proper seat in the house for
you. Do as your doctor prescribes."
And Edward Henry accordingly sat down at the front, with Mr. Bryany by
his side, and the other two sat behind. But Edward Henry was not quite
comfortable. He faintly resented that speech of Brindley's. And yet he
did feel that what Brindley had said was true, and he was indeed glad
to be in the front chair of a brilliant stage-box on the grand tier,
instead of being packed away in the nethermost twilight of the
Grand Circle. He wondered how Brindley and Stirling had managed to
distinguish his face among the confusion of faces in that distant
obscurity; he, Edward Henry, had failed to notice them, even in the
prominence of their box. But that they had distinguished him showed
how familiar and striking a figure he was. He wondered, too, why they
should have invited him to hob-nob with them. He was not of their
set. Indeed, like many very eminent men, he was not to any degree in
anybody's set. Of one thing he was sure--because he had read it on the
self-conscious faces of all three of them--namely, that they had
been discussing him. Possibly he had been brought up for Mr. Bryany's
inspection as a major lion and character of the district. Well, he did
not mind that; nay, he enjoyed that. He could feel Mr. Bryany covertly
looking him over. And he thought: "Look, my boy! I make no charge." He
smiled and nodded to one or two people who with pride saluted him from
the stalls.... It was meet that he should be visible there on that
"A full house!" he observed, to break the rather awkward silence of
the box, as he glanced round at the magnificent smoke-veiled pageant
of the aristocracy and the democracy of the Five Towns, crowded
together, tier above gilded tier, up to the dim roof where ragged lads
and maids giggled and flirted while waiting for the broken plates to
be cleared away and the moving pictures to begin.
"You may say it!" agreed Mr. Bryany, who spoke with a very slight
American accent. "Dakins positively hadn't a seat to offer me. I
happened to have the evening free. It isn't often I do have a free
evening. And so I thought I'd pop in here. But if Dakins hadn't
introduced me to these gentlemen my seat would have had to be a
"So that's how they got to know him, is it?" thought Edward Henry.
And then there was another short silence.
"Hear you've been doing something striking in rubber shares, Machin?"
said Brindley at length.
Astonishing how these things got abroad!
"Oh! very little, very little!" Edward Henry laughed modestly. "Too
late to do much! In another fortnight the bottom will be all out of
the rubber market."
"Of course I'm an Englishman"--Mr. Bryany began.
"Why 'of course'?" Edward Henry interrupted him.
"Hear! Hear! Alderman. Why 'of course'?" said Brindley, approvingly,
and Stirling's rich laugh was heard. "Only it does just happen,"
Brindley added, "that Mr. Bryany did us the honour to be born in the
"Yes! Longshaw," Mr. Bryany admitted, half proud and half apologetic.
"Which I left at the age of two."
"Oh, Longshaw!" murmured Edward Henry with a peculiar inflection.
Longshaw is at the opposite end of the Five Towns from Bursley, and
the majority of the inhabitants of Bursley have never been to Longshaw
in their lives, have only heard of it, as they hear of Chicago or
Bangkok. Edward Henry had often been to Longshaw, but, like every
visitor from Bursley, he instinctively regarded it as a foolish and
"As I was saying," resumed Mr. Bryany, quite unintimidated, "I'm an
Englishman. But I've lived eighteen years in America, and it seems
to me the bottom will soon be knocked out of pretty nearly all the
markets in England. Look at the Five Towns!"
"No, don't, Mr. Bryany!" said Brindley. "Don't go to extremes!"
"Personally, I don't mind looking at the Five Towns," said Edward
Henry. "What of it?"
"Well, did you ever see such people for looking twice at a five-pound
Edward Henry most certainly did not like this aspersion on his native
district. He gazed in silence at Mr. Bryany's brassy and yet simple
face, and did not like the face either.
And Mr. Bryany, beautifully unaware that he had failed in tact,
continued: "The Five Towns is the most English place I've ever seen,
believe me! Of course it has its good points, and England has her
good points; but there's no money stirring. There's no field for
speculation on the spot, and as for outside investment, no Englishman
will touch anything that really--is--good." He emphasized the last
"What d'ye do yeself, Mr. Bryany?" inquired Dr Stirling.
"What do I do with my little bit?" cried Mr. Bryany. "Oh! I know what
to do with my little bit. I can get ten per cent in Seattle and twelve
to fifteen in Calgary on my little bit; and security just as good as
English railway stock--_and_ better!"
The theatre was darkened and the cinematograph began its restless
Mr. Bryany went on offering to Edward Henry, in a suitably lowered
voice, his views on the great questions of investment and speculation,
and Edward Henry made cautious replies.
"And even when there _is_ a good thing going at home," Mr. Bryany
said, in a wounded tone, "what Englishman'd look at it?"
"I would," said Edward Henry with a blandness that was only skin-deep.
For all the time he was cogitating the question whether the presence
of Dr Stirling in the audience ought or ought not to be regarded as
"Now, I've got the option on a little affair in London," said Mr.
Bryany, while Edward Henry glanced quickly at him in the darkness.
"And can I get anybody to go into it? I can't."
"What sort of a little affair?"
"Building a theatre in the West End."
Even a less impassive man than Edward Henry would have started at the
coincidence of this remark. And Edward Henry started. Twenty minutes
ago he had been idly dreaming of theatrical speculation, and now he
could almost see theatrical speculation shimmering before him in the
pale shifting rays of the cinematograph that cut through the gloom of
the mysterious auditorium.
"Oh!" And in this new interest he forgot the enigma of the ways of
"Of course, you know, I'm in the business," said Mr. Bryany. "I'm
Seven Sachs's manager." It was as if he owned and operated Mr. Seven
"So I heard," said Edward Henry, and then remarked with mischievous
cordiality, "and I suppose these chaps told you I was the sort of man
you were after. And you got them to ask me in, eh, Mr. Bryany?"
Mr. Bryany gave an uneasy laugh, but seemed to find naught to say.
"Well, what _is_ your little affair?" Edward Henry encouraged him.
"Oh, I can't tell you now," said Mr. Bryany. "It would take too long.
The thing has to be explained."
"Well, what about to-morrow?"
"I have to leave for London by the first train in the morning."
"Well, some other time?"
"After to-morrow will be too late."
"Well, what about to-night?"
"The fact is, I've half promised to go with Dr Stirling to some
club or other after the show. Otherwise we might have had a quiet,
confidential chat in my rooms over at the Turk's Head. I never
dreamt--" Mr. Bryany was now as melancholy as a greedy lad who regards
rich fruit at arm's length through a plate-glass window, and he had
ceased to be patronizing.
"I'll soon get rid of Stirling for you," said Edward Henry, turning
instantly towards the doctor. The ways of Providence had been made
plain to Edward Henry. "I say, doc!" But the doctor and Brindley were
in conversation with another man at the open door of the box.
"What is it?" said Stirling.
"I've come to fetch you. You're wanted at my place."
"Well, you're a caution!" said Stirling.
"Why am I a caution?" Edward Henry smoothly protested. "I didn't tell
you before because I didn't want to spoil your fun."
Stirling's mien was not happy.
"Did they tell you I was here?" he asked.
"You'd almost think so, wouldn't you?" said Edward Henry in a playful,
enigmatic tone. After all, he decided privately, his wife was right;
it was better that Stirling should see the infant. And there was also
this natural human thought in his mind; he objected to the doctor
giving an entire evening to diversions away from home--he considered
that a doctor, when not on a round of visits, ought to be for ever
in his consulting-room, ready for a sudden call of emergency. It was
monstrous that Stirling should have proposed, after an escapade at the
music-hall, to spend further hours with chance acquaintances in vague
clubs! Half the town might fall sick and die while the doctor was
vainly amusing himself. Thus the righteous lay-man in Edward Henry!
"What's the matter?" asked Stirling.
"My eldest's been rather badly bitten by a dog, and the missis wants
"Well, you bet she does!"
"Where's the bite?"
"In the calf."
The other man at the door having departed Robert Brindley abruptly
joined the conversation at this point.
"I suppose you've heard of that case of hydrophobia at Bleakridge?"
Edward Henry's heart jumped.
"No, I haven't!" he said anxiously. "What is it?"
He gazed at the white blur of Brindley's face in the darkened box, and
he could hear the rapid clicking of the cinematograph behind him.
"Didn't you see it in the _Signal_?"
"Neither did I," said Brindley.
At the same moment the moving pictures came to an end, the theatre
was filled with light, and the band began to play "God Save the King."
Brindley and Stirling were laughing. And, indeed, Brindley had scored,
this time, over the unparalleled card of the Five Towns.
"I make you a present of that," said Edward Henry. "But my wife's most
precious infant has to be cauterized, doctor," he added firmly.
"Got your car here?" Stirling questioned.
"No. Have you?"
"Well, there's the tram. I'll follow you later. I've some business
round this way. Persuade my wife not to worry, will you?"
And when a discontented Dr. Stirling had made his excuses and adieux
to Mr. Bryany, and Robert Brindley had decided that he could not leave
his crony to travel by tram-car alone, and the two men had gone, then
Edward Henry turned to Mr. Bryany.
"That's how I get rid of the doctor, you see!"
"But _has_ your child been bitten by a dog?" asked Mr. Bryany, acutely
"You'd almost think so, wouldn't you?" Edward Henry replied, carefully
non-committal. "What price going to the Turk's Head now?"
He remembered with satisfaction, and yet with misgiving, a remark made
to him, a judgment passed on him, by a very old woman very many years
before. This discerning hag, the Widow Hullins by name, had said to
him briefly, "Well, you're a queer 'un!"
Within five minutes he was following Mr. Bryany into a small parlour
on the first floor of the Turk's Head--a room with which he had no
previous acquaintance, though, like most industrious men of affairs in
metropolitan Hanbridge, he reckoned to know something about the Turk's
Head. Mr. Bryany turned up the gas--the Turk's Head took pride
in being a "hostelry," and, while it had accustomed itself to
incandescent mantles (on the ground floor), it had not yet conquered
a natural distaste for electricity--and Edward Henry saw a smart
dispatch-box, a dress-suit, a trouser-stretcher and other necessaries
of theatrical business life at large in the apartment.
"I've never seen this room before," said Edward Henry.
"Take your overcoat off and sit down, will you?" said Mr. Bryany,
as he turned to replenish the fire from a bucket. "It's my private
sitting-room. Whenever I am on my travels I always take a private
sitting-room. It pays, you know.... Of course I mean if I'm alone.
When I'm looking after Mr. Sachs, of course we share a sitting-room."
Edward Henry agreed lightly:
"I suppose so."
But the fact was that he was much impressed. He himself had never
taken a private sitting-room in any hotel. He had sometimes felt the
desire, but he had not had the "face"--as they say down there--to do
it. To take a private sitting-room in a hotel was generally regarded
in the Five Towns as the very summit of dashing expensiveness and
"I didn't know they had any private sitting-rooms in this shanty,"
said Edward Henry.
Mr. Bryany, having finished with the fire, fronted him, shovel in
hand, with a remarkable air of consummate wisdom, and replied:
"You can generally get what you want, if you insist on having it, even
in this 'shanty.'"
Edward Henry regretted his use of the word "shanty." Inhabitants of
the Five Towns may allow themselves to twit the historic and excellent
Turk's Head, but they do not extend the privilege to strangers. And in
justice to the Turk's Head it is to be clearly stated that it did no
more to cow and discourage travellers than any other provincial hotel
in England. It was a sound and serious English provincial hotel, and
it linked century to century.
Said Mr. Bryany:
"'Merica's the place for hotels."
"Yes, I expect it is."
"Been to Chicago?"
"No, I haven't."
Mr. Bryany, as he removed his overcoat, could be seen politely
forbearing to raise his eyebrows.
"Of course you've been to New York?"
Edward Henry would have given all he had in his pockets to be able to
say that he had been to New York. But by some inexplicable negligence
he had hitherto omitted to go to New York, and being a truthful person
(except in the gravest crises) he was obliged to answer miserably:
"No, I haven't."
Mr. Bryany gazed at him with amazement and compassion, apparently
staggered by the discovery that there existed in England a man of
the world who had contrived to struggle on for forty years without
perfecting his education by a visit to New York.
Edward Henry could not tolerate Mr. Bryany's look. It was a look
which he had never been able to tolerate on the features of anybody
whatsoever. He reminded himself that his secret object in accompanying
Mr. Bryany to the Turk's Head was to repay Mr. Bryany--in what coin he
knew not yet--for the aspersions which at the music-hall he had cast
upon England in general and upon the Five Towns in particular, and
also to get revenge for having been tricked into believing, even for a
moment, that there was really a case of hydrophobia at Bleakridge. It
is true that Mr. Bryany was innocent of this deception, which had been
accomplished by Robert Brindley, but that was a detail which did
not trouble Edward Henry, who lumped his grievances together--for
He had been reflecting that some sentimental people, unused to the
ways of paternal affection in the Five Towns, might consider him a
rather callous father; he had been reflecting, again, that Nellie's
suggestion of blood-poisoning might not be as entirely foolish as
feminine suggestions in such circumstances too often are. But now
he put these thoughts away, reassuring himself against hydrophobia
anyhow, by the recollection of the definite statement of the
_Encyclopedia_. Moreover, had he not inspected the wound--as healthy a
wound as you could wish for?
And he said in a new tone, very curtly:
"Now, Mr. Bryany, what about this little affair of yours?"
He saw that Mr.. Bryany accepted the implied rebuke with the deference
properly shown by a man who needs something towards the man in
possession of what he needs. And studying the fellow's countenance,
he decided that, despite its brassiness and simple cunning, it was
scarcely the countenance of a rascal.
"Well, it's like this," said Mr.. Bryany, sitting down opposite Edward
Henry at the centre table, and reaching with obsequious liveliness for
He drew from the dispatch-box, which was lettered "W.C.B.," first a
cut-glass flask of whisky with a patent stopper, and then a spacious
box of cigarettes.
"I always travel with the right sort," he remarked, holding the golden
liquid up to the light. "It's safer and it saves any trouble with
orders after closing-time.... These English hotels, you know--!"
So saying he dispensed whisky and cigarettes, there being a siphon and
glasses, and three matches in a match-stand, on the table.
"Here's looking!" he said, with raised glass.
And Edward Henry responded, in conformity with the changeless ritual
of the Five Towns:
And they sipped.
Whereupon Mr. Bryany next drew from the dispatch-box a piece of
"I want you to look at this plan of Piccadilly Circus and environs,"
Now there is a Piccadilly in Hanbridge; also a Pall Mall and a
Chancery Lane. The adjective "metropolitan," applied to Hanbridge, is
"London?" questioned Edward Henry, "I understood London when we were
chatting over there." With his elbow he indicated the music-hall,
somewhere vaguely outside the room.
"London," said Mr. Bryany.
And Edward Henry thought:
"What on earth am I meddling with London for? What use should I be in
"You see the plot marked in red?" Mr. Bryany proceeded. "Well, that's
the site. There's an old chapel on it now."
"What do all these straight lines mean?" Edward Henry inquired,
examining the plan. Lines radiated from the red plot in various
"Those are the lines of vision," said Mr. Bryany.
"They show just where an electric sign at the corner of the front of
the proposed theatre could be seen from. You notice the site is not
in the Circus itself--a shade to the north." Mr. Bryany's finger
approached Edward Henry's on the plan, and the clouds from their
cigarettes fraternally mingled. "Now you see by those lines that the
electric sign of the proposed theatre would be visible from nearly
the whole of Piccadilly Circus, parts of Lower Regent Street,
Coventry Street and even Shaftesbury Avenue. You see what a site it
Edward Henry asked coldly:
"Have you bought it?"
"No," Mr. Bryany seemed to apologize. "I haven't exactly bought it.
But I've got an option on it."
The magic word "option" wakened the drowsy speculator in Edward Henry.
And the mere act of looking at the plan endowed the plot of land with
reality! There it was! It existed!
"An option to buy it?"
"You can't buy land in the West End of London," said Mr. Bryany,
sagely. "You can only lease it."
"Well, of course!" Edward Henry concurred.
"The freehold belongs to Lord Woldo, now aged six months."
"Really!" murmured Edward Henry.
"I've got an option to take up the remainder of the lease, with
sixty-four years to run, on the condition I put up a theatre. And the
option expires in exactly a fortnight's time."
Edward Henry frowned and then asked:
"What are the figures?"
"That is to say," Mr. Bryany corrected himself, smiling courteously,
"I've got half the option."
"And who's got the other half?"
"Rose Euclid's got the other half."
At the mention of the name of one of the most renowned star-actresses
in England, Edward Henry excusably started.
"Not _the_--?" he exclaimed.
Mr. Bryany nodded proudly, blowing out much smoke.
"Tell me," asked Edward Henry, confidentially, leaning forward, "where
do those ladies get their names from?"
"It happens in this case to be her real name," said Mr. Bryany. "Her
father kept a tobacconist's shop in Cheapside. The sign was kept up
for many years, until Rose paid to have it changed."
"Well, well!" breathed Edward Henry, secretly thrilled by these
extraordinary revelations. "And so you and she have got it between
Mr. Bryany said:
"I bought half of it from her some time ago. She was badly hard up
for a hundred pounds and I let her have the money." He threw away his
cigarette half-smoked, with a free gesture that seemed to imply that
he was capable of parting with a hundred pounds just as easily.
"How did she _get_ the option?" Edward Henry inquired, putting into
the query all the innuendo of a man accustomed to look at great
worldly affairs from the inside.
"How did she get it? She got it from the late Lord Woldo. She was
always very friendly with the late Lord Woldo, you know." Edward Henry
nodded. "Why, she and the Countess of Chell are as thick as thieves!
You know something about the Countess down here, I reckon?"
The Countess of Chell was the wife of the supreme local magnate.
Edward Henry answered calmly, "We do."
He was tempted to relate a unique adventure of his youth, when he
had driven the Countess to a public meeting in his mule-carriage, but
sheer pride kept him silent.
"I asked you for the figures," he added, in a manner which requested
Mr. Bryany to remember that he was the founder, chairman and
proprietor of the Five Towns Universal Thrift Club, one of the most
successful business organizations in the Midlands.
"Here they are!" said Mr. Bryany, passing across the table a sheet of
And as Edward Henry studied them he could hear Mr. Bryany faintly
cooing into his ear: "Of course Rose got the ground-rent reduced.
And when I tell you that the demand for theatres in the West End far
exceeds the supply, and that theatre rents are always going up ...
When I tell you that a theatre costing L25,000 to build can be let
for L11,000 a year, and often L300 a week on a short term ...!" And he
could hear the gas singing over his head ... And also, unhappily, he
could hear Dr. Stirling talking to his wife and saying to her that
the bite was far more serious than it looked, and Nellie hoping very
audibly that nothing had "happened" to him, her still absent husband
...! And then he could hear Mr. Bryany again:
"When I tell you ..."
"When you tell me all this, Mr. Bryany," he interrupted with that
ferocity which in the Five Towns is regarded as mere directness, "I
wonder why the devil you want to sell your half of the option--if you
_do_ want to sell it. Do you want to sell it?"
"To tell you the truth," said Mr. Bryany, as if up to that moment he
had told naught but lies, "I do."
"Oh, I'm always travelling about, you see. England one day--America
the next." (Apparently he had quickly abandoned the strictness of
veracity.) "All depends on the governor's movements! I couldn't keep a
proper eye on an affair of that kind."
Edward Henry laughed:
"And could I?"
"Chance for you to go a bit oftener to London," said Mr. Bryany,
laughing too. Then, with extreme and convincing seriousness, "You're
the very man for a thing of that kind. And you know it!"
Edward Henry was not displeased by this flattery.
"How much? Well, I told you frankly what I paid. I made no concealment
of that, did I now? Well, I want what I paid. It's worth it!"
"Got a copy of the option, I hope!"
Mr. Bryany produced a copy of the option.
"I am nothing but an infernal ass to mix myself up in a mad scheme
like this," said Edward Henry to his soul, perusing the documents.
"It's right off my line, right bang off it ...! But what a lark!" But
even to his soul he did not utter the remainder of the truth about
himself, namely: "I should like to cut a dash before this insufferable
patronizer of England and the Five Towns."
Suddenly something snapped within him and he said to Mr. Bryany:
Those words and no more!
"You are?" Mr. Bryany exclaimed, mistrusting his ears.
Edward Henry nodded.
"Well, that's business anyway!" said Mr. Bryany, taking a fresh
cigarette and lighting it.
"It's how we do business down here," said Edward Henry, quite
inaccurately; for it was not in the least how they did business down
Mr. Bryany asked, with a rather obvious anxiety:
"But when can you pay?"
"Oh, I'll send you a cheque in a day or two." And Edward Henry in his
turn took a fresh cigarette.
"That won't do! That won't do!" cried Mr. Bryany. "I absolutely must
have the money to-morrow morning in London. I can sell the option in
London for eighty pounds--I know that."
"You must have it?"
They exchanged glances. And Edward Henry, rapidly acquiring new
knowledge of human nature on the threshold of a world strange to him,
understood that Mr. Bryany, with his private sitting-room and his
investments in Seattle and Calgary, was at his wits' end for a bag of
English sovereigns, and had trusted to some chance encounter to save
him from a calamity. And his contempt for Mr. Bryany was that of a man
to whom his bankers are positively servile.
"Here!" Mr. Bryany almost shouted. "Don't light your cigarette with my
"I beg pardon!" Edward Henry apologized, dropping the document which
he had creased into a spill. There were no matches left on the table.
"I'll find you a match!"
"It's of no consequence," said Edward Henry, feeling in his pockets.
Having discovered therein a piece of paper he twisted it and rose to
put it to the gas.
"Could you slip round to your bank and meet me at the station in the
morning with the cash?" suggested Mr. Bryany.
"No, I couldn't," said Edward Henry.
"Well, then, what--?"
"Here, you'd better take this," the "Card," reborn, soothed his host
and, blowing out the spill which he had just ignited at the gas, he
offered it to Mr. Bryany.
Mr. Bryany, observing the peculiarity of the spill, seized it and
unrolled it--not without a certain agitation.
"Do you mean to say it's genuine?"
"You'd almost think so, wouldn't you?" said Edward Henry. He was
growing fond of this reply, and of the enigmatic, playful tone that he
had invented for it.
"We may, as you say, look twice at a fiver," continued Edward Henry.
"But we're apt to be careless about hundred-pound notes in this
district. I daresay that's why I always carry one."
"But it's burnt!"
"Only just the edge. Not enough to harm it. If any bank in England
refuses it, return it to me and I'll give you a couple more in
exchange. Is that talking?"
"Well, I'm dashed!" Mr. Bryany attempted to rise, and then subsided
back into his chair. "I am simply and totally dashed!" He smiled
And in that instant Edward Henry felt all the sweetness of a complete
and luscious revenge.
He said commandingly:
"You must sign me a transfer. I'll dictate it!"
Then he jumped up.
"You're in a hurry?"