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The Regent by E. Arnold Bennett

Part 2 out of 6

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"I am. My wife is expecting me. You promised to find me a match."
Edward Henry waved the unlit cigarette as a reproach to Mr. Bryany's
imperfect hospitality.

IV

The clock of Bleakridge Church, still imperturbably shining in the
night, showed a quarter to one when he saw it again on his hurried and
guilty way home. The pavements were drying in the fresh night wind
and he had his overcoat buttoned up to the neck. He was absolutely
solitary in the long, muddy perspective of Trafalgar Road. He walked
because the last tram-car was already housed in its shed at the other
end of the world, and he walked quickly because his conscience drove
him onwards. And yet he dreaded to arrive, lest a wound in the child's
leg should have maliciously decided to fester in order to put him in
the wrong. He was now as apprehensive concerning that wound as Nellie
herself had been at tea-time.

But, in his mind, above the dark gulf of anxiety, there floated
brighter thoughts. Despite his fears and his remorse as a father, he
laughed aloud in the deserted street when he remembered Mr. Bryany's
visage of astonishment upon uncreasing the note. Indubitably he had
made a terrific and everlasting impression upon Mr. Bryany. He was
sending Mr. Bryany out of the Five Towns a different man. He had
taught Mr. Bryany a thing or two. To what brilliant use had he turned
the purely accidental possession of a hundred-pound note! One of his
finest inspirations--an inspiration worthy of the great days of
his youth! Yes, he had had his hour that evening, and it had been a
glorious one. Also, it had cost him a hundred pounds, and he did
not care; he would retire to bed with a net gain of two hundred and
forty-one pounds instead of three hundred and forty-one pounds--that
was all!

For he did not mean to take up the option. The ecstasy was cooled
now and he saw clearly that London and theatrical enterprises therein
would not be suited to his genius. In the Five Towns he was on his own
ground; he was a figure; he was sure of himself. In London he would be
a provincial, with the diffidence and the uncertainty of a provincial.
Nevertheless, London seemed to be summoning him from afar off, and he
dreamt agreeably of London as one dreams of the impossible East.

As soon as he opened the gate in the wall of his property he saw that
the drawing-room was illuminated and all the other front rooms in
darkness. Either his wife or his mother, then, was sitting up in
the drawing-room. He inserted a cautious latch-key into the door
and entered the silent home like a sinner. The dim light in the hall
gravely reproached him. All his movements were modest and restrained.
No noisy rattling of his stick now!

The drawing-room door was slightly ajar. He hesitated, and then,
nerving himself, pushed against it.

Nellie, with lowered head, was seated at a table, mending, the image
of tranquillity and soft resignation. A pile of children's garments
lay by her side, but the article in her busy hands appeared to be an
under-shirt of his own. None but she ever reinforced the buttons on
his linen. Such was her wifely rule, and he considered that there was
no sense in it. She was working by the light of a single lamp on the
table, the splendid chandelier being out of action. Her economy in the
use of electricity was incurable, and he considered that there was no
sense in that either.

She glanced up, with a guarded expression that might have meant
anything.

He said:

"Aren't you trying your eyes?"

And she replied:

"Oh, no!"

Then, plunging, he came to the point:

"Well, doctor been?"

She nodded.

"What does he say?"

"It's quite all right. He did nothing but cover up the place with a
bit of cyanide gauze."

Instantly, in his own esteem, he regained perfection as a father. Of
course the bite was nothing! Had he not said so from the first? Had he
not been quite sure throughout that the bite was nothing?

"Then why did you sit up?" he asked, and there was a faint righteous
challenge in his tone.

"I was anxious about you. I was afraid--"

"Didn't Stirling tell you I had some business?"

"I forget--"

"I told him to, anyhow.... Important business."

"It must have been," said Nellie, in an inscrutable voice.

She rose and gathered together her paraphernalia, and he saw that she
was wearing the damnable white apron. The close atmosphere of the
home enveloped and stifled him once more. How different was this
exasperating interior from the large jolly freedom of the Empire Music
Hall, and from the whisky, cigarettes and masculinity of that private
room at the Turk's Head!

"It was!" he repeated grimly and resentfully. "Very important! And
I'll tell you another thing. I shall probably have to go to London."

He said this just to startle her.

"It will do you all the good in the world," she replied angelically,
but unstartled. "It's just what you need!" And she gazed at him as
though his welfare and felicity were her sole preoccupation.

"I meant I might have to stop there quite a while," he insisted.

"If you ask me," she said, "I think it would do us all good."

So saying, she retired, having expressed no curiosity whatever as to
the nature of the very important business in London.

For a moment, left alone, he was at a loss. Then, snorting, he went to
the table and extinguished the lamp. He was now in darkness. The light
in the hall showed him the position of the door.

He snorted again. "Oh, very well then!" he muttered. "If that's it!...
I'm hanged if I don't go to London!... I'm hanged if I don't go to
London!"

CHAPTER III

WILKINS'S

I

The early adventures of Alderman Machin of Bursley at Wilkins's Hotel,
London, were so singular, and to him so refreshing, that they must be
recounted in some detail.

He went to London by the morning express from Knype, on the Monday
week after his visit to the music-hall. In the meantime he had had
some correspondence with Mr. Bryany, more poetic than precise, about
the option, and had informed Mr. Bryany that he would arrive in
London several days before the option expired. But he had not given
a definite date. The whole affair, indeed, was amusingly vague; and,
despite his assurances to his wife that the matter was momentous,
he did not regard his trip to London as a business trip at all, but
rather as a simple freakish change of air. The one certain item in the
whole situation was that he had in his pocket a quite considerable sum
of actual money, destined--he hoped, but was not sure--to take up the
option at the proper hour.

Nellie, impeccable to the last, accompanied him in the motor to Knype,
the main-line station. The drive, superficially pleasant, was in
reality very disconcerting to him. For nine days the household had
talked in apparent cheerfulness of father's visit to London, as
though it were an occasion for joy on father's behalf, tempered by
affectionate sorrow for his absence. The official theory was that all
was for the best in the best of all possible homes, and this theory
was admirably maintained. And yet everybody knew--even to Maisie--that
it was not so; everybody knew that the master and the mistress of
the home, calm and sweet as was their demeanour, were contending in
a terrific silent and mysterious altercation, which in some way was
connected with the visit to London.

So far as Edward Henry was concerned he had been hoping for some
decisive event--a tone, gesture, glance, pressure--during the drive to
Knype, which offered the last chance of a real concord. No such event
occurred. They conversed with the same false cordiality as had marked
their relations since the evening of the dog-bite. On that evening
Nellie had suddenly transformed herself into a distressingly perfect
angel, and not once had she descended from her high estate. At least
daily she had kissed him--what kisses! Kisses that were not kisses!
Tasteless mockeries, like non-alcoholic ale! He could have killed
her, but he could not put a finger on a fault in her marvellous wifely
behaviour; she would have died victorious.

So that his freakish excursion was not starting very auspiciously.
And, waiting with her for the train on the platform at Knype, he felt
this more and more. His old clerk, Penkethman, was there to receive
certain final instructions on Thrift Club matters, and the sweetness
of Nellie's attitude towards the ancient man, and the ancient man's
naive pleasure therein, positively maddened Edward Henry. To such an
extent that he began to think: "Is she going to spoil my trip for me?"

Then Brindley came up. Brindley, too, was going to London. And
Nellie's saccharine assurances to Brindley that Edward Henry really
needed a change just about completed Edward Henry's desperation. Not
even the uproarious advent of two jolly wholesale grocers, Messieurs
Garvin & Quorrall, also going to London, could effectually lighten his
pessimism.

When the train steamed in, Edward Henry, in fear, postponed the
ultimate kiss as long as possible. He allowed Brindley to climb
before him into the second-class compartment, and purposely tarried
in finding change for the porter; and then he turned to Nellie and
stooped. She raised her white veil and raised the angelic face. They
kissed--the same false kiss--and she was withdrawing her lips ... But
suddenly she put them again to his for one second, with a hysterical,
clinging pressure. It was nothing. Nobody could have noticed it.
She herself pretended that she had not done it. Edward Henry had
to pretend not to notice it. But to him it was everything. She had
relented. She had surrendered. The sign had come from her. She wished
him to enjoy his visit to London.

He said to himself:

"Dashed if I don't write to her every day!"

He leaned out of the window as the train rolled away and waved and
smiled to her, not concealing his sentiments now; nor did she conceal
hers as she replied with exquisite pantomime to his signals. But if
the train had not been rapidly and infallibly separating them the
reconciliation could scarcely have been thus open. If for some reason
the train had backed into the station and ejected its passengers,
those two would have covered up their feelings again in an instant.
Such is human nature in the Five Towns.

When Edward Henry withdrew his head into the compartment Brindley and
Mr. Garvin, the latter standing at the corridor door, observed that
his spirits had shot up in the most astonishing manner, and in their
blindness they attributed the phenomenon to Edward Henry's delight in
a temporary freedom from domesticity.

Mr. Garvin had come from the neighbouring compartment, which was
first-class, to suggest a game at bridge. Messieurs Garvin & Quorrall
journeyed to London once a week and sometimes oftener, and, being
traders, they had special season-tickets. They travelled first-class
because their special season-tickets were first-class, Brindley
said that he didn't mind a game, but that he had not the slightest
intention of paying excess fare for the privilege. Mr. Garvin told him
to come along and trust in Messieurs Garvin & Quorrall. Edward Henry,
not nowadays an enthusiastic card-player, enthusiastically agreed to
join the hand, and announced that he did not care if he paid forty
excess fares. Whereupon Robert Brindley grumbled enviously that it was
"all very well for millionaires"!... They followed Mr. Garvin into
the first-class compartment, and it soon appeared that Messrs Garvin
& Quorrall did, in fact, own the train, and that the London and North
Western Railway was no more than their washpot.

"Bring us a cushion from somewhere, will ye?" said Mr. Quorrall,
casually, to a ticket-collector who entered.

And the resplendent official obeyed. The long cushion, rapt from
another compartment, was placed on the knees of the quartette, and the
game began. The ticket-collector examined the tickets of Brindley and
Edward Henry, and somehow failed to notice that they were of the wrong
colour. And at this proof of their influential greatness Messieurs
Garvin & Quorrall were both secretly proud.

The last rubber finished in the neighbourhood of Willesden, and Edward
Henry, having won eighteenpence halfpenny, was exuberantly
content, for Messrs Garvin, Quorrall and Brindley were all renowned
card-players. The cushion was thrown away and a fitful conversation
occupied the few remaining minutes of the journey.

"Where do you put up?" Brindley asked Edward Henry.

"Majestic," said Edward Henry. "Where do you?"

"Oh! Kingsway, I suppose."

The Majestic and the Kingsway were two of the half-dozen very large
and very mediocre hotels in London which, from causes which nobody,
and especially no American, has ever been able to discover, are
particularly affected by Midland provincials "on the jaunt!" Both had
an immense reputation in the Five Towns.

There was nothing new to say about the Majestic and the Kingsway, and
the talk flagged until Mr. Quorrall mentioned Seven Sachs. The
mighty Seven Sachs, in his world-famous play, "Overheard," had taken
precedence of all other topics in the Five Towns during the previous
week. He had crammed the theatre and half emptied the Empire Music
Hall for six nights; a wonderful feat. Incidentally, his fifteen
hundredth appearance in "Overheard" had taken place in the Five Towns,
and the Five Towns had found in this fact a peculiar satisfaction, as
though some deep merit had thereby been acquired or rewarded. Seven
Sachs's tour was now closed, and on the Sunday he had gone to London,
_en route_ for America.

"I heard _he_ stops at Wilkins's," said Mr. Garvin.

"Wilkins's your grandmother!" Brindley essayed to crush Mr. Garvin.

"I don't say he _does_ stop at Wilkins's," said Mr. Garvin, an
individual not easy to crush; "I only say I heard as he did."

"They wouldn't have him!" Brindley insisted firmly.

Mr. Quorrall at any rate seemed tacitly to agree with Brindley. The
august name of Wilkins's was in its essence so exclusive that vast
numbers of fairly canny provincials had never heard of it. Ask ten
well-informed provincials which is the first hotel in London and
nine of them would certainly reply, the Grand Babylon. Not that even
wealthy provincials from the industrial districts are in the habit of
staying at the Grand Babylon! No! Edward Henry, for example, had
never stayed at the Grand Babylon, no more than he had ever bought a
first-class ticket on a railroad. The idea of doing so had scarcely
occurred to him. There are certain ways of extravagant smartness which
are not considered to be good form among solid wealthy provincials.
Why travel first-class (they argue) when second is just as good and no
one can tell the difference once you get out of the train? Why ape
the tricks of another stratum of society? They like to read about the
dinner-parties and supper-parties at the Grand Babylon; but they are
not emulous and they do not imitate. At their most adventurous they
would lunch or dine in the neutral region of the grill-room at the
Grand Babylon. As for Wilkins's, in Devonshire Square, which is
infinitely better known among princes than in the Five Towns, and
whose name is affectionately pronounced with a "V" by half the
monarchs of Europe, few industrial provincials had ever seen it.
The class which is the backbone of England left it serenely alone to
royalty and the aristocratic parasites of royalty.

"I don't see why they shouldn't have him," said Edward Henry, as he
lifted a challenging nose in the air.

"Perhaps you don't, Alderman!" said Brindley.

"_I_ wouldn't mind going to Wilkins's," Edward Henry persisted.

"I'd like to see you," said Brindley, with curt scorn.

"Well," said Edward Henry, "I'll bet you a fiver I do." Had he not
won eighteenpence halfpenny, and was he not securely at peace with his
wife?

"I don't bet fivers," said the cautious Brindley. "But I'll bet you
half-a-crown."

"Done!" said Edward Henry.

"When will you go?"

"Either to-day or to-morrow. I must go to the Majestic first, because
I've ordered a room and so on."

"Ha!" hurtled Brindley, as if to insinuate that Edward Henry was
seeking to escape from the consequences of his boast.

And yet he ought to have known Edward Henry. He did know Edward Henry.
And he hoped to lose his half-crown. On his face and on the faces of
the other two was the cheerful admission that tales of the doings of
Alderman Machin, the great local card, at Wilkins's--if he succeeded
in getting in--would be cheap at half-a-crown.

Porters cried out "Euston!"

II

It was rather late in the afternoon when Edward Henry arrived in front
of the facade of Wilkins's. He came in a taxi-cab, and though the
distance from the Majestic to Wilkins's is not more than a couple of
miles, and he had had nothing else to preoccupy him after lunch, he
had spent some three hours in the business of transferring himself
from the portals of the one hotel to the portals of the other. Two
hours and three-quarters of this period of time had been passed in
finding courage merely to start. Even so, he had left his luggage
behind him. He said to himself that, first of all, he would go and spy
out Wilkins's; in the perilous work of scouting he rightly wished
to be unhampered by impedimenta; moreover, in case of repulse or
accident, he must have a base of operations upon which he could
retreat in good order.

He now looked on Wilkins's for the first time in his life, and he was
even more afraid of it than he had been while thinking about it in the
vestibule of the Majestic. It was not larger than the Majestic; it was
perhaps smaller; it could not show more terra-cotta, plate-glass and
sculptured cornice than the Majestic. But it had a demeanour ... and
it was in a square which had a demeanour.... In every window-sill--not
only of the hotel, but of nearly every mighty house in the
Square--there were boxes of bright blooming flowers. These he could
plainly distinguish in the October dusk, and they were a wonderful
phenomenon--say what you will about the mildness of that particular
October! A sublime tranquillity reigned over the scene. A liveried
keeper was locking the gate of the garden in the middle of the Square
as if potentates had just quitted it and rendered it for ever sacred.
And between the sacred shadowed grove and the inscrutable fronts
of the stately houses there flitted automobiles of the silent and
expensive kind, driven by chauffeurs in pale grey or dark purple, who
reclined as they steered, and who were supported on their left
sides by footmen who reclined as they contemplated the grandeur of
existence.

Edward Henry's taxi-cab in that Square seemed like a homeless cat that
had strayed into a dog-show.

At the exact instant, when the taxi-cab came to rest under the massive
portico of Wilkins's, a chamberlain in white gloves bravely soiled
the gloves by seizing the vile brass handle of its door. He bowed to
Edward Henry and assisted him to alight on to a crimson carpet.
The driver of the taxi glanced with pert and candid scorn at the
chamberlain, but Edward Henry looked demurely aside, and then in
abstraction mounted the broad carpeted steps.

"What about poor little me?" cried the driver, who was evidently a
ribald socialist, or at best a republican.

The chamberlain, pained, glanced at Edward Henry for support and
direction in this crisis.

"Didn't I tell you I'd keep you?" said Edward Henry, raised now by the
steps above the driver.

"Between you and me, you didn't," said the driver.

The chamberlain, with an ineffable gesture, wafted the taxi-cab away
into some limbo appointed for waiting vehicles.

A page opened a pair of doors, and another page opened another pair of
doors, each with eighteen century ceremonies of deference, and Edward
Henry stood at length in the hall of Wilkins's. The sanctuary, then,
was successfully defiled, and up to the present nobody had demanded
his credentials! He took breath.

In its physical aspects Wilkins's appeared to him to resemble other
hotels--such as the Majestic. And so far he was not mistaken. Once
Wilkins's had not resembled other hotels. For many years it had
deliberately refused to recognize that even the nineteenth century
had dawned, and its magnificent antique discomfort had been one of its
main attractions to the elect. For the elect desired nothing but their
own privileged society in order to be happy in a hotel. A hip-bath
on a blanket in the middle of the bedroom floor richly sufficed them,
provided they could be guaranteed against the calamity of meeting the
unelect in the corridors or at _table d'hote_. But the rising waters
of democracy--the intermixture of classes--had reacted adversely on
Wilkins's. The fall of the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico had given
Wilkins's sad food for thought long, long ago, and the obvious general
weakening of the monarchical principle had most considerably shaken
it. Came the day when Wilkins's reluctantly decided that even it could
not fight against the tendency of the whole world, and then, at one
superb stroke, it had rebuilt and brought itself utterly up-to-date.

Thus it resembled other hotels. (Save, possibly, in the reticence
of its advertisements! The Majestic would advertise bathrooms as a
miracle of modernity, just as though common dwelling-houses had
not possessed bathrooms for the past thirty years. Wilkins's had
superlative bathrooms, but it said nothing about them. Wilkins's would
as soon have advertised two hundred bathrooms as two hundred bolsters;
and for the new Wilkins's a bathroom was not more modern than a
bolster.) Also, other hotels resembled Wilkins's. The Majestic, too,
had a chamberlain at its portico and an assortment of pages to prove
to its clients that they were incapable of performing the simplest act
for themselves. Nevertheless, the difference between Wilkins's and
the Majestic was enormous; and yet so subtle was it that Edward Henry
could not immediately detect where it resided. Then he understood. The
difference between Wilkins's and the Majestic resided in the theory
which underlay its manner. And the theory was that every person
entering its walls was of royal blood until he had admitted the
contrary.

Within the hotel it was already night.

Edward Henry self-consciously crossed the illuminated hall, which was
dotted with fashionable figures. He knew not whither he was going,
until by chance he saw a golden grille with the word "Reception"
shining over it in letters of gold. Behind this grille, and still
further protected by an impregnable mahogany counter, stood three
young dandies in attitudes of graceful ease. He approached them.
The fearful moment was upon him. He had never in his life been so
genuinely frightened. Abject disgrace might be his portion within the
next ten seconds.

Addressing himself to the dandy in the middle he managed to
articulate:

"What have you got in the way of rooms?"

Could the Five Towns have seen him then, as he waited, it would hardly
have recognized its "card," its character, its mirror of aplomb
and inventive audacity, in this figure of provincial and plebeian
diffidence.

The dandy bowed.

"Do you want a suite, sir?"

"Certainly!" said Edward Henry. Rather too quickly, rather too
defiantly; in fact, rather rudely! A _habitue_ would not have so
savagely hurled back in the dandy's teeth the insinuation that he
wanted only one paltry room.

However, the dandy smiled, accepting with meekness Edward Henry's
sudden arrogance, and consulted a sort of pentateuch that was open in
front of him.

No person in the hall saw Edward Henry's hat fly up into the air and
fall back on his head. But in the imagination of Edward Henry this was
what his hat did.

He was saved. He would have a proud tale for Brindley. The thing was
as simple as the alphabet. You just walked in and they either fell on
your neck or kissed your feet.

Wilkins's, indeed!

A very handsome footman, not only in white gloves but in white calves,
was soon supplicating him to deign to enter a lift. And when he
emerged from the lift another dandy--in a frock-coat of Paradise--was
awaiting him with obeisances. Apparently it had not yet occurred to
anybody that he was not the younger son of some aged king.

He was prayed to walk into a gorgeous suite, consisting of a corridor,
a noble drawing-room (with portrait of His Majesty of Spain on the
walls), a large bedroom with two satin-wood beds, a small bedroom and
a bathroom, all gleaming with patent devices in porcelain and silver
that fully equalled those at home.

Asked if this suite would do, he said it would, trying as well as
he could to imply that he had seen better. Then the dandy produced a
note-book and a pencil and impassively waited. The horrid fact that he
was unelect could no longer be concealed.

"E.H. Machin, Bursley," he said shortly; and added: "Alderman Machin."
After all, why should he be ashamed of being an Alderman?

To his astonishment the dandy smiled very cordially, though always
with profound respect.

"Ah! yes!" said the dandy. It was as though he had said: "We have long
wished for the high patronage of this great reputation." Edward Henry
could make naught of it.

His opinion of Wilkins's went down.

He followed the departing dandy up the corridor to the door of the
suite in an entirely vain attempt to inquire the price of the suite
per day. Not a syllable would pass his lips. The dandy bowed and
vanished. Edward Henry stood lost at his own door, and his wandering
eye caught sight of a pile of trunks near to another door in the main
corridor. These trunks gave him a terrible shock. He shut out the
rest of the hotel and retired into his private corridor to reflect.
He perceived only too plainly that his luggage, now at the Majestic,
never could come into Wilkins's. It was not fashionable enough. It
lacked elegance. The lounge-suit that he was wearing might serve, but
his luggage was totally impossible. Never before had he imagined that
the aspect of one's luggage could have the least importance in one's
scheme of existence. He was learning, and he frankly admitted that he
was in an incomparable mess.

III

At the end of an extensive stroll through and round his new vast
domain, he had come to no decision upon a course of action. Certain
details of the strange adventure pleased him--as, for instance, the
dandy's welcoming recognition of his name; that, though puzzling,
was a source of comfort to him in his difficulties. He also liked the
suite; nay, more, he was much impressed by its gorgeousness, and such
novel complications as the forked electric switches, all of which he
turned on, and the double windows, one within the other, appealed
to the domestic expert in him; indeed, he at once had the idea of
doubling the window of the best bedroom at home; to do so would be
a fierce blow to the Five Towns Electric Traction Company, which, as
everybody knew, delighted to keep everybody awake at night and at dawn
by means of its late and its early tram-cars.

However, he could not wander up and down the glittering solitude of
his extensive suite for ever. Something must be done. Then he had
the notion of writing to Nellie; he had promised himself to write her
daily; moreover, it would pass the time and perhaps help him to some
resolution.

He sat down to a delicate Louis XVI. desk, on which lay a Bible, a
Peerage, a telephone-book, a telephone, a lamp and much distinguished
stationery. Between the tasselled folds of plushy curtains that
pleated themselves with the grandeur of painted curtains in a theatre,
he glanced out at the lights of Devonshire Square, from which not a
sound came. Then he lit the lamp and unscrewed his fountain-pen.

"My dear wife--"

That was how he always began, whether in storm or sunshine. Nellie
always began, "My darling husband," but he was not a man to fling
"darlings" about. Few husbands in the Five Towns are. He thought
"darling," but he never wrote it, and he never said it, save
quizzingly.

After these three words the composition of the letter came to a pause.
What was he going to tell Nellie? He assuredly was not going to tell
her that he had engaged an unpriced suite at Wilkins's. He was not
going to mention Wilkins's. Then he intelligently perceived that the
note-paper and also the envelope mentioned Wilkins's in no ambiguous
manner. He tore up the sheet and searched for plain paper.

Now on the desk there was the ordinary hotel stationery, mourning
stationery, cards, letter-cards and envelopes for every mood; but not
a piece that was not embossed with the historic name in royal blue.
The which appeared to Edward Henry to point to a defect of foresight
on the part of Wilkins's. At the gigantic political club to which
he belonged, and which he had occasionally visited in order to
demonstrate to himself and others that he was a clubman, plain
stationery was everywhere provided for the use of husbands with a
taste for reticence. Why not at Wilkins's also?

On the other hand, why should he _not_ write to his wife on Wilkins's
paper? Was he afraid of his wife? He was not. Would not the news
ultimately reach Bursley that he had stayed at Wilkins's? It would.
Nevertheless, he could not find the courage to write to Nellie on
Wilkins's paper.

He looked around. He was fearfully alone. He wanted the companionship,
were it only momentary, of something human. He decided to have a look
at the flunkey, and he rang a bell.

Immediately, just as though wafted thither on a magic carpet from the
Court of Austria, a gentleman-in-waiting arrived in the doorway of the
drawing-room, planted himself gracefully on his black silk calves, and
bowed.

"I want some plain note-paper, please."

"Very good, sir." Oh! Perfection of tone and of mien!

Three minutes later the plain note-paper and envelopes were being
presented to Edward Henry on a salver. As he took them he looked
inquiringly at the gentleman-in-waiting, who supported his gaze with
an impenetrable, invulnerable servility. Edward Henry, beaten off with
great loss, thought: "There's nothing doing here just now in the human
companionship line," and assumed the mask of a hereditary prince.

The black calves carried away their immaculate living burden, set
above all earthly ties.

He wrote nicely to Nellie about the weather and the journey and
informed her also that London seemed as full as ever, and that he
might go to the theatre but he wasn't sure. He dated the letter from
the Majestic.

As he was finishing it he heard mysterious, disturbing footfalls in
his private corridor, and after trying for some time to ignore them,
he was forced by a vague alarm to investigate their origin. A short,
middle-aged, pallid man, with a long nose and long moustaches, wearing
a red-and-black-striped sleeved waistcoat and a white apron, was in
the corridor. At the Turk's Head such a person would have been the
boots. But Edward Henry remembered a notice under the bell, advising
visitors to ring once for the waiter, twice for the chambermaid,
and three times for the valet. This, then, was the valet. In certain
picturesque details of costume Wilkins's was coquettishly French.

"What is it?" he demanded.

"I came to see if your luggage had arrived, sir. No doubt your servant
is bringing it. Can I be of any assistance to you?"

The man thoughtfully twirled one end of his moustache. It was an
appalling fault in demeanour; but the man was proud of his moustache.

"The first human being I've met here!" thought Edward Henry, attracted
too by a gleam in the eye of this eternal haunter of corridors.

"His servant!" He saw that something must be done, and quickly!
Wilkins's provided valets for emergencies, but obviously it expected
visitors to bring their own valets in addition. Obviously existence
without a private valet was inconceivable to Wilkins's.

"The fact is," said Edward Henry, "I'm in a very awkward situation."
He hesitated, seeking to and fro in his mind for particulars of the
situation.

"Sorry to hear that, sir."

"Yes, a very awkward situation." He hesitated again. "I'd booked
passages for myself and my valet on the _Minnetonka_, sailing from
Tilbury at noon to-day, and sent him on in front with my stuff, and at
the very last moment I've been absolutely prevented from sailing! You
see how awkward it is! I haven't a thing here."

"It is indeed, sir. And I suppose _he's_ gone on, sir?"

"Of course he has! He wouldn't find out till after she sailed that I
wasn't on board. You know the crush and confusion there is on those
big liners just before they start." Edward Henry had once assisted,
under very dramatic circumstances, at the departure of a Transatlantic
liner from Liverpool.

"Just so, sir!"

"I've neither servant nor clothes!" He considered that so far he was
doing admirably. Indeed, the tale could not have been bettered, he
thought. His hope was that the fellow would not have the idea of
consulting the shipping intelligence in order to confirm the departure
of the _Minnetonka_ from Tilbury that day. Possibly the _Minnetonka_
never had sailed and never would sail from Tilbury. Possibly she had
been sold years ago. He had selected the first ship's name that came
into his head. What did it matter?

"My man," he added to clinch--the proper word "man" had only just
occurred to him--"my man can't be back again under three weeks at the
soonest."

The valet made one half-eager step towards him.

"If you're wanting a temporary valet, sir, my son's out of a place for
the moment--through no fault of his own. He's a very good valet, sir,
and soon learns a gentleman's ways."

"Yes," said Edward Henry, judiciously. "But could he come at once?
That's the point." And he looked at his watch, as if to imply that
another hour without a valet would be more than human nature could
stand.

"I could have him round here in less than an hour, sir," said
the hotel-valet, comprehending the gesture. "He's at Norwich
Mews--Berkeley Square way, sir."

Edward Henry hesitated.

"Very well, then!" he said commandingly. "Send for him. Let me see
him."

He thought:

"Dash it! I'm at Wilkins's--I'll be _at_ Wilkins's!"

"Certainly, sir! Thank you very much, sir."

The hotel-valet was retiring when Edward Henry called him back.

"Stop a moment. I'm just going out. Help me on with my overcoat, will
you?"

The man jumped.

"And you might get me a tooth-brush," Edward Henry airily suggested.
"And I've a letter for the post."

As he walked down Devonshire Square in the dark he hummed a tune;
certain sign that he was self-conscious, uneasy, and yet not unhappy.
At a small but expensive hosier's in a side street he bought a shirt
and a suit of pyjamas, and also permitted himself to be tempted by
a special job line of hair-brushes that the hosier had in his fancy
department. On hearing the powerful word "Wilkins's," the hosier
promised with passionate obsequiousness that the goods should be
delivered instantly.

Edward Henry cooled his excitement by an extended stroll, and finally
re-entered the outer hall of the hotel at half-past seven, and sat
down therein to see the world. He knew by instinct that the boldest
lounge-suit must not at that hour penetrate further into the public
rooms of Wilkins's.

The world at its haughtiest was driving up to Wilkins's to eat its
dinner in the unrivalled restaurant, and often guests staying at the
hotel came into the outer hall to greet invited friends. And Edward
Henry was so overfaced by visions of woman's brilliance and man's
utter correctness that he scarcely knew where to look--so apologetic
was he for his grey lounge-suit and the creases in his boots. In less
than a quarter of an hour he appreciated with painful clearness that
his entire conception of existence had been wrong, and that he must
begin again at the beginning. Nothing in his luggage at the Majestic
would do. His socks would not do, nor his shoes, nor the braid on his
trousers, nor his cuff-links, nor his ready-made white bow, nor
the number of studs in his shirt-front, nor the collar of his coat.
Nothing! Nothing! To-morrow would be a full day.

He ventured apologetically into the lift. In his private corridor a
young man respectfully waited, hat in hand, the paternal red-and-black
waistcoat by his side for purposes of introduction. The young man
was wearing a rather shabby blue suit, but a rich and distinguished
overcoat that fitted him ill. In another five minutes Edward Henry
had engaged a skilled valet, aged twenty-four, name Joseph, with a
testimonial of efficiency from Sir Nicholas Winkworth, Bart., at a
salary of a pound a week and all found.

Joseph seemed to await instructions. And Edward Henry was placed in a
new quandary. He knew not whether the small bedroom in the suite was
for a child, or for his wife's maid, or for his valet. Quite probably
it would be a sacrilegious defiance of precedent to put a valet in the
small bedroom. Quite probably Wilkins's had a floor for private valets
in the roof. Again, quite probably, the small bedroom might be, after
all, specially destined for valets! He could not decide, and the
most precious thing in the universe to him in that crisis was his
reputation as a man-about-town in the eyes of Joseph.

But something had to be done.

"You'll sleep in this room," said Edward Henry, indicating the door.
"I may want you in the night."

"Yes, sir," said Joseph.

"I presume you'll dine up here, sir," said Joseph, glancing at the
lounge-suit.

His father had informed him of his new master's predicament.

"I shall," said Edward Henry. "You might get the menu."

IV

He had a very bad night indeed--owing, no doubt, partly to a general
uneasiness in his unusual surroundings, and partly also to a special
uneasiness caused by the propinquity of a sleeping valet; but the main
origin of it was certainly his dreadful anxiety about the question
of a first-class tailor. In the organization of his new life a
first-class tailor was essential, and he was not acquainted with a
first-class London tailor. He did not know a great deal concerning
clothes, though quite passably well dressed for a provincial, but he
knew enough to be sure that it was impossible to judge the merits of
a tailor by his signboard, and therefore that if, wandering in the
precincts of Bond Street, he entered the first establishment that
"looked likely," he would have a good chance of being "done in the
eye." So he phrased it to himself as he lay in bed. He wanted a
definite and utterly reliable address.

He rang the bell. Only, as it happened to be the wrong bell, he
obtained the presence of Joseph in a roundabout way, through the
agency of a gentleman-in-waiting. Such, however, is the human faculty
of adaptation to environment that he was merely amused in the morning
by an error which, on the previous night, would have put him into a
sweat.

"Good morning, sir," said Joseph.

Edward Henry nodded, his hands under his head as he lay on his back.
He decided to leave all initiative to Joseph. The man drew up the
blinds, and closing the double windows at the top opened them very
wide at the bottom.

"It is a rainy morning, sir," said Joseph, letting in vast quantities
of air from Devonshire Square.

Clearly, Sir Nicholas Winkworth had been a breezy master.

"Oh!" murmured Edward Henry.

He felt a careless contempt for Joseph's flunkeyism. Hitherto he had
had the theory that footmen, valets and all male personal attendants
were an inexcusable excrescence on the social fabric. The mere sight
of them often angered him, though for some reason he had no objection
whatever to servility in a nice-looking maid--indeed, rather enjoyed
it. But now, in the person of Joseph, he saw that there were human or
half-human beings born to self-abasement, and that, if their destiny
was to be fulfilled, valetry was a necessary institution. He had no
pity for Joseph, no shame in employing him. He scorned Joseph; and yet
his desire, as a man-about-town, to keep Joseph's esteem, was in no
way diminished!

"Shall I prepare your bath, sir?" asked Joseph, stationed in a supple
attitude by the side of the bed.

Edward Henry was visited by an idea.

"Have you had yours?" he demanded like a pistol-shot.

Edward Henry saw that Sir Nicholas had never asked that particular
question.

"No, sir."

"Not had your bath, man! What on earth do you mean by it? Go and have
your bath at once!"

A faint sycophantic smile lightened the amazed features of Joseph. And
Edward Henry thought: "It's astonishing, all the same, the way they
can read their masters. This chap has seen already that I'm a card.
And yet how?"

"Yes, sir," said Joseph.

"Have your bath in the bathroom here. And be sure to leave everything
in order for me."

"Yes, sir."

As soon as Joseph had gone Edward Henry jumped out of bed and
listened. He heard the discreet Joseph respectfully push the bolt of
the bathroom door. Then he crept with noiseless rapidity to the small
bedroom and was aware therein of a lack of order and of ventilation.
The rich and distinguished overcoat was hanging on the brass knob at
the foot of the bed. He seized it, and, scrutinizing the loop, read in
yellow letters: "_Quayther & Cuthering_, 47 _Vigo Street, W_." He
knew that Quayther & Cuthering must be the tailors of Sir Nicholas
Winkworth, and hence first-class.

Hoping for the best, and putting his trust in the general decency of
human nature, he did not trouble himself with the problem: was the
overcoat a gift or an appropriation? But he preferred to assume the
generosity of Sir Nicholas rather than the dishonesty of Joseph.

Repassing the bathroom door he knocked loudly on its glass.

"Don't be all day!" he cried. He was in a hurry now.

An hour later he said to Joseph:

"I'm going down to Quayther & Cuthering's."

"Yes, sir," said Joseph, obviously much reassured.

"Nincompoop!" Edward Henry exclaimed secretly. "The fool thinks better
of me because my tailors are first-class."

But Edward Henry had failed to notice that he himself was thinking
better of himself because he had adopted first-class tailors.

Beneath the main door of his suite, as he went forth, he found a
business card of the West End Electric Brougham Supply Agency. And
downstairs, solely to impress his individuality on the hall-porter, he
showed the card to that vizier with the casual question:

"These people any good?"

"An excellent firm, sir."

"What do they charge?"

"By the week, sir?"

He hesitated. "Yes, by the week."

"Twenty guineas, sir."

"Well, you might telephone for one. Can you get it at once?"

"Certainly, sir."

The vizier turned towards the telephone in his lair.

"I say--" said Edward Henry.

"Sir?"

"I suppose one will be enough?"

"Well, sir, as a rule, yes," said the vizier, calmly. "Sometimes I get
a couple for one family, sir."

Though he had started jocularly, Edward Henry finished by blenching.
"I think one will do ... I may possibly send for my own car."

He drove to Quayther & Cuthering's in his electric brougham and there
dropped casually the name of Winkworth. He explained humorously his
singular misadventure of the _Minnetonka_, and was very successful
therewith--so successful, indeed, that he actually began to believe in
the reality of the adventure himself, and had an irrational impulse
to dispatch a wireless message to his bewildered valet on board the
_Minnetonka_.

Subsequently he paid other fruitful visits in the neighbourhood, and
at about half-past eleven the fruit was arriving at Wilkins's in
the shape of many parcels and boxes, comprising diverse items in
the equipment of a man-about-town, such as tie-clips and Innovation
trunks.

Returning late to Wilkins's for lunch he marched jauntily into the
large brilliant restaurant and commenced an adequate repast. Of course
he was still wearing his mediocre lounge-suit (his sole suit for
another two days), but somehow the consciousness that Quayther &
Cuthering were cutting out wondrous garments for him in Vigo
Street stiffened his shoulders and gave a mysterious style to that
lounge-suit.

At lunch he made one mistake and enjoyed one very remarkable piece of
luck.

The mistake was to order an artichoke. He did not know how to eat an
artichoke. He had never tried to eat an artichoke, and his first essay
in this difficult and complex craft was a sad fiasco. It would not
have mattered if, at the table next to his own, there had not been
two obviously experienced women, one ill-dressed, with a red hat, the
other well-dressed, with a blue hat; one middle-aged, the other much
younger; but both very observant. And even so, it would scarcely have
mattered had not the younger woman been so slim, pretty and alluring.
While tolerably careless of the opinion of the red-hatted, plain woman
of middle-age, he desired the unqualified approval of the delightful
young thing in the blue hat. They certainly interested themselves in
his manoeuvres with the artichoke, and their amusement was imperfectly
concealed. He forgave the blue hat, but considered that the red hat
ought to have known better. They could not be princesses, nor
even titled aristocrats. He supposed them to belong to some
baccarat-playing county family.

The piece of luck consisted in the passage down the restaurant of the
Countess of Chell, who had been lunching there with a party, and whom
he had known locally in more gusty days. The Countess bowed stiffly
to the red hat, and the red hat responded with eager fulsomeness. It
seemed to be here as it no longer was in the Five Towns; everybody
knew everybody! The red hat and the blue might be titled, after all,
he thought. Then, by sheer accident, the Countess caught sight of
himself and stopped dead, bringing her escort to a standstill behind
her. Edward Henry blushed and rose.

"Is it _you_, Mr. Machin?" murmured the still lovely creature warmly.

They shook hands. Never had social pleasure so thrilled him. The
conversation was short. He did not presume on the past. He knew that
here he was not on his own ashpit, as they say in the Five Towns. The
Countess and her escort went forward. Edward Henry sat down again.

He gave the red and the blue hats one calm glance, which they failed
to withstand. The affair of the artichoke was for ever wiped out.

After lunch he went forth again in his electric brougham. The weather
had cleared. The opulent streets were full of pride and sunshine.
And as he penetrated into one shop after another, receiving kowtows,
obeisances, curtsies, homage, surrender, resignation, submission, he
gradually comprehended that it takes all sorts to make a world, and
that those who are called to greatness must accept with dignity the
ceremonials inseparable from greatness. And the world had never seemed
to him so fine, nor any adventure so diverting and uplifting as this
adventure.

When he returned to his suite his private corridor was piled up with a
numerous and excessively attractive assortment of parcels. Joseph
took his overcoat and hat and a new umbrella and placed an easy-chair
conveniently for him in the drawing-room.

"Get my bill," he said shortly to Joseph as he sank into the gilded
fauteuil.

"Yes, sir."

One advantage of a valet, he discovered, is that you can order him
to do things which to do yourself would more than exhaust your moral
courage.

The black-calved gentleman-in-waiting brought the bill. It lay on a
salver and was folded, conceivably so as to break the shock of it to
the recipient.

Edward Henry took it.

"Wait a minute," he said.

He read on the bill: "Apartments, L8. Dinner, L1, 2s. 0d. Breakfast,
6s. 6d. Lunch, 18s. Half Chablis, 6s. 6d. Valet's board, 10s.
Tooth-brush, 2s. 6d."

"That's a bit thick, half-a-crown for that tooth-brush!" he said to
himself. "However--"

The next instant he blenched once more.

"Gosh!" he privately exclaimed as he read: "Paid driver of taxi-cab,
L2, 3s. 6d."

He had forgotten the taxi. But he admired the _sang-froid_ of
Wilkins's, which paid such trifles as a matter of course, without
deigning to disturb a guest by an inquiry. Wilkins's rose again in his
esteem.

The total of the bill exceeded thirteen pounds.

"All right," he said to the gentleman-in-waiting.

"Are you leaving to-day, sir?" the being permitted himself to ask.

"Of course I'm not leaving to-day! Haven't I hired an electric
brougham for a week?" Edward Henry burst out. "But I suppose I'm
entitled to know how much I'm spending!"

The gentleman-in-waiting humbly bowed and departed.

Alone in the splendid chamber Edward Henry drew out a swollen
pocket-book and examined its crisp, crinkly contents, which made a
beauteous and a reassuring sight.

"Pooh!" he muttered.

He reckoned he would be living at the rate of about fifteen pounds a
day, or five thousand five hundred a year. (He did not count the
cost of his purchases, because they were in the nature of a capital
expenditure.)

"Cheap!" he muttered. "For once I'm about living up to my income!"

The sensation was exquisite in its novelty.

He ordered tea, and afterwards, feeling sleepy, he went fast asleep.

He awoke to the ringing of the telephone-bell. It was quite dark. The
telephone-bell continued to ring.

"Joseph!" he called.

The valet entered.

"What time is it?"

"After ten o'clock, sir."

"The deuce it is!"

He had slept over four hours!

"Well, answer that confounded telephone."

Joseph obeyed.

"It's a Mr. Bryany, sir, if I catch the name right," said Joseph.

Bryany! For twenty-four hours he had scarcely thought of Bryany or the
option either.

"Bring the telephone here," said Edward Henry.

The cord would just reach to his chair.

"Hello! Bryany! Is that you?" cried Edward Henry, gaily.

And then he heard the weakened voice of Mr. Bryany in his ear:

"How d'ye do, Mr. Machin? I've been after you for the better part of
two days, and now I find you're staying in the same hotel as Mr. Sachs
and me!"

"Oh!" said Edward Henry.

He understood now why, on the previous day, the dandy introducing him
to his suite had smiled a welcome at the name of Alderman Machin,
and why Joseph had accepted so naturally the command to take a bath.
Bryany had been talking. Bryany had been recounting his exploits as a
card.

The voice of Bryany in his ear continued:

"Look here! I've got Miss Euclid here and some friends of hers. Of
course she wants to see you at once. Can you come down?"

"Er--" He hesitated.

He could not come down. He would have no evening wear till the next
day but one.

Said the voice of Bryany:

"What?"

"I can't," said Edward Henry. "I'm not very well. But listen. All of
you come up to my rooms here and have supper, will you? Suite 48."

"I'll ask the lady," said the voice of Bryany, altered now, and a few
seconds later: "We're coming."

"Joseph," Edward Henry gave orders rapidly, as he took off his coat
and removed the pocket-book from it. "I'm ill, you understand. Anyhow,
not well. Take this," handing him the coat, "and bring me the new
dressing-gown out of that green cardboard box from Rollet's--I think
it is. And then get the supper menu. I'm very hungry. I've had no
dinner."

Within sixty seconds he sat in state, wearing a grandiose yellow
dressing-gown. The change was accomplished just in time. Mr.. Bryany
entered, and not only Mr.. Bryany but Mr.. Seven Sachs, and not only
these, but the lady who had worn a red hat at lunch.

"Miss Rose Euclid," said Mr.. Bryany, puffing and bending.

CHAPTER IV

ENTRY INTO THE THEATRICAL WORLD

I

Once, on a short visit to London, Edward Henry had paid half-a-crown
to be let into a certain enclosure with a very low ceiling. This
enclosure was already crowded with some three hundred people, sitting
and standing. Edward Henry had stood in the only unoccupied spot he
could find, behind a pillar. When he had made himself as comfortable
as possible by turning up his collar against the sharp winds that
continually entered from the street, he had peered forward, and seen
in front of his enclosure another and larger enclosure also crowded
with people, but more expensive people. After a blank interval of
thirty minutes a band had begun to play at an incredible distance in
front of him, extinguishing the noises of traffic in the street. After
another interval an oblong space rather further off even than the band
suddenly grew bright, and Edward Henry, by curving his neck first
to one side of the pillar and then to the other, had had tantalizing
glimpses of the interior of a doll's drawing-room and of male and
female dolls therein.

He could only see, even partially, the inferior half of the
drawing-room--a little higher than the heads of the dolls--because the
rest was cut off from his vision by the lowness of his own ceiling.

The dolls were talking, but he could not catch clearly what they said,
save at the rare moments when an omnibus or a van did not happen to be
thundering down the street behind him. Then one special doll had come
exquisitely into the drawing-room, and at the sight of her the five
hundred people in front of him, and numbers of other people perched
hidden beyond his ceiling, had clapped fervently and even cried aloud
in their excitement. And he, too, had clapped fervently, and had
muttered "Bravo!" This special doll was a marvel of touching and
persuasive grace, with a voice--when Edward Henry could hear it--that
melted the spine. This special doll had every elegance and seemed to
be in the highest pride of youth.

At the close of the affair, as this special doll sank into the embrace
of a male doll from whom she had been unjustly separated, and then
straightened herself, deliciously and confidently smiling, to take the
tremendous applause of Edward Henry and the rest, Edward Henry thought
that he had never assisted at a triumph so genuine and so inspiring.

Oblivious of the pain in his neck, and of the choking, foul atmosphere
of the enclosure, accurately described as the Pit, he had gone forth
into the street with a subconscious notion in his head that the
special doll was more than human, was half divine. And he had said
afterwards, with immense satisfaction, at Bursley: "Yes, I saw Rose
Euclid in 'Flower of the Heart.'"

He had never set eyes on her since.

And now, on this day at Wilkins's, he had seen in the restaurant, and
he saw again before him in his private parlour, a faded and stoutish
woman, negligently if expensively dressed, with a fatigued, nervous,
watery glance, an unnatural, pale-violet complexion, a wrinkled skin
and dyed hair; a woman of whom it might be said that she had escaped
grandmotherhood, if indeed she had escaped it, by mere luck--and he
was point-blank commanded to believe that she and Rose Euclid were the
same person.

It was one of the most shattering shocks of all his career,
which nevertheless had not been untumultuous. And within his
dressing-gown--which nobody remarked upon--he was busy picking up and
piecing together, as quickly as he could, the shivered fragments of
his ideas.

He literally did not recognize Rose Euclid. True, fifteen years had
passed since the night in the pit! And he himself was fifteen years
older. But in his mind he had never pictured any change in Rose
Euclid. True, he had been familiar with the enormous renown of
Rose Euclid as far back as he could remember taking any interest in
theatrical advertisements! But he had not permitted her to reach an
age of more than about thirty-one or two. Whereas he now perceived
that even the exquisite doll in paradise that he had gloated over from
his pit must have been quite thirty-five--then....

Well, he scornfully pitied Rose Euclid! He blamed her for not having
accomplished the miracle of eternal youth. He actually considered that
she had cheated him. "Is this all? What a swindle!" he thought, as he
was piecing together the shivered fragments of his ideas into a new
pattern. He had felt much the same as a boy, at Bursley Annual Wakes
once, on entering a booth which promised horrors and did not supply
them. He had been "done" all these years....

Reluctantly he admitted that Rose Euclid could not help her age. But,
at any rate, she ought to have grown older beautifully, with charming
dignity and vivacity--in fact, she ought to have contrived to be old
and young simultaneously. Or, in the alternative, she ought to have
modestly retired into the country and lived on her memories and such
money as she had not squandered. She had no right to be abroad.

At worst, she ought to have _looked_ famous. And, because her name and
fame and photographs as an emotional actress had been continually in
the newspapers, therefore she ought to have been refined, delicate,
distinguished and full of witty and gracious small-talk. That she had
played the heroine of "Flower of the Heart" four hundred times, and
the heroine of "The Grenadier" four hundred and fifty times, and the
heroine of "The Wife's Ordeal" nearly five hundred times, made it
incumbent upon her, in Edward Henry's subconscious opinion, to possess
all the talents of a woman of the world and all the virgin freshness
of a girl. Which shows how cruelly stupid Edward Henry was in
comparison with the enlightened rest of us.

Why (he protested secretly), she was even tongue-tied!

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Machin," she said awkwardly, in a weak voice,
with a peculiar gesture as she shook hands. Then, a mechanical,
nervous giggle; and then silence!

"Happy to make your acquaintance, sir," said Mr. Seven Sachs, and the
arch-famous American actor-author also lapsed into silence. But the
silence of Mr. Seven Sachs was different from Rose Euclid's. He
was not shy. A dark and handsome, tranquil, youngish man, with
a redoubtable square chin, delicately rounded at the corners, he
strikingly resembled his own figure on the stage; and moreover, he
seemed to regard silence as a natural and proper condition. He simply
stood, in a graceful posture, with his muscles at ease, and waited.
Mr. Bryany, behind, seemed to be reduced in stature, and to have
become apologetic for himself in the presence of greatness.

Still, Mr. Bryany did say something.

Said Mr. Bryany:

"Sorry to hear you've been seedy, Mr. Machin!"

"Oh, yes!" Rose Euclid blurted out, as if shot. "It's very good of you
to ask us up here."

Mr. Seven Sachs concurred, adding that he hoped the illness was not
serious.

Edward Henry said it was not.

"Won't you sit down, all of you?" said Edward Henry.
"Miss--er--Euclid--"

They all sat down except Mr. Bryany.

"Sit down, Bryany," said Edward Henry. "I'm glad to be able to return
your hospitality at the Turk's Head."

This was a blow for Mr. Bryany, who obviously felt it, and grew even
more apologetic as he fumbled with assumed sprightliness at a chair.

"Fancy your being here all the time!" said he. "And me looked for you
everywhere--"

"Mr. Bryany," Seven Sachs interrupted him calmly, "have you got those
letters off?"

"Not yet, sir."

Seven Sachs urbanely smiled. "I think we ought to get them off
to-night."

"Certainly," agreed Mr. Bryany with eagerness, and moved towards the
door.

"Here's the key of my sitting-room," Seven Sachs stopped him,
producing a key.

Mr. Bryany, by a mischance catching Edward Henry's eye as he took the
key, blushed.

In a moment Edward Henry was alone with the two silent celebrities.

"Well," said Edward Henry to himself, "I've let myself in for it this
time--no mistake! What in the name of common sense am I doing here?"

Rose Euclid coughed and arranged the folds of her dress.

"I suppose, like most Americans, you see all the sights," said Edward
Henry to Seven Sachs--the Five Towns is much visited by Americans.
"What do you think of my dressing-gown?"

"Bully!" said Seven Sachs, with the faintest twinkle. And Rose Euclid
gave the mechanical, nervous giggle.

"I can do with this chap," thought Edward Henry.

The gentleman-in-waiting entered with the supper menu.

"Thank heaven!" thought Edward Henry.

Rose Euclid, requested to order a supper after her own mind, stared
vaguely at the menu for some moments, and then said that she did not
know what to order.

"Artichokes?" Edward Henry blandly suggested.

Again the giggle, followed this time by a flush! And suddenly Edward
Henry recognized in her the entrancing creature of fifteen years ago!
Her head thrown back, she had put her left hand behind her and was
groping with her long fingers for an object to touch. Having found at
length the arm of another chair, she drew her fingers feverishly
along its surface. He vividly remembered the gesture in "Flower of the
Heart." She had used it with terrific effect at every grand emotional
crisis of the play. He now recognized even her face!

"Did Mr. Bryany tell you that my two boys are coming up?" said she. "I
left them behind to do some telephoning for me."

"Delighted!" said Edward Henry. "The more the merrier!"

And he hoped that he spoke true.

But her two boys!

"Mr. Marrier--he's a young manager. I don't know whether you know him;
very, very talented. And Carlo Trent."

"Same name as my dog," Edward Henry indiscreetly murmured--and
his fancy flew back to the home he had quitted; and Wilkins's and
everybody in it grew transiently unreal to him.

"Delighted!" he said again.

He was relieved that her two boys were not her offspring. That, at
least, was something gained.

"_You_ know--the dramatist," said Rose Euclid, apparently disappointed
by the effect on Edward Henry of the name of Carlo Trent.

"Really!" said Edward Henry. "I hope he won't mind me being in a
dressing-gown."

The gentleman-in-waiting, obsequiously restive, managed to choose the
supper himself. Leaving, he reached the door just in time to hold it
open for the entrance of Mr. Marrier and Mr. Carlo Trent, who were
talking with noticeable freedom and emphasis, in an accent which in
the Five Towns is known as the "haw haw," the "lah-di-dah" or the
"Kensingtonian" accent.

II

Within ten minutes, within less than ten minutes, Alderman Edward
Henry Machin's supper-party at Wilkins's was so wonderfully changed
for the better that Edward Henry might have been excused for not
recognizing it as his own.

The service at Wilkins's, where they profoundly understood human
nature, was very intelligent. Somewhere in a central bureau at
Wilkins's sat a psychologist, who knew, for example, that a supper
commanded on the spur of the moment must be produced instantly if it
is to be enjoyed. Delay in these capricious cases impairs the
ecstasy and therefore lessens the chance of other similar meals
being commanded at the same establishment. Hence, no sooner had the
gentleman-in-waiting disappeared with the order than certain esquires
appeared with the limbs and body of a table which they set up in
Edward Henry's drawing-room, and they covered the board with a damask
cloth and half covered the damask cloth with flowers, glasses and
plates, and laid a special private wire from the skirting-board near
the hearth to a spot on the table beneath Edward Henry's left hand, so
that he could summon courtiers on the slightest provocation with
the minimum of exertion. Then immediately brown bread-and-butter and
lemons and red-pepper came, followed by oysters, followed by bottles
of pale wine, both still and sparkling. Thus, before the principal
dishes had even begun to frizzle in the distant kitchens, the
revellers were under the illusion that the entire supper was waiting
just outside the door....

Yes, they were revellers now! For the advent of her young men had
transformed Rose Euclid, and Rose Euclid had transformed the general
situation. At the table, Edward Henry occupied one side of it, Mr.
Seven Sachs occupied the side opposite, Mr. Marrier, the very, very
talented young manager, occupied the side to Edward Henry's left, and
Rose Euclid and Carlo Trent together occupied the side to his right.

Trent and Marrier were each about thirty years of age. Trent, with a
deep voice, had extremely lustrous eyes, which eyes continually dwelt
on Rose Euclid in admiration. Apparently, all she needed in this
valley was oysters and admiration, and she now had both in unlimited
quantities.

"Oysters are darlings," she said, as she swallowed the first.

Carlo Trent kissed her hand, respectfully--for she was old enough to
be his mother.

"And you are the greatest tragic actress in the world, Ra-ose!" said
he in the Kensingtonian bass.

A few moments earlier Rose Euclid had whispered to Edward Henry that
Carlo Trent was the greatest dramatic poet in the world. She flowered
now beneath the sun of those dark lustrous eyes and the soft rain
of that admiration from the greatest dramatic poet in the world. It
really did seem to Edward Henry that she grew younger. Assuredly she
grew more girlish and her voice improved. And then the bottles
began to pop, and it was as though the action of uncorking wine
automatically uncorked hearts also. Mr. Seven Sachs, sitting square
and upright, smiled gaily at Edward Henry across the gleaming table
and raised a glass. Little Marrier, who at nearly all times had a most
enthusiastic smile, did the same. In the result five glasses met over
the central bed of chrysanthemums. Edward Henry was happy. Surrounded
by enigmas--for he had no conception whatever why Rose Euclid had
brought any of the three men to his table--he was nevertheless
uplifted.

As he looked about him, at the rich table, and at the glittering
chandelier overhead (albeit the lamps thereof were inferior to his
own), and at the expanses of soft carpet, and at the silken-textured
walls, and at the voluptuous curtains, and at the couple of impeccable
gentlemen in-waiting, and at Joseph, who knew his place behind his
master's chair--he came to the justifiable conclusion that money was
a marvellous thing, and the workings of commerce mysterious and
beautiful. He had invented the Five Towns Thrift Club; working men
and their wives in the Five Towns were paying their twopences
and sixpences and shillings weekly into his club, and finding
the transaction a real convenience--and lo! he was entertaining
celebrities at Wilkins's.

For, mind you, they were celebrities. He knew Seven Sachs was a
celebrity because he had verily seen him act--and act very well--in
his own play, and because his name in letters a foot high had
dominated all the hoardings of the Five Towns. As for Rose Euclid,
could there be a greater celebrity? Such was the strange power of the
popular legend concerning her that even now, despite the first fearful
shock of disappointment, Edward Henry could not call her by her name
without self-consciously stumbling over it, without a curious thrill.
And further, he was revising his judgment of her, as well as lowering
her age slightly. On coming into the room she had doubtless been
almost as startled as himself, and her constrained muteness had been
probably due to a guilty feeling in the matter of passing too open
remarks to a friend about a perfect stranger's manner of eating
artichokes. The which supposition flattered him. (By the way, he
wished she had brought the young friend who had shared her amusement
over his artichokes.) With regard to the other two men, he was quite
ready to believe that Carlo Trent was the world's greatest dramatic
poet, and to admit the exceeding talent of Mr. Marrier as a theatrical
manager.... In fact, unmistakable celebrities, one and all! He himself
was a celebrity. A certain quality in the attitude of each of his
guests showed clearly that they considered him a celebrity, and not
only a celebrity but a card--Bryany must have been talking--and the
conviction of this rendered him happy. His magnificent hunger
rendered him still happier. And the reflection that Brindley owed him
half-a-crown put a top on his bliss!

"I like your dressing-gown, Mr. Machin," said Carlo Trent, suddenly,
after his first spoonful of soup.

"Then I needn't apologize for it!" Edward Henry replied.

"It is the dressing-gown of my dreams," Carlo Trent went on.

"Well," said Edward Henry, "as we're on the subject, I like your
shirt-front."

Carlo Trent was wearing a soft shirt. The other three shirts were
all rigidly starched. Hitherto Edward Henry had imagined that a
fashionable evening shirt should be, before aught else, bullet-proof.
He now appreciated the distinction of a frilled and gently flowing
breast-plate, especially when a broad purple eyeglass ribbon wandered
across it. Rose Euclid gazed in modest transport at Carlo's chest.

"The colour," Carlo proceeded, ignoring Edward Henry's compliment,
"the colour is inspiring. So is the texture. I have a woman's delight
in textures. I could certainly produce better hexameters in such a
dressing-gown."

Although Edward Henry, owing to an unfortunate hiatus in his
education, did not know what a hexameter might be, he was artist
enough to comprehend the effect of attire on creative work, for he had
noticed that he himself could make more money in one necktie than
in another, and he would instinctively take particular care in the
morning choice of a cravat on days when he meditated a great coup.

"Why don't you get one?" Marrier suggested.

"Do you really think I could?" asked Carlo Trent, as if the
possibility were shimmering far out of his reach like a rainbow.

"Rather!" smiled Harrier. "I don't mind laying a fiver that Mr.
Machin's dressing-gown came from Drook's in Old Bond Street." But
instead of saying "Old" he said "Ehoold."

"It did," Edward Henry admitted.

Mr. Marrier beamed with satisfaction.

"Drook's, you say," murmured Carlo Trent. "Old Bond Street," and wrote
down the information on his shirt cuff.

Rose Euclid watched him write.

"Yes, Carlo," said she. "But don't you think we'd better begin to talk
about the theatre? You haven't told me yet if you got hold of Longay
on the 'phone."

"Of course we got hold of him," said Marrier. "He agrees with me that
'The Intellectual' is a better name for it."

Rose Euclid clapped her hands.

"I'm so glad!" she cried. "Now what do _you_ think of it as a name,
Mr. Machin--'The Intellectual Theatre'? You see it's most important we
should settle on the name, isn't it?"

It is no exaggeration to say that Edward Henry felt a wave of cold
in the small of his back, and also a sinking away of the nevertheless
quite solid chair on which he sat. He had more than the typical
Englishman's sane distrust of that morbid word 'Intellectual.' His
attitude towards it amounted to active dislike. If ever he used it, he
would on no account use it alone; he would say, "Intellectual and all
that sort of thing!" with an air of pushing violently away from him
everything that the phrase implied. The notion of baptizing a theatre
with the fearsome word horrified him. Still, he had to maintain
his nerve and his repute. So he drank some champagne, and smiled
nonchalantly as the imperturbable duellist smiles while the pistols
are being examined.

"Well--" he murmured.

"You see," Marrier broke in, with the smile ecstatic, almost dancing
on his chair. "There's no use in compromise. Compromise is and always
has been the curse of this country. The unintellectual drahma is
dead--dead. Naoobody can deny that. All the box-offices in the West
are proclaiming it--"

"Should you call your play intellectual, Mr. Sachs?" Edward Henry
inquired across the table.

"I scarcely know," said Mr. Seven Sachs, calmly. "I know I've played
it myself fifteen hundred and two times, and that's saying nothing of
my three subsidiary companies on the road."

"What _is_ Mr. Sachs's play?" asked Carlo Trent, fretfully.

"Don't you know, Carlo?" Rose Euclid patted him. "'Overheard.'"

"Oh! I've never seen it."

"But it was on all the hoardings!"

"I never read the hoardings," said Carlo. "Is it in verse?"

"No, it isn't," Mr. Seven Sachs briefly responded. "But I've made over
six hundred thousand dollars out of it."

"Then of course it's intellectual!" asserted Mr. Marrier, positively.
"That proves it. I'm very sorry I've not seen it either; but it must
be intellectual. The day of the unintellectual drahma is over. The
people won't have it. We must have faith in the people, and we can't
show our faith better than by calling our theatre by its proper
name--'The Intellectual Theatre'!"

("_His_ theatre!" thought Edward Henry. "What's he got to do with
it?")

"I don't know that I'm so much in love with your 'Intellectual,'"
muttered Carlo Trent.

"_Aren't_ you?" protested Rose Euclid, shocked.

"Of course I'm not," said Carlo. "I told you before, and I tell
you now, that there's only one name for the theatre--'The Muses'
Theatre!'"

"Perhaps you're right!" Rose agreed, as if a swift revelation had come
to her. "Yes, you're right."

("She'll make a cheerful sort of partner for a fellow," thought Edward
Henry, "if she's in the habit of changing her mind like that every
thirty seconds." His appetite had gone. He could only drink.)

"Naturally, I'm right! Aren't we going to open with my play, and isn't
my play in verse?... I'm sure you'll agree with me, Mr. Machin, that
there is no real drama except the poetical drama."

Edward Henry was entirely at a loss. Indeed, he was drowning in his
dressing-gown, so favourable to the composition of hexameters.

"Poetry ..." he vaguely breathed.

"Yes, sir," said Carlo Trent. "Poetry."

"I've never read any poetry in my life," said Edward Henry, like a
desperate criminal. "Not a line."

Whereupon Carlo Trent rose up from his seat, and his eyeglasses
dangled in front of him.

"Mr. Machin," said he with the utmost benevolence. "This is the most
interesting thing I've ever come across. Do you know, you're precisely
the man I've always been wanting to meet?... The virgin mind. The
clean slate.... Do you know, you're precisely the man that it's my
ambition to write for?"

"It's very kind of you," said Edward Henry, feebly; beaten, and
consciously beaten.

(He thought miserably:

"What would Nellie think if she saw me in this gang?")

Carlo Trent went on, turning to Rose Euclid:

"Rose, will you recite those lines of Nashe?"

Rose Euclid began to blush.

"That bit you taught me the day before yesterday?"

"Only the three lines! No more! They are the very essence of
poetry--poetry at its purest. We'll see the effect of them on Mr.
Machin. We'll just see. It's the ideal opportunity to test my theory.
Now, there's a good girl!"

"Oh! I can't. I'm too nervous," stammered Rose.

"You can, and you must," said Carlo, gazing at her in homage. "Nobody
in the world can say them as well as you can. Now!"

Rose Euclid stood up.

"One moment," Carlo stopped her. "There's too much light. We can't do
with all this light. Mr. Machin--do you mind?"

A wave of the hand and all the lights were extinguished, save a lamp
on the mantelpiece, and in the disconcertingly darkened room Rose
Euclid turned her face towards the ray from this solitary silk-shaded
globe.

Her hand groped out behind her, found the table-cloth and began to
scratch it agitatedly. She lifted her head. She was the actress,
impressive and subjugating, and Edward Henry felt her power. Then she
intoned:

"Brightness falls from the air;
Queens have died young and fair;
Dust hath closed Helen's eye."

And she ceased and sat down. There was a silence.

"_Bra_ vo!" murmured Carlo Trent.

"Bra_vo_!" murmured Mr. Marrier.

Edward Henry in the gloom caught Mr. Seven Sachs's unalterable
observant smile across the table.

"Well, Mr. Machin?" said Carlo Trent.

Edward Henry had felt a tremor at the vibrations of Rose Euclid's
voice. But the words she uttered had set up no clear image in his
mind, unless it might be of some solid body falling from the air, or
of a young woman named Helen, walking along Trafalgar Road, Bursley,
on a dusty day, and getting the dust in her eyes. He knew not what to
answer.

"Is that all there is of it?" he asked at length.

Carlo Trent said:

"It's from Thomas Nashe's 'Song in Time of Pestilence.' The closing
lines of the verse are:

'I am sick, I must die--
Lord, have mercy on me!'"

"Well," said Edward Henry, recovering, "I rather like the end. I think
the end's very appropriate."

Mr. Seven Sachs choked over his wine, and kept on choking.

III

Mr.. Marrier was the first to recover from this blow to the prestige
of poetry. Or perhaps it would be more honest to say that Mr.. Marrier
had suffered no inconvenience from the _contretemps_. His apparent
gleeful zest in life had not been impaired. He was a born optimist,
of an extreme type unknown beyond the circumferences of theatrical
circles.

"I _say_," he emphasized, "I've got an ideah. We ought to be
photographed like that. Do you no end of good." He glanced
encouragingly at Rose Euclid. "Don't you see it in the illustrated
papers? A prayvate supper-party at Wilkins's Hotel. Miss Ra-ose Euclid
reciting verse at a discussion of the plans for her new theatre in
Piccadilly Circus. The figures, reading from left to right, are, Mr.
Seven Sachs, the famous actor-author, Miss Rose Euclid, Mr. Carlo
Trent, the celebrated dramatic poet, Mr. Alderman Machin, the
well-known Midlands capitalist, and so on!" Mr. Marrier repeated, "and
so on."

"It's a notion," said Rose Euclid, dreamily.

"But how _can_ we be photographed?" Carlo Trent demanded with
irritation.

"Perfectly easy."

"Now?"

"In ten minutes. I know a photographer in Brook Street."

"Would he come at once?" Carlo Trent frowned at his watch.

"Rather!" Mr. Marrier gaily soothed him, as he went over to the
telephone. And Mr. Marrier's bright, boyish face radiated forth the
assurance that nothing in all his existence had more completely filled
him with sincere joy than this enterprise of procuring a photograph
of the party. Even in giving the photographer's number--he was one
of those prodigies who remember infallibly all telephone numbers--his
voice seemed to gloat upon his project.

(And while Mr. Marrier, having obtained communication with the
photographer, was saying gloriously into the telephone: "Yes,
Wilkins's. No. Quite private. I've got Miss Rose Euclid here, and Mr.
Seven Sachs"--while Mr. Marrier was thus proceeding with his list of
star attractions, Edward Henry was thinking:

"'_Her_ new theatre'--now! It was 'his' a few minutes back!... 'The
well-known Midlands capitalist,' eh? Oh! Ah!")

He drank again. He said to himself: "I've had all I can digest of this
beastly balloony stuff." (He meant the champagne.) "If I finish the
glass I'm bound to have a bad night." And he finished the glass, and
planked it down firmly on the table.

"Well," he remarked aloud cheerfully. "If we're to be photographed, I
suppose we shall want a bit more light on the subject."

Joseph sprang to the switches.

"Please!" Carlo Trent raised a protesting hand.

The switches were not turned. In the beautiful dimness the greatest
tragic actress in the world and the greatest dramatic poet in the
world gazed at each other, seeking and finding solace in mutual
esteem.

"I suppose it wouldn't do to call it the Euclid Theatre?" Rose
questioned casually, without moving her eyes.

"Splendid!" cried Mr. Marrier from the telephone.

"It all depends whether there are enough mathematical students in
London to fill the theatre for a run," said Edward Henry.

"Oh! D'you think so?" murmured Rose, surprised and vaguely puzzled.

At that instant Edward Henry might have rushed from the room and
taken the night-mail back to the Five Towns, and never any more have
ventured into the perils of London, if Carlo Trent had not turned his
head, and signified by a curt, reluctant laugh that he saw the joke.
For Edward Henry could no longer depend on Mr. Seven Sachs. Mr. Seven
Sachs had to take the greatest pains to keep the muscles of his face
in strict order. The slightest laxity with them--and he would have
been involved in another and more serious suffocation.

"No," said Carlo Trent, "'The Muses' Theatre' is the only possible
title. There is money in the poetical drama." He looked hard at Edward
Henry, as though to stare down the memory of the failure of Nashe's
verse. "I don't want money. I hate the thought of money. But money is
the only proof of democratic appreciation, and that is what I need,
and what every artist needs.... Don't you think there's money in the
poetical drama, Mr. Sachs?"

"Not in America," said Mr. Sachs. "London is a queer place."

"Look at the runs of Stephen Phillips's plays!"

"Yes.... I only reckon to know America."

"Look at what Pilgrim's made out of Shakspere."

"I thought you were talking about poetry," said Edward Henry too
hastily.

"And isn't Shakspere poetry?" Carlo Trent challenged.

"Well, I suppose if you put it in that way, he _is_!" Edward Henry
cautiously admitted, humbled. He was under the disadvantage of never
having either seen or read "Shakspere." His sure instinct had always
warned him against being drawn into "Shakspere."

"And has Miss Euclid ever done anything finer than Constance?"

"I don't know," Edward Henry pleaded.

"Why--Miss Euclid in 'King John'--"

"I never saw 'King John,'" said Edward Henry.

"_Do you mean to say_," expostulated Carlo Trent in italics, "_that
you never saw Rose Euclid as Constance_?"

And Edward Henry, shaking his abashed head, perceived that his life
had been wasted.

Carlo, for a few moments, grew reflective and softer.

"It's one of my earliest and most precious boyish memories,"
he murmured, as he examined the ceiling. "It must have been in
eighteen--"

Rose Euclid abandoned the ice with which she had just been served, and
by a single gesture drew Carlo's attention away from the ceiling,
and towards the fact that it would be clumsy on his part to indulge
further in the chronology of her career. She began to blush again.

Mr. Marrier, now back at the table after a successful expedition,
beamed over his ice:

"It was your 'Constance' that led to your friendship with the Countess
of Chell, wasn't it, Ra-ose? You know," he turned to Edward Henry,
"Miss Euclid and the Countess are virry intimate."

"Yes, I know," said Edward Henry.

Rose Euclid continued to blush. Her agitated hand scratched the back
of the chair behind her.

"Even Sir John Pilgrim admits I can act Shakspere," she said in a
thick mournful voice, looking at the cloth as she pronounced the
august name of the head of the dramatic profession. "It may surprise
you to know, Mr. Machin, that about a month ago, after he'd quarrelled
with Selina Gregory, Sir John asked me if I'd care to star with him on
his Shaksperean tour round the world next spring, and I said I would
if he'd include Carlo's poetical play, 'The Orient Pearl,' and he
wouldn't! No, he wouldn't! And now he's got little Cora Pryde! She
isn't twenty-two, and she's going to play Juliet! Can you imagine such
a thing! As if a mere girl could play Juliet!"

Carlo observed the mature actress with deep satisfaction, proud of
her, and proud also of himself.

"I wouldn't go with Pilgrim now," exclaimed Rose, passionately, "not
if he went down on his knees to me!"

"And nothing on earth would induce me to let him have 'The Orient
Pearl'!" Carlo Trent asseverated with equal passion. "He's lost that
for ever!" he added grimly. "It won't be he who'll collar the profits
out of that! It'll just be ourselves!"

"Not if he went down on his knees to me!" Rose was repeating to
herself with fervency.

The calm of despair took possession of Edward Henry. He felt that
he must act immediately--he knew his own mood, by long experience.
Exploring the pockets of the dressing-gown which had aroused the
longing of the greatest dramatic poet in the world, he discovered in
one of them precisely the piece of apparatus he required--namely, a
slip of paper suitable for writing. It was a carbon duplicate of the
bill for the dressing-gown, and showed the word "Drook" in massive
printed black, and the figures L4, 4s. in faint blue. He drew a pencil
from his waistcoat and inscribed on the paper:

"Go out, and then come back in a couple of minutes and tell me someone
wants to speak to me urgently in the next room."

With a minimum of ostentation he gave the document to Joseph, who,
evidently well trained under Sir Nicholas, vanished into the next room
before attempting to read it.

"I hope," said Edward Henry to Carlo Trent, "that this money-making
play is reserved for the new theatre?"

"Utterly," said Carlo Trent.

"With Miss Euclid in the principal part?"

"Rather!" sang Mr. Marrier. "Rather!"

"I shall never, never appear at any other theatre, Mr. Machin!" said
Rose, with tragic emotion, once more feeling with her fingers along
the back of her chair. "So I hope the building will begin at once. In
less than six months we ought to open."

"Easily!" sang the optimist.

Joseph returned to the room, and sought his master's attention in a
whisper.

"What is it?" Edward Henry asked irritably. "Speak up!"

"A gentleman wishes to know if he can speak to you in the next room,
sir."

"Well, he can't."

"He said it was urgent, sir."

Scowling, Edward Henry rose. "Excuse me," he said. "I won't be a
moment. Help yourselves to the liqueurs. You chaps can go, I fancy."
The last remark was addressed to the gentlemen-in-waiting.

The next room was the vast bedroom with two beds in it. Edward Henry
closed the door carefully, and drew the _portiere_ across it. Then he
listened. No sound penetrated from the scene of the supper.

"There _is_ a telephone in this room, isn't there?" he said to Joseph.
"Oh, yes, there it is! Well, you can go."

"Yes, sir."

Edward Henry sat down on one of the beds by the hook on which hung
the telephone. And he cogitated upon the characteristics of certain
members of the party which he had just left. "I'm a 'virgin mind,'
am I?" he thought. "I'm a 'clean slate'? Well!... Their notion of
business is to begin by discussing the name of the theatre! And they
haven't even taken up the option! Ye gods! 'Intellectual'! 'Muses'!
'The Orient Pearl.' And she's fifty--that I swear! Not a word yet of
real business--not one word! He may be a poet. I daresay he is. He's
a conceited ass. Why, even Bryany was better than that lot. Only
Sachs turned Bryany out. I like Sachs. But he won't open his mouth....
'Capitalist'! Well, they spoilt my appetite, and I hate champagne!...
The poet hates money.... No, he 'hates the thought of money.' And
she's changing her mind the whole blessed time! A month ago she'd
have gone over to Pilgrim, and the poet too, like a
house-a-fire!...Photographed indeed! The bally photographer will be
here in a minute!... They take me for a fool!... Or don't they know
any better?... Anyhow, I am a fool.... I must teach 'em summat!"

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