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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 1. The Sealed Rooms - Chapter 1. The Dome
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Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 1. The Sealed Rooms - Chapter 1. The Dome Post by :Chillin Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2385

Click below to download : Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 1. The Sealed Rooms - Chapter 1. The Dome (Format : PDF)

Hugo: A Fantasia On Modern Themes - Part 1. The Sealed Rooms - Chapter 1. The Dome

PART I. THE SEALED ROOMS
CHAPTER I. THE DOME

He wakened from a charming dream, in which the hat had played a conspicuous part.

'I shouldn't mind having that hat,' he murmured.

A darkness which no eye could penetrate surrounded him as he lay in bed. Absolute obscurity was essential to the repose of that singular brain, and he had perfected arrangements for supplying the deficiencies of Nature's night.

He touched a switch, and in front of him at a distance of thirty feet the ivory dial of a clock became momentarily visible under the soft yellow of a shaded electric globe. It was fifteen minutes past six. At the same moment a bell sounded the quarter in delicate tones, which fell on the ear as lightly as dew. In the upper gloom could be discerned the contours of a vast dome, decorated in turquoise-blue and gold.

He pressed a button near the switch. A portiere rustled, and a young man approached his bed--a short, thin, pale, fair young man, active and deferential.

'My tea, Shawn. Draw the curtains and open the windows.'

'Yes, sir,' said Simon Shawn.

In an instant the room was brilliantly revealed as a great circular apartment, magnificently furnished, with twelve windows running round the circumference beneath the dome. The virginal zephyrs of a July morning wandered in. The sun, although fierce, slanted his rays through the six eastern windows, printing a new pattern on the Tripoli carpets. Between the windows were bookcases, full of precious and extraordinary volumes, and over the bookcases hung pictures of the Barbizon school. These books and these pictures were the elegant monument of hobbies which their owner had outlived. His present hobby happened to be music. A Steinway grand-piano was prominent in the chamber, and before the ebony instrument stood a mechanical pianoforte-player.

'I must have that hat.'

He paused reflectively, leaning on one elbow, as he made the tea which Simon Shawn had brought and left on the night-table. And again, at the third cup, he repeated to himself that he must possess the hat.

He had a passion for tea. His servants had received the strictest orders to supply him at early morn with materials sufficient only for two cups. Nevertheless, they were always a little generous, and, by cheating himself slightly in the first and the second cup, the votary could often, to his intense joy, conjure a third out of the pot.

After glancing through the newspaper which accompanied the tea, he jumped vivaciously out of bed, veiled the splendour of his pyjamas beneath a quilted toga, and disappeared into a dressing-room, whistling.

'Shawn!' he cried out from his bath, when he heard the rattle of the tea-tray.

'Yes, sir?'

'Play me the Chopin Fantasie, will you. I feel like it.'

'Certainly, sir,' said Simon, and paused. 'Which particular one do you desire me to render, sir?'

'There is only one, Shawn, for piano solo.'

'I beg pardon, sir.'

The gentle plashing of water mingled with the strains of one of the greatest of all musical compositions, as interpreted by Simon Shawn with the aid of an ingenious contrivance the patentees of which had spent twenty thousand pounds in advertising it.

'Very good, Shawn,' said Shawn's master, coming forward in his shirt-sleeves as the last echoes of a mighty chord expired under the dome. He meditatively stroked his graying beard while the pianist returned to the tea-tray.

'And, Shawn--'

'Yes, sir?'

'I want a hat.'

'A hat, sir?'

'A lady's hat.'

'Yes, sir.'

'Run down into Department 42, there's a good fellow, and see if you can find me a lady's hat of dark-blue straw, wide brim, trimmed chiefly with a garland of pinkish rosebuds.'

'A lady's hat of dark-blue straw, wide brim, trimmed chiefly with pinkish rosebuds, sir?'

'Precisely. Here, you're forgetting the token.'

He detached a gold medallion from his watch-chain, and handed it to Shawn, who departed with it and with the tea-tray.

Two minutes later, having climbed the staircase between the inner and outer domes, he stood, fully clad in a light-gray suit, on the highest platform of the immense building, whose occidental facade is the glory of Sloane Street and one of the marvels of the metropolis. Far above him a gigantic flag spread its dazzling folds to the sun and the breeze. On the white ground of the flag, in purple letters seven feet high, was traced the single word, 'HUGO.'

From his eyrie he could see half the West End of London. Sloane Street stretched north and south like a ruled line, and along that line two hurrying processions of black dots approached each other, and met and vanished below him; they constituted the first division of his army of three thousand five hundred employes.

He leaned over the balustrade, and sniffed the pure air with exultant, eager nostrils. He was forty-six. He did not feel forty-six, however. In common with every man of forty-six, and especially every bachelor of forty-six, he regarded forty-six as a mere meaningless number, as a futile and even misleading symbol of chronology. He felt that Time had made a mistake--that he was not really in the fifth decade, and that his true, practical working age was about thirty.

Moreover, he was in love, for the first time in his life. Like all men and all women, he had throughout the whole of his adult existence been ever secretly preoccupied with thoughts, hopes, aspirations, desires, concerning the other sex, but the fundamental inexperience of his heart was such that he imagined he was going to be happy because he had fallen in love.

'I'm glad I sent for that hat,' he said, smiling absently at the Great Wheel over a mile and a half of roofs.

The key to his character and his career lay in the fact that he invariably found sufficient courage to respond to his instincts, and that his instincts were romantic. They had led him in various ways, sometimes to grandiose and legitimate triumphs, sometimes to hidden shames which it is merciful to ignore. In the main, they had served him well. It was in obedience to an instinct that he had capped the nine stories of the Hugo building with a dome and had made his bed under the dome. It was in obedience to another instinct that he had sent for the hat.

'Very pretty, isn't it?' he observed to Shawn, when Simon handed him the insubstantial and gay object and restored the gold token. They were at a window in the circular room; the couch had magically melted away.

'I admire it, sir,' said Shawn, and withdrew.

'Dolt!' he cried out upon Shawn in his heart. '_You didn't see her at work on it. As if _you could appreciate her exquisite taste and the amazing skill of her blanched fingers! I alone can appreciate these things!'

He hung the hat on a Louis Quatorze screen, and blissfully gazed at it, her creation.

'But I must be careful,' he muttered--'I must be careful.'

A clerk entered with his personal letters. It was scarcely seven o'clock, but these fifteen or twenty envelopes had already been sorted from the three thousand missives that constituted his first post; he had his own arrangement with the Post-Office.

'So it's coming at last,' he said to himself, as he opened an envelope marked 'Private and Confidential' in red ink. The autograph note within was from Senior Polycarp, principal partner in Polycarps, the famous firm of company-promoting solicitors, and it heralded a personal visit from the august lawyer at 11.30 that day.

In the midst of dictating instructions to the clerk, Mr. Hugo stopped and rang for Shawn.

'Take that back,' he commanded, indicating the hat. 'I've done with it.'

'Yes, sir.'

The hat went.

'I may just as well be discreet,' his thought ran.

But her image, the image of the artist in hats, illumined more brightly than ever his soul.

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