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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Share - Chapter 46. An Epilogue
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The Lion's Share - Chapter 46. An Epilogue Post by :uld4u Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :438

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The Lion's Share - Chapter 46. An Epilogue

CHAPTER XLVI. AN EPILOGUE

Audrey was walking along Piccadilly when she overtook Miss Ingate, who had been arrested by a shop window, the window of one of the shops recently included in the vast edifice of the Hotel Majestic.

Miss Ingate gave a little squeal of surprise. The two kissed very heartily in the street, which was full of spring and of the posters of evening papers bearing melodramatic tidings of the latest nocturnal development of the terrible suffragette campaign.

"You said eleven, Audrey. It isn't eleven yet."

"Well, I'm behind time. I meant to be all spruced up and receive you in state at the hotel. But the boat was three hours late at Harwich. I jumped into a cab at Liverpool Street, but I got out at Piccadilly Circus because the streets looked so fine and I felt I really must walk a bit."

"And where's your husband?"

"He's at Liverpool Street trying to look after the luggage. He lost some of it at Hamburg. He likes looking after luggage, so I just left him at it."

Miss Ingate's lower lip dropped at the corners.

"You've had a tiff."

"Winnie, we haven't."

"Did you go to all his concerts?"

"All. I heard all his practising, and I sat in the stalls at all his concerts. Quite contrary to my principles, of course. But, Winnie, it's very queer, I _wanted to do it. So naturally I did it. We've never been apart--until now."

"And it's not exaggerated, what you've written me about his success?"

"Not a bit. I've been most careful not to exaggerate. In fact, I've tried to be gloomy. No use, however! It was a triumph.... And how's all this business?" Audrey demanded, in a new key, indicating an orange-tinted newspaper bill that was being flaunted in front of her.

"Oh! I believe it's dreadful. Of course, you know Rosamund's in prison. But they'll have to let her out soon. Jane Foley--she still calls herself Foley--hasn't been caught. And that's funny. I doubled my subscription. We had to, you see. But that's all I've done. They don't have processions and things now, and barrel organs are _quite out of fashion. What with that, and my rheumatism!... I used to think I should live to vote myself. I feel I shan't now. So I've gone back into water-colours. They're very soothing, if you let the paper dry after each wash and don't take them seriously.... Now, I'm a very common-sense woman, Audrey, as you must have noticed, and I'm not subject to fancies. Will you just look at the girl on the left hand in this window here, and tell me whether I'm dreaming or not?"

Miss Ingate indicated the shop window which had arrested her. The establishment was that of a hair specialist, and the window was mainly occupied by two girls who sat in arm-chairs with their backs to the glass, and all their magnificent hair spread out at length over the backs of the chairs for the inspection of the public; the implication being that the magnificent hair was due to the specific of the hair specialist. Passers-by continually stopped to gaze at the spectacle, but they never stopped long, because the spectacle was monotonous.

"Well, what about her?" said Audrey, staring.

"Isn't it Lady Southminster?"

"Good heavens!" Audrey's mind went back to the Channel packet and the rain squall and the scenes on the Paris train. "So it is! Whatever can have happened to her? Let's go in."

And in they went, Audrey leading, and demanding at once a bottle of the specific; Audrey had scarcely spoken when the left-hand girl in the window, who, of course, from her vantage had a full view of the shop, screamed lightly and jumped down from the window.

"Don't give me away!" she whispered appealingly in Audrey's ear. The next moment, not heeding the excitement of the shop manager, she had drawn Audrey and Miss Ingate through another door which led into the entrance-hall of the Majestic Hotel. The shop was thus contrived to catch two publics at once.

"If they knew I was Lady Southminster in there," said Lady Southminster in a feverish murmur--she seemed not averse to the sensation caused by her hair in the twilight of the hotel--"I expect I should lose my place, and I don't want to lose it. _He'll be coming by presently, and he'll see me, and it'll be a lesson to him. We're always together. Race meetings, dances, golf, restaurants, bridge. Twenty-four hours every day. He won't lose sight of me. He's that fond of me, you know. I couldn't stand it. I'd as lief be in prison--only I'm that fond of him, you know. But I was so homesick, and I felt if I didn't have a change I should burst. This is Constantinopoulos's old shop, you know, where I used to make cigarettes in the window. He's dead, Constantinopoulos is. I don't know what _he'd have said to hair restorers. I asked for the place, and I showed 'em my hair, and I got it. And me sitting there--it's quite like old times. Only before, you know, I used to have my face to the street. I don't know which I like best. But, anyhow, you can see my profile from the side window. And _he will. He always looks at that sort of thing. He'll be furious. But it will do him no end of good. Well, good-bye. But come back in and buy a bottle, or I shall be let in for a shindy. In fact, you might buy two bottles."

"So that's love!" said Audrey when the transaction was over and they were in the entrance-hall again.

"No," said Miss Ingate. "That's marriage. And don't you forget it.... Hallo, Tommy!"

"You'd better not let Mr. Gilman hear me called Tommy in this hotel," laughed Miss Thompkins, who was attired with an unusual richness, as she advanced towards Miss Ingate and Audrey. "And what are you doing here?" she questioned Audrey.

"I'm staying here," said Audrey. "But I've only just arrived. I'm advance agent for my husband. How are you? And what are _you doing here? I thought you hated London."

"I came the day before yesterday," Tommy replied. "And I'm very fit. You see, Mr. Gilman preferred us to be married in London. And I'd no objection. So here I am. The wedding's to-morrow. You aren't very startled, are you? Had you heard?"

"Well," said Audrey, "not what you'd call 'heard.' But I'd a sort of a kind of a--"

"You come right over here, young woman."

"But I want to get my number."

"You come right over here right now," Tommy insisted. And in another corner of the entrance-hall she spoke thus, and there was both seriousness and fun in her voice: "Don't you run away with the idea that I'm taking your leavings, young woman. Because I'm not. We all knew you'd lost your head about Musa, and it was quite right of you. But you never had a chance with Ernest, though you thought you had, after I'd met him. Admit I'm much better suited for him than you'd have been. I'd only one difficulty, and that was the nice boy Price, who wanted to drown himself for my beautiful freckled face. That's all. Now you can go and get your number."

The incident might not have ended there had not Madame Piriac appeared in the entrance-hall out of the interior of the hotel.

"He exacted my coming," said Madame Piriac privately to Audrey. "You know how he is strange. He asks for a quiet wedding, but at the same time it must be all that is most correct. There are things, he says, which demand a woman.... I know four times nothing of the English etiquette. I have abandoned my husband. And here I am. _Voila_! Listen. She has great skill with him, _cette Tommy_. Nevertheless, I have the intention to counsel her about her complexion. Impossible to keep any man with a complexion like hers!"

They saw Mr. Gilman himself enter the hotel. He was very nervous and very important. As soon as he caught sight of Miss Thompkins he said to the door-keeper:

"Tell my chauffeur to wait."

He was punctiliously attentive to Miss Thompkins, and held her hand for two seconds after he had practically finished with it.

"Are you ready, dear?" he said. "You'll be sorry to hear that my liver is all wrong again. I knew it was because I slept so heavily."

These words were distinctly heard by Audrey herself.

"I think I'll slip upstairs now," she murmured to Madame Piriac. And vanished, before Mr. Gilman had observed her presence.

She thought:

"How he has aged!"

Scarcely ten minutes later, when Audrey was upstairs in her sitting-room, waiting idly for the luggage and her husband to arrive, and thinking upon the case of Lady Southminster, the telephone bell rang out startlingly.

"Mr. Shinner to see you."

"Mr. Shinner? Oh! Mr. Shinner. Send him up, please."

This Mr. Shinner was the concert agent with connections in Paris whom Audrey had first consulted in the enterprise of launching Musa upon the French public. He was a large, dark man, black moustached and bearded, with heavy limbs and features, and an opaque, pimpled skin. In spite of these characteristics, he entered the room soft-footed as a fairy, ingratiating as a dog aware of his own iniquity, reassuring as applause.

"Well, Mr. Shinner. But how did you know we were here? As a matter of fact we aren't here. My husband has not arrived yet."

"Madam," said Mr. Shinner, "I happened to hear that you had telegraphed for rooms, and as I was in the neighbourhood I thought I would venture to call."

"But who told you we had telegraphed for rooms?"

"The manager is a good friend of mine, and as you are now famous----" Ah! I have heard all about the German tour. I mean I have read about it. I subscribe to the German musical papers. One must, in my profession. Also I have had direct news from my correspondents in Germany. It was a triumph there, was it not?"

"Yes," said Audrey. "After Dusseldorf. My husband did not make much money----"

"That will not trouble you," Mr. Shinner smiled easily.

"But somebody did--the agents did."

"Perhaps not so much as you think, madam, if I may say so. Perhaps not so much as you think. And we must all live--unfortunately. Has your husband made any arrangements yet for London or for a provincial tour? I have reason to think that the season will be particularly brilliant. And I can now offer advantages----"

"But, Mr. Shinner, when I last saw you, and it isn't so very long ago, you told me that my husband was not a concert-player, which was exactly what I had heard in Paris."

"I didn't go quite so far as that, surely, did I?" Mr. Shinner softly insinuated. He might have been pouring honey from his mouth. "Surely I didn't say quite that? And perhaps I had been too much influenced by Paris."

"Yes, you said he wasn't a concert-player and never would be----"

"Don't rub it in, madam," said Mr. Shinner merrily. "_Peccavi_."

"What's that?"

"Nothing, nothing, madam," he disclaimed.

"And you said there were far too many violinists on the market, and that it was useless for a French player to offer himself to the London musical public. And I don't know what you didn't say."

"But I didn't know then that your husband would have such a success in Germany."

"What difference does that make?"

"Madam," said Mr. Shinner, "it makes every difference."

"But England and Germany hate each other. At least they despise each other. And what's more, nearly everybody in Germany was talking about going to war this summer. I was told they are all ready to invade England after they have taken Paris and Calais. We heard it everywhere."

"I don't know anything about any war," said Mr. Shinner with tranquillity. "But I do know that the London musical public depends absolutely on Germany. The only first-class instrumentalist that England has ever produced had no success here until he went to Germany and Germanised his name and himself and announced that he despised England. Then he came back, and he has caused a furore ever since. So far as regards London, a success in Karlsruhe, Wiesbaden, Leipzig, Dusseldorf, and so on, is worth far more than a success in the Queen's Hall. Indeed--can you get a success in the Queen's Hall without a success in these places first? I doubt it. Your husband now has London at his feet. Not Paris, though he may capture Paris after he has captured London. But London certainly. He cannot find a better agent than myself. All artists like me, because I _understand_. You see, my mother was harpist to the late Queen."

"But----"

"Your husband is assuredly a genius, madam!" Mr. Shinner stood up in his enthusiasm, and banged his left fist with his right palm.

"Yes, I know that," said Audrey. "But you are such an expensive luxury."

Mr. Shinner pushed away the accusation with both hands. "Madam, madam, I shall take all the risks. I should not dream, now, of asking for a cheque on account. On the contrary, I should guarantee a percentage of the gross receipts. Perhaps I am unwise to take risks--I dare say I am--but I could not bear to see your husband in the hands of another agent. We professional men have our feelings."

"Don't cry, Mr. Shinner," said Audrey impulsively. It was not a proper remark to make, but the sudden impetuous entrance of Musa himself, carrying his violin case, eased the situation.

"There is a man which is asking for you outside in the corridor," said Musa to his wife. "It is the gardener, Aguilar, I think. I have brought all the luggage, not excluding that which was lost at Hamburg." He had a glorious air, and was probably more proud of his still improving English and of his ability as a courier than of his triumphs on the fiddle. "Ah!" Mr. Shinner was bowing before him.

"This is Mr. Shinner, the agent, my love," said Audrey. "I'll leave you to talk to him. He sees money in you."

In the passage the authentic Aguilar stood with Miss Ingate.

"Here's Mr. Aguilar," said Miss Ingate. "I'm just going into No. 37, Madame Piriac's room. Don't you think Mr. Aguilar looks vehy odd in London?"

"Good morning, Aguilar. You in town on business?"

Aguilar touched his forehead. It is possible that he looked very odd in London, but he was wearing a most respectable new suit of clothes, and might well have passed for a land agent.

"'Mornin', ma'am. I had to come up because I couldn't get delivery of those wallpapers you chose. Otherwise all the repairs and alterations are going on as well as could be expected."

"And how is your wife, Aguilar?"

"She's nicely, thank ye, ma'am. I pointed out to the foreman that it would be a mistake to make the dining-room door open the other way, as the architect suggested. But he would do it. However, I've told you, ma'am. It'll only have to be altered back. Perhaps I ought to tell you that I took the liberty of taking a fortnight's holiday, ma'am. It's the only holiday I ever did take, except the annual day off for the Colchester Rose Show, which is perhaps more a matter of business with a head gardener than a holiday, as ye might say. My wife wanted me in London."

"She's not caught yet?"

"No'm. And I don't think as she will be, not with me about. I never did allow myself to be bossed by police, and I always been too much for 'em. And as I'm on the matter, ma'am, I should like to give you notice as soon as it's convenient. I wouldn't leave on any account till that foreman's off the place; he's no better than a fool. But as soon afterwards as you like."

"Certainly, Aguilar. I was quite expecting it. Where are you going to live?"

"Well, ma'am, I've got hold of a little poultry run business in the north of London. It'll be handy for Holloway in case--And Jane asked me to give you this letter, ma'am. I see her this morning."

Audrey read the note. Very short, it was signed "Jane" and "Nick," and dated from a house in Fitzroy Street. It caused acute excitement in Audrey.

"I shall come at once," said she.

Getting rid of Aguilar, she knocked at the door of No. 37.

"Read that," she ordered Miss Ingate and Madame Piriac, giving them the note jointly.

"And are you going?" said Miss Ingate, nervous and impressed.

"Of course," Audrey answered. "Don't they ask me to go at once? I meant to write to my cousins at Woodbridge and my uncles in the colonies, and tell them all that I was settling down at last. And I meant to look at those new flats in Park Lane with Musa. But I shall have to leave all that for the present. Also my lunch."

"But, darling," put in Madame Piriac, who had been standing before the dressing-table trying on a hat. "But, darling, it is very serious, this matter. What about your husband?"

"He'll keep," said Audrey. "He's had his turn. I must have mine now. I haven't had a day off from being a wife for ever so long. And it's a little enervating, you know. It spoils you for the fresh air."

"I imagined to myself that you two were happy in an ideal fashion," murmured Madame Piriac.

"So we are!" said Audrey. "Though a certain coolness did arise over the luggage this morning. But I don't want to be ideally happy all the time. And I won't be. I want--I want all the sensations there are; and I want to be everything. And I can be. Musa understands."

"If he does," said Miss Ingate, "he'll be the first husband that ever did." Her lips were sardonic.

"Well, of course," said Audrey nonchalantly, "he _is_. Didn't you know that?... And didn't you tell me not to forget Lady Southminster?"

"Did I?" said Miss Ingate.

Audrey heard voices in the corridor. Musa was parting from a subservient Shinner. Also the luggage was bumping along the carpet. She called her husband into No. 37 and kissed him rather violently in front of Madame Piriac and Miss Ingate, and showed him the note. Then she whispered to him, smiling.

"What's that you're whispering?" Miss Ingate archly demanded.

"Nothing. I was only asking him to come and help me to open my big trunk. I want something out of it. Au revoir, you two."

"What do you think of it all, Madame Piriac?" Miss Ingate inquired when the pair were alone.

"'All the sensations there are!' 'Everything!'" Madame Piriac repeated Audrey's phrases. "One is forced to conclude that she has an appetite for life."

"Yes," said Miss Ingate, "she wants the lion's share of it, that's what she wants. No mistake. But of course she's young."

"I was never young like that."

"Neither was I! Neither was I!" Miss Ingate asseverated. "But something vehy, vehy strange has come over the world, if you ask me."


(THE END)
Arnold Bennett's Novel: Lion's Share

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