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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Price Of Love - Chapter 17. In The Monastery
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The Price Of Love - Chapter 17. In The Monastery Post by :acos21 Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2166

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The Price Of Love - Chapter 17. In The Monastery

CHAPTER XVII. IN THE MONASTERY

I

When Mrs. Tams brought in his early cup of tea that Easter Saturday afternoon, Louis had no project whatever in his head, and he was excessively, exasperatingly bored. A quarter of an hour earlier he had finished reading the novel which had been mitigating the worst tedium of his shamed convalescence, and the state of his mind was not improved by the fact that in his opinion the author of the novel had failed to fulfil clear promises--had, in fact, abused his trust. On the other hand, he felt very appreciably stronger, and his self-esteem was heightened by the complete correctness of his toilet. On that morning he had dressed himself with art and care for the first time since the accident. He enjoyed a little dandyism; dandified, he was a better man; the "fall" of a pair of trousers over the knee, the gloss of white wristbands, just showing beneath the new cloth of a well-cut sleeve--these phenomena not only pleased him but gave him confidence. And herein was the sole bright spot of his universe when Mrs. Tams entered.

He was rather curt with Mrs. Tams because she was two minutes late; for two endless minutes he had been cultivating the resentment of a man neglected and forgotten by every one of those whose business in life it is to succour, humour, and soothe him.

Mrs. Tams comprehended his mood with precision, and instantly. She hovered round him like a hen, indeed like a whole flock of hens, and when he savagely rebuffed her she developed from a flock of hens into a flight of angels.

"Missis said as I was to tell you as she'd gone to see Mr. Julian Maldon, sir," said Mrs. Tams, in the way of general gossip.

Louis made no sign.

"Her didna say how soon her'd be back. I was for going out, sir, but I'll stop in, sir, and willing--"

"What time are you supposed to go out?" Louis demanded, in a tone less inimical than his countenance.

"By rights, now, sir," said Mrs. Tams, looking backward through the open door at the lobby clock.

"Well," Louis remarked with liveliness, "if you aren't outside this house in one minute, in sixty seconds, I shall put you out, neck and crop."

Mrs. Tams smiled. His amiability was returning, he had done her the honour to tease her. She departed, all her "things" being ready in the kitchen. Even before she had gone Louis went quickly upstairs, having drunk less than half a cup of tea, and with extraordinary eagerness plunged into the bedroom and unlocked his private drawer. He both hoped and feared that the money which he had bestowed there after Julian's historic visit would have vanished. It had vanished.

The shock was unpleasant, but the discovery itself had a pleasant side, because it justified the theory which had sprung complete into his mind when he learnt where Rachel had gone, and also because it denuded Rachel of all reasonable claim to consideration. He had said to himself: "She has gone off to return half of that money to Julian--that's what it is. And she's capable of returning all of it to him!" ... And she had done so. And she had not consulted him, Louis. He, then, was a nobody--zero in the house! She had deliberately filched the money from him, and to accomplish her purpose she had abstracted his keys, which he had left in his pocket. She must have stolen the notes several days before, perhaps a week before, when he was really seriously ill. She had used the keys and restored them to his pocket. Astounding baseness!

He murmured: "This finishes it. This really does finish it."

He was immensely righteous as he stood alone in the bedroom in front of the rifled drawer. He was more than righteous--he was a martyr. He had done absolutely nothing that was wrong. He had not stolen money; he had not meant to steal; the more he examined his conduct, the more he was convinced that it had been throughout unexceptionable, whereas the conduct of Rachel ...! At every point she had sinned. It was she, not he, who had burnt Mrs. Maldon's hoard. Was it not monstrous that a woman should be so careless as to light a fire without noticing that a bundle of notes lay on the top of the coal? Besides, what affair was it of hers, anyway? It concerned himself, Mrs. Maldon, and Julian, alone. But she must needs interfere. She had not a penny to bless herself with, but he had magnanimously married her; and his reward was her inexcusable interference in his private business.

His accident was due solely to his benevolence for her. If he had not been wheeling a bicycle procured for her, and on his way to buy her a new bicycle, the accident would never have occurred. But had she shown any gratitude? None. It was true that he had vaguely authorized her to return half of the money replaced by the contrite Julian; but no date for doing so had been fixed, and assuredly she had no pretext whatever for dealing with all of it. That she should go to Julian Maldon with either the half or the whole of the money without previously informing him and obtaining the ratification of his permission was simply scandalous. And that she should sneakingly search his pockets for keys, commit a burglary in his drawer, and sneakingly put the keys back was outrageous, infamous, utterly intolerable.

He said, "I'll teach you a lesson, my lady, once for all."

Then he went downstairs. The kitchen was empty; Mrs. Tams had gone. But between the kitchen and the parlour he changed his course, and ran upstairs again to the drawer, which he pulled wide open. At the back of it there ought to have been an envelope containing twenty pounds in notes, balance of an advance payment from old Batchgrew. The envelope was there with its contents. Rachel had left the envelope. "Good of her!" he ejaculated with sarcasm. He put the money in his pocket-book, and descended to finish his tea, which he drank up excitedly.

A dubious scheme was hypnotizing him. He was a man well acquainted with the hypnotism of dubious schemes. He knew all the symptoms. He fought against the magic influence, and then, as always, yielded himself deliberately and voluptuously to it. He would go away. He would not wait; he would go at once, in a moment. She deserved as much, if not more. He knew not where he should go; a thousand reasons against going assailed him; but he would go. He must go. He could no longer stand, even for a single hour, her harshness, her air of moral superiority, her adamantine obstinacy. He missed terribly her candid worship of him, to which he had grown accustomed and which had become nearly a necessity of his existence. He could not live with an eternal critic; the prospect was totally inconceivable. He wanted love, and he wanted admiring love, and without it marriage was meaningless to him, a mere imprisonment.

So he would go. He could not and would not pack; to pack would distress him and bore him; he would go as he was. He could buy what he needed. The shops--his kind of shops--were closed, and would remain closed until Tuesday. Nevertheless, he would go. He could buy the indispensable at Faulkner's establishment on the platform at Knype railway-station, conveniently opposite the Five Towns Hotel. He had determined to go to the Five Towns Hotel that night. He had no immediate resources beyond the twenty pounds, but he would telegraph to Batchgrew, who ad not yet transferred to him the inheritance, to pay money into his bank early on Tuesday; if he were compelled to draw a cheque he would cross it, and then it could not possibly be presented before Wednesday morning.

At all costs he would go. His face was still plastered; but he would go, and he would go far, no matter where! The chief thing was to go. The world was calling him. The magic of the dubious scheme held him fast. And in all other respects he was free--free as impulse. He would go. He was not yet quite recovered, not quite strong.... Yes, he was all right; he was very strong! And he would go.

He put on his hat and his spring overcoat. Then he thought of the propriety of leaving a letter behind him--not for Rachel's sake, but to insist on his own dignity and to spoil hers. He wrote the letter, read it through with satisfaction, and quitted the house, shutting the door cheerfully, but with a trembling hand. Lest he might meet Rachel on her way home he went up the lane instead of down, and, finding himself near the station, took a train to Knype--travelling first class. The glorious estate of a bachelor was his once more.


II

The Five Towns Hotel stood theoretically in the borough of Hanbridge, but in fact it was in neither Hanbridge nor Knype, but "opposite Knype station," on the quiet side of Knype station, far away from any urban traffic; the gross roar of the electric trams running between Knype and Hanbridge could not be heard from the great portico of the hotel. It is true that the hotel primarily existed on its proximity to the railway centre of the Five Towns. But it had outgrown its historic origin, and would have moderately flourished even had the North Staffordshire railway been annihilated. By its sober grandeur and its excellent cooking it had taken its place as the first hotel in the district. It had actually no rival. Heroic, sublime efforts had been made in the centre of Hanbridge to overthrow the pre-eminence of the Five Towns Hotel. The forlorn result of one of these efforts--so immense was it!--had been bought by the municipality and turned into a Town Hall--supreme instance of the Five Towns' habit of "making things do!" No effort succeeded. Men would still travel from the ends of the Five Towns to the bar, the billiard-rooms, the banqueting-halls of the Five Towns Hotel, where every public or semi-public ceremonial that included conviviality was obliged to happen if it truly respected itself.

The Five Towns Hotel had made fortunes, and still made them. It was large and imposing and sombre. The architect, who knew his business, had designed staircases, corridors, and accidental alcoves on the scale of a palace; so that privacy amid publicity could always be found within its walls. It was superficially old-fashioned, and in reality modern. It had a genuine chef, with sub-chefs, good waiters whose sole weakness was linguistic, and an apartment of carven oak with a vast counterfeit eye that looked down on you from the ceiling. It was ready for anything--a reception to celebrate the nuptials of a maid, a lunch to a Cabinet Minister with an axe to grind in the district, or a sale by auction of house-property with wine _ad libitum to encourage bids.

But its chief social use was perhaps as a retreat for men who were tired of a world inhabited by two sexes. Sundry of the great hotels of Britain have forgotten this ancient function, and are as full of frills, laces, colour, and soft giggles as a London restaurant, so that in Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow a man in these days has no safe retreat except the gloominess of a provincial club. The Five Towns Hotel has held fast to old tradition in this respect. Ladies were certainly now and then to be seen there, for it was a hotel and as such enjoyed much custom. But in the main it resembled a monastery. Men breathed with a new freedom as they entered it. Commandments reigned there, and their authority was enforced; but they were not precisely the tables of Moses. The enormous pretence which men practise for the true benefit of women was abandoned in the Five Towns Hotel. Domestic sultans who never joked in the drawing-room would crack with laughter in the Five Towns Hotel, and make others crack, too. Old men would meet young men on equal terms, and feel rather pleased at their own ability to do so. And young men shed their youth there, displaying the huge stock of wisdom and sharp cynicism which by hard work they had acquired in an incredibly short time. Indeed, the hotel was a wonderful institution, and a source of satisfaction to half a county.


III

It was almost as one returned from the dead that Louis Fores entered the Five Towns Hotel on Easter Saturday afternoon, for in his celibate prime he had been a habitue of the place. He had a thrill; and he knew that he would be noticed, were it only as the hero and victim of a street accident; a few remaining plasters still drew attention to his recent history. At the same time, the thrill which affected him was not entirely pleasurable, for he was frightened by what he had done: by the letter written to Rachel, by his abandonment of her, and also by the prospect of what he meant to do. The resulting situation would certainly be scandalous in a high degree, and tongues would dwell on the extreme brevity of the period of marriage. The scandal would resound mightily. And Louis hated scandal, and had always had a genuine desire for respectability.... Then he reassured himself. "Pooh! What do I care?" Besides, it was not his fault. He was utterly blameless; Rachel alone was the sinner. She had brought disaster upon herself. On the previous Saturday he had given her fair warning by getting up out of bed in his weakness and leaving the house--more from instinct than from any set plan. But she would not take a hint. She would not learn. Very good! The thought of his inheritance and of his freedom uplifted him till he became nearly a god.

Owing to the Easter holidays the hotel was less bright and worldly than usual. Moreover, Saturday was never one of its brilliant days of the week. In the twilight of a subsidiary lounge, illuminated by one early electric spark, a waiter stood alone amid great basket-chairs and wicker-tables. Louis knew the waiter, as did every man-about-town; but Louis imagined that he knew him better than most; the waiter gave a similar impression to all impressionable young men.

"How do you do, Krupp!" Louis greeted him, with kind familiarity.

"Good afternoon, sir."

It was perhaps the hazard of his name that had given the waiter a singular prestige in the district. Krupp is a great and an unforgettable name, wherever you go. And also it offers people a chance to be jocose with facility. A hundred habitue's had made the same joke to Krupp about Krupp's name, and each had supposed himself to be humorous in an original manner. Krupp received the jocularities with the enigmatic good-fellow air with which he received everything. None knew whether Krupp admired or disdained, loved or hated, the Five Towns and the English character. He was a foreigner from some vague frontier of Switzerland, possessing no language of his own but a patois, and speaking other languages less than perfectly. He had been a figure in the Five Towns Hotel for over twenty years. He was an efficient waiter; yet he had never risen on the staff, and was still just the lounge or billiard-room waiter that he had always been--and apparently content with Destiny.

Louis asked brusquely, as one who had no time to waste, "Will Faulkner's be open?"

Krupp bent down and glanced through an interstice of a partition at a clock in the corridor.

"Yes, sir," said Krupp with calm certainty.

Louis, pleased, thought, "This man is a fine waiter." Somehow Krupp made it seem as if by the force of his will he had forced Faulkner's to be open--in order to oblige Mr. Fores.

"Because," said Louis casually, "I've no luggage, not a rag, and I want to buy a few things, and no other place'll be open."

"Yes, sir," said Krupp, mysterious and quite incurious. He did not even ask, "Do you wish a room, sir?"

"Heard about my accident, I suppose?" Louis went on, a little surprised that Krupp should make no sympathetic reference to his plasters.

Krupp became instantly sympathetic, yet keeping his customary reserve.

"Yes, sir. And I am pleased to see you are recovered," he said, with the faint, indefinable foreign accent and the lack of idiom which combined to deprive his remarks of any human quality.

"Well," said Louis, not quite prepared to admit that the affair had gone so smoothly as Krupp appeared to imply, "I can tell you I've had a pretty bad time. I really ought not to be here now, but--" He stopped.

"Strange it should happen to you, sir. A gentleman who was in here the other day said that in his opinion you were one of the cleverest cyclists in the Five Towns."

Louis naturally inquired, "Who was that?"

"I could not say, sir. Not one of our regular customers, sir," with a touch of mild depreciation. "A dark gentleman, with a beard, a little lame, I fancy." As Krupp had invented the gentleman and his opinion to meet the occasion, he was right in depriving him of the rank of a regular customer.

"Oh!" murmured Louis. "By the way, has Mr. Gibbs come yet?"

"Mr. Gibbs, sir?"

"Yes, an American. I have an appointment with him this afternoon. If he comes in while I am over at Faulkner's just tell him, will you? I think he's stopping at the Majestic."

The Majestic being the latest rival hotel at Hanbridge, Krupp raised his eyebrows in a peculiar way and nodded his head.

Just as Krupp had invented a gentleman, so now Louis was inventing one. Neither Krupp nor Louis guessed the inventive act of the other. Krupp's act was a caprice, a piece of embroidery, charming and unnecessary. But Louis was inventing with serious intent, for he had to make his presence at the Five Towns Hotel on Easter Saturday seem natural and inevitable.

"And also I want the Cunard list of sailings, and the White Star, too. There's a Cunard boat from Liverpool on Monday, isn't there?"

"I don't _think so, sir," said Krupp, "but I'll see."

"I understood from Mr. Gibbs there was. And I'm going to Liverpool by that early train to-morrow."

"Sunday, sir?"

"Yes, I must be in Liverpool to-morrow night."

Louis went across to the station to Faulkner's. He considered that he was doing very well. And after all, why not go to America--not on Monday, for he was quite aware that no boat left on Monday--but in a few days, after he had received the whole sum that Thomas Batchgrew held for him. He could quite plausibly depart on urgent business connected with new capitalistic projects. He could quite plausibly remain in America as long as convenient. America beckoned to him. He remembered all the appetizing accounts that he had ever heard from American commercial travellers of Broadway and Fifth Avenue--incredible streets. In America he might treble, quadruple, his already vast capital. The romance of the idea intoxicated him.


IV

When he got back from Faulkner's with a parcel (which he threw to the cloak-room attendant to keep) he felt startlingly hungry, and, despite the early hour, he ordered a steak in the grill-room; and not a steak merely, but all the accoutrements of a steak, with beverages to match. And to be on the safe side he paid for the meal at once, with a cheque for ten pounds, receiving the change in gold and silver, and thus increasing his available cash to about thirty pounds. Then in the lounge, with Cuban cigar-smoke in his eyes, and Krupp discoursing to him of all conceivable Atlantic liners, he wrote a letter to Thomas Batchgrew and marked it "Very urgent"--which was simple prudence on his part, for he had drawn a cheque for ten pounds on a non-existent bank-balance. At last, as Mr. Gibbs had not arrived, he said he should stroll up to the Majestic. He had not yet engaged a room; he seemed to hesitate before that decisive act....

Then it was that, in the corridor immediately outside the lounge, he encountered Jim Horrocleave. The look in Jim Horrocleave's ferocious eye shocked him. Louis had almost forgotten his employer, and the sudden spectacle of him was disconcerting.

"Hello, Fores!" said Horrocleave very sardonically, with no other greeting. "I thought ye were too ill to move." No word of sympathy in the matter of the accident! Simply the tone of an employer somehow aggrieved!

"I'm out to-day for the first time. Had to come down here on a matter--"

Horrocleave spoke lower, and even more sardonically. "I hear ye're off to America."

Louis looked through the fretted partition at the figure of Krupp alone in the lounge. And Horrocleave also looked at Krupp. And Krupp looked back with his enigmatic gaze, perhaps scornful, perhaps indifferent, perhaps secretly appreciative--but in any case profoundly foreign and aloof and sinister.

"Well--" Louis began at a disadvantage. "Who says I'm off to America?"

Horrocleave advanced his chin and clenched a fist.

"Don't you go!" said he. "If ye did, ye might be brought back by the scruff o' the neck. You mark my words and come down to the works to-morrow morning--_to-morrow_, ye understand!" He was breathing quickly. Then a malicious grin seemed to pass over his face as his glance rested for an instant on Louis' plasters. The next instant he walked away, and Louis heard him at the cloak-room counter barking the one word, "Mackintosh."

Louis understood, only too completely. During his absence from the works Horrocleave had amused himself by critically examining the old petty-cash book. That was all, and it was enough. Good-bye to romance, to adventure, to the freedom of the larger world! The one course to pursue was to return home, to deny (as was easy) that the notion of going to America had ever occurred to him, or even the notion of putting up at the hotel, and with such dignity as he could assume to restore to Horrocleave the total sum abstracted. With care and luck he might yet save his reputation. It was impossible that Horrocleave should prosecute. And what was seventy odd pounds, after all? He was master of thousands.

If he could but have walked straight out of the hotel! But he could not. His dignity, the most precious of all his possessions, had to be maintained. Possibly Krupp had overheard the conversation, or divined its nature. He strolled back into the lounge.

"A benedictine," he ordered casually, and, neatly pulling up his trousers at the knee, sank into a basket-chair and crossed his legs, while blowing forth much smoke.

"Yes, sir."

When Krupp brought the tiny glass, Louis paid for it without looking at him, and gave a good tip. Ah! He would have liked to peer into Krupp's inmost mind and know exactly how Krupp had been discussing him with Jim Horrocleave. He would have liked to tell Krupp in cutting tones that waiters had no right to chatter to one customer about another. And then he would have liked to destroy Krupp. But he could not. His godlike dignity would not permit him to show by even the slightest gesture that he had been inconvenienced. The next moment he perceived that Providence had been watching over him. If he had gone to America unknown to Horrocleave, Horrocleave might indeed have proved seriously awkward.... Extradition--was there such a word, and such a thing? He finished the benedictine, went to the cloak-room and obtained his hat, coat, stick, and parcel; and the hovering Krupp helped him with his overcoat; and as Destiny cast him out of the dear retreat which a little earlier he had entered with such pleasurable anticipations, he was followed down the corridor by the aloof, disinterested gaze of the Swiss whose enigma no Staffordshire man had ever penetrated.

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