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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 1 - Chapter 3. Wilkins's
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The Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 1 - Chapter 3. Wilkins's Post by :klepfish Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :404

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The Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 1 - Chapter 3. Wilkins's

PART I 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.

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