The Card (5 of 5)

Uploaded by The16thCavern on 28.10.2012

When Denry at a single stroke "wherreted" his mother and proved his
adventurous spirit by becoming the possessor of one of the first
motor-cars ever owned in Bursley, his instinct naturally was to run up
to Councillor Cotterill's in it. Not that he loved Councillor Cotterill,
and therefore wished to make him a partaker in his joy; for he did not
love Councillor Cotterill. He had never been able to forgive Nellie's
father for those patronising airs years and years before at Llandudno,
airs indeed which had not even yet disappeared from Cotterill's attitude
towards Denry. Though they were Councillors on the same Town Council,
though Denry was getting richer and Cotterill was assuredly not getting
richer, the latter's face and tone always seemed to be saying to Denry:
"Well, you are not doing so badly for a beginner." So Denry did not care
to lose an opportunity of impressing Councillor Cotterill. Moreover,
Denry had other reasons for going up to the Cotterills. There existed a
sympathetic bond between him and Mrs Cotterill, despite her prim
taciturnity and her exasperating habit of sitting with her hands pressed
tight against her body and one over the other. Occasionally he teased
her—and she liked being teased. He had glimpses now and then of her
secret soul; he was perhaps the only person in Bursley thus privileged.
Then there was Nellie. Denry and Nellie were great friends. For the rest
of the world she had grown up, but not for Denry, who treated her as the
chocolate child; while she, if she called him anything, called him
respectfully "Mr."
The Cotterills had a fairly large old house with a good garden "up
Bycars Lane," above the new park and above all those red streets which
Mr Cotterill had helped to bring into being. Mr Cotterill built new
houses with terra-cotta facings for others, but preferred an old one in
stucco for himself. His abode had been saved from the parcelling out of
several Georgian estates. It was dignified. It had a double entrance
gate, and from this portal the drive started off for the house door, but
deliberately avoided reaching the house door until it had wandered in
curves over the entire garden. That was the Georgian touch! The modern
touch was shown in Councillor Cotterill's bay windows, bath-room and
garden squirter. There was stabling, in which were kept a Victorian
dogcart and a Georgian horse, used by the Councillor in his business. As
sure as ever his wife or daughter wanted the dogcart, it was either out
or just going out, or the Georgian horse was fatigued and needed repose.
The man who groomed the Georgian also ploughed the flowerbeds, broke the
windows in cleaning them, and put blacking on brown boots. Two indoor
servants had differing views as to the frontier between the kingdom of
his duties and the kingdom of theirs, in fact, it was the usual spacious
household of successful trade in a provincial town.
Denry got to Bycars Lane without a breakdown. This was in the days,
quite thirteen years ago, when automobilists made their wills and took
food supplies when setting forth. Hence Denry was pleased. The small but
useful fund of prudence in him, however, forbade him to run the car
along the unending sinuous drive. The May night was fine, and he left
the loved vehicle with his new furs in the shadow of a monkey-tree near
the gate.
As he was crunching towards the door, he had a beautiful idea: "I'll
take 'em all out for a spin. There'll just be room!" he said.
Now even to-day, when the very cabman drives his automobile, a man who
buys a motor cannot say to a friend: "I've bought a motor. Come for a
spin," in the same self-unconscious accents as he would say: "I've
bought a boat. Come for a sail," or "I've bought a house. Come and look
at it." Even to-day and in the centre of London there is still something
about a motor—well something.... Everybody who has bought a motor, and
everybody who has dreamed of buying a motor, will comprehend me. Useless
to feign that a motor is the most banal thing imaginable. It is not. It
remains the supreme symbol of swagger. If such is the effect of a motor
in these days and in Berkeley Square, what must it have been in that dim
past, and in that dim town three hours by the fastest express from
Euston? The imagination must be forced to the task of answering this
question. Then will it be understood that Denry was simply tingling with
"Master in?" he demanded of the servant, who was correctly starched, but
unkempt in detail.
"No, sir. He ain't been in for tea."
("I shall take the women out then," said Denry to himself.)
"Come in! Come in!" cried a voice from the other side of the open door
of the drawing-room, Nellie's voice! The manners and state of a family
that has industrially risen combine the spectacular grandeur of the
caste to which it has climbed with the ease and freedom of the caste
which it has quitted.
"Such a surprise!" said the voice. Nellie appeared, rosy.
Denry threw his new motoring cap hastily on to the hall-stand. No! He
did not hope that Nellie would see it. He hoped that she would not see
it. Now that the moment was really come to declare himself the owner of
a motor-car, he grew timid and nervous. He would have liked to hide his
hat. But then Denry was quite different from our common humanity. He was
capable even of feeling awkward in a new suit of clothes. A singular
"Hello!" she greeted him.
"Hello!" he greeted her.
Their hands touched.
"Father hasn't come yet," she added. He fancied she was not quite at
"Well," he said, "what's this surprise."
She motioned him into the drawing-room.
The surprise was a wonderful woman, brilliant in black—not black silk,
but a softer, delicate stuff. She reclined in an easy-chair with
surpassing grace and self-possession. A black Egyptian shawl, spangled
with silver, was slipping off her shoulders. Her hair was dressed—that
is to say, it was _dressed_; it was obviously and thrillingly a
work of elaborate art. He could see her two feet and one of her ankles.
The boots, the open-work stocking—such boots, such an open-work
stocking, had never been seen in Bursley, not even at a ball! She was in
mourning, and wore scarcely any jewellery, but there was a gleaming tint
of gold here and there among the black, which resulted in a marvellous
effect of richness.
The least experienced would have said, and said rightly: "This must be a
woman of wealth and fashion." It was the detail that finished the
demonstration. The detail was incredible. There might have been ten
million stitches in the dress. Ten sempstresses might have worked on the
dress for ten years. An examination of it under a microscope could but
have deepened one's amazement at it.
She was something new in the Five Towns, something quite new.
Denry was not equal to the situation. He seldom was equal to a small
situation. And although he had latterly acquired a considerable amount
of social _savoir_, he was constantly mislaying it, so that he
could not put his hand on it at the moment when he most required it, as
"Well, Denry!" said the wondrous creature in black, softly.
And he collected himself as though for a plunge, and said:
"Well, Ruth!"
This was the woman whom he had once loved, kissed, and engaged himself
to marry. He was relieved that she had begun with Christian names,
because he could not recall her surname. He could not even remember
whether he had ever heard it. All he knew was that, after leaving
Bursley to join her father in Birmingham, she had married somebody with
a double name, somebody well off, somebody older than herself; somebody
apparently of high social standing; and that this somebody had died.
She made no fuss. There was no implication in her demeanour that she
expected to be wept over as a lone widow, or that because she and he had
on a time been betrothed, therefore they could never speak naturally to
each other again. She just talked as if nothing had ever happened to
her, and as if about twenty-four hours had elapsed since she had last
seen him. He felt that she must have picked up this most useful
diplomatic calmness in her contacts with her late husband's class. It
was a valuable lesson to him: "Always behave as if nothing had happened
—no matter what has happened."
To himself he was saying:
"I'm glad I came up in my motor."
He seemed to need something in self-defence against the sudden attack of
all this wealth and all this superior social tact, and the motor-car
served excellently.
"I've been hearing a great deal about you lately," said she with a soft
smile, unobtrusively rearranging a fold of her skirt.
"Well," he replied, "I'm sorry I can't say the same of you."
Slightly perilous perhaps, but still he thought it rather neat.
"Oh!" she said. "You see I've been so much out of England. We were just
talking about holidays. I was saying to Mrs Cotterill they certainly
ought to go to Switzerland this year for a change."
"Yes, Mrs Capron-Smith was just saying—" Mrs Cotterill put in.
(So that was her name.)
"It would be something too lovely!" said Nellie in ecstasy.
Switzerland! Astonishing how with a single word she had marked the gulf
between Bursley people and herself. The Cotterills had never been out of
England. Not merely that, but the Cotterills had never dreamt of going
out of England. Denry had once been to Dieppe, and had come back as
though from Timbuctoo with a traveller's renown. And she talked of
Switzerland easily!
"I suppose it is very jolly," he said.
"Yes," she said, "it's splendid in summer. But, of course, _the_
time is winter, for the sports. Naturally, when you aren't free to take
a bit of a holiday in winter, you must be content with summer, and very
splendid it is. I'm sure you'd enjoy it frightfully, Nell."
"I'm sure I should—frightfully!" Nellie agreed. "I shall speak to
father. I shall make him—"
"Now, Nellie—" her mother warned her.
"Yes, I shall, mother," Nellie insisted.
"There _is_ your father!" observed Mrs Cotterill, after listening.
Footsteps crossed the hall, and died away into the dining-room.
"I wonder why on earth father doesn't come in here. He must have heard
us talking," said Nellie, like a tyrant crossed in some trifle.
A bell rang, and then the servant came into the drawing-room and
remarked: "If you please, mum," at Mrs Cotterill, and Mrs Cotterill
disappeared, closing the door after her.
"What are they up to, between them?" Nellie demanded, and she, too,
departed, with wrinkled brow, leaving Denry and Ruth together. It could
be perceived on Nellie's brow that her father was going "to catch it."
"I haven't seen Mr Cotterill yet," said Mrs Capron-Smith.
"When did you come?" Denry asked.
"Only this afternoon."
She continued to talk.
As he looked at her, listening and responding intelligently now and
then, he saw that Mrs Capron-Smith was in truth the woman that Ruth had
so cleverly imitated ten years before. The imitation had deceived him
then; he had accepted it for genuine. It would not have deceived him
now—he knew that. Oh yes! This was the real article that could hold its
own anywhere.... Switzerland! And not simply Switzerland, but a
refinement on Switzerland! Switzerland in winter! He divined that in her
opinion Switzerland in summer was not worth doing—in the way of
correctness. But in winter...
Nellie had announced a surprise for Denry as he entered the house, but
Nellie's surprise for Denry, startling and successful though it proved,
was as naught to the surprise which Mr Cotterill had in hand for Nellie,
her mother, Denry, the town of Bursley, and various persons up and down
the country.
Mrs Cotterill came hysterically in upon the duologue between Denry and
Ruth in the drawing-room. From the activity of her hands, which, instead
of being decently folded one over the other, were waving round her head
in the strangest way, it was clear that Mrs Cotterill was indeed under
the stress of a very unusual emotion.
"It's those creditors—at last! I knew it would be! It's all those
creditors! They won't let him alone, and now they've _done_ it."
So Mrs Cotterill! She dropped into a chair. She had no longer any sense
of shame, of what was due to her dignity. She seemed to have forgotten
that certain matters are not proper to be discussed in drawing-rooms.
She had left the room Mrs Councillor Cotterill; she returned to it
nobody in particular, the personification of defeat. The change had
operated in five minutes.
Mrs Capron-Smith and Denry glanced at each other, and even Mrs
Capron-Smith was at a loss for a moment. Then Ruth approached Mrs
Cotterill and took her hand. Perhaps Mrs Capron-Smith was not so
astonished after all. She and Nellie's mother had always been "very
friendly." And in the Five Towns "very friendly" means a lot.
"Perhaps if you were to leave us," Ruth suggested, twisting her head to
glance at Denry.
It was exactly what he desired to do. There could be no doubt that Ruth
was supremely a woman of the world. Her tact was faultless.
He left them, saying to himself: "Well, here's a go!"
In the hall, through an open door, he saw Councillor Cotterill standing
against the dining-room mantelpiece.
When Cotterill caught sight of Denry he straightened himself into a
certain uneasy perkiness.
"Young man," he said in a counterfeit of his old patronising tone, "come
in here. You may as well hear about it. You're a friend of ours. Come in
and shut the door."
Nellie was not in view.
Denry went in and shut the door.
"Sit down," said Cotterill.
And it was just as if he had said: "Now, you're a fairly bright sort of
youth, and you haven't done so badly in life; and as a reward I mean to
admit you to the privilege of hearing about our ill-luck, which for some
mysterious reason reflects more credit on me than your good luck
reflects on you, young man."
And he stroked his straggling grey beard.
"I'm going to file my petition to-morrow," said he, and gave a short
"Really!" said Denry, who could think of nothing else to say. His name
was not Capron-Smith.
"Yes; they won't leave me any alternative," said Mr Cotterill.
Then he gave a brief history of his late commercial career to the young
man. And he seemed to figure it as a sort of tug-of-war between his
creditors and his debtors, he himself being the rope. He seemed to imply
that he had always done his sincere best to attain the greatest good of
the greatest number, but that those wrong-headed creditors had
consistently thwarted him.
However, he bore them no grudge. It was the fortune of the tug-of-war.
He pretended, with shabby magnificence of spirit, that a bankruptcy at
the age of near sixty, in a community where one has cut a figure, is a
mere passing episode.
"Are you surprised?" he asked foolishly, with a sheepish smile.
Denry took vengeance for all the patronage that he had received during a
"No!" he said. "Are you?"
Instead of kicking Denry out of the house for an impudent young
jackanapes, Mr Cotterill simply resumed his sheepish smile.
Denry had been surprised for a moment, but he had quickly recovered.
Cotterill's downfall was one of those events which any person of acute
intelligence can foretell after they have happened. Cotterill had run
the risks of the speculative builder, built and mortgaged, built and
mortgaged, sold at a profit, sold without profit, sold at a loss, and
failed to sell; given bills, second mortgages, and third mortgages; and
because he was a builder and could do nothing but build, he had
continued to build in defiance of Bursley's lack of enthusiasm for his
erections. If rich gold deposits had been discovered in Bursley
Municipal Park, Cotterill would have owned a mining camp and amassed
immense wealth; but unfortunately gold deposits were not discovered in
the Park. Nobody knew his position; nobody ever does know the position
of a speculative builder. He did not know it himself. There had been
rumours, but they had been contradicted in an adequate way. His recent
refusal of the mayoral chain, due to lack of spare coin, had been
attributed to prudence. His domestic existence had always been conducted
on the same moderately lavish scale. He had always paid the baker, the
butcher, the tailor, the dressmaker.
And now he was to file his petition in bankruptcy, and to-morrow the
entire town would have "been seeing it coming" for years.
"What shall you do?" Denry inquired in amicable curiosity.
"Well," said Cotterill, "that's the point. I've got a brother a builder
in Toronto, you know. He's doing very well; building _is_ building
over there. I wrote to him a bit since, and he replied by the next mail
—by the next mail—that what he wanted was just a man like me to
overlook things. He's getting an old man now, is John. So, you see,
there's an opening waiting for me."
As if to say, "The righteous are never forsaken."
"I tell you all this as you're a friend of the family like," he added.
Then, after an expanse of vagueness, he began hopefully, cheerfully,
"Even _now_ if I could get hold of a couple of thousand I could
pull through handsome—and there's plenty of security for it."
"Bit late now, isn't it?"
"Not it. If only some one who really knows the town, and has faith in
the property market, would come down with a couple of thousand—well, he
might double it in five years."
"Yes," said Cotterill. "Look at Clare Street."
Clare Street was one of his terra-cotta masterpieces.
"You, now," said Cotterill, insinuating. "I don't expect anyone can
teach _you_ much about the value o' property in this town. You know
as well as I do. If you happened to have a couple of thousand loose—by
gosh! it's a chance in a million."
"Yes," said Denry. "I should say that was just about what it was."
"I put it before you," Cotterill proceeded, gathering way, and missing
the flavour of Denry's remark. "Because you're a friend of the family.
You're so often here. Why, it's pretty near ten years...."
Denry sighed: "I expect I come and see you all about once a fortnight
fairly regular. That makes two hundred and fifty times in ten years.
"A couple of thou'," said Cotterill, reflectively.
"Two hundred and fifty into two thousand—eight. Eight pounds a visit. A
shade thick, Cotterill, a shade thick. You might be half a dozen
fashionable physicians rolled into one."
Never before had he called the Councillor "Cotterill" unadorned. Me
Cotterill flushed and rose.
Denry does not appear to advantage in this interview. He failed in
magnanimity. The only excuse that can be offered for him is that Mr
Cotterill had called him "young man" once or twice too often in the
course of ten years. It is subtle.
"No," whispered Ruth, in all her wraps. "Don't bring it up to the door.
I'll walk down with you to the gate, and get in there."
He nodded.
They were off, together. Ruth, it had appeared, was actually staying at
the Five Towns Hotel at Knype, which at that epoch was the only hotel in
the Five Towns seriously pretending to be "first-class" in the full-page
advertisement sense. The fact that Ruth was staying at the Five Towns
Hotel impressed Denry anew. Assuredly she did things in the grand
manner. She had meant to walk down by the Park to Bursley Station and
catch the last loop-line train to Knype, and when Denry suddenly
disclosed the existence of his motor-car, and proposed to see her to her
hotel in it, she in her turn had been impressed. The astonishment in her
tone as she exclaimed: "Have you got a _motor_?" was the least in
the world naïve.
Thus they departed together from the stricken house, Ruth saying
brightly to Nellie, who had reappeared in a painful state of
demoralisation, that she should return on the morrow.
And Denry went down the obscure drive with a final vision of the poor
child, Nellie, as she stood at the door to speed them. It was
extraordinary how that child had remained a child. He knew that she must
be more than half-way through her twenties, and yet she persisted in
being the merest girl. A delightful little thing; but no _savoir
vivre_, no equality to a situation, no spectacular pride. Just a
nice, bright girl, strangely girlish.... The Cotterills had managed that
bad evening badly. They had shown no dignity, no reserve, no discretion;
and old Cotterill had been simply fatuous in his suggestion. As for Mrs
Cotterill, she was completely overcome, and it was due solely to Ruth's
calm, managing influence that Nellie, nervous and whimpering, had wound
herself up to come and shut the front door after the guests.
It was all very sad.
When he had successfully started the car, and they were sliding down the
Moorthorne hill together, side by side, their shoulders touching, Denry
threw off the nightmarish effect of the bankrupt household. After all,
there was no reason why he should be depressed. He was not a bankrupt.
He was steadily adding riches to riches. He acquired wealth mechanically
now. Owing to the habits of his mother, he never came within miles of
living up to his income. And Ruth—she, too, was wealthy. He felt that
she must be wealthy in the strict significance of the term. And she
completed wealth by experience of the world. She was his equal. She
understood things in general. She had lived, travelled, suffered,
reflected—in short, she was a completed article of manufacture. She was
no little, clinging, raw girl. Further, she was less hard than of yore.
Her voice and gestures had a different quality. The world had softened
her. And it occurred to him suddenly that her sole fault—extravagance—
had no importance now that she was wealthy.
He told her all that Mr Cotterill had said about Canada. And she told
him all that Mrs Cotterill had said about Canada. And they agreed that
Mr Cotterill had got his deserts, and that, in its own interest, Canada
was the only thing for the Cotterill family; and the sooner the better.
People must accept the consequences of bankruptcy. Nothing could be
"I think it's a pity Nellie should have to go," said Denry.
"Oh! _Do_ you?" replied Ruth.
"Yes; going out to a strange country like that. She's not what you may
call the Canadian kind of girl. If she could only get something to do
here. ...If something could be found for her."
"Oh, I don't agree with you at _all_," said Ruth. "Do you really
think she ought to leave her parents just _now_? Her place is with
her parents. And besides, between you and me, she'll have a much better
chance of marrying there than in _this_ town—after all this. Of
course I shall be very sorry to lose her—and Mrs Cotterill, too.
"I expect you're right," Denry concurred.
And they sped on luxuriously through the lamp-lit night of the Five
Towns. And Denry pointed out his house as they passed it. And they both
thought much of the security of their positions in the world, and of
their incomes, and of the honeyed deference of their bankers; and also
of the mistake of being a failure.... You could do nothing with a
On a frosty morning in early winter you might have seen them together in
a different vehicle—a first-class compartment of the express from Knype
to Liverpool. They had the compartment to themselves, and they were
installed therein with every circumstance of luxury. Both were enwrapped
in furs, and a fur rug united their knees in its shelter. Magazines and
newspapers were scattered about to the value of a labourer's hire for a
whole day; and when Denry's eye met the guard's it said "shilling." In
short, nobody could possibly be more superb than they were on that
morning in that compartment.
The journey was the result of peculiar events.
Mr Cotterill had made himself a bankrupt, and cast away the robe of a
Town Councillor. He had submitted to the inquisitiveness of the Official
Receiver, and to the harsh prying of those rampant baying beasts, his
creditors. He had laid bare his books, his correspondence, his lack of
method, his domestic extravagance, and the distressing fact that he had
continued to trade long after he knew himself to be insolvent. He had
for several months, in the interests of the said beasts, carried on his
own business as manager at a nominal salary. And gradually everything
that was his had been sold. And during the final weeks the Cotterill
family had been obliged to quit their dismantled house and exist in
lodgings. It had been arranged that they should go to Canada by way of
Liverpool, and on the day before the journey of Denry and Ruth to
Liverpool they had departed from the borough of Bursley (which Mr
Cotterill had so extensively faced with terra-cotta) unhonoured and
unsung. Even Denry, though he had visited them in their lodgings to say
good-bye, had not seen them off at the station; but Ruth Capron-Smith
had seen them off at the station. She had interrupted a sojourn to
Southport in order to come to Bursley, and despatch them therefrom with
due friendliness. Certain matters had to be attended to after their
departure, and Ruth had promised to attend to them.
Now immediately after seeing them off Ruth had met Denry in the street.
"Do you know," she said brusquely, "those people are actually going
steerage? I'd no idea of it. Mr and Mrs Cotterill kept it from me, and I
should not have heard of it only from something Nellie said. That's why
they've gone to-day. The boat doesn't sail till to-morrow afternoon."
"Steerage?" and Denry whistled.
"Yes," said Ruth. "Nothing but pride, of course. Old Cotterill wanted to
have every penny he could scrape, so as to be able to make the least
tiny bit of a show when he gets to Toronto, and so—steerage! Just think
of Mrs Cotterill and Nellie in the steerage. If I'd known of it I should
have altered that, I can tell you, and pretty quickly too; and now it's
too late."
"No, it isn't," Denry contradicted her flatly.
"But they've gone."
"I could telegraph to Liverpool for saloon berths—there's bound to be
plenty at this time of year—and I could run over to Liverpool to-morrow
and catch 'em on the boat, and make 'em change."
She asked him whether he really thought he could, and he assured her.
"Second-cabin berths would be better," said she.
"Well, because of dressing for dinner, and so on. They haven't got the
clothes, you know."
"Of course," said Denry.
"Listen," she said, with an enchanting smile. "Let's halve the cost, you
and I. And let's go to Liverpool together, and—er—make the little
gift, and arrange things. I'm leaving for Southport to-morrow, and
Liverpool's on my way."
Denry was delighted by the suggestion, and telegraphed to Liverpool with
Thus they found themselves on that morning in the Liverpool express
together. The work of benevolence in which they were engaged had a
powerful influence on their mood, which grew both intimate and tender.
Ruth made no concealment of her regard for Denry; and as he gazed across
the compartment at her, exquisitely mature (she was slightly older than
himself), dressed to a marvel, perfect in every detail of manner,
knowing all that was to be known about life, and secure in a handsome
fortune—as he gazed, Denry reflected, joyously, victoriously:
"I've got the dibs, of course. But she's got 'em too—perhaps more.
Therefore she must like me for myself alone. This brilliant creature has
been everywhere and seen everything, and she comes back to the Five
Towns and comes back to _me_."
It was his proudest moment. And in it he saw his future far more
glorious than he had dreamt.
"When shall you be out of mourning?" he inquired.
"In two months," said she.
This was not a proposal and acceptance, but it was very nearly one. They
were silent, and happy.
Then she said:
"Do you ever have business at Southport?"
And he said, in a unique manner:
"I shall have."
Another silence. This time he felt he _would_ marry her.
The White Star liner, _Titubic_, stuck out of the water like a row
of houses against the landing-stage. There was a large crowd on her
promenade-deck, and a still larger crowd on the landing-stage. Above the
promenade-deck officers paced on the navigating deck, and above that was
the airy bridge, and above that the funnels, smoking, and somewhere
still higher a flag or two fluttering in the icy breeze. And behind the
crowd on the landing-stage stretched a row of four-wheeled cabs and
rickety horses. The landing-stage swayed ever so slightly on the tide.
Only the ship was apparently solid, apparently cemented in foundations
of concrete.
On the starboard side of the promenade-deck, among a hundred other small
groups, was a group consisting of Mr and Mrs Cotterill and Ruth and
Denry. Nellie stood a few feet apart, Mrs Cotterill was crying. People
naturally thought she was crying because of the adieux; but she was not.
She wept because Denry and Ruth, by sheer force of will, had compelled
them to come out of the steerage and occupy beautiful and commodious
berths in the second cabin, where the manner of the stewards was quite
different. She wept because they had been caught in the steerage. She
wept because she was ashamed, and because people were too kind. She was
at once delighted and desolated. She wanted to outpour psalms of
gratitude, and also she wanted to curse.
Mr Cotterill said stiffly that he should repay—and that soon.
An immense bell sounded impatiently.
"We'd better be shunting," said Denry. "That's the second."
In exciting crises he sometimes employed such peculiar language as this.
And he was very excited. He had done a great deal of rushing about. The
upraising of the Cotterill family from the social Hades of the steerage
to the respectability of the second cabin had demanded all his energy,
and a lot of Ruth's.
Ruth kissed Mrs Cotterill and then Nellie. And Mrs Cotterill and Nellie
acquired rank and importance for the whole voyage by reason of being
kissed in public by a woman so elegant and aristocratic as Ruth
And Denry shook hands. He looked brightly at the parents, but he could
not look at Nellie; nor could she look at him; their handshaking was
perfunctory. For months their playful intimacy had been in abeyance.
"Good luck."
"Thanks. Good-bye."
The horrible bell continued to insist.
"All non-passengers ashore! All ashore!"
The numerous gangways were thronged with people obeying the call, and
handkerchiefs began to wave. And there was a regular vibrating tremor
through the ship.
Mr and Mrs Cotterill turned away.
Ruth and Denry approached the nearest gangway, and Denry stood aside,
and made a place for her to pass. And, as always, a number of women
pushed into the gangways immediately after her, and Denry had to wait,
being a perfect gentleman.
His eye caught Nellie's. She had not moved.
He felt then as he had never felt in his life. No, absolutely never. Her
sad, her tragic glance rendered him so uncomfortable, and yet so
deliciously uncomfortable, that the symptoms startled him. He wondered
what would happen to his legs. He was not sure that he had legs.
However, he demonstrated the existence of his legs by running up to
Nellie. Ruth was by this time swallowed in the crowd on the
landing-stage. He looked at Nellie. Nellie looked at him. Her lips
"What am I doing here?" he asked of his soul.
She was not at all well dressed. She was indeed shabby—in a steerage
style. Her hat was awry; her gloves miserable. No girlish pride in her
distraught face. No determination to overcome Fate. No consciousness of
ability to meet a bad situation. Just those sad eyes and those twitching
"Look here," Denry whispered, "you must come ashore for a second. I've
something I want to give you, and I've left it in the cab."
"But there's no time. The bell's..."
"Bosh!" he exclaimed gruffly, extinguishing her timid, childish voice.
"You won't go for at least a quarter of an hour. All that's only a dodge
to get people off in plenty of time. Come on, I tell you."
And in a sort of hysteria he seized her thin, long hand and dragged her
along the deck to another gangway, down whose steep slope they stumbled
together. The crowd of sightseers and handkerchief-wavers jostled them.
They could see nothing but heads and shoulders, and the great side of
the ship rising above. Denry turned her back on the ship.
"This way." He still held her hand.
He struggled to the cab-rank.
"Which one is it?" she asked.
"Any one. Never mind which. Jump in." And to the first driver whose eye
met his, he said: "Lime Street Station."
The gangways were being drawn away. A hoarse boom filled the air, and
then a cheer.
"But I shall miss the boat," the dazed girl protested.
"Jump in."
He pushed her in.
"But I shall miss the..."
"I know you will," he replied, as if angrily. "Do you suppose I was
going to let you go by that steamer? Not much."
"But mother and father..."
"I'll telegraph. They'll get it on landing."
"And where's Ruth?"
"_Be hanged to Ruth!_" he shouted furiously.
As the cab rattled over the cobbles the _Titubic_ slipped away from
the landing-stage. The irretrievable had happened.
Nellie burst into tears.
"Look here," Denry said savagely. "If you don't dry up, I shall have to
cry myself."
"What are you going to do with me?" she whimpered.
"Well, what do _you_ think? I'm going to marry you, of course."
His aggrieved tone might have been supposed to imply that people had
tried to thwart him, but that he had no intention of being thwarted, nor
of asking permissions, nor of conducting himself as anything but a
fierce tyrant.
As for Nellie, she seemed to surrender.
Then he kissed her—also angrily. He kissed her several times—yes, even
in Lord Street itself—less and less angrily.
"Where are you taking me to?" she inquired humbly, as a captive.
"I shall take you to my mother's," he said.
"Will she like it?"
"She'll either like it or lump it," said Denry. "It'll take a
"The notice, and things."
In the train, in the midst of a great submissive silence, she murmured:
"It'll be simply awful for father and mother."
"That can't be helped," said he. "And they'll be far too sea-sick to
bother their heads about you."
"You can't think how you've staggered me," said she.
"You can't think how I've staggered myself," said he.
"When did you decide to..."
"When I was standing at the gangway, and you looked at me," he answered.
"It's no use butting," he said. "I'm like that.... That's me, that is."
It was the bare truth that he had staggered himself. But he had
staggered himself into a miraculous, ecstatic happiness. She had no
money, no clothes, no style, no experience, no particular gifts. But she
was she. And when he looked at her, calmed, he knew that he had done
well for himself. He knew that if he had not yielded to that terrific
impulse he would have done badly for himself. Mrs Machin had what she
called a ticklish night of it.
The next day he received a note from Ruth, dated Southport, inquiring
how he came to lose her on the landing-stage, and expressing concern. It
took him three days to reply, and even then the reply was a bad one. He
had behaved infamously to Ruth; so much could not be denied. Within
three hours of practically proposing to her, he had run off with a
simple girl, who was not fit to hold a candle to her. And he did not
care. That was the worst of it; he did not care.
Of course the facts reached her. The facts reached everybody; for the
singular reappearance of Nellie in the streets of Bursley immediately
after her departure for Canada had to be explained. Moreover, the
infamous Denry was rather proud of the facts. And the town inevitably
said: "Machin all over, that! Snatching the girl off the blooming
lugger. Machin all over." And Denry agreed privately that it was Machin
all over.
"What other chap," he demanded of the air, "would have thought of it? Or
had the pluck?..."
It was mere malice on the part of destiny that caused Denry to run
across Mrs Capron-Smith at Euston some weeks later. Happily they both
had immense nerve.
"Dear me," said she. "What are _you_ doing here?"
"Only honeymooning," he said.
Although Denry was extremely happy as a bridegroom, and capable of the
most foolish symptoms of affection in private, he said to himself, and
he said to Nellie (and she sturdily agreed with him): "We aren't going
to be the ordinary silly honeymooners." By which, of course, he meant
that they would behave so as to be taken for staid married persons. They
failed thoroughly in this enterprise as far as London, where they spent
a couple of nights, but on leaving Charing Cross they made a new and a
better start, in the light of experience.
Their destination, it need hardly be said, was Switzerland. After Mrs
Capron-Smith's remarks on the necessity of going to Switzerland in
winter if one wished to respect one's self, there was really no
alternative to Switzerland. Thus it was announced in the _Signal_
(which had reported the wedding in ten lines, owing to the excessive
quietude of the wedding) that Mr and Mrs Councillor Machin were spending
a month at Mont Pridoux, sur Montreux, on the Lake of Geneva. And the
announcement looked very well.
At Dieppe they got a through carriage. There were several through
carriages for Switzerland on the train. In walking through the corridors
from one to another Denry and Nellie had their first glimpse of the
world which travels and which runs off for a holiday whenever it feels
in the mood. The idea of going for a holiday in any month but August
seemed odd to both of them. Denry was very bold and would insist on
talking in a naturally loud voice. Nellie was timid and clinging. "What
do you say?" Denry would roar at her when she half-whispered something,
and she had to repeat it so that all could hear. It was part of their
plan to address each other curtly, brusquely, and to frown, and to
pretend to be slightly bored by each other.
They were outclassed by the world which travels. Try as they might, even
Denry was morally intimidated. He had managed his clothes fairly
correctly; he was not ashamed of them; and Nellie's were by no means the
worst in the compartments; indeed, according to the standard of some of
the most intimidating women, Nellie's costume erred in not being quite
sufficiently negligent, sufficiently "anyhow." And they had plenty, and
ten times plenty of money, and the consciousness of it. Expense was not
being spared on that honeymoon. And yet.... Well, all that can be said
is that the company was imposing. The company, which was entirely
English, seemed to be unaware that any one ever did anything else but
travel luxuriously to places mentioned in second-year geographies. It
astounded Nellie that there should be so many people in the world with
nothing to do but spend. And they were constantly saying the strangest
things with an air of perfect calm.
"How much did you pay for the excess luggage?" an untidy young woman
asked of an old man.
"Oh! Thirteen pounds," answered the old man, carelessly.
And not long before Nellie had scarcely escaped ten days in the steerage
of an Atlantic liner.
After dinner in the restaurant car—no champagne, because it was vulgar,
but a good sound, expensive wine—they felt more equal to the situation,
more like part-owners of the train. Nellie prudently went to bed ere the
triumphant feeling wore off. But Denry stayed up smoking in the
corridor. He stayed up very late, being too proud and happy and too avid
of new sensations to be able to think of sleep. It was a match which led
to a conversation between himself and a thin, drawling, overbearing
fellow with an eyeglass. Denry had hated this lordly creature all the
way from Dieppe. In presenting him with a match he felt that he was
somehow getting the better of him, for the match was precious in the
nocturnal solitude of the vibrating corridor. The mere fact that two
people are alone together and awake, divided from a sleeping or sleepy
population only by a row of closed, mysterious doors, will do much to
break down social barriers. The excellence of Denry's cigar also helped.
It atoned for the breadth of his accent.
He said to himself:
"I'll have a bit of a chat with this johnny."
And then he said aloud:
"Not a bad train this!"
"No!" the eyeglass agreed languidly. "Pity they give you such a beastly
And Denry agreed hastily that it was.
Soon they were chatting of places, and somehow it came out of Denry that
he was going to Montreux. The eyeglass professed its indifference to
Montreux in winter, but said the resorts above Montreux were all right,
such as Caux or Pridoux.
And Denry said:
"Well, of course, shouldn't think of stopping _in_ Montreux. Going
to try Pridoux."
The eyeglass said it wasn't going so far as Switzerland yet; it meant to
stop in the Jura.
"Geneva's a pretty deadly place, ain't it?" said the eyeglass after a
"Ye-es," said Denry.
"Been there since that new esplanade was finished?"
"No," said Denry. "I saw nothing of it."
"When were you there?"
"Oh! A couple of years ago."
"Ah! It wasn't started then. Comic thing! Of course they're awfully
proud in Geneva of the view of Mont Blanc."
"Yes," said Denry.
"Ever noticed how queer women are about that view? They're no end keen
on it at first, but after a day or two it gets on their nerves."
"Yes," said Denry. "I've noticed that myself. My wife...."
He stopped, because he didn't know what he was going to say. The
eyeglass nodded understandingly.
"All alike," it said. "Odd thing!"
When Denry introduced himself into the two-berth compartment which he
had managed to secure at the end of the carriage for himself and Nellie,
the poor tired child was as wakeful as an owl.
"Who have you been talking to?" she yawned.
"The eyeglass johnny."
"Oh! Really," Nellie murmured, interested and impressed. "With him, have
you? I could hear voices. What sort of a man is he?"
"He seems to be an ass," said Denry. "Fearfully haw-haw. Couldn't stand
him for long. I've made him believe we've been married for two years."
They stood on the balcony of the Hôtel Beau-Site of Mont Pridoux. A
little below, to the right, was the other hotel, the Métropole, with the
red-and-white Swiss flag waving over its central tower. A little below
that was the terminal station of the funicular railway from Montreux.
The railway ran down the sheer of the mountain into the roofs of
Montreux, like a wire. On it, two toy trains crawled towards each other,
like flies climbing and descending a wall. Beyond the fringe of hotels
that constituted Montreux was a strip of water, and beyond the water a
range of hills white at the top.
"So these are the Alps!" Nellie exclaimed.
She was disappointed; he also. But when Denry learnt from the guide-book
and by inquiry that the strip of lake was seven miles across, and the
highest notched peaks ten thousand feet above the sea and twenty-five
miles off, Nellie gasped and was content.
They liked the Hôtel Beau-Site. It had been recommended to Denry, by a
man who knew what was what, as the best hotel in Switzerland. "Don't you
be misled by prices," the man had said. And Denry was not. He paid
sixteen francs a day for the two of them at the Beau-Site, and was
rather relieved than otherwise by the absence of finger-bowls.
Everything was very good, except sometimes the hot water. The hot-water
cans bore the legend "hot water," but these two words were occasionally
the only evidence of heat in the water. On the other hand, the bedrooms
could be made sultry by merely turning a handle; and the windows were
double. Nellie was wondrously inventive. They breakfasted in bed, and
she would save butter and honey from the breakfast to furnish forth
afternoon tea, which was not included in the terms. She served the
butter freshly with ice by the simple expedient of leaving it outside
the window of a night. And Denry was struck by this house-wifery.
The other guests appeared to be of a comfortable, companionable class,
with, as Denry said, "no frills." They were amazed to learn that a
chattering little woman of thirty-five, who gossiped with everybody, and
soon invited Denry and Nellie to have tea in her room, was an authentic
Russian Countess, inscribed in the visitors' lists as "Comtesse Ruhl
(with maid), Moscow." Her room was the untidiest that Nellie had ever
seen, and the tea a picnic. Still, it was thrilling to have had tea with
a Russian Countess.... (Plots! Nihilism! Secret police! Marble
palaces!).... Those visitors' lists were breath-taking. Pages and pages
of them; scores of hotels, thousands of names, nearly all English—and
all people who came to Switzerland in winter, having naught else to do.
Denry and Nellie bathed in correctness as in a bath.
The only persons in the hotel with whom they did not "get on" nor "hit
it off" were a military party, chiefly named Clutterbuck, and presided
over by a Major Clutterbuck and his wife. They sat at a large table in a
corner—father, mother, several children, a sister-in-law, a sister, a
governess—eight heads in all; and while utterly polite they seemed to
draw a ring round themselves. They grumbled at the hotel; they played
bridge (then a newish game); and once, when Denry and the Countess
played with them (Denry being an adept card-player) for shilling points,
Denry overheard the sister-in-law say that she was sure Captain Deverax
wouldn't play for shilling points. This was the first rumour of the
existence of Captain Deverax; but afterwards Captain Deverax began to be
mentioned several times a day. Captain Deverax was coming to join them,
and it seemed that he was a very particular man. Soon all the rest of
the hotel had got its back up against this arriving Captain Deverax.
Then a Clutterbuck cousin came, a smiling, hard, fluffy woman, and
pronounced definitely that the Hôtel Beau-Site would never do for
Captain Deverax. This cousin aroused Denry's hostility in a strange way.
She imparted to the Countess (who united all sects) her opinion that
Denry and Nellie were on their honeymoon. At night in a corner of the
drawing-room the Countess delicately but bluntly asked Nellie if she had
been married long. "No," said Nellie. "A month?" asked the Countess,
smiling. "N-no," said Nellie.
The next day all the hotel knew. The vast edifice of make-believe that
Denry and Nellie had laboriously erected crumbled at a word, and they
stood forth, those two, blushing for the criminals they were.
The hotel was delighted. There is more rejoicing in a hotel over one
honeymoon couple than over fifty families with children.
But the hotel had a shock the same day. The Clutterbuck cousin had
proclaimed that owing to the inadequacy of the bedroom furniture she had
been obliged to employ a sofa as a wardrobe. Then there were more
references to Captain Deverax. And then at dinner it became known—
Heaven knows how!—that the entire Clutterbuck party had given notice
and was seceding to the Hotel Métropole. Also they had tried to carry
the Countess with them, but had failed.
Now, among the guests of the Hôtel Beau-Site there had always been a
professed scorn of the rival Hotel Métropole, which was a franc a day
dearer, and famous for its new and rich furniture. The Métropole had an
orchestra twice a week, and the English Church services were held in its
drawing-room; and it was larger than the Beau-Site. In spite of these
facts the clients of the Beau-Site affected to despise it, saying that
the food was inferior and that the guests were snobbish. It was an
article of faith in the Beau-Site that the Beau-Site was the best hotel
on the mountain-side, if not in Switzerland.
The insolence of this defection on the part of the Clutterbucks! How on
earth _could_ people have the face to go to a landlord and say to
him that they meant to desert him in favour of his rival?
Another detail: the secession of nine or ten people from one hotel to
the other meant that the Métropole would decidedly be more populous than
the Beau-Site, and on the point of numbers the emulation was very keen.
"Well," said the Beau-Site, "let 'em go! With their Captain Deverax! We
shall be better without 'em!" And that deadliest of all feuds sprang up
—a rivalry between the guests of rival hotels. The Métropole had issued
a general invitation to a dance, and after the monstrous conduct of the
Clutterbucks the question arose whether the Beau-Site should not boycott
the dance. However, it was settled that the truly effective course would
be to go with critical noses in the air, and emit unfavourable
comparisons with the Beau-Site. The Beau-Site suddenly became perfect in
the esteem of its patrons. Not another word was heard on the subject of
hot water being coated with ice. And the Clutterbucks, with incredible
assurance, slid their luggage off in a sleigh to the Métropole, in the
full light of day, amid the contempt of the faithful.
Under the stars the dancing section of the Beau-Site went off in
jingling sleighs over the snow to the ball at the Métropole. The
distance was not great, but it was great enough to show the inadequacy
of furs against twenty degrees of mountain frost, and it was also great
enough to allow the party to come to a general final understanding that
its demeanour must be cold and critical in the gilded halls of the
Métropole. The rumour ran that Captain Deverax had arrived, and every
one agreed that he must be an insufferable booby, except the Countess
Ruhl, who never used her fluent exotic English to say ill of anybody.
The gilded halls of the Métropole certainly were imposing. The hotel was
incontestably larger than the Beau-Site, newer, more richly furnished.
Its occupants, too, had a lordly way with them, trying to others, but
inimitable. Hence the visitors from the Beau-Site, as they moved to and
fro beneath those crystal chandeliers from Tottenham Court Road, had
their work cut out to maintain the mien of haughty indifference. Nellie,
for instance, frankly could not do it. And Denry did not do it very
well. Denry, nevertheless, did score one point over Mrs Clutterbuck's
fussy cousin.
"Captain Deverax has come," said this latter. "He was very late. He'll
be downstairs in a few minutes. We shall get him to lead the cotillon."
"Captain Deverax?" Denry questioned.
"Yes. You've heard us mention him," said the cousin, affronted.
"Possibly," said Denry. "I don't remember."
On hearing this brief colloquy the cohorts of the Beau-Site felt that in
Denry they possessed the making of a champion.
There was a disturbing surprise, however, waiting for Denry.
The lift descended; and with a peculiar double action of his arms on the
doors, like a pantomime fairy emerging from an enchanted castle, a tall
thin man stepped elegantly out of the lift and approached the company
with a certain mincingness. But before he could reach the company
several young women had rushed towards him, as though with the intention
of committing suicide by hanging themselves from his neck. He was in an
evening suit so perfect in detail that it might have sustained
comparison with the costume of the head waiter. And he wore an eyeglass
in his left eye. It was the eyeglass that made Denry jump. For two
seconds he dismissed the notion.... But another two seconds of
examination showed beyond doubt that this eyeglass was the eyeglass of
the train. And Denry had apprehensions....
"Captain Deverax!" exclaimed several voices.
The manner in which the youthful and the mature fair clustered around
this Captain, aged forty (and not handsome) was really extraordinary, to
the males of the Hôtel Beau-Site. Even the little Russian Countess
attached herself to him at once. And by reason of her title, her social
energy, and her personal distinction, she took natural precedence of the
"Recognise him?" Denry whispered to his wife.
Nellie nodded. "He seems rather nice," she said diffidently.
"Nice!" Denry repeated the adjective. "The man's an ass!"
And the majority of the Beau-Site party agreed with Denry's verdict
either by word or gesture.
Captain Deverax stared fixedly at Denry; then smiled vaguely and
drawled, "Hullo! How d' do?"
And they shook hands.
"So you know him?" some one murmured to Denry.
"Know him?... Since infancy."
The inquirer scented facetiousness, but he was somehow impressed. The
remarkable thing was that though he regarded Captain Deverax as a
popinjay, he could not help feeling a certain slight satisfaction in the
fact that they were in some sort acquaintances.... Mystery of the human
heart!... He wished sincerely that he had not, in his conversation with
the Captain in the train, talked about previous visits to Switzerland.
It was dangerous.
The dance achieved that brightness and joviality which entitle a dance
to call itself a success. The cotillon reached brilliance, owing to the
captaincy of Captain Deverax. Several score opprobrious epithets were
applied to the Captain in the course of the night, but it was agreed
_nemine contradicente_ that, whatever he would have done in front
of a Light Brigade at Balaclava, as a leader of cotillons he was
terrific. Many men, however, seemed to argue that if a man who
_was_ a man led a cotillon, he ought not to lead it too well, on
pain of being considered a cox-comb.
At the close, during the hot soup, the worst happened. Denry had known
that it would.
Captain Deverax was talking to Nellie, who was respectfully listening,
about the scenery, when the Countess came up, plate in hand.
"No, no," the Countess protested. "As for me, I hate your mountains. I
was born in the steppe where it is all level—level! Your mountains
close me in. I am only here by order of my doctor. Your mountains get on
my nerves." She shrugged her shoulders.
Captain Deverax smiled.
"It is the same with you, isn't it?" he said turning to Nellie.
"Oh, no," said Nellie, simply.
"But your husband told me the other day that when you and he were in
Geneva a couple of years ago, the view of Mont Blanc used to—er—upset
"View of Mont Blanc?" Nellie stammered.
Everybody was aware that she and Denry had never been in Switzerland
before, and that their marriage was indeed less than a month old.
"You misunderstood me," said Denry, gruffly. "My wife hasn't been to
"Oh!" drawled Captain Deverax.
His "Oh!" contained so much of insinuation, disdain, and lofty amusement
that Denry blushed, and when Nellie saw her husband's cheek she blushed
in competition and defeated him easily. It was felt that either Denry
had been romancing to the Captain, or that he had been married before,
unknown to his Nellie, and had been "carrying on" at Geneva. The
situation, though it dissolved of itself in a brief space, was awkward.
It discredited the Hôtel Beau-Site. It was in the nature of a repulse
for the Hôtel Beau-Site (franc a day cheaper than the Métropole) and of
a triumph for the popinjay. The fault was utterly Denry's. Yet he said
to himself:
"I'll be even with that chap."
On the drive home he was silent. The theme of conversation in the
sleighs which did not contain the Countess was that the Captain had
flirted tremendously with the Countess, and that it amounted to an
Captain Deverax was equally salient in the department of sports. There
was a fair sheet of ice, obtained by cutting into the side of the
mountain, and a very good tobogganing track, about half a mile in length
and full of fine curves, common to the two hotels. Denry's predilection
was for the track. He would lie on his stomach on the little contrivance
which the Swiss call a luge, and which consists of naught but three bits
of wood and two steel-clad runners, and would course down the perilous
curves at twenty miles an hour. Until the Captain came, this was
regarded as dashing, because most people were content to sit on the luge
and travel legs-foremost instead of head-foremost. But the Captain,
after a few eights on the ice, intimated that for the rest no sport was
true sport save the sport of ski-running. He allowed it to be understood
that luges were for infants. He had brought his skis, and these
instruments of locomotion, some six feet in length, made a sensation
among the inexperienced. For when he had strapped them to his feet the
Captain, while stating candidly that his skill was as nothing to that of
the Swedish professionals at St Moritz, could assuredly slide over snow
in manner prodigious and beautiful. And he was exquisitely clothed for
the part. His knickerbockers, in the elegance of their lines, were the
delight of beholders. Ski-ing became the rage. Even Nellie insisted on
hiring a pair. And the pronunciation of the word "ski" aroused long
discussions and was never definitely settled by anybody. The Captain
said "skee," but he did not object to "shee," which was said to be the
more strictly correct by a lady who knew some one who had been to
Norway. People with no shame and no feeling for correctness said
brazenly, "sky." Denry, whom nothing could induce to desert his luge,
said that obviously "s-k-i" could only spell "planks." And thanks to his
inspiration this version was adopted by the majority.
On the second day of Nellie's struggle with her skis she had more
success than she either anticipated or desired. She had been making
experiments at the summit of the track, slithering about, falling, and
being restored to uprightness by as many persons as happened to be near.
Skis seemed to her to be the most ungovernable and least practical means
of travel that the madness of man had ever concocted. Skates were
well-behaved old horses compared to these long, untamed fiends, and a
luge was like a tricycle. Then suddenly a friendly starting push drove
her a yard or two, and she glided past the level on to the first
imperceptible slope of the track. By some hazard her two planks were
exactly parallel, as they ought to be, and she glided forward
miraculously. And people heard her say:
"How lovely!"
And then people heard her say:
"Oh!... Oh!"
For her pace was increasing. And she dared not strike her pole into the
ground. She had, in fact, no control whatever over those two planks to
which her feet were strapped. She might have been Mazeppa and they
mustangs. She could not even fall. So she fled down the preliminary
straight of the track, and ecstatic spectators cried: "Look how
_well_ Mrs Machin is doing!"
Mrs Machin would have given all her furs to be anywhere off those
planks. On the adjacent fields of glittering snow the Captain had been
giving his adored Countess a lesson in the use of skis; and they stood
together, the Countess somewhat insecure, by the side of the track at
its first curve.
Nellie, dumb with excitement and amazement, swept towards them.
"Look out!" cried the Captain.
In vain! He himself might perhaps have escaped, but he could not abandon
his Countess in the moment of peril, and the Countess could only move
after much thought and many efforts, being scarce more advanced than
Nellie. Nellie's wilful planks quite ignored the curve, and, as it were
afloat on them, she charged off the track, and into the Captain and the
Countess. The impact was tremendous. Six skis waved like semaphores in
the air. Then all was still. Then, as the beholders hastened to the
scene of the disaster, the Countess laughed and Nellie laughed. The
laugh of the Captain was not heard. The sole casualty was a wound about
a foot long in the hinterland of the Captain's unique knicker-bockers.
And as threads of that beautiful check pattern were afterwards found
attached to the wheel of Nellie's pole, the cause of the wound was
indisputable. The Captain departed home, chiefly backwards, but with
great rapidity.
In the afternoon Denry went down to Montreux and returned with an opal
bracelet, which Nellie wore at dinner.
"Oh! What a ripping bracelet!" said a girl.
"Yes," said Nellie. "My husband gave it me only to-day."
"I suppose it's your birthday or something," the inquisitive girl
"No," said Nellie.
"How nice of him!" said the girl.
The next day Captain Deverax appeared in riding breeches. They were not
correct for ski-running, but they were the best he could do. He visited
a tailor's in Montreux.
The Countess Ruhl had a large sleigh of her own, also a horse; both were
hired from Montreux. In this vehicle, sometimes alone, sometimes with a
male servant, she would drive at Russian speed over the undulating
mountain roads; and for such expeditions she always wore a large red
cloak with a hood. Often she was thus seen, in the afternoon; the
scarlet made a bright moving patch on the vast expanses of snow. Once,
at some distance from the village, two tale-tellers observed a man on
skis careering in the neighbourhood of the sleigh. It was Captain
Deverax. The flirtation, therefore, was growing warmer and warmer. The
hotels hummed with the tidings of it. But the Countess never said
anything; nor could anything be extracted from her by even the most
experienced gossips. She was an agreeable but a mysterious woman, as
befitted a Russian Countess. Again and again were she and the Captain
seen together afar off in the landscape. Certainly it was a novelty in
flirtations. People wondered what might happen between the two at the
fancy-dress ball which the Hôtel Beau-Site was to give in return for the
hospitality of the Hôtel Métropole. The ball was offered not in love,
but in emulation, almost in hate; for the jealousy displayed by the
Beau-Site against the increasing insolence of the Métropole had become
acute. The airs of the Captain and his lieges, the Clutterbuck party,
had reached the limit of the Beau-Site's endurance. The Métropole seemed
to take it for granted that the Captain would lead the cotillon at the
Beau-Site's ball as he had led it at the Métropole's.
And then, on the very afternoon of the ball, the Countess received a
telegram—it was said from St Petersburg—which necessitated her instant
departure. And she went, in an hour, down to Montreux by the funicular
railway, and was lost to the Beau-Site. This was a blow to the prestige
of the Beau-Site. For the Countess was its chief star, and, moreover,
much loved by her fellow-guests, despite her curious weakness for the
popinjay, and the mystery of her outings with him.
In the stables Denry saw the Countess's hired sleigh and horse, and in
the sleigh her glowing red cloak. And he had one of his ideas, which he
executed, although snow was beginning to fall. In ten minutes he and
Nellie were driving forth, and Nellie in the red cloak held the reins.
Denry, in a coachman's furs, sat behind. They whirled past the Hôtel
Métropole. And shortly afterwards, on the wild road towards Attalens,
Denry saw a pair of skis scudding as quickly as skis can scud in their
rear. It was astonishing how the sleigh, with all the merry jingle of
its bells, kept that pair of skis at a distance of about a hundred
yards. It seemed to invite the skis to overtake it, and then to regret
the invitation and flee further. Up the hills it would crawl, for the
skis climbed slowly. Down them it galloped, for the skis slid on the
slopes at a dizzy pace. Occasionally a shout came from the skis. And the
snow fell thicker and thicker. So for four or five miles. Starlight
commenced. Then the road made a huge descending curve round a hollowed
meadow, and the horse galloped its best. But the skis, making a straight
line down the snow, acquired the speed of an express, and gained on the
sleigh one yard in every three. At the bottom, where the curve met the
straight line, was a farmhouse and outbuildings and a hedge and a stone
wall and other matters. The sleigh arrived at the point first, but only
by a trifle. "Mind your toes," Denry muttered to himself, meaning an
injunction to the skis, whose toes were three feet long. The skis,
through the eddying snow, yelled frantically to the sleigh to give room.
The skis shot up into the road, and in swerving aside swerved into a
snow-laden hedge, and clean over it into the farmyard, where they stuck
themselves up in the air, as skis will when the person to whose feet
they are attached is lying prone. The door of the farm opened and a
woman appeared.
She saw the skis at her doorstep. She heard the sleigh-bells, but the
sleigh had already vanished into the dusk.
"Well, that was a bit of a lark, that was, Countess!" said Denry to
Nellie. "That will be something to talk about. We'd better drive home
through Corsier, and quick too! It'll be quite dark soon."
"Supposing he's dead!" Nellie breathed, aghast, reining in the horse.
"Not he!" said Denry. "I saw him beginning to sit up."
"But how will he get home?"
"It looks a very nice farmhouse," said Denry. "I should think he'd be
sorry to leave it."
When Denry entered the dining-room of the Beau-Site, which had been
cleared for the ball, his costume drew attention not so much by its
splendour or ingenuity as by its peculiarity. He wore a short
Chinese-shaped jacket, which his wife had made out of blue linen, and a
flat Chinese hat to match, which they had constructed together on a
basis of cardboard. But his thighs were enclosed in a pair of absurdly
ample riding-breeches of an impressive check and cut to a comic
exaggeration of the English pattern. He had bought the cloth for these
at the tailor's in Montreux. Below them were very tight leggings, also
English. In reply to a question as to what or whom he supposed himself
to represent, he replied:
"A Captain of Chinese cavalry, of course."
And he put an eyeglass into his left eye and stared.
Now it had been understood that Nellie was to appear as Lady Jane Grey.
But she appeared as Little Red Riding-Hood, wearing over her frock the
forgotten cloak of the Countess Ruhl.
Instantly he saw her, Denry hurried towards her, with a movement of the
legs and a flourish of the eyeglass in his left hand which powerfully
suggested a figure familiar to every member of the company. There was
laughter. People saw that the idea was immensely funny and clever, and
the laughter ran about like fire. At the same time some persons were not
quite sure whether Denry had not lapsed a little from the finest taste
in this caricature. And all of them were secretly afraid that the
uncomfortable might happen when Captain Deverax arrived.
However, Captain Deverax did not arrive. The party from the Métropole
came with the news that he had not been seen at the hotel for dinner; it
was assumed that he had been to Montreux and missed the funicular back.
"Our two stars simultaneously eclipsed!" said Denry, as the Clutterbucks
(representing all the history of England) stared at him curiously.
"Why?" exclaimed the Clutterbuck cousin, "who's the other?"
"The Countess," said Denry. "She went this afternoon—three o'clock."
And all the Métropole party fell into grief.
"It's a world of coincidences," said Denry, with emphasis.
"You don't mean to insinuate," said Mrs Clutterbuck, with a nervous
laugh, "that Captain Deverax has—er—gone after the Countess?"
"Oh no!" said Denry, with unction. "Such a thought never entered my
"I think you're a very strange man, Mr Machin," retorted Mrs
Clutterbuck, hostile and not a bit reassured. "May one ask what that
costume is supposed to be?"
"A Captain of Chinese cavalry," said Denry, lifting his eyeglass.
Nevertheless, the dance was a remarkable success, and little by little
even the sternest adherents of the absent Captain Deverax deigned to be
amused by Denry's Chinese gestures. Also, Denry led the cotillon, and
was thereafter greatly applauded by the Beau-Site. The visitors agreed
among themselves that, considering that his name was not Deverax, Denry
acquitted himself honourably. Later he went to the bureau, and,
returning, whispered to his wife:
"It's all right. He's come back safe."
"How do you know?"
"I've just telephoned to ask."
Denry's subsequent humour was wildly gay. And for some reason which
nobody could comprehend, he put a sling round his left arm. His efforts
to insert the eyeglass into his left eye with his right hand were
insistently ludicrous and became a sure source of laughter for all
beholders. When the Métropole party were getting into their sleighs to
go home—it had ceased snowing—Denry was still trying to insert his
eyeglass into his left eye with his right hand, to the universal joy.
But the joy of the night was feeble in comparison with the violent joy
of the next morning. Denry was wandering, apparently aimless, between
the finish of the tobogganing track and the portals of the Métropole.
The snowfall had repaired the defects of the worn track, but it needed
to be flattened down by use, and a number of conscientious "lugeurs"
were flattening it by frequent descents, which grew faster at each
repetition. Other holiday-makers were idling about in the sunshine. A
page-boy of the Métropole departed in the direction of the Beau-Site
with a note.
At length—the hour was nearing eleven—Captain Deverax, languid, put
his head out of the Métropole and sniffed the air. Finding the air
sufferable, he came forth on to the steps. His left arm was in a sling.
He was wearing the new knickerbockers which he had ordered at Montreux,
and which were of precisely the same vast check as had ornamented
Denry's legs on the previous night.
"Hullo!" said Denry, sympathetically. "What's this?"
The Captain needed sympathy.
"Ski-ing yesterday afternoon," said he, with a little laugh. "Hasn't the
Countess told any of you?"
"No," said Denry, "not a word."
The Captain seemed to pause a moment.
"Yes," said he. "A trifling accident. I was ski-ing with the Countess.
That is, I was ski-ing and she was in her sleigh."
"Then this is why you didn't turn up at the dance?"
"Yes," said the Captain.
"Well," said Denry, "I hope it's not serious. I can tell you one thing,
the cotillon was a most fearful frost without you." The Captain seemed
They strolled together toward the track.
The first group of people that caught sight of the Captain with his
checked legs and his arm in a sling began to smile. Observing this
smile, and fancying himself deceived, the Captain attempted to put his
eyeglass into his left eye with his right hand, and regularly failed.
His efforts towards this feat changed the smiles to enormous laughter.
"I daresay it's awfully funny," said he. "But what can a fellow do with
one arm in a sling?"
The laughter was merely intensified. And the group, growing as luge
after luge arrived at the end of the track, seemed to give itself up to
mirth, to the exclusion of even a proper curiosity about the nature of
the Captain's damage. Each fresh attempt to put the eyeglass to his eye
was coal on the crackling fire. The Clutterbucks alone seemed glum.
"What on earth is the joke?" Denry asked primly. "Captain Deverax came
to grief late yesterday afternoon, ski-ing with the Countess Ruhl.
That's why he didn't turn up last night. By the way, where was it,
"On the mountain, near Attalens," Deverax answered gloomily. "Happily
there was a farmhouse near—it was almost dark."
"With the Countess?" demanded a young impulsive schoolgirl.
"You did say the Countess, didn't you?" Denry asked.
"Why, certainly," said the Captain, testily.
"Well," said the schoolgirl with the nonchalant thoughtless cruelty of
youth, "considering that we all saw the Countess off in the funicular at
three o'clock, I don't see how you could have been ski-ing with her when
it was nearly dark." And the child turned up the hill with her luge,
leaving her elders to unknot the situation.
"Oh, yes!" said Denry. "I forgot to tell you that the Countess left
yesterday after lunch."
At the same moment the page-boy, reappearing, touched his cap and placed
a note in the Captain's only free hand.
"Couldn't deliver it, sir. The Comtesse left early yesterday afternoon."
Convicted of imaginary adventure with noble ladies, the Captain made his
retreat, muttering, back to the hotel. At lunch Denry related the exact
circumstances to a delighted table, and the exact circumstances soon
reached the Clutterbuck faction at the Métropole. On the following day
the Clutterbuck faction and Captain Deverax (now fully enlightened) left
Mont Pridoux for some paradise unknown. If murderous thoughts could
kill, Denry would have lain dead. But he survived to go with about half
the Beau-Site guests to the funicular station to wish the Clutterbucks a
pleasant journey. The Captain might have challenged him to a duel but a
haughty and icy ceremoniousness was deemed the best treatment for Denry.
"Never show a wound" must have been the Captain's motto.
The Beau-Site had scored effectively. And, now that its rival had lost
eleven clients by one single train, it beat the Métropole even in vulgar
Denry had an embryo of a conscience somewhere, and Nellie's was fully
"Well," said Denry, in reply to Nellie's conscience, "it serves him
right for making me look a fool over that Geneva business. And besides,
I can't stand uppishness, and I won't. I'm from the Five Towns, I am."
Upon which singular utterance the incident closed.
Denry was not as regular in his goings and comings as the generality of
business men in the Five Towns; no doubt because he was not by nature a
business man at all, but an adventurous spirit who happened to be in a
business which was much too good to leave. He was continually, as they
say there, "up to something" that caused changes in daily habits.
Moreover, the Universal Thrift Club (Limited) was so automatic and
self-winding that Denry ran no risks in leaving it often to the care of
his highly drilled staff. Still, he did usually come home to his tea
about six o'clock of an evening, like the rest, and like the rest, he
brought with him a copy of the _Signal_ to glance at during tea.
One afternoon in July he arrived thus upon his waiting wife at Machin
House, Bleakridge. And she could see that an idea was fermenting in his
head. Nellie understood him. One of the most delightful and reassuring
things about his married life was Nellie's instinctive comprehension of
him. His mother understood him profoundly. But she understood him in a
manner sardonic, slightly malicious and even hostile, whereas Nellie
understood him with her absurd love. According to his mother's attitude,
Denry was guilty till he had proved himself innocent. According to
Nellie's, he was always right and always clever in what he did, until he
himself said that he had been wrong and stupid—and not always then.
Nevertheless, his mother was just as ridiculously proud of him as Nellie
was; but she would have perished on the scaffold rather than admit that
Denry differed in any detail from the common run of sons. Mrs Machin had
departed from Machin House without waiting to be asked. It was
characteristic of her that she had returned to Brougham Street and
rented there an out-of-date cottage without a single one of the
labour-saving contrivances that distinguished the residence which her
son had originally built for her.
It was still delicious for Denry to sit down to tea in the dining-room,
that miracle of conveniences, opposite the smile of his wife, which told
him (_a_) that he was wonderful, (_b_) that she was enchanted to be
alive, and (_c_) that he had deserved her particular caressing
attentions and would receive them. On the afternoon in July the smile
told him (_d_) that he was possessed by one of his ideas.
"Extraordinary how she tumbles to things!" he reflected.
Nellie's new fox-terrier had come in from the garden through the French
window, and eaten part of a muffin, and Denry had eaten a muffin and a
half, before Nellie, straightening herself proudly and putting her
shoulders back (a gesture of hers) thought fit to murmur:
"Well, anything thrilling happened to-day?"
Denry opened the green sheet and read:
"'Sudden death of Alderman Bloor in London.' What price that?"
"Oh!" exclaimed Nellie. "How shocked father will be! They were always
rather friendly. By the way, I had a letter from mother this morning. It
appears as if Toronto was a sort of paradise. But you can see the old
thing prefers Bursley. Father's had a boil on his neck, just at the edge
of his collar. He says it's because he's too well. What did Mr Bloor die
"He was in the fashion," said Denry.
"Appendicitis, of course. Operation—domino! All over in three days."
"Poor man!" Nellie murmured, trying to feel sad for a change and not
succeeding. "And he was to have been mayor in November, wasn't he? How
disappointing for him."
"I expect he's got something else to think about," said Denry.
After a pause Nellie asked suddenly:
"Who'll be mayor—now?"
"Well," said Denry, "his Worship Councillor Barlow, J.P., will be
extremely cross if _he_ isn't."
"How horrid!" said Nellie, frankly. "And he's got nobody at all to be
"Mrs Prettyman would be mayoress," said Denry. "When there's no wife or
daughter, it's always a sister if there is one."
"But can you _imagine_ Mrs Prettyman as mayoress? Why, they say she
scrubs her own doorstep—after dark. They ought to make you mayor."
"Do you fancy yourself as mayoress?" he inquired.
"I should be better than Mrs Prettyman, anyhow."
"I believe you'd make an A1 mayoress," said Denry.
"I should be frightfully nervous," she confidentially admitted.
"I doubt it," said he.
The fact was, that since her return to Bursley from the honeymoon,
Nellie was an altered woman. She had acquired, as it were in a day, to
an astonishing extent, what in the Five Towns is called "a nerve."
"I should like to try it," said she.
"One day you'll have to try it, whether you want to or not."
"When will that be?"
"Don't know. Might be next year but one. Old Barlow's pretty certain to
be chosen for next November. It's looked on as his turn next. I know
there's been a good bit of talk about me for the year after Barlow. Of
course, Bloor's death will advance everything by a year. But even if I
come next after Barlow it'll be too late."
"Too late? Too late for what?"
"I'll tell you," said Denry. "I wanted to be the youngest mayor that
Bursley's ever had. It was only a kind of notion I had a long time ago.
I'd given it up, because I knew there was no chance unless I came before
Bloor, which of course I couldn't do. Now he's dead. If I could upset
old Barlow's apple-cart I should just be the youngest mayor by the skin
of my teeth. Huskinson, the mayor in 1884, was aged thirty-four and six
months. I've looked it all up this afternoon."
"How lovely if you _could_ be the youngest mayor!"
"Yes. I'll tell you how I feel. I feel as though I didn't want to be
mayor at all if I can't be the youngest mayor... you know."
She knew.
"Oh!" she cried, "do upset Mr Barlow's apple-cart. He's a horrid old
thing. Should I be the youngest mayoress?"
"Not by chalks," said he. "Huskinson's sister was only sixteen."
"But that's only playing at being mayoress!" Nellie protested. "Anyhow,
I do think you might be youngest mayor. Who settles it?"
"The Council, of course."
"Nobody likes Councillor Barlow."
"He'll be still less liked when he's wound up the Bursley Football
"Well, urge him on to wind it up, then. But I don't see what football
has got to do with being mayor."
She endeavoured to look like a serious politician.
"You are nothing but a cuckoo," Denry pleasantly informed her. "Football
has got to do with everything. And it's been a disastrous mistake in my
career that I've never taken any interest in football. Old Barlow wants
no urging on to wind up the Football Club. He's absolutely set on it.
He's lost too much over it. If I could stop him from winding it up, I
"I dunno."
She perceived that his idea was yet vague.
Not very many days afterwards the walls of Bursley called attention, by
small blue and red posters (blue and red being the historic colours of
the Bursley Football Club), to a public meeting, which was to be held in
the Town Hall, under the presidency of the Mayor, to consider what steps
could be taken to secure the future of the Bursley Football Club.
There were two "great" football clubs in the Five Towns—Knype, one of
the oldest clubs in England, and Bursley. Both were in the League,
though Knype was in the first division while Bursley was only in the
second. Both were, in fact, limited companies, engaged as much in the
pursuit of dividends as in the practice of the one ancient and glorious
sport which appeals to the reason and the heart of England. (Neither
ever paid a dividend.) Both employed professionals, who, by a strange
chance, were nearly all born in Scotland; and both also employed
trainers who, before an important match, took the teams off to a
hydropathic establishment far, far distant from any public-house. (This
was called "training.") Now, whereas the Knype Club was struggling along
fairly well, the Bursley Club had come to the end of its resources. The
great football public had practically deserted it. The explanation, of
course, was that Bursley had been losing too many matches. The great
football public had no use for anything but victories. It would treat
its players like gods—so long as they won. But when they happened to
lose, the great football public simply sulked. It did not kick a man
that was down; it merely ignored him, well knowing that the man could
not get up without help. It cared nothing whatever for fidelity,
municipal patriotism, fair play, the chances of war, or dividends on
capital. If it could see victories it would pay sixpence, but it would
not pay sixpence to assist at defeats.
Still, when at a special general meeting of the Bursley Football Club,
Limited, held at the registered office, the Coffee House, Bursley,
Councillor Barlow, J.P., Chairman of the Company since the creation of
the League, announced that the Directors had reluctantly come to the
conclusion that they could not conscientiously embark on the dangerous
risks of the approaching season, and that it was the intention of the
Directors to wind up the club, in default of adequate public interest—
when Bursley read this in the _Signal_, the town was certainly
shocked. Was the famous club, then, to disappear for ever, and the
football ground to be sold in plots, and the grand stand for firewood?
The shock was so severe that the death of Alderman Bloor (none the less
a mighty figure in Bursley) had passed as a minor event.
Hence the advertisement of the meeting in the Town Hall caused joy and
hope, and people said to themselves: "Something's bound to be done; the
old club can't go out like that." And everybody grew quite sentimental.
And although nothing is supposed to be capable of filling Bursley Town
Hall except a political meeting and an old folk's treat, Bursley Town
Hall was as near full as made no matter for the football question. Many
men had cheerfully sacrificed a game of billiards and a glass of beer in
order to attend it.
The Mayor, in the chair, was a mild old gentleman who knew nothing
whatever about football and had probably never seen a football match;
but it was essential that the meeting should have august patronage and
so the Mayor had been trapped and tamed. On the mere fact that he paid
an annual subscription to the golf club, certain parties built up the
legend that he was a true sportsman, with the true interests of sport in
his soul.
He uttered a few phrases, such as "the manly game," "old associations,"
"bound up with the history of England," "splendid fellows,"
"indomitable pluck," "dogged by misfortune" (indeed, he produced quite
an impression on the rude and grim audience), and then he called upon
Councillor Barlow to make a statement.
Councillor Barlow, on the Mayor's right, was a different kind of man
from the Mayor. He was fifty and iron-grey, with whiskers, but no
moustache; short, stoutish, raspish.
He said nothing about manliness, pluck, history, or Auld Lang Syne.
He said he had given his services as Chairman to the football club for
thirteen years; that he had taken up £2000 worth of shares in the
Company; and that as at that moment the Company's liabilities would
exactly absorb its assets, his £2000 was worth exactly nothing. "You may
say," he said, "I've lost that £2000 in thirteen years. That is, it's
the same as if I'd been steadily paying three pun' a week out of my own
pocket to provide football matches that you chaps wouldn't take the
trouble to go and see. That's the straight of it! What have I got for my
pains? Nothing but worries and these!" (He pointed to his grey hairs.)
"And I'm not alone; there's others; and now I have to come and defend
myself at a public meeting. I'm supposed not to have the best interests
of football at heart. Me and my co-Directors," he proceeded, with even a
rougher raspishness, "have warned the town again and again what would
happen if the matches weren't better patronised. And now it's happened,
and now it's too late, you want to _do_ something! You can't! It's
too late. There's only one thing the matter with first-class football in
Bursley," he concluded, "and it isn't the players. It's the public—it's
yourselves. You're the most craven lot of tom-fools that ever a big
football club had to do with. When we lose a match, what do you do? Do
you come and encourage us next time? No, you stop away, and leave us
fifty or sixty pound out of pocket on a match, just to teach us better!
Do you expect us to win every match? Why, Preston North End itself"—
here he spoke solemnly, of heroes—"Preston North End itself in its
great days didn't win every match—it lost to Accrington. But did the
Preston public desert it? No! _You_—you haven't got the pluck of a
louse, nor the faithfulness of a cat. You've starved your football club
to death, and now you call a meeting to weep and grumble. And you have
the insolence to write letters to the _Signal_ about bad
management, forsooth! If anybody in the hall thinks he can manage this
club better than me and my co-Directors have done, I may say that we
hold a majority of the shares, and we'll part with the whole show to any
clever person or persons who care to take it off our hands at a bargain
price. That's talking."
He sat down.
Silence fell. Even in the Five Towns a public meeting is seldom bullied
as Councillor Barlow had bullied that meeting. It was aghast. Councillor
Barlow had never been popular: he had merely been respected; but
thenceforward he became even less popular than before.
"I'm sure we shall all find Councillor Barlow's heat quite excusable—"
the Mayor diplomatically began.
"No heat at all," the Councillor interrupted. "Simply cold truth!"
A number of speakers followed, and nearly all of them were against the
Directors. Some, with prodigious memories for every combination of
players in every match that had ever been played, sought to prove by
detailed instances that Councillor Barlow and his co-Directors had
persistently and regularly muddled their work during thirteen
industrious years. And they defended the insulted public by asserting
that no public that respected itself would pay sixpence to watch the
wretched football provided by Councillor Barlow. They shouted that the
team wanted reconstituting, wanted new blood.
"Yes," shouted Councillor Barlow in reply; "And how are you going to get
new blood, with transfer fees as high as they are now? You can't get
even an average good player for less than £200. Where's the money to
come from? Anybody want to lend a thousand or so on second debentures?"
He laughed sneeringly.
No one showed a desire to invest in second debentures of the Bursley
F.C. Ltd.
Still, speakers kept harping on the necessity of new blood in the team,
and then others, bolder, harped on the necessity of new blood on the
"Shares on sale!" cried the Councillor. "Any buyers? Or," he added, "do
you want something for nothing—as usual?"
At length a gentleman rose at the back of the hall.
"I don't pretend to be an expert on football," said he, "though I think
it's a great game, but I should like to say a few words as to this
question of new blood."
The audience craned its neck.
"Will Mr Councillor Machin kindly step up to the platform?" the Mayor
And up Denry stepped.
The thought in every mind was: "What's he going to do? What's he got up
his sleeve—this time?"
"Three cheers for Machin!" people chanted gaily.
"Order!" said the Mayor.
Denry faced the audience. He was now accustomed to audiences. He said:
"If I'm not mistaken, one of the greatest modern footballers is a native
of this town."
And scores of voices yelled: "Ay! Callear! Callear! Greatest centre
forward in England!"
"Yes," said Denry. "Callear is the man I mean. Callear left the
district, unfortunately for the district, at the age of nineteen for
Liverpool. And it was not till after he left that his astounding
abilities were perceived. It isn't too much to say that he made the
fortune of Liverpool City. And I believe it is the fact that he scored
more goals in three seasons than any other player has ever done in the
League. Then, York County, which was in a tight place last year, bought
him from Liverpool for a high price, and, as all the world knows,
Callear had his leg broken in the first match he played for his new
club. That just happened to be the ruin of the York Club, which is now
quite suddenly in bankruptcy (which happily we are not), and which is
disposing of its players. Gentlemen, I say that Callear ought to come
back to his native town. He is fitter than ever he was, and his proper
place is in his native town."
Loud cheers.
"As captain and centre forward of the club of the Mother of the Five
Towns, he would be an immense acquisition and attraction, and he would
lead us to victory."
Renewed cheers.
"And how," demanded Councillor Barlow, jumping up angrily, "are we to
get him back to his precious native town? Councillor Machin admits that
he is not an expert on football. It will probably be news to him that
Aston Villa have offered £700 to York for the transfer of Callear, and
Blackburn Rovers have offered £750, and they're fighting it out between
'em. Any gentleman willing to put down £800 to buy Callear for Bursley?"
he sneered. "I don't mind telling you that steam-engines and the King
himself couldn't get Callear into our club."
"Quite finished?" Denry inquired, still standing.
Laughter, overtopped by Councillor Barlow's snort as he sat down.
Denry lifted his voice.
"Mr Callear, will you be good enough to step forward and let us all have
a look at you?"
The effect of these apparently simple words surpassed any effect
previously obtained by the most complex flights of oratory in that hall.
A young, blushing, clumsy, long-limbed, small-bodied giant stumbled
along the central aisle and climbed the steps to the platform, where
Denry pointed him to a seat. He was recognised by all the true votaries
of the game. And everybody said to everybody: "By Gosh! It's him, right
enough. It's Callear!" And a vast astonishment and expectation of good
fortune filled the hall. Applause burst forth, and though no one knew
what the appearance of Callear signified, the applause continued and
"Good old Callear!" The hoarse shouts succeeded each other. "Good old
"Anyhow," said Denry, when the storm was stilled, "we've got him here,
without either steam-engines or His Majesty. Will the Directors of the
club accept him?"
"And what about the transfer?" Councillor Barlow demanded.
"Would you accept him and try another season if you could get him free?"
Denry retorted.
Councillor Barlow always knew his mind, and was never afraid to let
other people share that knowledge.
"Yes," he said.
"Then I will see that you have the transfer free."
"But what about York?"
"I have settled with York provisionally," said Denry. "That is my
affair. I have returned from York to-day. Leave all that to me. This
town has had many benefactors far more important than myself. But I
shall be able to claim this originality: I'm the first to make a present
of a live man to the town. Gentlemen—Mr Mayor—I venture to call for
three cheers for the greatest centre forward in England, our
The scene, as the _Signal_ said, was unique.
And at the Sports Club and the other clubs afterwards, men said to each
other: "No one but him would have thought of bringing Callear over
specially and showing him on the platform.... That's cost him above
twopence, that has!"
Two days later a letter appeared in the _Signal_ (signed "Fiat
Justitia"), suggesting that Denry, as some reward for his public spirit,
ought to be the next mayor of Bursley, in place of Alderman Bloor
deceased. The letter urged that he would make an admirable mayor, the
sort of mayor the old town wanted in order to wake it up. And also it
pointed out that Denry would be the youngest mayor that Bursley had ever
had, and probably the youngest mayor in England that year. The sentiment
in the last idea appealed to the town. The town decided that it would
positively _like_ to have the youngest mayor it had ever had, and
probably the youngest mayor in England that year. The _Signal_
printed dozens of letters on the subject. When the Council met, more
informally than formally, to choose a chief magistrate in place of the
dead alderman, several councillors urged that what Bursley wanted was a
young and _popular_ mayor. And, in fine, Councillor Barlow was
shelved for a year. On the choice being published the entire town said:
"Now we _shall_ have a mayoralty—and don't you forget it!"
And Denry said to Nellie: "You'll be mayoress to the youngest mayor,
etc., my child. And it's cost me, including hotel and travelling
expenses, eight hundred and eleven pounds six and seven-pence."
The rightness of the Council in selecting Denry as mayor was confirmed
in a singular manner by the behaviour of the football and of Callear at
the opening match of the season.
It was a philanthropic match, between Bursley and Axe, for the benefit
of a county orphanage, and, according to the custom of such matches, the
ball was formally kicked off by a celebrity, a pillar of society. The
ceremony of kicking off has no sporting significance; the celebrity
merely with gentleness propels the ball out of the white circle and then
flies for his life from the _mêlée_; but it is supposed to add to
the moral splendour of the game. In the present instance the posters
said: "Kick-off at 3.45 by Councillor E.H. Machin, Mayor-designate."
And, indeed, no other celebrity could have been decently selected. On
the fine afternoon of the match Denry therefore discovered himself with
a new football at his toes, a silk hat on his head, and twenty-two
Herculean players menacing him in attitudes expressive of an intention
to murder him. Bursley had lost the toss, and hence Denry had to kick
towards the Bursley goal. As the _Signal_ said, he "despatched the
sphere" straight into the keeping of Callear, who as centre forward was
facing him, and Callear was dodging down the field with it before the
Axe players had finished admiring Denry's effrontery. Every reader will
remember with a thrill the historic match in which the immortal Jimmy
Brown, on the last occasion when he captained Blackburn Rovers, dribbled
the ball himself down the length of the field, scored a goal, and went
home with the English Cup under his arm. Callear evidently intended to
imitate the feat. He was entirely wrong. Dribbling tactics had been
killed for ever, years before, by Preston North End, who invented the
"passing" game. Yet Callear went on, and good luck seemed to float over
him like a cherub. Finally he shot; a wild, high shot; but there was an
adverse wind which dragged the ball down, swept it round, and blew it
into the net. The first goal had been scored in twenty seconds! (It was
also the last in the match.) Callear's reputation was established.
Useless for solemn experts to point out that he had simply been larking
for the gallery, and that the result was a shocking fluke—Callear's
reputation was established. He became at once the idol of the populace.
As Denry walked gingerly off the field to the grand stand he, too, was
loudly cheered, and he could not help feeling that, somehow, it was he
who had scored that goal. And although nobody uttered the precise
thought, most people did secretly think, as they gazed at the triumphant
Denry, that a man who triumphed like that, because he triumphed like
that, was the right sort of man to be mayor, the kind of man they
Denry became identified with the highest class of local football. This
fact led to a curious crisis in the history of municipal manners. On
Corporation Sunday the mayor walks to church, preceded by the mace, and
followed by the aldermen and councillors, the borough officials, the
Volunteers and the Fire Brigade; after all these, in the procession,
come individuals known as prominent citizens. Now the first and second
elevens of the Bursley Football Club, headed by Callear, expressed their
desire to occupy a place in Denry's mayoral procession; they felt that
some public acknowledgment was due to the Mayor for his services to the
national sport. Denry instantly agreed, with thanks: the notion seemed
to him entirely admirable. Then some unfortunately-inspired parson wrote
to the _Signal_ to protest against professional footballers
following the chief magistrate of the borough to church. His arguments
were that such a thing was unheard-of, and that football was the cause
of a great deal of evil gambling. Some people were inclined to agree
with the protest, until Denry wrote to the _Signal_ and put a few
questions: Was Bursley proud of its football team? Or was Bursley
ashamed of its football team? Was the practice of football incompatible
with good citizenship? Was there anything dishonourable in playing
football? Ought professional footballers to be considered as social
pariahs? Was there any class of beings to whom the churches ought to be
The parson foundered in a storm of opprobrium, scorn, and ironic
laughter. Though the town laughed, it only laughed to hide its disgust
of the parson.
People began to wonder whether the teams would attend in costume,
carrying the football between them on a charger as a symbol. No such
multitudes ever greeted a mayoral procession in Bursley before. The
footballers, however, appeared in ordinary costume (many of them in
frock-coats); but they wore neckties of the club colours, a device which
was agreed to be in the nicest taste. St Luke's Church was crowded; and,
what is stranger, the churchyard was also crowded. The church barely
held the procession itself and the ladies who, by influence, had been
accommodated with seats in advance. Thousands of persons filled the
churchyard, and to prevent them from crushing into the packed fane and
bursting it at its weakest point, the apse, the doors had to be locked
and guarded. Four women swooned during the service: neither Mrs Machin,
senior, nor Nellie, was among the four. It was the first time that any
one had been known to swoon at a religious service held in November.
This fact alone gave a tremendous prestige to Denry's mayoralty. When,
with Nellie on his arm, he emerged from the church to the thunders of
the organ, the greeting which he received in the churchyard, though the
solemnity of the occasion forbade clapping, lacked naught in brilliance
and efficacy.
The real point and delight of that Corporation Sunday was not fully
appreciated till later. It had been expected that the collection after
the sermon would be much larger than usual, because the congregation was
much larger than usual. But the church-wardens were startled to find it
four times as large as usual. They were further startled to find only
three threepenny-bits among all the coins. This singularity led to
comment and to note-comparing. Everybody had noticed for weeks past a
growing dearth of threepenny-bits. Indeed, threepenny-bits had
practically vanished from circulation in the Five Towns. On the Monday
it became known that the clerks of the various branches of the Universal
Thrift Club, Limited, had paid into the banks enormous and unparalleled
quantities of threepenny-bits, and for at least a week afterwards
everybody paid for everything in threepenny-bits. And the piquant news
passed from mouth to mouth that Denry, to the simple end of ensuring a
thumping collection for charities on Corporation Sunday, had used the
vast organisation of the Thrift Club to bring about a famine of
threepenny-bits. In the annals of the town that Sunday is referred to as
"Threepenny-bit Sunday," because it was so happily devoid of
A little group of councillors were discussing Denry.
"What a card!" said one, laughing joyously. "He's a rare 'un, no
"Of course, this'll make him more popular than ever," said another.
"We've never had a man to touch him for that."
"And yet," demanded Councillor Barlow, "what's he done? Has he ever done
a day's work in his life? What great cause is he identified with?"
"He's identified," said the speaker, "with the great cause of cheering
us all up."
End of Chapter XII and of The Card, by Arnold Bennett