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   Chapter 12 THE ORDER OF THE BATH

The Brother of Daphne By Dornford Yates Characters: 25249

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Berry blotted the letter with maddening precision. Then he picked it up tenderly and handed it to me.

"How will that do?"

"Read it aloud," said Daphne.

I did so.

"Dear Sir,-In the interests of personal cleanliness, we have-not without considerable hesitation-decided to install a fourth bathroom at our historic home, 'White Ladies'. This decision will necessitate the loss or conversion of one of the dressing-rooms, a fact which fills us with the gravest misgivings, since there are only eleven in the whole mansion. At the same time, thee conventions of a prudish age make it undesirable that a second bath should be installed in one of the rooms already existing for that purpose. We think the fourth room on your right, as you leave the back stairs, going south. This is locally known as the Green Room and takes its name, not, as you may imagine, from the fact that the late Sir Henry Irving once slept there, but from the hue of the rodents, said there frequently to have been observed by the fourth Earl. Please execute the work with your customary diligence. We should like to pay on the hire system, i.e., so much a month, extending over a period of two years. The great strides, recently made in the perilous art of aviation, suggest to us that the windows should be of ground glass. Yours faithfully, etc. P.S.-If your men drop the bath on the stairs, the second footman will at once apply for a warrant for their arrest."

Jill buried her face in the sofa-cushions and gave way to unrestrained merriment. Jonah laughed openly. I set my teeth and tried not to smile. For an instant the corners of Daphne's mouth twitched. Then:

"Wretched ass," she said.

"The truth is," said her husband, "you don't know literature when you see it. Now that letter-"

"I suppose I shall have to write to the man," said I.

"There you are," said Berry. "Insults at every turn. I was about to say that I regarded that letter as one of the brightest jewels in an already crowded diadem."

"Give me the writing-block," I said shortly, producing my fountain-pen. I turned to Daphne. "What sort of a bath d'you want?"

"Porcelain-enamel, they call it, don't they?" she replied vaguely, subjecting a box of chocolates to a searching cross-examination.

Berry rose to his feet and cleared his throat. Then he sang lustily:

"What of the bath?

The bath was made of porcelain,

Of true ware, of good ware,

The ware that won't come off."

A large cushion sailed into his face. As it fell to the ground, Berry seized it and held it at arm's length.

"Ha," he said rapturously. "A floral tribute. They recognize my talent."

"Not at all," said Jonah. "I only threw that, because the dead cats haven't come."

"Exactly," said I. "We all know you ought to be understudying at the Hoxton Empire, but that's no reason why we should be subjected-"

"Did you notice the remarkable compass of my voice?" said Berry, sinking into a chair.

"I did," said I. "I should box it, if I were you, brother. Bottle it, if you prefer."

"Poor fool," said my brother-in-law. "For the trumpet notes, to which it has just been your privilege to listen, there is a great future. In short, my voice is futurist. The moment they hear it, the few who have paid for their seats will realize what the box-office will say when they demand the return of their money."

"And those who have not paid?" said I.

"Oh, they will understand why they were given tickets."

"Suppose you write that letter," said Daphne wearily.

I bent over the writing-block.

"You know," said Berry, "I don't think this bath's at all necessary."

At this there was a great uproar. At length:

"Besides," said my sister, "we all decided that we must have another bath ages ago. The only question there's ever been was where to put it."

"Of course," said I. "If we don't, where are we going to dip the sheep?"

"Well, I think it's a shame to pull the old place about like this. If we're so awfully dirty, we'd better find another house that's got four bathrooms already, and sell White Ladies."

"Sell White Ladies?" cried Jill.

Berry nodded.

"Not only lock and stock, but barrel too. Yes," he added bitterly, "the old water-butt must go."

"Look here," said I. "It occurs to me that this isn't a case for a letter. We ought to go and choose a bath properly."

"That's rather an idea," said Daphne.

"Simply sparkling," said her husband. "Personally, I've got something better to do than to burst down to South London, and stagger round floor after floor, staring at baths."

"You needn't worry," said Daphne coolly. "I wouldn't go with you for a hundred pounds."

Berry turned to us others.

"Yet we love one another," he said, with a leer in his wife's direction. "In reality I am the light of her eyes. The acetylene gas, as it were, of her existence. Well, well." He rose and stretched himself. "I wash my hands of the whole matter. Note the appropriate simile. Install what cistern you please. If approached properly, I may consent to test the work when complete. Mind you spare no expense."

"We don't propose to," said Daphne.

Berry regarded her sorrowfully.

"I suppose," he said, "I suppose you know what word will be found at the post-mortem graven upon my heart?"

"What?" said Daphne, stifling a yawn.

"Plunge."

It was quite a good day to choose a bath. True, it was winter. But then the sun was shining out of a clear, blue sky, there was a rare freshness in the London air, and beneath me-for I was crossing Westminster Bridge-old Thames marched all a-glitter. I watched his passage gratefully. It was that of a never-ending band. Playing all the way, too, but silently. Yet, the music was there. The pity was that one could not hear it. The pomp, the swagger, the swing of the Guards, the shifting movement, the bright array-all these were unmistakable. The very lilt of the air made itself felt. Very cheery. Certainly, the river was en fete.

It had been arranged that the selection of an appropriate bath should be made by Daphne, Jonah, and me. When I came down to breakfast to find that Jonah had already left for Huntercombe, I was more hurt than surprised. But, when Daphne appeared during the marmalade, clad in a new riding-habit, I made haste to empty my mouth.

"You can't ride there," I said. "The traffic's too heavy. Besides, the tram-lines-"

"You don't want me, old chap," said my sister, stooping to lay her soft cheek against mine, as she passed to her place.

I drank some coffee with an injured air. Then:

"This," I said, "is low down. Not nice. I don't like it in you. It argues-"

"-the confidence we repose in your judgment," said Daphne.

"Yes, brother," said Berry, looking up from The Sportsman. "The bath-dressing-gown has fallen upon your rounded shoulders. Ill though it becomes you, I trust that-"

"Enough," said I. "Alone I will select a bath. Doubtless you will all deplore my choice as bitterly as you will fight with one another for the privilege of using it. However. When I am dead, you will regret-"

"No, we shan't," said my brother-in-law. "We shall just bury you under another name and try to keep the obituary notices out of the papers."

I sat back in my chair and frowned. "Be good enough to pass the rolls," said I.

"You've only had four," said Berry, pushing them across. "Mind you get a good lunch at Lambeth. I'm told they do you very well at 'The Three Balls.'

"When I'm choosing a bath," said I, "I always lunch at 'The Rising Spray.'" And now, here I was, afoot upon Westminster Bridge bound for the warehouse of the firm we proposed to honour with our patronage.

I passed on into the roar of the crowded streets, and a quarter of an hour later I reached the place I sought.

Almost immediately the office-boy took me for a commercial traveller and refused point-blank to announce my arrival. I told him that I had an appointment.

"Yes," he said pleasantly. "They all 'as."

"Friend," said I, "I see that you are bent on gaining the feathered fowl. In other words, if I'm kept waiting much longer you'll get the bird."

"I don't think," he replied somewhat uneasily.

"That," said I, "is what I complain of."

I seated myself on a table and lighted a cigarette. Then:

"I wonder how he'll like his new place," I said, apostrophizing the skylight.

A pause. Then:

"Of corse, the guv'nor might be in," said the youth. "Yer never knows."

"Speak for yourself," said I. "At the same time, you appear to be doing what you conceive to be your duty. And for those who do their duty, there is always a shilling in the left-hand trouser-pocket-"

But the boy was half-way upstairs. I had proved my identity.

Five minutes later one of the partners was conducting me in the direction of the baths.

Now he had twice begged me to be careful not to hit my head, for he led me through divers dark, low-pitched corridors. Especially divers. I remembered his warning about a fifth of a second too late.

When we at length emerged again into the broad light of day, I contemplated my new bowler in some annoyance. It was bashed in properly. A large dent-in shape somewhat resembling the Empire of India-leered at me, its edges generously defined with whitewash. Very trying.

My good host was greatly concerned, and begged to be allowed to take the damaged headgear away and have it brushed. After a little I consented, promising to walk round and look at the baths while he was gone. The next moment he had disappeared.

I laid my stick and gloves on a glass-topped table and looked about me. Never before had I seen so many baths gathered together. Large and small, deep and shallow, normal and abnormal, they stood orderly in long lines. The more elaborate ones, fitted with screens and showers, douches, etc., stood a little apart upon a baize-covered dais, bright with their glistening pipes and rows of taps. And in an alcove, all glorious, electric light burning above its gold-lacquered fittings, reposed the bath of baths, a veritable monarch, with his attendant basin, marble-topped table, gilded towel-rails, etc., etc.

Attracted by the aristocracy upon the dais, I was proceeding to stroll humbly in their direction, when I heard the sound of footsteps. The next moment a girl stepped lightly between great sliding iron doors, which led obviously from an adjoining chamber on the same floor.

Very smart she was, in a black cloth coat with ermine collar and cuffs. On her head was a trim black hat from which a fine brooch was blazing. Save that she was fair, and that her feet flashed as she walked, I could see little more.

For a moment the new-comer hesitated, looking about her. Then she came towards me.

"Oh," she said. "I want to choose a bath."

For an instant I looked at her. Then I remembered that I was hatless, stickless, gloveless.

I bowed.

"Certainly, madam. What sort of bath do you require?"

She was looking at me now-narrowly rather. Quickly she swung round and glanced about the great hall. Then she spoke, somewhat uneasily.

"Er-if you would show me some baths with showers and things, please-"

"With pleasure, madam. Will you come this way?"

I preceded her in the direction of the great ones.

"Now this," I said, laying my hand familiarly on the smooth edge of one of the grandes dames, "this is 'The Duchess.' Very popular, madam. She may not exactly figure in Society, but I can assure you that every morning half Society figures in her." I glanced at the girl to see an amused smile struggling with grave suspicion in her eyes. I went on hurriedly. "We've been selling a great number lately."

"Have you?" she said slowly.

"Yes, indeed, madam. Only this morning we received an order for fourteen from Madagascar." I turned to another patrician. "Here again is a first-class bath. 'The Nobleman.' A great feature is the glass screen. The enamel, too, is of the very best quality. Nickelplated fittings, stream line body, detachable whee-er-that is, the waste also is constructed on a most ingenious principle: we call it the 'Want-Not' pattern."

"Ah," she said quietly. "And what's the price of this-er-paragon?"

I glanced at the ticket, knitting my brows.

"Well, it's listed at 'AWK/-', but to you, madam, the price is-"

I looked at her, smiling.

"Yes?" she said, with her grey eyes on mine. Her eyebrows were raised a little, and the soft lips had taken on the curve that tells of laughter hardly controlled.

"Another look like that," said I, "and I'll give it you and pay the carr

iage."

She broke into a long ripple of delight. Then she took her seat upon 'The Nobleman's' broad edge and regarded me mischievously.

"I think you ought to apologize," she said severely.

"Who took me for a salesman?" said I.

"I never did that. You see, I've been looking at basins over there"-she pointed in the direction of the iron doors-"and they said if I came through here, I should find one of the partners. Besides, I wasn't a bit sure when I first spoke, but, as you had no hat-And then you led me on. Still, I beg your pardon."

"Not at all. The partner's a very nice chap. And the mischief is reparable. I mean-"

"Where is the partner?"

"At the present moment I believe he's engaged in trying to efface the Indian Empire. Bit of a Socialist, you know," I added. "May I smoke?"

"What d'you mean?"

"Doesn't she know the word? Smoke, my dear. Draw into and expel from the mouth the fumes of burning tobac-"

"Idiot! About the Little Englander."

I explained.

"And now," I said, with a wave of my cigarette, "behold me once more at your service. The gentle art of bathing, madam, is of considerable antiquity. In classical times the bath played a very prominent part in the everyday existence of the cleanly nut. Then came a dead period in the history of personal irrigation. Recently, however, the bath-rate has once more gone up, immersion is again in vogue, and to-day in the best circles scarcely a month passes without-

"And these"-she swept the nobility with a glance-"are the upper ten!"

"Precisely. You can tell that from their polish."

"Rather exclusive, aren't they?"

"Collectively, yes, madam. Individually, they will receive you with open arms. Only last night an order arrived from-"

"I know. Madagascar. You're no good as a sales-man."

I drew myself up.

"From Honolulu, for twenty-two 'God-sends.'" I said icily. "Madagascar's request was for 'Duchesses.'"

"That, over there, is a 'Wallsend,'-I mean 'God-send.'"

"And I suppose you've supplied Cochin China for years."

"One of our oldest clients," said I.

"You know," said she, "when I look round, I feel as if I had never seen a bath before."

"I know. I felt just like that at first. And yet I have," I added thoughtfully; "they had one at a hotel I stayed at last Easter. At Biarritz, that was."

"I wish you'd be serious," she said, laughing. "Then you might be of some use."

"I don't think you're at all kind," said I, leaning against the screen of 'The Duchess' with a dejected air.

"Excuse me," she said, "but is that the Slinker Slouch I've heard of? Your attitude, I mean?"

"No," I said shortly. "It's the Leicester Lounge. But, to return to your unkindness. I want a bath just as much as you do."

She recoiled. "You know what I mean. I'm a customer, like you. We're both in the same ba-boat. And I have been doing my best to indicate the merits of-er-of-"

"The idle rich," she said, smiling. "Yes, but you see you shouldn't have. When you saw me coming you ought to have-"

"Dodged behind a pillar, picked up my stick and gloves, and kept about ten bath-lengths away, until the partner reappeared? No doubt. But, then, you shouldn't have looked so priceless, or worn your sense of humour on your sleeve. You shouldn't have had a small, straight nose or a mouth like a red flower. You shouldn't have walked like a thoroughbred, or carried your clothes as if they were worth wearing. You shouldn't have had eyes I could see to read by, if the light failed."

"Finished?"

"No. But listen. I think I hear the partner coming-the genuine article, this time." There was no sound.

"Anyway," I went on, "he'll be back in a moment; and so, as I'm afraid I didn't consider you just now, I'll try and make up for it. Good-bye."

"But what about your bath? Have you seen one you like?"

"Yes," said I. "I have. One. Not a bath, though. But I can easily come another day."

I turned resolutely away.

"I say," said the girl quietly.

I swung round and looked at her. She still sat upon the edge of 'The Nobleman,' her little gloved hands gripping the rim on either side of her. Her face was raised a little, but she was looking down. One slight leg thrust out from under the blue frock, its dainty instep gleaming under the silk stocking. The ankle above it, very slender; the bucked shoe literally beaming with pride.

"Yes?" I said.

"I haven't seen a bath I like, either," she said simply.

At this moment the partner came bustling back, full of apologies. Stifling a desire to strangle him, I congratulated the good man upon the condition of my hat, and turned to the girl.

"Then, as we both want to see some baths, perhaps we might look at some together?" I said.

"I think so."

"If you please, madam," said the partner. He turned to 'The Duchess.' "Now, this is a first-class bath. One of our very latest models. Only this morning we received an order from Ceylon ..."

Fortunately, we were both a little behind him.

No one can say that we did not weigh the merits of the various baths carefully. We passed from one to another, asking questions, receiving information, examining, criticizing, discussing for over an hour. Four times, to our great joy, the excellent partner actually climbed into a bath, the more satisfactorily to emphasize its advantages. As he sat there, faithfully reproducing the various movements of the arms, universally, I suppose, employed in the process of ablution, the living picture which he presented, put an obviously severe strain upon the gravity of my companion. And when, in response to a daringly ingenuous thirst for intelligence on my part, he proceeded to demonstrate the comparative ease with which a left-handed bather, suffering from sciatica, could manipulate the taps from the wrong end of the bath, the girl hurriedly sought the shelter of a convenient pillar to hide her open merriment. We had a great time.

Finally, we each gave an order for a 'Pompadour, which seemed, on the whole, to merit the palm. It was certainly the last word in the bath line.

While she was giving her name and the address of the home, which her new bath was to adorn, I strolled a little apart, thinking. When she had finished, the partner turned to me.

"I think I have the address, sir. The same as before?"

"That's right," said I. "I'm going down there on Tuesday. Could you send a man down that day to see the room and take the measurements? I'd like to be there myself."

"Certainly, sir.

"Very well. He'd better come by the nine-thirty, which'll get him down in two hours. I'll send to meet him. I'm going down by car myself."

"Thank you, sir." He turned to the girl inquiringly. "Perhaps Tuesday would suit you, too, madam? I don't think you mentioned any particular day, and as it's the same station for both houses, madam-"

He broke off. She and I were staring at one another. Then:

"How awfully strange," we said in unison.

The partner being there, there was no more to be said.

"Tuesday will do very well," she said, turning to him.

Together he conducted us to the street. Then, might he send for a taxi? There was a rank... The idea of sending for two taxis never seemed to enter his head. A good fellow, that partner. But, no thank you, my lady would walk. Would pick up a cab presently.

"May I have the pleasure of seeing you to a taxi?" said I, naturally enough.

"Thank you very much."

We bade the partner good-bye and turned in the direction of Westminster.

"You're sure it's not taking you out of your way?" said my companion with an innocent look.

"Out of my way," said I. "D'you think I live at Tooting?"

She broke into a little laugh. I went on:

"And if I did. If I lived at Hither Green and was just going to miss the last tram, don't you think I'd er-miss it?"

"You're very kind," she said quietly.

"Not at all," said I, with a glance downward. "The small bright shoe is on the other exquisite-er-foot. It's very good of you to let me walk with you, especially in view of my recent scandalous behaviour all among the baths."

"Which reminds me, you were awful. I thought I should die, when you asked that poor man-"

"A wholesome thirst for knowledge, my dear. Talking of which, d'you know it's getting on for half-past one?"

"Is it really?"

"It is, indeed. Time tears away sometimes, doesn't he?"

"Sometimes."

"You are sweet," said I. "However. About Time. He's a mocker of men, you know: very contrary. When he can serve, not he. When he cannot, he is willing enough. Beg him to hasten, he'll cock his hat and stroll with an air of leisure that makes us dance. Cry him to tarry, he is already gone, the wind panting behind him. Bid him return, he is at once all sympathy-grave sympathy: 'He may not. Otherwise he would have been so pleased... Sorry. Rather like my brother-in-law. You'll meet him at White Ladies."

"Is that where the bath's going?"

"Certainly. We shall be there in the spring. Will you come to our bath-warming?"

"Perhaps."

We came to the bridge and the sunshine and the marching river, and beyond these to Bridge Street and the green square. At the corner she hesitated.

"I think I'd better say good-bye now."

"I'm going to see a fellow," said I. "I wish you'd come with me."

A quick look of surprise. Then:

"Do I know him?"

"I think so. He's one of the Times. Lunch Time he's called; brother of Half Time. Both sons of the old man."

She smiled.

"Ah," she said. "I've an appointment with him, too. Only mine's at home. I must be going. I'm keeping him waiting now."

She held out her hand. I looked at it.

"You've made a mistake," I said. "I know for a fact he's going to be at the Carlton."

"No good! I know the family. The father taught them all the trick of being able to be in more than one place at the same time."

"All of them?"

"Yes."

"My dear, you're wrong. You've forgotten Mean. He's got a place at Greenwich, you know, and never leaves it. Well, I won't bother her, for she's been awfully sweet. Shall I call her a taxi?"

She nodded. "I don't think we ought to stand here any longer: the atmospheric pressure of the Labour party is already affecting my breathing. Besides, any moment I might be mistaken for a Cabinet Minister. I know a salesman's pretty bad, but I must draw the line somewhere."

With that I hailed a taxi. As it was coming to the kerb:

"You're a dear C.B.," I said. "But I would have loved to have given you lunch."

She smiled gently.

"Would you?"

"You know I would, lass. Well, I shall look forward to you and the spring."

The cab drew up, and I opened the door. She stepped in.

"Where shall I tell him to go?"

For a moment she hesitated. Then she spoke slowly:

"Was it the Carlton you said?"

An hour later I stood once more at a taxi's door. Our luncheon was over, and I was saying farewell.

"You've been awfully kind," said the girl.

"Good-bye," said I. "I shall look forward to you at White Ladies."

"And to the spring."

I bowed.

"My dear, the terms are synonymous."

The smile deepened.

"If this wasn't the Haymarket," said I...

She was gone, her eyes full of laughter.

I turned to see Berry three paces away.

"Helping the porter?" he said pleasantly. "I wondered where you got that two shillings from last week. But oughtn't you to be in uniform? I should have thought Nathans-"

"I've chosen a bath," I said, seeking to divert his thoughts. After all he might not have seen. "Fine big place. Stacks of baths, you know. By the way, the office-boy took me for a commercial traveller, I added.

"Naturally. And the girl? Who did she take you for?"

I drew myself up.

"She's a C.B. too," I said loftily. "What more natural than that we should-"

"C.B.?" said Berry scornfully. "Now, if you had said K.G.-"

I cut him short.

"You needn't tell the others," I said.

A fat grin stole into his face. He sighed.

"The call of duty, brother, however distasteful-"

"Look here," said I. "You know those new cigars at the club?"

"Yes," he said eagerly. "The half-a-crown ones."

"They're not new," I said uneasily.

"Never mind," he said airily, taking my arm. "I feel sure a half-a-crown cigar would affect my memory. And a dry Martini would probably finish it."

I groaned.

"This is sheer blackmail," said I.

"Take it or leave it," said Berry, with the air of one who has the whip-hand.

"All right," I said wearily.

"I should think so, my son. And cheap at the price, too."

On the whole I think it was.

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