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   Chapter 7 No.7

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 15772

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Within five minutes he was following Mr. Bryany into a small parlour on the first floor of the Turk's Head-a room with which he had no previous acquaintance, though, like most industrious men of affairs in metropolitan Hanbridge, he reckoned to know something about the Turk's Head. Mr. Bryany turned up the gas-the Turk's Head took pride in being a "hostelry," and, while it had accustomed itself to incandescent mantles (on the ground floor), it had not yet conquered a natural distaste for electricity-and Edward Henry saw a smart dispatch-box, a dress-suit, a trouser-stretcher and other necessaries of theatrical business life at large in the apartment.

"I've never seen this room before," said Edward Henry.

"Take your overcoat off and sit down, will you?" said Mr. Bryany, [45] as he turned to replenish the fire from a bucket. "It's my private sitting-room. Whenever I am on my travels I always take a private sitting-room. It pays, you know.... Of course I mean if I'm alone. When I'm looking after Mr. Sachs, of course we share a sitting-room."

Edward Henry agreed lightly:

"I suppose so."

But the fact was that he was much impressed. He himself had never taken a private sitting-room in any hotel. He had sometimes felt the desire, but he had not had the "face"-as they say down there-to do it. To take a private sitting-room in a hotel was generally regarded in the Five Towns as the very summit of dashing expensiveness and futile luxury.

"I didn't know they had any private sitting-rooms in this shanty," said Edward Henry.

Mr. Bryany, having finished with the fire, fronted him, shovel in hand, with a remarkable air of consummate wisdom, and replied:

"You can generally get what you want, if you insist on having it, even in this 'shanty.'"

Edward Henry regretted his use of the word "shanty." Inhabitants of the Five Towns may allow themselves to twit the historic and excellent Turk's Head, but they do not extend the privilege to strangers. And in justice to the Turk's Head it is to be clearly stated that it did no more to cow and discourage travellers than any other provincial hotel in England. It was a sound and serious English provincial hotel, and it linked century to century.

Said Mr. Bryany:

"'Merica's the place for hotels."

"Yes, I expect it is."

"Been to Chicago?"

"No, I haven't."

[46] Mr. Bryany, as he removed his overcoat, could be seen politely forbearing to raise his eyebrows.

"Of course you've been to New York?"

Edward Henry would have given all he had in his pockets to be able to say that he had been to New York. But by some inexplicable negligence he had hitherto omitted to go to New York, and being a truthful person (except in the gravest crises) he was obliged to answer miserably:

"No, I haven't."

Mr. Bryany gazed at him with amazement and compassion, apparently staggered by the discovery that there existed in England a man of the world who had contrived to struggle on for forty years without perfecting his education by a visit to New York.

Edward Henry could not tolerate Mr. Bryany's look. It was a look which he had never been able to tolerate on the features of anybody whatsoever. He reminded himself that his secret object in accompanying Mr. Bryany to the Turk's Head was to repay Mr. Bryany-in what coin he knew not yet-for the aspersions which at the music-hall he had cast upon England in general and upon the Five Towns in particular, and also to get revenge for having been tricked into believing, even for a moment, that there was really a case of hydrophobia at Bleakridge. It is true that Mr. Bryany was innocent of this deception, which had been accomplished by Robert Brindley, but that was a detail which did not trouble Edward Henry, who lumped his grievances together-for convenience.

He had been reflecting that some sentimental people, unused to the ways of paternal affection in the Five Towns, might consider him a rather callous father; he had been reflecting, again, that Nellie's suggestion of blood-poisoning might not be as entirely foolish as [47] feminine suggestions in such circumstances too often are. But now he put these thoughts away, reassuring himself against hydrophobia anyhow, by the recollection of the definite statement of the Encyclopedia. Moreover, had he not inspected the wound-as healthy a wound as you could wish for?

And he said in a new tone, very curtly:

"Now, Mr. Bryany, what about this little affair of yours?"

He saw that Mr.. Bryany accepted the implied rebuke with the deference properly shown by a man who needs something towards the man in possession of what he needs. And studying the fellow's countenance, he decided that, despite its brassiness and simple cunning, it was scarcely the countenance of a rascal.

"Well, it's like this," said Mr.. Bryany, sitting down opposite Edward Henry at the centre table, and reaching with obsequious liveliness for the dispatch-box.

He drew from the dispatch-box, which was lettered "W.C.B.," first a cut-glass flask of whisky with a patent stopper, and then a spacious box of cigarettes.

"I always travel with the right sort," he remarked, holding the golden liquid up to the light. "It's safer and it saves any trouble with orders after closing-time.... These English hotels, you know-!"

So saying he dispensed whisky and cigarettes, there being a siphon and glasses, and three matches in a match-stand, on the table.

"Here's looking!" he said, with raised glass.

And Edward Henry responded, in conformity with the changeless ritual of the Five Towns:

"I looks!"

And they sipped.

Whereupon Mr. Bryany next drew from the dispatch-box a piece of transparent paper.

[48] "I want you to look at this plan of Piccadilly Circus and environs," said he.

Now there is a Piccadilly in Hanbridge; also a Pall Mall and a Chancery Lane. The adjective "metropolitan," applied to Hanbridge, is just.

"London?" questioned Edward Henry, "I understood London when we were chatting over there." With his elbow he indicated the music-hall, somewhere vaguely outside the room.

"London," said Mr. Bryany.

And Edward Henry thought:

"What on earth am I meddling with London for? What use should I be in London?"

"You see the plot marked in red?" Mr. Bryany proceeded. "Well, that's the site. There's an old chapel on it now."

"What do all these straight lines mean?" Edward Henry inquired, examining the plan. Lines radiated from the red plot in various directions.

"Those are the lines of vision," said Mr. Bryany.

"They show just where an electric sign at the corner of the front of the proposed theatre could be seen from. You notice the site is not in the Circus itself-a shade to the north." Mr. Bryany's finger approached Edward Henry's on the plan, and the clouds from their cigarettes fraternally mingled. "Now you see by those lines that the electric sign of the proposed theatre would be visible from nearly the whole of Piccadilly Circus, parts of Lower Regent Street, Coventry Street and even Shaftesbury Avenue. You see what a site it is-absolutely unique."

Edward Henry asked coldly:

"Have you bought it?"

"No," Mr. Bryany seemed to apologize. "I haven't exactly bought it. But I've got an option on it."

[49] The magic word "option" wakened the drowsy speculator in Edward Henry. And the mere act of looking at the plan endowed the plot of land with reality! There it was! It existed!

"An option to buy it?"

"You can't buy land in the West End of London," said Mr. Bryany, sagely. "You can only lease it."

"Well, of course!" Edward Henry concurred.

"The freehold belongs to Lord Woldo, now aged six months."

"Really!" murmured Edward Henry.

"I've got an option to take up the remainder of the lease, with sixty-four years to run, on the condition I put up a theatre. And the o

ption expires in exactly a fortnight's time."

Edward Henry frowned and then asked:

"What are the figures?"

"That is to say," Mr. Bryany corrected himself, smiling courteously, "I've got half the option."

"And who's got the other half?"

"Rose Euclid's got the other half."

At the mention of the name of one of the most renowned star-actresses in England, Edward Henry excusably started.

"Not the-?" he exclaimed.

Mr. Bryany nodded proudly, blowing out much smoke.

"Tell me," asked Edward Henry, confidentially, leaning forward, "where do those ladies get their names from?"

"It happens in this case to be her real name," said Mr. Bryany. "Her father kept a tobacconist's shop in Cheapside. The sign was kept up for many years, until Rose paid to have it changed."

"Well, well!" breathed Edward Henry, secretly thrilled by these [50] extraordinary revelations. "And so you and she have got it between you?"

Mr. Bryany said:

"I bought half of it from her some time ago. She was badly hard up for a hundred pounds and I let her have the money." He threw away his cigarette half-smoked, with a free gesture that seemed to imply that he was capable of parting with a hundred pounds just as easily.

"How did she get the option?" Edward Henry inquired, putting into the query all the innuendo of a man accustomed to look at great worldly affairs from the inside.

"How did she get it? She got it from the late Lord Woldo. She was always very friendly with the late Lord Woldo, you know." Edward Henry nodded. "Why, she and the Countess of Chell are as thick as thieves! You know something about the Countess down here, I reckon?"

The Countess of Chell was the wife of the supreme local magnate.

Edward Henry answered calmly, "We do."

He was tempted to relate a unique adventure of his youth, when he had driven the Countess to a public meeting in his mule-carriage, but sheer pride kept him silent.

"I asked you for the figures," he added, in a manner which requested Mr. Bryany to remember that he was the founder, chairman and proprietor of the Five Towns Universal Thrift Club, one of the most successful business organizations in the Midlands.

"Here they are!" said Mr. Bryany, passing across the table a sheet of paper.

And as Edward Henry studied them he could hear Mr. Bryany faintly [51] cooing into his ear: "Of course Rose got the ground-rent reduced. And when I tell you that the demand for theatres in the West End far exceeds the supply, and that theatre rents are always going up ... When I tell you that a theatre costing £25,000 to build can be let for £11,000 a year, and often £300 a week on a short term ...!" And he could hear the gas singing over his head ... And also, unhappily, he could hear Dr. Stirling talking to his wife and saying to her that the bite was far more serious than it looked, and Nellie hoping very audibly that nothing had "happened" to him, her still absent husband ...! And then he could hear Mr. Bryany again:

"When I tell you ..."

"When you tell me all this, Mr. Bryany," he interrupted with that ferocity which in the Five Towns is regarded as mere directness, "I wonder why the devil you want to sell your half of the option-if you do want to sell it. Do you want to sell it?"

"To tell you the truth," said Mr. Bryany, as if up to that moment he had told naught but lies, "I do."

"Why?"

"Oh, I'm always travelling about, you see. England one day-America the next." (Apparently he had quickly abandoned the strictness of veracity.) "All depends on the governor's movements! I couldn't keep a proper eye on an affair of that kind."

Edward Henry laughed:

"And could I?"

"Chance for you to go a bit oftener to London," said Mr. Bryany, laughing too. Then, with extreme and convincing seriousness, "You're the very man for a thing of that kind. And you know it!"

Edward Henry was not displeased by this flattery.

"How much?"

[52] "How much? Well, I told you frankly what I paid. I made no concealment of that, did I now? Well, I want what I paid. It's worth it!"

"Got a copy of the option, I hope!"

Mr. Bryany produced a copy of the option.

"I am nothing but an infernal ass to mix myself up in a mad scheme like this," said Edward Henry to his soul, perusing the documents. "It's right off my line, right bang off it ...! But what a lark!" But even to his soul he did not utter the remainder of the truth about himself, namely: "I should like to cut a dash before this insufferable patronizer of England and the Five Towns."

Suddenly something snapped within him and he said to Mr. Bryany:

"I'm on!"

Those words and no more!

"You are?" Mr. Bryany exclaimed, mistrusting his ears.

Edward Henry nodded.

"Well, that's business anyway!" said Mr. Bryany, taking a fresh cigarette and lighting it.

"It's how we do business down here," said Edward Henry, quite inaccurately; for it was not in the least how they did business down there.

Mr. Bryany asked, with a rather obvious anxiety:

"But when can you pay?"

"Oh, I'll send you a cheque in a day or two." And Edward Henry in his turn took a fresh cigarette.

"That won't do! That won't do!" cried Mr. Bryany. "I absolutely must have the money to-morrow morning in London. I can sell the option in London for eighty pounds-I know that."

"You must have it?"

"Must!"

[53] They exchanged glances. And Edward Henry, rapidly acquiring new knowledge of human nature on the threshold of a world strange to him, understood that Mr. Bryany, with his private sitting-room and his investments in Seattle and Calgary, was at his wits' end for a bag of English sovereigns, and had trusted to some chance encounter to save him from a calamity. And his contempt for Mr. Bryany was that of a man to whom his bankers are positively servile.

"Here!" Mr. Bryany almost shouted. "Don't light your cigarette with my option!"

"I beg pardon!" Edward Henry apologized, dropping the document which he had creased into a spill. There were no matches left on the table.

"I'll find you a match!"

"It's of no consequence," said Edward Henry, feeling in his pockets. Having discovered therein a piece of paper he twisted it and rose to put it to the gas.

"Could you slip round to your bank and meet me at the station in the morning with the cash?" suggested Mr. Bryany.

"No, I couldn't," said Edward Henry.

"Well, then, what-?"

"Here, you'd better take this," the "Card," reborn, soothed his host and, blowing out the spill which he had just ignited at the gas, he offered it to Mr. Bryany.

"What?"

"This, man!"

Mr. Bryany, observing the peculiarity of the spill, seized it and unrolled it-not without a certain agitation.

He stammered:

"Do you mean to say it's genuine?"

"You'd almost think so, wouldn't you?" said Edward Henry. He was [54] growing fond of this reply, and of the enigmatic, playful tone that he had invented for it.

"But-"

"We may, as you say, look twice at a fiver," continued Edward Henry. "But we're apt to be careless about hundred-pound notes in this district. I daresay that's why I always carry one."

"But it's burnt!"

"Only just the edge. Not enough to harm it. If any bank in England refuses it, return it to me and I'll give you a couple more in exchange. Is that talking?"

"Well, I'm dashed!" Mr. Bryany attempted to rise, and then subsided back into his chair. "I am simply and totally dashed!" He smiled weakly, hysterically.

And in that instant Edward Henry felt all the sweetness of a complete and luscious revenge.

He said commandingly:

"You must sign me a transfer. I'll dictate it!"

Then he jumped up.

"You're in a hurry?"

"I am. My wife is expecting me. You promised to find me a match." Edward Henry waved the unlit cigarette as a reproach to Mr. Bryany's imperfect hospitality.

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