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   Chapter 18 No.18

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 5736

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


In Carey Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, he descended from his brougham in front of the offices of Messrs Slosson, Hodge, Budge, Slosson, [154] Maveringham, Slosson & Vulto-solicitors-known in the profession by the compendious abbreviation of Slossons. Edward Henry, having been a lawyer's clerk some twenty-five years earlier, was aware of Slossons. Although on the strength of his youthful clerkship he claimed, and was admitted, to possess a very special knowledge of the law-enough to silence argument when his opponent did not happen to be an actual solicitor-he did not in truth possess a very special knowledge of the law-how should he, seeing that he had only been a practitioner of shorthand?-but the fame of Slossons he positively was acquainted with! He had even written letters to the mighty Slossons.

Every lawyer and lawyer's clerk in the realm knew the greatness of Slossons, and crouched before it, and also, for the most part, impugned its righteousness with sneers. For Slossons acted for the ruling classes of England, who only get value for their money when they are buying something that they can see, smell, handle, or intimidate-such as a horse, a motor-car, a dog, or a lackey. Slossons, those crack solicitors, like the crack nerve specialists in Harley Street and the crack fortune-tellers in Bond Street, sold their invisible, inodorous and intangible wares of advice at double, treble, or decuple their worth, according to the psychology of the customer. They were great bullies. And they were, further, great money-lenders-on behalf of their wealthier clients. In obedience to a convenient theory that it is imprudent to leave money too long in one place, they were continually calling in mortgages, and re-lending the sums so collected on fresh investments, thus achieving two bills of [155] costs on each transaction, and sometimes three, besides employing an army of valuers, surveyors and mortgage-insurance brokers. In short, Slossons had nothing to learn about the art of self-enrichment.

Three vast motor-cars waited in front of their ancient door, and Edward Henry's hired electric vehicle was diminished to a trifle.

He began by demanding the senior partner, who was denied to him by an old clerk with a face like a stone wall. Only his brutal Midland insistence, and the mention of the important letter which he had written to the firm in the middle of the night, saved him from the ignominy of seeing no partner at all. At the end of the descending ladder of partners he clung desperately to Mr. Vulto, and he saw Mr. Vulto-a youngish and sarcastic person with blue eyes, lodged in a dark room at the back of the house. It occurred fortunately that his letter had been allotted to precisely Mr. Vulto for the purpose of being answered.

"You got my letter?" said Edward Henry, cheerfully, as he sat down at Mr. Vulto's

flat desk on the side opposite from Mr. Vulto.

"We got it, but frankly we cannot make head or tail of it!... What option?" Mr. Vulto's manner was crudely sarcastic.

"This option!" said Edward Henry, drawing papers from his pocket, and putting down the right paper in front of Mr. Vulto with an uncompromising slap.

Mr. Vulto picked up the paper with precautions, as if it were a contagion, and, assuming eyeglasses, perused it with his mouth open.

"We know nothing of this," said Mr. Vulto, and it was as though he had added: "Therefore this does not exist." He glanced with sufferance at the window, which offered a close-range view of a whitewashed wall.

[156] "Then you weren't in the confidence of your client?"

"The late Lord Woldo?"

"Yes."

"Pardon me."

"Obviously you weren't in his confidence as regards this particular matter."

"As you say," said Mr. Vulto, with frigid irony.

"Well, what are you going to do about it?"

"Well-nothing." Mr. Vulto removed his eyeglasses and stood up.

"Well, good morning. I'll walk round to my solicitors." Edward Henry seized the option.

"That will be simpler," said Mr. Vulto. Slossons much preferred to deal with lawyers than, with laymen, because it increased costs and vitalized the profession.

At that moment a stout, red-faced and hoary man puffed very authoritatively into the room.

"Vulto," he cried sharply. "Mr. Wrissell's here. Didn't they tell you?"

"Yes, Mr. Slosson," answered Vulto, suddenly losing all his sarcastic quality, and becoming a very junior partner. "I was just engaged with Mr."-(he paused to glance at his desk)-"Machin, whose singular letter we received this morning about an alleged option on the lease of the Chapel site at Piccadilly Circus-the Woldo estate, sir. You remember, sir?"

"This the man?" inquired Mr. Slosson, ex-president of the Law Society, with a jerk of the thumb.

Edward Henry said, "This is the man."

"Well," said Mr. Slosson, lifting his chin, and still puffing, "it would be extremely interesting to hear his story at any rate. I was just telling Mr. Wrissell about it. Come this way, sir. I've heard [157] some strange things in my time, but-" He stopped. "Please follow me, sir," he ordained.

"I'm dashed if I'll follow you!" Edward Henry desired to say, but he had not the courage to say it. And because he was angry with himself he determined to make matters as unpleasant as possible for the innocent Mr. Slosson, who was so used to bullying, and so well paid for bullying that really no blame could be apportioned to him. It would have been as reasonable to censure an ordinary person for breathing as to censure Mr. Slosson for bullying. And so Edward Henry was steeling himself: "I'll do him in the eye for that, even if it costs me every cent I've got." (A statement characterized by poetical license!)

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