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   Chapter 19 No.19

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 11953

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Mr. Slosson, senior, heard Edward Henry's story, but seemingly did not find it quite as interesting as he had prophesied it would be. When Edward Henry had finished the old man drummed on an enormous table, and said:

"Yes, yes. And then?" His manner was far less bullying than in the room of Mr. Vulto.

"It's your turn now, Mr. Slosson," said Edward Henry.

"My turn? How?"

"To go on with the story." He glanced at the clock. "I've brought it up to date-11.15 o'clock this morning anno domini." And as Mr. Slosson continued to drum on the table and to look out of the window, Edward Henry also drummed on the table and looked out of the window.

The chamber of the senior partner was a very different matter from Mr. Vulto's. It was immense. It was not disfigured by japanned boxes inartistically lettered in white, as are most lawyer's offices. Indeed in aspect it resembled one of the cosier rooms in a small and decaying but still comfortable club. It had easy chairs and cigar boxes. Moreover, the sun got into it, and there was a view of the comic yet stately Victorian Gothic of the Law Courts. The sun enheartened Edward Henry. And he felt secure in an unimpugnable suit of clothes; in the shape of his collar, the colour of his necktie, the style of his creaseless boots; and in the protuberance of his pocket-book in his pocket.

As Mr. Slosson had failed to notice the competition of his drumming, he drummed still louder. Whereupon Mr. Slosson stopped drumming. Edward Henry gazed amiably around. Right at the back of the room-before a back-window that gave on the whitewashed wall-a man was rapidly putting his signature to a number of papers. But Mr. Slosson had ignored the existence of this man, treating him apparently as a figment of the disordered brain or as an optical illusion.

"I've nothing to say," said Mr. Slosson.

"Or to do?"

"Or to do."

"Well, Mr. Slosson," said Edward Henry, "your junior partner has already outlined your policy of masterly inactivity. So I may as well go. I did say I'd go to my solicitors. But it's occurred to me that as I'm a principal I may as well first of all see the principals on the other side. I only came here because it mentions in the option that the matter is to be completed here-that's all."

"You a principal!" exclaimed Mr. Slosson. "It seems to me you're a [158] long way removed from a principal. The alleged option is given to a Miss Rose Euclid-"

"Excuse me-the Miss Rose Euclid."

"Miss Rose Euclid. She divides up her alleged interest into fractions, and sells them here and there, and you buy them up one after another." Mr. Slosson laughed, not unamiably. "You're a principal about five times removed."

"Well," said Edward Henry, "whatever I am, I have a sort of idea I'll go and see this Mr. Gristle or Wrissell. Can you-"

The man at the distant desk turned his head. Mr. Slosson coughed. The man rose.

"This is Mr. Wrissel," said Mr. Slosson, with a gesture from which confusion was not absent.

"Good morning," said the advancing Mr. Rollo Wrissell, and he said it with an accent more Kensingtonian than any accent that Edward Henry had ever heard. His lounging and yet elegant walk assorted well with the accent. His black clothes were loose and untidy. Such boots as his could not have been worn by Edward Henry even in the Five Towns without blushing shame, and his necktie looked as if a baby or a puppy had been playing with it. Nevertheless, these shortcomings made absolutely no difference whatever to the impressivness of Mr. Rollo Wrissell, who was famous for having said once, "I put on whatever comes to hand first, and people don't seem to mind."

Mr. Rollo Wrissell belonged to one of the seven great families which once governed-and by the way still do govern-England, Scotland and Ireland. The members of these families may be divided into two species: those who rule, and those who are too lofty in spirit even [159] to rule-those who exist. Mr. Rollo Wrissell belonged to the latter species. His nose and mouth had the exquisite refinement of the descendant of generations of art-collectors and poet-patronizers. He enjoyed life-but not with rude activity, like the grosser members of the ruling caste-rather with a certain rare languor. He sniffed and savoured the whole spherical surface of the apple of life with those delicate nostrils, rather than bit into it. His one conviction was that in a properly-managed world nothing ought to occur to disturb or agitate the perfect tranquillity of his existing. And this conviction was so profound, so visible even in his lightest gesture and glance, that it exerted a mystic influence over the entire social organism-with the result that practically nothing ever did occur to disturb or agitate the perfect tranquillity of Mr. Rollo Wrissell's existing. For Mr. Rollo Wrissell the world was indeed almost ideal.

Edward Henry breathed to himself, "This is the genuine article."

And, being an Englishman, he was far more impressed by Mr. Wrissell than he had been by the much vaster reputations of Rose Euclid, Seven Sachs and Mr. Slosson, senior. At the same time he inwardly fought against Mr. Wrissell's silent and unconscious dominion over him, and all the defiant Midland belief that one body is as good as anybody else surged up in him-but stopped at his lips.

"Please don't rise," Mr. Wrissell entreated, waving both hands. "I'm very sorry to hear of this unhappy complication," he went on to Edward Henry, with the most adorable and winning politeness. "It pains me." (His martyred expression said, "And really I ought not to be pained!") "I'm quite convinced that you are here in absolute good faith-the most absolute good faith-Mr.-"

[160] "Machin," suggested Mr. Slosson.

"Ah! pardon me! Mr. Machin. And naturally in the management of enormous estates such as Lord Woldo's little difficulties are apt to occur.... I'm sorry you've been put in a false position. You

have all my sympathies. But of course you understand that in this particular case ... I myself have taken up the lease from the estate. I happen to be interested in a great movement. The plans of my church have been passed by the County Council. Building operations have indeed begun."

"Oh! chuck it!" said Edward Henry, inexcusably-but such were his words. A surfeit of Mr. Wrissell's calm egotism and accent and fatigued harmonious gestures drove him to commit this outrage upon the very fabric of civilization.

Mr. Wrissell, if he had ever met with the phrase-which is doubtful-had certainly never heard it addressed to himself; conceivably he might have once come across it in turning over the pages of a slang dictionary. A tragic expression traversed his bewildered features-and then he recovered himself somewhat.

"I-"

"Go and bury yourself!" said Edward Henry, with increased savagery.

Mr. Wrissell, having comprehended, went. He really did go. He could not tolerate scenes, and his glance showed that any forcible derangement of his habit of existing smoothly would nakedly disclose the unyielding adamantine selfishness that was the basis of the Wrissell philosophy. His glance was at least harsh and bitter. He went in silence, and rapidly. Mr. Slosson, senior, followed him at a great pace.

[161] Edward Henry was angry. Strange though it may seem, the chief cause of his anger was the fact that his own manners and breeding were lower, coarser, clumsier, more brutal than Mr. Wrissell's.

After what appeared to be a considerable absence Mr. Slosson, senior, returned into the room. Edward Henry, steeped in peculiar meditations, was repeating:

"So this is Slosson's!"

"What's that?" demanded Mr. Slosson with a challenge in his ancient but powerful voice.

"Nowt!" said Edward Henry.

"Now, sir," said Mr. Slosson, "we'd better come to an understanding about this so-called option. It's not serious, you know."

"You'll find it is."

"It's not commercial."

"I fancy it is-for me!" said Edward Henry.

"The premium mentioned is absurdly inadequate, and the ground-rent is quite improperly low."

"That's just why I look on it as commercial-from my point of view," said Edward Henry.

"It isn't worth the paper it's written on," said Mr. Slosson.

"Why?"

"Because, seeing the unusual form of it, it ought to be stamped, and it isn't stamped."

"Listen here, Mr. Slosson," said Edward Henry, "I want you to remember that you're talking to a lawyer."

"A lawyer?"

"I was in the law for years," said Edward Henry. "And you know as well as I do that I can get the option stamped at any time by paying a penalty-which at worst will be a trifle compared to the value of the option."

[162] "Ah!" Mr. Slosson paused, and resumed his puffing, which exercise-perhaps owing to undue excitement-he had pretermitted. "Then further, the deed isn't drawn up."

"That's not my fault."

"Further, the option is not transferable."

"We shall see about that."

"And the money ought to be paid down to-day, even on your own showing-every cent of it, in cash."

"Here is the money," said Edward Henry, drawing his pocket-book from his breast. "Every cent of it, in the finest brand of bank-notes!"

He flung down the notes with the impulsive gesture of an artist; then, with the caution of a man of the world, gathered them in again.

"The whole circumstances under which the alleged option is alleged to have been given would have to be examined," said Mr. Slosson.

"I shan't mind," said Edward Henry. "Others might."

"There is such a thing as undue influence."

"Miss Euclid is fifty if she's a day," replied Edward Henry.

"I don't see what Miss Euclid's age has to do with the matter."

"Then your eyesight must be defective, Mr. Slosson."

"The document might be a forgery."

"It might. But I've got an autograph letter written entirely in the late Lord Woldo's hand, enclosing the option."

"Let me see it, please."

"Certainly-but in a court of law," said Edward Henry. "You know [163] you're hungry for a good action, followed by a bill of costs as long as from here to Jericho."

"Mr. Wrissell will assuredly fight," said Mr. Slosson. "He has already given me the most explicit instructions. Mr. Wrissell's objection to a certain class of theatres is well known."

"And does Mr. Wrissell settle everything?"

"Mr. Wrissell and Lady Woldo settle everything between them, and Lady Woldo is guided by Mr. Wrissell. There is an impression abroad that because Lady Woldo was originally connected-er-with the stage, she and Mr. Wrissell are not entirely at one in the conduct of her and her son's interests. Nothing could be further from the fact."

Edward Henry's thoughts dwelt for a few moments upon the late Lord Woldo's picturesque and far-resounding marriage.

"Can you give me Lady Woldo's address?"

"I can't," said Mr. Slosson, after an instant's hesitation.

"You mean you won't!"

Mr. Slosson pursed his lips.

"Well, you can do the other thing!" said Edward Henry, insolent to the last.

As he left the premises he found Mr. Rollo Wrissell, and his own new acquaintance, Mr. Alloyd, the architect, chatting in the portico. Mr. Wrissell was calm, bland and attentive; Mr. Alloyd was eager, excited and deferential.

Edward Henry caught the words "Russian Ballet." He reflected upon an abstract question oddly disconnected with the violent welter of his sensations: "Can a man be a good practical architect who isn't able to sleep because he's seen a Russian Ballet?"

The alert chauffeur of the electric brougham, who had an excellent [164] idea of effect, brought the admirable vehicle to the kerb exactly in front of Edward Henry as Edward Henry reached the edge of the pavement. Ejaculating a brief command, Edward Henry disappeared within the vehicle and was whirled away in a style whose perfection no scion of a governing family could have bettered.

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