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   Chapter 36 No.36

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 7809

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


He timed his return with exactitude, and, going straight upstairs to the chamber known indifferently as "Maisie's room" or "nurse's room," sure enough he found the three children there alone! They were fed, washed, night-gowned and even dressing-gowned; and this was the hour when, while nurse repaired the consequences of their revolutionary [243] conduct in the bathroom and other places, they were left to themselves. Robert lay on the hearthrug, the insteps of his soft pink feet rubbing idly against the pile of the rug, his elbows digging into the pile, his chin on his fists, and a book perpendicularly beneath his eyes. Ralph, careless adventurer rather than student, had climbed to the glittering brass rail of Maisie's new bedstead and was thereon imitating a recently-seen circus performance. Maisie, in the bed according to regulation, and lying on the flat of her back, was singing nonchalantly to the ceiling. Carlo, unaware that at that moment he might have been a buried corpse but for the benignancy of Providence in his behalf, was feeling sympathetic towards himself because he was slightly bored.

"Hello, kids!" Edward Henry greeted them. As he had seen them before mid-day dinner, the more formal ceremonies of salutation after absence-so hateful to the Five Towns temperament-were happily over and done with.

Robert turned his head slightly, inspected his father with a judicial detachment that hardly escaped the inimical, and then resumed his book.

("No one would think," said Edward Henry to himself, "that the person who has just entered this room is the most enterprising and enlightened of West End theatrical managers.")

"'Ello, father!" shrilled Ralph. "Come and help me to stand on this wire-rope."

"It isn't a wire-rope," said Robert from the hearthrug, without stirring, "it's a brass-rail."

"Yes, it is a wire-rope, because I can make it bend," Ralph retorted, bumping down on the thing. "Anyhow, it's going to be a wire-rope."

[244] Maisie simply stuck several fingers into her mouth, shifted to one side, and smiled at her father in a style of heavenly and mischievous flirtatiousness.

"Well, Robert, what are you reading?" Edward Henry inquired, in his best fatherly manner-half authoritative and half humorous-while he formed part of the staff of Ralph's circus.

"I'm not reading-I'm learning my spellings," replied Robert.

Edward Henry, knowing that the discipline of filial politeness must be maintained, said, "'Learning my spellings'-what?"

"Learning my spellings, father," Robert consented to say, but with a savage air of giving way to the unreasonable demands of affected fools. Why indeed should it be necessary in conversation always to end one's sentence with the name or title of the person addressed?

"Well, would you like to go to London with me?"

"When?" the boy demanded cautiously. He still did not move, but his ears seemed to prick up.

"To-morrow?"

"No thanks ... father." His ears ceased their activity.

"No? Why not?"

"Because there's a spellings examination on Friday, and I'm going to be top-boy."

It was a fact that the infant (whose programmes were always somehow arranged in advance, and were in his mind absolutely unalterable) could spell the most obstreperous words. Quite conceivably he could spell better than his father, who still showed an occasional tendency to write "separate" with three "e's" and only one "a."

"London's a fine place," said Edward Henry.

[245] "I know," said Robert, negligently.

"What's the population of London?"

"I don't know," said Robert, with curtness; though he added after a pause, "But I can spell population-p,o,p,u,l,a,t,i,o,n."

"I'll come to London, father, if you'll have me," said Ralph, grinning good-naturedly.

"Will you!" said his father.

"Fahver," asked Maisie, wriggling, "have you brought me a doll?"

"I'm afraid I

haven't."

"Mother said p'r'aps you would."

It was true there had been talk of a doll; he had forgotten it.

"I tell you what I'll do," said Edward Henry. "I'll take you to London, and you can choose a doll in London. You never saw such dolls as there are in London-talking dolls that shut and open their eyes and say papa and mamma, and all their clothes take off and on."

"Do they say 'father'?" growled Robert.

"No, they don't," said Edward Henry.

"Why don't they?" growled Robert.

"When will you take me?" Maisie almost squealed.

"To-morrow."

"Certain sure, fahver?"

"Yes."

"You promise, fahver?"

"Of course I promise."

Robert at length stood up, to judge for himself this strange and agitating caprice of his father's for taking Maisie to London. He saw that, despite spellings, it would never do to let Maisie alone go. He was about to put his father through a cross-examination, but Henry [246] Edward dropped Ralph (who had been climbing up him as up a telegraph pole) on to the bed and went over to the window, nervously, and tapped thereon.

Carlo followed him, wagging an untidy tail.

"Hello, Trent!" murmured Edward Henry, stooping and patting the dog.

Ralph exploded into loud laughter.

"Father's called 'Carlo'-'Trent,'" he roared. "Father, have you forgotten his name's 'Carlo'?" It was one of the greatest jokes that Ralph had heard for a long time.

Then Nellie hurried into the room, and Edward Henry, with a "Mustn't be late for tea," as hurriedly left it.

Three minutes later, while he was bent over the lavatory basin, someone burst into the bathroom. He lifted a soapy face.

It was Nellie, with disturbed features.

"What's this about your positively promising to take Maisie to London to-morrow to choose a doll?"

"I'll take 'em all," he replied with absurd levity. "And you too!"

"But really-" she pouted, indicating that he must not carry the ridiculous too far.

"Look here, d--n it," he said impulsively, "I want you to come. And I want you to come to-morrow. I knew it was the confounded infants you wouldn't leave. You don't mean to tell me you can't arrange it-a woman like you!"

She hesitated.

"And what am I to do with three children in a London hotel?"

"Take nurse, naturally."

"Take nurse?" she cried.

He imitated her, with a grotesque exaggeration, yelling loudly, "Take [247] nurse?" Then he planted a soap-sud on her fresh cheek.

She wiped it off carefully, and smacked his arm. The next moment she was gone, having left the door open.

"He wants me to go to London to-morrow," he could hear her saying to his mother on the landing.

"Confound it!" he thought. "Didn't she know that at dinner-time?"

"Bless us!" His mother's voice.

"And take the children-and nurse!" His wife continued, in a tone to convey the fact that she was just as much disturbed as her mother-in-law could possibly be by the eccentricities of the male.

"He's his father all over, that lad is!" said his mother, strangely.

And Edward Henry was impressed by these words, for not once in seven years did his mother mention his father.

Tea was an exciting meal.

"You'd better come too mother," said Edward Henry, audaciously. "We'll shut the house up."

"I come to no London," said she.

"Well, then, you can use the motor as much as you like while we're away."

"I go about gallivanting in no motor," said his mother. "It'll take me all my time to get this house straight against you come back."

"I haven't a thing to go in!" said Nellie, with a martyr's sigh.

After all (he reflected), though domesticated, she was a woman.

He went to bed early. It seemed to him that his wife, his mother and the nurse were active and whispering up and down the house till the [248] very middle of the night. He arose not late; but they were all three afoot before him, active and whispering.

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