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Denry the Audacious By Arnold Bennett Characters: 4118

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Three weeks and three days before the ball, Denry Machin was seated one Monday alone in Mr. Duncalf's private offices in Duck Square (where he carried on his practice as a solicitor) when in stepped a tall and pretty young woman dressed very smartly but soberly in dark green. On the desk in front of Denry were several wide sheets of "abstract" paper, concealed by a copy of that morning's Athletic News. Before Denry could even think of reversing the positions of the abstract paper and the Athletic News, the young woman said, "Good morning," in a very friendly style. She had a shrill voice and an efficient smile.

"Good morning, Madam," said Denry.

"Mr. Duncalf in?" asked the young woman.

(Why should Denry have slipped off his stool? It is utterly against etiquette for solicitors' clerks to slip off their stools while answering enquiries.)

"No, Madam; he 's across at the Town Hall," said Denry.

The young lady shook her head playfully, with a faint smile.

"I 've just been there," she said. "They said he was here."

"I daresay I could find him, Madam-if you would--"

She now smiled broadly. "Conservative Club, I suppose?" she said, with an air deliciously confidential.

He too smiled.

"Oh, no," she said, after a little pause, "just tell him I 've called."

"Certainly, Madam. Nothing I can do?"

She was already turning away, but she turned back and scrutinised his face, as Denry thought, roguishly.

"You might just give him this list," she said, taking a paper from her satchel and spreading it. She had come to the desk; their elbows touched. "He is n't to take any notice of the crossings-out in red ink-you understand. Of course I 'm relying on him for the other lists, and I expect all the invitations to be out on Wednesday. Good morning."

She was gone. He sprang to the grimy window. Outside, in the snow, were a brougham, twin horses, twin men in yellow, and a little crowd of youngsters and oldsters. She flashed across the footpath, and vanished; the door of the carriage banged, one of the twins

in yellow leaped up to his brother, and the whole affair dashed dangerously away. The face of the leaping twin was familiar to Denry. The man had indeed once inhabited Brougham Street, being known to the street as Jock, and his mother had for long years been a friend of Mrs. Machin's.

It was the first time Denry had seen the Countess, save at a distance. Assuredly she was finer even than her photographs. Entirely different from what one would have expected! So easy to talk to! (Yet what had he said to her? Nothing-and everything.)

He nodded his head, and murmured, "No mistake about that lot!" Meaning, presumably, that all that one had read about the brilliance of the aristocracy was true, and more than true.

"She's the finest woman that ever came into this town," he murmured.

The truth was that she surpassed his dreams of womanhood. At two o'clock she had been a name to him. At five minutes past two he was in love with her. He felt profoundly thankful that, for a church tea-meeting that evening, he happened to be wearing his best clothes.

It was while looking at her list of invitations to the ball that he first conceived the fantastic scheme of attending the ball himself. Mr. Duncalf was, fussily and deferentially, managing the machinery of the ball for the Countess. He had prepared a little list of his own, of people who ought to be invited. Several aldermen had been requested to do the same. There were thus about a dozen lists to be combined into one. Denry did the combining. Nothing was easier than to insert the name of E. H. Machin inconspicuously towards the centre of the list! Nothing was easier than to lose the original lists, inadvertently, so that if a question arose as to any particular name the responsibility for it could not be ascertained without enquiries too delicate to be made. On Wednesday Denry received a lovely Bristol board stating in copper plate that the Countess desired the pleasure of his company at the ball; and on Thursday his name was ticked off on the list as one who had accepted.

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