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   Chapter 5 No.5

Denry the Audacious By Arnold Bennett Characters: 6293

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


"Just the same as dancing with any other woman!"-he told this untruth in reply to a question from Sillitoe. It was the least he could do. And any other young man in his place would have said as much or as little.

"What was she laughing at?" somebody else asked.

"Ah!" said Denry judiciously, "wouldn't you like to know?"

"Here you are!" said Etches, with an unattentive, plutocratic gesture handing over a five-pound note. He was one of those men who never venture out of sight of a bank without a banknote in their pockets-"because you never know what may turn up."

Denry accepted the note with a silent nod. In some directions he was gifted with astounding insight. And he could read in the faces of the haughty males surrounding him that in the space of a few minutes he had risen from nonentity into renown. He had become a great man. He did not at once realise how great, how renowned. But he saw enough in those eyes to cause his heart to glow, and to rouse in his brain those ambitious dreams which stirred him upon occasion. He left the group; he had need of motion, and also of that mental privacy which one may enjoy while strolling about on a crowded floor, in the midst of a considerable noise. He noticed that the Countess was now dancing with an Alderman, and that the Alderman, by an oversight inexcusable in an Alderman, was not wearing gloves. It was he, Denry, who had broken the ice so that the Aldermen might plunge into the water! He first had danced with the Countess, and had rendered her up to the Alderman with delicious gaiety upon her countenance. By instinct he knew Bursley, and he knew that he would be talked of. He knew that, for a time at any rate, he would displace even Jos. Curtenly, that almost professional "card" and amuser of burgesses, in the popular imagination. It would not be: "Have ye heard Jos.'s latest?" It would be: "Have ye heard about young Machin, Duncalf's clerk?"

Then he met Ruth Earp, strolling in the opposite direction with a young girl, one of her pupils, of whom all he knew was that her name was Nellie, and that this was her first ball: a childish little thing with a wistful face. He could not decide whether to look at Ruth or to avoid her glance. She settled the point by smiling at him in a manner that could not be ignored.

"Are you going to make it up to me for that waltz you missed?" said Ruth Earp. She pretended to be vexed and stern, but he knew that she was not. "Or is your programme full?" she added.

"I should like to," he said simply.

"But perhaps you don't care to dance with us poor ordinary people, now you 've danced with the Countess!" she said, with a certain lofty and bitter pride.

He perceived that his tone had lacked eagerness.

"Don't talk like that," he said, as if hurt.

"Well," she said, "you can have the supper dance."

He took her programme to write on it.

"Why!" he said, "there's a name down here for the supper dance. 'Herbert' it looks like."

"Oh!" she replied carelessly, "that's nothing. Cross it out."

So he crossed Herbert out.

"Why don't you ask Nellie here for a dance," said Ruth Earp.

And

Nellie blushed. He gathered that the possible honour of dancing with the supremely great man had surpassed Nellie's modest expectations.

"Can I have the next one?" he said.

"Oh, yes!" Nellie timidly whispered.

"It's a polka, and you are n't very good at polking, you know," Ruth warned him. "Still, Nellie will pull you through."

Nellie laughed, in silver. The na?ve child thought that Ruth was trying to joke at Denry's expense. Her very manifest joy and pride in being seen with the unique Mr. Machin, in being the next after the Countess to dance with him, made another mirror in which Denry could discern the reflection of his vast importance.

At the supper, which was worthy of the hospitable traditions of the Chell family (though served standing-up in the police-court), he learnt all the gossip of the dance from Ruth Earp; amongst other things that more than one young man had asked the Countess for a dance, and had been refused, though Ruth Earp for her part declined to believe that Aldermen and Councillors had utterly absorbed the Countess's programme. Ruth hinted that the Countess was keeping a second dance open for him, Denry. When she asked him squarely if he meant to request another from the Countess, he said, No, positively. He knew when to let well alone, a knowledge which is more precious than a knowledge of geography. The supper was the summit of Denry's triumph. The best people spoke to him without being introduced. And lovely creatures mysteriously and intoxicatingly discovered that programmes which had been crammed two hours before were not after all quite, quite full.

"Do tell us what the Countess was laughing at?" This question was shot at him at least thirty times. He always said he would not tell. And one girl who had danced with Mr. Stanway, who had danced with the Countess, said that Mr. Stanway had said that the Countess would not tell, either. Proof, here, that he was being extensively talked about!

Toward the end of the festivity the rumour floated abroad that the Countess had lost her fan. The rumour reached Denry, who maintained a culpable silence. But when all was over, and the Countess was departing, he rushed down after her, and in a dramatic fashion which demonstrated his genius for the effective, he caught her exactly as she was getting into her carriage.

"I 've just picked it up," he said, pushing through the crowd of worshippers.

"Oh! thank you so much!" she said. And the Earl also thanked Denry. And then the Countess, leaning from the carriage, said with archness in her efficient smile: "You do pick things up easily, don't you?"

And both Denry and the Countess laughed without restraint, and the pillars of Bursley society were mystified.

Denry winked at Jock as the horses pawed away. And Jock winked back.

The envied of all, Denry walked home, thinking violently. At a stroke he had become possessed of more than he could earn from Duncalf in a month. The faces of the Countess, of Ruth Earp, and of the timid Nellie mingled in exquisite hallucinations before his tired eyes. He was inexpressibly happy. Trouble, however, awaited him.

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