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   Chapter 6 No.6

Denry the Audacious By Arnold Bennett Characters: 8454

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The simple fact that he first, of all the citizens of Bursley, had asked a Countess for a dance (and not been refused) made a new man of Denry Machin. He was not only regarded by the whole town as a fellow wonderful and dazzling; but he so regarded himself. He could not get over it. He had always been cheerful, even to optimism. He was now in a permanent state of calm, assured jollity. He would get up in the morning with song and dance. Bursley and the general world were no longer Bursley and the general world; they had been mysteriously transformed into an oyster; and Denry felt strangely that the oyster-knife was lying about somewhere handy, but just out of sight, and that presently he should spy it and seize it. He waited for something to happen.

And not in vain.

A few days after the historic revelry, Mrs. Codleyn called to see Denry's employer. Mr. Duncalf was her solicitor. A stout, breathless, and yet muscular woman of near sixty, the widow of a chemist and druggist who had made money before limited companies had taken the liberty of being pharmaceutical. The money had been largely invested in mortgage on cottage-property; the interest on it had not been paid, and latterly Mrs. Codleyn had been obliged to foreclose, thus becoming the owner of some seventy cottages. Mrs. Codleyn, though they brought her in about twelve pounds a week gross, esteemed these cottages an infliction, a bugbear, an affront, and a positive source of loss. Invariably she talked as though she would willingly present them to anybody who cared to accept; "and glad to be rid of 'em!" Most owners of property talk thus. She particularly hated paying the rates on them.

Now there had recently occurred, under the direction of the Borough Surveyor, a re-valuation of the whole town. This may not sound exciting; yet a re-valuation is the most exciting event (save a municipal ball given by a titled mayor) that can happen in any town. If your house is rated at £40 a year, and rates are 7/- in the £, and the re-valuation lifts you up to £45, it means thirty-five shillings a year right out of your pocket, which is the interest on £35. And if the re-valuation drops you to £35, it means thirty-five shillings in your pocket, which is a box of Havanas or a fancy waistcoat. Is not this exciting? And there are seven thousand houses in Bursley. Mrs. Codleyn hoped that her ratable value would be reduced. She based the hope chiefly on the fact that she was a client of Mr. Duncalf, the Town Clerk. The Town Clerk was not the Borough Surveyor and had nothing to do with the re-valuation. Moreover Mrs. Codleyn presumably entrusted him with her affairs because she considered him an honest man, and an honest man could not honestly have sought to tickle the Borough Surveyor out of the narrow path of rectitude in order to oblige a client. Nevertheless Mrs. Codleyn thought that because she patronised the Town Clerk her rates ought to be reduced! Such is human nature in the provinces-so different from human nature in London, where nobody ever dreams of offering even a match to a municipal official, lest the act might be construed into an insult.

It was on a Saturday morning that Mrs. Codleyn called to impart to Mr. Duncalf the dissatisfaction with which she had learned the news (printed on a bit of bluish paper) that her ratable value, far from being reduced, had been slightly augmented.

The interview, as judged by the clerks through a lath-and-plaster wall and by means of a speaking tube, atoned by its vivacity for its lack of ceremony. When the stairs had finished creaking under the descent of Mrs. Codleyn's righteous fury, Mr. Duncalf whistled sharply twice. Two whistles meant Denry. Denry picked up his shorthand note-book and obeyed the summons.

"Take this down," said his master rudely and angrily.

Just as though Denry had abetted Mrs. Codleyn! Just as though Denry was not a personage of high importance in the town, the friend of Countesses, and a shorthand clerk only on the surface!

"Do you hear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Madam"-hitherto it had always been "dear Madam," or "dear Mrs. Codleyn"-"Madam. Of course I need hardly say that if, after our interview this morning and your extr

aordinary remarks, you wish to place your interests in other hands, I shall be most happy to hand over all the papers on payment of my costs. Yours truly ... To Mrs. Codleyn."

Denry reflected. "Ass! Why does n't he let her cool down?" Also: "He's got 'hands' and 'hand' in the same sentence. Very ugly. Shows what a temper he's in!" Shorthand clerks are always like that-hypercritical. Also: "Well, I jolly well hope she does chuck him! Then I sha n't have those rents to collect." Every Monday, and often on Tuesday too, Denry collected the rents of Mrs. Codleyn's cottages: an odious task for Denry. Mr. Duncalf, though not affected by its odiousness, deducted 7-? Per cent. for the job from the rents.

"That 'll do," said Mr. Duncalf.

But as Denry was leaving the room, Mr. Duncalf called with formidable brusqueness:

"Machin."

"Yes, sir?"

In a flash Denry knew what was coming. He felt, sickly, that a crisis had supervened with the suddenness of a tidal wave. And for one little second it seemed to him that to have danced with a Countess while the flower of Bursley's chivalry watched in envious wonder, was not after all the key to the door of success throughout life.

Undoubtedly he had practised fraud in sending to himself an invitation to the ball! Undoubtedly he had practised fraud in sending invitations to his tailor and his dancing-mistress! On the day after the ball, beneath his great glory, he had trembled to meet Mr. Duncalf's eye lest Mr. Duncalf should ask him: "Machin, what were you doing at the Town Hall last night, behaving as if you were the Shah of Persia, the Prince of Wales, and Mr. George Alexander?" But Mr. Duncalf had said nothing, and Mr. Duncalf's eye had said nothing, and Denry thought that the danger was past.

Now it surged up.

"Who invited you to the Mayor's ball?" demanded Mr. Duncalf like thunder.

Yes, there it was! And a very difficult question!

"I did, sir," he blundered out. Transparent veracity! He simply could not think of a lie.

"Why?"

"I thought you 'd perhaps forgotten to put my name down on the list of invitations, sir."

"Oh!" This, grimly. "And I suppose you thought I 'd also forgotten to put down that tailor chap, Sillitoe?"

So it was all out! Sillitoe must have been chattering. Denry remembered that the classic established tailor of the town, Hatterton, whose trade Sillitoe was filching, was a particular friend of Mr. Duncalf's. He saw the whole thing.

"Well?" persisted Mr. Duncalf, after a judicious silence from Denry.

Denry, sheltered in the castle of his silence, was not to be tempted out.

"I suppose you rather fancy yourself, dancing with your betters?" growled Mr. Duncalf, menacingly.

"Yes," said Denry. "Do you?"

He had not meant to say it. The question slipped out of his mouth. He had recently formed the habit of retorting swiftly upon people who put queries to him: "Yes, are you?" or "No, do you?" The trick of speech had been enormously effective with Sillitoe, for instance, and with the Countess. He was in process of acquiring renown for it. Certainly it was effective now. Mr. Duncalf's dance with the Countess had come to an ignominious conclusion in the middle, Mr. Duncalf preferring to dance on skirts rather than on the floor-and the fact was notorious.

"You can take a week's notice," said Mr. Duncalf pompously.

It was no argument. But employers are so unscrupulous in an altercation.

"Oh, very well!" said Denry; and to himself he said: "Something must turn up, now."

He felt dizzy, at being thus thrown upon the world-he who had been meditating the propriety of getting himself elected to the stylish and newly-established Sports Club at Hillport! He felt enraged, for Mr. Duncalf had only been venting on Denry the annoyance induced on him by Mrs. Codleyn. But it is remarkable that he was not depressed at all. No! he went about with songs and whistling, though he had no prospects except starvation or living on his mother. He traversed the streets in his grand, new manner, and his thoughts ran: "What on earth can I do to live up to my reputation?"

However he possessed intact the five-pound note won from Harold Etches in the matter of the dance.

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