Literary Thoughts edition presents Imperial Palace by Arnold Bennett ------ "Imperial Palace" is not only the last, but also the longest novel by English writer Arnold Bennett (1867–1931, full name: Enoch Arnold Bennett). It was written in 1930, showing the fascinating background details of the running of a luxury hotel in the 1920s, modelled on the Savoy Hotel in London. Its success was overshadowed by the best-selling novel "People in a Hotel" (Menschen im Hotel) published in the same year by Vicki Baum. All books of the Literary Thoughts edition have been transscribed from original prints and edited for better reading experience. Please visit our homepage www.literarythoughts.com to see our other publications.
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Literary Thoughts Editionpresents
Transscribed and Published by Jacson Keating (editor)
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Evelyn came down by the lift into the great front-hall. One of the clocks there showed seven minutes to four; the other showed six minutes to four. He thought: “I should have had time to shave. This punctuality business is getting to be a mania with me.” He smiled sympathetically, forgivingly, at his own weakness, which the smile transformed into a strength. He had bathed; he had drunk tea; he was correctly dressed, in the informal style which was his—lounge-suit, soft collar, soft hat, light walking-stick, no gloves; but he had not shaved. No matter. There are dark men who must shave every twelve hours; their chins are blue. Evelyn was neither dark nor fair; he might let thirty hours pass without a shave, and nobody but an inquisitive observer would notice the negligence.
The great front-hall was well lighted; but the lamps were islands in the vast dusky spaces; at 2 a.m. the chandeliers—sixteen lamps apiece—which hung in the squares of the panelled ceiling ceased to shower down their spendthrift electricity on the rugs and the concrete floor impressively patterned in huge lozenges of black and white. Behind the long counters to the right of the double revolving doors at the main entrance shone the two illuminated signs, “Reception” and “Enquiries,” always at the same strength day and night. The foyer down the steps, back beyond the hall, had one light. The restaurant down the steps beyond the foyer had one light. The reading-room, cut out of the hall by glass partitions, had no light. The grill-room, which gave on a broad corridor opposite the counters, had several lights; in theory it opened for breakfasts at 6 a.m., but in fact it was never closed, nor its kitchen closed.
Reyer, the young night-manager, in stiff shirt and dinner-jacket, was sitting at the Reception counter, his fair, pale, bored, wistful face bent over a little pile of documents. An Englishman of French extraction, he was turning night into day and day into night in order to learn a job and something about human nature. He would lament, mildly, that he never knew what to call his meals; for with him dinner was breakfast and breakfast dinner; as for lunch, he knew it no more. He had been night-manager for nearly a year; and Evelyn had an eye on him, had hopes of him—and he had hopes of Evelyn.
As Evelyn approached the counter Reyer respectfully rose.
“Good morning, Mr. Orcham. You’re up early.”
“Anything on the night-report?” Evelyn asked, ignoring Reyer’s remark.
“Nothing much, sir. A lady left suite 341 at three o’clock.”
“Taxi or car?”
“Walked,” said Reyer the laconic.
“Let me see the book.”
Reyer opened a manuscript volume and pushed it across the counter. Evelyn read, without any comment except “Um!” At 10 a.m. the night-report would be placed before him, typewritten, in his private office. He moved away. Near the revolving doors stood Samuel Butcher (referred to, behind his back, as Long Sam), the head night-porter, and a couple of his janissaries, all in blue and gold.
“Well, Sam,” Evelyn greeted the giant cheerfully.
“Morning, sir,” Sam saluted.
The janissaries, not having been accosted, took care not to see Evelyn.
“I gather you haven’t had to throw anyone out to-night?” Evelyn waved his cane.
“No, sir.” Sam laughed, proud of the directorial attention.
Evelyn pulled out a cigarette. Instantly both the janissaries leapt to different small tables on which were matches. The winner struck a match and held it to Evelyn’s cigarette.
“Thanks,” Evelyn murmured, and, puffing, strolled towards the back of the hall, where he glanced at himself in a mighty square column faced with mirror.
No! The nascent beard was completely invisible. Suit correct, stylish. Handkerchief peeping correctly out of the pocket. Necktie—he adjusted the necktie ever so little. Shoes correct—not a crease in them. Well, perhaps the features lacked distinction; the angle of the nose was a bit too acute; the lower lip heavy, somewhat sensual. But what friendly keen brown eyes! What delicate ears! And the chin—how enigmatic! The chin would puzzle any reader of the human countenance. Forty-seven. Did he feel forty-seven? Could he even believe that he was forty-seven? He felt thirty—thirty-one. And the simpleton thought that he looked at most thirty-five. In two and a half years however, he would be fifty. God! What a prospect! Well, he didn’t care one damn how old he was, or looked, so long as he felt. . . . On the whole, quite a presentable creature. But nobody would glance twice at him in the street. Nobody could possibly guess that he was anyone out of the ordinary. A pity, possibly. Yet what is, is, and must be accepted with philosophy. Nevertheless, he was acquainted with idiots, asses, greenhorns and charlatans whose appearance was so distinguished that they could not enter a restaurant without arousing respectful curiosity. Funny world.
The séance at the mirror lasted three seconds—time to adjust the necktie, no more. He moved off. The clock over the counter showed five minutes to four. Clocks had their moods; they raced, they stood still, in discordance with the mood of the beholder, maliciously intent on exasperating him.
Within recent months Evelyn had hung the walls of the great hall with large, old coloured prints of antique, sunk or broken-up Atlantic liners, and underneath each a smaller photograph of a modern vessel. He glanced at an American print of a French liner of the sixties, paddle and sail. He read the quaint legend beneath: “Length 375 feet. Breadth of beam 46. Depth of hold 33. Burthen 3,500 tons. Horse-power, 1,250.” Burthen. Comic! Yet in her time this ship had been a crack. Under the print was a photograph of the “Ile-de-France.” Yes, this idea of his of marine prints in the hall had been extremely successful. It was aimed at American visitors, who constituted sixty per cent. of the clientèle, and it hit them all day and every day. Difficult at certain hours to pass through the great hall without seeing an American gazing entranced at a marine print.
That contrarious clock still showed five minutes to four. Long Sam stood moveless; his janissaries stood moveless; young Reyer sat moveless. The electric lamps burned with the stoical endurance of organisms which have passed beyond time into eternity. The great hall seemed to lie under an enchantment. Its darkened extensions, the foyer and the immeasurable restaurant, seemed to lie under an enchantment. The brighter corridor and grill-room seemed to lie under an enchantment. Diminished men awaited with exhaustless patience the birth of day, as they might have awaited the birth of a child.
Sound and lights of a big car, heard and seen through the glazed frontage of the hall! Revolution of the doors! Long Sam was already outside; his janissaries were outside; the doors were whizzing with the speed of the men’s exit. Reyer came round the counter. The enchantment was smashed to bits: phenomenon as swift and unexpected as a street-accident. Evelyn wondered who could be arriving with such a grandiose pother at four o’clock in the morning. But his chief concern was the clock, which now showed three minutes to four. If Jack Cradock did not appear within three minutes the stout, faithful little man would be late for his rendezvous. And it was Jack’s business to be not merely on time but before time. Evelyn was uneasy. Uneasily he glanced down the dim vista of the foyer and the restaurant, his back to the doors through which Jack ought to enter. He heard voices: Long Sam’s, Reyer’s and another’s.
He turned, in spite of himself, at the tones of that third voice, polite, but curt, assured, authoritative. Between a felt hat and a huge overcoat he saw a face with which he was not unacquainted, Sir Henry Savott’s (baronet). Then he remembered that Sir Henry, passenger by the “Caractacus”—45,000 tons—from New York, had reserved two suites overlooking the Park. A small, spry, rather desiccated face, with small, searching eyes, a clipped, iron-grey military moustache, and a bony, imperious chin. Staring curiously about as he talked to Reyer, Sir Henry descried Evelyn, and, unceremoniously leaving Reyer, stepped spryly towards the Director, who advanced to meet him in the middle of the hall. False youthfulness, thought Evelyn, proud of his own comparative youthfulness. The fellow must be fifty-seven, and pretending to be forty-seven—unsuccessfully! The two shook hands with mutual smiles.
“Hope you haven’t got up specially to meet us,” said Sir Henry. “Too bad!”
“No,” said Evelyn quietly and carelessly.
The infernal impudence of these spoilt millionaires! To imagine that he, Evelyn, would get up specially to meet anybody on earth!
“I’m glad,” said Sir Henry, who was sorry, hiding all consciousness of a rebuff.
“See. You’ve come by the ‘Caractacus’?”
“Yes. My daughter has driven me and her maid and some of the light stuff up from Southampton. She’s the devil’s own driver, Gracie is, particularly at night. There are two or three cars behind us. But most of the passengers preferred to have their sleep out on the ship and wait for the boat-train.”
“You’re three days late,” said Evelyn.
“Yes,” Sir Henry admitted.
“Funny rumours about that ship,” said Evelyn.
“Yes,” said Sir Henry darkly, in a manner definitely to close the subject of rumours. He was a large shareholder in the company which owned the line.
Evelyn perceived two girls in conversation with an assiduous and impressed Reyer. The young man’s deportment was quite good, if a trifle too subservient. One of the girls wore a magnificent leather coat. Doubtless Gracie, celebrated in the illustrated press for her thrilling performances at the wheel at Brooklands. The other, less warmly clad, must be the maid.
Gracie looked suddenly round, and Evelyn saw her face, which however he hardly recognised from the photographs of it in illustrated papers. At a distance of twenty feet he felt the charm of it—vivacious, agreeable, aware of its own power. Perhaps very beautiful, but he could not be sure. Anyhow, the face—and the gestures—of an individuality. Evelyn at once imagined her as a mistress; and as he fenced amiably with the amiable Sir Henry, who he had some reason to believe would one day soon be trying to engage him in high finance, his mind dwelt upon the idea of her as a mistress. He was not an over-sensual man; he was certainly not lascivious. He was guilty of no bad taste in conceiving this girl, whom he now saw for the first time, as a mistress in the privacy of his heart. What goes on in a man’s heart is his own affair. And similar thoughts, on meeting young and attractive women, wander in and out of the hearts of the most staid and serious persons, unsuspected by a world of beholders apt to reason too conventionally. Evelyn’s was an entirely serious soul, but it had a mortal envelope. He was starved of women. For years women had been his secret preoccupation. He desired intimacy with some entrancing, perfect woman. Not the marital intimacy. No. Never again the marital intimacy. He would make sacrifices for the desired intimacy. But not the supreme sacrifice. Work first, career first, woman second, even were she another Helen.
For nearly twenty years Evelyn had been a widower. Six weeks after his marriage a daily series of inescapable facts had compelled him to admit to himself that his wife was a furiously self-centred neurotic who demanded as a natural right everything in exchange for nothing. An incurable. He had excused her on the ground that she was not to be blamed for her own mental constitution. He had tolerated her because he was of those who will chew whatever they may have bitten off. He had protected himself by the application of the theory that all that happens to a man happens in his own mind and nowhere else, and therefore that he who is master of his own mind is fortified against fate. A dogma; but it suited his case. At the end of three years Adela had died, an unwilling mother with a terrific grievance, in child-bed; and the child had not survived her. The whole experience was horrible. Evelyn mourned. His sorrow was also a sigh of transcendent relief. Agonising relief, but relief. Not till the episode was finished did he confess to his mind how frightfully he had suffered and how imperfectly he had been master of his mind. He had never satisfactorily answered the great, humiliating question: “How could I have been such a colossal fool, so blind, so deaf, so utterly mistaken in my estimate of a woman?” He was left with a quiet but tremendous prejudice against marriage. I have had luck this time, he thought. Once is enough. Never again! Never again! He divided wives into those who were an asset and those who were a liability; and his strong inclination was to conclude, in the final judgment, that of all the wives he knew not one was an asset. One or two of them might have the appearance of an asset, yet if you could penetrate to essentials, if you could learn the inner conjugal secrets, was there one who was not a liability? He tried to stand away from himself and see that he was prejudiced, but he could never honestly convict himself of a prejudice in this matter.
He saw the maid and Reyer pass towards the lift like apparitions. He noticed that the pretty but tired maid was well-dressed, probably in clothes that a few months earlier her mistress had been wearing; but that nevertheless every nervous movement and glance of the girl divulged her station. He heard Sir Henry’s voice and his own like faint echoes. He saw the janissaries pass towards the lift like apparitions carrying ghostly suit-cases. He saw Miss Savott herself go towards the doors like an apparition, then hesitate and glide towards her father like an apparition. And in those brief seconds the sole reality of his mind was the three years of marriage with Adela, years whose thousand days and a day swept in detail through his memory with the miraculous rapidity of a life re-lived by a drowning man.
“Gracie, this is my friend, Mr. Orcham, the king of his world—I’ve told you. My daughter.”
And now Gracie was the reality. Instinctively he put one hand to his chin as he raised his hat with the other. Why had he not shaved? The hair on his enigmatic chin seemed half an inch long.
“I do hope you haven’t got up specially to meet us,” said Gracie.
Her father’s words, but spoken differently! What a rich, low, emotional, sympathetic voice, full of modulations! A voice like shot silk, changing at every syllable!
“No, I didn’t,” he replied. “But if I’d known you’d be here so early I certainly might have done. The fact is, I’ve got up to go with my meat-buyer to Smithfield Market.”
He looked and saw the faithful Cradock standing meekly expectant at the entrance. The dilatory clock at last showed four.
“I must just lock up the car,” said Gracie. “Shan’t be two minutes.” She ran off.
“I’m going to bed,” Sir Henry called after her.
“All right, daddy,” she called back, not stopping.
“I’m fortunate enough to be able to sleep whenever I want to!” said Sir Henry to Evelyn. “Useful, eh?”
“Very,” Evelyn agreed.
Wonderful with what naïve satisfaction these millionaires attributed to themselves the characteristics of Napoleon! He accompanied Napoleon to the lift, and stayed for a moment chatting about the hotel. It was as if they were manœuvring for places before crossing the line in a yacht race.
When Evelyn returned to the hall Gracie Savott also was returning. She now carried the leather coat on her arm, revealing a beige frock.
“No, no,” she said when he offered to take the coat. “But have you got a gasper?”
“I never smoke anything else,” said Evelyn.
“Neither do I,” said Gracie. “Thanks.”
He thought: “What next?”
The next was that Gracie moved a few feet to a table, Evelyn following, and put the newly lighted cigarette on an ash-tray, opened her bag, and began to titivate her face. She was absorbed in this task, earnest over it; yet she could talk the while. He somehow could not examine her features in detail; but he could see that she had a beautiful figure. What slim ankles! What wrists! Les attaches fines. She had a serious expression, as one engaged on a matter of grave importance. She dabbed; she critically judged the effect of each dab, gazing closely at her face in the hand-mirror. And Evelyn unshaved!
“Has daddy really gone to bed?” she asked, not taking her eyes off the mirror.
“He’s a great sleeper before the Lord. I suppose he told you about our cockleshell the ‘Caractacus.’ ”
“Not a word. What about it? We did hear she’d been rolling a bit.”
“Rolling a bit! When we were a day out from New York, she rolled the dining-room windows under water. The fiddles were on the tables, but she threw all the crockery right over the fiddles. I was the only woman at dinner, and there wasn’t absolutely a legion of men either. They said that roll smashed seventeen thousand pounds’ worth of stuff. I thought she’d never come up again. The second officer told daddy next day that he never thought she’d come up again. It was perfectly thrilling. But she did come up. Everyone says she’s the worst roller that ever sailed the seas.”
During this narration Gracie’s attention to the mirror did not relax.
“Well,” said Evelyn calmly. “Of course it must have been pretty bad weather to make a big ship like that three days late.”
“Weather!” said Gracie. “The weather was awful, perfectly dreadful. But it wasn’t the weather that made her three days late. She split right across. Yes, split right across. The observation-deck. A three-inch split. Anyhow I could put my foot into it. Of course it was roped off. But they showed it to daddy. They had to. And I saw it with him.”
“Do you mean to say——” Evelyn began, incredulous.
“Yes, I do mean to say,” Gracie stopped him. “You ask daddy. Ask anyone who was on board. That’s why she’s going to be laid up for three months. They talk about ‘re-conditioning.’ But it’s the split.”
“But how on earth——?” Evelyn was astounded more than he had ever been astounded.
“Oh! Strain, or something. They said it was something to do with them putting two new lifts in, and removing a steel cross-beam or whatever they call it. But daddy says don’t you believe it. She’s too long for her strength, and she won’t stand it in any weather worth talking about. Of course she was German built and the Germans can’t build like us. Don’t you agree?”
“No. I don’t,” said Evelyn, with a smile to soften the contradiction, slightly lifting his shoulders.
“Oh, you don’t? That’s interesting now.”
Evelyn raised his cane a few inches to greet Jack Cradock, who replied by raising his greenish hard hat.
“Now,” thought Evelyn, somewhere in the midst of the brain-disturbance due to Gracie’s amazing news. “This is all very well, but what about Smithfield? She isn’t quite a young girl. She must be twenty-five, and she knows that I haven’t got up at four o’clock for small-talk with women. Yet she behaves as if I hadn’t anything to do except listen to her. She may stay chattering here for half an hour.”
He resented this egotistical thoughtlessness so characteristic of the very rich. At the same time he was keenly enjoying her presence. And he liked her expensive stylishness. The sight of a really smart woman always gave him pleasure. In his restaurant, when he occasionally inspected it as a spy from a corner behind a screen, he always looked first for the fashionable, costly frocks, and the more there were the better he was pleased. He relished, too, the piquancy of the contrast between Gracie’s clothes and the rough masculinity of her achievements on Brooklands track in the monstrous cars which Sir Henry had had specially built for her, and her night-driving on the road from Southampton. Only half an hour ago she had probably been steering a big car at a mile a minute on a dark curving road. And here with delicate hands she was finishing the minute renewal of her delicate face. Her finger-nails were stained a bright red.
So the roll from which nobody hoped that the ship would recover, the roll which had broken seventeen thousand pounds’ worth of stuff, was merely ‘thrilling’ to her. And she had put her little foot into the split across the deck. What a sensation that affair ought to cause! What unique copy for the press! Nevertheless, would it cause a sensation? Would the press exploit it? He fancied not. The press would give descriptive columns to the marvels and luxuries of a new giant liner. But did anybody ever read in any paper—even in any anti-capitalistic paper—that a famous vessel rolled, or vibrated, or shook? Never! Never a word in derogation! As for the incredible cross-split, result of incorrect calculations of the designer, no editor would dare to refer to it in print. To do so would damage Atlantic traffic for a whole season—and incidentally damage the hotel business. The four-million-pound crack was protected by the devoted adherence of the press to the dogma that transatlantic liners are perfect. And let no one breathe a word concerning the relation between editors and advertisement-managers.
Miss Savott had kept the leather coat on her arm while doing her face. The face done, and her bag shut again, she dropped the cloak on the small table by her side. Womanish! Proof of a disordered and inconsequent mind. She resumed the cigarette, which had been steadily sending up a vertical wavering wisp of smoke.
“Mr. Orcham,” she said ingratiatingly, intimately, stepping near to him. “Will you do something for me? . . . I simply daren’t ask you.”
“If I can,” he smiled. (Had experience taught her that she was irresistible?)
“Oh, you can! I’ve been dying for years to see Smithfield Market in the middle of the night. Would you mind very much taking me with you? I would drive you there. The car’s all ready. I didn’t lock it up after all.”
Here was his second amazement. These people were incredible—as incredible as the split in the ‘Caractacus.’ How did she suppose he could transact his business at Smithfield with a smart young woman hanging on to him?
She added, like an imploring child:
“I won’t be in the way. I’d be as small as a mouse.”
They read your thoughts.
Not ‘as quiet as a mouse.’ ‘As small as a mouse.’ Better. She had a gift for making her own phrases.
“But surely you must be terribly tired. I’ve had four and a half hours’ sleep.”
“Me! Tired! I’m like father—and you—I’m never tired. Besides, I slept my head off on the ship.”
She looked appealingly up at him. Yes, irresistible! And she well knew it!
“Well, if you really aren’t too tired, I shall be delighted. And the market is very interesting.”
And in fact he was delighted. There were grave disadvantages, naturally; but he dismissed them from his mind, to make room for the anticipation of being driven by her through the night-streets of London. Sitting by her! He was curious to see one of these expert racing drivers, and especially the fastest woman-driver in the world, at the wheel.
“You’re frightfully kind,” said she. “I’ll just——”
“How did you know I’m never tired?” he interrupted her.
“I could see it in your shoulders,” she answered. “You aren’t, are you?”
“Not often,” he said, proud, thrilled, feverish.
“See it in my shoulders,” he thought. “Odd little creature. Her brain’s impish. That’s what it is. Well, perhaps she can see it in my shoulders.” Indeed he was proud.
“I’ll just fly upstairs one moment. Shan’t keep you. Where’s the lift?” But she had descried the lift and was gone.
“Reyer,” he called. “Just see Miss Savott to her suite.”
Reyer ran. The liftman judiciously waited for him.
And Evelyn, Nizam of the immense organism of the hotel, reflected like an ingenuous youth:
“I know everyone thinks I’m very reserved. And perhaps I am. But she’s got right through that, into me. And she’s the first. She must have taken a liking to me. Here I’ve only known her about six minutes and she’s——” Somewhere within him a point of fire glowed. He advanced rather self-consciously towards the waiting Cradock. And, advancing, he remembered that, on her first disappearance, after saying she would be two minutes, Gracie Savott had been away only half a minute. She was not the sort of girl to keep a man waiting. No! . . . But barely half his own age.
Jack Cradock’s age was fifty-nine. He was short, stoutish, very honest, and very shrewd. His clothes were what is called ‘good,’ that is to say, of good everlasting cloth well sewed; but they had no style except Jack’s style. His income nearly touched a thousand a year. With his savings he bought house-property. No stocks and shares for him. He had as fine an eye for small house-property as for a lamb’s carcass. He had always been in the Smithfield trade. His father had been a drover when cattle strolled leisurely to London over roads otherwise empty. He went to bed at eight o’clock, and rose at three—save on Sundays. Daylight London seemed to him rather odd, unnatural.
He had been meat-buyer to the hotel in the years when it was merely a hotel among hotels, before Evelyn took control of it. In those years there existed in the buying departments abuses which irked Jack’s honesty. He saw them completely abolished. He saw the hotel develop from a hotel among hotels into the unique hotel, whose sacred name was uttered in a tone different from the tone used for the names of all other hotels. He recognised in Evelyn a fellow-devotee of honesty in a world only passably honest; a man of scrupulous fairness, a man of terrific industry, a man of most various ability and most quiet authority, a real swell. Jack had heard that Evelyn gave lectures on wines to his own wine-waiters, that he tasted every wine before purchase, and chose every brand of cigar himself; and Jack marvelled thereat. He had heard, further, that Evelyn knew everything about vegetables; but Covent Garden, which he regarded as a den of thieves, had no interest for Jack. Apart from potatoes and occasional broad beans and spring onions, he never ate vegetables; salads he could not bear.
Of course Evelyn did not know as much about meat as Jack—who did?—but he knew a lot, and he did not pretend to more knowledge than he possessed. That was what Jack liked in Evelyn: absence of pretence. He adored Evelyn with a deep admiration and a humble, sturdy affection equally deep. Evelyn often asked after his wife, and the boy in the navy.
He was now waiting for his august governor with impatience well concealed. He saw Gracie run off to the lift. He himself had never been in any but the service-lifts. He had never seen the restaurant except when it was empty and the table-tops dark green instead of white, and the chairs packed; but he knew the restaurant-kitchen, and had frequent interviews with the gesticulatory and jolly French chef in the chef’s office outside whose door two clerks worked. He had never been in any bedroom. He imagined all manner of strange and even unseemly happenings in the suites. He rarely had glimpses of the hotel’s clientèle, and his shrewd notion was that he would be antipathetic to it. Still, it wanted the best meat, and he provided the best meat; and that was something. He strove conscientiously to think well of the clientèle.
He did not like the look of Miss Gracie Savott. She coincided too closely with what he would describe in his idiom as ‘a bit too tasty.’ He was aware that women, more correctly ladies, smoked, but he objected to their smoking, especially the young ones; his married daughter, nevertheless a fine and capricious piece, did not smoke, and had she attempted to do so would probably have been dissuaded from persevering by physical violence at the joint hands of her father and her husband. As a boy he had seen ancient hags smoking short clay pipes on the house-steps of large villages. A hag, however, was a hag, and a cutty pipe suited her indrawn lips. But that a fresh young girl, personable, virginal, should brazenly puff tobacco—that was different.
Nor could he approve of Gracie’s general demeanour towards the governor. Too bold, too insinuating, too impudent! Hardly decent! Most shocking of all was the spectacle of Gracie daring—daring to paint and powder her saucy face in the presence of the governor. Shameless! And the governor tolerated it! If the governor had not been above all criticism Jack would have ventured in his heart to criticise the demeanour of the governor towards Gracie. Too boyish, too youthful; a hint of the swain about it! Well, the chit was gone now.
The governor strolled slowly down the hall to the doors where Jack stood waiting. A little self-conscious, the governor was, in his walk. Seldom before had Jack seen the governor self-conscious. His confidence in the governor was a great solid rock. He felt a momentary tremor in the rock. It ceased; it was not a tremor; it was imperceptible: he had been mistaken. Yet . . .
“Morning, Jack. Sorry to keep you. Shan’t be a minute.”
“Morning, governor. No hurry, but we ought to be getting along. I have a taxi waiting.” The customary tranquil benevolence of the governor’s tone reassured him.
“Just tell me again about that Jebson young man. I want to know exactly before I see him. You said he’s only recently come into the business.”
“Yes, sir,” Jack began. “And if you ask me, he thinks he’s the emperor of Smithfield. His uncle’s a tough ’un, but nothing to young Charlie Jebson. I get on pretty comfortably with everybody in the markets except him. Tries to make out he don’t care whether he does business or not. But he can’t put that across me. No! And everybody but him knows he can’t. His uncle knows it. Ten shilling a stone’s the right price for the best Scotch. And Charlie knows that too. But ‘ten and six,’ he says. ‘Ten and two,’ I say, wishing to meet him. ‘Ten and two! You’ve got the b. ten and two fever, Cradock,’ he says. ‘And you’ve got the b. half-guinea fever,’ I says. ‘Don’t ask me to come back,’ I says. ‘Because I shan’t. I’ve got my best coat on,’ I says. Then he turns on me and gives me a basinful, and I give him one. Nothing doing, governor. And his uncle’s afraid of him. It was all over the Market.”
“Well,” said Evelyn, with a faint, mild smile. “We’ll give him a miss in future.”
“Yes, governor,” said Jack anxiously. “But supposing he takes it, supposing he accepts of it! Jebsons have the finest Scotch beef in the market. It was Charlie’s grandfather as started the Scotch beef trade in Smithfield. And the best Scotch—it’s none so easy to come by. Sometimes three days and I don’t see a side I fancy—not what you may call the best.”
“Try him with ten and four.”
“Yes, governor, and have all the rest of ’em jumping at me. Besides, I told him ten and two was my last word.”
“That’s enough,” said Evelyn. “If you said it you said it, and we shan’t go back on you, even if we have to buy Argentine!” He soothingly patted Jack’s shoulder.
Jack was more than soothed—he was delighted. This was the rock, and never had it quivered.
“The fact is,” said Jack in an easier tone, “Charlie’s got it into his head that I’m making a bit on it. And that’s why when you said you’d come up with me one morning and show yourself, I thought it ’ud be a good move. If that won’t settle Master Charlie, I don’t know what will.”
To himself Jack was thinking: “Well then, why doesn’t he come? I could have told him all this in the taxi. And this is the first time I’ve ever had to tell him anything twice. I’m going to be late.”
“Listen!” said Evelyn, after some more unnecessary talk. “You go on. Take the taxi you’ve got. I’ll follow. I’ll ask for Jebsons’, and you’ll find me somewhere near it. Sir Henry Savott—very important customer and a very important man too, in the City—wants me to take his daughter and show her Smithfield. Bit awkward. Couldn’t refuse though. They have a car here. I might get there before you, Jack.” Evelyn laughed.
Jack mistrusted the laugh. He had no suspicion that the paragon of honesty had told him a lie; but he mistrusted the tone of voice as well as the laugh. Something a wee bit funny about it.
“Do you mean that young lady you were talking to, governor?” Jack asked in a voice that vibrated with apprehension.
“Yes, that’s the one. Off you go now.”
Jack passed quickly in silence through the revolving doors. He was thunderstruck. He could hardly have been more perturbed if the entire hotel had fallen about his ears. The entire hotel had indeed fallen about his ears. The governor, the pattern, the exemplar, the perfect serious man, taking that prancing hussy into Smithfield Market! Of all places! There was never a woman to be seen in Smithfield before nine o’clock, unless it might be a street-singer with her man going home after giving a show outside the Cock Tavern. The talk to-morrow morning! The jokes he’d have to hear afterwards—and answer with better jokes! Rock? The rock was wobbling from side to side, ready to crash, ready to crush him. He climbed heavily into the taxi, sighing.
For the first ten minutes of waiting Evelyn forgave the girl. During the second ten minutes he grew resentful. It was just like these millionaires to assume that nothing really mattered except their own convenience. Did she suppose that he had risen at three-thirty for the delight of frittering away twelve, sixteen, nineteen irrecoverable minutes of eternity while she lolled around in her precious suite? Monstrous! Worse, he was becoming a marked man to Reyer, Long Sam, and the janissaries. They did not yet know that he was waiting for a girl; but they would know the moment she appeared and went off with him. Worse still, she was destroying the character with which he had privately endowed her. She arrived, smiling. And in an instant he had forgotten the twenty minutes, as one instantly forgets twenty days of bad weather when a fine day dawns.
“Sorry to keep you. Complications,” said she, with composure.
He wondered whether the complications had been caused by a forbidding father.
She had changed her hat, and put on a thin, dark, inconspicuous cloak.
The car was Leviathan. A landaulette body, closed. She opened one of its front-doors, and picked up a pair of loose gloves from the driver’s seat. An attendant janissary found himself forestalled, and had to stand unhelpful.
“Open?” she asked, in a tone expecting an affirmative answer.
“No. I’ll do it. This is a one-girl hood. You might just wind down the window on your side.”
In ten seconds the car was open.
“But I’m going to sit by you,” said Evelyn.
She was lowering the glass partition behind the driver’s seat.
“Of course,” said she. “But I like it all open so that the wind can blow through.”
By the manner in which she manœuvred Leviathan out of the courtyard, which an early cleaner had encumbered with a long gushing hose-pipe, Evelyn knew at once that she was an expert of experts. In a moment they were in Birdcage Walk. In another moment they were out of Birdcage Walk, and slipping into Whitehall. In yet another moment they were in the Strand. It was still night. The sun had not given the faintest announcement to the revolving earth’s sombre eastern sky that he was mounting towards the horizon. There was an appreciable amount of traffic. She never hesitated, not for the fraction of a second. Her judgment was instantaneous and infallible. Her accelerations and decelerations, her brakings, could hardly be perceived. Formidable Leviathan was silent. Not a murmur beneath the bonnet. But what speed—in traffic! Evelyn saw the finger of the speedometer rise to forty—forty-two.
“Do you know the way?” he asked.
“I do,” she replied.
Strange that she should know the way to Smithfield.
Suddenly she said:
“What brought you into the hotel business?”
He replied as suddenly:
“The same thing that brought you to motoring. Instinct. I was always fond of handling people, and organising.”
“Always? Do you mean even when you were a boy?”
“Yes, when I was a boy. You know, clubs and things, and field-excursions. I managed the refreshment department at Earl’s Court one year. Then through some wine-merchant I got the management of the Wey Hotel at Weybridge. I rebuilt that. Then I had to add two wings to it.”
“But this present show of yours?”
“Oh! Well. They wanted a new manager here, and they sent for me. But I wouldn’t leave the Wey. So to get me they bought the Wey.”
“And what happened to the Wey?”
“Nothing. I’m still running it. Going down there this morning. Can’t go every day. When you’ve got the largest luxury hotel in the world on your hands——”
“Have you been to America? I thought in America——”
“Yes. All over America. I expected to learn a bit in America, but I didn’t. You mean those ‘2,000 bedrooms—2,000 bathrooms’ affairs. Ever stayed in one? No, of course you haven’t. Not your sort. Too wholesale and rough-and-ready. Not what we call luxury hotels. Rather behind the times. They haven’t got past ‘period’-furnishing. Tudor style. Jacobean style. Louis Quinze room. And so on. And as for bathrooms—well, they have to come to my ‘show’ to see bathrooms.”
He spoke as it were ruthlessly, but very simply and quietly. When she spoke she did not turn her head. She seemed to be speaking in a trance. He could examine her profile at his ease. Yes, she was beautiful.
At Ludgate Circus, a white-armed policeman was directing traffic under electric lamps just as in daylight.
“How funny!” she said, swinging round to the left so acutely that Evelyn’s shoulder touched hers.
In no time they would reach their destination. For this reason and no other he regretted the high speed. The fresh wind that precedes the dawn invigorated and sharpened all his senses. He recalled Dr. Johnson’s remark that he would be content to spend his life driving in a postchaise with a pretty woman. But the pretty woman would not have been driving. This girl was driving. She profoundly knew the job. Evelyn always had a special admiration for anybody who profoundly knew the job. She even knew the streets of commercial and industrial London. Before he was aware of it, the oddest thoughts shot through his mind.
“Her father might object. But I could handle her father. Besides—what a girl! Lovely, and can do something! No one who drives like her could possibly not have the stuff in her. I’ve never met anybody like her. She likes me. No nonsense about her! What a voice! Her voice is enough. It’s like a blooming orchestra, soft and soothing, but so. . . . Here! What’s this? What’s all this. It isn’t an hour since I met her. I’m the wildest idiot ever born. Marriage? Never. A mistress? Impossible. Neither she nor any other woman. The head of a ‘show,’ as she calls it, like mine with a mistress!”
He laughed inwardly, awaking out of a dream. And as he awoke he heard her beautiful voice saying, while her eyes stared straight ahead:
“What I admire in you is that you don’t act. I know you must be a pretty biggish sort of a man. Well, father’s pretty big—at least I’m always being told so—but father can’t help acting the big man, acting what he is. He’s always feeling what he is. You’re big and so you must know you’re big; but you just let it alone. It doesn’t worry you into acting the part. I know. I’ve seen lots of big men.”
“Oh!” murmured Evelyn, cautious, non-committal, and short of the right words. But he was thinking rapidly again: “And she hadn’t met me an hour ago! What a girl! No girl ever said anything as extraordinary as what she’s just said. And it’s true, what she says. Didn’t I see it in her father? I was afraid I might have seemed boastful, the way I talked about me and my ’show.’ But apparently she didn’t misunderstand me. Most girls would have misunderstood. Really she is a bit out of the ordinary.”
Smithfield Markets with their enclosed lighted avenues shone out twinkling in the near distance, on the other side of a large, dark, irregular open space of ground. Gracie glanced to right and left, decided where she would draw up, and, describing a long, evenly sustained curve, drew up in a quiet corner, slow, slower, slowest—motion expiring without a jar into immobility. She clicked the door and jumped down with not a trace of fatigue after a bedless night nearly ended. Her tongue said nothing, but her demeanour said: “And that’s that! That’s how I do it!”
“Well,” remarked Evelyn, still in the car. “You said something about me. I’ll say something about you. You can drive a car.”
Gracie answered: “I don’t drive any more.”
“What do you mean—you don’t drive any more?”
“I mean race-track driving. I’ve given it up. This isn’t driving.”
“Had an accident?”
“An accident? No! I’ve never touched a thing in my life. But I might have done. I thought it wasn’t good enough—the risk. So I gave it up. I thought I might as well keep the slate clean.” She smiled ingenuously, smoothing her cloak.
“And what a slate! What a nerve to retire like that!” Evelyn reflected, and said aloud: “You’re amazing!” He had again the sensation of the romantic quality of life. He was uplifted high.
“So here we are,” said Gracie, suddenly matter-of-fact.
A policeman strolled into the vicinity.
“Can I leave my car here, officer?” she questioned him briskly, authoritatively.
The policeman paused, peering at her in the dying night.
“It’ll be quite safe?”
“I’ll keep an eye on it, miss.”
Evelyn, accustomed to take charge of all interviews, parleys, and pow-wows, had to be a silent spectator. As he led her into the Market, he trembled at the prospect of the excitement, secret and overt, which her appearance would cause there.
Gracie, though for different reasons, felt perhaps just as nervous as Evelyn himself when they entered the meat-market; but within the first few moments her nervousness was utterly dissolved away in the strong sense of romance which surged into her mind and destroyed everything else therein.
The illimitable interior had four chief colours: bright blue of the painted constructional ironwork, all columns and arches; red-pink-ivories of meat; white of the salesmen’s long coats; and yellow of electricity. Hundreds of bays, which might or might not be called shops, lined with thousands of great steel hooks from each of which hung a carcass, salesmen standing at the front of every bay, and far at the back of every bay a sort of shanty-office in which lurked, crouching and peering forth, clerks pen in hand, like devilish accountants of some glittering, chill inferno.
One long avenue of bays stretched endless in front, and others on either hand, producing in the stranger a feeling of infinity. Many people in the avenues, loitering, chatting, chaffing, bickering! And at frequent intervals market-porters bearing carcasses on their leather-protected shoulders, or porters pushing trucks full of carcasses, sped with bent heads feverishly through the avenues, careless of whom they might throw down or maim or kill. An impression of intense, cheerful vitality, contrasting dramatically with the dark somnolence of the streets around! A dream, a vast magic, set in the midst of the prosaic reality of industrial sleep! You were dead; you stepped at one step into the dream; you were alive.
Everything was incredibly clean. The blue paint was shining clean; the carcasses were clean; the white coats of the salesmen were clean; the chins of the salesmen were clean and smooth; many of them showed white, starched collars and fancy neckties under the white coats. Very many of them had magnificent figures, tall, burly, immense, healthy, jolly. None of them had any air of fatigue or drowsiness or unusualness. The hour was twenty minutes to five, and all was as customary as the pavements of Bond Street at twenty minutes to noon. And the badinage between acquaintances, between buyers and sellers, was more picturesque than that of Bond Street. Gracie caught fragments as she passed. “You dirty old tea-leaf.” “Go on, you son of an unmarried woman.”
Gracie was delighted. A world of males, of enormous and solid males. She was the only woman in the prodigious, jostling market. A million males, and one girl. She savoured the contrast between the one and the million, belittling neither. Of course Evelyn and she were marked for inquisition by curious, glinting eyes. They puzzled curiosity. They ought to have been revellers, out to see the night-life of London. But the sedate, reserved Evelyn looked no reveller, nor did she in her simple, dark cloak. But, she thought, they knew a thing or two, did those males! With satisfaction she imagined the free imaginings behind their eyes. She was proud to be the one against the million. Let them think! Let their imaginations work! She felt her power. And never, not even at 100 m.p.h. on the race-track, had she lived more exultantly. She was always demanding life, and seldom getting it. Now she was getting it—the full cup and overflowing.
Withal, at a deeper level than these Dionysiac sensations, was a sensation nobler, which rose up through them. The desire for serious endeavour. At the wheel of a racing-car, built specially for her to her father’s order, Gracie had been conscious of a purpose, of a justification. The track involved an austere rule of life; abstinence, regularity, early hours, the care of nerves, bodily fitness. Eight or ten months ago she had exhausted the moral potentialities of racing. Racing held nothing more for her. She had tired of it as a traveller tires of an island, once unknown, which he has explored from end to end. She had abandoned it. Her father had said: “You can’t stick to anything.” But her father did not understand.
She had fallen into sloth and self-indulgence, aimless, restless, unhappy. Her formidable engine-power was wasting itself. She had rejoined her smart friends, formed the habit of never wanting to go to bed and never wanting to get up, scattered her father’s incalculable affluence with both hands, eaten, drunk, gambled, refused herself no fantastic luxury (Sir Henry being negligently, perhaps cynically, compliant), lived the life furiously. And the life was death. Against his inclination, her father had taken her with him to America. She had had hopes of the opportunities and the energy of America. They were frustrated. In New York she had lived the life still more furiously. And it was worse than death. While in New York Sir Henry had put through one of his favourite transactions: sold his splendid London house at a rich profit. He had a fondness for selling London homes over the heads of himself and Gracie. He had two country-houses; but the country meant little to Gracie, and less to him. Hence, this night, the hotel. The man would reside in hotels for months together.
Gracie had reached the hotel, in the middle of the night, without any clear purpose in mind. She had loved with violence more than once, but never wisely. She now had no attachment—and only one interest: reading. She had suddenly discovered reading. Shakspere had enthralled her. On the Atlantic voyage she had gulped down two plays of Shakspere a day. At present, for her, it was Shakspere or nothing. The phenomenon was beyond her father; but it flattered his paternal vanity, demonstrated to him that he had begotten no common child. First racing, now Shakspere! Something Homeric about Gracie, and she his daughter! Out of Shakspere and other special reading, a project was beginning to shape in the girl’s soul, as nebulæ coalesce into a star. But it was yet too vague to be formulated. Then the hotel. Then Evelyn Orcham, whose name Sir Henry had casually mentioned to her with candid respect. Then the prospect of fabled Smithfield before dawn. Evelyn had impressed her at the first glance: she did not know why. And she divined that she in turn had impressed him. She admired him the more because he had not leapt at her suggestion of going with him to Smithfield, because for a few moments he had shown obvious reluctance to accept it. Not a man to be swept off his feet. A self-contained, reserved man. Shy. Quiet. Almost taciturn, with transient moods of being confidential, intimate. Mysterious. Dangerous, beneath a conventional deportment. You never knew what might be hidden in the depths of a man like that. Enigmatic. Diffident; but very sure of himself. In short . . . was he married? Had he a hinterland? Well, his eyes didn’t look as if he had.
And now she was in Smithfield, and her prophetic vision of it, her hopes of it, had been right. Smithfield had not deceived her. A romantic microcosm of mighty males, with a redoubtable language of their own. A rude, primeval, clean, tonic microcosm, where work was fierce and impassioned. A microcosm where people got up early and thought nothing of getting up early, and strove and haggled and sweated, rejoicing in the purchase and sale of beef and mutton and pork. To get up early and strive, while the dull world was still asleep: this it was that appealed to Gracie. Freshness and sanity of earliest dark cool mornings! She wanted to bathe in Smithfield as in a bath, to drench herself in it, to yield utterly to it. Smithfield was paradise, and a glorious hell.
“Ah! There’s Cradock,” said Evelyn. “He’s our buyer. I’ll introduce him to you. The little man there. The one that’s sticking a skewer into that lamb.”
Gracie recognised the man who had been waiting in the great hall of the hotel. Having stuck the skewer into the carcass, Jack pulled it out and put it to his nose. Then, while Evelyn and Gracie watched, he stuck a skewer into the next lamb, and finally left a skewer in each lamb: sign that they were his chosen.
“Chines and ends,” Gracie heard him say, as he scribbled in a notebook.
He saw Evelyn.
“Here we are, Cradock,” said Evelyn. “This is Miss Savott. Knows all about motor-racing. Now she wants to know all about Smithfield.”
Jack clasped her slim hand in his thick one.
“I do think your market is marvellous, Mr. Cradock!” Gracie greeted him, genuine enthusiasm in her emotional low voice. Her clasp tightened on the thick hand, and held it.
“Glad to meet you, miss.”
“It’s so big and so clean. I love this blue paint.”
“Glad to hear that, miss. There’s some of ’em would sooner have the old green . . . a bit of it over there.” He pointed.
“That’s nice too. But I prefer the blue, myself.”
Jack was conquered at once, not by her views on blue and green paint, but by her honest manner, by her beauty, and by the warmth of her trifling, fragile, firm fingers. He thought, “Governor knows what’s what. Trust him!” And since the relations of men and women are essentially the same in all classes, and his ideas concerning them had been made robust and magnanimous by many contacts with meat-salesmen of terrific physique, he began privately to wish the governor well in whatever the governor might be about. Anyhow it was none of his business, and the governor could indeed be trusted, had nothing to learn.
“You see those lambs, sir,” he murmured. “I guarantee there isn’t ten lambs like them in all London to-day!”
Evelyn nodded. The carcasses were already lifted off their hooks. Gracie saw them put on a huge carving block, and watched a carver in bloody blue divide them with a long razor-knife and a saw. In a moment the operation was performed, and so delicately and elegantly that it had no repulsiveness. The carvers were finished surgeons for Gracie, not butchers.
“That’s got to be served for lunch at the hotel this morning,” said Jack to her. “We hang the beef for five or six days—used to hang it for twelve or fourteen. But you ladies and gentlemen alter your tastes, you see, miss, and we have to follow. You see all that calves’ liver there. Not so many years ago, I could buy as much as I wanted at sixpence a pound. Would you believe me, it costs me two shillings these days! All because them Harley Street doctors say it’s good for anæmia.” He turned to Evelyn: “That’s Charlie Jebson, governor. Next door.” He jerked his head.
“Let’s go and talk to him,” said Evelyn, easily.
Mr. Charles Jebson was a very tall man, with a good figure, and dandiacal in dress.
“This is my governor, Mr. Orcham, Charlie. And this is Miss Savott, come to see what we do up here. Mr. Charles Jebson.”
Charles became exceedingly deferential. He shook hands with Gracie like a young peer in swallow-tails determined to ingratiate himself with a chorus-girl. Gracie smiled to herself, thinking: “What a dance I could lead him!”
“You do get up early here, Mr. Jebson,” she said. “When do you sleep?”
“I don’t, miss,” he replied, smirking. “At least—well, three or four hours. Make it up Sundays. Perhaps you know the ‘Shaftesbury,’ in Shaftesbury Avenue. Express lunch and supper counter. That’s mine. They call me ‘the governor’ there, when I go in of a night to tackle the books and keep an eye on things. Not so much time for sleep, you’ll freely admit.” Gracie’s notion of him was enlarged. White coat before dawn. Restaurateur in the centre of theatre-land at supper-time! A romantic world!
“It’s all too marvellous!” she said admiringly.
Charlie showed pride. A procession of four laden porters charged blindly down the avenue, shouting. Gracie received a glancing blow on the shoulder. She spun round, laughing. Jack moved her paternally away to shelter. A nun, hands joined in front, eyes downcast, walked sedately along the avenue, a strange, exotic visitant from another sphere. The spectacle startled Gracie, shaking all her ideals, somehow shaming her.
“Why is she here?” she demanded of Jack with false casualness.
“I couldn’t say, miss, for sure. Little Sister of the Poor, or something. Come for what she can get. Food for orphans, I shouldn’t be surprised. They’re very generous in the Market.” He added discreetly, as Gracie made as if to return to Evelyn, “Governor’s got a bit of business with Mr. Jebson.”
“Oh yes.” And she asked him some questions about what she saw.
“Refrigerators,” he said. “Thirty years ago when I first came here there wasn’t an ice-box in the place.”
Gracie could overhear parts of the conversation between Charlie and Evelyn. Evelyn laughed faintly. Charlie laughed loudly. It went on.
“I hope we shall be able to continue to do business together, Mr. Jebson,” Evelyn said at length.
“It won’t be my fault if we don’t, sir,” Charlie deferentially replied.
“That’s good,” said Evelyn. “I know there’s no beef better than yours. I didn’t know you had a restaurant. I’ve often noticed the Shaftesbury. One night I shall come in. I’m rather interested in restaurants.” He laughed.
“Thank you, sir. It’ll be a great honour when you do.”
General handshaking, which left Charlie Jebson well satisfied with the scheme of the universe. The three proceeded along the avenue.
“That’ll be all right now, I think,” Gracie heard Evelyn murmur to Jack Cradock. And she recalled what Evelyn had said to her about an instinct for handling people. As it was extremely difficult to walk three abreast in the thronged avenues, Jack, now elated, walked ahead. But sometimes he lagged behind. Everybody knew him. Everybody addressed him as Jack. (The Smithfield world was as much a world of Christian names as Gracie’s own.) Nevertheless the affectionate familiarity towards Jack was masked by the respect due to a man who was incapable of being deceived as to the quality of a carcass, who represented the swellest hotel in London, who had a clerk, who spent an average of a hundred pounds sterling a day, and who would take nothing but the best.
Cradock stopped dead, in the rear.
“Hello, Jim. I want a hundred pounds of fat.”
“Two and four,” was the reply.
“That’s where you’re wrong. Two shillings.”
“And that’s where you’re wrong.”
“Two and two,” said Jack.
“Oh,” said Jim, with feigned disgust. “I’ll give it you for your birthday. I know how hard up you are.”
Jack scribbled in his book and strode after the waiting pair. But a heavy hand was laid on his shoulder.
“Hello, Jack. Not seen you lately. Had a fair holiday?”
“Yes,” said Cradock. “I have had a fair holiday. I’m not like some of you chaps. When I go for a holiday I take my wife.” He hurried on.
“Excuse me, miss,” he apologised to Gracie.
The trio arrived at a large fenced lift.
“Miss Savott might like to go down,” Evelyn suggested.
Cradock spoke to the guardian, and the chains were unfastened.
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