WeirdSpace Digital Library - Culture without borders
Arnold Bennett (1911) Country of origin: UK
Available texts by the same author here
Chapter 4: Wrecking of a Life
In the Five Towns, and perhaps elsewhere, there exists a custom in virtue of which a couple who have become engaged in the early summer find themselves by a most curious coincidence at the same seaside resort, and often in the same street thereof, during August. Thus it happened to Denry and to Ruth Earp. There had been difficulties--there always are. A business man who lives by collecting weekly rents obviously cannot go away for an indefinite period. And a young woman who lives alone in the world is bound to respect public opinion. However, Ruth arranged that her girlish friend, Nellie Cotterill, who had generous parents, should accompany her. And the North Staffordshire Railway's philanthropic scheme of issuing four-shilling tourist return tickets to the seaside enabled Denry to persuade himself that he was not absolutely mad in contemplating a fortnight on the shores of England.
Ruth chose Llandudno, Llandudno being more stylish than either Rhyl or Blackpool, and not dearer. Ruth and Nellie had a double room in a boarding-house, No. 26 St Asaph's Road (off the Marine Parade), and Denry had a small single room in another boarding-house, No. 28 St Asaph's Road. The ideal could scarcely have been approached more nearly.
Denry had never seen the sea before. As, in his gayest clothes, he strolled along the esplanade or on the pier between those two girls in their gayest clothes, and mingled with the immense crowd of pleasure-seekers and money-spenders, he was undoubtedly much impressed by the beauty and grandeur of the sea. But what impressed him far more than the beauty and grandeur of the sea was the field for profitable commercial enterprise which a place like Llandudno presented. He had not only his first vision of the sea, but his first genuine vision of the possibilities of amassing wealth by honest ingenuity. On the morning after his arrival he went out for a walk and lost himself near the Great Orme, and had to return hurriedly along the whole length of the Parade about nine o'clock. And through every ground-floor window of every house he saw a long table full of people eating and drinking the same kinds of food. In Llandudno fifty thousand souls desired always to perform the same act at the same time; they wanted to be distracted and they would do anything for the sake of distraction, and would pay for the privilege. And they would all pay at once.
This great thought was more majestic to him than the sea, or the Great Orme, or the Little Orme.
It stuck in his head because he had suddenly grown into a very serious person. He had now something to live for, something on which to lavish his energy. He was happy in being affianced, and more proud than happy, and more startled than proud. The manner and method of his courtship had sharply differed from his previous conception of what such an affair would be. He had not passed through the sensations which he would have expected to pass through. And then this question was continually presenting itself: What could she see in him? She must have got a notion that he was far more wonderful than he really was. Could it be true that she, his superior in experience and in splendour of person, had kissed him? Him! He felt that it would be his duty to live up to this exaggerated notion which she had of him. But how?
They had not yet discussed finance at all, though Denry would have liked to discuss it. Evidently she regarded him as a man of means. This became clear during the progress of the journey to Llandudno. Denry was flattered, but the next day he had slight misgivings, and on the following day he was alarmed; and on the day after that his state resembled terror. It is truer to say that she regarded him less as a man of means than as a magic and inexhaustible siphon of money.
He simply could not stir out of the house without spending money, and often in ways quite unforeseen. Pier, minstrels, Punch and Judy, bathing, buns, ices, canes, fruit, chairs, row-boats, concerts, toffee, photographs, char-à-bancs: any of these expenditures was likely to happen whenever they went forth for a simple stroll. One might think that strolls were gratis, that the air was free! Error! If he had had the courage he would have left his purse in the house as Ruth invariably did. But men are moral cowards.
He had calculated thus:--Return fare, four shillings a week. Agreed terms at boarding-house, twenty-five shillings a week. Total expenses per week, twenty-nine shillings,--say thirty!
On the first day he spent fourteen shillings on nothing whatever--which was at the rate of five pounds a week of supplementary estimates! On the second day he spent nineteen shillings on nothing whatever, and Ruth insisted on his having tea with herself and Nellie at their boarding-house; for which of course he had to pay, while his own tea was wasting next door. So the figures ran on, jumping up each day. Mercifully, when Sunday dawned the open wound in his pocket was temporarily stanched. Ruth wished him to come in for tea again. He refused--at any rate he did not come--and the exquisite placidity of the stream of their love was slightly disturbed.
Nobody could have guessed that she was in monetary difficulties on her own account. Denry, as a chivalrous lover, had assisted her out of the fearful quagmire of her rent; but she owed much beyond rent. Yet, when some of her quarterly fees had come in, her thoughts had instantly run to Llandudno, joy, and frocks. She did not know what money was, and she never would. This was, perhaps, part of her superior splendour. The gentle, timid, silent Nellie occasionally let Denry see that she, too, was scandalised by her bosom friend's recklessness. Often Nellie would modestly beg for permission to pay her share of the cost of an amusement. And it seemed just to Denry that she should pay her share, and he violently wished to accept her money, but he could not. He would even get quite curt with her when she insisted. From this it will be seen how absurdly and irrationally different he was from the rest of us.
Nellie was continually with them, except just before they separated for the night. So that Denry paid consistently for three. But he liked Nellie Cotterill. She blushed so easily, and she so obviously worshipped Ruth and admired himself, and there was a marked vein of common-sense in her ingenuous composition.
On the Monday morning he was up early and off to Bursley to collect rents and manage estates. He had spent nearly five pounds beyond his expectation. Indeed, if by chance he had not gone to Llandudno with a portion of the previous week's rents in his pockets, he would have been in what the Five Towns call a fix.
While in Bursley he thought a good deal. Bursley in August encourages nothing but thought. His mother was working as usual. His recitals to her of the existence led by betrothed lovers at Llandudno were vague.
On the Tuesday evening he returned to Llandudno, and, despite the general trend of his thoughts, it once more occurred that his pockets were loaded with a portion of the week's rents. He did not know precisely what was going to happen, but he knew that something was going to happen; for the sufficient reason that his career could not continue unless something did happen. Without either a quarrel, an understanding, or a miracle, three months of affianced bliss with Ruth Earp would exhaust his resources and ruin his reputation as one who was ever equal to a crisis.
What immediately happened was a storm at sea. He heard it mentioned at Rhyl, and he saw, in the deep night, the foam of breakers at Prestatyn. And when the train reached Llandudno, those two girls in ulsters and caps greeted him with wondrous tales of the storm at sea, and of wrecks, and of lifeboats. And they were so jolly, and so welcoming, so plainly glad to see their cavalier again, that Denry instantly discovered himself to be in the highest spirits. He put away the dark and brooding thoughts which had disfigured his journey, and became the gay Denry of his own dreams. The very wind intoxicated him. There was no rain.
It was half-past nine, and half Llandudno was afoot on the Parade and discussing the storm--a storm unparalleled, it seemed, in the month of August. At any rate, people who had visited Llandudno yearly for twenty-five years declared that never had they witnessed such a storm. The new lifeboat had gone forth, amid cheers, about six o'clock to a schooner in distress near Rhos, and at eight o'clock a second lifeboat (an old one which the new one had replaced and which had been bought for a floating warehouse by an aged fisherman) had departed to the rescue of a Norwegian barque, the Hjalmar, round the bend of the Little Orme.
"Let's go on the pier," said Denry. "It will be splendid."
He was not an hour in the town, and yet was already hanging expense!
"They've closed the pier," the girls told him.
But when in the course of their meanderings among the excited crowd under the gas-lamps they arrived at the pier-gates, Denry perceived figures on the pier.
"They're sailors and things, and the Mayor," the girls explained.
"Pooh!" said Denry, fired.
He approached the turnstile and handed a card to the official. It was the card of an advertisement agent of the Staffordshire Signal, who had called at Brougham Street in Denry's absence about the renewal of Denry's advertisement.
"Press," said Denry to the guardian at the turnstile, and went through with the ease of a bird on the wing.
"Come along," he cried to the girls.
The guardian seemed to hesitate.
"These ladies are with me," he said.
The guardian yielded.
It was a triumph for Denry. He could read his triumph in the eyes of his companions. When she looked at him like that, Ruth was assuredly marvellous among women, and any ideas derogatory to her marvellousness which he might have had at Bursley and in the train were false ideas.
At the head of the pier beyond the pavilion, there were gathered together some fifty people, and the tale ran that the second lifeboat had successfully accomplished its mission and was approaching the pier.
"I shall write an account of this for the Signal," said Denry, whose thoughts were excusably on the Press.
"Oh, do!" exclaimed Nellie.
"They have the Signal at all the newspaper shops here," said Ruth.
Then they seemed to be merged in the storm. The pier shook and trembled under the shock of the waves, and occasionally, though the tide was very low, a sprinkle of water flew up and caught their faces. The eyes could see nothing save the passing glitter of the foam on the crest of a breaker. It was the most thrilling situation that any of them had ever been in.
And at last came word from the mouths of men who could apparently see as well in the dark as in daylight, that the second lifeboat was close to the pier. And then everybody momentarily saw it--a ghostly thing that heaved up pale out of the murk for an instant, and was lost again. And the little crowd cheered.
The next moment a Bengal light illuminated the pier, and the lifeboat was silhouetted with strange effectiveness against the storm. And some one flung a rope, and then another rope arrived out of the sea, and fell on Denry's shoulder.
"Haul on there!" yelled a hoarse voice. The Bengal light expired.
Denry hauled with a will. The occasion was unique. And those few seconds were worth to him the whole of Denry's precious life--yes, not excluding the seconds in which he had kissed Ruth and the minutes in which he had danced with the Countess of Chell. Then two men with beards took the rope from his hands. The air was now alive with shoutings. Finally there was a rush of men down the iron stairway to the lower part of the pier, ten feet nearer the water.
"You stay here, you two!" Denry ordered.
"Stay here, I tell you!" All the male in him was aroused. He was off, after the rush of men. "Half a jiffy," he said, coming back. "Just take charge of this, will you?" And he poured into their hands about twelve shillings' worth of copper, small change of rents, from his hip-pocket. "If anything happened, that might sink me," he said, and vanished.
It was very characteristic of him, that effusion of calm sagacity in a supreme emergency.
Beyond getting his feet wet Denry accomplished but little in the dark basement of the pier. In spite of his success in hauling in the thrown rope, he seemed to be classed at once down there by the experts assembled as an eager and useless person who had no right to the space which he occupied. However, he witnessed the heaving arrival of the lifeboat and the disembarking of the rescued crew of the Norwegian barque, and he was more than ever decided to compose a descriptive article for the Staffordshire Signal. The rescued and the rescuing crews disappeared in single file to the upper floor of the pier, with the exception of the coxswain, a man with a spreading red beard, who stayed behind to inspect the lifeboat, of which indeed he was the absolute owner. As a journalist Denry did the correct thing and engaged him in conversation. Meanwhile, cheering could be heard above. The coxswain, who stated that his name was Cregeen, and that he was a Manxman, seemed to regret the entire expedition. He seemed to be unaware that it was his duty now to play the part of the modest hero to Denry's interviewing. At every loose end of the chat he would say gloomily:
"And look at her now, I'm telling ye!" Meaning the battered craft, which rose and fell on the black waves.
Denry ran upstairs again, in search of more amenable material. Some twenty men in various sou'-westers and other headgear were eating thick slices of bread and butter and drinking hot coffee, which with foresight had been prepared for them in the pier buffet. A few had preferred whisky. The whole crowd was now under the lee of the pavilion, and it constituted a spectacle which Denry said to himself he should refer to in his article as "Rembrandtesque." For a few moments he could not descry Ruth and Nellie in the gloom. Then he saw the indubitable form of his betrothed at a penny-in-the-slot machine, and the indubitable form of Nellie at another penny-in-the-slot machine. And then he could hear the click-click-click of the machines, working rapidly. And his thoughts took a new direction.
Presently Ruth ran with blithe gracefulness from her machine and commenced a generous distribution of packets to the members of the crews. There was neither calculation nor exact justice in her generosity. She dropped packets on to heroic knees with a splendid gesture of largesse. Some packets even fell on the floor. But she did not mind.
Denry could hear her saying:
"You must eat it. Chocolate is so sustaining. There's nothing like it."
She ran back to the machines, and snatched more packets from Nellie, who under her orders had been industrious; and then began a second distribution.
A calm and disinterested observer would probably have been touched by this spectacle of impulsive womanly charity. He might even have decided that it was one of the most beautifully human things that he had ever seen. And the fact that the hardy heroes and Norsemen appeared scarcely to know what to do with the silver-wrapped bonbons would not have impaired his admiration for these two girlish figures of benevolence. Denry, too, was touched by the spectacle, but in another way. It was the rents of his clients that were being thus dissipated in a very luxury of needless benevolence. He muttered:
"Well, that's a bit thick, that is!" But of course he could do nothing.
As the process continued, the clicking of the machine exacerbated his ears.
"Idiotic!" he muttered.
The final annoyance to him was that everybody except himself seemed to consider that Ruth was displaying singular ingenuity, originality, enterprise, and goodness of heart.
In that moment he saw clearly for the first time that the marriage between himself and Ruth had not been arranged in Heaven. He admitted privately then that the saving of a young woman from violent death in a pantechnicon need not inevitably involve espousing her. She was without doubt a marvellous creature, but it was as wise to dream of keeping a carriage and pair as to dream of keeping Ruth. He grew suddenly cynical. His age leaped to fifty or so, and the curve of his lips changed.
Ruth, spying around, saw him and ran to him with a glad cry.
"Here!" she said, "take these. They're no good." She held out her hands.
"What are they?" he asked.
"They're the halfpennies."
"So sorry!" he said, with an accent whose significance escaped her, and took the useless coins.
"We've exhausted all the chocolate," said she. "But there's butterscotch left--it's nearly as good--and gold-tipped cigarettes. I daresay some of them would enjoy a smoke. Have you got any more pennies?"
"No!" he replied. "But I've got ten or a dozen half-crowns. They'll work the machine just as well, won't they?"
This time she did notice a certain unusualness in the flavour of his accent. And she hesitated.
"Don't be silly!" she said.
"I'll try not to be," said Denry. So far as he could remember, he had never used such a tone before. Ruth swerved away to rejoin Nellie.
Denry surreptitiously counted the halfpennies. There were eighteen. She had fed those machines, then, with over a hundred and thirty pence.
He murmured, "Thick, thick!"
Considering that he had returned to Llandudno in the full intention of putting his foot down, of clearly conveying to Ruth that his conception of finance differed from hers, the second sojourn had commenced badly. Still, he had promised to marry her, and he must marry her. Better a lifetime of misery and insolvency than a failure to behave as a gentleman should. Of course, if she chose to break it off.... But he must be minutely careful to do nothing which might lead to a breach. Such was Denry's code. The walk home at midnight, amid the reverberations of the falling tempest, was marked by a slight pettishness on the part of Ruth, and by Denry's polite taciturnity.
Yet the next morning, as the three companions sat together under the striped awning of the buffet on the pier, nobody could have divined, by looking at them, that one of them at any rate was the most uncomfortable young man in all Llandudno. The sun was hotly shining on their bright attire and on the still turbulent waves. Ruth, thirsty after a breakfast of herrings and bacon, was sucking iced lemonade up a straw. Nellie was eating chocolate, undistributed remains of the night's benevolence. Demo was yawning, not in the least because the proceedings failed to excite his keen interest, but because he had been a journalist till three a.m. and had risen at six in order to despatch a communication to the editor of the Staffordshire Signal by train. The girls were very playful. Nellie dropped a piece of chocolate into Ruth's glass, and Ruth fished it out, and bit at it.
"What a jolly taste!" she exclaimed.
And then Nellie bit at it.
"Oh, it's just lovely!" said Nellie, softly.
"Here, dear!" said Ruth, "try it."
And Denry had to try it, and to pronounce it a delicious novelty (which indeed it was) and generally to brighten himself up. And all the time he was murmuring in his heart, "This can't go on."
Nevertheless, he was obliged to admit that it was he who had invited Ruth to pass the rest of her earthly life with him, and not vice versa.
"Well, shall we go on somewhere else?" Ruth suggested.
And he paid yet again. He paid and smiled, he who had meant to be the masterful male, he who deemed himself always equal to a crisis. But in this crisis he was helpless.
They set off down the pier, brilliant in the brilliant crowd. Everybody was talking of wrecks and lifeboats. The new lifeboat had done nothing, having been forestalled by the Prestatyn boat; but Llandudno was apparently very proud of its brave old worn-out lifeboat which had brought ashore the entire crew of the Hjalmar, without casualty, in a terrific hurricane.
"Run along, child," said Ruth to Nellie, "while uncle and auntie talk to each other for a minute."
Nellie stared, blushed, and walked forward in confusion. She was startled. And Denry was equally startled. Never before had Ruth so brazenly hinted that lovers must be left alone at intervals. In justice to her, it must be said that she was a mirror for all the proprieties. Denry had even reproached her, in his heart, for not sufficiently showing her desire for his exclusive society. He wondered, now, what was to be the next revelation of her surprising character.
"I had our bill this morning," said Ruth.
She leaned gracefully on the handle of her sunshade, and they both stared at the sea. She was very elegant, with an aristocratic air. The bill, as she mentioned it, seemed a very negligible trifle. Nevertheless, Denry's heart quaked.
"Oh!" he said. "Did you pay it?"
"Yes," said she. "The landlady wanted the money, she told me. So Nellie gave me her share, and I paid it at once."
"Oh!" said Denry.
There was a silence. Denry felt as though he were defending a castle, or as though he were in a dark room and somebody was calling him, calling him, and he was pretending not to be there and holding his breath.
"But I've hardly enough money left," said Ruth. "The fact is, Nellie and I spent such a lot yesterday and the day before.... You've no idea how money goes!"
"Haven't I?" said Denry. But not to her--only to his own heart.
To her he said nothing.
"I suppose we shall have to go back home," she ventured lightly. "One can't run into debt here. They'd claim your luggage."
"What a pity!" said Denry, sadly.
Just those few words--and the interesting part of the interview was over! All that followed counted not in the least. She had meant to induce him to offer to defray the whole of her expenses in Llandudno--no doubt in the form of a loan; and she had failed. She had intended him to repair the disaster caused by her chronic extravagance. And he had only said: "What a pity!"
"Yes, it is!" she agreed bravely, and with a finer disdain than ever of petty financial troubles. "Still, it can't be helped."
"No, I suppose not," said Denry.
There was undoubtedly something fine about Ruth. In that moment she had it in her to kill Denry with a bodkin. But she merely smiled. The situation was terribly strained, past all Denry's previous conceptions of a strained situation; but she deviated with superlative sang-froid into frothy small talk. A proud and an unconquerable woman! After all, what were men for, if not to pay?
"I think I shall go home to-night," she said, after the excursion into prattle.
"I'm sorry," said Denry.
He was not coming out of his castle.
At that moment a hand touched his shoulder. It was the hand of Cregeen, the owner of the old lifeboat.
"Mister," said Cregeen, too absorbed in his own welfare to notice Ruth. "It's now or never! Five-and-twenty'll buy the Fleetwing, if ten's paid down this mornun."
And Denry replied boldly:
"You shall have it in an hour. Where shall you be?"
"I'll be in John's cabin, under the pier," said Cregeen, "where ye found me this mornun."
"Right," said Denry.
If Ruth had not been caracoling on her absurdly high horse, she would have had the truth out of Denry in a moment concerning these early morning interviews and mysterious transactions in shipping. But from that height she could not deign to be curious. And so she said naught. Denry had passed the whole morning since breakfast and had uttered no word of pre-prandial encounters with mariners, though he had talked a lot about his article for the Signal and of how he had risen betimes in order to despatch it by the first train.
And as Ruth showed no curiosity Denry behaved on the assumption that she felt none. And the situation grew even more strained.
As they walked down the pier towards the beach, at the dinner-hour, Ruth bowed to a dandiacal man who obsequiously saluted her.
"Who's that?" asked Denry, instinctively.
"It's a gentleman that I was once engaged to," answered Ruth, with cold, brief politeness.
Denry did not like this.
The situation almost creaked under the complicated stresses to which it was subject. The wonder was that it did not fly to pieces long before evening.
The pride of the principal actors being now engaged, each person was compelled to carry out the intentions which he had expressed either in words or tacitly. Denry's silence had announced more efficiently than any words that he would under no inducement emerge from his castle. Ruth had stated plainly that there was nothing for it but to go home at once, that very night. Hence she arranged to go home, and hence Denry refrained from interfering with her arrangements. Ruth was lugubrious under a mask of gaiety; Nellie was lugubrious under no mask whatever. Nellie was merely the puppet of these betrothed players, her elders. She admired Ruth and she admired Denry, and between them they were spoiling the little thing's holiday for their own adult purposes. Nellie knew that dreadful occurrences were in the air--occurrences compared to which the storm at sea was a storm in a tea-cup. She knew partly because Ruth had been so queenly polite, and partly because they had come separately to St Asaph's Road and had not spent the entire afternoon together.
So quickly do great events loom up and happen that at six o'clock they had had tea and were on their way afoot to the station. The odd man of No. 26 St Asaph's Road had preceded them with the luggage. All the rest of Llandudno was joyously strolling home to its half-past six high tea-- grand people to whom weekly bills were as dust and who were in a position to stop in Llandudno for ever and ever, if they chose! And Ruth and Nellie were conscious of the shame which always afflicts those whom necessity forces to the railway station of a pleasure resort in the middle of the season. They saw omnibuses loaded with luggage and jolly souls were actually coming, whose holiday had not yet properly commenced. And this spectacle added to their humiliation and their disgust. They genuinely felt that they belonged to the lower orders.
Ruth, for the sake of effect, joked on the most solemn subjects. She even referred with giggling laughter to the fact that she had borrowed from Nellie in order to discharge her liabilities for the final twenty-four hours at the boarding-house. Giggling laughter being contagious, as they were walking side by side close together, they all laughed. And each one secretly thought how ridiculous was such behaviour, and how it failed to reach the standard of true worldliness.
Then, nearer the station, some sprightly caprice prompted Denry to raise his hat to two young women who were crossing the road in front of them. Neither of the two young women responded to the homage.
"Who are they?" asked Ruth, and the words were out of her mouth before she could remind herself that curiosity was beneath her.
"It's a young lady I was once engaged to," said Denry.
"Which one?" asked the ninny, Nellie, astounded.
"I forget," said Denry.
He considered this to be one of his greatest retorts--not to Nellie, but to Ruth. Nellie naturally did not appreciate its loveliness. But Ruth did. There was no facet of that retort that escaped Ruth's critical notice.
At length they arrived at the station, quite a quarter of an hour before the train was due, and half-an-hour before it came in.
Denry tipped the odd man for the transport of the luggage.
"Sure it's all there?" he asked the girls, embracing both of them in his gaze.
"Yes," said Ruth, "but where's yours?"
"Oh!" he said. "I'm not going to-night. I've got some business to attend to here. I thought you understood. I expect you'll be all right, you two together."
After a moment, Ruth said brightly: "Oh yes! I was quite forgetting about your business." Which was completely untrue, since she knew nothing of his business, and he had assuredly not informed her that he would not return with them.
But Ruth was being very brave, haughty, and queenlike, and for this the precise truth must sometimes be abandoned. The most precious thing in the world to Ruth was her dignity--and who can blame her? She meant to keep it at no matter what costs.
In a few minutes the bookstall on the platform attracted them as inevitably as a prone horse attracts a crowd. Other people were near the bookstall, and as these people were obviously leaving Llandudno, Ruth and Nellie felt a certain solace. The social outlook seemed brighter for them. Denry bought one or two penny papers, and then the newsboy began to paste up the contents poster of the Staffordshire Signal, which had just arrived. And on this poster, very prominent, were the words:--"The Great Storm in North Wales. Special Descriptive Report." Denry snatched up one of the green papers and opened it, and on the first column of the news-page saw his wondrous description, including the word "Rembrandtesque." "Graphic Account by a Bursley Gentleman of the Scene at Llandudno," said the sub-title. And the article was introduced by the phrase: "We are indebted to Mr E.H. Machin, a prominent figure in Bursley," etc.
It was like a miracle. Do what he would, Denry could not stop his face from glowing.
With false calm he gave the paper, to Ruth. Her calmness in receiving it upset him.
"We'll read it in the train," she said primly, and started to talk about something else. And she became most agreeable and companionable.
Mixed up with papers and sixpenny novels on the bookstall were a number of souvenirs of Llandudno--paper-knives, pens, paper-weights, watch-cases, pen-cases, all in light wood or glass, and ornamented with coloured views of Llandudno, and also the word "Llandudno" in large German capitals, so that mistakes might not arise. Ruth remembered that she had even intended to buy a crystal paper-weight with a view of the Great Orme at the bottom. The bookstall clerk had several crystal paper-weights with views of the pier, the Hotel Majestic, the Esplanade, the Happy Valley, but none with a view of the Great Orme. He had also paper-knives and watch-cases with a view of the Great Orme. But Ruth wanted a combination of paper-weight and Great Orme, and nothing else would satisfy her. She was like that. The clerk admitted that such a combination existed, but he was sold "out of it."
"Couldn't you get one and send it to me?" said Ruth.
And Denry saw anew that she was incurable.
"Oh yes, miss," said the clerk. "Certainly, miss. To-morrow at latest." And he pulled out a book. "What name?"
Ruth looked at Denry, as women do look on such occasions.
"Rothschild," said Denry.
It may seem perhaps strange that that single word ended their engagement. But it did. She could not tolerate a rebuke. She walked away, flushing. The bookstall clerk received no order. Several persons in the vicinity dimly perceived that a domestic scene had occurred, in a flash, under their noses, on a platform of a railway station. Nellie was speedily aware that something very serious had happened, for the train took them off without Ruth speaking a syllable to Denry, though Denry raised his hat and was almost effusive.
The next afternoon Denry received by post a ring in a box. "I will not submit to insult," ran the brief letter.
"I only said 'Rothschild'!" Denry murmured to himself. "Can't a fellow say 'Rothschild'?"
But secretly he was proud of himself.