“I am. My wife is expecting me. You promised to find me a match.” Edward Henry waved the unlit cigarette as a reproach to Mr. Bryany’s imperfect hospitality.
The clock of Bleakridge Church, still imperturbably shining in the night, showed a quarter to one when he saw it again on his hurried and guilty way home. The pavements were drying in the fresh night wind and he had his overcoat buttoned up to the neck. He was absolutely solitary in the long, muddy perspective of Trafalgar Road. He walked because the last tram-car was already housed in its shed at the other end of the world, and he walked quickly because his conscience drove him onwards. And yet he dreaded to arrive, lest a wound in the child’s leg should have maliciously decided to fester in order to put him in the wrong. He was now as apprehensive concerning that wound as Nellie herself had been at tea-time.
But, in his mind, above the dark gulf of anxiety, there floated brighter thoughts. Despite his fears and his remorse as a father, he laughed aloud in the deserted street when he remembered Mr. Bryany’s visage of astonishment upon uncreasing the note. Indubitably he had made a terrific and everlasting impression upon Mr. Bryany. He was sending Mr. Bryany out of the Five Towns a different man. He had taught Mr. Bryany a thing or two. To what brilliant use had he turned the purely accidental possession of a hundred-pound note! One of his finest inspirations—an inspiration worthy of the great days of his youth! Yes, he had had his hour that evening, and it had been a glorious one. Also, it had cost him a hundred pounds, and he did not care; he would retire to bed with a net gain of two hundred and forty-one pounds instead of three hundred and forty-one pounds—that was all!
For he did not mean to take up the option. The ecstasy was cooled now and he saw clearly that London and theatrical enterprises therein would not be suited to his genius. In the Five Towns he was on his own ground; he was a figure; he was sure of himself. In London he would be a provincial, with the diffidence and the uncertainty of a provincial. Nevertheless, London seemed to be summoning him from afar off, and he dreamt agreeably of London as one dreams of the impossible East.
As soon as he opened the gate in the wall of his property he saw that the drawing-room was illuminated and all the other front rooms in darkness. Either his wife or his mother, then, was sitting up in the drawing-room. He inserted a cautious latch-key into the door and entered the silent home like a sinner. The dim light in the hall gravely reproached him. All his movements were modest and restrained. No noisy rattling of his stick now!
The drawing-room door was slightly ajar. He hesitated, and then, nerving himself, pushed against it.