“Fearns would make her a present of the blooming house and give her a conveyance free!” a voice said humorously, and everybody laughed.
“Well, that’s what I’ll do,” said Denry. “If Mr Fearns will do the conveyance free, I’ll make her a present of the blooming house. That’s the sort of grasping owner I am.”
There was a startled pause. “I mean it,” said Denry firmly, even fiercely, and raised his glass. “Here’s to the Widow Hullins!”
There was a sensation, because, incredible though the thing was, it had to be believed. Denry himself was not the least astounded person in the crowded, smoky room. To him, it had been like somebody else talking, not himself. But, as always when he did something crucial, spectacular, and effective, the deed had seemed to be done by a mysterious power within him, over which he had no control.
This particular deed was quixotic, enormously unusual; a deed assuredly without precedent in the annals of the Five Towns. And he, Denry, had done it. The cost was prodigious, ridiculously and dangerously beyond his means. He could find no rational excuse for the deed. But he had done it. And men again wondered. Men had wondered when he led the Countess out to waltz. That was nothing to this. What! A smooth-chinned youth giving houses away—out of mere, mad, impulsive generosity.
And men said, on reflection, “Of course, that’s just the sort of thing Machin would do!” They appeared to find a logical connection between dancing with a Countess and tossing a house or so to a poor widow. And the next morning every man who had been in the Sports Club that night was remarking eagerly to his friends: “I say, have you heard young Machin’s latest?”
And Denry, inwardly aghast at his own rashness, was saying to himself: “Well, no one but me would ever have done that!”
He was now not simply a card; he was the card.
“How do you do, Miss Earp?” said Denry, in a worldly manner, which he had acquired for himself by taking the most effective features of the manners of several prominent citizens, and piecing them together so that, as a whole, they formed Denry’s manner.
“Oh! How do you do, Mr Machin?” said Ruth Earp, who had opened her door to him at the corner of Tudor Passage and St Luke’s Square.
It was an afternoon in July. Denry wore a new summer suit, whose pattern indicated not only present prosperity but the firm belief that prosperity would continue. As for Ruth, that plain but piquant girl was in one of her simpler costumes; blue linen; no jewellery. Her hair was in its usual calculated disorder; its outer fleeces held the light. She was now at least twenty-five, and her gaze disconcertingly combined extreme maturity with extreme candour.