He nodded his head and murmured, “No mistake about that lot!” Meaning, presumably, that all that one had read about the brilliance of the aristocracy was true, and more than true.
“She’s the finest woman that ever came into this town,” he murmured.
The truth was that she surpassed his dreams of womanhood. At two o’clock she had been a name to him. At five minutes past two he was in love with her. He felt profoundly thankful that, for a church tea-meeting that evening, he happened to be wearing his best clothes.
It was while looking at her list of invitations to the ball that he first conceived the fantastic scheme of attending the ball himself. Mr Duncalf was, fussily and deferentially, managing the machinery of the ball for the Countess. He had prepared a little list of his own of people who ought to be invited. Several aldermen had been requested to do the same. There were thus about half-a-dozen lists to be combined into one. Denry did the combining. Nothing was easier than to insert the name of E.H. Machin inconspicuously towards the centre of the list! Nothing was easier than to lose the original lists, inadvertently, so that if a question arose as to any particular name, the responsibility for it could not be ascertained without inquiries too delicate to be made. On Wednesday Denry received a lovely Bristol board, stating in copper-plate that the Countess desired the pleasure of his company at the ball; and on Thursday his name was ticked off as one who had accepted.
He had never been to a dance. He had no dress-suit, and no notion of dancing.
He was a strange, inconsequent mixture of courage and timidity. You and I are consistent in character; we are either one thing or the other but Denry Machin had no consistency.
For three days he hesitated, and then, secretly trembling, he slipped into Shillitoe’s, the young tailor who had recently set up, and who was gathering together the jeunesse doree of the town.
“I want a dress-suit,” he said.
Shillitoe, who knew that Denry only earned eighteen shillings a week, replied with only superficial politeness that a dress-suit was out of the question; he had already taken more orders than he could execute without killing himself. The whole town had uprisen as one man and demanded a dress-suit.
“So you’re going to the ball, are you?” said Shillitoe, trying to condescend, but, in fact, slightly impressed.
“Yes,” said Denry; “are you?”
Shillitoe started and then shook his head. “No time for balls,” said he.
“I can get you an invitation, if you like,” said Denry, glancing at the door precisely as he had glanced at the door before adding 2 to 7.
“Oh!” Shillitoe cocked his ears. He was not a native of the town, and had no alderman to protect his legitimate interests.