However, she slipped in, with her bag and her seamy fingers and her rather sardonic expression, at the very moment when Denry was putting on his overcoat in the kitchen (there being insufficient room in the passage). He did what he could to hide his shirt-front (though she knew all about it), and failed.
“Bless us!” she exclaimed briefly, going to the fire to warm her hands.
A harmless remark. But her tone seemed to strip bare the vanity of human greatness.
“I’m in a hurry,” said Denry, importantly, as if he was going forth to sign a treaty involving the welfare of the nations.
“Well,” said she, “happen ye are, Denry. But th’ kitchen table’s no place for boot-brushes.”
He had one piece of luck. It froze. Therefore no anxiety about the condition of boots.
The Countess was late; some trouble with a horse. Happily the Earl had been in Bursley all day, and had dressed at the Conservative Club; and his lordship had ordered that the programme of dances should be begun. Denry learned this as soon as he emerged, effulgent, from the gentlemen’s cloak-room into the broad red-carpeted corridor which runs from end to end of the ground-floor of the Town Hall. Many important townspeople were chatting in the corridor—the innumerable Swetnam family, the Stanways, the great Etches, the Fearnses, Mrs Clayton Vernon, the Suttons, including Beatrice Sutton. Of course everybody knew him for Duncalf’s shorthand clerk and the son of the flannel-washer; but universal white kid gloves constitute a democracy, and Shillitoe could put more style into a suit than any other tailor in the Five Towns.
“How do?” the eldest of the Swetnam boys nodded carelessly.
“How do, Swetnam?” said Denry, with equal carelessness.
The thing was accomplished! That greeting was like a Masonic initiation, and henceforward he was the peer of no matter whom. At first he had thought that four hundred eyes would be fastened on him, their glance saying, “This youth is wearing a dress-suit for the first time, and it is not paid for, either!” But it was not so. And the reason was that the entire population of the Town Hall was heartily engaged in pretending that never in its life had it been seen after seven o’clock of a night apart from a dress-suit. Denry observed with joy that, while numerous middle-aged and awkward men wore red or white silk handkerchiefs in their waistcoats, such people as Charles Fearns, the Swetnams, and Harold Etches did not. He was, then, in the shyness of his handkerchief, on the side of the angels.