“Before we adjourn to the hall, will not your ladyship take a little refreshment?”
“Oh no, thanks,” said the Countess. “I’m not a bit upset.” Then she turned to the enslinged Denry and with concern added: “But will you have something?”
If she could have foreseen the consequences of her question, she might never have put it. Still, she might have put it just the same.
Denry paused an instant, and an old habit rose up in him.
“Oh no, thanks,” he said, and turning deliberately to Sir Jee, he added: “Will you?”
This, of course, was mere crude insolence to the titled philanthropic white-beard. But it was by no means the worst of Denry’s behaviour. The group—every member of the group—distinctly perceived a movement of Denry’s left hand towards Sir Jee. It was the very slightest movement, a wavering, a nothing. It would have had no significance whatever, but for one fact. Denry’s left hand still held the carrot.
Everybody exhibited the most marvellous self-control. And everybody except Sir Jee was secretly charmed, for Sir Jee had never inspired love. It is remarkable how local philanthropists are unloved, locally. The Countess, without blenching, gave the signal for what Sir Jee called the “adjournment” to the hall. Nothing might have happened, yet everything had happened.
Next, Denry found himself seated on the temporary platform which had been erected in the large games hall of the Policemen’s Institute.
The Mayor of Hanbridge was in the chair, and he had the Countess on his right and the Mayoress of Bursley on his left. Other mayoral chains blazed in the centre of the platform, together with fine hats of mayoresses and uniforms of police-superintendents and captains of fire-brigades. Denry’s sling also contributed to the effectiveness; he was placed behind the Countess. Policemen (looking strange without helmets) and their wives, sweethearts, and friends, filled the hall to its fullest; enthusiasm was rife and strident; and there was only one little sign that the untoward had occurred. That little sign was an empty chair in the first row near the Countess. Sir Jee, a prey to a sudden indisposition, had departed. He had somehow faded away, while the personages were climbing the stairs. He had faded away amid the expressed regrets of those few who by chance saw him in the act of fading. But even these bore up manfully. The high humour of the gathering was not eclipsed.
Towards the end of the ceremony came the votes of thanks, and the principal of these was the vote of thanks to the Countess, prime cause of the Institute. It was proposed by the Superintendent of the Hanbridge Police. Other personages had wished to propose it, but the stronger right of the Hanbridge Superintendent, as chief officer of the largest force of constables in the Five Towns, could not be disputed. He made