Tales of the Five Towns Part 24

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So her father and Mr. Pank had deceived everyone in the hotel except herself, and they meant to rob the safe in the bureau to-morrow night.

Of course Mr. Lionel Belmont was a villain, or he would not have deserted her poor dear mother; it was annoying, but indubitable.... Even now he was maturing his plans round the corner with that Mr. Pank....

Burglars always went about in s.h.i.+rt-sleeves.... The brown bag contained the tools....

The shock was frightful, disastrous, tragic; but it had solved the situation by destroying it. Practically, Nina no longer had a father. He had existed for about four hours as a magnificent reality, full of possibilities; he now ceased to be recognisable.

She was about to pick up a third telegram when a slight noise caused her to turn swiftly; she had forgotten to keep her little pink ears alert.

Her father stood in the doorway. He was certainly the victim of some extraordinary emotion; his face worked; he seemed at a loss what to do or say; he seemed pained, confused, even astounded. Simple, foolish Nina had upset the balance of his equations.

Then he resumed his self-control and came forward into the room with a smile intended to be airy. Meanwhile Nina had not moved. One is inclined to pity the artless and defenceless girl in this midnight duel of wits with a shrewd, resourceful, and unscrupulous man of the world. But one's pity should not be lavished on an undeserving object. Though Nina trembled, she was mistress of herself. She knew just where she was, and just how to behave. She was as impregnable as Gibraltar.

'Well,' said Mr. Lionel Belmont, genially gazing at her pose, 'you do put snap into it, any way.'

'Into what?' she was about to inquire, but prudently she held her tongue. Drawing, herself up with the gesture of an offended and unapproachable queen, the little thing sailed past him, close past her own father, and so out of the room.

'Say!' she heard him remark: 'let's straighten this thing out, eh?'

But she heroically ignored him, thinking the while that, with all his sins, he was attractive enough. She still held the first telegram in her long, thin fingers.

So ended the nocturne.

IV

At five o'clock the next morning Nina's trifling nose was pressed against the windowpane of her cubicle. In the enormous slate roof of the Majestic are three rows of round windows, like port-holes. Out of the highest one, at the extremity of the left wing, Nina looked. From thence she could see five other vast hotels, and the yard of Charing Cross Station, with three night-cabs drawn up to the kerb, and a red van of W.H. Smith and Son disappearing into the station. The Strand was quite empty. It was a strange world of sleep and grayness and disillusion.

Within a couple of hundred yards or so of her thousands of people lay asleep, and they would all soon wake into the disillusion, and the Strand would wake, and the first omnibus of all the omnibuses would come along....

Never had simple Nina felt so sad and weary. She was determined to give up her father. She was bound to tell the manager of her discovery, for Nina was an honest servant, and she was piqued in her honesty. No one should know that Lionel Belmont was her father.... She saw before her the task of forgetting him and forgetting the rich dreams of which he had been the origin. She was once more a book-keeper with no prospects.

At eight she saw the manager in the managerial room. Mr. Reuben was a young Jew, aged about thirty-four, with a cold but indestructibly polite manner. He was a great man, and knew it; he had almost invented the Majestic.

She told him her news; it was impossible for foolish Nina to conceal her righteousness and her sense of her importance.

'Whom did you say, Miss Malpas?' asked Mr. Reuben.

'Mr. Lionel Belmont--at least, that's what he calls himself.'

'Calls himself, Miss Malpas?'

'Here's one of the telegrams.'

Mr. Reuben read it, looked at little Nina, and smiled; he never laughed.

'Is it possible, Miss Malpas,' said he, 'that you don't know who Mr.

Belmont and Mr. Pank are?' And then, as she shook her head, he continued in his impa.s.sive, precise way: 'Mr. Belmont is one of the princ.i.p.al theatrical managers in the United States. Mr. Pank is one of the princ.i.p.al playwrights in the United States. Mr. Pank's melodrama 'Nebraska' is now being played at the Regency by Mr. Belmont's own American company. Another of Mr. Belmont's companies starts shortly for a tour in the provinces with the musical comedy 'The Dolmenico Doll.' I believe that Mr. Pank and Mr. Belmont are now writing a new melodrama, and as they have both been travelling, but not together, I expect that these telegrams relate to that melodrama. Did you suppose that safe-burglars wire their plans to each other like this?' He waved the telegram with a gesture of fatigue.

Silly, ruined Nina made no answer.

'Do you ever read the papers--the _Telegraph_ or the _Mail_, Miss Malpas?'

'N-no, sir.'

'You ought to, then you wouldn't be so ignorant and silly. A hotel-clerk can't know too much. And, by-the-way, what were you doing in Mr.

Belmont's room last night, when you found these wonderful telegrams?'

'I went there--I went there--to----'

'Don't cry, please, it won't help you. You must leave here to-day.

You've been here three weeks, I think. I'll tell Mr. Smith to pay you your month's wages. You don't know enough for the Majestic, Miss Malpas.

Or perhaps you know too much. I'm sorry. I had thought you would suit us. Keep straight, that's all I have to say to you. Go back to Doncaster, or wherever it is you came from. Leave before five o'clock.

That will do.'

With a G.o.dlike air, Mr. Reuben swung round his office-chair and faced his desk. He tried not to perceive that there was a mysterious quality about this case which he had not quite understood. Nina tripped piteously out.

In the whole of London Nina had one acquaintance, and an hour or so later, after drinking some tea, she set forth to visit this acquaintance. The weight of her own foolishness, fatuity, silliness, and ignorance was heavy upon her. And, moreover, she had been told that Mr.

Lionel Belmont had already departed back to America, his luggage being marked for the American Transport Line.

She was primly walking, the superlative of the miserable, past the facade of the hotel, when someone sprang out of a cab and spoke to her.

And it was Mr. Lionel Belmont.

'Get right into this hansom, Miss Malpas,' he said kindly, 'and I guess we'll talk it out.'

'Talk what out?' she thought.

But she got in.

'Marble Arch, and go up Regent Street, and don't hurry,' said Mr.

Belmont to the cabman.

'How did he know my name?' she asked herself.

'A hansom's the most private place in London,' he said after a pause.

It certainly did seem to her very cosy and private, and her nearness to one of the princ.i.p.al theatrical managers in America was almost startling. Her white frock, with the black velvet decorations, touched his gray suit.

'Now,' he said, 'I do wish you'd tell me why you were in my parlour last night. Honest.'

'What for?' she parried, to gain time.

Should she begin to disclose her ident.i.ty?

'Because--well, because--oh, look here, my girl, I want to be on very peculiar terms with you. I want to straighten out everything. You'll be sort of struck, but I'll be bound to tell you I'm your father. Now, don't faint or anything.'

'Oh, I knew that!' she gasped. 'I saw the moles on your wrist when your were registering--mother told me about them. Oh, if I had only known you knew!'

They looked at one another.

'It was only the day before yesterday I found out I possessed such a thing as a daughter. I had a kind of fancy to go around to the old spot.

Tales of the Five Towns Part 24

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Tales of the Five Towns Part 24 summary

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