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   Chapter 11 No.11

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 10516

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Once, on a short visit to London, Edward Henry had paid half-a-crown to be let into a certain enclosure with a very low ceiling. This enclosure was already crowded with some three hundred people, sitting and standing. Edward Henry had stood in the only unoccupied spot he could find, behind a pillar. When he had made himself as comfortable as possible by turning up his collar against the sharp winds that continually entered from the street, he had peered forward, and seen in front of his enclosure another and larger enclosure also crowded with people, but more expensive people. After a blank interval of thirty minutes a band had begun to play at an incredible distance in front of him, extinguishing the noises of traffic in the street. After another interval an oblong space rather further off even than the band suddenly grew bright, and Edward Henry, by curving his neck first to one side of the pillar and then to the other, had had tantalizing glimpses of the interior of a doll's drawing-room and of male and female dolls therein.

He could only see, even partially, the inferior half of the drawing-room-a little higher than the heads of the dolls-because the rest was cut off from his vision by the lowness of his own ceiling.

The dolls were talking, but he could not catch clearly what they said, [90] save at the rare moments when an omnibus or a van did not happen to be thundering down the street behind him. Then one special doll had come exquisitely into the drawing-room, and at the sight of her the five hundred people in front of him, and numbers of other people perched hidden beyond his ceiling, had clapped fervently and even cried aloud in their excitement. And he, too, had clapped fervently, and had muttered "Bravo!" This special doll was a marvel of touching and persuasive grace, with a voice-when Edward Henry could hear it-that melted the spine. This special doll had every elegance and seemed to be in the highest pride of youth.

At the close of the affair, as this special doll sank into the embrace of a male doll from whom she had been unjustly separated, and then straightened herself, deliciously and confidently smiling, to take the tremendous applause of Edward Henry and the rest, Edward Henry thought that he had never assisted at a triumph so genuine and so inspiring.

Oblivious of the pain in his neck, and of the choking, foul atmosphere of the enclosure, accurately described as the Pit, he had gone forth into the street with a subconscious notion in his head that the special doll was more than human, was half divine. And he had said afterwards, with immense satisfaction, at Bursley: "Yes, I saw Rose Euclid in 'Flower of the Heart.'"

He had never set eyes on her since.

And now, on this day at Wilkins's, he had seen in the restaurant, and he saw again before him in his private parlour, a faded and stoutish woman, negligently if expensively dressed, with a fatigued, nervous, [91] watery glance, an unnatural, pale-violet complexion, a wrinkled skin and dyed hair; a woman of whom it might be said that she had escaped grandmotherhood, if indeed she had escaped it, by mere luck-and he was point-blank commanded to believe that she and Rose Euclid were the same person.

It was one of the most shattering shocks of all his career, which nevertheless had not been untumultuous. And within his dressing-gown-which nobody remarked upon-he was busy picking up and piecing together, as quickly as he could, the shivered fragments of his ideas.

He literally did not recognize Rose Euclid. True, fifteen years had passed since the night in the pit! And he himself was fifteen years older. But in his mind he had never pictured any change in Rose Euclid. True, he had been familiar with the enormous renown of Rose Euclid as far back as he could remember taking any interest in theatrical advertisements! But he had not permitted her to reach an age of more than about thirty-one or two. Whereas he now perceived that even the exquisite doll in paradise that he had gloated over from his pit must have been quite thirty-five-then....

Well, he scornfully pitied Rose Euclid! He blamed her for not having accomplished the miracle of eternal youth. He actually considered that she had cheated him. "Is this all? What a swindle!" he thought, as he was piecing together the shivered fragments of his ideas into a new pattern. He had felt much the same as a boy, at Bursley Annual Wakes once, on entering a booth which promised horrors and did not supply them. He had been "done" all these years....

Reluctantly he admitted that Rose Euclid could not help her age. But, at any rate, she ought to have grown older beautifully, with charming [92] dignity and vivacity-in fact, she ought to have contrived to be old and young simultaneously. Or, in the alternative, she ought to have modestly retired into the country and lived on her memories and such money as she had not squandered. She had no right to be abroad.

At worst, she ought to have looked famous. And, because her name and fame and photographs as an emotional actress had been continually in the newspapers, therefore she ought to have been refined, delicate, distinguished and full of witty and gracious small-talk. That she

had played the heroine of "Flower of the Heart" four hundred times, and the heroine of "The Grenadier" four hundred and fifty times, and the heroine of "The Wife's Ordeal" nearly five hundred times, made it incumbent upon her, in Edward Henry's subconscious opinion, to possess all the talents of a woman of the world and all the virgin freshness of a girl. Which shows how cruelly stupid Edward Henry was in comparison with the enlightened rest of us.

Why (he protested secretly), she was even tongue-tied!

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Machin," she said awkwardly, in a weak voice, with a peculiar gesture as she shook hands. Then, a mechanical, nervous giggle; and then silence!

"Happy to make your acquaintance, sir," said Mr. Seven Sachs, and the arch-famous American actor-author also lapsed into silence. But the silence of Mr. Seven Sachs was different from Rose Euclid's. He was not shy. A dark and handsome, tranquil, youngish man, with a redoubtable square chin, delicately rounded at the corners, he strikingly resembled his own figure on the stage; and moreover, he [93] seemed to regard silence as a natural and proper condition. He simply stood, in a graceful posture, with his muscles at ease, and waited. Mr. Bryany, behind, seemed to be reduced in stature, and to have become apologetic for himself in the presence of greatness.

Still, Mr. Bryany did say something.

Said Mr. Bryany:

"Sorry to hear you've been seedy, Mr. Machin!"

"Oh, yes!" Rose Euclid blurted out, as if shot. "It's very good of you to ask us up here."

Mr. Seven Sachs concurred, adding that he hoped the illness was not serious.

Edward Henry said it was not.

"Won't you sit down, all of you?" said Edward Henry. "Miss-er-Euclid-"

They all sat down except Mr. Bryany.

"Sit down, Bryany," said Edward Henry. "I'm glad to be able to return your hospitality at the Turk's Head."

This was a blow for Mr. Bryany, who obviously felt it, and grew even more apologetic as he fumbled with assumed sprightliness at a chair.

"Fancy your being here all the time!" said he. "And me looked for you everywhere-"

"Mr. Bryany," Seven Sachs interrupted him calmly, "have you got those letters off?"

"Not yet, sir."

Seven Sachs urbanely smiled. "I think we ought to get them off to-night."

"Certainly," agreed Mr. Bryany with eagerness, and moved towards the door.

"Here's the key of my sitting-room," Seven Sachs stopped him, producing a key.

Mr. Bryany, by a mischance catching Edward Henry's eye as he took the key, blushed.

[94] In a moment Edward Henry was alone with the two silent celebrities.

"Well," said Edward Henry to himself, "I've let myself in for it this time-no mistake! What in the name of common sense am I doing here?"

Rose Euclid coughed and arranged the folds of her dress.

"I suppose, like most Americans, you see all the sights," said Edward Henry to Seven Sachs-the Five Towns is much visited by Americans. "What do you think of my dressing-gown?"

"Bully!" said Seven Sachs, with the faintest twinkle. And Rose Euclid gave the mechanical, nervous giggle.

"I can do with this chap," thought Edward Henry.

The gentleman-in-waiting entered with the supper menu.

"Thank heaven!" thought Edward Henry.

Rose Euclid, requested to order a supper after her own mind, stared vaguely at the menu for some moments, and then said that she did not know what to order.

"Artichokes?" Edward Henry blandly suggested.

Again the giggle, followed this time by a flush! And suddenly Edward Henry recognized in her the entrancing creature of fifteen years ago! Her head thrown back, she had put her left hand behind her and was groping with her long fingers for an object to touch. Having found at length the arm of another chair, she drew her fingers feverishly along its surface. He vividly remembered the gesture in "Flower of the Heart." She had used it with terrific effect at every grand emotional crisis of the play. He now recognized even her face!

"Did Mr. Bryany tell you that my two boys are coming up?" said she. "I [95] left them behind to do some telephoning for me."

"Delighted!" said Edward Henry. "The more the merrier!"

And he hoped that he spoke true.

But her two boys!

"Mr. Marrier-he's a young manager. I don't know whether you know him; very, very talented. And Carlo Trent."

"Same name as my dog," Edward Henry indiscreetly murmured-and his fancy flew back to the home he had quitted; and Wilkins's and everybody in it grew transiently unreal to him.

"Delighted!" he said again.

He was relieved that her two boys were not her offspring. That, at least, was something gained.

"You know-the dramatist," said Rose Euclid, apparently disappointed by the effect on Edward Henry of the name of Carlo Trent.

"Really!" said Edward Henry. "I hope he won't mind me being in a dressing-gown."

The gentleman-in-waiting, obsequiously restive, managed to choose the supper himself. Leaving, he reached the door just in time to hold it open for the entrance of Mr. Marrier and Mr. Carlo Trent, who were talking with noticeable freedom and emphasis, in an accent which in the Five Towns is known as the "haw haw," the "lah-di-dah" or the "Kensingtonian" accent.

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