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   Chapter 13 No.13

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 13624

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


It was the sudden flash of the photographer's magnesium light, plainly felt by him through his closed lids, that somehow instantly inspired Edward Henry to a definite and ruthless line of action. He opened his eyes and beheld the triumphant group, and the photographer himself, victorious over even the triumphant, in a superb pose that suggested that all distinguished mankind in his presence was naught but food for the conquering camera. The photographer smiled indulgently, and his smile said: "Having been photographed by me, you have each of you reached the summit of your career. Be content. Retire! Die! Destiny is accomplished."

"Mr. Machin," said Rose Euclid, "I do believe your eyes were shut!"

"So do I!" Edward Henry curtly agreed.

"But you'll spoil the group!"

"Not a bit of it!" said Edward Henry. "I always shut my eyes when I'm being photographed by flash-light. I open my mouth instead. So long as something's open, what does it matter?"

The truth was that only in the nick of time had he, by a happy miracle of ingenuity, invented a way of ruining the photograph. The absolute necessity for its ruin had presented itself to him rather late in the proceedings, when the photographer had already finished arranging [116] the hands and shoulders of everybody in an artistic pattern. The photograph had to be spoilt for the imperative reason that his mother, though she never read a newspaper, did as a fact look at a picture-newspaper, The Daily Film, which from pride she insisted on paying for out of her own purse, at the rate of one halfpenny a day. Now The Daily Film specialized in theatrical photographs, on which it said it spent large sums of money: and Edward Henry in a vision had seen the historic group in a future issue of the Film. He had also, in the same vision, seen his mother conning the said issue, and the sardonic curve of her lips as she recognized her son therein, and he had even heard her dry, cynical, contemptuous exclamation: "Bless us!" He could never have looked squarely in his mother's face again if that group had appeared in her chosen organ! Her silent and grim scorn would have crushed his self-conceit to a miserable, hopeless pulp. Hence his resolve to render the photograph impossible.

"Perhaps I'd better take another one?" the photographer suggested, "though I think Mr.-er-Machin was all right." At the supreme crisis the man had been too busy with his fireworks to keep a watch on every separate eye and mouth of the assemblage.

"Of course I was all right!" said Edward Henry, almost with brutality. "Please take that thing away, as quickly as you can. We have business to attend to."

"Yes, sir," agreed the photographer, no longer victorious.

Edward Henry rang his bell, and two gentlemen-in-waiting arrived.

"Clear this table immediately!"

The tone of the command startled everybody except the [117] gentlemen-in-waiting and Mr. Seven Sachs. Rose Euclid gave vent to her nervous giggle. The poet and Mr. Marrier tried to appear detached and dignified, and succeeded in appearing guiltily confused-for which they contemned themselves. Despite this volition, the glances of all three of them too clearly signified "This capitalist must be humoured. He has an unlimited supply of actual cash, and therefore he has the right to be peculiar. Moreover, we know that he is a card." ... And, curiously, Edward Henry himself was deriving great force of character from the simple reflection that he had indeed a lot of money, real available money, his to do utterly as he liked with it, hidden in a secret place in that very room. "I'll show 'em what's what!" he privately mused. "Celebrities or not, I'll show 'em! If they think they can come it over me-!"

It was, I regret to say, the state of mind of a bully. Such is the noxious influence of excessive coin!

He reproached the greatest actress and the greatest dramatic poet for deceiving him, and quite ignored the nevertheless fairly obvious fact that he had first deceived them.

"Now then," he began, with something of the pomposity of a chairman at a directors' meeting, as soon as the table had been cleared and the room emptied of gentlemen-in-waiting and photographer and photographic apparatus, "let us see exactly where we stand."

He glanced specially at Rose Euclid, who with an air of deep business acumen returned the glance.

"Yes," she eagerly replied, as one seeking after righteousness. "Do let's see."

[118] "The option must be taken up to-morrow. Good! That's clear. It came rather casual-like, but it's now clear. £4500 has to be paid down to buy the existing building on the land and so on.... Eh?"

"Yes. Of course Mr. Bryany told you all that, didn't he?" said Rose, brightly.

"Mr. Bryany did tell me," Edward Henry admitted sternly. "But if Mr. Bryany can make a mistake in the day of the week he might make a mistake in a few noughts at the end of a sum of money."

Suddenly Mr. Seven Sachs startled them all by emerging from his silence with the words:

"The figure is O.K."

Instinctively Edward Henry waited for more; but no more came. Mr. Seven Sachs was one of those rare and disconcerting persons who do not keep on talking after they have finished. He resumed his tranquillity, he re-entered into his silence, with no symptom of self-consciousness, entirely cheerful and at ease. And Edward Henry was aware of his observant and steady gaze. Edward Henry said to himself: "This man is expecting me to behave in a remarkable way. Bryany has been telling him all about me, and he is waiting to see if I really am as good as my reputation. I have just got to be as good as my reputation!" He looked up at the electric chandelier, almost with regret that it was not gas. One cannot light one's cigarette by twisting a hundred-pound bank-note and sticking it into an electric chandelier. Moreover, there were some thousands of matches on the table. Still further, he had done the cigarette-lighting trick once for all. A first-class card must not repeat himself.

"This money," Edward Henry proceeded, "has to be paid to Slossons, [119] Lord Woldo's solicitors, to-morrow, Wednesday, rain or shine?" He finished the phrase on a note of interrogation, and as nobody offered any reply, he rapped on the table, and repeated, half-menacingly: "Rain or shine!"

"Yes," said Rose Euclid, leaning timidly forward and taking a cigarette from a gold case that lay on the table. All her movements indicated an earnest desire to be thoroughly business-like.

"So that, Miss Euclid," Edward Henry continued impressively, but with a wilful touch of incredulity, "you are in a position to pay your share of this money to-morrow?"

"Certainly!" said Miss Euclid. And it was as if she had said, aggrieved: "Can you doubt my hono

ur?"

"To-morrow morning?"

"Ye-es."

"That is to say, to-morrow morning you will have £2250 in actual cash-coin, notes-actually in your possession?"

Miss Euclid's disengaged hand was feeling out behind her again for some surface upon which to express its emotion and hers.

"Well-" she stopped, flushing.

("These people are astounding," Edward Henry reflected, like a god. "She's not got the money. I knew it!")

"It's like this, Mr. Machin," Marrier began.

"Excuse me, Mr. Marrier," Edward Henry turned on him, determined if he could to eliminate the optimism from that beaming face. "Any friend of Miss Euclid's is welcome here, but you've already talked about this theatre as 'ours,' and I just want to know where you come in."

[120] "Where I come in?" Marrier smiled, absolutely unperturbed. "Miss Euclid has appointed me general manajah."

"At what salary, if it isn't a rude question?"

"Oh! We haven't settled details yet. You see the theatre isn't built yet."

"True!" said Edward Henry. "I was forgetting! I was thinking for the moment that the theatre was all ready and going to be opened to-morrow night with 'The Orient Pearl.' Have you had much experience of managing theatres, Mr. Marrier? I suppose you have."

"Eho yes!" exclaimed Mr. Marrier. "I began life as a lawyah's clerk, but-"

"So did I," Edward Henry interjected.

"How interesting!" Rose Euclid murmured with fervency, after puffing forth a long shaft of smoke.

"However, I threw it up," Marrier went on.

"I didn't," said Edward Henry. "I got thrown out!"

Strange that in that moment he was positively proud of having been dismissed from his first situation! Strange that all the company, too, thought the better of him for having been dismissed! Strange that Marrier regretted that he also had not been dismissed! But so it was. The possession of much ready money emits a peculiar effluence in both directions-back to the past, forward into the future.

"I threw it up," said Marrier, "because the stage had an irresistible attraction for me. I'd been stage-manajah for an amateur company, you knaoo. I found a shop as stage-manajah of a company touring 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' I stuck to that for six years, and then I threw that up too. Then I've managed one of Miss Euclid's provincial tours. And [121] since I met our friend Trent I've had the chance to show what my ideas about play-producing really are. I fancy my production of Trent's one-act play won't be forgotten in a hurry.... You know-'The Nymph'? You read about it, didn't you?"

"I did not," said Edward Henry. "How long did it run?"

"Oh! It didn't run. It wasn't put on for a run. It was part of one of the Sunday night shows of the Play-Producing Society, at the Court Theatre. Most intellectual people in London, you know. No such audience anywhere else in the wahld!" His rather chubby face glistened and shimmered with enthusiasm. "You bet!" he added. "But that was only by the way. My real game is management-general management. And I think I may say I know what it is?"

"Evidently!" Edward Henry concurred. "But shall you have to give up any other engagement in order to take charge of The Muses' Theatre? Because if so-"

Mr. Marrier replied:

"No."

Edward Henry observed:

"Oh!"

"But," said Marrier, reassuringly, "if necessary I would throw up any engagement-you understand me, any-in favour of The Intellectual Theatah-as I prefer to call it. You see, as I own part of the option-"

By these last words Edward Henry was confounded, even to muteness.

"I forgot to mention, Mr. Machin," said Rose Euclid, very quickly. "I've disposed of a quarter of my half of the option to Mr. Marrier. [122] He fully agreed with me it was better that he should have a proper interest in the theatre."

"Why of course!" cried Mr. Harrier, uplifted.

"Let me see," said Edward Henry, after a long breath, "a quarter. That makes it that you have to find £562, 10s. to-morrow, Mr. Marrier."

"Yes."

"To-morrow morning-you'll be all right?"

"Well, I won't swear for the morning, but I shall turn up with the stuff in the afternoon, anyhow. I've two men in tow, and one of them's a certainty."

"Which?"

"I don't know which," said Mr. Marrier. "How-evah, you may count on yours sincerely, Mr. Machin."

There was a pause.

"Perhaps I ought to tell you," Rose Euclid smiled, "perhaps I ought to tell you that Mr. Trent is also one of our partners. He has taken another quarter of my half."

Edward Henry controlled himself.

"Excellent!" said he, with glee. "Mr. Trent's money all ready, too?"

"I am providing most of it-temporarily," said Rose Euclid.

"I see. Then I understand you have your three quarters of £2250 all ready in hand."

She glanced at Mr. Seven Sachs.

"Have I, Mr. Sachs?"

And Mr. Sachs, after an instant's hesitation, bowed in assent.

"Mr. Sachs is not exactly going into the speculation, but he is lending us money on the security of our interests. That's the way to put it, isn't it, Mr. Sachs?"

Mr. Sachs once more bowed.

And Edward Henry exclaimed:

[123] "Now I really do see!"

He gave one glance across the table at Mr. Seven Sachs, as who should say: "And have you too allowed yourself to be dragged into this affair? I really thought you were cleverer. Don't you agree with me that we're both fools of the most arrant description?" And under that brief glance Mr. Seven Sachs's calm deserted him as it had never deserted him on the stage, where for over fifteen hundred nights he had withstood the menace of revolvers, poison, and female treachery through three hours and four acts without a single moment of agitation.

Apparently Miss Rose Euclid could exercise a siren's charm upon nearly all sorts of men. But Edward Henry knew one sort of men upon whom she could not exercise it-namely, the sort of men who are born and bred in the Five Towns. His instinctive belief in the Five Towns as the sole cradle of hard practical common sense was never stronger than just now. You might by wiles get the better of London and America, but not of the Five Towns. If Rose Euclid were to go around and about the Five Towns trying to do the siren business, she would pretty soon discover that she was up against something rather special in the way of human nature!

Why, the probability was that these three-Rose Euclid (only a few hours since a glorious name and legend to him), Carlo Trent, and Mr. Marrier-could not at that moment produce even ten pounds between them!... And Marrier offering to lay fivers!... He scornfully pitied them. And he was not altogether without pity for Seven Sachs, who had doubtless succeeded in life by sheer accident and knew no more than an infant what to do with his too-easily-earned money.

[124]

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