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   Chapter 22 No.22

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 11427

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


He was in a large back drawing-room, of which the window, looking north, was in rich stained glass. "No doubt because they're ashamed of the view," he said to himself. The size of the chimneypiece impressed him, and also its rich carving. "But what an old-fashioned grate!" he said to himself. "They need gilt radiators here." The doorway was a marvel of ornate sculpture, and he liked it. He liked, too, the effect of the oil-paintings-mainly portraits-on the walls, and the immensity of the brass fender, and the rugs, and the leather-work of the chairs. But there could be no question that the room was too dark for the taste of any householder clever enough to know the difference between a house and a church.

There was a plunging noise at the door behind him.

"What's amiss?" he heard a woman's voice. And as he heard it he [170] thrilled with sympathetic vibrations. It was not a North Staffordshire voice, but it was a South Yorkshire voice, which is almost the same thing. It seemed to him to be the first un-Kensingtonian voice to soothe his ear since he had left the Five Towns. Moreover, nobody born south of the Trent would have said, "What's amiss?" A southerner would have said, "What's the matter?" Or, more probably, "What's the mattah?"

He turned and saw a breathless and very beautiful woman, of about twenty-nine or thirty, clothed in black, and she was in the act of removing from her lovely head what looked like a length of red flannel. He noticed, too, simultaneously, that she was suffering from a heavy cold. A majestic footman behind her closed the door and disappeared.

"Are you Lady Woldo?" Edward Henry asked.

"Yes," she said. "What's this about my baby?"

"I've just seen him in Hyde Park," said Edward Henry. "And I observed that a rash had broken out all over his face."

"I know that," she replied. "It began this morning, all of a sudden like. But what of it? I was rather alarmed myself, as it's the first rash he's had and he's the first baby I've had-and he'll be the last too. But everybody said it was nothing. He's never been out without me before, but I had such a cold. Now you don't mean to tell me that you've come down specially from Hyde Park to inform me about that rash. I'm not such a simpleton as all that." She spoke in one long breath.

"I'm sure you're not," said he. "But we've had a good deal of rash in our family, and it just happens that I've got a remedy-a good sound north-country remedy-and it struck me you might like to know of it. [171] So if you like I'll telegraph to my missis for the recipe. Here's my card."

She read his name, title and address.

"Well," she said, "it's very kind of you, I'm sure, Mr. Machin. I knew you must come from up there the moment ye spoke. It does one good above a bit to hear a plain north-country voice after all this fal-lalling."

She blew her lovely nose.

"Doesn't it!" Edward Henry agreed. "That was just what I thought when I heard you say 'Bless us!' Do you know, I've been in London only a two-three days, and I assure you I was beginning to feel lonely for a bit of the Midland accent!"

"Yes," she said, "London's lonely!" And sighed.

"My eldest was bitten by a dog the other day," he went on, in the vein of gossip.

"Oh, don't!" she protested.

"Yes. Gave us a lot of anxiety. All right now! You might like to know that cyanide gauze is a good thing to put on a wound-supposing anything should happen to yours-"

"Oh, don't!" she protested. "I do hope and pray Robert will never be bitten by a dog. Was it a big dog?"

"Fair," said Edward Henry. "So his name's Robert! So's my eldest's!"

"Really now! They wanted him to be called Robert Philip Stephen Darrand Patrick. But I wouldn't have it. He's just Robert. I did have my own way there! You know he was born six months after his father's death."

"And I suppose he's ten months now?"

"No. Only six."

[172] "Great Scott! He's big!" said Edward Henry.

"Well," said she, "he is. I am, you see."

"Now, Lady Woldo," said Edward Henry in a new tone, "as we're both from the same part of the country I want to be perfectly straight and above-board with you. It's quite true-all that about the rash. And I did think you'd like to know. But that's not really what I came to see you about. You understand, not knowing you, I fancied there might be some difficulty in getting at you-"

"Oh! no!" she said simply. "Everybody gets at me."

"Well, I didn't know, you see. So I just mentioned the baby to begin with, like!"

"I hope you're not after money," she said, almost plaintively.

"I'm not," he said. "You can ask anybody in Bursley or Hanbridge whether I'm the sort of man to go out on the cadge."

"I once was in the chorus in a panto at Hanbridge," she said. "Don't they call Bursley 'Bosley' down there-'owd Bosley'?"

Edward Henry dealt suitably with these remarks, and then gave her a judicious version of the nature of his business, referring several times to Mr. Rollo Wrissell.

"Mr. Wrissell!" she murmured, smiling.

"In the end I told Mr. Wrissell to go and bury himself," said Edward [173] Henry. "And that's about as far as I've got."

"Oh, don't!" she said, her voice weak from suppressed laughter, and then the laughter burst forth uncontrollable.

"Yes," he said, delighted with himself and her. "I told him to go and bury himself!" "I suppose you don't like Mr. Wrissell?"

"Well-" he temporized.

"I didn't at first," she said. "I hated him. But I like him now, though I must say I adore teasing him. Mr. Wrissell is what I call a gentleman. You know he was Lord Woldo's heir. And when Lord Woldo married me it was a bit of a blow for him! But he took it

like a lamb. He never turned a hair, and he was more polite than any of them. I daresay you know Lord Woldo saw me in a musical comedy at Scarborough-he has a place near there, ye know. Mr. Wrissell had made him angry about some of his New Thought fads, and I do believe he asked me to marry him just to annoy Mr. Wrissell. He used to say to me, my husband did, that he'd married me in too much of a hurry, and that it was too bad on Mr. Wrissell. And then he laughed, and I laughed too. 'After all,' he used to say, my husband did, 'To marry an actress is an accident that might happen to any member of the House of Lords-and it does happen to a lot of 'em-but they don't marry anything as beautiful as you, Blanche,' he used to say. 'And you stick up for yourself, Blanche,' he used to say. 'I'll stand by you,' he said. He was a straight 'un, my husband was. They left me alone until he died. And then they began-I mean his folks. And when Bobbie was born it got worse. Only I must say even then Mr. Wrissell never turned a hair. Everybody seemed to make out that I ought to be very grateful to them, and I ought to think myself very lucky. Me-a peeress of the realm! They wanted me to change. But how could I change? I was Blanche Wilmot-on the road for ten years-never got a show in London-and Blanche Wilmot I shall ever be-peeress or no peeress! It was no joke being Lord Woldo's wife, I can tell you, and it's still less of a joke [174] being Lord Woldo's mother! You imagine it. It's worse than carrying about a china vase all the time on a slippery floor! Am I any happier now than I was before I married? Well, I am! There's more worry in one way, but there's less in another. And of course I've got Bobbie! But it isn't all beer and skittles, and I let 'em know it, too. I can't do what I like! And I'm just a sort of exile, you know. I used to enjoy being on the stage and showing myself off. A hard life, but one does enjoy it. And one gets used to it. One gets to need it. Sometimes I feel I'd give anything to be able to go on the stage again-Oh-oh-!"

She sneezed; then took breath.

"Shall I put some more coal on the fire?" Edward Henry suggested.

"Perhaps I'd better ring," she hesitated.

"No, I'll do it."

He put coal on the fire.

"And if you'd feel easier with that flannel round your head, please do put it on again."

"Well," she said, "I will. My mother used to say there was naught like red flannel for a cold."

With an actress's skill she arranged the flannel, and from its encircling folds her face emerged bewitching-and she knew it. Her complexion had suffered in ten years of the road, but its extreme beauty could not yet be denied. And Edward Henry thought:

"All the really pretty girls come from the Midlands!"

"Here I am rambling on," she said. "I always was a rare rambler. What do you want me to do?"

"Exert your influence," he replied. "Don't you think it's rather hard on Rose Euclid-treating her like this? Of course people say all sorts [175] of things about Rose Euclid-"

"I won't hear a word against Rose Euclid," cried Lady Woldo. "Whenever she was on tour, if she knew any of us were resting in the town where she was she'd send us seats. And many's the time I've cried and cried at her acting. And then she's the life and soul of the Theatrical Ladies' Guild."

"And isn't that your husband's signature?" he demanded, showing the precious option.

"Of course it is."

He did not show her the covering letter.

"And I've no doubt my husband wanted a theatre built there, and he wanted to do Rose Euclid a good turn. And I'm quite positive certain sure that he didn't want any of Mr. Wrissell's rigmaroles on his land. He wasn't that sort, my husband wasn't.... You must go to law about it," she finished.

"Yes," said Edward Henry, protestingly. "And a pretty penny it would cost me! And supposing I lost, after all?... You never know. There's a much easier way than going to law,"

"What is it?"

"As I say-you exert your influence, Lady Woldo. Write and tell them I've seen you and you insist-"

"Eh! Bless you! They'd twist me round their little finger. I'm not a fool, but I'm not very clever-I know that. I shouldn't know whether I was standing on my head or my heels by the time they'd done with me. I've tried to face them out before-about things."

"Who-Mr. Wrissell, or Slossons?"

"Both? Eh, but I should like to put a spoke in Mr. Wrissell's wheel-gentleman as he is. You see he's just one of those men you can't help wanting to tease. When you're on the road you meet lots of [176] 'em."

"I tell you what you can do!"

"What?"

"Write and tell Slossons that you don't wish them to act for you any more, and you'll go to another firm of solicitors. That would bring 'em to their senses."

"Can't! They're in the will. He settled that. That's why they're so cocky."

Edward Henry persisted-and this time with an exceedingly impressive and conspiratorial air:

"I tell you another thing you could do-you really could do-and it depends on nobody but yourself."

"Well," she said with decision. "I'll do it."

"Whatever it is?"

"If it's straight."

"Of course it's straight. And it would be a grand way of teasing Mr. Wrissell and all of 'em! A simply grand way! I should die of laughing."

"Well-"

At this critical point the historic conversation was interrupted by phenomena in the hall which Lady Woldo recognized with feverish excitement. Lord Woldo had safely returned from Hyde Park. Starting up, she invited Edward Henry to wait a little. A few moments later they were bending over the infant together, and Edward Henry was offering his views on the cause and cure of rash.

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