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   Chapter 24 No.24

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 8755

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


On a morning in spring Edward Henry got out of an express at Euston which had come, not from the Five Towns, but from Birmingham. Having on the previous day been called to Birmingham on local and profitable business, he had found it convenient to spend the night there and telegraph home that London had summoned him. It was in this unostentatious, this half-furtive fashion, that his visits to London now usually occurred. Not that he was afraid of his wife! Not that he was afraid even of his mother! Oh, no! He was merely rather afraid of himself-of his own opinion concerning the metropolitan, non-local, speculative and perhaps unprofitable business to which he was committed. The fact was that he could scarcely look his women in the face when he mentioned London. He spoke vaguely of "real estate" enterprise, and left it at that. The women made no inquiries; they too left it at that. Nevertheless ...!

The episode of Wilkins's was buried, but it was imperfectly buried. The Five Towns definitely knew that he had stayed at Wilkins's for a bet, and that Brindley had discharged the bet. And rumours of his valet, his electric brougham, his theatrical supper-parties, had mysteriously hung in the streets of the Five Towns like a strange [181] vapour. Wisps of the strange vapour had conceivably entered the precincts of his home, but nobody ever referred to them; nobody ever sniffed apprehensively nor asked anybody else whether there was not a smell of fire. The discreetness of the silence was disconcerting. Happily his relations with that angel his wife were excellent. She had carried angelicism so far as not to insist on the destruction of Carlo; and she had actually applauded, while sticking to her white apron, the sudden and startling extravagances of his toilette.

On the whole, though little short of thirty-five thousand pounds would ultimately be involved-not to speak of a liability of nearly three thousand a year for sixty-four years for ground-rent-Edward Henry was not entirely gloomy as to his prospects. He was, indubitably thinner in girth; novel problems and anxieties, and the constant annoyance of being in complete technical ignorance of his job, had removed some flesh. (And not a bad thing, either!) But on the other hand his chin exhibited one proof that life was worth living, and that he had discovered new faith in life and a new conviction of youthfulness.

He had shaved off his beard.

"Well, sir!" a voice greeted him full of hope and cheer, immediately his feet touched the platform.

It was the voice of Mr. Marrier. Edward Henry and Mr. Marrier were now in regular relations. Before Edward Henry had paid his final bill at Wilkins's and relinquished his valet and his electric brougham, and disposed for ever of his mythical "man" on board the Minnetonka, and got his original luggage away from the Hotel Majestic, Mr. Marrier had visited him and made a certain proposition. And such was the influence of Mr. Marrier's incurable smile and of his solid optimism and of his [182] obvious talent for getting things done on the spot (as witness the photography), that the proposition had been accepted. Mr. Marrier was now Edward Henry's "representative" in London. At the Green Room Club Mr. Marrier informed reliable cronies that he was Edward Henry's "confidential adviser." At the Turk's Head, Hanbridge, Edward Henry informed reliable cronies that Mr. Marrier was a sort of clerk, factotum, or maid-of-all-work. A compromise between these two very different conceptions of Mr. Marrier's position had been arrived at in the word "representative." The real truth was that Edward Henry employed Mr. Marrier in order to listen to Mr. Marrier. He turned on Mr. Marrier like a tap, and nourished himself from a gushing stream of useful information concerning the theatrical world. Mr. Marrier, quite unconsciously, was bit by bit remedying Edward Henry's acute ignorance.

The question of wages had caused Edward Henry some apprehensions. He had learnt in a couple of days that a hundred pounds a week was a trifle on the stage. He had soon heard of performers who worked for "nominal" salaries of forty and fifty a week. For a manager twenty pounds a week seemed to be a usual figure. But in the Five Towns three pounds a week is regarded as very goodish pay for any sub-ordinate, and Edward Henry could not rid himself

all at once of native standards. He had therefore, with diffidence, offered three pounds a week to the aristocratic Marrier. And Mr. Marrier had not refused it, nor ceased to smile. On three pounds a week he haunted the best restaurants, taxi-cabs, and other resorts, and his garb seemed always to be smarter than Edward Henry's-especially in such details as waistcoat slips.

[183] Of course Mr. Marrier had a taxi-cab waiting exactly opposite the coach from which Edward Henry descended. It was just this kind of efficient attention that was gradually endearing him to his employer.

"How goes it?" said Edward Henry, curtly, as they drove down to the Grand Babylon Hotel-now Edward Henry's regular headquarters in London.

Said Mr. Marrier:

"I suppose you've seen another of 'em's got a knighthood?"

"No," said Edward Henry. "Who?" He knew that by "'em" Mr. Marrier meant the great race of actor-managers.

"Gerald Pompey. Something to do with him being a sheriff in the City, you know. I bet you what you laike he went in for the Common Council simply in order to get even with old Pilgrim. In fact I know he did. And now a foundation-stone-laying has dan it."

"A foundation-stone-laying?"

"Yes. The new City Guild's building, you knaow. Royalty-Temple Bar business-sheriffs-knighthood. There you are!"

"Oh!" said Edward Henry. And then after a pause added: "Pity we can't have a foundation-stone-laying!"

"By the way, old Pilgrim's in the deuce and all of a haole, I heah. It's all over the Clubs." (In speaking of the Clubs Mr. Marrier always pronounced them with a capital letter.) "I told you he was going [184] to sail from Tilbury on his world-tour, and have a grand embarking ceremony and seeing-off! Just laike him! Greatest advertiser the world ever saw! Well, since that P. & O. boat was lost on the Goodwins, Cora Pryde has absolutely declined to sail from Tilbury. Ab-so-lute-ly! Swears she'll join the steamer at Marseilles. And Pilgrim has got to go with her, too."

"Why?"

"Well, even Pilgrim couldn't have a grand embarking ceremony without his leading lady! He's furious, I hear."

"Why shouldn't he go with her?"

"Why not? Because he's formally announced his grand embarking ceremony! Invitations are out. Barge from London Bridge to Tilbury, and so on! What he wants is a good excuse for giving it up. He'd never be able to admit that he'd had to give it up because Cora Pryde made him! He wants to save his face."

"Well," said Edward Henry, absently. "It's a queer world. You've got me a room at the Grand Bab?"

"Rather!"

"Then let's go and have a look at the Regent first," said Edward Henry.

No sooner had he expressed the wish than Mr. Harrier's neck curved round through the window, and with three words to the chauffeur he had deflected the course of the taxi.

Edward Henry had an almost boyish curiosity about his edifice. He would go and give it a glance at the oddest moments. And just now he had a swift and violent desire to behold it. With all speed the taxi shot down Shaftesbury Avenue and swerved to the right....

There it was! Yes, it really existed, the incredible edifice of his caprice and of Mr. Alloyd's constructive imagination! It had already reached a height of fifteen feet; and, dozen of yards above that, [185] cranes dominated the sunlit air, swinging loads of bricks in the azure; and scores of workmen crawled about beneath these monsters. And he, Edward Henry, by a single act of volition, was the author of it! He slipped from the taxi, penetrated within the wall of hoardings, and gazed, just gazed! A wondrous thing-human enterprise! And also a terrifying thing!... That building might be the tomb of his reputation. On the other hand, it might be the seed of a new renown compared to which the first would be as naught! He turned his eyes away, in fear-yes, in fear!

"I say," he said. "Will Sir John Pilgrim be out of bed yet, d'ye think?" He glanced at his watch. The hour was about eleven.

"He'll be at breakfast."

"I'm going to see him, then. What's his address?"

"25 Queen Anne's Gate. But do you knaow him? I do. Shall I cam with you?"

"No," said Edward Henry, shortly. "You go on with my bags to the Grand Bab, and get me another taxi. I'll see you in my room at the hotel at a quarter to one. Eh?"

"Rather!" agreed Mr. Marrier, submissive.

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