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   Chapter 27 No.27

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 7840

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Edward Henry enjoyed the tea, which was bad, to an extraordinary degree. He became uplifted in the presence of Miss Elsie April; whereas Mr. Marrier, strangely, drooped to still deeper depths of unaccustomed inert melancholy. Edward Henry decided that she was every bit as piquant, challenging and delectable as he had imagined her to be on the day when he ate an artichoke at the next table to hers at Wilkins's. She coincided exactly with his remembrance of her, except that she was now slightly more plump. Her contours were effulgent-there was no other word. Beautiful she was not, for she had [200] a turned-up nose; but what charm she radiated! Every movement and tone enchanted Edward Henry. He was enchanted not at intervals, by a chance gesture, but all the time-when she was serious, when she smiled, when she fingered her tea-cup, when she pushed her furs back over her shoulders, when she spoke of the weather, when she spoke of the social crisis, and when she made fun, with a certain brief absence of restraint-rather in her artichoke manner of making fun.

He thought and believed:

"This is the finest woman I ever saw!" He clearly perceived the inferiority of other women, whom, nevertheless, he admired and liked, such as the Countess of Chell and Lady Woldo.

It was not her brains, nor her beauty, nor her stylishness that affected him. No! It was something mysterious and dizzying that resided in every particle of her individuality.

He thought:

"I've often and often wanted to see her again. And now I'm having tea with her!" And he was happy.

"Have you got that list, Mr. Harrier?" she asked, in her low and thrilling voice. So saying, she raised her eyebrows in expectation-a delicious effect, especially behind her half-raised white veil.

Mr. Marrier produced a document.

"But that's my list!" said Edward Henry.

"Your list?"

"I'd better tell you." Mr. Marrier essayed a rapid explanation. "Mr. Machin wanted a list of the raight sort of people to ask to the corner-stone-laying of his theatah. So I used this as a basis."

Elsie April smiled again:

[201] "Very good!" she approved.

"What is your list, Marrier?" asked Edward Henry.

It was Elsie who replied:

"People to be invited to the dramatic soirée of the Azure Society. We give six a year. No title is announced. Nobody except a committee of three knows even the name of the author of the play that is to be performed. Everything is kept a secret. Even the author doesn't know that his play has been chosen. Don't you think it's a delightful idea?... An offspring of the New Thought!"

He agreed that it was a delightful idea.

"Shall I be invited?" he asked.

She answered gravely, "I don't know."

"Are you going to play in it?"

She paused.... "Yes."

"Then you must let me come. Talking of plays-"

He stopped. He was on the edge of facetiously relating the episode of "The Orient Pearl" at Sir John Pilgrim's. But he withdrew in time. Suppose that "The Orient Pearl" was the piece to be performed by the Azure Society! It might well be! It was (in his opinion) just the sort of play that that sort of society would choose! Nevertheless he was as anxious as ever to see Elsie April act. He really thought that she could and would transfigure any play. Even his profound scorn of New Thought (a subject of which he was entirely ignorant) began to be modified-and by nothing but the enchantment of the tone in which Elsie April murmured the words, "Azure Society!"

"How soon is the performance?" he demanded.

"Wednesday week," said she.

"That's the very day of my corner-stone-laying," he said. "However, it [202] doesn't matter. My little affair will be in the afternoon."

"But it can't be," said she, solemnly. "It would interfere with us, and we should interfere with it. Our Annual Conference takes place in the afternoon. All London will be there."

Said Mr. Marr

ier, rather shamefaced:

"That's just it, Mr. Machin. It positively never occurred to me that the Azure Conference is to be on that very day. I never thought of it until nearly four o'clock. And then I scarcely knew how to explain it to you. I really don't know how it escaped me."

Mr. Marrier's trouble was now out, and he had declined in Edward Henry's esteem. Mr. Marrier was afraid of him. Mr. Marrier's list of personages was no longer a miracle of foresight; it was a mere coincidence. He doubted if Mr. Marrier was worth even his three pounds a week. Edward Henry began to feel ruthless, Napoleonic. He was capable of brushing away the whole Azure Society and New Thought movement into limbo.

"You must please alter your date," said Elsie April. And she put her right elbow on the table and leaned her chin on it, and thus somehow established a domestic intimacy for the three amid all the blare and notoriety of the vast tea-room.

"Oh, but I can't!" he said easily, familiarly. It was her occasional "artichoke" manner that had justified him in assuming this tone. "I can't!" he repeated. "I've told Sir John I can't possibly be ready any earlier, and on the day after he'll almost certainly be on his way to Marseilles. Besides, I don't want to alter my date. My date is in the papers by this time."

"You've already done quite enough harm to the Movement as it is," said [203] Elsie April, stoutly, but ravishingly.

"Me-harm to the Movement?"

"Haven't you stopped the building of our church?"

"Oh! So you know Mr. Wrissell?"

"Very well, indeed."

"Anybody else would have done the same in my place!" Edward Henry defended himself. "Your cousin, Miss Euclid, would have done it, and Marrier here was in the affair with her."

"Ah!" exclaimed Elsie April. "But we didn't belong to the Movement then! We didn't know.... Come now, Mr. Machin. Sir John Pilgrim will of course be a great draw. But even if you've got him and manage to stick to him, we should beat you. You'll never get the audience you want if you don't change from Wednesday week. After all, the number of people who count in London is very small. And we've got nearly all of them. You've no idea-"

"I won't change from Wednesday week," said Edward Henry. This defiance of her put him into an extremely agitated felicity.

"Now, my dear Mr. Machin-"

He was acutely aware of the charm she was exerting, and yet he discovered that he could easily withstand it.

"Now, my dear Miss April, please don't try to take advantage of your beauty!"

She sat up. She was apparently measuring herself and him.

"Then you won't change the day, truly?" Her urbanity was in no wise impaired.

"I won't," he laughed lightly. "I daresay you aren't used to people like me, Miss April."

(She might get the better of Seven Sachs, but not of him, Edward Henry [204] Machin from the Five Towns!)

"Marrier!" said he, suddenly, with a bluff, humorous downrightness, "you know you're in a very awkward position here, and you know you've got to see Alloyd for me before six o'clock. Be off with you. I will be responsible for Miss April."

("I'll show these Londoners!" he said to himself. "It's simple enough when you once get into it.")

And he did in fact succeed in dismissing Mr. Marrier, after the latter had talked Azure business with Miss April for a couple of minutes.

"I must go too," said Elsie, imperturbable, impenetrable.

"One moment," he entreated, and masterfully signalled Marrier to depart. After all he was paying the fellow three pounds a week.

She watched Marrier thread his way out. Already she had put on her gloves.

"I must go," she repeated; her rich red lips then closed definitely.

"Have you a motor here?" Edward Henry asked.

"No."

"Then if I may I'll see you home."

"You may," she said, gazing full at him. Whereby he was somewhat startled and put out of countenance.

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