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   Chapter 28 No.28

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 4660

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Are we friends?" he asked roguishly.

"I hope so," she said, with no diminution of her inscrutability.

They were in a taxi-cab, rolling along the Embankment towards the [205] Buckingham Palace Hotel, where she said she lived. He was happy. "Why am I happy?" he thought. "What is there in her that makes me happy?" He did not know. But he knew that he had never been in a taxi-cab, or anywhere else, with any woman half so elegant. Her elegance flattered him enormously. Here he was, a provincial man of business, ruffling it with the best of them!... And she was young in her worldly maturity. Was she twenty-seven? She could not be more. She looked straight in front of her, faintly smiling.... Yes, he was fully aware that he was a married man. He had a distinct vision of the angelic Nellie, of the three children, and of his mother. But it seemed to him that his own case differed in some very subtle and yet effective manner from the similar case of any other married man. And he lived, unharassed by apprehensions, in the lively joy of the moment.

"But," she said, "I hope you won't come to see me act."

"Why?"

"Because I should prefer you not to. You would not be sympathetic to me."

"Oh, yes, I should."

"I shouldn't feel it so." And then, with a swift disarrangement of all the folds of her skirt, she turned and faced him. "Mr. Machin, do you know why I've let you come with me?"

"Because you're a good-natured woman," he said.

She grew even graver, shaking her head.

"No! I simply wanted to tell you that you've ruined Rose-my cousin."

"Miss Euclid? Me ruined Miss Euclid!"

"Yes. You robbed her of her theatre-her one chance."

[206] He blushed. "Excuse me," he said. "I did no such thing. I simply bought her option from her. She was absolutely free to keep the option or let it go."

"The fact remains," said Elsie April, with humid eyes, "the fact remains that she'd set her heart on having that theatre, and you failed her at the last instant. And she has nothing, and you've got the theatre entirely in your own hands. I'm not so silly as to suppose that you can't defend yourself legally. But let me tell you that Rose went to the United States heart-broken, and she's playing to empty houses there-empty houses! Whereas she might have been here in London, interested in he

r theatre, and preparing for a successful season."

"I'd no idea of this," breathed Edward Henry. He was dashed. "I'm awfully sorry!"

"Yes, no doubt. But there it is!"

Silence fell. He knew not what to say. He felt himself in one way innocent, but he felt himself in another way blackly guilty. His remorse for the telephone-trick which he had practised on Rose Euclid burst forth again after a long period of quiescence simulating death, and acutely troubled him.... No, he was not guilty! He insisted in his heart that he was not guilty! And yet-and yet-No taxi-cab ever travelled so quickly as that taxi-cab. Before he could gather together his forces it had arrived beneath the awning of the Buckingham Palace Hotel.

His last words to her were:

"Now I shan't change the day of my stone-laying. But don't worry about your Conference. You know it'll be perfectly all right!" He spoke archly, with a brave attempt at cajolery. But in the recesses of his soul he was not sure that she had not defeated him in this their first [207] encounter. However, Seven Sachs might talk as he chose-she was not such a persuasive creature as all that! She had scarcely even tried to be persuasive.

At about a quarter-past six when he saw his underling again he said to Mr. Marrier:

"Marrier, I've got a great idea. We'll have that corner-stone-laying at night. After the theatres. Say half-past eleven. Torchlight! Fireworks from the cranes! It'll tickle old Pilgrim to death. I shall have a marquee with matchboarding sides fixed up inside, and heat it with a few of those smokeless stoves. We can easily lay on electricity. It will be absolutely the most sensational stone-laying that ever was. It'll be in all the papers all over the blessed world. Think of it! Torches! Fireworks from the cranes!... But I won't change the day-neither for Miss April nor anybody else."

Mr. Marrier dissolved in laudations.

"Well," Edward Henry agreed with false diffidence. "It'll knock spots off some of 'em in this town!"

He felt that he had snatched victory out of defeat. But the next moment he was capable of feeling that Elsie April had defeated him even in his victory. Anyhow, she was a most disconcerting and fancy-monopolizing creature.

There was one source of unsullied gratification, he had shaved off his beard.

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