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   Chapter 29 No.29

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 6139

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The headquarters of the Azure Society were situate in Marloes Road-for no other reason than that it happened so. Though certain famous people inhabit Marloes Road, no street could well be less fashionable than this thoroughfare, which is very arid and very long, and a very long way off the centre of the universe.

"The Azure Society, you know!" Edward Henry added, when he had given the exact address to the chauffeur of the taxi.

The chauffeur, however, did not know, and did not seem to be ashamed of his ignorance. His attitude indicated that he despised Marloes Road and was not particularly anxious for his vehicle to be seen therein-especially on a wet night-but that nevertheless he would endeavour to reach it. When he did reach it, and observed the large concourse of shining automobiles that struggled together in the rain in front of the illuminated number named by Edward Henry, the chauffeur admitted to himself that for once he had been mistaken, and his manner of receiving money from Edward Henry was generously respectful.

Originally, the headquarters of the Azure Society had been a seminary and schoolmistress's house. The thoroughness with which the buildings had been transformed showed that money was not among the things which [217] the Society had to search for. It had rich resources, and it had also high social standing; and the deferential commissionaires at the doors and the fluffy-aproned, appealing girls who gave away programmes in the foyer were a proof that the Society, while doubtless anxious about such subjects as the persistence of individuality after death, had no desire to reconstitute the community on a democratic basis. It was above such transient trifles of reform, and its high endeavours were confined to questions of immortality, of the infinite, of sex, and of art: which questions it discussed in fine raiment and with all the punctilio of courtly politeness.

Edward Henry was late, in common with some two hundred other people, of whom the majority were elegant women wearing Paris or almost-Paris gowns with a difference. As on the current of the variegated throng he drifted through corridors into the bijou theatre of the Society, he could not help feeling proud of his own presence there-and yet at the same time he was scorning, in his Five Towns way, the preciosity and the simperings of those his fellow-creatures. Seated in the auditorium, at the end of a row, he was aware of an even keener satisfaction, as people bowed and smiled to him; for the theatre was so tiny and the reunion so choice that it was obviously an honour and a distinction to have been invited to such an exclusive affair. To the evening first fixed for the dramatic soirée of the Azure Society he had received no invitation. But shortly after the postponement due to Elsie April's indisposition an envelope addressed by Marrier himself, and containing the sacred card, had arrived for him in Bursley. His instinct had been to ignore it, and for two days he had ignored it, and then he noticed in one corner the initials, "E

.A." Strange that it [218] did not occur to him immediately that E.A. stood, or might stand, for Elsie April!

Reflection brings wisdom and knowledge. In the end he was absolutely convinced that E.A. stood for Elsie April; and at the last moment, deciding that it would be the act of a fool and a coward to decline what was practically a personal request from a young and enchanting woman, he had come to London-short of sleep, it is true, owing to local convivialities, but he had come! And, curiously, he had not communicated with Marrier. Marrier had been extremely taken up with the dramatic soirée of the Azure Society-which Edward Henry justifiably but quite privately resented. Was he not paying three pounds a week to Marrier?

And now, there he sat, known, watched, a notoriety, the card who had raised Pilgrim to the skies, probably the only theatrical proprietor in the crowded and silent audience; and he was expecting anxiously to see Elsie April again-across the footlights! He had not seen her since the night of the stone-laying, over a week earlier. He had not sought to see her. He had listened then to the delicate tones of her weak, whispering, thrilling voice, and had expressed regret for Rose Euclid's plight. But he had done no more. What could he have done? Clearly he could not have offered money to relieve the plight of Rose Euclid, who was the cousin of a girl as wealthy and as sympathetic as Elsie April. To do so would have been to insult Elsie. Yet he felt guilty, none the less. An odd situation! The delicate tones of Elsie's weak, whispering, thrilling voice on the scaffolding haunted his memory, and came back with strange clearness as he sat waiting for the curtain to ascend.

There was an outburst of sedate applause, and a turning of heads to [219] the right. Edward Henry looked in that direction. Rose Euclid herself was bowing from one of the two boxes on the first tier. Instantly she had been recognized and acknowledged, and the clapping had in no wise disturbed her. Evidently she accepted it as a matter of course. How famous, after all, she must be, if such an audience would pay her such a meed! She was pale, and dressed glitteringly in white. She seemed younger, more graceful, much more handsome, more in accordance with her renown. She was at home and at ease up there in the brightness of publicity. The imposing legend of her long career had survived the eclipse in the United States. Who could have guessed that some ten days before she had landed heart-broken and ruined at Tilbury from the Minnetonka?

Edward Henry was impressed.

"She's none so dusty!" he said to himself in the incomprehensible slang of the Five Towns. The phrase was a high compliment to Rose Euclid, aged fifty and looking anything you like over thirty. It measured the extent to which he was impressed.

Yes, he felt guilty. He had to drop his eyes, lest hers should catch them. He examined guiltily the programme, which announced "The New Don Juan," a play "in three acts and in verse"-author unnamed. The curtain went up.

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