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   Chapter 30 No.30

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 3744

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

And with the rising of the curtain began Edward Henry's torture and bewilderment. The scene disclosed a cloth upon which was painted, to the right, a vast writhing purple cuttle-fish whose finer tentacles [220] were lost above the proscenium arch, and to the left an enormous crimson oblong patch with a hole in it. He referred to the programme, which said: "Act II. or A castle in a forest"; and also, "Scenery and costumes designed by Saracen Givington, A.R.A." The cuttle-fish, then, was the purple forest, or perhaps one tree in the forest, and the oblong patch was the crimson castle. The stage remained empty, and Edward Henry had time to perceive that the footlights were unlit and that rays came only from the flies and from the wings.

He glanced round. Nobody had blenched. Quite confused, he referred again to the programme and deciphered in the increasing gloom: "Lighting by Cosmo Clark," in very large letters.

Two yellow-clad figures of no particular sex glided into view, and at the first words which they uttered Edward Henry's heart seemed in apprehension to cease to beat. A fear seized him. A few more words and the fear became a positive assurance and realization of evil. "The New Don Juan" was simply a pseudonym for Carlo Trent's "Orient Pearl"!... He had always known that it would be. Ever since deciding to accept the invitation he had lived under just that menace. "The Orient Pearl" seemed to be pursuing him like a sinister destiny.

Weakly he consulted yet again the programme. Only one character bore a name familiar to the Don Juan story, to wit "Haidee," and opposite that name was the name of Elsie April. He waited for her-he had no other interest in the evening-and he waited in resignation; a young female troubadour (styled in the programme "the messenger") emerged from the unseen depths of the forest in the wings and ejacul

ated to the hero and his friend, "The Woman appears." But it was not Elsie [221] that appeared. Six times that troubadour-messenger emerged and ejaculated, "The Woman appears," and each time Edward Henry was disappointed. But at the seventh heralding-the heralding of the seventh and highest heroine of this drama in hexameters-Elsie did at length appear.

And Edward Henry became happy. He understood little more of the play than at the historic breakfast-party of Sir John Pilgrim; he was well confirmed in his belief that the play was exactly as preposterous as a play in verse must necessarily be; his manly contempt for verse was more firmly established than ever-but Elsie April made an exquisite figure between the castle and the forest; her voice did really set up physical vibrations in his spine. He was deliciously convinced that if she remained on the stage from everlasting to everlasting, just so long could he gaze thereat without surfeit and without other desire. The mischief was that she did not remain on the stage. With despair he saw her depart, and the close of the act was ashes in his mouth.

The applause was tremendous. It was not as tremendous as that which had greeted the plate-smashing comedy at the Hanbridge Empire, but it was far more than sufficiently enthusiastic to startle and shock Edward Henry. In fact, his cold indifference was so conspicuous amid that fever that in order to save his face he had to clap and to smile.

And the dreadful thought crossed his mind, traversing it like the shudder of a distant earthquake that presages complete destruction:

"Are the ideas of the Five Towns all wrong? Am I a provincial after all?"

For hitherto, though he had often admitted to himself that he was a provincial, he had never done so with sincerity: but always in a [222] manner of playful and rather condescending badinage.

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