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   Chapter 31 No.31

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 5704

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"Did you ever see such scenery and costumes?" someone addressed him suddenly, when the applause had died down. It was Mr. Alloyd, who had advanced up the aisle from a back row of the stalls.

"No, I never did!" Edward Henry agreed.

"It's wonderful how Givington has managed to get away from the childish realism of the modern theatre," said Mr. Alloyd, "without being ridiculous."

"You think so!" said Edward Henry, judicially. "The question is-has he?"

"Do you mean it's too realistic for you?" cried Mr. Alloyd. "Well, you are advanced! I didn't know you were as anti-representational as all that!"

"Neither did I!" said Edward Henry. "What do you think of the play?"

"Well," answered Mr. Alloyd, low and cautiously, with a somewhat shamed grin, "between you and me I think the play's bosh."

"Come, come!" Edward Henry murmured as if in protest.

The word "bosh" was almost the first word of the discussion which he had comprehended, and the honest familiar sound of it did him good. Nevertheless, keeping his presence of mind, he had forborne to welcome it openly. He wondered what on earth "anti-representational" could mean. Similar conversations were proceeding around him, and each could [223] be very closely heard, for the reason that, the audience being frankly intellectual and anxious to exchange ideas, the management had wisely avoided the expense and noise of an orchestra. The entr'acte was like a conversazione of all the cultures.

"I wish you'd give us some scenery and costumes like this in your theatre," said Alloyd, as he strolled away.

The remark stabbed him like a needle; the pain was gone in an instant, but it left a vague fear behind it, as of the menace of a mortal injury. It is a fact that Edward Henry blushed and grew gloomy-and he scarcely knew why. He looked about him timidly, half defiantly. A magnificently-arrayed woman in the row in front, somewhat to the right, leaned back and towards him, and behind her fan said:

"You're the only manager here, Mr. Machin! How alive and alert you are!" Her voice seemed to be charged with a hidden meaning.

"D'you think so?" said Edward Henry. He had no idea who she might be. He had probably shaken hands with her at his stone-laying, but if so he had forgotten her face. He was fast becoming one of the oligarchical few who are recognized by far more people than they recognize.

"A beautiful play!" said the woman. "Not merely poetic but intellectual! And an extraordinarily acute criticism of modern conditions!"

He nodded. "What do you think of the scenery?" he asked.

"Well, of course candidly," said the woman, "I think it's silly. I daresay I'm old-fashioned." ...

"I daresay," murmured Edward Henry.

"They told me you were very ironic," said she, flushing but meek.

"They!" Who? Who in the world of London had been

labelling him as [224] ironic? He was rather proud.

"I hope if you do do this kind of play-and we're all looking to you, Mr. Machin," said the lady, making a new start, "I hope you won't go in for these costumes and scenery. That would never do!"

Again the stab of the needle!

"It wouldn't," he said.

"I'm delighted you think so," said she.

An orange telegram came travelling from hand to hand along that row of stalls, and ultimately, after skipping a few persons, reached the magnificently-arrayed woman, who read it, and then passed it to Edward Henry.

"Splendid!" she exclaimed. "Splendid!"

Edward Henry read: "Released. Isabel."

"What does it mean?"

"It's from Isabel Joy-at Marseilles."


Edward Henry's ignorance of affairs round about the centre of the universe was occasionally distressing-to himself in particular. And just now he gravely blamed Mr. Marrier, who had neglected to post him about Isabel Joy. But how could Marrier honestly earn his three pounds a week if he was occupied night and day with the organizing and management of these precious dramatic soirées? Edward Henry decided that he must give Mr. Marrier a piece of his mind at the first opportunity.

"Don't you know?" questioned the dame.

"How should I?" he parried. "I'm only a provincial."

"But surely," pursued the dame, "you knew we'd sent her round the world. She started on the Kandahar, the ship that you stopped [225] Sir John Pilgrim from taking. She almost atoned for his absence at Tilbury. Twenty-five reporters, anyway!"

Edward Henry sharply slapped his thigh, which in the Five Towns signifies: "I shall forget my own name next."

Of course! Isabel Joy was the advertising emissary of the Militant Suffragette Society, sent forth to hold a public meeting and make a speech in the principal ports of the world. She had guaranteed to circuit the globe and to be back in London within a hundred days, to speak in at least five languages, and to get herself arrested at least three times en route.... Of course! Isabel Joy had possessed a very fair share of the newspapers on the day before the stone-laying, but Edward Henry had naturally had too many preoccupations to follow her exploits. After all, his momentary forgetfulness was rather excusable.

"She's made a superb beginning!" said the resplendent dame, taking the telegram from Edward Henry and inducting it into another row. "And before three months are out she'll be the talk of the entire earth. You'll see!"

"Is everybody a suffragette here?" asked Edward Henry, simply, as his eyes witnessed the satisfaction spread by the voyaging telegram....

"Practically," said the dame. "These things always go hand in hand," she added in a deep tone.

"What things?" the provincial demanded.

But just then the curtain rose on the second act.

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