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The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 6849

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Won't you cam up to Miss April's dressing-room?" said Mr. Harrier, who in the midst of the fulminating applause after the second act [226] seemed to be inexplicably standing over him, having appeared in an instant out of nowhere like a genie.

The fact was that Edward Henry had been gently and innocently dozing. It was in part the deep obscurity of the auditorium, in part his own physical fatigue, and in part the secret nature of poetry that had been responsible for this restful slumber. He had remained awake without difficulty during the first portion of the act, in which Elsie April-the orient pearl-had had a long scene of emotion and tears, played, as Edward Henry thought, magnificently in spite of its inherent ridiculousness; but later, when gentle Haidee had vanished away and the fateful troubadour-messenger had begun to resume her announcements of "The woman appears," Edward Henry's soul had miserably yielded to his body and to the temptation of darkness. The upturned lights and the ringing hosannahs had roused him to a full sense of sin, but he had not quite recovered all his faculties when Marrier startled him.

"Yes, yes! Of course! I was coming," he answered a little petulantly. But no petulance could impair the beaming optimism on Mr. Harrier's features. To judge by those features, Mr. Marrier, in addition to having organized and managed the soirée, might also have written the piece and played every part in it, and founded the Azure Society and built its private theatre. The hour was Mr. Marrier's.

Elise April's dressing-room was small and very thickly populated, and the threshold of it was barred by eager persons who were half in and half out of the room. Through these Mr. Marrier's authority forced a way. The first man Edward Henry recognized in the tumult of bodies was Mr. Rollo Wrissell, whom he had not seen since their meeting at [227] Slossons.

"Mr. Wrissell," said the glowing Marrier, "let me introduce Mr. Alderman Machin, of the Regent Theatah."

"Clumsy fool!" thought Edward Henry, and stood as if entranced.

But Mr. Wrissell held out a hand with the perfection of urbane insouciance.

"How d'you do, Mr. Machin?" said he. "I hope you'll forgive me for not having followed your advice."

This was a lesson to Edward Henry. He learnt that you should never show a wound, and if possible never feel one. He admitted that in such details of social conduct London might be in advance of the Five Towns, despite the Five Towns' admirable downrightness.

Lady Woldo was also in the dressing-room, glorious in black. Her beauty was positively disconcerting, and the more so on this occasion as she was bending over the faded Rose Euclid, who sat in a corner surrounded by a court. This court, comprising comparatively uncelebrated young women and men, listened with respect to the conversation of the peeress who called Rose "my dear," the great star-actress, and the now somewhat notorious Five Towns character, Edward Henry Machin.

"Miss April is splendid, isn't she?" said Edward Henry to Lady Woldo.

"Oh! My word, yes!" replied Lady Woldo, nicely, warmly, yet with a certain perfunctoriness. Edward Henry was astonished that everybody was not passionately enthusiastic about the charm of Elsie's performance. Then Lady Woldo added: "But what a part for Miss Euclid! [228] What a part for her!"

And there were murmurs of approbation.

Rose E

uclid gazed at Edward Henry palely and weakly. He considered her much less effective here than in her box. But her febrile gaze was effective enough to produce in him the needle-stab again, the feeling of gloom, of pessimism, of being gradually overtaken by an unseen and mysterious avenger.

"Yes, indeed!" said he.

He thought to himself: "Now's the time for me to behave like Edward Henry Machin, and teach these people a thing or two!" But he could not.

A pretty young girl summoned all her forces to address the great proprietor of the Regent, to whom, however, she had not been introduced, and with a charming nervous earnest lisp said:

"But don't you think it's a great play, Mr. Machin?"

"Of course!" he replied, inwardly employing the most fearful and shocking anathemas.

"We were sure you would!"

The young people glanced at each other with the satisfaction of proved prophets.

"D'you know that not another manager has taken the trouble to come here!" said a second earnest young woman.

Edward Henry's self-consciousness was now acute. He would have paid a ransom to be alone on a desert island in the Indian seas. He looked downwards, and noticed that all these bright eager persons, women and men, were wearing blue stockings or socks.

"Miss April is free now," said Marrier in his ear.

[229] The next instant he was talking alone to Elsie in another corner while the rest of the room respectfully observed.

"So you deigned to come!" said Elsie April. "You did get my card."

A little paint did her no harm, and the accentuation of her eyebrows and lips and the calculated disorder of her hair were not more than her powerful effulgent physique could stand. In a costume of green and silver she was magnificent, overwhelmingly magnificent. Her varying voice and her glance at once sincere, timid and bold, produced the most singular sensations behind Edward Henry's soft frilled shirt-front. And he thought that he had never been through any experience so disturbing and so fine as just standing in front of her.

"I ought to be saying nice things to her," he reflected. But, no doubt because he had been born in the Five Towns, he could not formulate in his mind a single nice thing.

"Well, what do you think of it?" she asked, looking full at him, and the glance too had a strange significance. It was as if she had said: "Are you a man, or aren't you?"

"I think you're splendid," he exclaimed.

"Now please!" she protested. "Don't begin in that strain. I know I'm very good for an amateur-"

"But really! I'm not joking."

She shook her head.

"What do you think of my part for Rose? Wouldn't she be tremendous in it? Wouldn't she be tremendous?... What a chance!"

He was acutely uncomfortable, but even his discomfort was somehow a joy.

"Yes," he admitted. "Yes."

[230] "Oh! Here's Carlo Trent," said she.

He heard Trent's triumphant voice, carrying the end of a conversation into the room: "If he hadn't been going away," Carlo Trent was saying, "Pilgrim would have taken it. Pilgrim-"

The poet's eyes met Edward Henry's, and the sentence was never finished.

"How d'ye do, Machin?" murmured the poet.

Then a bell began to ring and would not stop.

"You're staying for the reception afterwards?" said Elsie April as the room emptied.

"Is there one?"

"Of course."

It seemed to Edward Henry that they exchanged silent messages.

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