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   Chapter 33 No.33

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 4551

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Some time after the last hexameter had rolled forth, and the curtain had finally fallen on the immense and rapturous success of Carlo Trent's play in three acts and in verse, Edward Henry, walking about the crowded stage, where the reception was being held, encountered Elsie April, who was still in her gorgeous dress of green and silver. She was chatting with Marrier, who instantly left her, thus displaying a discretion such as an employer would naturally expect from a factotum to whom he was paying three pounds a week.

Edward Henry's heart began to beat in a manner which troubled him and made him wonder what could be happening at the back of the soft-frilled shirt front that he had obtained in imitation of Mr. Seven Sachs.

"Not much elbow-room here!" he said lightly. He was very anxious to be equal to the occasion.

[231] She gazed at him under her emphasized eyebrows. He noticed that there were little touches of red on her delightful nostrils.

"No," she answered with direct simplicity. "Suppose we try somewhere else?"

She turned her back on all the amiable and intellectual babble, descended three steps on the prompt side, and opened a door. The swish of her brocaded spreading skirt was loud and sensuous. He followed her into an obscure chamber in which several figures were moving to and fro and talking.

"What's this place?" he asked. Involuntarily his voice was diminished to a whisper.

"It's one of the discussion-rooms," said she. "It used to be a classroom, I expect, before the Society took the buildings over. You see the theatre was the general schoolroom."

They sat down unobtrusively in an embrasure. None among the mysterious moving figures seemed to remark them.

"But why are they talking in the dark?" Edward Henry asked behind his hand.

"To begin with, it isn't quite dark," she said. "There's the light of the street-lamp through the window. But it has been found that serious discussions can be carried on much better without too much light.... I'm not joking." (It was as if in the gloom her ears had caught his faint sardonic smile.)

Said the voice of one of the figures:

"Can you tell me what is the origin of the decay of realism? Can you tell me that?"

Suddenly, in the ensuing silence, there wa

s a click, and a tiny electric lamp shot its beam. The hand which held the lamp was the hand [232] of Carlo Trent. He flashed it and flashed the trembling ray in the inquirer's face. Edward Henry recalled Carlo's objection to excessive electricity in the private drawing-room at Wilkins's.

"Why do you ask such a question?" Carlo Trent challenged the inquirer, brandishing the lamp. "I ask you why do you ask it?"

The other also drew forth a lamp and, as it were, cocked it and let it off at the features of Carlo Trent. And thus the two stood, statuesque and lit, surrounded by shadowy witnessers of the discussion.

The door creaked, and yet another figure, silhouetted for an instant against the illumination of the stage, descended into the discussion chamber.

Carlo Trent tripped towards the new-comer, bent with his lamp, lifted delicately the hem of the new-comer's trousers, and gazed at the colour of his sock, which was blue.

"All right!" said he.

"The champagne and sandwiches are served," said the new-comer.

"You've not answered me, sir," Carlo Trent faced once more his opponent in the discussion. "You've not answered me."

Whereupon, the lamps being extinguished, they all filed forth, the door swung to of its own accord, shutting out the sound of babble from the stage, and Edward Henry and Elsie April were left silent and solitary to the sole ray of the street-lamp.

All the Five Towns' shrewdness in Edward Henry's character, all the husband in him, all the father in him, all the son in him, leapt to his lips, and tried to say to Elsie:

"Shall we go and inspect the champagne and sandwiches, too?"

[233] And failed to say these incantatory words of salvation!

And the romantic, adventurous fool in him rejoiced at their failure. For he was adventurously happy in his propinquity to that simple and sincere creature. He was so happy, and his heart was so active, that he even made no caustic characteristic comment on the singular behaviour of the beings who had just abandoned them to their loneliness. He was also proud because he was sitting alone nearly in the dark with a piquant and wealthy, albeit amateur actress, who had just participated in a triumph at which the spiritual aristocracy of London had assisted.

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