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   Chapter 35 No.35

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 7606

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

He sat down to the pianisto with a strange and agreeable sense of security. It is true that, owing to the time of year, the drawing-room had been, in the figurative phrase, turned upside down by the process of spring-cleaning, which his unexpected arrival had surprised in fullest activity. But he did not mind that. He abode content among rolled carpets, a swathed chandelier, piled chairs, and walls full of pale rectangular spaces where pictures had been. Early that morning, after a brief night spent partly in bed and partly in erect contemplation of his immediate past and his immediate future, he had hurried back to his pianisto and his home-to the beings and things that he knew and that knew him.

In the train he had had the pleasure of reading in sundry newspapers that "The Orient Pearl," by Carlo Trent (who was mentioned in terms of startling respect and admiration), had been performed on the previous evening at the dramatic soirée of the Azure Society, with all the usual accompaniments of secrecy and exclusiveness, in its private theatre in Kensington, and had been accepted on the spot by Mr. E.H. Machin ("that most enterprising and enlightened recruit to the ranks of theatrical managers") for production at the new Regent Theatre. And further that Mr. Machin intended to open with it. And still further that his selection of such a play, which combined in the highest degree the poetry of Mr. W.B. Yeats with the critical intellectuality [239] of Mr. Bernard Shaw, was an excellent augury for London's dramatic future, and that the "upward movement" must on no account be thought to have failed because of the failure of certain recent ill-judged attempts, by persons who did not understand their business, to force it in particular directions. And still further that he, Edward Henry, had engaged for the principal part Miss Rose Euclid, perhaps the greatest emotional actress the English-speaking peoples had ever had, but who unfortunately had not been sufficiently seen of late on the London stage, and that this would be her first appearance after her recent artistic successes in the United States. And lastly that Mr. Marrier (whose name would be remembered in connection with ... etc., etc.) was Mr. E.H. Machin's acting manager and technical adviser. Edward Henry could trace the hand of Marrier in all the paragraphs. Marrier had lost no time.

Mrs. Machin, senior, came into the drawing-room just as he was adjusting the "Tannh?user" overture to the mechanician. The piece was one of his major favourites.

"This is no place for you, my lad," said Mrs. Machin, grimly, glancing round the room. "But I came to tell ye as th' mutton's been cooling at least five minutes. You gave out as you were hungry."

"Keep your hair on, mother," said he, springing up.

Barely twelve hours earlier he had been mincing among the elect and the select and the intellectual and the poetic and the aristocratic; among the lah-di-dah and Kensingtonian accents; among rouged lips and blue hose and fixed simperings; in the centre of the universe. And he had conducted himself with considerable skill accordingly. Nobody, on the previous night, could have guessed from the cut of his fancy [240] waistcoat or the judiciousness of his responses to remarks about verse, that his wife often wore a white apron, or that his mother was-the woman she was! He had not unskilfully caught many of the tricks of that metropolitan environment. But now they all fell away from him, and he was just Edward Henry-nay, he was almost the old Denry again.

"Who chose this mutton?" he asked as he bent over the juicy and rich joint and cut therefrom exquisite thick slices with a carving-knife like a razor.

"I did, if ye want to know," said his mother. "Anything amiss with it?" she challen


"No. It's fine."

"Yes," said she. "I'm wondering whether you get aught as good as that in those grand hotels as you call 'em."

"We don't," said Edward Henry. First, it was true; and secondly, he was anxious to be propitiatory, for he had a plan to further.

He looked at his wife. She was not talkative, but she had received him in the hall with every detail of affection, if a little absent-mindedly owing to the state of the house. She had not been caustic, like his mother, about this male incursion into spring-cleaning. She had not informed the surrounding air that she failed to understand why them as were in London couldn't stop in London for a bit, as his mother had. Moreover, though the spring-cleaning fully entitled her to wear a white apron at meals, she was not wearing a white apron: which was a sign to him that she still loved him enough to want to please him. On the whole he was fairly optimistic about his plan of salvation. Nevertheless, it was not until nearly the end of the meal-when one of his mother's apple-pies was being consumed-that he began to try to broach it.

[241] "Nell," he said, "I suppose you wouldn't care to come to London with me?"

"Oh!" she answered smiling, a smile of a peculiar quality. It was astonishing how that simple woman could put just one tenth of one per cent of irony into a good-natured smile. "What's the meaning of this?" Then she flushed. The flush touched Edward Henry in an extraordinary manner.

("To think," he reflected incredulously, "that only last night I was talking in the dark to Elsie April-and here I am now!" And he remembered the glory of Elsie's frock, and her thrilling voice in the gloom, and that pose of hers as she leaned dimly forward.)

"Well," he said aloud, as naturally as he could, "that theatre's beginning to get up on its hind-legs now, and I should like you to see it."

A difficult pass for him, as regards his mother! This was the first time he had ever overtly spoken of the theatre in his mother's presence. In the best bedroom he had talked of it-but even there with a certain self-consciousness and false casualness. Now, his mother stared straight in front of her with an expression of which she alone among human beings had the monopoly.

"I should like to," said Nellie, generously.

"Well," said he, "I've got to go back to town to-morrow. Wilt come with me, lass?"

"Don't be silly, Edward Henry," said she. "How can I leave mother in the middle of all this spring-cleaning?"

"You needn't leave mother. We'll take her too," said Edward Henry, lightly.

"You won't!" observed Mrs. Machin.

"I have to go to-morrow, Nell," said Edward Henry. "And I was [242] thinking you might as well come with me. It will be a change for you."

(He said to himself, "And not only have I to go to-morrow, but you absolutely must come with me, my girl. That's the one thing to do.")

"It would be a change for me," Nellie agreed-she was beyond doubt flattered and calmly pleased. "But I can't possibly come to-morrow. You can see that for yourself, dear."

"No, I can't!" he cried impatiently. "What does it matter? Mother'll be here. The kids'll be all right. After all, spring-cleaning isn't the Day of Judgment."

"Edward Henry," said his mother, cutting in between them like a thin blade, "I wish you wouldn't be blasphemous. London's London, and Bursley's Bursley." She had finished.

"It's quite out of the question for me to come to-morrow, dear. I must have notice. I really must."

And Edward Henry saw with alarm that Nellie had made up her mind, and that the flattered calm pleasure in his suggestion had faded from her face.

"Oh! Dash these domesticated women!" he thought, and shortly afterwards departed, brooding, to the offices of the Thrift Club.

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