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   Chapter 37 No.37

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 8275

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

It was upon an evening in June-and a fine evening, full of the exquisite melancholy of summer in a city-that Edward Henry stood before a window, drumming thereon as he had once, a less-experienced man with hair slightly less grey, drummed on the table of the mighty and arrogant Slosson. The window was the window of the managerial room of the Regent Theatre. And he could scarcely believe it-he could scarcely believe that he was not in a dream-for the room was papered, carpeted and otherwise furnished. Only its electric light fittings were somewhat hasty and provisional, and the white ceiling showed a hole and a bunch of wires-like the nerves of a hollow tooth-whence one of Edward Henry's favourite chandeliers would ultimately depend.

The whole of the theatre was at least as far advanced towards completion as that room. A great deal of it was more advanced; for instance, the auditorium, foyer, and bars, which were utterly finished, so far as anything ever is finished in a changing world. Wonders, marvels and miracles had been accomplished. Mr. Alloyd, in the stress of the job, had even ceased to bring the Russian Ballet into his conversations. Mr. Alloyd, despite a growing tendency to prove to Edward Henry by authentic anecdote, about midnight, his general proposition that women as a sex treated him with shameful [254] unfairness, had gained the high esteem of Edward Henry as an architect. He had fulfilled his word about those properties of the auditorium which had to do with hearing and seeing-in so much that the auditorium was indeed unique in London. And he had taken care that the Clerk of the Works took care that the builder did not give up heart in the race with time.

Moreover, he had maintained the peace with the terrible London County Council, all of whose inspecting departments seemed to have secretly decided that the Regent Theatre should be opened, not in June as Edward Henry had decided, but at some vague future date towards the middle of the century. Months earlier Edward Henry had ordained and announced that the Regent Theatre should be inaugurated on a given date in June, at the full height and splendour of the London season, and he had astounded the theatrical world by adhering through thick and thin to that date, and had thereby intensified his reputation as an eccentric; for the oldest inhabitant of that world could not recall a case in which the opening of a new theatre had not been promised for at least three widely different dates.

Edward Henry had now arrived at the eve of the dread date, and if he had arrived there in comparative safety, with a reasonable prospect of avoiding complete shame and disaster, he felt and he admitted that the credit was due as much to Mr. Alloyd as to himself. Which only confirmed an early impression of his that architects were queer people-rather like artists and poets in some ways, but with a basis of bricks and mortar to them.

His own share in the enterprise of the Regent had in theory been [255] confined to engaging the right people for the right tasks and situations; and to signing cheques. He had depended chiefly upon Mr. Marrier, who, growing more radiant every day, had gradually developed into a sort of chubby Napoleon, taking an immense delight in detail and in choosing minor hands at round-sum salaries on the spur of the moment. Mr. Marrier refused no call upon his energy. He was helping Carlo Trent in the production and stage-management of the play. He dried the tears of girlish neophytes at rehearsals. He helped to number the stalls. He showed a passionate interest in the tessellated pavement of the entrance. He taught the managerial typewriting girl how to make afternoon tea. He went to Hitchin to find a mediaeval chair required for the third act, and found it. In a word, he was fully equal to the post of acting manager. He managed! He managed everything and everybody except Edward Henry, and except the press-agent, a functionary whose conviction of his own indispensability and importance was so sincere that even Marrier shared it and left him alone in his Bismarckian operations. The press-

agent, who sang in musical comedy chorus at night, knew that if the Regent Theatre succeeded it would be his doing and his alone.

And yet Edward Henry, though he had delegated everything, had yet found a vast amount of work to do; and was thereby exhausted. That was why he was drumming on the pane. That was why he was conscious of a foolish desire to shove his fist through the pane. During the afternoon he had had two scenes with two representatives of the Libraries (so called because they deal in theatre-tickets and not in books) who had declined to take up any of his tickets in advance. He had commenced an action against a firm of bill-posters. He had settled [256] an incipient strike in the 'limes' departments, originated by Mr. Cosmo Clark's views about lighting. He had dictated answers to seventy-nine letters of complaint from unknown people concerning the supply of free seats for the first night. He had responded in the negative to a request from a newspaper critic who, on the score that he was deaf, wanted a copy of the play. He had replied finally to an official of the County Council about the smoke-trap over the stage. He had replied finally to another official of the County Council about the electric sign. He had attended to a new curiosity on the part of another official of the County Council about the iron curtain. But he had been almost rude to still another official of the County Council about the wiring of the electric light in the dressing-rooms. He had been unmistakably and pleasurably rude in writing to Slossons about their criticisms of the lock on the door of Lord Woldo's private entrance to the theatre. Also he had arranged with the representative of the Chief Commissioner of Police concerning the carriage regulations for "setting-down and taking-up."

And he had indeed had more than enough. His nerves, though he did not know it, and would have scorned the imputation, were slowly giving way. Hence, really, the danger to the pane! Through the pane, in the dying light, he could see a cross-section of Shaftesbury Avenue, and an aged newspaper-lad leaning against a lamp-post and displaying a poster which spoke of Isabel Joy. Isabel Joy yet again! That little fact of itself contributed to his exasperation. He thought, considering the importance of the Regent Theatre and the salary he was paying to his press-agent, that the newspapers ought to occupy their pages solely with the metropolitan affairs of Edward Henry Machin. But [257] the wretched Isabel had, as it were, got London by the throat. She had reached Chicago from the West, on her triumphant way home, and had there contrived to be arrested, according to boast, but she was experiencing much more difficulty in emerging from the Chicago prison than in entering it. And the question was now becoming acute whether the emissary of the Militant Suffragettes would arrive back in London within the specified period of a hundred days. Naturally, London was holding its breath. London will keep calm during moderate crises-such as a national strike or the agony of the House of Lords-but when the supreme excitation is achieved London knows how to let itself go.

"If you please, Mr. Machin-"

He turned. It was his typewriter, Miss Lindop, a young girl of some thirty-five years, holding a tea-tray.

"But I've had my tea once!" he snapped.

"But you've not had your dinner, sir, and it's half-past eight!" she pleaded.

He had known this girl for less than a month, and he paid her fewer shillings a week than the years of her age-and yet somehow she had assumed a worshipping charge of him, based on the idea that he was incapable of taking care of himself. To look at her appealing eyes one might have thought that she would have died to ensure his welfare.

"And they want to see you about the linoleum for the gallery stairs," she added timidly. "The County Council man says it must be taken up."

The linoleum for the gallery stairs! Something snapped in him. He almost walked right through the young woman and the tea-tray.

"I'll linoleum them!" he bitterly exclaimed, and disappeared.


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