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   Chapter 40 No.40

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 7426

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

On the next night a male figure in evening dress and a pale overcoat might have been seen standing at the corner of Piccadilly Circus and Lower Regent Street, staring at an electric sign in the shape of a shield which said, in its glittering, throbbing speech of incandescence:





[268] The figure crossed the Circus, and stared at the sign from a new point of view. Then it passed along Coventry Street, and stared at the sign from yet another point of view. Then it reached Shaftesbury Avenue and stared again. Then it returned to its original station. It was the figure of Edward Henry Machin, savouring the glorious electric sign of which he had dreamed. He lit a cigarette, and thought of Seven Sachs gazing at the name of Seven Sachs in fire on the fa?ade of a Broadway Theatre in New York. Was not this London phenomenon at least as fine? He considered it was. The Regent Theatre existed-there it stood! (What a name for a theatre!) Its windows were all illuminated. Its entrance-lamps bathed the pavement in light, and in this radiance stood the commissionaires in their military pride and their new uniforms. A line of waiting automobiles began a couple of yards to the north of the main doors and continued round all sorts of dark corners and up all manner of back streets towards Golden Square itself. Marrier had had the automobiles counted and had told him the number, but such was Edward Henry's condition that he had forgotten. A row of boards reared on the pavement against the walls of the fa?ade said: "Stalls Full," "Private Boxes Full," "Dress Circle Full," "Upper Circle Full," "Pit Full," "Gallery Full." And attached to the ironwork of the glazed entrance canopy was a long board which gave the same information in terser form: "House Full." The Regent had indeed been obliged to refuse quite a lot of money on its opening night. After all, the inauguration of a new theatre was something, even in London! Important personages had actually begged the privilege of buying seats at normal prices, and had been refused. Unimportant personages-such as those whose boast in the universe was that they had never missed a first night in the West End for twenty, thirty, or even fifty years-had tried to buy seats at abnormal prices, and had failed: [269] which was in itself a tragedy. Edward Henry at the final moment had yielded his wife's stall to the instances of a Minister of the Crown, and at Lady Woldo's urgent request had put her into Lady Woldo's private landowner's-box, where also was Miss Elsie April, who "had already had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Machin." Edward Henry's first night was an event of magnitude. And he alone was responsible for it. His volition alone had brought into being that grand edifice whose light yellow walls now gleamed in nocturnal mystery under the shimmer of countless electric bulbs.

"There goes pretty nigh forty thousand pounds of my money!" he reflected excitedly.

And he reflected:

"After all, I'm somebody."

Then he glanced down Lower Regent Street and saw Sir John Pilgrim's much larger theatre, now sub-let to a tenant who was also lavish with displays of radiance. And he reflected that on first nights Sir John Pilgrim, in addition to doing all that he himself had done, would hold the great r?le on the stage throughout the evening. And he admired the astounding, dazzling energy of such a being, and admitted ungrudgingly:

"He's somebody too! I wonder what part of the world he's illuminating just now!"

Edward Henry did not deny to his soul that he was extremely nervous. He would not and could not face even the bare possibility that the first play presented at

the new theatre might be a failure. He had meant to witness the production incognito among the crowd in the pit or in the gallery. But, after visiting the pit a few moments before the curtain went up, he had been appalled by the hard-hearted levity of the pit's remarks on things in general. The pit did not seem to [270] be in any way chastened or softened by the fact that a fortune, that reputations, that careers were at stake. He had fled from the packed pit. (As for the gallery, he decided that he had already had enough of the gallery.) He had wandered about corridors, and to and fro in his own room and in the wings, and even in the basement, as nervous as a lost cat or an author, and as self-conscious as a criminal who knows himself to be on the edge of discovery. It was a fact that he could not look people in the eyes. The reception of the first act had been fairly amiable, and he had suffered horribly as he listened for the applause. Catching sight of Carlo Trent in the distance of a passage, he had positively run away from Carlo Trent. The first entr'acte had seemed to last for about three months. Its nightmarish length had driven him almost to lunacy. The "feel" of the second act-so far as it mystically communicated itself to him in his place of concealment-had been better. And at the second fall of the curtain the applause had been enthusiastic. Yes, enthusiastic! Curiously, it was the revulsion caused by this new birth of hope that, while the third act was being played, had driven him out of the theatre. His wild hope needed ozone. His breast had to expand in the boundless prairie of Piccadilly Circus. His legs had to walk. His arms had to swing.

Now he crossed the Circus again to his own pavement and gazed like a stranger at his own posters. On several of them, encircled in a scarlet ring, was the sole name of Rose Euclid-impressive! (And smaller, but above it, the legend, "E.H. Machin, Sole Proprietor.") He asked himself impartially, as his eyes uneasily left the poster and slipped round the Circus-deserted save by a few sinister and [271] idle figures at that hour-"Should I have sent that interview to the papers, or shouldn't I?... I wonder. I expect some folks would say that on the whole I've been rather hard on Rose since I first met her!... Anyhow, she's speaking up all right to-night!" He laughed shortly.

A newsboy floated up from the Circus bearing a poster with the name of Isabel Joy on it in large letters.

He thought:

"Be blowed to Isabel Joy!"

He did not care a fig for Isabel Joy's competition now.

And then a small door opened in the wall close by, and an elegant cloaked woman came out on to the pavement. The door was the private door leading to the private box of Lord Woldo, owner of the ground upon which the Regent Theatre was built. The woman he recognized with confusion as Elsie April, whom he had not seen alone since the Azure Society's night.

"What are you doing out here, Mr. Machin?" she greeted him with pleasant composure.

"I'm thinking," said he.

"It's going splendidly," she remarked. "Really!... I'm just running round to the stage-door to meet dear Rose as she comes off. What a delightful woman your wife is! So pretty, and so sensible!"

She disappeared round the corner before he could compose a suitable husband's reply to this laudation of a wife.

Then the commissionaires at the entrance seemed to start into life. And then suddenly several preoccupied men strode rapidly out of the theatre, buttoning their coats, and vanished phantom-like....

Critics, on their way to destruction!

[272] The performance must be finishing. Hastily he followed in the direction taken by Elsie April.

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