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The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 5813

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


He was in the wings, on the prompt side. Close by stood the prompter, an untidy youth with imperfections of teeth, clutching hard at the red-scored manuscript of "The Orient Pearl." Sundry players, of varying stellar degrees, were posed around in the opulent costumes designed by Saracen Givington, A.R.A. Miss Lindop was in the background, ecstatically happy, her cheeks a race-course of tears. Afar off, in the centre of the stage, alone, stood Rose Euclid, gorgeous in green and silver, bowing and bowing and bowing-bowing before the storm of approval and acclamation that swept from the auditorium across the footlights. With a sound like that of tearing silk, or of a gigantic contralto mosquito, the curtain swished down, and swished up, and swished down again. Bouquets flew on to the stage from the auditorium (a custom newly imported from the United States by Miss Euclid, and encouraged by her, though contrary to the lofty canons of London taste). The actress already held one huge trophy, shaped as a crown, to her breast. She hesitated, and then ran to the wings, and caught Edward Henry by the wrist impulsively, madly. They shook hands in an ecstasy.

It was as though they recognized in one another a fundamental and glorious worth; it was as though no words could ever express the depth of appreciation, affection and admiration which each intensely felt for the other; it was as though this moment were the final consecration of twin-lives whose long, loyal comradeship had never [273] been clouded by the faintest breath of mutual suspicion. Rose Euclid was still the unparalleled star, the image of grace and beauty and dominance upon the stage. And yet quite clearly Edward Henry saw close to his the wrinkled, damaged, daubed face and thin neck of an old woman; and it made no difference.

"Rose!" cried a strained voice, and Rose Euclid wrenched herself from him and tumbled with half a sob into the clasping arms of Elsie April.

"You've saved the intellectual theatah for London, my boy! That's what you've done!" Marrier now was gripping his hand. And Edward Henry was convinced that he had.

The strident vigour of the applause showed no diminution. And through the thick, heavy rain of it could be heard the monotonous, insistent detonations of one syllable:

"'Thor! 'Thor! 'Thor! 'Thor! 'Thor!"

And then another syllable was added:

"Speech! Speech! Speech! Speech!"

Mechanically Edward Henry lit a cigarette. He had no consciousness of doing so.

"Where is Trent?" people were asking.

Carlo Trent appeared up a staircase at the back of the stage.

"You've got to go on," said Marrier. "Now, pull yourself together. The Great Beast is calling for you. Say a few wahds."

Carlo Trent in his turn seized the hand of Edward Henry, and it was for all the world as though he were seizing the hand of an intellectual and poetic equal, and wrung it.

"Co

me now!" Mr. Marrier, beaming, admonished him, and then pushed.

[274] "What must I say?" stammered Carlo.

"Whatever comes into your head."

"All right! I'll say something."

A man in a dirty white apron drew back the heavy mass of the curtain about eighteen inches, and Carlo Trent stepping forward, the glare of the footlights suddenly lit his white face. The applause, now multiplied fivefold and become deafening, seemed to beat him back against the curtain. His lips worked. He did not bow.

"Cam back, you fool!" whispered Marrier.

And Carlo Trent stepped back into safe shelter.

"Why didn't you say something?"

"I c-couldn't," murmured weakly the greatest dramatic poet in the world, and began to cry.

"Speech! Speech! Speech! Speech!"

"Here!" said Edward Henry, gruffly. "Get out of my way! I'll settle 'em! Get out of my way!" And he riddled Carlo Trent with a fusillade of savagely scornful glances.

The man in the apron obediently drew back the curtain again, and the next second Edward Henry was facing an auditorium crowded with his patrons. Everybody was standing up, chiefly in the aisles and crowded at the entrances, and quite half the people were waving, and quite a quarter of them were shouting. He bowed several times. An age elapsed. His ears were stunned. But it seemed to him that his brain was working with marvellous perfection. He perceived that he had been utterly wrong about "The Orient Pearl." And that all his advisers had been splendidly right. He had failed to catch its charm and to feel its power. But this audience-this magnificent representative audience drawn from London in the brilliant height of the season-had not failed.

It occurred to him to raise his hand. And as he raised his hand it occurred to him that his hand held a lighted cigarette. A magic hush fell upon the magnificent audience, which owned all that endless line of automobiles outside. Edward Henry, in the hush, took a pull at his cigarette.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, pitching his voice well-for municipal politics had made him a practised public speaker, "I congratulate you. This evening you-have succeeded!"

There was a roar, confused, mirthful, humorously protesting. He distinctly heard a man in the front row of the stalls say: "Well, for sheer nerve-!" And then go off into a peal of laughter.

He smiled and retired.

Marrier took charge of him.

"You merit the entire confectioner's shop!" exclaimed Marrier, aghast, admiring, triumphant.

Now Edward Henry had had no intention of meriting cake. He had merely followed in speech the secret train of his thought. But he saw that he had treated a West End audience as a West End audience had never before been treated, and that his audacity had conquered. Hence he determined not to refuse the cake.

"Didn't I tell you I'd settle 'em?" said he.

The band played "God Save the King."

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