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The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 9689

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Often during the brief night he gazed sleepily at the vague next bed and mused upon the extraordinariness of women's consciences. His wife slept like an innocent. She always did. It was as though she gently expired every evening and returned gloriously to life every morning. [276] The sunshiny hours between three and seven were very long to him, but it was indisputable that he did not hear the clock strike six: which was at any rate proof of a little sleep to the good. At five minutes past seven he thought he heard a faint rustling noise in the corridor, and he arose and tiptoed to the door and opened it. Yes, the Majestic had its good qualities! He had ordered that all the London morning daily papers should be laid at his door as early as possible-and there the pile was, somewhat damp, and as fresh as fruit, with a slight odour of ink. He took it in.

His heart was beating as he climbed back into bed with it and arranged pillows so that he could sit up, and unfolded the first paper. Nellie had not stirred.

Once again he was disappointed in the prominence given by the powerful London press to his London enterprise. In the first newspaper, a very important one, he positively could not find any criticism of the Regent's first night. There was nearly a page of the offensive Isabel Joy, who was now appealing, through the newspapers, to the President of the United States. Isabel had been christened the World-Circler, and the special correspondents of the entire earth were gathered about her carpeted cell. Hope still remained that she would reach London within the hundred days. An unknown adherent of the cause for which she suffered had promised to give ten thousand pounds to that cause if she did so. Further, she was receiving over sixty proposals of marriage a day. And so on and so on! Most of this he gathered in an instant from the headlines alone. Nauseating! Another annoying item in the paper was a column and a half given to the foundation-stone-laying [277] of the First New Thought Church, in Dean Street, Soho-about a couple of hundred yards from its original site. He hated the First New Thought Church as one always hates that to which one has done an injury.

Then he found what he was searching for: "Regent Theatre. Production of poetical drama at London's latest playhouse." After all, it was well situated in the paper, on quite an important page, and there was over a column of it. But in his nervous excitation his eyes had missed it. His eyes now read it. Over half of it was given up to a discussion of the Don Juan legend and the significance of the Byronic character of Haidee-obviously written before the performance. A description of the plot occupied most of the rest, and a reference to the acting ended it. "Miss Rose Euclid, in the trying and occasionally beautiful part of Haidee, was all that her admirers could have wished." ... "Miss Cunningham distinguished herself by her diction and bearing in the small part of the Messenger." The final words were, "The reception was quite favourable."

"Quite favourable" indeed! Edward Henry had a chill. Good heavens, was not the reception ecstatically, madly, foolishly enthusiastic? "Why!" he exclaimed within, "I never saw such a reception!" It was true, but then he had never seen any other first night. He was shocked, as well as chilled. And for this reason: for weeks past all the newspapers, in their dramatic gossip, had contained highly sympathetic references to his enterprise. According to the paragraphs, he was a wondrous man, and the theatre was a wondrous house, the best of all possible theatres, and Carlo Trent was a great writer, and Rose Euclid exactly as marvellous as she had been a quarter of a century before, and the prospects of the intellectual-poetic drama in London so favourable as to amount to a certainty of success. In those columns of dramatic gossip there was no flaw in the theatrical world. In those columns of dramatic gossip no piece ever failed, though sometimes a piece was withdrawn, regretfully and against the wishes of the public, to make room for another piece. In those columns of dramatic gossip theatrical managers, actors, and especially actresses, and even authors, were benefactors of society, and therefore they were treated with the deference, the gentleness, the heartfelt sympathy which benefactors of society merit and ought to receive.

The tone of the criticism of the first night was different-it was subtly, not crudely, different. But different it was.

The next newspaper said the play was bad and the audience indulgent. It was very severe on Carlo Trent, and very kind to the players, whom it regarded as good men and women in adversity-with particular laudations for Miss Rose Euclid and the Messenger. The next newspaper said the play was a masterpiece-and would

be so hailed in any country but England. England, however-! Unfortunately this was a newspaper whose political opinions Edward Henry despised. The next newspaper praised everything and everybody, and called the reception tumultuously enthusiastic. And Edward Henry felt as though somebody, mistaking his face for a slice of toast, had spread butter all over it. Even the paper's parting assurance that the future of the higher drama in London was now safe beyond question did not remove this delusion of butter.

The two following newspapers were more sketchy or descriptive, and referred at some length to Edward Henry's own speech, with a kind of [278] sub-hint that Edward Henry had better mind what he was about. Three illustrated papers and photographs of scenes and figures, but nothing important in the matter of criticism. The rest were "neither one thing nor the other," as they say in the Five Towns. On the whole, an inscrutable press, a disconcerting, a startling, an appetite-destroying, but not a hopeless press!

The general impression which he gathered from his perusals was that the author was a pretentious dullard, an absolute criminal, a genius; that the actors and actresses were all splendid and worked hard, though conceivably one or two of them had been set impossible tasks-to wit, tasks unsuited to their personalities; that he himself was a Napoleon, a temerarious individual, an incomprehensible fellow; and that the future of the intellectual-poetic drama in London was not a topic of burning actuality.... He remembered sadly the superlative-laden descriptions, in those same newspapers, of the theatre itself, a week or two back, the unique theatre in which the occupant of every seat had a complete and uninterrupted view of the whole of the proscenium opening. Surely that fact alone ought to have ensured proper treatment for him!

Then Nellie woke up and saw the scattered newspapers.

"Well," she asked, "what do they say?"

"Oh!" he replied lightly, with a laugh. "Just about what you'd expect. Of course you know what a first-night audience always is. Too generous. And ours was, particularly. Miss April saw to that. She had the Azure Society behind her, and she was determined to help Rose Euclid. However, I should say it was all right-I should say it was quite all right. I told you it was a gamble, you know."

[279] When Nellie, dressing, said that she considered she ought to go back home that day, he offered no objection. Indeed he rather wanted her to go. Not that he had a desire to spend the whole of his time at the theatre, unhampered by provincial women in London. On the contrary, he was aware of a most definite desire not to go to the theatre. He lay in bed and watched with careless curiosity the rapid processes of Nellie's toilette. He had his breakfast on the dressing-table (for he was not at Wilkins's, neither at the Grand Babylon). Then he helped her to pack, and finally he accompanied her to Euston, where she kissed him with affectionate common sense and caught the twelve five. He was relieved that nobody from the Five Towns happened to be going down by that train.

As he turned away from the moving carriage the evening papers had just arrived at the bookstalls. He bought the four chief organs-one green, one yellowish, one white, one pink-and scanned them self-consciously on the platform. The white organ had a good heading: "Re-birth of the intellectual drama in London. What a provincial has done. Opinions of leading men." Two columns altogether! There was, however, little in the two columns. The leading men had practised a sagacious caution. They, like the press as a whole, were obviously waiting to see which way the great elephantine public would jump. When the enormous animal had jumped they would all exclaim: "What did I tell you?" The other critiques were colourless. At the end of the green critique occurred the following sentence: "It is only fair to state, nevertheless, that the play was favourably received by an apparently enthusiastic audience."

[280] "Nevertheless!" ... "Apparently!"

Edward Henry turned the page to the theatrical advertisements.

"REGENT THEATRE. (Twenty yards from Piccadilly Circus.) 'The

Orient Pearl,' by Carlo Trent. Miss ROSE EUCLID. Every evening

at 8.30. Matinées every Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30.

Box-office open 10 to 10. Sole Proprietor-E.H. Machin."

Unreal! Fantastic! Was this he, Edward Henry? Could it be his mother's son?

Still-"Matinées every Wednesday and Saturday." "Every Wednesday and Saturday." That word implied and necessitated a long run-anyhow a run extending over months. That word comforted him. Though he knew as well as you do that Mr. Marrier had composed the advertisement, and that he himself was paying for it, it comforted him. He was just like a child.

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