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The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 12417

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Throughout the voyage of the Lithuania from Liverpool to New York, Edward Henry, in common with some two thousand other people on board, had the sensation of being hurried. He who in a cab rides late to an important appointment, arrives with muscles fatigued by mentally aiding the horse to move the vehicle along. Thus were Edward Henry's muscles fatigued, and the muscles of many others; but just as much more so as the Lithuania was bigger than a cab.

For the Lithuania, having been seriously delayed in Liverpool by men who were most ridiculously striking for the fantastic remuneration of one pound a week, was engaged on the business of making new records. And every passenger was personally determined that she should therein succeed. And, despite very bad June weather towards the end, she did sail past the Battery on a grand Monday morning with a new record to her credit.

So far Edward Henry's plan was not miscarrying. But he had a very great deal to do, and very little time in which to do it, and whereas the muscles of the other passengers were relaxed as the ship drew to her berth, Edward Henry's muscles were only more tensely tightened. [286] He had expected to see Mr. Seven Sachs on the quay, for in response to his telegram from Queenstown the illustrious actor-author had sent him an agreeable wireless message in full Atlantic; the which had inspired Edward Henry to obtain news by Marconi both from London and New York, at much expense; from the east he had had daily information of the dwindling receipts at the Regent Theatre, and from the west daily information concerning Isabel Joy. He had not, however, expected Mr. Seven Sachs to walk into the Lithuania's music-saloon an hour before the ship touched the quay. Nevertheless, this was what Mr. Seven Sachs did, by the exercise of those mysterious powers wielded by the influential in democratic communities.

"And what are you doing here?" Mr. Seven Sachs greeted Edward Henry with geniality.

Edward Henry lowered his voice.

"I'm throwing good money after bad," said he.

The friendly grip of Mr. Seven Sachs's hand did him good, reassured him, and gave him courage. He was utterly tired of the voyage, and also of the poetical society of Carlo Trent, whose passage had cost him thirty pounds, considerable boredom, and some sick-nursing during the final days and nights. A dramatic poet with an appetite was a full dose for Edward Henry; but a dramatic poet who lay on his back and moaned for naught but soda-water and dry land amounted to more than Edward Henry could conveniently swallow.

He directed Mr. Sachs's attention to the anguished and debile organism which had once been Carlo Trent, and Mr. Sachs was so sympathetic that Carlo Trent began to adore him, and Edward Henry to be somewhat disturbed in his previous estimate of Mr. Sachs's common sense. But at [280] a favourable moment Mr. Sachs breathed humorously into Edward Henry's ear the question:

"What have you brought him out for?"

"I've brought him out to lose him."

As they pushed through the bustle of the enormous ship, and descended from the dizzy eminence of her boat-deck by lifts and ladders down to the level of the windy, sun-steeped rock of New York, Edward Henry said:

"Now, I want you to understand, Mr. Sachs, that I haven't a minute to spare. I've just looked in for lunch."

"Going on to Chicago?"

"She isn't at Chicago, is she?" demanded Edward Henry, aghast. "I thought she'd reached New York!"

"Who?"

"Isabel Joy."

"Oh! Isabel's in New York, sure enough. She's right here. They say she'll have to catch the Lithuania if she's going to get away with it."

"Get away with what?"

"Well-the goods."

The precious word reminded Edward Henry of an evening at Wilkins's and raised his spirits even higher. It was a word he loved.

"And I've got to catch the Lithuania, too!" said he. "But Trent doesn't know!... And let me tell you she's going to do the quickest turn-round that any ship ever did. The purser assured me she'll leave at noon to-morrow unless the world comes to an end in the meantime. Now what about a hotel?"

"You'll stay with me-naturally."

"But-" Edward Henry protested.

"Oh, yes, you will. I shall be delighted."

[280] "But I must look after Trent."

"He'll stay with me too-naturally. I live at the Stuyvesant Hotel, you know, on Fifth. I've a pretty private suite there. I shall arrange a little supper for to-night. My automobile is here."

"Is it possible that I once saved your life and have forgotten all about it?" Edward Henry exclaimed. "Or do you treat everybody like this?"

"We like to look after our friends," said Mr. Sachs, simply.

In the terrific confusion of the quay, where groups of passengers were mounted like watch-dogs over hillocks of baggage, Mr. Sachs stood continually between the travellers and the administrative rigour and official incredulity of a proud republic. And in the minimum of time the fine trunk of Edward Henry and the modest packages of the poet were on the roof of Mr. Sachs's vast car. The three men were inside, and the car was leaping, somewhat in the manner of a motor-boat at full speed, over the cobbles of a wide mediaeval street.

"Quick!" thought Edward Henry. "I haven't a minute to lose!"

His prayer reached the chauffeur. Conversation was difficult; Carlo Trent groaned. Presently they rolled less perilously upon asphalt, though the equipage still lurched. Edward Henry was for ever bending his head towards the window aperture in order to glimpse the roofs of the buildings, and never seeing the roofs.

"Now we're on Fifth," said Mr. Sachs, after a fearful lurch, with pride.

Vistas of flags, high cornices, crowded pavements, marble, jewellery behind glass-the whole seen through a roaring phantasmagoria of [289] competing and menacing vehicles!

And Edward Henry thought:

"This is my sort of place!"

The jolting recommenced. Carlo Trent rebounded limply, groaning between cushions and upholstery. Edward Henry tried to pretend that he was not frightened. Then there was a shock as of the concussion of two equally unyielding natures. A pane of glass in Mr. Seven Sachs's l

imousine flew to fragments and the car stopped.

"I expect that's a spring gone!" observed Mr. Sachs with tranquillity. "Will happen, you know, sometimes!"

Everybody got out. Mr. Sachs's presumption was correct. One of the back wheels had failed to leap over a hole in Fifth Avenue some eighteen inches deep and two feet long.

"What is that hole?" asked Edward Henry.

"Well," said Mr. Sachs, "it's just a hole. We'd better transfer to a taxi." He gave calm orders to his chauffeur.

Four empty taxis passed down the sunny magnificence of Fifth Avenue and ignored Mr. Sachs's urgent waving. The fifth stopped. The baggage was strapped and tied to it: which process occupied much time. Edward Henry, fuming against delay, gazed around. A nonchalant policeman on a superb horse occupied the middle of the road. Tram-cars passed constantly across the street in front of his caracoling horse, dividing a route for themselves in the wild ocean of traffic as Moses cut into the Red Sea. At intervals a knot of persons, intimidated and yet daring, would essay the voyage from one pavement to the opposite [290] pavement; there was no half-way refuge for these adventurers, as in decrepit London; some apparently arrived; others seemed to disappear for ever in the feverish welter of confused motion and were never heard of again. The policeman, easily accommodating himself to the caracolings of his mount, gazed absently at Edward Henry, and Edward Henry gazed first at the policeman, and then at the high decorated grandeur of the buildings, and then at the Assyrian taxi into which Mr. Sachs was now ingeniously inserting Carlo Trent. He thought:

"No mistake-this street is alive. But what cemeteries they must have!"

He followed Carlo, with minute precautions, into the interior of the taxi. And then came the supremely delicate operation-that of introducing a third person into the same vehicle. It was accomplished; three chins and six knees fraternized in close intimacy; but the door would not shut. Wheezing, snorting, shaking, complaining, the taxi drew slowly away from Mr. Sachs's luxurious automobile and left it forlorn to its chauffeur. Mr. Sachs imperturbably smiled. ("I have two other automobiles," said Mr. Sachs.) In some sixty seconds the taxi stopped in front of the tremendous glass awning of the Stuyvesant. The baggage was unstrapped; the passengers were extracted one by one from the cell, and Edward Henry saw Mr. Sachs give two separate dollar bills to the driver.

"By Jove!" he murmured.

"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Sachs, politely.

"Nothing!" said Edward Henry.

They walked into the hotel, and passed through a long succession of corridors and vast public rooms surging with well-dressed men and women.

"What's all this crowd for?" asked Edward Henry.

[291] "What crowd?" asked Mr. Sachs, surprised.

Edward Henry saw that he had blundered.

"I prefer the upper floors," remarked Mr. Sachs as they were being flung upwards in a gilded elevator, and passing rapidly all numbers from 1 to 14.

The elevator made an end of Carlo Trent's manhood. He collapsed. Mr. Sachs regarded him, and then said:

"I think I'll get an extra room for Mr. Trent. He ought to go to bed."

Edward Henry enthusiastically concurred.

"And stay there!" said Edward Henry.

Pale Carlo Trent permitted himself to be put to bed. But, therein, he proved fractious. He was anxious about his linen. Mr. Sachs telephoned from the bedside, and a laundry-maid came. He was anxious about his best lounge-suit. Mr. Sachs telephoned, and a valet came. Then he wanted a siphon of soda-water, and Mr. Sachs telephoned, and a waiter came. Then it was a newspaper he required. Mr. Sachs telephoned and a page came. All these functionaries, together with two reporters, peopled Mr. Trent's bedroom more or less simultaneously. It was Edward Henry's bright notion to add to them a doctor-a doctor whom Mr. Sachs knew, a doctor who would perceive at once that bed was the only proper place for Carlo Trent.

"Now," said Edward Henry, when he and Mr. Sachs were participating in a private lunch amid the splendours and the grim, silent service of the latter's suite at the Stuyvesant, "I have fully grasped the fact that I am in New York. It is one o'clock and after, and as soon as ever this meal is over I have just got to find Isabel Joy. You must understand that on this trip New York for me is merely a town where Isabel Joy happens to be."

[292] "Well," replied Mr. Sachs, "I reckon I can put you on to that. She's going to be photographed at two o'clock by Rentoul Smiles. I happen to know because Rent's a particular friend of mine."

"A photographer, you say?"

Mr. Sachs controlled himself. "Do you mean to say you've not heard of Rentoul Smiles?... Well, he's called 'Man's photographer.' He has never photographed a woman! Won't! At least, wouldn't! But he's going to photograph Isabel. So you may guess that he considers Isabel some woman, eh?"

"And how will that help me?" inquired Edward Henry.

"Why! I'll take you up to Rent's," Mr. Sachs comforted him. "It's close by-corner of Thirty-ninth and Five."

"Tell me," Edward Henry demanded, with immense relief, "she hasn't got herself arrested yet, has she?"

"No. And she won't!"

"Why not?"

"The police have been put wise," said Mr. Sachs.

"Put wise?"

"Yes. Put wise!"

"I see," said Edward Henry.

But he did not see. He only half saw.

"As a matter of fact," said Mr. Sachs, "Isabel can't get away with the goods unless she fixes the police to lock her up for a few hours. And she'll not succeed in that. Her hundred days are up in London next Sunday. So there'll be no time for her to be arrested and bailed out either at Liverpool or Fishguard. And that's her only chance. I've seen Isabel, and if you ask me my opinion she's down and out."

"Never mind!" said Edward Henry with glee.

[293] "I guess what you're after her for," said Mr. Seven Sachs, with an air of deep knowledge.

"The deuce you do!"

"Yes, sir! And let me tell you that dozens of 'em have been after her already. But she wouldn't! Nothing would tempt her."

"Never mind!" Edward Henry smiled.

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