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   Chapter 45 No.45

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 6656

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When Edward Henry stood by the side of Mr. Sachs in a doorway half shielded by a portière, and gazed unseen into the great studio of Mr. Rentoul Smiles, he comprehended that he was indeed under powerful protection in New York. At the entrance on Fifth Avenue he and Sachs had passed through a small crowd of assorted men, chiefly young, whom Sachs had greeted in the mass with the smiling words, "Well, boys!" Other men were within. Still another went up with them in the elevator, but no further. They were reporters of the entire world's press, to each of whom Isabel Joy had been specially "assigned." They were waiting; they would wait.

Mr. Rentoul Smiles having been warned by telephone of the visit of his beloved friend, Seven Sachs, Mr. Sachs and his English protége had been received at Smiles's outer door by a clerk who knew exactly what to do with them, and did it.

"Is she here?" Mr. Sachs had murmured.

"Yep," the clerk had negligently replied.

And now Edward Henry beheld the objective of his pilgrimage, her whose personality, portrait and adventures had been filling the newspapers of two hemispheres for three weeks past. She was not realistically like her portraits. She was a little, thin, pale, obviously nervous woman, of any age from thirty-five to fifty, with fair untidy hair, and pale grey-blue eyes that showed the dreamer, the idealist and the harsh fanatic. She looked as though a moderate breeze would have overthrown her, but she also looked, to the enlightened observer, as though she would recoil before no cruelty and no suffering in pursuit of her vision. The blind dreaming force behind her apparent frailty would strike terror into the heart of any man intelligent enough to understand it. Edward Henry had an inward shudder. "Great Scott!" he reflected. "I shouldn't like to be ill and have Isabel for a nurse!"

And his mind at once flew to Nellie, and then to Elsie April. "And so she's going to marry Wrissell!" he reflected, and could scarcely believe it.

Then he violently wrenched his mind back to the immediate objective. He wondered why Isabel Joy should wear a bowler hat and a mustard-coloured jacket that resembled a sporting man's overcoat; and why these garments suited her. With a whip in her hand she could have sat for a jockey. And yet she was a woman, and very feminine, and probably old enough to be Elsie April's mother! A disconcerting world, he thought.

The "man's photographer," as he was described in copper on Fifth Avenue and in gold on his own doors, was a big, loosely-articulated male, who loured over the trifle Isabel like a cloud over a sheep in a great field. Edward Henry could only see his broad bending back as he posed in athletic attitudes behind the camera.

Suddenly Rentoul Smiles dashed to a switch, and Isabel's wistful face was transformed into that of a drowned corpse, into a dreadful harmony of greens and purples.

[294] "Now," said Rentoul Smiles, in a deep voice that was like a rich unguent, "we'll try again. We'll just play around that spot. Look into my eyes. Not at my eyes, my dear woman, into them! Just a little more challenge-a little more! That's it. Don't wink, for the land's sake! Now."

He seized a bulb at the end of a tube and slowly squeezed-squeezed it tragically and remorselessly, twisting hims

elf as if suffering in sympathy with the bulb, and then in a wide, sweeping gesture he flung the bulb on to the top of the camera and ejaculated:

"Ha!"

Edward Henry thought:

"I would give ten pounds to see Rentoul Smiles photograph Sir John Pilgrim." But the next instant the forgotten sensation of hurry was upon him once more. Quick, quick, Rentoul Smiles! Edward Henry's scorching desire was to get done and leave New York.

"Now, Miss Isabel," Mr. Smiles proceeded, exasperatingly deliberate, "d'you know, I feel kind of guilty? I have got a little farm out in Westchester County and I'm making a little English pathway up the garden with a gate at the end. I woke up this morning and began to think about the quaint English form of that gate, and just how I would have it." He raised a finger. "But I ought to have been thinking about you. I ought to have been saying to myself, 'To-day I have to photograph Isabel Joy,' and trying to understand in meditation the secrets of your personality. I'm sorry! Now, don't talk. Keep like that. Move your head round. Go on! Go on! Move it. Don't be afraid. This place belongs to you. It's yours. Whatever you do, we've got people here who'll straighten up after you.... D'you know why I've [295] made money? I've made money so that I can take you this afternoon, and tell a two-hundred-dollar client to go to the deuce. That's why I've made money. Put your back against the chair, like an Englishwoman. That's it. No, don't talk, I tell you. Now look joyful, hang it! Look joyful.... No, no! Joy isn't a contortion. It's something right deep down. There, there!"

The lubricant voice rolled on while Rentoul Smiles manipulated the camera. He clasped the bulb again and again threw it dramatically away.

"I'm through!" he said. "Don't expect anything very grand, Miss Isabel. What I've been trying to do this afternoon is my interpretation of you as I've studied your personality in your speeches. If I believed wholly in your cause, or if I wholly disbelieved in it, my work would not have been good. Any value that it has will be due to the sympathetic impartiality of my spiritual attitude. Although"-he menaced her with the licensed familiarity of a philosopher-"although, lady, I must say that I felt you were working against me all the time.... This way!"

(Edward Henry, recalling the comparative simplicity of the London photographer at Wilkins's, thought: "How profoundly they understand photography in America!")

Isabel Joy rose and glanced at the watch in her bracelet, then followed the direction of the male hand and vanished.

Rentoul Smiles turned instantly to the other doorway.

"How do, Rent?" said Seven Sachs, coming forward.

"How do, Seven?" Mr. Rentoul Smiles winked.

"This is my good friend, Alderman Machin, the theatre-manager from London."

[296] "Glad to meet you, sir."

"She's not gone, has she?" asked Sachs, hurriedly.

"No, my housekeeper wanted to talk to her. Come along."

And in the waiting-room, full of permanent examples of the results of Mr. Rentoul Smiles's spiritual attitude towards his fellow-men, Edward Henry was presented to Isabel Joy. The next instant the two men and the housekeeper had unobtrusively retired, and he was alone with his objective. In truth, Seven Sachs was a notable organizer.

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