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The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 4907

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Two entire interminable days of the voyage elapsed before Edward Henry was clever enough to encounter Isabel Joy-the most notorious and the least visible person in the ship. He remembered that she had said: "You won't see anything of me." It was easy to ascertain the number of her state-room-a double-berth which she shared with nobody. But it was less easy to find out whether she ever left it, and if so, at what time of day. He could not mount guard in the long corridor; and the stewardesses on the Lithuania were mature, experienced and uncommunicative women, their sole weakness being an occasional tendency to imagine that they, and not the captain, were in supreme charge of the steamer. However, Edward Henry did at last achieve his desire. And on the third morning, at a little before six o'clock, he met a muffled Isabel Joy on the D deck. The D deck was wet, having just been swabbed; and a boat-chosen for that dawn's boat-drill-ascended past them on its way from sea-level to the dizzy boat-deck above; on the other side of an iron barrier, large crowds of early-rising third-class passengers were standing and talking and staring at the oblong slit of sea which was the only prospect offered by the D deck; it was the first time that Edward Henry aboard had [301] set eyes on a steerage passenger; with all the conceit natural to the occupant of a costly state-room, he had unconsciously assumed that he and his like had sole possession of the ship.

Isabel responded to his greeting in a very natural way. The sharp freshness of the summer morning at sea had its tonic effect on both of them; and as for Edward Henry, he lunged and plunged at once into the subject which alone preoccupied and exasperated him. She did not seem to resent it.

"You'd have the satisfaction of helping on a thing that all your friends say ought to be helped," he argued. "Nobody but you can do it. Without you there'll be a frost. You would make a lot of money, which you could spend in helping on things of your own. And surely it isn't the publicity that you're afraid of!"

"No," she agreed. "I'm not afraid of publicity." Her pale grey-blue eyes shone as they regarded the secret dream that for her hung always unseen in the air. And she had a strange, wistful, fragile, feminine mien in her mannish costume.

"Well then-"

"But can't you see it's humiliating?" cried she, as if interested in the argument.

"It's not humiliating to do somet

hing that you can do well-I know you can do it well-and get a large salary for it, and make the success of a big enterprise by it. If you knew the play-"

"I do know the play," she said. "We'd lots of us read it in manuscript long ago."

Edward Henry was somewhat dashed by this information.

"Well, what do you think of it?"

"I think it's just splendid!" said she with enthusiasm.

"And will it be any worse a play because you act a small part in it?"

"No," she said shortly.

[302] "I expect you think it's a play that people ought to go and see, don't you?"

"I do, Mr. Socrates," she admitted.

He wondered what she could mean, but continued:

"What does it matter what it is that brings the audience into the theatre, so long as they get there and have to listen?"

She sighed.

"It's no use discussing with you," she murmured. "You're too simple for this world. I daresay you're honest enough-in fact, I think you are-but there are so many things that you don't understand. You're evidently incapable of understanding them."

"Thanks!" he replied, and paused to recover his self-possession. "But let's get right down to business now. If you'll appear in this play I'll not merely give you two hundred pounds a week, but I'll explain to you how to get arrested and still arrive in triumph in London before midnight on Sunday."

She recoiled a step and raised her eyes.

"How?" she demanded, as with a pistol.

"Ah!" he said. "That's just it. How? Will you promise?"

"I've thought of everything," she said musingly. "If the last day was any day but Sunday I could get arrested on landing and get bailed out and still be in London before night. But on Sunday-no-! So you needn't talk like that."

"Still," he said, "it can be done."

"How?" she demanded again.

"Will you sign a contract with me if I tell you?... Think of what your reception in London will be if you win after all! Just think!"

[303] Those pale eyes gleamed; for Isabel Joy had tasted the noisy flattery of sympathetic and of adverse crowds, and her being hungered for it again; the desire of it had become part of her nature.

She walked away, her hands in the pockets of her ulster, and returned.

"What is your scheme?"

"You'll sign?"

"Yes, if it works."

"I can trust you?"

The little woman of forty or so blazed up. "You can refrain from insulting me by doubting my word," said she.

"Sorry! Sorry!" he apologized.

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