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The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 4220

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


That same evening, in the colossal many-tabled dining-saloon of the Lithuania Edward Henry sat as usual to the left of the purser's empty chair, at the purser's table, where were about a dozen other men. A page brought him a marconigram. He opened it and read the single word "Nineteen." It was the amount of the previous evening's receipts at the Regent, in pounds. He was now losing something like forty pounds a night-without counting the expenses of the present excursion. The band began to play as the soup was served, and the ship rolled politely, gently, but nevertheless unmistakably, accomplishing one complete roll to about sixteen bars of the music. Then the entire saloon was suddenly excited. Isabel Joy had entered. She was in the gallery, near the orchestra, at a small table alone. Everybody became aware of the fact in an instant, and scores of necks on the lower [304] floor were twisted to glimpse the celebrity on the upper. It was remarked that she wore a magnificent evening-dress.

One subject of conversation now occupied all the tables. And it was fully occupying the purser's table when the purser, generally a little late, owing to the arduousness of his situation on the ship, entered and sat down. Now the purser was a northerner, from Durham, a delightful companion in his lighter moods, but dour, and with a high conception of authority and of the intelligence of dogs. He would relate that when he and his wife wanted to keep a secret from their Yorkshire terrier they had to spell the crucial words in talk, for the dog understood their every sentence. The purser's views about the cause represented by Isabel Joy were absolutely clear. None could mistake them, and the few clauses which he curtly added to the discussion rather damped the discussion, and there was a pause.

"What should you do, Mr. Purser," said Edward Henry, "if she began to play any of her tricks here?"

"If she began to play any of her tricks in this ship," answered the purser, putting his hands on his stout knees, "we should know what to do?"

"Of course you can arrest?"

"Most decidedly.

I could tell you things-" The purser stopped, for experience had taught him to be very discreet with passengers until he had voyaged with them at least ten times. He concluded: "The captain is the representative of English law on an English ship."

And then, in the silence created by the resting orchestra, all in the saloon could hear a clear, piercing woman's voice, oratorical at first and then quickening:

"Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to talk to you to-night on the subject [305] of the injustice of men to women." Isabel Joy was on her feet and leaning over the gallery rail. As she proceeded a startled hush changed to uproar. And in the uproar could be caught now and then a detached phrase, such as "For example, this man-governed ship."

Possibly it was just this phrase that roused the northerner in the purser. He rose and looked towards the captain's table. But the captain was not dining in the saloon that evening. Then he strode to the centre of the saloon, beneath the renowned dome which has been so often photographed for the illustrated papers, and sought to destroy Isabel Joy with a single marine glance. Having failed, he called out loudly:

"Be quiet, madam. Resume your seat."

Isabel Joy stopped for a second, gave him a glance far more homicidal than his own, and resumed her discourse.

"Steward," cried the purser, "take that woman out of the saloon."

The whole complement of first-class passengers was now standing up, and many of them saw a plate descend from on high and graze the purser's shoulder. With the celebrity of a sprinter the man of authority from Durham disappeared from the ground-floor and was immediately seen in the gallery. Accounts differed, afterwards, as to the exact order of events; but it is certain that the leader of the band lost his fiddle, which was broken by the lusty Isabel on the purser's head. It was known later that Isabel, though not exactly in irons, was under arrest in her state-room.

"She really ought to have thought of that for herself, if she's as smart as she thinks she is," said Edward Henry, privately.

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