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   Chapter 49 No.49

The Regent By Arnold Bennett Characters: 4571

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Though he was on the way to high success his anxieties and solicitudes seemed to increase every hour. Immediately after Isabel Joy's arrest he became more than ever a crony of the Marconi operator, and began to dispatch vivid and urgent telegrams to London, without counting the cost. On the next day he began to receive replies. (It was the most interesting voyage that the Marconi operator had had since the sinking of the Catherine of Siena, in which episode his promptness through the air had certainly saved two hundred lives.) Edward Henry could scarcely sleep, so intense was his longing for Sunday night-his desire to be safe in London with Isabel Joy! Nay, he could not properly eat! And then the doubt entered his mind whether after all he would get to London on Sunday night. For the Lithuania was lagging. She might have been doing it on purpose to ruin him. Every day, in the auction-pool on the ship's run, it was the holder of the lower field that pocketed the money of his fellow-men. The Lithuania actually descended below five hundred and forty knots in the twenty-four hours. And no authoritative explanation of this behaviour was ever given. Upon leaving New York there had been talk of reaching Fishguard on Saturday evening. But now the prophesied moment of arrival had been put forward to noon on Sunday. Edward Henry's sole consolation was that each day on the eastward trip consisted of only twenty-three hours.

Further, he was by no means free from apprehension about the personal liberty of Isabel Joy. Isabel had exceeded the programme arranged between them. It had been no part of his scheme that she should cast plates, nor even break violins on the shining crown of an august [307] purser. The purser was angry, and he had the captain, a milder man, behind him. When Isabel Joy threatened a hunger-strike if she was not immediately released, the purser signified that she might proceed with her hunger-strike; he well knew that it would be impossible for her to expire of inanition before the arrival at Fishguard.

The case was serious, because Isabel Joy had created a precedent. Policemen and Cabinet Ministers had for many months been regarded as the lawful prey of militants, but Isabel Joy was the first of the militants to damage property and

heads which belonged to persons of neither of those classes. And the authorities of the ship were assuredly inclined to hand Isabel Joy over to the police at Fishguard. What saved the situation for Edward Henry was the factor which saves most situations-namely, public opinion. When the saloon clearly realized that Isabel Joy had done what she had done with the pure and innocent aim of winning a wager, all that was Anglo-Saxon in the saloon ranged itself on the side of true sport, and the matter was lifted above mere politics. A subscription was inaugurated to buy a new fiddle, and to pay for shattered crockery. And the amount collected would have purchased, after settling for the crockery, a couple of dozen new fiddles. The unneeded balance was given to Seamen's Orphanages. The purser was approached. The captain was implored. Influence was brought to bear. In short, the wheels that are within wheels went duly round. And Miss Isabel Joy, after apologies and promises, was unconditionally released.

But she had been arrested.

And then early on Sunday morning the ship met a storm that had a sad influence on divine service; a storm of the eminence that scares even [308] the brass-buttoned occupants of liners' bridges. The rumour went round the ship that the captain would not call at Fishguard in such weather. Edward Henry was ready to yield up his spirit in this fearful crisis, which endured two hours. The captain did call at Fishguard, in pouring rain, and men came aboard selling Sunday newspapers that were full of Isabel's arrest on the steamer, and of the nearing triumph of her arrival in London before midnight. And newspaper correspondents also came aboard, and all the way on the tender, and in the sheds, and in the train, Edward Henry and Isabel Joy were subjected to the journalistic experiments of hardy interviewers. The train arrived at Paddington at 9 P.M. Isabel had won by three hours. The station was a surging throng of open-mouthed curiosities. Edward Henry would not lose sight of his priceless charge, but he sent Harrier to despatch a telegram to Nellie, whose wifely interest in his movements he had till then either forgotten or ignored.

And even now his mind was not free. He saw in front of him still twenty-four hours of anguish.

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