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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 1 - Chapter 4. Entry Into The Theatrical World
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The Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 1 - Chapter 4. Entry Into The Theatrical World Post by :Tcgaisford Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :721

Click below to download : The Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 1 - Chapter 4. Entry Into The Theatrical World (Format : PDF)

The Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 1 - Chapter 4. Entry Into The Theatrical World

PART I CHAPTER IV. ENTRY INTO THE THEATRICAL WORLD

I

Once, on a short visit to London, Edward Henry had paid half-a-crown to be let into a certain enclosure with a very low ceiling. This enclosure was already crowded with some three hundred people, sitting and standing. Edward Henry had stood in the only unoccupied spot he could find, behind a pillar. When he had made himself as comfortable as possible by turning up his collar against the sharp winds that continually entered from the street, he had peered forward, and seen in front of his enclosure another and larger enclosure also crowded with people, but more expensive people. After a blank interval of thirty minutes a band had begun to play at an incredible distance in front of him, extinguishing the noises of traffic in the street. After another interval an oblong space rather further off even than the band suddenly grew bright, and Edward Henry, by curving his neck first to one side of the pillar and then to the other, had had tantalizing glimpses of the interior of a doll's drawing-room and of male and female dolls therein.

He could only see, even partially, the inferior half of the drawing-room--a little higher than the heads of the dolls--because the rest was cut off from his vision by the lowness of his own ceiling.

The dolls were talking, but he could not catch clearly what they said, save at the rare moments when an omnibus or a van did not happen to be thundering down the street behind him. Then one special doll had come exquisitely into the drawing-room, and at the sight of her the five hundred people in front of him, and numbers of other people perched hidden beyond his ceiling, had clapped fervently and even cried aloud in their excitement. And he, too, had clapped fervently, and had muttered "Bravo!" This special doll was a marvel of touching and persuasive grace, with a voice--when Edward Henry could hear it--that melted the spine. This special doll had every elegance and seemed to be in the highest pride of youth.

At the close of the affair, as this special doll sank into the embrace of a male doll from whom she had been unjustly separated, and then straightened herself, deliciously and confidently smiling, to take the tremendous applause of Edward Henry and the rest, Edward Henry thought that he had never assisted at a triumph so genuine and so inspiring.

Oblivious of the pain in his neck, and of the choking, foul atmosphere of the enclosure, accurately described as the Pit, he had gone forth into the street with a subconscious notion in his head that the special doll was more than human, was half divine. And he had said afterwards, with immense satisfaction, at Bursley: "Yes, I saw Rose Euclid in 'Flower of the Heart.'"

He had never set eyes on her since.

And now, on this day at Wilkins's, he had seen in the restaurant, and he saw again before him in his private parlour, a faded and stoutish woman, negligently if expensively dressed, with a fatigued, nervous, watery glance, an unnatural, pale-violet complexion, a wrinkled skin and dyed hair; a woman of whom it might be said that she had escaped grandmotherhood, if indeed she had escaped it, by mere luck--and he was point-blank commanded to believe that she and Rose Euclid were the same person.

It was one of the most shattering shocks of all his career, which nevertheless had not been untumultuous. And within his dressing-gown--which nobody remarked upon--he was busy picking up and piecing together, as quickly as he could, the shivered fragments of his ideas.

He literally did not recognize Rose Euclid. True, fifteen years had passed since the night in the pit! And he himself was fifteen years older. But in his mind he had never pictured any change in Rose Euclid. True, he had been familiar with the enormous renown of Rose Euclid as far back as he could remember taking any interest in theatrical advertisements! But he had not permitted her to reach an age of more than about thirty-one or two. Whereas he now perceived that even the exquisite doll in paradise that he had gloated over from his pit must have been quite thirty-five--then....

Well, he scornfully pitied Rose Euclid! He blamed her for not having accomplished the miracle of eternal youth. He actually considered that she had cheated him. "Is this all? What a swindle!" he thought, as he was piecing together the shivered fragments of his ideas into a new pattern. He had felt much the same as a boy, at Bursley Annual Wakes once, on entering a booth which promised horrors and did not supply them. He had been "done" all these years....

Reluctantly he admitted that Rose Euclid could not help her age. But, at any rate, she ought to have grown older beautifully, with charming dignity and vivacity--in fact, she ought to have contrived to be old and young simultaneously. Or, in the alternative, she ought to have modestly retired into the country and lived on her memories and such money as she had not squandered. She had no right to be abroad.

At worst, she ought to have _looked famous. And, because her name and fame and photographs as an emotional actress had been continually in the newspapers, therefore she ought to have been refined, delicate, distinguished and full of witty and gracious small-talk. That she had played the heroine of "Flower of the Heart" four hundred times, and the heroine of "The Grenadier" four hundred and fifty times, and the heroine of "The Wife's Ordeal" nearly five hundred times, made it incumbent upon her, in Edward Henry's subconscious opinion, to possess all the talents of a woman of the world and all the virgin freshness of a girl. Which shows how cruelly stupid Edward Henry was in comparison with the enlightened rest of us.

Why (he protested secretly), she was even tongue-tied!

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Machin," she said awkwardly, in a weak voice, with a peculiar gesture as she shook hands. Then, a mechanical, nervous giggle; and then silence!

"Happy to make your acquaintance, sir," said Mr. Seven Sachs, and the arch-famous American actor-author also lapsed into silence. But the silence of Mr. Seven Sachs was different from Rose Euclid's. He was not shy. A dark and handsome, tranquil, youngish man, with a redoubtable square chin, delicately rounded at the corners, he strikingly resembled his own figure on the stage; and moreover, he seemed to regard silence as a natural and proper condition. He simply stood, in a graceful posture, with his muscles at ease, and waited. Mr. Bryany, behind, seemed to be reduced in stature, and to have become apologetic for himself in the presence of greatness.

Still, Mr. Bryany did say something.

Said Mr. Bryany:

"Sorry to hear you've been seedy, Mr. Machin!"

"Oh, yes!" Rose Euclid blurted out, as if shot. "It's very good of you to ask us up here."

Mr. Seven Sachs concurred, adding that he hoped the illness was not serious.

Edward Henry said it was not.

"Won't you sit down, all of you?" said Edward Henry. "Miss--er--Euclid--"

They all sat down except Mr. Bryany.

"Sit down, Bryany," said Edward Henry. "I'm glad to be able to return your hospitality at the Turk's Head."

This was a blow for Mr. Bryany, who obviously felt it, and grew even more apologetic as he fumbled with assumed sprightliness at a chair.

"Fancy your being here all the time!" said he. "And me looked for you everywhere--"

"Mr. Bryany," Seven Sachs interrupted him calmly, "have you got those letters off?"

"Not yet, sir."

Seven Sachs urbanely smiled. "I think we ought to get them off to-night."

"Certainly," agreed Mr. Bryany with eagerness, and moved towards the door.

"Here's the key of my sitting-room," Seven Sachs stopped him, producing a key.

Mr. Bryany, by a mischance catching Edward Henry's eye as he took the key, blushed.

In a moment Edward Henry was alone with the two silent celebrities.

"Well," said Edward Henry to himself, "I've let myself in for it this time--no mistake! What in the name of common sense am I doing here?"

Rose Euclid coughed and arranged the folds of her dress.

"I suppose, like most Americans, you see all the sights," said Edward Henry to Seven Sachs--the Five Towns is much visited by Americans. "What do you think of my dressing-gown?"

"Bully!" said Seven Sachs, with the faintest twinkle. And Rose Euclid gave the mechanical, nervous giggle.

"I can do with this chap," thought Edward Henry.

The gentleman-in-waiting entered with the supper menu.

"Thank heaven!" thought Edward Henry.

Rose Euclid, requested to order a supper after her own mind, stared vaguely at the menu for some moments, and then said that she did not know what to order.

"Artichokes?" Edward Henry blandly suggested.

Again the giggle, followed this time by a flush! And suddenly Edward Henry recognized in her the entrancing creature of fifteen years ago! Her head thrown back, she had put her left hand behind her and was groping with her long fingers for an object to touch. Having found at length the arm of another chair, she drew her fingers feverishly along its surface. He vividly remembered the gesture in "Flower of the Heart." She had used it with terrific effect at every grand emotional crisis of the play. He now recognized even her face!

"Did Mr. Bryany tell you that my two boys are coming up?" said she. "I left them behind to do some telephoning for me."

"Delighted!" said Edward Henry. "The more the merrier!"

And he hoped that he spoke true.

But her two boys!

"Mr. Marrier--he's a young manager. I don't know whether you know him; very, very talented. And Carlo Trent."

"Same name as my dog," Edward Henry indiscreetly murmured--and his fancy flew back to the home he had quitted; and Wilkins's and everybody in it grew transiently unreal to him.

"Delighted!" he said again.

He was relieved that her two boys were not her offspring. That, at least, was something gained.

"_You know--the dramatist," said Rose Euclid, apparently disappointed by the effect on Edward Henry of the name of Carlo Trent.

"Really!" said Edward Henry. "I hope he won't mind me being in a dressing-gown."

The gentleman-in-waiting, obsequiously restive, managed to choose the supper himself. Leaving, he reached the door just in time to hold it open for the entrance of Mr. Marrier and Mr. Carlo Trent, who were talking with noticeable freedom and emphasis, in an accent which in the Five Towns is known as the "haw haw," the "lah-di-dah" or the "Kensingtonian" accent.


II

Within ten minutes, within less than ten minutes, Alderman Edward Henry Machin's supper-party at Wilkins's was so wonderfully changed for the better that Edward Henry might have been excused for not recognizing it as his own.

The service at Wilkins's, where they profoundly understood human nature, was very intelligent. Somewhere in a central bureau at Wilkins's sat a psychologist, who knew, for example, that a supper commanded on the spur of the moment must be produced instantly if it is to be enjoyed. Delay in these capricious cases impairs the ecstasy and therefore lessens the chance of other similar meals being commanded at the same establishment. Hence, no sooner had the gentleman-in-waiting disappeared with the order than certain esquires appeared with the limbs and body of a table which they set up in Edward Henry's drawing-room, and they covered the board with a damask cloth and half covered the damask cloth with flowers, glasses and plates, and laid a special private wire from the skirting-board near the hearth to a spot on the table beneath Edward Henry's left hand, so that he could summon courtiers on the slightest provocation with the minimum of exertion. Then immediately brown bread-and-butter and lemons and red-pepper came, followed by oysters, followed by bottles of pale wine, both still and sparkling. Thus, before the principal dishes had even begun to frizzle in the distant kitchens, the revellers were under the illusion that the entire supper was waiting just outside the door....

Yes, they were revellers now! For the advent of her young men had transformed Rose Euclid, and Rose Euclid had transformed the general situation. At the table, Edward Henry occupied one side of it, Mr. Seven Sachs occupied the side opposite, Mr. Marrier, the very, very talented young manager, occupied the side to Edward Henry's left, and Rose Euclid and Carlo Trent together occupied the side to his right.

Trent and Marrier were each about thirty years of age. Trent, with a deep voice, had extremely lustrous eyes, which eyes continually dwelt on Rose Euclid in admiration. Apparently, all she needed in this valley was oysters and admiration, and she now had both in unlimited quantities.

"Oysters are darlings," she said, as she swallowed the first.

Carlo Trent kissed her hand, respectfully--for she was old enough to be his mother.

"And you are the greatest tragic actress in the world, Ra-ose!" said he in the Kensingtonian bass.

A few moments earlier Rose Euclid had whispered to Edward Henry that Carlo Trent was the greatest dramatic poet in the world. She flowered now beneath the sun of those dark lustrous eyes and the soft rain of that admiration from the greatest dramatic poet in the world. It really did seem to Edward Henry that she grew younger. Assuredly she grew more girlish and her voice improved. And then the bottles began to pop, and it was as though the action of uncorking wine automatically uncorked hearts also. Mr. Seven Sachs, sitting square and upright, smiled gaily at Edward Henry across the gleaming table and raised a glass. Little Marrier, who at nearly all times had a most enthusiastic smile, did the same. In the result five glasses met over the central bed of chrysanthemums. Edward Henry was happy. Surrounded by enigmas--for he had no conception whatever why Rose Euclid had brought any of the three men to his table--he was nevertheless uplifted.

As he looked about him, at the rich table, and at the glittering chandelier overhead (albeit the lamps thereof were inferior to his own), and at the expanses of soft carpet, and at the silken-textured walls, and at the voluptuous curtains, and at the couple of impeccable gentlemen in-waiting, and at Joseph, who knew his place behind his master's chair--he came to the justifiable conclusion that money was a marvellous thing, and the workings of commerce mysterious and beautiful. He had invented the Five Towns Thrift Club; working men and their wives in the Five Towns were paying their twopences and sixpences and shillings weekly into his club, and finding the transaction a real convenience--and lo! he was entertaining celebrities at Wilkins's.

For, mind you, they were celebrities. He knew Seven Sachs was a celebrity because he had verily seen him act--and act very well--in his own play, and because his name in letters a foot high had dominated all the hoardings of the Five Towns. As for Rose Euclid, could there be a greater celebrity? Such was the strange power of the popular legend concerning her that even now, despite the first fearful shock of disappointment, Edward Henry could not call her by her name without self-consciously stumbling over it, without a curious thrill. And further, he was revising his judgment of her, as well as lowering her age slightly. On coming into the room she had doubtless been almost as startled as himself, and her constrained muteness had been probably due to a guilty feeling in the matter of passing too open remarks to a friend about a perfect stranger's manner of eating artichokes. The which supposition flattered him. (By the way, he wished she had brought the young friend who had shared her amusement over his artichokes.) With regard to the other two men, he was quite ready to believe that Carlo Trent was the world's greatest dramatic poet, and to admit the exceeding talent of Mr. Marrier as a theatrical manager.... In fact, unmistakable celebrities, one and all! He himself was a celebrity. A certain quality in the attitude of each of his guests showed clearly that they considered him a celebrity, and not only a celebrity but a card--Bryany must have been talking--and the conviction of this rendered him happy. His magnificent hunger rendered him still happier. And the reflection that Brindley owed him half-a-crown put a top on his bliss!

"I like your dressing-gown, Mr. Machin," said Carlo Trent, suddenly, after his first spoonful of soup.

"Then I needn't apologize for it!" Edward Henry replied.

"It is the dressing-gown of my dreams," Carlo Trent went on.

"Well," said Edward Henry, "as we're on the subject, I like your shirt-front."

Carlo Trent was wearing a soft shirt. The other three shirts were all rigidly starched. Hitherto Edward Henry had imagined that a fashionable evening shirt should be, before aught else, bullet-proof. He now appreciated the distinction of a frilled and gently flowing breast-plate, especially when a broad purple eyeglass ribbon wandered across it. Rose Euclid gazed in modest transport at Carlo's chest.

"The colour," Carlo proceeded, ignoring Edward Henry's compliment, "the colour is inspiring. So is the texture. I have a woman's delight in textures. I could certainly produce better hexameters in such a dressing-gown."

Although Edward Henry, owing to an unfortunate hiatus in his education, did not know what a hexameter might be, he was artist enough to comprehend the effect of attire on creative work, for he had noticed that he himself could make more money in one necktie than in another, and he would instinctively take particular care in the morning choice of a cravat on days when he meditated a great coup.

"Why don't you get one?" Marrier suggested.

"Do you really think I could?" asked Carlo Trent, as if the possibility were shimmering far out of his reach like a rainbow.

"Rather!" smiled Harrier. "I don't mind laying a fiver that Mr. Machin's dressing-gown came from Drook's in Old Bond Street." But instead of saying "Old" he said "Ehoold."

"It did," Edward Henry admitted.

Mr. Marrier beamed with satisfaction.

"Drook's, you say," murmured Carlo Trent. "Old Bond Street," and wrote down the information on his shirt cuff.

Rose Euclid watched him write.

"Yes, Carlo," said she. "But don't you think we'd better begin to talk about the theatre? You haven't told me yet if you got hold of Longay on the 'phone."

"Of course we got hold of him," said Marrier. "He agrees with me that 'The Intellectual' is a better name for it."

Rose Euclid clapped her hands.

"I'm so glad!" she cried. "Now what do _you think of it as a name, Mr. Machin--'The Intellectual Theatre'? You see it's most important we should settle on the name, isn't it?"

It is no exaggeration to say that Edward Henry felt a wave of cold in the small of his back, and also a sinking away of the nevertheless quite solid chair on which he sat. He had more than the typical Englishman's sane distrust of that morbid word 'Intellectual.' His attitude towards it amounted to active dislike. If ever he used it, he would on no account use it alone; he would say, "Intellectual and all that sort of thing!" with an air of pushing violently away from him everything that the phrase implied. The notion of baptizing a theatre with the fearsome word horrified him. Still, he had to maintain his nerve and his repute. So he drank some champagne, and smiled nonchalantly as the imperturbable duellist smiles while the pistols are being examined.

"Well--" he murmured.

"You see," Marrier broke in, with the smile ecstatic, almost dancing on his chair. "There's no use in compromise. Compromise is and always has been the curse of this country. The unintellectual drahma is dead--dead. Naoobody can deny that. All the box-offices in the West are proclaiming it--"

"Should you call your play intellectual, Mr. Sachs?" Edward Henry inquired across the table.

"I scarcely know," said Mr. Seven Sachs, calmly. "I know I've played it myself fifteen hundred and two times, and that's saying nothing of my three subsidiary companies on the road."

"What _is Mr. Sachs's play?" asked Carlo Trent, fretfully.

"Don't you know, Carlo?" Rose Euclid patted him. "'Overheard.'"

"Oh! I've never seen it."

"But it was on all the hoardings!"

"I never read the hoardings," said Carlo. "Is it in verse?"

"No, it isn't," Mr. Seven Sachs briefly responded. "But I've made over six hundred thousand dollars out of it."

"Then of course it's intellectual!" asserted Mr. Marrier, positively. "That proves it. I'm very sorry I've not seen it either; but it must be intellectual. The day of the unintellectual drahma is over. The people won't have it. We must have faith in the people, and we can't show our faith better than by calling our theatre by its proper name--'The Intellectual Theatre'!"

("_His theatre!" thought Edward Henry. "What's he got to do with it?")

"I don't know that I'm so much in love with your 'Intellectual,'" muttered Carlo Trent.

"_Aren't you?" protested Rose Euclid, shocked.

"Of course I'm not," said Carlo. "I told you before, and I tell you now, that there's only one name for the theatre--'The Muses' Theatre!'"

"Perhaps you're right!" Rose agreed, as if a swift revelation had come to her. "Yes, you're right."

("She'll make a cheerful sort of partner for a fellow," thought Edward Henry, "if she's in the habit of changing her mind like that every thirty seconds." His appetite had gone. He could only drink.)

"Naturally, I'm right! Aren't we going to open with my play, and isn't my play in verse?... I'm sure you'll agree with me, Mr. Machin, that there is no real drama except the poetical drama."

Edward Henry was entirely at a loss. Indeed, he was drowning in his dressing-gown, so favourable to the composition of hexameters.

"Poetry ..." he vaguely breathed.

"Yes, sir," said Carlo Trent. "Poetry."

"I've never read any poetry in my life," said Edward Henry, like a desperate criminal. "Not a line."

Whereupon Carlo Trent rose up from his seat, and his eyeglasses dangled in front of him.

"Mr. Machin," said he with the utmost benevolence. "This is the most interesting thing I've ever come across. Do you know, you're precisely the man I've always been wanting to meet?... The virgin mind. The clean slate.... Do you know, you're precisely the man that it's my ambition to write for?"

"It's very kind of you," said Edward Henry, feebly; beaten, and consciously beaten.

(He thought miserably:

"What would Nellie think if she saw me in this gang?")

Carlo Trent went on, turning to Rose Euclid:

"Rose, will you recite those lines of Nashe?"

Rose Euclid began to blush.

"That bit you taught me the day before yesterday?"

"Only the three lines! No more! They are the very essence of poetry--poetry at its purest. We'll see the effect of them on Mr. Machin. We'll just see. It's the ideal opportunity to test my theory. Now, there's a good girl!"

"Oh! I can't. I'm too nervous," stammered Rose.

"You can, and you must," said Carlo, gazing at her in homage. "Nobody in the world can say them as well as you can. Now!"

Rose Euclid stood up.

"One moment," Carlo stopped her. "There's too much light. We can't do with all this light. Mr. Machin--do you mind?"

A wave of the hand and all the lights were extinguished, save a lamp on the mantelpiece, and in the disconcertingly darkened room Rose Euclid turned her face towards the ray from this solitary silk-shaded globe.

Her hand groped out behind her, found the table-cloth and began to scratch it agitatedly. She lifted her head. She was the actress, impressive and subjugating, and Edward Henry felt her power. Then she intoned:

"Brightness falls from the air; Queens have died young and fair; Dust hath closed Helen's eye."

And she ceased and sat down. There was a silence.

"_Bra vo!" murmured Carlo Trent.

"Bra_vo_!" murmured Mr. Marrier.

Edward Henry in the gloom caught Mr. Seven Sachs's unalterable observant smile across the table.

"Well, Mr. Machin?" said Carlo Trent.

Edward Henry had felt a tremor at the vibrations of Rose Euclid's voice. But the words she uttered had set up no clear image in his mind, unless it might be of some solid body falling from the air, or of a young woman named Helen, walking along Trafalgar Road, Bursley, on a dusty day, and getting the dust in her eyes. He knew not what to answer.

"Is that all there is of it?" he asked at length.

Carlo Trent said:

"It's from Thomas Nashe's 'Song in Time of Pestilence.' The closing lines of the verse are:

'I am sick, I must die--
Lord, have mercy on me!'"

"Well," said Edward Henry, recovering, "I rather like the end. I think the end's very appropriate."

Mr. Seven Sachs choked over his wine, and kept on choking.


III

Mr.. Marrier was the first to recover from this blow to the prestige of poetry. Or perhaps it would be more honest to say that Mr.. Marrier had suffered no inconvenience from the _contretemps_. His apparent gleeful zest in life had not been impaired. He was a born optimist, of an extreme type unknown beyond the circumferences of theatrical circles.

"I _say_," he emphasized, "I've got an ideah. We ought to be photographed like that. Do you no end of good." He glanced encouragingly at Rose Euclid. "Don't you see it in the illustrated papers? A prayvate supper-party at Wilkins's Hotel. Miss Ra-ose Euclid reciting verse at a discussion of the plans for her new theatre in Piccadilly Circus. The figures, reading from left to right, are, Mr. Seven Sachs, the famous actor-author, Miss Rose Euclid, Mr. Carlo Trent, the celebrated dramatic poet, Mr. Alderman Machin, the well-known Midlands capitalist, and so on!" Mr. Marrier repeated, "and so on."

"It's a notion," said Rose Euclid, dreamily.

"But how _can we be photographed?" Carlo Trent demanded with irritation.

"Perfectly easy."

"Now?"

"In ten minutes. I know a photographer in Brook Street."

"Would he come at once?" Carlo Trent frowned at his watch.

"Rather!" Mr. Marrier gaily soothed him, as he went over to the telephone. And Mr. Marrier's bright, boyish face radiated forth the assurance that nothing in all his existence had more completely filled him with sincere joy than this enterprise of procuring a photograph of the party. Even in giving the photographer's number--he was one of those prodigies who remember infallibly all telephone numbers--his voice seemed to gloat upon his project.

(And while Mr. Marrier, having obtained communication with the photographer, was saying gloriously into the telephone: "Yes, Wilkins's. No. Quite private. I've got Miss Rose Euclid here, and Mr. Seven Sachs"--while Mr. Marrier was thus proceeding with his list of star attractions, Edward Henry was thinking:

"'_Her new theatre'--now! It was 'his' a few minutes back!... 'The well-known Midlands capitalist,' eh? Oh! Ah!")

He drank again. He said to himself: "I've had all I can digest of this beastly balloony stuff." (He meant the champagne.) "If I finish the glass I'm bound to have a bad night." And he finished the glass, and planked it down firmly on the table.

"Well," he remarked aloud cheerfully. "If we're to be photographed, I suppose we shall want a bit more light on the subject."

Joseph sprang to the switches.

"Please!" Carlo Trent raised a protesting hand.

The switches were not turned. In the beautiful dimness the greatest tragic actress in the world and the greatest dramatic poet in the world gazed at each other, seeking and finding solace in mutual esteem.

"I suppose it wouldn't do to call it the Euclid Theatre?" Rose questioned casually, without moving her eyes.

"Splendid!" cried Mr. Marrier from the telephone.

"It all depends whether there are enough mathematical students in London to fill the theatre for a run," said Edward Henry.

"Oh! D'you think so?" murmured Rose, surprised and vaguely puzzled.

At that instant Edward Henry might have rushed from the room and taken the night-mail back to the Five Towns, and never any more have ventured into the perils of London, if Carlo Trent had not turned his head, and signified by a curt, reluctant laugh that he saw the joke. For Edward Henry could no longer depend on Mr. Seven Sachs. Mr. Seven Sachs had to take the greatest pains to keep the muscles of his face in strict order. The slightest laxity with them--and he would have been involved in another and more serious suffocation.

"No," said Carlo Trent, "'The Muses' Theatre' is the only possible title. There is money in the poetical drama." He looked hard at Edward Henry, as though to stare down the memory of the failure of Nashe's verse. "I don't want money. I hate the thought of money. But money is the only proof of democratic appreciation, and that is what I need, and what every artist needs.... Don't you think there's money in the poetical drama, Mr. Sachs?"

"Not in America," said Mr. Sachs. "London is a queer place."

"Look at the runs of Stephen Phillips's plays!"

"Yes.... I only reckon to know America."

"Look at what Pilgrim's made out of Shakspere."

"I thought you were talking about poetry," said Edward Henry too hastily.

"And isn't Shakspere poetry?" Carlo Trent challenged.

"Well, I suppose if you put it in that way, he _is_!" Edward Henry cautiously admitted, humbled. He was under the disadvantage of never having either seen or read "Shakspere." His sure instinct had always warned him against being drawn into "Shakspere."

"And has Miss Euclid ever done anything finer than Constance?"

"I don't know," Edward Henry pleaded.

"Why--Miss Euclid in 'King John'--"

"I never saw 'King John,'" said Edward Henry.

"_Do you mean to say_," expostulated Carlo Trent in italics, "_that you never saw Rose Euclid as Constance_?"

And Edward Henry, shaking his abashed head, perceived that his life had been wasted.

Carlo, for a few moments, grew reflective and softer.

"It's one of my earliest and most precious boyish memories," he murmured, as he examined the ceiling. "It must have been in eighteen--"

Rose Euclid abandoned the ice with which she had just been served, and by a single gesture drew Carlo's attention away from the ceiling, and towards the fact that it would be clumsy on his part to indulge further in the chronology of her career. She began to blush again.

Mr. Marrier, now back at the table after a successful expedition, beamed over his ice:

"It was your 'Constance' that led to your friendship with the Countess of Chell, wasn't it, Ra-ose? You know," he turned to Edward Henry, "Miss Euclid and the Countess are virry intimate."

"Yes, I know," said Edward Henry.

Rose Euclid continued to blush. Her agitated hand scratched the back of the chair behind her.

"Even Sir John Pilgrim admits I can act Shakspere," she said in a thick mournful voice, looking at the cloth as she pronounced the august name of the head of the dramatic profession. "It may surprise you to know, Mr. Machin, that about a month ago, after he'd quarrelled with Selina Gregory, Sir John asked me if I'd care to star with him on his Shaksperean tour round the world next spring, and I said I would if he'd include Carlo's poetical play, 'The Orient Pearl,' and he wouldn't! No, he wouldn't! And now he's got little Cora Pryde! She isn't twenty-two, and she's going to play Juliet! Can you imagine such a thing! As if a mere girl could play Juliet!"

Carlo observed the mature actress with deep satisfaction, proud of her, and proud also of himself.

"I wouldn't go with Pilgrim now," exclaimed Rose, passionately, "not if he went down on his knees to me!"

"And nothing on earth would induce me to let him have 'The Orient Pearl'!" Carlo Trent asseverated with equal passion. "He's lost that for ever!" he added grimly. "It won't be he who'll collar the profits out of that! It'll just be ourselves!"

"Not if he went down on his knees to me!" Rose was repeating to herself with fervency.

The calm of despair took possession of Edward Henry. He felt that he must act immediately--he knew his own mood, by long experience. Exploring the pockets of the dressing-gown which had aroused the longing of the greatest dramatic poet in the world, he discovered in one of them precisely the piece of apparatus he required--namely, a slip of paper suitable for writing. It was a carbon duplicate of the bill for the dressing-gown, and showed the word "Drook" in massive printed black, and the figures L4, 4s. in faint blue. He drew a pencil from his waistcoat and inscribed on the paper:

"Go out, and then come back in a couple of minutes and tell me someone wants to speak to me urgently in the next room."

With a minimum of ostentation he gave the document to Joseph, who, evidently well trained under Sir Nicholas, vanished into the next room before attempting to read it.

"I hope," said Edward Henry to Carlo Trent, "that this money-making play is reserved for the new theatre?"

"Utterly," said Carlo Trent.

"With Miss Euclid in the principal part?"

"Rather!" sang Mr. Marrier. "Rather!"

"I shall never, never appear at any other theatre, Mr. Machin!" said Rose, with tragic emotion, once more feeling with her fingers along the back of her chair. "So I hope the building will begin at once. In less than six months we ought to open."

"Easily!" sang the optimist.

Joseph returned to the room, and sought his master's attention in a whisper.

"What is it?" Edward Henry asked irritably. "Speak up!"

"A gentleman wishes to know if he can speak to you in the next room, sir."

"Well, he can't."

"He said it was urgent, sir."

Scowling, Edward Henry rose. "Excuse me," he said. "I won't be a moment. Help yourselves to the liqueurs. You chaps can go, I fancy." The last remark was addressed to the gentlemen-in-waiting.

The next room was the vast bedroom with two beds in it. Edward Henry closed the door carefully, and drew the _portiere across it. Then he listened. No sound penetrated from the scene of the supper.

"There _is a telephone in this room, isn't there?" he said to Joseph. "Oh, yes, there it is! Well, you can go."

"Yes, sir."

Edward Henry sat down on one of the beds by the hook on which hung the telephone. And he cogitated upon the characteristics of certain members of the party which he had just left. "I'm a 'virgin mind,' am I?" he thought. "I'm a 'clean slate'? Well!... Their notion of business is to begin by discussing the name of the theatre! And they haven't even taken up the option! Ye gods! 'Intellectual'! 'Muses'! 'The Orient Pearl.' And she's fifty--that I swear! Not a word yet of real business--not one word! He may be a poet. I daresay he is. He's a conceited ass. Why, even Bryany was better than that lot. Only Sachs turned Bryany out. I like Sachs. But he won't open his mouth.... 'Capitalist'! Well, they spoilt my appetite, and I hate champagne!... The poet hates money.... No, he 'hates the thought of money.' And she's changing her mind the whole blessed time! A month ago she'd have gone over to Pilgrim, and the poet too, like a house-a-fire!...Photographed indeed! The bally photographer will be here in a minute!... They take me for a fool!... Or don't they know any better?... Anyhow, I am a fool.... I must teach 'em summat!"

He seized the telephone.

"Hello!" he said into it. "I want you to put me on to the drawing-room of Suite No. 48, please. Who? Oh, me! I'm in the bedroom of Suite No. 48. Machin, Alderman Machin. Thanks. That's all right."

He waited. Then he heard Harrier's Kensingtonian voice in the telephone asking who he was.

"Is that Mr. Machin's room?" he continued, imitating with a broad farcical effect the acute Kensingtonianism of Mr. Marrier's tones. "Is Miss Ra-ose Euclid there? Oh! She is! Well, you tell her that Sir John Pilgrim's private secretary wishes to speak to her? Thanks. All right. _I_'ll hold the line."

A pause. Then he heard Rose's voice in the telephone, and he resumed:

"Miss Euclid? Yes. Sir John Pilgrim. I beg pardon! Banks? Oh, _Banks_! No, I'm not Banks. I suppose you mean my predecessor. He's left. Left last week. No, I don't know why. Sir John instructs me to ask if you and Mr. Trent could lunch with him to-morrow at wun-thirty? What? Oh! at his house. Yes. I mean flat. Flat! I said flat. You think you could?"

Pause. He could hear her calling to Carlo Trent.

"Thanks. No, I don't know exactly," he went on again. "But I know the arrangement with Miss Pryde is broken off. And Sir John wants a play at once. He told me that! At once! Yes. 'The Orient Pearl.' That was the title. At the Royal first, and then the world's tour. Fifteen months at least in all, so I gathered. Of course I don't speak officially. Well, many thanks. Saoo good of you. I'll tell Sir John it's arranged. One-thirty to-morrow. Good-bye!"

He hung up the telephone. The excited, eager, effusive tones of Rose Euclid remained in his ears. Aware of a strange phenomenon on his forehead, he touched it. He was perspiring.

"I'll teach 'em a thing or two," he muttered.

And again:

"Serves her right.... 'Never, never appear at any other theatre, Mr. Machin!' ... 'Bended knees!' ... 'Utterly!' ... Cheerful partners! Oh! cheerful partners!"

He returned to his supper-party. Nobody said a word about the telephoning. But Rose Euclid and Carlo Trent looked even more like conspirators than they did before; and Mr. Marrier's joy in life seemed to be just the least bit diminished.

"So sorry!" Edward Henry began hurriedly, and, without consulting the poet's wishes, subtly turned on all the lights. "Now, don't you think we'd better discuss the question of taking up the option? You know, it expires on Friday."

"No," said Rose Euclid, girlishly. "It expires to-morrow. That's why it's so _fortunate we got hold of you to-night."

"But Mr. Bryany told me Friday. And the date was clear enough on the copy of the option he gave me."

"A mistake of copying," beamed Mr. Marrier. "However, it's all right."

"Well," observed Edward Henry with heartiness, "I don't mind telling you that for sheer calm coolness you take the cake. However, as Mr. Marrier so ably says, it's all right. Now I understand if I go into this affair I can count on you absolutely, and also on Mr. Trent's services." He tried to talk as if he had been diplomatizing with actresses and poets all his life.

"A--absolutely!" said Rose.

And Mr. Carlo Trent nodded.

"You Iscariots!" Edward Henry addressed them, in the silence of the brain, behind his smile. "You Iscariots!"

The photographer arrived with certain cases, and at once Rose Euclid and Carlo Trent began instinctively to pose.

"To think," Edward Henry pleasantly reflected, "that they are hugging themselves because Sir John Pilgrim's secretary happened to telephone just while I was out of the room!"

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