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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 2 - Chapter 10. Isabel
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The Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 2 - Chapter 10. Isabel Post by :gkrauser Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :3336

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The Regent: A Five Towns Story Of Adventure In London - Part 2 - Chapter 10. Isabel

PART II CHAPTER X. ISABEL

I

Throughout the voyage of the _Lithuania from Liverpool to New York, Edward Henry, in common with some two thousand other people on board, had the sensation of being hurried. He who in a cab rides late to an important appointment, arrives with muscles fatigued by mentally aiding the horse to move the vehicle along. Thus were Edward Henry's muscles fatigued, and the muscles of many others; but just as much more so as the _Lithuania was bigger than a cab.

For the _Lithuania_, having been seriously delayed in Liverpool by men who were most ridiculously striking for the fantastic remuneration of one pound a week, was engaged on the business of making new records. And every passenger was personally determined that she should therein succeed. And, despite very bad June weather towards the end, she did sail past the Battery on a grand Monday morning with a new record to her credit.

So far Edward Henry's plan was not miscarrying. But he had a very great deal to do, and very little time in which to do it, and whereas the muscles of the other passengers were relaxed as the ship drew to her berth, Edward Henry's muscles were only more tensely tightened. He had expected to see Mr. Seven Sachs on the quay, for in response to his telegram from Queenstown the illustrious actor-author had sent him an agreeable wireless message in full Atlantic; the which had inspired Edward Henry to obtain news by Marconi both from London and New York, at much expense; from the east he had had daily information of the dwindling receipts at the Regent Theatre, and from the west daily information concerning Isabel Joy. He had not, however, expected Mr. Seven Sachs to walk into the _Lithuania's music-saloon an hour before the ship touched the quay. Nevertheless, this was what Mr. Seven Sachs did, by the exercise of those mysterious powers wielded by the influential in democratic communities.

"And what are you doing here?" Mr. Seven Sachs greeted Edward Henry with geniality.

Edward Henry lowered his voice.

"I'm throwing good money after bad," said he.

The friendly grip of Mr. Seven Sachs's hand did him good, reassured him, and gave him courage. He was utterly tired of the voyage, and also of the poetical society of Carlo Trent, whose passage had cost him thirty pounds, considerable boredom, and some sick-nursing during the final days and nights. A dramatic poet with an appetite was a full dose for Edward Henry; but a dramatic poet who lay on his back and moaned for naught but soda-water and dry land amounted to more than Edward Henry could conveniently swallow.

He directed Mr. Sachs's attention to the anguished and debile organism which had once been Carlo Trent, and Mr. Sachs was so sympathetic that Carlo Trent began to adore him, and Edward Henry to be somewhat disturbed in his previous estimate of Mr. Sachs's common sense. But at a favourable moment Mr. Sachs breathed humorously into Edward Henry's ear the question:

"What have you brought _him out for?"

"I've brought him out to lose him."

As they pushed through the bustle of the enormous ship, and descended from the dizzy eminence of her boat-deck by lifts and ladders down to the level of the windy, sun-steeped rock of New York, Edward Henry said:

"Now, I want you to understand, Mr. Sachs, that I haven't a minute to spare. I've just looked in for lunch."

"Going on to Chicago?"

"She isn't at Chicago, is she?" demanded Edward Henry, aghast. "I thought she'd reached New York!"

"Who?"

"Isabel Joy."

"Oh! Isabel's in New York, sure enough. She's right here. They say she'll have to catch the _Lithuania if she's going to get away with it."

"Get away with what?"

"Well--the goods."

The precious word reminded Edward Henry of an evening at Wilkins's and raised his spirits even higher. It was a word he loved.

"And I've got to catch the _Lithuania_, too!" said he. "But Trent doesn't know!... And let me tell you she's going to do the quickest turn-round that any ship ever did. The purser assured me she'll leave at noon to-morrow unless the world comes to an end in the meantime. Now what about a hotel?"

"You'll stay with me--naturally."

"But--" Edward Henry protested.

"Oh, yes, you will. I shall be delighted."

"But I must look after Trent."

"He'll stay with me too--naturally. I live at the Stuyvesant Hotel, you know, on Fifth. I've a pretty private suite there. I shall arrange a little supper for to-night. My automobile is here."

"Is it possible that I once saved your life and have forgotten all about it?" Edward Henry exclaimed. "Or do you treat everybody like this?"

"We like to look after our friends," said Mr. Sachs, simply.

In the terrific confusion of the quay, where groups of passengers were mounted like watch-dogs over hillocks of baggage, Mr. Sachs stood continually between the travellers and the administrative rigour and official incredulity of a proud republic. And in the minimum of time the fine trunk of Edward Henry and the modest packages of the poet were on the roof of Mr. Sachs's vast car. The three men were inside, and the car was leaping, somewhat in the manner of a motor-boat at full speed, over the cobbles of a wide mediaeval street.

"Quick!" thought Edward Henry. "I haven't a minute to lose!"

His prayer reached the chauffeur. Conversation was difficult; Carlo Trent groaned. Presently they rolled less perilously upon asphalt, though the equipage still lurched. Edward Henry was for ever bending his head towards the window aperture in order to glimpse the roofs of the buildings, and never seeing the roofs.

"Now we're on Fifth," said Mr. Sachs, after a fearful lurch, with pride.

Vistas of flags, high cornices, crowded pavements, marble, jewellery behind glass--the whole seen through a roaring phantasmagoria of competing and menacing vehicles!

And Edward Henry thought:

"This is my sort of place!"

The jolting recommenced. Carlo Trent rebounded limply, groaning between cushions and upholstery. Edward Henry tried to pretend that he was not frightened. Then there was a shock as of the concussion of two equally unyielding natures. A pane of glass in Mr. Seven Sachs's limousine flew to fragments and the car stopped.

"I expect that's a spring gone!" observed Mr. Sachs with tranquillity. "Will happen, you know, sometimes!"

Everybody got out. Mr. Sachs's presumption was correct. One of the back wheels had failed to leap over a hole in Fifth Avenue some eighteen inches deep and two feet long.

"What is that hole?" asked Edward Henry.

"Well," said Mr. Sachs, "it's just a hole. We'd better transfer to a taxi." He gave calm orders to his chauffeur.

Four empty taxis passed down the sunny magnificence of Fifth Avenue and ignored Mr. Sachs's urgent waving. The fifth stopped. The baggage was strapped and tied to it: which process occupied much time. Edward Henry, fuming against delay, gazed around. A nonchalant policeman on a superb horse occupied the middle of the road. Tram-cars passed constantly across the street in front of his caracoling horse, dividing a route for themselves in the wild ocean of traffic as Moses cut into the Red Sea. At intervals a knot of persons, intimidated and yet daring, would essay the voyage from one pavement to the opposite pavement; there was no half-way refuge for these adventurers, as in decrepit London; some apparently arrived; others seemed to disappear for ever in the feverish welter of confused motion and were never heard of again. The policeman, easily accommodating himself to the caracolings of his mount, gazed absently at Edward Henry, and Edward Henry gazed first at the policeman, and then at the high decorated grandeur of the buildings, and then at the Assyrian taxi into which Mr. Sachs was now ingeniously inserting Carlo Trent. He thought:

"No mistake--this street is alive. But what cemeteries they must have!"

He followed Carlo, with minute precautions, into the interior of the taxi. And then came the supremely delicate operation--that of introducing a third person into the same vehicle. It was accomplished; three chins and six knees fraternized in close intimacy; but the door would not shut. Wheezing, snorting, shaking, complaining, the taxi drew slowly away from Mr. Sachs's luxurious automobile and left it forlorn to its chauffeur. Mr. Sachs imperturbably smiled. ("I have two other automobiles," said Mr. Sachs.) In some sixty seconds the taxi stopped in front of the tremendous glass awning of the Stuyvesant. The baggage was unstrapped; the passengers were extracted one by one from the cell, and Edward Henry saw Mr. Sachs give two separate dollar bills to the driver.

"By Jove!" he murmured.

"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Sachs, politely.

"Nothing!" said Edward Henry.

They walked into the hotel, and passed through a long succession of corridors and vast public rooms surging with well-dressed men and women.

"What's all this crowd for?" asked Edward Henry.

"What crowd?" asked Mr. Sachs, surprised.

Edward Henry saw that he had blundered.

"I prefer the upper floors," remarked Mr. Sachs as they were being flung upwards in a gilded elevator, and passing rapidly all numbers from 1 to 14.

The elevator made an end of Carlo Trent's manhood. He collapsed. Mr. Sachs regarded him, and then said:

"I think I'll get an extra room for Mr. Trent. He ought to go to bed."

Edward Henry enthusiastically concurred.

"And stay there!" said Edward Henry.

Pale Carlo Trent permitted himself to be put to bed. But, therein, he proved fractious. He was anxious about his linen. Mr. Sachs telephoned from the bedside, and a laundry-maid came. He was anxious about his best lounge-suit. Mr. Sachs telephoned, and a valet came. Then he wanted a siphon of soda-water, and Mr. Sachs telephoned, and a waiter came. Then it was a newspaper he required. Mr. Sachs telephoned and a page came. All these functionaries, together with two reporters, peopled Mr. Trent's bedroom more or less simultaneously. It was Edward Henry's bright notion to add to them a doctor--a doctor whom Mr. Sachs knew, a doctor who would perceive at once that bed was the only proper place for Carlo Trent.

"Now," said Edward Henry, when he and Mr. Sachs were participating in a private lunch amid the splendours and the grim, silent service of the latter's suite at the Stuyvesant, "I have fully grasped the fact that I am in New York. It is one o'clock and after, and as soon as ever this meal is over I have just _got to find Isabel Joy. You must understand that on this trip New York for me is merely a town where Isabel Joy happens to be."

"Well," replied Mr. Sachs, "I reckon I can put you on to that. _She's going to be photographed at two o'clock by Rentoul Smiles_. I happen to know because Rent's a particular friend of mine."

"A photographer, you say?"

Mr. Sachs controlled himself. "Do you mean to say you've not heard of Rentoul Smiles?... Well, he's called 'Man's photographer.' He has never photographed a woman! Won't! At least, wouldn't! But he's going to photograph Isabel. So you may guess that he considers Isabel _some woman, eh?"

"And how will that help me?" inquired Edward Henry.

"Why! I'll take you up to Rent's," Mr. Sachs comforted him. "It's close by--corner of Thirty-ninth and Five."

"Tell me," Edward Henry demanded, with immense relief, "she hasn't got herself arrested yet, has she?"

"No. And she won't!"

"Why not?"

"The police have been put wise," said Mr. Sachs.

"Put wise?"

"Yes. _Put wise_!"

"I see," said Edward Henry.

But he did not see. He only half saw.

"As a matter of fact," said Mr. Sachs, "Isabel can't get away with the goods unless she fixes the police to lock her up for a few hours. And she'll not succeed in that. Her hundred days are up in London next Sunday. So there'll be no time for her to be arrested and bailed out either at Liverpool or Fishguard. And that's her only chance. I've seen Isabel, and if you ask me my opinion she's down and out."

"Never mind!" said Edward Henry with glee.

"I guess what you're after her for," said Mr. Seven Sachs, with an air of deep knowledge.

"The deuce you do!"

"Yes, sir! And let me tell you that dozens of 'em have been after her already. But she wouldn't! Nothing would tempt her."

"Never mind!" Edward Henry smiled.


II

When Edward Henry stood by the side of Mr. Sachs in a doorway half shielded by a _portiere_, 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 _protege 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.

"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 himself 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 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."

"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.


III

She was sitting down in a cosy-corner, her feet on a footstool, and she seemed a negligible physical quantity as he stood in front of her. This was she who had worsted the entire judicial and police system of Chicago, who spoke pentecostal tongues, who had circled the globe, and held enthralled--so journalists computed--more than a quarter of a million of the inhabitants of Marseilles, Athens, Port Said, Candy, Calcutta, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Hawaii, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago, and lastly, New York! This was she!

"I understand we're going home on the same ship!" he was saying.

She looked up at him, almost appealingly.

"You won't see anything of me, though," she said.

"Why not?"

"Tell me," said she, not answering his question, "what do they say of me, really, in England? I don't mean the newspapers. For instance, well--the Azure Society. Do you know it?"

He nodded.

"Tell me," she repeated.

He related the episode of the telegram at the private first performance of "The Orient Pearl."

She burst out in a torrent of irrelevant protest:

"The New York police have not treated me right. It would have cost them nothing to arrest me and let me go. But they wouldn't. Every man in the force--you hear me, every man--has had strict orders to leave me unmolested. It seems they resent my dealings with the police in Chicago, where I brought about the dismissal of four officers, so they say. And so I'm to be boycotted in this manner! Is that argument, Mr. Machin? Tell me. You're a man, but honestly, is it argument? Why, it's just as mean and despicable as brute force."

"I agree with you," said Edward Henry, softly.

"Do they really think it will harm the militant cause? Do they _really think so? No, it will only harm me. I made a mistake in tactics. I trusted--fool!--to the chivalry of the United States. I might have been arrested in a dozen cities, but I on purpose reserved my last two arrests for Chicago and New York, for the sake of the superior advertisement, you see! I never dreamt--! Now it's too late. I am defeated! I shall just arrive in London on the hundredth day. I shall have made speeches at all the meetings. But I shall be short of one arrest. And the ten thousand pounds will be lost to the cause. The militants here--such as they are--are as disgusted as I am. But they scorn me. And are they not right? Are they not right? There should be no quarter for the vanquished."

"Miss Joy," said Edward Henry, "I've come over from London specially to see you. I want to make up the loss of that ten thousand pounds as far as I can. I'll explain at once. I'm running a poetical play of the highest merit, called 'The Orient Pearl,' at my new theatre in Piccadilly Circus. If you will undertake a small part in it--a part of three words only--I'll pay you a record salary, sixty-six pounds thirteen and four-pence a word--two hundred pounds a week!"

Isabel Joy jumped up.

"Are you another of them, then?" she muttered. "I did think from the look of you that you would know a gentlewoman when you met one! Did you imagine for the thousandth part of one second that I would stoop--"

"Stoop!" exclaimed Edward Henry. "My theatre is not a music-hall--"

"You want to make it into one!" she stopped him.

"Good day to you," she said. "I must face those journalists again, I suppose. Well, even they--! I came alone in order to avoid them. But it was hopeless. Besides, is it my duty to avoid them--after all?"

It was while passing through the door that she uttered the last words.

"Where is she?" Seven Sachs inquired, entering.

"Fled!" said Edward Henry.

"Everything all right?"

"Quite!"

Mr. Rentoul Smiles came in.

"Mr. Smiles," said Edward Henry, "did you ever photograph Sir John Pilgrim?"

"I did, on his last visit to New York. Here you are!"

He pointed to his rendering of Sir John.

"What did you think of him?"

"A great actor, but a mountebank, sir."

During the remainder of the afternoon Edward Henry saw the whole of New York, with bits of the Bronx and Yonkers in the distance, from Seven Sachs's second automobile. In his third automobile he went to the theatre and saw Seven Sachs act to a house of over two thousand dollars. And lastly he attended a supper and made a speech. But he insisted upon passing the remainder of the night on the _Lithuania_. In the morning Isabel Joy came on board early and irrevocably disappeared into her berth. And from that moment Edward Henry spent the whole secret force of his individuality in fervently desiring the _Lithuania to start. At two o'clock, two hours late, she did start. Edward Henry's farewells to the admirable and hospitable Mr. Sachs were somewhat absent-minded, for already his heart was in London. But he had sufficient presence of mind to make certain final arrangements.

"Keep him at least a week," said Edward Henry to Seven Sachs, "and I shall be your debtor for ever and ever."

He meant Carlo Trent, still bedridden.

As from the receding ship he gazed in abstraction at the gigantic inconvenient word--common to three languages--which is the first thing seen by the arriving, and the last thing seen by the departing, visitor, he meditated:

"The dearness of living in the United States has certainly been exaggerated."

For his total expenses, beyond the confines of the quay, amounted to one cent, disbursed to buy an evening paper which had contained a brief interview with himself concerning the future of the intellectual drama in England. He had told the pressman that "The Orient Pearl" would run a hundred nights. Save for putting "The Orient Girl" instead of "The Orient Pearl," and two hundred nights instead of one hundred nights, this interview was tolerably accurate.


IV

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 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 something 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.

"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!"

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.


V

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 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 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.


VI

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 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 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.


VII

The next night, just before the curtain went up, he stood on the stage of the Regent Theatre, and it is a fact that he was trembling--not with fear but with simple excitement.

Through what a day he had passed! There had been the rehearsal in the morning; it had gone off very well, save that Rose Euclid had behaved impossibly, and that the Cunningham girl, the hit of the piece but ousted from her part, had filled the place with just lamentations and recriminations.

And then had followed the appalling scene with Rose Euclid. Rose, leaving the theatre for lunch, had beheld workmen removing her name from the electric sign and substituting that of Isabel Joy! She was a woman and an artist, and it would have been the same had she been a man and an artist. She would not submit to this inconceivable affront. She had resigned her _role_. She had ripped her contract to bits and flung the bits to the breeze. Upon the whole Edward Henry had been glad. He had sent for Miss Cunningham, who was Rose's understudy, had given her her instructions, called another rehearsal for the afternoon, and effected a saving of nearly half Isabel Joy's fantastic salary. Then he had entered into financial negotiations with four evening papers and managed to buy, at a price, their contents-bills for the day. So that all the West End was filled with men and boys wearing like aprons posters which bore the words: "Isabel Joy to appear at the Regent to-night." A great and an original stroke!

And now he gazed through the peep-hole of the curtain upon a crammed and half-delirious auditorium. The assistant stage-manager ordered him off. The curtain went up on the drama in hexameters. He waited in the wings, and spoke soothingly to Isabel Joy, who, looking juvenile in the airy costume of the Messenger, stood flutteringly agog for her cue.... He heard the thunderous crashing roar that met her entrance. He did not hear her line. He walked forth to the glazed balcony at the front of the house, where in the _entr'actes dandies smoked cigarettes baptized with girlish names. He could see Piccadilly Circus, and he saw Piccadilly Circus thronged with a multitude of loafers who were happy in the mere spectacle of Isabel Joy's name glowing on an electric sign. He went back at last to the managerial room. Marrier was there, hero-worshipping.

"Got the figures yet?" he asked.

Marrier beamed.

"Two hundred and sixty pounds. As long as it keeps up it means a profit of getting on for two hundred a naight!"

"But, dash it, man, the house only holds two hundred and thirty."

"But my good sir," said Marrier, "they're paying ten shillings a piece to stand up in the dress-circle."

Edward Henry dropped into a chair at the desk. A telegram was lying there, addressed to himself.

"What's this?" he demanded.

"Just cam."

He opened it and read:

* * * * *

"I absolutely forbid this monstrous outrage on a work of art.--TRENT."

* * * * *

"Bit late in the day, isn't he?" said Edward Henry, showing the telegram to Marrier.

"Besides," Marrier observed, "he'll come round when he knows what his royalties are."

"Well," said Edward Henry, "I'm going to bed." And he gave a devastating yawn.


VIII

One afternoon Edward Henry sat in the king of all the easy-chairs in the drawing-room of his house in Trafalgar Road, Bursley. Although the month was September, and the weather warm even for September, a swansdown quilt lay spread upon his knees. His face was pale--his hands were paler; but his eye was clear and his visage enlightened. His beard had grown to nearly its original dimensions. On a chair by his side were a number of letters to which he had just dictated answers. At a neighbouring table a young clerk was using a typewriter. Stretched at full length on the sofa was Robert Machin, engaged in the perusal of the second edition of that day's _Signal_. Of late Robert, having exhausted nearly all available books, had been cultivating during his holidays an interest in journalism, and he would give great accounts, in the nursery, of events happening in each day's instalment of the _Signal's sensational serial. His heels kicked idly one against the other.

A powerful voice resounded in the lobby, and Dr Stirling entered the room with Nellie.

"Well, doc.!" Edward Henry greeted him.

"So you're in full blast again!" observed the doctor, using a metaphor invented by the population of a district where the roar of furnaces wakens the night.

"No!" Edward Henry protested, as an invalid always will. "I'm only just keeping an eye on one or two pressing things."

"Of course he's in full blast!" said Nellie with calm conviction.

"What's this I hear about ye ganging away to the seaside, Saturday?" asked the doctor.

"Well, can't I?" said Edward Henry.

"Ye can," said the doctor. "Let's have a look at ye, man."

"What was it you said I've had?" Edward Henry questioned.

"Colitis."

"Yes, that's the word. I thought I couldn't have got it wrong. Well, you should have seen my mother's face when I told her what you called it. She said, 'He may call it that if he's a mind to, but we had another name for it in my time.' You should have heard her sniff!... Look here, doc., do you know you've had me down now for pretty near three months?"

"Nay," said Stirling, "it's yer own obstinacy that's had ye down, man. If ye'd listened to yer London doctor at first, mayhap ye wouldn't have had to travel from Euston in an invalid's carriage. If ye hadn't had the misfortune to be born an obstinate simpleton ye'd ha' been up and about six weeks back. But there's no doing anything with you geniuses. It's all nerves with you and your like."

"Nerves!" exclaimed Edward Henry, pretending to scorn. But he was delighted at the diagnosis.

"Nerves," repeated the doctor, firmly. "Ye go gadding off to America. Ye get yeself mixed up in theatres.... How's the theatre? I see yer famous play's coming to an end next week."

"And what if it is?" said Edward Henry, jealous for reputations, including his own. "It will have run for a hundred and one nights. And right through August too! No modern poetry play ever did run as long in London, and no other ever will. I've given the intellectual theatre the biggest ad. it ever had. And I've made money on it. I should have made more if I'd ended the run a fortnight ago, but I was determined to pass the hundredth night. And I shall do!"

"And what are ye for giving next?"

"I'm not for giving anything next, doc. I've let the Regent for five years at seven thousand five hundred pounds a year to a musical comedy syndicate, since you're so curious. And when I've paid the ground rent and taxes and repairs, and something towards a sinking-fund, and six per cent on my capital, I shall have not far off two thousand pounds a year clear annual profit. You may say what you like, but that's what I call business!"

It was a remarkable fact that, while giving undemanded information to Dr. Stirling, Edward Henry was in reality defending himself against the accusations of his wife--accusations which, by the way, she had never uttered, but which he thought he read sometimes in her face. He might of course have told his wife these agreeable details directly, and in private. But he was a husband, and, like many husbands, apt to be indirect.

Nellie said not a word.

"Then you're giving up London?" The doctor rose to depart.

"I am," said Edward Henry, almost blushing.

"Why?"

"Well," the genius answered. "Those theatrical things are altogether too exciting and risky! And they're such queer people--Great Scott! I've come out on the right side, as it happens, but--well, I'm not as young as I was. I've done with London. The Five Towns are good enough for me."

Nellie, unable to restrain a note of triumph, indiscreetly remarked, with just the air of superior sagacity that in a wife drives husbands to fury and to foolishness:

"I should think so indeed!"

Edward Henry leaped from his chair, and the swansdown quilt swathed his slippered feet.

"Nell," he exploded, clenching his hand. "If you say that once more in that tone--once more, mind!--I'll go and take a flat in London to-morrow!"

The doctor crackled with laughter. Nellie smiled. Even Robert, who had completely ignored the doctor's entrance, glanced round with creased brows.

"Sit down, dearest," Nellie quietly enjoined the invalid.

But he would not sit down, and, to show his independence, he helped his wife to escort Stirling into the lobby.

Robert, now alone with the ignored young clerk tapping at the table, turned towards him, and in his deliberate, judicial, disdainful, childish voice said to him:

"Isn't father a funny man?"


(THE END)
Arnold Bennett's Novel: Regent: A Five Towns Story of Adventure in London

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