E. Arnold Bennett
Part 4 out of 6
belong to him or to his more or less distant connections) while the
carriage waited. Once Lord Woldo sat on a chair, but the chief nurse's
lap was between him and the chair-seat. Both nurses chattered to him
in Kensingtonian accents, but he offered no replies.
"Go back to 262," said Edward Henry to his chauffeur.
Arrived again in Eaton Square, he did not give himself time to be
imposed upon by the grandiosity of the square in general, nor of No.
262 in particular. He just ran up the steps and rang the visitors'
"After all," he said to himself as he waited, "these houses aren't
even semi-detached! They're just houses in a row, and I bet every one
of 'em can hear the piano next door!"
The butler whom he had previously caught sight of opened the great
"I want to see Lady Woldo."
"Her ladyship--" began the formidable official.
"Now, look here, my man," said Edward Henry, rather in desperation, "I
must see Lady Woldo instantly. It's about the baby--"
"About his lordship?"
"Yes. And look lively, please."
He stepped into the sombre and sumptuous hall.
"Well," he reflected, "I _am_ going it--no mistake!"
He was in a large back drawing-room, of which the window, looking
north, was in rich stained glass. "No doubt because they're ashamed of
the view," he said to himself. The size of the chimneypiece impressed
him, and also its rich carving. "But what an old-fashioned grate!" he
said to himself. "They need gilt radiators here." The doorway was a
marvel of ornate sculpture, and he liked it. He liked, too, the
effect of the oil-paintings--mainly portraits--on the walls, and the
immensity of the brass fender, and the rugs, and the leather-work of
the chairs. But there could be no question that the room was too dark
for the taste of any householder clever enough to know the difference
between a house and a church.
There was a plunging noise at the door behind him.
"What's amiss?" he heard a woman's voice. And as he heard it he
thrilled with sympathetic vibrations. It was not a North Staffordshire
voice, but it was a South Yorkshire voice, which is almost the same
thing. It seemed to him to be the first un-Kensingtonian voice to
soothe his ear since he had left the Five Towns. Moreover, nobody born
south of the Trent would have said, "What's amiss?" A southerner
would have said, "What's the matter?" Or, more probably, "What's the
He turned and saw a breathless and very beautiful woman, of about
twenty-nine or thirty, clothed in black, and she was in the act
of removing from her lovely head what looked like a length of red
flannel. He noticed, too, simultaneously, that she was suffering
from a heavy cold. A majestic footman behind her closed the door and
"Are you Lady Woldo?" Edward Henry asked.
"Yes," she said. "What's this about my baby?"
"I've just seen him in Hyde Park," said Edward Henry. "And I observed
that a rash had broken out all over his face."
"I know that," she replied. "It began this morning, all of a sudden
like. But what of it? I was rather alarmed myself, as it's the first
rash he's had and he's the first baby I've had--and he'll be the last
too. But everybody said it was nothing. He's never been out without
me before, but I had such a cold. Now you don't mean to tell me that
you've come down specially from Hyde Park to inform me about that
rash. I'm not such a simpleton as all that." She spoke in one long
"I'm sure you're not," said he. "But we've had a good deal of rash in
our family, and it just happens that I've got a remedy--a good sound
north-country remedy--and it struck me you might like to know of it.
So if you like I'll telegraph to my missis for the recipe. Here's my
She read his name, title and address.
"Well," she said, "it's very kind of you, I'm sure, Mr. Machin. I
knew you must come from up there the moment ye spoke. It does one
good above a bit to hear a plain north-country voice after all this
She blew her lovely nose.
"Doesn't it!" Edward Henry agreed. "That was just what I thought when
I heard you say 'Bless us!' Do you know, I've been in London only a
two-three days, and I assure you I was beginning to feel lonely for a
bit of the Midland accent!"
"Yes," she said, "London's lonely!" And sighed.
"My eldest was bitten by a dog the other day," he went on, in the vein
"Oh, don't!" she protested.
"Yes. Gave us a lot of anxiety. All right now! You might like to
know that cyanide gauze is a good thing to put on a wound--supposing
anything should happen to yours--"
"Oh, don't!" she protested. "I do hope and pray Robert will never be
bitten by a dog. Was it a big dog?"
"Fair," said Edward Henry. "So his name's Robert! So's my eldest's!"
"Really now! They wanted him to be called Robert Philip Stephen
Darrand Patrick. But I wouldn't have it. He's just Robert. I did have
my own way _there_! You know he was born six months after his father's
"And I suppose he's ten months now?"
"No. Only six."
"Great Scott! He's big!" said Edward Henry.
"Well," said she, "he is. I am, you see."
"Now, Lady Woldo," said Edward Henry in a new tone, "as we're both
from the same part of the country I want to be perfectly straight and
above-board with you. It's quite true--all that about the rash. And I
did think you'd like to know. But that's not really what I came to see
you about. You understand, not knowing you, I fancied there might be
some difficulty in getting at you--"
"Oh! no!" she said simply. "Everybody gets at me."
"Well, I didn't know, you see. So I just mentioned the baby to begin
"I hope you're not after money," she said, almost plaintively.
"I'm not," he said. "You can ask anybody in Bursley or Hanbridge
whether I'm the sort of man to go out on the cadge."
"I once was in the chorus in a panto at Hanbridge," she said. "Don't
they call Bursley 'Bosley' down there--'owd Bosley'?"
Edward Henry dealt suitably with these remarks, and then gave her a
judicious version of the nature of his business, referring several
times to Mr. Rollo Wrissell.
"Mr. Wrissell!" she murmured, smiling.
"In the end I told Mr. Wrissell to go and bury himself," said Edward
Henry. "And that's about as far as I've got."
"Oh, don't!" she said, her voice weak from suppressed laughter, and
then the laughter burst forth uncontrollable.
"Yes," he said, delighted with himself and her. "I told him to go and
bury himself!" "I suppose you don't like Mr. Wrissell?"
"Well--" he temporized.
"I didn't at first," she said. "I hated him. But I like him now,
though I must say I adore teasing him. Mr. Wrissell is what I call
a gentleman. You know he was Lord Woldo's heir. And when Lord Woldo
married me it was a bit of a blow for him! But he took it like a lamb.
He never turned a hair, and he was more polite than any of them.
I daresay you know Lord Woldo saw me in a musical comedy at
Scarborough--he has a place near there, ye know. Mr. Wrissell had
made him angry about some of his New Thought fads, and I do believe
he asked me to marry him just to annoy Mr. Wrissell. He used to say to
me, my husband did, that he'd married me in too much of a hurry,
and that it was too bad on Mr. Wrissell. And then he laughed, and I
laughed too. 'After all,' he used to say, my husband did, 'To marry an
actress is an accident that might happen to any member of the House
of Lords--and it does happen to a lot of 'em--but they don't marry
anything as beautiful as you, Blanche,' he used to say. 'And you stick
up for yourself, Blanche,' he used to say. 'I'll stand by you,' he
said. He was a straight 'un, my husband was. They left me alone until
he died. And then they began--I mean his folks. And when Bobbie was
born it got worse. Only I must say even then Mr. Wrissell never turned
a hair. Everybody seemed to make out that I ought to be very grateful
to them, and I ought to think myself very lucky. Me--a peeress of the
realm! They wanted me to change. But how could I change? I was Blanche
Wilmot--on the road for ten years--never got a show in London--and
Blanche Wilmot I shall ever be--peeress or no peeress! It was no joke
being Lord Woldo's wife, I can tell you, and it's still less of a joke
being Lord Woldo's mother! You imagine it. It's worse than carrying
about a china vase all the time on a slippery floor! Am I any happier
now than I was before I married? Well, I _am_! There's more worry in
one way, but there's less in another. And of course I've got Bobbie!
But it isn't all beer and skittles, and I let 'em know it, too. I
can't do what I like! And I'm just a sort of exile, you know. I used
to enjoy being on the stage and showing myself off. A hard life,
but one does enjoy it. And one gets used to it. One gets to need
it. Sometimes I feel I'd give anything to be able to go on the stage
She sneezed; then took breath.
"Shall I put some more coal on the fire?" Edward Henry suggested.
"Perhaps I'd better ring," she hesitated.
"No, I'll do it."
He put coal on the fire.
"And if you'd feel easier with that flannel round your head, please do
put it on again."
"Well," she said, "I will. My mother used to say there was naught like
red flannel for a cold."
With an actress's skill she arranged the flannel, and from its
encircling folds her face emerged bewitching--and she knew it. Her
complexion had suffered in ten years of the road, but its extreme
beauty could not yet be denied. And Edward Henry thought:
"All the _really_ pretty girls come from the Midlands!"
"Here I am rambling on," she said. "I always was a rare rambler. What
do you want me to do?"
"Exert your influence," he replied. "Don't you think it's rather hard
on Rose Euclid--treating her like this? Of course people say all sorts
of things about Rose Euclid--"
"I won't hear a word against Rose Euclid," cried Lady Woldo. "Whenever
she was on tour, if she knew any of us were resting in the town where
she was she'd send us seats. And many's the time I've cried and cried
at her acting. And then she's the life and soul of the Theatrical
"And isn't that your husband's signature?" he demanded, showing the
"Of course it is."
He did not show her the covering letter.
"And I've no doubt my husband _wanted_ a theatre built there, and he
wanted to do Rose Euclid a good turn. And I'm quite positive certain
sure that he didn't want any of Mr. Wrissell's rigmaroles on his land.
He wasn't that sort, my husband wasn't.... You must go to law about
it," she finished.
"Yes," said Edward Henry, protestingly. "And a pretty penny it would
cost me! And supposing I lost, after all?... You never know. There's a
much easier way than going to law,"
"What is it?"
"As I say--you exert your influence, Lady Woldo. Write and tell them
I've seen you and you insist--"
"Eh! Bless you! They'd twist me round their little finger. I'm not a
fool, but I'm not very clever--I know that. I shouldn't know whether
I was standing on my head or my heels by the time they'd done with me.
I've tried to face them out before--about things."
"Who--Mr. Wrissell, or Slossons?"
"Both? Eh, but I should like to put a spoke in Mr. Wrissell's
wheel--gentleman as he is. You see he's just one of those men you
can't help wanting to tease. When you're on the road you meet lots of
"I tell you what you can do!"
"Write and tell Slossons that you don't wish them to act for you any
more, and you'll go to another firm of solicitors. That would bring
'em to their senses."
"Can't! They're in the will. _He_ settled that. That's why they're so
Edward Henry persisted--and this time with an exceedingly impressive
and conspiratorial air:
"I tell you another thing you could do--you really _could_ do--and it
depends on nobody but yourself."
"Well," she said with decision. "I'll do it."
"Whatever it is?"
"If it's straight."
"Of course it's straight. And it would be a grand way of teasing
Mr. Wrissell and all of 'em! A simply grand way! I should die of
At this critical point the historic conversation was interrupted
by phenomena in the hall which Lady Woldo recognized with feverish
excitement. Lord Woldo had safely returned from Hyde Park. Starting
up, she invited Edward Henry to wait a little. A few moments later
they were bending over the infant together, and Edward Henry was
offering his views on the cause and cure of rash.
Early on the same afternoon Edward Henry managed by a somewhat
excessive obstreperousness to penetrate once more into the private
room of Mr. Slosson, senior, who received him in silence.
He passed a document to Mr. Slosson.
"It's only a copy," he said. "But the original is in my pocket, and
to-morrow it will be duly stamped. I'll give you the original in
exchange for the stamped lease of my Piccadilly Circus plot of land.
You know the money is waiting."
Mr. Slosson perused the document; and it was certainly to his credit
that he did so without any superficial symptoms of dismay.
"What will Mr. Wrissell and the Woldo family say about that, do you
think?" asked Edward Henry.
"Lady Woldo will never be allowed to carry it out," said Mr. Slosson.
"Who's going to stop her? She must carry it out. She wants to carry it
out. She's dying to carry it out. Moreover, I shall communicate it to
the papers to-night--unless you and I come to an arrangement. And
if by any chance she doesn't carry it out--well, there'll be a fine
society action about it, you can bet your boots, Mr. Slosson."
The document was a contract made between Blanche Lady Woldo of the one
part and Edward Henry Machin of the other part, whereby Blanche Lady
Woldo undertook to appear in musical comedy at any West End Theatre to
be named by Edward Henry, at a salary of two hundred pounds a week for
a period of six months.
"You've not got a theatre," said Mr. Slosson.
"I can get half a dozen in an hour--with that contract in my hand,"
said Edward Henry.
And he knew from Mr. Slosson's face that he had won.
That evening, feeling that he had earned a little recreation, he went
to the Empire Theatre--not in Hanbridge, but in Leicester Square,
London. The lease, with a prodigious speed hitherto unknown at
Slossons', had been drawn up, engrossed and executed. The Piccadilly
Circus land was his for sixty-four years.
"And I've got the old Chapel pulled down for nothing," he said to
He was rather happy as he wandered about amid the brilliance of the
Empire Promenade. But after half an hour of such exercise and of vain
efforts to see or hear what was afoot on the stage, he began to feel
rather lonely. Then it was that he caught sight of Mr. Alloyd, the
architect, also lonely.
"Well," said Mr. Alloyd, curtly, with a sardonic smile. "They've
telephoned me all about it. I've seen Mr. Wrissell. Just my luck! So
you're the man! He pointed you out to me this morning. My design for
that church would have knocked the West End! Of course Mr. Wrissell
will pay me compensation, but that's not the same thing. I wanted the
advertisement of the building.... Just my luck! Have a drink, will
Edward Henry ultimately went with the plaintive Mr. Alloyd to his
rooms in Adelphi Terrace. He quitted those rooms at something after
two o'clock in the morning. He had practically given Mr. Alloyd a
definite commission to design the Regent Theatre. Already he was
practically the proprietor of a first-class theatre in the West End of
"I wonder whether Master Seven Sachs could have bettered my day's work
to-day!" he reflected as he got into a taxi-cab. He had dismissed
his electric brougham earlier in the evening. "I doubt if even Master
Seven Sachs himself wouldn't be proud of my little scheme in Eaton
Square!" said he.... "Wilkins's Hotel, please, driver."
On a morning in spring Edward Henry got out of an express at Euston
which had come, not from the Five Towns, but from Birmingham. Having
on the previous day been called to Birmingham on local and profitable
business, he had found it convenient to spend the night there
and telegraph home that London had summoned him. It was in this
unostentatious, this half-furtive fashion, that his visits to London
now usually occurred. Not that he was afraid of his wife! Not that he
was afraid even of his mother! Oh, no! He was merely rather afraid of
himself--of his own opinion concerning the metropolitan, non-local,
speculative and perhaps unprofitable business to which he was
committed. The fact was that he could scarcely look his women in
the face when he mentioned London. He spoke vaguely of "real estate"
enterprise, and left it at that. The women made no inquiries; they too
left it at that. Nevertheless ...!
The episode of Wilkins's was buried, but it was imperfectly buried.
The Five Towns definitely knew that he had stayed at Wilkins's for
a bet, and that Brindley had discharged the bet. And rumours of his
valet, his electric brougham, his theatrical supper-parties, had
mysteriously hung in the streets of the Five Towns like a strange
vapour. Wisps of the strange vapour had conceivably entered the
precincts of his home, but nobody ever referred to them; nobody ever
sniffed apprehensively nor asked anybody else whether there was not
a smell of fire. The discreetness of the silence was disconcerting.
Happily his relations with that angel his wife were excellent. She
had carried angelicism so far as not to insist on the destruction of
Carlo; and she had actually applauded, while sticking to her white
apron, the sudden and startling extravagances of his toilette.
On the whole, though little short of thirty-five thousand pounds would
ultimately be involved--not to speak of a liability of nearly three
thousand a year for sixty-four years for ground-rent--Edward Henry was
not entirely gloomy as to his prospects. He was, indubitably thinner
in girth; novel problems and anxieties, and the constant annoyance
of being in complete technical ignorance of his job, had removed some
flesh. (And not a bad thing, either!) But on the other hand his
chin exhibited one proof that life was worth living, and that he had
discovered new faith in life and a new conviction of youthfulness.
He had shaved off his beard.
"Well, sir!" a voice greeted him full of hope and cheer, immediately
his feet touched the platform.
It was the voice of Mr. Marrier. Edward Henry and Mr. Marrier were now
in regular relations. Before Edward Henry had paid his final bill at
Wilkins's and relinquished his valet and his electric brougham, and
disposed for ever of his mythical "man" on board the Minnetonka, and
got his original luggage away from the Hotel Majestic, Mr. Marrier had
visited him and made a certain proposition. And such was the influence
of Mr. Marrier's incurable smile and of his solid optimism and of his
obvious talent for getting things done on the spot (as witness the
photography), that the proposition had been accepted. Mr. Marrier was
now Edward Henry's "representative" in London. At the Green Room
Club Mr. Marrier informed reliable cronies that he was Edward Henry's
"confidential adviser." At the Turk's Head, Hanbridge, Edward Henry
informed reliable cronies that Mr. Marrier was a sort of clerk,
factotum, or maid-of-all-work. A compromise between these two very
different conceptions of Mr. Marrier's position had been arrived at
in the word "representative." The real truth was that Edward Henry
employed Mr. Marrier in order to listen to Mr. Marrier. He turned on
Mr. Marrier like a tap, and nourished himself from a gushing stream of
useful information concerning the theatrical world. Mr. Marrier,
quite unconsciously, was bit by bit remedying Edward Henry's acute
The question of wages had caused Edward Henry some apprehensions.
He had learnt in a couple of days that a hundred pounds a week was a
trifle on the stage. He had soon heard of performers who worked for
"nominal" salaries of forty and fifty a week. For a manager twenty
pounds a week seemed to be a usual figure. But in the Five Towns three
pounds a week is regarded as very goodish pay for any sub-ordinate,
and Edward Henry could not rid himself all at once of native
standards. He had therefore, with diffidence, offered three pounds a
week to the aristocratic Marrier. And Mr. Marrier had not refused
it, nor ceased to smile. On three pounds a week he haunted the best
restaurants, taxi-cabs, and other resorts, and his garb seemed always
to be smarter than Edward Henry's--especially in such details as
Of course Mr. Marrier had a taxi-cab waiting exactly opposite the
coach from which Edward Henry descended. It was just this kind of
efficient attention that was gradually endearing him to his employer.
"How goes it?" said Edward Henry, curtly, as they drove down to
the Grand Babylon Hotel--now Edward Henry's regular headquarters in
Said Mr. Marrier:
"I suppose you've seen another of 'em's got a knighthood?"
"No," said Edward Henry. "Who?" He knew that by "'em" Mr. Marrier
meant the great race of actor-managers.
"Gerald Pompey. Something to do with him being a sheriff in the City,
you know. I bet you what you laike he went in for the Common Council
simply in order to get even with old Pilgrim. In fact I know he did.
And now a foundation-stone-laying has dan it."
"Yes. The new City Guild's building, you knaow. Royalty--Temple Bar
business--sheriffs--knighthood. There you are!"
"Oh!" said Edward Henry. And then after a pause added: "Pity _we_
can't have a foundation-stone-laying!"
"By the way, old Pilgrim's in the deuce and all of a haole, I heah.
It's all over the Clubs." (In speaking of the Clubs Mr. Marrier always
pronounced them with a capital letter.) "I told you he was going
to sail from Tilbury on his world-tour, and have a grand embarking
ceremony and seeing-off! Just laike him! Greatest advertiser the world
ever saw! Well, since that P. & O. boat was lost on the Goodwins, Cora
Pryde has absolutely declined to sail from Tilbury. Ab-so-lute-ly!
Swears she'll join the steamer at Marseilles. And Pilgrim has got to
go with her, too."
"Well, even Pilgrim couldn't have a grand embarking ceremony without
his leading lady! He's furious, I hear."
"Why shouldn't he go with her?"
"Why not? Because he's formally announced his grand embarking
ceremony! Invitations are out. Barge from London Bridge to Tilbury,
and so on! What he wants is a good excuse for giving it up. He'd never
be able to admit that he'd had to give it up because Cora Pryde made
him! He wants to save his face."
"Well," said Edward Henry, absently. "It's a queer world. You've got
me a room at the Grand Bab?"
"Then let's go and have a look at the Regent first," said Edward
No sooner had he expressed the wish than Mr. Harrier's neck curved
round through the window, and with three words to the chauffeur he had
deflected the course of the taxi.
Edward Henry had an almost boyish curiosity about his edifice. He
would go and give it a glance at the oddest moments. And just now he
had a swift and violent desire to behold it. With all speed the taxi
shot down Shaftesbury Avenue and swerved to the right....
There it was! Yes, it really existed, the incredible edifice of his
caprice and of Mr. Alloyd's constructive imagination! It had already
reached a height of fifteen feet; and, dozen of yards above that,
cranes dominated the sunlit air, swinging loads of bricks in the
azure; and scores of workmen crawled about beneath these monsters. And
he, Edward Henry, by a single act of volition, was the author of it!
He slipped from the taxi, penetrated within the wall of hoardings,
and gazed, just gazed! A wondrous thing--human enterprise! And also
a terrifying thing!... That building might be the tomb of his
reputation. On the other hand, it might be the seed of a new renown
compared to which the first would be as naught! He turned his eyes
away, in fear--yes, in fear!
"I say," he said. "Will Sir John Pilgrim be out of bed yet, d'ye
think?" He glanced at his watch. The hour was about eleven.
"He'll be at breakfast."
"I'm going to see him, then. What's his address?"
"25 Queen Anne's Gate. But do you knaow him? I do. Shall I cam with
"No," said Edward Henry, shortly. "You go on with my bags to the Grand
Bab, and get me another taxi. I'll see you in my room at the hotel at
a quarter to one. Eh?"
"Rather!" agreed Mr. Marrier, submissive.
"Sole proprietor of the Regent Theatre."
These were the words which Edward Henry wrote on a visiting-card
and which procured him immediate admittance to the unique
spectacle--reputed to be one of the most enthralling sights in
London--of Sir John Pilgrim at breakfast.
In a very spacious front-room of his flat (so celebrated for its
Gobelins tapestries and its truly wonderful parquet-flooring) sat Sir
John Pilgrim at a large hexagonal mahogany table. At one side of the
table a small square of white diaper was arranged, and on this square
were an apparatus for boiling eggs, another for making toast, and
a third for making coffee. Sir John, with the assistance of a young
Chinaman and a fox-terrier, who flitted around him, was indeed eating
and drinking. The vast remainder of the table was gleamingly bare,
save for newspapers and letters opened and unopened which Sir John
tossed about. Opposite to him sat a secretary whose fluffy hair,
neat white _chemisette_, and tender years gave her an appearance of
helpless fragility in front of the powerful and ruthless celebrity.
Sir John's crimson-socked left foot stuck out from the table, emerging
from the left half of a lovely new pair of brown trousers, and resting
on a piece of white paper. Before this white paper knelt a man in a
frock-coat who was drawing an outline on the paper round Sir John's
"You _are_ a bootmaker, aren't you?" Sir John was saying airily.
"Yes, Sir John."
"Excuse me!" said Sir John. "I only wanted to be sure. I fancied from
the way you caressed my corn with that pencil that you might be an
artist on one of the illustrated papers. My mistake!" He was bending
down. Then suddenly straightening himself he called across the room:
"I say, Givington, did you notice my pose then--my expression as I
used the word 'caressed'? How would that do?"
And Edward Henry now observed in a corner of the room a man, standing
in front of an easel and sketching somewhat grossly thereon in
charcoal. This man said:
"If you won't bother me, Sir John, I won't bother you."
"Ah! Givington! Ah! Givington!" murmured Sir John still more
airily--at breakfast he was either airy or nothing. "You're getting
on in the world. You aren't merely an A.R.A.;--you're making money! A
year ago you'd never have had the courage to address me in that tone.
Well, I sincerely congratulate you.... Here, Snip, here's my dentist's
bill--worry it, worry it! Good dog! Worry it!" (The dog growled now
over a torn document beneath the table.) "Miss Taft, you might see
that a _communique _ goes out to the effect that I gave my first
sitting to Mr. Saracen Givington, A.R.A., this morning. The activities
of Mr. Saracen Givington are of interest to the world, and rightly
so! You'd better come round to the other side for the right foot, Mr.
Bootmaker. The journey is simply nothing."
And then, and not till then, did Sir John Pilgrim turn his large and
handsome middle-aged blond face in the direction of Alderman Edward
"Pardon my curiosity," said Sir John, "but who are you?"
"My name is Machin--Alderman Machin," said Edward Henry. "I sent up my
card and you asked me to come in."
"Ha!" Sir John exclaimed, seizing an egg. "Will you crack an egg with
me, Alderman? I can crack an egg with anybody."
"Thanks," said Edward Henry. "I'll be very glad to." And he advanced
towards the table.
Sir John hesitated. The fact was that, though he dissembled his dismay
with marked histrionic skill, he was unquestionably overwhelmed by
astonishment. In the course of years he had airily invited hundreds
of callers to crack an egg with him--the joke was one of his
favourites--but nobody had ever ventured to accept the invitation.
"Chung," he said weakly, "lay a cover for the Alderman."
Edward Henry sat down quite close to Sir John. He could discern all
the details of Sir John's face and costume. The tremendous celebrity
was wearing a lounge-suit somewhat like his own, but instead of the
coat he had a blue dressing-jacket with crimson facings; the sleeves
ended in rather long wristbands, which were unfastened, the opal
cuff-links drooping each from a single hole. Perhaps for the first
time in his life Edward Henry intimately understood what idiosyncratic
elegance was. He could almost feel the emanating personality of Sir
John Pilgrim, and he was intimidated by it; he was intimidated by
its hardness, its harshness, its terrific egotism, its utterly brazen
quality. Sir John's glance was the most purely arrogant that Edward
Henry had ever encountered. It knew no reticence. And Edward Henry
thought: "When this chap dies he'll want to die in public, with the
reporters round his bed and a private secretary taking down messages."
"This is rather a lark," said Sir John, recovering.
"It is," said Edward Henry, who now felicitously perceived that a lark
it indeed was, and ought to be treated as such. "It shall be a lark!"
he said to himself.
Sir John dictated a letter to Miss Taft, and before the letter was
finished the grinning Chung had laid a place for Edward Henry, and
Snip had inspected him and passed him for one of the right sort.
"Had I said that this is rather a lark?" Sir John inquired, the letter
"I forget," said Edward Henry.
"Because I don't like to say the same thing twice over if I can help
it. It _is_ a lark though, isn't it?"
"Undoubtedly," said Edward Henry, decapitating an egg. "I only hope
that I'm not interrupting you."
"Not in the least," said Sir John. "Breakfast is my sole free time. In
another half hour I assure you I shall be attending to three or four
things at once." He leant over towards Edward Henry. "But between you
and me, Alderman, quite privately, if it isn't a rude question, what
did you come for?"
"Well," said Edward Henry, "as I wrote on my card, I'm the sole
proprietor of the Regent Theatre--"
"But there is no Regent Theatre," Sir John interrupted him.
"No. Not strictly. But there will be. It's in course of construction.
We're up to the first floor."
"Dear me! A suburban theatre, no doubt?"
"Do you mean to say, Sir John," cried Edward Henry, "that you haven't
noticed it? It's within a few yards of Piccadilly Circus."
"Really!" said Sir John. "You see my theatre is in Lower Regent Street
and I never go to Piccadilly Circus. I make a point of not going
to Piccadilly Circus. Miss Taft, how long is it since I went to
Piccadilly Circus? Forgive me, young woman, I was forgetting--you
aren't old enough to remember. Well, never mind details.... And what
is there remarkable about the Regent Theatre, Alderman?"
"I intend it to be a theatre of the highest class, Sir John," said
Edward Henry. "Nothing but the very best will be seen on its boards."
"That's not remarkable, Alderman. We're all like that. Haven't you
"Then secondly," said Edward Henry, "I am the sole proprietor. I
have no financial backers, no mortgages, no partners. I have made no
contracts with anybody."
"That," said Sir John, "is not unremarkable. In fact many persons who
do not happen to possess my own robust capacity for belief might not
credit your statement."
"And thirdly," said Edward Henry, "every member of the audience--even
in the boxes, the most expensive seats--will have a full view of the
whole of the stage--or, in the alternative, at _matinees_, a full view
of a lady's hat."
"Alderman," said Sir John, gravely, "before I offer you another egg,
let me warn you against carrying remarkableness too far. You may be
regarded as eccentric if you go on like that. Some people, I am told,
don't want a view of the stage."
"Then they had better not come to my theatre," said Edward Henry.
"All which," commented Sir John, "gives me no clue whatever to the
reason why you are sitting here by my side and calmly eating my eggs
and toast, and drinking my coffee."
Admittedly, Edward Henry was nervous. Admittedly, he was a provincial
in the presence of one of the most illustrious personages in the
Empire. Nevertheless, he controlled his nervousness, and reflected:
"Nobody else from the Five Towns would or could have done what I am
doing. Moreover, this chap is a mountebank. In the Five Towns they
would kow-tow to him, but they would laugh at him. They would mighty
soon add _him_ up. Why should I be nervous? I'm as good as he is." He
finished with the thought which has inspired many a timid man with new
courage in a desperate crisis: "The fellow can't eat me."
Then he said aloud:
"I want to ask you a question, Sir John."
"One. Are you the head of the theatrical profession, or is Sir Gerald
"_Sir_ Gerald Pompey?"
"_Sir_ Gerald Pompey. Haven't you seen the papers this morning?"
Sir John Pilgrim turned pale. Springing up, he seized the topmost of
an undisturbed pile of daily papers, and feverishly opened it.
"Bah!" he muttered.
He was continually thus imitating his own behaviour on the stage. The
origin of his renowned breakfasts lay in the fact that he had once
played the part of a millionaire-ambassador who juggled at breakfast
with his own affairs and the affairs of the world. The stage-breakfast
of a millionaire-ambassador created by a playwright on the verge of
bankruptcy had appealed to his imagination and influenced all the
mornings of his life.
"They've done it just to irritate me as I'm starting off on my world's
tour," he muttered, coursing round the table. Then he stopped and
gazed at Edward Henry. "This is a political knighthood," said he. "It
has nothing to do with the stage. It is not like my knighthood, is
"Certainly not," Edward Henry agreed. "But you know how people will
talk, Sir John. People will be going about this very morning
and saying that Sir Gerald is at last the head of the theatrical
profession. I came here for your authoritative opinion. I know you're
Sir John resumed his chair.
"As for Pompey's qualifications as a head," he murmured, "I know
nothing of them. I fancy his heart is excellent. I only saw him twice,
once in his own theatre, and once in Bond Street. I should be inclined
to say that on the stage he looks more like a gentleman than any
gentleman ought to look, and that in the street he might be mistaken
for an actor.... How will that suit you?"
"It's a clue," said Edward Henry.
"Alderman!" exclaimed Sir John, "I believe that if I didn't keep a
firm hand on myself I should soon begin to like you. Have another cup
of coffee. Chung!... Good-bye, Bootmaker, good-bye!"
"I only want to know for certain who is the head," said Edward Henry,
"because I mean to invite the head of the theatrical profession to lay
the corner-stone of my new theatre."
"When do you start on your world's tour, Sir John?"
"I leave Tilbury, with my entire company, scenery and effects, on
the morning of Tuesday week, by the _Kandahar_. I shall play first at
"How awkward!" said Edward Henry. "I meant to ask you to lay the stone
on the very next afternoon--Wednesday, that is!"
"Yes, Sir John. The ceremony will be a very original affair--very
"A foundation-stone-laying!" mused Sir John. "But if you're already
up to the first floor, how can you be laying the foundation-stone on
"I didn't say foundation-stone. I said corners-tone," Edward Henry
corrected him. "An entire novelty! That's why we can't be ready before
"And you want to advertise your house by getting the head of the
profession to assist?"
"That is exactly my idea."
"Well," said Sir John, "whatever else you may lack, Mr. Alderman, you
are not lacking in nerve, if you expect to succeed in _that_."
Edward Henry smiled. "I have already heard, in a roundabout way," he
replied, "that Sir Gerald Pompey would not be unwilling to officiate.
My only difficulty is that I'm a truthful man by nature. Whoever
officiates I shall of course have to have him labelled, in my own
interests, as the head of the theatrical profession, and I don't want
to say anything that isn't true."
There was a pause.
"Now, Sir John, couldn't you stay a day or two longer in London, and
join the ship at Marseilles instead of going on board at Tilbury?"
"But I have made all my arrangements. The whole world knows that I am
going on board at Tilbury."
Just then the door opened, and a servant announced:
"Mr. Carlo Trent."
Sir John Pilgrim rushed like a locomotive to the threshold and seized
both Carlo Trent's hands with such a violence of welcome that Carlo
Trent's eyeglass fell out of his eye and the purple ribbon dangled to
"Come in, come in!" said Sir John. "And begin to read at once. I've
been looking out of the window for you for the last quarter of an
hour. Alderman, this is Mr. Carlo Trent, the well-known dramatic poet.
Trent, this is one of the greatest geniuses in London.... Ah! You know
each other? It's not surprising! No, don't stop to shake hands. Sit
down here, Trent. Sit down on this chair.... Here, Snip, take his hat.
Worry it! Worry it! Now, Trent, don't read to _me_. It might make you
nervous and hurried. Read to Miss Taft and Chung and to Mr. Givington
over there. Imagine that they are the great and enlightened public.
You have imagination, haven't you, being a poet?"
Sir John had accomplished the change of mood with the rapidity of a
transformation scene--in which form of art, by the way, he was a great
Carlo Trent, somewhat breathless, took a manuscript from his pocket,
opened it, and announced: "The Orient Pearl."
"Oh!" breathed Edward Henry.
For some thirty minutes Edward Henry listened to hexameters, the first
he had ever heard. The effect of them on his moral organism was
worse than he had expected. He glanced about at the other auditors.
Givington had opened a box of tubes and was spreading colours on his
palette. The Chinaman's eyes were closed while his face still grinned.
Snip was asleep on the parquet. Miss Taft bit the end of a pencil with
her agreeable teeth. Sir John Pilgrim lay at full length on a sofa,
occasionally lifting his legs. Edward Henry despaired of help in his
great need. But just as his desperation was becoming too acute to be
borne, Carlo Trent ejaculated the word "Curtain." It was the first
word that Edward Henry had clearly understood.
"That's the first act," said Carlo Trent, wiping his face. Snip
Edward Henry rose, and, in the hush, tiptoed round to the sofa.
"Good-bye, Sir John," he whispered.
"You're not going?"
"I am, Sir John."
The head of his profession sat up. "How right you are!" said he. "How
right you are! Trent, I knew from the first words it wouldn't do. It
lacks colour. I want something more crimson, more like the brighter
parts of this jacket, something--" He waved hands in the air. "The
Alderman agrees with me. He's going. Don't trouble to read any more,
Trent. But drop in any time--any time. Chung, what o'clock is it?"
"It is nearly noon," said Edward Henry, in the tone of an old friend.
"Well, I'm sorry you can't oblige me, Sir John. I'm off to see Sir
Gerald Pompey now."
"But who says I can't oblige you?" protested Sir John. "Who knows
what sacrifices I would not make in the highest interests of the
profession? Alderman, you jump to conclusions with the agility of an
acrobat, but they are false conclusions! Miss Taft, the telephone!
Chung, my coat! Good-bye, Trent, good-bye!"
An hour later Edward Henry met Mr. Marrier at the Grand Babylon Hotel.
"Well, sir," said Mr. Marrier, "you are the greatest man that ever
Mr. Marrier showed him the stop-press news of a penny evening paper,
which read: "Sir John Pilgrim has abandoned his ceremonious departure
from Tilbury, in order to lay the corner-stone of the new Regent
Theatre on Wednesday week. He and Miss Cora Pryde will join the
_Kandahar_ at Marseilles."
"You needn't do any advertaysing," said Mr. Marrier. "Pilgrim will do
all the advertaysing for you."
Edward Henry and Mr. Marrier worked together admirably that afternoon
on the arrangements for the corner-stone-laying. And--such was the
interaction of their separate enthusiasms--it soon became apparent
that all London (in the only right sense of the word "all") must and
would be at the ceremony. Characteristically, Mr. Marrier happened to
have a list or catalogue of all London in his pocket, and Edward Henry
appreciated him more than ever. But towards four o'clock Mr. Marrier
annoyed and even somewhat alarmed Edward Henry by a mysterious change
of mien. His assured optimism slipped away from him. He grew uneasy,
darkly preoccupied, and inefficient. At last, when the clock in the
room struck four, and Edward Henry failed to hear it, Mr. Marrier
"I'm afraid I shall have to ask you to excuse me now."
"I told you I had an appointment for tea at four."
"Did you? What is it?" Edward Henry demanded, with an employer's
instinctive assumption that souls as well as brains can be bought for
such sums as three pounds a week.
"I have a lady coming to tea here. That is, downstairs."
"In this hotel?"
"Who is it?" Edward Henry pursued lightly, for though he appreciated
Mr. Harrier, he also despised him. However, he found the grace to add:
"May one ask?"
"It's Miss Elsie April."
"Do you mean to say, Marrier," complained Edward Henry, "that you've
known Miss Elsie April all these months and never told me?... There
aren't two, I suppose? It's the cousin or something of Rose Euclid?"
Mr. Marrier nodded. "The fact is," he said, "she and I are joint
honorary organizing secretaries for the annual conference of the Azure
Society. You know--it leads the New Thought movement in England."
"You never told me that, either?"
"Didn't I, sir? I didn't think it would interest you. Besides, both
Miss April and I are comparatively new members."
"Oh," said Edward Henry, with all the canny provincial's conviction of
his own superior shrewdness; and he repeated, so as to intensify this
conviction and impress it on others, "Oh!" In the undergrowth of his
mind was the thought: "How dare this man whose brains belong to me be
the organizing secretary of something that I don't know anything about
and don't want to know anything about?"
"Yes," said Mr. Marrier, modestly.
"I say," Edward Henry inquired warmly, with an impulsive gesture, "who
"Who is she?" repeated Mr. Marrier, blankly.
"Yes. What does she do?"
"Doesn't do anything," said Mr. Marrier. "Very good amateur actress.
Goes about a great deal. Her mother was on the stage. Married a
wealthy wholesale corset-maker."
"Who did? Miss April?" Edward Henry had a twinge.
"No. Her mother. Both parents dead, and Miss April has an income--a
"What do you call considerable?"
"Five or six thousand a year."
"The deuce!" murmured Edward Henry.
"May have lost a bit of it, of course," Mr. Marrier hedged. "But not
much, not much!"
"Well," said Edward Henry, smiling, "what about _my_ tea? Am I to have
tea all by myself?"
"Will you come down and meet her?" Mr. Marrier's expression approached
"Well," said Edward Henry, "it's an idea, isn't it? Why should I be
the only person in London who doesn't know Miss Elsie April?"
It was ten minutes past four when they descended into the electric
publicity of the Grand Babylon. Amid the music and the rattle of
crockery and the gliding waiters and the large nodding hats that
gathered more and more thickly round the tables, there was no sign of
"She may have been and gone away again," said Edward Henry,
"Oh, no! She wouldn't go away." Mr. Marrier was positive.
In the tone of a man with an income of two hundred pounds a week he
ordered a table to be prepared for three.
At ten minutes to five he said:
"I hope she _hasn't_ been and gone away again!"
Edward Henry began to be gloomy and resentful. The crowded and
factitious gaiety of the place actually annoyed him. If Elsie April
had been and gone away again, he objected to such silly feminine
conduct. If she was merely late, he equally objected to such
unconscionable inexactitude. He blamed Mr. Marrier. He considered that
he had the right to blame Mr. Marrier because he paid him three pounds
a week. And he very badly wanted his tea.
Then their four eyes, which for forty minutes had scarcely left the
entrance staircase, were rewarded. She came, in furs, gleaming white
kid gloves, gold chains, a gold bag, and a black velvet hat.
"I'm not late, am I?" she said, after the introduction.
"No," they both replied. And they both meant it. For she was like fine
weather. The forty minutes of waiting were forgotten, expunged
from the records of time--just as the memory of a month of rain is
obliterated by one splendid sunny day.
Edward Henry enjoyed the tea, which was bad, to an extraordinary
degree. He became uplifted in the presence of Miss Elsie April;
whereas Mr. Marrier, strangely, drooped to still deeper depths of
unaccustomed inert melancholy. Edward Henry decided that she was every
bit as piquant, challenging and delectable as he had imagined her to
be on the day when he ate an artichoke at the next table to hers at
Wilkins's. She coincided exactly with his remembrance of her,
except that she was now slightly more plump. Her contours were
effulgent--there was no other word. Beautiful she was not, for she had
a turned-up nose; but what charm she radiated! Every movement and tone
enchanted Edward Henry. He was enchanted not at intervals, by a chance
gesture, but all the time--when she was serious, when she smiled,
when she fingered her tea-cup, when she pushed her furs back over her
shoulders, when she spoke of the weather, when she spoke of the
social crisis, and when she made fun, with a certain brief absence of
restraint--rather in her artichoke manner of making fun.
He thought and believed:
"This is the finest woman I ever saw!" He clearly perceived the
inferiority of other women, whom, nevertheless, he admired and liked,
such as the Countess of Chell and Lady Woldo.
It was not her brains, nor her beauty, nor her stylishness that
affected him. No! It was something mysterious and dizzying that
resided in every particle of her individuality.
"I've often and often wanted to see her again. And now I'm having tea
with her!" And he was happy.
"Have you got that list, Mr. Harrier?" she asked, in her low and
thrilling voice. So saying, she raised her eyebrows in expectation--a
delicious effect, especially behind her half-raised white veil.
Mr. Marrier produced a document.
"But that's _my_ list!" said Edward Henry.
"I'd better tell you." Mr. Marrier essayed a rapid explanation.
"Mr. Machin wanted a list of the raight sort of people to ask to the
corner-stone-laying of his theatah. So I used this as a basis."
Elsie April smiled again:
"Very good!" she approved.
"What _is_ your list, Marrier?" asked Edward Henry.
It was Elsie who replied:
"People to be invited to the dramatic soiree of the Azure Society. We
give six a year. No title is announced. Nobody except a committee
of three knows even the name of the author of the play that is to be
performed. Everything is kept a secret. Even the author doesn't know
that his play has been chosen. Don't you think it's a delightful
idea?... An offspring of the New Thought!"
He agreed that it was a delightful idea.
"Shall I be invited?" he asked.
She answered gravely, "I don't know."
"Are you going to play in it?"
She paused.... "Yes."
"Then you must let me come. Talking of plays--"
He stopped. He was on the edge of facetiously relating the episode
of "The Orient Pearl" at Sir John Pilgrim's. But he withdrew in time.
Suppose that "The Orient Pearl" was the piece to be performed by the
Azure Society! It might well be! It was (in his opinion) just the sort
of play that that sort of society would choose! Nevertheless he was
as anxious as ever to see Elsie April act. He really thought that she
could and would transfigure any play. Even his profound scorn of New
Thought (a subject of which he was entirely ignorant) began to be
modified--and by nothing but the enchantment of the tone in which
Elsie April murmured the words, "Azure Society!"
"How soon is the performance?" he demanded.
"Wednesday week," said she.
"That's the very day of my corner-stone-laying," he said. "However, it
doesn't matter. My little affair will be in the afternoon."
"But it can't be," said she, solemnly. "It would interfere with us,
and we should interfere with it. Our Annual Conference takes place in
the afternoon. All London will be there."
Said Mr. Marrier, rather shamefaced:
"That's just it, Mr. Machin. It positively never occurred to me that
the Azure Conference is to be on that very day. I never thought of it
until nearly four o'clock. And then I scarcely knew how to explain it
to you. I really don't know how it escaped me."
Mr. Marrier's trouble was now out, and he had declined in Edward
Henry's esteem. Mr. Marrier was afraid of him. Mr. Marrier's list
of personages was no longer a miracle of foresight; it was a mere
coincidence. He doubted if Mr. Marrier was worth even his three
pounds a week. Edward Henry began to feel ruthless, Napoleonic. He
was capable of brushing away the whole Azure Society and New Thought
movement into limbo.
"You must please alter your date," said Elsie April. And she put her
right elbow on the table and leaned her chin on it, and thus somehow
established a domestic intimacy for the three amid all the blare and
notoriety of the vast tea-room.
"Oh, but I can't!" he said easily, familiarly. It was her occasional
"artichoke" manner that had justified him in assuming this tone. "I
can't!" he repeated. "I've told Sir John I can't possibly be ready any
earlier, and on the day after he'll almost certainly be on his way to
Marseilles. Besides, I don't _want_ to alter my date. My date is in
the papers by this time."
"You've already done quite enough harm to the Movement as it is," said
Elsie April, stoutly, but ravishingly.
"Me--harm to the Movement?"
"Haven't you stopped the building of our church?"
"Oh! So you know Mr. Wrissell?"
"Very well, indeed."
"Anybody else would have done the same in my place!" Edward Henry
defended himself. "Your cousin, Miss Euclid, would have done it, and
Marrier here was in the affair with her."
"Ah!" exclaimed Elsie April. "But we didn't belong to the Movement
then! We didn't know.... Come now, Mr. Machin. Sir John Pilgrim will
of course be a great draw. But even if you've got him and manage to
stick to him, we should beat you. You'll never get the audience you
want if you don't change from Wednesday week. After all, the number of
people who count in London is very small. And we've got nearly all of
them. You've no idea--"
"I won't change from Wednesday week," said Edward Henry. This defiance
of her put him into an extremely agitated felicity.
"Now, my dear Mr. Machin--"
He was acutely aware of the charm she was exerting, and yet he
discovered that he could easily withstand it.
"Now, my dear Miss April, please don't try to take advantage of your
She sat up. She was apparently measuring herself and him.
"Then you won't change the day, truly?" Her urbanity was in no wise
"I won't," he laughed lightly. "I daresay you aren't used to people
like me, Miss April."
(She might get the better of Seven Sachs, but not of him, Edward Henry
Machin from the Five Towns!)
"Marrier!" said he, suddenly, with a bluff, humorous downrightness,
"you know you're in a very awkward position here, and you know you've
got to see Alloyd for me before six o'clock. Be off with you. I will
be responsible for Miss April."
("I'll show these Londoners!" he said to himself. "It's simple enough
when you once get into it.")
And he did in fact succeed in dismissing Mr. Marrier, after the latter
had talked Azure business with Miss April for a couple of minutes.
"I must go too," said Elsie, imperturbable, impenetrable.
"One moment," he entreated, and masterfully signalled Marrier to
depart. After all he was paying the fellow three pounds a week.
She watched Marrier thread his way out. Already she had put on her
"I must go," she repeated; her rich red lips then closed definitely.
"Have you a motor here?" Edward Henry asked.
"Then if I may I'll see you home."
"You may," she said, gazing full at him. Whereby he was somewhat
startled and put out of countenance.
"Are we friends?" he asked roguishly.
"I hope so," she said, with no diminution of her inscrutability.
They were in a taxi-cab, rolling along the Embankment towards the
Buckingham Palace Hotel, where she said she lived. He was happy. "Why
am I happy?" he thought. "_What_ is there in her that makes me happy?"
He did not know. But he knew that he had never been in a taxi-cab, or
anywhere else, with any woman half so elegant. Her elegance flattered
him enormously. Here he was, a provincial man of business, ruffling it
with the best of them!... And she was young in her worldly maturity.
Was she twenty-seven? She could not be more. She looked straight in
front of her, faintly smiling.... Yes, he was fully aware that he was
a married man. He had a distinct vision of the angelic Nellie, of the
three children, and of his mother. But it seemed to him that his own
case differed in some very subtle and yet effective manner from the
similar case of any other married man. And he lived, unharassed by
apprehensions, in the lively joy of the moment.
"But," she said, "I hope you won't come to see me act."
"Because I should prefer you not to. You would not be sympathetic to
"Oh, yes, I should."
"I shouldn't feel it so." And then, with a swift disarrangement of all
the folds of her skirt, she turned and faced him. "Mr. Machin, do you
know why I've let you come with me?"
"Because you're a good-natured woman," he said.
She grew even graver, shaking her head.
"No! I simply wanted to tell you that you've ruined Rose--my cousin."
"Miss Euclid? Me ruined Miss Euclid!"
"Yes. You robbed her of her theatre--her one chance."
He blushed. "Excuse me," he said. "I did no such thing. I simply
bought her option from her. She was absolutely free to keep the option
or let it go."
"The fact remains," said Elsie April, with humid eyes, "the fact
remains that she'd set her heart on having that theatre, and you
failed her at the last instant. And she has nothing, and you've got
the theatre entirely in your own hands. I'm not so silly as to suppose
that you can't defend yourself legally. But let me tell you that Rose
went to the United States heart-broken, and she's playing to empty
houses there--empty houses! Whereas she might have been here in
London, interested in her theatre, and preparing for a successful
"I'd no idea of this," breathed Edward Henry. He was dashed. "I'm
"Yes, no doubt. But there it is!"
Silence fell. He knew not what to say. He felt himself in one way
innocent, but he felt himself in another way blackly guilty. His
remorse for the telephone-trick which he had practised on Rose Euclid
burst forth again after a long period of quiescence simulating death,
and acutely troubled him.... No, he was not guilty! He insisted in
his heart that he was not guilty! And yet--and yet--No taxi-cab ever
travelled so quickly as that taxi-cab. Before he could gather together
his forces it had arrived beneath the awning of the Buckingham Palace
His last words to her were:
"Now I shan't change the day of my stone-laying. But don't worry about
your Conference. You know it'll be perfectly all right!" He spoke
archly, with a brave attempt at cajolery. But in the recesses of his
soul he was not sure that she had not defeated him in this their first
encounter. However, Seven Sachs might talk as he chose--she was not
such a persuasive creature as all that! She had scarcely even tried to
At about a quarter-past six when he saw his underling again he said to
"Marrier, I've got a great idea. We'll have that corner-stone-laying
at night. After the theatres. Say half-past eleven. Torchlight!
Fireworks from the cranes! It'll tickle old Pilgrim to death. I shall
have a marquee with matchboarding sides fixed up inside, and heat
it with a few of those smokeless stoves. We can easily lay on
electricity. It will be absolutely the most sensational stone-laying
that ever was. It'll be in all the papers all over the blessed world.
Think of it! Torches! Fireworks from the cranes!... But I won't change
the day--neither for Miss April nor anybody else."
Mr. Marrier dissolved in laudations.
"Well," Edward Henry agreed with false diffidence. "It'll knock spots
off some of 'em in this town!"
He felt that he had snatched victory out of defeat. But the next
moment he was capable of feeling that Elsie April had defeated
him even in his victory. Anyhow, she was a most disconcerting and
There was one source of unsullied gratification, he had shaved off his
"Come up here, Sir John," Edward Henry called. "You'll see better, and
you'll be out of the crowd. And I'll show you something."
He stood, in a fur coat, at the top of a short flight of
rough-surfaced steps between two unplastered walls--a staircase which
ultimately was to form part of an emergency exit from the dress-circle
of the Regent Theatre. Sir John Pilgrim, also in a fur coat, stood
near the bottom of the steps, with the glare of a Wells light full on
him and throwing his shadow almost up to Edward Henry's feet. Around,
Edward Henry could descry the vast mysterious forms of the building's
skeleton--black in places, but in other places lit up by bright rays
from the gaiety below, and showing glimpses of that gaiety in
the occasional revelation of a woman's cloak through slits in the
construction. High overhead two gigantic cranes interlaced their arms;
and, even higher than the cranes, shone the stars of the clear spring
The hour was nearly half-past twelve. The ceremony was concluded--and
successfully concluded. All London had indeed been present. Half the
aristocracy of England, and far more than half the aristocracy of the
London stage! The entire preciosity of the Metropolis! Journalists
with influence enough to plunge the whole of Europe into war! In one
short hour Edward Henry's right hand (peeping out from that superb
fur coat which he had had the wit to buy) had made the acquaintance of
scores upon scores of the most celebrated right hands in Britain. He
had the sensation that in future, whenever he walked about the best
streets of the West End, he would be continually compelled to stop and
chat with august and renowned acquaintances, and that he would always
be taking off his hat to fine ladies who flashed by nodding from
powerful motor-cars. Indeed, Edward Henry was surprised at the
number of famous people who seemed to have nothing to do but attend
advertising rituals at midnight or thereabouts. Sir John Pilgrim had,
as Marrier predicted, attended to the advertisements. But Edward Henry
had helped. And on the day itself the evening newspapers had taken the
bit between their teeth and run off with the affair at a great pace.
The affair was on all the contents-bills hours before it actually
happened. Edward Henry had been interviewed several times, and had
rather enjoyed that. Gradually he had perceived that his novel idea
for a corner-stone-laying had caught the facile imagination of the
London populace. For that night at least he was famous--as famous as
Sir John had made a wondrous picturesque figure of himself as, in a
raised corner of the crowded and beflagged marquee, he had flourished
a trowel, and talked about the great and enlightened public, and about
the highest function of the drama, and about the duty of the artist to
elevate, and about the solemn responsibility of theatrical managers,
and about the absence of petty jealousies in the world of the stage.
Everybody had vociferously applauded, while reporters turned rapidly
the pages of their note-books. "Ass!" Edward Henry had said to himself
with much force and sincerity--meaning Sir John--but he too had
vociferously applauded; for he was from the Five Towns, and in the
Five Towns people are like that! Then Sir John had declared the
corner-stone well and truly laid (it was on the corner which the
electric sign of the future was destined to occupy), and after being
thanked had wandered off, shaking hands here and there absently, to
arrive at length in the office of the clerk-of-the-works, where Edward
Henry had arranged suitably to refresh the stone-layer and a few
choice friends of both sexes.
He had hoped that Elsie April would somehow reach that little office.
But Elsie April was absent, indisposed. Her absence made the one
blemish on the affair's perfection. Elsie April, it appeared, had been
struck down by a cold which had entirely deprived her of her voice, so
that the performance of the Azure Society's Dramatic Club, so eagerly
anticipated by all London, had had to be postponed. Edward Henry bore
the misfortune of the Azure Society with stoicism, but he had been
extremely disappointed by the invisibility of Elsie April at his
stone-laying. His eyes had wanted her.
Sir John, awaking apparently out of a dream when Edward Henry had
summoned him twice, climbed the uneven staircase and joined his host
and youngest rival on the insecure planks and gangways that covered
the first floor of the Regent Theatre.
"Come higher," said Edward Henry, mounting upward to the beginnings of
the second story, above which hung suspended from the larger crane the
great cage that was employed to carry brick and stone from the ground.
The two fur coats almost mingled.
"Well, young man," said Sir John Pilgrim, "your troubles will soon be
Now Edward Henry hated to be addressed as "young man," especially in
the patronizing tone which Sir John used. Moreover, he had a suspicion
that in Sir John's mind was the illusion that Sir John alone was
responsible for the creation of the Regent Theatre--that without Sir
John's aid as a stone-layer it could never have existed.
"You mean my troubles as a manager?" said Edward Henry, grimly.
"In twelve months from now--before I come back from my world's
tour--you'll be ready to get rid of this thing on any terms. You will
be wishing that you had imitated my example and kept out of Piccadilly
Circus. Piccadilly Circus is sinister, my Alderman--sinister."
"Come up into the cage, Sir John," said Edward Henry. "You'll get a
still better view. Rather fine, isn't it, even from here?"
He climbed up into the cage, and helped Sir John to climb.
And, standing there in the immediate silence, Sir John murmured with
"We are alone with London!"
Edward Henry thought:
They heard footsteps resounding on loose planks in a distant corner.
"Who's there?" Edward Henry called.
"Only me!" replied a voice. "Nobody takes any notice of me!"
"Who is it?" muttered Sir John.
"Alloyd, the architect," Edward Henry answered, and then calling loud,
"Come up here, Alloyd."
The muffled and coated figure approached, hesitated, and then joined
the other two in the cage.
"Let me introduce Mr. Alloyd, the architect--Sir John Pilgrim," said
"Ah!" said Sir John, bending towards Alloyd. "Are you the genius who
draws those amusing little lines and scrawls on transparent paper, Mr.
Alloyd? Tell me, are they really necessary for a building, or do you
only do them for your own fun? Quite between ourselves, you know! I've
Said Mr. Alloyd, with a pale smile:
"Of course everyone looks on the architect as a joke!" The pause was
"You promised us rockets, Mr. Machin," said Sir John. "My mind yearns
"Right you are!" Edward Henry complied. Close by, but somewhat above
them, was the crane-engine, manned by an engineer whom Edward Henry
was paying for overtime. A signal was given, and the cage containing
the proprietor and the architect of the theatre and Sir John Pilgrim
bounded most startlingly up into the air. Simultaneously it began to
revolve rapidly on its cable, as such cages will, whether filled with
bricks or with celebrities.
"Oh!" ejaculated Sir John, terror-struck, clinging hard to the side of
"Oh!" ejaculated Mr. Alloyd, also clinging hard.
"I want you to see London," said Edward Henry, who had been through
the experience before.
The wind blew cold above the chimneys.
The cage came to a standstill exactly at the peak of the other crane.
London lay beneath the trio. The curves of Regent Street and of
Shaftesbury Avenue, the right lines of Piccadilly, Lower Regent Street
and Coventry Street, were displayed at their feet as on an illuminated
map, over which crawled mannikins and toy-autobuses. At their feet a
long procession of automobiles were sliding off, one after another,
with the guests of the evening. The Metropolis stretched away, lifting
to the north, and sinking to the south into the jewelled river on
whose curved bank rose messages of light concerning whisky, tea and
beer. The peaceful nocturnal roar of the city, dwindling every moment
now, reached them like an emanation from another world.
"You asked for a rocket, Sir John," said Edward Henry. "You shall have
He had taken a box of fusees from his pocket. He struck one, and his
companions in the swaying cage now saw that a tremendous rocket
was hung to the peak of the other crane. He lighted the fuse....
An instant of deathly suspense!... And then with a terrific and a
shattering bang and splutter the rocket shot towards the kingdom
of heaven and there burst into a vast dome of red blossoms which,
irradiating a square mile of roofs, descended slowly and softly on the
West End like a benediction.
"You always want crimson, don't you, Sir John?" said Edward Henry,
and the easy cheeriness of his voice gradually tranquillized the
alarm natural to two very earthly men who for the first time found
themselves suspended insecurely over a gulf.
"I have seen nothing so impressive since the Russian Ballet," murmured
Mr. Alloyd, recovering.
"You ought to go to Siberia, Alloyd," said Edward Henry.
Sir John Pilgrim, pretending now to be extremely brave, suddenly
turned on Edward Henry and in a convulsive grasp seized his hand.
"My friend," he said hoarsely, "a thought has just occurred to me. You
and I are the two most remarkable men in London!" He glanced up as the
cage trembled. "How thin that steel rope seems!"
The cage slowly descended, with many twists.
Edward Henry said not a word. He was too deeply moved by his own
triumph to be able to speak.
"Who else but me," he reflected, exultant, "could have managed this
affair as I've managed it? Did anyone else ever take Sir John Pilgrim
up into the sky like a load of bricks, and frighten his life out of
As the cage approached the platforms of the first story he saw two
people waiting there; one he recognized as the faithful, harmless
Marrier; the other was a woman.
"Someone here wants you urgently, Mr. Machin!" cried Marrier.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Alloyd under his breath. "What a beautiful
figure! No girl as attractive as that ever wanted _me_ urgently! Some
folks do have luck!"
The woman had moved a little away when the cage landed. Edward Henry
followed her along the planking.
It was Elsie April.
"I thought you were ill in bed," he breathed, astounded.
Her answering voice reached him, scarcely audible:
"I'm only hoarse. My Cousin Rose has arrived to-night in secret at
Tilbury by the _Minnetonka_."
"The _Minnetonka_!" he muttered. Staggering coincidence! Mystic
heralding of misfortune!
"I was sent for," the pale ghost of a delicate voice continued. "She's
broken, ruined; no courage left. Awful fiasco in Chicago! She's hiding
now at a little hotel in Soho. She absolutely declined to come to my
hotel. I've done what I could for the moment. As I was driving by here
just now I saw the rocket and I thought of you. I thought you ought to
know it. I thought it was my duty to tell you."
She held her muff to her mouth. She seemed to be trembling.
A heavy hand was laid on his shoulder.
"Excuse me, sir," said a strong, rough voice, "are you the gent that
fired off the rocket? It's against the law to do that kind o' thing
here, and you ought to know it. I shall have to trouble you--"
It was a policeman of the C Division.
Sir John was disappearing, with his stealthy and conspiratorial air,
down the staircase.
DEALING WITH ELSIE
The headquarters of the Azure Society were situate in Marloes
Road--for no other reason than that it happened so. Though certain
famous people inhabit Marloes Road, no street could well be less
fashionable than this thoroughfare, which is very arid and very long,
and a very long way off the centre of the universe.
"The Azure Society, you know!" Edward Henry added, when he had given
the exact address to the chauffeur of the taxi.
The chauffeur, however, did not know, and did not seem to be ashamed
of his ignorance. His attitude indicated that he despised Marloes
Road and was not particularly anxious for his vehicle to be seen
therein--especially on a wet night--but that nevertheless he would
endeavour to reach it. When he did reach it, and observed the large
concourse of shining automobiles that struggled together in the
rain in front of the illuminated number named by Edward Henry, the
chauffeur admitted to himself that for once he had been mistaken,
and his manner of receiving money from Edward Henry was generously
Originally, the headquarters of the Azure Society had been a seminary
and schoolmistress's house. The thoroughness with which the buildings
had been transformed showed that money was not among the things which
the Society had to search for. It had rich resources, and it had also
high social standing; and the deferential commissionaires at the doors
and the fluffy-aproned, appealing girls who gave away programmes in
the _foyer_ were a proof that the Society, while doubtless anxious
about such subjects as the persistence of individuality after death,
had no desire to reconstitute the community on a democratic basis. It
was above such transient trifles of reform, and its high endeavours
were confined to questions of immortality, of the infinite, of sex,
and of art: which questions it discussed in fine raiment and with all
the punctilio of courtly politeness.
Edward Henry was late, in common with some two hundred other people,
of whom the majority were elegant women wearing Paris or almost-Paris
gowns with a difference. As on the current of the variegated throng
he drifted through corridors into the bijou theatre of the Society, he
could not help feeling proud of his own presence there--and yet at the
same time he was scorning, in his Five Towns way, the preciosity
and the simperings of those his fellow-creatures. Seated in the
auditorium, at the end of a row, he was aware of an even keener
satisfaction, as people bowed and smiled to him; for the theatre was
so tiny and the reunion so choice that it was obviously an honour and
a distinction to have been invited to such an exclusive affair. To the
evening first fixed for the dramatic soiree of the Azure Society he
had received no invitation. But shortly after the postponement due to
Elsie April's indisposition an envelope addressed by Marrier himself,
and containing the sacred card, had arrived for him in Bursley. His
instinct had been to ignore it, and for two days he had ignored it,
and then he noticed in one corner the initials, "E.A." Strange that it
did not occur to him immediately that E.A. stood, or might stand, for
Reflection brings wisdom and knowledge. In the end he was absolutely
convinced that E.A. stood for Elsie April; and at the last moment,
deciding that it would be the act of a fool and a coward to decline
what was practically a personal request from a young and enchanting
woman, he had come to London--short of sleep, it is true, owing to
local convivialities, but he had come! And, curiously, he had not
communicated with Marrier. Marrier had been extremely taken up
with the dramatic soiree of the Azure Society--which Edward Henry
justifiably but quite privately resented. Was he not paying three
pounds a week to Marrier?
And now, there he sat, known, watched, a notoriety, the card who had
raised Pilgrim to the skies, probably the only theatrical proprietor
in the crowded and silent audience; and he was expecting anxiously
to see Elsie April again--across the footlights! He had not seen her
since the night of the stone-laying, over a week earlier. He had not
sought to see her. He had listened then to the delicate tones of her
weak, whispering, thrilling voice, and had expressed regret for Rose
Euclid's plight. But he had done no more. What could he have done?
Clearly he could not have offered money to relieve the plight of Rose
Euclid, who was the cousin of a girl as wealthy and as sympathetic
as Elsie April. To do so would have been to insult Elsie. Yet he felt
guilty, none the less. An odd situation! The delicate tones of Elsie's
weak, whispering, thrilling voice on the scaffolding haunted his
memory, and came back with strange clearness as he sat waiting for the
curtain to ascend.
There was an outburst of sedate applause, and a turning of heads to
the right. Edward Henry looked in that direction. Rose Euclid herself
was bowing from one of the two boxes on the first tier. Instantly she
had been recognized and acknowledged, and the clapping had in no wise
disturbed her. Evidently she accepted it as a matter of course. How
famous, after all, she must be, if such an audience would pay her such
a meed! She was pale, and dressed glitteringly in white. She seemed
younger, more graceful, much more handsome, more in accordance with
her renown. She was at home and at ease up there in the brightness
of publicity. The imposing legend of her long career had survived the
eclipse in the United States. Who could have guessed that some ten
days before she had landed heart-broken and ruined at Tilbury from the
Edward Henry was impressed.
"She's none so dusty!" he said to himself in the incomprehensible
slang of the Five Towns. The phrase was a high compliment to Rose
Euclid, aged fifty and looking anything you like over thirty. It
measured the extent to which he was impressed.
Yes, he felt guilty. He had to drop his eyes, lest hers should catch
them. He examined guiltily the programme, which announced "The New
Don Juan," a play "in three acts and in verse"--author unnamed. The
curtain went up.
And with the rising of the curtain began Edward Henry's torture and
bewilderment. The scene disclosed a cloth upon which was painted, to
the right, a vast writhing purple cuttle-fish whose finer tentacles
were lost above the proscenium arch, and to the left an enormous
crimson oblong patch with a hole in it. He referred to the programme,
which said: "Act II. or A castle in a forest"; and also, "Scenery and
costumes designed by Saracen Givington, A.R.A." The cuttle-fish, then,
was the purple forest, or perhaps one tree in the forest, and the
oblong patch was the crimson castle. The stage remained empty, and
Edward Henry had time to perceive that the footlights were unlit and
that rays came only from the flies and from the wings.
He glanced round. Nobody had blenched. Quite confused, he referred
again to the programme and deciphered in the increasing gloom:
"Lighting by Cosmo Clark," in very large letters.
Two yellow-clad figures of no particular sex glided into view, and
at the first words which they uttered Edward Henry's heart seemed in
apprehension to cease to beat. A fear seized him. A few more words and
the fear became a positive assurance and realization of evil. "The New
Don Juan" was simply a pseudonym for Carlo Trent's "Orient Pearl"!...
He had always known that it would be. Ever since deciding to accept
the invitation he had lived under just that menace. "The Orient Pearl"
seemed to be pursuing him like a sinister destiny.
Weakly he consulted yet again the programme. Only one character bore
a name familiar to the Don Juan story, to wit "Haidee," and opposite
that name was the name of Elsie April. He waited for her--he had no
other interest in the evening--and he waited in resignation; a young
female troubadour (styled in the programme "the messenger") emerged
from the unseen depths of the forest in the wings and ejaculated to
the hero and his friend, "The Woman appears." But it was not Elsie
that appeared. Six times that troubadour-messenger emerged and
ejaculated, "The Woman appears," and each time Edward Henry was
disappointed. But at the seventh heralding--the heralding of the
seventh and highest heroine of this drama in hexameters--Elsie did at
And Edward Henry became happy. He understood little more of the play
than at the historic breakfast-party of Sir John Pilgrim; he was well
confirmed in his belief that the play was exactly as preposterous as
a play in verse must necessarily be; his manly contempt for verse was
more firmly established than ever--but Elsie April made an exquisite
figure between the castle and the forest; her voice did really set up
physical vibrations in his spine. He was deliciously convinced that
if she remained on the stage from everlasting to everlasting, just so
long could he gaze thereat without surfeit and without other desire.
The mischief was that she did not remain on the stage. With despair he
saw her depart, and the close of the act was ashes in his mouth.
The applause was tremendous. It was not as tremendous as that which
had greeted the plate-smashing comedy at the Hanbridge Empire, but
it was far more than sufficiently enthusiastic to startle and shock
Edward Henry. In fact, his cold indifference was so conspicuous amid
that fever that in order to save his face he had to clap and to smile.
And the dreadful thought crossed his mind, traversing it like the
shudder of a distant earthquake that presages complete destruction:
"Are the ideas of the Five Towns all wrong? Am I a provincial after
For hitherto, though he had often admitted to himself that he was
a provincial, he had never done so with sincerity: but always in a
manner of playful and rather condescending badinage.
"Did you ever see such scenery and costumes?" someone addressed him
suddenly, when the applause had died down. It was Mr. Alloyd, who had
advanced up the aisle from a back row of the stalls.
"No, I never did!" Edward Henry agreed.
"It's wonderful how Givington has managed to get away from the
childish realism of the modern theatre," said Mr. Alloyd, "without
"You think so!" said Edward Henry, judicially. "The question is--has
"Do you mean it's too realistic for you?" cried Mr. Alloyd. "Well, you
_are_ advanced! I didn't know you were as anti-representational as all
"Neither did I!" said Edward Henry. "What do you think of the play?"
"Well," answered Mr. Alloyd, low and cautiously, with a somewhat
shamed grin, "between you and me I think the play's bosh."
"Come, come!" Edward Henry murmured as if in protest.
The word "bosh" was almost the first word of the discussion which he
had comprehended, and the honest familiar sound of it did him good.
Nevertheless, keeping his presence of mind, he had forborne to welcome
it openly. He wondered what on earth "anti-representational" could
mean. Similar conversations were proceeding around him, and each could
be very closely heard, for the reason that, the audience being frankly
intellectual and anxious to exchange ideas, the management had wisely
avoided the expense and noise of an orchestra. The _entr'acte_ was
like a conversazione of all the cultures.
"I wish you'd give us some scenery and costumes like this in _your_
theatre," said Alloyd, as he strolled away.
The remark stabbed him like a needle; the pain was gone in an instant,
but it left a vague fear behind it, as of the menace of a mortal
injury. It is a fact that Edward Henry blushed and grew gloomy--and
he scarcely knew why. He looked about him timidly, half defiantly.
A magnificently-arrayed woman in the row in front, somewhat to the
right, leaned back and towards him, and behind her fan said:
"You're the only manager here, Mr. Machin! How alive and alert you
are!" Her voice seemed to be charged with a hidden meaning.
"D'you think so?" said Edward Henry. He had no idea who she might be.
He had probably shaken hands with her at his stone-laying, but if
so he had forgotten her face. He was fast becoming one of the
oligarchical few who are recognized by far more people than they
"A beautiful play!" said the woman. "Not merely poetic but
intellectual! And an extraordinarily acute criticism of modern
He nodded. "What do you think of the scenery?" he asked.
"Well, of course candidly," said the woman, "I think it's silly. I
daresay I'm old-fashioned." ...
"I daresay," murmured Edward Henry.
"They told me you were very ironic," said she, flushing but meek.
"They!" Who? Who in the world of London had been labelling him as
ironic? He was rather proud.
"I hope if you _do_ do this kind of play--and we're all looking to
you, Mr. Machin," said the lady, making a new start, "I hope you won't
go in for these costumes and scenery. That would never do!"
Again the stab of the needle!
"It wouldn't," he said.
"I'm delighted you think so," said she.
An orange telegram came travelling from hand to hand along that row
of stalls, and ultimately, after skipping a few persons, reached the
magnificently-arrayed woman, who read it, and then passed it to Edward
"Splendid!" she exclaimed. "Splendid!"
Edward Henry read: "Released. Isabel."
"What does it mean?"
"It's from Isabel Joy--at Marseilles."
Edward Henry's ignorance of affairs round about the centre of the
universe was occasionally distressing--to himself in particular. And
just now he gravely blamed Mr. Marrier, who had neglected to post him
about Isabel Joy. But how could Marrier honestly earn his three
pounds a week if he was occupied night and day with the organizing and
management of these precious dramatic soirees? Edward Henry decided
that he must give Mr. Marrier a piece of his mind at the first
"Don't you know?" questioned the dame.
"How should I?" he parried. "I'm only a provincial."
"But surely," pursued the dame, "you knew we'd sent her round the
world. She started on the _Kandahar_, the ship that you stopped
Sir John Pilgrim from taking. She almost atoned for his absence at
Tilbury. Twenty-five reporters, anyway!"
Edward Henry sharply slapped his thigh, which in the Five Towns
signifies: "I shall forget my own name next."
Of course! Isabel Joy was the advertising emissary of the Militant
Suffragette Society, sent forth to hold a public meeting and make
a speech in the principal ports of the world. She had guaranteed to
circuit the globe and to be back in London within a hundred days, to
speak in at least five languages, and to get herself arrested at least
three times _en route_.... Of course! Isabel Joy had possessed a very
fair share of the newspapers on the day before the stone-laying, but
Edward Henry had naturally had too many preoccupations to follow her
exploits. After all, his momentary forgetfulness was rather excusable.
"She's made a superb beginning!" said the resplendent dame, taking
the telegram from Edward Henry and inducting it into another row. "And
before three months are out she'll be the talk of the entire earth.
"Is everybody a suffragette here?" asked Edward Henry, simply, as his
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