E. Arnold Bennett
Part 5 out of 6
eyes witnessed the satisfaction spread by the voyaging telegram....
"Practically," said the dame. "These things always go hand in hand,"
she added in a deep tone.
"What things?" the provincial demanded.
But just then the curtain rose on the second act.
"Won't you cam up to Miss April's dressing-room?" said Mr. Harrier,
who in the midst of the fulminating applause after the second act
seemed to be inexplicably standing over him, having appeared in an
instant out of nowhere like a genie.
The fact was that Edward Henry had been gently and innocently dozing.
It was in part the deep obscurity of the auditorium, in part his own
physical fatigue, and in part the secret nature of poetry that had
been responsible for this restful slumber. He had remained awake
without difficulty during the first portion of the act, in which Elsie
April--the orient pearl--had had a long scene of emotion and tears,
played, as Edward Henry thought, magnificently in spite of its
inherent ridiculousness; but later, when gentle Haidee had vanished
away and the fateful troubadour-messenger had begun to resume
her announcements of "The woman appears," Edward Henry's soul had
miserably yielded to his body and to the temptation of darkness. The
upturned lights and the ringing hosannahs had roused him to a full
sense of sin, but he had not quite recovered all his faculties when
Marrier startled him.
"Yes, yes! Of course! I was coming," he answered a little petulantly.
But no petulance could impair the beaming optimism on Mr. Harrier's
features. To judge by those features, Mr. Marrier, in addition to
having organized and managed the soiree, might also have written the
piece and played every part in it, and founded the Azure Society and
built its private theatre. The hour was Mr. Marrier's.
Elise April's dressing-room was small and very thickly populated, and
the threshold of it was barred by eager persons who were half in and
half out of the room. Through these Mr. Marrier's authority forced a
way. The first man Edward Henry recognized in the tumult of bodies
was Mr. Rollo Wrissell, whom he had not seen since their meeting at
"Mr. Wrissell," said the glowing Marrier, "let me introduce Mr.
Alderman Machin, of the Regent Theatah."
"Clumsy fool!" thought Edward Henry, and stood as if entranced.
But Mr. Wrissell held out a hand with the perfection of urbane
"How d'you do, Mr. Machin?" said he. "I hope you'll forgive me for not
having followed your advice."
This was a lesson to Edward Henry. He learnt that you should never
show a wound, and if possible never feel one. He admitted that in
such details of social conduct London might be in advance of the Five
Towns, despite the Five Towns' admirable downrightness.
Lady Woldo was also in the dressing-room, glorious in black. Her
beauty was positively disconcerting, and the more so on this occasion
as she was bending over the faded Rose Euclid, who sat in a
corner surrounded by a court. This court, comprising comparatively
uncelebrated young women and men, listened with respect to the
conversation of the peeress who called Rose "my dear," the great
star-actress, and the now somewhat notorious Five Towns character,
Edward Henry Machin.
"Miss April is splendid, isn't she?" said Edward Henry to Lady Woldo.
"Oh! My word, yes!" replied Lady Woldo, nicely, warmly, yet with a
certain perfunctoriness. Edward Henry was astonished that everybody
was not passionately enthusiastic about the charm of Elsie's
performance. Then Lady Woldo added: "But what a part for Miss Euclid!
What a part for her!"
And there were murmurs of approbation.
Rose Euclid gazed at Edward Henry palely and weakly. He considered
her much less effective here than in her box. But her febrile gaze was
effective enough to produce in him the needle-stab again, the feeling
of gloom, of pessimism, of being gradually overtaken by an unseen and
"Yes, indeed!" said he.
He thought to himself: "Now's the time for me to behave like Edward
Henry Machin, and teach these people a thing or two!" But he could
A pretty young girl summoned all her forces to address the great
proprietor of the Regent, to whom, however, she had not been
introduced, and with a charming nervous earnest lisp said:
"But don't you think it's a great play, Mr. Machin?"
"Of course!" he replied, inwardly employing the most fearful and
"We were sure _you_ would!"
The young people glanced at each other with the satisfaction of proved
"D'you know that not another manager has taken the trouble to come
here!" said a second earnest young woman.
Edward Henry's self-consciousness was now acute. He would have paid
a ransom to be alone on a desert island in the Indian seas. He looked
downwards, and noticed that all these bright eager persons, women and
men, were wearing blue stockings or socks.
"Miss April is free now," said Marrier in his ear.
The next instant he was talking alone to Elsie in another corner while
the rest of the room respectfully observed.
"So you deigned to come!" said Elsie April. "You did get my card."
A little paint did her no harm, and the accentuation of her eyebrows
and lips and the calculated disorder of her hair were not more than
her powerful effulgent physique could stand. In a costume of green and
silver she was magnificent, overwhelmingly magnificent. Her varying
voice and her glance at once sincere, timid and bold, produced
the most singular sensations behind Edward Henry's soft frilled
shirt-front. And he thought that he had never been through any
experience so disturbing and so fine as just standing in front of her.
"I ought to be saying nice things to her," he reflected. But, no doubt
because he had been born in the Five Towns, he could not formulate in
his mind a single nice thing.
"Well, what do you think of it?" she asked, looking full at him, and
the glance too had a strange significance. It was as if she had said:
"Are you a man, or aren't you?"
"I think you're splendid," he exclaimed.
"Now please!" she protested. "Don't begin in that strain. I know I'm
very good for an amateur--"
"But really! I'm not joking."
She shook her head.
"What do you think of my part for Rose? Wouldn't she be tremendous in
it? Wouldn't she be tremendous?... What a chance!"
He was acutely uncomfortable, but even his discomfort was somehow a
"Yes," he admitted. "Yes."
"Oh! Here's Carlo Trent," said she.
He heard Trent's triumphant voice, carrying the end of a conversation
into the room: "If he hadn't been going away," Carlo Trent was saying,
"Pilgrim would have taken it. Pilgrim--"
The poet's eyes met Edward Henry's, and the sentence was never
"How d'ye do, Machin?" murmured the poet.
Then a bell began to ring and would not stop.
"You're staying for the reception afterwards?" said Elsie April as the
"Is there one?"
It seemed to Edward Henry that they exchanged silent messages.
Some time after the last hexameter had rolled forth, and the curtain
had finally fallen on the immense and rapturous success of Carlo
Trent's play in three acts and in verse, Edward Henry, walking about
the crowded stage, where the reception was being held, encountered
Elsie April, who was still in her gorgeous dress of green and silver.
She was chatting with Marrier, who instantly left her, thus displaying
a discretion such as an employer would naturally expect from a
factotum to whom he was paying three pounds a week.
Edward Henry's heart began to beat in a manner which troubled him
and made him wonder what could be happening at the back of the
soft-frilled shirt front that he had obtained in imitation of Mr.
"Not much elbow-room here!" he said lightly. He was very anxious to be
equal to the occasion.
She gazed at him under her emphasized eyebrows. He noticed that there
were little touches of red on her delightful nostrils.
"No," she answered with direct simplicity. "Suppose we try somewhere
She turned her back on all the amiable and intellectual babble,
descended three steps on the prompt side, and opened a door. The swish
of her brocaded spreading skirt was loud and sensuous. He followed her
into an obscure chamber in which several figures were moving to and
fro and talking.
"What's this place?" he asked. Involuntarily his voice was diminished
to a whisper.
"It's one of the discussion-rooms," said she. "It used to be a
classroom, I expect, before the Society took the buildings over. You
see the theatre was the general schoolroom."
They sat down unobtrusively in an embrasure. None among the mysterious
moving figures seemed to remark them.
"But why are they talking in the dark?" Edward Henry asked behind his
"To begin with, it isn't quite dark," she said. "There's the light of
the street-lamp through the window. But it has been found that serious
discussions can be carried on much better without too much light....
I'm not joking." (It was as if in the gloom her ears had caught his
faint sardonic smile.)
Said the voice of one of the figures:
"Can you tell me what is the origin of the decay of realism? Can you
tell me that?"
Suddenly, in the ensuing silence, there was a click, and a tiny
electric lamp shot its beam. The hand which held the lamp was the hand
of Carlo Trent. He flashed it and flashed the trembling ray in the
inquirer's face. Edward Henry recalled Carlo's objection to excessive
electricity in the private drawing-room at Wilkins's.
"Why do you ask such a question?" Carlo Trent challenged the inquirer,
brandishing the lamp. "I ask you why do you ask it?"
The other also drew forth a lamp and, as it were, cocked it and let it
off at the features of Carlo Trent. And thus the two stood, statuesque
and lit, surrounded by shadowy witnessers of the discussion.
The door creaked, and yet another figure, silhouetted for an instant
against the illumination of the stage, descended into the discussion
Carlo Trent tripped towards the new-comer, bent with his lamp, lifted
delicately the hem of the new-comer's trousers, and gazed at the
colour of his sock, which was blue.
"All right!" said he.
"The champagne and sandwiches are served," said the new-comer.
"You've not answered me, sir," Carlo Trent faced once more his
opponent in the discussion. "You've not answered me."
Whereupon, the lamps being extinguished, they all filed forth, the
door swung to of its own accord, shutting out the sound of babble
from the stage, and Edward Henry and Elsie April were left silent and
solitary to the sole ray of the street-lamp.
All the Five Towns' shrewdness in Edward Henry's character, all the
husband in him, all the father in him, all the son in him, leapt to
his lips, and tried to say to Elsie:
"Shall _we_ go and inspect the champagne and sandwiches, too?"
And failed to say these incantatory words of salvation!
And the romantic, adventurous fool in him rejoiced at their failure.
For he was adventurously happy in his propinquity to that simple and
sincere creature. He was so happy, and his heart was so active,
that he even made no caustic characteristic comment on the singular
behaviour of the beings who had just abandoned them to their
loneliness. He was also proud because he was sitting alone nearly in
the dark with a piquant and wealthy, albeit amateur actress, who had
just participated in a triumph at which the spiritual aristocracy of
London had assisted.
Two thoughts ran through his head, shooting in and out and to and fro
among his complex sensations of pleasure. The first was that he had
never been in such a fix before, despite his enterprising habits. And
the second was that neither Elsie April nor anybody else connected
with his affairs in London had ever asked him whether he was married,
or assumed by any detail of behaviour towards him that there existed
the possibility of his being married. Of course he might, had he
chosen, have informed a few of them that a wife and children possessed
him, but then really would not that have been equivalent to attaching
a label to himself: "Married"? a procedure which had to him the stamp
Elsie April said nothing. And as she said nothing he was obliged to
say something, if only to prove to both of them that he was not a mere
tongue-tied provincial. He said:
"You know I feel awfully out of it here in this Society of yours!"
"Out of it?" she exclaimed, and her voice thrilled as she resented his
"It's over my head--right over it!"
"Now, Mr. Machin," she said, dropping somewhat that rich low voice,
"I quite understand that there are some things about the Society you
don't like, trifles that you're inclined to laugh at. _I_ know that.
Many of us know it. But it can't be helped in an organization
like ours. It's even essential. Don't be too hard on us. Don't be
"But I'm not sarcastic!" he protested.
"Honest?" She turned to him quickly. He could descry her face in the
gloom, and the forward bend of her shoulders, and the backward
sweep of her arms resting on the seat, and the straight droop of her
Egyptian shawl from her inclined body.
"Honest!" he solemnly insisted.
The exchange of this single word was so intimate that it shifted their
conversation to a different level--level at which each seemed to be
assuring the other that intercourse between them could never be aught
but utterly sincere thenceforward, and that indeed in future
they would constitute a little society of their own, ideal in its
"Then you're too modest," she said decidedly. "There was no one here
to-night who's more respected than you are. No one! Immediately I
first spoke to you--I daresay you don't remember that afternoon at the
Grand Babylon Hotel!--I knew you weren't like the rest. And don't I
know them? Don't I know them?"
"But how did you know I'm not like the rest?" asked Edward Henry. The
line which she was taking had very much surprised him--and charmed
him. The compliment, so serious and urgent in tone, was intensely
agreeable, and it made an entirely new experience in his career. He
thought: "Oh! there's no mistake about it. These London women are
marvellous! They're just as straight and in earnest as the best of
our little lot down there. But they've got something else. There's
no comparison!" The unique word to describe the indescribable floated
into his head: "Scrumptious!" What could not life be with such
semi-divine creatures? He dreamt of art drawing-rooms softly shaded at
midnight. And his attitude towards even poetry was modified.
"I knew you weren't like the rest," said she, "by your look. By the
way you say everything you _do_ say. We all know it. And I'm sure
you're far more than clever enough to be perfectly aware that we all
know it. Just see how everyone looked at you to-night!"
Yes, he had in fact been aware of the glances.
"I think I ought to tell you," she went on, "that I was rather unfair
to you that day in talking about my cousin--in the taxi. You were
quite right to refuse to go into partnership with her. She thinks so
too. We've talked it over, and we're quite agreed. Of course it did
seem hard--at the time, and her bad luck in America seemed to make it
worse. But you were quite right. You can work much better alone. You
must have felt that instinctively--far quicker than we felt it."
"Well," he murmured, confused, "I don't know--"
Could this be she who had too openly smiled at his skirmish with an
"Oh, Mr. Machin!" she burst out. "You've got an unprecedented
opportunity, and thank Heaven you're the man to use it! We're all
expecting so much from you, and we know we shan't be disappointed."
"D'ye mean the theatre?" he asked, alarmed as it were amid rising
"The theatre," said she, gravely. "You're the one man that can save
London. No one _in_ London can do it!... _You_ have the happiness of
knowing what your mission is, and of knowing, too, that you are equal
to it. What good fortune! I wish I could say as much for myself.
I want to do something! I try! But what can I do? Nothing--really!
You've no idea of the awful loneliness that comes from a feeling of
"Loneliness," he repeated. "But surely--" he stopped.
"Loneliness," she insisted. Her little chin was now in her little
hand, and her dim face upturned.
And suddenly a sensation of absolute and marvellous terror seized
Edward Henry. He was more afraid than he had ever been--and yet
once or twice in his life he had felt fear. His sense of true
perspective--one of his most precious qualities--returned. He thought:
"I've got to get out of this." Well, the door was not locked. It was
only necessary to turn the handle, and security lay on the other side
of the door! He had but to rise and walk. And he could not. He might
just as well have been manacled in a prison-cell. He was under an
"A man," murmured Elsie, "a man can never realize the loneliness--"
He stirred uneasily.
"About this play," he found himself saying. And yet why should he
mention the play in his fright? He pretended to himself not to know
why. But he knew why. His instinct had seen in the topic of the play
the sole avenue of salvation.
"A wonderful thing, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes," he said. And then--most astonishingly to himself--added:
"I've decided to do it."
"We knew you would," she said calmly. "At any rate I did.... You'll
open with it, of course."
"Yes," he answered desperately. And proceeded, with the most
extraordinary bravery, "If you'll act in it."
Immediately on hearing these last words issue from his mouth he knew
that a fool had uttered them, and that the bravery was mere rashness.
For Elsie's responding gesture reinspired him afresh with the
exquisite terror which he had already begun to conjure away.
"You think Miss Euclid ought to have the part," he added quickly,
before she could speak.
"Oh! I do!" cried Elsie, positively and eagerly. "Rose will do simply
wonders with that part. You see she can speak verse. I can't. I'm
nobody. I only took it because--"
"Aren't you anybody?" he contradicted. "Aren't you anybody? I can just
There he was again, bringing back the delicious terror! An astounding
But the door creaked. The babble from the stage invaded the room.
And in a second the enchantment was lifted from him. Several people
entered. He sighed, saying within himself to the disturbers:
"I'd have given you a hundred pounds apiece if you'd been five minutes
And yet simultaneously he regretted their arrival. And, more curious
still, though he well remembered the warning words of Mr. Seven
Sachs concerning Elsie April, he did not consider that they were
justified.... She had not been a bit persuasive ... only....
He sat down to the pianisto with a strange and agreeable sense of
security. It is true that, owing to the time of year, the drawing-room
had been, in the figurative phrase, turned upside down by the process
of spring-cleaning, which his unexpected arrival had surprised in
fullest activity. But he did not mind that. He abode content among
rolled carpets, a swathed chandelier, piled chairs, and walls full of
pale rectangular spaces where pictures had been. Early that
morning, after a brief night spent partly in bed and partly in erect
contemplation of his immediate past and his immediate future, he had
hurried back to his pianisto and his home--to the beings and things
that he knew and that knew him.
In the train he had had the pleasure of reading in sundry newspapers
that "The Orient Pearl," by Carlo Trent (who was mentioned in terms of
startling respect and admiration), had been performed on the previous
evening at the dramatic soiree of the Azure Society, with all the
usual accompaniments of secrecy and exclusiveness, in its private
theatre in Kensington, and had been accepted on the spot by Mr. E.H.
Machin ("that most enterprising and enlightened recruit to the ranks
of theatrical managers") for production at the new Regent Theatre. And
further that Mr. Machin intended to open with it. And still further
that his selection of such a play, which combined in the highest
degree the poetry of Mr. W.B. Yeats with the critical intellectuality
of Mr. Bernard Shaw, was an excellent augury for London's dramatic
future, and that the "upward movement" must on no account be thought
to have failed because of the failure of certain recent ill-judged
attempts, by persons who did not understand their business, to force
it in particular directions. And still further that he, Edward Henry,
had engaged for the principal part Miss Rose Euclid, perhaps the
greatest emotional actress the English-speaking peoples had ever had,
but who unfortunately had not been sufficiently seen of late on the
London stage, and that this would be her first appearance after her
recent artistic successes in the United States. And lastly that Mr.
Marrier (whose name would be remembered in connection with ... etc.,
etc.) was Mr. E.H. Machin's acting manager and technical adviser.
Edward Henry could trace the hand of Marrier in all the paragraphs.
Marrier had lost no time.
Mrs. Machin, senior, came into the drawing-room just as he was
adjusting the "Tannhaeuser" overture to the mechanician. The piece was
one of his major favourites.
"This is no place for you, my lad," said Mrs. Machin, grimly, glancing
round the room. "But I came to tell ye as th' mutton's been cooling at
least five minutes. You gave out as you were hungry."
"Keep your hair on, mother," said he, springing up.
Barely twelve hours earlier he had been mincing among the elect and
the select and the intellectual and the poetic and the aristocratic;
among the lah-di-dah and Kensingtonian accents; among rouged lips and
blue hose and fixed simperings; in the centre of the universe. And he
had conducted himself with considerable skill accordingly. Nobody,
on the previous night, could have guessed from the cut of his fancy
waistcoat or the judiciousness of his responses to remarks about
verse, that his wife often wore a white apron, or that his mother
was--the woman she was! He had not unskilfully caught many of the
tricks of that metropolitan environment. But now they all fell away
from him, and he was just Edward Henry--nay, he was almost the old
"Who chose this mutton?" he asked as he bent over the juicy and rich
joint and cut therefrom exquisite thick slices with a carving-knife
like a razor.
"_I_ did, if ye want to know," said his mother. "Anything amiss with
it?" she challenged.
"No. It's fine."
"Yes," said she. "I'm wondering whether you get aught as good as that
in those grand hotels as you call 'em."
"We don't," said Edward Henry. First, it was true; and secondly, he
was anxious to be propitiatory, for he had a plan to further.
He looked at his wife. She was not talkative, but she had received
him in the hall with every detail of affection, if a little
absent-mindedly owing to the state of the house. She had not
been caustic, like his mother, about this male incursion into
spring-cleaning. She had not informed the surrounding air that she
failed to understand why them as were in London couldn't stop
in London for a bit, as his mother had. Moreover, though the
spring-cleaning fully entitled her to wear a white apron at meals, she
was not wearing a white apron: which was a sign to him that she still
loved him enough to want to please him. On the whole he was fairly
optimistic about his plan of salvation. Nevertheless, it was not until
nearly the end of the meal--when one of his mother's apple-pies was
being consumed--that he began to try to broach it.
"Nell," he said, "I suppose you wouldn't care to come to London with
"Oh!" she answered smiling, a smile of a peculiar quality. It was
astonishing how that simple woman could put just one tenth of one per
cent of irony into a good-natured smile. "What's the meaning of this?"
Then she flushed. The flush touched Edward Henry in an extraordinary
("To think," he reflected incredulously, "that only last night I
was talking in the dark to Elsie April--and here I am now!" And he
remembered the glory of Elsie's frock, and her thrilling voice in the
gloom, and that pose of hers as she leaned dimly forward.)
"Well," he said aloud, as naturally as he could, "that theatre's
beginning to get up on its hind-legs now, and I should like you to see
A difficult pass for him, as regards his mother! This was the first
time he had ever overtly spoken of the theatre in his mother's
presence. In the best bedroom he had talked of it--but even there with
a certain self-consciousness and false casualness. Now, his mother
stared straight in front of her with an expression of which she alone
among human beings had the monopoly.
"I should like to," said Nellie, generously.
"Well," said he, "I've got to go back to town to-morrow. Wilt come
with me, lass?"
"Don't be silly, Edward Henry," said she. "How can I leave mother in
the middle of all this spring-cleaning?"
"You needn't leave mother. We'll take her too," said Edward Henry,
"You won't!" observed Mrs. Machin.
"I _have to_ go to-morrow, Nell," said Edward Henry. "And I was
thinking you might as well come with me. It will be a change for you."
(He said to himself, "And not only have I to go to-morrow, but you
absolutely must come with me, my girl. That's the one thing to do.")
"It would be a change for me," Nellie agreed--she was beyond doubt
flattered and calmly pleased. "But I can't possibly come to-morrow.
You can see that for yourself, dear."
"No, I can't!" he cried impatiently. "What does it matter? Mother'll
be here. The kids'll be all right. After all, spring-cleaning isn't
the Day of Judgment."
"Edward Henry," said his mother, cutting in between them like a thin
blade, "I wish you wouldn't be blasphemous. London's London, and
Bursley's Bursley." She had finished.
"It's quite out of the question for me to come to-morrow, dear. I must
have notice. I really must."
And Edward Henry saw with alarm that Nellie had made up her mind, and
that the flattered calm pleasure in his suggestion had faded from her
"Oh! Dash these domesticated women!" he thought, and shortly
afterwards departed, brooding, to the offices of the Thrift Club.
He timed his return with exactitude, and, going straight upstairs to
the chamber known indifferently as "Maisie's room" or "nurse's room,"
sure enough he found the three children there alone! They were fed,
washed, night-gowned and even dressing-gowned; and this was the hour
when, while nurse repaired the consequences of their revolutionary
conduct in the bathroom and other places, they were left to
themselves. Robert lay on the hearthrug, the insteps of his soft pink
feet rubbing idly against the pile of the rug, his elbows digging into
the pile, his chin on his fists, and a book perpendicularly beneath
his eyes. Ralph, careless adventurer rather than student, had climbed
to the glittering brass rail of Maisie's new bedstead and was thereon
imitating a recently-seen circus performance. Maisie, in the bed
according to regulation, and lying on the flat of her back, was
singing nonchalantly to the ceiling. Carlo, unaware that at that
moment he might have been a buried corpse but for the benignancy of
Providence in his behalf, was feeling sympathetic towards himself
because he was slightly bored.
"Hello, kids!" Edward Henry greeted them. As he had seen them before
mid-day dinner, the more formal ceremonies of salutation after
absence--so hateful to the Five Towns temperament--were happily over
and done with.
Robert turned his head slightly, inspected his father with a judicial
detachment that hardly escaped the inimical, and then resumed his
("No one would think," said Edward Henry to himself, "that the
person who has just entered this room is the most enterprising and
enlightened of West End theatrical managers.")
"'Ello, father!" shrilled Ralph. "Come and help me to stand on this
"It isn't a wire-rope," said Robert from the hearthrug, without
stirring, "it's a brass-rail."
"Yes, it is a wire-rope, because I can make it bend," Ralph retorted,
bumping down on the thing. "Anyhow, it's going to be a wire-rope."
Maisie simply stuck several fingers into her mouth, shifted to one
side, and smiled at her father in a style of heavenly and mischievous
"Well, Robert, what are you reading?" Edward Henry inquired, in his
best fatherly manner--half authoritative and half humorous--while he
formed part of the staff of Ralph's circus.
"I'm not reading--I'm learning my spellings," replied Robert.
Edward Henry, knowing that the discipline of filial politeness must be
maintained, said, "'Learning my spellings'--what?"
"Learning my spellings, father," Robert consented to say, but with
a savage air of giving way to the unreasonable demands of affected
fools. Why indeed should it be necessary in conversation always to end
one's sentence with the name or title of the person addressed?
"Well, would you like to go to London with me?"
"When?" the boy demanded cautiously. He still did not move, but his
ears seemed to prick up.
"No thanks ... father." His ears ceased their activity.
"No? Why not?"
"Because there's a spellings examination on Friday, and I'm going to
It was a fact that the infant (whose programmes were always somehow
arranged in advance, and were in his mind absolutely unalterable)
could spell the most obstreperous words. Quite conceivably he could
spell better than his father, who still showed an occasional tendency
to write "separate" with three "e's" and only one "a."
"London's a fine place," said Edward Henry.
"I know," said Robert, negligently.
"What's the population of London?"
"I don't know," said Robert, with curtness; though he added after a
pause, "But I can spell population--p,o,p,u,l,a,t,i,o,n."
"_I_'ll come to London, father, if you'll have me," said Ralph,
"Will you!" said his father.
"Fahver," asked Maisie, wriggling, "have you brought me a doll?"
"I'm afraid I haven't."
"Mother said p'r'aps you would."
It was true there had been talk of a doll; he had forgotten it.
"I tell you what I'll do," said Edward Henry. "I'll take you to
London, and you can choose a doll in London. You never saw such dolls
as there are in London--talking dolls that shut and open their eyes
and say papa and mamma, and all their clothes take off and on."
"Do they say 'father'?" growled Robert.
"No, they don't," said Edward Henry.
"Why don't they?" growled Robert.
"When will you take me?" Maisie almost squealed.
"Certain sure, fahver?"
"You promise, fahver?"
"Of course I promise."
Robert at length stood up, to judge for himself this strange and
agitating caprice of his father's for taking Maisie to London. He saw
that, despite spellings, it would never do to let Maisie alone go.
He was about to put his father through a cross-examination, but Henry
Edward dropped Ralph (who had been climbing up him as up a telegraph
pole) on to the bed and went over to the window, nervously, and tapped
Carlo followed him, wagging an untidy tail.
"Hello, Trent!" murmured Edward Henry, stooping and patting the dog.
Ralph exploded into loud laughter.
"Father's called 'Carlo'--'Trent,'" he roared. "Father, have you
forgotten his name's 'Carlo'?" It was one of the greatest jokes that
Ralph had heard for a long time.
Then Nellie hurried into the room, and Edward Henry, with a "Mustn't
be late for tea," as hurriedly left it.
Three minutes later, while he was bent over the lavatory basin,
someone burst into the bathroom. He lifted a soapy face.
It was Nellie, with disturbed features.
"What's this about your positively promising to take Maisie to London
to-morrow to choose a doll?"
"I'll take 'em all," he replied with absurd levity. "And you too!"
"But really--" she pouted, indicating that he must not carry the
ridiculous too far.
"Look here, d----n it," he said impulsively, "I _want_ you to come.
And I want you to come to-morrow. I knew it was the confounded infants
you wouldn't leave. You don't mean to tell me you can't arrange it--a
woman like you!"
"And what am I to do with three children in a London hotel?"
"Take nurse, naturally."
"Take nurse?" she cried.
He imitated her, with a grotesque exaggeration, yelling loudly, "Take
nurse?" Then he planted a soap-sud on her fresh cheek.
She wiped it off carefully, and smacked his arm. The next moment she
was gone, having left the door open.
"He _wants_ me to go to London to-morrow," he could hear her saying to
his mother on the landing.
"Confound it!" he thought. "Didn't she know that at dinner-time?"
"Bless us!" His mother's voice.
"And take the children--and nurse!" His wife continued, in a tone
to convey the fact that she was just as much disturbed as her
mother-in-law could possibly be by the eccentricities of the male.
"He's his father all over, that lad is!" said his mother, strangely.
And Edward Henry was impressed by these words, for not once in seven
years did his mother mention his father.
Tea was an exciting meal.
"You'd better come too mother," said Edward Henry, audaciously. "We'll
shut the house up."
"I come to no London," said she.
"Well, then, you can use the motor as much as you like while we're
"I go about gallivanting in no motor," said his mother. "It'll take me
all my time to get this house straight against you come back."
"I haven't a _thing_ to go in!" said Nellie, with a martyr's sigh.
After all (he reflected), though domesticated, she was a woman.
He went to bed early. It seemed to him that his wife, his mother and
the nurse were active and whispering up and down the house till the
very middle of the night. He arose not late; but they were all three
afoot before him, active and whispering.
He found out, on the morning after the highly complex transaction
of getting his family from Bursley to London, that London held more
problems for him than ever. He was now not merely the proprietor of a
theatre approaching completion, but really a theatrical manager with a
play to produce, artistes to engage, and the public to attract. He had
made two appointments for that morning at the Majestic--(he was not
at the Grand Babylon, because his wife had once stayed with him at the
Majestic, and he did not want to add to his anxieties the business of
accustoming her to a new and costlier luxury)--one appointment at nine
with Marrier, and the other at ten with Nellie, family and nurse. He
had expected to get rid of Marrier before ten.
Among the exciting mail which Marrier had collected for him from the
Grand Babylon and elsewhere, was the following letter:
"BUCKINGHAM PALACE HOTEL.
"DEAR FRIEND,--We are all so proud of you. I should like some time to
finish our interrupted conversation. Will you come and have lunch with
me one day here at 1.30? You needn't write. I know how busy you are.
Just telephone you are coming. But don't telephone between 12 and 1,
because at that time I _always_ take my constitutional in St. James's
Park.--Yours sincerely, E.A."
"Well," he thought, "that's a bit thick, that is! She's stuck me up
with a dramatist I don't believe in, and a play I don't believe in,
and an actress I don't believe in--and now she--"
Nevertheless, to a certain extent he was bluffing himself. For, as he
pretended to put Elsie April back into her place, he had disturbing
and delightful visions of her. A clever creature! Uncannily clever!
Wealthy! Under thirty! Broad-minded! No provincial prejudices!... Her
voice, that always affected his spine! Her delicious flattery!... She
was no mean actress either! And the multifariousness of her seductive
charm! In fact, she was a regular woman of the world, such as you
would read about--if you did read!... He was sitting with her again
in the obscurity of the discussion-room at the Azure Society's
establishment. His heart was beating again.
A single wrench and he ripped up the letter, and cast it into one of
the red-lined waste-paper baskets with which the immense and rather
shabby writing-room of the Majestic was dotted.
Before he had finished dealing with Mr. Marrier's queries and
suggestions--some ten thousand in all--the clock struck, and Nellie
tripped into the room. She was in black silk, with hints here and
there of gold chains. As she had explained, she had nothing to wear,
and was therefore obliged to fall back on the final resource of every
woman in her state. For in this connection "nothing to wear" signified
"nothing except my black silk"--at any rate in the Five Towns.
"Mr. Marrier--my wife. Nellie, this is Mr. Marrier."
Mr. Marrier was profuse: no other word would describe his demeanour.
Nellie had the timidity of a young girl. Indeed she looked quite
youthful, despite the ageing influences of black silk.
"So that's your Mr. Marrier! I understood from you he was a clerk!"
said Nellie, tartly, suddenly retransformed into the shrewd matron, as
soon as Mr. Marrier had profusely gone. She had conceived Marrier as a
sort of Penkethman! Edward Henry had hoped to avoid this interview.
He shrugged his shoulders in answer to his wife's remark.
"Well," he said, "where are the kids?"
"Waiting in the lounge with nurse, as you said to be." Her mien
delicately informed him that while in London his caprices would be her
law, which she would obey without seeking to comprehend.
"Well," he went on, "I expect they'd like the parks as well as
anything. Suppose we take 'em and show 'em one of the parks? Shall we?
Besides, they must have fresh air."
"All right," Nellie agreed. "But how far will it be?"
"Oh!" said Edward Henry, "we'll crowd into a taxi."
They crowded into a taxi, and the children found their father in
high spirits. Maisie mentioned the doll.... In a minute the taxi had
stopped in front of a toy-shop surpassing dreams, and they invaded
the toy-shop like an army. When they emerged, after a considerable
interval, nurse was carrying an enormous doll, and Nellie was carrying
Maisie, and Ralph was lovingly stroking the doll's real shoes. Robert
kept a profound silence--a silence which had begun in the train.
"You haven't got much to say, Robert," his father remarked, when the
taxi set off again.
"I know," said Robert, gruffly. Among other things, he resented his
best clothes on a week-day.
"What do you think of London?"
"I don't know," said Robert.
His eyes never left the window of the taxi.
Then they visited the theatre--a very fatiguing enterprise, and also,
for Edward Henry, a very nervous one. He was as awkward in displaying
that inchoate theatre as a newly-made father with his first-born.
Pride and shame fought for dominion over him. Nellie was full of
laudations. Ralph enjoyed the ladders.
"I say," said Nellie, apprehensive for Maisie, on the pavement, "this
child's exhausted already. How big's this park of yours? Because
neither nurse nor I can carry her very far."
"We'll buy a pram," said Edward Henry. He was staring at a newspaper
placard which said: "Isabel Joy on the war-path again. Will she win?"
"Oh, yes. We'll buy a pram! Driver--"
"A pram isn't enough. You'll want coverings for her--in this wind."
"Well, we'll buy the necessary number of eider-downs and blankets,
then," said Edward Henry. "Driver--"
A tremendous business! For in addition to making the purchases he
had to feed his flock in an A.B.C. shop, where among the unoccupied
waitresses Maisie and her talkative, winking doll enjoyed a triumph.
Still there was plenty of time.
At a quarter past twelve he was displaying the varied landscape
beauties of the park to his family. Ralph insisted on going to the
bridge over the lake, and Robert silently backed him. And therefore
the entire party went. But Maisie was afraid of the water and cried.
Now the worst thing about Maisie was that when once she had begun to
cry it was very difficult to stop her. Even the most remarkable dolls
were powerless to appease her distress.
"Give me the confounded pram, nurse," said Edward Henry. "I'll cure
But he did not cure her. However, he had to stick grimly to the
perambulator. Nellie tripped primly in black silk on one side of it.
Nurse had the wayward Ralph by the hand. And Robert, taciturn, stalked
alone, adding up London and making a very small total of it.
Suddenly Edward Henry halted the perambulator, and, stepping away
from it, raised his hat. An excessively elegant young woman leading a
Pekinese by a silver chain stopped as if smitten by a magic dart and
"How do you do, Miss April?" said Edward Henry, loudly. "I was hoping
to meet you. This is my wife. Nellie--this is Miss April." Nellie
bowed stiffly in her black silk. (Naught of the fresh maiden about
her now!) And it has to be said that Elsie April in all her young and
radiant splendour and woman-of-the-worldliness was equally stiff. "And
there are my two boys. And this is my little girl--in the pram."
Maisie screamed, and pushed an expensive doll out of the perambulator.
Edward Henry saved it by its boot as it fell.
"And this is her doll. And this is nurse," he finished. "Fine breezy
morning, isn't it?"
In due course the processions moved on.
"Well, that's done!" Edward Henry muttered to himself. And sighed.
THE FIRST NIGHT
It was upon an evening in June--and a fine evening, full of the
exquisite melancholy of summer in a city--that Edward Henry stood
before a window, drumming thereon as he had once, a less-experienced
man with hair slightly less grey, drummed on the table of the mighty
and arrogant Slosson. The window was the window of the managerial
room of the Regent Theatre. And he could scarcely believe it--he could
scarcely believe that he was not in a dream--for the room was papered,
carpeted and otherwise furnished. Only its electric light fittings
were somewhat hasty and provisional, and the white ceiling showed a
hole and a bunch of wires--like the nerves of a hollow tooth--whence
one of Edward Henry's favourite chandeliers would ultimately depend.
The whole of the theatre was at least as far advanced towards
completion as that room. A great deal of it was more advanced; for
instance, the auditorium, _foyer_, and bars, which were utterly
finished, so far as anything ever is finished in a changing world.
Wonders, marvels and miracles had been accomplished. Mr. Alloyd, in
the stress of the job, had even ceased to bring the Russian Ballet
into his conversations. Mr. Alloyd, despite a growing tendency to
prove to Edward Henry by authentic anecdote, about midnight, his
general proposition that women as a sex treated him with shameful
unfairness, had gained the high esteem of Edward Henry as an
architect. He had fulfilled his word about those properties of the
auditorium which had to do with hearing and seeing--in so much that
the auditorium was indeed unique in London. And he had taken care
that the Clerk of the Works took care that the builder did not give up
heart in the race with time.
Moreover, he had maintained the peace with the terrible London County
Council, all of whose inspecting departments seemed to have secretly
decided that the Regent Theatre should be opened, not in June as
Edward Henry had decided, but at some vague future date towards the
middle of the century. Months earlier Edward Henry had ordained and
announced that the Regent Theatre should be inaugurated on a given
date in June, at the full height and splendour of the London season,
and he had astounded the theatrical world by adhering through thick
and thin to that date, and had thereby intensified his reputation as
an eccentric; for the oldest inhabitant of that world could not recall
a case in which the opening of a new theatre had not been promised for
at least three widely different dates.
Edward Henry had now arrived at the eve of the dread date, and if he
had arrived there in comparative safety, with a reasonable prospect of
avoiding complete shame and disaster, he felt and he admitted that
the credit was due as much to Mr. Alloyd as to himself. Which only
confirmed an early impression of his that architects were queer
people--rather like artists and poets in some ways, but with a basis
of bricks and mortar to them.
His own share in the enterprise of the Regent had in theory been
confined to engaging the right people for the right tasks and
situations; and to signing cheques. He had depended chiefly upon Mr.
Marrier, who, growing more radiant every day, had gradually developed
into a sort of chubby Napoleon, taking an immense delight in detail
and in choosing minor hands at round-sum salaries on the spur of the
moment. Mr. Marrier refused no call upon his energy. He was helping
Carlo Trent in the production and stage-management of the play. He
dried the tears of girlish neophytes at rehearsals. He helped to
number the stalls. He showed a passionate interest in the tessellated
pavement of the entrance. He taught the managerial typewriting girl
how to make afternoon tea. He went to Hitchin to find a mediaeval
chair required for the third act, and found it. In a word, he was
fully equal to the post of acting manager. He managed! He managed
everything and everybody except Edward Henry, and except
the press-agent, a functionary whose conviction of his own
indispensability and importance was so sincere that even Marrier
shared it and left him alone in his Bismarckian operations. The
press-agent, who sang in musical comedy chorus at night, knew that if
the Regent Theatre succeeded it would be his doing and his alone.
And yet Edward Henry, though he had delegated everything, had yet
found a vast amount of work to do; and was thereby exhausted. That was
why he was drumming on the pane. That was why he was conscious of
a foolish desire to shove his fist through the pane. During the
afternoon he had had two scenes with two representatives of the
Libraries (so called because they deal in theatre-tickets and not in
books) who had declined to take up any of his tickets in advance. He
had commenced an action against a firm of bill-posters. He had settled
an incipient strike in the 'limes' departments, originated by Mr.
Cosmo Clark's views about lighting. He had dictated answers to
seventy-nine letters of complaint from unknown people concerning the
supply of free seats for the first night. He had responded in the
negative to a request from a newspaper critic who, on the score that
he was deaf, wanted a copy of the play. He had replied finally to an
official of the County Council about the smoke-trap over the stage.
He had replied finally to another official of the County Council about
the electric sign. He had attended to a new curiosity on the part of
another official of the County Council about the iron curtain. But he
had been almost rude to still another official of the County Council
about the wiring of the electric light in the dressing-rooms. He had
been unmistakably and pleasurably rude in writing to Slossons about
their criticisms of the lock on the door of Lord Woldo's private
entrance to the theatre. Also he had arranged with the representative
of the Chief Commissioner of Police concerning the carriage
regulations for "setting-down and taking-up."
And he had indeed had more than enough. His nerves, though he did not
know it, and would have scorned the imputation, were slowly giving
way. Hence, really, the danger to the pane! Through the pane, in the
dying light, he could see a cross-section of Shaftesbury Avenue, and
an aged newspaper-lad leaning against a lamp-post and displaying a
poster which spoke of Isabel Joy. Isabel Joy yet again! That
little fact of itself contributed to his exasperation. He thought,
considering the importance of the Regent Theatre and the salary he was
paying to his press-agent, that the newspapers ought to occupy their
pages solely with the metropolitan affairs of Edward Henry Machin. But
the wretched Isabel had, as it were, got London by the throat. She
had reached Chicago from the West, on her triumphant way home, and
had there contrived to be arrested, according to boast, but she was
experiencing much more difficulty in emerging from the Chicago prison
than in entering it. And the question was now becoming acute whether
the emissary of the Militant Suffragettes would arrive back in London
within the specified period of a hundred days. Naturally, London was
holding its breath. London will keep calm during moderate crises--such
as a national strike or the agony of the House of Lords--but when the
supreme excitation is achieved London knows how to let itself go.
"If you please, Mr. Machin--"
He turned. It was his typewriter, Miss Lindop, a young girl of some
thirty-five years, holding a tea-tray.
"But I've had my tea once!" he snapped.
"But you've not had your dinner, sir, and it's half-past eight!" she
He had known this girl for less than a month, and he paid her fewer
shillings a week than the years of her age--and yet somehow she had
assumed a worshipping charge of him, based on the idea that he was
incapable of taking care of himself. To look at her appealing eyes one
might have thought that she would have died to ensure his welfare.
"And they want to see you about the linoleum for the gallery stairs,"
she added timidly. "The County Council man says it must be taken up."
The linoleum for the gallery stairs! Something snapped in him. He
almost walked right through the young woman and the tea-tray.
"I'll linoleum them!" he bitterly exclaimed, and disappeared.
Having duly "linoleumed them," or rather having very annoyingly quite
failed to "linoleum them," Edward Henry continued his way up the
right-hand gallery staircase, and reached the auditorium, where to his
astonishment a good deal of electricity, at one penny three farthings
a unit, was blazing. Every seat in the narrow and high-pitched
gallery, where at the sides the knees of one spectator would be on a
level with the picture-hat of the spectator in the row beneath, had
a perfect and entire view of the proscenium opening. And Edward Henry
now proved this unprecedented fact by climbing to the topmost corner
seat and therefrom surveying the scene of which he was monarch. The
boxes were swathed in their new white dust-sheets; and likewise the
higgledy-piggledy stalls, not as yet screwed down to the floor, save
three or four stalls in the middle of the front row, from which the
sheet had been removed. On one of these seats, far off though it was,
he could descry a paper bag--probably containing sandwiches--and on
another a pair of gloves and a walking-stick. Several alert ladies
with sketch-books walked uneasily about in the aisles. The orchestra
was hidden in the well provided for it, and apparently murmuring
in its sleep. The magnificent drop-curtain, designed by Saracen
Givington, A.R.A., concealed the stage.
Suddenly Mr. Marrier and Carlo Trent appeared through the iron door
that gave communication--to initiates--between the wings and the
auditorium; they sat down in the stalls. And the curtain rose with a
violent swish, and disclosed the first "set" of "The Orient Pearl."
"What about that amber, Cosmo?" Mr. Marrier cried thickly, after a
pause, his mouth occupied with sandwich.
"There you are!" came the reply.
"Right!" said Mr. Marrier. "Strike!"
"Don't strike!" contradicted Carlo Trent.
"Strike, I tell you! We must get on with the second act." The voices
resounded queerly in the empty theatre.
The stage was invaded by scene-shifters before the curtain could
Edward Henry heard a tripping step behind him. It was the faithful
"I say," he said. "Do you mind telling me what's going on here? It's
true that in the rush of more important business I'd almost forgotten
that a theatre is a place where they perform plays."
"It's the dress-rehearsal, Mr. Machin," said the woman, startled and
"But the dress-rehearsal was fixed for three o'clock," said he. "It
must have been finished three hours ago."
"I think they've only just done the first act," the woman breathed. "I
know they didn't begin till seven. Oh! Mr. Machin, of course it's
no affair of mine, but I've worked in a good many theatres, and I do
think it's such a mistake to have the dress-rehearsal quite private.
If you get a hundred or so people in the stalls then it's an audience,
and there's much less delay and everything goes much better. But when
it's private a dress-rehearsal is just like any other rehearsal."
"Only more so--perhaps," said Edward Henry, smiling.
He saw that he had made her happy; but he saw also that he had given
her empire over him.
"I've got your tea here," she said, rather like a hospital-nurse now.
"Won't you drink it?"
"I'll drink it if it's not stewed," he muttered.
"Oh!" she protested, "of course it isn't! I poured it off the leaves
into another teapot before I brought it up."
She went behind the barrier, and reappeared balancing a cup of tea
with a slice of sultana cake edged on to the saucer. And as she handed
it to him--the sustenance of rehearsals--she gazed at him and he could
almost hear her eyes saying: "You poor thing!"
There was nothing that he hated so much as to be pitied.
"You go home!" he commanded.
"You go home! See?" He paused, threatening. "If you don't clear out on
the tick I'll chuck this cup and saucer down into the stalls."
Horrified, she vanished.
He sighed his relief.
After some time the leader of the orchestra climbed into his chair,
and the orchestra began to play, and the curtain went up again, on the
second act of the masterpiece in hexameters. The new scenery, which
Edward Henry had with extraordinary courage insisted on Saracen
Givington substituting for the original incomprehensibilities
displayed at the Azure Society's performance, rather pleased him. Its
colouring was agreeable, and it did resemble something definite. You
could, though perhaps not easily, tell what it was meant to represent.
The play proceeded, and the general effect was surprisingly pleasant
to Edward Henry. And then Rose Euclid as Haidee came on for the great
scene of the act. From the distance of the gallery she looked quite
passably youthful, and beyond question she had a dominating presence
in her resplendent costume. She was incomparably and amazingly better
than she had been at the few previous rehearsals which Edward Henry
had been unfortunate enough to witness. She even reminded him of his
earliest entrancing vision of her.
"Some people may _like_ this!" he admitted, with a gleam of optimism.
Hitherto, for weeks past, he had gone forward with his preparations in
the most frigid and convinced pessimism. It seemed to him that he had
become involved in a vast piece of machinery, and that nothing short
of blowing the theatre up with dynamite would bring the cranks and
pistons to a stop. And yet it seemed to him also that everything was
unreal, that the contracts he signed were unreal, and the proofs
he passed, and the posters he saw on the walls of London, and the
advertisements in the newspapers. Only the cheques he drew had the air
of being real. And now, in a magic flash, after a few moments gazing
at the stage, he saw all differently. He scented triumph from afar
off, as one sniffs the tang of the sea. On the morrow he had to
meet Nellie at Euston, and he had shrunk from meeting her, with her
terrible remorseless, provincial, untheatrical common sense; but
now, in another magic flash, he envisaged the meeting with a
cock-a-doodle-doo of hope. Strange! He admitted it was strange.
And then he failed to hear several words spoken by Rose Euclid. And
then a few more. As the emotion of the scene grew, the proportion of
her words audible in the gallery diminished. Until she became, for
him, totally inarticulate, raving away there and struggling in a
cocoon of hexameters.
Despair seized him. His nervous system--every separate nerve of
it--was on the rack once more.
He stood up in a sort of paroxysm, and called loudly across the vast
"Speak more distinctly, please."
A fearful silence fell upon the whole theatre. The rehearsal stopped.
The building itself seemed to be staggered. Somebody had actually
demanded that words should be uttered articulately!
Mr. Marrier turned towards the intruder, as one determined to put an
end to such singularities.
"Who's up theyah?"
"I am," said Edward Henry. "And I want it to be clearly understood in
my theatre that the first thing an actor has to do is to make himself
heard. I daresay I'm devilish odd, but that's how I look at it."
"Whom do you mean, Mr. Machin?" asked Marrier in a different tone.
"I mean Miss Euclid of course. Here I've spent heaven knows how much
on the acoustics of this theatre, and I can't make out a word she
says. I can hear all the others. And this is the dress-rehearsal!"
"You must remember you're in the gallery," said Mr. Marrier, firmly.
"And what if I am? I'm not giving gallery seats away to-morrow night.
It's true I'm giving half the stalls away, but the gallery will be
Said Rose Euclid, sharply, and Edward Henry caught every word with the
most perfect distinctness:
"I'm sick and tired of people saying they can't make out what I say!
They actually write me letters about it! Why _should_ people make out
what I say?"
She quitted the stage.
"Ring down the curtain," said Mr. Marrier in a thrilled voice.
Shortly afterwards Mr. Marrier came into the managerial office, lit
up now, where Edward Henry was dictating to his typewriter and
hospital-nurse, who, having been caught in hat and jacket on the
threshold, had been brought back and was tapping his words direct on
to the machine.
It was a remarkable fact that the sole proprietor of the Regent
Theatre was now in high spirits and good humour.
"Well, Marrier, my boy," he saluted the acting-manager, "how are you
getting on with that rehearsal?"
"Well, sir," said Mr. Marrier, "I'm not getting on with it. Miss
Euclid refuses absolutely to proceed. She's in her dressing-room."
"But why?" inquired Edward Henry with bland surprise. "Doesn't she
_want_ to be heard--by her gallery-boys?"
Mr. Marrier showed an enfeebled smile.
"She hasn't been spoken to like that for thirty years," said he.
"But don't you agree with me?" asked Edward Henry.
"Yes," said Marrier, "I _agree_ with you--"
"And doesn't your friend Carlo want his precious hexameters to be
"We baoth agree with you," said Marrier. "The fact is, we've done all
we could, but it's no use. She's splendid, only--" He paused.
"Only you can't make out ten per cent of what she says," Edward Henry
finished for him. "Well, I've got no use for that in my theatre." He
found a singular pleasure in emphasizing the phrase, "my theatre."
"That's all very well," said Marrier. "But what are you going to _do_
about it? I've tried everything. _You've_ come in and burst up the
entire show, if you'll forgive my saying saoh!"
"Do?" exclaimed Edward Henry. "It's perfectly simple. All you have to
do is to act. God bless my soul, aren't you getting fifteen pounds a
week, and aren't you my acting-manager? Act, then! You've done enough
hinting. You've proved that hints are no good. You'd have known that
from your birth up, Marrier, if you'd been born in the Five Towns.
Act, my boy."
"But haow? If she won't go on, she won't."
"Is her understudy in the theatre?"
"Yes. It's Miss Cunningham, you know."
"What salary does she get?"
"Ten pounds a week."
"Well--partly to understudy, I suppose."
"Let her earn it, then. Go on with the rehearsal. And let her play the
part to-morrow night. She'll be delighted, you bet."
"Miss Lindop," Edward Henry interrupted, "will you please read to Mr.
Marrier what I've dictated?" He turned to Marrier. "It's an interview
with myself for one of to-morrow's papers."
Miss Lindop, with tears in her voice if not in her eyes, obeyed the
order and, drawing the paper from the machine, read its contents
Mr. Marrier started back--not in the figurative but in the literal
sense--as he listened.
"But you'll never send that out!" he exclaimed.
"No paper will print it!"
"My dear Marrier," said Edward Henry, "don't be a simpleton. You know
as well as I do that half-a-dozen papers will be delighted to print
it. And all the rest will copy the one that does print it. It'll
be the talk of London to-morrow, and Isabel Joy will be absolutely
"Well," said Mr. Marrier, "I never heard of such a thing!"
"Pity you didn't, then!"
Mr. Marrier moved away.
"I say," he murmured at the door, "don't you think you ought to read
that to Rose first?"
"I'll read it to Rose like a bird," said Edward Henry.
Within two minutes--it was impossible to get from his room to the
dressing-rooms in less--he was knocking at Rose Euclid's door. "Who's
there?" said a voice. He entered and then replied: "I am."
Rose Euclid was smoking a cigarette and scratching the arm of an
easy-chair behind her. Her maid stood near by with a whisky-and-soda.
"Sorry you can't go on with the rehearsal, Miss Euclid," said Edward
Henry very quickly. "However, we must do the best we can. But Mr.
Marrier thought you'd like to hear this. It's part of an interview
with me that's going to appear to-morrow in the press."
Without pausing, he went on to read: "I found Mr. Alderman Machin, the
hero of the Five Towns and the proprietor and initiator of London's
newest and most up-to-date and most intellectual theatre, surrounded
by a complicated apparatus of telephones and typewriters in his
managerial room at the Regent. He received me very courteously. "Yes,"
he said in response to my question, "the rumour is quite true. The
principal part in 'The Orient Pearl' will be played on the first night
by Miss Euclid's understudy, Miss Olga Cunningham, a young woman of
very remarkable talent. No, Miss Euclid is not ill or even indisposed.
But she and I have had a grave difference of opinion. The point
between us was whether Miss Euclid's speeches ought to be clearly
audible in the auditorium. I considered they ought. I may be wrong.
I may be provincial. But that was and is my view. At the
dress-rehearsal, seated in the gallery, I could not hear her lines. I
objected. She refused to consider the objection or to proceed with the
rehearsal. _Hinc illae lachrymae_!" ... "Not at all," said Mr. Machin
in reply to a question, "I have the highest admiration for Miss
Euclid's genius. I should not presume to dictate to her as to her
art. She has had a very long experience of the stage, very long, and
doubtless knows better than I do. Only, the Regent happens to be my
theatre, and I'm responsible for it. Every member of the audience will
have a complete uninterrupted view of the stage, and I intend that
every member of the audience shall hear every word that is uttered on
the stage. I'm odd, I know. But then I've a reputation for oddness
to keep up. And by the way, I'm sure that Miss Cunningham will make a
great reputation for herself."
"Not while I'm here, she won't!" exclaimed Rose Euclid, standing up,
and enunciating her words with marvellous clearness.
Edward Henry glanced at her, and then continued to read: "Suggestions
for headlines. 'Piquant quarrel between manager and star-actress.'
'Unparalleled situation.' 'Trouble at the Regent Theatre.'"
"Mr. Machin," said Rose Euclid, "you are not a gentleman."
"You'd hardly think so, would you?" mused Edward Henry, as if mildly
interested in this new discovery of Miss Euclid's.
"Maria," said the star to her maid, "go and tell Mr. Marrier I'm
"And I'll go back to the gallery," said Edward Henry. "It's the place
for people like me, isn't it? I daresay I'll tear up this paper later,
Miss Euclid--we'll see."
On the next night a male figure in evening dress and a pale overcoat
might have been seen standing at the corner of Piccadilly Circus and
Lower Regent Street, staring at an electric sign in the shape of
a shield which said, in its glittering, throbbing speech of
"THE ORIENT PEARL"
The figure crossed the Circus, and stared at the sign from a new point
of view. Then it passed along Coventry Street, and stared at the sign
from yet another point of view. Then it reached Shaftesbury Avenue
and stared again. Then it returned to its original station. It was the
figure of Edward Henry Machin, savouring the glorious electric sign of
which he had dreamed. He lit a cigarette, and thought of Seven Sachs
gazing at the name of Seven Sachs in fire on the facade of a Broadway
Theatre in New York. Was not this London phenomenon at least as fine?
He considered it was. The Regent Theatre existed--there it stood!
(What a name for a theatre!) Its windows were all illuminated. Its
entrance-lamps bathed the pavement in light, and in this radiance
stood the commissionaires in their military pride and their new
uniforms. A line of waiting automobiles began a couple of yards to the
north of the main doors and continued round all sorts of dark corners
and up all manner of back streets towards Golden Square itself.
Marrier had had the automobiles counted and had told him the number,
but such was Edward Henry's condition that he had forgotten. A row of
boards reared on the pavement against the walls of the facade said:
"Stalls Full," "Private Boxes Full," "Dress Circle Full," "Upper
Circle Full," "Pit Full," "Gallery Full." And attached to the ironwork
of the glazed entrance canopy was a long board which gave the same
information in terser form: "House Full." The Regent had indeed been
obliged to refuse quite a lot of money on its opening night. After
all, the inauguration of a new theatre was something, even in London!
Important personages had actually begged the privilege of buying seats
at normal prices, and had been refused. Unimportant personages--such
as those whose boast in the universe was that they had never missed
a first night in the West End for twenty, thirty, or even fifty
years--had tried to buy seats at abnormal prices, and had failed:
which was in itself a tragedy. Edward Henry at the final moment had
yielded his wife's stall to the instances of a Minister of the Crown,
and at Lady Woldo's urgent request had put her into Lady Woldo's
private landowner's-box, where also was Miss Elsie April, who "had
already had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Machin." Edward Henry's first
night was an event of magnitude. And he alone was responsible for it.
His volition alone had brought into being that grand edifice whose
light yellow walls now gleamed in nocturnal mystery under the shimmer
of countless electric bulbs.
"There goes pretty nigh forty thousand pounds of my money!" he
And he reflected:
"After all, I'm somebody."
Then he glanced down Lower Regent Street and saw Sir John Pilgrim's
much larger theatre, now sub-let to a tenant who was also lavish with
displays of radiance. And he reflected that on first nights Sir John
Pilgrim, in addition to doing all that he himself had done, would hold
the great _role_ on the stage throughout the evening. And he admired
the astounding, dazzling energy of such a being, and admitted
"He's somebody too! I wonder what part of the world he's illuminating
Edward Henry did not deny to his soul that he was extremely nervous.
He would not and could not face even the bare possibility that the
first play presented at the new theatre might be a failure. He had
meant to witness the production incognito among the crowd in the pit
or in the gallery. But, after visiting the pit a few moments before
the curtain went up, he had been appalled by the hard-hearted levity
of the pit's remarks on things in general. The pit did not seem to
be in any way chastened or softened by the fact that a fortune, that
reputations, that careers were at stake. He had fled from the packed
pit. (As for the gallery, he decided that he had already had enough of
the gallery.) He had wandered about corridors, and to and fro in his
own room and in the wings, and even in the basement, as nervous as a
lost cat or an author, and as self-conscious as a criminal who knows
himself to be on the edge of discovery. It was a fact that he could
not look people in the eyes. The reception of the first act had been
fairly amiable, and he had suffered horribly as he listened for the
applause. Catching sight of Carlo Trent in the distance of a passage,
he had positively run away from Carlo Trent. The first _entr'acte_
had seemed to last for about three months. Its nightmarish length had
driven him almost to lunacy. The "feel" of the second act--so far
as it mystically communicated itself to him in his place of
concealment--had been better. And at the second fall of the curtain
the applause had been enthusiastic. Yes, enthusiastic! Curiously, it
was the revulsion caused by this new birth of hope that, while the
third act was being played, had driven him out of the theatre. His
wild hope needed ozone. His breast had to expand in the boundless
prairie of Piccadilly Circus. His legs had to walk. His arms had to
Now he crossed the Circus again to his own pavement and gazed like
a stranger at his own posters. On several of them, encircled in a
scarlet ring, was the sole name of Rose Euclid--impressive! (And
smaller, but above it, the legend, "E.H. Machin, Sole Proprietor.")
He asked himself impartially, as his eyes uneasily left the poster
and slipped round the Circus--deserted save by a few sinister and
idle figures at that hour--"Should I have sent that interview to the
papers, or shouldn't I?... I wonder. I expect some folks would say
that on the whole I've been rather hard on Rose since I first met
her!... Anyhow, she's speaking up all right to-night!" He laughed
A newsboy floated up from the Circus bearing a poster with the name of
Isabel Joy on it in large letters.
"Be blowed to Isabel Joy!"
He did not care a fig for Isabel Joy's competition now.
And then a small door opened in the wall close by, and an elegant
cloaked woman came out on to the pavement. The door was the private
door leading to the private box of Lord Woldo, owner of the ground
upon which the Regent Theatre was built. The woman he recognized with
confusion as Elsie April, whom he had not seen alone since the Azure
"What are you doing out here, Mr. Machin?" she greeted him with
"I'm thinking," said he.
"It's going splendidly," she remarked. "Really!... I'm just running
round to the stage-door to meet dear Rose as she comes off. What a
delightful woman your wife is! So pretty, and so sensible!"
She disappeared round the corner before he could compose a suitable
husband's reply to this laudation of a wife.
Then the commissionaires at the entrance seemed to start into life.
And then suddenly several preoccupied men strode rapidly out of the
theatre, buttoning their coats, and vanished phantom-like....
Critics, on their way to destruction!
The performance must be finishing. Hastily he followed in the
direction taken by Elsie April.
He was in the wings, on the prompt side. Close by stood the prompter,
an untidy youth with imperfections of teeth, clutching hard at the
red-scored manuscript of "The Orient Pearl." Sundry players, of
varying stellar degrees, were posed around in the opulent costumes
designed by Saracen Givington, A.R.A. Miss Lindop was in the
background, ecstatically happy, her cheeks a race-course of tears.
Afar off, in the centre of the stage, alone, stood Rose Euclid,
gorgeous in green and silver, bowing and bowing and bowing--bowing
before the storm of approval and acclamation that swept from the
auditorium across the footlights. With a sound like that of tearing
silk, or of a gigantic contralto mosquito, the curtain swished down,
and swished up, and swished down again. Bouquets flew on to the stage
from the auditorium (a custom newly imported from the United States
by Miss Euclid, and encouraged by her, though contrary to the lofty
canons of London taste). The actress already held one huge trophy,
shaped as a crown, to her breast. She hesitated, and then ran to the
wings, and caught Edward Henry by the wrist impulsively, madly. They
shook hands in an ecstasy.
It was as though they recognized in one another a fundamental and
glorious worth; it was as though no words could ever express the depth
of appreciation, affection and admiration which each intensely
felt for the other; it was as though this moment were the final
consecration of twin-lives whose long, loyal comradeship had never
been clouded by the faintest breath of mutual suspicion. Rose Euclid
was still the unparalleled star, the image of grace and beauty and
dominance upon the stage. And yet quite clearly Edward Henry saw close
to his the wrinkled, damaged, daubed face and thin neck of an old
woman; and it made no difference.
"Rose!" cried a strained voice, and Rose Euclid wrenched herself from
him and tumbled with half a sob into the clasping arms of Elsie April.
"You've saved the intellectual theatah for London, my boy! That's what
you've done!" Marrier now was gripping his hand. And Edward Henry was
convinced that he had.
The strident vigour of the applause showed no diminution. And through
the thick, heavy rain of it could be heard the monotonous, insistent
detonations of one syllable:
"'Thor! 'Thor! 'Thor! 'Thor! 'Thor!"
And then another syllable was added:
"Speech! Speech! Speech! Speech!"
Mechanically Edward Henry lit a cigarette. He had no consciousness of
"Where is Trent?" people were asking.
Carlo Trent appeared up a staircase at the back of the stage.
"You've got to go on," said Marrier. "Now, pull yourself together. The
Great Beast is calling for you. Say a few wahds."
Carlo Trent in his turn seized the hand of Edward Henry, and it
was for all the world as though he were seizing the hand of an
intellectual and poetic equal, and wrung it.
"Come now!" Mr. Marrier, beaming, admonished him, and then pushed.
"What must I say?" stammered Carlo.
"Whatever comes into your head."
"All right! I'll say something."
A man in a dirty white apron drew back the heavy mass of the curtain
about eighteen inches, and Carlo Trent stepping forward, the glare
of the footlights suddenly lit his white face. The applause, now
multiplied fivefold and become deafening, seemed to beat him back
against the curtain. His lips worked. He did not bow.
"Cam back, you fool!" whispered Marrier.
And Carlo Trent stepped back into safe shelter.
"Why didn't you say something?"
"I c-couldn't," murmured weakly the greatest dramatic poet in the
world, and began to cry.
"Speech! Speech! Speech! Speech!"
"Here!" said Edward Henry, gruffly. "Get out of my way! I'll settle
'em! Get out of my way!" And he riddled Carlo Trent with a fusillade
of savagely scornful glances.
The man in the apron obediently drew back the curtain again, and the
next second Edward Henry was facing an auditorium crowded with his
patrons. Everybody was standing up, chiefly in the aisles and crowded
at the entrances, and quite half the people were waving, and quite a
quarter of them were shouting. He bowed several times. An age elapsed.
His ears were stunned. But it seemed to him that his brain was working
with marvellous perfection. He perceived that he had been utterly
wrong about "The Orient Pearl." And that all his advisers had been
splendidly right. He had failed to catch its charm and to feel its
power. But this audience--this magnificent representative audience
drawn from London in the brilliant height of the season--had not
It occurred to him to raise his hand. And as he raised his hand it
occurred to him that his hand held a lighted cigarette. A magic hush
fell upon the magnificent audience, which owned all that endless line
of automobiles outside. Edward Henry, in the hush, took a pull at his
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, pitching his voice well--for
municipal politics had made him a practised public speaker, "I
congratulate you. This evening you--have succeeded!"
There was a roar, confused, mirthful, humorously protesting. He
distinctly heard a man in the front row of the stalls say: "Well, for
sheer nerve--!" And then go off into a peal of laughter.
He smiled and retired.
Marrier took charge of him.
"You merit the entire confectioner's shop!" exclaimed Marrier, aghast,
Now Edward Henry had had no intention of meriting cake. He had merely
followed in speech the secret train of his thought. But he saw that
he had treated a West End audience as a West End audience had never
before been treated, and that his audacity had conquered. Hence he
determined not to refuse the cake.
"Didn't I tell you I'd settle 'em?" said he.
The band played "God Save the King."
One hour later, in the double-bedded chamber at the Majestic, as his
wife lay in bed and he was methodically folding up a creased white tie
and inspecting his chin in the mirror, he felt that he was touching
again, after an immeasurable interval, the rock-bottom of reality.
Nellie, even when he could only see her face--and that in a
mirror!--was the most real phenomenon in his existence, and she
possessed the strange faculty of dispelling all unreality round about
"Well," he said, "how did you get on in the box?"
"Oh!" she replied, "I got on very well with the Woldo woman. She's one
of our sort. But I'm not _so_ set up with your Elsie April."
"Dash this collar!"
"And I can tell you another thing, I don't envy Mr. Rollo Wrissell."
"What's Wrissell got to do with it?"
"She means to marry him."
"Elsie April means to marry Wrissell?"
"He was in and out of the box all night. It was as plain as a
"What's amiss with my Elsie April?" Edward Henry demanded.
"She's a thought too _pleasant_ for my taste," answered Nellie.
Astonishing, how pleasantness is regarded with suspicion in the Five
Towns, even by women who can at a pinch be angels!
Often during the brief night he gazed sleepily at the vague next bed
and mused upon the extraordinariness of women's consciences. His wife
slept like an innocent. She always did. It was as though she gently
expired every evening and returned gloriously to life every morning.
The sunshiny hours between three and seven were very long to him, but
it was indisputable that he did not hear the clock strike six: which
was at any rate proof of a little sleep to the good. At five minutes
past seven he thought he heard a faint rustling noise in the corridor,
and he arose and tiptoed to the door and opened it. Yes, the Majestic
had its good qualities! He had ordered that all the London morning
daily papers should be laid at his door as early as possible--and
there the pile was, somewhat damp, and as fresh as fruit, with a
slight odour of ink. He took it in.
His heart was beating as he climbed back into bed with it and arranged
pillows so that he could sit up, and unfolded the first paper. Nellie
had not stirred.
Once again he was disappointed in the prominence given by the powerful
London press to his London enterprise. In the first newspaper, a
very important one, he positively could not find any criticism of the
Regent's first night. There was nearly a page of the offensive Isabel
Joy, who was now appealing, through the newspapers, to the President
of the United States. Isabel had been christened the World-Circler,
and the special correspondents of the entire earth were gathered about
her carpeted cell. Hope still remained that she would reach London
within the hundred days. An unknown adherent of the cause for which
she suffered had promised to give ten thousand pounds to that cause
if she did so. Further, she was receiving over sixty proposals of
marriage a day. And so on and so on! Most of this he gathered in an
instant from the headlines alone. Nauseating! Another annoying item in
the paper was a column and a half given to the foundation-stone-laying
of the First New Thought Church, in Dean Street, Soho--about a couple
of hundred yards from its original site. He hated the First New
Thought Church as one always hates that to which one has done an
Then he found what he was searching for: "Regent Theatre. Production
of poetical drama at London's latest playhouse." After all, it was
well situated in the paper, on quite an important page, and there was
over a column of it. But in his nervous excitation his eyes had missed
it. His eyes now read it. Over half of it was given up to a discussion
of the Don Juan legend and the significance of the Byronic character
of Haidee--obviously written before the performance. A description
of the plot occupied most of the rest, and a reference to the acting
ended it. "Miss Rose Euclid, in the trying and occasionally beautiful
part of Haidee, was all that her admirers could have wished." ...
"Miss Cunningham distinguished herself by her diction and bearing in
the small part of the Messenger." The final words were, "The reception
was quite favourable."
"Quite favourable" indeed! Edward Henry had a chill. Good heavens, was
not the reception ecstatically, madly, foolishly enthusiastic? "Why!"
he exclaimed within, "I never saw such a reception!" It was true, but
then he had never seen any other first night. He was shocked, as well
as chilled. And for this reason: for weeks past all the newspapers, in
their dramatic gossip, had contained highly sympathetic references to
his enterprise. According to the paragraphs, he was a wondrous
man, and the theatre was a wondrous house, the best of all possible
theatres, and Carlo Trent was a great writer, and Rose Euclid exactly
as marvellous as she had been a quarter of a century before, and the
prospects of the intellectual-poetic drama in London so favourable
as to amount to a certainty of success. In those columns of dramatic
gossip there was no flaw in the theatrical world. In those columns
of dramatic gossip no piece ever failed, though sometimes a piece was
withdrawn, regretfully and against the wishes of the public, to make
room for another piece. In those columns of dramatic gossip theatrical
managers, actors, and especially actresses, and even authors, were
benefactors of society, and therefore they were treated with the
deference, the gentleness, the heartfelt sympathy which benefactors of
society merit and ought to receive.
The tone of the criticism of the first night was different--it was
subtly, not crudely, different. But different it was.
The next newspaper said the play was bad and the audience indulgent.
It was very severe on Carlo Trent, and very kind to the players,
whom it regarded as good men and women in adversity--with particular
laudations for Miss Rose Euclid and the Messenger. The next newspaper
said the play was a masterpiece--and would be so hailed in any country
but England. England, however--! Unfortunately this was a newspaper
whose political opinions Edward Henry despised. The next newspaper
praised everything and everybody, and called the reception
tumultuously enthusiastic. And Edward Henry felt as though somebody,
mistaking his face for a slice of toast, had spread butter all over
it. Even the paper's parting assurance that the future of the higher
drama in London was now safe beyond question did not remove this
delusion of butter.
The two following newspapers were more sketchy or descriptive, and
referred at some length to Edward Henry's own speech, with a kind of
sub-hint that Edward Henry had better mind what he was about. Three
illustrated papers and photographs of scenes and figures, but nothing
important in the matter of criticism. The rest were "neither one
thing nor the other," as they say in the Five Towns. On the whole,
an inscrutable press, a disconcerting, a startling, an
appetite-destroying, but not a hopeless press!
The general impression which he gathered from his perusals was that
the author was a pretentious dullard, an absolute criminal, a genius;
that the actors and actresses were all splendid and worked hard,
though conceivably one or two of them had been set impossible
tasks--to wit, tasks unsuited to their personalities; that he himself
was a Napoleon, a temerarious individual, an incomprehensible fellow;
and that the future of the intellectual-poetic drama in London was
not a topic of burning actuality.... He remembered sadly the
superlative-laden descriptions, in those same newspapers, of the
theatre itself, a week or two back, the unique theatre in which the
occupant of every seat had a complete and uninterrupted view of the
whole of the proscenium opening. Surely that fact alone ought to have
ensured proper treatment for him!
Then Nellie woke up and saw the scattered newspapers.
"Well," she asked, "what do they say?"
"Oh!" he replied lightly, with a laugh. "Just about what you'd
expect. Of course you know what a first-night audience always is. Too
generous. And ours was, particularly. Miss April saw to that. She
had the Azure Society behind her, and she was determined to help Rose
Euclid. However, I should say it was all right--I should say it was
quite all right. I told you it was a gamble, you know."
When Nellie, dressing, said that she considered she ought to go back
home that day, he offered no objection. Indeed he rather wanted her
to go. Not that he had a desire to spend the whole of his time at the
theatre, unhampered by provincial women in London. On the contrary, he
was aware of a most definite desire not to go to the theatre. He lay
in bed and watched with careless curiosity the rapid processes of
Nellie's toilette. He had his breakfast on the dressing-table (for he
was not at Wilkins's, neither at the Grand Babylon). Then he helped
her to pack, and finally he accompanied her to Euston, where she
kissed him with affectionate common sense and caught the twelve five.
He was relieved that nobody from the Five Towns happened to be going
down by that train.
As he turned away from the moving carriage the evening papers had just
arrived at the bookstalls. He bought the four chief organs--one green,
one yellowish, one white, one pink--and scanned them self-consciously
on the platform. The white organ had a good heading: "Re-birth of the
intellectual drama in London. What a provincial has done. Opinions of
leading men." Two columns altogether! There was, however, little in
the two columns. The leading men had practised a sagacious caution.
They, like the press as a whole, were obviously waiting to see which
way the great elephantine public would jump. When the enormous animal
had jumped they would all exclaim: "What did I tell you?" The other
critiques were colourless. At the end of the green critique occurred
the following sentence: "It is only fair to state, nevertheless,
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