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 adept.
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 awakened.
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 lived!”
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.”