There was one source of unsullied gratification, he had shaved off his beard.
“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 night.
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 anybody!