He was acutely uncomfortable, but even his discomfort was somehow a joy.
“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 finished.
“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 room emptied.
“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. Seven Sachs.
“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 else?”
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 hand.
“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.)