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 chamber.
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 of provinciality.