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 failed.
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 cigarette.
“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, admiring, triumphant.
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 her.
“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?”