The Unbearable Bassington HTML version

Chapter XIII
Comus found his way to his seat in the stalls of the Straw Exchange Theatre and turned to
watch the stream of distinguished and distinguishable people who made their appearance
as a matter of course at a First Night in the height of the Season. Pit and gallery were
already packed with a throng, tense, expectant and alert, that waited for the rise of the
curtain with the eager patience of a terrier watching a dilatory human prepare for outdoor
exercises. Stalls and boxes filled slowly and hesitatingly with a crowd whose component
units seemed for the most part to recognise the probability that they were quite as
interesting as any play they were likely to see. Those who bore no particular face-value
themselves derived a certain amount of social dignity from the near neighbourhood of
obvious notabilities; if one could not obtain recognition oneself there was some vague
pleasure in being able to recognise notoriety at intimately close quarters.
“Who is that woman with the auburn hair and a rather effective belligerent gleam in her
eyes?” asked a man sitting just behind Comus; “she looks as if she might have created the
world in six days and destroyed it on the seventh.”
“I forget her name,” said his neighbour; “she writes. She’s the author of that book, ‘The
Woman who wished it was Wednesday,’ you know. It used to be the convention that
women writers should be plain and dowdy; now we have gone to the other extreme and
build them on extravagantly decorative lines.”
A buzz of recognition came from the front rows of the pit, together with a craning of
necks on the part of those in less favoured seats. It heralded the arrival of Sherard Blaw,
the dramatist who had discovered himself, and who had given so ungrudgingly of his
discovery to the world. Lady Caroline, who was already directing little conversational
onslaughts from her box, gazed gently for a moment at the new arrival, and then turned to
the silver-haired Archdeacon sitting beside her.
“They say the poor man is haunted by the fear that he will die during a general election,
and that his obituary notices will be seriously curtailed by the space taken up by the
election results. The curse of our party system, from his point of view, is that it takes up
so much room in the press.”
The Archdeacon smiled indulgently. As a man he was so exquisitely worldly that he
fully merited the name of the Heavenly Worldling bestowed on him by an admiring
duchess, and withal his texture was shot with a pattern of such genuine saintliness that
one felt that whoever else might hold the keys of Paradise he, at least, possessed a private
latchkey to that abode.
“Is it not significant of the altered grouping of things,” he observed, “that the Church, as
represented by me, sympathises with the message of Sherard Blaw, while neither the man
nor his message find acceptance with unbelievers like you, Lady Caroline.”