Part 3 out of 7
Both spoke casually. Celia Agg was the only person in the world privy to
their engagement; but they permitted themselves no freedoms in front of
her. As Marguerite came near to George, she delicately touched his
arm--nothing more. She was smiling happily, but as soon as she looked
close at his face under the lamp, her face changed completely. He
thought: "She understands there's something up."
She said, not without embarrassment:
"George, I really must have some fresh air. I haven't had a breath all
day. Is it raining?"
"No. Would you like to go for a walk?"
"Oh! I should!"
He was very grateful, and also impressed by the accuracy of her
intuitions and her quick resourcefulness. She had comprehended at a
glance that he had a profound and urgent need to be alone with her. She
was marvellously comforting, precious beyond price. All his
susceptibilities, wounded by the scene at Alexandra Grove, and further
irritated by Agg, were instantaneously salved and soothed. Her tones,
her scarcely perceptible gesture of succour, produced the assuaging
miracle. She fulfilled her role to perfection. She was a talented and
competent designer, but as the helpmeet of a man she had genius. His
mind dwelt on her with rapture.
"You'll be going out as soon as you've changed, dear?" she said
affectionately to Agg.
"Yes," answered Agg, who at the mirror was wiping from her face the
painted signs of alcoholism. She had thrown off the bag wig. "You'd
better take the key with you. You'll be back before I am." She sat down
on one of the draped settees which were beds in disguise, and
Marguerite got a hat, cloak, and gloves.
While George was resuming his overcoat, which Marguerite held for him,
Agg suddenly sprang up and rushed towards them.
"Good night, Flora Macdonald," she murmured in her deep voice in
Marguerite's ear, put masculine arms round her, and kissed her. It was a
truly remarkable bit of male impersonating, as George had to admit,
though he resented it.
Then she gave a short, harsh laugh.
"Good night, old Agg," said Marguerite, with sweet responsiveness, and
smiled ingenuously at George.
George, impatient, opened the door, and the damp wind swept anew into
It was a fine night; the weather had cleared, and the pavements were
drying. George, looking up in a pause of the eager conversational
exchanges, drew tonic air mightily into his lungs.
"Where are we?" he asked.
"Tite Street," said Marguerite. "That's the Tower House." And she nodded
towards the formidable sky-scraper which another grade of landlord had
erected for another grade of artists who demanded studios from the
capitalist. Marguerite, the Chelsea girl, knew Chelsea, if she knew
nothing else; her feet turned corners in the dark with assurance, and
she had no need to look at street-signs. George regarded the short
thoroughfare made notorious by the dilettantism, the modishness, and the
witticisms of art. It had an impressive aspect. From the portico of one
highly illuminated house a crimson carpet stretched across the pavement
to the gutter; some dashing blade of the brush had maliciously
determined to affront the bourgeois Sabbath. George stamped on the
carpet; he hated it because it was not his carpet; and he swore to
himself to possess that very carpet or its indistinguishable brother.
"I was a most frightful ass to leave that letter lying about!" he
"Oh! George!" she protested lovingly. "It could so easily happen--a
thing like that could. It was just bad luck."
A cushion! The divinest down cushion! That was what she was! She was
more. She defended a man against himself. She restored him to
perfection. Her affectionate faith was a magical inspiration to him; it
was, really, the greatest force in the world. Most women would have
agreed with him, however tactfully, that he had been careless about the
letter. An Adela would certainly have berated him in her shrewish, thin
tones. A Lois would have been sarcastic, scornfully patronizing him as a
'boy.' And what would Agg have done?... They might have forgiven and
even forgotten, but they would have indulged themselves first.
Marguerite was exteriorly simple. She would not perhaps successfully
dominate a drawing-room. She would cut no figure playing with lives at
the wheel of an automobile. After all, she would no doubt be ridiculous
in the costume of Bonnie Prince Charlie. But she was finer than the
other women whose images floated in his mind. And she was worth millions
of them. He was overpowered by the sense of his good fortune in finding
her. He went cold at the thought of what he would have missed if he had
not found her. He would not try to conceive what his existence would be
without her, for it would be unendurable. Of this he was convinced.
"Do you think he'll go talking about it?" George asked, meaning of
course Mr. Haim.
"More likely _she_ will," said Marguerite.
He positively could feel her lips tightening. Futile to put in a word
for Mrs. Haim! When he had described the swoon, Marguerite had shown
neither concern nor curiosity. Not the slightest! Antipathy to her
stepmother had radiated from her almost visibly in the night like the
nimbus round a street lamp. Well, she did not understand; she was
capable of injustice; she was quite wrong about Mrs. Haim. What matter?
Her whole being was centralized on himself. He was aware of his
He went on quietly:
"If the old man gets chattering at the office, the Orgreaves will know,
and the next minute the news'll be in the Five Towns. I can't possibly
let my people hear from anybody else of _my engagement_ before they hear
from me. However, if it comes to the point, we'll tell everybody. Why
"Oh, but dearest! It was so nice it being a secret. It was the loveliest
thing in the world."
"Yes, it was jolly."
"Perhaps father will feel differently in the morning, and then you
"He won't," said George flatly. "You don't know what a state he's in. I
didn't tell you--he called me a spy in the house, a dirty spy. Likewise
a jackanapes. Doubtless a delicate illusion to my tender years."
"He did, honestly."
"So that was what upset you so!" Marguerite murmured. It was her first
admission that she had noticed his agitation.
"Did I look so upset, then?"
"George, you looked terrible. I felt the only thing to do was for us to
go out at once."
"Oh! But surely I wasn't so upset as all that?" said George, finding in
Marguerite's statement a reflection upon his ability to play the part of
an imperturbable man of the world. "Agg didn't seem to see anything."
"Agg doesn't know you like I do."
She insinuated her arm into his. He raised his hand and took hold of
hers. In the left pocket of his overcoat he could feel the somewhat
unwieldy key of the studio. He was happy. The domestic feel of the key
completed his happiness.
"Of course I can't stay on there," said he.
"At father's? Oh! I do wish father hadn't talked like that." She spoke
sadly, not critically.
"I suppose I must sleep there to-night. But I'm not going to have my
breakfast there to-morrow morning. No fear! I'll have it up town.
Lucas'll be able to put me up to some new digs. He always knows about
that sort of thing. Then I'll drive down and remove all my worldly in a
He spoke with jauntiness, in his role of male who is easily equal to any
situation. But she said in a low, tenderly commiserating voice:
"It's a shame!"
"Not a bit!" he replied. Then he suddenly stood still and brought her to
a halt. Under his erratic guidance they had turned along Dilke Street,
and northwards again, past the Botanical Garden. "And this is Paradise
Row!" he said, surveying the broad street which they had come into.
"Paradise Row?" she corrected him softly. "No, dear, it's Queen's Road.
It runs into Pimlico Road."
"I mean it used to be Paradise Row," he explained. "It was the most
fashionable street in Chelsea, you know. Everybody that was anybody
"Oh! Really!" She showed an amiable desire to be interested, but her
interest did not survive more than a few seconds. "I didn't know. I know
Paradise Walk. It's that horrid little passage down there on the right."
She had not the historic sense; and she did not understand his mood, did
not in the slightest degree suspect that events had been whipping his
ambition once more, and that at that moment he was enjoying the
seventeenth and even the sixteenth centuries, and thinking of Sir Thomas
More and Miss More, and all manner of grandiose personages and abodes,
and rebelling obstinately against the fact, that he was as yet a
nonentity in Chelsea, whereas he meant in the end to yield to nobody in
distinction and renown. He knew that she did not understand, and he
would not pretend to himself that she did. There was no reason why she
should understand. He did not particularly want her to understand.
"Let's have a look at the river, shall we?" he suggested, and they moved
towards Cheyne Walk.
"Dearest," she said, "you must come and have breakfast at the studio
to-morrow morning. I shall get it myself."
"But Agg won't like me poking my nose in for breakfast."
"You great silly! Don't you know she simply adores you?"
He was certainly startled by this remark, and he began to like Agg.
"Old Agg! Not she!" he protested, pleased, but a little embarrassed.
"Will she be up?"
"You'll see whether she'll be up or not. Nine o'clock's the time, isn't
They reached the gardens of Cheyne Walk. Three bridges hung their double
chaplets of lights over the dark river. On the southern shore the shapes
of high trees waved mysteriously above the withdrawn woodland glades
that in daytime were Battersea Park. Here and there a tiny red gleam
gave warning that a pier jutted out into the stream; but nothing moved
on the water. The wind that swept clean the pavements had unclouded ten
million stars. It was a wind unlike any other wind that ever blew, at
once caressing and roughly challenging. The two, putting it behind them,
faced eastward, and began to pass one by one the innumerable ornate
gas-lamps of Chelsea Embankment, which stretched absolutely rectilinear
in front of them for a clear mile. No soul but themselves was afoot. But
on the left rose gigantic and splendid houses, palaces designed by
modern architects, vying with almost any houses in London, some dark,
others richly illuminated and full of souls luxurious, successful, and
dominant. As the girl talked creatively about the breakfast, her arm
pressed his, and his fingers clasped her acquiescent fingers, and her
chaste and confiding passion ran through him in powerful voltaic
currents from some inexhaustible source of energy in her secret heart. It
seemed to him that since their ride home in the hansom from the
Promenade concert her faculty for love had miraculously developed. He
divined great deeps in her, and deeps beyond those deeps. The tenderness
which he felt for her was inexpressible. He said not a word, keeping to
himself the terrific resolves to which she, and the wind, and the
spectacular majesty of London inspired him. He and she would live
regally in one of those very houses, and people should kowtow to her
because she was the dazzling wife of the renowned young architect,
George Cannon. And he would show her to Mrs. John Orgreave and to Lois,
and those women should acknowledge in her a woman incomparably their
superior. They should not be able to hide their impressed astonishment
when they saw her.
Nothing of all this did he impart to her as she hung supported and
inspiring on his arm. He held it all in reserve for her. And then,
thinking again for a moment of what she had said about Agg's liking for
him, he thought of Agg's picture and of Marguerite's design which had
originated the picture. It was a special design, new for Marguerite,
whose bindings were generally of conventional patterns; it was to be
paid for at a special price because of its elaborateness; she had worked
on it for nearly two days; in particular she had stayed indoors during
the whole of Sunday to finish it; and it was efficient, skilful, as good
as it could be. It had filled her life for nearly two days--and he had
not even mentioned it to her! In the ruthless egotism of the ambitious
man he had forgotten it, and forgotten to imagine sympathetically the
contents of her mind. Sharp remorse overcame him; she grew noble and
pathetic in his eyes.... Contrast her modest and talented industry with
the exacting, supercilious, incapable idleness of a Lois!
"That design of yours is jolly good," he said shortly without any
She perceptibly started.
"Oh! George! I'm so glad you think so. I was afraid. You know it was
horribly difficult--they give you no chance."
"I know. I know. You've come out of it fine."
She was in heaven; he also, because it was so easy for him to put her
there. He glanced backwards a few hours into the past, and he simply
could not comprehend how it was that he had been so upset by the
grotesque scene with Mr. Haim in the basement of No. 8. Everything was
all right; everything was utterly for the best.
Early on the morning of a Tuesday in the second half of June 1903,
George Cannon was moving fast on a motor-bicycle westwards down the
slope of Piccadilly. At any rate he had the sensation of earliness, and
was indeed thereby quite invigorated; it almost served instead of the
breakfast which he had not yet taken. But thousands of people travelling
in the opposite direction in horse-omnibuses and in a few motor-buses
seemed to regard the fact of their being abroad at that hour as dully
normal. They had fought, men and girls, for places in the crammed
vehicles; they had travelled from far lands such as Putney; they had
been up for hours, and the morning, which was so new to George, had lost
its freshness for them; they were well used to the lustrous summer
glories of the Green Park; what they chiefly beheld in the Green Park
was the endless lines of wayfarers, radiating from Victoria along the
various avenues, on the way, like themselves, to offices, ware-houses,
and shops. Of the stablemen, bus-washers, drivers, mechanics,
chauffeurs, and conductors, who had left their beds much in advance even
of the travellers, let us not speak--even they had begun the day later
than their wives, mothers, or daughters. All this flying population,
urged and preoccupied by pitiless time, gazed down upon George and saw a
gay young swell without a care in the world rushing on 'one of those
motor-bikes' to freedom.
George was well aware of the popular gaze, and he supported it with
negligent pride. He had the air of having been born to greatness;
cigarette smoke and the fumes of exploded petrol and the rattle of
explosions made a fine wake behind his greatness. In two years, since he
had walked into Mr. Haim's parlour, his body had broadened, his eyes
had slightly hardened, and his complexion and hair had darkened. And
there was his moustache, very sprightly, and there was a glint of gold
in his teeth. He had poor teeth, but luxuriant hair, ruthlessly cut and
disciplined and subjugated. His trousers were clipped tightly at the
ankles, and his jacket loosely buttoned by the correct button; his soft
felt hat achieved the architect's ideal of combining the perfectly
artistic with the perfectly modish. But the most remarkable and
envy-raising portion of his attire was the loose, washable, yellow
gloves, with large gauntlets, designed to protect the delicately tended
hands when they had to explore among machinery.
He had obtained the motor-bicycle in a peculiar way. On arriving at Axe
Station for the previous Christmas holidays, he had seen two low-hung
lamps brilliantly flashing instead of the higher and less powerful lamps
of the dogcart, and there had been no light-reflecting flanks of a horse
in front of the lamps. The dark figure sitting behind the lamps proved
to be his mother. His mother herself had driven him home. He noted
calmly that as a chauffeur she had the same faults as the contemned Lois
Ingram. Still, she did drive, and they reached Ladderedge Hall in
safety. He admired, and he was a little frightened by, his mother's
terrific volition to widen her existence. She would insist on doing
everything that might be done, and nobody could stop her. Who would have
dreamt that she, with her narrow, troubled past, and her passionate
temperament rendered somewhat harsh by strange experiences, would at the
age of forty-six or so be careering about the country at the wheel of a
motor-car? Ah! But she would! She would be a girl. And by her individual
force she successfully carried it off! Those two plotters, she and his
stepfather, had conspired to buy a motor-car in secret from him. No
letter from home had breathed a word of the motor-car. He was
thunder-struck, and jealous. He had spent the whole of the Christmas
holidays in that car, and in four days could drive better than his
mother, and also--what was more difficult--could convince her obstinate
self-assurance that he knew far more about the mechanism than she did.
As a fact, her notions of the mechanism, though she was convinced of
their rightness, were mainly fantastic. George of course had had to
punish his parents. He had considered it his duty to do so. "The _least_
you can do," he had said discontentedly and menacingly, "the _least_ you
can do is to give me a decent motor-bike!" The guilty pair had made
amends in the manner thus indicated for them. George gathered from
various signs that his stepfather was steadily and rapidly growing
richer. George had acted accordingly--not only in the matter of the
motor-bicycle, but in other matters.
Now, on this June morning he had just begun to breast the slope rising
from the hollow to Hyde Park Corner when a boy shot out from behind a
huge, stationary dust-cart on the left and dashed unregarding towards
him. George shouted. The boy, faced with sudden death, was happily so
paralysed that he fell down, thus checking his momentum by the severest
form of friction. George swerved aside, missing the small, outstretched
hands by an inch or two, but missing also by an inch or two the front
wheel of a tremendous motor-bus on his right. He gave a nervous giggle
as he flashed by the high red side of the motor-bus; and then he
deliberately looked back at the murderous boy, who had jumped up. At the
same moment George was brought to a sense of his own foolishness in
looking back by a heavy jolt. He had gone over half a creosoted wood
block which had somehow escaped from a lozenge-shaped oasis in the road
where two workmen were indolently using picks under the magic protection
of a tiny, dirty red flag. Secure in the guardianship of the bit of
bunting, which for them was as powerful and sacred as the flag of an
empire, the two workmen gazed with indifference at George and at the
deafening traffic which swirled affronting but harmless around them.
George slackened speed, afraid lest the jar might have snapped the
plates of his accumulator. The motor-bicycle was a wondrous thing, but
as capricious and delicate as a horse. For a trifle, for nothing at all,
it would cease to function. The high-tension magneto and the float-feed
carburetter, whose invention was to transform the motor-bicycle from an
everlasting harassment into a means of loco-motion, were yet years away
in the future. However, the jar had done no harm. The episode, having
occupied less than ten seconds, was closed. George felt his heart
thumping. He thought suddenly of the recent Paris-Madrid automobile
race, in which the elite of the world had perished. He saw himself
beneath the motor-bus, and a futile staring crowd round about. Simply by
a miracle was he alive. But this miracle was only one of a score of
miracles. He believed strongly in luck. He had always believed in it.
The smoke of the cigarette displayed his confidence to all Piccadilly.
Still, his heart was thumping.
And it had not ceased to thump when a few minutes later he turned into
Manresa Road. Opposite the entrance to the alley of Romney Studios,
there happened to be a small hiatus in the kerbstone. George curved the
machine largely round and, mounting the pavement through this hiatus,
rode gingerly up the alley, in defiance of the regulations of a great
city, and stopped precisely at the door of No. 6. It was a matter of
honour with him to arrive thus. Not for a million would he have walked
the machine up the alley. He got off, sounded a peremptory call on the
horn, and tattooed with the knocker. No answer came. An apprehension
visited him. By the last post on the previous night he had received a
special invitation to breakfast from Marguerite. Never had he been kept
waiting at the door. He knocked again. Then he heard a voice from the
side of the studio:
"Come round here, George."
In the side of the studio was a very small window from which the girls,
when unpresentable, would parley with early tradesmen. Agg was at the
window. He could see only her head and neck, framed by the window. Her
short hair was tousled, and she held a dressing-gown tight about her
neck. For the first time she seemed to him like a real feminine girl,
and her tones were soft as they never were when Marguerite was present
"I'm very sorry," she said. "You woke me. I was fast asleep. You can't
"Anything up?" he questioned, rather anxiously. "Where's Marguerite?"
"Oh, George! A dreadful night!" she answered, almost plaintively, almost
demanding sympathy from the male--she, Agg! "We were wakened up at two
o'clock. Mr. Prince came round to fetch Marguerite to go to No. 8."
"To go to No. 8?" he repeated, frightened, and wondered why he should be
frightened. "What on earth for?"
"Mrs. Haim very ill!" Agg paused. "Something about a baby."
"And did she go?"
"Yes; she put on her things and went off at once."
He was silent. He felt the rough grip of destiny, of some strange power
irresistible and unescapable, just as he had momentarily felt it in the
basement of No. 8 more than eighteen months before, when the outraged
Mr. Haim had quarrelled with him. The mere idea of Marguerite being at
No. 8 made him feel sick. He no longer believed in his luck. "How soon
d'ye think she'll be back?"
"I--I don't know, George. I should have thought she'd have been back
"I'll run round there," he said curtly.
Agg was disconcertingly, astoundingly sympathetic. Her attitude
increased his disturbance.
When George rang the bell at No. 8 Alexandra Grove his mysterious qualms
were intensified. He dreaded the moment when the door should open, even
though it should be opened by Marguerite herself. And yet he had a
tremendous desire to see Marguerite--merely to look at her face, to
examine it, to read it. His summons was not answered. He glanced about.
The steps were dirty. The brass knob and the letter-flap had not been
polished. After a time he pushed up the flap and gazed within, and saw
the interior which he knew so well and which he had not entered for so
many months. Nothing was changed in it, but it also had a dusty and
neglected air. Every detail roused his memory. The door of what had once
been his room was shut; he wondered what the room was now. This house
held the greatest part of his history. It lived in his mind as vitally
as even the boarding-house kept by his mother in a side-street in
Brighton, romantic and miserable scene of his sensitive childhood. It
was a solemn house for him. Through the basement window on a dark night
he had first glimpsed Marguerite. Unforgettable event! Unlike anything
else that had ever happened to anybody!... He heard a creak, and caught
sight through the letter-aperture of a pair of red slippers, and then
the lower half of a pair of trousers, descending the stairs. And he
dropped the flap hurriedly. Mr. Haim was coming to open the door. Mr.
Haim did open the door, started at the apparition of George, and stood
defensively and forbiddingly in the very centre of the doorway.
"Oh!" said George nervously. "How is Mrs. Haim?"
"Mrs. Haim is very ill indeed." The reply was emphatic and inimical.
Mr. Haim said nothing further. George had not seen him since the
previous Saturday, having been excused by Mr. Enwright from the office
on Monday on account of examination work. He did not know that Mr. Haim
had not been to the office on Monday either. In the interval the man had
shockingly changed. He seemed much older, and weaker too; he seemed worn
out by acute anxiety. Nevertheless he so evidently resented sympathy
that George was not sympathetic, and regarded him coldly as a tiresome
old man. The official relations between the two had been rigorously
polite and formal. No reference had ever been made by either to the
quarrel in the basement or to the cause of it. And for the world in
general George's engagement had remained as secret as before. Marguerite
had not seen her father in the long interval, and George had seen only
the factotum of Lucas & Enwright. But he now saw Marguerite's father
again--a quite different person from the factotum.... Strange, how the
house seemed forlorn! 'Something about a baby,' Agg had said vaguely.
And it was as though something that Mr. Haim and his wife had concealed
had burst from its concealment and horrified and put a curse on the
whole Grove. Something not at all nice! What in the name of decent
propriety was that slippered old man doing with a baby? George would not
picture to himself Mrs. Haim lying upstairs. He did not care to think of
Marguerite secretly active somewhere in one of those rooms. But she was
there; she was initiated. He did not criticize her.
"I should like to see Marguerite," he said at length. Despite himself he
had a guilty feeling.
"My daughter!" Mr. Haim took up the heavy role.
"Only for a minute," said George boyishly, and irritated by his own
"You can't see her, sir."
"But if she knows I'm here, she'll come to me," George insisted. He saw
that the old man's hatred of him was undiminished. Indeed, time had
probably strengthened it.
"You can't see her, sir. This is my house."
George considered himself infinitely more mature than in the November of
1901 when the old man had worsted him. And yet he was no more equal to
this situation than he had been to the former one.
"But what am I to do, then?" he demanded, not fiercely, but crossly.
"What are you to do? Don't ask me, sir. My wife is very ill indeed, and
you come down the Grove making noise enough to wake the dead"--he
indicated the motor-bicycle, of which the silencer was admittedly
defective--"and you want to see my daughter. My daughter has more
important work to do than to see you. I never heard of such callousness.
If you want to communicate with my daughter you had better write--so
long as she stays in this house."
Mr. Haim shut the door, which rendered his advantage over George
From the post office nearly opposite the end of the Grove George
dispatched a reply-paid telegram to Marguerite:
"Where and when can I see you?--GEORGE. Russell Square."
It seemed a feeble retort to Mr. Haim, but he could think of nothing
On the way up town he suddenly felt, not hungry, but empty, and he
called in at a tea-shop. He was the only customer, in a great expanse of
marble-topped tables. He sat down at a marble-topped table. On the
marble-topped table next to him were twenty-four sugar-basins, and on
the next to that a large number of brass bells, and on another one an
infinity of cruets. A very slatternly woman was washing the linoleum in
a corner of the floor. Two thin, wrinkled girls in shabby black were
whispering together behind the counter. The cash-den was empty. Through
the open door he could keep an eye on his motor-bicycle, which was being
surreptitiously regarded by a boy theoretically engaged in cleaning the
window. A big van drove up, and a man entered with pastry on a wooden
tray and bantered one of the girls in black. She made no reply, being
preoccupied with the responsibility of counting cakes. The man departed
and the van disappeared. Nobody took the least notice of George. He
might have been a customer invisible and inaudible. After the fiasco of
his interview with Mr. Haim, he had not the courage to protest. He
framed withering sentences to the girls in black, such as: "Is this
place supposed to be open for business, or isn't it?" but they were not
uttered. Then a girl in black with a plain, ugly white apron and a dowdy
white cap appeared on the stairs leading from the basement, and removed
for her passage a bar of stained wood lettered in gilt: 'Closed,' and
she halted at George's table. She spoke no word. She just stood over
him, unsmiling, placid, flaccid, immensely indifferent. She was pale, a
poor sort of a girl, without vigour. But she had a decent, honest face.
She was not aware that she ought to be bright, welcoming, provocative,
for a penny farthing an hour. She had never heard of Hebe. George
thought of the long, desolating day that lay before her. He looked at
her seriously. His eyes did not challenge hers as they were accustomed
to challenge Hebe's. He said in a friendly, matter-of-fact tone:
"A meat-pie, please, and a large coffee."
And she repeated in a thin voice:
"Meat-pie. Large coffee."
A minute later she dropped the order on the table, as it might have
been refuse, and with it a bit of white paper. The sadness of the city,
and the inexplicable sadness of June mornings, overwhelmed George as he
munched at the meat-pie and drank the coffee, and reached over for the
sugar and reached over for the mustard. And he kept saying to himself:
"She doesn't see her father at all for nearly two years, and then she
goes off to him like that in the middle of the night--at a word."
The office was not at its normal. The empty cubicle of the factotum
looked strange enough. But there was more than that in the abnormality.
There were currents of excitement in the office. The door of the
principals' room was open, and George saw John Orgreave and Everard
Lucas within, leaning over one of the great flat desks. The hour was
early for Lucas, and self-satisfaction was on Lucas's face as he raised
it to look at the entering of George.
"I say," he remarked quietly through the doorway, "that town hall scheme
is on again."
"Oh!" said George, depositing his hat and gloves and strolling into the
principals' room. "Good morning, Mr. Orgreave. Got the conditions
there?" For a moment his attitude of interest was a pose, but very
quickly it became sincere. Astonishing how at sight of a drawing-board
and a problem he could forget all that lay beyond them! He was genuinely
and extremely disturbed by the course of affairs at Chelsea;
nevertheless he now approached Mr. Orgreave and Lucas with eagerness,
and Chelsea slipped away into another dimension.
"No," said John Orgreave, "the conditions aren't out yet. But it's all
right this time. I know for a fact."
The offices of all the regular architectural competitors in London were
excited that morning. For the conception of the northern town hall was a
vast one. Indeed, journalists had announced, from their mysterious
founts of information, that the town hall would be the largest public
building erected in England during half a century. The scheme had been
the sport of municipal politics for many months, for years. Apparently
it could not get itself definitely born. And now the Town Clerk's wife
had brought about the august parturition. It is true that her agency was
unintentional. The Town Clerk had belonged to a powerful provincial
dynasty of town clerks. He had the illusion that without him a great
town would cease to exist. There was nothing uncommon in this illusion,
which indeed is rife among town clerks; but the Town Clerk in question
had the precious faculty of being able to communicate it to mayors,
aldermen, and councillors. He was a force in the municipal council.
Voteless, he exercised a moral influence over votes. And he happened to
be opposed to the scheme for the new town hall. He gave various
admirable reasons for the postponement of the scheme, but he never gave
the true reasons, even to himself. The true reasons were, first, that he
hated and detested the idea of moving office, and, second, that he
wanted acutely to be able to say in the fullness of years that he had
completed half a century of municipal work in one and the same room. If
the pro-scheme party had had the wit to invent a pretext for allowing
the Town Clerk to remain in the old municipal buildings, the scheme
would instantly have taken life. The Town Clerk, being widowed, had
consoled himself with a young second wife. This girl adored dancing; the
Town Clerk adored her; and therefore where she danced he deemed it
prudent to attend. Driving home from a January ball at 4 a.m. the Town
Clerk had caught pneumonia. In a week he was dead, and his dynasty with
him. In a couple of months the pro-scheme party had carried the council
off its feet. Such are the realities, never printed in newspapers, of
municipal politics in the grim north.
Sketches of the site had appeared in the architectural press. John
Orgreave and Lucas were pencilling in turn upon one of these, a page
torn out of a weekly. George inserted himself between them, roughly
towards Lucas and deferentially towards Mr. John.
"But you've got the main axis wrong!" he exclaimed.
"How, wrong?" John Orgreave demanded.
"See here--give me the pencil, Looc."
George felt with a little thrill of satisfaction the respect for him
which underlay John Orgreave's curt tone of a principal--and a principal
from the Midlands. He did not miss, either, Lucas's quick, obedient,
expectant gesture in surrendering the pencil. Ideas for the plan of the
building sprang up multitudinously in his mind. He called; they came. He
snatched towards him a blank sheet of tracing-paper, and scrawled it
over with significant lines.
"That's my notion. I thought of it long ago," he said. "Or if you
The other two were impressed. He himself was impressed. His notion,
which he was modifying and improving every moment, seemed to him perfect
and ever more perfect. He was intensely and happily stimulated in the
act of creation; and they were all three absorbed.
"Why hasn't my desk been arranged?" said a discontented voice behind
them. Mr. Enwright had arrived by the farther door from the corridor.
Lucas glanced up.
"I expect Haim hasn't come again to-day," he answered urbanely,
"Why hasn't he come?"
"I hear his wife's very ill," said George.
"Who told you?"
"I happened to be round that way this morning."
"Oh! I thought all was over between you two."
George flushed. Nothing had ever been said in the office as to his
relations with Haim, though it was of course known that George no longer
lodged with the factotum. Mr. Enwright, however, often had disconcerting
intuitions concerning matters to which Mr. Orgreave and Lucas were
"Oh no!" George haltingly murmured.
"Well, this is all very well, this is----!" Mr. Enwright ruthlessly
proceeded, beginning to marshal the instruments on his desk.
He had been a somewhat spectacular martyr for some time past. A
mysterious facial neuralgia had harried his nights and days. For the
greater part of a week he had dozed in an arm-chair in the office under
the spell of eight tabloids of aspirin per diem. Then a specialist had
decided that seven of his side teeth, already studded with gold, must
leave him. Those teeth were not like any other person's teeth, and in
Mr. Enwright's mind the extracting of them had become a major operation,
as, for example, the taking off of a limb. He had spent three days in a
nursing home in Welbeck Street. His life was now saved, and he was a
convalescent, and passed several hours daily in giving to friends
tragi-farcical accounts of existence in a nursing home. Mr. Enwright's
career was one unending romance.
"I was just looking at that town hall affair," said John Orgreave.
"What town hall?" his partner snapped.
"_The_ town hall," answered the imperturbable John. "George here has got
"I suppose you know Sir Hugh Corver, Bart., is to be the assessor," said
Mr. Enwright in a devastating tone.
Sir Hugh Corver, formerly a mere knight, had received a baronetcy, to
Mr. Enwright's deep disgust. Mr. Enwright had remarked that any
decent-minded man who had been a husband and childless for twenty-four
years would have regarded the supplementary honour as an insult, but
that Sir Hugh was not decent-minded and, moreover, was not capable of
knowing an insult when he got one. This theory of Mr. Enwright's,
however, did not a bit lessen his disgust.
"Oh yes," John Orgreave admitted lamely.
"I for one am not going in for any more competitions with Corver as
assessor," said Mr. Enwright. "I won't do it."
Faces fell. Mr. Enwright had previously published this resolve, but it
had not been taken quite seriously. It was entirely serious. Neuralgia
and a baronetcy had given it the consistency of steel.
"It isn't as if we hadn't got plenty of work in the office," said Mr.
This was true. The firm was exceedingly prosperous.
Nobody else spoke.
"What _can_ you expect from a fellow like Corver?" Mr. Enwright cried,
with a special glance at George. "He's the upas-tree of decent
George's mood changed immediately. Profound discouragement succeeded to
his creative stimulation. Mr. Enwright had reason on his side. What
_could_ you expect from a fellow like Corver? With all the ardour of a
disciple George dismissed the town hall scheme, and simultaneously his
private woes surged up and took full possession of him. He walked
silently out of the room, and Lucas followed. As a fact, Mr. Enwright
ought not to have talked in such a way before the pupils. A question of
general policy should first have been discussed in private between the
partners, and the result then formally announced to the staff. Mr.
Enwright was not treating his partner with proper consideration. But
Mr. Enwright, as every one said at intervals, was 'like that'; and his
partner did not seem to care greatly.
Lucas shut the door between the principals' room and the pupils' room.
"I say," said Lucas importantly. "I've got a show on to-night. Women.
Cafe Royal. I want a fourth. You must come."
"Yes," sneered George. "And what about my exam., I should like to
know.... Besides, I can't."
The Final was due to begin on Thursday.
"That's all right," Lucas answered, with tact. "That's all right. I'd
thought of the exam., of course. You'll have to-morrow to recover. It'll
do you all the good in the world. And you know you're more than ready
for the thing. You don't want to be overtrained, my son. Besides, you'll
sail through it. As for 'can't,' 'can't' be damned. You've got to."
A telegraph boy, after hesitating at the empty cubicle, came straight
into the room.
"Name of Cannon?"
George nodded, trembling.
The telegram read:
It was an incredible telegram, as much by what it said as by what it
didn't say. It overthrew George.
"Seven forty-five, and I'll drive you round," said Lucas.
"Tis well," said George.
Immediately afterwards Mr. Enwright summoned Lucas.
The two young men of fashion were silent that evening as they drove to
the Cafe Royal in the car which Lucas loosely called 'my car,' but which
was his mother's and only to be obtained by him upon his own conditions
after delicate diplomacies. The chief of his conditions was that the
chauffeur should not accompany the car. Lucas, having been engaged upon
outdoor work for the firm, had not seen George throughout the day.
Further, he was late in calling for George, and therefore rather
exacerbated in secret; and if George had not been ready and waiting for
him at the club trouble might have arisen. George understood his host's
mood and respected it. Lucas drove rapidly and fiercely, with
appropriate frowns and settings of cruel teeth; his mien indeed had the
arrogance of the performer who, having given only a fraction of his time
to the acquirement of skill, reckons that he can beat the professional
who has given the whole of his time. Lucas's glances at chauffeurs who
hindered his swiftness were masterpieces of high disdain, and he would
accelerate, after circumventing them, with positive ferocity.
George himself, an implacable critic, could not find fault with the
technique of Lucas's driving. But exacerbation tells, even in the young,
and at Piccadilly Circus, Lucas, in obeying a too suddenly uplifted hand
of a policeman, stopped his engine. The situation, horribly humiliating
for Lucas and also for George, provided pleasure for half the chauffeurs
and drivers in Piccadilly Circus, and was the origin of much jocularity
of a kind then fairly new. Lucas cursed the innocent engine, and George
leapt down to wield the crank. But the engine, apparently resenting
curses, refused to start again. No, it would not start. Lucas leapt down
too. "Get out of the way," he muttered savagely to George, and scowled
at the bonnet as if saying to the engine: "I'm not going to stand any of
your infernal nonsense!" But still the engine refused to start.
The situation, humiliating before, was now appalling. Two entirely
correct young gentlemen, in evening dress, with light overcoats and
opera hats, struggling with a refractory car that in its obstinacy was
far more dignified than themselves--and the car obstructing traffic at
the very centre of the world in the very hour when the elect of Britain
were driving by on the way to _Tristan_ at the Opera! Sebastians both,
they were martyrized by the poisoned arrows of vulgar wit, shot at them
from all sides and especially from the lofty thrones of hansom-cab
drivers. The policeman ordered them to shove the car to the kerb, and
with the aid of a boy and the policeman himself they did so, opposite
the shuttered front of Swan & Edgar's.
The two experts then examined the engine in a professional manner; they
did everything but take it down; they tried in vain all known devices to
conquer the recalcitrancy of engines; and when they had reached despair
and fury George, startlingly visited by an idea, demanded:
"Any petrol in the tank?..." In those days men of fashion were apt to
forget, at moments of crisis, that the first necessity of the engine was
petrol. George behaved magnanimously. He might have extinguished Lucas
with a single inflection as Lucas, shamed to the uttermost, poured a
spare half-tin of petrol into the tank. He refrained.
In one minute, in less than one minute, they were at the side entrance
to the Cafe Royal, which less than a minute earlier had been
inconceivably distant and unattainable. Lucas dashed first into the
restaurant. To keep ladies waiting in a public place was for him the
very worst crime, surpassing in turpitude arson, embezzlement, and the
murder of innocents. The ladies must have been waiting for a quarter of
an hour, half an hour! His reputation was destroyed!
However, the ladies had not arrived.
"That's all right," Lucas breathed, at ease at last. The terrible scowl
had vanished from his face, which was perfectly recomposed into its
urbane, bland charm.
"Now perhaps you'll inform me who they are, old man," George suggested,
relinquishing his overcoat to a flunkey, and following Lucas into the
cloister set apart for the cleansing of hands which have meddled with
"The Wheeler woman is one--didn't I tell you?" Lucas answered,
unsuccessfully concealing his pride.
"Irene Wheeler. You know."
George was really impressed. Lucas had hitherto said no word as to his
acquaintance with this celebrated woman. It was true that recently Lucas
had been spreading himself in various ways--he had even passed his
Intermediate--but George had not anticipated such a height of
achievement as the feat of entertaining at a restaurant a cynosure like
Irene Wheeler. George had expected quite another sort of company at
dinner, for he had publicly dined with Lucas before. All day he had been
abstracted, listless, and utterly desolate. All day he had gone over
again and again the details of the interview with Mr. Haim, his telegram
to Marguerite and her unspeakable telegram to him, hugging close a
terrific grievance. Only from pique against Marguerite had he accepted
Lucas's invitation. The adventure in Piccadilly Circus had somewhat
enlivened him, and now the fluttering prospect of acquaintance with the
legendary Irene Wheeler pushed Marguerite into the background of his
mind, and excitement became quite pleasant. "And a Miss Ingram," Lucas
"Not Lois Ingram?" exclaimed George, suddenly dragging the names of
Ingram and Wheeler out of the same drawer of his memory.
"No. Laurencine. But she has a sister named Lois. What do _you_ know
about her?" Lucas spoke challengingly, as if George had trespassed on
preserves sacred to himself alone. He had not yet admitted that it was
merely Mrs. John Orgreave who had put him in the way of Irene Wheeler.
George was surprised and shocked that it had never occurred to him to
identify Lois Ingram's wealthy friend Miss Wheeler with the Irene
Wheeler of society columns of newspapers. And Lois Ingram rose in his
esteem, not because of the distinction of her friend, but because she
had laid no boastful stress on the distinction of her friend.
"Don't you remember?" he said. "I told you once about a girl who jolly
nearly got me into a motor accident all through her fancying herself as
a chauffeur. That was Lois Ingram. Paris girl. Same lot, isn't it?"
"Oh! Was _that_ Lois?" Lucas murmured. "Well, I'm dashed!"
They returned in a hurry to the entrance-hall, fearful lest the ladies
might have arrived. However, the ladies had not arrived. Lucas had the
inexpressible satisfaction of finding in an illustrated weekly a
full-page portrait of Miss Irene Wheeler.
"Here you are!" he ejaculated, with an air of use, as though he was
habitually picking up from the tables of fashionable restaurants
high-class illustrated papers containing portraits of renowned beauties
to whom he said "Come!" and they came. It was a great moment for Lucas.
Ten minutes later the ladies very calmly arrived, seeming perfectly
unaware that they were three-quarters of an hour behind time. Lucas felt
that, much as he already knew about life, he had learned something
To George, Irene Wheeler was not immediately recognizable as the
original of her portrait. He saw the resemblance when he looked for it,
but if after seeing the photograph he had met the woman in the street he
would have passed her by unknowing. At first he was disappointed in her.
He had never before encountered celebrated people--except architects,
who, Enwright always said, never could be really celebrated--and he had
to learn that celebrated people seldom differ in appearance from
uncelebrated people. Nevertheless it was not to be expected that George
should escape where the most experienced and the most wary of two
capitals had not escaped. He did not agree that she was beautiful, but
her complexion enthralled him. He had never seen such a complexion;
nobody had ever seen such a complexion. It combined extremely marvellous
whites and extremely marvellous pinks, and the skin had the exquisite,
incredible softness of a baby's. Next he was struck by her candid,
ingenuous, inquiring gaze, and by her thin voice with the slight
occasional lisp. The splendid magnificence of her frock and jewels came
into play later. Lastly her demeanour imposed itself. That simple gaze
showed not the slightest diffidence, scarcely even modesty; it was more
brazen than effrontery. She preceded the other three into the
restaurant, where electricity had finally conquered the expiring
daylight, and her entry obviously excited the whole room; yet, guided by
two waving and fawning waiters, and a hundred glances upon her, she
walked to the appointed table without a trace of self-consciousness--as
naturally as a policeman down a street. When she sat down, George on her
right, Lucas on her left, and the tall, virginal Laurencine Ingram
opposite, she was the principal person in the restaurant. George had
already passed from disappointment to an impressed nervousness. The
inquisitive diners might all have been quizzing him instead of Irene
Wheeler. He envied Lucas, who was talking freely to both Miss Wheeler
and Laurencine about what he had ordered for dinner. That morning over a
drawing-board and an architectural problem, Lucas had been humble enough
to George, and George by natural right had laid the law down to Lucas;
but now Lucas, who--George was obliged to admit--never said anything
brilliant or original, was outshining him.... It was unquestionable that
in getting Irene Wheeler to dinner, Lucas, by some mysterious talent
which he possessed, had performed a feat greater even than George had at
first imagined--a prodigious feat.
George waited for Irene Wheeler to begin to talk. She did not begin to
talk. She was content with the grand function of existing. Lucas showed
her the portrait in the illustrated paper, which he had kept. She said
that it was comparatively an old one, and had been taken at the Durbar
in January. "Were you at the Durbar?" asked the simpleton George. Irene
Wheeler looked at him. "Yes. I was in the Viceroy's house-party," she
answered mildly. And then she said to Lucas that she had sat three times
to photographers that week--"They won't leave me alone"--but that the
proofs were none of them satisfactory. At this Laurencine Ingram boldly
and blushingly protested, maintaining that one of them was lovely.
George was attracted to Laurencine, in whom he saw no likeness to her
sister Lois. She could not long have left school. She was the product
finished for the world; she had been taught everything that was
considered desirable--even to the art of talking easily and yet
virginally on all subjects at table; and she was a nice, honest,
handsome girl, entirely unspoilt by the mysterious operations practised
upon her. She related how she had been present when a famous
photographer arrived at Miss Wheeler's flat with his apparatus, and what
the famous photographer had said. The boys laughed. Miss Wheeler smiled
faintly. "I'm glad we didn't have to go to that play to-night," she
remarked, quitting photography. "However, I shall have to go to-morrow
night. And I don't care for first nights in London, only they will have
me go." In this last phrase, and in the intonation of it, was the first
sign she had given of her American origin; her speech was usually
indistinguishable from English English, which language she had in fact
carefully acquired years earlier. George gathered that Lucas's success
in getting Miss Wheeler to dinner was due to the accident of a first
night being postponed at the last moment and Miss Wheeler thus finding
herself with an empty evening. He covertly examined her. Why was the
feat of getting Miss Wheeler to dinner enormous? Why would photographers
not leave her alone? Why would theatrical managers have her accept boxes
gratis which they could sell for money? Why was she asked to join the
Viceregal party for the Durbar? Why was the restaurant agog? Why was he
himself proud and flattered--yes, proud and flattered--to be seen at the
same table with her?... She was excessively rich, no doubt; she was
reputed to be the niece of a railway man in Indianapolis who was one of
the major rivals of Harriman. She dressed superbly, perhaps too
superbly. But there were innumerable rich and well-dressed women on
earth. After all, she put her gold bag and her gloves down on the table
with just the same gesture as other women did; and little big Laurencine
had a gold bag too. She was not witty. He questioned whether she was
essentially kind. She was not young; her age was an enigma. She had not
a remarkable figure, nor unforgettable hair, nor incendiary eyes. She
seemed too placid and self-centred for love. If she had loved, it must
have been as she sat to photographers or occupied boxes on first
nights--because 'they' would have it so. George was baffled to discover
the origin of her prestige. He had to seek it in her complexion. Her
complexion was indubitably miraculous. He enjoyed looking at it, though
he lacked the experience to know that he was looking at a complexion
held by connoisseurs who do naught else but look at complexions to be a
complexion unique in Europe. George, unsophisticated, thought that the
unaffected simplicity--far exceeding self-confidence--with which she
acquiesced in her prestige was perhaps more miraculous than her
complexion. It staggered him.
The dinner was a social success. Irene Wheeler listened adroitly, if
without brilliance, and after one glass of wine George found himself
quite able to talk in the Enwright manner about architecture and the
profession of architecture, and also to talk about automobiles. The
casualness with which he mentioned his Final Examination was superb--the
examiners might have been respectfully waiting for him to arrive and
discomfit them. But of course the main subject was automobiles. Even
Laurencine knew the names of all the leading makers, and when the names
of all the leading makers had been enumerated and their products
discussed, the party seemed to think that it had accomplished something
that was both necessary and stylish. When the tablecloth had been
renewed, and the solemn moment came for Everard Lucas to order liqueurs,
George felt almost gay. He glanced round the gilded and mirrored
apartment, now alluringly animated by the subdued yet vivacious
intimacies of a score of white tables, and decided that the institution
of restaurants was a laudable and agreeable institution. Marguerite had
receded further than ever into the background of his mind; and as for
the Final, it had diminished to a formality.
"And you?" Everard asked Laurencine, after Miss Wheeler.
George had thought that Laurencine was too young for liqueurs. She had
had no wine. He expected her to say 'Nothing, thanks,' as conventionally
as if her late head mistress had been present. But she hesitated,
smiling, and then, obedient to the profound and universal instinct
which seems to guide all young women to the same liqueur, she said:
"May I have a _creme de menthe_? I've never had _creme de menthe_."
George was certainly shocked for an instant. But no one else appeared to
be shocked. Miss Wheeler, in charge of Laurencine, offered no protest.
And then George reflected: "And why not? Why shouldn't she have a _creme
de menthe_?" When Laurencine raised the tiny glass to her firm, large
mouth, George thought that the sight of the young virginal thing tasting
a liqueur was a fine and a beautiful sight.
"It's just heavenly!" murmured Laurencine ecstatically.
Miss Wheeler was gazing at George.
"What's the matter?" he demanded, smiling, and rested one elbow on the
table and looked enigmatically through the smoke of his cigar.
"I was just wondering about you," said Miss Wheeler. Her voice, always
faint, had dropped to a murmur which seemed to expire as it reached
"Why?" He was flattered.
"I've been wanting to see you."
"Really!" he laughed, rather too loudly. "What a pity I didn't know
earlier!" He was disturbed as well as flattered, for such a remark from
such a person as Irene Wheeler to such a person as himself was bound to
be disturbing. His eyes sought audaciously to commune with hers, but
hers were not responsive; they were entirely non-committal.
"You _are_ the man that wouldn't let my friend Lois drive him in my car,
"Yes," he said defiantly, but rather guiltily. "Did she tell you about
that? It's an awful long time ago."
"She told me something about it."
"And you've remembered it all this long while!"
"Yes," she answered, and her thin, queer tone and her tepid, impartial
glance had the effect of a challenge to him to justify himself.
"And don't you think I was quite right?" he ventured.
"She drives very well." It was not the sort of answer he was expecting.
His desire was to argue.
"She didn't drive very well then," he said, with conviction.
"Was that a reason for your leaving her to drive home alone?"
Women were astounding!
"She ought to have let the chauffeur drive," he maintained.
"Ah! A man mustn't expect too much from a woman."
"But I was risking my life in that car! Do you mean to say I ought to
have kept on risking it?"
"I don't express any opinion on that. That was for you to decide.... You
must admit it was very humiliating for poor Lois."
He felt himself cornered, but whether justly or unjustly he was
"Was she vexed?"
"No, she wasn't vexed. Lois isn't the woman to be vexed. But I have an
idea she was a little hurt."
"Did she say so?"
"Say so? Lois? She'd never say anything against anybody. Lois is a
perfect angel.... Isn't she, Laurencine?"
Laurencine was being monopolized by Everard.
"What did you say?" the girl asked, collecting herself.
"I was just saying what an angel Lois is."
"Oh, she _is_!" the younger sister agreed, with immense and sincere
George, startled, said to himself suddenly:
"Was I mistaken in her? Some girls you _are_ mistaken in! They're
regular bricks, but they keep it from you at first."
Somehow, in spite of a slight superficial mortification, he was very
pleased by the episode of the conversation, and his curiosity was
"Lois would have come to-night instead of Laurencine," Miss Wheeler went
on, "only she wasn't feeling very well."
"Is she in London? I've only seen her once from that day to this, and
then we didn't get near each other owing to the crush. So we didn't
speak. It was at Mrs. Orgreave's."
"Yes, I know."
"Did she tell you?"
"Is she at your flat?"
"Yes; but she's not well."
"Not in bed, I hope, or anything like that?"
"Oh no! She's not in bed."
Laurencine threw laughingly across the table:
"She's as well as I am."
It was another aspect of the younger sister.
When they left the restaurant it was nearly empty. They left easily,
slowly, magnificently. The largesse of Everard Lucas--his hat slightly
raked--in the foyer and at the portico was magnificent in both quantity
and manner. There was no need to hurry; the hour, though late for the
end of dinner, was early for separation. They moved and talked without
the slightest diffidence, familiar and confident; the whole world was
reformed and improved for them by the stimulus of food and alcohol. The
night was sultry and dark. The two women threw their cloaks back from
their shoulders, revealing the whiteness of toilettes. At the door the
head-lights of Miss Wheeler's automobile shot horizontally right across
Regent Street. The chauffeur recognized George, and George recognized
the car; he was rather surprised that Miss Wheeler had not had a new car
in eighteen months. Lucas spoke of his own car, which lay beyond in the
middle of the side-street like a ship at anchor. He spoke in such a
strain that Miss Wheeler deigned to ask him to drive her home in it. The
two young men went to light the head-lights. George noticed the angry
scowl on Everard's face when three matches had been blown out in the
capricious breeze. The success of the fourth match restored his face to
perfect benignity. He made the engine roar triumphantly, imperiously
sounded his horn, plunged forward, and drew the car up in front of Miss
Wheeler's. His bliss, when Miss Wheeler had delicately inserted herself
into the space by his side, was stern and yet radiant. The big car, with
George and Laurencine on board, followed the little one like a cat
following a mouse, and Laurencine girlishly interested herself in the
chase. George, with his mind on Lois, kept saying to himself: "She's
been thinking about that little affair ever since last November but one.
They've all been thinking about it." He felt apprehensive, but his
satisfaction amounted to excitement. His attitude was: "At any rate I
gave them something to think about!" Also he breathed appreciatively the
atmosphere of the three women--two seen and one unseen. How
extraordinarily different all of them were from Agg! They reminded him
acutely of his deep need of luxury. After all, the life lived by those
two men about town, George and Everard, was rather humdrum and
monotonous. In spite of Everard's dash, and in spite of George's secret
engagement, neither of them met enough women or enough sorts of women.
George said to himself: "I shall see her to-night. We shall go up to the
flat. She isn't in bed. I shall see her to-night." He wanted to see her
because he had hurt her, and because she had remembered and had talked
about him and had raised curiosity about him in others. Was she really
unwell? Or had she been excusing herself! Was she an angel? He wanted to
see her again in order to judge for himself whether she was an angel. If
Laurencine said she was an angel she must be an angel. Laurencine was a
jolly, honest girl. To be in the car with her was agreeable. But she was
insipid. So he assessed the splendidly budding Laurencine, patronizing
her a little. Miss Wheeler gave him pause. Her simple phrases had
mysterious intonations. He did not understand her glance. He could not
settle the first question about her--her age. She might be very wicked;
certainly she could be very ruthless. And he had no hold over her. He
could give her nothing that she wanted. He doubted whether any man
"Have you been in London long?" he asked Laurencine.
"A week," she said. "I came over with Miss Wheeler. I didn't think
mother would let me, but she did."
"And did your sister come with you?"
"No; Lois only came yesterday."
"I suppose you go about a lot?"
"Oh, we _do_ It's such a change from Paris."
"Well, I should prefer Paris."
"You wouldn't! London's much more romantic. Paris is so hard and
She squirmed about lissomly on the seat.
"You don't know what I mean," she said. "I never _can_ make people see
what I mean--about anything."
He smiled indulgently and dropped the point.
"Miss Wheeler taken you to Mrs. Orgreave's yet?"
"Yes; we were there on Saturday afternoon."
"Well, what do you think of Mrs. Orgreave?"
"Oh! She's very nice," Laurencine answered, with polite tepidity; and
added eagerly: "Mr. Orgreave's a dear."
George was glad that she had not been enthusiastic about Mrs. Orgreave.
Her reserve showed that she could discriminate. Ecstasy was not
altogether a habit. If she said that Lois was an angel, Lois probably
was an angel.
The cars stopped at the foot of a huge block of masonry in a vast leafy
square. George suddenly became very nervous. He thought: "I shall be
seeing her in a minute."
Then, as he got out of the car, he heard Miss Wheeler saying to Lucas:
"Well, good night. And thank you so much. It's been most delightful....
We expect you soon, of course."
She actually was not asking them to go up! George was excessively
disappointed. He watched Miss Wheeler and Laurencine disappear into the
rich and guarded interior with envy, as though they had entered a
delectable paradise to which he could not aspire; and the fact that Miss
Wheeler had vaguely invited him to call did not brighten him very much.
He had assumed that he would see Lois the angel that night.
The young men finished the evening at Pickering's. Pickering's was
George's club. George considered, rightly, that in the matter of his
club he had had great luck. Pickering's was a small club, and it had had
vicissitudes. Most men whose worldly education had been completed in St.
James's were familiar with its historical name, but few could say
off-hand where it was. Its address was Candle Court, and Candle Court
lay at the end of Candle Alley (a very short passage), between Duke
Street and Bury Street. The Court was in fact a tiny square of several
houses, chiefly used by traders and agents of respectability--as
respectability is understood in St. James's; it had a lamp-post of its
own. The report ran, and was believed by persons entitled to an opinion,
that the Duke of Wellington had for some years hidden there the lovely
desire of his heart from an inquisitive West End. Pickering's had, of
course, originally been a coffee-house; later, like many other
coffee-houses in the neighbourhood, it had developed into a proprietary
club. Misfortunes due to the caprices of taste and to competition had
brought about an arrangement by which the ownership was vested in a
representative committee. The misfortunes had continued, and at the
beginning of the century a crisis was reached, and Pickering's tried
hard to popularize itself, thereby doing violence to its feelings. Rules
were abated, and the entrance-fee fell. It was in this period that
Everard Lucas, whose ears were always open for useful items, heard of it
and suggested it to George. George wanted to join Lucas's club, which
was in St. James's Street itself, but Lucas wisely pointed out that if
they belonged to different clubs each would in practice have two clubs.
Moreover, he said that George might conceivably get a permanent bedroom
there. The first sight of the prim, picturesque square, the first hint
of scandal about the Duke of Wellington, decided George. It was
impossible for a man about town to refuse the chance of belonging to a
club in a Court where the Duke of Wellington had committed follies.
George was proposed, seconded, and duly elected, together with other new
blood. Some of the old blood naturally objected, but the feud was never
acute. Solely owing to the impression which his young face made on the
powerful and aged hall-porter, George obtained a bedroom. It was small,
and at the top of the house; but it was cheap, it solved the even more
tiresome and uncomfortable problem of lodging; and further it was a
bedroom at Pickering's, and George could say that he lived at his
club--an imposing social advantage. He soon learnt how to employ the
resources of the club for his own utmost benefit. Nobody could surpass
him in choosing a meal inexpensively. He could have his breakfast in his
bedroom for tenpence, or even sixpence when his appetite was poor. He
was well served by a valet who apparently passed his whole life on
stairs and landings. This valet, courteous rather in the style of old
Haim, had a brain just equal to the problems presented by his vocation.
Every morning George would say: "Now, Downs, how soon can I have my
bath?" or "Now, Downs, what can I have for breakfast?" And Downs would
conscientiously cerebrate, and come forth after some seconds with sound
solutions, such as: "I'll see if I can put you in before Mr. de Gales if
you're in a hurry, sir," or "Scrambled eggs, sir--it'll make a bit of a
change." And when George agreed, Downs would exhibit a restrained but
real satisfaction. Yes, George had been very lucky. The club too was
lucky. The oldest member, who being paralysed had not visited the club
for eleven years, died and bequeathed ten thousand pounds to the
institution where he had happily played cards for several decades.
Pickering's was refurnished, and the stringency of its rules
re-established. The right wing of the committee wished that the oldest
member could have managed to die a year or two earlier and so obviated
the crisis. It was recognized, however, by the more reasonable, that you
cannot have everything in this world.
Pickering's was very dull; but it was still Pickering's. George was
often bored at Pickering's. He soon reached the stage at which a club
member asserts gloomily that the club cookery is simply damnable.
Nevertheless he would have been desolated to leave Pickering's. The
place was useful to him in another respect than the purely material. He
learnt there the code which governs the familiar relations of men about
On the night of the Cafe Royal dinner, George and Lucas reclined in two
easy chairs in the inner smoking-room of Pickering's. They were alone.
Through the wide archway that marked the division between the inner and
the outer smoking-rooms they could see one solitary old gentleman dozing
in an attitude of abandonment, a magazine on his knees. Ash-trays were
full of ash and cigarette ends and matches. Newspapers were scattered
around, some folded inside out, some not folded, some whose component
sheets had been divided for ever like the members of a ruined family.
The windows were open, and one gave a view of the Court's watchful
lamp-post, and the other of the house--now occupied by an art dealer and
a commission agent--where the Duke had known both illusion and
disillusion. The delicate sound of the collision of billiard-balls came
from somewhere, and the rat-tatting of a tape-machine from somewhere
else. The two friends had arrived at the condition of absolute wisdom
and sagacity and tolerance which is apt to be achieved at a late hour in
clubs by young and old men who have discussed at length the phenomena of
"Well, I must be toddling," said Lucas, yawning as he looked idly at the
coloured horses on each wall who were for ever passing winning-posts or
soaring over bullfinches or throwing riders into brooks.
"Here! Hold on!" George protested. "It's early."
They began again to smoke and talk.
"Nice little thing, What's-her-name! What's her funny name?"
"Laurencine, do you mean? Yes." Lucas spoke coldly, with a careful
indifference. George, to whom insight had not been denied, understood
that Everard did not altogether care for Laurencine to be referred to as
a little thing, that he had rendered Laurencine sacred by his secret
"I say," said George, sitting up slightly, and increasing the intimacy
of his tone, "devilish odd, wasn't it, that the Wheeler woman didn't ask
Hitherto they had avoided this question in their profound gossip. It had
lain between them untouched, like a substance possibly dangerous and
explosive. Yet they could not have parted without touching it, and
George, with characteristic moral courage or rashness, had touched it
first. Lucas was of a mind to reply succinctly that the Wheeler woman's
conduct was not a bit devilish odd. But sincerity won. The dismissal at
the entrance to the Mansions had affected him somewhat deeply. It had
impaired the perfection of his most notable triumph. The temptation to
release his feelings was too strong.
"Well, if you ask me," he answered, it was. After a little pause he went
"Especially seeing that she practically asked me to ask them to dinner."
His nice features loosened to dissatisfaction. "The deuce she did!"
"Yes! Practically asked me! Anyhow, gave me the tip What can you do?" He
implied that, far from deriving unique and unhoped-for glory from the
condescension of Irene Wheeler in consenting to dine with him, he had
conferred a favour on her by his invitation. He implied that brilliant
women all over London competed for his invitations. His manner was
entirely serious; it probably deceived even himself. George's manner
corresponded, instinctively, chivalrously; but George was not
deceived--at any rate in the subconscious depth of his mind.
"Exactly!" murmured George.
"Yes" said Lucas. "She said: 'I could bring Laurencine with me, if you
can get another man. That would make a four.' She said she wanted to
wake Laurencine up."
"Did you tell her you should ask me?" George questioned.
"Oh! She seemed to know all about you, my boy."
"Well, but she couldn't know all about me," said George insincerely.
"Well, if you want to know then, she suggested I should ask you."
"But she'd never seen me!"
"She's heard of you. Mrs. Orgreave, I expect."
"Odd!... Odd!" George now pretended to be academically assessing an
announcement that had no intrinsic interest for him. In reality he was
"Well you know what those sort of women are!" Lucas summed up wisely, as
if referring to truths of knowledge common among men of their kidney.
"Oh, of course!"
The magazine slid from the knees of the sleeper. The sleeper snorted and
woke up. The spell was broken. Lucas rose suddenly. "Bye-bye!" He was
giving an ultimatum as to his departure.
George rose also, but slowly.
"All that doesn't explain why she didn't ask us up," said he.
But in his heart he thought he knew why Miss Wheeler hadn't asked them
up. The reason was that she maliciously wanted to tantalize him, George.
She had roused his curiosity about Lois, and then she had said to
herself: "You think you're going to see her to-night, but you just
aren't." Such, according to George, was Irene Wheeler the illustrious.
He reflected on the exasperating affair until he had undressed and got
into bed. But as soon as he had put out the light Marguerite appeared
before him, and at the back of her were the examiners for the Final. He
During the whole of the next day George waited for a letter from
Marguerite. There was nothing at the club by the first post; he went to
the office, hoping that as he had addressed his telegram from Russell
Square she might have written to Russell Square; there was nothing at
Russell Square. At lunch-time no word had arrived at the club; when the
office closed no word had arrived at the office; the last post brought
nothing to the club. He might have sent another telegram to Alexandra
Grove, but he was too proud to do so. He dined alone and most miserably
at the club. Inspired by unhappiness and resentment, he resolved to go
to bed; in bed he might read himself to sleep. But in the hall of the
club his feet faltered. Perhaps it was the sight of hats and sticks that
made him vacillate, or a glimpse of reluctantly dying silver in the
firmament over Candle Court. He wavered; he stood still at the foot of
the stairs. The next moment he was in the street. He had decided to call
on Agg at the studio. Agg might have the clue to Marguerite's astounding
conduct, though he had it not. He took a hansom, after saying he would
walk; he was too impatient for walking. Possibly Marguerite would be at
the studio; possibly a letter of hers had miscarried; letters did
miscarry. He was in a state of peculiar excitement as he paid the
cabman--an enigma to himself.
The studio was quite dark. Other studios showed lights, but not Agg's.
From one studio came the sound of a mandolin--he thought it was a
mandolin--and the sound seemed pathetic, tragic, to his ears. Agg was
perhaps in bed; he might safely arouse her; she would not object. But
no! He would not do that. Pride again! It would be too humiliating for
him, the affianced, to have to ask Agg: "I say, do you know anything
about Marguerite?" The affianced ought to be the leading authority as to
the doings of Marguerite. He turned away, walked a little, and perceived
the cabman swinging himself cautiously down from his perch in order to
enter a public-house. He turned back. Marguerite too might be in bed at
the studio. Or the girls might be sitting in the dark, talking--a habit
of theirs.... Fanciful suppositions! At any rate he would not knock at
the door of the studio, would not even enter the alley again. What
carried him into the Fulham Road and westwards as far as the Workhouse
tower and the corner of Alexandra Grove? Feet! But surely the feet of
another person, over which he had no control! He went in the lamplit
dimness of Alexandra Grove like a thief; he crept into it. The silver
had not yet died out of the sky; he could see it across the spaces
between the dark houses; it was sad in exactly the same way as the sound
of the mandolin had been sad.
What did he mean to do in the Grove? Nothing! He was just walking in it
by chance. He could indeed do nothing. For if he rang at No. 8 old Haim
would again confront him in the portico. He passed by No. 8 on the
opposite side of the road. No light showed, except a very dim glow
through the blind of the basement window to the left of the front door.
Those feet beneath him strolled across the road. The basement window was
wide open. The blind being narrower than the window-frame, he could see,
through the railings, into the room within. He saw Marguerite. She was
sitting, in an uncomfortable posture, in the rather high-seated
arm-chair in which formerly, when the room was her studio, she used to
sit at her work. Her head had dropped, on one shoulder. She was asleep.
On the table a candle burned. His heart behaved strangely. He flushed.
All his flesh tingled. The gate creaked horribly as he tiptoed into the
patch of garden. He leaned over the little chasm between the level of
the garden and the window, and supported himself with a hand on the
lower sash. He pushed the blind sideways with the other hand.
"Marguerite!" in a whisper. Then louder: "Marguerite!"
She did not stir. She was in a deep sleep. Her hands hung limp. Her face
was very pale and very fatigued. She liberated the same sadness as the
sound of the mandolin and the gleam of silver in the June sky, but it
was far more poignant. At the spectacle of those weary and unconscious
features and of the soft, bodily form, George's resentment was
annihilated. He wondered at his resentment. He was aware of nothing in
himself but warm, protective love. Tenderness surged out from the
impenetrable secrecy of his heart, filled him, overflowed, and floated
in waves towards the sleeper. In the intense sadness, and in the
uncertainty of events, he was happy.
An older man might have paused, but without hesitancy George put his
foot on the window-sill, pushed down the window farther, and clambered
into the room in which he had first seen Marguerite. His hat, pressing
backward the blind, fell off and bounced its hard felt on the floor,
which at the edges was uncarpeted. The noise of the hat and the general
stir of George's infraction disturbed Marguerite, who awoke and looked
up. The melancholy which she was exhaling suddenly vanished. Her steady
composure in the alarm delighted George.
"Couldn't wake you," he murmured lightly. It was part of his Five Towns
upbringing to conceal excitement. "Saw you through the window."
"Oh! George! Was I asleep?"
Pleasure shone on her face. He deposited his stick and sprang to her. He
sat on the arm of the chair. He bent her head back and examined her
face. He sat on her knee and held her. She did not kiss; she was kissed;
he liked that. Her fatigue was adorable.
"I came here for something, and I just sat down for a second because I
was so tired, and I must have gone right off.... No! No!"
The admonishing negative was to stop him from getting up off her knee.
She was exhausted, yet she had vast resources of strength to bear him on
her knee. She was wearing her oldest frock. It was shabby. But it
exquisitely suited her then. It was the frock of her capability, of her
great labours, of her vigil, of her fatigue. It covered, but did not
hide, her beautiful contours. He thought she was marvellously
beautiful--and very young, far younger than himself. As for him, he was
the dandy, in striking contrast to her. His dandyism as he sat on her
knee pleased both of them. He looked older than his years, his shoulders
had broadened, his dark moustache thickened. In his own view he was
utterly adult, as she was in hers. But their young faces so close
together, so confident, were touchingly immature. As he observed her
grave satisfaction at his presence, the comfort which he gave her, he
felt sure of her, and the memory of his just resentment came to him, and
he was tenderly reproachful.
"I expected to hear from you," he said. The male in him relished the
delicate accusation of his tone.
Marguerite answered with a little startled intake of breath:
"She died this afternoon. The layer-out left about half an hour ago."
Death parted them. He rose from her knee, and Marguerite did not try to
prevent him. He was profoundly shocked. With desolating vividness he
recalled the Sunday afternoon when he had carried upstairs the plump,
living woman now dead. He had always liked Mrs. Lob--it was as Mrs. Lob
that he thought of her. He had seen not much of her. Only on that Sunday
afternoon had he and she reached a sort of intimacy--unspoken but real.
He had liked her. He had even admired her. She was no ordinary being.
And he had sympathized with her for Marguerite's quite explicable
defection. He had often wished that those two, the charwoman and his
beloved, could somehow have been brought together. The menaces of death
had brought them together. Mrs. Lob was laid out in the bedroom which he
had once entered. Mrs. Lob had been dying while he dined richly with
Miss Wheeler and Laurencine, and while he talked cynically with Everard
Lucas. And while he had been resenting Marguerite's neglect Marguerite
was watching by the dying bed. Oh! The despicable superficialities of
restaurants and clubs! He was ashamed. The mere receding shadow of death
"The baby's dead too, of course," Marguerite added. "She ought never to
have had a baby. It seems she had had two miscarriages."
There were tears in Marguerite's eyes and in her voice. Nevertheless her
tone was rather matter-of-fact as she related these recondite and
sinister things. George thought that women were very strange. Imagine
Marguerite quietly talking to him in this strain! Then the sense of the
formidable secrets that lie hidden in the history of families, and the
sense of the continuity of individual destinies, overwhelmed him. There
"And your exam. begins to-morrow," whispered the astonishing Marguerite.
"Where's the old gentleman?"
"He's sitting in the parlour in the dark."
It was a terrible house: they two intimidated and mournful in the
basement; the widower solitary on the ground floor; the dead bodies, the
wastage and futility of conception and long bearing, up in the bedroom.
And in all the house the light of one candle! George suddenly noticed,
then, that Marguerite was not wearing the thin, delicate ring which he
had long ago given her. Had she removed it because of her manual duties?
He wanted to ask the question, but, even unspoken, it seemed too trivial
for the hour....
There was a shuffling sound beyond the door, and a groping on the outer
face of the door. Marguerite jumped up. Mr. Haim stumbled into the room.
He had incredibly aged; he looked incredibly feeble. But as he pointed a
finger at George he was in a fury of anger, and his anger was senile,
"I thought I heard voices," he said, half squeaking. "How did you get
in? You didn't come in by the door. Out of my house! My wife lying dead
upstairs, and you choose this night to break in!" He was implacable
against George, absolutely; and George recoiled.
The opening of the door had created a draught in which the candle-flame
trembled, and the shadow of the old man trembled on the door.
"You'd better go. I'll write. I'll write," Marguerite murmured to George
very calmly, very gently, very persuasively. She stood between the two
men. Her manner was perfect. It eternally impressed itself on George.
"Father, come and sit down."
The old man obeyed her. So did George. He snatched his hat and stick. By
the familiar stone steps of the basement, and along the familiar hall,
he felt his way to the door, turned the familiar knob, and departed.
The examination began the next day. Despite his preoccupation about
Marguerite, George's performances during the first days were quite
satisfactory to himself. Indeed, after a few minutes in the
examination-room, after the preliminary critical assessing of the
difficulty of the problems in design, and the questions, and of his
ability to deal with them, George successfully forgot everything except
the great seven-day duel between the self-constituted autocratic
authorities backed by prestige and force, and the aspirants who had
naught but their wits to help them. He was neither a son, nor a friend,
nor a lover; he ceased to have human ties; he had become an examinee.
Marguerite wrote him two short letters which were perfect, save that he
always regarded her handwriting as a little too clerical, too like her
father's. She made no reference whatever to the scene in the basement
room. She said that she could not easily arrange to see him immediately,
and that for the sake of his exam. he ought not to be distracted. She
would have seen him on the Saturday, but on Saturday George learnt that
her father was a little unwell and required, even if he did not need,
constant attention. The funeral, unduly late, occurred by Mr. Haim's
special desire on the Sunday, most of which day George spent with
Everard Lucas. On the Monday he had a rendezvous at eight o'clock with
Marguerite at the studio.
She opened the door herself; and her welcome was divine. Her gestures
spoke, delicate, and yet robust in their candour. But she was in deep
"Oh!" he said, holding her. "You're wearing black, then."
"Of course!" she answered sweetly. "You see, I had to be there all
through the funeral. And father would have been frightfully shocked if I
hadn't been in black--naturally."
"Of course!" he agreed. It was ridiculous that he should be surprised
and somewhat aggrieved to find her in mourning; still, he was surprised
and somewhat aggrieved.
"Besides----" she added vaguely.
And that 'besides' disquieted him, and confirmed his grievance. Why
should she wear mourning for a woman to whom she was not related, whom
she had known simply as a charwoman, and who had forced her to leave her
father's house? There was no tie between Marguerite and her stepmother.
George, for his part, had liked the dead woman, but Marguerite had not
even liked her. No, she was not wearing black in honour of the dead, but
to humour the living. And why should her father be humoured? George
privately admitted the unreasonableness, the unsoundness, of these
considerations--obviously mourning wear was imperative for
Marguerite--nevertheless they were present in his mind.
"That frock's a bit tight, but it suits you," he said, advancing with
her into the studio.
"It's an old one," she smiled.
"An old one?"
"It's one I had for mother."
He had forgotten that she had had a mother, that she had known what
grief was, only a very few years earlier. He resented these bereavements
and the atmosphere which they disengaged. He wanted a different
"Is the exam. really all right?" she appealed to him, taking both his
hands and leaning against him and looking up into his face.
"What did I tell you in my letter?"
"Yes, I know."
"The exam. is as right as rain."
"I knew it would be."
"You didn't," he laughed. He imitated her: "'Is the exam. really all
right?'" She just smiled. He went on confidently: "Of course you never
know your luck, you know. There's the viva to-morrow.... Where's old
"She's gone home."
"Thoughtful child! How soon will she be back?"
"About nine," said Marguerite, apparently unaware that George was being
"Oh, George!" Marguerite exclaimed, breaking away from him. "I'm awfully
sorry, but I must get on with my packing."
"I have to take my things home."
"Father's, I mean."
She was going to live with her father, who would not willingly allow
him, George, to enter the house! How astounding girls were! She had
written to him twice without giving the least hint of her resolve. He
had to learn it as it were incidentally, through the urgency of packing.
She did not tell him she was going--she said she must get on with her
packing! And there, lying on the floor, was an open trunk; and two of
her drawing-boards already had string round them.
"How is the old man--to-day?"
"He's very nervy," said Marguerite briefly and significantly. "I'd
better light the lamp; I shall see better." She seemed to be speaking to
herself. She stood on a chair and lifted the chimney off the central
lamp. George absently passed her his box of matches.
As she, was replacing the chimney, he said suddenly in a very resolute
"This is all very well, Marguerite. But it's going to be jolly awkward
She jumped lightly down from the chair, like a little girl.
"Oh! George! I know!" she cried. "It will be awkward for both of us. But
we shall arrange something." She might have resented his tone. She might
have impulsively defended herself. But she did not. She accepted his
attitude with unreserved benevolence. Her gaze was marvellously
"I can't make out what your father's got against me," said George
angrily, building his vexation on her benevolence. "What have I done, I
should like to know."
"It's simply because you lived there all that time without him knowing
we were engaged. He says if he'd known he would never have let you stay
there a day." She smiled, mournfully, forgivingly, excusingly.
"But it's preposterous!"
"Oh! It is."
"And how does he behave to _you_? Is he treating you decently?"
"Oh! Fairly. You see, he's got a lot to get over. And he's most
frightfully upset about--his wife. Well, you saw him yourself, didn't
"That's no reason why he should treat you badly."
"But he doesn't, George!"
"Oh! I know! I know! Do you think I don't know? He's not even decent to
you. I can hear it in your voice. Why should you go back and live with
him if he isn't prepared to appreciate it?"
"But he expects it, George. And what am I to do? He's all alone. I can't
leave him all alone, can I?"
George burst out:
"I tell you what it is. Marguerite. You're too good-natured. That's what
it is. You're too good-natured. And it's a very bad thing."
Tears came into her eyes; she could not control them. She was grieved by
"I'm not, George, truly. You must remember father's been through a lot
this last week. So have I."
"I know! I know! I admit all that. But you're too good-natured, and
I'll stick to it."
She was smiling again.
"You only think that because you're fond of me. Nobody else would say
it, and I'm not. Help me to lift this trunk on to the chest."
While the daylight withdrew, and the smell of the lamp strengthened and
then faded, and the shadows cast by the lamp-rays grew blacker, she went
on rapidly with her packing, he serving her at intervals. They said
little. His lower lip fell lower and lower. The evening was immensely,
horribly different from what he had expected and hoped for. He felt once
more the inescapable grip of destiny fastening upon him.
"Why are you in such a hurry?" he asked, after a long time.
"I told father I should be back at a quarter-past nine."
This statement threw George into a condition of total dark disgust. He
made no remark. But what remarks he could have made--sarcastic, bitter,
unanswerable! Why indeed in the name of heaven should she promise her
father to be back at a quarter-past nine, or at a quarter-past anything?
Was she a servant? Had she no rights? Had he himself, George, no rights?
A little before nine Agg arrived. Marguerite was fastening the trunk.
"Now be sure, Agg," said Marguerite. "Don't forget to hang out the
Carter Paterson card at the end of the alley to-morrow morning. I must
have these things at home to-morrow night for certain. The labels are
on. And here's twopence for the man."
"Do I forget?" retorted Agg cheerfully. "By the way, George, I want to
talk to you." She turned to Marguerite and repeated in quite a different
voice: "I want to talk to him, dear, to-night. Do, let him stay. Will
Marguerite gave a puzzled assent.
"I'll call after I've taken Marguerite to Alexandra Grove, Agg--on my
way back to the club."
"Oh no, you won't!" said Agg. "I shall be gone to bed then. Look at that
portrait and see how I've worked. My family's concerned about me. It
wants me to go away for a holiday."
George had not till then noticed the portrait at all.
"But I must take Marguerite along to the Grove," he insisted. "She can't
"And why can't she go alone? What sort of a conventional world do you
think you live in? Don't girls go home alone? Don't they come in alone?
Don't I? Anybody would think, to listen to some people, that the purdah
flourished in Chelsea. But it's all pretence. I don't ask for the honour
of a private interview with you every night. You've both of you got all
your lives before you. And for once in a way Marguerite's going out
alone. At least, you can take her to the street, I don't mind that. But
don't be outside more than a minute."
Agg, who had sat down, rose and slowly removed her small hat. With pins
in her mouth she said something about the luggage to Marguerite.
"All right! All right!" George surrendered gloomily. In truth he was not
sorry to let Marguerite depart solitary. And Agg's demeanour was very
peculiar; he would have been almost afraid to be too obstinate in
denying her request. He had never seen her hysterical, but a suspicion
took him that she might be capable of hysteria.... You never knew, with
that kind of girl, he thought sagaciously.
In the darkness of the alley George said to Marguerite, feigning
"What on earth does she want?"
"Agg? Oh! It's probably nothing. She does get excited sometimes, you
The two girls had parted with strange, hard demonstrations of affection
"I suppose you'll write," said George coldly.
"To-morrow, darling," she replied quite simply and gravely.
Her kiss was warm, complete, faithful, very loving, very sympathetic.
Nothing in her demeanour as she left him showed that George had received
it in a non-committal manner. Yet she must have noticed his wounded
reserve. He did not like such duplicity. He would have preferred her to
be less miraculously angelic.
When he re-entered the studio, Agg, who very seldom smoked, was puffing
violently at a cigarette. She reclined on one elbow on the settee, her
eyes fixed on the portrait of herself. George was really perturbed by
the baffling queerness of the scenes through which he was passing.
"Look here, infant-in-arms," she began immediately. "I only wanted to
say two words to you about Marguerite. Can you stand it?"
There was a pause. George walked in front of her, hiding the easel.
"Yes," he said gruffly.
"Well, Marguerite's a magnificent girl. She's extraordinarily capable.
You'd think she could look after herself as well as anyone. But she
can't. I know her far better than you do. She needs looking after.
She'll make a fool of herself if she isn't handled."
"How do you mean?"
"You know how I mean."
"D'you mean about the old man?"
"I mean about the perfectly horrid old man.... Ah! If I was in your
place, if I was a man," she said passionately, "do you know what I
should do with Marguerite? I should carry her off. I should run away
with her. I should drag her out of the house, and she should know what a
real man was. I'm not going to discuss her with you. I'm not going to
say any more at all. I'm off to bed. But before you go, I do think you
might tell me my portrait's a pretty good thing."
And she did not say any more.
The written part of the examination lasted four days; and then there was
an interval of one day in which the harassed and harried aspirants might
restore themselves for the two days' ordeal of the viva voce. George had
continued to be well satisfied with his work up to the interval. He
considered that he had perfectly succeeded in separating the lover and
the examinee, and that nothing foreign to the examination could vitiate
his activity therein. It was on the day of repose, a Wednesday, that a
doubt suddenly occurred to him as to the correctness of his answer, in
the "Construction" paper, to a question which began with the following
formidable words: "A girder, freely supported at each end and forty feet
long, carries a load of six tons at a distance of six feet from one end
and another load of ten tons----" Thus it went on for ten lines. He had
always been impatient of detail, and he hated every kind of calculation.
Nevertheless he held that calculations were relatively easy, and that he
could do them as well as the driest duffer in the profession when he set
his mind to them. But the doubt as to the correctness of his answer
developed into a certainty. Facing the question in private again, he
obtained four different solutions in an hour; it was John Orgreave who
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