Part 4 out of 7
ultimately set him right, convicting him of a most elementary
misconception. Forthwith his faith in his whole "Construction" paper
vanished. He grumbled that it was monstrous to give candidates an
unbroken stretch of four hours' work at the end of a four-day effort.
Yet earlier he had been boasting that he had not felt the slightest
fatigue. He had expected to see Marguerite on the day of repose. He did
not see her. She had offered no appointment, and he said to himself
that he had not the slightest intention of running after her. Such had
become the attitude of the lover to the beloved.
On the Thursday morning, however, he felt fit enough to face a dozen
oral examiners, and he performed his morning exercises in the club
bedroom with a positive ferocity of vigour. And then he was gradually
overtaken by a black moodiness which he could not explain. He had passed
through similar though less acute moods as a boy; but this was the first
of the inexplicable sombre humours which at moments darkened his
manhood. He had not the least suspicion that prolonged nervous tension
due to two distinct causes had nearly worn him out. He was melancholy,
and his melancholy increased. But he was proud; he was defiant. His
self-confidence, as he looked back at the years of genuine hard study
behind him, was complete. He disdained examiners. He knew that with all
their damnable ingenuity they could not floor him.
The crisis arrived in the afternoon of the first of the two days. His
brain was quite clear. Thousands of details about drainage, ventilation,
shoring, architectural practice, lighting, subsoils, specifications,
iron and steel construction, under-pinning, the properties of building
materials, strains, thrusts, water-supply; thousands of details about
his designs--the designs in his 'testimonies of study,' the design for
his Thesis, and the designs produced during the examination itself--all
these peopled his brain; but they were in order; they were under
control; they were his slaves. For four and a half hours, off and on, he
had admirably displayed the reality of his knowledge, and then he was
sent into a fresh room to meet a fresh examiner. There he stood in the
room alone with his designs for a small provincial town hall--a
key-plan, several one-eighth scale-plans, a piece of half-inch detail,
and two rough perspective sketches which he knew were brilliant. The
room was hot; through the open window came the distant sound of the
traffic of Regent Street. The strange melancholy of a city in summer
floated towards him from the outside and reinforced his own.
The examiner, who had been snatching tea, entered briskly and sternly.
He was a small, dapper, fair man of about fifty, with wonderfully tended
finger-nails. George despised him because Mr. Enwright despised him, but
he had met him once in the way of the firm's business and found him
"Good afternoon," said George politely.
The examiner replied, trotting along the length of the desk with quick,
"Now about this work of yours. I've looked at it with some care----" His
speech was like his demeanour and his finger-nails.
"Boor!" thought George. But he could not actively resent the slight. He
glanced round at the walls; he was in a prison. He was at the mercy of a
tyrant invested with omnipotence.
The little tyrant, however, was superficially affable. Only now and then
in his prim, courteous voice was there a hint of hostility and cruelty.
He put a number of questions, the answers to which had to be George's
justification. He said "H'm!" and "Ah!" and "Really?" He came to the
matter of spouting.
"Now, I object to hopper-heads," he said. "I regard them as unhygienic."
And he looked coldly at George with eyebrows lifted. George returned the
"I know you do, sir," George replied.
Indeed it was notorious that hopper-heads to vertical spouting were a
special antipathy of the examiner's; he was a famous faddist. But the
reply was a mistake. The examiner, secure in his attributes, ignored the
sally. A little later, taking up the general plan of the town hall, he
"The fact is, I do--not--care for this kind of thing. The whole
"Excuse me, sir," George interrupted, with conscious and elaborate
respectfulness. "But surely the question isn't one of personal
preferences. Is the design good or is it bad?"
"Well, I call it bad," said the examiner, showing testiness. The
examiner too could be impulsive, was indeed apt to be short-tempered.
The next instant he seized one of the brilliant perspective sketches,
and by his mere manner of holding it between his thumb and finger he
sneered at it and condemned it.
He snapped out, not angrily--rather pityingly:
"And what the devil's this?"
George, furious, retorted:
"What the hell do you think it is?"
He had not foreseen that he was going to say such a thing. The traffic
in Regent Street, which had been inaudible to both of them, was loud in
The examiner had committed a peccadillo, George a terrible crime. The
next morning the episode, in various forms, was somehow common knowledge
and a source of immense diversion. George went through the second day,
but lifelessly. He was sure he had failed. Apart from the significance
of the fact that the viva voce counted for 550 marks out of a total of
1200, he felt that the Royal Institute of British Architects would know
how to defend its dignity. On the Saturday morning John Orgreave had
positive secret information that George would be plucked.
On that same Saturday afternoon George and Marguerite went out together.
She had given him a rendezvous in Brompton Cemetery, choosing this spot
partly because it was conveniently near and partly in unconscious
obedience to the traditional instinct of lovers for the society of the
undisturbing dead. Each of them had a roofed habitation, but neither
could employ it for the ends of love. No. 8 was barred to George as much
by his own dignity as by the invisible sword of the old man; and of
course he could not break the immemorial savage taboo of a club by
introducing a girl into it. The Duke of Wellington himself, though
Candle Court was his purdah, could never have broken the taboo of even
so modest a club as Pickering's. Owing to the absence of Agg, who had
gone to Wales with part of her family, the studio in Manresa Road was
equally closed to the pair.
Marguerite was first at the rendezvous. George saw her walking sedately
near the entrance. Despite her sedateness she had unmistakably the air
of waiting at a tryst. Anybody at a glance would have said that she was
expecting a man. She had the classical demure innocency of her
situation. George did not care for that. Why? She in fact was expecting
a man, and in expecting him she had nothing to be ashamed of. Well, he
did not care for it. He did not care for her being like other girls of
her class. In his pocket he had an invitation from Miss Wheeler for the
next evening. Would Miss Wheeler wait for a man in a public place,
especially a cemetery? Would Lois Ingram? Would Laurencine? He could not
picture them so waiting. Oh, simpleton, unlearned in the world! A snob
too, no doubt! (He actually thought that Hyde Park would have been
'better' than the cemetery for their rendezvous.) And illogical! If No.
8 had been open to them, and the studio, and the club, he would have
accepted with gusto the idea of an open-air rendezvous. But since there
was no alternative to an open-air rendezvous the idea of it humiliated
and repelled him.
Further, in addition to her culpable demure innocency, Marguerite was
wearing black. Of course she was. She had no choice. Still, he hated her
mourning. Moreover, she was too modest; she did not impose herself. Some
girls wore mourning with splendid defiance. Marguerite seemed to
apologize; seemed to turn the other cheek to death.... He arrived
critical, and naturally he found matter to criticize.
Her greeting showed quite candidly the pleasure she had in the sight of
him. Her heart was in the hand she gave him; he felt its mystic
"How are things?" he began. "I rather thought I should have been hearing
from you." He softened his voice to match the tenderness of her smile,
but he did it consciously.
"I thought you'd have enough to worry about with the exam. without me."
It was not a wise speech, because it implied that he was capable of
being worried, of being disturbed in the effort of absorption necessary
for the examination. He laughed a little harshly.
"Well, you see the result!"
He had written to tell her of the disastrous incident and that failure
was a certainty; a sort of shame had made him recoil from telling her to
her face; it was easier to be casual in writing than in talking; the
letter had at any rate tempered for both of them the shock of
communication. Now, he was out of humour with her because he had played
the ass with an ass of an examiner--not because she was directly or
indirectly responsible for his doing so; simply because he had done so.
She was the woman. It was true that she in part was indirectly
responsible for the calamity, but he did not believe it, and anyhow
would never have admitted it.
"Oh! George! What a shame it was!" As usual, not a trace of reproach
from her: an absolute conviction that he was entirely blameless. "What
shall you do? You'll have to sit again."
"Sit again? Me?" he exclaimed haughtily. "I never shall! I've done with
exams." He meant it.
"But--shall you give up architecture, then?"
"Certainly not! My dear girl, what are you thinking of? Of course I
shan't give up architecture. But you needn't pass any exams, to be an
architect. Anybody can call himself an architect, and be an architect,
without passing exams. Exams. are optional. That's what makes old
Enwright so cross with our beautiful profession."
He laughed again harshly. All the time, beneath his quite genuine
defiance, he was thinking what an idiot he had been to cheek the
examiner, and how staggeringly simple it was to ruin years of industry
by one impulsive moment's folly, and how iniquitous was a world in which
such injustice could be.
Marguerite was puzzled. In her ignorance she had imagined that
professions were inseparably connected with examinations. However, she
had to find faith to accept his dictum, and she found it.
"Now about this afternoon," he said. "I vote we take a steamboat down
the river. I've made up my mind I must have a look at Greenwich again
from the water. And we both need a blow."
"But won't it take a long time?" she mildly objected.
He turned on her violently, and spoke as he had never spoken:
"What if it does?"
He knew that she was thinking of her infernal father, and he would not
have it. He remembered all that Agg had said. Assuredly Agg had shown
nerve, too much nerve, to tackle him in the way she did, and the more he
reflected upon Agg's interference the more he resented it as
impertinent. Still, Agg had happened to talk sense.
"Oh, nothing!" Marguerite agreed quickly, fearfully. "I should like to
go. I've never been. Do we go to Chelsea Pier? Down Fernshaw Road will
be the nearest."
"We'll go down Beaufort Street," he decided. He divined that she had
suggested Fernshaw Road in order to avoid passing the end of the Grove,
where her father might conceivably see them. Well, he was not going out
of his way to avoid her father. Nay, he was going slightly out of his
way in order to give her father every chance of beholding them
Although the day was Saturday there was no stir on Chelsea Pier. The
pier-keeper, indeed, was alone on the pier, which rose high on the
urgent flood-tide, so that the gangway to it sloped unusually upwards.
No steamer was in sight, and it seemed impossible that any steamer
should ever call at that forlorn and decrepit platform that trembled
under the straining of the water. Nevertheless, a steamer did after a
little while appear round the bend, in Battersea Reach; she dropped her
funnel, aimed her sharp nose at an arch of Battersea Bridge, and
finally, poising herself against the strong stream, bumped very gently
and neatly into contact with the pier. The pier-keeper went through all
the classic motions of mooring, unbarring, barring, and casting off, and
in a few seconds the throbbing steamer, which was named with the name of
a great Londoner, left the pier again with George and Marguerite on
board. Nobody had disembarked. The shallow and handsome craft, flying
its gay flags, crossed and recrossed the river, calling at three piers
in the space of a few minutes; but all the piers were like Chelsea Pier;
all the pier-keepers had the air of castaways upon shaking islets. The
passengers on the steamer would not have filled a motor-bus, and they
carried themselves like melancholy adventurers who have begun to doubt
the authenticity of the inspiration which sent them on a mysterious
quest. Such was travel on the Thames in the years immediately before
Londoners came to a final decision that the Thames was meet to be
ignored by the genteel town which it had begotten.
George and Marguerite sat close together near the prow, saying little,
the one waiting to spring, the other to suffer onslaught. It was in
Lambeth Reach that the broad, brimming river challenged and seized
George's imagination. A gusty, warm, south-west wind met the rushing
tide and blew it up into foamy waves. The wind was powerful, but the
tide was irresistible. Far away, Land's End having divided the Atlantic
surge, that same wind was furiously driving vast waters up the English
Channel and round the Forelands, and also vast waters up the west coast
of Britain. The twin surges had met again in the outer estuary of the
Thames and joined their terrific impulses to defy the very wind which
had given them strength, and the mighty flux swept with unregarding
power through the mushroom city whose existence on its banks was a
transient episode in the everlasting life of the river.
The river seemed to threaten the city that had confined it in stone. And
George, in the background of his mind, which was obsessed by the
tormenting enigma of the girl by his side, also threatened the city.
With the uncompromising arrogance of the student who has newly acquired
critical ideas, he estimated and judged it. He cursed the Tate Gallery
and utterly damned Doulton's works. He sternly approved Lambeth Palace,
the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Somerset House, Waterloo
Bridge, and St. Paul's. He cursed St. Thomas's Hospital and the hotels.
He patronized New Scotland Yard. The "Isambard Brunel" penetrated more
and more into the heart of the city, fighting for every yard of her
progress. Flags stood out straight in the blue sky traversed by swift
white clouds. Huge rudder-less barges, each with a dwarf in the stern
struggling at a giant's oar, were borne westwards broadside on like
straws upon the surface of a hurrying brook. A launch with an orchestra
on board flew gaily past. Tugs with a serpentine tail of craft threaded
perilously through the increasing traffic. Railway trains, cabs,
coloured omnibuses, cyclists, and footfarers mingled in and complicated
the scene. Then the first ocean-going steamer appeared, belittling all
else. And then the calm, pale beauty of the custom-house at last humbled
George, and for an instant made him think that he could never do
anything worth doing. His pride leapt up, unconquerable. The ocean-going
steamers, as they multiplied on the river, roused in him wild and
painful longings to rush to the ends of the earth and gorge himself on
the immense feast which the great romantic earth had to offer.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed passionately. "I'd give something to go to
"Would you?" Marguerite answered with mildness. She had not the least
notion of what he was feeling. Her voice responded to him, but her
imagination did not respond. True, as he had always known, she had no
ambition! The critical quality of his mood developed. The imperious
impulse came to take her to task.
"What's the latest about your father?" he asked, with a touch of
impatient, aggrieved disdain. Both were aware that the words had opened
a crucial interview between them. She moved nervously on the seat. The
benches that ran along the deck-rails met in an acute angle at the stem
of the steamer, so that the pair sat opposite each other with their
knees almost touching. He went on: "I hear he hasn't gone back to the
"No," said Marguerite. "But he'll start again on Monday, I think."
"But is he fit to go back? I thought he looked awful."
She flushed slightly--at the indirect reference to the episode in the
basement on the night of the death.
"It will do him good to go back," said Marguerite. "I'm sure he misses
the office dreadfully."
George gazed at her person. Under the thin glove he suddenly detected
the form of her ring. She was wearing it again, then. (He could not
remember whether she had worn it at their last meeting, in Agg's studio.
The very curious fact was that at their last meeting he had forgotten to
look for the ring.) Not only was she wearing the ring, but she carried a
stylish little handbag which he had given her. When he bought that bag,
in the Burlington Arcade, it had been a bag like any other bag. But now
it had become part of her, individualized by her personality, a
mysterious and provocative bag. Everything she wore, down to her boots
and even her bootlaces so neatly threaded and knotted, was mysterious
and provocative. He examined her face. It was marvellously beautiful; it
was ordinary; it was marvellously beautiful. He knew her to the depths;
he did not know her at all; she was a chance acquaintance; she was a
"How are you getting on with him? You know you really ought to tell me."
"Oh, George!" she said, earnestly vivacious. "You're wrong in thinking
he's not nice to me. He is He's quite forgiven me."
"Forgiven you!" George took her up. "I should like to know what he had
"Well," she murmured timorously. "You understand what I mean."
He drummed his elegant feet on the striated deck. Out of the corner of
his left eye he saw the mediaeval shape of the Tower rapidly
disappearing. In front were the variegated funnels and masts of fleets
gathered together in St. Katherine's Dock and London Dock. The steamer
gained speed as she headed from Cherry Gardens Pier towards the middle
of the river. She was a frail trifle compared with the big boats that
lined the wharves; but in herself she had size and irresistible force,
travelling quite smoothly over the short, riotous, sparkling waves which
her cut-water divided and spurned away on either side. Only a tremor
faintly vibrated throughout her being.
"Has he forgiven you for being engaged?" George demanded, with rough
She showed no resentment of his tone, but replied gently:
"I did try to mention it once, but it was no use--he wasn't in a
condition. He made me quite afraid--not for me of course, but for him."
"Well, I give it up!" said George. "I simply give it up! It's past me.
How soon's he going to _be_ in condition? He can't keep us walking about
the streets for ever."
"No, of course not!" She smiled to placate him.
There was a pause, and then George, his eyes fixed on her hand,
"I see you've got your ring on."
She too looked at her hand.
"My ring? Naturally. What do you mean?"
He proceeded cruelly:
"I suppose you don't wear it in the house, so that the sight of it
shan't annoy him."
She flushed once more.
"Oh, George, dear!" Her glance asked for mercy, for magnanimity.
"Do you wear it when you're in the house, or don't you?"
Her eyes fell.
"I daren't excite him. Truly, I daren't. It wouldn't do. It wouldn't be
She was admitting George's haphazard charge against her. He was
astounded. But he merely flung back his head and raised his eyebrows. He
"And yet she sticks to it he's nice to her! My God!"
He said nothing aloud. The Royal Hospital, Greenwich, showed itself in
the distance like a domed island rising fabulously out of the blue-green
water. Even far off, before he could decipher the main contours of the
gigantic quadruple pile, the vision excited him. His mind, darkened by
the most dreadful apprehensions concerning Marguerite, dwelt on it
darkly, sardonically, and yet with pleasure. And he proudly compared his
own disillusions with those of his greatest forerunners. His studies,
and the example of Mr. Enwright, had inspired him with an extremely
enthusiastic worship of Inigo Jones, whom he classed, not without
reason, among the great creative artists of Europe. He snorted when he
heard the Royal Hospital referred to as the largest and finest
charitable institution in the world. For him it was the supreme English
architectural work. He snorted at the thought of that pompous and absurd
monarch James I ordering Inigo Jones to design him a palace surpassing
all palaces and choosing a sublime site therefor, and then doing
nothing. He snorted at the thought of that deluded monarch Charles I
ordering Inigo Jones to design him a palace surpassing all palaces, and
receiving from Inigo Jones the plans of a structure which would have
equalled in beauty and eclipsed in grandeur any European structure of
the Christian era--even Chambord, even the Escurial, even
Versailles--and then accomplishing nothing beyond a tiny fragment of the
sublime dream. He snorted at the thought that Inigo Jones had died at
the age of nearly eighty ere the foundations of the Greenwich palace had
begun to be dug, and without having seen more than the fragment of his
unique Whitehall--after a youth spent in arranging masques for a stupid
court, and an old age spent in disappointment. But then no English
monarch had ever begun and finished a palace. George wished, rather
venturesomely, that he had lived under Francis I!...
The largest and finest charitable institution! The ineffable William and
Mary had merely turned it into a charitable institution because they did
not know what else to do with it. The mighty halls which ought to have
resounded to the laughter of the mistresses of Charles II were diverted
to the inevitable squalor of almsgiving. The mutilated victims of the
egotism and the fatuity of kings were imprisoned there together under
the rules and regulations of charity, the cruellest of all rules and
regulations. And all was done meanly--that is, all that interested
George. Christopher Wren, who was building St. Paul's and fighting
libels and slanders at a salary of two hundred a year, came down to
Greenwich and for years worked immortally for nothing amid material
difficulties that never ceased to multiply; and he too was beaten by the
huge monster. Then Vanbrugh arrived and blithely finished in corrupt
brick and flaming manifestations of decadence that which the pure and
monumental genius of Inigo Jones had first conceived. The north
frontages were marvels of beauty; the final erections to the south
amounted to an outrage upon Jones and Wren. Still, the affair was the
largest and finest charitable institution on earth! What a country,
thought George, hugging injustice! So it had treated Jones and Wren and
many another. So it had treated Enwright. And so it would treat, was
already treating, him, George. He did not care. As the steamer
approached Greenwich, and the details of the aborted palace grew
clearer, and he could distinguish between the genius of Jones and the
genius of Wren, he felt grimly and victoriously sure that both Jones and
Wren had had the best of the struggle against indifference and
philistinism--as he too would have the best of the struggle, though he
should die obscure and in penury. He was miserable and resentful, and
yet he was triumphant. The steamer stopped at the town-pier.
"Are we there?" said Marguerite. "Already?"
"Yes," said he. "And I think we may as well go back by the same
She concurred. However, an official insisted on them disembarking, even
if they meant to re-embark at once. They, went ashore. The facade of the
palace-hospital stretched majestically to the left of them, in sharp
perspective, a sensational spectacle.
"It's very large," Marguerite commented. Her voice was nervous.
"Yes, it's rather more than large," he said dryly.
He would not share his thoughts with her. He knew that she had some
inklings of taste, but in that moment he preferred to pretend that her
artistic perception was on a level with that of William and Mary. They
boarded the steamer again, and took their old places; and the menacing
problem of their predicament was still between them.
"We can have some tea downstairs if you like," he said, after the
steamer had turned round and started upstream.
She answered in tones imperfectly controlled:
"No, thank you. I feel as if I couldn't swallow anything." And she
looked up at him very quickly; with the embryo of a smile, and then
looked down again very quickly, because she could not bring the smile to
"Am I going to have a scene with her--on the steamer?" It would not
matter much if a scene did occur. There was nobody else on deck forward
of the bridge. They were alone--they were more solitary than they might
have been in the studio, or in any room at No. 8. The steamer was now
nearly heading the wind, but she travelled more smoothly, for she had
the last of the flood-tide under her.
George said kindly and persuasively:
"Upon my soul, I don't know what the old gentleman's got against me."
She eagerly accepted his advance, which seemed to give her courage.
"But there's nothing to know, dear. We both know that. There's nothing
at all. And yet of course I can understand it. So can you. In fact it
was you who first explained it to me. If you'd left No. 8 when I did and
he'd heard of our engagement afterwards, he wouldn't have thought
anything of it. But it was you staying on in the house that did it, and
him not knowing of the engagement. He thought you used to come to see me
at nights at the studio, me and Agg, and make fun of everything at No.
8--especially of his wife. He's evidently got some such idea in his
head, and there's no getting it out again."
"But it's childish."
"I know. However, we've said all this before, haven't we?"
"But the idea's _got_ to be got out of his head again!" said George
vigorously--more dictatorially and less persuasively than before.
Marguerite offered no remark.
"And after all," George continued, "he couldn't have been so desperately
keen on--your stepmother. When he married her your mother hadn't been
dead so very long, had she?"
"No. But he never cared for mother anything like so much as he cared for
Mrs. Lobley--at least not as far back as I can remember. It was a
different sort of thing altogether. I think he was perfectly mad about
Mrs. Lobley. Oh! He stood mother's death much--much better than hers!
You've no idea--"
"Oh yes, I have. We know all about that sort of thing," said George the
man of the world impatiently.
Marguerite said tenderly:
"It's broken him."
"It has, George." Her voice was very soft.
But George would not listen to the softness of her voice.
"Well," he objected firmly and strongly, "supposing it has! What then?
We're sorry for him. What then? That affair has nothing to do with our
affair. Is all that reason why I shouldn't see you in your own home? Or
are we to depend on Agg--when she happens to be at her studio? Or are we
always to see each other in the street, or in museums and things--or
steamers--just as if you were a shop-girl? We may just as well look
facts in the face, you know."
She flushed. Her features changed under emotion.
"Oh! George! I don't know what to do."
"Then you think he's determined not to have anything to do with me?"
She was silent.
"You think he's determined not to have anything to do with me, I say?"
"He may change," Marguerite murmured.
"'May change' be dashed! We've got to know where we stand."
He most surprisingly stood up, staring at her. She did not speak, but
she lifted her eyes to his with timid courage. They were wet. George
abruptly walked away along the deck. The steamer was passing the
custom-house again. The tide had now almost slacked. Fresh and heavier
clouds had overcast the sky. All the varied thoughts of the afternoon
were active in George's head at once: architecture, architects, beauty,
professional injustices, girls--his girl. Each affected the others, for
they were deeply entangled. It is a fact that he could not put Inigo
Jones and Christopher Wren out of his head; he wondered what had been
their experiences with women, histories and textbooks of architecture
did not treat of this surely important aspect of architecture! He
glanced at Marguerite from the distance. He remembered what Agg had said
to him about her; but what Agg had said did not appear to help him
practically.... Why had he left Marguerite? Why was he standing thirty
feet from her and observing her inimically? He walked back to her, sat
down, and said calmly:
"Listen to me, darling. Suppose we arrange now, definitely, to get
married in two years' time. How will that do for you?"
"But, George, can you be sure that you'll be able to marry in two
He put his chin forward.
"You needn't worry about that," said he. "You needn't think because I've
failed in an exam. I don't know what I'm about. You leave all that to
me. In two years I shall be able enough to keep a wife--_and_ well! Now,
shall we arrange to get married in two years' time?"
"It might be a fearful drag for you," she said. "Because, you know, I
don't really earn very much."
"That's not the point. I don't care what you earn. I shan't want you to
earn anything--so far as that goes. Any earning that's wanted I shall be
prepared to do. I'll put it like this: Supposing I'm in a position to
keep you, shall we arrange to get married in two years' time?" He found
a fierce pleasure in reiterating the phrase. "So long as that's
understood, I don't mind the rest. If we have to depend on Agg, or meet
in the streets--never mind. It'll be an infernal nuisance, but I expect
I can stand it as well as you can. Moreover, I quite see your
difficulty--quite. And let's hope the old gentleman will begin to have a
"Oh, George! If he only would!"
He did not like her habit of "Oh, George! Oh! George!"
"Well?" He waited, ignoring her pious aspiration.
"I don't know what to say, George."
He restrained himself.
"We're engaged, aren't we?" She gave no answer, and he repeated: "We're
engaged, aren't we?"
"That's all right. Well, will you give me your absolute promise to marry
me in two years' time--if I'm in a position to keep you? It's quite
simple. You say you don't know what to say. But you've got to know what
to say." As he looked at her averted face, his calmness began to leave
"Oh, George! I can't promise that!" she burst out, showing at length her
emotion. The observant skipper on the bridge noted that there were a boy
and a girl forward having a bit of a tiff.
George trembled. All that Agg had said recurred to him once more. But
what could he do to act on it? Anger was gaining, on him.
"Why not?" he menaced.
"It would have to depend on how father was. Surely you must see that!"
"Indeed I don't see it. I see quite the contrary. We're engaged. You've
got the first call on me, and I've got the first call on you--not your
father." The skin over his nose was tight, owing to the sudden swelling
of two points, one on either side of the bone.
"George, I couldn't leave him--again. I think now I may have been wrong
to leave him before. However, that's over. I couldn't leave him again.
It would be very wrong. He'd be all alone."
"Well, then, let him be friends with me."
"I do wish he would."
"Yes. Well, wishing won't do much good. If there's any trouble it's
entirely your father's fault. And what I want to know is--will you give
me your absolute promise to marry me in two years' time?"
"I can't, George. It wouldn't be honest. I can't! I can't! How can you
ask me to throw over my duty to father?"
He rose and walked away again. She was profoundly moved, but no sympathy
for her mitigated his resentment. He considered that her attitude was
utterly monstrous--monstrous! He could not find a word adequate for it.
He was furious; his fury increased with each moment. He returned to the
prow, but did not sit down.
"Don't you think, then, you ought to choose between your father and me?"
he said in a low, hard voice, standing over her.
"What do you mean?" she faltered.
"What do I mean? It's plain enough what I mean, isn't it? Your father
may live twenty years yet. Nobody knows. The older he gets the more
obstinate he'll be. We may be kept hanging about for years and years and
years. Indefinitely. What's the sense of it? You say you've got your
duty, but what's the object of being engaged?"
"Do you want to break it off, George?"
"Now don't put it like that. You know I don't want to break it off. You
know I want to marry you. Only you won't, and I'm not going to be made a
fool of. I'm absolutely innocent."
"Of course you are!" she agreed eagerly.
"Well, I'm not going to be made a fool of by your father. If we're
engaged, you know what it means. Marriage. If it doesn't mean that, then
I say we've no right to be engaged."
Marguerite seemed to recoil at the last words, but she recovered
herself. And then, heedless of being in a public place, she drew off her
glove, and drew the engagement ring from her finger, and held it out to
George. She could not speak. The gesture was her language. George was
extremely staggered. He was stupefied for an instant. Then he took the
ring, and under an uncontrollable savage impulse he threw it into the
river. He did not move for a considerable time, staring at the river in
front. Neither did she move. At length he said in a cold voice, without
moving his head:
"Here's Chelsea Pier."
She got up and walked to the rail amidships. He followed. The steamer
moored. A section of rail slid aside. The pier-keeper gave a hand to
Marguerite, who jumped on to the pier. George hesitated. The pier-keeper
challenged him testily:
"Now then, are ye coming ashore or aren't ye?"
George could not move. The pier-keeper banged the rail to close the gap,
and cast off the ropes, and the steamer resumed her voyage.
A minute later George saw Marguerite slowly crossing the gangway from
the pier to the embankment. There she went! She was about to be
swallowed up in the waste of human dwellings, in the measureless and
tragic expanse of the indifferent town.... She was gone. Curse her, with
her reliability! She was too reliable. He knew that. Her father could
rely on her. Curse her, with her outrageous, incredibly cruel, and
unjust sense of duty! She had held him once. Once the sight of her had
made him turn hot and cold. Once the prospect of life without her had
seemed unbearable. He had loved her instinctively and intensely. He now
judged and condemned her. Her beauty, her sweetness, her belief in him,
her reliability--these qualities were neutralized by her sense of duty,
awful, uncompromising, blind to fundamental justice. The affair was
over. If he knew her, he knew also himself. The affair was over. He was
in despair. His mind went round and round like a life-prisoner
exercising in an enclosed yard. No escape! Till then, he had always
believed in his luck. Infantile delusion! He was now aware that destiny
had struck him a blow once for all. But of course he did not perceive
that he was too young, not ripe, for such a blow. The mark of destiny
was on his features, and it was out of place there.... He had lost
Marguerite. And what had he lost? What was there in her? She was not
brilliant; she had no position; she had neither learning nor wit. He
could remember nothing remarkable that they had ever said to each other.
Indeed, their conversations had generally been rather banal. But he
could remember how they had felt, how he had felt, in their hours
together.... The sensation communicated to him by her hand when he had
drawn off her glove in the tremendous silence of the hansom! Marvellous,
exquisite, magical sensation that no words of his could render! And
there had been others as rare. These scenes were love; they were
Marguerite; they were what he had lost.... Strange, that he should throw
the ring into the river! Nevertheless it was a right gesture. She
deserved it. She was absolutely wrong; he was absolutely right--she had
admitted it. Towards him she had no excuse. Logically her attitude was
absurd. Yet no argument would change it. Stupid--that was what she was!
Stupid! And ruthless! She would be capable of martyrizing the whole
world to her sense of duty, her damnable, insane sense of duty.... She
was gone. He was ruined; she had ruined him. But he respected her. He
hated to respect her, but he respected her.
A thought leapt up in his mind--and who could have guessed it? It was
the thought that the secrecy of the engagement would save him from a
great deal of public humiliation. He would have loathed saying: "We've
broken it off."
George, despite his own dispositions, as he went up in the lift, to
obviate the danger of such a mishap, was put out of countenance by the
overwhelming splendour of Miss Irene Wheeler's flat. And he did not
quite recover his aplomb until the dinner was nearly finished. The rooms
were very large and lofty; they blazed with electric light, though the
day had not yet gone; they gleamed with the polish of furniture, enamel,
bookbindings, marble, ivory, and precious metals; they were ennobled by
magnificent pictures, and purified by immense quantities of lovely
flowers. George had made the mistake of arriving last. He found in the
vast drawing-room five people who had the air of being at home and
intimate together. There were, in addition to the hostess, Lois and
Laurencine Ingram, Everard Lucas, and a Frenchman from the French
Embassy whose name he did not catch. Miss Wheeler wore an elaborate
Oriental costume, and apologized for its simplicity on the grounds that
she was fatigued by a crowded and tiresome reception which she had held
that afternoon, and that the dinner was to be without ceremony. This
said, her conversation seemed to fail, but she remained by George's
side, apart from the others. George saw not the least vestige of the
ruinous disorder which, in the society to which he was accustomed,
usually accompanied a big afternoon tea, or any sign of a lack of
ceremony. He had encountered two male servants in the hall, and had also
glimpsed a mulatto woman in a black dress and a white apron, and a
Frenchwoman in a black dress and a black apron. Now a third man-servant
entered, bearing an enormous silver-gilt tray on which were
multitudinous bottles, glasses, decanters, and jugs. George comprehended
that _aperitifs_ were being offered. The tray contained enough cocktails
and other combinations, some already mingled and some not, to produce a
factitious appetite in the stomachs of a whole platoon. The girls
declined, Miss Wheeler declined, the Frenchman declined, George declined
(from prudence and diffidence); only Lucas took an _aperitif_, and he
took it, as George admitted, in style. The man-servant, superbly
indifferent to refusals, marched processionally off with the loaded
tray. The great principle of conspicuous ritualistic waste had been
illustrated in a manner to satisfy the most exacting standard of the
leisured class; and incidentally a subject of talk was provided.
George observed the name of 'Renoir' on the gorgeous frame of a gorgeous
portrait in oils of the hostess.
"Is that a Renoir?" he asked the taciturn Miss Wheeler, who seemed to
jump at the opening with relief.
"Yes," she said, with her slight lisp. "I'm glad you noticed it. Come
and look at it. Do you think it's a good one? Do you like Renoir?"
By good fortune George had seen a Renoir or two in Paris under the
guidance of Mr. Enwright. They stared at the portrait together.
"It's awfully distinguished," he decided, employing a useful adjective
which he had borrowed from Mr. Enwright.
"Isn't it!" she said, turning her wondrous complexion towards him, and
admiring his adjective. "I have a Boldini too."
He followed her across the room to the Boldini portrait of herself,
which was dazzling in its malicious flattery.
"And here's a Nicholson," she said.
Those three portraits were the most striking pictures in the _salon_,
but there were others of at least equal value.
"Are you interested in fans?" she demanded, and pulled down a switch
which illuminated the interior of a large cabinet full of fans. She
pointed out fans painted by Lami, Glaize, Jacquemart. "That one is
supposed to be a Lancret," she said. "But I'm not sure about it, and I
don't know anybody that is. Here's the latest book on the subject." She
indicated Lady Charlotte Schreiber's work in two volumes which, bound in
vellum and gold, lay on a table. "But of course it only deals with
English fans. However, Conder is going to do me a couple. He was here
yesterday to see me about them. Of course you know him. What a wonderful
man! The only really cosmopolitan artist in England, I say, now
Beardsley's dead. I've got a Siegfried drawing by Beardsley. He was a
great friend of mine. I adored him."
"This is a fine thing," said George, touching a bronze of a young girl
on the same table as the books.
"You think so?" Miss Wheeler responded uncertainly. "I suppose it _is_.
It's a Gilbert. He gave it me. But do you really think it compares with
this Barye? It doesn't, does it?" She directed him to another bronze of
a crouching cheetah.
So she moved him about. He was dazed. His modest supply of adjectives
proved inadequate. When she paused, he murmured:
"It's a great room you've managed to get here."
"Ah!" she cried thinly. "But you've no idea of the trouble I've had over
this room. Do you know it's really two rooms. I had to take two flats in
order to fix this room."
She was launched on a supreme topic, and George heard a full history.
She would not have a house. She would have a flat. She instructed
house-agents to find for her the best flat in London. There was no best
flat in London. London landlords did not understand flats, which were
comprehended only in Paris. The least imperfect flats in London were two
on a floor, and as their drawing-rooms happened to be contiguous on
their longer sides, she had the idea of leasing two intolerable flats so
as to obtain one flat that was tolerable. She had had terrible
difficulties about the central heating. No flats in London were
centrally heated except in the corridors and on the staircases. However,
she had imposed her will on the landlord, and radiators had appeared in
every room. George had a vision of excessive wealth subjugating the
greatest artists and riding with implacable egotism over the customs and
institutions of a city obstinately conservative. The cost and the
complexity of Irene Wheeler's existence amazed and intimidated
George--for this double flat was only one of her residences. He wondered
what his parents would say if they could see him casually treading the
oak parquetry and the heavy rugs of the resplendent abode. And then he
thought, the humble and suspicious upstart: "There must be something
funny about her, or she wouldn't be asking _me_ here!"
They went in to dinner, without ceremony. George was last, the hostess
close to his side.
"Who's the Frenchman?" he inquired casually, with the sudden boldness
that often breaks out of timidity. "I didn't catch."
"It's Monsieur Defourcambault," said Miss Wheeler in a low voice of
sincere admiration. "He's from the Embassy. A most interesting man. Been
everywhere. Seen everything. Read everything. Done everything."
George could not but be struck by the ingenuous earnestness of her tone,
so different from the perfunctory accents in which she had catalogued
her objects of art.
The dining-room, the dinner, and the service of the dinner were equally
superb. The broad table seemed small in the midst of the great
mysterious chamber, of which the illumination was confined by shades to
the centre. The glance wandering round the obscurity of the walls could
rest on nothing that was not obviously in good taste and very costly.
The three men-servants, moving soundless as phantoms, brought burdens
from a hidden country behind a gigantic screen, and at intervals in the
twilight near the screen could be detected the transient gleam of the
white apron of the mulatto, whose sex clashed delicately and piquantly
with the grave, priest-like performances of the male menials. The table
was of mahogany covered with a sheet of plate-glass. A large gold
epergne glittered in the middle. Suitably dispersed about the rim of the
board were six rectangular islands of pale lace, and on each island lay
a complete set of the innumerable instruments and condiments necessary
to the proper consumption of the meal. Thus, every diner dined
independently, cut off from his fellows, but able to communicate with
them across expanses of plate-glass over mahogany. George was confused
by the multiplicity of metal tools and crystal receptacles--he alone had
four wine-glasses--but in the handling of the tools he was saved from
shame by remembering the maxim--a masterpiece of terse clarity worthy of
a class which has given its best brains to the perfecting of the
formalities preliminary to deglutition: "Take always from the outside."
The man from the French Embassy sat on the right of the hostess, and
George on her left. George had Lois Ingram on his left. Laurencine was
opposite her sister. Everard Lucas, by command of the hostess, had taken
the foot of the table and was a sort of 'Mr. Vice.' The six people were
soon divided into two equal groups, one silent and the other talkative,
the talkative three being M. Defourcambault, Laurencine and Lucas. The
diplomatist, though he could speak diplomatic English, persisted in
speaking French. Laurencine spoke French quite perfectly, with exactly
the same idiomatic ease as the Frenchman. Lucas neither spoke nor
understood French--he had been to a great public school. Nevertheless
these three attained positive loquacity. Lucas guessed at words, or the
Frenchman obliged with bits of English, or Laurencine interpreted.
Laurencine was far less prim and far more girlish than at the Cafe
Royal. She kept all the freshness of her intensely virginal quality, but
she was at ease. Her rather large body was at ease, continually restless
in awkward and exquisite gestures; she laughed at ease, and made fun at
ease. She appeared to have no sex-consciousness, nor even to suspect
that she was a most delightful creature. The conversation was disjointed
in its gaiety, and had no claim to the attention of the serious.
Laurencine said that Lucas ought really to know French. Lucas said he
would learn if she would teach him. Laurencine said that she would teach
him if he would have his first lesson instantly, during dinner. Lucas
said that wasn't fair. Laurencine said that it was. Both of them
appealed to M. Defourcambault. M. Defourcambault said that it was fair.
Lucas said that there was a plot between them, but that he would consent
to learn at once if Laurencine would play the piano for him after
dinner. Laurencine said she didn't play. Lucas said she did. M.
Defourcambault, invoked once again, said that she played magnificently.
Laurencine blushed, and asked M. Defourcambault how he could!... And so
on, indefinitely. It was all naught; yet the taciturn three, smiling
indulgently and glancing from one to another of the talkers, as taciturn
and constrained persons must, envied that peculiar ability to maintain a
rush and gush of chatter.
George was greatly disappointed in Lois. In the period before dinner his
eyes had avoided her, and now, since they sat side by side, he could not
properly see her without deliberately looking at her: which he would not
do. She gave no manifestation. She was almost glum. Her French, though
free, was markedly inferior to Laurencine's. She denied any interest in
music. George decided, with self-condemnation, that he had been
deliberately creating in his own mind an illusion about her; on no other
hypothesis could either his impatience to meet her to-night, or his
disappointment at not meeting her on the night of the Cafe Royal dinner,
be explained. She was nothing, after all. And he did not deeply care for
Miss Irene Wheeler, whom he could watch at will. She might be concealing
something very marvellous, but she was dull, and she ignored the finer
responsibilities of a hostess. She collected many beautiful things; she
had some knowledge of what they were; she must be interested in them--or
why should she trouble to possess them? She must have taste. And yet had
she taste? Was she interested in her environment? A tone, a word, will
create suspicion that the exhibition of expertise for hours cannot
allay. George did not like the Frenchman. The Frenchman was about
thirty--small, thin, fair, with the worn face of the man who lives
several lives at once. He did not look kind; he did not look reliable;
and he offered little evidence in support of Miss Wheeler's ardent
assertion that he had been everywhere, seen everything, read everything,
done everything. He assuredly had not, for example, read Verlaine, who
was mentioned by Miss Wheeler. Now George had read one or two poems of
Verlaine, and thought them unique; hence he despised M. Defourcambault.
He could read French, in a way, but he was incapable of speaking a
single word of it in the presence of compatriots; the least
mono-syllable would have died on his lips. He was absurdly envious of
those who could speak two languages; he thought sometimes that he would
prefer to be able to speak two languages than to do anything else in the
world; not to be able to speak two languages humiliated him intensely;
he decided to 'take up French seriously' on the morrow; but he had
several times arrived at a similar decision.
If Lois was glum, George too was glum. He wished he had not come to the
dinner; he wished he could be magically transported to the solitude of
his room at the club. He slipped into a reverie about the Marguerite
affair. Nobody could have divined that scarcely twenty-four hours
earlier he had played a principal part in a tragedy affecting his whole
life. He had borne the stroke better than he otherwise would have done
for the simple reason that nobody knew of his trouble. He had not to
arrange his countenance for the benefit of people who were aware what
was behind the countenance. But also he was philosophical. He recognized
that the Marguerite affair was over. She would never give way, and he
would never give way. She was wrong. He had been victimized. He had
behaved with wisdom and with correctness (save for the detail of
throwing the ring into the Thames). Agg's warnings and injunctions were
ridiculous. What could he have done that he had not done? Run away with
Marguerite, carry her off? Silly! No, he was well out of the affair. He
perceived the limitations of the world in which Marguerite lived. It was
a world too small and too austere for him. He required the spaciousness
and the splendour of the new world in which Irene Wheeler and the
Ingrams lived. Yea, though it was a world that excited the sardonic in
him, he liked it. It flattered authentic, if unsuspected, appetites in
him. Still, the image of Marguerite inhabited his memory. He saw her as
she stood between himself and old Haim in the basement of No. 8. He
heard her.... She was absolutely unlike any other girl; she was so
gentle, so acquiescent. Only she put her lover second to her father....
What would Miss Wheeler think of the basement of No. 8?
The chatterers, apropos of songs in musical comedies, were talking about
a French popular song concerning Boulanger.
"You knew Boulanger, didn't you, Jules?" Miss Wheeler suggested.
M. Defourcambault looked round, content. He related in English how his
father had been in the very centre of the Boulangist movement, and had
predicted disaster to the General's cause from the instant that Madame
de Bonnemain came on the scene. (Out of consideration for the girls, M.
Defourcambault phrased his narrative with neat discretion.) His
grandfather also had been of his father's opinion, and his grandfather
was in the Senate, and had been Minister at Brussels.... He affirmed
that Madame de Bonnemain had telegraphed to Boulanger to leave Paris at
the very moment when his presence in Paris was essential, and Boulanger
had obediently gone. He said that he always remembered what his mother
had said to him: a clever woman irregularly in love with a man may make
his fortune, but a stupid woman is certain to ruin it. Finally he
related how he, Jules Defourcambault, had driven the General's carriage
on a famous occasion through Paris, and how the populace in its frenzy
of idolatry had even climbed on to the roof of the carriage.
"And what did you do, then?" George demanded in the hard tone of a
"I drove straight on," said M. Defourcambault, returning George's cold
This close glimpse into history--into politics and passion--excited
George considerably. He was furiously envious of M. Defourcambault, who
had been in the middle of things all his life, whose father, mother, and
grandfather were all in the middle of things. M. Defourcambault had an
immense and unfair advantage over him. To whatever heights he might
rise, George would never be in a position to talk as M. Defourcambault
talked of his forbears. He would always have to stand alone, and to
fight for all he wanted. He could not even refer to his father. He
scorned M. Defourcambault because M. Defourcambault was not worthy of
his heritage. M. Defourcambault was a little rotter, yet he had driven
the carriage of Boulanger in a crisis of the history of France! Miss
Wheeler, however, did not scorn M. Defourcambault. On the contrary, she
looked at him with admiration, as though he had now proved that he had
been everywhere, seen everything, and done everything. George's mood was
black. He was a nobody; he would always be a nobody; why should he be
wasting his time and looking a fool in this new world?
After dinner, in the drawing-room which had cost Irene Wheeler an extra
flat, there was, during coffee, a certain amount of general dullness,
slackness, and self-consciousness which demonstrated once more Miss
Wheeler's defects as a hostess. Miss Wheeler would not or could not act
as shepherdess and inspirer to her guests. She reclined, and charmingly
left them to manufacture the evening for her. George was still
disappointed and disgusted; for he had imagined, very absurdly as he
admitted, that artistic luxuriousness always implied social dexterity
and the ability to energize and reinvigorate diversion without apparent
effort. There were moments during coffee which reminded him of the
maladroit hospitalities of the Five Towns.
Then Everard Lucas opened the piano, and the duel between him and
Laurencine was resumed. The girl yielded. Electric lights were adjusted.
She began to play, while Lucas, smoking, leaned over the piano. George
was standing by himself at a little distance behind the piano. He had
perhaps been on his way to a chair when suddenly caught and immobilized
by one of those hazards which do notoriously occur--the victim never
remembers how--in drawing-rooms. Hands in pockets, he looked aimlessly
about, smiling perfunctorily, and wondering where he should settle or
whether he should remain where he was. In the deep embrasure of the
large east bow-window Lois was lounging. She beckoned to him, not with
her hand but with a brief, bright smile--she smiled rarely--and with a
lifting of the chin. He responded alertly and pleasurably, and went to
sit beside her. Such invitations from young women holding themselves
apart in obscurity are never received without excitement and never
Crimson curtains of brocaded silk would have cut off the embrasure
entirely from the room had they been fully drawn, but they were not
fully drawn; one was not drawn at all, and the other was only half
drawn. Still, the mere fact of the curtains, drawn or undrawn, did
morally separate the embrasure from the _salon_; and the shadows
thickened in front of the window. The smile had gone from Lois's face,
but it had been there. Sequins glittered on her dark dress, the line of
the low neck of which was distinct against the pallor of the flesh.
George could follow the outlines of her slanted, plump body from the
hair and freckled face down to the elaborate shoes. The eyes were half
closed. She did not speak. The figure of Laurencine, whose back was
towards the window, received an aura from the electric light immediately
over the music-stand of the piano. She played brilliantly. She played
with a brilliance that astonished George.... She was exceedingly clever,
was this awkward girl who had not long since left school Her body might
be awkward, but not her hands. The music radiated from the piano and
filled the room with brightness, with the illusion of the joy of life,
and with a sense of triumph. To George it was an intoxication.
A man-servant entered with a priceless collection of bon-bons, some of
which he deferentially placed on a small table in the embrasure. To do
so he had to come into the embrasure, disturbing the solitude, which had
already begun to exist, of Lois and George. He ignored the pair. His
sublime indifference seemed to say: "I am beyond good and evil." But at
the same time it left them more sensitively awake to themselves than
before. The hostess indolently muttered an order to the man, and in
passing the door on his way out he extinguished several lights. The
place and the hour grew romantic. George was impressed by the scene, and
he eagerly allowed it to impress him. It was, to him, a marvellous
scene; the splendour of the apartment, the richly attired girls, the
gay, exciting music, the spots of high light, the glooms, the glimpses
everywhere of lovely objects. He said to himself: "I was born for this."
Lois turned her head slowly and looked out of the window.
"Wonderful view from here," she murmured.
George turned his head. The flat was on the sixth story. The slope of
central London lay beneath. There was no moon, but there were stars in a
clear night. Roofs; lighted windows; lines of lighted traffic; lines of
lamps patterning the invisible meadows of a park; hiatuses of blackness;
beyond, several towers scarcely discernible against the sky--the towers
of Parliament, and the high tower of the Roman Catholic Cathedral: these
"You haven't seen it in daytime, have you?" said Lois.
"No. I'd sooner see it at night."
"So would I."
The reply, the sympathy in it, the soft, thrilled tone of It, startled
him. His curiosity about Lois was being justified, after all. And he was
startled too at the extraordinary surprises of his own being. Yesterday
he had parted from Marguerite; not ten years ago, but yesterday. And now
already he was conscious of pleasure, both physical and spiritual, in
the voice of another girl heard in the withdrawn obscurity of the
embrasure. Yes, and a girl whom he had despised! Yesterday he had
seriously believed himself to be a celibate for life; he had dismissed
for ever the hope of happiness. He had seen naught but a dogged and
eternal infelicity. And now he was, if not finding happiness, expecting
it. He felt disloyal--less precisely to Marguerite than to a vanished
ideal. He felt that he ought to be ashamed. For Marguerite still
existed; she was existing at that moment less than three miles
off--somewhere over there in the dark.
"See the Cathedral tower?" he said.
"Yes," she answered. "What a shame Bentley died, wasn't it?"
He was more than startled, now--he was amazed and enchanted. Something
touching and strange in her voice usually hard; something in the elegant
fragility of her slipper! Everybody knew that Bentley was the architect
of the Cathedral and that he had died of cancer on the tongue. The
knowledge was not esoteric; it did not by itself indicate a passion for
architecture or a comprehension of architecture. Yet when she said the
exclamatory words, leaning far back in the seat, her throat emerging
from the sequined frock, her tapping slipper peeping out beneath the
skirt, she cast a spell on him. He perceived in her a woman gifted and
endowed. This was the girl whom he had bullied in the automobile. She
must have bowed in secret to his bullying; though he knew she had been
hurt by it, she had given no sign of resentment, and her voice was
acquiescent. Above all, she had remembered him.
"You only like doing very large buildings, don't you?" she suggested.
"Who told you?"
"Oh! Did old Lucas tell you? Well, he's quite right."
He had a sudden desire to talk to her about the great municipal building
in the north that was soon to be competed for. He yielded to the desire.
She listened, motionless. He gave vent to his regret that Mr. Enwright
absolutely declined to enter for the competition. He said he had had
ideas for it, and would have liked to work for it.
"But why don't you go in for it yourself, George?" she murmured gravely.
"Me!" he exclaimed, almost frightened. "It wouldn't be any good. I'm too
"How old are you?"
"Good heavens! You look twenty-five at least! I know I should go in for
it if I were you--if I were a man."
He understood her. She could not talk well. She could not easily be
agreeable; she could easily be rude; she could not play the piano like
the delightful Laurencine. But she was passionate. And she knew the
force of ambition. He admired ambition perhaps more than anything.
Ambition roused him. She was ambitious when she drove the automobile and
endangered his life.... She had called him by his Christian name quite
naturally. There was absolutely no nonsense about her. Now Marguerite
was not in the slightest degree ambitious. The word had no significance
"I couldn't!" he insisted humbly. "I don't know enough. It's a terrific
She made no response. But she looked at him, and suddenly he saw the
angel that Irene Wheeler and Laurencine had so enthusiastically spoken
of at the Cafe Royal!
"I couldn't!" he murmured.
He was insisting too much. He was insisting against himself. She had
implanted the idea in his mind. Why had he not thought of it? Certainly
he had not thought of it. Had he lacked courage to think of it? He
beheld the idea as though it was an utterly original discovery,
revolutionary, dismaying, and seductive. His inchoate plans for the
building took form afresh in his brain. And the luxury by which he was
surrounded whipped his ambition till it writhed.
Curious, she said no more! After a moment she sat up and took a sweet.
George saw, in a far corner, Jules Defourcambault talking very quietly
to Irene Wheeler, whose lackadaisical face had become ingenuous and
ardent as she listened to him under the shelter of the dazzling music.
George felt himself to be within the sphere of unguessed and highly
He left early. Lucas seemed to regard his departure as the act of a
traitor, but he insisted on leaving. And in spite of Lucas's great
social success he inwardly condescended to Lucas. Lucas was not a
serious man and could not comprehend seriousness. George went because he
had to go, because the power of an idea drove him forth. He had no
intention of sleeping. He walked automatically through dark London, and
his eyes, turned within, saw nothing of the city. He did not walk
quickly--he was too preoccupied to walk quickly--yet in his brain he was
hurrying, he had not a moment to lose. The goal was immensely far off.
His haste was as absurd and as fine as that of a man who, starting to
cross Europe on foot, must needs run in order to get out of Calais and
be fairly on his way.
At Russell Square he wondered whether he would be able to get into the
office. However, there was still a light in the basement, and he rang
the house-bell. The housekeeper's daughter, a girl who played at being
parlourmaid in the afternoons and brought bad tea and thick
bread-and-butter to the privileged in the office, opened the front door
with bridling exclamations of astonishment. She had her best frock on;
her hair was in curling-pins; she smelt delicately of beer; the
excitement of the Sunday League excursion and of the evening's dalliance
had not quite cooled in this respectable and experienced young creature
of central London. She was very feminine and provocative and
unparlourmaidish, standing there in the hall, and George passed by her
as callously as though she had been a real parlourmaid on duty. She had
to fly to her mother for the key of the office. Taking the key from the
breathless, ardent little thing, he said that he would see to the front
door being properly shut when he went out. That was all. Her legitimate
curiosity about his visit had to go to bed hungry.
In the office he switched on the lights in Haim's cubicle, in the
pupils' room, and in the principals' room. He enjoyed the illumination
and the solitude. He took deep breaths. He walked about. After rummaging
for the sketches and the printed site-plan of the town hall projected by
the northern city, he discovered them under John Orgreave's desk. He
moved them to Mr. Enwright's desk, which was the best one, and he bent
over them rapturously. Yes, the idea of entering for the competition
himself was a magnificent idea. Strange that it should have occurred
not to him, but to Lois! A disconcerting girl, Lois! She had said that
he looked twenty-five. He liked that. Why should he not enter for the
competition himself? He would enter for it. The decision was made, as
usual without consulting anybody; instinct was his sole guide. Failure
in the final examination was beside the point. Moreover, though he had
sworn never to sit again, he could easily sit again in December; he
could pass the exam, on his head. He might win the competition; to be
even in the selected first six or ten would rank as a glorious
achievement. But why should he not win outright? He was lucky, always
had been lucky. It was essential that he should win outright. It was
essential that he should create vast and grandiose structures, that he
should have both artistic fame and worldly success. He could not wait
long for success. He required luxury. He required a position enabling
him to meet anybody and everybody on equal terms, and to fulfil all his
He would not admit that he was too young for the enterprise. He was not
too young. He refused to be too young. And indeed he felt that he had
that very night become adult, and that a new impulse, reducing all
previous impulses to unimportance, had inspired his life. He owed the
impulse to the baffling Lois. Marguerite would never have given him such
an impulse. Marguerite had no ambition either for herself or for him.
She was profoundly the wrong girl for him. He admitted his error
candidly, with the eagerness of youth. He had no shame about the
blunder. And the girl's environment was wrong for him also. What had he
to do with Chelsea? Chelsea was a parish; it was not the world. He had
been gravely disappointed in Chelsea. Marguerite had no shimmer of
romance. She was homely. And she was content with her sphere. And she
was not elegant; she had no kind of smartness; who would look twice at
her? And she was unjust, she was unfair. She had lacerated his highly
sensitive pride. She had dealt his conceit a frightful wound. He would
not think of it.
And in fact he could ignore the wound in the exquisite activity of
creating town halls for mighty municipalities. He drew plans with
passion and with fury; he had scores of alternative schemes; he was a
god fashioning worlds. Having drawn plans, he drew elevations and
perspectives; he rushed to the files (rushed--because he was in haste to
reach the goal) and studied afresh the schedules of accommodation for
other municipal buildings that had been competed for in the past. Much
as he hated detail, he stooped rather humbly to detail that night, and
contended with it in all honesty. He worked for hours before he thought
of lighting a cigarette.
It was something uncanny beyond the large windows that first gently and
perceptibly began to draw away his mind from the profusion of town halls
on the desk, and so indirectly reminded him of the existence of
cigarettes. When he lighted a cigarette he stretched himself and glanced
at the dark windows, of which the blinds had not been pulled down. He
understood then what was the matter. Dawn was the matter. The windows
were no longer quite dark. He looked out. A faint pallor in the sky, and
some stars sickening therein, and underneath the silent square with its
patient trees and indefatigable lamps! The cigarette tasted bad in his
mouth, but he would not give it up. He yawned heavily. The melancholy of
the square, awaiting without hope the slow, hard dawn, overcame him
suddenly.... Marguerite was a beautiful girl; her nose was marvellous;
he could never forget it. He could never forget her gesture as she
intervened between him and her father in the basement at Alexandra
Grove. They had painted lamp-shades together. She was angelically kind;
she could not be ruffled; she would never criticize, never grasp, never
exhibit selfishness. She was a unique combination of the serious and the
sensuous. He felt the passionate, ecstatic clinging of her arm as they
walked under the interminable chain of lamp-posts on Chelsea Embankment.
Magical hours!... And how she could absorb herself in her work! And what
a damned shame it was that rascally employers should have cut down her
prices! It was intolerable; it would not bear thinking about. He dropped
the cigarette and stamped on it angrily. Then he returned to the desk,
and put his head in his hands and shut his eyes.
He awakened with a start of misgiving. He was alone in the huge house
(for the basement was under the house and, somehow, did not count).
Something was astir in the house. He could hear it through the doors
ajar. His flesh crept. It was exactly like the flap of a washing-cloth
on the stone stairs; it stopped; it came nearer. He thought inevitably
of the dead Mrs. Haim, once charwoman and step cleaner. In an instant he
believed fully in all that he had ever heard about ghosts and spirit
manifestations. An icy wave passed down his spine. He felt that if the
phantom of Mrs. Haim was approaching him he simply could not bear to
meet it. The ordeal would kill him. Then he decided that the sounds were
not those of a washing-cloth, but of slippered feet. Odd that he should
have been so deluded. Somebody was coming down the long stairs from the
upper stories, uninhabited at night. Burglars? He was still very
perturbed, but differently perturbed. He could not move a muscle. The
suspense as the footsteps hesitated at the cubicle was awful. George
stood up straight and called out in a rough voice--louder than he
expected it to be:
Mr. Enwright appeared. He was wearing beautiful blue pyjamas and a
plum-coloured silk dressing-gown and doe-skin slippers. His hair was
extremely deranged; he blinked rapidly, and his lined face seemed very
"Well, I like this, I like this!" he said in a quiet, sardonic tone.
"Sitting at my desk and blazing my electricity away! I happened to get
up, and I looked out of the window and noticed the glare below. So I
came to see what was afoot. Do you know you frightened me?--and I don't
like being frightened."
"I hadn't the slightest notion you ever slept here," George feebly
"Didn't you know I'd decided to keep a couple of rooms here for myself?"
"I had heard something about it, but I didn't know you'd really moved
in. I--I've been away so much."
"I moved in, as you call it, to-day--yesterday, and a nice night you're
giving me! And even supposing I hadn't moved in, what's that got to do
with your being here? Give me a cigarette."
With hurrying deference George gave the cigarette, and struck a match
for it, and as he held the match he had a near view of Mr. Enwright's
prosaic unshaved chin. The house was no longer the haunt of lurking
phantoms; it was a common worldly house without any mystery or any
menace. George's skin was no longer the field of abnormal phenomena.
Dawn was conquering Russell Square. On the other hand, George was no
longer a giant of energy, initiating out of ample experience a
tremendous and superb enterprise. He was suddenly diminished to a boy,
or at best a lad. He really felt that it was ridiculous for him to be
sketching and scratching away there in the middle of the night in his
dress-clothes. Even his overcoat, hat, and fancy muffler cast on a chair
seemed ridiculous. He was a child, pretending to be an adult. He glanced
like a child at Mr. Enwright; he roughened his hair with his hand like a
child. He had the most wistful and apologetic air.
"I just came along here for a bit instead of going to bed. I didn't know
it was so late."
"Do you often just come along here?"
"No. I never did it before. But to-night----"
"What is it you're _at_?"
"I'd been thinking a bit about that new town hall."
"What new town hall?"
Mr. Enwright did know.
"But haven't I even yet succeeded in making it clear that this firm is
not going in for that particular competition?"
Mr. Enwright's sarcastic and discontented tone challenged George, who
"Oh! I know the firm isn't going in for it. But what's the matter with
me going in for it?"
He forced himself to meet Mr. Enwright's eyes, but he could not help
blushing. He was scarcely out of his articles; he had failed in the
Final; and he aspired to create the largest English public building of
the last half-century.
"Are you quite mad?" Mr. Enwright turned away from the desk to the
farther window, hiding his countenance.
"Yes," said George firmly. "Quite!"
Mr. Enwright, after a pause, came back to the desk.
"Well, it's something to admit that," he sneered. "At any rate, we know
where we are. Let's have a look at the horrid mess."
He made a number of curt observations as he handled the sheets of
"I see you've got that Saracenic touch in again."
"What's the scale here?"
"Is this really a town hall, or are you trying to beat the Temple at
"If that's meant for an Ionic capital, no assessor would stand it. It's
against all the textbooks to have Ionic capitals where there's a
side-view of them. Not that it matters to me."
"Have you made the slightest attempt to cube it up? You'd never get out
of this under half a million, you know."
Shaking his head, he retired once more to the window. George began to
breathe more freely, as one who has fronted danger and still lives. Mr.
Enwright addressed the window:
"It's absolute folly to start on a thing like that before the conditions
are out. Absolute folly. Have you done all that to-night?"
"Well, you've shifted the stuff.... But you haven't the slightest notion
what accommodation they want. You simply don't know."
"I know what accommodation they _ought_ to want with four hundred
thousand inhabitants," George retorted pugnaciously.
"Is it four hundred thousand?" Mr. Enwright asked, with bland innocence.
He generally left statistics to his partner.
"Four hundred and twenty-five."
"You've looked it up?"
Mr. Enwright was now at the desk yet again.
"There's an idea to it," he said shortly, holding up the principal sheet
"_I shall go in for it_!" The thought swept through George's brain like
a fierce flare, lighting it up vividly to its darkest corners, and
incidentally producing upon his skin phenomena similar to those produced
by uncanny sounds on the staircase. He had caught admiration and
benevolence in Mr. Enwright's voice. He was intensely happy,
encouraged, and proud. He began to talk eagerly; he babbled, entrusting
himself to Mr. Enwright's benevolence.
"Of course there's the Final. If they give six months for the thing I
could easily get through the Final before sending-in day. I could take a
room somewhere. I shouldn't really want any assistance--clerk, I mean. I
could do it all myself...." He ran on until Mr. Enwright stopped him.
"You could have a room here--upstairs."
"But you would want some help. And you needn't think they'll give six
months, because they won't. They might give five."
"That's no good."
"Why isn't it any good?" snapped Mr. Enwright. "You don't suppose
they're going to issue the conditions just yet, do you? Not a day before
September, not a day. And you can take it from me!"
"But look here, my boy, let's be clear about one thing."
"You're quite mad."
They looked at each other.
"The harmless kind, though," said George confidently, well aware that
Mr. Enwright doted upon him.
In another minute the principal had gone to bed, without having uttered
one word as to his health. George had announced that he should tidy the
sacred desk before departing. When he had done that he wrote a letter,
in pencil. "It's the least I can do," he said to himself seriously. He
"DEAR MISS INGRAM."--"Dash it!--She calls me 'George,'" he thought, and
tore up the sheet.--"DEAR LOIS,--I think after what you said it's only
due to you to tell you that I've decided to go in for that competition
on my own. Thanks for the tip.--Yours, GEORGE CANNON"
He surveyed the message.
"That's about right," he murmured.
Then he looked at his watch. It showed 3.15, but it had ceased to beat.
He added at the foot of the letter: "Monday, 3.30 a.m." He stole one of
John Orgreave's ready-stamped envelopes.
In quitting the house he inadvertently banged the heavy front door.
"Do 'em good!" he said, thinking of awakened sleepers.
It was now quite light. He dropped the letter into the pillar-box round
the corner, and as soon as he had irretrievably done so, the thought
occurred to him: "I wish I hadn't put '3.30 a.m.' There's something
rottenly sentimental about it." The chill fresh air was bracing him to a
more perfect sanity. He raised the collar of his overcoat.
At the club on Tuesday morning Downs brought to his bedside a letter
addressed in a large, striking, and untidy hand. Not until he had
generally examined the letter did he realize that it was from Lois
Ingram. He remembered having mentioned to her that he lived at his
club--Pickering's; but he had laid no stress on the detail, nor had she
seemed to notice it. Yet she must have noticed it.
"DEAR GEORGE,--I am so glad. Miss Wheeler is going to her bootmaker's in
Conduit Street to-morrow afternoon. She's always such a long time there.
Come and have tea with me at the new Prosser's in Regent Street, four
sharp. I shall have half an hour.--L.I."
In his heart he pretended to jeer at this letter. He said it was 'like'
Lois. She calmly assumed that at a sign from her he, a busy man, would
arrange to be free in the middle of the afternoon! Doubtless the letter
was the consequence of putting '3.30 a.m.' on his own letter. What could
a fellow expect?...
All pretence! In reality the letter flattered and excited him. He
thought upon the necktie he would wear.
By the same post arrived a small parcel: it contained a ring, a few
other bits of jewellery, and all the letters and notes that he had ever
written or scribbled to Marguerite. He did not want the jewellery back;
he did not want the letters back. To receive them somehow humiliated
him. Surely she might have omitted this nauseous conventionality! She
was so exasperatingly conscientious. Her neat, clerk-like calligraphy,
on the label of the parcel, exasperated him. She had carefully kept
every scrap of a missive from him. He hated to look at the letters. What
could he do with them except rip them up? And the miserable
trinkets--which she had worn, which had been part of her? As for him, he
had not kept all her letters--not by any means. There might be a few,
lying about in drawers. He would have to collect and return them. Odious
job! And he could not ask anybody else to do it for him.
He was obliged to question Lucas about the Regent Street Prosser's, of
which, regrettably, he had never heard. He did not, in so many words,
request John Orgreave for the favour of an hour off. He was now out of
his articles, though still by the force of inertia at the office, and
therefore he informed John Orgreave that unless Mr. John had any
objection he proposed to take an hour off. Mr. Enwright was not in.
Lucas knew vaguely of the rendezvous, having somewhere met Laurencine.
From the outside Prosser's was not distinguishable from any other part
of Regent Street. But George could not mistake it, because Miss
Wheeler's car was drawn up in front of the establishment, and Lois was
waiting for him therein. Strange procedure! She smiled and then frowned,
and got out sternly. She said scarcely anything, and he found that he
could make only such silly remarks as: "Hope I'm not late, am I?"
The new Prosser's was a grandiose by-product of chocolate. The firm had
taken the leading ideas of the chief tea-shop companies catering for the
million in hundreds of establishments arranged according to pattern, and
elaborated them with what is called in its advertisements 'cachet.' Its
prices were not as cheap as those of the popular houses, but they could
not be called dear. George and Lois pushed through a crowded lane of
chocolate and confectionery, past a staircase which bore a large notice:
"Please keep to the right." This notice was needed. They came at length
to the main hall, under a dome, with a gallery between the dome and the
ground. The floor was carpeted. The multitudinous small tables had
cloths, flowers, silver, and menus knotted with red satin ribbon. The
place was full of people, people seated at the tables and people walking
about. Above the rail of the gallery could be seen the hats and heads of
more people. People were entering all the time and leaving all the time.
Scores of waitresses, in pale green and white, moved to and fro like an
alien and mercenary population. The heat, the stir, the hum, and the
clatter were terrific. And from on high descended thin, strident music
in a rapid and monotonous rhythm.
"No room!" said George, feeling that he had at last got into the true
arena of the struggle for life.
"Oh yes!" said Lois, with superior confidence.
She bore mercilessly across the floor. Round the edge of the huge room,
beneath the gallery, were a number of little alcoves framed in fretted
Moorish arches of white-enamelled wood. Three persons were just emerging
from one of these. She sprang within, and sank into a wicker arm-chair.
"There is always a table," she breathed, surveying the whole scene with
a smile of conquest.
George sat down opposite to her with his back to the hall; he could
survey nothing but Lois, and the world of the mirror behind her.
"That's one of father's maxims," she said.
"'There is always a table.' Well, you know, there always is."
"He must be a very wise man."
"What's his special line?"
"Don't you know father? Hasn't Miss Wheeler told you? Or Mrs. Orgreave?"
"But you must know father. Father's 'Parisian' in _The Sunday Journal_."
Despite the mention of this ancient and very dignified newspaper, George
felt a sense of disappointment. He had little esteem for journalists,
whom Mr. Enwright was continually scoffing at, and whom he imagined to
be all poor. He had conceived Mr. Ingram as perhaps a rich cosmopolitan
financier, or a rich idler--but at any rate rich, whatever he might be.
"Of course he does lots of other work besides that. He writes for the
_Pall Mall Gazette_ and the _St. James's Gazette._ In fact it's his
proud boast that he writes for all the gazettes, and he's the only man
who does. That's because he's so liked. Everybody adores him. I adore
him myself. He's a great pal of mine. But he's very strict."
"Yes," she insisted, rather defensively. "Why not? I should like a
strawberry ice, and a lemon-squash, and a millefeuille cake. Don't be
alarmed, please. I'm a cave-woman. You've got to get used to it."
"What's a cave-woman?"
"It's something primitive. You must come over to Paris. If father likes
you, he'll take you to one of the weekly lunches of the Anglo-American
Press Circle. He always does that when he likes anyone. He's the
Treasurer.... Haven't you got any millefeuille cakes?" she demanded of
the waitress, who had come to renew the table and had deposited a basket
of various cakes.
"I'm afraid we haven't, miss," answered the waitress, not comprehending
the strange word any better than George did.
"Bit rowdy, isn't it?" George observed, looking round, when the waitress
Lois said with earnestness:
"I simply love these big, noisy places. They make me feel alive."
He looked at her. She was very well dressed--more stylistic than any
girl that he could see in the mirror. He could not be sure whether or
not her yellow eyes had a slight cast; if they had, it was so slight as
to be almost imperceptible. There was no trace of diffidence in them;
they commanded. She was not a girl whom you could masculinely protect.
On the contrary, she would protect not only herself but others.
"Haven't you cream?" she curtly challenged the waitress, arriving with
ice, lemon-squash, and George's tea.
The alien mercenary met her glance inimically for a second, and then,
shutting her lips together, walked off with the milk. At Prosser's the
waitresses did not wear caps, and were, in theory, ladies. Lois would
have none of the theory; the waitress was ready to die for it and
carried it away with her intact. George preferred milk to cream, but he
"Yes," Lois went on. "You ought to come to Paris. You have been, haven't
you? I remember you told me. We're supposed to go back next week, but if
Irene doesn't go, I shan't." She frowned.
George said that positively he would come to Paris.
When they had fairly begun the rich, barbaric meal, Lois asked abruptly:
"Why did you write in the middle of the night?"
Sometimes her voice was veiled.
"Why did I write in the middle of the night? Because I thought I would."
He spoke masterfully. He didn't mean to stand any of her cheek.
"Oh!" she laughed nicely. "_I_ didn't mind. I liked it--awfully. It was
just the sort of thing I should have done myself. But you might tell me
all about it. I think I deserve that much, don't you?"
Thus he told her all about it--how he had arranged everything, got a
room, meant to have his name painted on the door, meant to make his
parents take their holiday on the north-east coast for a change, so that
he could study the site, meant to work like a hundred devils, etc. He
saw with satisfaction that the arrogant, wilful creature was impressed.
"Now listen to me. You'll win that competition."
"I shan't," he said. "But it's worth trying, for the experience--that's
what Enwright says."
"I don't care a fig what Enwright says. You'll win that competition. I'm
always right when I sort of feel--you know."
For the moment he believed in the miraculous, inexplicable intuitions of
"Oh!" she cried, as the invisible orchestra started a new tune. "Do you
know that? It's the first time I've heard it in London. It's the
_machiche_. It's all over Paris. I think it's the most wonderful tune in
the world." Her body swayed; her foot tapped.
George listened. Yes, it was a maddening tune.
"It is," he agreed eagerly.
"Oh! I do love pleasure! And success! And money! Don't you?"
Her eyes had softened; they were liquid with yearning; but there was
something frankly sensual in them. This quality, swiftly revealed,
attracted George intensely for an instant.
Immediately afterwards she asked the time, and said she must go.
"I daren't keep Irene waiting," she said. Her eyes now had a hard
In full Regent Street he put the haughty girl into Irene's automobile,
which had turned round; he was proud to be seen in the act; he privately
enjoyed the glances of common, unsuccessful persons. As he walked away
he smiled to himself, to hide from himself his own nervous excitement.
She was a handful, she was. Within her life burned and blazed. He
remembered Mr. Prince's remark: "You must have made a considerable
impression on her," or words to that effect. The startling thought
visited him: "I shall marry that woman." Then another thought: "Not if I
know it! I don't like her. I do not like her. I don't like her eyes."
She had, however, tremendously intensified in him the desire for
success. He hurried off to work. The days passed too slowly, and yet
they were too short for his task. He could not wait for the fullness of
time. His life had become a breathless race. "I shall win. I can't
possibly win. The thing's idiotic. I might.... Enwright's rather
struck." Yes, it was Mr. Enwright's attitude that inspired him. To have
impressed Mr. Enwright--by Jove, it was something!
On the face of the door on the third floor of the house in Russell
Square the words 'G.E. Cannon' appeared in dirty white paint and the
freshly added initials 'A.R.I.B.A.' in clean white paint. The addition
of the triumphant initials (indicating that George had kissed the rod of
the Royal Institute of British Architects in order to conquer) had put
the sign as a whole out of centre, throwing it considerably to the right
on the green door-face. Within the small and bare room, on an evening in
earliest spring in 1904, sat George at the customary large flat desk of
the architect. He had just switched on the electric light over his head.
He looked sterner and older; he looked very worried, fretful, exhausted.
He was thin and pale; his eyes burned, and there were dark patches under
the eyes; the discipline of the hair had been rather gravely neglected.
In front of George lay a number of large plans, mounted on thick
cardboard, whose upper surface had a slight convex curve. There were
plans of the basement of the projected town hall, of the ground floor,
of the building at a height of twelve feet from the ground, of the
mezzanine floor, of the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth floors;
these plans were coloured. Further, in plain black and white, there were
a plan of the roof (with tower), a longitudinal section on the central
axis, two other sections, three elevations, and a perspective view of
the entire edifice. Seventeen sheets in all.
The sum of work seemed tremendous; it made the mind dizzy; it made
George smile with terrible satisfaction at his own industry. For he had
engaged very little help. He would have been compelled to engage more,
had not the Corporation extended by one month the time for sending in.
The Corporation had behaved with singular enlightenment. Its schedules
of required accommodation (George's copy was scored over everywhere in
pencil and ink and seriously torn) were held to be admirably drawn, and
its supplementary circular of answers to questions from competitors had
displayed a clarity and a breadth of mind unusual in corporations.
Still more to the point, the Corporation had appointed a second assessor
to act with Sir Hugh Corver. In short, it had shown that it was under no
mandarin's thumb, and that what it really and seriously wanted was the
best design that the profession could produce. Mr. Enwright, indeed, had
nearly admitted regret at having kept out of the immense affair. John
Orgreave had expressed regret with vigour and candour. They had in the
main left George alone, though occasionally at night Mr. Enwright, in
the little room, had suggested valuable solutions of certain problems.
In detail he was severely critical of George's design, and he would pour
delicate satires upon the idiosyncrasy which caused the wilful boy to
'impurify' (a word from Enwright's private vocabulary) a Renaissance
creation with Saracenic tendencies in the treatment of arches and
Nevertheless Mr. Enwright greatly respected the design in its entirety,
and both he and John Orgreave (who had collected by the subterranean
channels of the profession a large amount of fact and rumour about the
efforts of various competitors) opined that it stood a fair chance of
being among the selected six or ten whose authors would be invited to
submit final designs for the final award. George tried to be hopeful;
but he could not be hopeful by trying. It was impossible to believe that
he would succeed; the notion was preposterous; yet at moments, when he
was not cultivating optimism, optimism would impregnate all his being,
and he would be convinced that it was impossible not to win. How
inconceivably grand! His chief rallying thought was that he had
undertaken a gigantic task and had accomplished it. Well or ill, he had
accomplished it. He said to himself aloud:
"I've done it! I've done it!"
And that he actually had done it was almost incredible. The very sheets
of drawings were almost incredible. But they existed there. All was
complete. The declaration that the design was G.E. Cannon's personal
work, drawn in his own office by his ordinary staff, was there, in the
printed envelope officially supplied by the Corporation. The estimate of
cost and the cubing was there. The explanatory report on the design,
duly typewritten, was there. Nothing lacked.
"I've done it! I've done it!"
And then, tired as he was, the conscience of the creative artist and of
the competitor began to annoy him and spur him. The perspective drawing
did not quite satisfy--and there was still time. The point of view for
the perspective drawing was too high up, and the result was a certain
marring of the nobility of the lines, and certainly a diminishment of
the effect of the tower. He had previously started another perspective
drawing with a lower view-point, but he had mistakenly cast it aside. He
ought to finish the first one and substitute it for the second one. 'The
perspective drawing had a moral importance; it had a special influence
on the assessors and committees. Horrid, tiresome labour! Three, four,
five, or six hours of highly concentrated tedium. Was it worth while? It
was not. Mr. Enwright liked the finished drawing. He, George, could not
face a further strain. And yet he was not content.... Pooh! Who said he
could not face a further strain? Of course he could face it. If he did
not face it, his conscience would accuse him of cowardice during the
rest of his life, and he would never be able to say honestly: "I did my
level best with the thing." He snapped his fingers lightly, and in one
second had decided to finish the original perspective drawing, and in
his very finest style. He would complete it some time during the night.
In the morning it could be mounted. The drawings were to go to the north
in a case on the morrow by passenger train, and to be met at their
destination by a commissionaire common to several competitors; this
commissionaire would deliver them to the Town Clerk in accordance with
the conditions. In a few minutes George was at work, excited, having
forgotten all fatigue. He was saying to himself that he would run out
towards eight o'clock for a chop or a steak. As he worked he perceived
that he had been quite right to throw over the second drawing; he
wondered that he could have felt any hesitation; the new drawing would
be immeasurably superior.
Mr. Haim 'stepped up,' discreetly knocking, entering with dignity. The
relations between these two had little by little resumed their old,
purely formal quality. Both seemed to have forgotten that passionate
anger had ever separated them and joined them together. George was
young, and capable of oblivion. Mr. Haim had beaten him in the struggle
and could afford to forget. They conversed politely, as though the old
man had no daughter and the youth had never had a lover. Mr. Haim had
even assisted with the lettering of the sheets--not because George
needed his help, but because Mr. Haim's calligraphic pride needed to
help. To refuse the stately offer would have been to insult. Mr. Haim
had aged, but not greatly.
"You're wanted on the telephone, Mr. Cannon."
"Oh! Dash it!... Thanks!"
After all George was no longer on the staff of Lucas & Enwright, and Mr.
Haim was conferring a favour.
Down below in the big office everybody had gone except the factotum.
George seized the telephone receiver and called brusquely for attention.
"Is that Mr. Cannon?"
"Yes. Who is it?"
"Oh! It's you, George! How nice to hear your voice again!"
He recognized, but not instantly, the voice of Lois Ingram. He was not
surprised. Indeed he had suspected that the disturber of work must be
either Lois or Miss Wheeler, or possibly Laurencine. The three had been
in London again for several days, and he had known from Lucas that a
theatre-party had been arranged for that night to witness the
irresistible musical comedy, _The Gay Spark_, Lucas and M.
Defourcambault were to be of the party. George had not yet seen Lois
since her latest return to London; he had only seen her twice since the
previous summer; he had not visited Paris in the interval. The tone of
her voice, even as transformed by the telephone, was caressing. He had
to think of some suitable response to her startling amiability, and to
utter it with conviction. He tried to hold fast in his mind to the image
of the perspective with its countless complexities and the co-ordination
of them all; the thing seemed to be retreating from him, and he dared
not let it go.
"Do you know," said Lois, "I only came to London to celebrate the
sending-in of your design. I hear it's marvellous. Aren't you glad
you've finished it?"
"Well, I haven't finished it," said George. "I'm on it now."
What did the girl mean by saying she'd only come to London to celebrate
the end of his work? An invention on her part! Still, it flattered him.
She was very strange.
"But Everard's told us you'd finished a bit earlier than you'd expected.
We counted on seeing your lordship to-morrow. But now we've got to see
"Awfully sorry I can't."
"But look here, George. You must really. The party's all broken up. Miss
Wheeler's had to go back to Paris to-night, and Jules can't come.
Everything's upset. The flat's going to be closed, and Laurencine and, I
will have to leave to-morrow. It's most frightfully annoying. We've got
the box all right, and Everard's coming, and you must make the fourth.
We must have a fourth. Laurencine's here at the phone, and she says the
same as me."
"Wish I could!" George answered shortly. "Look here! What train are you
going by to-morrow? I'll come and see you off. I shall be free then."
"But, George. We _want_ you to come to-night." There seemed positively
to be tears in the faint voice. "Why can't you come? You must come."
"I haven't finished one of the drawings. I tell you I'm on it now. It'll
take me half the night, or more. I'm just in the thick of it, you see."
He spoke with a slight resentful impatience--less at her
over-persuasiveness than at the fact that his mind and the drawing were
being more and more separated. Soon he would have lost the right mood,
and he would be compelled to re-create it before he could resume the
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