Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 4. The Luncheon
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 4. The Luncheon Post by :Fred_E Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :638

Click below to download : The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 4. The Luncheon (Format : PDF)

The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 4. The Luncheon

PART I CHAPTER IV. THE LUNCHEON

I

George, having had breakfast in bed, opened his door for the second time that morning, and duly found on the mat the can of hot water (covered with a bit of old blanket) and the can of cold water which comprised the material for his bath. There was no sound in the house. The new spouse might be upstairs or she might be downstairs--he could not tell; but the cans proved that she was immanent and regardful; indeed, she never forgot anything. And George's second state at No. 8 was physically even better than his first. In the transition through autumn from summer to winter--a transition which, according to the experience of tens of thousands of London lodgers, is capable of turning comparative comfort into absolute discomfort--Mrs. Haim had behaved with benevolence and ingenuity. For example, the bedroom fire, laid overnight, was now burning up well from the mere touch of the lodger's own match. Such things are apt to count, and they counted with George.

As for Mr. Haim, George knew that he was still in bed, because, since his marriage, Mr. Haim had made a practice of staying in bed on Sunday mornings. The scheme was his wife's; she regarded it as his duty to himself to exercise this grand male privilege of staying in bed; to do so gave him majesty, magnificence, and was a sign of authority. A copy of _The Referee_, fresh as fruit new-dropped from the bough, lay in the hall at the front door. Mr. Haim had read _The Referee since _The Referee was. He began his perusal with the feature known as "Mustard and Cress," which not only amused him greatly, but convinced him that his own ideas on affairs were really very sagacious. His chief and most serious admiration, however was kept for "Our Hand-Book." "It's my Bible," he had once remarked, "and I'm not ashamed to say it. And there are scores and scores of men who'd say the same." Church bells could not be heard at No. 8. _The Referee lying in the hall was the gracious sign of Sabbath morning. Presently Mrs. Haim would carry it upstairs, respectfully. For her it was simply and unanalysably _The Referee_. She did not dream of looking into it. Mr. Haim did not expect her to look into it. Her mission was to solace and to charm, his alone to supply the intellectual basis upon which their existence reposed. George's nose caught the ascending beautiful odour of bacon; he picked up his cans and disappeared.

When he was dressed, he brought forward the grindstone to the fire, and conscientiously put his nose to it, without even lighting a cigarette. It had been agreed between himself and Marguerite that there should be no more cigarettes until after lunch. It had also been agreed that he should put his nose to the grindstone that Sunday morning, and that she should do the same away in Manresa Road. George's grindstone happened to be Miers and Crosskey's _The Soil in Relation to Health_. He was preparing for his Final Examination. In addition to the vast imperial subject of Design, the Final comprised four other subjects--Construction, Hygiene, Properties and Uses of Building Materials, and Ordinary Practice of Architecture. George was now busy with one branch of the second of these subjects. Perhaps he was not following precisely the order of tactics prescribed by the most wily tacticians, for as usual he had his own ideas and they were arbitrary; but he was veritably and visibly engaged in the slow but exciting process of becoming a great architect. And he knew and felt that he was. And the disordered bed, and the untransparent bath-water, and the soap-tin by the side of the bath, and the breakfast-tray on a chair, were as much a part of the inspiring spectacle as himself tense and especially dandiacal in the midst.

Nevertheless appearances deceived. On a table were the thirteen folio and quarto glorious illustrated volumes of Ongania's _Basilica di San Marco_, which Mr. Enwright had obtained for him on loan, and which had come down to No. 8 in a big box by Carter Paterson van. And while George sat quite still with his eyes and his volition centred fiercely on Miers and Crosskey, his brain would keep making excursions across the room to the Church of St. Mark at Venice. He brought it back again and again with a jerk but he could not retain it in place. The minutes passed; the quarters passed, until an hour and a half had gone. Then he closed Miers and Crosskey. He had sworn to study Miers and Crosskey for an hour and a half. He had fought hard to do so, and nobody could say that he had not done so. He was aware, however, that the fight had not been wholly successful; he had not won it; on the other hand neither had he lost it. Honour was saved, and he could still sincerely assert that in regard to the Final Examination he had got time fiercely by the forelock. He rose and strolled over to the _Basilica di San Marco_, and opened one or two of those formidable and enchanting volumes. Then he produced a cigarette, and struck a match, and he was about to light the cigarette, when squinting down at it he suddenly wondered: "Now how the deuce did that cigarette come into my mouth?" He replaced the cigarette in his case, and in a moment he had left the house.

He was invited to Mrs. John Orgreave's new abode at Bedford Park for lunch. In the early part of the year, Mrs. John had inherited money--again, and the result had been an increase in the spaciousness of her existence. George had not expected to see the new house, for he had determined to have nothing more to do with Mrs. John. He was, it is to be feared, rather touchy. He and Mrs. John had not openly quarrelled, but in their hearts they had quarrelled. George had for some time objected to her attitude towards him as a boarder. She would hint that, as she assuredly had no need of boarders, she was conferring a favour on him by boarding him. It was of course true, but George considered that her references to the fact were offensive. He did not understand and make allowances for Adela. Moreover, he thought that a woman who had been through the Divorce Court ought to be modest in demeanour towards people who had not been through the Divorce Court. Further, Adela resented his frequent lateness for meals. And she had said, with an uncompromising glance: "I hope you'll turn over a new leaf when we get into the new house." And he had replied, with an uncompromising glance: "Perhaps _I shan't get into the new house." Nothing else. But that ended it. After that both felt that mutual detestation had set in. John Orgreave was not implicated in the discreet rupture. Possibly he knew of it; possibly he didn't; he was not one to look for trouble, and he accepted the theory that it was part of George's vital scheme to inhabit Chelsea. And then Adela, all fluffiness and winsomeness, had called, in the previous week, at Russell Square and behaved like a woman whose sole aim in life is to please and cosset men of genius. "I shall be dreadfully hurt if you don't come to one of my Sunday lunches, George!" she had said. And also: "We _miss you, you know," and had put her head on one side.

Marguerite had thoroughly approved his acceptance of the invitation. She thought that he 'ought' to accept. He had promised, as she had an urgent design to do, not to arrive at the studio before 8 p.m., and he had received a note from her that morning to insist on the hour.

II

The roads were covered with a very even, very thin coating of mud; it was as though a corps of highly skilled house-painters had laid on the mud, and just vanished. The pavements had a kind of yellowish-brown varnish. Each of the few trees that could be seen--and there were a few--carried about six surviving leaves. The sky was of a blue-black with golden rents and gleams that travelled steadily eastwards. Except the man with newspapers at the corner of Alexandra Grove, scarcely a sign of life showed along the vistas of Fulham Road; but the clock over the jeweller's was alive and bearing the usual false witness. From the upper open galleries of the Workhouse one or two old men and old women in uniform looked down indifferently upon the free world which they had left for ever. Then an omnibus appeared faintly advancing from the beautiful grey distance of the straight and endless street. George crossed the road on his way towards Redcliffe Gardens and Earl's Court. He was very smart, indeed smarter than ever, having produced in himself quite naturally and easily a fair imitation of the elegant figures which, upon his visits to the restaurant-building in Piccadilly, he had observed airing themselves round about Bond Street. His hair was smooth like polished marble; his hat and stick were at the right angle; his overcoat was new, and it indicated the locality of his waist; the spots of colour in his attire complied with the operative decrees. His young face had in it nothing that obviously separated him from the average youth of his clothes. Nobody would have said of him, at a glance, that he might be a particularly serious individual. And most people would have at once classed him as a callow pleasure-seeking person in the act of seeking pleasure.

Nevertheless he was at that moment particularly serious, and his seriousness was growing. His secret engagement had affected him, in part directly, and in part by the intensification of ambitious endeavour which had resulted from contact with that fount of seriousness, Marguerite. Although still entirely dependent--even to cigarette money--upon the benevolence of a couple of old individuals a hundred and fifty miles off, he reckoned that he was advancing in the world. The Intermediate Examination was past, and already he felt that he had come to grips with the Final and would emerge victorious. He felt too that his general knowledge and the force and variety of his ideas were increasing. At times, when he and Marguerite talked, he was convinced that both of them had achieved absolute knowledge, and that their criticisms of the world were and would always be unanswerable. After the Final, he hoped, his uncle would buy him a share in the Lucas & Enwright practice. In due season, his engagement would be revealed, and all would be immensely impressed by his self-restraint and his good taste, and the marriage would occur, and he would be a London architect, an established man--at the mature age of, say, twenty-two.

No cloud would have obscured the inward radiance caused by the lovely image of Marguerite and by his confidence in himself, had it not been for those criticisms of the world. He had moods of being rather gravely concerned as to the world, and as to London. He was recovering from the first great attack of London. He saw faults in London. He was capable of being disturbed by, for example, the ugliness and the inefficiency of London. He even thought that something ought to be done about it. Upon this Sunday morning, fresh from visions of Venice, and rendered a little complacent by the grim execution of the morning's programme of work, he was positively pained by the aspect of Redcliffe Gardens. The Redcliffe Arms public-house, locked and dead, which was the daily paradise of hundreds of human beings, and had given balm and illusion to whole generations, seemed simply horrible to him in its Sunday morning coma. The large and stuffy unsightliness of it could not be borne. (However, the glimpse of a barmaid at an upper window interested him pleasantly for a moment.) And the Redcliffe Arms was the true gate to the stucco and areas of Redcliffe Gardens. He looked down into the areas and saw therein the furtive existence of squalor behind barred windows. All the obscene apparatus of London life was there. And as he raised his eyes to the drawing-room and bedroom stories he found no relief. His eyes could discover nothing that was not mean, ugly, frowzy, and unimaginative. He pictured the heavy, gloomy, lethargic life within. The slatternly servants pottering about the bases of the sooty buildings sickened and saddened him. A solitary Earl's Court omnibus that lumbered past with its sinister, sparse cargo seemed to be a spectacle absolutely tragic--he did not know why. The few wayfarers were obviously prim and smug. No joy, no elegance, anywhere! Only, at intervals, a feeling that mysterious and repulsive wealth was hiding itself like an ogre in the eternal twilight of fastnesses beyond the stuccoed walls and the grimy curtains.... The city worked six days in order to be precisely this on the seventh. Truly it was very similar to the Five Towns, and in essentials not a bit better.--A sociological discovery which startled him! He wanted to destroy Redcliffe Gardens, and to design it afresh and rebuild it under the inspiration of St. Mark's and of the principles of hygiene as taught for the Final Examination. He had grandiose ideas for a new design. As for Redcliffe Square, he could do marvels with its spaces.

He arrived too soon at Earl's Court Station, having forgotten that the Underground Railway had a treaty with the Church of England and all the Nonconformist churches not to run trains while the city, represented by possibly two per cent of its numbers, was at divine worship. He walked to and fro along the platforms in the vast echoing cavern peopled with wandering lost souls, and at last a train came in from the void, and it had the air of a miracle, because nobody had believed that any train ever would come in. And at last the Turnham Green train came in, and George got into a smoking compartment, and Mr. Enwright was in the compartment.

Mr. Enwright also was going to the Orgreave luncheon. He was in what the office called 'one of his moods.' The other occupants of the compartment had a stiff and self-conscious air: some apparently were proud of being abroad on Sunday morning; some apparently were ashamed. Mr. Enwright's demeanour was as free and natural as that of a child. His lined and drawn face showed worry and self-absorption in the frankest manner. He began at once to explain how badly he had slept; indeed he asserted that he had not slept at all; and he complained with extreme acerbity of the renewal of his catarrh. 'Constant secretion. Constant secretion,' was the phrase he used to describe the chief symptom. Then by a forced transition he turned to the profession of architecture, and restated his celebrated theory that it was the Cinderella of professions. The firm had quite recently obtained a very important job in a manufacturing quarter of London, without having to compete for it; but Mr. Enwright's great leading ideas never fluctuated with the fluctuation of facts. If the multiplicity of his lucrative jobs had been such as to compel him to run round from one to another on a piebald pony in the style of Sir Hugh Corver, his view of the profession would not have altered. He spoke with terrible sarcasm apropos of a rumour current in architectural circles that a provincial city intended soon to invite competitive designs for a building of realty enormous proportions, and took oath that in no case should his firm, enter for the competition. In short, his condition was markedly pessimistic.

George loved him, and was bound to humour him; and in order to respond sympathetically to Enwright's pessimism he attempted to describe his sensations concerning the London Sunday, and in particular the Sunday morning aspect of Earl's Court streets. He animadverted with virulence, and brought forward his new startling discovery that London was in truth as provincial as the provinces.

"Well, I don't think it is," said Enwright, instantly becoming a judicial truth-seeker.

"Why don't you?"

"Simply because it's bigger--so much bigger. That's the principal difference, and you'll never get over it. You must appreciate size. An elephant is a noble animal, but it wouldn't be if it was only as big as a fly. London's an elephant, and forget it not."

"It's frightfully ugly, most of it, anyhow, and especially on Sunday morning," George persisted.

"Is it? I wonder whether it is, now. The architecture's ugly. But what's architecture? Architecture isn't everything. If you can go up and down London and see nothing but architecture, you'll never be an A1 architect." He spoke in a low, kindly, and reasonable tone. "I like London on Sunday mornings. In fact it's marvellous. You say it's untidy and all that ... slatternly, and so on. Well, so it ought to be when it gets up late. Jolly bad sign if it wasn't. And that's part of it! Why, dash it, look at a bedroom when you trail about, getting up! Look how you leave it! The existence of a big city while it's waking up--lethargy business--a sort of shamelessness--it's like a great animal! I think it's marvellous, and I always have thought so."

George would not openly agree, but his mind was illuminated with a new light, and in his mind he agreed, very admiringly.

The train stopped; people got out; and the two were alone in the compartment.

"I thought all was over between you and Adela," said Mr. Enwright, confidentially and quizzically.

George blushed a little. "Oh no!"

"I don't know what I'm going to her lunch for, I'm sure. I suppose I have to go."

"I have, too," said George.

"Well, she won't do you any good, you know. I was glad when you left there."

George looked worldly. "Rum sort, isn't she?"

I'll tell you what she is, now. You remember _Aida at the Paris Opera. The procession in the second act where you lost your head and said it was the finest music ever written. And those girls in white, waving palms in front of the hero--What's-his-name. There are some women who are born to do that and nothing else. Thin lips. Fixed idiotic smile. They don't think a bit about what they're doing. They're thinking about themselves all the time. They simply don't care a damn about the hero, or about the audience, or anything, and they scarcely pretend to. Arrogance isn't the word. It's something more terrific--it's stupendous! Mrs. John's like that. I thought of it as I was coming along here."

"Is she?" said George negligently. "Perhaps she is. I never thought of her like that."

Turnham Green Station was announced.

III

Despite the fresh pinky horrors of its external architecture, and despite his own desire and firm intention to the contrary, George was very deeply impressed by the new Orgreave home. It was far larger than the previous house. The entrance was spacious, and the drawing-room, with a great fire at either end, immense. He had never been in an interior so splendid. He tried to be off-hand in his attitude towards it, but did not fully succeed. The taste shown in the decoration and furniture was almost unexceptionable. White walls--Heppel-white; chintz--black, crackling chintz strewn with tens of thousands of giant roses. On the walls were a few lithographs--John's contribution to the general effect. John having of late years begun to take himself seriously as a collector of lithographs.

One-third of the room was divided from the rest by an arched and fretted screen of red lacquer, and within this open cage stood Mrs. John, surveying winsomely the expanse of little tables, little chairs, big chairs, huge chairs, sofas, rugs, flower-vases, and knick-knacks. She had an advantage over most blondes nearing the forties in that she had not stoutened. She was in fact thin as well as short; but her face was too thin. Still, it dimpled, and she held her head knowingly on one side, and her bright hair was wonderfully done up. Dressed richly as she was, and assisted by the rejuvenating magic of jewels, she produced, in the shadow of the screen, a notable effect of youthful vivacity, which only the insult of close inspection could destroy. With sinuous gestures she waved Mr. Enwright's metaphorical palm before the approaching George. Her smile flattered him; her frail, dinging hand flattered him. He had known her in her harsh morning moods; he had seen that persuasive, manufactured mask vanish for whole minutes, to reveal a petty egotism, giving way, regardless of appearances, to rage; he clearly observed now the hard, preoccupied eyes. Nevertheless, the charm which she exercised was undeniable. Her husband was permanently under its spell. There he stood, near her, big, coarsening, good-natured, content, proud of her. He mixed a cocktail and he threw a match into the fire, in exactly the old Five Towns manner, which he would never lose. But as for her, she had thrown off all trace of the Five Towns; she had learnt London, deliberately, thoroughly. And even George, with the unmerciful, ruthless judgment of his years, was obliged to admit that she possessed a genuine pertinacity and had marvellously accomplished an ambition. She had held John Orgreave for considerably over a decade; she had had the tremendous courage to Leave the heavy provincial manufacturer, her first husband; she had passed through the Divorce Court as a respondent without blenching; she had slowly darned her reputation with such skill that you could scarcely put your finger on the place where the hole had been; and lo! she was reigning in Bedford Park and had all she wanted--except youth. Nor did she in the least show the resigned, disillusioned air of women who have but recently lost their youth. She bore herself just as though she still had no fear of strong lights, and as though she was still the dazzling, dashing blonde of whom John in his earliest twenties used to say, with ingenuous enthusiasm, that she was 'ripping'--the ripping Mrs. Chris Hamson. An epical creature!

This domestic organism created by Mrs. John inspired George, and instantly he was rapt away in dreams of his own future. He said to himself again, and more forcibly, that he had a natural taste for luxury and expensiveness, and that he would have the one and practise the other. He invented gorgeous interiors which would be his and in which he would be paramount and at ease. He positively yearned for them. He was impatient to get back home and resume the long labours that would lead him to them. Every grand adjunct of life must be his, and he could not wait. Absurd to apprehend that Marguerite would not rise to his dreams! Of course she would! She would fit herself perfectly into them, completing them. She would understand all the artistic aspects of them, because she was an artist; and in addition she would be mistress, wife, hostess, commanding impeccable servants, receiving friends with beauty and unsurpassable sweet dignity, wearing costly frocks and jewels as though she had never worn anything else. She had the calm power, she had the individuality, to fulfil all his desires for her. She would be the authentic queen of which Mrs. John was merely the imitation. He wanted intensely to talk to her about the future.... And then he had the seductive idea of making presentable his bed-sitting-room at Mr. Haim's. He saw the room instantaneously transformed; he at once invented each necessary dodge for absolutely hiding during the day the inconvenient fact that it had to serve as a bedroom at night; he refurnished it; he found the money to refurnish it. And just as he was impatient to get back home in order to work, so he was impatient to get back home in order to transform his chamber into the ideal. Delay irked him painfully. And yet he was extremely happy in the excitement of the dreams that ached to be fulfilled.

"Now, Mr. Enwright," said Mrs. John in an accent to draw honey out of a boulder. "You haven't told me what you think of it."

Enwright was wandering about by himself.

"He's coming on with his lithographs," he replied, as if after a decision. "One or two of these are rather interesting."

"Oh! I don't mean the lithographs. You know those are all Jack's affairs. I mean--well, the room. Now do pay me a compliment."

The other guests listened.

Enwright gave a little self-conscious smile, characteristic of him in these dilemmas, half kind and half malicious.

"You must have taken a great deal of trouble over it," he said, with bright amiability; and then relapsing from the effort: "it's all very nice and harmless."

"Oh! Mr. Enwright! Is that all?" She pouted, though still waving the palm. "And you so fond of the eighteenth century, too!"

"But I heard a rumour at the beginning of this year that we're living in the twentieth," said Enwright.

"And I thought I should please you!" sighed Adela. "What _ought I to have done?"

"Well, you might have asked me to design you some furniture. Nobody ever has asked me yet." He rubbed his eyeglasses and blinked.

"Oh! You geniuses.... Janet darling!"

Mrs. John moved forward to meet Miss Orgreave, John's appreciably elder sister, spinster, who lived with another brother, Charles, a doctor at Ealing. Janet was a prim emaciated creature, very straight and dignified, whose glance always seemed to hesitate between benevolence and fastidiousness. Janet and Charles had consented to forget the episode of the Divorce Court. Marion, however, the eldest Orgreave sister, mother of a family of daughters, had never received the divorcee. On the other hand the divorcee, obeying her own code, had obstinately ignored the wife of Jim Orgreave, a younger brother, who, according to the universal opinion, had married disgracefully.

When the sisters-in-law had embraced, with that unconvincing fulsomeness which is apt to result from a charitable act of oblivion, Janet turned lovingly to George and asked after his mother. She was his mother's most intimate friend. In the past he had called her Auntie, and was accustomed to kiss her and be kissed. Indeed he feared that she might want to kiss him now, but he was spared. As with negligence of tone he answered her fond inquiries, he was busy reconstructing quite anew his scheme for the bed-sittingroom--for it had actually been an eighteenth-century scheme, and inspired by the notions of Mrs. John!

At the lunch-table George found that the party consisted of ten persons, of whom one, seated next to himself, was a youngish, somewhat plump woman who had arrived at the last moment. He had not been introduced to her, nor to the four other strangers, for it had lately reached Bedford Park that introductions were no longer the correct prelude to a meal. A hostess who wished to be modern should throw her guests in ignorance together and leave them to acquire knowledge by their own initiative. This device added to the piquancy of a gathering. Moreover, there was always a theory that each individual was well known, and that therefore to introduce was subtly to insult. On Mrs. John's right was a beautifully braided gentleman of forty or so, in brown, with brown necktie and hair to match, and the hair was so perfect and ended so abruptly that George at first took it for a wig; but soon afterwards he decided that he had been unkind. Mr. Enwright was opposite to this brown gentleman.

Mrs. John began by hoping that the brown gentleman had been to church.

"I'm afraid I haven't," he replied, with gentle regret in his voice.

And in the course of the conversation he was frequently afraid. Nevertheless his attitude was by no means a fearful attitude; on the contrary it was very confident. He would grasp the edge of the table with his hands, and narrate at length, smiling amiably, and looking from side to side regularly like a public speaker. He narrated in detail the difficulties which he had in obtaining the right sort of cutlets rightly cooked at his club, and added: "But of course there's only one club in London that would be satisfactory in all this--shall I say?--finesse, and I'm afraid I don't belong to it."

"What club's that?" John Orgreave sent the inquiry down the table.

"The Orleans."

"Oh yes, the Orleans! I suppose that _is the best."

And everybody seemed glad and proud that everybody had known of the culinary supremacy of the Orleans.

"I'm afraid you'll all think I'm horribly greedy," said the brown gentleman apologetically. And then at once, having noticed that Mr. Enwright was gazing up at the great sham oak rafters that were glued on to the white ceiling, he started upon this new architectural picturesqueness which was to London and the beginning of the twentieth century what the enamelled milking-stool had been to the provinces and the end of the nineteenth century--namely, a reminder that even in an industrial age romance should still survive in the hearts of men. The brown gentleman remarked that with due deference to 'you professional gentlemen,' he was afraid he liked the sham rafters, because they reminded him of the good old times and all that sort of thing.

He was not only a conscientious conversationalist, but he originated talk in others, and listened to them with his best attention. And he invariably stepped into gaps with praise-worthy tact and skill. Thus the chat meandered easily from subject to subject--the Automobile Club's tour from London to Southsea, the latest hotel, Richter, the war (which the brown gentleman treated with tired respect, as some venerable survival that had forgotten to die), the abnormally early fogs, and the abnormally violent and destructive gales. An argument arose as to whether these startling weather phenomena were or were not a hint to mankind from some undefined Higher Power that a new century had in truth begun and that mankind had better mind what it was about. Mrs. John favoured the notion, and so did Miss Orgreave, whereas John Orgreave coarsely laughed at it. The brown gentleman held the scales admirably; he was chivalrously sympathetic to the two ladies, and yet he respected John's materialism. He did, however, venture to point out the contradictions in the character of 'our host,' who was really very responsive to music and art, but who seemed curiously to ignore certain other influences--etc. etc.

"How true that is!" murmured Mrs. John.

The brown gentleman modestly enjoyed his triumph. With only three people had he failed--Mr. Enwright, George, and the youngish woman next to George.

"And how's Paris, Miss Ingram?" he pointedly asked the last.

George was surprised. He had certainly taken her for a married woman, and one of his generalizations about life was that he did not like young married women; hence he had not liked her. He now regarded her with fresh interest. She blushed a little, and looked very young indeed.

"Oh! Paris is all right!" she answered shortly.

The brown gentleman after a long, musing smile, discreetly abandoned the opening; but George, inquiring in a low voice if she lived in Paris, began a private talk with Miss Ingram, who did live in Paris. He had his doubts about her entire agreeableness, but at any rate they got on to a natural, brusque footing, which contrasted with the somewhat ceremonious manner of the general conversation. She exceeded George in brusqueness, and tended to patronize him as a youngster. He noticed that she had yellow eyes.

"What do you think of his wig?" she demanded in an astonishing whisper, when the meal was over and chairs were being vacated.

"_Is it a wig?" George exclaimed ingenuously.

"Oh, you boys!" she protested, with superiority. "Of course it's a wig."

"But how do you know it's a wig?" George insisted stoutly.

"'Is it a wig!'" she scorned him.

"Well, I'm not up in wigs," said George. "Who is he, anyhow?"

"I forget his name. I've only met him once, here at tea. I think he's a tea-merchant. He seemed to remember me all right."

"A tea-merchant! I wonder why Mrs. John put him on her right, then, and Mr. Enwright on her left." George resented the precedence.

"Is Mr. Enwright really very great, then?"

"Great! You bet he is.... I was in Paris with him in the summer. Whereabouts do you live in Paris?"

She improved, especially at the point where she said that Mr. Enwright's face was one of the most wonderful faces that she had ever seen. Evidently she knew Paris as well as George knew London. Apparently she had always lived there. But their interchanges concerning Paris, on a sofa in the drawing-room, were stopped by a general departure. Mr. Enwright began it. The tea-merchant instantly supported the movement. Miss Ingram herself rose. The affair was at an end. Nothing interesting had been said in the general talk, and little that was sincere. No topic had been explored, no argument taken to a finish. No wit worth mentioning had glinted. But everybody had behaved very well, and had demonstrated that he or she was familiar with the usages of society and with aspects of existence with which it was proper to be familiar. And everybody--even Mr. Enwright--thanked Mrs. John most heartily for her quite delightful luncheon; Mrs. John insisted warmly on her own pleasure and her appreciation of her guests' extreme good nature in troubling to come, and she was beyond question joyously triumphant. And George, relieved, thought, as he tried to rival the rest in gratitude to Mrs. John:

"What was it all about? What did they all come for? _I came because she made me. But why did the others come?"

The lunch had passed like a mild nightmare, and he felt as though, with the inconsequence of dream-people, these people had gone away without having accomplished some essential act which had been the object of their gathering.

IV

When George came out of the front door, he beheld Miss Ingram on the kerb, in the act of getting into a very rich fur coat. A chauffeur, in a very rich livery, was deferentially helping her. Behind them stretched a long, open motor-car. This car, existing as it did at a time when the public acutely felt that automobiles splashed respectable foot-farers with arrogant mud and rendered unbearable the lives of the humble in village streets, was of the immodest kind described, abusively, as 'powerful and luxurious.' The car of course drew attention, because it had yet occurred to but few of anybody's friends that they might themselves possess even a modest car, much less an immodest one. George had not hitherto personally known a single motor-car owner.

But what struck him even more than the car was the fur coat, and the haughty and fastidious manner in which Miss Ingram accepted it from the chauffeur, and the disdainful, accustomed way in which she wore it--as though it were a cheap rag--when once it was on her back. In her gestures he glimpsed a new world. He had been secretly scorning the affairs of the luncheon and all that it implied, and he had been secretly scorning himself for his pitiful lack of brilliancy at the luncheon. These two somewhat contradictory sentiments were suddenly shrivelled in the fire of his ambition which had flared up anew at contact with a spark. And the spark was the sight of the girl's costly fur coat. He must have a costly fur coat, and a girl in it, and the girl must treat the fur coat like a cheap rag. Otherwise he would die a disappointed man.

"Hallo!" called Miss Ingram.

"Hallo!" She had climbed into the car, and turned her head to look at him. He saw that she was younger even than he had thought. She seemed quite mature when she was still, but when she moved she had the lithe motions of immaturity. As a boy, he now infallibly recognized a girl.

"Which way are you going?"

"Well--Chelsea more or less."

"I'll give you a lift."

He ought to have said: "Are you sure I shan't be taking you out of your way?" But he said merely: "Oh! Thanks awfully!"

The chauffeur held the door for him, and then arranged a fur rug over the knees of the boy and the girl. To be in the car gave George intense pleasure, especially when the contrivance thrilled into life and began to travel. He was thankful that his clothes were as smart as they ought to be. She could not think ill of his clothes--no matter who her friends were.

"This is a great car," he said. "Had it long?"

"Oh! It's not mine," answered Miss Ingram. "It's Miss Wheeler's."

"Who's Miss Wheeler, if I may ask?"

"Miss Wheeler! She's a friend of mine. She lives in Paris. But she has a flat in London too. I came over with her. We brought the car with us. She was to have come to the Orgreaves's to-day, but she had a headache. So I took the car--and her furs as well. They fit me, you see.... I say, what's your Christian name? I hate surnames, don't you?"

"George. What's yours?"

"Mine's Lois."

"What? How do you spell it?"

She spelt it, adding 'Of course.' He thought it was somehow a very romantic name. He decidedly liked the name. He was by no means sure, however, that he liked the girl. He liked her appearance, though she was freckled; she was unquestionably stylish; she had ascendancy; she imposed herself; she sat as though the world was the instrument of her individuality. Nevertheless he doubted if she was kind, and he knew that she was patronizing. Further, she was not a conversationalist. At the luncheon she had not been at ease; but here in the car she was at ease absolutely, yet she remained taciturn.

"D'you drive?" he inquired.

"Yes," she said. "Look here, would you like to sit in front? And I'll drive."

"Good!" he agreed vigorously. But he had a qualm about the safety of being driven by a girl.

She abruptly stopped the car, and the chauffeur swerved to the pavement.

"I'm going to drive, Cuthbert," she said.

"Yes, miss," said the chauffeur willingly. "It's a bit side-slippy, miss."

She gave no answer to this remark, but got out of the car with a preoccupied, frowning air, as if she was being obliged to take a responsible post, which she could fill better than anybody else, rather against her inclination. A few persons paused to watch. She carefully ignored them; so did George.

As soon as she had seized the wheel, released the brake and started the car, she began to talk, looking negligently about her. George thought: "She's only showing off." Still, the car travelled beautifully, and there was a curious illusion that she must have the credit for that. She explained the function of handles, pedals, and switches, and George deemed it proper to indicate that he was not without some elementary knowledge of the subject. He leaned far back, as Lois leaned, and as the chauffeur had leaned, enjoying the brass fittings, the indicators, and all the signs of high mechanical elaboration.

He noticed that Lois sounded her horn constantly, and often upon no visible provocation. But once as she approached cross-roads at unslackened speed, she seemed to forget to sound it and then sounded it too late. Nothing untoward happened; Sunday traffic was thin, and she sailed through the danger-zone with grand intrepidity.

"I say, George," she remarked, looking now straight in front of her. ("She's a bit of a caution," he reflected happily.) "Have you got anything special on this afternoon?"

"Nothing what you may call deadly special," he answered. He wanted to call her 'Lois,' but his volition failed at the critical moment.

"Well, then, won't you come and have tea with Miss Wheeler and me? There'll only be just a few people, and you must be introduced to Miss Wheeler."

"Oh! I don't think I'd better." He was timid.

"Why not?" She pouted.

"All right, then. Thanks. I should like to."

"By the way, what's your surname?"

("She _is a caution," he reflected.)

"I wasn't quite sure," she said, when he had told her.

He was rather taken aback, but he reassured himself. No doubt girls of her environment did behave as she behaved. After all, why not?

They entered Hammersmith. It was a grand and inspiring sensation to swing through Hammersmith thus aristocratically repudiating the dowdy Sunday crowd that stared in ingenuous curiosity. And there was a wonderful quality in the spectacle of the great, formidable car being actuated and controlled by the little gloved hands and delicately shod feet of this frail, pampered, wilful girl.

In overtaking a cab that kept nearly to the middle of the road, Lois hesitated in direction, appeared to defy the rule, and then corrected her impulse.

"It's rather confusing," she observed, with a laugh. "You see, in France you keep to the right and overtake things on their left."

"Yes. But this is London," said George dryly.

Half a minute later, just beyond the node of Hammersmith, where bright hats and frocks were set off against the dark-shuttered fronts of shops, Lois at quite a good speed inserted the car between a tramcar and an omnibus, meeting the tram and overtaking the omnibus. The tram went by like thunder, all its glass and iron rattling and shaking; the noise deafened, and the wind blew hard like a squall. There appeared to be scarcely an inch of space on either side of the car. George's heart stopped. For one horrible second he expected a tremendous smash. The car emerged safe. He saw the omnibus-driver gazing down at them with reproof. After the roar of the tram died he heard the trotting of the omnibus horses and Lois's nervous giggle. She tried, and did not fail, to be jaunty; but she had had a shock, and the proof was that by mere inadvertence she nearly charged the posts of the next street-refuge.... George switched off the current. She herself had shown him how to do it. She now saw him do it. The engine stopped, and Lois, remembering in a flash that her dignity was at stake, raised her hand and drew up fairly neatly at the pavement.

"What's the matter?" she demanded imperiously.

"Are you going to drive this thing all the way into London, Lois?" he demanded in turn.

They looked at each other. The chauffeur got down. "Of course."

"Not with me in it, anyhow!"

She sneered. "Oh! You boys! You've got no pluck."

"Perhaps not," he returned viciously. "Neither have you got any sense of danger. Girls like you never have. I've noticed that before." Even his mother with horses had no sense of danger.

"You're very rude," she replied. "And it was very rude of you to stop the car."

"I dare say. But you shouldn't have told me you could drive."

He was now angry. And she not less so. He descended, and slammed the door.

"Thanks so much," he said, raised his hat, and walked away. She spoke, but he did not catch what she said. He was saying to himself: "Pluck indeed!" (He did not like her accusation.) "Pluck indeed! Of all the damned cheek!... We might all have been killed--or worse. The least she could have done was to apologize. But no! Pluck indeed! Women oughtn't to be allowed to drive. It's too infernally silly for words."

He glanced backward. The chauffeur had started the car again, and was getting in by Lois's side. Doubtless he was a fatalist by profession. She drove off.

"Yes!" thought George. "And you'd drive home yourself now even if you knew for certain you'd have an accident. You're just that stupid kind."

The car looked superb as it drew away, and she reclined in the driver's seat with a superb effrontery. George was envious; he was pierced by envy. He hated that other people, and especially girls, should command luxuries which he could not possess. He hated that violently. "You wait!" he said to himself. "You wait! I'll have as good a car as that, and a finer girl than you in it. And she won't want to drive either. You wait." He was more excited than he knew by the episode.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 5. The Tea The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 5. The Tea

The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 5. The Tea
PART I CHAPTER V. THE TEAI"Tea is ready, Mr. Cannon," said Mr. Haim in his most courteous style, coming softly into George's room. And George looked up at the old man's wrinkled face, and down at his crimson slippers, with the benevolent air of a bookworm permitting himself to be drawn away from an ideal world into the actual. Glasses on the end of George's nose would have set off the tableau, but George had outgrown the spectacles which had disfigured his boyhood. As a fact, since his return that afternoon from Mrs. John's, he had, to the detriment of modesty
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 3. The Charwoman The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 3. The Charwoman

The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 3. The Charwoman
PART I CHAPTER III. THE CHARWOMANIGeorge entered Alexandra Grove very early the next evening, having dined inadequately and swiftly so that he might reach the neighbourhood of Marguerite at the first moment justifiable. He would have omitted dinner and trusted to Marguerite's kitchen, only that, in view of the secrecy resolved upon, appearances had to be preserved. The secrecy in itself was delicious, but even the short experiences of the morning had shown both of them how extremely difficult it would be for two people who were everything to each other to behave as though they were nothing to each other.
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT