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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 7. The Rupture
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The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 7. The Rupture Post by :gftgd Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2769

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The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 7. The Rupture



During the whole of the next day George waited for a letter from Marguerite. There was nothing at the club by the first post; he went to the office, hoping that as he had addressed his telegram from Russell Square she might have written to Russell Square; there was nothing at Russell Square. At lunch-time no word had arrived at the club; when the office closed no word had arrived at the office; the last post brought nothing to the club. He might have sent another telegram to Alexandra Grove, but he was too proud to do so. He dined alone and most miserably at the club. Inspired by unhappiness and resentment, he resolved to go to bed; in bed he might read himself to sleep. But in the hall of the club his feet faltered. Perhaps it was the sight of hats and sticks that made him vacillate, or a glimpse of reluctantly dying silver in the firmament over Candle Court. He wavered; he stood still at the foot of the stairs. The next moment he was in the street. He had decided to call on Agg at the studio. Agg might have the clue to Marguerite's astounding conduct, though he had it not. He took a hansom, after saying he would walk; he was too impatient for walking. Possibly Marguerite would be at the studio; possibly a letter of hers had miscarried; letters did miscarry. He was in a state of peculiar excitement as he paid the cabman--an enigma to himself.

The studio was quite dark. Other studios showed lights, but not Agg's. From one studio came the sound of a mandolin--he thought it was a mandolin--and the sound seemed pathetic, tragic, to his ears. Agg was perhaps in bed; he might safely arouse her; she would not object. But no! He would not do that. Pride again! It would be too humiliating for him, the affianced, to have to ask Agg: "I say, do you know anything about Marguerite?" The affianced ought to be the leading authority as to the doings of Marguerite. He turned away, walked a little, and perceived the cabman swinging himself cautiously down from his perch in order to enter a public-house. He turned back. Marguerite too might be in bed at the studio. Or the girls might be sitting in the dark, talking--a habit of theirs.... Fanciful suppositions! At any rate he would not knock at the door of the studio, would not even enter the alley again. What carried him into the Fulham Road and westwards as far as the Workhouse tower and the corner of Alexandra Grove? Feet! But surely the feet of another person, over which he had no control! He went in the lamplit dimness of Alexandra Grove like a thief; he crept into it. The silver had not yet died out of the sky; he could see it across the spaces between the dark houses; it was sad in exactly the same way as the sound of the mandolin had been sad.

What did he mean to do in the Grove? Nothing! He was just walking in it by chance. He could indeed do nothing. For if he rang at No. 8 old Haim would again confront him in the portico. He passed by No. 8 on the opposite side of the road. No light showed, except a very dim glow through the blind of the basement window to the left of the front door. Those feet beneath him strolled across the road. The basement window was wide open. The blind being narrower than the window-frame, he could see, through the railings, into the room within. He saw Marguerite. She was sitting, in an uncomfortable posture, in the rather high-seated arm-chair in which formerly, when the room was her studio, she used to sit at her work. Her head had dropped, on one shoulder. She was asleep. On the table a candle burned. His heart behaved strangely. He flushed. All his flesh tingled. The gate creaked horribly as he tiptoed into the patch of garden. He leaned over the little chasm between the level of the garden and the window, and supported himself with a hand on the lower sash. He pushed the blind sideways with the other hand.

"Marguerite!" in a whisper. Then louder: "Marguerite!"

She did not stir. She was in a deep sleep. Her hands hung limp. Her face was very pale and very fatigued. She liberated the same sadness as the sound of the mandolin and the gleam of silver in the June sky, but it was far more poignant. At the spectacle of those weary and unconscious features and of the soft, bodily form, George's resentment was annihilated. He wondered at his resentment. He was aware of nothing in himself but warm, protective love. Tenderness surged out from the impenetrable secrecy of his heart, filled him, overflowed, and floated in waves towards the sleeper. In the intense sadness, and in the uncertainty of events, he was happy.

An older man might have paused, but without hesitancy George put his foot on the window-sill, pushed down the window farther, and clambered into the room in which he had first seen Marguerite. His hat, pressing backward the blind, fell off and bounced its hard felt on the floor, which at the edges was uncarpeted. The noise of the hat and the general stir of George's infraction disturbed Marguerite, who awoke and looked up. The melancholy which she was exhaling suddenly vanished. Her steady composure in the alarm delighted George.

"Couldn't wake you," he murmured lightly. It was part of his Five Towns upbringing to conceal excitement. "Saw you through the window."

"Oh! George! Was I asleep?"

Pleasure shone on her face. He deposited his stick and sprang to her. He sat on the arm of the chair. He bent her head back and examined her face. He sat on her knee and held her. She did not kiss; she was kissed; he liked that. Her fatigue was adorable.

"I came here for something, and I just sat down for a second because I was so tired, and I must have gone right off.... No! No!"

The admonishing negative was to stop him from getting up off her knee. She was exhausted, yet she had vast resources of strength to bear him on her knee. She was wearing her oldest frock. It was shabby. But it exquisitely suited her then. It was the frock of her capability, of her great labours, of her vigil, of her fatigue. It covered, but did not hide, her beautiful contours. He thought she was marvellously beautiful--and very young, far younger than himself. As for him, he was the dandy, in striking contrast to her. His dandyism as he sat on her knee pleased both of them. He looked older than his years, his shoulders had broadened, his dark moustache thickened. In his own view he was utterly adult, as she was in hers. But their young faces so close together, so confident, were touchingly immature. As he observed her grave satisfaction at his presence, the comfort which he gave her, he felt sure of her, and the memory of his just resentment came to him, and he was tenderly reproachful.

"I expected to hear from you," he said. The male in him relished the delicate accusation of his tone.

Marguerite answered with a little startled intake of breath:

"She's dead!"


"She died this afternoon. The layer-out left about half an hour ago."

Death parted them. He rose from her knee, and Marguerite did not try to prevent him. He was profoundly shocked. With desolating vividness he recalled the Sunday afternoon when he had carried upstairs the plump, living woman now dead. He had always liked Mrs. Lob--it was as Mrs. Lob that he thought of her. He had seen not much of her. Only on that Sunday afternoon had he and she reached a sort of intimacy--unspoken but real. He had liked her. He had even admired her. She was no ordinary being. And he had sympathized with her for Marguerite's quite explicable defection. He had often wished that those two, the charwoman and his beloved, could somehow have been brought together. The menaces of death had brought them together. Mrs. Lob was laid out in the bedroom which he had once entered. Mrs. Lob had been dying while he dined richly with Miss Wheeler and Laurencine, and while he talked cynically with Everard Lucas. And while he had been resenting Marguerite's neglect Marguerite was watching by the dying bed. Oh! The despicable superficialities of restaurants and clubs! He was ashamed. The mere receding shadow of death shamed him.

"The baby's dead too, of course," Marguerite added. "She ought never to have had a baby. It seems she had had two miscarriages."

There were tears in Marguerite's eyes and in her voice. Nevertheless her tone was rather matter-of-fact as she related these recondite and sinister things. George thought that women were very strange. Imagine Marguerite quietly talking to him in this strain! Then the sense of the formidable secrets that lie hidden in the history of families, and the sense of the continuity of individual destinies, overwhelmed him. There was silence.

"And your exam. begins to-morrow," whispered the astonishing Marguerite.

"Where's the old gentleman?"

"He's sitting in the parlour in the dark."

It was a terrible house: they two intimidated and mournful in the basement; the widower solitary on the ground floor; the dead bodies, the wastage and futility of conception and long bearing, up in the bedroom. And in all the house the light of one candle! George suddenly noticed, then, that Marguerite was not wearing the thin, delicate ring which he had long ago given her. Had she removed it because of her manual duties? He wanted to ask the question, but, even unspoken, it seemed too trivial for the hour....

There was a shuffling sound beyond the door, and a groping on the outer face of the door. Marguerite jumped up. Mr. Haim stumbled into the room. He had incredibly aged; he looked incredibly feeble. But as he pointed a finger at George he was in a fury of anger, and his anger was senile, ridiculous, awful.

"I thought I heard voices," he said, half squeaking. "How did you get in? You didn't come in by the door. Out of my house! My wife lying dead upstairs, and you choose this night to break in!" He was implacable against George, absolutely; and George recoiled.

The opening of the door had created a draught in which the candle-flame trembled, and the shadow of the old man trembled on the door.

"You'd better go. I'll write. I'll write," Marguerite murmured to George very calmly, very gently, very persuasively. She stood between the two men. Her manner was perfect. It eternally impressed itself on George. "Father, come and sit down."

The old man obeyed her. So did George. He snatched his hat and stick. By the familiar stone steps of the basement, and along the familiar hall, he felt his way to the door, turned the familiar knob, and departed.


The examination began the next day. Despite his preoccupation about Marguerite, George's performances during the first days were quite satisfactory to himself. Indeed, after a few minutes in the examination-room, after the preliminary critical assessing of the difficulty of the problems in design, and the questions, and of his ability to deal with them, George successfully forgot everything except the great seven-day duel between the self-constituted autocratic authorities backed by prestige and force, and the aspirants who had naught but their wits to help them. He was neither a son, nor a friend, nor a lover; he ceased to have human ties; he had become an examinee. Marguerite wrote him two short letters which were perfect, save that he always regarded her handwriting as a little too clerical, too like her father's. She made no reference whatever to the scene in the basement room. She said that she could not easily arrange to see him immediately, and that for the sake of his exam. he ought not to be distracted. She would have seen him on the Saturday, but on Saturday George learnt that her father was a little unwell and required, even if he did not need, constant attention. The funeral, unduly late, occurred by Mr. Haim's special desire on the Sunday, most of which day George spent with Everard Lucas. On the Monday he had a rendezvous at eight o'clock with Marguerite at the studio.

She opened the door herself; and her welcome was divine. Her gestures spoke, delicate, and yet robust in their candour. But she was in deep mourning.

"Oh!" he said, holding her. "You're wearing black, then."

"Of course!" she answered sweetly. "You see, I had to be there all through the funeral. And father would have been frightfully shocked if I hadn't been in black--naturally."

"Of course!" he agreed. It was ridiculous that he should be surprised and somewhat aggrieved to find her in mourning; still, he was surprised and somewhat aggrieved.

"Besides----" she added vaguely.

And that 'besides' disquieted him, and confirmed his grievance. Why should she wear mourning for a woman to whom she was not related, whom she had known simply as a charwoman, and who had forced her to leave her father's house? There was no tie between Marguerite and her stepmother. George, for his part, had liked the dead woman, but Marguerite had not even liked her. No, she was not wearing black in honour of the dead, but to humour the living. And why should her father be humoured? George privately admitted the unreasonableness, the unsoundness, of these considerations--obviously mourning wear was imperative for Marguerite--nevertheless they were present in his mind.

"That frock's a bit tight, but it suits you," he said, advancing with her into the studio.

"It's an old one," she smiled.

"An old one?"

"It's one I had for mother."

He had forgotten that she had had a mother, that she had known what grief was, only a very few years earlier. He resented these bereavements and the atmosphere which they disengaged. He wanted a different atmosphere.

"Is the exam. really all right?" she appealed to him, taking both his hands and leaning against him and looking up into his face.

"What did I tell you in my letter?"

"Yes, I know."

"The exam. is as right as rain."

"I knew it would be."

"You didn't," he laughed. He imitated her: "'Is the exam. really all right?'" She just smiled. He went on confidently: "Of course you never know your luck, you know. There's the viva to-morrow.... Where's old Agg?"

"She's gone home."

"Thoughtful child! How soon will she be back?"

"About nine," said Marguerite, apparently unaware that George was being funny.


"Oh, George!" Marguerite exclaimed, breaking away from him. "I'm awfully sorry, but I must get on with my packing."

"What packing?"

"I have to take my things home."

"What home?"

"Father's, I mean."

She was going to live with her father, who would not willingly allow him, George, to enter the house! How astounding girls were! She had written to him twice without giving the least hint of her resolve. He had to learn it as it were incidentally, through the urgency of packing. She did not tell him she was going--she said she must get on with her packing! And there, lying on the floor, was an open trunk; and two of her drawing-boards already had string round them.

George inquired:

"How is the old man--to-day?"

"He's very nervy," said Marguerite briefly and significantly. "I'd better light the lamp; I shall see better." She seemed to be speaking to herself. She stood on a chair and lifted the chimney off the central lamp. George absently passed her his box of matches.

As she, was replacing the chimney, he said suddenly in a very resolute tone:

"This is all very well, Marguerite. But it's going to be jolly awkward for me."

She jumped lightly down from the chair, like a little girl.

"Oh! George! I know!" she cried. "It will be awkward for both of us. But we shall arrange something." She might have resented his tone. She might have impulsively defended herself. But she did not. She accepted his attitude with unreserved benevolence. Her gaze was marvellously sympathetic.

"I can't make out what your father's got against me," said George angrily, building his vexation on her benevolence. "What have I done, I should like to know."

"It's simply because you lived there all that time without him knowing we were engaged. He says if he'd known he would never have let you stay there a day." She smiled, mournfully, forgivingly, excusingly.

"But it's preposterous!"

"Oh! It is."

"And how does he behave to _you_? Is he treating you decently?"

"Oh! Fairly. You see, he's got a lot to get over. And he's most frightfully upset about--his wife. Well, you saw him yourself, didn't you?"

"That's no reason why he should treat you badly."

"But he doesn't, George!"

"Oh! I know! I know! Do you think I don't know? He's not even decent to you. I can hear it in your voice. Why should you go back and live with him if he isn't prepared to appreciate it?"

"But he expects it, George. And what am I to do? He's all alone. I can't leave him all alone, can I?"

George burst out:

"I tell you what it is. Marguerite. You're too good-natured. That's what it is. You're too good-natured. And it's a very bad thing."

Tears came into her eyes; she could not control them. She was grieved by his remark.

"I'm not, George, truly. You must remember father's been through a lot this last week. So have I."

"I know! I know! I admit all that. But you're too good-natured, and I'll stick to it."

She was smiling again.

"You only think that because you're fond of me. Nobody else would say it, and I'm not. Help me to lift this trunk on to the chest."

While the daylight withdrew, and the smell of the lamp strengthened and then faded, and the shadows cast by the lamp-rays grew blacker, she went on rapidly with her packing, he serving her at intervals. They said little. His lower lip fell lower and lower. The evening was immensely, horribly different from what he had expected and hoped for. He felt once more the inescapable grip of destiny fastening upon him.

"Why are you in such a hurry?" he asked, after a long time.

"I told father I should be back at a quarter-past nine."

This statement threw George into a condition of total dark disgust. He made no remark. But what remarks he could have made--sarcastic, bitter, unanswerable! Why indeed in the name of heaven should she promise her father to be back at a quarter-past nine, or at a quarter-past anything? Was she a servant? Had she no rights? Had he himself, George, no rights?

A little before nine Agg arrived. Marguerite was fastening the trunk.

"Now be sure, Agg," said Marguerite. "Don't forget to hang out the Carter Paterson card at the end of the alley to-morrow morning. I must have these things at home to-morrow night for certain. The labels are on. And here's twopence for the man."

"Do I forget?" retorted Agg cheerfully. "By the way, George, I want to talk to you." She turned to Marguerite and repeated in quite a different voice: "I want to talk to him, dear, to-night. Do, let him stay. Will you?"

Marguerite gave a puzzled assent.

"I'll call after I've taken Marguerite to Alexandra Grove, Agg--on my way back to the club."

"Oh no, you won't!" said Agg. "I shall be gone to bed then. Look at that portrait and see how I've worked. My family's concerned about me. It wants me to go away for a holiday."

George had not till then noticed the portrait at all.

"But I must take Marguerite along to the Grove," he insisted. "She can't go alone."

"And why can't she go alone? What sort of a conventional world do you think you live in? Don't girls go home alone? Don't they come in alone? Don't I? Anybody would think, to listen to some people, that the purdah flourished in Chelsea. But it's all pretence. I don't ask for the honour of a private interview with you every night. You've both of you got all your lives before you. And for once in a way Marguerite's going out alone. At least, you can take her to the street, I don't mind that. But don't be outside more than a minute."

Agg, who had sat down, rose and slowly removed her small hat. With pins in her mouth she said something about the luggage to Marguerite.

"All right! All right!" George surrendered gloomily. In truth he was not sorry to let Marguerite depart solitary. And Agg's demeanour was very peculiar; he would have been almost afraid to be too obstinate in denying her request. He had never seen her hysterical, but a suspicion took him that she might be capable of hysteria.... You never knew, with that kind of girl, he thought sagaciously.

In the darkness of the alley George said to Marguerite, feigning irritation:

"What on earth does she want?"

"Agg? Oh! It's probably nothing. She does get excited sometimes, you know."

The two girls had parted with strange, hard demonstrations of affection from Agg.

"I suppose you'll write," said George coldly.

"To-morrow, darling," she replied quite simply and gravely.

Her kiss was warm, complete, faithful, very loving, very sympathetic. Nothing in her demeanour as she left him showed that George had received it in a non-committal manner. Yet she must have noticed his wounded reserve. He did not like such duplicity. He would have preferred her to be less miraculously angelic.

When he re-entered the studio, Agg, who very seldom smoked, was puffing violently at a cigarette. She reclined on one elbow on the settee, her eyes fixed on the portrait of herself. George was really perturbed by the baffling queerness of the scenes through which he was passing.

"Look here, infant-in-arms," she began immediately. "I only wanted to say two words to you about Marguerite. Can you stand it?"

There was a pause. George walked in front of her, hiding the easel.

"Yes," he said gruffly.

"Well, Marguerite's a magnificent girl. She's extraordinarily capable. You'd think she could look after herself as well as anyone. But she can't. I know her far better than you do. She needs looking after. She'll make a fool of herself if she isn't handled."

"How do you mean?"

"You know how I mean."

"D'you mean about the old man?"

"I mean about the perfectly horrid old man.... Ah! If I was in your place, if I was a man," she said passionately, "do you know what I should do with Marguerite? I should carry her off. I should run away with her. I should drag her out of the house, and she should know what a real man was. I'm not going to discuss her with you. I'm not going to say any more at all. I'm off to bed. But before you go, I do think you might tell me my portrait's a pretty good thing."

And she did not say any more.


The written part of the examination lasted four days; and then there was an interval of one day in which the harassed and harried aspirants might restore themselves for the two days' ordeal of the viva voce. George had continued to be well satisfied with his work up to the interval. He considered that he had perfectly succeeded in separating the lover and the examinee, and that nothing foreign to the examination could vitiate his activity therein. It was on the day of repose, a Wednesday, that a doubt suddenly occurred to him as to the correctness of his answer, in the "Construction" paper, to a question which began with the following formidable words: "A girder, freely supported at each end and forty feet long, carries a load of six tons at a distance of six feet from one end and another load of ten tons----" Thus it went on for ten lines. He had always been impatient of detail, and he hated every kind of calculation. Nevertheless he held that calculations were relatively easy, and that he could do them as well as the driest duffer in the profession when he set his mind to them. But the doubt as to the correctness of his answer developed into a certainty. Facing the question in private again, he obtained four different solutions in an hour; it was John Orgreave who 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 urbane.

"Good afternoon," said George politely.

The examiner replied, trotting along the length of the desk with quick, short steps:

"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 gaze.

"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 said:

"The fact is, I do--not--care for this kind of thing. The whole tendency----"

"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 their ears.

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 throbbings there.

"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.

She replied:

"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 together.

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 Japan."

"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 office yet."

"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 complete stranger.

"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 to forgive."

"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 sarcasm.

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, remarked:

"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 right."

She was admitting George's haphazard charge against her. He was astounded. But he merely flung back his head and raised his eyebrows. He thought:

"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 steamer."

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 maturity.

George thought:

"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 years?"

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 little sense."

"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 him.

"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."

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