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 9. Competition
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 9. Competition Post by :gftgd Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :841

Click below to download : The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 9. Competition (Format : PDF)

The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 9. Competition

PART I CHAPTER IX. COMPETITION

I

On the face of the door on the third floor of the house in Russell Square the words 'G.E. Cannon' appeared in dirty white paint and the freshly added initials 'A.R.I.B.A.' in clean white paint. The addition of the triumphant initials (indicating that George had kissed the rod of the Royal Institute of British Architects in order to conquer) had put the sign as a whole out of centre, throwing it considerably to the right on the green door-face. Within the small and bare room, on an evening in earliest spring in 1904, sat George at the customary large flat desk of the architect. He had just switched on the electric light over his head. He looked sterner and older; he looked very worried, fretful, exhausted. He was thin and pale; his eyes burned, and there were dark patches under the eyes; the discipline of the hair had been rather gravely neglected. In front of George lay a number of large plans, mounted on thick cardboard, whose upper surface had a slight convex curve. There were plans of the basement of the projected town hall, of the ground floor, of the building at a height of twelve feet from the ground, of the mezzanine floor, of the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth floors; these plans were coloured. Further, in plain black and white, there were a plan of the roof (with tower), a longitudinal section on the central axis, two other sections, three elevations, and a perspective view of the entire edifice. Seventeen sheets in all.

The sum of work seemed tremendous; it made the mind dizzy; it made George smile with terrible satisfaction at his own industry. For he had engaged very little help. He would have been compelled to engage more, had not the Corporation extended by one month the time for sending in. The Corporation had behaved with singular enlightenment. Its schedules of required accommodation (George's copy was scored over everywhere in pencil and ink and seriously torn) were held to be admirably drawn, and its supplementary circular of answers to questions from competitors had displayed a clarity and a breadth of mind unusual in corporations. Still more to the point, the Corporation had appointed a second assessor to act with Sir Hugh Corver. In short, it had shown that it was under no mandarin's thumb, and that what it really and seriously wanted was the best design that the profession could produce. Mr. Enwright, indeed, had nearly admitted regret at having kept out of the immense affair. John Orgreave had expressed regret with vigour and candour. They had in the main left George alone, though occasionally at night Mr. Enwright, in the little room, had suggested valuable solutions of certain problems. In detail he was severely critical of George's design, and he would pour delicate satires upon the idiosyncrasy which caused the wilful boy to 'impurify' (a word from Enwright's private vocabulary) a Renaissance creation with Saracenic tendencies in the treatment of arches and wall-spaces.

Nevertheless Mr. Enwright greatly respected the design in its entirety, and both he and John Orgreave (who had collected by the subterranean channels of the profession a large amount of fact and rumour about the efforts of various competitors) opined that it stood a fair chance of being among the selected six or ten whose authors would be invited to submit final designs for the final award. George tried to be hopeful; but he could not be hopeful by trying. It was impossible to believe that he would succeed; the notion was preposterous; yet at moments, when he was not cultivating optimism, optimism would impregnate all his being, and he would be convinced that it was impossible not to win. How inconceivably grand! His chief rallying thought was that he had undertaken a gigantic task and had accomplished it. Well or ill, he had accomplished it. He said to himself aloud:

"I've done it! I've done it!"

And that he actually had done it was almost incredible. The very sheets of drawings were almost incredible. But they existed there. All was complete. The declaration that the design was G.E. Cannon's personal work, drawn in his own office by his ordinary staff, was there, in the printed envelope officially supplied by the Corporation. The estimate of cost and the cubing was there. The explanatory report on the design, duly typewritten, was there. Nothing lacked.

"I've done it! I've done it!"

And then, tired as he was, the conscience of the creative artist and of the competitor began to annoy him and spur him. The perspective drawing did not quite satisfy--and there was still time. The point of view for the perspective drawing was too high up, and the result was a certain marring of the nobility of the lines, and certainly a diminishment of the effect of the tower. He had previously started another perspective drawing with a lower view-point, but he had mistakenly cast it aside. He ought to finish the first one and substitute it for the second one. 'The perspective drawing had a moral importance; it had a special influence on the assessors and committees. Horrid, tiresome labour! Three, four, five, or six hours of highly concentrated tedium. Was it worth while? It was not. Mr. Enwright liked the finished drawing. He, George, could not face a further strain. And yet he was not content.... Pooh! Who said he could not face a further strain? Of course he could face it. If he did not face it, his conscience would accuse him of cowardice during the rest of his life, and he would never be able to say honestly: "I did my level best with the thing." He snapped his fingers lightly, and in one second had decided to finish the original perspective drawing, and in his very finest style. He would complete it some time during the night. In the morning it could be mounted. The drawings were to go to the north in a case on the morrow by passenger train, and to be met at their destination by a commissionaire common to several competitors; this commissionaire would deliver them to the Town Clerk in accordance with the conditions. In a few minutes George was at work, excited, having forgotten all fatigue. He was saying to himself that he would run out towards eight o'clock for a chop or a steak. As he worked he perceived that he had been quite right to throw over the second drawing; he wondered that he could have felt any hesitation; the new drawing would be immeasurably superior.

Mr. Haim 'stepped up,' discreetly knocking, entering with dignity. The relations between these two had little by little resumed their old, purely formal quality. Both seemed to have forgotten that passionate anger had ever separated them and joined them together. George was young, and capable of oblivion. Mr. Haim had beaten him in the struggle and could afford to forget. They conversed politely, as though the old man had no daughter and the youth had never had a lover. Mr. Haim had even assisted with the lettering of the sheets--not because George needed his help, but because Mr. Haim's calligraphic pride needed to help. To refuse the stately offer would have been to insult. Mr. Haim had aged, but not greatly.

"You're wanted on the telephone, Mr. Cannon."

"Oh! Dash it!... Thanks!"

After all George was no longer on the staff of Lucas & Enwright, and Mr. Haim was conferring a favour.

Down below in the big office everybody had gone except the factotum.

George seized the telephone receiver and called brusquely for attention.

"Is that Mr. Cannon?"

"Yes. Who is it?"

"Oh! It's you, George! How nice to hear your voice again!"

He recognized, but not instantly, the voice of Lois Ingram. He was not surprised. Indeed he had suspected that the disturber of work must be either Lois or Miss Wheeler, or possibly Laurencine. The three had been in London again for several days, and he had known from Lucas that a theatre-party had been arranged for that night to witness the irresistible musical comedy, _The Gay Spark_, Lucas and M. Defourcambault were to be of the party. George had not yet seen Lois since her latest return to London; he had only seen her twice since the previous summer; he had not visited Paris in the interval. The tone of her voice, even as transformed by the telephone, was caressing. He had to think of some suitable response to her startling amiability, and to utter it with conviction. He tried to hold fast in his mind to the image of the perspective with its countless complexities and the co-ordination of them all; the thing seemed to be retreating from him, and he dared not let it go.

"Do you know," said Lois, "I only came to London to celebrate the sending-in of your design. I hear it's marvellous. Aren't you glad you've finished it?"

"Well, I haven't finished it," said George. "I'm on it now."

What did the girl mean by saying she'd only come to London to celebrate the end of his work? An invention on her part! Still, it flattered him. She was very strange.

"But Everard's told us you'd finished a bit earlier than you'd expected. We counted on seeing your lordship to-morrow. But now we've got to see you to-night."

"Awfully sorry I can't."

"But look here, George. You must really. The party's all broken up. Miss Wheeler's had to go back to Paris to-night, and Jules can't come. Everything's upset. The flat's going to be closed, and Laurencine and, I will have to leave to-morrow. It's most frightfully annoying. We've got the box all right, and Everard's coming, and you must make the fourth. We must have a fourth. Laurencine's here at the phone, and she says the same as me."

"Wish I could!" George answered shortly. "Look here! What train are you going by to-morrow? I'll come and see you off. I shall be free then."

"But, George. We _want you to come to-night." There seemed positively to be tears in the faint voice. "Why can't you come? You must come."

"I haven't finished one of the drawings. I tell you I'm on it now. It'll take me half the night, or more. I'm just in the thick of it, you see." He spoke with a slight resentful impatience--less at her over-persuasiveness than at the fact that his mind and the drawing were being more and more separated. Soon he would have lost the right mood, and he would be compelled to re-create it before he could resume the work. The forcible, gradual dragging away of his mind from its passionately gripped objective was torture. He had an impulse to throw down the receiver and run off.

The distant squeaking voice changed to the petulant:

"You are horrid. You could come right enough if you wanted to."

"But don't you understand? It's awfully important for me."

He was astounded, absolutely astounded. She would not understand. She had decided that he must go to the musical comedy and nothing else mattered. His whole future did not matter.

"Oh! Very well, then," Lois said, undisguisedly vexed. "Of course, if you won't, you won't. But really when two girls _implore you like that.... And we have to leave to-morrow, and everything's upset!... I do think it's ... However, good night."

"Here! Hold hard a sec. I'll come for an hour or so. What's the number of the box?"

"Fourteen," said the voice brokenly.

Immediately afterwards she rang off. George was hurt and bewildered. The girl was incredibly ruthless. She was mad. Why had he yielded? Only a silly conventional feeling had made him yield. And yet he was a great scorner of convention. He went upstairs again to the perspective drawing. He looked at his watch. He might work for half an hour before leaving to dress. No, he could not. The mood had vanished. The perspective had slipped into another universe. He could not even pick up a pen. He despised himself terribly, despairingly, for yielding.

II

In spite of all this he anticipated with pleasure the theatre-party. He wanted to go; he was glad he was going; the memory of Lois in the tea-palace excited him. And he could refuse a hearing to his conscience, and could prevent himself from thinking uncomfortably of the future, as well as most young men. His secret, unadmitted voluptuous eagerness was alloyed only by an apprehension that after the scene over the telephone Lois might be peevish and ungracious. The fear proved to be baseless.

Owing to the imperfections of the club laundry and the erring humanity of Downs, he arrived late. _The Gay Spark had begun. He found a darkened auditorium and a glowing stage. In the dim box Lois and Laurencine were sitting in front on gilt chairs. Lucas sat behind Laurencine, and there was an empty chair behind Lois. Her gesture, her smile, her glance, as she turned to George and looked up, were touching. She was delighted to see him; she had the mien of a child who has got what it wanted and has absolutely forgotten that it ever pouted, shrieked, and stamped its foot. She was determined to charm her uttermost. Her eye in the gloom was soft with mysterious invitations. George looked about the interior of the box; he saw the rich cloaks of the girls hanging up next to glossy masculine hats, the large mirror on the wall, and mother-of-pearl opera-glasses, chocolates, and flowers on the crimson ledge. He was very close to the powerfully built and yet plastic Lois. He could watch her changing curves as she breathed; the faint scent she used rose to his nostrils. He thought, with contained rapture: "Nothing in the world is equal to this." He did not care a fig for the effect of perspective drawings or the result of the competition. Lois, her head half-turned towards him, her gaze lost in the sombre distances of the auditorium, talked in a low tone, ignoring the performance. He gathered that the sudden departure of Irene Wheeler had unusually impressed and disconcerted and, to a certain extent, mortified the sisters, who could not explain it, and who resented the compulsion to go back to Paris at once. And he detected in Lois, not for the first time, a grievance that Irene kept her, Lois, apart from the main current of her apparently gorgeous social career. Obviously an evening at which the sole guests were two girls and a youth all quite unknown to newspapers could not be a major item in the life of a woman such as Irene Wheeler. She had left them unceremoniously to themselves at the last moment, as it were permitting them to do what they liked within the limits of goodness for one night, and commanding them to return sagely home on the morrow. A red-nosed actor, hands in pockets, waddled self-consciously on to the stage, and the packed audience, emitting murmurs of satisfaction, applauded. Conversations were interrupted. George, expectant, gave his attention to the show. He knew little or nothing of musical comedy, having come under influences which had taught him to despise it. His stepfather, for example, could be very sarcastic about musical comedy, and through both Enwright and John Orgreave George had further cultivated the habit of classical music, already acquired in boyhood at home in the Five Towns. In the previous year, despite the calls upon his time of study for examinations, George had attended the Covent Garden performances of the Wagnerian "Ring" as he might have attended High Mass. He knew by name a considerable percentage of the hundred odd themes in "The Ring," and it was his boast that he could identify practically all the forty-seven themes in _The Meistersingers_. He raved about Ternina in _Tristan_. He had worshipped the Joachim quartet. He was acquainted with all the popular symphonies of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mozart, Glazounov, and Tschaikovsky. He even frequented the Philharmonic Concerts, which were then conducted by a composer of sentimental drawing-room ballads, and though he would not class this conductor with Richter or Henry J. Wood, he yet believed that somehow, by the magic of the sacred name of the Philharmonic Society, the balladmonger in the man expired in the act of raising the baton and was replaced by a serious and sensitive artist. He was accustomed to hear the same pieces of music again and again and again, and they were all or nearly all very fine, indisputably great. It never occurred to him that once they had been unfamiliar and had had to fight for the notice of persons who indulged in music exactly as he indulged in music. He had no traffic with the unfamiliar. Unfamiliar items on a programme displeased him. He had heard compositions by Richard Strauss, but he could make nothing of them, and his timid, untravelled taste feared to like them. Mr. Enwright himself was mainly inimical to Strauss, as to most of modern Germany, perhaps because of the new architecture in Berlin. George knew that there existed young English composers with such names as Cyril Scott, Balfour Gardiner, Donald Tovey--for he had seen these names recently on the front page of _The Daily Telegraph_--but he had never gone to the extent of listening to their works. He was entirely sure that they could not hold a candle to Wagner, and his sub-conscious idea was that it was rather like their cheek to compose at all. He had not noticed that Hugo Wolf had just died, nor indeed had he noticed that Hugo Wolf had ever lived.

Nevertheless this lofty and exclusive adherent of the 'best' music was not prejudiced in advance against _The Gay Spark_. He was anxious to enjoy it and he expected to enjoy it. _The Gay Spark had already an enormous prestige; it bore the agreeable, captivating label of Vienna; and immense sums were being made out of it in all the capitals of the world. George did not hope for immortal strains, but he anticipated a distinguished, lilting gaiety, and in the 'book' a witty and cosmopolitan flavour that would lift the thing high above such English musical comedies as he had seen. It was impossible that a work of so universal and prodigious a vogue should not have unquestionable virtues.

The sight of the red-nosed comedian rather shocked George, who had supposed that red-nosed comedians belonged to the past. However, the man was atoned for by three extremely beautiful and graceful young girls who followed him. Round about the small group was ranged a semicircle of handsome creatures in long skirts, behind whom was another semicircle of young men in white flannels; the scene was a street in Mandalay. The red-nosed comedian began by making a joke concerning his mother-in-law, and another concerning mendacious statements to his wife to explain his nocturnal absences from home, and another concerning his intoxicated condition. The three extremely beautiful and graceful young girls laughed deliriously at the red-nosed comedian; they replied in a similar vein. They clasped his neck and kissed him rapturously, and thereupon he sang a song, of which the message was that all three extremely beautiful and graceful girls practised professionally the most ancient and stable of feminine vocations; the girls, by means of many refrains, confirmed this definition of their status in society. Then the four of them danced, and there was enthusiastic applause from every part of the house except the semicircle of European odalisques lost, for some unexplained reason, in Mandalay. These ladies, the indubitable physical attractions of each of whom were known by the management to fill five or six stalls every night, took no pains whatever to hide that they were acutely bored by the whole proceedings. Self-sufficient in their beauty, deeply aware of the power of their beauty, they deigned to move a lackadaisical arm or leg at intervals in accordance with the respectful suggestions of the conductor.

Soon afterwards the gay spark herself appeared, amid a hysteria of applause. She played the part of the wife of a military officer, and displayed therein a marvellous, a terrifying vitality of tongue, leg, and arm. The young men in white flannels surrounded her, and she could flirt with all of them; she was on intimate terms with the red-nosed comedian, and also with the trio of delightful wantons, and her ideals in life seemed to be identical with theirs. When, through the arrival of certain dandies twirling canes, and the mysterious transformation of the Burmese street into a Parisian cafe, these ideals were on the point of realization, there was a great burst of brass in the orchestra, succeeded by a violent chorus, some kicking, and a general wassail, and the curtain fell on the first act. It had to be raised four times before the gratefully appreciative clapping would cease.

The auditorium shone with light; it grew murmurous with ecstatic approval. The virginal face of Laurencine shot its rapture to Lucas as she turned to shake hands with George.

"Jolly well done, isn't it?" said Lucas.

"Yes," said George.

Lucas, too content to notice the perfunctoriness of George's affirmative, went on:

"When you think that they're performing it this very night in St. Petersburg, Berlin, Paris, Brussels, and, I fancy, Rome, but I'm not sure--marvellous, isn't it?"

"It is," said George ambiguously.

Though continuing to like him, he now definitely despised Everard. The fellow had no artistic perceptions; he was a child. By some means he had got through his Final, and was soon to be a junior partner in Enwright & Lucas. George, however, did not envy Everard the soft situation; he only pitied Enwright & Lucas. Everard had often urged George to go to musical comedies more frequently, hinting that they were frightfully better than George could conceive. _The Gay Spark gave Lucas away entirely; it gave away his method of existence.

"I don't believe you like it," said sharp Laurencine.

"I adore it," George protested. "Don't you?"

"Oh! _I do, of course," said Laurencine. "I knew I should."

Lucas, instinctively on the defence, said:

"The second act's much better than the first."

George's hopes, dashed but not broken, recovered somewhat. After all there had been one or two gleams of real jokes, and a catchiness in certain airs; and the spark possessed temperament in profusion. It was possible that the next act might be diverting.

"You do look tired," said Laurencine.

"Oh no, darling!" Lois objected. "I think he looks splendid."

She was intensely happy in the theatre. The box was very well placed--since Irene had bought it--with a view equally good of the stage and of the semicircle of boxes. Lois' glance wandered blissfully round the boxes, all occupied by gay parties, and over the vivacious stalls. She gazed, and she enjoyed being gazed at. She bathed herself in the glitter and the gaudiness and the opulence and the humanity, as in tonic fluid. She seemed to float sinuously and voluptuously immersed in it, as in tepid water lit with sunshine.

"Do have a choc.," she invited eagerly.

George took a chocolate. She took one. They all took one. They all had the unconscious pride of youth that does not know itself young. Each was different from the others. George showed the reserve of the artist; Lucas the ease of the connoisseur of mundane spectacles; Laurencine the sturdy, catholic, girlish innocence that nothing can corrupt. And the sovereign was Lois. She straightened her shoulders; she leaned languorously; she looked up, she looked down; she spoke softly and loudly; she laughed and smiled. And in every movement and in every gesture and tone she symbolized the ecstasy of life. She sought pleasure, and she had found it, and she had no afterthought. She was infectious; she was irresistible, and terrible too. For it was dismaying, at any rate to George, to dwell on the fierceness of her instinct and on the fierceness of its satisfaction. To George her burning eyes were wistful, pathetic, in their simplicity. He felt a sort of fearful pity for her. And he admired her--she was something definite; she was something magnificently outright; she did live. Also he liked her; the implications in her glance appealed to him. The peculiar accents in which she referred to the enigma of Irene Wheeler were extraordinarily attractive to that part of his nature which was perverse and sophisticated. "At least she is not a simpleton," he thought. "And she doesn't pretend to be. Some day I shall talk to her."

The orchestra resumed; the lights went out. Lois settled herself to fresh enchantment as the curtain rolled up to disclose the bright halls and staircases of a supper-club. The second act was an amplification and inflammation of the themes of the first. As for the music, George listened in vain for an original tune, even for a tune of which he could not foretell the end from the beginning; the one or two engaging bits of melody which enlivened the first act were employed again in the second. The disdainful, lethargic chorus was the same; the same trio of delicious wantons fondled and kissed the same red-nosed comedian, who was still in the same state of inebriety, and the gay spark flitted roysteringly through the same evolutions, in pursuit of the same simple ideals. The jocularity pivoted unendingly on the same twin centres of alcohol and concupiscence. Gradually the latter grew to more and more importance, and the piece became a high and candid homage to the impulse by force of which alone one generation succeeds another. No beautiful and graceful young girl on the stage blenched before the salacious witticisms of the tireless comedian; on the contrary he remained the darling of the stage. And as he was the darling of the stage, so was he the darling of the audience.

And if no beautiful and graceful young girl blenched on the stage, neither did the beautiful and graceful young girls in the audience blench. You could see them sitting happily with their fathers and mothers and cousins and uncles and aunts, savouring the spectacle from dim stalls and boxes in the most perfect respectability. Laurencine leaning her elbows on the ledge of the box, watched with eager, parted lips, and never showed the slightest sign of uneasiness.

George was uneasy; he was distressed. The extraordinary juxtaposition of respectability and a ribald sexual display startled but did not distress him. If the whole audience was ready to stand it he certainly was. He had no desire to protect people from themselves, nor to blush on behalf of others--whoever they might be. Had anybody accused him of saintliness he would have resented the charge, quite justifiably, and if the wit of _The Gay Spark had been witty, he would have enjoyed it without a qualm. What distressed him, what utterly desolated him, was the grossness, the poorness, the cheapness, the dullness, and the uninventive monotony of the interminable entertainment. He yawned, he could not help yawning; he yawned his soul away. Lois must have heard him yawning, but she did not move. He looked at her curiously, pitifully, speculating how much of her luxury was due to Irene Wheeler, and how little to 'Parisian' of _The Sunday Journal_--for he had been inquiring about the fruits of journalism. The vision of his own office and of the perspective drawing rose seductively and irresistibly in his mind. He could not stay in the theatre; he felt that if he stayed he would be in danger of dropping down dead, suffocated by tedium; and the drawing must be finished; it would not wait; it was the most urgent thing in the world. And not a syllable had any person in the box said to him about his great task. Lois's forearm, braceleted, lay on the front of the box. Unceremoniously he took her hand.

"Bye-bye."

"You aren't going?" Her whisper was incredulous.

"Must."

He gave her no chance to expostulate. With one movement he had seized his hat and coat and slid from the box, just as the finale of the act was imminent and the red-nosed comedian was measuring the gay spark for new _lingerie with a giant property-cigar. He had not said good-bye to Laurencine. He had not asked about their departure on the morrow. But he was free.

In the foyer a couple--a woman in a rose plush _sortie de bal_, and a blade--were mysteriously talking. The blade looked at him, smiled, and left the lady.

"Hal_lo_, old fellow!" It was Buckingham Smith, who had been getting on in the world.

They shook hands.

"You've left Chelsea, haven't you?"

"Yes," said George.

"So've I. Don't see much of the old gang nowadays. Heard anything of old Princey lately?"

George replied that he had not. The colloquy was over in a moment.

"You must come and see my show--next week," Buck Smith called out after the departing George.

"I will," cried George.

He walked quickly up to Russell Square, impatient to steep himself anew in his work. All sense of fatigue had left him. Time seemed to be flying past him, and he rushing towards an unknown fate. On the previous day he had received an enheartening, challenging, sardonic letter from his stepfather, who referred to politics and envisaged a new epoch for the country. Edwin Clayhanger was a Radical of a type found only in the Midlands and the North. For many years Clayhanger's party, to which he was passionately faithful, had had no war-cry and no programme worthy of its traditions. The increasing success of the campaign against Protection, and certain signs that the introduction of Chinese labour into South Africa could be effectively resisted, had excited the middle-aged provincial--now an Alderman--and he had managed to communicate fire to George. But in George, though he sturdily shared his stepfather's views, the resulting righteous energy was diverted to architectural creation.

III

The circumstances in which, about a month later, George lunched with the Ingram family at their flat in the Rue d'Athenes, near the Gare St. Lazare, Paris, had an appearance of the utmost simplicity and ordinariness. He had been down to Staffordshire for a rest, and had returned unrested. And then Mr. Enwright had suggested that it would do him good to go to Paris, even to go alone. He went, with no plan, but having made careful arrangements for the telegraphing to him of the result of the competition, which was daily expected. By this time he was very seriously convinced that there was no hope of him being among the selected six or ten, and he preferred to get the news away from London rather than in it; he felt that he could not face London on the day or the morrow of a defeat which would of course render his youthful audacity ridiculous.

He arrived in Paris on a Wednesday evening, and took a room in a _maison meublee of the Rue de Seze. Every inexperienced traveller in Paris has a friend who knows a lodging in Paris which he alleges is better and cheaper than any other lodging--and which is not. The house in the Rue de Seze was the economical paradise of Buckingham Smith, whom George had encountered again at the Buckingham Smith exhibition. Buckingham Smith, with over half his pictures bearing the red seal that indicates 'Sold,' felt justified in posing to the younger George as a cosmopolitan expert--especially as his opinions on modern French art were changing. George spent three solitary and dejected days in Paris, affecting an interest in museums and architecture and French opera, and committing follies. Near the end of the third day, a Saturday, he suddenly sent a threepenny express note to Lois Ingram. He would have telephoned had he dared to use the French telephone. On Sunday morning, an aproned valet having informed him that Monsieur was demanded at the telephone, he had to use the telephone. Lois told him that he must come to lunch, and that afterwards he would be escorted to the races. Dejection was instantly transformed into a gay excitation. Proud of having spoken through a French telephone, he began to conceive romantically the interior of a Paris home--he had seen naught but a studio or so with Mr. Enwright--and to thrill at the prospect of Sunday races. Not merely had he never seen a horse-race on a Sunday--he had never seen a horse-race at all. He perhaps was conscious of a genuine interest in Lois and her environment, but what most satisfied and flattered him, after his loneliness, was the bare fact of possessing social relations in Paris at all.

The Ingram home was up four flights of naked oaken stairs, fairly swept, in a plain, flat-fronted house. The door of the home was opened by a dark, untidy, dishevelled, uncapped, fat girl, with a full apron, dazzling white and rectangularly creased, that had obviously just been taken out of a drawer. Familiarly and amicably smiling, she led him into a small, modest drawing-room where were Lois and her father and mother. Lois was enigmatic and taciturn. Mr. and Mrs. Ingram were ingenuous, loquacious, and at ease. Both of them had twinkling eyes. Mrs. Ingram was rather stout and grey and small, and wore a quiet, inexpensive blue dress, embroidered at the neck in the Morrisian manner, of no kind of fashionableness. She spoke in a low voice, smiled to herself with a benevolence that was not without a touch of the sardonic, and often looked at the floor or at the ceiling. Mr. Ingram, very slim and neat, was quite as small as his wife, and seemed smaller. He talked much and rather amusingly, in a somewhat mincing tone, as it were apologetically, truly anxious to please. He had an extremely fair complexion, and his youthfulness was quite startling. His golden hair and perfect teeth might have belonged to a boy. George leapt immediately into familiarity with these two. But nobody could have less resembled his preconceived image of 'Parisian' than Mr. Ingram. And he could not understand a bit whence or how such a pair had produced their daughter Lois. Laurencine was a far more comprehensible offspring for them.

The dining-room was even less spacious than the drawing-room, and as unpretentious. The furniture everywhere was sparse, but there were one or two rich knick-knacks, and an abundance of signed photographs. The few pictures, too, were signed, and they drew attention. On the table the napkins, save George's, were in rings, and each ring different from the others. George's napkin had the air of a wealthy, stiff, shiny relative of the rest. Evidently in that home the long art of making both ends meet was daily practised. George grew light-hearted and happy, despite the supreme preoccupation which only a telegram could allay. He had keenly the sensation of being abroad. The multiplicity of doors, the panelling of the doors, the narrow planking of the oaken floor, the moulding of the cornices, the shape of the windows, the view of the courtyard from the dining-room and of attics and chimney-cowls from the drawing-room, the closed anthracite stoves in lieu of fires, the crockery, the wine-bottle, the mustard, the grey salt, the unconventional gestures and smiles and exclamations of the unkempt maid--all these strange details enchanted him, and they all set off very vividly the intense, nice, honest, reassuring Englishness of the host and hostess.

It was not until after the others were seated for the meal that Laurencine made her appearance. She was a magnificent and handsome virgin, big-boned, physically a little awkward, candid. How exquisitely and absurdly she flushed in shaking hands with George! With what a delicious mock-furious setting of the teeth and tossing of the head she frowned at her mother's reproaches for being late! This family knew the meaning of intimacy but not of ceremony. Laurencine sat down at her father's left; George was next to her on Mrs. Ingram's right. Lois had the whole of the opposite side of the table.

"Does he know?" Laurencine asked; and turning to George: "Do you know?"

"Know what?"

"You'd better tell him, dad. You like talking, and he ought to know. I shan't be able to eat if he doesn't. It would be so ridiculous sitting here and pretending."

Mrs. Ingram looked upwards across the room at a corner of the ceiling, and smiled faintly.

"You might," she said, "begin by asking Mr. Cannon if he particularly wants to be burdened with the weight of your secrets, my dear child."

"Oh! I particularly do," said George.

"There's no secret about it--at least there won't be soon," said Laurencine.

Lois spoke simultaneously:

"My dear mother, please call George George. If we call him George, you can't possibly call him Mr. Cannon."

"I quite admit," Mrs. Ingram replied to her eldest, "I quite admit that you and Laurencine are entitled to criticise my relations with my husband, because he's your father. But I propose to carry on my affairs with other men just according to my own ideas, and any interference will be resented. I've had a bad night, owing to the garage again, and I don't feel equal to calling George George. I've only known him about twenty minutes. Moreover, I might be misunderstood, mightn't I, Mr. Cannon?"

"You might," said George.

"Now, dad!" Laurencine admonished.

Mr. Ingram, addressing George, began:

"Laurencine suffers from a grave form of self-consciousness----"

"I don't, dad."

"It is a disease akin to conceit. Her sufferings are sometimes so acute that she cannot sit up straight and is obliged to loll and curl her legs round the legs of the chair. We are all very sorry for her. The only treatment is brutal candour, as she herself advocates----"

Laurencine jumped up, towered over her father, and covered his mouth with her hand.

"This simple hand," said Mr. Ingram, seizing it, "will soon bear a ring. Laurencine is engaged to be married."

"I'm not, father." She sat down again.

"Well, you are not. But you will be, I presume, by post-time to-night. A young man of the name of Lucas has written to Laurencine this morning in a certain sense, and he has also written to me. Laurencine has seen my letter, and I've seen hers. But my envelope contained only one letter. Whether her envelope contained more than one, whether the epistle which I saw is written in the style usually practised by the present age, whether it was composed for the special purpose of being shown to me, I do not know, and discretion and nice gentlemanly feeling forbid me to inquire. However----"

At this point, Laurencine snatched her father's napkin off his knees and put it on her own.

"However, my wife and I have met this Mr. Lucas, and as our opinion about him is not wholly unfavourable, the matter was satisfactorily and quickly arranged--even before I had had my bath; Laurencine and I will spend the afternoon in writing suitable communications to Mr. Lucas. I am ready to show her mine for a shilling, but I doubt if five pounds would procure me a sight of hers. Yet she is only an amateur writer and I'm a professional."

There was a little silence, and then George said awkwardly:

"I congratulate old Lucas."

"This news must have astonished you extremely," observed Mr. Ingram. "It must have come as a complete surprise. In fact you are doubtless in the condition known to charwomen as capable of being knocked down with a feather."

"Oh! Quite!" George agreed.

Nevertheless, in spite of his light tone, he regretted the engagement. He did not think Lucas was worthy of the splendid girl. He felt sorry for her. At that moment she faced him bravely, and smiled. Her face had a tremendous deep crimson flush. There was a woman somewhere in the girl! Strange phenomenon! And another strange phenomenon: if Laurencine had been self-conscious, George also was self-conscious; and he avoided Lois's eyes! Why? He wondered whether the circumstances in which he had come to Paris and entered the Ingram home were as simple and ordinary as they superficially appeared.

"Laurencine," said her mother, "give your father back his serviette!"

"Mine's fallen."

"Never mind, my dear," said Mr. Ingram very benevolently, and he bent down and retrieved Laurencine's napkin, which he kept. "And now," he proceeded, "the serious operation being over and the patient out of danger, shall we talk about something else for a few moments?"

"I should think so indeed!" Laurencine exclaimed, suddenly gay. "George, when _shall you know about the competition?"

"Any minute, I might," said he.

They all talked sympathetically to George on the new subject.

After lunch, Lois disappeared. She came back resplendent for the races, when coffee had long been finished in the drawing-room.

"Why aren't you ready, Laure?" she demanded.

"I'm not going, darling."

"Lois," Mr. Ingram exhorted, "don't forget the afternoon is to be spent in literary composition."

"It isn't," Laurencine contradicted. "I may as well tell you I've written all I mean to write in the way of letters for one day. But I don't want to go, really, Lois darling."

"No. She wants to think," Mrs. Ingram explained.

Lois set her lips together, and then glimpsed herself in the large mirror over the anthracite stove. She looked too rich and complicated for that simple drawing-room.

A performance on a horn made itself heard in the street below.

"There he is!" said Laurencine.

She opened a window and ran out on to the balcony and leaned over; then glanced within the room and nodded. George had assumed that Irene Wheeler was the author and hostess of the race-party, and he was not mistaken. Irene's automobile had been sent round to embark him and the girls. Mrs. Ingram urged him to come again the next day, and he said ardently that he would. Mrs. Ingram's 'affair' with him was progressing rapidly.

"But I hope you'll call me George, then," he added.

"I may!" she said. "I may! I may go even further."

Lois and George descended the stairs in silence. He had not seen her, nor written to her, since the night of the comedy when he had so abruptly left the box. Once or twice at the Ingrams' he had fancied that she might be vexed with him for that unceremonious departure. But she was not. The frank sigh of relief which she gave on reaching the foot of the interminable stairs, and her equally frank smile, had no reserve whatever.

The chauffeur's welcoming grin seemed to indicate that he was much attached to Miss Ingram. He touched his hat, bowed, and spoke to her at some length in French. Lois frowned.

"It seems Miss Wheeler doesn't feel equal to going out this afternoon," she translated to George. "But she insists that we shall use the car all the same."

"Is she ill?"

"She's lying down, trying to sleep."

"Well, then, I suppose we'd better use the car, hadn't we?"

Lois said seriously:

"If you don't object, I don't."

IV

At Longchamps the sun most candidly and lovingly blessed the elaborate desecration of the English Sabbath. The delicately ornamented grand stands, the flags, the swards, the terraces, the alleys, the booths, the notice-boards, the vast dappled sea of hats and faces in the distant cheaper parts of the Hippodrome, were laved in the descending, caressing floods of voluptuous, warm sunshine. The air itself seemed luminous. The enchantment of the sun was irresistible; it stunned apprehensions and sad memories, obliterating for a moment all that was or might be unhappy in the past or in the future. George yielded to it. He abandoned his preoccupations about the unsatisfactoriness of using somebody else's car in the absence of the owner, about Mr. and Mrs. Ingram's ignorance of the fact that their daughter had gone off alone with him, about Lois's perfect indifference to this fact, about the engagement of Laurencine to a man not her equal in worth, about the strange, uncomfortable effect of Laurencine's engagement upon his attitude towards Lois, and finally and supremely about the competition. He gave himself up to the bright warmth like an animal, and forgot. And he became part of the marvellous and complicated splendour of the scene, took pride in it, took even credit for it (Heaven knew why!), and gradually passed from insular astonishment to a bland, calm acceptance of the miracles of sensuous beatitude which civilization had to offer.

After all, he was born to such experiences; they were his right; and he was equal to them. Nevertheless his conviction of the miraculous fortunately was not impaired. What was impaired was his conviction of his own culture. He was constantly thinking that he knew everything or could imagine everything, and constantly undergoing the shock of undeception; but the shock of the Longchamps Sunday was excessive. He had quite failed to imagine the race-meeting; he had imagined an organism brilliant, perhaps, but barbaric and without form and style; he had imagined grotesque contrasts of squalor, rascality, and fashion; he had imagined an affair predominantly equine and masculine. The reality did not correspond; it transcended his imagination; it painfully demonstrated his jejune crudity. The Hippodrome was as formalized and stylistic as an Italian garden; the only contrasts were those of one elegance with another; horses were not to be seen, except occasionally in the distance when under their riders they shot past some dark background a flitting blur of primary colours with a rumble of muffled thunder; and women, not men, predominated.

On entering the Hippodrome George and Lois had met a group of fashionably attired women, and he had thought: "There's a bunch of jolly well-dressed ones." But as the reserved precincts opened out before him he saw none but fashionably attired women. They were there not in hundreds but in thousands. They sat in rows on the grand stands; they jostled each other on the staircases; they thronged the alleys and swards. The men were negligible beside them. And they were not only fashionably and very fashionably attired--all their frocks and all their hats and all their parasols and all their boots were new, glittering, spick-and-span; were complex and expensive; not one feared the sun. The conception of what those innumerable chromatic toilettes had cost in the toil, stitch by stitch, of malodorous workrooms and in the fatigue of pale, industrious creatures was really formidable. But it could not detract from the scenic triumph. The scenic triumph dazzlingly justified itself, and proved beyond any cavilling that earth was a grand, intoxicating place, and Longchamps under the sun an unequalled paradise of the senses.... Ah! These women were finished--finished to the least detail of coiffure, sunshade-handle, hatpin, jewellery, handbag, bootlace, glove, stocking, _lingerie_. Each was the product of many arts in co-ordination. Each was of great price. And there were thousands of them. They were as cheap as periwinkles. George thought: "This is Paris."

He said aloud:

"Seems to be a fine lot of new clothes knocking about."

Evidently for Lois his tone was too impressed, not sufficiently casual. She replied in her condescending manner, which he detested:

"My poor George, considering that this is the opening of the spring season, and the place where all the new spring fashions are tried out--what did you expect?"

The dolt had not known that he was assisting at a solemnity recognized as such by experts throughout the clothed world. But Lois knew all those things. She herself was trying out a new toilette, for which doubtless Irene Wheeler was partly sponsor. She could hold her own on the terraces with the rest. She was staggeringly different now from the daughter of the simple home in the Rue d'Athenes.

The eyes of the splendid women aroused George's antipathy, because he seemed to detect antipathy in them--not against himself but against the male in him. These women, though by their glances they largely mistrusted and despised each other, had the air of having combined sexually against a whole sex. The situation was very contradictory. They had beautified and ornamented themselves in order to attract a whole sex, and yet they appeared to resent the necessity and instinct to attract. They submitted with a secret repugnance to the mysterious and supreme bond which kept the sexes inexorably together. And while stooping to fascinate, while deliberately seeking attention, they still had the assured mien of conquerors. Their eyes said that they knew they were indispensable, that they had a transcendent role to play, that no concealed baseness of the inimical sex was hidden from them, and that they meant to exploit their position to the full. These Latin women exhibited a logic, an elegance, and a frankness beyond the reach of the Anglo-Saxon. Their eyes said not that they had been disillusioned, but rather that they had never had illusions. They admitted the facts; they admitted everything--economic dependence, chicane, the intention to seize every advantage, ruthless egotism. They had no shame for a depravity which they shared equally with the inescapable and cherished enemy And it was the youngest who, beneath the languishing and the softness and the invitation deceitful and irresistible, gazed outmost triumphantly to the enemy: "You are the victims. We have tried our strength and your infirmity." They were heroic. There was a feeling in the bright air of melancholy and doom as the two hostile forces, inseparable, inextricably involved together, surveyed the opponent in the everlasting conflict. George felt its influence upon himself, upon Lois, upon the whole scene. The eyes of the most feminine women in the world, denying their smiles and their lure, had discovered to him something which marked a definite change in his estimate of certain ultimate earthly values.

Lois said:

"Perhaps a telegram is waiting for you at the hotel."

"Well, I can wait till I get back," he replied stoutly.

He thought, looking at her by his side:

"She is just like these Frenchwomen!" And for some reason he felt proud.

"You needn't," said Lois, "We can telephone from under the grand stand if you like."

"But I don't know the number."

"We can get that out of the book, of course."

"I don't reckon I can use these French telephones."

"Oh! My poor boy, I'll telephone for you--unless you prefer not to risk knowing the worst."

Yes, her tone was the tone of a strange woman. And it was she who thirsted for the result of the competition.

Controlling himself, submissively he asked her to telephone for him, and she agreed in a delightfully agreeable voice. She seemed to know the entire geography of the Hippodrome. She secured a telephone-cabin in a very business-like manner. As she entered the cabin she said to George:

"I'll ask them if a telegram has come, and if it has I'll ask them to open it and read it to me, or spell it--of course it'll be in English.... Eh?"

Through the half-open door of the cabin he watched her, and listened. She rapidly turned over the foul and torn pages of the telephone-book with her thumb. She spoke into the instrument very clearly, curtly, and authoritatively. George could translate in his mind what she said--his great resolve to learn French had carried him so far.

"On the part of Monsieur Cannon, one of your clients, Monsieur Cannon of London. Has there arrived a telegram for him?"

She waited. The squalor of the public box increased the effect of her young and proud stylishness and of her perfume. George waited, humbled by her superior skill in the arts of life, and saying anxiously to himself: "Perhaps in a moment I shall know the result," almost trembling.

She hung up the instrument, and, with a glance at George, shook her head.

"There isn't anything," she murmured.

He said:

"It's very queer, isn't it? However..."

As they emerged from the arcana of the grand stand, Lois was stopped by a tall, rather handsome Jew, who, saluting her with what George esteemed to be French exaggeration of gesture, nevertheless addressed her in a confidential tone in English. George, having with British restraint acknowledged the salute, stood aside, and gazed discreetly away from the pair. He could not hear what was being said. After several minutes Lois rejoined George, and they went back into the crowds and the sun. She did not speak. She did not utter one word. Only, when the numbers went up for a certain race, she remarked:

"This is the Prix du Cadran. It's the principal race of the afternoon."

And when that was over, amid cheering that ran about the field like fire through dried bush, she added:

"I think I ought to go back now. I told the chauffeur to be here after the Prix du Cadran. What time is it exactly?"

They sat side by side in the long, open car, facing the chauffeur's creaseless back. After passing the Cascade, the car swerved into the Allee de Longchamps which led in an absolutely straight line, two miles long, to the Port Maillot and the city. Spring decorated the magnificent wooded thoroughfare. The side-alleys, aisles of an interminable nave, were sprinkled with revellers and lovers and the most respectable families half hidden amid black branches and gleams of tender green. Automobiles and carriages threaded the main alley at varying speeds. The number of ancient horse-cabs gradually increased until, after the intersection of the Allee de la Reine Marguerite, they thronged the vast road. All the humble and shabby genteel people in Paris who could possibly afford a cab seemed to have taken a cab. Nearly every cab was overloaded. The sight of this vast pathetic effort of the disinherited towards gaiety and distraction and the mood of spring, intensified the vague sadness in George due to the race-crowd, Lois's silence, and the lack of news about the competition.

At length Lois said, scowling--no doubt involuntarily:

"I think I'd better tell you now. Irene Wheeler's committed suicide. Shot herself." She pressed her lips together and looked at the road.

George gave a startled exclamation. He could not for an instant credit the astounding news.

"But how do you know? Who told you?"

"The man who spoke to me in the grand stand. He's correspondent of _The London Courier_--friend of father's of course."

George protested:

"Then why on earth didn't you tell me before?... Shot herself! What for?"

"I didn't tell you before because I couldn't."

All the violence of George's nature came to the surface as he said brutally:

"Of course you could!"

"I tell you I couldn't!" she cried. "I knew the car wouldn't be there for us until after the Prix du Cadran. And if I'd told you I couldn't have borne to be walking about that place three-quarters of an hour. We should have had to talk about it. I couldn't have borne that. And so you needn't be cross, please."

But her voice did not break, nor her eyes shine.

"I was wondering whether I should tell the chauffeur at once, or let him find it out."

"I should let him find it out," said George. "He doesn't know that you know. Besides, it might upset his driving."

"Oh! I shouldn't mind about his driving," Lois murmured disdainfully.

V

When the uninformed chauffeur drove the car with a grand sweep under the marquise of the ostentatious pale yellow block in the Avenue Hoche where Irene Wheeler had had her flat, Mr. Ingram and a police-agent were standing on the steps, but nobody else was near. Little Mr. Ingram came forward anxiously, his eyes humid, and his face drawn with pain and distress.

"We know," said Lois. "I met Mr. Cardow at Longchamps. He knew."

Mr. Ingram's pain and distress seemed to increase.

He said, after a moment:

"Alfred will drive you home, dear, at once. _Alfred, vous seriez gentil de reconduire Mademoiselle a la rue d'Athenes." He had the air of supplicating the amiable chauffeur. "Mr. Cannon, I particularly want a few words with you."

"But, father, I must come in!" said Lois. "I must----"

"You will go home immediately. Please, please do not add to my difficulties. I shall come home myself as quickly as possible. You can do nothing here. The seals have been affixed."

Lois raised her chin in silence.

Then Mr. Ingram turned to the police-agent, spoke to him in French, and pointed to the car persuasively; and the police-agent permissively nodded. The chauffeur, with an affectation of detachment worthy of the greatest days of valetry, drove off, leaving George behind. Mr. Ingram descended the steps.

"I think, perhaps, we might go to a cafe," said he in a tone which dispersed George's fear of a discussion as to the propriety of the unchaperoned visit to the races.

They sat down on the _terrasse of a large cafe near the Place des Ternes, a few hundred yards away from the Avenue Hoche. The cafe was nearly empty, citizens being either in the Bois or on the main boulevards. Mr. Ingram sadly ordered bocks. The waiter, flapping his long apron, called out in a loud voice as he went within: "_Deux blonds, deux._" George supplied cigarettes.

"Mr. Cannon," began Mr. Ingram, "it is advisable for me to tell you a most marvellous and painful story. I have only just heard it. It has overwhelmed me, but I must do my duty." He paused.

"Certainly," said George self-consciously, not knowing what to say. He nearly blushed as, in an attempt to seem at ease, he gazed negligently round at the rows of chairs and marble tables, and at the sparse traffic of the somnolent Place.

Mr. Ingram proceeded.

"When I first knew Irene Wheeler she was an art student here. So was I. But I was already married, of course, and older than she. Exactly what her age was I should not care to say. I can, however, say quite truthfully that her appearance has scarcely altered in those nineteen years. She always affirmed that her relatives, in Indianapolis, were wealthy--or at least had money, but that they were very mean with her. She lived in the simplest way. As for me, I had to give up art for something less capricious, but capricious enough in all conscience. Miss Wheeler went to America and was away for some time--a year or two. When she came back to Paris she told us that she had made peace with her people, and that her uncle, whom for present purposes I will call Mr. X, a very celebrated railway magnate of Indianapolis, had adopted her. Her new manner of life amply confirmed these statements."

"_Deux bocks_," cried the waiter, slapping down on the table two saucers and two stout glass mugs filled with frothing golden liquid.

George, unaccustomed to the ritual of cafes, began at once to sip, but Mr. Ingram, aware that the true boulevardier always ignores his bock for several minutes, behaved accordingly.

"She was evidently extremely rich. I have had some experience, and I estimate that she had the handling of at least half a million francs a year. She seemed to be absolutely her own mistress. You have had an opportunity of judging her style of existence. However, her attitude towards ourselves was entirely unchanged. She remained intimate with my wife, who, I may say, is an excellent judge of character, and she was exceedingly kind to our girls, especially Lois--but Laurencine too--and as they grew up she treated them like sisters. Now, Mr. Cannon, I shall be perfectly frank with you. I shall not pretend that I was not rather useful to Miss Wheeler--I mean in the Press. She had social ambitions. And why not? One may condescend towards them, but do they not serve a purpose in the structure of society? Very rich as she was, it was easy for me to be useful to her. And at worst her pleasure in publicity was quite innocent--indeed, it was so innocent as to be charming. Naive, shall we call it?"

Here Mr. Ingram smiled sadly, tasted his bock, and threw away the end of a cigarette.

"Well," he resumed, "I am coming to the point. This is the point, which I have learnt scarcely an hour ago--I was called up on the telephone immediately after you and Lois had gone. This is the point. Mr. X was not poor Irene's uncle, and he had not adopted her. But it was his money that she was spending." Mr. Ingram gazed fixedly at George.

"I see," said George calmly, rising to the role of man of the world. "I see." He had strange mixed sensations of pleasure, pride, and confusion. "And you've just found this out?"

"I have just found it out from Mr. X himself, whom I met for the first time to-day--in poor Irene's flat. I never assisted at such a scene. Never! It positively unnerved me. Mr. X is a man of fifty-five, fabulously wealthy, used to command, autocratic, famous in all the Stock Exchanges of the world. When I tell you that he cried like a child ... Oh! I never had such an experience. His infatuation for Irene--indescribable! Indescribable! She had made her own terms with him. He told me himself. Astounding terms, but for him it was those terms or nothing. He accepted them--had to. She was to be quite free. The most absolute discretion was to be observed. He came to Paris or London every year, and sometimes she went to America. She utterly refused to live in America."

"Why didn't she marry him?"

"He has a wife. I have no doubt in my own mind that one of his reasons for accepting her extraordinary terms was to keep in close touch with her at all costs in case his wife should die. Otherwise he might have lost her altogether. He told me many things about poor Irene's family in Indianapolis which I will not repeat. It was true that they had money, as Irene said; but as for anything else ...! The real name was not Wheeler."

"Has he been over, here long?"

"He landed at Cherbourg last night. Just arrived."

"And she killed herself at once."

"Whether the deed was done immediately before or immediately after his arrival is not yet established. And I need hardly tell you that Mr. X has already fixed up arrangements not to appear in the case at all. But one thing is sure--she had made all the preparations for suicide, made them with the greatest care. The girls saw her yesterday, and both Lois and I spoke to her on the telephone this morning. Not a trace of anything in her voice. I assume she had given a message for Lois to the chauffeur."

"Yes," said George. "We never dreamed----"

"Of course not. Of course not."

"But why did she----"

"Another man, my dear sir! Another man! A young man named Defourcambault, in the French Embassy in London."

"Oh, him!" George burst out. "I know him," he added fiercely.

"You do? Yes, I remember Laurencine saying.... Poor Irene, I fear, was very deeply in love with him. She had written to Mr. X about Defourcambault. He showed me the letter--most touching, really most touching. His answer to it was to come to Europe at once. But poor Irene's death had nothing to do with his coming. She did not know he was coming. She shot herself as she lay in bed, and on the pillow was a letter from this man Defourcambault--well, saying good-bye to her. I saw the letter. Not a letter that I should wish to remember. Perhaps she had told him something of her life. I much fear that Defourcambault will be fetched from London, though I hope not. There would be no object.... No, thank you. I will not smoke again. I only wanted to say this to you. All Paris knows that my daughters were intimate with poor Irene. Now, if anything comes out, if anything _should come out, if there's any talk--you see my fear. I wish to assure you, Mr. Cannon, that I had not the slightest suspicion, not the slightest. And yet we journalists cannot exactly be called ingenuous! But I had not the slightest suspicion, nor had my wife. You know the situation between Laurencine and your friend Lucas. You and he are very intimate, I believe. May I count on you to explain everything from my point of view to Mr. Lucas? I could not bear that the least cloud should rest upon my little Laurencine."

"You needn't trouble about Lucas," said George positively. "Lucas 'll be all right. Still, I'll talk to him."

"Thank you very much. Thank you very much. I knew I could rely on you. I've kept you a long time, but I'm sure you understand. I'm thinking only of my girls. Not for anything would I have them know the truth about the affair."

"But aren't they bound to know it?" George asked.

Mr. Ingram was wounded. "I hope not. I hope not," he said gravely. "It is not right that young girls should know such things."

"But surely, sooner or later----"

"Ah! After they are married, conceivably. That would be quite different," he admitted, with cheerfulness. "And now," he smiled, "I'm afraid I've got to go and write the case up for London. I can catch the mail, I think. If not, I must cable. But they hate me to cable when the mail is possible. Can I drop you anywhere?"

Simultaneously he signalled to a taxi and knocked on the window for the attendance of the waiter.

"Thanks. If you're going anywhere near the Place de l'Opera," said George.

VI

He was excited, rather than saddened, by the tragic event. He was indeed very excited. And also he had a deep satisfaction, because it seemed to him that he had at last been truly admitted into the great secret fellowship of adult males. The initiation flattered his pride. He left Mr. Ingram at the door of an English newspaper office in the Boulevard des Italiens, and, after vainly asking for telegrams at the hotel, walked away, aimlessly at first, along broad pavements encumbered with the chairs and tables of vast, crowded cafes, and with bright Sunday idlers and sinister street-vendors. But in a moment he had decided that he must and ought to pay a call in the Rue d'Athenes. Mr. Ingram had said nothing about his seeing Lois again, had not referred to Mrs. Ingram's invitation to repeat his visit, might even vaguely object to an immediate interview between him and Lois. Yet he could not, as a man of the world, abandon Lois so unceremoniously. He owed something to Lois and he owed something to himself. And he was a free adult. The call was natural and necessary, and if Mr. Ingram did not like it he must, in the Five Towns phrase, lump it. George set off to find the Rue d'Athenes unguided. It was pleasurable to think that there was a private abode in the city of cafes, hotels, and museums to which he had the social right of entry.

The watching concierge of the house nodded to him politely as he began to mount the stairs. The Ingrams' servant smiled upon him as upon an old and familiarly respected friend.

"Mademoiselle Lois?" he said, with directness.

The slatternly, benevolent girl widened her mouth still further in a smile still more cordial, and led him to the drawing-room. As she did so she picked up a newspaper packet that lay on a table in the tiny hall, and, without putting it on a salver, deposited it in front of Lois, who was alone in the drawing-room. George wondered what Lois would have thought of such an outrage upon established ritual had it happened to her in the home of Irene Wheeler instead of in her own; and then the imagined vision of Irene lying dead in the sumptuous home in the Avenue Hoche seemed to render all established ritual absurd.

"So you've come!" exclaimed Lois harshly. "Mother's quite knocked over, and Laurencine's looking after her. All the usual eau-de-Cologne business. And I should say father's not much better. My poor parents! What did dad want you for?"

The servant had closed the door. Lois had got up from her chair and was walking about the room, pulling aside a curtain and looking out, tapping the mantelpiece with her hand, tapping with her feet the base of the stove, George had the sensation of being locked in a cage with a mysterious, incalculable, and powerful animal. He was fascinated. He thought: "I wanted to see her alone and I am seeing her alone!"

"Well?" she insisted. "What did dad want you for?"

"Oh! He told me a few things about Miss Wheeler."

"I suppose he told you about Jules, and I suppose he told you I wasn't to know on any account! Poor old dad! Instead of feeling he's my father, d'you know what I feel? I feel as if I was his mother. He's _so clever; he's frightfully clever; but he was never meant for this world. He's just a beautiful child. How in Heaven's name could he think that a girl like me could be intimate with Irene, and not know about the things that were in her mind? How could he? Why! I've talked for hours with Irene about Jules! She'd much sooner talk with me even than with mother. She's cried in front of me. But I never cried. I always told her she was making a mistake about Jules. I detested the little worm. But she couldn't see it. No, she couldn't. She'd have quarrelled with me if I'd let her quarrel. However, I wouldn't let her. Fancy quarrelling--over a man! She couldn't help being mad over Jules. I told her she couldn't--that was why I bore with her. I always told her he was only playing with her. The one thing that I didn't tell her was that she was too old for him. She really believed she never got any older. When I say too old for him, I mean for her sake, not for his. He didn't think she was too old. He couldn't--with that complexion of hers. I never envied her anything else except her complexion and her money. But he wouldn't marry an American. His people wouldn't let him. He's got to marry into a family like his own, and there're only about ten for him to choose from. I know she wrote to him on Thursday. She must have had the answer this morning. Of course she had a revolver. I've got one myself. She went to bed and did it. She used to say to me that if ever she did it that was how she would do it.... And father tells me not to add to his difficulties! Don't you think it's comic?... But she never told me everything. I knew that. I accused her of it. She admitted it. However..."

Lois spoke in a low, regular murmur, experimentally aware that privacy in a Paris flat is relative. There were four doors in the walls of the drawing-room, and a bedroom on either side. At moments George could scarcely catch her words. He had never heard her say so much at once, for she was taciturn by habit, even awkward in conversation. She glowered at him darkly. The idea flashed through his mind: "There can't be another girl like her. She's unique." He almost trembled at the revelation. He was afraid, and yet courageous, challenging, combative. She had grandeur. It might be moral, or not; but it was grandeur. And--(that touch about the complexion!)--she could remember her freckles! She might, in her hard egotism, in the rushing impulses of her appetites--she might be an enemy, an enemy to close with whom would be terrible rapture, and the war of the sexes was a sublime war, infinitely superior in emotions to tame peace. (And had she not been certified an angel? Had he not himself seen the angel in her?) She dwarfed her father and mother. The conception, especially, of Mr. Ingram at lunch, deliciously playful and dominating, and now with the adroit wit crushed out of him and only a naive sentimentality left, was comic--as she had ruthlessly characterized it. She alone towered formidably over the devastated ruins of Irene's earthly splendour.

He said nothing.

She rang the bell by the mantelpiece. He heard it ring. No answer. She rang again.

"_Arrivez donc, jeune fille!_" she exclaimed impatiently.

The servant came.

"_Apportez du the, Seraphine._"

"_Oui, mademoiselle._"

Then Lois lounged towards the table and tore sharply the wrapper of the newspaper. George was still standing.

"He's probably got something in about her this week--about her soiree last Tuesday. We weren't invited. Of course he went."

George saw the name the _Sunday Journal_. The paper had come by the afternoon mail, and had been delivered, according to weekly custom, by messenger from Mr. Ingram's office. Lois's tone and attitude tore fatally the whole factitious 'Parisian' tradition, as her hand had torn the wrapper.

"See here," she said quietly, after a few seconds, and gave the newspaper with her thumb indicating a paragraph.

He could hardly read the heading, because it unnerved him; nor the opening lines. But he read this: "The following six architects have been selected by the Assessors and will be immediately requested by the Corporation to submit final designs for the town hall: Mr. Whinburn, Mr.... Mr.... Mr. George E. Cannon ..."

"What did I always tell you?" she said.

And then she said:

"Your telegram must have been addressed wrong, or something."

He sat down. Once again he was afraid. He was afraid of winning in the final competition. A vista of mayors, corporations, town clerks, committees, contractors, clerks-of-works, frightened him. He was afraid of his immaturity, of his inexperience. He could not carry out the enterprise; he would reap only ignominy. His greatest desire had been granted. He had expected, in the event, to be wildly happy. But he was not happy.

"Well, I'm blowed!" he exclaimed.

Lois, who had resumed the paper, read out:

"In accordance with the conditions of the competition, each of the above named will receive a honorarium of one hundred guineas."

She looked at him.

"You'll get that town hall to do," she said positively. "You're bound to get it. You'll see."

Her incomprehensible but convincing faith passed mysteriously into him. A holy dew relieved him. He began to feel happy.

Lois glanced again at the paper, which with arms outstretched she held in front of her like a man, like the men at Pickering's. Suddenly it fell rustling to the floor, and she burst into tears.

She murmured indistinctly: "The last thing she did was for my pleasure--sending the car."

George jumped up, animated by an inexpressible tenderness for her. She had weakened. He moved towards her. He did not consider what he was doing; he had naught to say; but his instinctive arms were about to clasp her. He was unimaginably disturbed. She straightened and stiffened in a second.

"But of course you've not got it yet," she said harshly, with apparent irrelevance.

Seraphine entered bouncingly with the tea. Lois regarded the tray, and remarked the absence of the strainer.

"_Et la passoire_?" she demanded, with implacable sternness.

Seraphine gave a careless, apologetic gesture.

VII

It was late in September, when most people had returned to London after the holidays. John Orgreave mounted to the upper floor of the house in Russell Square where George had his office. Underneath George's name on the door had been newly painted the word 'Inquiries,' and on another door, opposite, the word 'Private.' John Orgreave knocked with exaggerated noise at this second door and went into what was now George's private room.

"I suppose one ought to knock," he said in his hearty voice.

"Hallo, Mr. Orgreave!" George exclaimed, jumping up.

"If the mountain doesn't come to Mahomet, Mahomet must come to the mountain," said John Orgreave.

"Come in," said George.

He noticed, and ignored, the touch of sarcasm in John Orgreave's attitude. He had noticed a similar phenomenon in the attitude of various people within the last four days, since architectural circles and even the world in general had begun to resound with the echoing news that the competition for the northern town hall had been won by a youth not twenty-three years of age. Mr. Enwright had been almost cross, asserting that the victory was perhaps a fluke, as the design of another competitor was in reality superior to George's. Mr. Enwright had also said, in his crabbed way: "You'll soon cut me out"; and, George protesting, had gone on: "Oh! Yes, you will. I've been through this sort of thing before. I know what I'm talking about. You're no different from the rest." Whereupon George, impatient and genuinely annoyed, had retorted upon him quite curtly, and had remembered what many persons had said about Mr. Enwright's wrong-headed jealous sensitiveness--animadversions which he, as a worshipper of Mr. Enwright, had been accustomed to rebut. Further, Lucas himself had not erred by the extravagance of his enthusiasm for George's earth-shaking success. For example, Lucas had said: "Don't go and get above yourself, old chap. They may decide not to build it after all. You never know with these corporations." A remark extremely undeserved, for George considered that the modesty and simplicity of his own demeanour under the stress of an inordinate triumph were rather notable. Still, he had his dignity to maintain against the satiric, and his position was such that he could afford to maintain it.

Anyhow, he preferred the sardonic bearing of his professional intimates to the sycophancy of certain acquaintances and of eager snobs unknown to him. Among sundry telegrams received was one composed regardless of cost and signed 'Turnbull.' He could not discover who Turnbull might be until John Orgreave had reminded him of the wigged, brown, conversational gentleman whom he had met, on one occasion only, at Adela's. In addition to telegrams he had had letters, some of which contained requests for money (demanded even as a right by the unlucky from the lucky), and an assortment of charity circulars, money-lenders' circulars, and bucket-shop lures. His mother's great sprawling letter had pleased him better than any save one. The exception was his stepfather's. Edwin Clayhanger, duly passing on to the next generation the benevolent Midland gibe which he had inherited, wrote:

"DEAR GEORGE,--It's better than a bat in the eye with a burnt stick.--Yours affectionately, NUNKS"

As a boy George had at one period called his stepfather 'Nunks,' but he had not used the appellation for years. He was touched now.

The newspapers had been hot after him, and he knew not how to defend himself. His photograph was implored. He was waylaid by journalists shabby and by journalists spruce, and the resulting interviews made him squirm. He became a man of mark at Pickering's. Photographers entreated him to sit free of charge. What irritated him in the whole vast affair was the continual insistence upon his lack of years. Nobody seemed to be interested in his design for the town hall; everybody had the air of regarding him as a youthful prodigy, a performing animal. Personally he did not consider that he was so very young. (Nevertheless he did consider that he was a youthful prodigy. He could recall no architect in history who had done what he had done at his age.) The town clerk who travelled from the North to see him treated his age in a different manner, the patronizing. He did not care for the town clerk. However, the town clerk was atoned for by the chairman of the new town hall sub-committee, a true human being named Soulter, with a terrific accent and a taste for architecture, pictures, and music. Mr. Soulter, though at least forty-five, treated George, without any appearance of effort, as a coeval. George immediately liked him, and the mere existence of Mr. Soulter had the effect of dissipating nearly all George's horrible qualms and apprehensions about his own competence to face the overwhelming job of erection. Mr. Soulter was most soothing in the matter of specifications and contractors.

"So you've got into your new room," said John Orgreave.

Never before had he mounted to see George either in the new room or in the old room. The simple fact of the presence there of one of the partners in the historic firm below compensated for much teasing sarcasm and half-veiled jealousy. It was a sign. It was a seal authenticating renown.

"Yes."

"I only wanted to give you a message from Adela. The Ingram young woman is staying with us----"

"Lois?" The name shot out of him unbidden.

"Yes. You're humbly supplicated to go to tea to-day. Four o'clock. Thank God I've not forgotten it!"

George arrived fifty-five minutes late at Bedford Park. Throughout the journey thither he kept repeating: "She said I should do it. And I've done it! I've done it! I've done it!" The triumph was still so close behind him that he was constantly realizing it afresh, and saying, wonder-struck: "I've done it." And the miraculous phantasm of the town hall, uplifted in solid stone, formed itself again and again in his enchanted mind, against a background of tremendous new ambitions rising endlessly one behind another like snowy alps.

"Is this what you call four o'clock?" twittered Adela, between cajolery and protest, somewhat older and facially more artificial, but eternally blonde; still holding her fair head on one side and sinuously waving the palm.

"Sorry! Sorry! I was kept at the last moment by a journalist johnny."

"Oh! Of course!" said Adela, pooh-poohing with her lips. "Of course we expect that story nowadays!"

"Well, it was a chap from the _Builder_, or I wouldn't have seen him. Can't trifle with a trade paper, you know."

He thought:

"She's like the rest of them, as jealous as the devil."

Then Lois came into the room, hatted and gloved, in half-mourning. She was pale, and appreciably thinner; she looked nervous, weak, and weary. As he shook hands with her he felt very self-conscious, as though in winning the competition and fulfilling her prophecy he had done something dubious for which he ought to apologize. This was exceedingly strange, but it was so. She had been ill after the death of Irene Wheeler. Having left Paris for London on the day following the races, he had written to her about nothing in particular, a letter which meant everything but what it said--and had received an answer from Laurencine, who announced that her sister was in bed, and likely to be in bed; and that father and mother wished to be remembered to him. Then he wrote to Laurencine. When the result of the final competition was published he had written again to Lois. It seemed to him that he was bound to do so, for had she not willed and decided his victory? No reply; but there had scarcely been time for a reply.

"Did you get my letter?" he smiled.

"This afternoon," she said gravely. "It followed me here. Now I have to go to Irene's flat. I should have been gone in another minute."

"She _will go alone," Adela put in anxiously.

"I shall be back for dinner," said Lois, and to the stupefaction of George she moved towards the door.

But just as she opened the door she turned her head and, looking at George with a frown, murmured:

"You can come with me if you like."

Adela burst out:

"He hasn't had any tea!"

"I'm not urging him to come, my dear. Good-bye."

Adela and George exchanged a glance, each signalling to the other that perhaps this sick, strange girl ought to be humoured. He abandoned the tea.... He was in the street with Lois. He was in the train with her. Her ticket was in his pocket. He had explained to her why he was late, and she had smiled, amiably but enigmatically. He thought: "She's no right to go on like this. But what does it matter?" She said nothing about the competition--not a word of congratulation. Indeed she hardly spoke beyond telling him that she had to choose some object at the flat. He was aware of the principal terms of Irene's will, which indeed had caused the last flutter of excitement before oblivion so quickly descended upon the notoriety of the social star. Irene's renown had survived her complexion by only a few short weeks. The will was of a rather romantic nature. Nobody familiar with the intimate circumstances would have been surprised if Irene had divided her fortune between Lois and Laurencine. The bulk of it, however, went back to Indianapolis. The gross total fell far short of popular estimates. Lois and Laurencine received five thousand pounds apiece, and in addition they were requested to select each an object from Irene's belongings--Lois out of the London flat, Laurencine out of the Paris flat. Lois had come to London to choose, and she was staying with Adela, the sole chaperon available. Since the death of Irene, Mrs. Ingram had been excessively strict in the matter of chaperons.

They took a hansom at Victoria. Across the great square, whose leaves were just yellowing, George saw the huge block of flats, and in one story all the blinds were down. Lois marched first into the lift, masterfully, as though she inhabited the block. She asked no one's permission. Characteristically she had an order from the solicitors, and the keys of the flat. She opened the door without any trouble. They were inside, within the pale-sheeted interior. Scarcely a thing had yet been moved, for, with the formalities of the judicatures of France, England, and the State of Indiana to be complied with, events marched slowly under the sticky manipulation of three different legal firms. Lois and George walked cautiously across the dusty, dulled parquets into the vast drawing-room. George doffed his hat.

"I'd better draw the blinds up," he suggested.

"No, no!" she sharply commanded. "I can see quite well. I don't want any more light."

There was the piano upon which Laurencine had played! The embrasure of the window! The corner in which Irene had sat spellbound by Jules Defourcambault! The portraits of Irene, at least one of which would perpetuate her name! The glazed cases full of her collections!... The chief pieces of furniture and all the chairs were draped in the pale, ghostly sheeting.

Suddenly Lois, rushing to the mantelpiece, cried:

"This is what I shall take."

It was a large photograph of Jules Defourcambault, bearing the words: "_A Miss Irene Wheeler. Hommages respectueux de J.D.F."

"You won't!" he exclaimed, incredulous, shocked. He thought: "She is mad!"

"Yes, I shall."

There were hundreds of beautiful objects in the place, and she chose a banal photograph of a despicable creature whom she detested.

"Why don't you take one of _her portraits? Or even a fan. What on earth do you want with a thing like that?" His voice was changing.

"I shall take it and keep it for ever. He was the cause of it all. This photograph was everything to her once."

George revolted utterly, and said with cold, harsh displeasure:

"You're simply being morbid. There's no sense in it."

She dropped down into a chair, and the impress of her body dragged the dust-sheet from its gilt arms, exposing them. She put her face in her hands and sobbed.

"You're awfully cruel!" she murmured thickly.

The sobs continued, shaking her body. She was beautifully dressed. Her shoes were adorable, and the semi-transparent hose over her fine ankles. She made a most disturbing, an unbearable, figure of compassion. She needed wisdom, protection, guidance, strength. Every bit of her seemed to appeal for these qualities. But at the same time she dismayed. He moved nearer to her. Yes, she had grandeur. All the costly and valuable objects in the drawing-room she had rejected in favour of the satisfaction of a morbid and terrible whim. Who could have foreseen it? He moved still nearer. He stood over her. He seized her yielding wrists. He lifted her veil. Tears were running down her cheeks from the yellow eyes. She looked at him through her tears.

"You're frightfully cruel," she feebly repeated.

"And what if I am?" he said solemnly. Did she really think him hard, had she always thought him hard--she, the hard one? How strange! Yet no doubt he was hard.

His paramount idea was:

"She had faith in me." It was as if her faith had created the man he was. She was passionately ambitious; so was he.

And when he kissed her wet mouth, and stroked with incredible delicacy those streaming cheeks, he felt himself full of foreboding. But he was proud and confident.

He took her back to Bedford Park. She carried the photograph, unwrapped; but he ventured no comment. She went straight up to her room.

"_You must tell Mrs. Orgreave," she said on the stairs.

Adela made a strange remark:

"Oh! But we always intended you to marry Lois!"

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

The Country House - Part 1 - Chapter 2. The Covert Shoot The Country House - Part 1 - Chapter 2. The Covert Shoot

The Country House - Part 1 - Chapter 2. The Covert Shoot
PART I CHAPTER II. THE COVERT SHOOTAt the head of the breakfast-table sat Mr. Pendyce, eating methodically. He was somewhat silent, as became a man who has just read family prayers; but about that silence, and the pile of half-opened letters on his right, was a hint of autocracy. "Be informal--do what you like, dress as you like, sit where you like, eat what you like, drink tea or coffee, but----" Each glance of his eyes, each sentence of his sparing, semi-genial talk, seemed to repeat that "but". At the foot of the breakfast-table sat Mrs. Pendyce behind a silver urn
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 8. Inspiration The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 8. Inspiration

The Roll-call - Part 1 - Chapter 8. Inspiration
PART I CHAPTER VIII. INSPIRATIONIGeorge, despite his own dispositions, as he went up in the lift, to obviate the danger of such a mishap, was put out of countenance by the overwhelming splendour of Miss Irene Wheeler's flat. And he did not quite recover his aplomb until the dinner was nearly finished. The rooms were very large and lofty; they blazed with electric light, though the day had not yet gone; they gleamed with the polish of furniture, enamel, bookbindings, marble, ivory, and precious metals; they were ennobled by magnificent pictures, and purified by immense quantities of lovely flowers. George had
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT