Part 6 out of 7
Fulham Road, it was inevitable that he should recall the days, eleven
years ago, when through a sedate traffic of trotting horses enlivened
with a few motors and motor-buses, he used to run down on his
motor-cycle to visit Marguerite. It was inevitable that he should think
upon what had happened to him in the meantime. His body felt, honestly,
no older. The shoulders had broadened, the moustache was fiercer, there
were semicircular furrows under the eyes; but he was as slim and agile
as ever, and did his morning exercises as regularly as he took his bath.
More, he was still, somehow, the youthful prodigy who had won the
biggest competition of modern years while almost an infant. He was still
known as such, regarded as such, greeted as such, referred to as such at
intervals in the Press. His fame in his own world seemed not to have
deteriorated. But disappointment had slowly, imperceptibly, eaten into
him. He was far off the sublime heights of Sir Hugh Corver, though he
met Sir Hugh apparently as an equal on the Council of the Royal Society
of British Architects. Work had not surged in upon him. He had not been
able to pick and choose among commissions. He had never won another
competition. Again and again his hopes had been horribly defeated in
these ghastly enterprises, of which two were still pending. He was a man
of one job. And a quarter of his professional life had slipped behind
him! His dreams were changed. Formerly he had dreamed in architectural
forms; now he dreamed in percentages. His one job had been enormous and
lucrative, but he had lived on it for a decade, and it was done. And
outside it he had earned probably less than twelve hundred pounds.
And if the job had been enormous, his responsibilities were likewise
enormous. Home expenses with an increasing family; establishment
expenses; a heavy insurance! Slavery to habits! The common story,
without the slightest originality in it. The idea recurred continually:
it was the fault of Lois, of that embodied, implacable instinct which
Lois was! And it was the fault of circumstance, of the structure of
society, of existence itself. And it was his fault too. And the whole of
the blame would be his if disaster came. Imagine those kids with the
perambulator and the doll's perambulator--imagine them in an earthquake!
He could see no future beyond, perhaps, eight months ahead. No, he could
not! Of course his stepfather was a sure resource. But he could not
conceive himself confessing failure to his stepfather or to anybody on
earth. Yet, if he did not very soon obtain more work, remunerative and
on a large scale ... if he did not ... However, he would obtain more
work. It was impossible that he should not obtain it. The matter with
Sir Isaac was as good as arranged. And the chances of winning at any
rate one of the two competitions were very favourable.... He dismissed
every apprehension. His health was too good to tolerate apprehensions
permanently. And he had a superstitious faith in his wife's
superstitious faith in him, and in his luck. The dark mood quickly
faded. It had been induced, not by the spectacle of his wife and family
and household seen somehow from a new angle, but by the recollection of
the past. Though he often went through dark moods, they were not moods
of financial pessimism; they seemed to be causeless, inexplicable, and
indescribable--abysses in which cerebration ceased.
She was just closing the side gate leading to the studio when he drove
up. He recognized her face over the top of the gate. At the first glance
it seemed to be absolutely unchanged--the same really beautiful lips,
the same nose, the same look in the eyes. Had a decade passed by her and
left no trace? He lost his nerve for an instant, and brought the car to
a standstill with less than his usual adroitness. She hesitated.
"I was coming to see you," he called out hastily, boyishly, not in the
least measuring his effects. He jumped from the car, and said in a
lower, more intimate tone: "I've only this minute heard about Mr. Haim.
I'm awfully sorry. I thought I'd come along at once."
"How nice of you!" she replied, quite simply and naturally, with a
smile. "Do come in."
The tension was eased.
She pulled at the gate, which creaked. He then saw plainly the whole of
her figure. She was dressed in black, and wore what the newspaper
advertisement called a 'matron's coat.' The decade had not passed by her
and left no trace. She had been appointed to a share in the mysterious
purpose. Her bust, too, was ampler; only her face, rather pale like the
face of Lois, was unaltered in its innocent contours. He felt that he
was blushing. He had no instinctive jealousy nor resentment; it did not
appear strange to him that this woman in the matron's coat was the girl
he had passionately kissed in that very house; and indeed the woman was
not the girl--the connexion between the woman and the girl had snapped.
Nevertheless, he was extremely self-conscious; but not she. And in his
astonishment he wondered at the secretiveness of London. His house and
hers were not more than half a mile apart, and yet in eleven years he
had never set eyes on her house. Nearly always, on leaving his house, he
would go up Elm Park Gardens and turn to the right. If he was not in the
car he would never turn to the left. Occasionally he had flown past the
end of the Grove in the car; not once, however, had he entered the
Grove. He lived in Chelsea and she lived in Chelsea, but not the same
Chelsea; his was not the Chelsea of the studios and the King's Road.
They had existed close together, side by side, for years and years--and
she had been hidden from him.
As they walked towards the studio door she told him that 'they' had
buried her father a week ago and that 'they' were living in the studio,
and had already arranged to let the lower part of the house. She had the
air of assuming that he was aware of the main happenings in her life,
only a little belated in the knowledge of her father's death. She was
quite cheerful. He pretended to himself to speculate as to the identity
of her husband. He would not ask: "And who is your husband?". All the
time he knew who her husband was: it could be no other than one man. She
opened the studio door with a latchkey. He was right. At a table Mr.
Prince was putting sheets of etching-paper to soak in a porcelain bath.
"Well! Well! Well!" exclaimed Mr. Prince warmly, not flustered, not a
bit embarrassed, and not too demonstrative. He came forward, delicately
drying the tips of his fingers on a rag, and shook hands. His hair was
almost white, his thin, benevolent face amazingly lined; his voice had a
constant little vibration. Yet George could not believe that he was an
"He only heard to-day about father, and he's called at once," said
Marguerite. "Isn't it just like him?"
The last phrase surprised and thrilled George. Did she mean it? Her
kind, calm, ingenuous face showed that obviously she meant it.
"It is," said Mr. Prince seriously. "Very good of you, old man."
After some talk about Mr. Haim, and about old times, and about changes,
during which Marguerite took off her matron's coat and Mr. Prince gently
hung it up for her, they all sat down near to one another and near the
unlighted stove. The studio seemed to be precisely as of old, except
that it was very clean. Marguerite, in a high-backed wicker-chair, began
slowly to remove her hat, which she perched behind her on the chair. Mr.
Prince produced a tin of Gold Flake cigarettes.
"And so you're living in the studio?" said George.
"We have the two rooms at the top of the house of course," answered Mr.
Prince, glancing at the staircase. "I don't know whether it's quite the
wisest thing, with all those stairs; you see how we're fixed"--he
glanced at Marguerite--"but we had a fine chance to let the house, and
in these days it's as well to be cautious."
Marguerite smiled happily and patted her husband's hand.
"Of course it's the wisest thing," she said.
"Why! What's the matter with these days?" George demanded. "How's the
"Oh!" said Mr. Prince, in a new tone. "I've one or two things that might
He displayed some prints, and chatted of his labours. He was still
etching; he would die etching. This was the etcher of European renown.
He referred to the Vienna acquisition as though it was an affair of a
few weeks ago. He had disposed of an etching to Stockholm, and mentioned
that he had exhibited at the International Show in Rome. He said that
his things were attracting attention at a gallery in Bond Street. He
displayed catalogues and press-cuttings.
"These are jolly fine," said George enthusiastically, as he examined the
prints on his knee.
"I'm glad you like them," said Mr. Prince, pleased. "I think I've
But in spite of his European renown, Mr. Prince had remained practically
unknown. His name would not call forth the 'Oh yes!' of recognition from
the earnest frequenter of fashionable exhibitions who takes pride in his
familiarity with names. The etchings of Prince were not subscribed for
in advance. He could not rank with the stars--Cameron, Muirhead Bone,
Legros, Brangwyn. Probably he could command not more than two or three
guineas for a print. He had never been the subject of a profusely
laudatory illustrated article in the _Studio_. With his white hair he
was what in the mart is esteemed a failure. He knew it. Withal he had a
notable self-respect and a notable confidence. There was no timidity in
him, even if his cautiousness was excessive. He possessed sagacity and
he had used it. He knew where he was. He had something substantial up
his sleeve. There was no wistful appeal in his eye, as of a man who
hopes for the best and fears the worst. He could meet dealers with a
firm glance, for throughout life he had subjugated his desires to his
resources. His look was modest but independent; and Marguerite had the
"Hallo!" cried George. "I see you've got that here!" He pointed to Celia
Agg's portrait of herself as Bonnie Prince Charlie.
"Yes," said Marguerite. "She insisted on me taking it when she gave up
"Gave up painting?"
"Very good, isn't it?" said Mr. Prince gravely. "Pity she ever did give
up painting, I think," he added in a peculiar tone.
"Yes, it is," George agreed insincerely, for the painting now seemed to
him rather tenth-rate. "But what on earth did she stop painting for?"
Marguerite replied, with reserve:
"Oh! Didn't you know? She's quite gone in for this suffragette business.
No one ever sees her now. Not even her people."
"Been in prison," said Mr. Prince, sardonically disapproving, "I always
said she'd end in that kind of thing, didn't I, Margy?"
"You did, dear," said Marguerite, with wifely eagerness.
These two respected not only themselves but each other. The ensuing
conversation showed that Mr. Prince was somewhat disgusted with the
mundane movement, and that Marguerite was his disciple. They were more
and more leaving the world alone; their self-sufficiency was increasing
with the narrow regularity of their habits. They seldom went out; and
when they did, they came home the more deeply convinced that all was not
well with the world, and that they belonged to the small remnant of the
wise and the sane. George was in two minds about them, or rather about
Mr. Prince. He secretly condescended to him, but on the other hand he
envied him. The man was benevolent; he spent his life in the creation of
beauty; and he was secure. Surely an ideal existence! Yes, George wished
that he could say as much for himself. Marguerite, completely deprived
of ambition, would never have led any man into insecurity. He had
realized already that afternoon that there were different degrees of
success; he now realized that there were different kinds of success.
"Well!" he rose suddenly. "I must be off. I'm very busy."
"I suppose you are," said Mr. Prince. Untrue to assert that his glance
was never wistful! It was ever so slightly wistful then.
George comprehended that Mr. Prince admired him and looked up to him
"My town hall is being opened to-morrow."
"So I saw," said Mr. Prince. "I congratulate you."
They knew a good deal about him--where he lived, the statistics of his
family, and so on. He picked up his hat.
"I can't tell you how I appreciate your coming," said Marguerite, gazing
straight into his eyes.
"Rather!" said Mr. Prince.
They were profoundly flattered by the visit of this Bird-of-paradise.
But they did not urge him to stay longer.
As he was leaving, the door already open, George noticed a half-finished
book-cover design on a table.
"So you're still doing these binding designs!" He stopped to examine.
Husband and wife, always more interested in their own affairs than in
other people's, responded willingly to his curiosity. George praised,
and his praise was greatly esteemed. Mr. Prince talked about the changes
in trade bindings, which were all for the worse. The bright spot was
that Marguerite's price for a design had risen to twenty-five shillings.
This improvement was evidently a source of genuine satisfaction to them.
To George it seemed pathetic that a rise, after vicissitudes, of four
shillings in fourteen years should be capable of causing them so much
joy. He and they lived in absolutely different worlds.
"This is the last I shall let her do for a long time," observed Mr.
Prince. "I shouldn't have let her do this one, but the doctor, who's a
friend of ours, said there wouldn't be any harm, and of course it's
always advisable to break a connexion as little as possible. You never
George smiled, returning their flattery.
"You aren't going to tell me that that matters to _you_!"
Mr. Prince fixed George with his eye.
"When the European War starts in earnest I think most of us will need
all we've been able to get together."
"What European War?" asked George, with a touch of disdain. "You don't
mean to say that this Sarajevo business will lead to a European War!"
"No, I don't," said Mr. Prince very firmly. "Germany's diplomatists are
much too clever for that. They're clever enough to find a better excuse.
But they will find it, and soon."
George saw that Mr. Prince, having opened up a subject which apparently
was dear to him, had to be handled with discretion. He guessed at once,
from the certainty and the emotion of Mr. Prince's phrases, that Mr.
Prince must have talked a lot about a European War. So he mildly
"Do you really think so?"
"Do I think so? My dear fellow, you have only to look at the facts.
Austria undoubtedly annexed Bosnia at Germany's instigation. Look at
what led to Algeciras. Look at Agadir. Look at the increase in the
German army last July. And look at the special levy. The thing's as
clear as day." Mr. Prince now seemed to be a little angry with George,
who had moved into the doorway.
"I'll tell you what I think," said George, with the assurance with which
as a rule he announced his opinions. "We're Germany's only serious
rival. It's us she's up against. She can only fight us on the sea. If
she fought us now on the sea she'd be wiped out. That's admitted. In ten
years, if she keeps on building, she might have a chance. But not now!
Not yet! And she knows it." George did not mention that he had borrowed
the whole weighty argument from his stepfather; but he spoke with
finality, and was rather startled when Mr. Prince blew the whole weighty
argument into the air with one scornful, pitying exhalation.
Mr. Prince said: "Nothing in it! Nothing in it! It's our alliances that
will be the ruin of us. We shall be dragged into war. If Germany chooses
to fight on land everybody will have to fight on land. When she gets to
Paris, what are we going to do about it? We shall be dragged into war.
It's the damnable alliances that Sir Edward Grey has let us in for." Mr.
Prince fixed George afresh. "That man ought to be shot. What do we want
with alliances?... Have you heard Lord Roberts?"
George admitted weakly, and as if ashamed, that he had not.
"Well, you should."
"Oh yes," Marguerite ingenuously put in. "Alfred's been very strong on
the European War ever since he heard Lord Roberts speak at Chelsea Town
George then understood the situation. Mr. Prince, through the hazard of
a visit to Chelsea Town Hall, had become obsessed by a single idea, an
idea which his natural apprehensions had well nourished. A common
phenomenon! George had met before the man obsessed by one idea, with his
crude reasoning, his impatience, and his flashing eye. As for himself he
did not pretend to be an expert in politics; he had no time for
politics; but he was interested in them, and held strong views about
them; and among his strongest views was the view that the crudity of the
average imperialist was noxious, and a source of real danger. 'That man
ought to be shot.' Imagine such a remark! He felt that he must soothe
Mr. Prince as he would soothe a child. And he did so, with all the tact
acquired at municipal committee meetings in the north.
His, last impression, on departure, was that Mr. Prince was an excellent
and most lovable fellow, despite his obsession. "Glad to see you at any
time," said Mr. Prince, with genuine cordiality, critically and somewhat
inimically assessing the car, which he referred to as 'she.' Marguerite
had remained in the studio. She was wonderful. She admired her husband
too simply, and she was too content, but she had marvellous qualities of
naturalness, common sense in demeanour, realism, and placidity. Thanks
to her remarkable instinct for taking things for granted, the interview
had been totally immune from constraint. It was difficult, and she had
made it seem easy. No fuss, no false sentiment! And she looked very
nice, very interesting, quite attractive, in her mourning and in her
expectancy. A fine couple. Unassuming of course, narrow,
opinionated--(he surmised that the last days of the late Mr. Haim had
been disciplined)--but no fools either, and fundamentally decent. While
condescending to them, he somehow envied them. But he knew what the
opinion of Lois about them would be!
After a period of shallow sleep he woke up in the morning factitiously
refreshed as the train was rumbling slowly over the high-level bridge.
The sun blinked full in his eyes when he looked out through the
trellis-work of the bridge. Far below, the river was tinged with the
pale blue of the sky. Big ships lay in the river as if they had never
moved and never could move; a steamer in process of painting, with her
sides lifted above the water, gleamed in irregular patches of brilliant
scarlet. A lively tug passed down-stream, proud of her early rising;
and, smaller even than the tug, a smack, running close-hauled, bowed to
the puffs of the light breeze. Farther away the lofty chimneys sent
their scarves of smoke into the air, and the vast skeletons of incipient
vessels could be descried through webs of staging. The translucent
freshness of the calm scene was miraculous; it divinely intoxicated the
soul, and left no squalor and no ugliness anywhere.
Then, as the line curved, came the view of the city beneath its delicate
canopy of mist. The city was built on escarpments, on ridges, on hills,
and sagged here and there into great hollows. The serrated silhouette of
it wrote romance upon the sky, and the contours of the naked earth
beyond lost themselves grandly in the mystery of the north. The jutting
custom-house was a fine piece of architecture. From the eighteen-forties
it challenged grimly the modern architect. On his hasty first visit to
the city George had noticed little save that custom-house. He had seen a
slatternly provincial town, large and picturesque certainly, but with
small sense of form or dignity. He had decided that his town hall would
stand quite unique in the town. But soon the city had imposed itself
upon him and taught him the rudiments of humility. It contained an
immense quantity of interesting architecture of various periods, which
could not be appreciated at a glance. It was a hoary place. It went back
to the Romans and further. Its fragmentary walls had survived through
seven centuries, its cathedral through six, its chief churches through
five. It had the most perfect Norman keep within two hundred miles. It
had ancient halls, mansions, towers, markets, and jail. And to these the
Victorian-Edwardian age had added museums, law courts, theatres; such
astonishing modernities as swimming-baths, power-houses, joint-stock
banks, lending libraries, and art schools; and whole monumental streets
and squares from the designs of a native architect without whose
respectable name no history of British architecture could be called
complete. George's town hall was the largest building in the city; but
it did not dominate the city nor dwarf it; the city easily digested it.
Arriving in the city by train the traveller, if he knew where to look,
could just distinguish a bit of the town hall tower, amid masses of
granite and brick: which glimpse symbolized the relation between the
city and the town hall and had its due effect on the Midland conceit of
But what impressed George more than the stout, physical aspects of the
city was the sense of its huge, adventurous, corporate life, continuous
from century to century. It had known terrible battles, obstinate
sieges, famines, cholera, a general conflagration, and, in the twentieth
century, strikes that possibly were worse than pestilence. It had
fiercely survived them all. It was a city passionate and highly
vitalized. George had soon begun to be familiar with its organic
existence from the inside. The amazing delays in the construction of the
town hall were characteristic of the city, originating as they did not
from sloth or indecision but from the obduracy of the human will. At the
start a sensational municipal election had put the whole project on the
shelf for two years, and George had received a compensatory one per cent
on the estimated cost according to contract, and had abandoned his hope.
But the pertinacity of Mr. Soulter, first Councillor, then Alderman,
then Mayor, the true father of the town hall, had been victorious in the
end. Next there had been an infinity of trouble with owners of adjacent
properties and with the foundations. Next the local contractor, who had
got the work through a ruthless and ingenious conspiracy of associates
on the Council, had gone bankrupt. Next came the gigantic building
strike, in which conflicting volitions fought each other for many months
to the devastation of an entire group of trades. Finally was the
inflexible resolution of Mr. Soulter that the town hall should not be
opened and used until it was finished in every part and every detail of
furniture and decoration.
George, by his frequent sojourns in the city, and his official connexion
with the authorities, had several opportunities to observe the cabals,
the chicane, and the personal animosities and friendships which
functioned in secret at the very heart of the city's life. He knew the
idiosyncrasies of councillors and aldermen in committee; he had learnt
more about mankind in the committee-rooms of the old town hall than he
could have learnt in ten thousand London clubs. He could divide the city
council infallibly into wire-pullers, axe-grinders, vain nincompoops,
honest mediocrities, and the handful who combined honesty with sagacity
and sagacity with strength. At beefy luncheon-tables, and in gorgeous,
stuffy bars tapestried with Lincrusta-Walton, he had listened to the
innumerable tales of the town, in which greed, crookedness, ambition,
rectitude, hatred, and sexual love were extraordinarily mixed--the last
being by far the smallest ingredient. He liked the town; he revelled in
it. It seemed to him splendid in its ineradicable, ever-changing,
changeless humanity. And as the train bored its way through the granite
bowels of the city, he thought pleasurably upon all these matters. And
with them in his mind there gradually mingled the images of Lois and
Marguerite. He cared not what their virtues were or what their faults
were. He enjoyed reflecting upon them, picturing them with their
contrasted attributes, following them into the future as they developed
blindly under the unperceived sway of the paramount instincts which had
impelled and would always impel them towards their ultimate destiny. He
thought upon himself, and about himself he was very sturdily cheerful,
because he had had a most satisfactory interview with Sir Isaac on the
A few minutes later he walked behind a portmanteau-bearing night-porter
into the wide-corridored, sleeping hotel, whose dust glittered in the
straight shafts of early sunlight. He stopped at the big slate under the
staircase and wrote in chalk opposite the number 187: "Not to be called
till 12 o'clock, under pain of death." And the porter, a friend of some
years' standing, laughed. On the second floor that same porter dropped
the baggage on the linoleum and rattled the key in the lock with a high
disregard of sleepers. In the bedroom the porter undid the straps of the
portmanteau, and then:
"Anything else, sir?"
"That's all, John."
And as he turned to leave, John stopped and remarked in a tone of
"Sorry to say Alderman Soulter's ill in bed, sir. Won't be able to come
to the Opening. It's him as'll be madder than anybody, ill or not."
George was shocked, and almost frightened. In his opinion the true
intelligence of the city was embodied in Mr. Soulter. Mr. Soulter had
been a father to him, had understood his aims and fought for them again
and again. Without Mr. Soulter he felt defenceless before the ordeal of
the Opening, and he wished that he might fly back to London instantly.
Nevertheless the contact of the cool, clean sheets was exquisite, and he
went to sleep at once, just as he was realizing the extremity of his
He did not have his sleep out. Despite the menace of death, a courageous
creature heavily knocked at his door at ten o'clock and entered. It was
a page-boy with a telegram. George opened the envelope resentfully.
The telegram read:
"Am told we have got it.--PONTING"
Ponting was George's assistant. The news referred to a competition for
an enormous barracks in India--one of the two competitions pending. It
had come sooner than expected. Was it true? George was aware that
Ponting had useful acquaintanceship with a clerk in the India Office.
He thought, trying not to believe:
"Of course Ponting will swallow anything."
But he made no attempt to sleep again. He was too elated.
Through a strange circumstance George arrived late for the Opening lunch
in the lower hall, but he was late in grave company. He had been
wandering aimlessly and quite alone about the great interiors of the
town hall when he caught sight of Mr. Phirrips, the contractor, with the
bishop and the most famous sporting peer of the north, a man who for
some mystical reason was idolized by the masses of the city.
Unfortunately Mr. Phirrips also caught sight of George. "Bishop, here is
Mr. Cannon, our architect. He will be able to explain perhaps better--"
And in an instant Mr. Phirrips had executed one of those feats of
prestidigitation for which he was renowned in contracting circles, left
George with the bishop, and gone off with his highly prized quarry, the
sporting peer. George, despite much worldliness, had never before had
speech with a bishop. However, the bishop played his part in a
soothingly conventional way, manipulated his apron and his calves with
senile dignity, stood still and gazed ardently at ceilings and vistas,
and said at intervals, explosively and hoarsely: "Ha! Very, interesting!
Very interesting! Very fine! Very fine! Noble!" He also put intelligent
questions to the youthful architect, such as: "How many bricks have been
used in this building?" He was very leisurely, as though the whole of
eternity was his.
"I'm afraid we may be late for the luncheon," George ventured.
The bishop looked at him blandly, leaning forward, and replied, after
holding his mouth open for a moment:
"They will not begin without us. I say grace." His antique eye twinkled.
After this George liked him, and understood that he was really a bishop.
In the immense hubbub of the lower hall the bishop was seized upon by
officials, and conducted to a chair a few places to the right of His
Worship the Mayor. Though there was considerable disorder and confusion
(doubtless owing to the absence of Alderman Soulter, who had held all
the strings in his hand) everybody agreed that the luncheon scene in the
lower hall was magnificent. The Mayor, in his high chair and in his
heavy chain and glittering robe, ruled in the centre of the principal
table, from which lesser tables ran at right angles. The Aldermen and
Councillors, also chained and robed, well sustained the brilliance of
the Mayor, and the ceremonial officials of the city surpassed both Mayor
and Council in grandeur. Sundry peers and M.P.'s and illustrious
capitalists enhanced the array of renown, and the bishop was rivalled by
priestly dignitaries scarcely less grandiose than himself. And then
there were the women. The women had been let in. During ten years of
familiarity with the city's life George had hardly spoken to a woman,
except Mr. Soulter's Scotch half-sister. The men lived a life of their
own, which often extended to the evenings, and very many of them when
mentioning women employed a peculiar tone. But now the women were
disclosed in bulk, and the display startled George. He suddenly saw all
the city fathers and their sons in a new light.
The bishop had his appointed chair, with a fine feminine hat on either
side of him, but George could not find that any particular chair had
been appointed to himself. Eventually he saw an empty chair in the
middle of a row of men at the right-hand transverse table, and he took
it. He had expected, as the sole artistic creator of the town hall whose
completion the gathering celebrated, to be the object of a great deal of
curiosity at the luncheon. But in this expectation he was deceived. If
any curiosity concerning him existed, it was admirably concealed. The
authorities, however, had not entirely forgotten him, for the Town Clerk
that morning had told him that he must reply to the toast of his health.
He had protested against the shortness of the notice, whereupon the
Town Clerk had said casually that a few words would suffice--anything,
in fact, and had hastened off. George was now getting nervous. He was
afraid of hearing his own voice in that long, low interior which he had
made. He had no desire to eat. He felt tired. Still, his case was less
acute than it would have been had the august personage originally hoped
for attended the luncheon. The august personage had not attended on
account of an objection, apropos of an extreme passage in an election
campaign speech, to the occupant of the mayoral chair (who had thus
failed to be transformed into a Lord Mayor). The whole city had then,
though the Mayor was not over-popular, rallied to its representative,
and the Council had determined that the inauguration should be a purely
municipal affair, a family party, proving to the august and to the world
that the city was self-sufficing. The episode was characteristic.
George heard a concert of laughter, which echoed across the room. At the
end of the main table Mr. Phirrips had become a centre of gaiety. Mr.
Phirrips, whom George and the clerk-of-the-works had had severe and
constant difficulty in keeping reasonably near the narrow path of
rectitude, was a merry, sharp, smart, middle-aged man with a skin that
always looked as if he had just made use of an irritant soap. He was one
of the largest contractors in England, and his name on the hoarding of
any building in course of erection seemed to give distinction to that
building. He was very rich, and popular in municipal circles, and
especially with certain councillors, including a labour councillor.
George wondered whether Mr. Phirrips would make a speech. No toast-list
was visible in George's vicinity.
To George the meal seemed to pass with astounding celerity. The old
bishop said grace in six words. The Toast-master bawled for silence. The
health of all classes of society who could rely upon good doctors was
proposed and heartily drunk--princes, prelates, legislators, warriors,
judges--but the catalogue was cut short before any eccentric person
could propose the health of the one-roomed poor, of whom the city was
excessively prolific. And then the Mayor addressed himself to the great
business of the town hall. George listened with throat dry; by way of
precaution he had drunk nothing during the meal; and at each toast he
had merely raised the glass to his lips and infinitesimally sipped; the
coffee was bad and cold and left a taste in his mouth; but everything
that he had eaten left a taste in his mouth. The Mayor began:
"My lords, ladies, and gentlemen,--During the building of
this--er--er--_structure_...." All his speech was in that manner and
that key. Nevertheless he was an able and strong individual, and as an
old trade union leader could be fiercely eloquent with working-men. He
mentioned Alderman Soulter, and there was a tremendous cheer. He did not
mention Alderman Soulter again; a feud burned between these two. After
Alderman Soulter he mentioned finance. He said that that was not the
time to refer to finance, and then spoke of nothing else but finance
throughout the remainder of his speech, until he came to the
peroration--"success and prosperity to our new town hall, the grandest
civic monument which any city has erected to itself in this country
within living memory, aye, and beyond." The frantic applause atoned for
the lack of attention and the semi-audible chattering which had marred
the latter part of the interminable and sagacious harangue. George
thought: "Pardon me! The city has not erected this civic monument. I
have erected it." And he thought upon all the labour he had put into it,
and all the beauty and magnificence which he had evolved. Alderman
Soulter should have replied on behalf of the town hall committee, and
the Alderman who took his place apologized for his inability to fill the
role, and said little.
Then the Toast-master bawled incomprehensibly for the twentieth time,
and a councillor arose and in timid tones said:
"I rise to propose the toast of the architect and contractor."
George was so astounded that he caught scarcely anything of the speech.
It was incredible to him that he, the creative artist, who was solely
responsible for the architecture and decoration of the monument, in
whose unique mind it had existed long before the second brick had been
placed upon the first, should be bracketed in a toast with the tradesman
and middleman who had merely supervised the execution of his scheme
according to rules of thumb. He flushed. He wanted to walk out. But
nobody else appeared to be disturbed. George, who had never before
attended an inauguration, was simply not aware that the toast 'architect
and contractor' was the classic British toast, invariably drunk on such
occasions, and never criticised. He thought: "What a country!" and
remembered hundreds of Mr. Enwright's remarks.... Phrases of the orator
wandered into his ear. "The competition system.... We went to Sir Hugh
Corver, the head of the architectural profession [loud applause] and Sir
Hugh Corver assured us that the design of Mr. George Cannon was the
best. [Hear, hear! Hear, hear!]... Mr. Phirrip, head of the famous firm
of Phirrips Limited [loud applause] ... fortunate, after our misfortune
with the original contractor to obtain such a leading light.... Cannot
sufficiently thank these two--er _officials_ for the intellect, energy,
and patience they have put into their work."
As the speech was concluding, a tactless man sitting next to George,
with whom he had progressed very slowly in acquaintance during the
lunch, leaned towards him and murmured in a confidential tone:
"Did I tell you both naval yards up here have just had orders to work
day and night? Yes. Fact."
George's mind ran back to Mr. Prince, and Mr. Prince's prophecy of war.
Was there something in it after all? The thought passed in an instant,
but the last vestiges of his equanimity had gone. Hearing his name he
jumped up in a mist inhabited by inimical phantoms, and, amid feeble
acclamations here and there, said he knew not what in a voice now
absurdly loud and now absurdly soft, and sat down, amid more feeble
acclamations, feeling an angry fool. It was the most hideous experience.
He lit a cigarette, his first that day.
When Mr. Phirrips rose, the warm clapping was expectant of good things.
"When I was a little boy I remember my father telling me that this town
hall had been started. I never expected to live to see it finished--"
Delighted guffaws, uproarious laughter, explosions of mirth, interrupted
this witty reference to the delays in construction. The speaker smiled
at ease. His eyes glinted. He knew his audience, held it consummately,
and went on.
In the afternoon there was a conversazione, or reception, for the
lunchers and also for the outer fringe of the city's solid
respectability. The whole of the town hall from basement to roof was
open to view, and citizens of all ages wandered in it everywhere,
admiring it, quizzing it, and feeling proudly that it was theirs. George
too wandered about, feeling that it was his. He was slowly recovering
from the humiliation of the lunch. Much of the building pleased him
greatly; at the excellence of some effects and details he marvelled; the
entry into the large hall from the grand staircase was dramatic, just as
he had had intended it should be; the organ was being played, and word
went round that the acoustic (or acoostic) properties of the auditorium
were perfect, and unrivalled by any auditorium in the kingdom. On the
other hand, the crudity of certain other effects and details irritated
the creator, helping him to perceive how much he had learnt in ten
years; in ten years, for example, his ideas about mouldings had been
quite transformed. What chiefly satisfied him was the demonstration,
everywhere, that he had mastered his deep natural impatience of minutiae
--that instinct which often so violently resented the exacting
irksomeness of trifles in the realization of a splendid idea. At
intervals he met an acquaintance and talked, but nobody at all appeared
to comprehend that he alone was the creator of the mighty pile, and that
all the individuals present might be divided artistically into two
classes--himself in one class, the entire remainder in the other. And
nobody appeared to be inconvenienced by the sense of the height of his
achievement or of the splendour of his triumph that day. It is true that
the north hates to seem impressed, and will descend to any duplicity in
order not to seem impressed.
The Town Clerk's clerk came importantly up to him and asked:
"How many reserved seats would you like for the concert?"
A grand ballad concert, at which the most sentimental of contraltos,
helped by other first-class throats, was to minister wholesale to the
insatiable secret sentimentality of the north, had been arranged for the
"One will be enough," said George.
"Are you alone?" asked the Town Clerk's clerk.
George took the ticket. None of the city fathers or their fashionable
sons had even invited him to dinner. He went forth and had tea alone,
while reading in an evening paper about the Austro-Serbian situation, in
the tea-rooms attached to a cinema-palace. The gorgeous rooms, throbbing
to two-steps and fox-trots, were crammed with customers; but the
waitresses behaved competently. Thence he drove out in a taxi to the
residence of Alderman Soulter. He could see neither the Alderman nor
Miss Soulter; he learnt that the condition of the patient was
reassuring, and that the patient had a very good constitution. Back at
the hotel, he had to wait for dinner. In due course he ate the customary
desolating table-d'hote dinner which is served simultaneously in the
vast, odorous dining-rooms, all furnished alike, of scores and scores of
grand hotels throughout the provinces. Having filled his cigar-case, he
set out once more into the beautiful summer evening. In broad Side Gate
were massed the chief resorts of amusement. The facade of the Empire
music-hall glowed with great rubies and emeralds and amethysts and
topazes in the fading light. Its lure was more powerful than the lure of
the ballad concert. Ignoring his quasi-official duty to the greatest of
sentimental contraltos, he pushed into the splendid foyer of the Empire.
One solitary stall, half a crown, was left for the second house; he
bought it, eager in transgression; he felt that the ballad concert would
have sent him mad.
The auditorium of the Empire was far larger than the auditorium of the
town hall, and it was covered with gold. The curving rows of
plush-covered easy chairs extended backwards until faces became
indistinguishable points in the smoke-misted gloom. Every seat was
occupied; the ballad concert had made no impression upon the music-hall.
The same stars that he could see in London appeared on the gigantic
stage in the same songs and monologues; and as in London the
indispensable revue was performed, but with a grosser and more direct
licentiousness than the West End would have permitted. And all proceeded
with inexorable exactitude according to time-table. And in scores and
scores of similar Empires, Hippodromes, Alhambras, and Pavilions
throughout the provinces, similar entertainments were proceeding with
the same exactitude--another example of the huge standardization of
life. George laughed with the best at the inventive drollery of the
knock-about comedians--Britain's sole genuine contribution to the art of
the modern stage. But there were items in the Empire programme that were
as awful in their tedium as anything at the ballad concert could
be--moments when George could not bear to look over the footlights. And
these items were applauded in ecstasy by the enchanted audience. He
thought of the stupidity, the insensibility, the sheer ignorance of the
exalted lunchers; and he compared them with these qualities in the
Empire audience, and asked himself sardonically whether all artists had
lived in vain. But the atmosphere of the Empire was comfortable,
reassuring, inspiring. The men had their pipes, cigarettes, and women;
the women had the men, the luxury, the glitter, the publicity. They had
attained, they were happy. The frightful curse of the provinces, ennui,
had been conjured away by the beneficent and sublime institution
invented, organized, and controlled by three great trusts.
George stayed till the end of the show. The emptying of the theatre was
like a battle, like the flight of millions from a conflagration. All
humanity seemed to be crowded into the corridors and staircases. Jostled
and disordered, he emerged into the broad street, along which huge,
lighted trams slowly thundered. He walked a little, starting a fresh
cigar. The multitude had resumed its calm. A few noisy men laughed and
swore obscene oaths; and girls, either in couples or with men, trudged,
demure and unshocked, past the roysterers, as though they had neither
ears to hear nor eyes to see. In a few minutes the processions were
dissipated, dissolved into the vastness of the city, and the pavements
nearly deserted. George strolled on towards the Square. The town hall
stood up against the velvet pallor of the starry summer night, massive,
lovely, supreme, deserted. He had conceived it in an office in Russell
Square when he was a boy. And there it was, the mightiest monument of
the city which had endured through centuries of astounding corporate
adventure. He was overwhelmed, and he was inexpressibly triumphant.
Throughout the day he had had no recognition; and as regards the future,
few, while ignorantly admiring the monument, would give a thought to the
artist. Books were eternally signed, and pictures, and sculpture. But
the architect was forgotten. What did it matter? If the creators of
Gothic cathedrals had to accept oblivion, he might. The tower should be
his signature. And no artist could imprint his influence so powerfully
and so mysteriously upon the unconscious city as he was doing. And the
planet was whirling the whole city round like an atom in the icy spaces
between the stars. And perhaps Lois was lying expectant, discontented,
upon the sofa, thinking rebelliously. He was filled with the realization
At the hotel another telegram awaited him.
"Good old Ponting!" he exclaimed, after reading it. The message ran:
"We have won it.--PONTING"
"Why 'we,' Ponting? You didn't win it. I won it."
"Sir Hugh Corver is not going to be the head of the architectural
profession. I am." He felt the assurance of that in his bones.
The telephone rang in the principal's room of George's office in Museum
Street. He raised his head from the drawing-board with the false gesture
of fatigued impatience which, as a business man, he had long since
acquired, and took the instrument. As a fact he was not really busy; he
was only pretending to be busy; and he rather enjoyed the summons of the
telephone, with its eternal promise of some romantic new turn of
existence. Nevertheless, though he was quite alone, he had to affect
that the telephone was his bane.
"Can Sir Isaac Davids speak to you, sir, from the Artists Club?"
"Put him on."
Immediately came the thick, rich voice of Sir Isaac, with its
implications of cynicism and triumphant disdain--attenuated and weakened
in the telephone, suggesting an object seen through the wrong end of a
"Is that you, Cannon?"
"It is," said George shortly. Without yet knowing it, he had already
begun to hate Sir Isaac. His criticism of Sir Isaac was that the man was
too damnably sure of himself. And not all Sir Isaac's obvious power,
and influence, and vast potential usefulness to a young architect,
could prevent George from occasionally, as he put it, 'standing up to
"Well, you'd better come along here, if you can. I want to see you,"
said the unruffled voice of Sir Isaac.
As George replaced the instrument, he murmured:
"I know what that means. It's all off." And after a moment: "I knew
jolly well it would be."
He glanced round the very orderly room, to which, by judicious
furnishing, he had given a severe distinction at no great cost. On the
walls were a few interesting things, including a couple of his own
perspectives. A neo-impressionist oil-sketch over the mantelpiece, with
blue trees and red fields and a girl whose face was a featureless blob,
imperiously monopolized the attention of the beholder, warning him,
whoever he might be, that the inescapable revolutionary future was now
at hand. The room and everything in it, that entity upon which George
had spent so much trouble, and of which he had been so proud, seemed
futile, pointless, utterly unprofitable.
The winning of the Indian limited competition, coupled with the firm
rumour that Sir Isaac Davids had singled him out for patronage, had
brilliantly renewed George's reputation and the jealousy which proved
its reality. The professional journals had been full of him, and
everybody assured everybody that his ultimate, complete permanent
success had never been in doubt. The fact that the barracks would be the
largest barracks in India indicated to the superstitious, and to George
himself, that destiny intended him always to break records. After the
largest town hall, the largest barracks; and it was said that Sir
Isaac's factory was to be the largest factory! But the outbreak of war
had overthrown all reputations, save the military and the political.
Every value was changed according to a fresh standard, as in a
shipwreck. For a week George had felt an actual physical weight in the
stomach. This weight was his own selfish woe, but it was also the woe of
the entire friendly world. Every architect knew and said that the
profession of architecture would be ruined for years. Then the India
Office woke George up. The attitude of the India Office was overbearing.
It implied that it had been marvellously original and virtuous in
submitting the affair of its barracks to even a limited competition,
when it might just as easily have awarded the job to any architect whom
it happened to know, or whom its wife, cousin, or aunt happened to know,
or whose wife, cousin, or aunt happened to know the India Office--and
further, that George ought therefore to be deeply grateful. It said that
in view of the war the barracks must be erected with the utmost
possible, or rather with quite impossible, dispatch, and that George
would probably have to go to India at once. Simultaneously it daily
modified George's accepted plans for the structure, exactly as though it
was a professional architect and George an amateur, and it involved him
in a seemly but intense altercation between itself and the subordinate
bureaucracy of a Presidency. It kept George employed. In due course
people discovered that business must proceed as usual, and even the
architectural profession, despite its traditional pessimism, had hopes
of municipalities and other bodies which were to inaugurate public works
in order to diminish unemployment.
Nevertheless George had extreme difficulty in applying himself
efficiently to urgent tasks. He kept thinking: "It's come! It's come!"
He could not get over the fact that it had come--the European War which
had obsessed men's minds for so many years past. He saved the face of
his own theory as to the immediate impossibility of a great war, by
positively asserting that Germany would never have fought had she
foreseen that Britain would fight. He prophesied (to himself) Germany's
victory, German domination of Europe, and, as the grand central
phenomenon, mysterious ruin for George Edwin Cannon. But the next
instant he would be convinced that Germany would be smashed, and
quickly. Germany, he reckoned superiorly, in 'taking on England' had
'bitten off more than she could chew.'
He knew almost naught of the progress of the fighting. He had obtained
an expensive map of Western Europe and some flagged pins, and had hung
the map up in his hall and had stuck the pins into it with exactitude.
He had moved the pins daily, until little Laurencine one morning, aloft
on a chair, decided to change all the positions of the opposing armies.
Laurencine established German army corps in Marseilles, the
Knockmillydown Mountains, and Torquay, while sending the French to
Elsinore and Aberdeen. There was trouble in the house. Laurencine
suffered, and was given to understand that war was a serious matter.
Still, George soon afterwards had ceased to manipulate the pins; they
seemed to be incapable of arousing his imagination; he could not be
bothered with them; he could not make the effort necessary to acquire a
scientific conception of the western campaign--not to mention the
eastern, as to which his ignorance was nearly perfect.
Yet he read much about the war. Some of the recounted episodes deeply
and ineffaceably impressed him. For example, an American newspaper
correspondent had written a dramatic description of the German army
marching, marching steadily along a great Belgian high road--a
procession without beginning and without end--and of the procession
being halted for his benefit, and of a German officer therein who struck
a soldier several times in the face angrily with his cane, while the man
stood stiffly at attention. George had an ardent desire to spend a few
minutes alone with that officer; he could not get the soldier's bruised
cheek out of his memory.
Again, he was moved and even dismayed by the recitals of the entry of
the German army into Brussels and of its breaking into the goose-step as
it reached the Grande Place, though he regarded the goose-step as too
ridiculous and contemptible for words. Then the French defence of
Dinant, and the Belgian defence of Liege, failure as it was, and the
obstinate resistance at Namur, inspired him; and the engagements between
Belgians and Uhlans, in which the clumsy Uhlans were always scattered,
destroyed for him the dread significance of the term 'Uhlan.'
He simply did not comprehend that all these events were negligible
trifles, that no American correspondent had seen the hundredth part of
the enemy forces, that the troops which marched through Brussels were a
tiny, theatrical side-show, a circus, that the attack on Liege had been
mismanaged, that the great battle at Dinant was a mere skirmish in the
new scale of war, and the engagements with Uhlans mere scuffles, and
that behind the screen of these infinitesimal phenomena _the German
army_, unimagined in its hugeness, horror, and might, was creeping like
a fatal and monstrous caterpillar surely towards France.
A similar screen hid from him the realities of England. He saw bunting
and recruits, and the crowds outside consulates. But he had no idea of
the ceaseless flight of innumerable crammed trains day and night
southwards, of the gathering together of Atlantic liners and excursion
steamers from all the coasts into an unprecedented Armada, of the
sighting of the vanguard of that Armada by an incredulous Boulogne, of
the landing of British regiments and guns and aeroplanes in the midst of
a Boulogne wonderstruck and delirious, and of the thrill which thereupon
ecstatically shivered through France. He knew only that 'the
Expeditionary Force had landed in safety.'
He could not believe that a British Army could face successfully the
legendary Prussians with their Great General Staff, and yet he had a
mystic and entirely illogical belief in the invincibility of the British
Army. He had read somewhere that the German forces amounted in all to
the equivalent of over three hundred divisions; he had been reliably
told that the British forces in France amounted to three divisions and
some cavalry. It was most absurd; but his mysticism survived the
absurdity, so richly was it nourished by news from the strange,
inartistic colonies, where architecture was not understood. Revelation
came to George that the British Empire, which he had always suspected to
be an invention of those intolerable persons the Imperialists, was after
all something more than a crude pink smear across the map of the world.
Withal he was acutely dejected as he left his office to go to the club.
Sir Isaac was sitting quite alone in the large smoking-room of the
Artists in Albemarle Street--a beautiful apartment terribly disfigured
by its pictures, which had been procured from fashionable members in the
fashionable taste of twenty years earlier, and were crying aloud for
some one brave enough to put them out of their misery. No interpretation
of the word 'artist' could by any ingenuity be stretched to include Sir
Isaac. Nevertheless he belonged to the club, and so did a number of
other men in like case. The difference between Sir Isaac and the rest
was that Sir Isaac did actually buy pictures, though seldom from
He was a personage of about forty-five years, with a rather prominent
belly, but not otherwise stout; a dark man; plenty of stiff black hair
(except for one small central bald patch); a rank moustache, and a
clean-shaven chin apparently woaded in the manner of the ancient
Britons; elegantly and yet severely dressed--braided morning-coat,
striped trousers, small, skin-fitting boots, a black flowered-silk
necktie. As soon as you drew near him you became aware of his
respiratory processes; you were bound to notice continually that without
ceasing he carried on the elemental business of existence. Hair sprouted
from his nose, and the nose was enormous; it led at a pronounced slope
to his high forehead, which went on upwards at exactly the same angle
and was lost in his hair. If the chin had weakly receded, as it often
does in this type, Sir Isaac would have had a face like a spear-head,
like a ram of which the sharp point was the top of his nose; but Sir
Isaac's chin was square, and the wall of it perpendicular.
His expression was usually inquisitive, dissatisfied, and
disdainful--the effect being produced by a slight lifting of the back of
the nostrils and a slight tipping forward of the whole head. His tone,
however, often by its bluff good-humour, contradicted the expression. He
had in an extreme degree the appearance of a Jew, and he had the names
of a Jew; and most people said he was a Jew. But he himself seriously
denied it. He asserted that he came of a Welsh Nonconformist family,
addicted to christening its infants out of the Bible, and could prove
his descent for generations--not that he minded being taken for a Jew
(he would add), was indeed rather flattered thereby, but he simply was
not a Jew. At any rate he was Welsh. A journalist had described him in a
phrase: "All the time he's talking to you in English you feel he's
thinking something different in Welsh." He was an exceedingly rich
industrial, and had made his money by organization; he seemed always to
"Here," he curtly advised George, producing a magnificent Partaga,
similar to the one he was himself smoking, "you'd better have this."
He cut the cigar carefully with a club tool, and pushed the match-stand
across the table with a brusque gesture. George would not thank him for
"You're on that Indian barracks, aren't you?"
"Yes. They're in a Hades of a hurry."
"Well, my factory is in much more of a hurry."
George was startled. He had heard nothing of the factory for a month,
and had assumed that the war had scotched the enterprise.
"Then the war won't stop you?"
Sir Isaac shook his head slowly, with an arrogant smile. It then
occurred to George that this man differed strangely from all other
men--because the sinister spell of the war had been powerless over him
alone. All other men bore the war in their faces and in their gestures,
but this man did not.
"I'm going to make munitions now--explosives. I'm going to have the
biggest explosives factory in the world. However, the modifications in
the general plan won't be serious. I want to talk to you about that."
"Have you got contracts, then, already?"
"No. Both the War Office and the Admiralty have told me they have all
the explosives they want," he sneered. "But I've made a few inquiries,
and I think that by the time my factory's up they'll be wanting more
explosives than they can get. In fact I wish I could build half a dozen
factories. Dare say I shall."
"Then you think we're in for a long war?"
"Not specially that. If it's a long war you English will win. If it's a
short war the Germans will win, and it will be the end of France as a
great power. That's all."
"Won't it be the end of your factory too?"
"Noh!" exclaimed Sir Isaac, with careless compassion in his deep, viscid
voice. "If it's a short war, there'll be another war. You English will
never leave it alone. So that whatever happens, if I take up explosives,
I can't go wrong. It's velvet."
"It seems to me we shall bust up the whole world if we aren't careful,
Sir Isaac smiled more compassion.
"Not at all," he said easily. "Not at all. Things are always arranged in
the end--more or less satisfactorily, of course. It's up to the
individual to look out for himself."
"I was thinking of going into the Army."
The statement was not strictly untrue, but he had never formulated it,
and he had never thought consecutively of such a project, which did
indeed appear too wild and unpractical for serious consideration.
"This recruiting's been upsetting you."
George's vague patriotism seemed to curdle at these half-dozen scornful
"Do you think I oughtn't to go into the Army, Sir Isaac?"
"My dear boy, any----can go into the Army. And if you go into the Army
you'll lose your special qualities. I see you as the best factory
designer we have, architecturally. You've only just started, but you
have it in you. And your barracks is pretty good. Of course, if you
choose to indulge in sentimentality you can deprive the country of an
architect in a million and make it a present of a mediocre soldier--for
you haven't got the mind of a soldier. But if you do that, mark my
words--you'll only do it to satisfy the egotism that you call your
heart, you'll only do it in order to feel comfortable; just as a woman
gives a penny to a beggar and thinks it's charity when it's nothing of
the sort. There are fellows that go and enlist because they hear a band
"Yes," George concurred. He hated to feel himself confronted by a mind
more realistic than his own, but he was realistic enough to admit the
fact. What Sir Isaac said was unanswerable, and it appealed very
strongly to George. He cast away his sentimentality, ashamed of it. And
at the same time he felt greatly relieved in other ways.
"You'd better put this Indian barracks on one side as much as you can,
or employ some one to help you. I shall want all your energies."
"But I shall probably have to go to India. The thing's very urgent."
Sir Isaac scorned him in a profound gaze. The smoke from their two
magnificent cigars mingled in a canopy above them.
"Not it!" said Sir Isaac. "What's more, it's not wanted at all. They
think it is, because they're absolutely incapable of thought. They know
the word 'war' and they know the word 'barracks.' They put them together
and imagine it's logic. They say: 'We were going to build a barracks,
and now we're at war. Therefore we must hurry up with the barracks.'
That's how they reason, and the official mind will never get beyond it.
_Why_ do they want the barracks? If they want the barracks, what's the
meaning of what they call 'the response of the Indian Empire'? Are they
going to send troops to India or take them away from India? They're
going to take them away, of course. Mutiny of India's silent millions?
Rubbish! Not because a mutiny would contradict the far-famed 'response
of the Indian Empire,' but because India's silent millions haven't got a
rifle amongst them. You needn't tell me they've given you forty reasons
for getting on with that barracks. I know their reasons. All of 'em put
together only mean that in a dull, dim Oxford-and-Cambridge way they see
a connexion between the word 'war' and the word 'barracks.'"
George laughed, and then, after a few seconds, Sir Isaac gave a short,
"But if they insist on me going to India--" George began, and paused.
Sir Isaac grew meditative.
"I say, speaking of voyages," he murmured in a tone almost dreamy. "If
you have any loose money, put it into ships, and keep it there. You'll
double it, you'll treble it.... Any ships. No matter what ships."
"Well, I haven't got any loose money," said George curtly. "And what I
want to know is, if they insist on me going to India, what am I to do?"
"Tell them you can't go. Tell 'em your professional engagements won't
permit it. They'll lick your boots, and ask humbly if you can suggest
any suitable person to represent you. I shall want all your energies,
and my factory will be worth more to this country in the war than all
the barracks under heaven. Now just bend your eye to these."
He took some papers from his tail-pocket. The discussion grew technical.
George sailed down Piccadilly westwards on the top of a motor-bus. The
August afternoon was superb. Piccadilly showed more than its usual
splendour of traffic, for the class to whom the sacred word 'England'
signified personal dominion and a vast apparatus of personal luxury
either had not gone away for its holiday or had returned therefrom in a
hurry. The newspaper placards spoke of great feats of arms by the
Allies. Through the leafage of Hyde Park could be seen uncountable smart
troops manoeuvring in bodies. On the top of the motor-bus a student of
war was explaining to an ignorant friend that the active adhesion of
Japan, just announced, meant the beginning of the end for Germany. From
Japan he went to Namur, seeing that Namur was the 'chief bastion' of the
defensive line, and that hence the Germans would not be 'allowed' to
take it. Almost every motor-bus carried a fine specimen of this type of
philosopher, to whom the whole travelling company listened while
pretending not to listen. George despised him for his manner, but agreed
with some of his reasoning.
George was thinking chiefly about Sir Isaac. Impressive person, Sir
Isaac, even if hateful! It was remarkable how the fellow seemed always
to have leisure. Organization, of course! Indubitably the fellow's
arguments could not be gainsaid. The firing-line was not the only or
even the most important part of the national war machine. To suppose
otherwise was to share the crude errors of the childlike populace and
its Press. Men were useless without guns, guns without shot, shot
without explosives; and explosives could not be produced without a
factory. The populace would never understand the close interdependence
of various activities; it would never see beyond the recruiting station;
it was meet only for pity. Sir Isaac had uttered a very wise saying:
"Things are always arranged in the end ... It's up to the individual to
look out for himself." Sir Isaac was freed from the thrall of
mob-sentimentality. He was a super-man. And he was converting George
into a super-man. George might have gone back to the office, but he was
going home instead, because he could think creatively just as well
outside the office as inside--so why should he accept the convention of
the ordinary professional man. (Sir Isaac assuredly did not.) He had
telephoned to the office. A single consideration appealed to him: How
could he now best serve his country? Beyond question he could now serve
his country best as an architect. If his duty marched with his
advantage, what matter? It was up to the individual to look out for
himself. And he, George, with already an immense reputation, would
steadily enhance his reputation, which in the end would surpass all
others in the profession. The war could not really touch him--no more
than it could touch Sir Isaac; by good fortune, and by virtue of the
impartiality of his intelligence, he was above the war.... Yes, Sir
Isaac, disliked and unwillingly but deeply respected, had cleared his
ideas for him.
In Elm Park Gardens he met the white-clad son of a Tory M.P. who lived
in that dignified street.
"The very man! Come and make a fourth, will you, Cannon?" asked the
youth, dandiacal in flannels, persuasively and flatteringly.
George demanded with firmness:
"Who are the other two?"
"Miss Horton and Gladys What's-her-name."
Why shouldn't he play at tennis? It was necessary to keep fit.
"All right. But not for long, you know."
"That's all right. Hurry up and get into your things."
And in little more than ten minutes he was swinging a racket on the
private sward that separates Elm Park Gardens East from Elm Park Gardens
West, and is common to the residents of both. He had not encountered
Lois at home, and had not thought it necessary to seek her out. He and
she were often invited to play tennis in Elm Park Gardens.
The grass was beautifully kept. At a little distance two gardeners were
at work, and a revolving sprinkler whirled sprays of glinting water in a
wide circle. The back windows of the two streets disclosed not the
slightest untidiness nor deshabille; rising irregularly in tier over
tier to the high roof-line, they were all open, and all neatly
curtained, and many of them had gorgeous sun-blinds. The sound of one
or two pianos emerged faintly on the warm, still afternoon. Miss Horton
and the slim Gladys were dressed in white, with short skirts, at once
elegant and athletic. Miss Horton, very tall and strong, with clear
eyes, and a complexion damaged by undue exposure to healthy fresh air,
was a fine player of many years' experience, now at the decline of her
powers. She played seriously, every stroke conscientious and calculated,
and she gave polite, good-humoured hints to the youth, her partner.
George and Gladys were together. Gladys, eighteen, was a delightful
girl, the raw material of a very sound player; she held herself well,
and knew by instinct what style was. A white belt defined her waist in
the most enchanting fashion. George appreciated her, as a specimen of
the newest generation of English girls. There were thousands of them in
London alone, an endless supply, with none of the namby-pambiness and
the sloppiness and the blowziness of their forerunners. Walking in
Piccadilly or Bond Street or the Park, you might nowadays fancy yourself
in Paris ... Why indeed should he not be playing tennis at that hour?
The month was August. The apparatus of pleasure was there. Used or
unused, it would still be there. It could not be destroyed simply
because the times were grave. And there was his health; he would work
better after the exercise. What purpose could there be in mournful
inactivity? Yet continuously, as he ran about the court, and smiled at
Gladys, and called out the score, and exclaimed upon his failures in
precision, the strange, physical weight oppressed his stomach. He
supposed that nearly everybody carried that physical weight. But did Sir
Isaac? Did the delicious Gladys? The youth on the other side of the net
was in the highest spirits because in a few days he would be entering
A butler appeared from the French window of the ground floor of the
M.P.'s house, walked down the curving path screened by a pergola, and
came near the court with a small white paper in his solemn hand. At a
suitable moment he gave the paper to the young master, who glanced at it
and stuffed it into his pocket; the butler departed. A few minutes later
the players changed courts. While the girls chatted apart, the youth
leaped over the net, and, drawing the paper from his pocket, showed it
furtively to George. It bore the words:
"Namur has fallen."
The M.P.'s household received special news by telephone from a friend at
the War Office.
The youth raised his eyebrows, and with a side-glance seemed to say that
there could be no object in telling the women immediately. The next
instant the game was resumed with full ardour.
George missed his strokes. Like thousands of other people, untaught by
the episode of Liege, he had counted upon Namur. Namur, the bastion, the
shoulder of the newly forming line, if not impregnable, was expected to
hold out for many days. And it had tumbled like a tin church, and with
it the brave edifice of his confidence. He saw the Germans inevitably in
Paris, blowing up Paris quarter by quarter, arrondissement by
arrondissement, imposing peace, dictating peace, forcing upon Europe
unspeakable humiliations. He saw Great Britain compelled to bow; and he
saw worse than that. And the German officer, having struck across the
face with his cane the soldier standing at attention, would go back to
Germany in triumph more arrogant than ever, to ogle adoring virgins and
push cowed and fatuous citizens off the pavement into the gutter. The
solid houses of Elm Park Gardens, with their rich sun-blinds, the
perfect sward, the white-frocked girls, the respectful gardeners, the
red motor-buses flitting past behind the screen of bushes in the
distance, even the butler in his majestic and invulnerable
self-conceit--the whole systematized scene of correctness and tradition
trembled as if perceived through the quivering of hot air. Gladys,
reliant on the male and feeling that the male could no longer be relied
on, went 'off her game,' with apologies; the experience of Miss Horton
asserted itself, and the hard-fought set was lost by George and his
partner. He reminded the company that he had only come for a short time,
and left in a mood of bitter blackness.
In front of his own house George saw a tradesman's coupe of the
superior, discreet sort, with a smart horse (the same being more
'distinctive' than motor-traction), a driver liveried in black, and the
initials of the firm in a restrained monogram on the doors. He thought:
"She's blueing money again. Of course it's her own, but--" He was
extremely sardonic. In the drawing-room he found not only Lois but
Laurencine and an attentive, respectful, bright-faced figure rather
stylishly dressed in black. This last was fastening a tea-gown on the
back of pale Lois, who stood up with a fatigued, brave air. Laurencine
sat critically observant on the end of a sofa. The furniture of the room
was heaped with tea-gowns, and other garments not very dissimilar,
producing a rich and exciting effect. All three women quickened to
"Oh! George!" said Lois querulously. "Are you going to play tennis? I
wish I could! I'm so glad you came in; we'd no idea you were in the
house, had we, Laurencine? Laurencine's giving me a tea-gown. Which of
them do you prefer? It's no good me having one you don't like."
He had been unjust to her, then.
"It's really her birthday present," said Laurencine, "only a bit late.
Oh! Dear! Darling, do sit down, you're standing too long."
Both Laurencine and the young woman in black regarded Lois with soft
compassion, and she sat down. Laurencine too was a mother. But she had
retained her girlhood. She was a splendid, powerful, erect creature,
handsome, with a frank, benevolent, sane face, at the height of her
physical perfection. George had a great fondness for her. Years earlier
he had wondered how it was that he had not fallen in love with her
instead of with Lois. But he knew the reason now. She lacked force of
individuality. She was an adorer by instinct. She adored Lois; Lois
could do no wrong. More strange, she adored her husband. Ingenuous
simpleton! Yet wise! Another thing was that her mind was too pure.
Instead of understanding, it rejected. It was a mind absolutely
impregnable to certain phenomena. And this girl still enjoyed musical
comedies and their successors in vogue, the revues!
"The Germans have taken Namur," George announced.
The news impressed. Even the young woman in black permitted herself by a
facial gesture to show that she was interested in the war as well as in
tea-gowns, and apart from its effect on tea-gowns.
"Oh! Dear!" murmured Laurencine.
"Is it serious?" Lois demanded.
"You bet it is!" George replied.
"But what's Sir John French doing, then? I say, Laurencine, I think I
shall have that pale blue one, after all, if you don't mind." The black
young woman went across to the piano and brought the pale blue one.
"George, don't you think so?"
The gown was deferentially held out for his inspection.
"Well, I can't judge if I don't see it on, can I?" he said, yielding
superciliously to their mood. Women were incurable. Namur had fallen,
but the room was full of finery, and the finery claimed attention. And
if Paris had fallen, it would have been the same. So he told himself.
Nevertheless the spectacle of the heaped finery and its absorbed
priestess was very agreeable. Lois rose. Laurencine and the priestess
helped her to remove the white gown she wore, and to put on the blue
one. The presence of the male somewhat disturbed the priestess, but the
male had signified a wish and the wish was flattering and had to be
fulfilled. George, cynically, enjoyed her constraint. He might at least
have looked out of the window, but he would not.
"Yes, that's fine," he decided carelessly, when the operation was done.
He did not care a pin which tea-gown Lois had.
"I knew you'd like it better," said Lois eagerly. The other two, in
words or by demeanour, applauded his august choice.
The affair was over. The priestess began to collect her scattered stock
into a light trunk. Behind her back, Lois took hold of Laurencine and
kissed her fondly. Laurencine smiled, and persuaded Lois into a chair.
"You will of course keep that on, madam?" the priestess suggested.
"Oh yes, darling, you must rest, really!" said Laurencine earnestly.
"Thank you, madam."
In three minutes the priestess, bearing easily the trunk by a strap, had
gone, bowing. Lois's old tea-gown, flung across the head of the sofa,
alone remained to brighten the furniture.
The drawing-room door opened again immediately, and a military officer
entered. Laurencine sprang up with a little girlish scream and ran to
"Oh! Dearest! Have you got them already? You never told me you would
have! How lovely you look!"
Blushing with pleasure and pride, she kissed him. It was Everard Lucas.
Laurencine had come to Elm Park Road that afternoon with the first news
that Everard, through a major known to his late mother, had been offered
a commission in a Territorial line regiment. George, who saw Lucas but
seldom, had not the slightest idea of this enormous family event, and
he was astounded; he had not been so taken back by anything perhaps for
years. Lucas was rounder and his face somewhat coarser than in the past;
but the uniform had created a new Lucas. It was beautifully made and he
wore it well; it suited him; he had the fine military air of a regular;
he showed no awkwardness, only a simple vanity.
"Don't you feel as if you must kiss him, Lois darling?" said Laurencine.
"Oh! I certainly must!" Lois cried, forgetting her woes in the new
tea-gown and in the sudden ecstasy produced by the advent of an officer
into the family.
Lucas bent down and kissed his sister-in-law, while Laurencine beheld
the act with delight.
"The children must see you before you go," said Lois.
"Madam, they shall see their uncle," Lucas answered. At any rate his
agreeable voice had not coarsened. He turned to George: "What d'you
think of it, George?"
"My boy, I'm proud of you," said George. In his tennis-flannels he felt
like one who has arrived at an evening party in morning-dress. And
indeed he was proud of Lucas. Something profound and ingenuous in him
rose into his eyes and caused them to shine.
Lucas related his adventures with the tailor and other purveyors, and
explained that he had to 'join his regiment' the next day, but would be
able to remain in London for the present. George questioned him about
his business affairs.
"No difficulty about that whatever!" said Lucas lightly. "The old firm
will carry on as usual; Enwright and Orgreave will have to manage it
between them; and of course they wouldn't dream of trying to cut off the
spondulicks. Not that I should let that stop me if they did."
"Yes, it's all very well for _you_ to talk like that!" said Lois, with a
swift change of tone. "You've got partners to do your work for you, and
you've got money.... Have you written to mother, Laurencine?"
George objected to his wife making excuses. His gaze faltered.
"Of course, darling!" Laurencine answered eagerly, agreeing with her
sister's differentiation between George and Everard. "No, not yet. But
I'm going to to-night. Everard, we ought to be off."
"I've got a taxi outside," said Lucas.
"A taxi?" she repeated in a disappointed tone. And then, as an
afterthought: "Well, I have to call at Debenham's."
The fact was that Laurencine wanted to be seen walking with her military
officer in some well-frequented thoroughfare. They lived at Hampstead.
Lois rang the bell.
"Ask nurse to bring the children down, please--at once," she told the
"So this is the new tea-gown, if I mistake not!" observed Lucas in the
pause. "_Tres chic_! I suppose Laurencine's told you all about the
chauffeur being run off with against his will by a passionate virgin.
_I_ couldn't start the car this morning myself."
"You never could start a car by yourself, my boy," said George. "What's
this about the passionate virgin?"
George woke up in the middle of the night. Lois slept calmly; he could
just hear her soft breathing. He thought of all the occupied bedrooms,
of the health of children, the incalculable quality in wives, the touchy
stupidity of nurses and servants. The mere human weight of the household
oppressed him terribly. And he thought of the adamant of landlords, the
shifty rapacity of tradesmen, the incompetence of clerks, the mere
pompous foolishness of Government departments, the arrogance of Jew
patrons, and the terrifying complexity of problems of architecture on a
large scale. He was the Atlas supporting a vast world a thousand times
more complex than any problem of architecture. He wondered how he did
it. But he did do it, alone; and he kept on doing it. Let him shirk the
burden, and not a world but an entire universe would crumble. If he told
Lois that he was going to leave her, she would collapse; she would do
dreadful things. He was indispensable not only at home but
professionally. All was upon his shoulders and upon nobody else's. He
was bound, he was a prisoner, he had no choice, he was performing his
highest duty, he was fulfilling the widest usefulness of which he was
capable ... Besides, supposing he did go insane and shirk the burden,
they would all say that he had been influenced by Lucas's uniform--the
mere sight of the uniform!--like a girl! He could not stand that,
because it would be true. Not that he would ever admit its truth! He
recalled Lucas's tact in refraining from any suggestion, even a jocular
suggestion, that he, George, ought also to be in uniform. Lucas was
always tactful. Be damned to his tact! And the too eager excuses made
by Lois in his behalf also grated on his susceptibility. He had no need
of excuses. The woman was taciturn by nature, and yet she was constantly
saying too much! And did any of the three of them--Lois, Laurencine, and
Lucas--really appreciate the war? They did not. They could not envisage
it. Lucas was wearing uniform solely in obedience to an instinct.
At this point the cycle of his reflections was completed, and began
again. He thought of all the occupied bedrooms.... Thus, in the dark,
warm night the contents of his mind revolved endlessly, with extreme
tedium and extreme distress, and each moment his mood became more
An occasional sound of traffic penetrated into the room,--strangely
mournful, a reminder of the immense and ineffable melancholy of a city
which could not wholly lose itself in sleep. The window lightened. He
could descry his wife's portable clock on the night-table. A quarter to
four. Turning over savagely in bed, he muttered: "My night's done for.
And nearly five hours to breakfast. Good God!" The cycle resumed, and
At intervals he imagined that he dozed; he did doze, if it is possible
while you are dozing to know that you doze. His personality separated
into two personalities, if not more. He was on a vast plain, and yet he
was not there, and the essential point of the scene was that he was not
there. Thousands and tens of thousands of men stood on this plain, which
had no visible boundaries. A roll-call was proceeding. A resounding and
mysterious voice called out names, and at each name a man stepped
briskly from the crowds and saluted and walked away. But there was no
visible person to receive the salute; the voice was bodiless. George
became increasingly apprehensive; he feared a disaster, yet he could not
believe that it would occur. It did occur. Before it arrived he knew
that it was arriving. The voice cried solemnly:
"George Edwin Cannon."
An awful stillness and silence followed, enveloping the entire infinite
plain. George trembled. He was there, but he was not there. Men looked
at each other, raising their eyebrows. The voice did not deign to repeat
the call. After a suitable pause, the voice cried solemnly:
And Lucas in his new uniform stepped gravely forward and saluted and
"Was I asleep or awake?" George asked himself. He could not decide. At
any rate the scene impressed him. The bigness of the plain, the summons,
the silence, the utter absence of an expression of reproof or regret--of
any comment whatever.
At five o'clock he arose, and sat down in his dressing-gown at Lois's
very untidy and very small writing-desk, and wrote a letter on her
notepaper. The early morning was lovely; it was celestial.
"DEAR DAVIDS," the letter began.--That would annoy the fellow, who liked
the address respectful.--"Dear Davids, I have decided to join the Army,
and therefore cannot proceed further with your commission. However, the
general idea is complete. I advise you to get it carried out by Lucas &
Enwright. Enwright is the best architect in England. You may take this
from me. I'm his disciple. You might ring me up at the office this
afternoon.--Yours faithfully, GEORGE CANNON"
"P.S.--Assuming you go to Lucas & Enwright, I can either make some
arrangement with them as to sharing fees myself, or you can pay me an
agreed sum for the work I've done, and start afresh elsewhere. I shall
want all the money I can get hold of."
Yes, Sir Isaac would be very angry. George smiled. He was not
triumphant, but he was calm. In the full sanity of the morning, every
reason against his going into the Army had vanished. The material
objection was ridiculous--with Edwin Clayhanger at the back of him!
Moreover, some money would be coming in. The professional objection was
equally ridiculous. The design for the Indian barracks existed complete;
and middle-aged mediocrity could carry it out in a fashion, and Lucas &
Enwright could carry it out better than he could carry it out himself.
As for Davids, he had written. There was nothing else of importance in
his office. The other competition had not been won. If people said that
he had been influenced by Lucas's uniform, well, they must say it. They
would not say it for more than a few days. After a few days the one
interesting fact would be that he had joined. By such simple and curt
arguments did he annihilate the once overwhelming reasons against his
joining the Army.
But he did not trouble to marshal the reasons in favour of his joining
the Army. He had only one reason: he must! He quite ignored the larger
aspects of the war--the future of civilization, freedom versus slavery,
right versus wrong, even the responsibilities of citizenship and the
implications of patriotism. His decision was the product, not of
argument, but of feeling. However, he did not feel a bit virtuous. He
had to join the Army, and 'that was all there was to it.' A beastly
nuisance, this world-war! It was interfering with his private affairs;
it might put an end to his private affairs altogether; he hated
soldiering; he looked inimically at the military caste. An unspeakable
nuisance. But there the war was, and he was going to answer to his name.
He simply could not tolerate the dreadful silence and stillness on the
plain after his name had been called. "Pooh! Sheer sentimentality!" he
said to himself, thinking of the vision--half-dream, half-fancy. "Rotten
"Damn it! Am I an Englishman or am I not?"
Like most Englishmen, he was much more an Englishman than he ever
"What on earth are you doing, George?"
At the voice of his wife he gave a nervous jump, and then instantly
controlled himself and looked round. Her voice was soft, liquid, weak
with slumber. But, lying calmly on one side, her head half buried in the
pillow, and the bedclothes pushed back from her shoulders, she was
wideawake and gazed at him steadily.
"I'm just writing a letter," he answered gruffly.
"Now? What letter?"
"Here! You shall read it." He walked straight across the room in his gay
pyjamas only partly hidden by the splendid dressing-gown, and handed her
the letter. Moving nothing but her hand, she took the letter and held it
in front of her eyes. He sat down between the beds, on the edge of his
own bed, facing her.
"Whatever is it?"
"Read it. You've got it," he said, with impatience. He was trembling,
aware that the crisis had suddenly leapt at him.
She had read the opening phrase; she had received the first shock. But
the tone of her exclamation gave no clue at all to her attitude. It
might mean anything--anything. She shut her eyes; then glanced at him,
terror-struck, appealing, wistful, implacable.
"Not at once?"
"Yes, at once."
"But surely you'll at least wait until after October."
He shook his head.
"But why can't you?"
"But there's no object--"
"I've got to do it."
"You're horribly cruel."
"Well, that's me!" He was sullen, and as hard as a diamond.
"George, I shall never be able to stand it. It's too much to expect.
It'll kill me."
"Not it! What's the use of talking like that? If I'd been in the
Territorials before the war, like lots of chaps, I should have been gone
long ago, and you'd have stood it all right. Don't you understand we're
at war? Do you imagine the war can wait for things like babies?"
"It's no good your going on in that strain. You can't leave me alone
with all this house on my shoulders, and so that's flat."
"Who wants to leave you all alone in the house? You can go and stay at
Ladderedge, children and nurse and all." This scheme presented itself to
him as he spoke.
"Of course I can't! We can't go and plant ourselves on people like that.
"Can't you? You'll see!"
He caught her eye. Why was he being so brutal to her? What conceivable
purpose was served by this harshness? He perceived that his nerves were
overstrung. And in a swift rush of insight he saw the whole situation
from her point of view. She was exhausted by gestation; she lived in a
world distorted. Could she help her temperament? She was in the gravest
need of his support; and he was an ass, a blundering fool. His severity
melted within him, and secretly he became tender as only a man can be.
"You silly girl!" he said, slightly modifying his voice, taking care not
to disclose all at once the change in his mood.
"You silly girl! Can't you see they'll be so proud to have you they
won't be able to contain themselves? They'll turn the whole place
upside-down for you. I know them. They'll pretend it's nothing, but
mother won't sleep at night for thinking how to arrange things for the
best, and as for my cuckoo of an uncle, if you notice something funny
about your feet, it'll be the esteemed alderman licking your boots.
You'll have the time of your life. In fact they'll ruin your character
for you. There'll be no holding you afterwards."
She did not smile, but her eyes smiled. He had got the better of her. He
had been cleverer than she was. She was beaten.
"But we shall have no money."
"Read the letter, child. I'm not a fool."
"I know you're not a fool. No one knows that better than me."
He went on:
"And what's uncle's money for, if it comes to that?"
"But we can't spunge on them like that!"
"Spunge be dashed! What's money for? It's no good till it's spent. If he
can't spend it on us, who can he spend it on? He always makes out he's
fiendishly hard, but he's the most generous idiot ever born."
"Yes, you're awfully like him."
He was suddenly alive to the marvellous charm of the intimacy of the
scene with his wife, in the early summer dawn, in the silent, enchanted
house of sleepers, in the disorder of the heaped bedroom. They were
alone together, shameless in front of one another, and nobody knew or
saw, or could ever know or see. Their relations were unique, the
resultant of long custom, of friction, of misunderstanding, of
affection, of incomprehensible instincts, of destiny itself. He thought:
"I have lived for this sensation, and it is worth living for."
Without the slightest movement, she invited him with her strange eyes,
and as she did so she was as mysterious as ever she had been. He bent
down responsively. She put her hot, clammy hands on his shoulders, and
kept his head at a little distance and looked through his eyes into his
soul. The letter had dropped to the floor.
"I knew you would!" she murmured, and then snatched him to her, and
kissed him, and kept her mouth on his.
"You didn't," he said, as soon as she loosed him. "I didn't know
But he privately admitted that perhaps she did know. She had every
fault, but she was intelligent. Constantly he was faced with that fact.
She did not understand the significance of the war; she lacked
imagination; but her understanding was sometimes terrible. She was
devious; but she had a religion. He was her religion. She would cast the
god underfoot--and then in a passion of repentance restore it ardently
to the sacred niche.
"I couldn't have borne it if Everard had gone and you hadn't. But of
course you meant to go all the time."
That was how she saved his amour-propre.
"I always knew you were a genius--"
"Oh! Chuck it, kid!"
"But you're more, somehow. This business--"
"You don't mean joining the Army?"
"What rot! There's nothing in it. Fellows are doing it everywhere."
She smiled superiorly, and then inquired:
"How do you join? What are you going to do? Shall you ask Everard?"
"Well--" he hesitated. He had no desire to consult Lucas.
"Why don't you see Colonel Rannion?" she Suggested.
"Jove! That's a scheme. Never thought of him!"
Her satisfaction at the answer was childlike, and he was filled with
delight that it should be so. They launched themselves into an
interminable discussion about every possible arrangement of everything.
But in a pause of it he destroyed its tremendous importance by remarking
"No hurry, of course. I bet you I shall be kept knocking about here for
IN THE MACHINE
Colonel Rannion was brother of the wife of the man for whom George had
built the house at Hampstead. George had met him several times at the
dinners and other reunions to which a sympathetic architect is often
invited in the dwelling that he has created. Colonel Rannion had greatly
liked his sister's house, had accordingly shown much esteem for George,
and had even spoken of ordering a house for himself.
Just as breakfast was being served, George had the idea of ringing up
the Hampstead people for the Colonel's address, which he obtained at
once. The Colonel was staying at the Berkeley Hotel. The next moment he
got the Berkeley, and the Colonel in person. The Colonel remembered him
instantly. George said he wanted to see him. What about? Well, a
commission. The Colonel said he had to leave the hotel in twenty-five
minutes. "I can be with you in less than a quarter of an hour," said
George--or rather, not George, but some subconscious instinct within
him, acting independently of him. The children, with nurse, were in the
dining-room, waiting to breakfast with father. They were washed, they
were dressed; the dining-room had been cleaned; the pleasant smell of
breakfast-cooking wandered through the rooms; since the early talk
between George and Lois in the silent, sleeping house the house had
gradually come to life; it was now in full being--even to the girl
scrubbing the front steps--except that Lois was asleep. Exhausted after
the strange and crucial scene, she had dozed off, and had never moved
throughout George's dressing.
Now he rushed into the dining-room--"I have to go, nurse. Fardy can't
have his breakfast with you!"--and rushed out. A minute previously he
had felt a serious need of food after the long, sleepless morning. The
need vanished. He scurried up Elm Park Gardens like a boy in the warm,
fresh air, and stopped a taxi. He was extremely excited. None but Lois
knew the great secret. He had kept it to himself. He might have burst
into the kitchen--for he was very apt to be informal--and said: "Well,
cook, I'm going into the Army!" What a household sensation the news
would cause, and what an office sensation! His action would affect the
lives of all manner of people. And the house, at present alive and
organic, would soon be dead. He was afraid. What he was doing was
tremendous. Was it madness? He had a feeling of unreality.
At the entrance to the Berkeley Hotel lay a large automobile, with a
spurred and highly polished military chauffeur. At the door of Colonel
Rannion's room was stationed a spurred and highly polished, erect
orderly--formidable contrast to the flaccid waiters who slouched palely
in the corridors. The orderly went into the room and saluted with a
click. George followed, as into a dentist's surgery. It was a small,
elegant, private sitting-room resembling a boudoir. In the midst of
delicately tinted cushions and flower-vases stood Colonel Rannion,
grey-haired, blue-eyed, very straight, very tall, very slim--the
slimness accentuated by a close-fitted uniform which began with red tabs
and ended in light leggings and gleaming spurs. He conformed absolutely
to the traditional physical type of soldier, and the sight of him gave
"Good morning. Cannon. Glad to see you." He seemed to put a secret
meaning into the last words.
He shook hands as he spoke, firmly, decisively, efficiently.
"I hope I'm not troubling you too much," George began.
"Troubling me! Sit down. You want a commission. The Army wants to give
commissions to men like you. I think you would make a good officer."
"Of course I'm absolutely ignorant of the Army. Absolutely."
"Yes. What a pity that is! If you'd only been a pre-war Territorial you
might have done three weeks' urgent work for your country by this time."
The remark was a polite reproof.
"I might," admitted George, to whom the notion of working for his
country had never before occurred.
"Do you think you'd like the Artillery?" Colonel Rannion questioned
sharply. His tone was increasing in sharpness.
With an equal sharpness George answered unhesitatingly: "Yes, I
"Can you ride?"
"I can _ride_. In holidays and so on I get on my mother's horses."
"Have you hunted?"
"H'm!... Well, I know my friend Colonel Hullocher, who commands the
Second Brigade of--er--my Division, is short of an officer. Would you
care for that?"
Without saying anything else Colonel Rannion took up the telephone. In
less than half a minute George heard him saying: "Colonel Hullocher....
Ask him to be good enough to come to the telephone at once.... That you,
George actually trembled. He no longer felt that heavy weight on his
stomach, but he felt 'all gone.' He saw himself lying wounded near a
huge gun on a battlefield.
Colonel Rannion was continuing into the telephone:
"I can recommend a friend of mine to you for a commission. George
Cannon--C-a-n-n-o-n--the architect. I don't know whether you know of
him.... Oh! About thirty.... No, but I think he'd suit you.... Who
recommends him? _I_ do.... Like to see him, I suppose, first?... No, no
necessity to see him. I'll tell him.... Yes, I shall see you in the
course of the day." The conversation then apparently deviated to other
subjects, and drew to a close.... "Good-bye. Thanks.... Oh! I say. Shall
he get his kit?... Cannon.... Yes, he'd better. Yes, that's understood
of course. Good-bye."
"That will be quite all right," said Colonel Rannion to George. "Colonel
Hullocher thinks you may as well see to your kit at once, provided of
course you pass the doctor and you are ready to work for nothing until
your commission comes along."
"Oh! Naturally!" George agreed, in a dream. He was saying to himself,
frightened, astounded, staggered, and yet uplifted: "_Get my kit! Get my
kit_! But it's scarcely a minute since I decided to go into the Army."
"I may get your commission ante-dated. I haven't all the papers here,
but give me an address where I can find you at once, and you shall have
them this afternoon. I'll get the Colonel to send them to the
Territorial Association to-morrow, and probably in about a month you'll
be in the _Gazette_. I don't know when Colonel Hullocher will want you
to report for duty, but I shall see him to-day. You'll get a telegram
when you're needed. Now I must go. Which way are you going?"
"I'm going home for my breakfast," said George, writing down his two
Colonel Rannion said:
"I'm off to Wimbledon. I can drop you in Fulham Road if you like."
In the automobile George received a few useful hints, but owing to the
speed of the vehicle the time was far too short for any extensive
instruction. The car drew up. For an instant Colonel Rannion became
freely cordial. "He must rather have cottoned to me, or he wouldn't have
done what he has," thought George, proud to be seen in converse with a
staff-officer, waving a hand in adieu. And he thought: "Perhaps next
time I see him I shall be saluting him!"
The children and nurse were still at breakfast. Nothing had changed in
the house during his absence. But the whole house was changed. It was a
house unconvincing, incredible, which might vanish at any moment. He
himself was incredible. What had happened was incredible. The screeching
voices of the children were not real voices, and the children were
apparitions. The newspaper was illegible. Its messages for the most part
had no meaning, and such as bore a meaning seemed to be utterly
unimportant. The first reality, for George was food. He discovered that
he could not eat the food--could not swallow; the nausea was acute. He
drank a little coffee, and then went upstairs to see his wife. Outside
the bedroom door he stood hesitant. A desolating sadness of
disappointment suddenly surged over him. He had destroyed his ambitions,
he had transformed all his life, by a single unreflecting and
irretrievable impulse. What he had done was terrific, and yet he had
done it as though it were naught ... The mood passed as suddenly as it
had come, and left him matter-of-fact, grim, as it were swimming
strongly on and with the mighty current which had caught him. He went
into the bedroom on the current. Lois was awake.
"I've seen Colonel Rannion."