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   Chapter 1 No.1

The Roll-Call By Arnold Bennett Characters: 6671

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


In the pupils' room of the offices of Lucas & Enwright, architects, Russell Square, Bloomsbury, George Edwin Cannon, an articled pupil, leaned over a large drawing-board and looked up at Mr. Enwright, the head of the firm, who with cigarette and stick was on his way out after what he called a good day's work. It was past six o'clock on an evening in early July 1901. To George's right was an open door leading to the principals' room, and to his left another open door leading to more rooms and to the staircase. The lofty chambers were full of lassitude; but round about George, who was working late, there floated the tonic vapour of conscious virtue. Haim, the factotum, could be seen and heard moving in his cubicle which guarded the offices from the stairs. In the rooms shortly to be deserted and locked up, and in the decline of the day, the three men were drawn together like survivors.

"I gather you're going to change your abode," said Mr. Enwright, having stopped.

"Did Mr. Orgreave tell you, then?" George asked.

"Well, he didn't exactly tell me...."

John Orgreave was Mr. Enwright's junior partner; and for nearly two years, since his advent in London from the Five Towns, George had lived with Mr. and Mrs. Orgreave at Bedford Park. The Orgreaves, too, sprang from the Five Towns. John's people and George's people were closely entwined in the local annals.

Pupil and principal glanced discreetly at one another, exchanging in silence vague, malicious, unutterable critical verdicts upon both John Orgreave and his wife.

"Well, I am!" said George at length.

"Where are you going to?"

"Haven't settled a bit," said George. "I wish I could live in Paris."

"Paris wouldn't be much good to you yet," Mr. Enwright laughed benevolently.

"I suppose it wouldn't. Besides, of course--"

George spoke in a tone of candid deferential acceptance, which flattered Mr. Enwright very much, for it was the final proof of the prestige which the grizzled and wrinkled and peculiar Fellow and Member of the Council of the Royal Institute of British Architects had acquired in the estimation of that extremely independent, tossing sprig, George Edwin Cannon. Mr. Enwright had recently been paying a visit to Paris, and George had been sitting for the Intermediate Examination. "You can join me here for a few days after the exam., if you care to," Mr. Enwright had sent over. It was George's introduction to the Continent, and the circumstances of it were almost ideal. For a week the deeply experienced connoisseur of all the arts had had the fine, eager, responsive virgin mind in his power. Day after day he had watched and guided it amid entirely new sensations. Never had Mr. Enwright enjoyed himself more purely, and at the close he knew with satisfaction that he had put Paris in a proper perspective for George, and perhaps saved the youth from years of groping misapprehension. As for George, all his preconceived notions about Paris had been destroyed or shaken. In the quadrangles of the Louvre, for example, Mr. Enwright, pointing to the under part of the stone bench that foots so much of the walls, had said: "Look at that curve." Nothing else. No ecstasies about the sculptures of Jean Goujon and Carpeaux, or about the marvellous harmony of the East facade! But a flick of the cane towards th

e half-hidden moulding! And George had felt with a thrill what an exquisite curve and what an original curve and what a modest curve that curve was. Suddenly and magically his eyes had been opened. Or it might have been that a deceitful mist had rolled away and the real Louvre been revealed in its esoteric and sole authentic beauty....

"Why don't you try Chelsea?" said Mr. Enwright over his shoulder, proceeding towards the stairs.

"I was thinking of Chelsea."

" You were!" Mr. Enwright halted again for an instant. "It's the only place in London where the structure of society is anything like Paris. Why, dash it, in the King's Road the grocers know each other's business!" Mr. Enwright made the last strange remark to the outer door, and vanished.

"Funny cove!" George commented tolerantly to Mr. Haim, who passed through the room immediately afterwards to his nightly task of collecting and inspecting the scattered instruments on the principal's august drawing-board.

But Mr. Haim, though possibly he smiled ever so little, would not compromise himself by an endorsement of the criticism of his employer. George was a mere incident in the eternal career of Mr. Haim at Lucas & Enwright's.

When the factotum came back into the pupils' room, George stood up straight and smoothed his trousers and gazed admiringly at his elegant bright socks.

"Let me see," said George in a very friendly manner. " You live somewhere in Chelsea, don't you?"

"Yes," answered Mr. Haim.

"Whereabouts, if it isn't a rude question?"

"Well," said Mr. Haim, confidentially and benignantly, captivated by George's youthful charm, "it's near the Redcliffe Arms." He mentioned the Redcliffe Arms as he might have mentioned the Bank, Piccadilly Circus, or Gibraltar. "Alexandra Grove. No. 8. To tell you the truth, I own the house."

"The deuce you do!"

"Yes. The leasehold, that is, of course. No freeholds knocking about loose in that district!"

George saw a new and unsuspected Mr. Haim. He was impressed. And he was glad that he had never broken the office tradition of treating Mr. Haim with a respect not usually accorded to factotums. He saw a property-owner, a tax-payer, and a human being behind the spectacles of the shuffling, rather shabby, ceremonious familiar that pervaded those rooms daily from before ten till after six. He grew curious about a living phenomenon that hitherto had never awakened his curiosity.

"Were you really looking for accommodation?" demanded Mr. Haim suavely.

George hesitated. "Yes."

"Perhaps I have something that might suit you."

Events, disguised as mere words, seemed to George to be pushing him forward.

" I should like to have a look at it," he said. He had to say it; there was no alternative.

Mr. Haim raised a hand. "Any evening that happens to be convenient."

"What about to-night, then?"

"Certainly," Mr. Haim agreed. For a moment George apprehended that Mr. Haim was going to invite him to dinner. But Mr. Haim was not going to invite him to dinner. "About nine, shall we say?" he suggested, with a courtliness softer even than usual.

Later, George said that he would lock up the office himself and leave the key with the housekeeper.

"You can't miss the place," said Mr. Haim on leaving. "It's between the Workhouse and the Redcliffe."

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