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   Chapter 3 No.3

The Roll-Call By Arnold Bennett Characters: 13906

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


More than two months later George came into the office in Russell Square an hour or so after his usual time. He had been to South Kensington Museum to look up, for professional purposes, some scale drawings of architectural detail which were required for a restaurant then rising in Piccadilly under the direction of Lucas & Enwright. In his room Mr. Everard Lucas was already seated. Mr. Lucas was another articled pupil of the firm; being a remote cousin of the late senior partner, he had entered on special terms. Although a year older than George he was less advanced, for whereas George had passed the Intermediate, Mr. Lucas had not. But in manly beauty, in stylishness, in mature tact, and especially in persuasive charm, he could beat George.

"Hallo!" Lucas greeted. "How do you feel? Fit?"

"Fit?" said George enthusiastically "I feel so fit I could push in the side of a house."

"What did I tell you?" said Lucas.

George rubbed his hand all over Lucas's hair, and Lucas thereupon seized George's other hand and twisted his arm, and a struggle followed. In this way they would often lovingly salute each other of a morning. Lucas had infected George with the craze for physical exercises as a remedy for all ills and indiscretions, including even late nights and excessive smoking. The competition between them to excel in the quality of fitness was acute, and sometimes led to strange challenges. After a little discussion about springing from the toes, Lucas now accused George's toes of a lack of muscularity, and upon George denying the charge, he asserted that George could not hang from the mantelpiece by his toes. They were both men of the world, capable of great heights of dignity, figures in an important business, aspirants to a supreme art and profession. They were at that moment in a beautiful late-eighteenth-century house of a stately and renowned square, and in a room whose proportions and ornament admittedly might serve as an exemplar to the student; and not the least lovely feature of the room was the high carved mantelpiece. The morning itself was historic, for it was the very morning upon which, President McKinley having expired, Theodore Roosevelt ascended the throne and inaugurated a new era. Nevertheless, such was their peculiar time of life that George, a minute later, was as a fact hanging by his toes from the mantelpiece, while Lucas urged him to keep the blood out of his head. George had stood on his hands on a box and lodged his toes on the mantelpiece, and then raised his hands-and Lucas had softly pushed the box away. George's watch was dangling against his flushed cheek.

"Put that box back, you cuckoo!" George exploded chokingly.

Then the door opened and Mr. Enwright appeared. Simultaneously some shillings slipped out of George's pocket and rolled about the floor. The hour was Mr. Enwright's customary hour of arrival, but he had no fair excuse for passing through that room instead of proceeding along the corridor direct to the principals' room. His aspect, as he gazed at George's hair and at the revealed sateen back of George's waistcoat, was unusual. Mr. Enwright commonly entered the office full of an intense and aggrieved consciousness of his own existence-of his insomnia, of the reaction upon himself of some client's stupidity, of the necessity of going out again in order to have his chin lacerated by his favourite and hated Albanian barber. But now he had actually forgotten himself.

"What is this?" he demanded.

Lucas having quickly restored the box, George subsided dangerously thereon, and arose in a condition much disarrayed and confused, and beheld Mr. Enwright with shame.

"I-I was just looking to see if the trap of the chimney was shut," said George. It was foolish in the extreme, but it was the best he could do, and after all it was a rather marvellous invention. Lucas sat down and made no remark.

"You might respect the mantelpiece," said Mr. Enwright bitterly, and went into the principals' room, where John Orgreave could be heard dictating letters. George straightened his clothes and picked up his money, and the two men of the world giggled nervously at each other.

Mr. Haim next disturbed them. The shabby, respectable old man smiled vaguely, with averted glance.

"I think he's heard the result," said he.

Both men knew that 'he' was Mr. Enwright, and that the 'result' was the result of the open competition for the £150,000 Law Courts which a proud provincial city proposed to erect for itself. The whole office had worked very hard on the drawings for that competition throughout the summer, while cursing the corporation which had chosen so unusual a date for sending-in day. Even Lucas had worked. George's ideas for certain details, upon which he had been engaged on the evening of his introduction to Mr. Haim's household, had been accepted by Mr. Enwright. As for Mr. Enwright, though the exigencies of his beard, and his regular morning habit of inveighing against the profession at great length, and his inability to decide where he should lunch, generally prevented him from beginning the day until three o'clock in the afternoon, Mr. Enwright had given many highly concentrated hours of creative energy to the design. And Mr. Haim had adorned the sheets with the finest lettering. The design was held to be very good. The principals knew the identity of all the other chief competitors and their powers, and they knew also the idiosyncrasies of the Assessor; and their expert and impartial opinion was that the Lucas & Enwright design ought to win and would win. This view, indeed, was widespread in the arcana of the architectural world. George had gradually grown certain of victory. And yet, at Mr. Haim's words, his hopes sank horribly away.

"Have we won?" he asked sharply.

"That I can't say, Mr. Cannon," answered Haim.

"Well, then, how do you know he's heard? Has he told you?"

"No," said the factotum mysteriously. "But I think he's heard." And upon this Mr. Haim slouched off quite calmly. Often he had assisted at the advent of such vital news in the office-news obtained in advance by the principals through secret channels-and often the news had been bad. But the firm's calamities seemed never to affect the smoothness of Mr. Haim's earthly passage.

The door into the principals' room opened, and Mr. Enwright's head showed. The gloomy, resenting eyes fixed George for an instant.

"Well, you've lost that competition," said Mr. Enwright, and he stepped into full view. His unseen partner had ceased to dictate, and the shorthand-clerk could be heard going out by the other door.

"No!" said George, in a long, outraged murmur. The news seemed incredible and quite disastrous; and yet at the same time had he not, in one unvisited corner of his mind, always foreknown it? Suddenly he was distressed, discouraged, disillusioned about the whole of life. He thought that Everar

d Lucas, screwing up a compass, was strangely unmoved. But Mr. Enwright ignored Lucas.

"Who's got it?" George asked.

"Whinburn."

"That chap!... Where are we ?"

"Nowhere."

"Not placed?"

"Not in it. Skelting's second. And Grant third. I shouldn't have minded so much if Grant had got it. There was something to be said for his scheme. I knew we shouldn't get it. I knew that perfectly well-not with Corver assessing."

George wondered that his admired principal should thus state the exact opposite of what he had so often affirmed during the last few weeks. People were certainly very queer, even the best of them. The perception of this fact added to his puzzled woe.

"But Whinburn's design is grotesque!" he protested borrowing one of Mr. Enwright's adjectives.

"Of course it is."

"Then why does Sir Hugh Corver go and give him the award? Surely he must know--"

"Know!" Mr. Enwright growled, destroying Sir Hugh and his reputation and his pretensions with one single monosyllable.

"Then why did they make him Assessor-that's what I can't understand."

"It's quite simple," rasped Mr. Enwright. "They made him assessor because he's got so much work to do it takes him all his time to trot about from one job to another on his blooming pony. They made him assessor because his pony's a piebald pony. Couldn't you think of that for yourself? Or have you been stone deaf in this office for two years? It stands to reason that a man who's responsible for all the largest new eyesores in London would impress any corporation. Clever chap, Corver! Instead of wasting his time in travel and study, he made a speciality of learning how to talk to committees. And he was always full of ideas like the piebald pony, ever since I knew him."

"It's that fa?ade that did for us," broke in another voice. John Orgreave stood behind Mr. Enwright. He spoke easily; he was not ruffled by the immense disappointment, though the mournful greatness of the topic had drawn him irresistibly into the discussion. John Orgreave had grown rather fat and coarse. At one period, in the Five Towns, he had been George's hero. He was so no longer. George was still fond of him, but he had torn him down from the pedestal and established Mr. Enwright in his place. George in his heart now somewhat patronized the placid Orgreave, regarding him as an excellent person who comprehended naught that was worth comprehending, and as a husband who was the dupe of his wife.

"You couldn't have any other fa?ade," Mr. Enwright turned on him, "unless you're absolutely going to ignore the market on the other side of the Square. Whinburn's fa?ade is an outrage-an outrage. Give me a cigarette. I must run out and get shaved."

While Mr. Enwright was lighting the cigarette, George reflected in desolation upon the slow evolving of the firm's design for the Law Courts. Again and again in the course of the work had he been struck into a worshipping enthusiasm by the brilliance of Mr. Enwright's invention and the happy beauty of his ideas. For George there was only one architect in the world; he was convinced that nobody could possibly rival Mr. Enwright, and that no Law Courts ever had been conceived equal to those Law Courts. And he himself had contributed something to the creation. He had dreamed of the building erected and of being able to stand in front of some detail of it and say to himself: "That was my notion, that was." And now the building was destroyed before its birth. It would never come into existence. It was wasted. And the prospect for the firm of several years' remunerative and satisfying labour had vanished. But the ridiculous, canny Whinburn would be profitably occupied, and his grotesque building would actually arise, and people would praise it, and it would survive for centuries-at any rate for a century.

Mr. Enwright did not move.

"It's no use regretting the fa?ade, Orgreave," he said suddenly. "There's such a thing as self-respect."

"I don't see that self-respect's got much to do with it," Orgreave replied lightly.

("Of course you don't," George thought. "You're a decent sort, but you don't see, and you never will see. Even Lucas doesn't see. I alone see." And he felt savage and defiant.)

"Better shove my self-respect away into this cupboard, I suppose!" said Mr. Enwright, with the most acrid cynicism, and he pulled open one door of a long, low cupboard whose top formed a table for portfolios, dusty illustrated books, and other accumulations.

The gesture was dramatic, and none knew it better than Mr. Enwright. The cupboard was the cupboard which contained the skeleton. It was full of designs rejected in public competitions. There they lay, piles and piles of them, the earliest dating from the late seventies. The cupboard was crammed with the futility of Enwright's genius. It held monuments enough to make illustrious a score of cities. Lucas & Enwright was a successful firm. But, confining itself chiefly to large public works, it could not escape from the competition system; and it had lost in far more competitions than it had won. It was always, and always would be, at the mercy of an Assessor. The chances had always been, and always would be, against the acceptance of its designs, because they had the fatal quality of originality combined with modest adherence to the classical tradition. When they conquered, it was by sheer force. George glanced at the skeleton, and he was afraid. Something was very wrong with architecture. He agreed with Mr. Enwright's tiresomely reiterated axiom that it was the Cinderella of professions and the chosen field of ghastly injustice. He had embraced architecture; he had determined to follow exactly in the footsteps of Mr. Enwright; he had sworn to succeed. But could he succeed? Suppose he failed! Yes, his faith faltered. He was intensely, miserably afraid. He was the most serious man in Russell Square. Astounding that only a few minutes ago he had hung triumphantly by his feet from the mantelpiece!

Mr. Enwright kicked-to the door of the cupboard.

"Look here," he said to his partner, "I shan't be back just yet. I have to go and see Bentley. I'd forgotten it."

Nobody was surprised at this remark. Whenever Mr. Enwright was inconveniently set back he always went off to visit Bentley, the architect of the new Roman Catholic Cathedral at Westminster, on the plea of an urgent appointment.

" You had a look at the cathedral lately?" he demanded of George as he left.

"No, I haven't," said George, who, by reason of a series of unaccountable omissions, and of the fullness of his life as an architect and a man of the world, had never seen the celebrated cathedral at all.

"Well," said Mr. Enwright sarcastically, "better take just a glance at it-some time-before they've spoilt the thing with decorations. There's a whole lot of 'em only waiting till Bentley's out of the way to begin and ruin it."

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