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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Roll-Call By Arnold Bennett Characters: 8479

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


When they got into the hall the band was sending forth a tremendous volume of brilliant exhilarating sound. A vast melody seemed to ride on waves of brass. The conductor was very excited, and his dark locks shook with the violence of his gestures as he urged onward the fingers and arms of the executants flying madly through the maze of the music to a climax. There were flags; there was a bank of flowers; there was a fountain; there were the huge crimson-domed lamps that poured down their radiance; and there was the packed crowd of straw-hatted and floral-hatted erect figures gazing with upturned, intent faces at the immense orchestral machine. Then came a final crash, and for an instant the thin, silvery tinkle of the fountain supervened in an enchanted hush; and then terrific applause, with yells and thuds above and below the hand-clapping, filled and inflamed the whole interior. The conductor, recovering from a collapse, turned round and bowed low with his hand on his shirt-front; his hair fell over his forehead; he straightened himself and threw the hair back again, and so he kept on, time after time casting those plumes to and fro. At last, sated with homage, he thought of justice, and pointed to the band and smiled with an unconvincing air of humility, as if saying: "I am naught. Here are the true heroes." And on the end of his stick he lifted to their feet eighty men, whose rising drew invigorated shouts. Enthusiasm reigned; triumph was accomplished. Even when the applause had expired, enthusiasm still reigned; and every person present had the illusion of a share in the triumph. It was a great night at the Promenades.

George and Marguerite looked at each other happily. They both were inspired by the feeling that life was a grand thing, and that they had reached suddenly one of the summits of existence. George, observing the excitement in her eyes, thought how wonderful it was that she too should be excited.

"What was that piece?" she asked.

"I don't quite know," he said. "There don't appear to be any programmes about." He wished he had been able to identify the piece, but he was too content to be ashamed of his ignorance. Moreover, his ignorance was hers also, and he liked that.

The music resumed. He listened, ready to put himself into the mood of admiration if it was the Glazounov item. Was it Glazounov? He could not be certain. It sounded fine. Surely it sounded Russian. Then he had a glimpse of a programme held by a man standing near, and he peered at it. "No. 4. Elgar-Sea-Pictures." No. 5 was the Glazounov.

"It's only the Elgar," he said, with careless condescension, perceiving at once, by the mere virtue of a label, that the music was not fine and not Russian. He really loved music, but he happened to be at that age, from which some people never emerge, at which the judgment depends almost completely on extraneous suggestion.

"Oh!" murmured Marguerite indifferently, responding to his tone.

"Glazounov's next," he said.

"I suppose we couldn't sit down," she suggested.

Yet it was she who had preferred the Promenade to the Grand Circle or the Balcony.

"We'll find something," he said, with his usual assurance. And in the corridor that surrounded the hemicycle they climbed up on to a narrow ledge in the wall and sat side by side in perfect luxury, not dreaming that they were doing anything unusual or undignified. As a fact, they were not. Other couples were perched on other ledges, and still others on the cold steam-pipes. A girl with a big face and heavy red lips sat alone, lounging, her head aslant. She had an open copy of Home Notes in one hand. Elgar had sent the simple creature into an ecstasy, and she never stirred; probably she did not know anyone named Enwright. Promenaders promenaded in and out of the corridor, and up and down the corridor, and nobody troubled to glance twice either at the heavy-lipped, solitary girl or at the ledged couples.

Through an arched doorway could be seen the orchestra and half the auditorium.

"This is the best seat in the hall," George observed proudly. Marguerite smiled at him.

When the "Sea-Pictures" were finished she gave a sigh of appreciation, having forgotten, it seemed, that

persons who had come to admire Glazounov ought not to relish Elgar. And George, too, reflecting upon the sensations produced within him by Elgar, was ready to admit that, though Elgar could of course not be classed with the foreigner, there might be something to be said for him after all.

"This is just what I needed," she murmured.

"Oh?"

"I was very depressed this afternoon," she said.

"Were you?" He had not noticed it.

"Yes. They've cut down my price from a pound to seventeen and six." 'They' were the employing bookbinders, and the price was the fixed price for a design-side and back.

He was shocked, and he felt guilty. How was it that he had noticed nothing in her demeanour? He had been full of the misfortune of the firm, and she had made the misfortune her own, keeping silence about the grinding harshness of bookbinders. He was an insensible egotist, and girls were wondrous. At any rate this girl was wondrous. He had an intense desire to atone for his insensibility and his egotism by protecting her, spoiling her, soothing her into forgetfulness of her trouble.... Ah! He understood now what she meant when she had replied to his suggestion as to visiting the cathedral: "It might do me good."

"How rotten!" he exclaimed, expressing his sympathy by means of disgust. "Couldn't you tell them to go to the dickens?"

"You have to take what they'll give," she answered. "Especially when they begin to talk about bad trade and that sort of thing."

"Well, it's absolutely rotten!"

It was not the arbitrary reduction of her earnings that he resented, but the fact of her victimhood. Scandalous, infamous, that this rare and delicate creature should be defenceless against commercial brutes!

The Glazounov ballet music, "The Seasons," started. Knowing himself justified, he surrendered himself to it, to its exoticism, to its Russianism, to its wilful and disconcerting beauty. And there was no composer like Glazounov. Beneath the sensory spell of the music, his memory wandered about through the whole of his life. He recalled days in his mother's boarding-house at Brighton; musical evenings, at which John Orgreave was present, at his stepfather's house in the Five Towns; and in all kinds of scenes at the later home at Ladderedge Hall-scenes in which his mother again predominated, becoming young again and learning sports and horsewomanship as a girl might have learnt them.... And they were all beautiful beneath the music. The music softened; the fountain was heard; the striking of matches was heard.... Still, all was beautiful. Then he touched Marguerite's hand as it rested a little behind her on the ledge. The effect of contact was surprising. With all his other thoughts he had not ceased to think of the idea of shielding and enveloping her. But now this idea utterly possessed him. The music grew louder, and as it were under cover of the music he put his hand round her hand. It was a venturesome act with such a girl; he was afraid.... The hand lay acquiescent within his! He tightened the pressure. The hand lay acquiescent; it accepted. The flashing realization of her compliance overwhelmed him. He was holding the very symbol of wild purity, and there was no effort to be free. None guessed. None could see. They two had the astonishing, the incredible secret between them. He looked at her profile, taking precautions. No sign of alarm or disturbance. Her rapt glance was fixed steadily on the orchestra framed in the arched doorway.... Incredible, the soft, warm delicacy of the cotton glove!

The applause at the end of the number awoke them. He released her hand. She slipped neatly down from the ledge.

"I think I ought to be going back home.... Father ..." she murmured. She met his eyes; but his embarrassed eyes would not meet hers.

"Certainly!" he agreed quickly, though they had been in the hall little more than half an hour. He would have agreed to any suggestion from her. It seemed to him that the least he could do at that moment was to fulfil unquestioningly her slightest wish. Then she looked away, and he saw that a deep blush gradually spread over her lovely face. This was the supreme impressive phenomenon. Before the blush he was devotional.

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