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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Roll-Call By Arnold Bennett Characters: 10821

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The roads were covered with a very even, very thin coating of mud; it was as though a corps of highly skilled house-painters had laid on the mud, and just vanished. The pavements had a kind of yellowish-brown varnish. Each of the few trees that could be seen-and there were a few-carried about six surviving leaves. The sky was of a blue-black with golden rents and gleams that travelled steadily eastwards. Except the man with newspapers at the corner of Alexandra Grove, scarcely a sign of life showed along the vistas of Fulham Road; but the clock over the jeweller's was alive and bearing the usual false witness. From the upper open galleries of the Workhouse one or two old men and old women in uniform looked down indifferently upon the free world which they had left for ever. Then an omnibus appeared faintly advancing from the beautiful grey distance of the straight and endless street. George crossed the road on his way towards Redcliffe Gardens and Earl's Court. He was very smart, indeed smarter than ever, having produced in himself quite naturally and easily a fair imitation of the elegant figures which, upon his visits to the restaurant-building in Piccadilly, he had observed airing themselves round about Bond Street. His hair was smooth like polished marble; his hat and stick were at the right angle; his overcoat was new, and it indicated the locality of his waist; the spots of colour in his attire complied with the operative decrees. His young face had in it nothing that obviously separated him from the average youth of his clothes. Nobody would have said of him, at a glance, that he might be a particularly serious individual. And most people would have at once classed him as a callow pleasure-seeking person in the act of seeking pleasure.

Nevertheless he was at that moment particularly serious, and his seriousness was growing. His secret engagement had affected him, in part directly, and in part by the intensification of ambitious endeavour which had resulted from contact with that fount of seriousness, Marguerite. Although still entirely dependent-even to cigarette money-upon the benevolence of a couple of old individuals a hundred and fifty miles off, he reckoned that he was advancing in the world. The Intermediate Examination was past, and already he felt that he had come to grips with the Final and would emerge victorious. He felt too that his general knowledge and the force and variety of his ideas were increasing. At times, when he and Marguerite talked, he was convinced that both of them had achieved absolute knowledge, and that their criticisms of the world were and would always be unanswerable. After the Final, he hoped, his uncle would buy him a share in the Lucas & Enwright practice. In due season, his engagement would be revealed, and all would be immensely impressed by his self-restraint and his good taste, and the marriage would occur, and he would be a London architect, an established man-at the mature age of, say, twenty-two.

No cloud would have obscured the inward radiance caused by the lovely image of Marguerite and by his confidence in himself, had it not been for those criticisms of the world. He had moods of being rather gravely concerned as to the world, and as to London. He was recovering from the first great attack of London. He saw faults in London. He was capable of being disturbed by, for example, the ugliness and the inefficiency of London. He even thought that something ought to be done about it. Upon this Sunday morning, fresh from visions of Venice, and rendered a little complacent by the grim execution of the morning's programme of work, he was positively pained by the aspect of Redcliffe Gardens. The Redcliffe Arms public-house, locked and dead, which was the daily paradise of hundreds of human beings, and had given balm and illusion to whole generations, seemed simply horrible to him in its Sunday morning coma. The large and stuffy unsightliness of it could not be borne. (However, the glimpse of a barmaid at an upper window interested him pleasantly for a moment.) And the Redcliffe Arms was the true gate to the stucco and areas of Redcliffe Gardens. He looked down into the areas and saw therein the furtive existence of squalor behind barred windows. All the obscene apparatus of London life was there. And as he raised his eyes to the drawing-room and bedroom stories he found no relief. His eyes could discover nothing that was not mean, ugly, frowzy, and unimaginative. He pictured the heavy, gloomy, lethargic life within. The slatternly servants pottering about the bases of the sooty buildings sickened and saddened him. A solitary Earl's Court omnibus that lumbered past with its sinister, sparse cargo seemed to be a spectacle absolutely tragic-he did not know why. The few wayfarers were obviously prim and smug. No joy, no elegance, anywhere! Only, at intervals, a feeling that mysterious and repulsive wealth was hiding itself like an ogre in the eternal twilight of fastnesses beyond the stuccoed walls and the grimy curtains.... The city worked six days in order to be precisely this on the seventh. Truly it was very similar to the Five Towns, and in essentials not a bit better.-A sociological discovery which startled him! He wanted to destroy Redcliffe Gardens, and to design it afresh and rebuild it under the inspiration of St. Mark's and of the principles of hygiene as

taught for the Final Examination. He had grandiose ideas for a new design. As for Redcliffe Square, he could do marvels with its spaces.

He arrived too soon at Earl's Court Station, having forgotten that the Underground Railway had a treaty with the Church of England and all the Nonconformist churches not to run trains while the city, represented by possibly two per cent of its numbers, was at divine worship. He walked to and fro along the platforms in the vast echoing cavern peopled with wandering lost souls, and at last a train came in from the void, and it had the air of a miracle, because nobody had believed that any train ever would come in. And at last the Turnham Green train came in, and George got into a smoking compartment, and Mr. Enwright was in the compartment.

Mr. Enwright also was going to the Orgreave luncheon. He was in what the office called 'one of his moods.' The other occupants of the compartment had a stiff and self-conscious air: some apparently were proud of being abroad on Sunday morning; some apparently were ashamed. Mr. Enwright's demeanour was as free and natural as that of a child. His lined and drawn face showed worry and self-absorption in the frankest manner. He began at once to explain how badly he had slept; indeed he asserted that he had not slept at all; and he complained with extreme acerbity of the renewal of his catarrh. 'Constant secretion. Constant secretion,' was the phrase he used to describe the chief symptom. Then by a forced transition he turned to the profession of architecture, and restated his celebrated theory that it was the Cinderella of professions. The firm had quite recently obtained a very important job in a manufacturing quarter of London, without having to compete for it; but Mr. Enwright's great leading ideas never fluctuated with the fluctuation of facts. If the multiplicity of his lucrative jobs had been such as to compel him to run round from one to another on a piebald pony in the style of Sir Hugh Corver, his view of the profession would not have altered. He spoke with terrible sarcasm apropos of a rumour current in architectural circles that a provincial city intended soon to invite competitive designs for a building of realty enormous proportions, and took oath that in no case should his firm, enter for the competition. In short, his condition was markedly pessimistic.

George loved him, and was bound to humour him; and in order to respond sympathetically to Enwright's pessimism he attempted to describe his sensations concerning the London Sunday, and in particular the Sunday morning aspect of Earl's Court streets. He animadverted with virulence, and brought forward his new startling discovery that London was in truth as provincial as the provinces.

"Well, I don't think it is," said Enwright, instantly becoming a judicial truth-seeker.

"Why don't you?"

"Simply because it's bigger-so much bigger. That's the principal difference, and you'll never get over it. You must appreciate size. An elephant is a noble animal, but it wouldn't be if it was only as big as a fly. London's an elephant, and forget it not."

"It's frightfully ugly, most of it, anyhow, and especially on Sunday morning," George persisted.

"Is it? I wonder whether it is, now. The architecture's ugly. But what's architecture? Architecture isn't everything. If you can go up and down London and see nothing but architecture, you'll never be an A1 architect." He spoke in a low, kindly, and reasonable tone. "I like London on Sunday mornings. In fact it's marvellous. You say it's untidy and all that ... slatternly, and so on. Well, so it ought to be when it gets up late. Jolly bad sign if it wasn't. And that's part of it! Why, dash it, look at a bedroom when you trail about, getting up! Look how you leave it! The existence of a big city while it's waking up-lethargy business-a sort of shamelessness-it's like a great animal! I think it's marvellous, and I always have thought so."

George would not openly agree, but his mind was illuminated with a new light, and in his mind he agreed, very admiringly.

The train stopped; people got out; and the two were alone in the compartment.

"I thought all was over between you and Adela," said Mr. Enwright, confidentially and quizzically.

George blushed a little. "Oh no!"

"I don't know what I'm going to her lunch for, I'm sure. I suppose I have to go."

"I have, too," said George.

"Well, she won't do you any good, you know. I was glad when you left there."

George looked worldly. "Rum sort, isn't she?"

I'll tell you what she is, now. You remember Aida at the Paris Opéra. The procession in the second act where you lost your head and said it was the finest music ever written. And those girls in white, waving palms in front of the hero-What's-his-name. There are some women who are born to do that and nothing else. Thin lips. Fixed idiotic smile. They don't think a bit about what they're doing. They're thinking about themselves all the time. They simply don't care a damn about the hero, or about the audience, or anything, and they scarcely pretend to. Arrogance isn't the word. It's something more terrific-it's stupendous! Mrs. John's like that. I thought of it as I was coming along here."

"Is she?" said George negligently. "Perhaps she is. I never thought of her like that."

Turnham Green Station was announced.

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