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   Chapter 25 No.25

The Roll-Call By Arnold Bennett Characters: 11733

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


On the face of the door on the third floor of the house in Russell Square the words 'G.E. Cannon' appeared in dirty white paint and the freshly added initials 'A.R.I.B.A.' in clean white paint. The addition of the triumphant initials (indicating that George had kissed the rod of the Royal Institute of British Architects in order to conquer) had put the sign as a whole out of centre, throwing it considerably to the right on the green door-face. Within the small and bare room, on an evening in earliest spring in 1904, sat George at the customary large flat desk of the architect. He had just switched on the electric light over his head. He looked sterner and older; he looked very worried, fretful, exhausted. He was thin and pale; his eyes burned, and there were dark patches under the eyes; the discipline of the hair had been rather gravely neglected. In front of George lay a number of large plans, mounted on thick cardboard, whose upper surface had a slight convex curve. There were plans of the basement of the projected town hall, of the ground floor, of the building at a height of twelve feet from the ground, of the mezzanine floor, of the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth floors; these plans were coloured. Further, in plain black and white, there were a plan of the roof (with tower), a longitudinal section on the central axis, two other sections, three elevations, and a perspective view of the entire edifice. Seventeen sheets in all.

The sum of work seemed tremendous; it made the mind dizzy; it made George smile with terrible satisfaction at his own industry. For he had engaged very little help. He would have been compelled to engage more, had not the Corporation extended by one month the time for sending in. The Corporation had behaved with singular enlighten ment. Its schedules of required accommodation (George's copy was scored over everywhere in pencil and ink and seriously torn) were held to be admirably drawn, and its supplementary circular of answers to questions from competitors had displayed a clarity and a breadth of mind unusual in corporations. Still more to the point, the Corporation had appointed a second assessor to act with Sir Hugh Corver. In short, it had shown that it was under no mandarin's thumb, and that what it really and seriously wanted was the best design that the profession could produce. Mr. Enwright, indeed, had nearly admitted regret at having kept out of the immense affair. John Orgreave had expressed regret with vigour and candour. They had in the main left George alone, though occasionally at night Mr. Enwright, in the little room, had suggested valuable solutions of certain problems. In detail he was severely critical of George's design, and he would pour delicate satires upon the idiosyncrasy which caused the wilful boy to 'impurify' (a word from Enwright's private vocabulary) a Renaissance creation with Saracenic tendencies in the treatment of arches and wall-spaces.

Nevertheless Mr. Enwright greatly respected the design in its entirety, and both he and John Orgreave (who had collected by the subterranean channels of the profession a large amount of fact and rumour about the efforts of various competitors) opined that it stood a fair chance of being among the selected six or ten whose authors would be invited to submit final designs for the final award. George tried to be hopeful; but he could not be hopeful by trying. It was impossible to believe that he would succeed; the notion was preposterous; yet at moments, when he was not cultivating optimism, optimism would impregnate all his being, and he would be convinced that it was impossible not to win. How inconceivably grand! His chief rallying thought was that he had undertaken a gigantic task and had accomplished it. Well or ill, he had accomplished it. He said to himself aloud:

"I've done it! I've done it!"

And that he actually had done it was almost incredible. The very sheets of drawings were almost incredible. But they existed there. All was complete. The declaration that the design was G.E. Cannon's personal work, drawn in his own office by his ordinary staff, was there, in the printed envelope officially supplied by the Corporation. The estimate of cost and the cubing was there. The explanatory report on the design, duly typewritten, was there. Nothing lacked.

"I've done it! I've done it!"

And then, tired as he was, the conscience of the creative artist and of the competitor began to annoy him and spur him. The perspective drawing did not quite satisfy-and there was still time. The point of view for the perspective drawing was too high up, and the result was a certain marring of the nobility of the lines, and certainly a diminishment of the effect of the tower. He had previously started another perspective drawing with a lower view-point, but he had mistakenly cast it aside. He ought to finish the first one and substitute it for the second one. 'The perspective drawing had a moral importance; it had a special influence on the assessors and committees. Horrid, tiresome labour! Three, four, five, or six hours of highly concentrated tedium. Was it worth while? It was not. Mr. Enwright liked the finished drawing. He, George, could not face a further strain. And yet he was not content.... Pooh! Who said he could not face a further strain? Of course he could face it. If he did not face it, his conscience would accuse him of cowardice during the rest of his life, and he would never be able to say honestly: "I did my level best with the thing." He snapped his fingers lightly, and in one second had decided to finish the original perspective drawing, and in his very finest style. He would complete it some time during the night. In the morning it could be mounted. The drawings were to go to the north in a case on the morrow by passenger train, and to

be met at their destination by a commissionaire common to several competitors; this commissionaire would deliver them to the Town Clerk in accordance with the conditions. In a few minutes George was at work, excited, having forgotten all fatigue. He was saying to himself that he would run out towards eight o'clock for a chop or a steak. As he worked he perceived that he had been quite right to throw over the second drawing; he wondered that he could have felt any hesitation; the new drawing would be immeasurably superior.

Mr. Haim 'stepped up,' discreetly knocking, entering with dignity. The relations between these two had little by little resumed their old, purely formal quality. Both seemed to have forgotten that passionate anger had ever separated them and joined them together. George was young, and capable of oblivion. Mr. Haim had beaten him in the struggle and could afford to forget. They conversed politely, as though the old man had no daughter and the youth had never had a lover. Mr. Haim had even assisted with the lettering of the sheets-not because George needed his help, but because Mr. Haim's calligraphic pride needed to help. To refuse the stately offer would have been to insult. Mr. Haim had aged, but not greatly.

"You're wanted on the telephone, Mr. Cannon."

"Oh! Dash it!... Thanks!"

After all George was no longer on the staff of Lucas & Enwright, and Mr. Haim was conferring a favour.

Down below in the big office everybody had gone except the factotum.

George seized the telephone receiver and called brusquely for attention.

"Is that Mr. Cannon?"

"Yes. Who is it?"

"Oh! It's you, George! How nice to hear your voice again!"

He recognized, but not instantly, the voice of Lois Ingram. He was not surprised. Indeed he had suspected that the disturber of work must be either Lois or Miss Wheeler, or possibly Laurencine. The three had been in London again for several days, and he had known from Lucas that a theatre-party had been arranged for that night to witness the irresistible musical comedy, The Gay Spark , Lucas and M. Defourcambault were to be of the party. George had not yet seen Lois since her latest return to London; he had only seen her twice since the previous summer; he had not visited Paris in the interval. The tone of her voice, even as transformed by the telephone, was caressing. He had to think of some suitable response to her startling amiability, and to utter it with conviction. He tried to hold fast in his mind to the image of the perspective with its countless complexities and the co-ordination of them all; the thing seemed to be retreating from him, and he dared not let it go.

"Do you know," said Lois, "I only came to London to celebrate the sending-in of your design. I hear it's marvellous. Aren't you glad you've finished it?"

"Well, I haven't finished it," said George. "I'm on it now."

What did the girl mean by saying she'd only come to London to celebrate the end of his work? An invention on her part! Still, it flattered him. She was very strange.

" But Everard's told us you'd finished a bit earlier than you'd expected. We counted on seeing your lordship to-morrow. But now we've got to see you to-night."

"Awfully sorry I can't."

"But look here, George. You must really. The party's all broken up. Miss Wheeler's had to go back to Paris to-night, and Jules can't come. Everything's upset. The flat's going to be closed, and Laurencine and, I will have to leave to-morrow. It's most frightfully annoying. We've got the box all right, and Everard's coming, and you must make the fourth. We must have a fourth. Laurencine's here at the phone, and she says the same as me."

"Wish I could!" George answered shortly. "Look here! What train are you going by to-morrow? I'll come and see you off. I shall be free then."

"But, George. We want you to come to-night." There seemed positively to be tears in the faint voice. "Why can't you come? You must come."

"I haven't finished one of the drawings. I tell you I'm on it now. It'll take me half the night, or more. I'm just in the thick of it, you see." He spoke with a slight resentful impatience-less at her over-persuasiveness than at the fact that his mind and the drawing were being more and more separated. Soon he would have lost the right mood, and he would be compelled to re-create it before he could resume the work. The forcible, gradual dragging away of his mind from its passionately gripped objective was torture. He had an impulse to throw down the receiver and run off.

The distant squeaking voice changed to the petulant:

"You are horrid. You could come right enough if you wanted to."

"But don't you understand? It's awfully important for me."

He was astounded, absolutely astounded. She would not understand. She had decided that he must go to the musical comedy and nothing else mattered. His whole future did not matter.

"Oh! Very well, then," Lois said, undisguisedly vexed. "Of course, if you won't, you won't. But really when two girls implore you like that.... And we have to leave to-morrow, and everything's upset!... I do think it's ... However, good night."

"Here! Hold hard a sec. I'll come for an hour or so. What's the number of the box?"

"Fourteen," said the voice brokenly.

Immediately afterwards she rang off. George was hurt and bewildered. The girl was incredibly ruthless. She was mad. Why had he yielded? Only a silly conventional feeling had made him yield. And yet he was a great scorner of convention. He went upstairs again to the perspective drawing. He looked at his watch. He might work for half an hour before leaving to dress. No, he could not. The mood had vanished. The perspective had slipped into another universe. He could not even pick up a pen. He despised himself terribly, despairingly, for yielding.

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