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   Chapter 30 No.30

The Roll-Call By Arnold Bennett Characters: 9363

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


He was excited, rather than saddened, by the tragic event. He was indeed very excited. And also he had a deep satisfaction, because it seemed to him that he had at last been truly admitted into the great secret fellowship of adult males. The initiation flattered his pride. He left Mr. Ingram at the door of an English newspaper office in the Boulevard des Italiens, and, after vainly asking for telegrams at the hotel, walked away, aimlessly at first, along broad pavements encumbered with the chairs and tables of vast, crowded cafés, and with bright Sunday idlers and sinister street-vendors. But in a moment he had decided that he must and ought to pay a call in the Rue d'Athènes. Mr. Ingram had said nothing about his seeing Lois again, had not referred to Mrs. Ingram's invitation to repeat his visit, might even vaguely object to an immediate interview between him and Lois. Yet he could not, as a man of the world, abandon Lois so unceremoniously. He owed something to Lois and he owed something to himself. And he was a free adult. The call was natural and necessary, and if Mr. Ingram did not like it he must, in the Five Towns phrase, lump it. George set off to find the Rue d'Athènes unguided. It was pleasurable to think that there was a private abode in the city of cafés, hotels, and museums to which he had the social right of entry.

The watching concierge of the house nodded to him politely as he began to mount the stairs. The Ingrams' servant smiled upon him as upon an old and familiarly respected friend.

"Mademoiselle Lois?" he said, with directness.

The slatternly, benevolent girl widened her mouth still further in a smile still more cordial, and led him to the drawing-room. As she did so she picked up a newspaper packet that lay on a table in the tiny hall, and, without putting it on a salver, deposited it in front of Lois, who was alone in the drawing-room. George wondered what Lois would have thought of such an outrage upon established ritual had it happened to her in the home of Irene Wheeler instead of in her own; and then the imagined vision of Irene lying dead in the sumptuous home in the Avenue Hoche seemed to render all established ritual absurd.

"So you've come!" exclaimed Lois harshly. "Mother's quite knocked over, and Laurencine's looking after her. All the usual eau-de-Cologne business. And I should say father's not much better. My poor parents! What did dad want you for?"

The servant had closed the door. Lois had got up from her chair and was walking about the room, pulling aside a curtain and looking out, tapping the mantelpiece with her hand, tapping with her feet the base of the stove, George had the sensation of being locked in a cage with a mysterious, incalculable, and powerful animal. He was fascinated. He thought: "I wanted to see her alone and I am seeing her alone!"

"Well?" she insisted. "What did dad want you for?"

"Oh! He told me a few things about Miss Wheeler."

"I suppose he told you about Jules, and I suppose he told you I wasn't to know on any account! Poor old dad! Instead of feeling he's my father, d'you know what I feel? I feel as if I was his mother. He's so clever; he's frightfully clever; but he was never meant for this world. He's just a beautiful child. How in Heaven's name could he think that a girl like me could be intimate with Irene, and not know about the things that were in her mind? How could he? Why! I've talked for hours with Irene about Jules! She'd much sooner talk with me even than with mother. She's cried in front of me. But I never cried. I always told her she was making a mistake about Jules. I detested the little worm. But she couldn't see it. No, she couldn't. She'd have quarrelled with me if I'd let her quarrel. However, I wouldn't let her. Fancy quarrelling-over a man! She couldn't help being mad over Jules. I told her she couldn't-that was why I bore with her. I always told her he was only playing with her. The one thing that I didn't tell her was that she was too old for him. She really believed she never got any older. When I say too old for him, I mean for her sake, not for his. He didn't think she was too old. He couldn't-with that complexion of hers. I never envied her anything else except her complexion and her money. But he wouldn't marry an American. His people wouldn't let him. He's got to marry into a family like his own, and there're only about ten for him to choose from. I know she wrote to him on Thursday. She must have had the answer this morning. Of course she had a revolver. I've got one myself. She went to bed and did it. She used to say to me that if ever she did it that was how she would do it....

And father tells me not to add to his difficulties! Don't you think it's comic?... But she never told me everything. I knew that. I accused her of it. She admitted it. However ..."

Lois spoke in a low, regular murmur, experimentally aware that privacy in a Paris flat is relative. There were four doors in the walls of the drawing-room, and a bedroom on either side. At moments George could scarcely catch her words. He had never heard her say so much at once, for she was taciturn by habit, even awkward in conversation. She glowered at him darkly. The idea flashed through his mind: "There can't be another girl like her. She's unique." He almost trembled at the revelation. He was afraid, and yet courageous, challenging, combative. She had grandeur. It might be moral, or not; but it was grandeur. And-(that touch about the complexion!)-she could remember her freckles! She might, in her hard egotism, in the rushing impulses of her appetites-she might be an enemy, an enemy to close with whom would be terrible rapture, and the war of the sexes was a sublime war, infinitely superior in emotions to tame peace. (And had she not been certified an angel? Had he not himself seen the angel in her?) She dwarfed her father and mother. The conception, especially, of Mr. Ingram at lunch, deliciously playful and dominating, and now with the adroit wit crushed out of him and only a na?ve sentimentality left, was comic-as she had ruthlessly characterized it. She alone towered formidably over the devastated ruins of Irene's earthly splendour.

He said nothing.

She rang the bell by the mantelpiece. He heard it ring. No answer. She rang again.

" Arrivez donc, jeune fille! " she exclaimed impatiently.

The servant came.

" Apportez du thé, Séraphine. "

" Oui, mademoiselle. "

Then Lois lounged towards the table and tore sharply the wrapper of the newspaper. George was still standing.

"He's probably got something in about her this week- about her soirée last Tuesday. We weren't invited. Of course he went."

George saw the name the Sunday Journal . The paper had come by the afternoon mail, and had been delivered, according to weekly custom, by messenger from Mr. Ingram's office. Lois's tone and attitude tore fatally the whole factitious 'Parisian' tradition, as her hand had torn the wrapper.

"See here," she said quietly, after a few seconds, and gave the newspaper with her thumb indicating a paragraph.

He could hardly read the heading, because it unnerved him; nor the opening lines. But he read this: "The following six architects have been selected by the Assessors and will be immediately requested by the Corporation to submit final designs for the town hall: Mr. Whinburn, Mr.... Mr.... Mr. George E. Cannon ..."

"What did I always tell you?" she said.

And then she said:

"Your telegram must have been addressed wrong, or something."

He sat down. Once again he was afraid. He was afraid of winning in the final competition. A vista of mayors, corporations, town clerks, committees, contractors, clerks-of-works, frightened him. He was afraid of his immaturity, of his inexperience. He could not carry out the enterprise; he would reap only ignominy. His greatest desire had been granted. He had expected, in the event, to be wildly happy. But he was not happy.

"Well, I'm blowed!" he exclaimed.

Lois, who had resumed the paper, read out:

"In accordance with the conditions of the competition, each of the above named will receive a honorarium of one hundred guineas."

She looked at him.

"You'll get that town hall to do," she said positively. "You're bound to get it. You'll see."

Her incomprehensible but convincing faith passed mysteriously into him. A holy dew relieved him. He began to feel happy.

Lois glanced again at the paper, which with arms outstretched she held in front of her like a man, like the men at Pickering's. Suddenly it fell rustling to the floor, and she burst into tears.

She murmured indistinctly: " The last thing she did was for my pleasure-sending the car."

George jumped up, animated by an inexpressible tenderness for her. She had weakened. He moved towards her. He did not consider what he was doing; he had naught to say; but his instinctive arms were about to clasp her. He was unimaginably disturbed. She straightened and stiffened in a second.

"But of course you've not got it yet," she said harshly, with apparent irrelevance.

Séraphine entered bouncingly with the tea. Lois regarded the tray, and remarked the absence of the strainer.

" Et la passoire ?" she demanded, with implacable sternness.

Séraphine gave a careless, apologetic gesture.

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