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   Chapter 39 No.39

The Roll-Call By Arnold Bennett Characters: 8561

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Colonel Rannion was brother of the wife of the man for whom George had built the house at Hampstead. George had met him several times at the dinners and other reunions to which a sympathetic architect is often invited in the dwelling that he has created. Colonel Rannion had greatly liked his sister's house, had accordingly shown much esteem for George, and had even spoken of ordering a house for himself.

Just as breakfast was being served, George had the idea of ringing up the Hampstead people for the Colonel's address, which he obtained at once. The Colonel was staying at the Berkeley Hotel. The next moment he got the Berkeley, and the Colonel in person. The Colonel remembered him instantly. George said he wanted to see him. What about? Well, a commission. The Colonel said he had to leave the hotel in twenty-five minutes. "I can be with you in less than a quarter of an hour," said George-or rather, not George, but some subconscious instinct within him, acting independently of him. The children, with nurse, were in the dining-room, waiting to breakfast with father. They were washed, they were dressed; the dining-room had been cleaned; the pleasant smell of breakfast-cooking wandered through the rooms; since the early talk between George and Lois in the silent, sleeping house the house had gradually come to life; it was now in full being-even to the girl scrubbing the front steps-except that Lois was asleep. Exhausted after the strange and crucial scene, she had dozed off, and had never moved throughout George's dressing.

Now he rushed into the dining-room-"I have to go, nurse. Fardy can't have his breakfast with you!"-and rushed out. A minute previously he had felt a serious need of food after the long, sleepless morning. The need vanished. He scurried up Elm Park Gardens like a boy in the warm, fresh air, and stopped a taxi. He was extremely excited. None but Lois knew the great secret. He had kept it to himself. He might have burst into the kitchen-for he was very apt to be informal-and said: "Well, cook, I'm going into the Army!" What a household sensation the news would cause, and what an office sensation! His action would affect the lives of all manner of people. And the house, at present alive and organic, would soon be dead. He was afraid. What he was doing was tremendous. Was it madness? He had a feeling of unreality.

At the entrance to the Berkeley Hotel lay a large automobile, with a spurred and highly polished military chauffeur. At the door of Colonel Rannion's room was stationed a spurred and highly polished, erect orderly-formidable contrast to the flaccid waiters who slouched palely in the corridors. The orderly went into the room and saluted with a click. George followed, as into a dentist's surgery. It was a small, elegant, private sitting-room resembling a boudoir. In the midst of delicately tinted cushions and flower-vases stood Colonel Rannion, grey-haired, blue-eyed, very straight, very tall, very slim-the slimness accentuated by a close-fitted uniform which began with red tabs and ended in light leggings and gleaming spurs. He conformed absolutely to the traditional physical type of soldier, and the sight of him gave pleasure.

"Good morning. Cannon. Glad to see you." He seemed to put a secret meaning into the last words.

He shook hands as he spoke, firmly, decisively, efficiently.

"I hope I'm not troubling you too much," George began.

"Troubling me! Sit down. You want a commission. The Army wants to give commissions to men like you. I think you would make a good officer."

"Of course I'm absolutely ignorant of the Army. Absolutely."

"Yes. What a pity that is! If you'd only been a pre-war Territorial you might have done three weeks' urgent work for your country by this time." The remark was a polite reproof.

"I might," admitted George, to whom the notion of working for his country had never before occurred.

"Do you think you'd like the Artillery?" Colonel Rannion questioned sharply. His tone was increasing in sharpness.

With an equal sharpness George answered unhesitatingly: " Yes, I should."

"Can you ride?"

"I can ride . In holidays and so on I get on my mother's horses."

"Have you hunted?"

"Never."

"H'm!... Well, I know my friend

Colonel Hullocher, who commands the Second Brigade of-er-my Division, is short of an officer. Would you care for that?"

"Certainly."

Without saying anything else Colonel Rannion took up the telephone. In less than half a minute George heard him saying: "Colonel Hullocher.... Ask him to be good enough to come to the telephone at once.... That you, Hullocher?"

George actually trembled. He no longer felt that heavy weight on his stomach, but he felt 'all gone.' He saw himself lying wounded near a huge gun on a battlefield.

Colonel Rannion was continuing into the telephone:

"I can recommend a friend of mine to you for a commission. George Cannon-C-a-n-n-o-n-the architect. I don't know whether you know of him.... Oh! About thirty.... No, but I think he'd suit you.... Who recommends him? I do.... Like to see him, I suppose, first?... No, no necessity to see him. I'll tell him.... Yes, I shall see you in the course of the day." The conversation then apparently deviated to other subjects, and drew to a close.... "Good-bye. Thanks.... Oh! I say. Shall he get his kit?... Cannon.... Yes, he'd better. Yes, that's understood of course. Good-bye."

"That will be quite all right," said Colonel Rannion to George. "Colonel Hullocher thinks you may as well see to your kit at once, provided of course you pass the doctor and you are ready to work for nothing until your commission comes along."

"Oh! Naturally!" George agreed, in a dream. He was saying to himself, frightened, astounded, staggered, and yet uplifted: " Get my kit! Get my kit ! But it's scarcely a minute since I decided to go into the Army."

"I may get your commission ante-dated. I haven't all the papers here, but give me an address where I can find you at once, and you shall have them this afternoon. I'll get the Colonel to send them to the Territorial Association to-morrow, and probably in about a month you'll be in the Gazette . I don't know when Colonel Hullocher will want you to report for duty, but I shall see him to-day. You'll get a telegram when you're needed. Now I must go. Which way are you going?"

"I'm going home for my breakfast," said George, writing down his two addresses.

Colonel Rannion said:

"I'm off to Wimbledon. I can drop you in Fulham Road if you like."

In the automobile George received a few useful hints, but owing to the speed of the vehicle the time was far too short for any extensive instruction. The car drew up. For an instant Colonel Rannion became freely cordial. "He must rather have cottoned to me, or he wouldn't have done what he has," thought George, proud to be seen in converse with a staff-officer, waving a hand in adieu. And he thought: "Perhaps next time I see him I shall be saluting him!"

The children and nurse were still at breakfast. Nothing had changed in the house during his absence. But the whole house was changed. It was a house unconvincing, incredible, which might vanish at any moment. He himself was incredible. What had happened was incredible. The screeching voices of the children were not real voices, and the children were apparitions. The newspaper was illegible. Its messages for the most part had no meaning, and such as bore a meaning seemed to be utterly unimportant. The first reality, for George was food. He discovered that he could not eat the food-could not swallow; the nausea was acute. He drank a little coffee, and then went upstairs to see his wife. Outside the bedroom door he stood hesitant. A desolating sadness of disappointment suddenly surged over him. He had destroyed his ambitions, he had transformed all his life, by a single unreflecting and irretrievable impulse. What he had done was terrific, and yet he had done it as though it were naught ... The mood passed as suddenly as it had come, and left him matter-of-fact, grim, as it were swimming strongly on and with the mighty current which had caught him. He went into the bedroom on the current. Lois was awake.

"I've seen Colonel Rannion."

"You haven't, George!"

"Yes, I have. I've just come back."

"Well?"

He replied with his damnable affected casualness: " I'm in the Army. Royal Field Artillery. And so that's that."

"But where's your uniform?"

"I knew you'd say that. I'm in mufti, you see."

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