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George Edwin is an architect, and represents what his stepfather Edwin Clayhanger wished to become. He displays an unattractive arrogance because of the wealth behind him. He he thinks about adding electric light to his London dwelling, and decides that he - or rather, his stepfather - can well afford it.
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THE BIG NEST
LONDON ∙ NEW YORK ∙ TORONTO ∙ SAO PAULO ∙ MOSCOW
PARIS ∙ MADRID ∙ BERLIN ∙ ROME ∙ MEXICO CITY ∙ MUMBAI ∙ SEOUL ∙ DOHA
TOKYO ∙ SYDNEY ∙ CAPE TOWN ∙ AUCKLAND ∙ BEIJING
Published by The Big Nest
This Edition first published in 2016
Copyright © 2016 The Big Nest
Images and Illustrations © 2016 Stocklibrary.org
All Rights Reserved.
THE NEW LODGING
In the pupils’ room of the offices of Lucas & Enwright, architects, Russell Square, Bloomsbury, George Edwin Cannon, an articled pupil, leaned over a large drawing-board and looked up at Mr. Enwright, the head of the firm, who with cigarette and stick was on his way out after what he called a good day’s work. It was past six o’clock on an evening in early July 1901. To George’s right was an open door leading to the principals’ room, and to his left another open door leading to more rooms and to the staircase. The lofty chambers were full of lassitude; but round about George, who was working late, there floated the tonic vapour of conscious virtue. Haim, the factotum, could be seen and heard moving in his cubicle which guarded the offices from the stairs. In the rooms shortly to be deserted and locked up, and in the decline of the day, the three men were drawn together like survivors.
“I gather you’re going to change your abode,” said Mr. Enwright, having stopped.
“Did Mr. Orgreave tell you, then?” George asked.
“Well, he didn’t exactly tell me....”
John Orgreave was Mr. Enwright’s junior partner; and for nearly two years, since his advent in London from the Five Towns, George had lived with Mr. and Mrs. Orgreave at Bedford Park. The Orgreaves, too, sprang from the Five Towns. John’s people and George’s people were closely entwined in the local annals.
Pupil and principal glanced discreetly at one another, ex changing in silence vague, malicious, unutterable critical verdicts upon both John Orgreave and his wife.
“Well, I am!” said George at length.
“Where are you going to?”
“Haven’t settled a bit,” said George. “I wish I could live in Paris.”
“Paris wouldn’t be much good to you yet,” Mr. Enwright laughed benevolently.
“I suppose it wouldn’t. Besides, of course——”
George spoke in a tone of candid deferential acceptance, which flattered Mr. Enwright very much, for it was the final proof of the prestige which the grizzled and wrinkled and peculiar Fellow and Member of the Council of the Royal Institute of British Architects had acquired in the estimation of that extremely independent, tossing sprig, George Edwin Cannon. Mr. Enwright had recently been paying a visit to Paris, and George had been sitting for the Intermediate Examination. “You can join me here for a few days after the exam., if you care to,” Mr. Enwright had sent over. It was George’s introduction to the Continent, and the circumstances of it were almost ideal. For a week the deeply experienced connoisseur of all the arts had had the fine, eager, responsive virgin mind hi his power. Day after day he had watched and guided it amid entirely new sensations. Never had Mr. Enwright enjoyed himself more purely, and at the close he knew with satisfaction that he had put Paris in a proper perspective for George, and perhaps saved the youth from years of groping misapprehension. As for George, all his preconceived notions about Paris had been destroyed or shaken. In the quadrangles of the Louvre, for example, Mr. Enwright, pointing to the under part of the stone bench that foots so much of the walls, had said: “Look at that curve.” Nothing else. No ecstasies about the sculptures of Jean Goujon and Carpeaux, or about the marvellous harmony of the East facade! But a flick of the cane towards the half-hidden moulding! And George had felt with a thrill what an exquisite curve and what an original curve and what a modest curve that curve was. Suddenly and magically his eyes had been opened. Or it might have been that a deceitful mist had rolled away and the real Louvre been revealed in its esoteric and sole authentic beauty....
“Why don’t you try Chelsea?” said Mr. Enwright over his shoulder, proceeding towards the stairs.
“I was thinking of Chelsea.”
“ You were!” Mr. Enwright halted again for an instant. “It’s the only place in London where the structure of society is anything like Paris. Why, dash it, in the King’s Road the grocers know each other’s business!” Mr. Enwright made the last strange remark to the outer door, and vanished.
“Funny cove!” George commented tolerantly to Mr. Haim, who passed through the room immediately afterwards to his nightly task of collecting and inspecting the scattered instruments on the principal’s august drawing-board.
But Mr. Haim, though possibly he smiled ever so little, would not compromise himself by an endorsement of the criticism of his employer. George was a mere incident in the eternal career of Mr. Haim at Lucas & Enwright’s.
When the factotum came back into the pupils’ room, George stood up straight and smoothed his trousers and gazed admiringly at his elegant bright socks.
“Let me see,” said George in a very friendly manner. “ You live somewhere in Chelsea, don’t you?”
“Yes,” answered Mr. Haim.
“Whereabouts, if it isn’t a rude question?”
“Well,” said Mr. Haim, confidentially and benignantly, captivated by George’s youthful charm, “it’s near the Redcliffe Arms.” He mentioned the Redcliffe Arms as he might have mentioned the Bank, Piccadilly Circus, or Gibraltar. “Alexandra Grove. No. 8. To tell you the truth, I own the house.”
“The deuce you do!”
“Yes. The leasehold, that is, of course. No freeholds knocking about loose in that district!”
George saw a new and unsuspected Mr. Haim. He was impressed. And he was glad that he had never broken the office tradition of treating Mr. Haim with a respect not usually accorded to factotums. He saw a, property-owner, a tax-payer, and a human being behind the spectacles of the shuffling, rather shabby, ceremonious familiar that pervaded those rooms daily from before ten till after six. He grew curious about a living phenomenon that hitherto had never awakened his curiosity.
“Were you really looking for accommodation?” demanded Mr. Haim suavely.
George hesitated. “Yes.”
“Perhaps I have something that might suit you.”
Events, disguised as mere words, seemed to George to be pushing him forward.
“ I should like to have a look at it,” he said. He had to say it; there was no alternative.
Mr. Haim raised a hand. “Any evening that happens to be convenient.”
“What about to-night, then?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Haim agreed. For a moment George apprehended that Mr. Haim was going to invite him to dinner. But Mr. Haim was not going to invite him to dinner. “About nine, shall we say?” he suggested, with a courtliness softer even than usual.
Later, George said that he would lock up the office himself and leave the key with the housekeeper.
“You can’t miss the place,” said Mr. Haim on leaving. “It’s between the Workhouse and the Redcliffe.”
At the corner dominated by the Queen’s Elm, which on the great route from Piccadilly Circus to Putney was a public-house and halt second only in importance to the Redcliffe Arms, night fell earlier than it ought to have done, owing to a vast rain-cloud over Chelsea. A few drops descended, but so warm and so gently that they were not like real rain, and sentimentalists could not believe that they would wet. People, arriving mysteriously out of darkness, gathered sparsely on the pavements, lingered a few moments, and were swallowed by omnibuses that bore them obscurely away. At intervals an individual got out of an omnibus and adventured hurriedly forth and was lost in the gloom. The omnibuses, all white, trotted on an inward curve to the pavement, stopped while the conductor, with hand raised to the bell-string, murmured apathetically the names of streets and of public-houses, and then they jerked off again on an outward curve to the impatient double ting of the bell. To the east was a high defile of hospitals, and to the west the Workhouse tower faintly imprinted itself on the sombre sky.
The drops of rain grew very large and heavy, and the travellers, instead of waiting on the kerb, withdrew to the shelter of the wall of the Queen’s Elm. George was now among the group, precipitated like the rest, as it were, out of the solution of London. George was of the age which does not admit rain or which believes that it is immune from the usual consequences of exposure to rain. When advised, especially by women, to defend himself against the treacheries of the weather, he always protested confidently that he would ‘be all right.’ Thus with a stick and a straw hat he would affront terrible dangers. It was a species of valour which the event often justified. Indeed he generally was all right. But to-night, afoot on the way from South Kensington Station in a region quite unfamiliar to him, he was intimidated by the slapping menace of the big drops. Reality faced him. His scared thought ran: “Unless I do something at once I shall get wet through.” Impossible to appear drenched at old Haim’s! So he had abandoned all his pretensions to a magical invulnerability, and rushed under the eave of the Queen’s Elm to join the omnibus group.
He did not harmonize with the omnibus group, being both too elegant and too high-spirited. His proper rôle in the circumstances would have been to ‘jump into a hansom’; but there were no empty hansoms, and moreover, for certain reasons of finance, he had sworn off hansoms until a given date. He regarded the situation as ‘rather a lark,’ and he somehow knew that the group understood and appreciated and perhaps resented his superior and tolerant attitude. An omnibus rolled palely into the radiance of the Queen’s Elm lamp, the horses’ flanks and the lofty driver’s apron gleaming with rain. He sprang towards the vehicle; the whole group sprang. “Full inside!” snapped the conductor inexorably. Ting, ting! It was gone, glimmering with its enigmatic load into the distance. George turned again to the wall, humiliated. It seemed wrong that the conductor should have included him with the knot of common omnibus-travellers and late workers. The conductor ought to have differentiated.... He put out a hand. The rain had capriciously ceased! He departed gaily and triumphantly. He was re-endowed with the magical invulnerability.
The background of his mind was variegated. The incidents of the tremendous motor-car race from Paris to Berlin, which had finished nearly a week earlier, still glowed on it. And the fact that King Edward VII had driven in a car from Pall Mall to Windsor Castle in sixty minutes was beautifully present. Then, he was slightly worried concerning the Mediterranean Fleet. He knew nothing about it, but as a good citizen he suspected in idle moments, like a number of other good citizens, that all was not quite well with the Mediterranean Fleet. As for the war, he had only begun to be interested in the war within the last six months, and already he was sick of it. He knew that the Boers had just wrecked a British military train, and his attitude towards such methods of fighting was rather severe and scornful; he did not regard them as ‘war.’ However, the apparent permanence of the war was splendidly compensated by the victory of the brothers Doherty over the American lawn-tennis champions in the Gentlemen’s Doubles at Wimbledon. Who could have expected the brothers to win after the defeat of R.H. by Mr. Gore in the Singles? George had most painfully feared that the Americans would conquer, and their overthrowing by the twin brothers indicated to George, who took himself for a serious student of affairs, that Britain was continuing to exist, and that the new national self-depreciative, yearning for efficiency might possibly be rather absurd after all.
In the midst of these and similar thoughts, and of innumerable minor thoughts about himself, in the very centre of his mind and occupying nearly the whole of it, was the vast thought, the obsession, of his own potential power and its fulfilment. George’s egotism was terrific, and as right as any other natural phenomenon. He had to get on. Much money was included in his scheme, but simply as a by-product. He had to be a great architect, and—equally important—he had to be publicly recognized as a great architect, and recognition could not come without money. For him, the entire created universe was the means to his end. He would not use it unlawfully, but he would use it. He was using it, as well as he yet knew how, and with an independence that was as complete as it was unconscious. In regard to matters upon which his instinct had not suggested a course of action, George was always ready enough to be taught; indeed his respect for an expert was truly deferential. But when his instinct had begun to operate he would consult nobody and consider nobody, being deeply sure that infallible wisdom had been granted to him. (Nor did experience seem to teach him.) Thus, in the affair of a London lodging, though he was still two years from his majority and had no resources save the purse of his stepfather, Edwin Clayhanger, he had decided to leave the Orgreaves without asking or even informing his parents. In his next letter home he would no doubt inform them, casually, of what he meant to do or actually had done, and if objections followed he would honestly resent them.
A characteristic example of his independence had happened when at the unripe age of seventeen he left the Five Towns for London. Upon his mother’s marriage to Edwin Clayhanger his own name had been informally changed for him to Clayhanger. But a few days before the day of departure he had announced that, as Clayhanger was not his own name and that he preferred his own name, he should henceforth be known as ‘Cannon,’ his father’s name. He did not invite discussion. Mr. Clayhanger had thereupon said to him privately and as one man of the world to another: “But you aren’t really entitled to the name Cannon, sonny.” “Why?” “Because your father was what’s commonly known as a bigamist, and his marriage with your mother was not legal. I thought I’d take this opportunity of telling you. You needn’t say anything to your mother—unless of course you feel you must.” To which George had replied: “No, I won’t. But if Cannon was my father’s name I think I’ll have it all the same.” And he did have it. The bigamy of his father did not apparently affect him. Upon further inquiry he learnt that his father might be alive or might be dead, but that if alive he was in America.
The few words from Mr. Enwright about Chelsea had sufficed to turn Chelsea into Elysium, Paradise, almost into Paris. No other quarter of London was inhabitable by a rising architect. As soon as Haim had gone George had begun to look up Chelsea in the office library, and as Mr. Enwright happened to be an active member of the Society for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London, the library served him well. In an hour and a half he had absorbed something of the historical topography of Chelsea. He knew that the Fulham Road upon which he was now walking was a boundary of Chelsea. He knew that the Queen’s Elm public-house had its name from the tradition that Elizabeth had once sheltered from a shower beneath an elm tree which stood at that very corner. He knew that Chelsea had been a ‘village of palaces,’ and what was the function of the Thames in the magnificent life of that village. The secret residence of Turner in Chelsea, under the strange alias of Admiral Booth, excited George’s admiration; he liked the idea of hidden retreats and splendid, fanciful pseudonyms. But the master-figure of Chelsea for George was Sir Thomas More. He could see Sir Thomas More walking in his majestic garden by the river with the King’s arm round his neck, and Holbein close by, and respectful august prelates and a nagging wife in the background. And he could see Sir Thomas More taking his barge for the last journey to the Tower, and Sir Thomas More’s daughter coming back in the same barge with her father’s head on board. Curious! He envied Sir Thomas More.
“Darned bad tower for a village of palaces!” he thought, not of the Tower of London, but of the tower of the Workhouse which he was now approaching. He thought he could design an incomparably better tower than that. And he saw himself in the future, the architect of vast monuments, strolling in a grand garden of his own at evening with other distinguished and witty persons.
But there were high-sounding names in the history of Chelsea besides those of More and Turner. Not names of people! Cremorne and Ranelagh! Cremorne to the west and Ranelagh to the east. The legend of these vanished resorts of pleasure and vice stirred his longings and his sense of romantic beauty—especially Ranelagh with its Rotunda. (He wanted, when the time came, to be finely vicious, as he wanted to be everything. An architect could not be great without being everything.) He projected himself into the Rotunda, with its sixty windows, its countless refreshment-boxes, its huge paintings, and the orchestra in the middle, and the expensive and naughty crowd walking round and round and round on the matting, and the muffled footsteps and the swish of trains on the matting, and the specious smiles and whispers, and the blare of the band and the smell of the lamps and candles.... Earl’s Court was a poor, tawdry, unsightly thing after that.
When he had passed under the Workhouse tower he came to a side street which, according to Haim’s description of the neighbourhood, ought to have been Alexandra Grove. The large lamp on the corner, however, gave no indication, nor in the darkness could any sign be seen on the blind wall of either of the corner houses in Fulham Road. Doubtless in daytime the street had a visible label, but the borough authorities evidently believed that night endowed the stranger with powers of divination. George turned hesitant down the mysterious gorge, which had two dim lamps of its own, and which ended in a high wall, whereat could be descried unattainable trees—possibly the grove of Alexandra. Silence and a charmed stillness held the gorge, while in Fulham Road not a hundred yards away omnibuses and an occasional hansom rattled along in an ordinary world. George soon decided that he was not in Alexandra Grove, on account of the size of the houses. He could not conceive Mr. Haim owning one of them. They stood lofty in the gloom, in pairs, secluded from the pavement by a stucco garden-wall and low bushes. They were double-fronted, and their doors were at the summits of flights of blanched steps that showed through the bars of iron gates. They had three stories above a basement. Still, he looked for No. 8. But just as the street had no name, so the houses had no numbers. No. 16 alone could be distinguished; it had figures on its faintly illuminated fanlight. He walked back, idly counting.
Then, amid the curtained and shuttered facades, he saw, across the road, a bright beam from a basement. He crossed and peeped through a gate, and an interior was suddenly revealed to him. Near the window of a room sat a young woman bending over a table. A gas-jet on a bracket in the wall, a few inches higher than her head and a foot distant from it, threw a strong radiance on her face and hair. The luminous living picture, framed by the window in blackness, instantly entranced him. All the splendid images of the past faded and were confuted and invalidated and destroyed by this intense reality so present and so near to him. (Nevertheless, for a moment he thought of her as the daughter of Sir Thomas More.) She was drawing. She was drawing with her whole mind and heart. At intervals, scarcely moving her head, she would glance aside at a paper to her left on the table.... She seemed to search it, to drag some secret out of it, and then she would resume her drawing. She was neither dark nor fair; she was comely, perhaps beautiful; she had beautiful lips, and her nose, behind the nostrils, joined the cheek in a lovely contour, like a tiny bulb. Yes, she was superb. But what mastered him was less her fresh physical charm than the rapt and extreme vitality of her existing.... He knew from her gestures and the tools on the table that she could be no amateur. She was a professional. He thought: Chelsea!... Marvellous place, Chelsea! He ought to have found that out long ago. He imagined Chelsea full of such pictures—the only true home of beauty and romance.
Then the impact of a single idea startled his blood. He went hot. He flushed. He had tingling sensations all down his back, and in his legs and in his arms. It was as though he had been caught in a dubious situation. Though he was utterly innocent, he felt as though he had something to be ashamed of. The idea was: she resembled old Haim, facially! Ridiculous idea! But she did resemble old Haim, particularly in the lobal termination of the nose. And in the lips too. And there was a vague, general resemblance. Absurd! It was a fancy.... He would not have cared for anybody to be watching him then, to surprise him watching her. He heard unmistakable footsteps on the pavement. A policeman darkly approached. Policemen at times can be very apposite. George moved his gaze and looked with admirable casualness around.
“Officer, is this Alexandra Grove?” (His stepfather had taught him to address all policemen as ‘officer.’)
“It is, sir.”
“Oh! Well, which is No. 8? There’re no numbers.”
“You couldn’t be much nearer to it, sir,” said the policeman dryly, and pointed to a large number, fairly visible, on the wide gate-post. George had not inspected the gate-post.
He mounted the steps, and in the thick gloom of the portico fumbled for the bell and rang it. He was tremendously excited and expectant and apprehensive and puzzled. He heard rain flatly spitting in big drops on the steps. He had not noticed till then that it had begun again. The bell jangled below. The light in the basement went out. He flushed anew. He thought, trembling: “She’s coming to the door herself!”
“It had occurred to me some time ago,” said Mr. Haim, “that if ever you should be wanting rooms I might be able to suit you.”
“Really!” George murmured. After having been shown into the room by the young woman, who had at once disappeared, he was now recovering from the nervousness of that agitating entry and resuming his normal demeanour of an experienced and well-balanced man of the world. He felt relieved that she had gone, and yet he regretted her departure extremely, and hoped against fear that she would soon return.
“Yes!” said Mr. Haim, as it were triumphantly, like one who had whispered to himself during long years: “The hour will come.” The hour had come.
Mr. Haim was surprising to George. The man seemed much older in his own parlour than at the office—his hair thinner and greyer, and his face more wrinkled. But the surprising part of him was that he had a home and was master in it, and possessed interests other than those of the firm of Lucas & Enwright. George had never until that day conceived the man apart from Russell Square. And here he was smoking a cigarette in an easy-chair and wearing red morocco slippers, and being called ‘father’ by a really stunning creature in a thin white blouse and a blue skirt.
The young girl, opening the front door, had said: “Do you want to see father?” And instantly the words were out George had realized that she might have said: “ Did you want to see father?” ... in the idiom of the shop-girl or clerk, and that if she had said ‘did’ he would have been gravely disappointed and hurt. But she had not. Of course she had not! Of course she was incapable of such a locution, and it was silly of him to have thought otherwise, even momentarily. She was an artist. Entirely different from the blonde and fluffy Mrs. John Orgreave—(and a good thing too, for Mrs. John with her eternal womanishness had got on his nerves)—Miss Haim was without doubt just as much a lady, and probably a jolly sight more cultured, in the true sense. Yet Miss Haim had not in the least revealed herself to him in the hall as she indicated the depository for his hat and stick and opened the door of the sitting-room. She had barely smiled. Indeed she had not smiled. She had not mentioned the weather. On the other hand, she had not been prim or repellent. She had revealed nothing of herself. Her one feat had been to stimulate mightily his curiosity and his imagination concerning her—rampant enough even before he entered the house!
The house—what he saw of it—suited her and set her off, and, as she was different from Mrs. John, so was the house different from the polished, conventional abode of Mrs. John at Bedford Park. To George’s taste it knocked Bedford Park to smithereens. In the parlour, for instance, an oak chest, an oak settee, an oak gate-table, one tapestried easy chair, several rush-bottomed chairs, a very small brass fender, a self-coloured wall-paper of warm green, two or three old engravings in maple-wood or tarnished gilt frames, several small portraits in maple-wood frames, brass candlesticks on the mantelpiece and no clock, self-coloured brown curtains across the windows (two windows opposite each other at either end of the long room), sundry rugs on the dark-stained floor, and so on! Not too much furniture, and not too much symmetry either. An agreeable and original higgledy-piggledyness! The room was lighted by a fairly large oil-lamp, with a paper shade hand-painted in a design of cupids—delightful personal design, rough, sketchy, adorable! She had certainly done it.
George sat on the oak settle, fronting the old man in the easy chair. It was a hard, smooth oak settle; it had no upholstering nor cushion; but George liked it.
“May I smoke?” asked George.
“Please do. Please do,” said Mr. Haim, who was smoking a cigarette himself, with courteous hospitality. However, it was a match and not a cigarette that he offered to George, who opened his own dandiacal case.
“I stayed rather late at the office to-night,” said George, as he blew out those great clouds with which young men demonstrate to the world that the cigarette is actually lighted. And as Mr. Haim, who was accustomed to the boastings of articled pupils, made no comment, George proceeded, lolling on the settle and showing his socks: “You know, I like Chelsea. I’ve always had a fancy for it.” He was just about to continue cosmopolitanly: “It’s the only part of London that’s like Paris. The people in the King’s Road,” etc., when fortunately he remembered that Mr. Haim must have overheard these remarks of Mr. Enwright, and ceased, rather awkwardly. Whereupon Mr. Haim suggested that he should see the house, and George said eagerly that he should like to see the house.
“We’ve got one bedroom more than we want,” Mr. Haim remarked as he led George to the hall.
“Oh yes!” said George politely.
The hall had a small bracket-lamp, which Mr. Haim unhooked, and then he opened a door opposite to the door of the room which they had quitted.
“Now this is a bedroom,” said he, holding the lamp high.
George was startled. A ground-floor bedroom would have been unthinkable at Bedford Park. Still, in a flat.... Moreover, the idea had piquancy. The bedroom was sparsely furnished. Instead of a wardrobe it had a corner curtained off with cretonne.
“A good-sized room,” said Mr. Haim.
“Very,” said George. “Two windows, too, like the drawing-room.” Then they went upstairs to the first floor, and saw two more bedrooms, each with two windows. One of them was Miss Haim’s; there was a hat hung on the looking-glass, and a table with a few books on it. They did not go to the second floor. The staircase to the second floor was boarded up at the point where it turned.
“That’s all there is,” said Mr. Haim on the landing. “The studio people have the second floor, but they don’t use my front door.” He spoke the last words rather defiantly.
“I see,” said George untruthfully, for he was mystified. But the mystery did not trouble him.
There was no bathroom, and this did not trouble him either, though at Bedford Park he could never have seriously considered a house without a bathroom.
“You could have your choice of ground floor or first floor,” said Mr. Haim confidentially, still on the landing. He moved the lamp about, and the shadows moved accordingly on the stairs.
“Oh, I don’t mind in the least,” George answered. “Whichever would suit you best.”
“We could give you breakfast, and use of sitting-room,” Mr. Haim proceeded in a low tone. “But no other meals.”
“That would be all right,” said George cheerfully. “I often dine in town. Like that I can get in a bit of extra work at the office, you see.”
“Except on Sundays,” Mr. Haim corrected himself. “You’d want your meals on Sundays, of course. But I expect you’re out a good deal, what with one thing or another.”
“Oh, I am!” George concurred.
The place was perfect, and he was determined to establish himself in it. Nothing could baulk him. A hitch would have desolated him completely.
“I may as well show you the basement while I’m about it,” said Mr. Haim.
“Do!” said George ardently.
They descended. The host was very dignified, as invariably at the office, and his accent never lapsed from the absolute correctness of an educated Londoner. His deportment gave distinction and safety even to the precipitous and mean basement stairs, which were of stone worn as by the knees of pilgrims in a crypt. All kinds of irregular pipes ran about along the ceiling of the basement; some were covered by ancient layers of wall-paper and some were not; some were painted yellow, and some were painted grey, and some were not painted. Mr. Haim exhibited first the kitchen. George saw a morsel of red amber behind black bars, a white deal table and a black cat crouched on a corner of the table, a chair, and a tea-cloth drying over the back thereof. He liked the scene; it reminded him of the Five Towns, and showed reassuringly—if he needed reassurance, which he did not—that all houses are the same at heart. Then Mr. Haim, flashing a lamp-ray on the coal-hole and the area door as he turned, crossed the stone passage into the other basement room.
“This is our second sitting-room,” said Mr. Haim, entering.
There she was at work, rapt, exactly as George had seen her from the outside. But now he saw the right side of her face instead of the left. It was wonderful to him that within the space of a few minutes he should have developed from an absolute stranger to her into an acquaintance of the house, walking about in it, peering into its recesses, disturbing its secrets, which were hers. But she remained as mysterious, as withdrawn and intangible, as ever. And then she shifted round suddenly on the chair, and her absorbed, intent face softened into a most beautiful, simple smile—a smile of welcome. An astonishing and celestial change!... She was not one of those queer girls, as perhaps she might have been. She was a girl of natural impulses. He smiled back, uplifted.
“My daughter designs bookbindings,” said Mr. Haim. “Happens to be very busy to-night on something urgent.”
He advanced towards her, George following.
“Awfully good!” George murmured enthusiastically, and quite sincerely, though he was not at all in a condition to judge the design. Strange, that he should come to the basement of an ordinary stock-size house in Alexandra Grove to see bookbindings in the making! This was a design for a boy’s book. He had possessed many such books. But it had never occurred to him that the gay bindings of them were each the result of individual human thought and labour. He pulled at his cigarette.
There was a sound of pushing and rattling outside.
“What’s that?” exclaimed Mr. Haim.
“It’s the area door. I bolted it. I dare say it’s Mrs. Lobley,” said the girl indifferently.
Mr. Haim moved sharply.
“Why did you bolt it, Marguerite? No, I’ll go myself.”
He picked up the lamp, which he had put down, and shuffled quickly out in his red morocco slippers, closing the door.
Marguerite? Yes, it suited her; and it was among the most romantic of names. It completed the picture. She now seemed to be listening and waiting, her attention on the unseen area door. He felt shy and yet very happy alone with her. Voices were distinctly heard. Who was Mrs. Lobley? Was Mr. Haim a little annoyed with his daughter, and was Marguerite exquisitely defiant? Time hung. The situation was slightly awkward, he thought. And it was obscure, alluring.... He stood there, below the level of the street, shut in with those beings unknown, provocative, and full of half-divined implications. And all Chelsea was around him and all London around Chelsea.
“Father won’t be a moment,” said the girl. “It’s only the charwoman.”
“Oh! That’s quite all right,” he answered effusively, and turning to the design: “The outlining of that lettering fairly beats me, you know.”
“Not really!... I get that from father, of course.”
Mr. Haim was famous in the office as a letterer.
She sat idly glancing at her own design, her plump, small hands lying in the blue lap. George compared her, unspeakably to her advantage, with the kind, coarse young woman at the chop-house, whom he had asked to telephone to the Orgreaves for him, and for whom he had been conscious of a faint penchant.
“I can’t colour it by gaslight,” said Marguerite Haim. “I shall have to do that in the morning.”
He imagined her at work again early in the morning. Within a week or so he might be living in this house with this girl. He would be,—watching her life! Seducing prospect, scarcely credible! He remembered having heard when he first went to Lucas & Enwright’s that old Haim was a widower.
“Do excuse me,” said Mr. Haim, urgently apologetic, reappearing.
A quarter of an hour later, George had left the house, having accepted Mr. Haim’s terms without the least argument. In five days he was to be an inmate of No. 8 Alexandra Grove. The episode presented itself to him as a vast, romantic adventure, staggering and enchanting. His luck continued, for the rain-cloud was spent. He got into an Earl’s Court bus. The dimly perceived travellers in it seemed all of them in a new sense to be romantic and mysterious.... “Yes,” he thought, “I did say good-night to her, but I didn’t shake hands.”
More than two months later George came into the office in Russell Square an hour or so after his usual time. He had been to South Kensington Museum to look up, for professional purposes, some scale drawings of architectural detail which were required for a restaurant then rising in Piccadilly under the direction of Lucas & Enwright. In his room Mr. Everard Lucas was already seated. Mr. Lucas was another articled pupil of the firm; being a remote cousin of the late senior partner, he had entered on special terms. Although a year older than George he was less advanced, for whereas George had passed the Intermediate, Mr. Lucas had not. But in manly beauty, in stylishness, in mature tact, and especially in persuasive charm, he could beat George.
“Hallo!” Lucas greeted. “How do you feel? Fit?”
“Fit?” said George enthusiastically “I feel so fit I could push in the side of a house.”
“What did I tell you?” said Lucas.
George rubbed his hand all over Lucas’s hair, and Lucas thereupon seized George’s other hand and twisted his arm, and a struggle followed. In this way they would often lovingly salute each other of a morning. Lucas had infected George with the craze for physical exercises as a remedy for all ills and indiscretions, including even late nights and excessive smoking. The competition between them to excel in the quality of fitness was acute, and sometimes led to strange challenges. After a little discussion about springing from the toes, Lucas now accused George’s toes of a lack of muscularity, and upon George denying the charge, he asserted that George could not hang from the mantelpiece by his toes. They were both men of the world, capable of great heights of dignity, figures in an important business, aspirants to a supreme art and profession. They were at that moment in a beautiful late-eighteenth-century house of a stately and renowned square, and in a room whose proportions and ornament admittedly might serve as an exemplar to the student; and not the least lovely feature of the room was the high carved mantelpiece. The morning itself was historic, for it was the very morning upon which, President McKinley having expired, Theodore Roosevelt ascended the throne and inaugurated a new era. Nevertheless, such was their peculiar time of life that George, a minute later, was as a fact hanging by his toes from the mantelpiece, while Lucas urged him to keep the blood out of his head. George had stood on his hands on a box and lodged his toes on the mantelpiece, and then raised his hands—and Lucas had softly pushed the box away. George’s watch was dangling against his flushed cheek.
“Put that box back, you cuckoo!” George exploded chokingly.
Then the door opened and Mr. Enwright appeared. Simultaneously some shillings slipped out of George’s pocket and rolled about the floor. The hour was Mr. Enwright’s customary hour of arrival, but he had no fair excuse for passing through that room instead of proceeding along the corridor direct to the principals’ room. His aspect, as he gazed at George’s hair and at the revealed sateen back of George’s waistcoat, was unusual. Mr. Enwright commonly entered the office full of an intense and aggrieved consciousness of his own existence—of his insomnia, of the reaction upon himself of some client’s stupidity, of the necessity of going out again in order to have his chin lacerated by his favourite and hated Albanian barber. But now he had actually forgotten himself.
“What is this?” he demanded.
Lucas having quickly restored the box, George subsided dangerously thereon, and arose in a condition much disarrayed and confused, and beheld Mr. Enwright with shame.
“I—I was just looking to see if the trap of the chimney was shut,” said George. It was foolish in the extreme, but it was the best he could do, and after all it was a rather marvellous invention. Lucas sat down and made no remark.
“You might respect the mantelpiece,” said Mr. Enwright bitterly, and went into the principals’ room, where John Orgreave could be heard dictating letters. George straightened his clothes and picked up his money, and the two men of the world giggled nervously at each other.
Mr. Haim next disturbed them. The shabby, respectable old man smiled vaguely, with averted glance.
“I think he’s heard the result,” said he.
Both men knew that ‘he’ was Mr. Enwright, and that the ‘result’ was the result of the open competition for the £150,000 Law Courts which a proud provincial city proposed to erect for itself. The whole office had worked very hard on the drawings for that competition throughout the summer, while cursing the corporation which had chosen so unusual a date for sending-in day. Even Lucas had worked. George’s ideas for certain details, upon which he had been engaged on the evening of his introduction to Mr. Haim’s household, had been accepted by Mr. Enwright. As for Mr. Enwright, though the exigencies of his beard, and his regular morning habit of inveighing against the profession at great length, and his inability to decide where he should lunch, generally prevented him from beginning the day until three o’clock in the afternoon, Mr. Enwright had given many highly concentrated hours of creative energy to the design. And Mr. Haim had adorned the sheets with the finest lettering. The design was held to be very good. The principals knew the identity of all the other chief competitors and their powers, and they knew also the idiosyncrasies of the Assessor; and their expert and impartial opinion was that the Lucas & Enwright design ought to win and would win. This view, indeed, was widespread in the arcana of the architectural world. George had gradually grown certain of victory. And yet, at Mr. Haim’s words, his hopes sank horribly away.
“Have we won?” he asked sharply.
“That I can’t say, Mr. Cannon,” answered Haim.
“Well, then, how do you know he’s heard? Has he told you?”
“No,” said the factotum mysteriously. “But I think he’s heard.” And upon this Mr. Haim slouched off quite calmly. Often he had assisted at the advent of such vital news in the office—news obtained in advance by the principals through secret channels—and often the news had been bad. But the firm’s calamities seemed never to affect the smoothness of Mr. Haim’s earthly passage.
The door into the principals’ room opened, and Mr. Enwright’s head showed. The gloomy, resenting eyes fixed George for an instant.
“Well, you’ve lost that competition,” said Mr. Enwright, and he stepped into full view. His unseen partner had ceased to dictate, and the shorthand-clerk could be heard going out by the other door.
“No!” said George, in a long, outraged murmur. The news seemed incredible and quite disastrous; and yet at the same time had he not, in one unvisited corner of his mind, always foreknown it? Suddenly he was distressed, discouraged, disillusioned about the whole of life. He thought that Everard Lucas, screwing up a compass, was strangely unmoved. But Mr. Enwright ignored Lucas.
“Who’s got it?” George asked.
“That chap!... Where are we ?”
“Not in it. Skelting’s second. And Grant third. I shouldn’t have minded so much if Grant had got it. There was something to be said for his scheme. I knew we shouldn’t get it. I knew that perfectly well—not with Corver assessing.”
George wondered that his admired principal should thus state the exact opposite of what he had so often affirmed during the last few weeks. People were certainly very queer, even the best of them. The perception of this fact added to his puzzled woe.
“But Whinburn’s design is grotesque!” he protested borrowing one of Mr. Enwright’s adjectives.
“Of course it is.”
“Then why does Sir Hugh Corver go and give him the award? Surely he must know——”
“Know!” Mr. Enwright growled, destroying Sir Hugh and his reputation and his pretensions with one single monosyllable.
“Then why did they make him Assessor—that’s what I can’t understand.”
“It’s quite simple,” rasped Mr. Enwright. “They made him assessor because he’s got so much work to do it takes him all his time to trot about from one job to another on his blooming pony. They made him assessor because his pony’s a piebald pony. Couldn’t you think of that for yourself? Or have you been stone deaf in this office for two years? It stands to reason that a man who’s responsible for all the largest new eyesores in London would impress any corporation. Clever chap, Corver! Instead of wasting his time in travel and study, he made a speciality of learning how to talk to committees. And he was always full of ideas like the piebald pony, ever since I knew him.”
“It’s that façade that did for us,” broke in another voice. John Orgreave stood behind Mr. Enwright. He spoke easily; he was not ruffled by the immense disappointment, though the mournful greatness of the topic had drawn him irresistibly into the discussion. John Orgreave had grown rather fat and coarse. At one period, in the Five Towns, he had been George’s hero. He was so no longer. George was still fond of him, but he had torn him down from the pedestal and established Mr. Enwright in his place. George in his heart now somewhat patronized the placid Orgreave, regarding him as an excellent person who comprehended naught that was worth comprehending, and as a husband who was the dupe of his wife.
“You couldn’t have any other façade,” Mr. Enwright turned on him, “unless you’re absolutely going to ignore the market on the other side of the Square. Whinburn’s façade is an outrage—an outrage. Give me a cigarette. I must run out and get shaved.”
While Mr. Enwright was lighting the cigarette, George reflected in desolation upon the slow evolving of the firm’s design for the Law Courts. Again and again in the course of the work had he been struck into a worshipping enthusiasm by the brilliance of Mr. Enwright’s invention and the happy beauty of his ideas. For George there was only one architect in the world; he was convinced that nobody could possibly rival Mr. Enwright, and that no Law Courts ever had been conceived equal to those Law Courts. And he himself had contributed something to the creation. He had dreamed of the building erected and of being able to stand in front of some detail of it and say to himself: “That was my notion, that was.” And now the building was destroyed before its birth. It would never come into existence. It was wasted. And the prospect for the firm of several years’ remunerative and satisfying labour had vanished. But the ridiculous, canny Whinburn would be profitably occupied, and his grotesque building would actually arise, and people would praise it, and it would survive for centuries—at any rate for a century.
Mr. Enwright did not move.
“It’s no use regretting the façade, Orgreave,” he said suddenly. “There’s such a thing as self-respect.”
“I don’t see that self-respect’s got much to do with it,” Orgreave replied lightly.
(“Of course you don’t,” George thought. “You’re a decent sort, but you don’t see, and you never will see. Even Lucas doesn’t see. I alone see.” And he felt savage and defiant.)
“Better shove my self-respect away into this cupboard, I suppose!” said Mr. Enwright, with the most acrid cynicism, and he pulled open one door of a long, low cupboard whose top formed a table for portfolios, dusty illustrated books, and other accumulations.
The gesture was dramatic, and none knew it better than Mr. Enwright. The cupboard was the cupboard which contained the skeleton. It was full of designs rejected in public competitions. There they lay, piles and piles of them, the earliest dating from the late seventies. The cupboard was crammed with the futility of Enwright’s genius. It held monuments enough to make illustrious a score of cities. Lucas & Enwright was a successful firm. But, confining itself chiefly to large public works, it could not escape from the competition system; and it had lost in far more competitions than it had won. It was always, and always would be, at the mercy of an Assessor. The chances had always been, and always would be, against the acceptance of its designs, because they had the fatal quality of originality combined with modest adherence to the classical tradition. When they conquered, it was by sheer force. George glanced at the skeleton, and he was afraid. Something was very wrong with architecture. He agreed with Mr. Enwright’s tiresomely reiterated axiom that it was the Cinderella of professions and the chosen field of ghastly injustice. He had embraced architecture; he had determined to follow exactly in the footsteps of Mr. Enwright; he had sworn to succeed. But could he succeed? Suppose he failed! Yes, his faith faltered. He was intensely, miserably afraid. He was the most serious man in Russell Square. Astounding that only a few minutes ago he had hung triumphantly by his feet from the mantelpiece!
Mr. Enwright kicked-to the door of the cupboard.
“Look here,” he said to his partner, “I shan’t be back just yet. I have to go and see Bentley. I’d forgotten it.”
Nobody was surprised at this remark. Whenever Mr. Enwright was inconveniently set back he always went off to visit Bentley, the architect of the new Roman Catholic Cathedral at Westminster, on the plea of an urgent appointment.
“ You had a look at the cathedral lately?” he demanded of George as he left.
“No, I haven’t,” said George, who, by reason of a series of unaccountable omissions, and of the fullness of his life as an architect and a man of the world, had never seen the celebrated cathedral at all.
“Well,” said Mr. Enwright sarcastically, “better take just a glance at it—some time—before they’ve spoilt the thing with decorations. There’s a whole lot of ‘em only waiting till Bentley’s out of the way to begin and ruin it.”
Before the regular closing hour of the office the two articled pupils had left and were walking side by side through Bloomsbury. They skirted the oval garden of Bedford Square, which, lying off the main track to the northern termini, and with nothing baser in it than a consulate or so, took precedence in austerity and selectness over Russell Square, which had consented to receive a grand hotel or ‘modern caravanserai’ and a shorthand school. Indeed the aspect of Bedford Square, where the great institution of the basement and area still flourished in perfection, and wealthy menials with traditional manners lived sensually in caves beneath the spacious, calm salons of their employers and dupes,—the aspect of Bedford Square gave the illusion that evolution was not, and that Bloomsbury and the whole impressive structure of British society could never change. Still, from a more dubious Bloomsbury, demure creatures with inviting, indiscreet eyes were already traversing the prim flags of Bedford Square on their way to the evening’s hard diplomacy. Mr. Lucas made quiet remarks about their qualities, but George did not respond.
“Look here, old man,” said Lucas, “there’s no use in all this gloom. You might think Lucas & Enwright had never put up a building in their lives. Just as well to dwell now and then on what they have done instead of on what they haven’t done. We’re fairly busy, you know. Besides——”
He spoke seriously, tactfully, with charm, and he had a beautiful voice.
“Quite right! Quite right!” George willingly agreed, swinging his stick and gazing straight ahead. And he thought: “This chap has got his head screwed on. He’s miles wiser than I am, and he’s really nice. I could never be nice like that.”
In a moment they were at the turbulent junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street, where crowds of Londoners, deeply unconscious of their own vulgarity, and of the marvellous distinction of Bedford Square, and of the moral obligation to harmonize socks with neckties, were preoccupying themselves with omnibuses and routes, and constituting the spectacle of London. The high-heeled, demure creatures were lost in this crowd, and Lucas and George were lost in it.
“Well,” said Lucas, halting on the pavement. “You’re going down to the cathedral.”
“It’ll please the old cock,” answered George, anxious to disavow any higher motive. “You aren’t coming?”
Lucas shook his head. “I shall just go and snatch a hasty”.... ‘Cup of tea’ was the unuttered end of the sentence.
Lucas nodded. Puffin’s was a cosy house of sustenance in a half-new street on the site of the razed slums of St. Giles’s. He would not frequent the orthodox tea-houses, which were all alike and which had other serious disadvantages. He adventured into the unusual, and could always demonstrate that what he found was subtly superior to anything else.
“That affair still on?” George questioned.
“It’s not off.”
“She’s a nice little thing—that I will say.”
“It all depends,” Lucas replied sternly. “I don’t mind telling you she wasn’t so jolly nice on Tuesday.”
“Wasn’t she?” George raised his eyebrows.
Lucas silently scowled, and his handsomeness vanished for an instant.
“However——” he said.
As George walked alone down Charing Cross Road, he thought: “That girl will have to look out,”—meaning that in his opinion Lucas was not a man to be trifled with. Lucas was a wise and an experienced man, and knew the world. And what he did could not be other than right. This notion comforted George, who had a small affair of his own, which he had not yet even mentioned to Lucas. Delicacy as well as diffidence had prevented him from doing so. It was a very different affair from any of Lucas’s, and he did not want Lucas to misesteem it; neither did he want Lucas to be under the temptation to regard him as a ninny.
Not the cathedral alone had induced George to leave the office early. The dissembler had reflected that if he called in a certain conventional tea-shop near Cambridge Circus at a certain hour he would probably meet Marguerite Haim. He knew that she had an appointment with one of her customers, a firm of bookbinders, that afternoon, and that on similar occasions she had been to the tea-shop. In fact he had already once deliciously taken tea with her therein. To-day he was disappointed, to the extent of the tea, for he met her as she was coming out of the shop. Their greetings were rather punctilious, but beneath superficial formalities shone the proofs of intimacy. They had had large opportunities to become intimate, and they had become intimate. The immediate origin of and excuse for the intimacy was a lampshade. George had needed a lampshade for his room, and she had offered to paint one. She submitted sketches. But George also could paint a bit. Hence discussions, conferences, rival designs, and, lastly, an agreement upon a composite design. Before long, the lampshade craze increasing in virulence, they had between them re-lampshaded the entire house. Then the charming mania expired; but it had done its work. During the summer holiday George had written twice to Marguerite, and he had thought pleasurably about her the whole time. He had hoped that she would open the door for him upon his return, and that when he saw her again he would at length penetrate the baffling secret of her individuality. She had opened the door for him, exquisitely, but the secret had not yielded itself. It was astonishing to George, how that girl could combine the candours of honest intimacy with a profound reserve.
“Were you going in there for tea?” she asked, looking up at him gravely.
“No,” he said. “I don’t want any tea. I have to wend my way to the Roman Catholic Cathedral—you know, the new one, near Victoria. I suppose you wouldn’t care to see it?”
“I should love to,” she answered, with ingenuous eagerness. “I think it might do me good.”
A strange phrase, he thought! What did she mean?
“Would you mind walking?” she suggested.
“Let me take that portfolio, then.”
So they walked. She had her usual serious expression, as it were full of the consciousness of duty. It made him think how reliable she would always be. She held herself straight and independently, and her appearance was very simple and very trim. He considered it wrong that a girl with such beautiful lips should have to consult callous bookbinders and accept whatever they chose to say. To him she was like a lovely and valiant martyr. The spectacle of her was touching. However, he could not have dared to hint at these sentiments. He had to pretend that her exposure to the stresses of the labour-market was quite natural and right. Always he was careful in his speech with her. When he got to know people he was apt to be impatient and ruthless; for example, to John Orgreave and his wife, and to his mother and stepfather, and sometimes even to Everard Lucas. He would bear them down. But he was restrained from such freedoms with Enwright, and equally with Marguerite Haim. She did not intimidate him, but she put him under a spell.
Crossing Piccadilly Circus he had a glimpse of the rising walls and the scaffolding of the new restaurant. He pointed to the building without a word. She nodded and smiled.
In the Mall, where the red campanile of the cathedral was first descried, George began to get excited. And he perceived that Marguerite sympathetically responded to his excitement. She had never even noticed the campanile before, and the reason was that the cathedral happened not to be on the route between Alexandra Grove and her principal customers. Suddenly, out of Victoria Street, they came up against the vast form of the Byzantine cathedral. It was hemmed in by puny six-story blocks of flats, as ancient cathedrals also are hemmed in by the dwellings of townsfolk. But here, instead of the houses having gathered about the cathedral, the cathedral had excavated a place for itself amid the houses. Tier above tier the expensively curtained windows of dark drawing-rooms and bedrooms inhabited by thousands of the well-to-do blinked up at the colossal symbol that dwarfed them all. George knew that he was late. If the watchman’s gate was shut for the night he would look a fool. But his confidence in his magic power successfully to run risks sustained him in a gallant and assured demeanour. The gate in the hoarding that screened the west front was open. With a large gesture he tipped the watchman a shilling, and they passed in like princes. The transition to the calm and dusty interior was instantaneous and almost overwhelming. Immense without, the cathedral seemed still more immense within. On one side of the nave was a steam-engine; on the other some sort of a mill; and everywhere lay in heaps the wild litter of construction, among which moved here and there little parties of aproned pygmies engaged silently and industriously on sub-contracts; the main army of labourers had gone. The walls rose massively clear out of the white-powdered confusion into arches and high domes; and the floor of the choir, and a loftier floor beyond that, also rose clear. Perspectives ended in shadow and were illimitable, while the afternoon light through the stone grille of the western windows made luminous spaces in the gloom.
The sensation of having the mysterious girl at his elbow in that wonder-striking interior was magnificent.
He murmured, with pride:
“Do you know this place has the widest nave of any cathedral in the world? It’s a much bigger cathedral than St. Paul’s. In fact I’m not sure if it isn’t the biggest in England.”
“You know,” he said again, “in the whole of the nineteenth century only one cathedral was built in England.”
“Which was that?”
“Truro.... And you could put Truro inside this and leave a margin all round. Mr. Enwright says this is the last cathedral that ever will be built, outside America.”
They gazed, more and more aware of a solemn miracle.
“It’s marvellous—marvellous!” he breathed.
After a few moments, glancing at her, a strong impulse to be confidential mastered him. He was obliged to tell that girl.
“I say, we’ve lost that competition—for the Law Courts.”
He smiled, but the smile had no effect.
“Oh!” She positively started.
He saw that her eyes had moistened, and he looked quickly away, as though he had seen something that he ought not to have seen. She cared! She cared a great deal! She was shocked by the misfortune to the firm, by the injustice to transcendent merit! She knew nothing whatever about any design in the competition. But it was her religion that the Lucas & Enwright design was the best, and by far the best. He had implanted the dogma, and he felt that she was ready to die for it. Mystery dropped away from her. Her soul stood bare to him. He was so happy and so proud that the intensity of his feeling dismayed him. But he was enheartened too, and courage to surmount a thousand failures welled up in him as from an unimagined spring.
“I wonder who that is?” she said quietly and ordinarily, as if a terrific event had not happened.
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