‘Nonsense! They’re open till two. I’ll ring up for a taxi. I’m not going to have you starving yourself.’

In the taxi she lay against him, still half asleep, her head pillowed on his breast. He thought of the unemployed in Middlesbrough, seven in a room on twenty-five bob a week. But the girl’s body was heavy against him, and Middlesbrough was very far away. Also he was damnably hungry. He thought of his favourite corner table at Modigliani’s, and of that vile pub with its hard benches, stale beer-stink and brass spittoons. Hermione was sleepily lecturing him.

‘Philip, why do you have to live in such a dreadful way?’

‘But I don’t live in a dreadful way.’

‘Yes, you do. Pretending you’re poor when you’re not, and living in that poky flat with no servants, and going about with all these beastly people.’

‘What beastly people?’

‘Oh, people like this poet friend of yours. All those people who write for your paper. They only do it to cadge from you. Of course I know you’re a Socialist. So am I. I mean we’re all Socialists nowadays. But I don’t see why you have to give all your money away and make friends with the lower classes. You can be a Socialist and have a good time, that’s what I say.’

‘Hermione, dear, please don’t call them the lower classes!’

‘Why not? They are the lower classes, aren’t they?’

‘It’s such a hateful expression. Call them the working class, can’t you?’

‘The working class, if you like, then. But they smell just the same.’

‘You oughtn’t to say that kind of thing,’ he protested weakly.

‘Do you know, Philip, sometimes I think you like the lower classes.’

‘Of course I like them.’

‘How disgusting. How absolutely disgusting.’

She lay quiet, content to argue no longer, her arms round him, like a sleepy siren. The woman-scent breathed out of her, a powerful wordless propaganda against all altruism and all justice. Outside Modigliani’s they had paid off the taxi and were moving for the door when a big, lank wreck of a man seemed to spring up from the paving-stones in front of them. He stood across their path like some fawning beast, with dreadful eagerness and yet timorously, as though afraid that Ravelston would strike him. His face came close up to Ravelston’s—a dreadful face, fish-white and scrubby-bearded to the eyes. The words ‘A cup of tea, guv’nor!’ were breathed through carious teeth. Ravelston shrank from him in disgust. He could not help it. His hand moved automatically to his pocket. But in the same instant Hermione caught him by the arm and hauled him inside the restaurant.

‘You’d give away every penny you’ve got if I let you,’ she said.

They went to their favourite table in the corner. Hermione played with some grapes, but Ravelston was very hungry. He ordered the grilled rumpsteak he had been thinking of, and half a bottle of Beaujolais. The fat, white-haired Italian waiter, an old friend of Ravelston’s brought the smoking steak. Ravelston cut it open. Lovely, its red-blue heart! In Middlesbrough the unemployed huddle in frowzy beds, bread and marg. and milkless tea in their bellies. He settled down to his steak with all the shameful joy of a dog with a stolen leg of mutton.

Gordon walked rapidly homewards. It was cold. The fifth of December—real winter now. Circumcise ye your foreskins, saith the Lord. The damp wind blew spitefully through the naked trees. Sharply the menacing wind sweeps over. The poem he had begun on Wednesday, of which six stanzas were now finished, came back into his mind. He did not dislike it at this moment. It was queer how talking with Ravelston always bucked him up. The mere contact with Ravelston seemed to reassure him somehow. Even when their talk had been unsatisfactory, he came away with the feeling that, after all, he wasn’t quite a failure. Half aloud he repeated the six finished stanzas. They were not bad, not bad at all.

But intermittently he was going over in his mind the things he had said to Ravelston. He stuck to everything he had said. The humiliation of poverty! That’s what they can’t understand and won’t understand. Not hardship—you don’t suffer hardship on two quid a week, and if you did it wouldn’t matter—but just humiliation, the awful, bloody humiliation. The way it gives everyone the right to stamp on you. The way everyone wants to stamp on you. Ravelston wouldn’t believe it. He had too much decency, that was why. He thought you could be poor and still be treated like a human being. But Gordon knew better. He went into the house repeating to himself that he knew better.

There was a letter waiting for him on the hall tray. His heart jumped. All letters excited him nowadays. He went up the stairs three at a time, shut himself in and lit the gas. The letter was from Doring.

DEAR COMSTOCK,—What a pity you didn’t turn up on Saturday. There were some people I wanted you to meet. We did tell you it was Saturday and not Thursday this time, didn’t we? My wife says she’s certain she told you. Anyway, we’re having another party on the twenty-third, a sort of before-Christmas party, about the same time. Won’t you come then? Don’t forget the date this time.



A painful convulsion happened below Gordon’s ribs. So Doring was pretending that it was all a mistake—was pretending not to have insulted him! True, he could not actually have gone there on Saturday, because on Saturday he had to be at the shop; still, it was the intention that counted.

His heart sickened as he re-read the words ‘Some people I wanted you to meet.’ Just like his bloody luck! He thought of the people he might have met—editors of highbrow magazines, for instance. They might have given him books to review or asked to see his poems or Lord knew what. For a moment he was dreadfully tempted to believe that Doring had spoken the truth. Perhaps after all they had told him it was Saturday and not Thursday. Perhaps if he searched his memory he might remember about it—might even find the letter itself lying about among his muddle of papers. But no! He wouldn’t think of it. He fought down the temptation. The Dorings had insulted him on purpose. He was poor, therefore they had insulted him. If you are poor, people will insult you. It was his creed. Stick to it!

He went across to the table, tearing Doring’s letter into small bits. The aspidistra stood in its pot, dull green, ailing, pathetic in its sickly ugliness. As he sat down, he pulled it towards him and looked at it meditatively. There was the intimacy of hatred between the aspidistra and him. ‘I’ll beat you yet, you b——,’ he whispered to the dusty leaves.

Then he rummaged among his papers until he found a clean sheet, took his pen and wrote in his small, neat hand, right in the middle of the sheet:

DEAR DORING,—With reference to your letter: Go and —— yourself.

Yours truly


He stuck it into an envelope, addressed it and at once went out to get stamps from the slot machine. Post it tonight: these things look different in the morning. He dropped it into the pillar-box. So there was another friend gone west.


THIS WOMAN BUSINESS! What a bore it is! What a pity we can’t cut it right out, or at least be like the animals—minutes of ferocious lust and months of icy chastity. Take a cock pheasant, for example. He jumps up on the hens’ backs without so much as a with your leave or by your leave. And no sooner is it over than the whole subject is out of his mind. He hardly even notices his hens any longer; he ignores them, or simply pecks them if they come too near his food. He is not called upon to support his offspring, either. Lucky pheasant! How different from the lord of creation, always on the hop between his memory and his conscience!

Tonight Gordon wasn’t even pretending to do any work. He had gone out again immediately after supper. He walked southward, rather slowly, thinking about women. It was a mild, misty night, more like autumn than winter. This was Tuesday and he had four and fourpence left. He could go down to the Crichton if he chose. Doubtless Flaxman and his pals were already boozing there. But the Crichton, which had seemed like paradise when he had no money, bored and disgusted him when it was in his power to go there. He hated the stale, beery place, and the sights, sounds, smells, all so blatantly and offensively male. There were no women there; only the barmaid with her lewd smile which seemed to promise everything and promised nothing.

Women, women! The mist that hung motionless in the air turned the passers-by into ghosts at twenty yards’ distance; but in the little pools of light about the lamp-posts there were glimpses of girls’ faces. He thought of Rosemary, of women in general, and of Rosemary again. All afternoon he had been thinking of her. It was with a kind of resentment that he thought of her small, strong body, which he had never yet seen naked. How damned unfair it is that we are filled to the brim with these tormenting desires and then forbidden to satisfy them! Why should one, merely because one has no money, be deprived of that? It seems so natural, so necessary, so much a part of the inalienable rights of a human being. As he walked down the dark street, through the cold yet languorous air, there was a strangely hopeful feeling in his breast. He half believed that somewhere ahead in the darkness a woman’s body was waiting for him. But also he knew that no woman was waiting, not even Rosemary. It was eight days now since she had even written to him. The little beast! Eight whole days without writing! When she knew how much her letters meant to him! How manifest it was that she didn’t care for him any longer, that he was merely a nuisance to her with his poverty and his shabbiness and his everlasting pestering of her to say she loved him! Very likely she would never write again. She was sick of him—sick of him because he had no money. What else could you expect? He had no hold over her. No money, therefore no hold. In the last resort, what holds a woman to a man, except money?

A girl came down the pavement alone. He passed her in the light of the lamp-post. A working-class girl, eighteen years old it might be, hatless, with wildrose face. She turned her head quickly when she saw him looking at her. She dreaded to meet his eyes. Beneath the thin silky raincoat she was wearing, belted at the waist, her youthful flanks showed supple and trim. He could have turned and followed her, almost. But what was the use? She’d only run away or call a policeman. My golden locks time hath to silver turned, he thought. He was thirty and moth-eaten. What woman worth having would ever look at him again?

This woman business! Perhaps you’d feel differently about it if you were married? But he had taken an oath against marriage long ago. Marriage is only a trap set for you by the money-god. You grab the bait; snap goes the trap; and there you are, chained by the leg to some ‘good’ job till they cart you to Kensal Green. And what a life! Licit sexual intercourse in the shade of the aspidistra. Pram-pushing and sneaky adulteries. And the wife finding you out and breaking the cut-glass whisky decanter over your head.

Nevertheless he perceived that in a way it is necessary to marry. If marriage is bad, the alternative is worse. For a moment he wished that he were married; he pined for the difficulty of it, the reality, the pain. And marriage must be indissoluble, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, till death do you part. The old Christian ideal—marriage tempered by adultery. Commit adultery if you must, but at any rate have the decency to call it adultery. None of that American soulmate slop. Have your fun and then sneak home, juice of the forbidden fruit dripping from your whiskers, and take the consequences. Cut-glass whisky decanters broken over your head, nagging, burnt meals, children crying, clash and thunder of embattled mothers-in-law. Better that, perhaps, than horrible freedom? You’d know, at least, that it was real life that you were living.

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