‘Do you love me?’ he said.

‘Of course, silly. Why do you always ask me that?’

‘I like to hear you say it. Somehow I never feel sure of you till I’ve heard you say it.’

‘But why?’

‘Oh, well, you might have changed your mind. After all, I’m not exactly the answer to a maiden’s prayer. I’m thirty, and moth-eaten at that.’

‘Don’t be so absurd, Gordon! Anyone would think you were a hundred, to hear you talk. You know I’m the same age as you are.’

‘Yes, but not moth-eaten.’

She rubbed her cheek against his, feeling the roughness of his day-old beard. Their bellies were close together. He thought of the two years he had wanted her and never had her. With his lips almost against her ear he murmured:

‘Are you ever going to sleep with me?’

‘Yes, some day I will. Not now. Some day.’

‘It’s always “some day”. It’s been “some day” for two years now.’

‘I know. But I can’t help it.’

He pressed her back against the wall, pulled off the absurd flat hat and buried his face in her hair. It was tormenting to be so close to her and all for nothing. He put a hand under her chin and lifted her small face up to his, trying to distinguish her features in the almost complete darkness.

‘Say you will, Rosemary. There’s a dear! Do!’

‘You know I’m going to some time.’

‘Yes, but not some time—now. I don’t mean this moment, but soon. When we get an opportunity. Say you will!’

‘I can’t. I can’t promise.’

‘Say “yes,” Rosemary. Please do!’


Still stroking her invisible face, he quoted:

‘Veuillez le dire donc selon

Que vous estes benigne et doulche,

Car ce doulx mot n’est pas si long

Qu’il vous face mal en la bouche.’

‘What does that mean?’

He translated it.

‘I can’t, Gordon. I just can’t.’

‘Say “yes,” Rosemary, there’s a dear. Surely it’s as easy to say “yes” as “no”?’

‘No, it isn’t. It’s easy enough for you. You’re a man. It’s different for a woman.’

‘Say “yes,” Rosemary! “Yes”—it’s such an easy word. Go on, now; say it. “Yes!”’

‘Anyone would think you were teaching a parrot to talk, Gordon.’

‘Oh, damn! Don’t make jokes about it.’

It was not much use arguing. Presently they came out into the street and walked on, southward. Somehow, from Rosemary’s swift, neat movements, from her general air of a girl who knows how to look after herself and who yet treats life mainly as a joke, you could make a good guess at her upbringing and her mental background. She was the youngest child of one of those huge hungry families which still exist here and there in the middle classes. There had been fourteen children all told—the father was a country solicitor. Some of Rosemary’s sisters were married, some of them were schoolmistresses or running typing bureaux; the brothers were farming in Canada, on tea-plantations in Ceylon, in obscure regiments of the Indian Army. Like all women who have had an eventful girlhood, Rosemary wanted to remain a girl. That was why, sexually, she was so immature. She had kept late into life the high-spirited sexless atmosphere of a big family. Also she had absorbed into her very bones the code of fair play and live-and-let-live. She was profoundly magnanimous, quite incapable of spiritual bullying. From Gordon, whom she adored, she put up with almost anything. It was the measure of her magnanimity that never once, in the two years that she had known him, had she blamed him for not attempting to earn a proper living.

Gordon was aware of all this. But at the moment he was thinking of other things. In the pallid circles of light about the lamp-posts, beside Rosemary’s smaller, trimmer figure, he felt graceless, shabby and dirty. He wished very much that he had shaved that morning. Furtively he put a hand into his pocket and felt his money, half afraid—it was a recurrent fear with him—that he might have dropped a coin. However, he could feel the milled edge of a florin, his principal coin at the moment. Four and fourpence left. He couldn’t possibly take her out to supper, he reflected. They’d have to trail dismally up and down the streets, as usual, or at best go to a Lyons for a coffee. Bloody! How can you have any fun when you’ve got no money? He said broodingly:

‘Of course it all comes back to money.’

This remark came out of the blue. She looked up at him in surprise.

‘What do you mean, it all comes back to money?’

‘I mean the way nothing ever goes right in my life. It’s always money, money, money that’s at the bottom of everything. And especially between me and you. That’s why you don’t really love me. There’s a sort of film of money between us. I can feel it every time I kiss you.’

‘Money! What has money got to do with it, Gordon?’

‘Money’s got to do with everything. If I had more money you’d love me more.’

‘Of course, I wouldn’t! Why should I?’

‘You couldn’t help it. Don’t you see that if I had more money I’d be more worth loving? Look at me now! Look at my face, look at these clothes I’m wearing, look at everything else about me. Do you suppose I’d be like that if I had two thousand a year? If I had more money I should be a different person.’

‘If you were a different person I shouldn’t love you.’

‘That’s nonsense, too. But look at it like this. If we were married would you sleep with me?’

‘What questions you do ask! Of course I would. Otherwise, where would be the sense of being married?’

‘Well, then, suppose I was decently well off, would you marry me?’

‘What’s the good of talking about it, Gordon? You know we can’t afford to marry.’

‘Yes, but if we could. Would you?’

‘I don’t know. Yes, I would, I dare say.’

‘There you are, then! That’s what I said—money!’

‘No, Gordon, no! That’s not fair! You’re twisting my words round.’

‘No, I’m not. You’ve got this money-business at the bottom of your heart. Every woman’s got it. You wish I was in a good job now, don’t you?’

‘Not in the way you mean it. I’d like you to be earning more money—yes.’

‘And you think I ought to have stayed on at the New Albion, don’t you? You’d like me to go back there now and write slogans for QT Sauce and Tru-weet Breakfast Crisps. Wouldn’t you?’

‘No, I wouldn’t. I never said that.’

‘You thought it, though. It’s what any woman would think.’

He was being horribly unfair, and he knew it. The one thing Rosemary had never said, the thing she was probably incapable of saying, was that he ought to go back to the New Albion. But for the moment he did not even want to be fair. His sexual disappointment still pricked him. With a sort of melancholy triumph he reflected that, after all, he was right. It was money that stood between them. Money, money, all is money! He broke into a half-serious tirade:

‘Women! What nonsense they make of all our ideas! Because one can’t keep free of women, and every woman makes one pay the same price. “Chuck away your decency and make more money”—that’s what women say. “Chuck away your decency, suck the blacking off the boss’s boots and buy me a better fur coat than the woman next door.” Every man you can see has got some blasted woman hanging round his neck like a mermaid, dragging him down and down—down to some beastly little semidetached villa in Putney, with Drage furniture and a portable radio and an aspidistra in the window. It’s women who make all progress impossible. Not that I believe in progress,’ he added rather unsatisfactorily.

‘What absolute nonsense you do talk, Gordon! As though women were to blame for everything!’

‘They are to blame, finally. Because it’s the women who really believe in the money-code. The men obey it; they have to, but they don’t believe in it. It’s the women who keep it going. The women and their Putney villas and their fur coats and their babies and their aspidistras.’

‘It is not the women, Gordon! Women didn’t invent money, did they?’

‘It doesn’t matter who invented it, the point is that it’s women who worship it. A woman’s got a sort of mystical feeling towards money. Good and evil in a woman’s mind mean simply money and no money. Look at you and me. You won’t sleep with me, simply and solely because I’ve got no money. Yes, that is the reason. (He squeezed her arm to silence her.) You admitted it only a minute ago. And if I had a decent income you’d go to bed with me tomorrow. It’s not because you’re mercenary. You don’t want me to pay you for sleeping with me. It’s not so crude as that. But you’ve got that deep-down mystical feeling that somehow a man without money isn’t worthy of you. He’s a weakling, a sort of half-man—that’s how you feel. Hercules, god of strength and god of money—you’ll find that in Lemprière. It’s women who keep all mythologies going. Women!’

‘Women!’ echoed Rosemary on a different note. ‘I hate the way men are always talking about women.” Women do this,” and “Women do that”—as though all women were exactly the same!’

‘Of course all women are the same! What does any woman want except a safe income and two babies and a semi-detached villa in Putney with an aspidistra in the window?’

‘Oh, you and your aspidistras!’

‘On the contrary, your aspidistras. You’re the sex that cultivates them.’

She squeezed his arm and burst out laughing. She was really extraordinarily good-natured. Besides, what he was saying was such palpable nonsense that it did not even exasperate her. Gordon’s diatribes against women were in reality a kind of perverse joke; indeed, the whole sex-war is at bottom only a joke. For some reason it is great fun to pose as a feminist or an anti-feminist according to your sex. As they walked on they began a violent argument upon the eternal and idiotic question of Man versus Woman. The moves in this argument—for they had it as often as they met—were always very much the same. Men are brutes and women are soulless, and women have always been kept in subjection and they jolly well ought to be kept in subjection, and look at Patient Griselda and look at Lady Astor, and what about polygamy and Hindu widows, and what about Mother Pankhurst’s piping days when every decent woman wore mousetraps on her garters and couldn’t look at a man without feeling her right hand itch for a castrating knife? Gordon and Rosemary never grew tired of this kind of thing. Each laughed with delight at the other’s absurdities. There was a merry war between them. Even as they disputed, arm in arm, they pressed their bodies delightedly together. They were very happy. Indeed, they adored one another. Each was to the other a standing joke and an object infinitely precious. Presently a red and blue haze of Neon lights appeared in the distance. They had reached the beginning of the Tottenham Court Road. Gordon put his arm round her waist and turned her to the right, down a darkish side-street. They were so happy together that they had got to kiss. They stood clasped together under the lamp-post, still laughing, two enemies breast to breast. She rubbed her cheek against his.

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