Ravelston wanted to say good-bye outside the registry office, but
they would not hear of it, and insisted on dragging him off to have
lunch with them. Not at Modigliani's, however. They went to one
of those jolly little Soho restaurants where you can get such a
wonderful four-course lunch for half a crown. They had garlic
sausage with bread and butter, fried plaice, entrecote aux pommes
frites, and a rather watery caramel pudding; also a bottle of Medoc
Superieur, three and sixpence the bottle.
Only Ravelston was at the wedding. The other witness was a poor
meek creature with no teeth, a professional witness whom they
picked up outside the registry office and tipped half a crown.
Julia hadn't been able to get away from the teashop, and Gordon and
Rosemary had only got the day off from the office by pretexts
carefully manoeuvred a long time ahead. Nobody knew they were
getting married, except Ravelston and Julia. Rosemary was going to
go on working at the studio for another month or two. She had
preferred to keep her marriage a secret until it was over, chiefly
for the sake of her innumerable brothers and sisters, none of whom
could afford wedding presents. Gordon, left to himself, would have
done it in a more regular manner. He had even wanted to be married
in church. But Rosemary had put her foot down to that idea.
Gordon had been back at the office two months now. Four ten a week
he was getting. It would be a tight pinch when Rosemary stopped
working, but there was hope of a rise next year. They would have
to get some money out of Rosemary's parents, of course, when the
baby was due to arrive. Mr Clew had left the New Albion a year
ago, and his place had been taken by a Mr Warner, a Canadian who
had been five years with a New York publicity firm. Mr Warner was
a live wire but quite a likeable person. He and Gordon had a big
job on hand at the moment. The Queen of Sheba Toilet Requisites
Co. were sweeping the country with a monster campaign for their
deodorant, April Dew. They had decided that B.O. and halitosis
were worked out, or nearly, and had been racking their brains for a
long time past to think of some new way of scaring the public.
Then some bright spark suggested, What about smelling feet? That
field had never been exploited and had immense possibilities. The
Queen of Sheba had turned the idea over to the New Albion. What
they asked for was a really telling slogan; something in the class
of 'Night-starvation'--something that would rankle in the public
consciousness like a poisoned arrow. Mr Warner had thought it over
for three days and then emerged with the unforgettable phrase
'P.P.' 'P.P.' stood for Pedic Perspiration. It was a real flash
of genius, that. It was so simple and so arresting. Once you knew
what they stood for, you couldn't possibly see those letters 'P.P.'
without a guilty tremor. Gordon had searched for the word 'pedic'
in the Oxford Dictionary and found that it did not exist. But Mr
Warner has said, Hell! what did it matter, anyway? It would put
the wind up them just the same. The Queen of Sheba had jumped at
the idea, of course.
They were putting every penny they could spare into the campaign.
On every hoarding in the British Isles huge accusing posters were
hammering 'P.P.' into the public mind. All the posters were
identically the same. They wasted no words, but just demanded with
Just that--no pictures, no explanations. There was no longer any
need to say what 'P.P.' stood for; everyone in England knew it by
this time. Mr Warner, with Gordon to help him, was designing the
smaller ads for the newspapers and magazines. It was Mr Warner who
supplied the bold sweeping ideas, sketched the general lay-out of
the ads, and decided what pictures would be needed; but it was
Gordon who wrote most of the letterpress--wrote the harrowing
little stories, each a realistic novel in a hundred words, about
despairing virgins of thirty, and lonely bachelors whose girls had
unaccountably thrown them over, and overworked wives who could not
afford to change their stockings once a week and who saw their
husbands subsiding into the clutches of 'the other woman'. He did
it very well; he did it far better than he had ever done anything
else in his life. Mr Warner gave golden reports of him. There was
no doubt about Gordon's literary ability. He could use words with
the economy that is only learned by years of effort. So perhaps
his long agonizing struggles to be a 'writer' had not been wasted
They said good-bye to Ravelston outside the restaurant. The taxi
bore them away. Ravelston had insisted on paying for the taxi from
the registry office, so they felt they could afford another taxi.
Warmed with wine, they lolled together, in the dusty May sunshine
that filtered through the taxi window. Rosemary's head on Gordon's
shoulder, their hands together in her lap. He played with the very
slender wedding ring on Rosemary's ring finger. Rolled gold, five
and sixpence. It looked all right, however.
'I must remember to take if off before I go to the studio tomorrow,'
said Rosemary reflectively.
'To think we're really married! Till death do us part. We've done
it now, right enough.'
'Terrifying, isn't it?'
'I expect we'll settle down all right, though. With a house of our
own and a pram and an aspidistra.'
He lifted her face up to kiss her. She had a touch of make-up on
today, the first he had ever seen on her, and not too skilfully
applied. Neither of their faces stood the spring sunshine very
well. There were fine lines on Rosemary's, deep seams on Gordon's.
Rosemary looked twenty-eight, perhaps; Gordon looked at least
thirty-five. But Rosemary had pulled the three white hairs out of
her crown yesterday.
'Do you love me?' he said.
'Adore you, silly.'
'I believe you do. It's queer. I'm thirty and moth-eaten.'
'I don't care.'
They began to kiss, then drew hurriedly apart as they saw two
scrawny upper-middle-class women, in a car that was moving parallel
to their own, observing them with catty interest.
The flat off the Edgware Road wasn't too bad. It was a dull
quarter and rather a slummy street, but it was convenient for the
centre of London; also it was quiet, being a blind alley. From
the back window (it was a top floor) you could see the roof of
Paddington Station. Twenty-one and six a week, unfurnished. One
bed, one reception, kitchenette, bath (with geyser), and W.C. They
had got their furniture already, most of it on the never-never.
Ravelston had given them a complete set of crockery for a wedding
present--a very kindly thought, that. Julia had given them a rather
dreadful 'occasional' table, veneered walnut with a scalloped edge.
Gordon had begged and implored her not to give them anything. Poor
Julia! Christmas had left her utterly broke, as usual, and Aunt
Angela's birthday had been in March. But it would have seemed to
Julia a kind of crime against nature to let a wedding go by without
giving a present. God knew what sacrifices she had made to scrape
together thirty bob for that 'occasional' table. They were still
very short of linen and cutlery. Things would have to be bought
piecemeal, when they had a few bob to spare.
They ran up the last flight of stairs in their excitement to get to
the flat. It was all ready to inhabit. They had spent their
evenings for weeks past getting the stuff in. It seemed to them a
tremendous adventure to have this place of their own. Neither of
them had ever owned furniture before; they had been living in
furnished rooms ever since their childhood. As soon as they got
inside they made a careful tour of the flat, checking, examining,
and admiring everything as though they did not know by heart
already every item that was there. They fell into absurd raptures
over each separate stick of furniture. The double bed with the
clean sheet ready turned down over the pink eiderdown! The linen
and towels stowed away in the chest of drawers! The gateleg table,
the four hard chairs, the two armchairs, the divan, the bookcase,
the red Indian rug, the copper coal-scuttle which they had picked
up cheap in the Caledonian market! And it was all their own, every
bit of it was their own--at least, so long as they didn't get
behind with the instalments! They went into the kitchenette.
Everything was ready, down to the minutest detail. Gas stove, meat
safe, enamel-topped table, plate rack, saucepans, kettle, sink
basket, mops, dishcloths--even a tin of Panshine, a packet of
soapflakes, and a pound of washing soda in a jam-jar. It was all
ready for use, ready for life. You could have cooked a meal in it
here and now. They stood hand in hand by the enamel-topped table,
admiring the view of Paddington Station.
'Oh, Gordon, what fun it all is! To have a place that's really our
own and no landladies interfering!'
'What I like best of all is to think of having breakfast together.
You opposite me on the other side of the table, pouring out coffee.
How queer it is! We've known each other all these years and we've
never once had breakfast together.'
'Let's cook something now. I'm dying to use those saucepans.'
She made some coffee and brought it into the front room on the red
lacquered tray which they had bought in Selfridge's Bargain
Basement. Gordon wandered over to the 'occasional' table by the
window. Far below the mean street was drowned in a haze of
sunlight, as though a glassy yellow sea had flooded it fathoms
deep. He laid his coffee cup down on the 'occasional' table.
'This is where we'll put the aspidistra,' he said.
'Put the WHAT?'
She laughed. He saw that she thought he was joking, and added:
'We must remember to go out and order it before all the florists
'Gordon! You don't mean that? You aren't REALLY thinking of
having an aspidistra?'
'Yes, I am. We won't let ours get dusty, either. They say an old
toothbrush is the best thing to clean them with.'
She had come over to his side, and she pinched his arm.
'You aren't serious, by any chance, are you?'
'Why shouldn't I be?'
'An aspidistra! To think of having one of those awful depressing
things in here! Besides, where could we put it? I'm not going to
have it in this room, and in the bedroom it would be worse. Fancy
having an aspidistra in one's bedroom!'
'We don't want one in the bedroom. This is the place for an
aspidistra. In the front window, where the people opposite can
'Gordon, you ARE joking--you must be joking!'
'No, I'm not. I tell you we've got to have an aspidistra.'
'It's the proper thing to have. It's the first thing one buys
after one's married. In fact, it's practically part of the wedding
'Don't be so absurd! I simply couldn't bear to have one of those
things in here. You shall have a geranium if you really must. But
not an aspidistra.'
'A geranium's no good. It's an aspidistra we want.'
'Well, we're not going to have one, that's flat.'
'Yes, we are. Didn't you promise to obey me just now?'
'No, I did not. We weren't married in church.'
'Oh, well, it's implied in the marriage service. "Love, honour,
and obey" and all that.'
'No, it isn't. Anyway we aren't going to have that aspidistra.'
'Yes, we are.'
'We are NOT, Gordon!'
She did not understand him. She thought he was merely being
perverse. They grew heated, and, according to their habit,
quarrelled violently. It was their first quarrel as man and wife.
Half an hour later they went out to the florist's to order the
But when they were half-way down the first flight of stairs
Rosemary stopped short and clutched the banister. Her lips parted;
she looked very queer for a moment. She pressed a hand against her
'I felt it move!'
'Felt what move?'
'The baby. I felt it move inside me.'
A strange, almost terrible feeling, a sort of warm convulsion,
stirred in his entrails. For a moment he felt as though he were
sexually joined to her, but joined in some subtle way that he had
never imagined. He had paused a step or two below her. He fell on
his knees, pressed his ear to her belly, and listened.
'I can't hear anything,' he said at last.
'Of course not, silly! Not for months yet.'
'But I shall be able to hear it later on, shan't I?'
'I think so. YOU can hear it at seven months, _I_ can feel it at
four. I think that's how it is.'
'But it really did move? You're sure? You really felt it move?'
'Oh, yes. It moved.'
For a long time he remained kneeling there, his head pressed
against the softness of her belly. She clasped her hands behind
his head and pulled it closer. He could hear nothing, only the
blood drumming in his own ear. But she could not have been
mistaken. Somewhere in there, in the safe, warm, cushioned
darkness, it was alive and stirring.
Well, once again things were happening in the Comstock family.