Sharply the menacing wind sweeps over
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The bending poplars, newly bare.
As a matter of fact, though, there was not a breath of wind that
afternoon. It was almost as mild as spring. Gordon repeated to
himself the poem he had begun yesterday, in a cadenced whisper,
simply for the pleasure of the sound of it. He was pleased with
the poem at this moment. It was a good poem--or would be when it
was finished, anyway. He had forgotten that last night it had
almost made him sick.
The plane trees brooded motionless, dimmed by faint wreaths of
mist. A tram boomed in the valley far below. Gordon walked up
Malkin Hill, rustling instep-deep through the dry, drifted leaves.
All down the pavement they were strewn, crinkly and golden, like
the rustling flakes of some American breakfast cereal; as though
the queen of Brobdingnag had upset her packet of Truweet Breakfast
Crisps down the hillside.
Jolly, the windless winter days! Best time of all the year--or so
Gordon thought at this moment. He was as happy as you can be when
you haven't smoked all day and have only three-halfpence and a Joey
in the world. This was Thursday, early-closing day and Gordon's
afternoon off. He was going to the house of Paul Doring, the
critic, who lived in Coleridge Grove and gave literary tea-parties.
It had taken him an hour or more to get himself ready. Social life
is so complicated when your income is two quid a week. He had had
a painful shave in cold water immediately after dinner. He had put
on his best suit--three years old but just passable when he
remembered to press the trousers under his mattress. He had turned
his collar inside out and tied his tie so that the torn place
didn't show. With the point of a match he had scraped enough
blacking from the tin to polish his shoes. He had even borrowed a
needle from Lorenheim and darned his socks--a tedious job, but
better than inking the places where your ankle shows through. Also
he had procured an empty Gold Flake packet and put into it a single
cigarette extracted from the penny-in-the-slot-machine. That was
just for the look of the thing. You can't, of course, go to other
people's houses with NO cigarettes. But if you have even one it's
all right, because when people see one cigarette in a packet they
assume that the packet has been full. It is fairly easy to pass
the thing off as an accident.
'Have a cigarette?' you say casually to someone.
You push the packet open and then register surprise. 'Hell! I'm
down to my last. And I could have sworn I had a full packet.'
'Oh, I won't take your last. Have one of MINE,' says the other.
And after that, of course, your host and hostess press cigarettes
upon you. But you must have ONE cigarette, just for honour's sake.
Sharply the menacing wind sweeps over. He would finish that poem
presently. He could finish it whenever he chose. It was queer,
how the mere prospect of going to a literary tea-party bucked him
up. When your income is two quid a week you at least aren't jaded
by too much human contact. Even to see the inside of somebody
else's house is a kind of treat. A padded armchair under your bum,
and tea and cigarettes and the smell of women--you learn to
appreciate such things when you are starved of them. In practice,
though, Doring's parties never in the least resembled what Gordon
looked forward to. Those wonderful, witty, erudite conversations
that he imagined beforehand--they never happened or began to
happen. Indeed there was never anything that could properly be
called conversation at all; only the stupid clacking that goes on
at parties everywhere, in Hampstead or Hong Kong. No one really
worth meeting ever came to Doring's parties. Doring was such a
very mangy lion himself that his followers were hardly even worthy
to be called jackals. Quite half of them were those hen-witted
middle-aged women who have lately escaped from good Christian homes
and are trying to be literary. The star exhibits were troops of
bright young things who dropped in for half an hour, formed circles
of their own, and talked sniggeringly about the other bright young
things to whom they referred by nicknames. For the most part
Gordon found himself hanging about on the edges of conversations.
Doring was kind in a slapdash way and introduced him to everybody
as 'Gordon Comstock--YOU know; the poet. He wrote that dashed
clever book of poems called Mice. YOU know.' But Gordon had never
yet encountered anybody who DID know. The bright young things
summed him up at a glance and ignored him. He was thirtyish, moth-
eaten, and obviously penniless. And yet, in spite of the
invariable disappointment, how eagerly he looked forward to those
literary tea-parties! They were a break in his loneliness, anyway.
That is the devilish thing about poverty, the ever-recurrent thing--
loneliness. Day after day with never an intelligent person to
talk to; night after night back to your godless room, always alone.
Perhaps it sounds rather fun if you are rich and sought-after; but
how different it is when you do it from necessity!
Sharply the menacing wind sweeps over. A stream of cars hummed
easily up the hill. Gordon eyed them without envy. Who wants a
car, anyway? The pink doll-faces of upper-class women gazed at him
through the car window. Bloody nit-witted lapdogs. Pampered
bitches dozing on their chains. Better the lone wolf than the
cringing dogs. He thought of the Tube stations at early morning.
The black hordes of clerks scurrying underground like ants into a
hole; swarms of little ant-like men, each with dispatch-case in
right hand, newspaper in left hand, and the fear of the sack like a
maggot in his heart. How it eats at them, that secret fear!
Especially on winter days, when they hear the menace of the wind.
Winter, the sack, the workhouse, the Embankment benches! Ah!
Sharply the menacing wind sweeps over
The bending poplars, newly bare,
And the dark ribbons of the chimneys
Veer downward; flicked by whips of air,
Torn posters flutter; Coldly sound
The boom of trains and the rattle of hooves,
And the clerks who hurry to the station
Look, shuddering, over the eastern rooves,
What do they think? Winter's coming. Is my job safe? The sack
means the workhouse. Circumcise ye your foreskins, saith the Lord.
Suck the blacking off the boss's boots. Yes!
Thinking each one, 'Here comes the winter!
Please God I keep my job this year!'
And bleakly, as the cold strikes through
Their entrails like an icy spear,
'Think' again. No matter. What do they think? Money, money!
Rent, rates, taxes, school bills, season tickets, boots for the
children. And the life insurance policy and the skivvy's wages.
And, my God, suppose the wife gets in the family way again! And
did I laugh loud enough when the boss made that joke yesterday?
And the next instalment on the vacuum cleaner.
Neatly, taking a pleasure in his neatness, with the sensation of
dropping piece after piece of a jigsaw puzzle into place, he
fashioned another stanza:
They think of rent, rates, season tickets,
Insurance, coal, the skivvy's wages,
Boots, school bills, and the next instalment
Upon the two twin beds from Drage's.
Not bad, not bad at all. Finish it presently. Four or five more
stanzas. Ravelston would print it.
A starling sat in the naked boughs of a plane tree, crooning self-
pitifully as starlings do on warm winter days when they believe
spring is in the air. At the foot of the tree a huge sandy cat sat
motionless, mouth open, gazing upwards with rapt desire, plainly
expecting that the starling would drop into its mouth. Gordon
repeated to himself the four finished stanzas of his poem. It was
GOOD. Why had he thought last night that it was mechanical, weak,
and empty? He was a poet. He walked more upright, arrogantly
almost, with the pride of a poet. Gordon Comstock, author of Mice.
'Of exceptional promise,' The Times Lit. Supp. had said. Author
also of London Pleasures. For that too would be finished quite
soon. He knew now that he could finish it when he chose. Why had
he ever despaired of it? Three months it might take; soon enough
to come out in the summer. In his mind's eye he saw the 'slim'
white buckram shape of London Pleasures; the excellent paper, the
wide margins, the good Caslon type, the refined dust-jacket, and
the reviews in all the best papers. 'An outstanding achievement'--
The Times Lit. Supp. 'A welcome relief from the Sitwell school'--
Coleridge Grove was a damp, shadowy, secluded road, a blind alley
and therefore void of traffic. Literary associations of the wrong
kind (Coleridge was rumoured to have lived there for six weeks in
the summer of 1821) hung heavy upon it. You could not look at its
antique decaying houses, standing back from the road in dank
gardens under heavy trees, without feeling an atmosphere of
outmoded 'culture' envelop you. In some of those houses,
undoubtedly, Browning Societies still flourished, and ladies in art
serge sat at the feet of extinct poets talking about Swinburne and
Walter Pater. In spring the gardens were sprinkled with purple and
yellow crocuses, and later with harebells, springing up in little
Wendy rings among the anaemic grass; and even the trees, it seemed
to Gordon, played up to their environment and twisted themselves
into whimsy Rackhamesque attitudes. It was queer that a prosperous
hack critic like Paul Doring should live in such a place. For
Doring was an astonishingly bad critic. He reviewed novels for the
Sunday Post and discovered the great English novel with Walpolean
regularity once a fortnight. You would have expected him to live
in a flat on Hyde Park Corner. Perhaps it was a kind of penance
that he had imposed upon himself, as though by living in the
refined discomfort of Coleridge Grove he propitiated the injured
gods of literature.
Gordon came round the corner, turning over in his mind a line from
London Pleasures. And then suddenly he stopped short. There was
something wrong about the look of the Dorings' gate. What was it?
Ah, of course! There were no cars waiting outside.
He paused, walked on a step or two, and stopped again, like a dog
that smells danger. It was all wrong. There OUGHT to be some
cars. There were always quite a lot of people at the Dorings'
parties, and half of them came in cars. Why had nobody else
arrived? Could he be too early? But no! They had said half past
three and it was at least twenty to four.
He hastened towards the gate. Already he felt practically sure
that the party HAD been put off. A chill like the shadow of a
cloud had fallen across him. Suppose the Dorings weren't at home!
Suppose the party had been put off! And this thought, though it
dismayed him, did not strike him as in the least improbable. It
was his special bugbear, the especial childish dread he carried
about with him, to be invited to people's houses and then find them
not at home. Even when there was no doubt about the invitation he
always half expected that there would be some hitch or other. He
was never quite certain of his welcome. He took it for granted
that people would snub him and forget about him. Why not, indeed?
He had no money. When you have no money your life is one long
series of snubs.
He swung the iron gate open. It creaked with a lonely sound. The
dank mossy path was bordered with chunks of some Rackhamesque
pinkish stone. Gordon inspected the house-front narrowly. He was
so used to this kind of thing. He had developed a sort of Sherlock
Holmes technique for finding out whether a house was inhabited or
not. Ah! Not much doubt about it this time. The house had a
deserted look. No smoke coming from the chimneys, no windows
lighted. It must be getting darkish indoors--surely they would
have lighted the lamps? And there was not a single footmark on the
steps; that settled it. Nevertheless with a sort of desperate hope
he tugged at the bell. An old-fashioned wire bell, of course. In
Coleridge Grove it would have been considered low and unliterary to
have an electric bell.
Clang, clang, clang! went the bell.
Gordon's last hope vanished. No mistaking the hollow clangour of a
bell echoing through an empty house. He seized the handle again
and gave it a wrench that almost broke the wire. A frightful,
clamorous peal answered him. But it was useless, quite useless.
Not a foot stirred within. Even the servants were out. At this
moment he became aware of a lace cap, some dark hair, and a pair of
youthful eyes regarding him furtively from the basement of the
house next door. It was a servant-girl who had come out to see
what all the noise was about. She caught his eye and gazed into
the middle distance. He looked a fool and knew it. One always
does look a fool when one rings the bell of an empty house. And
suddenly it came to him that that girl knew all about him--knew
that the party had been put off and that everyone except Gordon had
been told of it--knew that it was because he had no money that he
wasn't worth the trouble of telling. SHE knew. Servants always
He turned and made for the gate. Under the servant's eye he had to
stroll casually away, as though this were a small disappointment
that scarcely mattered. But he was trembling so with anger that it
was difficult to control his movements. The sods! The bloody
sods! To have played a trick like that on him! To have invited
him, and then changed the day and not even bothered to tell him!
There might be other explanations--he just refused to think of
them. The sods, the bloody sods! His eye fell upon one of the
Rackhamesque chunks of stone. How he'd love to pick that thing up
and bash it through the window! He grasped the rusty gate-bar so
hard that he hurt his hand and almost tore it. The physical pain
did him good. It counteracted the agony at his heart. It was not
merely that he had been cheated of an evening spent in human
company, though that was much. It was the feeling of helplessness,
of insignificance, of being set aside, ignored--a creature not
worth worrying about. They'd changed the day and hadn't even
bothered to tell him. Told everybody else, but not him. That's
how people treat you when you've no money! Just wantonly, cold-
bloodedly insult you. It was likely enough, indeed, that the
Dorings' had honestly forgotten, meaning no harm; it was even
possible that he himself had mistaken the date. But no! He
wouldn't think of it. The Dorings' had done it on purpose. Of
COURSE they had done it on purpose! Just hadn't troubled to tell
him, because he had no money and consequently didn't matter. The
He walked rapidly away. There was a sharp pain in his breast.
Human contact, human voices! But what was the good of wishing?
He'd have to spend the evening alone, as usual. His friends were
so few and lived so far away. Rosemary would still be at work;
besides, she lived at the back of beyond, in West Kensington, in a
women's hostel guarded by female dragons. Ravelston lived nearer,
in the Regent's Park district. But Ravelston was a rich man and
had many engagements; the chances were always against his being at
home. Gordon could not even ring him up, because he hadn't the
necessary two pennies; only three halfpence and the Joey. Besides,
how could he go and see Ravelston when he had no money? Ravelston
would be sure to say 'Let's go to a pub,' or something! He
couldn't let Ravelston pay for his drinks. His friendship with
Ravelston was only possible on the understanding that he paid his
share of everything.
He took out his single cigarette and lighted it. It gave him no
pleasure to smoke, walking fast; it was a mere reckless gesture.
He did not take much notice of where he was going. All he wanted
was to tire himself, to walk and walk till the stupid physical
fatigue had obliterated the Dorings' snub. He moved roughly
southward--through the wastes of Camden Town, down Tottenham Court
Road. It had been dark for some time now. He crossed Oxford
Street, threaded through Covent Garden, found himself in the
Strand, and crossed the river by Waterloo Bridge. With night the
cold had descended. As he walked his anger grew less violent, but
his mood could not fundamentally improve. There was a thought that
kept haunting him--a thought from which he fled, but which was not
to be escaped. It was the thought of his poems. His empty, silly,
futile poems! How could he ever have believed in them? To think
that actually he had imagined, so short a time ago, that even
London Pleasures might one day come to something! It made him sick
to think of his poems now. It was like remembering last night's
debauch. He knew in his bones that he was no good and his poems
were no good. London Pleasures would never be finished. If he
lived to be a thousand he would never write a line worth reading.
Over and over, in self-hatred, he repeated those four stanzas of
the poem he had been making up. Christ, what tripe! Rhyme to
rhyme--tinkle, tinkle, tinkle! Hollow as an empty biscuit tin.
THAT was the kind of muck he had wasted his life on.
He had walked a long way, five or seven miles perhaps. His feet
were hot and swollen from the pavements. He was somewhere in
Lambeth, in a slummy quarter where the narrow, puddled street
plunged into blackness at fifty yards' distance. The few lamps,
mist-ringed, hung like isolated stars, illumining nothing save
themselves. He was getting devilishly hungry. The coffee-shops
tempted him with their steamy windows and their chalked signs:
'Good Cup of Tea, 2d. No Urns Used.' But it was no use, he
couldn't spend his Joey. He went under some echoing railway arches
and up the alley on to Hungerford Bridge. On the miry water, lit
by the glare of skysigns, the muck of East London was racing
inland. Corks, lemons, barrel-staves, a dead dog, hunks of bread.
Gordon walked along the Embankment to Westminster. The wind made
the plane trees rattle. Sharply the menacing wind sweeps over. He
winced. That tripe again! Even now, though it was December, a few
poor draggled old wrecks were settling down on the benches, tucking
themselves up in sort of parcels of newspaper. Gordon looked at
them callously. On the bum, they called it. He would come to it
himself some day. Better so, perhaps? He never felt any pity for
the genuine poor. It is the black-coated poor, the middle-middle
class, who need pitying.
He walked up to Trafalgar Square. Hours and hours to kill. The
National Gallery? Ah, shut long ago, of course. It would be. It
was a quarter past seven. Three, four, five hours before he could
sleep. He walked seven times round the square, slowly. Four times
clockwise, three times widdershins. His feet were sore and most of
the benches were empty, but he would not sit down. If he halted
for an instant the longing for tobacco would come upon him. In the
Charing Cross Road the teashops called like sirens. Once the glass
door of a Lyons swung open, letting out a wave of hot cake-scented
air. It almost overcame him. After all, why NOT go in? You could
sit there for nearly an hour. A cup of tea twopence, two buns a
penny each. He had fourpence halfpenny, counting the Joey. But
no! That bloody Joey! The girl at the cash desk would titter. In
a vivid vision he saw the girl at the cash desk, as she handled his
threepenny-bit, grin sidelong at the girl behind the cake-counter.
They'd KNOW it was your last threepence. No use. Shove on. Keep
In the deadly glare of the Neon lights the pavements were densely
crowded. Gordon threaded his way, a small shabby figure, with pale
face and unkempt hair. The crowd slid past him; he avoided and was
avoided. There is something horrible about London at night; the
coldness, the anonymity, the aloofness. Seven million people,
sliding to and fro, avoiding contact, barely aware of one another's
existence, like fish in an aquarium tank. The street swarmed with
pretty girls. By scores they streamed past him, their faces
averted or unseeing; cold nymph-creatures, dreading the eyes of the
male. It was queer how many of them seemed to be alone, or with
another girl. Far more women alone than women with men, he noted.
That too was money. How many girls alive wouldn't be manless
sooner than take a man who's moneyless?
The pubs were open, oozing sour whiffs of beer. People were
trickling by ones and twos into the picture-houses. Gordon halted
outside a great garish picture-house, under the weary eye of the
commissionaire, to examine the photographs. Greta Garbo in The
Painted Veil. He yearned to go inside, not for Greta's sake, but
just for the warmth and the softness of the velvet seat. He hated
the pictures, of course, seldom went there even when he could
afford it. Why encourage the art that is destined to replace
literature? But still, there is a kind of soggy attraction about
it. To sit on the padded seat in the warm smoke-scented darkness,
letting the flickering drivel on the screen gradually overwhelm
you--feeling the waves of its silliness lap you round till you seem
to drown, intoxicated, in a viscous sea--after all, it's the kind
of drug we need. The right drug for friendless people. As he
approached the Palace Theatre a tart on sentry-go under the porch
marked him down, stepped forward, and stood in his path. A short,
stocky Italian girl, very young, with big black eyes. She looked
agreeable, and, what tarts so seldom are, merry. For a moment he
checked his step, even allowing himself to catch her eye. She
looked up at him, ready to break out into a broad-lipped smile.
Why not stop and talk to her? She looked as though she might
understand him. But no! No money! He looked away and side-
stepped her with the cold haste of a man whom poverty makes
virtuous. How furious she'd be if he stopped and then she found he
had no money! He pressed on. Even to talk costs money.
Up Tottenham Court Road and Camden Road it was a dreary drudge. He
walked slower, dragging his feet a little. He had done ten miles
over pavements. More girls streamed past, unseeing. Girls alone,
girls with youths, girls with other girls, girls alone. Their
cruel youthful eyes went over him and through him as though he had
not existed. He was too tired to resent it. His shoulders
surrendered to their weariness; he slouched, not trying any longer
to preserve his upright carriage and his you-be-damned air. They
flee from me that someone did me seek. How could you blame them?
He was thirty, moth-eaten, and without charm. Why should any girl
ever look at him again?
He reflected that he must go home at once if he wanted any food--
for Ma Wisbeach refused to serve meals after nine o'clock. But the
thought of his cold womanless bedroom sickened him. To climb the
stairs, light the gas, flop down at the table with hours to kill
and nothing to do, nothing to read, nothing to smoke--no, NOT
endurable. In Camden Town the pubs were full and noisy, though
this was only Thursday. Three women, red-armed, squat as the beer
mugs in their hands, stood outside a pub door, talking. From
within came hoarse voices, fag-smoke, the fume of beer. Gordon
thought of the Crichton Arms. Flaxman might be there. Why not
risk it? A half of bitter, threepence halfpenny. He had fourpence
halfpenny counting the Joey. After all, a Joey IS legal tender.
He felt dreadfully thirsty already. It had been a mistake to let
himself think of beer. As he approached the Crichton, he heard
voices singing. The great garish pub seemed to be more brightly
lighted than usual. There was a concert of something going on
inside. Twenty ripe male voices were chanting in unison:
'Fo--or REE'S a jorrigoo' fellow,
For REE'S a jorrigoo' fellow,
For REE'S a jorrigoo' fe--ELL--OW--
And toori oori us!'
At least, that was what it sounded like. Gordon drew nearer,
pierced by a ravishing thirst. The voices were so soggy, so
infinitely beery. When you heard them you saw the scarlet faces of
prosperous plumbers. There was a private room behind the bar where
the Buffaloes held their secret conclaves. Doubtless it was they
who were singing. They were giving some kind of commemorative
booze to their president, secretary, Grand Herbivore, or whatever
he is called. Gordon hesitated outside the Saloon bar. Better to
go to the public bar, perhaps. Draught beer in the public, bottled
beer in the saloon. He went round to the other side of the pub.
The beer-choked voices followed him:
'With a toori oori ay.
An' a toori oori ay!
'Fo--or REE'S a jorrigoo' fellow,
For REE'S a jorrigoo' fellow--'
He felt quite faint for a moment. But it was fatigue and hunger as
well as thirst. He could picture the cosy room where those
Buffaloes were singing; the roaring fire, the big shiny table, the
bovine photographs on the wall. Could picture also, as the singing
ceased, twenty scarlet faces disappearing into pots of beer. He
put his hand into his pocket and made sure that the threepenny-bit
was still there. After all, why not? In the public bar, who would
comment? Slap the Joey down on the bar and pass it off as a joke.
'Been saving that up from the Christmas pudding--ha, ha!' Laughter
all round. Already he seemed to have the metallic taste of draught
beer on his tongue.
He fingered the tiny disc, irresolute. The Buffaloes had tuned up
'With a toori oori ay,
An' a toori oori ay!
'Fo--or REE'S a jorrigoo' fellow--'
Gordon moved back to the saloon bar. The window was frosted, and
also steamy from the heat inside. Still, there were chinks where
you could see through. He peeped in. Yes, Flaxman was there.
The saloon bar was crowded. Like all rooms seen from the outside,
it looked ineffably cosy. The fire that blazed in the grate
danced, mirrored, in the brass spittoons. Gordon thought he could
almost smell the beer through the glass. Flaxman was propping up
the bar with two fish-faced pals who looked like insurance-touts of
the better type. One elbow on the bar, his foot on the rail, a
beer-streaked glass in the other hand, he was swapping backchat
with the blonde cutie barmaid. She was standing on a chair behind
the bar, ranging the bottled beer and talking saucily over her
shoulder. You couldn't hear what they were saying, but you could
guess. Flaxman let fall some memorable witticism. The fish-faced
men bellowed with obscene laughter. And the blonde cutie,
tittering down at him, half shocked and half delighted, wriggled
her neat little bum.
Gordon's heart sickened. To be in there, just to be in there!
In the warmth and light, with people to talk to, with beer and
cigarettes and a girl to flirt with! After all, why NOT go in?
You could borrow a bob off Flaxman. Flaxman would lend it to you
all right. He pictured Flaxman's careless assent--'What ho,
chappie! How's life? What? A bob? Sure! Take two. Catch,
chappie!'--and the florin flicked along the beer-wet bar. Flaxman
was a decent sort, in his way.
Gordon put his hand against the swing door. He even pushed it open
a few inches. The warm fog of smoke and beer slipped through the
crack. A familiar, reviving smell; nevertheless as he smelled it
his nerve failed him. No! Impossible to go in. He turned away.
He couldn't go shoving in that saloon bar with only fourpence
halfpenny in his pocket. Never let other people buy your drinks
for you! The first commandment of the moneyless. He made off,
down the dark pavement.
'For REE'S a jorrigoo' fe--ELL--OW--
And toori oori us!
'With a toori oori, ay!
The voices, diminishing with distance, rolled after him, bearing
faint tidings of beer. Gordon took the threepenny-bit from his
pocket and sent it skimming away into the darkness.
He was going home, if you could call it 'going'. At any rate he
was gravitating in that direction. He did not want to go home, but
he had got to sit down. His legs ached and his feet were bruised,
and that vile bedroom was the sole place in London where he had
purchased the right to sit down. He slipped in quietly, but, as
usual, not quite so quietly that Mrs Wisbeach failed to hear him.
She gave him a brief nosy glance round the corner of her door. It
would be a little after nine. She might get him a meal if he asked
her. But she would grizzle and make a favour of it, and he would
go to bed hungry sooner than face that.
He started up the stairs. He was half way up the first flight when
a double knock behind made him jump. The post! Perhaps a letter
Forced from outside, the letter flap lifted, and with an effort,
like a heron regurgitating a flatfish, vomited a bunch of letters
on to the mat. Gordon's heart bounded. There were six or seven of
them. Surely among all that lot there must be one for himself!
Mrs Wisbeach, as usual, had darted from her lair at the sound of
the postman's knock. As a matter of fact, in two years Gordon had
never once succeeded in getting hold of a letter before Mrs
Wisbeach laid hands on it. She gathered the letters jealously to
her breast, and then, holding them up one at a time, scanned their
addresses. From her manner you could gather that she suspected
each one of them of containing a writ, an improper love letter, or
an ad for Amen Pills.
'One for you, Mr Comstock,' she said sourly, handing him a letter.
His heart shrank and paused in its beat. A long-shaped envelope.
Not from Rosemary, therefore. Ah! It was addressed in his own
handwriting. From the editor of a paper, then. He had two poems
'out' at present. One with the Californian Review, the other with
the Primrose Quarterly. But this wasn't an American stamp. And
the Primrose had had his poem at least six weeks! Good God,
supposing they'd accepted it!
He had forgotten Rosemary's existence. He said 'Thanks!', stuck
the letter in his pocket, and started up the stairs with outward
calm, but no sooner was he out of Mrs Wisbeach's sight that he
bounded up three steps at a time. He had got to be alone to open
that letter. Even before he reached the door he was feeling for
his matchbox, but his fingers were trembling so that in lighting
the gas he chipped the mantle. He sat down, took the letter from
his pocket, and then quailed. For a moment he could not nerve
himself to open it. He held it up to the light and felt it to see
how thick it was. His poem had been two sheets. Then, calling
himself a fool, he ripped the envelope open. Out tumbled his own
poem, and with it a neat--oh, so neat!--little printed slip of
The Editor regrets that he is unable to make use of the enclosed
The slip was decorated with a design of funereal laurel leaves.
Gordon gazed at the thing with wordless hatred. Perhaps no snub in
the world is so deadly as this, because none is so unanswerable.
Suddenly he loathed his own poem and was acutely ashamed of it. He
felt it the weakest, silliest poem ever written. Without looking
at it again he tore it into small bits and flung them into the
wastepaper basket. He would put that poem out of his mind for
ever. The rejection slip, however, he did not tear up yet. He
fingered it, feeling its loathly sleekness. Such an elegant little
thing, printed in admirable type. You could tell at a glance that
it came from a 'good' magazine--a snooty highbrow magazine with the
money of a publishing house behind it. Money, money! Money and
culture! It was a stupid thing that he had done. Fancy sending a
poem to a paper like the Primrose! As though they'd accept poems
from people like HIM. The mere fact that the poem wasn't typed
would tell them what kind of person he was. He might as well have
dropped a card on Buckingham Palace. He thought of the people who
wrote for the Primrose; a coterie of moneyed highbrows--those
sleek, refined young animals who suck in money and culture with
their mother's milk. The idea of trying to horn in among that
pansy crowd! But he cursed them all the same. The sods! The
bloody sods! 'The Editor regrets!' Why be so bloody mealy-mouthed
about it? Why not say outright, 'We don't want your bloody poems.
We only take poems from chaps we were at Cambridge with. You
proletarians keep your distance'? The bloody, hypocritical sods!
At last he crumpled up the rejection slip, threw it away, and stood
up. Better get to bed while he had the energy to undress. Bed was
the only place that was warm. But wait. Wind the clock, set the
alarm. He went through the familiar action with a sense of deadly
staleness. His eye fell upon the aspidistra. Two years he had
inhabited this vile room; two mortal years in which nothing had
been accomplished. Seven hundred wasted days, all ending in the
lonely bed. Snubs, failures, insults, all of them unavenged.
Money, money, all is money! Because he had no money the Dorings'
snubbed him, because he had no money the Primrose had turned down
his poem, because he had no money Rosemary wouldn't sleep with him.
Social failure, artistic failure, sexual failure--they are all the
same. And lack of money is at the bottom of them all.
He must hit back at somebody or something. He could not go to bed
with that rejection slip as the last thing in his mind. He thought
of Rosemary. It was five days now since she had written. If there
had been a letter from her this evening even that rap over the
knuckles from the Primrose Quarterly would have mattered less. She
declared that she loved him, and she wouldn't sleep with him,
wouldn't even write to him! She was the same as all the others.
She despised him and forgot about him because he had no money and
therefore didn't matter. He would write her an enormous letter,
telling her what it felt like to be ignored and insulted, making
her see how cruelly she had treated him.
He found a clean sheet of paper and wrote in the top right-hand
'31 Willowbed Road, NW, 1 December, 9.30 p.m.'
But having written that much, he found that he could write no more.
He was in the defeated mood when even the writing of a letter is
too great an effort. Besides, what was the use? She would never
understand. No woman ever understands. But he must write
something. Something to wound her--that was what he most wanted,
at this moment. He meditated for a long time, and at last wrote,
exactly in the middle of the sheet:
You have broken my heart.
No address, no signature. Rather neat it looked, all by itself,
there in the middle of the sheet, in his small 'scholarly'
handwriting. Almost like a little poem in itself. This thought
cheered him up a little.
He stuck the letter in an envelope and went out and posted it at
the post office on the corner, spending his last three halfpence on
a penny stamp and a halfpenny stamp out of the slot machine.