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George Orwell > Keep the Aspidistra Flying > Chapter 6

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

Chapter 6

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 it is 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 any 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 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 soul-mate 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

But anyway, how can you marry on two quid a week? Money, money,
always money! The devil of it is, that outside marriage, no decent
relationship with a woman is possible. His mind moved backwards,
over his ten years of adult life. The faces of women flowed
through his memory. Ten or a dozen of them there had been. Tarts,
also. Comme au long d'un cadavre un cadavre etendu. And even when
they were not tarts it had been squalid, always squalid. Always it
had started in a sort of cold-blooded wilfulness and ended in some
mean, callous desertion. That, too, was money. Without money, you
can't be straightforward in your dealings with women. For without
money, you can't pick and choose, you've got to take what women you
can get; and then, necessarily, you've got to break free of them.
Constancy, like all other virtues, has got to be paid for in money.
And the mere fact that he had rebelled against the money code and
wouldn't settle down in the prison of a 'good' job--a thing no
woman will ever understand--had brought a quality of impermanence,
of deception, into all his affairs with women. Abjuring money, he
ought to have abjured women to. Serve the money-god, or do without
women--those are the only alternatives. And both were equally

From the side-street just ahead, a shade of white light cut through
the mist, and there was a bellowing of street hawkers. It was
Luton Road, where they have the open-air market two evenings a
week. Gordon turned to his left, into the market. He often came
this way. The street was so crowded that you could only with
difficulty thread your way down the cabbage-littered alley between
the stalls. In the glare of hanging electric bulbs, the stuff on
the stalls glowed with fine lurid colours--hacked, crimson chunks
of meat, piles of oranges and green and white broccoli, stiff,
glassy-eyed rabbits, live eels looping in enamel troughs, plucked
fowls hanging in rows, sticking out their naked breasts like
guardsmen naked on parade. Gordon's spirits revived a little. He
liked the noise, the bustle, the vitality. Whenever you see a
street-market you know there's hope for England yet. But even here
he felt his solitude. Girls were thronging everywhere, in knots of
four or five, prowling desirously about the stalls of cheap
underwear and swapping backchat and screams of laughter with the
youths who followed them. None had eyes for Gordon. He walked
among them as though invisible, save that their bodies avoided him
when he passed them. Ah, look there! Involuntarily he paused.
Over a pile of art-silk undies on a stall, three girls were
bending, intent, their faces close together--three youthful faces,
flower-like in the harsh light, clustering side by side like a
truss of blossom on a Sweet William or phlox. His heart stirred.
No eyes for him, of course! One girl looked up. Ah! Hurriedly,
with an offended air, she looked away again. A delicate flush like
a wash of aquarelle flooded her face. The hard, sexual stare in
his eyes had frightened her. They flee from me that sometime did
me seek! He walked on. If only Rosemary were here! He forgave
her now for not writing to him. He could forgive her anything, if
only she were here. He knew how much she meant to him, because she
alone of all women was willing to save him from the humiliation of
his loneliness.

At this moment he looked up, and saw something that made his heart
jump. He changed the focus of his eyes abruptly. For a moment he
thought he was imagining it. But no! It WAS Rosemary!

She was coming down the alley between the stalls, twenty or thirty
yards away. It was as though his desire had called her into being.
She had not seen him yet. She came towards him, a small debonair
figure, picking her way nimbly through the crowd and the muck
underfoot, her face scarcely visible because of a flat black hat
which she wore cocked down over her eyes like a Harrow boy's straw
hat. He started towards her and called her name.

'Rosemary! Hi, Rosemary!'

A blue-aproned man thumbing codfish on a stall turned to stare at
him. Rosemary did not hear him because of the din. He called

'Rosemary! I say, Rosemary!'

They were only a few yards apart now. She started and looked up.

'Gordon! What are you doing here?'

'What are YOU doing here?'

'I was coming to see you.'

'But how did you know I was here?'

'I didn't. I always come this way. I get out of the tube at
Camden Town.'

Rosemary sometimes came to see Gordon at Willowbed Road. Mrs
Wisbeach would inform him sourly that 'there was a young woman to
see him', and he would come downstairs and they would go out for a
walk in the streets. Rosemary was never allowed indoors, not even
into the hall. That was a rule of the house. You would have
thought 'young women' were plague-rats by the way Mrs Wisbeach
spoke of them. Gordon took Rosemary by the upper arm and made to
pull her against him.

'Rosemary! Oh, what a joy to see you again! I was so vilely
lonely. Why didn't you come before?'

She shook off his hand and stepped back out of his reach. Under
her slanting hat-brim she gave him a glance that was intended to be

'Let me go, now! I'm very angry with you. I very nearly didn't
come after that beastly letter you sent me.'

'What beastly letter?'

'You know very well.'

'No, I don't. Oh, well, let's get out of this. Somewhere where we
can talk. This way.'

He took her arm, but she shook him off again, continuing however,
to walk at his side. Her steps were quicker and shorter than his.
And walking beside him she had the appearance of something
extremely small, nimble, and young, as though he had had some
lively little animal, a squirrel for instance, frisking at his
side. In reality she was not very much smaller than Gordon, and
only a few months younger. But no one would ever have described
Rosemary as a spinster of nearly thirty, which in fact she was.
She was a strong, agile girl, with stiff black hair, a small
triangular face, and very pronounced eyebrows. It was one of those
small, peaky faces, full of character, which one sees in sixteenth-
century portraits. The first time you saw her take her hat off you
got a surprise, for on her crown three white hairs glittered among
the black ones like silver wires. It was typical of Rosemary that
she never bothered to pull the white hairs out. She still thought
of herself as a very young girl, and so did everybody else. Yet if
you looked closely the marks of time were plain enough on her face.

Gordon walked more boldly with Rosemary at his side. He was proud
of her. People were looking at her, and therefore at him as well.
He was no longer invisible to women. As always, Rosemary was
rather nicely dressed. It was a mystery how she did it on four
pounds a week. He liked particularly the hat she was wearing--one
of those flat felt hats which were then coming into fashion and
which caricatured a clergyman's shovel hat. There was something
essentially frivolous about it. In some way difficult to be
described, the angle at which it was cocked forward harmonized
appealingly with the curve of Rosemary's behind.

'I like your hat,' he said.

In spite of herself, a small smile flickered at the corner of her

'It IS rather nice,' she said, giving the hat a little pat with her

She was still pretending to be angry, however. She took care that
their bodies should not touch. As soon as they had reached the end
of the stalls and were in the main street she stopped and faced him

'What do you mean by writing me letters like that?' she said.

'Letters like what?'

'Saying I'd broken your heart.'

'So you have.'

'It looks like it, doesn't it!'

'I don't know. It certainly feels like it.'

The words were spoken half jokingly, and yet they made her look
more closely at him--at his pale, wasted face, his uncut hair, his
general down-at-heel, neglected appearance. Her heart softened
instantly, and yet she frowned. Why WON'T he take care of himself?
was the thought in her mind. They had moved closer together. He
took her by the shoulders. She let him do it, and, putting her
small arms round him, squeezed him very hard, partly in affection,
partly in exasperation.

'Gordon, you ARE a miserable creature!' she said.

'Why am I a miserable creature?'

'Why can't you look after yourself properly? You're a perfect
scarecrow. Look at these awful old clothes you're wearing!'

'They're suited to my station. One can't dress decently on two
quid a week, you know.'

'But surely there's no need to go about looking like a rag-bag?
Look at this button on your coat, broken in half!'

She fingered the broken button, then suddenly lifted his
discoloured Woolworth's tie aside. In some feminine way she had
divined that he had no buttons on his shirt.

'Yes, AGAIN! Not a single button. You are awful, Gordon!'

'I tell you I can't be bothered with things like that. I've got a
soul above buttons.'

'But why not give them to ME and let me sew them on for you? And,
oh, Gordon! You haven't even shaved today. How absolutely beastly
of you. You might at least take the trouble to shave every

'I can't afford to shave every morning,' he said perversely.

'What DO you mean, Gordon? It doesn't cost money to shave, does

'Yes, it does. Everything costs money. Cleanness, decency,
energy, self-respect--everything. It's all money. Haven't I told
you that a million times?'

She squeezed his ribs again--she was surprisingly strong--and
frowned up at him, studying his face as a mother looks at some
peevish child of which she is unreasonably fond.

'WHAT a fool I am!' she said.

'In what way a fool?'

'Because I'm so fond of you.'

'Are you fond of me?'

'Of course I am. You know I am. I adore you. It's idiotic of

'Then come somewhere where it's dark. I want to kiss you.'

'Fancy being kissed by a man who hasn't even shaved!'

'Well, that'll be a new experience for you.'

'No, it won't, Gordon. Not after knowing YOU for two years.'

'Oh, well, come on, anyway.'

They found an almost dark alley between the backs of houses. All
their lovemaking was done in such places. The only place where
they could ever be private was the streets. He pressed her
shoulders against the rough damp bricks of the wall. She turned
her face readily up to his and clung to him with a sort of eager
violent affection, like a child. And yet all the while, though
they were body to body, it was as though there were a shield
between them. She kissed him as a child might have done, because
she knew that he expected to be kissed. It was always like this.
Only at very rare moments could he awake in her the beginnings of
physical desire; and these she seemed afterwards to forget, so that
he always had to begin at the beginning over again. There was
something defensive in the feeling of her small, shapely body. She
longed to know the meaning of physical love, but also she dreaded
it. It would destroy her youth, the youthful, sexless world in
which she chose to live.

He parted his mouth from hers in order to speak to her.

'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
form, 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

'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

'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
Q. T. Sauce and Truweet 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 quite 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 semi-detached villa in Putney, with hire-
purchase 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

'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 women'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 Lempriere. 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

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 the same
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.

'Gordon, you are such a dear old ass! I can't help loving you,
scrubby jaw and all.'

'Do you really?'

'Really and truly.'

Her arms still round him, she leaned a little backwards, pressing
her belly against his with a sort of innocent voluptuousness.

'Life IS worth living, isn't it, Gordon?'


'If only we could meet a bit oftener! Sometimes I don't see you
for weeks.'

'I know. It's bloody. If you knew how I hate my evenings alone!'

'One never seems to have time for anything. I don't even leave
that beastly office till nearly seven. What do you do with
yourself on Sundays, Gordon?'

'Oh, God! Moon about and look miserable, like everyone else.'

'Why not let's go out for a walk in the country sometimes. Then we
would have all day together. Next Sunday, for instance?'

The words chilled him. They brought back the thought of money,
which he had succeeded in putting out of his mind for half an hour
past. A trip into the country would cost money, far more than he
could possibly afford. He said in a non-committal tone that
transferred the whole thing to the realm of abstraction:

'Of course, it's not too bad in Richmond Park on Sundays. Or even
Hampstead Heath. Especially if you go in the mornings before the
crowds get there.'

'Oh, but do let's go right out into the country! Somewhere in
Surrey, for instance, or to Burnham Beeches. It's so lovely at
this time of year, with all the dead leaves on the ground, and you
can walk all day and hardly meet a soul. We'll walk for miles and
miles and have dinner at a pub. It would be such fun. Do let's!'

Blast! The money-business was coming back. A trip even as far as
Burnham Beeches would cost all of ten bob. He did some hurried
arithmetic. Five bob he might manage, and Julia would 'lend' him
five; GIVE him five, that was. At the same moment he remembered
his oath, constantly renewed and always broken, not to 'borrow'
money off Julia. He said in the same casual tone as before:

'It WOULD be rather fun. I should think we might manage it. I'll
let you know later in the week, anyway.'

They came out of the side-street, still arm in arm. There was a
pub on the corner. Rosemary stood on tiptoe, and, clinging to
Gordon's arm to support herself, managed to look over the frosted
lower half of the window.

'Look, Gordon, there's a clock in there. It's nearly half past
nine. Aren't you getting frightfully hungry?'

'No,' he said instantly and untruthfully.

'I am. I'm simply starving. Let's go and have something to eat
somewhere.' Money again! One moment more, and he must confess
that he had only four and fourpence in the world--four and
fourpence to last till Friday.

'I couldn't eat anything,' he said. 'I might manage a drink, I
dare say. Let's go and have some coffee or something. I expect
we'll find a Lyons open.'

'Oh, don't let's go to a Lyons! I know such a nice little Italian
restaurant, only just down the road. We'll have Spaghetti
Napolitaine and a bottle of red wine. I adore spaghetti. Do

His heart sank. It was no good. He would have to own up. Supper
at the Italian Restaurant could not possibly cost less than five
bob for the two of them. He said almost sullenly:

'It's about time I was getting home, as a matter of fact.'

'Oh, Gordon! Already? Why?'

'Oh, well! If you MUST know, I've only got four and fourpence in
the world. And it's got to last till Friday.'

Rosemary stopped short. She was so angry that she pinched his arm
with all her strength, meaning to hurt him and punish him.

'Gordon, you ARE an ass! You're a perfect idiot! You're the most
unspeakable idiot I've ever seen!'

'Why am I an idiot?'

'Because what does it matter whether you've got any money! I'm
asking YOU to have supper with ME.'

He freed his arm from hers and stood away from her. He did not
want to look her in the face.

'What! Do you think I'd go to a restaurant and let you pay for my

'But why not?'

'Because one can't do that sort of thing. It isn't done.'

'It "isn't done"! You'll be saying it's "not cricket" in another
moment. WHAT "isn't done"?'

'Letting you pay for my meals. A man pays for a woman, a woman
doesn't pay for a man.'

'Oh, Gordon! Are we living in the reign of Queen Victoria?'

'Yes, we are, as far as that kind of thing's concerned. Ideas
don't change so quickly.'

'But MY ideas have changed.'

'No, they haven't. You think they have, but they haven't. You've
been brought up as a woman, and you can't help behaving like a
woman, however much you don't want to.'

'But what do you mean by BEHAVING LIKE A WOMAN, anyway?'

'I tell you every woman's the same when it comes to a thing like
this. A woman despises a man who's dependent on her and sponges on
her. She may say she doesn't, she may THINK she doesn't, but she
does. She can't help it. If I let you pay for my meals YOU'D
despise me.'

He had turned away. He knew how abominably he was behaving. But
somehow he had got to say these things. The feeling that people--
even Rosemary--MUST despise him for his poverty was too strong to
be overcome. Only by rigid, jealous independence could he keep his
self-respect. Rosemary was really distressed this time. She
caught his arm and pulled him round, making him face her. With an
insistent gesture, angrily and yet demanding to be loved, she
pressed her breast against him.

'Gordon! I won't let you say such things. How can you say I'd
ever despise you?'

'I tell you you couldn't help it if I let myself sponge on you.'

'Sponge on me! What expressions you do use! How is it sponging on
me to let me pay for your supper just for once!'

He could feel the small breasts, firm and round, just beneath his
own. She looked up at him, frowning and yet not far from tears.
She thought him perverse, unreasonable, cruel. But her physical
nearness distracted him. At this moment all he could remember was
that in two years she had never yielded to him. She had starved
him of the one thing that mattered. What was the good of pretending
that she loved him when in the last essential she recoiled? He
added with a kind of deadly joy:

'In a way you do despise me. Oh, yes, I know you're fond of me.
But after all, you can't take me quite seriously. I'm a kind of
joke to you. You're fond of me, and yet I'm not quite your equal--
that's how you feel.'

It was what he had said before, but with this difference, that now
he meant it, or said it as if he meant it. She cried out with
tears in her voice:

'I don't, Gordon, I don't! You KNOW I don't!'

'You do. That's why you won't sleep with me. Didn't I tell you
that before?'

She looked up at him an instant longer, and then buried her face in
his breast as suddenly as though ducking from a blow. It was
because she had burst into tears. She wept against his breast,
angry with him, hating him, and yet clinging to him like a child.
It was the childish way in which she clung to him, as a mere male
breast to weep on, that hurt him most. With a sort of self-hatred
he remembered the other women who in just the same way had cried
against his breast. It seemed the only thing he could do with
women, to make them cry. With his arm round her shoulders he
caressed her clumsily, trying to console her.

'You've gone and made me cry!' she whimpered in self-contempt.

'I'm sorry! Rosemary, dear one! Don't cry, PLEASE don't cry.'

'Gordon, dearest! WHY do you have to be so beastly to me?'

'I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Sometimes I can't help it.'

'But why? Why?'

She had got over her crying. Rather more composed, she drew away
from him and felt for something to wipe her eyes. Neither of them
had a handkerchief. Impatiently, she wrung the tears out of her
eyes with her knuckles.

'How silly we always are! Now, Gordon, BE nice for once. Come
along to the restaurant and have some supper and let me pay for


'Just this once. Never mind about the old money-business. Do it
just to please me.'

'I tell you I can't do that kind of thing. I've got to keep my end

'But what do you mean, keep your end up?'

'I've made a war on money, and I've got to keep the rules. The
first rule is never to take charity.'

'Charity! Oh, Gordon, I DO think you're silly!'

She squeezed his ribs again. It was a sign of peace. She did not
understand him, probably never would understand him; yet she
accepted him as he was, hardly even protesting against his
unreasonableness. As she put her face up to be kissed he noticed
that her lips were salt. A tear had trickled here. He strained
her against him. The hard defensive feeling had gone out of her
body. She shut her eyes and sank against him and into him as
though her bones had grown weak, and her lips parted and her small
tongue sought for his. It was very seldom that she did that. And
suddenly, as he felt her body yielding, he seemed to know with
certainty that their struggle was ended. She was his now when he
chose to take her, and yet perhaps she did not fully understand
what it was that she was offering; it was simply an instinctive
movement of generosity, a desire to reassure him--to smooth away
that hateful feeling of being unloveable and unloved. She said
nothing of this in words. It was the feeling of her body that
seemed to say it. But even if this had been the time and the place
he could not have taken her. At this moment he loved her but did
not desire her. His desire could only return at some future time
when there was no quarrel fresh in his mind and no consciousness of
four and fourpence in his pocket to daunt him.

Presently they separated their mouths, though still clinging
closely together.

'How stupid it is, the way we quarrel, isn't it Gordon? When we
meet so seldom.'

'I know. It's all my fault. I can't help it. Things rub me up.
It's money at the bottom of it, always money.'

'Oh, money! You let it worry you too much, Gordon.'

'Impossible. It's the only thing worth worrying about.'

'But, anyway, we WILL go out into the country next Sunday, won't
we? To Burnham Beeches or somewhere. It would be so nice if we

'Yes, I'd love to. We'll go early and be out all day. I'll raise
the train fares somehow.'

'But you'll let me pay my own fare, won't you?'

'No, I'd rather I paid them, but we'll go, anyway.'

'And you really won't let me pay for your supper--just this once,
just to show you trust me?'

'No, I can't. I'm sorry. I've told you why.'

'Oh, dear! I suppose we shall have to say good night. It's
getting late.'

They stayed talking a long time, however, so long that Rosemary got
no supper after all. She had to be back at her lodgings by eleven,
or the she-dragons were angry. Gordon went to the top of the
Tottenham Court Road and took the tram. It was a penny cheaper
than taking the bus. On the wooden seat upstairs he was wedged
against a small dirty Scotchman who read the football finals and
oozed beer. Gordon was very happy. Rosemary was going to be his
mistress. Sharply the menacing wind sweeps over. To the music of
the tram's booming he whispered the seven completed stanzas of his
poem. Nine stanzas there would be in all. It was GOOD. He
believed in it and in himself. He was a poet. Gordon Comstock,
author of Mice. Even in London Pleasures he once again believed.

He thought of Sunday. They were to meet at nine o'clock at
Paddington Station. Ten bob or so it would cost; he would raise
the money if he had to pawn his shirt. And she was going to become
his mistress; this very Sunday, perhaps, if the right chance
offered itself. Nothing had been said. Only, somehow, it was
agreed between them.

Please God it kept fine on Sunday! It was deep winter now. What
luck if it turned out one of those splendid windless days--one of
those days that might almost be summer, when you can lie for hours
on the dead bracken and never feel cold! But you don't get many
days like that; a dozen at most in every winter. As likely as not
it would rain. He wondered whether they would get a chance to do
it after all. They had nowhere to go, except the open air. There
are so many pairs of lovers in London with 'nowhere to go'; only
the streets and the parks, where there is no privacy and it is
always cold. It is not easy to make love in a cold climate when
you have no money. The 'never the time and the place' motif is not
made enough of in novels.

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