‘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 together.’
‘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 could 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 on Hampstead Heath. Especially if you go in the mornings before the crowds get there.’
‘Oh, but 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 often bob. He did some hurried mental 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 let’s!’
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 food?’
‘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 this 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 it.’
‘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 up.’
‘But what do you mean, keep your end up?’
‘I’ve made 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 unlovable 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 could.’
‘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.’