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Authors: Evelyn Waugh

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BOOK: A handful of dust
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its poverty, but in spite of this she awaited the posts nervously, hoping that he might have disobeyed her. She had sent him to Ireland a ring of three interlocked hoops of gold and platinum. An hour after ordering it she regretted her choice. On Tuesday a letter came from him thanking her. Darling Brenda, he wrote. Thank you so very much for the charming Christmas present. You can imagine my delight when 1 saw the pink leather case and my surprise at opening it. It really was sweet of you to send me such a charming present. Thank you again very much for it. I hope your party is being a success. It is rather dull here. The others went hunting yesterday. I went to the meet. They did not have a good day. Mother is here too and sends you her love. We shall be leaving tomorrow or the day after. Mother has got rather a cold. It ended there at the bottom of a page. Beaver had been writing it before dinner and later had put it in the envelope without remembering to finish it. He wrote a large, schoolgirlish hand with wide spaces between the lines. Brenda showed it to Marjorie who was still at Hetton. "I can't complain," she said. "He's never pretended to like me much. And anyway it was a damned silly present." Tony had become fretful about his visit to Angela's. He always hated staying away. "Don't come, darling. I'll make it all right with them." "No, I'll come. I haven't seen so much of you in the last three weeks." They had the whole of Wednesday alone together. Brenda exerted herself and Tony's fretfulness subsided. She was particularly tender to him at this time and scarcely teased him at all. On Thursday they went North to Yorkshire. Beaver was there. Tony discovered him in the first half hour and brought the news to Brenda upstairs. "I'll tell you something very odd," he said. "Who do you think is here?" "Who?" "Our old friend Beaver." "Why's that odd particularly?" "Oh I don't know. I'd forgotten all about him, hadn't you? D'you think he sent Angela a telegram as he did to us?" "I daresay." Tony supposed Beaver must be fairly lonely and took pains to be agreeable to him. He said, "All kinds of changes since we saw you last. Brenda's taken a flat in London." "Yes, I know." "How?" "Well, my mother let it to her, you know." Tony was greatly surprised and taxed Brenda with this. "You never told me who was behind your flat. I might not have been so amiable if I'd known." "No, darling, that's why." Half the house party wondered why Beaver was there; the other half knew. As a result of this he and Brenda saw each other very little, less than if they had been casual acquaintances, so that Angela remarked to her husband, "I daresay it was a mistake to ask him. It's so hard to know." Brenda never started the subject of the half finished letter, but she noticed that Beaver was wearing his ring, and had already acquired a trick of twisting it as he talked. On New Year's Eve there was a party at a neighbouring house. Tony went home early and Beaver and Brenda returned together in the back of a car. Next morning, while they were having breakfast, she said to Tony, "I've made a New Year resolution." "Anything to do with spending more time at home?" "Oh no, quite the reverse. Listen, Tony, it's serious. I think I'll take a course of something." "Not bone setters again. I thought that was over." "No, something like economics. You see I've been thinking. I don't really do anything at all at present. It's absurd to pretend I'm any use to John, the house runs itself. It seemed to me time I took to something. Now you're always talking about going into Parliament. Well if I had done a course of economics I could be some use canvassing and writing speeches and things-you know, the way Marjorie did when Allan was standing on the Clydeside. There are all sorts of lectures in London, to do with the University, where girls go, Don't you think it's rather a good idea?" "It's one better than the bone setters," Tony admitted. That was how the New Year began.


Hard Cheese on Tony

IT is not uncommon at Brat's Club, between nine and ten in the evening, to find men in white ties and tail coats sitting by themselves and eating, in evident low spirits, large and extravagant dinners. They are those who have been abandoned at the last minute by their women. For twenty minutes or so they have sat in the foyer of some restaurant, gazing expectantly towards the revolving doors and alternately taking out their watches and ordering cocktails, until at length a telephone message has been brought them that their guests are unable to come. Then they go to Brat's half hoping to find friends but, more often than not, taking a melancholy satisfaction in finding the club deserted or peopled by strangers. So they sit there, round the walls, morosely regarding the mahogany tables before them, and eating and drinking heavily. It was in this mood and for this reason that, one evening towards the middle of February, Jock Grant-Menzies arrived at the club. "Anyone here?" "Very quiet tonight, sir. Mr. Last is in the dining room." Jock found him seated in a corner; he was in day clothes; the table and the chair at his side were littered with papers and magazines; one was propped up in front of hire. He was half way through dinner and three quarters of the way through a bottle of Burgundy. "Hullo," he said. "Chucked? Come and join me." It was some time since Jock had seen Tony; the meeting embarrassed him slightly, for like all his friends, he was wondering how Tony felt and how much he knew about Brenda and John Beaver. However, he sat down at Tony's table. "Been chucked?" asked Tony again. "Yes, it's the last time I ask that bitch out." "Better have a drink. I've been drinking a whole lot. Much the best thing." They took what was left of the Burgundy and ordered another bottle. "Just come up for the night," said Tony. "Staying here." "You've got a flat now haven't you?" "Well Brenda has. There isn't really room for two... we tried it once and it wasn't a success." "What's she doing tonight?" "Out somewhere. I didn't let her know I was coming... silly not to, but you see I got fed up with being alone at Hetton and thought I'd like to see Brenda so I came up suddenly on the spur of the moment, just like that. Damned silly thing to do. Might have known she'd be going out somewhere... she's very high principled about chucking... so there it is. She's going to ring me up here later, if she can get away." They drank a lot. Tony did most of the talking. "Extraordinary idea of hers, taking up economics," he said. "I never thought it would last but she seems really keen on it... I suppose it's a good plan. You know there wasn't really much for her to do all the time at Hetton. Of course she'd rather die than admit it, but I believe she got a bit bored there sometimes. I've been thinking it over and that's the conclusion I came to. Brenda must have been bored... Daresay she'll get bored with economics some time... Anyway she seems cheerful enough now. We've had parties every week-end lately... I wish you'd come down sometimes, Jock. I don't seem to get on with Brenda's new friends." "People from the school of economics?" "No, but ones I don't know. I believe I bore them. Thinking it over that's the conclusion I've come to. I bore them. They talk about me as 'the old boy.' John heard them." "Well, that's friendly enough." "Yes, that's friendly." They finished the Burgundy and drank some port. Presently Tony said, "I say, come next week-end, will you?" "I think I'd love to." "Wish you would. I don't see many old friends... Sure to be lots of people in the house, but you won't mind that will you?... sociable chap, Jock... doesn't mind people about. I mind it like hell." They drank some more port. Tony said, "Not enough bathrooms, you know... but of course you know. You've been there before, often. Not like the new friends who think me a bore. You don't think I'm a bore, do you?" "No, old boy." "Not even when I'm tight, like this?... There would have been bathrooms. I had the plans out. Four new ones. A chap down there made the plans... but then Brenda wanted the flat so I had to postpone them as an economy... I say, that's funny. We had to economise because of Brenda's economics." "Yes, that's funny. Let's have some port." Tony said, "You seem pretty low tonight." "I am rather. Worried about the Pig Scheme. Constituents keep writing." "I felt low, bloody low, but I'm all right again now. The best thing is to get tight. That's what I did and I don't feel low any more... discouraging to come to London and find you're not wanted. Funny thing, you feel low because your girl's chucked, and I feel low because mine won't chuck." "Yes, that's funny." "But you know I've felt low for weeks now... bloody low... how about some brandy?" "Yes, why not? After all there are other things in life besides women and pigs." They had some brandy and after a time Jock began to cheer up. Presently a page came to their table to say, "A message from Lady Brenda, sir." "Good, I'll go and speak to her." "It's, not her ladyship speaking. Someone was sending a message." "I'll come and speak to her." He went to the telephone in the lobby outside. "Darling," he said. "Is that Mr. Last? I've got a message here, from Lady Brenda." "Right, put me through to her." "She can't speak herself, but she asked me to give you this message, that she's very sorry but she cannot join you tonight. She's very tired and has gone home to bed." "Tell her I want to speak to her."' "I can't I'm afraid, she's gone to bed. She's very tired." "She's very tired and she's gone to bed?" "That's right." "Well, I want to speak to her." "Goodnight," said the voice. "The old boy's plastered," said Beaver as he rang off. "Oh dear. I feel rather awful about him. But what can he expect, coming up suddenly like this. He's got to be taught not to make surprise visits." "Is he often like that?" "No, it's quite new." The telephone bell rang. "D'you suppose that's him again? I'd better answer it." "I want to speak to Lady Brenda Last." "Tony, darling, this is me, Brenda." "Some damn fool said I couldn't speak to you." "I left a message from where I was dining. Are you having a lovely evening?" "Hellish. I'm with Jock. He's worried about the Pig Scheme. Shall we come around and see you?" "No, not now, darling, I'm terribly tired and just going to bed." "We'll come and see you." "Tony, are you a tiny bit tight?" "Stinking. Jock and I'll come and see you." "Tony, you're not to. D'you hear? I can't have you making a brawl. The flats are getting a bad name anyhow." "Their name'll be mud when Jock and I come." "Tony, listen, will you please not come, not tonight. Be a good boy and stay at the club. Will you please not?" "Shan't be long." He rang off. "Oh God," said Brenda. "This isn't the least like Tony. Ring up Brat's and get on to Jock. He'll have more sense." "That was Brenda." "So I gathered." "She's at the flat. I said that we'll go round." "Splendid. Haven't seen her for weeks. Very fond of Brenda." "So am I. Grand girl." "Grand girl." "A lady on the telephone for you, Mr. Grant-Menzies." "Who?" "She didn't give a name." "All right. I'll come." Brenda said to him, "Jock, what have you been doing to my husband." "He's a bit tight, that's all." "He's roaring. Look here he threatens to come round. I simply can't face him tonight in that mood, I'm tired out. You understand, don't you?" "Yes, 1 understand." "So, will you, please, keep him away. Are you tight too?" "A little bit." "Oh dear, can I trust you?" "I'll try." . "Well, it doesn't sound too good. Goodbye."... John, you've got to go. Those hooligans may turn up at any moment. Have you got your taxi fare? You'll find some change in my bag." "Was that your girl?" "Yes." "Made it up?" "Not exactly." "Far better to make it up. Shall we have some more brandy and go round to Brenda straight away?" "Let's have some more brandy." "Jock, you aren't still feeling low are you? Doesn't do to feel low. I'm not feeling low. I was, but I'm not any more. "Then we'll have some brandy and then go to Brenda's." "All right." Half an hour later they got into Jock's car. "Tell' you what, I shouldn't drive if I were you." "Not drive?" "No, I shouldn't drive. They'd say you were drunk." "Who would?" "Anyone you ran over. They'd say you were drunk." "Well, so I am." "Then I shouldn't drive." "Too far to walk." "We'll take a taxi." "Oh hell, I can drive." "Or let's not go to Brenda's at all." "We'd better go to Brenda's" said Jock. "She's expecting us." "Well I can't walk all that way. Besides I don't think she really wanted us to come." "She'll be pleased when she sees us." "Yes, but it's a long way. Let's go some other place." "I'd like to see Brenda," said Jock. "I'm very fond of Brenda." "She's a grand girl." "She's a grand girl." "Well let's take a taxi to Brenda's." But half way Jock said, "Don't let's go there. Let's go some other place. Let's go to some low joint." "All the same to me. Tell him to go to some low joint." "Go to some low joint," said Jock, putting his head through the window. The cab wheeled round and made towards Shaftesbury Avenue. "We can always ring Brenda from the low joint." "Yes, I think we ought to do that. She's a grand girl." "Grand girl." The cab turned down Wardour Street and then into Sink Street, a dingy little place inhabitated for the most part by Asiatics. "D'you know, I believe he's taking us to the old Sixty-four." "Can't still be open? Thought they closed it down years ago." But the door was brightly illumined and a seedy figure in peaked cap and braided overcoat stepped out to open the taxi for them. The Sixty-four has never been shut. For a generation, while other night clubs have sprung into being, with various names and managers, and various pretensions to respectability, have enjoyed a precarious and brief existence, and come to grief at the hands either of police or creditors, the Sixty-four has maintained a solid front against all adversity. It has not been immune from persecution; far from it. Times out of number, magistrates have struck it off, cancelled its licence, condemned its premises; the staff and until her death, the proprietress, have been constantly in and out of prison; there have been questions in the House and committees of enquiry, but whatever Home Secretaries and Commissioners of Police have risen into eminence and retired discredited, the doors of the Sixty-four have always been open from nine in the evening until four at night, and inside there has been an unimpeded flow of dubious, alcoholic preparations. A kindly young lady admitted Tony and Jock to the ramshackle building. "D'you mind signing in?" Tony and Jock inscribed fictitious names at the foot of a form which stated, I have been invited to a Bottle Party at 64 Sink Street given by Mr. Charles Weybridge. "That's five bob each please." It is not an expensive club to run, because none of the staff, except the band, receive any wages; they make what they can by going through the overcoat pockets and giving the wrong change to drunks. The young ladies get in free but they have to see to it that their patrons spend money. "Last time I was here, Tony, was the bachelor party before your wedding." "Tight that night." "Stinking." "I'll tell you who else was tight that night-Reggie. Broke a fruit gum machine." "Reggie was stinking." "I say, you don't still feel low about that girl?" "I don't feel low." "Come on, we'll go downstairs." The dance room was fairly full. An elderly man had joined the band and was trying to conduct it. "I like this, joint," said Jock. "What'll we drink?" "Brandy." They had to buy a whole bottle. They filled in an order form to the Montmorency Wine Company and paid two pounds. When it came it had a label saying Very Old Liquor Fine Champagne. Imported by the Montmorency Wine Co. The waiter brought ginger ale and four glasses. Two young ladies came and sat with them. They were called Milly and Babs. Milly said, "Are you in town for long?" Babs said, "Have you got such a thing as a cigarette?" Tony danced with Babs. She said, "Are you fond of dancing?" "No, are you?" "So-so." "Well, let's sit down." The waiter said, "Will you a buy a ticket in a raffle for box of chocolates?" "No." "Buy one for me," said Babs. Jock began to describe the specifications of the Basic Pig. ... Milly said, "You're married, aren't you?" "No," said Jock. "Oh I can always tell," said Milly. "Your friend is too." "Yes, he is." "You'd be surprised how many gentlemen come here just to talk about their wives." "He hasn't." Tony was leaning across the table and saying to Babs, "You see the trouble is my wife is studious. She's taking a course in economics." Babs said, "I think it's nice for a girl to be interested in things." The waiter said, "What will you be taking for supper?" "Why we've only just had dinner." "How about a nice haddock?" "I tell you what I must do, is to telephone. Where is it?" "D'you mean really the telephone or the gentlemen's?" "No, the telephone." "U'stairs in the office." Tony rang up Brenda. It was some time before she answered, then, "Yes, who is it?" "I have a message here from Mr. Anthony Last and Mr. Jocelyn Grant-Menzies." "Oh, it's you Tony. Well, what do you want?" "You recognised my voice?" "I did." "Well, I only wanted to give a message but as I am speaking to you I can give it myself, can't I?" "Yes." "Well Jock and I are terribly sorry but we can't come round this evening after all." "Oh." "You don't think it very rude I hope, but we have a lot to attend to." "That's all right, Tony." "Did I wake you up by any chance?" "That's all right, Tony," "Well, goodnight." "Goodnight." Tony went down to the table. "I've been talking to Brenda. She sounded rather annoyed. D'you think we ought to go round there." "We promised we would," said Jock. "You should never disappoint a lady," said Milly. "Oh it's too late now." Babs said, "You two are officers, aren't you?" "No, why?" "I thought you were." Milly said, "I like business gentlemen best, myself. They've more to say." "What d'you do?" "I design postman's hats," said Jock. "Oh, go on." "And my friend here trains sea lions." "Tell us another." Babs said, "I got a gentleman friend who works on a newspaper." After a time Jock said, "I say, ought we to do something about Brenda?" "You told her we weren't coming, didn't you?" "Yes... but she might still be hoping." "I tell you what, you go and ring her up and find out if she really wants us." "All right." He came back ten minutes later. "I thought she sounded rather annoyed," he reported. "But I said in the end we wouldn't come." "She may be tired," said Tony. "Has to get up early to do economics. Now I come to think of it someone did say she was tired, earlier on in the evening." "I say what's this frightful piece of fish?" "The waiter said you ordered it." "Perhaps I did." "I'll give it to the club cat," said Babs, "she's a dear

BOOK: A handful of dust
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