Keep the Aspidistra Flying(8)

By: George Orwell


Sharply the menacing wind sweeps over

The bending poplars, newly bare,

And the dark ribbons of the chimneys

Veer downward tumty tumty (something

like ‘murky’) air.

Good. But the impulse faded. His eye fell again upon the ad-posters across the street.

He almost wanted to laugh at them, they were so feeble, so dead-alive, so unappetising. As though anybody could be tempted by those! Like succubi with pimply backsides. But they depressed him all the same. The money-stink, everywhere the money-stink. He stole a glance at the Nancy, who had drifted away from the poetry shelves and taken out a large expensive book on the Russian ballet. He was holding it delicately between his pink non-prehensile paws, as a squirrel holds a nut, studying the photographs. Gordon knew his type. The moneyed ‘artistic’ young man. Not an artist himself, exactly, but a hanger-on of the arts; frequenter of studios, retailer of scandal. A nice-looking boy, though, for all his Nancitude. The skin at the back of his neck was as silky-smooth as the inside of a shell. You can’t have a skin like that under five hundred a year. A sort of charm he had, a glamour, like all moneyed people. Money and charm; who shall separate them?

Gordon thought of Ravelston, his charming, rich friend, editor of Antichrist, of whom he was extravagantly fond, and whom he did not see so often as once in a fortnight; and of Rosemary, his girl, who loved him—adored him, so she said—and who, all the same, had never slept with him. Money, once again; all is money. All human relationships must be purchased with money. If you have no money, men won’t care for you, women won’t love you; won’t, that is, care for you or love you the last little bit that matters. And how right they are, after all! For, moneyless, you are unlovable. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels. But then, if I haven’t money, I don’t speak with the tongues of men and of angels.

He looked again at the ad-posters. He really hated them this time. That Vitamalt one, for instance! ‘Hike all day on a Slab of Vitamalt!’ A youthful couple, boy and girl, in clean-minded hiking kit, their hair picturesquely tousled by the wind, climbing a stile against a Sussex landscape. That girl’s face! The awful bright tomboy cheeriness of it! The kind of girl who goes in for Plenty of Clean Fun. Windswept. Tight khaki shorts but that doesn’t mean you can pinch her backside. And next to them—Roland Butta. ‘Roland Butta enjoys his meal with Bovex.’ Gordon examined the thing with the intimacy of hatred. The idiotic grinning face, like the face of a self-satisfied rat, the slick black hair, the silly spectacles. Roland Butta, heir of the ages; victor of Waterloo, Roland Butta, Modern man as his masters want him to be. A docile little porker, sitting in the money-sty, drinking Bovex.

Faces passed, wind-yellowed. A tram boomed across the square, and the clock over the Prince of Wales struck three. A couple of old creatures, a tramp or beggar and his wife, in long greasy overcoats that reached almost to the ground, were shuffling towards the shop. Book-pinchers, by the look of them. Better keep an eye on the boxes outside. The old man halted on the kerb a few yards away while his wife came to the door. She pushed it open and looked up at Gordon, between grey strings of hair, with a sort of hopeful malevolence.

‘Ju buy books?’ she demanded hoarsely.

‘Sometimes. It depends what books they are.’

‘I gossome lovely books ’ere.’

She came in, shutting the door with a clang. The Nancy glanced over his shoulder distastefully and moved a step or two away, into the corner. The old woman had produced a greasy little sack from under her overcoat. She moved confidentially nearer to Gordon. She smelt of very, very old breadcrusts.

‘Will you ’ave ’em?’ she said, clasping the neck of the sack. ‘Only ’alf a crown the lot.’

‘What are they? Let me see them, please.’

‘Lovely books, they are,’ she breathed, bending over to open the sack and emitting a sudden very powerful whiff of breadcrusts.

‘’Ere!’ she said, and thrust an armful of filthy-looking books almost into Gordon’s face.

They were an 1884 edition of Charlotte M. Yonge’s novels, and had the appearance of having been slept on for many years. Gordon stepped back, suddenly revolted.