Bliss and Other Stories
If you think what I've written is merely superficial and impudent and cheap you're wrong. I'll admit it does sound so, but then it is not all. If it were, how could I have experienced what I did when I read that stale little phrase written in green ink, in the writing-pad ? That proves there's more in me and that I really am important, doesn't it ? Anything a fraction less than that moment of anguish I might have put on. But no ! That was real.
" Waiter, a whisky."
I hate whisky. Every time I take it into my mouth my stomach rises against it, and the stuff they keep here is sure to be particularly vile. I only ordered it because I am going to write about an Englishman. We French are incredibly old- page 84fashioned and out of date still in some ways. I wonder I didn't ask him at the same time for a pair of tweed knickerbockers, a pipe, some long teeth and a set of ginger whiskers.
" Thanks, mon vieux. You haven't got perhaps a set of ginger whiskers ? "
" No, monsieur/' he answers sadly. " We don't sell American drinks."
And having smeared a corner of the table he goes back to have another couple of dozen taken by artificial light.
Ugh I The smell of it! And the sickly sensation when one's throat contracts.
" It's bad stuff to get drunk on," says Dick Harmon, turning his little glass in his fingers and smiling his slow, dreaming smile. So he gets drunk on it slowly and dreamily and at a certain moment begins to sing very low, very low, about a man who walks up and down trying to find a place where he can get some dinner.
Ah ! how I loved that song, and how I loved the way he sang it, slowly, slowly, in a dark, soft voice:
There was a man
Walked up and down
To get a dinner in the town . . .
It seemed to hold, in its gravity and muffled measure, all those tall grey buildings, those fogs, those endless streets, those sharp shadows of policemen that mean England.page 85
And then—the subject! The lean, starved creature walking up and down with every house barred against him because he had no " home." How extraordinarily English that is. ... I remember that it ended where he did at last" find a place " and ordered a little cake of fish, but when he asked for bread the waiter cried contemptuously, in a loud voice : " We don't serve bread with one fish ball."
What more do you want ? How profound those songs are ! There is the whole psychology of a people ; and how un-French—how un-French !
" Once more, Deeck, once more ! " I would plead, clasping my hands and making a pretty mouth at him. He was perfectly content to sing it for ever.