The Black Notebook
‘I believe my nose is bleeding,’ said George, so as to have an excuse to blow it. Then he smiled. ‘I’m in trouble all around,’ he said. ‘And that bastard Willi is too busy with his bloody Russian to be interested.’
‘We’re all in trouble,’ said Paul. He was radiating a calm physical well-being and George said: ‘I hate young men of twenty. What sort of trouble could you conceivably be in?’
‘It’s a hard case,’ said Paul. ‘First, I’m twenty. That means I’m very nervous and ill-at-ease with women. Second, I’m twenty. I have all my life before me, and frankly the prospect often appals me. Thirdly, I’m twenty, and I’m in love with Anna and my heart is breaking.’
George gave me a quick look to see if this were true, and I shrugged. George drank down a full tankard of beer without stopping, and said: ‘Anyway I’ve no right to care whether anyone’s in love with anyone. I’m a sod and a bastard. Well, that would be bearable, but I’m also a practising socialist. And I’m a swine. How can a swine be a socialist, that’s what I want to know?’ He was joking, but his eyes were full of tears again, and his body was clenched and tense with misery.
Paul turned his head with his characteristic indolent charm, and let his wide blue eyes rest on George. I could positively hear him thinking: Oh, Lord, here’s some real trouble, I don’t even want to hear about it … he let himself slide to the floor, gave me the warmest and tenderest of smiles, and said: ‘Darling Anna, I love you more than my life, but I’m going to help Maryrose.’ His eyes said: Get rid of this gloomy idiot and I’ll come back. George scarcely noticed him going.
‘Anna,’ said George. ‘Anna, I don’t know what to do.’ And I felt just as Paul had: I don’t want to be involved with real trouble. I wanted to be off with the group hanging garlands, for now that Paul had become a member of it, it was suddenly gay. They were beginning to dance. Paul and Maryrose, even June Boothby, because there were more men than girls, and people were drifting up from the hotel, drawn by the dance music.
‘Let’s get out,’ said George. ‘All this youth and jollity. It depresses me unutterably. Besides, if you come too, your man will talk. It’s him I want to talk to.’
‘Thanks,’ I said, without much grace. But I went with him to the hotel verandah which was rapidly losing its occupants to the dance room. Willi patiently laid down his grammar, and said: ‘I suppose it’s too much to expect, to be allowed to work in peace.’
We sat down, the three of us, our legs stretched into the sun, the rest of our bodies in the shade. The beer in our long glasses was light and golden and had spangles of sunlight in it. Then George began talking. What he was saying was so serious, but he spoke with a self-mocking jocularity, so that everything seemed ugly and jarring, and all the time the pulse of music came from the dance room and I wanted to be there.