The Black Notebook
The main block of the hotel stood directly by the main road, and consisted of the bar and the dining-room with the kitchens behind it. There was a verandah along the front supported by wooden pillars, up which plants grew. We sat on benches in silence, yawning, suddenly exhausted and very hungry. Soon Mrs Boothby, summoned from her own house by her husband, let us into the dining-room and shut the doors again so that travellers might not come in and demand food. This was one of the Colony’s main roads, and always full of cars. Mrs Boothby was a large, full-bodied woman, very plain, with a highly-coloured face and tightly-crimped colourless hair. She wore tight corsets, and her buttocks shelved out abruptly, and her bosom was high like a shelf in front. She was pleasant, kindly, anxious to oblige, but dignified. She apologized, that as we were so late, she could not serve a full dinner, but she would do her best. Then, with a nod and a good night, she left us to the waiter, who was sulky at being kept in so long after his proper hours. We ate plates of good thick roast beef, roast potatoes, carrots. And afterwards, apple pie and cream and the local cheese. It was English pub food, cooked with care. The big dining-room was silent. All the tables gleamed with readiness for tomorrow’s breakfast. The windows and doors were hung with heavy floral linen. Headlights from the passing cars continually lightened the linen, obliterating the pattern, so that the reds and blues of the flowers glowed out very bright when the dazzle of light had swept on and up the road towards the city. We were all sleepy and not very talkative. But I felt better after a while, because Paul and Willi, as usual, were treating the waiter as a servant, ordering him about and making demands, and suddenly Ted came to himself, and began talking to the man as a human being — and with even more warmth than usual, so I could see he was ashamed of his moment on the verandah. While Ted made enquiries about the man’s family, his work, his life, offering information about himself, Paul and Willi simply ate, as always on these occasions. They had made their position clear long ago. ‘Do you imagine, Ted, that if you are kind to servants you are going to advance the cause of socialism?’ ‘Yes,’ Ted had said. ‘Then I can’t help you,’ Willi had said, with a shrug, meaning there was no hope for him. Jimmy was demanding more to drink. He was already drunk; he got drunk more quickly than anyone I’ve known. Soon Mr Boothby came in and said that as travellers we were entitled to drink — making it plain why we had been allowed to eat so late in the first place. But instead of the hard drinks he wanted us to order, we asked for wine, and he brought us chilled white Cape wine. It was very good wine; and we did not want to drink the raw Cape brandy Mr Boothby brought us but we did drink it, and then some more wine. And then Willi announced that we were all coming down next week-end, and could Mr Boothby arrange rooms for us. Mr Boothby said it was no trouble at all — offering us a bill that we had difficulty in raising the money to settle.