Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
PHILIP did not find living in Paris as cheap as he had been led to believe and by February had spent most of the money with which he started. He was too proud to appeal to his guardian, nor did he wish Aunt Louisa to know that his circumstances were straitened, since he was certain she would make an effort to send him something from her own pocket, and he knew how little she could afford to. In three months he would attain his majority and come into possession of his small fortune. He tided over the interval by selling the few trinkets which he had inherited from his father.
At about this time Lawson suggested that they should take a small studio which was vacant in one of the streets that led out of the Boulevard Raspail. It was very cheap. It had a room attached, which they could use as a bed-room; and since Philip was at the school every morning Lawson could have the undisturbed use of the studio then; Lawson, after wandering from school to school, had come to the conclusion that he could work best alone, and proposed to get a model in three or four days a week. At first Philip hesitated on account of the expense, but they reckoned it out; and it seemed (they were so anxious to have a studio of their own that they calculated pragmatically) that the cost would not be much greater than that of living in a hotel. Though the rent and the cleaning by the concierge would come to a little more, they would save on the petit dejeuner, which they could make themselves. A year or two earlier Philip would have refused to share a room with anyone, since he was so sensitive about his deformed foot, but his morbid way of looking at it was growing less marked: in Paris it did not seem to matter so much, and, though he never by any chance forgot it himself, he ceased to feel that other people were constantly noticing it.
They moved in, bought a couple of beds, a washing-stand, a few chairs, and felt for the first time the thrill of possession. They were so excited that the first night they went to bed in what they could call a home they lay awake talking till three in the morning; and next day found lighting the fire and making their own coffee, which they had in pyjamas, such a jolly business that Philip did not get to Amitrano's till nearly eleven. He was in excellent spirits. He nodded to Fanny Price.
"How are you getting on?" he asked cheerily.
"What does that matter to you?" she asked in reply.
Philip could not help laughing.
"Don't jump down my throat. I was only trying to make myself polite."
"I don't want your politeness."
"D'you think it's worth while quarrelling with me too?" asked Philip mildly. "There are so few people you're on speaking terms with, as it is."
"That's my business, isn't it?"
He began to work, vaguely wondering why Fanny Price made herself so disagreeable. He had come to the conclusion that he thoroughly disliked her. Everyone did. People were only civil to her at all from fear of the malice of her tongue; for to their faces and behind their backs she said abominable things. But Philip was feeling so happy that he did not want even Miss Price to bear ill-feeling towards him. He used the artifice which had often before succeeded in banishing her ill-humour.
"I say, I wish you'd come and look at my drawing. I've got in an awful mess."
"Thank you very much, but I've got something better to do with my time."
Philip stared at her in surprise, for the one thing she could be counted upon to do with alacrity was to give advice. She went on quickly in a low voice, savage with fury.
"Now that Lawson's gone you think you'll put up with me. Thank you very much. Go and find somebody else to help you. I don't want anybody else's leavings."
Lawson had the pedagogic instinct; whenever he found anything out he was eager to impart it; and because he taught with delight he talked with profit. Philip, without thinking anything about it, had got into the habit of sitting by his side; it never occurred to him that Fanny Price was consumed with jealousy, and watched his acceptance of someone else's tuition with ever-increasing anger.
"You were very glad to put up with me when you knew nobody here," she said bitterly, "and as soon as you made friends with other people you threw me aside, like an old glove"--she repeated the stale metaphor with satisfaction--"like an old glove. All right, I don't care, but I'm not going to be made a fool of another time."
There was a suspicion of truth in what she said, and it made Philip angry enough to answer what first came into his head.
"Hang it all, I only asked your advice because I saw it pleased you."
She gave a gasp and threw him a sudden look of anguish. Then two tears rolled down her cheeks. She looked frowsy and grotesque. Philip, not knowing what on earth this new attitude implied, went back to his work. He was uneasy and conscience-stricken; but he would not go to her and say he was sorry if he had caused her pain, because he was afraid she would take the opportunity to snub him. For two or three weeks she did not speak to him, and, after Philip had got over the discomfort of being cut by her, he was somewhat relieved to be free from so difficult a friendship. He had been a little disconcerted by the air of proprietorship she assumed over him. She was an extraordinary woman. She came every day to the studio at eight o'clock, and was ready to start working when the model was in position; she worked steadily, talking to no one, struggling hour after hour with difficulties she could not overcome, and remained till the clock struck twelve. Her work was hopeless. There was not in it the smallest approach even to the mediocre achievement at which most of the young persons were able after some months to arrive. She wore every day the same ugly brown dress, with the mud of the last wet day still caked on the hem and with the raggedness, which Philip had noticed the first time he saw her, still unmended.
But one day she came up to him, and with a scarlet face asked whether she might speak to him afterwards.
"Of course, as much as you like," smiled Philip. "I'll wait behind at twelve."
He went to her when the day's work was over.
"Will you walk a little bit with me?" she said, looking away from him with embarrassment.
They walked for two or three minutes in silence.
"D'you remember what you said to me the other day?" she asked then on a sudden.
"Oh, I say, don't let's quarrel," said Philip. "It really isn't worth while."
She gave a quick, painful inspiration.
"I don't want to quarrel with you. You're the only friend I had in Paris. I thought you rather liked me. I felt there was something between us. I was drawn towards you--you know what I mean, your club-foot."
Philip reddened and instinctively tried to walk without a limp. He did not like anyone to mention the deformity. He knew what Fanny Price meant. She was ugly and uncouth, and because he was deformed there was between them a certain sympathy. He was very angry with her, but he forced himself not to speak.
"You said you only asked my advice to please me. Don't you think my work's any good?"
"I've only seen your drawing at Amitrano's. It's awfully hard to judge from that."
"I was wondering if you'd come and look at my other work. I've never asked anyone else to look at it. I should like to show it to you."
"It's awfully kind of you. I'd like to see it very much."
"I live quite near here," she said apologetically. "It'll only take you ten minutes."
"Oh, that's all right," he said.
They were walking along the boulevard, and she turned down a side street, then led him into another, poorer still, with cheap shops on the ground floor, and at last stopped. They climbed flight after flight of stairs. She unlocked a door, and they went into a tiny attic with a sloping roof and a small window. This was closed and the room had a musty smell. Though it was very cold there was no fire and no sign that there had been one. The bed was unmade. A chair, a chest of drawers which served also as a wash-stand, and a cheap easel, were all the furniture. The place would have been squalid enough in any case, but the litter, the untidiness, made the impression revolting. On the chimney-piece, scattered over with paints and brushes, were a cup, a dirty plate, and a tea-pot.
"If you'll stand over there I'll put them on the chair so that you can see them better."
She showed him twenty small canvases, about eighteen by twelve. She placed them on the chair, one after the other, watching his face; he nodded as he looked at each one.
"You do like them, don't you?" she said anxiously, after a bit.
"I just want to look at them all first," he answered. "I'll talk afterwards."
He was collecting himself. He was panic-stricken. He did not know what to say. It was not only that they were ill-drawn, or that the colour was put on amateurishly by someone who had no eye for it; but there was no attempt at getting the values, and the perspective was grotesque. It looked like the work of a child of five, but a child would have had some naivete and might at least have made an attempt to put down what he saw; but here was the work of a vulgar mind chock full of recollections of vulgar pictures. Philip remembered that she had talked enthusiastically about Monet and the Impressionists, but here were only the worst traditions of the Royal Academy.
"There," she said at last, "that's the lot."
Philip was no more truthful than anybody else, but he had a great difficulty in telling a thundering, deliberate lie, and he blushed furiously when he answered:
"I think they're most awfully good."
A faint colour came into her unhealthy cheeks, and she smiled a little.
"You needn't say so if you don't think so, you know. I want the truth."
"But I do think so."
"Haven't you got any criticism to offer? There must be some you don't like as well as others."
Philip looked round helplessly. He saw a landscape, the typical picturesque `bit' of the amateur, an old bridge, a creeper-clad cottage, and a leafy bank.
"Of course I don't pretend to know anything about it," he said. "But I wasn't quite sure about the values of that."
She flushed darkly and taking up the picture quickly turned its back to him.
"I don't know why you should have chosen that one to sneer at. It's the best thing I've ever done. I'm sure my values are all right. That's a thing you can't teach anyone, you either understand values or you don't."
"I think they're all most awfully good," repeated Philip.
She looked at them with an air of self-satisfaction.
"I don't think they're anything to be ashamed of."
Philip looked at his watch.
"I say, it's getting late. Won't you let me give you a little lunch?"
"I've got my lunch waiting for me here."
Philip saw no sign of it, but supposed perhaps the concierge would bring it up when he was gone. He was in a hurry to get away. The mustiness of the room made his head ache.