Of Human Bondage/Chapter LX
They dined in Soho. Philip was tremulous with joy. It was not one of the more crowded of those cheap restaurants where the respectable and needy dine in the belief that it is bohemian and the assurance that it is economical. It was a humble establishment, kept by a good man from Rouen and his wife, that Philip had discovered by accident. He had been attracted by the Gallic look of the window, in which was generally an uncooked steak on one plate and on each side two dishes of raw vegetables. There was one seedy French waiter, who was attempting to learn English in a house where he never heard anything but French; and the customers were a few ladies of easy virtue, a menage or two, who had their own napkins reserved for them, and a few queer men who came in for hurried, scanty meals.
Here Mildred and Philip were able to get a table to themselves. Philip sent the waiter for a bottle of Burgundy from the neighbouring tavern, and they had a potage aux herbes, a steak from the window aux pommes, and an omelette au kirsch. There was really an air of romance in the meal and in the place. Mildred, at first a little reserved in her appreciation--"I never quite trust these foreign places, you never know what there is in these messed up dishes"--was insensibly moved by it.
"I like this place, Philip," she said. "You feel you can put your elbows on the table, don't you?"
A tall fellow came in, with a mane of gray hair and a ragged thin beard. He wore a dilapidated cloak and a wide-awake hat. He nodded to Philip, who had met him there before.
"He looks like an anarchist," said Mildred.
"He is, one of the most dangerous in Europe. He's been in every prison on the Continent and has assassinated more persons than any gentleman unhung. He always goes about with a bomb in his pocket, and of course it makes conversation a little difficult because if you don't agree with him he lays it on the table in a marked manner."
She looked at the man with horror and surprise, and then glanced suspiciously at Philip. She saw that his eyes were laughing. She frowned a little.
"You're getting at me."
He gave a little shout of joy. He was so happy. But Mildred didn't like being laughed at.
"I don't see anything funny in telling lies."
"Don't be cross."
He took her hand, which was lying on the table, and pressed it gently.
"You are lovely, and I could kiss the ground you walk on," he said.
The greenish pallor of her skin intoxicated him, and her thin white lips had an extraordinary fascination. Her anaemia made her rather short of breath, and she held her mouth slightly open. It seemed to add somehow to the attractiveness of her face.
"You do like me a bit, don't you?" he asked.
"Well, if I didn't I suppose I shouldn't be here, should I? You're a gentleman in every sense of the word, I will say that for you."
They had finished their dinner and were drinking coffee. Philip, throwing economy to the winds, smoked a three-penny cigar.
"You can't imagine what a pleasure it is to me just to sit opposite and look at you. I've yearned for you. I was sick for a sight of you."
Mildred smiled a little and faintly flushed. She was not then suffering from the dyspepsia which generally attacked her immediately after a meal. She felt more kindly disposed to Philip than ever before, and the unaccustomed tenderness in her eyes filled him with joy. He knew instinctively that it was madness to give himself into her hands; his only chance was to treat her casually and never allow her to see the untamed passions that seethed in his breast; she would only take advantage of his weakness; but he could not be prudent now: he told her all the agony he had endured during the separation from her; he told her of his struggles with himself, how he had tried to get over his passion, thought he had succeeded, and how he found out that it was as strong as ever. He knew that he had never really wanted to get over it. He loved her so much that he did not mind suffering. He bared his heart to her. He showed her proudly all his weakness.
Nothing would have pleased him more than to sit on in the cosy, shabby restaurant, but he knew that Mildred wanted entertainment. She was restless and, wherever she was, wanted after a while to go somewhere else. He dared not bore her.
"I say, how about going to a music-hall?" he said.
He thought rapidly that if she cared for him at all she would say she preferred to stay there.
"I was just thinking we ought to be going if we are going," she answered.
"Come on then."
Philip waited impatiently for the end of the performance. He had made up his mind exactly what to do, and when they got into the cab he passed his arm, as though almost by accident, round her waist. But he drew it back quickly with a little cry. He had pricked himself. She laughed.
"There, that comes of putting your arm where it's got no business to be," she said. "I always know when men try and put their arm round my waist. That pin always catches them."
"I'll be more careful."
He put his arm round again. She made no objection.
"I'm so comfortable," he sighed blissfully.
"So long as you're happy," she retorted.
They drove down St. James' Street into the Park, and Philip quickly kissed her. He was strangely afraid of her, and it required all his courage. She turned her lips to him without speaking. She neither seemed to mind nor to like it.
"If you only knew how long I've wanted to do that," he murmured.
He tried to kiss her again, but she turned her head away.
"Once is enough," she said.
On the chance of kissing her a second time he travelled down to Herne Hill with her, and at the end of the road in which she lived he asked her:
"Won't you give me another kiss?"
She looked at him indifferently and then glanced up the road to see that no one was in sight.
"I don't mind."
He seized her in his arms and kissed her passionately, but she pushed him away.
"Mind my hat, silly. You are clumsy," she said.