PORTRAIT OF YOUNG MAN WITH CAREER
JEREMY came into my room at half-past six, just as I was assembling my sponge and towels and dressing gown and things for a bath. I saw him as I came out of my bedroom, looking for something to write a message on. He was making straight for my portfolio of drawing paper. I called and made myself known to him.
Jeremy was in my house at school; he has what would be known in North Oxford as a “personality.” That is to say he is rather stupid, thoroughly well satisfied with himself, and acutely ambitious. Jeremy purposes to be President of the Union. I said to him,
“Hullo, Jeremy, I am afraid you find me on the point of going to have a bath. I never miss a bath before dinner; I shall tonight if I do not go at once. The bathroom is shut at seven. But do stay and drink some sherry won’t you?”
“Thanks,” said Jeremy, and sat down.
I reached for the decanter and found it empty. There must have been nearly a bottle there that morning. “Jeremy, that damned man of mine has finished the sherry. I am sorry.”
“Never mind. I’ll just smoke a cigarette and go.”
My cigarettes are particularly large and take at least a quarter of an hour to smoke. I banished all my dreams of white tiles and steam and took a cigarette myself.
“I haven’t anything particular to say,” said Jeremy, “I was just passing your College and thought I might as well drop in for a little. It is hard to know what to do before hall, isn’t it?”
“I generally have a bath.”
“Ah, our baths are not open at this hour.”
He propped his feet on the side of the fireplace. He was wearing that detestable sort of dark brown suede shoes that always looks wet.
“Oh, I know one thing I wanted to ask you. I want to meet Richard Pares. I feel he is a man to know.”
“An amiable rogue.”
“Well, will you introduce me to him.”
“You know, I hardly know him.” It was quite true and, besides, I dislike introducing Jeremy to people; as a rule he begins by calling them by their Christian names.
“Nonsense, I’m always seeing you about together. I am not doing anything ’fore lunch on Tuesday. How about then? Or Friday I could manage, but I should prefer Tuesday.”
So it was arranged. There was a pause; I looked at my watch; Jeremy took no notice; I looked again.
“What is the time,” he said, “Twenty-three to. Oh, good! — hours yet.”
“Before a fool’s opinion of himself the gods are silent—aye and envious too,” I thought.
“On Thursday I’m speaking ‘on the paper’.”
“About the Near East. Macedonia. Oil, you know.”
“I think it ought to be rather a good speech.”
“Evelyn, you aren’t listening; now seriously, what do you really think is wrong with my speaking. What I feel about the Union myself is…..”
A blind fury, a mist of fire. We struggled together on the carpet. He was surprisingly weak for his size. The first blow with the poker he dodged and took on his shoulder; the second and third caved his forehead in. I stood up, quivering, filled with a beastly curiosity to find what was inside his broken skull. Instead I restrained myself and put his handkerchief over his face.
Outside the door I met my scout. I forgot the sherry.
“Hunt”—I almost clung to him. “There is a gentleman in the room lying on the carpet.”
“Yes sir. Drunk, sir?” I remembered the sherry.
“No, as a matter of fact he’s dead.”
“Yes, I killed him.”
“You don’t say so, sir!”
“But Hunt, what are we to do about it?”
“Well, sir, if he’s dead, there doesn’t seem to be much we can do, does there? Now I remember a gentleman on this staircase once, who killed himself. Poison. It must have been ’93 I should think, or ’94. A nice quiet gentleman, too, when he was sober. I remember he said to me…..” The voice droned on,
“… I liked your speech, but I thought it was ‘a little heavy.’ What do you think Bagnall meant by that?” It was the voice of Jeremy. My head cleared. We were still there on opposite sides of the fire. He was still talking. “… Scaife said…..”
At seven o’clock Jeremy rose. “Well, I mustn’t keep you from your bath. Don’t forget about asking Richard to lunch on Tuesday, will you? Oh, and Evelyn, if you know the man who reports the Union for the Isis, you might ask him to give me a decent notice this time.”
I try to think that one day I shall be proud of having known Jeremy. Till then…..
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