little Curtis Lewin’s spinal jacket was of
, though it had given Doris a turn when she first saw it sitting on a chair when Curtis was in bed.
She had also got quite used to Mr. Brett drinking so much. He was getting worse, and Ferdie did a lot of conjecturing as to where he got his whiskey, and why he drank so much all lone up there.
“He’s drinking to forget,” Ferdie said. Doris did not speculate what, but Ferdie did. He had turned quite nasty one day when Doris asked him to get rid of some empty bottles for her, so she did not ask him any more. She smuggled them away in a suitcase when she went out, and dumped them in a corporation bin.
Sometimes Mr. Brett did his drinking out. When he stayed out to supper, he never remembered to tell Mrs. P. beforehand, which put her out with her portions. One week-end he had stayed out for every meal: dinner, tea and supper. The other guests had talked about him in the dining-room, hoping that he was having a gay time and enjoying himself, wherever he was. They were becoming quite fond of him, especially Mrs. Parker and Miss Willys and Miss Rawlings, with whom he would sometimes play whist in the lounge for a while before he went upstairs to his whiskey. Doris got quite a start when she went in to clear the coffee things to see him sitting there looking as out-of-place as a monkey at a funeral. Much too young, for even little Curtis had an old man’s face, and looking as if he could suddenly jump up and run if he wanted to, whereas the others, even Mr. Dangerfield, who was lazy after meals, thought twice about getting up to change the programme on the wireless.
They all took an interest in Mr. Brett, for want of anything else in their lives, and when a young lady from the art schoolkept ringing up they teased him and wagged their fingers and said: “Ah-ha.”
“A model, I daresay. Wish he’d bring her round here,” said Ferdie, who visualised models as more or less permanently in the nude.
That week-end, when he had not come in to any meals, nobody knew that he had not come home at all on Saturday night. Doris discovered this when she took his tea, but she could not tell Mrs. P., so Mr. Brett’s Sunday egg was cooked in vain. Nobody else had it, for making distinctions in deprivations was one thing, but fair was fair and Mrs. P. did not think it right that one guest should have two eggs and the others only one. Doris privately thought it was because she did not like any of the guests enough to see them eating two eggs. The cook or Daphne would have liked it, but they could not eat it with Mrs. P. in the kitchen, and by the time she was gone the egg was congealed and nasty and even Ferdie could not fancy it.
That Sunday night, Doris had managed to secrete some chop bones from the plates after dinner. She forgot about them until she was undressed for bed, and then remembered that she had not taken up anything for the dog to eat. Her room, which she shared with the cistern, was on the top floor, so she had to creep all the way downstairs in her green wool dressing-gown and black slippers. Since Mr. Brett had come with his outlandish demands, she had got used to skulking about doing things she ought not. It had become as much part of the job as making his bed or emptying his wastepaper basket.
Coming up with the plate of bones, she knocked on the door of No. 4 and called softly, meaning, since she was indecorously dressed, to leave the plate outside and go away. He did not answer. It was not like him to fall asleep so early, even when he had a lot to drink. She knocked again, but she could not stand knocking and calling there all night without doors opening on the staircase, so she went into the room, clutching her dressing-gown tight in front of her as if its buttons were not modesty enough.
He was not back yet. The window was open a crack at the bottom, as she always left it when he was out, so that he could lift it from outside. She put down the plate and went to