"It'll be all right," I assured her. "Make a rule for yourself not to speak to anyone, and nobody's going to
guess you can see. It was only being quite unprepared that landed you in that mess before. 'In the country
of the blind the one-eyed man is king.'
"Oh yes-Wells said that, didn't he? Only in the story it turned out not to be true."
"The crux of the difference lies in what you mean by the word 'country'-patria in the original," I said.
"Caecorum in patria luscus rex imperat omnis-a classical gentleman called Fullonius said that: it's all
anyone seems to remember about him. But there's no organized patria, no state, here-only chaos, Wells
imagined a people who had adapted themselves to blindness. I don't think that is going to happen here-I
don't see how it can.
"What do you think is going to happen?"
"My guess would be no better than yours. And soon we shall begin to know, anyway. Better get back to
matters in hand. Where were we?"
"Oh yes. Well, it's simply a matter of slipping into a shop, adopting a few trifles, and slipping out again.
You'll not meet any triffids in central London-at least, not yet."
"You talk so lightly about taking things," she said.
"I don't feel quite so lightly about it," I admitted. "But I'm not sure that that's virtue-it's more likely merely
habit. And an obstinate refusal to face facts isn't going to bring anything back, or help us at all. I think
we'll have to try to see ourselves not as the robbers of all this but more as-well, the unwilling heirs to it."
'Yes. I suppose it is-something like that," she agreed in a qualified way.
She was silent for a time. When she spoke again she reverted to the earlier question.
"And after the clothes?" she asked.
"Operation Number Three," I told her, "is, quite definitely, dinner."
There was, as I had expected, no great difficulty about the apartment. We left the car locked up in the
middle of the road in front of an opulent-looking block and climbed to the third story. Quite why we
chose the third I can't say, except that it seemed a bit more out of the way. The process of selection was
simple. We knocked or we rang, and if anyone answered, we passed on. After we had passed on three
times we found a door where there was no response. The socket of the rim lock tore off to one good
heft of the shoulder, and we were in.
I myself had not been one of those addicted to living in an apartment with a rent of some two thousand
pounds a year, but I found that there were decidedly things to be said in favor of it, The interior
decorators had been, I guessed, elegant young men with just that ingenious gift for combining taste with
advanced topicality which is so expensive. Consciousness of fashion was the mainspring of the place.
Here and there were certain unmistakable derniers cris, some of them undoubtedly destined-had the
world pursued its expected course-to become the rage of tomorrow; others, I would say, a dead loss
from their very inception. The over-all effect was Trade Fair in its neglect of human foibles-a book left a
few inches out of place or with the wrong color on its jacket would ruin the whole carefully considered
balance and tone-so, too, would the person thoughtless enough to wear the wrong clothes when sitting
upon the wrong luxurious chair or sofa. I turned to Josella, who was staring wide-eyed at it all.
"Will this little shack serve-or do we go farther?" I asked.
"Oh, I guess we'll make out," she said. And together we waded through the delicate cream carpet to
It was quite uncalculated, but I could scarcely have hit upon a more satisfactory method of taking her
mind off the events of the day. Our tour was punctuated with a series of exclamations in which
admiration, envy, delight, contempt, and, one must confess, malice all played their parts. Josella paused
on the threshold of a room rampant with all the most aggressive manifestations of femininity.
"I'll sleep here," she said.
"My God!" I remarked. "Well, each to her taste."
"Don't be nasty. I probably won't have another chance to be decadent. Besides, don't you know there's
a bit of the dumbest film star in every girl? So I'll let it have its final fling."
"You shall," I said. "But I hope they keep something quieter around here, Heaven preserve mc from
having to sleep in a bed with a mirror set in the ceiling over it."
"There's one above the bath too," she said, looking into an adjoining room.
"I don't know whether that would be the zenith or nadir of decadence," I said. "But anyway, you'll not be
using it. No hot water."
"Oh, I'd forgotten that. What a shame!" she exclaimed disappointedly.
We completed our tour of the premises, finding the rest less sensational. Then she went out to deal with
the matter of clothes. I made an inspection of the apartment's resources and limitations and then set out
on an expedition of my own.
As I stepped outside, another door farther down the passage opened. I stopped, and stood still where I
was. A young man came out, leading a fair-haired girl by the hand. As she stepped over the threshold he
released his grasp.
"Wait just a minute, darling," he said.
He took three or four steps on the silencing carpet. His outstretched hands found the window which
ended the passage. His fingers went straight to the catch and opened it. I had a glimpse of a low-railed,
ornamental balcony outside.
"What are you doing, Jimmy?" she asked.
"Just making sure," he said, stepping quickly back to her and feeling for her hand again. "Come along,
She hung back.
"Jimmy-I don't like leaving here. At least we know where we are in our own apartment. How are we
going to feed? How are we going to live?"
In the apartment, darling, we shan't feed at all-and therefore not live long. Come along, sweetheart.
Don't be afraid."
But I am. Jimmy-I am."
She clung to him, and he put one arm round her.
"We'll be all right, darling. Come along.
"But, Jimmy, that's the wrong way- You've got it twisted round, dear. It's the right way."
"Jimmy-I'm so frightened. Let's go back."
"It's too late, darling."
By the window be paused. With one hand he felt his position very carefully. Then he put both arms
round her, holding her to him.
"Too wonderful to last, perhaps," he said softly. "I love you, my sweet. I love you so very, very much."
She tilted her lips up to be kissed.
As he lifted her he turned, and stepped out of the window.
"You've got to grow a hide," I told myself. "Got to. Its either that or stay permanently drunk. Things like
that must be happening all around. They'll go on happening. You can't help it. Suppose you'd given them
food to keep them alive for another few days? What after that? You've got to learn to take it, and come
to terms with it. There's nothing else but the alcoholic funk hole. If you don't fight to live your own life in
spite of it, there won't be any survival. . . . Only those who can make their minds tough enough to stick it
are going to get through ..."
It took me longer than I had expected to collect what I wanted. Something like two hours had passed
before I got back. I dropped one or two things from my armful in negotiating the door. Josella's voice
called, with a trace of nervousness, from that overfeminine room.
"Only me," I reassured her as I advanced down the passage with the load.
I dumped the things in the kitchen and went back for those I'd dropped. Outside her door I paused.
"You can't come in." she said.
"That wasn't quite my intended angle," I protested. "What I want to know is, can you cook?"
"Boiled-egg standard," said her muffled voice.
"I was afraid of that. There's an awful lot of things we're going to have to learn," I told her.
I went back to the kitchen. I erected the kerosene stove I had brought on top of the useless electric
cooker and got busy.
When I'd finished laying the places at the small table in the sitting room the effect seemed to me fairly
good. I fetched a few candles and candlesticks to complete it, and set them ready. Of Josella there was
still no visible sign, though there had been sounds of running water some little time ago. I called her.
"Just coming," she answered.
I wandered across to the window and looked out. Quite consciously I began saying good-by to it all.
The sun was low. Towers, spires, and facades of Portland stone were white or pink against the dimming
sky. More fires had broken out here and there. The smoke climbed in big black smudges, sometimes
with a lick of flame at the bottom of them. Quite likely, I told myself, I would never in my life again see
any of these familiar buildings after tomorrow. There might be a time when one would be able to come
back-but not to the same place. Fires and weather would have worked on it; it would be visibly dead
and abandoned. But now, at a distance, it could still masquerade as a living city.
My father once told me that before Hitler's war he used to go round London with his eyes more widely
open than ever before, seeing the beauties of buildings that be had never noticed before-and saying
good-by to them. And now I had a similar feeling. But this was something worse. Much more than
anyone could have hoped for had survived that war- but this was an enemy they would not survive, it
was not wanton smashing and willful burning that they waited for this time: it was simply the long, slow,
inevitable course of decay and collapse.
Standing there, and at that time, my heart still resisted what my head was telling me. Still I had the feeling
that it was all something too big, too unnatural really to happen. Yet I knew that it was by no means the
first time that it had happened. The corpses of other great cities are lying buried in deserts and obliterated
by the jungles of Asia. Some of them fell so long ago that even their names have gone with them. But to
those who lived there their dissolution can have seemed no more probable or possible than the necrosis
of a great modem city seemed to me. ...
It must be, I thought, one of the race's most persistent and comforting hallucinations to trust that "it can't
happen here"- that one's own little time and place is beyond cataclysms.
And now it was happening here. Unless there should be some miracle, I was looking on the beginning of
the end of London-and very likely, it seemed, there were other men, not unlike me, who were looking at
the beginning of the end of New York, Paris, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Bombay, and all the rest of
the cities that were destined to go the way of those others under the jungles.
I was still looking out when a sound of movement came from behind me. I turned, and saw that Josella
had come into the room. She was wearing a long, pretty frock of palest blue georgette with a little jacket
of white fur. In a pendant on a simple chain a few blue-white diamonds flashed; the stones that gleamed
in her ear clips were smaller but as fine in color. Her hair and her face might have been fresh from a
beauty parlor. She crossed the floor with a flicker of silver slippers and a glimpse of gossamer stockings.
As I went on staring without speaking, her mouth lost its little smile.
"Don't you like it?" she asked with childish halt disappointment.
"It's lovely-you're beautiful," I told her. "I-well, I just wasn't expecting anything like this
Something more was needed. I knew that it was a display which had little or nothing to do with me. I
A different look came into her eyes.
"So you do understand. I hoped you would."
"I think I do. I'm glad you've done it. It'll be a lovely thing to remember," I said.
I stretched out my hand to her and led her to the window.
"I was saying good-by too-to all this."
What went on in her mind as we stood there side by side is her secret. In mine there was a kind of
kaleidoscope of the life and ways that were now finished-or perhaps it was more like flipping through a
huge volume of photographs with one, all-comprehensive "do-you-remember?"
We looked for a long time, lost in our thoughts. Then she sighed. She glanced down at her dress,
fingering the delicate silk.
"Silly? Rome burning?" she said with a rueful little smile. "No-sweet," I said. "Thank you for doing it. A
gesture- and a reminder that with all the faults there was so much beauty. You couldn't have done-or
looked-a lovelier thing."
Her smile lost its ruefulness.
"Thank you, Bill." She paused. Then she added: "Have I said thank you before? I don't think I have. If
you hadn't helped me when you did
"But for you," I told her, "I should probably by now be lying
maudlin and sozzled in some bar. I have just as much to
thank you for. This is no time to be alone." Then, to change the trend, I added: "And speaking of drink,
there's an excellent amontillado here, and some pretty good things to follow. This is a very well-found
I poured out the sherry, and we raised our glasses.
"To health, strength-and luck," I said.
She nodded. We drank.
"What," Josella asked as we started on an expensive-tasting pate, "if the owner of all this suddenly
In that case we will explain-and he or she should be only too thankful to have someone here to tell him
which bottle is which, and so on-but I don't think that is very likely to happen."
"No," she agreed, considering. "No. I'm afraid that's not very likely. I wonder " She looked round the
room. Her eyes paused at a fluted white pedestal. "Did you try the radio-I suppose that thing is a radio,
"It's a television projector too," I told her. "But no good. No power."
"Of course. I forgot. I suppose we'll go on forgetting things like that for quite a time."
"But I did try one when I was out." I said. "A battery affair. Nothing doing. All broadcast bands as silent
as the grave."
"That means it's like this everywhere?"
"I'm afraid so. There was something pip-pipping away around forty-two meters. Otherwise nothing. I
wonder who and where he was, poor chap."
"It's-it's going to be pretty grim, Bill, isn't it?"
"It's- No, I'm nor going to have my dinner clouded," I said. "Pleasure before business-and the future is
definitely business. Let's talk about something interesting, like how many love affairs you have had and
why somebody hasn't married you long before this-or has he? You see how little I know, Life story,
"Well," she said, "I was born about three miles from here. My mother was very annoyed about it at the
I raised my eyebrows.
"You see, she had quite made up her mind that I should be an American. But when the car came to take
her to the airport it was just too late. Full of impulses, she was-I think I inherited some of them."
She prattled on. There was not much remarkable about her early life, but I think she enjoyed herself in
summarizing it and forgetting where we were for a while. I enjoyed listening to her babble of the familiar
and amusing things that had all vanished from the world outside. We worked lightly through childhood,
schooldays, and "coming out"-insofar as the term still meant anything.
I did nearly get married when I was nineteen," she admitted, "and aren't I glad now it didn't happen. But
I didn't feel like that at the time. I had a frightful row with Daddy, who'd broken the whole thing up
because he saw right away that Lionel was a spizzard and-"
"A what?" I interrupted.
"A spizzard. A sort of cross between a spiv and a lizard - the lounge kind. So then I cut my family off
and went and lived with a girl I knew who had an apartment. And my family cut off my allowance, which
was a very silly thing to do, because it might have had just the opposite effect from what they intended.
As it happened, it didn't, because all the girls I knew who were making out that way seemed to me to
have a very wearing sort of time of it. Not much fun, and an awful lot of jealousy to put up with-and so
much planning. You'd never believe how much planning it needs to keep one or two second strings in
good condition-or do I mean two or three spare strings?" She pondered.
"Never mind," I told her. "I get the general idea. You just didn't want the strings at all."
"Intuitive, you are. All the same, I couldn't just sponge on the girl who had the apartment. I did have to
have some money, so I wrote the book."
I did not think I'd heard quite aright.
"You made a book?" I suggested.
"I wrote the book." She glanced at me and smiled. "I must look awful dumb-that's just the way they all
used to look at me when I told them I was writing a book. Mind you, it wasn't a very good book-I mean,
not like Aldous or Charles or people of that kind-but it worked."
I refrained from asking which of many possible Charleses this referred to. I simply asked:
"You mean it did get published?"
"Oh yes. And it really brought in quite a lot of money. The film rights-"
"What was this book?" I asked curiously.
"It was called Sex is My Adventure."
I stared and then smote my forehead.
"Josella Playton, of course. I couldn't think why that name kept on nearly ringing bells. You wrote that
thing?" I added incredulously.
I couldn't think why I had not remembered before. Her photograph had been all over the place-not a
very good photograph, now I could look at the original, and the book had been all over the place too.
Two large circulating libraries had banned it, probably on the title alone. After that its success had been
assured, and the sales went rocketing up into the hundred thousands. Josella chuckled. I was glad to hear
"Oh dear," she said. "You look just like all my relatives did."
"I can't blame them," I told her.
"Did you read it?" she asked.
I shook my head. She sighed.
"People are funny. All you know about it is the title and the publicity, and you're shocked. And it's such
a harmless little book, really. Mixture of green-sophisticated and pink-romantic, with patches of
schoolgirly-purple. But the title was a good idea."
"All depends what you mean by good," I suggested. "And you put your own name to it, too."
"That," she agreed, "was a mistake. The publishers persuaded me that it would be so much better for
publicity. From their point of view they were right. I became quite notorious for a hit-it used to make me
giggle inside when I saw people looking speculatively at me in restaurants and places-they seemed to find
it so hard to tie up what they saw with what they thought. Lots of people I didn't care for took to tinning
up regularly at the apartment, so to get rid of them, and because I'd proved that I didn't have to go home,
I went home again.
"The book rather spoiled things, though. People would be so literal-minded about that title. I seem to
have been keeping up a permanent defensive ever since against people I don't like-and those I wanted to
like were either scared or shocked. What's so annoying is that it wasn't even a wicked book-it was just
silly-shocking, and sensible people ought to have seen that."
She paused contemplatively. It occurred to rue that the sensible people had probably decided that the
author of Sex Is My Adventure would be silly-shocking too, but I forebore to suggest it. We all have our
youthful follies, embarrassing to recall-but people somehow find it hard to dismiss as a youthful folly
anything that has happened to be a financial success.
"It sort of twisted everything," she complained. "I was writing another book to try to balance things up
again. But I'm glad I'll never finish it-it was rather bitter."
"With an equally alarming title?" I asked.
She shook her head. "It was to be called Here the Forsaken."
"H'm-well, it certainly lacks the snap of the other," I said. "Quotation?"
"Yes." She nodded. "Mr. Congreve: 'Here the forsaken Virgin rests from Love.'"
"Er-oh," I said, and thought that one over for a bit.
"And now," I suggested, "I think it's about time we began to rough out a plan of campaign. Shall I throw
around a few observations first?"
We lay back in two superbly comfortable armchairs. On the low table between us stood the coffee
apparatus and two glasses. Josella's was the small one with the cointreau. The plutocratic-looking balloon
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