1 NOVEMBER 1930, Page 12

On Love and Lodgers BY J. B. moirrox.

MB. W. B. YEATS once wrote a poem in which occurred the lines—I quote from memory- " What do they know of love who do not know

He builds his nest upon a windy ledge Above a precipice P "

Here, readymade, is the text for a thousand sermons upon the difficult business of marriage, in which there is no spiritual wind-gauge for the soul to rely upon. There are no meteorologists to foretell love's weather, and at any moment the storms may beat upon that nest. And so it was, I take it, with the husband who, a short while ago, left his wife because she would give him nothing but sausages for dinner every day. Could she not hear the storm-winds rising ? Could she not see the dark and bottomless abyss at her very feet ? Apparently not, for she went on giving bins sausages, until there danced before his eyes all that he had ever read in novels and newspapers about the thing the moderns call incom- patibility. " This must be it," Ise probably said to him- self. And who shall blame him ? How many dis- satisfied men can find such justification for desertion ?

But wait. I have withheld the last half of the state- ment which this man made to the magistrate. He said ; the lodger was given beefsteak and kidney pies. That lodger must have been what the once popular comic song called a Nice Young Man. And, indeed, I find in the second part of the husband's complaint the refrain of half the old music-hall songs. It is the eternal cry of the misunderstood man, when the viper jealousy flashes the first sharp sting at his heart, and the tragedy is all the deeper and all the nobler and all the more purifying to us, who are mere spectators, for being concerned with the matter of food. An army is not the only thing that moves on its stomach. If that lodger had been given a yacht and a villa at Cannes, the case would not have been more worthy of consideration.

Yet I think there was hope of saving the marriage from shipwreck if the lmsband could have held out a little longer. Who knows but that if he could have forced him- self to endure the sausages for another week or so, he might not have won an endurance test? Perhaps the lodger loathed beefsteak and kidney pies, and was only eating them to ingratiate himself—the sycophant ! Or perhaps he began by liking the pies, but gradually tired of them, and was too polite to say anything. At any moment he might have lost his temper, thrown restraint to the devil, jumped up, caught the table a great bang with his fist, and declared that he would never touch the stuff again ; winding up with an ultimatum ; a demand for some change of diet. Why, the poor wretch may have even envied the husband, and cast greedy eyes at the delicious sausages, telling himself that here was true love, and that his only hope was to go off at once and procure for himself a wife, a gentle woman who would not ram pies down his throat, witty nilly, but would give bins sausages.

You will tell me that these are the vapourings of a sentimentalist, that life is not like that ; that the whole business was one of those dreadful triangles which one sees upon the stage. You will tell me that the pair of them were making a pretty fool of the husband, and were only too delighted when he snatched up his hat, left the sausages untouched upon his plate, and fled from the house where he had endured so much. What then ? A divorce, a honeymoon (with beefsteak and kidney pies), and then back they come to the old house. One day a lodger arrives. She finds out his favourite food, and the same old drama is acted over again. " She gives me pies for dinner every day. The lodger was given boiled beef and carrots."

Here, clearly, in the story as I have told it, is sonic- thing to make the social critics sit up and think. Is it as certain as they would have us believe that woman's place is in the home ? In an ideal world, where there are no lodgers, the adage may be beyond question. But on this imperfect earth, where lodgers go about like ravening lions, the harmony of home-life may easily be destroyed by a home-loving woman. There must be many a husband who would rather see his wife leading the gay life away from her home, and keeping herself out of harm's way, than have her waiting hand and foot upon the lodger.

It occurs to me that, even while I write these words, some dramatist may be making what the critics call an outspoken play about the incident, with real food on the stage to increase the realism, and a strong curtain to the first act when, the lamps being lighted for the evening, the woman asks the newcomer, in a voice halt mocking and half tender, what he would like for his luncheon the next day. The husband's pipe snaps between his teeth, he glares like a maniac, and takes a menacing step towards Iser : three subtle touches by which the intelligent audience recognize the green-eyed monster, Jealousy. Act H would show the progressive exaspera- tion of the husband, and there would be plenty of bickering and backchat, to illustrate frayed nerves. In serving him with the nauseating sausages, the wife almost slings them at him. But she carries the pies to the lodger like a languorous panther. Act HI would show the sullen anger of the husband blazing' out like a volcano, the shattering of the marriage, and so on. I have seen plays on sillier themes than that, and if the central idea, sausages and pies, seems too comic to associate with the rapture and sorrow of love, all the dramatist has to do is to adopt the style and manner of Tchchov, so that the audience will never know what is meant to be farcical and what is meant to be tragic.

And if a play, why not one of the new, endless novels ? Your novelist would first show the husband as a baby, with a sausage-complex implanted in him by his father, who was a pork-butcher. The plot is of the popular sort, and there is no reason why the book should ever end—at least, no more reason than there is for its beginning. If the author can hint that the lodger is All Of Us, with our Potentiality for Good or for Evil, so much the better for his sales.

As for the cynic who, when asked what career his boy was being trained for, replied, " He is going to be a lodger "—he was gambling with Fate. It is not every lodger who falls on his feet. Some arc half-starved, jeered at, put in draughts ; and there is no more pathetic sight than an old lodger who has never made good. He shuffles along in a shamefaced way, is shifty-eyed, has a feeble, reedy voice and will lick the hand of anyone who will give him a kind word.

And, since the truth must be told, however unpleasant it be, many an old crock of this kind could tell you, if lie would, great tales of his hey-day, and how he once sat eating beefsteak and kidney p:es at a hospitable board, while a husband had to put up with sausages.

There is a moral, of course, to this story. In fact, there arc two. The first moral is that it is never worth while leaving home over a sausage or so. The second is that even beefsteak and kidney pies pall after a time. And the general and comprehensive moral is that virtue is better than attractive food, in the long run.