There is a law, however, whatever it may be, and in unconscious obedience to it, Traill kept the face of Sally Bishop persistently before him. After she had left him at Knightsbridge, he too descended from the ’bus and walked slowly back to Piccadilly Circus.
Casting his eyes round the circle of houses with their brilliant illuminations, he decided, with no anticipation of entertainment, where to dine. A meal is a ceremony of boredom when it has no pleasurable prospect. Indeed, the gratification of any appetite becomes a sordid affair when the mind is stagnant and the body merely asking for its food. But in the last three years, Traill had gone through this same performance a thousand times; a thousand times he had looked out of the little circular window on the top floor of the house in Lower Regent Street where he lived; a thousand times he had taken a coin out of his pocket and let the head or the tail decide between the two restaurants which he most usually frequented.
On this night there was no tossing of a coin. He had not even so much interest in the meal as that. Making his way across the Circus, he entered a restaurant in Shaftesbury Avenue, and passed down the stairs to the grill-room.
The music, the lights, the haze of smoke and the scent of food were depressing. The whole atmosphere rolled forward to meet him as he came through the doors. He had no subtle temperament. It did not offend his imagination, but it sickened his senses, even though he knew that in five minutes he would be eating with the rest and the atmosphere would have taken upon itself a false semblance of normality.
All the tables had one occupant or another. He was forced to seat himself at the same table with some man and a girl, who were already half through their meal. He did so with apologies, quite aware of the annoyance he was causing. But he was not sensitive. He had the right to a seat at the table. The rules of the restaurant offered no restrictions. With it all, he was British.
“Hope you’ll excuse my intrusion,” he said shortly.
The man, a clerk, with slavery written legibly across his face, offered some mumbled acceptance of the inevitable. Traill himself would not have borne with any such intrusion. He would have called the manager—insisted upon having the table to himself; but he intruded his presence with only a momentary consciousness of being in the way.
His manner with waiters was peremptory. He gave them the recognition of the position which they occupied, but beyond that, scarcely looked upon them as human.
“Look here,” he began, “I want so and so—” he named a dish that was unknown to the companion of the young clerk. She felt a certain respect of him for that. Her friend had ordered the most ordinary of food and had tried to do it in a lordly manner. There was no lordliness about Traill. He wasted no time with a waiter; he had never met a German waiter who was worth it.