The Snob

Topics: Felt, John the Presbyter Pages: 6 (2560 words) Published: February 27, 2013


The Snob
by Morley Callaghan
1 IT WAS at the book counter in the department store that John Harcourt, the student, caught a glimpse of his father. At first he could not be sure in the crowd that pushed along the aisle, but there was something about the color of the back of the elderly man’s neck, something about the faded felt hat, that he knew very well. Harcourt was standing with the girl he loved, buying a book for her. All afternoon he had been talking to her, eagerly, but with an anxious diffidence, as if there still remained in him an innocent wonder that she should be delighted to be with him. From underneath her wide-brimmed straw hat, her face, so fair and beautifully strong with its expression of cool independence, kept turning up to him and sometimes smiled at what he said. That was the way they always talked, never daring to show much full, strong feeling. Harcourt had just bought the book, and had reached into his pocket for the money with a free, ready gesture to make it appear that he was accustomed to buying books for young ladies, when the white-haired man in the faded felt hat, at the other end of the counter, turned half-toward him, and Harcourt knew he was standing only a few feet away from his father. 2 The young man’s easy words trailed away and his voice became little more than a whisper, as if he were afraid that everyone in the store might recognize it. There was rising in him a dreadful uneasiness; something very precious that he wanted to hold seemed close to destruction. His father, standing at the end of the bargain counter, was planted squarely on his two feet, turning a book over thoughtfully in his hands. Then he took out his glasses from an old, worn leather case and adjusted them on the end of his nose, looking down over them at the book. His coat was thrown open, two buttons on his vest were undone, his hair was too long, and in his rather shabby clothes he looked very much like a workingman, a carpenter perhaps. Such a resentment rose in young Harcourt that he wanted to cry out bitterly, “Why does he dress as if he never owned a decent suit in his life? He doesn’t care what the whole world thinks of him. He never did. I’ve told him a hundred times he ought to wear his good clothes when he goes out. Mother’s told him the same thing. He just laughs. And now Grace may see him. Grace will meet him.” 3 So young Harcourt stood still, with his head down, feeling that something very painful was impending. Once he looked anxiously at Grace, who had turned to the bargain counter. Among those people drifting aimlessly by with hot red faces, getting in each other’s way, using their elbows but keeping their faces detached and wooden, she looked tall and splendidly alone. She was so sure of herself, her relation to the people in the aisles, the clerks behind the counters, the books on the shelves, and everything around her. Still keeping his head down and moving close, he whispered uneasily, “Let’s go and have tea somewhere, Grace.” 4 5 6 7 8 9 “In a minute, dear,” she said. “Let’s go now.” “In just a minute, dear,” she repeated absently. “There’s not a breath of air in here. Let’s go now.” “What makes you so impatient?” “There’s nothing but old books on that counter.”

10 “There may be something here I’ve wanted all my life,” she said, smiling at him brightly and not noticing the uneasiness in his face. 11 So Harcourt had to move slowly behind her, getting closer to his father all the time. He could feel the space that separated them narrowing. Once he looked up with a vague, sidelong glance. But his father, red-faced and happy, was still reading the book, only now there was a meditative expression on his face, as if something in the book had stirred him and he intended to stay there reading for some time. 12 Old Harcourt had lots of time to amuse himself, because he was on a pension after working hard all his life....
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