The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall

Chapter Thirty-nine

A strange, though to them a very natural thing it seemed, this new and ardent fulfilment; having something fine and urgent about it that lay almost beyond the range of their wills. Something primitive and age-old as Nature herself, did their love appear to Mary and Stephen. For now they were in the grip of Creation, of Creation’s terrific urge to create; the urge that will sometimes sweep forward blindly alike into fruitful and sterile channels. That wellnigh intolerable life force would grip them, making them a part of its own existence; so that they who might never create a new life, were yet one at such moments with the fountain of living . . . Oh, great and incomprehensible unreason!

But beyond the bounds of this turbulent river would lie gentle and most placid harbours of refuge; harbours in which the body could repose with contentment, while the lips spoke low, indolent words, and the eyes beheld a dim, golden haze that blinded the while it revealed all beauty. Then Stephen would stretch out her hand and touch Mary where she lay, happy only to feel her nearness. The hours would slip by towards dawn or sunset; flowers would open and dose in the bountiful garden; and perhaps, if it should chance to be evening, beggars would come to that garden, singing; ragged fellows who played deftly on their guitars and sang songs whose old melodies hailed from Spain, but whose words sprang straight from the heart of the island:

‘Oh, thou whom I love, thou art small and guileless; Thy lips are as cool as the sea at moonrise. But after the moon there cometh the sun; After the evening there cometh the morning. The sea is warmed by the kiss of the sun, Even so shall my kisses bring warmth to thy lips, Oh, thou whom I love, thou art small and guileless.’

And now Mary need no longer sigh with unrest, need no longer lay her cheek against Stephen’s shoulder; for her rightful place was in Stephen’s arms and there she would be, overwhelmed by the peace that conies at such times to all happy lovers. They would sit together in a little arbour that looked out over miles upon miles of ocean. The water would flush with the after-glow, then change to a soft, indefinite purple; then, fired anew by the African night, would gleam with that curious, deep blue glory for a space before the swift rising of the moon. Thy lips are as cool as the sea at moonrise; but after the moon there cometh the sun.’

And Stephen as she held the girl in her arms, would feel that indeed she was all things to Mary; father, mother, friend and lover, all things; and Mary all things to her — the child, the friend, the beloved, all things. But Mary, because she was perfect woman, would rest without thought, without exultation, without question; finding no need to question since for her there was now only one thing — Stephen.

2

Time, that most ruthless enemy of lovers, strode callously forward into the spring. It was March, so that down at the noisy Puerto the bougainvilleas were in their full glory, while up in the old town of Orotava bloomed great laden bushes of white camellias. In the garden of the villa the orange trees flowered, and the little arbour that looked over the sea was covered by an ancient wistaria vine whose mighty trunk was as thick as three saplings. But in spite of a haunting shadow of regret at the thought of leaving Orotava, Stephen was deeply and thankfully happy. A happiness such as she had never conceived could be hers now possessed her body and soul — and Mary also was happy.

Stephen would ask her: ‘Do I content you? Tell me, is there anything you want in the world?’

Mary’s answer was always the same; she would say very gravely: ‘Only you, Stephen.’

Ramon had begun to speculate about them, these two Englishwomen who were so devoted. He would shrug his shoulders — Dios! What did it matter? They were courteous to him and exceedingly generous. If the elder one had an ugly red scar down her cheek, the younger one seemed not to mind it. The younger one was beautiful though, as beautiful as the santa noche . . . some day she would get a real man to love her.

As for Concha and the cross-eyed Esmeralda, their tongues were muted by their ill-gotten gains. They grew rich, thanks to Stephen’s complete indifference to the price of such trifles as sugar and candles.

Esmeralda’s afflicted eyes were quite sharp, yet she said to Concha: ‘I see less than nothing.’

And Concha answered: ‘I also see nothing; it is better to suppose that there is nothing to see. They are wealthy and the big one is very careless — she trusts me completely and I do my utmost. She is so taken up with the amighita that I really believe I could easily rob her! Quien saber They are certainly queer those two — however, I am blind, it is better so; and in any case they are only the English!’

But Pedro was very sorely afflicted, for Pedro had fallen in love with Mary, and now he must stay at home in the garden when she and Stephen rode up to the mountains. Now they wished to be all alone it seemed, and what food they took would be stuffed into a pocket. It was spring and Pedro was deeply enamoured, so that he sighed as he tended the roses, sighed and stubbed the hard earth with his toes, and made insolent faces at the good-tempered Ramon, and killed flies with a kind of grim desperation, and sang songs of longing under his breath: ‘A-a-a-y! Thou art to me as the mountain. Would I could melt thy virginal snows . . .

‘Would I could kick thy behind!’ grinned Ramon.

One evening Mary asked Pedro to sing, speaking to him in her halting Spanish. So Pedro went off and got his guitar; but when he must stand there and sing before Mary he could only stammer a childish old song having in it nothing of passion and longing:

‘I was born on a reef that is washed by the sea; It is a part of Spain that is called Teneriffe. I was born on a reef . . .

sang the unhappy Pedro.

Stephen felt sorry for the lanky boy with the lovesick eyes, and so to console him she offered him money, ten pesetas — for she knew that these people set much store by money. But Pedro seemed to have grown very tall as he gently but firmly refused consolation. Then he suddenly burst into tears and fled, leaving his little guitar behind him.

3

The days were too short, as were now the nights — those spring nights of soft heat and incredible moonlight. And because they both felt that something was passing, they would turn their minds to thoughts of the future. The future was drawing very near to the present; in less than three weeks they must start for Paris.

Mary would suddenly cling to Stephen: ‘Say that you’ll never leave me, beloved!’

‘How could I leave you and go on living?’

Thus their talk of the future would often drift into talk of love, that is always timeless. On their lips, as in their hearts, would be words such as countless other lovers had spoken, for love is the sweetest monotony that was ever conceived of by the Creator.

‘Promise you’ll never stop loving me, Stephen.’

‘Never. You know that I couldn’t, Mary.’

Even to themselves their vows would sound foolish, because so inadequate to compass their meaning. Language is surely too small to contain those emotions of mind and body that have somehow awakened a response in the spirit.

And now when they climbed the long hill to the town of old Orotava on their way to the mountains, they would pause to examine certain flowers minutely, or to stare down the narrow, shadowy by-streets. And when they had reached the cool upland places, and their mules were loosed and placidly grazing, they would sit hand in hand looking out at the Peak, trying to impress such pictures on their minds, because all things pass and they wished to remember. The goat-bells would break the lovely stillness, together with the greater stillness of their dreaming. But the sound of the bells would be lovely also, a part of their dreaming, a part of the stillness; for all things would seem to be welded together, to be one, even as they two were now one.

They no longer felt desolate, hungry outcasts; unloved and unwanted, despised of the world. They were lovers who walked in the vineyard of life, plucking the warm, sweet fruits of that vineyard. Love had lifted them up as on wings of fire, had made them courageous, invincible, enduring. Nothing could be lacking to those who loved — the very earth gave of her fullest bounty. The earth seemed to come alive in response to the touch of their healthful and eager bodies — nothing could be lacking to those who loved.

And thus in a cloud of illusion and glory, sped the last enchanted days at Orotava.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hall/radclyffe/well-of-loneliness/chapter39.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 20:51