You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 11

Trap for Innocents

SO, drawn by genuine passionate desire, our two heirs to the Wisdom of the Ages came to the cardinal moment of their sexual lives.

And here I find that for one brief chapter at least there has to be a change of key in this veracious narrative.

Hitherto this record of the acts and sayings of Edward Albert has been a simple unemotional record of the facts of the case. and if at times a certain realisation of the immanent absurdity of his life has betrayed itself, it has, I hope, been kept for the most part below the level of derision. But what has to be told now of this young couple is something so pitiful that I find myself taking sides with them against the circumstances that brought them to this pass.

They were both, and Edward Albert more especially, profoundly ignorant of the essentials of sex. That beneficent writer, Mrs Marie Stopes, was already at large in the world about this time, but her instructions in the conditions of connubial happiness had still to penetrate to their class. She was still some years from becoming a sly music-hall joke. Edward Albert knew; indeed he had exaggerated ideas; of venereal disease, clumsy “precautions” and the repulsive aspects of the overwhelming desire for “It”, but the only idea he attached to Maidenhead was that it was a town on the road to Reading with a pretty bridge overlooking Skindle’s Hotel with a very attractive but rather high-class riverside lawn. And Evangeline for her part thought a loving maiden yielded with delight. Something happened, she knew, but she thought it was something happy.

He hardly waited to kiss her. There was a rapid struggle. She felt herself gripped and assailed with insane energy.

“Oh! oh! oh!” she groaned in crescendo. “Stop! Ow-woo-woohoo. Oooh!” The climax of the unendurable passed. Her body went limp.

Then Edward Albert was sitting up with an expression of horror on his face. “Gaw!” he was saying. “You got some disease? It’s blood!”

He dashed for the bathroom.

He came back to discover Evangeline sitting up in a storm of pain, disappointment and fear.

“You pig,” she said. “You fool. You selfish young fool. You ignoramus! What have you done to me? . . . Look at that dirty precaution of yours there. Look at it!”

Her pointing beringed finger trembled.

“Gaw, I forgot all about it!”

“And about me. And about everything. You foul, disgusting young hog.”

“Well, ‘ow was I to know? And anyhow ‘ow about me? What have you done to me?”

“I wish to God I could give you worse than I’ve got. If I could strike you dead this minute I’d strike you dead. Get out of my way.”

“Where you going? What you going to do?”

“Go, Dress. Wash. So far as I can wash. Get away out of sight of you. So as not to be sick.”

She dressed swiftly, going to and fro and flinging insults at him. He sat on the soiled and devastated bed considering the situation.

“But wait a bit!” he said. “You can’t go like this?”

“If this comes to anything — oh! if it comes to anything — oh! I’ll do my best to kill you.”

“But you can’t leave me here —”

“I’ll kill you and I’ll kill myself. I swear it. I swear it.”

“You can’t leave me here in this place like this.”

He followed her into the drawing-room and made to intercept her. And here is a queer thing to tell. Twenty minutes before she had been entirely powerless in his grip and yet now as he intervened between her and the door, she could face him with an expression of blazing hate, anger and contempt that was itself a blow. “Fool!” she spat out at his face. She clenched her fists, held them up to her ears, and suddenly shot them forward at his face with such force that she sent him spinning.

He span round and sprawled anyhow. . . .

The door slammed on her and he found himself naked and entangled in an overturned chair on the floor of his new home and almost directly beneath that tender and beautiful picture, Enfin seul.

Poor little beasts! That was the dismal joke our Tewler civilisation played upon two of its children — for no reason at all. For sheer want of reason. It wrapped them about and misled them — to this, . . .

Evangeline wandered out into the square, ruffled, and distraught, and unspeakably uncomfortable. She hesitated, called a taxi and fled to her cousin, Millie Chaser, to tell her all about it, for she felt she had to tell someone about it all or burst. Then she returned to Scartmore House and went supperless to bed. Edward Albert dressed slowly and still more slowly reassembled his scattered mentality.

He tried to simplify and concentrate it in hatred of her. He shouted a string of foul names at her. “She-devil”, was the mildest thing he could think of to call her. “You come back, you foul bitch! If I get you here again I’ll show you.”

He was affecting this fury and at the same time he was already desiring her again. It was exasperating, but he felt he had hardly begun upon her.

She had left red marks on both his cheeks. He examined them in the bathroom mirror with some consternation. Both would be bad bruises unless he sponged them with cold water, and one had the skin broken and was oozing blood.

“She took me by surprise. . . . Them rings of hers.

“Changed into a devil. . . . Hog, am I? — selfish young hog? Fool, eh? Did she mean it all or only some?. . . . So that’s where we stand. . . .

“I was a fool to let her go! . . .

“She’d have torn the ’ouse down. . . .

“Wonder where she’s gone to.

“Pretty fool I shall look if she goes back to her old job. If everything’s all right. . . . She might do it.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30