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

Chapter 3

Peeping and Prying

PEEPING TOM worked dutifully and regularly in his North London Leaseholds office. In his loose fragments of time, before social relationships began to complicate things, he would more or less consciously obey the urge of Nature to be up and doing about It. He wandered, and almost always he wandered towards the parts of London where there were pictures in windows, where there were undraped statues, where strange women walked about in a provocative way and even said “Ducky” to you. But Dr Scaber had put him wise about them. You can get those awful diseases from a kiss, from a split lip.

Until his legacy he could not afford to go to the movies very much and they were mostly heroic and adventurous then, there was kissing, almost too much of it, you joined with other lads of spirit to echo the sounds on the back of your hand, but you never got to anything — anything really instructive.

Gradually he discovered the National Gallery, the South Kensington Museum. They were open on Sunday afternoons. You could wander about whistling softly. You could look sideways. You could be bolder and look straight. Lots of people looked straight without a blush. It was remarkable how nude and yet how coldly uninformative a statue or a picture could be.

Then there was window peeping. His bedroom commanded the windows of the attics of a row of houses giving on Euston Road. There every night people went to bed, and particularly a young woman who, with a certain disregard of her possible visibility, undressed completely in front of a small mirror. By putting out his own light and standing in the dark, he could see her bright pink illuminated body gradually emerging from her clothes. He could see her arms and torso as she combed her hair. By standing on his chair he could see quite a lot of her, but never enough. She yawned. There was just one moment before she pulled her nightgown over her head, and then out went the light.

Still the mystery remained.

Women seemed always to be showing more and more of themselves in those years of relaxation — but never quite, enough. But sometimes you seemed to see through their clothes. One evening he was sitting in the drawing-room, studying the lingerie advertisements in an illustrated papers, and suddenly he looked up. There was Miss Pooley sitting with her back to him at the writing table. Her soft round neck was revealed by the boyish way her blonde hair was cut and her dress displayed her clear skin down to the dip between?, her shoulder blades, and there were the lines of her body as plain as plain, and her bare elbow, and one leg was thrust back. . . .

He could scarcely believe his eyes. There was the top of her stocking and above that three inches of bare smooth shining Miss Pooley before the tight skirt began.

His reaction was extraordinary. He wanted to kill Miss Pooley, He wanted to leap upon her and beat her about and kill her. He had a savage feeling that in some way he was being cheated by her. He couldn’t get up for various minor reasons until she went away. Then he threw the illustrated paper aside and retired precipitately to the secrecy of his own room.

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