When she got near the park-gate, she heard the click of the latch. He was there, then, in the darkness of the wood, and had seen her!
‘You are good and early,’ he said out of the dark. ‘Was everything all right?’
He shut the gate quietly after her, and made a spot of light on the dark ground, showing the pallid flowers still standing there open in the night. They went on apart, in silence.
‘Are you sure you didn’t hurt yourself this morning with that chair?’ she asked.
‘When you had that pneumonia, what did it do to you?’
‘Oh nothing! it left my heart not so strong and the lungs not so elastic. But it always does that.’
‘And you ought not to make violent physical efforts?’
She plodded on in an angry silence.
‘Did you hate Clifford?’ she said at last.
‘Hate him, no! I’ve met too many like him to upset myself hating him. I know beforehand I don’t care for his sort, and I let it go at that.’
‘What is his sort?’
‘Nay, you know better than I do. The sort of youngish gentleman a bit like a lady, and no balls.’
‘Balls! A man’s balls!’
She pondered this.
‘But is it a question of that?’ she said, a little annoyed.
‘You say a man’s got no brain, when he’s a fool: and no heart, when he’s mean; and no stomach when he’s a funker. And when he’s got none of that spunky wild bit of a man in him, you say he’s got no balls. When he’s a sort of tame.’
She pondered this.
‘And is Clifford tame?’ she asked.
‘Tame, and nasty with it: like most such fellows, when you come up against ’em.’
‘And do you think you’re not tame?’
‘Maybe not quite!’
At length she saw in the distance a yellow light.
She stood still.
‘There is a light!’ she said.
‘I always leave a light in the house,’ he said.
She went on again at his side, but not touching him, wondering why she was going with him at all.
He unlocked, and they went in, he bolting the door behind them. As if it were a prison, she thought! The kettle was singing by the red fire, there were cups on the table.
She sat in the wooden arm-chair by the fire. It was warm after the chill outside.
‘I’ll take off my shoes, they are wet,’ she said.
She sat with her stockinged feet on the bright steel fender. He went to the pantry, bringing food: bread and butter and pressed tongue. She was warm: she took off her coat. He hung it on the door.
‘Shall you have cocoa or tea or coffee to drink?’ he asked.
‘I don’t think I want anything,’ she said, looking at the table. ‘But you eat.’
‘Nay, I don’t care about it. I’ll just feed the dog.’
He tramped with a quiet inevitability over the brick floor, putting food for the dog in a brown bowl. The spaniel looked up at him anxiously.
‘Ay, this is thy supper, tha nedna look as if tha wouldna get it!’ he said.
He set the bowl on the stairfoot mat, and sat himself on a chair by the wall, to take off his leggings and boots. The dog instead of eating, came to him again, and sat looking up at him, troubled.
He slowly unbuckled his leggings. The dog edged a little nearer.
‘What’s amiss wi’ thee then? Art upset because there’s somebody else here? Tha’rt a female, tha art! Go an’ eat thy supper.’
He put his hand on her head, and the bitch leaned her head sideways against him. He slowly, softly pulled the long silky ear.
‘There!’ he said. ‘There! Go an’ eat thy supper! Go!’
He tilted his chair towards the pot on the mat, and the dog meekly went, and fell to eating.
‘Do you like dogs?’ Connie asked him.
‘No, not really. They’re too tame and clinging.’
He had taken off his leggings and was unlacing his heavy boots. Connie had turned from the fire. How bare the little room was! Yet over his head on the wall hung a hideous enlarged photograph of a young married couple, apparently him and a bold-faced young woman, no doubt his wife.
‘Is that you?’ Connie asked him.
He twisted and looked at the enlargement above his head.
‘Ay! Taken just afore we was married, when I was twenty-one.’ He looked at it impassively.
‘Do you like it?’ Connie asked him.
‘Like it? No! I never liked the thing. But she fixed it all up to have it done, like.’
He returned to pulling off his boots.
‘If you don’t like it, why do you keep it hanging there? Perhaps your wife would like to have it,’ she said.
He looked up at her with a sudden grin.
‘She carted off iverything as was worth taking from th’ ’ouse,’ he said. ‘But she left that!’
‘Then why do you keep it? for sentimental reasons?’
‘Nay, I niver look at it. I hardly knowed it wor theer. It’s bin theer sin’ we come to this place.’
‘Why don’t you burn it?’ she said.
He twisted round again and looked at the enlarged photograph. It was framed in a brown-and-gilt frame, hideous. It showed a clean-shaven, alert, very young-looking man in a rather high collar, and a somewhat plump, bold young woman with hair fluffed out and crimped, and wearing a dark satin blouse.
‘It wouldn’t be a bad idea, would it?’ he said.
He had pulled off his boots, and put on a pair of slippers. He stood up on the chair, and lifted down the photograph. It left a big pale place on the greenish wall-paper.
‘No use dusting it now,’ he said, setting the thing against the wall.
He went to the scullery, and returned with hammer and pincers. Sitting where he had sat before, he started to tear off the back-paper from the big frame, and to pull out the sprigs that held the backboard in position, working with the immediate quiet absorption that was characteristic of him.
He soon had the nails out: then he pulled out the backboards, then the enlargement itself, in its solid white mount. He looked at the photograph with amusement.
‘Shows me for what I was, a young curate, and her for what she was, a bully,’ he said. ‘The prig and the bully!’
‘Let me look!’ said Connie.
He did look indeed very clean-shaven and very clean altogether, one of the clean young men of twenty years ago. But even in the photograph his eyes were alert and dauntless. And the woman was not altogether a bully, though her jowl was heavy. There was a touch of appeal in her.
‘One never should keep these things,’ said Connie. ‘That one shouldn’t! One should never have them made!’
He broke the cardboard photograph and mount over his knee, and when it was small enough, put it on the fire.
‘It’ll spoil the fire though,’ he said.
The glass and the backboard he carefully took upstairs.
The frame he knocked asunder with a few blows of the hammer, making the stucco fly. Then he took the pieces into the scullery.
‘We’ll burn that tomorrow,’ he said. ‘There’s too much plaster-moulding on it.’
Having cleared away, he sat down.
‘Did you love your wife?’ she asked him.
‘Love?’ he said. ‘Did you love Sir Clifford?’
But she was not going to be put off.
‘But you cared for her?’ she insisted.
‘Cared?’ He grinned.
‘Perhaps you care for her now,’ she said.
‘Me!’ His eyes widened. ‘Ah no, I can’t think of her,’ he said quietly.
But he shook his head.
‘Then why don’t you get a divorce? She’ll come back to you one day,’ said Connie.
He looked up at her sharply.
‘She wouldn’t come within a mile of me. She hates me a lot worse than I hate her.’
‘You’ll see she’ll come back to you.’
‘That she never will. That’s done! It would make me sick to see her.’
‘You will see her. And you’re not even legally separated, are you?’
‘Ah well, then she’ll come back, and you’ll have to take her in.’
He gazed at Connie fixedly. Then he gave the queer toss of his head.
‘You might be right. I was a fool ever to come back here. But I felt stranded and had to go somewhere. A man’s a poor bit of a wastrel blown about. But you’re right. I’ll get a divorce and get clear. I hate those things like death, officials and courts and judges. But I’ve got to get through with it. I’ll get a divorce.’
And she saw his jaw set. Inwardly she exulted. ‘I think I will have a cup of tea now,’ she said. He rose to make it. But his face was set. As they sat at table she asked him:
‘Why did you marry her? She was commoner than yourself. Mrs Bolton told me about her. She could never understand why you married her.’
He looked at her fixedly.
‘I’ll tell you,’ he said. ‘The first girl I had, I began with when I was sixteen. She was a school-master’s daughter over at Ollerton, pretty, beautiful really. I was supposed to be a clever sort of young fellow from Sheffield Grammar School, with a bit of French and German, very much up aloft. She was the romantic sort that hated commonness. She egged me on to poetry and reading: in a way, she made a man of me. I read and I thought like a house on fire, for her. And I was a clerk in Butterley offices, thin, white-faced fellow fuming with all the things I read. And about everything I talked to her: but everything. We talked ourselves into Persepolis and Timbuctoo. We were the most literary-cultured couple in ten counties. I held forth with rapture to her, positively with rapture. I simply went up in smoke. And she adored me. The serpent in the grass was sex. She somehow didn’t have any; at least, not where it’s supposed to be. I got thinner and crazier. Then I said we’d got to be lovers. I talked her into it, as usual. So she let me. I was excited, and she never wanted it. She just didn’t want it. She adored me, she loved me to talk to her and kiss her: in that way she had a passion for me. But the other, she just didn’t want. And there are lots of women like her. And it was just the other that I did want. So there we split. I was cruel, and left her. Then I took on with another girl, a teacher, who had made a scandal by carrying on with a married man and driving him nearly out of his mind. She was a soft, white-skinned, soft sort of a woman, older than me, and played the fiddle. And she was a demon. She loved everything about love, except the sex. Clinging, caressing, creeping into you in every way: but if you forced her to the sex itself, she just ground her teeth and sent out hate. I forced her to it, and she could simply numb me with hate because of it. So I was balked again. I loathed all that. I wanted a woman who wanted me, and wanted it.
‘Then came Bertha Coutts. They’d lived next door to us when I was a little lad, so I knew ’em all right. And they were common. Well, Bertha went away to some place or other in Birmingham; she said, as a lady’s companion; everybody else said, as a waitress or something in a hotel. Anyhow just when I was more than fed up with that other girl, when I was twenty-one, back comes Bertha, with airs and graces and smart clothes and a sort of bloom on her: a sort of sensual bloom that you’d see sometimes on a woman, or on a trolly. Well, I was in a state of murder. I chucked up my job at Butterley because I thought I was a weed, clerking there: and I got on as overhead blacksmith at Tevershall: shoeing horses mostly. It had been my dad’s job, and I’d always been with him. It was a job I liked: handling horses: and it came natural to me. So I stopped talking “fine”, as they call it, talking proper English, and went back to talking broad. I still read books, at home: but I blacksmithed and had a pony-trap of my own, and was My Lord Duckfoot. My dad left me three hundred pounds when he died. So I took on with Bertha, and I was glad she was common. I wanted her to be common. I wanted to be common myself. Well, I married her, and she wasn’t bad. Those other “pure” women had nearly taken all the balls out of me, but she was all right that way. She wanted me, and made no bones about it. And I was as pleased as punch. That was what I wanted: a woman who wanted me to fuck her. So I fucked her like a good un. And I think she despised me a bit, for being so pleased about it, and bringin’ her her breakfast in bed sometimes. She sort of let things go, didn’t get me a proper dinner when I came home from work, and if I said anything, flew out at me. And I flew back, hammer and tongs. She flung a cup at me and I took her by the scruff of the neck and squeezed the life out of her. That sort of thing! But she treated me with insolence. And she got so’s she’d never have me when I wanted her: never. Always put me off, brutal as you like. And then when she’d put me right off, and I didn’t want her, she’d come all lovey-dovey, and get me. And I always went. But when I had her, she’d never come off when I did. Never! She’d just wait. If I kept back for half an hour, she’d keep back longer. And when I’d come and really finished, then she’d start on her own account, and I had to stop inside her till she brought herself off, wriggling and shouting, she’d clutch clutch with herself down there, an’ then she’d come off, fair in ecstasy. And then she’d say: That was lovely! Gradually I got sick of it: and she got worse. She sort of got harder and harder to bring off, and she’d sort of tear at me down there, as if it was a beak tearing at me. By God, you think a woman’s soft down there, like a fig. But I tell you the old rampers have beaks between their legs, and they tear at you with it till you’re sick. Self! Self! Self! all self! tearing and shouting! They talk about men’s selfishness, but I doubt if it can ever touch a woman’s blind beakishness, once she’s gone that way. Like an old trull! And she couldn’t help it. I told her about it, I told her how I hated it. And she’d even try. She’d try to lie still and let me work the business. She’d try. But it was no good. She got no feeling off it, from my working. She had to work the thing herself, grind her own coffee. And it came back on her like a raving necessity, she had to let herself go, and tear, tear, tear, as if she had no sensation in her except in the top of her beak, the very outside top tip, that rubbed and tore. That’s how old whores used to be, so men used to say. It was a low kind of self-will in her, a raving sort of self-will: like in a woman who drinks. Well in the end I couldn’t stand it. We slept apart. She herself had started it, in her bouts when she wanted to be clear of me, when she said I bossed her. She had started having a room for herself. But the time came when I wouldn’t have her coming to my room. I wouldn’t.
‘I hated it. And she hated me. My God, how she hated me before that child was born! I often think she conceived it out of hate. Anyhow, after the child was born I left her alone. And then came the war, and I joined up. And I didn’t come back till I knew she was with that fellow at Stacks Gate.
He broke off, pale in the face.
‘And what is the man at Stacks Gate like?’ asked Connie.
‘A big baby sort of fellow, very low-mouthed. She bullies him, and they both drink.’
‘My word, if she came back!’
‘My God, yes! I should just go, disappear again.’
There was a silence. The pasteboard in the fire had turned to grey ash.
‘So when you did get a woman who wanted you,’ said Connie, ‘you got a bit too much of a good thing.’
‘Ay! Seems so! Yet even then I’d rather have her than the never-never ones: the white love of my youth, and that other poison-smelling lily, and the rest.’
‘What about the rest?’ said Connie.
‘The rest? There is no rest. Only to my experience the mass of women are like this: most of them want a man, but don’t want the sex, but they put up with it, as part of the bargain. The more old-fashioned sort just lie there like nothing and let you go ahead. They don’t mind afterwards: then they like you. But the actual thing itself is nothing to them, a bit distasteful. Add most men like it that way. I hate it. But the sly sort of women who are like that pretend they’re not. They pretend they’re passionate and have thrills. But it’s all cockaloopy. They make it up. Then there’s the ones that love everything, every kind of feeling and cuddling and going off, every kind except the natural one. They always make you go off when you’re notin the only place you should be, when you go off. — Then there’s the hard sort, that are the devil to bring off at all, and bring themselves off, like my wife. They want to be the active party. — Then there’s the sort that’s just dead inside: but dead: and they know it. Then there’s the sort that puts you out before you really “come”, and go on writhing their loins till they bring themselves off against your thighs. But they’re mostly the Lesbian sort. It’s astonishing how Lesbian women are, consciously or unconsciously. Seems to me they’re nearly all Lesbian.’
‘And do you mind?’ asked Connie.
‘I could kill them. When I’m with a woman who’s really Lesbian, I fairly howl in my soul, wanting to kill her.’
‘And what do you do?’
‘Just go away as fast as I can.’
‘But do you think Lesbian women any worse than homosexual men?’
‘ I do! Because I’ve suffered more from them. In the abstract, I’ve no idea. When I get with a Lesbian woman, whether she knows she’s one or not, I see red. No, no! But I wanted to have nothing to do with any woman any more. I wanted to keep to myself: keep my privacy and my decency.’
He looked pale, and his brows were sombre.
‘And were you sorry when I came along?’ she asked.
‘I was sorry and I was glad.’
‘And what are you now?’
‘I’m sorry, from the outside: all the complications and the ugliness and recrimination that’s bound to come, sooner or later. That’s when my blood sinks, and I’m low. But when my blood comes up, I’m glad. I’m even triumphant. I was really getting bitter. I thought there was no real sex left: never a woman who’d really “come” naturally with a man: except black women, and somehow, well, we’re white men: and they’re a bit like mud.’
‘And now, are you glad of me?’ she asked.
‘Yes! When I can forget the rest. When I can’t forget the rest, I want to get under the table and die.’
‘Why under the table?’
‘Why?’ he laughed. ‘Hide, I suppose. Baby!’
‘You do seem to have had awful experiences of women,’ she said.
‘You see, I couldn’t fool myself. That’s where most men manage. They take an attitude, and accept a lie. I could never fool myself. I knew what I wanted with a woman, and I could never say I’d got it when I hadn’t.’
‘But have you got it now?’
‘Looks as if I might have.’
‘Then why are you so pale and gloomy?’
‘Bellyful of remembering: and perhaps afraid of myself.’
She sat in silence. It was growing late.
‘And do you think it’s important, a man and a woman?’ she asked him.
‘For me it is. For me it’s the core of my life: if I have a right relation with a woman.’
‘And if you didn’t get it?’
‘Then I’d have to do without.’
Again she pondered, before she asked:
‘And do you think you’ve always been right with women?’
‘God, no! I let my wife get to what she was: my fault a good deal. I spoilt her. And I’m very mistrustful. You’ll have to expect it. It takes a lot to make me trust anybody, inwardly. So perhaps I’m a fraud too. I mistrust. And tenderness is not to be mistaken.’
She looked at him.
‘You don’t mistrust with your body, when your blood comes up,’ she said. ‘You don’t mistrust then, do you?’
‘No, alas! That’s how I’ve got into all the trouble. And that’s why my mind mistrusts so thoroughly.’
‘Let your mind mistrust. What does it matter!’
The dog sighed with discomfort on the mat. The ash-clogged fire sank.
‘We are a couple of battered warriors,’ said Connie.
‘Are you battered too?’ he laughed. ‘And here we are returning to the fray!’
‘Yes! I feel really frightened.’
He got up, and put her shoes to dry, and wiped his own and set them near the fire. In the morning he would grease them. He poked the ash of pasteboard as much as possible out of the fire. ‘Even burnt, it’s filthy,’ he said. Then he brought sticks and put them on the hob for the morning. Then he went out awhile with the dog.
When he came back, Connie said:
‘I want to go out too, for a minute.’
She went alone into the darkness. There were stars overhead. She could smell flowers on the night air. And she could feel her wet shoes getting wetter again. But she felt like going away, right away from him and everybody.
It was chilly. She shuddered, and returned to the house. He was sitting in front of the low fire.
‘Ugh! Cold!’ she shuddered.
He put the sticks on the fire, and fetched more, till they had a good crackling chimneyful of blaze. The rippling running yellow flame made them both happy, warmed their faces and their souls.
‘Never mind!’ she said, taking his hand as he sat silent and remote. ‘One does one’s best.’
‘Ay!’ He sighed, with a twist of a smile.
She slipped over to him, and into his arms, as he sat there before the fire.
‘Forget then!’ she whispered. ‘Forget!’
He held her close, in the running warmth of the fire. The flame itself was like a forgetting. And her soft, warm, ripe weight! Slowly his blood turned, and began to ebb back into strength and reckless vigour again.
‘And perhaps the women really wanted to be there and love you properly, only perhaps they couldn’t. Perhaps it wasn’t all their fault,’ she said.
‘I know it. Do you think I don’t know what a broken-backed snake that’s been trodden on I was myself!’
She clung to him suddenly. She had not wanted to start all this again. Yet some perversity had made her.
‘But you’re not now,’ she said. ‘You’re not that now: a broken-backed snake that’s been trodden on.’
‘I don’t know what I am. There’s black days ahead.’
‘No!’ she protested, clinging to him. ‘Why? Why?’
‘There’s black days coming for us all and for everybody,’ he repeated with a prophetic gloom.
‘No! You’re not to say it!’
He was silent. But she could feel the black void of despair inside him. That was the death of all desire, the death of all love: this despair that was like the dark cave inside the men, in which their spirit was lost.
‘And you talk so coldly about sex,’ she said. ‘You talk as if you had only wanted your own pleasure and satisfaction.’
She was protesting nervously against him.
‘Nay!’ he said. ‘I wanted to have my pleasure and satisfaction of a woman, and I never got it: because I could never get my pleasure and satisfaction of her unless she got hers of me at the same time. And it never happened. It takes two.’
‘But you never believed in your women. You don’t even believe really in me,’ she said.
‘I don’t know what believing in a woman means.’
‘That’s it, you see!’
She still was curled on his lap. But his spirit was grey and absent, he was not there for her. And everything she said drove him further.
‘But what do you believe in?’ she insisted.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Nothing, like all the men I’ve ever known,’ she said.
They were both silent. Then he roused himself and said:
‘Yes, I do believe in something. I believe in being warmhearted. I believe especially in being warm-hearted in love, in fucking with a warm heart. I believe if men could fuck with warm hearts, and the women take it warm-heartedly, everything would come all right. It’s all this cold-hearted fucking that is death and idiocy.’
‘But you don’t fuck me cold-heartedly,’ she protested.
‘I don’t want to fuck you at all. My heart’s as cold as cold potatoes just now.’
‘Oh!’ she said, kissing him mockingly. ‘Let’s have them sautes.’ He laughed, and sat erect.
‘It’s a fact!’ he said. ‘Anything for a bit of warm-heartedness. But the women don’t like it. Even you don’t really like it. You like good, sharp, piercing cold-hearted fucking, and then pretending it’s all sugar. Where’s your tenderness for me? You’re as suspicious of me as a cat is of a dog. I tell you it takes two even to be tender and warm-hearted. You love fucking all right: but you want it to be called something grand and mysterious, just to flatter your own self-importance. Your own self-importance is more to you, fifty times more, than any man, or being together with a man.’
‘But that’s what I’d say of you. Your own self-importance is everything to you.’
‘Ay! Very well then!’ he said, moving as if he wanted to rise. ‘Let’s keep apart then. I’d rather die than do any more cold-hearted fucking.’
She slid away from him, and he stood up.
‘And do you think I want it?’ she said.
‘I hope you don’t,’ he replied. ‘But anyhow, you go to bed an’ I’ll sleep down here.’
She looked at him. He was pale, his brows were sullen, he was as distant in recoil as the cold pole. Men were all alike.
‘I can’t go home till morning,’ she said.
‘No! Go to bed. It’s a quarter to one.’
‘I certainly won’t,’ she said.
He went across and picked up his boots.
‘Then I’ll go out!’ he said.
He began to put on his boots. She stared at him.
‘Wait!’ she faltered. ‘Wait! What’s come between us?’
He was bent over, lacing his boot, and did not reply. The moments passed. A dimness came over her, like a swoon. All her consciousness died, and she stood there wide-eyed, looking at him from the unknown, knowing nothing any more.
He looked up, because of the silence, and saw her wide-eyed and lost. And as if a wind tossed him he got up and hobbled over to her, one shoe off and one shoe on, and took her in his arms, pressing her against his body, which somehow felt hurt right through. And there he held her, and there she remained.
Till his hands reached blindly down and felt for her, and felt under the clothing to where she was smooth and warm.
‘Ma lass!’ he murmured. ‘Ma little lass! Dunna let’s light! Dunna let’s niver light! I love thee an’ th’ touch on thee. Dunna argue wi’ me! Dunna! Dunna! Dunna! Let’s be together.’
She lifted her face and looked at him.
‘Don’t be upset,’ she said steadily. ‘It’s no good being upset. Do you really want to be together with me?’
She looked with wide, steady eyes into his face. He stopped, and went suddenly still, turning his face aside. All his body went perfectly still, but did not withdraw.
Then he lifted his head and looked into her eyes, with his odd, faintly mocking grin, saying: ‘Ay-ay! Let’s be together on oath.’
‘But really?’ she said, her eyes filling with tears. ‘Ay really! Heart an’ belly an’ cock.’
He still smiled faintly down at her, with the flicker of irony in his eyes, and a touch of bitterness.
She was silently weeping, and he lay with her and went into her there on the hearthrug, and so they gained a measure of equanimity. And then they went quickly to bed, for it was growing chill, and they had tired each other out. And she nestled up to him, feeling small and enfolded, and they both went to sleep at once, fast in one sleep. And so they lay and never moved, till the sun rose over the wood and day was beginning.
Then he woke up and looked at the light. The curtains were drawn. He listened to the loud wild calling of blackbirds and thrushes in the wood. It would be a brilliant morning, about half past five, his hour for rising. He had slept so fast! It was such a new day! The woman was still curled asleep and tender. His hand moved on her, and she opened her blue wondering eyes, smiling unconsciously into his face.
‘Are you awake?’ she said to him.
He was looking into her eyes. He smiled, and kissed her. And suddenly she roused and sat up.
‘Fancy that I am here!’ she said.
She looked round the whitewashed little bedroom with its sloping ceiling and gable window where the white curtains were closed. The room was bare save for a little yellow-painted chest of drawers, and a chair: and the smallish white bed in which she lay with him.
‘Fancy that we are here!’ she said, looking down at him. He was lying watching her, stroking her breasts with his fingers, under the thin nightdress. When he was warm and smoothed out, he looked young and handsome. His eyes could look so warm. And she was fresh and young like a flower.
‘I want to take this off!’ she said, gathering the thin batiste nightdress and pulling it over her head. She sat there with bare shoulders and longish breasts faintly golden. He loved to make her breasts swing softly, like bells.
‘You must take off your pyjamas too,’ she said.
‘Yes! Yes!’ she commanded.
And he took off his old cotton pyjama-jacket, and pushed down the trousers. Save for his hands and wrists and face and neck he was white as milk, with fine slender muscular flesh. To Connie he was suddenly piercingly beautiful again, as when she had seen him that afternoon washing himself.
Gold of sunshine touched the closed white curtain. She felt it wanted to come in.
‘Oh, do let’s draw the curtains! The birds are singing so! Do let the sun in,’ she said.
He slipped out of bed with his back to her, naked and white and thin, and went to the window, stooping a little, drawing the curtains and looking out for a moment. The back was white and fine, the small buttocks beautiful with an exquisite, delicate manliness, the back of the neck ruddy and delicate and yet strong.
There was an inward, not an outward strength in the delicate fine body.
‘But you are beautiful!’ she said. ‘So pure and fine! Come!’ She held her arms out.
He was ashamed to turn to her, because of his aroused nakedness.
He caught his shirt off the floor, and held it to him, coming to her.
‘No!’ she said still holding out her beautiful slim arms from her dropping breasts. ‘Let me see you!’
He dropped the shirt and stood still looking towards her. The sun through the low window sent in a beam that lit up his thighs and slim belly and the erect phallos rising darkish and hot-looking from the little cloud of vivid gold-red hair. She was startled and afraid.
‘How strange!’ she said slowly. ‘How strange he stands there! So big! and so dark and cock-sure! Is he like that?’
The man looked down the front of his slender white body, and laughed. Between the slim breasts the hair was dark, almost black. But at the root of the belly, where the phallos rose thick and arching, it was gold-red, vivid in a little cloud.
‘So proud!’ she murmured, uneasy. ‘And so lordly! Now I know why men are so overbearing! But he’s lovely, really. Like another being! A bit terrifying! But lovely really! And he comes to me! — ’ She caught her lower lip between her teeth, in fear and excitement.
The man looked down in silence at the tense phallos, that did not change. — ‘Ay!’ he said at last, in a little voice. ‘Ay ma lad! tha’re theer right enough. Yi, tha mun rear thy head! Theer on thy own, eh? an’ ta’es no count O’ nob’dy! Tha ma’es nowt O’ me, John Thomas. Art boss? of me? Eh well, tha’re more cocky than me, an’ tha says less. John Thomas! Dost want her? Dost want my lady Jane? Tha’s dipped me in again, tha hast. Ay, an’ tha comes up smilin’. — Ax ’er then! Ax lady Jane! Say: Lift up your heads, O ye gates, that the king of glory may come in. Ay, th’ cheek on thee! Cunt, that’s what tha’re after. Tell lady Jane tha wants cunt. John Thomas, an’ th’ cunt O’ lady Jane! — ’
‘Oh, don’t tease him,’ said Connie, crawling on her knees on the bed towards him and putting her arms round his white slender loins, and drawing him to her so that her hanging, swinging breasts touched the tip of the stirring, erect phallos, and caught the drop of moisture. She held the man fast.
‘Lie down!’ he said. ‘Lie down! Let me come!’ He was in a hurry now.
And afterwards, when they had been quite still, the woman had to uncover the man again, to look at the mystery of the phallos.
‘And now he’s tiny, and soft like a little bud of life!’ she said, taking the soft small penis in her hand. ‘Isn’t he somehow lovely! so on his own, so strange! And so innocent! And he comes so far into me! You must never insult him, you know. He’s mine too. He’s not only yours. He’s mine! And so lovely and innocent!’ And she held the penis soft in her hand.
‘Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in kindred love,’ he said.
‘Of course!’ she said. ‘Even when he’s soft and little I feel my heart simply tied to him. And how lovely your hair is here! quite, quite different!’
‘That’s John Thomas’s hair, not mine!’ he said.
‘John Thomas! John Thomas!’ and she quickly kissed the soft penis, that was beginning to stir again.
‘Ay!’ said the man, stretching his body almost painfully. ‘He’s got his root in my soul, has that gentleman! An’ sometimes I don’ know what ter do wi’ him. Ay, he’s got a will of his own, an’ it’s hard to suit him. Yet I wouldn’t have him killed.’
‘No wonder men have always been afraid of him!’ she said. ‘He’s rather terrible.’
The quiver was going through the man’s body, as the stream of consciousness again changed its direction, turning downwards. And he was helpless, as the penis in slow soft undulations filled and surged and rose up, and grew hard, standing there hard and overweening, in its curious towering fashion. The woman too trembled a little as she watched.
‘There! Take him then! He’s thine,’ said the man.
And she quivered, and her own mind melted out. Sharp soft waves of unspeakable pleasure washed over her as he entered her, and started the curious molten thrilling that spread and spread till she was carried away with the last, blind flush of extremity.
He heard the distant hooters of Stacks Gate for seven o’clock. It was Monday morning. He shivered a little, and with his face between her breasts pressed her soft breasts up over his ears, to deafen him.
She had not even heard the hooters. She lay perfectly still, her soul washed transparent.
‘You must get up, mustn’t you?’ he muttered.
‘What time?’ came her colourless voice.
‘Seven-o’clock blowers a bit sin’.’
‘I suppose I must.’
She was resenting as she always did, the compulsion from outside.
He sat up and looked blankly out of the window. ‘You do love me, don’t you?’ she asked calmly. He looked down at her.
‘Tha knows what tha knows. What dost ax for!’ he said, a little fretfully.
‘I want you to keep me, not to let me go,’ she said.
His eyes seemed full of a warm, soft darkness that could not think.
‘Now in your heart. Then I want to come and live with you, always, soon.’
He sat naked on the bed, with his head dropped, unable to think.
‘Don’t you want it?’ she asked.
‘Ay!’ he said.
Then with the same eyes darkened with another flame of consciousness, almost like sleep, he looked at her.
‘Dunna ax me nowt now,’ he said. ‘Let me be. I like thee. I luv thee when tha lies theer. A woman’s a lovely thing when ’er’s deep ter fuck, and cunt’s good. Ah luv thee, thy legs, an’ th’ shape on thee, an’ th’ womanness on thee. Ah luv th’ womanness on thee. Ah luv thee wi’ my bas an’ wi’ my heart. But dunna ax me nowt. Dunna ma’e me say nowt. Let me stop as I am while I can. Tha can ax me iverything after. Now let me be, let me be!’
And softly, he laid his hand over her mound of Venus, on the soft brown maiden-hair, and himself-sat still and naked on the bed, his face motionless in physical abstraction, almost like the face of Buddha. Motionless, and in the invisible flame of another consciousness, he sat with his hand on her, and waited for the turn.
After a while, he reached for his shirt and put it on, dressed himself swiftly in silence, looked at her once as she still lay naked and faintly golden like a Gloire de Dijon rose on the bed, and was gone. She heard him downstairs opening the door.
And still she lay musing, musing. It was very hard to go: to go out of his arms. He called from the foot of the stairs: ‘Half past seven!’ She sighed, and got out of bed. The bare little room! Nothing in it at all but the small chest of drawers and the smallish bed. But the board floor was scrubbed clean. And in the corner by the window gable was a shelf with some books, and some from a circulating library. She looked. There were books about Bolshevist Russia, books of travel, a volume about the atom and the electron, another about the composition of the earth’s core, and the causes of earthquakes: then a few novels: then three books on India. So! He was a reader after all.
The sun fell on her naked limbs through the gable window. Outside she saw the dog Flossie roaming round. The hazel-brake was misted with green, and dark-green dogs-mercury under. It was a clear clean morning with birds flying and triumphantly singing. If only she could stay! If only there weren’t the other ghastly world of smoke and iron! If only he would make her a world.
She came downstairs, down the steep, narrow wooden stairs. Still she would be content with this little house, if only it were in a world of its own.
He was washed and fresh, and the fire was burning. ‘Will you eat anything?’ he said.
‘No! Only lend me a comb.’
She followed him into the scullery, and combed her hair before the handbreadth of mirror by the back door. Then she was ready to go.
She stood in the little front garden, looking at the dewy flowers, the grey bed of pinks in bud already.
‘I would like to have all the rest of the world disappear,’ she said, ‘and live with you here.’
‘It won’t disappear,’ he said.
They went almost in silence through the lovely dewy wood. But they were together in a world of their own.
It was bitter to her to go on to Wragby.
‘I want soon to come and live with you altogether,’ she said as she left him.
He smiled, unanswering.
She got home quietly and unremarked, and went up to her room.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10