There was a letter from Hilda on the breakfast-tray. ‘Father is going to London this week, and I shall call for you on Thursday week, June 17th. You must be ready so that we can go at once. I don’t want to waste time at Wragby, it’s an awful place. I shall probably stay the night at Retford with the Colemans, so I should be with you for lunch, Thursday. Then we could start at teatime, and sleep perhaps in Grantham. It is no use our spending an evening with Clifford. If he hates your going, it would be no pleasure to him.’
So! She was being pushed round on the chess-board again.
Clifford hated her going, but it was only because he didn’t feel safe in her absence. Her presence, for some reason, made him feel safe, and free to do the things he was occupied with. He was a great deal at the pits, and wrestling in spirit with the almost hopeless problems of getting out his coal in the most economical fashion and then selling it when he’d got it out. He knew he ought to find some way of using it, or converting it, so that he needn’t sell it, or needn’t have the chagrin of failing to sell it. But if he made electric power, could he sell that or use it? And to convert into oil was as yet too costly and too elaborate. To keep industry alive there must be more industry, like a madness.
It was a madness, and it required a madman to succeed in it. Well, he was a little mad. Connie thought so. His very intensity and acumen in the affairs of the pits seemed like a manifestation of madness to her, his very inspirations were the inspirations of insanity.
He talked to her of all his serious schemes, and she listened in a kind of wonder, and let him talk. Then the flow ceased, and he turned on the loudspeaker, and became a blank, while apparently his schemes coiled on inside him like a kind of dream.
And every night now he played pontoon, that game of the Tommies, with Mrs Bolton, gambling with sixpences. And again, in the gambling he was gone in a kind of unconsciousness, or blank intoxication, or intoxication of blankness, whatever it was. Connie could not bear to see him. But when she had gone to bed, he and Mrs Bolton would gamble on till two and three in the morning, safely, and with strange lust. Mrs Bolton was caught in the lust as much as Clifford: the more so, as she nearly always lost.
She told Connie one day: ‘I lost twenty-three shillings to Sir Clifford last night.’
‘And did he take the money from you?’ asked Connie aghast.
‘Why of course, my Lady! Debt of honour!’
Connie expostulated roundly, and was angry with both of them. The upshot was, Sir Clifford raised Mrs Bolton’s wages a hundred a year, and she could gamble on that. Meanwhile, it seemed to Connie, Clifford was really going deader.
She told him at length she was leaving on the seventeenth.
‘Seventeenth!’ he said. ‘And when will you be back?’
‘By the twentieth of July at the latest.’
‘Yes! the twentieth of July.’
Strangely and blankly he looked at her, with the vagueness of a child, but with the queer blank cunning of an old man.
‘You won’t let me down, now, will you?’ he said.
‘While you’re away, I mean, you’re sure to come back?’
‘I’m as sure as I can be of anything, that I shall come back.’
‘Yes! Well! Twentieth of July!’
He looked at her so strangely.
Yet he really wanted her to go. That was so curious. He wanted her to go, positively, to have her little adventures and perhaps come home pregnant, and all that. At the same time, he was afraid of her going.
She was quivering, watching her real opportunity for leaving him altogether, waiting till the time, herself himself should be ripe.
She sat and talked to the keeper of her going abroad.
‘And then when I come back,’ she said, ‘I can tell Clifford I must leave him. And you and I can go away. They never need even know it is you. We can go to another country, shall we? To Africa or Australia. Shall we?’
She was quite thrilled by her plan.
‘You’ve never been to the Colonies, have you?’ he asked her.
‘No! Have you?’
‘I’ve been in India, and South Africa, and Egypt.’
‘Why shouldn’t we go to South Africa?’
‘We might!’ he said slowly.
‘Or don’t you want to?’ she asked.
‘I don’t care. I don’t much care what I do.’
‘Doesn’t it make you happy? Why not? We shan’t be poor. I have about six hundred a year, I wrote and asked. It’s not much, but it’s enough, isn’t it?’
‘It’s riches to me.’
‘Oh, how lovely it will be!’
‘But I ought to get divorced, and so ought you, unless we’re going to have complications.’
There was plenty to think about.
Another day she asked him about himself. They were in the hut, and there was a thunderstorm.
‘And weren’t you happy, when you were a lieutenant and an officer and a gentleman?’
‘Happy? All right. I liked my Colonel.’
‘Did you love him?’
‘Yes! I loved him.’
‘And did he love you?’
‘Yes! In a way, he loved me.’
‘Tell me about him.’
‘What is there to tell? He had risen from the ranks. He loved the army. And he had never married. He was twenty years older than me. He was a very intelligent man: and alone in the army, as such a man is: a passionate man in his way: and a very clever officer. I lived under his spell while I was with him. I sort of let him run my life. And I never regret it.’
‘And did you mind very much when he died?’
‘I was as near death myself. But when I came to, I knew another part of me was finished. But then I had always known it would finish in death. All things do, as far as that goes.’
She sat and ruminated. The thunder crashed outside. It was like being in a little ark in the Flood.
‘You seem to have such a lot behind you,’ she said.
‘Do I? It seems to me I’ve died once or twice already. Yet here I am, pegging on, and in for more trouble.’
She was thinking hard, yet listening to the storm.
‘And weren’t you happy as an officer and a gentleman, when your Colonel was dead?’
‘No! They were a mingy lot.’ He laughed suddenly. ‘The Colonel used to say: Lad, the English middle classes have to chew every mouthful thirty times because their guts are so narrow, a bit as big as a pea would give them a stoppage. They’re the mingiest set of ladylike snipe ever invented: full of conceit of themselves, frightened even if their boot-laces aren’t correct, rotten as high game, and always in the right. That’s what finishes me up. Kow-tow, kow-tow, arse-licking till their tongues are tough: yet they’re always in the right. Prigs on top of everything. Prigs! A generation of ladylike prigs with half a ball each — ’
Connie laughed. The rain was rushing down.
‘He hated them!’
‘No,’ said he. ‘He didn’t bother. He just disliked them. There’s a difference. Because, as he said, the Tommies are getting just as priggish and half-balled and narrow-gutted. It’s the fate of mankind, to go that way.’
‘The common people too, the working people?’
‘All the lot. Their spunk is gone dead. Motor-cars and cinemas and aeroplanes suck that last bit out of them. I tell you, every generation breeds a more rabbity generation, with india rubber tubing for guts and tin legs and tin faces. Tin people! It’s all a steady sort of bolshevism just killing off the human thing, and worshipping the mechanical thing. Money, money, money! All the modern lot get their real kick out of killing the old human feeling out of man, making mincemeat of the old Adam and the old Eve. They’re all alike. The world is all alike: kill off the human reality, a quid for every foreskin, two quid for each pair of balls. What is cunt but machine-fucking! — It’s all alike. Pay ’em money to cut off the world’s cock. Pay money, money, money to them that will take spunk out of mankind, and leave ’em all little twiddling machines.’
He sat there in the hut, his face pulled to mocking irony. Yet even then, he had one ear set backwards, listening to the storm over the wood. It made him feel so alone.
‘But won’t it ever come to an end?’ she said.
‘Ay, it will. It’ll achieve its own salvation. When the last real man is killed, and they’re all tame: white, black, yellow, all colours of tame ones: then they’ll all be insane. Because the root of sanity is in the balls. Then they’ll all be insane, and they’ll make their grand ~auto da fe. You know auto da fe means act of faith? Ay, well, they’ll make their own grand little act of faith. They’ll offer one another up.’
‘You mean kill one another?’
‘I do, duckie! If we go on at our present rate then in a hundred years’ time there won’t be ten thousand people in this island: there may not be ten. They’ll have lovingly wiped each other out. The thunder was rolling further away.
‘How nice!’ she said.
‘Quite nice! To contemplate the extermination of the human species and the long pause that follows before some other species crops up, it calms you more than anything else. And if we go on in this way, with everybody, intellectuals, artists, government, industrialists and workers all frantically killing off the last human feeling, the last bit of their intuition, the last healthy instinct; if it goes on in algebraical progression, as it is going on: then ta-tah! to the human species! Goodbye! darling! the serpent swallows itself and leaves a void, considerably messed up, but not hopeless. Very nice! When savage wild dogs bark in Wragby, and savage wild pit-ponies stamp on Tevershall pit-bank! te deum laudamus!’
Connie laughed, but not very happily.
‘Then you ought to be pleased that they are all bolshevists,’ she said. ‘You ought to be pleased that they hurry on towards the end.’
‘So I am. I don’t stop ’em. Because I couldn’t if I would.’
‘Then why are you so bitter?’
‘I’m not! If my cock gives its last crow, I don’t mind.’
‘But if you have a child?’ she said.
He dropped his head.
‘Why,’ he said at last. ‘It seems to me a wrong and bitter thing to do, to bring a child into this world.’
‘No! Don’t say it! Don’t say it!’ she pleaded. ‘I think I’m going to have one. Say you’ll he pleased.’ She laid her hand on his.
‘I’m pleased for you to be pleased,’ he said. ‘But for me it seems a ghastly treachery to the unborn creature.
‘Ah no!’ she said, shocked. ‘Then you can’t ever really want me! you can’t want me, if you feel that!’
Again he was silent, his face sullen. Outside there was only the threshing of the rain.
‘It’s not quite true!’ she whispered. ‘It’s not quite true! There’s another truth.’ She felt he was bitter now partly because she was leaving him, deliberately going away to Venice. And this half pleased her.
She pulled open his clothing and uncovered his belly, and kissed his navel. Then she laid her cheek on his belly and pressed her arm round his warm, silent loins. They were alone in the flood.
‘Tell me you want a child, in hope!’ she murmured, pressing her face against his belly. ‘Tell me you do!’
‘Why!’ he said at last: and she felt the curious quiver of changing consciousness and relaxation going through his body. ‘Why I’ve thought sometimes if one but tried, here among th’ colliers even! They’re workin’ bad now, an’ not earnin’ much. If a man could say to ’em: Dunna think o’ nowt but th’ money. When it comes ter wants, we want but little. Let’s not live for money — ’
She softly rubbed her cheek on his belly, and gathered his balls in her hand. The penis stirred softly, with strange life, but did not rise up. The rain beat bruisingly outside.
‘Let’s live for summat else. Let’s not live ter make money, neither for us-selves nor for anybody else. Now we’re forced to. We’re forced to make a bit for us-selves, an’ a fair lot for th’ bosses. Let’s stop it! Bit by bit, let’s stop it. We needn’t rant an’ rave. Bit by bit, let’s drop the whole industrial life an’ go back. The least little bit o’ money’ll do. For everybody, me an’ you, bosses an’ masters, even th’ king. The least little bit o’ money’ll really do. Just make up your mind to it, an’ you’ve got out o’ th’ mess.’ He paused, then went on:
‘An’ I’d tell ’em: Look! Look at Joe! He moves lovely! Look how he moves, alive and aware. He’s beautiful! An’ look at Jonah! He’s clumsy, he’s ugly, because he’s niver willin’ to rouse himself I’d tell ’em: Look! look at yourselves! one shoulder higher than t’other, legs twisted, feet all lumps! What have yer done ter yerselves, wi’ the blasted work? Spoilt yerselves. No need to work that much. Take yer clothes off an’ look at yourselves. Yer ought ter be alive an’ beautiful, an’ yer ugly an’ half dead. So I’d tell ’em. An’ I’d get my men to wear different clothes: appen close red trousers, bright red, an’ little short white jackets. Why, if men had red, fine legs, that alone would change them in a month. They’d begin to be men again, to be men! An’ the women could dress as they liked. Because if once the men walked with legs close bright scarlet, and buttocks nice and showing scarlet under a little white jacket: then the women ’ud begin to be women. It’s because th’ men aren’t men, that th’ women have to be. — An’ in time pull down Tevershall and build a few beautiful buildings, that would hold us all. An’ clean the country up again. An’ not have many children, because the world is overcrowded.
‘But I wouldn’t preach to the men: only strip ’em an’ say: Look at yourselves! That’s workin’ for money! — Hark at yourselves! That’s working for money. You’ve been working for money! Look at Tevershall! It’s horrible. That’s because it was built while you was working for money. Look at your girls! They don’t care about you, you don’t care about them. It’s because you’ve spent your time working an’ caring for money. You can’t talk nor move nor live, you can’t properly be with a woman. You’re not alive. Look at yourselves!’
There fell a complete silence. Connie was half listening, and threading in the hair at the root of his belly a few forget-me-nots that she had gathered on the way to the hut. Outside, the world had gone still, and a little icy.
‘You’ve got four kinds of hair,’ she said to him. ‘On your chest it’s nearly black, and your hair isn’t dark on your head: but your moustache is hard and dark red, and your hair here, your love-hair, is like a little brush of bright red-gold mistletoe. It’s the loveliest of all!’
He looked down and saw the milky bits of forget-me-nots in the hair on his groin.
‘Ay! That’s where to put forget-me-nots, in the man-hair, or the maiden-hair. But don’t you care about the future?’
She looked up at him.
‘Oh, I do, terribly!’ she said.
‘Because when I feel the human world is doomed, has doomed itself by its own mingy beastliness, then I feel the Colonies aren’t far enough. The moon wouldn’t be far enough, because even there you could look back and see the earth, dirty, beastly, unsavoury among all the stars: made foul by men. Then I feel I’ve swallowed gall, and it’s eating my inside out, and nowhere’s far enough away to get away. But when I get a turn, I forget it all again. Though it’s a shame, what’s been done to people these last hundred years: men turned into nothing but labour-insects, and all their manhood taken away, and all their real life. I’d wipe the machines off the face of the earth again, and end the industrial epoch absolutely, like a black mistake. But since I can’t, an’ nobody can, I’d better hold my peace, an’ try an’ live my own life: if I’ve got one to live, which I rather doubt.’
The thunder had ceased outside, but the rain which had abated, suddenly came striking down, with a last blench of lightning and mutter of departing storm. Connie was uneasy. He had talked so long now, and he was really talking to himself not to her. Despair seemed to come down on him completely, and she was feeling happy, she hated despair. She knew her leaving him, which he had only just realized inside himself had plunged him back into this mood. And she triumphed a little.
She opened the door and looked at the straight heavy rain, like a steel curtain, and had a sudden desire to rush out into it, to rush away. She got up, and began swiftly pulling off her stockings, then her dress and underclothing, and he held his breath. Her pointed keen animal breasts tipped and stirred as she moved. She was ivory-coloured in the greenish light. She slipped on her rubber shoes again and ran out with a wild little laugh, holding up her breasts to the heavy rain and spreading her arms, and running blurred in the rain with the eurhythmic dance movements she had learned so long ago in Dresden. It was a strange pallid figure lifting and falling, bending so the rain beat and glistened on the full haunches, swaying up again and coming belly-forward through the rain, then stooping again so that only the full loins and buttocks were offered in a kind of homage towards him, repeating a wild obeisance.
He laughed wryly, and threw off his clothes. It was too much. He jumped out, naked and white, with a little shiver, into the hard slanting rain. Flossie sprang before him with a frantic little bark. Connie, her hair all wet and sticking to her head, turned her hot face and saw him. Her blue eyes blazed with excitement as she turned and ran fast, with a strange charging movement, out of the clearing and down the path, the wet boughs whipping her. She ran, and he saw nothing but the round wet head, the wet back leaning forward in flight, the rounded buttocks twinkling: a wonderful cowering female nakedness in flight.
She was nearly at the wide riding when he came up and flung his naked arm round her soft, naked-wet middle. She gave a shriek and straightened herself and the heap of her soft, chill flesh came up against his body. He pressed it all up against him, madly, the heap of soft, chilled female flesh that became quickly warm as flame, in contact. The rain streamed on them till they smoked. He gathered her lovely, heavy posteriors one in each hand and pressed them in towards him in a frenzy, quivering motionless in the rain. Then suddenly he tipped her up and fell with her on the path, in the roaring silence of the rain, and short and sharp, he took her, short and sharp and finished, like an animal.
He got up in an instant, wiping the rain from his eyes.
‘Come in,’ he said, and they started running back to the hut. He ran straight and swift: he didn’t like the rain. But she came slower, gathering forget-me-nots and campion and bluebells, running a few steps and watching him fleeing away from her.
When she came with her flowers, panting to the hut, he had already started a fire, and the twigs were crackling. Her sharp breasts rose and fell, her hair was plastered down with rain, her face was flushed ruddy and her body glistened and trickled. Wide-eyed and breathless, with a small wet head and full, trickling, na‹ve haunches, she looked another creature.
He took the old sheet and rubbed her down, she standing like a child. Then he rubbed himself having shut the door of the hut. The fire was blazing up. She ducked her head in the other end of the sheet, and rubbed her wet hair.
‘We’re drying ourselves together on the same towel, we shall quarrel!’ he said.
She looked up for a moment, her hair all odds and ends.
‘No!’ she said, her eyes wide. ‘It’s not a towel, it’s a sheet.’ And she went on busily rubbing her head, while he busily rubbed his.
Still panting with their exertions, each wrapped in an army blanket, but the front of the body open to the fire, they sat on a log side by side before the blaze, to get quiet. Connie hated the feel of the blanket against her skin. But now the sheet was all wet.
She dropped her blanket and kneeled on the clay hearth, holding her head to the fire, and shaking her hair to dry it. He watched the beautiful curving drop of her haunches. That fascinated him today. How it sloped with a rich down-slope to the heavy roundness of her buttocks! And in between, folded in the secret warmth, the secret entrances!
He stroked her tail with his hand, long and subtly taking in the curves and the globe-fullness.
‘Tha’s got such a nice tail on thee,’ he said, in the throaty caressive dialect. ‘Tha’s got the nicest arse of anybody. It’s the nicest, nicest woman’s arse as is! An’ ivery bit of it is woman, woman sure as nuts. Tha’rt not one o’ them button-arsed lasses as should be lads, are ter! Tha’s got a real soft sloping bottom on thee, as a man loves in ’is guts. It’s a bottom as could hold the world up, it is!’
All the while he spoke he exquisitely stroked the rounded tail, till it seemed as if a slippery sort of fire came from it into his hands. And his finger-tips touched the two secret openings to her body, time after time, with a soft little brush of fire.
‘An’ if tha shits an’ if tha pisses, I’m glad. I don’t want a woman as couldna shit nor piss.’
Connie could not help a sudden snort of astonished laughter, but he went on unmoved.
‘Tha’rt real, tha art! Tha’art real, even a bit of a bitch. Here tha shits an’ here tha pisses: an’ I lay my hand on ’em both an’ like thee for it. I like thee for it. Tha’s got a proper, woman’s arse, proud of itself. It’s none ashamed of itself this isna.’
He laid his hand close and firm over her secret places, in a kind of close greeting.
‘I like it,’ he said. ‘I like it! An’ if I only lived ten minutes, an’ stroked thy arse an’ got to know it, I should reckon I’d lived onelife, see ter! Industrial system or not! Here’s one o’ my lifetimes.’
She turned round and climbed into his lap, clinging to him. ‘Kiss me!’ she whispered.
And she knew the thought of their separation was latent in both their minds, and at last she was sad.
She sat on his thighs, her head against his breast, and her ivory-gleaming legs loosely apart, the fire glowing unequally upon them. Sitting with his head dropped, he looked at the folds of her body in the fire-glow, and at the fleece of soft brown hair that hung down to a point between her open thighs. He reached to the table behind, and took up her bunch of flowers, still so wet that drops of rain fell on to her.
‘Flowers stops out of doors all weathers,’ he said. ‘They have no houses.’
‘Not even a hut!’ she murmured.
With quiet fingers he threaded a few forget-me-not flowers in the fine brown fleece of the mound of Venus.
‘There!’ he said. ‘There’s forget-me-nots in the right place!’
She looked down at the milky odd little flowers among the brown maiden-hair at the lower tip of her body.
‘Doesn’t it look pretty!’ she said.
‘Pretty as life,’ he replied.
And he stuck a pink campion-bud among the hair.
‘There! That’s me where you won’t forget me! That’s Moses in the bull-rushes.’
‘You don’t mind, do you, that I’m going away?’ she asked wistfully, looking up into his face.
But his face was inscrutable, under the heavy brows. He kept it quite blank.
‘You do as you wish,’ he said.
And he spoke in good English.
‘But I won’t go if you don’t wish it,’ she said, clinging to him.
There was silence. He leaned and put another piece of wood on the fire. The flame glowed on his silent, abstracted face. She waited, but he said nothing.
‘Only I thought it would be a good way to begin a break with Clifford. I do want a child. And it would give me a chance to, to — ’ she resumed.
‘To let them think a few lies,’ he said.
‘Yes, that among other things. Do you want them to think the truth?’
‘I don’t care what they think.’
‘I do! I don’t want them handling me with their unpleasant cold minds, not while I’m still at Wragby. They can think what they like when I’m finally gone.’
He was silent.
‘But Sir Clifford expects you to come back to him?’
‘Oh, I must come back,’ she said: and there was silence.
‘And would you have a child in Wragby?’ he asked.
She closed her arm round his neck.
‘If you wouldn’t take me away, I should have to,’ she said.
‘Take you where to?’
‘Anywhere! away! But right away from Wragby.’
‘Why, when I come back.’
‘But what’s the good of coming back, doing the thing twice, if you’re once gone?’ he said.
‘Oh, I must come back. I’ve promised! I’ve promised so faithfully. Besides, I come back to you, really.’
‘To your husband’s game-keeper?’
‘I don’t see that that matters,’ she said.
‘No?’ He mused a while. ‘And when would you think of going away again, then; finally? When exactly?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. I’d come back from Venice. And then we’d prepare everything.’
‘Oh, I’d tell Clifford. I’d have to tell him.’
He remained silent. She put her arms round his neck.
‘Don’t make it difficult for me,’ she pleaded.
‘Make what difficult?’
‘For me to go to Venice and arrange things.’
A little smile, half a grin, flickered on his face.
‘I don’t make it difficult,’ he said. ‘I only want to find out just what you are after. But you don’t really know yourself. You want to take time: get away and look at it. I don’t blame you. I think you’re wise. You may prefer to stay mistress of Wragby. I don’t blame you. I’ve no Wragbys to offer. In fact, you know what you’ll get out of me. No, no, I think you’re right! I really do! And I’m not keen on coming to live on you, being kept by you. There’s that too.’
She felt somehow as if he were giving her tit for tat.
‘But you want me, don’t you?’ she asked.
‘Do you want me?’
‘You know I do. That’s evident.’
‘Quite! And when do you want me?’
‘You know we can arrange it all when I come back. Now I’m out of breath with you. I must get calm and clear.’
‘Quite! Get calm and clear!’
She was a little offended.
‘But you trust me, don’t you?’ she said.
She heard the mockery in his tone.
‘Tell me then,’ she said flatly; ‘do you think it would be better if I don’t go to Venice?’
‘I’m sure it’s better if you do go to Venice,’ he replied in the cool, slightly mocking voice.
‘You know it’s next Thursday?’ she said.
She now began to muse. At last she said:
‘And we shall know better where we are when I come back, shan’t we?’
The curious gulf of silence between them!
‘I’ve been to the lawyer about my divorce,’ he said, a little constrainedly.
She gave a slight shudder.
‘Have you!’ she said. ‘And what did he say?’
‘He said I ought to have done it before; that may be a difficulty. But since I was in the army, he thinks it will go through all right. If only it doesn’t bring her down on my head!’
‘Will she have to know?’
‘Yes! she is served with a notice: so is the man she lives with, the co-respondent.’
‘Isn’t it hateful, all the performances! I suppose I’d have to go through it with Clifford.’
There was a silence.
‘And of course,’ he said, ‘I have to live an exemplary life for the next six or eight months. So if you go to Venice, there’s temptation removed for a week or two, at least.’
‘Am I temptation!’ she said, stroking his face. ‘I’m so glad I’m temptation to you! Don’t let’s think about it! You frighten me when you start thinking: you roll me out flat. Don’t let’s think about it. We can think so much when we are apart. That’s the whole point! I’ve been thinking, I must come to you for another night before I go. I must come once more to the cottage. Shall I come on Thursday night?’
‘Isn’t that when your sister will be there?’
‘Yes! But she said we would start at tea-time. So we could start at tea-time. But she could sleep somewhere else and I could sleep with you.
‘But then she’d have to know.’
‘Oh, I shall tell her. I’ve more or less told her already. I must talk it all over with Hilda. She’s a great help, so sensible.’
He was thinking of her plan.
‘So you’d start off from Wragby at tea-time, as if you were going to London? Which way were you going?’
‘By Nottingham and Grantham.’
‘And then your sister would drop you somewhere and you’d walk or drive back here? Sounds very risky, to me.’
‘Does it? Well, then, Hilda could bring me back. She could sleep at Mansfield, and bring me back here in the evening, and fetch me again in the morning. It’s quite easy.’
‘And the people who see you?’
‘I’ll wear goggles and a veil.’
He pondered for some time.
‘Well,’ he said. ‘You please yourself as usual.’
‘But wouldn’t it please you?’
‘Oh yes! It’d please me all right,’ he said a little grimly. ‘I might as well smite while the iron’s hot.’
‘Do you know what I thought?’ she said suddenly. ‘It suddenly came to me. You are the “Knight of the Burning Pestle”!’
‘Ay! And you? Are you the Lady of the Red-Hot Mortar?’
‘Yes!’ she said. ‘Yes! You’re Sir Pestle and I’m Lady Mortar.’
‘All right, then I’m knighted. John Thomas is Sir John, to your Lady Jane.’
‘Yes! John Thomas is knighted! I’m my-lady-maiden-hair, and you must have flowers too. Yes!’
She threaded two pink campions in the bush of red-gold hair above his penis.
‘There!’ she said. ‘Charming! Charming! Sir John!’
And she pushed a bit of forget-me-not in the dark hair of his breast.
‘And you won’t forget me there, will you?’ She kissed him on the breast, and made two bits of forget-me-not lodge one over each nipple, kissing him again.
‘Make a calendar of me!’ he said. He laughed, and the flowers shook from his breast.
‘Wait a bit!’ he said.
He rose, and opened the door of the hut. Flossie, lying in the porch, got up and looked at him.
‘Ay, it’s me!’ he said.
The rain had ceased. There was a wet, heavy, perfumed stillness. Evening was approaching.
He went out and down the little path in the opposite direction from the riding. Connie watched his thin, white figure, and it looked to her like a ghost, an apparition moving away from her.
When she could see it no more, her heart sank. She stood in the door of the hut, with a blanket round her, looking into the drenched, motionless silence.
But he was coming back, trotting strangely, and carrying flowers. She was a little afraid of him, as if he were not quite human. And when he came near, his eyes looked into hers, but she could not understand the meaning.
He had brought columbines and campions, and new-mown hay, and oak-tufts and honeysuckle in small bud. He fastened fluffy young oak-sprays round her breasts, sticking in tufts of bluebells and campion: and in her navel he poised a pink campion flower, and in her maiden-hair were forget-me-nots and woodruff.
‘That’s you in all your glory!’ he said. ‘Lady Jane, at her wedding with John Thomas.’
And he stuck flowers in the hair of his own body, and wound a bit of creeping-jenny round his penis, and stuck a single bell of a hyacinth in his navel. She watched him with amusement, his odd intentness. And she pushed a campion flower in his moustache, where it stuck, dangling under his nose.
‘This is John Thomas marryin’ Lady Jane,’ he said. ‘An’ we mun let Constance an’ Oliver go their ways. Maybe — ’
He spread out his hand with a gesture, and then he sneezed, sneezing away the flowers from his nose and his navel. He sneezed again.
‘Maybe what?’ she said, waiting for him to go on.
He looked at her a little bewildered.
‘Eh?’ he said.
‘Maybe what? Go on with what you were going to say,’ she insisted.
‘Ay, what was I going to say?’
He had forgotten. And it was one of the disappointments of her life, that he never finished.
A yellow ray of sun shone over the trees.
‘Sun!’ he said. ‘And time you went. Time, my Lady, time! What’s that as flies without wings, your Ladyship? Time! Time!’
He reached for his shirt.
‘Say goodnight! to John Thomas,’ he said, looking down at his penis. ‘He’s safe in the arms of creeping Jenny! Not much burning pestle about him just now.’
And he put his flannel shirt over his head.
‘A man’s most dangerous moment,’ he said, when his head had emerged, ‘is when he’s getting into his shirt. Then he puts his head in a bag. That’s why I prefer those American shirts, that you put on like a jacket.’ She still stood watching him. He stepped into his short drawers, and buttoned them round the waist.
‘Look at Jane!’ he said. ‘In all her blossoms! Who’ll put blossoms on you next year, Jinny? Me, or somebody else? “Good-bye, my bluebell, farewell to you!” I hate that song, it’s early war days.’ He then sat down, and was pulling on his stockings. She still stood unmoving. He laid his hand on the slope of her buttocks. ‘Pretty little Lady Jane!’ he said. ‘Perhaps in Venice you’ll find a man who’ll put jasmine in your maiden-hair, and a pomegranate flower in your navel. Poor little lady Jane!’
‘Don’t say those things!’ she said. ‘You only say them to hurt me.’
He dropped his head. Then he said, in dialect:
‘Ay, maybe I do, maybe I do! Well then, I’ll say nowt, an’ ha’ done wi’t. But tha mun dress thysen, all’ go back to thy stately homes of England, how beautiful they stand. Time’s up! Time’s up for Sir John, an’ for little Lady Jane! Put thy shimmy on, Lady Chatterley! Tha might be anybody, standin’ there be-out even a shimmy, an’ a few rags o’ flowers. There then, there then, I’ll undress thee, tha bob-tailed young throstle.’ And he took the leaves from her hair, kissing her damp hair, and the flowers from her breasts, and kissed her breasts, and kissed her navel, and kissed her maiden-hair, where he left the flowers threaded. ‘They mun stop while they will,’ he said. ‘So! There tha’rt bare again, nowt but a bare-arsed lass an’ a bit of a Lady Jane! Now put thy shimmy on, for tha mun go, or else Lady Chatterley’s goin’ to be late for dinner, an’ where ’ave yer been to my pretty maid!’
She never knew how to answer him when he was in this condition of the vernacular. So she dressed herself and prepared to go a little ignominiously home to Wragby. Or so she felt it: a little ignominiously home.
He would accompany her to the broad riding. His young pheasants were all right under the shelter.
When he and she came out on to the riding, there was Mrs Bolton faltering palely towards them.
‘Oh, my Lady, we wondered if anything had happened!’
‘No! Nothing has happened.’
Mrs Bolton looked into the man’s face, that was smooth and new-looking with love. She met his half-laughing, half-mocking eyes. He always laughed at mischance. But he looked at her kindly.
‘Evening, Mrs Bolton! Your Ladyship will be all right now, so I can leave you. Good-night to your Ladyship! Good-night, Mrs Bolton!’
He saluted and turned away.
Last updated Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 22:23