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For Love Alone
By Christina Stead
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 Christina Stead
All rights reserved.
Brown Seaweed and Old Fish Nets
Naked, except for a white towel rolled into a loincloth, he stood in the doorway, laughing and shouting, a tall man with powerful chest and thick hair of pale burning gold and a skin still pale under many summers' tan. He seemed to thrust back the walls with his muscular arms; thick tufts of red hair stood out from his armpits. The air was full of the stench of brown seaweed and old fish nets. Through the window you could see the water of the bay and the sand specked with flotsam and scalloped with yellow foam, left by the last wave. The man, Andrew Hawkins, though straight and muscular, was covered with flaccid yellow-white flesh and his waist and abdomen were too broad and full. He had a broad throat and chest and from them came a clear tenor voice.
"... she was sitting on the ground nursing her black baby, and she herself was black as a hat, with a strong, supple oily skin, finer than white women's skins: her heavy breasts were naked, she was not ashamed of that, but with natural modesty, which is in even the most primitive of women, she covered her legs with a piece of cloth lying on the ground and tittered behind her hand exactly like one of you"—he was saying to the two women sitting at the table. "Then she said something to her husband and he, a thin spindle-shanked fellow, translated for me, grinning from ear to ear: she asked how it was possible for a man to have such beautiful white feet as mine."
He looked down at his long blond feet and the two women looked from their sewing quickly at his feet, as if to confirm the story.
"I have always been admired for my beautiful white skin," said the golden-haired man, reminiscently. "Women love it in a man, it surprises them to see him so much fairer in colour than they are. Especially the darkies," and he looked frankly at Kitty Hawkins, who was a nut-brown brunette with drooping black hair. "But not only the dark ones," he went on softly. He kept on coaxing.
"I have been much loved; I didn't always know it—I was always such an idealist. When girls and, yes, even women older than myself, wanted to come and talk to me, I thought it was a thing of the brain. One poor girl, Paula Brown, wrote to me for years, discussing things. I never dreamed that it was not an interest in speculative thought. I used to tell her all my dreams and longings. I could have married a rich girl. In the Movement there was a quiet, pale girl called Annie Milson. Her father, though I didn't think about it at the time, was Commissioner for Railways and was quite the capitalist.
"They had properties all around here, dairy-farms down the south coast. I could have been a wealthy man if I had become Milson's son-in-law, and I believe he would have been delighted. He seemed to approve of me. I spent the afternoon at their Lindfield house two or three times—and spent the afternoon talking to Milson! I never suspected the girl liked me.
"I believe she loved the good-looking, sincere young idealist—but I had no interest in earthly things at the time and I never suspected it. Poor Annie! She used to send me books. Yes, I believe I was loved by many women but I was so pure that I had no temptations. 'My mind to me a kingdom was.' I suppose, now, when I look back, that I was a mystery to them, poor girls, such a handsome young man, who didn't dance, didn't take them to the theatre, and worried only about the social organism."
He laughed, his brilliant oval blue eyes, their whites slightly bloodshot, looking gaily at the two girls. He sighed, "I didn't know that I was a handsome lad. I didn't know then what a woman, a married woman, said to me much later, a fine, motherly soul she was, Mrs Kurzon, but she said it with a sigh, 'Mr Hawkins, how many women have wanted to put their hands in your wonderful hair?' She said it with a twinkle but she said it with longing too; and then she asked me if she could, laughing all the time and sweetly too, in a womanly sweet way. I let her, and she plunged them in and took them out with a sigh of gratification, 'Oh, Mr Hawkins, how wonderful it is!' And how many women have told me it was a shame to waste such hair on a man, they would give anything to have it."
One of the girls, the younger one, who was blond, looked up at the marvellous hair of the man.
Andrew Hawkins ran his hand through it, feeling it himself. A thought seemed to strike him; he brought down his hand and looked at the back, then the palm. It was a large, pale, muscular hand, an artisan's hand, hairless, diseased-looking because streaked and spotted with fresh cement. "Not a bad hand either," he said. He had something on the tip of his tongue but couldn't get it out, he went on about his legs instead. "Poor Mrs Slops said I had legs like a 'dook'. And I have seen 'dooks', at that, and not half so well-calved, I'll take my affidavit. But do you know, Kit," he said, lowering his voice, and his eyes darkening with modesty or wonder. "You see this hand, my good right hand, do you see it, Kit?"
Kitty laughed in her throat, a troubled, sunny laugh. "I've felt it, too, in my time."
He said mysteriously, lowering his voice again: "Women have kissed this hand." They both turned and looked at him, startled. "Yes, Kit, yes, you disbeliever," he said, turning to the younger girl. "Teresa won't believe me perhaps, for she doesn't want to love me, but women, several women have kissed this hand. Do you know how women kiss men's hands? They take it in both their hands, and kiss it first on the back, and then each finger separately, and they hate to let go." He burst out suddenly into a rough ringing laugh. "You would not believe that has happened—not once, but several times—to your Andrew!"
"Handy Andy," said Teresa, in her soft, unresonant voice. She did not glance up but went on sewing. Each of the girls had before her on the table the wide sleeve of a summer dress; it was a greyish lavender voile sprinkled with pink roses and they were sewing roses made of the material in rows along the sleeves.
"Ah, you think you know a lot about love," went on Andrew, coming into the room, and throwing himself full length on the old settee underneath the window that looked upon the beach. "Yes, Trees is always moaning about love, but you don't know, Trees, that love is warmth, heat. The sun is love and love also is fleshly, in this best sense that a beautiful woman gladdens the heart of man and a handsome man brightens the eyes of the ladies. One blessed circle, perpetual motion." He laughed. "Many women have loved your Andrew, but not you two frozen women." He continued teasing, waiting for an answer,
"Orpheus with his lute made T'rees
And the mountain tops that freeze,
Bow themselves when he did sing."
"We will never be finished," said Teresa.
"And there are the beans to do, I must do them," said Kitty, throwing the long sleeve on the table. "When they're done, I'll call to you and you put away the sewing. You must have some lunch, the wedding breakfast won't be till late."
"Beauty," mused Andrew, looking at them. "What a strange thing that I didn't have lovely daughters, I who worship beauty so much! Yes, Fate plays strange tricks, especially on her favourites. My dream as a lad was to find a stunning mate, and different from most youths, I dreamed of the time when I would have beautiful little women around me. How proud I was in prospect! But of course," he said confidingly to Teresa, "I knew nothing of a thing more sacred than beauty—human love. My dear Margaret attracted me by her truth-loving face, serious, almost stern—as sea-biscuit! ha-ha—but soft, womanly dark eyes, like Kitty's. I don't know where you got your face of a little tramp, Trees, a ragamuffin. If I had had three beautiful bouncing maidens like old Harkness! I saw the three of them coming down an alley in their rose garden last Saturday and I went up and pretended I couldn't see them. I said: 'Where are the Harknesses? Here I see nothing but prize roses!' They burst out laughing and Mina, she has a silvery, rippling laugh, said: 'Oh, Mr Hawkins, how very nice!'"
"Do you mean that fat one?" asked Teresa, spitefully.
"Ah, jocund, rubious, nods and becks and wreathed smiles," said Andrew, writhing on the settee in ecstasy, a broad smile on his face. "I peered in among the roses and then I pretended to see them and I said: 'I was looking for Mina, Teen and Violet, but all I see are the Three Graces!'"
"You should be ashamed," said Teresa, morosely.
"That just shows you don't understand the world and your Andrew," he retorted comfortably, leaning back and flexing and stretching his legs. "The girls were delighted! They went off into happy peals of golden laughter, like peals of bells. Mrs Harkness came running up and said: 'What have you been saying to my girls, Mr Hawkins? I must know the joke too.' We all laughed again. Mrs Harkness—I wish you could meet her—is a wonderful woman, motherly, but full of womanly charm and grace too. In her forties, plump, round, but not ungraceful, the hearthside Grace. And she too told me how beautiful my hair is. They can't help it, the desire to run their fingers through it is almost irresistible."
"Did she kiss your hand? Mrs Harkness, I mean," enquired Teresa in a low voice.
Hawkins looked at her sharply. "Don't jest at things that are sacred to me, Teresa. I have suffered much through love and when you come to know human love, instead of self-love—"
"The beans are done," called Kitty. Teresa gathered up her sewing.
"If you ever love! For I verily believe that inward and outward beauty strike one chord."
"You do," said the girl, "do you? Well, I don't. How simple that would be."
"An ugly face is usually the dried crust of a turbid, ugly soul. I personally," he said in a low, vibrant voice, "cannot stand ugliness, Trees. I worship beauty," he said, throwing his limbs about in a frenzy of enthusiasm, "and all my life I have served her, truth and beauty."
Teresa took the worn damask cloth out of the sideboard drawer and set five places.
"I want to be loved in my own home," said Hawkins, contemplating his long legs and speaking in a fine drawn silken murmur. "Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine what this place would be like if it were a Palace of Love! All your ideas of decorating the walls with fifteenth-century designs, peepholes, twisted vines, naked-bottomed fat and indecent infants on the ceiling—that's dry, meaningless, dull work, but if this house were peopled with our love, murmurous with all the undertones, unspoken understanding of united affection—a-ah!" He opened his beautiful blue eyes and looked across at her. "And yet, in a way, you're like my dear Margaret, but without her loving nature. How tender she was! I was her whole life, I and you babies. She knew that I had something precious in my head, like the whale with ambergris."
"A sick whale has ambergris," said Teresa. "A whale that's half rotting while it swims is the sort they go after, because they hope it has ambergris in its head. And you know how they bring in every soapy thing from the beach, everything that's greasy and pale, for ambergris."
"And she was modest," said the beautiful man, joining his hands, and looking down at them. "She had a curious thing she used to say: 'Andrew, how did a mouse like me get a man like you?' What charm there is in a modest woman! If you could learn that, Teresa, you would have charm for men, for they can forgive a lot in a woman who is truly devoted to them. What do we look for in women—understanding! In the rough and tumble of man's world, the law of the jungle is often the only law observed, but in the peace and sanctity of the man's home, he feels the love that is close to angels! A pretty face, a lovely form, cannot give that—or not those alone. No, it is because he knows he is loved ... Don't forget, Kitty, to clean my boots," he said, sitting up. "I'm going into town this afternoon."
"On the same boat with us?"
"No, later. And ask Trees if she sewed the buttons on my white shirt. Trees! Buttons—shirt?"
"Well, you could have gone to Malfi's wedding, you're going into town," objected Teresa, bringing in a vase of flowers.
"Ha—I don't approve of that hocus-pocus. You know that, Teresa. Love alone unites adult humans."
"We're not illegitimate," Teresa grinned.
He had risen to his feet and half turned to the window; now he partly turned to her, and she could see the flush on his face and neck. "Teresa," he said gently, "your mother and I were united by a great love, by a passion higher than earthly thoughts, and I should have kept to my principles, and she too was willing to live with me, bound only by the ties of our affection, but—I had already rescued her from the tyranny of that hard old man and we were too young and weak, we could not harden ourselves to hurt her mother's feelings as well."
The young girl went on smiling unpleasantly, "And if you loved someone else?"
The man looked out over the beach and bay for a moment and the girl flushed, thinking she had gone too far. He said, sotto voce: "My girl, since you bring it up, I am in love again, with a young woman, a woman of thirty, a—" His voice dropped. He came towards her, seized her arms and looked into her face without bending. "A wonderful, proud, fine-looking woman, pure in soul. My whole life is wrapping itself around her, so I'm glad you brought it up for you will understand later on—"
She angrily shook her arms free. "Don't touch me, I don't like it."
He sighed and turned his shoulder to her. "This is no way to treat men, men don't like an unbending woman."
"I am unbending."
"You will be sorry for it."
"You ordered us never to kiss or coax or put our arms around you or one another."
"A coaxing woman, a lying, wheedling woman is so abhorrent to men," he said. "I have seen a woman sitting on a man's lap, trying to coax things out of him. Isn't that shameful to you? I hope it is. I was firm on that one point and your mother agreed with me. She never flattered in hope of gain, she never once lied—never once in our whole married life, Trees. Think of your dear mother if temptation ever comes your way—although you will never be tempted to lie, I know, but the other little things in women, the petty, wretched things, the great flaws in female character—flightiness—" He paused and forced himself to go on with a grimace. "Flirtatiousness—though," he continued, looking round at her with a broad smile, "that is not likely to be your weakness, nor Kit's. If, I say, you should ever be tempted to tricks like that, thinking to please some man, remember that they detest those tricks and see through them. They know they are traps, mean little chicane to bend them to woman's purpose. I was at Random's the other day. He let his little daughter climb over him and beg him for something he had refused. He gave in. It was a humiliating sight for me, and for the man. I could see her years later, because she is pretty, a warped, dishonest little creature, only thinking of making men do things for her."
Excerpted from For Love Alone by Christina Stead. Copyright © 1978 Christina Stead. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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