When they got to the bushes they found a natural alcove. On three sides were beds of thorn, leafless but impenetrable, and on the other side you looked downhill over a sweep of naked ploughed fields. At the bottom of the hill stood a low-roofed cottage, tiny as a child’s toy, its chimneys smokeless. Not a creature was stirring anywhere. You could not have been more alone than in such a place. The grass was the fine mossy stuff that grows under trees.
‘We ought to have brought a mackintosh,’ he said. He had knelt down.
‘It doesn’t matter. The ground’s fairly dry.’
He pulled her to the ground beside him, kissed her, pulled off the flat felt hat, lay upon her breast to breast, kissed her face all over. She lay under him, yielding rather than responding. She did not resist when his hand sought her breasts. But in her heart she was still frightened. She would do it—oh, yes! she would keep her implied promise, she would not draw back; but all the same she was frightened. And at heart he too was half reluctant. It dismayed him to find how little, at this moment, he really wanted her. The money-business still unnerved him. How can you make love when you have only eightpence in your pocket and are thinking about it all the time? Yet in a way he wanted her. Indeed, he could not do without her. His life would be a different thing when once they were really lovers. For a long time he lay on her breast, her head turned sideways, his face against her neck and hair, attempting nothing further.
Then the sun came out again. It was getting low in the sky now. The warm light poured over them as though a membrane across the sky had broken. It had been a little cold on the grass, really, with the sun behind the clouds; but now once again it was almost as warm as summer. Both of them sat up to exclaim at it.
‘Oh, Gordon, look! Look how the sun’s lighting everything up!’
As the clouds melted away a widening yellow beam slid swiftly across the valley, gilding everything in its path. Grass that had been dull green shone suddenly emerald. The empty cottage below sprang out into warm colours, purply-blue of tiles, cherry-red of brick. Only the fact that no birds were singing reminded you that it was winter. Gordon put his arm round Rosemary and pulled her hard against him. They sat cheek to cheek, looking down the hill. He turned her round and kissed her.
‘You do like me, don’t you?’
‘Adore you, silly.’
‘And you’re going to be nice to me, aren’t you?’
‘Nice to you?’
‘Let me do what I want with you?’
‘Yes, I expect so.’
‘Yes, all right. Anything.’
He pressed her back upon the grass. It was quite different now. The warmth of the sun seemed to have got into their bones. ‘Take your clothes off, there’s a dear,’ he whispered. She did it readily enough. She had no shame before him. Besides, it was so warm and the place was so solitary that it did not matter how many clothes you took off. They spread her clothes out and made a sort of bed for her to lie on. Naked, she lay back, her hands behind her head, her eyes shut, smiling slightly, as though she had considered everything and were at peace in her mind. For a long time he knelt and gazed at her body. Its beauty startled him. She looked much younger naked than with her clothes on. Her face, thrown back, with eyes shut, looked almost childish. He moved closer to her. Once again the coins clinked in his pocket. Only eightpence left! Trouble coming presently. But he wouldn’t think of it now. Get on with it, that’s the great thing, get on with it and damn the future! He put an arm beneath her and laid his body to hers.
‘Yes. All right.’
‘You’re not frightened?’
‘I’ll be as gentle as I can with you.’
‘It doesn’t matter.’
A moment later:
‘Oh, Gordon, no! No, no, no!’
‘What? What is it?’
‘No, Gordon, no! You mustn’t! No!’
She put her hands against him and pushed him violently back. Her face looked remote, frightened almost hostile. It was terrible to feel her push him away at such a moment. It was as though cold water had been dashed all over him. He fell back from her, dismayed, hurriedly re-arranging his clothes.
‘What is it? What’s the matter?’
‘Oh, Gordon! I thought you—oh, dear!’
She threw her arm over her face and rolled over on her side, away from him, suddenly ashamed.
‘What is it?’ he repeated.
‘How could you be so thoughtless?’
‘What do you mean—thoughtless?’
‘Oh! you know what I mean!’
His heart shrank. He did know what she meant; but he had never thought of it till this moment. And of course—oh, yes!—he ought to have thought of it. He stood up and turned away from her. Suddenly he knew that he could go no further with this business. In a wet field on a Sunday afternoon—and in mid-winter at that! Impossible! It had seemed so right, so natural only a minute ago; now it seemed merely squalid and ugly.
‘I didn’t expect this,’ he said bitterly.
‘But I couldn’t help it, Gordon! You ought to have—you know.’
‘You don’t think I go in for that kind of thing, do you?’
‘But what else can we do? I can’t have a baby, can I?’
‘You must take your chance.’
‘Oh, Gordon, how impossible you are!’
She lay looking up at him, her face full of distress, too overcome for the moment even to remember that she was naked. His disappointment had turned to anger. There you are, you see! Money again! Even in the most secret action of your life you don’t escape it; you’ve still got to spoil everything with filthy cold-blooded precautions for money’s sake. Money, money, always money! Even in the bridal bed, the finger of the money-god intruding! In the heights or in the depths, he is there. He walked a pace or two up and down, his hands in his pockets.
‘Money again, you see!’ he said. ‘Even at a moment like this it’s got the power to stand over us and bully us. Even when we’re alone and miles from anywhere, with not a soul to see us.’
‘What’s money got to do with it?’
‘I tell you it’d never even enter your head to worry about a baby if it wasn’t for the money. You’d want the baby if it wasn’t for that. You say you “can’t” have a baby. What do you mean, you “can’t” have a baby? You mean you daren’t; because you’d lose your job and I’ve got no money and all of us would starve. This birth-control business! It’s just another way they’ve found out of bullying us. And you want to acquiesce in it, apparently.’
‘But what am I to do, Gordon? What am I to do?’
At this moment the sun disappeared behind the clouds. It became perceptibly colder. After all, the scene was grotesque—the naked woman lying in the grass, the dressed man standing moodily by with his hands in his pockets. She’d catch her death of cold in another moment, lying there like that. The whole thing was absurd and indecent.
‘But what else am I to do?’ she repeated.
‘I should think you might start by putting your clothes on,’ he said coldly.
He had only said it to avenge his irritation; but its result was to make her so painfully and obviously embarrassed that he had to turn his back on her. She had dressed herself in a very few moments. As she knelt lacing up her shoes he heard her sniff once or twice. She was on the point of crying and was struggling to restrain herself. He felt horribly ashamed. He would have liked to throw himself on his knees beside her, put his arms round her and ask her pardon. But he could do nothing of the kind; the scene had left him lumpish and awkward. It was with difficulty that he could command his voice even for the most banal remark.
‘Are you ready?’ he said flatly.
They went back to the road, climbed through the wire and started down the hill without another word. Fresh clouds were rolling across the sun. It was getting much colder. Another hour and the early dusk would have fallen. They reached the bottom of the hill and came in sight of the Ravenscroft Hotel, scene of their disaster.
‘Where are we going?’ said Rosemary in a small sulky voice.
‘Back to Slough, I suppose. We must cross the bridge and have a look at the signposts.’
They scarcely spoke again till they had gone several miles. Rosemary was embarrassed and miserable. A number of times she edged closer to him, meaning to take his arm, but he edged away from her; and so they walked abreast with almost the width of the road between them. She imagined that she had offended him mortally. She supposed that it was because of his disappointment—because she had pushed him away at the critical moment—that he was angry with her; she would have apologised if he had given her a quarter of a chance. But as a matter of fact he was scarcely thinking of this any longer. His mind had turned away from that side of things. It was the money-business that was troubling him now—the fact that he had only eightpence in his pocket. In a very little while he would have to confess it. There would be the bus fares from Farnham to Slough, and tea in Slough, and cigarettes, and more bus fares and perhaps another meal when they got back to London; and just eightpence to cover the lot! He would have to borrow from Rosemary after all. And that was so damned humiliating. It is hateful to have to borrow money off someone you have just been quarrelling with. What nonsense it made of all his fine attitudes! There was he, lecturing her, putting on superior airs, pretending to be shocked because she took contraception for granted; and the next moment turning round and asking her for money! But there you are, you see, that’s what money can do. There is no attitude that money or the lack of it cannot puncture.
By half past four it was almost completely dark. They tramped along misty roads where there was no illumination save the cracks of cottage windows and the yellow beam of an occasional car. It was getting beastly cold, too, but they had walked four miles and the exercise had warmed them. It was impossible to go on being unsociable any longer. They began to talk more easily, and by degrees they edged closer together. Rosemary took Gordon’s arm. Presently she stopped him and swung him round to face her.
‘Gordon, why are you so beastly to me?’
‘How am I beastly to you?’
‘Coming all this way without speaking a word!’
‘Are you still angry with me because of what happened just now?’
‘No. I was never angry with you. You’re not to blame.’
She looked up at him, trying to divine the expression of his face in the almost pitch darkness. He drew her against him, and, as she seemed to expect it, tilted her face back and kissed her. She clung to him eagerly; her body melted against his. She had been waiting for this, it seemed.
‘Gordon, you do love me, don’t you?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Things went wrong somehow. I couldn’t help it. I got frightened suddenly.’
‘It doesn’t matter. Another time it’ll be all right.’