This chapter is Justine’s continued first-person narration of her experiences with Harold Clarke. If you’ll recall, the evening before, when she’d played dominoes with George, unbeknownst to George, she’d been upset by Harold’s visit to Foxglove that afternoon. George knew that she was upset, he just didn’t know the exact reason why. That evening, a distraught Justine had opted not to stay the night at Rosegate, and had told George that she would not be returning to Rosegate in the morning because she needed to spend the following day at Foxglove alone. As we all know now, while that may have been Justine’s intention, her solitude did not come to pass, and she has been anything but alone at the cottage.
Morning came – against my will for I wished that night had never ended.
Looking down, I saw Harold’s hand over my breast, his leg wound up with mine. I felt his breath in gusts over my naked shoulder. There was nowhere else I would’ve rather been than in the soft grey light with him. And it was strange because the dawn was auguring a blustery day and yet, it felt like we were in the sun. I knew I loved him. Since when? I wasn’t sure. He’d rescued me so many times, and made me smile so many more, it was impossible to pinpoint when my gratitude had turned to interest then deepened into some magnetic pull which drew me into his embrace.
I eyed his upper arm, its bicep chiseled as if he were a bowler still. I thought of him at sport, bringing up the leg between mine now, winding back his arm and spinning the ball over the pitch toward the wicket. How wonderful it would’ve been to watch him play. He would’ve been a handsome lad, his dark hair falling as he foiled the batter. Thinking of his boyhood days, I thought how sad it was that we could never see our lovers as they were as children. If only I could turn back the hands of time, I’d save him from his father if I could.
“What are you thinking about?” he mumbled.
“You,” I answered, turning in his arms to face him. “About when you were young and what you told me about your father. And how I wished that I could’ve been there to save you.”
“You saved me later,” he whispered. “After I’d had the opportunity to save myself.”
“What do you mean?”
“My experiences with my father shaped me into who I am, and who you love –” He raised his eyebrow, clearly digging for my agreement. “That’s what you said last night, you realise, when –”
“Did I really?” I teased. “I don’t remember anything of the sort.”
“Well, you did,” he declared, moving his hands down into the small of my back and nudging his head under my chin to kiss my throat. “You almost shouted it in fact.”
“Truly? Well you’re going to have to jog my memory for I’ve clean forgotten. What on earth were you doing to me to elicit that?”
His eyes lit up and his smile broke wide.
“Are you challenging me, Justine?” he asked. “You don’t give up do you? That’s a serious error of judgement on your part, isn’t it? For, last night, if I recall correctly, you challenged me and – well – here we are, with me in the right and you in my arms – with the astonishing audacity to challenge me again.”
“Ah,” I said. “But last night, you felled me with your verbal persuasion. Let’s see how much sway you have without your sparring skills. I challenge you, Harold Clarke, not only to make me remember what I said last night – but to make me say it again.”
“Not fair,” he retorted.
“But you’re not looking for ‘fair’,” I echoed him from the night before. ‘But rather that you wanted to have me once. And here I am telling you that you can have me twice. However, not until you cure my temporary amnesia and remind me of what I said.”
“Without a single one,” I said with feigned sternness. “Body language only I’m afraid.”
“I should think tha –”
“Shhh—shhh—shhh—shhh—” I cupped my hand over his mouth –
And then he got to work, tonguing my palm, turning that into a kiss which ended on my wrist. Of all the lovely things he could’ve done, he chose the loveliest of all – which, to be fair – was absolutely anything and everything he wanted to do. It was a blur of flesh and bone, a fading in-and-out of some hot state where underneath becomes on-top so seamlessly, the motion doesn’t matter. I was in his mind whilst he was in my body; he was in my heart whilst I was on his every inch – but then I took a mile of his sweet time. And it was sexual love, akin to what I’d had with Greg at twenty, but aged so beautifully with years which hurt and rugged ways of deep survival. And as I moaned “I love you”, the greatest sadness came as I did.
Loss and pleasure swelled within me.
“You won,” I murmured in his arms. “You always win.”
“Not your hand in marriage though,” he murmured back.
“You don’t need my hand,” I said, “because you’ve got my heart.”
I felt so full as I got up that dawn and stoked the fire and made the tea. Not yet five o’clock in the morning, Harold and I were in the chairs, coppered ever-so-slightly in the grey. He was half-dressed, in his shirt and trousers with his waistcoat open, but I was in my nightgown still, my body visible through the soft pale fabric, my hair cascading over my shoulders. Harold had asked me to stay that way because he said that I looked beautiful at my most natural. I wanted to oblige him, so I did, loving how he watched me move, my breasts so thinly veiled behind the cotton.
“I loathe to admit it, Justine, but I’m curious,” Harold said hesitantly as we drank our tea. “I have this need to know. Once I’m after something, it’s a mental chase. I need to get to the bottom of it.”
“That’s the solicitor speaking,” I returned, not thinking much of the remark.
“No, not in this case. It’s the man speaking. Just the man.”
“Just the man?” I raised my eyebrow. “Would that happen to be the man who knocked on my door last night and begged me to bed him?”
“I did not beg!” he huffed indignantly. “With your permission, I swayed and convinced.”
“The tools of your trade came in handy. I’ll give you that,” I teased with a wink, “because you used your wily ways to get to the bottom of things.”
“My wily ways?” he scoffed. “My wily ways?”
“Well, I don’t know what else I’d call them.”
“I was very seductive last night,” he said with feigned indignance. “If I’d been in your shoes, I would’ve fallen into my own arms just as quickly and passionately as you did.”
“You would say that, wouldn’t you, seeing as you’re in love with yourself.”
“With good reason as last night I was on top of my game – and this morning.”
“That wasn’t the only thing you were on top of,” I jested.
That’s how it always was with Harold, with the simplest of questions or statements leading into some delightful little debate and with him usually winning. I relished the tension between myself and Harold; our verbal tug-of-wars always made me tingle.
“So, what are you curious about at the moment?” I asked, ready to return to the statement with which he’d initiated the discussion. “What do you need to know now?”
He cut to the chase and didn’t mince words.
“I need to know how you write,” he said seriously.
“How I write?” I echoed, taken aback. “But why?”
“Because you talk of writing so much,” he said slowly, softly. “You always have done. When we were at St. Anne’s together after Sidney’s death –”
“It will always be after Sidney’s death,” I blurted out, instantly annoyed. “Now is after Sidney’s death. Tomorrow and the next day and ten years from now will be after Sidney’s death.”
Harold reddened, stung by my curt words.
I was immediately ashamed of myself and reddened also.
“I’m so sorry, Justine,” he immediately said. “I don’t understand. Have I upset you?”
“I’m upset,” I returned, swallowing hard as if I could take back what I’d said. “But not with you. I feel confused, uncertain. Embarrassed even.”
“Whatever for?” Setting his teacup down, he rose from his chair and pulled me up from mine, tipping my chin to raise my gaze to his. “Justine? It’s me. Harold. Why on earth would you have feelings of confusion, uncertainty, and embarrassment with me? Did I not tell you many-times-over that I loved you, both last night and this morning? There’s nothing to be afraid of with me. I’m here.” He pulled me close. “And when I’m not, I will be here.” He kissed my forehead, then my temple. “Always here.”
“And whilst you’re here in my presence,” I said, resting my cheek on his chest and wrapping my arms around his waist, “I cannot write about you, or for you. I can’t even bring myself to show you my writing, not the sort of writing that comes easiest to me – the writing of which I’ve spoken.”
“Why ever not, when I’m in love with you?”
“Because you’re physically here. Because I have you.”
“Forgive me, Justine, but I don’t understand.”
I pulled away from him and sitting back down, beckoning for him to do the same. Tears were gathering in my eyes, Harold beginning to blur.
“Justine?” He leant forward as if to touch me, but I pulled away. “Talk to me, please.”
“You will read my writing, Harold,” I said. “You will read more than I wish you to read. And you will read the writing of which I’ve spoken, the writing that you’re asking to read. But I can only write it for you and give it to you when you’re not here, when I can’t have you.”
“Why only then?” he asked quietly.
“Because I’m divided whilst whole.”
He furrowed his brow. He didn’t understand.
I could feel the lump forming in my throat, the first of the tears about to fall.
“I can only write in that way about what is out of my reach,” I murmured as the tears began to line my cheeks. “I can only write that way if I crave what – no – who I can’t have. My writing is in lieu of my body, don’t you understand? If you have my body which you do right now, you can’t have my writing. I can’t give you both. It’s one or the other, Harold. One or the other. And yet both make up me. It hurts like mad because for me to share that other part of myself with you, for me to give you myself in print, you must go away. You must stay away for me to desire you so fiercely until I have no choice but to give myself to the page. Your physical absence is the only way you’ll get me in writing.”
“I see,” he responded. “I see.”
“I cannot eat if I’m not hungry. I cannot write when I’m fulfilled. There must be hunger for me to write – an ache for me to write – an empty space to fill with ink.”
“Was that how it was with Sir Wells?”
“Yes. After he died.”
“It’s how it will be with you.”
“I see,” he said again but oh-so-sadly. “And yet I need to know that part of you.”
I was up and on my knees before him, looking up into his downturned gaze.
“How can I describe this to you for you understand?” I said emphatically. “I love with my pen and I make love with my pen. The pen becomes an extension of my body, the words become my touch, the measure of the sentences the rhythm of my form. And if I write a story, it’s a sexual experience, the way the crises move toward the climax before the sweet descent into denouement. If you have my words, you have my sensuality unhindered. I write like I make love, and I make love like I write, but I can’t do them together; they are always separate. I must miss you to write for you like that.”
“I want to know the way you feel in print, Justine,” he said, so gravely. “I want for you to touch me with your words, arouse me with your writing. I want to know you fully even if it hurts.”
“And what if you don’t like me in print? What if you think me wanton or lewd? Salacious or immoral? It’s different, Harold. It’s different to see those moments on the page.”
“You underestimate me, Justine.”
“You’re a man of the world, Harold, and the world condemns behaviour I love.”
“You’re not the only one who loves that behaviour. Many do, the difference being they keep their pleasures private, unarticulated. Public modesty is a façade for all the lovemaking that happens in the bedrooms of the world which makes the vast majority of people a little hypocritical to say the very least. We’ve all arrived on this small globe by way of sexual intercourse which, dare I say, was probably quite rhapsodic for the engenderers-to-be and, every single one of us with children has engaged in the enjoyable act. You can’t tell me that the participants in procreation ho-hummed their way through some tedious endeavour of the flesh. For if they had, they wouldn’t have produced the necessary secretion to create the future generations. So, between you and me, I believe it’s hypocritical for society to condemn the artists who are merely capturing the delights which occur behind closed doors.”
“So, you believe I’m innocent then?” I asked, relieved. “At least in your mind?”
“I wouldn’t defend you if I didn’t,” he said. “Besides, from what you’ve told me, you’re writing about intimate moments between lovers, erotic engagement, beautiful episodes. How could that offend me, coming from you? You have a lot of love to express, Justine, and the fact that it’s erotic moves me.”
“Thank you, Harold,” I returned but quietly.
“No, Justine,” he said, bending down and kissing my crown. “Thank you for explaining how you work. It makes me love you even more than I already do.”
“I have an idea,” Harold said a moment or two later. “A challenge I suppose.”
“Of course, you may deny me if you choose.”
“How can I deny you if I don’t know what you’re posing?”
“True,” he answered, hesitating to choose his words as he so often did before he said, “It’s blustery but dry. If I took it upon myself to go walking in the heath for an hour or two, do you think you’d be able to write for me in my absence? Give our new relationship on paper a practice run?”
I looked up into his eyes. They were sad, I could see that, but steady and calm – stoic, but kind. But the minute I saw them, I knew. I knew that Harold was determined to give me what, at the time, I believed I desired: to marry George so I could beget a Wells’ child, a replacement for Sidney. In hindsight, I now see that even then, he knew my plan was a mistake-in-the-making and yet, he was willing to stand back for me to make that mistake.
“Is that what you truly want?”
“Yes,” he replied, tucking a wayward tendril of hair behind my ear. “I want to know how we sound on paper and I want –” His voice cracked with emotion. “– to hear you read it to me upon my return. It might be the only opportunity I ever have to hear you share that part of yourself with me in your own voice. After today, Justine, I want to remember your voice. Not just how it’s been in our banter and talk. But how it is when you articulate our intimacy in writing. I need that memory of sound if I’m to walk away so you can marry George. I need the sound of your written word.”
I’m not denying Harold’s emotion, nor the honesty with which he spoke. But as heart-driven as he was, he was also a mastermind of human nature, much like Gregory had been. Harold knew full well that he’d need to emphasize our pending separation to stir the love writer within me. He knew he’d have to strike that minor chord to lead me into sadness.
“Very well, Harold. But where will you go at this hour?”
“I’ll walk to the Medical Academy and back,” he replied. “That should take me a good hour and a half. The country air will do me good. And if the sun should decide to rear his sleepy head, I’ll be there to see him rise, won’t I? For one morning at least, I’ll be able to pretend that you’re my wife and it’s just one of many mornings I’m admiring the sunrise as your husband.” And there it was again: his playing of my emotions.
And there it was: a fresh set of tears all raring to go.
“And to think of all the jurors that didn’t have the pleasure,” I jested, rising, trying to dull the ache inside my chest. “To not know what it was like to have their heartstrings tugged by Barrister Clarke.”
“Come here, Justine,” he said, getting up and reeling me in. “I want to kiss you.”
So, there we stood locked tight with one kiss leading to another until he fumbled with the buttons on my nightdress, lifting my breast into his mouth and sucking me into a frenzy, eliciting the thin white line of ecstasy between my thighs. My body was a mess with tears and pleasure which we could have axed in one fell swoop. But no, a mastermind of sweet manipulation, Harold pulled away and doing up my buttons, whispered, “There, my love – now write.”
I couldn’t believe it – but then again, of Harold, I could. And so, I stood there dripping with a mix of melancholia and pleasure, watching as he donned his jacket, cloak and hat and hurried out the door. But, what a devil in disguise was Harold for as he ducked the doorframe, he turned and tipped his hat and challenged me by saying, “Let your ink take care of that!”
“The bloody nerve,” I huffed, straightening myself out and wandering to my desk.
The tingling sensation Harold’s arousal of me had caused subsided as I pulled a stack of paper from the desk, opened the inkwell, and dipped the pen in the ink. As I looked out on the mist rising from the gorse, I recalled how Greg had trained me for his absence the night he’d made me climax without touch, the night he’d made me writhe with words alone. He had succeeded then to make me orgasm with language. Language was that powerful, that evocative and so, why people feared it and, also sought it out.
And yet, that memory of my episode with Greg surfaced like a fact inside the history book of my own life. No longer aphrodisiacal, it existed as a soft, warm instant of the past. I took a moment to acknowledge it, to see my younger self in nothing but the corset and the boots, the girl stretched out beside the fire, moving to the words that moved her. She was beautiful, that girl – still part of me, but just a part, not the whole that Harold had. Unlike Greg, Harold had the me matured, the woman lived, the sex which had inherited the depth of tragedy and therefore knew its worth.
Gregory had been my teacher in erotic language. I was the teacher now, about to tutor Harold on the power of sexual engagement which could take place in loneliness and absence, which could provoke the spasm shared in separate beds in separate rooms. I was about to train my lover for our separation.
I closed my eyes.
And drew a breath.
Exhaled. Beheld the heath at dawn. Drew in. Exhaled. Drew in.
I could still feel Harold’s ghost inside my nightgown, the tugging motion of his tongue around my areola, the puckering of its warm pink ridges as he pulled his mouth away and moved his hands onto my buttocks, pressing his groin into my shadow softened by the ivory cotton of the nightdress. Even though he’d be approaching Beech Street in that moment, I could feel him hardening through his trousers, his phallus acting of its own accord, responding to my cloying cervix. I could feel his need. It was all over me and I was dripping for him like the pen which wept its dark blue drops onto the paper.
It would’ve been so easy to disappear into the bedroom and satisfy myself, to rid myself of his exquisite ghost which scintillated every sexual nerve within me.
But I was going to give it to the page.
To show him that he could have me physically in my absence.
In pain, in lust, in love, I pinched the pen and touched the open page.
And then – I let it flow the way I would if I were making love.
It was the same whilst being different.
“I fascinated you,” I wrote, almost in a trance. “Because I approached you in the in-between when things are at their truest, when time is what it wants to be, not what the world has chosen for it. I came to you between the summer and the autumn when the leaves are half-green and half-golden. But the leaves were also in-between, their greenness dimmed, their gold subdued in the demi-darkened light of a dawn that I will always spend with you as long as we’re on paper.”