Part 8. Lesbian-Ape
DAN scudded down Launceston Place, a high wind smote its acacia fernery, and he found his way to Ashbum Place, which was up in arms. Two vagabond cripples had seized a basement, into which they had fallen. This Place he descended in quick strides passing to the other side of the road, averting his head from the scene of disorder. Where Ashburn Place ended he hesitated, and then entered Rosary Gardens. Leaving them behind him, and passing over into Chelsea, he consulted his pocket-map.
It was a long way to this spot from Mrs. Farnham’s. He could never have done it without the help of a pocket-atlas of London and his natural map-craft. Policemen made him extremely shy. He never spoke to them if he could help it, and avoided their eyes, even, when crossing the tides of traffic. From experience he had found that, on account of his self-consciousness, it was quite impossible to understand their directions at all. Nothing but confusion ensued from asking to be directed by one of these helmeted young men in blue—whose proverbially kind eyes only drew him in, under the cruel peaked eaves of their helmets, and made him forgetful of his duty and feel so terribly hot and ashamed too and only upset him in any case.
Dan went along a tunnel that was an arched way beneath flats. And in the twilight he came to an empty terrace, upon one side of which was a row of liver-umber, brick, geraniumed cottages. Confronting them was a high and gloomy wall, it filled the terrace with premature darkness. Above it Dan could see the tops of the windows of formidable studios.—These were the gardens he was to visit. A great nest of women Apes! The studios were secluded.
Turning into a paved court, out of the narrow terrace, there was a row of wicket-gates, cottage-effect. He attempted in spite of the misty dusk to read the numbers upon the small green studio doors. He stopped at the third wicket-gate. He looked over it for a little while, he was satisfied. Although the number was blurred and might be five instead of three, he entered and knocked upon the massive doll’s-house entrance. The door opened very suddenly. Dan at the moment was collapsed, as if deflated, and crumpling at the left side. He had forgotten he was there, about to put his head into the she-ape’s den, in a spasm of delicious reminiscence, and of anticipation. Tomorrow Horace would be with him !
With alarm he glanced up. Before him stood a severe masculine figure. In general effect it was a bavarian youth-movement elderly enthusiast. She was beyond question somewhat past mark-of-mouth. But this was a woman, as in fact she had appeared in the typed description. Of that he felt tolerably cer tain, because of the indefinable something that could only be described as ” masculine.” An heroic something or other in the bold blue eye, that held an eyeglass, that reminded him of the Old Guard or the Death-or-Glory-Boys, in the house of Mr. Brian Macdonnell, secured for him certainty of the sex at least without further worry. It was She. This was Miss Ansell.
She was wiry and alert with hennaed hair bristling, en- brosse. In khaki-shorts, her hands were in their pockets, and her bare sunburnt legs were all muscle and no nonsense at all. There was something that reminded Dan of Dick Whittingdon, for she was bald, he remarked with a deep blush, on the top of her head. Only there the resemblance ended it seemed, for whereas Dick was anxious, that was easy to see, to disguise his naked scalp, this strong-minded person had a peculiar air of being proud of it all the time (to be bald, like the ability to grow a moustache, was a masculine monopoly). A march had been stolen, with her masculine calvity. But a strawberry-pink pull-over was oddly surmounted by a stiff Radcliffe-Hall collar, of antique masculine cut—suggestive of the masculine hey-day, when men were men starched-up and stiff as pokers, in their tandems and tilburys. The bare brown feet were strapped into spartan sandals. A cigarette-holder half a foot long protruded from a firm-set jaw. It pointed at Dan, sparkling angrily as the breath was compressed within its bore.
Daniel Boleyn stood simply rooted to the spot. He was frankly dismayed, but could think of nothing to say to excuse himself for having knocked at all. ” The wrong door! ” he muttered in his mind but he could not utter the apology. He was genuinely sorry he had knocked—but he was quite unable to find his tongue. Could this be Miss Ansell? Surely he would have been warned in his morning duty-sheet. Not even Horace would have been so inhumane as not to whisper a caveat! Why had he been sent to her? He must have mistaken the number. What was the number? Was it five? Was it three? He had not looked for some time at his instructions, though he was positive three was the number. What a terrible oversight! —
They stood staring at each other for a momentous half- minute, the woman with the utmost hostility.
“What are you staring at! “at last she asked him, bold and gruff, straight from the shoulder.
A shiver went down Dan’s back as he heard this voice, but he was incapable of moving a muscle.
She turned up a wrist-watch towards the sky. “It’s a bit late isn’t it?” She pointed out to him gruffly.
Dan blushed. It was late.
“Come in, if you’re coming in!”
She turned upon her heel and went back into a large lighted studio, which he could perceive beyond. At least it was a studio, even if the wrong one, and should he bolt she would be after him like a flash of greased lightning he was positive and catch him before he had gone far.
But as she left him he did regain the use of his legs. Con vulsively he stepped out and it was forward he was moving. He followed the soldierly boy-scoutish fantosh into the artist’s-studio, slinking in the wake of its positive strut.
“Shut the door!” she called over her shoulder at him, as she receded.
Dan went back and, with the most anxious attention, he closed the front door without making any noise whatever, as he pushed it into its sleek solid oaken rabbets. Then anew he made his way into the lighted interior, and she faced him in the manner t hat is indicated by the word roundly and by the word squarely.
There she stood, and avoiding her militant male eye he approached her. Her dander was up.
“Who sent you? Was it Borstie? Was it Miss Lippencott? “ she demanded.
“Lip Got!” Dan cooed, with blankest eyes, in Beach-la-Mar.
“Lippencott” she said with a dark puzzled scorn. He was quite silent. However pressed for an answer, he would have been quite unable to open his lips any more. She quizzed the drooping six-foot-three of speechless man-hood. With vicious eye she wrenched off his four-foot of swaying trouser-leg. She tore to shreds the massive pretences of the male attire.
She snorted a sigh, as she saw the man quail at her glances. ”Well, let’s have a look at you!” she then ruggedly ex claimed, as one chap to another. She jerked a thumb backwards, towards a screen, beneath the balcony, which ran the entire length of the long side of the place.
“You can undress there! Look slippy!”
At this Dan’s knees in fact did shake. Had he had a tongue in his head he would have told her then and there that she must be mistaken. He was not an Italian model (such as he had seen leaving the studio of Melanie). There was some fearful misunderstanding. This was not Miss Ansell, he had been deceived. It was quite a different kind of Ape, that dwelt in this lonely well, to the one it had been Horace’s wish he should visit.
But even as these words (which would not materialize) were crying out inside his brain, he was assailed by a new doubt. If this were after all Miss Ansell? Horace he said to himself would not have sent him here upon a purposeless errand. There was nothing purposeless about Horace. This was a noted Ape of God no doubt. He had been dispatched to report upon her — he must not leave empty-handed. It was not his place to call in question the arrangements of Horace. Horace, it might very well be, had intended him to pose as a nude Italian model, to this woman. For the ways of Horace were mysterious in the extreme.
Taken to its ultimatum and crisis, where would this not perhaps lead? The expressive eyes of this dewy colossus, this maidenly great doe, rolled in panic — he saw the path that Horace had, it might be, intended him to tread, but he balked it in one sweeping squirm of lovely revulsion. He writhed, beneath her insulting eyes. Mustht I? his eye, in tender obsecration, asked. Yrslh! her eye signalled in response, in beastly parody—hitting every time below the belt.
In spite of the fact that his glances were downcast mainly, Dan was yet present to every object, and he had immediately observed with terror a large dog-whip upon the model’s-throne. Haunted as he was by the memory of the. Bokharan ox thong he had been compelled to hold by that grinning old Jenny, the sight of this disciplinary instrument disturbed him extremely. In fancy he could see himself naked, in full flight, before this little hennaed white-collared huntress — her dog-thong cracking about his girl-white surfaces, of Clydesdale proportions, as he rushed round and round her artist’s studio — till probably he would fall, panting and exhausted, at her sandalled feet! And vac victis of course — there would be no quarter in this sanguinary immera. For better or for worse, he must escape at once—he could not go through with it, he had made up his mind—tomorrow he must inform Horace that posing as a nude model was a thing he was quite unable to do. Would Horace excuse him nude-posing please, as a great concession! It would be asking him to suffer the tortures of the Damned! Please Horace, do not ask me to strip and nude-pose — not that! (It was not as though he were beautiful, he added with a secret blush.)
“What are you doing may I ask?” the horrid masculine accents banged out at him ever so loud in the big hollow studio, and caused him a fright-bang too — a discharge of adrenalin.
“Look sharp! I can’t hang about here all night for you to peel!”
Oh how that dreadful word peel left him not only naked, but skinless! What, wrench off his putamen, in obedience to this martinet? Oh what a horrid errand was this, upon which Horace had sent him! — if, that was, he had come to the right address. What an anguishing thought — the real Ape he had been sent in quest of might in fact all the time be expecting him with a glass of sherry, in the studio opposite.
She had been lighting a cigarette, straddling her tiger-skinned hearth, selecting a seasoned cigarette-holder, resembling a Brissago, facing the mantelpiece. Catching sight (out of the corner of her eye) of this maddening male professional lay-figure, who had turned up to offer himself for posing-work, still in the same place (posing as it were already where he stood) she wheeled about in the most savage manner possible. Pointing to the screen, she shouted:
“There you idiot — over there! — can’t you see the bloody thing! Go over there and peel at once or I’ll chuck you out of the bloody studio neck and crop! Yes I mean it! I do believe you’re some beastly Fairy! I don’t know what possessed Borstie to send a ghastly Fairy round here! It’s no use your making sheep’s eyes at me! Either go in there and peel or else beat it! Do you get me! Jump to it !
“ As she said jump she jumped herself, and more dead than alive Dan skipped as well. As she took a threatening step in his direction he turned tail, he rushed quickly over straight at the screen. Bolt upright behind it, his heart-rate trebled, he held his breath and bit his lip, rolling frightened eyes. He strained his ears to catch her movements. Oh — what he had gone through for the sake of this man! And did Horace return his devotion? He smiled wanly to himself, in the comparative darkness — no, one would scarcely say Horace did, to judge from all he made him suffer!
Dan became slowly aware that his was the opposite case to that of the ostrich. He had achieved the occultation of his body, but the luxuriant summit of his head must be visible above the screen. So he made haste to crouch down, and in that position he placed an eye to a crack, where two of the panels of the screen met. With an intense alarm, he was able now to observe all the movements of the threatening masculine person beyond, in her sports-kit (dressed to kill, by sheer roughness, and to subdue all the skirted kind) scraping a large palette with an ugly looking jack-knife.
He saw her look up, stop scraping, and incline her head to listen. Then she called out sharply.
“I say aren’t you ready yet? You take a long time to peel for a man!”
There was a pause in which, knife in hand, she listened.
“I don’t believe you are peeling! “ He saw her put down the palette upon the model’s-throne, next to the dog-whip. She retained, he observed abashed, the long jack-knife in her hand.
In an instant Dan had wrenched off his jacket, torn from his neck his collar and his tie. With hands all thumbs and all a-flutter, he undid, and then in one continuous movement dropped down, and kicked off, his man’s long trousers — as if as a symbol of capitulation to the militant feminine-male beyond. Standing white, occult, and quite naked, his teeth chattering, with his vest in one hand and limp shoe in the other, he awaited the next move of the master-spirit — the boy-scout spinster mascu line rake. But suddenly he was pulled up sharp with a vengeance, and put to work to think in earnest: he gazed, startled and guilty, blushing unseen, quite lost in thought. Feverishly he turned over in his mind a most knotty problem. It had not presented itself to him before, in the midst of this breathless march of events.
Necessity proved herself once again, upon the spot, the mother of invention, and he put down his shoe and seized the limp empty arms of the thin cotton vest. He held it out, until the square body of it hung like an apron before the midst of his person. With the speed bred of a high sense of decorum, he had passed the shoulder-line of the vest, rolled into a rude rope, about his waist — securing it behind, at the summit of the buttocks, in a large knot. Then he drew the apron that hung down between his legs, and he incorporated its extremity in the large bulging knot behind.
“Look here I’ve had about enough of this!” came the now familiar bark, from beyond the screen.” Are you coming out or not? Anyone would think you were a bloody woman!”
The imperious tones of crashing command rang out upon the air of this palatial well of stern bachelor loneliness, and they froze his blood.
Blushing a deeper red than any hefty big-handed Susannah could ever compass — surprised by the most designing of Old Elders that ever stepped upon painted canvas, Dan came out into the obscene harsh light of the arc-lamp which hung above the model’s-throne.
He gave one dilated terrified glance at the woman standing astride before her easel. Turning swiftly, he rushed back behind the screen. There was a hoarse laugh from the haggard old bachelor-girl in sports-shorts. But her voice pursued him scorn- fully over the screen, behind which once more he crouched:
“The world’s coyest virgin what! Well well well! Come out of that! Come out and let’s have a look at what all the fuss is about! I’m sure I don’t know what the men are coming to!”
Dan stood and shook behind the screen. Wildly he rolled his eyes to himself in a great effort to decide what steps to take, in this fearful emergency — what for a Pelman-brave would have been Kinderspiel. But he simply shook with blank indecision.
“I say, cut this out old bean will you? You’ve come to the wrong shop!” she raised her voice still more. (The wrong shop indeed! This could not be where Horace had sent him!)
“I shall absolutely lose my patience in two shakes of a donkey’s tail!” the harpy’s voice whipped him like a cat-o’-nine-tails. It had grown ugly too. “Come out unless you want me to step over there and drag you out by the – ! Chuck all this jolly rot and roll out, you dirty little sprucer, or I’ll stick you up on the jolly old throne myself!”
Upon a terrified sudden impulse Dan came swiftly out from behind the screen. He cast one glance of wild appeal at the woman, and rushed up upon the model’s-throne. There, blushing down to his waist line—the “ram and goat” even, of the horrid poetry, suffused with red, his solar plexus flushed, as if it had been punched in boxing—he limply stood, his head turned in the opposite direction from the watching slave-driving person, his body drooped in profile.
“Good!” she rapped at him. “Yes!” she said, with her painter’s squint. “Not at all bad!” she informed the nudity before her, with hearty male patronage, as she ran over his points, “you’re quite muscular!” she yawned.
The studio was extremely cold, when you were nude, and Dan was beside himself with fear. He shivered without ceasing, occasionally gulping.
“Model! Turn round — do you mind! I’ve had that view of you long enough.”
Slowly Dan moved, until the whole of his back was turned towards her.
“No!” the woman immediately bellowed, as she grasped the manoeuvre. “No! Not that way! Turn round this way. Not your back!”
With a fresh spasm of deep-red bashfulness, Dan still more slowly turned about, until he faced her. But he stood with averted face, gazing away to his right flank. He held his chin high, for beneath upon the floor of the throne was the dog-whip, and he wished to forget its presence.
“What on earth have you got there!” he heard her exclaim. Dan was petrified. The hard white light poured down over him, splitternaked and stark as your fist’s-face, he could not move a muscle. Oh, what obedience to Horace (if it were indeed Horace who had planned this) had led him to! In a pose of hieratic stiffness, his head in profile, he awaited her attack. He heard her brisk step and the rigor increased. Marching over with decision to the model’s-throne, she did not hesitate a moment. A half-scream, the first sound he had uttered since his entrance, broke from the lips of Dan, as with careless hand she rudely seized the coil of his cotton vest. Then, with a violent tug, she dragged it clean off his shrinking person.
Standing beneath him, his vest in one hand, she fixed him with a chilly masculine eye.
“Listen to me my dear man!” she said: she waved a dis dainful hand in his direction, “that is of no interest whatever to me. Do you understand me? Put your mind quite at rest! It would take a jolly sight more than the likes of you to vamp me! Get me ? So don’t let’s have any more of this stuff! You come here to sit, not to try and seduce me anyway! It’s love’s labour lost! See? Spare yourself the derangement!”
She threw down the vest upon a chair.
“Do you want to sit or not?”
Dan violently nodded his head. He desired from the bottom of his heart to sit down.
“Very well. Let’s get on with the War then! I shan’t pay you for the time you waste while you’re trying to vamp me! If you want to sit — sit!”
Dan again nodded his head, without looking at her, with great vehemence. She was appeased.
“Very well!” it became almost a tone of approval. “Here get hold of this!”
To his horror she snatched up the dog-whip and brandished it. He retreated a step, his eyes fixed upon her in terror. She held out to him the handle of the whip. He seized it, and his knees knocking lightly together from mingled cold and dread of what this fearful Ape might not require of him, he held it tightly at his side.
“Take up an attitude like this will you?”
Dan gave her askance one fleeting look of horror — for she had thrown herself into an attitude replete with offence not to some figure but to himself he felt.
“I want you for a figure of a roman soldier threatening Our Saviour. No that whip!”
Dan struck several attitudes. All were designed, as far as pos sible, to minimize the immodesty of the glaring white crown-to-foot exposure of his animal self. The towering milk-pink declivities of the torso beneath the arc-light, the sectioning of the chest by the upright black feather of body-hair, the long polished blanched stalks of the legs, upon which the trunk oscillated, all moved hither and thither. He threw his head into the scales, first to the left then to the right. Full it is true of earth’s old timid grace, as haunted by the feminine irish chastity, he threatened an imaginary Saviour with a whip. But at length the restless evasive bulk fell into an accepted position.
“Stop like that!”
Camped energetically, charcoal in hand, she dropped into a watchful, pouncing attitude. She looked keenly from the white surface of the body to the white surface of the paper, and back. With difficulty Dan came to a halt.
“Can you keep that?” she asked him.
His whip gave a weary upward waggle. His head sank, in melancholy affirmative. For a few seconds he held himself quite still. When he saw her eyes were upon her paper he moved about, seeking a more comfortable arrangement for his twisted nudity — one that might eventually lessen the immodesty.
Now a steady scratching began. A large sheet of paper was fixed upon a board. Her legs wide apart, the busy artist stood before her super-easel — thrusting out at arm’s-length a stick of charcoal, from time to time, while she squinted up the eye that was not furnished with the eye-glass. She computed relative distances, from one landmark to another, upon the person of her sitter. She joined these major points, upon the paper before her, with sweeping lines.
But for Dan the physical agony, in succession to the mental agony, had now set in. His hips had become still more incon veniently twisted, in order to remove away to the left the greater part of his exposed person, and so present as far as possible an offenceless edge-on object to the eye of the observer. On one foot the heel was gracefully removed from the ground. The other foot received the complete weight of a muscle-laden body rising above two metres into the air.
The staccato rasp, flashed to and fro, of the brittle charcoal, was incessant. A page was whisked off the board with as much force as had been used to remove Dan’s vest. It fell to the floor and she stamped upon it as she returned to the attack, dashing dark black lines here and there upon the new page.
But Dan stood bathed in a cold perspiration. His face, from having been a sunset crimson, had become a corpse-like white. Then it became a most alarming pallid green. Holding stiffly at arm’s length the whip of the legionary, Dan swayed from side to side, with more and more giddy abandon.
“Keep still can’t you!” the enraged employer of labour shouted, from the easel. “I can’t draw you if you roll about like that!”
Dan’s last thought (before he fell) was of Horace. He had forgotten that this might be the wrong studio altogether. All he could say over and over again to himself was “Horace, why are you always so unkind — why — so always — unkind!”
Dan reeled, slowly at first. His body with a loud report came in contact with the floor of the model’s throne. As his head struck he had a sickly flash of consciousness, and his body turned over, in a slight convulsion. Then he lay relaxed at last in a deep faint.
When Dan came-to there were two voices audible — one soft and one hard. The hard one said, “Of course I thought you sent him, Borstie. How can you be so stupid!”
The soft voice replied inaudibly, it was a muffled tinkle.
“With that? Thank you!”
There was a hoarse whispering, with a snorted laugh or two, also a super-male chuckle, a bald ha-ha ! ”
A more useless piece of goods I’ve never met with.”
“It is certainly a horrid sight.”
“You’re right. If it could only stand up on its legs!” “You don’t propose to pay it for lying on its back do you”
“The trouble I had to get the animal to peel ! II s’est fait prie ma chere.”
“Isn’t he a model? —What does he come for?” ”I think he thought he’d got a bonne poire. He tried to vamp me!”
“My dear! That!”
“Oh yes. He wanted me to undress him. He was most averse to posing.”
“Pah! Turn it over! I don’t want to look at that any more!” Opening an eye slightly, Dan perceived a second younger figure, that that possessed the softer voice, beside the first — but dressed with recognized feminine elegance, with a breast visible to the nipple, and with sun-kissed silken legs all-clear to the tenderloin. Then a rough hand seized his shoulders and attempted to roll him along the floor of the throne.
“Don’t touch him—he might not like it, if he were conscious,” the feminine voice remarked, solicitous for the safety of her mate.
The man-voice snorted defiance, and gave Dan another big shake.
Dan’s head and neck were wet with water. He made a slight movement with his arm. ”
He if coming round” said the slight voice. “My dear! Look!”
“Model! Do you feel better?”
Dan was nearer the edge of the throne now: with an eel-like agility born of shame and terror he rolled off, and as he did so he sprang to his feet. The newcomer started back and uttered a scream. Swiftly Dan regained the cover of the model’s undress ing screen. His “vanish” was accompanied by two loud shouts of laughter from extraordinary woman No. I — who, at his bashful exit, indulged in the coarsest mirth, pointing after him with her cigarette-holder to her sweetheart, who tittered sneeringly as the great white mass disappeared, like a rat into its hole.
With a violent head-ache, overwhelmed with shame, Dan got his clothes on very quickly. But the vest remained in the hands of the feminine enemy. When he was quite ready, standing in his hiding-place he waited some minutes. He hoped that the second woman might take herself off. But the terrible voice of the first to bring him to his senses soon rang out.
“How much longer are you going to potter about in there? If I hadn’t seen all you’ve got I should have thought you were a woman. Hallo! Come out! I’ve had enough of your com pany. Hop it! Do you hear model ?”
Dan came out and went towards the door with averted head.
“Here. Here is a half-crown for you.”
She intercepted him and thrust the money up into the occulted palm of his trembling hand.
“Go and have a Scotch.”
He held the half-crown in his hand, and he went on towards the door.
“You don’t appear satisfied. It’s all you’ll get! It’s a bloody sight more than you deserve!”
She slammed the door upon him, as soon as he had passed out into the garden.
Night had now fallen. In the lighted doorway of the opposite studio stood a dark eminently feminine figure. As he went through the wicket-gate he observed it making signs to him. Without losing time he decamped at the double, but he heard at his back in the darkness a tinkling voice.
“Is that Mr. Boleyn by any chance?”
That was it! Evidently that could be none other than Miss Ansell, to whom he had been supposed to go after Yarmouth Place. He had got into the wrong studio. Horace was not to blame! He did not look back but hastened away from this monstrous colony.
Wyndham Lewis. 1882-1957. Apes of God. 1930