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Chapter 21

CHAPTER XXI.

Perched on its four stone mushrooms, the little granary stood two
or three feet above the grass of the green close. Beneath it
there was a perpetual shade and a damp growth of long, luxuriant
grasses. Here, in the shadow, in the green dampness, a family of
white ducks had sought shelter from the afternoon sun. Some
stood, preening themselves, some reposed with their long bellies
pressed to the ground, as though the cool grass were water.
Little social noises burst fitfully forth, and from time to time
some pointed tail would execute a brilliant Lisztian tremolo.
Suddenly their jovial repose was shattered. A prodigious thump
shook the wooden flooring above their heads; the whole granary
trembled, little fragments of dirt and crumbled wood rained down
among them. With a loud, continuous quacking the ducks rushed
out from beneath this nameless menace, and did not stay their
flight till they were safely in the farmyard.

"Don't lose your temper," Anne was saying. "Listen! You've
frightened the ducks. Poor dears! no wonder." She was sitting
sideways in a low, wooden chair. Her right elbow rested on the
back of the chair and she supported her cheek on her hand. Her
long, slender body drooped into curves of a lazy grace. She was
smiling, and she looked at Gombauld through half-closed eyes.

"Damn you!" Gombauld repeated, and stamped his foot again. He
glared at her round the half-finished portrait on the easel.

"Poor ducks!" Anne repeated. The sound of their quacking was
faint in the distance; it was inaudible.

"Can't you see you make me lose my time?" he asked. "I can't
work with you dangling about distractingly like this."

"You'd lose less time if you stopped talking and stamping your
feet and did a little painting for a change. After all, what am
I dangling about for, except to be painted?"

Gombauld made a noise like a growl. "You're awful," he said,
with conviction. "Why do you ask me to come and stay here? Why
do you tell me you'd like me to paint your portrait?"

"For the simple reasons that I like you--at least, when you're in
a good temper--and that I think you're a good painter."

"For the simple reason"--Gombauld mimicked her voice--"that you
want me to make love to you and, when I do, to have the amusement
of running away."

Anne threw back her head and laughed. "So you think it amuses me
to have to evade your advances! So like a man! If you only knew
how gross and awful and boring men are when they try to make love
and you don't want them to make love! If you could only see
yourselves through our eyes!"

Gombauld picked up his palette and brushes and attacked his
canvas with the ardour of irritation. "I suppose you'll be
saying next that you didn't start the game, that it was I who
made the first advances, and that you were the innocent victim
who sat still and never did anything that could invite or allure
me on."

"So like a man again!" said Anne. "It's always the same old
story about the woman tempting the man. The woman lures,
fascinates, invites; and man--noble man, innocent man--falls a
victim. My poor Gombauld! Surely you're not going to sing that
old song again. It's so unintelligent, and I always thought you
were a man of sense."

"Thanks," said Gombauld.

"Be a little objective," Anne went on. "Can't you see that
you're simply externalising your own emotions? That's what you
men are always doing; it's so barbarously naive. You feel one of
your loose desires for some woman, and because you desire her
strongly you immediately accuse her of luring you on, of
deliberately provoking and inviting the desire. You have the
mentality of savages. You might just as well say that a plate of
strawberries and cream deliberately lures you on to feel greedy.
In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred women are as passive and
innocent as the strawberries and cream."

"Well, all I can say is that this must be the hundredth case,"
said Gombauld, without looking up.

Anne shrugged her shoulders and gave vent to a sigh. "I'm at a
loss to know whether you're more silly or more rude."

After painting for a little time in silence Gombauld began to
speak again. "And then there's Denis," he said, renewing the
conversation as though it had only just been broken off. "You're
playing the same game with him. Why can't you leave that
wretched young man in peace?"

Anne flushed with a sudden and uncontrollable anger. "It's
perfectly untrue about Denis," she said indignantly. "I never
dreamt of playing what you beautifully call the same game with
him." Recovering her calm, she added in her ordinary cooing
voice and with her exacerbating smile, "You've become very
protective towards poor Denis all of a sudden."

"I have," Gombauld replied, with a gravity that was somehow a
little too solemn. "I don't like to see a young man..."

"...being whirled along the road to ruin," said Anne, continuing
his sentence for him. I admire your sentiments and, believe me,
I share them."

She was curiously irritated at what Gombauld had said about
Denis. It happened to be so completely untrue. Gombauld might
have some slight ground for his reproaches. But Denis--no, she
had never flirted with Denis. Poor boy! He was very sweet. She
became somewhat pensive.

Gombauld painted on with fury. The restlessness of an
unsatisfied desire, which, before, had distracted his mind,
making work impossible, seemed now to have converted itself into
a kind of feverish energy. When it was finished, he told
himself, the portrait would be diabolic. He was painting her in
the pose she had naturally adopted at the first sitting. Seated
sideways, her elbow on the back of the chair, her head and
shoulders turned at an angle from the rest of her body, towards
the front, she had fallen into an attitude of indolent
abandonment. He had emphasised the lazy curves of her body; the
lines sagged as they crossed the canvas, the grace of the painted
figure seemed to be melting into a kind of soft decay. The hand
that lay along the knee was as limp as a glove. He was at work
on the face now; it had begun to emerge on the canvas, doll-like
in its regularity and listlessness. It was Anne's face--but her
face as it would be, utterly unillumined by the inward lights of
thought and emotion. It was the lazy, expressionless mask which
was sometimes her face. The portrait was terribly like; and at
the same time it was the most malicious of lies. Yes, it would
be diabolic when it was finished, Gombauld decided; he wondered
what she would think of it.

Aldous Huxley

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