One

 

A seminaried, formal garden towards the end of June:
The lawns were steeped in sunlight, the trees as great drifts across.
Intense, the evening shadows smell pungently of earth,
And if the summer days stretched lazily through the grass,
Night was in the rhododendrons. A long way out of London
It seemed to the inhabitants, late down the previous evening,
Reading, saying little, till Gavin brought them from the station.

Next day, sat out on lawns now deck-chaired by the lake
Which, willow-fringed, curved backwards to the east side of the house
The two of them were sitting — women, mid to later twenties,
Languid, animated. Gavin out on business, Hyslop
Followed his instructions and a lunch of sorts was made. Later
There was tea in the pergola. The chic denouements of the city
Dwindled into chatter as the heartache settled out.

'You thought it would be Peter. I did too. Peter was
The sweetest, kindest, most satisfactory man I'd ever
Met, or ever hope to, probably. But you know me.'

The half-drawn summer dress gives colour to her skin, flares
To a lustre of its own. She wraps it closer.' I took
A gamble. I don't know.'
The clouds sail on regardless, urgent
But far away. The wind freshens. Rain is coming soon.

'And so he has to. One thing Tony has to do. Yes.'
The older women picks up secateurs and cuts the bronzed
Stems of the roses shorter. "Yes. I hope so, Maddi.
There, that's rather nice. Is Tony coming down, you think?
Oh well, we'll see him soon enough, no doubt"
. . 'You think me mad,
Now don't you?' "Maddi, I don't know. I really don't. Except
We have to go and change sometime. Let's talk more later."

'I'm talking now.'
The last barrages of the cumulous fling out and fade.
The lake is flooding into deeps of crimson. "The heart is not
A captive animal, dear Maddi, is it? You'll get by,
You always do. Could marry Gavin if you wanted. Worships
Every particle of you, you know." 'Please, Flo,
Don't go on. I know. Of course I know.' "Well then.
Don't be such a worry, and take these, would you, please?"

Two

 

I think it may be clearing up, said Gavin, peering through
The high french-windows. Yes, there's definitely some blue.
Much too wet for walking, but there might be something on.
'Hyslop willing, fine',
said Maddi. Gavin laughed. Fearful
Busybody, yes I know. Feels I need protecting.
Always telling her: Now, Mrs. Hyslop, be sensible.
What sort of country martyr would want to take me on?


'Poor thing,' said Maddi, put out to grass already. 'You know
You ought to paint the town a bit, park yourself with us.
Stuck on your own like this, it can't be right. Tell her,
Gavin, would you, not to be so patronising?' "Frightful
Kid. And always was. Got the two of us thrown out
Before we even danced at our very first hunt ball."
'Would you mind,'
said Maddi, 'if I went and made some coffee?'

"She's real,"
said Flo. I see. It is that obvious, is it? "Yes,
But I wouldn't bother. She's very fond of you, you know
And why she comes." What, not to get away from men? "That too,
Sometimes. She doesn't really know her mind, poor Maddi. Sits in,
Puts on the automatic pilot, flies off straight into the hill.
You wouldn't think that, looking at her. Men are all her trouble.
And the latest!" You think I'll like him? "No, Gavin, you won't."

Well, there you are. "No, Maddi's right. You should come up.
You know, if you could get a place or something fairly close,
We'd knock around together." Flo, now look — how can I?
I've got a farm to run, a large one, not to mention
This whole place. And anyway I'm not a Blimp administrator
Back home from God knows where who's got to have a wife. "Gavin,
Please listen. Maddi needs supporting. I could help, you know."


These thoughts are softly crenulated in the room. The gates
Beyond sweep open to the prospect on the south. Clouds
Hang over the blotched blue skyline of the Weald, and Maddi coming
Back is hardly noticed. 'I see there's been some pow-wow.' "No, not really.
We wondered if you'd like to call on Trish and Eddie?" 'What,
The Caulton's? Yes, why not, of course,'
says Maddi negligently,
'Ages since I saw them.' "Perhaps just as well," says Flo.

Three

 

He saw them off. Flo hugged and kissed him. Maddi waved
And waved until the train had concertina'd out of sight.
Back home, belatedly, their laughter and their chatter still falling
Round the place contended for a while with the cool light
Off the plate, the candlesticks, the polished table tops:
Matters, he noticed, Hyslop was setting back to rights. The clocks
Ticked on. Monotonous. Slid down the walls, his thoughts, and out.

Much was hardly consciousness. Across the fields, or at
The junction by the lane, whatever, the house addressed itself.
The girls had brought it home to him how much his native being
Was bound up with his place. Reflective. Undemonstrative.
A straight-backed, narrow rectitude, made of small additions.
He found himself at sevens; sat down, wrote cheques, was restless,
Rang once to get a catalogue; mooned round the place and round.

Later, from his bailiff's, in the early evening,
He walked the short way home. He knew each field here, paddock, gate,
Where the stream in pebbled leaps ran swiftly to the wood,
Where his tongue drew speech, imagination from the soil,
Where trees were old reminders — buffeted, fighting the stout wind
That took his boyhood fancies over the long hills and beyond.

Here he had been happy throughout his corduroy days:
Born among the fragrance of the green fields and the wheat,
Companion of the fox loping, the badger shuffling, the scamper of the vole.
Small boy drenched with shadow of the great flamboyant trees -
Of elms, and hawthorns, of the sturdy, grasping oak. Broad as its clusters
Were the clouds now gathering as he turned towards the house.

Sometimes, it is true, he thought of Maddi. Fondly saw
Her prance and kick her high heels through the stubbled fields; smile
As the last consignment was packed off through the yard: wait,
Negligeed at evening when he came home late and tired. Some hope!
She couldn't ride, she didn't walk, and as for the winter months
When the mist lay in the fields and dampness through the house,
Well, she'd go abroad, would Maddi, or stay up late in town.

Four

 

He'd not expected her so early. The problems Maddi has
You'd never guess,
said Flo. 'I'd opt if I were you for neutral
Ground, so nothing swish, romantic — you know: concert,
Gallery, zoo: that sort of thing. . . The what? Yes, perhaps
It would, the Tate. She'll prance about on those long legs,
Laugh and set the whole lot talking. No, it certainly won't
Be squares of canvases that visitors recall."


Come on — east Anglia mostly, though he moved about. And not
To my place, Maddi. Wasn't built. Elizabethan sham,
You know that. Doesn't Constable say anything
I mean, to you, apart from showing how it was? This painting
Here, for instance? 'This — mud, sky, clouds, wet greenery. . ?
What do you want? I'm not of country stock. Born there, yes,
But hated it. Bummed it off to London the first chance that I got.'


The compactness of her answer, its directness, didn't cause him pain.
But the body he was feeling was in and with the blow.
Like a boxer stripping off at last, preliminaries were shed
And here a woman reaching out for him, though mostly on her terms.
'You understand now, don't you, Gavin ? You can come back for a meal
We can talk if you want, whatever; I'll make the evening free,
But if we sleep together, remember, you'll never shake me off.'


There was a haunted, worried look in the blue eyes stabbing him.
He looked away at first. A bluntness that astonished.
Where could he manoeuvre? What was there to say? 'Look:
You didn't ask me for my mind, and I'm not a picture freak.
You call the shots for once and we'll see then where they lead — I'm asking
Gavin, if you want to, really want to. Otherwise
Well, I've enjoyed our meeting and we can always stay as friends.'


Perhaps he should have sued for terms, or stopped, or told her wait
Upon a better moment. All this was very rough and very
Forced. Still, there she was and asking. He felt the urgency,
And knew as well that he must match or leave it hence alone.
Not twice to be humiliated is an offer made.
All right. And if no doubt as time would show, the path turned here
Well, it was but early evening and the sun still shone.

Five

 

They were in London, meeting in the square they'd often planned
To live in, Loundes, upon a flotsamed summer's evening. They drank
The warmth in, its contentment. All around the traffic hummed.
The trees were dense with sunlight, green as bottle glass. Canisters
Of clouds imploded in the sky. It seemed the final gilding of
A perfect August day, and one within their giving — so,
How strange it was, and awkward, that the months meant nothing to them.

'You're going back?' You know I have to. 'No, you don't, it's me.'
You, me, what does it matter? Don't you understand?
I'm tangled up with wanting you, with having you and finding
Everywhere your breath, your body, everything you are
Reach into me and stain. I hate this terrible subjection.
Everywhere I look I see you, your laugh, your face. I have
No rest from you, no hope of you, nothing but turn around.


Maddi who was pressing her small feet into the grass, looked up
A moment, pulled a wry face and then said, with gentleness,
'Gavin, you should have talked to me, I never meant to hurt
You, even to have played around, though that is how I am.
I did warn you: bad lot, I said, but still you carried on.
I told you from the first that I fasten on the heart, though here
For once I've hurt myself. I'm really awfully sorry.'


No more was said for several minutes. It was getting late.
'Gavin, if you have to go, please go, for Heaven's sake, just go.
Maddi, goodbye, then. I hope you will be happy. Yes. I hope
At times that you will think of me, will look for me, but then
Again I don't. Expect I'll come down sometime when the two
Of you are married. You and Flo together. I'd like that very
Much. You think about it. She'd make the wife I can't.'


At length another person sat beside him in the car —
In accomplishments the same, in general style, in clothes,
In embryo a re-enaction, who barely seemed to hear.
Hyslop was pleased to go, he ventured. "I rather hoped you would."
As they turned into the entrance and the gates whirred quietly shut behind,
He sensed there falling round him the grounds, the clouds, the trees,
And days not over-bright, particularly, or even yet beginning.

 

Now collected in a free ebook published by Ocaso Press.