Song of songs, p.63
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       Song of Songs, p.63

           Beverley Hughesdon
 

  I remembered how he had talked of ‘Maree’ – in France, in the war – and obviously there had been other Frenchwomen who had known my husband intimately. But a man like Ben would not have remained celibate since his return – there must be women in Ainsclough he had used, women who would be ready to receive him again when the need arose – and the need had arisen today. Probably he was even now in the next street, casually coupling with one of those women – one with wide hips who could accommodate him easily and give him the satisfaction that I could not – and so he would be late home. I supposed I should be grateful that he had at least sent the boy to warn me – like a considerate husband. I heard Guy’s voice as we had stood looking out over the sand dunes together: ‘So after that I only used the reputable establishments – and thought I was being a considerate husband!’ I was lucky – I too had a considerate husband! I began to laugh, and heard the hysteria in it. I must stop being silly and take a hold of myself – clearly there was no point cooking the vegetables yet because a man like Ben would need to stay with this woman and take her several times so as to make sure he was fully emptied before he came home to spend the night with me. I would have to wait until he had finished. After all, I was a woman of the world, understanding men and their needs – I remembered Letty’s startling blondness in her cradle, and Papa and Maud returning tanned from their trip abroad together. There had been Sir Ernest, creeping stealthily out of my mother’s bedroom – and Papa with a pretty German whore on his arm. Oh yes, I had been lucky, I had learnt early that marriage vows were merely empty mouthings; now the knowledge stood me in good stead – I did not need to be shocked. I shrugged and put the photographs back and went to sit down in the armchair. I picked up yesterday’s newspaper and began to read – and my hands scarcely trembled as I held it.

  It was more than four hours later that he came in – still in his work clothes of course – I was glad that he had not bothered to wash for her. He looked quite drained. ‘Hello, lass.’

  I replied politely, ‘Good afternoon, Ben.’

  ‘I’m sorry I’m so late, but I…’

  I broke in very quickly, ‘Don’t bother to explain Ben – I quite understand.’ I tried to keep my voice even.

  ‘Look lass – I know you’re annoyed, but it’s part of me job. Being a passed fireman, see, I get me turn altered when a driver’s needed. I know it’s a bind, but at least I don’t often get lumbered with nights in this link. Any road, today I had to take a special to Blackpool, so I’ve only just got back.’

  I said stupidly, ‘You’ve been working – you’ve been working all afternoon?’

  He stared at me. ‘Course I have – what else did you think I’d been doing?’

  ‘I thought you’d been with…’ as my voice trailed away I glanced involuntarily at the photographs of my family, and his eyes followed my gaze, then turned to take in my crimson cheeks.

  He stood looking at me, and I knew he had read my mind when he spoke. ‘Christ, Helena – they brought you up right well, didn’t they? You must’a’ learnt a thing or two at your mother’s knee afore I could tell lads from lasses.’ He drew a deep breath and said heavily, ‘I’m so bloody furious with you I can’t trust meself to speak. I’ll go and have me bath.’ I heard him cursing in the kitchen as he realized I had let the range go out.

  We ate our meal in silence. When he had finished he put down his knife and fork and said, ‘I told you when we were courting, I told you then that I’d play fair with you, and I meant it. So I don’t want to come in and see that look on your face ever again. I’m going up plot.’ He stood up and reached for his jacket, then turned back to me. ‘And if I say I’m going up plot then that’s where I’m going. And if I call at pub on me way back then that’s where I’ll be, not lifting some tart’s skirts because me own wife can’t give me what I want for time being. And I ’aven’t forgotten that were me own fault.’ Then he added bitterly, ‘I suppose if you’d married your precious “my lord” he’d have been spending hisself wi’ th’ousemaid, and wouldn’t have needed to wear you out.’

  I was screaming, ‘Get out! Get out!’ He left, very quickly. I subsided, crying and shaking, into my chair – Gerald, oh Gerald – my love, my only true lover.

  It was very late before he came in and climbed heavily into bed beside me, but I was still awake. ‘I didn’t go to pub – I’ve been for a long walk on tops. I reckon, well I reckon we both need to be a bit patient with each other. It’s not easy, getting wed so sudden – and being as far apart as we are. I’m sorry for what I said at t’last, lass – but it did upset me, you thinking I’d go with another woman, when we’d only been wed a week.’

  I said at last, ‘Then I apologize too, Ben – I didn’t think you’d mind so much. But – Gerald, Lord Staveley – I loved him and I always will, and I know – I know he would never have been untrue to me. So I don’t want you to speak of him ever again.’

  ‘All right, lass – I’m sorry.’ He sounded very tired.

  I slept right through the night, barely hearing the knocker-up when he came to rouse Ben, and when I woke up I was alone in the bed. The ugly scene with Ben lingered in my mind, but I pushed it from me: he was a working man, his ways were cruder than those I was used to – but I supposed I could put up with them for a while. I got up and dressed and went down to perform my household chores.

  That evening he said he would take me out to the pictures; I did not want to go but knowing it was meant as a peace offering I went up for my hat and coat. It was dark and stuffy in the small picture house and I could not keep my eyes open. The banging of the seats at the end roused me, and Ben gently eased my head off his shoulder and took me home.

  He made a mug of cocoa and brought it up to me to drink in the bedroom. Then, standing looking down at me, he said, ‘You look right washed out, lass – I think you’d best stay in bed tomorrow, leastways till I come home.’

  ‘But I can’t, Ben – your lunch…’

  ‘I’ll go down to pie shop and fetch it – they bake a nice light crust there. Mind you do as I say, now.’

  I did as he told me, and when he got home he called up the stairs for me to stay where I was and came up soon after with my lunch on a tray. I ate some of the pie – the pastry was much lighter than mine – then lay down and went straight back to sleep again. Scarcely aware of his coming to bed, I was still asleep when he left on Friday morning.

  When I eventually did wake up I felt so much better that I got out Letty’s cookery book and made a fish pie, stewed some rhubarb to follow and stirred the custard as briskly as I could – it was easier than making a linseed poultice – and had everything ready for when he came in.

  Ben praised the meal warmly and I felt much happier as I went out to do the washing up. He came out to clean his boots in the scullery and as he passed by he put his arm round me and held me close for a moment. He had scarcely touched me since Tuesday morning and now he felt very warm and strong as I leant back against him. He brushed my hair with his lips before he let me go. And as he began to rub in the blacking – whistling softly to himself as he did so – I realized that I had not visited the closet for hours – and the soreness between my legs had quite vanished.

  Chapter Six

  When he came up to bed that night I moved towards him and whispered, ‘Ben – I’m quite well again now, if you want…’

  He grunted in the darkness. ‘You should have told me sooner, lass – I’ve just seen to meself.’ And as he spoke I was almost disappointed. Then his arm came round me. ‘Just give us a cuddle, sweetheart - and I’ll soon be ready to do you justice.’ I tensed as I felt his free hand slide up under my nightdress, but his slow, rhythmical strokes on my belly soothed me, and my whole body relaxed in the shelter of his arms. Then his hand moved lower, down between my legs, and the gentle stroking became more insistent as his breathing quickened; but I was not frightened. And when I felt his fingers part me I realized that I was already slippery to his touch. ‘I won’t hurt
you now, lass – you’re ready for me – I’ll slip in so easy you’ll hardly know I’m there.’ He hoisted himself above me as he asked, ‘Can I come in now, sweetheart?’

  ‘Yes, Ben.’ I lay trustingly beneath him as he gently inserted himself, and smiled a little in the darkness at the feel of him there, then raised my hands to hold his strong buttocks. He moved so slowly, stroking the soft inside of my belly now and I felt warm and welcoming. I closed my eyes.

  His voice was anxious: ‘How does that feel, sweetheart?’

  And I opened my eyes and smiled up into his concerned face as I told him, ‘That feels nice, Ben,’ and he laughed in relief and bent down to brush my lips with his. When his movements quickened I held him more tightly and then he was throbbing between my legs giving little grunts of delight as I hugged him to me, smiling at his pleasure in my body. But then I remembered what he had said and began to worry – were my narrow hips still too tight for him?

  He rolled off me, then gathered me to his chest. ‘That were lovely, sweetheart, real lovely.’

  And in the warm darkness I dared to ask, ‘But, Ben – was I still too tight for you?’

  ‘Too tight? You’re not fretting about that, are you?’ He kissed me before going on, ‘It’s better for me, sweetheart, you being so snug – I were only worried about you.’ My body relaxed against him in relief as his hand gently stroked my back, then he whispered, his voice almost shy, ‘When I’m with you, Helena, you’re like a silk glove to me – you fit so beautiful and warm. There, is that what you wanted to know?’ I put my cheek against his neck and felt his chuckle, and he was silent for a minute or two before he began to speak again. ‘Helena, I done a lot of thinking these past few days – after I found out what you were thinking of me on Tuesday – gave me a nasty shock, that did. Then I reckoned mebbe it were partly my fault, behaving with you the way I had been. I said to myself: There you are, Ben Holden, with a lovely little lass that you broached yourself – so you knew you were only man she’d ever taken inside her’ – his fingers touched me, intimately, caressingly – ‘and then all you can think of is your own pleasure, keep taking her like that when it were obvious she weren’t ready for it yet, with you being her first man.’ His fingers caressed me again.

  I murmured, ‘I didn’t mind, Ben.’

  ‘Aye, you were a game little lass you were – opening your legs to me every-time I wanted – but it weren’t good for you in long run, were it? I were more ’an you could take – I can see that now – you need treating gentle, with a bit of stroking and fondling to get you ready.’ He stopped, then said with a sigh, ‘I’m right ashamed of meself lass – I am that.’

  I was sorry for him, ‘But, Ben – you did stroke me.’

  ‘Aye, mebbe – but it were afterwards, not afore – leastways, it often were afore next time, but that weren’t what I should have been doing, with an inexperienced lass – I see that now. But, well, like I told you on tops, I’d never had a virgin before – all women I’d been with were either married, or widows, like Maree.’ I stiffened and he said quickly, ‘Anyroad, them’s all past – it’s only you now, so I reckon I’d better make sure as I use you careful.’

  As he kissed me once more I felt his maleness throb against my belly and drew back a little, but his voice was firm. ‘It’s all right lass, I’ve talked myself into a better frame of mind and we’re going to take it slow next few weeks. You cuddle up against me nice and close and him down there’ll just have to learn he can’t always have what he wants.’

  So I curled myself against him, warm and content, until I dozed off.

  As soon as he came home the next day he kissed me, before going for his bath – and again when he came out. I pressed myself against him, and he gently stroked the back of my neck.

  When I had finished the washing up that evening he was sitting in the armchair in the kitchen. ‘Come here, lass.’ I went to him and he pulled me down on his lap; I turned and nestled against him, until I could feel the steady beat of his heart. His hands moved to the buttons of my blouse, unfastening them one by one, and then they slid inside – his fingers were rough on my silk petticoat, but they were very warm on the skin of my breasts as he began to knead them gently. ‘How about an early night, love?’ I pressed my head into his neck in answer. ‘I were thinking, if I saw to meself first, like last night –’

  I said quickly, ‘No, don’t.’

  He tipped my chin up and studied my face. ‘Are you sure, lass? It’d be easier for you.’

  ‘I’m sure, Ben.’

  He smiled. ‘You’re a funny lass, sometimes – come on, then.’ I climbed slowly off his lap; I felt languid and heavy.

  I washed drowsily, then lay watching him undress in the half light through the curtains – the very size of him told me he had not ‘seen to himself’, and my belly stirred in response. He stroked me again before pushing in; he was bigger and firmer tonight but I opened myself to him, and he did not hurt me. As I felt his movements quicken my legs tightened over his and my hands caught hard at his buttocks – ripples of excitement washed through me – and then he was filling me as I lay beneath him, panting with relief. His breath tickled my ear as he murmured his thanks – then he began to pull out. But I would not let him go – I wanted him to stay, locked into me, and with all my strength I held him there. ‘Lass, I’ll be coming up again, if you keep me inside.’ I did not answer – only my hands continued to hold him until he said, ‘Give us a kiss, then, if that’s what you want.’

  We lay with our mouths opened to each other, until I felt him stir and swell inside me; and as he did my belly seemed to swell in reply and fill with the remembered sweetness. When he began to move again his every touch was an exquisite pleasure and I was moving with him, lifting myself, opening myself – pulling him deeper and deeper and moaning aloud at the blissful torment of it. I heard him laugh and with his laughter the pressure mounted and I was pushing, pulling – frantic with the ecstatic agony of it – then he drove deeply in and I exploded.

  I scarcely knew when he had finished, but I saw his face above me and heard his chuckle – ‘No wonder you wanted all of it’ – then fell suddenly asleep still holding him inside me.

  When I woke again his warm arm was lying across my breasts, and as I lay in the dark beside him I knew that I wanted him. I turned and reached out and began to stroke his chest, and then my fingers slid down to his flat stomach. He stirred and groaned as he woke. ‘No lass – not again tonight; it’ll be too much for you.’ He turned so his back was to me, but the sweetness was filling my belly and I needed him so much. I pressed myself against him murmuring, ‘Please, Ben, please.’

  I heard the smile in his voice as he replied, ‘All right, lass – I never say no to a lady. Let’s be having you.’ He rolled over and came into me at once and I panted and clung to him and now the sweetness flooded through me in waves until I was overwhelmed by it.

  When I awoke in the morning I found myself alone in the bed, then I heard his footsteps on the stairs and the hot blood rose in my cheeks as he came in with my cup of tea. I held out my hand for it without looking at him, but he put it down out of my reach and said, ‘I’ll say me good mornings first.’ Sitting on the edge of the bed he slipped his arm round my shoulders and pressed his lips on mine – I lay against him as his tongue roved slowly around the soft inside of my mouth. When he finally pulled back I saw the look of confidence on his face; he had control of me now, because I needed him. I blushed and he laughed aloud, slid his hand under the bedclothes and up into the moistness between my legs. Watching my face he stroked and pressed, and my belly began to contract – I tried to control myself but could not, and he held me against him as I writhed and squirmed – then he pushed his finger in hard and I exploded on to it. As I lay panting against him I felt the laughter vibrate in his chest. ‘That were a free one, sweetheart, to make up for last week.’

  I whispered, ‘Ben, if you want…’

  I felt him tense, then he said, ‘N
o, there’s not time, we mun get to Ada’s, besides you’re a bit swollen down there and I don’t want you running complaining to Edna Fairbarn. I’ll see you right this evening, sweetheart.’ He was laughing as he ran down the stairs.

  I could scarcely look at him over breakfast; every time I moved the dampness in my drawers reminded me of how I had held him inside me – frantic in my need for him. And as my cheeks flamed he looked at me and laughed.

  He was waiting at the front door when I came down in my hat and costume, but instead of opening it he pulled me casually to him in the small lobby and reached down to put his hand under my skirt. ‘Ben, we’ll be late!’

  ‘It’s all right lass – I won’t set you off again. I just want to handle you a bit – so you know who you belong to.’ As his finger tugged at my knicker legs he said, ‘You’d best get out them French things you had on tops – I can hardly move in here for elastic – aah.’ He gave a soft grunt of satisfaction and his fingers fondled me gently for a moment or two as I clung to him. Then he slowly withdrew his hand and held it out to me. ‘Take the handkerchief out of me jacket pocket and give us a wipe – looks like I over-filled you last night.’ My hands were shaking as I obeyed him. Then, thrusting the handkerchief back into his pocket, he smacked me gently on the behind and reached for the latch. ‘Come on, sweetheart – let’s be off.’

 

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