He was late arriving home from Lord Handon's and, feeling tired, went straight to bed, where he quickly fell into a deep sleep. During the course of it he dreamed that he was alone with Geraldine in her father's library. She was dressed more or less as she had been earlier, with her dark-brown hair pinned-up as before and a décolleté dress of indeterminate colour exposing a good deal of her firm, shapely breasts. She had extracted a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover from one of the bookshelves and was languidly turning over the pages with a strange, gently-alluring smile on her lips. Timothy stood beside her, looking-on and wondering what was in her mind, when, moving closer to him, she suddenly said: "I like this book. Do you?"
He was on the point of saying 'yes' ... when he checked himself and, turning away from her, replied firmly in the negative.
"But why ever not?" she gasped.
"Because ..." But the words wouldn't come, despite the attempt he was making to force them, and he grew angry. Automatically he turned round to snatch the book from Geraldine's hands but discovered, to his utter surprise, that she had already returned it to the shelf and was now standing in front of him in the nude.
"Perhaps you prefer the real thing?" she suggested, smiling seductively, and, before he could say anything or even move away from her, she threw her arms round his neck and drew herself closer to him.
He struggled to free himself from her embrace. "Not with you!" he cried.
"But why-on-earth not?" she protested, becoming more determined to cling to him.
"Because you're an aristocrat's daughter, and I don't wish to associate with you!" he shouted.
Yet, already, her determination was beginning to weaken his resistance, both physically and psychologically; for she had now wrapped her legs about his waist and was drawing him down to the carpet while showering his face with kisses. "Don't be silly!" she admonished him, as they tumbled to the floor. "You know I'm better-looking than Sarah."
"You're too young for me," he objected. "Besides ..." But his penis was beginning to respond positively, in spite of the effort he was still making to free himself from her, and, as his mouth encountered one of her breasts, more by accident than design, he felt it slide into her and he involuntarily began to succumb to the motions of coitus.
"Ah yes, I knew you'd prefer me," Geraldine was saying, as she clung to him even more tightly. "We have so much in common."
"No!" he protested. "That's where you're dead wrong!"
But she simply smiled back at him from her ecstasy of sexual stimulation, while he hesitated on the brink of orgasm.
"No!" he protested again. "You shan't fucking-well have it!" But he was too late. For his orgasm had attained to its implacable climax and now spurted into her almost before he knew what was happening. He awoke with a sudden start! His blood vessels beat fiercely in his temples, his mouth hung open in fright, his eyes stared wildly into the darkness. It was over! Underneath him a sticky mess of sperm stuck uncomfortably to his lower abdomen and hung in expanding globules from his pubic hair, soiling the sheet. He had simply experienced a wet dream! In reality, Geraldine was still in South Kensington - presumably sound asleep.
The following evening he telephoned Sarah, to discuss his visit to Lord Handon's with her. She was interested to hear what he had to say about the conversation which had taken place in the library, but not too keen, for reasons best known to herself, to reveal much about her own experiences there the previous week. In fact, she was slightly taken-aback that Timothy seemed to know something about it, and, learning that Geraldine had raised the subject over dinner, asked him what he thought of her.
"What is one supposed to think?" he responded, clearly puzzled.
"Well, did she give you the impression that she was jealous of our relationship and more interested in seducing you than in simply being present at dinner?" Sarah bluntly asked.
"Oh, quite definitely!" Timothy admitted, blushing in spite of his physical solitude at his end of the line. "I even got the impression that I was being primed by Lord Handon for just such a seduction. After all, why else would he invite me over to dinner with no-one except his daughter there? And she had certainly gone to some pains to make herself as attractive as possible, I can tell you! Had even taken a bath prior to dinner."
Sarah giggled briefly at her end of the line. "And did you fall for it?" she wanted to know.
"I could hardly do that!" Timothy gasped. "She is only nineteen and, besides, I don't particularly like her, as I think you know. But I had a bad dream last night during which I more or less did fall for her, and in more than a metaphorical sense."
"I think you'd better keep the sordid details of that to yourself," Sarah advised him.
"I had no intentions of revealing them to you," Timothy retorted. "Anyway, considering that she is going back to Oxford in a few days' time, it seems a bit thick of her to imagine I could be induced to fall for her overnight, as it were, and resign myself to the consequences."
"You have no idea how the perverse minds of such young women function," Sarah rejoined. "Besides, she would have expected you to follow her there."
"What, pack my bags and abandon my little flat in order to live in that stuffy old town?" Timothy objected. "You're kidding!"
Sarah giggled anew, this time less briefly, before saying: "You apparently have little notion of the lady's self-importance or of the extent to which her noble birth has convinced her that she can get what she wants simply by wanting it. By all accounts, you ought to be prepared to live in Timbuktu with her, if that's her destination. And feel privileged, moreover, at the prospect of doing so!"
"Humph!" exclaimed Timothy, becoming indignant. "Well, if by any chance I ever did decide to make a mistress of her, she'd be living on my terms, not I on hers."
"I can well imagine," said Sarah. "Yet Joe Handon was evidently keen to test your integrity by placing this temptation before you, to see whether you'd bend. He probably conjectured that your moral theory would be well in advance of your mundane practice, so that you'd be susceptible to Geraldine's charms. And then, when you fell for her, the pair of them could start undermining your theory, reducing your spiritual standing still further. Besides, just supposing you did follow Geraldine to Oxford, think of the impression you'd be bound to create on her friends. She would show you off to them and get you to lecture them on your religious beliefs, thereby enhancing her own prestige in their eyes. People would envy her the fact that you were her lover and admire her for having seduced you. And she'd attribute it all to her noble birth and good looks."
"Stop it, Sarah!" protested an irate Timothy Byrne. "I don't want to hear any more of this crap! She'll never get me as far as South Kensington in future, never mind bloody Oxford! And the same applies to Lord frigging Handon, especially if what you say about him is true.... But where exactly do you come in? I mean, what kind of a relationship has he been having with you behind my back?"
"Nothing that should give you any cause for alarm," Sarah replied, smiling to herself. "I haven't seen all that much of him anyway - no more than you actually. On Friday, when we dined together, he simply talked and ... well, patted and caressed me a little, that's all."
"Like he did on the wooden bridge in his grounds at Rothermore House the week before?" Timothy blurted out, unable to restrain the impulse to reveal his secret.
Sarah blushed violently and almost dropped the receiver from her hand. It shocked her that Timothy had seen that, especially since he couldn't have been the only one! At length, steadying her nerves, she plied him for more information. It was rather embarrassing, even on the phone. He hadn't been unaffected by the scene, he let her know, but had felt quite humiliated with Geraldine standing beside him, slyly taking pleasure in his discomfort.
"Well, I'm sorry you should have felt that way," she duly remarked, her voice fraught with tension. "And sorry, too, that you should have seen us. But, really, what else could I do, under the circumstances? I had to let him have his way because he was so persuasive and, besides, as his guest, I wasn't exactly in a position to be negative. Neither was Sheila Johnston who, in any case, seemed to enjoy his physical attentions more than myself, and thus made it seem all the more acceptable. I just didn't have the nerve to object, not with Irene and Girish standing nearby as well. Although I did check him when he took his liberties a little too far and tried to reach under my briefs, the dirty bugger!"
"So I recall," said Timothy with a faint smile. "But he presumably took his liberties a little further in the privacy of his town house the other night, did he?"
"I'd rather not answer that, if you don't mind," Sarah responded. "What I think you ought to know, however, is that the old bugger is impotent, and consequently unable to do anything more than kiss and caress women."
"Oh really?" It came as quite a pleasant surprise to Timothy, who elected to conjecture: "You mean, he's reduced to a kind of Havelock Ellis level of merely fingering women?"
Sarah knew precious little about Havelock Ellis, but found the suggestion slightly amusing, in spite of her seriousness. "Unfortunately for him, that is precisely the case, Tim, and the main reason why he no longer gets on so well with his wife. Consequently you have nothing to fear from his relationship with me, which, in any event, is of little account. Friday was my first and, so far as I'm concerned, last visit to his other house. His sexuality bores me."
"And bores his daughter too, I shouldn't wonder!" Timothy averred, allowing himself the luxurious benefit of a little incestuous speculation. "She was present with him on Friday, presumably?"
"No, as a matter of fact she was out during the greater part of the evening and only returned home towards eleven o'clock, after I'd declined an invitation to stay the night and was on the point of leaving," Sarah revealed. "Had she not turned-up when she did, Joe Handon might have persuaded me to change my mind, so I'm rather glad of the fact. You can't imagine how uncomfortable it would be, having to pass the night in his bony company!"
"Maybe he thought you'd be able to cure him of his impotence?" Timothy suggested.
"I don't think even the combined efforts of Cleopatra and Helen of Troy would have succeeded in doing that," said Sarah, giggling down the line, as was her habit when on the phone. It was partly nerves. For, unlike Timothy, she generally disliked using the instrument. He, on the other hand, preferred this conversational context to any other - largely, one should add, on principle. It signified higher civilization to him, despite the expense.
"Well," he said after a brief pause, during which time only some faint crackling on the line could be heard, "now I begin to understand why Handon behaved towards you as he did, on the bridge at Rothermore House. It may even explain why he has certain spiritually progressive tendencies one would ordinarily hesitate to associate with such a man. Hmm, very interesting! Perhaps he imagined that I, too, was impotent, to be so spiritual, and hoped to have someone of his own sex in whom to confide?"
"He was making a big mistake if he did imagine that!" Sarah declared. "And it wouldn't exactly explain his endeavour to get you off with his daughter - assuming that was really his intention. Not unless, however, it led to his finding out, through her, whether you were impotent, too. For she could probably be depended upon to tell him one way or another, once she learnt the score, couldn't she?"
"I expect so," conceded Timothy, who was quite impressed by Sarah's speculative capacity at this moment. "Although he could have found that out more easily by asking you, surely? After all, you know more about my sexual status than anyone else right now."
"You needn't remind me," the opera singer retorted, blushing profusely in her Hampstead living-room. "But he isn't aware of what I know, and neither, for that matter, is his daughter. He wasn't in the least aware that we slept together at Rothermore House, and what has happened since then is completely unknown to him. Had he realized that you became my lover recently, I rather doubt he'd have invited me over to South Kensington last week. Admittedly, he saw us dancing together on New Year's Eve, but since it was more or less compulsory to dance, and everyone else had formed into couples, it didn't make a particularly deep impression on him - as the little episode on the bridge, the following morning, should attest. Now, since I didn't mention you to him, he had cause neither for alarm nor suspicion, and certainly no way of knowing whether or not you were impotent."
"Well, I'm blowed!" cried Timothy, raising his brows in surprised relief. "And he never once asked you about me?"
"Never," Sarah confirmed. "He evidently didn't think I'd have anything to tell him. Naturally, he did mention you, telling me what a rampant freethinker you were and of how puzzled and strangely impressed he had been by some of your ideas, not all of which he considered crazy or contradictory. But that was as far as it went. Fundamentally, he was more interested in finding out what he could about me and my work. Even the fact of our simultaneous presence at the Voice Museum, last Thursday, seems not to have aroused any suspicions on his part."
"That does surprise me, I must say," declared Timothy. "After all, we were the only two recording participants there at the time."
"Yes, but he probably didn't realize we came together, and as he prevented us from leaving together by taking me for a drink, while you were in the recording studio, he had little cause to dwell on the possibility. It appears, anyway, that Nigel Townley turned up just after you'd left. For Joe Handon mentioned him to me on Friday. They apparently met outside the recording studio, following Handon's return from the pub at approximately a quarter-to-five. You must have just missed him."
"Yes, it was about four-thirty when I took my leave of the damn place," Timothy admitted frowningly. "And how relieved I was to get out of it, what with all those noisy kids and stupid tourists!"
"As you told me on Sunday," Sarah reminded him. "Anyway, we won't have to visit it again for some time - assuming we ever do, that is! I, for one, am not convinced that my incipient fame will endure for much longer anyway."
Timothy was slightly puzzled by this. "How d'you mean?" he asked.
"Well ..." and she hesitated a moment, as though afraid to continue "... there's always the possibility that someone to my liking will oblige me to become a mother before long."
"Ah, so that's it!" cried Timothy, who sent a sharp burst of nasal smile down the line. Yes, there was always that possibility where such an attractive young woman as Sarah Field was concerned, and he knew full-well, at this moment, about his own position in relation to her and the fact that he might well pose such a threat to her professional status himself in the future. He might, though as yet there was no absolute guarantee of it, since he wasn't deeply in love with her and had no immediate desire to become a father. Then, too, the Werther recording she had lent him confirmed him in his high regard for her singing, and made him feel uncomfortable at the prospect of subsequently imposing motherhood upon her and thereby depriving the opera-loving public of her voice. It was as though her operatic talents were too great to be sacrificed to marriage and its numerous domestic and maternal responsibilities, even for a relatively short period of time.
And yet, if she meant what she had said, that first time she visited his flat, about being a woman first and foremost and a singer secondly, then a mother she would eventually have to be, regardless of whatever loss to the public her absence from opera, temporary or otherwise, might entail. And a mother, in all probability, of more than one child, since Timothy had himself been an only child and, assuming he married Sarah, had no wish to inflict a similar fate on anyone else, considering the amount of loneliness and solitude involved.
But would he marry her? Ah, that was the rub, and he had yet to come to anything like a final decision on the matter. True, he wasn't deeply in love with her, but was it absolutely necessary to be deeply in love, these days, before deciding to get married and have children? Indeed, was it possible to be deeply in love with anyone at all, given the environmental and technological circumstances under which most people lived, and the fact that, certainly in his case, one was no longer an emotional young adolescent in the first spring of life? If deep love was the necessary criterion for marriage, then perhaps Timothy would never marry, neither Sarah nor anyone else.
Naturally, he had known true love as an adolescent, and as an adolescent, moreover, accustomed to suburban and provincial environments. There was something about relatively close proximity to nature that fired the blood, granting emotional depth to one's love. But what of the adult confined for years in a big city, where nature is comparatively scarce and the artificial predominates? Can one expect the same degree of love from him and, if not, why should he waste time waiting for it, like a provincial adolescent? Surely, therefore, the absence of deep love should not be seen as a reason for scorning marriage and its parental concomitants? Surely one should rather equate this absence with the comparatively non-sensuous influence of the urban environment and consequently resign oneself to the possibility of getting married and having children without being deeply in love? And if the marriage subsequently broke up, as so many modern marriages did, and the mother was obliged to seek welfare, might not the absence of deep, lasting love - to some extent due to the urban environment and its artificial pressures - be the chief explanation of this phenomenon, and might it not be indicative, moreover, of an evolutionary trend, in spite of all the short-term hardships? It was an interesting thought, and Timothy Byrne had more than once weighed the possibility in recent weeks, seeking in it an explanation of his relative coolness towards Sarah, who was, after all, an extremely attractive and highly intelligent person. Of course, there was also the fact that they hadn't known each other for very long, though this hardly seemed to explain everything, least of all his physical intimacy with her.
Be that as it may, he had even tried to pin his coolness towards her on her less progressive lifestyle. But this assumption didn't particularly convince him of the whole truth either, especially since he was keen on French opera too, and shared similar tastes in instrumental music. Admittedly, his tastes might be more eclectic than hers, embracing some modern jazz, though that wasn't to say she couldn't be brought around to the virtues of musical eclecticism herself in due course. On the contrary, there was every chance that she would come to appreciate the subtleties and ingenuities of the best electric music, if given the right encouragement. As yet, she hadn't expressed any overt disapproval of it - at any rate, not of such electric music as he collected. Her temperament was, after all, fairly well-attuned to his and, since women were generally a complaisant and ductile sex, liberated exceptions to the rule notwithstanding, he had scant grounds for imagining that she would inevitably remain aloof from his higher tastes, even if she couldn't quite relate to them with the same fervour as himself ... largely on account of her professional commitments to opera.
No, in all likelihood, his relative coolness towards her chiefly stemmed from the artificial influence of the urban environment in which he had lived or, rather, existed, as though in exile from sensuous life, for the past decade. He would never fall deeply in love with her, or, for that matter, with anyone else. Yet if she was in love with him, as he had been led to believe the previous week, might it not be largely attributable to the fact that she was a woman, and thus inherently more emotional? A woman, moreover, who lived in a comparatively less-urbanized part of north London, in closer proximity to nature's sensuous influence, as embodied by Hampstead Heath, Kenwood, Parliament Hill Fields, and surrounding areas of grassland or garden?
Yes, there was no reason for one to exclude that possibility, since different types of environment were bound, sooner or later, to engender different influences. To pretend otherwise was unrealistic. One would simply be turning one's back on the facts. And if these facts were leading one to the conclusion that being unable to fall deeply in love with another person wasn't necessarily a disgrace or a misfortune, well then, one simply had to accept it, irrespective of what conventional criteria might suggest. And if this meant that the family, conceived as an atomic entity, was on the way out in this increasingly post-atomic age - well then, so be it! Let evolution take its inexorable course towards a better future, a future in which spiritual rather than sensual love came to play a greater role, and men broke free of cosmic determinism. Let us continue to turn away from the sun's fiery influence and aspire ever more keenly towards establishing the Holy Spirit, the eternity of spiritual bliss in which not us ... so much as the transcendent spirit of human beings will reign supreme in the Universe. Let us look forwards to the Divine Omega, not backwards to the Diabolic Alpha. And if this meant that Timothy should marry Sarah without being deeply in love with her, well then, marry her he damn-well would - provided she let him.
"Yes," he at length said, following his bout of amused surprise, "you might well find yourself with a husband before long."
"Any idea who?" she playfully asked, over a slight giggle.
"Well, if you're prepared to accept me, you'd have the answer to that question right here and now," he calmly informed her, somewhat to his own surprise.
There was a puzzled silence at Sarah's end of the line, as she endeavoured to assimilate the implications of his response. Then, somewhat tentatively, she asked him: "Are you actually proposing to me over the phone?"
"Yes, I guess so," he admitted. "In point of fact, I can think of no better way of doing so."
Another puzzled silence on Sarah's part, before she could bring herself to say: "And have you seriously considered the matter?"
"Quite a few times."
"And you love me?"
"As much as I shall ever do."
Yet another silence from Sarah - this time more stunned than puzzled - which was broken by: "Well, if that's the case, I can only say - yes!"
"Good, that settles it then," he concluded, his heart by now beating twice as fast as normally. "We'll get married in a registry office as soon as possible. And this time I mean it, honestly."
"I believe you," responded Sarah, who was almost in tears. In fact, her right hand was beginning to shake, so that she could barely hold the telephone receiver up to her ear.
"Well, until we meet again, I had better say goodbye," said Timothy, who had no desire to prolong the conversation, now that he had seemingly committed himself to a thing he would ordinarily have considered himself incapable of doing. "We can talk about this some more tomorrow," he added, as though for his own benefit. At which point he gently replaced the receiver and, slumping back into his armchair, emitted a heartfelt sigh of relief. It hadn't occurred to him before that he might one day find himself proposing marriage over the phone. But now that it had actually happened, he felt that, as far as he was concerned, nothing could have been more inevitable! A more naturalistic proposal would simply have detracted, in his eyes, from his transcendental integrity. He was sincerely grateful that Sarah hadn't turned him down. She had evidently learnt a lesson from him the previous week. Either that or the Voice Museum had taught her a thing or two about the power of the disembodied human voice!
LONDON 1981 (Revised 1982-2010)