CHAPTER FIVE

 

Greta Ryan pulled herself up sharp and stared unbelievingly at the rear view of the tall, silver-haired man not ten yards away.  He was buying a newspaper from a pavement vendor and stood proudly erect in front of the cream kiosk on which lay the afternoon edition of the Evening Standard.  Attired in a dark-blue suit with a pointed umbrella perched on his arm, he looked altogether suave and businesslike, quite a contrast, in fact, to how he had seemed the last time Greta saw him.  For, even without a full facial view, the hair and height of the man revealed that he was none other than Edward Hurst, editor-in-chief of 'Art and Artist'.

     Undecided what to do, Greta remained locked where she stood, intently staring at the all-too-recognizable figure in front of her.  She wondered whether she oughtn't to quickly turn round and proceed at the double in the opposite direction; for she was afraid that if he noticed her he would detain and bore her with his conversation.  But there was something else on Greta's mind which prevented her from immediately taking flight, and it was the recollection of what she feared Hurst would do to avenge himself on her boyfriend for the humiliations of the weekend - namely, to dispense with his art reviews.  After all, there was a fair chance that she would learn one way or the other if Hurst did see her and set about making polite conversation.  And if, as she feared, he was intending to drop Thurber from the magazine, there was also a chance - a slim one, perhaps, but nevertheless a chance of sorts - that she could dissuade him from carrying out his intentions.  All this occurred to her subliminally, in a split second, and prevented her from turning on her heels and beating a hasty retreat from the odious proximity of a man she didn't much care for - indeed, if the truth were known, found highly repugnant.

     Yet it was her own self-interest that seemed to be winning out, getting the better of her concern for Thurber, reminding her of the conceited bore that Edward Hurst actually was.  Although she couldn't bring herself to turn completely about and walk back from whence she had come, she was just on the point of turning to the right and making a belated effort to cross over the busy main road when, as though by psychic intuition or telepathic pre-warning, Hurst paid for his paper and turned towards her, spotting her immediately among the dense throng of fellow-pedestrians.  He raised his folded paper in recognition and advanced towards her.  Her heart sank slightly, but, all the same, she was secretly relieved that the crisis had been resolved, the indecision rectified.  She faked a smile.

     "What a pleasant surprise!" Hurst exclaimed, coming up to her with a spring in his step.  "I was just thinking about you, actually."

     Greta paid him the compliment of a faint blush.  "Oh, in what way?" she daringly inquired.

     "Oh, pleasantly enough," he replied, beginning to feel a trifle hot under his starched collar.  "Yes, I was wondering when I would have the pleasure of seeing you again."

     "I see," Greta responded, feigning another smile.  "Well, it just goes to show what a small world it is."

     "Indeed," Hurst chuckled, nodding.  He rustled his newspaper a moment and then firmly tucked it under his umbrella-carrying arm.  "So what brings you out at this time of day?" he asked.

     Greta would have preferred to say business, but with the large plastic carrier bag in her hand and the desire still bubbling under the surface of her mind to find out more about his attitude towards Thurber, she replied: "Just pleasure.  Or, rather, the desire to buy myself some new clothes, including a dress."

     "Which is presumably what you've just bought?" Hurst observed, eyeing the carrier bag.

     "Right."

     "And what are you intending to do next?" he asked, smiling.

     She hesitated on the brink of speech, not quite knowing how best to answer.  Should she tell him that she was on her way home?  She couldn't think of an alternative at present, and, besides, it corresponded to the truth.  So she admitted as much to him.

     "Splendid!" Hurst averred excitedly.  "Why not allow me to accompany you.  After all, we both have to go in more or less the same direction anyway."

     "Well, if you're sure it's no inconvenience," Greta murmured through clenched teeth, "I'd appreciate some company."  Which was considerably less than true, though she could hardly say so!

     Within a couple of minutes they were seated together on the back seat of a taxi, heading away from the crowded West End streets, and before half-an-hour had elapsed it duly arrived at Greta's East Finchley address where, in response to certain crude hints from Hurst about having plenty of time to spare, she invited him indoors.  In a sense she didn't have much option, since he was on the pavement ahead of her and offering to carry the large carrier bag to her door, which, despite nominal objections on her part, he duly did; though not before paying their fare and dismissing the taxi into the bargain.  To have left him stranded on the doorstep would not, in the circumstances, have been the most polite or ladylike thing to do!  So, resignedly, she unlocked the front door and, together, they entered her flat.

     "Ah, how pleasantly clean and bright!" Hurst exclaimed, as soon as he had stepped across the threshold of her living room, which faced onto the passageway leading from the front door.  "Especially after having been cooped-up in a stuffy old cab."

     She acknowledged this fact with another fake smile and motioned him to take a seat.  He was content to avail himself of the room's velvet settee and did so with an almighty sigh of relief, resting her carrier bag against the leg of a nearby coffee table.  Then he watched her activate a small electric fire to his left and take off her light-brown coat.  He could sense that his presence made her slightly nervous, so hastened to break the silence with a word of admiration for her pale floral-patterned dress, which he considered very tasteful.

     "Thank you," she responded, unable to prevent herself from blushing faintly at this frank reference to her sartorial appearance.  For it was one of the dresses she didn't ordinarily wear in the presence of men, being, from Thurber's viewpoint, too gay and seductive.  Its low neckline and gentle flounce, coupled to the partial transparency of its thin gauzy material, would have met with his public disapproval.  She would have been insufficiently the lady.  But today she wasn't in his presence, nor had she arranged to meet him, so what she wore was entirely her own affair.  And because she wanted a change, she had opted for one of her sexier dresses.

     "I'm surprised you didn't wear something like that to my party the other evening," Hurst declared, still manifestly appreciative.

     "Yes, I was rather formal, wasn't I?" she admitted, becoming more embarrassed.  "I didn't really know what your party would look like."

     "Not to worry," he apologetically rejoined.  "You looked delightful anyway."

     She faked yet another smile and offered to fetch him a non-alcoholic drink, since she didn't keep alcohol indoors.  He agreed to a coffee, so she took herself off to the kitchen to make it, including one for herself.  This respite from him came as something of a relief and enabled her to gather her thoughts together.  She was more than ever convinced that she disliked him and had made a serious mistake in not turning around in the street and walking away while the opportunity still prevailed.  It was fairly obvious that he intended to have his way with her, no less by the unabashedly flattering tone of his conversation than by his crude insistence on accompanying her indoors.  His attitude towards her at the party had been friendly and, to say the least, admiring, in spite of his wife's proximity.  No doubt, he hoped to consolidate what he had gained there by a fresh onslaught of admiration here, since he clearly wouldn't have gone out of his way to accompany her for any other reason.  And she?  What could she do to resist him?  Was there anything?  No, it didn't seem so.  Willy-nilly, he would probably succeed in his objectives.  Yet if she was destined to be had by him, there was at least the possibility that it could take place on certain terms - terms assuring her that no action would be taken against Thurber if the editor got it in mind to dispense with his reviews.  Yes, there was always that possibility; though she had no proof, as yet, that he actually did have such an action in mind.  Perhaps she would soon find out?

     Having done what there was to do in the kitchen, plus a couple of additional things besides, she returned to the living room with tray in-hand and set it down on the small coffee table in front of the settee, sitting down, at the same time, on the space Hurst had at the last moment provided for her.  "Help yourself to sugar," she advised him, as he reached forwards to take his mug.

     "Gladly," he responded with facetious self-assurance.

     She noticed, as he straightened up again, that he had in the meantime taken off his jacket and loosened his tie.  Close-up he was apt to appear younger than at a distance, despite his silver-grey hair.  He couldn't have been more than fifty.

     "Hmm, that's better!" he remarked, sipping the coffee into which he had put two large teaspoonfuls of brown sugar.  "I really needed it."

     Despite the fact that she was a grown woman of twenty-four, she felt curiously shy and insecure beside him, almost childish.  He was more than old enough to be her father and she sensed something of a father/daughter relationship in his company.

     "Yes, I like this room," he declared after a minute's steady sipping, during which time his eyes had embraced its contours and visible contents.  "It's very cosy."  He eased back in the settee and turned towards her.  "So this is where you do your writing, I presume?"

     "Well, in actual fact I have another room to write in," she confessed, momentarily abandoning her coffee.  "This is more a place to relax in."

     "So it is."  He smiled appreciatively.  "And do you usually relax here alone or in the company of another?" he asked.

     "Both," she replied, blushing anew.

     Hurst nodded thoughtfully, and then said: "Presumably when you're in company it's with Martin Thurber, is it?"

     "Usually," Greta admitted, "though I also have one or two other friends."

     "Not bed friends, by any chance?"

     "No, just friends," said Greta, who continued to sip her coffee, more than ever conscious of her shyness and insecurity beside him.

     "I imagine you must be quite fond of Thurber," he murmured, following a brief pause.

     "Yes, I am actually."

     Hurst looked at her more intently, almost insolently so.  "And what about that character he invited along to my house on Saturday evening - what d'you think of him?" he asked.

     Greta averted her face from his gaze and buried it in the coffee.  She didn't quite know how best to answer that question.  "Well," she at length replied, suddenly mindful of what Thurber had told her about him, "I suppose fondness wouldn't be the exact word where he's concerned."

     "I should think not!" Hurst sternly exclaimed.  "I personally found him highly obnoxious, most decidedly so!"

     Greta was hardly surprised or shocked to hear this, and merely commented: "Presumably because of what he said and the authoritative way in which he said it?"

     "Yes, and also the time he took in saying it," Hurst declared.  "He quite spoilt my evening, I can tell you!"

     "I'm sorry to hear that, but Martin didn't really know all that much about the man in the first place," Greta remarked.

     "Then, damn it, he shouldn't have invited him at all!" cried Hurst, who was no longer the shameless flatterer but, clearly, the outraged innocent, the offended host, the affronted bourgeois.

     "No, I guess not," she responded, briefly turning towards him in spite of her private disgust with his want of self-control.

     "As it happened, I had one of the worst nights of my entire life," he averred, "and a frightful hangover the next day!"

     "I'm awfully sorry to hear that," Greta repeated, though she was far from sure what the frightful hangover could have to do with her boyfriend or, indeed, with Keith Logan.  Still, it was pretty evident that Hurst wanted to stew in his own misery a while, to arouse her sympathy and, if possible, make her feel guilty, share in the responsibility for his suffering, and thereby obligate her to propitiate him in due course.  It was an excellent way of softening her up, and she could hardly fail, under the circumstances, to respond to it.  Pushed a little further, she would have no option but to console him, to extend her feminine sympathy to his body, even given the fact of her childish insecurity beside him.

     "Yes, well, I dare say you'd be even sorrier to hear that I'm now considering whether to dispense with Thurber's contributions to my magazine, in consequence of what he directly and indirectly inflicted upon me the other night," Hurst continued, renewing his attack.

     It was just as Greta had expected, but she did her best to feign alarm.  "Seriously?" she cried, this time giving him the privilege of her undivided attention, as though the matter were of supreme concern to her.

     "Perfectly," he assured her, nodding curtly.

     "Indeed, I am sorry to hear that!" she confessed, and, as though in confirmation of the fact, immediately returned her half-empty mug of coffee to the tray in front of them, since its presence in her hand seemed somewhat irrelevant to the serious matters under discussion.  It was a gesture, curiously, that must have impressed Hurst.  For he duly followed suit, discarding what remained of his own coffee.

     "Well, I don't quite honestly see why I should continue to befriend Thurber when he has quite obviously ceased to befriend me," the editor complained with rhetorical relish.  "He deserves to be punished somehow, and I intend, before the week is out, to damn-well punish him!"

     Greta had more than an inkling of how Hurst really intended to punish or, rather, avenge himself upon her boyfriend, but she couldn't very well let-on at that moment.  Instead, she pleaded with him not to drop Thurber's contributions, since they were his chief source of income at present and greatest pride in life.  She pleaded with all the feminine tact and guile at her disposal, reminding Hurst that this very week - indeed, that very day - Martin Thurber was at work in the service of 'Art and Artist', reviewing an exhibition of one of the finest contemporary artists, an artist known to the editor personally, as his presence at Saturday evening's party had adequately confirmed, and someone, moreover, who would undoubtedly be glad of the critical appreciation of one of the country's foremost art critics - indeed, if academic and artistic opinion were to be believed, the foremost art critic of his day, a direct descendant, as it were, of the great twentieth-century tradition of British art critics and historians ... from Roger Fry and Clive Bell to Herbert Read and Kenneth Clark.  Surely the editor couldn't fail to appreciate the importance of the services rendered to his periodical by such a knowledgeable and tasteful critic?

     But Hurst wasn't to be mollified by Greta's opinions.  "Frankly, I don't much care for Fleshman's work," he confessed, somewhat to her dismay, "and only invited him to my party because I thought he would amuse me.  What he's currently up to I honestly don't know, because I didn't get an opportunity to ask him about it.  But from what I've seen of his work in the past, I'd be inclined to doubt that it has improved very much in the meantime.  On the contrary, it can only be getting steadily worse, which is to say, ever more Americanized and ... barbarously heathen!

     "As, however, for Martin Thurber - yes, he's undoubtedly a competent critic, though I would seriously hesitate to place him in the front rank," Hurst went on, warming to his subject.  "To be perfectly honest with you, his writings are anything but distinguished, especially in view of his bias for abstract art at the expense of representational works, which necessarily narrows his range and gives to his reviews of the more conservative painters and sculptors a perfunctory quality for which I don't much care!  A recent review of the Stanley Spencer exhibition, for example, was anything but eulogistic, whereas he virtually raved about an exhibition of abstract art, held at approximately the same time, by some little-known painter of foreign origin whose name eludes me!  In my opinion, he permits too much of his personal bias to come through in his criticisms - a thing which a truly first-rate critic should never do.  However that may be, there's one factor which could sway me from my intention to dispense with him and his current review, which could even dissuade me from taking the slightest retaliatory action against him, and that factor, believe it or not, is you, my dear."

     "Oh?"  Once again Greta was obliged to feign surprise for something she had anticipated all along.  Deep down she really loathed him!

     He drew himself closer to her and rested his arm on the back of the settee, just behind her head.  "Maybe we could come to some sort of arrangement together which would, ahem, render it unnecessary for me to consider Saturday evening to have been entirely wasted?"

     "What kind of an arrangement?" Greta innocently inquired of him, blushing slightly in response to his intimate proximity.

     He ran his other hand over her cheek and softly caressed her neck, smiling all the while in an unequivocally emotional answer to her question.  And just as emotionally he brought his face closer to hers, peered into her bright eyes, as into a crystal ball, and placed a silent kiss on her lips - a kiss which caused her to tremble with a mixture of desire and disgust.  God, how she loathed him!  And yet, at the same time and by a curious paradox, how she secretly yearned to be taken by an older and possibly more experienced man, to revel in her helplessness and childish insecurity before him!  Since she had never been taken by someone she disliked, she was curious to discover exactly what it would be like, to experiment, as it were, with the possible degradation resulting from such an unattractive encounter.  If, as Aldous Huxley had led her to believe, the urge to downward self-transcendence was manifest in sex, would not such an experience prove even more self-negating than if indulged in with someone she liked, someone, for instance, like Martin Thurber?  And would she not be less the public lady and more the private whore than ever before?  Would not the contrast between her public and private selves be correspondingly greater, and all the more authentic?

     Yes, she partly trembled with disgust at the touch of his fingers upon her cheek and the pressure of his lips upon hers.  But not wholly!  For a demon of desire was indeed manifesting itself in her at that very moment, egging her on to comply with its lustful wishes.  She knew that it was vain to protest against this demon, and not least of all because she preferred to believe it was in Thurber's interests that she should sacrifice herself on his behalf.  What he would personally think of such a sacrifice was quite a different matter, but she chose not to speculate.  Better to give way to the temptations to-hand ... than wonder whether Martin might not prefer having his reviews rejected, to having his girlfriend sexually mauled by the man who was intending to reject them.  Absolutely!  And as those temptations were now more pressing than before ...

     "You promise not to take any retributive action against Martin?" she ironically requested of Hurst, as he became bolder, drawing himself still closer to her and making a determined effort to slide his hand under her dress.  She checked its advance, however, and repeated:  "You promise?"

     "Yes, provided you cease to resist me!"

     Reluctantly she relinquished her grip on his hand and it immediately resumed its methodical progress, exposing her dark-stockinged thighs to his gaze, the sight of which considerably emboldened him.  For, with the spectacle of such copious flesh, he ceased to be a gentleman, a giver of gentle kisses and caresses, and effectively became, as though by some Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation, a wild animal intent upon ravaging its prey as quickly and ruthlessly as possible.  A deep abyss of carnal sensuality had suddenly opened-up before him and he now plunged down into its murky depths, dragging his helpless victim along with him.  A downward self-transcendence was certainly in the offing, which promised to be more obliterating than anything either of them could have anticipated.

     In vain did she implore him to be gentle as, wrenching the panties from her groin, he rolled her onto her stomach, pushed her dress up her back and, quickly unzipping his flies, released his rearing penis from its increasingly strained confines, dropping his pants as he grabbed hold of her thighs in order to manoeuvre himself into a rear entry position beneath the curvaceous mounds of her alluring buttocks.  As he drove himself into her, his hands reached around to her breasts and took hold of them with a pressure that dislodged her brassiere and momentarily distracted her from the pain of his phallic assault.  Then as this pain was gradually replaced by a reassuringly familiar numbing sensation and that, in turn, by a mounting tension of orgasmic response, she found the last vestiges of her ego relapsing further and further into subconscious dominion, and completely abandoned herself, beast-like, to the mutual pleasures of their flesh.  Here was the degradation she had secretly craved.  Now she was really a whore, delivered from her self-pity, free-falling in the abyss of sexual abandon, irrevocably damned, in worldly submission, to a fiercely lustful predator!

 

 

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