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PAGE 3

The Gioconda Smile
by [?]

“Oh, Teddy Bear, what an age you’ve been!” It was a fresh and childish voice that spoke the words. There was the faintest hint of Cockney impurity about the vowel sounds.

Mr. Hutton bent his large form and darted into the car with the agility of an animal regaining its burrow.

“Have I?” he said, as he shut the door. The machine began to move. “You must have missed me a lot if you found the time so long. ” He sat back in the low seat; a cherishing warmth enveloped him.

‘Teddy Bear…” and with a sign of contentment a charming little head declined on to Mr. Hutton’s shoulder. Ravished, he looked down sideways at the round, babyish face.

“Do you know, Doris, you look like the pictures of Louise de Kerouaille. ” He passed his fingers through a mass of curly hair.

“Who’s Louise de Kera-whatever-it-is?” Doris spoke from remote distances.

“She was, alas! Fuit. We shall all be ‘was’ one of these days. Meanwhile. …”

Mr Hutton covered the babyish face with kisses. The car rushed smoothly along. M’Nab’s back, through the front window, was stonily impassive, the back of a statue.

“Your hands,” Doris whispered. “Oh, you mustn’t touch me. They give me electric shocks. ”

Mr. Hutton adored her for the virgin imbecility of the words. How late in one’s existence one makes the discovery of one’s body!

“The electricity isn’t in me, it’s in you. ” He kissed her again, whispering her name several times: Doris, Doris, Doris. The scientific appellation of the sea-mouse he was thinking, as he kissed the throat she offered him, white and extended like the throat of a victim awaiting the sacrificial knife. The sea-mouse was a sausage with iridescent fur: very peculiar. Or was Doris the sea-cucumber, which turns itself inside out in moments of alarm? He would really have to go to Naples again, just to see the aquarium. These sea creatures were fabulous, unbelievably fantastic.

“Oh, Teddy Bear!” (More zoology; but he was only a land animal. His poor little jokes!) “Teddy Bear, I’m so happy. ”

“So am I,” said Mr. Hutton. Was it true?

“But I wish I knew if it were right. Tell me, Teddy Bear, is it right or wrong?”

“Ah, my dear, that’s just what I’ve been wondering for the last thirty years. ”

“Be serious, Teddy Bear. I want to know if this is right; if it’s right that I should be here with you and that we should love one another, and that it should give me electric shocks when you touch me. ”

“Right? Well, it’s certainly good that you should have electric shocks rather than sexual repressions. Read Freud; repressions are the devil. ”

“Oh, you don’t help me. Why aren’t you ever serious? If only you knew how miserable I am sometimes, thinking it’s not right. Perhaps you know, there is a hell, and all that. I don’t know what to do. Sometimes I think I ought to stop loving you. ”

“But could you?” asked Mr. Hutton, confident in the powers of his seduction and his moustache.

“No, Teddy Bear, you know I couldn’t. But I could run away, I could hide from you, I could lock myself up and force myself not to come to you. ”

“Silly little thing!” He tightened his embrace.

“Oh, dear, I hope it isn’t wrong. And there are times when I don’t care if it is. ”

Mr. Hutton was touched. He had a certain protective affection for this little creature. He laid his cheek against her hair and so, interlaced, they sat in silence, while the car, swaying and pitching a little as it hastened along, seemed to draw in the white road and the dusty hedges towards it devouringly.

“Goodbye, goodbye. ”

The car moved on, gathered speed, vanished round a curve, and Doris was left standing by the sign- post at the cross-roads, still dizzy and weak with the languor born of those kisses and the electrical touch of those gentle hands. She had to take a deep breath to draw herself up deliberately, before she was strong enough to start her homeward walk. She had half a mile in which to invent the necessary lies.

Alone, Mr. Hutton suddenly found himself the prey of an appalling boredom.

II