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Two Hanged Women
by [?]

Hand in hand the youthful lovers sauntered along the esplanade. It was a night in midsummer; a wispy moon had set, and the stars glittered. The dark mass of the sea, at flood, lay tranquil, slothfully lapping the shingle.

“Come on, let’s make for the usual,” said the boy.

But on nearing their favourite seat they found it occupied. In the velvety shade of the overhanging sea-wall, the outlines of two figures were visible.

“Oh, blast!” said the lad. “That’s torn it. What now, Baby?”

“Why, let’s stop here, Pincher, right close up, till we frighten ’em off. ”

And very soon loud, smacking kisses, amatory pinches and ticklings, and skittish squeals of pleasure did their work. Silently the intruders rose and moved away.

But the boy stood gaping after them, open-mouthed.

“Well, I’m damned! If it wasn’t just two hanged women!”


Retreating before a salvo of derisive laughter, the elder of the girls said: “We’ll go out on the break-water. ” She was tall and thin, and walked with a long stride.

Her companion, shorter than she by a bobbed head of straight flaxen hair, was hard put to it to keep pace. As she pegged along she said doubtfully, as if in self-excuse: “Though I really ought to go home. It’s getting late. Mother will be angry. ”

They walked with finger-tips lightly in contact; and at her words she felt what was like an attempt to get free, on the part of the fingers crooked in hers. But she was prepared for this, and held fast, gradually working her own up till she had a good half of the other hand in her grip.

For a moment neither spoke. Then, in a low, muffled voice, came the question: “Was she angry last night, too?”

The little fair girl’s reply had an unlooked-for vehemence. “You know she wasn’t!” And, mildly despairing: “But you never willunderstand. Oh, what’s the good of … of anything!”

And on sitting down she let the prisoned hand go, even putting it from her with a kind of push. There it lay, palm upwards, the fingers still curved from her hold, looking like a thing with a separate life of its own; but a life that was ebbing.

On this remote seat, with their backs turned on lovers, lights, the town, the two girls sat and gazed wordlessly at the dark sea, over which great Jupiter was flinging a thin gold line. There was no sound but the lapping, sucking, sighing, of the ripples at the edge of the breakwater, and the occasional screech of an owl in the tall trees on the hillside.

But after a time, having stolen more than one side-glance at her companion, the younger seemed to take heart of grace. With a childish toss of the head that set her loose hair swaying, she said, in a tone of meaning emphasis: “I like Fred. ”

The only answer was a faint, contemptuous shrug.

“I tell you I likehim!”

“Fred? Rats!”

“No it isn’t … that’s just where you’re wrong, Betty. But you think you’re so wise. Always. ”

“I know what I know. ”

“Or imagine you do! But it doesn’t matter. Nothing you can say makes any difference. I like him, and always shall. In heaps of ways. He’s so big and strong, for one thing: it gives you such a safe sort of feeling to be with him … as if nothing could happen while you were. Yes, it’s … it’s … well, I can’t help it, Betty, there’s something comfyin having a boy to go about with—like other girls do. One they’d eat their hats to get, too! I can see it in their eyes when we pass; Fred with his great long legs and broad shoulders—I don’t nearly come up to them—and his blue eyes with the black lashes, and his shiny black hair. And I like his tweeds, the Harris smell of them, and his dirty old pipe, and the way he shows his teeth—he’s got toppingteeth—when he laughs and says ‘ra-ther!’ And other people, when they see us, look … well I don’t quite know how to say it, but they look sort of pleased; and they make room for us and let us into the dark corner-seats at the pictures, just as if we’d a right to them. And they never laugh. (Oh, I can’t stickbeing laughed at!—and that’s the truth. ) Yes, it’s so comfy, Betty darling … such a warm cosy comfy feeling. Oh, won’tyou understand?”