I went back to Oxford to see Lucy. In the cloisters, our old meeting place, her body was soft and warm in my arms. In my journals later I wrote; ‘in these cloisters, where men only have walked for centuries in the purity of their scholarship, now comes for the first time the feminine. Where their learned discourse sounded, sounds gaily now her laugh.’ We walked round New College garden, round the tattered trees on the mound and under the higher trees behind it where first I had told her of my love for her.
We strolled down to Christopher Johnson’s apartment at Folly Bridge. He was standing on the balcony, throwing toast to the swans and with it also pelting the oarsmen who rowed past occasionally. His room smelled of Gauloises cigarettes and was shoddy, its dirty windows looking out through the wreathed ironwork of its balcony. His two pianos were hunched dark over the roughly painted blue floor. Against the further wall he had placed a round gilded Venetian table, painted with temples and palaces in the manner of Guardi.
We went with Christopher to lunch in a pub. In its pleasant back yard I drank pear-shandy and Lucy had ginger beer. We ate salmon sandwiches. A man walked by whistling the theme from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.
That was the last time Lucy and I were happy together. Two weeks later I was with her again at Oxford. She was distant, unhappy. In the inn where we had tea she said, ‘You’re being unromantic,’ and when we went to the churchyard at Godstow, among the ivy and tombs of that pre-Raphaelite place, I sensed her unhappiness and disliked her for it. When she asked me to kiss her I teased her about her Catholicism. ‘You mustn’t use every Protestant church as a place for spooning,’ I said.
We went into the churchyard and, standing with the little Gothic revival gate behind her, she said; ‘I know you don’t want to feel tied to me. On the other hand when we were last together you seemed so certain. Did you mean what you said then?’
‘I know, Lucy, and I’m sorry. My feelings change from hour to hour so that it frightens me ever to say anything.’
She turned to me with her bland, open gaze and said, ‘But I want you to be free, my darling, I don’t want you to be tied to me. And I don’t want you to feel bound and you can go out with as many girls as you like and be as unfaithful to me as you like.’ Then her voice broke, ‘But not too unfaithful.’ There was a pause and then, picking up something from my expression she said, ‘Or have you been unfaithful?’
‘Yes, I have. A little.’
She tore herself away from me, buried her face in the ivy by the gate. I shall never forget that picture; she, white in the twilight with her head buried in the ivy, among the tombs and urns.
For the first time in my life I felt old, tired out with emotion.
‘I told you that if you were unfaithful I could never see you again,’ she said, trying to run from the churchyard. I blocked her way, standing in front of the iron gates.
Later, when she had become more peaceful, we went to a pub and a tactless ra-ra young man wearing trousers of cavalry twill minuetted up and said to me, ‘Hear you’re staying at the Dunn’s place next weekend, do bring Nell to my party.’
It was the end for Lucy.
That night as we sat in my car parked beside the road, outside her home, with freezing mist rising all round, she said; ‘You’ll understand if I say I never want to see you again.’
I couldn’t say anything except, ‘I love you,’ while she poured on to me all the abuse and scorn of which, in her innocence, she was capable.
‘The car needs water,’ I told her. She went into the house and got water in a kettle and poured it into the radiator for me. Then she said, ‘I’ll say goodbye to you inside,’ and behind the gates I kissed her tenderly for the last time.
As she walked off through the garden into the dusk, I cried; ‘I love you.’
Then I tried to call her back and shouted; ‘Lucy!’ But she was gone.
‘It is better to be tortured on the prongs of frustrated despair than to realise that love has died.’ The following week I spent two evenings with Lucy. ‘Her face has altered and she is thin. There is a barrier between us and I can hardly recognise the Lucy I loved so much.’
She said; ‘You’ve taken so much of me away and destroyed it, you can’t expect me to behave naturally.’ She told me a joke, and for a moment she threw back her head and laughed in her old wonderful way. Then she looked as if she were about to weep.
‘I was unfaithful to you too,’ she said. ‘I didn’t like it, in fact, I hated it, but I felt I ought to be.’
This is the beautiful being whom I loved for eighteen months, whom I loved so deeply and have made unhappy.
‘If I feel you still love me, I can bear it,’ she said.
‘I love you, I love you,’ I lied, thinking like Hamlet, ‘I loved you once.’
Then I wept myself, wept at my own worthlessness, at the transitoriness of love.
‘Darling, darling, why are you crying?’
‘Because I so wanted us to marry and now I realise we can’t.’
‘Oh, if only I’d known that.’
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