When I was on my feet again, I lost no time in bearding the lioness in her den. As usual, Jane was with her. The whole thing would have been infuriating if it hadn't also been comic and titillating. My direct questions were met with innuendo, satire, and the most elaborate evasion. They pretended to think, among other things, that I was attempting to lure them into white slavery. I suppose, really, that it was worth it just to be at the center of their attention. Besides, I knew how to get my information. I would catch Ralph alone in his disgusting domicile.
Upon leaving the ladies, I went immediately to the Belsize Park tube station and took a southbound train. I soon realized that I would either have to take it all the way down to Charing Cross or transfer no less than three times. I chose the latter course. The color and bustle of the stations is preferable to having one's bones jostled together for extended periods of time.
First, there was the considerable confusion of Camden Town, where it is necessary to wait poised between two tunnels until the one with the next train is signalled on a large board. When that occurs, there follows an unseemly rush to the indicated platform. Then there was the relatively orderly circular movement of Kings Cross while effecting a transfer from the Northern Line to the Metropolitan. Then, at Baker Street, I descended briskly from the occasional daylight of the Metropolitan Line to the black depths of the Bakerloo. When I finally emerged into the brisk sunshine of Warwick Avenue, I made my way, gratefully and quickly, to Little Venice.
It's difficult to know how to call on someone who lives in a hovel, particularly a floating one. The residents of the area, no doubt, drew abreast on the towpath and bellowed. Alternatively, I could imagine Brenda calling out derisively in her throaty musical voice. Jane, I had been told, announced her presence by picking up a rock and flinging it against the side of Ralph's home. If forced to choose between these methods of approach, I would have taken the latter. However, none was really dignified, and I attempted instead to knock on what seemed to be the door. Unfortunately, I couldn't reach it from the bank, and was somewhat hesitant about mounting the single plank that led up to the deck. In the end, I trod warily on it, tipping the boat, and called out softly. I was aware of looking like a respectable solicitor calling, decidedly uncomfortably, to inform a remittance man that he had inherited money.
A hatch soon opened, and Ralph's head popped up, inviting me aboard. I suggested instead a stroll over to Paddington and tea at the Great Western Hotel. He, obliging as always, was soon down the plank as the boat rolled, crashed, and banged. Once we were underway, I asked him, straight out, what the girls were up to. He answered,
"I think it's a bit of a secret, and they thought you might be uncomfortable about it. It's something I wouldn't do myself, but I don't see any reason to try to stop them."
It turned out that Brenda intended to do things to run down all the property in Pilgrims Lane, and then buy as much of it as possible when the residents gave way to panic. She would then build it up again. I pointed out,
"It's something unprincipled real estate agents have always done. And they complain about Smith!"
Ralph, of course, also complained about Smith. He had the grace to blush a little. He did add,
"I guess I feel that, in this sort of thing, there are always winners and losers. I don't particularly care whether the losers live on Pilgrims Lane or somewhere else."
It was at that moment that I realized that Ralph had real ability. Not everyone can take a moral question and reformulate it in such a way that it concerns only an accident of geography. I congratulated him on his facility in questions of ethics. I then asked, I think not without some relevance, whether Jane had yet separated from Smith.
"Yes, she's moved over to share Brenda's flat for the time being. I dare say she'll move farther away soon."
"On the other hand, she might stay right there so that she can harrass Smith more effectively. She and Brenda both have good imaginations. Poor Smith!"
There's one good thing about Ralph. He doesn't respond to irritability with more of his own. He leads one into a rational discussion. He began,
"I thought Smith was pretty much the sort of chap you originally warned me against. He might not himself want to borrow money, but anyone who hung around with him would find himself spending more and more. Smith has to do what's fashionable and have what his betters have."
"Does that include Jane?"
"I suppose it does, really. I'm sure he married her for social reasons."
I found myself having to eat a few words. Smith certainly wasn't an ideal companion for Ralph. On the other hand, Ralph showed strong signs of going to the opposite extreme as far as money was concerned. I did point out,
"The fact that Smith dresses well and acquires expensive things doesn't necessarily imply that he's stupid or superficial. Even his marriage to Jane, while a mistake, argues his good taste. She's certainly not vulgar."
I also tried to suggest to Ralph that, since Smith would no longer be his rival, there was no need for him to help Jane vent her rage on the poor fellow. Any points of that sort, however, soon proved to be academic. Although Ralph seemed his usual happy relaxed self, it was obvious that he would do whatever he thought might bring Jane closer to him.
I spoke gently, venturing only to suggest that Jane was somewhat older. He replied,
"She's thirty five, so that makes it fourteen years. But it doesn't seem to bother her."
It went without saying that it didn't bother Ralph. He also volunteered, freely enough, that they had hardly any common interests. But, of course, none of that mattered. Apart from her utter lack of most ordinary inhibitions, the fascinating thing about Jane was the way she looked and moved.
As Ralph anhd I sat at a little tea table below paintings of locomotives, we discussed Jane at some length. We mentioned paintings that were reminiscent of her, circumstances and clothes that suited her well, and the likelihood of her having some Viking blood.
It was, in a quite elevated way, the analogue of a bar- room discussion of a woman, the sort where men discuss her sexual characteristics in gross terms and tell each other what they'd like to do to her. That is, I knew we were doing something of that sort, but Ralph didn't. He was at the spiritual age at which love is more than the sudden removal of barriers to intimacy. In fact, he let it drop that, even when Jane had come to visit him in his houseboat, there had been almost no physical contact. It was only on leaving that she had kissed him lightly and shyly, in a way that was unexpected and more charming than anything he could imagine.
I didn't have the heart to tell Ralph, but the notion of Jane as Mrs. Wambsganss was at least as absurd as that of her as Mrs. Smith. But I did understand his feelings. I could imagine her standing on the bank by his miserable dwelling and creating, with one little kiss, something exciting and romantic out of the tawdriness of Little Venice.
As we talked on, I remarked,
"It's odd that Jane was willing to marry an American, particularly a rather ordinary one like Smith."
"I gather that she doesn't get on well with the men of her own class. She seems to have carried on a kind of warfare with the friends of her brothers."
"That's also odd. She's an entirely English kind of eccentric, and I'd expect the men of her class to understand her. Perhaps, when it comes to marriage, they want someone who won't make Jane's sorts of remarks."
"Apparently. Though I don't see why they can't take a little back-chat now and then."
"The English upper-class male isn't a very attractive object. He must have everything his own way. His wife is expected to submerge her own personality to smooth his way through the world for him."
Ralph pondered that for a moment, and then answered brightly,
"I guess she's better off with an American, then."
I hadn't meant him to reach that conclusion, but it wasn't the first time that my words had had an unfortunate effect. I set about repairing the damage, but, by the time we parted, I felt that there was little that could be done. I was thankful that divorce took so long in England.
In the next few weeks I was busy with my first commission in my new profession, and didn't see a great deal of Brenda, Ralph, and Jane. However, there was one episode, not initially involving any of them, which did turn out to have effects on all of us.
It began at ten o'clock on a beautiful morning in late February. I was in Shepherds Market, an attractive area of little streets and shops behind the large hotels which faced on Piccadilly. Enjoying the sunshine, I was walking quickly, but without paying much attention to my direction. Presently, I came around a corner on a collision course with a well- dressed young lady.
She had been looking the other way, and, since I stopped abruptly, she must not have realized how near I came to running her down. Indeed, I could have said nothing and let her pass. However, it was a situation in which I almost automatically began to excuse myself. What happened next was a matter of pure coincidence, and it depended on fractions of seconds for its timing. The lady first looked at me as I was beginning to speak. I suppose, in my surprise, I might have fumbled for something like a fourth of a second before managing anything intelligible. The lady, less flustered, spoke quickly and clearly. She said "hello" in a pleasant voice. The tone was welcoming, as if I were a friend. It wasn't a tone in which one either makes or accepts an apology. I, on the other hand, was already primed to make my apology. I did so. The lady, inexplicably, lost her composure, blushed deeply, and turned to hurry off.
I think that I was really quite quick off the mark on that occasion. I remembered suddenly that Shepherds Market was a place for fashionable prostitutes, though not usually at that time of day. This young lady, not knowing that I had almost collided with her, thought that I was speaking with her in order to propose some business. Her reaction had been, not to rush off or call for the police, but to greet me pleasantly.
I experienced an extremely odd sensation. If this young woman was a prostitute, almost any woman might turn out to be one. My firm belief that all prostitutes could be detected at a glance was rudely shattered. This girl, of obvious good breeding, had, in effect, acquiesced in advance to the offer she expected. She had lost her poise only when she realized that I had intended nothing more than an apology.
It was possible, as the young lady hurried down the pavement, to deduce just what she was. A hardened or experienced prostitute would only have shrugged her shoulders, or perhaps tossed off a casual, "That's all right, love." On the other hand, no other woman would have been particularly embarrassed. Queen Victoria was long dead. It was no disgrace for a lady to say hello on encountering a well-dressed stranger who was about to speak to her, very likely to ask for directions. This lady was embarrassed only because of the intention with which she had spoken. There hadn't been enough time for her to realize that she would reveal that intention only by showing embarrassment. She was, almost of necessity, a beginning or amateur prostitute. Indeed, she was quite possibly a student short on funds who had gotten dressed up in order to solicit.
It was the work of a moment to catch her up. I, letting my American accent do its work, said,
"Hello. I'm a stranger here, and I wonder if you could help me."
She stopped quickly and replied, in a flustered but educated voice,
"Yes. I'm sorry, I thought .."
She halted in mid-speech, and I carried on,
"Yes, I know. I hadn't intended that, but if you might actually be available, I'd be delighted. Perhaps you'd like a cup of tea."
The girl was obviously both pleased and relieved. She confirmed my suspicion by remarking that this was her first time. She hoped I didn't mind. She was also willing to accept less than the going rate in consequence. I reassured her on that point. She then said,
"I suppose one doesn't ordinarily begin this sort of thing with tea, but I'd be most grateful."
Sitting at a tea table, we talked in much the way of strangers meeting on a train. In that case, one may reveal rather personal things because one knows one will never see the other again. In this case, we spoke in much the same way for a different reason. I, as well as she, had already revealed enough to make it pointless to stand on ceremony. The price had been agreed, and we both knew where we were headed. But, still, we were strangers without, as yet, anything resembling friendship between us.
Delphinia Muggs, as her name proved to be, was a student of English history at University College on Gower Street. She had run out of money. She had tried a few temporary jobs, but they were unreliable. They were also hard to fit into her demanding course of study. Without any apparent shame, she said that she was trying this instead. She knew a girl who had done it, and had been told that it was less profitable, but safe, to go out in the mornings. I nodded sagely during this explanation, and then told my own story. I had wanted to marry at one time, but the girls I had known had all married someone else. As a general thing, I got along well on my own, but I did feel a sexual need now and then. It was clear that our needs complemented one another, and that, if all went well, a continuing commercial relationship could result.
Muggs, as we all came to call her, had an arrangement with another girl, presumably the one who was guiding her in prostitution, for the use of a room in the neighborhood. However, it took little persuasion to get her to come to my flat on Walton Street, only two stops away on the Underground.
During that ride in a nearly empty car, we spoke of the world of work in London. Muggs was specializing in the history of Roman Britain, but, since virtually no jobs in the field were open to women, her only chance to make money out of her knowledge was as a part-time tourist guide. Such positions paid very nearly nothing. She could also type reasonably well, and admitted that most girls in her position would have given up their studies and become secretaries. Even that took some doing. Regular full-time positions were highly prized, and one might have to take a dozen or more temporary positions before happening to be in the right place at the right time.
The real trouble, though, was that even the best secretarial positions demanded so much time and energy that there wasn't enough left over to cultivate any sort of life of the mind. I told Muggs of my own putative solution to much the same set of problems. She was quite favorably impressed.
We were now out of the tube, and had walked past the glitter of Knightsbridge and Beauchamp Place. Walton Street, my street, presented a vista of stucco walls, flush to the pavement. In Smith's terms, this was the lowest class of housing, and had undoubtedly been constructed to house those servants and lackeys who didn't actually live in the nearby houses of the rich. However, with changing times, that class had diminished, and almost any sort of housing in central London had become at least moderately desirable. My rent was modest only because I occupied a relatively undesirable space at the top of a house, really a converted attic.
Muggs, not used to high heels, was beginning to limp a little. It was also noticeable that her dress, a good deal too large for her, had twisted in a peculiar way around the shoulders and hips. By this time, she seemed and looked so little like a prostitute that I could hardly imagine her making a success of it. On the other hand, I sensed in her the kind of mental quickness and adeptness which would make her good at almost any kind of research. As I followed her up my stairs, I proposed that she do some part-time work for me unearthing some of the facts I would need to make my first "autobiography" reasonable plausibity.
The anamoly of this proposition in these circumstances wasn't lost on Muggs, and she laughed for the first time as she accepted my little commission. There was then, of course, an awkward moment. Muggs, evidently too embarrassed to ask whether I was still interested in her other services, grasped her skirt in both hands and lifted it slightly above her knees. She hesitated while I, fishing for words, indicated that all arrangements were still on. She then had her dress quickly over her head, and dropped it on the couch. In her slip, she was revealed as a very small girl, about half the size she had seemed in her dress. She also looked much younger. For the first time, I wondered how old she was. This, however, didn't seem the time to ask. She spoke in a tone that sounded consciously composed.
"Dorothy told me that most men would want me to undress slowly while they watch."
She was obviously doing her best despite being very uncomfortable, and I turned away to preserve some part of her modesty while I partially disrobed. The more Muggs took off, the more her poverty was revealed. Her slip had been mended in various places, but her brasierre had no fewer than three safety pins in it, and her suspender belt several more. Her stockings had runs which had been largely concealed by the longish dress, and one, held up by only one snap, looked as if it might descend at any moment. Her scuffed high-heeled pumps were much too large, and, attempting to stand and walk in an alluring fashion, her feet wobbled in them.
Only Muggs' cotton underpants appeared intact, and they, oddly enough, were bright purple. She was still wearing her glasses, and the expression on her face was quite severe. I couldn't help remarking,
"You look very nice, but a little like a research student undergoing her annual physical examination."
Muggs smiled at that, but, when I put my hand around her waist to lead her to the bed, she jumped slightly and felt cold to the touch. I hoped that she wouldn't cry, and was very careful in touching her. Even so, there were a few gasps, particularly when I entered her. Still, she wasn't a virgin, and, once started, she seemed to rather enjoy herself in a restrained and lady-like way. I found the whole experience extremely gratifying, much more so than I would have with any ordinary prostitute.
It was afterwards that Muggs needed to be reassured. She thought she had done badly, and wanted to refuse money. She was upset that she hadn't even thought to remove her spectacles. Sitting on a straight chair in her skimpy little slip, she was now on the verge of tears. I got tea in front of her and an arm around her shoulders just in time. I could see that she would be a very conscientious research aide.
I'm not entirely sure why, but my first response to this episode was to visit Brenda. As I approached her house, there were some young men out in front, and more in the corridor revealed by the open front door. Indeed, I had the impression that dozens of people, each speaking a different language, were now inhabiting the house. I made my way through them up into the relative peace of Brenda's flat. In addition to Brenda, Jane and Ralph were also there. Almost before greetings had been exchanged, I asked,
"Who on earth are those people?"
"That's Ralph's soccer team. If you'd like, I'll take you down to meet them."
I parried that with,
"Are you letting them live here free to run down the neighborhood?"
"By no means. I'm saving every penny these days. No free rides for anyone. They're paying quite a good rent, but it's split so many ways that they can afford it."
Ralph was wearing an English suit, and stood smiling with his back to the mantel with his arms crossed. He looked proprietarial beyond his years as he spoke,
"It's actually a good arrangement for everyone. They're happy to all be living together, and in a better neighborhood than they've been in before. I think they also have the idea that they might find English citizens to marry on this street."
Jane added pleasantly,
"They accost any woman they see, and begin babbling at her. I saw Mrs. Phipps-Sloane looking positively hunted with two little men following her. I think they were Arabs of some sort."
It wasn't long before Jane and Ralph left to go to a matinee, and I remained behind with Brenda. I told her the story of Delphinia Muggs, and she was more fascinated than I had ever seen her. She wanted to know all about Muggs, and about everything that had happened. She finally concluded,
"It sounds as if both the arrangements you've made with her are good ones. You get your research done, and also a nice girl to go to bed with you. I'd guess it might be expensive, though."
"The first part is just a business expense. I've got two more rather lucrative commissions, and I would have had to hire someone anyway. As for the second, I have to have some recreation and relaxation."
Brenda then asked,
"Is Muggs going to be a prostitute with other men, too?"
"She said she might try to find one or two others like me, and let it go at that. Her family does send her a little money, and she never intended to be on the streets full time."
"You might share her with Ralph."
I think I must have been completely flabbergasted. I managed to choke out,
"I thought he wanted Jane."
"Oh he does, very much. And they are a couple in many ways. But she simply doesn't like sex, not at all."
"Ralph did tell me that she kissed him. I gathered that it set him up for days."
"Yes. She's extremely romantic, but it's something out of Arthurian romances. She thinks anything having to do with the genital areas is disgusting. If she did it at all, it would have to be with someone like Smith, whom she regards as a pig."
"By God, what a strange woman!"
"To complicate the plot a little further, she also wants to have a baby."
At this point, nothing about Jane could have surprised me. I merely asked,
"How does she expect to manage that? Or does she mean to adopt?"
"No, she wants to have it herself. Of course, it has to wait until she gets clear of Smith. She may then submit to Ralph, or someone else, just long enough to get pregnant."
"I really wonder about Ralph's wisdom in having anything to do with her."
"Well, it's not a question of wisdom. It's love, or whatever that really is. But, anyway, he's terribly frustrated. I'm sure he'd welcome Muggs. I'm also sure he's not diseased. If you and he kept her afloat financially, you'd all be safe."
I told Brenda I would think about it. She then, in still another move that surprised me, attempted to sell me a share in her real estate venture.
It seemed that things were going well, at least from her point of view. The soccer team was causing consternation. More important, Brenda had some vaguely sleazy characters going around offering residents ridiculously low prices for their houses. Of course, the offers were refused, generally unceremoniously. However, this activity gave the impression that the street was about to be bought up by unscrupulous operators at low prices. If it led to panic, as it easily could, the fear would be self-fulfilling. In those circumstances, everyone knew that the last to sell would lose the most.
In anticipation of buying as much of the street as possible, Brenda was borrowing as much money as she could. Since many lenders wouldn't loan to a woman, Ralph was, in many cases, the front man. That was distressing, but, even worse, she wanted me to borrow money on my meager capital, and then give it to her. She could, she said, easily double it for me.
I caught my breath and looked closely at Brenda. She was a long way from the cool beauty I had first met. It wasn't that she had aged perceptibly, or that she had lost any of her powers of attraction. Nor had her economy drive affected her clothing in any way that I could see. The difference was that she was more animated, half the time bubbling over with girlish enthusiasm. Her black eyes flashed, and her glossy dark hair seemed to contrast more than ever with her unusually white skin. I had no idea whether her plans were realistic. I was sure of only one thing: she would either multiply my money or lose it altogether.
I'm sure that I wouldn't have agreed if Brenda had been any ordinary looking woman. Nor, I think, am I terribly unusual in that respect. Women like Brenda get what they want if they want it badly enough. As it turned out, she wasn't satisfied with a promise of all the money I could raise. She also wanted to help me put together a budget which would minimize my daily expenses and allow additional monthly investments. At that point I rebelled. As I left, she said in a cautionary tone,
"It's going to take some self-sacrifice to rebuild the Sanderson fortune."
I replied tersely,
"That may be, but it's not going to be at the expense of my daily beer."
The first work meeting with Muggs was potentially more embarrassing, for me at any rate, than our previous encounter. It was, I supposed, poetic justice. She had exposed her body to me, and it was now my turn to expose something at least as personal.
At the time, I was writing a rather pot-boiling biography of an industrialist. During the great war he had been loosely associated with the Ministry of Munitions and its minister, the Rt. Hon. Mr. Winston Churchill. I intended, quite shamelessly, to give the impression that he had been Churchill's right hand man during the crises of 1917 and 1918 without ever saying anything that was provably false. I had sent Muggs out to survey the ground and report who had done what at that ministry. I had also told her to find out which of its luminaries were still alive. I hadn't told her that I intended to pick one or more of the dead ones and transfer some of their accomplishments to the shoulders of my noble lord.
I also had it in mind to concoct a lurid midnight scene in a candle-lit office high above darkened Whitehall. The arguments had been going on all day, with no one daring to take the fateful decision. As the great battles in France hung in the balance and armies waited for their munitions, my principal entered, banged his fist on the table, and announced his position. Weaker minds were overwhelmed by the force of his personality. The decision was taken. The soundness of that decision was then vindicated by history.
I had been a bit chary about putting all this to Muggs. She was a highly reputable young lady. She was also accustomed to genuine scholarship, not the flapdoodle that I had in mind. Still, it was necessary to take her in on it. At the time, we were sitting at the corner table of a half-empty pub, surely a good place for dubious propositions. Muggs almost choked on her beer when she got the point. I, rather alarmed, was about to attempt some sort of retreat when I saw that she was delighted. When she stopped laughing, we put our heads together.
There had indeed been some decisions that were not traceable to any one person. Churchill, writing memoranda furiously, had evidently operated in a surprisingly democratic way. We found some openings for my man. From what I knew of him, it was unlikely that he had ever intervened in a decisive way anywhere. However, many of the others were now dead, and the rest, if they read the account at all, were unlikely to dispute it. Churchill himself was now in eclipse, and, in any case, wasn't likely to concern himself with such trivia when he was so busy warning England of the danger of Germany.
As we were about to leave, I remarked to Muggs that I had a friend who might be interested if she were looking for more custom. She asked a few questions, and, of course, I was able to recommend Ralph highly.
"He might have to be shown how in the beginning, but, apart from that, he ought to be an ideal client."
Muggs seemed quite pleased.
"So far, I haven't had the nerve to approach anyone besides yourself. If this works out, I might not have to solicit at all. I'd love to forego the street-walking altogether, and jump immediately to a more elevated kind of prostitution."
Leaving Muggs with this happy thought, I returned home and wrote a note to Ralph.
It's obvious that no gentleman would press a prostitute for information about another client. Similarly, no well-bred prostitute would divulge any such information, even if she were pressed for it. On the other hand, Ralph and I were free to speak of Muggs in general terms, much as we might if we had gone to the same doctor. I was therefore able to discover that Ralph was quite satisfied. He was, in fact, availing himself of her services several times a week. This news caused me to think, in rather depressing terms, of the difference between youth and middle age.
On my next visit to Pilgrims Lane, I was surprised to see Smith leaving Brenda's house. I greeted him warmly, but he seemed preoccupied with some goings-on within the house. At that moment, a stocky man in short trousers appeared in the open door and shouted,
"Fock, I focka you good."
I know an Italian when I hear one, and I looked at this specimen with some interest. He had a handlebar moustache, and, while of no more than middle height, he was possessed of some of the thickest arms and legs I have ever seen. He was using his arms for purposes of expression, and one had the feeling that at least one leg might also be pressed into service. Then, as he continued shouting, he reached out one hand, cupping it, and moved it vigorously up and down. The intent was obviously obscene, but I didn't catch the exact significance. Smith, exasperated, gave me a despairing look and turned on his heel.
I wasn't quite sure, at that juncture, on the proper approach. The Italian had seen me speaking cordially with Smith, and he didn't look the man to reserve judgment about the associates of his enemies. I thus approached slowly, ready to retreat at speed if the Italian showed signs of dismembering me. In the event, I needn't have worried. After staring at me rather more fixedly than I might have liked, his whole face broke into an enormous grin. Almost crushing my right hand with his handshake, he slapped my back with his other hand and led me, choking, into the ground floor flat. All the horizontal surfaces were occupied by soccer players, but way was cleared for me most graciously. The Italian said to the others something like,
"Dis is da frienda Miss Brenda."
I soon fell into conversation with an Algerian whose command of English was somewhat better. It seemed that Smith had turned up to lecture the group on its general deportment, and to urge on it, among other things, a more civilized attitude toward women. I admired Smith for his temerity, but realized the hopelessness of his mission.
For one thing, virtually everyone present prided himself on his chivalry toward women. And, in a way, they were right. They might approach strange women and attempt to talk with them, but there wasn't a man among them who wouldn't fling whatever garments he had across a mud puddle to provide a bridge for a lady, most particularly a young and beautiful one. It was simply that their notions of the proper treatment of women, while reminiscent of Sir Walter Raleigh, were no longer what could be termed British.
It happened that something of a celebration was in progress. The Italian, Giorgio by name, had just received a divorce from his Italian wife. He was now free to marry an Englishwoman, or better yet, an American like Miss Brenda. However, while she was accorded universal admiration, the group as a whole was somewhat awed by her, and she was thought to be far above and beyond their reasonable aspirations. Still, as Giorgio indicated with a gesture, there was a whole city full of women. He then remarked on the conjugal duties of a husband, with special reference to his own virtues in that area.
"You gotta da focka da wife good, once a twice a three time a day. I finda girl, I tell her I focka her good, focka her as mucha she want ...."
He concluded with another gesture, and I realized that he had definite poetic tendencies. Everything he said had a certain rhythm with the sound "da" added where needed to preserve it. The basic pattern was "da focka da wife", but substitutions and variations of many kinds were possible. As I went upstairs to Brenda's flat, this pattern was still going through my head. I consequently greeted her with "Da focka da wife." Although I was sure that Giorgio tried not to use any form of "fock" in front of Brenda, she knew immediately where I had been and replied,
"He may da focka da wife, but I bet he no da focka her so good."
With this beginning, the conversation naturally led to sex. Brenda congratulated me on my altruism in sharing Muggs with Ralph. I soon discovered that Ralph had told Brenda much more than he had me. That hardly surprised me. In place of my gentlemanly restraint, she would have used every feminine wile to worm the intimate details out of him.
There had been some initial problems, traceable mainly to the fact that Ralph knew nothing about sex, and Muggs very little more. They did not, so to speak, fit together properly. Ralph, somewhat confused and disturbed, had come, not to me, but to Brenda. I really do wonder why. Did he think that Brenda knew more about sex? Or did he find it less embarrassing to admit a failure of performance to her? Whether he swore her to silence I don't know. If so, it did, as can be seen, little good.
I am, at the moment, conscious that Brenda will certainly be among the readers of this little piece, and, if she desires, the only reader. If her ears burn a little now and then, I suggest that it may be no terrible thing. Let us now return to the story.
Brenda, quite sensibly, recommended a lubricant, and, if that failed, the position so favored by most of our mammalian cousins. In the event, the lubricant turned out to be sufficient. Taking into account Ralph's size and strength, I dare say that anyone passing along the towpath at Little Venice at certain times would have noticed a floating shack bucking and rolling in suggestive ways. I could also imagine little Muggs, her aplomb and spectacles intact, shortly thereafter emerging from a hatch and proceeding off in a businesslike fashion, a sheaf of papers destined for me under her arm.
Brenda's only reservation about this seemed to be financial. She asked how much we paid Muggs per session, and she figured the weekly total. I pointed out that it was hardly a significant sum in her terms. She replied,
"Surprisingly small amounts can make a difference if they're highly leveraged. If you and Ralph could ration your sin a little more closely and invest the money in one of these houses..."
I stopped her immediately,
"You have it backwards, Brenda. One accumulates money to make sin possible."
There wasn't much she could say to that, but I began to suspect that Brenda felt competitive with Muggs in a way in which she didn't with Jane. She didn't mind that Ralph was enamored of a substantially virgin princess, but, as far as I could see, she didn't want him to actually engage in sex. It was odd, considering that it had been her idea, but it wasn't the first odd thing I had noticed about Brenda.