Cut and Come Again

Cut and Come Again by H.E. Bates Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Cut and Come Again by H.E. Bates Read Free Book Online
Authors: H.E. Bates
little silver-scaled purse.
    â€˜Oh dear! oh dear!’ she said. She spoke the words as one word: a single word of unsurprised comment on the unconscious folly of her own act. Even as she said it Mrs. Holland burst out laughing again. And as before the laughter seemed as if it must burst liquidly or fall and run over her breasts and hands and her nightgown. The girl had never heard such laughter. It was far stranger than the fish in her own hand. It was almost too strange. It had a strangeness that was only a shade removed from hysteria, and only a little further from inanity. ‘She’s a bit funny,’ the girl thought. And almost simultaneously Mrs. Holland echoed her thought:
    â€˜Oh! Alice, you’re funny.’ The flow of laughter lessened and then dried up. ‘Oh, you are funny.’
    To Alice that seemed incomprehensible. If anybody was funny it was Mrs. Holland, laughing in that rich, almost mad voice. So she continued to stare. She still had the fish in her hand. It added to her manner of uncomprehending vacancy.
    Then suddenly a change came over her. She saw Mrs. Holland shiver. That brought back at once her sense of almost subservient duty.
    â€˜Hadn’t you better get dressed and let me light the fire?’ she said.
    â€˜I can’t get dressed. I’ve got to get back into bed.’
    â€˜Well, you get back. You’re shivering.’
    â€˜Help me.’
    Alice put down her bag on the bedroom floor and laid the fish on top of it. Mrs. Holland tried at the same moment to get up. She straightened herself until she was kneeling upright. Then she tried to raise herself. She clutched the bedrail. Her fat, almost transparent-fleshed fingers would not close. They were like thick sausages, fat jointless lengths of flesh which could not bend. And there she remained in her helplessness, until Alice put her arms about her and took the weight of her body.
    â€˜Yes, Alice, you’ll have to help me. I can’t do it myself any longer. You’ll have to help me.’
    So gradually Alice got her back to bed. And Alice, as she helped her, could feel the curious swollen texture of Mrs. Holland’s flesh. The distended breasts would fall out of her unbuttoned nightgown, her heavy thighs would lumber their weight against her own, by contrast so weak and thin and straight. And then when Mrs. Holland was in bed, at last, propped up by pillows, Alice had time to look at her face. It had that same heavy water-blown brightness of flesh under the eyes and in the cheeks and in the soft parts of the neck. And the gentle dark brown eyes were sick. They looked out with a kind of gentle sick envy on Alice’s young movements as she straightened the bedclothes and then cleaned the fireplace and finally as she laid and lighted the fire itself.
    And then when her eyes had satisfied themselves Mrs. Holland began to talk again, to ask questions.
    â€˜How old are you, Alice?’
    â€˜Seventeen.’
    â€˜Would you rather be here with me than at home?’
    â€˜I don’t mind.’
    â€˜Don’t you like it at home?’
    â€˜I don’t mind.’
    â€˜Is the fire all right?’
    â€˜Yes.’
    â€˜When you’ve done the grate will you go down and git the taters ready?’
    â€˜Yes.’
    â€˜It’s cold mutton. Like cold mutton, Alice?’
    â€˜I don’t mind.’
    Then, in turn, the girl had a question herself.
    â€˜Why ain’t the mill going?’ she asked.
    â€˜The mill? The mill ain’t been going for ten years.’
    â€˜What’s all that iron?’
    â€˜That’s the scrap. What Fred buys and sells. That’s his trade. The mill ain’t been worked since his father died. That’s been ten year. Fred’s out all day buying up iron like that, and selling it. Most of it he never touches, but what he don’t sell straight off comes back here. He’s gone off this morning. He won’t be back

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