Spring was becoming summer, in the south of the sun, and the rays were very powerful. In the hot hours she would lie in the shade of trees, or she would even go down to the depths of the cool lemon grove. Or sometimes she went in the shadowy deeps of the gullies, at the bottom of the little ravine, towards home. The child fluttered around in silence, like a young animal absorbed in life.
Going slowly home in her nakedness down among the bushes of the dark ravine, one noon, she came round a rock suddenly upon the peasant of the next podere, who was stooping binding up a bundle of brush-wood he had cut, his ass standing near. He was wearing summer cotton trousers, and stooping his buttocks towards her. It was utterly still and private down in the dark bed of the little ravine. A weakness came over her, for a moment she could not move. The man lifted the bundle of wood with powerful shoulders, and turned to the ass. He started and stood transfixed as he saw her, as if it were a vision. Then his eyes met hers, and she felt the blue fire running through her limbs to her womb, which was spreading in the helpless ecstasy. Still they looked into each other's eyes, and the fire flowed between them, like the blue, streaming fire from the heart of the sun. And she saw the phallus rise under his clothing, and knew he would come towards her.
"Mummy, a man! Mummy!" The child had put a hand against her thigh. "Mummy, a man!"
She heard the note of fear and swung round.
"It's all right, boy!" she said, and taking him by the hand, she led him back round the rock again, while the peasant watched her naked, retreating buttocks lift and fall.
She put on her wrap, and taking the boy in her arms, began to stagger up a steep goat-track through the yellow-flowering tangle of shrubs, up to the level of day, and the olive trees below the house. There she sat down to collect herself.
The sea was blue, very blue and soft and still-looking, and her womb inside her was wide open, wide open like a lotus flower, or a cactus flower, in a radiant sort of eagerness. She could feel it, and it dominated her consciousness. And a biting chagrin burned in her breast, against the child, against the complication of frustration.
She knew the peasant by sight: a man something over thirty, broad and very powerfully set. She had many times watched him from the terrace of her house: watched him come with his ass, watched him trimming the olive trees, working alone, always alone and physically powerful, with a broad red face and a quiet self- possession. She had spoken to him once or twice, and met his big blue eyes, dark and southern hot. And she knew his sudden gestures, a little violent and over-generous. But she had never thought of him. Save she had noticed that he was always very clean and well-cared for: and then she had seen his wife one day, when the latter had brought the man's meal, and they sat in the shade of a carob tree, on either side the spread white cloth. And then Juliet had seen that the man's wife was older than he, a dark, proud, gloomy woman. And then a young woman had come with a child, and the man had danced with the child, so young and passionate. But it was not his own child: he had no children. It was when he danced with the child, in such a sprightly way, as if full of suppressed passion, that Juliet had first really noticed him. But even then, she had never thought of him. Such a broad red face, such a great chest, and rather short legs. Too much a crude beast for her to think of, a peasant.
But now the strange challenge of his eyes had held her, blue and overwhelming like the blue sun's heart. And she had seen the fierce stirring of the phallus under his thin trousers: for her. And with his red face, and with his broad body, he was like the sun to her, the sun in its broad heat.
She felt him so powerfully, that she could not go further from him.
She continued to sit there under the tree. Then she heard nurse tinkling a bell at the house and calling. And the child called back. She had to rise and go home.
In the afternoon she sat on the terrace of her house, that looked over the olive slopes to the sea. The man came and went, came and went to the little hut on his podere, on the edge of the cactus grove. And he glanced again at her house, at her sitting on the terrace. And her womb was open to him.
Yet she had not the courage to go down to him. She was paralysed. She had tea, and still sat there on the terrace. And the man came and went, and glanced, and glanced again. Till the evening bell had jangled from the capuchin church at the village gate, and the darkness came on. And still she sat on the terrace. Till at last in the moonlight she saw him load his ass and drive it sadly along the path to the little road. She heard him pass on the stones of the road behind her house. He was gone - gone home to the village, to sleep, to sleep with his wife, who would want to know why he was so late. He was gone in dejection.
Juliet sat late on into the night, watching the moon on the sea. The sun had opened her womb, and she was no longer free. The trouble of the open lotus blossom had come upon her, and now it was she who had not the courage to take the steps across the gully.
But at last she slept. And in the morning she felt better. Her womb seemed to have closed again: the lotus flower seemed back in bud again. She wanted so much that it should be so. Only the immersed bud, and the sun! She would never think of that man.
She bathed in one of the great tanks away down in the lemon-grove, down in the far ravine, far as possible from the other wild gully, and cool. Below, under the lemons, the child was wading among the yellow oxalis flowers of the shadow, gathering fallen lemons, passing with his tanned little body into flecks of light, moving all dappled. She sat in the sun on the steep bank in the gully, feeling almost free again, the flower drooping in shadowy bud, safe inside her.
Suddenly, high over the land's edge, against the full-lit pale blue sky, Marinina appeared, a black cloth tied round her head, calling quietly: Signora! Signora Giulietta!
Juliet faced round, standing up. Marinina paused a moment, seeing the naked woman standing alert, her sun-faded hair in a little cloud. Then the swift old woman came down the slant of the steep, sun-blazed track.
She stood a few steps, erect, in front of the sun-coloured woman, and eyed her shrewdly.
"But how beautiful you are, you!" she said coolly, almost cynically. "Your husband has come."
"What husband?" cried Juliet.
The old woman gave a shrewd bark of a little laugh, the mockery of the woman of the past.
"Haven't you got one, a husband, you?" she said, taunting.
"How? Where? In America," said Juliet.
The old woman glanced over her shoulder, with another noiseless laugh.
"No America at all. He was following me here. He will have missed the path." And she threw back her head in the noiseless laugh of women.
The paths were all grown high with grass and flowers and nepitella, till they were like bird-tracks in an eternally wild place. Strange, the vivid wildness of the old classic places, that have known men so long.
Juliet looked at the Sicilian woman with meditating eyes.
"Oh very well," she said at last. "Let him come."
And a little flame leaped in her. It was the opening flower. At least he was a man.
"Bring him here? Now?" asked Marinina, her mocking, smoke-grey eyes looking with laughter into Juliet's eyes. Then she gave a little jerk of her shoulders.
"All right! As you wish! But for him it is a rare one!" She opened her mouth with a noiseless laugh of amusement then she pointed down to the child, who was heaping lemons against his little chest. "Look how beautiful the child is! An angel from heaven! That certainly will please him, poor thing. Then I shall bring him?"
"Bring him," said Juliet.
The old woman scrambled rapidly up the track again, and found Maurice at a loss among the vine terraces, standing there in his grey felt hat and dark-grey city suit. He looked pathetically out of place, in that resplendent sunshine and the grace of the old Greek world; like a blot of ink on the pale, sun-glowing slope.
"Come!" said Marinina to him. "She is down here."
And swiftly she led the way, striding with a long stride, marking the way through the grasses. Suddenly she stopped on the brow of the slope. The tops of the lemon trees were dark, away below.
"You, you go down here," she said to him, and he thanked her, glancing up at her swiftly.
He was a man of forty, clean-shaven, grey-faced, very quiet and really shy. He managed his own business carefully without startling success, but efficiently. And he confided in nobody. The old woman of Magna Graecia saw him at a glance: he is good, she said to herself, but not a man, poor thing.
"Down there is the Signora," said Marinina, pointing like one of the Fates.
And again he said, "Thank you! Thank you!" without a twinkle, and stepped carefully into the track. Marinina lifted her chin with a joyful wickedness. Then she strode off towards the house.
Maurice was watching his step, through the tangle of Mediterranean herbage, so he did not catch sight of his wife till he came round a little bend, quite near her. She was standing erect and nude by the jutting rock, glistening with the sun and with warm life. Her breasts seemed to be lifting up, alert, to listen, her thighs looked brown and fleet. Inside her, the lotus of her womb was wide open, spread almost gaping in the violet rays of the sun, like a great lotus flower. And she thrilled helplessly: a man was coming. Her glance on him, as he came gingerly, like ink on blotting-paper, was swift and nervous.
Maurice, poor fellow, hesitated and glanced away from her, turning his face aside.
"Hello, Julie!" he said, with a little nervous cough. "Splendid! Splendid!"
He advanced with his face averted, shooting further glances at her, furtively, as she stood with the peculiar satiny gleam of the sun on her tanned skin. Somehow she did not seem so terribly naked. It was the golden-rose of the sun that clothed her.
"Hello Maurice!" she said, hanging back from him, and a cold shadow falling on the open flower of her womb. "I wasn't expecting you so soon."
"No," he said. "No! I managed to slip away a little earlier."
And again he coughed unawares. Furtively, purposely he had taken her by surprise. They stood several yards away from one another, and there was silence. But this was a new Julie to him, with the suntanned, wind-stroked thighs: not that nervous New York woman.
"Well!" he said, "er - this is splendid - splendid! You are - er - splendid! - Where is the boy?"
He felt, in his far-off depths, the desire stirring in him for the limbs and sun-wrapped flesh of the woman: the woman of flesh. It was a new desire in his life, and it hurt him. He wanted to side- track.
"There he is," she said, pointing down to where a naked urchin in the deep shade was piling fallen lemons together.
The father gave an odd little laugh, almost neighing.
"Ah! yes! There he is! So there's the little man! Fine!" His nervous, suppressed soul was thrilling with violent thrills, he clung to the straw of his upper consciousness. "Hello, Johnny!" he called, and it sounded rather feeble. "Hello Johnny!"
The child looked up, spilling lemons from his chubby arms, but did not respond.
"I guess we'll go down to him," said Juliet, as she turned and went striding down the path. In spite of herself, the cold shadow was lifting off the open flower of her womb, and every petal was thrilling again. Her husband followed, watching the rosy, fleet- looking lifting and sinking of her quick hips, as she swayed a little in the socket of her waist. He was dazed with admiration, but also at a deadly loss. He was used to her as a person. And this was no longer a person, but a fleet sun-strong body, soulless and alluring as a nymph, twinkling its haunches. What would he do with himself? He was utterly out of the picture, in his dark grey suit and pale grey hat, and his grey, monastic face of a shy business man, and his grey mercantile mentality. Strange thrills shot through his loins and his legs. He was terrified, and he felt he might give a wild whoop of triumph, and jump towards that woman of tanned flesh.
"He looks all right, doesn't he," said Juliet, as they came through the deep sea of yellow-flowering oxalis, under the lemon-trees.
"Ah! - yes! yes! Splendid! Splendid! - Hello Johnny! Do you know Daddy? Do you know Daddy, Johnny?"
He squatted down, forgetting his trouser-crease, and held out his hands.
"Lemons!" said the child, birdily chirping. "Two lemons!"
"Two lemons!" replied the father. "Lots of lemons!"
The infant came and put a lemon in each of his father's open hands. Then he stood back to look.
"Two lemons!" repeated the father. "Come, Johnny! Come and say Hello! to Daddy."
"Daddy going back?" said the child.
"Going back? Well - well - not today."
And he took his son in his arms.
"Take a coat off! Daddy take a coat off!" said the boy, squirming debonair away from the cloth.
"All right, son! Daddy take a coat off."
He took off his coat and laid it carefully aside, then looked at the creases in his trousers, hitched them a little, and crouched down and took his son in his arms. The child's warm naked body against him made him feel faint. The naked woman looked down at the rosy infant in the arms of the man in his shirt-sleeves. The boy had pulled off his father's hat, and Juliet looked at the sleek black-and-grey hair of her husband, not a hair out of place. And utterly, utterly sunless! The cold shadow was over the flower of her womb again. She was silent for a long time, while the father talked to the child, who had been fond of his Daddy.
"What are you going to do about it, Maurice?" she said suddenly. He looked at her swiftly, sideways, hearing her abrupt American voice. He had forgotten her.
"Er - about what, Julie?"
"Oh, everything! About this! I can't go back into East Forty- Seventh."
"Er - " he hesitated, "no, I suppose not - Not just now, at least."
"Never!" she said abruptly, and there was a silence.
"Well - er - I don't know," he said.
"Do you think you can come out here?" she said savagely.
"Yes! - I can stay for a month. I think I can manage a month," he hesitated. Then he ventured a complicated, shy peep at her, and turned away his face again.
She looked down at him, her alert breasts lifted with a sigh, as if she would impatiently shake the cold shadow of sunlessness off her.
"I can't go back," she said slowly, "I can't go back on this sun. If you can't come here - "
She ended on an open note. But the voice of the abrupt, personal American woman had died out, and he heard the voice of the woman of flesh, the sun-ripe body. He glanced at her again and again, with growing desire and lessening fear.
"No!" he said. "This kind of thing suits you. You are splendid. - No, I don't think you can go back."
And at the caressive sound of his voice, in spite of her, her womb- flower began to open and thrill its petals.
He was thinking visionarily of her in the New York flat, pale, silent, oppressing him terribly. He was the soul of gentle timidity in his human relations, and her silent, awful hostility after the baby was born had frightened him deeply. Because he had realized that she could not help it. Women were like that. Their feelings took a reverse direction, even against their own selves, and it was awful - devastating. Awful, awful to live in the house with a woman like that, whose feelings were reversed even against herself. He had felt himself borne down under the stream of her heavy hostility. She had ground even herself down to the quick, and the child as well. No, anything rather than that. Thank God, that menacing ghost-woman seemed to be sunned out of her now.
"But what about you?" she asked.
"I? Oh, I! - I can carry on in the business, and - er come over here for long holidays - so long as you like to stay here. You stay as long as you wish - " He looked down a long time at the earth. He was so frightened of rousing that menacing, avenging spirit of womanhood in her, he did so hope she might stay as he had seen her now, like a naked, ripening strawberry, a female like a fruit. He glanced up at her with a touch of supplication in his uneasy eyes.
"Even for ever?" she said.
"Well - er - yes, if you like. For ever is a long time. One can't set a date."
"And can I do anything I like?" She looked him straight in the eyes, challenging. And he was powerless against her rosy, wind- hardened nakedness, in his fear of arousing that other woman in her, the personal American woman, spectral and vengeful.
"Er - yes! - I suppose so! So long as you don't make yourself unhappy - or the boy."
Again he looked up at her with a complicated, uneasy appeal - thinking of the child, but hoping for himself.
"I won't," she said quickly.
"No!" he said, "No! I don't think you will."
There was a pause. The bells of the village were hastily clanging mid-day. That meant lunch.
She slipped into her grey crêpe kimono, and fastened a broad green sash around her waist. Then she slipped a little blue shirt over the boy's head, and they went up to the house.
At table she watched her husband, his grey city face, his glued, grey-black hair, his very precise table manners, and his extreme moderation in eating and drinking. Sometimes he glanced at her furtively, from under his black lashes. He had the uneasy, gold- grey eyes of a creature that has been caught young, and reared entirely in captivity, strange and cold, knowing no warm hopes. Only his black eye-brows and eye-lashes were nice. She did not take him in. She did not realize him. Being so sunned, she could not see him, his sunlessness was like nonentity.
They went on to the balcony for coffee, under the rosy mass of the bougainvillea. Below, beyond, on the next podere, the peasant and his wife were sitting under the carob tree, near the tall green wheat, sitting facing one another across a little white cloth spread on the ground. There was still a huge piece of bread - but they had finished eating and sat with dark wine in their glasses.
The peasant looked up at the terrace, as soon as the American emerged. Juliet put her husband with his back to the scene. Then she sat down, and looked back at the peasant. Until she saw his dark-visaged wife turn to look too.