Round after round the game was played; and first one girl lost and then another. Two of them were standing now with the upper part of their bodies bare. One of them was wearing a kind of white lace petticoat, stained and sour-looking, wrapped about her hips; the other wore short flannel drawers, like a man’s bathing-pants, coloured in a Union Jack pattern, some sailor’s offering to his inamorata. They were both of them young girls. Their breasts were flat and shapeless. The yellow skin ended abruptly at the throat and neck with the powder line. For the neck and face were a glaze of white. The effect of this break was to make the body look as if it had lost its real head under the guillotine, and had received an ill-matched substitute from the surgeon’s hands.
Patterson had drawn nearer to the performers. His red face and his grim smile were tokens of what he would have described as pleasurable anticipation. Wigram, too, his flabby visage paler than ever, his large eyes bulging, and his mouth hanging open, gazed as in a trance. He had whispered to Geoffrey,—
“I’ve seen the danse du ventre at Algiers, but this beats anything.”
Geoffrey from behind the fumes of the pipe-smoke watched the unreal phantasmagoria as he might have watched a dream.
The dance was more expressive now, not of art but of mere animalism. The bodies shook and squirmed. The faces were screwed up to express an ecstacy of sensual delight. The little fingers twitched into immodest gestures.
Chonkina! Chonkina! Hoi!
Geoffrey had never gazed on a naked woman except idealised in marble or on canvas. The secret of Venus had been for him, as for many men, an inviolate Mecca towards which he worshipped. Glimpses he had seen, visions of soft curves, mica glistenings of creamy skin, but never the crude anatomical fact.
An overgrown embryo she seemed, a gawkish ill-moulded thing.
Woman, thought Geoffrey, should be supple and pliant, with a suggestion of swiftness galvanising the delicacy of the lines. Atalanta was his ideal woman.
But this creature had apparently no bones or sinews. She looked like a sawdust dummy. She seemed to have been poured into a bag of brown tissue. There was no waist line. The chest appeared to fit down upon the thighs like a lid. The legs hung from the hips like trouser-legs, and seemed to fit into the feet like poles into their sockets. The turned-in toes were ridiculous and exasperating. There was no shaping of breasts, stomach, knees and ankles. There was nothing in this image of clay to show the loving caress of the Creator’s hand. It had been modelled by a wretched bungler in a moment of inattention.
Yet it stood there, erect and challenging, this miserable human tadpole, usurping the throne of Lais and crowned with the worship of such devotees as Patterson and Wigram.