Autodidact: self-taught


The Well

by V. L. Craven

The Well The Well  by Elizabeth Jolley

-001- p 1. One night Miss Hester Harper and Katherine are driving home from a celebration, a party at the hotel in town, to which Miss Harper has been an unwilling guest. Katherine had wanted very much to go to the party. … Miss Harper, unable to refuse Kathy anything, has endured a long evening bearing at least two insults, one of these, because of the Peter Pan collar, laden with disturbing implication. She also suffered during the evening’s long drawn-out entertainment a renewal of the realization of her own changed status brought about my recent events.
-002- p 2. The only tolerable part of the evening, Hester reflects, was Kathy’s dancing. The girl’s energetic rhythmic movements and the yellow dress, in spite of Rosalie Borden’s unexpected attack, were by her perhaps one-sided standards, superb.
-003- p 10. The girl turned from the room to the doorway where Hester Harper leaned sideways on her ugly stick and, skipping across the carpet towards her, she bugged and kissed her. Miss Harper, taken aback for no one had kissed her for more years than she could remember, said, ‘When you’re ready I’ll show you over the house and explain your duties.’ She spoke stiffly because the kiss delivered in this calf-like manner had surprised, even shocked her. For some time afterwards she kept putting her hand to her cheek where the feeling of being kissed lingered pleasantly.
-004- p 12. Hester was completely happy having Katherine, She began to move more easily, swiftly even, on her English walking stick. It was  imported specially having a singular gracefulness of its own, only becoming ugly, she realized, when in partnership with her own deformity. Without a stick, this stick, she was helpless. She never tried to do anything without it. She planned to herself how she would keep Katherine, perhaps travel with her sometime, educate her and leave her all her money when she died.
-005- p 13. They were always incredibly late home after these nights. Katherine, adding fresh words and accents to her already exaggerated speech, would amuse old Mr Harper with details from the pictures and she would, the next day, encourage Hester to have what she called ‘a lay in’. She took breakfast in bed to Hester and perched on the bed beside her to eat bacon and fried bread with her fingers. Often they did not really get up until lunch time. Later, as if to assert some kind of discipline, Hester would embark on a strenuous cleaning plan and would draw up programmes of work to be done by herself and Katherine. Sometimes these programmes would be torn up and burned in the kitchen stove. This burning often took the form of a little ceremony during which libations of fresh milk or wine would be poured into valuable cut glass and afterwards they would wash each other’s hair with home-made infusions of rosemary.
-006- pp 14-5. She treated Katherine with an affectionate though severe generosity. She did not regard herself as a mother or even as an aunt. She did not attempt to give any name to the relationship. She realized quickly that she was possessive. She knew she was irritable and restless during the evenings if Katherine was writing a letter to one of the girls she had grown up with at the convent. And if a letter came for Katherine she always expected to be shown the contents. She told herself it was because she was fearful for the girl’s well being and harmful things, like drugs, she said to herself without understanding, might come any day in the post. After all one of the girls, Hester understood from Katherine’s curious language, was doing three years at the Remand. Katherine was obviously very fond of Joanna and Hester felt guilt about her own relief that this friend was safely tucked away because of something awful she must have done; though again she had to modify this though and understand that certain circumstances might have taken the girl to a department of rehabilitation.
They usually sat in the car outside the post office to open their letters. Katherine immediately passed over the sheets covered with round handwriting for Hester to read. The girls, she noticed, all had the same unformed or immature handwriting. They put little circles over the i’s instead of dots. Often a whole page would be covered with crosses inside scrawled circles, misshapen kisses and hugs folded up into an envelope. Reassured Hester would smile and pass the pages back. She did not receive any letters herself, only bills and statements to do with the farm and requests from charities for money.
-008- p 38. Between them they developed a capacity for pleasure. Their life was all pleasure.
-009- p 56. Hester could not think of anything acid enough to say so she said nothing, managing, without any difficulty, to look like an advertisement for vinegar.
-010- p 73. ‘Oh yes, of course.’ Hester, wishing to be independent of Rosalie Borden’s plump kindly arm, struggled to her feet. ‘I must watch the dancing,’ she said with a grudging little smile as if offering a kindness when she knew privately that it gave her infinite secret pleasure to watch Kathy abandon herself to her own energy. Whenever she watched Kathy dancing, Hester, though outwardly showing no signs, moved in a wonderful freedom within herself. Her tiniest most obscure muscles all took part. Unseen, her heart beat faster. She breathed more rapidly. In the privacy beneath her strict clothing she knew she was capable of an inner excitement which belonged only to her. It was a solitary experience but she did not mind this, simply being grateful for it.
-011- p 83. Because of the disturbing experience Katherine got into bed with Hester, hers being the larger bed…It was touching that Katherine, desiring safety and comfort, had asked to sleep beside her.
-012- pp 97-8. She remembered Katherine’s animated movements and the rippled of the light-yellow dress. She groaned. The dance was for her the only physical manifestation of physical love. Hester did not feel guilt about the feeling. It was private. She pulled off onto the gravel for a few precious minutes alone on the edge of the great emptiness.
Afterwards, in her weakness, she cried a little…
-013- p 134. It had always been taken for granted that Katherine loved Miss Harper. That was what their lives together had been and it was shown in all sorts of little ways.

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