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The Bishop's Jaegers
REACTIONS AND ROUTINE
LIFE in a newly established nudist colony is not so restful as one might suppose, especially when punctuated by various little infringements of nudist ethics such as those which it is only natural for ladies and gentlemen to make who have not become quite accustomed to the big idea. These infringements were at times sufficiently serious to cause nice-mannered spectators to hurry away from the scene of action. The sound of a great deal of unnecessary slapping was heard, usually followed by cries of indignation or gasps of sheer astonishment. Some men found pinching a playful habit very difficult to break. There was more or less unseemly giggling among the women. Innumerable tentatively advanced suggestions by enterprising males were being steadily rejected by the more conservative females. Man is an animal in which the most extravagant hopes die extremely hard. He is difficult to convince on certain points. He always tries.
The little party of involuntary nudes was more or less disconcerted all of the time. Even after the passage of several days Bishop Waller and Little Arthur seemed still inclined to keep their eyes steadfastly fixed on the relatively innocent reaches of the sea. Peter and Josephine were much together—too much together. Inseparable, in fact. Mr. Jones, who was liberal to a fault in such matters, and especially so where new arrivals were concerned, was forced to ask Josephine to be a little quieter about it when she called on Peter at night. Peter himself objected to the way the red-haired girl came thumping into his room. Of all the party she seemed to be enjoying herself the most. There was something either innocently pagan or healthily unmoral in the way she accepted the situation and contrived to take advantage of it. Jo was outrageously forthright. She seemed to consider this little interlude in the drabness of her circumscribed existence as a sort of virgin's holiday—an escape from the conventions and inhibitions which to her way of thinking would never have been imposed on men and women in any normally constituted world. Her conception of a nudist colony and that of Mr. Jones were greatly at variance, for the simple reason that the colony had been established for the benefit of sex slaves instead of executives. Josephine was a past master at sex. That is, she was so frankly and honestly a creature of sex that its freedom of expression appeared to her as being neither especially wild nor wicked. To her it was merely a fact which, once accepted, did not require a lot of hypocritical trimmings and tortuous divagations to make it socially presentable. For this reason she was able to think of other things, which she did quite frequently. Life to Josephine was divertingly improper and more than a little grotesque. It was always amusing even at its worst moments, many of which she had experienced without too much self-pity during the brief period she had beautified the world.
While the ladies and gentlemen of the colony were engaged in performing aesthetic dances on the lawn, Josephine would imitate their movements with contortions that caused them to pause in wonderment and disgust. Knowing she was already sufficiently beautiful, it was her desire to pass on to higher things and to make herself also funny. Women found this attitude difficult to understand, and the more the men were amused the less the ladies appreciated the object of their mirth. Mr. Jones was forced to withdraw Josephine from participation in the community dancing.
To the children of the colony Josephine was the most acceptable adult nude. It was strange to hear these small naked creatures trying to persuade their mothers and fathers to go back to the house and put on some clothing. The conservative attitude of children is strongly marked in a budding nudist colony. Here the disastrous results of endeavouring to inculcate the youthful mind with a sense of decency before a knowledge of indecency has been acquired became accusingly apparent. For the first few days the lives of the little people were quite miserable. They spent much of the time in hiding.
Josephine, however, they accepted at her flesh value. In her company they began to thaw out a little, to forget the shame of it all, and to take an interest in their naked world. And although the dances she created for them were far from being the seriously ludicrous affairs their elders fondly believed to be aesthetic, they were danced with a great deal more enjoyment and a lot more noise. After telling them the story of Pandora as told by Mr. Eustace Bright in Hawthorne's Wonder Book she eventually succeeded in reconciling the children to their own nudity if not to their parents.
In short, Josephine was both busy and contented. And one of the reasons for this was that she was considerably in love with Peter Van Dyck and growing daily more confident of keeping what she had taken. That she had used shock-troop methods to achieve her ends did not trouble her in the least. Yolanda had enjoyed even better opportunities and had failed to take advantage of them.
In the nudist colony, Yolanda had become the major exception to the rule, and the Bishop the minor. Mr. Jones, for reasons known only to himself, had allowed her to retain everything while Bishop Waller moved through his paces nattily attired only in his drawers. Whether Yolanda was deliberately inviting assault will never be known. It was a subject of open comment that both she and the suave leader of the colony appeared to find much in common. The degree or amount of commonness was also a matter of considerable speculation.
Aspirin Liz had settled comfortably into her niche, as that lady would have settled in either heaven or hell, or in any way station between those two points. And she had found certain cronies, as ladies of the disposition of Liz inevitably do—cronies who played cards and talked about little things having to do with this and that and mostly about food and drink. In spite of the vast expanse of flesh she presented to the world, when one saw Aspirin Liz engaged in a game of cards with her friends it was difficult to think of her as being naked, so casually had she accepted the situation. Mr. Jones, who seemed fond of exceptions—stimulants being prohibited save during Seasons of Forgetfulness—had managed some beer for Liz and supplied her with a quantity of aspirin. In view of these little attentions and because of the absence of her corsets life seemed good to Aspirin Liz. She was the only woman in the colony with whom the Bishop conversed with any degree of comfort or feeling of security. She was essentially a home body, even though a naked one.
Peter spent most of his time fluctuating between a sense of guilt and a mood of dark rebellion. Van Dyck bodies had been concealed beneath silk, satin, and furs for so many generations that sunlight and fresh air had become almost alien elements to them. He disliked exceedingly the idea of being peered at and scrutinized. His modesty was far less outraged than his personal dignity. He had soon discovered to his profound relief that he possessed no really decent scruples which could not be easily overcome. In this he was a true Van Dyck. But he did strongly object to being a naked unit in a seething mass of flesh—in a colony of what he stoutly maintained was composed of weak or simple-minded cranks. Pictures of himself in the paper surrounded by a flock of naked men and women kept re-appearing before his mental gaze. He wondered what the captions beneath these pictures would be. 'Head of Old New York Family Enjoying a Short but Naked Holiday With His Friends,' unreeled itself before his eyes. Or: 'Peter Van Dyck Abandons Silk Hat for Simple Life and Naked Dancing.' Or—and from this from the tabloids: 'Mad Van in Naked Dance.'
'Pretty,' he muttered to himself. 'They'd probably strike out "dance" and put in "orgy."'
He was especially annoyed with Mr. Jones because that gentleman would neither allow him his clothes nor appoint a definite date of departure. Nor would the naked leader permit any of the party to communicate with the outer world. For all Peter's office or Aunt Sophie knew, he might be in China with Yolanda or at the bottom of the sea. Whenever he brought up with the unfailing attentive Jones the subject of departure, that gentleman looked hurt and then asked him with disconcerting significance if he was not having a good time.
As a matter of fact, had Peter been honest with himself he would have admitted he was having the time of his life. But he did not like Mr. Jones at all when the leader slapped him too low down on the back and assured him that he, Peter, was holding out splendidly under the circumstances and that many a man would envy him his good fortune. No. Such remarks were most decidedly in bad taste, especially when one was too alertly conscious of the thoughts passing through the other's mind.
'The red-headed girl isn't doing any complaining,' Mr. Jones once went so far as to remark, looking Peter in the eye with a subdued leer. 'I should think you would find some comfort, not to mention cause for a little pride, in that. Now, from my experience with red-headed women...'
Peter did not stay to listen to what he had every reason to believe would be a highly objectionable recital of the leader's amorous adventures with red-headed women. He had a red-headed woman of his own on his hands, and she was quite enough.
Of all the members of the band of castaways Little Arthur, surprisingly enough, was the most popular with the nudists. He was perhaps the noblest nude of them all —the most unimpeachable, the most impenetrably clad in the armour of righteousness. Although the object of no little jest and levity he was nevertheless held in considerable affection by his fellow nudes. He was always so ready and willing to explain to them just how depraved they all were and how especially depraved Mr. Jones was because he would not give Little Arthur back either one of the pairs of drawers he had been wearing when lured into this sinkhole or iniquity. If a bishop was allowed a pair of long drawers, Little Arthur argued, a retired pickpocket should be allowed at the very least a pair of short ones. As a matter of fact, a naked bishop most likely would stand more fully clad in the eyes of God than a pickpocket in a fur coat. The strength of Little Arthur's claim on drawers was fully and freely discussed. Much sympathy was extended him, but no drawers. The small crook, because of his social triumph, grew to enjoy the very indignities against which he levelled his artless tirades. Also, for the simple reason that the ladies and gentlemen whose morals and manners he so severely criticised invariably—almost callously—agreed with him, Little Arthur, after a few days, actually became quite fond of them. Without a naked body knocking about somewhere on the horizon to become moral about, Little Arthur would have found his life a dull thing indeed.
When the colony foregathered at the long tables in the dining-hall, it was a sight to make the most daring producers of Broadway Glorifications think several times more than twice to pause and rub their jaded eyes and wonder if they had ever before witnessed life in the nude. Yet nothing more exciting happened than a tremendous consumption of food.
When Peter had first been induced to attend one of these communal meals he had cagily asked for a napkin, hoping to be able to cover some part of his body at least. His almost pleading request had been scornfully rejected.
'Napkin,' sniffed the maid. 'They don't even let us girls wear aprons, the nasty naked things. If it wasn't for this depression...'
The rest of the maid's lament was drowned in a babble of hungry voices.
Peter, surveying the multitude, found it impossible to understand how all these people were able to sit thigh to thigh, rib to rib, and consume huge quantities of food without being convulsed by the severest pangs of indigestion. Seated between two blandly naked ladies, he was continually being forced to shrink fastidiously into himself to keep from being overpowered by their swaying torsos and gesticulating arms.
At that first meal Peter ate very little. He had accustomed himself in business to seeing a number of people use their jaws, temples, eyebrows, necks—in fact, their entire faces—when engaged in the horrid business of mastication. It had been not easy, but he had brought himself grimly to bear with this, realizing that time was short in a business day. But to see a gathering of naked individuals eating not only with their faces but also with their bodies was too vivid a demonstration of greed for him. He found his fascinated eyes dwelling on various parts of these bodies—on necks, diaphragms and stomachs—as if they were endeavouring to ascertain the exact location of the last mouthful of food the person under observation had swallowed.
The routine observed at the nudist colony was simple to the point of idiocy. At least it seemed so to Peter. In the morning the household was awakened by the tinkling of many bells which announced that every one was supposed to spring out of bed, rush downstairs, and dash around the lawn in mad pursuit of Mr. Jones, who usually, because of pressing business, delegated the task to the philosopher, who seemed to extract from it a certain amount of sardonic amusement. Going downstairs late one morning, Peter discovered that Mr. Jones's pressing business consisted of dashing from his own room to another's. Peter put the man down as a thorough-going hypocrite. He would have put him down as even worse had he realized that the room into which Mr. Jones had so eagerly disappeared was none other than Yolanda's. That unassailable young lady, under the direction of the leader, was beginning to take more and more interest in his Civilized Occasions.
On the other hand, had Peter been aware of the extra service Mr. Jones was performing to make Yolanda a thoroughly contented guest, he, Peter, might have felt grateful to the diligent young leader. Realizing how the situation stood between himself and Josephine, it was with a sensation of profound uneasiness that Peter considered Yolanda and the future. This sensation alone would have reconciled him to the nakedness of his life had not certain little indications warned him that the Season of Forgetfulness was rapidly approaching. Peter had no intention of being one of the colony during the festivities of this season. He had collected enough moral turpitude already to last him for a lifetime. He had no desire to join in a public demonstration.
Bishop Waller was equally determined to escape from the colony. Josephine, much to Peter's surprise, showed no disposition to remain. It was her conviction that once a good man had fallen, one never could tell where he was likely to bounce. She did not intend to let Peter bounce into some other woman's lap. He had in his composition all of the potential vices engendered by a clean past. It was well enough—in fact, it was a commendable thing—to share these vices with Peter, but it was not at all desirable to place them at the disposal of the temporarily dressed and drunken ladies of a nudist colony. Therefore Josephine had good and sufficient reasons to join with the Bishop in his determination to escape from the nudists no matter how difficult or embarrassing such an endeavour might prove to be. Little Arthur was of a similar disposition. So was Aspirin Liz, who in spite of her contentment still maintained that, of all the pleasant places in the world in which to drink beer, the Hoboken water-front was by far the pleasantest. Yolanda alone seemed a trifle vague when approached on the subject of escaping. And this was exceedingly strange in view of the fact that she was the only member of the party who had been allowed to retain her garments and who therefore had nothing to fear from a flight back to the world of covered flesh. True, she was careful enough not to give the impression that she was anxious to remain where she was, yet even Bishop Waller suspected her of being more than a little on the fence.
And the exact location of the colony was also a subject of no little speculation among the members of the party.
Mr. Jones had mentioned so many different places when questioned that even the most gullible person would have been forced to conclude that the man was a well-meaning but absent-minded liar.
'I feel we're safe in figuring we're somewhere on the sea-coast of the North American continent,' Peter remarked to his fellow castaways.
'Wherever we are,' allowed the good Bishop, 'somewhere else couldn't be so much worse. We must get away at all costs.'
At this moment Yolanda, accompanied by Mr. Jones, strolled up to the group.
'Setting-up exercises in five minutes,' the naked leader announced with a bright smile in which Peter detected a glint of vicious amusement.
'I can't join in to-day,' Yolanda murmured. 'I'm too utterly weary. It must be the ocean.'
Josephine's large brown eyes were fixed on the girl.
'I'm beginning to admire you, Yolanda,' she said amicably. 'And that shows how bad I am.'
Even Peter wondered why Yolanda did not ask Jo exactly what she meant by that.
With a sigh Little Arthur uncoiled his thin body.
'Always setting up,' he complained. 'Always exposing something or other. Why can't you let a guy crouch in peace by hisself?'
The naked party trailed across the lawn in the direction of even more nakedness—a multitude of prancing nakedness singing loudly about dew being on its feet.
'Look at 'em,' muttered Little Arthur. 'All bare and all crazy as hell in the head—begging your pardon, Bishop. Singing about dew and their great feet. Who cares, I ask you? Who cares? I'm tired of naked bodies. They hurt my eyes.'
'Well spoken, Little Arthur,' said Bishop Waller, 'in spite of your choice of words. If those bodies were only black or brown, I might at least succeed in getting drawers on them as I have in the past. With white bodies it is sadly different. Once they have abandoned their drawers, they seem also to have abandoned their reason.'
'You forget, my dear Bishop,' observed Peter, 'that drawers are a bit of a novelty to your dark-skinned converts, whereas no drawers are equally novel to these deluded people.'
'No drawers aren't novel to me,' remarked Aspirin Liz. 'It's an old, old story.'
'Well, no drawers ter me,' said Little Arthur earnestly, 'is simply frantic.'
'Without my jaegers,' remarked the Bishop a trifle complacently, 'I fear I would find it difficult to turn even to God in my distress.'
'I want my step-ins,' said Jo with devastating frankness, 'more because I like their looks than because I feel their loss.'
Bishop Waller looked sadly at the red-headed girl, opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, then hopelessly shook his head.
His God was too greatly handicapped in the presence of so much beauty unadorned.
Peter and Jo on the sand dunes. Havelock Ellis had accompanied them for a little sunshine and salt air. The duck was actually trying to sleep on its side like a dog. It was not a pleasing sight. Nor was Havelock Ellis comfortable. No duck should be seen that way. She was clucking clucking bad duck language deep down in her throat. Peter, taking advantage of the sand, had dug himself in. For the moment he felt almost well dressed. At the water's edge the Bishop was conversing with the philosopher. The Bishop was dressed in his jaegers, which by now were looking sorely tried. The philosopher wore simply a pipe. Havelock Ellis flipped her wing disgustedly, sending a spray of sand across Peter's face. Peter submitted patiently. He had grown fond of Ellis.
'It's too bad you're not married, Peter,' said the girl, kicking her legs up behind her, thus sending more sand in Peter's face.
'Why?' asked Peter, still patient because he had also grown fond of Jo.
'Because,' she answered, 'the situation would then be more desperate—more dramatic. You might even leave me with an unnamed child for which I would have to slave in silence while treasuring your memory deep in my heart.'
'You're breaking mine,' Peter told her. 'I've decided to marry you even though such a step is entirely unnecessary.'
'It would be far cheaper than keeping me,' the girl replied calmly. 'I'd work for you for nothing and we could spend my pay.'
Peter thought this over.
'It's too involved,' he said at last. 'Yet I sense something in it somewhere.'
The Bishop strolled up with the philosopher. Both stood moodily looking down upon the couple in the sand. Then the philosopher turned to the Bishop.
'You, I contend, my dear Bishop,' he stated deliberately, 'look more ridiculous in those weird pantaloons of yours than I do in my pipe."
'But you look far more naked,' replied the Bishop. 'Even though I cut a sorry figure in the eyes of man and God alike, I have the comfort of knowing I am not childishly exposed.'
'Do you consider me childish, Bishop?' the philosopher inquired.
'I endeavour not to consider you at all,' replied the Bishop, 'although I know full well that the memory of your gaunt figure will haunt my dreams for years. I think it's the addition of the pipe that makes you look extra naked.'
The philosopher smiled appreciatively.
'Not a bad point, Bishop Waller,' he said. 'No doubt the pipe is an incongruous touch. However, I'd rather have my pipe than your drawers.'
'I wouldn't relinquish these jaegers for all the pipes in the world,' the Bishop told him.
'Don't you feel at all funny,' Peter asked the philosopher, 'being naked like that before everybody?'
'How do you feel, my dear sir?' the tall man inquired.
'Like a suddenly evicted Turkish bath,' said Peter. 'Even worse than that.'
'And the young lady?' the philosopher pursued.
'I feel great,' said Jo, 'but I still find grounds for complaint. They're not moral. Sorry, Bishop. I miss my nice things—silk stockings and all. You should know, Mr. Pipe, that all pretty women like to show their bodies, but most of them prefer to select their audiences. Uniform nudity does not appeal to our sex.'
'A good point, too,' observed the philosopher. 'Even the most primitive members of your sex instinctively decorate their bodies.'
'Also the men,' said Peter.
'Come,' said the Bishop hastily. 'We must continue our stroll.'
The two strange figures walked off across the dunes. Suddenly the philosopher turned hack.
'I forgot to answer your question,' he called. 'I think this show is a lot of bunk, if you want to know my frank opinion. And if it wasn't for a disciplined and inquiring mind, I'd feel simply awful. Good-day, sir.'
Peter waved a hand, and the two gentlemen continued on their way.
'I suspected that,' said Peter. 'All the time I knew he wasn't an honest nude.'
'Listen, sweetie,' replied Josephine. 'Taking off your clothes doesn't make you honest any more than putting them back on again makes you respectable.'
'Taking them off certainly did things to us,' he observed. 'Are you complaining because I ruined you?' Jo demanded scornfully.
My dear girl,' said Peter wearily, 'must we go into that again? You were putty in my hands. Putty.'
'You poor fish,' she answered angrily. 'You haven't nerve enough to seduce an alligator.'
'Not one man in a hundred has,' he assured her. 'Not one man in a thousand. Even less have the inclination.'
'You are very fond of me, Peter—love me, in fact?' asked Jo.
'Oh, very fond indeed. I dote on you, Jo. Love you as much as a coffee importer can. I've a dull background, though.'
'But an aromatic one,' she said. 'I'm deeply in love with you, too, but I feel quite ashamed of my lack of discrimination. You're awful, Peter.'
'You're not, Jo. You're beautiful. When I think of these brown eyes and all that red hair and all—'
'I suppose you're quite overcome by the sheer quantity of things.'
'More or less. I just can't see how you can care for me—don't understand how you can do it, that's all.'
'I don't see how I can do it myself,' she told him. 'When I see you lying there in that cowardly sand-draped position with your unlovely feet sticking out, all my finer instincts tell me to get up and walk right away, but just the same I stick around. Love must be able to stand for 'most anything, and I'm that way about you.'
'Does it come over you in waves?' he asked her. 'You know, in—in waves. A lot of waves coming over you?'
'Do you mean do I feel as if I were drowning?' she wanted to know.
Peter shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. Romance did not seem to be in his line.
'Just waves,' he muttered moodily, wishing he had never attempted analogy. 'Coming over one in waves, you know.'
Jo looked him steadily in the eyes. There was a strange glint in hers. Suddenly she grabbed his head in her arms and hugged it roughly against her breast.
'What a fool,' she said. 'Inarticulate—drivelling. No sort of a lover at all, but don't worry about those waves of yours. I feel them, too.' She gave a sudden start and flung Peter's head away. 'You reptile,' she gasped.
'What's up now?' he asked her.
'Why, look what you did,' and she proceeded to show him. 'You pinched me with all your might—a regular nasty pinch, it was.'
'Nonsense,' he retorted. 'I don't do things like that—not in public.'
Jo regarded him intently, then unleashed a wild whoop.
'There you go again,' she cried.
From behind her came the exultant squawk of the duck, Ellis.
'Why, you old bitch,' exclaimed Josephine. 'Let's leave her flat. She's pecking me.'
'Oh, let her tag along,' said Peter. 'She's a good duck in her quaint way.'
'Very well, then,' replied Jo, springing up from the sand. 'But not if she bites my—me there every time I hug your head. That's going from the sublime to the ridiculous.'
'Snap to it, Ellis,' said Peter, reluctantly removing the sand from his body. 'Get a waddle on.'
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