The Fountainhead, part 2, chapter 2
Dominique Francon spends days walking through the echoing corridors of her family’s mansion, or attending parties with the upper crust where she exchanges polite useless pleasantries. All the while, she’s fantasizing about Roark, drilling stone in the quarry a few miles down the road (although she doesn’t know his name or anything else about him).
She’s unwilling to yield to her desire to go to the quarry and stare at him some more, so she comes up with a plan that will give her another excuse to see him:
She chose the marble slab in front of the fireplace in her bedroom. She wanted it broken. She knelt, hammer in hand, and tried to smash the marble… She succeeded in making a long scratch across the marble.
I mean, “I seem to be having some problems with my plumbing” is the more usual way to go about this, but OK, you do what works for you.
She goes down to the quarry and finds Roark hard at work:
“I have been thinking of you,” she said softly, and stopped, then added, her voice flowing on in the same tone of compelling invitation, “because there’s a bit of a dirty job to be done at my house. Would you like to make some extra money?”
“Certainly, Miss Francon.”
“Will you come to my house tonight? …There’s a marble piece at a fireplace that’s broken and has to be replaced. I want you to take it out and order a new one made for me.”
She expected anger and refusal. He asked:
“What time shall I come?”
Roark shows up at the appointed time. It helps to imagine sultry sax music playing in the background for this scene:
She moved one hand, indicating the door of her bedroom. He followed obediently. He did not seem to notice the room when he entered. He entered it as if it were a workshop. He walked straight to the fireplace.
“There it is,” she said, one finger pointing to the marble slab.
He said nothing. He knelt, took a thin metal wedge from his bag, held its point against the scratch on the slab, took a hammer and struck one blow. The marble split in a long, deep cut.
He glanced up at her. It was the look she dreaded, a look of laughter that could not be answered, because the laughter could not be seen, only felt. He said:
“Now it’s broken and has to be replaced.”
It’s a metaphor, you see. Because something else is about to be split open by a hard metal tool wielded by a manly man, if you know what I mean.
It matters a lot, for this scene and the one that comes next, to know that Dominique and Roark are in lust with each other, each one knows the other knows it, and each of them takes a perverse pleasure in holding out and trying to tease the other into making the first move. As to how they can have such an intimate understanding, even though they’ve barely exchanged a few sentences and she knows nothing whatsoever about him, you can take your pick: either the classic romantic cliché of soulmates-at-first-sight, or the more specialized trope of Objectivist Telepathy.But if you think all this is hot, just wait. You’ll barely be able to contain yourself after listening to Roark’s sexy monologue about the various kinds of mineral inclusions that create differently colored marbles under the proper geologic conditions of heat and pressure:
He glanced at her occasionally, as he worked. He was speaking obediently. He was saying:
“I shall make certain to get a piece of marble of precisely the same quality, Miss Francon. It is very important to distinguish between the various kinds of marble. Generally speaking, there are three kinds. The white marbles, which are derived from the recrystallization of limestone, the onyx marbles which are chemical deposits of calcium carbonate, and the green marbles which consist mainly of hydrous magnesium silicate or serpentine. This last must not be considered as true marble. True marble is a metamorphic form of limestone, produced by… [t]he recrystallization of the particles of limestone and the infiltration of foreign elements from the surrounding soil. These constitute the colored streaks which are to be found in most marbles. Pink marble is caused by the presence of manganese oxides, gray marble is due to carbonaceous matter, yellow marble is attributed to a hydrous oxide of iron. This piece here is, of course, white marble.”
Whew! Take it slow, Roark! We’re all going to need cold showers if you go on like that for much longer! (Geology: surprisingly erotic.)
Roark carts away the broken stone and, at Dominique’s request, orders a new piece to be delivered. When it arrives, Dominique sends a letter down to the quarry, asking the foreman to deliver it to “the redheaded workman who was here”.
That night, there’s a knock at her door – but to her horror, the person who shows up is “a short, squat, middle-aged Italian”. When she demands to know who he is and what he’s doing there, he explains haltingly that “Red down at the quarry” sent him to set the new piece.
Infuriated, she storms out of the house. She spends days brooding over Roark’s snub, until a night when she’s returning from a horseback ride in the gathering twilight. She’s carrying a thin green branch that she’s been using like a riding crop. Then she sees Roark walking along the path in the distance and gallops up alongside him:
They said nothing. They looked at each other. She thought that every silent instant passing was a betrayal; this wordless encounter was too eloquent, this recognition that no greeting was necessary.
She asked, her voice flat:
“Why didn’t you come to set the marble?”
“I didn’t think it would make any difference to you who came. Or did it, Miss Francon?”
She felt the words not as sounds, but as a blow flat against her mouth. The branch she held went up and slashed across his face. She started off in the sweep of the same motion.
Very Fifty Shades of Gray-esque, this scene. Sometimes I think Ayn Rand missed her true calling as a BDSM romance writer.
That said, even in a fantasy scene where the author can assume that her characters understand each other on some spiritual wavelength, a good romance has to have an implicit understanding of consent. Actual violence, even in a fictional encounter, can pull a sex scene up short and turn it abruptly from sensual to horrifying. Rand never understood this difference, as the creepy sex scenes in Atlas Shrugged make all too clear – but what’s coming up next week is far worse.
Other posts in this series: