Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostępny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacji Legimi na:
First digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri
Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen sat one morning in the window-bay oftheir father's house in Beldover, working and talking. Ursula wasstitching a piece ofbrightly-coloured embroidery, and Gudrun wasdrawing upon a board which she held on her knee. They were mostlysilent, talking as their thoughts strayed through their minds.
'Ursula,' said Gudrun, 'don't you REALLY WANT to get married?'Ursula laid her embroidery in her lap and looked up. Her face wascalm and considerate.
'I don't know,' she replied. 'It depends how you mean.'
Gudrun was slightly taken aback. She watched her sister for somemoments.
'Well,' she said, ironically, 'it usually means one thing! Butdon't you think anyhow, you'd be—' she darkenedslightly—'in a better position than you are in now.'
A shadow came over Ursula's face.
'I might,' she said. 'But I'm not sure.'
Again Gudrun paused, slightly irritated. She wanted to be quitedefinite.
'You don't think one needs the EXPERIENCE of having beenmarried?' she asked.
'Do you think it need BE an experience?' replied Ursula.
'Bound to be, in some way or other,' said Gudrun, coolly.'Possibly undesirable, but bound to be an experience of somesort.'
'Not really,' said Ursula. 'More likely to be the end ofexperience.'
Gudrun sat very still, to attend to this.
'Of course,' she said, 'there's THAT to consider.' This broughtthe conversation to a close. Gudrun, almost angrily, took up herrubber andbegan to rub out part of her drawing. Ursula stitchedabsorbedly.
'You wouldn't consider a good offer?' asked Gudrun.
'I think I've rejected several,' said Ursula.
'REALLY!' Gudrun flushed dark—'But anything really worthwhile? Have you REALLY?'
'A thousand a year, and an awfully nice man. I liked himawfully,' said Ursula.
'Really! But weren't you fearfully tempted?'
'In the abstract but not in the concrete,' said Ursula. 'When itcomes to the point, one isn't even tempted—oh, if I weretempted, I'd marrylike a shot. I'm only tempted NOT to.' The facesof both sisters suddenly lit up with amusement.
'Isn't it an amazing thing,' cried Gudrun, 'how strong thetemptation is, not to!' They both laughed, looking at each other.In their hearts they were frightened.
There was a long pause, whilst Ursula stitched and Gudrun wenton with her sketch. The sisters were women, Ursula twenty-six, andGudrun twenty-five. But both had the remote, virgin look of moderngirls, sisters of Artemis rather than of Hebe. Gudrunwas verybeautiful, passive, soft-skinned, soft-limbed. She wore a dress ofdark-blue silky stuff, with ruches of blue and green linen lace inthe neck and sleeves; and she had emerald-green stockings. Her lookof confidence and diffidence contrasted withUrsula's sensitiveexpectancy. The provincial people, intimidated by Gudrun's perfectsang-froid and exclusive bareness of manner, said of her: 'She is asmart woman.' She had just come back from London, where she hadspent several years, working at an art-school, as a student, andliving a studio life.
'I was hoping now for a man to come along,' Gudrun said,suddenly catching her underlip between her teeth, and making astrange grimace, half sly smiling, half anguish. Ursula wasafraid.
'So you have come home, expecting him here?' she laughed.
'Oh my dear,' cried Gudrun, strident, 'I wouldn't go out of myway to look for him. But if there did happen to come along a highlyattractive individual of sufficient means—well—' shetailed off ironically. Then she looked searchingly at Ursula, as ifto probe her. 'Don't you find yourself getting bored?' she asked ofher sister. 'Don't you find, that things fail to materialise?NOTHING MATERIALISES! Everything withers in the bud.'
'What withers in the bud?' asked Ursula.
'Oh, everything—oneself—things in general.' Therewas a pause, whilst each sister vaguely considered her fate.
'It does frighten one,' said Ursula, and again there was apause. 'But do you hope to get anywhere by just marrying?'
'It seems to be theinevitable next step,' said Gudrun. Ursulapondered this, with a little bitterness. She was a class mistressherself, in Willey Green Grammar School, as she had been for someyears.
'I know,' she said, 'it seems like that when one thinks in theabstract. But really imagine it: imagine any man one knows, imaginehim coming home to one every evening, and saying "Hello," andgiving one a kiss—'
There was a blank pause.
'Yes,' said Gudrun, in a narrowed voice. 'It's just impossible.The man makes it impossible.'
'Of course there's children—' said Ursula doubtfully.
Gudrun's face hardened.
'Do you REALLY want children, Ursula?' she asked coldly. Adazzled, baffled look came on Ursula's face.
'One feels it is still beyond one,' she said.
'DO you feel like that?' asked Gudrun. 'I get no feelingwhatever from the thought of bearing children.'
Gudrun looked at Ursula with a masklike, expressionless face.Ursula knitted her brows.
'Perhaps it isn't genuine,' she faltered. 'Perhaps one doesn'treally want them, in one'ssoul—only superficially.' Ahardness came over Gudrun's face. She did not want to be toodefinite.
'When one thinks of other people's children—' saidUrsula.
Again Gudrun looked at her sister, almost hostile.
'Exactly,' she said, to close theconversation.
The two sisters worked on in silence, Ursula having always thatstrange brightness of an essential flame that is caught, meshed,contravened. She lived a good deal by herself, to herself, working,passing on from day to day, and always thinking, trying to lay holdon life, to grasp it in her own understanding. Her active livingwas suspended, but underneath, in the darkness, something wascoming to pass. If only she could break through the lastinteguments! She seemed to try and put her handsout, like an infantin the womb, and she could not, not yet. Still she had a strangeprescience, an intimation of something yet to come.
She laid down her work and looked at her sister. She thoughtGudrun so CHARMING, so infinitely charming, in her softness and herfine, exquisite richness of texture and delicacy of line. There wasa certain playfulness about her too, such a piquancy or ironicsuggestion, such an untouched reserve. Ursula admired her with allher soul.
'Why did you come home, Prune?' she asked.
Gudrun knew she was being admired. She sat back from her drawingand looked at Ursula, from under her finely-curved lashes.
'Why did I come back, Ursula?' she repeated. 'I have askedmyself a thousand times.'
'And don't you know?'
'Yes, I think I do.I think my coming back home was just RECULERPOUR MIEUX SAUTER.'
And she looked with a long, slow look of knowledge atUrsula.
'I know!' cried Ursula, looking slightly dazzled and falsified,and as if she did NOT know. 'But where can one jump to?'
'Oh, itdoesn't matter,' said Gudrun, somewhat superbly. 'If onejumps over the edge, one is bound to land somewhere.'
'But isn't it very risky?' asked Ursula.
A slow mocking smile dawned on Gudrun's face.
'Ah!' she said laughing. 'What is it all but words!' And soagain she closed the conversation. But Ursula was stillbrooding.
'And how do you find home, now you have come back to it?' sheasked.
Gudrun paused for some moments, coldly, before answering. Then,in a cold truthful voice, she said:
'I find myself completely out of it.'
Gudrun looked at Ursula, almost with resentment, as if broughtto bay.
'I haven't thought about him: I've refrained,' she saidcoldly.
'Yes,' wavered Ursula; and the conversation was really at anend. The sisters found themselves confronted by a void, aterrifying chasm, as if they had looked over the edge.
They worked on in silence for some time, Gudrun's cheek wasflushed with repressed emotion. She resented its having been calledinto being.
'Shall we go out and look at that wedding?' she asked at length,in a voice that was too casual.
'Yes!' cried Ursula, too eagerly, throwing aside her sewing andleaping up, as if to escape something, thus betraying the tensionof the situation and causing a friction of dislike to go overGudrun's nerves.
As she went upstairs, Ursula was aware of the house, of her homeround about her. And she loathed it, the sordid, too-familiarplace! She was afraid at the depth of her feeling against the home,the milieu, the whole atmosphere and condition of this obsoletelife. Her feeling frightened her.
The two girls were soon walking swiftly down the main road ofBeldover, a wide street, part shops, part dwelling-houses, utterlyformless and sordid, without poverty. Gudrun, new from her life inChelsea and Sussex, shrank cruelly from this amorphous ugliness ofa small colliery town in the Midlands. Yet forward she went,through the whole sordid gamut of pettiness, the long amorphous,gritty street. She was exposed to every stare, she passed onthrough a stretch of torment. It was strange that she should havechosen to come back and test the full effect of this shapeless,barren ugliness upon herself. Why had she wanted to submit herselfto it, did she still want to submit herself to it, the insufferabletorture of these ugly, meaningless people, this defacedcountryside? She felt like a beetle toiling in the dust. She wasfilled with repulsion.
They turned off the main road, past a black patch ofcommon-garden, where sooty cabbage stumps stood shameless. No onethought to be ashamed. No one was ashamed of it all.
'It is like a country in an underworld,' said Gudrun. 'Thecolliers bring it above-ground with them, shovel it up. Ursula,it's marvellous, it's really marvellous—it's reallywonderful, another world. The people are all ghouls, and everythingis ghostly. Everything is a ghoulish replica of the real world, areplica, a ghoul, all soiled, everything sordid. It's like beingmad, Ursula.'
The sisters were crossing a black path through a dark,soiledfield. On the left was a large landscape, a valley with collieries,and opposite hills with cornfields and woods, all blackened withdistance, as if seen through a veil of crape. White and black smokerose up in steady columns, magic within the darkair. Near at handcame the long rows of dwellings, approaching curved up thehill-slope, in straight lines along the brow of the hill. They wereof darkened red brick, brittle, with dark slate roofs. The path onwhich the sisters walked was black, trodden-in by the feet of therecurrent colliers, and bounded from the field by iron fences; thestile that led again into the road was rubbed shiny by themoleskins of the passing miners. Now the two girls were goingbetween some rows of dwellings, of the poorersort. Women, theirarms folded over their coarse aprons, standing gossiping at the endof their block, stared after the Brangwen sisters with that long,unwearying stare of aborigines; children called out names.
Gudrun went on her way half dazed. If thiswere human life, ifthese were human beings, living in a complete world, then what washer own world, outside? She was aware of her grass-green stockings,her large grass-green velour hat, her full soft coat, of a strongblue colour. And she felt as if shewere treading in the air, quiteunstable, her heart was contracted, as if at any minute she mightbe precipitated to the ground. She was afraid.
She clung to Ursula, who, through long usage was inured to thisviolation of a dark, uncreated, hostile world.But all the time herheart was crying, as if in the midst of some ordeal: 'I want to goback, I want to go away, I want not to know it, not to know thatthis exists.' Yet she must go forward.
Ursula could feel her suffering.
'You hate this, don't you?' she asked.
'It bewilders me,' stammered Gudrun.
'You won't stay long,' replied Ursula.
And Gudrun went along, grasping at release.
They drew away from the colliery region, over the curve of thehill, into the purer country of the other side, towards WilleyGreen. Still the faint glamour of blackness persisted over thefields and the wooded hills, and seemed darkly to gleam in the air.It was a spring day, chill, with snatches of sunshine. Yellowcelandines showed out from the hedge-bottoms, and in thecottagegardens of Willey Green, currant-bushes were breaking intoleaf, and little flowers were coming white on the grey alyssum thathung over the stone walls.
Turning, they passed down the high-road, that went between highbanks towards the church. There, inthe lowest bend of the road, lowunder the trees, stood a little group of expectant people, waitingto see the wedding. The daughter of the chief mine-owner of thedistrict, Thomas Crich, was getting married to a naval officer.
'Let us go back,' said Gudrun, swerving away. 'There are allthose people.'
And she hung wavering in the road.
'Never mind them,' said Ursula, 'they're all right. They allknow me, they don't matter.'
'But must we go through them?' asked Gudrun.
'They're quite all right, really,' said Ursula, going forward.And together the two sisters approached the group of uneasy,watchful common people. They were chiefly women, colliers' wives ofthe more shiftless sort. They had watchful, underworld faces.
The two sisters held themselves tense, and went straight towardsthe gate. The women made way for them, but barely sufficient, as ifgrudging to yield ground. The sisters passed in silence through thestone gateway and up the steps, on the red carpet, a policemanestimating their progress.
'Whatprice the stockings!' said a voice at the back of Gudrun. Asudden fierce anger swept over the girl, violent and murderous. Shewould have liked them all annihilated, clearedaway, so that theworld was left clear for her. How she hated walking up thechurchyard path, along the red carpet, continuing in motion, intheir sight.
'I won't go into the church,' she said suddenly, with such finaldecision that Ursula immediately halted, turned round, and branchedoff up a small side path which led to the littleprivate gate of theGrammar School, whose grounds adjoined those of the church.
Just inside the gate of the school shrubbery, outside thechurchyard, Ursula sat down for a moment on the low stone wallunder the laurel bushes, to rest. Behind her, the largered buildingof the school rose up peacefully, the windows all open for theholiday. Over the shrubs, before her, were the pale roofs and towerof the old church. The sisters were hidden by the foliage.
Gudrun sat down in silence. Her mouth was shut close, her faceaverted. She was regretting bitterly that she had ever come back.Ursula looked at her, and thought how amazingly beautiful she was,flushed with discomfiture. But she caused a constraint overUrsula's nature, a certain weariness. Ursula wishedto be alone,freed from the tightness, the enclosure of Gudrun's presence.
'Are we going to stay here?' asked Gudrun.
'I was only resting a minute,' said Ursula, getting up as ifrebuked. 'We will stand in the corner by the fives-court, we shallsee everything from there.'
For the moment, the sunshine fell brightly into the churchyard,there was a vague scent of sap and of spring, perhaps of violetsfrom off the graves. Some white daisies were out, bright as angels.In the air, the unfolding leaves of a copper-beech wereblood-red.
Punctually at eleven o'clock, the carriages began to arrive.There was a stir in the crowd at the gate, a concentration as acarriage drove up, wedding guests were mounting up the steps andpassing along the red carpet to the church. They were all gay andexcited because the sun was shining.
Gudrun watched them closely, with objective curiosity. She saweach one as a complete figure, like a character in a book, or asubject in a picture, or a marionette in a theatre, a finishedcreation. She loved to recognise their various characteristics, toplace them in their true light, give them their own surroundings,settle them for ever as they passed before her along the path tothe church. She knew them, they were finished, sealed and stampedand finished with, for her. There was none that had anythingunknown, unresolved, until the Criches themselves began to appear.Then her interest was piqued. Here was something not quite sopreconcluded.
There came the mother, Mrs Crich, with her eldest son Gerald.She was a queer unkempt figure, in spite of the attempts that hadobviously been made to bring her into line for the day. Her facewas pale, yellowish, with a clear, transparent skin, she leanedforward rather, her features were strongly marked, handsome, with atense, unseeing, predative look. Hercolourless hair was untidy,wisps floating down on to her sac coat of dark blue silk, fromunder her blue silk hat. She looked like a woman with a monomania,furtive almost, but heavily proud.
Herson was of a fair, sun-tanned type, rather above middleheight, well-made, and almost exaggeratedly well-dressed. But abouthim also was the strange, guarded look, the unconscious glisten, asif he did not belong to the same creation as the people about him.Gudrun lighted on him at once. There was something northern abouthim that magnetised her. In his clear northern flesh and his fairhair was a glisten like sunshine refracted through crystals of ice.And he looked so new, unbroached, pure as an arctic thing. Perhapshe was thirty years old, perhaps more. His gleaming beauty,maleness, like a young, good-humoured, smiling wolf, did not blindher to the significant, sinister stillness in his bearing, thelurking danger of his unsubdued temper. 'His totem is the wolf,'she repeated to herself. 'His mother is an old, unbroken wolf.' Andthen she experienced a keen paroxyism, a transport, as if she hadmade some incredible discovery, known to nobody else on earth. Astrange transport took possession of her, all her veins were in aparoxysm of violent sensation. 'Good God!' she exclaimed toherself, 'what is this?' And then, a moment after, she was sayingassuredly, 'I shall know more of that man.' She was tortured withdesire to see him again, a nostalgia, a necessity to see him again,to make sure it was not all a mistake, that she was not deludingherself, that she really felt this strange and overwhelmingsensation on his account, this knowledge of him in her essence,this powerful apprehension of him. 'Am IREALLY singled out for himin some way, is there really some pale gold, arctic light thatenvelopes only us two?' she asked herself. And she could notbelieve it, she remained in a muse, scarcely conscious of what wasgoing on around.
The bridesmaids werehere, and yet the bridegroom had not come.Ursula wondered if something was amiss, and if the wedding wouldyet all go wrong. She felt troubled, as if it rested upon her. Thechief bridesmaids had arrived. Ursula watched them come up thesteps. One of themshe knew, a tall, slow, reluctant woman with aweight of fair hair and a pale, long face. This was HermioneRoddice, a friend of the Criches. Now she came along, with her headheld up, balancing an enormous flat hat of pale yellow velvet, onwhich were streaks of ostrich feathers, natural and grey. Shedrifted forward as if scarcely conscious, her long blanched facelifted up, not to see the world. She was rich. She wore a dress ofsilky, frail velvet, of pale yellow colour, and she carried a lotof smallrose-coloured cyclamens. Her shoes and stockings were ofbrownish grey, like the feathers on her hat, her hair was heavy,she drifted along with a peculiar fixity of the hips, a strangeunwilling motion. She was impressive, in her lovely pale-yellow andbrownish-rose, yet macabre, something repulsive. People were silentwhen she passed, impressed, roused, wanting to jeer, yet for somereason silenced. Her long, pale face, that she carried lifted up,somewhat in the Rossetti fashion, seemed almost drugged, as if astrange mass of thoughts coiled in the darkness within her, and shewas never allowed to escape.
Ursula watched her with fascination. She knew her a little. Shewas the most remarkable woman in the Midlands. Her father was aDerbyshire Baronet of the old school, she was a woman of the newschool, full of intellectuality, and heavy, nerve-worn withconsciousness. She was passionately interested in reform, her soulwas given up to the public cause. But she was a man's woman, it wasthe manly world thatheld her.
She had various intimacies of mind and soul with various men ofcapacity. Ursula knew, among these men, only Rupert Birkin, who wasone of the school-inspectors of the county. But Gudrun had metothers, in London. Moving with her artist friendsin different kindsof society, Gudrun had already come to know a good many people ofrepute and standing. She had met Hermione twice, but they did nottake to each other. It would be queer to meet again down here inthe Midlands, where their social standing was so diverse, afterthey had known each other on terms of equality in the houses ofsundry acquaintances in town. For Gudrun had been a social success,and had her friends among the slack aristocracy that keeps touchwith the arts.
Hermione knew herself to be well-dressed; she knew herself to bethe social equal, if not far the superior, of anyone she was likelyto meet in Willey Green. She knew she was accepted in the world ofculture and of intellect. She was a KULTURTRAGER, a medium for theculture of ideas. With all that was highest, whether in society orin thought or in public action, or even in art, she was at one, shemoved among the foremost, at home with them. No one could put herdown, no one could make mock of her, because she stood amongthefirst, and those that were against her were below her, either inrank, or in wealth, or in high association of thought and progressand understanding. So, she was invulnerable. All her life, she hadsought to make herself invulnerable, unassailable, beyond reach ofthe world's judgment.
And yet her soul was tortured, exposed. Even walking up the pathto the church, confident as she was that in every respect she stoodbeyond all vulgar judgment, knowing perfectly that her appearancewas complete and perfect, according to the first standards, yet shesuffered a torture, under her confidence and her pride, feelingherself exposed to wounds and to mockery and to despite. She alwaysfelt vulnerable, vulnerable, there was always a secret chink in herarmour. Shedid not know herself what it was. It was a lack ofrobust self, she had no natural sufficiency, there was a terriblevoid, a lack, a deficiency of being within her.
And she wanted someone to close up this deficiency, to close itup for ever. She craved forRupert Birkin. When he was there, shefelt complete, she was sufficient, whole. For the rest of time shewas established on the sand, built over a chasm, and, in spite ofall her vanity and securities, any common maid-servant of positive,robust temper could fling her down this bottomless pit ofinsufficiency, by the slightest movement of jeering or contempt.And all the while the pensive, tortured woman piled up her owndefences of aesthetic knowledge, and culture, and world-visions,and disinterestedness. Yet she could never stop up the terrible gapof insufficiency.
If only Birkin would form a close and abiding connection withher, she would be safe during this fretful voyage of life. He couldmake her sound and triumphant, triumphant over the very angels ofheaven. If only he would do it! But she was tortured with fear,with misgiving. She made herself beautiful, she strove so hard tocome to that degree of beauty and advantage, when he should beconvinced. But always there was a deficiency.
He was perverse too. He fought her off, he always fought heroff. The more she strove to bring him to her, the more he battledher back. And they had been lovers now, for years. Oh, itwas sowearying, so aching; she was so tired. But still she believed inherself. She knew he was trying to leave her. She knew he wastrying to break away from her finally, to be free. But still shebelieved in her strength to keep him, she believed in her ownhigher knowledge. His own knowledge was high, she was the centraltouchstone of truth. She only needed his conjunction with her.
And this, this conjunction with her, which was his highestfulfilment also, with the perverseness of a wilful child he wantedto deny. With the wilfulness of an obstinate child, he wanted tobreak the holyconnection that was between them.
He would be at this wedding; he was to be groom's man. He wouldbe in the church, waiting. He would know when she came. Sheshuddered with nervous apprehension and desire as she went throughthe church-door. He would be there, surely he would see howbeautiful her dress was, surely he would see how she had madeherself beautiful for him. He would understand, he would be able tosee how she was made for him, the first, how she was, for him, thehighest. Surely at last he would be able to accept his highestfate, he would not deny her.
In a little convulsion of too-tired yearning, she entered thechurch and looked slowly along her cheeks for him, her slender bodyconvulsed with agitation. As best man, he would be standing besidethe altar. She looked slowly, deferring in her certainty.
And then, he was not there. A terrible storm came over her, asif she were drowning. She was possessed by a devastatinghopelessness. And she approached mechanically to the altar. Neverhad sheknown such a pang of utter and final hopelessness. It wasbeyond death, so utterly null, desert.
The bridegroom and the groom's man had not yet come. There was agrowing consternation outside. Ursula felt almost responsible. Shecould not bear it that thebride should arrive, and no groom. Thewedding must not be a fiasco, it must not.
But here was the bride's carriage, adorned with ribbons andcockades. Gaily the grey horses curvetted to their destination atthe church-gate, a laughter in the whole movement. Here was thequick of all laughter and pleasure. The door of the carriage wasthrown open, to let out the very blossom of the day. The people onthe roadway murmured faintly with the discontented murmuring of acrowd.
The father stepped out first into the air of the morning, like ashadow. He was a tall, thin, careworn man, with a thin black beardthat was touched with grey. He waited at the door of the carriagepatiently, self-obliterated.
In the opening of the doorway was a shower of fine foliage andflowers, a whiteness of satin and lace, and a sound of a gay voicesaying:
'How do I get out?'
A ripple of satisfaction ran through the expectant people. Theypressed near to receive her, looking with zest at the stoopingblond head with its flower buds, and at the delicate, white,tentative foot that was reaching down to the step of the carriage.There was a sudden foaming rush, and the bride like a suddensurf-rush, floating all white beside her father in the morningshadow of trees, her veil flowing withlaughter.
'That's done it!' she said.
She put her hand on the arm of her care-worn, sallow father, andfrothing her light draperies, proceeded over the eternal redcarpet. Her father, mute and yellowish, his black beard making himlook more careworn, mounted the steps stiffly, as if his spiritwere absent; but the laughing mist of the bride went along with himundiminished.
And no bridegroom had arrived! It was intolerable for her.Ursula, her heart strained with anxiety, was watching the hillbeyond; the white, descending road, that should give sight of him.There was a carriage. It was running. It had just come into sight.Yes, it was he. Ursula turned towards the bride and the people,and, from her place of vantage, gave an inarticulate cry. Shewanted towarn them that he was coming. But her cry was inarticulateand inaudible, and she flushed deeply, between her desire and herwincing confusion.
The carriage rattled down the hill, and drew near. There was ashout from the people. The bride, who had just reached the top ofthe steps, turned round gaily to see what was the commotion. Shesaw a confusion among the people, a cab pulling up, and her loverdropping out of the carriage, and dodging among the horses and intothe crowd.
'Tibs! Tibs!' she cried in her sudden, mocking excitement,standing high on the path in the sunlight and waving her bouquet.He, dodging with his hat in his hand, had not heard.
'Tibs!' she cried again, looking down to him.
He glanced up, unaware, and saw the bride and her fatherstanding on the path above him. A queer, startled look went overhis face. He hesitated for a moment. Then he gathered himselftogether for a leap, to overtake her.
'Ah-h-h!' came her strange, intaken cry, as, on the reflex, shestarted, turned and fled, scudding with an unthinkable swiftbeating of her white feet and fraying of her white garments,towards the church. Like a hound the young man was after her,leaping the steps and swinging past her father, his supple haunchesworking like those of a hound thatbears down on the quarry.
'Ay, after her!' cried the vulgar women below, carried suddenlyinto the sport.
She, her flowers shaken from her like froth, was steadyingherself to turn the angle of the church. She glanced behind, andwith a wild cry of laughter and challenge, veered, poised, and wasgone beyond the grey stone buttress. In another instant thebridegroom, bent forward as he ran, had caught the angle of thesilent stone with his hand, and had swung himself out of sight, hissupple, strong loins vanishing in pursuit.
Instantly cries and exclamations of excitement burst from thecrowd at the gate. And then Ursula noticed again the dark, ratherstooping figure of Mr Crich, waiting suspended on the path,watching with expressionless face the flight tothe church. It wasover, and he turned round to look behind him, at the figure ofRupert Birkin, who at once came forward and joined him.
'We'll bring up the rear,' said Birkin, a faint smile on hisface.
'Ay!' replied the father laconically. And the twomen turnedtogether up the path.
Birkin was as thin as Mr Crich, pale and ill-looking. His figurewas narrow but nicely made. He went with a slight trail of onefoot, which came only from self-consciousness. Although he wasdressed correctly for his part,yet there was an innate incongruitywhich caused a slight ridiculousness in his appearance. His naturewas clever and separate, he did not fit at all in the conventionaloccasion. Yet he subordinated himself to the common idea,travestied himself.
Heaffected to be quite ordinary, perfectly and marvellouslycommonplace. And he did it so well, taking the tone of hissurroundings, adjusting himself quickly to his interlocutor and hiscircumstance, that he achieved a verisimilitude of ordinarycommonplaceness that usually propitiated his onlookers for themoment, disarmed them from attacking his singleness.
Now he spoke quite easily and pleasantly to Mr Crich, as theywalked along the path; he played with situations like a man on atight-rope: but always on a tight-rope, pretending nothing butease.
'I'm sorry we are so late,' he was saying. 'We couldn't find abutton-hook, so it took us a long time to button our boots. But youwere to the moment.'
'We are usually to time,' said Mr Crich.
'And I'm always late,' said Birkin. 'But today I was REALLYpunctual, only accidentally not so. I'm sorry.'
The two men were gone, there was nothing more to see, for thetime. Ursula was left thinking about Birkin. He piqued her,attracted her, and annoyed her.
She wanted to know him more. She had spoken with him once ortwice, but only in his official capacity as inspector. She thoughthe seemed to acknowledge some kinship between her and him, anatural, tacit understanding, a using of the same language. Butthere had beenno time for the understanding to develop. Andsomething kept her from him, as well as attracted her to him. Therewas a certain hostility, a hidden ultimate reserve in him, cold andinaccessible.
Yet she wanted to know him.
'What do you think of Rupert Birkin?' she asked, a littlereluctantly, of Gudrun. She did not want to discuss him.
'What do I think of Rupert Birkin?' repeated Gudrun. 'I thinkhe's attractive—decidedly attractive. What I can't standabout him is his way with other people—his way of treatingany little fool as if she were his greatest consideration. Onefeels so awfully sold, oneself.'
'Why does he do it?' said Ursula.
'Because he has no real critical faculty—of people, at allevents,' said Gudrun. 'I tell you, he treats any little fool as hetreats me or you—and it's such an insult.'
'Oh, it is,' said Ursula. 'One must discriminate.'
'One MUST discriminate,' repeated Gudrun. 'But he's a wonderfulchap, in other respects—a marvellous personality. But youcan't trust him.'
'Yes,' said Ursula vaguely. She was always forced to assent toGudrun's pronouncements, even when she was not in accordaltogether.
The sisters sat silent, waiting for the wedding party to comeout. Gudrun was impatient of talk. She wanted to think about GeraldCrich. Shewanted to see if the strong feeling she had got from himwas real. She wanted to have herself ready.
Inside the church, the wedding was going on. Hermione Roddicewas thinking only of Birkin. He stood near her. She seemed togravitate physically towards him. She wanted to stand touching him.She could hardly be sure he was near her, if she did not touch him.Yet she stood subjected through the wedding service.
She had suffered so bitterly when he did not come, that stillshe was dazed. Still she was gnawedas by a neuralgia, tormented byhis potential absence from her. She had awaited him in a faintdelirium of nervous torture. As she stood bearing herselfpensively, the rapt look on her face, that seemed spiritual, likethe angels, but which came from torture, gave her a certainpoignancy that tore his heart with pity. He saw her bowed head, herrapt face, the face of an almost demoniacal ecstatic. Feeling himlooking, she lifted her face and sought his eyes, her own beautifulgrey eyes flaring him a great signal. But he avoided her look, shesank her head in torment and shame, the gnawing at her heart goingon. And he too was tortured with shame, and ultimate dislike, andwith acute pity for her, because he did not want to meet her eyes,he did not want to receive her flare of recognition.
The bride and bridegroom were married, the party went into thevestry. Hermione crowded involuntarily up against Birkin, to touchhim. And he endured it.
Outside, Gudrun and Ursula listened for their father's playingon theorgan. He would enjoy playing a wedding march. Now themarried pair were coming! The bells were ringing, making the airshake. Ursula wondered if the trees and the flowers could feel thevibration, and what they thought of it, this strange motion in theair. The bride was quite demure on the arm of the bridegroom, whostared up into the sky before him, shutting and opening his eyesunconsciously, as if he were neither here nor there. He lookedrather comical, blinking and tryingto be in the scene, whenemotionally he was violated by his exposure to a crowd. He looked atypical naval officer, manly, and up to his duty.
Birkin came with Hermione. She had a rapt, triumphant look, likethe fallen angels restored, yet still subtly demoniacal, now sheheld Birkin by the arm. And he was expressionless, neutralised,possessed by her as if it were his fate, without question.
Gerald Crich came, fair, good-looking, healthy, with a greatreserve of energy. He was erect and complete, there was a strangestealth glistening through his amiable, almost happy appearance.Gudrun rose sharply and went away. She could not bear it. Shewanted to be alone, to know this strange, sharp inoculation thathad changed the whole temper of her blood.
The Brangwens went home to Beldover, the wedding-party gatheredat Shortlands, the Criches' home. It was a long, low old house, asort of manor farm, that spread along the top of a slope justbeyond the narrow little lake of Willey Water. Shortlands lookedacrossa sloping meadow that might be a park, because of the large,solitary trees that stood here and there, across the water of thenarrow lake, at the wooded hill that successfully hid the collieryvalley beyond, but did not quite hide the rising smoke.Nevertheless, the scene was rural and picturesque, very peaceful,and the house had a charm of its own.
It was crowded now with the family and the wedding guests. Thefather, who was not well, withdrew to rest. Gerald was host. Hestood in the homely entrance hall, friendly and easy, attending tothe men. He seemed to take pleasure in his social functions, hesmiled, and was abundant in hospitality.
The women wandered about in a little confusion, chased hitherand thither by the three married daughters of the house. All thewhile there could be heard the characteristic, imperious voice ofone Crich woman or another calling 'Helen, come here a minute,''Marjory, I want you—here.' 'Oh, I say, Mrs Witham—.'There was a great rustling of skirts, swift glimpses ofsmartly-dressed women, a child danced through the hall and backagain, a maidservant came and went hurriedly.
Meanwhile the men stood in calm little groups, chatting,smoking, pretending to pay no heed to the rustling animation of thewomen's world. But theycould not really talk, because of the glassyravel of women's excited, cold laughter and running voices. Theywaited, uneasy, suspended, rather bored. But Gerald remained as ifgenial and happy, unaware that he was waiting or unoccupied,knowing himself the very pivot of the occasion.
Suddenly Mrs Crich came noiselessly into the room, peering aboutwith her strong, clear face. She was still wearing her hat, and hersac coat of blue silk.
'What is it, mother?' said Gerald.
'Nothing, nothing!' she answered vaguely. And she went straighttowards Birkin, who was talking to a Crich brother-in-law.
'How do you do, Mr Birkin,' she said, in her low voice, thatseemed to take no count of her guests. She held out her hand tohim.
'Oh Mrs Crich,' replied Birkin, in hisreadily-changing voice, 'Icouldn't come to you before.'
'I don't know half the people here,' she said, in her low voice.Her son-in-law moved uneasily away.
'And you don't like strangers?' laughed Birkin. 'I myself cannever see why one should take account of people, just because theyhappen to be in the room with one: why SHOULD I know they arethere?'
'Why indeed, why indeed!' said Mrs Crich, in her low, tensevoice. 'Except that they ARE there. I don't know people whom I findin the house. The childrenintroduce them to me—"Mother, thisis Mr So-and-so." I am no further. What has Mr So-and-so to do withhis own name?—and what have I to do with either him or hisname?'
She looked up at Birkin. She startled him. He was flattered toothat she came to talkto him, for she took hardly any notice ofanybody. He looked down at her tense clear face, with its heavyfeatures, but he was afraid to look into her heavy-seeing blueeyes. He noticed instead how her hair looped in slack, slovenlystrands over her ratherbeautiful ears, which were not quite clean.Neither was her neck perfectly clean. Even in that he seemed tobelong to her, rather than to the rest of the company; though, hethought to himself, he was always well washed, at any rate at theneck and ears.
He smiled faintly, thinking these things. Yet he was tense,feeling that he and the elderly, estranged woman were conferringtogether like traitors, like enemies within the camp of the otherpeople. He resembled a deer, that throws one ear back upon thetrail behind, and one ear forward, to know what is ahead.
'People don't really matter,' he said, rather unwilling tocontinue.
The mother looked up at him with sudden, dark interrogation, asif doubting his sincerity.
'How do you mean, MATTER?' she asked sharply.
'Not many people are anything at all,' he answered, forced to godeeper than he wanted to. 'They jingle and giggle. It would be muchbetter if they were just wiped out. Essentially, they don't exist,they aren't there.'
She watched him steadily whilehe spoke.
'But we didn't imagine them,' she said sharply.
'There's nothing to imagine, that's why they don't exist.'
'Well,' she said, 'I would hardly go as far as that. There theyare, whether they exist or no. It doesn't rest with me to decide ontheirexistence. I only know that I can't be expected to take countof them all. You can't expect me to know them, just because theyhappen to be there. As far as I go they might as well not bethere.'
'Exactly,' he replied.
'Mightn't they?' she asked again.
'Just as well,' he repeated. And there was a little pause.
'Except that they ARE there, and that's a nuisance,' she said.'There are my sons-in-law,' she went on, in a sort of monologue.'Now Laura's got married, there's another. And I really don't knowJohn from James yet. They come up to me and call me mother. I knowwhat they will say—"how are you, mother?" I ought to say, "Iam not your mother, in any sense." But what is the use? There theyare. I have had children of my own. I suppose I know themfromanother woman's children.'
'One would suppose so,' he said.
She looked at him, somewhat surprised, forgetting perhaps thatshe was talking to him. And she lost her thread.
She looked round the room, vaguely. Birkin could not guess whatshe was looking for,nor what she was thinking. Evidently shenoticed her sons.
'Are my children all there?' she asked him abruptly.
He laughed, startled, afraid perhaps.
'I scarcely know them, except Gerald,' he replied.
'Gerald!' she exclaimed. 'He's the most wanting ofthem all.You'd never think it, to look at him now, would you?'
'No,' said Birkin.
The mother looked across at her eldest son, stared at himheavily for some time.
'Ay,' she said, in an incomprehensible monosyllable, thatsounded profoundly cynical. Birkinfelt afraid, as if he dared notrealise. And Mrs Crich moved away, forgetting him. But she returnedon her traces.
'I should like him to have a friend,' she said. 'He has neverhad a friend.'
Birkin looked down into her eyes, which were blue, andwatchingheavily. He could not understand them. 'Am I my brother'skeeper?' he said to himself, almost flippantly.
Then he remembered, with a slight shock, that that was Cain'scry. And Gerald was Cain, if anybody. Not that he was Cain, either,although he had slain his brother. There was such a thing as pureaccident, and the consequences did not attach to one, even thoughone had killed one's brother in such wise. Gerald as a boy hadaccidentally killed his brother. What then? Why seek to draw abrand and a curseacross the life that had caused the accident? Aman can live by accident, and die by accident. Or can he not? Isevery man's life subject to pure accident, is it only the race, thegenus, the species, that has a universal reference? Or is this nottrue, is there no such thing as pure accident? Has EVERYTHING thathappens a universal significance? Has it? Birkin, pondering as hestood there, had forgotten Mrs Crich, as she had forgotten him.
He did not believe that there was any such thing as accident. Itall hung together, in the deepest sense.
Just as he had decided this, one of the Crich daughters came up,saying:
'Won't you come and take your hat off, mother dear? We shall besitting down to eat in a minute, and it's a formal occasion,darling, isn't it?' She drew her arm through her mother's, and theywent away. Birkin immediately went to talk to the nearest man.
The gong sounded for the luncheon. The men looked up, but nomove was made to the dining-room. The women of the house seemed notto feel that the sound had meaning for them. Five minutes passedby. The elderly manservant, Crowther, appeared in the doorwayexasperatedly. He looked with appeal at Gerald. The latter took upa large, curved conch shell, that lay on a shelf, and withoutreference to anybody, blew a shattering blast. It was a strangerousing noise, that made the heart beat. The summons was almostmagical. Everybody came running, as if at a signal. And then thecrowd in one impulse moved to the dining-room.
Gerald waited a moment, for his sister to play hostess. He knewhis mother would pay no attention to her duties. But his sistermerely crowded to her seat. Therefore the young man, slightly toodictatorial, directed the guests to their places.
There was a moment's lull, as everybody looked at the BORSD'OEUVRES that were being handed round. And out of this lull, agirl of thirteen or fourteen, with her long hair down her back,said in a calm, self-possessed voice:
'Gerald, you forget father, when you make that unearthlynoise.'
'Do I?'he answered. And then, to the company, 'Father is lyingdown, he is not quite well.'
'How is he, really?' called one of the married daughters,peeping round the immense wedding cake that towered up in themiddle of the table shedding its artificial flowers.
'He has no pain, but he feels tired,' replied Winifred, the girlwith the hair down her back.
The wine was filled, and everybody was talking boisterously. Atthe far end of the table sat the mother, with her loosely-loopedhair. She had Birkin for a neighbour. Sometimes she glancedfiercely down the rows of faces, bending forwards and staringunceremoniously. And she would say in a low voice to Birkin:
'Who is that young man?'
'I don't know,' Birkin answered discreetly.
'Have I seen him before?' she asked.
'I don't think so. I haven't,' he replied. And she wassatisfied. Her eyes closed wearily, a peace came over her face, shelooked like a queen in repose. Then she started, a little socialsmile came on her face, for a moment she looked the pleasanthostess. For a moment she bent graciously, as if everyone werewelcome and delightful. And then immediately the shadow came back,a sullen, eagle look was on her face, she glanced from under herbrows like a sinister creature at bay, hating them all.
'Mother,'called Diana, a handsome girl a little older thanWinifred, 'I may have wine, mayn't I?'
'Yes, you may have wine,' replied the mother automatically, forshe was perfectly indifferent to the question.
And Diana beckoned to the footman to fill her glass.
'Gerald shouldn't forbid me,' she said calmly, to the company atlarge.
'All right, Di,' said her brother amiably. And she glancedchallenge at him as she drank from her glass.
There was a strange freedom, that almost amounted to anarchy, inthe house. It wasrather a resistance to authority, than liberty.Gerald had some command, by mere force of personality, not becauseof any granted position. There was a quality in his voice, amiablebut dominant, that cowed the others, who were all younger thanhe.
Hermione was having a discussion with the bridegroom aboutnationality.
'No,' she said, 'I think that the appeal to patriotism is amistake. It is like one house of business rivalling another houseof business.'
'Well you can hardly say that, can you?' exclaimedGerald, whohad a real PASSION for discussion. 'You couldn't call a race abusiness concern, could you?—and nationality roughlycorresponds to race, I think. I think it is MEANT to.'
There was a moment's pause. Gerald and Hermione were alwaysstrangely but politely and evenly inimical.
'DO you think race corresponds with nationality?' she askedmusingly, with expressionless indecision.
Birkin knew she was waiting for him to participate. Anddutifully he spoke up.
'I think Gerald is right—race is the essential element innationality, in Europe at least,' he said.
Again Hermione paused, as if to allow this statement to cool.Then she said with strange assumption of authority:
'Yes, but even so, is the patriotic appeal an appeal to theracial instinct? Is it not rather an appeal to the proprietoryinstinct, the COMMERCIAL instinct? And isn't this what we mean bynationality?'
'Probably,' said Birkin, who felt that such a discussion was outof place and out of time.
But Gerald was now on the scent of argument.
'A race may have its commercial aspect,' he said. 'In fact itmust. It is like a family. You MUST make provision. And to makeprovision you have got to strive against other families, othernations. I don't see why you shouldn't.'
Again Hermione made apause, domineering and cold, before shereplied: 'Yes, I think it is always wrong to provoke a spirit ofrivalry. It makes bad blood. And bad blood accumulates.'
'But you can't do away with the spirit of emulation altogether?'said Gerald. 'It is one of the necessary incentives to productionand improvement.'
'Yes,' came Hermione's sauntering response. 'I think you can doaway with it.'
'I must say,' said Birkin, 'I detest the spirit of emulation.'Hermione was biting a piece of bread, pulling it from between herteeth with her fingers, in a slow, slightly derisive movement. Sheturned to Birkin.
'You do hate it, yes,' she said, intimate and gratified.
'Detest it,' he repeated.
'Yes,' she murmured, assured and satisfied.
'But,' Gerald insisted, 'you don't allow one man to take awayhis neighbour's living, so why should you allow one nation to takeaway the living from another nation?'
There was a long slow murmur from Hermione before she broke intospeech, saying with a laconic indifference:
'It is not alwaysa question of possessions, is it? It is not alla question of goods?'
Gerald was nettled by this implication of vulgarmaterialism.
'Yes, more or less,' he retorted. 'If I go and take a man's hatfrom off his head, that hat becomes a symbol of that man'sliberty.When he fights me for his hat, he is fighting me for hisliberty.'
Hermione was nonplussed.
'Yes,' she said, irritated. 'But that way of arguing byimaginary instances is not supposed to be genuine, is it? A mandoes NOT come and take my hat fromoff my head, does he?'
'Only because the law prevents him,' said Gerald.
'Not only,' said Birkin. 'Ninety-nine men out of a hundred don'twant my hat.'
'That's a matter of opinion,' said Gerald.
'Or the hat,' laughed the bridegroom.
'And if he does want myhat, such as it is,' said Birkin, 'why,surely it is open to me to decide, which is a greater loss to me,my hat, or my liberty as a free and indifferent man. If I amcompelled to offer fight, I lose the latter. It is a question whichis worth more to me,my pleasant liberty of conduct, or my hat.'
'Yes,' said Hermione, watching Birkin strangely. 'Yes.'
'But would you let somebody come and snatch your hat off yourhead?' the bride asked of Hermione.
The face of the tall straight woman turned slowly and asifdrugged to this new speaker.
'No,' she replied, in a low inhuman tone, that seemed to containa chuckle. 'No, I shouldn't let anybody take my hat off myhead.'
'How would you prevent it?' asked Gerald.
'I don't know,' replied Hermione slowly. 'ProbablyI should killhim.'
There was a strange chuckle in her tone, a dangerous andconvincing humour in her bearing.
'Of course,' said Gerald, 'I can see Rupert's point. It is aquestion to him whether his hat or his peace of mind is moreimportant.'
'Peace of body,' said Birkin.
'Well, as you like there,' replied Gerald. 'But how are yougoing to decide this for a nation?'
'Heaven preserve me,' laughed Birkin.
'Yes, but suppose you have to?' Gerald persisted.
'Then it is the same. If the national crown-piece isan old hat,then the thieving gent may have it.'
'But CAN the national or racial hat be an old hat?' insistedGerald.
'Pretty well bound to be, I believe,' said Birkin.
'I'm not so sure,' said Gerald.
'I don't agree, Rupert,' said Hermione.
'All right,' said Birkin.
'I'm all for the old national hat,' laughed Gerald.
'And a fool you look in it,' cried Diana, his pert sister whowas just in her teens.
'Oh, we're quite out of our depths with these old hats,' criedLaura Crich. 'Dry up now, Gerald. We're goingto drink toasts. Letus drink toasts. Toasts—glasses, glasses—now then,toasts! Speech! Speech!'
Birkin, thinking about race or national death, watched his glassbeing filled with champagne. The bubbles broke at the rim, the manwithdrew, and feeling a sudden thirst at the sight of the freshwine, Birkin drank up his glass. A queer little tension in the roomroused him. He felt a sharp constraint.
'Did I do it by accident, or on purpose?' he asked himself. Andhe decided that, according to the vulgar phrase, he had done it'accidentally on purpose.' He looked round at the hired footman.And the hired footman came, with a silent step of coldservant-likedisapprobation. Birkin decided that he detested toasts,and footmen, and assemblies, and mankind altogether, in most of itsaspects. Then he rose to make a speech. But he was somehowdisgusted.
At length it was over, the meal. Several men strolled out intothe garden. There was a lawn, and flower-beds, and at the boundaryan iron fence shutting off the littlefield or park. The view waspleasant; a highroad curving round the edge of a low lake, underthe trees. In the spring air, the water gleamed and the oppositewoods were purplish with new life. Charming Jersey cattle came tothe fence, breathing hoarsely from their velvet muzzles at thehuman beings, expecting perhaps a crust.
Birkin leaned on the fence. A cow was breathing wet hotness onhis hand.
'Pretty cattle, very pretty,' said Marshall, one of thebrothers-in-law. 'They give the best milk you can have.'
'Yes,' said Birkin.
'Eh, my little beauty, eh, my beauty!' said Marshall, in a queerhigh falsetto voice, that caused the other man to have convulsionsof laughter in his stomach.
'Who won the race, Lupton?' he called to the bridegroom, to hidethe factthat he was laughing.
The bridegroom took his cigar from his mouth.
'The race?' he exclaimed. Then a rather thin smile came over hisface. He did not want to say anything about the flight to thechurch door. 'We got there together. At least she touched first,but I had my hand on her shoulder.'
'What's this?' asked Gerald.
Birkin told him about the race of the bride and thebridegroom.
'H'm!' said Gerald, in disapproval. 'What made you latethen?'
'Lupton would talk about the immortality of the soul,'saidBirkin, 'and then he hadn't got a button-hook.'
'Oh God!' cried Marshall. 'The immortality of the soul on yourwedding day! Hadn't you got anything better to occupy yourmind?'
'What's wrong with it?' asked the bridegroom, a clean-shavennaval man, flushing sensitively.
'Sounds as if you were going to be executed instead of married.THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL!' repeated the brother-in-law, withmost killing emphasis.
But he fell quite flat.
'And what did you decide?' asked Gerald, at once pricking uphisears at the thought of a metaphysical discussion.
'You don't want a soul today, my boy,' said Marshall. 'It'd bein your road.'
'Christ! Marshall, go and talk to somebody else,' cried Gerald,with sudden impatience.
'By God, I'm willing,' said Marshall, ina temper. 'Too muchbloody soul and talk altogether—'
He withdrew in a dudgeon, Gerald staring after him with angryeyes, that grew gradually calm and amiable as the stoutly-builtform of the other man passed into the distance.
'There's one thing, Lupton,' said Gerald, turning suddenly tothe bridegroom. 'Laura won't have brought such a fool into thefamily as Lottie did.'
'Comfort yourself with that,' laughed Birkin.
'I take no notice of them,' laughed the bridegroom.
'What about this race then—who beganit?' Gerald asked.
'We were late. Laura was at the top of the churchyard steps whenour cab came up. She saw Lupton bolting towards her. And she fled.But why do you look so cross? Does it hurt your sense of the familydignity?'
'It does, rather,' said Gerald. 'If you're doing a thing, do itproperly, and if you're not going to do it properly, leave italone.'
'Very nice aphorism,' said Birkin.
'Don't you agree?' asked Gerald.
'Quite,' said Birkin. 'Only it bores me rather, when you becomeaphoristic.'
'Damn you, Rupert, you want all the aphorisms your own way,'said Gerald.
'No. I want them out of the way, and you're always shoving themin it.'
Gerald smiled grimly at this humorism. Then he made a littlegesture of dismissal, with his eyebrows.
'You don't believe in having any standard of behaviour at all,do you?' he challenged Birkin, censoriously.
'Standard—no. I hate standards. But they're necessary forthe common ruck. Anybody who is anything can just be himself and doas he likes.'
'But what do youmean by being himself?' said Gerald. 'Is that anaphorism or a cliche?'
'I mean just doing what you want to do. I think it was perfectgood form in Laura to bolt from Lupton to the church door. It wasalmost a masterpiece in good form. It's the hardest thing in theworld to act spontaneously on one's impulses—and it's theonly really gentlemanly thing to do—provided you're fit to doit.'
'You don't expect me to take you seriously, do you?' askedGerald.
'Yes, Gerald, you're one of the very few people I do expect thatof.'
'Then I'm afraid I can't come up to your expectations here, atany rate. You think people should just do as they like.'
'I think they always do. But I should like them to like thepurely individual thing in themselves, which makes them actinsingleness. And they only like to do the collective thing.'
'And I,' said Gerald grimly, 'shouldn't like to be in a world ofpeople who acted individually and spontaneously, as you call it. Weshould have everybody cutting everybody else's throat in fiveminutes.'
'That means YOU would like to be cutting everybody's throat,'said Birkin.
'How does that follow?' asked Gerald crossly.
'No man,' said Birkin, 'cuts another man's throat unless hewants to cut it, and unless the other man wants it cutting. This isa complete truth. It takes two people to make a murder: a murdererand a murderee. And a murderee is a man who is murderable. And aman who is murderable is a man who in a profound if hidden lustdesires to be murdered.'
'Sometimes you talk pure nonsense,' said Gerald to Birkin. 'As amatter of fact, none of us wants our throat cut, and most otherpeople would like to cut it for us—some time orother—'
'It's a nasty view of things, Gerald,' said Birkin, 'and nowonder you are afraid of yourself and your own unhappiness.'
'How am I afraid of myself?' said Gerald; 'and I don't think Iam unhappy.'
'You seem to have a lurking desire to have your gizzard slit,and imagine every man has his knife up his sleeve for you,' Birkinsaid.
'How do you make that out?' said Gerald.
'From you,' said Birkin.
There was a pause of strange enmity between the two men, thatwas very near to love. It was always the same between them; alwaystheir talk brought them into a deadly nearness of contact, astrange, perilous intimacy which was either hate or love, or both.They parted with apparent unconcern, as if their going apart were atrivial occurrence. And they really kept it to the level of trivialoccurrence. Yet the heart of each burned from the other. Theyburned with eachother, inwardly. This they would never admit. Theyintended to keep their relationship a casual free-and-easyfriendship, they were not going to be so unmanly and unnatural asto allow any heart-burning between them. They had not the faintestbelief in deep relationship between men and men, and theirdisbelief prevented any development of their powerful butsuppressed friendliness.
A school-day was drawing to a close. In the class-room the lastlesson was in progress,peaceful and still. It was elementarybotany. The desks were littered with catkins, hazel and willow,which the children had been sketching. But the sky had comeoverdark, as the end of theafternoon approached: there was scarcelylight to draw any more. Ursula stood in front of the class, leadingthe children by questions to understand the structure and themeaning of the catkins.
A heavy, copper-coloured beam of light came in at the westwindow, gilding the outlines of the children's heads with redgold,and falling on the wall opposite in a rich, ruddyillumination. Ursula, however, was scarcely conscious of it. Shewas busy, the end of the day was here, the work went on as apeaceful tide that is at flood, hushed to retire.
This day had gone by like so many more, in an activity that waslike a trance. At the end there was a little haste, to finish whatwas in hand. She was pressing the children with questions, so thatthey should know all they were to know, by the time the gong went.She stood in shadow in front of the class, with catkins in herhand, and she leaned towards the children, absorbed in the passionof instruction.
She heard, but did not notice the click of the door. Suddenlyshe started. She saw, in the shaft of ruddy, copper-coloured lightnear her, the face of a man. It was gleaming like fire, watchingher, waiting for her to be aware. It startled her terribly. Shethought she was going to faint. All her suppressed, subconsciousfear sprang into being, with anguish.
'Did I startle you?' saidBirkin, shaking hands with her. 'Ithought you had heard me come in.'
'No,' she faltered, scarcely able to speak. He laughed, sayinghe was sorry. She wondered why it amused him.
'It is so dark,' he said. 'Shall we have the light?'
And moving aside, heswitched on the strong electric lights. Theclass-room was distinct and hard, a strange place after the softdim magic that filled it before he came. Birkin turned curiously tolook at Ursula. Her eyes were round and wondering, bewildered, hermouth quivered slightly. She looked like one who is suddenlywakened. There was a living, tender beauty, like a tender light ofdawn shining from her face. He looked at her with a new pleasure,feeling gay in his heart, irresponsible.
'You are doing catkins?' he asked, picking up a piece of hazelfrom a scholar's desk in front of him. 'Are they as far out asthis? I hadn't noticed them this year.'
He looked absorbedly at the tassel of hazel in his hand.
'The red ones too!' he said, looking at the flickers of crimsonthat came from the female bud.
Then he went in among the desks, to see the scholars' books.Ursula watched his intent progress. There was a stillness in hismotion that hushed the activities of her heart. She seemedto bestanding aside in arrested silence,watching him move in another,concentrated world. His presence was so quiet, almost like avacancy in the corporate air.
Suddenly he lifted his face to her, and her heart quickened atthe flicker of his voice.
'Give them some crayons, won't you?' he said,'so that they canmake the gynaecious flowers red, and the androgynous yellow. I'dchalk them in plain, chalk in nothing else, merely the red and theyellow. Outline scarcely matters in this case. There is just theone fact to emphasise.'
'I haven't any crayons,' said Ursula.
'There will be some somewhere—red and yellow, that's allyou want.'
Ursula sent out a boy on a quest.
'It will make the books untidy,' she said to Birkin, flushingdeeply.
'Not very,' he said. 'You must mark in these thingsobviously.It's the fact you want to emphasise, not the subjectiveimpression to record. What's the fact?—red little spikystigmas of the female flower, dangling yellow male catkin, yellowpollen flying from one to the other. Make a pictorial record of thefact, as achild does when drawing a face—two eyes, one nose,mouth with teeth—so—' And he drew a figure on theblackboard.
At that moment another vision was seen through the glass panelsof the door. It was Hermione Roddice. Birkin went and opened toher.
'I saw your car,' she said to him. 'Do you mind my coming tofind you? I wanted to see you when you were on duty.'
She looked at him for a long time, intimate and playful, thenshe gave a short little laugh. And then only she turned to Ursula,who, with all the class, had been watching the little scene betweenthe lovers.
'How do you do, Miss Brangwen,' sang Hermione, in her low, odd,singing fashion, that sounded almost as if she were poking fun. 'Doyou mind my coming in?'
Her grey, almost sardonic eyes rested allthe while on Ursula, asif summing her up.
'Oh no,' said Ursula.
'Are you SURE?' repeated Hermione, with complete sang froid, andan odd, half-bullying effrontery.
'Oh no, I like it awfully,' laughed Ursula, a little bit excitedand bewildered, because Hermione seemed to be compelling her,coming very close to her, as if intimate with her; and yet, howcould she be intimate?
This was the answer Hermione wanted. She turned satisfied toBirkin.
'What are you doing?' she sang, in her casual, inquisitivefashion.
'Catkins,' he replied.
'Really!' she said. 'And what do you learn about them?' Shespoke all the while in a mocking, half teasing fashion, as ifmaking game of the whole business. She picked up a twig of thecatkin, piqued by Birkin's attention to it.
She was a strange figure in the class-room, wearing a large, oldcloak of greenish cloth, on which was a raised pattern of dullgold. The high collar, and the inside of the cloak, was lined withdark fur. Beneath she had a dress of fine lavender-coloured cloth,trimmed with fur, and her hat was close-fitting, made of fur and ofthe dull, green-and-gold figured stuff. She was tall and strange,she looked as if she had come out of some new, bizarre picture.
'Do you know the little red ovary flowers, that produce thenuts? Have you ever noticed them?' he asked her. And he came closeand pointed them out to her, on the sprig she held.
'No,' she replied. 'What are they?'
'Those are the little seed-producing flowers, and the longcatkins, they only produce pollen,to fertilise them.'
'Do they, do they!' repeated Hermione, looking closely.
'From those little red bits, the nuts come; if they receivepollen from the long danglers.'
'Little red flames, little red flames,' murmured Hermione toherself. And she remainedfor some moments looking only at the smallbuds out of which the red flickers of the stigma issued.
'Aren't they beautiful? I think they're so beautiful,' she said,moving close to Birkin, and pointing to the red filaments with herlong, white finger.
'Hadyou never noticed them before?' he asked.
'No, never before,' she replied.
'And now you will always see them,' he said.
'Now I shall always see them,' she repeated. 'Thank you so muchfor showing me. I think they're so beautiful—little redflames—'
Her absorption was strange, almost rhapsodic. Both Birkin andUrsula were suspended. The little red pistillate flowers had somestrange, almost mystic-passionate attraction for her.
The lesson was finished, the books were put away, at last theclass was dismissed. And still Hermione sat at the table, with herchin in her hand, her elbow on the table, her long white facepushed up, not attending to anything. Birkin had gone to thewindow, and was looking from the brilliantly-lighted room on to thegrey, colourlessoutside, where rain was noiselessly falling. Ursulaput away her things in the cupboard.
At length Hermione rose and came near to her.
'Your sister has come home?' she said.
'Yes,' said Ursula.
'And does she like being back in Beldover?'
'No,' said Ursula.
'No, I wonder she can bear it. It takes all my strength, to bearthe ugliness of this district, when I stay here. Won't you come andsee me? Won't you come with your sister to stay at Breadalby for afew days?—do—'
'Thank you very much,' said Ursula.