By one of the loud streams, under a rock in the sun, with scented minty or thyme flowers near, they sat down to eat some lunch. It was about eleven o’clock. A thin bee went in and out the scented flowers and the eyebright. The water poured with all the lust and greed of unloosed water over the stones. He took a cupful for Hannele, bright and icy, and she mixed it with the red Hungarian wine.
Down the road strayed the tourists like pilgrims, and at the closed end of the valley they could be seen, quite tiny, climbing the cut-out road that went up like a stairway. Just by their movements you perceived them. But on the valley-bed they went like rolling stones, little as stones. A very elegant mule came stepping by, following a middle-aged woman in tweeds and a tall, high-browed man in knickerbockers. The mule was drawing a very amusing little cart, a chair, rather like a round office-chair upholstered in red velvet, and mounted on two wheels. The red velvet had gone gold and orange and like fruit-juice, being old: really a lovely colour. And the muleteer, a little shabby creature, waddled beside excitedly.
‘Ach’ cried Hannele, ‘that looks almost like before the war: almost as peaceful.’
‘Except that the chair is too shabby, and that they all feel exceptional,’ he remarked.
There in that upper valley there was no sense of peace. The rush of the waters seemed like weapons, and the tourists all seemed in a sort of frenzy, in a frenzy to be happy, or to be thrilled. It was a feeling that desolated the heart.
The two sat in the changing sunshine under their rock, with the mountain flowers scenting the snow-bitter air, and they ate their eggs and sausage and cheese, and drank the bright-red Hungarian wine. It seemed lovely: almost like before the war: almost the same feeling of eternal holiday, as if the world was made for man’s everlasting holiday. But not quite. Never again quite the same. The world is not made for man’s everlasting holiday.
As Alexander was putting the bread back into his shoulder-sack, he exclaimed:
‘Oh, look here!’
She looked, and saw him drawing out a flat package wrapped in paper: evidently a picture.
‘A picture!’ she cried.
He unwrapped the thing and handed it to her. It was Theodor Worpswede’s Stilleben: not very large, painted on a board.
Hannele looked at it and went pale.
‘It’s GOOD,’ she cried, in an equivocal tone.
‘Quite good,’ he said.
‘Especially the poached egg,’ she said.
‘Yes, the poached egg is almost living.’
‘But where did you find it?’
‘Oh, I found it in the artist’s studio.’ And he told her how he had traced her.
‘How extraordinary!’ she cried. ‘But why did you buy it?’
‘I don’t quite know.’
‘Did you LIKE it?’
‘No, not quite that.’
‘You could NEVER hang it up.’
‘No, never,’ he said.
‘But do you think it is good as a work of art?’
‘I think it is quite clever as a painting. I don’t like the spirit of it, of course. I’m too catholic for that.’
‘No. No,’ she faltered. ‘It’s rather horrid really. That’s why I wonder why you bought it.’
‘Perhaps to prevent anyone else’s buying it,’ he said.
‘Do you mind very much, then?’ she asked.
‘No, I don’t mind very much. I didn’t quite like it that you sold the doll,’ he said.
‘I needed the money,’ she said quietly.
There was a pause for some moments.
‘I felt you’d sold ME,’ she said, quiet and savage.
‘When your wife appeared. And when you DISAPPEARED.’
Again there was a pause: his pause this time.
‘I did write to you,’ he said.
‘Oh — March, I believe.’
‘Oh yes. I had that letter.’ Her voice was just as quiet, and even savager.
So there was a pause that belonged to both of them. Then she rose.
‘I want to be going,’ she said. ‘We shall never get to the glacier at this rate.’
He packed up the picture, slung on his knapsack, and they set off. She stooped now and then to pick the starry, earth-lavender gentians from the roadside. As they passed the second of the valley hotels, they saw the man and wife sitting at a little table outside eating bread and cheese, while the mule-chair with its red velvet waited aside on the grass. They passed a whole grove of black-purple nightshade on the left, and some long, low cattle-huts which, with the stones on their roofs, looked as if they had grown up as stones grow in such places through the grass. In the wild, desert place some black pigs were snouting.
So they wound into the head of the valley, and saw the steep face ahead, and high up, like vapour or foam dripping from the fangs of a beast, waterfalls vapouring down from the deep fangs of ice. And there was one end of the glacier, like a great bluey-white fur just slipping over the slope of the rock.
As the valley closed in again the flowers were very lovely, especially the big, dark, icy bells, like harebells, that would sway so easily, but which hung dark and with that terrible motionlessness of upper mountain flowers. And the road turned to get on to the long slant in the cliff face, where it climbed like a stair. Slowly, slowly the two climbed up. Now again they saw the valley below, behind. The mule-chair was coming, hastening, the lady seated tight facing backwards, as the chair faced, and wrapped in rugs. The tall, fair, middle-aged husband in knickerbockers strode just behind, bare-headed.
Alexander and Hannele climbed slowly, slowly up the slant, under the dripping rock-face where the white and veined flowers of the grass of Parnassus still rose straight and chilly in the shadow, like water which had taken on itself white flower-flesh. Above they saw the slipping edge of the glacier, like a terrible great paw, bluey. And from the skyline dark grey clouds were fuming up, fuming up as if breathed black and icily out from some ice-cauldron.
‘It is going to rain,’ said Alexander.
‘Not much,’ said Hannele shortly.
‘I hope not,’ said he.
And still she would not hurry up that steep slant, but insisted on standing to look. So the dark, ice-black clouds fumed solid, and the rain began to fly on a cold wind. The mule-chair hastened past, the lady sitting comfortably with her back to the mule, a little pheasant-trimming in her tweed hat, while her Tannhäuser husband reached for his dark, cape-frilled mantle.
Alexander had his dust-coat, but Hannele had nothing but a light knitted jersey-coat, such as women wear indoors. Over the hollow crest above came the cold, steel rain. They pushed on up the slope. From behind came another mule, and a little old man hurrying, and a little cart like a hand-barrow, on which were hampers with cabbage and carrots and peas and joints of meat, for the hotel above.
‘Wird es viel sein?’ asked Alexander of the little gnome. ‘Will it be much?’
‘Was meint der Herr?’ replied the other. ‘What does the gentleman say?’
‘Der Regen, wir des lang dauern? Will the rain last long?’
‘Nein. Nein. Dies ist kein langer Regen.’
So, with his mule, which had to stand exactly at that spot to make droppings, the little man resumed his way, and Hannele and Alexander were the last on the slope. The air smelt steel-cold of rain, and of hot droppings. Alexander watched the rain beat on the shoulders and on the blue skirt of Hannele.
‘It is a pity you left your big coat down below,’ he said.
‘What good is it saying so now!’ she replied, pale at the nose with anger.
‘Quite,’ he said, as his eyes glowed and his brow blackened. ‘What good suggesting anything at any time, apparently?’
She turned round on him in the rain, as they stood perched nearly at the summit of that slanting cliff-climb, with a glacier-paw hung almost invisible above, and waters gloating aloud in the gulf below. She faced him, and he faced her.
‘What have you ever suggested to me?’ she said, her face naked as the rain itself with an ice-bitter fury. ‘What have you ever suggested to me?’
‘When have you ever been open to suggestion?’ he said, his face dark and his eyes curiously glowing.
‘I? I? Ha! Haven’t I waited for you to suggest something? And all you can do is to come here with a picture to reproach me for having sold your doll. Ha! I’m glad I sold it. A foolish barren effigy it was too, a foolish staring thing. What should I do but sell it. Why should I keep it, do you imagine?’
‘Why do you come here with me today, then?’
‘Why do I come here with you today?’ she replied. ‘I come to see the mountains, which are wonderful, and give me strength. And I come to see the glacier. Do you think I come here to see YOU? Why should I? You are always in some hotel or other away below.’
‘You came to see the glacier and the mountains WITH me,’ he replied.
‘Did I? Then I made a mistake. You can do nothing but find fault even with God’s mountains.’
A dark flame suddenly went over his face.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I hate them, I hate them. I hate their snow and their affectations.’
‘AFFECTATION!’ she laughed. ‘Oh! Even the mountains are affected for you, are they?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Their loftiness and their uplift. I hate their uplift. I hate people prancing on mountain-tops and feeling exalted. I’d like to make them all stop up there, on their mountain-tops, and chew ice to fill their stomachs. I wouldn’t let them down again, I wouldn’t. I hate it all, I tell you; I hate it.’
She looked in wonder on his dark, glowing, ineffectual face. It seemed to her like a dark flame burning in the daylight and in the ice-rains: very ineffectual and unnecessary.
‘You must be a little mad,’ she said superbly, ‘to talk like that about the mountains. They are so much bigger than you.’
‘No,’ he said. ‘No! They are not.’
‘What!’ she laughed aloud. ‘The mountains are not bigger than you? But you are extraordinary.’
‘They are not bigger than me,’ he cried. ‘Any more than you are bigger than me if you stand on a ladder. They are not bigger than me. They are less than me.’
‘Oh! Oh!’ she cried in wonder and ridicule.’ The mountains are less than you.’
‘Yes,’ he cried, ‘they are less.’
He seemed suddenly to go silent and remote as she watched him. The speech had gone out of his face again, he seemed to be standing a long way off from her, beyond some border-line. And in the midst of her indignant amazement she watched him with wonder and a touch of fascination. To what country did he belong then? — to what dark, different atmosphere?
‘You must suffer from megalomania,’ she said. And she said what she felt.
But he only looked at her out of dark, dangerous, haughty eyes.
They went on their way in the rain in silence. He was filled with a passionate silence and imperiousness, a curious, dark, masterful force that supplanted thought in him. And she, who always pondered, went pondering: ‘Is he mad? What does he mean? Is he a madman? He wants to bully me. He wants to bully me into something. What does he want to bully me into? Does he want me to love him?’
At this final question she rested. She decided that what he wanted was that she should love him. And this thought flattered her vanity and her pride and appeased her wrath against him. She felt quite mollified towards him.
But what a way he went about it! He wanted her to love him. Of this she was sure. He had always wanted her to love him, even from the first. Only he had not made up his MIND about it. He had not made up his mind. After his wife had died he had gone away to make up his mind. Now he had made it up. He wanted her to love him. And he was offended, mortally offended because she had sold his doll.
So, this was the conclusion to which Hannele came. And it pleased her, and it flattered her. And it made her feel quite warm towards him, as they walked in the rain. The rain, by the way, was abating. The spume over the hollow crest to which they were approaching was thinning considerably. They could again see the glacier paw hanging out a little beyond. The rain was going to pass. And they were not far now from the hotel, and the third level of Lammerboden.
He wanted her to love him. She felt again quite glowing and triumphant inside herself, and did not care a bit about the rain on her shoulders. He wanted her to love him. Yes, that was how she had to put it. He didn’t want to LOVE her. No. He wanted HER to love HIM.
But then, of course, woman-like, she took his love for granted. So many men had been so very ready to love her. And this one — to her amazement, to her indignation, and rather to her secret satisfaction — just blackly insisted that SHE must love HIM. Very well — she would give him a run for his money. That was it: he blackly insisted that SHE must love HIM. What he felt was not to be considered. SHE must love HIM. And be bullied into it. That was what it amounted to. In his silent, black, overbearing soul, he wanted to compel her, he wanted to have power over her. He wanted to make her love him so that he had power over her. He wanted to bully her, physically, sexually, and from the inside.
And she! Well, she was just as confident that she was not going to be bullied. She would love him: probably she would: most probably she did already. But she was not going to be bullied by him in any way whatsoever. No, he must go down on his knees to her if he wanted her love. And then she would love him. Because she DID love him. But a dark-eyed little master and bully she would never have.
And this was her triumphant conclusion. Meanwhile the rain had almost ceased, they had almost reached the rim of the upper level, towards which they were climbing, and he was walking in that silent diffidence which made her watch him because she was not sure what he was feeling, what he was thinking, or even what he was. He was a puzzle to her: eternally incomprehensible in his feelings and even his sayings. There seemed to her no logic and no reason in what he felt and said. She could never tell what his next mood would come out of. And this made her uneasy, made her watch him. And at the same time it piqued her attention. He had some of the fascination of the incomprehensible. And his curious inscrutable face — it wasn’t really only a meaningless mask, because she had seen it half an hour ago melt with a quite incomprehensible and rather, to her mind, foolish passion. Strange, black, inconsequential passion. Asserting with that curious dark ferocity that he was bigger than the mountains. Madness! Madness! Megalomania.
But because he gave himself away, she forgave him and even liked him. And the strange passion of his, that gave out incomprehensible flashes, WAS rather fascinating to her. She felt just a tiny bit sorry for him. But she wasn’t going to be bullied by him. She wasn’t going to give in to him and his black passion. No, never. It must be love on equal terms or nothing. For love on equal terms she was quite ready. She only waited for him to offer it.
Last updated Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 22:23